Trade attracted the first Europeans to India. In 1498, Vasco da Gama of Portugal discovered a new and all-sea route from Europe to India. Alfansod’ Albuquerque captured Goa in 1510 and under his viceroyalty, the Portuguese established their dominion from Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to Malacca in Malaya and the Spice Islands in Indonesia.
But in 1580, Portugal became a dependency of Spain and in 1588 the English defeated the Spanish Armada and Portuguese/Spanish power declined. The Dutch came to India next in 1595, and in 1602, the Dutch East India Company Was formed. But the Dutch were more interested in the Spice Islands and not in India.
The English East India Company was granted a royal charter and the exclusive privilege to trade in the east by Queen Elizabeth on Dec. The first voyage was made in 1601; and in 1608, it decided to open a factory at Surat and sent Captain Hawkins to Jahangir’s court to obtain royal favours. Subsequently, Sir Thomas Roe went to Mughal court in 1615 and extracted an imperial favour allowing the British to trade and establish factories in all parts of the Mughal Empire.
They also gained the island of Bombay, when Charles II it in dowry when he married a Portuguese princess in 1622. The Portuguese by this time only retained Goa, Diu and Daman in India. The English expelled the Dutch from India by 1795.
The only foreign power to prove a threat to the company was the French East India Company founded in 1664. It was recognised in the 1720s and began to catch up with the English company. It built factories at Chandernagore, Pondicherry, etc., and also acquired control over the islands of Mauritius and Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The French fought three battles with the English in India: (a) 1744-48; (b) 1748-55; and (c) 1756-1763.
The beginnings of British political sway over India may be traced to the Battle of Plassey in 1757 when the English East India Company’s forces defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal.
The English proclaimed Mir Jafar (the former Mir Bakshi) the Nawab, but when he could not meet their demands, deposed him in favour of Mir Qasim. But the latter wanted to be independent of the English. He was defeated in the Battle of Buxar (Oct. 22, 1764) alongwith the Mughal Emperor and the Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daula.
This was a decisive battle for it established the British as the masters of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and placed Awadh at their mercy. The company also gained control over the administration (nizamat) of Bengal, and from Shah Alam II, they secured the right to collect the revenue (diwan) of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Thus, its control over Bengal was legalised and the revenues of the richest State in India placed at its disposal.
Under Lord Warren Hastings (1772-85) and Lord Cornwallis (1786-93) the territories and power of the company grew rapidly. They got involved in a war with the Marathas (1775-82), which ended with the Treaty of Salbai, and with Haider Ali in 1780. The war was continued by his son Tipu Sultan after Haider Ali’s death in December 1782. Armistice was reached in May 1784, the war having been reduced to a stalemate. In an earlier war in 1766, Haider Ali had got the better of the British.
The third encounter wiih the Mysore forces was more fruitful from the British point of view. The war (1789-92) ended with Tipu’s defeat. By the TVeaty of Seringapatam, Tipu ceded half his territories to the British and their allies and paid Rs. 330 lakhs as indemnity.
Lord Wellesley (1798-1805) and Subsidiary Alliance
Under the Subsidiary Alliance, the ruler of the Indian State which accepted it had to accede to the permanent stationing of a British force within its territory and to pay a subsidy for its maintenance.
It also provided that no European could be employed in the State’s service without British permission, and the ruler had to usually accept at his court the posting of a British resident. All this actually meant the loss of independence of a State.
The States and rulers which were forced to sign this treaty were Hyderabad (1798), Awadh (1801), Mysore (1799), Carnatic (1801), Baji Rao II (1802), Tanjore, Surat, Sindh (1839), Punjab was annexed in 1848. Lord Dalhousie (1848-56) and the Doctrine of Lapse
According to it, if the ruler of a protected State died without a natural heir, his State could not pass to an adopted heir, as had been the custom. Unless the adoption had been approved earlier by the British, the State was to be attached to the British domains. Satara (1848), Nagpur (1854) and many other States were annexed with the help of this doctrine.
Dalhousie also refused to recognise the titles of many ex-rulers or pay pension, as in the cases of the Nawabs of Carnatic and of Surat, the Raja of Tanjore and Nana Saheb Peshwa. Dalhousie accused Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of misgoverning his State, Awadh, and annexed it in 1856.
British Economic Policy in India
The Drain of Wealth Theory: The British took away a large part of India’s wealth and resources but sent no adequate material returns to the country.
Land Revenue Policy: The British reorganised the land revenue system. They introduced three types of systems : the Zamindari System (Permanent Settlement) in which the zamindars were accepted as the owners of the land (it was introduced in Bengal in 1793 by Cornwallis, and extended to Orissa, north Madras and Varanasi later; the Ryotwari System, in which the settlement was made directly with the cultivators or ryots (this was introduced in parts of Bombay and Madras); and the Mahalwari System in which the settlement was made village by village or estate (mahal) by estate with the heads of families or landlords who collectively claimed to be the landlords of the village (this was introduced in parts of the Northwest Provinces, Central Provinces, Gangetic Valley and Punjab).
Revolt of 1857
The year 1857 is significant in the history of British India : a major revolt shook British rule in northern and central India. Among the important causes for the rexvlt: the economic exploitation of the country by the British and the destruction of its traditional economic fabric; the exclusion of the upper and middle classes from the administrative service; and Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse policy, especially his annexation of Awadh.
The Indians were also beginning to fear that the British were interested in converting them and fuel was added to a simmering fire when the new Lee Enfield Rifle-whose cartridges had a greased paper cover which had to be bitten off and the grease of which was composed of beef and pig fat was introduced.
The revolt began in Meerut on May 10, 1857, although a young soldier, Mangal Pande, had been hanged on March 29 at Barrackpore for revolting single-handedly. Rebellious soldiers of the 3rd Native Cavalry proclaimed the aged and powerless Mughal King Bahadur Shah, the Emperor of Delhi. Delhi became the centre of the revolt. The entire Bengal army revolted and Awadh, Rohilkhand, the Doab, Bundelkhand, Central India and large parts of Bihar and east Bengal shook off British authority. In many parts, the mutiny of the sepoys was followed by popular revolts of the civilian population.
The storm centres of the revolt: Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Bareilly, Jhansi and Arrah in Bihar. The leaders were Bahadur Shah, Tantia Tope, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Bakht Khan, Nana Sahib, the Begum of Awadh, Kunwar Singh of Arrah, and many local zamindars. On the other hand, Sindhia of Gwalior, the Holkar of Indore, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Raja of Jodhpur, the Nawab of Bhopal, the Ranas of Nepal, the rulers of Patiala, Nabha, Jind and Kashmir, and many other ruling chiefs gave active help the British to suppress the revolt.
Many of the modern, educated Indians did not support the revolt either because they were repelled by the rebels’ appeals to superstitious and retrogressive social measures. This disunity proved fatal and the revolt was crushed. On Sept. 20, 1857, Delhi fell, the royal princes were butchered and Bahadur Shah was exiled to Rangoon. Thus, the rule of the Mughals finally came to an end.
Tantia Tope carried on a brilliant guerilla warfare till April 1859, when he was betrayed, captured and put death on April 15, 1859. Most of the other leaders had either been killed by then or had fled to Nepal.
Transfer of Power to the Crown
After the suppression of the revolt, an Act of Parliament was passed transferring power to govern from the East India Company to the British Crown (1858). A Secretary of State for India, who was to be aided by a Council, replaced the Company Directors and the Board of Control.
The Indian Councils Act of 1861 enlarged the powers of the Governor General’s Council for the purposes of making laws and it was now known as the Imperial Legislative Council. But the latter had no control over the executive.