by Imran Musa
(from Weekly Holiday)
This particular article is about the history of India starting from just before the Battle of Plassey, June 23, 1757 till about 1904 (the earliest part of the 20th century). The writer has endeavoured to be as impartial as possible, keeping to a modernistic point of view that is post-colonial and post-twentieth century, in fact looking back from the 21st century. Let us go back in time.
Clive and Bengal
The privileges enjoyed by the English merchants in Bengal were based on an imperial firman of 1717, but this often proved worthless against the extortionate demands of semi-independent provincial governors and local officials. With the decline of Mughal power the Nawabs of Bengal became practically independent of the central government. In 1756 Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula attacked and captured the English settlement at Calcutta. He incarcerated the prisoners in the notorious Black Hole, a military prison 18ft by 14ft 10in. in area. Estimates of the number imprisoned vary from the 146 according to contemporary evidence to as low as 64. In the morning only 23, or perhaps 21, persons emerged alive. The chief reason for Siraj-ud-Daula's attacks was the fear of foreign aggression. There was also much truth in his contention that the English had fortified their settlements in Bengal without his permission and had abused the trading privileges granted by the imperial firman of 1717.
To avenge this outrage Robert Clive and Adm. Charles Watson sailed to Hooghly with a force from Madras. Clive easily recaptured Calcutta and forced Siraj-ud-Daula to sign a treaty confirming all the privileges that the English had previously enjoyed. But it soon became obvious that the headstrong Nawab had no intention of keeping his word and that he was intriguing with the French. Siraj-ud-Daula was replaced by the English under Clive's orders by Mir Jafar, a person more favourably inclined to the English company. In Bengal, as we know, Mir Jafar is known as a traitor par excellence! In this venture Clive was supported by the famous Hindu bankers, the Seths, whom Siraj-ud-Daula had threatened with circumcision. On June 23, 1757, because of the treachery of Mir Jafar, Siraj-ud-Daula's forces were easily defeated at the battle of Plassey. This victory was of supreme importance in the growth of British power in India, for by making the British the de facto rulers of Bengal, it placed at their disposal one of the wealthiest parts of India, the resources of which were used to destroy the French power in the Carnatic. All European opposition to the British in Bengal at this time ceased with the repulse of a Dutch naval expedition to the Hooghly and the capture of the Dutch settlement of Chinsura in 1759. In the following year Clive returned to England. His policy had been to strengthen the British position in Bengal and rule through a puppet nawab. His successor, Henry Vansittart replaced Mir Jafar with Mir Kasem — a man of doughty character — but made the mistake of strengthening the new nawab, who, from the beginning, asserted his authority and quarrelled with the company over the question of the abuses connected with the internal trading of its servants. One may add that it cannot be denied that the company's servants and their local agents had been guilty of gross abuses and oppression. Mir Kasem has therefore been depicted as a great patriot concerned with the welfare of his subjects. The important point to remember is that he was aiming at complete independence from foreign control and at reversing the decision of Plassey.
Vansittart failed to realise this and adopted a conciliatory policy that encouraged the nawab in his efforts. A clash took place between Vansittart's colleagues — who were opposed to the governor's policy of appeasement — and Mir Kasem, leading to the massacre of Patna in 1763 when 150 Englishmen were put to death in cold blood, a far more deliberate crime than the Black Hole of Calcutta. The defeat and flight of Mir Kasem were followed by the restoration of the more pliant Mir Jafar. A final attempt to oust the British from Bengal was made by Shah Alam, the titular Mughal emperor, and his nawab-wazir, Shuja-ud-Daula, the ruler of Oudh, but they were crushingly defeated by Maj. Hector Munro at the battle of Buxar in 1764. This victory completed the work of Plassey. Henceforward the British were the unchallenged rulers of Bengal. When Clive returned to Bengal in 1765 as Governor for the second time, he restored Oudh to Shuja-ud-Daula. Clive received, via an imperial agreement, the diwani or right to collect revenue in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Clive's foreign policy was aimed at making Oudh a buffer state to protect Bengal from the marauding and predatory raids of the Marathas. Clive left India in 1767 and for the next five years Bengal was governed by mediocrities. It may be added that at this time, what was once said of the Prussians in Nordic Europe, was also applicable to the might of the Marathas, that what they had was not a state with an army, but an army with a state!
