Organized resistance to the British expansionism started in 1757 with the battle of Palashi in Bengal when Siraj Ud Daullah, the Nawab, was treacherously dethroned and killed by a section which was mostly driven by their own interests and ambitions. The Mughals had faded into oblivion and the Maratha power had suffered a great blow in the Third battle of Panipat in 1761. Shah Alam, the puppet Mughal prince, had led few expeditions to Bihar but solely with the objective of grabbing power himself. Bengal was plagued by conspiracies and intrigues of vested political interests who were all competing with each other to grab power rather then being motivated by any higher ideals of freeing the motherland. Mir Kasim, who replaced Mir Jafar as the Nawab, also came into conflict with the English. Dr. R.C Majumdar opines in his History of Freedom Movement, Vol 1, that Mir Kasim's battle with the English was the "first and the last real struggle for freedom against the British deliberately organized by a Nawab of Bengal on a comprehensive scale. "
It failed miserably owing to the inefficiency of Indian military strategy and tactics and also the open hostility of the Hindu chiefs against the Nawab. Mir Kasim had formed an alliance with Mughal prince Shah Alam and Nawab of Audh Suja Ud Daullah, but was decisively defeated in the battle of Buxar in 1764.
Shah Alam had sought help from British to march against Mir Jafar, so he did not attempt to resist British expansion. Marathas also sought an alliance of the British against Siraj Ud Daullah and hence were not driven by any anti British motive, until atleast their own strongholds were threatened. Dr. R.C Majumdar aptly summarized the situation as "It is difficult to believe that there was any power or important personality in those days who really had the good of the country at heart. Everyone wanted to advance his own interests and none looked beyond them to the larger interests of the country as a whole."
Chait Singh and his armed resistance
Mysore rulers Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, had put up resistance against the British policy of expansion through subsidiary alliance. The earliest attempt to drive the British out was made in 1778 A.D by a strong confederacy formed by most of the Maratha chiefs, Hyder Ali of Mysore and the Nizam of Hyderabad. Hastings could take the Nizam out of this alliance. Therefore the plan failed. In 1795 Tipu Sultan made an alliance with the Shah of Kabul, Scindhia, Nawab of Audh and few other disgruntled Muslim rulers. The most spirited resistance however came from a local Zamindar, Raja Chait Singh. Raja Chait Singh, who was the zamindar of Banaras, was forced to pay hefty tributes to the East India Company and any delay in payment was severely dealt with. Hastings had a personal animosity against Chait Singh as he had against Nanda Kumar. He himself proceeded to Banaras extort an amount of fifty lakhs of rupees fine and to punish Chait Singh. The Raja was put on house arrest and this sparked a rebellion across Banaras. The guards and the British officers were killed and Chait Singh escaped. Reinforcements were brought by the British from Chunar and Mirzapur to encircle the fort of Ramnagar. However the local populace offered a strong opposition to the troops and an entire Company of British forces was destroyed. Hastings himself fled to Chunar. British forces attacked Chait Singh, who, according to the letter of Hastings, had 10,000 armed men, and their artillery and cartridges made in Ramnagar were almost equal to that of the British forces in quality. Chait Singh's forces offered strong resistance from the hill forts of Pateeta, Latifpur and Bijaigarh. After the fall of all the three hill forts, Chait Singh escaped to Gwalior. Chait Singh's heroism roused the entire country. According to a British Resident, the rebellion of Raja Chait Singh was part of a larger and more extensive plan (of driving the British out), prematurely brought forward before all the parties to it could be united and launch a coordinated assault. Troops under Col. Hannay deserted the ranks, troops under Capt. Williams and Lt. Gordon were stranded as communications were cut. Begums of Audh and their principal Sardars openly supported Chait Singh, Faizabad too had sided with Chait Singh and supplied him the greatest no. of troops. Nawab Wazir Ali, the deposed Nawab of Audh, was a key leader in the conspiracy. A large no. of Zamindars and Rajas received money to help Chait Singh. Chait Singh was helped by Mahadji Scindhia, the most powerful Maratha ruler at that time. Chait Singh was given asylum in Gwalior of Scindhias, with his family, till his death in 1810.
