Administrative History of India

Administrative history of India can be viewed as that aspect of history which has its bearing and linkages with the political and governing institutions of a given country. Public administration in ancient and mediaeval India consisted of structures, procedures and behaviors which the ruling dynasties or emperors had and employed for running their respective systems of government.

The historian and researchers like Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Dr Beni Prasad and Dr Iswari Prasad have devoted a great part of their research effort in isolating and identifying the structures and the nature of their admin­istrative working. Still, the fact remains whether this administration was an offshoot of monarchical politics or can it be evaluated as an administrative system observing uniform and universal laws or practices of governance.

Notwithstanding the endless debates and controversies about historicity of history, one has to admit that contemporary literature has to be and is a potential source of history. The historians who narrate the administrative accounts of rulers in history tend to club them with their political successes and failures of individual rulers. Then there is a tendency to see ancient India as a romantic lore and describe administrative institutions in a nationalistic perspective. Hindu Polity by K.P. Jayaswal is an example in point, where in all ancient institutions have been eulogized to project the glory that was India.

Much more difficult is the problem of extricating literary superfluity and falsehoods from the brazen truths of history. Those who describe administration on the basis of literary accounts of epics or even Arthshastra and Sukraneeti have to be on their guard because ‘should’ may not be the ‘is’ or the vice versa. Kautilya while conceptualizing the principles of state craft or diplomacy is prescribing as well as describing the day-to-day working of a Mauryan state.

One can read Arthshastra as an informal constitution of the Mauryan Empire or as the Memoirs of an Insider like that of late Narsimha Rao. Whatever Acharya Vishnu Gupta mentions or suggests does not neces­sarily constitute the basics of Indian administration. Machiavelli wrote the History of Florence and the Prince but it shall be erroneous to assert that public administration of Italy can be gleaned from the writings of a Nicholo Machiavelli. Similarly the administrations of an Allauddin Khilji or Akbar or an Aurangzeb do not represent any continuity.

The successful rulers had rotten public administration systems and the vice versa. In fact, the modern nation-state and its political ideol­ogies have devised the bureaucratic structures of its public administration on a clean slate. Hence, to look for the ancestry of administrative organisations and to discover their underlying principles is a ritual of digging out legacies, which stand metamorphosed by modern developments of Indian history.

The advent of the British and their interface with Indian realities caused a sea change. The English rulers systematically destroyed the ancient and medieval relics of administrative inheri­tance. They literally built most of the things from the scratch and there is scarcely any aspect of Indian civil and military apparatus which can be called genuinely un-British or non-British.

The district administration which still has some faint impact of the Mughal administration is an anomaly, which Panchayati Raj threatens to devour. The students of Indian administration should read the administrative history of India with a great amount of caution realizing that when its three epochs have very little continuity, there is an epoch making change which the English rule initiated in India.

Submitted by : Professor Charu, Category : History