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August 17, 2016
SHOULD INDIA AND PAKISTAN INVITE BACK BRITISH RULE?
By Dr Arshad M Khan
Preposterous! you say. Take a closer look:
The countries have now been independent for 69 years. Just a few days before the
recent Independence Day(s) festivities — the two countries have a difference of
opinion on when and celebrate on different days — a man named Matibool returning
home from a night shift as a security guard was run over in the early hours by a
speeding delivery truck. He flew through the air landing in the gutter bleeding badly,
though ignored naturally by the insouciant Delhi passersby. Fully thirty minutes
passed as did 40 cars, 82 rickshaws, 181 cyclists and 45 pedestrians all recorded
factually on CCTV. The only one who stopped was a rickshaw driver, but only to steal
the man’s cell phone. Finally, someone who knew him happened to walk by and
alerted the police. Matibool died on the way to hospital.
In Peshawar, a gang has been arrested for selling newborns in cahoots with hospital
staff, telling the mother her child had died, and substituting a dead baby’s body —
also in the week before Independence Day festivities.
A majority of the states in India have some form of rebellion. And in Pakistan?
Balochistan and the Frontier province … ditto. After nearly seven decades of self-
rule the Indian subcontinent is arguably the worst-run piece of land on the planet.
Now just think of the small, neat, civil lines bungalows surrounded by large carefully
manicured lawns and hedges; spotless cantonments; electricity that was not cut off
several times a day; water available and running, even potable, from your tap; clean,
relatively efficient railways thanks to the Indian Christian community, who lived
peaceably without fear of violence from extremists in the two present countries — just
look at the railways now; politicians who were relatively honest, who did not use their
office to enrich themselves; and so on. The deference towards, perhaps fear of, the
white-skinned European kept us from misbehaving. That’s it. The secret.
A personal anecdote: Sent to repair some machinery together with a British Sindhi,
both of us educated at British universities, we would arrive for breakfast at the only
decent hotel in the nearest town. The waiter would begin to serve us bringing the
usual items, when two German engineers working for a rival firm would come down.
The man would drop everything leaving us gobsmacked as he rushed over to serve
the Germans. We would exchange rueful smiles: both of us had encountered
discrimination in England, subtle or sometimes overt, but never quite as blatant, and
that too in our homeland. To top the irony of it, my colleague had a German wife.
The waiter explained apologetically that a complaint from the Germans would cost him
his job (a complaint from us clearly not). We would understand his predicament, he
reasoned. We did.
Now here’s the rub: When westerners have lived in these countries a while, they
begin to expect such privileged treatment and behave accordingly. Not surprisingly
then, encountering returned expats sometimes becomes an unpleasant experience,
requiring in extremis a sharp rhetorical boot to normalcy.
So it’s back to the English public schools. Turn out the classics-trained administrators
to shoulder the white man’s burden. We are waiting. One caveat however: No Sadiq
Khans, no curry-eating Britishers. You might protest, chicken tikka masala is the
favorite British takeout, but you know what I mean. We need the pukka Sahib, and
boiled mutton for him to keep his sense of superiority intact.
Of course, you might think Europe is a big place. Why not pick from somewhere
else? Why not France, or Germany, or Scandinavia, or even Italy … Well, think
about it. The French love their wine too much — a serious problem for a place devoid
of the stuff. The Germans? Any idea, how work obsessed they are? No they would
crack that whip just a little too hard for us desis. The Scandinavians? They love the
sun so, they would spend the time lying naked in it to do anything. The Italians?
Oops! India has already had an Italian run the place. Much good it did spawning the
revanchist Modi, who has now been rebuked even by the normally India-loving New
York Times in a recent editorial on the Dalit issue. No, nothing, works quite as well as
the British — afternoon tea, whisky sun-downers and all.
And thinking of afternoon tea, who doesn’t miss the English style tea room if they ever
experienced it. The silver tea service, the stacked pastries, the meat patties wrapped
in delicious fluff pastry, the smartly turned out turbaned wait staff.
Or the old Cecil’s in Mussoorie with its breathtaking views, run like an English holiday
hotel: a solid English breakfast, a three-course lunch and dinner, and of course
afternoon tea and sandwiches. Or the original Lintott’s of Murree, all decked out in
white like a pastry itself.
Don’t worry, you’ll love the return of the Raj.
You say you fear it’s back to the color barrier. Well, there’s news for you: it never
left. Travel anywhere in the world, particularly the Gulf States much favored by South
Asians, and you’ll find out.
What about that old British habit of exclusive clubs so irritating to our upper classes?
Well there again I have news for them. Those exclusive British clubs are even more
exclusive, busily excluding their own, in Britain. Try Boodles or Whites or any other of
those St. James clubs. It’s a fact of life.
If they come, the British will run the government, the civil service, the police, the
military. Industry, as before, will belong to whoever succeeds. Tata was a
powerhouse before 1947; it is now and will probably continue so, as will the other
industrialists (like the Ambanis and Sharifs) and their companies — another fact of
life, at least for now.
If you think this suggestion (can one dare call it a proposal?) is fun and nonsense,
nothing can be further from the truth. Think of the problems it solves.
Dalits and honor killings? The British will deliver the cures. After all, they extirpated
suttee. Rebellions and fights for independence? How can you have them when no
one has independence — whatever that means in a world where economic control by
the US (with China trying hard to crack it) is an everyday reality. Ask the Russians,
ask the Iranians who are still trying to get back the $2 billion confiscated, and ask your
own government. Ask even the French, who quickly toed the line after their banks
were fined. Or the Swiss for that matter.
So the Kashmir problem, the Balochistan problem, the rebellions in India … all solved
with a single stroke of the pen. The subcontinent having more poverty-stricken
people than the rest of the world put together? Not the problem of incompetent
governments, no, the British are in charge now. You see how easy it is. One can
hear a collective sigh of relief … and the air conditioners can start buzzing again —
without home generators.
What about our own leaders you say? Well, they can retire to a paid-for house in the
country … any country of their choice. Come to think of it, most have the houses
A return to sanity it is. Let the British back in again. All is forgiven. We too can now
enjoy the shenanigans of the Royal Family. Why not? Long live the Queen!
In the meantime, we do all know the success of a country is the success of its people,
the scientists, engineers, professionals, workers, entrepreneurs, who join together in
decent, honest, hard work.
Note: Satire is satire after all, though as we know the King’s fool was the only one
who could tell the truth and get away with it. The writer is a former Professor who now
accepts his obvious inferiority.