This article provides an overview on the British ascendancy in Bengal.
Robert Clive as the Governer of Bengal:
The revolution of 1757 had established military supremacy of the English in Bengal. Their French rivals had been ousted and they had become the real power behind the throne.
The last attempt made by Mir Qasim to retrieve the position of the Nawab of Bengal had ultimately failed with his defeat at the battle of Buxar, 1764. Mir Jafar whom the English had placed on the Bengal Masnad for a second time died early in 1765 which gave the Company yet another opportunity to establish their supremacy in Bengal on a more definite basis.
Mir Jafar’s son Najm-ud-daulah was allowed to succeed to the Nawabship of Bengal in terms of a treaty (Feb. 20, 1765) which laid down that the entire management of the affajrs of the state should be left in the hands of a minister called Deputy Subahdar, who would be nominated by the English and could not be removed from office except with the consent of the English. Thus, for all practical purposes the control of the Nawab’s administration passed into the hands of the English and the Nawab was reduced to a powerless show piece.
Such was the situation in Bengal when Robert Clive, now raised to the peerage, came as the Governor of Bengal for a second time (May, 1765). He had been the governor of Bengal from 1757-60 and left for home in 1760. When the news of the English success at Buxar (1764) reached England the question of consolidation of the newly acquired territories in India naturally arose.
The authorities of the Company in England thought that no body other than dive, now Lord Clive, was more suited for the task and appointed him Governor of Bengal for a second time and also combined the post of the Commander-in-Chief with that of Governor.
During the Years 1760-64 the political and administrative situation in India had undergone a great change for the worse. The problem of Political Settlement with the Nawab of Oudh, Emperor as well as the Nawab of Bengal needed immediate handling. The lust for money had debased the general character of the Company’s servants which brought the Company’s affairs into utter disorder.
The Company’s servants had become thoroughly demoralised and bribery and corruption reigned supreme, their participation in private trade had reduced the Company’s profit. Thus, when Clive arrived in Bengal he was faced with several intricate problem that needed his immediate attention.
Between the first and the second governorship of Clive Vansittart was the Governor of Bengal. It was during his time that Major Hector Munro had defeated confederate forces of Mir Qasim, Suja-ud-daulah and Shah Alam II at the battle of Buxar (October 22, 1764). The prevailing idea among the English servants of the Company in Bengal was restoration of the power of the Emperor Shah Alam who was a fugitive in Oudh, with the English help so that the Company might take the fullest advantage of the Emperor’s name and authority to enhance their status and increase their interests. It was with this end in view Vansittart had already promised Oudh to Shah Alam.
The nature of the regime which had achieved so marked a success was one so discreditable to the English that Sir Alfred Lyall described “these years as the only period which throws grave unpardonable discredit on the English government”. According to Clive “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 manner.”
As V. A. Smith points out: “It was, however, Clive himself who had started the moral collapse of the Bengal’ civilians.” Before 1757 despite the blows inflicted on the Mughal government by the Persians, Marathas and the Afghans, the power of the local governor —the Nawab kept the activities of the merchants both native and European within bounds. But the events of 1757 transformed the plodding English merchants into the arbiters of Bengal politics thereby removing the restraints exercised on them by the Nawab.
The English merchants all on a sudden found avenues of undreamt of wealth open before them and as they lacked inner restraint there was no sense of moderation of justice in them. “The First step was taken by Clive”. (Smith). He received a reward (a bribe?) of £ 234,000 and a jagir worth £ 30,000 per year. By irony of fate it was Clive himself on whom fell the task of retrieving the English servants of the Company in Bengal from the slough of
Corruption, bribery and insubordination, and his remarks about the prevailing condition on his arrival as the governor for a second time make a curious reading.
Clive came with immense power to deal with the affairs of the Company in India. He was empowered to nominate a Select Committee of his own should he think that he could not function’ with the existing Council. Within two days of his arrival he nominated his Select Committee of four members Verelst, Carnac, Sykes and summer. The former two were already in Bengal and latter two came with him.
He found on his arrival that the immediate crisis which led to his appointment, namely, the danger of the Emperor’s enmity was already over. Vansittart had promised Oudh to the Emperor Shah Alam, who offered to come under the English protection, the relation with Suja-ud-daulah had remained unsettled. In February 1765 died Mir Jafar. His son Najm-ud-daulah was placed on the masnad and Reza Khan was appointed his Deputy by the English.
