india’s part in WWII

Keay_07_15John Keay at Literary Review:

Seventy years after the guns fell silent, India's part in the Second World War is finally receiving the attention it deserves. The two million Indian combatants (according to Raghu Karnad) – or the two and a half million (according to Yasmin Khan) – comprised the largest volunteer army in the world. They pushed the Italians from the rocky heights of Eritrea, trudged back and forth through the minefields of North Africa, quelled an insurgency in Iraq, and in the 'Forgotten War' for Burma suffered heavier casualties than all the other Allies combined. Nor were civilians spared. Cities such as Calcutta and Vishakhapatnam were bombed, ships were sunk and dockyards were shelled. In 1942 some 80,000 Indians perished in the chaotic exodus from Burma and in 1943 several millions starved to death in the war-induced famine in Bengal. Acts of bravery were applauded, medals were won and loved ones were lost. There is much to record. But if the wartime sacrifice has seldom been recognised, it is because so many Indians were ambivalent about the cause they were serving. After all, it was not their war: they hadn't been consulted about it and they objected to dying for an empire they were trying to get shot of.

As Karnad puts it, Nehru, like most of his colleagues in the mainstream Congress party, 'could not accept that Indian soldiers would die for the freedom of a nation which denied that very freedom to India'. Congress's heroes were not the two million 'mercenaries' of Britain's Indian army but the 43,000 patriotic men and women of the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army, led by the strutting Subhas Chandra Bose.

more here.