Advent of the Europeans Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut, sailing via the Cape of Good Hope in 1498. This marked the beginning ofthe European era in Indian history. The lucrative trade in spices of Malabar – in modern Kerala – had temptedthe Portuguese and inspired the search for a sea route to the Indies.
The Portuguese had already establishedtheir colony in Goa by the first decade of the 16th Century but their territorial and commercial hold in Indiaremained rather limited. In the next century, India was visited by a large number of European travellers – Italians, Englishmen,Frenchmen and Dutchmen. They were drawn to India for different reasons. Some were traders, othersadventurers, and quite a few fired by the missionary zeal to find converts to Christianity. Among them wasFrancois Bernier, the French doctor who enjoyed the confidence of princes and nobles and was in a uniquelyprivileged position to observe the functioning of the Mughal court.
His account is a valuable source ofinformation for historians. These travelogues aroused European interest in India, and prompted in course of time, the colonialintervention. England, France, the Netherlands and Denmark, floated East India Companies. Chartered astrading companies by their respective governments, their primary commercial interest was in Indian textiles,both silk and cotton, indigo and at times, other sundry merchandise.
During the late 16th and the 17th Centuries, these companies competed with each other fiercely. By the lastquarter of the 18th Century the English had vanquished all others and established themselves as thedominant power in India. The military campaigns of Robert Clive and the administrative enterprise of WarrenHastings (1772 – 1785) contributed significantly to this achievement. British Colonialism The British administered India for a period of about two centuries and brought about revolutionary changes inthe social, political and the economic life of the country. Most Indians who came in their contact could notperceive the strategic threat posed by the East India Company. The British from the beginning followed apolicy of divide and rule.
Diplomacy and deceit were used to gain control of revenue collection in the provinceof Bengal. This gave the foreigners effective control of administration. The Marathas, the Sikhs and the rulersof Mysore could never unite to confront the foreign enemy and fell one by one. By the onset of the 19thCentury there was no local power that could cope with their onslaught. Once the British had consolidated their power, commercial exploitation of the natural resources and nativelabour became ruthless. It is true that there were a few benevolent Governor Generals who initiated socialreforms and tried to render the administration more efficient and responsive, but they were exceptions.
By themiddle of the 19th Century arrogant exploitation of the people had tried the patience of the Indians to the limit. The British had, to serve their own purpose, set up educational institutions that imparted western educationand had established a vast network of rail-roads and telegraph lines. This united the country in anunprecedented manner. The Indians, exposed to western ideas of responsible and representative government,began to yearn for liberty and equality.
There were many who looked back to the nation’s glorious past andstrove to rekindle the sentiment of patriotism. Foremost among them were Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and IshwarChandra Vidyasagar. The 19th Century is often referred to as the age of national resurgence in India. The flash point was reached in 1857 when the British introduced a new rifle and cartridge in the British IndianArmy. The bullet offended the religious sentiments of both the Hindus and the Muslims, as it allegedlycontained pork and beef tallow. Soldiers at Meerut were the first to rebel and reaching Delhi proclaimedBahadurshah Zafar the sovereign ruler of India.
The revolt soon spread like wild fire all over north India andcould only be put down after great difficulty and bloodshed. Nationalist historians have seen in it the firstIndian war of independence. The six decades between the end of the “mutinous” war of 1857 – 59 and the conclusion of First World Warsaw both the peak of British imperial power in India and the birth of nationalist agitation against it. The Freedom Struggle With increasing intrusion of aliens in their lives, it was natural that nationalist feelings began to be articulatedby an increasing number of Indians.