Company Rule

Company Rule

It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that almost all of the territory that constitutes Pakistan and India came under the rule of the British East India Company. The patterns of territorial acquisition and rule as applied by the company in Sindh and Punjab and the manner of governance became the basis for direct British rule in the British Indian Empire and indirect rule in the princely states under the paramountcy of the crown.

Although the British had earlier ruled in the factory areas, the beginning of British rule is often dated from the Battle of Plassey. Clive's victory was consolidated in 1764 at the Battle of Buxar (in Bihar), where the emperor, Shah Alam II, was defeated. As a result, Shah Alam was coerced to appoint the company to be the diwan (collector of revenue) for the areas of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa (this pretense of Mughal control was abandoned in 1827). The company thus became the supreme, but not the titular, power in much of the Ganges Valley, and company agents continued to trade on terms highly favorable to them.

The area controlled by the company expanded during the first three decades of the nineteenth century by two methods. The first was the use of subsidiary agreements (sanad) between the British and the local rulers, under which control of foreign affairs, defense, and communications was transferred from the ruler to the company and the rulers were allowed to rule as they wished (up to a limit) on other matters. This development created what came to be called the Native States, or Princely India, that is, the world of the maharaja and his Muslim counterpart the nawab. The second method was outright military conquest or direct annexation of territories; it was these areas that were properly called British India. Most of northern India was annexed by the British. (OTR))

At the start of the nineteenth century, most of present-day Pakistan was under independent rulers. Sindh was ruled by the Muslim Talpur mirs (chiefs) in three small states that were annexed by the British in 1843. In Punjab, the decline of the Mughal Empire allowed the rise of the Sikhs, first as a military force and later as a political administration in Lahore. The kingdom of Lahore was at its most powerful and expansive during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, when Sikh control was extended beyond Peshawar, and Kashmir was added to his dominions in 1819. After Ranjit Singh died in 1839, political conditions in Punjab deteriorated, and the British fought two wars with the Sikhs. The second of these wars, in 1849, saw the annexation of Punjab, including the present-day North-West Frontier Province, to the company's territories. Kashmir was transferred by sale in the Treaty of Amritsar in 1850 to the Dogra Dynasty, which ruled the area under British paramountcy until 1947.

As the British increased their territory in India, so did Russia expand in Central Asia. The East India Company signed treaties with a number of Afghan rulers and with Ranjit Singh. Russia backed Persian ambitions in western Afghanistan. In 1838 the company's actions bought about the First Afghan War (1838- 42). Assisted by Sikh allies, the company took Kandahar and Kabul and made its own candidate amir. The amir proved unpopular with the Afghans, however, and the British garrison's position became untenable. The retreat of the British from Kabul in January 1842 was one of the worst disasters in British military history, as a column of more than 16,000 (about one-third soldiers, the rest camp followers) was annihilated by Afghan tribesmen as they struggled through the snowbound passes on their way back to India. The British later sent a punitive expedition to Kabul, which it burned in retribution, but made no attempt to reoccupy Afghanistan.

In Punjab, annexed in 1849, a group of extraordinarily able British officers, serving first the company and then the British crown, governed the area. They avoided the administrative mistakes made earlier in Bengal. A number of reforms were introduced, although local customs were generally respected. Irrigation projects later in the century helped Punjab become the granary of northern India. The respect gained by the new administration could be gauged by the fact that within ten years Punjabi troops were fighting for the British elsewhere in India to subdue the uprising of 1857-58. Punjab was to become the major recruiting area for the British Indian Army, recruiting both Sikhs and Muslims.

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