Chaos in India

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries various factors combined to start the downfall of the Mughal dynasty, which had ruled most of India with a steady hand since Babur (the Tiger) and Humayun in the sixteenth century. It started with gradual overspending which weakened their ability to fund a good defense, and the spark that really got the decline going was Aurangzeb's policy of intolerance of the Hindus and other non Muslims. This incited many revolts especially by the Sikhs and the Marathas.

Not long before these events the British East India Company (BEIC) had begun trading in India. It was originally a group of merchants wanting to take advantage of the new market. In 1601 Elizabeth gave them exclusive rights to trade in the Indies. The British decided to go in at that time because the power of Portuguese trade was seriously declining. However, the Dutch already had monopolized the objects of their ambitions, the Spice Islands. In 1623 when the Dutch massacred a group of English traders the English stopped trading on Dutch territory and focused more on India. Here they established trading cities. These eventually grew into major cities and centers of culture for India.

The first real contact the British had with the Indians came when Jahangir, the Mughal emperor, gave the British permission to open a trading port and factory at Masulipatnam, a port town on the Bay of Bengal. The British trading ports grew and with that the Company had more wealth and power. In 1641 they set up a major factory at Madras and in 1688 they bought Bombay from Charles II, who had received it from his Portuguese wife. Soon after this, in 1691, Aurangzeb ascended to the throne through means of intrigue and murder. The Company then launched an attack on the empire. Aurangzeb quickly crushed their attack, but afterwards they founded Calcutta, a city in the Northeast with a fortified factory. From here on, even with a win in battle, the Mughal Empire's power would decline, while the British would grow in power and wealth.

The Rise of British Power

In the eighteenth century the rulers after Aurangzeb were all weak and many of them were rumored to have been opium addicts. Their funds had run out and so had any support from the people. The Marathas were gradually undermining the empire and had taken most of the Mughal State. Much of the rest of the Mughal State was broken up into various territories ruled by various princes and many of these states were being conquered by Afghan and Persian kings.

It was now that the BEIC's power, and the cities they had founded, started to grow. However, the French Company founded by Colbert under Louis IV, was doing the same thing. The French Company was a small had been a small venture until, led by Dupleix and Dumas around 1720, it started a rapid growth in India. By 1740 the French Company's income from India was ten times that of what it was in 1720, and it was now competing with England. The conflict between these two European powers was waiting to be set off.

In 1740 Frederick II "the Great" of Prussia, largely as a rebellion against his dead father, invaded Silesia, an Austrian territory. This sparked a giant conflict, the War of the Austrian Succession, in which Britain sided with Austria and France with Prussia. Not only did the companies have reason to fight over profits, but also each company was closely tied in with the state and received large amounts of funding from the state. Therefore the companies were now at war, and in 1746 France captured Madras. The English led some failed counterattacks, but got Madras back at the end of the war for some North American territory.

Dupleix had now seen how powerful his forces were and saw an opportunity to continue his fight with the English. In 1748 the Nizam of Hyderabad, the state that controlled most of southern India, had died and there was a conflict over the new Nizam's appointee for the governor of the Carnatic. The Carnatic was the region surrounding British Madras, and therefore was important to the French. Through the use of some bribery and extortion Dupleix made sure that the Nizam's candidate was defeated and that the governor was quite partial to the French. This was so easy for him that he went for more. Dupleix had the new Nizam assassinated and backed a new candidate with his military. The British had to support the other candidate, Muhammad Ali, who had hidden in a fortress at Trichinopoly that was now being besieged by the French and their candidate's forces.

Despite these odds, the British managed to pullout victorious under the leadership of a new general, Robert Clive, who showed remarkable talent as a general, using tactics and bribes. When the Seven Years War (1756-63) broke out the British and French were openly at war and Clive decisively defeated the French. Then the French backed Nawab of Bengal, who had temporarily captured Calcutta. The Nawab (Nawabs were deputies/governors in the Mughal empire but he was independent now) of Bengal had a much larger army than that of Clive, but Clive got around that problem by bribing the Nawab's great uncle and most of his army. He then installed Mir Jafar, the great uncle, as a puppet head of Bengal. This largely set the way for the conquering of India, and the following leaders would use similar methods of bribery and extortion.

After a few years in England, Clive returned largely as an administrator of this new territory. He set up some restrictions on the plundering by the British that had by now almost ruined Bengal and limited the extortion of the local officials somewhat. However, he did not do anything about all the money that every British official and merchant were skimming off the top. This led to the Company amassing a huge debt and having to get a large loan from the Bank of England.

