Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Roller coaster ride through India's war time history

War Historian is a rare breed of Scholars in India and Srinath Raghavan is a distinguished scholar of this breed. He was awarded the Infosys prize for social science.. It was a privilege to listen to him at MIDS, talk about ' India's long rise as an Asian power- Second world war and after. ever since the talk was announced, i began reading Srinath's writings. 

i got to read ' War and Peace in Modern India', his first book and a very lucid retelling the events and drama leading to the annexation of Junagad and Hyderabad; the communal tension in East Bengal; tracing the roots of Kashmir conflict and the drama leading upto the Indo China war of 1962 and the details of the war itself. While narrating these events, Srinath's scholarship stands out in pointing out important strategic decisions and the lack thereof in the course of History. This empowers  the reader to look at the past and the events around him in a new light. 

While the book sounded a bit of an academic exercise, nothing boring about it though, just lacking a bit of spice. i found his writings in different journals very exciting and fascinating for his way of reminding us of our recent histories and throwing perspectives on current events and sincere reviews.

As it is a historian's wont Srinath started the days talk by challenging a few commonly held ideas. he pointed to the press celbrating 25 years of liberalism and questioned it saying it al had its beginnings in the second world war. Over the next one hour in his speech Srinath gave us a very new perspective of the Second world war and how it shaped India's standing in the world and how it affects events even today.

Social effects:

With the arrival of the war there was a sudden surge in army recruitment from 2 Lakh in 1939 to 25 lakhs in 1943. while earlier the recruitment was restricted to the martial clans of Jat Sikhs, Jat Muslims, the recruitment drive expanded to the hitherto untouched South and also accomadated people from the lower classes. this would lead to a great maneuvering in the lower classes. here is an interesting article by Srinath on the recruitment process itself.

the standards of selection kept lowering to meet the growing demand for men. it was a new challenge to make the new recruits put on weight. with the then prevailing habit of 2 meals a day adding upto around 500 kcal a day was nowhwere near the 2500 kcal that was required to be taken. and this extra amount could not be forced in the two meals. Hence the practice of morning tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner system was introduced. (even our food habits seem to have theri origins in the war)

Indians were now inducted into officer ranks. the ratio of Br to Indian officers improved from 10:1 to 4:1.

Political effects:

For all his democratic outlook, Nehru seems to have inherited a certain imperial mindset in envisioning a major role for India in the world order. But this vision took a huge blow due to the separation of Burma from British India and the partion of Pakistan. Burma cut off India's traditional links to south east Asia and Pak cut our chords to the Middle east states.

Economic effects:

During war time as Imports started drying, the government started looking at encouraging domestic production that would substitute imports. This revived Indian Industry. These were the first baby steps of Govt intervention in the economy and the introduction of Licence, permits and quota raj that Nehru's five year plans and economic polices would draw upon!!

This was the time L&T, Kirloskar, Bata, etc. take shape.

established players like Delhi Cloth Mills, Kasturbai Mills make a whale of a profit as almost all clothing for allies' uniforms were produced here. 

it was during the war period that an enterprising Walchand Hirachand started the Hindustan aircraft company in 1940 in Bangalore, in an area given by the Mysore government,  that would be taken over by the government in 1945 and go on to become HAL.

Financing the war:

India Financed Britains war by printing notes, raising capital and taxes. Britain owed india around 1.3 Billion pounds, that she paid over the next 10 years after the war.


When Japan came knocking in the east, Britain was ill prepared. British Military infra structure was almost entirely concentrated in the NWFP, expecting an advance fromthe Russians. the B&A railways, due to its varying gauge system, all the goods will have to be unloaded and loaded to another wagon, when the guagechanged, and further had to be ferried across Brahmaputra- proved very inefficient in carrying supplies to the army in the eastern front. 

it was interesting to learn the Americans took over the B&Ar and ran it for over a year more efficiently.

Dividends in the World stage:

As a result of her huge contributions during war time, India was the only non independent state to be a founding member of the UN and the IMF. She was offered 5 % rights in IMF as well. 

No comments: