Monday 17 October 2016

British Conquest of India

The 15th century was a turning point in the history of Europe and the world at large. During this century the Renaissance was in full swing and Europe started marching ahead of the rest of world in the field of science, technology and discovering and exploiting new lands. If Italy was leading in the field of art and culture, Portugal and Spain were pioneers in discovering distant lands. America was discovered by Columbus in 1492 and Vasco da Gama reached the Indian port of Calicut on 20 May, 1498.  He was the first European to do so by directly sailing from Europe to India. In the process he gave Europeans an alternate route, avoiding highly contested Mediterranean and much more dangerous land routes of the Middle East. The discovery of a new route would change the course of history and balance of trade; hence balance of political power also. Soon other Europeans followed the Portuguese to reap the benefits of trading in the riches of the orient. With an added advantage of bypassing Muslim lands.
India at that time was, as during most of its history, was ruled by dozens of rulers and without exaggeration hundreds of their vassals. The Mughal Empire was many decades away in the future to establish itself as the supreme power (but not the only power) in most of India. By that time Europeans were already far ahead in sea power as compared to local Indian powers, who traditionally neglected it. So the situation was favourable for any foreign sea power to gain foothold on the vast coastline of India. Portuguese saw the opportunity and soon established themselves as the main sea power along the Indian coast and also brought the routes in the Arabian Sea under their control. Their first foothold was in Cochin but from 1510 they made Goa the headquarters for their possessions in this region. Besides this stronghold they brought several small but strategically and economically important places like Daman, Diu, Cannanore, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, etc., under their control and fortified these places as well. 

Other Europeans were slow to follow the footsteps of Portuguese. Duth, French and English only started their activities almost a century later. Subject of this post is the British conquest of India, so I shall ignore the activities of other European powers, unless necessary.

In 16th and 17th century the Europeans confined themselves to mostly trade and business. Mughals were the biggest power in India in 17th century. However, by 1740s the power of the Mughal Empire had almost totally collapsed. Punjab though still was under the rule of governors appointed by the Mughal but the control was precarious and the Sikh power was fast emerging and for the next almost a century, was going to be a battle ground between Sikhs and Afghans, in which Sikhs would be victorious. Sindh too was independent under Kalhoras and later Talpur chiefs. Most of the Ganges plain was part of the independent state of Oudh centered first at Faizabad and later Lucknow. While the richest province of Bengal (including the territories of Bihar and Odisha), was also now an independent state. Besides these big Muslim states, another big Muslim power was deep in the south of India based in Hyderabad. Nizam of Hyderabad held vast territories in Deccan and south east India. Marathas were by now were probably the biggest military power in India, and were ruling most of the central and western India. Rajput chiefs were mostly independent or vassals of Marathas. Then there were literally thousands of big and small rajas, nawabs, chiefs and zamindars, enjoying different degrees of authority on the vast sub-continent of India.

So in this fragmented state of affairs the stage was set for British East India Company, to increase its power. They actually had been doing so, almost imperceptibly, for a long time. Bombay (Mumbai), Madras (Chennai) and Calcutta (Kolkata) were now not only commercial posts but centres of power of East India Company. These well fortified cities were garrisoned with considerable military power. Through these places, the British conducted there trade and also used them to spread their political influence in the surrounding areas. These and other such posts were supplied and guarded by ships of a powerful British navy, constantly patrolling the coastal areas of India and shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean. Indeed the British Navy was the most powerful weapon in the hands of East India Company, to which no Indian power has any answer to the challenge offered by it.

The above map shows the conquests of East India Company from mid 18th to mid 19th Centuries. 

Carnatic Wars:

British came to India for trade but as mentioned above, but circumstances offered even much bigger dividends. British loaded with new technologies and ideas were quick to grasp the situation.  The first big opportunity came in the deep south, in the peninsular India. A series of battles were fought in that area, which are known as Carnatic wars.

It is pertinent to mention here that French were not much behind the British and had about equal force on land and sea and at actually enjoyed a considerable influence in the state of Hyderabad. Pondicherry, Mahe, Karikal, Chandernogre, Yanoan, etc were the possessions of France in India. Keeping in view the rivalry of the two nations in Europe it was but natural and just a matter of time they would clash in India too.

