Remember, remember the 5th—no, the 2nd—of November

Discussion in 'Military History' started by AVERAGE INDIAN, Nov 7, 2014.



    Sep 22, 2012
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    Detroit MI
    The narrative of anti-war is important. India’s fight for freedom, in a sense, began and ended with armed mutiny

    How the Brits viewed India was important to the US and others in the West, who took their clues from it. Photo: Getty Images For a long time, whenever a British dignitary spoke about the nation’s “shared history” with India, somewhere an Indian choked on his food. That’s because a lot of Indians never thought they had much to share in this particular part of their very long history. Some aspects of this history were relatively problem-free: parliamentary democracy, good; judiciary, good; English language, spiffing; rule of the law, ditto; chicken curry, smashing. Other areas were problematic: offers to mediate over Jammu and Kashmir, not good; attempts to tie aid with the purchase of military hardware, apparently hurtful; insults to Shilpa Shetty on live TV, how dare you! How the Brits viewed India was important to the US and others in the West, who took their clues from it.

    I believe it still is, though perhaps less so. The emergence of China as the go-to emerging economy on the cusp of greatness has made the difference, as has emerging India’s recalibration of its ties with other Western nations. A string of Anglo-American leaders—Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—all contributed to a maturing relationship, as did Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. There is something good and productive coming out of this modern partnership between India and the UK, carved—encouragingly—out of what used to be a not-so-good aspect of their relationship. Indian and British army officers milled around one evening last week on the lawns of the British high commissioner’s home, one of the stars of Lutyens’ Delhi.

    They were there to remember with gratitude and publicly acknowledge the stellar contribution made by Indian soldiers in World War I. India’s dilemma on its role in the two wars sprang from the fact that Indians, then under colonial rule, were not consulted over their participation, so Indians fought not as equals but as subjects. And for a very long time acknowledgement from the Brits and other Allied powers, too, seemed to be grudging. But that was the past, and defence minister Arun Jaitley, who attended the event, did his best to put this particular ghost to rest. He spoke of his “deep sense of gratitude” to the British for honouring the memory of Indian soldiers. “Gratitude is a political virtue,” he said, “ingratitude a political sin.” “We can, therefore, never forget the contribution our soldiers made to keep others in the society alive,” Jaitley said.

    The British government’s gesture to present India with memorials on the six Indian soldiers who won Victoria Cross medals—the UK’s highest gallantry award—in WWI and place them in the towns or villages of their birth “will certainly be remembered by every Indian”. The Indian minister also announced his government’s decision to build a memorial for Indian soldiers who have fought in wars since World War I (the memorial for the Great War is the India Gate in New Delhi) and a “grand war museum in New Delhi, which will record the facts and visuals in various forms”. This also being the 50th year of India’s 1965 war with Pakistan, Jaitley said, “there is a need today to have, both in book form and digital form, a structured war history of the contribution of Indian soldiers.

    There is a need to make it available on a mass basis. If the Army takes up the initiative my government will fully support it.” I asked a senior Indian Army officer, whose regiment fought in WWI with great distinction, what he made of what he had heard. “The Indian sipahis in World War I served India,” he said. “When I joined the army, I didn’t sign up to serve any particular government. I signed up to serve my nation. It is the Congress government that used to say this is ‘not my war’, etc. I think with the new government, there is a proper acknowledgement of the Indian contribution. “What the Great War did was it gave us Indians the confidence to win independence. For the first time the ordinary soldier was thinking,‘If we can fight shoulder to shoulder with the Brits in the battlefield, then in what way are we inferior to them? We are equal to them.’ Also, killing soldiers from the other side had that same psychological effect.” This is how men of war think, but wars and colonialism have also been linked inextricably with acts of rebellion transcending physical boundaries—the story of how the British poet and anti-war soldier, Wilfred Owen, was found dead in the battlefield with a Rabindranath Tagore poem in his shirt pocket is well known in India.

    The narrative of anti-war is important. India’s fight for freedom, in a sense, began and ended with armed mutiny. On 2 November 1824, soldiers in Barrackpore, West Bengal, rose up in revolt in what is sometimes called a dress rehearsal for the better-known 1857 Sepoy mutiny. Several other Indian mutinies followed, climaxing with the 1946 Naval mutiny in Mumbai that was followed by independence just 18 months later. Every British child knows the first line of the folk poem on another famous rebellion, that by Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up what is now the British parliament on 5 November 1605: “Remember, remember! The fifth of November, The Gunpowder treason and plot; I know of no reason Why the Gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot!” The ghost of a troubled past apparently having been exorcised, let the Indian child remember the 2nd of November.

    Read more at: Remember, remember the 5th—no, the 2nd—of November - Livemint
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