The forgotten army: abandoned by the British to the horrors of Partition

Raghu Karnad’s moving memoir Farthest Field makes triumphant redress for the injustices suffered by his fellow Indians in the Burma Campaign

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

13 June 2015

9:00 AM

Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War Raghu Karnad

William Collins, pp.320, £18.99, ISBN: 9780008115722

It is often said that cricket was ‘a game invented by the English and played by Indians’, and every so often a book comes along that makes you think that something similar could be said of the English language. It would seem from Farthest Field’s dust jacket that this is Raghu Karnad’s first book, but if this assured and moving memoir of wartime India is an apprentice piece, then you can only wonder what is coming next.

From the very first page it is the brilliance of the writing that stands out. There is a very English control of irony that can suggest Forster — the Forster of A Passage to India — at his best, but there is nothing remotely Bloomsbury or comfortingly English about the imaginative power, intelligence and descriptive richness of a narrative that, again and again, startles by its originality before convincing by its utter fitness.

It is just as well that the writing is as good as it is, because Farthest Field inhabits that risky no man’s land between historical fact and imaginative reconstruction. There will inevitably be readers who dislike or distrust such an approach; but there are vast areas of history that can never be recovered through conventional sources, lives and truths that have slipped beyond the reach of regimental diaries, oral tradition or even family lore and can only be reclaimed through the imagination.

Such was the case with Karnad’s own Parsi family, and a history of which he knew almost nothing. As a boy growing up in Madras he was always vaguely aware of the three faces that stared out of their silver frames; but it was only when it was too late to ask anyone who could have told him their story that curiosity, family piety — indignation at an injustice done? — brought him to ask himself who those men were and why they had been so completely erased from family memory or the collective consciousness of post-independence India.

The answer was that one of them — the young face that resembled his own — was that of his mother’s father, the other two her uncles, and their fault was to fight and die for Britain and for a cause that a free India would reject. In Britain there has always been a lingering sense that the ‘Forgotten Army’ who fought the Burma campaign never got the credit or gratitude it deserved; but for the Indians who made up the vast bulk of that army, and found themselves fighting not just the Japanese but Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, the only reward would be oblivion at home and the hollow rhetoric of an empire that had never trusted them and would soon abandon them to the horrors of Partition. Karnad writes:

When the war was over, the Indian army — and the more than two million men and women who served in it — found that they had spent the past six years on the wrong side of history. From then on, and ever since, having fought for free India would be the price of admission into national memory. Those who survived still had a chance to earn that coin, and many did, in the new wars that began almost at once. But those who died would be left to lie, in silent cemeteries where words carved in marble insisted to nobody: ‘Their Name Liveth Forever More’.

Karnad’s achievement in Farthest Field is to make triumphant redress of that injustice. In doing so, too, in bringing so vividly to life the loves, aspirations, confusions and bitter heartaches of an Indian family caught up in a war that their country could neither escape nor embrace, he has rescued a largely forgotten strand of history that is as much ours as it is India’s. For anyone who takes Britain’s past and reputation to heart, that history might well make for sobering reading — nothing became the Raj quite so ill as its leaving.

But this book is an affirmation of life, not a polemic against empire or colonial injustice. For all the damning clarity of its political analysis, it is wonderfully generous, full of intelligence, compassion, curiosity and brilliant writing. Just sometimes the structure falters under the weight of its own ambition, but it is only because most of it is so good that one even notices. And whether in the end it should be thought of as a work of strict historical fact or what Karnad calls ‘forensic non-fiction’ wouldn’t really seem to matter. Whichever it is, it has the stamp of imaginative truth about it and we can ask nothing more of any kind of writing.

