Indians regarded Britain as country in decline, show files from 1984

Indian politicians and officials don’t regard relationship with Britain as special or important, says declassified document.
Pedestrians walk past a rainwater puddle reflecting the Houses of Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower, commonly referred to as Big Ben, in London, U.K., on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.(Simon Dawson/ Bloomberg)
Pedestrians walk past a rainwater puddle reflecting the Houses of Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower, commonly referred to as Big Ben, in London, U.K., on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.(Simon Dawson/ Bloomberg)
Updated on Jul 29, 2018 01:39 PM IST
Copy Link
Hindustan Times, London | By

Long before Brexit posed questions about Britain’s global stature, Indian politicians and officials considered the country “in decline”, according to a classified February 1984 note by a member of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

Held back but released under directions of a tribunal following a protracted legal battle by journalist-researcher Phil Miller, the documents include the note by R J O’Neill of the Cabinet Office, providing a rare insight into London’s view of India.

The note contains hitherto undisclosed assessment of key issues in the India-UK relationship attributed to what he called “a complex of attitudes which, because they lie rather deep, we do not always want to bring out into the open”.

O’Neill’s assessment was dated 1984, when India’s role in the Non-Aligned Movement riled the west, but most of his conclusions resonate today, including the perception among many Indian diplomats that Britain’s Foreign Office remain strapped in the colonial era.

O’Neill set out William Harding in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the ‘problem’ in the India-UK relationship along two sections: ‘On the British side’ and ‘On the Indian side’; each section containing three points.

He wrote: “Indian politicians and officials do not regard the relationship with Britain as special…or as particularly important. Indeed, they regard Britain as a European country in decline, and of very much less account in the world than India”.

“The same people do not look back warmly or with gratitude to the period of British rule…They take the view that India had to struggle for its independence, and finally won it from a reluctant Britain. India owes Britain nothing; much the reverse”.

“At the same time (again) Indians are very sensitive to British criticism of what happens in India, and they react emotionally to United Kingdom opposition to Indian policies. In other words, they have not liberated themselves…of the old relationship as they like to claim (‘Gandhi’ was fine; parts of ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ are not)”.

O’Neill’s three points ‘on the British side’ includes the belief that “We regard India as ‘special’”, but adds: “We feel that we did rather well in India, leaving behind much that we can be proud of, and that we can equally claim some pride in India’s achievements since independence”.

The note goes on to say: “At the same time, we regard many Indian views as misconceived, if not actually mischievous, and we do not take seriously the expressed views of Indian politicians and officials”.

The cache of files released after the tribunal’s ruling includes documents that reveal that days after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in October 1984, there was such concern about a march by Sikh extremists in London that efforts were made to change law so that it could be banned, since permitting it could put contracts worth £5 billion at risk.

The files reveal that foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe in the Margaret Thatcher government was keen to avoid “serious repercussions” in India and “stir up anti-British feelings” by allowing the march.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • FILE PHOTO: A serviceman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) walks at the damaged war memorial complex Savur-Mohyla during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Donbas region from the Nazi occupation during World War Two,

    Zelensky slams Russia over 'deliberate attempt to kill as many as possible'

    Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called upon the world's attention as he yet again accused Russia of targeting civilians with the war set to complete three months. The Kremlin launched its offensive on February 24 and said it was aimed at “de-Nazifying” the neighbour country - claims that have been repeatedly dismissed by Kyiv. A UN Security Council meeting yet again saw the US and Russia sparring amid intensifying food crises across the world.

  • In this photo provided by the North Korean government, a worker in protective gear stands on an empty sidewalk in Pyongyang, on May 17, 2022. 

    North Korea claims 'good results' in Covid fight as fever cases top 2 million

    North Korea said on Friday it was achieving "good results" in the fight against the country's first confirmed Covid-19 outbreak, as the number of people with fever symptoms surpassed 2 million. The isolated nation reported 263,370 more people with fever symptoms, and two more deaths, taking the total fever caseload to 2.24 million as of Thursday evening, including 65 deaths, according to state media KCNA.

  • Police use tear gas to disperse university students protesting to demand the resignation of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country's crippling economic crisis, in Colombo.

    Sri Lanka falls into default for the first time ever

    Sri Lanka fell into default for the first time in its history as the government struggles to halt an economic meltdown that prompted mass protests and a political crisis. Fitch Ratings also confirmed that finding, downgrading Sri Lanka to “restricted default” later in the day. The coupon payments, originally due April 18, were worth $78 million combined on notes maturing 2023 and 2028, with a 30-day grace period that expired on Wednesday.

  • Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman and the head of the United Russia party Dmitry Medvedev.

    'Insane' sanctions or food supplies: Russia tells West

    Russia's former president and now senior security official, Dmitry Medvedev, said Thursday the West should not expect Russia to continue food supplies if it slaps Moscow with devastating sanctions over Ukraine. "Otherwise, there's no logic: on the one hand, insane sanctions are being imposed against us, on the other hand, they are demanding food supplies. Things don't work like that, we're not idiots," said Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of Russia's Security Council.

  • Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer's kid-sized booster, to be offered at least five months after the youngsters' last shot.(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

    CDC advisers urge Pfizer booster for children ages 5 to 11

    Kids ages 5 to 11 should get a booster dose of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, advisers to the U.S. government said Thursday. The hope is that an extra shot will shore up protection for kids ages 5 to 11 as infections once again are on the rise. Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer's kid-sized booster, to be offered at least five months after the youngsters' last shot.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, May 20, 2022