Book Review: Churchill's Secret War


The Holocaust  was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, throughout Nazi-occupied territory


We - the people of India, thanks largely to our media and our history books are well aware of this particular bit of unsavoury history of the 1930s and 1940s. We are told that this was an act unparalleled in documented history, and was carried out by Adolf Hitler. That just goes to show how ludicrously poor our knowledge of history - specifically our own history is. The Year: Circa 1942-1943. The Venue of the display of generosity and humanity that lead to the Indian version of the holocaust: Bengal. The Villain? As per the superb research conducted by Madhushree Mukherjee, A certain World War 2 hero known by the name of Winston Churchill, in addition to the entire British Raj. The result? A small matter of an approximated 5.4 Million Indians dead. Small change, really. Peanuts, as compared to 6 Million Europeans.... The sequence of events lead to a British Civil Servant to comment: "Naturally I lost patience and couldnt help telling him that I could not see much difference between his outlook and Hitlers'..." - Leopold Amery to Winston Churchill. Having read the book, neither can I. He continued in his Diary: "The dangers arising from his lack of judgement and knowledge in many respects and his sheer lack of sanity over India make him increasingly dangerous"

Words fail me... I consider myself unequal to the task of reviewing this particular book. The moment I take it up, tears well up my eyes and rage fills my heart... it is all I can do to remind myself that there are current, more pressing problems to attend to in life; that the past is best left in the past. But that does not mean that we remain ignorant of the price we have paid for our colonial heritage, and the degradation that we were subjected to, as well as the realities and sacrifices of that era...

The book is more of a historical investigation. It is buttressed with copious amounts of references that you can use - if you have the time and the resources- to cross check the material. It is exhaustive in its breadth and depth, and is tellingly impersonal in its narrative. Her calmly phrased but searing approach towards this  imperial brutality comes across  as gut-wrenching and damning because of the impartial and fact-based narrative. This makes the book even more effective, since the absence of anger or angst means that there is no outlet for the readers' emotions... page after impartial page builds up without any remorse, or value judgements This ends up leaving you, as a reader, free to experience the horror of the narrative in full...

The book traces the roots of the British Raj in India right from its genesis till the beginning of the Second World War in a short but effective prologue. The prologue sets the tone of the thesis that follows, with its precisely researched figures. I can vouch that the figures are readily available, since I subsequently read An Economic History Of India By Romesh C Dutt (written in the early 20th century. Another telling account, but that is another story). It chronicles the systematic rape of the Indian Nation, and enables you to understand how the richest nation in the entire history of Planet Earth came into its current status. It buttresses its arguments with specific examples and figures of looting, tax - revenue (same thing as loot for british India to my mind), governing horrors et al. It enables you to get a specific handle on what it means to   be ruled by a brutal and inhuman set of swines. But most importantly, this is the first authoritative source that states and gives credence to my personal belief - the World War was fought as a direct result of Indian occupation by the British; In my opinion, it was the price the west had to pay for the Rape of Greater India, Burma, Ceylon, Africa etc...

The book focusses on the Bengal Famine of 1942 - 1943, and examines in detail its causes. A word of caution here: you will come across some accounts from reviewers (most of them westerners, not unsurprisingly) which state that Amartya Sen has given a different reason for the Bengal famine. Well, he hasnt. Mr Sen's theory is well covered, and the author agrees with its supposition of stock-holding and profiteering. She just goes far, far deeper into the quagmire and pulls out the real causes, the events that lead to stock pile-up of food, the run-up to the famine -  the drought, the total absence to relief efforts, and most tellingly the continued exploitation of the people. The author has connected all the dots, and there is no discernible gap left. She also attends to the question of the food profiteering, and why it was not the core reason as well as  why it could have been avoided. Furthermore, she also proves the shortage of food stocks.  

The facts will make your stomach turn, especially at british hypocrisy. Scorched Earth policy was employed by the Nazis they say. Wrong! Scorched Earth policy was implemented by the "gentle" "civilized" "human" British in Bengal, Assam and much of East India. The horrifying impact of this has to be read to be understood! Fact 2: food was continuously sent to Europe to feed the newly-liberated European lands, to build a stockpile for the Invasion, and to buttress British food stocks. This was done even when there was no need for such heavy stockpiling. This was done even as Indians were dying by the millions... if anyone stock-piled food during the famine, it was the British. Food was deliberately not sent to India, or retained in India  just so the British could be well-fed. In the same Bengal, the British were eating 5-course meals! The book proves that the British were holding stocks of food that were far in excess of what they required. Thus, they not only caused the problem, they also exacerbated it. 

The book is full of heart-rending real stories that will, quite literally, make you cry. Stories of people just dying on the streets, corpses lining the streets of cities, stories of planned and systematic gang-rapes of women - entire villages of women, stories of starvation, stories of women selling themselves, stories of mothers selling their children, stories of women being kidnapped and gang-raped every night, stories of people walking long distances just for a bowl of rice soup, stories of the crying of children.... and the stories of corpses.... corpses everywhere, on the roads, in the fields.... and how the authorities did precisely nothing!

The book also enable you to understand the general atmosphere of animosity and outright hostility that existed in India. You get an impression of a land seething with rage and unbridled anger. The steady and systematic breakdown of the imperial edifice has been brought out very well, as is the increasing dissatisfaction in the Indian Army, which was, by 1945 - 1946, almost  beyond imperial control. The steady stream of letters, meetings and implorings for food from both Indian and British Civil Servants give you an idea of the steady breakdown of imperialism, as even some of the more decent britishers realised the immoral situation they were in.

It details the cover-up of facts during and after the famine, its examines the eye-wash of the famine commission. It quotes former civil servants in British India, and uses their experiences. It quotes the surviving victims and it bases everything on fact. it chronicles the struggle of the few western people who were fighting the system and trying to procure food, and this gives us a ringside view of the situation as it unfolds,. All in all, an awesome investigation...

It also states wonderingly, that despite people dying like flies, there were no food riots. People chose to die rather than become thieves.... it shows the strength of our culture, of our value-systems. You are left in tears as you read that people died in front of food godowns, homes and shops -  without resorting to violence, May they rest in peace... May God Bless All Those Who Suffered With Moksha is all I can say.  In closing, I would also like to give a ray of hope... the book also gives a few stories of children who starved - nearly to death-  but survived, studied... and overcome all this to become successful! It chronicles the sacrifices made by families to keep alive... Life goes on, life has to go on.... Whoever you are, wherever you are: I wish you all the happiness you can get....

Comments

  1. wonderful review sir...
    really liked it.....
    we must not forget our great leaders because of them we are now independent...
    god bless them...

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    Replies
    1. Totally agree... God Bless Them; May They Rest In Peace. We are what we are because of them.

      And thanks for the compliments

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