He may be the subject of worship from London’s Parliament Square to the Oval Office in Washington DC, but Winston Churchill was little more than a mass murderer, with as much blood on his hands as Hitler does.
That’s according to the Indian politician and author Shashi Tharoor, whose new book ‘Inglorious Empire’ chronicles the horrors of British imperialism in the Indian sub-continent.
In the book, Dr Tharoor points to the Bengal famine of 1943 – one of numerous famines that gripped India during the British Raj and which left millions dead – as merely one example of the horrors perpetrated by the British in India.
And he places the blame for that event – in which an estimated three and a half million starved to death – firmly in the hands of Britain’s much-venerated war-time leader Winston Churchill.
“Churchill has as much blood on his hands as Hitler does. The Bengal Famine – millions died because of the decisions he took or endorsed. Not only did the British follow its own policy of not helping the victims of this Famine, Churchill persisted in exporting grain to Europe, not to feed actual ‘Sturdy Tommies’ as he described them, but to add to the buffer stocks that were being piled up in the event of a future invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia”, said Dr Tharoor.
“Ships laden with wheat were coming in from Australia docking in Calcutta and were instructed by Churchill not to disembark their cargo but sail on to Europe”, Dr Tharoor continues.
“And when conscience stricken British officials wrote to the Prime Minister in London pointing out that his policies were causing needless loss of life all he could do was write in the margin of the report, ‘why hasn’t Gandhi died yet’”?
“To my mind this remains a permanent stain on Britain’s colonial history and Churchill’s place in history must be re-examined”.
Dr Tharoor makes numerous references to Churchill in the book, including his racism.
“I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion . . . Let the Viceroy sit on the back of a giant elephant and trample Gandhi into the dirt”, Churchill was once quoted as saying.
While London ate India’s bread, millions starved in India during World War 2 but Churchill remained unrepentant, claiming that the famines were “India’s fault” for “breeding like rabbits”.
Churchill is but one of the many individuals – and policies – that Dr Tharoor takes aim at in ‘Inglorious Empire’, a work of popular history that was borne out of a powerful speech given by the author at the Oxford Union during which he carefully outlined the terrible toll inflicted on India by Britain.
“Britain came to one of the richest countries in the world in the 18th century and reduced it, after two centuries of plunder, to one of the poorest”, he said at the time.
That speech went viral on Social Media and resulted in ‘Inglorious Empire’, which was launched in London on 5 March at an event organised by the culture charity Vidyapath UK at the Royal Overseas League.
Dr Tharoor says his aim is to highlight the “historical amnesia” suffered in Britain over the atrocities committed by Britain in India.
He also decried the British educational system for ignoring to teach the real story behind Empire.
While admitting that India has not made the most of its independence, Dr Tharoor is dismissive about the “benefits of Empire”, such as democracy and the railways.
He describes as “galling” the suggestion that modernization could not have taken place in India with the British Raj. As for claims that the Empire laid the groundwork for India’s current standing as a global superpower, Dr Tharoor says: “human beings do not live in the long run; they live, and suffer, in the here and now”.