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Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India Paperback – 1 Feb 2018
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Tharoor convincingly demolishes some of the more persistent myths about Britain's supposedly civilising mission in India ... [he] charts the destruction of pre-colonial systems of government by the British and their ubiquitous ledgers and rule books ... The statistics are worth repeating. (Victor Mallet Financial Times)
Inglorious Empire is a timely reminder of the need to start teaching unromanticised colonial history in British schools. A welcome antidote to the nauseating righteousness and condescension pedalled by Niall Ferguson in his 2003 book Empire (Irish Times)
His writing is a delight and he seldom misses his target ... Tharoor should be applauded for tackling an impossibly contentious subject ... he deserves to be read. Indians are not the only ones who need reminding that empire has a lot to answer for. (Literary Review)
Remarkable ... The book is savagely critical of 200 years of the British in India. It makes very uncomfortable reading for Brits (Matt Ridley The Times)
Tharoor's impassioned polemic slices straight to the heart of the darkness that drives all empires. Forceful, persuasive and blunt, he demolishes Raj nostalgia, laying bare the grim, and high, cost of the British Empire for its former subjects. An essential read (Niljana Roy Financial Times)
Ferocious and astonishing. Essential for a Britain lost in sepia fantasies about its past, Inglorious Empire is history at its clearest and cutting best (Ben Judah)
Those Brits who speak confidently about how Britain's "historical and cultural ties" to India will make it easy to strike a great new trade deal should read Mr Tharoor's book. It would help them to see the world through the eyes of the ... countries once colonised or defeated by Britain (Gideon Rachman Financial Times)
Rare indeed is it to come across history that is so readable and so persuasive (Amitav Ghosh)
Eloquent ... a well-written riposte to those texts that celebrate empire as a supposed "force for good" (BBC World Histories)
Tharoor's book - arising from a contentious Oxford Union debate in 2015 where he proposed the motion "Britain owes reparations to her former colonies" - should keep the home fires burning, so to speak, both in India and in Britain. ... He makes a persuasive case, with telling examples (History Today)
About the Author
Shashi Tharoor served for twenty-nine years at the UN, culminating as Under-Secretary General. He is a Congress MP in India, the author of fourteen previous books and has won numerous literary awards, including a Commonwealth Writers' Writers' Prize. Tharoor has a PhD from the Fletcher School and was named by the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1998 as a Global Leader of Tomorrow.
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One man in a million may shout a bit.
Now and then there's one with slight defects;
One, perhaps, whose truthfulness you doubt a bit.
But by and large we are a marvellous sex!
I reviewed it favourably, because I found its treatment very interesting and, yes, convincing. Now comes this devastating riposte to Prof. Ferguson’s thesis, from the point of view of India, the jewel in the Imperial crown. Shashi Tharoor’s point of view is essentially that the British arrived in an India that was basically more civilized, more advanced, better fed than the UK, and mercilessly looted it for the benefit of the UK and the detriment of India, destroying Indian industries to prevent them competing with British ones and doing the old universal imperial trick of acquiring cheap raw materials and sending them back as expensive manufactured goods. The only things the British did that were beneficial to India were done for their own benefit and profit; there never was any interest in advancing the cause of the locals. And, along the way, exacerbated the Hindu-Muslim differences as a part of a “divide and rule” strategy. In the end, the British simply ran out and left the Indians and what became the Pakistanis to it.
Mr. Tharoor’s book is almost completely and negatively polemical, and I tend to be distrustful of prolonged polemics, which seem often to be attempts on the part of the writer to convince him/herself as much as convincing the reader. He confronts Prof. Ferguson’s claims of overall beneficence head-on and says they’re wrong. Are they? As with all such cases, unless one is prepared to review all the source documents and draw one’s own conclusions, it’s impossible definitively to say, and even then it might not be so clear. However, it seems to me that, polemicising nothwithstanding, Mr. Tharoor has the better of the argument. The British mentality has been thrown into relief by the recent Brexit business, in which the old British sense of superiority and deserving of special treatment because we’re such spiffing chaps has resurfaced. As Flanders and Swann had it:
The English, the English, the English are best! I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest!
So, most definitely recommended to be read alongside the Ferguson book.
Tharoor rips up the banal rule book and gives us a fantastic read. As an Irishman I can see the parallels of empire on every page. A common statement in Ireland is that if it weren’t for the nice English buildings we would have no nice buildings at all. They ruled the country for 800 years. An Irishman didn’t have the money to build a home, let alone a palace. Such are the parrallels in India. The British ripped up the age of disconnected village feudalism and brought something much worse the India. Collectivism. Collective poverty.
Tharoor starts off with the most striking chapter. The looting of India. If you take anything from this book, it is this line “when the British arrived in India in the 1700s, India was 27 percent of the global economy. When they left in 1948 it was 3%”. People will state the world moved on without India but frankly India was chained to the floor. The British were not there to help. The trains, as Tharoor describes, and as is detailed further in the incredible book Empire of Cotton, were there to speed up the looting, the transfer of Cotton to the ships. The trains were also to be used mainly by the British people and furthermore by their Soldiers. The trains would quickly speed them to point of any mutiny.
Tharoors gives details on Indian involvement in WW1 and WW2 where Indian soldiers accounted for up to one quarter of Commonwealth forces. Though not detailed in this book, Indian soldiers were often sent in first. At Gallipoli their bodies became human sandbags. Indeed in WW2, it was the British who declared war on Germany on India’s behalf without consulting the Indian hierarchy.
Other shameful aspects of Empire in India are expanded upon. Murder (Amritsar and others) and famine. Of course the Bengal famine, not to mention the almost 100 million Indians who died from starvation during the course of British rule. Famines are not a natural phenomenon.
The bibliography of the book is substantial enough (5 pages) to be awarded a credible work of history. No doubt Thatoor is guilty of a slightly one sided argument and choosing the facts in line with the mood of the book. But guess what, British history books for the last 300 years have done something similar so here is the balance historians are looking for.