Lord Dalhousie was the youngest Governor-General of India when he assumed charge at the age of 36 in 1848. His early career was remarkable. He studied in Christ Church, Oxford. He became Member of Parliament and enjoyed the confidence of Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister of England. He did much for the progress of railway construction in England as the president of the Board of Trade. In 1847, he was offered the Governor-Generalship of India which he accepted and arrived at Calcutta in January 1848.
The most important aspect of Dalhousie's administration is related to 'the great drama of annexation'. His aims for expanding the Company's territories were administrative, imperial, commercial and financial. Although he used different reasons for annexation, his main objective was to end misrule in the annexed states, as in the case of the annexation of Oudh. He aimed at providing the beneficent administration to the people of the annexed states. At the same time he had in his mind the advantages of annexation to the British such as imperial defence, commercial and financial benefits. Though Dalhousie did not come to India to follow a policy of annexation, but he was able to consolidate British rule in India by his policy of annexation. His great annexations include the Punjab, Lower Burma, most of the Central Provinces and Oudh.
At the end of the second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849, Punjab was annexed by Dalhousie. He organized the administration of Punjab very efficiently. The province was divided into small districts under the control of District Officers who were called Deputy Commissioners. These commissioners with the help of their assistants came into close contact with people. Revenue and judicial departments were combined to secure concentration of power and responsibility. The laws and procedure were simplified in accordance with the custom of the people. The overall administration of Punjab was entrusted to the Chief Commissioner. In fact, the Governor-General was the virtual ruler of Punjab. The services of Lawrence brothers in the administration of Punjab were notable. Within three years perfect order was restored in the province. It was efficiently defended from internal and external enemies. In 1859, Sir John Lawrence became the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab.
In 1852, commercial disputes in Rangoon prompted new hostilities between the British and the Burmese. After the end of the second Burmese War (1852), Dalhousie annexed Lower Burma with its capital at Pegu. Major Arthur Phayre was appointed the Commissioner of the new province. His administration also proved to be efficient. The annexation of Lower Burma proved beneficial to Britain. Rangoon, Britain's most valuable acquisition from the war became one of the biggest ports in Asia.
Dalhousie also took advantage of every opportunity to acquire territory by peaceful means. The East India Company was rapidly becoming the predominant power in India. It had concluded alliances with Indian rulers. It promised to support them and their heirs in return for various concessions. Although this type of agreement favoured the British, Dalhousie sought to acquire even more power. According to the Hindu Law, one can adopt a son in case of no male heir to inherit the property. The question arose whether a Hindu ruler, holding his state subordinate to the paramount power, could adopt a son to succeed his kingdom. It was customary for a ruler without a natural heir to ask the British Government whether he could adopt a son to succeed him. According to Dalhousie, if such permission was refused by the British, the state would 'lapse' and thereby become part of the British India. Dalhousie maintained that there was a difference in principle between the right to inherit private property and the right to govern.
The Doctrine of Lapse was applied by Dalhousie to Satara and it was annexed in 1848. Jhansi and Nagpur were annexed in 1854. As a result of these annexations, a large part of the Central Provinces came under the British rule. The new province was governed by a Chief Commissioner from 1861.
Although the Doctrine of Lapse cannot be regarded as illegal, its application by Dalhousie was disliked by Indian princes. The advantages of the annexations of Satara, Jhansi and Nagpur were substantial to the British. Dalhousie was blamed for using the Doctrine of Lapse as an instrument in pursuing his policy of annexation. After the Mutiny of 1857, the doctrine of lapse was withdrawn.
The British relations with the state of Oudh go back to the Treaty of Allahabad in 1765. Right from Warren Hastings, many Governor-Generals advised the Nawab of Oudh to improve the administration. But, misrule continued there and the Nawab was under the assumption that the British would not annex Oudh because of his loyalty to them. In 1851, William Sleeman, Resident at Lucknow, reported on the 'spectacle of human misery and careless misrule'. But Sleeman was against the policy of annexing Oudh. After surveying the situation in Oudh, Dalhousie annexed it in 1856. Nawab Wajid Ali was granted a pension of 12 lakhs of rupees per year. The annexed territory came under the control of a Chief Commissioner.
