New Delhi: Marwari capital based in Bengal in the 18th Century was crucial behind the rise of the East India Company and its subsequent dominion over all of Mughal India, author William Dalrymple argued in a talk in New Delhi. Speaking during a book tour to promote his new book ‘The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise Of The East India Company’, Dalrymple spoke about the ruthless manner with which the East India Company expanded its hold over the subcontinent.
“This comes as a surprise to most Indians, but Marwari businessmen and their capital aided the East India Company,” Dalrymple said, arguing that they found common cause with the English not just against Sirajuddaulah, the last Nawab of Bengal who the English defeated in 1757, but also against the Mughals.
He added, “They (the Company and Marwari businessmen) came from different lands and spoke different languages but they both understood the common language of accounts and profit.” He pointed out how Marwari businessmen from Bengal offered to pay the Company if they toppled Sirajuddaulah. “They (Marwaris) knew that their capital would be safe with the Company,” he said.
But more importantly, Dalrymple outlined, that they foresaw that the old Indian elite was crumbling and simply picked the winning side. With the Mughal Empire in splinters, the rise of the Company seemed inevitable. “It would be like voting for the Congress,” the author joked, “you know they're not going to win.”
“It was ridiculous for 2,000 white traders to raise an army of 2,00,000 (2 lakh) Indian troops by 1799. The Company’s army had just 2% white officers.”
When the East India Company was founded back in 1599, Britain’s share of the global economy was 1.6% while Mughal India stood at 37.5%. “India, under the Mughals, overtook China as the world’s chief industrial producer,” he said, adding that the East India Company’s eventual takeover of India was the “greatest corporate coup in history”.
Dalrymple also pointed out the crude indifference of the Company during the Great Bengal Famine of 1770. “A million Bengalis die (during the famine), corpses are stacking up in Calcutta, the dead are floating in the Ganges and the Company does not even set up a single soup kitchen. Not only that, they maintained revenue rates. A fifth of Bengal died but they managed to get the full revenue out of the region.” While researching his book, however, he was surprised to find that there was resistance to the Company’s actions back in England in the newspapers.
In his book, he also draws character sketches of some of the most infamous figures from the company’s history, including the brutal Robert Clive. “He broke all the rules, attacked at night, attacked when it was foggy or when there was a thunderstorm. Robert Clive was a very good villain. In contrast was Warren Hastings, who actually claimed he lived his life by the Bhagwat Gita was quite taken by Bengali culture.”