Saturday, May 06, 2006

'Great game' for them. Vivisection for India.

The Great Game! ‘Tournament of Shadows’, the Russians called it. Both terms, the first one coined by Arthur Conolly, an East India Company man, and later popularized by Rudyard ‘Kim’ Kipling, signify “the rivalry and strategic conflict between the British Empire and the Tsarist Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia”, (for “the oil wells of power”). How India was vivisected as a part of The Great Game is the theme of an absorbing account of the sub-continent’s partition written by Narendra Singh Sarila (The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition). He is heir to the princely state of Sarila in central India, an erstwhile ADC to Lord Mountbatten, and a member of the Indian Foreign Service (1948-1985). Equally important, he is an excellent raconteur. What makes his account gripping is his research in the British and American archives where the top secret and recently unsealed government documents are kept. The Indian leaders of the Freedom Movement – Gandhi, Nehru and the rest – come out as pygmies in front of their gargantuan adversaries – Churchill, Lord Linlithgow, Lord Wavell and Jinnah – totally out of their intellectual and strategic depths. Apparently, the Congress Party was outmaneuvered all the way by the British Raj. How utterly shame-making, as Evelyn Waugh would have put it. (The 17 September 2005 post has a thought-provoking comment on the book.)

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