Magazine article Geographical

The Making of India: The Untold Story of British Enterprise

Magazine article Geographical

The Making of India: The Untold Story of British Enterprise

Article excerpt

THE MAKING OF INDIA: The Untold Story of British Enterprise

by Kartar Lalvani; Bloomsbury; 25 [pounds sterling] (hardback)

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Kartar Lalvani would like everyone, Britons and Indians alike, to 'acknowledge the positive aspects of the colonial period.' He does not deny the exploitative excesses of the British presence In India but he also cherishes the 'lasting legacy we inherited', not least a 'liberalism' that 'was high minded and enduring in its benefaction.' If the two nations want a shared future based on 'partnership, equality and friendship' they must jettison the 'baggage of a purely negative and wasteful interpretation of history.' It is high time, Lalvani announces, 'to give credit where credit is due.'

On the face of things, there is compelling evidence to justify Lalvani's buoyant analysis. He puts all sorts of present-day Indian institutions and ideals down to British influence: democracy, a free press, a credible judicial system, fine educational establishments, a decent police force, an apolitical army. There seems to be an assumption here that such treasures would never have evolved In India without the British, but I suppose we'll never know.

Physical achievements are also easy to locate. Lalvani describes, in painstaking detail, the arrival of harbours, lighthouses, telegraph wires, electricity and many other contributions to the nation's infrastructure. The 1,423-mile Grand Trunk Highway, begun in 1836, connected Calcutta to Lahore and was 'grander than any scheme ever before conceived, even by the Romans.' Those who preferred to travel by railway had access to 45,000 miles of track by 1947 and less than one per cent of villages were more than 50 miles from a railhead.

Lalvani has great respect for 'Britain's unsung, yet heroic, pioneers in India' and concludes that 'the sheer audacity and scale of such an endeavour, the courage and enterprise, have no parallel in world history.' He is also amazed that fewer than 1,500 officials managed to govern the Raj at its height, stating 'today, in Delhi, that number of civil servants occupies just two buildings.'

Alongside all the facts and figures, Lalvani challenges various preconceptions. …

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