No remorse; Britishers still yearn for Raj

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By Shubham Kumar

New Delhi, September 28: India has recently surpassed United Kingdom to emerge as the 5th largest economy in the world. Indians, from United Kingdom, rightfully anticipates a remorse, for the west has long projected itself as a champion of humanitarian justice and egalitarian policies.

Contrary to these innocent Indian anticipations, a sizable portion of English society seems to yearn for the return of the Empire. It sounds incredible but realities, sometimes, are stranger than fiction.

Recently, a clip featuring James Morrow was gaining traction on the internet. The federal political editor of Daily Telegraph was heard saying that ‘decolonisation has caused more trouble’ than colonial adventures.

Do note that this statement was aired on Sky News which is widely subscribed in the island nation. In the same show, calls for reviving the ‘raj’ were made.

It turned out, unearthing more instances of colonial nostalgia in the English society is not a hard task. Conservative MP Heather Wheeler, during Rio Olympics, thought it best to encourage the British contingent by tweeting ‘empire goes for gold’.

Politicians aside, section of British citizenry also nurture a special affection for the colonial past. ‘Dishoom’, ‘Gymkhana’ are not Bollywood productions but some of the top-rated restaurants in the United Kingdom. These
places have been designed, especially, to cater the empire state of mind that lives rent-free amongst the Britons.

Paul Gilroy has aptly comprehended the British nostalgia as evident above. He coined the term ‘Postcolonial melancholia’. He argues, here, that reversal of the vast British empire has dented the national prestige.

Changing world order has ensured that English mandarins never exert the same global influence as the empire did. British nationalism, Gilroy says, has since been looking for its ‘pick-me-up’ moment ever since.

Nationalism, and their tenets, nevertheless evolve. India, for instance, is no longer fixated to its spiritual calling for definition, but also envisions its global dominance and pride stemming from the booming IT sector.

What here traps the English psyche and British nationalism to the Raj is worth a thought. Building on his observations, Paul Gilroy highlights that the empire gets revisited because its loss remains painful to the people, and this has not been ‘worked through’.

These reconciliations with the horrors of past can only be made possible when uncomfortable truths of the past are known to the people. Take, for example, the many travelling agencies offering the ‘Raj Reborn’ package to Indians.

None of them, however, offer a trip to Jallianwala Bagh.

Encounters with the dark past are, importantly and primarily, discouraged in British classrooms wherein the history lessons follow a strange timeline.

From Henry VIII, the learning goes straight onto the Nazis. Little recollection of the Raj is done henceforth. Perhaps, it was this design of historical learning that stopped the British Prime Minister from apologising for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in 2013.

Prejudices, stereotypical ideas and such notions link to a pool of ideas as per Farish Ahmad Noor. These pool of ideas have a history of their own and are critical in shaping the worldviews.

Britons have done a fair share in tactfully neglecting the most brutal misadventure in the history of modern mankind.

As a result, YouGOV polls in 2019, showed that nearly one-third of Britons were proud over the colonial empire. Similar proportion of the population thought now-independent countries were better off as colonial subjects.

While these discoveries are startling, British nationalism is not the absolute source of mischief.

‘Dishoom’, ‘Gymkhana’ and even the East India Company (yes! it still exists) are owned by people of Indian origins. Not only nationalism, but it is the sheer unawareness around true facets of the Raj that gives wings to such ignorance in people. This ignorance, innocent at the outset, tends to minimise the brutalities of the empire and shamelessly celebrates the same.

British imperialism along with its European competitors, at its zenith, subjugated around onethird of the world. Nearly 90 % of American indigenous tribes vanished, African traditional society and economy collapsed, and India was left as a poverty-ridden state with the sponge drying the Ganges and filing the Thames. Implications of such upheaval are still present.

A true realisation of empire will happen comprehensively in British society only when the memories of the empire cease to be bankable. Vested interests would not allow any changes to notions that, sadly, fetch conservative votes and handful pounds.

(Author is a researcher with Public Policy Research Centre; Opinion expressed solely belongs to author )

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