Loot, Boot and Nigel Farage. Britain in India.



The English language is full of loan words from Hindi and other languages from the Indian sub-continent. Shampoo, Veranda, Bungalow, Pyjamas, Bangle, Dinghy, Dungaree, Thug. Anyone who has Indian relatives will have this pointed out to them regularly. 

One of the most commonly used Hindi loan words in English is loot.   Derived from the Hindi lūṭ, which is turn is derived from the Sanskrit luṇṭh- ‘to rob’. It entered the English language in the early C19th, meaning to steal or plunder wholesale, as well as the proceeds of plunder.

Loot is a pretty good word to describe the British in India. 

A new YouGov survey finds that more Brits think the British Empire is something to be proud of (59%) rather than ashamed of (19%).   A third of British people (34%) also say they would like it if Britain still had an empire.  This is despite the fact that people in the UK are largely ignorant about Empire and always have been.  Every survey ever conducted about British History and Empire reveals that most Brits have only the vaguest grasp of events, including the niche belief that Gandalf defeated the Spanish Armada.   

The Foreign Office regularly polled British attitudes Empire in the 1940s and 1950s as the sun was setting on the thing on which the sun would never set.   Even then knowledge was poor.  In the 1947 Survey respondents were asked to name a British Territory in the Far East.   Lincolnshire was a popular answer.

That would be British East Lincolnshire no doubt.   

I don’t intend to dwell at length at the awfulness of British rule in India, but I thought it was worth giving just one example to illustrate how terrible it was.   

In 1903 British Army Officer Captain Stanley de Vere Julius published “Notes on Striking Natives” his textbook on administering violence in the service of the Empire.   While the book had applications across all of Britains’ Territories it was primarily aimed at India, where de Vere Julius was stationed.   

India under British rule at the start of C20th suffered from famines and epidemic illnesses, which had left many Indians weakened and less able to withstand beatings.   There had been a number of incidents where British Soldiers or Colonial Administrators while dishing out thrashsings had inadvertently killed people by rupturing their internal organs.  Obviously no Brit was ever punished for this, but it was embarrassing and expensive.   

It is a testament to the thoroughness of the British when brutalising the people they were looting that we produced a text book so we could be precise and economical about the amount of violence we dished out.   Brutality austerity.

British rule in India was a purely financial undertaking – the systematic looting of a continent.  Most European Empires were founded with at least a semblance of a moral mission – spreading Christianity, ending slavery, or promoting the spice trade.   

To borrow liberally from Hannah Arendt when looking at Imperial or Colonial relationships we can observe 3 characteristics:

  1. A set of unequal economic relationships which transfer money from the Colonised/Imperialised to the boss nation
  2. An ideological framework which provides a positive explanation for the public back home why it was right to transfer the money, and to justify the sacrifices of the Imperial Vanguard
  3. An Imperial Vanguard, who are prepared to endure hardship in the expectation of financial gain and Imperial glory; Clive, Jameson, Rhodes, Livingstone.

Britain in India made no attempt to bring Christianity, or end unfree labour.  While the Mughuls built Mosques and Mahals, and the Portuguese built Churches, the British Empire’s main contribution to Indian architecture was Lutyen’s New Delhi – an impressive set of Government Offices. The one thing that Britain did give to India – the English legal system –  was imposed to form the basis for British property rights. Like all such endeavours it was deeply and profoundly bureaucratic in a country which already had it’s own obsession with bureaucracy.  We get the word Palaver from India too.   

Britain’s slim ideological justification for ruling India was that we were so much better at it than the Indians themselves would be. There was no attempt at an ideological higher purpose, just simple pragmatic administrative efficiency, enforced by beatings.  Even at the time some Brits knew this was wrong – Edmund Burke spent 7 years trying to impeach Warren Hastings and the British East India Company for economic mismanagement of India.   

De Tocqueville also saw through the fraud: “[Britons’] perpetual attempts to prove that they act in the interest of a principle, or for the good of the natives, or even for the advantage of the sovereigns they subjugate; it is their frank indignation toward those who resist them; these are the procedures with which they almost always surround violence.” 

