Colonialism represented such a structure of government in which a colony was supposed to serve the interest of the metropolitan state. While making a study of colonialism we should be cautious about the things mentioned below-
Firstly, colonialism should be studied as a structure, not as a policy. In fact, the colonial policy changed according to the changing time and situation but the colonial structure remained intact.
Secondly, colonialism should be studied as a series of contradictions i.e. the contradiction between backwardness and development. In other words, we can say the general impact of colonial exploitation was backwardness but sometimes development appeared as an unconscious by-product.
On the basis of policies and trends, we can divide colonialism in three phases-
Mercantilist Phase (1757-1813):
During the first phase, i.e., the Mercantilist phase, from 1757 to 1813, the East India Company completely monopolized trade and by manipulating low prices of Indian finished goods for exports to England and Europe, began the direct plunder of India’s wealth. During this period the surplus revenues of Bengal and other provinces were utilized for buying the finished Indian goods for export.
Industrial Phase (1813-1858):
With the industrial boom in England, India entered the second phase of classic British Colonialism, viz., Free Trade Industrial or Mercantile Capitalism (1813-1858). During this phase, India was converted into a free market for the import of industrially manufactured British goods and a source of raw materials to be exported to England. The extent of exploitation can be judged by the fact that India, which had for centuries exported cotton goods to the whole world, started, by 1850, importing one-fourth of all British cotton exports. From 1813 the company was forbidden to trade in India and in 1833 a complete ban was imposed on all commercial activities of the Company. From then onwards, India was thrown open for exploitation at the hands of the British mercantile-industrial capitalist class. They took away raw materials and brought back manufactured goods for being marketed in India. They also siphoned off foodgrains for the British industrial labour. Thus exports from India came to be confined to raw materials and food grains, which caused famine conditions in India, resulting in the death of nearly 20 million people in the nineteenth century.
Finance Capitalism Phase (1860 onwards):
It was during this period, there was a transfer of capital from Britain to India for the construction of Railways, and the development of plantation, shipping industries etc. During this phase, we can underline two important features of colonialism. Firstly there was much accumulation of capital which was preferably being invested in a colony. Secondly, now Britain was no more only industrialized nation in the world. Now some other industrialized nations also come in the race and some of them even surpassed Britain in industrialization. These were U.S.A., Germany, Japan, Russia and France. During this phase, there was the development of transport and communication lines with the help of the British capital which was to be repaid on the basis of home charges. Secondly, as the result of the revolt of 1857 the British gave up the policy of carrying social legislation in India, rather the British official attitude turned to be more and more conservative. Furthermore, Britain had to face rivalry from other industrialized nations. So now the British became too much conscious for protecting the British interest in India and to make India secured from other industrial rivals. That’s why during this period, some hardliners in the form of Governor Generals came to India and they declared that Indian were unfit for self-governance, and it always needed British support.
Effects of British Colonialism:
The effect of all this on Indian economic and social life was disastrous. The former Indian manufacturing centres were depopulated and destroyed, the pressure on the existing cultivable land increased enormously, the old basis of village economy was dismantled, and India was reduced to not only a market for British goods but also an agricultural colony of Britain for the supply of raw materials. As a result of the nearly two-centuries long economic exploitation of India by England, the Indian economy was not only completely ruined, but the basic character of almost every aspect of the Indian economy also totally altered.