India missed the industrial revolution until the time the British initiated modern facilities in the country.
Discarding Prayag and renaming the city as Allahabad was a calculated move, ignoring the reality of the place being sacred to Hindus as Triveni-Sangam. Ironically, the blow was delivered by someone who has been promoted by left historians as a super icon of secularism. Such a characterisation implies that virtually whatever a badshah, sultan or nawab did was secular unless proved otherwise. The name change was brought about by Emperor Akbar, using the name of the only God, the merciful and the beneficent. It was such an extraordinary thing to do by the founder of Din-e-Ilahi, which was a blend of all religions, the ultimate in the Indian version of secularism.
As someone who believes in the European version of secularism, which is the separation of state and religion, this writer feels that to involve the Almighty in mundane matters such as changing the name of a city is belittling God. Even the worst iconoclasts who invaded India do not appear to have committed such an error. For example, Akbar’s great grandson Aurangzeb did not go beyond ordering Islamabad for Mathura and Muhammadabad for Varanasi. The original names still exist. So how could Akbar, the wise and intelligent emperor, belittle Hindus? Yet he did so. And all Yogi Adityanath has done is revert to the name Prayagraj
Akbar was as much an invader, after killing Hemu at the second battle of Panipat as Robert Clive was after vanquishing Siraj-ud-daula at the battle of Plassey. The only difference was that Clive and his successors did not convert Hindus by force, whereas Akbar’s successors did not hesitate to deploy the sword to reduce the Hindu population. However, successive Indian governments have honoured the ruthless Mughal rulers by naming some of Delhi’s central streets after them and have been reluctant to make any changes thereafter. On the other hand, what the successors of Clive named after themselves—such as Curzon Road et al—have mostly been renamed. Even the spellings of some indigenous names have been proudly altered—so Cawnpore is now Kanpur, while Bombay has become Mumbai, Calcutta is Kolkata and Madras, Chennai. But Ahmedabad has not become Karnavati, nor has the Tughlak-given name Daulatabad, in Maharashtra, reverted to Devgiri. But India’s first political party and once an institution of secularism, Congress, is outraged because Allahabad is being changed to Prayagraj
Muslims have been in India for a thousand years; 70 years ago, Muslim League took away a third of Hindustan and made it their homeland and called it Pakistan. On the other hand, the British ruled for 190 years, did not stay back nor did they take away any territory. Yet, they carry the stigma of being an invader and Hindus pat themselves on the back for having waged a freedom struggle and throwing them out in 1947.
The Mughal emperors exploited the land and its revenue to enjoy luxuries, run harems, acquire jewels and build mausoleums. They hardly took any interest in promoting trade or industry and left no surplus for economic development. Due to their negligence, India missed the industrial revolution until the time the British initiated modern mining, textile mills and other manufacturing facilities in the country. Obviously, they did so for profit but their ways of governance were such that these could bring incidental benefits as well as modernisation to the country, particularly in areas such as railways, post and telegraph, the laws, the universities, et al. Moreover, the curiosity of British officers and scholars led to the discovery of what was ancient Indian civilisation, which the Hindus themselves had largely forgotten. On the other hand, the Mughals destroyed more of the old, especially temples and created very little new except for their own mazhars, dargahs, etc.
Agriculture was the main occupation of the people of this country. However, Mughal rulers saw to it that the cultivators, who were 99% Hindus, were left without any surplus. All kinds of taxes were extracted from them as state income. The manner in which money was squeezed out of the cultivators was stated in a document in Firoz Tughlaq’s time and was quoted in Volume I of The Cambridge Economic History of India, 1982. It reads: “A village was assigned to a trooper called Ziauddin, the sovereign having given him the right (haqq) over its poll tax (jiziya) and tax on cultivation (ziraat), so that he might spend the income on himself and his military equipment. The peasants, however, fled from the assigned village and settled in another village. Ziauddin insisted that the emigrants return to his village. It was his right to collect the poll tax from the peasants.”
A charge that is often levelled against the British is that they divided Indians, that is, they sowed the seeds of discord between Hindus and Muslims in order to rule India. Is this true? Even after the British crown assumed direct rule in 1858, no attempt was made to re-divide the country. Uncannily, the Viceroy for the princely states and the Governor General for British India were combined in the same person. Assuming that the British had adopted the policy of divide and rule, would they have taken the structural measures that they did early in their rule over India? For example, the three Presidencies of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras had been established independently of one another. Yet, they were brought under one umbrella by the Regulating Act of 1773 and thereafter Warren Hastings was promoted from Governor of Bengal to Governor General of India. Decades later, the Agra Presidency was formed, also to be answerable to the Governor General.
If the policy was to divide, why was Lord Macaulay supported in his zeal for introducing English as the medium of instruction? This reform contributed more to bringing India together than any other. Without the English language how could a Bengali converse freely with a Gujarati? There was no rashtra bhasha or national language then. And without an education in English, would our leaders across the sub-continent have imbibed from the West the spirit of liberty and the concept of nationalism?
The ruler could have taken steps, with the full support of the princely rulers to try and ensure that British India did not get easily integrated with the rest of the country. Instead, the Independence of India Act 1947, passed by Parliament in London, provided that every princely state must either join the Indian Union or the dominion of Pakistan.
The first gift of the English to India was the establishment of law and order across the country. Sir Percival Griffiths, ICS, who served all his working life in India and wrote extensively, also deserves to be quoted. According to Sir Percival, on 6 July 1831, Raja Rammohan Roy had said: “Before the period at which India had become tributary to Great Britain, it was the scene of the most frequent and bloody conflicts. In the various provinces of the Eastern dominions, nothing was to be seen but plunder and devastation; there was no security for property or for life, until, by the interference of this country, the great sources of discord were checked, education has advanced and the example of the British system of dominion had a conciliating effect on the natives of the East.” Gopal Krishna Gokhale, complimenting the British, said: “The blessings of peace, the establishment of law and order, the introduction of Western education and the freedom of speech and appreciation of liberal institutions which have followed in its wake.” After speaking of the anarchy and insecurity of the pre-British period, Dadabhai Naoroji too talked about law and order being the first blessings of British rule. The Congress Party, however, remembers neither the Vedic nor the British period with any sense of approbation, but reserves such emotions to the intervening period.