Chaos in India

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries various factors combined to start the downfall of the Mughal dynasty, which had ruled most of India with a steady hand since Babur (the Tiger) and Humayun in the sixteenth century. It started with gradual overspending which weakened their ability to fund a good defense, and the spark that really got the decline going was Aurangzeb's policy of intolerance of the Hindus and other non Muslims. This incited many revolts especially by the Sikhs and the Marathas.

Not long before these events the British East India Company (BEIC) had begun trading in India. It was originally a group of merchants wanting to take advantage of the new market. In 1601 Elizabeth gave them exclusive rights to trade in the Indies. The British decided to go in at that time because the power of Portuguese trade was seriously declining. However, the Dutch already had monopolized the objects of their ambitions, the Spice Islands. In 1623 when the Dutch massacred a group of English traders the English stopped trading on Dutch territory and focused more on India. Here they established trading cities. These eventually grew into major cities and centers of culture for India.

The first real contact the British had with the Indians came when Jahangir, the Mughal emperor, gave the British permission to open a trading port and factory at Masulipatnam, a port town on the Bay of Bengal. The British trading ports grew and with that the Company had more wealth and power. In 1641 they set up a major factory at Madras and in 1688 they bought Bombay from Charles II, who had received it from his Portuguese wife. Soon after this, in 1691, Aurangzeb ascended to the throne through means of intrigue and murder. The Company then launched an attack on the empire. Aurangzeb quickly crushed their attack, but afterwards they founded Calcutta, a city in the Northeast with a fortified factory. From here on, even with a win in battle, the Mughal Empire's power would decline, while the British would grow in power and wealth.

The Rise of British Power

In the eighteenth century the rulers after Aurangzeb were all weak and many of them were rumored to have been opium addicts. Their funds had run out and so had any support from the people. The Marathas were gradually undermining the empire and had taken most of the Mughal State. Much of the rest of the Mughal State was broken up into various territories ruled by various princes and many of these states were being conquered by Afghan and Persian kings.

It was now that the BEIC's power, and the cities they had founded, started to grow. However, the French Company founded by Colbert under Louis IV, was doing the same thing. The French Company was a small had been a small venture until, led by Dupleix and Dumas around 1720, it started a rapid growth in India. By 1740 the French Company's income from India was ten times that of what it was in 1720, and it was now competing with England. The conflict between these two European powers was waiting to be set off.

In 1740 Frederick II "the Great" of Prussia, largely as a rebellion against his dead father, invaded Silesia, an Austrian territory. This sparked a giant conflict, the War of the Austrian Succession, in which Britain sided with Austria and France with Prussia. Not only did the companies have reason to fight over profits, but also each company was closely tied in with the state and received large amounts of funding from the state. Therefore the companies were now at war, and in 1746 France captured Madras. The English led some failed counterattacks, but got Madras back at the end of the war for some North American territory.

Dupleix had now seen how powerful his forces were and saw an opportunity to continue his fight with the English. In 1748 the Nizam of Hyderabad, the state that controlled most of southern India, had died and there was a conflict over the new Nizam's appointee for the governor of the Carnatic. The Carnatic was the region surrounding British Madras, and therefore was important to the French. Through the use of some bribery and extortion Dupleix made sure that the Nizam's candidate was defeated and that the governor was quite partial to the French. This was so easy for him that he went for more. Dupleix had the new Nizam assassinated and backed a new candidate with his military. The British had to support the other candidate, Muhammad Ali, who had hidden in a fortress at Trichinopoly that was now being besieged by the French and their candidate's forces.

Despite these odds, the British managed to pullout victorious under the leadership of a new general, Robert Clive, who showed remarkable talent as a general, using tactics and bribes. When the Seven Years War (1756-63) broke out the British and French were openly at war and Clive decisively defeated the French. Then the French backed Nawab of Bengal, who had temporarily captured Calcutta. The Nawab (Nawabs were deputies/governors in the Mughal empire but he was independent now) of Bengal had a much larger army than that of Clive, but Clive got around that problem by bribing the Nawab's great uncle and most of his army. He then installed Mir Jafar, the great uncle, as a puppet head of Bengal. This largely set the way for the conquering of India, and the following leaders would use similar methods of bribery and extortion.

