Friday, July 15, 2005

Manmohan in Oxford

Partha Chatterjee describes anti-colonial nationalism as entailing both mimicry and rejection of the imperial power. The rejection has always been loud and clear, the mimcry nearly always implicit and unacknowledged. So Manmohan Singh may have inaugurated a new phase in the Indo-British encounter by saying: ‘with the balance and perspective offered by the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight, it is possible for an Indian Prime Minister to assert that India's experience with Britain had its beneficial consequences too’.

His comments provoked a scathing rejoinder from Irfan Habib, an extraordinary debate in the letters page of the Hindu, a more measured editorial and – predictably enough – a call for an apology from the BJP.

Manmohan’s remarks formed part of his acceptance speech for an honorary doctorate conferred by the University of Oxford, his alma mater. The Telegraph of Calcutta provides an amusingly inflated account of the political significance of such an event. Still more amusingly, below photographs of Manmohan and Margaret Thatcher, reads the triumphalist caption: ‘Singh, Thatcher: He gets what she didn’t.’

The Telegraph goes hilariously overboard, in analysing whether Singh is a Cambridge or an Oxford man – this being determined by the university from which one took one’s undergraduate degree – concludes, by this reckoning, that he is a Cambridge man, and then reacts in horror at his reference to Oxford as ‘one’s own alma mater’. This puts him, it says, ‘in the position of a man about to take a new lover’. Read this piece in full: among other things, it ticks Manmohan off for burning the midnight oil instead of drinking late and chasing girls, commends him for wearing a light blue instead of a dark blue turban at the ceremony (this indicating loyalty to Cambridge), and notes – gratuitously and incorrectly – that Balliol is a college mainly for undergraduates. Bloody Cambridge bhadralok.

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