ICWA-USI International Conference
22-23 April 2021; Virtual
Welcome Address by Dr. TCA Raghavan, DG, ICWA
(22 April 2021)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning or Good Afternoon, as the case may be in the part of the world where you are right now. Owing to the pandemic, we have had to conduct this event online, and I am conscious that there is an 8-hour time-gap between the geographical locations of some of our delegates. It has meant juggling the programme slightly, but I am glad to say that we have managed to arrange the sessions to everyone’s convenience.
As you will be aware, this conference has been jointly organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs and the United Service Institution of India. I would like to begin by welcoming all of you on behalf of the ICWA and the USI, to this two-day conference that seeks to revisit the events and legacies of the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.
Our partner in this, the USI, is primarily a military institution. And a venerable one at that, having just finished a 150 years of its existence last year. It is possibly India’s oldest think tank although to use the term would be somewhat anachronistic in explaining USI’s origins. The ICWA is also a think tank and has also the distinction of being the oldest. It is the oldest and the first institution in India devoted to foreign affairs and established as an entirely indigenous and non governmental impulse in 1943.
In planning this joint endeavour we do not seek to derive military lessons from the past, no matter how relevant they might be. It seeks instead to better understand how differing perceptions of the past that derive from a historical culture in different ways are used to provide a context for the present and shape the future. Our use of history in the current instance can therefore be defined as an attempt to understand how narrative enactments of the past are applied to create meaning, orient the present and influence the future.That in history there is a Rashoman effect is well known: Different narratives and narrators view the past and often the same event differently.
The context of this understanding is therefore not just a military one. It extends to the domains of the diplomatic and the political legacies that were the outcomes of this very significant military episode; and the manner in which these events went on to shape the societies of the participants and the nations of the world.
The First World War resulted in over 8.5 million military and 13 million civil casualties and marked the beginning of the end of the age of empires, including the British Raj in India. By the end of the war therefore a ‘terrible new beauty’ was born- paraphrasing W B Yeats writing about another colonial context in Europe in 1916. By the time the war ended Indian nationalism was less of a debating society and a full fledged mass movement.
The War was a defining conflict in world history.
India’s role in this conflict was largely forgotten, till it was resurrected by the USI and MEA during the global centenary commemorations that lasted four years from 2014-2018. The commemorations were marked by a renewed interest in the very considerable Indian contribution to the conflict.
Though a colony at the time, India actively supported the war effort in its bid to gain Dominion status. The overwhelming majority of mainstream political opinion in 1914 was united in the view that if India desired greater responsibility and political autonomy, it must also be willing to share in the burden of Imperial defence.
As a result, India contributed immensely to the war effort in terms of both men and material. Her soldiers served with credit and honour in numerous battlefields around the world. By the end of the war 1.4 million Indians had been recruited and 1.3 million Indians had served overseas at the cost of 74,000 dead. They earned over 9,200 decorations for gallantry including 11 Victoria Crosses. These figures include the contribution of over 26,000 Imperial Service troops who were a part of the Indian States Forces.
Among the theatres of war on which Indian soldiers fought, was Gallipoli. However, despite the fact that it served with honour at Gallipoli, not just with, but as a part of, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps from August onwards, this contribution has been relegated largely to a passing mention in most accounts of the campaign. Part of the reason for this lies in the political history of British India. On the eve of the First World War, India was still a colony, agitating for Dominion status within the Empire; a status that the colonial authorities were loath to confer.
In the words of the Indian military historian, Rana Chhina: “The lack of a political identity in 1915, thus served to rob Indian soldiers not just of an acknowledgement of their role, or of a commemoration of their sacrifice, but also of their place in history.”
Yet Gallipoli is unique amongst military campaigns of the Great War, for it carries a significance not shared by the others. This was a significance that affected not one, not two, but THREE of the belligerent nations in a deeply profound way.
