Modern Indian History

Europeans Arrival to India

Vasco-da-Gama, who belonged to Portugal, discovered the sea route to India in 1498. So Portugal was the first European country to start trade with India. By the early seventeenth century, the Dutch too were exploring the possibilities of trade in the Indian Ocean. Soon the French traders arrived on the scene.

The problem was that all the companies were interested in buying the same things. The fine qualities of cotton and silk produced in India had a big market in Europe. Pepper, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon too were in great demand. Competition among the European companies inevitably pushed up the prices at which these goods could be purchased, and this reduced the profits that could be earned.

The only way the trading companies could flourish was by eliminating rival competitors. The urge to secure markets therefore led to fierce battles between the trading companies. Trade was carried on with arms and trading posts were protected through fortification. It was difficult to separate trade from politics.

The East India Company (EIC) of England came to India in 1602. The first officer of the EIC, Captain Hawkins came to India in 1608 in the court of Jahangir, the then ruler of India. The EIC established its first factory at Surat in 1613.

The first English Ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe, came to India in 1615 in the court of Jahangir.

Arrival of East India Company

In 1600, the East India Company acquired a charter from the ruler of England, Queen Elizabeth I, granting it the sole right to trade with the East. This meant that no other trading group in England could compete with the East India Company. With this charter the Company could venture across the oceans, looking for new lands from which it could buy goods at a cheap price, and carry them back to Europe to sell at higher prices. However, the royal charter could not prevent other European powers from entering the Eastern markets.

The first English factory was set up on the banks of the river Hugli in 1651. The factory had a warehouse where goods for export were stored, and it had offices where Company officials sat. As trade expanded, the Company persuaded merchants and traders to come and settle near the factory. By 1696 it began building a fort around the settlement. 

Two years later it bribed Mughal officials into giving the Company zamindari rights over three villages. It also persuaded the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb to issue a farman (royal order) granting the Company the right to trade duty free.

After the death of Aurangzeb, the Bengal nawabs asserted their power and autonomy. Murshid Quli Khan was followed by Alivardi Khan and then Sirajuddaulah as the Nawab of Bengal. They refused to grant the Company concessions, demanded large tributes for the Company’s right to trade, denied it any right to mint coins, and stopped it from extending its fortifications.

The conflicts led to confrontations and finally culminated in the Battle of Plassey.

Important Battles of Modern India

Battle of Plassey (1757)

When Alivardi Khan died in 1756, Sirajuddaulah became the nawab of Bengal. He was defeated by the East India Company, under the leadership of Lord Clive, the first governor of Bengal. It is also known as the Black Hole Episode of the Indian history. The Battle of Plassey became famous because it was the first major victory the Company won in India.

One of the main reasons for the defeat of the Nawab was that the forces led by Mir Jafar, one of Sirajuddaulah’s commanders, never fought the battle. Clive had managed to secure his support by promising to make him nawab after crushing Sirajuddaulah. After the defeat at Plassey, Sirajuddaulah was assassinated and Mir Jafar made the nawab. 

Battle of Wandiwash (1760)

It was the decisive battle fought between the English and the French. The French rule in India came to an end.

Battle of Buxar (1764)

The joint army of Mir Quasim, former Nawab of Bengal, Suja-ud-Daulah, Nawab of Awadh and Shah Alam II was defeated by the English army under the leadership of Captain Hector Munro.

After the Battle of Buxar, the Company appointed Residents in Indian states. Through the Residents, the Company officials began interfering in the internal affairs of Indian states. They tried to decide who was to be the successor to the throne, and who was to be appointed in administrative posts.

Tipu Sultan - The Tiger of Mysore

Mysore had grown in strength under the leadership of powerful rulers like Haidar Ali (ruled from 1761 to 1782) and his son Tipu Sultan (ruled from 1782 to 1799). Mysore controlled the profitable trade of the Malabar coast where the Company purchased pepper and cardamom. In 1785, Tipu Sultan stopped the export of sandalwood, pepper and cardamom through the ports of his kingdom, and disallowed local merchants from trading with the Company. 

The British saw Haidar and Tipu as ambitious, arrogant and dangerous rulers who had to be controlled and crushed. Four wars were fought with Mysore (1767-69, 1780-84, 1790-92 and 1799). In the last war, the Battle of Seringapatam, the Company got the victory. Tipu Sultan was killed defending his capital Seringapatam, Mysore was placed under the former ruling dynasty of the Wodeyars.

The Regulating Act (1773)

In 1773, the British Parliament initiated a series of administrative and economic reforms in India. The post of Governor General for Bengal was created. Warren Hastings became the first Governor General of Bengal. The Governor General and his council had all the legislative powers. Supreme Court was established at Calcutta and Sir Elijah Impey became the Chief Justice of India.

Governor Generals of India (1774 - 1858)

1. Warren Hastings (1774 - 1785)

Warren Hastings was the first Governor General of India. The foundation of the British empire was laid down by Lord Clive (first Governor of Bengal) and Warren Hastings consolidated it.