Clive’s mission had a double purpose:
(1) To establish such relations with the native powers as would put an end to ceaseless wars; arid
(2) To suppress the insubordination, corruption, bribery finds all that pervaded all branches of the Company’s government.
The problems were not easy of solution for on one side there was nothing to stop if he would march upto Delhi, put the fugitive Emperor on the Delhi throne and made the English Company the imperial Wazir, on the other side to take statesmanlike decision of consolidation of what was within the ‘grip rather than of expansion. Clive decided for the former course and the wisdom of his policy is now generally recognised.
He abandoned the policy of Vansittart and decided to limit the Company’s influence to Bengal and Bihar, leaving Oudh as a buffer State friendly to the English, between the Company and the Marathas. Therefore Emperor’s claim on Oudh was discountenanced. But the spirit of Vansittart’s earlier offer was retained.
The Emperor Shah Alam was given Korah and Allahabad. Oudh was restored to Shuja-ud-daulah on payment of a compensation of 50 lakhs, and a defensive alliance concluded with him by the terms of which the security and defence of his territories were guaranteed by the Company, and the Nawab Shuja-ud-daulah was to pay the expenses of necessary troops. “Shuja-ud-daulah”, rightly remarks Smith “did not realise that his new friends would eventually prove more deadly than his supposed enemies. This treaty provided for a model for the system which Wellesley later developed by which the Indian princes saved themselves from their enemies at the price of enmeshing themselves in the threads of the Company’s spider’s web.”
Emperor Shah Alam who was a supplicant at the door of the English and in return for his rehabilitation in Korah and Allahabad, he by a farman formally granted Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company on condition of payment of a tribute 26 lakhs per year. The Diwani, i.e. revenue collection and civil justice, was granted on August, 12, 1765.
The grant of Diwani conferred on the Company the momentous power of collecting revenues, to mete out civil justice, to defray the charges of the government and to pay the Emperor the annual tribute of 26 lakhs. But Clive fixed the sum of the expenses of the Nawab’s household and Government to 53 lakhs per year. The amount was reduced to 41 lakhs in 1766 and 32 lakhs in 1769.
Clive then turned to set his house in order. He firmly checked abuses of the private trade and acceptance of presents by the Company’s servants. He arrived with ‘Covenants’ which the Company’s servants were to sign agreeing not to engage in inland trade or accept presents.
The Company’s servants at first thought, remembered as they did the past record of Give himself, that he could not be malignantly determined to prevent others from amassing fortune that he himself had done. But Clive showed no sign of relenting. Some resigned, others were forced to resign and vacancies filled in from Madras. Eventually recalcitrant officers had to submit. With equal vigour and determination Clive dealt with the military batta, i.e. allowance. Batta was an extra allowance that was paid to the soldier for field service away from the garrison.
This practice began during the French war at Madras, when the Nawab subsidised the British troops by such payment. The practice spread to Bengal; the British troops were paid double batta. Even when there was no field service rendered, the military drew double batta. Clive allowed officers in cantonment to draw half batta, those in field service within Bengal full batta and those who would be required to serve outside Bengal borders double batta.
This rationalisation of the allowance was not liked by the military. Encouraged by Brigadier Commander Sir Robert Fletcher a mutinous movement was set on foot. Clive met this opposition with a strong hand and the opposition gradually died down.
Clive left India for good in 1767 (February).
Diwani: it’s Management:
The Mughal system of Provincial Government was one of checks and balances. The powers of the civil and military administration were in the hands of the Nizamat, a Subahdar and that of the revenue collection was in the hands of the Diwan. The Nizamat had the criminal jurisdiction while the civil justice was under the Diwan. The Diwan was to collect the revenue, defray the expenditure of the Nizamat and send the balance to the Emperor at Delhi. The advantage of the system was that neither the Nizamat nor the Diwan could become independent of each other, on the contrary each would be a check on the other.
From after the death of Aurangzeb when the Imperial Government became too weak to exercise control over distant provinces, Bengal Nizamat, i.e., the Subahdar or Nawab became virtually independent and Murshid Quli Khan assumed the functions of both the Nawab and the Diwan.
