The Conquest of India

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Charting the development from Commerce to Conquest in early "British India"


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Overview:The Conquest of India : 

The Conquest of India 1 Overview:The Conquest of India c1700-1757

Slide 2: 

The Conquest of India 2 The British conquest of India does not fall into any simple pattern of imperialist expansion. India was not annexed by Britain as a result of catastrophic defeat on the battle field, nor was it acquired as a result of deliberate policy by an imperial government in London. Rather what takes place is a gradual incursion by the East India Company, an incursion that culminates in the piecemeal if progressive 'capture' by its employees of the Mughal economy.

Slide 3: 

The Conquest of India 3 Wherever deprived of economic power the indigenous political orders break down and collapse. In these circumstances the East India Company steps in to provide a degree of administrative continuity, eventually acquiring political control. Think about the steps that led to and the impulses that underlay the East India Company's metamorphosis from joint stock trading company to political overlord of an expanding Indian domain.


The Conquest of India 4 THE BRITISH CONQUEST OF INDIA [1740-1784] * Problem: Does the British conquest of India fit into any stereotypical explanation of imperialist expansion? i.e. J.A. Hobson: Faceless financier class responsible. V.I. Lenin: Monopoly stage of capitalism

Slide 5: 

The Conquest of India 5 1600-1740 English [in form of East India Company [EICo] establish a tentative trading position In effect, balance of power resided with Indian rulers So too did balance of trade. EICo allowed to trade in India on sufferance. Circa 1700 Indian power begins to weaken Mughal Empire in decline after death of Aurangzeb (1707)

Slide 6: 

The Conquest of India 6 Political instability results French Factor: Dupleix's Agenda Result: English begin the process of fortification/Defence They fortify their three major settlements: Fort William [Bengal] Fort St George [Madras] Bombay Castle Balance of Power noticeably shifts. India ripe for imperial picking; but why should EICo contemplate harvesting it?


The Conquest of India 7 HISTORIOGRAPHICAL EXPLANATION FOR BRITISH INCURSION 1740 i) J.R. Seeley [c1870]: India won by Britain in 'a fit of absent-mindedness'. British-based interests [Directors of EICo and Government] do not want conquest/war costly business bad for profits * But what about the 'Men on the Spot'? Hastings? Clive? Do they show any restraint?


The Conquest of India 8 SEELEY EQUATION: EMPIRE = ACT OF DISOBEDIENCE ii) Percival Spear [c1950] : British can be seen as the 'victims of circumstance' Consider the various circumstances EICo had to react to * Are circumstances outside British control? Are circumstances the determining variable?


The Conquest of India 9 SPEAR EQUATION: EMPIRE RESULTS FROM POWER VACUUM iii) Common position: India the prize to be won in an Anglo-French Conflict iv) Factor of 'loot': Economic incursion - process of: 'Indians can only use British ships' Farmans: British freed from paying duties Acquisition of Revenue-bearing provinces : how? Examples: a) Clive at top b) Bolts at bottom Plunder: the rule of the day?

Slide 10: 

The Conquest of India 10 v) Marshall P.J.: Coercion = Conquest EICo always used coercion (i.e.:blockading of ports) Its acquisition of army made coercion more overt. Commerce always involves element of coercion. As Indigenous Power crumbles EICo installs receivers. India in effect put into receivership.


The Conquest of India 11 CONQUEST RATIFIED BY CONSCIENCE EICo employees resort to wholesale plunder. Bankruptcy results. Parliament embarks on salvaging operation: Why? British business acumen on the line 1769-72: Bengal Famine. 10 million perish Burke v Hastings. An 11 year vendetta Conscience of Britain aroused. Belief that British government must institute a constitution to protect India.


The Conquest of India 12 HENCE PITT'S INDIA ACT - SCAFFOLDING OF EMPIRE This Act settles the Constitutional Problem for 75 years - until the Mutiny of 1857] England - India Board of Control [a Cabinet watch-dog body] Parliament appoints Gov-General and officials (Admin role) consultations with EICo Directors - Patronage - EICo Employees Shareholders - trade role - (no say in Pol/Admin functions of EICo in India) Result: Ultimate power jointly held by a) President of Board of Control b) Gov-General - a system of DUAL CONTROL [lasts till 1857]

Tutorial Questions to Address : 

The Conquest of India 13 Tutorial Questions to Address 1. Evaluate the various interpretations concerning the conquest: J.R. Seeley's, P. Spear's, P. Marshall's (see article). 2. The French connection:What role did Anglo-French rivalry and the imperial vision of Dupleix have in the story? 3. Shaking of the Pagoda tree:To what extent were greed and plunder the critical factors informing English expansion and Indian collapse?

Bibliography : 

The Conquest of India 14 Bibliography S. Arasaratnam, 'Trade and Political Dominion in South India, 1750-1790: Changing British-Indian Relationships', Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 13, 1, 1979 P.J. Marshall, 'Reappraisal: The Rise of British Power in Eighteenth Century India', South Asia, Vol.xix, no.1 (1996) P.J. Marshall, 'British Expansion in India in the Eighteenth Century', History, Vol. 60, 168, 1975 [BOOK 3] M.T. Berger, 'Review Essay: From Commerce to Conquest. The Dynamics of British Mercantile Imperialsim in Eighteenth Century Bengal and the Foundations of the British Indian Empire', Bulletin of Asian Scholars, Vol.22, 1 (1990). B. Stein, 'Eighteenth Century India: Another View', Studies in History, Vol.5 (1) (1989)

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