As Sri Lanka prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary of independence in two weeks, a question that needs to be asked again and again is why a multitude of locals could not successfully resist and defeat a handful of imperialist invaders.
The Indian subcontinent before the partition in 1947 had all that was necessary to defeat an invading force. It had a huge population. If one able-bodied Indian had made a resolve to neutralise at least one soldier of the occupying force, the battle against colonialism could have easily been won even if all colonial powers had united as a single force. Besides, South Asia’s heroic history alone was enough to make any occupier shiver in his pants.
Yet, not only South Asia but also many regions around the world capitulated without much resistance to European colonial powers. The reason: Just as there were many heroes in the locals’ histories to awaken their will to resist the invaders, there were power-hungry traitors, too. The local nobility’s greed for power was grease for the occupier’s main tool – divide et impera or divide-and-rule.
It was nothing but power-focused treachery and disunity among the locals that facilitated the colonial triumph in Asia, Africa and elsewhere.
Trade and financial assistance were the carrots the imperialists dangled to gain a foothold in the regions targeted for colonisation. Credulous local rulers embraced the imperialistic narration of friendship through greater, trade only to lose their country in the process. To gain a military foothold in the country to be colonized, the imperialists would even offer military assistance to a local ruler to fight his neighbouring rival.
Once the imperialists gained a foothold in a foreign land, they would maintain or aggravate the linguistic, ethnic, and religious divisions in the territory under their occupation to continue their rule while plundering the resources of the conquered lands for the benefit of the mother country.
The inter-communal problems were exploited by the imperialists in a studied manner. As expounded by German sociologist Georg Simmel in his study of the divide-and-rule policy, when two parties begin to bicker, the third-party – Tertius Gaudens or the rejoicing third – stands to benefit. Simmel notes that the third element intentionally produces the conflict between two parties to gain a dominating position.
The divide-and-rule strategy was the fulcrum of the colonial policy not only of Britain, but also of other European colonisers. Where there was harmony among diverse ethnic groups or religious sects, the British imperialists caused discord to conquer territories and fortify themselves in newly occupied areas.
As the imperialists exploited the greed for power among the local aristocrats, the collaboration of the local native elites became another key part of the divide-and-rule policy. The imperialists would collaborate with identified native elites to defeat the resistance of the native rulers and their subjects.
In the Indian subcontinent, a single act of treachery led to 200 years of British rule. The British imperialists collaborated with Mir Jafar, an ambitious general of the Nawab of Bengal, and promised him the throne of Bengal. Bengal’s ruler Siraj Ud-Daulah had allied himself with France against the British who by then had set up a fort in Calcutta to protect their trade and colonial interests spearheaded then by the British East India Company.
Siraj’s 50,000-strong Army laid a siege to Calcutta which was defended by just 700 armed Britons – some accounts say 3,0000 — only to be betrayed by his power-hungry general Jafar.
Siraj lost the war due to Jafar’s treachery. He fled Bengal, but was hunted
down and executed.
A similar act was played out in the conquest of Sri Lanka’s last Kingdom – the Kandyan Kingdom of Sri Wickreme Rajasinghe, a Tamil-speaking king from the Nayakkar clan. The power-greedy Kandyan nobility’s collaboration with the invading British brought the entire country under British rule.
The same divide-and-rule policy was employed to defeat the Ottoman Empire in World War I. The British planted the seeds of power-hungriness in the hearts of Arabia’s tribal leaders with promises of kingships.
When World War I broke out, the Arab legions of the Ottoman military betrayed the caliph and joined the imperial forces. After the defeat of the Ottomans, the Arabs got their kingdoms but not peace. To date, the Middle East has been a cauldron of conflicts, the origin of which lies in the Arab leaders’ betrayal.
Once the imperialists set up their rule in a target country, they would further divide society, often favouring the minorities, a move aimed at further reinforcing the imperialist rule through communal disharmony. The imperialists would also maintain a divide between collaborating elites – the brown sahibs — and the
Nations, where divide-and-rule policy prevailed under imperialists, often fell headlong into political and socioeconomic chaos after independence. The Indian subcontinent was plunged into wars between India and Pakistan because of deliberate colonial omissions. Palestine is burning because of British imperialists’ obnoxious decisions. Sri Lanka inherited an ethnic question that has its origins in Britain’s divide-and-rule policy.
Even today, the imperialists use the same divide-and-rule policy to conquer weak states and plunder their wealth and resources. The United States’ invasion of Iraq is a case in point.
Before the US invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi people were not known to divide themselves along sectarian lines. Taking a leaf from the British imperial strategy, the US imperialists sowed the seeds of sectarianism among the Iraqi people. When they found the seeds were not growing as they expected, the imperialists resorted to false flag operations that saw bombs going off in Shiite and Sunni neighbourhoods and places of worships.
The two communities which had co-existed for centuries despite differences began to blame each other and fight each other. While the Shiites and the Sunnis were busy killing each other, the US imperialists, to use Simmel’s words, rejoiced and achieved their imperialistic goals that favoured the capitalists.
As Sri Lanka prepares to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its Independence, we need to remember that imperialism is not a thing of the past. It is very much alive even today operating in a much more sophisticated manner than it was in the colonial era to exploit resource-rich developing countries. We also need to protect ourselves from new types of imperialist forces that try to take advantage of our economic misery.
We can defeat imperialism in whatever form only if we strike unity in diversity and stay awake.
Courtesy Daily Mirror
Disclaimer: Beware Lanka: Divide-and-rule imperialistic policies still operate - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view