Saturday, March 07, 2015

Merchants of Rosy Imagery

Joseph Goebbels would have been quite pleased with this illustration.

It shows a somewhat effeminate Shah Alam, one of the last Mughal emperors in an opulent court , handing over a scroll - the "Treaty of Allahabad" - to Robert Clive, representative of the East India Company (EIC), in 1765.

Under this treaty, Clive was appointed as the new governor of Bengal, Orissa and Bihar, with full rights to collect taxes as EIC pleased -- one of the earliest cases of a sovereign state subcontracting its own work to a multinational corporation (MNC).  It was also a legal fig-leaf to cover a plunder that had started a few years earlier, after the Battle of Plassey (1757).

According to William Darylmple, "The entire contents of the Bengal treasury were simply loaded into 100 boats and punted down the Ganges... Clive transferred to the EIC treasury no less than £2.5m seized from the defeated rulers of Bengal – in today’s currency, around £23m for Clive and £250m for the company."

Recent research goes to prove that there had been no grand court scene at the court of Shah Alam. The scroll had actually changed hands at Clive's tent pitched in a parade ground. "As for Shah Alam’s silken throne, it was in fact Clive’s armchair, which for the occasion had been hoisted on to his dining room table and covered with a chintz bedspread."

EIC had commissioned an illustrator to create a grand image for the benefit of the British parliamentarians, and the general public. It worked beautifully. Over the next hundred years EIC reinvested the 'revenue' from East India, and public loans and grants, to build an vast army to conquer, subjugate and plunder the subcontinent.

According to Darlymple, the EIC merchants were merely taking advantage of a power vacuum in India. Between the time the first EIC ship sailed into Surat in 1608 with William Hawkins, and Robert Clive's 'treaty' of 1765 came a disaster that crippled the Mughal empire. Persian adventurer, Nader Shah had trotted down with 150,000 horsemen, defeated the Mughals at the Battle of Karnal (1739), and carried away treasures worth over GBP 87.5 million.


* WD - East India Company --
* Rajiv Malhotra - Debating foreign funded NGOs --

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