In Bengal, there were only 2,000 Britishers, training an army of 2,00,000 sepoys with the money they borrowed from Marwaris. It was quite audacious, but the East India Company got away with it,” says Scottish author William Dalrymple. His latest book
Dalrymple, who was in the city to talk about his book, tells us, how the East India Company’s (EIC) working is like that of a powerful corporation in contemporary times.
When asked how does the present, or contemporary times shape his writing on history, the author says, “Every generation rewrites history. Certain episodes are given more prominence. I will give you an example. There is this moment in 1772, after the Bengal famine. It is reported in London for the first time. Then it became apparent how corrupt the EIC was. Soon the EIC and its 30 bankers go bankrupt. That background was never talked about so much. But with the Lehman Brothers crisis, suddenly that episode feels very contemporary. The previous generation might have skipped the bankruptcy episode, but for us it feels real. What’s happening in present always determines and forces historians to select because History is a selection of certain themes.”
He then goes on to talk about the nexus between corporations and government.
“We are living through a period when corporations are quite powerful. We are anxious and afraid of them. In India, people are worried about the relations between Ambanis and BJP, Adani and BJP. The situation is quite similar in America too. What is the deal between the Bush government and Hexon corporation? Was it because of Hexon that Bush went to war against Iraq? Present changes the way we look at the past. It also alters the significance of things that matter. For example, genocide, wiping out people, looks different after the Holocaust,” adds Dalrymple.
Giving another example of how the EIC epitomised the corrupt nature of powerful corporates that we identify with, the author of The Last Mughal says, “Robert Clive was sent by EIC to India and he was a very corrupt man. The company did everything that is common amongst today’s corporates – bribing Parliamentarians, corporate lobbying, offering shares for strengthening the company’s monopoly and so on. Based on conflicts, Clive would buy or sell company shares.”