Britain: “We want to come to India and build you some new infrastructure – rail-networks etc..”
India: “Sounds great! How much will it cost?”
Britain: “About thirty million..”
India: “Thirty million rupees? Sounds cheap.”
Britain: “No, thirty million dead Indians. And your freedom.”
India: “…bargain, keep the change”
I was speechless with rage.
I had received Zac Goldsmith (Tory Mayoral Candidate) and his nonsensical letter in the post, extolling the virtues of how the Tory hierarchy would safeguard my British Indian interests (they couldn’t figure out if I was Gujarati, or Punjabi or whatever, I was just British Indian) but this wasn’t what made me angry.
During the course of the next day this letter came up with an Indian lad who was campaigning for Goldsmith and was an unabashed Tory supporter, thank you very much.
We had an elongated conversation and then the following exchange occurred after which I stared at him long and hard then agreeably walked away from him and his Uncle Tom Masala cabin.
Me: “Why would you support the Tory hierarchy, representing the archaic ruling class whose crowning glory was the empire and all it did to harm India?” (okay I didn’t say it as nicely as that)
Him: “You mean the British Empire, right?”
Me: “Yeah, that Empire.”
Him: “Britain was destined to rule and India to be ruled.”
Me: “Come again?”
Him: “There was pain in Empire, but there were blessings and Indians today make a lot of money off those blessings, so they shouldn’t complain.”
Me: “Such as?”
Him: “You know, agriculture, infrastructure, railways, you were born in India you should know that, right?”
And off he went on his Tory way.
Anyone – especially an Indian, Muslim or individual of Afro Caribbean descent – who thinks that the British Empire was a good thing is in need of a history lesson or two. But wallowing in white (or brown, or black) liberal guilt can also distract one from the realities of the situation.
It is true that, in the eighteenth century, the British Empire was all about robbery and slavery – in this it was just like other, slightly less successful European empires. Then, in the nineteenth century, it was all about the ruthless struggle to conquer markets, if necessary to the detriment of native industries.
But by the twentieth century, the Empire had become a drag on Britain’s own development, economically and politically – it was the reason why we turned away from Europe, relied increasingly on finance rather than home production, and it is part of the reason for our disastrous subservience to the USA.
Even in the 1950’s we were still electing governments who saw the Empire as essential to Britain’s well-being. The Labour party of Attlee and Bevin went along with this. Retrospective anti-colonialists do their best to preserve the myth.
So what is it with Indian Tory supporters like this, who probably helped Zac Goldsmith studiously pour through the electoral role to work out who was a Patel and where a Shah was from?
As Marx pointed out, the dominant ideas in any society tend to be the ideas favoured by the ruling class. Since that class has no interest in branding its predecessors as racist, predatory looters, it’s hardly surprising that the British Empire gets an easy ride in popular consciousness.
The British in India dismantled the industry and, as was standard practice in a mercantilist system, focused Indian resources on production and forced Indians to buy textiles from Britain (which they had previously been producing).
This is one example where the system of colonization distinctly differs from the makeup of local empire.
If you are aware of the exploitation and injustice that goes on through colonisation anywhere by anybody, then you have the capacity to understand when it is happening to you in your own country.
Considering 62 people in the world own half of the planet’s wealth ought to make you realise how we are all being shafted by those in power, but then I guess not everyone sees it or wants to admit it, or these Indians and their families now live in six bedroom houses and forgot all about it.
I read literature re-examining the Bengal famine. The failure of the British government to acknowledge any complicity in contributing to the deaths of over a million – while themselves ensuring their own food security with grain from that region – is disgusting.
I extend this disgust to any Indian or Asian or Muslim who says for a moment that the British Empire was a good or even great thing.
Yes, there are nuances – imperialists found pockets of local support which they used to cement their bases (which then directly contributed to incidences like the Rwandan genocide) – but at the end of the day, colonial powers forcibly inserted themselves into local power structures and then used their dominance to systematically disenfranchise natives who didn’t support them – aka the majority – and native values.
The death toll of colonialism far outstrips Hitler and Stalin’s respective massacres, and yet colonialists are celebrated in the West by Uncle Tom’s like the guy I just met, and they’re a lot of them and not all of them are Tories thank you very much.
Loving the idea of the British Empire is the ultimate game of ‘Do the ends justify the means?’
To answer that question fully you must first know the means, and weigh them with the ends.
Whatever result you achieve – on your own head be it. How many millions killed and how many cultures and means of living eradicated for how much technological and economical results that exists today.
Apologists for the “Empire” say India got the “benefits” of a railway system, a Government style and even the Rashtrapathi Bhavan (or New Delhi in general) thanks to the British.
Well, they are called “blessings in disguise” for a reason,
The railway was primarily a means of transporting raw materials back to Britain to fuel the frenzy of the Industrial Revolution. The Governing style (albeit inefficient at that time, with namesake Indian representation) was a necessary means of subjugation, to have a pressure valve for people to let off steam.