2. Lord Cornwallis (1786 - 1793)

Lord Cornwallis is known as the father of Indian Civil Services. He introduced the system of the Permanent Settlement, also called the Permanent Settlement of Bengal, in 1703. It was an agreement between East India Company and the Bengali landlords (zamindars) for effective agricultural methods and productivity in the empire.

3. Lord Richard Wellesely (1797 - 1805)

Lord Wellesely adopted the policy of Subsidiary Alliance. He established the Fort William College at Calcutta.

4. Lord William Bentinck (1828 - 1835)

Lord William Bentinck was a famous social reformer. He abolished the Sati system in 1829. He introduced engineering education in India.

5. Lord Dalhousie (1845 - 1856)

Lord Dalhousie laid the foundation of railways in India. The first railway line was laid between Bombay and Thane and began operating in 1853. He also started the first telegram line in India between Agra and Calcutta. He introduced the Widow Remarriage Act, opened post offices throughout India, established the Public Works Department, and introduced The Doctrine of Lapse.

The doctrine declared that if an Indian ruler died without a male heir his kingdom would “lapse”, that is, become part of Company territory.

Revolt of 1857

After a hundred years of conquest and administration, the English East India Company faced a massive rebellion that started in May 1857 and threatened the Company’s very presence in India. Sepoys mutinied in several places beginning from Meerut and a large number of people from different sections of society rose up in rebellion.

On 29 March 1857, a young soldier, Mangal Pandey, was hanged to death for attacking his officers in Barrackpore. Some days later, some sepoys of the regiment at Meerut refused to do the army drill using the new cartridges, which were suspected of being coated with the fat of cows and pigs. Eighty-five sepoys were dismissed from service and sentenced to ten years in jail for disobeying their officers. This happened on 9 May, 1857.

The response of the other Indian soldiers in Meerut was quite extraordinary. On 10 May, the soldiers marched to the jail in Meerut and released the imprisoned sepoys. The sepoys of Meerut rode all night of 10 May to reach Delhi in the early hours next morning. As news of their arrival spread, the regiments stationed in Delhi also rose up in rebellion. They forced their way into the palace and proclaimed Bahadur Shah Zafar as their leader.

The ageing emperor had to accept this demand. He wrote letters to all the chiefs and rulers of the country to come forward and organize a confederacy of Indian states to fight the British. After the British were routed from Delhi, there was no uprising for almost a week. It took that much time for news to travel. Then, a spurt of mutinies began.

The Company Fights Back

The company brought reinforcements from England, passed new laws so that the rebels could be convicted with ease, and then moved into the storm centres of the revolt. Delhi was recaptured from the rebel forces in September 1857. The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar was tried in court and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in the Rangoon jail in November 1862.

The British had to fight for two years to suppress the massive forces of popular rebellion. Lucknow was taken in March 1858. Rani Lakshmibai was defeated and killed in June 1858. Tantia Tope escaped to the jungles of central India and continued to fight a guerrilla war with the support of many tribal and peasant leaders. He was captured, tried and killed in April 1859.

After the War

The British had regained control of the country by the end of 1859, but they could not carry on ruling the land with the same policies any more. The British Parliament passed a new Act in 1858 and transferred the powers of the East India Company to the British Crown in order to ensure a more responsible management of Indian affairs. A new phase of History began after 1857.

Viceroys of India

1. Lord Cunning (1858 - 1862)

Lord Cunning was the first Viceroy of India. He abolished The Doctrine of Lapse and also established three major Indian universities at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras.

2. Lord Litton (1876 - 1880)

Lord Litton introduced The Vernacular Press Act, to curb the freedom of Indian Press.

3. Lord Rippon (1880 - 1884)

Lord Rippon was known as the father of Local Self Government. He started census for the first time in India in 1881. He abolished The Vernacular Press Act and introduced Illbert Bill.

A major agitation was organized during 1883 in favor of the Ilbert Bill which would enable Indian magistrates to try Europeans.

4. Lord Curzon (1899 - 1904)

Lord Curzon was responsible for the partition of Bengal and Bengal was divided into East and West Bengal in 1905. He passed Indian University Act in 1904 and also passed The Indian Monuments Act.

5. Lord Minto (1905 -1910)

During his tenure, there was great unrest in India because of the the Indian Council Act or the Minto Morley reforms passed in 1909.

6. Lord Hardinge (1910 - 1916)

During his tenure, a Durbar was held at Delhi in 1911 to greet the King of England, George V. Bengal was unified and Delhi was made the capital in place of Calcutta in 1911.

7. Lord Chelmsford (1916 - 1921)

Under Lord Chelmsford, The Government of India Act of 1919, popularly know as Montague Chelmsford reform was passed. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place on 13th April 1919. Rowlatt Act, also called the Black Bill, was passed in 1919. The Non - Cooperation movement started in the year 1919.

