Sunday, 10 June 2012

Citius, Altius, Fortius and the impact of an Empire




While helping my son with his school project on India, I was reminded just how suppressive the Empire had been on the country. The knock on effect after independence in 1947 left a broke country with massive debts, followed by three wars with it's newly partitioned neighbour Pakistan and a dispute over Kashmir that is still ongoing to this day. Harsh austerity measures, in order to pay off their debts, hurt millions in India right up into the 1990's and beyond. With its many languages, cultures and religions, India is highly diverse. This is also reflected in its federal political system, whereby power is shared between the central government and 28 states.

 Over the past 30 years the country has managed to turn around it's fortune to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This largely thanks to the policies of the now Prime Minister, Manmahon Singh. His policies opened up free market trading and is an example of how non-intervention can benefit a country. It's by no means ideal. There are still millions in poverty (est. 40%) and building the infrastructure still has a long way to go. Starvation is still reported in the Bihar region and famine and malnutrition are never far away. Yet the Rupee is strong when viewed historically and although growth has stuttered, foreign trade and investment continues to expand. 

The project I am helping my son with is investigating a country competing in the Olympic games. Bearing in mind that India is the second most populated country behind China, with 1.2 billion citizens it had only won it's first individual gold medal in 2008. Incredibly 2008 was India's best games ever with one gold and two bronze medals. In total India has won only 20 medals in over a hundred years mostly coming from the team sport, Hockey (believed to be a fall back from the Empire days of playing Polo). When you compare this to the 429 medals of China, another impoverished country that also has had a fast growing economy over the past 30 years the contrast is striking. In fact Ireland with it's population today of 4.6 million has managed more individual medals than India.

There may well be a number of factors that has contributed to this poor showing but ultimately it can only lead to the effect of the economy. The poor infrastructure, poverty, lack of materials and facilities, poor diets and health leading back to the ransacking of material, resources and wealth by the British is obvious. China arguably has had an even tougher time according to Western history, with Chairman Mao's social policy being responsible for the starvation of millions by preventing the release of grain. China has had a very tough time economically with austerity measures similar to India. China has been involved with many conflicts with it's neighbours similar to India. And yet the comparable difference between medal hauls is immense. The main difference between India and China is that China was never colonised by a foreign power. China never had their people serving foreigners as their masters. China's wealth, although tied into the state, was never stolen. Their diamonds exported and beset in the Crown Jewels of the British Monarchy seen during the Diamond Jubilee weekend.

When I sat back and considered all this information it did leave me with some hope. Hope because India had shook off the shackles of tyranny and after having dug in and battled turned their fortunes around. Hope because such a large democratic country was taking back it's pride. Hope because this nation should achieve their biggest medal tally this summer having had invested more through their prosperity. Hope because the people of India must be growing healthier and stronger. Hope because their two-term Prime Minister is steering them in a better direction that will hopefully continue to help the people prosper.

 And yet overall it left me feeling sad because of the truth. The truth that Empire building will at best suppress and at worst destroy. I didn't share my thoughts with my son but when I looked at the bigger picture, I realised just how stacked the game is. It is so rigged it is hardly worth playing.

Medal Table

Iran                48
India               20
Pakistan         10
Vietnam           2
Afghanistan     1
Iraq                 1
Laos                0
Libya               0
Palestine         0
Yemen            0
U.S.A        2549