Here is one myth that needs to be debunked. Indian nationalists, particularly Hindutva fanatics, do not tire themselves of blaming the long-dead Muslim and British rulers for India’s poverty and failure to be well-governed. They say to themselves that India was a golden bird which was ravaged and destroyed by foreign imperialists throughout “1000 years of foreign domination”. But is this true?
Is India’s “1000 year long domination” by Muslim rulers and 200 year domination by the British in any way to blame for India’s poverty, economic stagnation, and chronic misgovernance?
Absolutely not! Extreme poverty was the norm all around the world prior to the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.
The Muslim invaders settled down in India and became Indianized. With the exception of a few like Mahmud Ghaznavi, Muhammad Ghori, Taimurlane, Ahmed Shah Abdali, Nadir Shah, etc, they were not colonialists who stole Indian wealth and took them to foreign lands. They and their descendants settled down in India and spent their wealth within India. India was in fact one of the world’s richest regions until the 19th century when the British consolidated the region into one political unit — British India. So the Muslim rulers are not to blame!
And neither are European imperialists to blame for anything. The British in particular are unfairly and falsely demonized for “deindustrializing” and “exploiting” India. Their numerous important contributions are not recognized. It is falsely alleged that they piggybacked on India and that their industrial revolution was made possible by wealth looted from India. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The drain of wealth from India to Britain was only 1.5% of the GNP, and one could even argue that pax-Britannica and assurance of British protection resulted in India having to pay much less for maintaining its army and navy.
The agricultural tax was not exorbitant. It was just 5% of agricultural output. The famines under the British had to do with the export of agricultural surplus and the dispersal of agricultural surplus across India with the construction of the railways. Also peasants were required to pay revenue, regardless of whether or not the monsoon failed. While this was a bad policy, these famines ceased after 1906. The 1945 mass famine was because the mad tyrant British prime minister Winston Churchill deliberately starved Bengalis by sending the food reserves to the Greeks. It had nothing to do with taxation.
The overhead cost of the British establishment—the so called “home charges”—was in fact quite small. True, India did have a balance of payments surplus, which Britain used to finance part of her deficit, but India was compensated by the import of gold and silver that went into private Indian hands.
The truth is that the Indian colony was not terribly profitable to Britain. After the crude period of exploitation by the British East India Company in the eighteenth century was over, Britain’s rising prosperity in the next century owed more to its free trade with the “new world” and to its investments in America. If there was a “drain,” it was by the transfer of dividends by English companies from America.
Certainly, a few Englishmen became very rich from India—the owners of the tea and indigo plantations, the shareholders of the East India Company and other commercial firms, the employees of the managing agencies, the railway builders, the civil and military personnel, and others connected with India. But the profit to Britain as a whole was meager.
The British did not ‘deindustrialize’ India. The handloom weavers were victims of technological obsolescence rendered by mechanization in the Industrial revolution. It affected traditional weavers all over the world, including in Europe. But its effects were felt much stronger in India, as our economy to a large extent depended on textile manufacturing and exports.
Britain did not become poorer after losing India. Instead, it enjoyed shocking prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s, at the very time that it was losing its colonies. So did France, Holland, and other colonialists. The fact is that Britain’s colonial prosperity was not founded on the exploitation of India.
While the British are guilty of racial discrimination, neglect, and certain terrible policies like mandatory taxes on farmers, salt monopoly, locomotive monopoly, Jallianwallah Bagh massacre, divide-and-rule, sedition law, etc, this was not any different than in the US and every other country which existed back then.
The truth of the matter is that unlike the Japanese (in Taiwan, Korea, Manchukuo, and Mengjiang) and Americans (in the Philippines and Puerto Rico), the British were incompetent and simply didn’t know how to develop and modernize a country. The British kept the peace. They brought sound honest administration, and insisted that basic moral standards were honored. But they did not try to nation-build in their colonies. The British were under no illusions of converting their subjects into Englishmen. They were more than content to leave the people alone and to govern them with the lightest possible hand. As funny as this may sound, the British always thought of themselves as “liberators” and “harbingers of freedom” in India and its other colonies.
Still they did a lot of good! Towards this end, they built a lot of critical infrastructure, built schools and hospitals, implemented health measures like immunization measures, gave us strong institutions that still govern our country (albeit in its weakened run-down form), and most importantly of all, united disparate parts of the subcontinent into one country. There wouldn’t even be an India without the British. The British were excellent administrators. Corruption was in fact at low levels during British rule. The institutions were in good shape, and rule of law was strong. The British gave us the English language, which is the global language of commerce and science. Freedom was a Britisher’s right, and the British brought to India the ideals of freedom, self-rule, rule of law, equality before the law, and certain inalienable rights. They got rid of evil practices like Sati and Thuggee. Even Indian democracy was implemented by the Simon Commission, and the Indian constitution was based partly on the Government of India Act 1935.
If the British and other Europeans were bad rulers, then how does it account for the fact that the regions that were under European rule the longest (Goa under the Portuguese, Pondicherry under the French, and Bengal under the British) were also the most prosperous and developed regions by the time of independence in 1947.
We Indians need to look within and introspect on our failures as a country. We must stop blaming the past. At this day and age, it doesn’t make any sense to lay the blame on long-gone Muslim rulers or European imperialists.
The blame for India’s failure to govern itself properly, continued poverty, and poor living standards lies squarely on the socialist politicians who governed us after independence; especially Congress and BJP.