[Indian Polity] Chapter 1 Historical Background – The Company Rule and The Crown Rule Notes

Historical Background

British ruled India for almost 200 years. So many of the features of today’s polity and administration find their origin in the British rule of India. In this first chapter of Indian Polity, we will look into the Historical Background – The Company Rule (1765-1857) and the Crown Rule (1858-1947). 

It all started in Plassey, then Buxar. In 1765 after the battle of Buxar, the English East India Company obtained Diwani rights of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa.

What does Diwani Right Means?

It means two things –

  1. Right of revenue collection
  2. Right of civil justice

With this English company became a territorial power.


But the company turned overambitious and greedy, and soon people started raising their voices. The outcome of this was the revolt of 1857. After the revolt Crown took over the responsibility of India. This continued till 1947. Then India became an independent country.

India made a new law for herself. In this series, we will learn about that law – the Indian Constitution and Polity.

British ruled India for almost 200 years. So many of the features of today’s polity and administration find their origin in the British rule of India. In this chapter, we will look into that.

English ruled India in two phases.

  1. First phase – 1773-1857 –> The Company Rule
  2. Second phase – 1858-1947 –> The Crown Rule
Historical Background

The Company Rule 1773-1858

Here we will learn

  1. Regulating Act of 1773
  2. Pitts India Act of 1784
  3. Charter Act of 1793
  4. Charter Act of 1813
  5. Charter Act of 1833
  6. Charter Act of 1853

These acts were passed in British Parliament situated in London. And the aim of these acts was to regulate the affairs of the EIC.

Let us begin with –

The Regulating Act of 1773

  1. First Step to Regulate EIC: The first step of the British Government to control and regulate the company affairs
  2. Recognition of EIC: The British govt first time recognized the political and administrative functions of EIC
  3. Central Administration: Laid the foundation of central administration in India
  4. GOB –> GGB: Governor of Bengal became Governor General of Bengal (Warren Hastings First GGB)
  5. Executive Council: GGB is assisted by an Executive Council of four members
  6. Bombay, Madras become Subordinate: Governor of Bombay and Madras made subordinate to Governor General of Bengal
  7. Supreme Court @Calcutta: Act provided for the establishment of the Supreme Court of Calcutta
    1. 1 chief justice + three other judges
    2. Sir Elijah Impey became the first Chief Justice
  8. No Private Trade: The act prohibited the servants of the company to engage in private trade
  9. Report to British Govt: The company shall report revenue and civil and military affairs to the British government

Pitts India Act 1784

  1. Double Government: It distinguishes between the commercial and political functions of the company and while doing so it established a system of double government
  2. COD -> Commercial: Court of directors to manage the commercial affairs of the EIC
  3. BOC -> Political: Board of control to manage the political affairs of the EIC. The Board of control will supervise all operations regarding civil affairs, military and revenue collection
  4. British Possessions in India: The company’s territories in India were for the first time called the British possessions in India

Now the next act that we are going to study is –

Charter Act of 1793

  1. Overriding power: All future governor generals and governors of presidencies were given overriding power over his Council which was set up in 1773.
  2. More power to Bengal: The Governor-general of Bengal was given more powers and control over the governments of the subordinate presidencies of Bombay and Madras
  3. Trade monopoly extended: The trade monopoly of the company in India extended for another 20 years
  4. Salary from Indian Revenue: The members of the board of control and their staff were henceforth to be paid out of the Indian revenues

Charter Act of 1813

  1. Trade monopoly abolished: This act is important as it abolished the trade monopoly of the English East India Company. From now onwards Indian trade was open to all British merchants. However, the trade monopoly of the East India Company over trade in tea and trade with China continued.
  2. Sovereignty: Act asserted the sovereignty of the British crown over the company’s territories in India.
  3. Christian missionaries: It allowed the Christian missionaries to come to India. Also allowed the spread of western education among the Indians
  4. Taxes: It authorised the local governments in India to impose taxes on persons. 

