How Britain ‘lost’ America. Really!

Posted in America, British Raj, European History, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on September 22, 2010
The Dutch Factory at Hougly, 1665 (Hendrick van Schuylenburgh).   Image source & courtesy - rijksmuseum.nl  |  Click for larger image.

The Dutch Factory at Hougly, 1665 (Hendrick van Schuylenburgh). Image source & courtesy – rijksmuseum.nl | Click for larger image.

The making of the modern world

The modern world has been significantly shaped by four historic events, in the 35-year period of 1765-1800.

One – The most influential of the four was the French Revolution (1789–1799) that released a secular spirit across Europe. This French idea tried to unite Europe under a Republican banner, in the personages of Napoleon and Hitler. The French Revolution also, for the first time, united anti-Republican monarchies of Europe like Catholic Spain, Protestant Britain and Prussia against Republican-Catholic France. In spite of being a colossal failure, the French idea of Republican nations finds takers even today.

Two – The event that inspired the most fear was the war of freedom by African slaves in Haiti. Events of 200 years ago in Haiti trouble and worry the West even today.

Three – The British loss of colonies in North America (now USA) is easily the most well-known of the four events.

Four – Events in India, during this 35-years period, as British power in India grew, are the least understood of the four.

Modern history ignores the complex interplay between these four events. What linkage could Tipu Sultan have with War of American Independence?

'Luigi van Beethoven had initially planned on dedicating the Eroica Symphony to Napoleon - till he crowned himself Emperor.

‘Luigi’ van Beethoven had initially planned on dedicating the Eroica Symphony to Napoleon – till Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. Click for larger image.

Where did the US get their gunpowder

British supplies of gunpowder were assured as they controlled India’s saltpetre production, the largest in the world. Where did the American leadership get the gunpowder to fight a war against the British?

George Washington and the other leaders of the revolt “called upon all Americans to boycott East India Company products (except saltpeter and spices).” Saltpeter was the most crucial element.

As war began to appear inevitable in 1775, the Continental Congress launched an all-out drive to stimulate gunpowder making. Its main focus was on manufacturing adequate quantities of saltpeter. By January 1776 these efforts began to bear fruit as 50 tons of saltpeter poured into Philadelphia and many more tons to New York. While some new mills aided in this production, the bulk of the saltpeter appears to have been produced by farm families encouraged by government bounties and instructed by many “how to” articles printed in newspapers and other publications.

Limited natural deposits of saltpeter were found in the USA, but the Spanish and French contribution was significant.

Powder was often very scarce, especially at the beginning of the war. Much was later imported from France, but though great efforts were made to manufacture an adequate supply in America, there was often a shortage.

Another writer confirms

Imports of both gunpowder and saltpeter had to be depended upon, principally from the West Indies islands of St.Eustasia and Martinique. It is estimated that 115000 pounds of gunpowder were manufactured prior to 1777 in America from domestic saltpeter. An additional 2152000 pounds of gunpowder was imported, captured, or manufactured from imported saltpeter. Although this sounds like an impressive amount, gunpowder was to remain in comparatively short supply at Ticonderoga throughout 1776. It was not until the French entry into the war in 1778, that an adequate quantity of high quality gunpowder was available to the Continental army. (from The American northern theater army in 1776: the ruin and reconstruction of … By Douglas R. Cubbison.).

Frenchmen like Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, worked on a commercial arrangement through a front company Rodrigue Hortalez et Cie (Roderigue Hortalez & Co. in English) to route American tobacco to Europe and buy saltpeter from France and Spain for fighting this war.

A Haiti Anthology: Libete By Charles Arthur, J. Michael Dash; page 28. Click to read book extract.

A Haiti Anthology: Libete By Charles Arthur, J. Michael Dash; page 28. Click to read book extract.

The French go with Haiti

Why would France sell gunpowder?

Behind this stratagem was the French fear that the stretched British would not attempt conquest of Haiti, a prized French colony.

After The Seven Years War (French and Indian Wars in American History) ended in 1763, the French chose to keep its sugar colonies of Haiti (and Gaudeloupe, Martinique). The French agreed to give away their Canadian colonies, parts of America, and were left with little of their colonial possessions.

Except Haiti.

