The British conquered India ‘in a fit of absent mindedness’

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The English East India Company had very humble beginnings in India. From the very beginning, it tried to combine trade and diplomacy with war and control of the territory where their factories were situated.

Conditions in the South were more favourbale to the English as they did not have to face a strong Indian government there.

The great Viayanagar Kingdom had been overthrown in 1565 and its place taken by a number of petty and weak states. It was easy to appeal to their greed or overawe them with armed strength. Interestingly enough, from the very beginning this company of profit-seeking merchants was also determined to make Indians pay for the conquest of their own country.

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It soon opened factories at Patna in Bihar, Balasore in Orissa and Dhaka and other places in Bengal. It now desired that in Bengal too it should have an independent settlement. It dreamt of establishing political power in India which would enable it to compel and Mughals to allow them a free hand in trade, to force Indians to sell cheap, and buy dear, to keep the rival European traders out and to make its trade independent of the policies of the Indian powers.

Political power would also make it possible for it to appropriate Indian revenues and thus to conquer the country with its own resources. Such plans were explicitly put forward at the time.

The English schemes of territorial conquests and political domination were revived during 1740s because of the visible decline of Mughal power. While they had, by the end of the 17th century, eliminated their Portuguese and Dutch rivals, France had appeared as a new rival.

For nearly 20 years for 1744 to 1763 the French and the English were to wage a bitter war for control over the trade, wealth and territory of India. The battle of Plessey in 1757 boosted British prestige and at a single stroke raised them to the status of a major contender for the Indian Empire.

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