In 1765 Clive by a farman from Emperor Shah Alam II who was under the protection of the English who had placed Korah and Allahabad under him received the grant of the Diwani of Bengal. Bihar and Orissa on payment of an annual tribute of Rs.26 lakhs to the Emperor and provided for a fixed amount of 53 lakhs per year for the expenses of the Nizamat This was an act of gratitude shown by the emperor to the English for rehabilitating him who was a fugitive.
Clive kept the Diwani in abeyance for good reasons. He had no administration he could rely on at that point of time, further he was unwilling to deepen the corruption of the servants of the Company further by coming into such immense additional patronage. He, therefore, left the Diwani in Indian hands ostensibly under the Nawab, but appointed Reza Khan and Sitab Roy, Diwans of Bengal and Bihar respectively. Reza Khan was already appointed Deputy Nizam by the terms of the treaty with Najm-ud-daulah.
Thus under the Indian garb the British were exercising the real power of both the Nizamat and the Diwani. Nizamat and the Diwani remained under the Nawab ostensibly but the power was in the hands of the Company. This peculiar system known as Diarchy or Dual Government left the Nawab with the responsibility without power which was in the hands of the Company, and latter with power without responsibility.
The reasons for Clive’s following this course of action were quite few. First, he had no administration that could be trusted by him both, because of the corrupt practices of the Company’s servants and their lack of knowledge of the revenue administration in Bengal.
Secondly, he believed, it would be better to lull the Dutch and the French jealousies to rest by keeping up a pretence that the Nawab was still in power. Obviously, he took care to avoid Dupleix’s mistake in the Carnatic. Clive’s political aims in setting up a dual government were first, that although as a result of the acquisition of the Diwani nothing remained with the Nawab except the name or the shadow, it was necessary for the English to seem to venerate, “every mark of distinction and respect must be shown him and he himself encouraged to show his resentment upon the least want of respect from the other nations”. Secondly, that if the mask were thrown off “Foreign nations would immediately take umbrage and complaints preferred to the British Court (of Directors) might have very embracing consequences”.
Thirdly, open assumption of the Diwani with all its implications might have an adverse reaction upon the Indian rulers and might even unite them against the English in a war.
Fourthly, open assumption of political power, it was apprehended by Clive, might induce the British Parliament to interfere in the Company’s affairs.
Lastly, other European nations who were trading in Bengal on the strength of imperial farman or with the Nawab’s farman might not be willing to accept the English authority or make payments to the English servants.
Criticism of Clive’s Dual Government:
The defects of Clive’s dual government became manifest from the very start. The unfortunate divorce of Power from responsibility soon led to a recrudescence of the old abuses. The scheme of Government was unworkable, hence ineffective, and in the language of Kaye “made confusion more confounded and corruption more corrupt”. The failure of such a government was, therefore, a foregone conclusion.
A very young Nawab, Najm-ud-daulah whom the English had placed on the masnad of Bengal was inefficient and incapable, who being delighted at the prospect of ready money amounting to 53′ lakhs annually is said to have remarked. “Thank God! I shall now have as many dancing girls as I please.” Clive was not unaware of the imbecility of the eighteen year old roi Faneant and by keeping the responsibility of administration on him and power in the hands of the Company reduced the Nawab into a phantom. Even if the Nawab were more capable the system of government that Clive had devised would became unworkable. The Nawab was left with no power to enforce law or to mete out justice.
The countryside was ravaged by marauders [and dacoits, Fakirs and Sannyasis. On the evidence of Watt and Howitt it is learnt that Naga Sannyasis and the Marathas plundered Burdwan and Krishna-nagore. In 1763 Warren Hastings in a note referred to the Fakir menace which became more threatening since 1765 when the Nawab was rendered all the more incapable.
The entire administration from the apex to the base was unscrupulous and corrupt. The corruption became so rampant that Indian servants of the Company copied their masters in every kind of corrupt practice. George Cornwall a long time afterwards did not mince his words in telling the British House of Commons that “no civilised government existed on the face of the earth which was more corrupt, more perfidious and more rapacious than the Government of the East India Company from 1765 to 1784”. This will give an impression of the sort of Government Clive had devised for Bengal.