It all started in the state of Carnatic, situated in the south east of India, along the Coromandel coast, in the present Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Ruler of this state Nawab Dost Ali Khan died in 1740 an event which started a war of succession between his son Muhammad Ali and son in law Chanda sahib. French sided with Chanda sahib while the British put there bet on Muhammad Ali. Till then the relations between the two European powers were cordial. But it was all about to change. War of Austrian Succession started in Europe and Britain and France joined opposing alliances. The conflict spilled over to India in 1746 and started the first Carnatic war. Which continued till 1748, and though saw many actions on land and at sea, the war between French and British and their local allies was a draw. However, proxy war continued till 1751, when finally Muhammad Ali Walajah captured the throne of Arcot the capital of Carnatic. This second phase is called as second Carnatic war. It was here during the siege of Arcot when Robert Clive, often credited to be the founder of the British Empire in Inida, gained prominence. Example of Clive also tells us that war was a profitable business for the Company and its higher officials. When Clive went to England in 1753, he took £ 40,000/- with him, an amount which propelled him into the gentry of England.  
Soon a new conflict erupted in Europe in 1756 known as Seven Years War. It renewed conflict between France and Britain in India also and after many actions the British defeated the French in 1760 at Wandiwash and the next year they even captured Pondicherry, the capital of French power in India. This war decisively tilted the balance in favour of Brtain.  To sum up the situation, kindly note that this made British the biggest foreign power in India and also made the ruler of Carnatic as a mere puppet in the hands of East India Company. They also replaced French as the major influence in the court of Hyderabad. French would never challenge the ambitions of Britain again in India and would lay low and confine themselves to a few small coastal settlements for the next two centuries.

But above all these wars gave prestige to East Indian Company and opened a new horizon for the ambitions of the British officers in the arena. They saw firsthand that how easily their very small, but well-armed and well-disciplined armies can achieve. Above all they did not have to import all the man power from Europe, local Indians could also be recruited for this purpose. Indeed right up to 1947, Indians were always in majority in the British armies. Needless to say these wars also exposed the fragile state of affairs of these local states.

Crisis in Bengal:

Like many other Indian rulers, Nawab Siraj ud Daulah too was watching the developments in South India anxiously. He had succeeded his maternal grandfather Ali Vardi Khan in 1756, at the age of 23. Even this young and inexperienced ruler was realizing that English were a no small threat to the political stability of his state. Already the activities of British authorities in Calcutta and company merchants throughout Bengal were undermining the authority of the Bengal government. In this suspicious atmosphere the Company in anticipation of a war in Europe with France, started reinforcing the garrison in Fort William and started improving its fortifications, despite the Nawab objecting them to do so. This proved to be the last straw on the back of the Nawab and he struck with full force and captured Calcutta on 20 June, 1756 facing little resistance from a small and demoralized garrison.

The fall of Calcutta was a big blow to the British power and prestige in India, and they sprang into action to avenge this humiliation. A force of 600 Europeans and 900 native soldiers set sail from Madra, under the command of Clive and he reached Calcutta in February 1757. After a brief but bloody battle near Caclutta on 4th February, the Nawab retreated and agreed to conclude a peace agreement with the British. He also agreed to restore Calcutta and all other trading privileges to the Company. He clearly had misjudged his and Company’s power.

An uneasy peace was restored, but nobody was expecting it to last for long. Especially Clive and his company were actively planning and conspiring to replace Siraj with someone more compliant. They found ready collaborators in Murshidabad for this cause. Most prominent of them was Mir Jafar, father in law and an important military official, he had the backing of rich seths of Bengal and many army officers. Secret negotiations continued for a few months, during which all the details were settled among the conspirators and a written agreement was reached.

In the meanwhile Clive did not sit idle and attacked French city of Chandernagar 20 miles north of Calcutta and captured it on 24th March, 1757. Thus, displaying his aggressive posture. This infuriated the Nawab and added more bitterness in relation between the two sides. Clive made the first move and marched towards Murshidabad, the capital and on the way declared war on the Nawab, accusing him violating the terms of agreement reached in March. Nawab also marched south towards Calcutta and both armies met on 23rd June, near Plassey. The battled started at 0800 with cannonade from both sides. After three hours a portion of Nawab’s army attacked the British positions, but was repulsed. Inexperienced Nawab lost his courage and on the advice of his commanders left the battled field for Murshidabad. In the afternoon whole Bengal army started retreating and by evening British had captured all their positions and camp.

