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Did the British Really Divide India to Rule?
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Maj Gen Mrinal Suman | Date:24 Feb , 2018 15 Comments
Maj Gen Mrinal Suman
is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Services Group of CII.

While studying Indian history in school days, one was repeatedly told that the British resorted to ‘divide and rule’ policy to gain control over India. The tone and tenor of such a description painted the British as unscrupulous schemers who exploited the simple, trusting and gullible Indians. As a young student one accepted the above statement at its face value without any questions and grew up in the belief that we Indians are a highly united lot and our subjugation was due to devious tricks and policies of the British.

At a later stage, one started wondering why Indians let themselves be divided by outsiders and why they could not foresee the result of their disunity. Sadly, the truth is that our approach, attitude and practices have always been directed towards remaining disunited. Caste system divided the society in distinct segments. Presence of multiple religions, sects and sub-sects in the sub-continent prevented social cohesion.

…the truth is that our approach, attitude and practices have always been directed towards remaining disunited. Caste system divided the society in distinct segments. Presence of multiple religions, sects and sub-sects in the sub-continent prevented social cohesion

The much touted Swayamwar (selection of spouse by a princess in an open forum) is indicative of this deficiency and our total disregard for forging unity. Whereas matrimony amongst the royals in the Europe has always been an instrument of forging strategic alliances, Swayamwar invariably created more enemies than friends. All rejected princes and kings felt insulted, nursed a grudge and waited for an opportunity to take revenge to redeem their self-esteem. History bears testimony to the fact that every Swayamwar was followed by acrimony and internecine wars.

Reverting back to the role of the British, they never divided us to rule. They did not need to do so. We have always been and continue to be a divided lot. Formation of states on linguistic basis was never attempted by the British. Mandal Commission was not constituted or implemented by them. Nor was the Babri Masjid demolished by the British.

The current agitation in Maharashtra has not been initiated by the East India Company. Caste based reservations and quota system, the prime splitter of the Indian body politic, were not invented by the erstwhile rulers. Nor are they preventing us from enacting a uniform civil code. The list is endless.

We have a knack and penchant for generating innovative issues to divide ourselves. We are doing our best to ensure that we remain embroiled in petty bickering and internal dissentions. To us, our region, religion, caste and sub-caste are more important. Worse, we flaunt this narrow identity and give it precedence over nationalism. If after 60 years of independence, Kashmir and the North East are still not emotionally integrated with the country, the failure is ours.

If India continues to exist as a nation, credit will be due to three institutions – the armed forces, the higher judiciary and the Election Commission. They are also the only hope.

Undoubtedly, the politicians are the fountainhead of all fissiparous tendencies. One does not have to be a visionary to predict the danger of abetting illegal migration from Bangladesh for garnering votes. North Indians in Mumbai are not welcome but illegal Bangladeshis can stay. If political leaders can imperil national security for the sake of power, they can stoop to any level. Sadly, they cannot be expected to change as they believe in the ends and not the means employed. To them, vote bank politics preclude letting countrymen stay united. Additionally, spineless and politicized bureaucracy simply follows their dictates and cannot be expected to deliver either.

Immense damage is also being inflicted on the unity of the country by the media through its irresponsible and thoughtless reporting. For the sake of cheap sensational news, petty vandals are given the coverage befitting a mass leader. Every news item is reported with a religious, caste or creed slant – ‘a dalit girl molested in a Delhi bus’ (as if other women are not molested in Delhi buses) or ‘church guard killed’ (in reality an argument between two security guards had turned violent) or ‘muslim driver runs over a boy’ (his being a muslim is of no relevance). It is obnoxious to see articles spelling out proportions of different castes in a constituency and predicting victory of the candidate from the majority caste, thus promoting caste based politics.

The Way Ahead

If India continues to exist as a nation, credit will be due to three institutions – the armed forces, the higher judiciary and the Election Commission. They are also the only hope.

As regards the armed forces, the nation owes its security, both external and internal, to its apolitical nature and nationalism. It is a symbol of national integration and a repository of best human values. It is an island of discipline and orderly behaviour in a sea of chaos and anarchy. A foreign observer wondered whether India deserved such a fine organisation. Unfortunately, concerted efforts are being made to demean and demoralize this shield between cohesion and disintegration.

If an Indian citizen still respects law and believes in its fairness, the credit is entirely due to the independence and pro-activity displayed by the higher judiciary. Having been let down by the Parliament and the executive, people look at the judiciary as their sole hope. Therefore, it must step forward to shoulder additional responsibility, opinion of conservative constitutional experts not withstanding.

In a secular country where religion is a highly emotive issue, it is best to shift all religious activities from public domain to private domain.

