Review: “Inglorious Empire. What The British Did To India” by Shashi Tharoor



“Inglorious Empire. What the British did to India”  by writer and celebrated Congress MP Shashi Tharoor is a must-read, powerful, 294-page excoriation of 200 years of rapacious British rule over India that should be in every library, and especially those in British Commonwealth countries. However Tharoor is iconoclast-lite and massively understates the horrendous mass murder of Indians through imposed deprivation that occurred under the British and continues today in a neoliberal-dominated India.

“Inglorious Empire” [1] acknowledges that scores of millions of Indians died over 2 centuries of recurrent famine events during British occupation  and acknowledges that Indian life expectancy was less than 30 years under the British, but understates the carnage of major man-made famine atrocities and ignores the horrendous, estimated total of   1,800 million avoidable deaths due to British-imposed deprivation over 2 centuries [2].  Using Indian census data 1870-1950,  assuming an Indian population of  about 200 million in the period 1760-1870,  and estimating by interpolation from available data an Indian avoidable death rate in (deaths per 1,000 of population) of 37 (1757-1920), 35 (1920-1930), 30 (1930-1940) and 24 (1940-1950), one can estimate Indian excess deaths of 592  million (1757-1837), 497 million (1837-1901) and 418 million (1901-1947), roughly 1.5 billion in total or 1.8 billion including the Native States [2].

Avoidable death from deprivation (avoidable mortality, excess death, excess mortality, premature death, untimely death, deaths that should not have happened) is the difference  between actual deaths in a country and deaths expected for a decently governed country with the same demographics, and can be even more reliably estimated for the post-1950 era using data from the UN Population Division [3]. The 1.8 billion avoidable Indian deaths from deprivation under the genocidal British over 2 centuries is not that surprising when one considers that despite modern medicine, antibiotics, and the essential absence of famine, avoidable deaths from deprivation in the period 1950-2005 in India totalled 0.35 billion – while annual  avoidable deaths as a percentage of population fell from a genocidal 2.4% per year  in 1947 under the British to 0.35% per year in 2005,  but the population of India increased from 380 million in 1947 to about 1,100 million in 2005 [4].

Despite this massive drop in avoidable mortality in post-Independence  India under Congress Party rule, the horrible reality is that presently about 4.5 million Indians die avoidably from deprivation each year in democratic India as compared to essentially zero (0) in One-Party China which, unlike India,  has essentially abolished endemic egregious poverty. Indian famine expert and 1998 Nobel Laureate for Economics,  Amartya Sen, and his colleague Jean Drèze commented thus on media reportage and avoidable deaths from deprivation (1995): “The contrast is especially striking in comparing the experiences of China and India. The particular  fact that China, despite its much greater achievements in reducing endemic deprivation, experienced a gigantic famine during 1958-1961 (a famine in which, it is now estimated, 23 to 30 million people died), had a good deal to do with lack of press freedom and the absence of political opposition. The disastrous policies that paved the way to the famine were not changed for three years as the famine raged on, and this was made possible by the near-total suppression of news about the famine and total absence of media criticism of what was then happening in China… However,  it appears that even an active press, as in India, can be less than effective in moving  governments to act decisively against endemic under-nutrition and deprivation – as opposed to dramatically visible famines. The quiet persistence of “regular hunger” kills millions in a slow and non-dramatic way , and this phenomenon has not been much affected, it appears, by media critiques” [5, 6]. Today Indian avoidable deaths from deprivation over a 6 year period total 27 million, equivalent  to Chinese famine deaths in 1958-1962 Great Leap Forward.  Shashi Tharoor may be regarded by the look-the-other-way, aren’t-we-nice  British as an iconoclast because of “Inglorious Empire” but his ignoring of this  ongoing Avoidable Mortality Holocaust in present-day India as a rich and well-fed Congress MP surely indicates that he is iconoclast-lite. No wonder “Inglorious Empire” is a UK “Sunday Times” best seller .

This  major criticism applies to all Indian MPs except for the genuine Socialists. Brilliant Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy has provided a succinct explanation for Mainstream ignoring or minimizing appalling social realities (2004):  “The ultimate privilege of the élite is not just their deluxe lifestyles, but deluxe lifestyles with a clear conscience” [7]. It must be recognized that ignoring horrendous realities and lying by omission are far, far worse than repugnant lying by commission (explicit lying) because the latter can at least be refuted and admit the possibility of public discussion [8-14]. That said, “Inglorious Empire. What the British did to India”  by Shashi Tharoor must be praised as one of relatively few books that detail the “forgotten” Bengali Holocaust of WW2  in which 6-7 million Indians were deliberately starved to death by the British with Australian complicity [12-14] (although he can be criticized for ignoring most of them in his Bibiography).

