‘Just below the white man, just above the black’

In July 2005, Manmohan Singh addressed his alma mater, Oxford University, and doffed his pagri to the Empire, whose reign, according to the Cambridge economist Angus Maddison, saw “India’s share of world income collapse from 22.6% in 1700, almost equal to Europe’s share of 23.3% at that time, to as low as 3.8% in 1952.”

Yet it did not stop Reformist No. 1 from dropping these pearly gems:

# “I must confess that when I returned home to India, I was struck by the deep distrust of the world displayed by many of my countrymen. We were overwhelmed by the legacy of our immediate past. Not just by the perceived negative consequences of British imperial rule, but also by the sense that we were left out in the cold by the Cold War…

# “Our notions of the rule of law, of a Constitutional government, of a free press, of a professional civil service, of modern universities and research laboratories have all been fashioned in the crucible where an age-old civilization met the dominant Empire of the day. These are all elements which we still value and cherish. Our judiciary, our legal system, our bureaucracy and our police are all great institutions, derived from British-Indian administration and they have served the country well.

Javed Naqwi picks up the thread in The Dawn, Karachi, and links Singh’s comments to the disclosure in The Guardian last week that British military scientists sent hundreds of Indian soldiers into gas chambers and exposed them to mustard gas during World War II.

There was no difference, he asserts, between 200 years of British colonialism across the world and 15 years of Nazi rule in Germany, in their shared anti-Semitism.

“But I am not sure that India’s current ruling elite would share the comparison. Britain gave us vital civil values after all and good governance to boot, proclaimed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Oxford University.

The comments of course reflected the arrival of the neo-con NRI-dominated middle class at the helms of affairs in India…

“When we refer to the NRI-dominated middle class being today’s dominant ideological force the allusion really is to those non-resident Indians (as well as the ones who stayed home) who have traditionally connived with colonialism for the crumbs they were rewarded with. The old-fashioned school of sociologists called them the comprador class…

History has shown that for India’s ruling elite, the most comfortable place on earth has been a notch below the white man and a touch above the black, so to speak

“That’s precisely why there will not be a statue of Bhagat Singh in the Indian parliament, the very place from where the rebel signalled his revolt against British rule. For that’s where he dropped a small bomb from the visitors’ gallery at the colonial assembly. That’s why there will not be a statue of Bahadur Shah Zafar in the parliament, the last Mughal emperor who fought the British. That’s why India, the self-proclaimed champion of human rights will not add its powerful voice against the daily outrages in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. That’s why there will be more conspiratorial silence than outrage over The Guardian story.”

Read the full column here: A notch below the white man, a touch above the black