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European penetration and the British conquest of India
1.0 A New Phase in Europe's Eastern Trade
India's trade relations with Europe go back to the ancient days of the Greeks. During the Middle Ages trade between Europe and India and South-East Asia was carried on along several routes. The Asian part of the trade was carried on mostly by Arab merchants and sailors, while the Mediterranean and European part was the virtual monopoly of the Italians. Goods from Asia to Europe passed through many states and many hands. Yet the trade remained highly profitable.
The old trading routes between the East and the West came under Turkish control after the Ottoman conquest of Asia Minor and the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Moreover, the merchants of Venice and Genoa monopolised the trade between Europe and Asia and refused to let the new nation states of Western Europe, particularly Spain and Portugal, have any share in the trade through these old routes. The West European states and merchants therefore began to search for new and safer sea routes to India and the Spice Island in Indonesia, then known as the East Indies. They wanted to break the Arab and Venetian trade monopolies, to bypass Turkish hostility, and to open direct trade relations with the East. Great advances in ship building and the science of navigation had been made in the 15th century and the Renaissance had generated a spirit of adventure in the Europeans.
Sailors of Portugal and spain, sponsored and controlled by their governments, began a great era of geographical discoveries. In 1494 Columbus of Spain set out to reach India and discovered America instead. In 1498, Vasco da Gama of Portugal discovered a new and all-sea route from Europe to India.
He sailed round Africa via the Cape of Good Hope and reached Calicut. He returned with a cargo which sold for 60 times the cost of his voyage. These and other navigational discoveries opened a new chapter in the history of the world. The 17th and 18th centuries were to witness an enormous increase in world trade. The vast new continent of America was opened to Europe and relations between Europe and Asia were completely transformed.
1.1 Slave trade as engine of European capital accumulation
Another major source of early capital accumulation or enrichment for European countries was their penetration of Africa in the middle of the 15th century. In the beginning, gold and ivory of Africa had attracted the foreigners. Very soon, however, trade with Africa centered around the slave trade. In the 16th century this trade was a monopoly of Spain and Portugal. Later it was dominated by Dutch, French and British merchants. Year after year, particularly after 1650, thousands of Africans were sold as slaves in the West Indies and in North and South America. The slave ships carried manufactured goods from Europe to Africa, exchanged them on the coast of Africa for Negroes, took these slaves across the Atlantic and exchanged them for the colonial produce of plantations or mines, and finally brought back and sold this produce in Europe. It was on the immense profits of this triangular trade (altogether barbaric and inhumane) that the commercial supremacy of England and France was to be based. A great deal of West European and North American prosperity was based on the slave trade and the plantations worked by slave labour. Moreover, profits of slave trade and the slave-worked plantations provided some of the capital which financed the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. A similar role was later played by the wealth extracted from India.
1.2 The Portuguese domination of the seas
In the 16th century, European merchants and soldiers also began the long process of first penetrating and then subjecting Asian lands to their control. Portugal had a monopoly of the highly profitable Eastern trade for nearly a century. In India, she established her trading settlements at Cochin, Goa, Diu and Daman. From the beginning, the Portuguese combined the use of force with trade. In this they were helped by the superiority of their armed ships which enabled them to dominate the seas. A handful of Portuguese soldiers and sailors could maintain their position on the seas against the much more powerful land powers of India and Asia. By threatening Mughal shipping, they also succeeded in securing many trading concessions from the Mughal Emperors.
Under the viceroyalty of Alfonso d'Albuquerque, who captured Goa in 1510, the Portuguese established their domination over the entire Asian coast from Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to Malacca in Malaya and the Spice Islands in Indonesia. They seized Indian territories on the coast and waged constant war to expand their trade and dominions and safeguard their trade monopoly from their European rivals. Nor did they shy away from piracy and plunder. They also indulged in inhuman cruelties and lawlessness. In spite of their barbaric behaviour, their possessions in India survived for a century because they enjoyed control over the high seas, their soldiers and administrators maintained strict discipline, and they did not have to face the might of the Mughal Empire as South India was outside Mughal influence.
