The Britannia Cartel (updated)

Dave’s post about the British Raj reminded me about the seamy underside of the British East India Company, namely its business in drugs. Imperial trade in opium was central to the success of the British empire:

Indian opium helped the British rule the world

By the early part of the nineteenth century, British Indian opium had stanched the flow of New World silver into China, replacing silver as the commodity that could be exchanged for Chinese tea and other goods…Opium revenues in India not only kept the colonial administration afloat, but sent vast quantities of silver bullion back to Britain. The upshot was the global dominance of the British pound sterling until World War I… [the] data supports, without opium the British global empire is virtually unimaginable. [Link]

The British energetically encouraged poppy growing, on occasion coercing Indian peasant farmers into going over the crop. By the end of the 1830s the opium trade was already, and was to remain, “the world’s most valuable single commodity trade of the nineteenth century.”(4)… [Link]

The definition of a drug cartel is a group with a monopoly on the distribution of an illegal narcotic. The empire, in the form of the East India Company, fits the bill quite neatlyWithout opium the British global empire is virtually unimaginable:

In 1773, the Governor-General of Bengal was granted a monopoly on the sale of opium, and abolished the old opium syndicate at Patna. For the next 50 years, opium would be key to the British East India Company’s hold on India. Since importation of opium into China was illegal … the British East India Company would … sell opium at auction in Calcutta on the condition it was smuggled to China. In 1797, the company ended the role of local Bengal purchasing agents and instituted the direct sale of opium to the company by farmers.

In 1799, the Chinese Empire reaffirmed its ban on opium imports, and in 1810 the following decree was issued:
“Opium has a very violent effect… Opium is a poison… Its use is prohibited by law.” [Link]

Certainly, the British ended up doing many good things in India. Still, we should acknowledge that the roots of the British Raj lie in something as dirty and illicit as the Medellin cartel. That a bunch of dirty narcoterrorists could give birth to the world’s largest, and (relatively speaking) one of its more humane empires, is perplexing indeed.

Update. Here are the figures on the revenues generated by opium. As you can see, the revenues actually increased after the British government took over completely from the EIC:

Managed through the East India Company monopoly, opium, by 1839, accounted for around 11 percent of the total revenue of the British establishment in India, a figure that held for the next decade. After 1850, the opium produced 16-17 percent of revenues, peaking at 100 plus million rupees (10 million pounds sterling) annually by the early 1880s. Over this period of time, opium revenues equaled around 42 percent of the land tax, the other main source of monies of the British Raj. Although there was a drop-off after 1890, opium still generated around 8 percent of total revenue for the next two decades… [Link]

This is consistent with the analysis of both the EIC and the Raj as gangsters, since their top two revenue producing activities were protection and drugs.

78 thoughts on “The Britannia Cartel (updated)

  1. Nice post, Ennis.

    The Brits and their client kings instituted all kinds of anti-free-market policies for their own benefit. For example in the client kingdom of Travancore the government had a monopoly on the sale of salt, ganja, teak and sandalwood. I recently found out that my great-great-grandfather illegally smuggled ganja into Travancore and sold it in defiance of the goverment. A real libertarian hero he was :)

  2. “Certainly, the British ended up doing many good things in India.”

    Suppose someone (A for example )breaks into your house and then proceeds to ransack it, what will be your reaction?

    1) A is a thief and a robber.

    2) A improved the ventilation, reduced the clutter and rearranged the furniture.

    Regards

  3. Gaurav – your remark assumes that India was owned by the kings who ruled it. I am not predisposed to make that assumption. To me, both the kings and the British were illegitimate. Neither ruled with the consent of the people, although some may have had more support than others. If you were unwillingly subject to Mughal rule, would you have viewed the British as interlopers and pined for the return of the Emperor in Delhi?

    Still, the purpose of that comment was different. I was merely conceding that the British did many good things in India. I think that is only fair.