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  • Indian soldiers and civil servants who served the Raj were paid to do so. After Independence, they gained more rapid promotion than would otherwise have been the case.
    By contrast, Indian soldiers who went over to the Japanese were not, by and large, allowed back into the Army. Some, with political connections, did quite well. But, in general, they would have done better to stay loyal. By comparison to the pensions awarded to Indians who supported the Raj- including ‘Special Branch’ officers who used third degree methods against Indian Revolutionaries- the pensions for Freedom Fighters were derisory till quite recently.
    Lower middle class Parsis, like ‘Eurasians’, were proud to support the British. After Independence, though Ministers wore Gandhian loin-cloths, they insisted that the bureaucrats and soldiers who served under them remain firmly in an Anglo-Indian mould. Both communities did better after Independence than before- principally because they emigrated.
    Neither Karnad nor Crane mention the sacrifice of Kikuyu lives in Burma. Does this constitute a terrible injustice or crime of a Racialist type?
    Of course.
    The irony can scarcely be lost upon right minded readers of the Spectator that the ability to write or appreciate the writing of ‘beautiful English’ is nonetheless radically complicit not just with Racialist Crimes of this horrific type but also with utterly vile sexual atrocities perpetrated upon elderly Nicaraguan Actuaries by imaginary Boris Johnsons.

    • mikewaller

      I think I get the gist of the above from which it seems India treated those who fought on the British side in WW2 a lot better than Ireland did it citizens who fought with British in either World War. However, I am completely baffled by the final paragraph. Elucidation please.

      • Kennybhoy

        Aye, the Ireland v India comparison sprung immediately to mind….

        • I forgot this was the Spectator. I normally comment on articles in the Guardian or Open Democracy. Thus, to avoid being banned, I always end with a paragraph suggesting I’m further to the left and thus more Politically Correct than Thou.
          The author of this book, we are told, ‘grew up in Madras’. As it happens, since the Chettiar community (the dominant trading class in Tamil Nadu) were the biggest landlords/ money-lenders in Burma, that portion of history has received far more attention than any other. Indeed, the long-time C.M of Tamil Nadu, Karunadhi, scored his biggest triumph with ‘Parasakti’ which vividly evokes that theater of War.
          Incidentally, some Indian soldiers were tortured ad killed by the I.N.A for refusing to turn traitor. Richard Crasta, at one time the most promising Indian writer in English, has written a moving account of his father’s sufferings which have truly been air-brushed from history.
          Interestingly, Bose (the leader of the I.N.A) was close to Da Valera. He had no intention of holding elections if he came to power with Japanese help. Needless to say, had this happened, Indians who volunteered to fight against Fascism would have met with a fate worse than that meted out to returning veterans in Ireland.
          Bose, of course, gets a pass for working with Hitler and Tojo. You see, he was actually a Leftist, just like Stalin. Indeed, the Russians helped Bose to get to Germany because they were still allied to that, albeit National, Socialist country.
          The British army has not forgotten the contribution made by Indians or Africans or other races and maintains good ties with the Armies of India, Pakistan, Kenya etc. Pensions may not be high, but- in general- an effort is made to see that the debt is paid honorably as befitting men of proven valor, who, like Coriolanus, scorn to display honorable scars for a base purpose of gesture politics.

          • Bonkim

            Judging history by today’s norms is always dangerous. Most Indians of the times did not side with the terrorists – most thought highly of the British Raj, equal justice, and stability over the revolutionaries that were bent on violent overthrow of the British.

            Subhash Bose and the INA featured high in Bengal and amongst the young of the post WW2 generation – but the INA lost and the British educated elite took over and did not want any change in the status quo. The INA cadres were conveniently forgotten and even today the records of the times are state secrets. In Law the INA cadres were traitors but the law was never applied, they just melted amongst the population and being the losers stayed silent.

            Independence was given on a plate to Indians, most did not have to work for it, and did not value independence unlike say the Irish or the Americans who had to fight for their independence. Even today the Indian constitution and legal/administrative systems are as designed and put in place by the British, with little change to suit modern times or to reflect the democratic demands of Indians. India is still run by a small group of elite politicians and administrators only more arbitrary and corrupt.

          • The present Indian constitution and legal/administrative system was not ‘designed’ by the British- unless you think Dr. Ambedkar was actually a White man who had dyed his skin brown for some sinister reason. The Central Services were reconstituted (with a big pay cut) after Independence along quite different lines. In particular, the relative power of the M.L.A with respect to the District Collector was completely changed.

            Political power had already been devolved to the Provinces under dyarchy, by the time WW2 broke out. This constitutional arrangement had been drafted by an Indian and was accepted by Indian politicians. It had nothing in common with any constitutional provision found elsewhere in the British Empire.

