1762 painting of Clive meeting Mir Jafar
after the Battle of Plassey
The first Islamic attack on Indian soil happened in 636 AD. The Arab armies had subdued Persia, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Carthage, and Spain in just 80 years. But so ferocious was the Indian resistance that despite several attempts over a period of three hundred years, the Arabs could not conquer India. It is true that Muhammad bin Quasim captured Sindh in 712, but after his death, the territory went to the Rajputs. Five hundred years after the first Arab attack, the Turks and the Pathans managed to conquer a significant part of Indian territory.
The Indian resistance to the Islamic invasions never ceased. The Islamic regimes were constantly under attack. In the 17th century, Maratha power arose in central India. Within three decades of Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, the Marathas became the biggest and most powerful empire in India, and then a stalemate was reached between the Hindu and the Muslim forces. Neither side was in a position to completely subdue the other and claim all of India. British Colonialism arrived in an India that was deeply divided between warring Hindu and Muslim forces.
The first batch of British traders landed in India in 1608, at the port of Surat. But the British became a colonial power after they defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. In the ongoing contest between the Hindus and the Muslims, the British victory at Plassey had the impact of tilting the balance of power in favor of the former.
Under the influence of their religious leaders, the Muslims had refused to learn English, and they maintained a sullen distance from the British. But the Hindu community was largely open-minded and inclusive—they eagerly learned the new language and became exposed to Western philosophy, science, and political doctrines. They came up with new interpretations of their ancient literature, philosophy, and religious texts. They founded new reform movements, educational institutions, and global trading companies.
Within three decades of Plassey, the Hindu population had marched fifty years ahead of the Muslims in terms of intellectualism, wealth, science, and political acumen. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Hindu renaissance was underway.