TEN INDIAS WITHOUT THE BRITISH RAJ






Roderick Matthews




E-BOOK available from IDEAINDIA.COM at



To uphold that history could never have been any different is to read the connections between causes and events backwards in time, guided by an unwarranted certainty. It is to impose necessity on chance. To say that the past could never have produced a world any different from the one we know is to prune all but one of the branches off the highly complex binary tree of Possibility. Restricting history in this sort of way will always suit somebody somewhere - usually an incumbent of some sort. If Divine grace, or Kismet, has favoured me and not you then there can be no compelling reason for me to try to investigate how or why things might have been different. The idea that history could never have been any different is a naturally conservative perspective, a justification for the state of the world as it is. A religious conservative can say that God made the world we live in and that He would have made it differently if He had wanted to. Such ‘conservatism’, however, is not necessarily restricted to religious or right wing thinking, it can also render useful service to secular left wing revolutionaries, granting a licence from Marx to challenge history’s verdict up until the capital city falls, at which point the dialectical forces of history have become manifest and no further change is required. More personally, if I have supreme power then you, by definition, do not, and for you to suggest that it could be otherwise is to suggest that my power is in some way a mistake, that I have cheated or defied history. The realisation that this type of reasoning is very common in historiography explains the current rise to respectability of “What if...?” history, more technically called ‘Counterfactual Analysis’. To speculate on what might have happened is a very illuminating way of explaining what actually did happen. Furthermore it is a way of accepting that what has actually happened has only contingent bearing on what is yet to happen. We are none of us locked into any inevitabilities, we are all to some degree empowered to influence our future. We are not slaves to the past and neither were our ancestors in their time. History has therefore a uniform openness to possibilities. Professor J.C.D. Clark has written that Counterfactual Analysis “reminds us that all historical episodes have prehistories, but those prehistories are the prehistories of the many things which might have happened as well as of the fewer, but still hugely diverse, things that did”. (Our Shadowed Present: 2004, p 29)

This e-Article takes a look at the rise of the British Raj through this counterfactual lens.




Roderick Matthews, Historian, Obtained a First from Balliol College, Oxford in Modern History. Studied Medieval History under Maurice Keen. Studied Tudor and Stuart History under Christopher Hill, Master of Balliol College. Studied European History under Colin Lucas, later Master of Balliol College and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. Studied Imperial History under Professor Paul Longford, Rector of Lincoln College


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