The Making of India: The Untold Story of British Enterprise

Monday 28th March 2016 10:24 EDT

Dr. Kartar Lalvani was born in 1931 in Karachi. After the partition in 1947, he arrived in Bombay. Dr.Lalvani came to Britain in 1956 and completed his post-graduation in Pharmacy from King’s College, London. Later, he went to Germany and completed his Doctorate with distinction from Bonn University, after which he returned to London and founded Vitabiotics in 1971, which became the UK’s leading no.1 research-based vitamin company.

Dr.Lalvani notes sadly that he's been living in England for more than 50 years and in that time 'I have not encountered a single native Brit who has stated any form of belief that the British benefited India'. It was only after living in Britain that he came to appreciate the scale and depth of this country’s contribution in the making of India. The more he studied, the more he realised the necessity to explain this great untold story. He feels so strongly that British rule in India has been unfairly vilified that needs a scrupulously researched examination of its achievements.

He believes that now is the time to challenge the assumption that Britain is nothing but a colonial oppressor that robbed India of its resources and treasures, crushed the locals under their feet and gave absolutely nothing back. The sins of colonial rule are well documented. But well over half a century after independence, are we not obliged to look back dispassionately and give credit where it is due?

When the British arrived, India was a fragmented country of many kingdoms. First with the East India Company, and later with the Raj, the British helped to build a new nation in India. The audacity and scale of this endeavour, the courage and enterprise needed to deliver massive infrastructure more than 12,000 miles over an arduous five-month journey each way.

Within a century it was devastated by a series of Persian and Afghan invasions, in which the cities of Delhi, Lahore and Agra were looted of their wealth and treasures, including the Peacock Throne, now lost, and the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which forms part of the crown jewels; In the following decades three more looting invasions occurred, with each looting lasting more than a month while the British were still confined to Bengal. By the end of the 18th century the Hindi word “loot” was common in British vocabulary. In fact, the British entered the shattered and devastated city of Delhi in 1803 and left the re-built and restored magnificent city of New Delhi as the new capital of the unified New India.

India has always been dogged by the most appalling poverty. Isn't that also a legacy of British rule? He points out, it's now almost 70 years since the British left India and the poverty is almost as bad as it's ever been. If there is a villain to be fingered here - someone responsible for keeping India bumping along the bottom - it's not a representative of British rule. Instead, we should be pointing accusingly at none other than Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister. It was Nehru who sided with Stalin and his bankrupted Soviet Union. 'As a result, India's pace of industrial growth was seriously stunted, depriving the country of precious financial development funds from the U.S. and European nations and the benefits of the post-war business boom.'

There were two sides to British rule: one commercial and at times exploitative, the other liberal and high-minded. The latter meshed well with Indian culture and is easily underestimated. For instance, the East India Company eradicated the Thuggees who carried out highway robberies, ensuring safe travel throughout the country. The company’s officials prohibited female infanticide and abolished sati - which no Indian ruler had done in a thousand years. The British abolished the hated “jizya” tax, payable by all non-Muslims.

The British further built a nationwide civil and physical infrastructure that continues to underpin the world’s largest democracy. This included not only the famous all-terrain Indian railways, with their 45,000 miles of track and well over 100,000 bridges, but also the telegraph (which entered operation a year before New York’s), postal systems, canals, irrigation, water-treatment works and roads. In 1811, the first iron bridge in British India was built across the Gomti River at Lucknow - the design was based on a bridge over the River Wear in Sunderland. When it was shipped to India, it became the largest single structure ever exported from Britain. It consisted of 2,627 pieces, of which just 19 arrived broken. The 1,423-mile Grand Trunk Highway from Calcutta to Lahore, on which construction began in 1836, was grander than any road-building scheme conceived before, even by the Romans.When it was finally completed almost 30 years later 'wheeled carriages could roll across the land' for the first time. Not only that, trees had been planted every 60 feet along the way 'to provide beautification and much-needed shade to travellers'.

Not only did the British give India a legal system, an efficient police force, an apolitical powerful army and a smooth running civil service with fully functional nationwide network of Central and provincial governance . The British established India’s first universities in 1850s at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, and went on to found the first museums, libraries, engineering and medical colleges and hospitals. They restored many ancient monuments such as the Taj Mahal. For the first time in 1,000 years people from all castes, creeds, cultures and religions could and did jointly work in hundreds of thousands together in railways, post & telegraph, army and administration to build India.And when the time eventually came for the British to leave India in 1947, power was relinquished with ‘good grace and mutual respect'.

This first of its kind book, Dr.Lalvani says, offers well defined, new and accurate information in 22 succinct chapters in 430 pages. 21 out of 22 chapters are all about the colossal British contribution to the fully functional new India that the British left behind. The phenomenal Indian Railways is only one of the 22 chapters of doing good.

He has dedicated his new book to the spirit of everlasting friendship and prosperity between these two great countries.

When the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh received his honorary degree from Oxford University in 2005, he quoted India’s great poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore:

“The West has today opened its door,
There are treasures for us to take,
We will take and we will also give,
From the open shores of India’s immense humanity.”  

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