            Thus, in Bengal, Delhi could do nothing when the elected Govt., which supported the Pakistan Resolution, chose to blame Hindu ‘banias’ (merchants, who supported the Congress party) for the Famine and refused to implement the Famine Code with horrendous results. True, once Wavell became Viceroy, Delhi was able to do more, but this was because Wavell was an Army man and knew the ropes. Still, it was diplomacy, not some constitutional authority, or legal power, which enabled him to intervene to help starving people in Bengal. Incidentally, it was Wavell who told Whitehall in blunt terms, that the system had broken down at the grass roots level. Anarchy, not the Congress Party, was the danger. To avoid massacre, the British would have
            to evacuate the South and East towards the Muslim majority West where they could embark on ships back home from Karachi.
            Later, after the War, that same Muslim League administration which was responsible for the Famine Code not being promulgated, sponsored ‘Direct Action Day’ in Calcutta, which unleashed a blood-bath. It must be said that some former I.N.A soldiers joined hands with Mahatma Gandhi in Naokhali to restore communal harmony. However, the instigator of the violence, who was a ‘Pirzada’ (i.e. descendant of a Muslim Saint), was still able to prevail because violence against Hindus had a big pay-off in terms of land-grabbing, abduction of women, looting of property etc. Interestingly, Congress had once offered this ‘Pirzada’ a ticket for the Assembly.

            India is not run today, nor has it been since Independence, by a ‘small group of elite politicians and administrators’. The vast majority of the power elite (which is large, not small) are self-made men or women. It was not Princes or Oxbridge educated lawyers who drafted important Constitutional changes but people like V.P Menon (who was forced to leave School at the age of 12) and Dr. Ambedkar (who belonged to the so called ‘untouchable’ community).
            About 110 years ago, an editor of the Spectator, Meredith Townsend, wrote a book about India (where he had worked) which was read by the young Jawaharlal. Townsend pointed out that no class of people in India was loyal to the British and, if Britain suffered a military reverse, similar to the shock the Russians received from the Japanese, then the Raj would unravel very quickly. Townsend’s view was cynical but his view was heeded. British policy, henceforth, was increasingly dictated by indigenous political exigencies and Whitehall was increasingly disintermediated. Tragically, this meant India didn’t get universal suffrage at the same time as Ceylon- the one factor which might have defused the increasingly embittered ‘communal’ politics of the Depression hit Thirties.

          • Bonkim

            Yes Dr Ambedkar was the Chairman of the Committee but the Indian constitution took many aspects of the legal and governance arrangements that evolved following takeover of India by the British Parliament from the East India Co. Given that the legal system and most of the architects on the Constitution were educated in Britain or educational institutions based on the British system, it is irrelevant whether the Constitution was put together by native Britons or Indians groomed within the British system.

            “The architects of Indian constitution were most heavily influenced by the British model of parliamentary democracy. In addition, a number of principles were adopted from the Constitution of the United States of America, including the separation of powers among the major branches of government and the establishment of a supreme court. The principles adopted from Canada were federal government with strong centre and also distribution of powers between central government and state governments along with placing residuary powers with central government.[45][46] From Ireland, directive principle of state policy was adopted. From Germany, the principle of suspension of fundamental rights during emergency was adopted. From Australia, the idea of having a Concurrent list of shared powers was used as well and some of the terminology was utilized for the preamble.[47]”

            We can debate forever about the Indian contribution of India’s governance and legal systems – the fact remains that both broadly follow the British experience. Very little of Manu-Smriti remains

            “Townsend pointed out that no class of people in India was loyal to the British and, if Britain suffered a military reverse, similar to the shock the Russians received from the Japanese, then the Raj would unravel very quickly.”

            The British model was aimed for by all aspiring upper-class people of India who sent their offspring to Britain for education and polishing in the social arts. This remained so even in the decades following independence and continues today – with graduates fron US/UK Universities and experience if they return gaining advantage.

