The general impression is that the British divided and ruled India – and other places in the world too. But many of our intellectuals – sometimes inadvertently – give credit to them for integrating and uniting different pieces of land, which came to be known as India in the 19th century. Famous historian and writer, Ramachandra Guha, who recently came out with a book, India After Gandhi: History of The World’s Largest Democracy, while discussing his work said, “It was the British that united the country, accidentally and out of commercial and political motives. So they gave it an artificial unity and artificial territorial and political unity.” He went out to write that “this artificial unity was endowed with a moral purpose by Mahatma Gandhi and his national movement. This was furthered by the Indian constitution and first generation of Indian nation-builders.” (India Abroad, August 17, 2007).
Is it then right that the British in one way or the other even united India to rule it? May be true – but in one sense. The British may have ended up uniting India geographically as with the advancement of science and technology – discovery of railways was one of them – it was possible to bring even far and wide region of any place under one control. But what the British did their best was to divide the country socially and economically.
Georgraphical integration or unification of a large chunk of land did not happen only under the British rule. Even Aurangzeb ruled for 49 years over almost the same size as the British. And he did even before the railway and motor vehicle ever saw the light of the day.
The geographical integration is a part of the annexation and occupation of the territory and this aspect does not need to be praised much. It comes automatically in the mind of all the empire-builders – right from Alexander to Changez Khan to the European imperialists. The more important aspect is to discuss the social and economic division in the society. This was the strategy which was adopted with much more perfection by the Europeans and now Americans than any other earlier empire-builders.
It is not that the pre-British Indian society was an integrated whole on the social and economic plains. But then it is also true that the British did try to create more divisions in our society and economy as ruling India was not possible without that strategy.
By the time the British came to India the world had made a lot of progress. So unlike other conquerors, who either looted the country in one go and went back to their own homeland – for example Alexander, Nadir Shah etc – or came and settled down in India, as the Aryans, Mughals, etc., the British adopted the strategy of non-stop and silent plunder and loot of the country. Since by the 19th century the world had made a huge progress in the field of shipping, rail and road transportation. The British with their agents ruled India from thousands of kilometres, yet they continued to loot, plunder and pillage it. Thus the imperialist British neither made India their home like other dynasties of the past, nor did they loot and go back in one go. This was the policy adopted by almost all the European imperialists.
In modern age the imperialists have made further advancement in their strategy to rule the world. Now they do not need Viceroys, Governor-Generals and a whole lot of bureaucracy. Their agents in respective countries are capable enough to work for them. Instead of taking the raw materials from these colonies they would set up industries therein as the labour is quite cheap, and transport the finished goods to their countries. Their own environment is thus saved from getting polluted. The 20th and 21st centuries imperialists not only guarantee the integrity and unity of their colonies but are even prepared to guard their international borders. South Korea and Japan are the two post-World War II examples. Now they are expanding this strategy to some other parts of the world too. They just have done one thing: changed the very explanation of the expression sovereignty.