British Raj: Expansion In India was Swift and Easy says British-American Historian

Posted in British Raj, History, India, Propaganda by Anuraag Sanghi on July 2, 2012

65 years after the loss of India, Britain tries recycling old propaganda – and selling it as cutting edge history.

James Gillray, (1756-1815), leading printmaker, lampoons Cornwallis after battlefield reverses in India in a work Title: The coming on of the monsoons, or, The retreat from Seringapatam Related Title: Retreat from Seringapatam  |  Published: London; on December, 6th 1791 by H. Humphrey  |  Click for image.

James Gillray, (1756-1815), leading printmaker, lampoons Cornwallis after battlefield reverses in India in a work Title: The coming on of the monsoons, or, The retreat from Seringapatam Related Title: Retreat from Seringapatam | Published: London; on December, 6th 1791 by H. Humphrey | Click for image.

Regret and rankle?

Why does it bother a British historian, that Indian-writers write good things about India, who are largely read in India? After 30 years in the employ of an American University!

Yet it does.

Writing smoothly, in the London Book Review (LRB) Perry Anderson uses more than 15,000 words to refresh British propaganda about the British Raj in India.

Full of gaps like

When the British arrived, it was the sprawling heterogeneity of the area that allowed them, after a slow start, to gain such relatively swift and easy control of it, using one local power or population against the next, in a series of alliances and annexations that ended, more than a century after the Battle of Plassey, with the construction of an empire extending further east and south, if not north-west, than any predecessor. (via Perry Anderson · Gandhi Centre Stage · LRB 5 July 2012)

Was the British imperial expansion in India, ‘swift and easy’ over ‘more than a century after the Battle of Plassey.’


Eh … Oh … Aah

Let us look at some history.

First: If the expansion was swift and easy, the decline and departure was faster. Between Plassey (1757) and the 1857 War was a hundred years. Between the 1857 War and Indian Independence (1947) was only ninety.

Indian independence, which had a large dose of non-violent protest, was preceded by British loss of initiative and control.

Remember dates.

English are nowhere

1600 – East India Company formed.

1683 – British Crown approves new charter for EEIC; which can now wage war.

1739 – Nadir Shah’s raid on India sees British missing in action.

1746 – Chauth for Bengal & Bihar ceded to Marathas by Mughals. British are still nowhere.

1757 – Battle of Plassey – an artificial landmark in Indian history; but important to British.

1761 – Ahmad Shah Abdali defeat Marathas at Panipat. Maratha powers starts to decline.

1764 – British take advantage of Maratha /Mughal weakness; and win the minor Battle of Buxar, 22 October; which lands them the Diwani of Bengal. British loot of India begins. Regular famines become feature of the British Raj.

English Appear Somewhere

1765-1785 – British win battles against European powers (French, Dutch, Danes) but lose wars against Indian kings.

1781 – Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, October 19, at Yorktown, America.

1786 – 23 February, Cornwallis appointed for India position. Departing in May, arrived at Madras – 22 August.

1799 – Tipu Sultan’s death. British power consolidates in India.

English Are Here in India

1818 – The Third Anglo-Maratha /Pindari War ends. English power arrives in India.

1839 – Death of Ranjit Singh.

1845-1849 – The Sikh Wars in which English gained supremacy over the last outpost of Indian power.

British power in India

1857 – Combined Indian forces, led by the Mughal-Maratha alliance declare war. Major battles continue for 18 months. English win.

British Loss of Power

1916 – April 16. BG Tilak declares Swaraj is my birthright; forms Home Rule League at the Bombay Provincial Conference held at Belgaum.

1927 – Indian polity refuses to negotiate with Simon Commission.

1930 – Bhagat Singh displays disinterest in the legal outcome of his trial.

1944 – India’s leading industrialists come together (Bombay Club) and make an economic-plan document for an India which is yet to be born; for a government that was yet to be formed.

1946 – Naval Ratings raise the Indian Flag of independence.

