Tag Archives: India

Book review. Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor

Book review. Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor
by Ian Sinclair
Red Pepper
June-July 2017

In 2015 Shashi Tharoor’s brilliant speech to the Oxford Union Society on the motion “This house believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies” went viral, receiving coverage across the world.

Tharoor, an MP for the Indian National Congress, former senior United Nations official, novelist and scholar, has now expanded the argument he made at Oxford into Inglorious Empire.

Justifications for the supposedly benign and wise British rule of India – including how the colonialists encouraged democracy, the parliamentary system, development and generously set up the railways – are set out and then eloquently demolished.

At the start of the eighteenth century India’s share of the global economy was 23 percent – the size of all of Europe combined. By the end of nearly 200 years of British rule, first under the proto-multinational corporation East India Company and then direct governance by the British crown after 1858, India’s share had dropped to just over 3 percent following the deliberate destruction of thriving local industries by the British.

Indians were effectively barred from senior positions in the civil service, meaning there were more statues of Queen Victoria in India than Indians in the higher echelons of the government administration. Given “the British had no intention of imparting democracy to Indians”, Tharoor argues “it is a bit rich” for the British to now take credit for the fact India is now the world’s largest democracy.

Perhaps most shocking is the section detailing the 30-35 million Indians who needlessly died in the series of famines under the British Raj, the latest of which was the 1943-4 Bengal Famine. Tharoor calls these “British Colonial Holocausts”, comparing them to the 25 million people who perished in Stalin’s collectivisation drive and political purges.

Well referenced and full of fascinating facts, quotes and anecdotes, Inglorious Empire is a scorching indictment of British rule in India, and British imperialism more broadly. Tharoor supports Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal to teach unromanticised colonial history in British schools – a timely idea when one considers a 2014 YouGov poll found 59 percent of respondents thought the British Empire was “something to be proud of.”

Inglorious Empire is published by Hurst & Company, priced £20.

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Book review. ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’ by Arundhati Roy

Book review. ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’ by Arundhati Roy
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
August – September 2015

Indian writer and dissident Arundhati Roy’s work has long embodied John Pilger’s belief that a journalist should be ‘an agent of ordinary people, not of those who seek to control them.’ Scathing and lucid, the slim Capitalism: A Ghost Story, is no exception.

Made up of seven short, accessible essays, Roy deftly skewers the hypocrisy and rapacious nature of India’s elite, highlighting the extreme inequality and poverty, corruption and subjugation that are endemic in ‘The World’s Largest Democracy’.

The book’s first section explains how the influence of big business has neutered many NGOs and charities working in the Global South. For Roy, this corporate patronage is all about ‘turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists… luring them away from radical confrontation’.

Elsewhere Roy slays several liberal sacred cows including Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, the Gates Foundation, and Muhammad Yunus’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning micro-finance initiative, the Grameen Bank.

She peppers her denunciations with shocking facts. For example, the richest 100 Indians own assets equivalent to a quarter of the nation’s GDP, while 80 percent of Indians live on less than 50 US cents a day.

Meanwhile, in the central state of Chhattisgarh, a government-organised militia has burned, raped and murdered its way across hundreds of villages, forcing 50,000 people into police camps and 350,000 people to flee.

Those, like this reviewer, who are unfamiliar with India will wish that a map had been provided. A glossary explaining Indian terms, place names and people would also be very useful.

However, these are small criticisms of a fascinating primer on contemporary India, a country whose importance in global affairs will only grow in the years ahead. With many non-US progressives seemingly more knowledgeable about the actions of the US than their home nations, Roy’s book is a timely reminder that many people’s focus of concern is back to front.

Capitalism: A Ghost Story is published by Verso, priced £7.99.