Amazon Book Description
- The Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller on India's experience of British colonialism, by the internationally-acclaimed author and diplomat Shashi Tharoor
- 'Tharoor's impassioned polemic slices straight to the heart of the darkness that drives all empires ... laying bare the grim, and high, cost of the British Empire for its former subjects. An essential read'
→ Financial Times
- In the eighteenth century, India's share of the world economy was as large as Europe's. By 1947, after two centuries of British rule, it had decreased six-fold. The Empire blew rebels from cannon, massacred unarmed protesters, entrenched institutionalised racism, and caused millions to die from starvation.
- British imperialism justified itself as enlightened despotism for the benefit of the governed, but Shashi Tharoor demolishes this position, demonstrating how every supposed imperial 'gift' - from the railways to the rule of law - was designed in Britain's interests alone. He goes on to show how Britain's Industrial Revolution was founded on India's deindustrialisation, and the destruction of its textile industry.
- In this bold and incisive reassessment of colonialism, Tharoor exposes to devastating effect the inglorious reality of Britain's stained Indian legacy.
- I know I’m going to hate this book, but that’s no reason for not reading it, or for ignoring arguments that I find disconcerting.
- I’ve not read the book yet – I’ve only just received it – but my initial thoughts on the above Book Description include:-
- Share of the world economy: this makes it sound as though India’s economy had declined, when it hadn’t declined, but had not increased to the same degree as Europe’s. No doubt if Britain had focused on developing India’s economy rather than on the industrial revolution “back home” things might have been different, but would such altruism have been possible? The proper comparison is between India as it would have been left to its own devices under the weak Mughal empire. Would its economy have grown to the same extent of Europe’s (any more than Turkey or China)?
- “Blew rebels from cannon” : true, but – according to "Ferguson (Niall) - Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World" – this was an old Mughal punishment (chosen – by them and the British – because of the Muslim respect for the integrity of the post-mortem human body, and its relation to a future resurrection).
- “Caused millions to die from starvation”: it depends what you mean by “caused”. They didn’t cause the drought that caused the famine. Everyone agrees that Britain didn’t respond appropriately to the Indian – or Irish – famines, but assumed that “the market” would sort it out. It’s also true that food exports continued from both countries during the famines. I don’t know whether there would have been famine in England without this – populations expand based on food availability, until sufficient food couldn’t be home-grown (as is true today as well of course). Also, I think part of the issue was that Britain wasn’t a despotism: there were repeated changes of government during the famines, which made a decisive and rapid response to the problems difficult. Compare China vs US in response to Covid-19. I might add that things haven’t changed much – Britain still “attracts” goods and trained staff that are needed in Britain, but which are needed much more in their countries of origin.
- Britain’s interests alone: Well, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Does anyone argue that the “gifts” were other than spin-off benefits? However, Britain partly encouraged (and, of course partly restricted) an Indian educated middle class that allowed the eventual transformation of India into a modern democracy. It’s a very modern idea, made possible by the enormous increase in global wealth, that “great powers” should not maintain and expand themselves at the expense of those they rule, but should act altruistically, though the latter idea did start in the Victorian era. But there’s bound to be a tension if a tiny island rules a sub-continent with a vastly greater population – too much of a level playing field, and you’ll lose the game. Until the rise of technology, life has always been a struggle rather than a right.
- India’s “deindustrialisation”: India – on account of its huge population – had an advantage in “cottage industries”, but this is not scalable without new technology. I’m sure the market for Indian goods was undermined by the mass-production of textiles in the mills of the north of England, but India wasn’t “industrialised” in the first place (in the sense of the Industrial Revolution), so couldn’t be “deindustrialised”. Of course, the “sweatshops” are now in Bangladesh rather than Manchester.
Chronology – xi
Acknowledgements – xvii
Preface – xix
- The Looting of India – 1
- Did the British Give India Political Unity? – 37
- Democracy, the Press, the Parliamentary System and the Rule of Law – 79
- Divide Et Impera – 101
- The Myth of Enlightened Despotism – 149
- The Remaining Case for Empire – 175
- The (Im)Balance Sheet: A Coda – 213
- The Messy Afterlife of Colonialism – 235
Notes and References – 251
Bibliography – 281
Index – 289
- 1600: British Royal Charter forms the East India Company, beginning the process that will lead to the subjugation of India under British rule.
