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Saturday, January 31, 2015

How a debate against British was won in UK - kudos to Shashi Tharoor !!!!

In the UN elections held in 2006 to succeed Kofi Annan,  he gave a scare to Ban Ki-moon.  His website describes him as an author, UN Peacekeeper, refugee worker, human rights activist – he is a former Minister and twice elected MP from Thiruvananthapuram.  In recent times, people from his own party including leader PC Chacko, had demanded his  resignation after he praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  


His personal life also is entangled – there is investigation in the mysterious death of his wife  - this post is not about all that, but about the literary skills of Mr. Sashi Tharoor and his articulation  that needs appreciation.

In Sept. 2014, the Indo-British Heritage Trust organised a debate as the inaugural event to mark the 400th anniversary of formal relations between India and Britain back in 1614.  The interesting conclusion in the historic debate that put the mighty empire on a mock trial at the Supreme Court in London,  was that the British Raj did more harm than good in the Indian subcontinent. The motion before the house was, "The Indian sub-continent benefited more than it lost from the experience of British Colonialism". The team against the motion, eloquently led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and including fellow authors William Dalrymple and Nick Robins, clinched a decisive victory. "No wonder the sun never set on the British Empire, even God couldn't trust the English in the dark," said Tharoor as part of his arguments which focused on the economic ruin of India at the hands of the East India Company.

"The might of Britain was built in the 18th and 19th centuries on the ruination of India - where India went from a 23 per cent share of the global economy to 4 per cent," he added.  Dalrymple, author of 'White Mughals' and 'The Last Mughal', echoed the sentiment from the perspective of a prospering Mughal Empire which 'haemorrhaged' under the British.  To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the British presence in India -- King James I's envoy, Sir Thomas Roe, arrived at the court of Emperor Jehangir in 1614 -- the Indo-British heritage Trust held a debate, in the chamber of the UK Supreme Court, on the motion "This House believes that the Indian subcontinent benefited more than it lost from the experience of British colonialism."   Shashi Tharoor  spoke against the motion, alongside two Indophile Brits, authors William Dalrymple and Nick Robins. The proposers were Pakistan's Niloufer Bakhtyar, an editor, Martin Bell, former BBC war correspondent, and Kwasi Kwarteng, a Conservative Party MP of African descent.

On  Chair, Labour MP Keith Vaz, called for an initial vote, which went 35 to 28 for the motion. When it was over, voting took place again, and the needle had moved dramatically: 26 to 42 against. The anti-colonialists had carried the day.  Tharoor articulated that at the beginning of the 18th century India's share of the world economy was 23%, as large as all of Europe put together. Here is some of his arguments reproduced :

By the time India won independence, it had dropped to less than 4%. The reason was simple: India was governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain's rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India. Britain's Industrial Revolution was built on the de-industrialisation of India - the destruction of Indian textiles and their replacement by manufacturing in England, using Indian raw material and exporting the finished products back to India and the rest of the world. The handloom weavers of Bengal had produced and exported some of the world's most desirable fabrics, especially cheap but fine muslins, some light as "woven air". Britain's response was to cut off the thumbs of Bengali weavers, break their looms and impose duties and tariffs on Indian cloth, while flooding India and the world with cheaper fabric from the new satanic steam mills of Britain. Weavers became beggars, manufacturing collapsed; the population of Dhaka, which was once the great centre of muslin production, fell by 90%. So instead of a great exporter of finished products, India became an importer of British ones, while its share of world exports fell from 27% to 2%.

Colonialists like Robert Clive bought their "rotten boroughs" in England with the proceeds of their loot in India (loot, by the way, was a word they took into their dictionaries as well as their habits), while publicly marvelling at their own self-restraint in not stealing even more than they did. And the British had the gall to call him "Clive of India", as if he belonged to the country, when all he really did was to ensure that much of the country belonged to him. By the end of the 19th century, India was Britain's biggest cash-cow, the world's biggest purchaser of British exports and the source of highly paid employment for British civil servants - all at India's own expense. We literally paid for our own oppression. As Britain ruthlessly exploited India, between 15 and 29 million Indians died tragically unnecessary deaths from starvation.

British imperialism had long justified itself with the pretence that it was enlightened despotism, conducted for the benefit of the governed. Churchill's inhumane conduct in 1943 gave the lie to this myth. British imperialism had triumphed not just by conquest and deception on a grand scale but by blowing rebels to bits from the mouths of cannons, massacring unarmed protestors at Jallianwallah Bagh and upholding iniquity thru institutionalised racism. Whereas as late as the 1940s it was possible for a black African to say with pride, "moi, je suis francais", no Indian in the colonial era was ever allowed to feel British; he was always a subject, never a citizen.

What are the arguments FOR British colonialism benefiting the subcontinent? It is often claimed that the British bequeathed India its political unity. But India had enjoyed cultural and geographical unity throughout the ages, going back to Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC and Adi Shankara travelling from Kerala to Kashmir and from Dwarka to Puri in the 7th century AD, establishing his temples everywhere.  The construction of the Indian Railways is often pointed to as benefit of British rule, ignoring the obvious fact that many countries have built railways without having to be colonized to do so. Nor were the railways laid to serve the Indian public. In fact the Indian Railways were a big British colonial scam. British shareholders made absurd amounts of money by investing in the railways, where the government guaranteed extravagant returns on capital, paid for by Indian taxes.  The English language comes next on the credit list. It too was not a deliberate gift but an instrument of colonialism.

Hats off to Mr Shashi Tharoor and his articulation – this is worth circulating to all Indians.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
30th Jan 2015.


PS:  inputs taken from the web of Mr Shashi Tharoor and from his exclusive interview to NDTV.

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