A depressing and damaging speech, Mr. Prime Minister!
By P. Parameswaran
The speech delivered by Dr. Manmohan Singh, our Prime Minister, at the Oxford University on 07.07.2005 has naturally evoked mixed responses.
If the speaker was any other dignitary, than the Prime Minister of India, the speech could have been taken in its stride as normal expressions of courtesy. But, when the Prime Minister of India, visiting England in his official capacity, delivers a lecture at the famous Oxford University, it is only natural that the speech comes under close scrutiny.
Though, apparently, the speech is an expression of goodwill between the two countries based on shared historical associations, for a serious Indian national the lecture raises issues of very serious consequences. The overall impact it makes on a general reader is one of adulation, if not, adoration for the British empire. It impacts adversely on the Nation'spsyche.
Dr. Manmohan Singh does indeed make a difference between the British empire and the British nation. It is a clever and deliberate attempt to create the impression that he is paying tribute only for the qualities of the British as a nation and not to the cruelties of the British as an empire. For this he quotes Gandhiji'sfamous statement at Oxford in 1931 where Gandhiji had stated ?I would cut India entirely from the British empire but not at all from the British nation?.
This naked truth does not seem to be anywhere in the thought process of our Prime Minister in the ?emotionally surcharged? atmosphere of Oxford university.
But, where Manmohan Singh offends is in cleverly misleading the people by confusing them between British nation and British empire. All the actions of the British masters during their imperial rule in India which Manmohan Singh specifically mentions as valuable contributions for India were done in the interest of the British empire and as effective means of keeping India under subjugation. None of them was an act of generosity or magnanimity, whether it was, ?notions of the rule of law, of a constitutional Government, of a free press, of a professional civil service, of modern universities and research laboratories??all had their real motivation of strengthening the stranglehold of British empire over India. Gandhiji had no word of appreciation for these institutions. In fact, he was against every one of them on principle and wanted to reverse them in free India.
It is worth remembering that during the same visit Gandhiji spoke before a predominantly Engish audience at Chathanm House in London that before the advent of the British, Indian Education System was like ?a flourishing, beautiful tree?. It was the negative policies of the British which, by removing the soil from under the tree, exposed its roots to inclement weather and made it wilt and wither. About the modern universities referred to by our Prime Minister, Swami Vivekananda had openly criticized them for their negative impact, which made the students absolutely ashamed of India'spast. Swamiji charged the universities of not having produced ?one man of originality?. Dr. Manmohan Singh seems to be unaware of these criticisms of such great man. Tagore was equally emphatic in his condemnation of the ?modern Universities?. All the three?and many others?of them had started alternative system of education without which they believed that the nation has no future. In fact many of the present day evils India suffers from are the result of an alien education system imposed upon us.
One of the most glaring examples of Dr. Manmohan Singh'smisreading of British administration is his selection of Lord Curzon for special adulation. Of course, in support of this he quotes Jawaharlal Nehru. But, our Prime Minister forgets that whatever may be Curzon'scontribution towards ?the project of preserving and restoring Indian monuments?, all that is totally offset by his criminally notorious act of partitioning the Bengal Presidency into two, which evoked unprecedented and angry nationwide agitation. Curzon'sintention in dividing Bengal was to destroy the great national renaissance which, he was afraid, would ultimately destroy the very foundation of the British empire. Curzon was trying to divide the nation by pitting Hindus against Muslims, applying the principle of ?divide and rule?. For this one act, Curzon remains the most hated viceroy for all the nationalists. 2005 is the centenary year of Curzon'sill-motivated anti-India conspiracy for partitioning Bengal. Throughout the country, the centenary of this ill-fated decision is being observed by all those who cherish the unity of India at heart. At this crucial juncture, for the Prime Minister of India to single out Lord Curzon as a great benefactor of India is an insult?may be unintended?to the nation. Intended or unintended, it strengthens the point that what the Prime Minister appreciates is the deeds of the British empire and not that of the British nation.
Curzon, even according to a moderate politician and a genuine admirer of the British rule, G.K.Gokhale, was not a viceroy who merits encomiums from any true Indian. ?It is a sad truth that to the end of his administration Lord Curzon did not really understand the people of India?. For a parallel to such an administration we must, I think, go back to the times of Aurangzeb in the history of our own country. There we find the same attempt at a rule excessively centralized and intensely personal, the same strenuous purpose, the same overpowering consciousness of duty, the same marvellous capacity for work, the same sense of loneliness, the same persistence in a policy of distrust and repression, resulting in bitter exasperation all round?.
Curzon'sintention in dividing Bengal was to destroy the great national renaissance which, he was afraid, would ultimately destroy the very foundation of the British empire.
Even Oxford University of which he was a proud product would have considered it odd for a Prime Minister of India to mention his name with admiration in grateful memory.
But, what followed is more significant. British Imperialists learned the lesson that they cannot have their way so long as Indians remain united. The British empire would never be on a sound footing unless Indians are kept divided. So, they decided to pursue the policy of divide and rule more vigorously, systematically and diplomatically. The lessons of 1857 and 1905 were not lost on them. A deep wedge had to be driven between Hindus and Muslims. With this clear aim in mind, various steps were initiated in the field of education, administration, economic reforms, historical studies, religious policy, etc. All such institutions and initiatives for which Dr. Manmohan Singh gives credit to the British were utilised to achieve this policy of divide and rule. Gradually, step by step, Hindus and Muslims began to drift apart. Separatist, communal demands were encouraged for sowing seeds of division among the upper caste Hindus, the depressed classes, the Muslims and the Christians. Various other categories of separatism were also propagated and promoted.
What was the ultimate result? Partition of India. In 1905, the British imperialists divided Bengal. Hindus and Muslims opposed it and successfully got it annulled. By 1947, the situation had changed. The demand for Partition came from within India. Muslim League demanded it. Congress could not resist it. Ultimately, the British implemented the proposal. How did this dramatic change come about? It is here that British imperialism played its game of pitting the Hindus against the Muslims and, apparently, on their demand, implemented the devilish plan of India'spartition. From 1905 to 1910, Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai were the slogans under which Hindus and Muslims fought side by side against the British Raj. Within a period of four decades, tables were turned. That was the greatest achievement of the British ? to divide India so that she could never become strong and would always remain tied to the apron strings of Britain. This naked truth does not seem to be anywhere in the thought process of our Prime Minister in the ?emotionally surcharged? atmosphere of Oxford university.
He speaks of ?the inclusive pluralistic, democratic, order that prevails in India as part of the British rule?. Far from it, Pluralism and democracy were always in the very blood of Indian culture, more particularly, the Hindu culture. Had it not been so, India could not have adopted a democratic Constitution almost overnight and worked it out all these years. If these were the gifts of British rule, why is it that there is no democracy, no secularism, no Constitutional Government, either in Pakistan or in Bangladesh? It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister fails to understand the essentially Hindu roots of these concepts and wrongly attributes them to the British.
Where Manmohan Singh offends is in cleverly misleading the people by confusing them between British nation and British empire. All the actions of the British masters during their imperial rule in India which Manmohan Singh specifically mentions as valuable contributions for India were done in the interest of the British empire.
The Prime Minister mentions English language as the greatest gift of British Raj and acclaims it as just another Indian language. No doubt, Indians have mastered English language, better than any body else and enriched it by their own diverse and rich contributions. Prime Minister mentions names of two Indian writers who have contributed to the English language. The names give an insight into the mind of the Prime Minister. He mentions R.K. Narayanan and Salman Rushdie. No doubt, their names are worth mentioning, in this context. But, what about Swami Vivekananda, Mahayogi Aurobino, Dr. Radkahrishnan, V.S. Naipaul and a host of others? Had they not made more substantial, enduring and basic contribution, through their works in English language? In fact, these have made the English people realise the greatness and glory of India and its culture as none else has done. They have put the English nation under a debt of gratitude. By mentioning their names, Prime Minister would have raised the image of India in England and awakened the pride of Indians at home. But he did not do that.
In brief, going through the text of the Prime Minister'sspeech the impression one gains is that his admiration for the British is overwhelming in comparison to his appreciation of India'sgreatness and achievements. The speech has naturally impressed the Oxford audience while it is really depressing, if not damaging, for every Indian who happens to read it.
(The writer is Director, Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram, Tiruvanandapuram)