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Safar 29, 1439





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The Economic Divide



Wall painting from the head offices of the British East India Company, 1778 - 'The East offering its riches to Britannia'


I

The Bengali Brahman, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj Society,The Brahmo-Samaj, is not to be confused with the Arya Samaj founded in 1857 by Swami
Dayananda, the Orthodox, fundamentalist Hindu movement which became quite prominent in the
twentieth century, its millitant streaks provoking substantial communal hostility 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.See Article by H.T. Lambrick, I.C.S., (1942), entitiled: 'The Sindh Battles, 1843,' in 'Sindh
Observed: Selection from the Journal of Sindh Historical Society', edited by Mubarik Ali, Gautam
Publishers, Lahore, p. 165 at p. 184 Now the Punjab and Baluch Regiments went along to Delhi return the compliment.

II

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,See Chapter 22, Section V of 'The Indus 
Saga and the Making of Pakistan' by Aitzaz Ahsan 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."'Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy', Penguin/Peregrine, p. 349-50 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.See James Morris: 'Pax Britanica', Penguin, p. 268 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."Mahajan: 'India Since 1526', Part II, pp. 379-80 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,'The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt,' (1925), p. . See also: Tara Chand: 'History of the
Freedom Movement in India', Volume II, p. 300, and Mahajan: ibid, Part II, p. 615 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.

III

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 MadrasFrom whom the word Seth and Sethy is said to have been derived, 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".'The Indian Nationalist Movement 1885-1947, Select Documents', Edited by B.N. Panday,
Macmillan, p. 18 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.

Indian troops at Portsmouth in 1882
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 tied.

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
Aitzaz Ahsan

 
 
   
   
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