"The Sun never sets on the British Empire."
That particular catch phrase defines the largest empire ever known to the modern world. At its height, the British Empire stretched across Africa, Asia, the Asian Subcontinent, the Pacific, and many other parts of the world. Needless to say, a Small Island nation in Northern Europe had a very impressive imperial portfolio.
As the Second World War came to an end, and the world order shifted to accomodate the two new Superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union, the era of imperialism came to a grinding halt. Britain came under severe pressure to divest its colonies off into independence. It was difficult for Britain to be called upon to give up its crown jewel of India, and others to follow. However, Britain came to terms, and deicded to grant certain nations independence. The matter in which it was done is another story.
As India prepared for independence, the British decided that they were not going to stick around to see it through. They announced that on August 15, 1947, that the British would officially end their rule. India was in effect, allowed to select its own course for the future. As noble as this sounds, I strongly believe that this was the largest mistake Britain could have made.
Civil war, violence, assassination, rioting, and partition is what followed. The British should have decided to stay until all proverbial debts were settled. By just dropping everything and leaving, the British left a huge mess behind. But one must question whether they did the right thing. Do you stick around and leave on your terms, even though you have been told you have overstayed your welcome? Or do you leave the situation to explode as it did? The result of the ensuing war and violence was final partition, of the State of India, West Pakistan to the Northwest, East Pakistan to the Northeast (later to become Bangladesh), and Sri Lanka off the Southeastern coast. Not to mention a huge mess in the states of Kashmir and Jammu.
The Indian subcontinent is not the only time the British have done this. They did this in South Africa, which led to the establishment of apartheid, regardless of British protest. They did this in other parts of Africa, such as Rhodesia, leading to more violence and bloodshed. Kenya, Uganda, who knows where else problems were created by the British policy to leave the situation to fix itself. This also happened in Northern Ireland, where the British left the northern counties to decide for themselves what their future would be. The resulting violence has not been pretty.
But what were the British to do? They were being chastized or being in the wrong place anyway, and being chastized for leaving a mess. The sun has set on the empire, and the dangers of the dark have become a serious reality.