Difference of Opinion between the Lawrence Brothers regarding the Policy towards Landlords in Colonial Punjab.


Byline: Muhammad Abrar Zahoor

Punjab was the last province annexed by the British East India Company in colonial India. The East India Company officials had almost a century of ruling experience in Indian subcontinent by that time and various models of 'land settlement' and 'revenue collection' had been implemented by them in different regions before the annexation of Punjab in 1849. Punjab not only held a unique position regarding the time of its annexation, it comprised vast tracts of virgin arable land, continuously flowing rivers for availability of water, strategic location bordering with Afghanistan and Russia and a turbulent population who had fiercely fought many battles with the British before the final victory and announcement of the Punjab's annexation to the British Indian Empire. Resultantly, the then Governor General of East India Company Lord Dalhousie-Governor General of India (1848-1856)-devised a mechanism of administration which was despotic and personal.

A three members Board of Administration was established: Henry Lawrence (b. 1806-d. 1857)as its President, John Lawrence (b. 1811-d. 1879) as junior member responsible for financial administration and Charles Mansell as senior member responsible for criminal justice system. As to the treatment with landlords of the Punjab and their future role in the Punjab and India, the Lawrence brothers developed severe difference of opinion between themselves. While Sir Henry Lawrence envisioned an embedded role for the landed aristocracy in administration and governance of the Punjab, John Lawrence wanted landlords to be dispossessed of their Sikh rule privileges and no active socio-political role in future. Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General, already not happy with Henry Lawrence for his favorable attitude to local notables and landlords, sided with the younger brother John Lawrence and wanted him to prevail in this controversy regarding the way Punjab was to be governed.

The vision of John Lawrence was yet to be completely implemented when War of Independence broke out in 1857. It was due to the massive uprising of 1857 that landlords of the Punjab succeeded in maintaining their privileges and role in administration because the British government-directly controlling affairs of India after India Act of 1858-revised its policy and decided to co-opt landlords in administration. This paper investigates into this controversy between the Lawrence brothers and its impact on the administration of the colonial Punjab.

Lawrence Brothers and the Making of the Punjab Board of Administration

Having repeatedly fought wars against Sikhs, the British were able to subdue the Sikhs and establish their rule in the Punjab territories. Although the Punjab was weakened due to internecine mutual rivalries of Sikh chieftains after the death of Raja Ranjit Singh in 1839, the final blow were the first Anglo-Sikh war and Lahore Declaration in 1846 after which a council of regency was established under the control of a British resident at Lahore.1 Sir Henry Lawrence was appointed as British Resident in the Punjab. The last revolt of Sikhs was under Mal Raj in 1848 when the British ordered him to resign on the charges of mismanagement and his refusal in this regards instigated differences between the Sikhs and East India Company which culminated into a full war.

After this "the British assumed full control of the Punjab and the annexation was proclaimed on 29 March, 1849."2 At the time Punjab was annexed by the British it had a population of around 20 million and covered an area of 466321.24 sq. kilometers. The territory which came under direct British administration was 81,000 sq. miles with a population of 13 million while the remaining area and population consisted of princely states.3 Governor General Lord Dalhousie, to look after the affairs of the Punjab, appointed a Board of Administration consisting of three members-the two Lawrence brothers (Henry Lawrence and John Lawrence) and Charles Mansell.4 Some administrative changes were brought about in 1853 when Board of Administration was abolished and the province was given to a Chief Commissioner: John Lawrence being the first Chief Commissioner of Punjab. He acted not only as the chief executive of the Punjab but also as the commander of the Punjab Frontier Force.

It was "in 1859" that "the Punjab rose to the full rank of an Indian province" and John Lawrence became its first Lieutenant Governor.5 The Punjab, last province annexed by the British in India, had a form of government which was "military in form and spirit".6 This was a unique form of administration that gave priority to dynamic administrative flexibility over "rigid adherence to legislative regulations."7 Punjab came to be governed as "non-regulation" province with its own unique style of governance which became "the basis of paternalistic despotism that was to characterize the famed Punjab school of administration."8 Such an administrative system was based on the principle of combination of powers. Every tier of this administration from the Board of Administration to a kardar was vested with fiscal, magisterial and judicial powers. This system of administration devised to work under the Board of Administration met many requirements.

First, it was in consonance with the indigenous institutions and tribal norms. Secondly, it could provide ready and speedy justice without getting meddled into the formalities of regular courts of law. Thirdly, it could meet the exigencies of a strong administrative structure in a freshly conquered and outlying frontier region like Punjab because the British had a serious threat perception from its north-western side. According to the analysis of Tan Tai Yong, "by the late nineteenth century, with the north-west of India regaining strategic significance following the onset of Great Game, the Punjab became, to all intents and purposes, the garrison province of the Raj." 9 The idea of forming a Board of Administration for the governance of Punjab was of Lord Dalhousie. While writing about the Board of administration of Punjab, the Governor General Lord Dalhousie wrote in detail to the President of Board of Control of East India Company Sir John Hobhouse on 30th July, 1849:

I need not remind you of the peculiar position which Sir Henry Lawrence held. The place at the head of affairs in the Punjab kept open for him by the suggestion of the Government of India, and I personally pledged to replace him, he resumed the head of affairs in February, 1849. I told him that if, opposed as I knew he was to the new policy, he felt he could not carry it into execution as frankly and efficiently as the other, I expected of his candour and honour that he would say so. He said he would do so cordially. Having so lately and under such peculiar circumstances replaced him as head of the Government there I could not turn him out, if he was willing to act. Thus I was tied to Sir Henry Lawrence. But Sir Henry Lawrence was not competent to the sole charge of the Punjab: to the civil government of it. It was indispensable to give him a coadjutor.

There was no man who had so strong a claim to that office; as man fitter fir it; no man more likely to get on well with his brother in it than John Lawrence. But it would not have done to make a family compact: and it was necessary to provide against...

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