THE COMING OF THE BRITISH
The English people have always been good sailors. At the time of which we are talking, they had the best navy in Europe. If the Portuguese and the Hollanders can sail to India and make large profits in trade, why cannot we? they said to themselves.
THE EAST INDIA COMPANY
A group of merchants formed the East India Company and went to queen Elizabeth I, and got her permission to trade with the countries of the East.
The ships of the East India Company first landed at Surat, which was a large port and a rich city in those days. Emperor Jahangir allowed British traders to put up warehouses to keep the spices, indigo and the cloth they bought in India and the woollen cloth, tin, and iron, which they brought from England to sell in exchange.
After Surat, the English merchants built trading posts at Madras, Calcutta and Bombay. At that time, these big cities of today were only small villages for which the English had to pay very little. They bought Madras from a raja. When they were firmly settled in the south, they set up factories on the river Hooghly in Bengal. This was the beginning of Calcutta. The way the English got Bombay is an interesting story. The king of England married a Portuguese princess and was given Bombay with her dowry. It was then a small fishing village about which hardly anyone knew. The king rented out the village to the East India Company for only 130 rupees a year!
The condition of India was disturbed at this time, because the Mughal Empire had become very weak. Nobody bothered about the emperor. The Marathas were quarrelling amongst themselves. This encouraged the English to decide to stay on in India. They began to change from traders to rulers, and sent out the riches of the land to their own country. India began to lose its independence bit by bit.
The British built forts round their settlements and began to keep soldiers and guns to guard themselves. Very soon their forts became strong and their armies more powerful than those of the Indian princes.
The English traders took away most of the trade from the hands of their European rivals, the Portuguese and the Dutch. Only the French remained. The French had also set up trading centres and built forts at Pondicherry and some other places. The leader of the French in India was a very able man called Dupleix. He had dreams of building a French Empire in India. The leader of the English, Robert Clive, was even cleverer and wanted to take India for the British. When he came to India he was only a clerk in the East India Company. But he soon became the leader of the English in India. Both the English and the French tried to gain power by taking sides with Indian princes and hiring out their armies to them, so that little by little the Indian princes became weak and powerless. In these tactics, the British succeeded more than the French.
THE BEGINNING OF A NEW EMPIRE
Robert Clive was an adventurous boy. He came to India against his father's wish, to work as a clerk for the East India Company. He used to sit in a hot, crowded office, writing on files, but his thoughts were far away. He wanted to wield a sword instead of a pen.
Clive saw that the Indian rulers were quarrelling amongst themselves. Like the clever monkey in the story of the cats who fought over a piece of bread, he began to take part in these quarrels. Each time he got away with some advantage for England. The monkey in the story, pretending to divide the bread absolutely equally, kept weighing it, and biting off a piece from the heavier bit, until there was nothing left for the cats!
THE TALE OF ARCOT
One of the first quarrels in which Clive took part was between Chanda Sahib and Muhammad Ali. They were Powerful nobles who wanted to sit on the throne of Arcot in the south. Chanda Sahib asked the French to help him. Muhammad Ali asked the British. Both the French and the British gladly agreed as it gave them a chance to fight each other. They were rivals not only in India but even in their home countries in Europe at that time.
Chanda Sahib and the French surrounded Muhammad Alis fort. Clive did not have many soldiers and knew he could not fight his way through to Muhammad Ali. Instead, he went with 300 sepoys and 200 British soldiers to Arcot, which Chanda Sahib had left without any defence. When Chanda Sahib heard what Clive had done, he was very upset. He left Muhammad Ali's fort and rushed to Arcot, but could not win it back. The British brought Muhammad Ali to Arcot, put him on the throne, and declared him the Nawab. But, of course, he was not a real Nawab. The British made him do whatever they wanted.
The soldiers who had come from England only to look after the British merchants and their property now began to fight battles with Indian rulers. Slowly the British became the most powerful people in the south.
THE BATTLE OF PLASSEY
In those days there were no railways and Bengal was far off. Siraj-ud-daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, did not like what the British had done in the south. He ordered them to take down the guns on their fort at Calcutta. The British officers of the Company refused to obey him. The Nawab attacked and captured the fort.
When news of this reached Madras, Clive decided to go to Calcutta. He sailed up the river Hooghly and met the Nawab's forces on the field of Plassey. The British had sent a secret offer to the Nawab's general that they would make him the Nawab if he let his master down. The general betrayed his master and the British won an easy victory.
The battle of Plassey is famous in our history because after it the British became the greatest power in India.
The Nawab was killed and the British put his traitorous general on the throne. He had to give them many presents in money and land. The servants of the Company were greedy and never seemed to be satisfied. When the general had nothing left to give them, they got rid of hirn, and put another prince on the throne. The prince did not like the ways of the British. He asked the Mughal king of Delhi and the Nawab of Oudh to help him. But even their combined forces were not strong enough and were defeated by the British.
After this victory, the British demanded that they rule Bengal along with the Nawab. The weak Mughal emperor, who was king only in name, had to agree. He granted them the Diwani of Bengal. And so, the English merchants became rulers. This joint rule was very bad because neither the Nawab nor the English did anything for the people except take money from them. There was great misery and famine in the land.
The King of England was very pleased with Clive for what he had done for his country. Clive was given the title of Lord and was made the first Governor of Bengal.
When his term was over, Clive went back to England. He had become old. Although he had done everything to build the British empire in India, some people in England did not like the way he had acted. He was accused of being cruel and dishonest. He became very sad and miserable and finally killed himself.