How The British East India Company Plundered India: Exploring Its Timing, Strategy, And Impact
The Anarchy: The East India Company is an account of how a single corporation was able to take over an empire in just 47 years.
Beginning as a joint-stock company, the British East India Company quickly rose to power and became the de facto ruler of an entire subcontinent.
It did so through shrewd timing advantages and financial backing from European and Indian financiers, with military support from the British Crown.
In its pursuit of making investors wealthy, the East India Company plundered centuries of stored wealth in the Indian subcontinent in a matter of decades; causing widespread famine, chaos and cultural devastation.
The effects were felt long after the fall of their reign, to which the subcontinent never fully recovered.
If you want to learn how one small company came to dominate 200 million people, then these are the sections for you – where you’ll discover exactly how this remarkable feat was achieved in such a short period of time.
The East India Company’s Disastrous Colonization Of India And The Rise Of European Militarism
The East India Company started out as a joint-stock company in 1599, which allowed groups of investors to pool their resources and maximize profits.
Spurred by participation in the lucrative Caribbean trade, Queen Elizabeth I gave them a royal charter, granting the Corporation monopoly power over trading in the East Indian subcontinent.
In 1608, English traders first stepped onto Indian soil with the mission to establish trade with the Mughal empire, then the dominant political power on the subcontinent for almost a hundred years.
With their stunning display of wealth and sophistication, these men would later give rise to the modern word “mogul”.
Things went well at first: increased trade meant more European interest in investing into it; settlements grew larger as many artisans and merchants moved to its cities for what seemed like stable business opportunities; and even when Mughal emperor Aurangzeb died without an heir in 1707, creating confusion at their court between rivals vying for power, things still remained balanced enough.
Little did they know that their stability was about to be violently shaken up – with English military tactics superior to anything held by Mughals previously seen during battles held at Aydar river against French sepoys’ forces – thus somewhat preparing India to be transformed into what would eventually become one of the world’s most exploited colonies by any eighteenth century European power: The East India Company dominion had grown so much it was no longer just a trading concern but rather a militarized entity bent on exploiting all of India’s resources.
Robert Clive And The East India Company Capture Bengal Through Cunning And Ruthlessness
As the Mughal empire crumbled, several factions angled to gain power in India.
Most notably, the British East India Company was quickly becoming a political and economic superpower, with Robert Clive at its helm.
They sought to expand their presence in India and seize Bengal province as their own.
Meanwhile, Siraj ud-Daula had become the new Nawab of Bengal characterized for his sadistic behavior, megalomania, and general disrespect for his generals and financiers.
Shah Alam, heir to the Mughal throne but exiled from Delhi by a coup attempt, seemed like a noble contrast as he worked to restore power in taxation provinces throughout India and gained an array of popular followers all along the way.
However, neither leader noticed that Clive was already prepping his forces to snatch up Bengal by making unauthorized repairs to Calcutta fort.
In due time, Clive would gain control of most of eastern India through violence and guile.
Robert Clive Leads Coup That Ushers In A New Era Of Unbridled Corporate Looting In India
For the first time in history, a corporation acquired political power thanks to Robert Clive’s victory at the Battle of Plassey.
Clive had just arrived with three regiments when he declared war on Indian prince Siraj and his massive army of 70,000 soldiers.
Clive accepted bribes from the financiers Jagat Seths, who wanted to remove Siraj, an ally of the French.
At the Battle of Plassey, a sudden monsoon changed the course of the conflict and Siraj was killed at age 25.
With their superior artillery, Clive’s forces were able to overwhelm and defeat Siraj’s Mughal forces.
This resulted in a surrender that went along with all of the Company’s demands – including a normalization of trade, massive spoils and new privileges right such as landholding rights and minting currency.
Clive not only made himself one of Europe’s richest men but also enabled a corporation to acquire political power for the first time ever.
This opened up an era in India defined by rapacious looting and asset-stripping by the company.
The Growing Discord Between The Company And The Nawabs Of Bengal Resulted In Clashes That Threatened Indian Governance
After the Battle of Plassey, Robert Clive and his Company officers wreaked havoc on the countryside.
