Read this article to learn about the impeachment and estimate of Warren Hastings.
Impeachment of Warren Hastings:
Towards the end of Indian career of Warren Hastings, there began a good deal of criticism in England of his high-handedness in administration.
In 1782 Lord Malville Dundas moved a resolution in the Parliament for the recall of Warren Hastings, Sir Elijah Impey, Lawrence Sullivan etc. Ultimately only Elijah Impey was recalled and the proposal for the recall of others was dropped. Soon after, Pitt Earl of Chatham became the Prime Minister who was rather puritan in his views and did not approve of the activities of Hastings in India.
In the mean-time a series of letters under the caption Letters of Junius appeared in London, which contained scathing criticism of Warren Hastings’ administration in India. It was not possible to identify the author of these anonymous letters although the style of composition of the letters were supposed to have been very much similar to the writings of Philip Francis.
When disapproval of Warren Hastings’ work became almost general in his own country, he resigned his post as Governor General and left for home in 1785. The next three years (1785-88) papers for impeaching Hastings were made ready at the instance of Prime Minister Pitt and Dundas and from February 13, 1788 till April 23, 1795, the impeachment proceedings went on before the bar of the House of Lords, the prosecutors being the House of Commons.
Initially Hastings’ use of the Company’s troops as mercenaries against the Rohillas who did no harm to the Company was the major charge. But later on this charge was dropped. The charges on which he was impeached were the affairs of Chait Singh, Raja of Benares and the Begums of Oudh. The Whigs in the Parliament made the impeachment of Warren Hastings purposely a sensational trial in order to increase the popularity of their party.
Edmund Burke, the English Demosthenes, charged Hastings at the bar of the House of Lords on the tyranny and misdemeanour and also in the name of humanity, the English nation and the Indians and called him an enemy of humanity. He in his inimitable style and rehetoric said in conclusion of his charge, “Therefore, hath it with all confidence being ordered, by the Commons of Great Britain, that I impeach Warren Hastings of high crimes and misdemeanours. I impeach him in name of the Commons’ House of Parliament whose trust he has betrayed. I impeach him in the name of the people of India, their right he has trodden under foot, and whose country he has turned into a desert. Lastly, I impeach him in the name of human nature itself, in the name of both sexes, in the name of every age, in the name of every rank. I impeach the common enemy and oppressor of all.”
For long seven years the impeachment proceedings went on and eventually he was acquitted, but to meet the expenditure of defending himself Hastings became almost a pauper. The Court of Directors in the circumstances offered to grant him an allowance which could not be done due to the opposition of Pitt and Dundas. Hastings in great despondency and despair remarked: “I gave you all and you have rewarded me with confiscation, disgrace and a life of impeachment.”
From the point of view of the British interests, ‘the impeachment of Warren Hastings was nothing more or less than ingratitude on the part of the English nation towards Hastings’. It was Warren Hastings who saved the Company’s rule in Bengal from collapse and the British possessions in India from the financial ruin and consolidated the British Empire in India. Truly speaking, Warren Hastings was the real founder of the British Empire in India. To impeach him was certainly an act of ingratitude on the part of the English nation towards him.
But considered from the points of view of administrative morality and humanity the impeachment exemplified the high sense of morality and dignity of the leaders of Great Britain. The net result of the impeachment was that it breathed a sense of responsibility and justice in the Company’s administration in India. It had also brought about a change in the treatment of the Indians by the British Officers and made them recognise the need for dignity in dealing with the Indians.
Estimate of Warren Hastings:
Of the British administrators in India none has been so controversial as Warren Hastings. Opinions vary as to Hastings’ policy and work in India. But for a dispassionate consideration of Hastings’ policy and work, it is imperative that we remember the internal disorder in the Company’s administration, financial straits of the Company as well as the undefined hence confused nature of the frontier policy of the Company when he had come as the Governor of Bengal.
When Hastings assumed charge as the Governor of Bengal, the evils of Clive’s dual government manifested themselves in the administrative confusion and corruption among the Company’s servants and near bankruptcy of the Company’s finances. Demands for financial support coming from the Bombay and the Madras Presidencies added to the already desperate financial condition of the Company.
The great famine of 1770 had left the ryots who survived the scourge extremely impoverished. Agriculture, industry, in fact, every productive activity received a great blow due to decimation of one-third of the population of Bengal. Justice had become a byword. Realization of revenue was also not possible except through extortionate methods. Roads and highways were infested with marauders and robbers.
The frontier policy had no direction. Emperor Shah Alam was then a puppet in the hands of the Marathas, the latter were about to pounce upon the Company’s territories. As the Kingdom of Oudh was too insecure against the Maratha attacks, the territories of the Company were also running the risk of being invaded by the Marathas. All these problems together made the task Herculean for any administrator and Hastings had to solve these problems. He had to cut through the ambiguity and confusion of the Dual Government introduced by Clive.
With Company’s servants lacking the knowledge of intricate revenue system of Bengal, Hastings had to take certain experimental measures like quinquennial revenue settlement with the highest bidders, appointment of a Board of revenue and substitution of former supervisors by Collectors. Not that all his work was successful or faultless but his failures in revenue matters were the failures of pioneers and partly due to inexperienced, corrupt officers of the Company. Warren Hastings had to effect change in the civil justice as it was a part of the responsibilities of the Diwani.
