British Political Control in South Asia
A number of factors interplayed to usher in and encourage the
establishment of British political control in south Asia. The collapsing
centralized political power, rivalry between European rivals and
Mughal`s neglect of some parts of India helped the British establish
control over India. The economic superiority of the British favored them
in the endeavor to exercise control over South Asia. The British navy
turned Indian factions against each other thus did not need to fight
hard to subdue them. This paper discusses these and other aspects of how
and why the British established political control in South Asia.
Trade was the main thing that attracted the British, alongside other
European powers, to South Asia. Incorporation of the British East India
Company was Britain`s first step upon arrival in India. In 1612 CE, a
war broke out between the British and the Portuguese in which Britain
won. After conquering Portugal, the British established a factory in
Surat after driving out the Portuguese. In 1618 CE, Sir Thomas Roe
received a permit to operate the factory authorized by Jahangir, the
Mughal Emperor. The British war with the Portuguese carried on till 1622
CE when Britain won Homruz over and toppled Portuguese rule in Oman.
This gave the British control over the routes of the Indian Ocean trade
British started by trading indigo in Sarkhej and gradually proceeded to
Agra and Coromandal Coast as the demand for the commodity increased.
They expanded their trade to accommodate Lahri Bandar that came from
Lahore and Multan and saltpetre coming from Bihar. As their trading
endeavor grew, they put up trading stations in Balasore, Orrisa, and
Hoogly, Bengal (Bose & Jalal, 2003). This trade made the Indian economy
boom with each progressive success. Indian merchants made it easy for
the British as the small profits that the British gave them were enough.
Gradually, the British started engaging Indian ships in the
transportation of their goods. Before long, the industry that built
Indian ships boomed and led to several effects.
One of these effects was the weakening of traditional Indian ties due
to the rise in prices of commodities. Greed and money-mindedness
preoccupied the members of the nobility making them exert unnecessary
demands on their subjects. The business of money lending emerged and the
lenders gained control of important affairs of leadership. They targeted
chieftains with an attempt to weaken and topple Mughal authority. This
endeavor attracted the British who had the hope of freeing themselves
from their dependence on the Mughals (Dirks, 2001). The goal of the
British was to secure trade interests through political control, and
bankers and moneylenders were their potential allies.
The British got access to places that the Mughal power could not reach.
They lured the chieftains with promises of luxuries, silver, and gold
thus gaining much influence over them. In 1611 CE, the influence helped
the British to open a factory in Masulipatnam (Deutschmann, 2011). In
1639 CE, they won favor with the local raja who gave them a lease of
Madras, and they built Fort St George. The Marathas threatened the Surat
British base due to their influence in the region. The British moved
their headquarters to Bombay after the Portuguese sold them the islands.
It was in 1686 CE that the British felt strong enough to launch a war
against the Mughal leadership (Sarkar, 2004).
Emperor Aurangazeb fought back at the British and defeated them and
confiscated their factories located in Masulipatnam, Visakapatnam and
Surat. The British pleaded for pardon after the Emperor took siege of
Bombay. Emperor Aurangazeb pardoned them but fined them so as to
continue ripping the economic benefits that came from British trade. In
1691CE, the British approached the emperor, and he granted them
Govindpur, Kalikata and Sutanati. After receiving these villages, the
British built fort Williams that later became Calcutta. For a good
period, Emperor Aurangazeb managed to regulate the activities of the
British and those of moneylenders.
He died in 1707, and his successor, Emperor Farrukh Siyar, lacked his
courage and resolve. This is manifests in the emperor`s decision to
confirm the privileges given to the British in 1659. He did not stop at
that but proceeded to extend them to Deccan and Gujarat. As this
happened, Alivardi Khan and Murshid Quli Khan, strong Nawabs seized
Bengal. The Nawabs introduced strict control on the British and the East
India Company. In other parts of India, the French endeavored to put up
their trading posts so as to have a share of the Indian trade. The
French discovered the lack of political control in the south India and
endeavored to fill the gap (Johnson and Johnson, 2008).
The French tricked Indian prices and they turned against each other
thus getting time to amass territorial, commercial, and monetary favors
from the one who won. This challenged the British to deal with the
Indians in the same way so as to counter French influence. The British
triumphed in the Anglo-French war supported by the resources they
obtained from Bengal. The collapse of the Mughal Empire and the defeat
of the French gave the British a gateway into political supremacy.
Consequently, the British controlled activities in Bengal and defied the
rules of the Nawab Siraj ud Dawlah. Eventually, the British ceased
paying taxes to the Nawabs and instead, they levied duties on the
commodities coming into Calcutta (Bandyopadhyay, 2004).