When Warren Hastings became governor of Bengal in 1772, the Mughal empire had disintegrated into conflicting factions. There were three main power centres or groups. One was the Nizam of Hyderabad, the second was Haidar Ali of Mysore, and the third was the Maratha Confederacy. It is said that while these conflicts and tensions existed there was no clear idea of a balance of power in the European sense — in other words, stability arising out of conflict. Territorial aggrandisement and paramountcy in the Indian peninsula were the declared aims of the Marathas. Thus, the foreign policy of Hastings was to maintain intact the British possessions in India, threatened as they were during his term of office (1772-85) by the Marathas, by a formidable coalition of the local powers around the Nizam of Hyderabad and by the arrival of a armed French fleet in Indian waters.
Hastings concluded the treaty of Benaras (1773) in which he reversed the policy of payment to the Mughals because the Emperor by this time had deserted the British for the Marathas, in whose hands became a puppet. Hastings refused to continue tribute-payment since this would have been tantamount to providing the Marathas with financial aid and thus facilitating their attacks on Bengal. For the same reason he reclaimed the districts of Kora and Allahabad from the Emperor and sold them to the ruler of Oudh. In order to strengthen the north-western frontiers of Oudh, he helped Shuja-ud-Daula to conquer the Rohilla territory. Since Clive's alliance with Oudh had been a financial drain, Hastings entered into a subsidiary alliance with that state whereby Oudh would subsidise a British force for its own protection. His relations with Oudh and his Rohilla policy were aimed at strengthening an important buffer zone upon which the safety of Bengal depended.
Hastings tried to create an alliance with the Maratha state of Berar, or Nagpur, which was a cross-over territory from Bengal to Madras, but was unsuccessful. His aim was to create a chain of allies running from Bengal/Oudh (the Jamuna) to Gujrat. However, he failed in this since he was overruled by the British authorities back in England. He also had a plan whereby Indian states could align themselves with the crown in England. Hastings was hemmed in drastically by the Regulating Act of 1773 that, although making him the first Governor General of Bengal, gave him a narrow majority in the council of the Company. The Regulating Act also specified that the British presidencies of Bombay and Madras could take independent policy decisions regarding any situation without having to consult or seek permission from the British authority in Bengal, i.e. Hastings or, in case of his recall, any Governor General. Bombay's interference in Maratha affairs, upon receiving direct instructions from England, led to war with that indomitable ethnic group. The situation was salvaged only by the prompt action of Hastings who despatched Gen. Thomas Goddard against them. After the defeat of the Marathas by Goddard and the storming of Mahadaji Sindhia's rock-fortress of Gwalior by Capt. William Popham, peace was re-instated by the treaty of Salbai in 1782.
England at this time was faced with unrest and rebellion in America. Hastings has been credited with preserving England's Indian possession during this time of crisis for the British. While the Maratha war was taking place, Haidar Ali of Mysore, who had been estranged by the policy of the Madras council (i.e. the English authority in Madras), invaded the Carnatic in 1781 and threatened Madras. Once more the canny Hastings rose to the occasion and sent Eyre Coote by sea to Madras. After much bitter fighting, the war was brought to an end by the treaty of Mangalore (1784), which stipulated a mutual restoration of the conquests. At this time too, the French made a bold try to gain a strong foothold in the western sector of India. Although the struggle between the British and the French was inconclusive and the English were unable to destroy the French fleet, they were successful in retaining command of the sea in this region. Peace between England and France in Europe led to a cessation of these naval encounters.
Cornwallis, Shore, and Wellesley
The most important problem of internal administration, apart from the preservation of law and order, was the assessment and collection of the land revenue. To determine the value of the land was extremely difficult. Moreover the local Indian revenue officials conspired together to keep the British in ignorance of the real assets of Bengal. In 1793 Lord Cornwallis ordered a Permanent Settlement of the land revenues of Bengal. The zamindars, or landlords, were declared to be the hereditary proprietors of their holdings.
