The British Raj and its Indian Armed Forces, 1857-1939 Edited by Partha Sarathi Gupta and Anirudh Deshpande, Oxford, Rs 595
Within Indian historiography, military history has been a long neglected field ever since the Sixties when, following global trends of history-writing, social and economic history came to acquire a privileged place. Military and political history carried with them the load of being old-fashioned. The situation began to change with the realization that armies, their formation, conduct, deployment and so on, were often a reflection of society and the configuration and priorities of power. The history of armies and warfare could also be the history of ordinary people.
The evolution of the Indian army is inextricably linked to the history of the British raj. The British rulers gave to the Indian army their organizational and disciplinary structure. Many regiments in the Indian army still bear the names of those who raised them in the days of the East India Company: thus Skinnerís Horse and Hodsonís Horse. Daily life within the Indian army is still run by rituals established by the British.
This volume, with essays by young historians eager to reinstate military history within the mainstream of Indian historiography, looks at Indian soldiers who served in the British Indian army. Here the great dividing line is, of course, the great rebellion of 1857 which began as a mutiny of the sepoys and then spread to the general population. Despite continuities in practices and organization, the revolt marked a departure for the Indian army and all the essays in this volume study post-1857 trends and developments. The other signpost was World War II, which is the last time Indian soldiers and officers fought in a British army and for a British cause.
The period covered in this volume is thus important The British Indian state and the British Indian army were both put on a stronger footing in terms of investment, organization and ideology. The introduction, written by the editors, avers that it is a truism that the colonial state was not a monolith. The colonial state did have within it conflicting interests and pressures, and even claimants. But they has a single goal: ruling India and extracting wealth from India. The mode of analysis which sees the colonial state as a network of interests always underplays these aspects of British rule.
The essays look at recruitment in Punjab and the British concept of martial races. When needed, the concept could be used flexibly and the Indians internalized the idea. Loyalty and retaining the loyalty of the Indian soldiery were crucial concerns of the British. To preserve loyalty, elaborate welfare measures were introduced. Despite its overemphasis on policy instead of on the soldiers themselves, this is a useful volume.