East India Company

The East India Company was a British trading company formed on December 31, 1600 for the exploitation of trade opportunities in the East Indies. This monopolistic trading body became involved in the politics of Indian and Chinese states, and acted as an agent of British imperialism in India from the early 18th to mid-19th centuries.

The Company's ships first arrived in India, at the port of Surat, in Gujarat in 1608. Over the years, the British saw a massive expansion of their trading operations in India. Numerous trading posts were established along the east and west coasts, and considerable English settlements developed around the three presidency towns of Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai. In 1717, the Company achieved its most notable success in the form of a royal dictate from the Mughal Emperor, exempting the Company from the payment of customs duties in Bengal. The Company became a ruling enterprise, when Robert Clive, its military official, defeated the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daula, at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. A few years later the Company acquired the right to collect revenues on behalf of the Mughal Emperor. The plunder of Bengal left the formerly rich province in a state of utter destitution.

The Company, despite the increase in trade and the revenues, found itself burdened with massive military expenditure. Timely intervention by the British state saved the ailing Company. In time, greater parliamentary control was exercised over the affairs of the Company, and India was put under the rule of a Governor-General. In 1858 the East India Company was dissolved and the administration of India became the responsibility of the British Crown.

Updated on 14th December, 2005


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