60 Years After the British East India Company

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There are likely to be some big celebrations in India today.

15th August 1947 was the day when India became independent of Britain, as did Pakistan and what has since become Bangladesh. Pakistan celebrated its Independence Day yesterday for some reason, whereas India celebrates the historic achievement today. I suppose they both want to make their differences clear by not celebrating a national holiday on the same date. Okay.

The Indian subcontinent with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, had not been one nation but rather a conglomeration of several indigenous kingdoms, Mughal dynasties and sultanates. By the mid 19th century, the British East India Company controlled most of the country, thus effectively making India a colony of the British Empire.

Along came Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in 1930, in his cotton dhoti and sandals, preaching peaceful civil disobedience and, after a lot of dilly-dallying, the British East India Company had to retreat and with it, the government of King George VI.

A happy day for Mahatma Ghandi, as he was called now (Great Soul), for him and for India. Sadly, independence came at a price. The new nation split into two parts, the Hindu part of India, and the Muslim part of Pakistan. And the curtailed happiness did not last long for Mr. Gandhi either, as he was assassinated the following year by a Hindu radical extremist.

 

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India seems to have done well out of its newly found independence. Sixty years later it is on the way of becoming an important influence in the international economic power play. The same can not be said of Pakistan.

 

October 2nd, Gandhi’s birthday, is commemorated each year as a national holiday. Earlier this year, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution declaring October 2nd to be the ‘International Day of Non-Violence’, all over the world.

 

Be that as it may, let me send India best wishes for today, Mr. Gandhi a big ‘thank you’ for a tremendous and peaceful achievement, and eternal disgrace to the British East India Company.

Similar things are never really the same, but let me put in a word for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma (today: Myanmar) whilst we talk about Gandhi. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but is still under political house arrest. Last May, Myanmar extended Suu Kyi’s detention for yet another year which keeps her confined to her residence for a fifth straight year.

In fairness, I have to point out that, in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, any blame of the British East India Company would be completely wrong. Or so I think.

 

Or would it? One should never be too sure.

 

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