THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
March 4, 2015
The Guardian

The East India Company: The Original Corporate Raiders

For a century, the East India Company conquered, subjugated and plundered vast tracts of south Asia. The lessons of its brutal reign have never been more relevant

by William Dalrymple

One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: "loot". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century.

There are more Mughal artefacts stacked in this private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display at any one place in India -- even the National Museum in Delhi. . . .

We still talk about the British conquering India, but that phrase disguises a more sinister reality. It was not the British government that seized India at the end of the 18th century, but a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, and managed in India by an unstable sociopath -- Clive. . . .

In Milton's Paradise Lost, the great Mughal cities of Jahangir's India are shown to Adam as future marvels of divine design. This was no understatement: Agra, with a population approaching 700,000, dwarfed all of the cities of Europe, while Lahore was larger than London, Paris, Lisbon, Madrid and Rome combined. This was a time when India accounted for around a quarter of all global manufacturing. . . .

Yet as we have seen in London, media organisations can still bend under the influence of corporations such as HSBC -- while Sir Malcolm Rifkind's boast about opening British embassies for the benefit of Chinese firms shows that the nexus between business and politics is as tight as it has ever been.

The East India Company remains history's most terrifying warning about the potential for the abuse of corporate power -- and the insidious means by which the interests of shareholders become those of the state. Three hundred and fifteen years after its founding, its story has never been more current.

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Email from Syed A R Zaidi: I can only marvel at this superb misdirection. One would think he had never heard of the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States or the Bank of International Settlements in Basle. Neither of these is a government or multi-government agency. They are private corporations, though of course that is as well-hidden as it might be. And their rule over the world is far more sinister and more complete than anything seen in the days of the East India Company. Their owners are still the same -- the lords of the City of London, still with the Rothschilds at their head.

Enver Masud, "A Clash Between Justice and Greed," The Wisdom Fund, September 2, 2002

William Dalrymple, "Mutiny! The Uprising That Shook the World," Independent, May 5, 2007

Bhaskar Menon, "Reality Check for David Cameron's India Quest," undiplomatic times, February 21, 2013

Colin Todhunter, "India and the Globalization of Servitude," counterpunch.org, April 7, 2015

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