After a few years in England, Clive returned largely as an administrator of this new territory. He set up some restrictions on the plundering by the British that had by now almost ruined Bengal and limited the extortion of the local officials somewhat. However, he did not do anything about all the money that every British official and merchant were skimming off the top. This led to the Company amassing a huge debt and having to get a large loan from the Bank of England.

The government then decided that it should regulate the company's rule and efficiency by having a governor of India. The first of these was Warren Hastings, who set up a real British government and expanded the Company's territory. He first replaced the Indian government and tax collectors with British officials, making it part of the empire. He also got rid of all independent British merchants and regulated the trade taxes. Hastings also held back the Marathas from running over British territory.

After this came a period of expansion in British lands in India. Some of this was done by the wars waged on their enemies such as the Marathas, Sikhs, the Tipu of Mysore, and Haider Ali. Many of these wars were waged in the fashion of Clive's victory at Plassey; they bought off the enemies and funded their own armies with money they had made either by exploiting the Indian people or by extorting the friendly governments. Through these means the company obtained Mysore, Sind, Punjab, and Nepal by 1850. However, this does not explain how they obtained the land they had got from friendly countries. The method for this was the Doctrine of Lapse, devised in 1848 by the Earl of Dalhousie. This stated that the Company had the right to assume leadership in any neighboring state that had a lapse of power, primarily when a ruler died without a direct heir. This doctrine not only tried to give some false sense of legitimacy to the British rule, but it also took advantage of the internal political turmoil in India.

Through this method the British obtained many states such as Sambalpur, Baghat, Jhansi, Nagpur, and Oudh. This policy left behind the would-be adopted heirs, who were often still somewhat powerful and popular. This was one factor leading to discontent with the British in the mid-nineteenth century. Another large factor was the cost of this expansion, which was tremendous, and therefore the taxes went up.

Other factors less related to the Doctrine of Lapse came from the Industrial Revolution, which was going on in Britain at the time. This provided England with new cheap labor and manufacturing sources from within, which in turn eliminated the need for the Indian cottage industries, thus putting many out of work. Now, the British were more interested in India's natural resources and less in their manpower. Also, now many sepoys, Indian soldiers making up a European army, were now being used to build railroads, a grueling and laborious task that America kindly reserved for the Chinese.

These factors combined to create a lot of anti-British sentiment among the native Indians. The gasoline was out and all it needed now was a spark. This came in 1857, when a new type of paper powder cartridge, which was opened by biting, was issued to the sepoys. An oil coating protected the paper, and the word got out that this oil was animal fat, which it was (Revision: sources are conflicted over this. As far as I can tell, no one is sure what the source of the oil was). The only two types of animal fat that the British would have possibly used came from either cows or pigs. If it was cows, all the Hindu soldiers were ingesting their sacred animal, and if it was pig, all the Muslims were eating this vile, unkosher meat. However, because it was and still is not known if it was from cows or pigs, they all rebelled against the British rule, which after all its injustices had finally tricked them into offending their own religions. On May 10th, 1857, sepoy armies marched to Delhi and placed Bahadur Shah, the Mughal, on the throne of the Indian Empire.

This rebellion had some unintentional bad effects also, in that it changed the way the British officers viewed Indians as a whole. From this point on the British always regarded their subjects not only as inferior, but also as enemies, never to be trusted. And likewise the Indians often viewed the British as selfish deceivers, here only in the interest to make money. The latter opinion was usually truthful.

Unfortunately or fortunately, this state would not last longer than a year. The British had more money, better training, and more organization. Other things against the Indians were the roles of the intellectuals and common people. They did not use a universal draft and India did not have a strong sense of nationalism, therefore the average person was uninvolved with this conflict. Also, Indian intellectuals could not help build the state and army because in India a scholar would either go to England to be taught the English imperialistic view or got to an Indian university based on those in England and taught largely by Englishmen. Therefore most scholars were not nationalists. By mid-1858 Britain had recaptured Delhi and convicted Bahadur Shah of treason.

The Raj

The first thing that was done after the shock of this event was over was for the Queen declare India as part of the British empire and disbanded the British East India Company. There were also a number of reforms that went along with this transfer of power.

