Saga of The East India Company: From Trade to Empire

Review of the Book ‘The Anarchy’ by Parmanand Pandey

The history of India during the Mughal and the British Rule had been the history of loot, plunder, rape, rapine, murder, mass killings, brutality and bestiality. It was more horrible during the British rule which, came with East India Company. Millions of people were allowed to die during the Bengal famine because there were no tangible efforts by the Britishers to save the lives of the people dying in droves at every passing minute. The loot and plunder of India can be known from the historical speech of Edmund Burke in the house of commons at the time of impeachment of Warren Hastings, who told that  ‘the Constitution of the Company(East India Company) began in commerce and ended in empire rather as one of its directors admitted, ‘An Empire within an Empire’. He said that the business of the company was ‘more like robbery than trade’. Such was the brutality of the Company officials that the tax collectors used to drag out ‘Bengali virgins naked and exposed them to the public view and scourged.’

 According to Lord Macaulay,’ the ladies in the gallery were unaccustomed to such display of eloquence that they plunged into a state of uncontrollable emotions and handkerchiefs were pulled out; smelling bottles were handed around, hysterical sobs and screams were heard and  Mrs Sheridan was carried out in a fit. In what is considered as one the greatest feats of oratory Burke said that ‘Warren Hastings subverted all laws, rights and liberties of people of India, whose property he had destroyed and whose country he had laid waste.’

It is expected that the loot was mind-boggling. It may not be out of place to mention here that one the very first Indian word to enter in the English language was ‘loot’. The four hundred pages book, ‘The Anarchy” of the historian William Dalrymple provides a vivid description of the pitiable condition of India of nearly two hundred years of British rule in India. It does not mean that native rulers were any good to the people This period saw the most unparalleled barbarities extortion and monopolies in The timidity, pusillanimity and cowardice of highly divided princely states and decaying and effete Mughal rule provided the good ground to the Britishers to rule over India. They adopted the policy of divide and rule and got remarkable success in their goal., There were certainly some sparks of bravery among the native rulers, but they were very negligible. Maratha confederacy and Tipu Sultan put up brave fights, but they proved highly inadequate to meet the ascending British power. It is a known fact that Aurangzeb, who died in 17071707 in Khuldabad in the middle of the Deccan platau., was unloved by his father because of his bigoted Islamic puritanism and intolerance towards others. He imposed notorious Jizya tax on Hindus and executed Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs. He dismissed brave and most ethical ruler Shiva ji as a ‘desert rat’. Shivaji, however, proved to be his nemesis. The biggest calamity was, however, brought on India by Nader Shah of Afshar, who was born in Persian Khorasan. He was the son of a humble shepherd and furrier. He rose to a great height in the Persian Army due to his remarkable military talent. In 1732 he seized the Persian Throne in the Military coup. He invaded the Mughal Delhi to loot and devastate with 80 thousand fighting men. The tyranny and the havoc that was brought upon the people by Nadir Shah is unprecedented and unheard of in the history anywhere in the world. Thus, the arrival of the East India Company in India and ultimately turning into the ruler is a classic example of ‘how the business was exploited by the company officials to rule the country’.

 There are certain facts which can serve as the eye-openers for the posterity. Murshid Quli Khan’s brutality, who was a Hindu convert to Islam, knew no bounds. According to a historian Dalrymple, he was the harshest tax collectors. He set up a capital which was named after him and is known as modern Murshidabad. He would order the zamindars to be stripped necked and doused with the cold waters and beat them with sticks. So much so, that he would make them drink their urine for defaulting in the payment of taxes. The description of the war of Plassey makes one filled with the hatred for the person like Mir Zafar, who later became the metaphor for the treachery. But this also shows the apathy and aloofness of the general public towards the native rulers because of their arrogance and exploitation.

The foundation of the British rule in India was laid by Robert Clive, who started his career as a clerk in the Company but rose to become the Commander of the Army by sheer dint of his alacrity and astuteness. He was able to establish his authority firstly in south India and then expanded it to the north. The British rule was further consolidated in the times of Warren Hastings, Charles Cornwallis and Richard Wellesley. It was Lord Wellesley, who had defeated Tipu Sultan in 1799. Although Tipu Sultan was an efficient and able ruler, he was intolerant towards Hindus. while he used his sword to defend his kingdom of Mysore on the one side but on the other side, he had killed lakhs of Hindus in south western Karnataka and Kerala. He was a megalomaniac There are, of course, some instances when he is said to have donated some money for the restoration of a temple at Srirangapatnam and also for running of the Gaushalas.

The Maratha rulers like Chhatrapati Shivaji had setup the examples of bravery, valour and benevolent rulers who could pounce on the enemies like, but he was very kind-hearted and ethical towards his subjects particularly towards women. Mahadji Scindia was also a remarkably a brave and good ruler but his enmity with Holkar rulers proved to be fatal for the Maratha rulers.

 ‘The Anarchy of ‘William Dalrymple is, without doubt, a gripping and fascinating book, which he has written after exhaustive research. A storyteller, that he is, has beautifully described the foils and foibles of the rulers, their debauchery and hunger for wealth and power. This shows the insensitivity of the rulers towards the public over which they ruled. Their internecine quarrels with other rulers and gross disrespects to the subjects were the main cause of the fall of the native rulers and the rise of the British rule in India. Although the Britishers sucked the wealth of India yet they can also be credited to have brought the semblance of law and order in the country, which absolutely did not exist before they established their rule in India.