Although divide-and-rule is widely believed to have been an important strategy of colonial control, I argue that the evidence for this popular thesis is mixed at best for British India. Drawing on a range of sources, I demonstrate that while it was certainly used to structure the colonial army, it did not play a significant role in the colony’s civilian administration. I show further that the reason behind the colonial government’s reluctance to use divide-and-rule tactics was a perennial fear of causing civil unrest, a cost-benefit consideration that proponents of the theory have overlooked. This intervention is needed because an acceptance of the divide-and-rule thesis has come at the expense of sustained inquiry into the ways in which small numbers of Europeans were able to establish and maintain control over large stretches of the globe. I conclude, therefore, with a brief discussion on how the alternative framework of “collaboration” could fruitfully be extended.
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