Column: Let’s do it our way

Sep 17 2013, 05:14 IST
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SummaryUnlike the British one-law-for-all approach, we should find our course of action in our own confused, messy way

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 éminence 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 Orwell’s 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 Chamberlain’s sell-out to Hitler. He also had the privilege of leading the attack when Chamberlain’s 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 Amery’s 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

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