Modi backs call for UK to pay India reparations for colonial-era damage

Photograph of the arrival of British forces in Mandalay on 28 November 1885 © Wikipedia
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has backed a politician’s calls for Britain to pay reparations to India for the damage it caused during colonial rule.

Modi made the remarks after a video made by Shashi Tharoor, a Congress party member speaking at the Oxford Union, was posted on social media and became an instant success.

"Speeches at the Oxford Union have long provoked debate, as the comments made by MP Shashi Tharoor have done. We are focused on the future and how we strengthen ties with our Indian partners, including through Prime Minister Modi's visit to the UK this autumn," an FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) spokesperson told RT.

Speaking to the Indian parliament in Delhi on Thursday, Modi said Tharoor had encapsulated the sentiment of “patriotic Indians.”

“Tharoor’s speech reflected the feelings of patriotic Indians on the issue and showed what impression one can leave with effective arguments by saying the right things at the right place.”

Steve Uncles from the English Democrats Party told RT that Britain already contributes “quite a bit to India” in terms of foreign aid, adding that it's “totally inappropriate for such a prosperous nation now as India.”

“And the reason that India is a prosperous nation is, basically the people of England helped to set up India into a country. We provided their legal system; we provided the infrastructure in terms of their roads and their railways; we provided their governance in terms of the way that the country is run and ordered. All of the intellectual property rights on that if we are going to start trying to score points – all of that is due back to the people of England.”

The video, in which Tharoor made a passionate speech at the university claiming India was entitled to financial compensation after centuries of exploitation and foreign rule, was viewed more than 1.5 million times on YouTube and reported on in the Indian press.


“Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India. We paid for our own oppression. It’s a bit rich to oppress, maim, kill, torture and repress and then celebrate democracy at the end of it,” Tharoor said at the debate.

He further said Indians had “paid for [their] own oppression” by buying British goods, arguing that by the turn of the 20th Century they were the biggest buyers of British products in the world.

Tharoor said he was “touched and grateful” by the support he had received from the Indian prime minister.

The politician has, however, been disciplined by his party leader Sonia Gandhi for praising Prime Minister Modi’s economic initiatives, and his position as party spokesman was revoked in October 2014.

He has previously said that Britain solely took control of India for its own benefit and used the country to create overseas wealth.

“As far as I am concerned, the ability to acknowledge a wrong that has been done, to simply say sorry, will go a far, far, far longer way than some percentage of GDP in the form of aid,” he said.

“What is required, it seems to me, is accepting the principle that reparations are owed,” he added.

However, Modi did not state whether he agreed with the demand for an apology.

Modi, who leads the Bharatiya Janata party, became PM in 2014 in a landslide victory, and was elected on the promise he would invigorate the economy, which had flagged under Congress party rule.

He is due to visit Britain later in 2015, but the dates of the trip have yet to be finalized.