Mainstream, VOL LIII No 34 August 15, 2015
Thoughts for Indians on independence day: Is Indian Democracy drifting towards Peril?
Saturday 15 August 2015, by
“The part taken by Krishna Chandra Roy of Nadiya in the establishment of the English power reflected credit on his foresight; and in recognition of the services rendered by him, Lord Clive conferred on him the title of Rejendra Bahadur. He was also presented with a dozen guns used at Plassey. They may still be seen in the Rajbari.”
—W.W. Hunter, The Statistical Account of Bengal, vol. II, Districts of Nadiya & Jessore, Trubner & Co., London, 1875, p. 158
The Conspirator of the Battle of Plassey in the Galaxy of Legends!
Reward of firearms—that too twelve guns used in the battle of Plassey to Maharaja Krishna Chandra Roy by Lord Robert Clive—is no ordinary event. This had extraordinary historical bearing, though rarely any historian raised her/his finger at the recipient for his complicity with the architect of the British Empire on Indian soil at Plassey in academic discourses while analysing its ramifications. From the mango groves of Plassey in Nadia district, they annexed the entire Indian subcontinent for domination for about two centuries (1757-1947). The guns, in devastating lethal power, were second to none across the globe. Let us, however, underscore that the victorious Clive had no reason to extend such warm gesture towards the zamindar of Nadia without extracting a commensurate benefit. What was it?
The downfall of Siraj-Ud-Diaulla, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, was the result of a deeprooted conspiracy. Krishna Chandra Roy (Krishna Chandra Bandopadhyay), a prominent zamindar of Nadia, was the leader of the collaborators in laying the foundation of the British Empire in India, a fact over which historians maintain a golden silence. It was a matter of courtesy for Clive to befittingly acknowledge the role of the prince of the conspirators after the battle of Plassey; else he would go down in history as the ungrateful conqueror. Lord Robert Clive could not think of a present more appropriate for Krishna Chandra than the guns that were used to bring down the Nawab of Bengal in lieu of his ‘services’. No other co-conspirators seem to have received such reward from Clive. The honorific title Rajendra Bahadur for the Nadia zamindar does upset us as do the guns. A contemporary historian observes:
“There was already a disaffected faction at the nawab’s court, consisting of merchants, bankers, financiers and powerful zamindars, like the Jagat Seth brothers, Mahtab Rai and Swarup Chand, Raja Janki Ram, Rai Durlabh, Raja Ramnarain and Raja Manik Chand, who felt threatened by the assertion of independence by a young nawab enthusiastically trying to reord the balance of power in his court.”1
Denial of access to historical truth has taken deep roots. Generations of students parroted as gospel truth what the textbooks, approved by the West Bengal Secondary Education Board, dished out—that the banker Jagat Seth brothers, Raj Ballabh, Rai Durlabh, Umi Chand, Mir Jaffar, Yar Latif etc. conspired with the East India Company to replace Siraj by his Army Chief Mir Zafar Ali Khan as Nawab.2
William Ward of the Serampore Mission had delved into this critical aspect, based on an account of Rajiv Lochan Bandopadhyay published in 1805.3 In a secret meeting Raja Krishna Chandra with like-minded high-ranking officials in the court of the Nawab said that “he was acquainted with the English chief at Calcutta, and he thought that there was no alternative but that of inviting the English to take the government into their hands”.4 The proposed idea met with the approval of all others in the meeting. The unanimous resolution inspired and propelled Krishna Chandra to translate it into reality. He went to Calcutta under the pretext of offering puja (worship) at Kalighat; met the English chief of the Company at Calcutta and proposed “the plan to him. He and his friends won over Japhur-alee-khan, the commander in chief of the of Seraj- ooddoullah’s troops, Krishnu-chundru-rayu obtaining a promise from the English chief, that after deposing Seraj-ooddoulah, he would appoint Japhur-allee-khan nuwab in his stead”.5 This decidedly proves that Raja Krishna Chandra Roy was the “soul of the confederacy”,6 a bridge between the two extremes.
In Bengal Mir Jaffar today is a traitor (Bibhishan)—a Quisling. Rajiv Lochan Bando-padhyay was a descendant of the dynasty of Krishna Chandra, a claim Summary Sen, a distinguished authority of Bengali language and literature, refutes. Rajib Lochan’s account doubtlessly underlines that Krishna Chandra single-handedly accomplished the task of laying the foundation of the British Empire. Incidentally, Pandit Shibnath Shastri, an acknowledged scholar and social reformer, said that Clive had gifted five guns to Maharaja Krishna Chandra Roy,7 whereas eminent litterateur, Prof Dinesh Chandra Sen, is unanimous with Hunter about the number of guns.8 Nadia District Magistrate Garrett too sailed in the same boat with Hunter over the number of guns gifted to Krishna Chandra.9 No historian took pains to examine the motive of Clive towards Krishna Chandra Roy by presenting those guns. In any case, Clive was not a darling of Indians.
