Bengal stood at the cross-road of its history in the eighteenth century. In the first half of the century it was Mughal; in the second it was a protectorate of the English. In all outward forms throughout the century it persisted to be Mughal, but inwardly it underwent a metamorphosis. This internal change of the country is the subject of this book. The ascendancy of the English as a commercial power in Bengal began with the turn of the century. As the century advanced the commercial superiority of the English East India Company became almost invincible and by the time Alivardi Khan came to rule, it was already recognized in the talks of the ruling elite. Side by by side with this the English East India Company consolidated its military might and that was done in the teeth of the Nawabi opposition in the country. There was from the beginning an awareness in the Nawabi circles about the superiority of the English arms. Its recognition came when the power elite of Bengal invoked the assistance of these arms to organize effectively the conspiracy against Siraj-ud- daullah. Between its commercial ascendancy and military superiority the real English position in the country suffered. In the power structure of the country the English East India Company had no station beyond that of a talukdar. This meant that in spite of its commercial and military superiority the constitutional position of the East India Company remained to be weak, shallow and lustreless. The company was sensitive to this weakness and its effort was to make this up by putting pressure on the Nawabi government through acquisition of territory and revenue on an increasing scale. The Company’s aim was, therefore, to avoid stagnation by keeping dynamic the frontier of the area over which they could establish their own rule as a system contra-distinct to that of the Bengal Nawabs. Those who ruled Bengal from Murshid Quli Khan to Alivardi Khan had the eye keen enough to notice this and the Mughal might was made to exercise as a brake upon this pretension of a commercial company in the country. The Mughals in Bengal were ready to accommodate the English as their inferior commercial and military partners within the framework of political submission. Wherever that concept of submission showed signs of erosion the Mughal might descended heavily. In the stringency of this milieu the Company’s territorial dynamism stagnated for nearly sixty years, from 1698 when the three villages of Sutanati, Govindapur and Kalikata were purchased, to 1757 when the 24-Parganas were granted to the Company as a reward for aiding a perfidious power elite in bringing the conspirary to overthrow a legitimate government to a mature end. Once this vast district of Bengal was conferred as a gift to the Company, the old brake upon the Company’s territorial dynamism was removed and the Company was now free to formulate its power-pretensions and thereby square up the hiatus that had so long kept its constitutional station shaky in the body politic of Bengal. When stagnancy was gone new mobility was envisaged. Vast changes were unleashed and pangs of change were apparent in the society of Bengal.
Change is the substance of history and its dimensions in the context of Bengal in the eighteenth century are too great to be resolved in one book. Therefore, the first word of this book should be humility. It has achieved only in drawing the contours of change of a decisive period of Bengal’s history. Its inner shades are remained to be worked out by more competent hands. The eighteenth century has its own place in the history of humanity—small and poignant as a moment of eternity but massive as the beginning of modernity. Bengal was a small area where the spirit of history thrived in the eighteenth century. Hence Bengal in the eighteenth century has become my subject of study. It left me enthralled when I was a student; it will keep me riveted in the unfolding romance of history so long as I remain to be one to whom rear-view-seeking is an occupation and not a hobby. My interest in the bygone of mankind was sustained by one who also protects me from the low drudgeries of a dreary middleclass life. She is Snigdha, my wife here—my companion hereafter beyond the mundane existence of life. To her this book is solely dedicated.
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