February 18, 2020
Author: Ralph Berry
In the days of the Raj, the imperial power was understood to employ the tactics of divide-and-rule. Britain, it was alleged, used the differences between Hindu and Muslim to cement its rule, and it is an understatement to say that the two great religions and their believers do not always get very well together. To this charge the British could respond easily: they did not invent the categories of Hindu and Muslim, and they were doing no more than taking advantage of a resource of statecraft that had existed from pre-history on. There was a solid institutional base for this policy, since the Indian Army consisted of Hindu and Muslim regiments. Generations of schoolboys have prayed for an exam question on the Indian Mutiny, since they could score points for the one thing they knew about the Mutiny: the Hindu regiments believed that the cartridges they had to bite contained cow fat, while the Muslim regiments recoiled from pork fat. An echo of this ancient feud has now occurred in British politics.
The late Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, is a Muslim who took his Commons oath on the Koran. He has just been forced to resign following an ultimatum from Boris Johnson. Javid was ordered to part with his six advisers—who must be presumed to been a heavily Islamic presence—and give way to a single set of 10/11 Downing Street advisers, who would be appointed by the Prime Minister. No self-respecting politician could accept this ukase, as Javid said. Effectively, this meant that the Chancellor would be overseen and ruled by Dominic Cummings, the hit man who comes straight out of Il Principe. Cummings is the instrument by which Boris governs. It is the Prime Minister’s intent to subjugate the Treasury, a rebellious province which has often thwarted the designs of the Government. It is to 10 Downing Street as Boko Haram is to the Nigerian Government in Lagos. As George Herbert said, ‘I struck the board, and cried, “No more”.’
Sajid Javid’s successor was named in minutes, in what was clearly a well-planned operation. The new Chancellor is Rishi Sunak, a Hindu who took his Commons oath on the Bhagavad Gita. Aged 38, he came up via Winchester, Oxford—a first in PPE, the trade union qualification for aspiring politicians—Stanford on a Fulbright scholarship, and Goldman Sachs. He married the daughter of an Indian billionaire and is immensely wealthy. MP for Richmond, Yorkshire (formerly the seat of William Hague) where he lives in a superb Georgian house, Sunak won the largest Tory majority–27,000–in the country in the general election last December. He had been spotted and advanced by the Conservatives for years, and is proof of a principle that was well understood in the days of the first Elizabeth: Members of Parliament are not elected; they are selected.
We return to the Raj expedient. In the alternating succession of Hindu and Muslim, Boris has now chosen to favour the Indian side that includes the new Attorney General Suella Braverman. He has set his face against a Chancellor who made the mistake of advocating, during a TV debate between Tory leadership candidates, an investigation into Islamophobia in the Tory party and bounced the other candidates, including Boris Johnson, into supporting him. But “Islamophobia” is a word that should never be on the lips of a prominent Tory, and so the investigation has quietly died. But it is not forgotten. Boris has now, in what is virtually a constitutional coup, taken over the Treasury, through a man who until yesterday was the Chief Secretary of the Treasury. Sunak knows the score intimately and will be pliant to the wishes of his master. So the Indian strain in British politics now takes precedence over the Muslim one. An echo of Raj statecraft still sounds in this country.