Krishna Chandra Roy was “universally considered the head of Hindu society and the arbitrator on all questions of caste”.10 As arbitrator of caste, he had unleashed havoc and threw Bengali society into the abyss of darkness and orthodoxy. Blinding vengeance and prejudice actually drove him to settle his scores with many famed and famous. The Tagore family of Jessore was disgraced and degraded by him. He denied the Tagores right to wear sacred Brahminical thread or cord (in Bengali paita). Further, Krishna Chandra had instigated the Sanskrit pandits to nip in the bud the efforts of Raja Rajballabh, a Baidya by caste of Dacca, for re-marriage of his minor widowed daughter Did his authority to inflict terror and trauma gag the intellectual class to utter the truth about his contribution in establishing the British Empire in India?
Gayawal of Vishnupad Temple, Gaya
On August 1, 1857 a delegation of priests, called Gayawal, of Vishnupad Temple, Gaya visited the District Magistrate of Gaya, Alonzo Money, who informed the Government of Bengal at Calcutta about the the objectives of the holy visitors.
“This morning a deputation from the Gayawals came here, I told them that I could not secure their safety [........]. They have promised, in conjunction with the zamindars, to supply some 3000 or 4000 men...”12
This was a very critical phase of history. According to a leading English daily, nearly two thousand Gayawal Pandas, belonging to fourteen different clans, perform rituals during “Pitrapaksha” or the fortnight of the ancestors. “Only the Gayawal Pandas are ordained to facilitate the salvation of wandering souls and every worthy Hindu heir is expected to perform the ‘Pindadaan’ ritual for the salvation of ancestors souls.”13 This class enjoys total mono-poly over salvation of the ancestors of Hindus. Monopoly invariably degenerates into oppression and exploitation for unfair gains. The Gayawals too were no exception. Under a spiritual veneer, the holy men hold powers to blackmail and extort the Hindus who go there for salvation of the dead ancestors. Scriptural ordinances are also the creation of a class enjoying monopoly over it and without exception few persons have arrogated themselves to extort and exploit the credulous masses. Countless stories of wandering souls were fabricated and propagated by a motivated class and dinned into the Hindu ears. So, no Hindu ever had any courage to accuse the Gayawal pandas as fifth columnists when they turned into Gayarams and defected to the East India Company. In plain and simple word, they were Quislings. But Indians did not master the courage to blacklist and ostracise them for their treachery against national interests.
The Gayawals promised to supply manpower at a time when Gaya was engulfed by mutineers. The backdrop is worth calling to the attention. The Calcutta Gazette of July 31, 1857 carried a notification of imposition of Martial Law over districts, for example, Shahabad, Patna, Behar (headquarter Gaya), Saran, Champaran and Tirhoot (headquarter Muzaffarpur)—all of Patna Division. Extremely concerned over the safety and security of the Englishmen and women under his jurisdiction, William Taylor, the Patna Commissioner, issued express orders calling upon all the District Magistrates to rush to the Dinapore Cantonment with the treasures for shelter. His letter of July 20, 1857 is poignant: A force of 250 Europeans and 50 Sikh officers and soldiers were dispatched for relieving the Arrah Garrison in Shahabad captured by Kuer Singh of Jagdishpur. Those killed in the fight included 150 Europeans and 28 Sikhs. None returned unhurt.14
A Minute dated July 31, 1857 of the Patna Commissioner mirrors the deepening crisis: “The district of Shahabad is in open revolt. The city (Arrah) has been plundered, the prisoners released, a relieving party of Europeans and Sikhs despatched to rescue the local Authorities who are besieged by the rebels has been driven back with serious loss in officers and men. [..................] Every fresh murder of Englishmen and Englishwomen, besides the horror of catastrophe itself, is shock to our power and prestige. It is no disgrace to a few Englishmen to retire prudently for a time, from a situation of peril, especially when this temporary retirement is with the object of more specially and effectually recovering our position. Matters have now arrived at a crisis at which, in my opinion, all consideration must yield to the one great object, viz. the prompt re-occupation of Shahabad, the arrest and execution of Kooer Singh, and the infliction of terrible vengeance on the rebellious villagers of that district, who have joined in the revolt.”15 (Italicised by me—A.K.B.) The District Magistrate from Gaya communicated intelligence through electric telegraph that “Kooer Singh joined the mutineers with 7000 men”.16
Mangal Pandey was sent to the gallows on April 8, 1857.17 In Meerut Cantonment sepoys broke out in mutiny on May 9, 1857. Our historians justifiably cite these instances as patriotic outbursts of our sepoys. Nonetheless, the agents of Lord Vishnu—how splendid!—were in the league of the powers that promised execution of Kooer Singh and infliction of terrible vengeance. What are the implications of the honeymoon of the Gayawals with the English? The foreign power not only got legitimacy to rule India, but also received unexpected sanction of a body of so-called holy men who promised security for them against whom their own countrymen risked their lives for freedom. The real implication is: These gayarams of the avatar Vishnu signalled a message to the god-fearing Hindus to submit and surrender without a word to the alien powers. A soulless, extortionate and arrogant class of Gayawals were/are interes-ted only in squeezing every farthing from the poor victims visiting Vishnupad. No Hindu would dare challenge them as this is the solitary shrine on earth that promises salvation of the souls of the dead. Quislings and collaborators though, no blame and shame ever visited the Gayawals nor were they held guilty of treachery.
