Maharaja Jayaji Rao Scindia and his court

Following the Battle of Maharajpur and the subsequent treaty which stipulated that henceforth although Gwalior would remain a Regency, as long as the maharaja was too young to rule for himself, a British Agent would be affectually, the overseer of the State. Furthermore, the Gwalior Contingent would be under the leadership of British officers.
This army was formed for the sole purpose of keeping down the troublesome principalities in Gwalior – the petty Rajput, Aheer and Gujur chieftains, the disgruntled Mahrattas and the titular and pensioned representatives of the various clans and tribes. The Gwalior Contingent, though managed by British officers was paid for by the Gwalior State with money garnered from the revenues of districts assigned for this purpose.

Under British influence, certain changes had come into place in the revenue system in Gwalior.

The revenue of the state was derived primarily from farming. In the early days, the land was farmed by officers who held permanent contracts (basically, the Mughal mansabari system) which ensured the officers had a duty to show their districts were prosperous. However around the 1830s, this changed. The officers were replaced by a multitude of petty farmers who instead of holding a permanent contract, “were superseded as often as they were outbid”- it turned into a system of extortion with every man scrabbling to get all he could out of the district to line his own pockets. The ryots as usual suffered the most under the tyranny and unable to bear it any longer, they left Gwalior in droves, searching for a less oppressive life. The revenue in some of the richest tracts of Gwalior fell off by two-thirds and by 1844, Gwalior was essentially broke.
Under the British, the Regency was pressed to give up the farming system and to cause revenue to be assessed and collected by officers of the State, and grant leases f guaranteeing fair rent for a set number of years but the implementation was harder than the British thought.

The interests of the Regency “were opposed to such a change, for they were themselves farmers of the revenue (though not in their own names); and all the influential classes the Pundits, the Bankers, the courtiers, and State servants, were strongly arrayed against the proposed alteration, which would tend to prevent their irregular exactions. It happened, however, during the first year of our control while Sir Richmond Shakespear lived at Gwalior as Political Agent, in subordination to the Governor-General’s Agent, Colonel Sleeman, who resided at Jhansi that two warlike Rajpoot clans, whom Scindia’s Government held under a loose subjection, refused, as usual, to pay their revenue until
they should see the force that was to take it. British aid was requested in reducing them, Scindia’s commandant having always allotted four battalions of infantry, sixteen
guns, and a body of horse, for the collection of the revenue from one of the two clans in question. The Political Agent, while he maintained the authority of the Gwalior
Government, thought it right to guarantee to those clans a just and fixed settlement of the land revenue to be paid by them. He accordingly caused a five years’ village
settlement to be made that is, leases for five years at a fair rent to be granted by the Government in the district occupied by the two clans ; but the Regency could not be
induced to extend it to other provinces.”

So although they succeeded on a small scale it was not nearly enough to save Gwalior from ruin.

In 1852, with barely ten months of the Maharaja’s minority remaining, the President of the Regency died – the British Government (represented by Colonel Malcolm as Political Agent and Mr. Bushby as Agent to the Governor-General) seized the opportunity to introduce the aforementioned reform by dissolving the Council of Regency altogether and introducing the young Raja at once into administrative affairs. With his consent, Malcolm and Bushby appointed to the office of Dewan or Prime Minister, the Pundit Dinkar Rao.