The purchase of Louisiana

Obtained from Spain, Louisiana was retained by the French to serve as “a granary for this empire and produced flour, salt, lumber, and food for the sugar islands” of Haiti (and Gaudeloupe, Martinique). After Haiti’s successful war of freedom, by the African Slaves, the territories of Louisiana were of little use to France.

The sale of the remnant American possessions by Napoleon, bought by USA (1803-Louisiana Purchase during Jefferson’s presidency), limited European possessions in North America to a still sizable Canada (Britain) and Mexico (Spain). It is the freedom fighters of Haiti, who the Americans must thank for Louisiana, and not the foresight of Thomas Jefferson, who considered the purchase as one of his greatest achievements“.

Illustration shows burning of Le Cap, Haiti, and massacre of whites during Haitian War of Freedom. (Incendie du Cap. Révolte générale des Nègres. Massacre des Blancs. Frontispiece from the book Saint-Domingue, ou Histoire de Ses Révolutions. ca. 1815. Paris - Chez Tiger. ).

Illustration shows burning of Le Cap, Haiti, and massacre of whites during Haitian War of Freedom. (Incendie du Cap. Révolte générale des Nègres. Massacre des Blancs. Frontispiece from the book Saint-Domingue, ou Histoire de Ses Révolutions. ca. 1815. Paris – Chez Tiger. ). Click for larger image.

What was the British reading of this situation

Not just the French thought that territories of North America were less valuable.

Even the British thought so.

A highly influential British writer of the time, who wrote of these affairs was David Hume, the historian-philosopher. Hume’s most successful work was History of England. Initially a 6-volume work, written and published over 1754-1762 period, it became a best seller, with more than 10 editions over the next 100 years, with the 1810 edition growing to 12 volumes. Written just before The Battle of Buxar, and the American War of Independence, concurrently, during The Seven Year War, Hume wrote how

by the restoration of her West India possessions[Haiti], we had given her [France] back the means of a most beneficial commerce; and thus had put her in the way of recovering her losses, and being again formidable on our own element. …

France, by possessing a much greater quantity of sugar land, had been long superior to us in this lucrative branch of commerce. She had thus enriched her merchants, increased her revenue, and strengthened her navy: why then, after we had in a just and necessary war deprived her of such valuable possessions, should we restore to her the means of again annoying ourselves ? The retention of the considerable French plantations, was necessary to the permanent security of a peace. Besides, after so expensive a war, our victories gave us a claim to some indemnification ; in that view, the islands would have been the most productive of our conquests.

Our acquisitions in America might tend to our security, but it would be very long before they could lead to our indemnification. They neither increased in any important degree our commerce, nor diminished the commerce of France; but the West India islands, if retained, would have been an immediate great gain to Britain, and loss to our rival. The retention of the West Indies was farther necessary to the improvement of our acquisitions in North America, and also to our commerce with Africa.

In that event, it was argued, the African trade would have been augmented by the demand for slaves, and the trade of North America would have all centred in Britain; whereas, the islands being restored, a great part of the northern colony trade must fall, as it had hitherto done, to those who had lately been our enemies, and would still he our rivals. For these reasons, either Martinico or Guadaloupe, or even both, should have been retained by Britain.

The cessions made in Africa and in the East Indies would have fully justified the reservation to ourselves of our West India conquests. Provident policy required that we should have reserved those possessions, and our resources and resistless naval strength would have enabled us to retain them, in defiance ol the enemy. If in the negotiation, availing ourselves of our advantages, we had decisively refused such cessions, the enemy would not have adhered to the requisition, with the alternative of the continued war; or, had they been so obstinate, British force would soon have reduced them to compliance. (from The history of England: from the invasion of Julius Cæsar, to …, Volume 12 By David Hume; text within […] supplied.).

This reading of French actions dilutes current historical assumptions of mishandling and bungling of the American possessions by the ‘visionary’ George-III.

A Jamaican slave revolt, 1759. From Histoire d'Angleterre by David Francois. (Courtesy - Bristol Radical History Group.).

A Jamaican slave revolt, 1759. From Histoire d’Angleterre by David Francois. (Courtesy – Bristol Radical History Group.). Click for larger image.

Spain fights for American colonies

Much before Spain declared war on England 21 June 1779, Spain started hostile actions and support to the American rebels. This continued, till peace was declared in September 1783. The Spanish contribution has been ignored (was it due to subsequent Spanish-American War over Cuba). The actions of Spanish General Bernardo Galvez at Pensacola are rarely recalled today.

