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Thread: British Raj did more harm than good in Indian subcontinent: UK Supreme Court debate

  1. #46
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    I broadly agree that the British Empire was responsible for uniting India, but it is worth noting that there have been pan-subcontinental empires spanning the breadth of what is now India, e.g. Mauryan was always the concept of Bharat running through Indian legend.

    It is too presumptuous IMO to dismiss an Indian Bismarck or Garibaldi emerging. History has demonstrated how individuals of adequate strategic acumen can conquer and unify vast tracks of land containing disparate peoples. Genghis Khan, Qin Huang, Caesar, ibn Al-Walid to name a few. It's a tantalising possibility to contemplate.

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    Duellist,

    It is too presumptuous IMO to dismiss an Indian Bismarck or Garibaldi emerging. History has demonstrated how individuals of adequate strategic acumen can conquer and unify vast tracks of land containing disparate peoples. Genghis Khan, Qin Huang, Caesar, ibn Al-Walid to name a few. It's a tantalising possibility to contemplate.
    no doubt. however, that type of empire would have resulted in a significantly different India than existed today. almost certainly it would not be the democracy it is today without the British.

    Enlightenment ideals and separation of church and state were Western European in origin, and even more specifically, rule of law/parliamentary democracy/constitutionalism comes from the UK.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    Duellist,



    no doubt. however, that type of empire would have resulted in a significantly different India than existed today. almost certainly it would not be the democracy it is today without the British.

    Enlightenment ideals and separation of church and state were Western European in origin, and even more specifically, rule of law/parliamentary democracy/constitutionalism comes from the UK.
    Astralis,

    Perhaps. We are dealing with counterfactuals now, but there is no reason why a united Indian federation under an Indian Garibaldi could not imbibe Enlightenment values . One could envisage something akin to, say, the Third French Republic over time. Most of Europe did not have a Magna Carta equivalent or Parliamentary tradition but nearly all have embraced liberalism and democracy. indian philosophical (and physical) exploration has matched that of European states post 16th century in the past. Such a political evolution occuring in India is not a possibility I would dismiss out of hand.

  4. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by Duellist View Post
    I broadly agree that the British Empire was responsible for uniting India, but it is worth noting that there have been pan-subcontinental empires spanning the breadth of what is now India, e.g. Mauryan was always the concept of Bharat running through Indian legend.

    It is too presumptuous IMO to dismiss an Indian Bismarck or Garibaldi emerging. History has demonstrated how individuals of adequate strategic acumen can conquer and unify vast tracks of land containing disparate peoples. Genghis Khan, Qin Huang, Caesar, ibn Al-Walid to name a few. It's a tantalising possibility to contemplate.
    Germany & Italy weren't 'vast' by Indian standards. They were (and are) tiny. As for the others, what is it about the sort of empires they governed that you find attractive in a modern nation? The freedoms? The respect for individuals? The treatment of subject peoples? You could argue that they were well administered in their way, but I don't see how that would carry over into modern India to any great extent. Most of the administration of the Raj was done by Indians, so the skills required to govern were there at independence anyway.

    People here have quite rightly pointed out that there was a heavy price to pay in human lives for such benefits as British rule brought. To revive a point Astralis made, does someone else doing the killing make it better, because the means to attain the unity you want is going to be a bloody one. It seems far more likely that an India that evolved in some theoretical construct free of European intervention (an impossibility in any realistic timeline we are familiar with) would have been a collection of states more closely resembling Europe. Some big ones, some small ones. Different religions & governmental systems. Lots of fighting & intrigues. Unifying a continent involves wading through a river of blood one way or another. At least the British left behind a democracy.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    At least the British left behind a democracy.
    Another fallacy. British has left a lot of democracies but we have seen them fall by the wayside. It is to Indians' credit that the concept of democracy is enduring. British didn't exactly leave a democracy when they denied millions of Indians the right to vote and choose their representatives at the national level.

  6. #51
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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    DE,



    i'm thinking more 19th century Great Game, which fits the idea of "client states" better. if the British were not there, the Russians, French, Portuguese, and the Dutch would certainly have been involved.
    Very interesting point, Russian drives ever eastward at the time could/would take a turn towards the south ?

    To get up to speed, found this fascinating essay from Foreign affairs that dates back to Spring 1980.

    The Great Game in Asia | Foreign Affairs | Spring 1980

    Spoiler!