Like al Bureaucrats the Administrators of the British Empire hated being thought of as b

bureaucrats, preferring to see themselves as Merchants, or Soldiers or Explorers.  Much like the Bureaucrats of Imperial China saw themselves as Philosophers and the Bureaucrats of contemporary Capitalism prefer to be thought of as Business people or Entrepreneurs.

This is why Gandhi was able to have such an impact on British rule with his campaign, by pointing out that lack of moral purpose at the heart of the Empire he revealed it’s true purpose – looting. I would however wonder how much moral purpose or authority was left to the Raj after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919.

Up until the formalisation of Imperial rule in 1857 the British rule in India was outsourced to the British East India Company.  This wasn’t the first time Imperial rule had been organised like this – the Vatican had awarded franchises for the Imperial conquest of Latin America under the Padroado Real system.  For anyone visiting the Holy See is no coincidence that many of the brightest shiniest things decorating the Vatican date from this period, just as it is no co-incidence that the brightest shiniest bits of the British Crown Jewels date from the Raj era.

We think of outsourcing as a quintessentially modern neo-Liberal phenomenon, however in the era before mass production and vertical integration most businesses, particularly craft businesses, outsourced.  The idea of one big company doing everything is a modern, probably temporary, state, and the idea of one big Government doing everything itself an equally recent concept.

The East India Company was established in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth I. For most of it’s first century of operation it was a trading enterprise competing against French and Portuguese rivals.    By 1700 Britain had been through long period of political change – the Civil War, Commonwealth, Restoration, Glorious Revolution, while Moghul India was at it’s peak.

In 1700 Moghul India had 24.2% of the Worlds GDP, 24.2% of the World’s Trade, and 25% of it’s manufacturing output.   The UK had 2.9%.   By the end of the Empire India had 4.2% of the Worlds GDP, 2% of the World’s Trade while Britain had more than a quarter, including 26% of the world’s manufacturing exports.   Moghul India had a larger GDP, and a higher per capita GDP than Britain too.   Joanna Lumley’s TV show shows how the East India Company turned Calcutta and Bombay into great trading ports, ignoring that India was a World trading power long before the British arrived. 

From 1700 onwards Britain replaces the Netherlands as the fastest growing economy in Europe. Some of this improvement was driven by changes in banking, financial and fiscal institutions on Dutch lines.  Later on Britain was the first nation to go through an industrial revolution leading to a surge in industrial productivity.   

But fiscal reform and industrialisation aren’t enough to explain the timing and the extent of the growth in UK GDP.  From the C18th British economic growth is at driven partly, if not largely by slavery and the Colonies. Unequal economic relationships and the exploitation of non-European labour and resources are the common factor throughout this period.

Table 1: Share of World GDP (% of world total)

Year                             1500     1700     1820    1870    1913   1950   1973   2001

United Kingdom        1.1         2.9        5.2       9.0       8.2       6.5       4.2      3.2

Western Europe1      17.8       21.9      23.0     33.0    33.0      26.2    25.6    20.3

United States              0.3         0.1        1.8         8.8     18.9      27.3    22.1    21.4

China                           24.9       22.3      32.9      17.1     8.8       4.5       4.6      12.3

India                            24.4         24.4     16.0       12.1   7.5      4.2        3.1      5.4

Asia2                            61.9        57.7      56.4      36.1    22.3   15.4      16.4   30.9

1 includes UK

2 Excludes Japan

Some of the decline in India’s share of GDP is relative – it’s economy stagnated under British rule while other countries grew – however there is a real terms decline in Indian GDP, both in total and per capita between 1757 and 1857.

The easiest way to understand the changes in GDP are as a flow of funds form India and China to the UK and Western Europe, particularly in the period 1700-1870,; then the eclipse of Europe by the US from 1870 to 1950; and finally a shift back to India and China in the post Imperial era. 

