Review—Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor

A review of Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor.  Hurst (March 2, 2017).

In November 2011, Pankaj Mishra, an Indian author, literary critic, and essayist for the Guardian and the New York Times, wrote a scathing review of Niall Ferguson’s Civilisation: The West and the Rest in the prestigious London Review of Books. Ferguson is a pop historian, and his recent polemic depicting Henry Kissinger as an idealist is a corny and ahistorical piece of work for any serious scholar of International Relations. But on one point, Ferguson has been remarkably consistent and fair—that there needs to be a more nuanced assessment of Britain’s Imperial legacy.

Since the Second World War, the prevailing view in academia has been that colonialism was an unpardonable and incomparable sin that plagued the globe for over two hundred years. Any counterpoint to this view is routinely dismissed as pro-colonial and therefore, by definition, racist. Ferguson has argued in several books that colonialism is a much more complicated subject than such black-and-white rhetoric allows. For this, he has been skewered from all sides, most savagely by Mishra in the LRB, who was subsequently threatened with a libel suit. But this episode has done nothing to alter the debate in those areas of academia still dominated by quasi-Marxist postcolonial scholarship.

Today, the postcolonial argument is enjoying renewed support from Shashi Tharoor, an Indian Member of Parliament and one of the brightest and most erudite diplomats the country has produced. With a PhD from Tufts, and degree from St. Stephens, New Delhi, he seems an unlikely bearer of relativism’s polysyllabic jargon. After all, a man who loves cricket, English literature, and Assam tea, and who speaks with a soft upper class RP accent, owes his every success to our colonial legacy, including India’s social structure and so-very-British higher education model.

His book, however, is as interminable a catalogue of opportunistic, revisionist dross as I have read in recent years and that’s saying a lot. I am from India, I currently live in the UK, and I am no stranger to self-flagellating Western postmodernists who blame the West for everything, while enjoying the benefits of its lifestyle, values, and historical legacy. Nevertheless, Tharoor’s book will doubtless be considered a strong rebuttal to the ‘benevolent empire’ thesis, and worshipped by postcolonial scholars, clueless journalists, and activists who will treat it as revealed truth. Any opposition from a Western scholar, no matter how nuanced, will automatically elicit accusations of racism.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the most vocal critics of postcolonial dogma and cultural relativism, is bizarrely considered to support white supremacy by the Left. If she can be bold enough to challenge conventional wisdom, then in the same spirit, and for the sake of balance, Tharoor’s book also needs to be critiqued by a non-Western scholar. I have been called a ‘Macaulay’s Child’ and a ‘sellout’ to the West already, so I don’t mind explaining why Tharoor is flawed at best and hypocritical at worst. This is not, of course, a defence of colonialism, the brutality of which is well documented and archived (not to mention considerably varied when comparing the experiences of Africa to those of India and China). This is, however, an attempt to bring some urgently needed nuance to the debate to counter conventional postcolonial groupthink.

Shashi Tharoor

Tharoor’s book, Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, originated from a short lecture Tharoor gave at Oxford, and its main arguments were summarised by the author in an article for the Guardian. Tharoor makes three fundamental claims. First, that India was a singular geographical and anthropological entity, and one of the richest lands on the planet, but that it was thoroughly impoverished by the end of one of the cruelest occupations in Indian history. The Empire, Tharoor argues, bled India dry to fund its own cultural enrichment and industrial revolution. Second, that any contribution by the British to India was for the benefit of the Empire, and not for its Indian subjects. The railways and industries, science and technology were all for the sustenance of British Raj. Third, Tharoor urges Indians to be proud of their own cultural heritage and to be aware of Imperial history and exploitation.

All of these assertions are flawed.

The argument that India was a singular entity, and that Britain ravaged India for her own growth in one of the most rapacious occupations in human history are both fallacious. The concept of a singular state, bound by a unified anthropological identity and defined by post-Westphalian territorial boundaries and statehood, was not present in India before the British united it. In fact, in five thousand years of subcontinental history, only twice was India as we now know it united under centralised rule. The first instance was during the Hindu-Buddhist Mauryan Empire of 322 BCE, and the second was under the Islamic Mughal Empire, which reached its zenith in the late 18th Century. The rest is just a history of different kingdoms battling for dominance, much like continental Europe. All the institutions of modern India—including Parliamentary democracy, the rule of common law and jurisprudence, socio-cultural norms and customs, an independent judiciary, industry, technology, railways, telecommunication and education system—are British imports.

Map of Indian rail network, the 4th largest in the world, circa 1909

In the last days of the Mughal Empire, and immediately prior to the East India Company’s expansionism, India was so divided that the Maratha Empire, based in what is now Mumbai and Pune, were regularly raiding the Nawabs of Bengal, based near what is now Kolkata. Meanwhile, the Mughal authority in North India was being undermined daily by the Jat, Rajput, and Punjab kingdoms. The South of India was divided between the Nizams of Hyderabad and the Mysore Sultanate. The British didn’t create these divisions, they already existed, based on religious, sectarian, and ethnic identities. The British of course took advantage of these divisions, just like any other prudent expansionist power would have done. Human history is replete with great powers taking advantage of chaos, and it would have been foolish for the British to have done otherwise, especially when they were battling growing French and Russian influence in Asia. But it is simply juvenile to claim, as Tharoor does, that Britain funded her industrial revolution by wringing India dry.

The British industrial revolution started in 16th Century, with massive investments in science, industry, power, locomotives, and, yes, heavy weaponry—the tools which would be needed to contain discontent in India later, as well as to conquer three-quarters of the globe. Indian princes at that time relied upon religious taxes on minorities to fund their military campaigns, and the trade in linen and spices. Serious scientific study was negligible, and often considered anti-religious by both Hindu and Muslim elites. Hindus, especially, considered crossing oceans and large seas to be sacrilegious. If Indians, with our proud history of seafarers and empire in South East Asia during antiquity, never produced any world class explorers during the industrial age, it was because we were constrained by our own religious and anti-scientific dogma during the late medieval era.

Tharoor cites the familiar canard that the Indian mutiny of 1857 was a joint revolt by Hindus and Muslims against the colonial British. This is another piece of post-independence spin. In reality, the mutiny was a revolt by medieval forces opposed to modernity and science against the forces of Enlightenment. Tharoor conveniently omits the fact that the majority of Indians did not rise up against the British; 21 Princely states, alongside the Kingdom of Nepal and Punjab, actively supported the British. The Bengali intellectuals, newly educated in Western science and Renaissance philosophy, who would later lead the actual independence movement, were opposed to the medieval rebels retaking social power.

The University of Calcutta, established 1857

The revolt and the British victory led instead to the establishment of the Indian Penal Code of 1860, followed by the extremely progressive Ilbert Bill introduced under Lord Ripon in 1883. Tharoor fails (or deliberately neglects) to mention that one of the results of the British victory over the rebels was the Bengal Renaissance, a movement which produced, inter alia, the establishment of science and medical colleges; institutes like the Asiatic Society; universities in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras; and reform movements within the orthodox Hindu and Muslim communities across India.

Tharoor repeatedly claims that the British introduced railways and industries and English language for their own benefit as instruments of colonialism. This is an Ignoratio Elenchi fallacy. Of course they did. But did those things benefit Indians in the long run or not? Tharoor fallaciously tries to quantify the GDP decline of a previously unified non-existent Indian state which he claims was bled dry by the British. But he never tries to quantify the benefits accrued by the social reforms or the advances of technology and industry and science. Using Tharoor’s logic against him, one could argue that India has one of the world’s largest service workforces today in the science, engineering, and IT sectors, and that Indians readily find work in other Anglophone countries ahead of other nationalities because of our ability to communicate fluently. It would be nice if someone were to pay Tharoor to quantify the cumulative advantage of an English education and the taxes earned by the Indian government as a result.

Here’s a little story for Tharoor. One evening, General Sir Charles James Napier, the erstwhile commander-in-chief of the British Indian army, was confronted by a group of orthodox Hindu priests complaining about the prohibition of Sati, a custom that demanded (often extremely young) Hindu widows die on the funeral pyre of their (usually very old) polygamous husbands. This practice was deeply entrenched in the feudal customs of the day. A—s recounted afterwards by his brother William, Sir Charles agreed to allow the Hindu priests to build their pyres in accordance with their customs, but on condition that the murderers were then hanged from a gibbet and their property confiscated in accordance with British customs. How does Tharoor quantify this contribution to Indian society by the murderous British?

