The Anarchy | William Dalrymple

Summary of: The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire
By: William Dalrymple


Embark on a fascinating journey into the early days of British rule in India through William Dalrymple’s compelling chronicle, ‘The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire.’ This captivating book delves deep into the origins of the British East India Company, its powerful presence in India, and the violent conquest of the subcontinent that led to imperial rule. Discover how the Company went from being a joint-stock company focused on trade to a militarized entity bent on ravaging the wealthiest empire at the time. As you delve into this summary, you will explore the complex relationships, treacherous power struggles, and the devastating impact the British colonial rule had on India and its people.

The Rise of the East India Company

In 1599, the East India Company was established as a joint-stock company to enrich shareholders. They were granted a monopoly over trade in the East Indies. In 1608, the first Englishmen arrived in India to initiate trade with the Mughal Empire. The Mughals wowed the Europeans with their wealth, and the origin of the word “mogul” dates back to these interactions. The Company’s mission was initially to build trading forts, which were soon established in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta. These settlements attracted artisans and merchants seeking refuge from the unstable countryside. The Company and its French rival took advantage of the Mughal Empire’s weakness to build more forts and became militarized entities in the process. The eighteenth century saw India transformed violently into the richest colony in the world.

Robert Clive and the East India Company’s Rise to Power

The East India Company was the most advanced capitalist organization in the world by the 1750s and generated an eighth of Britain’s import trade. Robert Clive, a Company officer, oversaw the transformation of the Company into a political power and usurped the increasingly anarchic Mughal empire. Despite his violent and troubled past, Clive distinguished himself as an audacious military tactician in India. In 1756, Siraj ud-Daula, the governor of Bengal, attacked the Company’s Bengal fort, suspecting their intentions. At the same time, Shah Alam, heir to the Mughal throne, was consolidating his power and acquiring supporters. However, Robert Clive was already positioned to take control of Bengal.

The Rise of the East India Company

In the 18th century, Siraj led a massive army to sack Calcutta, setting the stage for a showdown with the East India Company. Robert Clive, a British soldier, declared war on Siraj and justified his coup to preserve the trade monopoly. Clive’s forces emerged victorious at the Battle of Plassey, making him one of the richest men in Europe and giving the East India Company political power in India. They began a period of unbridled looting and asset-stripping, effectively undermining the Mughal Empire that had ruled for two centuries.

Clive’s Loot and the Dangerous Game of Corporate Domination

In the book, the author tells the story of how the British East India Company established its rule over Bengal through puppet rulers, human rights violations and chaos. The new Nawab, Mir Jafar, was not a match for the well-organized Company and was replaced by Mir Qasim, who tried to level the playing field for local traders but found himself clashing with the Company. The conflict erupted into war, revealing the dangerous game of corporate domination.

The Company’s Takeover

Mir Qasim, the military tactician, allied with the Mughal emperor and the Nawab of Avadh province in preparation for the Company’s impending battle. Despite almost winning the siege at Patna, Mir Qasim and his armies lost at the Battle of Buxar. The Company became the dominant force in North India and took control of financial management of all northeast India. India was treated as a plantation, with profits shipped to London for the shareholders, while the people of Bengal were left to suffer.

Bengal Famine and the Rise of India’s Wealth

In the 1770s, a two-year drought caused a famine that killed 1.2 million Bengalis, which made the British East India Company unpopular in England. Parliament bailed out the Company because it was generating half of Britain’s trade. Robert Clive was interrogated but avoided official punishment. Warren Hastings and Philip Francis became next in charge, but their power struggle paralyzed the Company’s governance in India. The Marathas and the Sultan of Mysore forged an alliance, which led to the Triple Alliance’s devastating blow to the Company. Through military action and diplomacy, Hastings made a comeback leading to the Treaty of Salbai, which made sure that the enemies would not have such an opportunity to defeat the Company again.

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