2ndlook

Famous Last Words

Posted in British Raj, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on March 11, 2012

Many Indians willingly credit the British Raj with the unification of India. This is a claim worth examining – especially in the backdrop of the War of 1857.

Kashmiri Gate was evidence of the heavy fighting between the British army and the Indian defenders. This was a double gateway to Delhi, built in 1835, on the north wall of Delhi, by a British engineer, it suffered from major assault by British forces. Later this became a major draw for British tourists. In 1858, Delhi was besieged by British, and this gate was the scene of the final assault on Delhi by forces under Brigadier John Nicholson. | Image of Kashmiri Gate from Felice Beato photographs. | Source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk. | Click for larger image.

Kashmiri Gate was evidence of the heavy fighting between the British army and the Indian defenders. This was a double gateway to Delhi, built in 1835, on the north wall of Delhi, by a British engineer, it suffered from major assault by British forces. Later this became a major draw for British tourists. In 1858, Delhi was besieged by British, and this gate was the scene of the final assault on Delhi by forces under Brigadier John Nicholson. | Image of Kashmiri Gate from Felice Beato photographs. | Source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk. | Click for larger image.

Divide … or unite?

There is a modern myth, especially among the English-speaking Indian élite, that the British ‘unified’ India.

This is a little strange, because in the next breath, the same people will also claim that the British could rule over India because of divide et impera – divide-and-rule policy of the British.

The Delhi Bank building wrecked during the Anglo-Indian War of 1857. The Delhi Bank, set up in 1847, owned by the Dyce Sombre family in Delhi, had other local businessmen as shareholders, was housed in this stately building. In May 1857, the manager of the bank, one Beresford, was killed by the rebels during the fighting. British forces took back the bank in September. | Image source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk | Click for larger image.

The Delhi Bank building wrecked during the Anglo-Indian War of 1857. The Delhi Bank, set up in 1847, owned by the Dyce Sombre family in Delhi, had other local businessmen as shareholders, was housed in this stately building. In May 1857, the manager of the bank, one Beresford, was killed by the rebels during the fighting. British forces took back the bank in September. | Image source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk | Click for larger image.

So did the British divide-and-rule over India – or did they unify India.

Or were the British able flip around their policy by 180 degrees, on a regular basis?

A simple question that begs asking is ‘why would the British want to unite India.’

If India was a divided lot?

British legacy

Before making this claim, no one is looking at the British record in other parts of the world.

Starting with their own backyard.

More than two centuries after the annexation of Ireland in 1801, Northern Ireland, a small part of Ireland that Britain occupies, has still not been integrated into the UK. Coming to the Middle East, the British worked hard to break up the moderate Islāmic Ottoman Empire – releasing a global wave of fundamentalist Islam. British record in Cyprus, Malaysia has been equally disastrous.

Or the other British creation, Pakistan, broke into two, within 25 years.

Another angle of Bank of Delhi building. The street fights between Indian warriors with the British colonialists.  |  Image source & courtesy - prophotos-ru.livejournal.com  |  Click for larger image.

Another angle of Bank of Delhi building. The street fights between Indian warriors with the British colonialists. | Image source & courtesy - prophotos-ru.livejournal.com | Click for larger image.

None of the above examples have the complications of language, religion, race that India has. So how did British achieve the singular feat of uniting people who speak hundreds of languages and dialects, dress differently, worship differently, into one nation?

Something that they could or would not do in any other part of the world!

Not British, but Gandhiji

There are others who would claim that it was Gandhiji who did this? Although Gandhiji could and did bring many disparate elements together, it could not have happened, without a pre-existing ‘bias’ among Indians.

Much before Gandhiji was even born, soon after the start of the Anglo-Indian War of 1857, (aka The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857), an American journalist wrote on India.

Army movements and transport in circa 1857. Elephants, camels, oxen, horses, mules, hauling cannon, carts, luggage, people over long distances. Pitched battles were fought - and this was no mutiny.  |  Image source and courtesy - bbc.co.uk  |  Click for image.

Army movements and transport in circa 1857. Elephants, camels, oxen, horses, mules, hauling cannon, carts, luggage, people over long distances. Pitched battles were fought - and this was no mutiny. | Image source and courtesy - bbc.co.uk | Click for image.