Cornwallis also attempted to reform the administration of justice. The administration of criminal justice was notoriously defective. Cornwallis, who distrusted Indians, placed it entirely under British supervision. The civil courts were also re-organised. In the districts of Bengal, he vested the collection of the revenues and the administration of justice in separate officers, thus making the Collectors purely fiscal agents. His principal achievement was the re-organisation of the Indian civil service, making it worthy of its task.
From the earliest days of the British connection with India there were two opposing forces at work — a forward tendency and a policy that sought to restrict or prevent expansion. In accordance with Pitt's India Act of 1784, both Lord Cornwallis and his successor, Sir John Shore, pursued a policy of non-intervention in the affairs of the native states. There were, however, two exceptions. Cornwallis found it impossible to avoid a conflict with Tipu Saheb of Mysore who, in 1790, made an unprovoked attack upon a British ally, the ruler of Travancore. After initial setbacks, Cornwallis in 1792 advanced to the walls of Seringapatam and dictated terms by which Tipu was deprived of one-half of his territories and compelled to pay a huge indemnity. Neither can it be said that the policy of Cornwallis and Shore toward Oudh was one of non-intervention, for they recognised that some control of this buffer state was essential. British policy, in other words, was cautious but relentless, dogged and thorough. No doubt the initial compulsion was mercenary, but involvement with local politics and the need for self-defence and concern for security turned a more or less tidy commercial venture into an armed polity. It can be seen that notwithstanding protestations of piety from the English historians, there was a definitely sinister streak in the British. Shore even found it necessary to depose the ruler of Oudh, Wazir Ali, because he was hostile to British interests.
Elsewhere Shore's policy was one of unenterprising neutrality. His refusal to protect Hyderabad from Maratha incursions resulted in the defeat of the Nizam at Kharda in 1795. The policy of neutrality prescribed by the home authorities lowered British prestige and increased the influence of French agents at the Indian courts. Lord Wellesley therefore found the British without allies when he arrived as Governor General in May, 1798. Both Daulat Rao Sindhia (the Maratha) and the Nizam had entrusted their best battalions to French officers; Tipu Sultan was working on all sides against the British; Oudh was in no condition to serve as a buffer state; and the Carnatic and Tanjore had lapsed into anarchy. He also found the army badly organised and the financial condition of the Company distressing.
As a result of Tipu's moves, a small French force from Mauritius reached Mysore in 1799. Eventually Wellesley declared war, and after a short campaign of three months Tipu was defeated and slain in May, 1799. Wellesley decided to form a small central kingdom of Mysore and to restore the ancient Hindu dynasty. What was left was divided between the British and their allies. From that time Mysore was really under British control.
Between 1799 and 1801, Tanjore, Surat and the Carnatic were placed under British administration. Because of the weakness of Oudh as a buffer state its ruler was compelled in 1801 to surrender Rohilkhand, Farrukhabad, Mainpuri, Etawah, Cawnpore, Fategarh, Allahabad, Azamgarh, Basti and Gorakhpur. Thenceforth it was entirely surrounded by British territory except on the Nepalese frontier and ceased to be a buffer state.
Wellesley was the first Governor General to realise that the time had come for the British to stand forth as the paramount power. To accomplish this, it was essential to control or crush the Marathas. His efforts at forming separate subsidiary alliances with each member of the Maratha confederacy ended in failure. However, dissension among the Marathas and the flight of the Peshwa to British territory gave him the opportunity he sought. By the treaty of Bassein (1802) the Peshwa entered into a subsidiary alliance and accepted British arbitration in his disputes with the other country powers. This naturally proved unacceptable to the other members of the confederacy and made war inevitable. In southern India the forces of Sindhia and Berar were crushed by Lord Wellesley's brother, Gen. Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815) at Assaye and Argaon in 1803. In the same year Gen. Gerard Lake defeated Sindhia's forces in northern India at Aligarh and Laswari. As a result of these victories the British annexed Cuttock and all of Sindhia's territories in the Upper Doab. Wellesley was recalled before he was able to confront the forces of Jaswant Rao Holkar, who had become active in 1804 after having remained passive all this while.
