Anis Chowdhuryand Jomo Kwame Sundaram confront the notion that British rule helped “develop” the empire.
After turning its back on the Commonwealth since the Thatcherite 1980s, some British Conservative Party leaders are seeking to revive colonial connections in increasingly desperate efforts to avoid self-inflicted marginalization following divorce from its European Union neighbors across the Channel.
Part of the new Brexit induced neo-imperial mythology is that its colonies did not provide any significant economic benefit to Britain itself. Instead, it is suggested that colonial administrations were run at great cost to Britain itself.
The empire, it is even claimed, was long maintained due to a benevolent imperial sense of responsibility. To revive patron-client relations neglected with the turn to Europe in the 1980s, the new mantra is that British rule helped ‘develop’ the empire.
As the sun never set on Britain’s far flung empire, acquired by diverse means for different reasons at various points in time, few generalizations are appropriate. Nevertheless, there is already significant research indicating otherwise for many colonies, but India, of course, was the jewel in the crown.
Empire Strikes Back
Former Indian foreign minister Shashi Tharoor has debunked many imperial apologetic claims, including those made by former Oxford and Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. Probably the most prominent, Ferguson famously insisted decades ago that countries progressed thanks to imperialism in an influential TV series and coffee table book sponsored by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), “Empire.”
Malaysian Sultan Nazrin Shah’s Oxford University Press book has underscored the crucial contribution of colonial Malayan commodity exports in the first four decades of the 20th century, while other scholarship has shown that…