Author: Jaswant Singh
Publisher: Rupa Publications
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Revealing many misunderstandings, misconceptions and untruths about the wars India fought in the past decades, Jaswant Singh’s new book India at Risk is a powerful revelation of what really happened behind the scenes, and among the military personnel and political figures of the highest order, during times of crisis.
Jaswant Singh has held several key portfolios in the national cabinet: External Affairs, Finance, and Defence. A BJP politician who personally identifies himself as a liberal democrat, he is publicly respected even by members of other political parties, and is known for his forthrightness and objectivity (remember how he was forced to resign for being less-than-vitriolic about Jinnah in his last book?) This, then, is a national leader whose words have value. In India At Risk: Mistakes, Misconceptions and Misadventures of Security Policy he discusses each and every misstep that came in the way of peace, progress, and the formation of a modern and secure India, since the formation of the state in 1947. Most of the hindrances discussed are from a military and security point of view. Watch Jaswant Singh discussing the book.
Singh opines that, though the collapse of imperial powers of the old world helped in achieving a sense of freedom, they also gave birth to an uncontrolled vivisection of not only societies and cultures (e.g. Hindu – Muslim), but also nations (referring to the partition of India). The creation of such a charged situation is what is emphasized as the central and the deepest fault of our leaders (in particular, Singh is scathingly critical of Nehru’s frustratingly neutral agendas) and policy makers as well as the exiting British rulers.
India at Risk due to War
As mentioned earlier, Singh concentrates mainly on the numerous wars India fought, namely with Pakistan in 1948, China in 1962, Pakistan again in 1965 and ’71, the latter being in facilitation of the Bangladeshi Liberation War, and Kargil 1999. He explains in detail as to how and why these wars were fought, from the perspective of various commanders and officers. It glaringly points out the blunders our forces made even while they put on a brave face in front of the enemies.
The author also reveals some popular misconceptions. Even readers who are knowledgeable about the topic, will find many facts and statements that will come as a surprise. For example, it has been reported that a Pakistani submarine, PNS Ghazi, was blown up by the Indian navy, while it was en route to the Bangladeshi coastline during the 1971 war. According to Singh, this is not true. He reveals that the submarine had suffered some internal explosion while laying mines, and that, ‘It was an act of God’.
One aspect of these wars that is extensively covered in Singh’s book is strategy. Strategy and game play forms major portions of the chapters, especially those involving Jammu and Kashmir. He not only underlines the victories and failures of the Indian side in implementing the vulnerable blueprint, but also highlights, many times, a Pakistani point-of-view. Even though we know the result of the Bangladeshi Liberation War, we can’t help but think of the grief and humiliation General Niazi must have suffered while he surrendered East Pakistan to the Indian forces. Here, the narrative and writing style of Singh must be complimented. He must be commended for writing objectively, and not as a politician with a personal agenda.
India at Risk from Internal Threats
The book goes on to talk about the mistakes our policy makers made, with respect to internal security. He not only talks about 1984 – the year when the worst of Punjab got worse, but also the conflicts and issues in the north-east (especially Mizoram) and the south (LTTE and Sri Lanka). Though this book clearly focuses on the military and security aspects, Singh reveals how and why our Prime Ministers made decisions that sometimes rolled India to a downwards path.
One aspect of the book is crystal clear. It doesn’t dwindle away from its theme – security policy; thanks to the enormous amount of research the author has undergone in order to compile the facts as well as opinions and statements of different and contrasting persons of interest. Overall, the book will suck you deep in its facts and narration as you read progressively through the chapters, and discover a few perturbing facts about the grisly wars our nation fought.