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Book Review

Book Review : Unravelling Rich Heritage

Pintu Kumar Mahla

Pintu Kumar MahlaSep 21, 2021, 12:31 PM IST

Book Review : Unravelling  Rich Heritage


Indus Basin Uninterrupted-A History 
of Territory; Politics From Alexander to Nehru;
Publisher Vintage 
Books, Author Uttam Kumar Sinha, 
pp 368, Rs 580.00


With easy storytelling and rich archive materials, this book brings to life the tortuous journey of peace, conflict and trade in the Indus Valley. It humanises Indus River, rather than simply treating it as an exotic river basin


Rivers are always intriguing, and all rivers have a story. We have enormous examples of rivers. There is a deep history in the river. Moreover, the Indus River Basin clearly displays an extremely rich hydrological heritage, and it is still a very powerful symbol of the passage of time. Even today, the Indus River Basin has a strong influence on the socio-political structure of its operations, and in turn is affected by it. The Indus river basin is a historical representation of territory and politics from Alexander to Nehru.

It is a history of the foreign invaders and their campaigns for loot. And, it is about the views of the Mughal rulers on hydrology and the use of water resources. The Indus Basin is also the shadow of many political dilemmas. After the Partition, Indus Basin had become the part of various political upheavals and finally, as a notable pause, the Indus Waters Treaty  was signed.

Comprehending Interconnected Events 

Indus Basin Uninterrupted attempts to open a historical chapter and understand the interconnected events of the Indus Basin. This book is related to history, not historical research in the strict sense, but by identifying historical figures as figures that shape plots and decision-making. This book uses a variety of sources, from memoirs and biographies to letters and diaries.

With easy storytelling and rich archive materials, this book brings to life the tortuous journey of peace, conflict and trade in the Indus Valley. This is a series of spectacular events, changing events and miraculous personalities and characters and their actions. The book doesn’t really describe the Indus Waters Treaty as it is functioning today. It only describes how the Indus Water treaty was eventually signed and negotiated in the 1950s.

Hydrological Significance 

This book consists of five major parts which mainly focus on issues concerning the Indus Basin and its relationship with society. It ranges from conquest, commerce and territorial demarcation to the development of irrigation and colonial administration which is very significant on the part of the Indus Basin. The author tried to bring history into the book by using various archival resources and gave a sort of a contemporary relevance to the Indus Basin because the Indus Basin is not only vital in the relationship between India and Pakistan but also in terms of its hydrological importance. Water is still at the core of our development model in India, so all the rivers in India are very significant to the growth and development of this country. 

As you read this book, you will come across many characters, from Alexandria of Macedonia to Nehru, Ayub Khan, and the vice president of the World Bank who signed the treaty in 1960. The writing style is very fascinating and comprehensive. His writing style is not very academic or pedantic. This book humanises the Indus River, rather than simply treating it as an exotic river basin.

Merging Engineering With Local Skills 

The author, Uttam Kumar Sinha, has a great work on transboundary water issues. He is a research fellow at the Manohar Parrikar–Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses where he heads the non-traditional security centre. He has also written Riverine Neighborhood: Hydro-Politics in South Asia (2016) and Climate Change Narrative: Reading the Arctic (2014).

The author discussed major points in the book like the political economy and the strategic objectives of the British when they came to India and how they look at the Indus Basin. When the British came they looked at the Indus as navigation. They looked as a key driver for trade in the 19th century and then we find that navigation lost its relevance to the railways when the British came. And, the history of canals in the Indus Basin gives us a very fascinating narrative of the interaction between power and knowledge. The negotiations over rivers were carried out through formal engineering and localised skills. The British brought high-end engineering and they merged it with local skills to develop the canals. And, it gave rise to the civil engineers. There was a special class of people who understood how to manage the workers who understood how to build canals. It was an important scientific advancement which happened in the Indus Basin.

Furthermore, the author also discussed contemporary history of the Indus Basin i.e. the narration of the partition and the making of the Indus Water Treaty. There were some significant advancements which are very vital for us to know. There were some actors who influenced India’s strategic sort of well-being after the Partition and this class is the civil engineers of India.

Meticulous Research 

There was a great role of civil engineers in getting various canal heads which are strategically important to India. The most fascinating section of the book is how Nehru himself really thought about this Indus Waters Treaty and Pakistan in the larger context. The book covers debates in the Indian Parliament which remembered that many leaders were questioning the Indus Waters treaty.

This is a very important part of the book. And, this book ends with the signing of the Indus Water Treaty. The incisive analysis of the Indus Basin presented in this book is supported by a lot of facts.

Author Uttam Sinha’s research is very thorough and non-judgmental. Indus Basin Uninterrupted is a serious effort. The book is an essential reading for those trying to contemplate the historical aspect of the Indus Basin and its contemporary relevance. 




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