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If the British had been denied entry…

February 26, 2014

Thomas Best was waiting for Abdullah. He was worried. He was unsure about how he could carry on the task that His Majesty had bestowed upon him. Considering the fact that the kingdom was probably spending too much in the current venture, the King, His Majesty James I, had put a lot of thought into his decision and extended the Company’s charter in 1609. It was clear that the whole venture would be cancelled if there was no profit within three years. Chief Commander Best had travelled on the seas this far for more than 8 months on the tenth voyage of the company to find prospects in trade outside Europe.

Just about 4 weeks ago, these people had arrested the purser of his ship as well as well as Mr. Chambers. That is when Captain Best seized a whole ship of the Mughals and demanded his men be released. This is why he had come to strike a deal with the Governor of Gujarat, Abdullah Khan.  …..

The story could go on interestingly. But to cut to the chase, Abdullah Khan was then raiding a nearby fort and struck a deal with Best. Amongst the negotiations, the East India Company was allowed to trade in the Kingdom of the then Mughal Emperor, Nur-ud-din Mohammad Salim also known to us as “Jahangir”, with a few restrictions of course. Best had presented Abdullah Khan and his son with so many gifts as well (Under the table deals were not so uncommon in the past either!). Unexpectedly, Best had to fight a battle against the Portuguese at Suvali (anglicised to Swally) on the shores of Gujarat, not far away from Surat. (Suvali is coincidentally being pursued actively by archaeologists but it is currently elusive) [5] After winning the battle, Best goes on to Diu and then to Surat.

While all this happened, elsewhere in the capital of the Mughal Empire, being infatuated with Mehr-un-Nisa, i.e. Noor Jahan, Jahangir plays to her whims and fancies. Noor Jahan was practically the “Power behind the Throne” from 1611.

When the British King, James I, finds the possible opportunity to establish markets in India, he sent Sir Thomas Roe, in 1614, to Jahangir’s court to arrange a commercial treaty for securing sites in India for the East India Company. Jahangir accepted and wrote a long diplomatic letter to King James I accepting the treaty. [6] What happened after this is obvious.

If I were to be someone in the past and change the course of history, it would have definitely been Noor Jahan. I would have definitely rejected the possible chance of having trade relations with them when Thomas Roe would have approached. Despite the pros and cons of British rule even 66 years post-independence, there would have been a huge difference in the way India would have been.

Indian would probably still be under the Mughal rule. Monarchies would have persisted regardless of centuries of downfall due to selfishness and treachery. The Indian sub-continent would have been similar to a geographical entity such as the UAE. The ominous threat of battles or cold wars would persist openly. Eventual chaos could ensue and internal strife might emerge. There would be more distinct economic separations, a proof of principle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. There would be haraams and many fatwas.

It is not just the problems that could be, but also the advantages that could be… The crime rate would be very low considering the extremely cruel punishments for petty issues.  [8] Art would have flourished. Religious acceptance would have been even more prominent.

But these positive impacts would soon fail if Aurangazeb were to occupy the throne as it happened in History. Anything more or anything less similar to what we observe now is due to every single act of our predecessors. Nothing as of now can be predicted accurately as much of the data about our past is lost.


[1] Kerr, Robert, ed. A general history and collection of voyages and travels. Vol. IX.

[2] Best, Thomas. The Voyage of Thomas Best to the East Indies, 1612-1614. Asian educational services, 1995.

[3] Agrawal, Ashvini. Studies in Mughal history. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1983.

[4] Allan, John, Wolseley Haig, and Henry Dodwell. The Cambridge shorter history of India. S. Chand, 1964.





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