The United Kingdom Should Never Apologize To India

The British Raj’s legacy should be treated no differently from any local power

In recent times, it is often a common sight to find the British Raj criticized heavily because of it’s colonial past in India (and Bangladesh). The criticism has been very unjust and wrong because there is no need to have a heightened response to the legacy that the Raj left in those two countries only because what the British Raj did was something that is so rarely visible in the region: in the middle of bad democracy and even worse governance, filled with extreme poverty and mass corruption, there is also the “positive colonization legacy” left by the Raj. The Raj, is an inherently foreign colonial power – it is a power that is largely external to the whole Indian environment and yet the Raj managed to conquer India and rule when so few can even govern appropriately today. It’s indeed a remarkable question of how few can effectively rule India as the Raj did, or even how governance fares for other countries in the Indian subcontinent in comparison to the Raj’s in decades past, in both India and Bangladesh? Naturally, both India and Bangladesh’s former ruler, the British Raj led a flawed democratic project, which bred poverty but that is simply bad governance and nothing else.

If it is in India and Bangladesh’s history that the British Raj colonized the two states (and the Raj was a rather mighty and very lengthy ruler, it’s important to add) why should the British Raj be treated any differently from other former rulers of India, from Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh? It shouldn’t because that would most certainly be a grave wrong to the legacy of the Raj in the Indian subcontinent. There have been outrageous claims made too that the United Kingdom should consider apologizing to India for having colonized India, but for what? Naturally, India was made to look like a very grand state in response to it because the conclusion was derived that the reason why India does not really need to ask for an apology from the United Kingdom is because India is filled with so much goodness and has such pompous (and well-calculated) localized faith in becoming a great force in the world. What is hard to understand is why this illiterate point of view even prevails in India? The British Empire (of which the British Raj is a faction of) had also colonized Sri Lanka and even gave it the title ‘British Ceylon’.

British Ceylon began as a protectorate so it wouldn’t be tough to connect the dots there that the colony had different roots or different beginnings from India and Bangladesh – these two states began as proper colonies and nothing else. So, arguably, India and Bangladesh are real colonies of the British Raj. In today’s times, the Human Development Index for Sri Lanka is always so much higher than India’s. Since 2010, in fact, Sri Lanka is developing better than India but how is that possible because Sri Lanka is India’s neighbour and a part of the Indian subcontinent, in the end? Sri Lanka, at the moment has high human development, whereas both India and Bangladesh have medium human development. If the British Empire or the British Raj really had made India so poor that an apology should be due by the United Kingdom for it’s colonial legacy in the state, how is Sri Lanka doing so much better for it’s human capital? It cannot, under any circumstance, be assumed that British Ceylon did not suffer because of the United Kingdom’s colonization legacy. Arguably, Ceylon had become the richest state in the region because of certain plantations but Ceylon wasn’t happy with the British, even then.

Just because the British had founded the plantations in Ceylon that still exists today, doesn’t mean that Sri Lanka is still profiting from it. The only argument that can exist in it’s favour is that Sri Lanka might be profiting in the sense that the plantation was founded by the British, as in the plantations had those roots but the whole trade now is entirely an independent venture. So the British had in reality only made it ‘possible’ for Sri Lanka to profit from tea plantations but the whole tea plantation trade-work responsible in Sri Lanka now, which is a beneficial point, is singularly a Sri Lankan effort and nothing else. It is not possible to imagine that Sri Lanka can still be benefiting from those roots of the plantations and doing so well economically simply because it is in the fabrics of their history. India, it is already wrongfully claimed, is still poor because of the horrendous British (Raj) ruling in the state (for which an apology should be in order) but then that argument cannot be stretched and applied in another direction for Sri Lanka too; the mere roots of tea plantations (laid down by the British) is not acting as a profiting venture for Sri Lanka in today’s times, at all.

Colonized India, meanwhile, had many problems of its own like India today: India is, at first, always a challenge to govern, and then because of the British Raj, India (and Bangladesh) experienced the Great Depression (along with the rest of the world), and naturally the British Raj at the time had formulated poor policy responses to all the economic problems that had surfaced in India. But should the United Kingdom apologize to India for it? I don’t think so. It is high time that the understanding prevails that the British Raj should be freely criticized like any other governing power of India. Why does there need to be an apology for it because a former governing power may make it’s own mistakes, whether or not it is colonial, can it not? I have never seen such a point of view flung towards one of the most catastrophic mistakes in Indian history, made by Indira Gandhi during her rule – there is most definitely an Indian hypocrisy at play here. The British Raj, should be constructively criticized but it is still a good and grand force in the world and it’s legacy in India and Bangladesh, should not be treated any differently from local powers.

How difficult is ‘India’ to govern, to rule?

For the British Raj, it seems to have been the easiest thing

Lord Canning can be seen in this portrait, meeting a local king: Maharaja Ranbir Singh, of the Jammu and Kashmir province. It is an intimate portrait of the successful, legendary and affluent days of the mighty British Raj. India is a land that was once upon a time united with Bangladesh, where the state was known as Bengal – precisely, during that time it was subjected to powerful colonisation efforts by Great Britain.

The Dutch, the French, the Spanish and the Portuguese Empires, tried their hand at doing more than just send out legendary map-makers and charters from their lands, such as Vasco Da Gama, to India to learn more about this place floating on the Indian ocean, and yet the British Raj’s contribution in discovering and ruling India as a British colony has been noteworthy. But what is interesting is that India has always been a land torn apart by numerous wars in it’s many states. It took many centuries for India to become a united state. Home to Indus Valley Civilizations, Vedic cultures, Sanskrit societies and the British trying since India was conceived off to implant colonization there, it took the Maurya Empire (circa 322 BC) to bring the country together and aim for prosperity.

The remaining colonial European settlements were deeply interested in exploiting the British Empire and subjugating populations all across from Newfoundland to Bombay, and preventing prosperity reaching them – these people were inherently interested in rising in Europe and lucrative trade prospects in all of Britain’s colonies. All this plundering by Europeans at the time, led the Raj to dive down into improving the economy by following the Mughal taxation system. Soon, the Raj’s popularity and influence grew amongst princely states. They were able to reunite the land in ways and manners no former local kingdom (or ruler) ever could.

It is not difficult to see why: the princes of some 600 or so states were recognized as local rulers, directly under the observation and control of the Raj. Large portions of their correspondence, how they are to govern, local politics were all terribly influenced by the Raj. This period marked the intensive colonization by Great Britain, leaving behind high-order diplomacy that was the order of the day for how the country liked to deal with India. Bound by treaties, which dictated the rights of princes, their loyalty extended beyond pieces of papers and the red royal seal of the Raj: they had a dangerous distaste at the thought of rebellion against the British Raj.