1.3 England, Holland, France Versus Spain and Portugal
In the latter half of the 16th century, England and Holland, and later France, all growing commercial and naval powers, waged a fierce struggle against the Spanish and Portuguese monopoly of world trade. In this struggle the latter had to go under. The English and the Dutch merchants were now able to use the Cape of Good Hope route to India and so too joined the race for the empire in the East. In the end, the Dutch gained control over Indonesia and the British over India, Sri Lanka, and Malaya.
In 1602, the Dutch East India Company was formed and the Dutch States General - the Dutch parliament - gave it a charter empowering it to make war, conclude treaties, acquire territories and build fortresses. The main interest of the Dutch lay not in India but in the Indonesian Islands of Java, Sumatra, and the Spice Islands where spices were produced. They soon turned out the Portuguese from the Malay Straits and the Indonesian Islands and, in 1623, defeated English attempts to establish themselves there. They also established trading depots at Surat, Broach, Cambay and Ahmedabad in Gujarat in West India, Cochi in Kerala, Nagapatam Madras, Masulipatam in Andhra, Chinsura in Bengal, Patna in Bihar and Agra in Uttar Pradesh. In 1658 they also conquered Sri Lanka from the Portuguese.
1.4 The British develop the greed, and the East India company!
The English merchants too looked greedily on the Asian trade. The success of the Portuguese, the rich cargoes of spices, calicoes, silk, gold, pearls, drugs, porcelain, and ebony they carried and the high profits they made inflamed the imagination of the merchants of England and made them impatient to participate in such profitable commerce. An English association or company to trade with the East was formed in 1599 under the auspices of a group of merchants known as the Merchant Adventurers. The company, popularly known as the East India Company, was granted a royal charter and the exclusive privilege to trade in the East by Queen Elizabeth on 31 December 1600. In 1608 it decided to open a 'factory', the name given at the time to a trading depot, at Surat on the west coast of India and sent Captain Hawkins to Emperor Jahangir's court to obtain royal favours. Consequently, the English Company was given permission by a royal farman (Order of the king) to open factories at several places on the west coast.
The English were not satisfied with this concession. In 1615 their ambassador Sir Thomas Roe reached the Mughal court. Roe succeeded in getting an imperial Farman to trade and establish factories in all parts of the Mughal Empire. In 1662 the Portuguese gave the island of Bombay to King Charles II of England as dowry for marrying a Portuguese princess. Eventually, the Portuguese lost all their possessions in India except Goa, Diu and Daman. The English Company fell out with the Dutch Company over division of the spice trade of the Indonesian Islands. The intermittent war in India between the two powers, which had begun in 1654, ended in 1667, when the English gave up all claims to Indonesia while the Dutch agreed to leave alone the English settlements in India.
2.0 The Growth of the East India Company's Trade and Influence (1600-1714)
The English East India Company had very humble beginnings in India. The “Charter of 1600” granted the East India Company the exclusive privilege of trading east of the Cape of Good Hope for a period of 15 years. The first voyage in 1601 was commanded by Sir James Lancaster. In March 1604, Sir Henry Middleton commanded the second voyage.
By 1623 the Company it had established factories (trading posts) at Surat, Broach (Bharuch), Ahmedabad, Agra, and Masulipatam (Machhalipatnam). From the very beginning, it tried to combine trade and diplomacy with war and control of the territory where their factories were situated.
In the south, the great Vijayanagar Kingdom had been overthrown in 1565 and its place taken by a number of petty and weak states. Hence the British found conditions more favorable there as it was easy to appeal to their greed or overawe them with armed strength. The English opened their first 'factory' in the south at Masulipatam in 1611. But they soon shifted the centre of their activity to Madras, the lease of which was granted to them by the local Raja in 1639. The Raja gave them permission to fortify the place, to administer it, and to coin money on condition of payment to him of half of the customs revenue of the port. Here the English built a small fort around their factory called Fort St. George.
The island of Bombay was acquired by the East India Company from Portugal in 1668 and was immediately fortified. In Bombay the English found a large and easy-to-defend port. For that reason, and because English trade was threatened at the time by the rising Maratha power, Bombay soon superseded Surat as the headquarters of the Company on the west coast.