Rebellion of Wazir Ali - deposed Nawab of Audh
The deposed Nawab of Audh, Wazir Ali, who bore a grudge against the British for removing him from the throne of Audh, had played a key role in organizing resistance with the help of many disgruntled Zamindars of Bengal and Bihar. Wazir Ali also had hatched a conspiracy for overthrowing the Company, in conjunction with Mysore and Scindhia. Banaras was the centre of rebellion but royal families from many other adjoining districts and even the king of Nepal, were involved in some way or the other. The Rising of Wazir Ali lasted for a full year, from 1799 to 1800. Zaman Shah of Kabul was planning to stir up a Muslim Jihad against the British in India and he was closely linked with Wazir Ali. According to Dr. R.C Majumdar, the resistance of Wazir Ali was, "one of the first spontaneous outbreaks of a large section of the Indian people against the newly established and the gradually expanding British rule." Wazir Ali was eventually handed over to the British by the Raja of Jaipur and his associates were captured or killed. Dr. Majumdar further opines that the insurrection of Wazir Ali was a precursor to a number of revolts in Northern and Central India.
British East India Company however brought most of the local Rajas and Zamindars under control through the subsidiary alliance and thus alleviated fear of a large scale unified uprising by the Indian princely states.
Dhondia Wagh and his battles
Dhondia Wagh was the chief of Bednore, a Maratha by birth, and was a soldier under Tipu. He had converted to Islam under Tipu and assumed the name of Malik Jahan Khan. Earlier he had deserted Tipu after the third Anglo Mysore war in 1792 and took shelter in the Maratha territory. In 1793 he captured Haveri and Savanur and raided other territories handed over by the Marathas to Mysore. Being defeated by the Marathas, he sought refuge with Tipu again, and seeing his military prowess, Tipu agreed to take him in only if he converted to Islam. He rose to some prominence and then was imprisoned by Tipu. After Tipu's death, Wagh was released by the British along with other prisoners of Tipu. He put himself in charge of a body of soldiers from the Mysore army and secured a number of import forts in the Bednore district and declared himself as Nayaka of Bednore and "Ubhaya Loka Dheeswara" or Lord of the two worlds. Several polygars or local chieftains accepted his leadership. In 1799 British Military sent two company of soldiers to attack Bednore from two different directions. Dhoondia was defeated and took shelter in the Maratha territories. There he seized several forts and tried to create a organized rebellion against the British by establishing a political confederacy. He entered Dharwad district where he had a battle with the local Maratha chief Dhondopant Gokhale who plundered his camp. He then re entered Dharwad with a larger force in 1800 and occupied Savanur. He also occupied the Jamalabad fort built by Tipu. He invited those who were discontented with the British rule to fight alongside him. The British took up this challenge seriously and sent a force under Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington in May 1800. The Maratha confederates under the Peshawa also marched alongside the British to defeat him. The combined army captured several forts including the Bednore fort but Wagh still remained at large. Dhondopant Gokhale who had joined the British expedition, was killed by Wagh. Wagh also defeated the Maratha forces of Peshawa under their leader Patwardhan.
The British forces continued to pursue Wagh and took control of Savanur in July 1800. Wagh meanwhile had proceeded towards Kittur. A joint Maratha British force captured the fort of Dambal held by a thousand of Wagh's men. Wagh retreated towards the territory of Nizam. In September 1800, after crossing the Malaprabha river , Wagh's forces were intercepted by a British column. Dhondia Wagh fell on 10 Sep 1800 fighting the British army. After his death it is aid that his moustache was taken as a trophy to England by Wellesley. Dhondia was grudgingly admired for his courage by the contemporary British chronclers, who nevertheless gave various epithets like brigand or adventurer to him.
Resistance offered by Travancore and the Marathas
The state of Travancore had established an alliance with the British against the incursions of Hyder Ali of Mysore. In 1795 Travancore entered into a subsidiary alliance with the British whereby the Raja was obliged to provide troops in times of war to the British. By 1805 this arrangement was converted into one of paying a hefty tribute, and the British were authorized to control the internal administration. Thus Travancore, once a free ally, was converted into a subordinate, tributary state and was put under the dominance of the British Residence.
The Resident Col. Macaulay, by his overbearing and provocative attitude, angered the Dewan Velu Thampi in 1808. Velu Thampi sought the help of Raja of Cochin for overthrowing the British. He also conspired with the American and the French to provide forces to defeat the British. The Dewan, who was vested with absolute power by the king, made extensive military preparations. People were trained in military practices and a large amount of arms and ammunition were gathered. The Resident's house was under attack and the reinforcement vessels for the British Government were captured. The army of Travancore fought bravely with the British troops in Quilon. Dewan of Travancore also communicated with the Rajah Zamorin of Malabar, which was intercepted by the British. Velu Thampi banked on the fact that a) there would be support from the French forces b) a large number of British troops would be engaged in hostilities with the Marathas in the North India and hence would be unable to come to the rescue of the British administration in deep South. This he communicated to the ministers of Malabar. Dr. Majumdar cites this as a testimony to the fact that Indian rulers had extensive knowledge and intelligence about domestic and international situation, which they could successfully leverage.
