Continued from Part 1
2. Siraj Ud-Daula forgets to bring a tarpaulin sheet to the battle of Plassey. Gives British the gateway to establish their empire.
The 1700’s was an interesting time for India, for that was the time Europeans started realizing the riches that our country had to offer. So, Europeans from all countries, rich or poor, started settlements in the Indian sub-continent to make a quick buck. The Dutch, The French and even the friggin Danes found their way to India. And then the English arrived.
The East India Company, set up shop in India in 1612 claiming to be a trading company, trying to make a bit of cash. They did try to exceed their brief in 1682, when Job Charnock (Better known as the guy who established Kolkata) tried to capture Mughal fortifications on the Hooghlee river.
Mughals, specifically their Emperor, Aurangazeb, did not like it.
In retaliation, Aurganzeb gave them such a pounding that within a month, all of Job Charnock’s forces were wiped out (Child’s war). And for some more fun, Mughals captured the port of Bombay. Scared s***less by the aggressive Mughals, British ambassadors begged pleaded and even prostrated in front of Aurangazeb to get Bombay back. They finally had to pay an indemnity of 600,000 17th century pounds for Aurangazeb’s benevolence. Also, they promised to keep their tails firmly between their red backsides.
So when Aurangazeb died in 1706, what did the British do? They broke their promise.
Playing one Indian Nawab against another, the British started expanding. Aiding them in this endaevour was the outbreak of the seven years war in Europe. The European Franco-English contest soon spread to India, in the form of the Carnatic Wars. Indian Nawabs now had to take sides. Inevitably the war spread to one of India’s largest states at that time, Bengal.
Bengal was then ruled by a guy called Aliwardy Khan. British got the first toehold in Bengal, when the Khan solicited their help to keep out the rampaging Marathas. In return, Brits got the permission to trade in Bengal. Aliwardy however, was shrewd enough to keep the British at an arms length, lest they involve him in their war against the French.
That common sense disappeared when Aliwardy Khan died in 1756. He was succeeded by his stupid, short tempered nineteen year old grandson, Siraj Ud Daulah. The succession happened around the time British started fortifying their trading center in Calcutta. Siraj did not like it and asked the them to stop immediately. And when the Brits showed no signs of listening, he did what any nineteen year old with a real army and cannons would do.
He attacked Calcutta.
Defeating the small British Army stationed there he took 146 British prisoners, including civilians. Siraj was happy, I mean how many nineteen year old’s in history, can boast of capturing Calcutta and defeating the British in a real war?
Then, in one of the biggest dick moves in Indian history, Siraj Ud Daula stuffed the 146 Englishmen, into a dungeon meant to house six people. When the dungeon was opened, Siraj came face to face with 127 dead and nineteen delirious Englishmen in what is known as the black hole of Calcutta.
Understandably, the Brits were pissed.
To teach the nineteen year old a lesson, 500 whites, 2500 native sepoys and Robert Clive marched into Bengal from Madras. First they recaptured Calcutta, and then for some action, sacked the nearby French settlement of Chadranagar. As the French were now Siraj’s allies, He, once again, attacked the British. On the 23rd of June, 1757, the two armies came face to face at the village of Palashi, 140 kms north of Kolkata.
Siraj came to Palashi with 35,000 infantry, 7000 cavalry and 53 cannons, 8 of them Made in France. Facing up to his mass, were 750 Europeans, 2100 native Indians, 8 cannons and one Robert Clive. If this was a wrestling bout, it would have looked something like this.
The British though had one ace up their sleeve. Those who paid attention in History class, at this point will say, Mir Jafar. In reality though, the ace was not even a human being. It was far more mundane. It was a
British, being meticulous and all, had bought along tarpaulin sheets from Madras, to cover themselves. Siraj, in his hurry, forgot to bring one. And the night before the battle, it rained.
British covered their Gunpowder with their tarpaulin sheet. Siraj just abused the Gods, because
Basic science suggests that when water mixes with gunpowder, the result is the equivalent of
Siraj now had plenty of it. Which ensured, the only way his cannons could do same damage, was by physically falling on the British.
