Wednesday, July 1, 2020

In UK confederate statues are sought to be pulled down ~ one of Robert Clive too !!


Another One on History ~ with the same Q – should History be rewritten or at least the Education syllabus be modified to correctly portray our National heroes rather than simply studying the Delhi sultanate and the British colonialism.    There is no doubt that most history across the world has been written with a strong bias towards the victor and those in power.  The life history of many Indians who sacrificed themselves in freedom movement too has been forgotten and finds no place in our history, yet we took pride in memorizing the name of Lord Curzon, Wellesley, Dalhousie, Minto-Morley reforms – History !! – and we read about a lot about this glorified clerk of British East India Company.

A Grade II-listed bronze statue of the erstwhile clerk, stands in King Charles Street, Whitehall, London.  The work was unveiled in 1912 outside Gwydyr House, also in Whitehall, and was moved to its current location in 1916, and now figures prominently in those sought to be removed in UK.  Other than his Surname, place of birth, years of birth and death  (1725–1774)-  three sides have bronze reliefs depicting events in his life: the Siege of Arcot in 1751, the eve of the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the Treaty of Allahabad in 1765.  Easily identifiable by any of those who studied History in school!

In early 1900s  Lord Curzon, a Conservative politician and the former Viceroy of India was partly instrumental in creating a fund and a committee ;  Curzon's proposal did not meet the favour of his successor as Viceroy, Lord Minto, who considered it "needlessly provocative".  John Tweed was commissioned to start work on the London statue and exhibited a sketch model at the Royal Academy in 1910.

110 years later, in  June 2020, calls were made for the statue's removal after a wave of anti-racism protests in which a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was pulled down. The Labour politician Lord Adonis asked the Government to begin a public consultation on this statue too.  The historian William Dalrymple compared the statue's 20th-century memorialisation to the Confederate monuments erected in the Southern United States well into the civil rights era.  Afua Hirsch  called it  "a symbol of the most morally bankrupt excesses of Empire".  The man though part of our history  died by his own hand in 1774,  and was widely reviled as one of the most hated men in England. His body was buried in a secret night-time ceremony, in an unmarked grave, without a plaque.  He had a partisan role in the famine of Bengal and was  seen as the monstrous embodiment of the East India Company’s violence and corruption.

Two petitions have been set up in UK which, between them, have attracted more than 5,000 signatures. One is entitled "bring down racist ____ statue", the other is headed with a call to replace it. One reads - " this man  stands on a plinth in the centre of The Square, but was central to 200 years of theft [and] misrule that led to thousands of deaths, and eye-watering brutality in large swathes of the Indian subcontinent. 

The man – Clive !!    Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, KB, FRS (1725 –1774), was the first British Governor of the Bengal Presidency. He began as a British military officer and East India Company (EIC) official who established the military and political supremacy of the EIC by seizing control of Bengal and eventually the whole of the Indian subcontinent and Myanmar - and briefly Afghanistan. Clive improvised a military expedition that ultimately enabled the EIC to adopt the French strategy of indirect rule via puppet government. Hired by the EIC to return a second time to India, Clive conspired to secure the Company's trade interests by overthrowing the Ruler of Bengal, the richest state in India.

Clive was one of the most controversial figures in all British military history. His achievements included establishing control over much of India, and laying the foundation of the entire British Raj, though he worked only as an agent of the East India Company, not the British government. For his methods and his self aggrandisement he was vilified by his contemporaries in Britain, and put on trial before Parliament. Of special concern was that he amassed a personal fortune in India. Modern historians have criticised him for atrocities, for high taxes, and for the forced cultivation of crops which exacerbated famines. Such criticisms have now  led protestors to demand that statues of Robert Clive in Whitehall and in Shrewsbury be removed.

In 1744 Clive's father acquired for him a position as a "factor" or company agent in the service of the East India Company, and Clive set sail for Bombay.  After running aground on the coast of Brazil, his ship was detained for nine months while repairs were completed.   At this time the East India Company had a small settlement at Fort St. George near the village of Madraspatnam.  Clive arrived at Fort St. George in June 1744, and spent the next two years working as little more than a glorified assistant shopkeeper, tallying books and arguing with suppliers of the East India Company over the quality and quantity of their wares.

On 4 Sept 1746, Madras was attacked by French forces led by La Bourdonnais. After several days of bombardment the British surrendered and the French entered the city.  British residents were asked to take an oath promising not to take up arms against the French; Clive and a handful of others refused, and were kept under weak guard as the French prepared to destroy the fort. Disguising themselves as natives, Clive and three others eluded their inattentive sentry, slipped out of the fort, and made their way to Fort St. David (the British post at Cuddalore), some 50 miles (80 km) to the south.  During the 1748 Siege of Pondicherry Clive distinguished himself in successfully defending a trench against a French sortie.

In the summer of 1751, Chanda Sahib left Arcot to besiege Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah at Trichinopoly. This placed the British at Madras in a precarious position, since the latter was the last of their major allies in the area. The British company's military was also in some disarray, as Stringer Lawrence had returned to England in 1750 over a pay dispute, and much of the company was apathetic about the dangers the expanding French influence and declining British influence posed. Clive, who accompanied the force as commissary, was outraged at the decision to abandon the siege. Clive occupied Arcot without firing a shot. The fort was a rambling structure with a dilapidated wall a mile long.

