Read this article to learn about the relation of Alivardi with the European Merchants.
During Alivardi’s time the English, French and the Dutch were the chief European trading companies in Bengal besides the minor ones like the Austrian, Polish, Prussian, Portuguese, Danish and Swedish.
The trade of the English, French and the Dutch was, on the whole, flourishing although there were occasional setbacks. Alivardi knew it well that it was necessary for the economic interests of his country to look after the traders.
M. J. Law, the chief of the French factory at Qasimbazar, remarks that Alivardi understood it well that it was to his interests to favour the poor merchants and do justice whenever complaints would reach him. R. I. Scrafton writes that Alivardi used to compare “the European nierchants to a hive of bees of whose honey you might reap the benefit, but that if you disturbed their hive they would sting you to death”.
This shows that Alivardi while he was willing to allow the European traders to carry on their trade in Bengal he was conscious of their potential strength to disturb the country. So his policy was one of cautious patronage of the European trading nations. But Alivardi also knew to be strong when circumstances needed.
He did not permit the English to circulate their Madras or Arcot rupees in Bengal, as this would mean loss in Mint revenues. But he did not harass them unnecessarily; it was only in times of extreme need that he asked them to render financial help. Thus when hard-pressed by the Maratha invasions he required the English, French and the Dutch to contribute to the safety of the province of Bengal, where they carried on their trade and enjoyed profits.
In 1744 Alivardi accused the English of helping the Marathas and ordered them to pay him 30 lakhs of rupees and in default not to carry on their trade. Some of the gomasthas of the English were actually arrested and military guards posted at their cotton cloth factories.
The English made several attempts to conciliate the Nawab through his friend Jagat Seth Fatehchand and others without success. Ultimately Mr. Forster, chief of the English factory at Qasimbazar, visited the Nawab under instruction of the Calcutta Council. A settlement was reached and the English agreed to pay a sum of three and half lakhs to the Nawab and in addition the Qasimbazar factory was to pay Rs. 30,000 to the Nawab’s generals and officers.
The Patna factory was to pay Rs. 5,000 to the Nawab and Rs. 3,000 to his officers at Patna besides an annual rent of Rs. 4,537 for Chapra. The Dacca factory was to pay Rs. 5,000 to the Nawab. A fine horse worth Rs. 2,500 was presented to the Nawab. The restrictions to the English trade were then withdrawn.
But four years had scarcely elapsed when a fresh trouble arose. The English Commodore Griffin captured some of the trading vessels of the Armenian and Mughal merchants of Bengal. Alivardi being informed of the incident at once sent a parwanah to Governor Bar- well demanding restoration of all merchandise and vessels to the owners and adopted various repressive measures against the English which obstructed the English trade and threw them into pecuniary troubles.
The English had ultimately to satisfy the Nawab by expressing regret in a public darbar and paying a sum of one lakh fifty thousand rupees to the Nawab. When completely satisfied at the conduct of the English, Alivardi issued a parwanah granting them certain trade privileges on October 8, 1752.
Alivardi watched closely the movements of the Europeans in Bengal during the Anglo-French conflict in the Carnatics. He kept himself informed of the happenings there through his spies and feared that sooner or later the Europeans would attempt similar enterprises in his government. Thus when he came to know that the English and the French in Calcutta and Chandernagore respectively, had started raising fortifications he passed definite orders for demolishing them. His arguments were that the English and the French were merchants “what need have you of a fortress? Being under my protection you have no enemies to fear”.
Alivardi followed a policy of neutrality in the conflict between the English and the French in the Deccan and did not pay any heed to the proposal of the French commander Bussy soliciting his alliance against the English. He tried to enforce his policy of neutrality by issuing a parwanah in July 1745 forbidding the English, the French and the Dutch to commit any act of hostilities against one another in his dominions. Alivardi was always very particular in asserting his authority over the European traders in Bengal and showed great independence whenever there was question of any affair between himself and the Europeans.
“To speak to him of firmans or of privileges obtained from the Emperor was only to anger him” observes M. J. Law. The Nawab’s officers also exercised authority over the European merchants when occasion arose. In 1746 under the orders of Ataullah Khan faujdar of Rajmahal M. Ranault was arrested at Sakrigali. There are instances when Nawab’s officers demanded presents from the European merchants. In 1754 Rajballav, diwan of Dacca, demanded the usual present from the local European factors. The French and the English paid Rs. 4,300 to him.
Alivardi’s treatment of the European traders was strict no doubt, but it was not unnecessarily harsh. In fact, as a contemporary French writer remarks, Alivardi “was very fond of the Europeans and they all feared the moment of his death because of the disturbances which might then take place”. He had no desire to expel the European traders from his province or to injure their trade in any way Mr. Holwell’s charge that Alivardi in his death-bed instructions to Siraj-ud-daulah directed him to reduce the power of the Europeans seems to be a concoction. According to Mr. Mathew Collet, the second officer in the English factory at Qasimbazar, Holwell’s charge was “a specious fable”. Likewise Mr. Richard Becher, chief of the English factory at Dacca says that “such advice if really given, it is reasonable to imagine, had few or no witnesses” and expresses his surprise how Holwell could “explore a secret never yet know to any one but him-self”. Mr. Watts Chief of the Qasimbazar factory also agrees with Mr. Collet in regarding the story of Alivardi’s death-bed speech to Siraj as nothing better than a specious fable. On the contrary it is on record that when Alivardi’s nephew, Shahamat Jang and Saulat Jang, instigated by general Mustafa Khan, an Afghan soldier of fortune, suggested to him that the English should be expelled from Bengal, Alivardi answered ‘what have the English done, that I should wish them ill ? Look at yonder plains; should you set fire to it, there would be no stopping its progress; and who is the man then who shall put out a fire that shall break-forth at sea, and from thence come out upon land. Beware of lending an ear to such proposals again, for they will produce nothing but evil”. Obviously, Alivardi’s hint was not to precipitate a conflict with the English who were a sea power and would be irresistible in the event of a conflict.