Unfortunately the Dewan did not receive the necessary help from any quarter. Three Divisions of the British army approached from three different directions to reinforce the British army stationed in Quilon. It was a battle of unequal, but still the Travancore army put up a brave fight. He fled to the mountains and stabbed himself to death - marking the dignified end of a brave and valiant effort.
The Maratha Resistance - Anglo Maratha Wars
The Marathas had the greatest reason to despise British, as the establishment of British supremacy meant the end of the newfound Maratha hegemony. Marathas were the biggest political power after the decline and the fall of the Mughals and the Nawab of Bengal, when the British were just establishing their political base, and even after the decimation in Panipat, Marathas continued to be a force to reckon with. But the rivalry of the petty Maratha chiefs among themselves, and the short sighted policies of the Peshawa, their nominal head, enabled the British to conquer large parts of Maharastra.
Peshwa Baji Rao the Second, owed his throne to the British. He sought to rid himself of the British yoke. He was engaged in intrigues to free himself from the entanglement and his minister Tryambakji, was the key conspirator to overthrow the British. The British Government got wind of the conspiracy and accused Tryambakji of murdering Gangadhar Shastri, agent of the Gaekwads in Pune. Baroda's Gaekwad was completely subservient to the British and was the only Maratha clan chief who had not joined the Maratha confederacy in their fight against the British in 1803-1805 or in 1817-1818. The appointment of Gangadhar Shastri raised the suspicion of the Peshwa regarding the designs of the British. The British looked upon Shastri more favourably than the Gaekwad himself, presumably because he was deputed to serve the British interest more. An enormous amount of sixty thousand rupees was granted to Shastri and his family by the Baroda Government, ratified by the British. There was no evidence against Tryambakji on the accusation of murder, but at the insistence of the British Resident, he was put on arrest. Peshwa resisted the charge for long and asked for a formal investigation regarding the charges which the British Resident refused. The Peshawa had to ultimately confine Tryambakji in a hill fort of Tannah in view of the ultimatum received from the British. The British could not directly accuse the Peshwa of a foul play and hence used Tryambakji as a sacrificial goat. Tryambakji managed to escape from the fort. The popular sentiment was in his favour. This was followed by war like military preparations throughout the dominion of the Peshwa. Peshawa intrigued with other Maratha chiefs. Gaekwad did not take part and Scindhia was immobilized by a treaty with the British. Peshwa was supported by Bhonsla of Nagpur and Holkar of Indore. The British Resident forced the Peshwa to sign a humuliating treaty by which the Maratha confederacy was dissolved and the Peshwa had to forego all connections with other Maratha powers. He was also requried to provide a fund to maintain the British troops. The first encounter took place at Khidki in Pune where the British army comprising of two thousand eight hundred, was vastly outnumbered by the Maratha forces. Yet the Maratha forces were defeated. In the next encounter in Koregaon, the Maratha troops were again defeated by a smaller British force. Bhonsla was convincingly defeated in Nagpur and Holkar was defeated in Mahidpur. By 1818 the Peshwa was hopelessly vanquished and the Maratha Empire ceased to exist. The Peshwa Baji Rao the second, lost his dominions and settled in Bithur at a pension of Rs eight lakhs a year.
Malabar had passed to the hands of British East India Company by their treaty with Tipu Sultan in 1792. But the Rajas of Malabar continued their fight against the British and engaged a considerable portion of the Bombay army of the British in open hostilities for more than six years. Pyche Raja, Varma of Kottayam family, was chiefly responsible for the insurrection, and was joined by the Raja of Kohote. Many battles took place with the Company soldiers and in several of them the Company suffered severe losses. The situation became very grave and the British were forced to come to terms with the Pyche Raja, who received favourable terms.
The British occupation of the Assam Valley was also followed with a series of insurrections by the local leaders. In 1830, a Singpho chief, attacked the British outpost at Sadiya with about three thousand armed soldiers. The Sadiya insurrection resulted in the killing of Col. White, the political agent, along with others. The hill tribes revolted in 1835 and also in 1849.
In Bundelkhand the British Army faced stiff resistance from the forts of Ajaygarh and Kalanjar. Lakshman Dawa, the ruler, when captured requested his captors to blow him up from the mouth of cannon rather than living an imprisoned life, such was his love for freedom.