Sindh in Transition: From Mughal Rule to British Annexation, Early Eighteenth Century to 1843
The eighteenth century in India saw the decline of the Mughal empire and the rise of several regional states. From the mid-1700s, however, the consolidation of regional states was checked by British expansion in the subcontinent. This thesis is a case study of one regional state, the state of Sindh in present day Pakistan. It engages in the historiographical debates about the relative importance of political and economic factors in explanations of Mughal decline during the eighteenth century. It also addresses questions about the motives that impelled British annexation, and the processes through which annexation was achieved. The study analyses Sindh’s transition from being a peripheral region in the twilight days of the Mughal empire to its annexation by the British in 1843. It is based on some Persian sources, along with British archival records and a number of eighteenth and nineteenth century travelogues. The thesis begins with a study of the process of state formation in Sindh by the Sufi Kalhora tribe. Although increasingly independent from 1701, the Sindh state continued to pay tribute to the Mughals until 1739, then to Persia until 1747, and then to the Afghan king until 1783, when the Talpur Meers replaced the Kalhoras as Sindh’s ruler. Under both the Kalhoras and the Talpurs, a significant expansion of trade helped sustain the Sindh state and resulted in the emergence of a strong mercantile class. The thesis critically examines the role of the new commercial class and its relationship with Sindh’s rulers. But the political edifice constructed by the Talpurs was weak. The thesis argues that when the rise of French and Russian imperialism in the Middle East made Sindh strategically and commercially important to the British, the political weakness of the Talpur regime facilitated British encroachment in Sindh. The final annexation of Sindh in 1843, following two battles with the Meers, was the result of a number of developments: it was the culmination of a long-drawn-out weakening of the Sindhi polity; it was connected to European rivalries in Central Asia and also to the East India Company’s new appreciation of the commercial importance of Sindhi trade along the Indus river. More broadly, the annexation in 1843 needs to be understood in the context of the interplay of British, French, Russian, Afghan, Sikh and Persian ambitions since the beginning of the nineteenth century.