A glass half full: Didn’t the British also liberate India?

15th August is celebrated as the Indian Independence Day. And of course, even a child if asked, can tell from whom. The British of course! But was it really so? Did India get independence from the British only? In essence, on this historic day, India, and especially Hindus, gained an independence on a much larger scale, going beyond the British colonialism.

Let us go back a few centuries back to the times when British had not arrived on the scene. Was India independent? Wasn’t most of India, rather the entire Indian sub-continent, under a foreign rule? So why do we refer to only 200 years of subjugation when we talk of independence? India was since 11th century almost continuously under rule of invaders, marauders (or their descendants) who came from foreign lands, primarily Central Asia or Persia. True the Mughals settled down and made it their home, but in all sense of lineage or race, they were not the sons of the soil. And it is here that the question arises: What if the Europeans, especially the British, not found India? What if India was not colonized by the British? Some would dismiss these as hypothetical questions, but indeed there is value in this discussion as this helps establish an important aspect of Indian history.

It was the Europeans, in their strive for colonizing the land, that weakened the Mughals. The Hindu rulers, except for a few exceptions like Shivaji, were in no position to challenge the Mughals, and were neither united nor had the wherewithal to make any significant dent. There was no concept of an Indian nation. The states or the satraps were busy fighting their own battles or ensuring their survival under the Mughals, but very parochial in focus, and therefore there could not have been a fight for independence from the Mughals. And this could have most likely continued for ever, with entire India gradually becoming one big Islamic land, from Afghanistan to Bangladesh.

The British conquest of India weakened the Mughals and all other regional forces and created the modern Indian State. And this re-inforced or revived the concept of Indian nation, something that the Indians had given up. It was the advent of the British and their education, that produced freedom fighters like Bose, Nehru and Gandhi. Could these leaders have nurtured under a Mughal India and fought with a Mughal ruler for independence? Most likely not, as the vision came from the education and international exposure possible owing to India getting connected to rest of the world.

And therefore credit goes to the British for liberating India from the Mughals and preventing it from slipping into darker ages. When the British left, India not only gained independence from 200 years of British rule but actually almost a 1000 years of foreign rule. And the parting gift was the partition itself. The creation of Pakistan has been more a boon to India than a bane. Western Pakistan (FATA) and Afghanistan had historically always stayed feudal and recalcitrant. No one could ever reconcile or rule them. And had this land stayed with India, what are many of Pakistan’s problem today, would have been India’s. Pakistan fortunately is that buffer between India and those lands that still continue to live in medieval times. India already fixed the only incorrect aspect of partition by cutting Pakistan to size and creating Bangladesh in 1971 on the eastern side. We now have geographically an India as perfect as it could be, we only have to make it great again.

So actually the British did liberate India! And here my aim is not to eulogize the British or justify their rule, it is just a consideration on how the circumstances still went on to help India in some manner, and had an influence on shaping our destiny.


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