Western Identity — Ours and Theirs…Part I

Our intelligentsia takes pride in above characterization, but is loath to admit this when challenged as to why this junior “partnership” is good for the common Indian and the future of Indian society. Tonybee shows impressive anticipation about the geopolitical currents today. Western overtures to “rising powers” like India are in overdrive right now. Get the rulers, and the population is automatically yours.

It is one of the vital interests of the Western peoples that this partnership of ours with the peoples of the Indian sub-continent should be preserved; for these people together constitute one of the two Asian quarters of the human race; and only two years after Great Britain had made a move for reconciliation of Asia with the West by completing the liquidation of British rule…., the Chinese, who constitute the second of the two quarters of the human race, went over fron the Western camp to the Russian. If after losing the friendship of the Chinese sub-continent, our Western world was to lose the friendship of the Indian sub-continent as well, the West would have lost to Russia most of the Old World, except for a pair of Bridgeheads in Western Europe and Africa; and this might well be a decisive event in the struggle for power betwen the "free world" and Communism. The Indian Union, the successor state of the British Empire which covers most of the Indian sub-continent, and the state in which the Hindus are predominant- occupies a commanding position in the divided world of today, in which the United States and her associates are competing for world power with the Soviet union and her associates. In which direction is the hindu fifth of the human race going to incline? Let us look a t some of the considerations telling for and against the likelihood of the Hindus continuing to go our Western way.

The Superpower rivalry, the “Great Game” described well even in the 50s. The choices laid out for the “hindu fifth of humanity” haven’t changed much. Symbolic independence and local autonomy is better than the alternative, one guesses. Take it or leave it

Let us take a promising part first. It looks as if today, personal relations between Indians and Westerners are more friendly than they ever have been. Many citizens of the United Kingdom will certainly have had the experience-which the writer has a number of times since 1947-of being surprised and touched by the friendliness that the Indians have been going our of their way to show the British people. This has happened to the writer several times in foreign countries, where local observers were on the lookout to see what the relations between the Indians and the British really were now; and he found Indians in conspicuous positions abroad going out of their way to show that the former unhappy estrangement between them and the British was now dead and buried as far as they were concerned. When Great Britain did completely fulfil her promise to liquidate her rule in India, the Indians were, it seems, taken aback. They had perhaps never fully believed that the British intended ever to fulfil their promise to India; and so, when the British did keep their word, there was a revulsion on the Indian side from hostility to friendliness. It is handsome of the Indians make their new friendliness towards the British apparent; and this happy change in the relations of the Indians and the British with another is assuredly something gained for our "free world" as a whole.

Glib sincerity is on display here in the “let’s just be friends, ok?” attitudes, and this is something for Indians to chew on. Our “conspicuous leaders” are understood by Westerners to a Tee! (“You’re a better man than I, Gunga Din!”) A pat on the back now & then, warm handshakes, grand “friendly” gestures, and they are so easily manageable, in contrast to the Chinese…who would rather play hardball.

The estrangement between India and a Western world which, for India, has been represented by Great Britain goes back to the beginning of the Indian movement for independence in the 1890s, and behind the tragic conflict in 1857. It goes back to the reforms in the British administration in India that were started in the 1780s. This birth of estrangement from in relations between Indians and British people is one of the ironies of history; and yet there is a genuine inner connexion between the two events.

In the 18th century the newly installed British rulers of India were free and easy with the newly acquired subjects in two senses. They were unscrupulous in using their political power to fleece and oppress them, and at the same time they were uninhibited in their social relations with them. They hob-nobbed with their Indian subjects off duty, besides meeting them at work on less agreeable terms. The more intellectual British residents in India in the 18th century enjoyed the game of capping Persian verses with Indian colleagues; the more lively Indians enjoyed being initiated into English sports…..in 1786…Indians and Englishmen could be hail-fellow-well-met with one another. The British rulers of India in the first generation behaved, in fact, very much as their Hindu and Muslim predecessors had behaved. Humanly corrupt, and therefore not inhumanely aloof; and the British reformers of British rule, who were rightly determined to stamp out the corruption and who were notably successful in this difficult undertaking, deliberately stamped out the familiarity as well, because they held that the British could not be induced to be superhumanly upright and just in their dealings with their Indian subjects without being made to feel and behave as if they were tin gods set on pedestals high and dry above those Indian humans down below.

Some perceptive observations above. Their fascination with “Courtly Islam” finds detailed mention in books like EM Forster’s ‘Passage To India’, and other “Raj” fiction & non-fiction, a book genre by itself. There are interesting observations that the British “Colonial Towns” in India were built so that wives of Administrators & Soldiers could join them. The presence of wives & kids ended the give & take with Indians on human terms, & thus started off the aloof British Ruler living in his separate world, who would enforce rigidly the unfeeling regulations crafted by people in London who had no understanding of the ground realities in India.

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