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1942. When British Rule in India was Threatened by Krishna Kumar. Book Review and An

The year 1942 was a pivotal one in the Indian freedom struggle, as author Krishna Kumar compellingly chronicles in his latest book "1942: When British Rule in India Was Threatened." This was the year when the British, who had ruled India for almost 200 years, suddenly found themselves under serious threat - both from external aggression as well as internal revolt.

The book begins by setting the stage of the prevailing situation - Britain heavily depended on India for resources and manpower for fighting the World War raging in Europe. Over a million Indian troops were fighting for the Allies across the world. At the same time, India's economy was being exploited to feed the British war machinery. Against this backdrop, early 1942 saw British forces face humiliating defeats against the Japanese in Singapore, Malaya and Burma. The myth of British invincibility was shattered as “the jewel in the crown” of the British empire - Singapore - fell. These stunning reverses had an electrifying impact on Indian nationalists.

The author takes us right into the chaotic tide of events in 1942 through his crisp yet gripping narration. Even as the British reeled from the Japanese onslaught, the Indians found their own leadership floundering. Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence and leader of the Indian National Congress, embarked on the Quit India movement in August 1942. However, as Kumar ji incisively observes, this turned out to be “Congress’s last movement before Independence” and the British suppressed it with brute force within months.

It is at this juncture that the most intriguing character in the author’s narrative takes centrestage - Subhas Chandra Bose. The charismatic Bose had dared to stand up to Gandhi within the Congress and built a following of his own before being forced to escape British incarceration and find his way to Europe. In 1942, Bose made his way to Singapore, raised the Indian National Army (INA) from Indian PoWs and launched an audacious campaign to liberate India from the Northeast through Imphal. Krishna ji provides a blow-by-blow account of Bose’s daring escapades as he struck alliances, raised resources and built a force that nearly achieved the impossible.

The most striking aspect of the book is how he weaves together these multifarious strands - from Gandhi’s faltering steps to Bose’s swashbuckling campaign - to depict a country at one of the most crucial junctures in its history. 1942 was when the future course of India’s freedom struggle was being decided. Krishna ji analyzes British strategy succinctly to show how their primary aim was to retain control rather than consider Indian independence. As he remarks, “The British learned from 1857 not to oppress both Hindus and Muslims simultaneously and divided the society.”

At the same time, Krishna ji is unsparing in his objective assessment of the failures of the nationalists. He points out how the resignations by Congress ministries in 1939 played into British hands and allowed Jinnah’s Muslim League to gain influence. Later in 1942 too, the Quit India movement was nothing short of a failure. The author notes how Gandhi had launched the movement more to “keep himself relevant” rather than any realistic assessment that the British could be made to leave at the height of the World War.

In contrast, Krishna ji provides lavish praise for Bose’s farsightedness and commitment. He shows how Bose’s stirring broadcasts from Germany electrified Indian imagination. And even though Bose’s Imphal campaign with INA failed, author points out how it dealt a fatal psychological blow to the British. Ultimately, INA’s role was decisive in unifying the independence struggle and forcing the British to leave in 1947, as Krishna ji explains lucidly.

In just about 200 pages, the author provides brilliant insight into one of the most fascinating years in India’s struggle for independence from British rule. He analyses the roles and limitations of prominent nationalists - Gandhi, Nehru, Bose - dispassionately. The strategic calculations and separate peace efforts of both the British and the Muslim League have been explained clearly without bias. What I found particularly striking was the extensive research carried out by the author from both Indian and British archives, memoirs and documents to understand the motivations and compulsions of key players.

For anyone interested in understanding political history, especially the Indian independence movement, Mr Krishna Kumar’s book provides a gripping and insightful account. He explores strategic inflection points with implications far beyond just the year 1942 through his incisive analysis. Indeed there are very few authors who combine such rigorous research with elegant, engaging prose that makes even complex topics thoroughly comprehensible for the common reader. At a time when history has become a prisoner of peddled perspectives, works like “1942: When British Rule in India Was Threatened” shine the light of truth.

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