London—An Indian entrepreneur is relaunching the East India Company with the opening of a store in London Saturday, after buying the remnants of the British trading giant that once ruled much of the subcontinent.
The company took control of large swathes of the region during the 1700s as it expanded rapidly on the back of its trading activities, before power over India was formally handed to London in the 19th century.
But the firm, which had grown so huge it boasted its own currency and army, was dissolved in 1874. A tiny rump of the company lived on, however, consisting of its trading name and a small tea and coffee concern.
This shadow of the former global trading power was acquired in 2005 by Indian businessman Sanjiv Mehta, who has transformed it into a consumer brand focused on luxury foodstuffs.
“I was born and grew up in Bombay (Mumbai), so for me to acquire a company which once owned us is a tremendous joy,” Mehta said, as workmen put the finishing touches to the shop in London’s upmarket Mayfair district. But the entrepreneur, who moved to Britain around 20 years ago, insists he is not driven by a desire for vengeance — rather, he says his plan is based on carefully thought-out commercial considerations.In reawakening the slumbering giant, Mehta has bought into a 400-year-old brand already known to millions of people around the world.At its peak, the company employed a third of the British workforce and was responsible for 50 percent of global trade.
“It’s impossible to build a luxury brand like this,” the 49-year-old said.
“You can spend billions of dollars and not reach where the East India Company is already starting from.”
The sheer size and reach of the original EIC is hard to overstate, he said.
“It controlled the waters of the world, it controlled trade, it controlled movement,” he went on.
“To control that, it had its own army, its navy, its treasury, its land.”—APP