We are so accustomed to speak of India as if it constituted one country, and were inhabited by homogeneous people, that it is difficult to understand that not even in Europe are nations to be found more unlike to one another than in British India. In Hindostan and the Deccan there are ten different civilized nations, resembling each other no more than Danes resemble Italians, or Spaniards Poles. They differ in moral, physical, and intellectual conditions, — in modes of thought and in modes of life. This is one of the chief causes of England’s supremacy, just as similar state of things not only promoted the conquests of Rome, but facilitated her rule after they had been made. The Emperors ruled over Syrians, Greeks, Egyptians, and other Eastern peoples, with ease, because they had little in common, and could not combine against their conquerors. (via British India by Charles Creighton Hazewell).

This 'picket' fence could not safeguard the 1000-acre estate of Metcalfe against the local people, who stormed the barricade after the war broke out. | Photographer Felice Beato's Image; Source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk | Click for larger image.

This 'picket' fence could not safeguard the 1000-acre estate of Metcalfe against the local people, who stormed the barricade after the war broke out. | Photographer Felice Beato's Image; Source & courtesy - bbc.co.uk | Click for larger image.

Mutiny that lasted for more than a year

One proof of this unity in India was the 1857 War against Colonial England.

Finally, Britain’s new-found wealth from slavery, piracy, loot from the Spanish Empire, coupled with British brutality against Indians defeated the Indians in 1857.

This ‘mutiny’ lasted for nearly two years, had lakhs of soldiers, moving across the Deccan plateau and the Indo-Gangetic plains. The triangular region, measuring across nearly 2000 km (Nagpur to Dhaka to Rawalpindi) had coördinated troop movements, needed huge volumes of arms and armaments, that had to bought.

This war was fought simultaneously on multiple fronts.

How was the spontaneous Sepoy mutiny coördinated across such a huge geography, for so long, with such a huge cost. The fighting, mainly between 10 May 1857 to the capture of Gwalior (20 June 1858), was an expensive affair, and extended to nearly two years.

While the main theater of war was Deccan plateau and the Indo-Gangetic plains, disturbances spread to Burma, Malaysia, Trinidad.

After the blood on the ground dried, after the dead were buried, and the dust settled, the the iron pillar at Mehrauli in Delhi was still standing.  |  Image source & courtesy - Image source & courtesy - prophotos-ru.livejournal.com | Click for larger image.  |  Click for larger image.

After the blood on the ground dried, after the dead were buried, and the dust settled, the iron pillar at Mehrauli in Delhi was still standing. | Image source & courtesy - Image source & courtesy - prophotos-ru.livejournal.com | Click for larger image. | Click for larger image.

Republic of 65 years

65 years ago, when the British could not no longer stay in India, British apart, there were many Indians who predicted that India will break up – and soon.

65 years later, the Indian republic is the only Republican democracy, apart from USA, to have lasted for more than 50 years without a break down. Though smaller countries like Switzerland, Israel, Singapore, can make a similar claim, they do not generate the same challenges to create a historic landmark.

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8 Responses

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  1. admin said, on March 11, 2012 at 7:22 pm

  2. x said, on March 12, 2012 at 1:33 am

    They just looted India.

  3. A Fan of Your Blog said, on March 12, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    In my humble opinion, the worst remnant of the British Raj is democracy. Like socialism and other isms, it is a great concept on paper, yet rulers twist it and turn it to your advantage. There is no question that India was looted, and divided and ruled by the British. All that is history. The real debate is what form of governance can help India and Indians succeed and bring back our glorious past. I am convinced that democracy is not that form of governance.

    Another laughable claim is that India was backward before the British came along, and they brought “science” to India. Granted the industrial revolution came from them, but India has and had far more “science” before they claim. The British were just not equipped to recognize it.

    • Anuraag Sanghi said, on March 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Like socialism and other isms, it is a great concept on paper, yet rulers twist it and turn it to your advantage.

      I believe that these are bad concepts even on paper. It is just that they smuggle trojan concepts first – and then these true nature becomes clear But then to a common mind, such complexity becomes impossible to handle. Then it snowballs into a good-idea-but-bad-implementation kind of logic.

      Which is why Gautama Buddha never attacked any Desert Bloc ruler. There is no point in replacing one bad ruler with another. That is also why he pushed the ahimsa parmo dharma – regime change without violence. Change the system.

