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Tharoor Makes A Compelling Point

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Dr Shashi Tharoor at Jaipur Literary Festival

According to Indian Parliamentarian, former UN Under Secretary-General and an accomplished author Shashi Tharoor, the British rule had looted India in no uncertain manner. His latest book, An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, is a lacerating attack on the Empire and East India Company, which ruled India for nearly 200 years….writes Sabin Iqbal

Dr Shashi Tharoor at Jaipur Literary Festival
Dr Shashi Tharoor at Jaipur Literary Festival

Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple knows a thing or two about history, that of India and Britain. His lengthy article in The Guardian early last year, East India Company: The Original Corporate Raiders, begins tracing the origin of the English word “loot”.

“One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain.”

To illustrate the word’s meaning, Dalrymple describes the Powis Castle in the Welsh countryside. “To understand how and why it (the word ‘loot’) took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.”

he Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton visit the Taj Mahal in Agra
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton visit the Taj Mahal in Agra

Then he describes what is inside the 13th century fort: There are more Mughal artefacts stacked in this private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display at any one place in India – even the National Museum in Delhi. The riches include hookahs of burnished gold inlaid with empurpled ebony; superbly inscribed spinels and jewelled daggers; gleaming rubies the colour of pigeon’s blood and scatterings of lizard-green emeralds. There are talwars set with yellow topaz, ornaments of jade and ivory; silken hangings, statues of Hindu gods and coats of elephant armour.

According to Indian Parliamentarian, former UN Under Secretary-General and an accomplished author Shashi Tharoor, the British rule had looted India in no uncertain manner. His latest book, An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, is a lacerating attack on the Empire and East India Company, which ruled India for nearly 200 years.

Published by Aleph, the book was launched in Thiruvananthapuram yesterday with the Governor of Kerala P Sadasivam handing over a copy to filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

Tharoor minces no words in his scathing attack on the British for the way they drained India’s wealth and dominated the country and ruled her people through ‘superior artillery and even more superior chicanery’. The book, he says, is an offshoot of his now famous speech in Oxford Union on the preposition ‘Britain Owes Reparations to Her Former Colonies’. Tharoor’s speech is one of the most-watched videos on Social Media. But the book has taken off from the speech, backed by some meticulous research.

The book has come out at a time when patriotism has in many ways taken jingoistic forms in India and across the world. Identities of religion, culture and race are given unprecedented stress in national and international politics. Tharoor, a leader of the Opposition Congress Party, has drawn praise even from the followers of the ruling right-wing BJP for whipping up a sense of national pride. But he says he is ‘careful not to fall into the jingoistic Hindutva trap’.

Tharoor says there is a fundamental difference between his book which talks about the 200 years of British rule and the BJP’s politicised take on the 1200 years of the Mughal rule. “The Mughals cannot be looked at as mere foreigners as they have settled and become part of the Indian milieu but the British are not like that.”

However, he argues that history needs to be revisited and looked at without any kind of ‘tinted glass’. India as country has the right to know how it was ruled. “Our leaders post-Independence did not let people know the full atrocities of the British rule, and that’s why I say an apology from the British government of some form would wash off some bad blood.”

Tharoor, who represents the southern city of Thiruvananthapuram in the Lok Sabha, says that the book is backed by meticulous research. “My mind is of neither a colonised’s nor a fascist’s,” he says, adding that he has no doubt that the so-called gains of the British rule were not done to benefit India but to facilitate the looting of India by the British.

The book makes good sense and proves Tharoor’s point when it is read in the context of the British Rule and not in the grim realities of what happened before and after those 200 years.

Though India was one of the world’s wealthiest countries before the British rule, it was not all that rosy with its issues like caste system and untouchability. It certainly has had problems galore since Independence as well. The British cannot be held responsible for these. But then neither does the book say that.

Tharoor quotes American historian and philosopher Will Durant from his book, The Case for India: The British conquest of India was the invasion and destruction of a high civilisation by a trading company (The British East India Company) utterly without scruple or principle, careless of art and greedy for gain, overrunning with fire and sword a country temporarily disordered and helpless, bribing and murdering, annexing and stealing, and beginning that career of illegal and ‘legal’ plunder…

Taking on the views of many apologists who argue for the Empire, Tharoor clinically makes his point clear in his lucid style and with subtle humour.

At a time and in a contemporary India where history is revisited and re-narrated with vested interests, one can only hope that this book will be read in the right earnest and context.

 

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