How long would have Washington’s mutinous troops fought against the British, without Spanish monetary contributions and gun-powder supplies, arranged by uncle-nephew-Galvez-duo of Jose de Galvez and Bernardo de Galvez? Can America ignore Don Francisco de Saavedra de Sangronis?

India – prized and essential

Portrayed by modern history as an uncaring and bungling despot, George-III had few choices. For 18th century Britain, forced to choose between their American possessions and India, was a no-brainer. The Indian prize was essential for the ’emerging’ British imperial agenda – and more prestigious.

Essential because of India’s industrial capacity in shipbuilding, steel and gunpowder – all essential to Britain. Prestigious, no doubt, as India was the land that Semiramis, Cyrus The Great, Alexander, Rome, Abbasids, Aghlabids, Fatimids, Ummayads, Genghis Khan had failed to conquer.

We have seen in earlier posts, how historical characters like Semiramis and Alexander were portrayed differently – as was India. For Britain, the ‘conquest’ of India was vastly more rewarding. Economically rewarding and definitely more challenging than defeating some upstart ‘freedom-fighters’.

The rest, as they say is history.

After Buxar

Britain were still not in a strong position, even after cornering the saltpetre trade and the diwani of Bengal. In 1764, after Buxar, the British gained their first sense of the Indian ‘opportunity’, after 150 years in India. British rule through the East India Company, immediately sparked conflict across India.

The company, informed of the wars that had broken out in India, sent over lord Clive, with powers to act as commander in chief, president, and governor of Bengal. His’lordship arrived at Calcutta, on the 3rd of May 1765.

To deal with this, the East India Company turned to Robert Clive. To work with Clive a council of four empowered members was created.

An unlimited power was also committed to a select committee, consisting of his lordship and four gentlemen, to act and determine every thing themselves, without dependence on the council. It was, however, recommended in their instruction«, to consult the council in general as often as it could be done conveniently ; but the sole power of determining in all cases was left with them, until the troubles of Bengal should be entirely ended. (from Encyclopaedia Britannica: or, A dictionary of arts, sciences, and miscellaneous literature, enlarged and improved, Volume 11; Publisher A. Constable, 1823 edition).

This was the very same Robert Clive, who had earlier faced a prolonged investigation with his reputation in tatters. For the EEIC to turn to this very Robert Clive, whom they had hounded a few years earlier, must have been a bitter pill.

But, then the situation in India was grave.

Helmet taken from Tipu Sultan's palace at the capture of Seringapatam in 1799  |  Source & courtesy - nam.ac.uk  |  Click for image.

Helmet taken from Tipu Sultan’s palace at the capture of Seringapatam in 1799 | Source & courtesy – nam.ac.uk | Click for image.

Tiger, tiger … burning bright

First came the Mysore Wars.

Tipu Sultan was one of the first Indian rulers to see the irreversible decline of the Mughals and the rise of the Marathas.

The First Mysore War (1766-1769), saw the tripartite alliance of Marathas, Nizam and the British against Hyder Ali, the King of Mysore. Yet to recover from the enormous Seven Years War, the British and their Indian allies were dealt a significant defeat – just 7 years before the American Declaration of Independence.

The Second Mysore War (1780-1784) ran concurrent to the American War Of Independence. A Wikipedia entry enthusiastically writes how Mysore armies, “decimated British armies in the east, repelled a joint Maratha-Hyderabad invasion from the north and captured territories in the south”.

Surprisingly, there is an overlap between the First Maratha Wars (1775-1782) and the Second Mysore War. It seems strange that the Marathas were battling the English in part of the country and collaborating with them in another theatre. This colonial classifications of War and battles probably needs re-examination of the battles in these wars.

The British fighting a wars on two fronts at the opposite sides of the world, lost both the wars.

The Third Mysore War (1789-1792) On the eve of this war, we are told, “Cornwallis saw danger near and far, to all British interests in India, and in the wider international spheres of Europe and America. His experience had accustomed his mind to world-wide maps.” I am willing to believe that such a danger to the British Empire existed.

The end of the War in America had an impact in India. Relieved from pressures of waging a war in America, the British concentrated their military resources on Tipu Sultan. This 3-year war went badly for Tipu Sultan – and he lost half his kingdom. His sons were taken hostage by the British.

