When it comes to interpretation of the British Rule in India there are two schools of thought. The popular view is that it was an era of darkness. Then there are intellectuals who attribute everything that is good in modern India to the colonial rule.
The Popular View
After Shashi Tharoor quit his international career and entered Indian politics he has been in news more for wrong reasons than the right ones. When he became a minister he preferred to stay in a five star hotel even though he was allotted with a government Bunglow. If the British thought Indians and dogs belonged to the same category, he thought Indians and cattle belonged to the same category.
An unlikely candidate though he is to slam the British way of life, Indian politics makes you do strange things. So he wrote a book called ‘An Era of Darkness’ giving detailed accounts of how the British looted India. I appreciate the pain he/his team has taken to dig out facts from various archives. However there is some propoganda angle too in this book. Tharoor tries to portray the Mughal period as if it was some kind of an economic utopia.
However from the first hand accounts of Travellers to India during Mughal period it can be inferred that the common men of India led same miserable lives whether it was during the British era or the Mughal period. During Mughal period the wealth of the country did not go out. But there was hell and heaven difference between the lifestyles of the aristocrats and the common men.
If the British drained the wealth of India, the Mughal rule was a period of intellectual drain. Being religious fanatics they encouraged only particular types of art, architecture and points of view. It was the death of scientific outlook and near death of multiculturalism in India. Perhaps, this was one of the reasons why Mughal empire itself crumbled.
The Contrarian View
What I describe here as popular and contrarian are from the point of view of an Indian. For a patriotic British or European the opposite would hold true. The official British Historian would make it all look like as if they did a great service to this country of primitive people.
Winston Churchill during his Parliament speeches made frequent references to Indians as those primitive people. According the them it was they who taught us civilization. Of course it is a different story that when great epics like Mahabharata were being written here in India, guerrillas and monkeys ruled over the island called the Great Britain.
But there was one Indian that Winston Churchil particularly liked. Later on this Bengali Bhadralok who spent most part of his very long life in India became the darling of the British intellectuals. He was not only recruited into Her Majesty’s Royal service as an honorary member, but also offered British citizenship which he gladly accepted.
He was non other than Nirad C Choudhury whose maiden book – ‘Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’ – became popular because of the controversies it created. Later on his supporters came up with the usual alibi that people objecting him had not read his book but were merely reacting after going through the dedication which proclaimed – ” … Because all that was good and living within us
was made, shaped and quickened by the same British rule.”
But I have read his book. He has not hidden his fascination for things British and his disdain for things Indian. Nirad C Choudhury went on to win numerous honours and awards from the west. We must remember that to win a western award (including the Nobel), being excellent in your artistic skill is not enough. You also have to subscribe to a certain point of view. Show me an author, a film director or an artist who has either criticized western values, or highlighted the good things of the east and survived to win such an award. There are still many aspects on which the west continues to be blatantly racist.
The Closing View
I read ‘Autobiography of an Unknown Indian’ many years back. Even though I did not agree with Nirad Babu on many issues, maybe I loved some his insights. Or else I would not have finished his book which may not be easy to do considering the long winding sentences and the frequent digressions in his books.
Maybe, I have also digressed a lot in this post. Now coming to the main issue … Well before that let us take this short digression.
Some Japanese historians think that the Nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was a good thing to happen in the context of the situation of those days. It was a necessary evil. Of course the Americans meant all evil only. While bombing it was not their purpose to cause some long term good to Japan.
The bombing of Hiroshima brought an immediate end to the world war. Had there been no bombing, the war would have prolonged. Had the war prolonged, Japan would have met the fate of Korea. The north half of Japan would have been a communist country with close links to Russia and the south half a capitalist country with close link to the US. Like the Koreans, half of the Japanese would have become enemies of the other half.
The East India Company was founded in 1600 as a Joint Stock Company. Like Google, Facebook, Reliance or any other ltd company of today its purpose was to show good results year on year and see that its shareholders prospered. To further its business interests it started meddling in local politics. Like any good business house does these days. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757 the Company’s hold over India was complete and it continued till the Sepoy mutiny. Subsequently, like many company’s do these days after sharp fall in their share prices, the company filed for bankruptcy and the Queen took over. So, informally till 1857 and formally till 1877 India was not ruled by the Britain, but by a joint stock company established in Britain.
Even though the rule of India passed from the hands of the company to the crown, it was managed in similar fashion as any country would run a public sector enterprise. Fromm beginning to end India was a business venture for the British.
They did what any company does. If a company does not get skilled man power, it gets whatever man power it can get and trains them. The British started English education in India because they needed lots of clerks to keep record of company affairs. Any company also needs good infrastructure. So the British constructed Railways to take raw material to ports and bring finished products of England from the ports to the hinterlands.
The Britsh never bothered to unite India. Before going they realized that it has become a huge country that might emerge as an alternate power centre to the west. So they divided it into two and the two in course of time became three. But had there been no British rule, and there after no Sardar Patel, maybe, this subcontinent might be host to 300 countries.
So perhaps, the British rule was a necessary evil, like the bombing of Hiroshima.
PS : This is the alphabet R post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with.
All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.