Obscure Pages of History

Conflict between Feudal, Mercantile & Colonial Capital

Tapas Piplai

Needless to mention that for all the children who have grown up in Bengal from childhood, certainly have come across the much hyped Mango Grove battle in Plassey in 1757. It is perhaps the biggest, prefabricated pseudo battle in Indian history between Siraj team (the Nawab of Bengal) & Robert Clive (army general of English East India Co). The treachery of the generals in Siraj team like Mirzafar, Rai Durlav etc., idling of large fleet of canons belonging to Siraj in the war field, has become much publicised folk lore in Bengal. Through this battle in the mango grove, India is said to have witnessed the setting sun of Independent India! But how did Siraj ud-dullah loses to Robert Clive despite having a much better army? Or is the, match fixing war a part by a bigger aggression game of overseas imperialist capital?

Interestingly, just not even a year back, the same Siraj drives English people out from Calcutta decisively in 1756! The English army that time are chased away upto Falta of Bengal. Yet Siraj has run taken any advantage over English army, out of the decisive win, beyond Falta border But why? The Falta is only a few kilometers away from Calcutta! After such humiliating retreat, the British, again are allowed to accumulate their army strength by reinforcing additional army personnel from Chennai. Despite having Budge Budge fort, it appears that the strategic information system of Siraj, fails to capture or raise any alarm on this further congregation of English army. All these questions remain intriguingly unanswered and obviously not explained in our colonial historio-graphy.

But one must appreciate that these incidences are actually not happening in isolation without any continuity with respect to change in the nature & characteristics of capital globally. The changes are to be seen against the overall changing world order from monarchial stage to nascent industrial capital stage through mercantile economy.

In 1492 Columbus from Spain has undertaken a trans-Atlantic voyage and discovers America. A few years later in 1498, Portuguese ships with Vasco da Gama appears in Indian Ocean on another conquest spree around the shores of Indian Ocean. These are all happened during the Exploration Period in Middle Age period.

Thereafter for three centuries Dutch, England and France joined in trading expedition cum loot of Asian countries and the US continent. Spain & Portugal distribute the extorted wealth from the US amongst themselves. A small troop of Spanish soldiers initially invaded Mexico with the help of gun powder and cavalry horses and dethrone the local Aztec & Inca empires in Mexico and Peru. With the inhuman torture on the tribal community by the colonial power, a massive amount of Silver from mines are extracted with the help of local inhabitants. The quantity is approximately 51000 metric tons between 1493 & 1700 AD. It is said to be 85% of global silver production during that period. The local tribal population shrinks to I million from initial 25 million during that period due to extreme inhuman extortion, cruelty and exploitation descended over the tribal by the colonial power. Such huge silver extraction by Spain from Mexico, changes the international trade pattern especially in Europe.

The plunder of 13 colonies in Americaon the other hemisphere of globe multiplies to such an extent that in 1756 the seven-year revolution has started against England by these stales. The immediate causes are the exploitation of British in the domain of tax, labour and the new rules to control over trade and commodity movements. It is initially to England and thereafter to America with reduced or no tax. The Thomas Jefferson's draft of Declaration of Independence has been signed off and declared by 13 colonies on 4th July 1776. This declaration is favouring independence against British colonial yoke. The movement continues till end of the century with lots of ups and down till the independence of the continent. On the other hand British people and East India company have been discovering various routes of exploitation, with the help of their so failed scientific knowledge of capital management.

The plunder in Asia has been mainly undertaken by the countries like Portugal. England, France and Dutch. These European powers in turn also have become involved amongst themselves in mutual skirmishes and violent wars, to have more command over maritime trade articles over sea routes. They happily continue with their plunder from China, Srilanka, Indonesia, India. By and large the overseas markets are divided initially within English (Asia & Africa), Dutch (Indonesia & Sri Lanka). The trading items in the beginning are Asian Pepper, Cloves, Nutmeg, etc. The overseas traders make, enormous fortunes from selling of these items in the overseas market.

At the same time British capitalists become endowed with fundamental scientific inventions, like Steam power. Water power etc. in running bigger machines, mechanically. To feed these bigger machines for a higher economy of scale production, the rapid industrialisaton, annexation of colonial land for the procurement of raw material (mineral & forest wealth) have turned out to be the call of the day for additional profiteering.

With the help of these additional inputs & new capacity augmentation, British inundates the domestic and other global markets with this additional quantities, hitherto, use to be directly supplied by Indian goods manufacturer. It initially works us the supply points rather than consumption markets. They disrupt the Indian traders and slowly make them as subjugated group under the overseas mercantile community. It is in the subsequent period the colonies have been turned into consumption market to absorb huge production excess from England due to enhanced scientific inventions and industrial capacity augmentation.

