Scandal in Mesopotamia: press, empire and India during the First World War

Manu Sehgal, Samiksha Sehrawat

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By providing the first comprehensive account of the role of the British and Indian press in war propaganda, this article makes an intervention in the global history of the First World War. The positive propaganda early in the war, intertwined with a rhetoric of loyalism, contrasted with how the conservative British press affixed blame for military defeats in Mesopotamia upon the colonial regime's failure to effectively mobilize India's resources. Using a highly emotive and enduring trope of the ‘Mesopotamia muddle’, the Northcliffe press was successful in channelling a high degree of public scrutiny onto the campaign. The effectiveness of this criticism ensured that debates about the Mesopotamian debacle became a vehicle for registering criticism of structures of colonial rule and control in India. On the one hand, this critique hastened constitutional reforms and devolution in colonial India and, on the other, it led to demands that the inadequacy of India's contribution to the war be remedied by raising war loans. Both the colonial government and its nationalist critics were briefly and paradoxically united in opposing these demands. The coercive extraction of funds for the imperial war effort as well as the British press's vituperative criticism contributed to a post-war, anti-colonial political upsurge. The procedure of creating a colonial ‘scandal’ out of a military disaster required a specific politics for assessing the regulated flows of information, which proved to be highly effective in shaping both the enquiry that followed and the politics of interwar colonial South Asia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1395-1445
Number of pages51
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number5
Early online date24 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

SEHGAL, M., & SEHRAWAT, S. (n.d.). Scandal in Mesopotamia: Press, empire, and India during the First World War. Modern Asian Studies, 1-51. doi:10.1017/S0026749X18000215


  • First World War
  • India
  • Empire
  • Press
  • Mesopotamia
  • censorship
  • Colonialism
  • British politics
  • South Asia
  • News
  • newspapers
  • news and rumour

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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