The government then decided that it should regulate the company's rule and efficiency by having a governor of India. The first of these was Warren Hastings, who set up a real British government and expanded the Company's territory. He first replaced the Indian government and tax collectors with British officials, making it part of the empire. He also got rid of all independent British merchants and regulated the trade taxes. Hastings also held back the Marathas from running over British territory.

After this came a period of expansion in British lands in India. Some of this was done by the wars waged on their enemies such as the Marathas, Sikhs, the Tipu of Mysore, and Haider Ali. Many of these wars were waged in the fashion of Clive's victory at Plassey; they bought off the enemies and funded their own armies with money they had made either by exploiting the Indian people or by extorting the friendly governments. Through these means the company obtained Mysore, Sind, Punjab, and Nepal by 1850. However, this does not explain how they obtained the land they had got from friendly countries. The method for this was the Doctrine of Lapse, devised in 1848 by the Earl of Dalhousie. This stated that the Company had the right to assume leadership in any neighboring state that had a lapse of power, primarily when a ruler died without a direct heir. This doctrine not only tried to give some false sense of legitimacy to the British rule, but it also took advantage of the internal political turmoil in India.

Through this method the British obtained many states such as Sambalpur, Baghat, Jhansi, Nagpur, and Oudh. This policy left behind the would-be adopted heirs, who were often still somewhat powerful and popular. This was one factor leading to discontent with the British in the mid-nineteenth century. Another large factor was the cost of this expansion, which was tremendous, and therefore the taxes went up.

Other factors less related to the Doctrine of Lapse came from the Industrial Revolution, which was going on in Britain at the time. This provided England with new cheap labor and manufacturing sources from within, which in turn eliminated the need for the Indian cottage industries, thus putting many out of work. Now, the British were more interested in India's natural resources and less in their manpower. Also, now many sepoys, Indian soldiers making up a European army, were now being used to build railroads, a grueling and laborious task that America kindly reserved for the Chinese.

These factors combined to create a lot of anti-British sentiment among the native Indians. The gasoline was out and all it needed now was a spark. This came in 1857, when a new type of paper powder cartridge, which was opened by biting, was issued to the sepoys. An oil coating protected the paper, and the word got out that this oil was animal fat, which it was (Revision: sources are conflicted over this. As far as I can tell, no one is sure what the source of the oil was). The only two types of animal fat that the British would have possibly used came from either cows or pigs. If it was cows, all the Hindu soldiers were ingesting their sacred animal, and if it was pig, all the Muslims were eating this vile, unkosher meat. However, because it was and still is not known if it was from cows or pigs, they all rebelled against the British rule, which after all its injustices had finally tricked them into offending their own religions. On May 10th, 1857, sepoy armies marched to Delhi and placed Bahadur Shah, the Mughal, on the throne of the Indian Empire.

This rebellion had some unintentional bad effects also, in that it changed the way the British officers viewed Indians as a whole. From this point on the British always regarded their subjects not only as inferior, but also as enemies, never to be trusted. And likewise the Indians often viewed the British as selfish deceivers, here only in the interest to make money. The latter opinion was usually truthful.

Unfortunately or fortunately, this state would not last longer than a year. The British had more money, better training, and more organization. Other things against the Indians were the roles of the intellectuals and common people. They did not use a universal draft and India did not have a strong sense of nationalism, therefore the average person was uninvolved with this conflict. Also, Indian intellectuals could not help build the state and army because in India a scholar would either go to England to be taught the English imperialistic view or got to an Indian university based on those in England and taught largely by Englishmen. Therefore most scholars were not nationalists. By mid-1858 Britain had recaptured Delhi and convicted Bahadur Shah of treason.

The Raj

The first thing that was done after the shock of this event was over was for the Queen declare India as part of the British empire and disbanded the British East India Company. There were also a number of reforms that went along with this transfer of power.

The Army of Bengal was completely restocked, mostly from Europeans. They reorganized the Battalions, division sizes, and locations of various groups and everything else to think of. They drastically reduced artillery. The gap between officers and enlisted men was narrowed (in terms of living conditions, day to day contact, and status). It was done largely on the line of making it harder to desert or rebel, and making the connections between all soldiers closer.