The above  criticism can be made of many humanitarian anti-war and climate activists who evidently draw back to an anti-war-lite or climate-lite position and fail to properly present the sheer Awful Magnitude  of what they are protesting, possibly because, in addition to uncertainty about methodology and maths, they  are afraid of “frightening-the-horses” and losing converts if they are too dire in their commentary and stray too far from what the Establishment deems acceptable.  Thus, for example, the frequently Mainstream media-quoted Iraq Body Count estimates 268,000 violent military  and civilian deaths in Iraq (from the highly flawed basis of media and government reports) but ignores avoidable deaths from deprivation. This contrasts with an expertly-based  estimate by the eminent US Just Foreign Policy organization of 1.5 violent deaths in Iraq alone [16] to which one must add 1.2 million Iraqi avoidable deaths from war-imposed deprivation,  for a total of 2.7 million Iraqi deaths  from violence or imposed deprivation in the Iraq War [17]. It gets worse. A humanitarian but conservative 2015 estimate of 1.3 million violent deaths in the US War on Terror [18] (now extending from Mali to the Philippines) contrasts with the Mainstream-ignored estimate that 32 million Muslims have died from violence, 5 million, or from deprivation, 27 million, in 20 countries invaded by the US Alliance since the US Government’s 9-11 false flag atrocity in 2001 [19]. A similar criticism  can be made of the corporate-funded that seeks to reduce atmospheric CO2 to 350 ppm CO2 (350 parts per million carbon dioxide) [20] whereas science says it must be reduced to 300 ppm CO2 from the present disastrous 405 ppm CO2 as advocated by [21]. Similarly, Mainstream media and climate-lite activist organizations ignore the worsening Climate Genocide that is predicted to kill 10 billion people this century – including 2 billion Indians, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis – if requisite action is not taken [22].

Having considered the Elephant in the Room of the ongoing Avoidable Mortality Holocaust in India, one can now systematically and sequentially consider the prefatory sections and chapters of Shashi Tharoor’s important and immensely readable “Inglorious Empire”:

Chronology ([1], pages xi-xvii) lists key events relating to India from the formation of the British East India Company on New Year’s Eve  1600 to Independence on 15 August 1947. However there are some major  omissions, notably the 1769-1770 Great Bengal Famine (in which 10 million mercilessly and homicidally over-taxed Bengalis – one third of the Bengali population – perished because they could not afford to buy food) and the 1942-1945 Bengal Famine (in which 6-7 million Indians were deliberately starved to death by the British under Churchill, with UK lackey Australia being complicit by denying food to starving India from its huge war-time grain stores) [12-14].

Preface. In his Preface, Tharoor states that the origin of the book was his brilliant 2015 speech to the Oxford Union in support of the proposition that “Britain owes reparations to its former colonies” ([1], page xxi) [23]. However Tharoor does not want reparations but rather wants recognition of what Britain did to India in 200 years of violent subjugation. Tharoor sensibly states that the  purpose of the book is simply to inform people about “what brought us to our new departure point in 1947 and the legacy that has helped shape the India we have been seeking to rebuild” ([1], page xxiv). Of course the fundamental utilitarian reason for attempting histories that tell the Awful Truth about atrocities such as the 2-century British subjugation of India is simply “History ignored yields history repeated”, as argued in my book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” [12] . However as argued above, while the Indian avoidable mortality death rate is laudably today  6 times lower than in 1947 under the British, ignoring this ongoing, horrendous  Avoidable Mortality Holocaust in India (as in “Inglorious Empire”) ensures its continuance with presently 4.5 million dying avoidably from deprivation each year in India as compared to zero 90) in China. For an excoriating account of life for ordinary people in present-day India see Arundhati Roy’s 2017 novel “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” [24].

Chapter 1, “The looting of India”, describes how Britain  had ravaged India over 2 centuries by merciless taxation: “At the beginning of the eighteenth century, as the British economic historian Angus Maddison has demonstrated, India’s share of the world economy was 23 per cent, as large as all of Europe put together. (It had been 27 per cent in 1700, when   the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s treasury raked in £100 million in tax revenues alone.) By the time the British departed India, it had dropped to just over 3 per cent . 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 ([1], page 3). A shocking aspect of this sustained theft was the deindustrialization of India. Thus India led the world in textiles, agriculture and metallurgy before the invasion by the British, but rapidly became an exporter of raw materials and an importer of goods manufactured in Britain.  Tharoor recounts how large numbers of Indians fled to the “native states” to avoid deadly imposts and how Indian attempts to join the new Industrial Revolution in areas such as steel and shipbuilding were blocked by the British.

Tharoor makes an interesting aside about the role of Scots (from the non-mentioned Scottish Clearances by the genocidal British): “Though Scots constituted barely 9 per cent of Britain’s people, they accounted for 25 per cent of those employed by the British in India. Their earnings in India pulled Scotland out of poverty and helped make it prosperous” ([1], page 35). One notes that Scots had a similar role as “running dogs of British imperialism” elsewhere in the British Empire. Thus my Scots forebears were ethnically cleansed from the Scottish Highlands in the century after the Battle of Culloden  (16 April 1746) in which the English finally defeated the Scots, and some came to Australia where they replaced the Indigenous Australians with sheep just as they had been replaced by sheep in Scotland ( 2 crofters cottages inhabited by my Scots forebears in circa 1800 still survive and the one with a roof is used to house sheep). Missing from this cogent analysis of British impoverishment of India are the mortality consequences. As discussed above, egregious impoverishment resulted in an estimated 1,800 million Indian avoidable deaths from deprivation under the British [2].

Chapter 2, “Did the British give India political unity”, answers the question with an emphatic “no”. Tharoor points out that while in 1947 the British left India and Pakistan as functioning democracies, Indians may well have  evolved a democratic system anyway. Tharoor analyses the British destruction of a prior system of governance from ryots (farmers), to village, to zamindar , to nawab,  to the Mughal Emperor, a system in which at the various levels  there was an obligation to those below and, importantly, the revenue was spent in India. The British replaced this with a system of merciless taxation that left most Indians at the brink of disaster. After the British Government took over from the East India Company after the 1757 Indian Rebellion (“Indian Mutiny”),   Indians became increasingly involved in government but in a highly constrained way due to egregious British racism. As further discussed in Chapter 4, British “divide-and-rule” policies disempowered Indians and  ultimately resulted in the catastrophe of Partition (the ultimate in lack of Indian political unity.)

