Wednesday, 31 May 2017

inglorious empire - what the british did to india

A few days ago, there was a very interesting debate on where India is today - and where it is going.
BBC Radio 4 - Start the Week, India's Rise?

And to understand the present and the future, you need to look at the past - and India's past is very much mixed up with Britain's past:
'But what about the railways ...?' ​​The myth of Britain's gifts to India | World news | The Guardian
Britons suffer 'historical amnesia' over atrocities of their former empire, says author | The Independent

This is a review of a very provocative book on these themes:

Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor — the rapacious Raj

A combative history of the British in India swats aside notions of benevolent imperial rule

MARCH 17, 2017 by: Victor Mallet

India, surprisingly, does not loom large in the history taught in most British schools. This is not simply a matter of children having the wrong idea about the two centuries of exploitation that financed the British empire and many of its wars; often, they have no idea at all. Even the victims — or, more properly, their descendants, the nearly 2bn people of the Indian subcontinent — have only a hazy notion of the horrors inflicted during the colonial period.

Shashi Tharoor seems at first glance an improbable advocate to redress the balance. A writer and politician born in London and educated at English-language schools in India, he speaks in a languid, upper-class English drawl and confesses to a love of tea, cricket and PG Wodehouse, all of which the British imported to their richest colony. Inglorious Empire had its origins in an Oxford Union debate in 2015; Tharoor argued playfully that “Britain Owes Reparations to Her Former Colonies” and then found his speech had gone viral back in India. A Congress member of parliament, he was lauded even by his political rival Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata party prime minister.

Tharoor convincingly demolishes some of the more persistent myths about Britain’s supposedly civilising mission in India, echoing William Dalrymple’s laments over the looting of the country by the East India Company and the rise of British racism in the 19th century, and rejecting Niall Ferguson’s defence of imperialism as a force for free trade and the rule of law.

Summoning evidence from British and American historians as well as Indian thinkers, Tharoor charts the destruction of pre-colonial systems of government by the British and their ubiquitous ledgers and rule books; the punitive taxation of farmers and mismanagement of famines in which millions died; the imposition of laws against homosexuality and sedition used to this day by authoritarian Indian governments; and the extreme protectionism (in everything from textiles to shipbuilding) that crippled India’s world-class manufacturing sectors and its pre-existing international trade networks. “Britain’s Industrial Revolution,” he writes, “was built on the destruction of India’s thriving manufacturing industries.”

The statistics are worth repeating, the more so because India is now often neglected in favour of China when historians recall the economic dominance of Asia. When the East India Company was established in 1600, Britain accounted for 1.8 per cent of global gross domestic product and India for 23 per cent. India was one of the richest and most industrialised economies. In 1750, India and China together accounted for nearly three-quarters of world industrial output, but India “was transformed by the process of imperial rule into one of the poorest, most backward, illiterate and diseased societies on earth by the time of our independence in 1947”. By then, India’s share of world GDP was just 3 per cent, while Britain’s was three times as high.

Tharoor, a former UN diplomat who lost the 2006 race for the secretary-general post to Ban Ki-moon, accepts that bad colonial government by the British is no excuse for bad government by Indians (including those of his own party, the Congress) in the 70 years since independence.

But he does want us to understand the origins of the difficulties that confronted India after 1947. His most damning argument is that the British policy of divide and rule, as well as the colonialist obsession with rigid classification, entrenched the previously ill-defined distinctions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as between Hindu castes and between Sunni and Shia Islam, and so set the stage for the violent “shambles of that original Brexit” — the departure of the British from India — and the subsequent militarisation of the newborn nation of Pakistan.

“The creation and perpetuation of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was the most significant accomplishment of British imperial policy: the project of divide et impera would reach its culmination in the horrors of Partition that eventually accompanied the collapse of British authority in 1947.”

This is a grave charge, and a well-argued one. If the more nostalgic Brexiters think trading with former colonial nations will in some way compensate for the costs of leaving the EU, they should first examine the blood-soaked history of their country’s relationship with India. It could be a revelation.

