By Amartya Sen
:India, Britain, and the wrong lessons.
AMARTYA SEN is Lamont University Professor at Harvard University. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998. December 31, 2007 I. As I entered secondary school in the mid-1940s in what was still British India, I remember thinking that, despite our irritation with the British, it was rather agreeable that the favorite military music of the British Army was "Beating the Retreat." There was little sign in 1944 that the British were about to evacuate the country, despite the swelling torrent of the Indian national movement led by Gandhi and other political leaders; but the decisive moment was not far off. It came rather abruptly in 1947, sixty years ago, ushering in the beginning of the end of "the biggest empire ever, bar none," as Niall Ferguson describes it in his book Empire, a guarded but enthusiastic celebration of British imperialism. While this year the Indian newspapers have been full of festivity for what has been achieved in six decades of independence, it is worth remembering more soberly that this is also the anniversary of the end of a very long imperial relationship. As the year 2007 trails away, it is a good time to take a general look back at the history of the domination of a hot, sunny, and vast subcontinent in the Orient by rulers from a small kingdom in rainy, windy, cool--and very far away--islands on the western coast of Europe. In India, indeed, this is a year of anniversaries. Not only did that imperial rule of the subcontinent end sixty years ago, it also began 250 years ago, with a small but hugely repercussive event in 1757. On June 23 of that year, Robert Clive led the forces of the East India Company to defeat the Nawab of Bengal in the battle of Plassey, thereby initiating British control of state power in India. The battle lasted all of a day, but it is still seen as a memorable event both in Britain and in the subcontinent; and when I gave a...