Tharoor makes the crucial point that “It was remarkable that the British Raj was run by so few people. There were only  31,000 Britons in India in 1805 (of whom 22,000 were in the army and 2,000 in civil government). The number increased substantially after 1857, but still, as of 1890, 6,000 British officials ruled 250 million Indians, with some 70,000 Europeans soldiers and a larger number of Indians in uniform . In 1911, there were 164,000 Britons living in India (of whom 66,000 were in the army and police and just 4,000 in civil government). By 1931, this had gone up to  just 168,000 (including 60,000 in the army and police and still  only 4,000 in civil government) to run a country approaching 300 million people… The British in India were never more than 0.05 per cent of the population” ([1], page 51). However Tharoor does not mention the Elephant in the Room reality that a tiny British population in India dominated a vastly greater Indian population that it deliberately kept on the edge of starvation and subjugated by well-fed British soldiers and even greater numbers of well-fed Indian soldiers. Thus in WW2 when 6-7 million Indians starved to death in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Assam, there were 2.4 million Indians in the army and  serving the British at home and abroad [12]. Nevertheless Tharoor does a good job of describing the horribly abusive and remorseless British constraints on free speech and collective action that are the cornerstones of democracy.

Chapter 3, “Democracy, the Press, the Parliamentary System and the Rule of Law” takes a jaundiced look at these oft-asserted legacies of the British Raj.  Tharoor begins by saying that “A good part of the British case for having created India’s political unity and democracy lies in the evolution of three of democracy’s building blocks during the colonial era: a free press, an incipient parliamentary system and the rule of law” and then proceeds to invalidate these claims. Tharoor cites the commencement of censorship with Lord Wellesley’s Censorship of the Press Act (1799) that meant that publications were closed down  and British  critics were deported. However, not mentioned by Tharoor,  deadly censorship of Indians occurred much earlier as exampled by the notorious judicial murder of   wealthy Hindu dignitary Nandkumar who was tried and hanged for alleged forgery in 1775 after he accused Warren Hastings of accepting a bribe from a wife of Mir Jaffar (the indomitable Munni Begum) ( [14], Chapter 11, “Warren Hastings and the Conquest of India). The British subsequently suppressed Indian free speech by the Vernacular Press Act (1878) and the revised Press Act (1910). Thus  Tharoor: “Indian papers – especially the vernacular ones which tended to be less restrained in the abuse of the colonial masters – were fined, suppressed, and shut down; their editors were frequently imprisoned, and several times given twenty-three months of hard labour for a piece of invective; and under the Press Act , their stock of type, without which they could not print, was liable to confiscation” ([1], page 85).

In relation to parliamentary democracy, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor comments: “I am far from convinced that the British system is suited to India …  Pluralist democracy is India’s greatest strength, but its current manner of operation is the source of its major weaknesses… India must have a system of government whose leaders can focus on governance rather than on staying in power” ([1], pages 86-87). Not mentioned by Tharoor,  but roundly criticised by Economics Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, is “The quiet persistence of “regular hunger” [that] kills millions in a slow and non-dramatic way , and this phenomenon has not been much affected, it appears, by media [or parliamentary] critiques” [5, 6]. As discussed earlier, pluralist democracy in India today means that each year 4.5 million Indians die avoidably from deprivation as compared to zero (0) Chinese [4]. Also ignored by MP Shashi Tharoor is the reality that Western-style democracy in India – and indeed throughout the world,  including the West –  has become kleptocracy, plutocracy, lobbyocracy, corporatocracy and dollarocracy (as in colonial India) in which Big Money buys people, politicians, parties, policies, public perception of reality, votes and hence more political power and more private profit. Indeed some of my Indian friends agree with the plausibility of a statement by a rural village character in Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning novel  “White Tiger” [25] to the effect that because of vote rigging he had voted in every Indian election since 1947 without ever entering a polling booth (i.e. people voted in his place).

As for “the rule of law”, Tharoor comments on the flagrantly racist, “Indians and dogs not allowed” rule of law under the British: “The imperial system of law was created by a foreign race and imposed upon a conquered people who had never been consulted in its creation. It was pure and simple, an instrument of colonial control” ([1], page 93). Tharoor documents the appalling example of how many Indians had enlarged spleens as a consequence of malarial infection and were susceptible to death through rupture of the spleen if beaten and kicked by their British masters – in one case in 1875 the British murderer was “found guilty only of “voluntarily causing hurt” , and was sentenced to fifteen days’ imprisonment or a fine of  thirty rupees to be paid to the widow” ([1], pages 90-91).  Importantly, Tharoor points to the continuing legacy of colonial British laws against women and homosexuals that had not previously been part of Indian culture  and remain in force today in India after 70 years of independence: “The British have revised their own laws [re sex], so that none of [these] offences they criminalized in India are illegal in Britain. One of the worst legacies of colonialism is that its ill effects outlasted the Empire “ ([1], page 99)  ( another example is punitive British sedition laws that remain in place in various former British colonies).

