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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

History of East India Company that changed destiny of India

I had posted about Welcoming the New Year and the habit of excessive indulgence in welcoming the New year…. The New Year eve reignites something more important ~ an event that occurred 412 years ago ~ that changed the destiny of our Nation – making India a colony, being ruled first by a trading company, then by the British for centuries.  History dates back to 31st December when a company with humble beginnings, that of a group of merchants were granted  monopoly privileges on all trade with the East Indies.

A few years on, the Company's ships first arrived in India, at the port of Surat, in 1608. Sir Thomas Roe reached the court of the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, as the emissary of King James I and gained for the British the right to establish a factory at Surat. Gradually the British eclipsed the Portugese and over the years they saw a massive expansion of their trading operations in India.  Initially, the presence of British was that of a trader, they occupied, waged war on land in eastern and south-eastern India; reaped the reward of successful warfare, which was the exercise of political power, notably over the rich province of Bengal. Decades later, thye could consolidate their conquests acquiring control of more lands and becoming a strong power forcing the rulers of smaller kingdoms  to become subordinate allies.

The East India Company's trade was built on an economy that flourished earlier.  There was good market for cloth, silk, agricultural products, indigo dye or opium, and the services of substantial merchants and rich bankers.  When the mughal kingdoms started disintegrating, those who had gained entry as traders, started directly intervening in to the ruling the States under control.  

Historically, English traders had been engaged in hostilities with their Dutch and Portuguese counterparts in the Indian Ocean. East India Company gained a strategic victory by  gaining a territorial foothold in mainland India, with official sanction of the Crown at the time of Jahangir.  By historical accounts, it was 400 years earlier, in 1612, the visit to the court of Mugal king Jahangir occurred, which changed the course of history of India.  The Company, benefiting from the imperial patronage, soon expanded its commercial trading operations, eclipsing the Portuguese, which had established bases in Goa,Chittagong and Bombay.  The Company created trading posts in Surat, Madras, Bombay and Calcutta and in a couple of decades had created more than 20 factories employing hundreds in India.  In 1657, the charter of 1609 was renewed and the status of the Company was further enhanced by the restoration of monarchy in England.

From a Marine perspective, some of their earlier attempts had been disastrous.  After permission of the Queen, in 1591 3 ships sailed out and one of them for Indian expedition.  In 1596, three more ships sailed east; and allwere lost at sea. On 31 December 1600, the Queen granted a Royal Charter to "George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215Knights, Aldermen, and Burgesses" under the name, Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies. For a period of fifteen years the charter awarded the newly formed company a monopoly on trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan.  Thus the British East India Company came in to being.  Upon stepping down in Indian soil and slowly gaining control over many provinces, the  Company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions.  Battle of Plassey in 1757 gave them more power and only after the Great Indian Rebellion of 1857, the coming into being of  Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown assuming direct control of India in the new British Raj. The Company was later dissolved in 1874 , as  Government of India Act had by then rendered it vestigial, powerless and obsolete.

As a Trading Company, it shaped the taste, thinking and more, creating more trading bases.  It is stated that at one point, the Company had the largest merchant navy in the world and conducted and controlled 50% of world trade.  Recently after 4 centuries of its forming, the Company got relaunched in a new avatar - a luxury goods brand.  At this point time, the wheel has turned full.  

Now it is owned by an Indian, Mumbai-born Sanjiv Mehta, who says he is just a trustee of a brand that he is taking through the next stage of its history. ''The winds are blowing eastwards and I see the East India Company as a brand tomorrow's India can build upon,'' he says.  The new look East India company opened a luxury food shop in Mayfair, London, under the historic name.  From the original Company taking permission of Mughal rulers, Mr Mehta now has been granted permission by the Treasury to use the name and original trademarks of the East India Company.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
31st Dec 2012.


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