Duel in the Crown

Charlotte Crow describes how a recent visit to India on the 150th anniversary of the Indian Mutiny became a flashpoint for Indians and Britons over the commemoration by the two nations.

Writing in the Times of India on September 28th, the Indianborn British economist and politician Lord Desai observed, 'What a strange country India has become. Even after sixty years of independence, it still lacks self-confidence to feel comfortable in its own skin. It is happy about me welcome "incredible India" receives in the Big Apple. Yet when a few British descendants of those who served and died in India during 1857 come to pay homage to their dead relatives, people behave as if the East India Company were back again. Will some Indians never become truly free of the foreign yoke, never be able to treat a foreigner as an equal? Do we have to be either victims or bullies?'

What prompted Lord Desai’s question was the political outburst emanating from Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh, but also manifest in Agra and Gwalior, by members of the rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) towards the visit by two groups of British tourists – one, that I was invited to join, of family historians and academics, the other on a regimental history study trip – travelling in tandem on a 150th anniversary tour called ‘Exploring the Indian Mutiny’ organized by Palanquin Traveller.

My party comprised a learned group of Mutiny buffs and descendants of leading British officers. Our tour leaders were historians Hugh Purcell and Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, the latter a founder-member of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA), started in 1976 to document and preserve European cemeteries wherever the East India Company traded.

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