2ndlook

Rise of the British Empire – A 2ndlook

Posted in Business, European History, Gold Reserves, History, India, Media, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on July 6, 2010
Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, May 23, 1908. An early colour photography example in Russia Photo - By Yevgeny Kassin. Courtesy - www.guardian.co.uk

Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, May 23, 1908. An early colour photography example in Russia Photo - By Yevgeny Kassin. Courtesy - http://www.guardian.co.uk

Indian history fails

Indian history’s biggest failing is in understanding and explaining the rise of English imperial power in the Indian subcontinent.

Facing foreign conquest for the first time in 12th century AD, Indians have difficulties in understanding invasion, conquests, territorial expansion and the motive power behind such imperial actions.

Equally for the British, the ‘gain’ and ‘loss’ of India happened so quickly, that they cannot accept the loss and they still cannot believe their luck.

The central question of how India could ever have fallen under British rule continues to engage almost obsessive attention. How so few Britons, as servants of a private business enterprise, could have conquered so huge an area and so many people, so far away, has never ceased to amaze or embarrass. Neither British nor national historiography has proven satisfactory. (From The Oxford history of the British Empire: Historiography By Robin W. Winks, Alaine M. Low).

Modern Indian historians have not been of much help.

The perplexed Indian

The question of Indian subjugation by Islamic and English invasions has rarely been answered with any balance.

For instance, with reluctant admiration, some Indians ‘acknowledge’ that the British must have had something special. After all, how could Robert Clive with 400 English soldiers, defeat Siraj-ud-Dowla’s armies of 60,000? This left the ordinary, disbelieving Indian with the second assumption. Indians must have been fighting with bows and arrows, while the English had guns and cannons.

Now both these answers are wrong – because in 1857, Indian had equally good ship-building docks (if not better) and gun smiths. The best steel in the world came from India – as did the raw material for gun-powder, saltpetre.

A hundred years ago, a perplexed Indian, Taraknath Das, sought to understand the cause of Indian subjugation. He wrote to Tolstoy, the 19th Russian writer. Tolstoy’s very ‘insightful’ answer on Indian independence was

What does it mean that 30,000 people, not athletes, but rather weak and ill-looking, have enslaved 200 millions of vigourous, clever, strong, freedom loving people? Do not the figures alone make it clear that not the English, but the Hindus themselves are the cause of their slavery?’ For the Hindus to complain that the English had enslaved them was like villagers addicted to drink complaining that that the winesellers who had settled in their midst were the cause of their drinking habit. ‘Is that not the case with all the people, the millions of people, who submit to thousands or even hundreds of individuals of their own nation or those of foreign nations?’ If the Hindus had been enslaved by violence, it was ‘because they themselves have lived, and continue to live by violence, and fail to recognize the eternal law of love inherent in humanity.

Gandhiji, made 20,000 copies of this waffling and rambling narrative – and distributed it among the Indian population in South Africa. Tolstoy’s ‘explanation’ is today repeated in Indian schools as a defeatist question, ‘How could a few thousand people conquer a nation of crores?’

Tinged with ‘admiration’ for the English ‘character’!

Modern parallels

What was behind the rise of English power – especially, in the Indian sub-continent? After 60 years and a few hundred-crores (or a few billions) of tax-payer funds, Indian academia and historians have failed to answer this question – satisfactorily.

The usual answers trotted out are:-

  • Military superiority (better trained and motivated English soldiers)
  • Technological superiority (Indians had bows and arrows versus English guns and cannons)
  • Political unity (united English vs a divided India)

Historical evidence completely contradicts these three constructs during the 1600-1850 period, the phase of English ascent. For real answers we will need to look somewhere else.

Later in the post, we will use two widely syndicated posts, that appeared on the same day, originating in the USA. These two reports are an excellent parallel of what happened some 300 years ago.

But before that let us look at the key events and developments.

The coup at Plassey - became a 'military' victory for the British!

The coup at Plassey - became a 'military' victory for the English!

Cut to India in 1757

Robert Clive’s ‘genius’ lay in cobbling exactly one such cabal. This cabal consisted of Armenian, Indian and English merchants.

The Armenians were represented by Khojah Petrus Nicholas, and Indians were represented by the Jagat Seths, Seth Mahtab Chand,and Seth Swarup Chand, and other seths like Raja Janki Ram, Rai Durlabh, Raja Ramnarain and Raja Manik Chand. The Armenians, and the ill-fated Omichund, a “notorious Calcutta merchant who was later to engineer the Plassey Revolution” played an important part in the Bengal/Bihar saltpetre trade. They were all significant players in the export of saltpetre (potassium nitrate). Also known as niter, saltpetre was a necessary ingredient for gunpowder.

Increasing demand for Indian saltpetre from Europe increased prices in India. Indian traders benefited. Was this Plassey-nexus between Armenian, English and Indian traders, a result of restrictions on saltpetre trade itself by the Nawab of Oudh.

As a battle, observes Panikkar, “Plassey was ridiculous. Mir Jafar, who vacillated during the engagement, came timidly round with congratulations and he was told he was now Nawab.” Plassey thus, was “a transaction, not a battle.

The ‘importance’ of Plassey is a colonial invention. It is the Battle of Buxar which started off the East India Company. It is conveniently ignored that the East India Company recruited some 18000 sepoys in the next 6 years (1757-1763). It is these 18000 sepoys which clinched the Battle of Buxar for the East India Company.

The coup of Plassey was not a military success, but industrial and economic. Industrially, the English gained global control over saltpetre, an essential component in gunpowder. With Bihar and Bengal being production centres of saltpetre, control over the global gunpowder production system, passed into English hands. Rest of India and the world were cut-off from saltpetre supplies.

Economically, till the grant of Bengal diwani to the East India Company in 1765, after the battle of Buxar (1764) England used to export bullion to make investments in purchase of Indians goods. After the 1765, diwani, the excess revenue was used to make the purchases – and the English bullion was used to fund expansion, grow armies, et al. It was the battle of Buxar (1764) which created the roots of the English Empire in India via the East India Company.

Such exclusive companies, therefore, are nuisances in every respect ; always more or less inconvenient to the countries in which they are established, and. destructive to those which have the misfortune to fall under their government. (An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations By Adam Smith).

Such was Clive’s legacy. A troubled Robert Clive committed suicide in 1774.

The colonial Indian army was used against the civilian population - e.g. Jallianwala bagh.

The colonial Indian army was used against the civilian population - e.g. Jallianwala bagh.

The oppressive army of the colonial Raj

The growth in the Colonial Raj’s army to maintain its authority is the simple reason why the Raj was able to maintain its rule for nearly 200 years.

The 18000 sepoys enrolled in 1763 grew in the early years of the nineteenth century to 150,000 and to nearly 350,000 by about 1820. (from Neighbors & strangers: the fundamentals of foreign affairs By William Roe Polk).

In 1820, Britain ruled less than half of modern India. The population of India at that time has been estimated at 25 crore- and the possible population under the Colonial Raj was less than 12 crore.

To sustain an army of 350,000 on a population of 12 crores is an oppressive burden beyond imagination. In a population of 12 crores, the number of able-bodied men would be around Rs.3.0 crore – and army of 350,000 would have meant 1 in every hundred was a soldier. Another writer on the British Empire confirms

the East India Company’s own army, especially its sepoy regiments, grew rapidly. This created a new demand for officers. By 1772 the Company’s officer corps in India was about 1560 strong, more than half the number of regular British army officers at that time. Regular officers were encouraged to transfer to the Company, but most of the increase was accounted for by the recruitment of very young men straight into the Company’s army as cadets. (from The making and unmaking of empires – Britain, India, and America c.1750-1783 By Peter James Marshall).

A proportionate army in India today would be close to 35 lakhs – twice the size the 16 lakhs that India, defence forces (army, air-force and navy) have today. Not only did the East India Company pay better, they also made timely payments.

The East India Company had a justified reputation for not only paying better but for being a more reliable paymaster for its Indian sepoys than any Indian ruler was likely to be.

Many Indians soldiering communities joined the armies of the British Raj as the

Company sepoys’ pay was high; infantry received about Rs.80 per annum, several times the pay of a specialist field worker. The regularity of pay … distinguished British from indigenous Indian armies.

