Site Meter

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

400 years since Britain Colonised India

How a Debate Was Won in London Against British Colonisation of India, by Shashi Tharoor

(Dr. Shashi Tharoor is a two-time MP from Thiruvananthapuram, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, the former Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Human Resource Development and the former UN Under-Secretary-General. He has written 14 books, including, most recently, Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century.

Last week, on the very day that Scotland was deciding its future, six of us gathered in London to debate the past.

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the British presence in India -- King James I's envoy, Sir Thomas Roe, arrived at the court of Emperor Jehangir in 1614 -- the Indo-British heritage Trust held a debate, in the chamber of the UK Supreme Court, on the motion "This House believes that the Indian subcontinent benefited more than it lost from the experience of British colonialism." Needless to say, I spoke against, alongside two Indophile Brits, authors William Dalrymple and Nick Robins. The proposers were Pakistan's Niloufer Bakhtyar, an editor, Martin Bell, former BBC war correspondent, and Kwasi Kwarteng, a Conservative Party MP of African descent.

It was a lively affair. As the debate began, its Chair, Labour MP Keith Vaz, called for an initial vote, which went 35 to 28 for the motion. When it was over, voting took place again, and the needle had moved dramatically: 26 to 42 against. The anti-colonialists had carried the day.

Why was our case so compelling? At the beginning of the 18th century India's share of the world economy was 23%, as large as all of Europe put together. By the time we won independence, it had dropped to less than 4%. The reason was simple: India was governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain's rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.

Britain's Industrial Revolution was built on the de-industrialisation of India - the destruction of Indian textiles and their replacement by manufacturing in England, using Indian raw material and exporting the finished products back to India and the rest of the world. The handloom weavers of Bengal had produced and exported some of the world's most desirable fabrics, especially cheap but fine muslins, some light as "woven air". Britain's response was to cut off the thumbs of Bengali weavers, break their looms and impose duties and tariffs on Indian cloth, while flooding India and the world with cheaper fabric from the new satanic steam mills of Britain. Weavers became beggars, manufacturing collapsed; the population of Dhaka, which was once the great centre of muslin production, fell by 90%. So instead of a great exporter of finished products, India became an importer of British ones, while its share of world exports fell from 27% to 2%.

Colonialists like Robert Clive bought their "rotten boroughs" in England with the proceeds of their loot in India (loot, by the way, was a word they took into their dictionaries as well as their habits), while publicly marvelling at their own self-restraint in not stealing even more than they did. And the British had the gall to call him "Clive of India", as if he belonged to the country, when all he really did was to ensure that much of the country belonged to him.

By the end of the 19th century, India was Britain's biggest cash-cow, the world's biggest purchaser of British exports and the source of highly paid employment for British civil servants - all at India's own expense. We literally paid for our own oppression.

As Britain ruthlessly exploited India, between 15 and 29 million Indians died tragically unnecessary deaths from starvation. The last large-scale famine to take place in India was under British rule; none has taken place since, since free democracies don't let their people starve to death. Some four million Bengalis died in the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 after Winston Churchill deliberately ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and European stockpiles. "The starvation of anyway underfed Bengalis is less serious" than that of "sturdy Greeks", he argued. When officers of conscience pointed out in a telegram to the Prime Minister the scale of the tragedy caused by his decisions, Churchill's only response was to ask peevishly "why hasn't Gandhi died yet?"

British imperialism had long justified itself with the pretence that it was enlightened despotism, conducted for the benefit of the governed. Churchill's inhumane conduct in 1943 gave the lie to this myth. But it had been battered for two centuries already: British imperialism had triumphed not just by conquest and deception on a grand scale but by blowing rebels to bits from the mouths of cannons, massacring unarmed protestors at Jallianwallah Bagh and upholding iniquity thru institutionalised racism. Whereas as late as the 1940s it was possible for a black African to say with pride, "moi, je suis francais", no Indian in the colonial era was ever allowed to feel British; he was always a subject, never a citizen.

What are the arguments FOR British colonialism benefiting the subcontinent? It is often claimed that the British bequeathed India its political unity. But India had enjoyed cultural and geographical unity throughout the ages, going back to Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC and Adi Shankara travelling from Kerala to Kashmir and from Dwarka to Puri in the 7th century AD, establishing his temples everywhere. As a result, the yearning for political unity existed throughout; warriors and kings tried to dominate the entire subcontinent, usually unsuccessfully. But with modern transport and communications, national unity would have been fulfilled without colonial rule, just as in equally fragmented 19th century Italy. And what political unity can we celebrate when the horrors of Partition (1 million dead, 13 million displaced, billions of rupees of property destroyed) were the direct result of deliberate British policies of "divide and rule" that fomented religious antagonisms?

