• Thursday, July 07, 2022

Interview With K.S. Nair, Author Of 'December In Dacca'


on May 18, 2022
interview

K.S. Nair is the author of two books—Ganesha's Flyboys: The Indian Air Force in the Congo, 1960–62and The Forgotten Few: The Indian Air Force in World War II—and of numerous articles in Indian, British, Canadian, Japanese and US publications and websites. He is a graduate of IIT Delhi and IIM Bangalore, and has served at senior levels in multinational and boutique firms and development agencies.

Q1: India’s military strength is growing rapidly. What significant changes can you draw out between the present and the past? How do you think India’s military strength will turn out to be in 2050? 

On the first half of the question, India’s military strength undoubtedly owes a great deal to its past; to the traditions and honour that its armed forces are bound by.  India’s armed forces draw great pride from their past, justifiably and deservedly; and that remains true today.  Significant changes since then include the expansion of war to more devastating levels, because of the increasing destructiveness of modern weapons; as well as the continuing extension of war-related violence beyond military personnel to the broader population.  Both these changes make present-day warfare, and in particular the escalation of warfare, more difficult to ‘manage’ than in the past. 

On the second half of the question, India’s military strength in 2050, I see myself as a writer on military history, so I am more comfortable talking about the past than the future.  But I will say I would like to see India’s military capabilities retain the professionalism, resourcefulness, courage and integrity of the past, while taking on board some of the tactical and technical ingenuity, and focus on external enemies, which the most successful modern militaries have demonstrated.  These will require some cultural changes.  

But I think it is also important to recognise that maintaining our military strength up to 2050 and beyond will also require some changes beyond the armed forces.  These include a more productive and nimble indigenous weapons manufacturing sector, and more robust R&D, than we have demonstrated in the past.  

Q2: Being a graduate from the leading institutes (IIT & IIM), what impact did it have on your writing journey? 

To be honest, I have often argued that those qualifications are not particularly relevant to the writing that December in Dacca represents (history, and military history in particular).  They would, of course, be relevant if I were writing on technology, management or policy (which I have done, though not at book length). 

But several editors and publicists tell me that those labels open doors and add credibility.  Writers are always glad of that. 

Q3: Do you think, perhaps in the future, India and Pakistan can co-exist peacefully? Is there a possibility of having no borders between these two nations?

I would put it even more strongly, and say that long-term stability and prosperity for both countries absolutely requires peaceful co-existence.  

As I have written in December in Dacca, I believe it is important that we in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan too, remember the Bangladesh Liberation War in a believable way, which is not dismissed by the rest of the world as triumphalism by the victors or obduracy by the losers.  Coming to terms with our shared history is a worthwhile objective.

And it would contribute to a future in which India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the other countries of South Asia live in harmony with each other and form a broadly united front, to address the common developmental, environmental and governance issues that most developing countries face.  

Q4: Which kind of incidents led you to address issues related to Indian wars and history? 

The answer to that is the same as I gave when I was responding to similar questions about my last book, The Forgotten Few.  I lived outside India for some years, particularly during globally significant anniversary years such as the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and the centenary of the start of the First World War.  I realised from events around those anniversaries that many other countries treat wars they have been involved in with a degree of broad-based remembrance (which is not the same as ‘celebration’), and with a continued desire to improve their understanding.  Doing so in a clear, honest way helps them to become more confident about their nationhood, and makes for a more informed version of patriotism than blind nationalism.  I would like to see India develop that kind of informed understanding and confidence about her own self and her history, including her military history. 

Q5: Do you think Indian Media gives enough importance to sensitive war issues like the recent address of Hindu pandits in 'Kashmir Files'? 

With some honorable exceptions, I would have to say the answer is generally No. 

Q6: There is a quote, “History repeats itself.” Do you think incidents like the Bangladesh liberation war could happen again? If yes, how can events like that be prevented? 

Very much.  I think the current Russia-Ukraine conflict is in many ways very similar to the Bangladesh Liberation War – with the difference that this time, Western countries are showing a rare unanimity in condemning the aggressor.  At the time of the Bangladesh Liberation War, for reasons of their own the United States was unable to see past certain narrow political interests, and came down on the wrong side of history.  So the parallel isn’t perfect – but yes, I do believe history is repeating itself, and does in many other places and at many different levels. 

The prevention of events like that is, again, a question to which the answer goes very much beyond military history; it involves politics, diplomacy, and even ethics.  I will only say that if we want to prevent such events in future, countries need to be prepared to concede some authority to international institutions with appropriate mandates for peacekeeping, as well as peace enforcement.  Unfortunately, in the current era of hyper-nationalism, most countries (including many Western democracies) seem to be bad-mouthing and undermining such institutions, and refusing to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of such institutions.  

Q7: You have classified the book into three sections and have termed them as different storms. Can you please elaborate on that?

If I may disagree slightly, I wouldn’t describe the three sections of December in Dacca as three different storms.  I would describe them as the three periods around any storm.  The first section, ‘The Gathering Storm’ (which is also the title of the first volume of Winston Churchill’s history of the Second World War), describes the events leading up to the storm.   The second section, ‘Navigating the Storm’, describes the way the Indian armed forces and their commanders conducted the war, in the same way that the captain, officers, and crew of a ship caught in a storm at sea work together to navigate safely through the storm.  The third section, ‘After the (First) Storm’ (which is again a tiny homage to the title of the last movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, ‘Song After the Storm’) is partly a description of how Bangladesh, the country that was most devastated by the 1971 war, struggled to pick itself up and emerge from the wreckage left behind by the storm.  

It was a turbulent process, with many slips back among all the steps forward.  But after fifty years, Bangladesh today shows remarkably strong Human Development Indicators, and has overtaken India in per capita GDP.  India should be proud of its founding contribution to what is now a success story. 

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