Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A sort of a battle, and not so long ago.

For some reason I've been recently fascinated with the events of the 1947 Partition of India.

I realize that this wasn't a military campaign or a "battle" per se but there was a tremendous amount of force used in one form or another and, it seems to me, that this event "changed history" (in the sense that it was seems as a vast political and social event at the time and has continued to effect the politics and, it seems to me, pretty much every other aspect of life in the subcontinent area today) as much or more than anything we typically think of as "war".


What would be the interest in the readership here of a "battles" treatment of Partition?

It might have to be in several parts to address the immensity of the subject; one post on the political background of Imperial India and the forces in play,
(the British, both eager to be shed of her expensive Empire and reluctant to retreat to being just a small nation at the northwest edge of Europe , and the various factions within the colony ranging from the Congress through the Muslim League to the Sikhs and the various princely states and ethnic groups looking for advantage - or just safety - in the sudden collapse of a 200-year-old polity...)
another on the actual events of the Partition, and a third on the aftermath and how effects Partition still has on south Asia today...



...even Google, it seems.

12 comments:

Ael said...

Go for it. I would really enjoy it.

And that is a really powerful video. I am not sure I like those emotions enthralled to a commercial vendor.

FDChief said...

I hated that I teared up a little watching that little video. It's perfect in a brilliantly manipulative way; the sweet old guys, the loving granddaughter, the perfect reunion...and throughout the cunning little placement of the Google brand, like the shadow of a shark below the glittering surface of the sea.

That's the real insidiousness of really good advertising; it stabs you below the thinking level. Bad advertising is so crude that you either resent being manipulated or you recognize the attempt for the crude manipulation it is and blow it off.

This thing is clearly manipulating you. You know on the thinking level that you're being manipulated, that life isn't like that, that reality isn't going to be that sweet and perfect. But it's SO sweet and perfect, it's what you want to believe, that even as your brain tells you it's hogwash your heart tells your brain to fuck off.

Great advertising, like great sex, great politics, and great religion somehow can make you do things that you know are effed up; that's why they're at the same time so wonderful and so dangerous...

FDChief said...

And it's worth following the link below the video; the journalist has some valuable observations about the reality of India and Pakistan that is the setting for the adorable video...

Syrbal/Labrys said...

I was reminded of what a literally "tearing' time the Partition was when my non-fiction "cheat" in reading "fiction only" last year was a couple books about the Gurkha soldiers. In the Partition, they got screwed about every way possible --first of all in being sent to STOP some of the massacre by killing whichever side was committing mayhem in each instance and second by having about 2/3 of their regiments simply handed over to India at the end.

It was reading to raise your blood pressure and lower your head.

FDChief said...

Well, Labrys, soldiers have always been sacrificed on the "altar" of national whim; I can't say I'm surprised that the Nepalese regiments of the old Indian Army were any different.

That said, the Gurkha soldiers have always had an odd sort of relationship with their neighbors and the old colonial power. The closest thing I can come to it is the Swiss mercenaries of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. The British never colonized Nepal; gurkhas are always Nepalese subjects regardless of where and for whom they fight. The "Tripartite Agreement" is an odd document in that it assures Britain and India of the service of people from a third, independent country.

Weird.

But it reminds us about the other part of the Partition that made it so bloody awful; that "India" under the Raj was comprised of a hell of a lot of different groups and brought many of them together in the institutions of the Raj such as the Indian Army. Partition meant that many guys who had fought together against the Japanese or Germans fought each other. I find that appallingly hard to imagine, but it happened, and not infrequently.

Throw in the issues that arose in India after '47 about trooping together guys who had fought for the British in Burma with Indians who had fought for the Japanese in the Indian National Army...

Gah.

Barry said...

I'd like to see more posts on this, FDChief

Syrbal/Labrys said...

It was my understanding that before the Partition, the Gurkha Regiments were all serving in the British Army…not the Indian Army at all. That was one reason they were so shocked to be handed over like spare sacks of rice.

FDChief said...

Well, Labrys, they sorta were and sorta weren't. Here's my understanding of the situation.

