Thursday, March 18, 2010

REVIEW: War and Peace in Modern India

War and Peace in Modern India: A Strategic History of the Nehru Years
Srinath Raghavan
Permanent Black
ISBN:  81-7824-257-5

During his seventeen years as prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru led India through one of its most difficult and potentially explosive periods in international affairs. As the leader of a new state created amidst the bloodiest partition in history, saddled with new and outstanding problems, Nehru was confronted with a range of disputes which threatened to boil over.

Srinath Raghavan draws on a rich vein of untapped documents to illuminate Nehru’s approach to war and his efforts for peace. Vividly recreating the intellectual and political milieu of the Indian foreign policy establishment, he explains the response of Nehru and his top advisors to the tensions with Junagadh, Hyderabad, Pakistan, and China. He gives individual attention to every conflict and shows how strategic decisions for each crisis came to be defined in the light of the preceding ones. The book follows Nehru as he wrestles with a string of major conflicts—assessing the utility of force, weighing risks of war, exploring diplomatic options for peace, and forming strategic judgements that would define his reputation, both within his lifetime and after.

War and Peace in Modern India challenges and revises our received understanding of Nehru’s handling of international affairs. General readers as well as students of Indian history and politics will find its balanced consideration of Nehru’s foreign policy essential to gauge his achievements, his failures, and his enduring legacy.

A new look at Indian history National 
In 1964, my father Kailash Vajpeyi, a Hindi poet, then just about 30 years old, published his first collection of poems, Sankrant (Crisis). He belonged to a rising generation of angry and highly politicised poets; one of his poems, a scathing commentary on the last days of Jawaharlal Nehru’s administration, was banned from broadcast on All India Radio; another was the subject of a heated debate in the Indian parliament. When Nehru, the ageing prime minister, met the rebellious poet at a literary gathering, he bemusedly asked: “Why so upset, young man?”

In poem after poem, India’s capital New Delhi became a symbol of political decay, rampant corruption and institutional failure. A New National Anthem, a caustic “celebration” of 20 years of Indian democracy published in 1967, memorably painted an unflattering picture of India’s circular Parliament House:
Each morning
There rises in my sky
A great big shoe.
It clambers down
From the roof of the Round Building
And starts walking
And keeps on walking
Into public life…
Until by evening
It arrives in the courthouse
And vanishes at last
Into a newly printed
Rupee note.

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