Literary Review

From Chanakya to Manekshaw

India’s Wars: A Military History (1947-1971); Arjun Subramaniam, HarperCollins, Rs. 799.  

Historical accounts of wars involving Indian armed forces since Independence have mostly been written by military officers from their personal experiences. Books by Maj. Gen. D.K. Palit on the 1962 war, Lt. Gen. L.P. Sen on the 1948 war, Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh on the 1965 war, Maj. Gen Lachman Singh Lehl on the 1965 and 1971 wars are some examples. This latest book on the military history of post-Independence Indian Armed Forces is special because of the passion with which the author, an acknowledged writer on military matters, has woven a well-researched and factual account of the wars with what he calls the DNA of each wing of the armed forces.

In Part 1 of the book titled ‘Opening Perspectives’, the author says that military history as part of a learning curriculum in India has never been accorded its due space.

He hopes that all uniformed men and women of the armed forces and the growing numbers of literate youth of the country read this account of India’s battles.

In a section titled ‘DNA of the Indian Armed Forces’, the author has broken fresh ground in articulating the apolitical nature of the Indian soldier and his leader/ officer with examples from the time of the Maratha and the Sikh armies. He has chosen the kaleidoscope of the British Indian Army’s colonial past, including the two great wars, to bring into focus the Indian Army’s mammoth contribution, the casualties suffered and decorations like the Victoria Cross earned, to establish the army’s unwavering loyalty. In this part, the author candidly talks of how the Indian officers then were conflicted between serving the mainstream army to which one had sworn allegiance or joining the freedom movement and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army.

The interviews with some personalities who faced this situation, Lt. Gen. W.A.G. Pinto (retd.), for instance, and the views held by political leaders such as Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru have been deftly intermeshed to emphasise the army’s positive contribution to the British war effort and the subsequent realisation by Britain to leave rather than be forced out by the growing demand for freedom, which they could not have controlled after the demobilisation of lakhs of well-trained troops.

Much of the part titled ‘Teething Years’ is devoted to the accession of Jammu and Kashmir into India and the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947-48. Elaborating on his theme of a lack of institutional unity in strategy, planning, allocation and optimal utilisation of army and air force resources as a part of higher direction of war, the author, however, pays glowing tributes to individual personalities in the Army such as Thimayya, Harbaksh Singh, L.P. Sen, Meher Singh and Chandan Singh in the Air Force who literally ‘saved the day’ on innumerable occasions. The liberation of Goa and annexation of Hyderabad have been covered as well in this chapter.

Part 4 of the book takes up more than half its contents and covers the ignominious war of 1962 with China, the Indo-Pak war of September 1965, including two earlier rounds in Kutch and Kashmir the same year.

In the chapter on the 1971 war, the author has added value to the plethora of literature available on the subject.

Apart from giving a fresh insight into how a senior air force officer has analysed the jointmanship aspects of each of the wars, the author has stated unequivocally that the Indian armed forces had to start from a state of unpreparedness, except in 1971.This part of the book, full of heroics, helps achieve the author’s aim of coaxing policymakers to declassify the documents pertaining to India’s wars, in the interest of learning from military history more objectively.

In conclusion, the author refers to Kautilya, strategist to Chandragupta Maurya and compiler of Arthashastra, the ancient treatise on statecraft, in the hope that this book will equally help present leaders in nation-building.

Lt. Gen. S. Pattabhiraman (Retd) is a former Vice-Chief of Army.

India’s Wars: A Military History (1947-1971); Arjun Subramaniam, HarperCollins, Rs. 799.

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Printable version | Apr 29, 2021 2:39:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/From-Chanakya-to-Manekshaw/article14414621.ece

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