Growing up in India in the 1960s, I knew that America gave us wheat, and Britain gave us books. On a table in my uncle’s home was a stack of elegant hardcovers, borrowed from the library of the British Council. Later, as a student at Delhi University, my own education in literature and history was largely shaped by the books from the same library.
Those memories came back when I read the commentary in the British press about whether the UK should stop giving aid to India. Over the years, while the British Council libraries were allowed to run to seed, the Department for International Development supported rural health and education schemes. Several years ago, when Indian billionaires started buying UK companies, calls were first heard for the dismantling of these operations. Earlier this month, when despite continued aid activity, the Indian government said it might buy French warplanes rather than British ones, these calls were renewed.
Undoubtedly Britain and India have a somewhat special connection. No other relationship between a former imperial power and a former colony is so suffused with affection and so free of animosity. To maintain this spirit, the British would do well to focus on culture rather than economics or military hardware. Close down DfID’s operations in India. Do not sulk when the Indian government buys guns from elsewhere. But, please, do restore the collections of the British Council libraries, and do send your best writers and actors on trips to India. Continue reading »