Chapter 4, “Divide Et Impera”, describes 2 centuries of British divide-and-rule dishonesty from Clive’s 1757 victory over the Bengali Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah at the Battle of Plassey through bribing Mir Jafar to hold back his forces (this leading to 2 centuries of British rule) , to British backing of the Muslim League  in the 1930s and 1940s with mass imprisonment of Congress leaders and supporters  (this ultimately leading to mass murderer Churchill’s desired Partition, 1 million Indians butchered, 18 million Indian refugees, the horrors of Kashmir so graphically articulated recently  by Arundhati Roy [24] , and a present-day stand-off between a nuclear-armed Pakistan and a nuclear-armed India). Tharoor: “As early as 1859, the then British governor of Bombay, Lord Elphinstone, advised London that “Divide et impera was the old Roman maxim , and it should be ours”. (He was not quite right: the term was coined not by the Romans but by Phillip II of Macedonia, although some Roman conquerors followed its precepts.) A few decades later, Sir John Strachey opined that “the existence of hostile creeds among the Indian people “ was essential for “our political position in India” ([1], page 101). In this chapter Tharoor describes British caste, race and religion classification of Indians, caste-based preferment of Brahmins in the British Raj,  census-based, Nazi-style classification of Indian subjects, and exacerbation and exploitation of the Hindu-Muslim divide (that continues today with the Pakistan-India confrontation, Muslim extremism, Hindutva extremism etc). Tharoor provides a  devastating account of evil British machinations that overrode  humane Gandhian tolerance, preferred the Muslim League and resulted in the disaster of Partition.

Not mentioned by Tharoor is the critical contribution of British divide-and-rule  policies in India to the magnitude of the WW2 Bengal Famine (6-7 million Indians starved to death with Australian complicity) e.g. the British giving Indian provinces autonomy over their food stores in  1941 (Bengal and adjoining provinces starved when there was food available) and  the British subsidizing food for soldiers, civil servants  and industrial workers so that Calcutta (a major wartime industrial centre for the British Empire) effectively sucked food out of a starving, food-producing countryside [12-14].

Tharoor makes a very  important comment on a fundamental, long-term  perversion of Indian politics by the British-encouraged, divide-and-rule Muslim-Hindu dichotomy: “Ironically, had Indian politics been encouraged to develop as British politics had , along ideological lines, one could have seen the emergence of a conservative party and a socialist one, with some liberals in between; the tendencies were all present among Indian public men. This kind of conventional political contention could have kept India united , with Jinnah and Nehru becoming the Disraeli and Gladstone of their era in an emerging Indian Dominion. But colonial policies drove conservatives and socialists alike to define themselves primarily in relation to the communal question, this leading ultimately the tragic sundering of the country” ([1], page 120).

Chapter 5, “The Myth of Enlightened Despotism”, deals with (a) man-made famines under the British, (b) the export of Indentured Indian labour (5-year-slaves) to plantations  throughout the British Empire, and (c) the brutal suppression of the Indians. These important areas are critiqued below.

(a). Famine. Tharoor estimates 35 million Indian deaths from famine under the British and provides a list of 11 major Indian famines under the British from “the Great Bengal Famine (1770)… [to] the most notorious of the lot, the Bengal Famine (1943-44)”.   However it is difficult to delineate the death toll of regularly recurring, very high mortality  Indian famine events under the British from an underlying, ongoing, 2-century  Avoidable Mortality Holocaust in which 1,800 million Indians died avoidably from imposed deprivation (when does famine begin or end in a bare subsistence colony ?). Thus, to follow up on expert  comments of Amartya Sen quoted above [5, 6], today 4.5 million Indians die avoidably from government-imposed deprivation each year [4, 6], noting that Bengali deaths in the man-made, 1942-1945 ,  WW2 Bengal Famine totalled about 4 million (another 3 million Indians perished in the adjoining Indian provinces of Bihar, Orissa and Assam) [12-14]. For a comprehensive and documented listing of scores of famine locations in India under the British from “Bengal, Bihar (1769-1770) … [to] Bengal Bihar, Assam, Orissa (1943-1946)” see Chapter 13, “Colonial famine, genocide and ethnocide” in my almost comprehensively Mainstream-ignored book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” ([12], pages 116-117). Tharoor mentions  “the Great Bengal Famine (1770)” but fails to mention that 10 million murderously over-taxed  Bengalis perished in this British-made atrocity that incidentally stopped any further resistance to British occupation in a famine-devastated Bengal that had lost 1/3 of its 30 million population  [12]. Tharoor correctly enunciated the “entitlement” thesis of Amartya Sen (that famine is typically not due to a food shortage per se but due to price-based  unavailability of food) but fails to note the circa 3 million additional Indians who perished  in Bihar, Orissa and Assam in the WW2 Bengal Famine [12-14]. History ignored yields history repeated, and Tharoor ignores the worsening Climate Genocide that may kill 10 billion people this century – including 2 billion Indians, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis – if requisite action is not taken [22].

(b). Indentured labour. Tharoor reports ”Besides the Straits Settlements [Malaysia] and Mauritius, destitute Indians were also shipped as indentured labour to other British colonies around the world, from Guyana and the Caribbean Islands to South Africa and Fiji in the Pacific. Some 1.9 million to 3.5 million Indians (the numbers vary in different sources, depending on who is counted) moved halfway across the globe , most involuntarily, under the colonial project”  and “On one route, Kolkata to Trindad, the percentage of deaths of indentured labour on the tranportee ships reached appalling levels : 12.3 per cent of all males, 18.5 per cent of the  females, 28 per cent of the boys and 36 per cent of the girls perished , as did a tragic 55 per cent of all infants” ([1], page 163). These indentured labourers were typically “5-year slaves” employed by perfidious Britain after it abolished slavery in British Empire in 1833. One recalls Winston Churchill’s disingenuous, Jane Austen-like comment on Chinese indentured labourers in the Transvaal: “The conditions of the Transvaal ordinance … cannot in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government be classified as slavery; at least, that word in its full sense could not be applied without a risk of terminological inexactitude.”

