Came as Traders, became Masters of the Subcontinent. Explain the Rise of the East India Company as a Governing Agency of India.

Came as Traders, became Masters of the Subcontinent. Explain the Rise of the East India Company as a Governing Agency of India.

The following article, “Came as Traders, became Masters of the Subcontinent. Explain the Rise of the East India Company as a Governing Agency of India.” is written by Sara Khan, a student of Sir Syed Kazim Ali. Moreover, the article is written on the same pattern, taught by Sir to his students, scoring the highest marks in compulsory subjects for years. Sir Kazim has uploaded his students’ solved past paper questions so other thousands of aspirants can understand how to crack a topic or question, how to write relevantly, what coherence is, and how to include and connect ideas, opinions, and suggestions to score the maximum.

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1- Introduction

The East India Company’s episode in the Indian Subcontinent started as a trading venture; however, over time, it obtained territorial control by monopolizing trade, expanding military dominance, and consolidating political authority. Subsequently, it rose to power as a governing body, inaugurating the new eras of colonialism and imperialism in the country.

2- The motives behind the arrival of the East India Company (EIC) in India

3- From trade to territory: How the EIC emerged as an Imperial ruler

  • ✓The factory system
    • Monopoly in trade
    • Establishment of trading posts in Surat, Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta
  • ✓Militaristic consolidation of powers
    • The Battle of Plassey – a turning point in history
    • Fall of the Maratha, Mysore, and Sikh Empires
  • ✓Political intervention 
    • A shift from mercantilism to politicism
    • Grant of diplomatic advantages
  • ✓Formation of subsidiary alliances
    • Indian loss of sovereignty to the British
    • Fall of Awadh, Tanjore, and Hyderabad Deccan
  • ✓The doctrine of lapse 
    • Abolishment of the right to choose the successor
    • Annexation of Satara, Sambalpur, Udaipur, Nagpur, and Jhansi

4- Critical analysis
5- Conclusion

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Answer to the Question


The East India Company (EIC) is considered one of the greatest marvels of the global economy, shaping the modern world. Nevertheless, it is also notorious for executing the most heinous acts of corporate violence that remain unparalleled in history. The EIC’s episode in the Indian Subcontinent started as a trading venture, but over time, it obtained territorial control and rose to power as a governing agency, inaugurating new eras of colonialism and imperialism in the country. The British exploited the incompetency of the Mughal rulers, their military weakness, and economic destitution; they used the rulers to their own advantage. They were furthered in their atrocious mandate by their monopoly in trade, political interventionism, colonial exploitation, military dominance, and the expansion of territorial rule. Anthony Webster, in his book “The Twilight of East India Company”, states, “By 1818, two-thirds of the area and 78 per cent of the total population of the Subcontinent was under the British control.” This meteoric rise is largely attributable to the above-mentioned strategic policies of the EIC. Consequently, the country officially lapsed into the British Empire following the 1857 War of Independence and remained a colony for almost a century. The answer comprehensively explores the factors that contributed to the rise of the EIC as an imperial superpower in the Subcontinent.

“The British conquest of India was the invasion and destruction of a high civilization by a mere trading company utterly without scruple or principle, careless of art, and greedy of gain.”

Shashi Tharoor (Indian Author and Politician)

The motives behind the arrival of the EIC in India

The English captured a large mass of the Spanish and Portuguese naval fleet following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which not only boosted the British seafaring prowess but also enabled them to compete in the spice trade and travel to India in pursuit of riches. For the EIC, the Indian Subcontinent was a land of seemingly endless potential for a variety of reasons. First, India was home to a plethora of rare commodities and luxury goods, such as saltpetre, silk, indigo, cotton, spices, tea, opium, and exotic animals. Second, it served as an effective converging point where the EIC’s trading communities across Asia could assemble for restocking and shelter. Lastly, by dominating India, the British had an opportunity to overpower their European counterparts in the trading expedition. Therefore, the EIC first set foot in India in 1608 at Surat; however, it was not until 1615 that it acquired a formal assent from Emperor Jahangir and started to establish trading posts along the country’s coast. Moving forth, the company gradually strengthened its monopoly and finally usurped the Mughal throne in the Mutiny of 1857.