From 1700 (or slightly earlier) Britain starts to get a large flow of funds from Asia, mainly India, which by the start of the C19th are providing Britain with a big trade surplus, and making Britain richer.  The capital which created British capitalism came from high savings rates at home, but also from exploiting the labour and resources of it’s Colonies.  This is the reason why British capitalists in the C19th have more capital to invest in technology and growing markets than their foreign competitors. 

Essentially while Britain might have done lots of exciting technological innovation it was the relationship with  the Empire, particularly India which provided markets for the new machines, capital for investment, and profits to put in the bank.   From 1950 these financial flows start to reverse and Britain experiences a growing trade deficit and much slower rate of economic growth. 

Since the end of Empire the UK has had an almost permanent balance of payments crisis, most recently the fall in the Pound post the Brexit vote.  Money flows out of the UK, and the books are only balanced by sloshing lots of the worlds money through the City of London and bits of the UK property market no questions asked. 

This picture from the latest ONS data set shows how the UK balance of trade has declined sharply in the years since Empire.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 18.33.28

One of the most surprising parts of the GDP share data is the declining US position. This is a relative decline, rather than an absolute one, but for lots of ordinary Americans whose incomes have stagnated and whose purchasing power has fallen it feels like absolute decline. The US also has endemic balance of payments problems, just like the UK, and has a similar solution – it allows the Worlds hot money to flow in and out of Wall Street and the Manhattan property market to disguise it’s terrible record on exports

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 18.35.13

The data for China isn’t so complete but shows how it’s trade balances have improved as the West declines.  India would show a similar set of figures if it wasn’t for it’s massive trade deficit with China, driven largely by it’s obsession with cheap mobile phones.  And taking selfies. 

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 18.37.01

One of the most common foreign policy opinions that the British Left has is that America is somehow a kind of Imperial or Colonial power forcing it’s will on the world.  If we compare the flow of funds from the British Empire to the flow of funds in and out of modern America it is hard to see how America is any kind of Empire, or if it is it is a totally hopeless one which gives money away instead of looting it.   

It is possible that the American numbers are wrong.  The USA has an unusual Tax regime which Taxes US Corporations on Global earnings rather than domestic-only taxation, which is the system the rest of the World uses.   The USA has known for decades that it needs to reform the way it taxes Businesses, but the fractious state of American politics has made that impossible.

As a consequence US Companies have huge stacks of cash, earned abroad, which are stashed overseas, somewhere between $1.4-1.7trn.   I like filling my blog with stacks of numbers, but even I am impressed by a Trillion.  Apple has $246bn, Microsoft has $116bn, Cisco $62bn, Google $52bn.  This is just cash, and doesn’t include physical assets outside the US purchased by US Corporations to avoid repatriating their cash.  In addition there are US Companies operating tax Inversion deals moving their tax address to countries like Ireland to reduce their tax liability. 

It is hard to work out how big the US trade deficit would be if these funds were brought home, although the size of the trade gap is big enough that even with this money the USA would be still be exporting money.  It would be easy to draw a comparison between the US tech giants following their own economic agenda and the East India Company, although there is one huge difference – the East India Company at it’s peak had 250,000 mercenaries fighting for it – in an era when the British standing army was the biggest in the world at only 120,000.

If American is an Imperial or Colonial nation it isn’t a very good one. 

That doesn’t mean that the USA has none of the characteristics of an Imperial nation that Arendt identifies.  For many years it’s Cold War ideology and it’s willingness to involve itself in Parkistan, Iran and the Congo had an Imperialish flavour.   The CIA and the legion of Private Sector contractors who have followed American engagements have the look and feel of an Imperial Vanguard, particularly the Olly North variety who were willing to operate like Jameson or Gordon at the fringes of legitimate authority.  Just as Britain sent teams of experts, archeologists, professors to study and write about the countries that we had taken over so the USA likes to send their own experts but in more prosaic subjects like financial services dergulation.

America does have an Orientalist world view, maybe some people deep in Government and Business might have a Colonial one too.   But it is increasingly an ideology divorced from economic reality.   Steve Bannon, recently defenestrated as Trumps Chief Ideologue claims that the next big battle for hegemony is between the US and China.  Looking at shifts in GDP and share of world trade that battle happened years ago and the US lost.