After the battle Mir Jafar reached Murshidabad the next day. Clive reached there on 29th and placed him on the throne of Bengal. Poor Siraj ud Daula was captured a few days later and murdered by the son of Mir Jafar, while trying to flee westward, near Rajmahal. These events placed Bengal firmly in the hands of East India Company. That’s why Plassey is considered as the beginning of the British Raj in India. After this victory East India Company emerged as one of the major powers in India.

Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, meeting with Mir Jafar after battle of Plassey, by Francis Hayman.

Now Bengal and its new Nawab Mir Jaafar, were in the firm grip of East India Company. Nawab was a perfect puppet, showering millions of Rupees in cash on Clive and other high officials. He paid the company 18 million rupees as compensation for attack on Calcutta. Besides that English traders were free to trade all over Bengal on their own terms and conditions. He also granted them Zamindari of 24 Pargaganas, a vast district south of Calcutta. But Nawab sahib soon realized that satisfying the greed of British was beyond his means and the resources of Bengal, the richest province in India, and made an attempt to expel the British from Bengal with the help of Dutch East India Company, who had some presence in Bengal, but failed. British forces defeated the Dutch at Chinsurah on 24th November, 1759. After this debacle Mir Jafar lost what so ever grace or power he had had and was deposed next year. His son in law Mir Qasim was installed as the new Nawab. Now the company not only received customary cash gifts worth millions of rupees, but also took the districts of Chittagong, Burdwan, Midnapore and Howrah, under their direct control, with the right to collect revenues.

Mir Qasim proved to be a popular and able ruler. He tried to appease the British but to satisfy the avarice of the British was an impossible task to accomplish. He tried to control the influence of the British and their unbridled traders. He made an alliance with the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam and Shuja ud Daulah, Nawab of Awadh. The forces of three rulers met the forces of East India Company at Buxar on 22nd October, 1764 and were defeated completely. Shah Alam the Mughal emperor, and the nominal suzerain of Bengal was forced to grant the company the right to directly collect taxes in Bengal. Thus Bengal lost its nominal independence also. The future Nawabs gradually lost whatever little authority enjoyed as figureheads in the coming years. Thus battle of Buxar firmly and absolutely established British rule in Bengal, Bihar and parts of Orissa.

Consolidation in South:

The decade of 1760s proved to be auspicious for the company in the South India as well. During this decade the state of Arcot was almost completely lost its independent. The district of Chingleput was formally annexed by the Company. Another jackpot was the acquisition of vast coastal belt, known as Northern Circaars, from the Nizam of Hyderabad. Nizam Ali of Hyderabad handed over this vast territory to the British in return for security and military assistance. This deal also eliminated French influence in Hyderabad. Now, the company was ruling almost along the entire eastern coast of India. The gaps in this belt were too under the influence of the company.  The remaining one district of Northern Circaars, Guntur too was handed over to the company in 1778.

Mysore Wars:

Complete dominance of Arcot and favourable alliance with Nizam of Hyderabad made the position of EIC strong in the South, but still it was threatened by a rapidly rising force in the shape of Mysore. Mysore was an ancient Hindu state but its control was assumed by Hyder Ali, a commander of states forces. Mysore under his administration became a powerful state, which naturally roused jealousies of Nizam and Marthas in the north and Arcot and its British allies in the east. Friction over the border and territorial disputes led to a series of wars between Mysore and its neighbours, which lasted for more than three decades. Main contenders proved to be Mysore and EIC, aided by its local allies.

The first war started in January 1967, when Marathas invaded Mysore and were followed by Nizam in March, aided by two battalions of company troops. Marathas had been bought off earlier for 3 million rupees and now Nizam too after some political manoeuvering ended up as an ally of Hyder Ali. Both joined their forces against British. Hyder Ali made considerable advances in the British protected Arcot, but no side could win any decisive battle during the last few months of 1767.