The construction of the Indian Railways is often pointed to as benefit of British rule, ignoring the obvious fact that many countries have built railways without having to be colonized to do so. Nor were the railways laid to serve the Indian public. They were intended to help the British get around, and above all to carry Indian raw materials to the ports to be shipped to Britain. The movement of people was incidental except when it served colonial interests; no effort was made to ensure that supply matched demand for mass transport.

In fact the Indian Railways were a big British colonial scam. British shareholders made absurd amounts of money by investing in the railways, where the government guaranteed extravagant returns on capital, paid for by Indian taxes. Thanks to British rapacity, a mile of Indian railways cost double that of a mile in Canada and Australia.

It was a splendid racket for the British, who made all the profits, controlled the technology and supplied all the equipment, which meant once again that the benefits went out of India. It was a scheme described at the time as "private enterprise at public risk". Private British enterprise, public Indian risk.

The English language comes next on the credit list. It too was not a deliberate gift but an instrument of colonialism. As Macaulay explained the purpose of English education: "We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect." The language was taught to a few to serve as intermediaries between the rulers and the ruled. That we seized the English language and turned it into an instrument for our own liberation was to our credit, not by British design.

The day we defeated the motion, Scottish voters rejected the proposal to leave the United Kingdom. But it's often forgotten what cemented the Union in the first place: the loaves and fishes available to Scots from participation in the exploits of the East India Company. Before 1707 the Scots had tried to colonize various parts of the world, but all had failed. After Union with England, a disproportionate number of Scots was employed in the Indian colonial enterprise, as soldiers, sailors, merchants, agents and employees. Earnings from colonialism in India pulled Scotland out of poverty and helped make it prosperous. With India gone, no wonder the bonds are loosening...

Monday, 29 September 2014

US-made disaster in Syria and Iraq

The latest policy of intervention in Iraq and Syria, in particular, by the US, Britain, France and several Arab allies is problematic for many reasons:
Islamic State developed as a result of historic US backing for anti-Assad forces in Syria that have been funded and armed but have got out of control. IS has been known to US security forces for more than a year, but they generally turned a blind eye as long as IS opposed Assad, especially since Congress refused to support direct US intervention in the summer of 2013.
·Now IS has turned its attention to a larger project - a so-called Caliphate - and threatens US-backed Iraq and other status quo powers in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia (who with Qatar have been backing extreme Islamists for decades, including al Qaeda. The US hoped that IS would help overthrow the Assad regime after which IS could be isolated and defeated or otherwise contained. This was pretty much the hope in Libya in 2011 (though with disastrous results as we can still see in what is effectively a failed state since violent regime change was instituted by the Obama adminstration and its allies).
There are pro-democracy groups in Syria that oppose Assad and IS but who have been generally neglected by the US. Those groups do not want US air strikes as they know who will suffer most. Such groups, including various Kurdish parties and organisations, have been sidelined because they contain a variety of views of the Assad regime and of foreign military intervention, as well as groups that desire a negotiated settlement, as opposed to ISIS' policy of all out war. The larger American project appears to be the overthrow of the Assad regime as is indicated by recent calls for a 'no'fly' zone over Syria - this is hardly a problem for ISIS as it has no airforce. It is a move against the Syrian airforce that would take the war directly to the Damascus government.
Hence the current intervention is a result of past interventions and machinations by the US and West and Arab allies more generally. The current air strikes are unlikely to achieve very much other than lead to many civilian casualties among ordinary Syrians and strengthen recruitment for IS.

Monday, 15 September 2014

America's Military Solution to Everything

Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?
Talking heads like former General Jack Keane are all over the news media fanning fears of ISIS. Shouldn’t the public know about their links to Pentagon contractors?
September 12, 2014    
Retired General Anthony Zinni, retired General Jack Keane and former Bush administration official Fran Townsend
If you read enough news and watch enough cable television about the threat of the Islamic State, the radical Sunni Muslim militia group better known simply as ISIS, you will inevitably encounter a parade of retired generals demanding an increased US military presence in the region. They will say that our government should deploy, as retired General Anthony Zinni demanded, up to 10,000 American boots on the ground to battle ISIS. Or as in retired General Jack Keane’s case, they will make more vague demands, such as for “offensive” air strikes and the deployment of more military advisers to the region.
But what you won’t learn from media coverage of ISIS is that many of these former Pentagon officials have skin in the game as paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world. Ramping up America’s military presence in Iraq and directly entering the war in Syria, along with greater military spending more broadly, is a debatable solution to a complex political and sectarian conflict. But those goals do unquestionably benefit one player in this saga: America’s defense industry.
Keane is a great example of this phenomenon. His think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which he oversees along with neoconservative partisans Liz Cheney and William Kristol, has provided the data on ISIS used for multiple stories by The New York Times, the BBC and other leading outlets.

