A blistering assessment of the British rule by Shashi Tharoor at Sydney Opera House

By Sudha Kumar.

On 3 Sep 2017, I had the absolute honour and privilege of spending a couple of hours with Dr. Shashi Tharoor – Member of Parliament (India), Former UN Undersecretary General, Author.

After an extremely successful session at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, Dr. Tharoor was a speaker at ‘Antidote – Festival of Ideas, Art and Action’, Sydney.

He spoke about his new book ‘Inglorious Empire’.

It was a blistering post-colonial assessment.  And Shashi was at his best!

The Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre, packed to capacity, was lapping up every word exchanged between Shashi Tharoor and Ben Doherty (The Guardian).

For thirty short minutes Ben challenged and questioned Shashi about ‘The Inglorious Empire’ in which he (Shashi) laid bare lesser known truths about Britain’s two hundred year colonial rule in India.

Shashi’s perspective is that although the British could never make it right because we are past that time, they could, however, show atonement for the two hundred years of racist oppression of a nation and its people.

He believed that Winston Churchill, who was known as a Statesman, should actually be listed along with Hitler, Mao and Stalin, as he was singlehandedly responsible for the deaths of about two million Indians in the Bengal famine of 1943. And he has more than enough evidence to support his claim.

Of particular focus in the discussion was the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre of 1919, representative of British law enforcement which almost always was prejudiced against Indians. Following the massacre, the official/s in charge were affirmed, rewarded and sent back to the mother country on a fat pension. That one incident summarised the policy and practice of the governance of India and the total lack of value for Indian lives by British Government. As the centenary of the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre approaches in 2019, considering that the incident was carried out in the Empire’s name, an atonement would be most fitting by a member of the Royal family – akin to the apology of Willy Brandt at the Warsaw ghetto and Justin Trudeau for the Komagata Maru incident in Canada.

The audience responded in the affirmative – loud and clear.

Shashi clarified that his reassessment of India’s colonial past does not mean that India in any way should hold any rancour or bitterness against Britain. Both are two sovereign nations today. Bitterness is non-productive and corrosive.

The discussion was then opened to the floor. And Ben had to be ‘brutally democratic’ so as not to disappoint.

Shashi was challenged on a number of ‘Tharoorian’ perspectives and issues – ranging from the English beverage to the English language.

Wasn’t the English language after all a ‘gift’ of the British?

Shashi clarified with references that the English language, like the Railways, Rule of Law and Democracy was for the functioning and strengthening of British Government alone, and not for India or her people. It was never intended to educate or enrich the Indians in any way or form. Today, India with its diversity of languages, does use English as its link language in the judicial proceedings and educational system or else ‘a Singh would find it difficult to understand what a Subramaniam said’.

And yes, he loved his 4 O’clock beverage.

Shashi also commented on the India-China economic relations, where he opined that both countries were economic powers in their own right. As long as each looked after its people, maintained a good standard of living, and people lead a decent life there was no reason for contention. Spoken like a true diplomat!

When asked about marriage equality Shashi responded that India today is facing the issue of marriage criminality which is a bigger and more serious issue.  Having said that, he also mentioned that Indian society was more inclusive of marginalised communities specially of trans-genders.

Of course the audience hadn’t had enough but a good thing never lasts. And time is an uncontrollable variable so Shashi Tharoor had to conclude to a thunderous standing ovation. Intellectual indulgence!

The discussion was followed by a book signing session in the foyer for about forty five minutes with no lull in the long winding queue, the conversations, the clicking or the signing.

A forty-minute drive to the Sydney Malayalee Association Onam celebrations in Blacktown took Shashi Tharoor amidst the Keralites down under. Shashi was happy to share his thoughts on a range of issues with me during the drive. After speaking to a very happy Malayalee community Dr. Tharoor went on to his next engagement.

It was indeed amazing to gain an insight from close quarters into such an erudite personality, author and orator who had the ability to speak to audiences transcending age, occasion and cultural background. A conversationalist to the core, Shashi gave his undivided attention to all facets of this event. His responses to questions were never frivolous, were thoughtful, complete, clear and peppered with humour.

One was left wanting more!

As for his book ‘Inglorious Empire’, as Christopher Kremmer (UNSW, Author ‘Inhaling the Mahatma’) commented ‘Tear up your copies of Ferguson’s neo-liberal mind-rot and get angry like Tharoor.’

 

Short URL: http://www.indiandownunder.com.au/?p=9696

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