Related Stories

Tharoor, the company was greatest evil, not the Empire

DECCAN CHRONICLE | R MOHAN
Published Jul 27, 2015, 3:56 pm IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 10:01 am IST
The East India Company was the greatest evil, a marauding corporate raid
Representational Image
 Representational Image

Shashi Tharoor’s criticism of Britain in a debate at Oxford Union last summer is now a YouTube hit on the Internet. It drew appreciation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi too. In establishing in the debate that Britain should pay reparations to India for conquering and subjugating it and ruling over it from 1859 to 1947, Tharoor did a brilliant job. But, did he miss a major point?  He mentioned a predator at the very beginning of his speech, but he may not have stressed the fact that the early coloniser was the worst specimen and responsible for the history of colonialism built up in this part of the world. It was the East India Company more than the crown that destroyed and pillaged India.

History records that the East India Company was the biggest looter of India after the Persian adventurer, Nadir Shah’s raiders numbering 1.5 lakhs overran the Mughals’ 1.5 million army and then carried away a caravan of riches, which according to William Darlymple’s brilliant account “included Shah Jahan’s magnificent peacock throne, the Koh-i-Noor, the largest diamond in the world, as well as its “sister”, the Darya Nur, and “700 elephants, 4,000 camels and 12,000 horses carrying wagons all laden with gold, silver and precious stones”, worth an estimated £87.5m in the currency of the time. This haul was many times more valuable than that later extracted by Clive from the peripheral province of Bengal.”

 

The East India Company was the greatest evil, a marauding corporate raider, which raised an army far bigger than that of Britain and subjugated, plundered and systematically looted India like none other, under an official, imperial imprimatur to boot. But how does all this figure in Namma Chennai Diary? Well, considering one of the company’s worst predators, Lord Clive of the Carnatic, married Margaret Maskelyne, in St Mary’s church inside Fort St. George. We read of him in awe as the history books of those times were written with the gold tinted glasses of the Indian Empire.

 

There might have been karmic justice in the chief looter of Calcutta, Lord Clive of India, who was once considered the richest self-made man in Europe, should, when widely reviled for corruption, committing suicide in 1774 by slitting his own throat with a paperknife, according to one account in history. Having usurped much of Bengal’s wealth for the company, Clive lined his own pockets with £234,000 when he returned to Britain in 1760.

There might have been karmic justice in the chief looter of Calcutta, Lord Clive of India, who was once considered the richest self-made man in Europe, should, when widely reviled for corruption, committing suicide in 1774 by slitting his own throat with a paperknife, according to one account in history. Having usurped much of Bengal’s wealth for the company, Clive lined his own pockets with £234,000 when he returned to Britain in 1760.

 

Dalrymple goes on to record in his new book to be released next year - The Anarchy: How a Corporation Replaced the Mughal Empire, 1756-1803, by Bloomsbury & Knopf - that “Clive was buried in secret, on a frosty November night, in an unmarked vault in the Shropshire village of Morton Say. Many years ago, workmen digging up the parquet floor came across Clive’s bones, and after some discussion it was decided to quietly put them to rest again where they lay. Here they remain, marked today by a small, discreet wall plaque inscribed: “Primus in Indis.”

 

The company, which was actually a “state within a state” most insidiously cornered all the trade of India while enslaving the great weavers and artisans and flooding the country with British goods. 

As Tharoor pointed out in Oxford, India’s share of world trade was 23% when the British arrived and by the time it left that trade had shrunk to less than 4% because” India had been governed for the benefit of Britain.”

The brilliant orator Edmund Burke, was one to criticise the company openly in his report to Parliament. He foresaw its financial problems, saying, “like a mill-stone, drag [the government] down into an unfathomable abyss This cursed Company would, at last, like a viper, be the destruction of the country which fostered it at its bosom.” On the brink of financial collapse, it would have become an early day Greece if not for the Bank of England rescuing it in 1773 even as several banks in Britain and Europe collapsed thanks to the company’s problems as it had dried out India.

 

By the time Britain tamed the dangers posed by the corporate greed of the company, enough damage had been done to India. Two years after the Great Indian Mutiny, the possessions of the company were nationalised and Queen Victoria become the Empress of India. The corporation, just a joint stock company, sowed the seeds of European colonialism and changed the history of the world. We should hold the company in the greatest contempt.

...




ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
-->