Many people in my generation stay in India but work for multinational corporations / MNC-s (myself presently included). I believe that the economic benefits of such choices accrue more to the foreign companies than to India. This is the first part of a three-part series exploring the economic and emotional factors behind such decisions.
It was the mid 1700-s — those were the times of great wars fought with large armies clashing with each other on historic battlefields. The Battle of Plassey was the first major victory for the British in India. Now given that this was a battle between the British and the Indians, you would think that the winning army was mainly comprised of British soldiers, right?
If you thought so, you are wrong. I obviously did not remember my high-school history well, so I learned (or relearned) after reading William Dalrymple’s book, “The Anarchy” that the army of the East India Company was comprised primarily of Indian sepoys . In terms of actual numbers, here is how the stats lined up (source):
- Army of the East India Company: 2100 Indian sepoys, and 800 Europeans (led by Robert Clive)
- Army of the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulah: 50,000 Indian soldiers
How the East India Company with its army of ~3000 soldiers was able to defeat Siraj-ud-Daulah’s forces of 50,000 men is the subject of another discussion. Yet, what I want to point out right now is that the majority of East India Company army comprised of Indian sepoys. This same trend was seen in all other great conquests of the Company (Anglo-Maratha Wars, the war against Tipu Sultan of Mysore, the Anglo-Sikh wars). Indian soldiers were fighting on both sides on each occasion. More often than not, the Indian soldiers on the side of the East India Company were winning.
Why was it that so many Indian men chose to fight for a foreign power instead of being patriotic and fighting for their country?
Some reasons were unique to that time period. For example, there was no concept of India as a nation at that time. Thus, when East India Company sepoys from one part of India fought Indian soldiers from another part of the country, they might not have thought they were fighting their own country men.
Yet, some reasons resonate a sense of familiarity to today’s time. Ultimately, the Indian sepoys must have made the choice to work for the British East India Company for reasons similar to folks in my generation. For one, the East India Company paid better. At the end of the month, you had better chances of receiving your wages if you were a sepoy in the Company (a more stable organization) than if you were a soldier for one of the various states of India (remember India then was a collection of states that were also at war between each other).
More importantly, the warfare strategy and weapons of the East India Company were greater than that of the Indian states (proven multiple times by the defeat of large armies of Indian states at the hands of a much smaller army of the East India Company). At the end of the month, you had a better chance of surviving (and holding on to dear life) if you were part of the Company. That would made it quite an obvious choice, right? Contrasting this to today’s times, people do not have the risk of losing their lives when comparing foreign multinationals to Indian companies. Yet, the allure of joining the “winning” side might play in the minds of our generation.
If you liked reading so far, go ahead and read:
Part 2. Choosing the winning side (why Indian bankers chose to back the East India Company)