SPREAD IN PROSPERITY
From 1860 onwards, massive Marwari migrations took place towards east India. By 1911, there were 15,000 Marwaris in Calcutta and 75,000 in Bihar, Orissa, Bengal and Assam. They established their dominance in the field of indigenous banking soon thereafter. The banias became indispensible to British cotton cloth-importing firms from 1870 to 1900. The Marwari merchants controlled the opium market even before 1860. Marwari merchants entered the jute trade in 1870, and by 1914 trade was controlled predominantly by them. During the First World War, the control of key speculative markets, import of cotton cloth and the jute trade resulted in war profits, which enabled some Marwaris to enter the industrial sector.
In central and western India, apart from the incidental investments of a few major banking firms, most of the available profit from trade and moneylending was invested in land. The Bombay community’s Shekhawati component gained a respectable position in speculative markets, especially stocks and cotton, along with trade in opium, cloth and cotton. However, vigorous competition, especially from various Gujarati commercial groups, did not allow them to achieve as dominant a position as in Calcutta. Before the First World War, a few Marwari merchants had been instrumental in setting up mills for others in Bombay. After the War, however, several started mills of their own. Similarly, in Hyderabad and Indore, war profits enabled the merchants to freely construct cotton textile and carpet mills.
Within a short span of time between 1857 and the end of the First World War in 1918, a small group of Marwaris in Calcutta, numbering fewer than 15,000, started trading from the port. They gradually made further inroads and eventually launched some of the first major Indian-owned firms that manufactured indigenous goods in eastern India and traded in those goods.
Above: This 1878 antique engraving depicts the Raja of Bunera visiting British travellers who came to propose an alliance in business. By 1818, all the princely states of Rajputana had entered into treaties with the British, who assumed responsibility...