Read this article to learn about the complaints to the council for high-handedness of Hastings.
I. Complaint of the Rani of Burdwan:
After the death of Raja Tilak Chand of Burdwan his queen became the guardian of his minor son. But Hastings disapproved of the arrangement, cancelled the Rani’s guardianship and appointed one Brajokishore as the regent.
When under the provisions of the Regulating Act the new Council was formed, the Rani made a complaint against Hastings’ arbitrary action to the Council, in December 1774. It was also pointed out in the complaint that Brojakishore was squandering away the properties of the Zamindary and in so doing the English Resident was also a party.
The Council despite stiff opposition by Warren Hastings compelled Brojakishore to submit the account of income and expenditure of the Burdwan raj. In the account there was an entry showing payment of rupees fifty thousand to Warren Hastings and another for a payment of rupees five thousand to Kanailal Baboo, native secretary of Warren Hastings.
In a third entry a payment of rupees five hundred was made to Kanailal Baboo’s assistant. Obviously these amounts were paid as bribes and the members of the Council decided to enquire into the matter. Hastings’ vehement opposition to enquiry by the Council all the more deepened suspicion about the transaction.
II. Complaint of Rani Bhavani:
Under Warren Hastings’ rule a pious lady of the stature of Rani Bhavani, the dowager Zamindar of Rajshahi, could not escape his tyranny. In 1770 a great devastating famine stalked Bengal and a third of the population had been carried away by famine and pestilence that followed. The ryots of Rani Bhavani had also suffered terribly from the famine. To add to the miseries of the people the flood of 1773 washed away the standing crop in the field.
In order to save her ryots from two great natural calamities in quick succession the Rani agreed to receive rent only after the ryots had become a little better off. This naturally caused delay in payment of revenue for the Zamindary to the Company. Warren Hastings got the place of the Rani surrounded and forced her to part with her cash amounting to Rs. 22, 58,674 and her Zamindary was settled with one Dulal Roy (1774).
The Rani’s complaint to the Council against this gross injustice of Warren Hastings is worth quoting at some length : “I am Zamindar, so was obliged to keep the ryots from ruin and gave what ease to them I could, by giving them time to make up their payments, and requested the gentlemen (English officials) would in some manner give me time…………….but not crediting me they were pleased to take cutchery from my house……….. then my house was surrounded, and all my property enquired into’, what collection I had made as farmer and Zamindar were taken; what money I borrowed and my monthly allowances were taken and made together Rs.22,58,674 (£ 226,000).”
The Council brushed aside Warren Hastings’ opposition and in 1775 removed Dulal Roy from the Zamindary and restored it to Rani Bhavani.
III. Complaint of Nanda Kumar:
Nanda Kumar in a complaint to the Calcutta Council accused Warren Hastings of having taken a bribe of three lakh fifty thousand rupees from Muni Begum, widow of Mir Jafar. The majority of the Council wanted to hold an enquiry into the complaint. Hastings in order to stall the enquiry dissolved the meeting of the Council and left it with Barwell.
The conduct of Warren Hastings on this occasion has been a matter of great controversy among the writers. According to historian Mill, Hastings by opposing the enquiry suggested by the majority of the Council proved beyond doubt his own guilt. But historian Wilson and others remark that Warren Hastings was not opposed to the enquiry but he opposed the mode of enquiry.
There is difference of opinion about Nanda Kumar’s complaint itself. According to Sir James Stephen, Forrest, Trotter and some other historians Nanda Kumar’s complaint was false and baseless. Edmund Burke, Elliot, Beveridge and other contemporary politicians and writers as also of the posterity regard the complaint of Nanda Kumar as basically true.
Soon after Nanda Kumar’s accusation of Warren Hastings one Kamal-ud-din made a complaint against Joseph Fowke, Francis Fowke and Nanda Kumar stating that these three had obtained a letter signed by Kamal-ud-din accusing Hastings of taking bribe. Warren Hastings got all the three persons arrested but were released on bail. While Kamal-ud-din’s case was pending one Mohan Prasad accused Nanda Kumar of forgery (May 6, 1775).
Nanda Kumar had kept in deposit some of his jewels with a native banker Bulaki Das for sale. The Company had taken a loan of Rupees three lakhs from Bulaki Das. Bulaki Das had a great confidence in, Nanda Kumar and as he fell sick he authorized Nanda Kumar by a will to realize the loan money of three lakhs from the Company and appointed him after his death guardian of his family. Soon after died Bulaki Das (1769). Nanda Kumar realized Rupees three lakhs from the Company and as price of his jewels which he had deposited with Bulaki Das for sale he deducted rupees 48,021.
The papers relating to this amount realized by Nanda Kumar as sale proceeds of his jewels were alleged by Mohanprasad as forged. Nanda Kumar was tried on the complaint of Mohanprasad for forgery by the Supreme Court in Calcutta and was sentenced to death.
