Monday, June 27, 2016

India's War

Over the past few weeks two different authors launching two very similar sounding books: "India's War" by Srinath Raghavan and "India's Wars" by Arjun Subramaniam. Except for the pudgy looking elephant on the Srinath's book, both would have had similar covers too.

I picked the author was more familiar - Srinath. There are already a lot of glowing book reviews in the magazines and newspapers so let me just stick to the points that I found interesting or fascinating.

"India's War" makes a very interesting start with the author's curiosity getting piqued at the Indian Military Academy. At IMA, officer cadets were divided into groups named after distant, strange-sounding places in foreign lands. Battlefields where Indian units fought - and won - many significant victories.

Victories and defeats. The book does not attempt to whitewash battles where the British Indian Army suffered significant defeats. I liked that. I also liked the way in which the Germans and Japanese were given due credit for adopting significantly better strategies and tactics. Details of the logistics and costs involved in ramping up an army from 50,000 to 2.5 million, and the travails of moving the divisions from one corner of the world to another, makes fassinating reading.

It was also good to know that the supposedly "progressive" princely state of Travancore, under Divan Sir CP Ramaswamy Aiyer, fared no better than British Bengal when it came to providing foodgrains for its citizens. While the former starved for the want of imported rice from Burma, the latter just shipped off whatever it as reserve-stocks for British soldiers in Europe. During the Famine in Travancore (1941-43), a sack of rice cost Rs. 65. An Indian soldier fighting in North Africa or Southern Europe received a monthly salary of Rs. 17 while the British tommies in the adjascent trenches got Rs.67 - three times the salary for the same work.

Unknown names also came to the fore: Maruyama Daisaburo, the spy who lived in Gandhi's Wardha ashram in the 1930s went on to set up a superb school for espionage in Penang. And then there was Lt Gen Mutaguchi Renya, Commander of the 15th Army in Northern Burma. If it were not for the misclculation he made for for the main offensive "Operation U-Go (8 march 1944) and  Op Ha-Go (to stop and destroy the 5th and 7th Indian Division along the Mayu Ridge), the war could have turned out very differently indeed!

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