            Goes without saying that the rules of any country would fall if they were seen as losers – but the concept of the nation-state only came about in the early 20th century and even in Europe became a fact only following two world wars. Pre-1947 India as an international entity/identity rested within the British Empire. Travelling from say Travancore in the South to Calcutta in Bengal was a journey through many lands – many ethnic, linguistic, and culture zones all foreign to Indians – as strange to say a Briton travelling through Europe during the period.

            People were divided along many layers of class, caste. language/dialect, etc, did not eat in each others’ homes, forbidden to intermarry, or go to the same temples, even the Christians and Muslims had their class/caste barriers. Some of the lower classes bent down speaking to those from the upper classes, etc. Many such taboos continue with violence erupting when the barriers are broken.

            Needless to say post WW2 Britain was weak economically and militarily and with huge challenges in rebuilding at home. The politics had shifted, India and other parts of the Empire were a huge drain Britain could ill afford and the writing was on the wall for Empires – as the native populations were by now getting more aware of their rights and emboldened enough to demand freedom – the chain of decolonisation following WW2 and the establishment of the UN, etc, were swift – the age of Empires finally closed. Does not depart from the main point that India was/still is an artificial construct and its constitution modelled on the British Parliament is moribund and unfit to manage a diverse land and people of India. Power rests in the hands of the educated and wealthy elite with the vast majority doing what they are told – look around the courts, Highway use, etc, where cases take decades to be resolved or being thrown out because of evidence going astray, see whether driving and environmental regulations are followed and enforced, etc. Equally arbitray arrests, imprisonment, high handed administrative orders, lynching by local mobs for contravening social and class conventions, etc, etc, – you can have an expertly crafted Constitution (which by the way only a few understand) and a Judiciary manned by learned Judges but translating all that into efficient administration and fair and speedy justice is quite another matter.

            Decades after Ambedkar’s death India is riven by class and caste divisions and exploitation of the weaker sections, child marriage and dowry banned during the British Raj are both thriving, and the Adivasis continue to be driven from their ancestral lands by mining and industrial interests that spew out pollution all across once pristine fields and forests.

            But of course Indians are pretty good with their book-knowledge but in practical application of the concepts of linking cause and effect and reforming their backward social organisation – zero. It also depends on which class of Indians you speak to understand the real India.

          • Ambedkar’s role has been overstated. V.P Menon, whose formal education ended with an 8th standard Pass, was the Reforms Commissioner who drafted the salient Constitutional provisions even prior to Independence.
            Japan and Thailand and KMT China and many other countries adopted Constitutions which borrowed from diverse sources just as India did. You said India inherited something from the British. Who did the Japanese inherit their Constitution from?
            Why did Independent India have a Planning Commission? Did the Soviets rule India at one time?
            You dwell upon the fact that some wealthy middle class Indians, at one time, sent their kids to the U.K. You don’t mention the fact that, once back in India, they only rose to aristocratic status by employing or adopting vernacular means of upward social mobility.
            What you propound, as Ambedkar well knew, is Gabriel Tarde’s theory of mimetics. It was a foolish theory. Upper class Whites, like the Prince of Wales, enthusiastically embraced ‘Black’ Jazz, and danced the Charleston while shaking up ‘bootlegger’ cocktails.
            Jawaharlal and Aurobindo and other such Public School/Oxbridge gentlemen only achieved apotheosis once they put away their Savile Row clothes for khaddar or saffron etc. Gandhi chose Jawaharlal because he, unlike the Sardar or Rajaji, spoke good Hindi with a proper accent. Incidentally, Bose managed to learn good Hindi while in Germany or on a Japanese submarine and this was a factor in his success as head of the I.N.A.
            Why pretend that India is ruled by Anglophiles?
            Does Narendra Modi strike you as a brown version of David Cameron?
            India, like every other country has always been riven by something or other. So what?
            You say that dowry was banned under the British. You are wrong. They were not that stupid. Laws related to Suttee, Age of Consent, Widow remarriage, Muslim women’s right to alimony etc, were mooted and pushed through by Indians, not Brits. What is more, they were enforced by Indians or remained a dead letter.
            Indians, like all sensible people, aren’t good with ‘book-knowledge’- unless the books in questions have Soteriological or Scientific utility. ‘Reforming backward Social Organization’ is just worthless mumbo jumbo.
            You say class matters in India. If you were right, V.P Menon couldn’t have shaped Indian Constitutional History, nor could Narendra Modi now be P.M.
            I appreciate that you are not consciously trying to defame India and Indians and, in fact, are simply repeating many of the idee recues of the soi disant ‘bhadralok’ diasporic Bengali intelligentsia. But, why bother? It is Modi Raj now. You and me are irrelevant- except in so far as we might happen to be bag-men for senescent ‘Socialist’- i.e caste based- Political parties.