    As i read it i'm struck by what this term 'great game' means and what drove it. The idea of a possible conflict was orginally conceived by Napolean. If there was going to be a major war in that century it would be between Russia & Britain.

    'Great game' starts to animate British thinking ever more as the nineteenth century wears on. Comes across as a product of Britain's fear, paranoia and growing antipathy towards Russia rather than an explicit Russian design to subjugate the entire Asian continent. The continent is really huge and it would be difficult for Russia to maintain its LOC's across such a wide expanse. There is also the question of whether they could move south at the same time as going east in Central Asia. Can sense a cautionary lesson in the writing for the US given the publication date of this essay at the height of the cold war. These lessons are equally applicable in the present and the future too.

    Western historians in the past half-century seem to have established that the Russian government did not harbor many of the wilder ambitions that were ascribed to them during the nineteenth century. They tend to believe that, as against the British, Russian policy in Asia was essentially defensive. It is thought that when Russia put pressure on Britain in such sensitive areas as Afghanistan, the Pamirs and Tibet, it was to keep the British from attacking the Russians once again in the Black Sea. "To keep England quiet in Europe by keeping her employed in Asia; that, briefly put, is the sum and substance of Russian policy," wrote George Curzon nearly a century ago, in words that historians quote with approval.10

    The British fear that the Russians intended an invasion of India is dismissed as a baseless nightmare, which the Russians from time to time took advantage of in order, again, to distract the British from attacking them in Europe.

    At the beginning of the Great Game, British fears of an attack on India were certainly unwarranted. Russia at that time lacked the financial resources, the transportation facilities, the ability to develop supply routes and even the maps, through hitherto uncharted sections of Central Asia, that a successful invasion of India would require. Later, after Russia had developed some of these capabilities, it still was not clear why Russia would want to invade British India except to counterbalance a British move against Russia in some other part of the world. British fears, in this respect, then, were irrational.

    The obsessive nature of these fears is suggested by a prediction that one of the leading English statesman of the twentieth century made about the politics of the twenty-first century: in a book published in 1930, Lord Birkenhead predicted that in 2030 A.D. India would still form an integral part of the British Empire, but that Russian agents still would be scheming to subvert that rule and to win India for Russia.
    Marking the Russians as an opponent made the Brits ever willing to get into numerous pre-emptive intrigues and any Russian moves with leaders in the Ottoman & Persian world-- considered a wide buffer-- were perceived as future threats against the British empire. Self-reinforcing. McKinder's 'Heartland' would only further add to this line of thinking.

    Russian railroad construction in Asia had come close enough to India so that the threat of invasion finally became plausible. In a seminal essay, Sir Halford Mackinder, the prophet of geopolitics, outlined the implications of some of the changes that had occurred in the world.

    The development of the railroad and other means of rapid land transportation, he wrote, had transformed the relationship between sea power and land power. Formerly it was a navy that made a country's armed forces mobile. Now the speed of railroads gave the advantage to land powers operating on interior lines, for they were able to concentrate their forces by sending them rapidly along the straight line which constitutes the shortest distance between two points, while a seagoing adversary must sail all around the circumference and arrive at the field of combat too late.

    Mackinder taught his followers to look at the map with new eyes and thus to see that Russia occupies the pivot area controlling the Eurasian continent, where most of mankind lives, and that this pivot area was inaccessible to Britain's kind of power. It was a gloomy message that he preached: in effect he said that Britain had placed her bet on yesterday while Russia had placed hers on tomorrow.
    Would the Russians move south ? ask a Brit and the answer would be a definite yes, but am not so sure how successful they would have been. Were they to do so it would be difficult to make advances in the 19th century style they moved across Central Asia. Encroach, annex, move on to the next. Almost like Romans. Not much evidence of suave wheeling & dealing here not to mention a lack of products to sell to a large market to maintain the operation. How would they approach India ? it would be though the north where they would have to contend with Afghans and other troublesome mountain people. Lots of choke points on the road to India. Russia did not have a large enough navy that could come through the south. By the time Russian railways reach India the rise of other powers would divert Russia into other areas.

    It's questionable what influence the Dutch could wield in the 19th century, they were already a spent force. The French after Napolean would be in decline. Britain assuming it did not want to take over India would be an interested player in the region to set up ports or obtain concessions wherever possible. The Portuguese being the minor player in the region might have made more advances up to a point before encountering local opposition.

