Hastings’ relations with Rohillas, Chet Singh and Begums of Awadh

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A critique on Warren Hastings’ relations with Rohillas, Chet Singh and Begums of Awadh

Warren Hastings was impeached by the British Parliament after his return to Britain. He was charged with nearly twenty cases. He was finally acquitted of all charges. Among the cases with which he was charged were also the relations which he maintained with the Rohillas, Raja Chet Singh aka Chait Singh of Benaras and the Begums of Awadh.

The Rohillas – Rohilla War

The Rohillas were inhabitants of Rohilkhand which was a fertile and prosperous area on the north-west frontier of Awadh. Its ruler then was Hafiz Rahmat Khan. He feared the invasion of the Marathas and, therefore, entered into a treaty with the Nawab of Awadh in 1772. It was agreed that the Nawab would help the Rohillas against the invasion of the Marathas and, in return, would be paid rupees forty lac. In 1771, it seemed that the Marathas would attack Rohilkhand. But, the presence of the combined forces of the English and the Nawab of Awadh deterred them from the attack. The Nawab, however, demanded rupees forty lac from the Rohillas. The Rohillas refused to pay it on the plea that no fighting had taken place. The Nawab found a good pretext to annex Rohilkhand and sought the help of the English for the purpose. The English felt that it would be in their larger interest if Rohilkhand was occupied by Awadh because there was every possibility that sooner or later the Marathas would capture it. Therefore, they agreed to help the Nawab. The combined forces of the Nawab and the English attacked Rohilkhand on April 17, 1774. The decisive battle took place after six days at Miranpur Katra. Hafiz Rahmat Khan was killed in the battle, the Rohillas were completely defeated and Rohilkhand was annexed to Awadh.

The policy of Hastings was supported on several grounds. The English were bound to help the Naawab because of the treaty of Benaras; the English representative, Sir Robert Barker, was present at the time Rohillas were aggressors on Rohilkhand because they had captured it only twenty five years back. But, these arguments were not valid. There was no liability imposed on the English by the treaty of Benaras to support the Nawab in an aggressive war. The Rohillas were no aggressors as well. If twenty five years of rule did not give them any moral right to rule Rohilkhand then the British too had no right to rule over their territories which they had captured only recently.

Hastings’ policy was severely criticised by Bruke, Macaulay, Mill etc. Macaulay charged Hastings with the burning of the houses of the Rohillas, killings of their children and disrespecting their women. An unbiased observer would say that the action of Hastings was indefensible on moral grounds. Warren Hastings himself did not justify it on that ground. His aims were political and financial. He needed money and got it by helping the Nawab. His political aim was achieved by annexation of Rohilkhand by Awadh because it was, thus, saved from falling in the hands of the Marathas.

Raja Chet Singh of Benaras

The Maratha and the Mysore wars had put Warren Hastings into financial difficulties. He desired money by every means. One of his victims became Raja Chet Singh. By a treaty with Awadh in 1775, Banaras was handed over to the Company and its ruler had to pay rupees 22 lac annually to it. In 1778, the Company asked the Raja to pay rupees five lac more besides the annual tribute. It was paid. In 1779, the demand was repeated. The Raja hesitated for some time. Then he was forced to pay £2000 more besides the annual tribute. In 1780, Warren Hastings again asked the Raja to pay rupees five lac besides the tribute. As soon as the Raja paid this money he was asked to provide two thousand horsemen to the Company. The Raja was not bound to keep two thousand horsemen according to the treaty with the English in 1775. Therefore, he requested Hastings to reduce the number of the cavalry. Hastings reduced the number of the cavalry to one thousand. Chet Singh arranged for five hundred horsemen and five hundred infantry men. Warren Hastings took it as disobedience of his orders and imposed a fine of rupees fifty lac on the Raja. He marched towards Banaras to recover this amount. He refused a personal meeting with the Raja and gave his demands in writing. Chet Singh replied in a most humble way but pleaded his inability to fulfil his demands. Hastings ordered his imprisonment. The Raja did not protest but his soldiers could not tolerate this disrespect shown to the Raja in the capital and revolted. Hastings first fled to Chunar but subsequently suppressed the revolt. Chet Singh fled to Gwalior. His kingdom was given to one of his nephews who agreed to pay rupees forty lac annually to the Company.

