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Divided, we fell: What led to British empire’s relentless rise

“Had the population of India not been divided and had it come together, they could have stopped the rise of the East India Company,” said Oliver Everett.

Chandigarh | Published: December 15, 2019 11:05:29 am
William Dalrymple, The Anarchy- The relentless rise of the East India Company and Empire, Mughal Empire, East India Company, indian express news (From left) Oliver Everett, Sir Mark Tully and Walter Reid at the Military Literature Festival in Chandigarh on Saturday. (Express photo: Jaipal Singh)

Written by Chanda Malviya

The East India Company came to India on 26 August, 1608, as a trading company but ultimately became the rulers of India for almost two decades, exploiting both its the population and resources. They left India a backward and poverty-stricken country, with its economy in a shambles and the citizens divided on the basis of religion, class and caste.

This was the sum of a panel discussion on William Dalrymple’s book “The Anarchy- The relentless rise of the East India Company and Empire”. Panelists Oliver Everett, Walter Reid and Sir Mark Tully, elucidated the factors that led to the metamorphosis of a simple trading company into a ruler of an entire nation.

Fall of Mughal Empire

The Mughal Empire started losing its glory after the death of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb whose intolerant policies created a wedge among the population so much so that no emperor could handle such a vast empire. This downfall of the Mughals left the Indian state in anarchy, with no powerful authority to control such a vast area of diverse segments. “After the collapse of the Mughal Empire, a vacuum was created due to the anarchy, the British intervened and ultimately filled this gap and consequently, became the rulers of India,” said Reid, a reputed historian.

India was divided

During the mid-1600s, India was divided into various regional powers, including the Sikhs, Marathas, Rajputs and Afghans. This division gave rise to differences among the rulers of these regions due to their different beliefs and religions. The British followed the policy of divide and rule in India, and eventually, became the sole ruler. “Had the population of India not been divided and had it come together, they could have stopped the rise of the East India Company,” said Oliver Everett.

Also Read | William Dalrymple’s book, The Anarchy, has different cover, title for the UK edition

Economic factors

Walter Reid discussed the economic factors which led to the rise of the British in India. He explained the theory of how the East India Company exploited the Indian industries. “They used their military superiority to exploit the Indian industrialists. The East India Company banned the production of textile and steel, and crushed the native industries,” said Reid.

The company levied heavy taxes on farmers and industrialists and exploited them so much so that they had to take heavy loans to carry on production. Slowly, they fell into debt traps, said Reid, explaining how the sophisticated tax system imposed by the British, and the policy of capitalism fuelled their rise in India.

Military Power

The East India Company had enormous military power. They had skilled and powerful forces that were quite advanced in comparison to military forces of the Indian rulers. The British used their extensive forces to suppress all the rebellions against them and controlled the Indian population with force. “The British army was well financed by the British Government,” said Everett.

In the end, the historians concluded that the company would not have been able to take over India had the Indians been united. Divided into squabbling regional powers, they were an easy prey.

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