The Bengali Brahman, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj Society,
was born in Bengal in 1772 at the time that Hastings was entering upon its pillage and plunder.
Yet Roy could perceive little of that and spent the better part of his life advocating a change in
attitudes. Although he reverted back to the Upanished but he borrowed heavily from the Christian
ethic as is evident in his book "Precepts of Jesus". In 1818 he began the printing of the first Indian
newspaper (in English, of course). On criterions of rationality, entirely borrowed from the west, he
set upon to reform in Hinduism, opposing caste, to sattee, and idolatory. He pleaded for the raising
of the status of women.
These were doubtless noble objects. But underlying this reformist zeal was a fundamental
message: accept and submit to the New Order, take up jobs in the service of the "Company
Bahadur", the western sun is rising from the east (Bengal), join its onward march for in the
advancement of your career lies the advancement of your commuity. A peculiar exhortation
towards a servile acceptance of the British dominion. Characteristically, in 1816, Roy helped the
founding of a college for western learning. And this premier moderniser of Bengal, was burried in
the Alno Vale cemetery after his death in Bristol in 1833. He died in England as the Calcutta
Council's nominated ambassador to Britian representing the the pensionary Mughal emperor.
A word of caution has again to be said. It is not as if the entire Hindu community on Roy's
exhortations had embraced the European standard. As we have seen the War of 1857 was to see
the Hindu fighting side by side with the Muslim in many areas, whereas in other regions members
of both communities (such as the majority of the princely states from Kashmir to Hyderabad)
remained indifferent or participated on behalf of the British. Indeed it was these states, Muslim as
well as Hindu, which were aptly described as "Britain's fifth column". In most cases the
subsidiary states system held them captive. In some cases, like Kashmir and Hyderabad, the
rulers were the beneficiaries of the British power having aided the defeat of their own community.
The Nizam had carved out areas from the Mysore state subsequent to Tippu's heroic fall at
Seringapatam in 1799. Gulab Singh obtained Kashmir at a 'bargain price' for betraying his
community of Sikhs in 1849.
What impelled, one must ask, the Bengali Hindu to collaborate with the British in the first half of
the nineteenth century while Hindus elsewhere, (Meerat, Delhi, Jhansi, Oudh) had risen against
the Raj in 1857? Why should the Muslims, too, of these regions rise while their own community
elsewhere, including Bengal, Punjab, and Sindh, remained dormant? Bengal, Punjab and Sindh had,
in fact, provided the troops that launched the counter offensive whereby the British ultimately
recaptured Delhi. The Calcutta Council had remained at its Headquarters and directed the British
war effort through telegraphic dispatches and Bengali carriers. The Bengal Lancers was one of the
crack Indian units deployed. Skinner's Horse and Probyn's Horse were the pride of the British
army. Troops were moved on to Delhi from Barrackpur in the East, and from Punjab and Sindh in
the West. Areas like the Punjab and Sindh were, of course, exhausted, having till only a few years
back been engaged in a long and unsuccessful struggles against the British. They were also
smarting against the fact that a large proportion of the troops commanded by Napier, Gough and
other British generals that had fought against them, and then pillaged their towns in the years
1843 to 1849 had been "poorbhias". Of the names of the Indian soldiers inscribed on the monument
at Miani, for instance, were Marhattas and "Poorbhias", including Muslims, of the Bombay
Infantry Regiments. Now the Punjab and Baluch Regiments went along to Delhi return the
In the nineteenth century, by and large the lines between the patriots and the collaborators were
generally drawn, not as much as the Hindu-Muslim divide as on the distinction between the
bourgeois and the feudal. These represented two different systems. Historically the feudal
precedes the bourgeois, and, with the arrival of industrial modes of production gives way to it.
In Bengal the interplay of many factors (the presence of Hindu trading class at the mouth of the
rich Ganges, the plunder, the Famine, and the Pemanent Settlement) had completely destroyed
the feudal mode of production. Even land was being cultivated through rich Marwaris who were
profiting by the trading operation of the Company. The wider the British dominion expanded the
wider would their intermediary interests run. It suited these Indians to help the British subjugate
and suppress the rest of India. They made available to British a ready-made class that would
profit by the international and overseas trade of the imperial power. Even the earnings of this
ever-expending trade were phenomenal.
