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The last book I read : India's War by Srinath Raghavan



Few years ago Indian parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor was part of an Oxford debate. His section where he listed how India was exploited beyond belief became viral beyond imagination. So much so that he wrote a book about it which was pretty much an extensive explanation of his speech in the debate. He gave many details but what caught my attention was the stats he gave on India’s contribution in the second world war. It was interesting and as I got curious about it and found that there is very limited literature on it. There are of course government archives but that’s no fun and there comes Srinath Raghavan with India’s War.


It started as a very academic study. The writer jumps straight into Indian Army(IA) fight in Africa. There were maps and close analysis on fight strategy and it was not so fun for me. The good thing about an academic writing is that it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. The author was on point with IA’s performance in the war and was open to display the glaring shortcomings in the training and fighting capacities of the battalion posted.


But he transforms just like the war did. The book unfolds many aspects of the war that I wasn’t aware. It was interesting to know how conflicted American leadership was concerning their relationship with Britain and how Britain still had colonies. The American president Roosevelt kept on hinting on this aspect to Churchill but was careful to not push it too hard. Churchill though remained the piece of shit he was throughout.


I definitely should give credit to author to highlight Subash Chandra Bose(SCB) and his relentless pursuit to Indian independence. There are aspects like his closeness to Germany and Italy for his goal which can hurt modern sensibilities but the author works on reasoning behind it in way that makes you understand. While SCB did form Indian legion but fails to get traction in it, he gets the support he needed from Japan who helped him to form INA. The axis powers did try to use SCB mostly as a propaganda tool and he was affective. SCB’s radio messages were amazingly impactful and so much so that it forced Brits to make their own propaganda tool to quell it.


I loved the lavishly explained portions on how India was during the war. The rumor mongering was rife and the conflict people faced when a Japanese attack was imminent on who to support. The politics itself took many turns where leaders grappled with the India on supporting British government. There was an incessant demand for British to promise Indian freedom which apparently Churchill did everything bro avoid. The writing style of the author takes you to those time and makes you feel the pain and anguish of Indian soldiers and people. The Bengal famine and government’s lack of efforts in helping the poor and helpless was heartbreaking. The author got excerpts of letters families sent or soldiers posted in Africa and middle East and you are in a world where India is fighting and suffering consequences of a war is isn’t even party to.


The book ultimately is on war and the author spares no details in explaining Kohima and Imphal war of aggression by Japanese against India. INA played its notable military contribution on Indian soil but was easily contained. The Japanese though were harder to beat. Each and everyone was fanatically invested in Japanese cause and soldiers were tired because they refused to surrendered and each of them had to be killed. It was a terrific read.


Post war section was mostly dedicated to a new India’s view and status and it was a hopeful phase. The author seems to give all sections of Indian politics justifiable space and helped readers to read his comments on the same.


The book is a great read for anyone interested in second world war and an important study of that time. It isn’t a page turner but at the same time when we see present struggles or geo-political situation, it helps to know that the word had seen something similar not so long ago. That’s scary and yet assuring.


Until next book.


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