The whole economy of Bengal which has already received a set back due to the unscrupulous inland trade by the English servants of the Company was on the verge of ruination. Agriculture, trade and commerce, the weaving industry, in short the backbone of the economy was shattered.
The cumulative effect of all this was the great famine of 1770. In 1769 the Court of Directors enjoined on the Company to encourage manufacture of raw silk and to discourage manufacture of silk fabrics. All this enhanced the process of the beggary into which the English merchants had reduced their Indian counterparts. The oppression of the gomasthas i.e., native agents of the Company according to William Bolts “is beyond imagination”.
All these resulted in reduction of the people to utter misery. Mr. Becher’s comment in this regard is worth quoting. “It must give pain to an Englishman to have reason to think that since the accession of the Company to Dewanee condition of the people country has been worse than it was before, yet I am afraid, the fact is undoubted.”
One of the major causes of the misery of the people was the extortionate realisation of revenue. Mr. Becher contends “why this fine country, which flourished under the most despotic and arbitrary government, is verging towards its ruin while the English have really so great a share in the administration. When the English received the grant of Dewanee, their first consideration seems to have been the raising of as large sums from the Country as could be collected, to answer to the Pressing demands from home and to defray the large expenses here”.
The grant of Diwani was taken by the English as if they had struck a gold mine, and exploitation of it was the only interest. Such was the greed for money that Company’s gomasthas realised in the year following the great famine of 1770 ten percent more than the usual collection of revenue. The dual government was thus a cruel experiment made by the English on the people of the Bengal Subah.
Significance of the Grant of the Diwani:
Grant of Diwani to the English by Emperor Shah Alam II marked the beginning of a new era in the history of India. The Plassey had made the English power behind the throne but there was no legal or constitutional sanction behind their position in relation to the Nawab. The Nawab’s sovereignty remained unaffected. But the grant of Diwani placed the English Company at par with the Nizamat.
We have already seen that under the Mughal administration the provinces had a Nizamat and a Diwan. It was a system of checks and balances. The Nizamat was dependent on the Diwan for his expenses which the Diwan was to meet and send the balance to the Emperor. The Diwan was likewise dependent on the Nizamat for the police, criminal justice, maintenance of law and order without which revenue collection was not possible.
The scheme was to keep the Nizamat in check through the Diwan and vice versa. In Bengal, however, both the powers of the Nizamat and Diwani were in the hands of the Nawab.
To place the English Company in position of the Dewan was:
(i) To give them legal and constitutional status at par with the Nizamat,
(ii) To invest the Company with financial control over the Nizamat.
(iii) The provision for payment 53 lakhs to the “Nawab annually made the Nawab a virtual pensioner of the Company. The Nawab could hot carry on with his administration without money which was now controlled by the English.
It was the grant of Diwani, therefore, that made the Company real master of Bengal Subah. The Company now appointed two deputy Diwans—Reza Khan for Bengal and Shitab Roy for Bihar. If the English did not assume direct administrative or political control it was for their own reasons. The de facto control that they had over Bengal as a result of the Plassey was now converted into de jure control as a result of the grant of Diwani. The English Company became the masters of the Bengal Subah.
Robot Clive: Career and Estimate:
Born in 1725 near Market Drayton in Shropshire, England, Robert Clive, son of an attorney, had his schooling in several private schools. Chief characteristics of Clive during his several years in schools were boldness and insubordination. He was the leader of all escapades and broils and a terror to his teachers. He showed strongest aversion to his father’s profession. His character was one of harsh contrasts. He was a “high-spirited youth, fond of domination, a natural leader, impatient of control”.
Clive’s disinclination to respond to the possibilities open to him at home led his father Richard Clive to find for Robert Clive a position in the East India Company as a writer. Clive sailed for India early in 1743 and after the detention of the ship at Rio for months and also at St. Simon’s Bay reached Madras towards the end of 1744.
The dull monotony of a writer’s (Clerk’s) life at Madras made him sullen and unenthusiastic in his work which he performed perfunctorily.
