British Imperialism Essay, Research Paper
Why India? Why Then?
The history of Asia in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century is centered around the great impact of European empires. Nations such as France, The Netherlands, and Britain significantly impacted many port cities in Asia. One nation, India, first lost many port cities such as Calcutta to the British and eventually the entire nation. There were many factors that led to this conquest of territories, including economic, social, and political factors. The most important factor leading to the conquest of territories in India were the political actions of both the Mughal empire, and Britain.
India, before the presence of European nations was mainly ruled by the Mughal empire. They were centered in Delhi lying in the northern part of the country away from the ocean. For a significant portion of history the Mughals were one of the most powerful empires in all of Asia, but as will be shown, the Mughal political system was in serious decay when the British arrive. Many of these political problems directly led to the British s occupation of territories in India.
One problem with the Mughal empire was its lack of control and regulation of its port cites. The Mughal Empire chose to focus its economy almost solely on agricultural production, worrying very little about the trading industry. With little control on the port cities before the arrival of the British, it was very easy for British companies to establish a small foothold with minimal interference from the Mughals. This lack of interference allowed the British to set up forts, and storage facilities, and develop the ports in to a British style trading system. C.A. Bayly, author of Imperial Meridian goes to great lengths to explain this agro-centered economy. He discusses how an implied contractual agreement between an intermediary and a ruler, helped to stimulate the growth of revenue farming . This increase in revenue farming, and thus an increase in profit convinced Indian rulers to focus on agriculture and consequently, port cities were loosely supervised.
The second change in the politics of the Mughals that led to British conquest was a decrease in the power of the central government. Bayly goes to great length to show how the local governors began to take a much more powerful role. First, he discusses the numerous tribal breakouts that occurred on the fringes of the Mughal territory. Although this doesn t directly affect the British, it is important because it shows a weakening in the central government. To further this argument, Bayly explains that the lack of a previous checks and balances system giving even more independence to local nexuses of power. Again this shows that the Mughals, in such despair, ended a very important system which helped prevent the unification of smaller governments inside the empire. Finally he discusses how the increase in the complexities of society made it more and more difficult for leaders to control the peripheries of their territories. The impact of this diminishing central government is quite significant. It demonstrates that the British could increase their foothold by working with friendly local leaders, and not Mughal rulers who were consumed with holding the government together, and fighting off tribal breakouts. In addition, these local rulers were more numerous and less wealthy than the ruler making them more susceptible to the promise of a share of the wealth. Finally, Bayly discusses the competition between local leaders as a cause for the rise of British imperialism in India. This competition led many leaders to side with the British and support them, just to hurt a rival organization. This allowed the British to play one side against the other and use the competition to benefit them. Many local leaders signed treaties or contracts which the British happily accepted, and used the fullest extent. This meant that British companies were supported by local governments and therefore given special privileges, which were easily abused. Slowly, British commercial organizations, such as the English East India Company (EEICo.), began to play a greater and greater political role. This culminated in 1765 when the EEICo. was granted diwani, or the power to tax. After that period, the EEICo. played the major role in the government of a territory in India. All three of these political changes and problems had a significant role in the conquest of Indian territories.
The second and other significant factor in the conquest of land by the British was the political ideology of Britain itself. Many of these factors are economic, but they illustrate the principles of the British government. These beliefs, though economic demonstrate the political decisions of both the British government, and the EEICo. when they took active political roles. The economic decisions of British government explains a great deal about the political system of Britain, including its primary objectives. In addition, one can look at the EEICo. in the same light. Although it was a commercial company, slowly, its political influence increased.
The main political system of Britain in the 17th, and 18th century was mercantilism. This was a belief that helped overcome Britain s shortcomings. Being a country with few raw materials such as silk, spices, and metal ores, Britain needed territories in the parts of the world with such raw materials. Also, due to its small population in relation to the amount of finished goods it could produce, Britain needed foreign markets in which to sell the huge surplus of raw goods. These to problems made India, like many other territories across the globe, a perfect solution for Britain. By establishing a foothold in India, Britain could have a direct trade with the raw materials found in India. In addition, they could use India as a market to sell its finished goods, many of which were made from the raw materials found in India. This policy of maximizing trade encouraged actions such as setting ports and signing trade agreements.
Another underlying belief of the British crown was that of greed and arrogance. The British government was looking to make a lot of money no matter the circumstances, and they felt they had a nearly divine right to do so. This promoted the EEICo. to use mendacious business practices, without a scornful eye from the British crown. The British were obsessed with gaining a favorable balance of trade by annexing as many colonies as possible and using each one as purely a source of raw materials and port for finished goods. The EEICo. gave no respect to the governments already in place in those regions, and slowly looked to gain a political role. The British crown, though not interested in a political takeover of India, had few problems with a commercial corporation like the EEICo. gaining a leading political role in a foreign nation. This like many other abuses done by the EEICo. were overlooked at the prospect of a richer and more powerful Britain. The other political ideology principal to Britain s concession of political power was one of social Darwinism. The British crown believed that it possessed more governmental intelligence thus warranting the duty of EEICo. to be changing the Indian political system which the British Crown thought to be inferior.
The EEICo. was also motivated into a political role of India by a passion for profit. Though some of the reasons included ignorant audacity to assume that it was in the Indian s best interest to form British style politics, the majority of the reason to for the political role was to protect their financial interests and ultimately make money. Bayly explains, that after diwani was granted to the British, they began to tax Indians while providing no government services such as a court system. Although the British crown pressures the EEICo. into appointing a governor who reports, the intentions were not quite honorable. The main reason for this pressure was to prevent rich merchants from returning to Indian wealthy without paying the proper taxes. Another motive was revenge. British politicians urged an attack on the Nawabs, who were the ruling power in Calcutta during the British expansion, after the Black Hole incident. The Black Hole incident occurred when the ruling Nawabs invaded Calcutta and took hostage many EEICo. soldiers. After learning of the poor treatment of British prisoners of war during the attack, the British crown supported the attack on the local provincial leader.
All of these political actions helped spur the expansion by the British into foreign regions. These political motivations helped justify the colonization to being more than about only money. The British used politics to secure their economic interest and increase gains. It is quite evident that the British conquest in India was due to a compounding of the downfall of incumbent Mughal empire and the political economic ideologies which spurred expansion by commercial companies. Both of these events combined sealed the fate of the native Indians, and allowed the British to take control of the country for about 200 years.