Settled Strangers : Asian Business Elites in East Africa (1800-2000)
Author : Gijsbert Oonk
Sage Publications (I) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; Year:2013; Pages:270; Price:Rs.795
Reviewed by Brig. Suresh C. Sharma (retd.), freelance writer and adviser to the telecom industry. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The term “settled strangers” is applied to a migrant population which has settled for three or more generations at a new location. Alas, the “settlers” are not integrated with the local population.
The book aims at understanding the business, migration and economic history of the Asians in East Africa. It provides a history of South Asians through interviews with the families settled there. Continue reading →
Sayyid Ahmad Barailvi – His Movement and Legacy from the Pukhtun Perspective
Author : Altaf Qadir
Sage Publications (I) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; Year:2015; Pages:224; Price:Rs.895
Reviewed by Brig. Suresh C. Sharma (retd.), freelance writer and advisor to the telecom industry. E-mail: email@example.com
The author has analysed the reform and jihad of the Mujahidin movement of Sayyid Ahmad Barailvi. He was born in 1786 in Raebareily in Oudh State. His family was known for its piety and had served the rulers of the State. After visiting various cities, he started a movement for purifying the Muslims of India. He selected NWFP to start the movement as it gave him an opportunity to confront the expanding Sikh rule. Continue reading →
Raghu Karnad’s Farthest Field – An Indian Story of the Second World War was published in mid-2015. So this review is a little late, but the book and its content remain eminently worthwhile subjects for discussion. It is, in some important ways, different from many other books on the subject.
Farthest Field, essentially, follows the lives of Karnad’s grand-father, and two of his grand-father’s brothers-in-law, all three of whom served during the Second World War. One each joined the Indian Army, the Indian Air Force, and the Indian Medical Service (the organization delivering medical services to the armed forces of India which, till the late 1930s, was a separate military organization). Almost hilariously mirroring today’s Indian middle-class obsessions for children’s careers, Karnad’s three protagonists are a doctor, an engineer and a pilot. The book covers their individual stories, ranges widely over the historic background, wonderfully captures the feel of the times, and delivers a masterful summary of the Indian contribution to the Second World War. Continue reading →
A Governors’ Raj – British Administration during Lord Irwin’s Viceroyalty, 1926-1931
Author : Michael Fenwick Macnamara
Sage Publications (I) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; Year:2015; Pages:250; Price:Rs.895
Reviewed by Brig. Suresh C. Sharma (retd.), freelance writer and advisor to the telecom industry. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The British were foreign conquerors and ruled India for their own benefit. The rule also brought benefits of railways, canals and improved agriculture to the people. Along with military subjugation, they talked of Independence too. The author examines the papers of Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India, during 1926 to 1931 to explore the truth of these perceptions and the role played by the governors in the administration. Continue reading →
Sage Publications (I) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; Year:2014; Pages:164; Price:Rs.795
Reviewed by Dr. Usha Thakkar, President, Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya; Former Professor & Head, Department of Political Science, S.N.D.T. Women’s University, Mumbai.
The issue of diversity management within multicultural states has acquired serious dimension in our times, especially after the disintegration of Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia in the 1990s. The quest for recognition of identity has led to severe identity assertion conflicts and movements throughout the world. The conflicts have become more complex and multidimensional. Continue reading →
Publishers : Indian Secular Society, Mumbai; Year:2014; Pages:197
Readers of Freedom First will remember a series titled “Rites, Rituals and Festivals” published in its issues between December 2007 and October 2009 where Mrs. Suman Oak, retired professor of education, SNDT University had enlightened the readers on nine festivals as and when they occurred in a particular month. Her book under review is not only a compilation of these articles, but it is much more than what was published in the pages of Freedom First.
Brigadier Suresh C. Sharma, our regular contributor, provides a brief review of the book. Continue reading →
Sage Publications (I) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; Year:2015; Pages:180; Price:Rs.650
Reviewed By : Brig. Suresh C. Sharma (retd.)
The media in the USA coined the phrase “Islamic terror” after the 9/11 tragedy and the same phrase was adopted by the media and the public to describe terror attacks that occurred from 2004 to 2012. Continue reading →
Brig. (retd.) Suresh C. Sharma, a familiar name to our readers, gives an overview of K. Natwar Singh’s “One Life Is Not Enough – An Autobiography” published in 2014. This write-up is a brief summary of the book (though we have categorized it under “Book Reviews” section). A review (by Prof. P. M. Kamath) of the book was published in Freedom First of April 2015.
Natwar Singh narrates his experiences as a diplomat and politician in his autobiography One Life Is Not Enough.
Congress Party Stint
He came under the spell of Nehru when he met him as an IFS probationer. He served as a diplomat under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and resigned in 1984 to join politics. He became Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs [MEA] under Rajiv Gandhi and continued to help Sonia Gandhi after Rajiv’s assassination. He accompanied her at various visits to foreign countries and was a favourite of the ‘dynasty’ till his name figured in the Volcker Report as beneficiary in the “Oil for Food” programme in Iraq. The Volcker Report mentioned the Congress Party as a beneficiary. Justice Pathak Commission exonerated the Congress and commented that there was no evidence of material gains by Natwar Singh. The Congress Party spokesperson and Dr. Manmohan Singh put the entire blame on Natwar Singh who resigned from the Party and the Cabinet. Natwar Singh believes that Sonia Gandhi did so in order to save the Congress. It is possible that she may have done this in order to save the real culprits.
