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Jumaada-ath-Thaani 29, 1438





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Britain gains territory and confidence



Painting of a treaty between Britain and Bengal, 1765


I

Other factors also aided Britain's expansionist objectives. The War of Austrian Succession (1740-48) and the Seven Year's war (1756-63) had established for England, as against France and other European sea powers, a tentative superiority of merchant navies and arms. We have mentioned how when the subsequent wars, extending into India, included Clive's campaigns at Arcot and the surrender of the French troops at Trichnopoly (1749). These led to the withdrawal of the able French genius, Dupleix. A few years later the French were routed at Wandiwash (1760). The capture of their energetic general, de Bussey, brought a virtual end to French ambitions of an imperial conquest of India.See also Chapter 24, Section IV of 'The Indus 
Saga and the Making of Pakistan' by Aitzaz Ahsan Dupleix and de Bussey were able leaders, themselves, but the France that backed them laboured under the frivolous Louis XVI, with all his pretensions to absolute monarchical authority in a world that was fast moving towards and explosion of democratic radicalism. France was, by now, itself a powder keg, gradually heating up for an internal explosion - the French Revolution.

Britain, by contrast, had already determined a stable working relationship between the King and Parliament. New norms of the ruling class, the commercial and industrial bourgoisie, were already operative. One hundred years after its own last regicide, the execution of Charles II, it had already developed the institution of a Prime Minister and government reponsible to Parliament. Several decades before the French Revolution, while India suffered the anarchy of the eighteenth century raids of the Persian and Afghan kings, and even before the battles of Plassey and Buxer, Sir Hugh Walpole became Prime Minister of England (1740). It is obvious that by now the contradictions within the English society were being buffered by the enormous wealth and resources that the plunder of Bengal was yielding. The foundations of Westminster democracy were laid in Bengal. And as the British gradually attained democratic maturity, Bengal descended into abject poverty leading irretrievably to the devastating Famine of 1769. But after the Settlement (1793), Britain began to consolidate and to expand its dominions. The next half century brought it many gains.

Language had been a barrier to British consolidation. The British had, no doubt, preferred and encouraged the use of the English language in the administration of the affairs of the Company. Expediency had however dictated a slow and gradual switch over from the popular vernacular languages. They were keen to avoid both provocation of the "native" population and its hostility. But by the time that Lord William Bentick came to India as the Governor General, (1828) the British had become sufficiently confident of their grip on the greater part of India. The governments in Bengal and Bihar had been fully consolidated. The south had fallen with the heroic Tippu at Seringaptam (1799) and the Nizamul Mulk of Hyderabad was a safe ally having been allowed, for his treachory, to retain dominion upon some part of Tippu's Mysore. The Marhattas had been crushed conclusively in 1818. Most of the princerly states were dignified feudatories secured by 'subsidiary treaties'. The residents or agents of the Imperial Government often with substantial bodies of troops were present in all capitals of the Sub-continent.

In 1835 Bentick decreed English the language of the official governmental and legal business. In the same year education in the English language was introduced, its knowledgs soon becoming the crucial qualification for a subordinate official career. Muslims were reticent to learn the new language. Besides the fact that they were conservative,The reason given by Spear their feudal order had little use for it. The urban classes were the ones that found it expedient to keep up with the changing world. Urbanite Hindus had previously taken to Persian out of expediency. They now took to English. They were soon monopolising the subordinate services under the Calcutta Council.

II

There are some exponents of the Raj, like Spear, who first formulate the questions: "Why did they not trust western civilisation as something to be lived with like Islam, but not to be absorbed? Why did the chrysolis break, or at least crack, under the impact of the west?" and then proceed to answer them thus: "I think the answer is that the western influence came, not as the challenge of a closed religious system, but in the form of universal ideas in a secular setting, which could be accepted and even acted upon to some extent, without open treason to social and religious tradition."'A History of India', Volume II, Pelican, p. 160

Inspite of the pre-eminent learning of the author, some serious doubts can be expressed about the conclusion. It appears to be just another reflection of the imperialist bias which finds repeated place in the works of historians writing apologies for the British Raj. Many reservations can be expressed with respect to such over-simplistic conclusions.

First of all what are described as the 'universal ideas', were, in another form of expression, the self-righeous "white man's burden" as styled by the colonialists. This concept was perceived quite differently in the Sub-continent. It was, as we have seen: plunder. And plunder by an alien and oft-times a racist community. What universal principles permitted the brutal reprisals in 1857, or supported the unprovoked massacre of an unarmed gathering of civilians at the Jalianwala BaghIn Amritsar where, in April 1919, by the offical count, no less than 379 innocent persons lost
their lives, and another 1200 were grievously hurt when a crowd was fired upon indiscriminately
by the Punjab Police? What "universal ideas" supported the rude and all-pervading racism manifesting itself in every walk of life from the torpedoing, in 1882, of the Ilbert Bill (a mere inocuous proposal to put qualified Indian judges on the same footing as their European counterparts in dealing with all cases in the Bengal Presidency). The prospect of the trial of a European by an Indian Judge, however competent and impartial, incensed the 'universal' conscience of the English Community! In the raging campaign that followed the by now mature Hindu bourgeoisie got the message. The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885). What 'universal' ideas decreed separate and exclusive railway carriages for the European minority? The contempt with which the British colonials continued to look upon the 'natives' of India was the follow through of Cornwallis' hasty and prejudiced judgment: "Every native of India, I verily believe, is corrupt."Spear: Ibid., p. 95 And seldom were the successors of Cornwallis to disguise this contempt or to restrain the multifarious and daily manifestations of it.Even Winston Churchill was no exception. He could not disguise his revulsion for the way
Gandhi dressed. 'He was revolted, he said in a famous Parliamentary anathema, by 'nauseating
and humiliating spectacle of this one-time Inner Temple lawyer, now turned seditious fakir,
striding halfpnaked up the steps of the Viceroy's palace ...... to negotiate and parley on equal
terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.' ' James Morris: 'Farewell the Trumpets: An
Imperial Retreat', Penguin, p. 293. Even when he was urged by the the Viceroy, Lord Irwin
himself 'to bring his views on India up to date by talking to some Indians, he remained immovable.
'I am quite satisfied with my views on India', he said, 'and I don't want them disturbed by any
bloody Indians.' ' Ibid., p. 298