1947 – Britain out of India

Two: A recent British ranking included Rani Lakshmi Bai as sole woman entry in the list of Top-20 foes of the British Empire. More than 200 wars, battles, mutinies, bombings, armed uprisings, spread over the 190 years, in which more than 10 million people died, was not easy.

Three: The loss of India was recurring theme in the less than 200 years of British misrule in India. The British knew their hold on India was one-step away from losing it.

Voices From The Past

Lord Curzon, probably got the tone for the Raj, till its end 50 years later. In a letter, on 31 March 1901, (some suggest March 3), to the Conservative minister AJ Balfour; Curzon predicted in 1901,

governing of India was far and away the biggest thing that the British were doing anywhere. As long as we rule India, we are the greatest power in the world. If we lose it we shall straightway drop to a third rate power. (from – Curzon in India: Achievement; books.google.co.in; David Dilks – 1970.).

In 1857, soon after the outbreak of war, reporting on Europe’s reactions, were brothers Eliakim Littell and Robert S. Littell, for their American publication, The Living Age (Volume 55 – Page 113).

In a familiar manner they said,

India is not only an English, it is a European subject; and the face of the Continental press moves that it is so. “Will England lose India or not?” is a question mooted by friends and foes, with hopes and fears according to their feelings; and from what they say of our prospects, we may judge of their future ‘conduct in the event of any serious loss to our power. On the Continent, more than in this country, it seems to be felt, and is indeed here and there loudly proclaimed, that Great Britain will lose her European supremacy if she lose India.

In fact, the loss of India would be a deathblow to her commerce and industry. (From: The living age …, Volume 55; By Eliakim Littell, Robert S. Littell, Making of America Project.).

Further back, in 1829, writing in Gentleman’s magazine, (Volume 149), John Nichols summed up the mood in England.

It has been said that we might lose India, if, with the gospel of peace in one hand, and the code of English justice in the other, we thus legislate in a country whose superstitions are inveterate! Lose India !’ what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul!

Many Britishers said the opposite too. Churchill, the most famous of these Indian-doom predictors, thundered in the British Parliament,

In handing over the Government of India to these so-called political classes we are handing over to men of straw, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain.

We now know whose predictions were right.

It can be safely said, that India was far from subdued, either easily or quickly, in the entire British Raj. A long enough search will produce one such analysis for each year where the British fear of losing India was exposed.

But the British lost power pretty fast.

1857 – A Failed ‘Mutiny’?

Posted in British Raj, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on April 19, 2012

Getting into the details of the 1857 War reveals some interesting sidelights.

An elephant gun-battery in 1857, a wood engraving from the 1860's. These elephant guns were crucial to both sides.

An elephant gun-battery in 1857, a wood engraving from the 1860's. These elephant guns were crucial to both sides.

Guns vs bow & arrows?

When it comes to the 1857 War, popular impression is that Indian ‘mutineers’ fought with swords, bows and arrows, and the British had guns and cannons.

For at least 400 years before 1857, India was the largest producer of gunpowder elements – specially crucial nitrates. India was the largest producer of nitrates (main component in gunpowder) – and availability of explosive material was not the problem in the 1857 War.

Not for Indians. Not for the British, too.

The Indian Court at the Great Exhibition, Hyde Park, London 1851.  |  Painting by Joseph Nash  |  Click for image.

The Indian Court at the Great Exhibition, Hyde Park, London 1851. | Painting by Joseph Nash | Click for image.

Explosive power

Since nitrate-production was concentrated in the greater Bengal area (Bihar, West Bengal, East Bengal), the purbiyas (the Easterners) were also the explosive experts. Malwa’s rulers recruited  Purbias from Bengal and Bihar for their expertise in gunpowder. The British initially valued and later (after 1857) feared the Purbias for the same reason.

The purbiyas (the Easterners) were the main body in in Malwa and Mughal armies, in Sher Shah Suri and Ranjit Singh’s armies – and in the army of East India Company also. In fact, the main component of anti-British Indian soldiers in the 1857 War were the Bengal soldiers, the purbiyas (the Easterners).

Indian nitrate production was in the hands of the private sector – and the whole world bought its gunpowder from India. Indian rulers too, had to buy nitrates at near global prices.

