20 February 2014

THE COUNTRY THAT EMERGED OUT OF CONTINGENCY

Srinath Raghavan
1971
A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh

Like all writers, academics watch the progress of their peers, tracking who’s publishing what, noting who’s flying high or plunging low, registering reputations, spreading the gossip that predisposes hiring committees this way or that. The consensus among such scholarly peer-watchers is likely to be that an uncommonly impressive young achiever in their community is Srinath Raghavan, whose debut work, War and Peace in Modern India (Permanent Black and Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), drew on a huge pile of untapped documentation to illuminate Nehru’s approach to war and desire for peace—within India, in relation to Hyderabad, Goa, Bengal, etc., as well as externally, with China and Pakistan. The book ran to nearly 400 pages, elicited a load of acclamatory reviews, and brilliantly bridged the gap that often separates the disciplines of international relations, history, and war studies.

Earlier this year, 2013, Raghavan published (as editor) the Collected Essays of Sarvepalli Gopal. It took several years and ferreting in several archives for the editor to arrive at a comprehensive text. Prefacing the late historian’s essays is a 50-page Introduction by Raghavan on Gopal’s life and professional career, an Introduction worth reading for its own sake (though a perceptive review in The Book Review by the historian Partho Datta points out some weaknesses in Raghavan’s defence of Gopal’s variety of historiography). The hallmarks of Raghavan’s writing here, as in his first book, are jargon-free accessibility as well as evidence of his wide reading in literature, world history, and very many areas of South Asian Studies. Though he does not know as many European languages as Sanjay Subrahmanyam (well, not yet), Raghavan does read some, allowing him to note-take in archives that most South Asianists do not visit.

Raghavan’s career path has been unusual. He is possibly the only Indian scholar of the first grade who has also been a second lieutenant. Born in 1977, he joined the Indian army after being at schools in Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Chennai. His bachelor’s degree was in physics from the University of Madras (1997). An infantry officer  in the Rajputana Rifles, he decamped (metaphorically) in 2003 to do an MA, and then a PhD (2007) at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. War and Peace in Modern India came out of the dissertation he wrote there. After being Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London for three years he returned to India and is now Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Simultaneously, he is Senior Research Fellow at the King’s India Institute of King’s College London. 

His next project, a book on India in the Second World War, has been already signed up and is scheduled to appear in 2014. By Indian academic standards, this pace of production seems almost frenzied: so many publications so many years before he's even reached 40? This alone makes it clear that Raghavan has not been infected by the torpor that afflicts scholars even in the best history departments, such as at JNU (Non-JNU Tambrams are the Bachs and Rossinis here, our cavalry charge of high-speed masterwork writers: Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Ramachandra Guha, Mahesh Rangarajan ... )

SRINATH RAGHAVAN’S NEW BOOK is the eleventh to be jointly published by Permanent Black and Harvard University Press. This is what the blurb says, and what some bigwigs say:

The war of 1971 was the most significant geopolitical event in the Indian subcontinent since Partition in 1947. At one swoop, it led to the creation of Bangladesh, and it tilted the balance of power between India and Pakistan steeply in favour of India. The Line of Control in Kashmir, the nuclearization of India and Pakistan, the conflicts in the Siachen Glacier and Kargil, the insurgency in Kashmir, the political travails of Bangladesh—all can be traced back to those intense nine months in 1971.

Against the grain of received wisdom Srinath Raghavan contends that, far from being a predestined event, the creation of Bangladesh was the product of conjuncture and contingency, choice and chance. The breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh can be understood only in a wider international context of the period: decolonization, the Cold War, and incipient globalization.

In a narrative populated by the likes of Nixon, Kissinger, Zhou Enlai, Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tariq Ali, George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, and Bob Dylan, Raghavan vividly portrays the stellar international cast that shaped the origins and outcome of the Bangladesh crisis.

This strikingly original history uses the example of 1971 to open a window to the nature of international humanitarian crises, their management, and their unintended outcomes.