Financially some of the big reforms were an income tax, a ten-percent revenue tariff, convertible paper currency, and annual budget reports. They also redid the budget to eliminate the deficit. The government finally had an income that measured the health of the economy and supported its growth. These measures boosted the economy greatly especially now that the Company did not control all trade. On the other hand, this economy's life was still little else than British exportation; therefore the actual Indian people kept getting poorer, especially now that India was industrializing to some extent.

While these reforms kept India stable and productive for half a century, they were really just serving the British, just like everything else the British had ever done in India. The Indians were still being exploited, but by then the British had influenced the Indians and aspects of western culture started to show up in India. Nationalism, one of the things the British had taught the Indians, would now come back to haunt the British.


Indians began more and more to see what the British really wanted from India in these times. These times were good for the British, so this could have been a time for progress. However, the British tried hard to restrict liberal or nationalist views. Lord Lytton passed a law banning the vernacular presses, thus restricting the communication between Indians and repressing Indian culture. Another thing that outraged Indians was when the British rejected a bill that would have allowed Indians and British to be tried equally in court.

In response to these injustices Indian intellectuals formed the Indian National Congress (I.C.S.) in 1885. They were the voice of the Indian people and they protested for better rights for Indians and equal treatment. Soon after the I.C.S was formed, other groups sprang up around India, most of them openly violent revolutionaries. There were three main leaders of these radicals: Lala Lajpat Raj in Punjab, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Maharashtra, and Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal. They were known together as Lal - Bal - Pal.

In 1905 the British, in response to the increasing number of uprisings in Bengal, partitioned Bengal on Muslim/Hindu boundaries. The hope was that the new conflict between the Muslims and the Hindus would be more important than the Nationalist movement. This move would be the end of the British Empire in India. (Chatterjee, pg. 460)

All of the nationalist groups reacted negatively to the partition. The normal population now backed the nationalist radical groups, and the groups had their demands. Two major pillars of the nationalists were Swadashi and Swaraj. Swadashi meant that Indians should buy Indian made goods, instead of exporting their wealth. Swaraj meant self-rule, which was pretty much a new thing to India.

Under these two principals, the Home Rule League was started. It was widely supported by Indians and the British could not ignore it when it demanded that the British turn the state over to Indians right after WWI. The I.N.C. requested independent rule also, at the Congress of Lucknow, at which the moderates and extremists in the congress were united. WWI was another factor in the growth of Indian Nationalism. The British kept promising reforms and then taking more Indians to fight in a war that they had nothing to do with.

As Indian protesting grew so did the British promises of reform, but when the war ended, all they gave were a few moderate reforms, and continued to massacre protestors occasionally. During this time and extraordinary figure came on to the scene

Mohandas Ghandi was a middle class Indian who was educated in England and had lived for many years in South Africa. In England he met various white people who were sick of modern England and what it stood for, and in South Africa he saw how the British really thought of their subjects and how strong the racism was. He came back to India in 1915 and started the Satyagraha, or non-violent, protest movement. He lived like a saint and never advocated any violent move. He was imprisoned for some of his protests of British rule in 1923. Even from jail he held fasts to protest Hindu-Muslim violence and the British encouragement of it.

In 1930 Ghandi started the civil disobedience act by breaking the laws protecting the British salt trade. This movement caught on throughout India, and thousands were imprisoned for it. In 1931 the British met with Ghandi in London to discuss the nationalists demands. However, little progress was made and Ghandi was soon arrested again. In 1942 Ghandi began the Quit India movement which said that Indians must protest British rule with their lives, that they must „do or die.‰ The I.N.C planned it to be non-violent but when the entire congress was arrested the people were outraged. There were huge violent uprisings all across India. These fights were not just between the British and the Indians, but also unfortunately between Hindus and Muslims. This meant that although the British could no longer rule India, India could no longer be one. In 1947, the new Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, gave up the Crown Jewel of the British Empire, but India became two separate nations, India and Pakistan. During this divide, thousands were killed and many more were forced out of their homes. However the dust settled and now, though it is still faced with problems such as famine, overpopulation, and class division, India is the largest democracy in the world.

Chatterjee, Atul Chandra; Moreland, W. H.; (1936-1967), A Short History of India.
Roberts, P. E.; (1921-1958), History of British India.
Spear, Percival; (1956-1975), India.
Spear, Percival; (1965-1982), A History of India II.
British India,
The History of the British in India,
Manas: History and Politics, British India

Note: I wrote the paper about a year ago from noding time for a high school history class. I liked it at the time, though I'm not sure if I've ever read it. I don't usually read what I write. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions.
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