The Army of Bengal was completely restocked, mostly from Europeans. They reorganized the Battalions, division sizes, and locations of various groups and everything else to think of. They drastically reduced artillery. The gap between officers and enlisted men was narrowed (in terms of living conditions, day to day contact, and status). It was done largely on the line of making it harder to desert or rebel, and making the connections between all soldiers closer.

Financially some of the big reforms were an income tax, a ten-percent revenue tariff, convertible paper currency, and annual budget reports. They also redid the budget to eliminate the deficit. The government finally had an income that measured the health of the economy and supported its growth. These measures boosted the economy greatly especially now that the Company did not control all trade. On the other hand, this economy's life was still little else than British exportation; therefore the actual Indian people kept getting poorer, especially now that India was industrializing to some extent.

While these reforms kept India stable and productive for half a century, they were really just serving the British, just like everything else the British had ever done in India. The Indians were still being exploited, but by then the British had influenced the Indians and aspects of western culture started to show up in India. Nationalism, one of the things the British had taught the Indians, would now come back to haunt the British.


Indians began more and more to see what the British really wanted from India in these times. These times were good for the British, so this could have been a time for progress. However, the British tried hard to restrict liberal or nationalist views. Lord Lytton passed a law banning the vernacular presses, thus restricting the communication between Indians and repressing Indian culture. Another thing that outraged Indians was when the British rejected a bill that would have allowed Indians and British to be tried equally in court.

In response to these injustices Indian intellectuals formed the Indian National Congress (I.C.S.) in 1885. They were the voice of the Indian people and they protested for better rights for Indians and equal treatment. Soon after the I.C.S was formed, other groups sprang up around India, most of them openly violent revolutionaries. There were three main leaders of these radicals: Lala Lajpat Raj in Punjab, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Maharashtra, and Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal. They were known together as Lal - Bal - Pal.

In 1905 the British, in response to the increasing number of uprisings in Bengal, partitioned Bengal on Muslim/Hindu boundaries. The hope was that the new conflict between the Muslims and the Hindus would be more important than the Nationalist movement. This move would be the end of the British Empire in India. (Chatterjee, pg. 460)

All of the nationalist groups reacted negatively to the partition. The normal population now backed the nationalist radical groups, and the groups had their demands. Two major pillars of the nationalists were Swadashi and Swaraj. Swadashi meant that Indians should buy Indian made goods, instead of exporting their wealth. Swaraj meant self-rule, which was pretty much a new thing to India.

Under these two principals, the Home Rule League was started. It was widely supported by Indians and the British could not ignore it when it demanded that the British turn the state over to Indians right after WWI. The I.N.C. requested independent rule also, at the Congress of Lucknow, at which the moderates and extremists in the congress were united. WWI was another factor in the growth of Indian Nationalism. The British kept promising reforms and then taking more Indians to fight in a war that they had nothing to do with.

As Indian protesting grew so did the British promises of reform, but when the war ended, all they gave were a few moderate reforms, and continued to massacre protestors occasionally. During this time and extraordinary figure came on to the scene

Mohandas Ghandi was a middle class Indian who was educated in England and had lived for many years in South Africa. In England he met various white people who were sick of modern England and what it stood for, and in South Africa he saw how the British really thought of their subjects and how strong the racism was. He came back to India in 1915 and started the Satyagraha, or non-violent, protest movement. He lived like a saint and never advocated any violent move. He was imprisoned for some of his protests of British rule in 1923. Even from jail he held fasts to protest Hindu-Muslim violence and the British encouragement of it.

In 1930 Ghandi started the civil disobedience act by breaking the laws protecting the British salt trade. This movement caught on throughout India, and thousands were imprisoned for it. In 1931 the British met with Ghandi in London to discuss the nationalists demands. However, little progress was made and Ghandi was soon arrested again. In 1942 Ghandi began the Quit India movement which said that Indians must protest British rule with their lives, that they must „do or die.‰ The I.N.C planned it to be non-violent but when the entire congress was arrested the people were outraged. There were huge violent uprisings all across India. These fights were not just between the British and the Indians, but also unfortunately between Hindus and Muslims. This meant that although the British could no longer rule India, India could no longer be one. In 1947, the new Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, gave up the Crown Jewel of the British Empire, but India became two separate nations, India and Pakistan. During this divide, thousands were killed and many more were forced out of their homes. However the dust settled and now, though it is still faced with problems such as famine, overpopulation, and class division, India is the largest democracy in the world.

