The Making of the Hybrid Raj, 1700-1857

At certain times of the day long queues snake out of the Indian high Commission in London into the surrounding streets. Anyone with the fortitude to join one of these queues will eventually witness scenes of more or less controlled mayhem inside India House, as would-be travellers to India present their passports for visas to be stamped on them, and then later, as they struggle to recover their passports. Both the size and the composition of the queues, young backpackers, more sedate tourists, business people and huge numbers of British citizens of Indian origin, show how closely inter- twined Britain and India still are. For the historically-minded, the scenes inside the High Commission may evoke something of the British-Indian past. British traditions of bureaucratic formalism are, it would seem, being genially subverted by other ways of doing things.

For all the inequalities of power in Britain's favour which marked the connection between Britain and India for so long, the mixing of British and Indian influences has always been characteristic of it. The stark stereotypes of the polemical historiography of the past, which depicted the British as all-powerful conquerors, aborting the development of the peoples of South Asia and subordinating them to Britain's purposes, or alternatively, as guiding them to progress and modernity, now carry little conviction. This is especially true for the eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, a period of growing British trade with India and later of wars of conquest and of the creation of a British administration in the name of the East India Company.

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