Gwalior and Dinkar Rao

Sir Dinkar Rao

Dinkar Rao had been in the sights of the British for some time. Richard Shakespear initially perceived the young man’s talents during the earlier introduction of the revenue reforms and did his best to push him forward. Mr. Bushby saw “in him alone any hope of improving the administration” while Colonel Malcolm, at first reticent, soon “pronounced him to be the ablest and best.”
In his office as Dewan, Dinkar Rao rose from strength to strength. During the first 2 years of his appointment he “effected a great revolution” and set Gwalior on the road to renewed prosperity.
Throughout the State, he set up three departments – revenue, justice and police. In the revenue department he abolished the ruinous farmer system (though it must be said not throughout Gwalior – there would remain pockets of resistance to this particular reform) and gave ten years leases to the people of every single village. His justice department was filled quickly with Mohmedan judges mostly drawn from British territories and courts. He then reorganised the police into a separate organisation.
Dinkar Rao worked on a very simple principle – pay high and pay well, thus abolishing bribes, and exactions as a well-paid man would have no need to fleece others. With a strong hand he thus suppressed disorder, abolished ruinous imports, executed public works, and by reduction of salaries, including his own, turned the deficits of the State into a resounding surplus. Finding the other Pundits disinclined and deliberately refusing to cooperate in any kind of revenue reforms, Dinkur Rao turned to the British territories in the North-Western Provinces for a supply of people trained in public business, retaining barely a third of the old Gwalior employees.

(Note: we must not misinterpret this in the Western connotation – in India, a Pundit is a person who is enriched with the knowledge of the four Vedic scriptures – Hindu ritual, law, religion, music/philosophy and who is willing to pursue religious activities and even work as a teacher to train others aspiring to be pundits. It must further be understood that although all Brahmins can be Pundits, not all pundits are Brahmins. Brahmins are a caste which means you are born as one, but learning about the 4 Vedic scriptures is not exclusively a Brahmin pursuit as anyone, from any caste can learn the scriptures. It is a common misconception that only the Brahmins are learned and they discourage learning among other castes. This is a Western myth).

Though even the best laid plans will have its detractors. Colonel Malcolm was called for duty in Baroda and in the two months that passed before the arrival of Major Macpherson the young Raja, though not officially a ruler as yet, began a wild grasp for power. He was advised, albeit badly, to govern as we well as reign and they took the opportunity to convince him the only way he could do so was by removing Dinkur Rao which the Raja thus ordered.

Major Samuel Charters Macpherson

The treaty with Gwalior provided that the Regency, as long as it subsisted, would be guided by the advice of British appointed Agents – but it did not reckon that the Raja would led in this particular direction. The Raja was free to appoint a new minister if he pleased and while everyone believed the ministry of the said Dewan was at an end,

“Major Macpherson, on his arrival, had a delicate waiting game to play, not knowing a man in the place, and not having had one word with Colonel Malcolm. He thought it best to leave the Gwalior Court absolutely to themselves to fight it out, determined that the first move should come from the Rajah, and that it should never be in his power to say that we had imposed a minister upon him. So the Rajah at last took it on himself to decide without even asking the Agent’s advice, to retain Dinkur Rao in office.”

The intrigues the Raja was subjected to were not all from his own court. The Bazia had not completely finished with her own meddling and she used her substantial wealth to influence the young man and then there was Indore. He further had aspirants to the post of dewan openly squabbling with each other and to make it worse,
“The political arrangements of Central India, which placed the Agent at Gwalior under the superintendence of the Governor-General’s Agent, residing at Indore, 350 miles distant, were but too favourable to native trickery. The plan of raising differences between Scindia and his Dewan, and between the office of the Political Agent at Gwalior and
at of the Governor-General’s Agent at Indore, was a familiar Indian expedient, and great efforts were made to bring it into play…”

Sir Rober Hamilton, the Governor-General’s Agent was too well versed in the intrigues of court and he immediately threw his support behind Major Macpherson, although he kept his own meddling in the affairs of Gwalior at a minimum, leaving Macpherson a large leeway to deal with the State himself. As such, it was the Raja and not Macpherson who called Dinkar Rao back.

For his part, Dinkar Rao took up where he had left off and the reforms continued.

