During Warren Hastings’ regime, Sir John, then a plain Mr. Shore, was an ordinary employee of the Company in Bengal. He proved himself to be an apt pupil of Warren Hastings in intrigues and machinations and soon became a valuable aide of his. In the words of Edmund Burke, “Mr. Shore” was “materially concerned as a principal actor and party in certain of the offences charged upon Mr. Hastings.”
When the Ministers and the Directors of the Company in England proposed to send him as the next Governor-General, Burke wrote to the Chairman of the Court of Directors: “... it is for the prudence of the court to consider the consequences which possibly may follow from sending out, in office of the highest rank and of the highest possible power, a person whose conduct, appearing in his own records, is at the first view very reprehensible.” Burke also strongly protested against Mr. Shore’s appointment by a letter addressed to Henry Dundas, the Secretary of State for India. But these protests were of no avail. Those in authority simply ignored them and appointed Sir John Shore as Governor-General. Sir John arrived in Calcutta and took over on 28th October 1793. In the same year the life of the Company was extended for another 20 years by a fresh Royal Charter.
Within four months of Sir John’s assumption of office, Mahadji Sindhia suddenly died at Vanowri, near Poona. He had arrived at Poona sometime earlier for consultations with the Peshwa and Nana Fadnavis. Grant Duff has attributed Mahadji’s death to high fever. Another historian, Keene, alleges on the authority of TareekhiMuzaffari that “Mahadji had been waylaid the evening before by an armed gang deputed by Nana” who, in Keene’s opinion, “had without doubt sufficient reasons for desiring Mahadji’s death”. Mahadji may have been murdered and not have died a natural death as stated by Grant Duff, but it is iniquitous to accuse Nana of complicity in the murder, because there is complete absence of any motive on Nana’s part as he had no reason whatsoever to wish for Mahadji’s death.
There are, however, pointers to the existence of motives and reasons elsewhere which could have inspired the murder. According to Grant Duff, Mahadji’s “power and ambition, his march to Poona, and above all, the general opinion of the country, led the English to suspect him; and we accordingly find in their records various proofs of watchful jealousy”. Grant Duff also records the fact that soon after Mahadji’s arrival in Poona, a Delhi newspaper published a report to the effect that the Delhi Emperor had written to Mahadji and the Peshwa requesting their help in the realisation of the money tribute due to him from the Company which Lord Cornwallis had finally declined to pay.
The English knew about it and knew also that Mahadji would soon be going to Poona for consultations with Nana Fadnavis as regards the measures to be jointly taken for the realisation of the tribute from the Company. The English believed that a formidable alliance against themselves, between the Emperor, Nana Fadnavis and Mahadji with the last-mentioned as its leading spirit was on the way. The alliance, according to English thinking, was likely to lead to an attack on Calcutta by the forces of all the three commanded by Mahadji. This was an impending disaster which had to be averted at all costs. The English considered Mahadji to be the root-cause of the trouble and the Company’s official correspondence amply bears out the facts that ( i )the English started intrigues and plots against Mahadji and (ii) instigated Holkar to attack Mahadji’s State immediately after the latter had left for Poona.
At the same time the English broke off relations with the Sindhia Durbar and recalled the English Resident posted there. Lord Cornwallis then in England wrote to Sir John Shore on 7th September 1794: “The death of Sindhia … … will nearly remove every political difficulty of your Government.” It will be recollected that some 15 years earlier, Warren Hastings had won over Mahadji who had become a willing tool in his hands in his “designs against the few remaining territories of the Moghul Emperor” (Burke). One of the temptations to which Mahadji succumbed is stated to be Warren Hastings’ promise to pay him in future the annual tribute which the Company had been paying to the Moghul Emperor. But as described earlier (Chapter VIII), Mahadji was soon disillusioned by the perfidy of the English and became their bitter and unrelenting enemy. There can, therefore, be little doubt that Mahadji had been for years a painful thorn in the English side. His death not only removed it but also completed the disruption of the Maratha Confederacy headed by the Peshwa, as Mahadji was its last, most powerful and most capable supporter amongst the Indian rulers. No wonder, Lord Cornwallis felicitated the Governor-General of India on Mahadji’s death.
There was a dispute over money between the Nizam and the Marathas, which the former, relying on the English support, disdainfully declined to settle peacefully. The Marathas were left with no alternative but to use force and they invaded the Nizam’s territory. Tipu also was then hostile to the Nizam. Sir John Shore was the Nizam’s only hope, but he refused to help. For years, the Nizam had the Company’s Subsidiary Army stationed in his territory for the specific purpose of protecting him against attack. This force, too, declined to come to his rescue. The Nizam was defeated by the Marathas at the battle of Kurdala on 15th March, 1795, and had to make peace with them on their terms. The Nizam then asked Sir John to take away the Subsidiary Army from his territory and began to organise his own army. As a measure of defence, he posted his troops along the borders of his territory. Sir John strongly objected to this and threatened the Nizam with military action if he did not forthwith withdraw his troops from the borders. The Nizam ignored the threat and the English feared that he might join the Marathas or Tipu against themselves. They took recourse to intrigue, won over the Nizam’s son Alijah and incited him to rebel against his father. To quell the rebellion, the Nizam had to call in his troops from the border. The revolt was put down and Alijah taken prisoner, but it unnerved the Nizam so much that he submitted to the terms dictated by Sir John Shore. He and his descendants thereafter continued to be the humble servants of the English and rendered every help in firmly establishing the Company’s rule.
Asafuddaula, the Nawab Wazir of Oudh, was the next victim of English rapacity. Lord Cornwallis had, in the Treaty of 1788, given the Nawab a solemn undertaking that the amount of Rs. 50 lacs which the Nawab had to pay every year to the Company for the maintenance of the latter’s Subsidiary Army, would never be increased. Sir John, however, wanted a stronger army to be at his disposal, but at another’s expense, so that it could be used for the expansion of the English possessions in Northern India, not excluding Oudh itself. In pursuit of this aim he wrote in a letter that “we must not in the least consider our treaties with Oudh”(Mill). He pressed the Nawab to agree to spend another Rs. 5 lacs year and maintain an additional force of one regiment each of English and Indian cavalry. The Nawab courageously refused. Sir John forcibly took into custody the Nawab’s Vazir, Maharaja Jhaoo Lal and himself went to Lucknow in March 1797, and coerced the Nawab into accepting the additional burden, and thus committed breach of the promise given by Lord Cornwallis. The Nawab could not bear the shock of this perfidy, fell ill and died shortly afterwards. He was succeeded by his son Wazir Ali. The succession was at first formally recognised by Sir John, who did not hesitate to rescind the recognition later. It happened this way. The deceased Nawab, Wazir Asafuddaula, had a brother, Saadat Ali, who lived in Banaras and was supposed to have a better claim to succeed Asafuddaula. “Seeing that a better bargain could be made with the brother of the deceased Wazir, Sir John Shore repaired to Banares, and proposed to the latter ... to dethrone Wazir Ali, offering the support of the Company on the intelligible condition that the subsidy should be largely increased and their support should be paid for otherwise in money and kind.
To this stipulation, the bold and barefaced aspirant to the princedom “gleerfully consented” and, after a preliminary process at Lucknow, termed in the Parliamentary Return of Treaties “a full investigation”, and “purporting to be an enquiry into the spuriousness of Wazir Ali’s birth, that prince was deposed and Saadat Ali was proclaimed Nawab Wazir of Oudh in his stead at Lucknow, on 21st January, 1798.” (Dacoities in Excelsis by Major Bird, Assistant Resident at Lucknow). On 21st February, 1798, a treaty was executed between Sir John Shore and Saadat Ali whereby the latter undertook: (i) to pay in full the debts claimed by the Company, (ii) to cede to the Company the Allahabad Fort and pay Rs. 8 lacs for its repairs, (iii) to pay Rs. 3 lacs for repairs to the Fatehgarh Fort, (iv) to pay some lacs of rupees to be specified later for expenses incurred on the movement of the Company’s armies, (v) to pay Rs. 12 lacs to compensate the Company for its expenditure in getting Saadat Ali installed as Nawab Wazir, (vi) to pay an annual pension of Rs. 11/2 lacs to the deposed Wazir Ali and, (vii) to increase the annual payment to the Company on account of the Subsidiary Army from Rs. 56 lacs (which Asafuddaula had been forced to agree to pay less than a year before) to Rs. 76 lacs. Sir Henry Lawrence has thus commented on the treaty (“Calcutta Review” for January, 1845): “What will perhaps most strike the English reader of Sir John Shore’s treaty is the entire omission of the slightest provision for the good government of Oudh. The people seemed as it were sold to the highest bidder ... Saadat Ali was ... a more promising sponge to squeeze than his nephew ... He (Sir John Shore) made the Musnud of Oudh a mere transferable property in the hands of the British Governor ... We are obliged entirely to condemn the whole tenor of Oudh negotiations.”
For valuable services rendered, Sir John Shore was raised to the peerage and in March 1798, he returned to England. He had followed closely in the footsteps of his ideal in politics, Warren Hastings, and his services to England were no doubt at par with those of Clive and Warren Hastings. He was reputed to be a “staunch Christian” too!
(The extract has been taken with permission from Sage Publishing)