A slight correction:  the transport of Indian  indentured labourers to Fiji in the so-called Girmit (Agreement) system stopped in 1916 (not in 1917  as stated in Tharoor’s  Chronology, ([1], page xv) ) and the last  indentured labourers (Girmityas) were released from bondage  in 1920 [4, 12, ] . The British and Australians   used indentured labour of Indians to the Fijian sugar cane plantations in the 5 years’ slavery “Girmit” system that began in 1879 after a measles epidemic wiped out a quarter to a third of the Fijian population. The Girmit Indian slave importation ceased in 1916  and  the last “slaves” were released in  1920. A dear elderly Indian friend remembers the whip marks on her mother’s back left by Australian sirdars (overseers). The Bengali and Bihari grandparents of my dear wife Zareena were Girmityas (“5-year slaves”) of the British  in Fiji  (her mother Habiban was a teacher and her father, Abdul Lateef MBE, was a social innovator, lawyer and multiracialist politician who helped negotiate independence for Fiji; all of  his 3 sons became lawyers and one of his 3 daughters, the late Dr Shireen Lateef, became an outstanding advocate for women’s rights and gender equality, the other daughters becoming a science teacher/librarian and secretary, respectively; for detailed accounts of the Girmityas and their vigorous descendants  see [26-28]).

(c). British Raj massacres. Tharoor describes violent British atrocities: “British imperialism had triumphed not just by conquest and deception on a grand scale but, as I have mentioned, by ruthlessly suppressing dissent, executing rebels, and deserters and chopping off the thumbs of skilled weavers so they could not produce the fine cloth that made manufactures look tawdry. The suppression of the 1857 “mutiny” was conducted with extreme brutality , with hundreds of rebels being blown to bits from the mouths of cannons or hanged from public gibbets, women and children massacred (in retaliation , it must be admitted, for the killing of British women and children,) and over 100,000 lives lost” ( [1], page 165). However Tharoor has grossly under-estimated the extent of the British reprisals. Indian historian Amaresh Misra  claims in his 2 volume work  “War of Civilizations: India AD 1857”(not quoted by Tharoor)  that the British killed 10 million Indians in reprisals for the 2,000 British killed in the 1857 Indian Rebellion (the so-called Indian Mutiny) [29, 30].

Amaresh Misra: “It was a holocaust, one where millions disappeared. It was a necessary holocaust in the British view because they thought the only way to win was to destroy entire populations in towns and villages. It was simple and brutal. Indians who stood in their way were killed. But its scale has been kept a secret”  [29, 30]. However British writers in a process of continuing  holocaust denial  put the number of Indians killed at about 100,000. Nevertheless the Misra thesis is more believable when one considers the following opinion of Charles Dickens, who like many of his English and British contemporaries, was a genocidal racist and who, in a letter to Emile de la Rue on 23 October 1857 about the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857,( stated:  “I wish I were Commander in Chief over there [ India ]! I would address that Oriental character which must be powerfully spoken to, in something like the following placard, which should be vigorously translated into all native dialects, “I, The Inimitable, holding this office of mine, and firmly believing that I hold it by the permission of Heaven and not by the appointment of Satan, have the honor to inform you Hindoo gentry that it is my intention, with all possible avoidance of unnecessary cruelty and with all merciful swiftness of execution, to exterminate the Race from the face of the earth, which disfigured the earth with the late abominable atrocities” [31, 32]. Even the horror of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre  (in which the British forces under by General Reginald Dyer massacred 1,500 Sikhs in Amritsar) is dwarfed by the horrendous 10 million Indian deaths in British reprisals in the decade after 1857, an atrocity that matches in order of magnitude the  WW2 Nazi atrocities in Russia (24 million killed). Indeed the use of Indian troops to subjugate Indians and to support the British Empire in war had the  horrendous consequence of 17 million Indian deaths after Indian soldiers  returning from WW1 disseminated the deadly influenza virus in 1919 (50 million people died from flu worldwide).

Tharoor concludes: “Famine, forced migration and brutality: three examples of why British rule over India was despotic and anything but enlightened. But why should one not be surprised? Sir William Hicks, home minster in the Conservative Government of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin had stated the matter bluntly in 1928: “I know it is said in missionary meetings that we conquered India to raise the level of the Indians. That is cant. We conquered India as an outlet for the goods of Britain. We conquered India by the sword , and by the sword we shall hold it” ([1], page 173). Addressing the House of Commons in 1935,  Winston Churchill stated of the Indians: “In the standard of life they have nothing to spare. The slightest fall from the present standard of life in India means slow starvation, and the actual squeezing out of life, not only of millions but of scores of millions of people, who have come into the world at your invitation and under the shield and protection of British power” [33-35]. Mass murderer Winston Churchill was responsible for the 1942-1945 Indian Holocaust and Bengali Holocaust (6-7 million Indians killed) that he totally removed from his 6-volume “The Second World War” for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature ([14], Chapter 15, “Pride and Prejudice – Churchill, Science, the Bengal Famine and the Jewish Holocaust”). Indeed the very term “holocaust” was first applied to a WW2 atrocity by N.G. Jog in 1944 in relation to the Bengal Famine [35].

