Infrastructural Paramountcy: The Politics of Colonial Development in Princely Bahawalpur

Muhammad Altaf

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the relationship between colonial infrastructure development and the evolution of British paramountcy in princely India. The British paramountcy was a legal concept that was predicated on the notion of divisible sovereignty. The colonial pursuit of large-scale development projects in princely states introduced a new dimension to this legal framework – infrastructural paramountcy - opening up both new avenues of colonial state power and new scope for Indian princes to engage the colonial state in a constant play of negotiation and resistance.
This thesis demonstrates how the development of colonial railways and large-scale irrigation projects in the princely state of Bahawalpur helped the colonial state to introduce and exercise infrastructural paramountcy over the princely state. Drawing on a largely untapped body of princely archives, this thesis analyses a particularly ambitious set of colonial infrastructure development projects in Bahawalpur executed between the late 19th century and the end of colonial rule in 1947. The most prominent of these was the Sutlej Valley Irrigation Scheme that gave the state the largest hydraulic infrastructure in princely India. This thesis also discusses the development of the Indus Valley State Railway and the Bahawalnagar-Cholistan Railway Line to show how these lines created new territories of ‘direct’ British rule in a princely territory, and how this position created frictions between the colonial state and Bahawalpur Darbar. This complicates our understanding of the colonial state as a singular source of intention and power in development initiatives and shows how the framework of British infrastructural paramountcy evolved through a combination of coercion and informal compromises.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Daechsel, Markus, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 May 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 May 2020


  • Infrastructure, development, Princely India

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