In Eastern India, the English Company had opened its first set of factories in Orissa in 1633. In 1651 it was given permission to trade at Hugli in Bengal. It soon opened factories at Patna, Balasore, Dhaka and other places in Bengal and Bihar. It now desired that in Bengal too it should have an independent settlement. It dreamt of establishing political Power in India which would enable it to compel the Mughals to allow them a free hand in trade, to force Indians to sell cheap, and buy dear, to keep the rival European traders out and to make its trade independent of the policies of the Indian powers. Political power would also make it possible for it to appropriate Indian revenues and thus to conquer the country with its own resources. Such plans were explicitly put forward at the time.
2.1 Defeat of the Britishers at the hands of the Mughals
Hostilities between the English and the Mughal Emperor broke out in 1686 after the English sacked Hugli and declared war on the Emperor. But the English had seriously misjudged the situation and underestimated Mughal strength. The Mughal Empire under Aurangzeb was even now more than a match for the petty forces of the East India Company. The war ended disastrously for them. They were driven out of their factories in Bengal and compelled to seek refuge in a feverstricken island at the mouth of the Ganga. Their factories at Surat, Masulipatam, and Vishakhapatam were seized and their fort at Bombay besieged. Having discovered that they were not yet strong enough to fight the Mughal power, the English once again became cunningly humble petitioners and submitted "that the ill crimes they have done may be pardoned". They expressed their willingness to trade under the protection of the Indian rulers. Obviously, they had learnt their lesson. Once again they relied on flattery and humble entreaties to get trading concessions from the Mughal Emperor, which they would later flout to gain administrative footholds.
The Mughal authorities pardoned the English folly as they had no means of knowing that these harmless looking foreign traders would one day pose a serious threat to the country. Instead they recognised that foreign trade carried on by the Company benefited Indian artisans and merchants and thereby enriched the State treasury. Moreover, the English, though weak on land, were, because of their naval supremacy, capable of completely ruining Indian trade and shipping to Iran, West Asia, Northern and Eastern Africa and East Asia. Aurangzeb therefore permitted them to resume trade on payment of Rs. 150,000 as compensation. In 1698, the Company acquired the zamindari of the three villages Sutanati, Kalikata, and Govindpur where it built Fort William around its factory. The villages soon grew into a city which came to be known as Calcutta. In 1717 the Company secured from Emperor Farrukh Siyar a royal order confirming the privileges granted in 1691 and extending them to Gujarat and the Deccan. But during the first half of the 18th century Bengal was ruled by strong Nawabs such as Murshid Quli Khan and Alivardi Khan. They exercised strict control over the English traders and prevented them from misusing their privileges. Nor did they allow them to strengthen fortifications at Calcutta or to rule the city independently. Here the East India Company remained a mere zamindar of the nawab.
The political ambitions of the Company were frustrated but its commercial affairs flourished as never before. Its imports from India into England increased from £ 500,000 in 1708 to £ 1,795,000 in 1740. British settlements in Madras, Bombay and Calcutta became the nuclei of flourishing cities. Large numbers of Indian merchants and bankers were attracted to these cities. This was due partly to the new commercial opportunities available in these cities and partly to the unsettled conditions and insecurity outside them; caused by the break-up of the Mughal Empire. By the middle of the 18th century, the population of Madras had increased to 300,000, of Calcutta to 200,000 and of Bombay to 70,000.
2.2 The Anglo-French struggle in South India
The decline of the Mughal power after the death of Aurangazeb revived English East India Company's schemes of territorial conquests and political domination. Nadir Shah's invasion had revealed the decay of the central authority. But there was not much scope for foreign penetration in Western India where the vigorous Marathas held sway and in Eastern India where Alivardi Khan maintained strict control. In Southern India, however, conditions were gradually becoming favourable to foreign adventurers. While central authority had disappeared from there after Aurangzeb's death, the strong hand of Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah was also withdrawn by his death in 1748. Moreover, the Maratha chiefs regularly invaded Hyderabad and the rest of the south collecting chauth. These raids resulted in politically unsettled conditions and administrative disorganization. The Carnatic was embroiled in fratricidal wars of succession.
