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418 yrs after John Company, new trade imperialists eye India again

The writer is an advocate practising in the Supreme Court. The views expressed here are personal.
Published : Jan 8, 2019, 1:26 am IST
Updated : Jan 8, 2019, 1:26 am IST

New Delhi’s desperation, to open up to China is simply bewildering.

In fact, what is being suggested today is the need for a fresh look and reorientation of India’s trade with countries like China, which are lop-sided, resulting in colossal losses to India and fat profits for China.
 In fact, what is being suggested today is the need for a fresh look and reorientation of India’s trade with countries like China, which are lop-sided, resulting in colossal losses to India and fat profits for China.

Just over 418 years ago, on December 31, 1600 was formed a company (in London) by the name of “Governor and Company of Merchants of London, trading into the East Indies”. The company, later known by its simplified title “East India Company”, secured from Queen Elizabeth the First a “royal charter”. The charter originally stood as “a privilege for fifteen years granted by Her Majesty to certain adventurers for the discovery of trade for the East Indies”.

Interestingly, the “East Indies” comprised mainland India and the countries to the east of the Bay of Bengal, the Straits of Malacca, and the Java and Chinese Seas. The management of the company was entrusted to 25 men (one governor and 24 one-man committees), all of whom were based in England. Subsequently, these committees were called directors, and the court of directors was born.

The company required powers to make rules and regulations for the administration and management of its own internal affairs, and to attend to the “needs of the natives.” (Note the words “needs of the natives”). How derogatory things could be! It thus became a question of the so-called “white man’s burden” to civilise, guide and navigate the coloured “natives” of the Orient as the “Company acted under the authority of the Crown”. It was the power and privilege of the Crown which granted the Company specific legislative and judicial authority for exercising over areas and terrain under its possession.

A British multinational corporation was thus born (much before those of our times) under the tutelage (and direct supervision) of the British Crown at the turn of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century. (“Globalisation”, “privatisation” certainly are not any new-fangled 21st century terms). The 1600 Charter further “authorised the governor and the Company to assemble... in any convenient place to ‘hold court’ for the company and affairs thereof; to make, ordain, and constitute reasonable ‘laws, constitutions, orders and ordinances’ for good government of the Company and its officers; and to execute its laws by imposing or providing such punishments and penalties as might seem necessary.”

In retrospect, therefore, can any Indian of the 17th century, or for that matter the various rulers of India, scattered all over, be faulted for their collective inability to see through, and understand the long-term implications of allowing the Englishmen, appearing as harmless, benign traders, paying “abiding obeisance” to a decaying Delhi Durbar, to do business in India? Certainly not. The Orient clearly got hooked by the guile of the traders of the Occident, who had the rock-solid backing of imperial London. The smooth-talking and soothsaying white people in the land of the coloured, triumphed over, and trumped, the tormented ruler which has been vividly described thus: “From Delhi to Palam, was the realm of Shah Alam”.

Understandably, India’s continent-like geography soon became the administrative, legal and operational headquarters of the British multinational corporation (the East India Company), a virtual “administrative state within the imperial state”, with jurisdiction spanning from Aden to Indonesia and beyond, and carrying its sporadic agenda of loot and war; all for profit of business.

But what began in the 17th century, with Western traders, appears to be repeating in the 21st century, as both terror and trade initiatives have been relaunched across India by another set of foreigners deep inside. Once again, foreigners want to do trade with India. Prima facie, there is nothing wrong with the prospect of trade. It’s all perfectly legitimate and bona fide. What’s important nevertheless is that China and Pakistan appear first and foremost in the queue, as once again a section of gullible and benign Indians appear mesmerised and hypnotised, like the rulers and the ruled in the 17th/18th centuries were, by British traders and the likes of Thomas Roe. The difference today is that instead of the West, the dramatis personae hail from the Orient itself: operating from the two flanks of India — east, under the Communist Party of China; and west, under the eternal hatred-filled, communal-agenda spreading terror elements and their military masters masquerading as the backseat driving political establishment of Islamabad.

In fact, what is being suggested today is the need for a fresh look and reorientation of India’s trade with countries like China, which are lop-sided, resulting in colossal losses to India and fat profits for China. In 2017-2018, India’s trade imbalance stood at a negative $63 billion. In 2018 too, the figures of the first six months (April-September 2018) show an adverse figure minus $29 billion for India. Now comes Huawei’s and ZTE’s penetration into the Indian telecommunications market, which is bound to lead to a long-term negative scenario, on which several warnings by state institutions don’t appear to be taken note of. All this at a time when the world is increasingly getting worried and concerned about the rank unethical modus operandi being followed by Chinese companies, backed by the Communist Party government. The same way the British government had stood behind its East India Company in the distant past.

One wonders why so many in India are still failing to take note of the inherent propensity of the Chinese to sabotage all foreigners! Beijing seems to be following the example of Britain and the US in past centuries; to spread its tentacles like imperial Britain of the 18th and 19th centuries around targeted destinations, and keep all potential hostility far away from mainland China, as was done by 20th century America after the Pearl Harbour attack by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. China has learnt the tricks of geopolitics, geo-economics and international trade/commerce fast; emerging as a cash-rich Communist nation operating through bilateral commercial and financial transactions across the globe.

For India, therefore, the day of reckoning doesn’t appear too far. Unlike Americans and the West, on whom the realisation of the harsh reality of past follies appears to be dawning, it’s now “advantage China” all the way vis-á-vis India. New Delhi’s desperation, to open up to China is simply bewildering. Just one instance will suffice.

On January 1, 2019 came the report: “After smartphone manufacturer Vivo was allotted 169 acres last month, the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority has given 19.7 acres to two other Chinese companies (9.8 acres to Yingtong Electronic and 9.8 acre to Xihi Tech)” — which is expected to generate 13,000 jobs. What exactly will these companies do now? They will manufacture mobile accessories like “headphones, earphones, & USB cables”. Something which appears to be beyond the capability of Indian companies! India can make nuclear-submarines and Isro can launch spacecraft to the moon, but we need Chinese companies (known for espionage and sabotage across the globe) to make mobile accessories. A new avatar of London’s East India Company 418 years ago is surely on the way!

Tags: east india company, british government