Continued Expansion of the British Empire

Even after the settlement of 1818 , some parts of the subcontinent�remained out of British control. These included the Himalayan�states to the north, the valley and hill tracts of Assam to the�east, and a block of territory in the northwest covering the�Indus valley, the Punjab, and Kashmir. To the south Ceylon was�already occupied by the British, but to the east the kingdom of�Burma straddled the Irrawaddy River.

The Himalayan states included Nepal ruled by the Gurkhas,�as well as Bhutan, and Sikkim. Nepal and Bhutan remained�nominally independent throughout the British period, though�both eventually became British protectorates-Nepal in 1815�and Bhutan in 1866. Sikkim came under British protection in�1890; earlier it had ceded the hill station of Darjeeling to the�British. The British claimed that they were forced to take the�valley and hill tracts of Assam under protection in order to save�them from attack by Burmese. Beginning in 1836, the Indian tea�plant was cultivated in this region, after the failure of Chinese�imported ones, and thus the foundations of the great Indian tea�industry were laid.

In the early 19th century the Burmese were in an aggressive�mood, having defeated the Thais (1768) and subjected Arakan�and hill states on either side of the river valleys. Attacks on�British protected territory in 1824 started the First AngloBurmese War (1824-1826), which, though mismanaged, led�to the British annexation of the coastal strips of Arakan and�Tenasserim in 1826. The Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852)�was caused by disputes between merchants (trading in rice and�teak timber) and the Rangoon governor. The Governor-General,�Lord Dalhousie, intervened, annexing the maritime province�of Pegu with the port of Rangoon in a campaign-this time�well-managed and economical. Commercial imperialism was�the motive for this campaign.

The North Western Region

To the northwest, British India was bounded by the Sikh�kingdom of Ranjit Singh, who added the vale of Kashmir and�Peshawar to his state in 1819. Beyond Punjab the situation was�confused, with the Afghan monarchy in dissolution and its�lands parcelled between several chiefs, and Sind, controlled by�a group of emirs, or chiefs. British indifference changed to action�in the 1830s, owing to the reported advance of Russia in central�Asia and to that nation’s diplomatic fight with the then British�Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston (who later also served as�Prime Minister) regarding its influence in Turkey. Afghanistan�was seen as a point from which Russia could threaten British�India or Britain could embarrass Russia. When Lord Auckland�was sent as governor-general in 1836, he was tasked with taking�steps to forestall the Russians.

Anglo Afghan War

This situation led to the Afghan adventure�and the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842). The method�adopted was to restore Shah Shoja, the exiled Afghan king,�then living in the Punjab, by ousting the ruler of Kabul, Dust�Muhammad. Ranjit Singh cooperated in the enterprise but�cleverly avoided any military commitment, leaving the British�to bear the whole burden. The route of invasion lay through�Sind, because of Sikh occupation of the Punjab.�The emirs’treaty of 1832 with the British was brushed aside,�and Sind was forced to pay arrears of tribute to Shah Shoja. At�first things went well, with victories and the occupation of Kabul�in 1839. But the British found that Shah Shoja was too unpopular�to rule the country independently; the British restoring force�thus became a foreign occupying army-detested by the libertyloving Afghans-and was regularly engaged in putting down�sporadic tribal revolts. After two years a general revolt in the�autumn of 1841 overwhelmed and virtually annihilated the�retreating British garrison. Meanwhile, the Russian menace in�Eastern Europe had receded.

Under Auckland’s successor, Lord Ellenborough, Kabul�was briefly reoccupied and sacked by means of a converging�march from Kandahar in the south and Jalalabad in the east�and a return through the Khyber pass. In this way the British�satisfied their honour and glossed over the fact that Afghanistan�had defeated them (as it would vanquish even Russia and the�USA later). Shah Shoja was shortly thereafter murdered. The�episode demonstrated, at a heavy price in terms of money and�human suffering, both the ease with which Afghanistan could�be overrun by a regular army and the difficulty of holding�it. The enterprise, though originally justified as an insurance�against Russian imperialism, was ultimately itself a species of�imperialism. Economic difficulties combined with the strength�of Afghan resistance to put a limit on British expansion in this�direction.


After the Afghans it was the turn of Sind to face British�expansionism. The emirs of Sindh were a group of related chiefs�who had come to power in the late 18 th century and had kept�the country in poverty and stagnation. A treaty with them in�1832 threw the Indus river open to commerce but not to the�passage of armed vessels or military stores; at the same time, the�integrity of Sind was recognised. Thus, Lord Auckland’s march�through Sind was a clear violation of a treaty signed only seven�years earlier. The emirs were justifiably also concerned about the�turn of events in Afghanistan and this produced a final breach�with the British.

On charge of the unfriendly and hostile attitude displayed�by the emirs during the First Anglo-Afghan War, Karachi,�occupied in 1839, was retained by the British. Further demands�were then made by the British while the moderate resident James�Outram was superseded by the militant general Charles James�Napier to facilitate more aggressive action. The resistance this�provoked was crushed at the Battle of Miani in 1843. Sind was�then annexed to the Bombay Presidency; after four years of�rough-and-ready rule by Napier, its economy was put in some�order by Sir Bartle Frere.

The Punjab

After the takeover of Sindh, Punjab, the single-handed creation�of Ranjit Singh, was the only major state left outside British�influence in north India. The Sikh movement in the course of�the 18 th century had changed from a religious to a political�movement and was initially directed mainly against the Mughal�imperial authority. Guru Gobind Singh’s death in the early�18th century was followed by a peasant revolt led by Banda�Bahadur. The Mughal empire faced a very difficult situation to�retain their hold over the province. Banda’s execution in 1715�gave the Mughals a temporary respite. However even after this�setback, the Sikhs organised themselves into small and highly�mobile bands, called jathas and posed a serious challenge to the�Mughal imperial authority.

The attack of Nadir Shah in 1739 made the situation�more difficult for Mughal authority in the Punjab. The attack�and plunder of the province by the Persian invader seriously�weakened the imperial authority in the Punjab. The Persian�invasion was followed by a series of Afghan invasions led�by Ahmad Shah Abdali and this gave a concluding blow�to the Mughal authority in the Punjab. In addition there�was considerable internal struggle within the provincial�administration which weakened it further.


Written by princy

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