(Prof. Safdar Sandal)

The British as an empire first made an exit from the world arena in the twentieth century and now they have made an exit from the European Community, the EU as named.  This chain of thought and action in this direction has been termed by them as Brexit, the most proportionately chosen name, however. The Raison d‘etre behind Brexit has again been the mindset of the colonial past, composed of exclusiveness and a feeling of  superiority, an exalted living as a separate country from the mainland Europe, despite being located in the same region and continent. Added to this, they have liked to call themselves as dwellers of Island-England, rather than be a part of the mainland Europe despite the fact of being only a few kilometers away from mainland Europe. ‘English Channel’ divides France and England consisting of a sea cleavage of 34 Km, besides a similar sea connection exists between Belgium and England. I have had the opportunity of voyaging by ship to England through both of these coasts with a few intervening occasions of course, by air-travel too to Heathrow Airport.

           (PM Boris Johnson pleading for a YES vote for Brexit, in the House of Commons)

France and Germany have propagated unification and co-operation instead of separation, but the British do not share their enthusiasm with the view that the Germans will and have been dominating Eurozone. Behind the argument of Brexit for the British, has been the notion and the nation that the United Kingdom is, has been purviewing its colonial past, for periods extending over two centuries and thus has enabled them to call their country as “Great Britain” because of having ruled in parts of nearly all continents of the world, mainly in the mid seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And now because of their feeling of the past, the slogan as such, of Brexit has been coined by them for forsaking EU and saying, “Let’s put the GREAT, back into their Great Britain”. The ‘Great’ obviously referring to the British Empire that boasted once the fact, that the ‘Sun doesn’t set on Great Britain’. True, but the acknowledgement of British colonial past has been replete with vandalism and needs to be analyzed especially in the context of Asia and in particular our Sub-continent India; what it did to India and how it should be seen as we progressed after the British left in the new decades of the 21st century. The Great Britain and its colonial past were not great at all. In fact, it has been a nightmare of an exploitive ruthless period for what was done to the Sub-continent in the name of progress and priority. Through manipulation, violence and exploitation, the British enjoyed prosperity in their homeland at the cost of people, advertantly made poor in their colonies. In today’s age of information, public freedom, liberty and international law, the morality and context of the past must be set right before the eyes of the world, vividly declaring the difference between the victim and the oppressors. The oppressors of the past now stand exposed and screwed from all sides of international opinion. The victims are coming up in full swing to come out of the past despondency.

In 1500s, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French had gone into the unchartered territories of Africa and South America. The innocent people in these lands welcomed the strangers, but the later butchered them and through sheer brutality and inhuman treatment, many a nations were brought into subjugation through wars and violent tactics. The Spanish and French ventured into Africa and South America. Late to the menace of this colonial game joined the British, who began their journey of plundering and looting distant lands with their arrival in Bengal in the 1700s. The East India Company was set up to find trade routes and to establish colonies, as an initial plan. The British had superior fire power but that is not only what they had used to subjugate and mutilate other nations, who were more humane to have welcomed them, as their guests. The British in order to gain demonic dominance used another weapon and that was the ‘divide and rule’ policy. This succeeded in the form of defeat of Siraj ud Daula in Bengal in the beginning by conspiring against him through his chief minister Mir Jaffar.  And thereafter, the exploits and stories of violent manipulation never ended. Piece by piece, the British exploited the Indian Sub-continent to enrich their homeland back in England.  By way of academics, the industrialization of the British Empire was based on de-industrialization of the Indian Sub-continent. Colonialism was a means to dominate other nations. Any other definition of the colonial past cannot be offered. The dominance was conducted only through massive exploitation and violence. The effects of colonial rule cannot be calculated, the least that can be done, is that the moral depravity can be seen in history, as what it actually tells us.

From the time that the British arrived in the Sub-continent, the percentage of world trade being conducted from India called once the ‘Golden Sparrow’, was 23% of the total world which was reduced to 4% when the British left. The first thing that the British did in every area they overpowered was that they completely burned down and destroyed the local handicrafts and small industries that existed. In Bengal for instance, hands were offered to be cut off, for a mere 100 rupees paid, in order to stop the local and un-marveled weaving industry. In place, supply lines were established to buy raw materials at almost negligible rates and sent back to their home country. London was flooded with riches that were looted from local population through these manipulations. The raw materials and craftsmanship that were the daily bread and butter for the local population, was used to feed the empire-machinery in England. The goods produced there, were in return forcibly sold to the conquered areas at high rates. Duties and taxes were collected at exorbitant costs on agricultural produce and properties. The local labour was no exception and not much hired.  Only a few hundred British officers and troops were treated as a royalty. They were given swathes of land and properties and could do anything they pleased, with the masses. They systematically built systems to destroy the livelihood of people being ruled, as per policy, made them poor to ensure that they served the empire. For over a hundred years, ‘The East India Company’ kept waging wars and lay waste  large areas of Bengal, Punjab and Southern parts of the Sub-continent, until the people of India revolted that gave rise to the War of Independence in 1857, nicknamed by the British as ‘Ghaddar’. I knew no other name than Ghaddar (mutiny instead of War of Independence) as this word was so written in our text books and taught to us in our school days of fifties and sixties. Soon after this War of Independence, the British made an exception by declaring India to be governed directly by the Crowned Queen herself and declaring it to be a jewel in the crown of the British Empire, like Indian government has now done by annexing and declaring Kashmir as part of Indian Union, against the wishes of the people and against the resolutions of the UN. The discredit goes to the UK again to have left behind such a legacy, unfortunate for the Sub-continent.

