"You can take the man out of India but you cannot take India out of the man"
is essentially an historian whose standard works on Crimean War, Falklands and India has catapulted him to a status of a serious and critically acclaimed writer. In fact, India has a special place in Royle's heart, for he was born in this country. Widely respected book reviewers like David Gulmour and Merle Rubin have hailed him as one of the brightest historians of his generation. In an exclusive interview from Scotland he tells 'Partition was unavoidable' and it is unfair to shift the blame on Britain.
What amazes a perceptive reader is your selection of topics. Your books, specially the Crimean War' and The Last Days of the Raj are published, despite the fact that there are already hundreds of books written on the same subject. Do you actually think that the earlier historians and writers had not done enough justice to such important issues?
The Crimean War and the history of the British Raj are inextricably linked. The war ended in 1856 and a year later the hard-pressed British Army had to deal with the Indian Mutiny or war of independence. The experience of European warfare was a disaster for the British expeditionary force and discouraged Britain from embarking on campaigns in Europe until 1914. At the same time the need to keep India under military control encouraged the British government to think in imperial terms and to prevent Russian encroachment on the so-called Jewel in the Crown. While there have been many books on the war in the Crimea these tend to concentrate on disasters such as the military incompetence, including the Charge of the Light Brigade, and the medical setbacks, not least the involvement of Florence Nightingale and the revolution in military medicine. There is no book which examines the war in its entirely from a diplomatic and military point of view, hence my decision to create one. I also took the trouble to look at the war from the perspectives of the other combatant nations - Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire. British history tends to be anglocentric, something which I as an Englishman living in Scotland want to avoid! By the same token, when I was researching The Last Days of the Raj in the 1980s I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of the surviving participants. I was determined that the Indian evidence should be included and not just the British. Perhaps that is why it is still in print in both countries twenty years later.As one who has born in India and studied its history inside out, what would you single out as the most pivotal factor that led to the partition of India? Could the partition had ever been averted?
The partition was unavoidable. Britain felt that it had a moral obligation to create a Muslim state - remember there was a tendency for British political officers and civil servants to prefer Muslims to Hindus. By 1947 Britain was well-nigh bankrupt, there was no political will to remain in India and the government was also having to cope with the crisis in Palestine. Once Mountbatten arrived with a remit backed by Attlee there was no going back. That being said the extent of the security problems was not foreseen and little fore-thought was given to making sure that the different populations were given safe passages when the partition was taking place. Britain has a bad record in drawing up boundaries as many of the post-colonial conflicts in Africa showed.There is a feeling among a particular section of the Muslim scholars in India, of course, much as the same as the Pakistanis do, that it was not Jinnah and his Muslim League but Nehru and the flawed policies of the Congress that paved way for the partition. How far is that charge justified?
My feeling is that Linlithgow, viceroy in 1939 must share some of the blame by pushing India into the war and dealing severely with Congress and Muslim League leaders. Tragically, the outcome might have been different had war not broken out or had Hitler not existed but that is one of the what-ifs of history that is always going to tantalise historians. It was unfortunate; too, that Wavell lost the support of Churchill. On Congress and Nehru, I think there was an over-optimistic belief in the upper echelons which was blind to religious differences and which failed to understand the strength of Hindu revivalism. They believed that harmony would follow the bisection of India.Communal violence in India has been an associated feature since the British reign? There is a school of thought, which still attributes this phenomenon, although unfairly, to the British divide-and-rule strategy. As a historian how would you encounter such an argument?
Having witnessed the aftermath of recent communal violence in present-day India I think it would be unfair to blame it on British rule. Racial and religious differences are often used as an excuse for more serious underlying problems - differences in wealth and possession of land. Often the confrontations are fanned by historical grievances - just look at Israel, Northern Ireland and many parts of Africa.You were born (1945) in India and your family had strong links with one of the most ancient cities of the country. Do you have any fond memories ...
I visit India regularly and have many Indian friends - recently the son of an old student friend from Bengal stayed with us in Scotland while he was sitting his College of Surgeons fellowship exams. Thirty years on and the friendship had come full circle with a younger generation. My birthday is 26 January, Republic Day, and when it comes to cricket I support India. Always. A few years ago I revisited my birthplace at Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) in Karnataka and was touched by the welcome I received. It is about the old story - you can take the man out of India but you cannot take India out of the man.Note: A complete review of The Last Days of the Raj can be read.