And the whole New Delhi gift, was actually meant to house the Viceroys and the bureaucrats – another of the “benefits” India could have certainly done without.
Britain simply did not foresee the impending economic collapse it would face after WWII, and thus went ahead with those grandiose constructions!
So while they have eventually proved to be good for the country, it would be a foolish argument to say, Britain ‘gave’ these to India. They needed them for the Empire, which in itself is a perfectly valid reason. They were there to rule, and rule they did, by these means.
But these should in no way be seen as a counter-argument to the ill effects of colonialism. Let’s call these what they really are: the means for ‘economic exploitation’.
Nothing less, nothing more.
The main goal of the British businessmen operating India and in India was to get rich. We tend to forget that till 1857 British India was governed not by the British monarch but by a British corporate house – the East India Company – probably one of the first examples of a country being run by a private corporation and with the explicit intention of making money.
Not only did the EIC make profits, its managers also made money by doing huge side businesses. In the three Presidencies (Bengal, Mumbai and Chennai) they used to live like the local elite – with servants and slaves and the whole flippin’ chicken masala.
The Indian feudal lords who were dependent upon the British and fed the British with resources were happy to exploit the country on behalf of the British. The EIC had no intention of ‘developing’ India as long as it remained a docile cash cow. However, 1957 changed everything.
It was understood that to keep the country under British rule they needed ways to fast deployment of troops and communication. Moreover the agricultural surplus also needed means for fast transport. So they started establishing the Railways and expanding the Telegraph coverage. It was also understood that a private company is not equipped to run a country. So the monarch of Great Britain took over the governance of India. Now to collect taxes they established the system of tax collectors by district which gradually became the Indian Civil Service.
They also needed ways to maintain law and order and protect the government officers so the Police force was created.
Meanwhile to generate generations of clerks from the Indian gentry who could serve in the government offices and could understand English and documents written in English they also established an Educational system – they needed people to communication easily.
Then for similar reasons some roads were also build. So what all these gave us – Roads, Railways, Universities, the Telegraph and the Indian Civil Services.
If the British did not come would we get all these? Who knows? When the British left us these physical systems were left in place and so were the Civil Services.
One thing is certain, without empire, India would have been probably just slightly wealthier today. The amount of wealth (foodgrain, cloth, gold, diamond, etc.) that was sucked from India and transferred to England would have not taken place under any Indian native Badshah or Raja.
And the temporary invaders of western Asia could have never siphoned of so much wealth during their yearly raids. In other words the British gave us Roads, Railways, Universities, Telegraphs and modern bureaucratic government system – but we paid an exorbitant price for that.
The nub of Winston Churchill’s pompous speech at the time of Indian independence was that “…India…will fall in to the hands of men of straw.”
Is Prime Minister Narendra Modi (whether you like him or not) a man of straw? For that matter were Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad (I could go on and on), men of straw? Most importantly was Indira Gandhi a “Woman” of straw?
Richard Nixon, the president of an extremely powerful country viz. the United States of America was unable to have his way during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. Although history does not reveal so, Nixon was scared and paranoid of Indira Gandhi and her actions before and during the war. The events during the war were steered not so much by Nixon as by Indira Gandhi. Nixon merely reacted to Indira’s action without any success.
I am appalled the way many Indians in casual social settings find it actually recreational to praise the British rule of India. The people who do so, of course, had nobody in their family suffer as is mentioned in many answers given above.
So the empire was a jolly good show, it was. For the British. Their present standard of living is a direct result of capital accumulation from their empire. As for the sub-continentals, the future is mortgaged to conflict created by the British.
That does not mean apportioning all the blame to the imperial power. Indians ought take the blame for letting their land be colonized in the first place, people just like that Uncle Tom Patel/Shah/Dattani/take your pick who raises an eyebrow at the mere suggestion that the ruling class were benevolent and nice and think cricket is such an awesome thing. These Uncle Tom’s were part of the sleeping lion that ate its children. Mir Jaffer betrayed Siraj-ud-Daula, Mir Sadiq undermined Tipu Sultan. Nizam of Hyderabad failed to come to Tippu’s aid at a crucial juncture. Mahratta Peshwas did likewise.
Finally, British appointed communalist “leaders” played right into the hands of the colonist in dividing the land.
That brings us to the present. Lessons haven’t been learned. South Asia is still in conflict. After 68 years, the same religious and communal politics/conflicts are still playing out.
I concur with the view that the British did not “rule” India. They “co-ruled” India with Indians as junior partners, probably the descendants of that buffoon who votes Tory because his family is wealthy. Most of the princely states cooperated with the British.
The British Indian army was almost entirely Indian, as were the police, bureaucracy and many business houses. Ascendency of many a community may be ascribed to the learning of English and finding employment with the British. The maximum number of Brits during the colonial period is put around 100,000 – ruling 300 million subjects.
What does this tell us? A colonist is nothing without the room and board and unflinching generosity at Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Yes sir, Yes sir, three bags full…and would you like me to pour you some Masala chai while we’re at it, old boy?