Saturday, September 03, 2005
The birth of 'India'
Ramachandra Guha writes in the Telegraph:
[T]here was no India before the British came. It is anachronistic to speak of ‘India’ or ‘Indians’ when writing or speaking of the 18th century or before. It was the British who (for their own motives) made a unified political entity out of many disparate fragments. Subsequently, it was Gandhi and the freedom struggle which endowed this political unity with a social unity, a moral core, and a sense of national purpose.Read the full piece. Guha doesn't defend the British empire here, as some might simplistically assume, but places the unintended consequences of their rule into the context of the times.
Given the backwardness of military technology, and the proclivity of native chieftains to feuding, the colonization of the subcontinent was well nigh inescapable. Now, suppose that the French, the Dutch or the Portuguese had instead become the dominant European power. Would any one of them have succeeded in unifying this land mass? Or would there have been (as turned out to be the case in Africa), four or five spheres of influence, feuding with each other down to the present day? Even if one power (say the French), had ‘won’, would they have brought education and health to all the natives? Would their rule have been less brutal? Would their legacies have been more conducive to the building of a modern, outward-looking, democratic and independent India? The answers to these questions are, respectively: unlikely, very likely, definitely not, probably not, and almost certainly not.