To relieve the pressure of Hyder Ali in Arcot, British opened a new front on the western coast of the peninsula and an army sent from Bombay, attacked Mangalore the main port of Mysore, which they occupied in February, 1768, without much resistance through a stratagem. The trick worked and Hyder Ali sent his son Tipu Sultan to march towards Malabar Coast and himself followed him. He retook Mangalore and other occupied areas in Malabar. Benefitting from the absence of main forces of Mysore, company recovered the lost territories in Arcot.
In the meanwhile the British were in touch with Marathas and convinced them to join the war on their side in August, 1768. These combined forced marched towards Bangalore. Hyder Ali tried to prevent the advance of this army but failed and retreated. He offered peace to the British and Marathas, but due to harsh conditions put forward by them, the negotiations failed to reach an agreement. This move proved costly to the British side, as in the coming months Hyder Ali turned the tide against them. After several scattered actions the British forces retreated out of Mysore. In November he launched a big offensive into the British territory and overran much of Arcot and during this campaign reached the gates of Madras. During this campaign first and the last time an Indian ruler took British officers and troops as prisoners. Thus humbled, the British accepted the peace terms offered by Hyder Ali. One of the terms was a mutual defence pact. Thus first Anglo Mysore war ended on a positive note for Mysore, in which this state successfully fought on three fronts against the British, Nizam and Marathas.

Hostilities stopped for the time being, but it was an uneasy calm. Troubles with Marathas continued till 1772, and despite having a defence treaty, the British did not help Hyder Ali. Surrounded by enemies, Hyder Ali acquired the support of French, who still had considerable presence and power in India and controlled many posts on the Indian Coast. As happened many times before, when France declared war on England in Europe in 1778, hostilities started between two powers all across the globe, including Europe, North America and India. British authorities in Madras launched a campaign against the French ports including Mahe, a French port strategically important to Mysore as well, and under the declared protection of Mysore. This resulted in starting open hostilities between Hyder Ali and the British and he invaded Carnatic in 1780, with an army of 80,000 troops. Thus, started the second Anglo Mysore war. The British failed to repulse this invasion and in one major battle near Pollilur Tipu Sultan inflicted a crushing defeat upon a British Army under the command of Colonel William Baille on 10September, 1780. This army of 3820 soldier was completely destroyed, with 386 killed and Baille along with hundreds others taken prisoners. Main British force under Colonel Hector Munro hastily retreated towards Madras. Following this success Hyder Ali captured Arcot city, capital of Carnatic.

However the war dragged on; in many other battles the British performed well and defeated forces of Hyder Ali in three consecutive battles in the coming months. The British had a full command over sea and were constantly receiving re-enforcements in men and material from Europe. Despite that Tipu defeated a detachment of British army near Tanjore on18 February, 1782, and took almost all of its 1800 soldiers prisoners. Most of the fighting was taking place in eastern ghats, so to relieve the pressure of Mysore in this region, the British authorities opened a new front in Malabar in the summer of 1782. This invasion ended in disaster after initial success and the commander General Mathew had to surrender. Tipu also took back the important port city of Mangalore. Meanwhile, Hyder Ali died in December, 1782 and Tipu succeeded him. At last war ended in March 1784 with the signing of treaty of Mangalore and the British agreed to return all the captured areas of Mysore and status quo was restored. This treaty was important in the sense that Mysore, an Indian power, concluded this peace with the company on equal footing and with favourable terms, which was never to happen again in India.

The peace lasted for many years, but tensions remained simmering between the two powers, over the issues involving their allies and proxies in the south western corner of India, in states of Travancore and Cochin.  Hostilities began when Tipu Sultan invaded Tranvancore and the British who were looking and preparing for such an opportunity, declared war on Mysore.  British commander Medows started his operation in the district of Coimbatore in 1790, and strong points of Dindigul and Palghat fell to him. Tipu counterattacked in September and penetrated deep into the enemy territory. However, no side could gain a decisive victory. In the meanwhile a large British force from Bombay along with Maratha force of 30,000 invaded Mysore from the North and after a siege of more than six month the important garrison city of Dharwar fell to these forces in April, 1791. In the meanwhile another Maratha force under Hari Pant also invaded Mysore. Nizam of Hyderabad, a close ally of the British, also joined into the foray to show his loyalty to the British and reap the spoils of war. His large armies were poorly trained and equipped and were mostly ineffective. Now Mysore was under attack from all directions by the British, Marathas, Nizam and state of Travancore.  

