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‘Full Spectrum: India’s Wars, 1972-2020’ review: Neighbourhood and internal wars in contemporary times

Full Spectrum is the sequel to former Air Vice-Marshal Arjun Subramaniam’s first book, India’s Wars: A Military History, 1947-1971 , and covers Indian military history from 1972 until 2020 presenting an indigenous narrative in addition to covering insurgencies in Nagaland and Manipur excluded in the prequel. The book starts with a brief review of the global and regional contexts in which Indian military’s trajectory progressed and then goes on to explore its conflicts, successes and failures through the prism of history and military strategy.

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His new book makes a constant endeavour in bringing out the crucible in which Indian military was shaped, the challenges it encountered and the ways in which the organisation responded and endured, even as it touches upon external influences ranging from geopolitics, domestic imperatives and the security landscape that the nation and its military had to cope with.

Resource optimisation

For a small volume relative to the subject matter it explores, Subramaniam manages to get into remarkable level of detail to weave this narrative and bring these to the reader’s attention. In one particular chapter, ‘India’s Military Renaissance’, for instance, the author covers the iconic platforms of the Indian military, the Nilgiri-class frigate, the MiG-21 and the Bofors 155mm gun. None of these platforms were a game changer for their age, and yet the military services in their own unique ways managed to expand their operational envelope to get the most bang for the buck. These are cases that hold relevance for contemporary debates in military and policy circles on defence procurement.

Likewise, his description of the tribulations faced by the Indian army during and in the aftermath of the inglorious Operation Blue Star, juxtaposed with the scenes of non-Sikh soldiers putting their foreheads to the ground when visiting the regimental gurudwara evinced an enduring character of empathy and secularism in the institution. In another section, the book goes through operational level challenges encountered during Operation Meghdoot, the unavailability of calibration charts for firing artillery shells in extreme high-altitude conditions and the gradual learning curve for Indian soldiers eventually leading to a significant success in the capture of the Siachen heights. The author should be credited for carrying his readers along these finer details.

Fast-paced summary

Full Spectrum manages to deliver an almost action movie kind rush for its readers in what is essentially an academic enterprise and manages to cover the entire sequence in a fast-paced summary of Indian military history. Besides the Naga and Mizo insurgencies, he also uncovers operations in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Kashmir, Kargil and the Doklam standoff. The book does a fine job of catering to not just military strategy or military history geeks, but also those who may not be well-versed in the subject. If there is a bone to pick, it is perhaps that it does not investigate in-depth any of these conflicts, though this should be attributed to the limited space and format of the book. In addition, the author’s case would have been helped if footnotes rather than endnotes were used — given the subject at hand this would have made referencing sources easier for an involved reader.

Overall, it is a fascinating read, a deeply-researched book that sets a solid foundation for more body of work to come from Indian scholars in this area.

Full Spectrum: India’s Wars, 1972-2020 ; Arjun Subramaniam, HarperCollins, ₹899.

The reviewer is an independent Delhi-based defence and nuclear strategy analyst.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2022 8:56:25 am |