UPSC History Expansion Company and Bengal Nawabs NCERT Extracts - The British Conquest of India

NCERT Extracts - The British Conquest of India

Category : UPSC

 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. The trade remain highly profitable.
  • The old trading routes between the East and the West came under Turkish control after the Ottoman conquest of Asia Minor and capture of Constantinople in 1453.
  • The West European states and merchants therefore began to search for new and safer sea routes to India and the Spice Islands in Indonesia, then known as the East Indies.
  • The first steps were taken by Portugal and Spain whose seamen, sponsored and controlled by their governments, began a great era of geographical discoveries.
  • In 1492 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Under the viceroyalty ofAlfonso 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.
  • In the latter half of the 16the 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 1602, the Dutch East India Company was formed.
  • The main interest of the Dutch lay not in India but in the Indonesian Islands where spices were roduced.
  • They also established trading depots at Surat, Broach, Cambay and Ahmedabad in Gujarat in West India, Cochin in Kerala, Nagapatam in Madras, Masulipatam in Andhra, Chinsura in Bengal, Patna in Bihar and Agra in Uttar Pradesh.
  • 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 sent Captain Hawkins to Jahangir's court to obtain royal favours.
  • Consequently, the English Company was given permission by a royal farman 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.
  • Farman means a royal edict, or a royal order.                                
  • 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 Growth of the East India Company's Trade and Influence, 1600-1714


  • From the very beginning, it tried to combine trade and diplomacy with war and control of the territory where their factories were situated.
  • The English opened their first 'factory9 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.
  • Here the English built a small fort around their factory called Fort St. George.
  • In Eastern India, the English Company had opened its first factories in Orissa in 1633. In 1651 it was given permission to trade at Hugli in Bengal.
  • In 1698, the Company acquired the zamindari of the three village 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 farman 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 Quii Khan and Alivardi Khan.
  • They exercised strict control over the English traders and prevented them from misusing their privileges.


The Anglo-French Struck in South India


  • 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 Chandranagar near Calcutta and Pondicheny on the east coast.
  • 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.
  • Dupleix, the French Governor-General at Pondicheny at this time, now evolved the strategy of using the well-disciplined, modem 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.
  • In 1748, a situation arose in the Camatic and Hyderabad which gave full scope to Dupleix's talents for intrigue. In the Camatic, Chanda Sahib began to conspire against the Nawab, Anwaruddin, while in Hyderabad the death ofAsafJah, Nizam-ul-Mulk, was followed by civil war between his son Nasir Jang and his grandson Muzaffar Jang.
  • 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 Camatic.
  • 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 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.


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 Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal.
  • This farman of 1717 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 dastaks for the Company's goods was misused by the Company's servants to evade taxes on their private trade.
  • 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 Quii Khan.
  • 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 Chandranagar and to desist from fighting each other.
  • 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.
  • Siraj-ud-Daulah seized the English factory at Kasimbazar, marched on to Calcutta, and occupied the Fort William on 20 June, 1756.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mir Jafar was called a puppet ruler of Bengal.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 district of Burdwan, Midnapore, and Chittagong, and giving handsome presents totaling 29 lakhs of rupees to the high English officials.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 battle 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.
  • In 1763, the British had restored Mir Jafar as Nawab and collected huge sums for the Company and its high officials.
  • On Mirjafar'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.
  • 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.


Dual System of Administration of Bengal


  • The East India Company became the real master of Bengal at least from 1765.
  • The Nawab depended for his internal and external security on the British.
  • On 12 August, 1765, the Mughal emperor appointed the East India Company as the Diwan of Bengal.
  • 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 'Dual9 or 'Double9 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.
  • 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".
  • Robert Clive himself amassed a fortune in India. Interestingly, when he was appointed Governor of Bengal in 1764, he was asked to remove corruption in company administration but he was himself cross-examined in 1772 by the British Parliament which was suspicious of his vast wealth. Although he was acquitted, he committed suicide in 1774.
  • 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.


Wars Under Warren Hastings (1772-85) and Cornwallis (1768-93)


  • The East India Company had by 1772 become an important Indian power and its directors in England and its officials in India set out to consolidate their control over Bengal before beginning a new round of conquests.
  • However, their habit of interfering in the internal affairs of the Indian states and their lust for territory and money soon involved them in a series of wars.
  • Thus the British were faced with the powerful combination of the Marathas, Mysore and Hyderabad.
  • Peace was concluded in 1782 by the Treaty of Salbai by which the status quo was maintained. It saved the British from the combined opposition of Indian powers.
  • In July, 1781 the British army under Eyre Coote defeated Haidar Ali at Porto Novo and saved Madras. After Haidar All's death in December, 1782, the war was carried on by his son, Tipu Sultan.
  • War between the two began again in 1789 and ended in Tipu's defeat in 1792. By the treaty of Seringapatam, Tipu ceded half of his territories to the English and their allies and paid 330 lakhs of rupees as indemnity.