From trade to territory: How the EIC emerged as an Imperial ruler

The key factor to success: The factory system

The EIC mainly relied on the factory system as its initial strategy to solidify its footprint in India. Designated representatives or “factors” were entrusted to set up trading posts to source and negotiate with the locals. By the eighteenth century, these factors had established a network of trading stations spanning from the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea to the Indian Subcontinent, with four main trading settlements in India: Surat, Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. As garrisons and residences sprouted in these settlements, they were soon transformed into the presidency towns of Fort William in Bengal, Fort St. George in Madras, and Bombay Castle in Bombay, creating a microcosm of Great Britain itself. Hence, mercantilism paved the way for the accumulation of wealth and permanent settlement of the EIC in India.

Military Intervention and consolidation of powers

The issuance of the 1670s Royal Charter by James I gave the EIC greater military and political might, for it was bestowed with the rights to occupy territories, form an army of its own, create alliances, and wage war. Britishers used these powers to defend themselves and fight the rival traders; however, in 1757, the company waged a war against Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah of Bengal in the famous Battle of Plassey. In the aftermath of the battle, the EIC seized control of the Mughal state of Bengal, and Robert Clive, who led the British army, became its new governor-general. In short, the Battle of Plassey was a turning point in the history of Indian rule, as it opened a gateway for further EIC-led militaristic interventions like the Battle of Buxar, the Anglo-Mysore wars, the Anglo-Maratha wars, etc., and the company witnessed a massive rise of its fortunes.

East India Company (EIC) as a player in politics

The EIC had initially adopted a policy of non-interference. Nevertheless, following the Battle of Buxar and the grant of Diwani rights through the Allahabad Treaty in 1765, the EIC became involved in internal politics, and it acted as an agent of British imperialism in India. In the face of waning Mughal authority and the rise of independent successor republics, the EIC started to strengthen its political might by bolstering its private army and increasing diplomatic relations with the rulers. To illustrate, in 1717, the EIC obtained a Farman from emperor Farrukhsiyar, which spared them custom duties and gave large concessions to the company. Such diplomatic advantages made the EIC a powerful player in local conflicts and helped it consolidate its authority.

Formation of subsidiary alliances

Another strategy adopted by the EIC to expand its territorial dominance was Lord Wellesley’s formation of subsidiary alliances with the rulers of the states they could not conquer. According to this policy, the subordinate states must dissolve their own army; they were neither allowed to make alliances nor wage war against another state without the EIC’s permission. Instead, the EIC would provide them with the armed forces in case of a military conflict in exchange for hefty maintenance subsidies. Some of the most powerful states, like Awadh, Mysore, and Hyderabad Deccan, came under British rule through this strategy. Hence, the formation of subordinate alliances was a clever move on the part of the EIC. In the words of Shashi Tharoor, “We, literally, paid for our own oppression.”The princely states not only lost their sovereignty, but also the British significantly benefitted in terms of pecuniary advantages through revenue collection.

The doctrine of lapse

The doctrine of lapse, introduced by Lord Dalhousie, substantially supported the Britisher’s annexation policy. By virtue of this principle, if any ruler of a subsidiary state dies without leaving a legal heir, his state would automatically lapse into the EIC Empire. Using this tactic, the company captured some of the most important states like Satara, Sambalpur, Udaipur, Nagpur, and Jhansi. In short, the doctrine of lapse abolished the long-established right of an Indian sovereign without an heir to choose a successor, and it provided the EIC with an opportunity to annex the rest of the Indian empire without spending money on military invasions.

Critical analysis

In the final analysis, by the start of the 19th century, the EIC had formed an unswerving dictatorial rule throughout India and other regions of the Asian continent. Under the leadership of competent governor generals like Richard Wellesley, Charles Cornwallis, and Warren Hastings, the EIC reached the zenith of its economic and military dominance, becoming the then-most powerful country in the world. Not only did the EIC help expand the British Empire to the fullest, but it also projected its philosophies of growth and governance to the rest of the world. Therefore, it is widely accredited as the cornerstone of the modern global political order.


To recap the debate, the EIC was an anomaly without a parallel in the history of the world. It originated as a private commercialization project by a few English merchants; however, it had the potential to grow into more than just a trading endeavour. William Dalrymple, a Scottish historian, in his book “The East India Company”, comments about its capability by saying, “This (EIC) was a corporation that could topple kings.”By using their strategic techniques, like monopolizing trade, expanding military dominance, and consolidating political authority, the company proved Dalrymple’s statement right. It became the supreme governing agency in India, ruling areas twice the size of the United Kingdom itself. Thus, the EIC may have been a tale of the past, but its legacy as a colonial superpower is still felt around the world.

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