The Fourth Mysore War (1799) – A truncated Mysore kingdom, faced a resurgent Britain. Rid of their American War, with the French in disarray, the British were poised at the edge of initiating their imperial ambitions.

Tipu’s European allies, the French were in disarray. The Catholic Bourbons of France were out of power. The French Republic had became a danger to European monarchies. Catholic Bourbons of Spain allied themselves with a Protestant Britain to fight against a Republican France under Napoleon. The Marathas and the Nizam, the two major military powers were allied with the British.

Tipu’s Mysore kingdom came to an end.


The challenge in North America, was tame in comparison to action in India. At the Battle of Yorktown, where Cornwallis finally surrendered to the French-Americans troops, the total number of soldiers on both sides were 25,000. 17,000 French and American troops surrounded 8,000 of Cornwallis troops.

On the other hand, it has been estimated that “Tipu Sultan deployed as many as six thousand jurzail-burdars, or “rocket-men” during the battles of Seringapatam (1792 and 1799) against the armies of the English East India Company”.

The machinery for Tipu demonizing and British self-glorification worked very well: the London stage between 1791 and 1793 saw three full-scale shows produced on Tippoo Sultawn or British Valour in India, with subsidiary productions (usually with official sponsorship) offered in all the major cities of England, Ireland and Scotland. Countless satiric skits, newspaper caricatures, and crude engravings and prints (of Tipu clothed like a tiger and in a cage, feasting on raw meat, beating a young English boy, standing over a group of scantily clad and cowering Indian women) helped further establish the notion that an alien and illegitimate ruler in a distant, exotic land could be the British public’s Enemy Number One (from Indian Renaissance: British romantic art and the prospect of India By Hermione De Almeida, George H. Gilpin.).

Like Robert Clive in 1765, the British this time turned to Charles Cornwallis, the loser at Yorktown. The selection of Cornwallis by the EEIC to head its India operations, “by the singular caprice of circumstances, the man who had lost America was sent out to govern India.” After much persuasion, Cornwallis accepted.

Neither the government nor the English people blamed Cornwallis. His schemes had been admirable in a political as well as in a military aspect, and had it not been for the arrival of the French troops they might have succeeded. As early as May 1782, when Cornwallis was still a prisoner on ‘parole’ he was asked to go to India as governor-general and commander-in-chief …

Both Pitt and Dundas thought him the only man capable of restoring the military and civil services of India to an efficient state and of repairing the bad effect upon English prestige of the defeat experienced in the second Mysore war.

A subsequent British account points out how,

Lord Cornwallis was making the greatest efforts … It was the first time the British armies in India had been led by a Governor-General in person, who enjoyed the undivided exercise of all the civil and military powers of the state, and commanded the resources of all the Presidencies (from The history of India By John Clark Marshman.).

The British put everything they had, behind their military campaign against Tipu Sultan. Clive’s extraction and loot, or the loss of American colonies did not occupy their minds. Cornwallis defeat did not mark him out to be loser.

India – continuing wars

British problems did not cease after Tipu’s death. In 1799, Dhondia Wagh continued the war against British across Shimoga, Chitradurg, Dharwad and Bellary districts (soon after the defeat of Tipu Sultan). By 1824, it was the turn of the Kittur region, where Rani Chennamma spread the fire. Five years later, Sangoli Rayanna’s started his guerrilla war. Peasant revolts continued in Karnataka up to 1833.

Coinciding with the War in America and the Mysore wars was also a series of battles between the British and the Marathas – known as First Maratha War (1775-1782). Frequently, involving tens of thousands of troops, British energies were divided. After the end of the First Maratha War in 1782, the British held their peace with the Marathas for the next 20 years.

Till Tipu Sultan was dealt with.

From all sides

A significant opposition to the British misrule came from Indian forest-dwellers and migratory peoples. The Chotanagpur area (Surguja, Ranchi and Hazaribagh areas) passed to the British from Mughals in 1765. War and famine followed. The Bengal Famine of 1770 (1769-1773) was much written and analysed. The Jharkhand area remained on the boil for nearly 150 years after Buxar.