The judicial proceedings against Nanda Kumar were carried out in such a suspicious manner and unseemly haste that these raised presumptions that Nanda Kumar was a victim of personal vendetta of Warren Hastings. Beveridge, Sir Alfred Lyall and many other historians are of opinion that Warren Hastings arranged for the execution of Nanda Kumar in order to put an end to the complaint after complaint of serious nature that had been pouring in against him to the Council. Nanda Kumar’s fate was to serve as a warning to those had more complaints to bring against Hastings.
If a dispassionate consideration of Warren Hastings’ attitude towards Nanda Kumar, the urgency of getting rid of Nanda Kumar to Warren Hastings, some significant remarks made by Warren Hastings when complaints of bribe taking was made against him by Nanda Kumar etc. are made, there will be little doubt that Hastings was responsible for Nanda. Kumar’s execution.
In his personal correspondence there are references in at least two letters which show that Hastings regarded Nanda Kumar as his personal enemy. In these letters he wrote: “From the year 1759 to the date when I left Bengal in 1764, I was engaged in a continued opposition to the interest and designs of that man (Nanda Kumar) because I judged him to be adverse to the interest of my employer.” “I was never the personal enemy of any man but Nanda Kumar whom from my soul I detested, even when I was compelled to countenance him.”
It was imperative for saving Warren Hastings’ interests and prestige to finish Nanda Kumar, for the complaint of bribe-taking made against Hastings by him had come to the knowledge of the Council from the accounts of Muni Begum and Faujdar of Hooghly. If Nanda Kumar could be removed from the scene the complaint would be left without much force while in the bargain it would be a deterrent to other intending complaints.
For the sake of the honour and prestige of a high post as that of the Governor-General, it was necessary for Hastings to allow the enquiry to be held and get his position vindicated if he were really honest. But from the very start Hastings vehemently opposed the attempt at an enquiry by the Council. Further, that he was sure that the result of the enquiry would only prove his guilt is clear from his resignation of the post of Governor-General on March 27, 1775 without waiting for proving or disproving the complaint against him.
It may be interpreted, as has actually been done by many writers, as an attempt on part of Hastings to avoid the consequences of the complaint by leaving the post of the Governor-General. But as soon as he succeeded in getting a complaint of forgery against Nanda Kumar on May 18, 1775, Hastings expressed his willingness to remain in his post as Governor-General. Further, at about that time it a letter he mentioned that he had arranged matter to have Nanda Kumar in a fair way to be hanged. This he wrote when the trial of Nanda Kumar was still going on.
Again, in a letter to his friend Sulivan, Hastings wrote “Sir Elijah Impey, a man to whose support he was one day indebted for the safety of his fortune, honour and reputation” referred to Impey’s sentencing Nanda Kumar to death. On the other hand Sir Elijah Impey, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote to Dunning “I helped Hastings once and therefore he is bound to help me now whether I am right or wrong”. From all such statements in the personal letters of Hastings and Impey, it becomes clear that Nanda Kumar was hanged for the personal safety of Hastings by Impey who dishonoured his position as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by helping Warren Hastings by the judicial murder of Nanda Kumar. Impey was guilty of misdemeanour and his conduct during the entire proceedings of the trial was partial and unbecoming.
When Nanda Kumar objected to the appointment of Elliot, a minion of Warren Hastings as interpretor of his evidence, Impey peremptorily rejected the objection. When Nanda Kumar was sentenced to death by hanging, Farver, Counsel of Nanda Kumar, made an appeal to Impey for his life which rejected with visible contempt. Even the appeal by the Nawab for sparing the life of Nanda Kumar was of no avail.
It may be mentioned here that at the time of Impey’s impeachment Farrer in his deposition stated that Impey and other judges of the Supreme Court had unnecessarily harassed the witnesses on the side of Nanda Kumar. Impey during the course of the trial made such remarks that Nanda Kumar’s punishment appeared to be a foregone conclusion and Nanda Kumar had to resign himself to his fate.
It has to be noted that even if the charge of forgery had been proved, there was no scope nor any authority on the part of the Supreme Court to apply English law in punishing such offence, for the Indian law of the time did not prescribe capital punishment for forgery. Impey and his brother judges knew this, goes without saying, but they chose to tarnish the sanctity of the British Justice and the Court of Law in their anxiety to save Warren Hastings, That the capital sentence passed on Nanda Kumar was illegal had been mentioned by the judges of the Calcutta Supreme Court in 1802. Thus on all counts, the hanging of Nanda Kumar was a judicial murder.
IV. Hastings’ Treatment of Chait Singh:
By the treaty of Fyzabad (1775) signed between the Company and Asaf-ud-daulah, son of Suja-ud-daulah, Benares was transferred to British sovereignty. But the relation between the Company and Benares was restricted to payment of an annual tribute by the Raja of Benares and nothing else.