  4. Ennis,

    Mughals were good or not is besides the point, they were Indians, Babur came from Afganistan and pined for his home, but he settled in India. British had no intention to settle, that they were able to administer from so far was due to a combination of technological advancement and administration. However their only intention was to fleece and exploit Indians, since self-righteous English could not accept money as the purpose, they invented this whole drama about “improvement of inferior race”.(Which if it escaped was more or less what Hitler said)

    And what if they gave railways or telegraph, it was just to exploit Indians better nothing they did was out of altruism.

    Further monarchy may be irrelevant now, it wasn’t then. Everyone from Mughals and Sikhs and Marathas and Jats had kings.

    And the point I was making with my earlier comment is relevant. If we do not say “Oh! sure he broke into our house, but atleast he did some good”, why should that apply for British!

    Regards

  5. A thief is a thief, whether he comes from your neighborhood or the next one over. Both the Mughal empire and the British empire were, in my book, illegitimate. The mughals were no more legitimate for being local than the British were illegitimate for being foreign. The real questions – for me – are: 1. Who treated their subjects better 2. Who had more support from the people they ruled over It’s not clear that the answer to either question is unambiguously in favor of the home grown tyrants.

  6. The British were humane in some sense. Namely, only that they starved Indians instead of sending them to gas chambers. (Mike Davis, Victorian Holocausts, might be good start). Regarding constitutions and rights and the like, why do you think that an independent people would be slower to learn these than a subject people?

    Regarding the Mughal Emperor, I think 1857 – from which this site takes its name – shows that people came to prefer the Mughal Emperor, horrible as he was, rather than the British. So much for the British.

    But the winners write the history, and anyway, victimhood is not good for the psyche. We should regard the British Empire with the mild embarrassment that one views the mistakes of children, and hope that humans outgrow that nonsense.

  7. It’s a mistake to see the mutiny as being a vote in support of the Emperor. It’s also a mistake to see the mutiny within the army as evidence that people broadly supported the mutiny. For one thing, some regiments fought back against the mutiny because they were opposed to the return of Mughal rule. For another, what armed men do is not always connected to what the people want.

  8. Ennis

    “Who treated their subjects better”

    1) As many as one hundred thousand people were killed in sepia mutiny. (Second hand information, so may be incorrect) 2) British put down any dissent without mercy. 3) British forced farmers to grow cash crops, underpaid them and slowly but surely forced starvation. 4) When General Dyer mowed down hapless sikhs in Jalianwaala Bagh, House of Lord applauded the action. 5) In second world war, million of Bengalis died due to artificial shortage created by British. 6) British ruined million of craftsmen and artisans condemning them to abject poverty.

    Arun,

    “But the winners write the history, and anyway, victimhood is not good for the psyche”

    Oh, I dont feel like a Victim (difficult to feel victim of Prince Charles), I do not even care about delusion of British (To me outside of India only US matters), what gets my goat is when Indians(of any hue)try to find nuance in British Raj when I think it is uncalled for.

    Regards

  9. To me outside of India only US matters

    perhaps this is why you’re having a hard time selling your bigoted point of view.

  10. “perhaps this is why you’re having a hard time selling your bigoted point of view.”

    What is bigoted about this!

    I know bleeding heart liberalism is in vogue today, but I the reason I do not care about world is, that world is very large for me to comprehend, Instead I focus on issues which are relevant to me. India is relevant to me because I am Indian, US is relevant to me because in addition to being India’s largest trading partner it is sole world power.

    However talk to the hand, I understand that you care about the whole world, So I will like your wisdom about Belarus and Liberia.

    Regards

  11. how funny that you should pick those two, since they’ve both been in the news in the past few days for political protests and Ellen Sirleaf respectively – but I bet you already knew that, clever person that you are, reading the New York Times for its sympathetic views on India (uh, not).

  12. talk to the hand,

    Where is your speech! Since You are so much aware of the damned humanity, please be so good as to share your wisdom and after you have done that may be you can go and restore democracy in Myanmar and get rid of Mughabe.

    And what is with NYT ?

  13. Gaurav,

    Not to be an apologist for even a minute, British Raj is quite complicated.

