Who was in India before the British


India was largely ruled by Mughal Empire, before the British annexation started in the year 1757. Marathas and Sikhs also dominated some parts of India with the French acquiring some of the coastal regions of the country.

British came to India initially to pursue trade through the East India Company and engaged in negotiation with Mughal Emperor Jahangir in the year 1640. After getting permissions from the king they had set up factories in Ahmedabad, Agra and Bharuch. Later with the passes of time their ambitions changed from trade activities to acquiring power.

Gradually their presence rose and they set up factories in Bengal, Orissa, Hugli and Calcutta as well. Simultaneously, French, Portuguese and Dutch traders were also moved in different parts of the country. And finally on July 27, 1757, the army of East India Company under Robert Clive defeated Nawab of Bengal, “Siraj-Ud-Daula” and his French allies in the battle of Plassey, a place located between Murshidabad and Calcutta. After this victory, the East India Company gained control over whole of Bengal.

While Robert Clive laid the foundation of British rule in India, later in the year 1763 during the rule of Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, the British Army led by Warren Hestings defeated the army of the then Nawab of Bengal Mir Kasim. In the year 1774, Warren Hestings was formally appointed the first Governor-General of Bengal.

In the meanwhile, Marathas and Sikhs also battled against each other and the Mughals to gain supremacy in the country which further weakened the power of Mughals. Parallelly, French expedition had also started in India. The French had settled their colonies in coastal regions of India at Pondichery, Karikal and Yanam by the year 1673. There were tussles looming between British East India Company and the French to gain maximum power and finally, in the year 1744, the war between the armies of East India Company and French started. However, the British East India Company army supported by the local rulers turned out to be more powerful and the French forces were defeated completely in the battle of Wandiwash.

After this battle, the British East India Company gained superior controlling position in the country. However, in the year 1760, Mysore became a major challenge for the East India Company when Hyder Ali, annexed to the throne of Mysore after the death of its King. Hyder Ali started extending the territories of his kingdom by conquering south Indian states. The British then made a treaty with Nizam Ali of Hyderabad according to which East India Company committed to help Nizam with their army in his war against Hyder Ali. Not only this, but the Nizam also joined hands with Marathas and made an alliance to defeat Hyder Ali. However, they remain unsuccessful in their attempts and British forces suffered huge losses in this war.

Officially, the Company rule in India commenced in 1765, when the East India Company was granted the right to collect revenue in Bihar and Bengal. In the year 1773, East India Company established a capital in Calcutta and after appointing Warren Hasting, the first Governor-General, it started governing the entire country directly.

The East India Company was ruling over the country with its own army and judiciary initially and at that time the British government had very little control over it. Later in the year 1857, a major arms rebellion in the army of the East India Company started in Meerut. Known as Sepoy Mutiny, it soon erupted in several mutinies and rebellion all throughout the country. The rebels finally reached Delhi and declared Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of the entire country. However, this mutiny was short-lived and quashed by the East India Company army completely.

After the Sepoy Mutiny, the Company’s rule lasted until 1858, when, the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled to Burma. After this, the Government of India Act 1858 came in force in India and the British government assumed direct administration of India. It paved the way for complete British Raj which was the rule by the British Crown in Indian Subcontinent. Under the British Raj, all the administrative powers were transferred to the Queen Victoria, who was called the Empress of India.

Power struggle across the country just before British Crown Rule was established in India

British annexation in India was the outcome of trading rivalries among the European powers leading them towards establishing their colonies and trading posts across the world. It was in the 17th century, Mughal Empire which was the central ruling power in India started showing signs of the weakening. Such situation offered all these foreign powers an opportune time to enter India with their trading ambitions initially.

Moreover, as the Mughal Empire disintegrated in the early 18th century and the Maratha powers also weakened after the third battle of Panipat, India got divided in several smaller and unstable states. Relatively weak, all these empires were increasingly manipulated by the British East India Company through the established bigger rulers. However, soon all these empires started fighting and competing against each other. All of them were manipulated by the British East India Company and soon they were eliminated and their dynasties were acquired by the Company.

In the later 18th century, the British East India Company and France struggled for dominance across the country, sometimes through proxy Indian rulers and sometimes through direct military intervention. The rapid expansion of British power was witnessed in the greater part of India in the 19th century when they had almost gained direct control, or the control through proxy rulers over almost the entire country. After the failed Sepoy Mutiny, finally the power of East India Company was transferred to British Crown rule and hence India came directly under the British control.

All the remaining rulers held powerless by British and they had no choice then to accept the offer of becoming princely states under the umbrella of British rule. Over 600 princely states were recognised in India after the British crown rule was formally established in India and the country acquired the name of British India.


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