The foreigners thereby got an opportunity to expand their political influence and control over the affairs of the South Indian states. But the English were not alone in putting forward commercial and political claims. While they had, by the end of the 17th century, eliminated their Portuguese and Dutch rivals, France had appeared as a new rival. For nearly 20 years from 1744 to 1763 the French and the English were to wage a bitter war for control over the trade, wealth and territory of India. The French East India Company was founded in 1664. It was firmly established at Chandernagore near Calcutta and Pondicherry on the east coast. The latter was full fortified. The French Company had some other factories at several ports on the east and the west coasts. It had also acquired control over the islands of Mauritius and Reunion in the Indian Ocean.
The French East India Company was heavily dependent on the French Government which helped it by giving it treasury grants, subsidies and loans, and in various other ways. Consequently, it was largely controlled by the Government which appointed its directors after 1723. State control of the Company proved quite harmful to it. The French state of the time was autocratic, semi-feudal, and unpopular and suffered from corruption, inefficiency, and instability. Instead of being forward-looking it was decadent, bound by tradition, and in general unsuited to the times. Control by such a state could not but be injurious to the interests of the Company.
In 1742, war broke out in Europe between France and England. The war in Europe between England and France soon spread to India where the two East India Companies clashed with each other. In 1748, the general war between England and France ended. Though war had ended, the rivalry in trade and over the possessions in India continued and had to be decided one way or the other.
Dupleix, the French Governor-General at Pondicherry at this time, now evolved the strategy of using the well disciplined, modern French army to intervene in the mutual quarrels of the Indian princes and, by supporting one against the other, securing monetary, commercial or territorial favours from the victor. Thus, he planned to use the resources and armies of the local rajas, nawabs, and chiefs to serve the interests of the French Company and to expel the English from India. The only barrier to the success of this strategy could have been the refusal of Indian rulers to permit such foreign intervention. But the Indian rulers were guided not by patriotism, but by narrow-minded pursuit of personal ambition and gain. They had little hesitation in inviting the foreigners to help them settle accounts with their internal rivals.
In 1748, a situation arose in the Carnatic and Hyderabad which gave full scope to Dupleix's talents for intrigue. In the Carnatic, Chanda Sahib began to conspire against the Nawab Anwaruddin, while in Hyderabad the death of Asaf Jah, Nizam-ul-Mulk, was followed by civil war between his son Nasir Jang and his grandson Muzaffar Jang. Dupleix seized this opportunity and concluded a secret treaty with Chanda Sahib and Muzaffar Jang to help them with his well-trained French and Indian forces. In 1749, the three allies defeated and killed Anwaruddin in a battle at Ambur. The latter's son, Muhammad Ali, fled to Trichinopoly. The rest of the Carnatic passed under the dominion of Chanda Sahib who rewarded the French With a grant of 80 villages around Pondicherry.
In Hyderabad too, the French were successful. Nasir Jang was killed and Muzaffar Jang became the Nizam or Viceroy of the Deccan. The new Nizam rewarded the French Company by giving it territories near Pondicherry as well as the famous town of Masulipatam. He gave a sum of Rs. 500,000 to the Company and another Rs. 500,000 to its troops. Dupleix received Rs. 2,000,000 and a jagir worth Rs. 100,000 a year. Moreover, he was made honorary governor of Mughal dominions on the east coast from the river Krishna to Kanya Kumari. Dupleix stationed his best officer, Bussy, at Hyderabad with a French army. While the ostensible purpose of this arrangement was to protect the Nizam from enemies, it was really aimed at maintaining French influence at his court. While Muzaffar Jang was marching towards his capital, he was accidentally killed. Bussy immediately raised Salabat Jang, the third son of Nizam-ul-Mulk, to the throne. In return, the new Nizam granted the French the area in Andhra known as the Northern Sarkars, consisting of the four districts of Mustafanagar, Ellore, Rajahmundry and Chicacole.