Perhaps the most baffling charge made by Tharoor is that the British started the Hindu-Muslim division that later led to partition and bloodshed, and that India was a religious heaven in which everyone coexisted beautifully prior to the Raj:

Large-scale conflicts between Hindus and Muslims (religiously defined), only began under colonial rule; many other kinds of social strife were labeled as religious due to the colonists’ orientalist assumption that religion was the fundamental division in Indian society.

I hesitate to accuse Tharoor of pig ignorance given his stature and qualifications, so the only other logical explanation is that he is intellectually dishonest. One of history’s earliest episodes of unprecedented mass slaughter occurred during the First Fitna (656-661 CE) and the establishment of Ummayad rule. Later, the Abbasid Caliphate supported Mahmud of Ghazni’s yearly raids into India from 1005 CE, reducing the Hindu Somnath temple to dust on a number of occasions. When Persian ruler Nader Shah sacked Delhi in 1739, over 30,000 Hindu inhabitants were slaughtered in two days by the Persian and Kurdish armies. Over the course of the 700 years since Muhammad of Ghori invaded India, over 400 Million Hindus, and over 150 million Muslims died in wars and massacres throughout India. All the European powers combined didn’t manage to kill that many people throughout all Asia during their entire colonial histories. These are empirically established facts, albeit highly inconvenient to Tharoor’s grand anti-Western narrative.

That being said, it must be re-emphasised that colonialism was not benevolent. The British were brutal as well and, notwithstanding phases of liberal reform in India, there were periods of extreme segregation. This is the most serious charge the British face. The Indians, educated and enlightened, wanted to be treated as equals, but there was discrimination even between the Crown’s subjects. Regardless of how many Indians gave their lives in two World Wars and fed the colonial industrial machine, their treatment at the hands of the British was considerably different to that afforded to Australians or New Zealanders or Canadians. Britain wouldn’t have survived a week in the battle against Nazi-occupied Europe if it didn’t have the supportive might of the Jewel in the Crown’s resources and manpower. As Nirad C Chaudhuri wrote, in one of the most poignant paragraphs produced by an Indian scholar about colonial history:

To the memory of the British Empire in India, which conferred subjecthood upon us, but withheld citizenship. To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge: “Civis Britannicus sum,” because all that was good and living within us was made, shaped and quickened by the same British rule.

But that’s history. British Indian history is also Indian history at the end of the day, with the contributions and the exploitations, just like those of the conquests by the Sakas, Hunas, Mongols, Greeks, Afghans, and Persians before them. There was nothing uniquely evil about it.

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, with Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, on the steps of Akshardham Temple, April 2017

Tharoor wants Indians to be proud of India. We already are. Proud that we now own the Land Rover and the Jaguar, formerly icons of British pride. Proud to have one of the most successful space programs in the world. Proud to be the globe’s largest supply of brain power and service sector workers, without bombing the West due to pent up sexual frustrations or religious cultism. Proud to be one of the most successful economies of last decade and half which has lifted 21 million people from poverty. Proud that Britain now comes to India to be a trading partner, inviting foreign investment. Proud of our achievements rather than our cultural chauvinism.

It’s better that way. Tharoor might be eyeing a future Prime Ministerial run in India and need these hackneyed 1960s arguments to solidify his pedigree as a patriot. But he can spare us the rage. We middle class Indians don’t have time for that.


Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK. His research is in Great power politics and Neorealism. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.


  1. But apart from parliamentary democracy, the rule of common law and jurisprudence, socio-cultural norms and customs, an independent judiciary, industry, technology, railways, telecommunication and education system — what did the British ever do for us?

        • Ram Bahubali says

          Just like the US and Australia still have slavery?

          • By all means make a case for child slavery in Australia and the US. Both countries do have laws which make it impossible to employ children as India still does.

            And while the US lags behind the rest of the developed world in terms of worker conditions and rights, and decent wages, that is not the case in Australia and the US even with its deficiencies is still a vastly better place for a worker than is India.

          • No. Neither the US or Australia have slavery as India does. India has real slavery, particularly with children.

    • Big Bob says

      Read Max Muller, bro. What the Indus civilization has done for the west.

      • Shiraj Dutta says

        Yes, but we are not talking about the Indus civilization here. At best this is an intellectually dishonest book by an intellectually gifted man. There has to be an ulterior motive.

    • Guys below missing the point: this is a Monty Python reference! Look up the Monty Python video: “what did the romans ever do for us”

  2. Mahesh says

    When will Tharoor write a book on what his upper caste supremacist ancestors did to India?

    British were far fairer to Indians than Indians themselves. Did not Asoka exterminate Kalinga, before shedding crocodile tears and then masquerading as a non-violent Buddhist?

    And is it true that the Mauryas and Karkotas invaded West Asia? And is this also true that Cholas invaded, oppressed, plundered and ravaged Malaya and Indonesia?

    And is it true that all Sikh gurus were Khatris, that Sikhism was a family business, with sons and nephews inheriting the title of Guru, whereas not even a single Jat, let alone a Shoodra, Chamaar, or Bhangee was made a Guru.

    And same story in Hinduism where the arrogance of Brahmins and Thakurs knows no decorum, bounds or decency.

    And there are 1.7 Billion rapidly multiplying South Asians, not 170 million, precisely because of British (and European) modern medicine, and scientific revolution.

    • Big Bob says

      You’ve got your facts wrong bro. Cholas never invaded, let alone plundered, South East Asia. Jayavarman migrated.

  3. Nick says

    A very interesting and positive article. The writer will probably be seen by some as a sort of Indian Uncle Tom, yet if one thing comes out of this piece it is the affection and pride he feels for his own culture and country.

    • In the meantime English army kills civilians in Iraq thinking they are hiding weapons of mass destruction only to find nothing.
      The “great Britain” again for ya…

  4. Big Bob says

    That’s not the point, bro. The review has so many factual inaccuracies. The 16th century was the dark ages in Europe; the industrial revolution began in the 1800s. Scholars agree that prior to western colonization, India and China comprised 40% of the world economy.

    • @Big Bob This is his statement:

      “The British industrial revolution started in 16th Century, with massive investments in science, industry, power, locomotives, and, yes, heavy weaponry—the tools which would be needed to contain discontent in India later, as well as to conquer three-quarters of the globe.”

      Where is your evidence that this isn’t true? Can you prove that Britain did not make massive investments in these things? Citation needed.

      When you say, “scholars,” who are you talking about exactly?

      Cite or be quiet. (Not that your sources are to be trusted anymore than the side stepping Tharoor.)

    • @Big Bob And you say, “The review has so many factual inaccuracies (redundant).” Beyond your unsupported dark ages comment, exactly what are all these inaccuracies? Come on, back up your claim. Let’s hear it…

  5. Manish says

    England will pay for the mass massacre they did in India , Winston Churchill a big killer then Hitler , England is small nation which will go back to dark ages soon

    • @Manish What about this, guy? Who will pay for this? India? Islam? Hinduism?

      “Over the course of the 700 years since Muhammad of Ghori invaded India, over 400 Million Hindus, and over 150 million Muslims died in wars and massacres throughout India. All the European powers combined didn’t manage to kill that many people throughout all Asia during their entire colonial histories. These are empirically established facts, albeit highly inconvenient to Tharoor’s grand anti-Western narrative.”

  6. GDP numbers comment.

    The book argues that gdp didn’t increase at all in the time of colonialism is India.

    What he ignores is that China gdp decreases significantly in the same period (to my best knowledge).

    The reason wasn’t colonialism, but the industrial Revolution and the resulting income divergence (you can read some here:

  7. Luke Reeshus says

    Proud to be the globe’s largest supply of brain power and service sector workers, without bombing the West due to pent up sexual frustrations or religious cultism.

    Excellent essay, and I particularly liked the above sentence. Few things give me more pleasure than watching jihad apologists’ brains go haywire when it’s pointed out that most people who suffered colonization (including Indians) don’t redress their grievances by massacring civilians.

    • Luke Reeshus says

      The Tamil Tigers may have invented suicide bombing, but jihadists have really run with it.

      And I never claimed India was a bastion of progressive feminism. I just pointed out that people who think jihadism is a manifestation of economic frustration (i.e., the vast majority of Western leftists) don’t understand jihadism. And I really don’t think that Hinduism, even in its more virulent forms, compares. As bad as its misogyny can be, it is not violently expansionist.

    • Luke Reeshus says

      Hey, what happened to the commenter—I believe their name was “rossross”—below me? They were critical, but they weren’t rude or trollish, at least not to me.

  8. Mani Panat says

    When the British left, India was not a union, it was untidy mess of princely states, provinces & territories. Our leaders had to unify it with independence. At the time of the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the Delhi Sultanate was regarded as cultured and progressive(William Darylmple’s the Last Mughal) & India could have united under them.

  9. If you let someone come to your house who says they are only there for doing business, and then they eventually plunder you and your family for next 100 years or more to say at the end that they created railways for you – well that was the British in India.

    Nobody is saying that British were the only one to plunder India, but nobody else is claiming like the Brits, that they only did good in India – even after being responsible for more deaths (20 -25 million approx..Direct or indirect) than Hitler caused.

    Point is Brits did many good and also did heavy damage to India- accept both.

    • Jay Ritchie says

      Where do the British claim to only have done good in India? I’ve never seen such a claim.

      Also – easily verifiable history – Hitler killed more then 25 million people if your definition is direct or indirect.

    • Chas says

      the British took control after 150 years in a time of chaos. there is no actual evidence of “plunder” that was not substantially less than by previous rulers – and even that paid back to the Shroffs who held the massive debts of the EIC.

      No one claims the British did “only good”. That’s the ignoratio elenchi point. It’s a false argument

  10. And in return people from India fought alongside the Brits in second world war. Without the Indians, the British could have become a German colony.

    In return what the Brits did? They did not even have a memorial for those Indian soldiers.
    You might not know this, simply because in general English historians do not tell these to their people.

    I think English people are too lost in their own world of Queens and Prince.etc. The fact is none in other parts of the world give a damn.

    • Chas says

      There is a massive monument on Janpath in Delhi and throughout India. If you chose to colonise elsewhere, then subscribe to a different monument there. But there are many monuments throughout India.

  11. Numinous says

    First, let me state that I consider Tharoor’s book to be seriously flawed. My personal opinion is that he intended to write a polemic to shore up his nationalist bona fides and advance his political career.

    But your review manages to be even more flawed than Tharoor’s text. It makes me wonder what the sources of your historical information are. Contrary to your opinion, the Mutiny was a popular widespread revolt throughout the Gangetic plain. Why didn’t more people join? Because of the very credible threat of British reprisals. (In Avadh, British soldiers went around hanging civilians from trees just on the suspicion that they might support the rebels.)

    I don’t have the time to do a full factual analysis of your review, but I’ll leave you just one. Can you really not know that the Ilbert Bill, which was indeed proposed by one of the (rare) liberal members of the Viceroy’s inner circle, had to be jettisoned almost immediately because of widespread protests by the white colonialists. Even Ferguson in his “Empire” book acknowledges that, and shows how deeply racist arguments were made to maintain whites, especially in rural areas, as the ruling class with few constraints on their behavior.

    As for the 1860 Penal Code, I suggest you read it one day. It’s not the liberal manifesto I think you imagine it to be.

      • Numinous says

        It overstates its case. It’s literally impossible for the British to have, for example, built infrastructure in a way that would only benefit the rulers and not the ruled, so it’s strange to make the argument that the British did things that benefited them. Well, duh! But Indians also derived some benefit.

        Tharoor mentions dubious anecdotes like the British cutting off the thumbs off Indian weavers (historians almost uniformly consider this to be false.)

        For all their flaws, the British were not Nazis. This may be of cold comfort to Indians, but we have to compare what the British were with what they could have been. No empire during that era was good for its subjects, but the British were the least bad of them. The French were worse, the Turks and Russians brutal, the Spanish were genocidaires and slavers, and we know what the Americans did to the natives in the USA. In contrast, after most of the excesses of the East India Company, the British did at least have some good intentions towards the subcontinent. They still messed everything up and upended the way society worked because of their racial arrogance, but I would give them a B-minus just for having good intentions. Indians also had significant agency to shape their lives during the Raj. The government didn’t help them, but it didn’t hinder them beyond a point either.

        • Also – and the review points this out – when we talk of Spanish and British “colonialists”, it seems strange *not* also to talk about Iranian conquerors like Nader Shah, nor about Arabs like Muhammad bin Qasim.

  12. The British were a genocidal cult just like the nazis. Whole european or white civilisation is based on genocide,plunder, torture and theft. Europeans started venturing outside Europe around 1500 AD. they reached America, tortured and killed the native Americans around 10 million of them and took their lands.Same is the case with South America and mexico,where the native Indians were butchered like animals. Then the Europeans occupied Africa,maimed and killed Africans, made them saves,looted their resources and killed wild animals as well.In Australia they did the same.Photographs of Australian Indians tied in chains in all over internet. From 1 AD to 1750 AD China and India accounted for 60% of world GDP and exports.In 1750 India share of World GDP was 27% . Richness and prosperity of Indian civilisation is well documented by ancient Greek, Chinese and Arab historians. Shipbuilding industry, iron and steel industry, cotton, jute ,clothing,textile industry.India was a pioneer in all of these industries.All these are mentioned in the book “Inglorious empire” by Shashi Tharoor. British came and destroyed all our industries, cut off thumbs of the workers, destroyed our cities, killed people,encouraged and promoted divide and rule policy,.They encouraged and promoted divide between Shia and Sunnis, Hindus and Muslims and between Hindus based on caste. When British left India our GDP dipped from 27% in 1750 to 2% of world economy in 1947.All our industries were destroyed,35 million people killed,93% poverty, illetracy 92%.But we Indians were grabbed whatever is left after the colonisation,made good relations with Russia and developed and prospered.It is estimated that in 150 yrs around 3 trillion pounds in that times money were looted by the British. The whole episode of British colonisation of India is one of heart wrenching and blood curdling one.The British were no less than a genocidal cult.Although British colonisation is known for its loot and plunder because of richness of India ,as it was known as the golden bird or the jewel of the crown or a great civilisation nonetheless British did lot of killings as well

    • @Drupe K
      What the British did was nearly as bad as what the Indians did themselves prior. The many improvements made by the Brits, however, made the experience a big net gain for India compared to their past.

      “Over the course of the 700 years since Muhammad of Ghori invaded India, over 400 Million Hindus, and over 150 million Muslims died in wars and massacres throughout India. All the European powers combined didn’t manage to kill that many people throughout all Asia during their entire colonial histories. These are empirically established facts, albeit highly inconvenient to Tharoor’s grand anti-Western narrative.”

    • Chas says

      mindless racism based on logical fallacies and self-deluding love of grievance is the result of Tharoor. The above comment is hate speech without merit. It should be condemned by all good people

  13. Darwin T of BC Humanists says

    Thank you for a thoughtful review. It would be great if Mr. Tharoor could be coaxed to respond with a back and forth with you as interlocutor and in the spirit of genuine exchange.

    Are any universities in India teaching a complex history of the subcontinent? Perhaps all of them are. Irony, subtlety and depth still matter.

    Prime Minister Turnbull’s body language in the photo is suggestive of a connection of power and mind with Prime Minister Modi. Modi has been appointing of late many BJP mandarins solely on the basis of Hindu loyalty and it always helps to be mindful of his role as governor during the abhorrent riots in Gujarat that had religion front and center in tribal violence while Modi twiddled his thumbs.

    • Ram Bahubali says

      Not really. History is not taught in most Indian universities as most Indians prefer to pursue education that makes them employable rather than waste time on subjects that are better pursued as hobbies.

      And your last comment does seem to be completely ignorant of the ground realities of India.

  14. Bahuleya Minyakka says

    Thank you Sumantra. It is only by true reflections on the past and the shedding of jingoistic pseudo-racial hatreds can India move forward as a confident, proud nation, rather than a poster-child for victimhood complex. Victimhood can only lead to a restriction on development as a self-belief sets in that India cannot achieve as they have been wronged in the past and can never break free of that wrong-doing. It can only lead to the wrong kind of pride, the false pride based on hating someone else and overcompensating for one’s own self-loathing. India must learn from the effects of this disorder as we’ve seen it stall any development in the Arab muslim world for centuries.

    Shedding this malady will also ease the lives of Anglo-Indians, Goan-Portuguese and Pondicherry French who suffer discrimination as “foreigners” in their own country.

  15. The author writes “… it was because we were constrained by our own religious and anti-scientific dogma during the late medieval era.” – Really?

    Could the author clarify how religious dogma spared “creation of calculus”*?

    “For years, English scientist Isaac Newton and German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz both claimed credit for inventing the mathematical system sometime around the end of the seventeenth century.

    Now, a team from the universities of Manchester and Exeter says it knows where the true credit lies — and it’s with someone else completely.

    The “Kerala school,” a little-known group of scholars and mathematicians in fourteenth century India, identified the “infinite series” — one of the basic components of calculus — around 1350.

    …The beginnings of modern maths is usually seen as a European achievement but the discoveries in medieval India between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries have been ignored or forgotten,” he said. “The brilliance of Newton’s work at the end of the seventeenth century stands undiminished — especially when it came to the algorithms of calculus.”*


  16. Could the author clarify how “religious and anti-scientific dogma” (to use the author’s words) spare significantly early computation of the value of Pi?

    ““But almost three hundred years before Gregory and Leibniz’s formula came to the fore, there was a series which was codified in the form of a verse by an Indian mathematician Madhava,” he says.

    “If the series were to be given a name which honours the founder, then it should be called Madhava series instead of Gregory-Leibniz series,” he said.””*


  17. The author writes: “The concept of a singular state, bound by a unified anthropological identity and defined by post-Westphalian territorial boundaries and statehood, was not present in India before the British united it.”

    Is not the start of “Westphalian sovereignty” a mid/late 17th century phenomenon? Is the lens of “Westphalian sovereignty” even relevant to a pre-British Bharat (that is India)?

    Does the author believe that the only definition for (or lens to look at) the concept of a singular state is “Westphalian sovereignty?”

    Isn’t the author ignoring perils of “Anachronism 101” and being “Eurocentric 101” in searching for post-Westphalian attribute in pre-British Bharat?

    Can the author be open to the possibility that pre-British Bharat might have had its own definition/lens for statehood?

    Has the author studied Indian texts in Sanskrit (Vedas, Ramayan, Mahabharat, Puraans, Arthashastra, to name a few) before coming to the conclusions he does about Bharat’s civilisational oneness?

  18. The author writes: “We middle class Indians don’t have time for that.”

    What is the author’s data? Has he undertaken a survey of all “middle class Indians”?

  19. David Mumford, Book Review: Mathematics in India, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, March 2010, p. 385:

    “Did you know that the Vedic priests were using the so-called Pythagorean Theorem to construct their fire altars in 800 BCE?”

    Could the author please clarify his position on pre-british Bharat’s Sanatana Dharma-adhering peoples’ ‘“anti-scientific dogma” (to use the author’s words)?

  20. The author writes that “The argument that…Britain ravaged India for her own growth in one of the most rapacious occupations in human history” is “fallacious.” and also adds subsequently that the “British of course took advantage of these divisions, just like any other prudent expansionist power would have done.”

    Either the author is being innocently inconsistent, which could be excused if the author acknowledges the same. If not, and pending no clarification from the author, could the author (too) not be accused of “intellectual dishonesty?”

    He also peddles his framing of a familiar argument, that “All the institutions of modern India—including Parliamentary democracy, the rule of common law and jurisprudence, socio-cultural norms and customs, an independent judiciary, industry, technology, railways, telecommunication and education system—are British imports” without instantiating though, which of these (if one assumed (though debatable) for the sake of argument that all of them were British imports) did not benefit the British?

  21. Open Rebuttal to arguments calling for Britain’s reparations to its former colony – Its ‘Jewel in the Crown’
    By iqbal.latif
    Wed Jul 29, 2015 3:21 PM

    Dr Shashi Tharoor made the case in a debate titled ‘This house believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies’, which was put on by the world-famous debating society, the Oxford Union.

    Dr Tharoor’s speech was widely appreciated in India and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Parliament:

    Tharoor’s speech reflected the feelings of patriotic Indians on the issue and showed what an impression one can leave with effective arguments by saying the right things at the right place.

    The main thrust of Dr Tharoor’s speech was about the economic toll that British rule took in India.

    His point number 1 was “Robert Clive brought their rotten boroughs in England on the proceeds of their loot in India.” “British had the gall to call him Clive of India’ as if he belonged to the country when all he really did was to ensure that much of the country belonged to him…”

    Sir, you completely forget about the deceit and treason of the natives; that is how a nation of 100 million was conquered by few. “Clive of India” only succeeded because of the intrinsic betrayal of treason set in the blood of our people; we were rotten, not the boroughs that Clive bought; we who sold our motherland’s allegiance for a trifle. Forget about the removal of vestiges of jijiya, abolishing the cruel inhuman system, suppression of Mopla rebellion, there is solid evidence of their great contributions.

    The background (Historical references in footnotes):

    The colonial era in India began in 1502, when the Portuguese Empire established the first European trading centre at Kollam, Kerala. In 1505 King Manuel I of Portugal appointed Dom Francisco de Almeida as the first Portuguese viceroy in India, followed in 1509 by Dom Afonso de Albuquerque. In 1661 Portugal was at war with Spain and needed support from England. This led to the marriage of Princess Catherine of Portugal to Charles II of England, who imposed a dowry that included the insular and less inhabited areas of southern Bombay while the Portuguese managed to retain all the mainland territory north of Bandra up to Thana and Bassein. This was the beginning of the English presence in India.

    The spice trade between India and Europe was one of the main types of trade in the world economy and was the main catalyst for the period of European exploration. The search for the wealth and prosperity of India led to the accidental “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492. We became slaves and a colony because of our spices.

    In 1617 the British East India Company was given permission by Mughal Emperor Jahangir to trade in India. Gradually their increasing influence led the de jure Mughal emperor Farrukh Siyar to grant them dastaks or permits for duty-free trade in Bengal in 1717.

    The Nawab of Bengal Siraj ud Daulah, the de facto ruler of the Bengal province, opposed British attempts to use these permits. This led to the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757, in which the Bengal Army of the East India Company, led by Robert Clive, defeated the French-supported Nawab’s forces.

    In 1757 Mir Jafar, the commander in chief of the army of the Nawab of Bengal, along with Jagat Seth, Maharaja Krishna Nath, Umi Chand and some others, secretly connived with the British, asking support to overthrow the Nawab in return for trade grants. (Nawab’s rule was almost tyrannical with no democracy, and the will of Nawab was of paramount supremacy. The 600 fiefdoms, like cheese holes, were scattered over the entire landmass; what productivity could be expected out of corrupt kingdoms? The Raj’s last legacy was to do away with them through the document of paramountcy). The British forces, whose sole duty until then was guarding Company property, were numerically inferior to the Bengali armed forces. At the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757, fought between the British under the command of Robert Clive and the Nawab, Mir Jafar’s forces betrayed the Nawab and helped defeat him. Jafar was installed on the throne as a British subservient ruler. The battle transformed British perspective as they realised their strength and potential to conquer smaller Indian kingdoms, and marked the beginning of the imperial or colonial era in South Asia.

    This was the first real political foothold with territorial implications that the British acquired in India. Clive was appointed by the company as its first ‘Governor of Bengal’ in 1757. This was combined with British victories over the French at Madras, Wandiwash and Pondichéry that, along with wider British successes during the Seven Years’ War, reduced French influence in India.

    The British East India Company extended its control over the whole of Bengal. After the Battle of Buxar in 1764, the company acquired the rights of administration in Bengal from de jure Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II; this marked the beginning of its formal rule, which within the next century engulfed most of India. The East India Company monopolised the trade of Bengal. They introduced a land taxation system called the Permanent Settlement which introduced a feudal-like structure in Bengal, often with zamindars set in place.

    His point number 2 was: “By the end of 19th century, the fact is that ‘India was already Britain’s biggest cash cow…”

    Until 1947, the subcontinent was deeply bifurcated and separated at odds (Look at the maps of India of 1857 and India of 1901):

    The British gave the subcontinent contiguity, extended it beyond Indus to Durand Line – they left an almost communicable subcontinent. Without the Raj, no one would be able to unite the subcontinent; it was never one the way it became a federation after 1947. Thank the Raj. We were never “one” before that.

    Imperial entities of India:

    Dutch India 1605–1825

    Danish India 1620–1869

    French India 1769–1954

    Portuguese India (1505–1961)

    Casa da Índia 1434–1833

    Portuguese East India Company 1628–1633

    British India (1612–1947) – East India Company 1612–1757 Company rule in India 1757–1858 British Raj 1858–1947 British rule in Burma 1824–1948 Princely states 1721–1949 Partition of India 1947

    The British Empire in the Indian subcontinent lasted almost 200 years. Beginning in 1757, all the areas of present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma were brought under British political control by the middle of the nineteenth century.

    The Indian subcontinent was divided into two sets of territories, the first being the territories under the control of the British Empire, and the second being the territories over which the Crown had suzerainty, but which were under the control of their hereditary rulers. These hereditary rulers were historically independent and wanted to maintain their lavish lifestyles. Their populace was virtually a slave under their draconian systems, not only burdened caste divisions but the wealth was all accumulated at the top – extravagance galore, and abusive in 680 native states that kept 45% of the total area of British India poverty-stricken. In addition, there were several colonial enclaves controlled by France and Portugal.

    This is what sub-continent looked like post 1900. A fragmented land. Fifty percent of it ruled by potentates who would treat the people as enslaved subjects. They raped freedom of every one, hugely holders of the wealth; we were freed from rape of these potentates. From June to August 15 1947, 562 of the 565 India-linked states signed the instrument of accession. Despite dramatic political exchanges, Travancore, Jodhpur and Indore signed on time. The political integration of India established a united nation for the first time in centuries from a plethora of princely states, colonial provinces and possessions. The British created Madras out of five different linguistic groups and parts of five modern states. This was the biggest contribution of Raj, we would be otherwise Africanised and Balkanised.

    We are ungrateful and unaware of what we have been going through for a full 1000 years of bondage.

    “British India” was defined as “all territories and places within Her Majesty’s dominions which are for the time being governed by Her Majesty through the Governor-General of India”; the remaining areas were referred to as the “native states” or the “princely states” by the Colonial government and were ruled by hereditary kings. About 680 native states were recognised by the Foreign Office in 1910. Native states constituted about 45% of the total area of British India (excluding Burma and Sind) and about 23% of the total population in 1911.

    In 1947 Vallabhbhai Patel, as Minister for Home and States Affairs, had the responsibility of welding the British Indian, provinces and the princely states into a united India. Simultaneously, the Government of India, through a combination of diplomatic and military means, acquired de facto and de jure control over the remaining colonial enclaves, which too were integrated into India.

    The political integration of these territories into India was a declared objective of the Indian National Congress, which the Government of India pursued over the next decade. Through a combination of factors, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and V. P. Menon convinced the rulers of the various princely states to accede to India. Having secured their accession, they then proceeded to, in a step-by-step process, secure and extend the central government’s authority over these states and transform their administrations until, by 1956, there was little difference between the territories that had formerly been part of British India and those that had been part of princely states At the time of Indian independence in 1947.

    There was no North in 1857, just Indus and all these yellow lands that were owned by the Nawabs who owned nearly all the wealth of the state. Without a central Army that Raj bequeathed to us, these Nawabs would have given and wreaked hell on the ordinary people of a balkanized subcontinent. The best thing to happen to the subcontinent was that all these 600- plus blood-sucking Nawabs disappeared.

    Dr Tharoor’s third point was that: “India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on its shores was 23 percent, by the time the British left it was down to below 4 per cent. Why? Simply because India had been governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India. In fact, Britain’s industrial revolution was actually premised upon the de-industrialisation of India…”

    He completely missed the fact that India and China were the world’s most populated nations too. Look at the charts. Naturally, the GDP would consequently be high, but though it was high, the economy and productivity were very inefficient, as wealth was mostly concentrated in a few RULING hands. The subcontinent’s economy was left behind with the hockey stick growth of the west as a result of internal combustion engine and steam. Without the Raj, we would be struggling with internecine wars, no language skills and hugely divided Nawab’s lands with no railways that made the continent one.

    Let me explain further. Yes, the share of world output was 23% when the world was an utterly agricultural-based economy. India’s population was 120 million too. With China, they were nearly 45% of the known population of the world. In 1000 AD, according to Maddison’s calculations, China and India together contributed 50.5% of world GDP (GDP being computed in 1990 dollars and in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms). By 1600, that share had gone up to 51.4%, with China accounting for 29% and India 22.4% of world GDP. Once the industrial economy took over the power of steam, THAT skilled manual labour. A hundred years later, China’s GDP had fallen but India’s went up to 24.4% of world output. By 1820, however, India’s share had fallen to 16.1%. By 1870, it went down to 12.2%. International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections indicate that India’s share of world GDP would be 6.1% in 2015.

    The industrial use of steam power started with Thomas Savery in 1698. For most of human history, growth in world output per head averaged little more than 0.1% a year. It was not until the late 18th century that growth accelerated, to an average of 1.2% a year over the past 200 years (see charts), thanks to a spurt in technological innovation. Since then, the world has seen four main waves of innovation. The first, from the 1780s to the 1840s, was the industrial revolution in Britain, fueled by steam power; the second, from the 1840s to the 1890s, was the railway age; the third, from the 1890s to the 1950s, was driven by electric power and the car. Now we are in the information age.

    The subcontinent was lucky that as a result of the Raj we had an early rendezvous with the industrial revolution, fueled by steam power. Otherwise sans steam power, no agricultural revolution, or a scientific revolution had occurred, and in the long run, the manual skill of the Indian artisan could be no substitute for technical progress. There is no easy answer to the problem that the country was prosperous and the people were poor, as wealth was accumulated in the coffers of the ruling Emperor or the Nawabs.

    (“The annual revenues of the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb (1659-1701) are said to have amounted to $450,000,000, more than ten times those of (his contemporary) Louis XIV.” John Kautsky, The Politics of Aristocratic Empires, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1982, p. 188). One explanation is that even in the 18th century, India had a large population and plenty of cheap labour. Prosperity comes with rising productivity and a rise in productivity depends on technology. When the supply of labour is elastic, it is more economical to hire people than to invest in machines. Hence, an Englishman observed in 1807, “In India it is seldom that an attempt is made to accomplish anything by machinery that can be performed by human labour.” But the despicable wicked caste system that cuts the productivity of a significant portion of the population to zilch is the fault of British rule then?

    If the Mughals had continued their unremitting rule of India without a proper system of education introduced by the British and over-reliance on madrasas, downtown Bangalore would be a picture of a day-after-day beheading, rather than being the most important tech hub it became. The English language was Raj-induced that was taught in Indian schools and institutes and was an official language in the country. They gave us the language that connected us to the world. The long term benefits can be seen today. The communities that lacked interest in learning the skill set remained still backward:

    ‘In 1824 when Government decided to start a Sanskrit College in Calcutta, the Hindu leaders met under the leadership of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and demanded that they did not want Sanskrit College to be established by Government but wanted that it should start English colleges as far as possible.

    On the other hand in 1835, after 11 years when the Mohammedans came to know that Government intends to start English teaching in all schools, they submitted an application signed by 8000 Moulvis of Calcutta to stop it. Muslims vehemently opposed the new system of education believing that the philosophy and logic taught in English was at variance with the tenets of Islam. They looked upon the study of English as little less than embracing of Christianity.’

    An important point ignored by Dr Tharoor in the heat of the moment is overlooking the Raj’s contribution to health care, control of rampant diseases that helped reduce mortality rates. According to Angus Maddison, “The British contributed to public health by introducing smallpox vaccination, establishing Western medicine and training modern doctors, by killing rats, and establishing quarantine procedures. As a result, the death rate fell and the population of India grew by 1947 to more than two-and-a- half times its size in 1757.”

    The first cholera pandemic began in Bengal, then spread across India by 1820. Ten thousand British troops and countless Indians died during this pandemic. Estimated deaths in India between 1817 and 1860 exceeded 15 million. Another 23 million died between 1865 and 1917. The Third Pandemic of plague started in China in the middle of the 19th century, spreading disease to all inhabited continents and killing 10 million people in India alone. Waldemar Haffkine, who mainly worked in India, became the first microbiologist to develop and deploy vaccines against cholera and bubonic plague. In 1925 the Plague Laboratory in Bombay was renamed the Haffkine Institute.

    Fevers ranked as one of the leading causes of death in India. In the 19th century Britain’s Sir Ronald Ross, working in the Presidency General Hospital in Calcutta, finally proved in 1898 that mosquitoes transmit malaria, while on assignment in the Deccan at Secunderabad, where the Center for Tropical and Communicable Diseases is now named in his honour.

    In 1881, around 120,000 leprosy patients existed in India. The central government passed the Lepers Act of 1898, which provided legal provision for forcible confinement of leprosy sufferers in India. Under the direction of Mountstuart Elphinstone a program was launched to propagate smallpox vaccination. Mass vaccination in India resulted in a major decline in smallpox mortality by the end of the 19th century. In 1849 nearly 13% of all Calcutta deaths were due to smallpox. Between 1868 and 1907, there were approximately 4.7 million deaths from smallpox.

    Sir Robert Grant directed his attention to establishing a systematic institution in Bombay for imparting medical knowledge to the natives. In 1860, Grant Medical College became one of the four recognised colleges for teaching courses leading to degrees (alongside Elphinstone College, Deccan College and Government Law College, Mumbai). – Wiki

    We just cannot just thank them enough. Dr Tharoor made another huge omission in his speech by making no reference to the largest irrigation systems made by the Raj and the Brits from 1890 onwards that made Punjab the granary of the subcontinent – it even cultivated Sind and the tail ends.

    This was the biggest gift of the Raj, with the other being the early introduction of age of steam and industrialisation, and language. (There is a reason why Iran, Afghanistan and many others could not see development of Silicon Valley in their own backyards and did not see their sons running Microsoft and top Fortune 500).

    Let me give you an example of the canals system established to tame Indus – a miracle to save us from certain famine as a result of vagaries of the Indus. British realised the potential source of water in the sub-continent and built a canal system for the purpose. Brits did it to avoid the spectre of mass famine had these massive water works not been undertaken.

    It may have been political expediency to grow cotton, but much before that after 1857 to 1870, a lot of planning was done to grow more food for a growing sub-continent population in North of India. I have read the speeches and the paper in archives of the British Library where the case to avoid mass famine in upper Sind and lower Sind was made for construction of Sukkur barrage.

    True to their nature Mughals did try to harness water from Indus but for them – not food but the pleasure was the target. The first evidence of perennial irrigation on any of the Indus rivers dates back to an early seventeenth century when an 80-kilometer-long canal was constructed by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (reigned 1605-27) to bring water from Ravi to the pleasure gardens of Sheikhupura near Lahore. Pakistan today meets its entire agricultural requirements through Indus Basin arrangements. Agriculture use is close to 97 percent, a staggering figure that is well above the global average of about 70 percent.

    The areas now included in Pakistan were undergoing developments to build some gigantic and remarkable engineering works. In 1871, the weir across River Ravi was built at the head of Bari Doab canal in Punjab. The building of Khanki headworks was undertaken in 1890-92. The headworks of Rasul on Jhelum River were built in 1901.

    Between the period 1900-1950, the following were constructed: Marala weir on River Chenab, Balloki headworks on River Ravi and Ferozpur, Sulemanki, Islam and Panjnad on River Sutlej, Trimmu on River Jhelum and Sukkur and Kalabagh on River Indus.

    What all this developed into was ‘The Indus Basin,’ a very developed watershed in that it has a lot of storage and management infrastructure. This is this single feat of British that has saved us from ‘Somaliazation’, this is what my doctoral thesis is based on. Indus Basin irrigation system is a marvel of engineering and a gift of the British to our generations who are not aware what has gone into it. As a result we have entered into the 21st century with the world’s largest and unified irrigation system that consists of three major reservoirs (Chashma, Mangla, and Tarbela); 18 barrages (Ferozepur, Sulemanki, Islam, Balloki,Marala, Trimmu, Panjnad, Kalabagh, Sukkur, Kotri, Taunsa, Guddu, Chashma, Mailsi, Sidhnai, Rasul,Qadirabad, and Marala); 12 link canals; 45 irrigation canals; and over 107,000 water courses and millions of farm channels and field ditches. The total length of main canal system is estimated about 585,000 Kilometer (36,932 miles) and that of watercourses and field channels exceeds 1.62 million Kilometers (over 1.02 million miles).

    Pakistan has a unique irrigation system which comprises of five main rivers, i.e. the Indus, the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi and the Sutlej River. The network of Indus basin Irrigation System consists of the Dams, Barrages, Headworks, Canals and Interlinks. Tarbela, Mangla and Chashma are the three primary reservoirs on this system. This system of reservoirs and canals forms the basis of the Indus Basin irrigation system and is thus absolutely essential to our food and avoidance of famine a la Somalia.

    This system includes Link Canals that were built with a concept to transfer water from the Western Rivers, i.e., Indus, Jhelum and Chenab to the Eastern Rivers, i.e. Ravi and Sutlej after the Indus water treaty of 1960. Whereas, the feeder canals taken out from different head works are meant mainly to irrigate the agricultural lands throughout. The waters of the Indus Basin Rivers are diverted through reservoirs/barrages into canals, classified as the Main Canals. These main canals then distribute the irrigation water into their command areas through a network of branch canals.

    Water from the Indus empties onto the plains through regulatory structures known as rim stations mostly designed pre-partition. About 173 billion cubic metres pass through the rim stations, about 128 billion cubic metres of which is diverted for irrigation. But this figure is still insufficient to meet agricultural irrigation requirements, and the shortfall of about 40 percent is made up from groundwater pumping. The associated canal network is massive – with 43,561 kilometres of canals, 18,884 kilometres of seepage/storm water drains and 12,612 kilometres of tile drains, mostly in the Indus Plain provinces of Punjab and Sindh.

    Railways, posts, every possible system that we enjoy today are the remnants of the Raj. The difference between North Waziristan and us is the language and versatility of connection, the difference between madrassas and contemporary minds is the ability of modern education accorded to us by the Raj, with all due respect. The largest man-made irrigation system on the Indus, as explained earlier, is a gift of Raj engineering. Yes, excesses were committed, but Ghauris, Ghazanvis, Slave Dynasties, Sirajudullahs were not democratically elected leaders of India.

    A leap forward in science requires foresight, reason and rationalism and all this was amiss. It was just the absolute love of Lodhis Aurungzebs Abdalis to enforce the desert dogma through sword and terror on a riparian peaceful society. One should read the poets Mir and Ghalib for loot ki dastaan (tales of plunder). Internecine wars of Islam crippled the North completely; it was regrettably the heart of the subcontinent.

    David Clingingsmith and Jeffrey G Williamson, among others, affirm that “while India produced about 25 percent of world industrial output in 1750, this figure had fallen to only 2 percent by 1900.”

    The reason for that was India and China’s huge population advantage, the size of the economy was although naturally bigger as population was between 100-150 million people in times of Akbar, so on per capita basis they had a far larger share, but in no way were these economies booming economies, they remained stagnant for nearly a hundred years. Despite major intellectual advantage – India was the equivalent of Silicon Valley of the mathematics – its originality, creativity and recuperation was maimed by these continual invasions and killings. India’s progress stopped; as the post renaissance age took off once dogma was thrown out and industrial revolution set off, the world rocketed ahead but China and Indian subcontinent remained stagnated: Over the past millennium, world population rose twenty-two–fold. Per capita income increased thirteen–fold, world GDP nearly three-hundred–fold. This contrasts sharply with the preceding millennium, when world population grew by only a sixth, and there was no advance in per capita income. Indian economy remained stagnant at 450-560 $ per head from 1500-1950.

    It is sad but I feel compelled to reiterate that it was we who were rotten, not Clive. He may not have taken over, though we would still remain like Afghanistan and Somalia cut off from the world – inadvertently Mir Jafari’s betrayal helped. We had an early rendezvous with Newtonian calculus based harnessing of steam power and invention of internal combustion engine; without advances in agriculture and railways introduced by the Raj, we would have faced far bigger famines. These ‘600 rotten fiefdoms’ would not be able to tap the ‘mighty rivers’ the way Raj was able to do from 1890 onward – once they created continuity they were able to get the canal system going as well as communication extended to the whole subcontinent.

    Imagine, till today we cannot have consensus to tap Indus hydro-power of 60k mgw since 1972 after Tarbela – we just cannot agree. They made Lloyd’s in 1900 onward to save Sind from certain famine, the canals on the left bank helped Nawabshah and the right bank Larkana Dadu- they gave us the life – moguls never made canals only Aurungzebi kind of wars.

    “1966-1980 is effectively the dark period for the Indian economy.” Nothing hurt India more but the lost decades. The Raj helped us become a great subcontinent and India took off once the socialist system was written off and the Hindu growth rate was ditched by Manmohan Singh. P.C. Mahalanobis Nehru’s strategic planner thought competition was wasteful, a flawed idea because there can be little improvement in productivity and there were no opportunities for rapid export expansion in the 1950s.

