In the first part of this East India Company Seires: Noble Motives we examined the origin of these EICs, their motives and the motives of Multi National Corporations (MNCs). In this series we will examine the commodities EICs dealt with and MNCs plan to deal with or are already dealing with. This East India Company’s commodities of trade were praised by both Adam Smith (father of Modern Economics) and Karl Marx (father of Democratic Socialism or Communism) as necessary for civilizing mankind and making it noble.
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Let us study the commodities of EICs first, during the first wave of Civilizing China and India.
Commodities of EICs
Everybody knows EICs bought tea and spices from South East Asia. But what did they sell? Whatever they sold gave them incredible profits and with this they maintained huge private army, traveled thousands of miles to do business and conquering all nations in South East Asia. We know that they sold cotton and clothes to India. However, the other magical commodity which they sold was to Chinese and it was grown in India, after EICs forced poor Indian farmers to abandon all other agricultural production. The name of this commodity, if Indians hear probably they would first laugh and then faint, is the most addictive drug Opium.
Using Jesuit priests, who were in China since the 13th century to accelerate conversions, as their point men between Manchu Rulers of China and the Mogul Empire in India, first Portuguese Jesuit priests and then British and latter Dutch merchants (under Dutch East India Company, a sister concern of British East India company) took over centuries old opium trading routes including cultivation of opium in Portuguese controlled Macao island. Latter Dutch negotiated monopoly over opium production and trade and was granted trading rights in 1659 by the then Indian Mogul Emperor. By 1715 the East India Company started trading posts in Canton region (Hong Kong and vicinity) and started trading in Opium. But the actual beginning of this opium trade came from Portuguese Jesuit mission that was established in 1601 in Peking, which held the key to the Far East trade. In 1740, the Company’s role in India was limited to trade through its centers at Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. By 1815, it had an army of 150,000 men, and governed most of India, either directly or indirectly. The Company utilized the vast superiority of European weapons to take over India in stages, through a series of wars. Its takeover was assisted by the collapse of power of the Indian Mogul Emperors, which left India broken up into sections, controlled by local rulers.
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Bengal was the first major area conquered by the Company. Its army defeated the native ruler in 1757 (Plassey War I), and proclaimed itself the official ruler of Bengal in 1765. It imposed incredibly harsh taxes. The province deteriorated rapidly. In 1770, the failure of monsoon rains, led to a famine in which an estimated one-third of the population of Bengal perished. With the dried lands and dead farmers, the stage was set for the large scale production of opium and Bengal then became the center of the East India Company’s opium monopoly. However, giving the lie to the radical “privatizers,” the ultimate muscle behind the company was the British military, as Lord Palmerston (Prime Minister of Britain 1830-1865) demonstrated by deploying it in the Opium Wars, to back up the British demand for “free trade.”
Using this private army East India Company slowly but steadily started commercially cultivating large-scale production of opium in India, under the then Mogul Empire by the end of 16th century. Under the land tax deals with Mogul Kings, for paying taxes, Dutch and British forced Indian farmers to cultivate opium. Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and up to Varanasi became centers of this opium farming. Opium became number 2 commodity in exports in volume, next to spices. East India Companies were shipping 100 tons of opium per year during that time to Indonesia. The Dutch found in Dutch East Indies (current Indonesia) that “opium was a useful means for breaking the moral resistance of Indonesians who opposed the introduction of semi servile but increasingly profitable rubber plantation system. They deliberately spread the drug habits form ports, where Arab traders used opium, to the countryside.”
In the aftermath of the disastrous Bengal famine, the British Crown took control over the East India Company’s operations, and, under the India Act of William Pitt the Younger, in 1785; the Governor-General of India was made a Crown appointment. A six-member “Board of Control” was established in London to “superintend, direct and control” the Company’s possessions. On the Board were the British Chancellor of the Exchequer (also happened to be Bank of England’s Chairman), and a…
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GreatGameIndia Magazine Oct-Dec 2015 Issue