The French power in South India was now at its height. Dupleix's plans had succeeded beyond his dreams. The French had started out by trying to win Indian states as friends and they had ended by making them clients or satellites.
But the English had not been silent spectators of their rival's successes. To offset French influence and to increase their own, they had been intriguing with Nasir Jang and Muhammad Ali. In 1750, they decided to throw their entire strength behind Muhammad Ali. Robert Clive, a young clerk in the Company's service, proposed that French pressure on Muhammad Ali, besieged at Trichinopoly, could be released by attacking Arcot; the capital of Carnatic. The proposal was accepted and Clive assaulted and occupied Arcot with only 200 English and 300 Indian soldiers. As expected, Chanda Sahib and the French were compelled to raise the siege of Trichinopoly. The French forces were repeatedly defeated. Chanda Sahib was soon captured and killed. The French fortunes were now at ebb as their army and its generals had proved unequal to their English counterparts. In the end, the French Government, weary of the heavy expense of the war in India and fearing the loss of its American colonies, initiated peace negotiations and agreed in 1754 to the English demand for the recall of Dupleix from India. This was to prove a big blow to the fortunes of the French Company in India.
The temporary peace between the two Companies ended in 1756 when another war between England and France broke out. In the very beginning of the war, the English managed to gain control over Bengal. This has been discussed later in this. After this event, there was little hope for the French cause in India. The rich resources of Bengal turned the scales decisively in favour of the English. The decisive battle of the war was fought at Wandiwash on 22 January 1760 when the English general, Eyre Coot, defeated Lally. Within a year the French had lost all their possessions in India. The war ended in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The French factories in India were restored but they could no longer be fortified or even adequately garrisoned with troops. They could serve only as centers of trade; and now the French lived in India under British protection. The English, on the other hand, ruled the Indian Sea. Freed of all European rivals, they could now set about the task of conquering India.
During their struggle with the French and their Indian allies, the English learnt a few important and valuable lessons. Firstly, in the absence of nationalism in the country, they could advance their political schemes by taking advantage of the mutual quarrels of the Indian rulers. Secondly, the Western trained infantry, European or Indian, armed with modern weapons and backed by artillery could defeat the old style Indian armies with ease in pitched battles. Thirdly, it was proved that the Indian soldier trained and armed in the European manner made as good a soldier as the European. And since the Indian soldier too lacked a feeling of nationalism, he could be hired and employed by anyone who was willing to pay him well. The English now set out to create a powerful army consisting of Indian soldiers, called sepoys, and officered by Englishmen. With this army as its chief instrument and the vast resources of Indian trade and territories under its command, the English East India Company embarked on an era of wars and territorial expansion.
3.0 British Occupation of Bengal
The beginnings of British political sway over India may be traced to the battle of Plassey in 1757, when the English East India Company's forces defeated the forces of Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal. The earlier British struggle with the French in South India had been but a dress rehearsal. The lessons learnt there were profitably applied in Bengal.
Bengal was the most fertile and the richest of India's provinces. Its industries and commerce were well developed. The East India Company and its servants had highly profitable trading interests in the province. The Company had secured valuable privileges in 1717 under a royal Farman by the Mughal Emperor, which had granted the Company the freedom to export and import their goods in Bengal without paying taxes and the right to issue passes for the movement of such goods. The Company's servants were also permitted to trade but were not covered by this Farman. They were required to pay the same taxes as Indian merchants. This farman was a perpetual source of conflict between the Company and the Nawabs of Bengal. For one, it meant loss of revenue to the Bengal Government. Secondly, the power to issue passes for the Company's goods was misused by the Company's servants to evade taxes on their private trade. All the Nawabs of Bengal, from Murshid Quli Khan to Alivardi Khan, had objected to the English interpretation of the farman of 1717. They had compelled the Company to pay lump sums to their treasury, and firmly suppressed the misuse of passes. The Company had been compelled to accept the authority of the Nawabs in the matter, but its servants had taken every opportunity to evade and defy this authority.
