Social Scientist. v 4, no. 39 (Oct 1975) p. 56.

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Indigo Planters,, Ram Mohan Roy and the 18^ Charter Act

THE SIGNIFICANCE of the Charter Act of 1833 for indigo plantation in India is so immense that it is hardly possible to overlook it. Today it is no longer disputed that this Act far from benefiting, did serious, perhaps irreparable harm to Indian society and economy. But there has been an intense debate in recent times about Ram Mohan Roy's plea for the European indigo planters immediately before the renewal of the charter of the East India Company. This note is an attempt at analyzing the significance of the Charter Act of 1833 and assessing Ram Mohan's views about the planters.

The history of economic theory and policy of the British government since the Industrial Revolution, asEJ Hobsbawn has put it, is essentially that of the rise and fall the laissez faire.l Laissez faire, or more specifically Free Trade, was very much in the air in England during the four decades preceding the Charter Act of 1833. At about the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain found her position sound and secure. Nearly the entire underdeveloped world was her colony and ^would remain so if, under Free Trade, they [the underdeveloped countries] bought in the cheapest market and sold in the dearest, which meant they bought and sold in the onlv big market there wasóBritain.552

From the 1780s onwards, or more precisely, since the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Motions, Free Trade became a subject of hot discussion. There was a struggle between the older vested interests and the new bourgeois industrialists. The liberals and the utilitarians whose influence was considerable about this time, were opposed to any kind of control of trade and commerce. The new bourgeois industrialists who were supported by the liberals and the utilitarians, considered the question of Free Trade absolutely vital and over this question they were ready to fight tooth and nail.3 The triumph of this new industrialist class was evidence^ in the Reform Act of 1832. Another case of their triumph definitely was the Charter Act of 1833, for Free Trade, as opposed to mercantilist monopoly, was one of the most important gains of that class in the Charter Act of 1833.

There was a powerful movement in India in the 1820s for Free

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