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       An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, p.1

           Shashi Tharoor
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An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India



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  Shadows Across the Playing Field: 60 Years of India-Pakistan

  Cricket (with Shahryar Khan)

  India (with Ferrante Ferranti)

  The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone: Reflections on India in the 21st Century

  Bookless in Baghdad

  Nehru: The Invention of India

  Kerala: God’s Own Country (with M. F. Husain)

  India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond Reasons of State



  The Five Dollar Smile and Other Stories

  Show Business

  The Great Indian Novel


  An independent publishing firm

  promoted by Rupa Publications India

  First published in India in 2016

  by Aleph Book Company

  7/16 Ansari Road, Daryaganj

  New Delhi 110 002

  Copyright © Shashi Tharoor 2016

  All rights reserved.

  The views and opinions expressed in this book are the author’s own and the facts are as reported by him/her which have been verified to the extent possible, and the publishers are not in any way liable for the same.

  While every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and obtain permission, this has not been possible in all cases; any omissions brought to our attention will be remedied in future editions.

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  ISBN: 978-93-84067-88-5

  This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published.


  my sons, Ishaan and Kanishk,

  whose love of history equals,

  and knowledge of it exceeds,

  my own

  But ’tis strange.

  And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,

  The instruments of darkness tell us truths…

  —William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act I, scene iii

  Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;

  And universal darkness buries all.

  —Alexander Pope, The Dunciad

  We live in the flicker—may it last as long as the old earth

  keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.

  —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

  India—a hundred Indias—whispered outside beneath the

  indifferent moon, but for the time India seemed one and their own, and they regained their departed greatness by hearing its departure lamented…

  —E. M. Forster, A Passage to India




  The Oxford speech – Indian reactions – criticisms taken into account – history is neither for excuses nor for revenge


  Durant’s outrage – the conquest of India by a corporation – the East India Company – the deindustrialization of India – destruction of Indian textiles – extraction, taxes and diamonds – Clive and Plassey – the ‘nabobs’ – corruption – revenue collection and the drain of resources – the Permanent Settlement – Indian military contributions to Empire – Naoroji’s indictment – the destruction of shipping and shipbuilding – stealing from Indian steel – how India missed the Industrial Revolution – the Scots benefit


  British claim to creating Indian unity – the ancient ‘idea of India’ and the centralizing impulse – counterfactuals of history – the destruction of political institutions – overthrow of ‘native princes’ – weakening of village self-governance – Indian social structures unfamiliar to the British – increasing British control – deinstitutionalization of governance – native rulers not worse than Company – the Crown takes over its jewel – imperial ostentation and ‘ornamentalism’ – Curzon and British self-regard – the un-Indian Civil Service – lifestyles of the rich and infamous – Indians in imperial service – exclusion and suppression of Indian talent – Chetty, Tagore, Banerjea, Ghosh – imperial racism: only disconnect – British governance, the swadeshi movement and the advent of Mahatma Gandhi – the Montagu–Chelmsford ‘reforms’ – the Great War and the great betrayal


  The British case for liberal democracy – the (partly) free press – freedom and constraints – the rise of Indian newspapers – the Vernacular Press Act – The Hindu – the Amrita Bazar Patrika & its Kashmir exposé – the Press Act of 1910 – the Parliamentary system in India – ‘rule of law’: the boot and the spleen – Can Englishmen murder Indians? – misogynous laws – racism – ‘criminal tribes’ – colonial-era prejudices entrenched in Indian Penal Code – Section 377, sedition & adultery – British laws outlived colonialism


  Divide and rule as a colonial project – caste, race and classification – the creation of community feeling – the British punditocracy – how the census undermined consensus – British colonialism self-justified – caste reified by colonialism – the Hindu–Muslim divide – communalism as a colonial construction – the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League – the British and the Shia–Sunni divide – British communal bias – a saint among sinners – separate electorates – stumbling towards Armageddon – Congress resignations – Quit India – the revival of the Muslim League – the Cripps Mission – endgame: election, revolt, division – negotiations over withdrawal – two surrenders: the British give up and the Congress gives in – quitting India, creating Pakistan – a ‘tryst with destiny’


  The case for enlightened despotism – feast and famine: the British and ‘starving India’ – the British colonial holocaust – famines and British policy – Adam Smith & Malthus – troubled consciences, untroubled indifference – Lord Lytton’s benign neglect – Indians active in relief – ‘numerical rhetoric’ – the Bengal Famine and Churchill’s attitude – forced migration: transportation and indentured labour – the Straits Settlements, Mauritius and elsewhere – indentured labour – the Brutish Raj – colonial massacres – the story of Jallianwala Bagh – reign of terror by General Dyer – the British reward a killer


