The story of our involvement with this impressive country is a long and fascinating one, but unfortunately we’ve only got time in this book for a brief version, particularly since our close involvement with India is something almost all Brits are at least aware of and this book is supposed to be exploring the sort of history Brits are less aware of.
The East India Company was chartered in 1600. Somewhat confusingly for modern Britons, this wasn’t just interested in India (and not just in the east of India either) since it was also targeting trade in areas further east. By 1613 it had established a trading base at Surat in India; by 1639 it was founding Fort St George at Madras (Chennai); and in 1668 it established a trading post at Bombay (Mumbai). Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the East India Company ran into big trouble with the Mughal authorities. It lost Child’s War of 1686–90 after a Mughal fleet attacked the English base in Bombay and forced it to surrender. Then in 1695 an English pirate attacked and seized Mughal ships leading to fury against the East India Company.
Nevertheless, the East India Company began slowly to eclipse other European rivals. The Portuguese and Dutch eventually dropped out of the race to be the major European power operating in India, which left the French to deal with. In the eighteenth century, this rivalry produced a series of bitter wars between Brits and local allies on one side against the French and their local allies on the other side. The First Carnatic War ran fom 1746 to 1748 and saw the French attack and capture Madras, even taking Robert Clive prisoner. Almost before the First Carnatic War had ended, we were into the second one. In this one, from 1749 to 1754, we and the French were heavily involved with local politics. The two European powers backed rival claimants to the throne of Hyderabad and rival claimants to be Nawab of Arcot. In 1751, Clive took Arcot and Muhammad Ali Khan Walajah was recognised as Nawab. Peace came with the Treaty of Pondicherry in 1754. But again it wasn’t to last for long. By 1757, the Third Carnatic War had broken out. In Bengal, Clive won a hugely significant victory over the French-backed Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daulah. In 1760, Sir Eyre Coote won an important victory over the French at the Battle of Wandiwash and in 1761 we took the major French base at Pondicherry. They got it back, by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, but they also agreed to stay out of involvement in local politics and not build more fortifications. The French finally ceased to be a threat to us in India during the Napoleonic Wars.
With French influence in India declining, we had more opportunity to challenge local rulers for power. Between 1766 and 1799 we fought four wars against Mysore, which ended finally with a decisive British victory at the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799, in which Tipu Sultan was killed.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century we fought a string of wars against the Maratha Empire. The First Maratha War of 1777–83 was a conflict that saw internal disputes both on the Maratha side and on the British side. We lost the Battle of Wadgaon, but won a subsequent confrontation. The Second Maratha War of 1803–05 saw more tough fighting. Arthur Wellesley (yes him) won the Battle of Assaye and later said that it had been a harder battle than Waterloo. The Third Maratha War of 1817–18 was decisive. We won significant victories at the Battle of Sitapuldi and the Battle of Mahidpur. The war destroyed the Maratha Empire as a rival to British power in India.
By now the East India Company was in control of much of India and over the ensuing decades its power spread even further. For instance, in the 1840s the Sikh Wars saw the spread of British control through what is now the part of Punjab that is within India, as well as the part that today is within Pakistan. In 1854 the company annexed Berar, and in 1856 captured Oudh (Awadh). In 1858 the Indian Rebellion broke out, leading to a tough conflict and harsh action by the British.
It was after the rebellion that the British government itself took over control of India from the East India Company.
During 1944, the Japanese invaded India and it took bitter fighting to push them out. In 1947 India became independent.