“A deeply impressive book at many levels: in the depth of its research (conducted in more than a dozen archives spread across four continents), in the acuity of its analyses, and in the power of its prose. The thematic scope is as striking as its spatial scale, with the author exploring and uncovering the military, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of the 1971 conflict. Through this magnificent work of scholarship, Srinath Raghavan has confirmed his standing as the leading historian of his generation.”—Ramachandra Guha, author of India After Gandhi

“Wonderfully written and deeply researched, Raghavan's book will become the standard account of India’s 1971 war with Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh. In a time when South Asia is edging to the forefront of world affairs, everyone interested in international politics should consult this superb interpretation.”—O.A. Westad, author of Restless Empire: China and the World since 1750

“Raghavan has written a meticulously researched and complex historical narrative that moves at a fast clip and brings a global perspective to what is all too often seen as a regional conflict—the Bangladesh independence war of 1971. It is sure to spark fruitful debate on South Asian history, as well as on contemporary historiography.”—Kaiser Haq, author of Published in the Streets of Dhaka

“The consequences of one of the last century's defining conflicts are still with us, and Raghavan brilliantly provides the definitive account of how high-level diplomacy involving the superpowers, India, Pakistan, and China shaped its outcome.”—Stephen P. Cohen, author of The Future of Pakistan

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"[the book] is immensely rich in the evidence it unearths and the many dimensions that it opens up."—Rudrangshu Mukherjee, The Telegraph, Kolkata

“This is a splendidly researched book, which presents a logical well-argued case for revisiting the myths surrounding the birth of Bangladesh.”—Devangshu Datta, in Business Standard


Paperback / 368pp / Rs 595 / ISBN 9788178244518/ South Asia rights /
Copublished by Harvard University Press


If Srinath Raghavan breathed new life into the history of war, national diplomacy, and nation-making by taking these subjects to a new level of excellence in his earlier work, WAR AND PEACE IN MODERN INDIA, he has now similarly raised the bar for contemporary war history and international diplomacy with his new work, 1971. This isn't the publisher's view, there seems to be a growing consensus on the matter, as is apparent from the review excerpts below.


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EXCERPTS FROM REVIEWS
1971 is bound to reinforce Raghavan's reputation as a leading scholar on the security politics of India and the subcontinent … Raghavan has filled a big breach in understanding the evolution of contemporary India.” – C. Raja Mohan, Indian Express

 Starting with the rising tensions in South Asia, Raghavan uses archives from seven countries (plus the United Nations) to offer a panoramic view of the 1971 crisis … [An] impressive new histor[y].David C. Engerman, The Chronicle of Higher Education

[An] absorbing and very detailed account of the creation of Bangladesh … [Raghavan] has produced an impressive analysis of the way the international community reacted to events …David Gilmour, Literary Review

Raghavan has produced a scholarly study couched in sparkling prose ... He is at his best as a diplomatic historian.Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, Outlook

Raghavan offers fresh insights into the 14-day war that led to the creation of Bangladesh.Saikat Datta, The Hindustan Times

[Raghavan’s] superb analysis of the global intricacies of 1971 uses [a wide] lens with great precision to explain the breakup of Pakistan more convincingly than any preceding account …”—Sunil Khilnani, The New Republic

PerceptiveIsaac Chotiner, Times Literary Supplement

The vastly complicated international dimension of the Indo–Pakistan War is expertly mapped out by Srinath Raghavan in 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh … Raghavan analyzes with precision the military operations and economic realities of 1971; he also offers an indispensable array of international perspectives on the war...Thomas Meaney, The Nation
“[An] extremely important addition to the literature on the subject. Seven years in the making a massive amount of research has gone into it ... Much of it is new and quite revealing ... [A] piece of writing done with remarkable felicity.”I.P. Khosla, The Book Review

 “Raghavan breaks new ground by the use of archival material made available only recently ... The result is that he is able to put to rest some of the abiding myths surrounding the intervention.Manoj Joshi, The Hindu