  British profits, Indian taxes – private enterprise and public risk – benefits to Britain – exploitation of Indian passengers – discrimination in employment – the Great Indian Railway Bizarre – economic distortions caused by railways – British education policy – destruction of Indian education – pathshalas, madrasas, maktabs – education and the English language – Macaulay’s Minute on Education – Mill’s Utilitarianism – Orientalists versus Anglicists – limitations of Indian universities – denationalizing Indians – textual harassment – British history – English literature – influence of Western ideas – caste and education – colonization of the Indian mind – Wodehouse, colonialism and the English language – tea without sympathy – exploitation of plantation workers – tea spreads to Indians – the Indian game of cricket – cricket and social status –
Ranji – cricket and nationalism


  The (Im)balance sheet: a coda – positives and negatives – imperial pretensions, colonial consequences – efficiency and indifference versus exploitation – comparative performance of India during and after Empire – Indian rejection of British capitalism – positive by-products of British policies – the moral barrier – British policy on opium – contemporary condemnation – social reform mainly by Indians – the British remained foreigners, unlike Muslim rulers – ‘The Brown Man’s Burden’


  Consequences of Empire – imperial amnesia – echoes in today’s world – Ferguson’s case for Empire – atonement – returning the jewel in the crown – resisting colonialism; the appeal of Gandhism – Gandhism unrealistic against modern violence – cast a long shadow: residual problems of colonialism


  Notes and References





  1600: British Royal Charter forms the East India Company, beginning the process that will lead to the subjugation of India under British rule.

  1613-14: British East India Company sets up factory in Masulipatnam and trading post at Surat under William Hawkins. Sir Thomas Roe presents his credentials as ambassador of King James I to the Mughal Emperor Jehangir.

  1615-18: Mughals grant Britain the right to trade and establish factories.

  1700: India, under Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, accounts for 27 per cent of the world economy.

  1702: Thomas Pitt, Governor of Madras, acquires the Pitt Diamond, later sold to the Regent of France, the Duc d’Orléans, for £135,000.

  1739: Sacking of Delhi by the Persian Nadir Shah and the loot of all its treasures.

  1751: Robert Clive (1725–74), aged twenty-six, seizes Arcot in modernday Tamil Nadu as French and British fight for control of South India.

  1757: British under Clive defeat Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula to become rulers of Bengal, the richest province of India.

  1765: Weakened Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II issues a diwani that replaces his own revenue officials in the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa with the East India Company’s.

  1767: First Anglo-Mysore War begins, in which Hyder Ali of Mysore defeats the combined armies of the East India Company, the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad.

  1771: Marathas recapture Delhi.

  1772: Birth of Rammohan Roy (d. 1833). British establish their capital in Calcutta.

  1773: British East India Company obtains monopoly on the production and sale of opium in Bengal. Lord North’s Regulating Act passed in Parliament. Warren Hastings appointed as first Governor General of India.

  1781: Hyder Ali’s son, Tipu Sultan, defeats British forces.

  1784: Pitt the Younger passes the India Act to bring the East India Company under Parliament’s control. Judge and linguist Sir William Jones founds Calcutta’s Royal Asiatic Society.

  1787-95: British Parliament impeaches Warren Hastings, Governor General of Bengal (1774-85), for misconduct.

  1793: British under Lord Cornwallis introduce the ‘permanent settlement’ of the land revenue system.

  1799: Tipu Sultan is killed in battle against 5,000 British soldiers who storm and raze his capital, Srirangapatna (Seringapatam).

  1803: Second Anglo-Maratha War results in British capture of Delhi and control of large parts of India.

  1806: Vellore mutiny ruthlessly suppressed.

  1825: First massive migration of Indian workers from Madras to Reunion and Mauritius.

  1828: Rammohan Roy founds Adi Brahmo Samaj in Calcutta, first movement to initiate socio-religious reform. Influenced by Islam and Christianity, he denounces polytheism, idol worship and more.

  1835: Macaulay’s Minute furthers Western education in India. English is made official government and court language.

  1835: Mauritius receives 19,000 migrant indentured labourers from India. Workers continued to be shipped to Mauritius till 1922.

  1837: Kali-worshipping thugs suppressed by the British.

  1839: Preacher William Howitt attacks British rule in India.

  1843: British conquer the Sindh region (present-day Pakistan). British promulgate ‘doctrine of lapse’, under which a state is taken over by the British whenever a ruler dies without an heir.

  1853: First railway established between Bombay and Thane.

  1857: First major Indian revolt, called the Sepoy Mutiny by the British, ends in a few months with the fall of Delhi and Lucknow.