Expansion under Lord Wellesley (1798-1805)


  • The next large-scale expansion of British rule in India occurred during the Governor- Generalship of Lord Wellesley who came to India in 1798.
  • To achieve his political aims Wellesley relied on three methods: the system of 'Subsidiary Alliances9, outright war, and the assumption of the territories of previously subordinated rulers.
  • Under his Subsidiary Alliance system, the ruler of the allying Indian state was compelled to accept the permanent stationing of a British force within his territory and to pay a subsidy for its maintenance.
  • Sometimes the ruler ceded part of his territory instead of paying annual subsidy. The 'Subsidiary Treaty' usually also provided that the Indian ruler would agree to the posting at his court of a British Resident, that he would not employ any European in his service without the approval of the British, and that he would not negotiate with any other Indian ruler without consulting the Governor-General.
  • In return, the British undertook to defend the ruler from his enemies. They also promised non- terference in the internal affairs of the allied state, but this was a promise theyseldom kept.
  • In reality, by signing a Subsidiary Alliance, an Indian state virtually signed away its independence. It lost the right of self-defence, of maintaining diplomatic relations, of employing foreign experts, and of settling its disputes with its neighbours.
  • The cost of the subsidiary force provided by the British was very high and, in fact, much beyond the paying capacity to the state.
  • The payment of arbitrarily-fixed and artificially-bloated subsidy invariably disrupted the economy of the state and impoverished its people.                            
  • The system of Subsidiary Alliances also led to the disbandment of the armies of the protected states. Lakhs of soldiers and officers were deprived of their livelihood spreading misery and degradation in the country.
  • Lord Wellesley signed his Subsidiary Treaties with the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1798 and 1800.
  • The Nawab of Awadh was forced to sign a Subsidiary Treaty in 1801. In return for a larger subsidiary force, the Nawab was made to surrender to the British nearly half his kingdom, consisting ofRohilkhand and the territory lying between the Ganga and the Yamuna.
  • The British army attacked and defeated Tipu in a brief but fierce war in 1799, before French help could reach him.
  • The Marathas were the only major Indian power left outside the sphere of British control. The Maratha Empire at this time consisted of a confederacy of five big chiefs, namely, the Peshwa at Poona, the aekwad at Baroda, the Sindhia at Gwalior, the Holkar at Indore and the Bhonsle at Nagpur, the Peshwa being the nominal head of the confederacy.
  • Peshwa Baji Rao II rushed into the arms of the English and on the fateful last day of 1802 signed the Subsidiary Treaty at Bassein.
  • Wellesley was, recalled from India and the Company made peace with Holkar in January 1806 by the treaty of Raighat, giving back to the Holkar the greater part of his territories.


Expansion Under Lord Hastings (1813-22)


  • The Second Anglo-Maratha War had shattered the power of the Maratha chiefs but not their spirit. They made a desperate last attempt to regain their independence and old prestige in 1817.
  • By 1818, the entire Indian subcontinent excepting the Punjab and Sindh had been brought under British control. Part of it was ruled directly by the British and the rest by a host of Indian rulers over whom the British exercised paramount power.


The Conquest of Sindh


  • The conquest of Sindh occurred as a result of the growing Anglo-Russian rivalry in Europe and Asia and the consequent British fears that Russia might attack India through Afghanistan or Persia.
  • The roads and rivers of Sindh were opened to British trade by a treaty in 1832.
  • The chiefs of Sindh, known as Amirs, were made to sign a Subsidiary Treaty in 1839.
  • Sindh was annexed in 1843 after a brief camaign by Sir Charles Napier who had earlier written in his diary : “We have no right to seize Sind, yet we shall do so, and a very advantageous, useful humane piece of rescality it will be". He received seven lakhs of rupees as prize money for accomplishing the task.


The Conquest of the Punjab


  • The death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in June 1839 was followed by political instability and rapid changes of government in the Punjab.
  • Lord Gough, the Commander-in-Chief, and Lord Hardinge, the Governor-General, were marching towards Ferozepur, it decided to strike. War between the two was thus declared on 13 December 1845.
  • The Punjab Army was forced to concede defeat and to sign the humiliating Treaty of Lahore on 8 March 1846.
  • The British annexed the Jullundhar Doab and handed over Jammu and Kashmir to Raja Gulab Singh Dogra for a cash payment of five million rupees.
  • Lord Dalhousie seized this opportunity to annex the Punjab. Thus, the last independent state of India was absorbed in the British Empire of India.


Dalhousie and the Policy of Annexation (1848-56)


  • Lord Dalhousie came out to India as the Governor-General in 1848. He was from the beginning determined to extend direct British rule over as large an area as possible. He had declared that "the extinction of all native states of India is just a question of time".
  • The chief instrument through which Lord Dalhousie implemented his policy of annexation was the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’
  • Under this Doctrine, when the ruler of a protected state died without a natural heir, his state was not to pass to an adopted heir as sanctioned by the age-old tradition of the country.
  • Instead, it was to be annexed to British India, unless the adoption had been clearly approved earlier by the British authorities.
  • Many states, including Satara in 1848 and Nagpur and Jhansi in 1854, were annexed by applying this doctrine.
  • Dalhousie also refused to recognise the titles of many ex-rulers or to pay their pensions.
  • The titles of the Nawabs of Carnatic and of Surat, and the Raja of Tanjore were extinguished.
  • Similarly, after the death of the ex-Peshwa Baji Rao II, who had been made the Raja of Bithur, Dalhousie refused to extend his pay or pension to his adopted son, Nana Saheb.
  • Lord Dalhousie was keen on annexing the kingdom of Awadh.
  • The Nawab of Awadh had many heirs and could not therefore be covered by the Doctrine of Lapse.
  • Finally, Lord Dalhousie hit upon the idea of alleviating the plight of the people of Awadh. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was accused of having misgoverned his state and refusing to introduce reforms. His state was therefore annexed in 1856.

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