When the French took Madras and the French General Para- dis entered the city and ordered the English who were there to be removed to Pondicherry as Prisoners on parole, dive, then a young man of twenty-one, blacked his face and slipped out in Muslim dress. On his reaching Fort St. David he was called upon to share in its defence for conquest of Fort David also lay in Dupleix’s policy. Thus began the military career of Clive, turned into a soldier from a writer.
His first military exploit was the storming of the Fort Devikota in support of the ex-Rajah of Tanjore who had been dethroned. Here he served as a volunteer but was soon appointed an ensign. On May 2,1747 the Company’s record shows: “Mr. Robert Clive, writer in the service, being of a martial disposition and having acted as a volunteer in our late engagement, we have granted him an Ensign’s Commission upon his application for the same.”
It was on August, 26, 1751, that Clive set forth on his march to Trichinopoly from Madras, to relieve Muhammad Ali who had been kept under a siege by the French and Chanda Sahib. It was this assignment that brought immortal fame to Robert Clive and marked him as a great general. Clive perceived that Chanda Sahib had amassed his army in Trichinopoly leaving his capital Arcot almost defenceless. Clive decided to fight the enemy in his own land; he instead of concentrating on the defence of Trichinopoly followed the diversionary tactics of attacking Arcot. He captured Arcot which compelled Chanda Sahib to withdraw support of the French troops to march towards Arcot.
This weakened the strength of the siege of Trichinopoly and strengthened that of Muhammad Ali in comparison. His successful siege of Arcot, victory at Kaveri-pak changed the” fortune in favour of the English in the Carnatic. Likewise his recapture of Calcutta, seizure of Chandernagore and victory at Plassey made the English the King-maker in Bengul and sealed the fate of the French in Bengal.
The Plassey transformed the English from a body of merchants into a territorial power and opened the way to the political domination of India. During his absence from 1760 to 1765 the English Company played the role of King-makers and following Clive’s foot-steps the servants of the Company took advantage of the situation to line their coats.
In 1764 the Company’s victory over the combined forces of the Mir Qasim, Nawab of Oudh and the Emperor marked a great change in the position of the English in India at Buxar. But it became his duty on his reaching India for a second time as governor to settle the political, military and the commercial problem that the Company was faced with.
Clive’s statesmanship, now generally recognised, can be seen in his settlement with Shah Alam, the Nawab of Oudh by which he put an end to the ceaseless wars and afforded the Company opportunity to consolidate its gains. His obtaining the grant of Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa from the Emperor Shah Alam who was now under the English protection, on an annual tribute of 26 lakhs and payment of 53 lakhs to the Nawab and making the Nawab to Wazir of Oudh dependent on the Company were certainly acts of wisdom on the part of Clive. The criticism that he did not take the opportunity of marching upto Delhi, the emperor having been under English protection is not regarded tenable in view of the political situation of India of the time.
Now the claim of Clive to be regarded as “a heaven born general” as Pitt Earl of Chatham called him, and his claim to be regarded as the founder of the British Empire in India and reformer of British administration in Bengal have been denied him by many a writer.
Clive’s contribution in raising moral of the English troops in Trichinopoly and his action in Arcot deserved praise no doubt, but “And what of the general who conquered Bengal at Plassey? This was not really a title to fame” remarks Prof. Percival Spear most pertinently. The Plassey certainly was not a victory in the true military sense. It was the victory of treachery, betrayal and conspiracy of which Clive himself was one of the chief architects.
The claim that Clive was the founder of the British Empire in India is not wholly tenable, for:
(I) he withdrew from the scheme of empire building “as soon as he realised that the British government would not or could not intervene”,
(II) “his abiding object was to limit rather than extend the Company’s dominion,
(III) The overthrow of Seraja was aimed at replacing him by a more amenable Nawab rather than annexing Bengal”.
Yet we cannot altogether dissociate him in the foundation of the British empire in India. “The empire would probably have been established without him (Clive), though in a different way and a very different time-span. Nevertheless he gave a powerful thrust towards interference in Northern India. His work was not laying of foundations, for the later edifice had different ones….Clive was not a founder but a harbinger of the future…………….. Clive was the forerunner of the British Indian Empire.”
We cannot, however, deny him the claim to be founder of ‘the Indo-British army in Bengal’. What Stringer Lawrence had done in Madras, Clive had done in Bengal. He organised three brigades of commands with British and the Indian troops. His dealing with the Bengal army in rationalising the field allowance called batta and suppressing with a firm hand the near-rebellious condition speak well of his organisational ability as a soldier.