Rex Tillerson is this week angrily telling the Pakistani Government that if it doesn’t do what the USA wants it will end it’s support.  All of which looks daft given that Pakistan and China are diplomatic BFFs, and the USA is geopolitical sideshow.  If anyone was thinking of coming on the protest march to protest about the lack of protest marches protesting USA interference in Pakistan it is probably too late. Sorry.

In my last blog some readers felt that I was uncharitable to Jeremy Corbyn,  In truth his jumble of ideas about Gandhi, Hamas, Hezbollah, pacifism and the developing world are pure Orientalism.  A white man’s fantasy of the East where he can project his own hobby horses and pet peeves.   

An acceptable way to embrace anti-imperliaism without having to engage with thinking about the violence of imperialism or it’s modern variants.   

But Corbyn isn’t the only British politician with a daft jumble of ideas shaping his word view.     Brexiters have their own jumble of ideas around Empire, Leadership, Brexit, Sovereignty and Exceptionalism.  I don’t think it is a clear identifiable ideology, but a passionately held set of ideas none the less.  The Empire fuels a sense of exceptionalism, a belief that we don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else, and Brexit is an expression of that.  The lack of curiosity about Empire and it’s details are matched by a lack of interest in the detail of Brexit, and a willingness to substitute patriotic slogans for carefully planning.

Brexit isn’t for most people a kind of imperial nostalgia but a recognition that once upon a time we were able to impose unequal trading relationships upon the World in a way which protected our own domestic industries and gave us favourable access to other markets around the world.    These deals were much more better than our current deals as EU members. 

UK share of world manufactured exports (%)

I Imports Exports

1937 21.3

1950 25.5

1960 16.5

1970 10.8

1979 9.1

1990 5.3 6.2

1995 4.7 5.1

2000 4.4 5.1

But these unequal trading relationships dated from an era of British economic dominance, and their demise has nothing to do with the EU. The decline stared well before then.  British industry was protected by unequal trading relationships with it’s Empire. With the empire gone British manufacturing struggled and in most cases never recovered.  India was a captive market for trains and steel, manufactured goods of all kinds.  Outside of the EU we will no longer be the economically dominant power setting the terms of trade. We will be in the opposite position.

But there is more to the Orientalist fantasy of the Brexiters than trade deals.  The Empire gave more to Britain than just cash and prestige. It provided gainful employment for large numbers of under talented bossy Brits, who relished having someone they could feel superior too.   The end of Empire and the shrinking of the state has given Britain a surplus of public school educated, self important under achievers.  Well connected but without the talent for Business, the diligence for Law or Medicine or the sense of Public Service for Charity.  In the first half of the C20th Nigel Farage, Dan Hannon and Douglas Carswell would have been happily employed drinking warm G&Ts and moaning about the natives in one of the less prestigious colonial outposts.  Boris would have been a blundering Governor of some obscure province with a lop sided Pith Helmet. Instead they play out their petty intrigues at home, too many egos chasing too few top jobs.

We tend to fall too easily for the myth that the British in India were competent Administrators ruling a continent out of duty.  In fact they were ham fisted chancers. Idiots out to line their pocket. Second raters, racists and bullies. People too dim to make it at home who had been sent out to India so that they could mess up where no one could see them.

The Brexit boys would fit right in. 

India, Prizes, Corbyn and the Illuminati

I’m not a massive fan of Jeremy Corbyn.

People who know me won’t be surprised by that, as I haven’t taken any steps at all to hide my lack of enthusiasm for him.

I do however know lots of people, very nice people, who do think very highly of him, and who often share things with me on social media about how lovely they think he is. One of the most popular things about J-Corbz is that he was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize, which definitely means that he is a bloody good bloke.  There is even an on line petition you can sign lobbying for Jezza to get a Nobel Peace Prize, which quotes his Gandhi Peace Prize as a precedent.

Here is the photo that is most commonly shared of Corbyn at the award ceremony, looking slightly startled.