Jack Keane (Screenshot: Fox News)
Keane has appeared on Fox News at least nine times over the last two months to promote the idea that the best way to stop ISIS is through military action—in particular, through air strikes deep into ISIS-held territory. In one of the only congressional hearings about ISIS over the summer, Keane was there to testify and call for more American military engagement. On Wednesday evening, Keane declared President Obama’s speech on defeating ISIS insufficient, arguing that a bolder strategy is necessary. “I truly believe we need to put special operation forces in there,” he told host Megyn Kelly.
Left unsaid during his media appearances (and left unmentioned on his congressional witness disclosure form) are Keane’s other gigs: as special adviser to Academi, the contractor formerly known as Blackwater; as a board member to tank and aircraft manufacturer General Dynamics; a “venture partner” to SCP Partners, an investment firm that partners with defense contractors, including XVionics, an “operations management decision support system” company used in Air Force drone training; and as president of his own consulting firm, GSI LLC.
To portray Keane as simply a think tank leader and a former military official, as the media have done, obscures a fairly lucrative career in the contracting world. For the General Dynamics role alone, Keane has been paid a six-figure salary in cash and stock options since he joined the firm in 2004; last year, General Dynamics paid him $258,006.
Keane did not immediately return a call requesting comment for this article.
Disclosure would also help the public weigh Keane’s policy advocacy. For instance, in his August 24 opinion column for The Wall Street Journal, in which he was bylined only as a retired general and the chairman of ISW, Keane wrote that “the time has come to confront the government of Qatar, which funds and arms ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups such as Hamas.” While media reports have linked fundraisers for ISIS with individuals operating in Qatar (though not the government), the same could be said about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where many of the major donors of ISIS reportedly reside. Why did Keane single out Qatar and ignore Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? Is it because his company, Academi, has been a major business partner to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar’s primary rival in the region?
Other examples abound.

Anthony Zinni (Screenshot: Charlie Rose)
In a Washington Post story about Obama’s decision not to deploy troops to combat ISIS, retired Marine General James Mattis was quoted as a skeptic. “The American people will once again see us in a war that doesn’t seem to be making progress,” Mattis told the paper. Left unmentioned was Mattis’s new role as Keane’s colleague on the General Dynamics corporate board, a role that afforded Mattis $88,479 in cash and stock options in 2013.
Retired General Anthony Zinni, perhaps the loudest advocate of a large deployment of American soliders into the region to fight ISIS, is a board member to BAE Systems’ US subsidiary, and also works for several military-focused private equity firms.
CNN pundit Frances Townsend, a former Bush administration official, has recently appeared on television calling for more military engagement against ISIS. As the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit that studies elite power structures, reported, Townsend “holds positions in two investment firms with defense company holdings, MacAndrews & Forbes and Monument Capital Group, and serves as an advisor to defense contractor Decision Sciences.”

Fran Townsend (Screenshot: CSPAN)
“Mainstream news outlets have a polite practice of identifying former generals and former congressmembers as simply ‘formers’—neglecting to inform the public of what these individuals are doing now, which is often quite pertinent information, like that they are corporate lobbyists or board members,” says Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College.
Media outlets might justify their omissions by reasoning that these pundits have merely advocated certain military strategies, not specific weapons systems, so disclosure of their financial stake in the policy need not be made. Yet the drumbeat for war has already spiraled into calls for increased military spending that lifts all boats—or non-operational jets for that matter.
When the Pentagon sent a recent $2 billion request for ramped-up operations in the Middle East, supposedly to confront the ISIS issue, budget details obtained by Bloomberg News revealed that officials asked for money for additional F-35 planes. The F-35 is not in operation and would not be used against ISIS. The plane is notoriously over budget and perpetually delayed—some experts call it the most expensive weapon system in human history—with a price tag now projected to be over $1 trillion. In July, an engine fire grounded the F-35 fleet and again delayed the planned debut of the plane. How it ended up in the Pentagon’s Middle East wish list is unclear.
“I think an inclination to use military action a lot is something the defense industry subscribes to because it helps to perpetuate an overall climate of permissiveness towards military spending,” says Ed Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School for Journalism. Wasserman says that the media debate around ISIS has tilted towards more hawkish former military leaders, and that the public would be best served not only with better disclosure but also a more balanced set of opinions that would include how expanded air strikes could cause collateral civil casualties. ”The past fifty years has a lot of evidence of the ineffectiveness of air power when it comes to dealing with a more nimble guerrilla-type adversary, and I’m not hearing this conversation,” he notes.
The pro-war punditry of retired generals has been the subject of controversy in the past. In a much-cited 2008 exposé, The New York Times revealed a network of retired generals on the payroll of defense contractors who carefully echoed the Bush administration’s Iraq war demands through appearances on cable television. 