The other reason why the British Raj military size was greater was that instead of police,

many civil duties, which in this country (England) are performed by the police, are in India discharged by the military force.

The small size of Indian police force was a historical trend, predating the English and continues till date. The small police force was derived from the economic habits of the Indian population which did not depend on crime for a livelihood (unlike say, piracy or slave trade in Europe). The constant warfare against Indian polity in India was essential for imperial English objectives. It was the large size of the Colonial Indian Army, consisting of Indian sepoys that was behind the might of the British Empire.

But during WW2, the situation changed. As Indian armies were sent to various theatres of war, and the Quit India movement exploded – as did various other movements across India, the British hold on India seemed to be hanging by a thread. The British response was interesting.

In 1932 there were 215,004 policemen in India (for a population in excess of 300 million) of whom 32,596 (15.16 per cent) were armed. By the end of 1938, the figure had fallen slightly to 193,118 with 28,703 men (14.86 per cent) under arms. But in December 1943, as political and administrative responsibilities of the police grew, the total reached 300,656 (an increase of over 60 per cent since the outbreak of the war) with 137, 222 (45.64 per cent of the total) under arms. (from Policing and decolonisation: politics, nationalism, and the police, 1917-65 By David Anderson, David Killingray.).

The Royal Indian Navy decided to raise to flag of Independence in Bombay in 1946, after which the Indian Army saw a mutiny in Jabalpur. (Photo courtesy - www.outloook.com).

The Royal Indian Navy decided to raise to flag of Independence in Bombay in 1946, after which the Indian Army saw a mutiny in Jabalpur. (Photo courtesy - http://www.outloook.com).

The day the worm turned, the British Raj ended. On February 18th 1946, the Indian Naval force, then the Royal Indian Navy raised the flag of independence. Colonial history calls it the Naval Ratings Mutiny – on February 18th 1946. Within 1 week, Britain decided to evacuate from India.

On February 18th, the ‘lowly’ Naval Ratings from the Royal Indian Navy rained on the British parade – by raising the flag of Indian Independence. Britain did not have the stomach to take on the Indian Colonial Army, battle hardened and exposed to warfare in all the global theatres of WW2. Penderel Moon, a much quoted British Civil servant, felt that the Raj was on “the edge of a volcano.” As did Nehru and Pethick Lawrence. The INA trials had created serious ruptures in British control over India.

On February 19th, 1946, PM Clement Attlee announced that a British Cabinet delegation of three ministers would visit India. He followed this up, on 20th February, 1946, with a statement in the British House of Commons,

His Majesty’s Government desires to hand over their responsibility to authorities established by a constitution approved by all parties in India … His Majesty’s Government wish to make it clear that it is their definite intention to take necessary steps to effect the transference of power to responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June 1948 … His Majesty’s Government will have to consider to whom the powers of the Central Government in British India should be handed over on the due date

On 15th March, 1946, Attlee announced in the British House of Commons that Britain was leaving India. 23rd March, 1946, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Secretary of State for India, A. V. Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade came to India for consultations on modalities for power transfer. The British acquiesced and 18 months later the British were out.

It took nearly 200 years for the The Indian sepoy to decide that he was no longer willing to be a loyal soldier of the Company Bahadur. And the British Raj crumbled.

Noiselessly.

The seed capital of the British Raj

In all this, the important thing was funding!

The recruitment and expansion of the standing army, the purchase and stockpiling of gunpowder, needed exceptional financial resources that only the English seemed to have. Where did this ‘liquidity’ come from?And that is where the English secret lies.

Apart from the Indian loot, it was the loot from the rest of the world that enabled the English to fund the acquisition of these power sources. The surge in English financial capital can be explained by a succession of English ‘adventures’ which created the seed capital for Indian subjugation.

Of which, the most celebrated is the piracy.

A captive bows before Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan as Morgan and his men sack the city of Panama in the 1670s. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)  Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/11/21/f-pirates-whoswho.html#ixzz0stPqRYn3

A captive bows before Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan as Morgan and his men sack the city of Panama in the 1670s. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/11/21/f-pirates-whoswho.html#ixzz0stPqRYn3

Britain – a pirate power

The explicit use of pirates in the Caribbean brought great riches to the Britain. Keynes famously linked all British foreign investment to the single act of looting of the Spanish Armada.

For a good part of 300 years (1550-1850), the English crown gave permits for pirates to operate on high seas – through, what were known as, letters of marque. With the sanction of the English State, high seas piracy became a national pastime in Britain.

Pirates like Sir John Hawkins made money on slave trade and piracy – targeting Spanish ships. Queen Elizabeth, apart from knighting him, also participated in these criminal enterprises. In a modern context, imagine the Italian government giving legal sanction to the Mafia, or Colombians to the Cali cartel.

The Spanish Armada was assembled by Spain to end British piracy. Further on, British propaganda made these pirates and privateers into heroes – and the Spanish Armada into an instrument of Catholic repression.

John Maynard Keynes, famously and honestly, tracked the source of British capital – and computed the compounded value of this loot. Keynes wrote: –

I trace the beginnings of British foreign investment to the treasure which Drake stole from Spain in 1580. In that year he returned to England bringing with him the prodigious spoils of the Golden Hind. Queen Elizabeth was a considerable shareholder in the syndicate which had financed the expedition. Out of her share she paid off the whole of England’s foreign debt, balanced her Budget, and found herself with about £40,000 in hand. This she invested in the Levant Company –which prospered. Out of the profits of the Levant Company, the East India Company was founded; and the profits of this great enterprise were the foundation of England’s subsequent foreign investment. Now it happens that £40,ooo accumulating at 3f per cent compound interest approximately corresponds to the actual volume of England’s foreign investments at various dates, and would actually amount to-day to the total of £4,000,000,000 which I have already quoted as being what our foreign investments now are. Thus, every £1 which Drake brought home in 1580 has now become £100,000. Such is the power of compound interest!

Now we all know where the Spaniards got their gold from!

English Chartered Companies – monopoly public-sector trading houses

The next major source for English capital were English corporations, in which the British ruling classes were the prime promoters and beneficiaries. English use of corporations was ‘pioneering’. It allowed the State to hide behind the veil of an artificial person. The EEIC could be blamed as the tyrant – and Queen Victoria could be displayed as a saviour.

The earliest English experiences with corporations started with the Muscovy Company (formed during 1550-155), the Spanish Company (1577), giving rise, in turn to the Levant Company (1581). Precursors to the East India Company, the Levant Company for instance was a mostly successful English monopoly of trade with the Turkey, Venice, Genoa and Middle East. English royalty became shareholders in these English corporations like the Muscovy Company or the Russia Merchants Companies in the 1550s, Levant Company, The Royal African Company – and later also the East India Company.

James Lancaster, John Eldred (Treasurer of the Levant Company) and Alderman Thomas Smythe and his assistant Richard Wright were common to both the Levant company and the East India Company. The English Queen contributed to the slave trading enterprise of Jack Hawkins the pirate, with her own ships, the Jesus of Lubeck and the Minion.

These trading houses, set up with royal patronage, controlled wealth, power and trade. Controlled by a few people, these corporations were extensions of the State.

British Slave Trade (Data source - Table from 'The Oxford history of the British Empire: The eighteenth century By P. J. Marshall, Alaine M. Low'; page 446)

English Slave Trade (Data source - Table from 'The Oxford history of the British Empire: The eighteenth century By P. J. Marshall, Alaine M. Low'; page 446)

Britain – prime slave trader

Britain and US were the largest users of African slaves – which gave these economies a 20% labour cost advantage. It also ‘freed’ its unemployed youth to go to the colonies and join the military.

The Royal African Company, a slaving trading ‘enterprise’, branded slaves with the letters ‘DY’, after its benefactor and promoter, the Duke of York, (better known as King James-II) and later the company’s initials, RAC. The Royal African Company, formed as the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa, was created to exploit the ‘opportunity’ for slavery in general – and the trans-Atlantic slave trade specifically.

