Time was when the sun never set on the British Empire, so wide it was so well-strung together. The British had a presence in every continent. And to think of the commonwealth! It was, in retrospect, something of a miracle. There never was and there never will be, anything like that in the future. When the history of the world is re-written, Britain, Great Britain as it was called, will always command the biggest chapter. Not even the Mughals could boast of an empire such as the British built, almost unconsciously. Not Russia, not Germany, not the Netherlands, not even France could match it in the sheer range of cultures it ruled over-and influenced.
If today English is the preferred international language, credit should go to Britain. That Britain, it is not apparent, is no more. And who says so? The American magazine Newsweek (August 17) does. “This” said the magazine, “is a watershed moment for the United Kingdom”. It quoted a senior politician, William Hague, a likely future Foreign Secretary in a conservative government as saying that “it will become more difficult over time for Britain to exert on world affairs the influence which we are used to”. The country’s Public Debt is soaring.
According to the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the situation in Britain is bad and budgets will have to be slashed at the Ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth. The country’s public debt is apparently soaring to double the GDP and there is little that can be done to reverse the trend. Unemployment has been rising from 1.3 million (4.6 per cent ) of the work force in 1999 to more than three million or over 10 per cent. In Year 2004, the Foreign and Commonwealth offices (FCOs) closed 19 out of 300 Overseas Missions. Reportedly, in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Spain and the United States, some Consulates have been downgraded, leaving only local personnel in place. The FCO staff has been cut down from about 6,000 to 4,000- a loss of 2,000 jobs. And worse cut are expected.
A former Army Officer is quoted as saying that the annual £35 billion Defence Ministry Budget may be slashed by a quarter-and that is no small amount. Ian Keams, of the Institute for Public Policy Research has been quoted as saying “although we are a relatively wealthy country and have a seat in the UN Security Council, we are a power in decline”. In truth, Great Britain does not merit that Council seat any longer. It must legitimately go to India which once was the shining jewel in the Imperial Crown. Time is slowly crushing His Majesty’s crown under its ruthless feet. Great Britain is now on its way to become Little Britain, and those that have a tear to shed, let them do so now.
How one wishes Winston Churchill who had contempt for India and prophecised that in no time after winning independence it will go to pieces, were alive now! For years after Britain lost its colonies it still was behaving as if it was a power to reckon with. In part it had expertise in international affairs that till then an inward-looking United States had little knowledge of and looked up to London for advice. In part because it still had that halo of greatness round its swollen head that had yet to get extinguished. It was, besides, the only Great Power that shared the same language with the United States-English. Its Foreign Office surely knew more about Afghanistan, Iraq and even Kosovo because of its long contact with all three for decades.
Britain was second only to the US in military participation of wars against them. Newsweek quotes a former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson as having said way back in 1962: “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”. From 1950 onwards it played second fiddle to the US and was proud of its subservient partnership. But slowly Britain is becoming expendable The Soviet Union is no more. Europe is not longer a threat to any body. Britain stood next to the US post-1945 in acquiring nuclear technology. It now has a powerful stock of nuclear weapons but against whom can it be used? The only enemies no longer exist. And, according to a recent Guardian/ICM poll, 54 per cent of the British people say Britain should give up its nuclear deterrent altogether. That is very wise of them to say so. According to Newsweek, the Great Recession came as a surprise and has accelerated the downward trend in Britain’s fortunes while the changing ties to a declining America, too, have been visible for many years. More importantly, China of all countries, has become a creditor country to the US which owes a couple of trillion dollars to Beijing. Debtors cannot be chosers. And today Washington wants Beijing more than it wants London. Newsweek speaks of India also as a rising power, but India can afford to be modest and humble and declaim greatness. Time was when India controlled over 23 per cent of world trade which has today diminished into less than three per cent. India wants only tow things: Peace and Security. Greatness can wait. In any event how many countries in the world can boast of over 10,000 years of civilisation? And a civilisation that is still alive and thriving? Those in India who were in their twenties and thirties in pre-independence days and had heard of Britannia ruling the waves and Viceroys ruling the roost and The Times (London) and the Manchester Guardian discussing what India House should do and her Winston Churchill sniggering at Mahatma Gandhi must be having a wry laugh at a nation now in distress and so heavily indebted, as to be dubbed “Iceland on Thames”, suggesting Britain could follow that nation into bankruptcy.
What is recommended to the ruling class in Britain today is any book on Indian philosophy and the way Kala chakra- the Wheel of Time-moves. What goes up it says, has to come down. That is life-to be accepted graciously. India has seen empires rise and fall and Indians have lived through those tremulous times. India can teach Britain a thing or two on how to live in changed and changing circumstances from its centuries of experience. For almost two centuries Europe held sway. It is now Asia’s turn -but of an Asia that knows only too painfully what it has been to be looked down upon. China has risen fast. Good luck to it. India rises slowly, which is just as well. May India be proud not of greatness but of goodness, not of military aggressiveness but of the eternal verities of life that alone make for greatness. China seems aiming to be a new-age Britain, May India remember Asoka who took his lesson from the Kalinga War to spread the message of the Buddha around the world, a role that befits India to the hilt. The world needs not a Mao Tse Tung, but a Mahatma Gandhi.