Return of the East India Company

“Company of men who break bread”

US elections resultsBy Humayun Gauhar

What an untidy place our world has become. Pakistan is a case unique, but so too is the USA. Last week’s US Senate elections put the Republicans in primacy of Congress. The betting is that the last two years of Democrat President Barrack Obama may be eventful in terms of gridlock and uneventful because of no useful legislation. This will adversely affect America and the world, those countries that are dependent on America particularly. If the US economy declines further – and there are no indications that it won’t – most countries may see a fall in their exports and thus economic decline, particularly China, which is also under pressure to provide an alternative reserve or at least a global trading currency. Easier said than done. Any wonder why it is propping up the dollar? However, it may not be so bad if the Republicans and Obama chart a middle course instead of mulishly digging in.

When the din of the win dies down the Republicans will realize that the turnout was less than a third. It was a voter rejection of Obama’s policies rather than a nod for the Republican agenda. They will realize that though they are winners today, it won’t necessarily translate into victory come the 2016 presidential election, particularly as they don’t seem to have any compelling candidate yet.

Then the ‘civil war’ within the Republican Party between the ultra right Tea Party and its right of centre supported by Wall Street and big business may break out in the open as each sees this as a great opportunity to legislate its own agenda. President Obama could exploit the crack and seep his agenda through, so its logical that he should try and exploit it.

These elections have fortified my notion that western electoral democracy has become moribund and not delivering. The idea of separation between legislature and executive was to provide check and balance, but now the system is creating gridlock because it no longer produces leaders and statesmen, only politicians who look to the next elections. In so doing, they are forced to please their financiers and backers in Wall Street and big business, AIPAC, religious lobbies and what have you. To attract voters they appeal to the basest impulses of the lowest common denominator. America is not unique: this is happening in other western electoral democracies as too in the Third World, like Modi exploited the anti-Muslim anti-Pakistan instincts of Indian voters to win the last elections. India is neither here nor there in the global scheme of things except as one of America’s thorns in China’s flesh, but America leads the world for better or for worse, most times for worse. Look at the Middle East mess; look at the fearsome economic fundamentals of the US economy. I fear for the future of the US-global economy and our children’s futures – I’m sure many Americans share my fear. I have the same fear for the Pakistani economy: shorn of self-serving lies, the direction of both economies as too of Europe and many others is cause for grave concern. If we go on allowing ourselves to live in a fool’s paradise by buying into propaganda we will wake up one morning with a terrible shock.

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So how does America function in gridlock? Actually, it will continue functioning because what matters is neither with the administration nor with Congress. Long ago, in Reagan’s era, Wall Street took control of US and thereby global economic decision-making. We saw the result of “Banker’s Wisdom” in October 2008. After 9/11, the Pentagon took over decision-making in defence and foreign policy through their ‘representatives’ in Congress, the administration and regulators. The result is there before you: the Middle East in turmoil, the costs of unnecessary wars causing huge borrowing and dollar printing. The military industrial complex’s health got better, of course.

America will run the world, not up front but fronted by US multinational corporations with their own private armies and coopted Third World armies, American and native media, intelligentsia, feudal barons and business chieftains, bureaucracies and every corridor of power that matters.

Over the top, you think? US corporations have the money: Apple has more money than the US government; a puny country like Pakistan doesn’t even come into the equation. Armies? What do you think ‘private contractors’ are, the likes of Blackwater and Xi? Remember how Raymond ‘Butt’ Davies was sprung out of Pakistan for the US by our willing government and army after killing four Pakistanis? It is happening already. After NATO draws down from Afghanistan, these corporations will come crawling in spewing sugar and honey and gradually take over our resources, labour and markets. It may be ‘good’ for our economic growth and employment, but it will be ‘gooder’ for the US economy.

Not an original idea: there is a precedent. Remember the British East India Company? It was founded on December 31, 1600 by a handful of merchants and received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I. Sir James Lancaster VI, an Elizabethan trader merchant, was commander of its first merchant fleet and accredited as the Special Envoy to Eastern potentates by Queen Elizabeth I. The East India Company, headquartered in London, was a public company, reputedly the first firm or company ever set up. It became a British Joint Stock Company in 1707, again the first ever, and in case you are interested, became defunct on June 1, 1874 after it had done its work of conquering India after crushing the 1847 ‘mutiny’, trying the Mughal king for ‘treason’ against the Company if you please and exiling him to Burma. The British army captain accompany the royals to Burma raped the Mughal king’s young wife on the way and she delivered his baby in Burma. Thereafter the British ruled the subcontinent directly till 1947.

