India's Wars (A Military History 1947- 1971) by Arjun Subramaniam, Harper Collins India: New York, 2016, ISBN 978-93-5177-749-6, 576 pp., $39.99 (Softcover).
Since I was teaching at West Point, it has struck me that there are a paucity of courses available for American military personnel on the Indian military, the world's fourth largest. To rectify this, I put together such a course, but had difficulty finding a textbook. During my last trip to India I ran across India's Wars, which was being widely read and discussed by Indian government officials and military officers. When I picked it up and started reading it, I knew I had the ideal book for my students. In his introduction Subramaniam states that he felt compelled to write this book because India's younger generation is profoundly ignorant regarding the role of the Indian military in the country's history. The book assumes that the reader has little or no prior knowledge and aims to fill in the gaps.
Subramaniam is a serving officer in the Indian Air Force with the rank of Air Vice Marshall (Major General in the American Air Force). In the American Army, officers called "Army intellectuals," try to analyze military issues, seek higher education, conduct research, teach, and publish. Subramaniam is the Indian equivalent. With a PhD in defense and strategic studies, he currently teaches at the National Defence College of India.
Subramaniam rightly ascertained that much of the existing Indian literature on the Indian military falls into two categories, "memoirs" by retired officers, which are heavy on personal remembrances and exploits, and "lionizing works," which take a jingoistic tack and portray the Indian Armed forces as superheroes that have never made a mistake. Books from these two genres have limited scholarly value, leaving a huge gap in the literature. Subramaniam's work, by contrast, is a straightforward historical work that strives for objectivity. He praises the Indian armed forces when they perform well, and does not hesitate to catalog their mistakes. This book does an admirable job of addressing a serious shortcoming.
This work is valuable for students because it places the Indian armed forces in their historical context. Before plunging into India's post-independence conflicts, he takes the time to document the origin of the modern armed forces in the Indian medieval period. India was, at that time, a patchwork of princely states rather than a unified nation. Long protected from invasion by the Himalayan mountain chain, Indian rulers did not devote much time or resources to the development of capable armed forces. This...