Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India

By Modongal, Shameer | Insight Turkey, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India


Modongal, Shameer, Insight Turkey


Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India

By Shashi Tharoor

London: Hurst & Company, 2017, 296 pages, [pounds sterling]20.00, ISBN: 9781849048088

The dominance of European scholars and a Euro-centric framework in social sciences, including history, has both stemmed from and perpetuated ignorance about the perspectives and feelings of colonized people in writing about the colonial period. Such narrations portray colonial rule as an inevitable and progressive stage in the economic, political and social development of Asian and African countries. Even though there is plenty of literature about the looting and brutality of the colonial powers, most of this has gone unnoticed among the academic community. Inglorious Empire, which was published in India in 2016 under the title An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, a brilliant work by Shashi Tharoor, is distinguished among this literature in its manner of presentation and dazzling arguments. Its popularity as one of the Sunday Times top ten bestsellers shows the wide and enthusiastic acceptance of this book. Even though it does not make any new arguments or add value to the existing nationalist literature, Tharoor's 'ferocious and astonishing' writing distinguishes it from others. The book is a continuation of the debate that occurred in in the Oxford Union on the extent to which 'Britain owes reparations to her former colonies.' However, the author shifts his focus in the book from reparations to colonial impacts.

Tharoor brilliantly depicts the impacts of British colonial rule on the Indian economy, polity and society. He continues throughout the book without diverting from the central question of 'what the British did to India.' The first chapter focuses on the economic aspects of colonialism and explains the different forms of looting that caused a weakening of the Indian economy from a 27 percent share in the world economy in 1700, under Aurangzeb, to 3 percent when the Britain departed India in 1947. Tharoor dismisses arguments that the decline of India's industries was due to its inability to compete with western machinery. According to Tharoor, the industrial revolution of Britain was built on the destruction of Indian industries. He calls the destruction of the textile industry, the "first great de-industrialization in the modern world" (p. 5). The second and third chapters focus mainly on the political impacts, along with a few social impacts, of British rule. The author dismisses the arguments of apologists who present democracy, the free press, the parliamentary system, the rule of law, and even the unity of India as a British contribution. Rather, he notes that India's political institutions and press were controlled and constrained by British policies. Interestingly, Tharoor argues that a presidential system of government, not the British parliamentary model, is best suited to an independent India (p. 87). He differentiates the British colonial system from that of other colonial powers such as the French and Portuguese, and contends that Britain did not try to change or reform Indian society as other imperial powers did as part of their "white man's burden" or crusade. However, the author ignores the social impacts of the cultural imperialism and assimilation policies of French and Portuguese in their colonies. …

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