March 30, 2020
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Remember 1945?

Remember 1945?
In June and July, Europe, the US and Russia have been celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over the Axis forces in World War II. You’d have thought the victory was entirely due to the British, the Americans and the Russians. Wrong! There were 2.5 million men from the Indian subcontinent. They played a crucial, perhaps decisive, role in the Allied victory. On D-Day, when Allied troops landed on the Normandy coast, the battle of Kohima in Northeast India was reaching a climax. The Japanese forces were eventually repulsed in a battle that Lord Louis Mountbatten later described as "one of the greatest in history". It saw some of the closest, bloodiest fighting of the war. In a cemetery on Garrison Hill, surrounded by trees and rhododendron bushes, lie 1,378 brave men. The inscription reads: "When you go home/tell them of us and say/for their tomorrow,/we gave our today."

That battle saved India from being invaded by the Japanese. Indeed, they suffered their biggest defeats on land not at the hands of the Americans but the Indian army. At the second battle of Sittan River in Burma, 13,000 Japanese men perished. The loss to British and Indian troops? Ninety five! Meanwhile, on the North African and European front, troops from the Indian subcontinent covered themselves with glory. The Fifth Indian Division fought the Italians in Sudan, then the Germans in Libya, after which it was shifted to Iraq to protect the oil fields, before being moved to the Burma and Malaya front, finally going to Indonesia to disarm the Japanese there. Personnel from the Indian subcontinent received 4,000 gallantry awards and 31 Victoria Crosses, the highest gallantry award given by the British army.

I got all this information by spending a day at the United Services Institute library in New Delhi. How come the ministry of defence played dumb? The 60th anniversary of the Allied victory should have been a perfect occasion to relate a great and courageous story in the media, as was done all over the West and the former USSR. I saw nothing. Okay, the Indian army consisted of what are now Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Nepalis. So what?

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