During the time of 'battle of Plassey', there has been a conglomeration of traditional major feudalists and monarchist capitalists, in the form of kings or despots, like Mughal, Afghan, Maratha and Muslim Nawabs who use to rule and command a big land area called 'India' prior to British invasion. India and its various Kings/Nawabs are hopelessly distintegrated and un-united in front of any foreign power, because of their haughty prowess of so called independence and opulence. The control of local capital are fragmented under several despotic kings, princely states and chieftains. We can see the sings of disintegration of nation based capital amongst various nation groups as well. There are four powerful nation head quarters in India—Maharashtra, Mysore, Hydera-bad, Oudh. The first two enter into a fight with English and the other two signed some understanding with the British. Only amongst Maratha, the clan is further subdivided into tour major groups—Peshoas of Maharashtra, Scindias of Gwalior, Gaikwads of Baroda & Holkars of Indore!

On the other hand, in the name of trade and merchandising, the European powers like Portuguese, Dutch, French and English in succession separately invades India through their initial mercantile sea route. They assume the charge of not only the land but the pail of adjoining river, sea, ocean and coastal lines for facilitating their trade activities. While invading, the overseas traders took the full advantage of the existing self-reliant economy of India and Bengal based primarily on agriculture, handicraft industry and Indians' inexperience in high sea inkling. These conquests are undertaken because of the capitalist thirst of their country's mercantile community. This is the result of insatiable hunger of barter economy.

The process of establishing colonial dominance has broadly followed the following footprints. It varies, indeed from country to country. The processes are—to obtain an initial authority to undertake trade & merchandise. It follows by extraction of underground and forest wealth, uprooting the local power against payment of hefty tax to the emperor or supreme authority, enslaving the local people, elimination of excess local population, creation of de facto slaves, religious spread with limited missionary work; development of fortress or castles or similar types of Kuthis for colonial lords; capturing the small scale industries and local family driven skills and finally to ensure proper production of agro based trading materials, introduction of seamless logistics system for transportation of man and materials.

While doing so the overseas power also introduces the proper packaging methodology, standardisation and related application R&D activities. In this way the new overseas traders amass a huge wealth and lays the seed for future industrial capital as well.

The interesting inflicting points here, are to study the change in processes by which the erstwhile feudal capital transforms into mercantile capital and finally to nascent industrial capital in their own country. It further slowly changes its methodologies of exploitation to imperialist character and changes the super structures accordingly.

The English East India Company was established in 1600 AD by a few London based merchants. They could manage to receive charter from Queen Elizabeth to embark on trading with countries around Indian Ocean. They have been allowed to export some bullion (gold & silver) up to a certain amount which is otherwise restricted and forbidden too.

By 1613 English people started a factory in Surat. India that time was hardly any significant country compared to Bantam in Java. Incidentally Bantam is also the headquarters of Dutch operation. Together with English, both thus got engaged in frequent hostile skirmishes. The English people finally realized the necessity, thinking as a long-term strategy, to relocate. Themselves and accordingly they produced a small land in Chennai. Thus in 1640 a fortified site named St George came up and is named Madras. The city slowly grows around under an administrative council chaired by a President. It then become Madras Presidency in 1653. Similarly, in 1665, in western coast, the island of Bombay was gifted Portuguese King as dowry, during his daughter's marriage, to the British King Charles II. The island subsequently came under East India Company in 1668. As a result in 1687 the company's head-quarter was shifted to Mumbai from Surat. Yet for sea borne traffic, Surat still was retrained as the main transactional office. Meanwhile in France, the East India Company set up in 1664 and emerged as a major rival to English Company in Indian Ocean capital. Dutch however, slowly slipped into relatively decline stage, leaving the competition battle ground open to French and British Mercantile capitalists.

The epicentre the initial battle was in South India between Anglo and French groups. There were four types of warring groups at mutually loggerheads that time. Arcot was the Carnatic (not present-day Karnataka) headquarters of Mughal sub-province, Tanjore (in central Tamil Nadu) was under Maratha dynasty, other areas of TN used to be ruled by local warriors & chieftains. Due to the possession of improved arms, naval ships and skilled sea movements, the English had edge over French in Indian power struggle.

