BBC Documentary on PM Modi: What Indians need to know from the British

Shivaji Dasgupta
25 Jan 2023
BBC Documentary on PM Modi: What Indians need to know from the British

Kolkata: While visiting the site of the Battle of Gallipoli (Turkey), I was intrigued and touched by the legions of Aussie and Kiwi visitors. The descendants of the ANZAC forces were there to know the truth about 1915 and Indians do have a valuable lesson to learn from their sincerity.

In the two centuries of the illegal British occupation, the tally of atrocities would be comparable to Don Bradman’s batting average. Since political powers post-independence shifted to agents of continuity, we were not trained to be curious about the evils of the British empire. Except possibly the Jallianwala Bagh carnage which, like the looting by Lord Clive and Warren Hastings, was too blatant to ignore.

But the current cohorts of young Indians are curious about their past from a position of strength and not from a place of gratitude, which marked the Nehruvian era. Exactly why Shashi Tharoor’s expose of the enforced imperial acquisitions attracts interested readership, willing to explore beyond the calibrated narrative. This is a pattern connected to societal stability and affluence, as educated middle classes have the bandwidth to resurrect the unanswered past.

Also read: Does part-2 of BBC documentary on PM Modi establish Amnesty’s agenda?

The Bengal Famine of 1943 is estimated to have claimed about three million lives, approximately half the numbers of the horrific holocaust. It was clearly due to the managerial priorities of Winston Churchill, whether strategy or conspiracy is a subject of debate. While a few books have been written, no ‘well-researched’ documentary has been commissioned and time is running out to get credible first-person accounts. My mother was about 6 years old at that time and her flashing observational accounts are beyond a Ramsay horror flick.

Around one million Indians perished during partition violence, once again due to the operational eccentricities of Attlee and his Governor-General in India. A project that should have taken a year at least was rushed for whimsical reasons - the most ridiculous being the concocted coincidence with Victory Japan Day, August 15, 1945. 

Multiple accounts project Mountbatten as an incurable showman, which in this case coincides with Westminster’s fiscal exigency to get India off the chest. Indian leaders were too busy securing their share of geography and questioning the divide - nobody had an agenda for a 1947 cutoff.

Kalapani, the Papillon of the British, is yet another deliberately dark chapter, where the old boys clearly did not play fair. More than 80,000 were dispatched in exile mode and many thousands were murdered or perished under concentration camp conditions - the doctor in charge was clearly a spiritual predecessor of Dr. Joseph Mengele. 

The intrigues of Veer Savarkar deflect the focus unnecessarily, as the sufferings of every significant other needs to be historically confronted, with the self-acclaimed champions of benevolent rulership.

Netaji’s death is a much-marinated subject, courtesy of the overwhelming emotions and conspiracy evangelists, but the storyline is recently rather inner-looking due to the Gumnaami Baba diversion. 

While the reported reappearance has pop-culture currency, the role of the British in the post-plane crash scenario needs to be intelligently reexamined. It does make imminent geopolitical sense for non-conforming charisma to be pushed to a gulag, with Uncle Jo’s help, to pave the path for obliging punditry. Maybe all of this is conjecture, but surely worthy of a thorough MRI scan, with 3 Tesla strength ideally.

What I mentioned are actually the blockbuster scams of the empire, there are many others which are undeniably significant, by any comparable benchmark. The dacoity of the jewels (starting with Murshidabad) is now being justified by sovereign logic, as most were exported before the establishment of the Indian state. 

The systematic destruction of the princely states who were not in favour, and you must ask why they do not feature in the well-heeled tourism circuits. The continued enjoyment of special privileges in India well into the 1960s, as it is incredible that the premium social clubs were British-only institutions 20 years after the handover. The systematic murders of freedom fighters across the board and only a minuscule feature in our documented accounts.

Essentially, there are three initiatives that modern Indians must insist on, without guilt or shyness. 

The first is the immediate commissioning of learned documentaries (just as BBC documentary on PM Modi), incubated by Doordarshan or any private performer, advised by historians, funded handsomely by Reliance or Infosys and made state-of-art in execution by the slickest. While possessing the undeniable depth of global productions, they must appear from a sensitive Indian perspective, catering to both students and taxpayers. They need to be shot in global corridors of deceit, interviewing aggressively and analysing timelessly, no grace marks for diligence in the White Man’s Burden. Most importantly, this must be the Indian worldview of 2023, absorbing the past while embracing the present and bankrolling the future.

The second aspect, which will help immensely, is a physical immersion in the past, with the same purposefulness of the Australians and New Zealanders in Gallipoli. This means not just visiting the stooge kingdoms or Jaipur or Jodhpur, with luxury palaces, but also taking children to Murshidabad and Jhansi, where the hotels are basic but the history is sound. Each time we travel to England, a site visit to Udham Singh’s exploits, a freedom trail in London as well as museums, each ably articulating the oppression. Also, the school curricula as well as scalable conversations must reside more on the ‘other’ narrative, not just the convenient truth.

The third, and most difficult, is a bill to be raised for reverse reparations, the financial compensation for human losses, theft of assets and emotional misery during the occupation. This is a fairly common wartime practice, although the penalties are imposed on the losers by winners and in an unconnected aside, contributed to Hitler’s rise post the First World War.

It is fair that we should calculate an integrated model for karmic reconciliation, partly money, somewhat in-kind and other innovations are welcome.

Not for a fleeting moment, though, am I suggesting that our relationship with the UK, FTA et al, should be anything less than perfectly cordial. Many fresh-minded Indians are genuinely seeking a new equilibrium, laced with well-documented provenance, where carefully hidden truths are given a candid lease of life. This will enhance our national identity, be an adhesive for harmony and partially restore overdue justice.

The British Broadcasting Corporation can be excused for a sovereign bias, but the holier-than-thou face of objectivity is increasingly insufferable. Exactly why the Indian Broadcasting Corporation, a loose alliance of capable collaborators, must start nailing the culprits and their collaborators.

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