Between 1699-1807 alone, there were more than 12100 slave voyages from the English ports of London, Bristol, Liverpool, Newport and others. Britain was the prime slave-trading European power. More than 20 million slaves were captured from West Africa and sold into slavery. The overall number of slaves from Africa to Europe and Americas are much higher than 20 million. Wealthy slave traders built grand edifices across Britain, donated to universities, museums, charities.

Britain – sugar and spice

Based on slavery, was Britain’s chain of sugar production colonies across the Caribbean. With the collapse of slavery in Haiti, sugar prices zoomed. Places in the West Indies, like Barbados, Jamaica competed to become the ‘richest spote of ground in the worlde.’ Between 1793-1798, sugar prices trebled. For a few years, English territories imported more slaves than Cuba.

As slavery became impossible due to revolts and mutinies, Britain turned to India again. This time for indentured labour. Slavery diluted and called by another name, India became a source to fall back on for indentured labour. How could the British afford to buy indentured labour? Bought with new gold discoveries in Canada and Australia. Nearly 1 crore (10 million) indentured labourers were shipped out from India alone to various parts of the world – and continued till about 1917. As is to be expected, the UK Government grossly underestimates these figures.

By the time the indentured labour scheme was finally brought to an end in 1917, it is estimated that 2.5 million East Indians had been shipped to British colonies around the world. (From Empire’ Children – Channel 4).

After the finally abolishing slavery in 1833, indentured labour replaced slavery with indentured labour. Upfront, indentured labour was only slightly more expensive, but was cheaper in the long run. Indentured labour also came fewer issues related to capture, transport, trade and maintenance of slaves – with a veneer of respectability that was needed for propaganda purposes.

Indentured labour – Slavery by another name

In the late and middle 19th century, capture of Indians by British agents indentured labour, (slave traders and slavery by another name) was also the reason, that possibly, the myth of ‘kaal-paani’ became prevalent and Indian traders preferred buyers to come to them. Intrepid Indians, suddenly discovered kaala paani – a defensive response to indentured labour, which was a close parallel to slavery.

The West re-invented slavery (in the 20th century again) and renamed it as apartheid which made native populations into slaves. They could, of course, truthfully claim that great Anglo-Saxon frontiersmen discovered gold and settled empty continents – in ‘hostile conditions.’

As sugar prices climbed, Cuban plantation owners expanded plantations – and increased slave labour. From 1840, rumblings among Cubans slaves increased – which would continue for many decades.

Cuban sugar industry was itself kick-started, with English import of 5000 slaves in 1762, during their brief occupation of Cuba. In 1844 Cuban slaves revolted unsuccessfully. 10th, October 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspesdes released his slaves and El Grito de Yara War, (a 10 year campaign) against Spain started. General Valeriano Weyler, “The Butcher,” was sent to stamp out the independence movement. He created modern history’s first concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands of men women and children were put into concentration camps.

And English sugar colonies gained another second wind.

But what do the Portuguese call their ocean-going ships? Nau. Yes, nau as in Hindi, for boat. Vasco da Gama’s ship, was illustrated in the Libro das Armadas in 1497. (ACADEMIA DAS CIENCIAS DE LISBOA / GIRAUDON / BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY). Picture saudiaramcoworld.com

But what do the Portuguese call their ocean-going ships? Nau. Yes, nau as in Hindi, for boat. Vasco da Gama’s ship, was illustrated in the Libro das Armadas in 1497. (ACADEMIA DAS CIENCIAS DE LISBOA / GIRAUDON / BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY). Picture saudiaramcoworld.com

Indian shipping

50 years before Independence, a 100 years ago, India was one of the largest ship building countries in the world. The “modern era” began with the building of a dry dock at Bombay about 1750; a second was erected in Calcutta about 1780.

During Shivaji’s reign, as per estimates, more than 300 ships of 300 tons capacity were launched. The Wadias alone built more than 350 ships – during 1735-1863 170 war vessels for the East India Company, 34 man-of-war defence vessels for the British Navy, 87 merchant vessels for private firms, and three vessels for the Queen of Muscat at Bombay docks.

In 1872, Jamshedji Wadia, from a Parsi ship-building family, constructed the “Cornwallis”, a frigate with 50 guns, bought by the East India Company. This led to several orders from the English Navy.

Bengal was the other major port where ship building was for global markets. Chittagong was the center for shipbuilding (now in Bangladesh). The Turkish Navy (a major world power till WWI) was a major customer.

Ma Huan, the famous chronicler and interpreter of Zheng He (also called Cheng Ho) voyages, during the Ming dynasty, studied boat building in Bengal during the early 15th century (1400-1410).

The third major center for ship building was Narsapurpeta (near Masulipatnam) port – which was a major center of exports of steel, diamonds, saltpetre (potassium nitrate, for gunpowder, to kill Indians, Negroes, Aborigines and Red Indians with) from the Deccan plateau.

Sixteenth century painting of the Calicut port - showing shipbuilding yards. (Courtesy - www.saudiaramcoworld.com; BRAUN AND HOGENBERG, CIVITATES ORBIS TERRARUM, 1572 (2)) Click for larger image.

Sixteenth century painting of the Calicut port - showing shipbuilding yards. (Courtesy - http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com; BRAUN AND HOGENBERG, CIVITATES ORBIS TERRARUM, 1572 (2)) Click for larger image.

These buyers preferred Indian ships, because of better jointing technology and elimination of metal sheeting. Indian shipbuilders had a special system where wood was seasoned in partial vacuum, with oils for timber improvement. British shipbuilders, colonialists ensured through tariff and other barriers, that Indian shipbuilding “was prevented from continuing to develop, even though it had a proven ability to adapt to changing technological needs” – and thus finally killing it. English naval superiority rested on Indian ships – and paid for by exploitation of Indian resources.

In 1498, Vasco da Gama’s ocean-going ship, the Sao Gabriel came to India. The Portuguese caravel are well-known. But what do the Portuguese call their ocean-going ships? Nau. Yes, nau as in Hindi, for boat. Few of these Indian built ships have been recovered in various parts of the world. Indian shipbuilding expertise ruled the world – till colonialism killed it.

History repeats itself

On June 6th, two posts appeared in the Indian newspapers. These two posts were remarkable, as these mirrored events and behaviour some 200-400 years ago.

One report dealt with the American War in Afghanistan. To smoothen logistics in Afghanistan, the US ‘recruited’ an Afghan warlord, Matiullah Khan. Much like the English recruited many Indian kings, chieftains to fight their wars.

His main effort — and his biggest money maker — is securing the chaotic highway linking Kandahar to Tirin Kot for NATO convoys. One day each week, Matiullah declares the 100-mile highway open and deploys his gunmen up and down it. The highway cuts through an area thick with Taliban insurgents.

Matiullah keep the highway safe, and he is paid well to do it. His company charges each NATO cargo truck $1,200 for safe passage, or $800 for smaller ones, his aides say. His income, according to one of his aides, is $2.5 million a month, an astronomical sum in a country as impoverished as this one. (via With U.S. Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire).

Matiullah Khan, yet another report reveals, is one of the

… eight trucking contractors who share the US military’s $2.16bn (€1.68bn, £1.45bn) two-year host nation trucking contract. The companies include NCL Holdings, run by Hamed Wardak, the US-educated son of Afghanistan’s defence minister, and others founded by investors in the US and the Gulf.

The system relies on an opaque network of sub-contractors who pay Afghan security companies to escort their trucks. Investigators suspect these companies in turn pay tolls to militia leaders with groups of hundreds of gunmen.

Prominent militia commanders in southern Afghanistan include Matiullah Khan and Ruhullah. Although some hold ranks in the Afghan security forces, such commanders exercise considerable autonomy and often field better forces than the army or police. Industry insiders say militias run what amount to protection rackets on convoys passing through their territory.

Two aspects of this stand out. One is the figure US$2.16 billion over two years – i.e. US$1.08  billion per annum. Now that is a lot of money for the 1500 Matiullah Khan’s militia – and the other 10,000-15,000 members of the other militias.

Are these private militias a problem for the local Afghans? Yes, say the local people. But, like this reports says, “But as long as the Americans are behind him, there is nothing I can do. They are the ones with the money.”

And that pretty much was what happened in India from 1757 to 1947.

