NEW DELHI, India, Aug. 11, Reuter: In May 1987, when the constitutional powers of: India’s President and’ Prime Minister were the subject of fierce Parliamentary debate, the chairman of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) wrote for advice to the clerk of the House of Commons in London. The reply was of less significance than’ the request. Because although some Indians pedantically insisted that the letter from Ramaswamy Venkataraman, now elevated to the Presidency, should have gone to the Lord’ Chancellor, few questioned the propriety of sending it.
Forty years on, the King Emperor no longer reigns, but British influence everywhere lingers on.
From Bangalore to Calcutta, status of Queen Victoria and Edward V11 gaze across their lost dominions. In Delhi, Willingdon Crescent, named after a Viceroy who once ruled from it, curves past the President’s palace.
Bombay’s gateway to India stands where the British passed through on the way into their empire and out of it.
India is in no hurry to erase the Outward symbols of the British Raj, making them instead a part of its own timelessness.
“This country, this subcontinent absorbs everything”, said veteran Jouranlist Balram Tandon, himself absorbing a rose’s lime juice another part of the imperishable imperial legacy.
“The British”, he said, “like to think that their rule changed everything gave India a Parliament and a civil service and ‘so on, India already had a sophisticated administration from the Moghul emperors. All the British did was refine it and give it a new nomenclature.
“So since 1947 India has felt no need to do away with everything they left, just to adapt it”.
The Imperial echoes are not all monumental: Britannia sliced, wrapped, white bread recalls the horrors of the British cuisine, 30yearold Morris Oxfords, still in production, are the most common car, small boys play cricket, their fathers listen to the BBC.
Constitution and law, civil service and foreign service, Parliament and government, railways and roads and clubs and schools, all were redesigned and refined and left behind by the British, and survive to this day.
Surrounding them all is the most widely used, and abused, memorial; The English language.
The framers of the 1947 Constitution dreamt of Hindi as the national language and provided for English to be phased out after 15 years. But subsequent amendment, spurred by users of India’s 14 other major languages, have effectively enshrined its use forever. Hindi, not English, is the endangered species. Last month a government ministry introduced cash prizes to promote its use.
“It is incorrect”, wrote the minister with a hint of desperation, “that letters in Hindi are not properly attended to in government Offices. The feeling that by communicating in English one commands greater attention is also baseless”.
Frank Anthony, Doyen of the Indian Parliament and leader of the country’s dwindling Anglo Indian community, saw English as. a benefit, not a threat.
“Thank god Jawaharlal Nehru had the wisdom to accept English as the official alternative language, otherwise the South would have broken away by now”, he said.
“English is the linchpin of India’s administration, of its judicial integrity, of its unity,” he added.
Many younger Indians disagree, a journalist, not yet born when the British left, saw the British and their empire as an unmitigated evil.
“Everything that is wrong with this country the corruption, the inertia of the bureaucracy, the materialism we learnt from the British. There is no area of life in India which does not still live with imperialism”, he said.
“That is why so many young Indians look today to Moscow, not to the West,” he told Reuters, speaking in English.
The view of the older generation, who themselves lived through the end of the Raj, is more tolerant. For them even the bureaucracy, widely damned as a dead weight on India’s progress, has its positive side.
“The British were most proud of the Indian civil service,” said Tandon. “They didn’t say this will create efficiency, but this is the steel frame of the system, this will hold it together, and they were right”.
Seeing this, Nehru left the civil service virtually unchanged, accepting the inefficiency as the price of its unquestioning loyalty.
Anthony too saw the institutions, regardless of their origin, as too precious to be changed. “The civil service, the supremacy of Parliament, the independence of the judiciary if you play around with these it would be a terrible disaster”.
Paradoxically the most enduring monument of British rule is, for many Indians, nationalism.
“Until the British came, the very concept of nationalism had not been formalized only Aurangzeb, the last great Moghul Emperor, had tough of India as a national entity”, said Tandon.
Article extracted from this publication >> August 14, 1987