On the conflict side, the Paharia Revolt (1766-1778), by the hill-dwellers of Rajmahal Hills, soon followed. Santhals, opened a wide front against the British. One of the first of many such campaigns, started operations from the Tilapore forest against the British from 1781-1785 – led by Tilka Manjhi (also spelt Majhi). The dates of Tilkha Majhi’s revolt, vary widely – some continuing till 1799. The Tamar revolt (1783-1789) was another revolt in the modern Jharkhand area which occupied British attention in India – while they were fighting the American colonies. The Anglo-Santhal battles continued for the next 100 years. The Kol (also Khol, Khole) continued these insurrections in early 19th century.

Immediately after Buxar, in 1764 Major Hector Munro, who took charge of “the Company’s army, found the sepoys in a state of open revolt. There is no instinct of obedience in native armies in India …” complains the English ‘historian’. In 1780, the East India Company faced revolt in Benares from Raja ‘Cheyt Sing’ who was appointed to “furnish the company with three regular battalions of Seapoys” who instead ‘massacred , in cold blood, thirteen of Capt.Wade’s men, who fell into his hands in the Hospital at Mirzapoor’.

If this was not enough, there were the Sannyasi rebellions (1763-1800)

When the levee breaks

The Anglo-Maratha Wars, the Sikh Wars continued to plague British rule in India. This was apart from suppressing nearly another 200 revolts in India.

From the Sikh Empire, Britain could retain only the southwest areas. Having failed in capturing Sikh Empire’s north-east Afghan areas, Britain declared Afghan areas as separate from India. Britain could declare their conquest of India as complete only after declaring Afghan areas as separate from India. This break of Afghanistan from India remains till date, ‘official’ Indian history.

With the ‘conquest’ of India complete in 1840, Britain’s reign over India was short-lived. From 1840-1947. Slightly longer than the foreign rule by the Slave Dynasty-Tughlaq rule (1206-1290). With the end of African slavery between 1830 (Britain)-1865 (USA), the focus of slavery shifted. India’s indentured labour fed the sugar colonies and the building of colonial infrastructure across Africa (railways, telegraph networks).

An estimated 10-15 million Indians were shipped out of India by Britain. This transshipment of Indians picked up steam in 1830,and continued till 1917 – but most were shipped out during 1850-1900 period. This, from a population of some 3 crore men of prime working age of 20-35 (from a total population of 25 crores). The supply of Indian indentured labour dried up under the kaala-paani campaign, an ingenious ploy devised by Indian Brahmins. As the supply of Indian labour dried up, so began the beginning of the end of the British Empire.

No longer able to build imperial networks (railway, telegraph) on the backs of cheap coolie labour, British grip on their Empire weakened. A 100 years after Napoleon, Britain was challenged on European mainland again, this time by Germany. As the German challenge ended, in 1945, so did the British Empire.

The American response

The rich and landed American leadership, sensed the European stretch and exploited the ready-made opportunity to take-over Britain’s American possessions. They found a ready-made supporters in the European Bourbon royal family (Catholic rulers of France and Spain).

Adams went to work right away in drafting what would be known as the Plan of Treaties. He ensured the document was primarily a commercial agreement. Offering any nation the right to trade with the newly formed United States was thought to be sufficient for any foreign aid … The calculated maneuver by Congress to declare independence as a means to gain foreign assistance was risky. They had no assurance of knowing their calculated maneuver would be successful.(from Irreconcilable Grievances: The Events That Shaped American Independence By Patrick J. Charles.).

With this support, America could win against a stretched Protestant British Government – fighting many wars in India. Much like how Romans had taken over Alexander’s Mediterranean territories and expanded into Europe and Asia Minor.

Spain, France and Britain, the three main European powers derived significant benefits from the West Indies (the Caribbean), including Cuba, Haiti et al. Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, the French supporter of America’s cause, spelt out the rationale of French interest in this war. A worried de Beaumarchais wrote to the French king that the Frenchsugar islands have, since the last peace, been the constant object of the regrets and hopes of the English“.

The Catholic Franco-Spanish rulers from the Bourbon dynasty saw benefits of keeping a Protestant Britain engaged in North America to buffer their Caribbean territories from British expansion. Spain saw benefit when it loaned the American leadership, 8 million reales for food and supplies (military and medical).

The end of the Bourbons in France, overthrow of French rule by African slaves in Haiti changed this calculus. Modern narratives of King George-III as a blundering king, ignore the realities of 18th century, as also the other ‘achievements’ of King George -III.