The duties of a political agent – in this case Major Macpherson, required him to “take part, by suggestion and advice,” in securing to a wide region peace and good government and of course, represent British interests in the court in which he served. His objective was to consolidate and advance new systems of government, to aid the erstwhile minister in retaining his influence over the often turbulent rajas and to imbue in the minds of not only the raja but the minister new methods of improving the lot of the people. In Gwalior, Macpherson saw it wiser to keep his own meddling at a minimum, his interference was less visible than in other courts as he felt the Raja and Dewan should consider themselves responsible for their own administration “and exclusively entitled to the resulting honour or discredit; to allow His Highness, without question, the utmost latitude of action, especially with respect to his troops and his capital; and at the same time to maintain, by influence and advice, the essential conditions of the administration; as befitted the Power by whose protection Scindia’s Government was maintained.”

In the case of Gwalior, Dinkar Rao was the sole author and worker in that rather complicated administration. He worked tirelessly to save the State through good government and he understood “ that the time had passed for any affectation by
Gwalior of unreal nationality, independence, or separateness of interest, and that the course left to it was that of municipal energy and prosperity through cooperation,
approximation, assimilation to the Supreme State.”
By allowing Dinkar Rao to manage things for himself and by supporting his ideas, Gwalior rapidly advanced in every respect. Although we have seen briefly what this enterprising minister was capable of, we should give it a little more detail when we understand that Gwalior in size was larger than Oudh and stretched not only across Central India but was intermixed or touched on the borders of a great variety of other states, the implications of a good or a bad government were far-reaching and well past the confines of its own borders.

In the first three years of Major Macpherson’s Agency Scindia was induced under the guidance of his Dewan and at a great immediate sacrifice to the much-needed revenue, to abolish all transit duties on all the main roads within his dominions, and to spend on improving roads and bridges. Dinkar Rao extended and revised the revenue settlement and created new codes regulating not just revenue but the civil and criminal procedures.
That the Revenue settlement was a resounding success can be born out of the fact
“The revenue amounted (in round numbers) to about 800,000/. Before 1843 there had been an annual deficit of 60,000/. ; during the period of the Regency, the annual deficit had been 30,000/. The estimate for 1855-56, after making a liberal provision for all the objects of government, showed a balance in the treasury of 15,000. “ In effect, Gwalior was now making money. The dues of the Government were paid with facility and without a balance except for areas where the crops had failed, while cultivation and population were increased. In his tour through the State, Macpherson found the only wants the people now had was a need for more water for irrigation and a desire for proper roads.

“The first object of the Gwalior Government being to maintain the village municipalities in integrity and energy, the land of zemindars was not made saleable for arrears of revenue; other coercive processes being the same as in our North-west Provinces. Claims to zemindary land after the lapse of a period of thirty years were prohibited. A village boundary survey was instituted. The little half- independent principalities within the Gwalior dominions were treated in a just and conciliatory spirit, and the usual quarrels and coercion nearly cease.”

Regarding the Civil Procedure, Dinkar Rao modelled Gwalior after the Punjab system. According to it, the first duty of a judge was to effect the prevention or when not possible a compromise in lawsuits, thus eliminating long, drawn-out cases, and then to either level a ruling himself or to resort to a panchayat ( a committee of 5 persons on a rural level) that could decide a case as judges. This differed from the Punjab model as there the judge still had the last word but not so in Gwalior. Professional pleaders were not admitted to court thus getting rid of meddling and often expensive middlemen. Coercive processes could still be resorted to in finding a solution to a case, but pay or pension were sequestered first before land as long as it was not zemindary land, which could not be sold. Lastly, personal property was sequestered but only as a last resort.

Under the new Criminal Code, which followed closely the Punjab model, there was one new regulation – it no longer authorised capital punishment. The Dewan instituted a well-paid police force and spread it liberally throughout Gwalior. Along the Agra and Bombay road for example, there were stations at intervals of a mile and parties of horse at intervals of every six miles thus causing lawlessness to all but cease in the State.

His vision for a prosperous Gwalior extended to reforms in education, and he abolished tenured slavery along with the provision of supplies without payment thus spelling an end to the business of loans at exorbitant interest rates. Weights and measures were adjusted, he implemented the building of bazaars and the digging of wells, while schools were established in the principal towns and in some village districts.

