This remarkable study of the British East India company offers great insight into the formation of the company, its impact on both England and India, and the social forces that shaped its development. With great detail and rich documentation, Ramkrishna Mukherjee examines period of 258 years, beginning, immediately before the company’s birth and ending with its collapse in 1858. This is an engrossing work that reveals much about what is no doubt one of the most important institutions in the history of British colonialism and world capitalism generally.
When the second edition of this book went out of print in early 'sixties, I withheld its publication because I wished to revise it in light of the fresh materials available since it was last revised in 1957. Now that I have the time to do it I find that un-necessary. The new finds do not alter my thesis while to in-corporate them will either make the volume unduly bulky or its structural unity will be disturbed. For the latter reason, I do not also wish to reduce its present size by omitting the details which are now well known. I may, however, state my objective in writing this book which has been succinctly put by a reviewer as to survey "a phenomenon that acted as a catalyst in the transformation of the Indian economy (and society - RM) over a period of two and a half centuries" (Tapan Raychow-dhuri: "Writings on modern Indian economic history", Contributions to Indian Economic History, Delhi, 1960, p. 139). I believe it important to analyze the social forces manifest in the subcontinent in the pre-British and the early British period of India's history in order to appreciate her contemporary socio-logical issues. This is why I thank Popular Prakashan and Shri Ramdas Bhatkal for their interest in republishing it even after waiting for so many years to receive my clearance.
The present study does not claim any originality in historical materials relating to the formation of the East India Company in Britain; its activities in the mother country, vis-a-vis other European Powers, and in India; and its final decay.
Very many books have been written by able historians, noting the salient points in the life of the East India Company. But scarcely any one has so far attempted a sociological analysis of the Company in the light of the social forces which led to its formation, its activities as they were in the course of its existence, and its eventual removal from world society. Such social studies, as differentiated from what are generally known as historical studies, are available for different phases in the life of the Company. The present study does no more than to present such a comprehensive r's Rule view, covering the period from immediately before the birth of the Company until its final decay. Since history is not the main discipline of the author, there may be some minor inaccuracies in the study, although the author has tried to gather his materials from the reliable and generally accepted historical works and documents. Though such minor inaccuracies, which do not affect the overall formulations put forward in this study, may be excusable, the author would welcome criticism to rectify them. And, in any case, in spite of such faults, if there are any, the author is inclined to consider this attempt fruitful if it can help to answer the `Whys of the apparent behaviour of the Company, which appear to have led to fallacious views on its role in India and Europe. This he considers his duty as a sociologist. There are in the main two views on the character of the East India Company and the role it played in India. Firstly, there is the view that the Company always nurtured good intentions for India and her people; and if there were some cases of oppression, breath of faith, and other "ungentlemanly" behavior on the part of the Company or its employees (which could not be completely ignored, so obvious they were), these were isolated incidents resulting either from general ignorance of the Directors of the Company in London and their servants in India, as regards peculiar "oriental" mentality and the customs of the "natives", or because of particular individuals in the employment of the Company who might have failed in prosecuting their honorable duties (as befitting the Englishman) of looking after the interests of the Company as well as of the Indian people living under British rule. Thus, Mr. Ramsay Muir, Professor of Modern History in the University of Manchester, came to the conclusion in his well-known study on "The Making of British India':
"Never was Empire less the result of design than the British Empire of India."
According to him, the East India Company became the ruler of India, even though "they struggled against it." But once having undergone the transformation, the Company "rendered immeasur-able services to the peoples of India." Its "three priceless gifts" to the Indian people were:
1) "Political unity,. which they never in all their history possessed before";
2) "Assured peace (bringing easy intercourse)," which revealed that "the pax Britannica has been a yet more wonderful thing than the pax Romana";
3) "Reign of Law," which under the Company's rule took "the place of the arbitrary will of innumerable despots."
And, if there were some defects, they were of course unavoidable-the leaders and the servants of the Company "being human.'
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