INDIA WAS NOT POOR-4 (Post No.8278)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8278

Date uploaded in London – – – 3 July 2020   

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R. Nanjappa

Churchill, and his Indian cigar! 

Such is the stuff of our bureaucracy! Let me share one more incident. Churchill was a heavy smoker of cigars. When he became the Prime Minister during the War, the British govt was anxious that his cigar supply should not be disrupted! Dindigul in Madras state was identified as a source of good quality cigars. The Madras govt was ordered to procure it and send to London. The bureaucracy set to work. The Collector of Chengleput was given the responsibility of collecting the cigars. In order that he would not overlook, the govt prescribed a monthly Statement form which he had to fill, giving details of the collection and submit to the Secretariat. Now, the war ended in 1945; Churchill ceased to be PM shortly thereafter. India became free in 1947. Churchill became PM once again in 1951 and retired in 1955. The great man died in 1965. But the return of the Chengleput collector did not die: it continued up to 1972, when it was discovered by chance and stopped! 

How can we ever prosper when we have such politicians and bureaucrats?
To Smith, again

Enough of this digression.  We return to Smith. He makes some more adverse observations about the affairs of the East India Company and its officials. He remarks how every European power created a monopoly to enter into trade with other nations, and how it must have resulted in high price for the consumers. He says:

Since the establishment of the English East India company, for example, the other inhabitants of England, over and above from being excluded from the trade, must have paid in the price of the East India goods which they have consumed, not only for all the extraordinary profits which the company may have made upon those goods in consequence of their monopoly, but for all the extraordinary waste, which the fraud and the abuse, inseparable from the management of the affairs of so great a company, must necessarily have occasioned.

This leads Smith to an even more important insight. East India company, by acquiring the Diwani rights,  had become sovereigns, and ceased to be mere traders.They should have administered the territories to the advantage of the people. But they did not do this.Smith says:

But a company of merchants are, it seems, incapable of considering themselves sovereigns, even after they have become such. …. by a strange absurdity regard the character of the sovereign as but an appendix to that of the merchant.. As sovereigns, their interest is exactly the same with that of the country which they govern. As merchants their interest is directly opposite to that interest. But if the genius of such a government, even as to what concerns its direction in Europe, is in this manner essentially and perhaps incurably faulty, that of its administration in India is still more so.

Smith then points out how the servants of the company have been carrying on  private trade along with the business of the company, and making profits for themselves. They were then eager to get back to their mother country,” and carried the whole fortune with him”, as quickly as possible, “perfectly indifferent though the whole country was swallowed up by an earthquake”. Smith takes care to say that he was not making an odious imputation against individuals or officials of the company as a group, but ” it is the system of government… that I mean to censure”. As individuals, they could have been magnanimous against expectations on occasion, and on others, totally different. But the system of which they were part was bad.

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.

Part IV, chap vii.

Here is another piece of history. The returning company officials “carried the whole fortune” with them!  They were so fabulously rich, they were called “nabobs”. This enabled them to buy up landed property which were called “rotten boroughs”. They were really considered rootless and were known to be corrupt. They did attract lot of adverse social and literary attention. 

Oliver Goldsmith in his long poem “The Traveller” wrote:

The wealth of climes, where average nations roam,
Pillaged from slaves to purchase slaves at home

(lines 387-388)

Such persons entered parliament (for which property was the qualification) and this too attracted adverse notice. William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham (who himself had something to do with framing the policy towards India wrote, in 1770:

… the riches of Asia have been poured in upon us, and have brought with them not only Asiatic luxury, but I fear, Asiatic principles of government. Without connections, without any natural interest in the soil, the importers of foreign gold have forced their way into parliament, by such a torrent of private corruption, as no private hereditary fortune could resist.

Smith too later said that such people had no concern for the people of those countries at all. But as individuals, they were acting on their self-interest, and perhaps in the circumstances others would have done so, too!.

Now, Indians loot India!

In this respect, let us introspect a little. How have our politicians and bureaucrats done since Independence? Have they been better than the Company and its officials? Now that we have RTI, and the requirement of financial disclosure before the elections, we clearly see how the riches of the netas keep growing..  How could they have earned all that through their fair remuneration from the offices they held? And every day, we read stories about Lok Ayukta action against some bureaucrat or the other. But what happens to all of them in the end ? In one notorious case, the High Court acquitted an accused politician, in a verdict delivered in two minutes, after the case lingered for 18 years, by totally disregarding the judgment of the Special Court! Those who run the government and the administration have not failed to take advantage of the situation- exactly as the officials of the East India Company did more than 200 years ago!  While they were all private employees, our candidates have been in public life, professing socialism, no less! Human nature has hardly changed. 

In a sense, we have been worse. The English looted India and enriched their country. But Indians are today looting their own country and keeping the money in Swiss bank accounts! We have not had Independence really, but only a transfer of power to a new set of looters!


  1. Adam Smith gives us accurate information about the state of our economy at the time. He was writing about the Company. But the same loot continued under the Crown too. India’s prosperous state is borne out by research based on British archival records, which documented the matter in some detail. The original material is still available in British Museum and other libraries in England. Dharampal has brought out these details in the 5 volumes of his collected writings.

Years before Dharampal, a retired civil servant , Romesh Chander Dutt had surveyed the scene, based on British documents. We will see it later.

2.There has been a tendency, after Independence, to glorify British rule. Nehru dispensation was a party to this. It is therefore refreshing to see a loyalist of the Nehru dynasty listing the adverse features of the British rule. See: Sashi Tharoor: An Era of Darkness, Aleph Book Company, 2016.    



tags – India, not poor-4

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