Read this article to learn about the British relations with India and subjugation of the principal Indian powers:
In the 17th century, the European companies were peaceful trading bodies, seeking the favour of the Mughal Government rather than challenging its authority.
Towards the close of the 17th century the decline of the Imperial authority and the political disorders in the country particularly, in South India brought about a change of policy.
The East India Company secured valuable privileges in 1717 under a royal Farman by the Mughal, which had granted the Company the freedom to export and import their goods in Bengal without paying taxes and right to issue passes or dastaks for the movements of such goods.
The Company 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. All the Nawabs of Bengal from Mushld Quli Khan to Alivardl Khan, had objected to the English interpretation of the Farman of 1717. They had compelled the Company to pay the lump sums to their treasury and firmly suppress the misuse of dastaks.
Matters came to a head in 1756 when the young and quick tempered Siraj-ud-Daulah succeeded his granfather, Alivardi Khan. When the Nawab ordered the English to demolish their fortifications at Calcutta, the British refused to do so. It was now determined to remain in Bengal against the wishes of Nawab and to trade there on its own terms.
Nevertheless the English company demanded the absolute right to trade freely in Bengal irrespective of the Bengal Nawab’s orders. English 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 (Siraj-ud-Daulah) 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 the battle on the field of Plassey, 20 miles from Murshidabad, on 23rd June 1757.
The fateful battle of Plassey was a battle only in name. The major part of the Nawab’s army led by the traitors Mir Jafar and Rai Durlabh, took no part in the fighting. The Nawab was forced to flee and was captured and put to death by Mir Jafar’s son Miran.
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 Parghanas near Calcutta.
Mir Jafar paid a sum of Rs. 177, 00,000 as compensation for the attack on Calcutta to the company and the traders of the city. Mir Jafar’s treasury was soon emptied by the demands of the Companies officials for presents and bribes.
When Mir Jafar hesitated to fulfil their all expectations they forced him in a October 1760 to leave the throne in favour of his son-in-law Mir Qasim, who rewarded his benefactors by granting the Company the zamindari of the districts of Burdwan, Madinapur and Chittagong and giving handsome presents, totalling 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. Mir Qasim was defeated in a series of battles in 1763 and fled to Avadh where the formed an alliance with Shuja-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Avadh and Shah Alam, the fugitive ruler of Mughal Empire. (In 1763 the British had restored Mir Jafar as Nawab of Bengal). The three allies crashed with the English army at Buxar on 22nd October, 1764 and were thoroughly defeated.
Company became the real master of Bengal atleast from 1765. Its army was in sole control of its defence and the supreme political power was in its hands. The Nawab depend for his internal and external security of the British.
As the diwan, he East India Company directly collected its (Bengal, Bihar, Orissa) revenues, while through the right to nominate the Deputy Subedar, it controlled the nizamat or the police and judicial powers.
The enemity between Avadh and the English started in 1764 from the Battle of Buxar. In this battle, the English defeated the combined forces of the Nawab Shuja-ud-Daulah of Avadh, Mughal Emperor Shah Alam and contemporary Nawab of Bengal Mir Kasim. After this battle, the treaty of Allahabad was signed between Nawab of Avadh and British. Lord Dalhousie was keen on annexing the kingdom of Avadh.
The Nawab of Avadh had many heirs and could not therefore be covered by the Doctrine of Lapse. Some other pretext had to be found for depriving him of his dominions. Finally, Lord Dalhousie hit upon the idea of alleviating the plight of the people of Avadh.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was accused of having misgoverned his state and of refusing to introduce reforms. His state was therefore, annexed in 1856. Undoubtedly, the degeneration of the administration of Avadh was a painful reality for its people.
The State of Mysore rose to prominence in the politics of South India under the leadership of Haider Ali. In 1761, he became the defector ruler of Mysore though the Hindu ruler remained as the nominal sovereign who was simply shown to public once in a year.
The wars of successions in Karnataka and Hyderabad, the conflict of the English and the French in the South and the defeat of the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat (1761 A.D.) helped him in extending and consolidating the territory of Mysore. It certainly provoked the jealousy of the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad.
He (Haider Ali) was defeated by Maratha Peshawar Mandhav Rao in 1764 and forced to sign a treaty in 1765. He surrendered him a part of his territory and also agreed to pay rupees twenty eight lakes per annum. The Nizam of Hyderabad, however, did not act alone but preferred to act in league with the English which resulted in the first Anglo-Mysore war.
The first Anglo-Mysore war (1766-1769 A.D.) ended with the defeat of British. Haider Ali in 1769 forced the Madras Council to sign peace treaty on his terms. Both sides restored each other’s conquest and promised mutual help in case of attack by a third party.
When Haider Ali was attacked by the Marathas in 1771, the English went back on their promise and did not come to his help. This led Haider Ali to distrust and dislike them. In 1778, English in India seized the French settlements including Mahe, a port which was very useful to Haider Ali for the entry of supplies. Haider Ali remonstrated against the seizure of Mahe by the English but in vain.
