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Dispassionate Analysis of the Raj in India:give the Devil His Due

Updated on July 29, 2019
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An senior air warrior and political observer who has the pulse of the region and can sense a change when it comes.

The Raj

Raj is a euphemism for British rule over India. It is a very important part of Indian history after the exit of the Mughal Empire. The Raj was the biggest empire in the sub-continent dwarfing the empire of Aurengzeb and is supposed to have commenced in 1757, when Robert Clive defeated the Nawab of Awadh, Siraj-ud-Dowlah in the famous Battle of Plassey. For the next hundred years till the 1857 mutiny, the Raj was a euphemism for the British East India Company rule.

After 1857 the British government took over the administration of the subcontinent and Queen Victoria was crowned Malika-e-Hind or Empress of India. These two hundred years of British rule over a major part of the sub-continent is a period that just cannot be erased from Indian history. Obviously, the question arises how did the Raj last so long? it must be the mentioned as brought out by Lenard Mosley in his book "The Last Days of the Raj" that British administrators and officers numbered just about 100 thousand and they governed a population of almost 300 million. The question is a mystery but it has an answer.

Relief from Muslim Rule

The demographics are startling and it shows that the mass of the Indians accepted the British rule. One can say that though they may not have been extremely happy, yet they were contented as they had been taken out of the clutches of the Muslim rule as represented by the Mughal Empire and the bigoted South Indian Muslim rulers like Tipu Sultan. Most of the Muslim rulers barring an exception or two decimated the Hindu population and many of them made pyramids of skulls of Hindus. Eyewitness accounts, even of the time of Akbar who is supposed to be the better of the Muslim rulers bring out startling facts. Two Jesuit priests during that period who traveled extensively in North India noted in their diary that Akbar once went to witness a bride being burnt on her funeral pyre as a sort of "sport."

The Mughal rule did not believe in equality and rule of law. The Hindus were the subjects and were required to pay the obnoxious Jizziya tax as laid down in the Muslim scriptures.

It is to the credit of the British who arrived on the scene at that stage and defeated the local Muslim rulers and took control of the entire country were able to bring about equality of all subjects in the eyes of the law. Granted the British rulers did have extra privileges but the mass of Indians particularly the Hindus was liberated from the yoke of Muslim rule. Jizziya tax was abolished and the Hindus could travel freely in the country and carry out their profession.

Freedom from oppression for many

The mass of Indians were not very interested in wanting to fight British rule. In my opinion with all its faults of creating a superior class like the English ruler, the overall effect was something good for the Indian people. Niraj Chaudhary in his books has brought out an unsaid fact. He writes that the Raj did not give us equality with the English but everything good which we see outside on the street, is the gift of the same British Raj.

Some historians of modern India have a tendency to depreciate English rule as something alien but they have no answer has to how a mere100,000 could govern a population of 300 million. The fact is they took the support of local educated Indians to help them rule the country.

They were the first rulers after the Hindu empire of Chandragupta and Samudragupta that brought out the concept of universal education. We can condemn the English for everything but no person in his right mind can say that education and attendant facilities like universities were not entirely the gift of Raj.

Spread of Education

The British were the first to set up universities and public schools. Some of them were set up by missionaries with the idea of converting the local population but the net result was that a window of opportunity was given to the masses to educate themselves. The missionaries failed in their conversion attempt as India did not embrace Christianity which even now is just 2% of the population.

The spread of education by the British is the single biggest contribution of the Raj and led to the flowering of national leaders who studied in British-Indian universities like Gandhi, Nehru, Bose, Ambedkar, Master Tara Singh, and other leaders. They were products of the spread of education by the British. The concept of public school was non-existent in India. It is the British who started the concept of public schools and some of the great leader of India studied in The Doon School and Mayo College and various other schools in the hill stations.

Rail and Communication

The second-biggest contribution of the British was the spread of communication and the rail network all over India. There was a time when it was difficult for a person to travel to a distant place and come back home. The British enforced the rule of the law eradicated Thuggery and made the roads safe for passage. It was the first time in the history of India that an Indian from the North like Lahore could travel to the southern state of Madras without being asked as to why he was going there or getting killed by thugs.

