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WHY FRANKLAND’S BOOK STILL REMAINS RELEVANT

Frankland’s book on how the 1989 revolutions led to the retreat of communism in Europe is a good read for not only history buffs, but also present-day patriots who take pride in themselves and their nations.

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For children of the 1970s and 1980s, the sight of scores of Germans on both sides bringing down the Berlin Wall and victoriously climbing the debris and greeting each other is still etched in their minds. By sheer coincidence, I laid my hands on this book a few days back. The author, Mark Frankland (1934-2012), was a former MI6 desk officer-turned-award-winning foreign correspondent, who wrote for the London Observer from 1962 to 1992. He was also a two-time winner of the British Press Awards for foreign reporting. However, he is more famous for Child of My Time: An Englishman’s Journey in a Divided World, a frank literary memoir published in 1999 that won him the PEN Ackerley prize for an outstanding autobiography.

The 20th century was arguablythe most eventful century in the history of the world. We saw two World Wars, the horrendous Holocaust by the Nazis, and also the end of imperialism and the liberation of many European colonies in all continents. Simultaneously, we also saw the rise of communism as well as oppression, genocide and massacres perpetrated by Communist (Marxist-Leninist) regimes. The reign of communism started with the October Revolution and the establishment of the USSR in 1917, and gradually spread to China and other countries. Its most fertile period was between 1940 and 1979 when it was established, by force or otherwise, in more than 35 countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. But soon enough it started to crumble.

The fall of communism and the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc started with a popular revolution in Poland in 1988, which continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, etc. The high point was the fall of the Berlin Wall—on 9 November 1989, thousands of jubilant Germans brought down the most visible symbol of division at the heart of Europe, The Iron Curtain or the Berlin Wall. In March 1990, the backbone of the communist world, the superpower Soviet Union (USSR), collapsed and split into many countries.

As a foreign correspondent, Frankland was in an advantageous position to observe the divided world from both sides. In 1989, he was an eye-witness as he covered the uprisings in Eastern Europe that brought the end of communism and ended the Cold War. He wrote, The Patriots’ Revolution: How Eastern Europe Toppled Communism and Won Its Freedom, based on his own reportage and observations on the ground.

The Patriots’ Revolution is the most contemporary account of the revolutions of 1989 as it was written as they happened. Frankland made it clear from the title itself that he viewed the revolutions as patriotic revolutions; this is at variance with the view taken by later day writers that it was a simple victory of capitalism over communism. His narration establishes that economic freedom may be one of the elements leading to uprisings, but not the predominant one. The desire for goods that had been hitherto unavailable was part of it, but people were more enthused by what patriotism and democracy would bring in. Here, Frankland enquires into a more fundamental question as to what is the primary driving force in the uprisings, what jolts people out of their lethargy and motivates them adequately to leave their couches and step on to the streets. His conclusions, which are more in the form of discoveries arrived at after scholarly research, explain how the feeling of patriotism can inspire people. Patriotism, pride in the self, pride in one’s own identity and pride in one’s country are natural and instinctive and form the primary motivation driving these revolutions.

Most European countries have gone through the history of uprisings or revolutions against conservative regimes in the last two centuries. This history was fresh in the minds of people; cities even had monuments erected for the heroes of these revolutions. Democracy, liberalism and patriotism were the driving forces in these centuries, whereas communism rejected the idea of the nation and did away with democracy. However, communist governments did not dare destroy the monuments erected for the heroes of earlier liberal revolutions. During the spontaneous Hungarian Revolution in 1956, against Stalinism, people walked from statue to statue in remembrance of previous revolutionaries. After 33 years, in 1989, they walked the same route again.

Frankland, on the strength of his reporting of these dramatic events for TheObserver, describes how the powerful communist system crumbled with little or no resistance in the face of demonstrators armed only with candles and slogans of protest. Replete with rich imagery and insights, his work captures the spirit of the times, the hearts of common men and women, important leaders and the defeated communists too.His nuanced and elegiac prose vividly paints the prevalent disaffection and brewing resentment and its roots. The book is an honest and truthful report on what it looked like and how it felt, and portrays what communism meant for its subjects and thereby divulges the reasons for its astonishingly sudden evanescence. The reader can verily relive the most breath-taking and extraordinary epoch in history. This book provides an excellent primer to understanding post-communist Eastern Europe. 

Since Frankland wrote the book as the events unfolded, unlike later writers who viewed the revolutions through ideologically tinted glasses, the book scores high on contemporaneousness and verity. It is a valuable book for anyone interested in true world history.

Sreenivas Bidari is a senior IRS officer, a nationalist, passionate about social service, working for the poor and for the preservation of our civilisational values.

