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Colonial Khaki

Neerja Singh

By Anirudh Deshpande
Manohar Publication, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 223, Rs. 550.00


Dominance is often quite securely estab- lished by force of knowledge and the might associated with it. This was more so in the case of empire-building where control over knowledge meant superior technology and mightier military power. The history of British colonization of India typically validates the veracity of this stark reality. Anirudh Deshpande in his work attempts to capture some of the significant aspects of the saga of Indian subjugation by a tiny ‘nation’.   British military policy as a theme of research had lost much of its elan; it nearly got buried under the weight of numerous volumes of work on the Indian freedom struggle and its related socio-economic dimensions. Deshpande, however, quite adroitly manages to demonstrate the thematic relevance of the British Indian military policy during 1900-1945; it is indeed a refreshing break.   The author at the very outset clarifies that the work “is neither an over-arching discourse on the colonial Indian armed forces nor a specialized monograph comprising regimental and battle trivia. Unlike a standard textbook, it does not contain mandatory sections on all aspects of the colonial military. Although it touches upon various aspects of the colonial Indian armed forces, its aim is to explore the dialectic of military policy, military organization, and imperial fortunes in British India during the first forty-five years of the twentieth century”. This admission betrays on the one hand humility on the part of the author but on the other typifies a veiled smartness to shield himself against unpalatable criticisms from some informed quarters. There was, however, no need for him to wear this armour, for the work is well researched and documented, and is certainly a valuable addition to the corpus of literature on the subject, despite certain limitations.   The book is divided into four chapters exclusive of Introduction and Conclusion. ‘Reform and Retrenchment Following the Great War’ traces the origin of the idea of reform to the revolt of 1857 and its aftermath, further fuelled by the lessons of World War I. Here the entire contextual setting has been cursorily attempted in a manner of textbook writing to explain the British compulsion to think and rethink for bringing about change in the military policy. Various governmental committees, notably the Eisher Committee of 1919, were set up for required suggestions. Consequent to the recommendations of these Committees various measures such as the policy of segregations, Indianization and modernization of the army were ...

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