THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING IN FRANKFURT
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IT WAS especially important for India to be present at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, to redeem her image as one of the world’s greatest tolerant democracies. India-born Salman Rushdie, in his inaugural address said, publishing was the ‘embodiment’ and ‘guardian of freedom of speech’. He added, ‘If you believe in a single vision of the truth..., then people offering diverse visions of the truth become your enemies....But yet oddly, literature often survives this battle....Literature is unbelievably durable and strong (though) writers are weak.’ The FBF is the world’s largest book fair and the greatest opportunity for India to showcase its intellectual prowess, its literary merit, its publishing capability.
Students of military history know what the Athenian Thucydides said in 5th century BC, that a state which separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and fighting done by fools. Just arms and strength is not enough to win battles, just industry is not enough to make a state great, scholarship needs to go hand-in-hand with entrepreneurship. India’s promises are very different from policies, however. It was around this time in 2014 that India replaced German with Sanskrit as the third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas, which had 68,000 students studying the language. Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Germany in April this year, HRD Minister Smriti Irani told ambassador Michael Steiner that India ‘wants to expand the Indo-German Strategic Partnership (IGSP) in higher education’. The Prime Minister told top German business leaders in Hannover where the biggest industrial fair in the world is held, ‘India is taking steps to ensure ease of doing business in India’. While the government was wooing Hannovar and Dusseldorf, one repeatedly heard from bureaucrats in the concerned ministries, ‘why do you want to go to Frankfurt always... why not other fairs?’, when India should have led the Asian publishing industry at FBF. Early October, when Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the Business Forum organised by NASSCOM and the Fraunhofer Institute, Bengaluru, PM Modi told her, ‘Ours is the country of the young and will remain so for many more years. Never before was India so well prepared to absorb talent, technology and investment from outside’. On her part Merkel said that Indian investors will be welcome in Germany. For all this to happen and such relationship to succeed, young India needs to know German, be seen in places like the FBF, participate in bilateral ‘cultural exchanges’ of global proportions like the five-day FBF where over one hundred countries participate. Where else can India showcase herself as a ‘global City of Ideas... through business decisions, new partnerships or (and) new products?’ as Juergen Boos, Director Frankfurt Book Fair so aptly put it during the opening. That is the importance of FBF.