|Portraits of Nabobs, or representatives of the East India Company. Photograph: Alamy|
|The Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, the governor of Bengal, which transferred tax collecting rights in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company. Illustration: Benjamin West (1738–1820)/British Library|
William Dalrymple has been spending a lot of time reading and of course, writing about India.Serious historians no longer think him to be a lot of pop and are sitting up to hear what is he talking about. In fact in his latest book awaiting to be published The Anarchy: How a Corporation Replaced the Mughal Empire, 1756-1803, by Bloomsbury & Knopf he tries to redraw and throw new light on our understanding of how India got subjugated.Not by armies or invasions,mostly.Instead through simple businessmen and their accessories: parchments,trade agreements, land deeds, financial documents,contracts, and the path breaking concept of Joint-stock Companies and Corporations so made, howsoever rudimentary .In that,Sir Thomas Roe may or may not have been an honest trader but,it was through his supplicating ways in the court of Jehangir, the hitherto, Lord and Master of all things surveyed where it got started .In their wily,obsequious ways like most businessmen the English were suitably bent(not enough as we are told) and grovelling to con the naive and insular Mughals.Convulsed and blinded as the latter might have been (not without a lot of hubris) ,we are told ,with tact and sly negotiating skills and financial foresight of the Company Bahadurs was the beginning of a forward march on the high seas. Following on were War ships, technology and armaments,East India Company, treachery and devious and cowardly acts the booby traps and quicksands for the Mughals to sink into the most unsuspecting deaths and thereafter a total surrender of country,flag and its people.
But why in hell would I be talking of all that? An elaborate ruse of a different kind?Another dark hole unseen? A repeat of history?Maybe all of this and much more. This time another Englishman called John Elliot who writes in Implosion: India’s Tryst with Reality, HarperCollins India prognosticates by looking at the crystal ball. Uses the pen, if you please, laced in sugar and the gypsy's beauty to entice and for succor. Finally, for the master the inevitable - succumb.He is also into business albeit not the usual one..It is only he and he alone who through his interviews and one fateful TV show had seen it all.Others cataracted by hubris or sheer organic ailments have failed to envision what Sir John so easily saw.Modi has that quality to be clear and firm on complex ideas like religion, Islam and terrorism and is never shy to speak in English.And that which is much his own, accented, yes !In fact,the Congress Party was suicidally inclined in not cutting this fledgling enemy-to-be to size early and the great English world foolishly found him a mass-murderer and outcasted him.(that he unabashedly congratulates his own prescience in recognising in the early new millennium the potential and rise of a great leader called Narendra Modi is another matter and needs some more of our indulgence).And surely this is written once again in the style of a fawning courtier in the Mughal interiors which the new Nawab Of Bharat ,Modi would be only so delighted to hear It is for us to wait and see how many books get to be sold and how a certain Mr John Elliot suddenly becomes anointed as the new Court historian.But that would in the end be historical trivia. What say you ?And there are I am told many such in the fields of environment, neo-economics, religious politics,constitutional freedoms, digital liberation and development. electoral and managerial strategies who are swarming the corridors of Shastri Bhavan,North and South Blocks to be heard, peddle books and ideas.
Are there then any parallels, convergences and continuities of a strange kind in the excerpts of the two books quoted ?One that looks back not only in wonder or amazement but also to reconstruct the tragedy and to be seen as it was and be warned of the British, West and Business?And the second, paradoxically, simulating a repeat of history :only stooping and waiting to conquer with a laced pen and honeyed mouth ! Dalrymple is honest and surgical while he sees the ugliness of their Lordships, governors, the British Parliament as against the gullibility of the Indian laity and the kings.He sees tell tale signposts in the past which if not recognised might cause the India that he inhibits to once again be sold out to cheap tricksters.John Elliot instead is sitting in the present and paints false pictures of important event , political parties and personalities.He plays the proverbial Pied Piper,sings a tune of flattery and deceit, lulls the uninitiated with a condescending tale of hidden talent and the modern Cinderalla rechristened Narendra Modi in modern times.He would have us believe that the chosen one has come and so has the moment for India.He deceptively looks the honest English while ingratiating himself with the powers- that-be, particularly the ones who are likely to be around for a while.These are the new traders then.In disguise both the authors look similar.It is for us then to recognise the imposters.
A corporate Raider Redux ?Are we not seeing the beginnings of new penetrations and therefore 'condemned' to suffer the rehearsed end, yet again, sometime in the future?
If you are interested in more and getting curiouser or plain bemused then soak your dried thinks in :