But buying nitrates, hiring soldiers, buying guns was an expensive affair.

Note the damage to the structure. Soldiers of the 1st Madras Fusiliers seated amongst the remains of the British entrenchment de fences to barracks at Cawnpore which General Sir Hugh Massy Wheeler surrendered in June 1857.  |  Image by Felice Beato; source & courtesy - iwm.org.uk  |  Click for image.

Note the damage to the structure. Soldiers of the 1st Madras Fusiliers seated amongst the remains of the British entrenchment de fences to barracks at Cawnpore which General Sir Hugh Massy Wheeler surrendered in June 1857. | Image by Felice Beato; source & courtesy - iwm.org.uk | Click for image.

Slavery, narcotics & piracy

Indian rulers ‘hampered’ by Indian dharma systems had limited access to funds. Taxation across India was set at 16.67%. Only in dire emergencies could the king impose the chauth rate (25%) of taxation – used by Shivaji.

The British East India Company could easily buy nitrates – funded by the riches of slave-trade, sugar production (using slave-labour), piracy, narcotics trade (opium to China).

Capital formation in Britain also pushed the Industrial Revolution – fully underway in Britain.

A cargo of seventy elephants from Burma during the 1857 Mutiny; |  Image date: 1858–61; Albumen silver print; from Gilman Collection, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art  |  Click for image.

A cargo of seventy elephants from Burma during the 1857 Mutiny; |m Iage date: 1858–61; Albumen silver print; from Gilman Collection, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Click for image.

By 1857, production of armaments in Britain was the highest in the world. The Grand Expo of 1851 announced Britain’s industrial might and leadership to the world.

By 1857, steam engines were driving production in England. Indian armament industry was powered by manual power – instead of steam power in Britain.

But was industrial might the deciding factor?

Siege guns, 18-pounders were much used by the British to bombard Indian soldiers.

These guns drawn by elephants made a difference. But more than guns were elephants themselves.

Contemporary British accounts record capture of elephants from Indian armies.  At least at one time, the British resorted to ship elephants from Burma to supplement their armies in India.

But what was the main achievement of the 1857 War? Western views is

Kashmiri Gate after the pounding by cannons during the 1857 War  |  Albumen print by Felice Beato; source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk  |  Click for image.

Kashmiri Gate after the pounding by cannons during the 1857 War | Albumen print by Felice Beato; source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk | Click for image.

Indian Mutiny was a revolution which failed.

Except that it destroyed the East India Company as a quasi-government once and for all: when executive administration and military authority were restored in the Raj, both were firmly in the hands of the British Crown. And except that never again, in the 90 years which remained before Indian independence, would Britons stand so confidently astride the subcontinent. Its balance had been fatally shaken at Meerut and from that day onwards it was a matter of when, not if, the Raj would fall.

The story which began in 1857 has never quite been resolved. Not all of its million sub-plots found so neat an ending as the tale of Margaret Wheeler. More representative by far is the legend of Wheeler’s nemesis, Nana Sahib, the enigmatic rebel leader who oversaw the massacres at Cawnpore. Despite being the most wanted man in the British Empire, Nana Sahib was never captured. Long after his probable death, sightings continued to be reported. The last came in Gujarat in 1895 when a young British officer detained an elderly sadhu and excitedly cabled Calcutta: “Have arrested the Nana Sahib. Wire instructions.”

Calcutta’s reply, subtly redolent of exasperation at the power of myth and mirage under the Indian sun, read: “Release at once”. (via Bounty from a mutiny – Books – Scotsman.com).

If … But … Why …

If the 1857 War was such a failure, why was the East India disbanded? Why did Christian missionary program start taking a back seat? Added to this, after the 1857 War in India, Christian proselytism too had to take a back seat.

Victoria Regina’s Colonial India Government printed leaflets in tens and thousands to proclaim that the British Crown had no intentions to dictate faith to its Indian ‘subjects’. The 1857 War also forced the British to change the war. Instead of military means, the British mounted an intellectual war on India. Euro-centric historians to change the entire drift of world history.