The day we decided to invest in 'Desert Bloc' is the day that evil started becoming so awesome!

The day we decided to invest in 'Desert Bloc' is the day that evil started becoming so awesome!

Indian history according to Dilbert

All this still does not explain how the English could become ascendant in Indian – without Indian collaboration. For understanding this collaboration, let us turn to another column by Scott Adams – the creator of Dilbert.

When I heard that BP was destroying a big portion of Earth, with no serious discussion of cutting their dividend, I had two thoughts: 1) I hate them, and 2) This would be an excellent time to buy their stock. And so I did. Although I should have waited a week.

People ask me how it feels to take the side of moral bankruptcy. Answer: Pretty good! Thanks for asking. How’s it feel to be a disgruntled victim?

I have a theory that you should invest in the companies that you hate the most.

If there’s oil on the moon, BP will be the first to send a hose into space and suck on the moon until it’s the size of a grapefruit. As an investor, that’s the side I want to be on, with BP, not the loser moon.

Perhaps you think it’s absurd to invest in companies just because you hate them. But let’s compare my method to all of the other ways you could decide where to invest.

Perhaps you can safely invest in companies that have a long track record of being profitable. That sounds safe and reasonable, right? The problem is that every investment expert knows two truths about investing: 1) Past performance is no indication of future performance. 2) You need to consider a company’s track record.

Right, yes, those are opposites. An investment professional can argue for any sort of investment decision by selectively ignoring either point 1 or 2. And for that you will pay the investment professional 1% to 2% of your portfolio value annually, no matter the performance.

I’m not saying that the companies you love are automatically bad investments. I’m saying that investing in companies you love is riskier than investing in companies you hate.

If you buy stock in a despicable company, it means some of the previous owners of that company sold it to you. If the stock then rises more than the market average, you successfully screwed the previous owners of the hated company. That’s exactly like justice, only better because you made a profit. Then you can sell your stocks for a gain and donate all of your earnings to good causes, such as education for your own kids.

My point is that I hate Apple. I hate that I irrationally crave their products, I hate their emotional control over my entire family, I hate the time I waste trying to make iTunes work, I hate how they manipulate my desires, I hate their closed systems, I hate Steve Jobs’s black turtlenecks, and I hate that they call their store employees Geniuses which, as far as I can tell, is actually true. My point is that I wish I had bought stock in Apple five years ago when I first started hating them. But I hate them more every day, which is a positive sign for investing, so I’ll probably buy some shares.

Looking back at how the Rajputs, like General Mansingh et al, collaborated with the Mughals (Mughals were better than the Khiljis, right?) Indians also justified alliances with the colonial Raj. It took some time for the reality of English rule to sink into Indian minds.

Reluctant admirers

Thus, at historical crossroads, in the 18th century, Indian industrial technology (shipping and gunpowder), wealth (Indian gold reserves) and Indian manpower (Indian sepoys and indentured labour) powered the rise of Britain.

The Indian military market was completely dominated by the private sector. Elements of the Indian military mix – soldiers, elephants, horse traders and trainers, saltpetre production, shipping, wootz steel production, was supplied to the various kingdoms. Operating on a commercial basis, across borders, these production and recruitment systems were technology leaders with high production capacity. In such a military system, standing armies were rare. Production capacities catered to the entire Indic area – and limited export markets.

As the linkage between Indian intellectual and industrial centres (Takshashila against Alexander; Nalanda and saltpetre) broke, after Indian polity fell under the spell of ‘Desert Bloc’ ideology, from 1200 (Qutubuddin Aibak onwards) till date, Indian military production also  lost discretion and propriety. From being market-oriented, and end-use sensitive, India’s military production became mercenary.

Using their ill-gotten gains, from slavery, piracy, crime, loot, et al Islamic rulers and the English outbid Indian rulers. For military elements like saltpetre, elephants, sepoys, horses, armies et al. The first time in Indian history, defence production became public sector monopoly, under Nehru’s ‘commanding heights’ and ‘temples of modern India’ socialistic policy.

To marginally ethical people, without recourse to loot, piracy and slavery under the Indic values system of shubh labh, ‘Desert Bloc’ ethics were an ‘attractive’ alternative. Economically affected by shrinkage in Indian exports due to slave raids and piracy, land grab by the colonial Indian State, some took the easy way of embracing English practices and values – giving the British Empire a leg up in India.

Pirates and slave traders as vectors of the insidious Desert Bloc ethic are usually not factored, analysed or discussed. Indian ship manufacturing centres were world leaders. Hence, ‘traders’ (especially slave traders) from the world over came to India shipyards – centred around Kerala, Gujarat and Chittagong. But slavery and loot are the two elephants in the Desert Bloc room which needs to be recognized, examined – and understood.

Sandwiched between buying Indian collaborators (like Americans are today buying Matiullah Khan) or obtaining cooperation (like Scott Adams is suggesting) from ‘reluctant’ Indian admirers lies the story of the rise of Britain and the British Raj in India.

Not a great mystery this. If you can cut out all the ‘White’ noise.

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Book Review – Operation Red Lotus

Posted in European History, Gold Reserves, History, India, Media, politics, Religion by Anuraag Sanghi on March 18, 2010

Reverberations – 150 years later

The 1857 war in India, is something that remained an enigma for the last 150 years. For “the public was at the time and for years to come saturated to an astonishing degree with lurid accounts of the uprising, which became the subject of countless sermons, novels, plays and poems, and about which more than eighty novels were written, six appearing in the “peak” year of 1896 alone”.

So, I too was vaguely thrilled to receive a draft copy of the Operation Red Lotus (Red Lotus) by Parag Tope, some 7 months ago. Over the next 2-3 weeks, I went through the book. The first time with more enthusiasm than objectivity. Then came the time to take a 2ndlook look.

This book was an interesting experience. For one it represents yet another attempt to clean up Indian history of colonial detritus.

Answers to some obvious questions

Western /colonial historiography has typically dismissed the Anglo-Indian War of 1857 (Parag Tope’s nomenclature) as a Sepoy Mutiny. Post-colonial Indian historians have been equally guilty of another crime – of dismissing this War as a subaltern war, playing into the hands of Western dismissive-ness. This is something that becomes obvious after reading Red Lotus. Brought on a staple diet of colonial history refurbished as Indian history, to get some bearings was a welcome development.

After all a 18-36 month War that reverberated across the world could not have been a leaderless, cashless, food-less, resource-less war. Red Lotus gives us some vital information on that – which Indian history books don’t! The chapatis and lotus petals insight is unnervingly plausible.

The official account of the Anglo-Indian War of 1857 leaves a number of loose ends. This book takes those loose ends and unravels the official account itself – to leave it in tatters.

How was the 1857 war important

A valuable focus in the book, was how the British backed away from their proselytizing efforts. After and due  to this War.

Not due to any innate goodness in the British hearts, or any ‘religious’ and ideological ‘liberalism’ that the modern-day Western narrative trots out. The triad of freedoms that Parag Tope delineates in Red Lotus, are an important element that defines the Indic polity system – defined as भारत्तंत्र in 2ndlook posts.

Drawing on the correspondence between Hartog and Gandhiji, as pointed out elsewhere, in 2ndlook, Red Lotus also has an excellent section on how the Indian education system was destroyed by British policy and design.

Caste of characters

Apart from the Anglo-Indian War of 1857, there were more than 75 battles, skirmishes, revolts, mutinies, involving thousands, up to lakhs of Indians, across India. And more than double that many conspiracies, plots, hold-ups, explosions, bombings, which were not organized. These more than 200 violent actions have been completely glossed over by post-colonial India’s historians. Obviously, more than 200 incidents of violent opposition to British misrule over 150 years (1800-1947) deserves better treatment by official historians. Especially, the people who were ‘behind’ this.

This is another area where Red Lotus scores. Its cast of characters are real people and have been treated objectively. Of course to readers of the 2ndlook, Parag Tope’s views are not new or strange. But to anyone else, like me initially, it was an intellectual challenge. Because Red Lotus does not spoon feed.

