Meer Jafar Ali Khan – The Prince Who Defeated East India Company In House Of Commons

In 1856 as India or Hindustan or Bharat (whatever you wish to call) was about to burst into flames against the oppression of the English East India Company, one Indian Prince was on the verge of creating history in England. Meer Jafar Ali Khan fearlessly led the greatest legal counter attack against the corporation on their home soil and became the Prince who defeated the East India Company in the House of Commons.

Meer Jafar Ali Khan the prince who defeated the East India Company in the House of Commons
Meer Jafar Ali Khan – the prince who defeated the East India Company in the House of Commons

In 1800 the East India Company had annexed Surat and signed a treaty with the Nawab. Ruthlessly, the treaty was violated by the Company leaving the port city of Surat and the Nawab’s descendants on the verge of destitution.

The East India Company in 1856 was the wealthiest colonising corporation in the world. It was at the forefront of Empire expansion. It had the most powerful stakeholders including prominent British MPs, Lords, Dukes, Earls and businessmen. Its army in India stood close to 300,000 making it the most powerful in the subcontinent. At the peak of its powers it faced the most unlikely adversary on its home turf in Meer Jafar Ali Khan who had given up all that he possessed in India to take the ‘good fight’ right back to them.

Meer Jafar Ali Khan - the Prince who defeated the East India Company in the House of Commons
Meer Jafar Ali Khan – the Prince who defeated the East India Company in the House of Commons

This was the first time the East India Company had been met by an Indian Prince pressing them over the legality of their practices, on their own soil. They would be confident of success, no doubt – but Jafar intended to give them the legal battle of their lives, all the way to the House of Parliament if need be.

Through his years of struggle in London, Meer Jafar Ali Khan had come to occupy a unique position in Victorian England. While a steady flow of Indiai princes came to England, some to enjoy the sights and sounds and others to just complain about the treatment they received at the hands of the Company without any strategic planning, Meer Jafar Ali Khan had over many years in England meticulously planned and mobilized the most powerful alliances in the British political establishment to challenge the injustice of the Company in Surat and particularly against his infant daughters.

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Voyaging twice to England, first in 1844 and then again in 1853, Meer Jafar Ali Khan went onto become one of the most well-known figures in Victorian England. Backed by the British press which addressed him as ‘Nawab’ (who never took the title) and carried daily reports on him and his case, Meer Jafar Ali Khan strove tirelessly to achieve his goals.

What made his character an utterly fascinating one was his tenacity in opposing the English East India Company’s injustice and malpractices in Surat, navigating the political divide in Victorian England towards the Company, masterfully crafting his arguments with the help of his allies, retaining his Indiai identity in all the drama his case generated in England, falling in love with an English actress and bringing her back with him to India at the height of the first war of independence.

What is also of vital importance is the story of the fall of Surat – India’s greatest port to the English East India Company. The annexation of Surat and the breach of treaty of 1800 led to the grim situation Meer Jafar Ali Khan found himself in 1856.

Much has been written about the East India Company’s rise to power in India. Accomplished historians have dedicated years of research to writing accounts of the Company’s territorial expansion. The victory Robert Clive achieved in Plassey in 1757 over Siraj-ud-daula, the Nawab of Bengal, has come to be viewed, quite correctly by historians as the turning point in the Company’s fortunes. For it was from then on that the Company was given the rights to collect revenue on behalf of a weakening Mughal Empire.

However, what many historians have not necessarily devoted time and attention to is that within two years of the victory in Bengal, the Company had attacked the Surat Castle in 1759 and for the first time India’s greatest port had partially fallen in European hands.

After Robert Clive took over Plassey, Mir Jafar of Bengal (not to be confused with Meer Jafar Ali Khan  of Surat) was installed as a “puppet Nawab”, and the kingdom’s treasury was dutifully emptied by East India Company officers. In a series of campaigns, Clive also amassed large warehouses worth of treasures, from carpets to jewels, now known as the Plassey Plunder. What most Indians are unaware of still is that it was the Plunder of Arcot that served as a blueprint for the model of annexation that was replicated across India.

The East India Company officers who overlooked this loot had working relations with auctioneers and sold/assisted in setting up many of the world famous auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s who are still actively engaged in the smuggling and selling of old and new antiques which we have already detailed comprehensively in our previous report – Nirav Modi and the Smuggling of National Treasure.

It is in this light that the recent revelations of the head priest of Tirumala Tirupati temples, that of a rare pink diamond from the platinum necklace donated by the Maharaja of Mysore being put for auction by Sotheby’s in Geneva should be seen. Let us make it clear to our readers that it is not just the treasures of Tirumala that is being smuggled and sold off abroad but such is the case of temples, museums, treasures all across India.

One such famous museum is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York having a long history of involvement in the smuggling of Indian antiquities, artifacts, temple idols and manuscripts. Recently, one of their smugglers who smuggled the sandstone statue of Duryodhana was charged with trafficking artifacts. Also recently, Nita Ambani was elected to the board of The Met ironically for promoting Indian culture.

In the same strain there has been much written about the iconic clash between Tipu Sultan and Arthur Wellesley, the then Earl of Mornington, later to be known as the first Duke of Wellington.The defeat of Tipu and the annexation of Mysore in 1799 finds itself in most history books dedicated to colonial expansion in India. However, what is once again overlooked by a large number of historians is that the following year in 1800, the Company under the orders of Arthur Wellesley finally annexed Surat in totality by forcing the Nawab to sign away his administrative powers under threat of forceful invasion of the city.

Subsequent to Mysore in 1799 and Surat in 1800, Delhi fell in 1803 and encouraged by what seemed like a freefall of princely India, the Company annexed Satara, Sindh, Punjab, Awadh and Jhansi. There are many books on all of them and the fate they suffered at the hands of the Company, but in some odd way the tragic fall of Surat had not got its due. This story is told in the book Surat – the Fall of a Port, Rise of a Prince who defeated the East India Company in the House of Commons.

If you wish to have a historical perspective of the destruction of Indian Knowledge Bases and how it was smuggled out of India and the geopolitical players involved, check out our exclusive book India in Cognitive Dissonance.

With comments from GreatGameIndia, a journal on Geopolitics and International Relations. Get to know the Geopolitical threats India is facing in our exclusive book India in Cognitive Dissonance

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