Warren Hastings

From 1772, Warren Hastings served as Governor General of Fort Williams and the regulating act was passed after his arrival. Important events under his rule include Trial of Nandkumar and Raja Chait Singh of Banaras; codification of Hindu and Muslim laws; First and second Anglo-Maratha wars, Second Anglo-Mysore war, Abolition of Dual System and quinquennial settlement of land revenue, foundation of Madarasa Aaliya  (1781) and Asiatic Society (1784). He implemented several reforms in all walks of administration. The Regulating Act 1773 and Pitts India Act, 1784 were important acts passed during his tenure.

Regulating Act 1773

This act was passed to address the problem of management of company in India; address the problems created by dual system of governance, control the company which had now evolved into a semi-sovereign political entity. This act was first step of British government to regulate the affairs of the East India Company.

The regulating act made the presidencies of Bombay and Madras as subordinate to the Presidency of Calcutta. Governor of Bengal was designated the Governor of the Presidency of Fort William and he was to serve as Governor General of all British Territories in India.  The Governor of the Presidency of Fort William had to be assisted by an executive council which had 4 members. This act also established India’s first Supreme Court at Fort William, Calcutta with one Chief Justice and three other judges. Sir Elijah Imphey was the first Chief Justice. The Supreme Court was the supreme judiciary over all British subjects including the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The establishment of Supreme court led to spat between Governor General and the Court. To overcome this issue, an amendment to regulating act was made in 1881 in which actions of the public servants in the company in their official capacity were exempted from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was also made to consider and respect the religious and social customs of the Indians. Appeals could be taken from the provincial courts to the Governor-General-in-Council and that was the final court of appeal. The rules and regulations made by the Governor General-in-Council were not to be registered with the Supreme Court.

Abolition of Dual System

Warren Hastings ended the Dual System put forth by Clive and introduced the Ijaredari system in its place based on annual assessment of land revenue. He also appointed English revenue officers.He shifted the Treasury from Murshidabad to Calcutta, thus making it safe in a fortified place.

Relations with Emperor Shah Alam-II

By that time, Marathas had consolidated their position in northern Indian under Mahadji Scindia and Jaswant Rao Holkar. Marathas had overrun Rajputana and defeated the Jats, expelled the Rohillas from Doab and Captured Delhi in 1771. In the same year, they also placed emperor Shah Alam to his throne in Delhi. In reward to their services, Mughal emperor Shah Alam rewarded them with Allahabad and Kara {which was given to Shah Alam by Clive in 1765 as per Treaty of Allahabad}. At this point, Warren Hastings stopped the payment of tribute to Shah Alam-II and maintained that he did not get Diwani by a piece of paper by their {British} own might. Later Hastings sold Allahabad and Kara to the Nawab of Oudh for Rs. 50 lakhs. These events would later culminate in Anglo Maratha wars.

Relations with Oudh

Lord Clive wanted to create Oudh / Awadh as a buffer state between territories of British and Marathas. Hastings concluded a treaty with Oudh and compelled it to raise expenses of Company’s troops.

The Rohilla War (1774)

At that time, the small kingdom of Rohilkhand was under Afghans or the Rohillas. After the death of Aurangzeb, Rohil Khand wanted to become an independent kingdom but the Nawab of Oudh had brought it under his protection. Hafiz Rahmat Khan, the ruler of Rohil Khand, consolidated his power and made his Kingdom powerful and prosperous. However, Marathas had an eye for Rohil Khand. Suspecting their designs, the Rohillas asked for the help from the Nawab of Oudh. British also wanted that Rohil Khand should come under the control of their friend, the Nawab of Oudh.

The Nawab agreed to help the Rohillas if the Marathas attacked them. For this help, they would pay Rs. 40 lakh to him. The Marathas attacked Rohil Khand in 1773 but had to return back without indulging into war on account of sudden death of Madhav Rao Peshwa. However, Nawab of Oudh demanded Rs. 40 lakh which was agreed them but Hafiz Rahman Khan refused to pay. After that, the Nawab requested the British for help to attack Rohil Khand and promised that besides bearing the expenses of the army, he would also pay Rs. 40 lakhs to them.

This proposal was accepted by Hastings. He sent British troops and defeated Rohillas.  Hafiz Rahmat Khan and some 20,000 Rohillas were banished from the country. With this, Rohil Khand was annexed of Oudh.

This particular event led the conduct of Warren Hastings under sever censure in England. Lord Macaulay charged Hastings for looking on callously when the Rohilla’s villages were burnt, their children butchered and their women violated. It was called an “unBritish” operation.

