British relation with Princely States of Odisha

By 1948-49, the Feudatory States, also known as Native States, Princely States, Garhjat States, or Tributary Mahals, numbered twenty-six. These feudatory states were classified into three categories:

  1. Central Odisha states: Angul, Athgarh, Athmallik, Banki, Baudh, Baramba, Daspalla, Dhenkanal, Hindol, Khandapara Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Narasirnhapur, Nayagarh, Nilgiri, Pal Lahara, Talcher, Tigria, and Ranapur. In 1840 and 1847, two of them—Banki and Angul—were annexed by British Odisha.
  2. States under Central Provinces: In 1905, five states under Central Provinces were transferred to Odisha division: Patna, Sonepur, Kalahandi, Bamanda, and Rairakhoi.
  3. Transferred states to Odisha division: In 1905, two similar states—Gangpur and Bonai—were transferred from Chhotanagpur to Odisha division.

Characteristics of the British-Feudal State Relationship

The British exhibited the following characteristics toward feudal states:

  1. Indirect control by the British: In contrast to British Odisha, which was administered directly by the British government, feudatory states were controlled indirectly by the British. The British were the Supreme or Sovereign Authority, while Feudatory States were its subordinate allies.
  2. Policy of ‘no-interference’: The British maintained a policy of ‘no-interference’ in the internal affairs of individual states. Reg. XII of 1805 exempted the nineteen States from enforcing the administrative laws of the British-ruled Odisha. During the early years of their rule, the British attempted to win the States’ good will and cooperation.
  3. Laissez-faire policy: Beginning in 1813, the laissez-faire policy shifted. The British insisted on Chiefs of States’ loyalty and the maintenance of public order and began meddling in internal affairs, as in the cases of Dhenkanal and Mayurbhanj.

Establishment of the position of Superintendent of the Tributary Mahals

In 1814, the office of the Superintendent of the Tributary Mahals was established. His authority was defined in 1816 by Regulation XI. The Chiefs were tasked with the responsibility of administering both civil and criminal justice in their respective states. The Superintendent was to be notified of serious offences and those requiring capital punishment. He was vested with the authority to adjudicate inheritance, succession, and similar claims. Edward Impey, the Cuttack Judge-cum-Magistrate, was appointed the first Superintendent in 1814.

The establishment of the Superintendent’s office brought the Garhjat States under closer British supervision, without any hostility toward the Chiefs or the people of the hilly tract, as British policy remained one of noninterference in state affairs. In 1817, in place of the Judge-cum-Magistrate of Cuttack, the Commissioner of Odisha was appointed Superintendent of the Tributary Mahals. In 1821, government intervention was permitted only in cases of political nature, such as feuds between Chiefs, defiance or breach of loyalty to the government, and oppression by the Chiefs. On political grounds, the Banki and Angul chiefs were imprisoned and the states were annexed by British Odisha.

The 1857 Revolt’s Impact

The 1857 Great Indian Revolt resulted in a noticeable shift in British policy. In 1862, the British Crown bestowed Sanads on Chiefs, granting them the hereditary title of Raja and ensuring them the right of adoption. The Odishan Chiefs’ loyalty and cooperation during the Great Revolt of 1857 compelled the government to pursue a conciliatory and friendly policy toward them. For their services during the period, the Chiefs of “Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar were conferred the title of ‘Maharaja. Sir Richard Jemple, the Lieutenant Governor, congratulated the Chiefs at a grand Durbar held in November 1874 in Cuttack. The relationship was redefined and the British Government’s moral responsibility for good governance in the States was reaffirmed, including intervention in cases of oppression, violation of law and order, and disputed succession.

The consequences of the relationship with feudal states

The feudatory states’ relationship with the British resulted in the following:

  1. British power increased as a result of such policies. State rulers became staunch supporters of the British Raj. They competed for the favour of government officials. The Government may intervene in their administration as and when necessary under the right of supervision of state administration.
  2. The Feudatory Chiefs were frequently careless and, in some cases, oppressive. They could continue despite their mismanagement if they gained the approval of the Paramount sovereign authority.
  3. Maladministration was nearly pervasive. As a result, discontent grew among peasants, who made up the majority of the population. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, disturbances and agrarian revolts erupted in a number of states, including Baud, Athamallik, Keonjhar, and Nayagarh.

In the twentieth century, the British had a relationship with feudatory chiefs. For the British authorities, the growth of national consciousness became concerning. They attempted to cultivate a more amicable relationship with the Feudatory Chiefs. Simultaneously, they desired that the princes pay greater attention to the welfare of the populace. Two critical steps have been taken in that direction. The first was the appointment of a Political Agent, and the second was the compilation of the Manual of Feudatory States. Sir Andrew Fraser, Bengal’s Lieutenant Governor, strongly recommended the appointment of a Political Agent for the Feudatory States of Odisha, who would report to the Commissioner of Odisha. He should serve as a confidant, philosopher, and guide to the rulers in order for effective administration to occur. L.C.B. Cobden-Ramsay was appointed Political Agent for Odisha’s Feudal States in 1906. The Feudatory States Manual is based on the Sanads granted to them. It served as a guide for the Chiefs. Their dignity as a priceless asset was acknowledged. Simultaneously, efforts were made to assist the Chiefs in carrying out their responsibilities. It had far-reaching consequences. While retaining the Chiefs’ good will and loyalty and ensuring sound administration, it would help quell nationalist uprisings in the States. In States directly administered by the British, the Political Agent acted as the Chief authority, subject to the Commissioner’s control. Following 1920, numerous states encountered numerous difficulties as a result of the Praja Mandalas or State People’s Conferences. Their cause of establishing representative or democratic governments was championed by the All-India Congress Party. The British government, too, became aware of the changing circumstances. The Montague-Chelmsford Report reflected maladministration, popular discontent, and the maturation of consciousness, and the current uproar cannot be dismissed by the princes. The British Government recognised that the Feudatory Chiefs, who acted as a pillar of strength for them, would perish if they failed to provide effective administration. It was revealed through the statements of Viceroy Lord Linlithgow in 1939 and Secretary of State for India L.S. Amery in 1943.

To conclude,

During the two decades preceding the States’ Merger in 1948, several reform measures and developments in administration, education, and public works were implemented. Whereas oppression and suppression of popular revolts continued unabated in some states. In the final years of their rule, the British Government recognised the writing on the wall that the Chiefs’ days were numbered, and they were rather lukewarm in their support for the Chiefs.