hastingsThe first Governor-General of India was Warren Hastings, who occupied that high position from 1773 to 1784. While Clive was content with creating the impression that the Nawab of Bengal remained sovereign, subject only in some matters to the dictate of the Mughal Emperor, Hastings moved swiftly to remove this fiction. The Nawab was stripped of his remaining powers and the annual tribute paid to the Mughal Emperor was withdrawn. Hastings supported the kingdom of Awadh [Oudh] against the depredations of the Rohillas, chieftains of Afghani descent, and he took measures to contain the Marathas, though they could not be prevented from capturing Agra, Mathura, and even Delhi, the seat of the Mughal Empire. Hastings concluded treaties with various other Indian rulers and sought alliances against the powerful forces of Haider Ali in the Carnatic. However, in order to wage these wars, Hastings “borrowed” heavily from the Begums of Oudh and Raja Chait Singh of Benares.

In reality, these Indian rulers and numerous others were compelled to part with their financial resources, on pain of being at the receiving end of British fire-power. These acts of extortion, as well as other charges pertaining to Hastings’ conduct of Indian affairs, became the basis of Hastings’ impeachment in Parliament after he had resigned his position in India in 1784 and returned to Britain. His prosecution was launched with great vigor by Edmund Burke and a team of “managers” and lasted for nearly ten years; though Hastings was vindicated, he was financially ruined. Warren Hastings occupies, in other respects as well, an unusual place in the annals of British India. He was a patron of Indian learning and evinced a keen interest in Indian literature and philosophy. It was, for instance, with his encouragement that Charles Wilkins rendered the Bhagavad Gita into English, and his preface to that translation suggests that he was a man of some discernment and sophistication.