Minto and the Marquess of Hastings
For a few years after Wellesley's departure, British prestige was once more lowered by the resumption of a policy of non-intervention, but French intrigues in Persia forced Lord Minto (Governor General 1807-13) to adopt a more active foreign policy. After the treaty of Finkenstein (1807) by which Napoleon promised to force Russia to restore Georgia to Persia, French influence became paramount at the Persian court. This prompted Minto to send John Malcolm on a mission to Persia, Mountstuart Elphinstone to the Afghan Shah Shuja at Peshawar and Charles Metcalf to Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Lahore — that grand city of the Mughals. Already one can see the new entrants in a wider scope of Indo-British history. It was Napoleon's sacrifice, however, of Persian interests at the peace of Tilsit in 1807, not Minto's diplomatic measures, that brought about the decline of French influence at Tehran.
Elsewhere more concrete results were obtained. An expedition to the French islands in 1810 led to the capture of Bourbon and Mauritius, and in the following year Java was taken from the Dutch.
Establishment of British paramountcy
From 1813 to 1823, the Company's territories were governed by the Marquess of Hastings. Like Wellesley he found that the policy of non-intervention, prescribed by the English authorities, had reduced vast tracts of the region to anarchy. Organised armies of brigands were plundering and looting everywhere. He was first called upon to deal with the Gurkhas of the Himalayan state of Nepal, whose continued raids across an ill-defined frontier into British territory compelled him to declare war. The stubborn resistance of the Gurkhas prolonged the campaign from November, 1814 to March, 1816. The situation was reversed in the final stages by Sir David Ochterlony, and the Nepal durbar, after the fall of Fort Malaun, came to terms. By the treaty of Segauli (1816), the Gurkhas were forced to cede Garhwal and Kumaon, together with most of the Tarai. They also agreed to withdraw from Sikkim and to accept a British resident at Kathmandu.
This accomplished, the Governor General turned his attention to the suppression of the Pindari robber bands which were being backed by the Marathas and encouraged to raid British territory. In 1818, the Pindaris were destroyed by a large British force, the largest British force ever gathered in India up to that time. Predictably the Pindaris’ war developed into a war with the Marathas. This time Hastings was fully prepared and, in the final Maratha war (1817-19), British arms were everywhere successful. As a result of this war the military power of the Marathas was completely shattered and their territories greatly reduced. Holkar was forced to cede Ajmer, the strategical key to Rajputana. The Peshwa was deposed and forced to reside as a pensioner at Bithur near Cawnpore. Thus, by routing the Pindaris, defeating the Marathas and bringing the Rajput and other states within the pale of British protection, the British became the paramount power in the Indian peninsula. Except on the northwest frontier all the Indian states accepted British ascendancy and from that time began to look to the British for rights and privileges.
Burmese aggression on the northeast frontier led to war with Burma from 1824 to 1826. The Burmese were defeated and the British dictated terms in the treaty of Yandabu. The Burmese had to agree to surrender Assam, Arakan and the coastal strip of Tenasserim and to abstain from all interference in Cachar, Jaintia and Manipur.
Frontier wars and annexations
From about 1836 the British interest developed in the direction of the west and northwest of India. Soon after the arrival of Lord Auckland as Governor General in 1836, the British became alarmed at the growth of Russian influence in Persia. At that time the British sphere of influence in northern India extended to the Sutlej river. Between British India and Afghanistan lay the independent states of the Punjab under its Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh, and Sind under the Talpur Amirs. Shah Shuja, the Sadozai ruler of Afghanistan with whom Minto had made a treaty, had been ousted from his dominions and forced to take refuge in British territory. Auckland found Afghanistan divided into three states: Dost Mohammad Barakzai had extended his rule over Kabul, Ghazni and Jalalabad; Kandahar was independent under Dost Mohammad's brothers; and Herat was governed by Kamran Mirza, a Sadozai.
