The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India

By Philip J. Stern | Go to book overview

6
“Great Warrs Leave Behind
them Long Tales”
Crisis and Response in Asia after 1688

In October 1687 the Company’s general, John Child, sent a letter containing thirty-five complaints to Mahmet Khan, the mutasaddi of Surat. Chiefly, he demanded a settlement to the conflict in Bengal and that the Company finally receive its long-desired farman from the Mughal court, confirming its relief from certain customs and other commercial impositions and requiring Mughal governors to turn over any English interlopers found within their jurisdictions.1 Child was also insistent to restore the Company’s reputation in India, and he was willing to make a show of force to achieve it. In August 1688 the Court of Committees endorsed his approach, simply advising the Bombay council that if they did find the need to start a war on their side of India, they should “pursue it stoutly & resolutely at the first while good purchase is to be had.”2

By the final decade of the seventeenth century, the East India Company had become committed as an institution to a defensive expansion of its rights, jurisdiction, and government throughout Asia, particularly to exert its authority over the English “nation” and a growing network of colonial enclaves. Tensions in western India were running particularly high, especially following the conflict in Bengal and the Company’s removal of its western Presidency, and thus the center of its trade, from Surat to Bombay. Yet, even at its height, such aggressive posturing was never unbridled. Even now, amid two ongoing conflicts and rising tensions in western India, the secret committee in London worried that the Company “are Merchants & must live by trade & not by a long War.”3 Though he had stationed ships at the mouth of Surat’s harbor, John Child protested to the mutasaddi that his “business in this part of the world is wholly trade.”4 Meanwhile, the committees insisted to Aurangzeb that violence was “very much

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