The paper’s coverage of the run-up to a renewed conflict in the region today has been notably measured, including many voices skeptical of calls for a more muscular military response to ISIS. Nonetheless, the Times has relied on research from a contractor-funded advocacy organization as part of its ISIS coverage. Reports produced by Keane’s ISW have been used to support six different infographics used for Times stories since June. The Times has not mentioned Keane’s potential conflict of interest or that ISW may have a vested stake in its policy positions. The Public Accountability Initiative notes that ISW’s corporate sponsors represent “a who’s who of the defense industry and includes Raytheon, SAIC, Palantir, General Dynamics, CACI, Northrop Grumman, DynCorp, and L-3 Communication.” As the business network CNBC reported this week, Raytheon in particular has much to gain from escalation in Iraq, as the company produces many of the missiles and radar equipment used in airstrikes.
In addition to providing reports and quotes for the media, ISW leaders have demanded a greater reaction to ISIS from the Obama administration. In The Weekly Standard this week, ISW president Kim Kagan wrote that President Obama’s call for a limited engagement against ISIS “has no chance of success.” 

ISW’s willingness to push the envelope has gotten the organization into hot water before. In 2013, ISW suffered an embarrassing spectacle when one of its analysts, Elizabeth O’Bagy, was found to have inflated her academic credentials, touting a PhD from a Georgetown program that she had never entered.

But memories are short, and the media outlets now relying heavily on ISW research have done little to scrutinize the think tank’s policy goals. Over the last two years, ISW, including O’Bagy, were forcefully leading the push to equip Syrian rebels with advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry to defeat Bashar al-Assad.
For Keane, providing arms to Syrian rebels, even anti-American groups, was a worthwhile gamble. In an interview with Fox Business Network in May of last year, Keane acknowledged that arming Syrian rebels might mean “weapons can fall into radical Islamists’ hands.” He continued, “It is true the radical Islamists have gained in power and influence mainly because we haven’t been involved and that is a fact, but it’s still true we have vetted some of these moderate rebel groups with the CIA, and I’m convinced we can—it’s still acceptable to take that risk, and let’s get on with changing momentum in the war.” 

That acceptable risk Keane outlined has come to fruition. Recent reports now indicate that US-made weapons sent from American allies in the region to Syrian rebels have fallen into the hands of ISIS.
Keane, and ISW, is undeterred. The group just put out a call for 25,000 ground troops in Iraq and Syria.
September 12, 2014  

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Scots' Right to Self-Determination

It is almost 100 years since the Wilson-Lenin moment in world affairs - the declaration by the two emerging global powers of the 20th century of the the principle of the right of nations to self-determination, long-declared by Britain but little practised as it built and mantained its empire by the sword and gun and warship.

Scotland has its chance this week to take its destiny into its own hands and should make its own decision in the cold light of day and try to ignore the increasingly vociferous threats and blandishments from the English-dominated establishment.

Today, PM David Cameron tries the scare tactic of 'permanent' split if Scots vote for independence; last week, certain banks threatened the security of Scots' home loans should they vote for freedom.

Scots will make their own decision, despite pressures from all sides. But, in my view, a decision to break away from the UK would be a positive move for the small country that was through violence and cooptation integrated into the 'Union'. Indeed, the violent integration of Scotland, Wales and Ireland were the beginnings of England's global imperium, similarly built through a combination of bloodshed and bribery and deception.

Eire broke away in the 1920s; the Welsh and Scots more recently gained 'devolution' within the 'Union'; the north of Ireland has loosened London's grip since the late 1990s. Scotland is taking the logical next step.

The fact is that the Scots are a resourceful, proud, and confident nation who have made great contributions to science, industry, finance and intellectual developments of global import. They will be fine as an independent, free country.

The earth will continue to rotate on its axis whatever the outcome of Scotland's vote on 18 September 2014.