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TRANSFORMATION AND TRUTH

Monday, May 13, 2013
By Carol Andrade

Bihar Breakthrough: The Turnaround of a Beleaguered State is a review of a poor, backward state which was changed into a respectable territory by Nitish Kumar, the feisty, present chief minister with his transformational leadership and good governance. Tiger Fire demolishes the myth that tigers and cheetahs are indigenous to India. Leadership Learnings from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, is a virtual guide for the young, ambitious leaders of today.

No Longer A Basket Case
IT is one thing for Biharis to proclaim that things are much better in 2013 than they have been in Bihar for a very long time. Better than what, is the usually tart reply, to which there really is no answer.  As recently as February 2004, no less a publication that the respected Economist referred to India’s poorest, most backward state as the armpit (of the country), “a byword” for the worst of India;  symbol of hopeless poverty, a caste ridden social order, corrupt and venal leaders, plagued by feudal traditions and Mao-ist extremism, where education, law and education had already collapsed and where the most thriving “industry” was kidnapping!  Then chief minister Nitish Kumar happened and in five short years he showed the country what “transformational leadership and good governance” could achieve.

In what could easily have become a hagiography, the author, who is associated with the Indian School of Business as clinical associate professor, and is the Executive Director of the Bharti Institute of Public Policy, has instead given us a carefully studied case history of Bihar after Kumar took over.  Leading from the front and often intervening personally when there was need, the chief minister gradually fanned into flame the dying  embers of hope in the hearts of scores of brilliant bureaucrats and police officers who had tried to shake the dust of their home state off their feet in disgust.

They might never have returned – except that they were offered a chance to actually do something about the rot. To a man, those he appealed to personally, returned, quailed at the state of things as they were and then set to with a clearly, defined purpose that had time frames, goals and carefully calibrated distances in development to be covered.  Law and order gradually returned, the first steps have been taken in improving health and education, good work has been rewarded not with money so much as praise, which is an even headier prize, and as India looked on, there was grudging acknowledgement that something is  happening in Bihar.

Perhaps those who will be most grateful to Chakrabarti for his carefully researched book are the hundreds of thousands in the Bihari diaspora, scattered all over the world, most of them doing very well indeed.  For he has actually quantified the improvement and given hope its real place in the scheme of things.
Has Bihar turned a corner? Probably not, there are too many political exigencies riding on that question. Will caste politics finally be shown its place? Can Nitish hang on to his gaddi for the next ten to 15 years?  Will he be able to sustain the pace of his shining, visionary road-map for the state? Who knows!
One thing, however, has been established. With good leaders in key departments of governance, there is no reason that Bihar, once the best administered state in the country a very long time ago, cannot regain that status. Stranger things have been known to happen.

Bihar Breakthrough: The Turnaround of a Beleaguered State
By Rajesh Chakrabarti
Published by Rupa.
Pages 254. Price Rs.295

Exotic Imports
Sometime later this year, Aleph will be publishing Tiger Fire by the same author who just happens to be India’s foremost conservationist and an internationally acknowledged natural historian. It was while he was researching and writing that book that Thapar came across a curious fact. In the 16th century, Dutch traveler Ian Linschoten noted that there were no lions in the Indian sub-continent. Two centuries later, there was a British shikari and writer, Thomas Williamson, said the same thing, adding cheetahs to the list.

Intrigued by what he had learned, Thapar digressed a bit from his original subject to see if he could dig out some more facts to support a dawning realization – that lions and cheetahs, far from being indigenous to the country, were actually imported by maharajas, either personally or through agents, from Africa. But the ones who started it all were the Mughal emperors through well-established trade routes that they had used  practically from the time they discovered Hindustan.

To round out and support his theory, he pressed into service none other than historian Romila Thapar and scholar Yusuf Ansari, graduate of the London School of Economics, policy planner, dabbler in politics, but also a specialist on the lives of the Mughals and their famed hunts.