He left Madras for home, after ten years' absence, early in 1753, but not before marrying Margaret Maskelyne, the sister of his friend Nevil Maskelyne who was afterwards well known as Astronomer Royal.  In July 1755, Clive returned to India  to act as deputy governor of Fort St. David at Cuddalore. He arrived after having lost a considerable fortune en route, as the Doddington, the lead ship of his convoy, was wrecked near Port Elizabeth, losing a chest of gold coins belonging to Clive worth £33,000.  He was to move to Calcutta and in Feb 1757,  , Clive encountered the army of the Nawab and was involved in the  Battle of Plassey.

In 1760, the 35-year-old Clive returned to Great Britain with a fortune of at least £300,000 and the quit-rent of £27,000 a year.   In the five years of his conquests and administration in Bengal, the young man had crowded together a succession of exploits that led Lord Macaulay, in what that historian termed his "flashy" essay on the subject, to compare him to Napoleon Bonaparte, declaring that "[Clive] gave peace, security, prosperity.  Macaulay's ringing endorsement of Clive seems more controversial today, as some would argue that Clive's ambition and desire for personal gain set the tone for the administration of Bengal until the Permanent Settlement 30 years later. The immediate consequence of Clive's victory at Plassey was an increase in the revenue demand on Bengal which led to considerable hardship for the rural population, particularly during the famine of 1770.

On 3 May 1765 Clive landed at Calcutta to learn that Mir Jafar had died, leaving him personally £70,000. Clive left India for the last time in Feb 1767. In 1768, he lived for a time at the Chateau de Larzac in Pézenas in the Hérault département of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France. Later in 1768, Clive was made a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and in the same year served as treasurer of the Salop Infirmary in Shrewsbury.  In 1772 Parliament opened an inquiry into the Company's practices in India. Clive's political opponents turned these hearings into attacks on Clive. Questioned about some of the large sums of money he had received while in India, Clive pointed out that they were not contrary to accepted company practice, and defended his behaviour by stating "I stand astonished at my own moderation" given opportunities for greater gain. The hearings highlighted the need for reform of the Company, and a vote to censure Clive for his actions failed.

There was a great famine in Bengal between 1769 and 1773, which reduced the population of Bengal by a third. It was argued that the activities and aggrandizement of company officials was to blame for the famine, particularly the abuse of monopoly rights on trade and land tax used for the personal benefit of company officials.  These revelations and the subsequent debates in parliament reduced Clive's political fortunes considerably.

On 22 Nov 1774 Clive died, aged forty-nine, at his Berkeley Square home in London. There was no inquest on his death and it was variously alleged he had stabbed himself or cut his throat with a penknife or had taken an overdose of opium, while a few newspapers reported his death as due to an apoplectic fit or stroke. While Clive left no suicide note, Samuel Johnson wrote that he "had acquired his fortune by such crimes that his consciousness of them impelled him to cut his own throat".   Clive was awarded an Irish peerage in 1762, being created Baron Clive of Plassey. 

Robert Clive’s statue stands in Shrewsbury Square and King Charles Street, London with his  reputation  muddied by his spell as Governor of Bengal from 1755 with accusations of corruption and his role in the famine resulting in death of millions of native Indians.  In the Battle of Plassey, he helped himself to £160,000 from the defeated Nawab's treasury.  His cruel measures and harsh taxation changed the agricultural practices resulting in agrarian deaths.    Now there is demand for removal of his statue in UK itself.  Today Clive’s statue stands with feeling that he  is not a man UK  should be honouring today.

Though we studied a lot of his exploits in wars in India; In Britain, study of the empire is still largely absent from the history curriculum. This still tends to go from the Tudors to the Nazis, Henry to Hitler, with a brief visit to William Wilberforce and Florence Nightingale along the way. We are thus given the impression that the British were always on the side of the angels. We remain almost entirely ignorant about the long history of atrocities and exploitation that accompanied the building of the  colonial system.  India needs to understand clearly that we were subjected to cruel and harsh measures by our British rulers, not the kind that we have read in history – they in their spree of expansion, extorted and killed cruelly, many of those hailed were responsible for violence, injustice and war crimes on every continent. We also need to know how far the British, every bit as much as the Germans, helped codify a system of scientific racism, creating a hierarchy of race  keepings Indians very low at the basket.  

Our vast ignorance of everything that is most uncomfortable about our imperial past is damaging, every day, our relations with the rest of the world. In particular our misplaced nostalgia for our imperial past is sickening.   Indians,  have bitter memories of British rule.  British are to be seen as  looters, and  who subjected us  to centuries of humiliation. The economic figures speak for themselves. In 1600, when the East India Company was founded, Britain was generating 1.8% of the world’s GDP, while India was producing 22.5%. By the peak of the Raj, those figures had more or less been reversed: India was reduced from the world’s leading manufacturing nation to a symbol of famine and deprivation.

A statue removal in Downing Street means nothing to Indians yet this perhaps be seen as a   long overdue process of education and atonement. In 1947, at the end of the Raj, Indians removed all their imperial statues to suburban parks where explanatory texts gave them proper historical context. .. … Robert Clive clearly is not a hero whom we should be studying in school books.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
12.6.2020.


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