Company rule in India

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Company rule in India refers to the rule or dominion of the British East India Company on the Indian subcontinent. This is variously taken to have commenced in 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, when the Nawab of Bengal surrendered his dominions to the Company, in 1765, when the Company was granted the diwani, or the right to collect revenue, in Bengal and Bihar, or in 1773, when the Company established a capital in Calcutta, appointed its first Governor-General, Warren Hastings, and became directly involved in governance. The rule lasted until 1858, when, after the Indian rebellion of 1857 and consequent of the Government of India Act 1858, the British government assumed the task of directly administering India in the new British Raj.


  • It is unnecessary for our pupose to go into the sordid details of the Company's early administration of their Diwani of Bengal. In brief, it may be stated that for a decade the whole power of the organized State was directed to a single purpose ‑ plunder. It was a robber State that had come into existence, and Richard Becher, a servant of the Company, wrote to his masters in London on May 24, 1769, as follows: `It must give pain to an Englishman to have reason to think that since the accession of the Company to the Diwani the condition of the people of this country has been worse than it was before .... This fine country, which flourished under the most despotic and arbitrary government, is verging towards ruin.'...
    • Richard Becher quoted in K. M. Panikkar. Asia and Western Dominance: a survey of the Vasco Da Gama epoch of Asian history, 1498–1945.
  • “I don't think Erik Prince has much idea about the EIC,” John Keay, who wrote The Honourable Company, a history of the corporation, wrote in an email.
    For most of its history, he noted, the company was a pure corporate concern. When it started taking over territory, the British government began regulating it more closely, appointing its top officers and establishing a board in London that helped run the company. In 1770, the company required a bailout from the British treasury.
    “Roughly from 1785 until its dissolution in 1858, the EIC was a government surrogate. For ‘achievements’ in India the government could claim the credit, and for failings in India the Company could be made a scapegoat. Would this appeal to Prince?” Keay said. And when the company was dissolved, the end came because of a major popular uprising against it, which led the British government to take over all operations, including the company’s private military. One further result was that all Indians became British subjects—imposing a vastly larger national involvement and liability on London, not to mention what it imposed on the Indians.
    “It seems to me that the Company's story is the very reverse of what [Prince] is proposing,” Keay said. “It makes the case for government intervention, not retraction.”
  • [Laying his hand on a volume of reports that lay on the table], I swear, said he, by this book, that the wrongs done to humanity in the eastern world, shall be avenged on those who have inflicted them: They will find, when the measure of their iniquity is full, that Providence was not asleep. The wrath of Heaven would sooner or later fall upon a nation, that suffers, with impunity, its rulers thus to oppress the weak and innocent. We had already lost one empire, perhaps, as a punishment for the cruelties authorized in another. And men might exert their ingenuities in qualifying facts as they pleased, but there was only one standard by which the Judge of all earth would try them. It was not necessary, but whether they coincided with prior interests of humanity, of substantial justice, with those rights which were paramount to all others?0.
  • This multitude of men does not consist of an abject and barbarous populace; much less of gangs of savages, ... but a people for ages civilized and cultivated; cultivated by all the arts of polished life, whilst we were yet in the woods. There, have been (and still the skeletons remain) princes once of great dignity, authority, and opulence. There, are to be found the chiefs of tribes and nations. There, is to be found an ancient and venerable priesthood, the depository of their laws, learning, and history, the guides of the people whilst living, and their consolation in death; a nobility of great antiquity and renown; a multitude of cities, not exceeded in population and trade by those of the first class in Europe; merchants and bankers, individual houses of whom have once vied in capital with the bank of England; whose credit had often supported a tottering state, and preserved their governments in the midst of war and desolation; millions of ingenious manufacturers and mechanicks; millions of the most diligent, and not the least intelligent, tillers of the earth. Here are to be found almost all the religions professed by men, the Braminical, the Mussulman, the Eastern and Western Christian....
    All this vast mass, composed of so many orders and classes of men, is again infinitely diversified by manners, by religion, by hereditary employment, through all their possible combinations. This renders the handling of India a matter in a high degree critical and delicate. But oh! it has been rudely handled indeed."
    • Edmund Burke quoted in Ibn, W. (2009). Defending the West: A critique of Edward Said's Orientalism. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books.
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