For instance, Baijabai Shinde and Vishnubhat Godse (his account in Marathi strangely is hardly known, and usually ignored). My favourite though is Azimullah Khan, a ‘secret agent’ who ‘devoured’ English ladies, hob-nobbed with the enemy’s-enemy and surveyed the enemy’s war operations in Crimea. Azimullah Khan, other sources say, bought a French printing press and confirmed the viability of the Anglo-Indian War!

Interestingly, the one character dealt with rather tersely (balanced, if you will) is Tatya Tope himself. Tatya Tope seems, in comparison, to be cut from a normal revolutionary cloth in Red Lotus. No mean achievement, this.

To Indians raised on an official narrative of caste-religion matrix, this cast of characters is refreshing. Unlike other texts and narratives that have given a brief or a cursory mention of these characters. How could a caste-ridden, divided and oppressive society mount more than 200 actions – against British ‘deliverance’ and ‘enlightenment’.

Red Lotus does not, for instance, get defensive about the ‘rape’ and killing of English women. Most narratives do not even question the rape and murder of British women stories. In fact,

there was no evidence that British women were raped… (but) this was the immediate and lasting assumption, and a great many of the novelizations of the event, were “essentially pornographic” as they detailed the lascivious thoughts of Indians preparing to “tear and mangle” the white limbs of English women “in unspeakable tortures”.(from WTC, September 11; Indian “Mutiny,” 1857:  Two Studies in the Psychology of Embattled Superpower By Diane Simmons; ellipsis and text in parenthesis supplied).

The international context

The book also brings out some parts of the international context. For instance how the 1857 financial crisis in the US was possibly triggered by mass redemptions from UK, to fight this war! Or how troops meant for China were diverted to India. Or the huge amounts of drug trade that fuelled the ‘Rise of Britain’. In comparison, the Cali cartel seems like small change, Tope points out. Or the official licensing of piracy by England – and other European powers.

Too often , Indian history is boxed into a small context, which makes it difficult to understand the bigger questions. One question which this book does not completely answer – at least directly, is why did India have to struggle financially to fight a just war, and Britain has money pouring out of its ears, to impose its tyranny on India.

The missing links

So, why did India lose the war? Tope in Red Lotus has marshalled excellent research to show it was British brutality on the hapless Indians that disarmed the leaders of the Anglo-Indian War! The drug trade and piracy are another part of the answer.

The bigger answer is (as per 2ndlook) slavery, genocide in Americas and Australia. And the capture of land, wealth and gold from these lands that fuelled the rise of the West – and why India could not match those resources. So to say, the Country Model itself. But then, that would have unfairly expanded the scope of the book – claim the writers!

Possibly!

This was the other disappointment. I had expected (unrealistically and in a lighter vein), that after all, who better than the Tope family to tell us what ‘actually’ happened to the missing leaders – though Red Lotus does give an eye-witness account about the end of Tatya Tope.

As the Anglo-Indian War of 1857, continued and wound down, the three leaders, Nana Sahib, Tatya Tope, and Feroz Shah disappeared. No one knew what happened to them.

It is usually accepted (in Red Lotus also) that the man who was ‘executed’ by the Colonial Raj, as Tatya Tope, was a straw figure. Unlike Red Lotus, it is difficult to believe that Tatya Tope died in battle – without being recognized, by eager Britishers or thousands of his loyal lieutenants. Like other leaders of the War, Tatya Tope’s life has many endings.

The fate of the leaders – Nana Sahib, Azimullah Khan, Tatya Tope, Feroz Shah et al.

Enduring mystery this!

How 1857 changed world history …

A war of a different kind

During the 1857 War against the colonial rule of Britain in India, unable to gain military advantage, British armed forces started using Indian populations as human shield. For each military success of the Indian armies, the British armies exacted retribution on the local non-combatant populations.

This reign of terror and brutality on home populations disarmed Indian armies and ended the war. A impressive work on this period is by Amaresh Misra – a film critic and journalist, who was moved sufficiently to research for a few years, because, “Since 1957, no Indian has written a comprehensive account of the Revolt. Indian historians have done a limited work”. Another step in this direction is Parag Tope’s forth coming book, Operation Red Lotus, on the life and wars of Tatiya Tope.

And after subduing the Indian population with this brutal campaign, Britain started a more insidious war – a propaganda war. History started getting twisted, perverted, mutilated – and over the next 100 years, Indian and world history was changed beyond recognition.

    Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon, 1624 by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)

Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon, 1624 by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)

Let the games begin

After 1857, British racist propaganda and cultural baggage came covertly – to gain better traction at home and in the colonies. For instance, Priya Joshi, a researcher shows that after 1857, book shipments from Britain to India increased by a factor of three.

The death of Semiramis

In this propaganda campaign, the most interesting bit is the cold-blooded murder of the historical Semiramis. Readers will find that Semiramis as an Assyrian Queen till the 1850-60 period Western histories.

The Marchese Tommaso II of Saluzzo commissioned Jacques Iverny in 15th century to paint Semiramis, (alongwith Lampheto, Marpasia, Synoppe, Thamiris, Menalippe, Hippolyta, Orithyia, and Penthesilea) now known as The Nine Worthies. Chaucer’s character, Sowdannesse, is charged of being a ‘Virago, thou Semyrame the secounde’ in his Man of Law’s Tale. Edward Degas and Guercine made Semiramis the subject of their paintings. Calderon used her character in his plays. Mozart died before he could complete his melodrama based on Semiramis. A 16th century painter, Philip Galle used Semiramis and Babylon as the subjects of his paintings.

    Philippe Galle – The City of Babylon with the grave of Semiramis

Philippe Galle – The City of Babylon with the grave of Semiramis

Mired in legend and prejudice, Semiramis is discredited in modern Western history – especially starting from 1853-1857. Her very existence denied, accused of incest, Semiramis has been tarred and condemned to the rubbish heap of modern history – and the Bible.

Semiramis established an empire that lasted, practically till WW1. Some 300 years, after the reign of Semiramis, the Assyrian Empire passed into Persian hands. From the Persians, into Alexander’s lap.

Suddenly, from 1860 onwards, Western history started treating Semiramis as a wanton, decadent, probably mythical, a perverted sluttish character.

The reason.

Semiramis biggest defeat was at the hands of Indians. And soon after her defeat, was the defeat of Cyrus the Great, at the hands of Indians again. And before that were the Battles of Meggido and Kadesh, in which Indic armies confronted the Slave Empire of the Egypt. Such an Indian history was very inconvenient for the British Raj.

Edgar Degas. Semiramis Building Babylon. 1861

The Alexander mythos

Alexander’s raid of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, finally turned out to be a overthrow of the Achaemenid dynasty, usurpers of the Assyrian Empire. Unable to make headway into India, as the Indian Brahmins had helped and influenced Indian princes to organize and support the Indian war against Alexander. Greek sources cite, after this realization, at ‘The City of Brahmans’, Alexander massacred an estimated 8000-10,000 of these non-combatant Brahmans.

Alexander’s massacres in India, a colonial historian informs us (without naming a source), earned him an “epithet … assigned (to) him by the Brahmins of India, The Mighty Murderer.” This Indian Brahmanic characterization of Alexander, commonly taught to English schoolchildren and present in English college texts, as The Mighty Murderer, curiously disappeared from Western-English texts soon after 1860 – and instead now “a positive rose-tinted aura surrounds Alexander” … !

Since Indian texts were completely silent about the very existence of Alexander, colonial Western historians had a free run. Using hagiographic Greek texts as the base, Alexander became the conqueror of the world.

Max Mueller – Son of Hegel

Behind this propaganda was possibly a man who is much admired (wrongly) in India today – Max Mueller. For instance in Max Muller’s colonial propagandist history, when it comes to Indian triumphs over Semiramis, she becomes half legendary. Yet in another book, the same Semiramis becomes one of ‘the great conquerors of antiquity.’ In a matter of a few pages, he dismisses Indian history completely, in a half-Hegelian manner.

