Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

From the above, it should not be supposed that there was an actual decline in the amount of Indo-British trade. On the other hand, the United Kingdom showed the greatest progress in the net addition to the amount of trade transacted between India and any other country, as the following figures will indicate:

Indo-British Trade: Value in Lakhs of Rupees
    Exports to
the U.K.    Imports from
the U.K.    Total amount of the Indo-British trade
1875-76    2809    3228    6037
1880-81    3105    4403    7508
1890-91    3227    5502    8779
1900-01    3205    5310    8516
1905-06    4070    7685    11755
1910-11    5224    8311    13533
1915-16    7600    8352    15952
1920-21    5297    20460    25757
1925-26    8097    11532    19629

Thus, during the period 1875-76 to 1925-26, the amount of our trade with Britain increased by about 136 crores of rupees, an amount which was in itself greater than that transacted with any other country. The gradual decline in the percentage share of the United Kingdom was, therefore, due to her inability to keep pace with the general growth of India's total trade, the extent of which can further be gauged from the following index numbers:

    Total Indian
trade    Indo-British
1875-76    100    100
1880-81    131    124
1890-91    177    145
1900-01    194    141
1905-06    282    194
1910-11    354    224
1915-16    348    264
1920-21    634    426
1925-26    630    325

As has already been observed, the preponderance of Great Britain has been more complete in India's import trade. This has been reflected in the fact that our total imports have shown identical movements with those from the United Kingdom. Fluctuations in the imports from that country in either direction have invariably been followed by similar fluctuations in our total imports. This has, however, not been the case with the exports which have shown contrary movements in some particular years to those from the United Kingdom. This is, of course, due to the exports to Britain being only a fraction of our total exports. But the supremacy of that country has been so complete in India's import trade that irrespective of the developments with other countries, our total imports have in every year moved along with those from Britain.

The outstanding article of importance that has contributed to the bulk of our import trade with Great Britain is cotton manufactures. England is the greatest cotton manufacturing country in the world, and India has been her best customer. Indeed, India occupies the foremost place among countries importing cotton piece-goods. This single article has represented more than 50 per cent of India's total imports from the United Kingdom.

The other articles of importance are metals, machinery and mill-work, and railway plant and rolling-stock. Each of these amounted to more than ten crores of rupees in the latest years of the period under study. Besides these, there is a host of other minor articles. The bulk is, however, made up of cotton goods, metals and manufactures thereof, and the progress of Indo-British trade has been mainly limited to these commodities.

Besides the facts that the exports to Britain have represented a smaller value than the imports therefrom and that the progress in them has been slower than in the latter, there is another point of contrast to be noted. On the import side, cotton goods have represented the bulk of the trade; whereas on the export side, there has been no such predominant article. On the contrary, while the important articles of import kept up their relative positions all through, those of export underwent the greatest changes in their growth and relative importance.

In the earlier days, raw cotton occupied the first place among the objects of export. Right down to 1884-85, the output and export of which were being highly encouraged by the establishment and progress of the jute manufacturing industry in Dundee, held the first place. Then, the export of tea which was fast driving away the Chinese stuff from the British market along with the rapid growth of the newly established Indian industry, took the place of honour for the first time in 1890-91. Thus in 1890-91, tea, foodgrains, raw jute and cotton respectively occupied the first four places, the value of the exports of each of these being between 4 and 5 crores of rupees.

Since then, while the exports of raw cotton fell heavily, amounting to only 21 lakhs of rupees in 1899-1900, those of the other three commodities continued to grow in volume; and for the next few years, these were interchanging the first three places amongst themselves. By the end of the century, tea, however, came definitely to hold the foremost place; and though in certain abnormal years, the exports of foodgrains exceeded those of tea, the latter have since then continued to hold the premier position. This rising preponderance of tea in relation to foodgrains and jute was due to the following causes.

India herself being a densely populated country, subject to shortage of crops and famines, the exports of grains could show expansion only within certain limits and were liable to great fluctuations. In the case of jute, the growth of the manufacturing industry in India and elsewhere restricted the exports to the United Kingdom. But tea was not subject to any of these influences. The home consumption was negligible and there was no great demand from other countries. The industry was started and fostered with a view to supply the demands of Britain which has continued to be almost the single market for Indian tea, the exports to other countries being quite small. Had it not been for tea, the exports to the United Kingdom would have shown still greater percentage decline.

The other articles of importance in our export trade with that country are hides and skins, jute manufactures, oilseeds, raw wool, lac, coffee and teak wood.