  1858: Queen Victoria’s Proclamation taking over in the name of the Crown the governance of India from the East India Company. Civil service jobs in India are opened to Indians.

  1858: India completes first 200 miles of railway track.

  1860: SS Truro and SS Belvedere dock in Durban, South Africa, carrying first indentured servants (from Madras and Calcutta) to work sugar plantations.

  1861: Rabindranath Tagore is born (d. 1941).

  1863: Swami Vivekananda is born (d. 1902).

  1866: At least a million and a half Indians die in the Orissa Famine.

  1869-1948: Lifetime of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Indian nationalist and Hindu political activist who develops the strategy of non-violent disobedience that forces Christian Great Britain to grant independence to India (1947).

  1872: First British census conducted in India.

  1876: Queen Victoria (1819-1901) is proclaimed Empress of India (1876-1901). Major famine of 1876-77 mishandled by Viceroy Lord Lytton.

  1879: The Leonidas, first emigrant ship to Fiji, adds 498 Indian indentured labourers to the nearly 340,000 already working in other British empire colonies.

  1885: A group of middle-class intellectuals in India, some of them British, establish the Indian National Congress to be a voice of Indian opinion to the British government.

  1889: Jawaharlal Nehru is born (d. 1964).

  1891: B. R. Ambedkar is born (d. 1956).

  1893: Swami Vivekananda represents Hinduism at Chicago’s Parliament of the World’s Religions, and achieves great success with his stirring addresses.

  1896: Nationalist leader and Marathi scholar Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) initiates Ganesha Visarjan and Shivaji festivals to fan Indian nationalism. He is the first to demand ‘purna swaraj’ or complete independence from Britain.

  1897: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrated amid yet another famine in British India.

  1900: India’s tea exports to Britain reach £137 million.

  1901: Herbert Risley conducts first ethnographic census of India.

  1903: Lord Curzon’s grand Delhi Durbar.

  1905: Partition of Bengal rouses strong opposition. Swadeshi movement and boycott of British goods initiated. Lord Curzon, prominent British viceroy of India, resigns.

  1906: The Muslim League political party is formed in India at British instigation.

  1909: Minto–Morley Reforms announced.

  1911: Final imperial durbar in Delhi; India’s capital changed from Calcutta to Delhi. Cancellation of Partition of Bengal.

  1913: Rabindranath Tagore wins Nobel Prize in Literature.

  1914: Indian troops rushed to France and Mesopotamia to fight in World War I.

  1915: Mahatma Gandhi returns to India from South Africa.

  1916: Komagata Maru incident: Canadian government excludes Indian citizens from immigration. Lucknow Pact between Congress and Muslim League.

  1917: Last Indian indentured labourers are brought to British colonies of Fiji and Trinidad.

  1918: Spanish Influenza epidemic kills 12.5 million in India, 21.6 million worldwide.

  1918: World War I ends.

  1919: Jallianwala Bagh massacre. General Dyer orders Gurkha troops to shoot unarmed demonstrators in Amritsar, killing at least 379. Mas
sacre convinces Gandhi that India must demand full independence from oppressive British rule. Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms promulgated. Rowlatt Acts passed.

  1920: Gandhi formulates the satyagraha strategy of non-cooperation and non-violence. Khilafat movement launched.

  1922: Non-cooperation movement called off by Mahatma Gandhi after Chauri Chaura violence.

  1927 & 1934: Indians permitted to sit as jurors and court magistrates.

  1930: Jawaharlal Nehru becomes president of the Congress party. Purna Swaraj Resolution passed in Lahore. Will Durant arrives in India and is shocked by what he discovers of British rule. Mahatma Gandhi conducts the Salt March.

  1935: Government of India Act.

  1937: Provincial elections in eleven provinces; Congress wins eight.

  1939: World War II breaks out. Resignation of Congress ministries in protest against not being consulted by viceroy before declaration of war by India.

  1940: Lahore Resolution of Muslim League calls for the creation of Pakistan.

  1942: Cripps Mission. Quit India movement. Congress leaders jailed. Establishment of Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj) by Subhas Chandra Bose to fight the British.

  1945: Congress leaders released. Simla Conference under Lord Wavell.

  1946: Royal Indian Navy Mutiny. Elections nationwide; Muslim League wins majority of Muslim seats. Cabinet Mission. Interim government formed under Jawaharlal Nehru. Jinnah calls Direct Action Day. Violence erupts in Calcutta.

  1947: India gains independence on 15 August. Partition of the country amid mass killings and displacement. Britain exits India.



  The Oxford speech – Indian reactions – criticisms taken into account – history is neither for excuses nor for revenge


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