The Corporation That Changed The World
A Review of the Book: ? THE CORPORATION THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational?
Authored by NICK ROBINS Published in 2006.
Review by Dr.V.S.Gopalakrishnan
This book makes for easy and compelling reading, and I give kudos to the English Author also for his objectivity. The Honourable East India Company was formed in London in 1600 and it played a historical role as the the first Multinational, more importantly creating a huge empire in the WORLD . The author has, by thoroughly exposing the illegalities, tyrannies, immorality, rapacity, frauds and every kind of misfeasance practised by this Company in its inglorious history, has proved how this Company can be called anything but ?Honourable?. It came to be popularly called ?John Company?.
The John Company was founded in London in 1600 by a 15-year monopoly charter given by the Crown, with 24 Directors. As a joint-stock company, it had initially 125 share-holders and a capital of 72000 pounds. It went through three phases:
1) 1600 to 1757, the year of the Battle of Plassey.
2) 1757 to 1857 when the Indian Mutiny took place.
3) 1858 when the British Government took over the functions and authority of the Company to 1874 when the Company was legally dissolved.
The Company secured a base in Madras (1639), Bombay (1668) and Calcutta (1690).
In 1670, King Charles II gave the rights to the Company to acquire new territories, mint money, build armies, fight wars, and exercise civil and criminal jurisdictions over the acquired territories.
The Clive phenomenon began with his arrival in Madras in1744 as a writer (clerk) at the age of 19. He showed great bravery in capturing Arcot and Trichy. By defeating the French, he became a hero in England. He was made Governor of Cuddalore in 1755. Clive?s forces ransacked Hugli in January 1757 and later recaptured Calcutta. He entered into a conspiracy to topple Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula, with the help of the powerful Mir Jafar ( Nawab?s paymaster-general).He thus fomented illegal insurrection and treason. Clive won the Plassey battle and set up Mir Jafar as a puppet Nawab on his terms. Perhaps the history of India would have been very different if Clive had not won the Plassey battle.
THE SECOND PHASE OF COMPANY?S HISTORY, ONE OF MISRULE AND TYRANNY FROM 1757 (PLASSEY) TO 1857 (INDIAN MUTINY):
Following Plassey, Clive received personal benefits totalling 234,000 pounds. This was plunder. He became one of the richest men in England. Later, Clive told the Parliament, ?I stand astounded at my own moderation?! Macaulay called Clive?s corruption ?un-British?. King George III protested against Clive?s ?fleecing of India?.
Warren Hastings? rule as Governor General (1773-84) that followed Clive?s era proved an equal disaster for Bengal and for the Company. Hastings? tenure witnessed droughts in 1781 and 1782 and a famine in 1784. Yet, he gave no tax relief for farmers resulting in unrest. His annual plunder of manufactures and produce of India was estimated to be 1.2 million pounds. Hastings resorted to corruption, and extortion from the rulers of Awadh. Edmund Burke set in process in the Parliament an impeachment trial against Hastings. Strangely Hastings was acquitted of all the charges in April 1795!
Lord Cornwallis assumed power in 1786 as the new Governor General. He defeated Tipu Sultan in 1792 and got possession of Malabar from the latter. Lord Wellesley captured Agra, Delhi and Gujerat from the Marathas in 1803. The next four decades saw wars of acquisition in Afghanistan, Punjab, Sind, west of Nepal and Burma. At the time of the India Act of 1784, the Company had control over 7% of the geographical area of the sub-continent which rose to 62% in 1856.
The IndianMutiny of 1857 crowned the downfall of the Company. The germs for the mutiny lay in the increasingly racial and administrative arrogance of the ruling Britishers in India. Things came to a head when the sepoys in North India rejected new rifle cartridges said to be greased with cow/pig fat. The Company?s crass conduct towards the rulers of Awadh, Jhansi and Kanpur turned them against the Company on top of the revolt by the sepoys. The Mutinty lasted two years with considerable bloodshed on both sides. In 1858, the English Parliament passed a legislation stripping the Company of all its administrative powers in India and transferring these to the Crown. Direct rule by the Queen and Parliament replaced the Company rule.
THE LAST PHASE:
Yet the Company remained alive for 16 more years. No commerce or governance was performed by it. The Company simply passed annual dividends to share holders while the winding up operations continued. Eventually, on 1st June 1874 the Company was dissolved.
THE COMPANY AS THE SHAPER OF MODERN MULTINATIONALS:
This forms the second heading in the title of the book, and yet the author has written very little to link the modern Multinationals with the Company. Very little light is thrown on the modern Multinationals too. The author has talked about the need for a ?World Competition Authority?. He states that the need of the hour is ?global anti-trust approach?. He recommends an ethical ?genetic code? for the Multinationals. Deregulation and privatization by governments, as well as the present globalization process, are seen by the author as dangers that lead to corporate abuses affecting the public.
review by Dr.V.S.Gopalakrishnan I.A.S. Retd.