Thursday, 11 October 2018

Gov. Gen. Warren Hastings was framed by his enemies and faced impeachment

India's firtst Gov. General Warren Hastings.alamy.com
Warren Hastings, son of a clergyman, began his career  in August 1750 at the age of 17 as a writer (clerk)  in the East India Company (EIC)'s factory in Kasimbazaar, Bengal.  Being a good and dedicated worker, naturally his promotion was quick. As much of his youthful days were spent in the subcontinent, he felt he was more an Indian than a British and had a good rapport with the natives as well as the rulers. He strongly believed that British India should be ruled by the traditional methods of governance rather than European - style of administration and in this respect, he deferred form his conservative colleagues. 
The English company's  business dealings with the local Nawabs were not honest and it severed the relationship between the Nawab and the company. The EIC never paid the duty fees as they were supposed to and their corrupt employees clandestinely engaged in ill-legal trade activities and claimed special privileges which other traders did not enjoy. This led to major skirmishes between them and finally the English company eliminated the unfriendly Nawab Siraj-ud Daulah  and  finally removed the last Nawab Mir Kasim  who later abolished the duties and special privileges. When Kasim's predecessor Mir Jaffer was the Nawab installed by the British, Hastings became a Resident (1758 to 1761) in  his court at Murshidabad  for the EIC. He also served as a member in the council (1761 to 1764) dealing with the affairs of Bengal. When the officials ill-treated the Nawab, Hastings openly voiced his concern  and was sympathetic with the local ruler. The continued hostilities led to major wars - the Battle of Plassey and  Battle of Buxar. Having won both battles,  the English company got the Diwani rights - authority to collect revenue and now the entire vast Bengal state came under their control. 
British  MP Edmund Burke led the prosecution of Hastings, en. wikipedia.org..

Through out his rule Hastings never supported the company's wheeling and dealings and on many occasions he supported the Nawabs and their legitimate rights with respect to administration. Bengal was governed by a Supreme Council (consisting of 4 members plus Hastings) and  Governor General's powers were restricted and balanced by the Council that had the  veto power to limit his decision.  The big-Whig conservative member like  Francis never supported Hastings  and his India-friendly policies. Hastings' attitude toward Indians was not biased and was feeling more at home in India than in his native England.
IMpeachment of  Gov. Gen. Warren Hastings. en.wikipedia.org
It has been part of life for many high-ranking  people with  pelf and power to see the  dark as well as bright sides of their long career and  such officials / men have to manage their critics, enemies and people who are waiting for a chance to  pull them down  from the pedestal. No doubt, Warren Hastings, in his career, faced such pit falls and received bouquet and brickbats for his actions. A case in point is his 7-year long  impeachment proceeding in the British Parliament against Warren Hastings spear-headed by none other than Edmund Burke, a good politician and forceful speaker, on the prosecution side. It was not a continuous trial and dragged on  between 1788 and 1795. The British media picked up the scoop and gave  good publicity to it. The trial is "probably the British Isles' most famous, certainly the longest, political trial".

The sensational debate brought to light Warren Hastings  visions of the empire. Those British who respected ancient Indian traditions were tagged as Orientalist and others who were keen to westernize the tradition-bound Conservative Indian natives with doses of liberal thoughts -  Anglicists as they were called. 
The most popular of all British Governors of India - Hastings became a victim of these two groups of politicians, one upholding conservative idealism and the other giving due importance to liberalism

Hastings trial in the British Parliament  focused on  his alleged persecution of Indian subjects and allies. Sir Edmund Burke said,  ''I impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose rights he has trodden under foot, and whose country he has turned into a desert''..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 in Calcutta) who thought his policies were 'self-serving and destructive' and the press added  more fuel by publishing the so called war excesses  without checking the veracity of  reports coming from Awadh and elsewhere.
Clive  was of the view that Hastings wanted to put the administration of  Bengal under their four agents (Supreme Council) without any system of western administration. He wanted to continue the Mogul type of administration with which the natives were familiar. He pioneered in remodeling 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. Since Hastings did not go along with the policies of other members in the council, he earned their hatred.  They used every opportunity to tarnish Hastings' name, relegating all his good deeds to the sideline. As you would have seen in a western spaghetti movie, these two English men, at the peak of their rage, stood against each other with drawn guns. In the shoot-out in 1780 in Calcutta,  Francis was severely wounded. Later he recovered, but  never accepted his grave mistake. He returned to England in 1781 and became Hastings enemy number one!! He never stopped his tirade against him  and spewed venom on him for no good reasons.  

