Newspaper article International New York Times

India Reflects on Its Break with Britain 69 Years Ago ; Historical Differences and Parallels Are Cited after Vote on E.U. Ties

Newspaper article International New York Times

India Reflects on Its Break with Britain 69 Years Ago ; Historical Differences and Parallels Are Cited after Vote on E.U. Ties

Article excerpt

In the aftermath of Britain's decision to leave the European Union, Indians reflect on the long road to their own independence and unification.

It has been almost 70 years since Britain exited India.

That "Brexit" took two centuries of mutinies and protests, culminating in the nonviolent movement led by Gandhi, to compel the British to grant India independence in 1947 and leave soon after.

So Indians watched with interest as Britain, perceiving a threat to its sovereignty, voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. And they marveled at how much easier this Brexit was to achieve.

"If it was as easy as holding a referendum to separate, it would have happened for India much earlier," said Shekhar Gupta, a former editor in chief of The Indian Express, an English-language newspaper in India. But for the Indian Brexit to happen, Mr. Gupta said, "we had to drive them out."

The Indian nationalist movement gained steam in the 1920s, when Gandhi began leading a nonviolent boycott of British products. The British imprisoned him and tens of thousands of others, trying in vain to stop the growing movement.

"If you had a referendum back then, India would have been 100 percent for Brexit out of India," said Sanjaya Baru, who was a spokesman for Manmohan Singh when he was prime minister. "It is true the British detest the dour bureaucrats sitting in Brussels, ruling over the E.U., but that is nothing compared to the widespread anger back then against the white man in India."

But still the British hung on to India, relinquishing it only after being substantially weakened during World War II. And they did so reluctantly, noted the historian Ramachandra Guha, with some British generals convinced that India would be unable to govern itself and beg the British to return.

British colonialism in India began with the East India Company, which brought trade and its own private army. The legacy of the company can be seen in independent India's reservations about foreign corporations, which have been welcomed only in recent years. …

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