European imperialism that began through its commercial enterprise and in search of new market almost around the
globe, can be categorized in five distinguished phases. Phase one began from its early maritime expeditions in late 16th century to the Seven Years War ending in1763. Interestingly, the Mughal rise to power in India was achieved by
the velour of their martial rulers facilitated by standing armies but the later generation- especially after the second half of 18th century- lost this tradition and focused more on art and literature and adopted comparatively lavished life
style. While on the other European colonizer entered into India as merchants with the superior knowledge of ships
and arms, supported by governments back at their centers. The European commercial enterprise brought far reaching
effects. The short paper explains the European commercial enterprise and subsequent colonization of India through
historical event ranging from 1605 to 1750,s.
This short concept paper efforts to explore the decisive causes that led to colonization of
Muslim-ruled India and to find out actors, strategies and implications of colonization of Muslim
ruled India. How European commercial enterprise contributed to colonization of Mughal-ruled India and what were its implications;during 17th to Mid18th Centuries is one of the basic
questions tried to be answered here. It is assumed if the central government fails to exercise
control over its semi-peripheral states then it may contribute to the disintegration of the whole
state and similarly if the private commercial enterprise is backed by a state then this economic
power of the private company may be translated it into the military power of the state. To
understand the British colonial expansion in India, the concept of metropolis and satellite seems
highly relevant whereby the examining the metropolis-satellite structure, it becomes evident how
colonizer sucked resources from their colonies. “Moreover, each national and local metropolis
serves to impose and maintain the monopolistic structure and exploitative relationship of this
system” A. G Frank consider it highly relevant to examine “the establishment of this colonial
structure in its historical context” (Frank 1972). Thus the European commercial enterprises that
led to colonization of India is explained through the Dependency theory. (Smith 2001)The study
is qualitative based mainly on secondary sources. The data sources are mainly books, research
papers and maps including online material on the subject. The analysis of data is based on the
European commercial enterprise as an independent variable, and its impact on Mughal Empire as
dependents variables. There may be some intervening variables those are the out of scope of this
The rise of European commercial expeditions:
European imperialism that began through its commercial enterprise and in search of new market
almost around the globe, can be categorized in five distinguished phases. Phase one began from its early maritime expeditions in late 16th century to the Seven Years War ending in1763. Phase
two was consolidation colonial power until the 1870s. Phase three witnessed European
imperialism till beginning of the First World War in 1914. Phase four witnessed the sequence of
beginning of WWI, Great Depression of 1930s and devastation of WWII until 1945. Phase five,
the Post-war, period of decolonization is marked the beginning of neo-imperialism. (Rothermund
2006). In this paper the author focuses on the first phase of European commercial enterprise that
later turned into colonial rule in Muslim Mughal dynasty-ruled India. Its highly noticeable that
English colonizer of India reached later in this land of commercial opportunities than the other
European counterparts. The Portuguese and the Spanish followed by the Dutch were among the initial merchants in the late 16th and early 17th century who established their footings in India on
the basis of maritime knowledge, skills in shipping and fitting arms on the ships. They initial got
control over precious metals and spices and later in textiles. Commercial expansion were at core
of the extended travels instead of territorial expansions. The Dutch gained profit in “intra-Asian
maritime trade” while British found wealth in textile production. The auction of Indian cotton in
markets of London and Amsterdam brought financial revolution in Europe and the Bank of
England as well as the Bank of Amsterdam institutionalized this process of foreign trade. This
gave rise of ‘the companies’ and marked the establishment of East India companies in England
and Netherlands. (Roy 2014). When European entered into unpredictable commercial
adventures, their per capita income was not ahead of rest of the world. The years long European
rivalries resulted in innovation in commerce as well as in warfare and with the foreign income
marked the era of Industrial Revolution. Innovation, both in industry and military institutions
made them much superior in “terms of trade” to people and rulers in India, where gun-powder
and standing armies were used to “negotiate trade deals”. “The strategy of combining a powerful
field artillery with a well-drilled infantry put an end to cavalry warfare,” (Rothermund 1981) a
vivid advantage over the Mughal rulers in India. Inter European rivalries over getting larger
share from newly identified and captured colonies in Asia and Africa took an historic turn- along
with catalyst events in India that marked the beginning of British rule in sub-continent- turn after
Seven Years Warending with a vivid triumph of Great Britain were based on the superior power
of financial institutions and military advancement. (Cain and Hopkins 2001). The rise of
commercial enterprise in Europe and their attraction for India can be gauged from the
establishment of East India companies, and noticeable among them was East India Company
founded in 1600 having monopoly over English trade with India. The other noticeable companies
were Dutch East India Company (1602), Danish East India Company (1616), (Portuguese East
India Company (1628), (French East India Company (1664), Swedish East India Company
(1731) and Austrian East India Company (1776). It is of worth mentioning that merchants from
these countries had already began trading even before the establishment of formal companies and
having license to trade.
The Worth of Indian Market:
It is a hard fact, that Mughal empire reigning almost entire sub-continent of India, consolidated
with the help of thousands of standing army, was devoid of naval power and Ruler of Surat sought naval help from the English to protect its coastal areas. By the end of 16th century, the
Portuguese had almost captured the sea routs of India while the Indian rulers were still unaware
of the importance naval power. (Hassan 2009) Later, Portuguese were ousted by joint venture of
the Dutch and the English “armed traders” and finally the English took surpassing advantage
from this commercial rivalry. In 1620, from Eastern and Western coasts English ships exported
to Europe of worth Rupees 250,000 and it was increased to worth Rupees 800,000 in years 1658.