Chapter 6, “The Remaining Case for Empire”, deals with the often-asserted British colonial benefits to India of (a) the Indian railways system, (b) education and the English language, (c) tea, and (d) cricket. Tharoor disposes of these tired arguments as follows: (a) The railways were for the benefit of British imperialism and  spread disease throughout the sub-continent. Racism meant that Indians were excluded from promotion in the system and from manufacture of steel and railway engines.  (b) The British suppressed the indigenous Indian education system by destroying village communities, with a consequence that “The British left India with a literacy rate of 16 per cent , and a female literacy rate of 8 per cent – only one of every twelve Indian women could read and write in 1947” ([1], page 183). (c) The perfidious British forced  Bengali opium on the subjugated Chinese for silver and tea but the discovery of indigenous Indian tea varieties enabled expansion of an India tea industry based on effective slave labour with concomitant speciescidal and ecocidal destruction of Indian forests. Tharoor notes that “It was only during the Great Depression of the 1930s – when demand in Britain dropped and British traders had to unload their stocks – that they thought of selling their produce to the Indians they had ignored for a century ([1], page 205). (d) Tharoor concedes that the English introduced cricket to India but points out that they also made competitions race- and religion-based, and made cricket an “identifier of social status”. Cricket nevertheless became “a sport where Indians could hold their own against the English” ([1], pages 209-210).

Chapter 7, “The (Im)balance Sheet. A Coda”, summarizes some of the foregoing arguments. Tharoor concludes that “The British proclaimed the virtues of free trade while destroying the free trade Indians had carried on for centuries , if not for millennia, by both land and sea. Free trade , of course, suited the British as a slogan, since they were the best equipped to profit from it in the nineteenth centuries and their guns and laws could always stifle what little competition the indigenes could attempt  to mount… The British left a society with 16 per cent literacy, a life expectancy of 27, practically no domestic industry and over 90 per cent living below what today we would call the poverty line. Today, the literacy rate is up to 72 per cent, average life expectancy is nearing the Biblical three score and ten , and 280 million people have been pulled out of poverty in the twenty-first century” ([1], pages 215-217). By way of a further example, Tharoor comments that “In those fifty years to independence in 1947, while all of Britain, along with the rest of Europe and America, was electrified, the Raj connected merely 1,500 of India’s 640,000 villages to the electricity grid. After Independence, however, from 1947 to 1991,  the Indian government brought   electricity to roughly 320 times as many villages as British colonialism managed in a similar time span. The reasons were obvious: the British colonial rulers had no interest in the well-being of the Indian people. India was … an “extractive colony”” ([1], page 217).    Notwithstanding those very real and immense  post-Independence achievements, India today is dominated by a post-Raj Establishment under which 80% of the population lives in dire poverty and annual avoidable deaths  from deprivation total 4.5 million in India as compared to zero (0) in China [4].

Chapter 8,  “The Messy Afterlife of Colonialism”, initially considers “imperial amnesia” in “aren’t we nice” contemporary  Britain that largely  ignores the horrors of genocidal British colonialism.  Indeed I published a detailed critique of British colonialism and particularly of that in India, entitled “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability” (now available for free perusal on the web [12]) that had a central theme that “history ignored yields history repeated”. I was driven by deep indignation that a 2 century Indian Holocaust from the Great Bengal  Famine of 1769-1770 (10 million killed) to the “in living memory” but “forgotten”  WW2 Bengal Famine (6-7 million killed) had been almost completely white-washed out of  British  history by successive generations of mendacious Mainstream journalist, literary, politician and academic presstitutes.  In the 21st century a “look-the-other-way Britain has ignored its colonial past and joined with America in the illegal and devastating invasion and destruction of the following countries (indigenous deaths from violence or imposed deprivation in parentheses):  Afghanistan (6 million, 2011-present), (Iraq (4.7 million, 2003-present),  Libya (0.2 million, 2011-present) and Syria (1.0 million, 2012-present). A US lackey Britain, whether under New Labour or the Tories,  has been an enthusiastic partner with the US in an oil- and hegemony-driven US War on Muslims (aka the US War on Terror) in which 32 million Muslims have died through violence, 5 million, or through imposed deprivation, 27 million, in 20 countries invaded by the US Alliance since the US Government’s  9-11 false flag atrocity that killed 3,000 [22]. It gets worse. I predicted that vastly more Bengalis would perish than in the “forgotten” WW2 Bengal  Famine if man-made climate change were not requisitely addressed [12]. However the homicidally greedy, neoliberal Establishments ignore the worsening Climate Genocide that is predicted to kill 10 billion people this century – including 2 billion Indians, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis – if requisite action is not taken [22] (indeed today north India, Nepal and Bangladesh are devastated by record floods)..

