Shashi Tharoor asks British to atone for their 200 years of imperial rule by paying 1 pound for each year ruled

By Anu Jose

What a treat for Melbournites to have Shashi Tharoor grace us with his presence at the Melbourne Writer’s festival. Promoting his new book ”˜Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India’, Tharoor was nothing short of brilliant. The man is a born presenter, eloquent, highly knowledgeable and entertaining. Writer, former UN official and current politician, he was in good form with interesting anecdotes and stories at the same time accessible and genuinely concerned with the good of (Indian) mankind. No one wanted the session to end, you could have listened to him talk for a few more hours.

The premise of his book came when he gave a talk on a similar topic at Oxford University that went viral. Surprised with the talk generated and feedback received, the book idea was formed. He had assumed the unpleasant Colonial experience was what all Indians were familiar with, but this was not the case and it had clearly struck a chord.

In conversation with Raf Epstein at the festival, Tharoor answered many questions about his book and the Colonial experience for India to an enthralled audience including former politician Gareth Evans. Tharoor’s ability to recall key quotes by Nehru, Gandhi and Churchill coupled with his knowledge of historic events and insights made for a very informative evening.

Tharoor is up front with how bad the British experience was for India, he is all about forgiving but not forgetting. He feels no extreme love or hatred for the British, the facts are the facts. The British left India as the poster boy for poverty and utterly depleted the country. Shashi went on to hold the British responsible for the Hindu/Muslim conflict considering prior to partition everyone lived in harmony, it was a philosophy of divide and rule by the British. The British re-enforced the caste system, broke promises, and destroyed India’s textile industry. The British prospered by raping India, he said, “Not only did they colonise the country but they colonised the mind leading to the belief that everything from the mother country was superior.”

Tharoor explained how India accounted for 27% of the world economy in the 1700s under the Mughal rule but was left in a pitiful state by the time Britain left. In both world wars, Indian soldiers fought and died, a fact not often relayed when re telling history.

The discussion turned to the need for atonement, 1 pound per year for the next 200 years to atone for 200 years of imperial rule would satisfy Tharoor. The damage of 35 million lives lost in famines raised by the British cannot be quantified but he does want an end to the historical amnesia and an apology by the crown wouldn’t go astray.   Tharoor says you need to know where you are from to appreciate where you are going and British Empire needs to be studied as a whole.

Above: Shashi Tharoor in Blacktown and Below: at UNSW signing the book for his fans

When asked by an admiring fan when he will he become congress leader, he declined to answer. He seems content playing his part in getting Congress back in power. Generous with his time, he stayed to sign books and he attended the local Malayalee Onam function in Blacktown, Sydney. This book is a necessary reading for all Indians, we owe it to ourselves, our children and grandchildren to know what happened to India under British rule and to know it was more than British giving India the English language and the railways. Raf Epstein concluded by proclaiming Tharoor’s latest book by far the best non-fiction at the festival and coming from the city of literature, that’s quite a statement.

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