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What were the differences between France and England towards decolonisation?

British and French India, a difference that strikes one is the long and protracted negotiations for transfer of power in French India in contrast to the way the British quit India.

Seven long years after the achievement of Indian independence from British colonial rule the de facto transfer of power in the French Indian enclaves took place in 1954.

This was linked to the political developments in Indo-China, considered to be one of the more important areas under French imperial control. In this, much water was to flow under the bridge and eight years lapsed before the French Indian enclaves achieved de jure independence from French colonial rule in 1962.

This time around the association was with the political developments in Algeria, a colony crucial for France. The milestones of 1954 and 1962 were the culmination of a long and protracted struggle for independence waged by the nationalists in the French colonial enclaves in India.

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A study of British and French colonialism in a comparative perspective in the specific context of decolonisation is extremely revealing. Whereas the liberation of India from British colonial rule set off a chain reaction of independence in other British colonies, such as Burma and Ceylon, France continued to cling to its colonial possessions.

It had the second largest colonial empire in the world and was keen to keep Indo-China and Algeria and Morocco even if others saw this as beyond their means. It did not even give up its five colonial enclaves in India with grace, perhaps because of their strategic link with Indo-China.

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In contrast to the British acceptance of national independence as a legitimate objective, the French did not believe in the legitimacy of nationalism for colonial subjects “The French concept of constitutional advance was to draw colonies closer to France, not push them farther away.” This policy was reconsidered only after the Second World War. French Africans were elected to legislative bodies in France.

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The British associated Africans with local bodies whereas the French associated Africans with French bodies. African political parties were extensions of metropolitan parties or attached themselves to French parties. At the end of World War II French colonies started on a radically different path of development from that of the British colonies.

The British style of transfer of power, that it was planned, phased and orderly. It is pointed out that in practice transfer of power in many British colonies was patchy, disorderly, reluctant and enforced. A middle view is that they were pushed along the path of self- government.

In the words of Dennis Austin, “it was a peculiar and distinctive feature of British colonial rule to have always contemplated its end: the colonial governments went consentingly to their fate, but they had also to be pushed in that direction and they were pushed primarily by local events within the colonial territories which obliged the Colonial Office and local colonial governments alike to introduce reforms at a pace which, in the post-war years, began to quicken beyond all earlier calculations.”

The relative weakening of England and France, the defeat of Italy and the subordination of Holland and Belgium to the designs of the United States; the effect produced on the Asians and Africans by the battles fought on their soil for which the colonizers needed their support.

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The dissemination of doctrines which, whether liberal or socialist, equally demanded the emancipation of races and individuals; and the wave of envious longing aroused among these deprived masses by the spectacle of the modern economy – as a result of all these factors the world was faced with an upheaval as profound, though in the opposite direction, as that which has unleashed the discoveries and conquests of the power of old Europe.

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