I was baffled by this photo, and the enthusiasm with which it was shared across social media.   

Partly because Corbyn is a noted supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah, 2 organisations at the absolute opposite end of the political spectrum to Mohandas Gandhi, but mainly because the Gandhi Peace Prize is rarely awarded to anyone British.   

Given the history of the British in India that isn’t really surprising. The Gandhi Peach Prize is awarded by the Government of India and most of it’s recipients are African and Asian activists and NGOs, reflecting Gandhi’s own career in those 2 continents.  The only British recipient is Nobel laureate John Hume for his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

I was so baffled by this that I tracked down the list of recipients of the Ghandi Peace Prize:

Julius Nyere, A T Ariyaratne, Gerhard Fischer, Ramakrishna Mission, Baba Amte, Nelson Mandela, Grameen Bank/Muhammed Yunus, John Hume, Vaclav Havel, Coretta Scott King, Desmond Tutu, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Indian Space Agency

No Corbyn.

I was aware that this was an alternative Prize – the Gandhi Peace Award, awarded by the Enduring Peace Foundation, based in the US, and I wondered whether this was the prize Corbyn had won. It’s 2017 award ceremony was held at Yale and looks to have been slightly smarter than the one Corbyn went to.  Ralph Nader and Omar Bhargouti shared the award, which has previously been awarded to such luminaries as Martin Luther Kin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Illustrious company for the Jeremy.

Except when I checked the list of past winners Corbyn’s name wasn’t listed either. 

There is another US based Ghandi Humanitarian Award, which is given by the California based Gandhi Memorial Foundation.  This is headed by Yogesh K Gandhi, who claims to be a descendent of the great man, and whose luminaries included Bill Clinton and Joan Baez.  In 1999 The GHA was prosecuted for Tax Evasion, Mail Fraud and Perjury, and was closed.  The whereabouts of Yogesh K Gandhi, also known as Yogesh Kathari are currently unknown.

In the end I traced down 5 different Gandhi Prizes from different continents, although I suspect that I might have missed a few.   It seems like that Gandhi brand is so strong that giving out Peace Prizes is a big industry.  We can immediately discount the Scandinavian Gandhi Prize, as it looks like it was scrapped a few years back, and the list of past winners has vanished off the Internet.   

The Prize the Corbyn won was set up in the 1980s following the success of The Dickie Attenborough movie.   Dickie Attenborough headed up the initial panel, which was largely made up of white British men, and the people who have won the award also have a predictably large bias towards white British men too.   There has always been a romantic appreciation of foreign freedom fighters among those Brits who have never had to fight for anything in life, stretching all the way back to Byron.

This isn’t quite as odd as a bunch of rich White Americans creating an award in the name of Malcolm X and giving it to Donald Trump, but is has enough similarities to be a bit worrying.*

This gives us the following table of Gandhi Peace Prize Winners, which reflect the extent to which Gandhi’s endorsement, no matter how vicarious, is still prized by people.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Edwin Dahlberg, Rabbi Maurice, Eisendrath, John Haynes Holmes, Linus Pauling, E Stanley Jones, Martin Luther Kind Jr, AJ Muste, Norman Thomas, Jerome Davis, William Sloane Coffin, Jr, Benjamin Spock, Wayne Morse, Willard Uphaus, U Thant, Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Daniel Ellsberg, Peter Benneson, Martin Ennals, Roland Bainton, Helen Caldicott, ,  Corliss Lamont, Randall Watson Forsberg, Robert Jay Lifton, Kay Camp, Bernard Lown, John Somerville, César Chávez, Marian Wright Edelman, George McGovern, Ramsey Clark, Lucius Walker, Jr., Roy Bourgeois, Edith Ballantyne, Alan Wright and Paula Kline, Howard Frazier and Alice Zeigler Frazier, Michael True, Dennis Kucinich, Karen Jacob and David Cortright, Ehud Bandel, Arik Ascherman, Amy Goodman, Bill McKibben, Medea Benjamin, Tom B.K. Goldtooth and Kathy Kelly, Ralph Nader, Omar Barghouti Julius Nyere, A T Ariyaratne, Gerhard Fischer, Ramakrishna Mission, Baba Amte, Nelson Mandela, Grameen Bank/Muhammed Yunus, John Hume, Vaclav Havel, Coretta Scott King, Desmond Tutu, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Indian Space Agency, Bill Clinton, Werner Erhard, Joan Baez, Shirley Temple Black, David Packard, Hogen Fukunaga, Ryochi Sasakawa, Michael Harbottle, Nicholas Gillett, Adam Curle,  Martin Dent Bill Peters, Denis Halliday,  Helen Steven, Ellen Moxley,  Clive Stafford Smith,  Shabana Azmi, David Edwards,  David Cromwell. Rev. Harold Good OBE, Father Alec Reid CSSR, Coram Children’s Legal CentreThe Parents Circle-Families Forum (PC-FF), Binayak Sen, Bulu Imam , Jeremy Corbyn, Godric Bader Tore NærlandFrank Tomlinson, and Peter Tatchell