          • Bonkim

            You are mixing values from different locations/periods – all societies change. Judging pre-independence British-Raj by today’s views is meaningless, Indians today have no clue of the period and mindsets that prevailed then.

            Modi seems to be a sensible and astute politician – and politicians in the past applied the then known norms for taking the populace with them. So I won’t undermine the abilities of Nehru or Gandhi and Krishna Menon in applying political means to carry their followers.

            If you look around formal education does not equate to success in all societies – all the industrialists and social/political leaders in India and the rest of the world had/have the insight into how to mobilize their strength/appeal to their supporters. Modi has risen from Chai-wala to PM – good for him – many have come through being lawyers or industrialists or social workers.

            Regards the role of Indians in British Raj – look up previous comments – the British-Raj survived and advanced for so long only because they took the vast majority of Indians along with the idea of the Raj – Most Indians though the British system was fair and orderly – rule of law prevailed as did fair justice, corruption was suppressed although continued within the Indian system of deference and subservience.

            Don’t judge the past by today’s standards. Indians are in many cases simply wishing the British-Raj did not exist as they were made to feel inferior – now really superior people accept the contribution of all that make India what it is today and have no inferiority complex, are easy going about the past over which they did not have any contol – and work hard to correcting today’s imbalances and wrongs – – you are quite correct many Indians rose up to correct the social wrongs that existed on the land over the centuries, many were driven by similar movements and social reformation taking place in Britain and other parts of the English speaking world – and in many ways were fortunate that being part of the Empire gave them the opportunity. That is how enlightenment spread – so give credit where it is due. Many prominent Britons participated in India’s independence movement or otherwise encouraged Indians to look at their social ills.

            Don’t be introverted – no one is trying to humiliate India – that is the North-Indian mindset imported from the Arab- Middle East.

            and just to tease the point – if as you say india had a great history (which it has) why did it fail to keep the invading hordes out and also keep the subcontinent from being dominated by a small sea-faring and trading nation for so long. The answer is simply that the India that exists today just did not exist then.

          • We agree on much. However, the fact is, India had a rubbish military aristocracy (i.e. Kshatriya caste). They ran away from battle (Krishna is called Ranchodharai because he ran away, Buddha did not even bother showing up) and set up as Philosopher-Gods instead.
            However, they loved money and, quite properly, sold out to the best financed and most economically dynamic country in the world circa 1750-1870.
            No country exists eternally. The U.K may break up as might Belgium, Spain, Italy etc.
            Working class people, not Kshatriyas, have an incentive to be patriotic because it actually affects their terms of trade.
            Mine is a Cliodynamics motivated by Mathematical Econ- that is why I know so much more than you.
            Our sentiments, however, are probably not very different.

          • Bonkim

            Well Mr Know-all and being with superior intellect, I am sure you will find your niche in toilet-training the vast majority of Indians that love the outdoors. That is a historic challenge worth taking and Mr Modi will support you.

            Now Cliodynamics ( the new frontier of science I suppose) requires multitudes of parameters to model and cross-checks with past observations – the real question is where will you find all the data you need if you were not present in the past.

            To repeat – modelling social transformations may be your strength – but the weakness is not having a detached mind and understanding the many strands of human thought processes and inability to link causes and effects.

          • Sir, I take great umbrage at your suggestion. Cliodynamics of the Turchin sort may indeed require toilet training BUT as a follow up visit to the village made famous by Sanskritization Srinivasan showed- it is middle aged South Brahmin Males who most delight in ‘communing with nature’ and thus causing a nuisance.

            I direct your attention to my correspondence with Amit Shah to be found at

            In general, mimetics as opposed to ‘the ability to link cause and effect’ is sufficient for an incentive compatible Developmental paradigm shift.
            Still, as I said, we aren’t that far apart.