In the 1830s, Russophobia was at its height. The Russian policy in Persia, in the person of the Count Simonich, was to urge the Persian Shah to lay siege to Herat, which in those days was regarded as the gateway to India. The British bungled here when, instead of aiding Dost Mohammad, who was reportedly already in correspondence with the Persians, to regain Peshawar which the Sikhs had captured, they abandoned him to his fate due to a feeling of not wishing to antagonise Ranjit Singh, whom the British were trying to conciliate. The Russians, led by agent P. Vitkevich, thereby outmanoeuvred the British in terms of diplomatic gain. Auckland, influenced by his private secretaries and other irresponsible advisers, decided to replace Dost Mohammad by the more pliant Shah Shuja — who, if you remember, was the Sadozai ruler of Afghanistan, with whom the British had concluded a treaty, but who was ousted from his domain and had to take refuge with the British. To this the British government agreed. One of the chief reasons for Auckland's decision to invade Afghanistan was to relieve Herat. However the British bungled again, for even when news arrived that the Persian shah had abandoned the siege of Herat, Auckland persisted in his efforts to oust Dost Mohammad from Kabul. At first the British were successful. Shah Shuja was restored and Dost Mohammad fled to India. Eventually there was a general uprising of the Afghan tribes against the British. The main reasons for this were the unpopularity of Shah Shuja, hatred of foreign domination and the licentious conduct of British troops at Kabul. Gen. William Elphinstone and his military advisers eventually decided to retreat to India, but the force were almost totally annihilated before reaching Jalalabad. The restoration of the British position in Afghanistan was the work of Lord Ellenborough, who succeeded Auckland in February, 1842. After British honour had been satisfied by the avenging armies of Generals George Pollack and William Nott, Dost Mohammad was allowed to return to Kabul as ruler. This war with the Afghans was a sad piece of folly that left a legacy of hatred and poisoned Anglo-Afghan relations for many years.
The reverses sustained by the company's troops in Afghanistan were not calculated to raise British prestige on the northwest frontier. Moreover, Auckland's treatment of the Amirs of Sind had made them distrustful of British motives. In 1832 the British had pledged themselves to protect the territories of the Hyderabad and Khairpur Amirs. In contravention of these treaties Sind had been used as a staging area for the British advance into Afghanistan, and Auckland in 1839 had forced the Amirs to subscribe to a subsidiary treaty that virtually robbed them of their independence. This was high-handed. Unfortunately the policy adopted by Ellenborough was no less so. Eventually the Amirs were provoked into attacking the British residency. In 1843 they were defeated by Sir Charles Napier at the battles of Miani and Dabo and their country was annexed.
It was left to Ellenborough's successor, Sir Henry Hardinge (1844-48), to deal with the situation in the Punjab. After the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, the Punjab had become the scene of widespread lawlessness and domestic contention. The only effective power was the Sikh army, which in 1845 comprised around 88,000 men supported by powerful artillery. Suspecting the British of contemplating the annexation of its country and eager for war, the Sikh army, in December, 1845 crossed the Sutlej and invaded British territory, whereupon Hardinge declared war. The Sikhs were defeated in desperate struggles at Mudki, Ferozeshah, Aliwal and Sobraon, after which they were forced to surrender all territory on the British side of the Sutlej together with the Jullunder Doab, to pay an indemnity and to limit the strength of their armed forces. In 1846 Gulab Singh, a Dogra Raja, was placed in possession of all the hill country between the Indus and the Ravi, including Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit and Chamba. The administration of the Punjab was entrusted to a Council of Regency presided over by Sir Henry Lawrence. These arrangements did not prove acceptable to the Sikhs, and Lord Dalhousie, who succeeded Hardinge in 1848, was faced with a second war six months after his arrival in the country. The indecisive battle of Chillianwalla was followed by the destruction of the Sikh army at Gujrat, whereupon Dalhousie annexed the Punjab for British India. After nearly a century of incessant warfare, the British political and geographical frontiers had become conterminous. Dalhousie's period was marked by extensive annexations and can only be compared to the annexations carried out by Wellesley and the Marquess of Hustings. According to the 'doctrine of lapse' the British authority in India could annex any Hindu state that had proclaimed no heirs upon the death of its ruler, or an heir that had not been sanctioned by the paramount authority — in other words the British. It is strange that this ‘doctrine of lapse’ applied only to Hindu royalty. In pursuance of this policy the following Hindu states were annexed or 'absorbed' into the realm of British India and became British territories — Satara (1848); Jaitpur, to the north of Jhansi (1849); Sambalpur (1849); Jhansi (1853); and Nagpur (1854). Years of chronic mismanagement under a succession of weak rulers prompted Dalhousie to annex the kingdom of Oudh in 1856. This was the only case where annexation was not due to the ‘doctrine of lapse’.
