On Empire: Tristram Hunt and Shashi Tharoor, moderated by Swapan Dasgupta

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Had it not been for the fact that the talk took place on a Monday, it could well have been the most crowded session at the Jaipur Literature Fest. With Congress Party MP in conversation with Labour Party MP Tristram Hunt on a rather controversial subject, The British Empire, the audience expected an all-out war between the two representatives of nations with a touchy history to say the least.

What they got, however, was a rather intellectual conversation. With both parties engaging in a delightful tete-a-tete with none defensive about their country’s past, entertaining  the IAS Officers as well as the intellectual English in attendance.

It started off with a definition of Imperialism and moved on then to its growth with differing opinions on it. We’ll leave you with the best quotes here –


“Scholarship about the empire look at Imperialism as a fusion, and a mutual give and take rather than a hegemonic exercise. Today, it has become far more complicated than that….There’s a question, however, should we apologise about the empire or commemorate it?”
– Tristram Hunt

“Nostalgia or empathy for the empire, is part of the confusion of Britain’s place in the world.”
– Tristram Hunt

“At a protest against immigration policies in London, I saw some South Asians hold up a banner – We are here because you were there.”
-Shashi Tharoor


“15-20 million Indians died needlessly (under the British empire), you cannot put price on that.”
– Shashi Tharoor, claiming that Britain could not pay India reparations as a price cannot be put on the damage caused.

“I’m struck as to how the British institutions of Parliament have been replicated, right down to fish & chip on the menu of the parliament, which for me, was a step too far.”
– Tristram Hunt, speaking on how Indians have adapted to British institutions

“These institutions are not to be grateful to the British. Indian nationalists could not imagine another style. It was the cry of the excluded for inclusion……English was associated with elite things” – Shashi Tharoor, clarifying as to why Indians adopted the parliamentary system, a response to Hunt’s comment.


“The same thing, however, cannot work as our country is so different.”
– Shashi Tharoor

“British politicians are becoming more Indian today. We regard that as progress.”
– Tristram Hunt

“The British did try to justify colonialism as a civilising mission…it was an exercise in the rape, pillage and loot of the native population.”
– Shashi Tharoor


“You don’t need foreigners to come and oppress you to have basic progress.”
– Shashi Tharoor

“The past is out past, it haunts our present.”
– Shashi Tharoor

On the question of revenge, Tharoor ended with a classic comment.

“History is its own revenge.”
– Shashi Tharoor


The Penguin India Blog

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