Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK is generating a lot of enthusiastic support from many, as expected. I don’t waste time on following the hoopla. It’s all a sideshow that wastes real resources that India can ill afford but gets done because those who enjoy the pomp and circumstance don’t bear the costs. Indian taxpayers — which we must remember are not just those who pay income tax but it includes even the poorest of the poor — pay for the politicians, bureaucrats and their hangers-on to live it up. It is another symptom of the deep malady that inflicts India: Colonial rule.
Rulers Changed, not the Rules
All this present bonhomie between the two nations — the colonizer and the colonized — conceals the fact that the British raped India. There’s no polite way to put it. They raped, pillaged and looted India. And that’s not the worst of the tragedy. The worst bit is that although the British left, Indians did not become free. I claim that if India was not free before Aug 1947, then India continued to be just as not free even after Aug 1947. Read the constitution of India and you will find that it is at its essence a set of rules which empowers the government (and its immense bureaucracy) to rule Indians.
The racial composition of the rulers changed. There was no change in the fact that the government was still the master and the people were its servants. The rulers changed, not the rules.
The British made those rules. Therefore they were good for the British rulers and bad for Indians. That the rules the British made for ruling India were bad is really an understatement. But from the point of view of the colonizers, the British, it was the most rational thing to do. Put yourself in the position of a colonial ruler. What kind of policies and rules would you put in place?
The most rational set of rules for a colonial power is to have extractive and exploitative rules. What’s the point of colonizing if not to extract and exploit? You don’t colonize a far-away foreign land with hundreds of millions of people on a lark. You do it for profit. And to do that, you have to be ruthless. Your goal is not development. Your goal isn’t even to cause misery. The misery and poverty that follows is a side-effect, an unintended consequence even.
“I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”
Let me give you just two examples. The Bengal Famine of 1943. It was almost entirely due to the British that around 4 million people starved to death. Countries offered to donate food and help. For example, Canada wanted to give 100,000 tons of wheat. And the United States made a similar offer.
But Mr Winston Churchill (Mr David Cameron’s predecessor, Prime Minister 1940-45 and 1951-55) refused to have the food sent to India. He said, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” The famine was their own fault, he said “for breeding like rabbits.” At the same time that people were starving, food was being exported out of Bengal to support British troops.
Mr Churchill’s hate for Indians was not remarkable at all. It was the general attitude of the English. Judging by the things that they did, it is easy to see that the English despised Indians. In a sense, they had to probably hold their noses as they went about stealing from India. Their disgust was overcome only by avarice.
There were a few thousand British expatriates in India to run the colonial government of India. These expats had to be induced to be in India and were given a “hardship allowance”. Britishers in the Indian Civil Services (the IAS is the new name for it) were the highest-paid civil servants in the world. Those high salaries for paid for by the “beastly people with a beastly religion”. Thieving from filthy people is a dirty business but someone has to do it, and for that they need to be paid more than usual.
The theft that India suffered under the British is hard to estimate. It will probably run in trillions of dollars in today’s terms. But here’s just one very tiny example.
Grand Theft, not Petty Larceny
The SS Gairsoppa was a British merchant ship. It left Calcutta bound for England in 1941. It’s cargo? Among other things such as tea, it carried 240 tons of silver for the British mint. German u-boats sank it in the Atlantic. It was discovered 70 years later in 2011. That silver was valued at over $200 million in 2012. As per international maritime law, finders keepers.
(Reference: New York Times.)
The main thing to remember here is that India is not just poor, it has been impoverished. India has been made poor.
A rapacious colonial government can only make rules that benefit itself, and not the people it rules over. The tragedy of India is that India inherited the rules that the British had made — and that is a major part of the problem of underdevelopment that India faces today.
The British laid the foundation for India’s poverty, and the post-independence governments of India built on that foundation a nation that hosts the world’s largest number of illiterates, the largest number of desperately poor people, etc. And those in government have a wonderful time.
It’s all karma, neh?