Rammohan Roy and Drain Theory

Sankar Ray

“By the evidence of Messrs. Lloyd and Melville, (the former the Accountant-general, and the latter the Auditor-general of the East India Company) recorded in the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee of the House of Lords, 23rd February 1830”, the appendix of Roy’s submission states, ‘the proportion of the Indian revenues expended in England on the territorial account amounts, on an average, to £ 3,000,000. It includes the expenses at the Board of Control and India House; pay, absentee allowances, and pensions to Civil and Military Officers in Europe for services in India, with interest of money realised there, &c. &c. besides £453,588 for territorial stores consigned to India”. He quoted a letter of the Court of Directors to the Government of Bengal, dated the 20th of June 1810 on Colonial Policy as applicable to the Government of India, "by a very able servant of the Company, holding a responsible situation in Bengal, the Directors state that ‘it is no extravagant assertion to advance, that the annual remittances to London on account of individuals, have been at the rate of nearly  £2,000,000 per annum for a series of years past’". Furthermore, based on those and other authentic documents, “the aggregate of tribute, public and private, so withdrawn from India from 1765 to 1820, at £110,000,000."

The lengthy quote is an appendix in Rajah Rammohan Roy’s seminal work, ‘Exposition of the Practical Operation of the Judicial and Revenue  Systems in India  and of the General Character and Condition of its Native Inhabitants as submitted in Evidence to the Authorities in England with Notes and Illustrations: A Brief Preliminary Sketch of the Ancient and Modern Boundaries and of the History of That Country’, published in London in 1832, when Dadabhai Naoroji was yet to complete his seventh year. Naoroji, the first Indian member at the House of Commons, had brought out his classic, The Poverty and un-British Rule in India, in 1871 and is considered as the first who theorised the ‘Economic Drain Theory’, but it is time to revise this notion. The Gujarati-speaking Parsee missed out Rammohan Roy but statesman paid tribute to the British writers like Sir John Shore and Sanile Marriot as pioneers  in exposition of  economic drain.

According to Kolkata-based polymath Pradip Baksi, Karl Marx too detailed notes and excerpts on the British economic drain in - Exzerpte von Karl Marx (B 1-168). This is slated to be published as part of the on-going project, complete works of Marx & Engels — The Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe or MEGA— in 114 volumes from the Amsterdam-headquartered Internationale Marx-Engels-Stiftung (International Marx-Engels Foundation). Naoriji was then 13.

Credit goes to the erudite Congress MP, Dr Shashi Tharoor for lambasting the deniers of the Economic Drain Theory like Sir Richard Ottaway at the Oxford Society in the UK on 15 July 2015. Naoroji who defied the red eyes of colonial rulers in his work with appropriate epithets for the Raj with phrases like “bleeding drain,” “a running sore”, “material and moral drain,” and “deprivation of resources”.

Naoroji coined the words, ‘unrequited exports’ (‘unrequited’ means an irritating implant) that expanded uninterruptedly since 1850. Barring 1859-60 when there was an import surplus of Rs.11.75 crore while the quantum of export surpluses of ‘unrequited’ variety between 1849-50 and 1909-10. This constituted ‘practically a half of the savings that a subsistence economy like India could be expected to generate at the time, according to the Naoroji. The plunder in different forms like public debt was on account of cost of wars waged by England in and outside India and Home Charges plus hefty interest thereof. The debt, £ 70 million in 1858, to rose to £ 98 million in 1860 and further up to £ 200 million and £ 274 million pounds in 1900 and 1913 respectively.

Tharoor rebuffed Sir Richard stating that when Britain arrived on Indian shores, India’s share of world exports “was 23 per cent, by the time the British left it was down to below 4 per cent.” In his less-than-ten-minute speech, he put unassailable facts exposing history sheeters in defence of Naoroji’s combat.

Stupefying as it may seem, a Leftist historian, the late Barun De, characterized the Raj as one of ‘benevolent despots’ at an international conference on Indology in Moscow in the mid-1970s.

Back to Home Page

Jun 6, 2020

Sankar Ray

Your Comment if any