Blend of topicality and scholarship
Reviewed by 
Harbans Singh

Frankly Speaking Essays and Opinions
by Raghuvendra Tanwar 
Hope India Publications. 
Pages 224. Rs 150

The book is a compilation of writings that appeared from time to time in various daily newspapers of the region as a response to news, events and opinions appearing in the newspapers. Often such responses are made on the spur of the moment but not so in the case of Raghuvendra Tanwar, whose academic training is all too evident in most of these articulations.

This makes the collection remarkably interesting even after the considerable passage of time since they were published. It is generally believed that what gets printed in the newspapers has a brief life span after which it has only archival value. The contents of this book are refreshingly different. They are a judicious blending of topical interest with scholarly discipline which makes much of the writing not only readable today but also of great value. The tone for such a treat is set by the first three writings under the heading of The Last Days of the Raj: Arrogance and Elitism.

The author has drawn upon the historical documents and scholarly opinions to put his point of view across to the reader. But of special interest is the issue of bureaucracy for even today the debate about its character and role is as relevant as it was immediately after Independence.

Of even greater import and urgency are the thoughts expressed about secularism. In an age when Hindu nationalism appears to be disconcertingly assertive and is matched by equally assertive voices of radical Islam all over the world, the author provides a historical and panoramic perspective of the debate in a global context.

Without being didactic, he pleads for sanity and reining in of extreme passions. It would be unfair to accuse Tanwar of failing to quote Ramadhari Singh Dinkar's monumental discourse on the subject in his book, Sanskriti ke Char Adhyaya but had he done that he would surely have drawn considerable strength from his contribution in making the culture of India understood.

The chapters dealing with public life and higher learning are even more relevant today than they were when the author wrote about them. In public life, there is a feeling that we are about to enter a very interesting and challenging phase of governance and that the emergence of an unconventional party has forced the established political parties to rediscover the respect for the voters who give them a mandate to fulfil their promises. His opinion about the institution of the "Speaker" should be made a must read for all those who aspire for entrance to the legislative assemblies. Sadly, the readability of the excellent writings about higher learning is marred by faulty binding of the pages and almost all of them suffer from the flaw.

Again, two opinions, 4.1 and 4.4, though expressed years apart and must have been very educative when published, are repetitive in part and hence the repetition of the articles could have been avoided in a book.

As a North Indian, the interest of the author in the subject of India's Partition is understandable. The keen historian in him is all-too visible and so is his keenness to fix responsibility for tragic and traumatic events that followed it. But one would have wished that he had chosen a title different than the Guilty Men of 1947 Partition, because it is too similar to the title of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia's book.

There are a few other articles of general interest but it is ironical that after being critical of the tendency in governments to have a finger in every pie, the author laments the efforts of the Himachal Pradesh government to get out of the hospitality business. Surely governments have better things to do than run dachas of the discredited Soviet era. The book could have done with more efficient editing and the excuse of the presence of a printer's devil does not mitigate the irritation. The minor faults not withstanding, the book makes for good reading.