Recounting a horrific story of corporate violence
It took Dalrymple six years to complete his new book ‘The Anarchy’, which not only recounts the most horrific story of corporate violence, but also gives a chilling augury of our future
Historian and award-winning author William Dalrymple is all set to release his most ambitious and remarkable history book to date, 'The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of The East India Company'. It is believed that this book carries the weight of his entire body of work, a lifetime of research and nights spent reading on days gone by.
It took the Scottish writer six years to complete the magnum opus, which not only recounts the most horrific story of corporate violence, but also gives a chilling augury of our future. The most discerning of readers will sense the hints as they read between the lines.
Dalrymple, a recipient of Wolfson Prize for History, Britain's most prestigious prize for non-fiction, gave a peak into the corporate origins of British Empire. "I'm tempted to say that 'The Anarchy' took only six years; the truth is it has taken a lifetime. It is everything I've read, everything I know and everything that a reader ought to know about this extraordinary company that somehow seized an entire subcontinent.
This book looks at the sweeping story of the onset of colonialism across the entire region over 200 years. It takes a concentrated look at the years between 1599 to 1803; two hundred years of a Machiavellian-style offensive, aided and enabled by Indian sepoys and paid for very largely by loans given by Indian bankers. The East India Company had a Royal Charter to "wage war" and use violence to secure its trade. But it was only in 1757, with the Battle of Plassey, that the company moved from being a trading organisation to a nascent colonial power, something that accelerated in 1765 after the Battle of Buxar.
It can be said that it was one of the first Corporations in the world, because the Joint Stock Company was a crucial and ground-breaking Tudor invention. It soon became what we would refer to today as a "multinational company," shipping Indian opium to China and Chinese tea to the Americas: it was East India Company tea that was dumped in Boston Harbour, triggering the American War of Independence.
In the Middle Ages, people were accustomed to family businesses like the Medicis in Italy or merchants who formed guilds, pooled their resources and traded with a joint capital. But what the East India Company did was introduce the concept of large scale corporations. It pooled in the finances of people who had little say in the executive workings of the company, but just invested what they could in shares. In this way, through a joint stock, the directors were able to raise vast sums in capital.
The East India Company was the fifth such corporation, and the Dutch weren't far behind; with huge investments from everywhere, they slowly became a vast economic power. So when we talk about the company, we are not referring to a dead history or an outdated concept. What it is, is in fact history continuing; it represents the beginning of the modern world as we know it.
If we look around, there are these conglomerates and commercial giants who not only lobby to influence governments and policies, but also influence the general populace thereby wielding an enormous power and that's exactly what the East India Company did. It wasn't the British government that conquered India, it was a corporation based in one office building, just five windows wide. The story has been muddied by Victorian and Indian nationalists, but if you look at it anew, it is a simple story of corporate violence.
The history of the company is not a simple story of conquest; it contains a dark secret that people prefer to overlook. There's no way a bunch of foreign merchants with no military might, could take over India. It was a collaboration. The degree to which it was facilitated by the Indian financial class, especially the Marwari bankers of Calcutta and Benares is what enabled it to take over. These communities of traders and bankers helped the Mughal dynasty, when it was on its last legs, by organising the finances of its governors. They used the hundi system to facilitate the movement of money and revenue. It was their money that later financed the conquest of British India, through the loans they granted to the East India Company.
The Anarchy narrates not only the story of the plunder of India by the British, but also that of the funding that facilitated it. It recounts the story of Indian merchants and bankers, who realised that the Company understood the relevance and importance of contracts and the repayments of loans with interest, and therefore deliberately and calculatedly backed it against the Marathas. The sad truth is that in the end the bankers of India backed a corporate entity, the Company, over their own co-religionists.
This of course, continues to be story today, when conglomerates try to dictate policy, influence government and enable one party to win elections."
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