Hastings' unintentional administrative moves got him into 
troubled water. He was highly criticised for his mishandling of Rohilla settlers  - Afghan settlers on the borders of the kingdom of Awadh (now Uttar Pradesh). He is purported to have received a handsome money from the Nawab for supplying his troops to drive out the Rohilla settlers from their lands.This was done to recover revenue from them.  The charge of war crimes was brought against Hastings for allowing  the Nawab to use the mercenaries to invade and annex the Rohilla lands. But, the army rampaged their settlements and caused immense grief to the settlers. Hastings never asked the Nawab to use force to deal with Rohillla settlers. 


Warren Hastings  vs banker  Nadkumar - A well known banker  Nandakumar, a close ally of  Sir Philips Francis and his coterie of associates who opposed Hastings, became a star witness in a financial mismanagement case against Hastings. He was accused of having taken bribes from rich people for certain government consideration. Now, Hastings was put in a tight situation and had to wiggle out of this strong accusation. At stake were his reputation and  integrity. When Nandakumar's criminal involvement in the case of forging the estate of a rich Hindu widow was brought before the Calcutta High court presided by Hastings' school time buddy, it turned to be a trump card for  Hastings. Though it was not a major crime, as per the English law then, it would attract death penalty. Nandakumar's execution at the gallows proved to be a deterrent  to any Indians who would collude with the opponents against Hastings leadership. It was a major political victory for Hastings, but, unfortunately the judgement carried a stigma and considered as miscarriage of justice. The paradox is it is a blot on the character and name  of Hastings whose real view was  that 'Indians should be governed by Indian, not by European  laws.''Some historians argue that Hastings knew the outcome of the Calcutta court verdict against Nandakumar. 

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  company's foray in the southern  parts of India, but the wars put a heavy financial strain on the company. 

Warren Hastings and Raja Chait Singh of Banares: His mistreatment of enormously affluent  and respected  Raja Chait Singh, also known as banker to the banks, became a subject
 of controversy and Hastings stood accused for extortion of Chait Singh  and for waging costly wars against two major regional powers. Hastings forced Chait Singh to pay 
through his nose for the following reason - 01. The war against  Marathas and Hyder Ali needed lots of money, 02. Chait Singh was conniving with the Marathas and was in touch with them, 03. He  also had contact with the French officials, their arch enemy and 04, Most importantly, Chait  Singh purposely delayed the payment, not understanding company's urgency and further he was in contact with Hastings' opponents led by Francis. 


In 1790, his  sudden raid on Raja Chait Singh in his own place in Banares  ended in fiasco which  Hastings  never expected. Though Chait Singh sought apology and forgiveness, Hastings tried to arrest him. Raja Chait Sigh gave a slip with his  security  and his big army held Hastings hostage;  Hastings  found himself under siege. He was later rescued by the reinforcements from other places. It was purely a costly judgement of error on the part of Hastings. Many historians view his highhandedness and harsh treatment of an Indian noble was in departure from his courteous behaviour.  
Yet another incident involving two women from the kingdom of Awadh drew severe criticism of Hastings' poor handling.   The ladies happened to be the Begums of Avadh, mother and grandmother of  the Nawab. The wily English company used the the kingdom of Avadh, bordering Bengal to the north and west, as a buffer state against the mighty Marathas.The kingdom of Awadh, as part of Subsidiary alliance, paid  a handsome annual fee for stationing the company troops. The young ruler Asaf ud-Daula, being carefree and extravagant, spent more time enjoying the trappings of royal life than paying little attention to the his administrative responsibility. Consequently, he ran into  huge debts beyond recovery  and his kingdom's financial situation was in a shambles.The Nawab was known to give much importance to sensual pleasure and this palace included a male harem as well. Hastings wanted to recover the recurring debt from the ruler to use the funds in the wars in the south  and, at the same time, he wanted to  put the Awadh kingdom back on the saddle - a solvent state, it means a source of strength for the English company. To recover the badly needed money, Hastings persuaded Asaf to recover some of his father’s huge wealth, which had been appropriated by the late Nawab’s widow and mother. When the Begums refused to oblige the Nawab, in rage, went along with the  troops and a British Agent and laid siege to the wealthy ladies  in their fortress - palace of Faizabad. At last, under threats,  their servants revealed where the money was stashed and the ruler recovered a huge sum of 1 crore of rupees (about Rs 640 crore today) pushing the ladies into a financial mess

es.slideshare.net
At the impeachment proceedings Edmund Burke and other Whig members argued  with their oratory skill so passionately on the harsh and despicable treatment of the two Indian royal ladies and their imprisoned eunuch-servants, many listeners in the audience became stupefied, tearful  and choked with uncontrollable sobbing and emotion. Thomas Macaulay himself admitted the popularity of Hastings in the subcontinent and to what degree, he was held in esteem by the natives. On the other hand, Hastings earned the ire of some  influential people and this minor mistakes were a fodder to the media as well as to his enemies who wanted to push Hastings into the quick-sand.