First, anyone promoting hatred between communities or undertaking divisive actions should be punished for anti-national activities or even treason/sedition, as internal dissentions are the start point of all civil strife.

Secondly, cost of all damages caused to public and private property must be recovered from the leaders of the vandalizing mobs with deterrent imprisonments. In case of fatalities, they should be charged with murder.

Thirdly, any government found abetting disorder, both through overt support or tacit inaction, should not be allowed to stay in power.

Fourthly, a blanket ban should be put on all religious processions and use of loudspeakers in religious places. In a secular country where religion is a highly emotive issue, it is best to shift all religious activities from public domain to private domain.

The Election Commission can play an extremely important role with its constitutional powers. Any party that does not swear by the integrity of the country and equality of all citizens should be banned. Similarly, any party that promotes hatred amongst various segments of Indian society on any grounds whatsoever must be proscribed. Even religion-based parties which disallow followers of other religions as its members should have no place in a secular country.

It is the duty of the Election Commission to ensure that political parties are not allowed to play vote bank politics at the cost of national cohesion. All defaulting parties and their leaders must be handed out exemplary punishment, debarred from standing in elections and their political careers sealed.

The British controlled the whole of Indian peninsula with a maximum of 60000 troops. Today every state has a police force of more than that strength and yet divisive forces are rampant. If India has to survive and prosper as a united nation, it is time corrective action is taken. Let us not force the next generation to rewrite the history books to say that India can remain united only when subjugated by a foreign power or that an independent India is always a divided India.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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15 thoughts on “Did the British Really Divide India to Rule?

  1. Real question is: When anyone says we should do this or that to cure the nation of its maladies, what does he/she mean by ‘ we’ ? Who are ‘we’ ? Any intelligent person worthy of this name can describe the desirable situation as against the current situation. Most of the intelligent persons do this most of the times. Doing this is very important for educating the people. But the really intelligent person is the one who can describe in practical terms how to move from the current state to the desirable state, from within the constraints of the current state.

  2. An excellent article by Gen Suman. Let us not blame the British. We Indians ourselves are responsible for our current miserable state. We think of ourselves as Bengalis, Assamese, Biharis, Punjabis etc. etc. first, and Indians only as an afterthought – even today, and look at the consequent never-ending mayhem all over the country, which continues to occur every second day. The British left 68 years ago. In all these years we haven’t been able to overcome our communal, caste and parochial tendencies and prejudices. The only oases in these babble are the Armed Forces and instead of applauding their wisdom and attitudes they are being discriminated against at every step.

  3. The general is absolutely correct. India has always divided itself and Indians would rather be Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs than Indians first, Indian-ness that is taught from the beginning in the armed forces. Individuals can be credited with the last remaining coherency of our great country.

  4. It is the British who untied India which was a patch work quilt of robbing Rajas and raping Sultans till then. They did so purely by dint of the British sense of fair play and a highly developed conscience. We have the Addiscombe Military Seminaryand British enlightened thought to thank for such superb rulers as Sir Mark Cubbon, Sir Thomas Munroe, Lord Macaulay, Lord Curzon, Lord Bentick, the Lawrence brothers and Lawrence’s boys (Nicholson, Abbot etc) and Lord Minto who have done more for India individually than all the rulers of India post 1947. However, nervous from the Sepoy Mutiny which led the the Bengal Native Infantry and Bengal Native Cavalry, that comprised, almost entirely, of Brahmins and Moslems, being blown from the Cannon’s Mouth by the likes of Lumsden’ Guides and Hodgson’s Horse that left a profound genetic hole in Bihar, Bengal and UP that is still to be filled, the British DID initiate a “Divide and Rule Policy” after the First World War in response to the “Freedom Movement”. They tried to divide the Moslems and “Hindus” in the North by appeasing the Moslems unfairly and divide the Brahmins and Non-Brahmins in the South through “Social Engineering” i.e. reservations in Government Jobs, Promotions and educational institutions and the persecution of Brahmins. The “Communal Government Order” (#613 of 1927) passed by the British Stooge “Justice Party” (Chief Minister Rao Bahadur Patro the Oriyan Zamindar who converted to Christianity to be Knighted) that “Self Governed” the Madras Presidency and was the progenitor of the various “Dravid” parties and the likes of Periyar and Narayana Guru in South India is a matter of Historical record. However, it must be said that, post 1947, the Republic of India made such extraordinary strides in “Divide and Rule”, that the British themselves may never have even dared to dream of, and succeeded in eradicating competence, integrity and accountability from all arms of governance.