The result is this book, and fascinating it is, as Thapar, assisted by Ansari and Romila Thapar, build up the case for the probable toppling of scientific theory that says lions and cheetahs are at home here.

Rubbish, says Thapar, as Ansari describes the hunting lifestyles of Mughals who created great wooded areas and populated them with animals solely for the hunt. At first maintained in royal zoos, then let into the wild to be killed, some got away and actually survived. This they did in spite of the rough terrain of Central India and Gujarat, so different from the lush plains of their native Africa. And because they were highly prized as symbols of great wealth and influence as well as power, you find cheetahs and lions in paintings, on carvings and in sculptures precisely because they were “foreign” and therefore fit subjects only for the sport of kings and emperors.

Filled with coloured plates, the book is a prize addition to anyone who is interested not just in natural history and conservation but also in style and content.  Valmik Thapar is known as a perfectionist in whatever he does. He has carried that trait wonderfully into this publication, making it an indispensable addition to one’s personal library.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Exotic  Aliens
By Valmik Thapar,
Romila Thapar and Yusuf Ansari
Published by Aleph.
Pages 304. Price Rs.595

Lessons From Yesterday, For Tomorrow
My school history textbook was essentially a telling of the life and times of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, also often referred to as the Janata Raja, literally the all-knowing king. It was a book filled with the heroics and consummate bravery of Shivaji in the face of overwhelming odds, so one can imagine the influence it had on young unalloyed minds. Shivaji was, for all intents and purposes, a veritable superman of sorts. After all, there were no problems he couldn’t solve, no enemy he could not fight against, his kingdom was one of abundance and prosperity, a government from the bottom up, one which took into account every possible political permutation and provided justice for all.

Now, this hagiographical description of Shivaji Maharaj’s kingdom seems redundant and tinged with a hint of sarcasm. But read through the pages of Leadership Learnings from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, penned by Cyrus M. Gonda and Dr. Nitin Parab, and you’ll know exactly what this reviewer is rabbiting on about. The book’s back cover blurb reads, ‘By learning from the great leaders and applying the same principles which they adopted, you too can achieve success in your own life and career as a leader.’

The book condenses Shivaji’s traits into 13 mantras which can be learnt by laymen and can then be applied to everyday managerial dilemmas.

When reading this book, one is reminded of the many similar books released at the turn of the 20th century, when the USA was at the verge of their own corporate industrial boom. Small dusty paged books describing the qualities of great American leaders such as Lincoln, Roosevelt and Washington were printed by the thousands with the hopes of inspiring young Americans to walk in their footsteps while moving up the corporate ladder. These books presented an affirmative, all-ages version of these great men, while ignoring any controversial content about these men.

Aptly enough, this book on Shivaji is the first in a series of books about great leaders from whom men in the corporate sector, managers, and entrepreneurs, among others can learn from; the leaders’ philosophy, modes of operation, innovation, lateral thinking applied to our times. To quote John Quincy Adam’s words ‘Who we are is who we were.’

Don’t take me the wrong way. I love the idea of Shivaji, with his inimitable bravura; the fact that he cocked a snook at Aurangazeb’s tyranny, managed to run a large guerilla operation whilst parched by a poor supply of field rations, armaments and artillery.

The book’s heart is in the right place, and the effort behind it is without question immense, it lacks a sense of context. At the height of his power, Shivaji had to fight one single, boldly marked enemy, contrasted much by the infighting, malfeasance and avarice that has also become the most defining aspect of modern corporatisation. Shivaji’s principles were demanding not only on his employees, but on himself and whether a generation of entrepreneurs whose sole objective has been the accrual of wealth will adopt his mantras is suspect.
Leadership Learnings From Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
By Cyrus M. Gonda and Dr. Nitin Parab
Published by Embassy Books.
Pages 173. Price Rs.250

— Reviewed by Prathmesh Kher

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