Apart from the exploitation in trade, taxes, labour and property, the British did something so disastrous that its effects, can be felt even today.  From numbers-point of view, the English officers and troops that could be sent to colonies were few compared to the indigenous population. In order to cover up this complication, the British formed allies in the form of conspirators, dictators or detractors who were readily available in our society and who could easily betray their own people. The prize offered was ruler ship or dependent-rule under the British officers.  The Nawabs, the Maharajas and local chiefs’ that helped the British armies take control of India, changed their loyalties and the landscape of the Sub-continent, forever. Even today, the families that are contesting elections in Pakistan and India are the ones that had co-operated with the foreign invaders to take control and exploit the land. The progress of England and the destruction of prosperity in the sub-continent, owes a lot to these families. As Pakistan and India have gone to war over Kashmir three times, the policies of the tyrannical partition and demagogic decisions of the Dogra family in Jammu (who had joined the British camp) in deciding the fate of Kashmiris are a fresh reminder of how much damage the British had caused to this part of the world.  Millions of people died and millions others were destroyed for over 200 years at the hands of the British-Raj, the Great Britain was not great at all, but minutely small, by all means and standards of morality and ethics.

Mr. Shashi Tharoor, a vocal MP from Kerala, India, has given a detailed account of British atrocities in the Sub-continent in his book “Inglorious Empire”, and he is of the view that people of Britain owe damages and should pay reparations to Pakistan and India for the exploitation exacted upon them for over 200 years. There is no justice in history, but it must be pointed out that time does not spare the oppressors. The colonial era has ended and the colonized nations have now acquired independence from 1925 to 1975; thanks to the events after the two World Wars. It can only be hoped that the effects of a tormented past do not come in the way of future progress of these nations. The post-colonial resurrection of nations has yet, raised huge challenges and many of them are struggling to escape the vicious cycle of violence, maladministration, poverty and political adrift caused by colonialism. But at least the ship is sailing now in the right direction. According to a survey, a two third population in the United Kingdom is still proud of their colonial past. Perhaps now is the time to speak up and to let them know that the only past legacy they should remember is of shame and remorse in the name of a shared humanity.

But no! the British people’s recent YES to the Brexit by an acclaimed majority of votes in their parliament,  proves to show their mindset that they do not feel regretful or ashamed of their past brutalities, cast over the innocent peoples of the world and it is still their desire to subsist and continue with their dreadful past history.  The feeling of being different from the rest of the civilized Europe, with whom they have disassociated themselves through passage of Brexit bill, shows a nostalgic ego of emperorship they once had but which should have been dead long ago.  By displaying their megalomaniac behavior they have merely put a last nail in the coffin of their Great Britain. Their majority vote in favour of Brexit displays a complex of guilt to still remain Exclusive or Great even in Europe. Their effort is a jolt to the common cause of Europe and a disruptive role in its joint economy. The people and their government in Britain must realize that their time is gone and that they are a secondary power now, as they have behaved practically in the past few decades by playing only as a second fiddle to the US policies and by having obeyed their dictates as subservient, in cases of an onslaught on Iraq and for Libyan, Syrian and Afghanistan bifurcations and freshly in the Iran imbroglio They got involved in the ‘Spring Uprisings’ of the middle East and North African states, at behest of USA. Their obedience continues unabated with a seldom independent policy and that too, always at the cost of sufferers who mainly to belong to the Muslim world. This is the criteria of their politics.

Brexit,  will become a big challenge for UK and for the existing third Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) who is trying to see it through, whereas the earlier two Prime Ministers (David Cameron and Teresa May) had to bite the dust. A similar thrust awaits, as the people demand a public vote. A weak democracy is a weak state and that is what a past colonial state is poised to be, in the absence of a popular vote being the demand of the people to decide about Brexit, correctly. The largest and the oldest constitutional democracies of the world are in trouble.