In 2015 Shashi Tharoor, once a rising star in the UN and now a prominent member of the Indian parliament, accepted an invitation to speak in support of an Oxford Union motion declaring that Britain ‘owes reparations to her former colonies’. He was heading for the Hay Festival anyway, he says, and ‘thought it might be pleasant to stop in Oxford on the way’. He stopped, he spoke and the motion was carried. ‘Pleased enough’, he left without giving the matter further thought. Six weeks later the Union posted a video of his polemic on their website. Tharoor, no novice in the art of attracting online attention, tweeted a link to it, other websites picked it up, and within hours it had garnered over three million ‘likes’. When India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, added his applause, Tharoor’s speech became headline news.
He claims to have been surprised: ‘I honestly did not think I had said anything terribly new.’ His assault on the iniquities of British colonialism had simply rehearsed ‘the fundamental, foundational arguments that justified the Indian struggle for freedom’. He had imagined every educated Indian was familiar with