Skip to main content

Business interests? Hindu bankers 'helped' Company Raj to flourish, colonize India

By Rajiv Shah
A new book, ‘The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company’, authored by well-known Scott historian William Dalrymple, has said that a major reason for the success of the East India Company (EIC), which “colonized” the country between 1600 and 1857, was the support it got from Indian financiers or moneylenders, including Jagat Seth of Calcutta, Gokul Das of Benaras and other “Hindu bankers” of Patna and Allahabad.
Insisting that textbooks wrongly attribute that the British ruled India between 1600 and 1857, Dalrymple, in an interview with South Asia Times (SAT) editor Neeraj Nanda in Melbourne on the book ahead of its launch, said what is little understood is the “the corporate nature of that period of Indian history”, which turned into a “role model and” a “new factor” in world history. The British rule, according to the historian, lasted for just 90 years, between 1858 and 1974.
Already making waves, “The Anarchy” tells the story of EIC, tracing its history, how it replaced the decaying Mughal Empire up to India’s First War of Independence in 1857, after which the British Crown took control, and how EIC became the world’s first global corporate power. While EIC did receive support from the British rulers, Dalrymple suggested, back home, its success should be attributed to the finance it received from Indian trading communities.
Pointing out how it all began with EIC, Dalrymple told Nanda, “In their very first charter in 1599, they got the right to wage war. By 1718 they were growing opium in Bengal, selling it illegally in China, buying Chinese tea and selling it in India and Europe. The tea in the Boston Tea Party was exported by EIC.”
Dalrymple added, between 1740 and 1800, EIC had a “rivalry” in France. However, it succeeded in training 200,000 Indians, and for this it borrowed “money from Indian moneylenders.” It conquered “the whole Mogul empire” by adopting the double-edged tactic which – corporate violence and corporate lobbying, even as using corruption. In Britain, in 1687 EIC gave “British Parliamentarians share options.”
Talking about EIC’s “corporate violence”, Dalrymple said, there is “nothing unique about that”, insisting, it’s “very much the norm” even today, though in a more subtle way. Dalrymple explained, “It was a new business model. It was not the first corporation, probably the fourth.”
Dalrymple said, no doubt, “today, the biggest corporations, the Exxon or Walmart or Google or Facebook” do not adopt such ways, and “there is no such example now of a company holding sovereign territory as its right.” Exxon and Shell, for instance, “have small private armies… now they hold private guards only.”
Dalrymple with Nanda
However, today, things are “more subtle”. Now, “actually they do not need to do that (violence). Corporations now are extremely powerful and do data harvesting. They reproduce and can target the recording of this interview and send advertising to it… All these are variants of the same drive. Corporations, just as humans, have the DNA to eat, reproduce and survive. They have the thrust towards maximum profits they compulsively get away with.”
According to Dalrymple, “The book tells us how that happened, how on earth a company (EIC) that did not have more than 2,000 men on its rolls and its London head office never more than 35 people got away using Indian bankers to loan money to it to train other Indians to fight as mercenaries and to build up an army of 200,000. And they were able to fight the large Indian armies of the Marathas, Tipu Sultan, and the Mughals.”
Suggesting that what happened may be “uncomfortable for both nations”, Dalrymple said, “The British are quite vocal in talking about bringing civilization, democracy, and the railways. In fact, the company did nothing. What they built were very few public buildings, communications, hospitals or universities. In fact, you have two very different periods.”
Thus, during the EIC, or the Company Raj period, it was “extracting” business through shipping and trading company, turning itself into a “colonial occupier”, even as taxing Indians who invested in silks, kalamkari, cotton, etc. for trading. Calling it a “collaborative” period, Dalrymple said, the money was “being borrowed from financiers”, including the Jagat Seth of Calcutta and Gokul Das of Benaras.
Further, Dalrymple said, one-third of the company employees were “married to Indian women producing Anglo-Indians.” In sharp contrast, he said, the British Raj proper was “not collaborative but imperialist”. During the latter period, what you had were “whites-only clubs, cantonments and the civil lines”, making “the British and the Indians completely apart.” It is during this period that India got “universities, schools and the railways”, said Dalrymple, adding, “I can’t say which is worse or better.”
The company issued bonds and asked Indian financiers to invest in them with a guaranteed return.  There was no safer investment than this
According to him, “The company was of a different religion, language and colour, so Jagat Seth and EIC merged as they knew the interest rates, share prices, fluctuations of the world economy, the world they both swam in.” He added, “The Hindu bankers of Patna, Banaras, and Allahabad, in the century that followed, made the decision to cut back with the Marathas and Mughals and go with EIC to keep their capital safe. That’s a business decision they made.”
Said Dalrymple, “We can criticize this decision from our perspective, but they did it as a business decision, according to the times they were operating in. Just like companies do it today to prefer one party over the other.”
This, he said, helped the company to become “resurgent and confident” by 1780. Acting “very cleverly”, EIC broke up the big Mughal ‘jagirs’, the Indian financiers bought them over, and these were made to become a part of the company. This helped the company to project itself as a “lesser evil compared to the Marathas and the Moguls.” Opined Dalrymple, “We can judge them (the financiers) today as traitors but they thought their capital etc. was safer with the company.”
Dalrymple explained, “At that time India had two important financers – Indian bankers and the company itself. The EIC issued company bonds and asked the Indian financers to invest in them with a guaranteed return. So, there was no safer investment … than the EIC bonds” The company raised money from Bengali investors, and used it to “buy arms to extend its power.”
Answering a question from Nanda that “Hindu nationalists believe the British did well by removing the Mughals”, Dalrymple said, Jagat Seth would surely agree with that, as “Jagat Seth used the company to remove the Mughals.”
But, he insisted, “It’s different from the modern Hindu nationalists. Many Bengalis also have the same opinion despite the company plundering and looting.” The level of collaboration for this is forgotten even in Britain, where they have taken a “romanticized view of our colonial encounter with India.” In India, conversely, what has been forgotten is the level of collaboration.”