The Trial of Nand Kumar 1775

Nand Kumar was an influential Bengali Zamindar, who was inimical to Hastings. Some of the members of the council were also hostile to the Governor General and they conspired to lodge a case against Hastings with the help of Nandkumar. In 1775 Nand Kumar accused Hastings in council of accepting Rs. 3.5 lakhs from the widow Mir Jafar. This charge was welcomes by the Council but Hastings himself objected to council’s charges against him. However, majority was against him. In disgust he dissolved the council. However, the council asked him to deposit the money in company’s treasury.

After this, Hastings brought a counter-charge against Nand Kumar in the Supreme Court. He was arrested on the charge of forgery. The absence of any evidence could not prove the charge of bribery against Hastings. However, charges of forgery were proved against Nand Kumar and he was hanged by majority decision of the Supreme Court.

The critics of Warren Hastings called the trial and execution of Nandkumar as a Judicial Murder. It was also called a “scandalous travesty of decency“. The punishment was excessive and even unjust because no Indian law prescribed death for forgery.

Case of Raja Chet Singh of Banaras

Raja Chet Singh of Banaras was originally a feudatory of Oudh. In 1775, Shuja-ud-daula transferred Banaras to Company and thus Raja Chet Singh became a vassal of the company. As a vassal, he was required to pay Rs. 22.5 Lakhs annually to the Company. However, Hastings demanded additional 5 Lakhs as war levy. This demand was made in 1778 and then repeated in 1779 and 1780. In 1780 bribed Hastings with Rs. 2 Lakh to avert further demands. But then also, Hastings harshly demanded extra subsidy and imposed a fine of Rs. 50 Lakh. When Raja was unable to do these, Hastings marched against him and made him a prisoner. However, the Indian soldiers of Raja rebelled and killed some British soldiers. Nevertheless, Raja was deposed and his nephew was made the Raja of Banaras and annual tribute was increased from 22.5 Lakh to 40 Lakh rupees.

This treatment of Chet Singh is criticized on several grounds. Firstly, it was a violation of treaty of 1775. Secondly, the Raja was met with too harsh treatment. Raja was humble throughout and only Warren Hastings was responsible for rising. In summary, it was unwarranted action on Hastings part.

Hastings Wars against the Marathas {First Anglo Maratha War}

The Third battle of Panipat had given the Marathas powerful blow but soon they recovered. However, post this battle, Marathas ceased to exist as a single power and various Maratha chiefs such as Scindia of Gwalior, Holkar of Indore, Gaekwad of Baroda and Raja of Nagpur rose to prominence.

Immediately after the Third Battle of Panipat, Balaji Bajirao, the third Peshwa of Marathas had died. He was succeeded by his son Madhavrao-I. This 16 years youth was to be assisted by his Uncle Raghunath Rao (Raghoba) in the administrative affairs.

In 1762, they sat out for a raid in Karnataka. But before that raid was carried out, there was a conflict between Madhavrao-I and his uncle Raghunath Rao. Raghunath Rao abandoned the troop midway and raided the villages nearby. The discord increased and there was a war or sort between the two relatives.

Madhavrao-I died shortly afterwards of Tuberculosis. His brother Narayanrao became the next Peshwa, who was murdered by Raghunathrao in 1773. Thus, Raghunathrao became the Peshwa, though he was not legitimate heir.

Late Narayanrao’s widow, Gangabai, gave birth to a posthumous son, who was legal heir to the throne. The newborn infant was named Sawai Madhavrao. Twelve Maratha chiefs, led by Nana Phadnavis, one of the ministers of the late Narayanrao conspired to make the infant as the new Peshwa and rule under him as regents. Since Nana Phadnavis was assisted by 11 more ministers and this conspiracy is called “Barabhai Conspiracy” or the Conspiracy of the Twelve. But Raghunath Rao approached British to purchase their support by signing Treaty of Surat in March 1775.

As per this treaty, Raghunath Rao ceded the territories of Salsette and Bassein to the British, so that the British restore him to Poona. But this treaty created confusion. The Regulating Act was in place; the Governor General in Council at Calcutta did not approve this treaty and held it invalid. They sent one representative Colonel Upton to Pune to annul this treaty and make a new treaty with the Governor General in Council at Calcutta. Raghunath Rao made another treaty but that treaty was not accepted by Nana Phadnavis and he granted a port to French. The British retaliated this with sending troops to Poona. This triggered the First Anglo Maratha War.

The Maratha force was joined by Mahadji Shinde, who was most brave Maratha after Shivaji. The combined Maratha forces fought with the forces of the British and Raghunath Rao at Wadgaon. In this battle the British were badly defeated. The British Forces surrendered at Wadgaon in 1779 and a Treaty of Wadgaon was signed. As per this treaty, the British relinquished all the territories acquired by the East India Company in Western India since 1773 and promised to pay Rs. 41000 as indemnity to Mahadji Scindia. Raghunathrao was captured and imprisoned.

