The legacy of the British Empire lives on in passion. For some the British in India were a noble species who brought justice enlightenment and technology, A bit like those oddly benign aliens who popped up in the old Star Trek TV series, advertising their superiority and admonishing earthmen and others to mend their ways. For many Indians they were invaders, devoted to plunder, rapine and oppression-think Clingons if Star Trek is your thing.
The truth, like all truths, is subtle, complex and requires a very great deal of thought. But Amartya Sen, writing for the Guardian, makes a very fair stab at it. Rather than balancing the feel good sensibilities of the warring parties he goes for facts, salient ones, and some are interesting indeed. That before the British there was no country called India is hard to dispute. Yet the example of what Japan achieved without white rulers is a telling counterfactual for the Indian narrative.
Seventy-four years after India achieved its freedom, does any of this matter? In England, yes. Memories of a time when white Brits were effortlessly above darker types resonate strongly in the crowded housing estates and contested streets of the former power. They inform decisions on so much-constitutionally, electorally and culturally. And racism is never a one way street.
Whatever India is now and may become-and that could be much- it cannot forget one long ago but vital aspect of its being. History is a sort of by product, thrown out by nations as they move along. In the hands of authors like Sen, it is intelligent, fair and just.
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