The provocation thus given to him, added to his desire to take revenge on the English, for their refusal to help him against the Marathas in 1772, promoted Haider Ali to declare war and he gladly joined a strong coalition formed by the Nizam in 1779 against the English. Thus war which thus began, lasted from 1780 to 1784.
Luckily for the English, Haider Ali died in December 1782. He was succeeded by his son Tipu Sultan who carried on the war and captured the Fort of Badnur in 1783. In the meantime Commander Fullerton attacked his capital Sri Rangapatam. This compelled Tipu to sign a treaty at Mangalore in 1784 A. D. By this treaty it was decided that both the parties would return the conquered land of each other.
War between the two again began in 1789 and ended in Tipu’s defeat in 1792. Even though Tipu fought with exemplary bravery, Lord Cornwallis, the then Governor General, and succeeded through shrewd diplomacy in isolating him by winning over the Marathas, the Nizam, and the rules of Travancore and Coorg. This war again revealed that the Indian powers were shortsighted enough to aid the foreigner against another Indian power for the sake of temporary advantages.
The Third Mysore war came to an end by the treaty of Seringapatam in March, 1792. Tipu Sultan had lost half of his territory as a result of Third Mysore War and was burning with revenge. He wanted to get back his territory and to achieve that object, he carried on negotiations with the French and Zanuan Shah of Kabul Tipu wanted to have allies to expel the English.
Wellesley was not prepared to tolerate this. After making Subsidiary Alliance with the Nizam, he asked Tipu Sultan to accept the same but he refused. This led to war Mysore was attacked from two sides. The main army under General Harris supported by Nizam’s subsidiary force under Arthur Wellesley attacked Mysore from the east, while another army advanced from Bombay. Tipu was at first defeated by the Bombay army and was later on defeated by the general Harris at Mallavalli.
The foundation of the Maratha confederacy was laid by Baji Rao, the second Peshwa (1720-1740 A.D.), the ablest and the greatest of the Peshwas. Maratha Empire when came in contact with the British consisted of a confederacy of five big chiefs namely, the Peshwa at Poona, the Gaekwad at Baroda, the Sindhia at Gwalior, the Holkar at Indore and the Bhonsle at Nagpur, the Peshwa being the nominal head of the confederacy.
The third Peshawar Balaji Baji Rao could not withstand the shock of the defeat of the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat and died on June 23, 1761. He was succeeded by his son Madhav Rao. He was the last of them.
He kept in check the ambition of his brother Raghunath Rao, maintained unity among the Maratha chiefs and nobles and very soon recovered the power and prestige of the Marathas which they had lost in the third battle of Panipat.
The English became conscious of the growing power of the Marathas and wanted to crush their re-establishment. They got this opportunity very soon after the death of the youthful Peshwa Madhav Rao in 1722. The primary cause of the first Maratha war was the interference of the English Government at Bombay in the internal affairs of the Marathas.
Peshawar Madhav Rao died in 1722 and was succeeded by his younger borhter, Narain Rao. His uncle Raghoba wanted to become the Peshawar and got him murdered. The great Maratha chiefs took up the cause of Madhav Rao Narain, the posthumous son of Marain Rao. Raghoba felt weak and approached the Bombay Government for help.
The Bombay Government evaded the provisions of the Regulating Act, which had placed Bombay and Madras presidencies under the control of Governor-General of Bengal in Council and made the treaty of Surat with Raghoba in 1775.
In 1780 the fortress of Gwalior was taken over by Major Popham. Scindia wanted to make peace with the English. At this time the English were also fighting against Haider Ali of Mysore. Therefore Hastings welcomed the mediation through Scindia to bring about an end to the War. The end came with the treaty of Salbai, 1782.
Another treaty, the treaty of Bassein is regarded as a very important step towards the establishment of the English dominance over India. This treaty was made between the last Peshawar of the Marathas, Baji Rao II and the English on December 31, 1802 A.D.
The Second Maratha War was fought at the time of Lord Wellesley. The treaty of Bassein made conflict with the Marathas inevitable. For Marathas, Treaty of Bassein was nothing short of surrender of national honour. Holkar and Scindia stopped fighting.
Scindia and Bhonsle conbined but Holkar and Gaikwad remained aloof. Scindia and Bhonsle were asked by the English to withdraw their troops to the north of the Narrrtada River but they refused. It led to war. Both Scindia and Peshwa and accepted the sovereignty of the English. Now Holkar alone was left in the field who still avoided their supremacy. Wellesley now turned his attention towards Holkar, but Yeshwant Rao Holkar proved more than a match for the British.
British statesman and the Directors of the Company felt that time had come to check further expansion, to put an end to ruinous expenditure, and to digest and consolidate Britain’s recent gains in India. Wellesley was therefore recalled from India and the Company made peace with Holkar in January 1806 by the treaty Rajghat giving back to the latter the greater part of this territories.
