Clive's Return to India (1760)
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
During the first ten years of King George's reign changes of importance were taking place in India. There were fresh developments in the expansion of the native powers, while the British were making their first experiments as rulers, at first de facto and then dejure, over great provinces in the dominions, of the Mogul. In the twenty years between the appointment of Dupleix as governor of Pondichery, and the capture of Pondichery which signalised the complete overthrow of French power in India, the potentates directly affected by the struggle were the Nizam of the Deccan, his lieutenant the Nawab of the Carnatic, and the Nawab of Bengal.
Both the nawabs had become merely puppets in the hands of the British, the nizam's power had become greatly curtailed, and the power of the Marathas, over whom the old nizam had exercised an appreciable dominion, had grown very greatly. It was the first time for centuries that a great Hindu power was getting itself organised in the peninsula, of which much the greater part had habitually been dominated by dynasties of Mohammedan conquerors of Turkish or Afghan descent, until the Moguls had won for themselves recognition as lords paramount of the whole.
The Maratha confederacy threatened to convert the Mogul into its puppet and to dominate all India, since the solidarity of the Mogul Empire had become a transparent fiction. But, naturally enough, it did not as yet occur to the Marathas that the weakening of the nizam could be of anything but advantage to them; that they were to find far more dangerous rivals and antagonists in the British, whose fighting qualities were wholly unknown before Clive's defence of Arcot.
From time immemorial the Hindu had turned his eyes to the north-west and the mountain passes of Afghanistan as the region whence attack was to be expected; and the plan of the Marathas was to dominate the Mogul and carry their sway up to the Indus. In Central India their supremacy was already assured; and the potentates of Oudh and Bengal stood in awe of them, and generally paid them the tribute or blackmail called chauth.
Now the Maratha expansion towards the north-west was a direct challenge to the ruler of Kabul, who looked upon the north-west as his own. In 1761 Ahmed Shah came down from Kabul with a mighty army and smote the Marathas on the favourite battlefield of Paniput, in the Delhi district. The Afghan was a mighty raider, but no organiser of government; and when he had shattered the Marathas he went back across the hills.
But the practical effect of the conflict was to reduce the Maratha power and check its attempts at aggression for some years, and this in itself facilitated the sudden growth of a new power in the south. A Mohammedan military adventurer of genius, Haidar Naik, afterwards known as Haidar Ali, having obtained the command of the armies of the Hindu state of Mysore, seized the throne for himself in 1762, and so developed the military organisation that in a very short time Mysore was fully a match for any of its native rivals.
It is sufficiently obvious that there was no Empire of India for Clive or any one else to overthrow, except in the sense that various potentates professed to acknowledge the common sovereignty of the Mogul, and gave a colour of legality to their own actions by doing them in his name when they thought it worth while. But this fiction of the Mogul's sovereignty was preserved as carefully by the British as by any one else until the nineteenth century.
What the British did during the eighteenth century was merely to establish themselves as one among several territorial powers among whom their intention was to preserve a balance. But because each of the native powers saw in the British the most serious obstacle to its own achievement of ascendency, one after another they forced contests on the British, whereby their own power was diminished and that of the British was increased until it grew into an acknowledged ascendency.
When Clive returned to England in 1760 the British were a territorial power de facto in Bengal and in the Carnatic, because the nawabs in both those provinces were completely under their control. But de jure they were still in possession of nothing but the districts immediately round Madras and Bombay, together with the Sarkars, which they held as a fief from the nizam. The British government at home had not taljen charge, the British authority was that of the East India Company. There could be no permanence about an irregular control such as existed in Bengal, where Mir Jafar had to obey the orders of the company's officers forming the council at Calcutta, while the council itself declined all responsibility for the administration.
They demanded for themselves privileges and exemptions, accepted the presents which were lavished upon them after the oriental fashion, and practically extorted a good deal more. It was not strange that when Clive's strong mastery was withdrawn the British in Bengal abused their position. The subordinates in a commercial company, suddenly placed in a position of immense actual power without official responsibility, would hardly have been human if they had not abused their position; they had behind them no tradition to live up to, and the temptations were overwhelming.
Battle of Buxar
Mir Jafar found himself unable to meet the demands which were made upon him; the council deposed him, and made his finance minister, Mir Kassim, nawab. Mir Kassim laid his plans to free himself from the British tyranny, which the governor, Vansittart, a person of good intentions, was unable to check. The result was another revolution. Mir Kassim fled to Shujah Daulah, the Nawab of Oudh, and Mir Jafar was set up again. Then once more Shujah Daulah prepared to invade Bengal and subject it to Oudh; but Major Hector Munro, by a brilliant feat of arms worthy of Clive himself, inflicted upon him a decisive defeat at Buxar, and convinced him of the wisdom of seeking British friendship. Buxar was hardly less important than Plassey in the establishment of the British power in Bengal.
But by this time the directors in England had become impressed with the necessity for putting an end to the misrule which their representatives in India were turning to their private account and not to the benefit of the company. Once more Clive was sent out to India with full powers to take matters in hand and organise the government He set himself, on his arrival in 1765, to cure the existing evils by drastic measures, and to remove the worst of the causes from which they sprang.
The receiving of presents and all private trading by the company's servants were imperatively forbidden; while the profits of the salt monopoly, which had been conceded to the company, were appropriated to the increase of the hitherto despicable salaries of the company's servants. This measure, however, was unfortunately modified by the directors, with the result that the private trading and the receiving of presents revived. The army in Bengal was reorganised, and its control was officially taken over by the company; and further, the collection and administration of the revenue, what is called the diwani, in Bengal, was conferred upon the company by a decree of the Mogul as suzerain, procured by Clive.
The position of the British was regulated; they were not only rulers de facto but were thenceforth responsible de jure. The Diwani of Bengal, the cession of the Sarkars to the British, and the formal separation of the Carnatic from the nizam's jurisdiction, were all obtained under the sanction of the Mogul's authority in August 1765. The British East India Company had become a legally instituted territorial power, and the repudiation of its authority could be accurately represented as an act of rebellion against the Mogul.
Clive's Second Retirement
Before leaving India Clive also laid down the general principles of foreign policy. There was to be no attempt at the extension of dominion. Oudh was not penalised, but was to be strengthened into a buffer state against Maratha aggression in the north. In like manner the nizam was to be supported against Maratha aggression in the south. At the beginning of 1767 Clive again retired to England. The foundations of British power had been laid, but a working political system still had to be evolved. Chatham's scheme for transferring the sovereignty in England from the company to the Crown came to nothing; but it was impossible for the British nation long to ignore its responsibilities. The next experimental phase is represented by the ministry of Lord North in England and the rule of Warren Hastings in India.