Retribution - Reparation... And Colonialism

Call it reparation, or call it payback – or call it retribution; call it what you will. The latest speech by Dr Shashi Tharoor has, once again, brought the colonial memory to the fore of the public consciousness; sad part is that it failed to ignite a debate on the issue of the colonial damage, and the payback and apologies by Britain, or their absence. It lead to a series of plaudits – well deserved, no doubts – on Dr Tharoor; but, by and large, completely failed to tackle the larger issue of an apology and return of the loot by The United Kingdom.



Why should the UK do either when the raped party is itself silent and acquiescing in the matter? There is no pressure on them to do so; that they will never apologise and compensate by themselves is a given. We aren’t in the Satyug; and the Great West is far from being the model of fairness and justice that it claims to be. That leaves us to wallow in our own self-pity, and / or our own ambitions and desires…



THE PERSONAL ASPECT


You have a "want" and then you have a "should"



First, the "Want"



Do I want the money? You bet I do! Every Single Penny the British took from us :  Each.and.every.single.penny. We know the amount; we have the proof; we have the period evidence; we can calculate NPV. I want it back, make no mistake. It is ours, and we can prove it beyond a shade of doubt with solid, irrefutable period evidence - yearwise, datewise and monthwise.



The contention that how far back do we go is not tenable, because the pillage was based on the destruction of the industrial base of India {Yes, we did have industries- large numbers of them}, the agricultural base of India. Add to that the planned destruction of our arts, culture, self-respect etc. The current problems of India are directly traceable to the Raj. Prior to the Raj, the economic status is also well-documented and pretty much beyond debate, establishing the cause of our penury beyond a shade of doubt.



Interested people can refer my previous articles  for details of books and references containing documented proofs}



Apologies : now what good is that? It means a lot to us : but how can we be sure that they mean it? That it isnt insincere? That is why, I dont hold much store by an apology. Dont want it. If you are truly apologetic - show it. Give us back what is ours : you can start with the Kohinoor. The rest is open to negotiation! That is also why in the strategic analysis below, I have not even touched on an apology. They can keep their crocodile tears. 



THE STRATEGIC ASPECT


Now, The "Should"


Should we ask for it? Make it an issue? Answer : No. The international situation effectively means that any such move would be counter-productive, and self-inflicted damage. That is manifestly unfair, given the damages given to other countries as others have stated, and the apologies; but the world isnt a fair place. Further, for us, survival comes first; economic and diplomatic realities preclude such a possibility as of now. It would be stupid; and we arent stupid, that I am sure all readers would agree to quite wholeheartedly.



Further, using under-handed tactics a-la USA, Pakistan etc also is out; such practices come back to hit the perpetrator. We do anything like that - and our loss is pretty much  a guarantee. Third, and most important. do the majority of Indians want a repayment or some kind of a reparation? There, we are in the land of conjecture. We have no way of knowing; and this {majority opinion} is a vital matter - we are a democracy.



But. if the majority wants it - some kind of a payback {maybe not the entire amount, of course} - then, the situation changes dramatically. It would empower the Government to act, and put some serious pressure on them. The pressure would not be needed, of course; if the majority want it, it will reflect automatically in the policy stance; it then becomes only a question of time.



And, in an even slightly altered international context- it is conceivable that we can put the screws on the West real h.a.r.d, and make them cough up. As of now, that is far fetched... but in 1857, who would have thought that we would kick the Britishers out from our holy land in a short span of 90 years? Just because the present does not warrant such an action on our part does not mean we forget. The reason is that we as a nation are still paying the price of the colonial rape – in everything from security issues to the problems of poverty that are plaguing us.



The question then arises, how can we do it? In a world economy with a powerhouse India and its economy, with a comparable military might, it would be mighty hard for The Great West to fend us off. That is beyond argument. That is why - if we want our money back - just about the only way is to develop our economy, make it far more relevant to world trade - and then.... hit back. HARD. Tell 'em ; cough up, or F-Off. End Game; Game-Set-Match India. The pay-off can be in various terms and forms: better trade terms, preferential trade terms, hard cash, market access, strategic benefits, technology free of charge, etc etc. That is open to negotiation; as I look at in the second and concluding part of this mini-series



Sounds Far Fetched? Yup, as on date it probably is. But History is stranger than fiction, and stranger things have happened.



That is why it is vital that Indians be reminded of our past, and the price we have paid. Repeatedly reminded. Not just for this reason : it tells a lesson that we cannot trust The West. Note what happened since independence for proof, and look to the continuing blind support to Pakistan for more proof, or a cursory glance at the trade and economic realities of the modern post-colonial world.



The West may believe the story of colonialism is over; I suspect it hasnt even started yet. Quite apart from the fact that colonialism never really died – it just changed form into a shape that fools us into believing all is right again; the reality is that the Ghosts Of The Past haven’t been laid to rest yet. What happened was just the prologue; picture abhi baaki hai. Till inequality exists, the threat given above will remain. And for inequality to be lessened requires The West to start sacrificing in the here and the now. And you can rest assured, that wont happen; not for a very long time – if at all.



And with increasing inequality in an atmosphere where every colonised nation dreams of the same level of development of The Great West, the pre-existing fissures will be ruthlessly opened and renewed, past wrongs brought to the fore. That is what scares me. These deepening fissures in an atmosphere of desire and naked ambition for growth are already visible; you cannot deny the downtrodden nations their desire for growth. But that will come at a cost; what that cost is to be is for us to determine as a people, and as a human race…



Why should we ask for compensation? How should we go about it? What form should this compensation take? What are the strategic repercussions or alternatives, and what are our internal pressures and realities? How is colonialism not yet dead? These are all  questions I take up in the concluding part of this 2-part mini-series. Let me close this article with a thought-provoking piece by Pankaj Mishra :




The sense of humiliation that burdened... Asians has greatly diminished; The rise of Asia and the assertiveness of the Asian Peoples consummates their revolt against the West that began more than a century ago; it is in many ways the revenge of the East. Yet this success contains an immense intellectual failure, one that has profound ramifications for the world today and the near future. It is simply this: no convincingly universalist response exists today to Western ideas of politics and economy...

The war on terror has already blighted the first decade. In retrospect, however, it may seem a prelude to greater and bloodier conflicts over precious resources and commodities that modernising as well as already modern economies need. The hope that fuels the endless economic growth - that billions of consumers in India and China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans - is as absurd and dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by Al-Qaeda. It condemns the global environment to early destruction and looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage and disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots - the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly pyrrhic... : Pankaj Mishra, From The Ruins Of Empire - The Revolt Against The West And The Rise Of Asia



In closing. I can only say with infinite sadness that The Great West should pay heed to their own literature, and study their own history. Sad part is, they will never do so. And that terrifies me. Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost; abhi toh interval bhi nahi hua hai! The story is just unfolding; it isnt even half-way over yet – of that, I am certain. 



Though the mills of God grind slowly; 
Yet they grind exceeding small; 
Though with patience He stands waiting, 
With exactness grinds He all.

"Retribution" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow






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