Key Events during British East India Rule - 1757 to 1857
Maharaja Nanda Kumar's Execution by Warren Hastings
Maharaja Nandakumar had acquired a unique position by the infamous trial of forgery against him in the Supreme Court with charges brought by Warren Hastings. He was the first Indian to be hanged by the British East India Company. It is widely believed the Maharaja Nanda Kumar was a martyr because he resisted the East India Company and intrigued with its enemies. As per the account of Barwell, a friend of Hastings who had painted a rather one sided picture of Nanda Kumar or NunKomar in contemporary accounts, Nanda Kumar began his career as a minor revenue official under Alivardi Khan. He was appointed as the Faujdar of Hooghly after the death of Alivardi Khan, by Siraj Ud Daulah. During the battle of Palashi, when the British army under Clive decided to invade Chandannagore, Nanda Kumar offered no resistance, presumably because he was also involved in the conspiracy of ending Siraj's rule. After the defeat and death of Siraj, Nanda Kumar became a favourite of Clive. Under East India Company, Nanda Kumar was appointed as the tax collector of the districts of Bardhaman, Nadia and Hooghli in 1764. Nanda Kumar also became a great friend of Mir Jafar. When Mir Jafar was dethroned by Mir Kashim, Nanda Kumar entered an agreement with Mir Jafar that he would correspond on behalf of Mir Jafar. A section of the British East India Company tried to involve Nanda Kumar in an intrigue and charged him of conspiring to end the rule of East India Company. However Nanda Kumar was released by some of the Council members, who evidently saw the charges to be baseless, and was held in great favour by General Coote. When Mir Jafar was restored as the Nawab, Nanda Kumar became his Diwan. There were further allegations against Nanda Kumar by the British East Indian Company, of indulging in intrigues against the interest of the company, for carrying on correspondence with the country powers harmful to the Company's interest like the French Governor General of Pondicherry and the Mughal Emperor. The Company appointed Council therefore decided to keep Nanda Kumar under house arrest.
The other allegations against Nanda Kumar were -
1) Nanda Kumar entered into an agreement with Mir Kashim whereby Nanda Kumar would send Mir Kashim all accounts of the transactions of the English army, in return for which he would be given the Diwani of the Province of Bengal
2) Nanda Kumar influenced Raja Bulwant Singh of Banaras to join Suja Ud Daullah against the British
3) Nanda Kumar had written to Suja Ud Daullah that if he drove the British out of the country Nanda Kumar would offer him a gift of a hundred million rupees. However even his arch enemy Warren Hastings admitted in a letter that Nanda Kumar could not be accused of any misdeeds because he naturally protected the interest of his master, the Nawab of Bengal and that he had no moral obligation to the British. He had never been charged with any instance of infidelity to his Nawab Mir Jafar. He possibly wanted to expiate his sin of allowing the British to defeat Siraj Ud Daullah, by taking help from Suja Ud Daullah and others to drive the English out of Bengal.
In 1773 when Hastings was reinstated as the Governor General of Bengal, Nanda Kumar brought allegations against him of receiving a bribe from the widow of Mir Jafar for securing for her the guardianship of her minor son. Sir Philip Francis, Hasting's arch rival, took up the case in Supreme Council of Bengal. Hastings admitted to having taken a bribe but he overruled the Council and could not be brought to book.
But Hastings took his revenge on Nanda Kumar. He first prosecuted Nanda Kumar on grounds of compelling a certain native for bringing false allegations upon Hastings, and subsequently brought allegations against him of forgery and fraud. The amount involved was only Rs 70,000. The allegation was brought in Supreme Court whose Chief Justice was Elijah Impey, who was a friend of Warren Hastings. Needless to say that the British Justice System did not work for natives when it involved an Englishman on the other side. Nanda Kumar was tried, found guilty by the court and was hanged on 5th of August, 1775. This was considered by many Englishmen like Macauley as Judicial Murder. The duo, Impey and Hastings, were later accused, impeached and were subsequently cleared of all charges by the British Parliament. According to the papers of George Vansittart, Hastings was covertly involved in the prosecution. The attorney for the prosecution Durham was not an independent practitioner, the judges and the barristers were not quite familiar with the nuances of the Indian culture and legal system as they had just arrived. They had possibly deliberately applied a British rule on a territory not under British system of law. At the time of execution Maharaja Nanda Kumar was seventy years old. According to all accounts he gracefully went to the gallows.