11 May, 2021

Play It Again, Sahib

The Raj has evoked many a 'history', but none to interest a foreign, non-academic audience

Play It Again, Sahib
In his celebrated book Imagined Communities, Irish historian Benedict Anderson argued that Victorian Britain faced a struggle between the rising spirit of nationalism and maintenance of the imperium. The former gradually held sway.

Anderson’s distinction might seem awkward; many in Britain would see little contradiction between the two. To Indians the difference is more readily apparent. Imperial Rome was sustained for centuries partly because citizenship—and higher advancement—was open to all comers. It was not unusual for a Spaniard to govern Gaul or a senator to come from Germany. The idea of Rome was not ethnic.

Imagine if the British empire had followed this pattern. Not only would the Indian Civil Service have been opened up to people of brown skin much sooner—it was not until the early 20th century that such avenues became available—but they would also have taken up posts in other parts of empire, including London itself: a Malay viceroy of India, an Indian governor of South Africa, perhaps even an Indian prime minister of Britain? Certainly an...

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