Front Cover - Irreconcilable Grievances: The Events That Shaped American Independence Front Cover Patrick J. Charles

Front Cover – Irreconcilable Grievances: The Events That Shaped American Independence Front Cover Patrick J. Charles

The king who lost America was also the king who triumphed over Napoleon, oversaw the Industrial Revolution in Britain, and saw the birth of the successful expansion of the British Empire into India and Canada. (from Colonialism: an international social, cultural, and political encyclopedia By Melvin E. Page, Penny M. Sonnenburg.).

An interesting book on this period in American history is Irreconcilable Grievances:The Events That Shaped American Independence by Patrick J. Charles. Gushes a reviewer, “rare to come across a groundbreaking piece of scholarship about the nation’s founding”. The paperback version has 346 pages. How many times does this book mention India at all!


India – Beyond Individuals

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Uncategorized by Anuraag Sanghi on January 26, 2008

Bhagvad Geeta4, 7Bhagvad Geeta4, 8“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in righteousness, O descendant of Bharata, and a rise of evil — at that time I manifest myself. To deliver all those who believe in goodness and to annihilate the evil, to reestablish righteousness, I will appear, in millennium after millennium.” Bhagwad Geetha IV, 7-8.

Who was Kalidasa? No one quite knows. After composing some of the best lyrical poetry ever, (in Sanskrit), little is known about him. His life lives in his works. Who was Ved Vyasa – the writer of Mahabharata? Or for that matter Valmiki! No one knows. About any one of these people.

Yet, whenever, India had needed, inspirations have come. To lead us … असतो मा सद्गमय From untruth to the truth … तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय … From darkness to light … मृतयोर् मा अमृतं गमय … from termination, to eternity …

Portrait Of Tipu SultanTipu Sultan unceasing opposition for more than 30 years (The Mysore Wars – 1767-1799) to the foreign rule before the 1857 War made the British rulers cautious about waging war in India. Immediately thereafter was the challenge of the Sikh qaum – led by Ranjit Singh. The death of Ranjit SinghRanjit Singh & Laili - His Favorite Horse in (1839) gave them another opportunity. Then followed the Afghan wars and the Sikh Wars (between 1839-1850). In 1857 was the India‘s first war of Independence.

From 1857 to the 1900, the British colonial government decimated Indian leadership. Bahadur Shah Zafar was sent to Rangoon. Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Ahalyabai Holkar. Tantia Tope. Leader after leader came to the fore. And India continued to redefine itself.

Swami VivekanandaFrom feudal and hereditary leaders, the leadership slowly changed. From political to social. In parallel. In 1828, Raja Ram Mohan Roy formed the Brahmo Samaj. In 1875, Swami Dayanand formed the Arya Samaj. On 24th December 1892, Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari – after travelling across India. He was entertained by rajas and the रंकDadabhai Naoroji (commoners) of his day.

Then followed the political leadership. Dadabhai Naoroji’s (Congress President in 1886, 1893 1906) research and quantification of the British Loot from India started a new set of leaders against colonial rule – and a new definition of India. Tilak’s demand for ‘swaraj’ and ‘swadeshi’ Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilakgoods unnerved the colonialists. The colonial British Government deported Balgangadhar Tilak to Rangoon. He came back stronger than before. In other countries, when old leaders and rulers were removed or replaced, those countries descended into dictatorship, confusion, poverty. In India, we had wave after wave of leaders – and each time India moved forward. In a direction which has no precedents in world history.

What Happened In Other Countries

Why do Australia and Canada still acknowledge the British Queen as the head of the state? Spain has Juan Carlos I as its king! Did you know that Belgium has Albert II as it King? And Queen Beatrix rules over Holland (The Netherlands). King Akihito is venerated by the Japanese – and is the head of the state. Sweden is ruled by King Carl XVI Gustaf. Luxembourg has the Grand Duke Henri as its equivalent to a King! King Harald V lords over Norway! Queen Margrethe II rules over Denmark. The world still has quite a few monarchies – especially in the OECD. Why?

France removed and guillotined the monarchs – and they got Napoleon Bonaparte, as dictator! Russia tried – and they got 70 years of communist dictatorship. Italy asked King Victor Emmanuel III to go – and got Mussolini. The British exiled the Kaiser of Germany – and the Germans had to put up with Hitler thereafter.

