Karl Marx in The New-York Tribune 1853

The Government of India

Source: the New-York Daily Tribune, July 20, 1853;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.


London, Tuesday, 5th July, 1853

Mr. Halliday, one of the officials of the East India Company, when examined before a Committee of Inquiry, stated:

“That the Charter giving a twenty years lease to the East India Company was considered by the natives of India as farming them out.

This time at least, the Charter has not been renewed for a definite period, but is revokable at will by Parliament. The Company, therefore, will come down from the respectable situation of hereditary farmers, to the precarious condition of tenants-at-will. This is so much gain for the natives. The Coalition Ministry has succeeded in transforming the Indian Government, like all other questions, into an open question. The House of Commons, on the other hand, has given itself a new testimonial of poverty, in confessing by the same division, its impotency for legislating, and its unwillingness to delay legislating.

Since the days of Aristotle the world has been inundated with a frightful quantity of dissertations, ingenious or absurd, as it might happen, on that question: Who shall be the governing power? But for the first time in the annals of history, the Senate of a people ruling over another people numbering 156 millions of human beings and spreading over a surface of 1,368,113 square miles, have put their heads together in solemn and public congregation, in order to answer the irregular question: Who among us is the actual governing power over that foreign people of 150 millions of souls? There was no Oedipus in the British Senate capable of extricating this riddle. The whole debate exclusively twined around it, as although a division took place, no definition of the Indian Government was arrived at.

That there is in India a permanent financial deficit, a regular over-supply of wars, and no supply at all of public works, an abominable system of taxation, and a no less abominable state of justice and law, that these five items constitute, as it were, the five points of the East Indian Charter, was settled beyond all doubt in the debates of 1853, as it had been in the debates of 1833, and in the debates of 1813, and in all former debates on India. The only thing never found out, was the party responsible for all this.

There exists, unquestionably, a Governor-General of India, holding the supreme power, but that Governor is governed in his turn by a home government. Who is that home government? Is it the Indian Minister, disguised under the modest title of President of the Board of Control, or is it the twenty-four Directors of the East India Company? On the threshold of the Indian religion we find a divine trinity, and thus we find a profane trinity on the threshold of the Indian Government.

Leaving, for a while, the Governor-General altogether one side, the question at issue resolves itself into that of the double Government, in which form it is familiar to the English mind. The Ministers in their bill, and the House in its division, cling to this dualism.

When the Company of English merchant adventurers, who conquered India to make money out of it, began to enlarge their factories into an empire, when their competition with the Dutch and French private merchants assumed the character of national rivalry, then, of course, the British Government commenced meddling with the affairs of the East India Company, and the double Government of India sprung up in fact if not in name. Pitt’s act of 1784, by entering into a compromise with the Company, by subjecting it to the superintendence of the Board of Control, and by making the Board of Control an appendage to the Ministry, accepted, regulated and settled that double Government arisen, from circumstances in name as well as in fact.

The act of 1833 strengthened the Board of Control, changed the proprietors of the East India Company into mere mortgagees of the East India revenues, ordered the Company to sell off its stock, dissolved its commercial existence, transformed it; as far as it existed politically, into a mere trustee of the Crown, and did thus with the East India Company, what the Company had been in the habit of doing with the East India Princes. After having superseded them, it continued, for a while, still to govern in their name. So far, the East India Company has, since 1833, no longer existed but in name and on sufferance. While thus on one hand, there seems to be no difficulty in getting rid of the Company altogether, it is, on the other hand, very indifferent whether the English nation rules over India under the personal name of Queen Victoria, or under the traditional firm of an anonymous society. The whole question, therefore, appears to turn about a technicality of very questionable importance. Still, the thing is not quite so plain.

It is to be remarked, in the first instance, that the Ministerial Board of Control, residing in Cannon-row, is as much a fiction as the East India Company, supposed to reside in Leadenhall-st. The members composing the Board of Control are a mere cloak for the supreme rule of the President of the Board. The President is himself but a subordinate though independent member of the Imperial Ministry. In India it seems to be assumed that if a man is fit for nothing it is best to make him a Judge, and get rid of him. In Great Britain, when a party comes into office and finds itself encumbered with a tenth-rate “statesman,” it is considered best to make him President of the Board of Control, successor of the Great Mogul, and in that way to get rid of him- teste Carolo Wood.