8. Lord Reading (1921 - 1925)

The visit of the Duke of Connaught and the Prince of Wales to India was boycotted under Lord Reading.

9. Lord Irwin (1926 - 1931)

During Lord Irwin’s reign, the Simon commission visited India in 1928. Civil Disobedience movement was started in India by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi - Irwin pact was signed in 1931. The First Round Table Conference was held at London.

10. Lord Willingdon (1931 - 1936)

Under Lord Willingdon, the second and third round table conferences were held at London. The Poona pact was signed between Dr. B R Ambedker and Mahatma Gandhi.

11. Lord Linlithgow (1936 - 1943)

Under him, elections were held for the first time in 11 Indian states. Congress ministries were formed in eight out of 11 provisions but subsequently resigned because India was being dragged into the Second World War.

12. Lord Wavell (1943 - 1947)

Under him the Cabinet Mission came to India from London. The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly was held on 9th December, 1946.

13. Lord Mountbatten (13 March, 1947 to 14 August 1947)

Under him, an act for Indian independence was passed by British Parliament. He was the last British Governor General of independent India.

Presidents of Indian National Congress (Important Sessions)

Session Year Place President
1 1885 Bombay W C Bannerjee
3 1887 Madras Badurddin Tyagi
4 1888 Allahabad George Yule
9 1893 Lahore Dadabhai Naoroji
21 1905 Banaras G K Gokhale
22 1906 Kolkata Dadabhai Naoroji
23 1907 Surat Dr Rash Behari Ghosh
33  1917 Kolkata Mrs. Annie Besant 
35  1918  Delhi  M M Malyviya 
36  1919  Amritsar  Lala Lajpat Rai 
57  1939  Tripura  S C Bose 

Important Milestones of Modern India

First War of Independence, 1857

Mangal Pandey was a prominent figure. He killed two British sepoys at Barrackpore.

Government of India Act, 1858

Direct governance of British Crown over India.

Formation of Indian National  Congress, 1885

A. O. Hume was the founder. W.C. Banerjee was the first president of Indian National Congress.

Partition of Bengal, 1905

Bengal was divided on the basis of religion.

Swadeshi Movement, 1905

Indian National Congress adopted a resolution on 7th August, 1905 to boycott all foreign goods.

Formation of Muslim League, 1906

Founded by Aga Khan and Salimuddin at Dhaka.

Morley-Minto Reforms, 1909

Under these reforms, a separate electorate was made for Muslims during the leadership of Lord Minto.

Home Rule Movement, 1915-16

Annie Besant started the movement in September 1916.

Lucknow Pact, 1916

Congress and Muslim League held their sessions at Lucknow, which strengthened the Hindu-Muslim unity.

Rowlatt Act, 1919

It gave unstoppable powers to the government to arrest and imprison suspects, without even having a trial.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, 1919

Because of firing, under the orders of General O’ Dyer, many people were killed, while attending a public meeting at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar.

Khilafat Movement, 1920

This was an anti–British movement started by two brothers Shaukat and Muhammad Ali.

Non-Cooperation Movement, 1920

Gandhiji pioneered the movement which included the boycott of foreign goods and refusing government work.

Simon Commission, 1927

For assessing the extent of forming a representative government in India, Britishers sent Simon Commission which was furiously boycotted by Indians and Lala Lajpat Rai (a Prominent Indian leader) was died due to lathi charge in a procession against the commission. 

The response (to formation of Simon Commission) in India was immediate and unanimous, that no Indian should be thought fit to serve on a body which claimed the right to decide the political future of India, was an insult that no Indian of even most moderate political opinion was willing to swallow.

Dandi March (Salt Satyagraha), 1930

Gandhiji marched from his Sabarmati Ashram, which was basically a form of protest against the tax on salt imposed by the British Government.

Government of India Act, 1935

Passed on the basis of the Simon Commission report; it envisaged the structure of the government under the direct governance of the ‘British Crown’.

Quit India Movement, 1942

Mahatma Gandhi led this movement and asked the Britishers to leave India. After the failure of Cripps Mission, Gandhi decided to launch his third movement against the British Rule. This was the Quit India campaign, which began in August 1942.

Tebhaga Peasant Movement, 1946

In 1946 the sharecroppers of Bengal began to assert that they would no longer pay a half share of their crops to Jotedars but only 1/3rd and that before division, the crop would be stored in their khamars (Godowns) and not that of the Jotedars. 

At that time share-cropping peasants (essentially, tenants) had to give half of their harvest to the owners of the land. The demand of the Tebhaga (sharing by thirds) movement was to reduce the share given to landlords to one third.

Cabinet Mission Plan, 1946

This envisaged forming an interim government in India.

Formation of the Constituent Assembly, 1946

Without the Muslim league’s participation, under the Assembly predisency of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the Constituent Assembly was formed.

Partition of India, 1947

Indian Independence Act of 1947 was responsible for the partition of India.

Constitution Enforcement, 1950

The Constitution came into force on 26th January, 1950.