The praise showered by Salman Rushdie(That rarity, a scholar of history who can really write) seems well placed going by the simple and lucidly attractive style of writing. The introduction sets the pace when it is told that the Company , though thought mostly as a 'Mission Civilisartice': a benign national transfer of knowledge, railways and arts of civilisation from West to East, was actually authorised by its founding charter to 'wage war'. It indeed captured a Portuguese vessel on its maiden voyage in 1602(Pg xxiv). It goes on to narrate the story of one of the wealthiest polities of the world looted by a company. It is the story of a mighty Mughal empire being replaced by a company.
Just finished reading the latest offering from the master storyteller William Dalrymple, "The Anarchy". It narrates the events that allowed the East India company to overthrow the declining Mughal empire in India and become the masters themselves. You will meet many interesting characters in this book including Siraj-ud-Daula, Robert Clive, Shah Alam, Mir Qasim, Tipu Sultan, Warren Hastings, Corwallis and many more. But most importantly it tells us in great details how could a small group of merchants from a far away land capture the richest and most powerful empire in the world of that era.
From what I understood the reasons were too 1) Our rulers were all megalomaniac and myopic with no one capable of looking beyond their ego and uniting with others for the greater good 2) The continuous financial support by the indian business class to the East India Company in their endeavors to overthrow existing rulers. So Jagat Seth helped Clive overthrow Siraj and Gopaldas helped Welseley against Tipu. Why? For all that mattered to these individuals was greater financial returns, even if that meant accepting a foreign invasion! 300 years later what has really changed? Are our leaders truly United even on issues of National importance? Are our business class morale enough to not sell the country for a greater return on investment? Sorry for the long post but, I do hope friends that you read this most important book 😊
This book is the authentic documented story of the beginning and expansions of Corporate imperialism in India . The saddest part of modern Indian history is written in such a manner that you will not stop going through it until it is finished. History flows like water in the writings of Dalrymple. You read it , reread it more. For me this book a winner on every aspect. Four hundred and twenty years of Sufferings definitely needed a place in history and this book ruthlessly exposes.
The Anarchy is a popular history book on the East Indian Company(EIC) in 18th Century India. Dalrymple regale us the rise of the EIC from a Tudor privateering operation full of ex-Caribbean privates to an imperial power. Considering that the British were pretty late to the spice trade in India compared to the Portuguese, Dutch, and the French, their raise as an imperial power is extraordinary.
Rise of of the first Multinational Corporation:
East Indian Company(EIC) basically invented corporate lobbying, insider training and first corporate bail out, and all the other things we loathe about modern corporation. EIC developed a symbiotic relationship with the British Parliamentarians. Company men like Clive used the looted money from India to buy both MPs and parliamentary seats. The Parliament backed the Company with state power because many MPs were shareholders of EIC and any action against the company will affect their personal wealth.
Silk, Spices and Sepoy:
Thanks to the dwindling military and financial power of the Mughals, a huge military labor market sprang up all across India. Dalrymple describes this as one of the most thriving free markets of fighting men anywhere in the world- all up for sale to the highest bidder. Warfare become a business enterprise and substantial section of peasants spent part of their time year as mercenaries. EIC were better off financially and were able to pay the sepoys the promised wage on time than many local rulers. EIC were using as much as 80% Indian sepoyts in many of their battles.
The British very really lucky:
Although popular theories propose that the success of the EIC can be attributed to the fragmenting to Mughal India into tiny competing states; the military tech of the Europeans and innovation of banking, taxing and administration of the Anglo-saxons, one of the recurring themes that I found is how lucky in the may of the battles. Yes, the above theories are probably true and East India Company troop were more disciplined than their Indian rivals; but its incredible how consistently lucky the British were.
Break the Rules:
Warfare in India were actually done in gentlemanly manner. The Mughals. Marathas and other local rulers pursued negotiation, bribery and paying tribute. In case of actual conquest, there are rules by which they abide by. The Company men, especially Robert Clive, who committed suicide at the age of 49(Hope someone soon writes a biography on this truly appalling character), constantly breaking the rules like attacking at night and attacking at thunderstorm etc.
Why we need to learn to negotiate?
Mughals were completely clueless about who corporation functions or how unsavory Clive operates as an Profiteer. Ghulam Hussain Khan says a sale of jackass would have taken up more time than the time taken for the Treaty of Allahbad. Post Treaty of Allahabad, EIC used Indian tax revenue to purchase textiles and spies. Even at the time of famines EIC enforces tax collection to maintain their revenue and growing military expenditure. At the height of the famine, English merchants engaged in grain hoarding, profiteering and speculation.
North vs South India?