    Colonization should have never happened. However, as earlier commentors have pointed out, it something that was waiting to happen circa 1600-1900s Asia and Africa.

    The complicity of Indians/ Indian rulers (all the princely states over entire Indian subcontinent) at that time is not at all above reapproach either. The Indian subcontinent had stopped progressing, and politically falling apart – East India Co. took the opportunity. Others were trying too – Dutch, French.

    Regarding Dyer, some points from Wikipedia:

    After debates on his case in Parliament, one of which censured him (the Commons), the other of which supported him (the Lords), Dyer resigned in 1920. On his return to Britain,Dyer was presented a purse of 18,000 pound sterling, a huge sum in those days which emerged from a collection on his behalf by the newspaper Morning Post now Daily Telegraph.This single incident incensed the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore so much that he renounced his knighthood.

    Some points from answer.com

    However, the House of Commons censured him; in the debate Winston Churchill claimed: “The incident in Jallian Wala Bagh was an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation”. Dyer’s action was condemned worldwide. He was officially censured by the British Government, then resigned in 1920.

    This does not absolve Dyer or Churchill.

    I think Ennis wants to point the relative track record of colonial powers: France, Spain, Japan, and England. On that count, England comes ahead. Also, England was one of the few colonial powers that developed a robust infrastructure – civil servants, railways (ok, to rob of coal and other raw materials, but still), universities, irrigation canals, etc. And red tapism too – so it is mixed legacy.

  14. Kush,

    Whether Colonialism was inevitable, I don’t know (may be it was).Japan and China were as isolated from west as India, but both of them escaped colonialism and yet they were able to modernize.India at that time did not have a central power, it might have one (for example Sikhs or Maratha)or it might not. Could democracy have come to India without British? I don’t know (India does have tradition of democracy and before British came the power structure was pretty much decentralized). English were better than Dutch and Spanish, for sure (They were also better than Hitler).

    “civil servants, railways (ok, to rob of coal and other raw materials, but still), universities, irrigation canals, etc. And red tapism too – so it is mixed legacy”

    Let me ask this, if British had not come to India, do you think that India would not have Railways etc. Here we enter the realm of science fiction, to be precise “What If”, I think answers to What Ifs are not simple.Could India have been in a worse situation ? Sure. But it is my hunch that India would have fared better without colonization and resulting social cost.

    I can not change the History, so I think it is useless to resent, but yes I do think that it is essential if any nation has to survive that we learn the correct lesson. I think that those who feel grateful towards Raj did not get it.

    Regards

    Regards

  15. India does have tradition of democracy and before British came the power structure was pretty much decentralized

    I agree. I am a fan of Amartya Sen.

    However, I do think at the time East India Co. move was consolidated – the door was wide open. Hell, if Napolean was not caught up in Egypt, we would have been a French colony.

    Japan is totally a different case – around that point they were emerging ahead of European countries, Japanese victory in 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. China did become a colony.

    Maybe, we should have learn Japanese leason – they mordernizing themselves faster than anyone in Asia at that time.

  16. … if British had not come to India, do you think that India would not have Railways…

    It’s a classic logical fallacy to attribute all economic development over 200 years to a colonial power which was stripping the land of massive amounts of capital and natural resources.

  17. Kush,

    Ofcourse East India Company came at a crucial juncture. What is more the British colonization could not happen without the 18th century technical advancement (That was the reason Moghuls had to rule India from India and not from Afghanistan)

    I have yet to read Prof Amaratya Sen’s book, what I was talking from my somewhat hazy knowledge of history. Somewhat offtopic the mode of governance is dependend on the extent of population and region as well as technology.

    For example a small city-state could afford to have democratic set up in some form, but anything similar to the size of nation-state has to have some form of monarchy (or centralized authority). That is the reason I think in absence of advanced technology India could not have a democracy till 17th century.

    Regards

  18. Babur came from Afganistan

    Actualy Babar came from Fargana valley which now falls in modern day Uzbekistan.

    Babar has now become something of a national hero in Uzbekistan along with Tamerlane after the fall of USSR. Here is a nice article about Babar and his homeland.

