by Akmal Hossain 10 May 2020
British, sometimes many writers pronounce it ‘Brutish’ rules in India- today the combination of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, nearly for two hundred years. British East India Company that came here for trading in Indian goods transformed into a ruling class by a tricky conspiracy and bribery. This book exposes many negative aspects punctuated by some positive nodes where the British contributed to Indian political system, economy, culture, society, geopolitics, and numerous other activities.
Shashi Tharoor’s ‘An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (2016)’ is a complete manuscript of the British empire in India that portrays political, economic, cultural suppression of the Indian people and reveals how the Indian societal fabric was fractured along the communal line – Hindu and Muslim and the unprecedented adverse consequences. Seventy years later, the communal partition is working as a political tool in India and Pakistan politics today.
Tharoor wrote, ‘this book, somewhat unusually, began as a speech.’ The motivation for writing this book was an invitation’s outcome. The writer was invited to deliver a speech on the debate proposition ‘Britain owes reparation to her former colonies’ at an Oxford Union presentation in May 2015. The discussion and debate had a broad audience of readers, critics, and supporters that inspired the speaker to write this book. In this book, the author presented detailed answers to many questions raised at the debate.
Tharoor’s book consists of eight chapters. The first chapter explores how the British East India Company looted and drained Indian resources for the British. The second chapter of this book examines the British claim to creating Indian political unity. The third and fourth chapters describe the role of the British on the democratization process and the ‘divide and rule’ policy in India, respectively. The fifth chapter explores one of the most debated assumptions that the British helped create a “renaissance” in India.
Chapter six asserted the impact of British rule in Indian politics, education, economic distortion, and communication, mainly railway weird. Chapter seven discusses the comparative performance of India during and post-empire to recent developments that developed India to the stature of significant power in global politics militarily and economically. Last but not least, chapter eight argues about Ferguson’s logic of the British Empire and the appeal of Gandhism and why it is very crucial in India today.
Tharoor, An Indian Parliamentarian from Indian National Congress Party, astonishingly shows how the British got industrialized by the exploitation of the Indian economy and its resources. According to historian Angus Maddison, in 1700, India commanded a 23 percent share of the world economy. It was 27 percent when the Mughal Empire Aurangzeb was in power, which was as large as all of the European economies put together, when the British left in 1947, India was a poor country having a share of only 4 percent of the world economy.
Tharoor points out how British colonial power exploited and fractured Indian economic institutions and washed-out its resources. Will Duran, a famous American historian, and philosopher visited India in 1930 and wrote ‘The case for India’: in which he pointed to ‘Britain’s conscious and deliberate bleeding of India.’ The British East India Company deliberately plundered Indian resources for the benefit of Great Britain. Some of these company men like Robert Clive and Thomas Pitt became the wealthiest persons in Britain. The amount of wealth siphoned off from India is estimated at today’s 3 Trillion US Dollars that was greater than Britain’s GDP in 2015.
Any scale of measurement cannot fathom the political consequences of the British Empire in India. In the Mughal dynastical ruling system, both Hindu and Muslim would live together with peace and harmony devoid of communal and other religious confrontations. Even most of the influential positions in the Mughal system were held by the Hindus. Akbar, the greatest ruler of the Mughal dynasty, got married to a Hindu princess.
The most surprising issue was that due to the fracturing of political and economic institutions by the British Raj, India faced its greatest famine in 1770, just thirteen years after the British occupation. It was directly related to a Colonial policy that terminated one-third of the Indian population due to starvation. Again the 1940s, India experienced another famine due to the forcible transfer of food grains for the fighting British soldiers during the Second World War.
The British rulers often are accused of promoting Communal disharmony that caused riots amongst various factions. It poisoned communal harmony that broke Indian social structures. Khasbantu Sing’s ‘A train to Pakistan’ accurately reflected the bitter separation of India into two nations-based politics.
Many other issues of colonial incarceration still present in the minds of Indian people. Cricket, for example, a surprising game of imperial British that takes ‘tea breaks’ what sociologist Ashis Nandy says, ‘An Indian game accidentally discovered by the British’! Still, newspapers of the sub-continent make headlines if they win the cricket match. Learning the English language, fight for a civil service job, administrative structure, all represent colonial mind-set of Indian people.
For Tharoor, after so many heinous jobs of the British Dark era, they did somewhat well for the Indian people that never did in other parts of British colonies such as Africa. Election, parliamentary government system, supporting in the Hindu reformation process, press freedom, if not all, and developing transporting systems are a few of many examples they did for Indian people.
Then what should the British do? Shashi Tharoor argues reparation in terms of economic damage cannot be plausible today, and it does not look desirable for India and its people. A sincere apology from the British may be the best way to solve the issue, instead of physical compensation.
In conclusion, Shashi Tharoor wants the reader to be informed of the cruelty of the British Empire in India and that this period was an era of jangle and barbarity. The book is brilliantly narrated and passionately argued, An Era of Darkness will serve to correct many misconceptions about one of the most contested periods of Indian history.