Lakshmibai, Rani of Jhansi

Comments on the Annexation

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There are the first two letters that Lakshmibai wrote to Dalhousie, which I believe to be complete, and an extract from the third. According to Fisher, Dalhousie was irritated by her persistence. It was after the second letter that he decided to settle the Raja's personal property on the son, Damodar, rather than his widow. She continued writing to Dalhousie through to 1856.

The first letter is primarily concerned with the adoption and demonstrating that it had been performed correctly and could not be questioned. The second is primarily concerned with the history of Jhansi and its close and loyal ties with the British. Unfortunately for Lakshmibai, the question of the succession depended on the approval of the adoption by Dalhousie. Since Dalhousie wanted to annexe Jhansi all he had to do was withhold that approval. Here is an extract from the report upon which Dalhousie presumably based the justification for his decision, and a draft justification signed by Dalhousie on February 27 1854.

The extract from the third letter is interesting in that although I believe it is intended to state both that the annexation will not be resisted and that the British are nothing other than bullies, it also shows that Lakshmibai had considered resistance no matter how fleetingly, and was aware of the British strength and Indian weakness. One wonders how this letter, and the irritation at her persistence in stating her case, affected the perception of her in 1857. As a dig at the British it is nicely done, as a political statement it was ill-advised.

The dubious nature of the British case is best demonstrated by Dalhousie himself in this extract from a minute dated 25 March 1854. In it he draws the distinction between inheritance of personal property and inheritance of the state. For the one Damodar Rao was considered the legitimate heir, but not for the other.

If we examine the draft justification mentioned above, there seems to be little of substance in it. It simply ignores Lakshmibai's arguments based on the Treaties with the British.

Point 3 is irrelevant, the question is one of legality, not whether it looks suspicious to some bureaucrat. Gangadhar Rao knew he was dying, and so arranged the adoption. There was no secret about the circumstances.

Point 4 is not relevant since it was the widow (apparently) who adopted a son, and not Ramchandra Rao.

Point 5 is irrelevant, and not true. The British had an interest in Jhansi because of its strategic position within Bundelkhand, as is stated in point 6.

Point 7 is not true. Other states had not benefitted from British rule. Some people would benefit of course, but on average they would not. It is a simple matter of economics. The taxes would have to pay for the British administration and garrison in Jhansi and for funds to go to Calcutta and to England. Where a local ruler would spend most of the tax money locally, the British would send more money elsewhere.

With respect to the well-being of a town after the British took over, Mehr Afshan Farooqi, in his introduction to The Eleven Illustrations, speaks of the descent of Bareily from prosperity and of the observations of two Britons - 'Nevertheless, both Heber and Tennant recognise and admit that the ruin or emigration of the local chiefs (who were also the patrons of the local industries) following the establishment of British rule, was responsible for the decline of many of the local crafts.'

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Last modified: 2005-09-23 23:23:01.000000000