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The word ‘Company’ comes from the phrase, “Company of men who break bread”, like the merchants who discussed and decided to set up the East India Company over lunch. This time it might be “Company of Men who break States”.

How did a small group of British merchants and clerks succeed in conquering a huge subcontinent like India? A Company clerk named Robert Clive led the way. At that time, India was not one country but comprised many independent princely states with their own currencies that were freely interchangeable because they were coins of intrinsic value made of silver and gold. The King of Delhi, the Mughal, misleadingly called ‘emperor’ by British historians was first amongst equals. The Mughal King of Delhi appointed his governors only where there were no princely states. All princes paid an annual tribute to the King of Delhi in the form of money, grain, armies when called upon, soldiers, cavalry, arms and elephant depending on their size and wealth in return for an edict (‘firman’) of recognition for legitimacy. It was like what we would call a loose ‘confederation’ today. All the various languages, ethnicities and faiths lived in harmony except for rivalries between princes and warlords and, most crucially, within states. And it was these rivalries that Clive exploited most adroitly.

 

 

He first conquered Bengal by coopting treacherous turncoats like Mir Jaffar as the British later coopted Mir Sadiq to defeat the great Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The Third World still has its share of such treacherous Mirs and turncoats. With only a few hundred British soldiers Clive was able to muster a largely native army of thousands provided by rival princes and chieftains to defeat their rivals, not realizing that they would become British underlings after ‘victory’ that was really a defeat for their motherland. Later, the British gave titles and fiefs to those who had betrayed their homeland and helped them in the 1857 ‘mutiny’ and later to subjugate their own people. Many of them are our feudal lords of today who demand respect as having ‘old money’ – old or new, they cannot wash the stain and stigma of dishonest, treacherous money. Those with pre-British wealth and respect are few and far between.

The British created “ a class of Indians, English in every respect except for the colour of their skins” according to Lord Macaulay’s famous minute. These men were recruited as intermediaries between colonizers and colonized, like the black slave foremen of slaves called ‘Boss’. Here they were ‘Sahib’. The British ruled India through them. They were taken into the bureaucracy, judiciary and army, the cannon fodder coming mostly from the Jhelum area, the Gurkhas of Nepal, the Marathas, the Sikhs and the Pathans. They were steeped in British ways. The Indian railways were for Anglo-Indian Christians, progeny of British-Indian intermarriages or rapine. All countries of the subcontinent follow the British model to this day, though they have mutilated it because it is not natural to them.

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Cleverly, the British also realized that they would have to leave India one day after they had denuded its resources – its share in global declining from 25 percent to less than two percent. So in the late 18th and early 19th centuries they made or caused independence-seeking Indian political parties to be made. A civil servant called Allan Octavian Hume fathered the Indian National Congress in 1885. To ‘prove’ who had made the Congress four British men and one woman (Annie Besant) became its presidents, William Wedderburn twice. In 1906 came the All India Muslim League in Dhaka that always had Muslim presidents. The luminaries in both parties were lawyers educated in British institutions, Eton, Cambridge and the Inns of Court – “English in every respect except for the colour of their skins”. The three great independence leaders – Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru – were all lawyers. The British made sure that all were steeped in Anglo-Saxon law so that the final break would be ‘constitutional’ and no British blood was shed. And so it came to pass. The Partition of India saw the British leave safely while millions of natives were uprooted or killed. No wonder our independence leaders opted for everything British, from constitution to bureaucracy to judiciary to military. Everything. They knew no better.

The Brits succeeded then. Will such an adventure work now? Our ‘corridors of power’ will willingly (some reluctantly) go along. But will the people? Then the people were supine and somnambulant after generations of neglectful rule, their leaders divided. So too today: our provinces and ethnicities are divided and easy to coopt. But the people are awake, though you never know: if they get a better life where our governments have failed they just might go along too. Look how they hanker after western visas and citizenship. Hegemony by ‘Corporate Governance’ will happen all over the Third World.

I have run out of space. But the nub of my argument is: the ‘American East India Company’ cometh.

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