Among Max Mueller’s cohorts, was Karl Marx, who wrote from London, on Friday, June 10, 1853 on India, for the New-York Herald Tribune thus

Hindostan is an Italy of Asiatic dimensions, the Himalayas for the Alps, the Plains of Bengal for the Plains of Lombardy, the Deccan for the Apennines, and the Isle of Ceylon for the Island of Sicily. The same rich variety in the products of the soil, and the same dismemberment in the political configuration. Just as Italy has, from time to time, been compressed by the conqueror’s sword into different national masses, so do we find Hindostan, when not under the pressure of the Mohammedan, or the Mogul[104], or the Briton, dissolved into as many independent and conflicting States as it numbered towns, or even villages. Yet, in a social point of view, Hindostan is not the Italy, but the Ireland of the East. And this strange combination of Italy and of Ireland, of a world of voluptuousness and of a world of woes, is anticipated in the ancient traditions of the religion of Hindostan. That religion is at once a religion of sensualist exuberance, and a religion of self-torturing asceticism; a religion of the Lingam and of the juggernaut; the religion of the Monk, and of the Bayadere.[105]

Aiding Karl Marx-Max Mueller, English poets were press ganged into this propaganda war. Matthew Arnold wrote how, India, a ‘nation of philosophers, from

“The East bowed low before the blast
In patient, deep disdain,
She let the legions thunder past,
And plunged in thought again.”

Matthew Arnold’s influence in Indian education can be gauged by the fact that Indian-English language poetry was for long called derisively as Matthew Arnold in a Saree”. Just before 1857 War, the works of another ‘influential’ poet, John Keats, became popular. In his hubristic haze, Keats wrote how,

The kings of Ind their jewel-sceptres vail,
And from their treasures scatter pearled hail;
Great Brahma from his mystic heaven groans,
And all his priesthood moans,
Before young Bacchus’ eye-wink turning pale.

Much of modern history’s debates and questions were born during this time – verily created to wage a propaganda war against India – and the world. India’s cultural stature in the pantheon of world’s societies was reduced to a minimal role – and the Greek Miracle was born.

In the dying days of the Raj

This propaganda war continued well for another 100 years. In the middle of WW2, Britain pulled out a general from the Italian theatre of war. Brigadier General Mortimer Wheeler, the general in question, was sent to India – to head colonial India’s archaeological operations.

One evening in early August 1943, Brigadier-General Mortimer Wheeler was resting in his tent after a long day of poring over maps, drawing up plans for invasion of Sicily. Mortimer Wheeler was invited to become the director general of archaeology by the India Office of the British government in its last years of rule in South Asia … Summoning a general from the battlefields of Europe was an extraordinary measure, an admission both of the desperate condition of Indian archaeology and an acknowledgment of its vital importance. (from The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture … – Google Books).

Amazing!

Why would the glorious British Empire, on which the sun never set, struggling for its very existence, in the middle of WW2, suddenly pull a general back from the battlefield? Remember, the deceptive Operation Mincement had just been completed. The Allies for readying their armies for their assault on Hitler in Europe. The outcome of the war was far from certain.

And they put a Brigadier-General into archaeology! That too, Indian archaeology. Not Egyptian, not Greek! Especially, when it was clear, that they would be departing from India – sooner rather than later.

Rule Britannia
Rule Britannia

Right choice … right time

Considering what theories came from Mortimer Wheeler’s rather fertile ‘imagination’ and his rigourous archaeological process, in hindsight, from a Western perspective, this was sound decision. There may be the facile answer that the British were, after all ‘searching for history and truth’.

And it led Mortimer Wheeler to remark,

“They demonstrate with astonishing clarity the extent to which the brief transit of Alexander did in fact Hellenize almost instantly vast tracts of Asia populated previously by nomads or semi-nomads and villagers”

It is this one incident which possibly contains answers to many unanswered questions like: –

  1. The amount of energy expended by the West in defending the Aryan Invasion /Migration Theory,
  2. The lack of access to Indian scholars of the archaeological sites in Pakistan
  3. The many myths in Indian history
  4. The clues to the partition of India
  5. The dating problems

et al.

Just why did the world’s foremost imperial power, struggling for its very existence, suddenly pull a general from the battle field, in the middle of WW2 – and put him onto the job of digging dirt.

Only one explanation fits – it had to be a struggle for its own existence at a higher level!

1857: History & Propaganda

Posted in British Raj, European History, Gold Reserves, History, India by Anuraag Sanghi on December 29, 2007

Between 1800 (death of Tipu Sultan) and 1857, the British got a grip on India. The real effect of the British Raj started after 1857. Looking back at 1857-India.

1857

With ‘official’ history as a guide, to many Indians, the Colonial Raj is a mix of clichés and propaganda.

India’s squalor, poverty, disease make many believe that India has always been a historically backward nation. Recent progress and successes make another group believe that we are on the thresh-hold of being a world power.

Both standpoints project current national status backward and forward. It may be instructive to take a dispassionate view of the Indian economy around the 1857, when hundreds of thousands of Indians rose as one against the British Raj.

India and Europe – study in contrasts

From 9th century to the 15th century, Europe was grappling with rampant Church persecution. The Bhakti and the Sufi movements were harmonising Indian belief systems. These movements led the Indian society to a forward-looking, integrative approach. Guru Nanak’s belief systems (Sikhism) and his approach to spreading the creed (make your eldest son my disciple) started making a difference.

While the Levant and the Occident were at each others throats, in the crusades, Islam and Hinduism had begun to acquire a critical balance with each other. Open hostility had receded at a social level (Kabir, Guru Nanak, Akbar, Tansen) and continued, intermittently, at a political level – for instance Aurangzeb.

The Vijaynagar kingdom (after the sacking in 1565, and the rump rulers) was the center of trade for India’s main exports – spices (from the South India and SE Asian archipelago), Wootz steel from the Deccan plateau, a multitude of silk centers from the Deccan and Southern coastal towns were the major exports. India’s biggest import was gold.

Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the trade route (May 20, 1498) expanded market for Indian goods and brought European buyers to India, laden with gold (looted from the New World). The monopoly of the Arab trade was broken. This started a gold rush to begin trade with India. Over the next 70 years, major European, formed chartered companies.

The Chartered Companies

Britain was the first off the mark – with the English East India Company formed in the 1600. The Dutch started soon after with the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Co.) in 1602. The Danish Opperhoved initially started in 1616 and was reborn in 1732, as Asiatisk Kompagni. The Portuguese organised themselves as chartered company in 1628. The French came with the French East India Co. in 1664. The Swedes joined the rat race in 1731 with Svenska Ostindiska Companiet. The Italians came in as the Genoa East India companies. The Hanseatic League had its own operations.

Slavery

The use of slave labour in huge quantities, the loot of gold from North and South Americas, Australia and Africa was exactly the opposite of trade based economy in India. For instance, slave produced cotton from America was cheaper than Indian cotton. During the American Civil War, when cotton production suffered, it set off a boom in India.

Indian Exports – 1700

Between 1707 (Death of Aurangzeb), and 1757, the Battle of Plassey, the Indian economy was booming. 3 significant sectors which contributed to this boom. Apart from significant agrarian output – spices, timber, Indigo, etc. Indian industrial output was a major item in our goods basket – fabric, gems and jewellery and metals. India was a technology leader in these industrial sectors.

Precision Cutting Tools

South India was the only source of diamonds till middle 18th century. Being the hardest, natural substance on Earth, diamond cutting was a high technology industry and India monopolized this business till the 14th century. From circa 6th century, we have the Buddha Bhatta’s text “Ratnapariksha” which served as a manual for Indian gemologists. The French traveller Tavernier reputedly (call it ancient industrial espionage) took that technology to Europe.

Brazilian diamond finds in 1725, the South African discovery in 1866-67 changed the supply equation. The auction of Napoleon III’s French Royal diamonds in 1871 brought diamonds in limelight. Boucheron, Bapst along with Tiffany and Co. cleaned up this auction. The Koh-i-noor continues to captivate the minds of people.

It is this skill and technology acquired over the centuries that makes India into a global hub for diamonds. The diamond cutting dominance by India is by now a 2500 year old phenomenon.

While on cutting tools, one cannot forget the role of lubricants. The finest lubricants is castor oil – which was identified, grown and a monopoly of India till 1950s. Only in the 1960’s did other synthetic fuels and lubricants start competing with castor oil. It has ‘incredible film strength’ – and can resist tremendous pressure. It’s superior ‘wetting ability’ makes it also very effective. One expert on extracting performance from go-kart vehicles says,

For consistently squeezing that last bit of performance out of your engine, it’s pretty hard to beat castor oil as the lubricant in your fuel.’