But again, this Treaty of Wadgaon was held invalid by Warren Hastings, who quoted that the Presidency of Bombay had no legal power to sign such treaty. The Calcutta Presidency sent another force. This force harassed Mahadji at Sipri and thus Mahadji was compelled to sign a new treaty, which had some less favourable articles to Marathas. The new treaty called Treaty of Salbai (May 17, 1782) provided the following:

  • British acknowledged Madhavrao Narayan as Peshwa of the Maratha Empire
  • British Recognized the Territorial claims of Madhav Rao Scindia in west of Yamuna River.
  • Raghunath Rao was freed and a pension was fixed for him.
  • British East India Company got the control of the Salsette.

British promised to support Marathas in case they attack Hyder Ali of Mysore and retake the territories of Carnatic. In summary, the Treaty of Salbai maintained the status quo.  Gujarat was restored to the Marathas; and only Salsette, with Elephanta and two other small islands in Bombay harbor was retained by the English.

Importance of Treaty of Salbai

Although the treaty did not give a large territory to British, yet they become a major part of the Indian Peninsula. The Thana Fort and fertile island of Salsette became a part of British territories. British also got a free hand in the management of affairs of the Marathas. Further, the Marathas empire was saved by Mahadji Scindia and Nana Phadnavis for at least 20 years by pushing back the wave of British aggression.  Another important outcome of this treaty was Warren Hastings succeeded in making an alliance with Marathas against Hyder Ali.

Relations with Mysore and Nizam

In 1766 the Nizam, Marathas and British made a combined front against Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore. A prolonged Second Anglo Mysore war continued for four years without victory on either side. By the time this war could reach a conclusion, Hyder Ali died. His son Tipu signed the Treaty of Mangalore for mutual restitution of all conquests.

Foundation of Madarasa Aaliya 1781 and Asiatic Society 1784

In 1781, Warren Hastings founded the Madarasa Aliya or Calcutta Madarasa. Warren Hastings  supported the establishment of AsiatiK society, (which later became Asiatic Society) in 1784 by Sir William Jones under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Chambers. Both of them exist till date flourishing.  Madarsa Aaliya was run for quite some time by Warren Hastings only through his own pocket, but a year later he was paid by the Bengal Government. In 2007, this Madarasa Aaliya became the Aliah University by Aliah University Act 2007.

Return of Warren Hastings and Impeachment

In 1785 Warren Hastings returned to England. On his return to England he was impeached by the House of Commons for alleged acts of oppression and corruption. Some of them were:

  • He was accused for oppression in the Rohilla war.
  • The oppression and deposing Chait Singh of Banaras and accepting bribes.
  • General corruption in the company

Warren Hastings was solemnly tried by the House of Commons, and the proceedings prolonged for seven years (1788-1795).

The Impeachment of Warren Hastings is one of the most celebrated state trials in English history. It ended with exoneration of all charges on Warren Hastings. But these 7 years of defending himself made him near bankrupt.

Pitts India Act 1784

Though the Regulating Act of 1773 had made the two presidencies of Bombay and Madras subordinate to the Presidency of Fort William, yet there was an absence of power in the Governor General in Council of Fort Williams to control them and even override his council. Warren Hastings, practically worked as a 5th member of the Council. There was also not a clear demaraction between the Governor General in Council and Supreme Court jurisdictions.

The Regulating Act was a failure. In the first Anglo-Mysore war and First Anglo Maratha war its failure was seen in the confusion of treaties and these flaws were taken up by William Pitt, the younger. He introduced the Pitts Bill in 1784 with an objective to provide better regulation and management of the company as well as British Possessions in India. It also had an objective to establish a court of Judicature in India, which could provide speedy trial and justice. But the bill was not passed.

Prior to Pitts India Act, Jame Fox had introduced an Edmund Burke’s bill to reform East India Company. But this bill failed in the house of Lords.

In the subsequent election, William Pitt obtained a majority and got the bill passed in August 1784, which was known to be Pitt’s India Act 1784. This act provided for the appointment of a Board of Control, and provided for a joint government of British India by the Company and the Crown with the government holding the ultimate authority.

The act was deemed a failure. This was because; very soon it became apparent that the boundaries between government control and the company’s powers were nebulous and highly subjective. The British Government felt obliged to respond to humanitarian calls for better treatment of local peoples in British-occupied territories. The Board of control was alleged for nepotism. The act was a naive one, it divided the responsibility between the Board of Control, Court of Directors and the Governor General in Council but again , no boundaries could be fixed as they matter was subjective and not objective.