Less than ninety years after the 1857 War, in February 1946 Indian sepoys raised the Indian flag of independence – again.

This time around the British decided to walk.


India – Beyond Individuals

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Uncategorized by Anuraag Sanghi on January 26, 2008

Bhagvad Geeta4, 7Bhagvad Geeta4, 8“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in righteousness, O descendant of Bharata, and a rise of evil — at that time I manifest myself. To deliver all those who believe in goodness and to annihilate the evil, to reestablish righteousness, I will appear, in millennium after millennium.” Bhagwad Geetha IV, 7-8.

Who was Kalidasa? No one quite knows. After composing some of the best lyrical poetry ever, (in Sanskrit), little is known about him. His life lives in his works. Who was Ved Vyasa – the writer of Mahabharata? Or for that matter Valmiki! No one knows. About any one of these people.

Yet, whenever, India had needed, inspirations have come. To lead us … असतो मा सद्गमय From untruth to the truth … तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय … From darkness to light … मृतयोर् मा अमृतं गमय … from termination, to eternity …

Portrait Of Tipu SultanTipu Sultan unceasing opposition for more than 30 years (The Mysore Wars – 1767-1799) to the foreign rule before the 1857 War made the British rulers cautious about waging war in India. Immediately thereafter was the challenge of the Sikh qaum – led by Ranjit Singh. The death of Ranjit SinghRanjit Singh & Laili - His Favorite Horse in (1839) gave them another opportunity. Then followed the Afghan wars and the Sikh Wars (between 1839-1850). In 1857 was the India‘s first war of Independence.

From 1857 to the 1900, the British colonial government decimated Indian leadership. Bahadur Shah Zafar was sent to Rangoon. Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Ahalyabai Holkar. Tantia Tope. Leader after leader came to the fore. And India continued to redefine itself.

Swami VivekanandaFrom feudal and hereditary leaders, the leadership slowly changed. From political to social. In parallel. In 1828, Raja Ram Mohan Roy formed the Brahmo Samaj. In 1875, Swami Dayanand formed the Arya Samaj. On 24th December 1892, Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari – after travelling across India. He was entertained by rajas and the रंकDadabhai Naoroji (commoners) of his day.

Then followed the political leadership. Dadabhai Naoroji’s (Congress President in 1886, 1893 1906) research and quantification of the British Loot from India started a new set of leaders against colonial rule – and a new definition of India. Tilak’s demand for ‘swaraj’ and ‘swadeshi’ Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilakgoods unnerved the colonialists. The colonial British Government deported Balgangadhar Tilak to Rangoon. He came back stronger than before. In other countries, when old leaders and rulers were removed or replaced, those countries descended into dictatorship, confusion, poverty. In India, we had wave after wave of leaders – and each time India moved forward. In a direction which has no precedents in world history.

What Happened In Other Countries

Why do Australia and Canada still acknowledge the British Queen as the head of the state? Spain has Juan Carlos I as its king! Did you know that Belgium has Albert II as it King? And Queen Beatrix rules over Holland (The Netherlands). King Akihito is venerated by the Japanese – and is the head of the state. Sweden is ruled by King Carl XVI Gustaf. Luxembourg has the Grand Duke Henri as its equivalent to a King! King Harald V lords over Norway! Queen Margrethe II rules over Denmark. The world still has quite a few monarchies – especially in the OECD. Why?

France removed and guillotined the monarchs – and they got Napoleon Bonaparte, as dictator! Russia tried – and they got 70 years of communist dictatorship. Italy asked King Victor Emmanuel III to go – and got Mussolini. The British exiled the Kaiser of Germany – and the Germans had to put up with Hitler thereafter.

Britain terminated the Turkish Ottoman Empire – and Turkey got a benign dictator, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, and then not so benign dictators – and is yet to recover! East Europe (Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Albania, etc) promptly started fighting with each other, within and without – after the kings were removed. China became communist after the last emperor – and still has a communist dictatorship. Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, most of Africa, South America – same or similar story.