Chatterjee, Atul Chandra; Moreland, W. H.; (1936-1967), A Short History of India.
Roberts, P. E.; (1921-1958), History of British India.
Spear, Percival; (1956-1975), India.
Spear, Percival; (1965-1982), A History of India II.
British India,
The History of the British in India,
Manas: History and Politics, British India

Note: I wrote the paper about a year ago from noding time for a high school history class. I liked it at the time, though I'm not sure if I've ever read it. I don't usually read what I write. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions.
Node Your Homework.

This is an essay I wrote for my history class.

How Did the World Wars Affect British-Indian Relations?

1. The background: British India

British colonial rule in India had a modest beginning. It first came about in the form of the East India Company, which was incorporated by royal charter in 1600, but did not differ markedly from the other European companies operating in the Indian subcontinent. Its importance grew as more Britons arrived to form small armies to protect the trading posts of the Company and construct fortresses for it. Britain was successful in enlarging its control of India a little at a time - for example, they secured territory and a taxation right in Bengal by means of intrigue.

The year 1857 marks a turning point in Indian history, as the Sepoy mutiny of Indian soldiers began then. It took the colonial authorities almost two years to quell the rebellion, but it made them realize the administrative defects of the Company. This meant the transfer of power from the Company to the Crown. Queen Victoria was crowned Empress of India, and the thereto highest-ranking official in India, the Governor General, was made Viceroy. Now about one-third of the area of present-day India came under direct control of the British. The rest of India was divided into so-called maharaja counties with their own rulers.

The basis of British rule in India was the reliance on local leaders whom the populace trusted. Even though British interests varied from time to time, and the important Indians they relied on changed too, in general India was kept rather peaceful, and thereby its resources could be utilized efficiently. However, support for Indian independence did exist, as the Sepoy mutiny shows, and they grew as time went by. The two world wars added to these decisively, thus changing British-Indian relations irrevocably.

2. The First World War: economic crisis and Indian nationalism

One could think that the First World War did not affect India notably, as its most important events took place in Europe. However, Great Britain played a significant role in that war fighting alongside France, Russia, and the United States against Germany, and it wanted to utilize the vast resources of its colonial empire in the war effort. This naturally meant using the resources of India, as it was perhaps the most important part of the empire beyond Great Britain itself.

As India is one of the most populous countries in the world, it was natural that the British authorities wanted to recruit men to work for the war effort there. By the end of 1919 1,5 million people had been drafted in India. About 1 400 000 of them were sent overseas to help the Allies, either to fight in actual battles or to serve in other ways. This had a strengthening effect on nationalist feeling in India, as Indian soldiers were seen fighting alongside British and other white troops.

An important effect of the First World War on British-Indian relations was the discontent among the Indian population caused by the negative impact of the war on the Indian economy. In addition to providing troops, India assisted Britain monetarily - India spent about £146 million on the First World War. It should be noted that India's contribution was increased annually: in 1916-17 the amount spent by the Indian administration on the army rose by 16 per cent, in 1917-18 by 14 per cent, and in 1918-1919 by ten per cent. The war also caused a decrease in foreign imports to India, and in addition decreased exports therefrom. This stopped a potential boom in Indian exports, which probably would have occurred, as other countries wanted to get their hands on the great resources of the subcontinent. Because of these reasons prices rose sharply - according to an official survey the prices of exports rose an average of 190 per cent, and prices of Indian goods rose by 60 per cent.

The war affected the average Indian mostly by the increase in taxes needed to fund the war effort and the rise in prices. These factors caused large-scale resentment, and had quick political consequences. Even though in places the war actually had positive economic effects, as many local factories made great profits in the absence of foreign competitors, its negative impact was so much greater that violent clashes did occur. In some regions there was violence caused by lack of food, and in some areas the local officials went on strike. Fortunately for Great Britain, the troubles remained local, and there was no nation-wide uprising. Had such a rebellion occurred, the British authorities would not have been able to do much, there being only a few troops stationed in India, as the majority was needed for the war. This illustrates that the British position in India was rather precarious at this time, and it was weakened further by the growing anti-British sentiment and demands for independence, thereby moving British-Indian relations one step towards the relations of two independent nations.