  19. Manish,

    My question was rhetorical.I think under sufficient favourable conditions “civilization does find a way”.

    Regards

  20. Blue mountain,

    You are right.

    Sometimes I wonder how come India got pantsed by small fries from such far flung places.

    One of the Cartel members had an interesting take on this.

    Regards

  21. From Battle of Panipat, 1526

    Babar had put seven hundreds carts in front of his army. This was a very wise step to save his soldiers from arrows of enemy. Between the carts, there had been installed cannons. He had famous gunners, like Mustafa and Ustad Ali. He put the right wing of his army near the city of Panipat. His army dug ditches in front of left wing of his army and covered these ditches with leaves etc. He kept his horsemen on both sides of his army. Thus, Babar was perfectly ready for the battle. For eight days, no one attacked. At last, on April 21, 1526 A.D. they came to a clash. Ibrahim’s war elephants were more a source of weakness than a source of strength against Babar’s scientific combination of cavalry and artillery.

    Babar was one crafty dude.

  22. India’s foremost historian on Dr. Ambedkar and Dalit movement Ramachandra Guha(a Kannadiga despite his Bengali sounding surname)has something interesting to say about British Raj.

    Our prime minister is a mild-mannered man; no one, not even his friend, fellow economist and Oxford contemporary, Amartya Sen, would ever call him an “argumentative Indian”. Yet a speech he recently delivered at Oxford has kicked up an almighty row. He is alleged there to have given an undeserved good chit to British rule in India and, by so doing, slighted and shamed the generations of Indian freedom fighters who fought so heroically to free us from the colonial yoke. ( LONG VIEW OF THE RAJ )

    Notwithstanding their motives, notwithstanding the errors and excesses of their rule, notwithstanding their commercialism and crass philistinism, as a vehicle for entering the modern world the British were better than the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Germans, the Mughals, the Peshwas, the Afghans, the Pindaris, the Sants, the Sadhus, the shankaracharyas… ( LAST WORDS ON THE RAJ )

  23. It’s not only the British made money from opium trading. India’s premier business family, the Birlas, built up their capital from opium trading.

  24. Kush,

    From the site that you gave me the only conclusion that I can draw is Indian are too soft, I mean Babur was shunted out from Samarkand and Fargana.

    Is it because of Hinduism ?

    Regards

  25. Sometimes I wonder how come India got pantsed by small fries from such far flung places.
    1. Lack of unity amongst the rulers and the mass population as a whole.
    2. Corruption amongst some sections of the regional/local Indian leadership.
    3. Warfare generally (not always) deemed to be the prerogative of the kshatriya caste amongst Hindus. If every Hindu had been brought up to think and act like a soldier (as well as whatever their occupation was in their normal daily life) then history could possibly have taken a different course.
    4. Collaboration between indigenous rulers and the foreign powers, sometimes to secure the safety of their kingdoms and its citizens, sometimes for more selfish and nefarious reasons.
  26. Jai,

    But all of these (except for caste) appplied to Europe also, then how come Europe was able to thwart expansion of Caliphate.

    Regards

  27. Gaurav wrote:

    1) As many as one hundred thousand people were killed in sepia mutiny. (Second hand information, so may be incorrect)

    This is very disturbing. I had heard several rumours about what goes on in that bunker in North Dakota but I never suspected anything like this. When this story gets out it will be bigger than Abu Ghraib.

  28. The British colonized India through economic dominance and subversion. The Indian economy (or rather the economies of the princely states of India) was dependent on international trade, yet as sea lanes of communication grew in importance, Indian kingdoms remained predominantly land based. This was partially due to the history of the mughals who understood land warfare and very little about the importance of the seas. Once the British established a stranglehold on trade from India, it was relatively easy for them to gain increasing control over important princely states. This coupled with Aurangzeb’s disastrous reign as emperor and the resulting disintegration and political chaos was sufficient for them to expand their influence. An excellent elaboration of this point of view is by the great french historian-Ferdinand Braudel.