The following extract from a letter addressed to Major Macpherson by his old friend Mr. Bushby will tend to show the estimation in which this work was held :

‘Hyderabad Residency, 23rd August 1855. I very much want to assist the Nizam’s minister to govern the country better. He is willing and intelligent, but without experience, being very young. His experience is great only in the practices of the people in this vile city, where he learned much in the house and the ministry of his uncle the late Suraj-ool-Mulk. Your able Dewan, my esteemed friend Dinkur Rao, and the chief of the Adawlut at Gwalior, prepared a capital code of law and procedure for the administration of Scindia’s country, brief and practicable, lucid in its proportions as well as in its provisions. Could you send me copies and let me know how all is working? Dinkur Rao’s paper was the best I have ever seen, and would do credit to the Council of India.’

In 1855, Dewan Dinkar Rao called together a large assembly of Rajput chiefs on the Chumbal river with the sole purpose of eliminating the evil practice of female infanticide. Together with Macpherson, they held long talks with the chiefs and the result was astonishing:

All declared that the poverty, which had been an excuse for the practice, was at an end.
‘ We sit here,’ said they, ‘ in cotton and silk dresses, who used to wear rags; and every man has two or three horses in his yard, who, in the old time, had not even an ass.’ They moreover alleged that the practice was declining, and, although the Agent was opposed to the valueless formality, they insisted on giving a pledge to discontinue this usage, and to punish the perpetrators by expulsion from caste. His chief hope lay, however, in the Dewan’s influence with one great tribe.

Macpherson however was constantly at the beck and call of not just the Maharaja but the Dewan who constantly asked his advice, wanting from him his minute impressions of every policy and decision but he stayed true to one principle -ask they could, and advise he would, but ultimately they had to decide the actual administration for themselves. It must be kept in mind that although the reforms went ahead with rather startling speed, they could not thwart the machinations of the court which continued to interfere and when they could, cause all manner of intrigues. Yet Scindia remained firm in his own belief, had Gwalior not turned itself around under British influence, their fate would have been no better than that of Oudh – the annexation of 1856 deeply troubled the young man and he felt his State had been spared a similar death by hair’s breadth.

In the spring of 1857, the Raja paid a visit to Calcutta and accompanied by Macpherson, he received the gratifying assurance from Lord Canning himself, that in case he were to die without male issue, the Government would not be disposed to practice the Doctrine of Lapse on Gwalior but would recognise an adopted son. It was more than just political visit but one calculated to awe the Raja and his government.

The Dewan and several of the Chiefs of Gwalior accompanied their Prince; and the effect of the railway, steam-engine, electric telegraph, shipping, &c., upon all on them was very great. Scindia remarked, on seeing a spinning-mill at work, ‘ What a fine contrivance for saving the sweat of the poor!’ and determined to have a steam-engine for his mint. One of his Mahratta chiefs observed of Calcutta, ‘Ah, this is a place to take the conceit out of a man!'”

Gwalior was on a path of success and Macpherson was feeling considerably proud of his achievements as he watched this fledgling State take its first steps towards, what could eventually be, self-rule. He was confident in the Dewan Dinkur Rao to keep the prince from wavering under the intrigues of his court and that in a few years’ time when his tenure was over, he would leave behind a flourishing Gwalior State.

However, then came the mutiny.

Memorial of Service in India, from the Correspondence of the Late Major Samuel Charters Macpherson, C.B., edited by his brother, William Macpherson (1865)

Gwalior State Gazetteer, Vol. 1- Text and Tables – compiled by Captain C.E. Luard M.A. (Oxon) I.A. Superintendent of Gazetteer in Central India, assisted by Rai Sahib Pandit Dwarka Nath Shopuri, State Gazetteer Officer (1908)

5 thoughts on “The Maharaja, the Dewan and the Resident

  1. Such an enticing dream and hope to consider that finally there would be a flourishing Gwalior State. Macpherson perhaps was seeing in these people a hope and future that had been always so elusive, but just maybe the tides could be turned with prosperity and a lasting peace for Gwalior’s inhabitants; then what is this now, Mutiny lies ahead!


