Friday Discussion (01/02/21)

What the Commonwealth have in common

The B.Sc. students gathered online on 1st of February, 2021, to discuss certain issues and topics as a part of the Friday Discussion. This time we talked about the Commonwealth Nations and what they have in common. Like always, Ms. Saylee Jog moderated the discussion. 

The Commonwealth was officially formed in 1931, when Britain and the Dominion countries (Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Irish Free State) agreed to the equality of each nation or community under the British Empire. This meant that the British did not rule any of these nations but they owed loyalty to the British king or queen. This arrangement is known as the ‘Commonwealth’. As of today, there are as many as 54 countries which are members of the Commonwealth Nations,most of which were colonized by the British.

On comparing the growth models of the Commonwealth nations to that of the others, it can be concluded that there is a considerable difference in the magnitude of development between the two. Also, the countries which preserved their domestic markets before opening them to the foreign sector, have progressed at a greater pace than the Commonwealth nations which comparatively had inward-looking trade policies. 

There are many Commonwealth nations for whom colonization negatively harmed certain growth-related aspects. In the case of education, Korea, which was colonized by Japan, gave more priority towards education than India during the colonial era. Thus, after gaining independence, Korea progressed at a faster pace than India. However, if we compare India to other Commonwealth nations like Australia, the education level is higher in Australia. This is because many Britishers settled in Australia as it had a better climate suitable for them to settle down, unlike the tropical climate of India. Colonization also caused internal changes and differences in many countries. For example, before leaving India, the East India Company (EIC) incorporated many divide and rule policies which induced rifts between cultural and religious groups and ultimately led to the division of India into the present day Pakistan and India. 

The Britishers also practiced ‘Settler Colonialism’ in countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In these ‘settler’ countries, the local population witnessed a steep decline due to violent depopulation, which included inhuman resettlement, by the British.

On the flip side, the British rule also brought about some major development and socio-cultural changes, the benefits of which were reaped by India. For example, the EIC introduced railways and postal services in India. Even if it was for their trade, they couldn’t have taken it back with them. Also, they banned certain inhuman social practices like sati and child marriage. In the early 2000s, the services and IT sectors saw massive growth, which was definitely aided by the early exposure to the English language. On the contrary, non-Commonwealth nations lacked human capital export simply because of the language barrier. The British gave India constitutional democracy. Therefore, despite the cultural differences seen in India, it is comparatively disciplined and peaceful as compared to other non-Commonwealth nations like Ethiopia, where there are continuous civil wars and internal conflicts. 

It is well said that – Give credit where credit’s due. In this context, if it weren’t for the British colonialism, it would have probably been difficult to imagine Commonwealth countries like they are today, especially India.

Suggested Reading:-

‘Why Nations Fail’ authored by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

‘Post American World’ authored by Fareed Zakaria

‘Empire: How Britain made the Modern World’ authored by Niall Ferguson

‘A Farewell to Alms: Brief Economic History of the World’ authored by Gregory Clark

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