British used 'classic mafiosi tactics' to expand territory in India: Shashi Tharoor

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Shashi Tharoor | File photo: ANI

New Delhi: Senior Congress leader and author Shashi Tharoor on Tuesday said the British had used what was a "classic mafiosi tactics" to expand its territory in India during the colonial era.

He was speaking at an interaction held late evening at the India International Centre here on the book "British Takeover of India: Modus Operandi", recently republished after its original version had come out in 1979.

Tharoor reiterated how the British came as traders to India, but realised it was "far more profitable, to trade at the end of a gun".

He referred to the gradual fall of the Mughal empire, and how, at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, fought under the command of Robert Clive, the East India Company forces defeated the ruling Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal. Soon, Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II granted the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the Company.

Tharoor, author of "An Era of Darkness: The British Empire In India", told the audience that the British extracted "four times more revenue" than has ever been extracted, exploited resource on India and repatriated profits to England.

The former Union minister also said that weakness of many Indian rulers of princely states or other potentates, helped in the expansion of the British Empire in India.

"Frankly, what the British used was a classic mafiosi tactics, it was something that was perfected later in Italy," he said, drawing chuckle from the audience.

Mafiosi, an Italian-origin word, refers to member of a mafia or a similar criminal organisation.

They (the British forces) would go to a small maharaja, and be allowed to park themselves in their domains, and were paid for by the maharaja's treasury. And, through tactics used by the British, a maharaja ended up "paying his own people, to protect himself from his own people".

Among other things, the British did during the colonial rule, was such an "incredible racket", Tharoor said.

The East India Company ruled over large territories in India till 1857 when the Sepoy Mutiny, also referred to as the First War of Independence, took place, following which India came directly under the rule of the British Crown, and it ruled till 1947 when India became an independent nation.

Tharoor, in response to questions from members of the audience, praised orientalists like William Jones who set up the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784, and botanists who meticulously documented flora of India.

In response to another question, he said, "I have argued in my book ('An Era of Darkness') that the entrenching and formalising of the caste system is actually a British colonial legacy".

Asked about the relevance of the Commonwealth in India's context, Tharoor said in 1947, it was a 'transfer of power', rather than a surrender or capitulation by the British.

The Congress government of that time "went out of their way to ensure there was no humiliation of the British at the time, they relinquished the power. And, expressed their willingness to remain associated, "but they said they will do so without acknowledging the Crown as our sovereign ruler", he added.

So, thanks to India that entire distinction was made, between the role of the king or queen as the head of the Commonwealth and the authority of a king or the queen as the head of State. So, that time the king was the head of the Commonwealth and head of State of Australia, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand, he said.

India chose to be a Republic (since 1950) with its own head of State, but acknowledged the king as the head of the Commonwealth, the Congress leader said.

"And, this formula gave India an opportunity to continue engaging through these foreign countries, in one form of international affairs. I would argue, it was far more important in the late 40s and early 50s than subsequently. And, gradually institution of the Commonwealth has become less and less important for pursuit and objectives of the Indian foreign policy," Tharoor said.

The book "British Takeover of India: Modus Operandi" covers the period of Indian history from 1757, the period of ascendancy and consolidation of the British rule. It challenges many of the accepted major premises and notions regarding this period of history and brings into sharp relief the policy and methods followed by the British.

The book, republished by INTACH and Aryan publication, has reproduced 39 pre-Independence era treaties.

It is important to take into account such books, said former Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta, who also took part in the panel discussion .

"We are in the process of rediscovering our history, which is quite evident. It is also contentious. But, the process is ongoing. We are in the process of rescuing our history from historians. And, I say that with a certain degree of premeditation, because I think if there is anyone who is responsible for vulgarisation, distortion, it is not so much as the British, it is our own historians," he claimed.


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