Marathas made a desperate last attempt to regain their independence and old prestige in 1817 A.D. This led in organizing a united front of the Maratha chiefs and was taken out by the Peshawar who was smarting under the rigid control exercised by the British Resident. However, once again the Marathas failed to evolve a concerted and well-thought out plan of action.
The Peshawar attacked the British Residency at Poona in November 1817, Appa Saheb of Nagpur attacked the Residency at Nagpur, and Madhav Rao Holkar made preparations for war. The Maratha confederacy was altogether destroyed, so many territories were snatched from its various members that they were rendered powerless to do anything against the British. Thus, the work was accomplished by Lord Hasstings in 1818. Now the British Government became the supreme and paramount authority in India.
The first regular contact between Ranjit Singh and the British seems to have been made in 1800. The occasion was when India was threatened by an invasion of Zaman Shah, the Afghan ruler who had been invited by Tipu Sultan, a bitter enemy of the British.
As a precautionary measure, the British sent Munshi Yusuf Ali to the court of Ranjit Singh with rich presents to win the Maharaja over to the British side. Soon, however, he learnt that the danger of Zaman Shah’s invasion receded and Yausf Ali was recalled.
The second contact was made in 1805 when the Maratha chief Holkar entered the Punjab for help from Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh had gone to conquer Multan and Jhang but came to Amritsar on learning about Holkar’s arrival.
He called a meeting of a Sarbat Khalsa to decide about the policy to be followed towards Holkar. Fateh Singh Ahluwalia and Bhag Singh of Jind advised Ranjit Singh not to come in conflict with the British by helping Holkar. Ranjit Singh told holkar politely that he would not help him against the British. General Lake and Maharaja Ranjit Singh concluded an agreement in January, 1806.
As the danger of French invasion on India became remote, the English adopted a stern policy towards Ranjit Singh. He was given a note of the Governor-General by Metcalfe, which contained some soft-worded warnings against his aggressive policy.
Ranjit Singh was asked to restore all the places he has taken possession of since that period to the former possessors and will confine his army to the right bank of the Sutlej. Ranjit Singh was not prepared to accept the demand.
However, he withdrew his troops from Ambala and Saniwal but continued to retain Faridkot. Ranjit Singh fortified the fort of Givindgarh. But in the last stage, Ranjit Singh changed his mind and agreed to sign the Treaty of Amritsar in 1809.
One of the effects of the treaty of Amritsar was that the British Government was able to take the cis-Sutlej states under its protection. Ranjit Singh’s advance in the East was checked but he was given a carte blanche so far as the region to the west of the Sutlej was concerned.
The death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in June 1839 was followed by political instability and rapid changes of Government in the Punjab. Selfish and corrupt leaders came to the front. Ultimately, power fell into the hands of the brave and patriotic but utterly undisciplined army. This led the British to look greedily across the Sutlej upon the land on the five rivers even though they had signed a treaty in 1809.
The first battle between the Sikhs and the English was fought at Mudki on December 18, 1845. The Sikhs were defeated. The English again won the battle of Ferozepur on December 21. The Sikhs, under Ranjit Singh Majithia, however, defeated the English at Buddwal on January 21, 1846. But, the Sikhs were again defeated at Aliwal on January 28. The decisive battle was fought at Sobraon on February 10, 1846 and the Sikhs were routed. The English then crossed the Sutlej on February 13 and captured the capital of Lahore on February 20.
As the Sikhs absolutely beaten so, many people advised Lord Hardinge to annex the Empire, but he did not accept this. The war came to an end by the Treaty of Lahore which was signed on 9th March, 1846. This treaty left the Sikhs with no capacity for resisting the English. Another treaty was made with the Sikhs on 16th December, 1846 A. D., this treaty is known as ‘Second Treaty of Lahore’ or the ‘Treaty of Bhairowal’.
The Sikhs considered their defeat in the first Sikh War, a great humiliation. They had been accustomed to victories in the time of Ranjit Singh and this defeat gave a rude shock to their mentality. The Sikhs wanted to restore the fallen fortunes of their kingdom. And the Second Anglo-Sikh War then was fought between 1848-1849 A.D.
Lord Gough, the British Commander-in-Chief, reached Lahore with the grand army of the Punjab on 13th, Nov. On 22nd, Nov. the rebels were defeated in a battle at Ramnagar. Another indecisive action was fought at Sadullapur on 3rd December. The third battle was fought on 13 Jan., 1849 at Chelianwala.
On Feb. 21, Lord Gough met the Sikhs in another battle at Derajat. The Sikhs were utterly routed, surrendered themselves at Rawalpindi and thus, the game came to an end. The complete defeat of the Sikhs sealed the fate of their kingdom. Lord Dalhousie on his own responsibility annexed Punjab on 29th March, 1849.
The annexation of Punjab extended the British territories in India up to the natural frontiers of India towards the north-west. Besides, after the destruction of the Sikh’s power there remained non-active power which could pose a threat to the security of the English in India.