Chennai

A look back at the East India Co.

(From left) Paul Sellers, director, South India, British Council, Mike Nithavrianakis, British deputy high commissioner in Chennai, Stephan Roman, regional director, South Asia, British Council, and Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali, Prince of Arcot, at a seminar on Thursday. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

(From left) Paul Sellers, director, South India, British Council, Mike Nithavrianakis, British deputy high commissioner in Chennai, Stephan Roman, regional director, South Asia, British Council, and Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali, Prince of Arcot, at a seminar on Thursday. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan   | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan

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On Thursday, the setting was grand and the topic of discussion grander.

In the Durbar Hall of Amir Mahal, the residence of the Prince of Arcot, Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali, historians and experts travelled back to the latter half of the 1700s to find if Mohammed Ali Khan Wallajah — ancestor to the Prince of Arcot, Baron Pigot — the then Governor of Madras, and the Raja of Tanjore had a role to play in the transformation of the East India Company from a trading company to a ruling power.

Stephan Roman, regional director, South Asia, British Council, whose research focuses on the activities of the East India Company between 1771-1785 spoke about the consequences of the 1773 invasion of Tanjore by the Nawab of Carnatic who came under pressure from the ‘Arcot faction’ of the Madras council.

Mr. Roman’s talk traced the eruption of public debate over the behaviour of the faction back in Britain, and discussed how Baron Pigot, a new governor, was sent to investigate the overstepping by the merchant faction, how he reinstated the Raja of Tanjore in 1776, his eventual imprisonment after a coup by Paul Benfield, a merchant, and his death in captivity in 1777.

“The incidents of this period were a turning point in the British-India relationship,” he said.

“Like any global corporation, the East India Company defied control,” he said.

Historian S. Muthiah said, in many ways Pigot was a tragic figure.

“The tragedy of Pigot was that he was buried in St Mary’s Church in an unmarked grave. Many years later, the body was found during an excavation,” he said.

“It could well be said that it was under Pigot that a trading house began to dream of becoming a ruling power,” Mr. Muthiah said.

Inaugurating the day-long seminar, organised by the British Council as part of Madras Week celebration, the Prince of Arcot said, “Madras is home to a diversity of people of different States, languages, cultures, traditions and they have all contributed immensely to the city. And what better way to celebrate it than Madras Day.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 7:23:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/a-look-back-at-the-east-india-co/article5049704.ece

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