Pioneers of gayarams: The Pandas of Puri Jagannath
The pandas of Puri Jagannath came down to Pipli to wait upon Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, the officer commanding the British forces that vanquished Orissa in 1803. They bluffed him by saying that they had carried the “Oracle” of Lord Jagannath, who had, they claimed, ordained them to hand over the management of the temple to the East India Company.18 This is name-dropping to obfuscate a sinister design—an unalloyed fraud and crime against the nation in general and Hindus in particular. The trading company was too willing and happy to make easy money from an unexpected source. The Company force entered Puri town and took over the Jagannath temple on September 18, 1803.19 Thus began the incompatible honeymoon between the priests and Company till 1841.20 Historians have turned a Nelson’s eye to this chapter of annexation of Orissa by the alien power. Many historians regard the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 as the first war of indepen-dence. In either of the cases cited above the priests were suitors of English power. Have Indians ever called these priests traitors, fifth columnists or collaborators? At Puri the deity is the avatar of Vishnu whereas at Gaya he is Vishnu himself. With a soft corner for the British, Lord Vishnu in both shrines is a money-spinning machine. The East India Company had, it is noted, levied pilgrim tax from Puri, Gaya, Prayag and Tirupati. The amount of pilgrim tax collected from some of the prominent shrines gives us some inkling about the interests of the parties involved in the nefarious plot. (Table-1—overleaf)
This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The collection of pilgrim tax at Gaya grossed at Rs 2,29,805 and the net collection amounted to Rs 1,82,876. The Tikari Raj, comprising 7500 square km of 2046 villages, gobbled 10 per cent of the net collection, that is, Rs 26,078 of the net pilgrim tax.21 The Tikari zamindar was an ardent ally of the British during the Mutiny. This suggests that the Gayawals were acting in tandam with the feudal force to court the colonial masters. Who actually forced the pandas of Puri from behind to embrace the East India Company?
Royal Salute for a Faithful Ally, Scindia of Gwalior
The Calcutta Gazette, June 26, 1858, No. 51, p. 1819 published an extraordinary declaration of the Government of India. It reads in parts as follows:
“The Right Hon’ble Governor General, in order to mark his appreciation of the Maharajah Scindia’s friendship, and his gratification at the re-establishment of His Highness’ authority in his ancestral dominions, is pleased to direct that a Royal Salute shall be fired at every principal station in India.” (Italicised by me—A.K.B.)
Why this unique honour? The same declaration elaborates:
“The Hon’ble Governor General has the highest gratification in announcing that the Town and Fort of Gwalior were conquered by Major-General Sir Hugh Rose, on the 19th instant, after a general action, in which rebels, who had usurped the authority of Maharajah Scindia, were totally defeated. On the 20th June, the Maharajah Scindia [.........] was restored to the palace of his ancestors [..............] The promptitude and success with which the strength of the British Government has been put forth for restoration of its faithful Ally to the capital of his territory [....................] offer to all convincing proof that the British Government has the will and the power to befriend those who, like the Maharajah Scindia, do not shrink from their obligation or hesitate to avow their loyalty.”
