Manmohan Singh’s speech at Oxford is probably the first statesman-like speech to come out of the economist Prime Minister. It is rather sober, and sombre reflecting both the man and the immediate background of the speech. There are also no shrill noises on globalization and the glorification of the magic wand of a free market economy.What one finds interesting are his observations on the ‘un- British’ rule of the colonial power:
India’s share of world income collapsed from 22.6 per cent in the year 1700, almost equal to Europe’s share of 23.3 per cent at that time, to as low as 3.8 per cent in 1952. Indeed, at the beginning of the 20th Century, “the brightest jewel in the British Crown” was the poorest country in the world in terms of per capita income.”Though he quickly goes on to state in the same breath:
However, what is significant about the Indo-British relationship is the fact that despite the economic impact of colonial rule, the relationship between individual Indians and Britons, even at the time of our Independence, was relaxed and, I may even say, benign.
The benign part of the sentence is surely far- fetched by any standards, but in the light of his previous observation, actually sounds graceful.
Sumanta Banerjee comments on the debate on the Prime Minister’s speech, and while acknowledging the dual character of British rule in India, points to the selective nature of Singh’s comments:
Independent India inherited and adopted lock, stock, and barrel this model of governance. To quote Manmohan Singh’s Oxford speech again: “Our judiciary, our legal system, our bureaucracy and our police are all great institutions, derived from British-Indian administration, and they have served the country well”… Some of the honourable gentlemen presiding over the judicial system have reduced it to a state where justice can be vaporised with bribes. During the much-arraigned British rule, one never heard of senior bureaucrats like district magistrates or excise commissioners getting away with charges of corruption. Institutions like universities and hospitals which were once reputed for the best of services have been turned into dens of improbity and inefficiency – what with daily reports of leakage of question papers and adulteration of medicines. Even an institution like the Archaeological Society of India, which was set up by the colonial rulers to preserve old monuments, is today reduced to a mute spectator to acts of vandalism carried out by religious bigots on ancient monuments like the Babri masjid. Inhuman superstitious practices like ‘sati’ which were banned by the British rulers, are reborn with a vengeance.
and he concludes impressively with the following words:
“The fault, dear Brutus”, as Julius Caesar said (to quote the Shakespeare who happened to come from the same ruling colonial race, and yet moulded the thoughts and literary tastes of generations of Indian intellectuals), “is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings”.