The economic theory by linking Indian poverty to colonialism was trying to corrode the moral authority of colonial rule, and also perhaps by implication challenging the whole paternalistic imperialism or British benevolence. Comment. (150 W/10 M)

Mentor’s Note:

In this question, you have to discuss the work of Moderate leaders in providing an economic critique of colonialism and shaping the Indian National Movement.

In the intro, discuss how British justified their rule over India through theories like White Man’s Burden, Oriental Despotism and that they were benevolent rulers, trying to develop India.

The main body should focus on the work of Moderates in providing an economic critique of British Empire. The economic critique theories were given by Dadabhai Naoroji and RC Dutt which destroyed the British myth of benevolence. The most important theory to be discussed here is Drain of Wealth Theory of Dadabhai Naoroji.

In the conclusion mention how this critique was, perhaps the most important contribution to the development of the national movement in India — and the themes built around it were later popularized on a massive scale and formed the very pith and marrow of the nationalist agitation.

Model Answer:

The Indian national movement was deeply rooted in an understanding of the nature and character of colonial economic domination and exploitation. Its early leaders, known as Moderates, were the first in the 19th century to develop an economic critique of colonialism. Indian intellectuals in the early 19th century had positive attitude towards the British rule hoping it would modernize India. Later they were disillusioned by the rule as progress in new areas was slow but overall the country was regressing and under developing. This change of image led to a deeper probe into the reality of British rule and its impact on people.

Amongst the leaders who studied the economic relationship between British Empire and India, Dadabhai Naoroji was the most prominent.  He popularized the drain theory in his book “Poverty and Un-British Rule in India”. The main points of economic critique of British rule in India by moderate leaders are:

  • The essence of British imperialism lay in the subordination of the Indian economy to the British economy.
  • They explained the colonial structure in all its three aspects of domination through trade, industry and finance.
  • Colonialism operated through the more disguised and complex mechanism of free trade and foreign capital investment.
  • British policies aimed to turn India into supplier of raw materials and consumer of British manufactured goods.
  • The early nationalists saw all-encompassing poverty as man-made and, therefore, capable of being explained and removed.
  • It said that large part of Indian capital would go into salaries and pensions of British officers, charges for maintaining an army and home charges.
  • While British were creating infrastructures and institutions like railways, telegram & postal services, civil services, police etc, they were aimed to provide gains primarily to British officers and merchants only.
  • These institutions and infrastructure drained Indian economy while rulers used them to easily mobilise troops and communicate in times of any rebellion by Indians and crush them.

The Drain Theory was easily understood even by common peasants and thus became the staple of nationalist political agitations during the Gandhian era. The work of the economists and the moderates eroded the people belief in the benevolence of the British rule. The nationalist raised that development of India would happen only when the political power would be in the Indian hands.  This period (1875-1905) became a period for growing national consciousness and the seed time for the modern Indian national movement.