Charter Act of 1833

  1. Centralisation: This act was the final step towards centralisation in British India. 
  2. Governor General of India: The Governor-general of Bengal became the governor-general of India. Lord William Bentinck was the first governor-general of India
  3. Legislative Powers of Bengal increased: It deprived the governor of Bombay and Madras of their legislative powers. The Governor-general of India was given exclusive legislative powers for the entire British India. The laws made under the previous Provisions were called Regulations while laws made under this provision were called as acts.
  4. Open competition attempted: Unsuccessful attempt to introduce a system for open competition for selecting civil servants


What was the significance of the Charter Act of 1833?
For the first time, the government of India was created that had authority over the entire territorial area possessed by the British in India. Also, this act increased the legislative powers of the governor-generals seat in Bengal.

Charter Act of 1853

  1. Last Charter Act: This was the last Charter Act
  2. Separation of Power: Separation of legislative and executive functions of the Governor-General’s executive council.
  3. Legislative Council: Six members Governor-General’s Legislative Council was introduced –> functioned as mini parliament.
  4. Local Representaton: Six Members in the Central legislative council = 2+ 4 from local provincial councils (Madras, Bombay, Bengal, Agra)
  5. Open Competition Introduced: For the first time Open competition system for civil services was introduced 

After the revolt of 1857, the East India Company is abolished. The Crown Took over the governance of India. A new post of Viceroy was introduced and he was the direct representative of the British crown. Henceforth India is known as the British Raj, the Crown Rule. 

The Crown Rule 1858-1947

So let us look into the acts passed to govern India in this phase. 


  1. Government of India Act of 1858
  2. Indian Councils Act of 1861
  3. Indian Councils Act of 1892
  4. Indian Councils Act of 1909
  5. Indian Councils Act of 1919
  6. Government of India Act 1935
  7. Indian Independence Act 1947


Government of India Act 1858

  1. AKA Act of the Good Government of India: Does it recognises that earlier governance by the English company was bad? I guess the name suggests the same. 
  2. Viceroy of India: The designation of Governor General of India changed to Viceroy of India. 
  3. Double Government Abolished: Board of Control and Court of Directors abolished
  4. Secretary of State: Member of the British Cabinet. Vested with complete authority and control over Indian administration. 
  5. India Council: 15-member council. The Council of the Secretary of State, also known as the India Council based in Whitehall, London. Advisory body. SOS was chairman. 

This act was just old wine in a new bottle. It did not alter the way India is to be governed, at least substantially. 

Indian Councils Act 1861

After the revolt of 1857, the British were afraid of such a revolt might happen again. So they wanted more Indians in the administration. So to implement this – acts of 1861, 1892 and 1909 were introduced. 

  1. Accommodating Indians with Law Making: The viceroy should nominate some Indians as non-official members of his expanded council. In 1862 Lord Canning – announced Raja of Benaras + Sir Dinkar Rao + Maharaja of Patiala. 
  2. Decentralisation: Legislative powers of Madras and Bombay restored. 
  3. New Councils: New legislative councils for Bengal (1862), NWFP (1886), and Punjab (1897) were established.
  4. Portfolio System Introduced: Member of the Viceroys council was made in change of one or more departments of the Government. (Similar to current portfolio system)
  5. Ordinance: The viceroy can issue ordinances without the concurrence of a legislative council during an emergency. Six months life. 

Indian Councils Act of 1892

  1. Legislative council numbers increased: Additional members in the central and provincial legislative council. Still a majority in favour of the British. 
  2. Power to Discuss: Power of discussing budget and questions to the executive
  3. Nomination: Viceroy and Governor can nominate non-official members in the Central as well as Provincial Legislative Council respectively. 

