The Theft of India describes the various European conquests of India that followed the discovery of a sea-route from Europe to India by Vasco da Gama for the Portuguese in 1498, going through to the capture of Bengal for the British by Robert Clive in 1757. It overturns much current distorted history - history that has buried the oppression of the Indians.
The book describes the terror unleashed by the Portuguese and the atrocities of their Inquisition. The arrival of the more advanced warships of the Dutch and the British, led to collapse of the Portuguese Indian Empire, leaving them only with Goa and a few small enclaves. The Dutch largely replaced the Portuguese but were no more benevolent. Both enforced a monopoly over India's exports, especially spices, severely forcing down the prices received by Indians. Towards the end of the end of the seventeenth century, having become involved in an expensive war in south India, the Dutch abandoned most of their India territories and left for the East.
The Theft of India contains many eyewitness accounts of the battles that established European rule and the oppression of the Indians under European rule. There are descriptions of the horrific slave trade in India conducted by all the arriving European powers. Life in the Mughal Empire is also revealed as being much more oppressive than many modern writers have portrayed.
The British arrived in India in 1613, but solely to trade. Indian rulers allowed them to build some small fortified trading posts. The Danes, who arrived in 1620, were similarly allowed to establish small bases. The French did not arrive in India until 1666. They soon began to capture land on the east coast of India on which to build forts and settlements. They then managed to defeat a large Indian army. This victory of a small well-equipped European army against a large native one changed perceptions of power in India. The French began to ally themselves with various Indian rulers so as to increase both parties' trade and influence. This alarmed the British who were often at war with the French in Europe, and who until then had avoided military adventures in India. Their East India Company began to develop its small army. Under the command of Robert Clive, this new army defeated one of France's major allies. This spelt the end of French ambitions in India.
In Bengal, the Nawab had become alarmed by the British strengthening their fort at Calcutta and captured it. Clive was instructed to regain the city and its fort. Although he had only 2,000 troops, Clive was able to inflict severe damage on the Nawab's large army. A truce was declared but Clive was doubtful that it would last so he determined to replace the Nawab with a more compliant relative, Mir Jaffa, who was one of the Nawab's generals. Mir Jaffa agreed to handsomely reward Clive and the Company if he were to become the new Nawab. War broke out again and the two armies met at Plassey.
Clive commanded about a very much smaller army than the Nawab. However, the death of the Nawab's best commander, together with the defection of Mir Jaffa, allowed Clive's men to rout the Nawab's army.
Later, a new Nawab linked up with the Mughal Emperor to fight the British. Clive defeated their combined army in 1764 and then concluded a deal with the Mughal Emperor in which the Company was given the 'Dewani' of Bengal and Bihar. This gave it the revenues and made it virtual ruler. A huge amount of wealth was exported to Britain, which severely depressed the local economy. When drought and crop failures came in 1769-70 there was no money to buy in food from other parts of India. The East India Company refused to help. Out of a population of thirty million, ten million died.
The Theft of India re-assesses the role played by the Europeans during three centuries of Indian history. With the help of many eyewitness accounts it overturns the positive gloss of most standard histories.
The Theft of India: The European Conquests of India, 1498-1765, By Roy Moxham.