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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India: Hindu fundamentalist becomes opposition PM candidate

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

This September the Hindu fundamentalist opposition party in India, BJP, declared its prime ministerial candidate to be Narendra Modi, three times elected controversial chief minister of Gujarat state. This decision was egged on by millions of grassroots BJP workers enthused by Modi, as well as Hindu nationalists and youths who look to Modi as both a bulwark of Hindu nationalism and an icon of ‘development’. This elevation of Modi ahead of next year’s general election bodes ill for India and for the entire region.

 

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Delhi gang rape triggers mass protests across India

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

On 16 December 2012, a 23-year-old female medical student was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi and died on 29 December as a result of the appalling injuries she received. As the news of the brutal rape became public, there was widespread outrage in New Delhi and elsewhere. On 21 December a huge public protest took place at India Gate, a prominent landmark in the city. Protesters marched also to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the Indian president. There were clashes with the police in Jantar Mantar and other Delhi locations. The police attacked the demonstrators with tear gas, water cannon and lathi (sticks), injuring and arresting many of them.

 

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Indian government pushes on with austerity measures – Dec 2012

In late November 2012 the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh made a speech defending his government's recent cuts in subsidies that benefit poor people (such as the price of kerosene and the number of subsidised cylinders each family was allowed to have) and the decision to allow majority foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail. Ending the ban on foreign multinational companies like Walmart taking a majority stake in any Indian retail company will allow such companies to start undercutting their suppliers and competitors using huge investments from abroad. With interest rates in India typically much higher than in developed countries like the UK, multinationals can get cheaper loans than their Indian competitors. This will be a threat to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of small Indian shopkeepers and retailers.

 

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Indian farmers commit suicide in GM wasteland

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

In the last ten years 200,000 farmers have committed suicide across India. Last year alone, 800 farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra killed themselves. Some estimate that in India a farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes. This horrifying trend, the largest suicide wave ever recorded, is a result of the desperate and growing poverty amongst India’s poor, which is happening regardless of – or arguably because of – the much-vaunted growth of the country’s economy.

 

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India: What’s in a name?

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

The demand for political prisoner status

On 11 April 2010, 469 inmates in Alipore Central Jail in Kolkotta (Calcutta) in West Bengal went on hunger strike, demanding recognition as political prisoners. The previous April, two prisoners in the district of Cooch Behar went on a fast to demand political status. On 14 September 2009 an unspecified number of inmates in Nagpur, the second capital of the state of Maharashtra in western India, went on a one-day hunger strike to demand political prisoner status.

What’s in a name? One might ask. It is one thing to ask for fair trial, injunctions against torture and such, but why this insistence on labels – ‘P’ for political, ‘C’ for criminal? Political status does not automatically lead to any special privileges or concessions other than the things civil liberties groups demand for all prisoners: fair and expeditious trial, humane treatment, prohibition of physical and sexual torture, and an end to graft. Yet the very resilience of this demand for categorisation indicates its importance for the civil liberties and democratic rights movements in India today.

 

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Life shouldn't be like this – the fight to beat the multinationals

The struggle of Indian people in the southern state of Kerala against Pepsi and Coca-Cola products reached a new stage when on 22 September, in a court case brought by the multinationals, the Kerala High Court overturned a state ban on their production and sale. In response, supporters of the ban smashed stocks of Pepsi Cola and attacked eight lorries ferrying Coca-Cola. The Kerala state government has said it will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Kerala banned the sale and production of Pepsi and Coca-Cola products in August in response to a recent study showing dangerously high levels of pesticide residues in Indian soft drinks. Seven other Indian states have banned the sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi drinks in schools and government buildings.

 

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