March 31, 2023
A courageous and ruthless military commander, Robert Clive helped secure an Indian empire for Britain. But as a greedy speculator he used his political and military influence to amass a fortune.

Robert Clive was the first British Governor of Bengal Presidency and he is credited with laying the foundation of British India Company rule in Bengal. He checked the French imperialist ambitions on the Coromandel coast of India.

Having founded the British Empire in India, Clive wanted to establish a strong administration. The salaries of civil servants were increased and acceptance of gifts from Indians was forbidden. He reorganized the army into three brigades each making a complete force in itself. He put down the mutiny of British Officers.

But some of his actions particularly the economic management of India have brought great criticism. Millions died from hunger due to the great Bengal famine of 1770. [Even the governor-general declared that] a third of the population of Bengal had starved to death, something made more astonishing by the fact that food shortages in this region had previously been all but unknown in history. 

Clive was back in England by the time of the famine, enjoying his wealth at home. But he was called to account in parliament in London in the early 1770s. When asked about the suffering of millions in India, Clive simply answered — like the chief executive of a distressed bank — that his priorities had been to protect the interests of shareholders, not those of the local population; his responsibility was to the East India Company — not to poor Indians and Bengalis whom he described as either ‘servile, mean, submissive and humble’ or ‘luxurious, effeminate, tyrannical, treacherous, venal, cruel’.

By certain of his actions and the statement he passed at the Parliament in London, Clive made sure that no room could be left to give for any confusion about his actions. He marred the glory and usefulness of whatever work he had done.

From a clerk in the East India Company to a soldier in the Company to the Governor of Bengal. This was the rise of Robert Clive. Yet at an age of 47 he committed suicide with huge fortune (around 500,000 Pound at that time) on his name. This was the fall of Great Clive.

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