    1. The mutiny of the Gwalior Contingent is one of those episodes in the Indian Mutiny which always fills me with a sense of admiration. It was a brilliant play at politics from the side of Scindia and Dinkar Rao, on the other hand, it was also an incredible feat of the rebel leaders within the contingent to preserve themselves, not as a rabble of mutineers, but as a standing army, with honour and respect. The story is far from over – there is still some way to go to see this through to the very end. I hope you enjoy reading the next installment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Eva! Good to see you’re so busy with your writing and I had figured you would be, but knew I was right when I didn’t get word from you the last couple of days! You’ve done a fine job of delving into this subject and bring many intricate facets of that historical period as it pertains to the mutiny of the Gwalior Contingent and closely related factors.

        Yes I see and agree with this statement of yours that really sums it up handily!

        “Brilliant play at politics from the side of Scindia and Dinkar Rao, on the other hand, it was also an incredible feat of the rebel leaders within the contingent to preserve themselves, not as a rabble of mutineers, but as a standing army, with honour and respect.”

        I have to say I’m a bit awe struck as well that those that could, actually rose to the occasion and did make a huge difference as well the required impact on circumstances and future security! To me it’s quite amazing because as I understand this history and country, it’s a very conflicted region of the world where very different religions or ideologies converge or even collide, and the peoples can or often times had even been at each other’s throats throughout history; “no walk in the park” as they say, to live in a place where fundamental beliefs often times clash severely! A region where the large distinct differing populations all want to survive and benefit their own kind; so the stage is set for conflict in one form or another!

        Eva you’re doing a wonderful job and I actually feel like I’m taking a bona fide history lesson which I most certainly enjoy and will moving forward! I’m wondering how it all carries on, what predominate factors actually propel this piece of history; so that it gets to the present time and how all the peoples fare through the big changes as they unfold!

        Thank you for putting so much effort and precision into your ongoing work in this subject which I know you thoroughly enjoy and have a passion for! Keep that intent passion fueled with your keen sense and inspiration!
        Many more blessings!


    2. The story of Gwalior is a mighty tale, a fiercely independent people ruled with discretion and tact, as opposed to the usual haphazard attitude many of the nawabs and rajas had. Gwalior was ruled justly and with the idea of upliftment in mind. Unfortunately, Oudh did not take a page out of the playbook of Gwalior – had they, annexation might have been avoided. But the Lucknowi court was a place of much sedition and grotesque overindulgence, with a veritable army of people simply employed to meet the whims of the ruler while the peasants were basically left under the yoke of an oppressive landowner system. However, the EICo’s handling of Oudh was also without doubt less motivated by doing good but by their own greed and hunger for expansion. All of these factors contributed to the what happened in the coming months in Oudh.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Here on his quote, “usual haphazard attitude many of the nawabs and rajas had;” you point out what mainly was my preconceived outlook of the people in general or additionally that precept coupled to perhaps some radical fundamentalist religious mantra that just builds up to a crescendo or massive conflict after festering for decades!

        Then here you point out the additional burden placed upon the various peoples by the upper echelon or those with real power! “Lucknowi court was a place of much sedition and grotesque overindulgence, with a veritable army of people simply employed to meet the whims of the ruler while the peasants were basically left under the yoke of an oppressive landowner system.” Then look at this statement of yours for a dose of reality, “their own greed and hunger for expansion.” And isn’t that the way the of this messed up world right now with so many in the upper strata deciding what they want the rest of us to do and not be allowed to have or even say in the matter! I keep going back to that adage of, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

        I see a juggler now and all the balls are in the air, some kind of balancing act of needs, demands and selfish desires all in the mix! I guess we today still with all the madness do have things so much easier at least in terms of creature comfort; but lack of stress, not so much! Tell me about it! UHGGHH!


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