The presence of Martin Luther King on the list gives us a clue as to one of the factors at work here.  Ghandist pacifism is popular in the West, and MLK is it’s main exponent.  Like Gandhi The Reverend King used non-violent opposition to undermine the moral claims of the regimes they challenged.  There is no doubt that Gandhi’s tactics, and King’s, worked brilliantly in attacking the moral and intellectual justifications of their opponents, both of which were based largely on racism.

Outside the West it is harder to find examples of other Asian and African independence movements following Ghandi’s pacifist lead.  From the Viet-Cong to ISIS Mao-Tse-Tong’s Anti-Facist Base Area strategy has been the blue print for the kind of asymmetrical warfare that has inflicted consistent victories against Western Powers.  Corbyn’s friends in Hamas and Hezbollah are Maoists not Gandhists. 

I was worried that by restricting my analysis just to Mohandas Gandhi and Jeremy Corbyn I was missing something, so, in order to broaden my view I decided to pick a selection of Indian Independence leaders, and look at the prizes awarded in their names to see if there were similar themes.

My short list was; Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and Netayaji Subhas Chandra Bose. I make no apologies for picking these individuals, as in their own way they are all heroes of mine.   For those who  are less au fait with C20th Indian History I have included a short biography alongside a description of the Prizes awarded in their name

Jawarhalal Nehru, better known in the West as Pandit Nehru, or just Nehru is one of the few Indian politicians recognisable by one name only.   He led the Congress Party of India to Independence, negotiated the departure of the British, and it was Nehru, not Gandhi who gave the speech announcing Independence 70 years ago this week:

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”

Nehru is a more likely hero for the Western left than Gandhi, who often eschewed the traditional divisions of Left/Right, Mulsim/Hindu.  Nehru was a genuine anti-Facist who instinctively understood that even if Nazism threatened the Raj it was a threat to India not an opportunity.    One and a Half Million Indian Volunteers fought for the British Empire in WW2, the biggest volunteer Army in history.  Some fought for loyalty to the Emperor, some in the belief that helping Britain would help the case for Independence.  Nehru would have fought Fascists just because they were Fascists. Good man. 

Nehru only gets one prize in his name, also awarded by the Indian Government in International Diplomacy. Looking at the list of recipients it is even more prestigious then the Gandhi Prize, although as it is a Diplomatic Award at times it has been given to some odd characters including Hosni Mubarak and Robert Mugabe:

U Thant, Martin Luther King Jr, Khan Abdul Ghaffar khan, Yehudi Menuhin, Mother Theresa, Kenneth Kaunda, Josip Broz Tito, Andre Malraux, Julius Nyerere, Raul Prebisch, Jonas Salk, Giuseppe Tucci, Tulsi Meherji Shrestha, Nichedatsu Fujii, Nelson Mandela, Barbara Ward, Alva Myrdal, Leopold Sedar Senaghor, Bruno Kreisky, Indira Gandhi, Olof Palme, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Yasser Arafat, Robert Mugabe, Helmut Kohl, Aruna Asaf Ali, Maurice Strong, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahathir Mohamad, Hosni Mubarak, Goh Chok Tong, Sultan Qaboos, Mangari Maathai, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Olafur Ragnar Grimmson, Angela Merkel

Nehru also got a jacket named after him, popular with the Beatles, which may be a shallow reward, but at least recognises his cultural significance.   