Soon after the defeat of the Sikhs, Dalhousie's attention was focussed on Burma where tension had been rapidly gathering momentum since the treaty of Yandabu in 1826, after the First Burmese War. War was eventually declared on the Burmese who were accused of extortionate financial demands from English merchants. After a short well-organised campaign, the Burmese were defeated and, contrary to the instructions of the Company’s Board in London, Dalhousie annexed Pegu or Lower Burma, which gave the British complete control of the Burmese coast line and enabled them to develop the port of Rangoon.
The Indian Mutiny
Dalhousie’s successor, Lord Charles Canning, reached India in 1856. A year later the sepoys of the Bengal army mutinied. An analysis of the factors underlying this mutiny reveals a lot of causes — social, religious, economic, political and military. We can gloss over this event since the facts are all too clearly known to most readers. Suffice it to say that ultimately the hectic and unrelenting pace of westernisation was the root cause.
After the fall of Delhi — following the Mutiny — Bahadur Shah, the last puppet Mughal emperor, was tried for complicity in the revolt and condemned to exile. The British Crown took over from the East India Company the management of the British Empire in India. Lord Canning became the first Viceroy and Governor General. The assumption of direct government by the Crown was the occasion for a royal proclamation. The second half of the 19th century was a period of consolidation and conciliation. It was an age of moral and material progress, of commercial development, of legal reforms and administrative innovations. And God was an Englishman!
The death of Dost Mohammad in 1863 was the signal for fratricidal conflicts in Afghanistan, and it was not until 1868 that his son Sher Ali succeeded in crushing all rival claimants. The policy of the government of India under Sir Lawrence (1864-69) was one of abstention from interference in Afghan affairs. Knowing the crafty nature of British politicking, one may safely assume that the British powers were, so to speak, 'treading water' until interference would reap the right rewards! And so it happened. Sher Khan received due 'recognition' once his power was firmly established. The desire for a closer alliance and support from the British prompted Sher Ali in 1869 to meet Lawrence's successor, Lord Mayo (1869-72), at the conference of Ambala. The advance of Russia in central Asia led to a further conference at Simla in 1873, but Sher Ali failed to get dynastic pledges and only received vague promises of support from the British. From that day Russian influence grew in Kabul since the Russians were willing to take a 'hands off' policy. The Seistan arbitral award of 1872 further inflamed Sher Ali against the British when he realised that the award favoured Persia at the cost of Afghanistan. The occupation of Quetta in Baluchistan by the British also helped to sour relations further. Sher Ali saw this occupation as a knife pointed at him. Bated breath and caution marked the British attitude towards Afghanistan until the coming of Lord Lytton in 1876. The Peshawar conference of 1877 was a final attempt to reconcile Sher Ali, but it was wrecked by the effort of Lytton and his advisers in England to force British residents on the Amir. It will be remembered that Afghanistan was a prize that both the English and the Russians thought well worth waiting for. Time was on the side of the major European powers. Russia sent a delegation headed by General Stoletov to Kabul. The British then declared war on Afghanistan on the pretext that a British delegation under Sir Neville Chamberlain was refused entry into Afghanistan. This was the Second Afghan War (1878-80). On two occasions, in 1839 and in 1878, the conflict of interest between Russia and Britain led to a British invasion of Afghanistan. The proper solution would have been to bring pressure to bear on Russia in Europe, for strained relations between Afghanistan and India (British India in actuality) could only benefit Russia. In any event, British military operations were successful and Sher Ali was forced to flee the country. By the treaty of Gandamak (1879) his son Yakub Khan was recognised as Amir and the British position around Quetta was acknowledged.