    The Mughals and the British were not the same. The mughals had a vested interest in ensuring a minimal level of well being of their subjects. As a consequence, their tax and administrative machinery was not designed to completely bankrupt the population. A major change made by the British was to change the nature of taxation and ownership. The East India company and later the imperial adminstration introduced absolute levels of taxation coupled with other changes in the administrative system. These changes were designed to do two things-1. Destroy Indian competitiveness in trade (as Gandhi and many major figures of the 19th and 20th century repeatedly pointed out, British rule drove millions of people in India into unemployment and indebtedness) and 2. Extract as much tax and land ownership as possible. The consequence s of this were that, non agricultural industries were destroyed leading to the artisan classes losing their livelihoods and becoming landless labourers, and secondly that farmers became increasingly indebted and lost ownership over their lands. These consequences were recognized as early as the mid 1700′s by none other than Adam Smith in his book “The Wealth of Nations”. More detailed studies were performed and written up by people like Dadabhai Naoroji and M.G. Ranade in the 19th century. In fact, the basis of the struggle for independence by the Congress party is in these economic arguments.

    For Mr Manmohan Singh to state that the British rule did many good things betrays a shameful lack of ignorance, or more charitably a sloppy and shortsighted exercise in diplomacy. He is an economist and should know better. What good things happened during their rule were either inspite of them, or in some cases (as with the Railway system as pointed out by Mr. Mike Davis) an unplanned consequence of their attempt to exploit the country by more efficient means.

  29. how come Europe was able to thwart expansion of Caliphate.

    Apparently it was a consequence of protracted military conflict between the European powers and the Ottoman Empire (lasting 300 years), resulting in the latter’s defeat at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The Pope of that time also (quote) “abandoned his secular interests and agitated for a general crusade against the Ottoman Empire.”

  30. Gaurav wrote:

    But all of these (except for caste) appplied to Europe also, then how come Europe was able to thwart expansion of Caliphate.

    All these did not apply to Europe. There was much more social cohesion both within and between European states. Since you are so interested in the Caliphate you should read about the siege of Vienna in 1683 and the key role played by the disinterested (indeed, rather contrary to their own self-interest) intervention of the Polish forces under Sobieski. There was never any corresponding unity among Indian rulers: indeed the dastardly way the Marathas and Nizam combined with the British to destroy Tipu Sultan is illustrative of quite the opposite.

  31. There was never any corresponding unity among Indian rulers:

    Not since the defeat of the Rajput confederacy lead by Prithviraj Chauhan. Quite a tragic sequence of events, I think.

    With regards to much later attempts at unity, Guru Gobind Singh did try to secure the assistance of various Hindu rajas in his efforts against the Mughals, but the kings saw the Sikhs as a threat to their power so they were hostile too. However, on an individual level various Hindu and Muslim military figures did join the Khalsa’s mission.

  32. Jai,

    Yes the christian solidarity may have been the reason. Charles Martel is an interesting pointer

    Eurodesi,

    Yes during battle of vienna there was unity, however for most of the time even European kings were fighting among themselves.

    Also, Europe had to deal with much stronger Ottomon Empire while India was attacked for most part by desparate warlords from central asia*+

    • I am assuming that ottomon empire was stronger than Babur or Abdali.
    • I am not talking about Arab conquest around 8th century

    Regards

  33. Verma memsaheb, mille fois merci pour vos commentaires si bien exprimés.

    It is true! It is sob all true. We are horrible! We are very, very bad and deserve to be spanked very, very hard…

    (Oops, wrong blog. Scratch that last remark.)

    We are filthy! Sometimes we go three days without bathing, and that’s just those of us who live in Paris!

    We are a corrupt cesspool!

    We humbly beg your honour’s pardon for having stood over your head with a gun and made you read our pointless wittering.

    Now go out and burn a car, there’s a good girl. It’ll make everything okay.

  34. Does anyone remember the song Poppies by Marcy Playground…it always tickled me :)

  35. From the site that you gave me the only conclusion that I can draw is Indian are too soft, I mean Babur was shunted out from Samarkand and Fargana. Is it because of Hinduism ?

    Maybe. Hinduism never encouraged that kind of militant ‘crusade against the infidel’ kinda stuff, which might have motivated the Europeans against the Saracens.

    Another factor is India’s decentralised agro-economy i.e. each town/village being a relatively independent unit. From what I understand, most people wouldn’t care much about who ruled in Delhi, as long as their own local lives were not affected. And most rulers, including the invading Islamic armies, did not make too much of a difference in rural India, which is where most of the population lived.

    Also, I seriously doubt that any sort of nationalism existed which could be used as a motivation for war. ‘India’ might have existed since ancient times as an abstract concept or a geographical entity, but the idea of India as a single political unit i.e. a country, is fairly recent.

    Personally, I think that if we did not have British rule, we might still have a lot of the stuff they ‘gave’ us i.e railways/post etc, but India might not be a single country today. The British unified India politically for their own convenience, and by refusing to integrate like the previous rulers, unified India’s people against them.

  36. There is a major US connection to the opium trade. Lets explore just one:

    • The great grandfather & grandfather of Senator John “Forbes” Kerry amassed quite a fortune smuggling opium during the Opium Wars. The British wanted to keep a monopoly on supplying the Chinese with opium grown in India. However, during the Opium Wars with China, the British ships were prevented from delivering their cargoes of opium and American ship owners such as Forbes, who could sail the final miles, made huge amounts of money delivering the opium for the British. Apparently, the profit per ship was Rs 1 crore in those days.

    • Other Forbes family members used this fortune to later engage in other merchant banking and railroad investment projects around the world. Started Russell and Company, a shipping empire which was headed by Robert Bennett Forbes (Kerry’s great grandfather) and was later instrumental in Yale’s development and endowment. Yale’s Skull and Bones society was founded by William H. Russell, one of the members of the wealthy Russell family, in 1832.

    • The Dictionary of American Biography reports that the noted American ship captain Robert Bennet Forbes played “a prominent role in the outbreak of the Chinese Opium War.”

    • After the Opium War, the Forbes family cashed out their fortune and reinvested it in Europe and the United States. Some of the population growth of Chicago and Midwestern Plains states in the middle to late 19th century was due to John Murray Forbes’ railroad projects in Michigan and Chicago. The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co., from Chicago west to the Pacific was built by John Murray Forbes.

    • In 1879, William Forbes, son of John Murray Forbes, used the family fortune to financially back Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone company, and become president of the company. Later, this company became known as AT&T

    • Cameron Forbes used his portion of the wealth to become Governor General of the Philippines. His niece Ruth Forbes Paine Young tapped her Forbes family inheritance to finance the International Peace Academy. Her husband invented the Bell Helicopter.

    • Many Forbes family members purchased estates in France and Massachusetts, and remain very influential there to this day, in both local or national politics. John Forbes Kerry is a U.S. Senator and was a candidate for President of the U.S. and is a beneficiary of several Forbes family & offshore trusts (c. 2002)

    • Kerry’s first cousin and friend, Brice Lalonde, an environmentalist activist, is a French Green party politician who was a candidate for President of France in 1981 and currently mayor of Saint-Briac-sur-Mer near the Forbes family estate.

    • The Forbes family owns, through the family JM Forbes Naushon Island Trust, named for the wealthy John Murray Forbes, the private Naushon Island, part of the Elizabeth Islands NW of Martha’s Vineyard and SW of Cape Cod

    Lest it look like I’m picking on foreigners, desis were also involved in the opium trade:

    • at its height, half a million acres (over 2,000 sq. kms) in bengal alone were being cultivated with opium. This means that perhaps numerous bengalis & other locals were involved for generations in the opium value chain from production –> loading the ships –> keeping some of the profits.

    • In bombay, parsee businessmen were collaborating with the americans, scots and brits in the opium trade. From as early as 1800, Parsi merchants increasingly involved in the opium trade are Hormajee & Eduljee Dorabjee (Bulley, Bombay Ships, p. 168. where it is further recorded that in 1803 and later arriving in Canton as opium traders are Indian Parsi merchants Hormajee Dorabjee and Eduljee Dorabjee). According to Bulley, Bombay Ships, p. 167, at last “five native Indian agencies” were involved in the opium trade.

  37. What Sanjay said is also a topic of recently published “Opium City The Making of Early Victorian Bombay” by Amar Farooqui.

    In our school histories we have read about the opium triangle, the unholy trade nexus established by the East India Company, wherein it forced Indian peasants to grow opium, under its own monopoly and control, smuggled it to China and sold it in return for Chinese tea and repatriated profits back home. They addicted entire generations of Chinese to opium because it was the only way to solve the balance of payments problem. This opium trade, once the commonest polemic against Empire, has today virtually passed into oblivion.

    The british certainly did some good by introducing trains and transportation in India and gave natives the right to sit in second and third class bogies. Saying british raj did good to India is like saying Microsoft has contributed to development of computers … They are a “company” (west Indian) and all they care about is EPS and profit, more than anything else…

  38. It is amusing reading the debate here in the comments, when really what is being argued upon is a detention, and in this case, what “good” means. Ennis wrote, “Certainly, the British ended up doing many good things in India.” For those with strong sense of subcontinent pride, and sense of indignation over colonization (myself included) this statement does not fly well. It is a relative statement, as we have no knowledge of how India would have turned out without the experience of colonization. Most, of the readers here seem to be well versed in Indian history, and I wonÂ’t bother recounting the details of how advanced India’s manufacturing sector was prior to colonization. However, to those offended by the suggestion of British good, they must realize on the flip-side, that the British Raj was a fact, a fait-acompli. As such, any “good” that has resulted for India as a result of British rule, should be seen as relative also. Yes, British rule introduced an education system, primarily the introduction of English, which has enabled cities like Bangalore to become I.T. hubs. But, this “good” is relative in terms of western-capitalistic ideals.

    Still, I love that one line of his out of the whole piece was nit-picked, as a belive the whole gist of his article was that the British were dirty drug peddling scum.

  39. Yes, British rule introduced an education system, primarily the introduction of English, which has enabled cities like Bangalore to become I.T. hubs

    China has become a greater IT hub than India without the “english”. Besides, other African nations are still struggling to catch the IT wave despite their “english” education. The point is, opportunity has to be carved out even from worst of environments and the environment should not get the credit for it.

  40. The Mughals and the British were not the same. The mughals had a vested interest in ensuring a minimal level of well being of their subjects. As a consequence, their tax and administrative machinery was not designed to completely bankrupt the population.

    Bengal & Bihar were the wealthiest provinces in Mughal empire. Mughals got highest amount of revenue from Bengal & Bihar. And what have they given in return? Islam!! Sher Shah was a far better ruler.

    None of the Mughal architectural wonders are situated in eastern parts of India. Mughals took money from eastern states and splurged them elsewhere.

    The Mughals and the British were not the same.

    Yes. That is what Irfan Habib and JNU Marxist brigade have been telling us. The British looted India and made us paupers. There were faminies everywhere(not that Mughal India was famine free!). But the unintentional by-product was political unity and introduction to modern world. Show me a single university of quality that Mughals built. Ancient India had Nalanda and Taxila which attracted students from all over Asia. But medieval India? When Europe was going through renaissance and reformation the Mughals were building gardens and harems. And yes..doing their best to spread the religion of peace.

  41. From the site that you gave me the only conclusion that I can draw is Indian are too soft, I mean Babur was shunted out from Samarkand and Fargana. Is it because of Hinduism ?

