Former Indian Minister: 'Empire 2.0 Will Go Down Like A Lead Balloon In India'

6 March 2017, 17:37 | Updated: 6 March 2017, 19:00

Indian MP Shashi Tharoor told Iain Dale that the UK Government's branding of Commonwealth trade plans as “Empire 2.0” will go down "like a lead balloon".

Plans by UK Government Ministers to boost trade links with African Commonwealth countries are allegedly being branded internally as “Empire 2.0”.

The controversial name was given to the plans by sceptical officials who are worried about the importance being placed on deals such as this ahead of the UK’s Brexit negotiations, The Times has reported.

Here former Minister of State for India, author of Inglorious Empire, and MP for Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor, tells LBC Drive Presenter Iain Dale why that branding would "go down like a lead balloon". 

He told Iain: "Well speaking specifically about the British Empire in India, the British came to one of the richest countries in the world, and over 200 years of plunder and exploitation reduced it to one of the poorest.  

"It also, I'm afraid, has an awful lot of blood on its hands, including at least 35 million lives of Indians who died in totally unnecessary famines because of British policy.

"So the legacy is, I'm afraid, a rather, say, unpleasant one. In addition to which, of course, there were a number of other arguments made for the British.  

"The various institutions they are said to have left behind, some of which certainly continue to be used in India. But in all cases these were elements from railways to, to, to the court system, and so on, that were brought in to enhance British control, and make British profits.  

"They weren't brought in for the benefit of Indians. I suspect the similar patterns can be found in the rest of the Empire, but I don't claim to be an authority on anything else."  

Iain Dale then asked Mr Tharoor: "So when you hear a civil servant from the Department of Trade, the department that is looking to sign a free trade agreement with India, when you hear them refer to this initiative as 'Empire 2.0', I don't imagine that's going to go down very well in India?"  

Shashi Tharoor responded: "Like a lead balloon. That's the most unfortunate phrase, because don't forget, for example, that India's experience of trade with the East India Company in the bad old days, was that they destroyed our thriving free trade.  

"We were, for example, the world's largest exporters of textiles, and our fine cottons, muslins, and linens were worn by the well off in this country, and exported to many, many markets around the world.  

"The British came in and destroyed that existing free trade, and imposed their terms of trade at the point of a gun. They took over India's ports...they ruled out chunks of the country, progressively more and more bits of the country.

"And when they did that, they imposed punitive duties and tariffs on the export of Indian goods, and lifted all duties and tariffs on the import of their goods.

"They were giving themselves a captive market in India of millions of people to buy the products of the dark satanic mills that Dickens wrote about, of Britain. 

"So obviously those are not terms of trade that we recall with any happiness, and we certainly would like to clarify that those Empire terms are not on offer today."