Carrying a colonial luggage
Manmohan and the British raj
By Shivaji Sarkar
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh started his thanksgiving after receiving an honorary degree in civil law at Oxford, there is nothing much to get overwhelmed. Many former prime ministers have been recipients of such honours in various countries. It is received and acknowledged with the official gratitude that it deserves. It is a time for mutual appreciation and all do that.
Had Dr Manmohan Singh also done it, nobody would have been surprised nor possibly it would have drawn the unusual media attention. No media should be blamed for it. It is known to look for unusual things. Dr Singh certainly had been extremely unusual.
This is where Dr Singh deviated. British rule in this country had come through the backdoor of granting a trade licence. The traders usurped the political power through practices, which often had barged on fraudulence and dishonesty. Suddenly, if someone starts praising them, it becomes difficult for the people of the country to digest it.
He had as the report in Times of India suggests became the first Indian Prime Minister to salute the British raj, its ?beneficial effects? (for colonised India) and its record of ?good governance?. The report notes, ?Singh broke with India'stradition of entrenched, inflexible resistance to bending knee to its former imperial master.?
This is certainly not diplomacy. Here a formal diplomatic bow would have sufficed. Why should anyone bend? And what the British has given to this country except a communalised politics, a divided country and institutionalising corruption. Dr Singh, however, believes British had contributed to India'scurrent administrative system of ?constitutional government, a free press, a professional service, modern universities and reseach laboratories?.
We forget that India had ushered in constitutional governance long before any European could even think of. Let us go back to Mahabharata, which still remains an ideal for the armies world over to learn about the military formations and fortifications.
This is where history becomes more important than economics. Just for the sake of present economics a country is not supposed to forget its history. Let us start with economics. Had not the British colonisers done their worst to impoverish the country. No economist can forget how the thumbs of muslin weavers of Dhaka were chopped off to pave the entry of textiles manufactured by Manchester mills. Can an economist forget the exploitation of indigo planters? Can one forget how indentured labour taken out of this country and exploited, yes again by the British masters to West Indies, Fiji and elsewhere? Can one forget the insults that used to be daily heaped on those Indians?
Can one forget that Red Road in Kolkata and The Ridge in Shimla and The Mall and Civil Lines in many cities were banned to ?natives and dogs??
Possibly in economic terms that was ?good constitutional governance?, which ensured Indians remained ?coolies? all over the world. Here again we forget that India had ushered in constitutional governance long before any European could even think of. Let us go back to Mahabharata, which still remains an ideal for the armies world over to learn about the military formations and fortifications. It is a different thing that it is replete with the instances of how the rule of law and constitutional ethics that a king had to follow for the welfare of the people. Much later the 16 Mahajanpadas, almost contemporary of Lord Buddha, had not only democratic traditions but also elected government.
The British did not give free press to Indians. People like Rammohan Roy, Balgangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and C.Y. Chintamani and newspapers like Amrita Bazar Patrika had to fight for it. British rulers had brought the notorious Vernacular Press Act to subvert the press. They had closed down hundreds of newspapers including the first Indian newspaper Calcutta Gazette brought out by a British national Hickey as it was exposing the corrupt practices and scandals of the Viceroy Lord Hastings. If there is a free press, the credit goes to the striving Indians. Had it been left to British, there would have been only His Masters Voices as some of the British-owned newspapers were known.
Yes, the British gave us modern universities. But can we forget that we had some of the best universities like Takshshila, Mithila, Nagarjuna and Nalanda many of which were destroyed around 11th-12th century. But despite that, process of learning continued in Indian gurukulas. British had made those universities not so much to help Indians as to churn out babus as per Macaulay prescription.
Did they really give us research laboratories? Many of these were built because of indigenous effort. If Jagdish Chandra Bose had established that plants also had life, he did it not because of the British. If the Krishna dam was built in Mysore, it was not because of the British. If we could build our nuclear science laboratories and the world standard Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, it is despite the British-inspired ban and denial of technologies.
And in professional services India had never lacked. Britishers depended on Indian professional services, including Indian soldiers, during the heyday of their colonization. Yes, if India had lacked in anything it was in professional servitude. We can have that aplenty if we tend to forget even recent history.
(The author can be contacted at shiva[email protected])