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#TheEmpireDebate: Expert panel to discuss just what the Brits did for us

On the day Scotland votes to become independent of Westminster, a panel of distinguished experts will debate the impact British rule had on the Indian sub-continent as part of events marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of formal relations between India and Great Britain.

The ‘Empire Debate’ will take place 18 September at the UK Supreme Court in London and features the likes of former Indian External Affairs Minister Shashi Tharoor and renowned author and historian William Dalrymple.

Under discussion at the debate will be the motion ‘The Indian sub-continent benefited more than it lost from the experience of British Colonialism’.

During the three-hour session the distinguished panel – which also features Pakistani politician Nelofar Bakhtyar, BBC war correspondent Martin Bell, Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng and climate change and sustainability expert Nick Robins – will discuss the legacy of British colonization, not only in India proper but in those nations carved out of the sub-continent in the latter half of the 20th century.

Parallels will also inevitably be drawn between British rule in India and the influence that Westminster wields in Scotland as well as the difference between the fragmented world that existed at the time of Indian Independence and the far more globalized world of today.

Bell, Bakhtyar and Kwarteng will debate in favour of the motion whilst Dalrymple, Tharoor and Robins will debate against.
The debate is part of events marking the beginning of formal relations between India and Great Britain in1614 when King James I dispatched Sir Thomas Roe as ambassador to the court of Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

Sir Thomas had been sent to Agra to arrange for a Commercial Treaty and obtain security assurances on behalf of the burgeoning East India Company.

Emperor Jahangir was so pleased with the Treaty that he is said to have written James I with barely concealed enthusiasm: “For confirmation of our love and friendship, I desire your Majesty to command your merchants to bring in their ships of all sorts of rarities and rich goods fit for my palace; and that you be pleased to send me your royal letters by every opportunity, that I may rejoice in your health and prosperous affairs; that our friendship may be interchanged and eternal”

Incidentally, 1614 also saw the arrival in London of the first Indian man to set foot in Britain: an unnamed worker from Surat who was brought over in an East India Company vessel by a Company chaplain and who was promptly christened ‘Peter’ by King James.

The Empire Debate is one of a series of events organized by ‘Project 400’, an initiative by the Indo-British Heritage Trust which helps promote social, political and cultural ties between the two nations.

Dr Kusoom Vadgama, founder of IBHT, said: “Project 400 is a monument to the 400 year old Indo-British relationship.
“It is also an opportunity to put on record the much neglected history of India in Britain to the same level of detail as that of the history of the British in India.  History of the British Empire is not complete without the history of the people of the Empire in Britain.”

The Empire Debate takes place Thursday 18 September at the UK Supreme Court.  4.00 – 7.00 pm.

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