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The Break of Dawn

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Khan Mahboob Tarzi, translated by Prof. Ali Khan Mahmudabad

Penguin Random House, Rs 399

It’s the searing month of June, the rebellion against the British has just begun and Awadh is up in flames. Hindus and Muslims have joined hands to overthrow the foreign rulers and set India free. Some Indian rulers have started to enter into alliances to fight the foreigners, while others have thrown in their lot with them. A young soldier Riyaz Khan saves a group of Britishers from fellow ‘mutineers’ and escorts them safely to Lucknow. In this group is Alice, who falls in love with him and eventually becomes an informer for the rebels. Khan Mahboob Tarzi wrote the novel on the centenary of the uprising. Its English translation is done by Ali Khan Mahmudabad.

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Three young girls go missing from a prominent ‘native’ Bombay school. Their families are frantic with worry. Tara Bai, a young widow and heiress, with strong social connections, is an alumnus of the school who agrees to help the grieving parents. Police officer Arun Rao is assigned to the case. Soon, one of the missing girls is found dead on the shores of Colaba. It has uncanny similarities to older cases from Central India involving the royal family of Jaiwar. A chance encounter at the home of one of the victims brings Tara and Arun together who unmask the murderer.

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How to survive in a big fat Indian family business

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In her new book, Priyanka Gupta Zielinski shares a five-point toolkit to encourage younger generations wishing to enter their family businesses.

In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, Priyanka Gupta Zielinski, the executive director of MPIL Steel Structures Ltd and author of The Ultimate Family Business Survival Guide, shared her insights about the challenges and privileges of family businesses and how younger generations can be more passionate about them. Excerpts:

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: I joined my family business right after completing my education in the US. Quickly, I realised that it was incredibly challenging to work with my own family, especially my father. When the founding generation is still involved in the business, it is still their baby. So while they are very keen to bring in their children, they are not always prepared to do so. At home, we talked about the business all the time, but in the workplace, there are a lot of tensions and conflicts. I had almost reached the breaking point and thought I would have to quit. But I managed to survive, which is why I wrote this book. Younger generations joining family businesses often need a guide or story to rely on.

Q: What are some major lessons you wish to pass on to younger generations and women who may consider joining their family businesses?

A: Family businesses are a huge resource that they should leverage. They may use it to branch out and bring in their own interests and passions, even steer it in a different direction. The resources already exist and they don’t have to start from scratch. There is a legacy of information which should be taken forward instead of losing it. There is also a lot they can learn from their background. Despite our business moving to the southern and western parts of India, my father draws from a lot of Haryanvi wisdom to work with greater agility and troubleshoot problems. Every state and culture in India has so much to offer and one does not need to look only at Western knowledge — it might actually not be suitable for Indian contexts.

For women, family businesses are an immediate platform and resource to tap into. There is a certain flexibility available to them, regarding when and how they enter it. It is an automatic launchpad, which they can then tailor according to their interests and capabilities and personalities. A woman in her 50s, who has seen the family business, will have a much easier time starting her career there, rather than in a different corporate setup. It caters to young women too. Daughters-in-law joining a family business have a good two-way opportunity, which does not disrupt their careers despite the move from their parents’ to their in-laws. There is support they can enjoy.

Q: But such support is a major point of privilege and this throws up questions of how family businesses encourage nepotism.

A: That is a frequent charge against family businesses and the perception is right in a way since there are privileges and things are handed down. But, say in my case, my brother and I grew up hearing about the business, visiting the workplace, understanding it and being groomed unknowingly. And we really wanted to join it too! In this context, there is also the ‘professional nepot’, as defined by Prof John Davis who is a pioneer in family business management. But if one is neither trained nor interested, it can have an adverse effect on the business and surely a non-family member can do the job better. So, it depends from family to family too. However, family members may be more suited to handle certain situations, especially diffuse tension at work. And there is an element of legacy and longevity associated with them, which tells shareholders that they can count on the business.

Q: Given the fluctuations in the economy due to the pandemic, how can your book help family businesses right now?

A: My book presents a practical, usable toolkit for younger generations, especially for times of scarcity and unpredictable situations like now. Family businesses are used to working against all odds. They have inherent skillsets. With this, I have drawn from my experiences and from academic research to give them five tools they can use. For instance, the metaphor of the multipurpose helmet I have used to show how you have to take on different roles in different situations. The book also tells them to be passionate about things outside of work and learn how to incorporate those.

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HOW NEHRU DEFENDED INDUS WATER TREATY

Jawaharlal Nehru signed the Indus Water Treaty with Gen Ayub Khan of Pakistan in 1960. The then Prime Minister defended the agreement in Parliament and explained to its members why it was a good deal for India.

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Jawaharlal Nehru had witnessed it all. The bloody Partition, the canal disputes, the exchange of letters with Lilienthal and Black, the droughts of 1957-58 that saw agriculture losses in India as high as 50 per cent, the long years of water negotiations and the uncomfortable task of having to deal with the seven prime ministers in Pakistan who were sacked from 1947 to 1958.

