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The Lies Brits Tell Themselves About India

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 23:35
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by Akshat Rathi

In May 2015, Shashi Tharoor, a former undersecretary general of the United Nations and a current member of India’s parliament, gave a stirring speech at a debate in the Oxford Union. He was speaking for the proposition that “Britain owes reparations to her former colonies.” The speech went viral, and Tharoor was perplexed.

“Though I had spoken well enough for my side to win the debate by a two-thirds majority, I knew I had made better speeches that had not acquired a tenth of the fan following,” Tharoor recalls in his latest book Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India published in India in late 2016 and the rest of the world in early 2017. “I honestly did not think I had said anything terribly new.”

What he may not have realised then is that he had managed to provide not just very succinct and persuasive arguments against the empire but also quantify the scale of its ills. Following which, in a world where nearly two-thirds of Britons believe that the empire was “something to be proud of” and where many Indians seem to think that its overall effect on their country may have been positive, Tharoor felt he could not turn down the “moral urgency of explaining why colonialism was the horror it turned out to be.”

The speech, thus, evolved into Inglorious Empire, in which Tharoor dissects most of the arguments made by apologists for the empire with hard facts and deft writing. On India’s 70th Independence Day, we have selected four of those arguments to remind the world of the cruelty unleashed by British greed. For a detailed read, we highly recommend Tharoor’s book.

Without British rule, there wouldn’t have been a political union called India.

The East India Company was created in 1600 to cash in on trading with India, which at the time accounted for more than a quarter of all the trade in the world. It soon realised, however, that its ambitions would be better served with a permanent presence in the country, and then on the trade took off. As the company’s men grew prosperous, they began dreaming of expanding their territory and found little opposition. In some 100 or so years, through a series of conquests and some clever politicking, the company created a rival empire on the subcontinent among the already warring ones (such as the Maratha, Mughal, and Awadh regimes). Today, the argument goes that, had it not been for the British, those rival factions would not have coalesced into a single entity.

This argument stands on two pillars. First, that the British created the idea of a political union called India. Second, that they provided Indians the tools and institutions needed to hold the union together and run it.


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