Muhammad Ali Jinnah led the Muslim league at the same time Nehru led Congress. While Nehru was jailed 1943-5 for his part in the Quit India campaign, and Gandhi placed under house arrest in one of the Aga Khan’s Palaces,  Jinnah was free to manoeuvre and ultimately build the case for the creation of Pakistan. 

Jinnah was the youngest Indian to be called to the London Bar aged only 19, and while mandating Urdu as the official language of Pakistan he preferred English himself. He also has the odd distinction that he has been played in the movies by Christopher Lee, which puts in on a par with Saruman and Count Dracula.  This rather over-shadows his own political beliefs which would warm the heart of a British leftie, anti-racist, anti-imperialist and much more pacifist than his role in Partition would suggest.

Ultimately Jinnah’s legacy is highly contentious, viewed as a hero in Pakistan, and a villain in India, it is the Indian view of him which prevails the most in the West.  The British left have been brave and forthright in denouncing US interference in Latin American politics, and exposing the links with corrupt and often Military regimes.  That the US has done exactly the same to Pakistan seems to have passed the same people by.  I am unsure why Pakistan is judged as less worthy of attention, but if you would like to join my protest march protesting against the lack of protest marches about Pakistan let me know.

I was able to track down 3 Jinnah Prizes for definite.  One is apparently awarded by the Pakistani Ambassador to Canada to high performing school kids in Vancouver.   The other is entirely Pakistan based, and, I think, acknowledges achievement in Journalism but my Urdu isn’t good enough to get further.

There is a British Jinnah award which recognises achievement among the British Pakistani Community, with a diverse range of recipients;   

Sarfraz Manzoor, Azeem Ibrahim, Amir Khan, Riz Ahmed, Aziz Ibrahim and Imran Khan.

If you don’t recognise Aziz Ibrahim he is a highly paid session musician who played rhythm guitar on the last Stone Roses album as well as most of Simply Red’s hits.   

Netajayi Subhas Chandra Bose is by far the most controversial politician on this list.  Despite being one of the few Indian politicians with his own distinctive honorific Bose is almost totally unknown outside of India.

He was a radical Communist who left the Congress Party and split with Gandhi in the 1930s because he disagreed with non-violent resistance.   He fought against the British and when WW2 broke out, on the run from the Empire, he was offered safe passage across Europe by Hitler as part of the Molotov-Ribbontrop Pact.    Sadly for Bose he was in Berlin when the Germans invaded Russia leaving him stranded in Nazi Germany, Asian and Marxist.    

Bose’s life expectancy must have been pretty short at this point, however he was able to charm Hitler with a load of nonsense about the mystic destiny of the Aryan races.  Hitler gave him a German Submarine to transport him to the Far East where he raised the Indian National Liberation Army among India soldiers captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell.  As he left he persuaded the Germans not to send their remaining Indian prisoners to the Concentration Camps but instead to enlist male Indian prisoners in the Wermacht as Aryan super soldiers. This is why when the British liberated Norway they found a few hundred Indians disconsolately guarding a Fjord.

In 1944 Bose and the INLA, as part of a largely Japanese strike force, crossed the Burmese border and made a military attempt to capture the nearest state capital; Imphal.   Among Bose’s troops were the all woman anti-Imperialist feminist Unit – the Rani of Jansi Brigade.  Bose, and the Japanese were stopped at Kojima, which when I first read the Official British Military History of WW2 was described as a border skirmish.  Now it is described as the Stalingrad of the East, and is among the battle honours of the DLI and the West Yorks who fought there.

Bose and the Japanese were broken at Kojima and driven back into the Burmese jungle where, according to Japanese accounts they were subject to brutality that often crossed over to war crimes.

