The commercial contacts between India and Europe were very old via the land route either through the Oxus valley or Syria or Egypt. But, the new sea route via the Cape of Good Hope was discovered by Vasco da Gama in 1498.
Thereafter, many trading companies came to India and established their trading centres. They entered India as traders
at the outset but by the passage of time indulged in the politics of India and finally established their colonies. The commercial rivalry among the European powers led to political rivalry. Ultimately, the British succeeded in establishing their rule India.
The Portuguese traveler Vasco da Gama reached the port of Calicut on 17 May 1498 and he was warmly received by Zamorin, the ruler of Calicut. He returned to Portugal in the next year. Pedro Alvarez Cabral arrived in 1500 and Vasco da Gama also made a second trip in 1502. They established trading stations at Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin.
The first governor of the Portuguese in India was Francis de Almeida. Later in 1509 Albuquerque was made the governor of the Portuguese territories in India. In 1510, he captured Goa from the ruler of Bijapur. Thereafter, Goa became the capital of the Portuguese settlements in India. Albuquerque captured Malacca and Ceylon. He also built a fort at Calicut. He encouraged his countrymen to marry Indian women. Albuquerque died in 1515 leaving the Portuguese as the strongest naval power in India.
The successors of Albuquerque established Portuguese settlements at Daman, Salsette and Bombay on the west coast and at San Thome near Madras and Hugli in Bengal on the east coast. However, the Portuguese power declined in India by the end of the sixteenth century. They lost all their possessions in India except Goa, Diu and Daman in the next century.
The Dutch East India Company was established in 1602. The merchants of this company came to India and established their settlements at Masulipattinam, Pulicat, Surat, Karaikal, Nagapattinam, Chinsura and Kasimbazar. In the seventeenth century they won over the Portuguese and emerged the most dominant power in European trade in the East. Pulicat was their main centre in India and later it was replaced by Nagapattinam. In the middle of the seventeenth century the English began to emerge as a big colonial power. The Anglo-Dutch rivalry lasted for about seven decades during which period the Dutch lost their settlements to the British one by one.
The English East India Company was established in 1600 and the Charter was issued by Queen Elizabeth of England. Captain Hawkins arrived at the royal court of Jahangir in 1609 to seek permission to establish English trading centre at Surat. But it was refused by the Mughal Emperor due to Portuguese pressure. Later in 1612, Jahangir issued a farman (permission letter) to the English and they established a trading factory at Surat in 1613. Sir Thomas Roe came to India as ambassador of James I, the king of England to the Mughal court in 1615. He obtained permission from Jahangir to establish English trading factories in different parts of India.
The English established their factories at Agra, Ahmadabad, Baroda and Broach by 1619. The English East India Company acquired Bombay from Charles II, the then king of England. In 1639, Francis Day founded the city of Madras where the Fort St. George was built. In 1690, an English factory was established at a place called Sutanuti by Job Charnock. Later it developed into the city of Calcutta where Fort William was built. Later, Calcutta became the capital of British India. Thus Bombay, Madras, Calcutta became three presidency towns of the English settlements in India.
The French East India Company was formed in 1664 by Colbert, a Minister under Louis XIV. The first French factory in India was established at Surat by Francis Caron. Later, Maracara set up a factory at Masulipattinam. Francois Martin founded Pondicherry in 1673. Other French factories in India were Chandranagore, Mahe and Karaikal. Francois Martin was the first governor of Pondicherry, the headquarters of the French possessions in India.
Denmark also established trade settlements in India. Their settlement at Tranquebar was founded in 1620. Another important Danish settlement in India was Serampore in Bengal. Serampore was their headquarters in India. They failed to strengthen themselves in India and they sold all their settlement in India to the British in 1845.
In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the English and the French were competing with each other to establish their supremacy in India. Both of them used the political turmoil prevalent in India as a result of the decline of the Mughal Empire in their favour and indulged in internal politics. The Anglo-French rivalry in India was manifest in the Carnatic region and in Bengal.
The Carnatic Wars
The downfall of the Mughal Empire led to the independence of Deccan under Nizam-ul-Mulk. The Carnatic region also formed part of the Nizam’s dominion. The ruler of the Carnatic accepted the suzerainty of the Nizam. In 1740, the Austrian War of Succession broke out in Europe. In that war England and France were in the opposite camps. They came into conflict in India also. The French governor of Pondicherry, Dupleix opened attack on the English in 1746 and thus began the First Carnatic War (1746-1748). The English sought help from the Nawab of Carnatic, Anwar Uddin. But the French concluded a treaty with his rival Chanda Sahib. The English army crushed a defeat on the French in the Battle of Adyar, near Madras. In the meantime, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle was concluded in 1748 to end the Austrian Succession War. Thus the First Carnatic War came to an end. But the English and French continued to take opposite sides in the internal politics of India. This had resulted in the Second Carnatic War (1749-1754). Dupleix supported the cause of Muzafar Jang, who wanted to become the Nizam of Hyderabad and Chanda Sahib, an aspirant for the throne of Arcot. The troops of these three defeated Anwar Uddin, who was with the British in the First Carnatic War, and killed him in the Battle of Ambur in 1749. After this victory, Muzafar Jung became the Nizam and Chanda Sahib the Nawab of Arcot. Muhammad Ali, son of Anwar Uddin escaped to Tiruchirappalli. The English sent troops in support of him. In the meantime, the British commander Robert Clive captured Arcot. He also inflicted a severe defeat on the French at Kaveripakkam. Chanda Sahib was captured and beheaded in Tanjore. Meanwhile Dupleix was replaced by Godeheu as the French governor. The war came to an end by the Treaty of Pondicherry in 1754.
The outbreak of the Seven Years War (1756-1763) in E
urope led to the Third Carnatic War (1758-1763). Count de Lally was the commander of the French troops. The British General Sir Eyre Coote defeated him at Wandiwash in 1760. In the next year, Pondicherry was captured and destroyed by the British troops. The Seven Years War came to an end by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The Third Carnatic War also ended. The French agreed to confine its activities in Pondicherry, Karaikkal, Mahe and Yenam. Thus the Anglo-French rivalry came to a close with British success and French failure.
The causes for the French failure can be summed up as follows:
1. Commercial and naval superiority of the English.
2. Lack of support from the French government.
3. French had support only in the Deccan but the English had a strong base in Bengal.
4. English had three important ports – Calcutta, Bombay and Madras but French had only Pondicherry.
5. Difference of opinion between the French Generals.
6. England’s victory in the European wars decided the destiny of the French in India.
Establishment of British Power in Bengal
Bengal remained one of the fertile and wealthy regions of India. The English ascendancy in Bengal proved to be the basis for the expansion of English rule in India. The conflict between the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daula and the English led to the Battle of Plassey held on 23 June 1757. Robert Clive, the Commander of the British troops emerged victorious by defeating the Nawab’s army. The easy English victory was due to the treachery of Mir Jabar, the Commander of Nawab’s army. However, the victory of the British in the Battle of Plassey marked the foundation of the British rule in India.
In 1764, the English once again defeated the combined forces of the Nawab of Oudh, the Mughal Emperor and the Nawab of Bengal in the Battle of Buxar. The English military superiority was decisively established. In 1765, Robert Clive was appointed as the Governor of Bengal. In the same year, the Treaty of Allahabad was concluded by which the Mughal Emperor granted the Diwani rights to the English East India Company. Thus the British power in India was thoroughly established.