Indic intellectual and mercantile collusion with invaders – A relative positioning

We have recently initiated a series on collusion of Indic merchants with invaders [1] which has sparked off substantial debate. We welcome the meaningful exchanges, and would like to share our preliminary thoughts on some of the more recurring questions so as to continue the process. Several readers have sought our insights on collusion of the intellectuals and the martial classes, and the positioning of the same with mercantile collusion in the hierarchy of collaboration with invaders. Both intellectual and martial classes colluded with the invaders, but we started with the mercantile collusion because of the following reality. Significant sections of both warriors and intellectuals rebelled (often ineffectively, yes, but they did) against the invaders. However there is no significant trader revolt against the invaders. They specifically preferred the invader as the invader offered them opportunities that was absent in indigenous rule. The mercantile preference for the invader will be further substantiated in subsequent articles of our series.

We now share our preliminary articulations about the positioning of mercantile compromise vis a vis intellectual compromise.

The collusion of the merchants with the invaders was active. The active collusion entailed a) funding the campaigns of the invaders against native kingdoms via loans and contributions b) enabling the functioning of the Islamic and European states in India by funding its rulers and its nobility and managing its finances c) enabling slavery of Indics and financing slave trade d) intelligence gathering for the invaders and undermining public morale against them e) negotiating on behalf of the invaders.  The role played by the religious establishments and the establishment scholars in furthering the causes of the invaders is a case of usually passive collaboration, in acquiescing to the new reality, glorifying the invading regimes and whitewashing their crimes on the nation. All the above deserve deep condemnation and contempt, but are nonetheless passive as not directly enabling through supply of tangible resources.

It is also worth noting that the compromise in the intellectual classes was induced through biased selection by agents outside the intellectual classes. The scholars had very little power on their own. They were usually patronized by the kings, the nobility and the other rich. The ones who could oppose the Islamist and European agenda were probably ruthlessly shunted out. Rulers and the rich do not want harsh truths told – they merely want `scholarly approval’ of their agenda. Even if there are intellectually dissenting voices in a given regime, only those intellects get to survive or given space to, whose work reinforces the existing regime and its economic interests. This is true from the days of Mahabharata, where Vidura was coldly ignored, and at times, even told to leave if he was not happy, to how Elst was thrown out by a conference closely aligned with the ruling BJP, when his analysis did not suit the ruling circles. In between, we have Sitaram Goel whose scholarly exposure of Nehru and theological critique of Islam were not welcomed and at times denied publication in the mouthpiece of the supposed Hindu nationalist Sangh.  Similarly, the Congress regime has been infamous for its ruthless silencing of many great historians, including those of the stature of RC Majumdar. We happen to know of the plight of Majumdar, Goel, Elst because they are relatively recent, and because independent publication have become substantially easier since their times  But, many other instances of similar contempt shown to contrarian ideologues in between, may have been lost because the Islamists perpetrated a `genocide’ on Indic texts. Indeed, most of our history of persecution and even internal collusion have to be traced from the accounts left by chronicles of the invaders, who would naturally document events rather than alternative Indic scholarly narratives.  

There was considerable overlap and shared interests between “warrior/ideologues” and wealthy merchants at all periods, and it was the merchants whose specific interests that gradually extended into the value system of the political and religious infrastructure, and shaped them eventually in ways that had perhaps unintended but disastrous consequences. Mercantile and religious roles were often combined in the pre-Islamic era. Most of the ministers in western coastal states dealing with Muslims or facilitating them were themselves coming from specific religious sects and write about both religious as well as mercantile activities (Prabandhachintamani). The merchants themselves were the heads, who hired scholars, in many of the religious establishments, particularly in the case of the Jains and the Buddhists. The Sramanis were the heads of the religious establishments and merchants/financiers/bankers too. Similarly, Shantidas Jhaveris and Jagat Seths were the heads of the Oswal Jain community and had high religious positions too.

Thus, the `establishment scholars’ - both those in the religious establishments and those in the train of the rulers, nobles, and the merchants – became part of the establishment because they were compromised. The compromise of the scholars was a requirement for them to be part of the establishments. The scholars in their train echoed their agenda, as they could not contradict their politico-religious masters while remaining part of the establishments.  Undeniably, this is compromise of integrity and abdication of responsibility on part of the scholars, but the point here is only those who satisfied these characteristics were given space to conduct their discourse by an establishment maintained by rulers and merchants. Only with the fall of these structures by invasions, was there space created for the few counter-examples of independent dissenting “saints/gurus”.