The East India Company strengthened the walls of Calcutta and did not
stop when ordered so by the Nawabs. Fearing for the loss of control,
Siraj ud Dawlah took siege of British factory located in Kasimbazar and
occupied fort William and the city of Calcutta. The British fled and
plotted on how to regain their control over the Indians. They won over
prominent Nawabs including Manik Chand, Mir Bakshi and Mir Jafar who
controlled the Nawab courts. The British got funding from rich Indian
merchants including Jagat Seth (Bose & Jalal, 2003). In 1757, the
British fought the opposing Indian emperor and emerged victorious after
capturing and killing Siraj ud Dawlah. Mir Jafar rose to leadership, but
he gave up after seeing the difficulty of fulfilling the demands of the
The reign of Mir Jafar`s successor was short-lived because the British
overthrew him after he attempted to control their influence. British
victory in the war between the East India Company`s army and the Nawab
of Awadh confirmed the strength of the political control in India. They
continued to expand their reign to many parts of India using treachery.
The governor general who reigned over the British Empire between 1798
and 1805 used two methods. One of these methods is outright wars where
he forced the losers to submit to the British (Dirks, 2001). Subsidiary
alliance involved Indian rulers posting British residents without
negotiating with other rulers. Using subsidiary alliance, the British
promised protection to those rulers who cooperated. The idea helped the
British disband local armies and empower their army with funding from
Indian rulers (Sarkar, 2004).
The East India Company reckoned the cost involved in maintaining a
large army that would suffice the need to maintain order in South Asia.
Besides the challenge of the cost, the existence of two armies proved to
be a challenge. The British government ran one of the armies and the
East India Company ran the other. The East India Company faced a couple
of challenges including the lack of a mechanism of punishing soldiers in
martial courts. The company also lacked the ability to recruit more
members into the army on a wide scale (Deutschmann, 2011). The British
government restricted the capacity of the company to enlarge their
armies. The company decided to recruit Indians into the military and
train them without telling the British government. The company called
the native Indian soldiers sepoys.
The East India Company made the entry into military service open and
voluntary to native Indians. The Indians joined military service due to
economic reasons such as failure of crops and difficulty in earning a
decent living. The company gave its soldiers more that what civilians
could afford including good food, clothing and shelter. Soldiers
interested in making a career got a chance to advance in both payment
and rank. The company encouraged sensitivity to religion and culture of
native Indian soldiers. It allowed sepoys the time and freedom to
participate in religious activities (Johnson and Johnson, 2008). The
company required British officers in charge of sepoys to have knowledge
of the cultural backgrounds of their soldiers.
These officers toured the regions of origin of the soldiers and took
the time to learn their culture and religion. Some participated in the
religious activities so as to understand the religious beliefs of their
soldiers. The sepoys cooperated and proved reliable and trustworthy
until they rebelled in 1875. The British government noted that the
recruitment of sepoys into the military was dangerous and could enable
them fight against the British. With this knowledge, the British
government took way the power of East Indian Company to have armies.
This gave the government direct and sole control of military power in
India (Knight, 2012). The government formed the Peel Commission helped
minimize the ratio of native Indian soldiers to British soldiers. The
British maintained a strong army even after establishing firm political
control over India.
In conclusion, there are things that encouraged the British to conquer
South Asia and exert political supremacy in the region. The progress of
British East India Company in India preceded the interests of the
British government in the region. The gullibility of the Indians helped
the British, and other interested forces to turn them against each
other. The success of the British in trade gave them an advantage in the
endeavor to exert political control in South Asia. The British used this
strategy to weaken the Mughal Emperor and establish their influence
among the nobility. The army formed by the East India Company helped the
British in battles and fortified the endeavor of the British. The
British government thwarted the rise of any opposing forces using many
strategies. These strategies include outright wars, subsidiary alliance
and treachery. Despite the Sepoy Rebellion and a number of other threats
to expansion, the British managed to establish their rule over East
Bandyopadhyay, S. (2004). From Plassey to partition: A history of modern
India. New Delhi: Orient Longman.
Bose, S., & Jalal, A. (2003). Modern South Asia: History, culture,
political economy. New York: Routledge.
. München: GRIN Verlag GmbH.
Dirks, N. B. (2001). Castes of mind: Colonialism and the making of
modern India. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
Knight, L. (2012). Britain in India, 1858-1947. London: Anthem Press.
Sarkar, S. (2004). Modern India. New Delhi: Macmillan.
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