The East India Company did conquer India single handedly but with the help of Indians who constituted some three fourth of their army. These Indian mercenaries were called ‘Sepoys’ by the British Company.
It was through Bengal that the British started their colonization. In 1757, a historic battle was fought at Polashi (Plassey, as spelled incorrectly) in which the British won Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. This was the battle that changed the course, not only of Bengal or India, but of western history as well.
Vasco Da Gama’s discovery of the cape route around Africa was the first brick and this battle and subsequent conquest of Bengal was the foundation of today’s Europe. It would soon transform and catapult Britain to the centre stage as a world power over the centuries.
This battle would be the beginning of the fall of India and rise of the west, which had been backwaters until then. Robert Clive is noted as the hero (to the British) of this battle. It was Robert Clive who laid the foundation of British rule in India. Bengal was a strong’ Moghul province and it would have been quite hard to imagine conquering Bengal from the Moghuls, but Robert Clive did the impossible.
At that time Nawab Sirajuddowla was the semi independent governor (Nawab) of Bengal under the Moghul Empire. He had many enemies and rivals within his family who wanted to be the Nawab. The British (Robert Clive) made alliance with these family rivals. The alliance changed the balance of power.
Mirzafar (Sirajuddowla’s uncle and general) and other generals were bribed and they betrayed Sirajuddowla in battle. A major part of Sirajuddowla’s army never took part in the battle at Plessey. With the mercenary army and using the internal dissention against the Nawab, the British had their biggest victory, the victory at Polashi. After the victory, Sirajuddowla was killed by Miran, son of Mirzafar. Mirzafar, the traitor, was made the Nawab of Bengal.
He was but a puppet of the British. Soon the British made him abdicate in favour of his son in law, Mir Quasim who gave them the Zamindari (feudal lordship) of Burdwan, Midnapore and Chittagong districts. Once again the British used internal rivalry to their favour.
For some time, the East India Company put up puppet rulers but power virtually lay in their hands. In 1763 Mir Quasim was defeated by the Company and Mirzafar (Mir Jafar) was restored.
The mercenary armies led by Major Hector Munro defeated the alliance of Mir Quasim, Nawab of Oudh and the Moghul emperor at the battle of Buxar. This was another significant victory for the British. After this battle, the East India Company virtually became master of half of North India. (Later this same army would be defeated by Haidar Ali.) These victories paved the way for the drain of wealth from Bengal.
The Moghul emperor was captured and became’ a virtual prisoner of the British. Clive assumed governorship of Bengal after this in 1765 and in 1772, became bold enough to remove the Nawab completely and thus turning Bengal (Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) into a British colony, defector.
Of course, technically, it was still not part of the British Empire, since it was under the East India Company. The Company army at this point consisted of 1000 Europeans and 59, 000 mercenary sepoys (soldier). It was with Indian troops that the British defeated the Moghul emperor and took over Bengal. Bengal, Madras and Bombay continued as separate armies until 1895. The commander-in-chief of the whole was the commander of the Bengal army.
Historian R.C. Dutt notes, “The people of Bengal had been used to tyranny, but had never lived under an oppression so far reaching in its effects, extending to every village market and every manufacturer’s loom. They had been used to arbitrary acts from men in power, but had never suffered from a system which touched their trades, their occupations, their lives so closely. The springs of their industry were stopped, the sources of their wealth dried up”.
The British Parliamentary Select Committee of 1812 was appointed to discover how they (Indian manufactures) could be replaced by British manufactures, and how British industries could be promoted at the expense of Indian industries. The British in Bengal collected tax without having any responsibility for the country.
From the very beginning in 1757, when Sirajuddowla was defeated, the British plundered Bengal and this plunder directly contributed to the industrial revolution in England. The plunder from Bangla (Bengal) was invested in the new British industries while the loss of capital and fall of demand of Bangla goods combined and caused the final ruin of Bangla.
In 1813, the British decided that India should no longer be an industrial nation (which it had been a leader since the earliest records) but an agricultural nation and colony of an industrialized England! British goods were sold in India and Indian goods were gradually replaced. The trade was made one way. Britain no longer wanted to import from India but only export to India.
To discourage Indian exports Indian goods were taxed heavily, tax of 67.5% was levied of Indian calicos and a tax of 37.5% was levied on muslins on entry into Britain. Over 300% import tax was placed Indian sugar. Possession of Indian imported goods in England such as cotton items were fined heavily to further hurt the Indian industry. While massive industrialization began in Britain, Bengal (and the rest of India) was de- industrialized. Indian exports were slowly being stiffled, with that its economy.
Bengal was hurt tremendously since it was an exporting nation. They took raw materials from Bangla and sold industrial products from Britain back to the Bengali people. The Muslin still caused a threat for sale of British fabric and so the weavers were forced to stop producing Muslin or passing on their skill to their children. To enforce these thumbs of the weavers were cut off.
Muslin was the softest fabric ever produced in human history. 20 meter length of Muslin fabric could be folded into a matchbox… today it survives in museums only. Muslin production began 3000 years ago or maybe has its roots in the Indus Civilization which is 5000 years old and survived various foreign invaders in Bangla. However, it did not survive the vengeful British colonial period. In Bangla a new fabric is now called Muslin, but is not the Muslin of history. One thing that can be said about the previous rulers of Bengal is that the people suffered relatively little. Under such barbaric conditions as imposed by the British, Bangla, once one of the richest, collapsed and is since one of the poorest nations in the world.
By 1756 the English East India Company’s servants send home nearly 6 million pounds; this amount is more than four times the total land revenue collection of the Nawab of Bengal. By 1765-1770 the English East India Company sends out nearly 4 million pounds worth of goods or about 33 % of the net revenue of Bengal, in the form of the Company’s ‘Investments’, From 1766 to 1767 Nearly 5.7 million pounds are drained from Bengal to England. In the early 19th Century the drain of wealth from India to Britain in the form of the English East India Company’s ‘Investments’ constitutes nearly 9 % of India’s national income.