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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Assumption of Power

Urdu Version

British assumption of power in the subcontinent took less than 100 years, beginning with the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and ending with the defeat of the Sikhs in 1849.

Battle of Plassey

After Battle of Plassey
(Francis Hayman)

British rule in India is conventionally described as having begun in 1757. The Nawab of Bengal, Sirajuddaula, tried to curtail the power of the East India Company but was unsuccessful. In retaliation, Robert Clive (who represented the East India Company) made a pact with the rich Hindu merchants of Bengal to overthrow the Nawab and replace him with a more compliant ruler. At the Battle of Plassey, on 23 June 1757, at a small village and mango grove between Calcutta and Murshidabad, the forces of the East India Company under Robert Clive defeated the army of Sirajuddaula. The province of Bengal was one of the richest provinces in the Mughal Empire due to its natural resources. Winning this battle enabled the British to select a local ruler dependent on their support and with him the riches of the province.

British Government take-over

The British Government began to take more interest in the affairs of the East India Company as it gained power. In 1773 the Regulating Act of India was passed, imposing administrative and economic reforms. The Act introduced substantial government control and under it the first Governor General of India, Warren Hastings, was appointed. Shortly thereafter, the Act of 1786 was passed which clearly demarcated the roles of the Company and the British Government, putting the Government in charge of administration. Lord Cornwallis was appointed Governor General of India. It was not until after the 1857 War of Independence, in 1858, that the East India Company was dissolved and rule of India by the British crown began.

Consolidating British rule

After initial successes, the British steadily moved across the subcontinent consolidating their power. They were able to defeat the Nawab of Oudh and Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1799 and in 1803 they entered Delhi and placed the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam under their protection. In 1843 the British decided to take over Sindh. Finally after the death of Ranjit Singh in 1849, they were able to gain control of the Punjab. British assumption of power took less than 100 years.

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Books & Articles

Bajwa, Farooq N. “The Rise of Muslim Nationalism.” Pakistan: A Historical and Contemporary Look. Revised ed. Karachi: Oxford UP, 2002.

Lal, Vinay. “East India Company.” Manas: History and Politics. UCLA, 2008.

Marshall, Peter. “The British Presence in India in the 18th Century.” BBC History. BBC, 2011.


BBC Radio: This Sceptred Isle (A 90 part history of the British Empire) – Episode 25: Clive of India & Episode 41: Warren Hastings