    Can see numerous ports along the Indian seaboard, Macaus & Hong Kongs but not wholesale occupation by any party with local kingdoms vying for influence.
    Last edited by Double Edge; 03 Oct 14, at 02:22.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blademaster View Post
    Another fallacy. British has left a lot of democracies but we have seen them fall by the wayside. It is to Indians' credit that the concept of democracy is enduring. British didn't exactly leave a democracy when they denied millions of Indians the right to vote and choose their representatives at the national level.
    No, my statement stands. It referred to India inheriting a particular form of government from Britain. Not even someone as terminally wedded to selective interpretation of facts and cherry picking as you can deny that (try as you might). India didn't develop democratic structures out of thin air, they were adopted from the colonizer. That doesn't mean Britain gets any credit for India still being a democracy in 2014, but it does get most of the credit for India being a democracy in 1947.

    The founders of Indian democracy were able to see beyond their personal feelings about the way Britain ran India to see that Britain was capable of providing some ideas & examples of benefit. Seven decades on you clearly still haven't reached that point yet.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    That doesn't mean Britain gets any credit for India still being a democracy in 2014, but it does get most of the credit for India being a democracy in 1947.
    I don't really agree with this statement. Yes, Indian leaders of that generation were certainly influenced by British ideals and democratic traditions. Several, including Nehru and Gandhi spent years living in England in their youth.

    Nevertheless, the British did not grant self rule to Indians willingly. It was the result of long struggle that took decades, of Indian leaders and organizations like the Congress applying pressure on the British to grant more power to Indians in their own Government along with more self rule in the Provinces. It the Indian leaders who organized and built the foundations of democracy in India. Yes, the British may have built up some of the underlying institutions that support a democracy, like rule of the law, the court system, and the provincial assemblies, but they were primarily instruments of colonialism. They granted power to the Indians slowly, and often grudgingly.

    And thats the reason why it has endured to this day; unlike other British possessions that quickly reverted back to authoritarian rule after independence.
    Last edited by InExile; 03 Oct 14, at 09:40.

  9. #54
    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by InExile View Post
    I don't really agree with this statement. Yes, Indian leaders of that generation were certainly influenced by British ideals and democratic traditions. Several, including Nehru and Gandhi spent years living in England in their youth.

    Nevertheless, the British did not grant self rule to Indians willingly. It was the result of long struggle that took decades, of Indian leaders and organizations like the Congress applying pressure on the British to grant more power to Indians in their own Government along with more self rule in the Provinces. It the Indian leaders who organized and built the foundations of democracy in India. Yes, the British may have built up some of the underlying institutions that support a democracy, like rule of the law, the court system, and the provincial assemblies, but they were primarily instruments of colonialism. They granted power to the Indians slowly, and often grudgingly.

    And thats the reason why it has endured to this day; unlike other British possessions that quickly reverted back to authoritarian rule after independence.
    Most (though not all) former British colonies at least started their post-colonial lives as parliamentary democracies. Most (though not all) of the colonies of other European powers did not. Not a coincidence. Not even a tiny little bit. Simply too many examples & variables for it to be. In some cases Britain allowed some of the structures for democracy to develop before independence. In other cases those fighting for independence were inspired by some of the ideals that they saw in those structures (if not in the way they were governed). All of those people in each of those nations who tried to establish & maintain democracies after independence deserve their share of credit, but the fact that Britain was the colonizing power is relevant. Very relevant.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    All of those people in each of those nations who tried to establish & maintain democracies after independence deserve their share of credit, but the fact that Britain was the colonizing power is relevant. Very relevant.
    Well, thats true ofcourse. None of other colonial powers had the same democratic traditions that gradually evolved in the Anglo Saxon world over the past say 400 years. Even France was an absolute monarchy till 1789 and oscillated between authoritarian and democratic rule in the 19th century. Other major European powers did not become stable democracies themselves until well into 20th century.

    I agree the British get some credit for spreading democratic ideas in the countries in their control; nevertheless the British Empire was in no way a democratic regime; far from it. In the end it is the people and leaders of the countries that built successful and enduring democracies that get most of the credit.
    Last edited by InExile; 03 Oct 14, at 10:26.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    Germany & Italy weren't 'vast' by Indian standards. They were (and are) tiny. As for the others, what is it about the sort of empires they governed that you find attractive in a modern nation? The freedoms? The respect for individuals? The treatment of subject peoples? You could argue that they were well administered in their way, but I don't see how that would carry over into modern India to any great extent. Most of the administration of the Raj was done by Indians, so the skills required to govern were there at independence anyway.

    People here have quite rightly pointed out that there was a heavy price to pay in human lives for such benefits as British rule brought. To revive a point Astralis made, does someone else doing the killing make it better, because the means to attain the unity you want is going to be a bloody one. It seems far more likely that an India that evolved in some theoretical construct free of European intervention (an impossibility in any realistic timeline we are familiar with) would have been a collection of states more closely resembling Europe. Some big ones, some small ones. Different religions & governmental systems. Lots of fighting & intrigues. Unifying a continent involves wading through a river of blood one way or another. At least the British left behind a democracy.
    As I said, much of Europe developed democratic features without foreign interventions. India could have too, given the relatively sophisticated nature of Indian States at the time. I would hardly call Germany or Italy small, even at unification they were regional powers, and they had cultural/regional/class and religious cleavages of their own, like India.

    My point was that territory can be rapidly conquered and integrated into a federated nation state. The British Empire at its' worst showed great regard for subject peoples and individual rights, I'm sure. With regard to the point about nation building and bloodshed, that may be true to an extent, but there have been exceptions in Indian history I believe; the early Mauryans under Ashoka were able to unify vast tracts of subcontinent without warfare (post Kalinga, of course). In any case, a federated Indian state that found its way to liberal democracy like Europe would not have been impoverished, as it was at independence (and still is today, although that is their own fault, largely).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    No, my statement stands. It referred to India inheriting a particular form of government from Britain. Not even someone as terminally wedded to selective interpretation of facts and cherry picking as you can deny that (try as you might). India didn't develop democratic structures out of thin air, they were adopted from the colonizer. That doesn't mean Britain gets any credit for India still being a democracy in 2014, but it does get most of the credit for India being a democracy in 1947.

    The founders of Indian democracy were able to see beyond their personal feelings about the way Britain ran India to see that Britain was capable of providing some ideas & examples of benefit. Seven decades on you clearly still haven't reached that point yet.
    Typical answer from a guy who has all the classic symptoms of a "white man's burden" complex. Indians didn't get their ideas of democracy nor was Britain dispensable to the idea of democracy. They studied other nations, including America, South American countries, USSR, etc. If we were going to go by your standard, then we would have to give credit to all countries that had any kind of veneer of democracy or sham democracy principles such as Germany, USSR, etc. Those countries professed ideals of democracy but didn't practice in reality. Likewise with Britain. Britain professed ideals of democracy but didn't practice in India and actively discouraged such thinking.

    Another counterpoint to your argument is that by following your logical reasoning, I can say that Nazi Germany is directly responsible for the liberation of India. After all without WWII, Britain wouldn't have let go of India easily. Since WWII nearly bankrupted Britain and sapped the will and moral of Britain to fight another way, it gave up India almost peacefully. Therefore Nazi Germany was good for something and do deserve some credit.

    You would be hard pressed to find anybody in the western world to accept that kind of reasoning and its conclusion.
    Last edited by Blademaster; 03 Oct 14, at 21:37.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    Most (though not all) former British colonies at least started their post-colonial lives as parliamentary democracies. Most (though not all) of the colonies of other European powers did not. Not a coincidence. Not even a tiny little bit. Simply too many examples & variables for it to be. In some cases Britain allowed some of the structures for democracy to develop before independence. In other cases those fighting for independence were inspired by some of the ideals that they saw in those structures (if not in the way they were governed). All of those people in each of those nations who tried to establish & maintain democracies after independence deserve their share of credit, but the fact that Britain was the colonizing power is relevant. Very relevant.
    France was a colonizing power and Germany was also a colonizing power and they did practiced some form of democracy and we saw how that turned out with the occupied countries. Very few of them became successful democracies just like most of former British colonies.

    Another fallacious argument.

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    I find it fascinating that people over here are trying to find some leg to stand on desperately to justify the cruelty of their ancestors who murdered, raped, stole and enslaved millions in India, Americas and Australia. Even something as laughable as it was for better sanitation and railways.
    If these countries were replaced with Russia and Eastern Europe, or with the Muslims and Middle East, or with China and Tibet. The views by these same people, will be fundamentally different.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blademaster View Post
    You would be hard pressed to find anybody in the western world to accept that kind of reasoning and its conclusion.
    First, just casually passing through.

    Second, I don't know about your research into the various secondary history curriculum throughout the western world, but in South Australia, at least during the last two years of my secondary education, it certainly was.

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