Especially when it comes to the issue of European power in colonial South Asia, too much of a one-sided influence is assumed. Of course, the extent of the colonial intervention – as described above – reached into the Indian self-perception and is thus under no circumstances to be underestimated. Nevertheless, the role that the colonies played in the emergence of the allegedly purely European modernity should not be neglected. For example, the scientific achievements of the 18th and 19th centuries were by no means a singular product of the metropolis, but in many areas only arose through the application of indigenous knowledge from the “peripheries” and the circular exchange with the latter, for example in the field of maritime navigation technologies which made European domination of the Indian Ocean possible in the first place, without the knowledge exchange with Indian naval experts at all. Colonialism must also be understood as a platform for reciprocal exchange, but this happened under different circumstances and that was the relationship between colonial rulers and colonizers, especially in the consolidated phase of colonial rule, was characterized by an asymmetrical power relationship in a “directed dialogue” .

Collaboration with Indian elites

While dependency on the local middlemen and informants was still very great in the early colonial phase of the 17th century, as European traders and soldiers lacked the necessary geographical and linguistic knowledge, this changed with the increasing consolidation of the European sphere of influence. The colonial state became more and more self-confident, renounced increasingly on the help of the Indian middlemen and now even negated their originally relevant role in the establishment of the British Raj. Local knowledge was also obtained only from certain sources.

Above all, the young colonial state sought to collaborate with Indian elites, who were expected to gain insight into the unknown subcontinent. As an Indian elite, the British identified above all the Brahman pundits, who held the sovereignty over the ancient Sanskrit-speaking religious texts. This concentration on a tiny section (at most five percent of the Indian population) of the actually very heterogeneous South Asian population resulted in a monopoly of interpretation of Sanskrit sources in the conceptualization of Indian society and led to a predominance of Brahman tradition, which extends to the present in the representation India as a semitized culturalist culture on the part of neo-duists24 and the associated

Marginalization of other groups, such as the Muslim population in India or the Dalits, the former untouchables.

The colonial power strategy of the divide et impera

The selective selection of specific population groups for alliances in the Indian subcontinent reveals one of the most effective colonial government policies. While the whole subcontinent was for the first time grouped under a unified administration, the foreign rulers did their utmost to ensure that no solidarity across India was raised among the heterogeneous population. For example, after the insurrection in 1857 and later, especially in the context of the developing national movement, the Indian rulers of semi-independent princely states were seen as a conservative bulwark against demands for independence. Also, in the hesitant legislative reforms of the early 20th century, separate electoral constituencies were implemented, for example, for Muslims (1909) and should prevent a bundled Indian alliance against foreign rule. 

At the same time, towards the end of the nineteenth century, especially in Bengal, an Indian educated elite grew up, educated in the West, influenced by European thought and eager to assume governmental responsibility. The hostility of the British colonial power, which was sluggish in initiating legislative reforms to expand Indian codetermination and made entry into the prestigious Indian Civil Service almost impossible for hurried entrance examinations, eventually resulted in the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The dissatisfaction of the Indian educated elite with the country’s economic exploitation, described by the Indian Dadabhai Naoroji as a “drain of wealth,” played a role in founding the first pan-Indian group of its kind. This annual gathering initially took on the role a petitioner in the tradition of a Western debating club and confined himself to submitting petitions to the colonial administration. The National Congress still trusted in the fundamentally good intentions of the British Raj. 

Nevertheless, the foundation of this grouping is seen as the beginning of the reform of colonial rule and at the same time as the origin of the oldest and best organized liberation movement of all countries under a colonial regime. Her known leaders include Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. This pioneering role was to give the Indian independence movement the status of a role model and a leading role among the young states of the so-called “third world” after 1947. Nevertheless, until 1919 the congress contributed to the consolidation of colonial rule as a “loyal opposition” and was thus Osterhammel’s scheme according to a stable power structure, which also legitimized by the collaboration with the Indian elites.

The Way to Independence

At first, when the Indian National Congress was limited to petitions, this behavior was to be radicalized in the early twentieth century, for example, in response to the partition of Bengal by the viceroy George Curzon in 1905; In addition to mass agitations, there were now terrorist acts of violence. But the Indian National Congress remained a very elitist unit until Mahatma Gandhi’s appearance on the political stage of India in 1915. Only the charismatic leader, who is still revered as the “soul of the nation”, succeeded in mobilizing broad sections of the population, especially the peasants.His form of nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation was influenced by western pioneers, but reached as many in South Asia It was a tradition that inspired the masses, and the actions of civil disobedience aimed at the abolition of colonial injustices, such as the famous salt marsh in 1930, challenged the British Raj’s ethical legitimacy She was always assured that she would govern India with the consent of her people, but India, under the leadership of the Indian National Congress, now demanded “swaraj” – self-government.