Matters came to a head in 1756 when the young and quick-tempered Siraj-ud-Daulah succeeded his grandfather, Alivardi Khan. He demanded of the English that they should trade on the same basis as in the times of Murshid Quli Khan. The English refused to comply as they felt strong after their victory over the French in South India. Instead of agreeing to pay taxes on their goods to the Nawab, they levied heavy duties on Indian goods entering Calcutta which was under their control. All this naturally annoyed and angered the young Nawab who also suspected that the Company was hostile to him and was favouring his rivals for the throne of Bengal. The breaking point came when, without taking the Nawab's permission, the Company began to fortify Calcutta in expectation of the coming struggle with the French, who were stationed at this time at Chandernagore. Siraj rightly interpreted this action as an attack upon his sovereignty. How could an independent ruler permit a private company of merchants to build forts or to carry on private wars on his land? In other words, Siraj was willing to let the Europeans remain as merchants but not as masters. He ordered both the English and the French to demolish their fortifications at Calcutta and Chandernagore and to desist from fighting each other. While the French Company obeyed his order, the English Company refused to do so, for its ambition had been whetted and its confidence enhanced by its victories in the Carnatic. It was now determined to remain in Bengal even against the wishes of the Nawab and to trade there on its own terms. It had acknowledged the British Government's right to control all its activities; it had quietly accepted restrictions on its trade and power imposed in Britain by the British Govemment; its right to trade with the East had been extinguished by the Parliament in 1693 when its Charter was withdrawn; it had paid huge bribes to the King, the Parliament, and the politicians of Britain (in one year alone, it had to pay £ 80,000 in bribes). Nevertheless the English Company demanded the absolute right to trade freely in Bengal irrespective of the Bengal Nawab's orders. This amounted to a direct challenge to the Nawab's sovereignty. No ruler could possibly accept this position. Siraj-ud-Daulah had the statesmanship to see the long-term implications of the English designs. He decided to make them obey the laws of the land.
Acting with great energy but with undue haste and inadequate preparation, Siraj-ud-Daulah seized the English factory at Kasimbazar, marched on to Calcutta, and occupied Fort William on 20 June 1756. He then retired from Calcutta to celebrate his easy victory, letting the English escape with their ships. This was a mistake for he had underestimated the strength of his enemy.
The English officials took refuge at Fulta near the sea protected by their naval superiority. Here they waited for aid from Madras and, in meantime, organised a web of intrigue and treachery with the leading men of the Nawab's court. Chief among these were Mir Jafar, the Mir Bakshi, Manick Chand, the Officer-in-Charge of Calcutta, Amichand, a rich merchant, Jagat Seth, the biggest banker of Bengal, and Khadim Khan, who commanded a large number of the Nawab's troops. From Madras came a strong naval and military force under Admiral Watson and Colonel Clive. Clive reconquered Calcutta in the beginning of 1757 and compelled the Nawab to concede all the demands of the English.
3.1 The 1757 Battle of Plassey and the night of eternal gloom for India
The English, however, were not satisfied; they were aiming high. They had decided to install a more pliant tool in Siraj-ud-Daulah's place. Having joined a conspiracy organised by the enemies of the young Nawab to place Mir Jafar on the throne of Bengal, they presented the youthful Nawab with an impossible set of demands. Both sides realised that a war to the finish would have to be fought between them. They met for battle on the field of Plassey, about 30 km from Murshidabad, on 23 June 1757. The fateful battle of Plassey was a battle only in name. In all, the English lost 29 men while the Nawab lost nearly 500. The major part of the Nawab's army, led by the traitors Mir Jafar and Rai Durlabh, took no part in the fighting. Only a small group of the Nawab's soldiers led by Mir Madan and Mohan Lal fought bravely and well. The Nawab was forced to flee and was captured and put to death by Mir Jafar's son Miran.
The battle of Plassey was followed, in the words of the Bengali poet Nabin Chandra Sen, by "a night of eternal gloom for India". The English proclaimed Mir Jafar the Nawab of Bengal and set out to gather the reward. The Company was granted undisputed right to free trade in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. It also received the zamindari of the 24 Parganas near Calcutta. Mir Jafar paid a sum of Rs. 17,700,000 as compensation for the attack on Calcutta to the Company and the traders of the city. In addition, he paid large sums as 'gifts' or bribes to the high officials of the Company. Clive, for example, received over two million rupees, Watts over one million. Clive later estimated that the Company and its servants had collected more than 30 million rupees from the puppet Nawab. Moreover, it was understood that British merchants and officials would no longer be asked to pay any taxes on their private trade.
