why was india an important country to the british empire
While other territories that belonged to England brought wealth, India did that and so much more. Not only was India wildly profitable what with its spices, large numbers of cheap laborers and other exports, but its location is also prime for being able to trade by sea with foreign ports. The Indian Ocean has for centuries been an extremely busy naval market spanning between the Ivory Coast across to China. Previously any English merchant dealing with out of lands goods would either have to sail around the bottom of Africa or rely on land routes that were never truly safe. With India in their pocket they were able to control a significant portion of the trade that happened in that region. This allowed them to bring in more exotic goods, jewels, gold, and tax any and all trades that needed to pass through India like African sailors carrying Ivory to China. This also gave them a hand on all of the scientific marvels that were happening in the region, such as cheap gunpowder from China. India brought wealth but also just as importantly it brought opportunity for England in both trade and knowledge.
Very simply they were granted a monopoly from the British government in 1600 by Elizabeth I. That might have been the end of them in terms of global significance, but the fact is that after the Dutch began to decline in importance and trade power (a discussion for another place), and after the 7 Years War against France, which was also fought in India, there were very little competitors to the British navy or influence in the region. Adding to the EIC s royal granted powers is a series of acts by Charles II in the 1670 s which gave the EIC autonomy in land acquisition, coinage, raising an army, handling laws and courts, and other powers. Initially India was not even the target, the British EIC tried to get into the Spice Islands trade of modern day Malaysia/Indonesia, but found it very hard to penetrate an already Dutch dominated monopoly of the Spice Islands. And hence with increasing amounts of investment and British government support, they focused on India, first with the small trading settlements along the coast, in Surat specially and in very small fort-towns in Bengal.
On top of that, and people forget this, the British EIC was heavily supported by native Indian banking groups and merchantmen, who saw them as supporting them, in a society that demonized them in the caste system (Merchantmen are regarded lowly), many flocked to these British outposts, where they invested a lot into the EIC, helping them to form local contacts and investments in India. Two other reasons were because: 1) Unlike the Portuguese, French, the British refused permission for any Christian missionaries to enter one of the trading ports they had in India 2) With the Mughal successor states battling it out, these trade posts could be the most stable and safe, as the different states fought over the decaying morsels of the Mughal Empire. The British EIC only came to properly control land, when the Nawab of Bengal forced them to stop constructing a fort (in defense against the French) in the Bengal, when the British refused, the Nawab attacked, and the British retaliated, by installing (with help from the Indian banking families) a short-lived puppet in Bengal. The puppet betrayed the EIC s interests, and he was deposed, and the British EIC came to rule the Bengal directly, taking revenue directly from the land, no longer having to pay for their goods in gold bullion, they could now sell cash crops from the ludicrously fertile Bengal, in exchange for other goods they needed.
Following the annexation of Bengal, the British would loan out their army to local rulers, as a protection racket, but if they couldn t pay up (and this was all stated in elaborately written contracts), they had to cede a portion of their land, and bit by bit the British EIC annexed land into their Presidency system (Bengal, Madras, Bombay, a way of administering land). Eventually under the Doctrine of Lapse any Princely state that did not have a son, had to give all their land to the British, rather than to someone of his family. And out of this came the British Raj pre-1858. This is a simplification for sure, but its a good overview of how the British East India Company became so powerful in the subcontinent. It had a lot to do with native support and contract trickery, more than anything else.
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