  5. General, I would concede one point that what happened within India after Independence, germinated by the sub-sect/caste allegiances causing local and regional centrifugations, are purely our own making. It almost looks like we were not mature enough for a post-Independence, pan-Indian National Democratic unity. Jawaharlalji intuited this problem and wisely introduced his National Integration programme that has more or less successfully worked. Today we find different linguistic groups and communities dispersed throughout India. I was told that the first person to open a repair workshop garage for imported cars in Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), was a Sikh. Ten percent of Delhi population are the ‘Mallus’, Malayalees from Kerala, who are an adaptable lot, be it in India or abroad, very much like Sikhs and Punjabis. But it is also true that local and regional conflicts of the nature you mentioned are sometimes invariably exploited by unnecessary politicisation as well. Due educational lack, multi-subcultural peaceful interaction is what our people need to learn, keeping in mind India’s long-term national interests. We have the potential to come to grips with this problem through peaceful dialogue and understanding via holding seminars. It is a sociological problem that needs be tackled with finesse by any government in power.

    That said, what happened in pre-Independence times, the British did employ divide and rule. But why did we Indians allow that? Were not those princely Heads of States following their own selfish agendas?

    When I threw up the question how Germany & Japan shattered after WW II could rebuild their nations to affluence, to late Prof. A. R. Gopal Ayengar (Fmr. Director of Bio-Medical Dept of BARC) then Visiting Professor at Hannover (W. Germany), he replied, “One word, discipline”. I would modify – ‘Social & National discipline’ which is what we lack.

    George Chakko, Former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna. 21-07-’14, 13.45 hrs CET

  6. Well said General Suman. It is 100 % correct. The sad part is that post Independence Indian Rulers resorted to almost similar policies under the Artificial garb of PSEUDO SECULARISM (now popularly called- SICKULARISM).
    Regards.
    Comdt Vinod Tuli retd.

  7. THE ARMED FORCES OFFICER CORPS COMES FROM THE SAME CLASS OF INDIANS AND THEY ARE NO BETTER THAN THE MODERN INDIAN BRAHMIN BANIA , POLTICANS CIVIL SERVICES OR BUSINESS CLASS . LIKE SOME GOOD JUDGES , BABUS OR POLITCANS THERE ARE SOME GOOD OFFICERS BUT MANY ARE NO BETTER OR WORSE THAN THE TRASH FOUND ON INDIA STREETS , OFFICES OR LOKSABHAS AND ASSEMBLIES

  8. A superb article with lots of Facts & history..I may add that many distinguished writers & learned people have commented that British rule was a blessing to india.Eg Nirad Choudhary. Jadunath Sarkar etc. Justice Ranade in the book ” History of maharashtra has written that the British rule was divinely ordained for the good of india.Late PM-Smt.Indira Gandhi once lamented in anguish that India is ungovernable-This, when she had a huge majority.During british rule, a DSP of police had more power & accountability than a DGP nowdays. There used to be one IG police for whole of undivided punjab & the police was very efficient.Today there are about 18 DGP’S, about 30 Addl.DGP’s.about 36 IG of police in indian punjab-needless to say law & order,Intelligence,CID is shabby in punjab.As regards the british administration & law & order, even their worst detractors like Veer Savarkar, Netaji Subhash Bose,Sardar Patel, Moraji Desai & even Mahatma Gandhi grudgingly admitted that it was good.

  9. Who says Swayamwar ruled? Like Europe Indian Kingdoms too practiced strategic alliances. And politicians are not the root of all fissiparous tendencies – they are tools in the hands of American evangelical agencies and marxists that control western academic discourse on India. So is the Indian media a voice of these elements.

  10. Mr. Suman

    Do you have any touch with Ground Realities? We should do this…. We should do that …..
    Seems to me that all articles on this magazine , in a way , reflect the actual nature of the officer corp of the Armed Forces….. All BakChodi and no action ….

    Who do you write these articles for anyway??

    Your three services have to silently assert themselves and force the hand of not just the Babudom ( instead of pontificating about it) but also the corrupt judiciary to pass inportant laws!!!

    And if your 3 Services are already taking such silent measures , then I must say that Indian Armed Forces are a bunch of Dud Paper tigers- where are the results???
    Would the Chinese or Russian or American Services personnel have taken any crap from a bunch of Criminals that head the so called “Three Institutions”?

    And how presumptuous to say ” If an Indian citizen still respects law and believes in its fairness, the credit is entirely due to the independence and pro-activity displayed by the higher judiciary ” —- If Indian Citizens respected law and believed in its fairness, then would there be so many protests, the violence at Marutis’s Manesar plant ??? People would have just gone to courts to get justice!!!

    Please do your research correctly before being self righteous in absolving the Blood sucking Armed Forces of all their Crimes against people of this Failing Republic(So Called).

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