He also reformed the criminal justice which was strictly speaking not within the purview of the Company’s authority, criminal jurisdiction having been under the Nawab. His settings up Sadr Diwani Adalat in Calcutta and Sadr Nizamat Adalat for hearing appeals from the lower Courts were certainly measures consequential upon the reforms of the judicial system. Whatever might have been the legal objection to the Company’s meddling in the criminal jurisdiction of the Nawab, his judicial reforms had laid the foundations of the Indian judicial system no doubt. He, however, saw to it that the questions of inheritance and property rights were decided in cases of the Hindus according to Hindu Sastras and by the Mohammedan laws in cases of the Muslims.
His minor reforms, but of great social consequences, were the prohibition of the tyranny of the Mahayans on the debtor ryots, realization of interest higher than at specified rate, realization of gratifications by the Kazees and Muftis from the litigant public. His reforms of the confused currency system removed the difficulties of the trade and commerce.
He made attempts to expand the Company’s trade into Nepal through Tibet by finding markets for the increased production of the textile industry in England, due to the Industrial revolution. He sent George Bogle to Tashi Lama in Tibet on a Commercial Mission (1774). He also sent Abdul Quadir Mission to Nepal to study the Company’s trade prospects in that country.
In foreign affairs he was guided by the imperative need of giving protection to the Company’s territories to which end he followed the policy of subsidiary alliance with the Nawab of Oudh and by making him dependent on the English made Oudh a buffer state of the British dominion towards the north-west frontier of the time. This policy of subsidiary alliance was followed later by Lord Wellesley with greater success.
It was surely a stroke of statesmanship on the part of Hastings to stop payment of 26 lakhs annually to Emperor Shah Alam who was under the thumb of the Marathas, for the payment would mean so much money lost to the Company in strengthening the hands of the Company’s enemies, the Marathas.
His realization of 40 lakh’s from the Nawab of Oudh by rendering military assistance to him against the Rohillas was dictated by the double purpose of finding money for the Company which was in dire need of it and making Oudh stronger as a buffer State. It was his timely help to the Madras and Bombay Government that led to the success of the English in the First Anglo-Maratha and Second Anglo-Mysore wars. He saved the British interests in Madras and Bombay Presidencies.
Warren Hastings also did not hesitate to despoil the Chait Singh of Benares by illegal exactions and eventual dispossession of the Raja of this Kingdom and to tyrannise over the eunuchs of the Begums of Oudh to compel them to part with their treasures.
We have to examine the policy and achievements of Warren Hastings from two different points of view. Considered from the point of view of the British interests it has to be conceded that Hastings consolidated the foundations of the British rule in India extricating Company’s administration from venality and tyrannical conduct of the Company’s servants, from the internal disorder and financial bankruptcy of the Company, as also of the intricate frontier problems. True, Hastings had extorted money from Raja Chait Singh, Begums of Oudh, took bribes from Muni Begum, got Nanda Kumar hanged with the help of Sir Elijah Impey, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court which tainted his character as also of the British nation.
But the British imperialism was greatly indebted to him, for he proved that it was possible for the British to establish their empire in lands far and far away from their home and over people different in race, colour and language. In fact, it was Warren Hastings’ success in laying solidly the foundations of the British empire in India that served as a model for future expansion of British rule in other non-European countries.
Had Warren Hastings really desired to carry wealth for himself to England, perhaps he could take crores. But he fought against I hostile majority in his own Council, safeguarded the Company’s interests in Bengal, Madras and Bombay Presidencies and met the challenges of the Marathas and the Mysoreans with success.
All this he did out of his sense of duty and devotion to British national interests. Although high-minded leaders of the British opinion such as Burke, Dundas, Pitt, etc. saw the inhuman and immoral conduct Of Hastings as an affront to the moral prestige of the British nation and made him stand trial at the bar of the House of Lords for long seven years, yet strictly from the national and imperial interests of Britain, there was a feeling that Hastings had been betrayed. And many share the pathos of Hastings’ exclamation: I gave you all and you have rewarded me with confiscation, disgrace and a life of impeachment.
But from the Indian point of view the conduct of Warren Hastings as the Governor and later as Governor-General stands condemned. For he had trodden upon the interests, rights, dignity of the Indians, his tyranny over the Raja Chait Singh, Begums of Oudh, his immoral and illegal method of dealing with his adversary Nanda Kumar had not only blackened his own character but had turnished the name of the British nation.
Yet it will be unfair not to praise what he had done to bring discipline in the Company’s administration, to lay down the foundation of the Indian judicial system, to expand the trade and commerce, and to save the Company’s interests at a time when these were at the verge of ruin. Lastly, his interest in education and literature, history and culture deserve special mention.
He himself had acquired good knowledge of Bengali and Persian languages, he had great interest, even respect for the Sanskrit literature. It was due to his patronage that the Calcutta Madrasa and the Royal Asiatic Society had been founded. He was a versatile Hercules and performed tasks under most trying circumstances and left for the British nation the solidly laid foundations of the Indian empire.