The Hindu traders and merchants of Bengal were, for a half century at least, the exclusive
intermediaries of British trade in India. They were also, almost solely, the bureaucratic resource of
the Company although Cornwallis by his policy of 'Europeanisation' had restricted them to
subordinate posts. This circumstance created in the minds of many Muslim analysts an indellible
impression that all Hindu subjects supported the Raj, and joined in its plunder. Those were truly
the days of the fair-skinned "Nabobs" and their native confederates.
To the feudal, even when he had been deprived of his entire landholding, the position of an
account-keeper or a munshi was anathema. He was far too conscious and proud of his caste and
birthright. Such jobs were, in the age-old caste system, for the Vaishya Hindus. Howsoever
strongly Islam may have disclaimed the caste-order in India, it had itself fallen victim to this
all-pervading scheme of things. To this day this injury to Islam is reflected in an entire variety of
customs and practices. Even though exogomy (marriage permitted beyond the caste or group) is
conducive to greater integration, to this day caste predominates in the selection of marriage
partners, and even spans urban societies. To this day all manner of official proformas and forms,
including the prescribed form of the marriage contract, the Nikahnama, contain queries about the
caste of the parties to the marriage.
The feudal was also afraid of this new order because it brought with it an altogether new value
system. It threatened the old order. The prospective onslaught of a capitalist world was like a
sentence of death to the feudal order. In all respects it was different.
First, since economic power leads to political power, the new system was shifting power to low
caste merchants. In the old order land had been the symbol of wealth as well as of power. The
right to collect land revenue, and the duty to raise a regiment in the service of the Imperial
authority were, to the feudal, the two most honourable of circumstances. Both these were tied up
with land, and with the centuries-old dominion over the peasant. The peasants were bound to
surrender their surplus produce. They were also obliged to send the best and the sturdiest
amongst them to fight for the lord. (It is in these two vital respects that the Indian agrarian
system was feudal, though as we have seen, in the absence of herdity, and the liability to transfer
from one fief to another, it differed from European feudalism. The pattern differed also in the
organisation of the village and the community of the village property, as well the
semi-autonomous nature of a great proportion of the villages).
Second, and this important point can bear repitition, even the feudal code of rajput honour
developed, by fact and legend, in the 10th and 11th centuries, had no place in the expedient
policies of the British who often undertook the sacrilege of creating a fifth column of winning their
battles by pre-planned, and often conspiratorial design, of breaking the flanks of the enemy by
crafty and secret diplomacy before embarking for the battlefield. The battles against the rulers of
Murshidabad, Seringpatam, and Lahore were won by the application of such stategems that were
inconceivable by the feudal code according to which even the adversay was often spared after
being humbled. How Shivaji's fatal grasp of Bijapur general, Afzal Khan, had shocked feudal India.
The Marhatta predator, inspite of his romantic guerilla image, had failed to generate widespread
support among the rajputs. In fact Jaipur and others had actively opposed him. To the latter-day
Hindu bourgeios he was a hero. Not to the feudal.
But even here there was a cleavage. As we have seen all the feudal princes had not joined the war
of 1857 on the side of the patriots. Those who had been benefitted by the British stood aside, or
actively aided the foreigners. In the words of Barrington Moore "The main cleavage in Indian
society that the 'Mutiny' revealed was one between a deeply offended orthodoxy supported
through definite material interests and a lukewarm attitude among those who either gained by
British policy or were not too deeply disturbed by it. This cleavage cut across religious lines and to
some extent material ones as well." By and large feudal India (Hindu and Muslim) rose
against the British, while the nascent boureoisie gave support to the Company.
Yet upon the conclusion of the "Mutiny" the British were switch partners and loyalties. They now
began to strengthen and to lean upon the feudals. This option was expedient. It is true the feudal
order, percieving its jeopardy, had, risen in "revolt" in 1857. The war had centred around
agro-feudal regions. Yet the reason for the 'rebellion' was not merely that these areas were
controlled by an age-old feudal aristocracy. The real cause was that besides just being threat
perception of extinction at the hands of a foreign power. This threat itself being removed, the
feudal order would then serve the British interests. If India was to be held as a captive and
passive "agrarian appendage" to the Lancashire cotton mills, and to the Dundee jute giants, then
the surplus produce of the Indian farmer had to be farmed out of the country. It could not be
processed by any indigenous, native industrial class. And there was no better system for
extracting the peasant's surplus from him than the feudal organization of agrarian expropriation.