The loyalist, having been let down, became a strong critic of the Congress, Dr. Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. Natwar Singh comments that Dr. Manmohan Singh never forgets a slight, but his expression does not show it. The latter had no foreign policy. Whenever he planned a visit to Pakistan, some anti-India incident took place leading to its cancellation. After one of the meetings with him, Nawaz Sharif remarked that it is useless talking to him and that he rather wait and speak to the next Prime Minister.
On learning about Natwar Singh writing a book, Sonia Gandhi called on him and her gushing greeting bewildered him. It was so out of her character to do so after eighteen and a half years. Swallowing her pride she had come to her closest friend.
While working in the PMO’s office, Natwar Singh recommended benign neglect of Pakistan, for nothing bothered Pakistan more than indifference. However, his advice was ignored. As Ambassador in Pakistan, he resolutely stood his ground. The late Zia-ul-Haq told him “Kunwar Saheb, Kashmir is in our blood.” Natwar Singh responded “It is in our bone marrow.” During his tenure in Pakistan, he realized the futility of trying to address the Pakistani people. The people always supported their country’s foreign policy. He took active part in the negotiations for the Indo-US nuclear deal.
On Sri Lanka
Natwar Singh narrates the events that lead to the tragedy in Sri Lanka. In the SAARC summit held in Bangalore in November 1986, the then President of Sri Lanka, J. R. Jayewardene broke the unwritten rule of not raising any bilateral issues and criticized India’s support to the Tamil militants. Rajiv Gandhi instructed Natwar Singh and P. Chidambaram to meet M. G. Ramachandran, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu who considered Jaffna an extension of his state and provided financial and military aid to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was staying with him. President Jayewardene learnt about this and demanded that Prabhakaran be handed over to them. Having achieved success in negotiating accords in Assam and Punjab, Rajiv Gandhi felt confident of Accord with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka also blamed RAW for hijacking their aircraft in which sixteen persons died and some forty injured.
Sri Lankan forces cordoned off Jaffna in May 1987 and stopped supplies of essential commodities. Food sent by India in ships was interrupted by Sri Lanka navy. India air-dropped supplies on 22 July 1987 which enraged the Sri Lanka Government. They intensified their campaign and Prabhakaran sought peace through N. Ram, editor, The Hindu. Prabhakaran demanded devolution, merger of Eastern and Northern areas and recognition of Tamil language at par with Sinhalese. A draft agreement was prepared by a team led by Natwar Singh. No military officer was included in the team. Prabhakaran was put up at Ashoka Hotel, New Delhi and pressurized by M. G. Ramachandran to agree after a promise of monetary compensation. Only one instalment had been paid. No further payments were made as, within three months, LTTE was at war with the Indian Army. Rajiv got irritated when Natwar Singh suggested to take Prabhakaran’s agreement in writing. The only person who had reservations about the agreement was P. V. Narasimha Rao.
Rajiv Gandhi, accompanied by Narasimha Rao, Natwar Singh and a large number of MPs from Tamil Nadu went to Colombo on 29 July 1987 and signed the India-Sri Lanka Accord at 3.00 p.m. They had to fly by helicopter from the airport as the road had been blocked by Sri Lankans protesting against the Accord. Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister and Defence Minister did not attend the signing ceremony and the reception that followed. Jayewardene and Rajiv were engaged in a serious discussion during the reception after which Rajiv told Natwar Singh that Jayewardene had requested for immediate support of the Indian Army to ensure peace and added that he had already ordered the Army. Rajiv had taken this important decision without consulting his Cabinet Ministers or the military commanders. The next day (30 July 1987) Rajiv was attacked by a Lankan guard during the naval Guard of Honour. It was an expression of simmering discontent by Sri Lankans.
The Indian Peace Keeping Force [IPKF] arrived in Sri Lanka in August 1987 without a clear brief of their mission, intelligence and information of terrain in Jaffna. Everyone was trying to control the IPKF operations. Soon the Indian Army was at war with the LTTE. The COAS (Chief of Army Staff) General K. Sunderji had hoped to take care of the LTTE in two weeks. J. N. Dixit, who was the main adviser to Rajiv blamed others for having been misguided about the political, military and intelligence factors. K. C. Verma, Director, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) was conducting talks with Jayewardene without the knowledge of the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs. Jayewardene remarked sarcastically to Dixit “How many policies does the Government of India have regarding the Sri Lanka situation?” When Lt. Gen. Depinder Singh, the Army Commander suggested to the COAS to seek clarification from the government on some issue, he commented “Woh sunta nahin hai.” [They do not listen.]
