Was Indian independence the ultimate precursor to Brexit?

Manoshi Bhattacharya
Manoshi BhattacharyaJun 25, 2016 | 10:06

Was Indian independence the ultimate precursor to Brexit?

Brexit, last week's after dinner mint, turned into an aperitif this morning.

With centuries of experience in holding an Empire together, wizened Albion had witnessed the turmoil in nascent India, 69 years ago, when she exited the economic union of countries (an early prototype of the European Union) holding dominion status under the umbrella of the Crown.

He had planned their future meticulously. The Royal Colonial Institute had been transformed into the Royal Empire Society in 1868. Here, he discussed the advancement of subjects of imperial interest; to encourage and facilitate trade and industry, to keep migrations within the bounds of the Empire by encouraging the British who wished to migrate to settle in the British dominions, instead of migrating to other countries.  The objective was to promote the preservation of a permanent union between the United Kingdom and all parts of the Empire.


In her bid for divorce and freedom, India had ignored Albion's sage counsel.

Page One of the Times of India heralding Indian Independence in 1947.

India was then fighting a political battle for independence and not quibbling over business, even though Albion had clearly short-changed her. Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the Howrah zila Congress president, in the early 1900s pointed out as just one example: British machine-made fabric costs them some twenty lacs (including the cost of cotton bought from India) and Britain actually makes some eighty lacs out of us.

The Tory government became a metaphor for cruellest government in the world. No one, said India, can beat them at the art of fashioning shackles. It was the reason she was bound in a loveless marriage to a trader.

Well intentioned Scots and Irishmen, Albion's foot soldiers, populated the offices of the British government of India. Most couldn't find jobs that matched their skill sets in the United Kingdom. Those were for the "English" alone - the old boys club at work. Their personal home letters and diaries recorded the inside story of the divorce and the torment within their own hearts.

Sir Charles Tegart, the police commissioner of Bengal - the senior most police officer in India, was as southern Irish as one could get. In him, British India officials recognised an aggressive love for Ireland and yet a deep and unquestioning loyalty to the Crown. His threats to quit and lead an Irish rebel group were laughed off by his superiors who knew that however much the "old Shinner" believed in independence for Ireland he desired nothing but a friendly union between her and the Empire.


The brunt of policies emerging from London burnt them in much the same way as it did the common Indian. Chittagong District Judge John Younie's letters to his wife who remained in Glasgow recalls the blow served by the post First World War economic crisis of September 1931.

It coincided with the repayment of the war loan to India. And it was severe: London decided that England would go off the gold standard and the British government of India followed suit with the decision that the rupee would remain linked to the pound - that is to say sterling and not to gold. The rupee fell overnight from 1/6th gold to 1/6th sterling. It was a clever move.

Yes, Indians got their money back but at a devalued rate but who wants to dwell on that?  The officers of the British Government of India who earned in rupees saw their life's savings go down the drain. Despite the reassuring radio talks by Mr Snowden & Co there was a rise in prices all around.

Jawaharlal Nehru with Lord Mountbatten, Sardar Patel and Mohammad Ali Jinnah working out division of India and Pakistan. 

Independence and not dominion status became the call with the new order led by Jawaharlal Nehru demanding the former while old guard, represented by Motilal Nehru, continued to fight for the latter. With Gandhi rushing in to mediate, the battles between father and son assumed legendary proportions. The corridors of power carried restrained smiles: the father, the son and the holy spirit were at it again.


The fallouts of independence in "India" were tremendous: economic upheavals and partition! It was as Albion had predicted. It was victory mired in blood but it put the reins of control into Indian hands.

The wisdom of cooperating with other countries as a part of a large economic union was not lost and the European Union was born soon after World War II. Albion remained strangely sulky. He joined but his heart wasn't quite in it. These were not the subjects of his once grand Empire.

The Scots and Irish, today, gave evidence of their long memories and lessons drawn from their days of soldiering in India. Bremain was the verdict even though they had made an attempt at desertion not more that two years ago. It went the way Albion's Conservatives (read Tory government) expected.

In a sunnier era, having now recovered from the pain of her arctic marriage, a stunned India watched the aged Albion fumble, forgetting all that he once taught and turn his back on what had been his brainchild.

Last updated: June 25, 2016 | 10:06
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