Wars are often the harbingers of change. The shared comradeship, travails, hardships and horrors of Gallipoli provided the nascent Commonwealth of Australia, and New Zealand, with a shared sense of purpose and identity. It is said to have been the cornerstone of the formation of a national consciousness, embodied in the famous ANZAC spirit and is an association cherished by the citizens of these countries to this day.
Similarly, Gallipoli has an enormous significance for modern Turkey as well. This goes beyond the very justifiable pride that the people of Turkey have in the valour and sacrifice of their soldiers in not just holding, but also repelling, the Allied invasion of their country. The defence of Gallipoli by Turkey brought into prominence the man who would later be known as one of the greatest Statesmen of the twentieth century, and the founder of modern Turkey— none other than Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”. That Ataturk was a far-sighted Statesman is amply illustrated by his words addressed to the families of those Allied soldiers that fell in the fighting at Gallipoli:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours ... You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
For India, the outcome of Gallipoli lay in its political aspirations. And while these were not met in the aftermath of the war, they did serve to act as a catalyst for political change, setting in motion events that would lead to the end of the British Raj.
Gallipoli’s significance also lies in the fact that Indian troops fought alongside troops from other nationalities, including UK, France, Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC), affording a unique opportunity to witness a world and politics beyond the geographical confines of the Indian Subcontinent. The experiences of Indians who participated therein opened their eyes to new cultures and ideas, which they brought back with them to infuse into the nationalist struggle and their conception of what the future would be.
This conference serves as an opportunity to commemorate the lives lost in the Gallipoli campaign, both on the Allied and the Turkish side. It also serves as a venue to recall the various legacies of the battle for the participant nations. A key lesson of Gallipoli is that the various participants increasingly felt that they should be the ones to control their political destinies and futures.
Indians participated in the war as equals, not merely subalterns. The contribution of Indian soldiers to the war effort was far greater than the returns at the time. Indian troops in Mesopotamia accounted for 80 per cent of those who fought in these campaigns. Some gains came later: participation in the war, and particularly the experiences gained at Gallipoli, in France and Belgium, led to the formalisation, modernisation, expansion and reorganisation of the military in India. In the inter-war years, the Indian Air Force was established. Just two decades hence, Indians would find themselves participating in the Second World War, in geographies and theatres ranging from Southeast Asia to the Subcontinent, West Asia, North Africa and in Europe. The numbers speak for themselves: in the First World War, around 1.5 million Indians took part as mentioned earlier, while in the Second World War, it numbered 2.5 million.
India’s not insignificant contribution to the First World War, both in terms of troops and financial and political support, did have positive diplomatic outcomes as well. This began with independent representation at the Paris Peace Conference held in 1919 followed by entry into the League of Nations in 1920, automatically obtained by virtue of India being a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles. In 1945, India would go on to be a founder member of the UN. Post-independence in 1947, India built on the legacy of the brave men who fought and gave their lives in the two World Wars. It has from the earliest days been a strong supporter of the UN and a keen participant in UN Peacekeeping missions. One of the earliest peacekeeping missions that Indian troops participated in was in West Asia, as part of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) during the Suez Crisis in 1956. India has continued to demonstrate its belief in and support for the UN through continued participation in peacekeeping operations in the region.
I take this opportunity to once again welcome all delegates to this conference which is bringing together distinguished scholars from different parts of the world, each one of them an expert in their respective fields, to discuss and review various aspects of the Gallipoli campaign and its legacies in the light of contemporary scholarship.
We are fortunate that the External Affairs Minister of India Dr. S. Jaishankar has agreed to participate in this conference which seeks to commemorate the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915 with a special emphasis on the role played by Indian soldiers.Military historians, diplomats, academics from New Zealand, Turkey, UK, Australia and India are scheduled to speak at the Conference. An illustrated book will also be published jointly by ICWA and USI on the theme following the seminar.We are deeply indebted to Dr S. Jaishankar for finding the time to join us despite all the pressures on his time. He is also the Vice President of the ICWA and and accomplished scholar of contemporary history and world affairs. I would now like to invite Dr. S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister of India to deliver the Keynote Address.