These agents of plunder had no qualms about exploiting the local population, looting and pillaging as they went.
The Company seized property and extorted taxes at will, with impunity from any repercussions.
This was how it achieved its staggering fortune – estimated to be greater than anything Europe had seen since Hernán Cortés looted the Aztecs in America.
All this took place under the regime of a puppet Nawab – Mir Jafar – who was clueless to the unlimited power of what he was dealing with.
Letters sent by Clive referred to him as an “old fool”, and back in Bengal, he escalated chaos instead of reigning it in due to his lack of understanding and education.
In response to all this injustice, Warren Hastings emerged as a hero when he tried to protect peace in Bengal by vindicating Mir Jafar’s rights.
Eventually, Mir Qasim took over as Nawab instead but found himself at odds with the Company simply because he wanted a more level playing field between its agents and local traders.
After receiving no support from them, he abolished all taxes and customs duties and tried seizing their property only for them to once again ravage through Bengal without consequence.
The Deaths Of Artistic Traditions In India: The British Empire’S Ruthless Exploitation For Profit
At the Battle of Buxar in 1764, the British East India Company faced off against three different Indian powers from the Mughal Empire – the nawab of Avadh, Shuja ud-Daula; Shah Alam II; and Mir Jafar’s son-in-law, Mir Qasim.
It was a bloody battle and resulted in a resounding defeat for the forces gathered by Mir Qasim, leaving Mir Qasim to flee, never to be heard from again.
It was a major turning point as it set in motion a series of events leading up to the strategic takeover of all below northern India by the East India Company.
The victory enabled them to gain control of vast resources, even though they were only supposed to be trading on behalf of their government back in London.
Taking advantage of rulings made to restore Shah Alam II’s power and promises made by Robert Clive in the “rules of Mahomed,” the EIC got full control over financial assets including Bengal Province.
The consequences were devastating for many who could not afford “market rate” wages when they had offered so much prior independence.
Centuries-old traditions died and poverty rates skyrocketed leading up to another 200 years under British rule.
The Bengal Famine Reveals The British Company’s Flawed Policies And Ignites A Power Struggle That Triggers War With Its Indian Enemies
When the English East India Company arrived in India, it had its eyes set firmly on economic opportunity.
But it soon found itself distracted by the economic turmoil of 1772 and internal executive infighting – a power struggle that had paralyzed the Company’s governance in Bengal.
This lack of focus made them unprepared for their worst military challenge in decades.
Their enemies – the powerful Marathas, with their brilliant general Nana Phadnavis, and the Mysore Sultans, who were trained by French colonizers and outfitted with state-of-the-art weapons – seized this opportunity to wage war against them.
The Triple Alliance of Maratha, Mysore and France delivered a devastating blow at Pollilur that would have spelled disaster for the Company if not for Warren Hastings’s brave efforts to engineer an improbable comeback over a series of months through strategic military action coupled with diplomacy.
This eventually led to the Treaty of Salbai in 1782 which kept the peace between Company forces and Indian alliance for years to come.
The Tragic End Of The Mughal Empire: How A Broken And Blind Shah Alam Lost His Throne To A Ruthless Usurper
Shah Alam was determined to reclaim his rightful place on India’s Peacock Throne in Delhi – and he was willing to go to any lengths to make it happen.
He formed a pact with the Marathas and raised an army of 16,000 men.
They escorted him safely back to Delhi, where he reclaimed the throne that was rightfully his.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Not content with simply being restored as the King of Delhi, Shah Alam decided to use General Najaf Khan and the spoils of war to try and recapture his ancestral tribute lands, not yet aware that this could spell disaster for him down the line.
Eventually, due to mismanagement of funds by key court members as well as unwise decisions by Shah Alam himself, he became totally reliant on the Marathas for funds.
This eventually led to his downfall when Ghulam Qadir – who was adopted as a son by Shah Alam under less than ideal circumstances – carried out brutal retribution against him in 1788 and left him blind broken and without hope.
