Between 1939 and 1945 India underwent extraordinary and irreversible change. Hundreds of thousands of Indians suddenly found themselves in uniform, fighting in the Middle East, North and East Africa, Europe and—something simply never imagined—against a Japanese army poised to invade eastern India. By the war’s end, the Indian Army had become the largest volunteer force in the conflict, consisting of 2.5 million men, while many millions more had offered their industrial, agricultural and military labour.
In India’s War, historian Srinath Raghavan paints a compelling picture of battles abroad and of life on the home front, arguing that World War II is crucial to explaining how and why colonial rule ended in South Asia. The war forever altered the country’s social landscape, and when the dust settled, India had emerged as a major Asian power with her feet set firmly on the path toward Independence.
From Gandhi’s early support of Britain’s war efforts to the crucial Burma Campaign, Raghavan’s authoritative and vivid account shows how India’s economy, politics and people were forever transformed, laying the groundwork for the emergence of modern South Asia.
Book:India’s War: The Making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945
Author: Srinath Raghavan
Publishers: Allen Lane (Imprint of Penguin Books)
Published on: May 2016
Genre: Non Fiction, Historical Non Fiction
The Agenda: Favorite Genre list, Non Fiction list, Curiosity List, Knowledge Lust, Historical Books
Review words count: 1336
India’s War by Srinath Raghavan
The “India’s War” by Srinath Raghavan can be divided in to two sections. One section covers Politics from 1939 till independence and other covers stories of Indian Military or Indian soldiers in action during world War II. And after finishing the book I could quite easily pin point which section was more compelling than other.
Indian Politics for its never ending drama and surprises always has a aura to keep you interested. With that in mind, the book includes insights on politics as India was in to last phase of its Independence. The acute capture of drama has clearly overshadowed all other elements of the book. Not that adventures of Indian soldiers had any aura to keep you going. It was mostly a bunch of numbers moving on the field for me. And it actually sabotage interest created by stories related to Indian Politics.
It would be easy for you to skip the sections on Indian Soldiers without missing most of interesting buzz created by Indian Politics in the book. The book is recommended if you want to read brief on India’s politics during 1939 till Independence.
As we look at the cover of the book it doesn’t take much to comprehend in which direction author Srinath Raghavan’ would take his book “India’s War” to. The black and white photo of Indian and Britain soldiers in World War II clearly take you to colonist period. What distinct in the photo is and attracted my attention is that we could see the India’s famous War Elephants beside War Tank. The cover speaks volume of words reflecting period of India as Britain colony, naivety of Indian army in modern warfare and shows heritage and legacy of Indian army. Though as good as cover is I was not most compel to read book filled with action which normally have little context to it. But it came as surprise and relief to me that Indian politics played huge role in the book and saved me from lot of drowsiness brought by less thought provoking world war actions.
As the title suggested most of book would cover the period of World War II specifically between 1939 to 1945. But not known to many of the younger generation who majorly believe that India were unaffected during world war II. For them “India’s War” would come as a big surprise. India not just contributed huge number of bodies to Britain army but attracted lot of importance in planning and strategy of Allies and Axis. But truth to be told if we took the India’s involvement out of context (where major focus is on India) then India may not have played as important role as book implied. It would be interesting to see how much India actually played part it in by reading wide materials available today.
This period played huge role in makeshift of modern India. India achieved Independence in 1947 just after World War II. Most of us or at least in general believe that we achieved freedom largely due to freedom fighters. But as we go deep in history and understand politics during those period the truth could be quite different and practical accuracy (on facts) could remain perpetual cliffhanger for historians.
The book starts with laying out Indian politics and it did quite efficiently. Very quickly we understood important players and how things are going to laid out. We learn more about historical leaders like Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Nehru, Mr. B.R.Ambedkar, Mr. Subhas Chandra Bose, Mr. Savarkar, Mr. Jinha to name a few and how their individual ambition or perception may have dodge the freedom to India for so long. The author has quite clearly hinted how viceroy linlithgow and British Hierarchy benefited with this. It was political mess. The Book reflects how Britain leverage this position and gave Jinha’s falling legacy a fresh lifeline. I thoroughly enjoy the political manoeuvre of the book.
As a reader we are able to visualize our heroes and freedom fighters struggling to come to common cause as they were drifted by their goals and perception of the situation. As period moves towards 1945, we could quite easily understand how world War II has played important role in the freedom of India and what could have been India’s future if war had not forced Britain’s hand. Of course, that said the book reflects freedom fighters fierce drive to gain independence but had they been to themselves would we had got the freedom; The freedom as we know and understand today? The author doubt it and so does I.
I found political part most compelling but sadly it was not major chunk of the book.
As Indians were trying to comprehend how war would affect them, freedom fighters were interested in leveraging the position of Britain war has brought on them. There was long going debate and dilemma for both the countries. India wanted no participation in war as colonial country but would support Allies as free country. While for Britain they required unlimited resource of Indian army and were hoping that political difference would buy them some time as they keep avoiding India’s call for freedom. It was interesting situation and book could have hinder over this but author had another story to tell.
The second section of the book largely dwell on actual war as author covers adventures of Indian soldier at different countries and continents. The author has acutely picturize how unprepared Indian soldiers were for the war such as world war. India provide geographical advantage to Britain and Allies as Axis were trying to gain entrance to India. This makes quite wonderful context for the author and for us to read. But the author failed to summarize it and adventures just turned out to be dead action in the book. It failed to reach the enthusiasm it wanted to keep readers engage. The author goes and goes describing one battle to another and how this battalion of Indian army achieved success or failed. When Erwin Rommel in Edypt came face to face with Allies soldiers, I was quite interested in reading about their exploits as Rommel is very well known general for Axis. But sadly author failed to create any kind of Enthusiasm in the action and came as boring. Yes I was curious to read Indian involvement in the war and how far we went to war actually. But author tried to squeeze lot of meat where there was none. He failed to do so as he tried to show the Indian adventures instead of concluding and summarize it which could have been actually a proper medium.
So after lots of up and down, we make to third act and which should have been ended with food of thoughts for us it ended with disappointment. The climax ended too briskly for both politics and war. As if author has completed the pages allocated to him by publishers.
I actually thought the book had already went too long than needed and it should have focused majorly only one theme and do justice to it, the rest he could have summarize it or remain back up stories. After all he can write second book to cover other themes. I would personally love to read more about political theme and how we achieved freedom.
But I got much more than I wanted and desired for. I wish author has just cut the chase.
So Author Srinath Raghavan, does much better job to summarize crucial part of the Indian history. Nevertheless, there was room for improvement but it could still be good addition to your knowledge. I am sure political dilemma would be enjoyed by most of the readers but sections of Indian soldiers could be read by readers specifically interested in this.
For me readers could just brisk most of the parts on Indian soldiers and miss nothing. But caution to be used while skipping or you may miss exploits of Subhash chandra bose and interesting stories on him.
Rating: ** Recommended.
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