Book Review – India’s Wars: A Military History, 1947 – 1971 by Arjun Subramaniam

By Imteyaz Alam

indias warWarfare is as old as human civilization and so is its history. The Indian subcontinent has been witness to bloody conflicts and clashes since ages. Epics such as Mahabharata, Ramayana, Alha-Udhal are masterpieces of South Asia’s age old tradition of rendering conflicts in different literary and art forms.

India inherited thorny issues left behind by colonial masters at the time of partition, which led to altercation and conflict with neighbours. These issues are still festering, making the understanding of military history an essential part of statecraft. India can ill-afford to ignore the history of conflict in this part of the world. Still there are a few good books on this topic worth visiting. Academics have largely ignored this important area whereas one comes across accounts of military conflict in memoirs of politicians or retired soldiers. There is a dearth of well-researched accounts on the military history of India. This gap has been filled by Arjun Subramaniam, a soldier-scholar and an expert on military matters. The account of conflicts faced by India after freedom in 1947 to 1971 comes directly from the horse’s mouth.  India’s Wars: Military History, 1947 – 1971 by serving Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam is well-researched, and deftly-written without personal or profession prejudice. With this book, the author seeks to create a missing link between the study of military history and its impact on contemporary strategic culture.

Arjun Subramaniam writes for various military journals both in India and abroad on Leadership, Air Power, Jointmanship, India-China relations, Terrorism and Fourth Generation Warfare, National Security and Military History.

Soon after independence, India faced an attack on J&K by Pathan tribals as well as Pakistani regulars. A country that was limping back to normalcy after deadly riots and the displacement of a large part of its population had to send its army to its northern border hastily and unwillingly. There was the challenge of national integration of princely states just after independence. The police action in Hyderabad state and liberation of Goa was not an easy task. The 1962 conflict and defeat suffered at the hands of China, the war with Pakistan in 1965 and the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 are testimonies to the valour and sacrifices rendered by brave soldiers in the line of duty.

This acknowledged expert on military matters has objectively analyzed and presented the gory story of conflict skillfully. Chronicling conflicts, the handling of internal disturbances and the integration of princely states, the book has been organized in five parts and further divided into chapters.

Part I outlines what lays ahead in the book and the objectives of the book. In “Personal Quest”, the soldier-scholar shares his personal experiences. The author has deftly decoded the DNA of India’s armed forces in Part II. This part analyses the different martial communities of India and the colonial legacy of the Indian military. In Part III under “Teething years”, the book covers the major conflicts that India faced in the early years. The first India-Pakistan war of 1947-48, the liberation and integration of Hyderabad and the sizing of Goa is discussed threadbare. Part IV — “Across the Borders” deals with the external aggression that India has faced from its hostile neighbors.  The book concludes in Part V by remembering the master strategist of ancient time, Kautilya, also known as Chanakya and Vishnugupta. The author tries to read through Kautilya’s mind and wonders how Kautilya would have assessed the manner in which India and its military conducted itself in the conflicts India faced from 1947 to 1971. The scrutiny of India’s strategy and conduct through Kautilyan point of view makes the chapter an interesting one.

The book diagnoses the strategy, strength and weakness of the Indian military during the major wars that India fought since 1947. The author praises and doesn’t shy away from criticizing the political and military leadership.

The book is a captivating and thrilling account. Though it depicts bloody conflicts, the readers still enjoy the depiction of the battleground and different theatres of conflict. The author has been impartial in showering praise and criticizing leaders on both sides of the conflict.

This book is relevant for students, academics, experts and strategists, both political and military.

The reviewer works with the Ministry of Railways, Government of India.