Friday, February 10, 2006


Nawabs, Maharanas and Services Companies

At the height of their power in India, the British had several thousand British officers commanding a large army of soldiers recruited across India. This army alone was still insufficient to run a sub-continental empire. Here is where the numerous Nawabs, Maharajas, Maharanas, and assorted kings, Naiks, and Jagirdhars played a key role. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while the influence of the Mugal emperor was waning, there were numerous claimants to kingship across the country, as varied as the people and the geography and culture of India. Starting from their success under Robert Clive in Bengal, the English systematically worked to enlarge their power and influence by acquiring the use of someone elseĀ“s army to fight their battles and wars.

In return for protection from attacks from their enemies a motley set of Nawabs and Maharajas signed up to offer the services of their Armies to the British. The most successful and long lasting of such alliances was that of the Nizam of Hyderabad, who continued with territorial rights, prestige and power right up to Independence in 1947. Another example is the Maharaja of Mysore, starting from the end of the Fourth Mysore war till Independence.

The British had a very sophisticated and refined system of hierarchy among the native princes. And native princes went by a wide range of titles: Maharajadhiraja, Sawai Maharaj, Nawab, Maharana, Rana, Thakur, Nizam, and so on. To this list was added the honours of the British Empire; the Grand Commander of the Star of India (GCSI), Knight Grand Commander of the Indian Empire (GCIE), etc. In order to clearly indicate their relative status, an elaborate system of gun-salutes had evolved. For instance, just before independence, the Nizam of Hyderabad was entitled to a twenty-one gun salute, while there were princes who had to be satisfied with a mere three-gun salute and some had no gun salutes at all. The Seventh Nizam had a title that ran on for several lines and could be translated as: 'Lieutenant - General His Exalted Highness Seventh in Line Equal to the rank of Asaf Jah, Victor of the Realm and the World, Regulator of the Realm, Regulator of the State, Viceroy Sir the Honourable Osman, Ali Khan, the Brave, Victorious in Battle, Faithful Ally of the British, Grand Commander of the Star of India, Knight Grand Cross of the British Empire, Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar.'

Let us turn our attention back to the able bodied young men and women looking for career options today. Assuming some of these youngsters are swayed by the unfavorable comparison made between such a choice and that of a young soldier working for the East India Company, what are their options? Work for an all-Indian software company like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, and so on? Do they fare any better?

All the leading lights of Indian software industry, essentially are services companies: each is an incredibly well-oiled machine that takes as input fresh graduates of all hues from all corners of the country, processes them into productive programmers, and marshals their output and delivers highest quality software and services to client companies across the globe. It is an astoundingly complex management task that is performed routinely with elan by these companies.

However, in essence, working for these companies is similar to enlisting in the armies of the Nawabs and Maharajas above. The major difference now of course is that these Maharajas and Nawabs competitively offer their services to not just the British Raj, but also to the American and Japanese and European empires that require the services of their armies! And unlike the troubled times of the past, there is no penalty for serving two empires at the same time: if you have the numbers and if your bid is competitive you can work with multiple empires. And of course, these companies also have distinguishing decorations and titles; ISO 9001, CMM level 5, Six Sigma, Global Outsourcing Leader Award, and so on!

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