Trade routes to India
India was famous for spices which were in high demand in European cuisine. The three prominent trade routes till the 15th century were through central Asia, through the red sea, and then Egypt and Europe via the Mediterranean sea and the Persian Gulf by sea and then through Iraq and turkey and again by sea through Venice and Genoa. The Turkish lands were captured by the Ottomans and the trade routes were affected. The renaissance had led to the quest for the discovery of newer routes through the sea to India. Finally, Vasco da Gama found an all-sea route to India via the Cape of Good Hope.
The opening of trade routes to India and America was hailed as very important. The American islands were rich in precious minerals and soon they became consumers of European manufactured goods. The Atlantic became a zone of high trade activity. The Portuguese to were the first to enter Africa and they became the pioneers of the slave trade. The slaves were bought for manufactured European goods and sold in West Indies and American lands for sugar and cotton which were exchanged for manufactured goods in Europe. This triangular trade was dominated by the Portuguese along with the eastern trade with India.
Though the Portuguese were ruthless and religious intolerant they lost their monopoly in the later part of the 16th century to the English, Dutch, and French. The English due to their naval power and industrial revolution became the superpower of the world and had colonies in Africa, America, and East Asia. The English though initially weak were by the end of the 16th century dominant in naval powers.
English East India Company:
The English East Indian Company was formed and given the charter to trade in the east by Queen Elizabeth. The English Company was led by Captain Hawkins and received by Emperor Jahangir. Though initially they were well received due to Portuguese influence they were expelled. The British realized that Portuguese influence had to be reduced in order to convince the Mughals. In the naval battle, the Portuguese were defeated and so the Mughal emperor thought that in order to counter the supremacy of the Portuguese at sea, friendship with the English is important.
A Mughal Farman gave them permission to open factories on the west coast. Thomas roe wasn’t satisfied with this and bargained for more concessions. The British also started harassing hajj pilgrims and Indian merchants taking advantage of its naval power. Finally, the Mughals relented and gave them permission to open factories throughout the Mughal territory.
The Portuguese were angered by this and in the naval battles, the English won. Hostilities were ended by giving the island of Bombay to the British for marrying a Portuguese princess in 1662. Soon the Portuguese lost all their Indian possession to English, Marathas, and Dutch except Daman Diu and Goa.
The conflict between Dutch and English too was intense but resulted in a stalemate. The English couldn’t remove the Dutch from their stronghold in Indonesia and the spice trade. But Dutch too couldn’t match the English might in India. Finally English decided to leave the Indonesian trade and focus on India only. And similarly the Dutch too left the Indian trade except for a few factories on the east coast. These too were lost to the English by 1795.
English East India Company:
After Surat, the English power grew in India. When they tried to fortify their factory in Surat they were arrested by the local authorities working for the Mughals. Similarly, when the Company’s rivals attacked the Mughal shipping the Mughal forces arrested the Company officials till the ransom was paid. South India was more favorable to them as no strong government existed there. The first factory in the south was opened in Masullipatinam and then in madras. The raja gave them permission to fortify the madras factory and the Englishman Francis day built their fort, George.
After madras, the island of Bombay came under British occupation. It too was fortified as the Surat area was under threat from the increasing Maratha power. The English now moved their sights on the east coast and opened factories in Orissa and Hugli. They wanted an independent fortified factory for Bengal. They had now become ambitious and wanted to capture India and turn it into a British colony. For this, they challenged the mighty Aurangzeb but his force was great and the British lost all factories on the east coast and even their fort in Bombay was besieged. They gave up hope and resorted to flattery and forgiveness and asked for a return to trade.
Aurangzeb permitted this as he felt that foreign traders couldn’t harm him. But the revenue they brought from trade increased the state treasury. Also, the British naval might was great enough to ruin Indian trade with the west. The British now fortified the few villages on the east coast in Bengal and it became Calcutta. Job Charnock built the fort William there. But due to strong Nawabs in Bengal, the East India Company was merely a zamindar.
The British had high hopes in south India as no strong kingdom existed there but it had to face competition from the French. The French East India Company was government-controlled but had caught up with the English company in terms of trade and had factories in Bengal and Pondicherry. The Anglo-French conflicts in the south and east lasted for a period of 20 years and ended with English supremacy. The French now lived under English protection in India. They were permitted to keep Pondicherry with condition that no fortification be allowed.
The English were now the mightiest power in India. The war had taught them a few lessons. In absence of modern nationalism in India, they could be set up against each other easily. The western trained Indian soldiers were as good as Europeans. The absence of nationalism and respect for salt in the Indian mind made him a good and loyal soldier. Thus the British went on to rule India with an army officer-ed by the British but with Indian Sepoys.