Comments

Jabir Husain said…
Similarly, in Gujarat, old banker of Lalbhai group, originally, Marwari Jain's also financed Mughals and several Muslim rulers, prior to British Raj, quote unquote!
Uma said…
Greed--does not allow room for loyalty or religion.
a2car said…
This book is based on a fundamentally wrong premise: that the British supplanted the Mughals in India. The reality of history is that the British supplanted the Marathas as the pre-eminent power in India. The Maratha Empire replaced the Mughal Empire.

TRENDING

August 22 to be observed as Apostasy Day: International coalition of ex-Muslim groups

By Our Representative
In a unique move, an international coalition of ex-Muslim organisations has decided to observe August 22, 2020 as the Apostasy Day. To be observed for “the abandonment or renunciation of religion”, the coalition, calling upon people to join the call, said, the decision to observe the Apostasy Day has been taken because of apostasy is “punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, UAE, and Yemen.”

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

RSS' 25,000 Shishu Mandirs 'follow' factory school model of Christian missionaries

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
The executive committee of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) recently decided to drop the KISS University in Odisha as the co-host of the World Anthropology Congress-2023. The decision is driven by the argument that KISS University is a factory school.

India must recognise: 4,085 km Himalayan borders are with Tibet, not China

By Tenzin Tsundue, Sandeep Pandey*
There has as been a cancerous wound around India’s Himalayan neck ever since India's humiliating defeat during the Chinese invasion of India in 1962. The recent Galwan Valley massacre has only added salt to the wound. It has come to this because, when China invaded the neighbouring country Tibet in 1950, India was in high romance with the newly-established communist regime under Mao Zedong after a bloody revolution.

Time to give Covid burial, not suspend, World Bank's 'flawed' Doing Business ranking

By Maju Varghese*
On August 27, the World Bank came out with a statement suspending the Doing Business Report. The statement said that a number of irregularities have been reported regarding changes to the data in the Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 reports, published in October 2017 and 2019. The changes in the data were inconsistent with the Doing Business methodology.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur*
Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Delhi riots: Cops summoning, grilling, intimidating young to give 'false' evidence

Counterview Desk
More than 440 concerned citizens have supported the statement issued by well-known bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander ‘We will not be silenced’ which said that the communal riots in Delhi in February 2020 have not been caused by any conspiracy, as alleged by the Delhi Police, but by “hate speech and provocative statements made by a number of political leaders of the ruling party.”

WHO chief ignores India, cites Pak as one of 7 top examples in fight against Covid-19

By Our Representative
In a move that would cause consternation in India’s top policy makers in the Modi government, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, has singled out Pakistan among seven countries that have set “examples” in investing in a healthier and safer future in order to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tata Mundra: NGOs worry as US court rules World Bank can't be sued for 'damages'

By Kate Fried, Mir Jalal*
On August 24 evening, a federal court ruled that the World Bank Group cannot be sued for any damage caused by its lending, despite last year’s Supreme Court ruling in the same case that these institutions can be sued for their “commercial activity” in the United States.