          • Bonkim

            Over 60% Indians prefer the outdoors and Brahmins only constitute less than 8% of the population and most would not be seen dead defecating in public view. The habit is more prevalent in the North Hindu/Hindi-belt. The Kerala habit used to be a walk to the seaside or the canal-banks – but now overcrowded and land values too high to allow all and sundry to walk through.

            Given its prevalence, language had evolved to differentiate between – Chota – Bahar and Bada – Bahar – small outdoors and Big out-doors.

            Not sure when you lived in Kerala if at all but trodding barefoot in human excrement was not an uncommon experience in the golden days before Travancore became Kerala. Mind you not many wore slippers and shoes in those days and slippers and shoes don’t fare well on sand dunes.

          • Golden days indeed. My maternal aunt was a grand-daughter of Sir C.P Ramaswami Iyer.
            My parents retired to a suburb of Delhi called Vikaspuri. Visiting them, I was puzzled to find that the pavement in front of the Arya Samaj Meeting Hall was littered with human feces.
            Why just this one building and not, for example, the L.I.C office or the C.G.H.S dispensary?
            There is a Spiritual side to India which no Western Science can explain or comprehend.

          • Bonkim

            No need to flaunt names – and Arya Samaj is for those of lower caste aspiring to be secular and demanding equality with the Iyers – now you know well people need to know their place in India or people dung on you to teach humility.

          • techfilz

            High comedy ! Cliodynamics is similar to the mathematical predictions of Hari Seldon. I have always fondly remembered that Asimov series of books and think that it deserves another look from modern readers.

        • Bonkim

          Total waste of time – Chalk and cheese.

      • Bonkim

        A handful of native Brits could not have ruled over the hundreds of millions of Indians on the vast subcontinent without active coopertation/participation of the Indian privileged classes. The Indian Army was mainly recruited from the peasant classes who were lorded over by British and Indian officers – it was a volunteer force. The INA were the losers and Indians don’t like losers – their patriotism is skin-deep and moderated by commercial enticements. Most Indians thought the British Raj was just and met their aspirations, they did not trust their own divided and caste-ridden people. Indians are a diverse people divided by class, caste, and religion in many layers.

    • Kennybhoy

      Sound. But that last para…?

    • Bonkim

      The Indian Army was (still is) a volunteer force and was looked upon as good employment by most Indians of the times. Similarly the Indian Civil Service was something the educated classes aspired for as it gave a good life and prestige. Indian society historically had many layers of wealth and privilege, also racial and religious gradations; all aspired to be like their superiors ultimately the Sahibs that ruled the land.

      Judging the past by today’s views on race and human rights is meaningless – and the small numbers of Brits were helped in no small way by Indians at every level to rule the vast subcontinent. The diverse nature of India meant the rulers had to cooperate with the mainstream culture to maintain control. Unlike the other Empires force was used judiciously and no military force could have stopped the Hindu-Muslim killings in the last days of the Empire – primoidal religious antipathy between the two main religions erupted with a vengeance.

      The INA was forgotten simply because they were on the losing side, or taken prisoners in Burma and also in Europe; following British way of defusing tensions were deleted from the national memory and later Indians were not that patriotic in the revolutionary sense to own up to Subhash Bose. Come to think of it independence was given on a plate – most Indians did not favour revolution but concentrated on improving their economic status or getting government employment and making money.

      The 2 million + in the Indian Army were mostly from the rural poor that volunteered and of course the Officer Cadres from the privileged classes who liked their Clubs and liquor rations. Indian society today has not changed much, still deferential and exploitative with the privileged classes lording it over the masses who don’t count except during elections.

      • Hindu Muslim killings could have been stopped if

        1) the Army had remained united as Gen. Carriappa suggested- he wanted Mountbatten to hand power over to the Army and side-line the politicians. In this case, Muslim officers arrest Jinnah, Liaqat and so on, and get to rule Muslim majority areas straight away. They have the excuse of ‘preserving communal harmony’ for locking up or shooting anyone who objects. Since the Muslim officers can always rely on their Hindu brothers to send troops, political life in Muslim majority provinces is stifled in the cradle. The Sikh and Hindu officers might appear to have a more difficult job. However, it would be sufficient to pretend to be Socialists to allow them to lock up or shoot anyone they liked as ‘class traitors’ or ‘feudal elements’ or ‘C.I.A agents’.

