Roderick Matthews re-examines the British Raj

Updated: Jul 15, 2010, 13:18 PM IST

Spicezee Bureau

New Delhi: Roderick Matthews’ new book, ‘Flaws in the Jewel’ shows how the British Raj was never able to overcome, or even properly to acknowledge, its many deficiencies.

Published by HarperCollins India, the book shows how British rule developed into an uncomfortable amalgam of imperial economics, military autocracy and unfulfilled liberal aspirations.

The British Raj was a great myth factory and its minions knew this. Roderick Matthews re-examines British rule in India by concentrating on three central themes: its ability to defray the costs of its own maintenance; its impersonal and institutional qualities that gave it continuity and tenacity; and its commitment to a dual higher purpose – the uplift of the condition of the natives and the playing out of the superior moral character of the Englishman. At first, these ‘virtues’ gave the Raj viability, vitality and focus. But over time they also proved to be weaknesses that could not be remedied.

Roderick Matthews was born in London in 1956 and still lives there with his wife and two children. He studied Modern History at Balliol College, Oxford and is now a freelance writer specializing in Indian history. He has written articles for the Times of India, and a biography of the British Raj to be published in 2011. In 1914, his great grandfather advised M.K. Gandhi, then staying in London, to return to India for his health, thus inadvertently precipitating the fall of the British Empire.

Early Praises:

‘It’s a terrific achievement and should become obligatory reading for anyone interested in the British Raj. Splendidly written and finely judged, I found it often provocative, generally persuasive and always refreshing. It deserves the utmost attention.’ John Keay, Historian and author of India: A History

‘The flaws in the jewel ploughs through familiar ground but the seeds it plants should generate much needed controversy. The division of the British Raj into four periods – greed, scorn, fear, indifference – is startling, original and closer to reality than complacent commentators have led us to believe.’ MJ Akbar, author and editor of The Sunday Guardian