    India’s share of world trade declined from 2.2 percent in 1947 to 0.5 percent in 1990 as Nehruvian India’s mantra of an inward-looking, import-substituting path rather than an outward-looking, export-promoting route; denied India a share in world trade and the prosperity that trade brought in the post-War era. Though India was on wrong socialist inward path by the late sixties, instead of changing course after Nehru, Indira Gandhi introduced supplementary controls. She nationalized banks, discouraged foreign investment, and placed more hurdles before domestic enterprise. Hence, industrial growth plunged from 7.7 per cent a year between 1951-1965 to 4.0 per cent between 1966-1980. Productivity of Indian manufacturing declined half a percent a year from 1960 to 1985.

    How come we always conveniently overlook that we kept on fighting for hundreds of years on religion and kept our populace in chains and shackles as a result of an evil caste system. We ignore and find xenophobic slogans to neglect jhopar pattis (slums) where men are denied dignity of living – why did he not raise the issue of our criminal neglect, lack of egalitarianism, ever warring nature which is the real cause of our poverty?

    What economy can prosper ‘when waging holy wars is the name of the game’; some of these fiefdoms used to spend 50% of GDP of the princely state, and Aurunzebi rule on either ostentatious living or later case mad wars. Can you imagine how many times the capital Delhi used to be looted and raped by Iltimush, Tamerline, Lodhis, and Moguls intensive wars between them Nadir shahs Abdalis before the Raj? How could a nation come out of it? Had it not been for the systems that the Raj established, we were being killed like moths by these invaders and we call them our Emperors only because we cannot face the bitter facts.

    As an aside:

    Dr. Tharoor’s kind of speech leads to claims like the one in January 2015 where the speakers at a prestigious science conference in Mumbai had claimed that a Hindu sage invented interplanetary spacecraft 7,000 years ago, that a herbal paste applied to a person’s feet can help locate underground water and that a bacteria found in cows can turn any material into gold.

    These unconventional claims were made during a session of the continuing Indian Science Congress, titled Ancient Sciences Through Sanskrit. The discussion was sandwiched between more orthodox events on nuclear magnetic resonance and the structure of the atom, and speakers were an uncomfortable fit with the rest of those on the day’s schedule: spiritual counsellors and Sanskrit scholars moving among neurologists, chemists and physicists.

    “There is official history and unofficial history,” said one of the speakers, retired pilot trainer Anand Bodas. “Official history only noted that the Wright Brothers flew the first plane in 1903,” but the inventor of the airplane was really a sage named Bharadwaja, who lived around 7,000 years ago. “The ancient planes had 40 small engines.”

    My kind of story leads to shunning of these fairytales and highlighting the truth. The truth is that John Dalton (1766 – 1844), an English chemist and physicist, is the man credited today with the development of atomic theory. However, a theory of atoms was actually formulated 2,500 years before Dalton by an Indian sage and philosopher, known as Acharya Kanad. Acharya Kanad was born in 600 BC in Prabhas Kshetra (near Dwaraka) in Gujarat, India. His real name was Kashyap.

    Today, I make an interesting observation from my vantage point. Connecting points of history to ‘Vedic Mathematics’, which is acknowledged by every Arab that I have talked with in Alazhar and every Iranian intellectual, even the Vedic influence on Qurraysh pre-Jahilliiyah is very much accepted.

    Al-Beruni’s ability to find the correct circumference of the earth that was the closest and nearest call of the circumference of the planet earth to what was determined contemporarily was made by Abu Rayhan Biruni (973-1048), after Eratosthenes (300 B.C.) close estimates, depending on what ‘stadia’ he was referring to – Egyptian or Greek. Abu Rayhan Biruni studied closely, the work of famous Indian mathematician named Aryabhata, who lived around 500 A.D. Al- Biruni, actually calculated the Earth’s circumference in a small town on a mountain top of Pind Dadan Khan, District Jhelum, Punjab, presently Pakistan. His method was different from Eratosthenes. He used Vedic methods, and development of Algebra.

    My point is simple, that Ibn Battuta, Averroes, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Mo’ayyeduddin Urdi, and Ibn al-Shatir were few of these scholars who benefitted from Vedic mathematics and helped the age of enlightenment within Moorish Spain and Abbasid Baghdad. Islamic scholars owed their knowledge of a moving earth and ‘zero’ to Vedic Hindu philosophy. Let’s trace the root of the Arabic word for restoration, al-jabru, is the root of the word algebra. Algebra, this ancient knowledge of solutions of equations found a home early in the Islamic world, where it was known as the “science of restoration and balancing.” In the 9th century al-Khwarizmi wrote Arabic algebra, it is theoretical not in a formula form, both the examples and proofs. The system of mathematics that they and their Sassanid ancestors observed in India was adapted by them and given the name ‘Al-Jabr’ meaning ‘the reunion of broken parts’.

    It was the desert Arab amalgamation of cradles of eastern civilizations that spewed elite luminaries responsible for the enlightenment of a whole era. Centuries earlier Aryabhatta held to a view in which the Earth rotated. (Zero was invented by the ancient Indian scientists; most people accept that it was invented by the great mathematician Aryabhata). If zero was not discovered mankind would be zero. The rules governing the use of zero appeared for the first time in Brahmagupta’s book Brahmasputha Siddhanta (The Opening of the Universe), written in 628. Here Brahmagupta considers not only zero, but negative numbers, and the algebraic rules for the elementary operations of arithmetic with such numbers.

    Dr Tharoor, thanklessness is not a virtue. We should give credit where it’s due. No nations are built in 70 years. The subcontinent owes the acceleration of its growth because of contributions of the Raj and we should not forget that. With all due respect, you should have researched better on irrigation and railway systems, rather than grandstanding and playing to your audience. Please stop propagating this misplaced hyper-nationalism; it is based on a figment of ‘vain imagination,’ false unfounded glory, and exaggerated oratory. The fact is that all the wealth, like North Korea of today, was in the hands of paltry ostentatious 600 Nawabs, the privileged classes from the scriptures in line with dharma, and to fund the Emperors’ false wars that were mostly internecine or territorial conquests. Not only did you forget irrigation but your facts were wrong on railways too.

    The British Raj invested heavily in infrastructure, including canals and irrigation systems in addition to railways, telegraphy, roads and ports. The Ganges Canal reached 350 miles from Hardwar to Cawnpore, and supplied thousands of miles of distribution canals.

    By 1900 the Raj had the largest irrigation system in the world. One success story was Assam, a jungle in 1840 that by 1900 had 4,000,000 acres under cultivation, especially in tea plantations. In all, the amount of irrigated land multiplied by a factor of eight. Historian David Gilmour says:

    “By the 1870s the peasantry in the districts irrigated by the Ganges Canal were visibly better fed, housed and dressed than before; by the end of the century the new network of canals in the Punjab at producing even more prosperous peasantry there.”

    Railways were for the benefit of the entire subcontinent, not only serving as arteries to help export raw materials to the ports. To make it beneficial to all, the route mileage of this network was increased through soliciting investments. From 1,349 kilometres (838 mi) in 1860 it increased to 25,495 kilometres (15,842 mi) in 1880, mostly radiating inland from the three major port cities of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta, that is what made India a contiguous land. People connected and the concept of a united country inadvertently seeped in.

    The biggest challenge is and was capital formation: In 1854, Governor-General Lord Dalhousie formulated a plan to construct a network of trunk lines connecting the principal regions of India. Encouraged by the government guarantees, investment flowed in and a series of new rail companies were established, leading to rapid expansion of the rail system in India. Soon several large princely states built their own rail systems and the network spread to the regions that became the modern-day states of Assam, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

    The railway network in 1909, when it was the fourth largest railway network in the world. “The most magnificent railway station in the world.” says the caption of the stereographic tourist picture of Victoria Terminus, Bombay, which was completed in 1888.

    British India built a modern railway system in the late 19th century which was the fourth largest in the world. The railways at first were privately owned and operated. It was run by British administrators, engineers and craftsmen. At first, only the unskilled workers were Indians. (Wikipedia)

    The point is that any infrastructure is most difficult to establish; once in place it is easy to expand and elongate. But the poverty in India cannot be attributed to the Raj. The biggest resistance to change was the landowning privileged class of the subcontinent – the blood suckers of the poor – they incubated, encouraged and patronised poverty and did not allow modernisation and breaking of the caste system.