        2) Liaqat and Sardar had done a deal such that the Hindu Capitalists paid for the development of West Punjab in return for help against the Communists.

        Essentially, ethnic cleansing can be nipped in the bud if the Administration shoots a few hundred trouble makers and keeps politicians in prison.

        To say ‘Indian society today has not changed much, still deferential and exploitative’ is far too sweeping. Gazetted officers used to dread being allotted Kerala because they had no power there. Indeed, the platform ‘coolie’ would humiliate the Railway Service officer.

        More generally, an IAS officer had no independent power or influence. By the Seventies, he was wholly the M.L.A’s creature.
        I recall my own experiences in Bihar in the Nineties. Occasionally Govt. officers would try to overawe me, because I appeared a low-caste rustic type, but I would bully and humiliate them. Once they understood, I was either ‘political’ or a ‘thug’, they became very sweet and obliging. Of course, they did nothing to help any project I was involved with, but then they were Govt. officers and thus wholly useless. Still, it must be said, the Police would bring round bottles of whiskey when they paid ‘nazrana’ to me as befitting my status as a low-caste thug or politician. Say what you like about the Indian ‘kotwal’ but he can provide you better brandy, biryani, and bints than is available at the local ‘kotha’.
        This is the true meaning of Democracy.
        Mind it kindly.

        • Bonkim

          Humbug – no Army would have suppressed the pent up hatred of the Hindus and Muslims – look around today’s Middle East and the Sunni-Shia violence in lands occupied by Armies and/or run by brutal dictators. Giving Gen Cariappa and turning the Indian Dominions into a military dictatorship would have made the situation worse and the vast majority of Indians would not have had the stomach to be run by the Army – most of the violence took place in the slum districts of the major North Indian cities and in Muslim majority locations – this class of people were already burdened by many layers of exploitation and control – both social and administrative. The Army/Police were called in to the locations regardless of Gen Cariappa’s views and dealt harshly – mostly by firing live ammunition at the rioters.

          Indian mobs are impossible to control as evidenced by wanton communal violence erupting even today in many parts of the country which in turn being put down by brutal application of the Club (Lathi) and live ammunition. The story continues and the Indian social and political systems appear to be incapable of finding political solutions which ultimately have to be found. Partition was the best that could have happened and even today – Pakistan is practically ungovernable – the NW frontier region remains a no-man’s land despite the Pak Army being largely given a free mandate all over the country. Look at Kashmir – another artificial addition – Good that most of the ungovernable trouble spots of history did not form part of post 1947 India. Where they were, are today’s problem areas.

          • Saddam had an army. It monopolized the means of physical coercion very successfully- till America got involved. Shias and Marsh Arabs and Kurds were, it is true, killed- but because Saddam suspected them of disloyalty. Plenty of Sunnis were also killed for the same reason.
            It isn’t difficult for an army to stop pogroms.
            Look at Modi in 2002. He put a stop to the cycle of riots that started in 1969 by ordering the Army to shoot about 200 Hindus.
            Imprisoning agitators, beating and shooting mobs, is a very effective means of preventing communal or other sorts of disturbance.
            There was no ‘pent-up’ hatred between Hindus and Muslims. The Unionist Ministry in Punjab and Krishak Praja Party in Bengal had wide support from all communities. Mandal voluntarily stayed behind in Pakistan, but was forced to flee later on.
            If the Administration had hanged a few dozen people for seditious libel, shot a few thousand, and imprisoned about ten thousand, there would have been no Partition genocide. The reason the Administration couldn’t do it was because Congress only knew ‘non-cooperation’. Then Liaqat proved to be even better at ‘non-cooperation’ when he was Finance Member and so avoiding bloodshed ceased to be ‘incentive compatible’ for all directly concerned.
            As a South Indian, I know much more about Kerala than you. You made me smile by your talk of ‘women’s lib’ in Travancore. Still, perhaps you have read James Lawrence’s ‘Empire of the Nairs’- one of Shelley’s favorite books. I admit I like to hear praise of my native place!