What special about castor oil: ‘Two words – IT WORKS.’

Metallurgy

As late as 1908, Indian metallurgical skills were known and acknowledged in Europe – the then economic and technological powerhouse of the world.

The high quality of the native-made iron, the early anticipation of the processes now employed in Europe for the manufacture of high-class steels, and the artistic products in copper and brass gave India at one time a prominent position in the metallurgical world.‎ (Page 128 – The Imperial Gazetteer of India: Vol Iii; Originally published in 1908. Author: The Indian Empire Language: English).

The Ashoka pillar made of steel, now in New Delhi, is a marvel of metallurgy. For more than 1600 years, it has stood in the rain, exposed to scorching sun, freezing winters and buried under the earth for a few years.

Still shining. No rust. And no deterioration. Estimated at 6-7 tons in weight, nearly 70 feet in height – and cast in a single block. There are reputedly other such pillars at Dhar and Kodachadri (Karnataka).

Konark Sun TempleKonark Sun Temple (related to Sun Temple at Karnak, Egypt?) used about 2000 tons of lodestone and iron clamps. No mortar, no bricks. Iron clamps helped to keep up parts of this structure in the air based on magnetic repulsion. The iron beams survived for more than 700 years. The Jagannath Puri temple has similar quality and vintage of steel.

As the source (for Konark temple) Dharmapad, recounts, Narasimha Dev, the ruling king, ordered the sculptors to complete construction earlier than the estimated time – with accompanying threats. The team could not keep up with the king’s schedule, and the Sutradhar (Chief Architect) Sri Sibei Samantaray was sidelined. Another architect was assigned the job of completing this work. The newly appointed Sutradhar did complete the work by the stipulated time – but since he did not have the plans, structural inconsistencies crept in.

Wootz steel, was the preferred input in the world, for swords, pistols and such. Known as Damascus steel, it went into Japanese Katanas, European guns. The famed Damascus steel swords, armour and pistols, used steel ingots imported from India as Wootz steel. Indian exports of Wootz was a big earner for India till British efforts killed this industry in India. Subsequent efforts to “reverse engineer” this technology in Europe during the 20th century, has been unsuccessful. Damascus was the trading centre over which the Battle of Kadesh, the biggest chariot battle, was fought between the Indo-Aryan Hittites and the Egyptian Pharoah Ramesses-II fought.

The world’s first suspension bridge, at Menai Straits, in Britain, used Indian steel. Colonial geologists, Pataki Krishna Chaterjee and Thomas Henry Diggs La Touche, noticed that,

“….its (iron’s) superiority is so marked, that at the time when the Britannia tubular bridge across the Menai Straits was under construction preference was given to the use of iron produced in India”.

Was British reluctance and obstruction to Tata Steel plans in early 20th century a result of fear of Indian steel making prowess? Between the Mittals and the Tatas, Indians dominate the world of steel again.

Historical irony in the making?

Fiber, Fabric & Weaving

For 3000 years, Indian fibre and weaving ruled the world. King Cotton and Golden Fibre Jute. While the King cotton story is well-known, Dhaka muslin was till the 20th century the finest cloth you could buy.

Indian silks competed with the Chinese.

What is not so well-known is the cultivation of Jute. Jute, Indian Hemp, Hessian, Burlap, – different names for the same fibre, was the monopoly packing material, till the 1960s – as it was the best packing material for wide variety of goods. Western efforts at ‘beggar thy neighbour’, created some synthetic fiber alternatives that are more expensive – and not in the same class. A new application for Jute is its use in making car interiors and panels.

Model Of Vasco Da Gamas nau

Model Of Vasco Da Gama's nau

Shipbuilding

50 years before Independence, a 100 years ago, India was one of the largest ship building countries in the world. Indian shipbuilding was centered along the Western Coast in Kalyan, Bhivandi and Mumbai, in South India at Narsapurpeta (near Masulipatnam) and in Bengal at Chittagong and Hooghly. The “modern era” began with the building of a dry dock at Bombay about 1750; a second was erected in Calcutta about 1780. During the 19th century, the industry was in a period of expansion and prosperity. However, for the last 100 years, the yards have been in a general decline.

During Shivaji’s reign, as per estimates, more than 300 ships of 300 tons capacity were launched. The Wadias alone built more than 350 ships – during 1735-1863 170 war vessels for the East India Company, 34 man-of-war defence vessels for the British Navy, 87 merchant vessels for private firms, and three vessels for the Queen of Muscat at Bombay docks. After the Bombay Port Trust was formed in 1870, the shipbuilding on the Western Coast moved to Mumbai. In 1872, Jamshedji Wadia, from a Parsi ship-building family, constructed the “Cornwallis”, a frigate with 50 guns, bought by the East India Company. This led to several orders from the British Navy.

Bengal was the other major port where ship building was for global markets. Chittagong was the center for shipbuilding (now in Bangladesh). The Turkish Navy (a major world power till WWI) was a major customer. The Mughal and British navies were the other significant defence customers. Merchants cargo ships were in significant demand. Ma Huan, the famous chronicler and interpreter of Zheng He (also called Cheng Ho) voyages, during the Ming dynasty, studied boat building in Bengal during the early 15th century (1400-1410).

The third major center for ship building was Narsapurpeta (near Masulipatnam) port – which was a major center of exports of steel, diamonds, saltpetre (potassium nitrate, for gunpowder, to kill Indians, Negroes, Aborigines and Red Indians with) from the Deccan plateau.

These buyers preferred Indian ships, because of better jointing technology and elimination of metal sheeting. Indian shipbuilders had a special system where wood was seasoned in partial vacuum, with oils for timber improvement. British shipbuilders, colonialists ensured through tariff and other barriers, that Indian shipbuilding “was prevented from continuing to develop, even though it had a proven ability to adapt to changing technological needs” – and thus finally killing it. British naval superiority rested on Indian ships – and paid for by exploitation of Indian resources.

In 1498, Vasco da Gama’s ocean-going ship, the Sao Gabrielcame to India. The Portuguese caravel are well-known. But what do the Portuguese call their ocean-going ships? Nau. Yes, nau as in Hindi, for boat. Few of these Indian built ships have been recovered in various parts of the world. Indian shipbuilding expertise ruled the world – till colonialism killed it.

Public Health

During the 13th to 19th century, Europe, Britain and America suffered from many epidemics – plague, influenza, small pox, typhus, TB and others. Africa, China and Levant suffered – but lesser. In the history of epidemics, India’s name is missing – much like in the slavery roster. India joined the epidemics list after the start of colonial rule – the result of an ignorant and indifferent administration, to be generous.

What is it that Indians did, that eliminated their name from epidemics roster before the arrival of colonial rule?

Use of copper for storage of water, among many practices. (Taking a bath daily was another, for instance).

Recent tests have confirmed that copper has significant negative effect on e.coli organisms, when contaminated water is stored in copper vessels. Traditional copper vessels used for water storage, disinfected water naturally. Similarly the use of silver reduced infection rates.

Why did this stop?

With colonial exploitation, famines and scarcity increased. The marginal members of society had to sell their copper and start using earthen pots which have reduced effectiveness. Crime increased in colonial India – by the actions of the Raj itself. Post -colonial Indian society was ‘modernizing.’ So they decided to upgrade to stainless steel – which has no such properties. Hence, water-borne diseases continue to hit India.

Indians pioneered the use of ‘variolation’ to prevent small pox – and spread of this system to Africa and Middle East reduced small pox deaths. Lady Mary Wortly Montagu, wife a British ambassador, introduced variolation to England during early 1700s (estimated date 1717). Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur discovered vaccination more than 75 years after these practices started getting used in Europe.

After 1857 – a war of a different kind

Unable to gain military advantage, British armed forces used Indian human populations as human shield. For each military success of the Indian armies, the British armies exacted retribution on the local non-combatant populations. This reign of terror and brutality on Indian populations disarmed the Indian armies and they ended the war.

Rule Britannia

Rule Britannia

And Britain started a more insidious war – a propaganda war. History started getting twisted, perverted, mutilated – and over the next 100 years, Indian and world history was changed beyond recognition.