As fate presented, Nehru, a model of democratic leadership, had to sign the Indus treaty with Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military dictator. There could not be a greater irony. But now, in front of the House, Nehru had to respond to the sentiments of the Opposition as well as some of his party members in what probably was one of his biggest defences, on an issue which had bedevilled him for long. Some of his cabinet members had expressed strong reservations over the financial and strategic implications of the treaty. These included the incorruptible and the very austere finance minister Morarji Desai and Krishna Menon, the defence minister, who was being disparagingly referred to as “India’s Rasputin”.

After having patiently listened for almost two hours to the speeches of the members, Nehru rose to speak on the fateful day on 30 November 1960. As the leader of the House, exhilarated as he always was on such occasions, Nehru began a shade aggressively by expressing his disappointment over the members’ view on the issue.

A host of critical questions had been put forward by the House broadly signifying India’s foolhardy generosity, its unnecessary commitments and inability to settle the Partition debts. Concerns over the Kashmir issue, dispute regarding the Rann of Kutch, status of “Azad Kashmir” where the Mangla dam was being constructed by Pakistan while India’s proposal to build a dam over Chenab was put on hold owing to Pakistan’s insidious pressure, were ventilated by the members with a full sense of their responsibility. Nehru had his plate full, had made notes while carefully listening to the speakers and with “passion but not with malice” set about answering it.

Nehru agreed that the events since the canal dispute of 1948 had not been a pleasant period and one of great frustration, but in the same breath humbly submitted that “it is a good treaty for India and I have no doubt about it in my mind”. While assuring the House that close attention was paid to each detail, he tactfully praised the engineers who fought for India’s interest strenuously. As the prime minister, “I got only the broad facts,” noted Nehru and the engineers were the “experts in this matter”.

He came back to the canal dispute explaining that the time and circumstances then were radically different, “It was not a detailed examination; it was a broad approach. I regret to say that that approach was not followed later by the other side, as it often happens”.

The role of the World Bank was a less controversial issue to respond to, given that the House was not categorically vehement about the World Bank’s role except for some pointed observations by (Odia writer Surendra) Mahanty.

For Nehru, the World Bank’s engagement in the negotiations was an ‘ordinary thing to happen’, least of all alarming; “they were not becoming arbitrators or anything”.

Recalling his conversations with Lilienthal and Black on the active support of the World Bank, Nehru said, “It was only a question of an attempt, if you like, at the most, to help in our coming to an agreement between ourselves. They could not impose anything.”

From his disappointment on what he felt was the ‘narrow mindedness’ of the House on the treaty to his explanation of the circumstances of history and the complexities of the issue, Nehru enlightened the House on the question of consulting Parliament. “Are we to come at every step and ask Parliament?”

Allowing the rhetorical question to seep in, he then elaborated, “Very wisely, the Constitution and convention lay down that in such agreements, Government has to stake its own judgement, its future, on it. There is no other way. One takes a risk; maybe that Government may go wrong. But there is no [o]ther way to deal with it.”

However skilfully Nehru tried to separate himself as the carrier of a ‘broad perspective’ from the nitty-gritty of the negotiations that the engineers engaged in, there was an undeniable Nehruvian internationalist mindset to the entire water issue with Pakistan. Nehru’s interest in international problems was well known. His ideals of oneness, though, clashed with the realities of power politics and interest-oriented relations which he understood but adamantly refused to accept. More than a decade ago, he had hoped for an emergence of Asia as an influence on world peace, which soon fell apart.

Later, his famous enunciation at the Bandung Conference in 1955 that laid the foundation for the Non-Aligned Movement, “let us not align ourselves but have a line of our own”, was immediately contradicted by the creation of two military pacts, the SEATO and the Baghdad Pact (later CENTO). On the Indus treaty, having heard the diatribes, he asked the House, “Is that the way to approach an international question?”

And in a pedantic tone expressed, “Something is done because it is considered, in the balance, that is desirable… In such matters there has to be give and take.”

Nehru did regret the fact that the negotiations were long-drawn and that he had anticipated a year at best to reach a settlement. But there was no remorse in stating, “We purchased a settlement, if you like; we purchased peace and it is good for both countries.”

Nehru excused himself from the House as he had to accompany the crown prince and crown princess of Japan who were on a visit to India, but not before he clarified the issue of consultation with the state governments on the negotiations, “Whenever any proposals were put before me, I asked the Commonwealth Secretary [M.J. Desai] . . . Only when he said ‘Yes’, did I look into it… It may be that what the Commonwealth Secretary reported to me was due to some misunderstanding. He thought that they agreed when they had not.”

It is a pity that Nehru did not stay on for the entire length of the debate as Vajpayee raised an important question on the Indus Commission. He cited Ayub, who soon after the treaty was signed had said, “By accepting the procedure for joint inspection of the river courses, India has, by implication, conceded the principle of joint control extending to the upper region of Chenab and Jhelum, and joint control comprehends joint possession.”

The excerpt is from the book ‘Indus Basin Uninterrupted’ (published by Penguin Random House).

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