Here is  what Thomas Babbington Macaulay to say on Hastings:
''Not only had the poor orphan retrieved the fallen fortunes of his line--not only had he repurchased the old lands, and rebuilt the old dwelling--he had preserved and extended an empire. He had founded a polity. He had administered government and war with more than the capacity of Richelieu. He had patronized learning with the judicious liberality of Cosmo. He had been attacked by the most formidable combination of enemies that ever sought the destruction of a single victim; and over that combination, after a struggle of ten years, he had triumphed. He had at length gone down to his grave in the fullness of age, in peace, after so many troubles, in honour, after so much obloquy.''
Westminster Hall where the trial took place,en.wikipedia.org

''Those who look on his character without favour or malevolence will pronounce that, in the two great elements of all social virtue, in respect for the rights of others, and in sympathy for the sufferings of others, he was deficient. His principles were somewhat lax. His heart was somewhat hard. But though we cannot with truth describe him either as a righteous or as a merciful ruler, we cannot regard without admiration the amplitude and fertility of his intellect, his rare talents for command, for administration, and for controversy, his dauntless courage, his honorable poverty, his fervent zeal for the interests of the State, his noble equanimity, tried by both extremes of fortune, and never disturbed by either.''

Hastings impeachment proceeding in grand  Westminster Hall  was dubbed as the greatest show in London attended by the people from the higher strata of the fashionable English society. The trial, first in the House of Commons and then in the Lords, caused  Hastings  financial drain, making him shell out  lots of money beyond his capability his debt amounted to 70,000.00 pounds.   His fortune, earned in India  was  small  in comparison to other  dishonest British Sahibs who got more than a bundle in India and back in their land they lived no less flamboyant than  Maharajahs/Nabobs. Officials like  Clive and in the later years Wellesly  and others dishonestly earned  so much money, they were tagged as English Nabobs.  

After the impeachment trial was over when put to vote in 1795, as the evidence against Hastings was inconclusive and not convincing, he was  acquitted. He did not receive any honors that he deserved and upon his request the EIC  compensated him with a loan of 50,000.00 pounds plus an annual pension of 4000.00 pounds. 
Hastings retired from service in 1785 and before his retirement the allegations by Francis and  the war reports had already damaged  his  reputation of  and the moral standard of British officers working in India came into focus and became a subject of concern. Historians point out that Hastings oratorical skill was no match for people like Burke and  Macaulay and as far Burke, though his intention was unquestionable, he stretched far beyond the limit of patience and pinned evils of a bad situation  on one person and he chose a wrong man who had been a dedicated employee of the English company. Hastings was good at  organizing the company’s military and financial resources to counter every threat on various fronts and it forced him to raise additional contingent funds. This landed him in serious trouble when he demanded subsidy to the company from Chait Singh, the Raja of Banares, and the requisitioning of the treasures of the begums of Oudh (the mother and grandmother of the vizier). At the same time he  was instrumental in bringing Marathas to  peace in 1782, as was Mysore in 1784, 
As for  administrative policies he was a stickler for justice and .
removed nawabs and zamindars from the corrupt & prejudiced judicial decision making. He introduced a civil court in every district  under the Collector and a criminal court under an Indian judge. He also instituted higher courts and a Supreme court was set up in Calcutta (via the Regulating Act 1773). Most importantly, he  abolished the system of dastaks, or free passes and regulated the internal trade. He enforced uniform tariffs and instituted a uniform system of pre-postage stamps. Some of these evolved during his regime are being followed in present-day India. 
civilsdaily.com/

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 him 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 Counselor in 1814

In the later years, Hastings Orientalist approach to Indian problems was pushed to the back burner and  westernization of Indian  natives gained currency as suggested by Thomas Macaulay who wanted western oriented brown-Sahibs, perhaps to rum the administration  on a salary just half of the British Sahibs.  The trial of Hastings subtly gave a warning to future higher- ups going to India on assignment and their conduct in India. They were accountable to their breach of duty and of poor  treatment of Indian natives. The irony is may British officers never shed their Britishness and aristocratic arrogance. A glaring example is Conservative politician and a well-known racist Winston Churchill who, in the 1943 great Bengal famine presided over the death of millions of Bangalis by preventing conscientious British officials from taking action to prevent the tragedy. Earlier, he stalled India's freedom process for a pretty long time using various pretexts
Much of the information discussed here is based on the following articles:
https://www.openthemagazine.com/article/essay/warren-Hastings-loved-india-a-little-more-than-his-own-country
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_of_Warren_Hastings
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Warren-Hastings
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Hastings
https://scroll.in/article/882623/indias-first-newspaper-covered-corruption-and-scandal-and-sexual-practices-fearlesslyy