Friday 6 August 2010

The Raj, Cracking The Whip

When Cameron visited India it was a very odd business. Who was he trying to impress? What did not impress was his performance at the Formal Inspection of the Guard of Honour.

The way he went past looked like an old age pensioner with an out of date Senior Railcard scuttling by a line of South Eastern Rail shock and awe squad of ticket inspectors.

It really is time to give politicians some basic training in the courtesies of such inspections. On the whole The Royals do them well. Perhaps for new boys there could be a few 6.00 a.m. early morning parades conducted by the HRH, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

You can take the junior naval officer out of The Navy, but you cannot take The Navy out of the Queen’s Consort, as we all know. It would be nice to see him on bootleg Youtube cracking the carriage whip and giving them the benefit of decision making, Quarter Deck style.

In India they have long memories and other meanings. I may well be wrong but the Indian Army detachment of The Guard looked rather like the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles. If so, this is an interesting political statement given the long history of the regiment.

Given the ignorance of history of our politicians and their advisers and briefers it is likely this was wholly missed. In any case the present UK view of the history of our connection to the sub-continent has been seriously warped by too much dogma and propaganda.

What we forget is that before The Raj came the Mughals, whose rule began at the beginning of the 16th Century. The British Honourable East India Company began as a trading entity which developed the need for political control.

In essence it was what The City calls a “Reverse Takeover” where a much larger, richer firm is taken over by a much smaller but more effective and active one. The consequence is often asset stripping and over time the transformation of the larger by the smaller.

How long did it take for this? The HEIC gained its Firman from the Mughals in 1717 and until the 1830’s sought to establish economic and consequential political control over the various entities without imposing too much on the cultural. In this “The Orientalists” had the upper hand; notably with the Royal Asiatic Society playing an important role.

It was in the 1830’s that others came along to propose the imposition of a more British set of ideas and character on the life and law of India. This culminated in The Indian Mutiny, which ended the existence of the HEIC as the UK Government took full control.

The last remnant Mughal was deposed and replaced as Emperor a decade later when Disraeli and Parliament created a new Empire of India with Queen Victoria as Empress. The consequence of this was The Raj that most of us understand as the Indian Empire.

For the flavour of this the Wikipedia entry on Auckland Colvin is very useful. One key part of his life is the effect of the collapse in the value of the Rupee as the British Cabinet moved to a single metal, gold, based monetary system for the Empire.

Colvin urged an international standard in bimetallism, gold and silver, and then had to pick up the pieces of the UK government’s decision to go for gold, at the urging of the City, a bad decision in both the short and the long term.

It was the economic and social damage wreaked in India that began the long journey to its eventual Independence. London’s attitude was typified by Oscar Wilde who made light of it all in his play “The Importance Of Being Ernest”. But at a time of famine and upheaval there were some who realised the implications.

So what was Cameron offering in India? It could not have been new railway technology, in the UK we do not do this. Nor could it have been much in the way of new capital investment for textiles and other industries. Nor much of production of vehicles and a range of consumer products.

Our media is such a sorry mess that clearly India will have had little interest in that. As for high tech and IT, if anything India has much to teach us. Well, we do have a number of functioning arms manufacturers, so long as you do not mind the delays and final costs of large multiples of initial estimates.

We can do a lot of preaching on ecological matters, but don’t mention Bhopal and a few other places please. What we do have is Financial Services and The City. Here we need all the help we can get as we now have pinned the future of our economy on these and property prices.

The biggest thing we have to offer is our services in tax evasion and tax avoidance as well as accounts manipulation to allow all the rich and powerful to offshore their liabilities via The City round the connected tax havens.

So the more money that India can create for itself by economic development the more we want them to pass it round our financial services to give us a good commission.

Oh dear, it appears that the Indian government have this old fashioned notion of wanting their people to pay their taxes and conduct their financial business at home to the benefit of India. We are likely to be out of luck there. As for India’s relations with Pakistan, read the history of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles.

As I suggest, they remember their history and the time the British came looking for money three hundred years ago when the Mughal Empire had fallen into disarray.

They might prefer to leave us to stew in our own curry.


  1. Super post Demetrius. I too noticed how misplaced Cameron looked during the Inspection of the Guard of Honour.

  2. "The British Honourable East India Company began as a trading entity which developed the need for political control."

    A model now aped by The EU. No doubt it will suffer a similar fate!