In fact, after 1857, racist propaganda and cultural baggage came covertly – to gain better traction at home and in the colonies. For instance, Priya Joshi, a researcher shows that after 1857, book shipments from Britain to India increased by a factor of three.

The most interesting bit is the cold-blooded murder of the historical Semiramis. You will find that Semiramis as an Assyrian Queen till the 1850-60 period histories. Suddenly, all books from 1860 onwards, treat Semiramis as a wanton, decadent, probably mythical, a perverted sluttish character.

Mired in legend and prejudice, Semiramis is discredited in modern Western history – especially starting from 1853-1857. Her very existence denied, accused of incest, Semiramis has been tarred and condemned to the rubbish heap of modern history – and the Bible. Semiramis established an empire that lasted, practically till WW1. Some 300 years, after the reign of Semiramis, the Assyrian Empire passed into Persian hands. From the Persians, into Alexander’s lap.

Alexander’s raid of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, finally turned out to be an overthrow of the Achaemenid dynasty, usurpers of the Assyrian Empire. Unable to make headway into India, as the Indian Brahmins who had influenced Indian princes to organize and support the Indian war against Alexander. Greek sources cite, after this realization, at ‘The City of Brahmans’, Alexander massacred an estimated 8000-10,000 of these non-combatant Brahmans.

Alexander’s massacres in India, a colonial historian informs us (without naming a source), earned him an “epithet … assigned (to) him by the Brahmins of India, The Mighty Murderer.” This Indian Brahmanic characterization of Alexander, commonly taught to English schoolchildren and present in English college texts, as The Mighty Murderer, curiously disappeared from Western-English texts soon after 1860 – and instead now “a positive rose-tinted aura surrounds Alexander” … !

Behind this propaganda

A man who is much (wrongly) admired in India today – Max Mueller. For instance in Max Muller’s colonial propagandist history, when it comes to Indian triumphs over Semiramis, she becomes half-legendary. Yet in another book, the same Semiramis becomes one of ‘the great conquerors of antiquity.’ In a matter of a few pages, he dismisses Indian history completely, in a half-Hegelian manner.

Aiding Max Mueller, English poets were press ganged into this propaganda war. Matthew Arnold wrote how, India, a ‘philosopher’s nation’, from

“The East bowed low before the blast
In patient, deep disdain,
She let the legions thunder past,
And plunged in thought again.”

Matthew Arnold’s influence in Indian education can be gauged by Indian-English language poetry, that was for long derisively called as Matthew Arnold in a Saree”. Just before 1857 War, the writing of another ‘influential’ poet, John Keats, became popular. In a hubristic haze, Keats wrote how,

The kings of Ind their jewel-sceptres vail,
And from their treasures scatter pearled hail;
Great Brahma from his mystic heaven groans,
And all his priesthood moans,
Before young Bacchus’ eye-wink turning pale.

Much of modern history’s debates and questions were born during this time – verily created to wage a propaganda war against India – and the world. India’s cultural stature in the pantheon of world’s societies was reduced to a minimal role – and the Greek Miracle was born.

This propaganda war continued well for another 100 years. In the middle of WW2, Britain pulled out a general from the Italian theatre of war and sent him to India – to head colonial India archaeological operations.

One evening in early August 1943, Brigadier General Mortimer Wheeler was resting in his tent after a long day of poring over maps, drawing up plans for invasion of Siciliy. Mortimer Wheeler was invited to become the director general of archaeology by the India Office of the British government in its last years of rule in South Asia … Summoning a general from the battlefields of Europe was an extraordinary measure, an admission both of the desperate condition of Indian archaeology and an acknowledgment of its vital importance. (from The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture … – Google Books).

Amazing!

Why would the glorious British Empire, on which the sun never set, struggling for its very existence, in the middle of WW2, suddenly pull a general back from the battlefield – and put him into archaeology! Especially, when it was clear that they would be departing from India – sooner than later.

Considering what theories came from Mortimer Wheeler’s rather fertile ‘imagination’ and his rigourous archaeological process, raises even more questions. There may be the facile answer that the British were after all ‘searching for history and truth’.

And it led Mortimer Wheeler to remark,

“They demonstrate with astonishing clarity the extent to which the brief transit of Alexander did in fact Hellenize almost instantly vast tracts of Asia populated previously by nomads or semi-nomads and villagers”

It is this one incident which possibly has answers to many unanswered questions like: –

  1. The amount of energy expended by the West in defending the Aryan Invasion /Migration Theory,
  2. The lack of access to Indian scholars of the archaeological sites in Pakistan,
  3. The many myths in Indian history,
  4. The clues to the partition of India
  5. The dating problems

et al.

Just why did the world’s foremost imperial power, struggling for its very existence, suddenly pull a general from the battle field, in the middle of WW2 – and put him on the job of digging dirt.

Only one explanation fits – it had to be a struggle for its own existence at a higher level!

5000 Years Of Poverty

By the end of the 19th century, Colonial India was de-urbanising. Populations in Indian agrarian network was increasing. Agricultural taxes were high. Hence, food production declined. Famines had become a regular feature. Industrial production was a distant memory. British colonial rule – especially from 1925 onwards, drastically changed the economic situation in India. From the richest to the poorest in a short period of a 100 years.

Tragically, our illustrious Finance Minister, P.Chidambaram says “I want to end 5000 years of poverty” in the Parliament and the media. In contrast, at various fora, there are discussions about how India will become a super power in this century.

While Chidambaram is factually incorrect, Indophiles are unrealistic. They fondly hope and believe that India is a one step away from being a super power. At best, we have a unique history. To improve the outlook on India’s uncertain future, a better understanding of our situation and more investments (not only money) are required.

Recent macro-economic research and modeling gives an interesting perspective on Indian economy through the last 1000 years. This shows that for much of the last 1000 years, India has been a significant economic power till the 1900 or so.

Rush for credit

Now that India is no longer a ‘basket case’ there are people lining up to take credit for India’s success. Fronting the queue are some from the Indian Diaspora – the likes of Lord Meghnad Desai and Jagdish Bhagwati. Or from the West. For instance, Angus Maddison, writes, in The Economic and Social Impact of Colonial Rule in India

“British imperialism was more pragmatic than that of other colonial powers. Its motivation was economic, not evangelical. There was none of the dedicated Christian fanaticism which the Portuguese and Spanish demonstrated in Latin America and less enthusiasm for cultural diffusion than the French (or the Americans) showed in their colonies. For this reason they westernized India only to a limited degree.”

Mr.Maddison, British ‘pragmatism’ sprang from the fierceness of the 1857 War. It was the Indian backlash to cultural imperialism, that made British rulers change their policy. The implied enlightenment, modernism of the British, by Shri Maddison, is entirely misplaced.

Initially, in matters of religious conversions the English copied the Spanish. The Chairman of the Directors of the East India Company, Ross Donnelly Mangles, piously declared in the British House Of Commons–

“Providence has entrusted the extensive empire of Hindustan to England, in order that the banner of Christ should wave triumphant from one end of India to the other. Everyone must exert all his strength that there may be no dilatoriness on any account in continuing in the country the grand work of making India Christian.”.

It took a revolution in the Haiti to start the end of the Spanish Empire – and the 1857 War Of Independence in India to end the English campaign to ‘convert the heathen’ and ‘civilize the pagan Hindoos’. After the 1857 War Of Independence, the Colonial India Government printed leaflets in tens and thousands confirming the British policy had changed. One commentator noted, these leaflets informed the local Indian population that “that she (Queen Victoria) would not interfere with the religion of the native, or countenance any favoritism in matters of faith.” (bold letters mine).

In all this congratulations about the Rise of India, what is forgotten, ignored, at least never mentioned is the decline of Great Britain. Ironically, in various debates, Churchill who so well represented British attitudes, saw little future for India, after British departure. Events forced the British hand.

India, led by “men of straw,” has moved from being a ship-to-mouth’ basket-case, to a significant economic and political success. Even though, Indians were after led by ‘men of straw … of whom no trace will be found after a few years’.

And the chief among them was ahalf naked fakir‘.


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