India was a colony. It was an agrarian appendage to a gigantic and insensitive industrial machine. It must provide the raw materials for the English manufactures, and then buy the product back as a captive market. At both ends price controls and differentials were made to work to her disadvantage. The raw material was under-priced while the finished product was artificially over-valued. She must, moreover, suffer this exploitation without a protest or a murmur. Law and order were of the primary significance to the Raj, and had to be maintained notwithstanding the cost or suffering to the native. A passive agrarian appendage - this, perhps, was the only 'universal idea' of the Raj. All institutions, administrative, judicial and legislative, were based upon this one principle. All development was to this one purpose. We have examined, earlier, the construction of the railways, for instance."Railways, it was believed, would assist the economic development of India and provide both a market for British goods and a source of raw materials. They would also aid in the rule and protection of India by facilitating the defence of the frontier and by transporting troops within the sub-continent."Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume II, p. 738. One is compelled to the thought: how
little things have changed! The past and the present role of the said institutions, how-ever will be
discussed in a subsequent part of this analysis

Secondly what Spear calls a "secular" influence, may have had an aspect of the scientific advances introduced by Europe which jeopardised the older religions of India. But Britain never intended its influence to remain secular especially after it was realised how the religious missions could also help in the dissemination of those "universal ideas".

In the early years of the Company's rule in the Sub-continent, Christian missions were perceived as meddlesome impediments in the way of the conscious plunder of the Indian peasant. India had thus remained closed to Christian missionaries till 1813. But the success of the Scottish Presbyterian, Alexander Duff, and the Baptist William Care (who translated the Christian gospels into Indian language at that turn of the century) established the value of missionaries in the furthererance of imperial ends. In 1813 Christian missionaries were allowed into India and bestowed substantial patronage. Within a few decades Christian missions convent schools and missionary hospitals dotted the entire land from one end of the vast British dominion to the other. Land grants and exemptions from local and governtal dues accompanied all the missions. The tower and the spire became a part of the new Indian skyline. Where the Christian missions were able to operate they often brought down the defences of the natives, promoting in them a hatred for their own beliefs and culture, and for their own way of life. They thus and made the "natives" susceptible to British influence, indeed to surrender to the west before the battle. The successful missionary made the native year for liberation from his own supersitious archaic dogmas. And the Company's armies would soon oblige.

Spear was not alone when he exulted: "But Christian (and with it general western) influence was significant in two ways. The schools and colleges imparted both Christain ethics and western ideas which perceptibly influenced the mind of the new middle class. The medical work with its circle of hospitals deeply appealed to the conscience of India. The toll of converts was not large from either of these methods but the effect on the mind and the heart of India was very great. Here, said the thoughtful, was true religion at work. Hindu reform movements came to imitate their methods. The whole episode prepared the way for the breakthrough in Hinduism itself from passive realization to the active philanthropy associated with the name of Mahatama Gandhi".Spear: Ibid., p. 163-164 His sentiments are not too different from those of Nehru who, in complimenting Ramakrishna Paramahansa, a Bengali ascetic and philanthropist of the nineteenth century, attributes to him the Christian qualities of the self-abnegating Franciscans and the Quakers.

Here, too, since the community that first came forth and volunteered to be exposed to missionary education was Hindu. The influence upon it was the most marked and obvious. Yet in this very process lay the seeds of a vital contradiction. All through the nineteenth century missionary institutions churned out young Hindu lads for employment as clerks or accountants in the imperial railways, in the imperial banks, in the imperial cotton trade, and in the entire spectrum of other businesses, commercial and adminstrative concerns.

Here, too, since the community that first came forth and volunteered to be exposed to missionary education was Hindu. The influence upon it was the most marked and obvious. Yet in this very process lay the seeds of a vital contradiction. All through the nineteenth century missionary institutions churned out young Hindu lads for employment as clerks or accountants in the imperial railways, in the imperial banks, in the imperial cotton trade, and in the entire spectrum of other businesses, commercial and adminstrative concerns.

Sir Syed Ahmad KhanFinally, Spear's ready implication that the western influence was readily 'accepted' by the Indian, is highly contentious. To imply that the bourgeoisie (which was Hindu in the main) had accepted it is one thing. To expand the observations to imply theat there was general acceptance, or to compare it with Islam ("to be lived with like Islam") is quite another. Yes the community of Indian merchants, as we have seen, did take to British trade as they had done to Arab and East Indian coastal trade. They had also adapted to the overland trade through the north-western passes with Central Asia and Iran. But there was a crucial difference between the previous ventures and the present, between the advent of Islam in India and the coming of the British. For the first time now the front line trader was backed by the resources and productivity of an industrialised nation with the relatively more efficient capitalist mode of production. There was no acceptance except by the trading minority. The majority were brutally subjugated.

Little wonder, the reform movement to induce the Hindus to join the service of the British, to bring the them out of his shell and inhibitions and to coax them, in a way, to actively collaborate with the Raj, led by Raja Ram Moham Roy, took birth almost a hundred years in advance of its Muslim counterparts in the efforts and struggle of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.

Read more...

The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan
Aitzaz Ahsan

 
 
   
   
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