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, Hurst, RRP£20, 296 pages

Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor — the rapacious Raj

And meanwhile, we have a lot of nostalgia going on, with a very nice piece from the Voice of America:
Britain Hopes to Build Post-Brexit ‘Empire 2.0’

With a little more context:

One motive for voting Brexit was a desire to 'make Britain great again':
BBC Radio 4 - The Briefing Room, Why Did People Vote Leave?

An alternative to the EU is of course the Commonwealth:

PETER OBORNE: Brexit offers us the chance to reunite with our true friends 

4 March 2017

Over the past four decades, our governments have shamefully ignored the benefits of the Commonwealth. Successive Prime Ministers from Edward Heath onwards have been blind to its economic, cultural and social value.

It is no coincidence that those decades of disgraceful neglect have coincided with Britain’s membership of the EU.

Part of the reason for this lies with the ridiculous sense of self-loathing felt by British liberals on account of our former Empire. Crippled by a post-imperial cringe, they have idiotically preferred the sclerotic, statist conformity of a German-dominated Europe to the exciting potential of the Commonwealth that shares many of our beliefs.

Brexit offers us the chance to reunite with true friends | Daily Mail Online

The only problem is that these same countries don't actually want an 'Empire 2.0':

Tories’ ‘imperial vision’ for post-Brexit trade branded disruptive and deluded

Top official slams Whitehall notion of colonial-style trade deals and says devising pact between UK and African, Caribbean and Pacific states would take six years

28 April 2017

The head of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of nations has ruled out a free trade deal with the UK until at least six years after Brexit and taken a sideswipe at the idea of a new British trade empire.

The ACP chief, Dr Patrick Gomes, condemned “reactionary” Whitehall talk of a second era of British colonialism – dubbed “Empire 2.0” – and poured scorn on the government’s trade strategy.

A six-year delay to any post-Brexit deal would be a bitter setback to the government, which had hoped to use the 2018 Commonwealth summit in London as a springboard for closer trade ties with Anglophone states such as South Africa, Nigeria and Jamaica.

Tories’ ‘imperial vision’ for post-Brexit trade branded disruptive and deluded | Global development | The Guardian

Great Britain’s Dangerous Attitude Problem | Geopolitical Monitor

Because what made Britain 'great' was in fact a very skewed kind of 'globalisation':

Is Brexit Britain suffering from an imperial hangover?

Britain's biggest post-Brexit challenge will be dealing with its imperial past.

29 MARCH 2017

May has promised a "truly global Britain" outside the EU and some supporters of Brexit have framed the break from Brussels as an opportunity for Britain to strengthen its historical, imperial relationships.

This is a deeply problematic and dangerous view. To become "truly global" Britain needs to shake off this imperial hangover.

As Twitter branded Wednesday, March 29 "Brexit Day", historian David Starkey appeared on the BBC's Today Programme to compare Brexit to Henry VIII's historic break from Rome. Crucially, he argued that the Reformation presaged the "expansion of England" and suggested that Brexit may see another age of empire.

Since the vote to leave the EU, visions of Britain's future relationship with the rest of the world has repeatedly invoked imperial motifs. From Theresa May's promise of a "red, white, and blue" Brexit to the suggestion that the Royal Yacht Britannia be recommissioned to facilitate trade deals, Britain's future has been presented as an opportunity to return to a glorious past.

Most famously, or infamously, the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox's focus on deals with countries that once belonged to the British Empire has been labelled "Empire 2.0" by Whitehall officials.

Is Brexit Britain suffering from an imperial hangover? | UK | Al Jazeera

And yet what is actually happening is that old 'British' companies and industries are being bought out by former subjects:
How the East India Company became a weapon to challenge UK’s colonial past | World news | The Guardian
Steel baron Lakshmi Mittal stumps up close to £800m to help his embattled steel firm cope with tumbling prices | This is Money
Indian-origin Hinduja brothers stay on top of UK rich list | business-news | Hindustan Times
Indians: Three of Britain’s four wealthiest are Indians - The Economic Times

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