The ritual of royal salute for Scindia must have been honoured till August 13, 1947 with unfailing commitment. Major-General Hugh Rose, Commanding Field Forces, South of Narmada, in a despatch on October 13, 1858, noted that Maharaja Scindia had chased the rebel sepoys unto Agra. He also stated that “the rebels had entered Gwalior, taken Scindiah’s Treasury and jewels, the latter said to be of fabulous value”. Gwalior was rich and resourceful. “Scindiah, the Maharajah or Prince of Gwalior, is our very faithful ally: and with one exception he is the most powerful of the independent Princes of India. The centrical and geographical position of the Gwalior States and their extent, give their Rulers great political and Military power over whole of India. The main artery of communication and electric lines from Bombay to Central India, Agra, and the North-Western Provinces, traverse for hundreds of miles Scindiah’s dominions.”22 The geo-political location of Gwalior speaks for its own great military significance for holding sway over India. If sepoys had control over it, the British had a real danger on hand.
Thirteen Gun Salute for Burdwan Maharaja: What For?
Maharaja of Burdwan Mahtab Chand too received gun salute but on a lesser scale. At the Imperial Assembly at Delhi on January 1, 1877, “he was granted as a personal distinction, the right to receive a salute of 13 guns”. No other feudal landlord was decorated with this honour. But why was Mahtab Chand picked up for the decoration? A Bengal civilian, Charles Buckland, recorded that “At the time of Sonthal Rebellion in 1855 and again in the mutiny the Maharaja did everything in his power to help the Govern-ment by placing elephants and bullock carts at the disposal of the authorities and by keeping open the communications throughout his property.”23
However, Major Vincent Jervis recorded his experience of the Santhal Rebellion in 1855:
“It was not a war, it was execution; we had orders to go wherever we saw the smoke of a village rising above the jungle. The Magistrate used to go with us. I surrounded the village with my sepoys, and the Magistrate called upon the rebels to surrender. On one occasion the Santhals, 45 in number, took refuge in a mud house. The Magistrate called on them to surrender but the only reply was a shower of arrows from the half-open door. I said, ‘Mr Magistrate, this no place for you,’ and went up with my men, who cut a large hole through the wall. I told the rebels to surrender or I should fire in. The door again half opened and a volley of arrows was the answer. A company of sepoys advanced and fired through the hole. I once again called upon the inmates to surrender, while my men re-loaded. Again the door opened and a volley of arrows replied. Some of the sepoys were wounded, the village was burning all around, and I had to give the men orders to do their work. At every volley we offered quarter, and at last, as the discharge from the door slackened, I resolved to rush in and save some of them, if possible. When we got inside, we found only one old man, dabbled with blood, standing erect among the corpses. One of my men went upon him, calling him to throw away his arms. The old man rushed upon the sepoy and hewed him down with his battle-axe.
“It was no war, they did not understand yielding. As long as their national drum beat, the whole party would stand and allow themselves to be shot down. Their arrows often killed our men, and so we had to fire on them as long as they stood. When their drums ceased, they would move off for about quarter of a mile; then their drums began again and they calmly stood till we came and poured a few volleys into them. There was not a sepoy who did not feel ashamed of himself. The prisoners were for the most part wounded men. They upbraided us with fighting against them. They always said it was with the Bengalees they were at war, not with Englishmen. If a single Englishman had been sent to them who understood their wrongs and would have redressed them, they declared there would have been no war. It is not true that they used poisoned arrows. They were the most truthful set of men I have ever met; brave to infatuation. A lieutenant of mine had once to shoot down seventyfive men before their drums ceased; and the party fell back.”24
Even after 170 years we feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed at what was done to the Santhals in 1855. The remorseless Maharaja waded through the blood and over the corpses of the Santhals to exhibit his loyalty that entitled him to 13 gun salutes.
Collaborators and fifth columnists to avow loyalty aloud to the British popped up from here, there and everywhere. Maharajas of Dar-bhanga, Bettiah, Hatwa (in Bihar), Rajas of Tikari and Pakur, besides Raja Peary Mohan Mukherjee, Uttarpara, Hooghly, to mention just a few—all were the colonial-era gayarams—jumped to the British camp. The intellectual class impressed them by superpower and super-ability of their honey-tongued sycophancy. Raja Digambar Mitra demanded “permanence of the British supremacy in India”; Iswar Chandra Gupta composed a poem eulogising the alien rule as “Ramrajya” and wanted its perpetuation. An exuberant Babu Prasanno Kumar Tagore went miles ahead to claim: “If we were to be asked what Government should we prefer, English or any other?” His answer: “English, by all means.........in preference to Hindu Govern-ment.” Veteran Harish Chandra Mukherjee, editor, The Hindoo Patriot, screamed, “What the Bengal zamindar did not do” for the colonial administration during mutiny? “They kept Bengal in order.”25 Any doubts about the loyalty of the Bengali intellectual and elite class including the zamindars?