Internationally on the succession battle at Austria in Europe, France and England, each extends the support to the opposite powers in 1744 and entered into a war. This hostilities and the declaration of war between these two powers in Europe affected the, otherwise ongoing feud between them in India too. It slowly raised into a full blown war which is known as First Carnatic War (1746-49). The French infantry captures Madras. After the war due to some other turn of events, Madras was returned to English in 1747. Meanwhile another dispute surfaced on the succession to Nizam position at Hyderabad. British and French pitched against each other and supported the opposite rivals. This war was known as Second Carnatic War. During 1756 the third Carnatic War had been fought between France and England, again as a continuation of their earlier battle over Austrian succession.

Therefore the three carratic wars were fought by these foreign powers on Indian soil to assume the hegemonic position to control "Indian capital" as per their own interest and advantage. Unfortunately the Indian feudal lords just remain the silent spectators and support the foreign forces as per their immediate & narrow power interest. Subsequently through mutual truce discussion with French, English took the full control of the Indian land and rose to a formidable territorial power in India. These allow them to amass its wealth.

Thereby, stages are set, at Bengal and Carnatic, to wrest control over Indian capital by each one of them from the other warring party. Multiple times, as a result, Pondicherry, Madras, Chandannagar had been ransacked by the respective winning group respectively, until a truce is called in Europe for a peaceful settlement in demarking the colonial areas for further plunder!

Several reasons are attributed to English success over France. One important factor is the supremacy of English Naval team over that of France in terms of skill and size. France has a good army base on the other hand but cannot reinforce it from France mainland because of effective disruptions in the ocean by English groups. Yet during 1751 to 1755, French company had however, extorted 150% more profit than that of English organisation from Indian soil in spite of the fact that English revenue in quantum was three times higher than France!

Bengal plunder may be termed as one of the most inhuman extortions of capital by English capitalism. They virtually implemented all the wrong terminologies and practices of exploitation such as treachery, currency swindling, famine, inhuman treatment to Indian subjects, abuses, killing of innocent people, gradual withdrawal of public finance! It is an antagonist contradiction between a moribund feudalism represented by Nawab Siraj-ud-dullah & other zaminders and growing mercantile capital represented by East India Company & their comprador sections. By virtue of being an advanced overseas economy, the English capitalism was economically better equipped and exposed to all capitalist technologies such as Company formation, Joint Stock Company, various modes of tax collection, proper book keeping, productivity increase, management skill, banking, deforestation for setting up factories with machineries and tools for enhanced productivity etc. These were globally embedded in their system of exploitation. These help ensure sustainability of processes of exploitation and extortions years after years to them.

English traders opened the trade relation with the countries of Indian ocean coastal areas, way back in mid seventeenth century and with Bengal especially after 1710. By that time Mughal emperor Akbar already passed away in 1605 and so was Aurangzeb in 1707. Thereafter Mughal monarchy, turned into a puppet emperor with a fragile and weak administration. Delhi emperor just remained a puppet head against remittance of money. As a result, local Nawabs, Kings and Chieftains became enormously powerful and despotic.

In Bengal, Murshid Quili Khan (1722) followed by Alivardi Khan (1740) and his grandchild Siraj-ud-dullah (1756) thus reigned Bengal throne as Nabab till the English dismissed them on 23rd June 1757. After the loss in the war at Plassey in 1757, Siraj fleed away from the battle ground and again got captured by Mir Jaffar. He was killed by Miran (Mir Jaffar's son) on 2nd of July 1757 while he had been in captivity. Thereafter Mir Zaffar as ended the crown against payment of huge wealth to the English. The capital of Bengal was in Mushidabad. Unfortunately, after some time, the same Mir Zaffar was replaced by Mir Quasim, another relation of Nawab family. Mir Quasim relocated his capital from Murshidabad to Monghyr Bihar, to stary away from Britishers. Again this change resulted in giving away of substantial sum to English rulers. But the arrangement did not worked for a long time as the main purpose of their arrival in India is to have full control over feudal, mineral and forest capital of India.

It is estimated that during 1757 after the war, English people as nation took away from Bengal a sum of Rs 2.5 crore, which is a great amount during those days.

Acknowledgement :
1.      Amar Farooqui, The Establishment of British Rule 1757-1813 (2014) by Tulika Books.
2.      Biplab Das Gupta, Palashi : The Inside Story of Betraya (2011) by Tulika Books.
3.      R C Majumdar, History of Bengal (1971), G Bharadwaj & Co.
4.      Irfan Habib, The National Movement Early Phase (2017), by Tulika Books.
5.    Karl Marx, Capital : A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (1949), George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

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Vol. 52, No. 10, Sep 8 - 14, 2019