The battle of Plassey was of immense historical importance. It paved the way for the British mastery of Bengal and eventually of the whole of India. It boosted British prestige and at a single stroke raised them to the status of a major contender for the Indian Empire. The rich revenues of Bengal enabled them to organise a strong army and meet the cost of the conquest of the rest of the country. Control over Bengal played a decisive role in the Anglo-French struggle. Lastly, the victory of Plassey enabled the Company and its servants to amass untold wealth at the cost of the helpless people of Bengal. As the British historians, Edward Thompson and G.T. Garrett, have remarked:
To engineer a revolution had been revealed as the most paying game in the world. A gold lust unequalled since the hysteria that took hold of the Spaniards of Cortes and Pizarro's age filled the English mind. Bengal in particular was not to know peace again until it had been bled white.
Even though Mir Jafar owed his position to the Company, he soon repented the bargain he had struck. His treasury was soon emptied by the demands of the Company's officials for presents and bribes, the lead in the matter being given by Clive himself. As Colonel Malleson has put it, "the single aim of the Company's officials was to grasp all they could, to use Mir Jafar as a golden sack into which they could dip their hands at pleasure". The Company itself was seized with unsurpassable greed. Believing that the kamdhenu had been found and that the wealth of Bengal was inexhaustible, the directors of the Company ordered that Bengal should pay the expenses of the Bombay and Madras Presidencies and purchase out of its revenue all the Company's exports from India. The Company was no longer to merely trade with India; it was to use its control over the Nawab of Bengal to drain the wealth of the province.
Mir Jafar soon discovered that it was impossible to meet the full demands of the Company and its officials who, on their part, began to criticise the Nawab for his incapacity in fulfilling their expectations. And so, in October 1760, they forced him to abdicate in favour of his son-in-law, Mir Qasim, who rewarded his benefactors by granting the Company the zamindari of the districts of Burdwan, Midnapore, and Chittagong, and giving handsome presents totalling 29 lakhs of rupees to the high English officials.
3.2 Mir Qasim and struggle with the British
Mir Qasim, however, belied English hopes, and soon emerged as a threat to their position and designs in Bengal. He was an able, efficient, and strong ruler, determined to free himself from foreign control. He realised that a full treasury and an efficient army were essential to maintain his independence. He, therefore, tried to prevent public disorder, to increase his income by removing corruption from revenue administration, and to raise a modern and disciplined army along European lines. All this was not to the liking of the English. Most of all they disliked the Nawab's attempts to check the misuse of the farman of 1717 by the Company's servants, who demanded that their goods whether destined for export or for internal use should be free of duties. This injured the Indian merchants as they had to pay taxes from which the foreigners got complete exemption. Moreover, the Company's servants illegally sold the dastaks or free passes to friendly Indian merchants who were thereby able to evade the internal customs duties. These abuses ruined the honest Indian traders through unfair competition and deprived the Nawab of a very important source of revenue. In addition to this, the Company and its servants forced the Indian officials and zamindars to give them presents and bribes. They compelled the Indian artisans, peasants and merchants to sell their goods cheap and to buy dear from them. People who refused were often flogged or imprisoned. These years have been described by a recent British historian, Percival Spear, as "the period of open and unashamed plunder". In fact the prosperity for which Bengal was renowned was being gradually destroyed.
Mir Qasim realised that if these abuses continued he could never hope to make Bengal strong or free himself of the Company's control. He, therefore, took the drastic step of abolishing all duties on internal trade, thus giving his own subjects a concession that the English had seized by force. But the alien merchants were no longer willing to tolerate equality between themselves and Indians. They demanded the reimposition of duties on Indian traders. The battle was about to begin again. The truth of the matter was that there could not exist two masters in Bengal. While Mir Qasim believed that he was an independent ruler, the English demanded that he should act as a mere tool in their hands, for they had put him in power.