Dalhousie's annexation of Oudh, the last one among his annexations, created great political danger. The annexation offended the Muslim elite. More dangerous was the effect on the British army's Indian troops, many of whom came from Oudh, They had occupied a privileged position before its annexation. Under the British Government they were treated as equals with the rest of the population. This is a loss of prestige for them. In these various ways, the annexation of Oudh contributed to the Mutiny of 1857.
Dalhousie's territorial acquisition transformed the map of India. He was not only a conqueror but also a great administrator. The appointment of a Lieutenant-Governor to Bengal enabled Dalhousie concentrate on administration. His greatest achievement was the molding of the new provinces into a modern centralized state. For the newly acquired territories, he introduced the centralized control called 'Non-Regulation System'. Under this system a Commissioner
was appointed for a newly acquired territory. Under military reforms Dalhousie shifted the headquarters of Bengal Artillery from Calcutta to Meerut. Simla was made the permanent headquarters of the army.
The introduction railways in India inaugurated a new economic era. There were three major reasons for the British to take interest in its quick development. The first reason was commercial. The second main reason was administrative. The third reason was defense. At the time of revolt and disturbance, movement of the forces was much easier through railways. Lord Dalhousie's contribution in the development of railways is worth commending. In 1853, he penned his Railway Minute formulating the future policy of railways in India. He started the 'guarantee system' by which the railway companies were guaranteed a minimum interest of five percent on their investment. The government retained the right of buying the railway at the end of the period of contract. The first railway line connecting Bombay with Thane was opened in 1853. Railway lines connecting from Calcutta to the Raniganj coal-fields was opened in 1854 and from Madras to Arakkonam in 1856.
Similarly, the use of Telegraph brought marvelous changes in communication system. In India, Lord Dalhousie's contribution in this respect is commendable. In 1852, O'Shaughnessy was appointed the Superintendent of Telegraph Department. Main cities of the country viz., Calcutta, Peshawar, Bombay and Madras were telegraphically connected. About 4000 miles long Telegraph lines were laid before the departure of Dalhousie. During the 1857 Revolt, the system of telegraphic communication proved a boon for the English and the military value of Dalhousie's creation was much realized at that time.
The foundation of modern postal system was laid down by Lord Dalhousie. A new Post Office Act was passed in 1854. Consequently, irrespective of the distance over which the letter was sent, a uniform rate of half an anna per post card was charged throughout India. Postage stamps were introduced for the first time.
Dalhousie had also evinced in the development of education. The educational Despatch of Sir Charles Wood (1854) was considered the 'Intellectual Charter of India'. It provided an outline for the comprehensive scheme of education at primary, secondary and collegiate levels. Dalhousie fully accepted the views of Charles Wood and took steps to carry out the new scheme. Departments of Public Instructions were organized. The Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were founded in 1857.
Before the period of Dalhousie, the job of the Public Works Department was done by the Military Board. Dalhousie created a separate Public Works Department and allotted more funds for cutting canals and roads. The Upper Ganges Canal was completed in 1854. Many bridges were constructed. By modernizing the Public Works Department he laid the foundations of the engineering service in India.
Dalhousie left India in 1856. The outbreak of Mutiny in the following year led to a severe criticism of his policy of annexation. Exhausted by his years of overwork in India, he fell ill and died in 1860. There is no doubt that Dalhousie was an able administrator and visionary. He increased the extent of British India and consolidated it. He inaugurated an era of progress on many sides. He was the father of Railways and Telegraphs. He introduced the process of modernization of India. Hence, he is hailed as 'the maker of modern India'.