So Shashi Tharoor thinks India should jump aboard the reparations bandwagon. Courtesy of his polished rhetoric and YouTube’s ubiquity, two million tweeting Indians, including the prime minister, approve. But what is it they all so ‘like’? And where is the logic in Tharoor’s diatribe? The undergraduates of the Oxford Union had proposed that “Britain owes reparation to her former colonies”, a motion no doubt prompted by recent publicity given to the claims of Kenyan veterans of the Mau-Mau struggle of the 1950s. Tharoor didn’t mention the Kenyans, nor did he find time for any other surviving victims of colonial oppression. He had a bigger, much staler fish to fry. The UK must apologise and offer compensation for the injuries and injustices sustained by India’s millions during what he called “200 years of colonial rule” in South Asia.
As the nearly-man of the UN Secretariat and then the Congress, Tharoor cited “the principles of reparation” and “a moral debt that needs to be repaid”. He was presumably thinking of international human rights law and the deliberations of the International Court of Justice. Yet, neither body existed during most of Britain’s overseas rule. The conduct of states, as of individuals, can only be assessed by the standards of their age, not by today’s litigious criteria. Otherwise, we’d all be down on the government of Italy for feeding Christians to the lions. The Mexican economy would be in hock to the Aztecs and the Mongolians would be eternally atoning for Ghengis Khan.