Mir Qasim was defeated in a series of battles in 1763 and fled to Awadh where he formed an alliance with Shuja-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Awadh, and Shah Alam II, the fugitive Mughal Emperor. The three allies clashed with the Company's army at Buxar on 22 October 1764 and were thoroughly defeated. This was one of the most decisive battles of Indian history for it demonstrated the superiority of English arms over the combined army of two of the major Indian powers. It firmly established the British as masters of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and placed Awadh at their mercy.
Clive, who had returned to Bengal in 1765 as its Governor, decided to seize the chance of power in Bengal and to gradually transfer the authority of Government from the Nawab to the Company. In 1763, the British had restored Mir Jafar as Nawab and collected huge sums for the Company and its high officials. On Mir Jafar's death, they placed his second son Nizam-ud-Daulah on the throne and as a reward to themselves made him sign a new treaty on 20 February 1765. By this treaty the Nawab was to disband most of his army and to administer Bengal through a Deputy Subahdar who was to be nominated by the Company and who could not be dismissed without its approval. The Company thus gained supreme control over the administration (or nizamat) of Bengal. The members of the Bengal Council of the Company once again extracted nearly 15 lakhs of rupees from the new Nawab.
From Shah Alam II, who was still the titular head of the Mughal Empire, the Company secured the Diwani, or the right to collect revenue of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa. Thus, its control over Bengal was legalised and the revenues of this most prosperous of Indian provinces placed at its command. In return, the Company gave him a subsidy of 26 lakhs of rupees and secured for him the districts of Kora and Allahabad. The Emperor resided in the fort of Allahabad for six years as a virtual prisoner of the English.
The Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daulah, was made to pay a war indemnity of five million rupees to the Company. Moreover, the two signed an alliance by which the Company promised to support the Nawab against an outside attack provided he paid for the services of the troops sent to his aid. This alliance made the Nawab a dependent of the Company.
3.3 Dual system of administration of Bengal
The East India Company became the real master of Bengal at least from 1765. Its army was in sole control of its defence and the supreme political power was in its hands. The Nawab depended for his internal and external security on the British. As the Diwan, the Company directly collected its revenues, while through the right to nominate the Deputy Subahdar, it controlled the nizamat or the police and judicial powers. This arrangement is known in history as the 'Dual' or 'Double' government. It held a great advantage for the British: they had power without responsibility. The Nawab and his officials had the responsibility of administration but not the power to discharge it. The weaknesses of the Government could be blamed on the Indians while its fruits were gathered by the British. The consequences for the people of Bengal were disastrous: neither the Company nor the Nawab cared for their welfare.
The Company's servants had now the whole of Bengal to themselves and their oppression of the people increased greatly. We can quote Clive himself:
"I shall only say that such a scene of anarchy, confusion, bribery, corruption, and extortion was never seen or heard of in any country but Bengal; nor such and so many fortunes acquired in so unjust and rapacious a manner. The three provinces of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, producing a clear revenue of £ 3 millions sterling, have been under the absolute management of the Company's servants, ever since Mir Jafar's restoration to the subahship; and they have, both civil and military, exacted and levied contributions from every man of power and consequence, from the Nawab down to the lowest zamindar."
The Company's authorities on their part set out to gather the rich harvest and drain Bengal of its wealth. They stopped sending money from England to purchase Indian goods. Instead, they purchased these goods from the revenues of Bengal and sold them abroad. These were known as the Company's Investment and formed a part of its profits. On top of all this the British Government wanted its share of the rich prize and, in 1767, ordered the Company to pay it £400,000 per year.
In the years 1766, 1767 and 1768 alone, nearly £5.7 million were drained from Bengal. The abuses of the 'Dual' government and the drain of wealth led to the impoverishment and exhaustion of that unlucky province. In 1770 Bengal suffered from a famine which in its effects proved one of the most terrible famines known in human history. People died in lakhs and neatly one-third of Bengal's population fell victim to its ravages. Though the famine was due to failure of the rains, its effects were heightened by the Company's policies.