Britain’s plunder of India

india Famine 1876

‘The British empire is under Providence the greatest instrument for good that the world has seen.’

Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India 1899–1905

• Inglorious Empire: what the British did to India

by Shashi Tharoor, Hurst and Company 2017, 296pp, £20

Shashi Tharoor has written a searing indictment of the British occupation of India, demonstrating how the colony was looted of its wealth, its industry destroyed, its development obstructed, its people impoverished and subjected to starvation and famine. It takes the form of a polemic against latter-day apologists for empire such as Niall Ferguson whom Tharoor cites as arguing that Britain’s empire promoted ‘the optimal allocation of labour, capital and goods in the world...no organisation in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labour than the British empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth century... Prima facie, there therefore seems a plausible case that Empire enhanced global welfare.’ As Tharoor shows, this ‘optimal allocation’ of resources ‘meant, to its colonial victims, landlessness, unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, disease, transportation and servitude’ (p215).

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India: The struggle for independence – part 2: 1931-1947

FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 139 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 1997

India2

15 August 1997 marked the 50th anniversary of the formal independence of the Indian sub-continent. In part one ROBERT CLOUGH outlined the course of the struggle to end British colonial rule up to 1931. In this issue he explains how British imperialism was able to ensure that the struggle ended with a neo-colonial solution, where political independence masked a continuing domination by imperialist rule, and how the conduct of the Labour Party was critical to the outcome.

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India: The struggle for independence – part 1: to 1931

FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! 138 AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 1997

india1

15 August 1997 marks the 50th anniversary of the formal independence of the Indian sub-continent. ROBERT CLOUGH outlines the course of the struggle to end British colonial rule, how British imperialism was able to ensure that it ended with a neo-colonial solution, where political independence masked a continuing domination by imperialist rule, and how the Labour Party would be critical in achieving this aim.

India was truly 'the jewel in the crown' of British imperialism. From 1757, when Clive’s victory over the Mogul of India started the plunder of Bengal, India was a source of untold wealth, exceeding even that generated by the slave trade. The results were no less destructive: the imposition of capitalist relations on the Indian rural economy led to regular famines during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whilst Bengal itself was reduced from conditions of development equivalent to those in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century to the abject poverty that characterises the Bangladesh of today. If the slave trade had created a mercantile power out of British capitalism, it was the plunder of Bengal that provided the money capital to advance the Industrial Revolution.

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India: Modi visits Britain

In mid-November Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a three-day visit to the UK, meeting heads of UK corporations to urge them to invest more in India, holding talks with David Cameron and making a speech to 60,000 supporters in Wembley stadium. This was the 29th country Modi had visited in the eighteen months since he was elected prime minister following a landslide victory for his party BJP, thanks to an astute and well-funded media campaign and disillusionment over rising inflation and slow growth under the previous Congress government. Modi had been banned from visiting the UK and US and other countries in the wake of his role in the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat state, where he had been chief minister when over 1,200 Muslims were killed. Thousands of Indian demonstrators protested against the visit outside Downing Street and other venues, and the slogan ‘Modi not welcome’ was projected on the Houses of Parliament.

The recent UK visit comes in the midst of increased communal polarisation and attacks against mainly Muslims and Dalits (the lowest and poorest stratum in Hindu society) in India. A number of secular intellectuals and freethinkers such as MM Kalburgi have been murdered and others have received death threats from fundamentalist Hindutva gangs, emboldened by the right-wing BJP government’s Hindu nationalist policies and Modi’s studied silence in the face of these events. A number of writers, film directors and other intellectuals have returned their awards to the government in protest against the rising intolerance. In BJP-ruled Haryana, attacks on Dalits have increased seven-fold. In October, two Dalit children were burnt alive in Faridabad by upper-caste Hindus. Mob attacks on Muslim men seen in the company of Hindu women under the false accusation of love jihad are now common in Mangalore and other coastal cities of Karnataka state where Hindutva forces dominate.

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India: Stocks rise as Modi-led BJP wins Indian national elections

On 17 May, results of the Indian national elections gave the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies an absolute majority, sending shares in the Indian stock market surging to an all-time high. The humiliation of the Congress Party at not even being able to win the minimum 10% of seats in parliament needed to secure the title of leader of the Opposition is total. The election result is testament to the complete failure of the Congress Party and the reformist communist parties – Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) – through years of attacks on workers’ rights and pro-imperialist deals. India faces greater inequality, corporate rule and communal violence.

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