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Causes For the Decline of Portuguese Power In India

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King Henry of Portugal promoted marine navigation by establishing training and research organizations. The Portuguese were the first to sail all of Africa’s coastlines. Vasco da Gama set off in 1497 guided by a Gujarati pilot Abdul Majid with King Emmanuel’s support, and on May 21, 1498, landed in Calicut, and the maritime route to India was discovered. They were among the first Europeans to arrive in India and the last to leave. The Zamorin of Calicut, Mana Vikrama, greeted Vasco-da-Gama warmly. The entry of three ships under the Portuguese navigator had a significant impact on Indian history. The Portuguese lasted in India from 1505 until 1961. 

The Portuguese power in India declined as new European trading rivals posed a challenge to them. In the fight between various trading competitors, the Portuguese had to surrender before their powerful and commercially more capable rival and gradually they were confined to limited areas. 

Major reasons for the decline of Portuguese power in India include the following: Portugal as a country was so small and could not bear the weight of a trading colony located so far away. This created a feeling of hostility against them in the minds of the rulers. The rigid religious policy of the Portuguese distanced them from both the Hindus and the Muslims of India. Furthermore, the coming of the Dutch and the British to India contributed to diminishing the Portuguese power. 
Ironically, the Portuguese power was the first European power to come to India and was also the last to return in 1961 AD, when the Indian government captured Goa, Daman, and Diu from them. Although their regime outlasted the British empire, it had little effect outside of its territories. This article will discuss the causes of the decline of Portuguese power in India.

Causes for the Downfall of Portuguese Power:

1. Lost Commercial Influence:

  • By the 18th century, the Portuguese had lost their commercial clout.
  • With the advent of powerful dynasties in North India and the rise of the Marathas as its close neighbours, the Portuguese advantages in India were weakened.
  • Salsette and Bassein were annexed from the Portuguese by the Marathas in 1739.
  • Many individuals began trading on their own, and many turned to piracy and robbery. Their unethical business tactics elicited a significant outcry as well.

2. Religious Atrocities: 

  • Political anxieties were sparked by Religious policies like the activities of the Jesuits. 
  • The Portuguese pushed the concept of inter-marriage.
  • They vandalized Hindu shrines and inflamed anti-Muslim sentiment. Apart from their animosity, people were enraged by the Portuguese strategy of forced conversion to Christianity.

3. The Impact of the West: 

  • Portugal’s colonization strategies were focusing more on the West after the discovery of Brazil. 
  • The accession of Portugal by Spain and thereafter unification of the two kingdoms- Spain and Portugal in 1580-81, destroyed Portugal’s political and commercial independence and neglected its interests in India.
  • The Portuguese monopoly on the maritime route to India was not indefinite; the Dutch and English acquired ocean navigation abilities and soon many trading companies arrived in India.
  • The Portuguese had to give way to the more influential and innovative rivals as they had a strong navy and more resources, which was a severe threat to the Portuguese. They successfully overcame Portuguese opposition and capture its possessions in India. 

4. Defective Governance System: 

  • The best Portuguese Viceroy in India was Alfonzo-De-Albuquerque. After him, the Portuguese administration in India became weak, since his successors were ineffective.
  • The home government ignored the Portuguese authorities in Indian and kept their wages low. As a result, they engaged in bribery and fraud.
  • They were so corrupt that they used to work only for the fulfillment of personal interests. Along with gluttony for money, they were arrogant and tyrannical.
  • The arrival of the Dutch, French, and British in India also ensured the decline of Portuguese power. The officers of these countries were more disciplined, capable, and diplomatic than the Portuguese.

5. Decline of the Vijayanagara Empire: 

  • The Portuguese had good relations with the Vijayanagara Empire. 
  • The defeat of the Vijayanagara empire during the War of Talikota had a substantial effect on Portuguese influence in India and It diminished by the demise of the Vijayanagara Empire

6. Weak Military and discipline:

  • The basis of the imperialist policy of Portugal was not strong. They lacked a land army, so their effective control over the occupied territories could not be established. They also lacked a powerful navy. When the mighty English and Dutch navy rose, they could not face them.
  • Portuguese relations were based on the policy of tyrannical retaliation. Vasco da Gama, Cabral and other Portuguese officials provoked and humiliated the local rulers.

7. Corrupted trade policy and moral degeneration:

  • Portuguese were against competition and instituting joint-stock companies. They aimed to establish their monopoly on trade.
  • Apart from this, Portuguese trade was started and controlled by the state, so the Portuguese officials paid more attention to their gains than trade. 
  • When the Portuguese arrived in India, they were boosted by the spirit of ambition, and patriotism, however,  these qualities gradually diminished with time. 
  • Due to the arrogance of the sailor’s power, they used to rob other ships on the beach. They started harassing civilians on the site and other ships at sea. The consequence of this was that trade with Portugal was stopped by other merchants.

8. Expansion of the Mughal Empire in the South:

  • When they came to the Malabar Coast, at that time there were small states, taking advantage of their mutual disputes, they established their power. 
  • Due to the expansion of the Mughal Empire in the South, the position of the Portuguese also became weak. They could no longer benefit from local disputes. They were punished by Shah Jahan and Hubli was snatched from them. 
  • At the same time, the rise of Maratha power halted their expansion on the west coast.


From the above description, we can conclude that when the Portuguese came to India, they had focused on the fulfillment of business objectives, but later due to their policies and arrangements, they could not stand in front of other powers and failed miserably.
The Portuguese continued to occupy their colonial posts in India after much of India obtained independence from the British. Local anti-Portuguese protests in Goa were violently put down. The Portuguese government, led by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, denied handing over its colonial territories despite repeated appeals from the Indian government, 
From 1951 to 1961, the Indian government employed a “wait and watch” approach, exposing the subject of colonialism to the international community and imposing an economic boycott.
Goa was invaded by the Indian army in December 1961. The Portuguese tried to fight, but the Indian army overpowered them. On December 19, 1961, the Governor of Portuguese India signed the deed of Surrender, liberating Goa after 450 years of Portuguese domination.
Salazar’s government did not acknowledge India’s sovereignty until the 1970s, following which India and Portugal established amicable relations.

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Last Updated : 13 Jul, 2022
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