How would the U.K. be different if not for colonialism?

By Sunil Kumar

As an Indian who lived in the U.K; is fond of the English language, their literature and the beautiful landscapes of the country, I have mixed feelings when answering this question.

How would the U.K be different if not for colonialism?

Undeniable fact that the prosperity of the British(England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) was built on the loot of empire; largely India.

The British were industrious enough to bring 25% of the world under their yoke; and introduce cultural hegemony in a subtle as well as overt way. The English language; once the instrument of the colonizer is now an aspirational statement and an international connectivity medium.

Many historians(British and others) have pointed out the relative poverty, squalor and filth of cities in the U.K in the 16th century when the two richest countries in the world were India and China.

Tomes have been written on British endeavours around the world from the Revolutionary War in the United States, the crushing of the 1857 First War of Indian Independence to the induced Opium Wars in China. Despite this fact; all of these countries are still fond of British customs and culture.

So, if the U.K. had not tried to brutally enslave the world; English would definitely have lost its importance. Replaced by French, German or Spanish. Mandarin courses now popular all over the world are testament to rising Chinese influence.

Britain fought most of its war using its colonies; India, Australia etc. Due to the sheer size and population of the subcontinent; the British used them in wars and crushing rebellions all over the globe; from Africa to China. Native Indian soldiers were kept in worse conditions; denied equity in pay and always encouraged to be at each other’s throats due to an insidious policy of “divide and rule”.

Interesting facet of present-day Britain is the diversity in food and cultural influences; especially in big cities like London, Manchester etc. Rural areas are still predominantly conservative; and even urban areas are now showing signs of regression like the Brexit along with the clear and present danger of an increasingly insular approach.

Radical rebels and home-grown terrorism always come to the fore if people feel alienated. British policies are slightly skewed, obfuscatory and hypocritical due to their half-baked remorse about “human rights”; which was knowingly and intensely violated in the last 200 years.

Although I admire great intellects that arose from time to time in the U.K; the country’s Pax Brittanica has been more bloody around the world rather than the ennobling vision that may make imperial sympathisers feel happy. In a European context; Rome had left a similar imprint by colonizing most of the continent including the U.K. and introducing a cultural legacy that outlasted the collapse of their empire.

Britain outdid its colonizer, Rome and through the English language has created an impact that will definitely last longer. The collapse of the Empire; from 1947 India to Malaysia, Singapore, various African countries in the 60s definitely changed the country; more so than colonialism. Repackaging it to a worldwide audience required lesser effort due to the fact that most of the globe was already aware about the U.K.

If it was not for their global misadventure in colonialism, Britain would be a forgotten backwater, a bleak island on the periphery of Europe with very little importance in geopolitics. A variety of contenders to the place would definitely arise from anywhere in the planet. The United States could have been a colony of some other European power; France, Spain etc and we may very likely be living in a very different world order.

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