- 1613-14: British East India Company sets up a factory in Masulipatnam and a trading post at Surat under William Hawkins. Sir Thomas Roe presents his credentials as ambassador of King James I to the Mughal Emperor Jehangir.
- 1615-18: Mughals grant Britain the right to trade and establish factories.
- 1700: India, under Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, accounts for 27 per cent of the world economy.
- 1702: Thomas Pitt, Governor of Madras, acquires the Pitt Diamond, later sold to the Regent of France, the Duc d’Orleans, for £l 35,000.
- 1739: Sacking of Delhi by the Persian Nadir Shah and the loot of all its treasures.
- 1751: Robert Clive (1725-74), aged twenty-six, seizes Arcot in modern-day Tamil Nadu as French and British fight for control of South India.
- 1757: British under Clive defeat Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula to become rulers of Bengal, the richest province of India. Weakened Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II issues a Diwani that replaces his own revenue officials in the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa with the East India Company’s.
- 1765: First Anglo-Mysore War begins, in which Hyder Ali of Mysore defeats the combined armies of the East India Company, the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad.
- 1771: Marathas recapture Delhi.
- 1772: Birth of Rammohan Roy (d. 1833). British establish their capital in Calcutta.
- 1773: British East India Company obtains monopoly on the production and sale of opium in Bengal. Lord North’s Regulating Act passed in Parliament. Warren Hastings appointed as first Governor-General of India.
- 1781: Hyder Ali’s son, Tipu Sultan, defeats British forces.
- 1784: Pitt the Younger passes the India Act to bring the East India Company under Parliament’s control. Judge and linguist Sir William Jones founds Calcutta’s Royal Asiatic Society.
- 1787-95: British Parliament impeaches Warren Hastings, Governor-General of Bengal (1774—85), for misconduct.
- 1793: British under Lord Cornwallis introduce the ‘permanent settlement’ of the land revenue system.
- 1799: Tipu Sultan is killed in battle against 5,000 British soldiers who storm and raze his capital, Srirangapatna (Seringapatam).
- 1803: Second Anglo-Maratha War results in British capture of Delhi and control of large parts of India.
- 1806: Vellore mutiny ruthlessly suppressed.
- 1825: First massive migration of Indian workers from Madras to Reunion and Mauritius.
- 1828: Rammohan Roy founds Adi Brahmo Samaj in Calcutta, first movement to initiate socio-religious reform. Influenced by Islam and Christianity, he denounces polytheism, idol worship and more.
- 1835: Macaulay’s Minute furthers Western education in India. English is made official government and court language. Mauritius receives 19,000 migrant indentured labourers from India. Workers continued to be shipped to Mauritius till 1922.
- 1837: Kali-worshipping thugs suppressed by the British.
- 1839: Preacher William Howitt attacks British rule in India.
- 1843: British conquer Sindh (present-day Pakistan). British promulgate ‘doctrine of lapse’, under which a state is taken over by the British whenever a ruler dies without an heir.
- 1853: First railway built between Bombay and Thane.
- 1857: First major Indian revolt, called the Sepoy Mutiny or Great Indian Mutiny by the British, ends in a few months with the fall of Delhi and Lucknow.
- 1858: Queen Victoria’s Proclamation taking over in the name of the Crown the governance of India from the East India Company. Civil service jobs in India are opened to Indians.
- 1858: India completes first 200 miles of railway track.
- 1860: SS Truro and SS Belvedere dock in Durban, South Africa, carrying first indentured servants (from Madras and Calcutta) to work in sugar plantations.
- 1861: Rabindranath Tagore is born (d. 1941).
- 1863: Swami Vivekananda is born (d. 1902).
- 1866: At least a million and a half Indians die in the Orissa Famine.
- 1869-1948: Lifetime of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Indian nationalist and political activist who develops the strategy of non-violent disobedience that forces Britain to grant independence to India (1947).
