The Heyday Of East India Company: How Did A Company Rule Over Millions Of Indians?
The discovery of the Americas around 1492 precipitated the conquest of more and more territories by Europeans, which began the period of European imperialism. It is thus far contested whether Columbus or the Venetian sailor Amerigo Vespucci discovered the Americas, as even the latter’s name is ascribed to the very land of America. All imperial powers need protecting facades to hide ulterior and evil motives, therefore the Europeans clad themselves in a veneer of trade and other commercial stunts.
Around 1516 the Spanish navigator Juan Diaz de Solis sailed to South America, waded ashore and claimed the territory for Spain. With that, a plethora of European kingdoms braced up to sail across the Atlantic to turn a new page in history of depredation and egregious exploitation. Meanwhile, Britain was lagging behind and minding its own business. It was not until 1588 that it too began to venture into imperialism. In June 1588, a Spanish fleet, dubbed as the Armada, barged into England for invasion but was miraculously thwarted by a less powerful army of Britain. Thus emerged an empire, where the sun never set, along with a company that devastatingly changed several things, including local systems, political dispensations and the very milieu of society.
The company was established to serve the vested interests of a bunch of leading merchants who eventually became key stakeholders in appraising the worth of Hindustan. Furthermore, the company was incorporated by the permission of Queen Elizabeth to sail across East and Southeast Asia on December 31, 1600. Owing to sea-faring flair, Spain and Portugal had already been systematically exploiting resources in the far East. Thus, Britain was galvanized by them and joined the scramble forthwith. Major incentives to sail to the Far East were obvious: to set up factories and incrementally permeate the local dispensations of livelihoods, thus reaching the very innards of administration. India was a jolly enviable territory with a slew of diverse natural resources, agricultural richness, a huge market for industrial goods finished in Britain, so on and so forth.
Prior to the East India Company, the Dutch and the Portuguese were already in incredible trading interactions with the Moguls as well as East Asian nations. Dutch East India Company was established on 20th March, 1602. And was chartered to trade with Mogul India. Enviable products of the Mogul were cotton textiles, pepper corn, indigo, silk and etc. This period passed by as solely a trading period as the kingdoms out here particularly the Mogul Empire were militarily as well as economically impregnable and robust. Thus, a company formed to trade metamorphosed into a domineering entity which eventually culminated in what most of scholars call the British Raj.
Why did industrialization happen in England? Why not in some other place? The answer would be England had far more sophisticated economic as well as political institutions than others. Therefore it outstripped several other nations and prospered substantially. Moreover, the process which is called Industrialization was a systematic economic ‘repurposing’ of the prevalent order. Therefore, it was none other than industrialism that impelled merchants of Britain to sail and sell. To profiteer unevenly and build guilds and thus expand. Labour was being mechanized and new machines-steam engines, wheels and other modern inventions were invented that rapidly transformed entire economic patterns. Conversely, Mogul India was still heavily dependent on menial labor and simple machineries which could not match those of the British, thus forfeiting some key spaces to withstand and meet industrial challenges. Therefore, England gained enormously from East Indies, later on Mogul India, all because of being technologically equipped and established, in addition to being liberal in its thought.
On August 1608, William Hawkins being the commander of a ship viz. Hector of East India Company sailed towards the east and anchored at Surath. He was purportedly the first representative of the East India Company to the Mogul Emperor. One year later in 1609, he headed towards Agra where Emperor Jahangir was dwelling on a request to countenance and charter a factory that would bring goods from England here and trade with Mogul India on mutual interests. The emperor sanctioned the request of the factory.
Incrementally the factories began to ratchet up, emerging as a corporation and piecemeal neutralizing other Europeans which who had already been chartered by the Emperor including Portugal, Dutch and later on the French. With a burgeoning and well-equipped army, the company waded ahead, spreading its influence and seizing monopolies by kicking away all other competing European companies.
However, this could be dubbed as an inception of a new chapter and a watershed moment in history of what was then Mogul India. As per Scottish Historian William Dalrymple Jahangir liked English beverages and that could be one of several other factors which motivated the Emperor to grant permission to Hawkins to set a factory. But, however, that has yet to be scrutinized. Piecemeal, the company grew stronger and reached deep into the administrative systems of Mogul India. As Jahangir was the son of one of the greatest emperors humanity as ever produced, Badshah Akbar, he bequeathed the liberal leanings of his father to carry out trade and interact with other world powers openly. Notwithstanding that he was rather naive not to notice the evil motives under the veneers of trade of the gargantuan company. Hence, from 1609 to 1757, the company built its standing as a mighty ruling dispensation in united India and 1757 is particularly said to be the zenith of the East India Company.
