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Mir Qasim


Mir Qasim nawab of Bengal (1760-1763). He was put on the throne of Murshidabad by the east india company, replacing his father-in-law mir jafar, on 20 October 1760. Able and ambitious, Mir Qasim was determined to assert his independence at the earliest opportunity, and he embodied the Indian reaction to the English company's exploitations. But he had mortgaged his country's fortunes for the office: the three districts of Burdwan, Midnapur and Chittagong were assigned to the company for the maintenance of their troops; the outstanding debts of Mir Jafar were to be paid; and two hundred thousand pounds were paid in cash to the Calcutta Council.

Mir Qasim believed that since he had paid the company and its servants adequately for putting him on the throne, they should now leave him alone to govern Bengal. He realised that a full treasury and an efficient army were essential to maintain his independence. There were now two powers in Bengal, each determined to assert itself and each urgently requiring funds which it could only obtain at the other's expense. A clash was, therefore, inevitable and it was averted for three years, mainly due to the ability of the nawab and the divided Council at Calcutta.

By adroit diplomacy Mir Qasim both obtained his own investiture from shah alam ii, the Mughal emperor, and induced him to leave Bihar. He was aware of the fact that in the last fifty years the English had developed much influence in the lower Gangetic region. He chalked out a strategy to hold the English in the lower deltaic region (where they were powerful because of their naval force) and not to allow them to spread their influence to the upper Gangetic region, where their presence was not yet felt owing to the distance from their gun boats. He next began to raise a force of disciplined troops, and to secure himself from undue interference from Calcutta he transferred his capital from the riverine Murshidabad to the hilly district of Monghyr.

All these measures required money. He was able to increase the state revenue by resuming vast amount of lakheraj (rent-free) lands, by conducting a new survey of land and increasing the rate of land tax. He ousted those zamindars who were reluctant to pay enhanced revenue. As a result, state revenue increased remarkably. Thus, for the first time since Palashi, the nawab could pay his army and bureaucracy regularly. He then turned to the English and attempted to remove their corruption, which was harming his revenue administration. The English did not like this. They disliked the nawab's attempts to cheek the misuse of the imperial farman of 1717 by the company's servants, who demanded that their goods, whether destined for export or for internal markets, should be free of duties.

But actually the farman had exempted the company from all export and import duties on their foreign trade, but the private trade of the company's servants (particularly in salt and tobacco) was subject to the ordinary internal tolls. In 1757 clive obtained from Mir Jafar the practical exemption of this private internal trade from duty without an express provision in the treaty. Naturally, the private trade of the company's servants grew apace while that of the Indian merchants dwindled. Indian merchants had to pay taxes from which the foreigners got complete exemption. Moreover, the company's servants illegally sold the dastaks or free passes to friendly Indian merchants who were thereby able to evade the internal customs duties. These abuses ruined the honest Indian traders through unfair competition and deprived the nawab of a very important source of revenue at the moment when he wished to increase it.

The Calcutta Council even revolted against a modest 9 percent duty on European traders' private goods as against a duty of 40 percent for the Indians, and refused to admit the right of the local faujdars or police officers to adjudge disputes. Though the duty was reduced from 9 percent to 2 1/2 percent on salt, the company rejected the right of the nawab's officers to interfere. Mir Qasim's attempt to enforce discipline through his faujdars was one of the immediate causes of the company's breach with him.

The nawab retaliated, decided to abolish customs duties on internal trade altogether, thus giving his own subjects a concession that the English had seized by force. But the alien merchants were no longer willing to tolerate equality between themselves and the Indians. They demanded the re-imposition of duties on Indian traders. Thus, there could be no compromise between the company's servants, who were determined to assert their supremacy in Bengal, and the nawab's resolve to be master in his own house, and therefore, war was now inevitable.

Mir Qasim was driven to a conflict in spite of the fact that he discharged the company's debt. Though he proved his ability by paying off the heavy arrears of his army, retrenching the expenses of his court and reducing the power of the zamindars, he was never given a fair chance. From the outset he was the object of suspicion and hostility of the majority of the members of the Calcutta Council. The conflict was precipitated at Patna where the Resident, Ellis, provoked the embittered nawab. A regular campaign ensued during the summer of 1763, during which the nawab's new army was defeated in pitched battles at Katwah, Murshidabad, Giria, Sooty, Udaynala, and Monghyr, and he fled to Patna; from there he went to Oudh.

Mir Qasim enlisted the support of Shujauddaula, the nawab wazir of Oudh, who was joined by the wandering Emperor Shah Alam II. Together they formed a confederacy with a view to recovering Bengal from the English. Fighting resumed in the autumn of 1764 and the campaign concluded with the resounding victory of the English at Buxar on 22 October. Shah Alam II joined the English camp and concluded peace with them. Shujauddaoula fled to Rohila Khand while Oudh was overrun. Mir Qasim disappeared and died in obscurity near Delhi in 1777.

The short but decisive campaign of Mir Qusim is significant. It was a straight fight between two rival claimants for supremacy. Mir Qasim knew quite well that a final contest with the English was inevitable, and hence he equipped his army and husbanded his resources as best as he could. He was not inferior in capacity to an average Indian ruler of the day. His repeated defeats only demonstrated the inherent weaknesses of the army and the administrative machinery of Bengal. Yet the confederacy which he brought into being against the English shows his astute diplomacy, and its failure was again due to the inherent defects of the Indian army and state organisation. The engagements with Mir Qasim and the success at Buxar established the claims of the English as conquerors of Bengal in a much more real sense than did the battle of Palashi. [Mohammad Shah]

Bibliography VA Smith, The Oxford History of India, Oxford, 1967; R C Majumder et al, An Advanced History of Idia, New York, 1967; Ramsay Muir, The Making of British India, 1756-1858, Karachi, 1969; Sirajul Islam (ed.), History of Bangladesh, 1704-1971, 1, (second edition), 1997.