(Hassan 2009). The Dutch and the English companies established colonies – what may be called
business centers today- having agreement with the local rulers. This provided them autonomy as
they formally did not accept the rule of the Mughal. These colonies, later, turned into factories
and then into garrisons with standing armies to protect the Companies with the local manpower.
Till this time, much busy to construct the state of the art buildings, fight with rebel Rajas and
Maharajas, fearful from revolt in the North-Western part of India and increasing power of
Marhattas, the Mughal paid a little heed to these European commercial enterprise that annexed almost the whole of Mughal Empire in Mid-19th Century.
Politics inside India
Mughal ruled most part of India between 16th to 18th centuries effectively. The Mughal dynasty
was established Babur-who reigned from 1526 to 1530 and controlled from Indus River to West
Bihar and from Himalayas to Gwalior. Though Babur’s son Hamayun lost his control over rebels
in Afghanistan during 1530 to 1556, his grandson-Akbar- ruled India from 1556 to 1605 who
consolidated power and extended his empire from Afghanistan to Bay of Bangal and from Gujrat
to Dacan. With the death of Akbar in 1605, his son Jahangir reigned India from 1605 to 1627.
Akbar’s conciliatory system of administration of ‘Hindustan’ was adopted by his son Jahangir,
wherein non-Muslims were given place in administration system(Jahangir 2001). Later, during
the reign of Aurangzeb from 1658 to 1707 this policy of conciliation and assimilation with non
Muslims were changed. The exclusion of Hindus from state offices, persecution of the Sikhs and
destruction of their religious symbols triggered rebellions. The Sikh, the Rajput and Marathas
were noticeable to fight against the Mughal Raj, and this implicated seriously, when Muhammad
Shah failed to defeat Marathas in 1748, the very year of his death. The subsequent events began
reducing Mughal rule ultimately to only Dehli; with final defeat in Munity in 1857 and it ended
up with exile of last Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar, who ironically was heading a military
Interestingly, the Mughal rise to power in India was achieved by the velour of their martial rulers facilitated by standing armies but the later generation- especially after the second half of 18th
century- lost this tradition and focused more on art and literature and adopted comparatively
lavished life style. While on the other European colonizer entered into India as merchants with
the superior knowledge of ships and arms, supported by governments back at their centers. The European conflict over territory and resources was vivid during the first half of 17th century that
entered into the second half with British victory, at least in the field of trade in India. The British
about to be expelled by the Mughal when the British pirate looted an Indian ship in 1695, but
they a huge amount in lieu of fine and regain the confidence of the local rulers. The rise of the
British East India Company is gradual; it over powered other European commercial rival,
established settlements in, Madras, Bombay, Bengal and Calcutta, signed treaties for trade with
local semi-autonomous rulers, and gathered military to support their trade.
Battle of Plessey: The Catalyst of British Colonization in India
The territorial expansion is triggered only in later half of the 17th century after a milestone
victory in the Battle of Plessey. The increasing armed activities and challenging trade annoyed
the local rulers.Consequently, the Company’s factories and settlement in Calcutta and Qasim
Bazar was confiscated by NawabSirajudDola in 1756. The British, being outnumbered, were
easily overpowered. Eight hundred British and twelve hundred local soldiers under the command
of Robert Clive reached Bengal and “both the parties signed an agreement for reconciliation”,
and resultantly, the confiscated settlements were handed over the military-backed commercial
Company on January 3, 1757. (Furber and Glamann 1960). On a pretext that SirajudDola was
making alliance with the French trader, Robert Clive led the British troop to fight. On June 23,
1757, the local Nawab was defeated when one of his own commander Mir Jaffar committed
treachery- in greed to becoming Nawab as per assurance of the English commander- and joined
the English army along with his soldiers. This defeat served as a catalyst for the British
colonization in India. The defeat exposed the hollowness and moral deterioration of Indians on
one hand while on the other it gave moral, commercial and military superiority to the British.
This marked a new era to take interest in the Company’s affairs back at London. The second half 18th century attracted nearly 3000 shareholders to English East Indian Company and with share
capital of £3 200 000. The company also borrowed £6 million and twenty to thirty ships were
sent Asia with an increased sale of £2 million at home. The factories became the exclusive
jurisdiction of the Company and the British began intervening in Indian politics. The British got
rich revenue from Bay of Bengal and earned by buying textile. It is argued that “the plunder of
Bengal’ financed the Industrial Revolution” back at England, at least indirectly, if not directly.
The European commercial enterprise brought far reaching effects. It contributed to the Industrial
Development at home back in England on hand and the contributed to penetrate into the politics
of India and plunder resources and raw material-much needed for Industrialization. The
European’s advance knowledge see, shipments and comparatively modern artillery and navy and
inter-continent trade give a vivid advantage over a large Indian empire headed Mughals engaged
in local skirmishes and revolts. The loosely united princely states under Mughal rule was a
strategically easy target to penetrate and disintegrate than to fight an all-out war with a state
strongly governed through its center. The British’s strategy to accord agreements of trade and
keeping armed force at the pretext of protection and making alliances with princes, at individual
level, contributed to gain power in India.
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