Was the British Raj a boon for India?

Invasions have been a central part of Indian history. Throughout its long history, India invaded or was invaded. This is how ideas spread and cultures grow. However, the most memorable foreign invasion Indians remember is the British Raj which lasted for around two centuries.

The British thrived in India for more than two centuries, exploiting India as a market for British goods and services, which served defense needs by maintaining a large standing army at no cost to the British taxpayer. However, all this ended with the start of the Second World War.

Although the British Empire and the Commonwealth countries all emerged from the war as victors, and the conquered territories were returned to British rule, the costs of the war and the nationalist fervour that it had stoked became a catalyst for the decolonisation which took place in the following decades.

At the end of the Second World War,  Britain no longer remained a superpower, its huge colonial Empire fell apart and owed a massive debt to the United States. However with Germany defeated and Hitler dead, Italy in shambles and Mussolini hanged, Britain continued to sit at the head of the ‘high tables’ in the post World War II world, deciding the fate of other nations – along with the United States.

The United Kingdom was too exhausted, both financially and politically, to subdue popular revolutions in India. Thus reluctantly, India was declared an independent dominion in August 1947. Now lets analyse a question, which is asked by only a few: What would India be like today if it had never been ruled by the British?  Was the British rule a boon or a bane? Let’s find out….

In 1858, the biggest jewel was added to the British Crown when Queen Victoria was declared the “Empress” of India. This ended a century of control by the British East India Company. Though a majority of Indians’ refuse to acknowledge the British Raj’s contribution in India’s present success, they reap the benefits of the Raj every day.

Before the Raj, India did not exist. The subcontinent was fragmented and ruled by local rulers who frequently fought against each other. It was the Raj which helped in uniting disparate elements of the subcontinent’s  political scenario, giving  the people a sense of a national identity and a cause to fight for. India, is fundamentally a nation fostered into being by Britain, and one which derives its romantic national identity from its struggle for independence.

 Another important gift the British Raj has bestowed upon India is English. India is the world’s fastest growing major economy, producing more English-speaking graduates than the rest of the world combined. The use of English is the most enduring and profitable legacy of the Raj; without it, the boom in the Indian software industry could not have happened.

Close ties with Britain give India better access to the rest of Europe. Just as Empire opened the doors of modernity to India, a good relationship between Britain and India will be a mark of how prominent both countries are in the modern world.

Of course, Empire was not an altruistic enterprise. Britain reaped enormous profits from India at the expense of its growth. Britain had no intention whatsoever to leave India richer and more vibrant than it was before. All of the infrastructural improvements were just to increase administrative efficiency.  However all that is best about India – its tolerance, freedom and engagement with the world, has flourished due to the structures and the ideas it inherited from the British rule. Indians have built upon much of what Britain introduced them to – the English language, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and the protection of individual rights. The Raj left India a legacy that unified its disparate peoples and enabled them to emerge as a power in the world.

One who doesn’t learn from the past, is the one who fails in the future. So, instead of being ashamed of our history and expecting an apology from Britain , we should be proud of every moment of our history; for it is what has made India a truly multicultural, vibrant country.

India is a country with one foot set in the past, and the other foot firmly set in the future.


Note:- All the opinions stated in the above article are the author’s own.


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