Crucially, Tharoor points out that “The continuity of the today’s world with the British Empire… is most strikingly evident in the economic dependence of much of the post-colonial world  on the former imperial states, a contemporary reality that hardly redounds to the credit of the colonizers. Empire might have gone , but it endures in the imitative elites it  left behind in the developing world, the “mimic men”, in Naipaul’s phrase , trying hard to be what the imperial power had not allowed them to be, while subjecting themselves and their societies  to the persistent domination of corporations based mainly in the metropole” ([1], page 236). However it is not just mimicry. There has been a massive increase in the proportion of wealth held by the rich – thus the One Percenters now own 50% of the world’s wealth. As explored by Professor Thomas Piketty, this disproportionality  is bad for economies (the poor cannot afford the goods an services they produce) and is bad for democracy (money buys votes and Big Money buys lots of votes) [36-38]. Poverty kills and 17 million people die avoidably from deprivation each year, with India contributing 4.5 million deaths each year to this Global Avoidable Mortality Holocaust [4, 6].  A solution to this deadly inequity is an annual wealth tax of the kind obtaining in France and which has been applied at the level of 2.5% per year in the Muslim world for 1,400 years (zakat) – thus a 4% annual wealth tax would bring all poor countries (notably including India) up to the per capita GDP enjoyed by China and Cuba (countries that have zero avoidable deaths from deprivation each year) and thus abolish the Global Avoidable Mortality Holocaust [38].

The Notes, References, Bibliography and Index are detailed but have some glaring omissions. Thus there is a very large literature on the Great Bengal Famine of 1769-1770 in which 10 million murderously over-taxed Bengalis perished under the mercantile British but  “Inglorious Empire” devotes a mere 4 words to this atrocity, to whit “Great Bengal Famine (1770)”, whereas racist mass murderer Winston Churchill, who hated Indians and was responsible for the 1942-1945 Bengali Holocaust, was a bit more fulsome, stating in his “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples”: “Between 1769 and 1770 a third of the population of Bengal [30 million] died of famine. Throughout these ordeals Warren Hastings held fast to an austere way of life”  [Warren Hastings had adulterously fathered Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza Hancock in Bengal in 1761, and later became first de facto Governor-General of India, 1772-1785 ([12], Chapter 10, “The Great Bengal Famine of 1769-1770”  )].  While the WW2 Bengal Famine has been whitewashed from British history by several generations of mendacious British academics (for a detailed analysis of this massive lying by omission see [12]), a number of books have been written detailing  this atrocity but have not been quoted by Tharoor [14].

Summary and conclusions.

Shashi Tharoor’s “Inglorious Empire” is an important and timely book that sets out the 2-century atrocity that was British subjugation of India. However Tharoor can be criticized for major omissions and for not going far enough – while many  British and White Commonwealth readers may regard him as an iconoclast he is actually an iconoclast-lite. In this timidity and constraint Tharoor is like many humanitarian-lite intellectuals  today who depart from the capitalist messaging of the One Percenter-dominated Mainstream media but eschew radical disconnection and radical Truth Telling for fear of “frightening the horses” and being slapped down by the dominant One Percenters through the process of being… ignored.

Thus major Elephants in The Room ignored by Tharoor in “Inglorious Empire”  include the 10 million Indian deaths in the 1769-1770 Great Bengal Famine; 10 million Indian deaths in a decade of British reprisals after the 1857 Rebellion; scores of Indian famine locations in a 2-century Indian Holocaust in which 1,800 million Indians died avoidably from imposed deprivation; 6-7 million Indian deaths in the WW2 Bengal Famine, not just in Bengal but also in neighbouring provinces of Assam, Bihar and Orissa; the British policy of subjugating several hundred million Indians by keeping them on the edge of starvation under the heel of well-fed British and “native” troops;   massive white-washing of the Indian Holocaust in part or in whole by generations of mendacious Mainstream journalists, writers, politicians and academics in the English-speaking world; annual avoidable deaths from deprivation totalling 4.5 million for India  as compared to zero (0) for China; the Global Avoidable Mortality Holocaust in which 17 million people die avoidably from deprivation each year on Spaceship Earth with the One Percenters in charge of the flight deck; the worsening Climate Genocide in which an estimated 10 billion people will die this century unless requisite action is taken against man-made climate change, this predicted  carnage including 2 billion Indians, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis (one third of Bangladesh, population 165 million,  is presently under water) …

In Chapter 4, “Divide Et Impera”,  Tharoor makes the very important point that British divide-and-rule policies led to an insane Hindu-Muslim divide instead of a rational conservative-socialist political dichotomy. If there is one  country in the world that desperately needs socialism it is India in which massive endemic poverty determines that 4.5 million Indians die avoidably from deprivation every year while the politically dominant, neoliberal One Percenters continue to get obscenely and disproportionately richer after the fashion of the merciless rulers of the British East Indian Company and the British Raj [4, 6, 36-38] . Iconoclast-lite Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and his Indian politician colleagues in general are a key part of the problem by ignoring the horrible reality that deadly, homicidally greedy neoliberalism today is simply a version  – albeit  ostensibly  democratically ameliorated –  of the unbridled, racist  capitalism of the British Raj, the British Empire and other Western empires [39].

India and the world as a whole need to change course in the face of resource depletion, insane population growth a worsening climate emergency and a worsening climate genocide.   Presently the world is dominated by homicidally greedy neoliberals who follow the example of the homicidally greedy British Raj in demanding maximum freedom for the rich and powerful to exploit the physical and human resources of the world for private profit with an asserted “trickle down” benefit to the poor and disadvantaged. The worsening catastrophe (e.g. it is now too late to avoid a catastrophic plus 2C temperature rise [21, 22, 40, 41]) demands adoption of social humanism (socialism, democratic socialism, ecosocialism, the welfare state) that seeks to maximize human happiness, dignity and opportunity for everyone through evolving intra-national and international social contracts [42, 43]. Please tell all of the Awful Truth to everyone you can.