The letter of the law entrusts the Board of Control, which is but another name for its President, with

“full power and authority to superintend, direct, and control all acts, operations and concerns of the East India Company which in any wise relate to or concern the Government or revenues of the Indian territories.”

Directors are prohibited

“from issuing any orders, instructions, dispatches, official letters, or communications whatever relating to India, or to the Government thereof, until the same shall have been sanctioned by the Board.”

Directors are ordered to

“prepare instructions or orders upon any subject whatever at fourteen days’ notice from the Board, or else to transmit the orders of the Board on the subject of India.”

The Board is authorized to inspect all correspondence and dispatches to and from India, and the proceedings of the Courts of Proprietors and Directors. Lastly, the Court of Directors has to appoint a Secret Committee, consisting of their Chairman, their Deputy Chairman and their senior member, who are sworn to secrecy, and through whom, in all political and military matters, the President of the Board may transmit his personal orders to India, while the Committee acts as a mere channel of his communications. The orders respecting the Afghan and Burmese wars, and as to the occupation of Scinde were transmitted through this Secret Committee, without the Court of Directors being any more informed of them than the general public or Parliament. So far, therefore, the President of the Board of Control would appear to be the real Mogul, and, under all circumstances, he retains an unlimited power for doing mischief, as, for instance, for causing the most ruinous wars, all the while being hidden under the name of the irresponsible Court of Directors. On the other hand, the Court of Directors is not without real power. As they generally exercise the initiative in administrative measures, as they form, when compared with the Board of Control, a more permanent and steady body, with traditional rules for action and a certain knowledge of details, the whole of the ordinary internal administration necessarily falls to their share. They appoint, too, under sanction of the Crown, the Supreme Government of India, the Governor-General and his Councils; possessing, besides, the unrestricted power to recall the highest servants, and even the Governor-General, as they did under Sir Robert Peel, with Lord Ellenborough. But this is still not their most important privilege. Receiving only 300 per annum, they are really paid in patronage, distributing all the writerships and cadetships, from whose number the Governor-General of India and the Provincial Governors are obliged to fill up all the higher places withheld from the natives. When the number of appointments for the year is ascertained, the whole are divided into 28 equal parts — of which two are allotted to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman, two to the President of the Board of Control, and one to each of the Directors. The annual value of each share of patronage seldom falls short of 14,000.

“All nominations,” says Mr. Campbell, “are now, as it were, the private property of individuals, being divided among the Directors, and each disposing of his share as he thinks fit.”

Now, it is evident that the spirit of the Court of Directors must pervade the whole of the Indian Upper Administration, trained, as it is, at schools of Addiscombe and Haileybury, and appointed, as it is, by their patronage. It is no less evident that this Court of Directors, who have to distribute, year after year, appointments of the value of nearly 400,000 among the upper classes of Great Britain, will find little or no check from the public opinion directed by those very classes. What the spirit of the Court of Directors is, I will show in a following letter on the actual state of India.’ For the present it may suffice to say that Mr. Macaulay, in the course of the pending debates, defended the Court by the particular plea, that it was impotent to effect all the evils it might intend, so much so, that all improvements had been effected in opposition to it, and against it by individual Governors who had acted on their own responsibility. Thus with regard to the suppression of the Suttee, the abolition of the abominable transit duties, and the emancipation of the East India press.

The President of the Board of Control accordingly involves India in ruinous wars under cover of the Court of Directors, while the Court of Directors corrupt the Indian Administration under the cloak of the Board of Control.

On looking deeper into the framework of this anomalous government we find at its bottom a third power, more supreme than either the Board or the Court, more irresponsible, and more concealed from and guarded against the superintendence of public opinion. The transient President of the Board depends on the permanent clerks of his establishment in Cannon-row, and for those clerks India exists not in India, but in Leadenhall-st. Now, who is the master at Leadenhall-st.?

Two thousand persons, elderly ladies and valetudinarian gentlemen, possessing Indian stock, having no other interest in India except to be paid their dividends out of Indian revenue, elect twenty-four Directors, whose only qualification is the holding of 1,000 stock. Merchants, bankers and directors of companies incur great trouble in order to get into the Court for the interest of their private concerns.

“A banker,” said Mr. Bright, “in the City of London commands 300 votes of the East India Company, whose word for the election of Directors is almost absolute law.”