Even after Battle of Plassey, Cavalry was the dominant form of warfare in northern India and continued to fight each other despite the growing domination of the British. However the south was every quick to copy and learn the military innovations of the Europeans. Haider Ali had a modern infantry and his troops were more innovative and tactically ahead of EIC. They mastered the art of firing rockets long before the English. Nana Phadnavus, ‘the Maratha Machiavelli’, after the Treaty of Wadgaon, proposed a Triple Alliance between the Marathas, Haider and the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Indian Bankers love the Company:
The rise of EIC as an imperial power would not be possible with out the Indian bankers. The Indian financiers saw greater advantage in keeping the Company in power than they did supporting their own. By 1803, Indian bankers were competing with one another to back the company’s army.
In the end its the Company’s ability to mobilize money have them the edge over the Marathas and Tipu Sultan. It was no longer the superior European military technology. Bengal alone was annually yeilding a steady revenue surplus of Rs 25 million at the time when Scindia struggled to net Rs 2 million. The biggest firm of the period – the houses of Lala Kashmiri Mal, Ramchand-Gopalchand Shahu and Gopaldas-Manohardas – helped the military finance of the British. The Company duly rewarded the invaluable services in 1782 by making the house of Gopaldas the government’s banker. Richard Wellesley managed raise Rs 10 million with the support of Marwari bankers of Bengal to fight the Fourth Anglo-Mysore war.
Final nail in the coffin:
Following the victory of the Battle of Delhi, EIC defeated the last indigenous power. Now linked Bengal, Madras and Bombay while imposing itself as Regent under the Mughals.
My only complaints is that the book doesn’t drive into the financial details of the Company despite the wealth information available. A bit of financial history of the Company would have helped us understand the nature of the Company better. Overall an entertaining history book. highly recommended.
Much has been written on the East India Company. And much has been written on Indian history under the aspect of British rule. Dalrymple puts the two together to produce an account of the "loot" that took place at the hands of the Company officials. And Dalrymple is pretty clear that it was a loot. I cannot think of any other country where a corporation came to have its own army and defeated major regional powers (as they defeated Tipu Sultan, the Marathas, Shuja -ud-daula) and came to rule close to 50 million inhabitants. This remarkable feat is recorded in painstaking detail using historical sources that belonged to that specific time (roughly from 1600 to 1803). Dalrymple uses Ghulam Husain Khan Tabatabai's history and Khairuddin' as well, apart from the French sources for that period. The book is not just about kings and governor-generals. It is about commanders and soldiers. Dalrymple sets the record straight on many occasions, as when he argues that it is not Wellesley but his generals who are to be credited with defeating Tipu because they were on the spot and Wellesley was not.
One of the great contributions of this book is to bring Shah Alam to life as a Mughal Emperor worth remembering, When we think of the Mughals we often think of Shah Jahan, Jahangir, and their predecessors. No one had ever heard of Shah Alam. Dalrymple has brought him back to life, in an unforgettable manner to even suggest to the reader that Shah Alam, at least on the personal level, was one of the greatest occupants of the Mughal Throne. He had no power and no possessions, but his personal character, his literary taste (he wrote a novel!!) , his courage in the face of monumental misfortune , make him a very special Mughal Emperor. Another interesting aspect of this book is setting the record on Mir Jafar straight: Mir Jafar is taken as a traitor by nearly every literate indian who has read any history at all. Yet, so far as i could gather, Dalrymple does not describe Mir Jafar as a traitor. Given the appalling character of Siraj ud daulah, it is hard to imagine what was to be expected of Mir Jafar except of accept one yoke for another. If Mir Jafar made a mistake, it was to promise too much to Clive too soon.
The rich details describing the wars that took place, the battle formations, the weather on the days of the battle, the many mistakes that the indians made that led to their defeats, are a pleasure to read. So are Dalrymple's character portraits. His defense of Warren Hastings is brilliant and restores Hastings to a far higher pedestal than any other Governor General could aspire to.
Dalrymple is able to combine an untiring eye for detail with a riveting description of the events, so riveting that the book is hard to put down. It is so good to read, you simply don;t want to do anything else before finishing it. One is left asking why he did not continue further.
Exhaustive and exhausting book. Main stream is detail of EIC's violence on India and of the loot of India. There are many substreams within. Sometimes substream has enough detail (of Nader Shah) sometimes hop skip (impeachment of Harings). The content itself is covered by many books in the past (books like the Honourable Company by John Keay). After I read & closed the book, I felt it added nothing new to what I know already. Overall, it is story of greed and violence of EIC at one place. I also felt that the book ended suddenly without covering much ground on sepoy mutiny,
A brilliant book that gathers together all the historical characters in India to produce a lucid account of the rise of the East India Co. Starting from the factors that were leveraged by the East India Company to become a powerful entity in India the book has skillfully woven the narrative of change in India across centuries. The sheer size of the bibiliography shows the depth of research undertaken to unearth rare sources of information. A must read for anybody interested in the dynamics of one of the earliest global multinationals & it’s machinations for acquiring & retaining power.
The joint stock company will probably be the biggest influencer of history in the 21st century. William Dalrymple Anarchy is a must read for all economists and political scientists. Well written an excellent chronicle on the case for regulating corporations