      Buddha;s dhamma pada must be interpreted as dhamma = bharattantra and pada = path.

      The real debate is what form of governance can help India and Indians succeed and bring back our glorious past. I am convinced that democracy is not that form of governance.

      We cannot bring anything back. We can only go forward. Learn from the past – yes. Go back – no!

      I think it has to be a little more nuanced.

      To confront the Desert Bloc, we need some level of centralization. Let us go with it. With that usage of centralization, we must use these Desert Bloc tools with great caution. It is like using one poison to kill another poison.

      Democracy is not the great antidote that the West makes it out to be. That said, benign dictators are a poor second choice to democracy.

      What we need is a plan to go to Bharattantra. It cannot be one Big solution. It must be centred around the Three Freedoms /Rights – Jar (freedom to own gold) Jan (freedom to forge ties human ties) and jameen (freedom to own land). As long as we work on this agenda, Bharattantra is coming.

      Never mind if it is in small baby steps. You can go take a baby step. Buy one kg of gold.

  4. Shrivathsa said, on March 13, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Sir, I have been a fan of your blog for some time now. I am a bit confused as to the message of this particular post. It seems to have ended abruptly.

    • Anuraag Sanghi said, on March 13, 2012 at 10:10 am

      Famous last words.

      Everyone said that India will never be one. Cannot be united. Will be split and needs the firm hand of British governance and all thoughts in that vein.

      Factually, what the American journalist said was interesting. Before and after the British, there is and was an Indian nation. The British had nothing to do with.

      Thanks for your feedback. Will see how the post can be become clearer.

  5. A fan of your content said, on March 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    We need to understand what is meant by “unification”. India as a nation has existed since millenia. The intercourse of ideas, science, art, technology, etc. has happened across India throughout millenia. If one may say so, the whole of Asia was intellectually conquered by India, with far less blood-letting and by pure dint of intellectual and practical superiority. Every passing century has seen a reduction of Bharat tantra lebensraum, if one may use the term.

    Western style nationalism is a modern, 18th century notion. Hence the race to seek a “national” identity in Europe. Also the frantic efforts to subsume Indian identity under fake concepts of the Aryans et al. These “nations” are two-thousand years too late in developing the concept of a nation. If they should be given any credit, it is their desert bloc fervour in obliterating competing doctrines and ideas. This comes easy to them, since the sword was the chosen means of managing dissent. Even today, if the West is great at one particular technology, it should be armaments. You define the number of people you want to kill, the West will sell you the requisite tech. From knives to atomic weapons. It still beats me as to why the Islamic world could not be in step with the West in this matter. Probably a 2nd look is needed.

    The British did enough damage though. They already reduced the lebensraum of Bharat tantra with the partition of India. Although the mind shudders at what would have happened if India remained one. The consequent Indian Republic is a representative government and not a democracy. A mongrel state which is neither here nor there. Effete in everything it does, from policing to defence to civil administration. Name any field of endeavour and the Indian state has been less than wanting. In general.

  6. vgyananand said, on March 19, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    The simple answer to the paradox is twofold:

    (1) The British undoubtedly ruled India by dividing its people. Their ideal solution was an ‘independent’ India riddled with over over 550 ‘independent’ states that would be a nightmare worse than 100 Yugoslavias!

    Only because the British drove a wedge between the Hindu-Moslem (with active contribution by Gandhi-Nehru: read Patrick French’s ‘Liberty or Death’: 1997), they succeeded in leaving ancient India ‘forever divided’ into 3 big chunks: India, Pakistan & Bangladesh.

    (2) It was the need of their Empire that the geographical territory was ‘unified’ by common infrastructure, transport, P&T communications, education & currency. The political macro-unification was not by design, it was an undesired & unexpected result wrought by the grit & foresight of Sardar Patel & Menon who coerced and bullied over 500 Indian heads-of-states to merge with the Dominion of India during July 1946-August 1947.

    It is sort of wishful thinking by giving references to the ‘1857 war of Independence’ after which the British ruled for 90 more years! Were the Indians successful in 1857, India would have reverted to the Moslem tyranny and fragmentation that prevailed before ‘Nowab’ Robert Clive began ‘acquiring property’ for East India Company from 1757! A lot of water flown under the bridge between 1857 & 1947!


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