Bombay 1668; Autocratic Corporatism Then and Now

On March 27th 1668 an event took place which has an important lesson for us today with the possibility of a free Trade Agreement between the United States and the UK replicating parts of the stalled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement making democratically elected Governments subject to Corporate interests. I have written a post about how TTIP would work in practice. Back in March 1668, the restored British monarch Charles II leased Bombay (now called Mumbai) to the East India Company (EIC) for £10 a year. Charles acquired the Bombay islands from the Portuguese as part of a dowry payment when he married Catherine of Braganza. This was all part of a strategy to give extensive autocratic powers to the EIC and over the next couple of years Charles issued five Charters allowing the company rights to autonomous territorial acquisitions; to mint money; to command fortresses and troops and form alliances; to make war and peace, and to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the acquired areas. The Bombay islands was just one event in a series of significant events over the next 100 years which led to the EIC virtually monopolizing India (except for some minor areas of local control in the South) and becoming so powerful as to rival the British Government itself. This led to a series of Parliamentary Acts during the 1770s and 1780s which separated the commercial and administrative/political functions of the EIC and reasserted the supremacy of Parliament over the corporation. Apologists of the British Empire will point to the economic and administrative benefits of the EIC while avoiding the awkward facts of endemic corruption; massacres; looting of Indian treasures resulting in poverty; numerous famines including the Great Bengal of 1770; and exploitative systems of agriculture including the forced cultivation of opium in place of foodstuffs.

So on anniversary of the leasing of the Bombay Islands it is wise to remember that the British were instrumental in devising methods for combining Corporate interests and politics and the disastrous consequences for local accountability. It is ironic that in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries it was the British political Governing class who were complicit in the suppression of the rights of foreign inhabitants to Corporate commercial interests. The irony is that today via TTIP it is foreign Corporate interests which provide one of the greatest threats to British political freedom. The chilling fact is that in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries it was still possible for the Government to take control of the EIC but it is important to ask how we counter destructive corporate activity today given a British voter has no say in United States politics and the UK Government itself needs urgent fundamental democratic reform. Likewise, British monarchs have learned to hide their significant financial interests behind a strict veil of secrecy!

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