He also dealt with determination to remove the abuse of illegal gains on the part of the English servants who were all busy to line their coats. From the governor, councillor, down to the meanest servants of the Company, all had become corrupt. His proposal to enhance the salary of the high ranking officers to wean them away from the prevalent corrupt practices was turned down by the Court of Directors but this was the cue from which the Indian Civil Service was introduced in the future. He compelled the English servants of the Company to sign covenants forbidding them to participate in inland trade and to accept presents and put down those who proved recalcitrant.
But he could not close the door totally to corruption. A Society of Trade (1765) was established by him to compensate the Company’s servants of higher rank and permitted it to enjoy monopoly in salt, tobacco and betelnut trade. The profits were to be shared by the superior English servants in a graduated scale.
This was contrary to the spirit and action he took to eradicate corruption, for it was legalised corruption that he now introduced. Prices of these commodities, essential to every household, were pushed up. The Court of Directors disapproved of this monstrous scheme and the Society was abolished in 1768.
It has been remarked by N. L. Chatterjee that the policy Clive followed, was one of short-sighted opportunism and in his effort to cleanse the Augean Stable made confusion worse confounded.
Lord Macaulay and Alfred Lyall’s fulsome praise of Clive that England scarcely produced a man more truly great in arms or Council, or that he was a rare combination of masculine qualities fitted to the situation of India of that time are not accepted by modern historians When prudence dictated retreat he attacked with headlong valour and neglected even the most obvious precautions of a military commander.
Lastly his device of dual government instead of bringing peace and order brought untold miseries to the people of Bengal, ruined the economy, let loose a reign of oppression, insecurity and total ruin, the result was the Famine of 1770 by which one-third of the population had wiped out.
Verelst (1767-69): Carrier (1769-72):
Clive left India in February, 1767 and was succeeded by Verelst who was in his turn by Cartier in 1767 as governor. The evil effects of the dual government devised by Clive began to be manifest in every sphere of the life in Bengal. The, system kept the nawab vested with responsibility but no power while the Company had all power without responsibility.
They controlled the funds which were the source of all power. Deputy diwan Reza Khan who was also the Deputy Nawab and a nominee of the Company began to follow a policy of extortionate realisation of revenue from the ryots. With agriculture waning and the native merchants thrown out of employment due to the English servants’ pressure on manufacture of raw silk and not silk-fabrics, their monopoly trade in essential household items like salt, betelnut and tobacco brought about an economic prostration of the country and the people.
Law and order deteriorated, dacoits, murderers and marauders infested the country side and the nawab was powerless to remedy the situation of heavy drainage of bullion from the country towards sending of the profits of the Company as also the profits amassed by individual servants of the country bled the country white. New experiments in revenue collection also affected the agriculturists and agriculture was on the wane. Failure of rains in 1767 when the situation was already desperate, led to a terrible famine in Bengal in 1770 which took a toll of one-third of the population of Bengal.
But as soon as famine conditions began to be manifest Reza Khan and both native and English servants of the Company who had sufficient funds at their disposal began to comer foodstuff which enhanced the ravages of the famine all the more.
In villages, in the roads and fields children, old, men and women began to die in their thousands. They sold whatever they had for a morsel of food till there was no buyers. “In June, 1770 the Resident at the Durbar affirmed that the living were feeding on the dead”.
Even at this time the Company’s servants did not hesitate to hoard whatever grains were available for earning profits. The Company’s troops were not removed from the areas which were more affected by famine to less affected areas. The result was whatever little that could be found was purchased for the consumption of the troops.
The lack of human feelings on the part of the greedy native and English servants of the Company, lack of means of quick transport and above all lack of experience of the Company to deal with famine conditions combined to reduce Bengal into shambles. Surprisingly enough in 1770-71 no remission was given in revenue collection and by oppressive measures an excess collection of Rs.25,000 Was made in that year.
All this revealed the evils of the dual system. The administration had also broken down completely. When political and economic conditions of Bengal had collapsed the Court of Directors appointed Warren Hastings to assume charge of Bengal as the Governor General of Bengal, 1772.