This history is why Canada and Australia cling to the skirts of British Monarchy.

Republican Democracy

America became one of the first successful Republican democracies – from 1789, when George Washington became the first elected President of USA. (70 years later there was a Civil War). America survived.

Israel, (propped up by massive US aid) is another country which has been a republican democracy for more than 50 years. Switzerland (with guaranteed neutrality from the European powers) is another in modern history to survive 50 years of republican democracy. Srilanka has been another country which has survived 50 years as republican democracy – but just about.

India is the youngest Republican democracy – and we have completed a historic 50 years as republican democracy – Jan 26th 1950, till date.

Gandhiji’s Conquest

But before the republic, came the unification of India – the crowning achievement of Gandhiji. Not the political union (achieved by Sardar Patel) – but the ideological union!

Garibaldi (united Italy), Bismarck (united Germany), Simon Bolivar (liberated and united South American countries) were unifiers who succeeded with the help of armies.

Gandhiji (armed with a walking stick) unified a larger India (and Pakistan) without an army. An India and a Pakistan – bigger than what the largest empire in the history of the world, the British Empire could not conquer with its armies.

One Clean Break

To make a one clean break from the feudal-colonial past – and succeed! That is a dream – never before in the history of the world. India made history – by surviving for 50 years with a republican democracy.

In 1947, India was a feudal society with more than 500 Kings and (some) Queens at the time of Independence. (No, the British did not rule over all of modern India). Large parts of India also had to change from a colonial mindset.

How Is India Unique

However, no other country has 15 official languages.

Switzerland has only 4. Sri Lanka’s Sinhalas do not want to accept Sri Lankan Tamils as full and equal citizens – hence the 20 year old civil war.

Social Equality

The liberation of Blacks in the USA is a 1970s phenomenon. It took non-violent protests (Martin Luther King) and violent threats (Malcolm X) for some kind of real emancipation and equity to come in.

Blacks in the USA legally got full and equal liberty only in 1964 after President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act of 1964. Earlier in 1954, President Eisenhower had to send in the army (the National Guard). In the Cold War scenario, under international media glare, during the Little Rock School stand-off, Eisenhower (a Southerner himself) reacted. The Mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas closed down the school rather than de-segregate. De-segregation (between the Blacks and Whites) happened clearly and fully only by 1970-75. Non-violent protests by Martin Luther King (inspired by Gandhiji’s) till 1968 and violent threats by Malcolm X thereafter, made desegregation a reality. Not to forget Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation during the Kennedy years produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, Gandhiji’s first step, after coming back from South Africa, (many decades before India’s Independence, Unification and the creation of the Republic) was to start social reform against untouchability.

Enforcement – or Help

India and America, created their own constitutions without external enforcement. Republican democracy in Germany was imposed by the Allied Powers – hence their record is blemished.


In most countries, religion divides. In India, we are different. India has the world’s second /third largest Muslim population. The Indian Christian population is equal to that of most majority-Christian countries – excluding just a few big one like USA, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, etc. Buddhists number nearly 50 lakhs. Sikhs, Parsis (Zoorastrians), Bahais, follows their own religion. Iranians, Armenians, Jews, Chinese have come to India – when persecuted in their homelands.

Racism! Anyone?

No, thanks!

India has the Caucasoid stock – spread over the North and West India; Australoid stock spread over South India and the Mongoloid stock spread over of East and North East. There is also a very small sprinkling of the Negroid stock – less than 1%.

The Challenges Ahead

The challenges ahead are defence and economics.

India’s defence unpreparedness is beyond comprehension. Worse, is the lack of threat perception. Indians (sadly and truly) limit their threat perception to the Pakistanis – and the Chinese. with the world’s largest private reserves of gold India becomes a target. The resultant global and emerging threats are unrealised. We spend billions of dollars on buying arms all over the world – but our domestic arms industry is starving.

The second is economics. The world trade systems, financial agreements, currency management continue to drag down India – and many other countries. Navigating these uncharted waters successfully is the other.

And I am sure that another set of new leaders will arrive and take India forward to another level.

Sooner – not later.

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