The Raj connection
The British connection -- the Raj in case of India - evokes strong emotions insome quarters in India and Canada both of which are former British dominions.
In the case of Canada, the root cause of conflicted emotions lies in the history of Anglo-French relations and their rivalries in both Europe and North America as colonial powers.
In the case of India, the reason is - and was -- the exploitative nature of the empire that impoverished Indian workers and peasants.
That's why when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made those innocuous sounding remarks at Oxford University last week extolling the Raj for its so-called good governance in India, many people and a section of the media reacted angrily. Left intellectuals and thinkers called it a distortion of history. Former Prime Minister Deve Gowda said all the ills plaguing India today could be traced to the pernicious effect of the Raj on India.
No doubt, the Raj gave India an administrative unity. Without its advent, India might not have become a single unit that it is today. The Raj gave India a linguistic unity. Today, Indians across the length and breadth of the country connect with one another through the English language. More Indians are learning this language than people in any other nation. So much so that Indian English has been accepted just like Australian or Canadian English. New Indian words are seeping into the Oxford dictionary every year.
The British Indian military also united the country. Then there was the civil service - the so-called steel frame of the Raj - which India retained on Independence. Under it, young men from Scotland and England were sent to India to serve as a backbone of the empire.
These men created a fine impression on Indians by their commitment to duty and a sense of fair play. Many Indians still sing praises of them. They say these dutiful White Men favored none, spared none.
The Raj also brought the unmatched railway and canal network to India. The British were responsible for laying the foundation of cities like Kolkata, New Delhi and Mumbai. They created beautiful hill stations like Darjeeling and Dalhousie. Thanks to the British system, the first great Indian middle class was born in Bengal.
But the British were foreign rulers, after all. And their aim was to exploit India's raw material and resources for British factories. Native cottage industry was destroyed and Indians were left impoverished. These policies led to famines that killed millions of India, particularly the one in Bengal in the early 1940s.
The Raj divided Indians, leading to the Partition of the sub-continent and the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in 1947.
Worst still, the Raj created a political and administrative culture of ostentiousness. Those sent to India to keep the empire for the British Crown were pampered with every conceivable convenience. Big bungalows. A retinue of servants. Lutyens' Delhi was created for their comforts. On Independence, the Indian leaders and civil service grabbed these comforts. Today's `sahib culture' in India was engendered by the British burra sahibs.
Nowhere in the world do political leaders and bureaucrats enjoy so much convenience and comfort at taxpayers' expense as in India. What a shame when you consider that India is home to 41 per cent of all poor people in the world! What a travesty of logic that in a nation where Mahatma Gandhi didn't want to use wrong means (violence) to achieve his ends, just everybody is using wrong means to achieve their ends (comforts). Indian politics has become the refuge of scoundrels.
The Raj-created bungalows -- and cars with flashlights and commandos - have become the ultimate status symbol in India.
During the Raj, the most feared creature in rural India was the droga (or the local policeman). Today, this droga is the most corrupt creature in India. Today, he openly takes his hafta (weekly bribes) from Blue Line wallahs near India's Parliament. This hafta is shared down the line - from top officers to constables. It should surprise no one because more than 90 per cent of policemen get into the force by paying bribes. Someone who is born in bribe is going to take bribes. The Indian police stinks
Perhaps the Indian prime minister didn't have these things in his mind when he extolled the Raj at Oxford. But then most Indian leaders are not in touch with the reality.
How can they be when they travel in a cavalcade for whose smooth passage all roads are closed to the common Indian (who is kept at bay by gun-totting commandos)? Like the burra sahibs of the Raj, these desi brown sahibs have insulated from the great Indian reality. Perhaps, Manmohan Singh missed this point.
For some Canadians, on the other hand, the unease about the British connection has to do with French Canada and Anglo-Saxon Canada. But unlike India, Canada is still tied to the British Crown. The British monarch still appoints Canada's head of state. Many leaders, like former deputy PM John Manley, have openly called for severing these ties with the British and electing their own head state. There is a major anti-monarchy group as is a pro-monarchy league. Many even say that their continuing ties with the British monarchy fuel the separatism movement in French-speaking Quebec.
But unlike India, White Men from France and Britain settled Canada. And the Anglo-Saxons in Canada want to retain their ties to mother country.
Curiously, Canada played a role in bringing India back into the British loop after its Independence. It was Canadian prime minister William Mackenzie King who helped the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru get over his reservations about joining the British Commonwealth in 1948. During their meeting in London, Nehru is said to have told Mackenzie that India was staying away from this grouping of former British Colonies because of its experience with the Colonial power.
But Mackenzie told Nehru how his own `Little Rebel' grandfather was treated by the British for speaking for Canada's liberty. It was time be pragmatic. And Nehru was convinced.
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