What Colonialism Did to Subcontinent

While Shashi Tharoor and Dr Manmohan Singh point to the negative and ostensibly positive impact of the British rule on subcontinent, we need to delve deeper and see the result of their policies which gave rise to communal politics, the politics which is tormenting South Asia 

A video of Shashi Tharoor speaking at Oxford University on a debate related to the colonial period has been ‘viral’ on the social circuit for a while. In the video Tharoor, a former Indian minister, makes a passionate plea to the British that they make reparations for the losses to Indian economy during the British rule. He puts the blame for India’s economic decline on the British and also recounts Jalianwala Bagh, Bengal famine as the highlights of the British rule which reflected the attitude of British towards this colony of theirs’. Tharoor points out that resources from India were used by British to build their economic prosperity and to fund their Industrial revolution.

However, Dr. Manmohan Singh (2005), the previous prime minister, had made a very different kind of argument. Dr. Singh as a guest of British Government extolled the virtue of British rule and gave them the credit for rule of law, constitutional government, and free press as the contributions which India benefitted from.

So where does the truth lie? Not only the context and tone of the speeches by these two Congressmen is totally different, the content is also totally on different tracks. Dr. Singh as the guest of the British Government is soft and behaving as an ideal guest and points out the contributions of the British rule and there is some truth in that.

Tharoor as an Indian citizen with memory of the past; is narrating the plunder which this country suffered due to the British rule. He is also on the dot. These are two aspects of the same canvass. What Tharoor is saying is the primary goal of British and what Dr. Singh is stating is an incidental offshoot.

The British (East India Company) did come here looking for markets for their industrial products, gradually went on defeating one after another king, ruling in different areas and brought the whole subcontinent under a single rule, which became one of the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ for British as the whole wealth, raw material, resources from India were pumped out to Britain.

In order to achieve this goal they did go on to introduce railways, communication network-postal, telegraph-telephone and modern administrative system and modern education to create the assistants for their officers ruling here.

The lacuna in our systems were primarily because the primary goal of British was to plunder the country and as an incidental thing; as by product; the new institutions, rule of law and later some reforms against ghastly social practices also began (like abolition of Sati). Perceptions do matter while Singh and Tharoor are talking of the same phenomenon from two different angles.

The third angle is the one that was articulated by British themselves. They presented their rule as part of “Civilizing mission of the East”! There is very little truth in this, but it can be said that British also did help in the process of social reforms at times.

The major point which is unseen in these perceptions is one which had dangerous consequence on the social-political scenario and that was- British planted the seeds of divisive politics. As such broadly speaking the colonial-imperialist rule sows the seeds of ‘divide and rule’ and in this subcontinent they did it with gay abandon. In the wake of 1857 revolt, when the British East India Company’s rule was shaken, British identified existence of two major religious communities where the wedge could be driven. This is where they introduced communal historiography as a part of ‘divide and rule’ policy.

James Mill with his ‘History of British India’ periodized the history on communal lines (Ancient Hindu Period, medieval Muslim period and modern British period). Supplementing this were Elliot and Dawson with ‘History of India as told by her historians’, which reduced the history to the eulogizing account of the courtiers of the kings. These played a major role in deepening the communal understanding of the past.

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