While the British, gunpowder covered with aforementioned tarpaulin sheet, had cannons that were
When, Siraj charged at the British with his numerically, for the want of a better word, superior army, British uncovered their cannons. When, Siraj tried to retaliate, all he had was a gooey mess that was his gunpowder, which could not fire a miniature pistol, let alone a friggin cannon. Siraj’s main army was torn to shreds and his most important general of the day, Mir Madan Khan was killed. Center lost, Siraj turned to his flanks, where his other General, Mir Jafar was waiting with 10,000 men.
At this point, Jafar showed the 1757 equivalent of the middle finger to Siraj and walked over to the British.
Siraj lost the day and was chased away from Bengal. Mir Jafar was made the Nawab, who gratefully gave the British the right to collect taxes in the province of Calcutta. Using this windfall, in 1764, they engaged and defeated the then Mughal Emperor, Shah Alam, in the battle of Buxar. As spoils of war, they gained the administrative and economic control of Bengal, Bihar and Orrisa. Now a recognized power with a lot of cash, they turned on other Indian kings and the rest is history.
What if Siraj had covered his gunpowder?
We would today be participating in the Jeux de la Francophonie. In other words, we would have been ruled by the freaking French. And so would have been the whole of Europe. The French would have been kings.
If you did not realize, the French supported Siraj. That is why those 8 Made-in-France cannons. If Siraj had won, it would have been the French who would have got the control of Calcutta and all its riches. The now rich French’s first priority would have been to eliminate their main adversary on the sub-continent, The British. And British would not have had a chance, as their army would have been annihilated at Plassey. Driven out of India, French would have had a free hand. So in everything that happened in India after Plassey, just replace the British with the French.
Also, why do you think the British became the Kings of the world? Because they could wage war with impunity. And why were they able to that? Because the constant inflow of the booty from India gave them the economic power to do it. Transfer all that wealth to the France, and imagine a new Europe. In this Europe, French would have been emperors.
If only Siraj remembered to bring a tarpaulin sheet.
1. Cyril Radcliffe gives the town of Gurdaspur to India. Hands Kashmir to India on a platter.
1947, India is on the cusp of independence. But, instead of celebrating this momentous occasion, both Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru were busy playing the game of ‘Who wants to be the Prime Minister of India’. Unfortunately in this game, there was not going to be a sporting loser.
Creating two positions of the Prime Minister was deemed unfeasible. But both had to be satisfied. So, it was decided that two new countries were to be formed instead, each with one Prime Minister’s post. Now both of them could become P.M’s and go home happy. And India could be independent.
However, there was one small flaw in the plan. They had no clue on how to divide the country.
Enter ace lawyer, Knight of the British Empire and a guy who had never been to the east, forget India in his 48 years of existence, Cyril Radcliffe.
Politicians said he was chosen for the most critical vivisection in the History of the world, for his acumen. Others however said, he was chosen for his total ignorance about India. Which meant the neutrality of his line could not be questioned. Whatever the reasons, he had to draw a border that was going to impact 88 Million people directly and many more indirectly, for generations to come. And he had to do it, in little over a month, for a pay of Rs 40000. Software Engineers in Bengaluru, get more time and more money to do stuff million times less complicated and critical.
Radcliffe ensconced himself in a quaint little cottage in Shimla to perform this operation. To give him company were army maps, population charts, religious statistics and a retinue of servants. He started his line from the south of Kashmir with an intention of terminating it in Rajasthan. The line arrived at a little district in Punjab called Gurdaspur.
This was Grudaspur’s religious distribution, in 1947.
Muslims : 47% Hindus: 40% Other religions 13%
Radcliffe was given strict instructions to push as many Muslim majority districts into Pakistan and extend the same favour to India for the Hindu dominated ones. Going by that logic and all other logics of that time, Gurdaspur had to be given to Pakistan.
Instead, Radcliffe gave Gurdaspur to India.
What made Radcliffe’s task of separating Punjab easier was the Indus river. Radcliffe simply followed the river to divide India and Pakistan, accounting for the above instructions. Most of the districts happened to lie along the river so there were no issues, apart from Gurdaspur. Though having a Muslim majority, giving Gurdaspur to Pakistan would have meant creating a bulge, an awkward abciss, spearing into India.
If nothing else, he wanted the border he drew to look good on the maps and other geographical entities. So Radlicffe, decided to give Gurdaspur to India.
Jinnah and his Muslim league cohorts protested at losing a Muslim majority district to India. Muslims in that district, like all the other districts, were never asked for their opinion. After shouting for sometime, Jinnah gave up. At the end of the day, what profound difference would it have made to Pakistan to have got one additional district in Punjab?
Turns out a lot, especially if the name of the district is Gurdaspur.
Once all the independence formalities were done, money, chairs, tables and library books divided, Douglas Gracey, the general of the British Pakistani army wanted to take a break. Jinnah advised him to go to Kashmir. As a Muslim majority state, ruled by a Hindu ruler Hari Singh, Jinnah took it for granted that Kashmir belonged to Pakistan.
However, when Gracey reached the borders of Kashmir, he was refused entry. Which was the first sign of the Kashmir cake slipping away from Pakistan.
When India and Pakistan were freed, the rulers of the princely states were given an option to join either India or Pakistan or remain independent. Hari Singh chose the third option. Jinnah was wild.
Sending troops in the guise of tribals, Jinnah decided to snatch Kashmir away from the hapless Hari Singh. When his meagre forces were routed by the Pakistani army, Hari Singh had only one choice. He appealed to India for help. Nehru, in his few moments of sanity and intelligence, demanded Hari Singh accede to India if he wanted troops. Hari Singh gave in. Kashmir was now India’s.
As a part of the agreement, India immediately flew in the 161st regiment into Srinagar with further reinforcements on the way. The first task of the Indian army was to defend the Srinagar airport, which at that point of time, was Kashmir’s sole point of contact with India. Initial attacks by Pakistani ‘Tribals’ were repulsed, but Indian hold on the Srinagar Airport, was at best tenuous. As there were innumerable ‘tribals’, reinforcements were mandatory. And without reinforcements, the airport was a lost cause.
Loss of the Srinagar airport, meant loss of contact with India. Which effectively meant, the loss of Kashmir.
The Indian Air Force in 1947 consisted of a piffling 12 Dakotas and some other fighters. Their capacity to haul in troops was severely limited. And they could not fly in tanks. The only way the Indian army could get the support that was needed, was by road. A road, which could handle heavy military traffic, something akin to a National Highway.
Now, Go back to Gurdaspur.
1 A on the map is the other name for National Highway 1 A. The only military traffic capable road link to Kashmir. And as you can see, 1A passed through Gurdaspur.
Gurdaspur now being Indian property, Indian army, tanks, howitzers and all other heavy machinery, rolled through the same highway to Kashmir. Whether they paused at Gurdaspur to thank Radcliffe is not known, but this army arrived in Kashmir and routed the Pakistanis. Not expecting to face Indian tanks, Pakistanis fell back quickly. As the final happy ending to this story, the North-Indian Indian map today looks like this
What if Radcliffe had swayed the other way?
The North Indian map, today would have looked something like this.
Without the heavy machinery, the troops holding the Srinagar airport would have been overwhelmed. Without access to Kashmir, Indian army generals would have watched Pakistanis run amok in whatever Kashmir that remained. The king, Hari Singh, would have been killed and Pakistan would have claimed Kashmir for themselves.
The Kashmir issue would have gone to the United Nations, who would have insisted on a plebiscite. And a cease fire with the proviso that the territories held by the armies holds true till that plebiscite is held. Which effectively meant Kashmir would have stayed with Pakistan forever.
Kashmir now being in Pakistan, would have ensured direct contact between China and Pakistan. And India being surrounded by enemies on three sides instead of two. So India would not have gone to war against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, as Pakistan would have had the option to open the third front.
Similarly, Pakistan would have controlled the source of their main river, the Indus. Hence a very important bargaining chip would have been lost to India. Also, Pakistan would have controlled Siachen. Importance of Siachen, with respect to it being a source of water is immeasurable.
All this avoided, simply because Radcliffe wanted his border to look good on the maps.
To compensate what Radcliffe did for India, we should institute a special Rs 40000 note with his face on it. And put a gold statue of his in Gurdaspur, if not anywhere else. And name NH 1 A as the Radcliffe Road, just to rub it in the faces of the Pakistanis.