The system had, for centuries, successfully squeezed out the surplus and maintained peace,
though no doubt with an iron hand. We have already referred to the two primary objectives of
the Raj: collection of revenue and maintenance of public order. The latter was required only so as
to facilitate the former. It had officially been declared that "The main work of the Indian
Admistration is the assessment of the land tax," the main source of revenue. And exports of
the primary produce of India was indeed a part of that revenue, even though it was euphemistically
described as 'trade'.
The imperial boureoisie fearing competition from the nascent Indian bourgeoisie, therefore began,
after 1857, to patronise and strengthen feudal relations. British adminstrators and policeman in
India began to employ their poweres to restore and re-establish feudal authority and privilege.
Having successfully subjugated a predominantly feudal uprising the Government of India
undertook now to rejuvinate a dying order. All to its own ends. Even the taluqdars of Oudh, many
of whom had joined the "revolt", were re-instated. There were, of course, the exceptions, but
most of these were also placated in some way or the other upon preferring appeals to the
benevolence of Queen Victoria, now also the Empress of India.
This new partnership seemed to work to the benefit of all parties. The feudal found himself
propped up and secured by the demonstrable support of a strong and stable central authority
competent to punish "rebels and anarchists" in the remotest corners of the realm. The Raj
discovered in the feudal order a well-oiled machine for expropriating the peasant's surplus
produce, while also helping maintain peace and order. The Indian bourgiousie was now left out in
the cold. "All tariff duties were abolished in 1879 with a view to benefit Lancashire. In 1895, an
excise duty of 5 per cent wa imposed on Indian cotton goods with a view to countervail similar
tariff on Lancashire goods imposed in the interests of revenue. The value of the Indian rupee in
terms of the English pound was fixed in such a way as to help imports from England and
discourage exports from India." The vizer-grip of the central authority also ended all
inter-necine struggles for supermacy which in the last 150 years had made fearsome deserts of
central and northern India. For the next fifty years the peasent had his peace, the feudal lord his
prestige while the Imperial bureaucratic network was free to expropriate the produce of India.
Even in areas in which the limits of agriculture were expanded by irrigation the British preferred to
introduce a system of landlords, if not by initial allotment by subsequent design. Thus from 1880
onwards peasants were settled in various parts of the Punjab as new lands opened up in the
distribution areas of the newly constructed irrigation barrages. The sizes of the holding varied.
Initially the largest were upto 100 or 150 acres. But with the effect and operation of the Punjab
Land Alienation Act, 1900, (which disqualified non-agricultural tribes from acquiring the holdings
of their debtors) and the Pre-emption Laws, the gentry with larger holdings began to acquire more
and more adjoining pieces. Soon they became large landowners and absentee feudals. Land price
began to rise steadily. The per acre price of land, according to Darling, rose between 1866 and
1922, from a mere Rs. 10/- to Rs. 238/-. An increase in the size and value of the land holdings of
these land owners led to the increase in their political influence (political power again following
economic power). Towards the end of the nineteenth century therefore, these areas, including the
Indus region, became the steadfast bastions of the Raj.
The British had thus gradually, though perceptibly, changed allies. The bourgeois had helped the
initial success of their conquest. But the feudal, would (and surely!) aid the consolidation of the
Raj. While the former had now the potential of competing with the imperial merchant, and had
began to flex his muscles, the latter would always remain, by his inherent station, a servile and
complementary subordinate with a commonality, rather than a contradiction, of interests.
The bourgeoisie, predominantly Hindu, seemed now to have been abandoned. It was the very time
that it had begun to re-invest its accumulated surpluses in its own private trades, businesses and
small industries. Business families like the Chettys of Madras, had moved into the areas of
industry and business not monopolised by the British. Later by their acute skills, and their high
sense of saving and profit, they began to compete with the British industry even in such sectors as
were prohibitively taxed. Indigenous textile industry developed despite heavy excise duties
designed to prevent it from competing with the produce of Lancashire even in Indian markets!