His desperate attempts at reconnecting with his past had ultimately resulted in tragedy.
The British Conquest Of India: Cornwallis, Tipu Sultan, And The Alliance Of Indian Financiers
When General Cornwallis arrived to the booming town of Calcutta, with a population of 400,000 in 1786, the Company was in need of support after facing uncertainty.
In order to re-establish their power, they set out to ensure India remained under British control by implementing legislation designed to prevent people with mixed European and Indian ancestry from holding office and owning land.
This ensured the rise of pro-British Hindu service gentry, as well as wealthy families of financiers who extended unlimited lines of credit in order to solidify their rule.
These new allies not only provided financial support but also helped consolidate the bureaucracy by cutting through red tape and giving more authority and responsibility to Company officers than ever before.
This allowed them to defeat any remaining Indian resistance and fight Tipu Sultan’s armies when he challenged them in 1791 during the Third Anglo-Mysore War.
It took personal intervention from Cornwallis alongside Maratha reinforcements for the British to defeat him and take half of his territory with ease.
The consolidation of finances and bureaucracy was thus instrumental in allowing Britain remain powerful in India against all odds.
How A Blind, Penniless Mughal Emperor Played The Long Game To Keep India Out Of French Hands
In order for the British East India Company to finally secure the full support of Mughal emperor Shah Alam, it had to first overcome the formidable challenge posed by the Marathas and their French allies.
For many years prior, these two forces held Delhi – along with their nominal leader Shah Alam – hostage from Company dominion.
In an attempt to take control of the situation, Wellesley sought out one of the three teenage princes at the head of a Maratha militia to sign an alliance binding his followers to the British.
Despite this effort however, it still wasn’t enough as ultimately all three princes managed to join forces against them.
This culminated in a pivotal battle at Assaye in 1803 which saw Wellesley lead his 155,000 strong army against that led by all three Maratha princes and their French backers.
In the end, despite presenting a stronger challenge than at Waterloo itself, it was Wellesley’s army who triumphed.
Finally weakened and bankrupted after decades of civil war exhausted tax resources, depleted numbers led Shah Alam towards making an overture towards Allesley and choosing him as an ally over the French instead.
In 1803 this resulted in decisive victory at Battle of Delhi resulting in another 144 years of British rule for India before independence.
The Public Backlash Against The East India Company Led To Its Dissolution
Phillip Francis had a long-held grudge against Warren Hastings, former governor of the British East India Company.
For years, he lobbied Parliament for Hastings’ impeachment.
In 1788, this led to Hastings’ trial for accusations of extortion, cruelty and abuse of power – what many referred to as the “rape of India.”
Although the trial spectators – including the Queen – were convinced of his guilt, in reality it was a systematic smear campaign by Philip Francis that had gotten Warren Hastings into trouble.
After 7 grueling years, Hastings was acquitted and all charges were dropped; however, his health never fully recovered from the trial.
The trial uncovered how deeply entrenched corruption had become in the dealings of the Company – an oversight that had allowed them to asset-strip India and impoveish its population.
In 1813, after realizing their mistake in placing such faith on a corporate board based on another continent – Britain abolished the Company’s monopoly in India trade and opened it up to other merchants and corporations.
The final straw came in 1857 when their private army massacred thousands of suspected rebels along the Ganges River.
This lead to Parliament dismantling their private army and navy in 1858; transferring all territories held under them to Queen Victoria’s rule instead – passing away the Company’s charter altogether by 1874.
The Anarchy, by William Dalrymple, is a groundbreaking work that sheds light on the turbulent period of history which saw the East India Company rise to power over India.
Through military innovation, financial support from both foreign and local sources, as well as privileged access to Parliament, the EIC were able to extend their holdings and grow their domain.
However, these efforts often came at the expense of poverty, death, and destruction within India.
The book provides an important insight into a troubled past and serves as a cautionary tale for those who may wish to repeat it.
In conclusion, The Anarchy offers readers an essential summary of this era in Indian history.