Corporations today more powerful than East India Company: William Dalrymple

The East India Company (EIC) might have ruled over the Indian subcontinent for centuries, but Scottish writer William Dalrymple feels that present day global companies are even "more powerful" than the British trading corporation that in 1803 had a private security force twice the size of the English army.

At the launch of his new book, "The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, And the Pillage of an Empire" here on Thursday, Dalrymple said that "wrestling the laws of a country to make maximum profits" was, and still remains in the "DNA of the corporates".

The East India Company did it using military. Contemporary corporations are doing it using "surveillance capitalism".

"Corporations today are more powerful. They no more need armies. They are listening to every word we say. They are controlling what goes into our fridges...Google knows you are here today, and it will tell you in 10 years that you came here today. Surveillance capitalism controls our every move," he told PTI.

Dalrymple's new book tells the story of the rise of East India Company and how it became the first global corporate power by conquering an entire subcontinent, while asserting that it was the EIC, and not the British Empire, which colonized India first, and for longer years.

"By 1803, not only the EIC's private army had grown to nearly 2 lakh men -- twice the size of the British Army -- and marshalled more firepower than any nation state in Asia, it had also come close to generating what was nearly half of the British trade," the author writes in the book.

According to the historian, several new age companies have followed in the footsteps of the "dangerously unregulated" EIC that tactfully took over control from the Mughals, and have actively participated in "overthrowing the state".

Dalrymple gives examples to make his point.

He talks about how in Iran in 1953, "a joint MI6 and CIA coup" overthrew the then Prime Minister Mohamad Mosaddegh to prevent the nationalisation of Anglo-Persian oil companies, resulting in a "spiral of violence" in the country.

"...(the violence) continues till this day," he said.

Similarly in 1955, the United Fruit in Guatemala got the CIA to overthrow the socialist government there because it (United Fruit) "owned 42 per cent of agricultural land in the country", and there was going to be the threat of land distribution.

"So what you got there was a corporate coup headed by the CIA, which also gave the first world the phrase 'Banana Republic'," said the 54-year-old historian.

Closer present day parallels of the EIC, he said, were the Chinese companies operating in Pakistan, and "ExxonMobil (an American multinational oil and gas corporation) influencing the foreign policy of America in Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia".

"The closer parallel would be what the Chinese companies are doing in the Karakoram highway. I was there two years ago ... there are Chinese cantonments now inside Pakistan.

"They are there in quite large numbers all over the highway they are rebuilding," said the author who has penned bestsellers like "White Mughals", "The Last Mughal" and "City of Djinns".

The Karakoram Highway (KKH), a mega Chinese infrastructure project in Pakistan, is a 1,300-kilometre national highway which extends from Hasan Abdal in Pakistan's Punjab to the Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan, where it crosses over to China and becomes China National Highway 314.

Dalrymple said that every generation had to fight its own battle against the big conglomerates, and while the EIC eventually lost in 1858, what would happen in case of "Google, Facebook, ExxonMobil or Walmart" was not certain.

Dalrymple's book has been published by Bloomsbury.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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