Written by Jonathan Guthrie for the Financial Times
Indian entrepreneur Sanjiv Mehta will this month relaunch the historic business name of the East India Company as a consumer brand, starting with a luxury food shop in London. The move represents one of the more eye-catching attempts to revive a trading name in recent years. The original East India Company, which was abolished in 1874, was a powerful agent of British mercantilism, boasting its own army and currency. Other revivals have focused on high street brands, such as the retailer Sock Shop and the fashion label Burberry.
The trading partnership that became the East India Company was granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600. From 1757 it governed large parts of India where its activities remain controversial. The “John Company”, as the organisation was colloquially known, used its military might to suppress local rulers and establish trading monopolies. Company officials, or “nabobs”, could become hugely wealthy. The East India Company was even implicated in the seizure of the Koh-i-Noor, at one time the world’s largest diamond, for the British Crown following the conquest of Lahore. David Cameron, the prime minister, came under pressure in India last week to return the gem.
However, Mr Mehta, 48, said he had suffered no criticism from compatriots for buying the registration of the East India Company from UK private investors for a small sum in 2005. He said: “People are rejoicing because an Indian has bought the EIC – it is a symbol of redemption.”