The assassination of Sir Louis Cavagnari, the British resident in September, 1879, was followed by the re-occupation of Kabul by a force under Gen. Sir Frederick (later Field Marshal) Roberts. In July, 1880 Abdurrahman Khan, the nephew of Sher Ali, was recognised as Amir of Kabul in return for his acknowledgement of the British right to control his foreign relations. Three years later this promise was renewed by Lord Ripon, who also bestowed on Abdurrahman an annual subsidy of 12 lakhs of rupees to be spent on the defence of his northern frontiers. An Anglo-Russian Commission for the delimitation and demarcation of the northern boundary of Afghanistan was formed after the incident of the occupation of Merv in 1884.
Although the Panjdeh incident of 1885, when an Afghan force suffered heavy losses in an engagement with Russian troops, brought Britain and Russia to the verge of war, the process of demarcation was completed by the year 1888. The last frontier dispute in which Russia was concerned was settled by the Pamir Agreement of 1895. Thus, in the closing years of the 19th century, the recognition of a definite frontier between Russia and Afghanistan led to a decided improvement in Anglo-Russian relations. The boundary between India and Afghanistan was decided by the Durand Agreement of 1893.
British penetration into the tribal areas of the northwest frontier of India provoked the Pathan tribesmen to revolt in 1897. The Tirah expedition of 1898 was followed by a temporary cessation of hostilities. On the north-eastern frontier strained relations with Burma and led to the Third Burmese War of 1885, which ended with the acquisition of Upper Burma. By the Convention of Peking in 1886, China recognised British rule in Burma and arrangements were made for the delimitation of the frontier between Burma and China.
Lord Curzon as Viceroy (1899-1905)
Lord Curzon's attention was first directed to the problem presented by widespread tribal disturbances in the north-west frontier due to the unwarranted forward penetration of the British in tribal areas. His policy has been aptly summarised as one of 'withdrawal and concentration'. Regular troops were recalled from far-flung areas and local militias of the Pathan tribesmen were formed for the purpose of addressing security concerns.
In 1901, to increase the control of the government of India over frontier areas, he created the North West Frontier Province. Curzon's policy — and British India’s policy — at this time was mainly concerned with removing Russian influence from the region. In Persia, Kuwait, Oman, etc. efforts were undertaken to offset Russian and French influence. Similar motives influenced him to send an expedition, headed by Col. Francis Younghusband, to Tibet in 1904 — that is, to thwart what he thought was Russian influence on the Dalai Lama. It seems that Curzon's fear of Russian "intrigues" was not well-founded, so it was inexcusable that the military expedition was the cause of the slaughter of about 700 badly armed Tibetans. This was an inglorious episode in British history and served no purpose.
The article ends here, but of course the British were destined to possess India for a few decades more, in fact until the end of the Second World War. 1904 is a good place to stop because this introduces the modern phase of history of the British in India, and they were at that point completely in control of the region — a far cry from gaining an imperial firman from the Mughal emperor to conduct business in 1717.
There's much food for thought in a recital of history such as this. The morality preached by historians is that the nation must live honourably and valorously. In gaining a victory or an objective a nation sometimes loses something else, either as precious or even more so. Let us end this recital with a quotation from Plutarch that suggests such a theme. And it is pertinent to Bangladesh as we view the vista of the future that stretches ahead of us, and of every other nation or race.
"...With news of this kind coming in from all sides, the Romans summoned Marius to take command. He was appointed Consul for his royal blood for the second time, although it was illegal for a man to be elected Consul unless he was actually present in Rome or to hold a second consulship until a fixed time had elapsed since his first consulship. However the people would tolerate no opposition. This was not the first time, they considered, that the law had given way to the general interest and there was better reason for it to do so on the present occasion than there had been at the time when, contrary to the law, they had made Scipio Consul. Then they had desired the overthrow of Carthage; now they feared for the destruction of Rome."
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