Bose died in a plane crash in 1945, however conspiracy theories spread immediately after his death.   The Indian Navy mutinied in this name, pressurising the British during the Independence negotiations.  Jinnah returned to legal practice for the last time as defence Barrister in the treason trial against Bose’s Lieutenants.  The case failed and they were hung from the walls of the Red Fort in Delhi, one Muslim, one Hindu, one Sikh.    

When I visited India for the first time nearly 20 years ago you could still see “Netayaji Lives!” Graffiti.    Bose has no prizes named after him.

When I was a child I went to the DLI Museum with my Grandad, which for years had no mention of the role of the local soldiers who fought at Kojima, Imphal or Admin Box, or the India troops who fought alongside them, despite a number of Victoria Crosses awarded.   The inscription of the British soldiers who fought at Kojima borrows from the stelae at Thermopylae.

When you go home, tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow, we gave our today

At the end of these stories what are we left with?  A lop sided view of Indian Independence which is turned into the biography of one great man, much as the way that our domestic history is reduced the Tudors and Stuarts.  Henry VIIth with a Toni and Guy haircut.

Maybe we the Brits only have room in our History books for one good Indian as long as his story doesn’t contain much ambiguity, much like the Billy Bunter’s cricket team.

There is clearly something that we are missing.  Something not just about Indian History, but about our own.   When we write the Rani of Jansi Brigade out of history we also write out the British troops who fought in the same battles, troops from my own home town..

As a kid I read avidly books like Pyramids of the Gods, which while fun to read, had a fairly obvious racist undertone.  Non-white people couldn’t possibly have built amazing buildings like the Pyramids so long ago, it must have been Aliens.

One of my faves was “Morning of the Magicians” by Pauwells and Bergier.  This is the book which first introduced the legend of the Illuminati to the popular imagination, now one of the most widely held conspiracy theories. 


The Illuminati legend told by by Pauwells and Bergier is based on the Indian legend of the Nine Unknowns, who got their wisdom from the Emperor Ashoka, and passed it down from generation to generation.   Pauwels and Bergier got this story from a British source – the Nine Unknowns by Talbot Mundy.  I tracked down a copy of Mundy’s book to an American bookseller.  It isn’t rare but it isn’t widely available due to it’s moderate racism.   As you have probably guessed Mundy’s book is fiction, the sequel to his classic King of the Khyber Rifles. 


We are in an era of bogus anti-establishment political movements in which people from privileged backgrounds construct narratives which pit the good people against a semi-fictional elite.  Conspiracy theories about politics regularly move from the fringes into the mainstream, aiding the rise of eccentric politicians.  Political movements which resemble secular gnostic cults. For movements on the left who wish to construct these kind of fake narratives non-white resistance movements provide an easy way for politicians to get themselves some radical credibility and a sense of being real, no matter how safe and privileged their own back grounds might be. An orientalist fantasy in which the phrase “our struggle” spoken by the Western Left means appropriation not solidarity.

To borrow a phrase from Salman Rushdie this is the chutnification of political struggle

When we ignore real history we allow false narratives to take hold.  The examples above of the Illuminati or the competing Gandhi prizes are annoying, but largely harmless.   The failure to discuss the reasons for, and the events of partition, continue to poison politics in India and Pakistan today and help create an environment in the UK in which it is easy to demonise Muslims.

Because we will only deal with a limited view of Empire and it’s ending we have allowed daft ideas of Empire to linger on, unchallenged into the modern world.  Right now we have a Cabinet Minister, Liam Fox, flying business class around the world negotiating imaginary trade deals based on noting but a daft sense of British exceptionalism.   

Our inability to move beyond a narrow view of the past, means that we only have a narrow set of futures available to us.

*[I would like to make it clear that when I left the UK a couple of days ago no-one had given Donald Trump an award in the name of Malcolm X, but with the speed that politics moves these days I wouldn’t be surprised if this had happened while I was away, or he had declared himself King and bought a massive throne from Walmart]