In a debate held at the Oxford Union in England on May 28, 2015 on the motion "Britain owes reparations to her former Colonies," distinguished debaters (which included two members of Parliament, an ambassador, and chief editors of the Cambridge and Oxford histories of the British Empire) for the motion argued that Britain ruled her colonies for her own benefit, built the railway, road and administrative infrastructure to loot their wealth, benefited from slavery, maintained its rule through brutality; undermined social traditions, authority structures, property rights; did psychological damage to native populations and dehumanized them.
These views ran counter to my view that British rule was very beneficial for India. The benefit of the English language alone had been tremendous. As an engineering and then MBA student, I had used text books published exclusively by American and British authors. No Indian authors had published any serious science, engineering and management books at that time. So my impression was that the gift of the English language alone had been an incredible boon to India by giving us access to all the vast scientific, engineering and medical knowledge, and literature in many other disciplines. British rule had brought India into the 20th century, which had been very beneficial for India.
However, one of the debaters, Shashi Tharoor, member of India's parliament, provided statistics to bolster his arguments that the British rule had done tremendous harm to India. For example, he stated that Britain’s Industrial Revolution was built on the depredation of India and premised on the deindustrialization of India. Instead of being a world-famous exporter of cloth, India became an importer of British fabrics, while its share of world exports fell from 27 percent to 2 percent. India’s share of the world economy fell from 23 percent at the beginning of the eighteenth century to less than 4 percent by the time it gained its independence.
I thought the reasons were obvious. Inventions that enabled Britain to pioneer the Industrial Revolution caused the decline of India’s cottage textile-manufacturing industry. Britain’s Industrial Revolution supercharged its economic growth, enabling it to capture a larger share of the growing global GDP. Because India was late in industrializing, its relative share of global GDP fell. But since the British ruled India, the issue needed further research.
In making his case for reparations, Tharoor quantified India’s contributions to World War I as 70 million rounds of ammunition, 600,000 rifles and machine guns, and 42 million garments. India also supplied 173,000 animals and 370 million tons of supplies while a recession was going on domestically and Indians were suffering from poverty and hunger. Using India’s contributions while India was suffering from a recession as a case for reparations made no sense. The production of these supplies could only have alleviated a recession if there was one, and eased poverty and hunger because of the income it generated for Indians. Hence use of statistics by Shashi Tharoor to reach erroneous conclusions aroused my suspicions.
My impressions about British rule were based entirely on the bits and pieces of information one gathers throughout life. But Tharoor and this debate, including its topic, challenged my overall view of the empire. I disagreed with some of Tharoor’s conclusions, but I could not rightly comment on the other points he and the other debaters raised in their speeches because I did not have sufficient information. I wanted to give Tharoor and the other debaters the benefit of the doubt. So I commenced my own research into whether colonization by the British Empire was harmful or beneficial to India. The information I gathered was eye opening, which resulted in the publication of this book. I discovered that Tharoor and others whom he cites as authorities were engaged in deceiving their audiences by using selectively chosen statistics to twist the truth. I expose their lies in this book.