A fall from 27% global GDP to just 3% on time of Independence, Shashi Tharoor shows what British rule did to India

Harsh reality against British rule in India- Shashi Tharoor strikes back, this time by unleashing the secrets behind the 200 years rule of the British empire and the harsh reality of British rule in India.


MP Shashi Tharoor, speaking on his latest book ‘Inglorious Empire’, says Indians and Britons have forgotten about the harsh reality of British rule in India and Tharoor says there is “historical amnesia” in Britain about what the empire entailed. He also targeted those Indians, who are into misconceptions regarding British’s presence in India. “Let them forgive, but let them not forget,” he told presenter Jon Snow.

Saying that it’s a British problem, Tharoor cited the example of students studying at an ‘A’ level. The students are not taught of colonial history and the “atrocities” that Britain financed its industrial revolution. “Britain came to one of the richest countries in the world (India) in the early 18th century and reduced it, after 200 years of plunder, to one of the poorest,” he said. Source: Indian Express


Dr Shashi Tharoor, was recently in the UK to promote his new book Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India. While visiting LSE, he spoke to Sonali Campion about the need to challenge existing narratives about the British in India, the uniquely exploitative nature of the Raj and the legacies of Empire

You write that the need to temper British nostalgia with post-colonial responsibility has never been greater than in the wake of Brexit, can you just expand on what you mean by that?

Over the last 15-20 years, there’s been a spate of very popular and well-reviewed books, best sellers in many cases, that have sought to glorify empire all over again. For example, Professor Niall Ferguson. He suggests that British played the indispensable role of laying the foundations for post-colonial economies to take advantage of 21st-century globalisation. I found this argument intellectually somewhat suspect as but at least had the merit of being original.

Some others offer more fatuous pronouncements, such as Lawrence James who described the British Empire was an exercise in benign altruism. A lot of this glamorization has gone largely unchallenged in the popular domain. I’m sure there’s serious scholarship that would undermine specific aspects of these claims. But the overall picture painted in books that the reader might pick up has been positive about the British. Buttressed, thereafter by all these gauzy romanticised television shows which view the Empire through rose-tinted spectacles.

It is not surprising that a YouGov poll in 2014 showed 59 per cent of English people thought the Empire was a good thing, they were proud of it and they’d love to have it back. I wasn’t aware when I was writing that there was a subsequent YouGov poll in 2016 which brought that number down to 44 per cent but that is still a significant number. The only explanation is that there isn’t enough information, awareness or education around this topic, and that needs to be addressed. It’s an embarrassment that you can get History A Level in this country without knowing anything about colonial history.

Harsh reality against British rule in India

Harsh reality against British rule in India

How does the Mughal Empire fit into your narrative? Early on in the book, you note that the British were very different to previous invaders of India.

The British were different in the sense that they had no commitment to the country. The Mughals were invaders who had come to India previously and then they stayed on and assimilated. For example, every single Mughal emperor (with the exception of the first one) was the offspring of an Indian woman. And the Mughals saw India as home. They never went back, nor did they send all their assets and resources back. They invested in India, they brought in architects, doctors, artists and enriched the civilisation.

The British sadly chose not to do that. The Raj focussed on extracting money and resources from India and sending them back to England. It’s estimated that the British Civil Servants in India sent 80 percent of their salaries back to England. Luxury industries around the courts in Delhi, which had thrived on providing fine silks, jewellery collapsed. The British ruling caste was not interested in Indian luxuries. They were sending their money off to buy luxuries in London and Paris.

You criticise the argument that the British gave India democracy on multiple fronts. You specifically refer to the parliamentary system as the source of many India’s political ills. How do you think it needs to be reformed?

I would replace it with the presidential system or least amend it in a way that President acquires real powers. President should be directly elected by the people and not by the electoral college of the state and national assemblies. The system also needs to be adapted so we stop producing governments dependent upon shifting majorities in the legislative bodies. I believe firmly in the notion of separation of powers and I don’t think you should be electing a legislature to form an executive because these are different responsibilities and should be defined as such.

Credits: Sonali Campion

He also appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A for a panel discussion on politics and the world at large.

Towards the end of the show, an Indian-Australian audience member asked Tharoor if he thought there were any positive aspects of the British colonising India, citing a few examples.

He asks, “You mentioned reparations from Britain before. What about the skills in engineering India acquired? The democratic processes it inherited, the infrastructure and the rapid education of the Indian people?”

Harsh reality against British rule in India

Harsh reality against British rule in India

He set the bar high, with the most intelligent well-researched answers. He challenged any facts that favoured British’s so-called beneficial contributions in India.

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Then he cited the observations of a 1930s historian, that British did nothing to educate Indians.


Towards the end, he pointed out that everything India is today is because of the nation’s own zeal and not because the British “left behind” something.


He also had something for the apologists of the British rule. (The audience applauded him for this.)


When host Tony Jones mentioned the textile industry of the Colonial era, Tharoor underlined the fraud committed by the Empire and this is the harsh reality of British rule in India.

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