Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Propaganda and Information in Eastern India 1939-45. A Necessary Weapon of War, Curzon Press, London, 2001, pp. xiv + 242, £45.00 HB
The impact of the second world war upon the colonial state in India has not received much scholarly attention, despite the recent renewal of historiographical interest in the 1940s. Bhattacharya's exploration of this theme through a richly detailed study of propaganda and censorship between 1939 and 1945 thus fills an important gap in our understanding of a critical period in the history of the subcontinent. It provides a very useful and sensible corrective to commonly held assumptions about the sinister pervasiveness of colonial propaganda. Bhattacharya shows how limited and flawed were the state's propaganda drives, even at a time when positive publicity was perceived as being critically important to its survival. Hamstrung by a lack of resources, operating in conditions of unprecedented economic crisis and forced to justify unpopular wartime policies, British propaganda initiatives were torn between playing to the gallery of public opinion (both Indian and international) and shoring up the morale of its increasingly beleaguered officials and collaborators. The one demanded publicity for the promise of a transfer of power to a responsible Indian government after the war, whereas the other called for measures designed to placate nervous allies and to insulate, as far as possible, the army and the workers who manned its allied industries, from bad news. It was in many ways a doomed effort, and Bhattacharya shows us that many of those involved in designing and implementing this strategy of propaganda were only too well aware of the impossibility of their task.
Bhattacharya also, and perhaps more importantly, deploys his subject to throw light from a fresh angle upon key themes in the history of the Raj. By looking carefully and closely at the process by