There is no weapon more powerful than sycophancy—unbridled sycophancy wins the heart of powerful authorities without compa-rison. The rulers showered their favours and largesse on their sycophants. The Indian Councils Act 1861 created the Legislative Council of Governor-General as also the Legislative Council for Bengal Presidency. These two august bodies were packed with traitors or their descendants. The required qualification for entry into the Council was proven record of treachery and betrayal. Proximity to the rulers invested them with arrogance, a pre-requisite for aristocracy. Ever since they captured the commanding heights in the nation’s social and political life. The legislatures, Central as well as State, are, by and large, packed with the descendants of those fifth columnists who have rigged every pillar of the government, including the judiciary, to their advantage. For their own selfish end, they have pushed democracy to the brink. The common man can expect no good from them. They are not interested in the development of the masses.
Sad day for Indian Democracy
Calling a spade a spade, democracy has been hijacked. Though they preach morality for the countrymen, they themselves are unbridled in indulging in hypocrisy, dishonesty, immorality, prevarication and corruption at massive public costs. Donning the democratic mettle, a scion of the faithful British ally of central India has shown utter contempt for the sovereign authority of India by putting the condition that her action favouring a fugitive of law on foreign land be kept under wraps so as to prevent Indian authorities from gaining access to it. She has an accomplice. Both are heavily indebted to the fugitive who bought their favours by huge bribes, money and service. Both are still untouched in their high offices much to the shame and disgrace of the the nation.
The soul of the valiant fighter, Rani of Jhansi, Lakshmibai, must be pining in her heavenly abode seeing how the sacrifices for freedom of millions of Indians and their aspirations are being daily trampled with utter disrespect by her country’s villains in political garb.
1. Sekhar Bandopadhyay, From Plassey to Partition : A History of Modern India, Orient Longman, 2004, p. 43.
2. Jiban Mukhopadhyay, Swadesh Parichay in Bengali, Naba Bharati Prakashan, Calcutta, 13th edition, p. 291. The author is HOD, History, Vidyasagar College, Calcutta.
3. Rajib Lochan Bandopadhyay, Maharaja Krishnachandra rayasya Charitram which Prof Rajat Kanti Roy considers as an exaggerated account. Palashir Sharozontro O Sekaler Samaj (Conspiracy for Palashi and Bengali Contemporary Society), Ananda Publishers, Calcutta, 1994, p. 181.
4. William Ward, History, Literature and Mythology of the Hindoos, Second edition, vol. I, 1818, Serampore, p. 28.
5. Ibid., p. 29. Spelling of proper nouns have been left unchanged.
6. Ward, Ibid.
7. Shibnath Shastri, Ramtanu Lahiri and the Contemporary Bengali society, 1904, p. 5. He says that these guns were on display in the Rajbari of Krishna Nagar.
8. Dinesh Chandra Sen, Greater Bengal (in Bengali Brihat Bango), volume II, 1935, p. 1133.
9. J.H.E. Garrette, ICS, Nadia in the Bengal District Gazetteers series, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, Calcutta, 1910.
10. W.W. Hunter, The Statistical Account of Bengal, vol. II, Districts of Nadiya and Jessore, Trubner & Co., London, 1875, p. 158.
11. Shibnath Shastri, op cit., pp. 7-8
12. Correspondence connected with the removal of Mr Taylor from the Commissionership of Patna, Calcutta, 1858, p. 33A.
13. Abdul Qadir, “Drought conditions,deluge hits Gayawal pandas”, The Times of India, September 22, 2005.
14. Ibid., p. 148.
15. Correspondence connected with the removal of Mr Taylor from the Commissionership of Patna, Calcutta, 1858, p. 115.
16. Ibid., p. 114.
18. According to The Coincise Oxford Dictionary, oracle means personal or other means of conveying divine inspiration or revelation.
19. James Peggs, Pilgrim Tax in India, London.
20. A. K. Biswas, ‘Events and Historiography of 1857’, Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, No. 150, October-December 2007, Kudha Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, pp. 63-65.
21. James Peggs, Pilgrim Tax in India, London. pp. 18 and 45. Journalist of Gaya, Abdul Quadir, informed me that Gaya district formed part of the erstwhile Tikari Raj.
22. Supplement to The Calcutta Gazette, Wednesday, February 23, 1859, p. 8.
23. Buckland, C. E., Bengal Under The Lieutenant Governors, vol. II, Calcutta, 1902, p. 1031.
24. A.K. Biswas, article ‘Rages of angels’ in The Hindustan Times, Patna, Sunday, September 25, 1994.
25. A. K. Biswas, ‘Events and Historiography of 1857’, Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal, No. 150, October-December 2007.
A retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, B. R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar, the author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org