[1]. Shashi Tharoor, “Inglorious Empire. What the British did to India”, Scribe, 2017.

[2]. Gideon Polya, “Economist Mahima Khanna,   Cambridge Stevenson Prize And Dire Indian Poverty”,  Countercurrents, 20 November, 2011: .

[3]. UN Population Division: .

[4]. “Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, including an avoidable mortality-related history of every country from Neolithic times and is now available for free perusal on the web :  .

[5]. Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen, “Introduction” in Jean Drèze,  Amartya Sen and Athar Hussain (editors), “The Political Economy of Hunger”, pages 18-19, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995.

[6]. Gideon Polya, “Demonetization, WW2 Bengal Famine and horrendous avoidable mortality then and now”, Countercurrents, 11 January 2017: .

[7]. Arundhati Roy and David Barsamian,  “The Chequebook and the Cruise Missile”, Harper Perennial, New York, 2004).” from

[8]. “Mainstream media lying”: .

[9]. “Mainstream media censorship”: .

[10]. Gideon Polya, “Mainstream media fake news through lying by omission”, Global Research, 1 April 2017: .

[11]. Gideon Polya, “Australian ABC and UK BBC fake news through lying by omission”, Countercurrents, 2 May 2017: .

[12].  Gideon Polya, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability”, G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 1998, 2008 that  is now available for free perusal on the web:  .

[13]. Gideon Polya, “Australia And Britain Killed 6-7 Million Indians In WW2 Bengal Famine”,  Countercurrents, 29 September, 2011: .

[14]. “Bengali Holocaust (WW2 Bengal Famine) writings of Gideon Polya”, Gideon Polya: .

[15]. “Iraq Body Count”: .

[16]. US Just Foreign Policy, “Iraq deaths”: .

[17]. “Iraqi Holocaust, Iraqi Genocide”: .

[18].   Sarah Lazare, “Body count report reveals at least 1.3 million lives lost to US-led War on Terror”, CommonDreams, 26 March 2015: .

[19].  Gideon Polya, “Paris Atrocity Context: 27 Million Muslim Avoidable  Deaths From Imposed Deprivation In 20 Countries Violated By US Alliance Since 9-11”, Countercurrents, 22 November, 2015: .

[20]. Cory Morningstar, “Rockefellers’ 1 Sky unveils the new More $ – more delusion”, Canadians for Emergency Action on Climate Change, 18 April 2011: .

[21]. – return atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm CO2 : .

[22]. “Climate Genocide”: .

[23]. “Shashi Tharoor’s scalding Oxford Union speech against colonial Britain”, International Business Times, 24 July 2015: .

[24]. Arundhati Roy, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”, Penguin, 2017.

[25]. Aravind Adiga, “White Tiger”, Free Press, 2008.

[26]. Rajendra Prasad, “Tears in Paradise. Suffering and struggle of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004”(Glade, Auckland, New Zealand, 2004).

[27]. Gideon Polya, “Review: “Tears In Paradise. Suffering and Struggle Of Indians In Fiji 1879-2004” by Rajendra Prasad – Britain’s Indentured Indian “5 Year Slaves””, Countercurrents, 4 March, 2015: .

[28]. Kavia Ivy Nandan (editor), “Stolen Worlds.FijiIndian Fragments”, Ivy Press International , 2005.

[29]. Amaresh Misra, “War of Civilisations: India AD 1857”.

[30].  Randeep Ramesh, “India’s secret history: :A holocaust, one where millions disappeared”, Guardian, 24 August 2007: .

[31]. Gideon Polya, “Genocidal Racist Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Indian Holocaust And UK – US Muslim Genocide”,  Countercurrents, 10 February, 2012:

[32]. Grace Moore (2004), “Dickens and the Empire. Discourses of class, race, and colonialism in the works of Charles Dickens” , Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot , UK ):  .

[33]. Winston Churchill, speech to the House of Commons about Indians (1935); 1. Hansard of the House of Commons, Winston Churchill speech, Hansard Vol. 302, cols. 1920-21, 1935.

[34]. Churchill quoted in by Jog (1944), p195 in Jog, N.G. (1944), “Churchill’s Blind-Spot: India”, New Book Company, Bombay.

[35]. N.G. Jog, “Churchill’s Blind-Spot: India”, New Book Company, Bombay, 1944.

[36]. Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” ( Harvard University Press, 2014).

[37].  Gideon Polya, “Key Book Review: “Capital In The Twenty-First Century” By Thomas Piketty”,  Countercurrents, 1 July, 2014: .

[38]. Gideon Polya, “4 % Annual Global Wealth Tax To Stop The 17 Million Deaths Annually”, Countercurrents, 27 June, 2014: .

[39]. Sven Lindqvist, “Exterminate All the Brutes”, Granta Books, London, 2002.

[40]. “Are we doomed?”: .

[41]. “Too late to avoid global warming catastrophe”: .

[42]. Brian Ellis , “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” , Routledge , UK , 2012.

[43]. Gideon Polya, “ Book Review: “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” by Brian Ellis –  last chance to save Planet?”, Countercurrents, 19 August 2012: .

Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds” (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007:

) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see:  ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others:  ;  Gideon Polya:  ; Gideon Polya Writing: ; Gideon Polya, Wikipedia: ) . When words fail one can say it in pictures – for images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: and .


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