17 April, 2021

Holding On To The Crown Jewels

An account of late imperial hypocrisy has interpretive errors, but is valuable for the British story

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Holding On To The Crown Jewels

As one would deduce from the title, this book is about the British ruling establishment’s response to the rising strength of the national movement. The main line of the author’s argument is that influential circles in Britain practised a dual approach: on the one hand, arguing that Indians’ national aspirations were precisely the product of Britain’s own good work in India, and, on the other, doing everything to thwart and neutralise those aspirations. This was reflected in proclamations of intent to pass on power (often made in words open to varied interpretation) and then so acting or legislating as to deny or delay any actual transfer of power even in a limited field. For students of India’s ‘constitutional history’ from Ripon’s experiment in ‘local self-government’ in early 1880s to the Government of India Act, 1935, who have long been familiar with the story of ‘progress’ at snail’s pace of even a limited devolution of power, this is not a sensational discovery. The importance of Reid’s book...

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