Thursday, August 26, 2021

Why did British occupy sovereign power of Bengal?

 Why did British occupy sovereign power of Bengal? 

British had come to India for trading but the fall of central leadership of Mughal Emperor created an opportunity for them to intervene in the military and political needs of the infighting provincial authorities. Their arms and trained soldiers were in great demand. 

The growth of opium trade had much to do with trade reciprocity, and the British appetite for tea and likes for silk and porcelain pottery. Sweetened tea had become an item of mass consumption in Britain. China was enjoying favourite trade balance with Europe, selling them porcelains, silk and tea exchanged for silver and gold. China was importing nothing from Britain, therefore, the ships would land in Canton (Guangzhou) empty, making tea import very expensive. British did start large scale tea production in India. 

The interest of the British was in the substantial opium cultivation in Bengal territories which the British wanted for export to China. That made the Diwani (revenue collection) worthwhile and when the margins were seen to be huge for the sovereign, it made sense to be the sovereign rather than the revenue collector. This promoted British to expand market of opium in China, using the manufacturing base of India.  By 1787, the company was sending 4000 chests of opium (each 77 kg) per annum. It went to 60000 chests by the 1800s. Poppy cultivation was like contract farming, where 2500 clerks of East India Company with 100 offices controlled millions of peasants. Slavery was banned in British Empire in 1833 but the conditions of farmers/labourers (men and women) who signed contract and cultivating opium, tea and indigo weren’t better than for slaves. 

China had developed millions of addicts and when the Chinese government banned the import of opium, the traders continued to smuggle. When the consignment of 20000 chests of opium was confiscated in 1839, British Govt waged Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-60) on behalf of the merchants and won, forced China to open up ports for British Indian Opium and cede the island of Hongkong to the Crown to boot. What a human tragedy! Opium financed British rule in India.

When Chinese made trade in opium illegal, the East India Company sidestepped the ban by auctioning its opium off to smarter traders to smuggle to China. The company had given license to private traders to trade-smuggle opium in China. Many business communities tried but Parsis of Bombay flourished in opium trade with Canton (China) and generated fabulous wealth and constructed buildings in Bombay. Traders like Parsi Bahram Modi became successful in opium trading and became Barry Moddie but later faced bankruptcy when Chinese emperor ordered seizure of his rouge consignment. 

Parsis trade relations were developed from the time of Dutch East India Company. Their relations with Dutch in Surat and thereafter in Bombay placed them in advantageous position compared to others. With the rise of British, they sailed well with them too. The Bombay opium merchants later had moved to textiles in 19th century because they were unable to repatriate profits from China trade. 

Incidentally, the British layer awarded the monopoly opium trading to one company. Under the name Tata & Co, Ratanji Ratanbhoy Tata (first cousin of Jamsedji) ran an opium importing business in China, which was legal at the time. It is only subsequently that TATA moved to industry. TATAs were in the trading business before they ventured into industry with the start of the railroad business, that is how TELCO and TISCO started in Jamshedpur manufacturing rails and steel trusses for bridges and assembly of steam locos. Concrete made its way as late as the 1930 and later. Obviously the opium legacy is never mentioned in the History of the House of Tatas. One can rationalise it now by either stating that everybody has the right to turn over a new leaf and further that the present Tata group cannot be held accountable for what was considered as legitimate business.

One of the reasons for the backwardness and lawlessness in Bihar is the Narco culture that has been in vogue since the best part of last 500 years. The cultivation required cheap and forced labour and education of the masses was the antithesis of it. So the most fertile areas of Gangetic plain in Bihar, such as the Motihari, Dharbhanga, Bhagalpur region and through Nepal also provided land route to China have remained backward. The institution thrived in feudalist environment. 

In present era, Afghanistan is considered origin point of drugs smuggled to India via Pakistan. Poppy cultivation (2.2 lakh hac) is the chief source of their funding. Taliban’s growth in Afghanistan would lead to a spurt in smuggling of drugs and narco terrorism into India. Our agencies shall remain vigilant but we shall also not forget that India acted as a manufacturing base for cultivating poppy and exporting and smuggling ‘British Indian Opium’ to China during British rule. India remains the world’s biggest producer of legal opium for the global pharmaceutical market. 


26 August 2021


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.