April 14, 2007
|Neocons Of The Raj||Development|
Salon quotes from an article by historian William Dalrymple that compares British policies in India with the imperial dreams of American neocons. Dalrymple's whole article is not available online, unfortunately. This passage, though, is arresting:
In 1600, when the East India Company was founded, Britain was generating 1.8 percent of the world's GDP while India was producing 22.5 percent. By 1870, at the peak of the Raj, Britain was generating 9.1 percent, while India had been reduced to a poor third-world nation, a symbol across the globe of famine and deprivation.
Today, things are slowly returning to their traditional pattern. Last year the richest man in the UK was for the first time an ethnic Indian, Lakshmi Mittal, and last month news has come that Britain's largest steel manufacturer, Corus, has jsut been brought by Tata, an Indian company. Extraordinary as it is, the rise of India and China, seen from the wider perspective, is merely the rebalancing of the ancient equilibirum of world trade, with Europeans no longer appearing as gun-toting, gunboat-riding colonial masters but instead reverting to their traditional role — eager consumers of the much-celebreated manufactures, luxuries, and services of the East. [Emphasis added]
India was producing nearly a quarter of the world's economic activity before the British got their hands on her and sucked her dry. Astonishing. To this day, the Western imagination features a backward India that benefitted from British know-how and administration. British intervention then, like American intervention today, was well-intentioned, even if a bit misguided. The impulse is benevolent, any negative consequences entirely accidental. Spreading democracy, and all that. Right.
(By the way, the Wikipedia article on Dalrymple mentions this fact: in the 18th and early 19th century, one in three British men was married to an Indian woman. Astounding, if true. The things that are left out of the history we learn at school.)