A Short Tribute to the Indian Economic History

“India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on its shores was 23 per cent, by the time the British left it was down to below 4 per cent.. “and “…the weavers in India became beggars and India went from being a world famous exporter of finished cloth into an importer having 27 per cent of the world trade to less than 2 per cent” – spoke Mr. Shashi Tharoor, well known UN Diplomat & Member of Parliament, India, speaking at the Oxford Union, July 2015- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7CW7S0zxv4

While the debate on whether Britain does owe reparations to India is more in the realm of the academic, what the debate did do, was to draw the focus of the generations of Indians, born after Independence, to facts which may not have found their way into school history books.

Samuel P Huntington, in his book ‘The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order’, presents that in the year 1750 India + Pakistan + Bangladesh accounted for 24.5% of the world manufacturing output by civilization or country. China was at 32.8 %, the West – 18.2%. In 1913, the Indian sub-continent was at an abysmal 1.4%, China at 3.6% and the West was at 81.6%. In 1980, India climbed back a little to be at 2.3% (effects of being independent, possibly, showing!), China was at 5% and the West was at 57.8%. A quick look at the last few years’ performance (data as of 2012) shows, China is at about 22%, USA at 17%, UK at 1.9% and India at 2.1%. While the West’s share has gone down, China has bounced back in manufacturing output.  https://www.mapi.net/china-has-dominant-share-world-manufacturing

Interestingly, another star of yesteryears is the Indian Rupee. In all probability, the Indian Rupee was possibly one of the most transacted world currencies after the British Pound Sterling, finding acceptance as a legal tender in the British Somaliland, Burma, Ceylon, East Africa, Mauritius, Persian Gulf (Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Dubai, United Arab Emirates), Bhutan, Pakistan, Seychelles, Yemen and Zanzibar at various points of time. http://www.atsnotes.com/catalog/banknotes/india.html . The Indian rupee was replaced in East Africa by the Rupee of the Government of the East African Protectorate in 1905 (and later by the Florin, and then the Shilling, of the East African Currency Board) and again by the Shilling of the East African Currency Board in Southern Arabia in 1951. However, within the states of the Persian Gulf the Indian rupee was still the official currency even as recently as 1959. In 1959, the Reserve Bank of India, issued the Gulf Rupee.  “Facilities have been provided to banks operating in the Gulf States to exchange Indian currency notes collected by them for sterling. However, this currency arrangement has, in the last few years, facilitated the conversion into sterling of large amounts of Indian notes smuggled out, representing proceeds of smuggled imports of gold and other commodities into India, which entailed a substantial drain on India’s foreign exchange reserves.” – Reserve Bank of India Bulletin May 1959 http://www.islamicbanknotes.com/gulfrupees%20(article).htm . Consequently, the Government of India introduced the Gulf Rupee. Over a period of time, these countries, gradually, introduced their own legal tender. The Gulf Notes are now a collector’s dream item for collection.

As the old order gives way to new orders, remnants of the glorious Indian business presence of yore is still seen in all these countries in the form of a thriving diaspora – be it the Sindhis in West Africa or the Gujaratis in East Africa. The first migrants to these places would have been contributors to the Indian Business Economics of the past centuries. If these yesteryears are any indication, the future holds the potential at least of being no less glorious.

                                                                                                          – Gopal