Taken from the book- The Anarchy by William Dalrymple

We still talk about the British conquering India, but the phrase disguises a more sinister reality. It was not the British government that began seizing great chunks of India in the mid-eighteenth century, but a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, & managed in India by a violent, utterly ruthless & intermittently mentally unstable corporate predator- Clive. India’s transition to colonialism took place under a for-profit corporation, which existed entirely for the purpose of enriching its investors. It almost certainly remains the supreme act of corporate violence in world history.

Robert Clive 1725-1774

East India company accountant who rose through his remarkable military talents to be Governor of Bengal. Thickset, laconic (using very few words), but fiercely ambitious & unusually forceful, he proved to be violent & ruthless but extremely capable leader of the Company & its military forces in India. He had a street fighter’s eye for sizing up his opponent, a talent for seizing the opportunities presented by happenchance, a willingness to take great risks & a breathtaking aggressive boldness. It was he who established the political & military supremacy of the East India Company in Bengal, Orissa & Bihar & laid the foundations for the British rule of India. He returned to Britain with a personal fortune, then valued at 2,34,000 pound sterling. (Today valued at 262.5 million pounds). He was Europe’s richest self-made man.

The idea of a joint stock company was one of Tudor England’s most brilliant & revolutionary innovations. The EIC received a royal charter: The wording was sufficiently ambiguous to allow future generations of EIC officials use it to claim jurisdiction over all English subjects in Asia, mint money, raise fortifications, make laws, wage war, conduct an independent foreign policy, hold courts, issue punishments, imprison English subjects & make English settlements. A later critic complained that the EIC had been granted monopoly on ‘near two-third parts of the trading World’. And though it took two & a half centuries for the potential to be realised, the wording of the EIC charter left open from the beginning the possibility of it becoming an imperial power, exercising sovereignty & controlling people & territory.

Initially the EIC kept fighting the Dutch for the spices but as it could not compete, decided to focus on less competitive but potentially more promising sectors of the trade of Asia: fine cotton textiles, indigo & chintzes. The source of all three of these luxuries was India.

Sir Thomas Roe, the ambassador sent by James I to the Mughal court, is shown before Emperor Jahangir in 1614- at a time when the Mughal empire was still at its richest & most powerful. Jahangir inherited from his father Akbar one of the two wealthiest organised societies in the world, rivalled only by Ming China. His land stretched through most of India, all of what is now Pakistan & Bangladesh, & most of Afghanistan. He ruled over 5 times the population commanded by the Ottomans-roughly 100 million people-& his subjects produced around a quarter of global manufactures.

The EIC (East India Company) had two targets in its sights: one was the land where its business was conducted; but the other was the country that gave it birth, as its lawyers & lobbyists & MP shareholders slowly & subtly worked to influence & subvert the legislation of Parliament in its favour. Indeed, the EIC probably invented corporate lobbying.

This book is an attempt to answer the question of how a single business operation, based in one London office complex, managed to replace the mighty Mughal Empire as masters of the vast subcontinent between the years 1756 and 1803. It tells the story of how the EIC defeated its principal rivals- the nawabs of Bengal & Avadh, Tipu Sultan’s Mysore Sultanate & the great Maratha confederacy(a league of alliances).

We know that the EIC eventually grew to control almost half the world’s trade & became the most powerful corporation in history, as ‘a state in the guise of a merchant’. But this is not how it looked in 1599.

At that time England was a relatively impoverished largely agricultural country, which had spent almost a century at war with itself over the most divisive subject of the time: religion.

On August 28th 1608, Captain William Hawkins reached Surat in his ship: The Hector. He became the first commander of an EIC vessel to set foot on Indian soil.

India, then had a population of 150 million-about a fifth of the world’s total-and was producing about a quarter of global manufacturing.; indeed, in many ways it was the world’s industrial powerhouse & the world’s leader in manufactured textiles. Not for nothing are so many English words connected with weaving-chintz, calico, shawl, pyjamas, khaki, dungarees, cummerbund, taffetas-of Indian origin.In comparison, England had just 5% of India’s population & was producing just under 3% of the world’s manufactured goods. A good proportion of the profits on this found its way to the Mughal exchequer in Agra, making the Mughal Emperor, with an income of around 100 million pounds (today’s value: 10,000 million pounds), by far the richest monarch in the world.

In the early 17th century, Europeans were used to easy military victories. But as Captain Hawkins soon realised , they could not attempt war with the Great Mughals, not least because the Mughals kept a staggering 4 million men under arms.When in 1632, The Emperor discovered that the Portuguese had been building unauthorised fortifications & ‘dwellings of the utmost splendour & strength’ in Hughli in Bengal, as well as flouting Mughal rules by making forced conversions to Christianity, he attacked & stopped their work & mostly drowned them & there was nothing the Portuguese Viceroy of Goa could do about this.

With this in mind, the company realised that if it were to trade successfully with the Mughals, it would need both partners & permissions, which meant establishing a relationship with the Mughal Emperor himself. Jahangir did not get impressed with Captain Hawkins & threw him out.

Another fleet was sent back at Surat (captained by Sir Henry Middleton).

In 1615, King James sent a ‘royal envoy’ under Sir Thomas Roe. Jahangir showed scant interest in trade & was only keen to know about the life in England. Only after 3 years, did Roe get permission to open an office in Surat. Yet for all his clumsiness, Roe’s mission was the beginning of a Mughal relationship.Over the next 200 years, the EIC would slowly learn to cooperate skilfully within the Mughal system. Its officers learnt Persian, the correct court etiquette, the art of bribing the right officials and, in time, outmanoeuvring all their rivals-Portuguese, Dutch & French-for imperial favour.

On his return to London, Roe made it clear to the directors that force of arms was not an option when dealing with the Mughal Empire.To begin with, the Company took his advice. Early EIC officials prided themselves on negotiating commercial privileges, rather than resorting to attacking strategic ports like the more excitable Portuguese, & it proved to be a strategy that paid handsome dividends.

While Roe was busy charming Jahangir, Captain Hippon opened the textile trade in the coat of Andra Pradesh. This region was controlled by the Sultanate of Golconda. A third factory was opened at Patna to buy saltpetre, the active ingredient in gunpowder.

This trade in jewels, pepper, textiles & saltpetre soon resulted in great returns . In 1626, the EIC founded its first fortified Indian base near Pulicat in TN.

Before long Madras had grown to be the first English colonial town with a population of 40000. By 1670, the town was even minting its own gold coins.

In 1661, The island of Bombay came into the hands of the EIC. This was received as dowry for Charles II who married the royal Catherine of Braganza, Portugal. Bombay was an excellent natural harbour & became the Company’s major naval base in Asia. Within 30 years, Bombay had grown to house a colonial population of 60000 & had eclipsed Madras as a seat of power & trade of the English in the East Indies.

Around 1680, theEnglish sent 19 warships, 200 canons & 600 soldiers to Calcutta to fight the Nawab of Bengal, Shaista Khan but the Mughals defeated them & seized their factories in Highly, Patna, Kasinbazar, Masulipatnam & Vizag. The English had beed expelled from Bengal. The Surat factory was shut & Bombay was blockaded. Much later, after the English apologised the Mughals left the English in peace.

It was in Bengal in 1690 onwards that terrific business in textiles (there were 25000 weavers in Dhaka alone) got the English their maximum profits. The Company existed to make money, & Bengal, they soon realised, was the best place to do it.