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Tipu Sultan confronts his opponents during the Siege of Srirangapatna. (Wikipedia)

Tipu Sultan had no resources to withstand the onslaught of the combined forces of three biggest powers of India, with almost unlimited resources in men and money. Within a few months Mysore lost Bangalore and the Malabar Coast to the British and large territories to Marathas. Bangalore was a strong point, which fell in early 1791 and now the road to Seringapatam the capital city, was open.  The British forces were acting under the command of Cornwallis and after securing his position in Bangalore he marched on Seringapatam. The first assault on the capital in May failed and he had to retreat. But many other territories fell to the coalition. Next year in January, 1792, Cornwallis made his second attempt on capturing Seringapatam, this time with better preparations and greater force. Another army from Bombay also joined his force and the city was brought under a complete siege. After a campaign of two months, Tipu Sultan sued for peace in late February, 1792. Under the agreement Mysore state lost almost half of its territory to the British, Marathas and Nizam, including most of the coast. In addition it had to pay a large war indemnity. Tipu’s two young sons were also taken as hostage.

This war severely weakened the state of Mysore and it was clear from the first day, that the British are waiting only for a proper opportunity to strike a final blow. The excuse was provided by the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon. Tipu was in contact with France to gain any possible help against the British. This raised the tension in India also and three British armies invaded Mysore in 1799 and after some actions laid the capital under siege. This time British not only depended on military force, they used stratagem as well. Many high ranking Mysorean officials were secretly in touch with the British and whose treachery made their task easier to accomplish.

The final assault was launched on 4th of May, 1799, at 1300. The wall of the city already had been breached by siege guns. The breach was poorly defended by officials in liege with the British. So columns of British entered the breach without much resistance. Soon Tipu Sultan reached the scene and a fierce fighting started, which last until dusk. Soon a search for the body of Tipu started, which found among the bodies of his soldiers, who like their Sultan instead of fleeing chose to die fighting to the last.

Tipu Sultan the Lion of Mysore is only one ruler among hundreds other, who instead of bowing to the British, died fighting to maintain his freedom.  With his defeat the filed was open to the complete subjugation of India. Now it was clear that the rising tide of the British conquest was irreversible and it was just a matter of time, before the British became the master of the whole India.

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The Body of Tippu Sultan Was Found Here (Srirangapatana)

Maratha Confederacy:

Now, Bengal and peninsular India was under the firm control of EIC, along with the eastern coast. And the road to the heart of India was open. Nizam of Hyderabad was an obedient ally of EIC. After the fall of Mysore the next target was the Maratha Confederacy. Of the several powers, which replaced the Mughals, the Marathas were the biggest one. They occupied almost half of India. Marathas inhabit the areas currently included in the modern Indian State of Maharashta. They started gaining strength during the reign of Aurangzeb and played a decisive role in the demise of Mughal power. In 1758 they advanced as far as Punjab. Their power was checked by Ahmad Shah Abdali in the third battle of Panipat, but only temporarily.  Marathas had many big and small states which were part of a Confederacy consisted of Gaekwads of Baroda, Holkars of Indore, Scindias of Gwalior, Bhonsles of Nagpur and Peshwas of Pune, who also acted as the figurehead of the confederacy, along with hundreds of rulers of various stature and dependents states.

File:Thomas Daniell, Sir Charles Warre Malet, Concluding a Treaty in 1790 in Durbar with the Peshwa of the Maratha Empire.jpg
Thomas Daniell, Sir Charles Warre Malet, Concluding a Treaty in 1790 in Durbar with the Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. (Wikipedia)

The British were already involved in the affairs of Marathas through their stronghold of Bombay, which was in their possession since 1661. In 1770s the British authorities through participating in the intrigues in Pune court, extended their territories around Bombay, especially by gaining the Salsette Island. This phase is known as First Anglo Maratha War. The fall of Mysore opened the door for further expansion and intrigues. The British saw an opportunity in supporting one of the warring factions, for the throne of Peshwa in Pune, and forced one claimant Baji Rao II, to sign a subsidiary treaty in 1802, in exchange for support for his cause. This humiliating treaty infuriated other powerful Maratha rulers and open hostilities started between the East India Company and Marathas. The British launched a full attack on Marathas from several directions. The British strategy included Wellesley securing the Deccan Plateau, Lake taking Doab and then Delhi, Powell entering Bundelkhand, Murray taking Bharoach. The British fielded a force of 53,000 to accomplish this task.

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Battle of Assaye, 1803. Painting by JC Stadler. 

Marathas, failed to repulse this onslaught and after several battles, Assaye, Adgaon, Laswari being a few of them, lost many big chunks of their Empire. The most important gains for the British were region of Doab, Rohelkhand, Delhi and many areas in Orissa, Gujerat and Bundelkhand. Most importantly it broke the back of military power of the Maratha chiefs. Thus, concluded the Second Maratha War with British emerging as victorious.

This peace did not last for long; British were fully involved in internal rivalries of Maraths chiefs. Now in support of their own interest and also that of their ally the Mahraja of Baroda, they imposed a new treaty on Peshwa Baji Rao II, further encroaching upon his territories and sovereignty. Peshwa decided not to go down without a fight and approached other Maratha states and Pindaris also.

Pindaris were mostly Muslims of different tribes, previously serving Mughals but now their chief occupation was loot and plunder. They were protected and sheltered by Maratha rulers in their territories. But they frequently raided into the British territories and neighbouring states. In current terminology we can say they were "non-state actors". They were concentrated in Malwa region and the valley of river Chambal.  Pindaris were mostly horsemen and their movements were swift and tactics that of guerillas. In 1817 EIC made their first moves against Pindaris and marched to encircle them from all directions. Irregular Pindari bands were no match for the forces of EIC. They were soon dispersed and hunted all over the central India.

Movements of the British forces caused clashes with the armies of Peshwas as well.  But he could make no firm stand against this attack and after a few months of running, reached an agreement with the British. Who allowed him a pension of Rs 800,000/- per year and exiled him to Bithur, near Kanpur. Other Maratha states too could not withstand the British attack. Nagpur state was defeated in a single battle of Sitabuldi. In another battle Holkar of Indore put up a stout resistance in the battle of Mahidpur, but was defeated and could not continue resistance any further. Hence in short and swift campaign the British subjugated the Marathas completely and in the process annexed large territories in central and western India. Numerous other states, including Rajput states also came under the protection of EIC and accepted it as a paramount power. Campaign of 1817 / 18 proved to be the turning point in the modern history of India. Now almost the whole present day India was in the firm grip of EIC. The only two big provinces out of its control were Punjab and Sindh.


Sindh being the weaker of the two states was first to fall. At the time it was being ruled by Talpur Amirs, on the old feudal lines, hence had no standing modern army. They were an easy prey for EIC. The British already had intruded into Sindh during the first Afghan war, starting in 1838. They forced the Amirs, to accept a British residence in Hyderabad and also made them to accept stationing British army in Sindh. Such steps compromised the sovereignty of Sindh. EIC also took control of Karachi and opened the Indus River for trade and navigation for the British boats, on terms and conditions decided by the British themselves.

Battle fo Meeanee, 17 February, 1843. By Edward Armitage. 

The British on some flimsy pretexts, like accusing of hostile attitude towards the British invaded Sindh in 1843 and in two battles of Miani on 17 February, 1843 and Hyderabad or Dubbo on 24 March, 1843, crushed the power of Talpur Amir. Sindhis fought most valiantly for their country but could not withstand the finest army in the world. Sindh was annexed by Charles Napier the commander of EIC army in Sindh and was made part of Bombay presidency till 1936.


