Jul 032017

Article by me in Open magazine here.

I am not explicitly defending the empire and all its works, but I am asking for some balance in the account, and warning against the persistence of nationalist interpretations.

One comment so far. She accepts all of Tharoor’s points and rejects all of mine, then adds some ad hominem stuff about my condescending manner.

And thus ably and economically proves all of the points I made.



 Posted by at 12:11 pm

  6 Responses to “The Empire returns – to relevance.”

  1. I enjoyed reading the article and find the comment comparing the British Empire to Nazi Germany quite common now – the Empire did not have the death count, war crimes, tens of millions in slave labour, nor the concept or a pure race, despite Gloria Steinem’s claim otherwise.
    It is also never mentioned that most of the British were not involved in imperial power. Some of the Dudley born branch of my family ended up in the workhouse – no doubt they were still the imperialists while the Indian nobleman were the oppressed.
    Your comment “The true history of British India, the one that needs to be written— that is free of carping and calumny, . . .” reminded me of a speech Margaret Chase Smith gave in the U.S. Senate in 1950, where she spoke about the “Four Horsemen of Calumny – Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear”. I have not read Shashi Tharoor’s book so don’t know if he is also fearful but from your review the other three seem to be apposite.

  2. Thanks for this Roderick – very interesting perspective.

    Ive heard and read Shashi on the subject, and found his arguments more emotional than rational, tho I couldnt quite put my finger on the flaws

    At one talk I told him that being colonised was a historical eventuality at the time, and asked him which of the colonial powers he would have chosen. He, uncharacterIstically naively, said he would rather not have been colonised at all. I let that pass

    Talking of the Marathas leading India into a modern age is ludicrous (Ive always thought the term Maratha Empire to be a bit of a joke – in Bengal there are still dreaded memories of Maratha freebooters)

    Do you teach at SOAS?

    • Hello Anvar,

      thanks to you too. It’s hard to keep things calm at times, and your comment is exemplary.

      I love that line about preferring not to be colonised. A real politician’s answer, deflecting the question and avoiding saying anything interesting. Like the rest of the planet, India was going to come into the system we once called ‘the West’; the only questions were when and how, and on what terms. I find all this very interesting, and I have no chauvinist agenda about national superiority etc.; nor am I trying to get elected or curry favour with the BJP. This subject is rich and deep, and Mr Tharoor has given me the courage to approach it more directly.

      Yes, the Maratha Ditch in Calcutta/Kolkota. I admire them in some ways, and Stuart Gordon did a lot to rehabilitate them from the worst of British propaganda, but they were really a late survival of quite an early form of warband.

      No, I don’t teach at SOAS, though I will probably be teaching in Bangladesh next year.

      • But then I perhaps belong to the compradore class. An ancestor of mine came to India in the late 18th century from Iran, went to Banaras and worked on setting up the Sanskrit College there, working with an EI Co officer named John Duncan. When Duncan was later appointed Governor of Bombay, he took my ancestor with him. He later sent my ancestor – Mirza Mehdy Ali Khan – as his agent to Persia, circa 1798, to help thwart a looming invasion of India by Afghanistan, by instigating Iran to attack them from the west – something that his English predecessors had apparently failed to achieve. This, Mirza Mehdy Ali Khan apparently did with great success, also lobbying the Persians against Napoleon and his threat in the bargain. Im trying to collect material about the old gent; sounds like a fascinating character.

        John Malcolm was a friend and travelling companion of his son, Mirza Mohd Husain Khan, whom he mentions in his travels. But then, alas, the family went into serious decline, culminating in people like me : )

        • Now that is an interesting story. The strands of real history still come down to us in all sorts of ways.

          I have taken an interest in John Malcolm over the years, and the missions to Iran feature in the book (my fourth) which I am still rewriting.

          • I would love any info you might come across about Mirza Mehdy Ali Khan – or his son, Mirza Mohd Husain Khan,

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