Stories of India’s wealth heard from travellers and other sources tempted the European nations to discover the sea routes to India for trade. The Portuguese were the pioneers in this effort. In 1498, Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India and reached Calicut. His discovery made the Portuguese to be the first among the European nations to trade with India and found settlements along the coasts. Following them were the Dutch, the English, the Danes and the French. Eventually the English and the French were left in the field to contend for the Indian Trade. Not content with trade only their ambitions took a turn to achieve political power and the conditions that followed the decline of the Mughal Empire offered them a golden opportunity to fish in the troubled waters.
The Western Impact: A new India emerged after the fall of the Mughal Empire. Within a hundred years (1757-1857), the country was transformed politically, economically and socially. Western manners and ideals gradually took place of Mughal fashions and way of life. After 1838, Persian was no longer important as official language, being gradually replaced by English. The introduction of English greatly influenced the intelligentsia.
The practice of sati was prohibited in 1829. Grown-up girls were not now debarred from going to schools. The evils like thuggee, female infanticide and human sacrifices were suppressed. The western contact changed the superstitious outlook of the Indian people. They started adapting themselves to the western style of living, eating and dressing.
Opening of railway lines, post offices and introduction of telegraph communication system brought distant places and people within quick reach. The most significant impact was the change brought about in the economic life of the people. The old order crumbled down. The indigenous trade declined. The vast multitude of people were thrown out of work. For instance, cotton manufacture which was the most widespread industry of all and which afforded employment to about eighty lakh people throughout the country received a serious set-back as the British fabrics flooded the world markets which has so long been India’s customers. To add to the misery of Indian manufacturers, the Indian market itself was inundated with “Englishmade” cloths. The Indian economy was practically reduced to the position of importer of manufactured goods.
The East India Company: The (English) East India Company was incorporated in 1600 to trade with India by a Charter given to it by Queen Elizabeth I. In 1615, the Company built the first factory at Surat with the permission of Jehangir secured through Sir Thomas Roe, the ambassador to James I.
In the beginning, the East India Company had to face the Dutch’s opposition, the rivalry of the French traders and the declining Mughal rulers of the land. Dupleix, the ablest Governor-General of the French possessions in India, wanted to drive the English out of India and to set up a strong French empire here. But the arrival of Clive on the scene dashed all his hopes. Robert Clive crushed the aspirations of the French by defeating them in different encounters.
The crowning achievement of Clive was in the battle of Plassey in 1757 in which he defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal and laid the foundation of the Company’s power in Bengal. The conquest was complete in the Battle of Buxar in 1764. Bengal was the first province in India to be conquered by the English. It was Lord Wellesley (1789-1805) who made the East India Company the paramount power in India.
In order to safeguard and further the interests of the British Empire, Lord Wellesley, Governor-General of India (1798-1805), followed the policy of subsidiary alliances with regard to the Indian powers, which implied that the Indian powers “were to make no wars and to carry on no negotiations with any other State without the knowledge and consent of the British Government. The greater principalities were each to maintain a native force commanded by British officers. The lesser principalities were to pay a tribute to the paramount power. In return the British Government was to protect them, one and all, against foreign enemies of every sort”. Later, the feeble princes were bowed off the mansad into well-pensioned retirements.
The first Indian ruler of a State who joined the Subsidiary Alliance was the Nizam of Hyderabad.