Competition in economic interests, and the emergence of political consciousness of the India
bougeoisie went hand in hand. It is therefore no mere coincidence that the Indian Chamber of
Commerce and the Indian National Congress were established in the same year: 1885. The Hindu
bourgeoisie required both a trade organisation to advance its, by now substantial, economic
interests, and a political party to win for it necessary political privileges. This bourgeois
awakening (and Hindu revivalism), needed a metophysical umbrella to justify the community's
independent existence. And it needed to wean all domestic markets of foreign manufactures. As
the War of Independence was lost in 1857, a new battle was being joined.
In 1857 the Gujrati Brahmin, Swami Dayananda Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj. This was a
Hindu nationalist movement beckoning its followers to adhere strictly to the narrow and ancient
teachings of the Vedas and to denounce everything that was modern. It was in the word of Nehru
" a reaction to the influence of Islam and Christianity". It spread quickly in the Hindu Middle
cleasses of the Punjab and the United Provinces. In fact so rapid was the growth of this zealous
movement that many a sober Hindu was to be charmed by it. Even the modernist Motilal Nehru
wrote to his son, Jawaharlal, in April, 1909: "The position is getting worse everyday. Out of evil,
however, comes the good. The Arya Samaj has given the best answer to Muhammadan
pretensions by quietly converting the followers of Islam to Hinduism. Reports arrive every day of
their conversion. Sometimes whole villages are converted in a single day". That there may
have been such conversions as are referred to is possible. The bourgeois Hindu class was,
economically, on the ascendencey while the Muslim feudal system stood static and immobile. An
attraction of economic betterment frequently determines the choice of belief and religion. In
practical politics the Arya Samaj thinking was best represented in the energetic but highly
provocative person of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Seeking to arouse Hindu sentiment Tilak revived the
Sivaji cult and the worship of the heroes of ancient scriptures.
The British government reacted by promulgating a series of laws to prevent, or suppress the
bourgeois unrest. The Official Secrets Act of 1904 widened the scope of 'sedition', and restricted
press criticism of the government. The Public Meetings Act, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act,
and the Seditious Meetings Act were adopted in 1907. 1908 brought the Explosive Substances
Act and the Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act. The Indian Press Act was applied in 1910.
But at this time it was not in the interests of the mainstream bourgeoisie to confront either
the British or the feudals. As an ever expanding class of merchants and industrialists it aspired,
ideally, to replace the British and hold the rural India as its captive market, with the north-west of
India reduced to a permanent agrarian appendix to the industry of Calcutta and Ahmedabad. Arya
Samaj and Tilak were too militant such deft handling. Any militant posturing at this stage would at
once arouse the wolves of communalism and drive the flock away. A milder, a more genteel and
all-embracing policy had to be adopted. This is how the Arya Samaj was completely dwarfed by
the Congress. This is also why the energetic and fiery Tilak lost the field first to Gokhale, the
moderate, and then to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Meanwhile the First World War broke out. Again the princes of India were foremost in support of
the British war effort. The charge that took Haifa from the Turks was led by the Maharaja of
Jodhpur's Lancers in September 1917. Most of the ranks were muslims. Bikaner's Camel Corps
went to fight in such distant and wide apart places as China, Egypt and Palestine. Three
battalions and a hospital ship were contributed by Gwalior.
But the War also jeopardised all the known means of communication and maritime trade routes to
India. It thus obliged the British to open India as an alternative industrial base in case of the loss
of any other major sector of the Empire. Britain began to encourage an indigenous Indian industry
The Parsi house of Jamshedji Tata had already been allowed to set up a textile mill at Nagpur and
a Steel Mill at Jamshedpur. The capacity of these mills was now enhanced. Tata also began to
produce India's own locomotives although production and the price were strictly controlled. Since
the British Indian Railways was the only customer for this prestige product, Tata had his hands
While the British relaxed the restrictions on economic activities, they did not pursue the same
liberal spirit in other fields. The First World War therefore brought, in its wake, greater political
controls, more stringent restrictions of political activity, and the total loss of what civil liberties
there were. But we shall revert to those after we have again seen where the Muslims stood at
this point of the Sub-continent's history.Read more...
The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan