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212

BENARES, THE SACRED CITY

At Buxar, near to the boundary of the Benares zemindary, Chết Singh met him with a fleet of boats crowded with two thousand well-armed troops. This, as Hastings observes in his narrative, was a deviation from the rules of decorum between vassals and their superiors, for the Governor-General had taken with him only a very small escort. .

The Raja, however, had not yet the courage to show open hostility, but, placing his turban in Hastings' lap, tried to keep up an appearance of humility, with many vows and protestations of sincerity. Hastings received him civilly, but telling him plainly of his displeasure and determination to enforce the demands of Government, closed the interview. He arrived at Benares on the morning of the 14th of August. The Raja came a few hours later, but was forbidden to come to the Governor-General's quarters at Madhu Das's gardens, and ordered to await a communication from the Resident. The next morning Hastings sent the latter with a letter formulating charges of disaffection and infidelity to the Government, based on the Raja's previous conduct, with a demand for an immediate answer. Chết Singh replied in terms which Hastings characterized as “not only unsatisfactory in substance, but offensive in style, and less a vindication of himself than a recrimination on me”.

The Resident then received orders to repair next morning with his guard to the Raja's palace at Shivala Ghât, to place Chết Singh under arrest and to await further orders. The latter submitted quietly, but by some fatal mistake, or carelessness, the two companies of Sepoys who were placed in charge of the palace had taken no ammunition with them. The excitement PERIL OF THE BRITISH

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among Chêt Singh's followers was intense, and before any steps could be taken to repair the blunder, large bodies of armed men crossed the river from the Raja's Fort at Ramnagar, surrounded the palace, and fell upon the scpoy guard. The reinforcements which were sent arrived too late to prevent the massacre which followed.

During the tumult Chêt Singh escaped to Ramnagar by lowering himself from one of the windows of the palace, for the river was in high food and boats could be brought close under the palace walls.

The position of Hastings was then critical in the extreme. “If Chêt Singh's people," as he observes, “after they had effected his rescue, had proceeded to my quarters at Mahadew Das's Garden, instead of crowding after him in a tumultuous manner, as they did in his passage over the river, it is most probable that my blood, and that of about thirty English gentlemen of my party, would have been added to the recent carnage, for they were over two thousand in number, furious and daring from the easy success of the last attempt, nor could I assemble more than fifty regular and armed Sepoys for my whole defence.”

Varren Hastings does not overestimate the dangers of the situation to the whole British empire in India when he adds: “Such a stroke as that which I have supposed would have been universally considered as decisive of the national fate; every state around it would have started into arms against it, and every subject of its own dominion would according to their several abilities have become its enemy”.

The history of British India is largely the history of the blunders of incompetent bureaucrats, and the

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struggles of capable men of action with an impossible official machinery. There is no doubt that the loss to the Government at that crisis of Hastings' administrative courage and genius would have been a blow from which the British power might never have recovered.

A fresh disaster added to the peril of the British community in Benares. Hastings, immediately on the news of the outbreak, had sent orders to Captain Mahaffre, commanding the remainder of the detachment near Mirzapur, to bring up his men without delay, buton no account to risk an attack on Ramnagar, which was strongly defended by the Raja's followers. That officer, profiting by what he believed to be an opportunity for distinguishing himself, in direct defiance of orders, attempted to rush the Fort, and paid the penalty with his own life and the loss of most of his men.

This success elated the enemy so much that they determined to assume the offensive and attack Hastings at his quarters in Madhu Das's Gardens. The whole British force there collected now amounted to only four hundred and fifty men, under Major Popham, and, finding his position indefensible, Hastings, with that officer's approval, determined to retreat to the fort of Chunar, a strong position higher up the river. The retreat of the little British force, accompanied by the whole British community of Benares, was effected in safety. Hastings then, in consultation with his most capable military adviser, prepared to collect reinforcements and to organize defensive and offensive war against the Raja.

In the meantime Chết Singh, while still making feeble attempts to gain time by sending half-apologetic,

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PANCHGANGA (page 150) By permission of H.H. the Maharaja of Benares

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