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Industrial Revolution: How India financed Britain’s growth story

By Harshmeet Singh

India’s biggest contribution to the Industrial Revolution in Britain was the finance.  With British earning tonnes of silver and gold by exporting Indian products through bullion trading, the capital investment for Industrial Revolution never faced any shortage.

How did British pluck the feathers of the Golden Bird

With the British getting the revenue collection rights (diwani) from the hitherto Mughal emperors, they started getting enough local currency to run their operations in the country and finance their wars against the French (who were trying to capture South India) and other Indian kings in different parts of the country.

british

But since the local currency was futile outside the Indian land, the British came up with a different plan to satisfy their hunger. Before the British interference, India was a well known exporter of processed goods. The traders used to receive the payment of their goods in bullion (equivalent gold or silver) form. This soon changed and the farmers were forced to cultivate what the British thought was useful for them – opium and indigo. The opium grown by Indian farmers (who are offered petty rates by the British) was traded by the British to the Chinese traders, in return for silver, which was universally acceptable.

Sudden surge in the fashion market back in Europe gave an opportunity to the East Indian Company to make profits by exporting indigo dye from India.

India’s curse

India’s spectacular wealth attracted invaders and travellers alike. Infatuated by the Indian wealth, the British came to India to set up their business and ‘civilize’ Indian citizens in the 17th century.

With no universally acceptable currency at that time, a country’s wealth was deduced by taking into account the metals and minerals possessed by a kingdom. So intrigued were the people about Indian wealth that a number of expeditions were launched to find out the shortest route to India. It was during one such expedition that Christopher Columbus mistakenly discovered America while he was looking for India, the land of riches and spices! The stories of India’s wealth spread far and wide, which gave India the name ‘Golden Bird’.

Too many nations chasing India

In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I gave a charter to the East India Company, which gave it the sole right to trade with the East. This implied that apart from the EIC, no other British trading group would be allowed to trade in the East. At that time, most trading companies believed in excluding the competition to buy cheap and sell hefty. But the royal charter didn’t stop other European powers from capturing the lucrative Eastern markets. Before the British EIC reached India, the Portuguese, led by Vasco da Gama, had already reached Goa. Vasco da Gama is thus credited with discovering the sea route to India in 1498. Soon enough, the Dutch and French also joined the race to get a piece of cake, known as India.

With all the European powers eyeing the same Indian products, things were set for a series of battles. The high quality Indian cotton and silk was a probable jackpot for them. Other desirable products included cloves, pepper, cinnamon and cardamom. With none of the trading companies looking for reconciliation, eliminating the rivals was the only option, and thus followed some devastating battles between the trading companies. In the 17th and 18th centuries, incidences of ship sinking and route blocking were common. In the end, the Dutch conquered Indonesia whereas the British took India and Sri Lanka under their control.

With not many happy memories from our 17th to 19th century history, we can surely be proud for giving Industrial Revolution to the world!

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