The story of payment to LTTE by the Government of India was leaked by an Indian journalist. It was timed to block a new peace initiative by RAW. The leak was traced to Dixit. Monetary payment to the LTTE was to help the LTTE to change over from violence to a peaceful life. In 1988, Jayewardene stepped down and Ranasinghe Premdasa took over as President of Sri Lanka. He dismantled the policy of Accord. In India, Rajiv lost the elections in 1989 and V. P. Singh recalled the IPKF who were received with black flags at Chennai.
Sri Lanka erected a monument in 2008 to honour the 1155 Indian soldiers who made their supreme sacrifice. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh did not visit the inauguration of the monument. The IPKF martyrs had laid down their lives, not in the defence of their motherland, but due to misguided policies of the Congress Government which chose to ignore the IPKF.
Sanbun Publishers, New Delhi; Year of publication:2014; Pages:192; Price:Rs.225
Reviewed by K. S. Nair, son and son-in-law of IAF officers; life-long student of the IAF’s history and author of several articles on the IAF. His book “Ganesha’s Flyboys” tells the story of the IAF in the Congo in the 1960s. E-mail: email@example.com
The name Cecil V. Parker should immediately be recognizable to those who remember the 1971 war. Air Vice-Marshal Cecil Vivian Parker, MVC, VM, is one of less than twenty Indian Air Force personnel since Independence who have received the Maha Vir Chakra, India’s second-highest gallantry decoration. For 28 years, he was the only MVC recipient from his home state, until Major Padmapani Acharya (the role played by actor Nagarjuna Akkineni, in the film LOC Kargil) posthumously received the same decoration in 1999.
AVM Parker’s MVC was the mid-point of an IAF career with many distinctions. He remained active after leaving the IAF, in the private sector and in teaching. Gifted with an engaging writing style, he has written frequently, during and after his period of service. His articles have appeared in services and aviation journals, general interest magazines, and in newspapers. Airlooms, the whimsically-titled book under review is a collection of some sixty-odd of these pieces.
Airlooms is certainly not AVM Parker’s “memoirs” – though Indian aviation aficionados would have appreciated that. The pieces making up this collection are mostly light recollections of escapades and situations from his life, sometimes harum-scarum, sometimes dramatic, but not necessarily of special historic or military significance. Many are tributes to colleagues; most have a services flavour, but some are simple family stories, and a few are reflections on management or leadership challenges. They are cheerful in tone, always enjoyable and, at times, thought-provoking.
The tone is sunny and self-deprecating; the humour is nothing so much as – this may be an odd word to use about a highly-decorated warrior, but it is appropriate – gentle. The tenor throughout is fatherly, and understanding of human foible. The armed forces career offers opportunities, indeed demands, to exercise courage, certainly. But often it simply pitchforks a young officer into situations where he has to take some personal chastisement and, if he grows appropriately later, into situations where he has to dish some out. AVM Parker’s stories demonstrate numerous lessons learnt; and when his turn came, passed on.
There is, characteristically, nothing in this collection on the exploits of derring-do that earned AVM Parker his decorations. There is, and I think this is significant, just one short wartime piece. It recounts an unplanned attack on a train encountered in the wrong place. Then-Wing Commander Parker realized, literally just as he rolled his formation into the attack, that the train was carrying civilian passengers. As that realization struck, this gunnery trophy winner – closely followed in this, as in much else, by his well-trained formation – without any fuss, altered his aiming point just a little, expending his ammunition harmlessly over the target and into empty desert beyond. I would like to think this little story says something important, about the ethos of the Indian armed forces.
At a time when much is made of how the 1990s and 2000s have greatly improved life in India, AVM Parker’s stories are sometimes salutary corrective. They convey a sense of an altogether more innocent period, a period when mid-seniority Indian armed forces officers, like most of the middle class in those days, had very little in cash and consumer goods. Yet, they experienced a certain richness of life, in ways that seem to have been lost today. Squadron Leaders and Wing Commanders, in the India of that time, could and did encounter Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Governors, and interact with them meaningfully. They could invite such august personages to their messes, on the basis of a services connection and mutual respect, and see the invitation graciously accepted. There seems to have been much less of the determined intermediation that would probably be interposed today, by a clucking bureaucracy.
The stories also convey the wonderful diversity of the armed forces, and indeed of India of the time. This was a period before Bollywood and cable television imposed their current superficial uniformity on the middle class, and some of the rich social variety of that period is nicely captured.
The reminiscences covered in Airlooms span a few decades, during which the author went through a number of interesting roles in the IAF – some of which are only hazily visible as background in these stories. The stories can all stand on their own, each by itself; but there does seem to have been some editing, to establish connections and cross-references between some of them.
This prompts one of my few criticisms of the book : I might have asked for a few lines of connecting narrative, between pieces, conveying a little more of the background and stage of the author’s progress in service – I believe this would only improve the book, for a wider audience. I might also have asked for a different cover picture. The current cover shows a stock image of the IAF’s Suryakirans aerobatic team. An image of their immediate predecessors, the Thunderbolts, would have had a more direct connection to the author. The Thunderbolts were formed out of a squadron that the author commanded, and flew the Hawker Hunter, the aircraft type with which he is most identified.
… But even as I write these thoughts, they seem churlish, among so much else there is to enjoy in this most agreeable book. Definitely recommended, especially to those who remember the times!