As one of a parade of speakers debating the British empire at the Oxford Union, Shashi Tharoor cannot have expected his short speech to be viewed more than three million times. Reparations, he told his audience, 'are a tool for you to atone for the wrongs that have been done. Let me say with the greatest possible respect: it’s a bit rich to oppress, enslave, kill, torture, maim people for 200 years and then celebrate the fact that they are democratic at the end of it.' Tharoor, an MP in the opposition Congress party, was lauded by the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who said, 'What he spoke there reflected the sentiments of the citizens of India.' It was an inauspicious omen for Modi’s visit to Britain later this year, the first by an Indian prime minister in nearly a decade.