    Well before jumping to conclusions one way or the other one must look at the work and arguments of Sita Ram Goel. In his book Heroic Hindu resistance to muslim invaders he tries to show the resistance. Also, he makes an argument that the concept of “Holy War” or “Jihad” was alien to Hindu kings as opposed to the invading Mughals. The famous act of Prithviraj Chauhan letting Ghauri go, after defeating him is a prime example. As that was the culture of the time. That was supposed to be the “honorable” thing to do. As it turns out not strategic

  42. Saheli – Amartya studied at Trinity at the same time that Manmohan Singh and Jagdish Bhagwati were a stone’s throw away at St John’s. Ah to have been a fly on the wall at those parties :)

  43. Just a quick correction to hammer_sickel. China is nowhere close to becoming a greater IT hub than India. By itself, India as an outsourcing destination exceeds the next 15 countries combined, including china, canada, ireland, israel, saouth africa etc. It takes 25 years of studying in english-medium schools/ colleges to produce a reasonably decent hinglish-speaking engineering graduate. India has actually commoditised this pipeline & is churning out english speaking IT grads with machinelike efficiency. It will be all but impossible for any country to catch up.

  44. From the site that you gave me the only conclusion that I can draw is Indian are too soft, I mean Babur was shunted out from Samarkand and Fargana. Is it because of Hinduism ?

    Am very rusty on my history, but there was already a “Muslim” empire there (Delhi sultanate?) who I presume would have been the first/main opponents to Babur. So first look to the major Muslim rulers, then to the smaller Hindu rulers, then finally to the populace of whatever religion (i.e. don’t look at hypothetical Hindu commoners practicing “ahimsa” as being the only opposition to Babur).

  45. Still, I love that one line of his out of the whole piece was nit-picked, as a belive the whole gist of his article was that the British were dirty drug peddling scum.

    Not! There was precious little Ennis wrote in the article in the first place, but the gist of what he wrote is in the last paragraph. And that is just terrible writing.

    Ennis, I would highly recommend a more thorough reading of Indian history if you want to at all talk about British colonialism. It is not clear what Manmohan Singh’s speech has to do with anything – it seems to me that you are using his speech as an intellectual crutch.

    A study of the history of famines in India alone should be sufficient to evaluate the overall merits of the British empire. All this talk of railways and education fades away when the effects of the British Empire is viewed in sheer numerical terms, which does not even begin to describe the calamity. Somewhere between 6 and 12 million Indians died in the Bengal famine alone. Let us talk about famine and death if we want to talk about the British Empire. Let us compare it with numbers for other comparable tragedies, such as the Holocaust. And then we can also look at the number of yards of railway lines laid in wartime Germany and in British Raj India, and see if they compare.

    That a bunch of dirty narcoterrorists could give birth to the worldÂ’s largest, and (relatively speaking) one of its more humane empires, is perplexing indeed.

    • ‘Perplexing’ : I am not sure why it is perplexing that the assets of ‘a bunch of narcoterrorists’ could lead to the building of an empire, or even a so-called humane one. The reason is quite simple. The real estate acquired by the East India Company in India was acquired by the British government after what used to called the Sepoy Mutiny. There was a transfer of political ownership to a different entity, one that was more humane.

    Certainly, the British ended up doing many good things in India (Point A). Still, we should acknowledge that the roots of the British Raj lie in something as dirty and illicit as the Medellin cartel. (Point B) That a bunch of dirty narcoterrorists could give birth to the worldÂ’s largest, and (relatively speaking) one of its more humane empires, is perplexing indeed.

    • The structure of the paragraph isM/b> the problem. This smacks of clumsy writing. It is sort of like saying : ‘Rape gives sexual pleasure to the woman being raped. Still, we should acknowledge that the intent of rape often lies in something very dirty and illicit.’
  46. It is true that the Mughals impoverished eastern UP and Bihar region. In fact, the ‘bhaiyas’ that you can see (migrant labor from that area) all over India today, who are also the root-stock of the Indian populations in Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, Fiji, Mauritius, etc. are part of a long-chain of migrant labor that started in that region back in the Mughal days as a result of that impoverishment. People in eatern UP/Bihar have been supplying migrant labor for centuries.

    As to the English language that the British bequeathed us, it is very helpful economically and as a link to the world, and as a lingua franca within India itself, but it is marginalising our Indian languages, literally strangling them, and that process will only get worse now with India’s economic boom.

  47. Ennis,

    You’re joking about that link to the rediff article about Dr. Singh’s acceptance speech at Oxford — I hope?