The second important pillar of the British regime in India was the army. It fulfilled four important functions. It was the instrument through which the Indian powers were conquered; it defended the British Empire in India from foreign rivals; it safeguarded British supremacy from the ever-present threat of internal revolt; and it was the chief instrument for extending and defending the British Empire in Asia and Africa.
The bulk of the Company’s army consisted of Indian soldiers, recruited chiefly from the area at present included in U.P and Bihar.
For instance, in 1857, the strength of the army in India was 311,400 of whom 265,900 were Indians. Its officers were, however, exclusively British, at least since the days of Cornwallis. In 1856, only three Indians in the army received a salary of Rs 300 per month and the highest Indian officer was a subedar.
A large number of Indian troops had to be employed as British troops were far too expensive. Moreover, the population of Britain was perhaps too small to provide the large soldiery needed for the conquest of India.
As a counterweight, the army was officered entirely by British officials and a certain number of British troops were maintained to keep the Indian soldiers under control. Even so, it appears surprising today that a handful of foreigners could conquer and control India with a predominantly Indian army.
This was possible because of two factors. On the one hand, there was absence of modern nationalism in the country at the time. A soldier from Bihar or Awadh did not think, and could not have thought, that in helping the Company defeat the Marathas or the Punjabis he was being anti-Indian.
On the other, the Indian soldier had a long tradition of loyalty to the salt. In other words, the Indian soldier was a good mercenary, and the Company on its part was a good paymaster. It paid its soldiers regularly and well, something that the Indian rulers and chieftains were no longer doing.