Thursday, June 30, 2022

On Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s Movement for Kashmir

Is it a valid argument that Syama Prasad Mookerjee was as culpable for the crisis in Kashmir as Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah? This is Ramachandra Guha’s argument in his book India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy.

In Chapter 12, “Securing Kashmir,” of his book, Guha writes: “Behind the troubles of the 1950s were the ambitions of Sheikh Abdullah and S. P. Mookerjee. Neither was willing to play within the rules of constitutional democracy. Both raised the political stakes and both, tragically, paid for it.” But Guha does not clarify: what rules of the constitution he believed Mookerjee had violated during the course of his activism for Kashmir? Mookerjee was a strict constitutionalist—he was not known to violate the law. 

Mookerjee was exercising his democratic right when he stood with the protestors in Jammu who were proclaiming: “Ek Desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan, do nishan—nahin chalenge, nahin chalenge.” (Two constitutions, two flags, and two heads of state cannot coexist in the same nation). There was nothing illegal in this proclamation. Mookerjee was fighting to safeguard the unity of the country—he was against special status for Kashmir; he was demanding that all states in the country should have the same constitution. 

Guha tries to diminish Mookerjee by calling him a “Bengali bhadralok of the old school,” who was “comfortable in a suit and tie” and had the habit of sipping whiskey. I think this is just a snide attack on Mookerjee—and Guha should not feel proud of writing such lines.

In 1952, Mookerjee gave a series of speeches on Kashmir in the parliament. In one of his speeches, he asked: “Who made Sheikh Abdullah the King of Kings in Kashmir?” It is the truth that Nehru had conferred too much power on his friend, Abdullah: he had made Abdullah a virtual “king of kings” in Kashmir. It was Mookerjee’s right and duty to raise in the parliament questions regarding Nehru’s Kashmir policy. But in Guha’s book Mookerjee gets depicted as a right-wing bigot whose unreasonable demands wrecked the possibility of achieving a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir crisis. 

In the final section of Chapter 12, Guha asks if things could have turned out otherwise in Kashmir? His answer: “Perhaps if Sheikh Abdullah and Syama Prasad Mookerjee had acted with responsibility and restraint.” It is noteworthy that he does not include Nehru in the list of people who could have acted with responsibility and restraint. In 1952, the party that Mookerjee had founded, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, had just three seats in the parliament. With just three seats, Mookerjee had no power. It is unfair to accuse him of being irresponsible or unrestrained. 

It is clear that by transferring a part of the blame for the Kashmir crisis on Mookerjee (the leader of so-called Hindu right), Guha is trying to defend Nehru’s Kashmir policy.

As a solution to the Kashmir problem, Guha mentions a scheme conceived by Philip Spratt, a Marxist journalist. In an article, Spratt had suggested India should hold on to Jammu, while allowing Abdullah to create an independent kingdom of Kashmir in the valley. Mookerjee was opposed to such ridiculous schemes. He was not going to allow another division of the country. On 11 May 1953, Mookerjee arrived in Kashmir and was arrested. He died, reportedly of a heart attack, on 22 June, in Srinagar where he was being held.

On India’s Disastrous Foreign Policy in the 1950s

In the 1950s, India’s foreign policy towards China was incredibly utopian—utopian because the Indian government was being led by fools who were convinced that communist regimes are kind and nonviolent, and that they would never invade other nations. What else can one conclude after reading the praise that the Indians who held powerful positions in the government of that period were bestowing on China’s Chairman Mao Zedong. 

K. M. Panikkar, India’s ambassador to China from 1948 to 1952, wrote a book called In Two Chinas: Memoirs Of A Diplomat (published in 1954). In 1952, he met Mao, and in several pages of his book, he has talked about the meeting. On page 31, he writes: “[Mao] was generally described in the newspapers as the great philanthropist. In appearance he looked a distinguished old-style mandarin, a grave, benevolent personality, courteous and dignified, one who looked on the affairs of the world with a friendly detachment.” 

On page 81, Pannikar writes: “[Mao’s] personality is impressive but not intimidating and he has the gift of making people feel at home. There is no cruelty or hardness either in his eyes or in the expression of his mouth. In fact he gave me the impression of a philosophical mind, a little dreamy but absolutely sure of itself.” 

On page 82, Pannikar makes the case that Mao and Jawaharlal Nehru are alike. “A more profitable comparison would be with Nehru. Both are men of action, but with dreamy, idealistic temperaments. While both may be considered humanists in the broadest sense of the term, Nehru has his roots in Western liberalism which affects even his socialist thinking. Mao Tse-tung, being mostly self-educated, with his economics and history learnt from Marx and Lenin, has perhaps no use for the liberal creed of individual liberty. However, as one bred in the classical literature of China, with an early Buddhist training, it is perhaps fair to add that Mao has something more than the dry theories of Marxism in his mental makeup.”

Diplomats are supposed to be a shrewd judge of people, but Pannikar was foolish. He made an outrageously incorrect analysis of Mao’s character. Perhaps he was a good professor and newspaper editor, but he was unfit for the post of a diplomat. Nehru made one of his worst appointments when he gave Pannikar the post of India’s ambassador to China. 

In the summer of 1952, Nehru sent a delegation headed by his younger sister Mrs. Vijayalakshmi Pandit to Beijing. Mrs. Pandit had earlier served as an ambassador to Moscow. In Beijing she met Mao and was enchanted. In her letter to her brother Nehru, she said that Mao had a “great sense of humor.” Somehow Mao made her think of Mahatma Gandhi. She wrote in her letter that as with Gandhiji, “the public doesn’t just applaud [Mao], they worship him. There is both love and adoration in the glances of those who look at him. It is moving to see.”

How could she compare Mao with Gandhiji? Didn’t she know that Mao was starving and butchering millions of his countrymen? Even in the 1950s, this was not a secret—most countries knew about what was happening in China. The members of Nehru’s government were living in their own dreamworld in which the communist regimes are always nice and nonviolent. They were deluding themselves by the notion that Mao was benevolent, philosophical, and kind, and that he was like Gandhiji.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

On Nehru’s Mission to Propagate Secularism

The French writer André Malraux met Jawaharlal Nehru on several occasions in the 1950s and 1960s. In his autobiographical book Antimémoires, published in 1967 (Anti-Memoirs, 1968), Malraux has given a lengthy account of his conversations with Nehru. 

In one of the conversions Malraux asked Nehru, "What has been your greatest difficulty since independence?” Nehru’s answer: “…creating a secular state in a religious country. Especially when its religion is not founded on a book of revelation." Malraux says that at that moment he thought that he was “face to face simultaneously with eternal India.” He was filled with the notion that “Nehru was attempting one of the most profound metamorphoses in the world.” (Anti-Memoirs, page 143) 

I wonder if Nehru was criticizing Hinduism when he said that it was not founded on “a book of revelation.” Nehru saw himself as a world historical figure, not a mere prime minister, whose primary responsibility was to enable Indians, especially the Hindus, to transcend their religion and become secular. The problem was that only the Hindus were expected to be secular in Nehru’s India—his secularism implied that the Hindus should love all religions except their own.

Ramachandra Guha Forgets Netaji

Imagine writing a 944-page history of independent India without mentioning in it even once the name of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Ramachandra Guha achieves this feat in his book India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy

Guha would probably argue that since his book is on India after Mahatma Gandhi, he did not need to mention Bose who is thought to have died in an air crash in 1945. But then why does Guha begin his book with Mirza Ghalib who died in 1869? Why does he call Delhi “Ghalib’s native city”? Why does he talk about leaders like Motilal Nehru and several others who predeceased Gandhi?

For most Indians, Bose is as important as Nehru. In the twenty-first century, there has been a rise in Bose’s popularity and a steep decline in Nehru’s popularity. Delhi is much more Bose’s city than Ghalib's. India is much more Bose’s country than Nehru’s. But left-wingers like Guha worship Nehru; they want to minimize Bose’s role in India’s history.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A Note on Ramachandra Guha’s History of Independent India

Ramachandra Guha begins the prologue to his book, India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, with a poem called “Chirag-i-Dair,” which Mirza Ghalib wrote in 1827. Guha notes that “Ghalib’s poem was composed against the backdrop of the decline of the Mughal Empire.” This makes me wonder: why can’t Indian historians talk about India without first offering a panegyric to the Islamic poets and the Mughal Empire? 

In Section IV of his prologue, Guha introduces Delhi as “Ghalib’s native city.” He writes: “In the last decade of the last century I became a resident of Ghalib’s native city.” It is odd to see Delhi, one of the world's oldest cities, older than any European city, being described as merely Ghalib’s native city. In light of Delhi’s long history—the city was probably founded in the Mahabharata (Vedic) age—there could be many other ways of describing it. According to many historians, Delhi has the ruins of several great cities of the past buried underneath it. But Guha reduces Delhi to the level of Ghalib and the Mughals. 

Sardar Patel gets greatly diminished in the pages of Guha’s book while Jawaharlal Nehru is heaped with adulations. Guha tries to pull Patel down by making the case that Mountbatten, not Patel, deserves the credit for uniting the 565 princely states with India. He also tries to make the case that Patel was not enthusiastic about getting Kashmir to join India. “Notably, while Nehru always wanted Kashmir to be part of India, Patel was at one time inclined to allow the state to join Pakistan.” Guha makes this claim on the basis of a book written by Rajmohan Gandhi.

For Guha, Nehru is a sort of gold standard against whom other Indian leaders have to be measured. He presents Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a leader “who had even gone so far as to praise the Hindu Right’s pet aversion, Jawaharlal Nehru.” Really? Is there no other way of describing Vajpayee’s politics? 

A tribalistic and provincial politician like Sheikh Abdullah gets portrayed as a great statesman and visionary in Guha's book, while major national leaders are not even mentioned. Guha points out that in November 1947, when the Indian army was fighting to save Kashmir, Nehru insisted that the “only person who can deliver the goods in Kashmir is Sheikh Abdullah.” Nehru also called Abdullah a “leading personality in Kashmir.” It is clear that by overtly amplifying Abdullah’s role in Kashmir, Guha is trying to defend Nehru’s Kashmir policy. 

Abdullah gets more coverage in Guha’s book than Advani. Talking about Advani’s Ram Mandir campaign, Guha writes: “L. K. Advani’s rath yatra had, in effect, become a raktyatra, a journey of blood."

Guha’s description of the 2002 violence in Gujarat reads like a dubious report compiled by Teesta Setalvad’s discredited NGO. The sources that he has used include biased left-wingers like Siddharth Varadarajan and Rana Ayyub. Guha describes Narendra Modi as “a hard-line Hindutva ideologue who had grown up in the unforgiving school of the RSS.” Unforgiving? He notes that “Ever since the pogrom of 2002, Modi had been suspect in the eyes of the Indian intelligentsia.” Naturally, by Indian intelligentsia, Guha is pointing towards left-wingers like himself.

There are some good insights in Guha’s book, but this is definitely not an objective history of India. A leftwing intellectual like Guha cannot be expected to produce an objective history of India. He worships Nehru and he despises the so-called Hindu rightwing—naturally this bias taints his view of history. He has always been close to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which has ruled this country for several decades after independence. He is a strong supporter of leftist economics. All these biases are apparent in every chapter of his book.

Monday, June 27, 2022

When Did Asoka Convert to Buddhism?

Most history texts claim that Emperor Asoka’s conversion to Buddhism happened after the Kalinga war, which was fought in the ninth year of his reign. This claim is made on the basis of Asoka’s thirteenth rock edict which states that being disgusted by the bloodshed and destruction caused during the Kalinga war, Asoka converted to Buddhism. Since Asoka became the Emperor of the Maurya Empire in 273 BC, historians believe that he converted to Buddhism in 264 BC. 

However, there are three Buddhist texts, the Asokavadana, the Asoka-sutra, and the Kunala-sutra, which suggest that Asoka could have become a Buddhist, or become inspired by Buddhism, while he was the crown-prince and his father Bindusara was the Emperor. These texts are hard to date, as amendments have been made to them for centuries. In their book, Pilgrimage: Past and Present in the World Religions, historians John Elsner and Simon Coleman have posited that the earliest version of the Asokavadana was composed immediately after Asoka’s death. 

According to these Buddhist texts, during Bindusara’s reign there was a rebellion in Gandhara, a province located in modern-day Pakistan. To quell the rebellion, Bindusara dispatched an army led by crown-prince Asoka. The Ashokavadana states that when Asoka arrived in the province, the people of Gandhara welcomed him. They told him that the rebellion was against the evil ministers, not the king. After that Asoka governed Gandhara for several years as his father’s viceroy. In that period, Gandhara was a major center of Buddhist learning. 

During Asoka’s viceroyalty, Buddhism gained further strength in the entire North-West region. In his 1935 translation of Kalhana’s Rajatarangini (The Saga of the Kings of Kashmir), R. S. Pandit (Nehru’s brother-in-law) writes: “It was during Asoka’s efficient viceroyalty of the North-West that Buddhism gained strength in these parts and spread to Kashmir and Afghanistan. He covered these countries with Sangharamas and monuments, some of which still survive such as his inscriptions at Shahbazgarhi and his celebrated tower near Kabul known as the Minar Charki.”

Asoka probably converted to Buddhism while he was serving as the viceroy of Gandhara, otherwise he would not have spent the resources of the Maurya Empire on constructing Buddhist monuments in the North-West domain of his viceroyalty.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Principle of Karma

The Hindu principle of Karma does not entail that man’s life is fully determined, or that man cannot have free will since his life is governed by a destiny over which he has no control. Karma is a factor in the circumstances in which a human being is born. Only the past is determined by Karma while the future is conditioned—this means that while man’s future is influenced by his past, he has the option of exercising his free will to shape his future. In his 1926 book, The Hindu View of Life, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan has reflected on the principle of Karma. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3: “Lecture III: Hindu Dharma I”: 

“The principle of Karma reckons with the material or the context in which each individual is born. While it regards the past as determined, it allows that the future is only conditioned. The spiritual element in man allows him freedom within the limits of his nature. Man is not a mere mechanism of instincts. The spirit in him can triumph over the automatic forces that try to enslave him. The Bhagavad-Gita asks us to raise the self by the self. We can use the material with which we are endowed to promote our ideals. The cards in the game of life are given to us. We do not select them. They are traced to our past Karma, but we can cal! as we please, lead what suit we will, and as we play, we gain or lose. And there is freedom.”

Saturday, June 25, 2022

From Powerless Proles to Powerful Proletariat

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, “dictatorship of the proletariat” became a revolutionary slogan, and the word “proletariat” became the name of the class that was spearheading the global communist revolution. In communist societies, the proletarians were the elites who dominated the political and cultural establishment. 

The word “proletariat” has a humble origin. It comes from the Latin word “proletarius,” which was applied in Ancient Rome to the citizens of the lowest class who did not own any property, did not have any social status, and whose only contribution to the state was having children. Proletarius is linked to the word “proles,” or offspring. 

In India, the masses are known by the words “janta” or “jana,” which are linked to the Sanskrit term “jan” (to be born). But the Indian janta has not acquired the power and privilege that the world bestows on the Marxist proletariat.

Rewriting History from the Hindu Point of View

Most history books that Indian scholars have produced in the last 100 years look at India’s past from a colonial (European), Islamic, and Marxist point of view. Indians must rewrite their history from the Hindu point of view. Old facts have to be interpreted anew, and new insights into the past developed, from the Hindu point of view. Karl Marx has rightly said: "The first battlefield is the rewriting of History!” In the battlefield of history, the Hindus have a lot of work to do.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Monotheism, Tyranny, and Warfare

By its insistence on total unity behind one God and one religious doctrine, monotheism often leads to oppression and tyranny. In his book, The Psychology of the Religious Life (Chapter 25, “Standards of Religion”), George Malcolm Stratton writes:

“For the monotheist is apt to overprize the mere unity in his Ideal, forgetful that unity, if it grow too great, is tyrannous. Moral dignity, unswerving sympathy, and justice are, after all, more important elements in the divine conception; and we may better believe in these great qualities, though vested in many gods, than adopt a monotheism that leaves them out. Indeed, more than once in history a divine unity and concord has been attained at a cost of human colour and the rich play of interest and feeling… The Ideal is not merely a unity; it is quite as much a wealth and a diversity.”

A monotheistic region can be particularly useful for uniting a tribal society under one tyrant and forging a united army that will wage wars for plunder and conquest.

Nehru on Kashmir’s Conversion

In his book The Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru has written that in the middle of the nineteenth century a significant part of Kashmir’s population was eager to reconvert to the religion of their ancestors—Hinduism—but they could not because of the obstructive attitude of the pandits of Benares. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6, “New Problems'': 

“In Kashmir a long-continued process of conversion to Islam had resulted in 95 per cent of the population becoming Moslems, though they retained many of their old Hindu customs. In the middle of the nineteenth century the Hindu ruler of the state found that very large numbers of these people were anxious or willing to return en bloc to Hinduism. He sent a deputation to the pundits [sic] of Benares inquiring if this could be done. The pundits refused to countenance any such change of faith and there the matter ended.” 

This shows that even in the middle of nineteenth century, the Hindu leaders were not feeling too concerned about the fact that a significant part of the Hindu population of the Indian subcontinent (about 25 percent) had converted to Islam. They were not prepared to take drastic steps to get these people to reconvert to Hinduism. In the twentieth century, when the religious harmony of the Indian subcontinent was shattered, the Hindus woke up from their dogmatic slumber and developed the will to proselytize. Nehru makes a note of this in Chapter 6 of his book: 

“Apart from political reasons, there has also been a growth in Hinduism of a tendency to proselytize and convert non-Hindus to Hinduism. This is one of the direct effects of Islam on Hinduism, though in practice it brings it into conflict with Islam in India.”

In the nineteenth century, if the Benares pandits had allowed the Kashmiris to reconvert to Hinduism, then the Kashmir crisis would not have erupted in the twentieth century—the wars, the bloodshed, the economic decline, the misery that has plagued Kashmir could have been avoided. The people of Kashmir, particularly the Kashmiri Pandits, have suffered terribly from the violence. Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits have been killed; many more have fled from the Kashmir valley leaving behind their ancestral property.

In his film The Kashmir Files, writer and director Vivek Agnihotri has captured some of the pain and trauma that the Kashmiri Pandits have faced due to militancy and violence.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The West's Capitalist Corporation: Military Pvt. Ltd.

From 1600 to the 1930s, the most profitable “capitalist” corporation in the West was: Military Pvt. Ltd. The Western nations were using their military to conquer colonies, plunder societies of their natural and manmade resources, capture millions of slaves, and gain monopolistic control over trade routes—the result of this activity was windfall revenues that was several times the amount that they were spending on their military. 

Things changed after the Second World War which led to a new world order in which colonization was impossible. Since the 1950s, Britain and America have been making efforts to fund their military by capturing the oil resources of the Middle East. But after the formation of OPEC in 1960, the era of cheap oil was gone, and after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, America and Britain lost their influence in the Middle East. 

The dollar’s status as a global reserve currency was making it easy for America to meet its military expenses by raising new capital from other countries at an extremely low cost. But now the dollar is losing its reserve currency status. Why should other nations keep billions of dollars in reserve when America is facing high inflation and the value of its currency is declining? 

The real cause of the global economic crisis is that now the Western nations have to pay for their military from their own resources—by taxing their people and businesses; by selling their natural resources. Their military expenses—especially that of America and Britain—are too high. The economy of all Western states will be wiped out in a decade if domestic revenues are the only resource by which they have to fund their military.

The West faces the Devil’s alternative: If they do not cut down their military expenses, their economy will collapse; if they cut down their military expenses, they will face geopolitical chaos.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hastings on the Marathas

“The Marathas possess, alone of all the people of Hindustan and Deccan, a principle of national attachment, which is strongly impressed on the minds of all individuals of the nation, and would probably unite their chiefs, as in one common cause, if any great danger were to threaten the general state.” ~ Warren Hastings in 1784

The Mughal Empire was finished after Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, and the Marathas became a potent political force in India, a symbol of Hindu nationalism, until the diplomatic and military success of the British in 1818. Between 1707 and 1818, despite the debacle they faced in the Battle of Panipat (1761), the Marathas came very close to uniting India.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Three Experiments of Mixing Religion and Politics

The world’s first experiment of mixing religion and politics happened in India, in the third century BC, when Emperor Asoka of the Maurya Empire converted to Buddhism. In that age, the Maurya Empire, with a population of around 25 million, was home to one-fourth of the world’s population. Asoka believed that Buddhism could unite all of humanity and bring everlasting peace in the world. He sent Buddhist missionaries to several neighboring countries. Buddhism is the only religion that has won millions of converts in many parts of the world without any violence.

The second experiment of mixing religion and politics happened in Europe, in the fourth century AD, when Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, which was then a non-violent and a deeply theological religious movement. Before Constantine, Rome’s pagan rulers used to see Christianity as a fringe movement which appealed to the poor and illiterate class. Constantine’s conversion brought wealth, power, and grandeur to Christianity. However, the Christians did not develop a militaristic policy till the eleventh century (the time of the crusades). 

The third experiment of mixing religion and politics happened in the Middle East, in the seventh century AD, when inspired by the teachings of Islam, the army of Arabs poured out of the Arabian desert and launched a series of military campaigns. Within two years of the death of Islam’s founder, in 632 AD, the Arabs had conquered Baghdad. They conquered Syria in 636 AD; Persia between 633 to 654 AD; the holy city of Jerusalem between 636 and 637 AD; Egypt between 639 and 646 AD; Carthage on the Northern African coast in 698 AD; and Europe’s Iberian peninsula in 711 AD. 

In the case of Buddhism, the militarization of religion never happened; despite being the religion of the ruling class in several empires in India, China, Tibet, Japan, Ceylon, and other places, Buddhism remained a pacifist religion. In the case of Christianity, the militarization happened about 1000 years after founding. In the case of Islam, the militarization was instantaneous. 


The criteria that I have used for selecting these three religions are:

1. The religion should be extant; it should be a major religion in the contemporary world. 

2. The religion should have served as the official ideology of major empires in the past. 

3. The religion should be expansionist—it should possess the zeal to convert all of humanity.

Monday, June 20, 2022

India’s 2500-Year-Long Tradition of Ahimsa

Did Emperor Asoka’s policy of governing through the pacifist tenets of Buddhism lead to the downfall of the Maurya Empire? In his book Ancient India (Chapter II, “The Maurya Empire''), R C Majumdar writes: “…Asoka must be held primarily responsible for the downfall of the great empire. The empire was founded by the policy of blood and iron and could only be maintained by following the same policy. But by eschewing all wars and abandoning the aggressive imperial policy, Asoka weakened the very foundations of the empire.”

In 273 BC, when Asoka ascended to the throne, the Maurya Empire covered much of the Indian subcontinent: from Afghanistan in the West to Assam in the East, from Kashmir in the North to the Southern part of India, as far as modern-day Karnataka. According to Megasthenes, the ambassador of Seleucus I in the court of the first Maurya emperor, Chandragupta (Asoka’s grandfather), the Maurya army was highly organized and well-armed—it consisted of “600,000 infantry, 30,000 horsemen, 36,000 men with 9,000 elephants, 24,000 men with 8000 chariots, excluding followers and attendants.”

The Kalinga war happened in the ninth year of Asoka’s reign. Kalinga was a powerful and populous state and they fought very hard to defend their kingdom. Asoka himself led his army in the battle; he won after inflicting a terrible massacre on the Kalinga side. The text in his thirteenth rock edict describes the aftermath of the Kalinga war: it says that 100,000 people were killed and 150,000 were captured. The text contains a description (probably in Asoka’s own words) of the pain that he felt by the bloodshed and destruction. He was filled with disgust for every form of violence, and decided to become a Buddhist. 

Asoka became obsessed with preaching the Buddhist philosophy of ahimsa (non-violence). He gave up meat (since Buddhism forbade injury to any creature), and most members of his government and his dynasty did the same. He started using the resources of his empire to propagate Buddhism, and he modeled the policies of his empire on the basis of the tenets of Buddhist philosophy. When a rebellion broke out in his empire’s southern province, instead of sending a powerful military to crush the rebels, Asoka sent a delegation of Buddhist monks. His constant preaching of the virtue of ahimsa weakened the military structure of the Maurya Empire, and led to a decline in the martial spirit of the masses.

India had powerful empires after the Maurya Empire’s fall—the Gupta Empire (early fourth to late sixth centuries AD) was bigger than the Maurya Empire. The Guptas maintained a strong military and were not pacifist or Buddhist. But Buddhist philosophy was popular in the intellectual class. After the Guptas faded, the Northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent, the area where Afghanistan and Pakistan are located, came under the domination of Buddhist rulers. These Buddhists tried to deal with the Islamic invasions, which began in 636 AD, by using their philosophy of ahimsa. Between the ninth and fourteenth centuries, Afghanistan and Pakistan were subjugated by Islam.  

Mahatma Gandhi was not the original proponent of ahimsa in India. The original proponent was Buddha, who preached his Buddhist philosophy in the sixth century BC.

Buddhist philosophy has existed in India for more than 2500 years, and ahimsa has become ingrained in India's culture. In the 1930s, Gandhiji’s call for a nonviolent struggle against British rule resonated powerfully with the people of India; Subhas Chandra Bose’s call for a military campaign to overthrow the British Empire did not evoke the same kind of resonance. Some scholars have suggested that Gandhiji was influenced by Tolstoy’s Christian pacifism. This is not correct. Gandhiji was a pacifist in the ancient Buddhist tradition, which became enshrined in Indian culture during Asoka’s reign.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Conversion of Kamala Das

In 1999, at the age of 65, the popular writer and socialite Kamala Das converted to Islam—she took the name Kamala Surayya. The reason that she gave for moving out of the fold of Hinduism, the traditional religion of her ancestors, was: “There is too much freedom in Hinduism… I am lonely and need the solace of a protective religion like Islam and a merciful God like Allah.” While talking about her religious conversion, she ranted against Hinduism and managed to hurt the sentiments of many pious Hindus by her remarks on Lord Krishna. 

Most of the mainstream media cheerfully reported on her conversion and her remarks on Lord Krishna. Journalists flooded her with interview requests. She gave more interviews within two months of her conversion than she had in all her earlier life. She became a media celebrity. She was eulogized by the intellectuals who branded her as a “brave lady.” In an interview Kamala was asked what attracted her to Islam. Her answer

"Two plain reasons. One is the purdah. Second is the security that Islam provides to women. In fact, both these reasons are complementary. Purdah is the most wonderful dress for women in the world. And I have always loved to wear the purdah. It gives women a sense of security. Only Islam gives protection to women. I have been lonely all through my life. At nights, I used to sleep by embracing a pillow. But I am no longer a loner. Islam is my company. Islam is the only religion in the world that gives love and protection to women. Therefore, I have converted.”

People who were close to her revealed other reasons for her conversion. They claimed that her conversion was a publicity stunt. Another reason they gave was that she was in love with a Muslim and they were planning to get married. They also claimed that she wanted to please filmmaker Ismail Merchant who was planning a movie on her novel My Story. Kamala’s close associate Merrily Weisbord has alleged in her book The Love Queen of Malabar that there was a political conspiracy behind Kamala’s conversion to Islam.

Kamala was right when she said, “There is too much freedom in Hinduism.” One of Hinduism’s virtues is that it offers freedom of expression and religious practice. For thousands of years, Hindu kings have adhered to the cardinal principle of protecting people of all faiths. But this virtue has led to one of the greatest weaknesses of Hinduism: the lack of strategy for Dharam Yudha (Holy Campaign). The philosophy of Dharam Yudha is strong in Hinduism but this philosophy has not evolved into a cultural and geopolitical strategy for protecting one's religion and culture.

Friday, June 17, 2022

On Dalrymple’s False History of 1857

For William Dalrymple historical supremacy is a question of religion: he ignores the role that the Hindus played in India’s history, and he overhypes the deeds of the Islamic rulers and warlords. In the nineteenth century India that he visualizes in his book The Last Mughal, the Hindus are depicted as fringe elements from whom no cultural and political achievements can be expected. Every cultural and political achievement that he describes in his book is Islamic. 

The Last Mughal reads like a paean to the Mughal dynasty and a hagiography of the so-called last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar. Those who know something about India’s history might feel appalled by Dalrymple’s inflated description of Zafar. Here’s an excerpt from the book’s Introduction: 

“[Zafar] succeeded in creating around him in Delhi a court of great brilliance. Personally, he was one of the most talented, tolerant and likable of his dynasty: a skilled calligrapher, a profound writer on Sufism, a discriminating patron of painters of miniatures, and an inspired creator of gardens and an amateur architect. Most importantly he was a very serious mystical poet, who wrote not only in Urdu and Persian but Braj Bhasha and Punjabi, and partially through his patronage there took place arguably the greatest literary renaissance in modern Indian history.”

Look at the highfalutin phrases that Dalrymple has used to embellish Zafar: “great brilliance,” “most talented, tolerant and likable,” “a skilled calligrapher,” “a profound writer,” "a discriminating patron," “an inspired creator,” “a very serious mystical poet.” Instead of lavishing such praises on Zafar, shouldn’t Dalrymple simply describe the actual facts of history and let his readers decide what kind of man Zafar was? When Dalrymple calls the 1850s, “the greatest literary renaissance in modern Indian history,” he makes it abundantly clear that knows nothing about India. 

The truth is that throughout his adult life, Zafar was an opium addict. He never undertook any military campaign, he was never interested in administrative matters, and he never did any public work. He was a man without any achievement. In 1837, the British, who were then in control of Delhi, bestowed on Zafar the title of Mughal Emperor. But Zafar did not have any power. His writ did not run outside the walls of the Red Fort, where he lived as a virtual prisoner and slave of the British, who used to regularly humiliate him by denying him money for his petty expenses. 

A major part of Dalrymple’s book is devoted to the Mutiny of 1857. He tries to create the impression that Zafar, who was a senile 81-year-old opium addict in 1857, whose days were being spent in coining silly verses in the company of other opium addicts, and in trying to mediate in the pathetic disputes between his multiple wives and concubines, was somehow the central figure in the Mutiny. Zafar had never been a military leader. He never fought a war. He had no administrative talents. He did not have a commanding personality. He was never a leader of the Mutineers of 1857. 

Dalrymple fails to clearly establish in his book that a great majority of the sepoys who spearheaded the mutiny were Hindus. They were led by Hindu leaders like Rani Laxmibai, Nana Saheb, Kunwar Singh, Tantia Tope, Amar Singh. These leaders get dismissed in the pages of Dalrymple's book in just one or two lines, and some of them fail to get a mention. Dalrymple’s bias against Hindus becomes obvious when he calls the sepoys, “a large undisciplined army of boorish and violent peasants from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.” He diminishes the contribution of sepoy Mangal Pandey with the claim that he was irrelevant to the Mutiny. 

In chapter 12, “The Last of the Great Mughals,” Dalrymple calls Agra, a city that has existed since the Mahabharata age, a Mughal city. He seems to suggest that he was pained to see in Agra the statues of leaders who are not Mughals: Shivaji, the Rani of Jhansi, and Subhas Chandra Bose. Here’s an excerpt from his lament in chapter 12: 

“Today, if you visit the old Mughal city of Agra, perhaps to see the Taj Mahal, the supreme architectural achievement of Mughal rule, note how the roundabouts are full of statues of the Rani of Jhansi, Shivaji and even Subhas Chandra Bose; but not one image of any Mughal emperor has been erected anywhere in the city since independence. Although a Bahadur Shah Zafar road still survives in Delhi, as indeed do roads named after all other Great Mughals…” Only the Mughals get the title of “Great” in Dalrymple’s books. 

He goes on to make a snide comment on the Ayodhya Ram Mandir issue: “for many Indians today, rightly or wrongly, the Mughals are still perceived as it suited the British to portray them in the imperial propaganda that they taught in Indian schools after 1857: as sensual, decadent, temple-destroying invaders—something that was forcefully and depressingly demonstrated by the whole episode of the demolition of the Baburi Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992.” But it is not British propaganda that the invaders destroyed thousands of temples; it is an established fact.

The Last Mughal is a bad book. It is full of falsehoods about India’s history and culture. Dalrymple should not be regarded as a historian.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The British Crown’s Purchase of India

In 1858, the British Crown purchased India from the East India Company, and the Indians paid the purchase price. The value received by the shareholders of the East India Company stock was not paid by the British Crown but was added to India’s debt. In his book The Economic History of India in the Victorian Age (Volume II), economic historian Romesh Chunder Dutt, has given the details of the transaction. On Page 230, Dutt writes: 

“It was provided that the dividend on the capital stock of the East India Company, and all the bond, debenture, and other debt of the Company in Great Britain, and all the territorial and other debts of the Company, should be charged and chargeable upon the revenues of India alone." 

“By this singular clause the capital stock and the debts of the East India Company were virtually added to the Public Debt of India; and the annual tribute which India had so long paid as interest on the stock was made perpetual. The Crown took over the magnificent empire of India from the Company without paying a shilling; the people of India paid, and are still paying, the purchase money. It was an act of injustice towards a British Dependency unexampled in the history of the British Empire. It was an act of injustice which pressed heavily on the people, after the expenditure of forty millions sterling for suppressing the Mutiny had been saddled on them.”

The last line in the above-quoted text shows that the British Crown charged India for the cost of suppressing the 1857 Indian Mutiny—this amount came to around £40 million; it included the cost of British troops from the day of their departure from England. The Mutiny was caused by the East India Company’s plunder, corruption, and insensitivity, but the Indian masses were made to bear the financial burden. The British troops committed terrible atrocities while suppressing the Mutiny—they burned down towns for several hundred miles, turning the country into a desert. They massacred tens of thousands of people in Delhi and other towns. 

British politicians like John Bright spoke against this unjust charge. In his speech in March 1859, John Bright said: "I think that the 40 millions which the revolt [Mutiny] will cost, is a grievous burden to place upon the people of India. It has come from the mismanagement of the Parliament and the people of England. If every man had what was just, no doubt that 40 millions would have to be paid out of the taxes levied upon the people of this country.”

The amount that was spent in England for managing Indian affairs was added to India’s debt. On Page 8 of his book, Dutt writes: “In a work on Our Financial Relations with India, published in 1859, Sir George Wingate suggested that India should pay all the expenses of Civil and Military Administration incurred in India, while Great Britain should meet the expenses incurred in England, as she did for her Colonies.” The British refused to put this burden on the British taxpayer and the amount was added to India’s debt. 

If the British Crown had at least guaranteed the Indian debt, the annual interest on the debt would have come down by £750,000, or even £10,000,000, (according to the calculations of Sir George Wingate, given in page 220 of Dutt’s book). They did not do that. The result was that the debt kept growing—the English bankers benefited and the Indians ended up serving this debt for decades. 

The size of India’s debt grew further because the British government used revenues from India to fund its wars in other countries. In page 231 of his book, Dutt observes that “the expenses of expedition to Egypt and Abyssinia, of wars in Afghanistan and for the conquest of Burma, have been charged to India.” The British policy of using Indian resources to fund their wars continued into the twentieth century—India contributed a significant sum to fund British military operations during the First and the Second World Wars.

Historians like to praise Britain for bringing Pax Britannica to India. They avoid the issue of the heavy price that the Indians paid for this so-called British peace: 50 million Indians died in famines during the period of British rule, and an untold number from disease and wars. On Pax Romana, Tacitus said: “Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.” (Where they create a desert, they call it peace.) Tacitus’s statement is true for Pax Britannica. The British were not benign rulers. They were the alpha-predators: the creators of desert.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Famines and Wars: The End of British Rule in India

In his 1909 book, India: Impressions and Suggestions, J. Keir Hardie has accused the British government of causing famines in India through their extortionist policies. He says that the British had converted India into a starving slave empire. On page 87 of his book, he writes: 

“In forty years (i860—1900) thirty millions (30,000,000) of people died of hunger in India—that, too, under the benign rule of the British Raj. What number died of disease in the same period will never be known, but all are agreed that the plague is now persisting and continuing in a way and manner hitherto unknown, and I believe the cause to be the growing poverty of the people." 

J. Keir Hardie has also commented on the British failure to maintain law and order in Bengal. In his description of the situation in Bengal’s Mymensingh district (now in Bangladesh), he writes: “Here also I had further particulars supplied to me of the forcible abduction and violation of Hindu women by Mohammedan rowdies, and it was this I likened to Armenian atrocities.” (Page 25)

In the Second World War, there was no reason for India to fight for Britain, a colonial power that was plundering India for more than 150 years, and was condemning millions of Indians to die due to famines and epidemics. Many Indian politicians were opposed to fighting the Second World War. They saw Britain as a greater menace to India than Germany.

Articulating the view of the Indian nationalists, Minoo Masani wrote in 1935: 

“We at least cannot be told that by fighting for the British Empire we shall be defending our Motherland… The only war in which the Indian people are interested is that for their national liberation, and therefore it is possible for both nationalists and socialists to agree that the correct policy for this country is to resist India’s participation in any war and to utilize such an opportunity for furthering the struggle for National independence.” (The White Sahibs in India, Reginald Reynolds, page 378)

Unfortunately, through the cooperation of some powerful Indian politicians, the British managed to enroll 2.5 million Indians to fight in the Second World War. 87,000 Indians died in the war, and 34,354 were wounded. The British also imposed new taxes and levies in India to raise funds for their war. Britain did not fight the Second World War by itself, a significant part of the burden was borne by India. 

Subhas Chandra Bose was the only mass leader who saw in the global chaos created by the Second World War an opportunity to strike a blow against the British military in India. HIs Indian National Army (INA) attacked Northeast India in July 1944. They were defeated, and Bose was probably killed in an air crash in August 1945. But Bose had made the British realize that if they did not leave India quickly, there would be other military strikes.

Within two years of INA’s attack on Northeast India, on August 15 1947, India became independent and with that it was curtains for the British Empire.

The Feringhee Disease in India

During the period of British rule, syphilis was known in India as the feringhee disease (European disease). In his book India in bondage, Jabez Thomas Sunderland has quoted evidence from Frederic Tice (on page 388) who has claimed that syphilis arrived in India from Europe. In his book Practice of Medicine (Volume III), Tice wrote: “The researches of Okemura and Sesuki for Japan and China and Jolly and others for India, showed that syphilis did not exist in any of these countries until it was introduced from Europe.” Syphilis was ten times more frequent among the British troops than among the native troops— Havelock Ellis makes this claim in his book Sex in Relation to Society. On page 327, Ellis wrote: “Within the army in India it is found that venereal disease is ten times more frequent among the British troops than among the native troops.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

India’s Independence and the British Empire’s End

“It has been computed that every fifth man in Great Britain is dependent, either directly or indirectly, on our Indian connection for his livelihood.” ~ Geoffrey Tyson in his book Danger in India (Chapter 4, “Anti-British Discrimination”) 

Tyson wrote his book in 1932. He was worried that if India became independent, Britain would lose its primary source of income, and then the British Empire would fall. He felt that the British Empire could not be sustained without income from India. He saw India’s independence movement as a grave threat to the existence of the British Empire. 

He was terrified by Mahatma Gandhi’s call for “pruna swaraj” or total independence (Lokmanya Tilak was the first Indian leader to make this demand). In the same paragraph in his book, Tyson writes; “That being so it passes the comprehension of most thinking people why so little account has been taken of the dangerous forces which are every day gathering in India to destroy our trade and commerce.”  

The British Empire was built on the wealth looted from India, not on the so-called Industrial Revolution. Once India was out of British control, no Industrial Revolution could save the Empire—Churchill knew this; that is why he was opposed to India’s independence. The British Empire died on August 15, 1947, the day India became independent.

Monday, June 13, 2022

How the British Created Famines in India

During the period of British rule, India was racked by 25 famines (12 major famines and 13 minor ones), in which between 30 to 50 million starved to death. These famines happened because the British were making windfall profits by exporting a significant proportion of the grains produced by India’s farmers. In his book The Economic History of India in the Victorian Age (Volume II), economic historian Romesh Chunder Dutt, who served as an Indian Civil Servant from 1871 to 1897, has given the details of exports of grains and other products from India. 

On page 162 of Dutt’s book (Chapter 10, “Tariffs, Imports, and Exports”) there is a chart which shows the fluctuations in the exports of India’s agricultural produce. This chart shows that under British rule, the export of grains rose dramatically. Even in those years when the country was facing acute shortage of food and millions were starving, the British continued to make windfall profits by exporting grains. According to Dutt’s data, in 1849, the British exported grains worth £858,691; in 1854, grains worth £1,413,654 was exported; in 1858, the export rose to £3,790,374.

It was these massive grain exports, not any natural calamity or epidemic, that was responsible for the spate of famines in British India. Before the British acquired despotic control over India's affairs, this country never had such massive famines with such alarming frequency. For making windfall profits, the British were deliberately condemning millions of Indians to die by starvation. Dutt writes in his book (page 163): “By the end of the century, the export of rice and wheat and other food grains had reached the high figure of twelve millions sterling a year.” 

The chart on page 162 of Dutt’s book contains the details of the growth in cotton exports. For centuries before the British arrived, India was the world’s largest textile producer. In 1757, when the British conquered a large part of Bengal, India was producing 80 percent of the world’s textiles. The British wiped out this industry in a few decades, mainly by their policy of exporting massive quantities of Indian cotton to England, for fueling the textile mills in Lancashire and other areas. 

According to Dutt’s chart, in 1849, the British exported cotton worth £1,775,309; in 1854, the export was worth £2,802,150; in 1858, it was £4,301,768. The consequence of this massive export was that the price of cotton rose dramatically in India; while its price fell in England. Cotton became unaffordable to the Indian weavers—at the same time, it became very affordable to the textile mills of England. It was the irresponsible export of India’s cotton produce, not the overly ballyhooed Industrial Revolution, that was behind the success of the British textile industry.

Dutt notes that one of the reasons for high exports from India was that the British did not want their textile mills to become wholly dependent on America’s cotton. In page 162 of his book, Dutt writes: “There was a continuous desire in England to extend and improve the cotton cultivation of India, so that England might rely on her own possession rather than on America for the requirements of her looms and factories.”

Lord Salisbury, who served as India’s Secretary of State for several years between 1854 and 1878, has acknowledged in his communications that his government’s priority was to take care of the commercial interests of Lancashire’s textile mills. The textile mill owners and workers of Lancashire were an important support group for British politicians—Salisbury had to take care of their needs. He was terrified of India's textile industry. He enacted policies which benefitted Lancashire’s textile mills at the cost of India’s textile industry.

The Neverending Kali Yuga

Hinduism’s Kali Yuga began when the monotheistic powers of the Middle East, Transoxiana, and Europe began their invasions of the Indian subcontinent. Filled with complacency about the superiority of their own way of life, the Hindus could not understand the great military threat that monotheism posed. They hardly made any effort to develop some kind of political unity to meet the new threat. Despite being powerful, cultured, and prosperous, they did very little to defend their land and their way of life. This Kali Yuga will not end till the people of this land learn about their past and find a way of creating a new future. A return to the past is not possible nor desirable, but to create a new future, an awareness of the past is a must.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

India’s Contribution to Britain’s First World War

India paid 240 million pounds to finance Britain’s military effort in the First World War. India also contributed about 1.5 million soldiers—75,000 were killed in this war. In the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, a project hatched by the British supremacist leader Winston Churchill, around 16,000 Indian soldiers were deployed. These badly trained and poorly armed Indian soldiers were deployed in the frontline—a large number of them were killed. 

In his report in the House of Lords (July 8th, 1917), Charles Hardinge, Viceroy and Governor-General of India from 1910 to 1916, bragged that his government had bled India “absolutely white" to support the Imperial Government with troops, war materials, and finances. Hardinge was right—his government had bled India so thoroughly that millions in India were dying from starvation. In the 1910s, Britain was the world’s richest country, and India was among the poorest, thanks to the British policy of bleeding India dry for funding their endless wars.

After 1757, when the British won in the Battle of Plassey and became the rulers of Bengal, famines in which millions would die became a regular feature of Indian society. Wherever in India, the British expanded their rule, they commandeered local wealth, grains, and other resources, and created famines. Between 30 to 50 million are thought to have perished in the 12 major famines of the period when the British were ruling India.

Indian Money for Britain’s African Adventure

In 1868, Britain declared war on the Ethiopian Empire (Abyssinia). An army was dispatched under General Robert Napier to crush the Ethiopians. The cost of this military expedition, amounting to around 600,000 British pounds, a very high sum in those days, was extorted from the starving Indian peasants. Between 1868 and 1870, there was a famine in several parts of British India, and millions were starving to death. But the British used Indian wealth and Indian grains to fund a military adventure in another continent (Africa). They did not impose the burden of this war on their colonies in Canada and Australia because they knew that people of those regions would revolt against such a proposal. The Indian peasants were not politically united in the nineteenth century so they could not stop the British from plundering their country and causing mass starvation.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The British Empire: The Maker of Famines in India

In 1895, the British government set up the Welby Commission to investigate wasteful spending in India. The commission presented its findings in 1900—it had found a number of cases of English expenses being relieved through the revenues squeezed from India. The starving Indian peasants were bearing the burden of not only Britain’s wars in Persia, Afghanistan, Burma, and China, but also for an array of civilian activities which could be of no benefit to them.

For instance, out of the British Empire’s revenues from India, 200,000 British pounds every year (a very high sum in those days) was being paid as Ecclesiastical charges. The objective of this outlay was to fund the preaching of Christianity to India’s Hindu masses. Thus, in the British regime, the starving Hindu peasants were being made to pay for their own proselytization. Millions of pounds were spent as Ecclesiastical charges over a period of around four decades. 

The Indian peasants were paying for the maintenance of Aden (capital of Yemen), and of the Persian Mission, and the Consular Establishments in China. The operations of the company called Red Sea and India Telegraph were being funded through revenues from India—when this company failed, the burden of taking care of its liabilities, including the pension of its employees, fell on the Indian peasants. 

The top ranking British officials in India had been granted lifelong pensions (in the tune of thousands of pounds). Charles Cornwallis (the Marquess Cornwallis) was granted a pension of 5000 pounds. Warren Hastings’s legal expenses were covered by the Indian peasants, who were also forced to fund his yearly pension of 4000 pounds and his interest free loan of 50,000 pounds. Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Wellesley, Hardinge, Dalhousie and others received similar pensions. 

In his 1902 book Poverty And UN-British Rule In India, Dadabhai Naoroji, who was one of the members of the Welby Commission, has conducted an analysis of the commission’s report. Naoroji suggests in his book that the British ruled areas in India were being racked by famines, which consumed millions of lives, because the British were squandering India’s wealth to fund their global empire. Large-scale famines were unheard of in India before the British arrived.

The British politicians were unconcerned about the fact that their extortionate policies were directly responsible for the death (through starvation) of millions in India. In his book, Naoroji offers the irresponsible and cruel statement that Lord Salisbury, the Secretary of State for India, made in 1875: 

“The injury is exaggerated in the case of India, where so much of the revenue is exported without a direct equivalent. As India must be bled the lancet should be directed to the parts where the blood is congested or at least sufficient, not to those (the starving peasants) which are already feeble from the want of it.” According to Lord Salisbury, Britain was doing nothing wrong by bleeding India, since Indian blood was vital for the maintenance of the British Empire. 

Naoroji posits that the despotic model of governance was the primary cause of India's massive poverty. He wrote in his book that in the British ruled areas, “the people of India have not the slightest voice in the expenditure of the revenue, and therefore in the good government of the country. The powers of the Government being absolutely arbitrary and despotic, and the Government being alien and bleeding, the effect is very exhausting and destructive indeed.” 

Between 1896 and 1900, British India suffered one of the worst famines in India’s history, but the British refused to reduce their tax demand. In 1897, the worst year of famine, they collected 17 million pounds as land revenue (which was the normal quota). They exported grain worth 10 million pounds from a country where millions had nothing to eat and were starving to death. According to the British government's own estimates, one million people died in the famine. The non-British sources present a much higher figure of starvation related deaths.

The British government had known since the 1880s that famine-like conditions were erupting in their domain. But they did nothing to avert the crisis. The living conditions in the regions ruled by Hindu kings were better, because in these areas the rulers listened to the masses and they did not impose an unbearable tax burden. In his account of India, Bishop Reginald Heber observes that “no native king demands a land rent as high as the British do.”

Indian Money for British Wars

In the nineteenth century, the starving Indian peasant was bearing the burden of Britain’s military adventures in Asia. The British Empire paid for its wars in Afghanistan (1842), Persia (1856—1857), Burma (three wars between 1824 and 1885), and China (two opium wars between 1839 and 1860) from the revenues that they were generating by squeezing the starving Indian peasant. The Indians were not consulted before the British decided to fight these wars—if the Indians had been consulted, they would have found more urgent use for their nation’s wealth.

Friday, June 10, 2022

On the Economic Destruction Caused by the British and Islamic Regimes

In the eighteenth century, the most prosperous regions of the Indian subcontinent were located in the Maratha Empire. The Maratha rulers imposed low taxes and they maintained good law and order—as a result of their good governance, agriculture and industry was flourishing in most parts of their empire. In 1832, Major General John Malcolm, an administrator in the East India Company, made the following observation about the economic condition of the Maratha Empire: 

“It has not happened to me ever to see countries better cultivated and more abounding in all the produce of the soil as well as in commercial wealth, than the Southern Mahratha districts. . . . Poona, the capital of the Peshwas, was a very wealthy and thriving commercial town, as there was as much cultivation in the Deccan as it was possible for an arid and unfruitful country to admit. I do not think either commercial or agricultural interests are likely to be improved by our rule. I refer their prosperity to be due... to the knowledge and almost devotion of the Hindus to agricultural pursuits; to their better understanding and practice than ours... in raising towns and villages to prosperity.” (This quote and other quotes that I have used in this article are from Reginald Reynold’s 1946 book, The White Sahibs in India.) 

The condition in the areas ruled by the British was horrific—there was rampant corruption and lawlessness, and a major part of the population was starving. Some of the worst famines in the history of the Indian subcontinent have happened in Bengal after the East India Company conquered the region. In the famine of 1770, one-third of Bengal’s population, about 10,000,000 people, starved to death. Instead of being concerned about the starvation deaths, the East India Company bragged in its reports that the decline in Bengal’s population had led to less local consumption and rise in the company’s profits. 

In 1771, the Calcutta Council of East India Company’s Court of Directors declared: “Notwithstanding the great severity of the late famine, and the great reduction of people thereby, some increase has been made in the settlements both of the Bengal and the Behar provinces for the present year.” In 1772, Warren Hastings boasted: “the net collections of 1771 exceeded even those of 1768.” Thomas Macaulay did not care about the millions who had starved to death under the East India Company’s watch—he was delighted by the company’s rising profits. He wrote: "Whatever we may think of the morality of Hastings, it cannot be denied that the financial results of his policy did honor to his talents.” 

Before the British became the supreme power in Bengal, textile industry was flourishing in this region. Within three decades the British exterminated Bengal’s textile industry through their predatory policies—they imposed extortionate taxes, and mandated that the textile weavers could sell their products only to British agents. The textile mills could not function under such rules and they were forced to shut down. In the nineteenth century, when the British acquired power in other parts of India, they deliberately enacted policies to destroy the textile industry everywhere. Once the Indian textile industry was wiped out, they opened the Indian market to textiles produced in Britain. 

The condition in the areas controlled by Islamic regimes was as horrific as the condition in British Bengal. In South India, several regions suffered catastrophic depopulation due to the extortionist policies and brutal campaigns of warlords like the Nawab of Arcot and Hyder Ali (and his son Tipu Sultan). People either fled from these lawless areas, or they were slaughtered during military campaigns. Untold numbers died due to starvation and disease. Massacres and famine were the constant features of life. In his speech delivered in the British parliament, Edmund Burke spoke about the brutality and corruption of the East India Company and the Islamic regimes. 

The condition in the Hindu states of Rajasthan and other parts of North India was far better than the condition in British and Islamic states. Bishop Reginald Heber toured the Kingdom of Bharatpur (a Hindu Kingdom located in Rajasthan), in the early years of the nineteenth century. He has made the following observation: 

“This country is one of the best cultivated and watered tracts which I have seen in India. The population did not seem great, but the villages were in good condition and repair, and the whole afforded so pleasing a picture of industry and was so much superior to anything I had been led to expect in Rajputana, which I had seen in the Company’s territories, that I was led to suppose that either the Raja of Bharatpur was an extreme exemplary and paternal governor or that the system of management adopted in the British provinces was less favorable to the improvement and happiness of the country than some of the Native States.”

Thursday, June 9, 2022

On Burke’s Accusation of a Nexus Between the British & the Islamic Regimes

In the 1770s, Edmund Burke, the British parliamentarian and philosopher, alleged that the East Indian Company was providing military support to certain Islamic warlords, with the aim of receiving jagirs (land grants) from them and expanding its own power over India. 

In 1779, Edmund Burke collaborated with his friend William Burke in the publication of the pamphlet titled, “An Inquiry into the Policy of Making Conquests for the Mahometans.” This pamphlet alleges that the East India Company supported the brutal campaigns of Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah, the Nawab of Arcot. It alleges that the East India Company was using its military capabilities to impose the most degenerate forms of government on the people of India. The brutal campaigns of the Nawab of Arcot destabilized the Carnatic region. This instability was one of the reasons for the rise of Hyder Ali, who became the tyrant of Mysore. 

In February 1785, during his speech in the British Parliament, Burke presented a picture of the massacres and the plunder that Hyder Ali was orchestrating in the Carnatic region. Here’s an excerpt from Burke’s speech called, “the Speech On The Nabob Of Arcot's Debts”:

“Then ensued a scene of woe, the like of which no eye had seen, no heart conceived, and which no tongue can adequately tell. All the horrors of war before known or heard of were mercy to that new havoc. A storm of universal fire blasted every field, consumed every house, destroyed every temple. The miserable inhabitants, flying from their flaming villages, in part were slaughtered; others, without regard to sex, to age, to the respect of rank or sacredness of function, fathers torn from children, husbands from wives, enveloped in a whirlwind of cavalry, and amidst the goading spears of drivers, and the trampling of pursuing horses, were swept into captivity in an unknown and hostile land. Those who were able to evade this tempest fled to the walled cities; but escaping from fire, sword, and exile, they fell into the jaws of famine.” (This is Burke’s description of the aftermath of Hyder Ali’s military campaign—he charged that the East India Company was the “the author of these evils".)

In his speech, Burke mentions Hyder Ali’s “ferocious son," Tipu Sultan: 

“For eighteen months, without intermission, this destruction raged from the gates of Madras to the gates of Tanjore; and so completely did these masters in their art, Hyder Ali and his more ferocious son, absolve themselves of their impious vow, that, when the British armies traversed, as they did, the Carnatic for hundreds of miles in all directions, through the whole line of their march they did not see one man, not one woman, not one child, not one four-footed beast of any description whatever. One dead, uniform silence reigned over the whole region.”

The East India Company had deployed 10 of the 21 battalions of its Madras army at the Nawab Of Arcot's fort. According to Burke, these battle-hardened British troops were as much responsible for destruction of life and property in South India as the armies of the Nawab and Hyder Ali. In lieu of its support, the Nawab granted to the East India Company certain lucrative jagirs (land grants). In May 1799, with the help of Nawab’s army, the British defeated Tipu Sultan in a battle at Seringapatam. Tipu was killed in the battle. 

With Tipu eliminated, the British turned their attention to the domain of their ally, the Nawab of Arcot. Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah had died in 1795, and his son Umdat ul-Umara had been crowned as the new Nawab. The British turned against Umdat ul-Umara, and accused him of secretly collaborating with Tipu Sultan. They asked him to give them his kingdom. When Umdat ul-Umara refused to comply with their demand, he was poisoned to death by the East India Company’s agents. After his death, the British became the masters of the Carnatic region. 

I talked about William Dalrymple’s book The Anarchy in my article, “Dalrymple’s Attacks on Maratha History.” Dalrymple has quoted Edmund Burke extensively in his book—but he has not mentioned Burke’s famous charge: that the East India Company was in cahoots with India's Islamic rulers. Dalrymple has presented a benevolent picture of the Islamic regimes and he has tried to make the case that the East India Company and the Islamic regimes were always opposed to each other. The truth is that the East India Company was in cahoots with several of the Islamic regimes before it turned upon them. 

I will repeat here, what I said at the end of my earlier article on Dalrymple’s book: “The Anarchy is a bad book; it is full of lies about India’s history; Dalrymple is a bad historian.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

The Burden of History

“Not only the wisdom of millennia – their madness too breaks out in us. It is dangerous to be an heir.” ~ Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra 

Zarathustra’s insight is that from the past people inherit not only ancient wisdom but also ancient madness. The older the civilization, the greater is the burden of history, which is the burden of ancient wisdom and madness. A Civilization falls when it gets crushed under this burden—Zarathustra rightly notes, “it is dangerous to be an heir.” 

Since the debates of history are interminable, it is impossible for history texts to articulate a definite view of the character of any ancient civilization. What have we inherited from the past? A precise answer to this question is not possible.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Dalrymple’s Attacks on Maratha History

In his book The Anarchy, William Dalrymple calls Shivaji a “Maratha Hindu warlord.” But he calls Nader Shah a “tough, ruthless, and efficient figure” who possessed “remarkable military talents.” Quoting a European source, Dalrymple tries to establish that Shivaji’s soldiers were “naked, starved rascals,” who lived by plunder. He notes that Aurangzeb dismissed Shivaji as a “desert rat.” But he eulogizes Nader Shah as a “great king” who arrived in India with a “force of 80,000 fighting men.” 

The term “warlord” refers to a tyrant who amasses a large army and invades other countries to plunder, rape, kill, and conquer. No serious historian has accused Shivaji of such heinous crimes. Shivaji never invaded any foreign country. He was the son of Indian soil who fought for liberating his people from Mughal oppression. He was not a conqueror; he was a liberator. He fought several wars with the armies of the Mughal Empire. He never ordered his soldiers to carry out large-scale massacres of defenseless civilians.  

Nader Shah was an invader who came from Persia. In 1737, his soldiers butchered between 20,000 to 30,000 people in Delhi. He took 10,000 women and children as slaves. The wealth that he plundered from Delhi has been estimated to be around $120 billion by today’s purchasing price. Yet in Dalrymple’s historiography, Nader Shah gets hailed as an efficient and remarkable figure, while Shivaji is depicted as a warlord who operated “predatory cavalry armies.” 

Dalrymple tries to pull down the Marathas by quoting from the text of a disapproving Muslim chronicler: “most of the men in the Maratha army are unendowed with illustrious birth, and husbandmen, carpenters, and shopkeepers abound among their soldiery.” Nader Shah was of low birth too. Dalrymple acknowledges that Nader Shah was “the son of a humble shepherd and furrier.” 

In Nader Shah’s low birth, Dalrymple sees a great merit (which he would not see in the low birth of the Marathas). In Nader Shah’s case, Dalrymple quotes from the text of an approving French Jesuit: “In spite of his humbler birth, he seemed to be born for the throne. Nature had given him all the qualities that make a hero and even some of those that make a great king… Intrepid in combat, he pushed bravery to the limits of rashness…”

From the way he has denigrated Shivaji and lavished praises on the butcher of Delhi, Nader Shah, it becomes clear that Dalrymple is not a genuine historian—he is biased against Hindu culture. He fails to point out that before the fourteenth century, when the Islamic invasions started having an impact, most of the Indian subcontinent was dominated by Hindu and Buddhist culture. From his book, the reader will get the impression that Islam was always dominant in India. 

Throughout his book, Dalrymple presents the Marathas as the “terror” of India. In his description of the Maratha wars in Bengal, he quotes from a disapproving source: “the Marathas are niggard of pity, slayers of pregnant women and infants, of Brahmans and the poor, fierce of spirit, expert in robbing the property of everyone and committing every sinful act. They created a local cataclysm and caused the extirpation of the people of Bengal villages like an [ominous] comet.” 

Dalrymple has nothing good to say about the Marathas. But he seems to swoon over Tipu Sultan, whose good looks he praises in the style of a dreamy schoolgirl describing her first crush. He quotes a British observer who has praised Tipu’s looks: “[Tipu] was uncommonly well-made… his arms large and muscular, with the appearance of great strength… [Tipu] had an interesting, mild continuance, of which large animated black eyes were the most conspicuous feature.” 

Why couldn’t Dalrymple find a single Maratha ruler who was good looking? In his book, only the Islamic rulers and the British are good looking. 

He calls Tipu a “daring” sultan who ruled with great “efficiency and imagination.” On Tipu’s abilities as a commander, Dalrymple writes: “Able and brave, methodical and hard-working, [Tipu] was above all innovative, determined to acquire the arsenal of European skills and knowledge, and to find ways to use them against his enemies. Tipu had already proved his capacity to do this on the battlefield, defeating the Company not only in Pollilur but also twice more since then…” 

What Dalrymple fails to tell his readers is that between 1762 and 1787, the Marathas defeated Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan in every battle that they fought. Hyder and Tipu were regularly paying tribute to the Marathas. On at least five occasions, between 1762 and 1787, the Marathas had Hyder and Tipu in their grasp, and could have executed both of them. But the Marathas were not ruthless killers—they used to let Hyder and Tipu go after receiving a tiny sum as tribute. Tipu was finally killed in 1799 by the ruthless killers of the British East India company.

Dalrymple’s book is not on the Marathas—it is on the East India Company. In my article, I talk about his tirade against the Marathas because this is the aspect of his book that I found most disturbing. Outright falsehoods, dubious analysis, and anti-Hindu bias drips from every page of this book. As I noted earlier, Dalrymple is not a genuine historian—he is biased. He writes like any court-historian of the Mughal Empire. The Anarchy is a bad book; it is full of lies about India’s history; Dalrymple is a bad historian.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Montgomery: On the Maratha Way of War

In his 1968 book, A History of Warfare, Field Marshal Montgomery suggests that the Marathas were the Mongols of India. He says that in the Battle of Palkhed, which resulted in Maratha victory over the army of Nizam-ul-Mulk, Asaf Jah I of Hyderabad, the Marathas fought like the Mongol warriors. Here’s an excerpt from his book:

“The Paikhed campaign of 1727-28 in which Baji Rao I outgeneralled Nizam-ul-Mulk is a masterpiece of strategic mobility. Baji Rao’s army was a purely mounted force, armed only with saber, lance and a bow in some units, and a round shield. There was a spare horse for every two men. The Marathas moved unencumbered by artillery, baggage or even handguns and defensive armor. They supplied themselves by looting. 

“In October 1727 with the end of the rains Baji Rao burst into the territory of the Nizam. The lightly equipped Marathas moved with great rapidity, avoiding the main towns and fortresses, living off the country, burning and plundering. They met one reverse at Jalna at the hands of Iwaz Khan in the beginning of November but within a month they had fully recouped, and were off again, dashing east, north, west, with sudden changes of direction. The Nizam for a time pursued them but was bewildered by the swift and unpredictable movements of the enemy, and his men became exhausted. 

“At the end of January the Nizam changed his strategy; he gave up the pursuit of the elusive Maratha forces and instead made direct for their heartland round Poona, which he ravaged and captured. Baji Rao received urgent calls to come back. But with good strategic sense he resisted the call and instead countered the Nizam’s move by in turn threatening his capital Aurangabad. Baji Rao had not actually captured the capital but he had pillaged the neighboring area. As the Nizam once again endeavored to catch Baji Rao, the Marathas harried and circled round his forces. The Nizam preserved his army intact, but in March 1728 he gave up. By the peace terms some of their territorial claims were conceded.” 

Montgomery asserts that the Marathas supplied their troops “by looting”—he seems to have accepted the false propaganda, which the British and Islamic intellectuals created in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to discredit the Marathas and justify their own rule over India. The Islamic regimes and the British East India Company were the biggest looters of that age. The Marathas did not supply themselves by looting. They had developed a system of taxation to fund their government and their military campaigns. Most Maratha rulers were loyal to their country. They wanted to save their countrymen from the foreign plunderers—I pointed this out in my article, “Lord Macaulay’s View of the Marathas.”

The Maratha military consisted of light cavalry which could advance swiftly and take the enemy by surprise—Montgomery is right in comparing the Marathas with the Mongols. In the 1661 Battle of Umberkhind, Shivaji destroyed the large army sent by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb by launching swift attacks from the cover of a dense forest. The Marathas were ill-equipped for siege operations—if they had used the tactics of swiftly moving cavalry and guerrilla warfare in the 1761 Battle of Panipat, they would have won against Ahmad Shah Abdali’s army. They suffered a great defeat because they got bogged down in a siege of more than three months.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Madhavrao Versus Hyder Ali: The Battle for Karnataka

In Karnataka, Hyder Ali was the big beneficiary of the Maratha defeat in the 1761 Battle of Panipat. Before the Battle of Panipat, the Marathas used to station an army in Mysore, and Hyder Ali was subservient to the Marathas. He used to pay regular tribute to the Peshwa. 

After their defeat at Panipat, the Marathas had to withdraw their military from  Mysore—this enabled Hyder to adopt an aggressive policy. He took control of the entire Mysore region. In 1762, after concluding a peace treaty with the Nizam, Peshwa Madhavrao launched an expedition against Hyder. But Hyder retreated to a forest, refusing to let his soldiers fight the Maratha army. He released some tribute to appease the Marathas. The eruption of dissension at home forced Madhavrao to rush to Pune without finding a solution to Karnataka’s problems. 

By 1763, Hyder had pushed the borders of his Mysore kingdom to the banks of Krishna. In February 1764, Madhavrao made a second attempt to subjugate Karnataka. His army crossed the Krishna river and occupied Manoli and Hubli. To avoid a confrontation with the Marathas, Haider moved into the forests. This time, he was drawn out and his army was defeated in May 1764. This defeat cost him the life of 1000 soldiers, and the same number were wounded. On the Maratha side, 50 soldiers died and 200 were wounded. 

In 1764, and then in 1765, the Marathas had Hyder in their grasp. They could have finished his army in Mysore. In 1765, they let Hyder go on the payment of a small tribute of Rs. 30 lakh. On the 1765 compromise between the Marathas and Hyder, the East India Official Mark Wilks observed that this was “an adjustment of extreme moderation, considering the desperate circumstances in which Hyder was placed”. The responsibility for showing such leniency to a dreaded enemy like Hyder lies wholly on Madhavrao’s uncle Raghunath Rao. 

In May 1767, the Madhavrao organized a third attempt to defeat Hyder. The Marathas were victorious—2000 of Hyder’s soldiers were killed in the battle. But the Marathas let him go after accepting a tribute of Rs. 31 lakhs. Between 1767 and 69, when the Anglo-Mysore War was on, Madhavrao could have taken advantage of the conflict to extract concessions from both sides. In his book, The Maratha Supremacy, R. C. Majumdar absolves Madhavrao, and blames Raghunath Rao for crippling the Maratha state with his unpatriotic ambitions. 

In January 1770, Madhavrao made another attempt to subjugate Karnataka. Hyder again took shelter in a forest. Wilks observes that Hyder paid homage to Madhavrao’s military skills by refusing to confront his army in an open field. 

In March 1771, the Marathas defeated Hyder’s army in a battle near Seringapatam city. But Hyder managed to escape disguised as a monk. By then Madhavrao was very sick and was not in a condition to oversee the operations in Karnataka—he died in November 1772, at the age of 27. Hyder took advantage of Madhavrao’s absence and convinced the local Maratha commanders to let him go by paying them a tribute of 31 lakhs and conceding some minor territories. 

If the Marathas had lost so many wars, Hyder would not have let them go after receiving a petty sum as tribute. He would have wiped them out. Here’s an excerpt from R. C. Majumdar’s commentary on Madhavrao’s short reign as Peshwa: 

“It is remarkable that Haidar Ali, whose military genius was a terror to British generals, was defeated in all the campaigns led against him by the Peshwa. Within a brief period of less than eleven years Madhav Rao succeeded in extending his authority from Delhi to Seringapatam. And these exploits were accompanied by the suppression of serious internal revolts and a minute supervision of administrative affairs.” Majumdar suggests that if Madhavrao had a longer life, he could have averted the fall of the Maratha empire.
The Marathas were strong on the battlefield but weak in post-battle negotiations. They defeated Hyder in six major wars and a number of less important battles, but they never imposed tough conditions on him. They failed to destroy his military strength. Due to their inability to act decisively against Hyder, they could not consolidate their rule in Mysore and rest of Karnataka, despite winning several wars in that region. 

In numerous books, movies, and TV serials Hyder, and his son Tipu Sultan, have been glorified as great warriors of the eighteenth century. Historians have given Tipu the title of “Tiger of Mysore.” The truth is that Hyder and Tipu did not win a single war against the Marathas. In the Mysore-Maratha wars, fought between 1785 and 1787, Tipu was decisively defeated. In April 1787, Tipu was forced to sign the treaty of Gajendragad. According to the terms of this treaty, he was to pay the Marathas an annual tribute of Rs. 12 lakhs.

I fail to understand, why Hyder and Tipu are viewed as great warriors when they were defeated in most wars? Why is Tipu called the “Tiger of Mysore,” when the Marathas displayed far greater courage and military acumen? In 1799, the small Mysore kingdom of Hyder and Tipu was gone.


Note: [In this article, I have focused on only the direct confrontations between the Marathas and Hyder Ali. There were many other confrontations going on in Karnataka in the second half of the eighteenth century—in these confrontations the Nizam, the British East India company, and some local rulers of the region were involved. In these confrontations Hyder, and his son Tipu, did not perform well. They constantly broke treaties, betrayed their allies, and they often lost battles.]

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Lord Macaulay’s View of the Marathas

After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the British saw the Marathas as their number one rival in India. Between 1707 and 1759, the Marathas had established their hegemony in Central India, and their supremacy in North and South India. They had become the de facto rulers of Delhi. In his book Critical and Historical Essays, Volume I (published in 1843), Thomas Babbington Macaulay, wrote about the Marathas. Here’s an excerpt: 

“The highlands which border on the western sea-coast of India poured forth a yet more formidable race, a race which was long the terror of every native power, and which, after many desperate and doubtful struggles, yielded only to the fortune and genius of England. It was under the reign of Aurungzebe that this wild clan of plunderers first descended from their mountains; and soon after his death, every corner of his wide empire learned to tremble at the mighty name of the Mahrattas. Many fertile viceroyalties were entirely subdued by them. Their dominions stretched across the peninsula from sea to sea. Mahratta captains reigned at Poonah, at Gualior, in Guzerat, in Berar, and in Tanjore. Nor did they, though they had become great sovereigns, therefore cease to be freebooters. They still retained the predatory habits of their forefathers. Every region which was not subject to their rule was wasted by their incursions. Wherever their kettle-drums were heard, the peasant threw his bag of rice on his shoulder, hid his small savings in his girdle, and fled with his wife and children to the mountains or the jungles, to the milder neighbourhood of the hyaena and the tiger. Many provinces redeemed their harvests by the payment of an annual ransom. Even the wretched phantom who still bore the imperial title stooped to pay this ignominious black-mail. The camp-fires of one rapacious leader were seen from the walls of the palace of Delhi. Another, at the head of his innumerable cavalry, descended year after year on the rice-fields of Bengal. Even the European factors trembled for their magazines. Less than a hundred years ago, it was thought necessary to fortify Calcutta against the horsemen of Berar, and the name of the Mahratta ditch still preserves the memory of the danger.” 

It is ironic that Macaulay calls the Marathas “a terror,” accusing them of having “predatory habits," when the biggest terror and predators of that lawless age were the Islamic regimes and the British East India Company. 

Most Maratha rulers were devout and nationalistic men. They were certainly very ambitious and ruthless—they wanted to be the rulers of India’s largest empire. But they also wanted to protect their country from foreign predators like Nadir Shah, who invaded India in 1737, and conducted a massacre of between 20,000 to 30,000 men, women, and children in Delhi. Shah took 10,000 women and children as slaves—many men in Delhi resorted to killing their women and themselves rather than submit to Shah’s soldiers. The wealth that Shah plundered from Delhi’s rulers and its people has been estimated to be roughly $120 billion in today’s purchasing power—it took 20,000 mules and 20,000 camels to carry the plunder from Delhi to Persia. 

The Marathas had vowed that they would not allow another Nadir Shah type of plunder and genocide to happen in India. They got engaged in a series of conflicts—including the 1761 Battle of Panipat. While they lost the Battle of Panipat, by inflicting severe casualties on the forces of the Afghan invader Ahmad Khan Abdali, they ensured that the warlords of Persia, Transoxiana, and Afghanistan could no longer view India as a land that could be easily subjugated and plundered. 

The British took advantage of the chaotic political situation—they developed alliances with regimes which were worried about the rising Maratha power. The Marathas won the first Anglo-Maratha war (1775–1782). But disunity had broken out in their ranks after the death of Peshwa Madhavrao I, who had played a pivotal role in Maratha resurrection (after the defeat in the Battle of Panipat). Due to factional infighting, the Marathas could not match the broad anti-Maratha coalition that the British had created. They were defeated in the second (1803–1805) and the third (1817–1819) Anglo-Maratha Wars, and the British became the major power in India.

Friday, June 3, 2022

The Maratha Debacle in the Third Battle of Panipat

At the Third Battle of Panipat, the Maratha army, led by Sadashivrao Bhau, consisted of 50,000 horses and 15,000 foot. The army of the Durrani Afghan Empire, led by Ahmad Shah Abdali, consisted of 60,000 horses and 40,000 foot. The primary reason that Abdali won the battle was not his larger army—the Marathas had a track record of defeating armies larger than their own—but the fact that the fighting happened in Panipat, a region where Abdali had the means of getting supplies and reinforcements while Sadashivrao didn’t. The fatal mistake that the Marathas made in Panipat was that they did not secure their supply lines.
The Maratha army was facing supply related problems when they reached the outskirts of Panipat. The local suppliers were refusing to cooperate with them. Despite this problem, the Marathas marched into Panipat to confront Abdali’s army. Sadashivrao’s plan was to lure Abdali into a confrontation, defeat his army, and open supply lines to the loyal allies of the Marathas in the outskirts of Delhi and in Central India. Abdali confounded the Marathas by putting his soldiers in a fortified camp—he would not get drawn into a confrontation. 

By the end of October 1760, both sides were entrenched in fortified camps. From 1 November, skirmishes and duels between the two camps became a daily feature. The first major battle took place in early December, when a contingent of Abdali’s army, consisting mostly of Rohillas, breached into the Maratha camp. In the conflict that followed, 3000 Rohillas were killed; the Rohilla commander Najib ad-Dawlah barely escaped with his life. The Marathas lost hundreds of soldiers. Balwant Rao Mehendale, an important Maratha leader, was among the dead. 

After this failure to breach the Maratha fortification, Abdali realized that the best strategy for defeating the Marathas was to starve them in their camp. With the help of his allies, he cut off the Maratha lines of communication and their systems for supplying their camps with food and ammunition. The siege went on for more than three months—the Marathas were unprepared for a long siege. They ran out of food and ammunition. 

The Maratha leader Govind Pant Bundela was killed on December 17, 1760, while he was trying to reach the Maratha camp with supplies. Supplies sent from North and Central India to the Maratha camp were intercepted and destroyed by Abdali’s allies. The situation in the Maratha camp became desperate. Their soldiers and horses were starving, and there was an outbreak of diseases. The Marathas conducted a number of sorties into Abdali's camp, and they killed hundreds of his soldiers, but Abdali kept his soldiers on a tight leash, refusing to allow a direct confrontation to take place. 

Since Abdali’s lines of communication were intact, he was not facing any issues in procuring supplies. He could afford to prolong the siege for as long as it took to starve the Marathas. Sadashivrao faced a stark choice—either he could order his army to rush out from their fortified positions and attack Abdali’s camp or he could let his men perish by starvation. On January 13, 1761, a consultation took place in the Maratha camp. The decision was made to attack Abdali’s camp on the next day. By this time, the size of Abdali’s army had grown—he had received reinforcements and ammunition from Afghanistan. The Marathas did not know this. 

On January 14, the Maratha army emerged from their positions and attacked Abdali’s camp. The Marathas were in a weak state but they fought like men possessed. For some time, Abdali was nervous about the way the battle was going. He threw his reserve divisions into the battle. There was terrible slaughter on both sides. In the end, the Maratha army was wiped out. Abdali lost about a third of his army—around 20,000 soldiers. Sadashivrao and Vishwasrao, the son of Nana Saheb, the Peshwa of Pune, were killed in the battle. When Nana Saheb got the news of the fall of the Maratha army, he was shocked. He died on 23 June.

The Marathas were good warriors. They had won several wars against the Mughals, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and other Islamic forces in the past. Between 1712 and 1737, under the leadership of Peshwa Baji Rao, they had captured a large part of North and Central India—making the Marathas the biggest and most powerful empire in India. For a brief period, they had control of Delhi and Agra. 

They failed in Panipat because they confronted Abdali at the wrong place—in an area where they lacked the means of keeping their army supplied. Sadashivrao failed to anticipate that instead of getting into a direct conflict, Abdali might use the tactics of siege warfare. In any siege warfare, the army that can keep its troops supplied often wins. Another problem was that the Maratha contingent was too big—they had with them about 100,000 civilians (many of them were pilgrims who intended to visit North Indian shrines). These pilgrims were butchered by Abdali’s men in a carnage that went on for two days.

Panipat was a disaster for the Marathas. But by 1770, they had recovered. In 1772, they took control of Delhi and installed Emperor Shah Alam II as their puppet. Three years later, a war broke out between the Marathas and the British—the First Anglo-Maratha War (1775–1782). In this war, the Marathas were victorious. They remained the most powerful empire in India till 1818.