Hence the Court of Directors is nothing but a succursal to the English moneyocracy. The so-elected Court forms, in its turn, besides the above-mentioned Secret Committee, three other Committees, which are 1. Political and Military. 2. Finance and Home. 3. Revenue, judicial and Legislative. These Committees are every year appointed by rotation, so that a financier is one year on the judicial and the next year on the Military Committee, and no one has any chance of a continued supervision over a particular department. The mode of election having brought in men utterly unfit for their duties, the system of rotation gives to whatever fitness they might perchance retain, the final blow. Who, then, govern in fact under the name of the Direction? A large stuff of irresponsible secretaries, examiners and clerks at the India House, of whom, as Mr. Campbell observes, in his Scheme for the Government of India, only one individual has ever been in India, and he only by accident. Apart from the trade in patronage, it is therefore a mere fiction to speak of the politics, the principles, and the system of the Court of Directors. The real Court of Directors and the real Home Government, &c., of India are the permanent and irresponsible bureaucracy, “the creatures of the desk and the creatures of favor” residing in Leadenhall-st. We have thus a Corporation ruling over an immense Empire, not formed, as in Venice, by eminent patricians, but by old obstinate clerks, and the like odd fellows.

No wonder, then, that there exists no government by which so much is written and so little done, as the Government of India. When the East India Company was only a commercial association, they, of course, requested a most detailed report on every item from the managers of their Indian factories, as is done by every trading concern. When the factories grew into an Empire, the commercial items into ship loads of correspondence and documents, the Leadenhall clerks went on in their system, which made the Directors and the Board their dependents; and they succeeded in transforming the Indian Government into one immense writing-machine. Lord Broughton stated in his evidence before the Official Salaries Committee, that with one single dispatch 45,000 pages of collection were sent.

In order to give you some idea of the time-killing manner in which business is transacted at the India House, I will quote a passage from Mr. Dickinson:

“When a dispatch arrives from India, it is referred, in the first instance, to the Examiners’ Department, to which it belongs; after which the Chairs confer with the official in charge of that department, and settle with him the tenor of a reply, and transmit a draught of this reply to the Indian Minister,’ in what is technically called P.C., i.e. previous communication. [...] The Chairs, [...] in this preliminary state of P.C. depend mainly on the clerks. [...] Such is this dependence that even in a discussion in the Court of Proprietors, after previous notice, it is pitiable [...] to see the chairman referring to a secretary who sits by his side, and keeps on whispering and prompting and chaffing him as if he were a mere puppet, and [...] the Minister at the other end of the system is in the same predicament. [...] In this stage of P.C., if there is a difference of opinion on the draught it is discussed, and almost invariably settled in friendly communication between the Minister and the Chair; finally the draught is returned by the Minister, either adopted or altered; and then it is submitted to the Committee of Directors superintending the department to which it belongs, with all papers bearing on the case, to be considered and discussed, and adopted or altered, and afterward it is .exposed to the same process in the aggregate Court, and then goes, for the first time, as an official communication to the Minister,” after which it undergoes the same process in the opposite direction.

“When a measure is discussed in India,” says Mr. Campbell, “the announcement that it has been referred to the Court of Directors, is regarded as an indefinite postponement.”

The close and abject spirit of this bureaucracy deserves to he stigmatised in the celebrated words of Burke:

“This tribe of vulgar politicians are the lowest of our species. There is no trade so vile and mechanical as Government in their hands. Virtue is not their habit. They are out of themselves in any course of conduct recommended only by conscience and glory. A large, liberal and prospective view of the interests of States passes with them for romance; and the principles that recommend it, for the wanderings of a disordered imagination. The calculators compute them out of their senses. The jesters and buffoons shame them out of everything grand and elevated. Littleness in object and in means to them appears soundness and sobriety.”

The clerical establishments of Leadenhall-st. and Cannon-row cost the Indian people the trifle of 160,000 annually. The oligarchy involves India in wars, in order to find employment for their younger sons; the moneyocracy consigns it to the highest bidder; and a subordinate Bureaucracy paralyse its administration and perpetuate its abuses as the vital condition of their own perpetuation.

Sir Charles Wood’s bill alters nothing in the existing system. It enlarges the power of the Ministry, without adding to its responsibility.

Karl Marx