The economics we learnt at Oxford in the 1950s was also marked by optimism about the economic prospects for the post-War and post-colonial world. But in the 1960s and 1970s, much of the focus of development economics shifted to concerns about the limits to growth. There was considerable doubt about the benefits of international trade for developing countries. I must confess that when I returned home to India, I was struck by the deep distrust of the world displayed by many of my countrymen. We were overwhelmed by the legacy of our immediate past. Not just by the perceived negative consequences of British imperial rule, but also by the sense that we were left out in the cold by the Cold War.
There is no doubt that our grievances against the British Empire had a sound basis. As the painstaking statistical work of the Cambridge historian Angus Maddison has shown, India's share of world income collapsed from 22.6% in 1700, almost equal to Europe's share of 23.3% at that time, to as low as 3.8% in 1952. Indeed, at the beginning of the 20th Century, "the brightest jewel in the British Crown" was the poorest country in the world in terms of per capita income. However, what is significant about the Indo-British relationship is the fact that despite the economic impact of colonial rule, the relationship between individual Indians and Britons, even at the time of our Independence, was relaxed and, I may even say, benign.
This was best exemplified by the exchange that Mahatma Gandhi had here at Oxford in 1931 when he met members of the Raleigh Club and the Indian Majlis. The Mahatma was in England then for the Round Table Conference and during its recess, he spent two weekends at the home of A.D. Lindsay, the Master of Balliol. At this meeting, the Mahatma was asked: "How far would you cut India off from the Empire?" His reply was precise - "From the Empire, entirely; from the British nation not at all, if I want India to gain and not to grieve." He added, "The British Empire is an Empire only because of India. The Emperorship must go and I should love to be an equal partner with Britain, sharing her joys and sorrows. But it must be a partnership on equal terms." This remarkable statement by the Mahatma has defined the basis of our relationship with Britain.
Yes, that is a surprisingly generous thing for Gandhi to have said in 1931. I also liked the point about India's mistrust of the outside world, and was a little shocked by the stats about the country's economic shrinkage between 1700 and 1950 (perhaps more accurate to describe it as 'non-growth').
Word has it that Manmohan Singh will be addressing the U.S. Congress early next week (he is currently heading to Washington to meet with President Bush).