|Warren Hastings, first British Governor- General en.wikipedia.org|
Unlike his predecessors, despite his preoccupation with official duties for the English company, Hastings took time off and learnt about Indian culture and. driven by curiosity and interest, he became quite familiar with Indian languages - Bengali, Urdu and Persian. The natives and Indian rulers began to like him as he was a man of affable disposition. He developed a good contact with the natives and interested in their welfare. His attitude toward Indians was not biased and was feeling more at home in India than in his native England.
Credit goes to Warren Hastings to revive India's ancient classical language Sanskrit that was widely used by Brahman priesthood. Incidentally, the researchers at NASA, USA declared that they had found Sanskrit as the most computer-friendly language. World over, countless universities teach Sanskrit. It is said that peculiar sound vibrations produced when pronouncing Sanskrit words or mantras make brain function more effectively. Hastings, whose administrative skill deferred from other British officials, did consolidate the British rule in India and at the same time had keen interest in India's ethos and heritage. He fostered education, encouraged the codification of Hindu law, stimulated the study of Sanskrit by European scholars along with Jones, founded a Mohammedan college in Calcutta and an Indian institute in London, opened a trade route to Tibet, sponsored a survey of Bengal, and organized an expeditions to explore the seas.
In the earliest stages of his career, Hastings faced hardship as in June 1756 the Nawab's army raided the small Kasimnagar garrison and imprisoned the British including Hastings in Murshidabad, the then capital of Bengal, while his other army raided Calcutta and captured it. Hasting, fearing for his life escaped from Murshidabad to a remote isle Fulta and joined the other refugees,. Here, he met his future wife Ms. Mary Buchanan and married her. In January 1757 Clive's forces from Madras rescued them and other refugees. Later Hastings joined Robert clive and their forces recaptured Calcutta. Clive, impressed with Hastings' dedication to duty, sent him back to Karimnagar to resume his company work.
Hastings' predecessors, unlike him, had an advantage over him with respect to promotion and peerage, because they had some kind of link with the British aristocracy. Hastings, son of a clergyman and later abandoned by him, had a modest beginning in August 1750 at the age of 17 as a clerk (writer) in the East India Company (EIC), Calcutta. He climbed the ladder of officialdom by dint of hard work. His job at an up-country factory in Kasimbazaar in Bengal helped him develop a good contact with the natives and he freely mixed with them without any hesitation or inhibition, an unusual trait not visible among British Sahibs whose eccentricity was bordering on arrogance. So, being courteous and humane, Hastings earned the respect of the natives.
The English company never stuck to the trade treaty made with the local Nawab or his predecessors in Bengal. Nor, did they pay the back taxes - customs duty fees. After 1756, the The company's hostilities did not stop with the French, their trading competitor, but also targeted the peace-loving Indian rulers. The relationship between the ruling Nawab and the English company was very much strained. Pleagued by dishonesty and corruption among the higher-ups of the EIC, the Nawab was quite furious over the illegal, private trading privileges that corrupt Company employees were claiming to evade local taxes, causing heavy loss to the state's treasury, besides preventing the operation of local traders in that area. Being a member of the Governor of Bengal’s Council in 1760, Hastings did not go along with the English companyls unethical operations.
|Hastings with his wife Marian in their garden at Alipore, c. 1784–87en.wikipedia.org|
|Gov. Gen. Warren hastings. victorianweb.org/|
Above image: Warren Hastings (1732-1818) by Richard Westmacott. Marble. The two figures on either side of Hastings are part of the piece. They represent, on the left, a Muslim reading a book, and on the right, a Brahman holding a palm manuscript. The group was originally located in the south portico of the Town Hall, Calcutta. Today it is located in the West Quadrangle of the Victoria Memorial. The statue of Hastings was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1828, while the other figures were exhibited in 1829.
Photograph by Robert Freidus and Simon stock. Text by Freidus and George P. Landow.
Since the Nawab failed to be cooperative and unfriendly with the British company, this finally led to a major battle - the Battle of Buxar in October 1764, bringing down the hegemony of the future Nawab rule in Bengal and other places.
After the battle of Plassey, the East India company's unethical methods to take complete control over Bengal, the wheeling dealings of its workers in trade activities, the dishonest control over Bengal and its sources after the war of Buxar made Hastings,‘disheartened and disillusioned’. By bitter disputes with other members in the Council, he found himself in a minority. So, finally, he resigned his post and returned to England. Fate chalked out a different plan for him and after a long sojourn of four years, Hastings returned to India in 1769 to a minor post in Madras (second in council). Two years later, he was initially elevated to the post of Governor of Bengal and later to the covetous post of Governor-General, with authority over the two subordinate Presidencies of Madras and Bombay.
Clive was of the view that Hastings wanted to put the administration of Bengal under their four agents without any system of western administration. He wanted to continue the Mogul type of administration with which the natives were familiar. He pioneered in remodelling the judiciary system through out Bengal and brought the collection of taxes, etc., under effective supervision. Gov. Gen. Hastings was particular about placing the domains - revenue recollection and judiciary in the hands of the natives -intermediaries. His suspicion was European administrators would overstep on the privileges of the gullible natives and abuse their powers and the gentle natives had to put up with the 'corrupt tyranny of overbearing Englishmen’. So, he preferred the traditional Indian governance to the European-style governance.
Hastings' unintentional administrative moves got him into troubled water. He was highly criticised for his mishandling of the following: Rohilla settlers - Afghan settlers on the borders of the kingdom of Awadh (now Uttar Pradesh). He had the Nawab drive out the Rohilla settlers from their lands by supplying his troops. This was done to recover revenue from them.
Some historians point out this charge of war crime was purposely framed on Hastings to sully his name by his sworn enemies like the Whig politician, Sir Philip Francis and army officer John Clavering (both were among four members of the supreme council). At the instigation of the former, one NandaKumar, business man became a star witness to the charge of financial mismanagement against Hastings. Later, when Nandakumar was caught in a forgery case involving the property of a Hindu Widow and the judge of the Calcutta Supreme court pronounced death penalty on him. Since the judge happened to be Elijah Impey, a close friend of Hastings, it was widely discussed that the Judge connived with Hastings and gave the harsh judgement. two more incidents became a subject of serious debate in the impeachment proceedings against Hastings. One was proceedings against Hastings. One was about Raja Chait Singh of Banares, a filthy rich man and the other about the rich Begams of Awadh kingdoms who were mother and grand mother of the Nawab In both cases, Hastings departed from his soft approach and treated them in a harsh manner. This was done to get funds for major wars in the southern parts of India - to fight against Hyder Ali of Mysore and the mighty Marathas. In the former case, he was charged with extortion and in the latter he is purported to have taken away their estates, etc to help the English company tide over shortage of funds to meet ensuing war expenses.
Warren Hastings later successfully tackled anti-British coalition forces between the French and regional powers the Marathas and the Muslim ruler Hyder Ali of Mysore. The victorious initial wars against them assured of East India's company's foray in the southern parts of India, but the wars put a heavy financial strain on the company.
The British government did injustice to him to let the trial last for a long time - seven long years which itself was a big ordeal for Warren Hastings mentally and financially. Mild- mannered and gentle, he led a quiet retirement life till his death on 22 August 1818 (Daylesford, Gloucestershire) at the ripe age of 85. In 1813, both Houses of Parliament rose spontaneously to give him a standing ovation when he came to give evidence on new legislation about India. He was made a Privy Counsellor in 1814.
Much of the information discussed here is based on the following articles: