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.”

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