          • Bonkim

            I suppose society can go back to the brutal days of the old when your head went to the chop if you didn’t do as you were told.

            Get real – all through history brute force did not achieve anything, suppressed human enterprise and creativity and in turn such societies perished in succession wars or from external takeovers.

            People can be suppressed for a while but find ways to battle it out with the oppressors who in their turn get old or lax or both. All civilizations that developed only did so when the rulers and the ruled cooperated, understood and respected each-other’s roles. Returning to the Britiah Raj, or theu Mughal Empire – the sum total was greater than the individual parts – Empires enabled technology, science, administrative and management skills cross boundaries fast and made business more efficient and all benefited. Indians participated in the worldwide development of transport and communications, bridge building, engineering and scientific developments, also social and other branches of development in parallel or on occasion in advance of developments in other parts of the world. Railway engineering and management, telegraph, etc, went in parallel throughout the English speaking world. Even today India’s advantage in the world of IT and railway management, etc, stem from the grasp of the English language, educational, and more importantly the British legal system which spans the globe.

            To repeat – inward naval gazing does not help today’s problems nor a mastery of Clio-dynamics or whatever your science is called. Human societies advance by borrowing and often stealing ideas and technology/sciences from all and any going – not sitting and contemplating historic greatness or failures.

            Britain became great because it was always open to ideas and accepted all on merit, it took what was available – classic example the adoption of German Chemistry in the 1800s that revolutionised the textile printing business – whilst borrowing ideas and techniques of weaving from India and materials from all parts of the Empire. India in turn provided fertile grounds for experimentation many new technologies and manufacturing systems – many Indian firms today go back to their origins in the Raj.

          • > Get real – all through history brute force did not achieve anything, suppressed human enterprise and creativity and in turn such societies perished in succession wars or from external takeovers.

            Tiananmen massacres show that if the ruling class is willing to shoot two or three thousand, nip dissent in the bud, it will make everyone keep their mouth shut and prevent potential civil war with much more causalities and instability.

          • Bonkim

            The Chinese Govt did not kill two or three thousands and had subsequently been very moderate and tried their best to meet the aspirations of the average Chinese. Same in the recent situation in Hong Kong, the Chinese Govt had held back brute force – the main point is that sensible governments see the path of least conflict as conflicts even if overcome temporarily (such as the mass-murders of Tamils in Sri Lanka), fester and return another day. Even the most brutal regime gets old and weak and eventually is overcome by sustained resistance – classic example – the inglorious French retreat from Algeria and Viet Nam after many years of brutal force. Look up the history of all tyrannical regimes they all came to an end violently sooner or later.

          • … eventually is overcome by sustained resistance – classic example – the inglorious French retreat from Algeria and Viet Nam after many years of brutal force.

            As with everything in Earth, rise and fall of nations and empires are cyclical. If they are lucky, their civilisations brush off the dust and starts rebuilding from the debris. Significant time and effort is needed to find your footing again and to reconnect with the past, use of force tries to move the inevitable a little more away, and in time some of the causes of the resistance in the first instance ease and will no longer matter. In the case of China, the economy improved and the Chinese do not continue the same concerns (new ones may have born). You can increase the distance between the crests and troughs of rise and fall if you use force initially to cut the chain of crashing dominoes.

            However, as you said, “even the most brutal regime gets old and weak” and will fall. Nothing anyone can do about it.

            The Chinese Govt did not kill two or three thousands

            Uh-ha. Did I read the wrong book, then?

          • Bonkim

            Will have to look up details but the Chinese are by and large a disciplined/organised society and no doubt there were violent episodes in history – the cultural revolution being the last major internal upheaval.

            As things stand the vast majority in China get a piece ot their prosperity and the average Chines is busy maximise his/her economic potential. There is considerably more equality of opportunity for the average Chinese unlike most other countries of SE and South Asia.

  • Forlornehope

    Dad was in Burma with the Royal Engineers (Indian Army) as a lowly subaltern; the major was a Brahmin. Dad had a funny story about the major, a latrine pit and termites, enough said!

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