Travancore state and the British company's trap in the early colonial period - brief note

Apart from religion, caste, cultural and language differences among the natives what prompted the East india company to poke its nose into the internal matters of various Indian kingdoms was disunity among the rulers, poorly coordinated army  and frequent conflicts among them to establish their supremacy. Having come to know about the Indian subcontinent's rich natural resources and the scope for exploitation and  profitable export to other countries,  EIC not only became anchored with firm conviction to squander as much as they could here  through expansion of lands, but also had begun to come up with effective schemes to grab the fertile and revenue  lands from the natives to establish their control over them.

Their  foremost strategy was making inroads into the  rich autonomous  Indian states through  political interference by way of support in the form of aids - supply of arms or loaning the company's army, etc in case of war. In the late 1700s in Bengal their disgusting  tactics included nonpayment of custom duties to the local heads to provoke them, violating trade treaties, instigating conflicts between two political heads or sovereign heads within the state, rewarding whistleblowers, etc. After winning the ruler's trust EIC became manipulative and would install a ruler who was favorable to their growth and progress. This kind of wheeling and dealing that began in Bengal and the  total control  over the revenue, etc in 1765 (after the treaty of Allahabad), continued across the land. many kingdoms from the north to south fell down like ninepins in the bowling alley. 

Political victory in Bengal boosted the morale and confidence of the English company and made them more ambitious. Their victory convinced the British Crown  administration that made EIC their proxy government with military support to safeguard their seized lands.  

 As successor of Robert Clive, Richard Wellesley, a good administrator, in the initial stages, carefully followed the strategy of  non-interventionist policy towards the various Indian states which were allied to the British East India Company; perhaps to win their trust.  Encouraged by the response and growth of the company, to tighten the grip on the states, Richard  later adopted a well refined subtle manipulative  policy called subsidiary alliances. The purpose and aim of this policy with hidden barbs are explained in Feb. 1804 in an EIC dispatch to their  Resident in Hyderabad.

Subsidiary alliance with principal states will put them "to a degree of dependence on the British power as may deprive them of the means of prosecuting any measures or of forming any confederacy hazardous to the security of the British empire, and may enable us to reserve the tranquility of India..." This may help the company to hold a firm grip on them and discourage restless spirit of ambition and violence ...... and India will be free of perpetual warfare, turbulence and disorder..."

Kerala in late colonial time

Yet another trap used by the English called  "the Doctrine of Lapse" introduced by  wyle colonial official Dalhousie was an direct  annexation policy extensively applied by East India Company in India until 1859. Rulers without any legal heir to the throne had to hand over the state to the British and there was no room for adoption of a heir  either from the family or elsewhere by the childless ruler. Several Indian rulers lost their long cherished reigning rights and rich revenue lands.                                                                 

This divide and rule policy became more visible in the mid 1860s. For example Tripura, a hilly state  between 1866 and 1870 became a tribute state and a British agent was stationed there in the late 1880s to deal with security, war expeditions into the adjacent places, etc. For their services EIC received a huge sum as annual fee from the ruler of Tripura. Similarly they  got  zamindars into the fold and made them answerable to the minister appointed by the ruler. The deciding authority is the British Agent.

Across India many Maharajahs were in the same situation and it was  subtle tactics of total annexation in the case of non cooperating  states. Indian rulers that fell into the traps could not wiggle out because they lacked powerful army. Nor was there unity among them. So they had to be content with weird titles and limited income (dole) to run the administration, always in the midst of risk of paying exorbitant annual fees to the company. 

The ruler of SW Indian state of Travancore fell a victim to the dictates of the English company on his own, but the gloomy political situation prompted the ruler to seek the help of EIC.  In the late 18th and 19th century the state of Travancore underwent a painful  period devoid of peace and tranquility primarily because of violent invasions from Mysore. During  war expeditions into the Malabar region,both  Hyder Ali and later his son Tipu Sultan impaired the economy of the state  and, in the aftermath, these  raids, particularly, Tipu left behind a trail of destruction of places of worship  large scale killings, particularly of Nairs and abduction of thousands of Christians and Hindus according to the political history of Kerala. Besides crippled economy, security became a main concern for the Travancore rulers.  

Necessity arose for Travancore to rehabilitate the non-Muslim population of Malabar who took refuge in Travancore from Tipu’s atrocities, slaughter and religious suppression. An alliance treaty had been signed   with the British company  in 1795 to consolidate their military  to counter raids by Tipu. According to the Treaty, Travancore became an ally of the British  and  in return, the British promised protection to Travancore from its enemies. Thus the British ruled Malabar directly and Kochi and Travancore indirectly through the subservient Samantha rajas.

However, revolts from  Pazhassi Raja in Malabar, Paliath Achan in Kochi and Veluthampi in Travancore at the same time in the early 1800s made the British jittery. These warriors and patriots fought   relentlessly till the final days to drive out the English from Kerala Nadu. 

Travancore state had to pay an annual fee of   Rs 8 Lakhs for ‘protecting’ the state and  the EIC army was stationed in the city to keep vigil. Consequently, post the death of Tipu (1799) in the final Anglo-Mysore war,  under compelling circumstances  King Balaramavarma of Travancore signed the Subsidiary alliance. When Balarama Varma took over the reigns from   Karthika Tirunal Ramavarama (Dharmaraja) at the age of thirteen, the state was yet yet recover from the impact of Tipu's invasions. The financial position  was in a shambles.

Paying high allowances to the English Co was a burden for the small state and  it  was more than what it could afford at that point of time.   Colonel Macaulay company’s Resident   was keen to revise the  alliance treaty on orders from higher-ups  to have a firm hold on the SW indian state.  The murder of the Dewan Raja Keshavadas, hike in allowances to the British as part of the treaty, tax hike through the corrupt  Commerce Minister to meet additional financial burden addended up frustration among the people and prominent leaders in the society. The simmering resentment developed in south Kerala as well as in  north Kerala snowballed  into revolts against corrupt people in the administration who were groomed by the dishonest British officials.

 Pazhassi Raja

In the case of Malabar region, Pazhassi Raja, a warrior prince and de facto head of the kingdom of Kottayam, resisted the East India Company from 1793 onwards till his death in 1805 as they wanted to control Kottayam and other areas.  He fought two wars to resist Company intervention in the domestic affairs of his kingdom. From 1793–1797 he fought over the question of the management of Kottayam and from 1800–1805 over the issue of who was  master of Wayanad.  Pazhassi Raja helped the East India Company when they campaigned against Tipu Sultan not because he was ready to accept Company rule. The main reason was  he wanted his country Kottayam to be an independent land. After The Treaty of Seringapatam (1792) between Tipu and EIC, the latter gained control over the Malabar region. After a series of many revolts and skirmishes in Nov 1805 while camping near the Karnataka war was wounded by the enemies from which he never recovered. Later his palace wa demolished by the English and Raja's wife committed suicide. 

The Paliath Achan of Palam, kerala,

The Paliath Achans, hereditary prime ministers to the Maharajah of Kingdom of Cochin (Kerala) from 1632 to 1809, who were  influential and safe guarded the interest of  their kingdom. Their services to kingdom were free, rather, they paid a part of their income to the kingdom.  They were also  free rulers of Chendamangalam, Vypin, parts of Thrissur and regions  under the erstwhile Kingdom of Villarvattom where they maintained peace and order.  In the early 1800s  Paliath Achan  was furious over EIC's interference in the internal matters of the kingdom. Committed to drive out the company from the soil of Kerala, he  later joined the Travancore alliance of Velu Thampi Dalawa. During 1809 and 1810, Paliath Achan, allied with Velu Thampi Dalawa, fought the British on Travancore soil. Achan engaged the British East India Company troops in battle, and was finally defeated.  After the rebellion, the British authorities deported him to Fort St. George Madras, 12 years later to Bombay. After 13 long years,he passed away in 1832 in prison at Benares. His fall from sublime to obscurity was purely accidental, may be the edit of god. He left the world fighting for his home land's freedom from the clutches of foreign rule. His services good deeds and  sacrifices  would last for eternity surpassing the ex-Maharajahs.

Velayudhan Thampi of Thalakulam (1765–1809), the Dalawa or Prime Minister of  Travancore between 1802 and 1809 during the reign of Bala Rama Varma Kulasekhara Perumal, was not happy with the British and became one the earliest persons to revolt  against the the EIC. Velu thampi, despite opposition from a section of people became the Dalawa. He was a stickler for discipline and against corrupt people in the administration besides  his overbearing and adamant conduct got him bad name  resulting in resentment among people around him.  If caught red-handed, he had never let wrong doers either in the public or in the government go unpunished.  His punishments were harsh and inhuman, but they got the needed results - peace and order  in a short period. during his  role as the Dalawa. He was equally against the  unjust British rule in the state and their hold on the Maharajah. 

Velu Themba's bold revolt in 1809 against  the British along with other Nair warriors like Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai hogged the limelight and at the same time got the serious attention of the British. Now, at  stake was their name in the state and their loosening control.  Earlier in 1808 Padmanabha Pillai  along with other freedom fighters   attacked British Resident Col. Macaulay in Ponjikkara Residency (now, Bolgatty Palace). The Hindus had no trained soldiers, infantry and commander to lead the rebels against the powerful British army. 

In a politically volatile situation in Travancore, the company took over  the defence of Travancore after disbanding the state army. British finally put down the  revolt  and publicly hanged to death  Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai at Quilon.

With the appointment of John Monroe as the Resident, chaos was descended on the state. Velu Thambi was quite infuriated about a few things. 01.  Monroe's role to convert the Hindus to Christianity (under the early rule conversion was punishable offense), 02. Interference in the affairs of Hindu tumbles by the resident, 03. His close rapport with certain evangelists  who favored conversion of people in the lower strata of the society into Christianity and 04.  Legal heir to the throne, Kerala Varma was not allowed by Monroe to ascend the throne because  EIC could not make him bend in their favor.  Young  affable princess Gauri Lakshmi bai  took over the reigns.  

Earlier, at one stage, the Maharani  Arumana Amma, a noble woman  spoke to Velu  and revealed the palace truth that the British resident and the ruler himself wanted to remove Velu Thambi for good. Never knowing the financial trap set by the British, the ruler wanted to retain his royal status, titles and money power. Whereas, for the British hawks, elimination of Velu Thampi would   pave the way  for almost total control  over the kingdom directly.

At Kundara on January 11,1809, Velu Thampi  made a clarion call and gave fiery  proclamation (called Kundara proclamation) against the British, their atrocities and their motive to take over the kingdom. He asked the people to take to arms against the British and drive them out. His eloquence and emotional speech left a deep impact on  the natives and they rose against the foreigners in unison.

In a serious battle on January 15, 1809 between the British and Velu Thampi, at last Velu had to withdraw  and flee to Trivandrum,having been   betrayed   by a section in his huge army. His brave fighting  against the enemies  was of no avail.  The British army  did not want to take any chance with Velu Thampi  who was at large and hunted after him. After the fall of Padmanabapuram fort and Udayagiri, chased by the Maharajah's troops,  at last, Velu Thampi  was caught near Bhagavati temple at Mannadi.

Velu Thampi took the last resort  - killed himself before the Bhagavati temple there and became one of the martyrs in Kerala. Now, the ground is cleared for the British to reestablish their hegemony under John Monroe  who was keen to dismantle the Hindu communities and made the ruler a puppet on the string.