In the two hundred years prior to 1947 the "Indian Army" was British and yet wasn't. For the first hundred it wasn't actually part of the Crown forces at all but was owned by a private corporation, the Honorable East India Company.

(In fact I think for a long time it was even more complicated than that, as the HEIC actually had THREE armies, one for each of the Madras, Bombay, and Bengal Presidencies. But, whatever...)

The actual CINC of the Indian Army wasn't the King or Queen at the time but the directors of the Company.

But...what made things more complex is that the King (or Queen) "loaned" British units to the Company; these were called "King's" or "Queen's" regiments to distinguish them from "Company" regiments.

This weird dualaity extended to commissions; British officers in Company units had "Viceroy's Commissioned Officers", VCOs, who were native Indians and served as a sort of combined warrant officer and platoon sergeant or sergeant-major.

After 1857 the Viceroy took over, so the "Indian Army" was subject to the Crown, but was still distinct from the "British Army"; Queen Victoria was the titular head of the British Army as Queen of England but of the Indian Army as Empress of India!

So the Gurkha regiments would have been part of the Indian Army pre-1947; British, but NOT British. A Gurkha in the 7th GR would have considered himself Nepalese by birth and an Indian Army soldier (or, more likely, a 7th Gurkha Rifles soldier, since the regiment was All...) by affiliation...

FDChief said...

(con't)

The big difference was that all the KCOs ("King's Commissioned Officers) in a Gurkha regiment would have been British pre-1947.

That was pretty important to the a lot of the Nepalese hillmen who served in these units. A lot of them had a family tradition of serving in the same regiment, father, son, grandson...and so did a lot of the British officer families. In a big way these regiments WERE families, or a sort. And the family didn't have other people from the subcontinent as sons. Cousins, maybe. But real family? No.

So the big trauma when Partition came was the notion that these families would be, as families are in divorces, broken up. Some would go with the "real parents", the British. But some were sent to India, and a lot of the gurkhas didn't like the idea of serving under "other" Indians.

A lot of this was bred deep into the prejudices of both the Nepalese and their British officers. They believed, right or wrong, that they were "better"; tougher, smarter, more natural soldiers than the downcountry Indians.

So the idea of a Gurkha outfit with some jumped-up Calcutta counter-jumper as officer? Unthinkable! There was a lot of heartburning over the agreement to divide the gurkha units.

Mind you, it seems to have worked out; there are half a dozen gurkha (they call them "gorkha") units in the present Indian Army, and they seem to be doing quite well...

FDChief said...

I should add this.

I said that some gurkhas didn't like the idea of going to India after Partition. But there were also gurhkas who WANTED to go with India; the 7th Gurkha Rifles were allotted to the British Army and a lot of the guys in the outfit didn't want to go - despite the fact the they wouldn't actually have to go to Britain (most of the British gurkha outfits were station in Asia until late in the 20th Century).

So it worked both ways, apparently...

Syrbal/Labrys said...

Yes, I got the VCO bit…and then the whole "divorced family" is a great analogy. Of course, the tradition of service is a long one; and damned near Nepal's only source of outside income and employment for many citizens. Post service (which is long, to my understanding…at least 15 years) they get much less retirement than other British soldiers and goodness knows what the ones with the Indian Army get.

Many endure hardship with old wounds since the medical care they need is rarely available in Nepal. Over all, it helps the Brits more than they are helped for their service.

FDChief said...

Mercenaries always have, unless the polity employing them was too dependent on them - then (Machiavelli warned) they tended to bankrupt you if they lost and if they won presented a real danger of Praetorian treason...

The Gurkha soldiers were a total win-win for the British. Living legends, "plucky little gurkhas", wonderful for a patriotic tale of Imperial derring-do, and no untidy widows and orphans and grieving mummies and daddies when the little fellows got theirs. Cheap, too, as you mention.

Soldiering is really a mug's game, when you think about it, for the people who do the actual dirty work of real soldiering. Especially when you think of the many bad reasons that nations fight. A lot of us are killed, or maimed, or our minds fucked with for the rest of our lives, for very, very bad reasons or, perhaps worse, no real reason at all...