Sikhs were already a big power in Punjab since they occupied Lahore in 1763. But foundations of a stable government were laid down by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Gujranwala, when he occupied Lahore in 1799 and made it its capital. After the conquest of Delhi in 1803, the British had already reached the borders of Punjab. In 1809 a treaty was signed between EIC and Lahore Darbar, according to this treaty, River Sutlej was agreed upon as the border of two powers and all the states and territories south of Sutlej came under the protection of EIC. However, it also gave free hand to Ranjit Singh on the other side of the Sutlej. So within two decades Ranjit Singh occupied Kashmir, Multan and Peshawar. So first time since the time of Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi these cities were lost by the Muslims.  Ranjit Singh achieved all this success through extra ordinary talent and hard work. In the process he created the finest army, well equipped and well trained, in Asia.  In the life of Ranjit Singh relations between Calcutta and Lahore were cordial.

After the conquest of Sindh and internal conditions of Sikh State at the time, it was obvious that the days of independent Punjab are numbered. British were closely observing the fast deteriorating political conditions in Punjab and were ready to meet any challenge. They did not have to wait long or invent a pretext, as in the case of Sindh. By 1845 the Khalsa Army was in a state of poor discipline and not in the firm control of Maharaja Dilip Singh, a minor. Suspicions were growing on both sides, especially after the annexation of Sindh.

In this hostile atmosphere the British started reinforcing the cantonment of Ferozepore on the border. And an army under the command of Sir Hugh Gough started its march towards Ferozepore. The Khalsa Army also crossed the border and in a series of battles at Mudki, on 18 December, 1845; Ferozeshah, 21 December, 1845; Aliwal 28 January, 1846 and finally Sobraon on 10 February, 1846, were defeated repeatedly. These were some of the hardest fought battles in the history of British conquest of India and times; the British army barely averted defeats and disaster, thanks to the treachery of Dogras of Jammu and their faction. They were constantly in touch with the British authorities and not only providing them all the plans, but at some of the most crucial moments, kept their forces out of the battle or simply made bad decisions and planning.

File:Battle of ferozeshah(H Martens).jpg
Battle of Ferozeshah. 

After this defeat the border of Punjab state were shrunk considerably. They lost Bist Doab to the British and Kash were forced to allow some British forces in Punjab and also to accept their officials in Lahore Darbar and other major cities to supervise and control the affairs of the state.

But the matters were far from settled and war broke out again in late 1848. The immediate cause of the breakout of the hostilities was a dispute between the governor of Multan, Mulraj and the British political agent who tried to remove him as governor. In this trouble the agent Patrick Vans Agnew and another British officer Lieutenant William Anderson got killed, on 19 April, 1848. This was a signal for open rebellion for discontented Sikh soldiers and soon troubles spread all over Punjab. The main leader of this rebellion was Sher Singh Attariwala. First major battle was fought near Ramnagar (now Rasulnagar), where Sikhs repulsed an attack of the British army, but subsequently retreated across the river towards Chillianwala. Here again two forces fought a bloody battle on 13 January, 1849, with heavy losses on both sides. But again it proved to be indecisive. Now Sikh army retreated towards Gujrat where a final battle was fought on 21 February and were utterly defeated. However the final surrender came on 12 March, at Mankiala near Rwat. In the meanwhile Multan had fallen on 22 January, 1849. The Punjab was formally annexed on 2 April, 1849. With the fall of Punjab most of the KP also became part of the British India.

Plan of the battle of Ramnagar (Rasulnagar). Wikipedia

Map of the Battle of Chillianwala (Wikipedia).

Battle of Gujrat -Our fighting services - Evelyn Wood pg428.jpg

In the coming; decades princely states in north of the present day KP and Baloch states accepted subsidiary alliances with the British. Many other areas, previously belonging to Afghanistan were annexed. By 1893 British India had defined its border, with Afghanistan, since then which is the Pakistan Afghanistan border.

A memorial in Rasulnagar. For more pictures please visit:

A monument to commeorate the battle of Chillianwala. For more picturs visit:

Graves of the British soldiers in Gujrat.

British took almost a century to conquer this vast sub-continent. Fighting hundreds of battles, using all kinds of factors from their superiority in weapons, tactics, discipline, better planning and administration to dissension among Indians, to their own advantage. This resulted in making of British India, which was considered Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire.

I have tried to briefly describe the phases in which East India Company conquered India, starting from its coastal posts and within reaching the most distant corners of India. I expect and welcome any pointing of mistakes or suggestions to improve it.

Tariq Amir

Doha - Qatar.
October, 17, 2016.