Why Shashi Tharoor is wrong about British colonial debt to India


How much does Britain owe India in reparation for its 190 years of occupation and depredation of India?

Shashi Tharoor, Congressman from Thiruvananthapuram, in his delivered A Age of Darkness: the British Empire in India, quoted the American historian and philosopher Will Durant: “The British conquest of India was the invasion and destruction of a high civilization, totally without scruple or principle, reckless of art and greedy for gain, invading with fire and blood a country temporarily disorderly and powerless. , bribing and murdering, annexing and stealing, and starting that career of illegal and “legal” plunder which now (1930) has ruthlessly continued for one hundred and seventy-three years. “

Consider the damage Britain has done to India. In Tharoor’s words: “Taxation (and tax robbery) has become a favorite form of exaction among the British. India has been treated like a cash cow; the income which flowed into the London treasury was described by the Earl of Chatham as “the redemption of a nation… a kind of gift from heaven.” The British extracted from India about £ 18,000,000 every year between 1765 and 1815. Taxation – usually at a minimum of 50% of income – was so heavy that two-thirds of the population ruled by the British in the late 18th century fled their lands. Durant writes that “(fiscal) defaulters were confined to cages, and exposed to the scorching sun; fathers sold their children to keep up with the rising rates. “Unpaid taxes meant being tortured to pay, and the miserable victim’s land being confiscated by the British.”

What Britain built in India with underpaid Indian labor and overtaxed Indian incomes has been ruthlessly repatriated to pave the roads of London.

While Tharoor’s well-documented book has rightly received wide coverage in India and abroad, a excellent article on the subject by Venu Madhav Govindu in The Wire (August 6, 2015) has gone relatively unnoticed.

Govindu sheds light on what Britain owed India from an accounting perspective. These are empirical and official figures. From there we can extrapolate Britain’s colonial debt to India, an exercise I first did in an article by The Illustrated Weekly from India in 1988: The Debt and Dishonor of the British Empire.

But first, Govindu’s arguments: “In 1931 the debt owed to Britain by India was around Rs 1,000 crore. At that time, the Indian National Congress claimed that much of this amount had been contracted by Britain to defend its own interests. Relying largely on the work of Gandhian economic philosopher JC Kumarappa, Congress argued that the principle of natural justice would wipe out all that debt and more. British political leaders and the press strongly denounced this rather moderate stance and treated it as a treacherous “repudiation” of India’s obligations.

“At the end of WWII in 1945, Britain finally had to take into account the problem of its debt to India and other countries. Britain agreed to pay a debt of Rs 1 600 crore, but other calculations showed a rather different figure. In 1947, Kumarappa estimated that India’s share of the costs of deploying its soldiers was Rs 1,300 crore. A similar amount of Rs 1,200 crore was spent in war-related expenses. He argued that these and other costs should be borne by Britain which led to a figure of Rs 5,700 crore which was much larger than the UK figure of Rs 1,600 crore. Britain, Kumarappa argued, should not be allowed to be the debtor as well as the judge and jury and he has been pushing for India to demand an impartial international tribunal on the matter. , India failed to push for such an international settlement. ional and the British point of view prevailed at the expense of independent India. “

Take the figure of 5,700 crore rupees estimated by Kumarappa in 1947 as the starting point for what Britain owed India in purely commercial terms, disregarding intangibles such as the economic cost of human life. caused by British brutality or the blatant strangulation of the Indian economy. activity and commerce.

In 1947, the exchange rate was Rs 13 to the pound sterling. Thus, 5,700 crore rupees in 1947 was equivalent to 4.40 billion pounds sterling. What would that be in today’s rupees / sterling?

The value of gold and real estate is an accurate indicator of the appreciation of silver over long periods spanning more than 70 years. In 1947, the price of 10 g of gold was Rs 80. In 2017, the price of 10 g of gold was Rs 31,000, an increase of almost 400 times.

The rise in the price of a basket of real estate, raw materials and basic necessities over the past 70 years gives a similar cost inflation index of between 400 and 500 times. (The UK price adjustment for inflation between 1947 and 2017 is about 150 times. But since our calculations are in rupees and a depreciation of the rupee rate between 1947 and 2017 has been taken into account , the multiplier of 400x is valid.)

Now on to the math: according to Govindu, Britain’s official debt to India in 1947 was Rs.5,700 crore (£ 4.40 billion) at the prevailing exchange rate of Rs. 13 to the pound. sterling. Multiply that by 400. At today’s inflation and exchange rate corrected figure, then the debt is £ 1.76 trillion.

famine690_102817055301.jpgThe British conquest of India was the invasion and destruction of a high civilization.

But that’s just the tip of the repair iceberg. We have not yet calculated the cost of India’s near zero GDP growth rate during vast periods of 190-year British occupation, nor the cost of the loss of economic value due to willful destruction by the Great Britain of Indian commercial trade.

If these are scientifically calculated, Britain’s debt to India at today’s prices would easily exceed £ 3 trillion (Rs 270 lakh crore) – more than Britain’s current GDP. -Brittany.

Tharoor says repairs are not necessary; an apology and a token payment of one pound sterling per year for 200 years will suffice. He is wrong. Repairs are needed. Apologies and symbolic gestures will not be enough. Tharoor writes in his book: “India should be content with a symbolic reparation of one pound per year, payable for 200 years to atone for 200 years of imperial rule. Indeed, the attempt of an Indian commentator, Minhaz Merchant, to calculate what a fair amount of reparations would be, resulted in a figure so astronomical – $ 3 trillion in today’s currency – that no one could. never reasonably expect to pay it. (The sum would be greater than the whole of Great Britain’s GDP in 2015.) “

Clearly, £ 3 trillion (not $ 3 trillion as Tharoor writes) is a figure that must be ratified by an international arbitration panel made up of economists and technocrats. This mechanism had been demanded by Congress, on the basis of Kumarappa’s work, even before Independence. Suppose the final figure at which such a tribunal arrives today as colonial reparations against Britain’s debt to India is £ 2.50 trillion.

A payment schedule can span 50 years with no interest at 50 billion pounds sterling (Rs 4.50,000 crore) per year. That’s less than 2% of Britain’s current GDP (£ 2.6 trillion) and not much more than the amount Britain intends to spend in the future each year on National Health Service (NHS).

Can Britain afford to pay India reparations of 2% of its GDP for the next 50 years?

This is not India’s problem. It is Brittany.

For nearly 200 years, Britain plundered India, committed brutal crimes against Indian civilians and strangled GDP growth. In the process, he financed his industrial revolution, his Napoleonic wars against France, and built the world’s largest economy in the 1800s. This led to the creation of the British post-industrial leisure society and the soft power of the music, sport and culture that accompanied it.

What about Britain’s contribution to India: railways, unification, English, ICS / IAS, universities, rule of law?

Tharoor rightly puts everyone in perspective. Consider, for lack of space, only one: the railways: “In this very design and construction, the Indian railways were a big British colonial scam. Each mile of Indian railway construction in the 1850s and 1860s cost an average of £ 18,000, compared to the dollar equivalent of £ 2,000 at the same time in the United States. “

In short, what Britain built in India with underpaid Indian labor and overtaxed Indian incomes was ruthlessly repatriated to pave London roads, finance British infrastructure and subsidize British imperial wars. . India has indeed ended up paying for its own colonization. All the benefits went to Great Britain. All costs were borne by India.

Longtime British MP Virendra Sharma of Indian descent last week filed a motion for the start of the day (EDM) in the House of Commons seeking a formal apology from the British government for the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. It is one of the tip of the repair iceberg to which no price can be attached.

But for others, it is possible. And Britain must pay.

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