An older perspective on India’s economy…

Friday, 20 April 2007

Two quotes from a review of two books on colonial India by William Dalrymple in the New York Review of Books (via Andrew Leonard) give some food for thought…

Most terrible of all was the plunder of Bengal following its conquest by the British in 1757. The British commander Robert Clive returned to Britain with the huge fortune of £300,000, making him one of the richest self-made men in Europe; after one single battle—Plassey—he transferred to the company treasury no less than £2.5 million that he had seized from the defeated nawab of Bengal. The conquered province was left devastated by war and high taxation, and stricken by the famine of 1769. Its wealth rapidly drained into British bank accounts, while its prosperous weavers and artisans were coerced “like so many slaves” by their new British masters, and the markets were flooded with British products. As the contemporary historian Alexander Dow put it:

At that time, Bengal was one of the richest, most populous and best cultivated kingdoms in the world…. We may date the commencement of decline from the day on which Bengal fell under the dominion of foreigners.

And, even more thought-provoking:

But amid all the tales of hard work and evenhanded justice, you never get any impression of the many clearly negative effects that British rule had on India. For all the irrigation projects, new railways, and imperviousness to bribes, the Raj presided over the destruction of Indian political institutions and cultural and artistic self-confidence, while the economic figures speak for themselves. In 1600, when the East India Company was founded, Britain was generating 1.8 percent of the world’s GDP while India was producing 22.5 percent. By 1870, at the peak of the Raj, Britain was generating 9.1 percent, while India had been reduced a poor third-world nation, a symbol across the globe of famine and deprivation.

Gives things a new perspective, doesn’t it?

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