Friday, April 23, 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
Rs 750
Pp 385
ISBN: 8178242575

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.

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 in his lifetime and after.

New and rewarding The Telegraph
Srinath Raghavan has written an important book on a much-neglected subject. In most accounts of Jawaharlal Nehru’s years as prime minister, his foreign policy is seen as a reflection of his grand vision or it is seen through the prism of the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 and the military disaster this entailed. Raghavan avoids both these approaches and tries to locate Nehru’s strategic thinking in terms of how he managed the crises that his government faced in Junagadh, in Hyderabad, and in Kashmir in the immediate aftermath of Independence; in Bengal in 1950 following the refugee influx; and the border dispute with China in Ladakh and the Northeast.

In all these episodes of India’s contemporary history, Nehru was forced to think about the use of force — how much of it to use, when to use it, and how to match it with the use of diplomacy. During the Nehru years, India never went into a full-scale war but on a few occasions was on the brink of it, what the author calls a “twilight zone between peace and war’’.

Underlying the analysis in the book are two intellectual positions. One concerns the notion of strategy. According to the author, strategy “is the use of available military means to achieve desired political ends’’. This definition somewhat narrows the concept of strategy by tying it down in the last instance to available military means. It is possible to think of uses of strategy where the use of military means is not a factor. Such situations can be thought of in the exercise of foreign policy. The Indo-US nuclear deal, which involved an enormous amount of strategic thinking on both sides, comes readily to mind. Raghavan categorizes strategy into consensual, controlling and coercive. In most of the episodes discussed in this book it was the coercive element that came into play since they involved the threat of force or limited use of it to influence the opponents’ choices.

Nehru, Sinosceptic Outlook
For far too long, Jawaharlal Nehru has been condemned as a woolly-eyed idealist, whose worldview is held responsible for the festering Indo-Pak dispute and the unresolved boundary issue with China. While traditionalist historians have found him guilty of sacrificing India’s core interests in the pursuit of his ideals, revisionist scholars have viewed him as arrogant and blamed him for his propensity to use force at the slightest provocation to get his way.

Challenging these two schools is Srinath Raghavan’s book, War and Peace in Modern India, which presents the thesis that Nehru was an out-and-out realist. For instance, about India’s defeat in the 1962 war with China, for which Nehru continues to draw flak, Raghavan writes, “Contrary to received wisdom, the problem with Nehru’s China policy was not his idealism but his realism”.

It was Nehru’s belief, Raghavan shows, that the ussr wouldn’t allow China to attack India as that could compel India to move closer to the Americans. Subsequent events showed Nehru had miscalculated. The realist in him had correctly read the situation, but he failed to grasp the role of nationalist ideology in Communist China’s foreign policy—that it would not refrain from military action to reinforce its territorial claims.

Raghavan says Nehru’s failure on China shouldn’t make one oblivious to the sophistication of his approach to strategy and crisis management. Though he “initiated military measures (forward deployment), without risking a full-scale war”, he continued to “pursue diplomatic settlements to the extent possible” to contain domestic opposition.

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