Home > Current Issue (Fall 2001) > 'Sikka' and the Crown
  Introduction & Part I | Part II | Table of Mints & Part III | Parts IV & V | Appendix | References  

'Sikka' and the Crown: Genesis of the Native Coinage Act, 1876
- Sanjay Garg

The falling fortunes of the Mughal Empire during the 18th century gave rise to a number of Indian powers that laid their claim for sovereignty. In the general scramble for independence, ‘Sikka’ or the right to coinage, the most unmistakable insignia of sovereignty, became the right-most-cherished by these claimants. Also, during the same period, a number of European trading Companies, which were present on the Indian soil for quite some time, started assuming political character. Thus, the political ascendancy of various Indian as well as European powers during the 18th century was almost simultaneous. As a consequence, in the matters concerning coinage and currency their interests came in direct clash with each other.

John Deyell and Robert Frykenberg have discussed the question of minting prerogatives of the Indian Ruling Princes as an expression of de jure sovereignty and have described the efforts of the English East India Company to control Indian Rulers’ right to coinage in the light of Company’s assumption of ritual overlordship of the continent.1

The present paper contrives to carry the discussion into the post-1858 period and study the political as well as economic dimensions of the relationship of the Crown’s representative Government of India with the Native Rulers.2 Various attempts made by the Government of India to curb the minting prerogatives of the Indian Princely States until the passing of the Native Coinage Act, 1876, have been discussed chronologically in detail to analyze the role of currency in the process of economic colonization of India.

Part I

With the passing over of the administration of the East India Company’s possession in India to the British Crown in 1858, the concept of sovereignty of a large number of independent rulers moved on to a different plane. Under the new arrangement the entire country became divided into ‘two Indias’, viz.:

i) the ‘British India’, under the direct authority of the Central Indian Executive and Legislature and indirectly under that of the British Cabinet and the Parliament ; and

ii) the India of the Native States, which were neither a British "possession" nor its inhabitants were British "subjects." 3

These were the British protected States, bound with it in political, commercial and military ties under various treaties, engagements and sanads. Lee Warner has defined a Native State in the following words:

"A Native State is a political community, occupying a territory in India of defined boundaries, and subject to a common and responsible ruler who has actually enjoyed and exercised, as belonging to him in his own right duly recognized by the supreme authority of the British Government, any of the functions and attributes of internal sovereignty."4

The right to coinage was one such "attribute of internal sovereignty" that had vexed the British since the earliest days of the East India Company. After the transfer of administration of India to the British Crown in 1858, the ritual of sovereignty moved on to a new dimension. As Deyell and Frykenberg point out :

"The stature of the rajas, previously perceived as a thorn in the Company’s hide, now made them jewels in the Empress’s Crown. The confirmation and cultivation of the dignity of the Indian princes became an Imperial concern from this time onwards."5

This point can be seen well reflected in the British Government’s handling of the question relating to the changes in the inscriptions on Native State coins immediately after the establishment of the authority of the Crown. Ordinarily the name of only a paramount power is inscribed by a subordinate state on its coins. After deposition of the last Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah II in 1858, the British became the supreme paramount power in India. Under the changed circumstances many Native States offered to replace the name of the Mughal Emperor on their coins, with that of the Queen. The Government of India, however, regarded this as "a matter of no great importance" and decided that it would not be advisable at that time to adopt "any measures of a general kind" to secure that objective. Since the Government did not want to risk the alienation of big and powerful Native Rulers, who might have considered any effort to replace the name of the Mughal Emperor with that of the Queen as an attempt to interfere with their sovereign prerogatives, it decided to leave the subject alone and use great care and caution in this matter. 6

  Introduction & Part I | Part II | Table of Mints & Part III | Parts IV & V | Appendix | References  
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