an object for study. For them, British self-perceptions are important to
understand as part of the explanation of British expansion in India and other
parts of the world. These scholars, however, regard assumptions of British
cultural superiority over Indian rulers as efforts by the British at the time to
justify annexations. The British may have sincerely assumed the annexations
righteous, but this British righteousness was not, however, the reason why the
annexations took place. From the standpoint of these scholars, the British
acted with no consistently higher moral purpose than anyone else. It is held
that the British were seeking a justification for Empire and used an
inconsistent mixture of four doctrines: Edmund Burke’s idea of empire as
trust; Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism; Plato’s concept of guardianship; and
William Wilberforce’s evangelicalism.
Nationalist Historians Some Indian nationalist historians have assessed
the British annexations in the context of the later Indian nationalist cause,
retrospectively evaluating the Company’s annexation of some states and its
preservation of others. On one hand, they condemn the imperialism of the
East Indian Company, asserting that before British conquest, the Indian states
were legitimate polities with every right to continue. They talk about each
annexation in terms of ‘justice’, concluding that there had been little or no
justice in any annexation. On the other hand, the same historians consider the
rule of the surviving Indian dynasties under the Raj as detrimental to Indian
social and political reform and progress. Then they go on condemning the
British Raj for preserving Indian states which had lost any moral validity,
existing only on British sufferance as ‘breakwaters’ against the inevitable tide
of Indian nationalism. In this case, though annexations were morally
unjustified, they led to some unintended positive results. Thus through the
annexations, the Company unintentionally was facilitating the task of the
national leaders of free India to appear. Further, the annexations
unintentionally helped India unify. By thus setting the annexations of 1757-
1857 in terms of the evolution of Indian nationalism, these scholars revive the
moral question, but in ways quite different from the colonial writers of the
pre-1947 period.