- 1872: First British census conducted in India.
- 1876: Queen Victoria (1819-1901) is proclaimed Empress of India (1876-1901). Major famine of 1876-77 mis-handled by Viceroy Lord Lytton.
- 1879: The Leonidas, first emigrant ship to Fiji, adds 498 Indian indentured labourers to the nearly 340,000 already working in other British empire colonies.
- 1885: A group of middle-class intellectuals in India, some of them British, establish the Indian National Congress to be a voice of Indian opinion to the British government.
- 1889: Jawaharlal Nehru is born (d. 1964).
- 1891: B. R. Ambedkar is born (d. 1956).
- 1893: Swami Vivekananda represents Hinduism at Chicago’s Parliament of the World’s Religions, and achieves great success with his stirring addresses.
- 1896: Nationalist leader and Marathi scholar Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) initiates Ganesha Visarjan and Shivaji festivals to fan Indian nationalism. He is the first to demand ‘purna swaraj’ or complete independence from Britain.
- 1897: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrated amid yet another famine in British India.
- 1900: India’s tea exports to Britain reach £137 million.
- 1901: Herbert Risley conducts first ethnographic census of India.
- 1903: Lord Curzon’s grand Delhi Durbar.
- 1905: Partition of Bengal rouses strong opposition. Swadeshi movement and boycott of British goods initiated. Lord Curzon, prominent British viceroy of India, resigns.
- 1906: The Muslim League political party is formed in India at British instigation.
- 1909: Minto-Morley Reforms announced.
- 1911: Final imperial durbar in Delhi; India’s capital changed from Calcutta to Delhi. Cancellation of Partition of Bengal.
- 1913: Rabindranath Tagore wins Nobel Prize in Literature. Indian troops rushed to France and Mesopotamia to fight in World War 1.
- 1915: Mahatma Gandhi returns to India from South Africa.
- 1916: Komagata Maru incident: Canadian government excludes Indian citizens from immigration. Lucknow Pact between Congress and Muslim League.
- 1917: Last Indian indentured labourers are brought to British colonies of Fiji and Trinidad.
- 1918: Spanish Influenza epidemic kills 12.5 million in India, 21.6 million worldwide.
- 1918: World War I ends.
- 1919: Jallianwala Bagh massacre. General Dyer orders Gurkha troops to shoot unarmed demonstrators in Amritsar, killing at least 379. Massacre convinces Gandhi that India must demand full independence from oppressive British rule. Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms promulgated. Rowlatt Acts passed.
- 1920: Gandhi formulates the satyagraha strategy of non-cooperation and non-violence. Khilafat movement launched.
- 1922: Non-cooperation movement called off by Mahatma Gandhi after Chauri Chaura violence.
- 1927 & 1934: Indians permitted to sit as jurors and court magistrates.
- 1930: Jawaharlal Nehru becomes president of the Congress party. Purna Swaraj Resolution passed in Lahore. Will Durant arrives in India and is shocked by what he discovers of British rule. Mahatma Gandhi conducts the Salt March.
- 1935: Government of India Act.
- 1937: Provincial elections in eleven provinces; Congress wins eight.
- 1939: World War II breaks out. Resignation of Congress ministries in protest against not being consulted by viceroy before declaration of war by India.
- 1940: Lahore Resolution of Muslim League calls for the creation of Pakistan.
- 1940: Cripps Mission. Quit India movement. Congress leaders jailed. Establishment of Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj) by Subhas Chandra Bose to fight the British.
- 1945: Congress leaders released. Simla Conference under Lord Wavell.
- 1946: Royal Indian Navy Mutiny. Elections nationwide; Muslim League wins majority of Muslim seats. Cabinet Mission. Interim government formed under Jawaharlal Nehru. Jinnah calls Direct Action Day. Violence erupts in Calcutta.
- 1947: India gains independence on 15 August. Partition of the country amid mass killings and displacement. Britain exits India.
In-Page Footnotes ("Tharoor (Shashi) - Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India")
- Useful panoramic view, and an indicator of what the author thinks were important events.
Penguin (1 Feb. 2018)
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)