The Anarchy – A review


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.

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