Lord Hastings became Governor-General in 1813. He adopted a vigorous forward policy and waged wars extensively. His aggressive and imperialist polices paved the way for the general of expansion of the British Empire. He further expanded the British power in India.
The conditions in India when he assumed power posed a serious threat to the British administration. There was anarchy in central India. The Pindaris plundered the whole region and the Marathas could not control them. Also, there was infighting among the Maratha chiefs. Yet, they were aiming at the expulsion of the British from India. The Peshwa was secretly plotting against the British. Hastings was also troubled by the expansion of the Gurkha power. Therefore, Hastings determined to restore order by suppressing the Pindaris and to eliminate threats to the British power by waging wars with the Marathas and the Gurkhas.
War against the Gurkhas (1814-16)
Nepal emerged as a powerful Gurkha state in 1768. This country is situated to the north of India with its boundary touching China in the north and Bengal and Oudh in the east and south, respectively. In 1801, the British acquired the districts of Gorakhpur and Basti from the Nawab of Oudh. This move brought the boundary of Nepal to touch the British frontier. The aggressions of the Gurkhas into the British territories culminated in a war. In May 1814, the Gurkhas attacked the British police post and killed 18 policemen and their officer. Hastings declared war on Nepal. In 1814 several battles were fought between the British and the Gurkhas. Amar Singh Thapa, the able General of Nepal Army was forced to surrender.
In March 1816, the Treaty of Sagauli was concluded. The Gurkhas gave up their claim over the Tarai region and ceded the areas of Kumaon and Garhwal to the British. The British now secured the area around Simla and their north-western borders touched the Himalayas. The Gurkhas had to withdraw from Sikkim and they also agreed to keep a British Resident at Katmandu. It was also agreed that the kingdom of Nepal would not employ any other foreigner in its services other than the English. The British had also obtained the sites of hill stations like Simla, Mussoori, Nainital, Ranikhet and developed them as tourist and health resorts. After this victory in the Gurkha War Hastings was honoured with English peerage and he became Marquis of Hastings.
Suppression of the Pindaris
The origin of Pindaris is lost in obscurity. The first reference about them is during the Mughal invasion of Maharashtra. They did not belong to any particular caste or creed. They used to serve the army without any payment but instead were allowed to plunder. During the time of Baji Rao I, they were irregular horsemen attached to the Maratha army. It is worth mentioning here that they never helped the British. They were mostly active in the areas of Rajputana and the Central Provinces and subsisted on plunder. Their leaders belonged to both the Hindu as well as the Muslim communities. Chief amongst them were Wasil Muhammad, Chitu and Karim Khan. They had thousands of followers.
In 1812, the Pindaris plundered the districts of Mirzapur and Shahabad and in 1815 they raided the Nizam’s dominions. In 1816, they plundered the Northern Circars. Lord Hastings determined to suppress the Pindaris. For this he gathered a large army of 1,13,000 men and 300 guns and attacked the Pindaris from four sides. He himself took command of the force from the north while Sir Thomas Hislop commanded the force from the south. By 1818, the Pindaris were completely suppressed and all their bands disintegrated. Karim Khan was given a small estate in the Gorakhpur district of the United Provinces. Wasil Muhammad took refuge in the Scindia’s camp but the latter handed him over to the British. Wasil committed suicide in captivity and Chitu escaped to the forest, where a tiger killed him. Thus, by 1824, the menace of the Pindaris came to an end.
Downfall of the Maratha Confederacy
The third major achievement of Lord Hastings was against the Marathas. In reality, the Maratha power had weakened considerably after the Third Battle of Panipat (1761) and the two subsequent wars against the British. But the Marathas had not finally crushed out. The Maratha chiefs fought amongst themselves and their successors were invariably weak and incapable. The relationships of powerful Maratha chiefs like the Bhonsle, Gaekwar, Scindia, Holkar and the Peshwa were ridden with mutual jealousies.
Peshwa Baji Rao II wanted to become the head of the Maratha Confederacy and at the same time wanted freedom from the British control. His Chief Minister Tirimbakji encouraged him. On the advice of the Company, the Gaekwar sent his Prime Minister Gangadhar Shastri to negotiate with the Peshwa. On his way back, Gangadhar Shastri, was murdered at Nasik in July 1815, at the instance of Triambakji.
This caused a lot of anger not only among the Marathas but also among the British. The latter asked the Peshwa to handover Triambakji to them. Peshwa handed over his Minister to the British, who lodged him in Thana jail from where he escaped. Consequently, on 13 June 1817, the British Resident Elphinstone forced the Peshwa to sign the Treaty of Poona. Baji Rao gave up his desire to become the supreme head of the Marathas.
Third Maratha War (1817-1819)
But soon the Peshwa undid this treaty with the British and on 5 November 1817 attacked the British Residency. He was defeated at a place called Kirkee. Similarly, the Bhonsle chief, Appa Sahib also refused to abide by the Treaty of Nagpur, which he had signed with the British on 17 May 1816. According to this treaty, Nagpur came under the control of the Company. He fought with the British in the Battle of Sitabaldi in November 1817, but was defeated. The Peshwa now turned to Holkar for help, but Holkar too was defeated by the British on 21 December 1817 at Baroda. Therefore, by December 1817 the dream of a Mighty Maratha Confederacy was finally shattered.
In 1818, Scindia was also forced to sign a new treaty with the British on the basis of which Ajmer was given to the Nawab of Bhopal, who also accepted the British suzerainty. The Gaekwar of Baroda, while accepting the Subsidiary Alliance, agreed to hand over certain areas of Ahmedabad to the British. The Rajput states which were under the Pindaris were freed after the latter’s suppression. The year 1818 was a significant year on account of major political achievements for the British. The Maratha dream of establishing themselves as the paramount power in India was completely destroyed. Thus, the last hurdle in the way of British paramountcy was removed.
Causes of the Defeat of the Marathas
There were several reasons for the defeat of the Marathas in the Anglo-Maratha Wars. The main reasons were:
- Lack of capable leadership
- Military weakness of the Marathas.
- The major drawback of the Maratha power was mutual bitterness and lack of cooperation amongst themselves.
- The Marathas hardly left any positive impact on the conquered territories.
- The Marat
has did not have cordial relations with other princes and Nawabs of India.
- The Marathas failed to estimate correctly the political and diplomatic strength of the British.
Reforms of Hastings
The Governor-Generalship of Lord Hastings witnessed not only territorial expansion but also the progress of administration. He approved the Ryotwari system of land revenue introduced in the Madras Presidency by Sir Thomas Munroe. In the sphere of judiciary, the Cornwallis Code was improved. The Police system of Bengal was extended to other regions. The importance of Indian Munsiffs had increased during his administration. The separation of judicial and revenue departments was not rigidly followed. Instead, the District Collector acted as Magistrate.
Hastings had also encouraged the foundation of vernacular schools by missionaries and others. In 1817, the Hindu College was established at Calcutta by the public for the teaching of English and western science. Hastings was the Patron of this college. He encouraged the freedom of the Press and abolished the censorship introduced in 1799. The Bengali Weekly, Samachar Darpan was started in 1818 by Marshman, a Serampore missionary.
Estimate of Hastings
Lord Hastings was an able soldier and a brilliant administrator. His liberal views on education and Press are commendable. He suppressed the Pindaris, defeated the Marathas and curbed the power of the Gurkhas. His territorial gains strengthened the British power in India. He was considered the maker of the Bombay Presidency. In short, he completed and consolidated the work of Wellesley.