The British by setting up the largest rail network system in Asia second only to the United States in the world with 33000 miles of rail track transformed India. Trains ran from Bombay to Peshawar and Bombay to Calcutta. One has only to step outside the Victoria terminus in Bombay to realize that the first train started way back in 1855. The British also set of the suburban rail network in Bombay and Calcutta. I have used the tramcar in Calcutta which runs even now, which again is an English spillover from the Raj.

Apart from this, the British setup institutions that today are the pillars of the Indian state. Firstly, the system of justice with the high court is a gift of the Raj. During the days of the Mughal rule and the Muslim rulers in the south, there was no comparable judicial system and no judicial Court. it is to the credit of the British that they were the first to enact the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Evidence Act. Modern jurisprudence was introduced into India by the English. Many people have asked me when I travel abroad as to how come there was no opposition from almost 300 million Indians who were governed by just a handful of English. The fact is the people wanted peace and stability and nobody wanted to disturb this by fighting the British.

I will concede that much of the good work done in India by the British was with the idea that they would remain in India for at least the next 200 years but the very education which the British started ultimately took over the reins of power.

When the English left in 1947 after their pyrrhic victory over Hitler, they also left behind the finest fighting machine in Asia, the British Indian Army now known as the Indian Army. The Indian Army presently traces its heritage not to the Mughal Army or the Army of Tipu Sultan but only to the British Indian Army. This Army fought two World Wars and was used by the British in many operations outside the subcontinent in China, Africa, and Malaya.

Army and Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

The army was the most professional force but there is also another side that a few of the officer cadre of the British army looked down on the Indians and this resulted in some atrocities being committed. One of the major atrocity was in 1919, what is known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, when over 300 unarmed Indians holding a public meeting in Amritsar were shot dead by troops of the British Indian Army on the orders Brigadier General Dyer but the men who executed this order were soldiers of the Sind, Balooch, and Punjab regiment.

In a way, this shows servility and there was no end of such people who supported the Raj. There were a few revolutionaries who tried to overthrow the Raj but they were only a handful of them and they never had mass support. One can write endlessly about the Raj but for England, India was a jewel in the British crown. Given a chance, they would never leave India but the man who broke the back of the English rule was Adolf Hitler.

Looking Back

The man who broke the back of the English rule in India was the much-reviled Adolf Hitler. people may wonder how his defeat had an effect on the independence of India. Hitler had two effects. Firstly he undermined the loyal British Indian army and enticed sizeable numbers of soldiers to rebel and secondly England after the war became economically weak and lost the ability to control India, where the army and navy could no longer be relied upon

The British lost control of the British Indian Army. Credit for this must also go to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who joined hands with Hitler and general Tojo and caused vast defections from the British Indian Army to the India Legion of Hitler and the Indian National Army which fought alongside the Imperial Army.

At the end of the war mutinies in Bombay and Karachi by the Navy and with a new premier lord Atlee, a decision was taken to go away. One of the parting gifts of the British, I will not call it a gift but it was more like a sort of vengeance for having to leave India.

British Parting gift-Anarchy and Killings

They left but divided the country into religious lines between Hindus and Muslims. The very Raj which preached equality at every stage and a universal law for all in India left by dividing the same.

This I would say is the black spot on the British Raj. In case the British had not divided India and they would have gone down in history as one of the greatest rulers of the Indian subcontinent. Unfortunately, the way the British left more out of petulance to a gloomy future in England led to communal killings all over India.

The English spoiled their copybook of 200 years by that one act. It reminds me more like the approach of emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome burned. The British also despite having troops all over the country and with Field Marshal Auchinleck as the Cin C just sat and saw India burning.

In my opinion, this is a black spot. It is unfortunate that the man who aided the British in this carnage was none other than the self-styled Mahatma Gandhi. This man with the communal killings going on in Lahore and Punjab just kept sitting in Delhi without telling the viceroy Lord Mountbatten to get cracking with troops in Punjab.

The British have gone for good and are no longer a global power and India is rising to take its place in the world as a great power but the Raj had a big hand in shaping this.


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