The foundations of modern India were laid by the British governor-general, Warren Hastings. But he paid a heavy personal price.
As India celebrates 70 years of independence, it is time to remember that it was the first British governor-general who launched the country’s cultural renaissance in the 1780s. Of all Britain’s imperial proconsuls, Warren Hastings was the most curious and learned about Indian culture, declaring: ‘I love India a little more than my own country.’ He became fluent in Bengali and had a good working knowledge of Urdu and Persian, the languages of the Mughal elite.
One of his most enlightened acts as governor-general was to promote the founding of the Calcutta Asiatic Society in 1784, under the presidentship of the distinguished Orientalist Sir William Jones, whom Hastings brought over from England. Alongside his day job asa Supreme Court judge, Jones presided for a decade over a cultural revival which flowered in the Bengali Renaissance of the 19th century and laid the basis of India’s future nationalist and cultural narrative.