April 15, 2016

Mechanism of Changing Sovereigns in Indian History

One can read a quotation reproduced below, taken from the Memoirs of Lord Clive by John Malcolm, chapter IV, Volume 1. The content reproduced here tries to answer a question which is generally asked from the historians of Indian history. The question is, “Why did India remain under subjugation for one thousand years?”

Now, there are historians who object to this very question. They are Medievalist. They claim that it was the British empire which brought India under her rule. Before that, the Mahommedan rule was a natural thing and they may not be called the invaders. It was the British who were invaders. So it can not be said that India was under foreign yoke for one thousand years. However that is another issue.

The quotation follows:

"The power established by the Mahommedans in India has never varied in its character from their first invasion of that country to the present time (i.e. CE 1800 c.). The different qualities of the individuals by whom it has been exercised, have introduced a variety of shades both in the mode and substance of their rule, but the general features have remained the same. The Mahommedan emperors of Delhi, the Subadars of divisions of the empire, and the Nabobs and chiefs of kingdoms and principalities, supplanted and expelled, or extirpated, sovereigns and princes of the Hindu military tribe: - but while they succeed to the power which these potentates had held, the management of the finance and revenue, and all those minuter arrangements of internal policy, on which the good order of the machine of government miust ever depend, remained very nearly in the same hands in which the Mahammedans had found them. The unwar-like but well-educated Hindus of the Brahmin or the mercantile castes continued, as under the martial princes of their own tribe, to manage almost all the concerns of the state. A Hindu, under the denomination of minister, or as Naib (or deputy), continued at the head of the exchequer; and in this office he was connected with the richest bankers and monied Hindus of the country. Princes had private hoards, - but there was no public treasury. Advances were made to individuals and bodies of the men by bankers (denominated Seits (Seths) or Soucars (Sarkars)), who were repaid by orders on the revenue, and obtained a double profit on the disbursement and the receipt of money. The proud and thoughtless Mahommedan prince, anxious only for the means necessary for his purposes of pleasure or ambition, was not over-scrupulous as to the terms he granted to the financial agents: and the advantages they gained combined with tier simple and frugal habits, enabled them to amass immense wealth. This they well knew how to employ, for purposes both of accumulation, and of establishing political influence; commanding, as they did, the money resources of the country, the prince, his officers, and army, were all in a great degree dependent upon them; and to treat them with extreme severity was certain to incur obloquy, and often defeated its aim, since, by their natural character, they were as patient of suffering as they were tenacious of their gains.

Besides, the wealth of Hindu ministers and managers was usually deposited with bankers; and the injury done to credit by acts of injustice or oppression towards any of the latter class, affected such numbers, as to prove ruinous to the reputation, and often to the interests, of the despot by whom it was attempted.

The Hindu ministers, or revenue officers, had not the same number of retainers as the Mahommedan. They were, therefore, seldom in the same degree objects of jealousy of dread: but though they were from the this cause less exposed to extreme violence, they were more frequently objects of extortion; and for this they were better prepared, both from the great profits they made, and from their parsimonious habits.

A very quick and intelligent Mahommedan prince, on being asked why he gave so decided a preference to Hindu managers and renters over those of his own religion, replied, “that a Mahommedan was alike a sieve, - much of what was poured in went through; while a Hindu was like a sponge, which retained all, but on pressure gave back, as required, what it had absorbed!”

But there were other reason which prompted Mahommedan princes to employ and encourage Hindus, both at their court and in their armies. They formed a counterbalance to the ambition and turbulence of their relatives, and of the chiefs and followers of their own race. This feeling operated from the emperors on the throne of Delhi, when in the very plenitude of their power, down to the lowest chief : and it is from its action combined with that influence which the wealth and qualities of the Hindus obtained, that we are, in a great measure, to account for the easy establishment and long continuance of the Mahommedan power in India. The new dominion was attended with little of change, except to the Hindu sovereign and his favourites. The lesser Rajas (or princes) gave their allegiance and paid tribute to a Mahommedan instead of a Hindu superior, while their condition and local power continued nearly the same.

Hindu ministers and officers served probably to greater profit the idle and dissipated Moghul, than they could have done a master of their own tribe; and as there was complete religious toleration, and their ancient and revered usages were seldom or never outraged, they were too divided a people upon other subjects to unite in any effort to expel conquerors, who, under the influence of various motives, left to them almost all, except the name, of power.

From the composition and character of such governments, it is obvious that neither individuals nor the community can recognize, much less feel an attachment to what we call the state, as separated from the person who, for the time being, preside over the different branches of its administration. The sovereign has his servants and adherents; his tributaries, chiefs, commanders, and officers have theirs; but the latter owe no fidelity or allegiance, except to their immediate superiors. Each individual of this body has personal privileges, and enjoys protection in certain rights, from established usages, which, affecting all of the class to which he belongs, cannot be violated with impunity : but as there is no regular constitution of government supported by fixed succession the throne, men derive no benefit from the state, and owe it therefore no duty. From these facts it is evident that nothing can be so erroneous as to judge the conduct of the natives of India, amid the changes and revolutions to which the governments of that country are continually exposed, by those rulers which apply nations which enjoy civil liberty and equal laws. Treachery and ingratitude to their chief or patron are with them the basest of crimes : and obedience and attachment to those who support them, the highest of virtues. According as they fail in, or fulfill, the obligations which the relations of the society in which they live impose, men are deemed infamous or praise-worthy : and to the reciprocal ties by which such bands are held together, the prince and chief are as often indebted for their safety, as their followers for the just reward of their devoted service. The monarch is secure upon his throne no longer than while he can preserve a body of personal adherents. The chief that is threatened by his sovereign looks to his followers for support or revenge; while the latter, in the lesser vicissitudes to which they are subject, expect with equal confidence the protection of him to whom they give their allegiance.

In the countries where men are influenced b y such motives, the dethronement of a prince is regarded as no more than the fall of a successful leader of chief of a party ; and the frequency of such an occurrence has perhaps tended, more than all other causes, to temper the exercise of despotic power, and to compel sovereigns who owned no other check to seek its continuance, by reconciling to their rule those of whom it was so liable to be subverted.

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