Indian Councils Act of 1909

  1. AKA Morely Minto Reforms
  2. Morely = Secretary of State
  3. Minto = Viceroy
  4. Increased Size of Legislative Council: From 16 to 60 in Central Legislative Council. Even the number of members in the Provincial Legislative Council increased (members in PC are not uniform)
  5. Power to Ask Supplementary Questions: Members now could as a supplementary questions and move resolutions on the budget. 
  6. Association of Indians in Executive Council: It provided for the association of Indians with executive councils of the Viceroy and Governors. Satyendra Prasad Sinha became the first Indian to join the Viceroys Executive Council. He was appointed as the Law Member. 
  7. Communal Representation: For Muslims. Muslim members to be elected by Muslim voters. Legalised communalism. Lord Minto = Father of Communal Representation. 

Government of India Act 1919

  1. AKA Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms
  2. Montegu= SOS
  3. Chelmsford= Viceroy
  4. List System: Central and Provincial Subject introduced (Todays Union and State List find genesis here). The central legislature can make laws on central subjects. The provincial legislature can make laws on Provnicnal subjects.
  5. Provincial Subjects Further Divided: Transferred and Reserved. In reserved subjects, the governor and his executive council were not answerable to the legislative council but in transferred subjects it was. System of Dyarchy at Provinces but it was Unsuccessful. 
  6. Bicameralism and Direct Elections: Indian legislative council was replaced by a bicameral legislature. Bicameral legislature means – upper house and lower house. 
  7. Upper House = Council of States
  8. Lower House = Legislative Assembly
  9. Viceroy’s Executive Council = 3/6 should be Indians.
  10. Sperate Electorate Extended = Sikhs + Indian Christians + Anglo Indians + Europeans 
  11. Franchise = Right to Vote to limited people. On the basis of property, tax, education
  12. High Commissioner for India in London
  13. Establishment of Public Service Commission- Hence Central Public Service Commission was set up in 1926 for recruiting civil servants.
  14. Budget Separated: Provincial budget from the state budget. 
  15. Statutory Commission: To inquire into and report on the working of reforms after 10 years


Simon Commission 

  1. November 1927, two years before schedule (Statutory commission under Montford reforms)
  2. Seven-member statutory commission
  3. Sir John Simon – Chairman
  4. Why? To report on the condition of India under the new constitution 
  5. Recommendation 
    1. Abolition of Diarchy
    2. Federation in British India and the Princely States
    3. Continuation of communal electorate

To consider the proposal of the Simon commission Three Round Table Conference proposed. From discussions of RTD white paper was prepared. The white paper was submitted to the Select committee of the British Parliament. The recommendations of this committee were incorporated in the Government of India Act 1935. 

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Government of India Act 1935

  1. Lengthy document with 321 sections and 10 schedules
  2. Provided for the All India Federation of Provinces and Princely states but Princely states did not join.
  3. Provided for Federal, Provincial and Concurrent List
  4. Residuary powers to Viceroy
  5. Abolished dyarchy in provinces
  6. Introduced bicameralism in six provinces
  7. Abolished council of India which was formed in1858 and situated in London
  8. Provided for the establishment of a Reserve Bank of India
  9. Also est. Federal Service Public Commission and Joint PSC.
  10. Establishment of the Federal Court in 1937 

Indian Independence Act 1947

  • Declared India as an independent and sovereign state
  • Partition of India: Two new dominions- India and Pakistan
  • Abolished the office of SOS
  • Abolished the office of the viceroy 
  • Provided for each dominion, a governor-general, who was to be appointed by the British King on the advice of the dominion cabinet
  • Empowered the constituent assemblies of the two dominions to frame and adopt any constitution for their respective nations and to repeal any act of the British parliament, including the independence act itself
  • The constituent assemblies were empowered to legislate for their respective dominions till the new constitutions were drafted and enforced
  • Freedom to the Princely States: It granted the princely states the freedom to join either of the dominions or to remain independent
  • No More Veto: British monarch could no longer ask for bills or veto them. However, this was reserved for Governor-General.
  • Governor-General of the dominions: Made to act on the aid and advice of the council
  • Governance of each dominion was to be conducted based on the provisions of the GoI act, 1935