Abstract

Historians have continued to view the Indian Civil Service (i.e., the British Indian bureaucracy or the “Covenanted Civil Service”) of the late nineteenth century as a highly popular and exclusive career for university-trained men in England. This is one specific aspect of the I.C.S. mydiology which views the nineteenth century British administrators in India as a superior body of highly efficient administrators. The sources, however, do not support the notions of exdusiveness and popularity. Even in the early years of the competition system, inaugurated in 1855, the caliber and educational background of the candidates failed to reach the high expectations of the Civil Service Commissioners. In the years between 1855 and 1874, both the number of nonuniversity candidates and nonuniversity recruits increased steadily. By 1874, nonuniversity men constituted over 74 percent of the competition candidates and approximately 55 percent of the selected recruits. In the same period, the representation of the Great English universities (Oxford and Cambridge) in the competition fell dramatically. Oxbridge students took 60 percent of the available positions in 1858, but only 18 percent of those offered in 1871. A disappointed British aristocracy (i.e., ruling class) became increasingly critical and apprehensive as to the future of the service. The secretary of state for India instituted a new system of recruitment in 1876, lowering the age limit for examination to 19 in hopes that the best students from the public schools would seek admittance. According to eminent spokesmen, such as Benjamin Jowett and Lord Ripon, the Viceroy Salisbury's reforms proved unsuccessful. The better students did not enter die competition, and a majority of the candidates came from unpretentious social and educational backgrounds. Authorities introduced other devices diroughout the remainder of the century to improve recruitment, but none achieved any improvement.

The reasons for the relative unpopularity of the I.C.S. careers were legion and included a complex mixture of the following factors: arrogant criticism voiced by the aristocracy concerning alleged low social origins of the civilian recruits; the general stigma attached to any close connection with India among the British aristocracy; the several and increasing grievances of the civilians, which the aristocratic ruling class did little to ameliorate; the pressures of Indian educated elements for employment in the I.C.S.; the declining value of the rupee; the widening spheres of professional employment in England; and what may be called the “natural” disadvantages of an Indian career.

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