    Sanitation and no toilets, even today, is not the fault of the Brits. The slogan of ‘toilets before temple’ was not coined by the Brits, it was by the current BJP government. There is a reluctance to improve the lot of the poorest of the poor. To keep them enchained and poor is what has kept us where we are. Sad, extremely sad, that we look for scapegoats instead. The complicity of the Congress’ near uninterrupted rule cannot be overlooked, Dr. Tharoor, in these matters of criminal neglect of poor humans.

    After nearly 70 years of independence, the extreme poverty of 33% and open defecation is a curse that continues to rule supreme. Since we failed to deliver we find scapegoats. About one billion people in the developing world or 15 percent of the global population have to rely on open defecation. India is a country with the highest number of people practising open defecation: around 600 million people. This is 47% of India’s population. Most of it occurs in rural areas where the prevalence is estimated at 65 percent of the population. The other countries with the highest number of people openly defecating are Indonesia (54 million people), followed by Pakistan (41 million people), Nigeria (39 million) and Ethiopia (34 million).

    Koh-i-noor; a curse or a blessing: Koh-i-Noor (it means mountain of light in Persian) diamond, a British crown jewel allegedly acquired from India that every Indian politician would like returned. To whom exactly would the diamond be returned? The British acquired it from Lahore (now in Pakistan) after the conquest of the Sikh Empire. Pakistan and India are both successor states of British India. The diamond itself was never really the property of the Indian state, but always a prize fought over by conquerors. Virtually every possessor of the diamond seized it from its previous owner.

    Famine: Yes- India suffered a series of serious crop failures in the late 19th century, leading to widespread famines in which at least 10 million people died. The East India Company had failed to implement any coordinated policy to deal with the famines during its period of rule.

    This changed during the Raj, in which commissions were set up after each famine to investigate the causes and implement new policies, which took until the early 1900s to have an effect.

    Mindset – the ‘Indian desire’ for hoarding non productive gold instead of investment :

    British found that India produced the world’s best cotton yarn and textiles and in enormous quantities. What the Indians wanted in exchange from the Europeans was gold and silver, for which they had a voracious craving. Hence, there was a constant flow of gold into India, which absorbed a good deal of the bullion mined by the Spaniards in the New World. Having learned about cotton textiles from India, the English turned the tables, and brought an industrial revolution to Britain. Instead of investing the cotton proceeds, Indians hoarded gold, they still do. Industrial Revolution threw millions of weavers out of work, but it would have happened any way as newer technologies of weaving reached India.

    Although Britain could not winch up Indians out of deficiency, nor prevent famines, it did give India the institutions of democracy, the rule of law, a sovereign judiciary and a liberated press. It built railways, canals, and harbours. It gave India almost a hundred years of peace—the Pax Britannica without interfering with its ancient traditions and religion. Mass education was a big failure, 83 percent of Indians were illiterate at Independence. The education system produced only a thin higher top of exceptionally well educated Indians, while the masses remained illiterate.

    PS: Why are so many of the world’s best companies run by Indians?

    ‘There are some simple reasons for why China fares poorly in this regard. College-educated Indians tend to speak good English and are comfortable with American business culture; that isn’t the case for many of their Chinese counterparts. And in the case of tech companies such as Microsoft and Google, there’s a natural affinity with the rich tech culture back in India that nurtured business leaders like Nadella and Pichai.’

    I dare we such thankless people? Our children in the subcontinent should never forget two people, Fleming and Borlaug. This streak of thanklessness we have and our incessant abuse of the west should stop. Until 1800, the average life expectancy, after 900 years invasions, was 25 years. We luckily owe our existence and prosperity to two developments masterminded by Fleming and Borlaug.

    These are the facts, Dr. Tharoor. The purpose of this debate is to present historical facts and realities in the face of arguments that the British drained the subcontinent, which I have taken the liberty to counter with this open rebuttal.


    The story of ‘ from ridiculous to sublime… ‘ This is my town – this is my own story, this is what I saw what Raj did to me and mines . The excesses of thousands of years of incessant war of ideology, plunder loot and scriptures where poverty and disease were rampant.

    Why Moghuls did not do it or anyone else before?? Except for indulging warlording and continuous perpetual wars…Anyone with 20000 soldiers will just cross the Khyber to trample us. Likes of Nadir Shah to Abdali .We had excesses in comparison to barren lands across Khyber, we were riparian societies and our ordinary man was peaceful and ready to be subjugated as our warlords would make new alliances with either Lodhi or Babar and continue to fight. 65% taxes on gross production would be eaten by munsibdar of Mughal REmperors. What was the greatness in the beheading of Darashikoh and presenting it on a platter?

    #ShashiTharoor We had an early rendezvous with steam and railways and technology- that is how we averted Somiliazation of South Asia. Show me one building like this in 5000 years of our existence – you may say, Taj Mahal??? 100’s of millions of lives were saved.. ungratefulness has some limits. You have no limits in your book. These machines changed the course of our history.

    This is how we escaped the prospect of even much more wretched poverty that we are still entrapped now. These machines were transferred to Subcontinent Sukkur. The fastest pace of technology transfer.

    When Mughals were making pleasure canals to Ravi garden – within 100 years of that these machines are turning the desert of Sind into a green garden. We should have a museum to highlight how our bleak prospects changed. Instead of these machines, and printing presses Akbar the great opted for guns like Ottomans did. This stance of mine is not a popular stance, the Bakhts will be angry as I talk about the fractured society, the Muslims will be angry as I take on the Moguls and looters of the South Asia and Britsh anyone think that they have done a million wrongs, they will not speak out of political correctness and not hurt our sensitivities, they allow facts to be distorted. .

    This is the reason of this greenery you see – the desert was converted into a garden. And in 21st century we are destroying our province .. we had a head start we destroyed it.We can’t even maintain this ..

    Construction of Sukkur (Lloyd) Barrage, across the Indus, Sind, 1924. From the book ” Lincoln’s excavators: The Ruston Years 1875-1930″ by Peter Robinson. There were six of these Ruston 3000 steam & diesel excavators delivered to this scheme in 1924.

    Article Photo
    “Commenced in 1923 and officially known as the Lloyd Barrage and Canal Construction Scheme this massive project, the purpose of which was to irrigate 6 1/2 million acres of land in the Sind desert of NW India, involved the excavation of more than 210 million cubic yards of material and the construction of the Sukkur Dam nearly a mile long spanning the river Indus. It was the largest irrigation scheme in the world, with a cost greater than the Suez Canal and involving four times as much excavation.”

    There are seven main canals having a total length of 1,000 miles and ranging from 79ft to 346ft in width and up to 20ft in depth. Also 700 miles of branch canals and 4,000 miles of distributory canals, plus 50,000 miles of final feeders excavated by the farmers who rented the land.

    There were fierce winds and sandstorms almost every day, nowhere to service machinery, no water suitable for boilers, few roads, and it was necessary to build tramways to supply the machines with coal, oil etc.

    The temperature was 49*C (120*F) in the shade at times! Camels used for supply in outlying areas and men lived in tents near the machines. Three shifts were operated per day, all year, mostly operated by Indians. The whole scheme was completed in 1932.


    Between East and West: The Moluccas and the Traffic in Spices Up to the Arrival of Europeans. Diane Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87169-248-1.

    1. “Vasco da Gama: Round Africa to India, 1497–1498 CE”. Internet Modern History Sourcebook. Paul Halsall. June 1998. Retrieved7 May 2007. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. V: 9th to 16th Centuries, pp. 26–40.

    2. “Indian History – Important events: History of India. An overview”. History of India. Retrieved 7 May 2007.

    3. “The Great Moghul Jahangir: Letter to James I, King of England, 1617 A.D.”. Indian History Sourcebook: England, India, and The East Indies, 1617 CE. Internet Indian History Sourcebook, Paul Halsall. June 1998. Retrieved 7 May 2007. From: James Harvey Robinson, ed., Readings in European History, 2 Vols. (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1904–1906), Vol. II: From the opening of the Protestant Revolt to the Present Day, pp. 333–335.

    4. “KOLKATA (CALCUTTA) : HISTORY”. Retrieved 7 May 2007.

    5. Rickard, J. (1 November 2000). “Robert Clive, Baron Clive, ‘Clive of India’, 1725–1774”. Military History Encyclopedia on the Retrieved 7 May 2007

Comments are closed.