Britain terminated the Turkish Ottoman Empire – and Turkey got a benign dictator, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, and then not so benign dictators – and is yet to recover! East Europe (Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Albania, etc) promptly started fighting with each other, within and without – after the kings were removed. China became communist after the last emperor – and still has a communist dictatorship. Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, most of Africa, South America – same or similar story.

This history is why Canada and Australia cling to the skirts of British Monarchy.

Republican Democracy

America became one of the first successful Republican democracies – from 1789, when George Washington became the first elected President of USA. (70 years later there was a Civil War). America survived.

Israel, (propped up by massive US aid) is another country which has been a republican democracy for more than 50 years. Switzerland (with guaranteed neutrality from the European powers) is another in modern history to survive 50 years of republican democracy. Srilanka has been another country which has survived 50 years as republican democracy – but just about.

India is the youngest Republican democracy – and we have completed a historic 50 years as republican democracy – Jan 26th 1950, till date.

Gandhiji’s Conquest

But before the republic, came the unification of India – the crowning achievement of Gandhiji. Not the political union (achieved by Sardar Patel) – but the ideological union!

Garibaldi (united Italy), Bismarck (united Germany), Simon Bolivar (liberated and united South American countries) were unifiers who succeeded with the help of armies.

Gandhiji (armed with a walking stick) unified a larger India (and Pakistan) without an army. An India and a Pakistan – bigger than what the largest empire in the history of the world, the British Empire could not conquer with its armies.

One Clean Break

To make a one clean break from the feudal-colonial past – and succeed! That is a dream – never before in the history of the world. India made history – by surviving for 50 years with a republican democracy.

In 1947, India was a feudal society with more than 500 Kings and (some) Queens at the time of Independence. (No, the British did not rule over all of modern India). Large parts of India also had to change from a colonial mindset.

How Is India Unique

However, no other country has 15 official languages.

Switzerland has only 4. Sri Lanka’s Sinhalas do not want to accept Sri Lankan Tamils as full and equal citizens – hence the 20 year old civil war.

Social Equality

The liberation of Blacks in the USA is a 1970s phenomenon. It took non-violent protests (Martin Luther King) and violent threats (Malcolm X) for some kind of real emancipation and equity to come in.

Blacks in the USA legally got full and equal liberty only in 1964 after President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act of 1964. Earlier in 1954, President Eisenhower had to send in the army (the National Guard). In the Cold War scenario, under international media glare, during the Little Rock School stand-off, Eisenhower (a Southerner himself) reacted. The Mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas closed down the school rather than de-segregate. De-segregation (between the Blacks and Whites) happened clearly and fully only by 1970-75. Non-violent protests by Martin Luther King (inspired by Gandhiji’s) till 1968 and violent threats by Malcolm X thereafter, made desegregation a reality. Not to forget Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation during the Kennedy years produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, Gandhiji’s first step, after coming back from South Africa, (many decades before India’s Independence, Unification and the creation of the Republic) was to start social reform against untouchability.

Enforcement – or Help

India and America, created their own constitutions without external enforcement. Republican democracy in Germany was imposed by the Allied Powers – hence their record is blemished.


In most countries, religion divides. In India, we are different. India has the world’s second /third largest Muslim population. The Indian Christian population is equal to that of most majority-Christian countries – excluding just a few big one like USA, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, etc. Buddhists number nearly 50 lakhs. Sikhs, Parsis (Zoorastrians), Bahais, follows their own religion. Iranians, Armenians, Jews, Chinese have come to India – when persecuted in their homelands.

Racism! Anyone?

No, thanks!

India has the Caucasoid stock – spread over the North and West India; Australoid stock spread over South India and the Mongoloid stock spread over of East and North East. There is also a very small sprinkling of the Negroid stock – less than 1%.

The Challenges Ahead

The challenges ahead are defence and economics.

India’s defence unpreparedness is beyond comprehension. Worse, is the lack of threat perception. Indians (sadly and truly) limit their threat perception to the Pakistanis – and the Chinese. with the world’s largest private reserves of gold India becomes a target. The resultant global and emerging threats are unrealised. We spend billions of dollars on buying arms all over the world – but our domestic arms industry is starving.

The second is economics. The world trade systems, financial agreements, currency management continue to drag down India – and many other countries. Navigating these uncharted waters successfully is the other.

And I am sure that another set of new leaders will arrive and take India forward to another level.

Sooner – not later.

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