About the Book
From Factory to fort and from Fort to Empire was the design of the English East India Company in India.
As far as the Company is concerned, not much is known of the unofficial beginnings of the growth of England's commercial interests in India. Again notwithstanding the researches of early historians, certain heresies still continue to hold the field. The first establishment of the English factory at Surat in 1618 is repeated adnauseam and the present work has pricked the bubble.
The Company was accredited as a legitimate exploiter of Mughal economy and in this, Nurjahan's help was instrumental, The decline of Indian merchants was also due to this lady who desired to be the protectresse' of the English interests in Mughal india for her own seaborne commerce. Being a harem inmate she promised to granta personal interview to Sir Thomas Roe, the English ambassador, Shajahan pursued pro-English commercial policy which proved to be unfavourable to the interests of the Indian merchants. Aurangzeb was the first and last Indian -ruler who brought-the English down to their knees but re-instated them in their former privileged position and enabled them to create an economic super structure in Mughal economy.
About the Author
Phanindra Nath Chakrabarti taught history at Ramkrishan Mission Residential College, Narendrapur.
Since economics has its bearing on society, politics, art and literature and political moves and expansions are determined by economic necesseties, hence it has changed the concept and method of studying history during last 40 years or so. As a researcher of economic history for last 20 years. I am facing acute difficulties to find indigenous documents in regard to various economic characteristics of our country, as for instance, the role of Bengalee merchants in maritime trading activities during the seventeenth century. Critical and analytical historical writings on the aforementioned merchants and part played by them in building national finance has become an arduous task. Critical readers will not be satisfied with catalogues of agricultural and mineral, industrial arts and crafts, enumeration of taxes, professions and occupations, trade routes, imports and exports, metrology and devices of coins etc. On the contrary, they want to see a clear picture of their intimate and daily economic life. At present we look for continuity and change, tradition and modernity. Even when a writer points out some change, the readers enquire whether he can ascribe a cause to the elements of change. This questioning spirit has largely reoriented the perspective of economic history.
An economic historian should also count on statistics. Unfortunately we have a very scanty information supplied by the indigenous source material. The writing of Indian economic history during the period of our discussion is somewhat a difficult task. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, the French from Europe; the Parsians, the Armenians, the Jews from Asia and the Arabs from Africa were some of the foreign merchants who carried on commercial activities in India during the period of our discussion. Each
of them kept trading documents of their own in their own language. Naturally, if one tries to write a treatise on India's commercial activities of this period he should have thorough knowledge in all these foreign languages. Otherwise an objective and impartial approach is hardly possible. Our task becomes further difficult due to the absence of contemporary native documents. During the period of our review we have two sets of historiography. One was written by the Muslim scholars, mainly by Arab, Persian and the Turkish and the other by the Europeans. Arabs are known as historiographers from 10th century AD. They merely recorded the events but failed to produce historical epics. Where the Arabs failed the Persians succeeded. Arab geographers, however, contributed valuable informations about ports and its trade with India. In Indian historiography the Muslim historiographers were the pioneers. Dodwell admits in his book entitled The Advent of Islam that the Muslim chronicles are far superior to our own (English) medieval chronicles. They are written for the most part not by monks but by men of affairs, often by contemporaries who had been and taken part in the events they recount. But to all the Muslim historiographers political history was history par excellence; the economic and social aspects of life were touched upon only incidentally. Their attention was not drawn to the economic historiography. They were more interested in politico-religious aspects. Except Abul Fazl no other Muslim historiographer has so far referred to economic historiography and that also again lack trade and commerce. Moreover, no local Hindu or Muslim historiographer during the period of our study has even sketched economic aspects of life in .India. It was the European historiographers especially the English travellers and merchant-adventurers have meticulously recorded the contemporary conditions and events of trade and commerce in India. Important, in fact, very important changes took place during the medieval period in the socio-economic-cultural spheres of India. This has made possible to some extent the research into the seaborne commerce of Mughal India but the documents are to be anatomised very carefully for the English narrators have often ignored impartiality.
In this book I have tried to trace the decadence and development of Mughal sea-borne trade and its impact on politico-economic condition of Mughal India. In 1622 when Kandahar, a Mughal possession, was captured by shah Abbas I, the Safavid monarch, Mughal sea-borne trade began to be increased and the overland trade between India and Persia through Kandahar was stopped altogether. In Persian Gulf, during the time of our discussion, the influence of Dutch navy was supreme and therefore the Indian merchants preferred Dutch ships to any other, for carrying their merchandise to the Persian Gulf ports. The situation continued upto 1624 when the responsibility of carrying Indian merchandise was transferred from the Dutch to the English (EFI, 1622-23, 158-59). If it was so then it appears to be evident that Indian merchants' ships had no business to ply in the sea and as a result Indian ship building industry sustained set back and the statistics of Indian sea going vessels of this period given by Prof R. K. Mukherjee and Jagadish N. Sarkar appear to be misleading.
This Book is, infact, an enlarged and revised edition of my previous book Anglo-Mughal Commercial Relations, 1583-1717 (which is now out of print). Recently published (1984) The Cambridge Economic History of India vol. I (c. 1200C. 1750) has not touched upon all the aspects of Mughal sea-borne trade and its treatment is also different from mine. The English East India Company led by Sir Thomas Roe had introduced unheard-of restrictions on the freedom of Indian merchants' sea going vessels in the high seas. This is not given due importance by earlier scholars.
The book has been divided into four parts corresponding to the broad phases of the activities of the English and their commercial relations with the Mughals. The period from 1619-1717 virtually spanning the last eight years of Jahangir and the whole period of Shahjahan, Aurangzeb and the later Mughals became a crucial test for the Mughal diplomacy and in which the Mughal monarchs showed their utter ineptitude and their conception of sovereignty proved to be unsuitable for a practical purpose.
On this occasion, I convey my heart-felt gratitude to the Late Professor Jagadish Narayan Sarkar under whose feet I learnt economic history of Mughal India. I also express my indebtedness to Prof. Abani Biswas of Bangabasi Morning College who spent his valuable time and energy in reading the manuscript of this book and offered invaluable suggestions. My thanks are also due to the authorities of India Office Library, London, National Library, Calcutta for offering me facilities to consult records and manuscripts. Dr. Malaysankar Bhattacharya, Secretary, Indian Institute of Oriental Studies and Research, Calcutta, has always inspired me. Lastly, my thanks are also due to Sm. Sima Dutta Gupta who has typed the manuscript, Sri Sankar Bhattacharya of Punthi Pustak who has taken keen interest in publishing this book.
I shal be failing in my duties if I do not record my deep appreciation for Smt. Anima Chakraborti and Sri Adris Chakrabarti.
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