In Europe, and later in America, the war was defended in the eyes of the public by saying that it was about defending the rights of peoples and the sanctity of international agreements. This gave impetus to Indian claims to independence, affecting British-Indian relations. Many Indians were of the opinion that because the purpose of the war was defending the rights of peoples and because India contributed to the war effort in a major way, its position should be re-evaluated. The Indian politician Surendranath Banerjea said:

"What is this war for? Why are these numerous sufferings endured? Because, it is a war of re-adjustment, a war that will set right the claims of minor nationalities --"

3. The Second World War: anti-colonialism and offer of independence

Several colonial powers were dealt severe blows in the Second World War, weakening their position and making them less keen to cling on to their independence-desiring colonies. It was also seen that smaller nations could hold their own against Western superpowers, as Japan was able to cause a lot of trouble to the United States. The anti-colonial sentiment so prevalent after the Second World War was also strengthened by the Atlantic Charter signed by Great Britain and the United States, in which the principle of self-determination of each people was endorsed.

India entered the war on the side of Great Britain when Viceroy Lord Linlithgow said so - nobody asked the Indians. This caused some resentment, but the Indians did not decline to co-operate, but wanted to know Britain's aims in the war as relevant to India. Was this really a war against fascism or was it a new imperialistic war after which colonial rule would continue as before? Great Britain did not answer, and Indian politicians refused to co-operate in the war effort.

As the Japanese made progress in Asia and the United States demanded British support in the region, it became evident to the British leadership that something had to be done about the situation in India. An answer had to be given, and it was, but when Lord Linlithgow read the document stating the Empire's aims in the war, he resigned. The former British ambassador to the Soviet Union, Sir Stanford Cripps, was willing to fly to India as the representative of Great Britain, however, and negotiate a reasonable compromise. Cripps was a friend of the notable Indian politician Nehru, and supported India's political ambitions. He thought his mission might succeed, but because of the action - or rather inaction - of the Viceroy the so-called Cripps offer failed. The Viceroy did not announce his approval of the plan, which virtually guaranteed the independence of India on the condition that she fully support Britain in the war. Linlithgow was of the opinion that no new arraignments should be made with regard to India, and he wrote to Prime Minister Churchill complaining that Cripps was trying to take away his constitutional powers.

4. Conclusion

The clearest way in which the world wars affected British-Indian relations was the speeding-up of India's process of becoming independent - in important ways, the wars moved the relations of these countries from those of colony and colonial master to those of two independent states. The First World War gave evidence of Indians being as good on the field of battle as white troops, thus giving strength to nationalist feeling and raising doubts about colonial rule. A similar effect was caused by Allied propaganda which propounded that the war was anti-imperialistic and about protecting the rights of all peoples, which of course invigorated Indian hopes for independence, as India partook in the war on the Allied side. Perhaps the most important reason for a new lack of belief in the justification of British rule in India was the economic crisis caused by the war. Inflation was rampant, and a potential boom in Indian exports never came about. Indians grew unsatisfied with the way the British were handling their affairs, which speeded-up the process of India's independence.

After the Second World War, India's independence was quite inevitable, as it had been promised in the Cripps offer. Great Britain was also not quite the world power it had been, as it had suffered great losses in the war. Global sentiment was also against colonialism after the war, which naturally strengthened Indian claims to independence. The Indian politician Madan Mohan Malaviya said that the First World War caused Indian independence to come about fifty years before it otherwise would have, and it is very probable that the Second World War had a similar effect. As India became independent in 1947, I would venture to assert that the world wars had an essential effect on British-Indian relations, speeding up the process of Indian independence, whose beginnings can already be seen in the Sepoy mutiny.


Asimov, Isaac, 1991. Asimov's Chronology of the World (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, N.Y., United States)
Brown, Judith M., 1985. Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy (Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom)
Kulke, Hermann & Rothermund, Dietmar, 1986. A History of India (Routledge, London, United Kingdom)
Mason, Philip, 1985. The Men Who Ruled India (Pan Books, London, United Kingdom)
Miettinen, Jukka O., 1991. Intia: kaupunkeja, kulttuuria, historiaa (Otava, Keuruu, Finland)
Watson, Francis, 1979. India: A Concise History (Thames and Hudson, London, United Kingdom)

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