This was already stipulated in the treaty. But when Warren Hastings was in need of funds during Company’s conflict with the Marathas and the French he demanded rupees five lakhs from Chait Singh, Raja of Benares, as financial help. Chait Singh initially objected to this demand but ultimately agreed to pay the amount once for all (1778).
But next year (1779) Hastings repeated the demand for money and when refused by the Rajah a fine of £ 2000 was imposed on him and the entire amount along with the fine was realized from him. In 1780, Hastings again demanded similar amount from Chait Singh and the latter sent a present of rupees two lakhs to Warren Hastings to placate him not to make further demands.
Hastings quietly kept the money but did not relax his demands on Chait Singh. He demanded five lakhs in addition to the annual tribute from Chait Singh and two thousand horsemen for the use of the Company. On remonstrance by Chait Singh the number of horsemen was, however, reduced to one thousand. Chait Singh did his best and could only arrange for 500 horsemen and 500 infantry and informed Hastings accordingly. But he received no reply.
Hastings decided to fine Chait Singh fifty lakhs of rupees because of his failure to send one thousand horsemen. Ultimately he obtained permission from the Council to personally go to Benares and demand explanation from Chait Singh. Chait Singh explained his position but Hastings rejected his explanation and ordered his arrest and compelled him to surrender Benares to the Company and retire with a pension. All this indignity meted out to the Raja infuriated his subjects and a huge armed crowd from Ramnagar attacked Hastings who was compelled to fly for life to Chunar.
Taking advantage of this trouble Chait Singh fled from British surveillance and repaired to Latifgarh and made preparations to fight the English. At Patita he met the English forces but was abjectly defeated. Hastings now returned to Benares and placed Mahip Narayan, a relation of Chait Singh in place of Chait Singh on condition of payment of an annual tribute twice .as much as used to be paid by Chait Singh, to the Company. The Calcutta Council was appreciative of the quick and successful action of Hastings and approved of all that was done in dealings with Chait Singh.
It may be mentioned here that although Chait Singh was a Zamindar his obligation to the Company was nothing more than payment of an annual tribute to the Company. This is specifically mentioned in the treaty of Fyzabad (1775). Further, while no other Zamindar was required to pay for Company’s wars with the Marathas and the French, there could not be any legitimate ground to single out Chait Singh for such payment. Nor could Hastings show any ground.
The financial demand was repeated from year to year and fine imposed on Chait Singh leave no doubt that Hastings was determined to ruin him. One factor that must have made Hastings an enemy of Chait Singh was the latter’s sending of presents to the members of the Council when Warren Hastings had become powerless against the majority of the Council. From that time Hastings began to consider Chait Singh his personal enemy. During Warren Hastings’ impeachment Edmund Burke referred to a letter of Hastings which proved his determined enmity and revenge motive against Chait Singh.
The letter runs thus “So long as I conceive Chait Singh’s misconduct and contumacy to have me rather than the Company for its object, I looked upon a considerable file sufficient both for his immediate punishment and binding him to future good behaviour”. It is also a point of law if Hastings or for that matter the Company had any right to demand anything except the annual tribute from Chait Singh. All this naturally lead to the conclusion that Hastings was out to despoil Chaiit Singh whatever might be the immorality or illegality of the proceedings.
V. Hastings’ Treatment of the Begums of Oudh:
Hastings extorted a large amount of money from Chait Singh but it was not sufficient to meet his requirements. He then turned his gaze on the purse of Begums of Oudh that is the mother and wife of Suja-ud-daulah. ‘After the death of Suja-ud-daulah the Begums were enjoying jagirs for meeting their personal expenses.
This was the custom of the time. The Begums had their personal jewelries as also money which had accumulated through years. Asaf-ud-daulah, son of Suja-ud-daulah, who succeeded as Nawab on the death of his father was running into debts to meet the monetary demands made on him by the Company.
In the circumstances he began to demand, supported by Warren Hastings, money from his mother who being pestered by her son paid him thirty lakhs of rupees on condition that neither the Company nor Asaf-ud-daulah would make any further demand for money. But in 1781 the Company repudiated their earlier pledge to ensure the security of the Begums on the ground that they had supported the revolt of Chait Singh against the Company.
This was followed by appointment of Bristow in place of Middleton as Resident at Lucknow. Bristow threw the Begums’ dewan and the eunuchs (khojas) and tortured them in order to compel the Begums to part with their money to the Company. Not only that, Hastings sent an armed contingent to terrorise the Begums. This he did despite protests from Asaf-ud-daulah. With the help of the army Begums’ treasures, were forcibly realized. Hastings did not hesitate to follow this inhuman course to terrorise the old Begums to surrender their treasure to the Company.