Warren Hastings’ treatment of Chet Singh was completely indefensible. Some writers like Forrest and V.A. Smith have tried to defend him on the ground of expediency. They contend that he was forced to take all those steps against Chet Singh because he was hard pressed for money. But the contention cannot be defended. The methods of extracting money from Chet Singh were both illegal and immoral. The demands of Hastings which exceeded the terms of the treaty with the Raja were illegal and unjust while putting him into disrespect and the attempt to imprison him in his capital were imprudent. Besides, Chet Singh could escape with most of his treasure and the Company underwent a loss in this adventure because of the military operations against him. Therefore, the policy of Hastings proved impolitic as well.

The case of Begums of Awadh

Warren Hastings was short of money. His other victims were the Begums of Awadh; the grandmother and the mother of the then Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-ud-daulah. The Nawab had failed to pay the money to the Company for the army maintained by the latter to help him against the Maratahas and also the money which he had agreed to pay in return for the help of the English in the conquest of Rohilkhand. His grandmother and mother had immense wealth and extensive jagirs which they had inherited from the late Nawab, Shuja-ud-daulah. He always felt that he had a just claim over their wealth and jagirs and coveted them. When Warren Hastings needed money in 1781 the English resident proposed that in order to recover the debts of the Company from the Nawab the wealth and the jagirs of the Begums should be taken over from them. Warren Hastings encouraged the Nawab to this end and this wealth of the Begums was snatched away from them by the Nawab with the help of the English soldiers.

Hastings was defended on the ground that he could not interfere in the affairs of the Nawab and the Begums. Hastings charged the Begums with being in league with Raja Chet Singh of Banaras against the English. But, both contentions were wrong. Hastings was not only in touch with the affairs of Awadh but he had instigated the Nawab to capture the wealth of the Begums. The charge of conspiracy by the Begums against the English was also concocted after the incident and there were no proofs to support it. In fact, Hastings needed money; he desired to get it at every cost and he got it. The means mattered little to him. But, the whole affair was completely unjust. Sarkar and Datta have commented : “The whole business was undoubtedly sorry, sordid, shabby, and a slur on the character of Hastings.”

Thus, we find that in all these three cases Warren Hastings’ role was unjustified.

Points to remember

  1. Hastings was impeached by the British Parliament with an array of twenty cases against him including his treatment with the Rohillas, Raja Chet Singh of Banaras and the Begums of Awadh.
  2. Hastings helped the Nawab of Awadh in capturing Rohilkhand in 1774 on the pretext of recovering rupees forty lac from its ruler, Hafiz Rahmat Khan.
  3. The attack on Rohilkhand has been described as immoral and unjust and the plea of Hastings’ supporters that he was bound to support the Nawab because of a previous treaty has not been accepted.
  4. Warren Hastings extracted extra money from Raja Chet Singh over and above the annual tribute in 1778, 1779 and 1780.
  5. The Raja was asked to provide two thousand horsemen in addition to the annual tribute in 1780 and, when he failed to provide them, Hastings imposed a heavy fine on him and reached Banaras in person to extract it which resulted in the revolt of the army of the Raja.
  6. The Raja fled and his gaddi was given to one of his nephews.
  7. Hastings’ action against the Raja has been criticized as immoral, unjust and fruitless as well, because it brought no money to him.
  8. Warren Hastings helped the Nawab of Awadh in extorting wealth from his mother and grandmother.
  9. The plea of Hastings that the Begums from whom the Nawab extorted wealth were in league with Raja Chet Singh, has not been accepted and, on the contrary, he has been charged with helping the Nawab in coercing the helpless ladies to surrender their wealth.
  10. Thus, in all the three cases, Hastings’ role was unjustified.

Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.

Tags : PDF for UPSC exam notes.

Questions for UPSC mains :

Discuss the relations of Warren Hastings with (i) The Rohillas, (ii) Chet Singh, and (iii) the Begums of Awadh.

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