Column: Lets do it our way

Written by Jaithirth Rao | Updated: Sep 17 2013, 10:44am hrs
Unlike the British one-law-for-all approach, we should find our course of action in our own confused, messy way

Leopold Amery was a tragic twentieth century minence grise. Amery was born in Gorakhpur. Today, he would be eligible for the numerous tax exemptions that are provided to non-resident Indians; under the exalted FEMA, which replaced the more exalted FERA, Amery would qualify as one. As an aside, my friend Kamal Sharma assures me that the only eminent persons who are born these days in Gorakhpur or in Motihari (George Orwells birthplace) are criminals who masquerade as legislators. So much for the glories of free India!

Amery studied at Harrow where he was a contemporary of Winston Churchill. But unlike young Churchill, who was always at the bottom of the class, Amery was a topper who won many prizes. He went on to be a topper at Oxford (note, Churchill could not get into a university) and was made a Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford. He had the distinction of being among the few Conservatives, along with Churchill, Eden and Macmillan, to resolutely oppose Chamberlains sell-out to Hitler. He also had the privilege of leading the attack when Chamberlains departure was debated in the House of Commons. Leopold Amery was appointed Secretary of State for India, reviving his connections with the land of his birth. He had a reasonable position on India and was constantly thwarted by his intransigent leader. He once said: Winston knows as much about India as George III knew about the American colonies. Churchill is supposed to have quite callously resisted even Amerys mild attempts to alleviate the problems arising from the Bengal Famine of 1943.

Leopold Amery had two sons, one of whom, John Amery, became a Fascist. During World War II, John Amery tried to organise British POWs, who were in detention camps in France and Germany, into a unit to fight against the Russians on the Eastern Front. He did this because he hated the Bolshevik tyrant, Josef Stalin. But in the process he became a traitor to his own country. (Another aside: I wonder if any of my bhadralok friends know if John Amery met the redoubtable Subhas Bose, who organised Indian POWs with the intention that they fight against the allies, but preferably not against the Soviets)

After the war, John Amery was brought to Britain and tried for high treason. Leopold consulted psychiatrists who made a strong case that John was mentally unstable; Johns brother Julian tried to see if John could escape the treason charge by making out that he had given up British citizenship. As it turns out, John Amery presented himself to the judge as eminently sane and pleaded guilty despite being emphatically told that if he did so, he would hang. The said John Amery, son of a British cabinet minister was, in fact, hanged. His body was not given to his family, but was buried inside Wandsworth prison. The quaint, medieval legal argument was that the body of a traitor belonged to the Sovereign/the State. The irony of ironies is that John Amery was not aware that his grandmother, Leopold Amerys mother, was from a family of Hungarian-Jewish origin, who had converted to Protestantism. As a quarter-Jew, he might have had difficulties with his Nazi friends! To his dying day, Leopold Amerythe topper from Harrow and Oxfordmust have regretted the fact that he hid his Jewish origins, presumably because anti-Semitism was still rife, at least in some British Tory circles.

The tragic tale of the eminent non-resident Indian Leopold Amery and his son John, I believe, needs to be studied by various eminent worthies in India. John Amery was the son of a distinguished, patriotic cabinet minister. His brother Julian Amery also was a distinguished, patriotic politician who went on to become a cabinet minister. There is a case to be made that John Amery was misguided. John Amery was not pardoned. He was hanged for his crime of high treason. So much for pardoning well-connected and possibly misguided persons. In the atmosphere of 1945 at the end of a brutal war, which according to many was Britains finest hour, another traitor William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) was also hanged although there were serious doubts as to whether he was actually Irish or American and hence someone again who could not possibly be a traitor. But changing times produce changing attitudes. In 1979, Anthony Blunt, a traitor who possibly did far more damage to Britain than John Amery or Joyce, was simply stripped of his knighthood and of club memberships (something the British are supposed to value more than anything else!). Are we to read into it that the bull dog nation had softened Should we be imitating the Britain of 1945 or of 1980

Our home minister could tell fatuous TV commentators that the Batla House incident has been examined by an independent commission and an independent court, both doubtless products of the bourgeois Indian state, which is a slave of its imperialist, colonialist legacy of respecting one rule of law for all, so much at variance with our Indic tradition of having different rules for persons of different castes, religion and status. The home minister might add that the crime of high treason, which is what traitors commit, should not be treated lightly.

Distinguished neo-Orientalist non-resident Indian professors currently teaching in various universities in Australia, Britain, Denmark and the US have repeatedly pointed out to us that all the problems of India are derived from the British rule. Before the British, India was a Garden of Edenit says so in an inscription inside the Red Fort! We should, therefore, make a solemn promise to ourselves that we will not imitate the British in their behaviour in the John Amery case or in the Anthony Blunt case or in other matters as well. We will find our own course of action in our own confused, messy way.

But can I make a plea for a monument in Gorakhpur to commemorate it as the birthplace of the tragic Leopold Amery

The author is a Mumbai-based entrepreneur