Note that dissenting intellectual voices get space to meaningfully emerge only on the rare occasions in between two regimes/state-systems when neither is strong enough to patronize its own subservient ideologues. A pertinent example is that of Chanakya. He was an exile from Magadha, surviving on the periphery and far away from the major power centre in Ganga valley, which however was not strong enough to have intervened in the passage of Alexander through Gandhar and Sindh and among faction ridden, constantly fighting small states on the western frontiers of Indian subcontinent. Once Asoka consolidates power, it is he who calls the “great council” of then intellectuals, and obviously such a council, just like later in Nicaea called by Constantine, could not or did not put forward any critique of the long term debilitating effects of Asoka’s policy. Again, Devala smriti was written obviously after Qasim's raid in Sindh. It shows a non-royal patronage publicly sourced counter move from below as no "kingly" patronage is referred to. Thus, intellectual dissent could only flourish in the brief period following destruction of the older Indic regime, showing that it was the presence of the previous regime that stifled such intellectual dissent from the mainstream intellectualism aligned to regime and commercial interests. Again, Guru Ramdas, similarly could only come up in between the declining Deccani sultanate and growing Mughal expansion, in a virtual political no-man’s land. Madhava Vidyaranya will be another pertinent example - growing in between destruction of previous Hindu regimes in Karnat, while Muslim power had not yet coagulated into well formed state in the zone. Finally, our group of authors can dissent too, because we are not dependent on any political/commercial regime’s patronage for deconstructing history according to their interests, but this situation would probably not apply to very many.

Many of the plebian resistance movements were led by members of the intellectual and religious classes, eg, Baba Ram Chandra, the Sanyasi rebellions, the revolutionaries during the British era.  All the above were severely constrained on resources, and therefore operated on limited scales and gradually petered out, as they lacked support from the indigenous rulers or the rich. The wealthy merchants never funded nascent indigenous resistance movements, in many cases the resistance movements had to loot the money-lenders, the merchant caravans and wealthy merchants to sustain their movements even on a small scale. The merchants always chose the least dangerous options like Gandhi to fund. Gandhi was a political manager and a man who could get what his business supporters wanted and he would not rock the boat. So, funding him was a safe option and more of a business investment. Meanwhile, given the scale of the famines and the devastation which was caused by the mercantile collusion with the invaders, independent public resources were insufficient to organize effective resistance.  Note that significant portion of Brahmanas in pre-Islamic era is cited as "poor" and surviving by begging - so birth in an intellectual class did not guarantee influence over the state. [2]

Having shared our initial thoughts on the positioning of different collusions, we welcome comprehensively documented research on collaborations of different classes, including that of the intellectual class, on which we are receiving many questions. 

We would conclude with discussion on an attribute of the mercantile communities that is being repeatedly pointed to us while we document their collusion with invaders – their overt religiosity, namely constructing temples, rigidly adhering to religious rituals and participating in protection of cows. Overt religiosity of individuals or social groups does not help sustain a religion if they enable regimes that ravage and forcibly convert common practitioners of the same religion.   Overt religious posturing did not prevent wealthy merchants from ruthlessly exploiting their own people. We have specific references in ancient pre-Islamic sources showing merchants taking deposits, then denying and thereby cheating and ruining people, and then doing extra religious demonstrative activities [3]. Thus formal protestation of rituals, or devotion to religious schools could coexist with selfish profiteering that might not have valued the land, and its people's interests.

It is true that many of the mercantile groups engaged in cow protection, particularly during the British period. But then, during the British period demands on protection of cows was the least offensive agenda from the ruling invaders’ viewpoints. They were not going on a cow killing spree, rather they were starving millions of men and women to death through artificial famines, they were also bullying and effectively enslaving innumerable peasants through indentured labor in foreign lands they controlled.  Many merchants who led such cow protection movements and constructed large temples facilitated the Muslim League while it was seeking to partition India, some of them agreed to supply military resources to the Nizam of Hyderabad while he was in conflict with the newly formed Indian state,  We propose to document some of these in our series. And, the leading merchants had reduced cow protection to farcical level, when they anointed Gandhi as the President of the Cow Protection Society of India for several years. In his long list of speeches about cow protection, Gandhi merely pleaded with the Muslims to give up cow slaughter and bullied the Dalits when he believed that they were feeding on carrion [4]. The merchants leading the Cow protection societies were fine with the president of their society, Gandhi, opposing legislative ban on cow slaughter, even when Hindus had a majority in many municipalities and corporations. 

"Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. MyIndMakers is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of MyindMakers and it does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same."


[1] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj, Kirtivardhan Dave, Aparna, ``Indic mercantile collaboration with Abrahamic invaders’’

[2] Subhasitaratnakosa of Vidyakara, translated/ed by DD Kosambi and V.V.Gokhale, Harvard, 1957, p 305/1170  Prabandhachintamani of Merutunga, ed by Jinavijaya Muni, Santiniketana, 1933, orig tr C.H.Tawney, Calcutta 1901. p 42

[3] Rajatarangini, VIII, p 123-160, and 706-710. Ed. M.A.Stein, Bombay, 1892, Westminster, 1900.

[4] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj, ``The Cow Protection of Mahatma Gandhi – Appeasing Muslims and Bullying Dalits’’

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.