It would not be dubbed tall talk to assert that a company mesmerized the entire world by its shenanigans and tactics, going from a single factory to an administration that eventually turned into an empire where the sun never set. Nonetheless, in the backdrop, there are always several factors behind a sudden and drastic success of something. That amazes us, but to go a step deeper into this, there unfolds a part of the story. Let us go into it.
Robert Clive, [in]famous as Clive of India, became the one who consolidated ‘India’ of East India Company. Clive is said to be the maiden governor-general of Bengal Presidency. Being a crooked man, Clive performed his role as an egregious colonialist relentlessly by clandestinely making cahoots with local elites who were ignored by the Nawabs. But who was Robert Clive? Clive was born in 1725 in a village called Shropshire.
As William Dalrymple puts it: Clive was a village thug. He was a ruthless scoundrel later depicted by the company in India as a statesman who played a crucial role in the annexation of Bengal. Famous for an incredible range of violence, Clive was shipped off to India to work in the company. Eventually his talents as a war strategist were realized in a battle with the French in Madras and proved to be the company’s ”milestone” in annexation activities.
By making secret agreements with Jagath Seths, the Marwaris, bankers, merchants and elites of Bengal, Clive became potent enough to fight off Nawab of Bengal unprecedentedly. He defeated the Nawab, captured Bengal and raised the flag of England, claiming Bengal for East India Company. Thus began a new chapter of ruthlessness, depredations and dark days for local population of India. Bengal was a source of finance for the entire Mogul Empire. Being the richest province of Mogul India, rulers of Bengal were the richest people of the world. But now, this source of finance was channelized to the coffers of the East India Company.
Both, Shashi Throor and William Dalrymple extensively bring to the fore the range and intensity of British loot and depredations. This was the time when the company was at the zenith of its annexing, pillaging and expropriating bouts. Thus this was the period when a number of princely states and regions where Mogul sovereignty prevailed were incredibly subjugated and captured to serve the interests of British.
In the same fashion, in 1764, in Battle of Buxer, Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula was defeated culminating in the annexation of his state Awadh. Hence, zenith of East India Company begins in 1756 and culminates in 1857. These hundred years witnessed the violation of human rights, deleterious famines, uptick in throngs of imperialism, mass inculcation of Anglicization, socio-cultural repression and religious disputes. In a nutshell, this period, on the one hand, proved to be the heyday of the company and its shareholders, including the British Crown, however, on the other hand, doomsday for Indian locals as well as, to some extent, elites.
Five major governor-generals were wildly corrupt and depraved. Amongst them, Warren Hastings was impeached, in the parliament of the Great Britain, accused of misconduct and mismanagement in Calcutta. But rest of them were immune and were granted free rein to indulge in whatever they deemed would profiteer and bring more and more wealth to the colossal coffers of the company.
Lord Dalhousie, second last governor general of the company would undoubtedly be named one of the powers that be, responsible for the War of Independence which began in 1857. Below mentioned are a few among a horde who made what later became the British Raj.
1 Robert Clive (1755 – 1760)
2 W. Hastings (1773 – 1785)
3 Lord Cornwallis (1786 -1789)
4 Lord Wellesley (1798 -1805)
5 Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856)
From Clive to Dalhousie, each had their heyday of opulence by plundering, imposing irrational taxes, enacting bizarre acts, denigrating local population and becoming the richest lot in the world.
The resentment of Mogul Indians could be gauged by this remark of a Mogul official named Naran Singh, quoted by historian William Dalrymple, as asking after 1765, ”What honor is left to us? When we have to take orders from a handful of traders who have not yet learned to wash their bottoms.”
India of the Moguls was on a prosperous trajectory when the company jumped on the bandwagon and threw its snare, thus devastating as well as de-industrializing an India much enviable. Before the battle of Plassey, the company was not flagrantly annexing provinces, disregarding Indian culture, and imprisoning kings, it was only after the glorious victory of Robert Clive that the company turned into a black hole engulfing everything near it. Thus, from a factory set up around 1613 upon the request of William Hawkins to Emperor Jahangir for granting permission to do business in India, this nexus of loot, denigration and expropriation snowballed into something which turned history.