Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A LESSON FROM HISTORY
For some time I have been wondering if there was a historic event that steered the course of Indo-Pak subcontinent’s history in the direction that has resulted in the present pitiable situation. Arrival of the British East India Company stands out as one possible event having that impact. The following article contains mainly extracts from various Wikipedia articles put together in a logical order.The East India Company (EIC), originally chartered as the Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies, and often called the Honourable East India Company, was an English and later (from 1707) British joint-stock company and megacorporation formed for pursuing trade with the East Indies but which ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent.
The East India Company traded mainly in cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium. The Company was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Elizabeth in 1600 making it the oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies. Shares of the company were owned by wealthy merchants and aristocrats. It was an example of an English joint stock company. The government owned no shares and had only indirect control. The Company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions. Company rule in India effectively began in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey and lasted until 1858 when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown assuming direct control of India in the era of the new British Raj.The Company was dissolved in 1874 as a result of the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act passed one year earlier, as the Government of India Act had by then rendered it vestigial, powerless and obsolete. Its functions had been fully absorbed into the official government machinery of British India and its private Presidency armies had been nationalised by the British Crown.
In 1612, James I instructed Sir Thomas Roe to visit the Mughal Emperor Nuruddin Salim Jahangir (r. 1605 – 1627) to arrange for a commercial treaty that would give the Company exclusive rights to reside and build factories in Surat and other areas. In return, the Company offered to provide the Emperor with goods and rarities from the European market. This mission was highly successful as Jahangir sent a letter to James through Sir Thomas Roe:"Upon which assurance of your royal love I have given my general command to all the kingdoms and ports of my dominions to receive all the merchants of the English nation as the subjects of my friend; that in what place soever they choose to live, they may have free liberty without any restraint; and at what port soever they shall arrive, that neither Portugal nor any other shall dare to molest their quiet; and in what city soever they shall have residence, I have commanded all my governors and captains to give them freedom answerable to their own desires; to sell, buy, and to transport into their country at their pleasure.
For confirmation of our love and friendship, I desire your Majesty to command your merchants to bring in their ships of all sorts of rarities and rich goods fit for my palace; and that you be pleased to send me your royal letters by every opportunity, that I may rejoice in your health and prosperous affairs; that our friendship may be interchanged and eternal"—Nuruddin Salim Jahangir, Letter to James I.
In 1614, Roe was elected Member of Parliament for Tamworth. From 1615 to 1618, he was ambassador to the court at Agra, India of the Great Mogul, Jahangir. The principal object of the mission was to obtain protection for an English factory at Surat. At the Mughal court, Roe became a favorite of Jahangir and was his drinking partner. This greatly enhanced Roe's status with the Mughals. His journal was a valuable source of information for the reign of Jehangir.The Company, benefiting from the imperial patronage, soon expanded its commercial trading operations, eclipsing the Portuguese Estado da India, which had established bases in Goa, Chittagong and Bombay (which was later ceded to England as part of the dowry of Catherine de Braganza). The East India Company also launched a joint effort attack with the Dutch United East India Company on Portuguese and Spanish ships off the coast of China, which helped secure their ports in China. The Company created trading posts in Surat (where a factory was built in 1612), Madras (1639), Bombay (1668), and Calcutta (1690). By 1647, the Company had 23 factories, each under the command of a factor or master merchant and governor if so chosen, and had 90 employees in India. The major factories became the walled forts of Fort William in Bengal, Fort St George in Madras, and the Bombay Castle.
In an act aimed at strengthening the power of the EIC, King Charles II provisioned the EIC (in a series of five acts around 1670) with the rights to autonomous territorial acquisitions, to mint money, to command fortresses and troops and form alliances, to make war and peace, and to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the acquired areas.William Hedges was sent in 1682 to Shaista Khan, the Mughal governor of Bengal in order to obtain a firman, an imperial directive that would grant England regular trading privileges throughout the Mughal empire. However, the company's governor in London, Sir Josiah Child, interfered with Hedges's mission, causing Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb to break off the negotiations.
In 1689 a Mughal fleet commanded by Sidi Yakub attacked Bombay. After a year of resistance the EIC surrendered in 1690, and the company sent envoys to Aurangzeb's camp to plead for a pardon. The company's envoys had to prostrate themselves before the emperor, pay a large indemnity, and promise better behaviour in the future. The emperor withdrew his troops and the company subsequently reestablished itself in Bombay and set up a new base in Calcutta.In September 1695, Captain Henry Every, an English pirate on board the Fancy, reached the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, where he teamed up with five other pirate captains to make an attack on the Indian fleet making the annual voyage to Mecca. The Mughal convoy included the treasure-laden Ganj-i-Sawai, reported to be the greatest in the Mughal fleet and the largest ship operational in the Indian Ocean, and its escort, the Fateh Muhammed. They were spotted passing the straits en route to Surat. The pirates gave chase and caught up with the Fateh Muhammed some days later, and meeting little resistance, took some £50,000 to £60,000 worth of treasure.
Every continued in pursuit and managed to overhaul the Ganj-i-Sawai, who put up a fearsome fight but it too was eventually taken. The ship carried enormous wealth and, according to contemporary East India Company sources, was carrying a relative of the Grand Mughal, though there is no evidence to suggest that it was his daughter and her retinue. The loot from the Ganj-i-Sawai totalled between £325,000 and £600,000, including 500,000 gold and silver pieces, and has become known as the richest ship ever taken by pirates.It is really surprising that Mughal emperor Jehangir did not send his own ambassador to the court of the king of England. Instead he depended on the English ambassador to convey messages both ways. If he had done so, we would have had an account of England as it was then as seen by an Indian. It is also noteworthy that neither Jehangir nor the subsequent emperors demanded reciprocal facilities for Indian traders in the British Empire. From the above it is obvious that the Indians in those days had a reasonable naval strength.
It is not surprising that our present day rulers also seem to forget the interest of their people when dealing with foreigners. Something needs to be done to change this attitude.I am unable to find who was the first person from the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent to travel to England in any ship and in any position. Any information or suggestion to that effect will be appreciated.