10 Years After Shooting, Wisconsin Sikhs Lead Interfaith Conversation On Safety

By, Silma Suba  At RNS

(Interfaith America) — On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the fatal mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, more than 100 interfaith leaders, policymakers, White House officials, law enforcement officials and educators convened Thursday night (Aug. 4) at city hall in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, for an interfaith panel discussion on protecting places of worship from hate crimes. 

The panel was a part of the Healing from Hate & Protecting Places of Worship Forum, a memorial of the tragedy at the gurdwara (as Sikhs call their houses of worship) organized by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee in partnership with the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Sikh Coalition and Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The forum was a part of a series of events these groups are hosting this week to honor the victims of the shooting: Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; Prakash Singh, 39; Paramjit Kaur, 41; Suveg Singh Khattra, 84; Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65; and Baba Punjab Singh, 72.     

“Being here is incredibly moving because people have turned their pain into purpose in a way that none of us could have predicted,” Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said after the forum.  

The interfaith panel, moderated by former U.S. attorney James Santelle, included Pardeep Kaleka, executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee; Walter Lanier, CEO of the African American Leadership Alliance of Milwaukee; Ahmed Quereshi, president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee; and Ari Friedman, director of security and community properties at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. 

In the decade since the Oak Creek shooting, hate crimes against places of worship have been on the rise. Between 2018 and February 2020, mass shootings caused by religious hate increased by 17%.

As attacks have increased, synagogues, churches, mosques, gurdwaras and other places of worship have increased surveillance and security at their doors.  

“We’ve developed an usher and greeters’ program where volunteers, who are not security people, but an extra set of eyes and ears, are trained to interact with the people as they come in, in a friendly manner,” Friedman said. The volunteers, he said, look out for nonverbal cues and other indicators to gauge if there is any need for concern. 

In addition to securing their gates, the faith leaders said it’s important to include their congregations in conversations about safety and security.  

Lanier said he uses biblical references to emphasize the importance of protecting oneself from harm. 

“There’s a New Testament narrative where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead,” Lanier told the gathering. “Some religious leaders were mad … and they said we’re going to move off. We’re not going to put ourselves in the way of danger. But we’re going to use wisdom in this moment, and pull ourselves back. It was really important to frame up for the congregation that this is biblical, this is within the wheelhouse of our faith.”

Not every place of worship can afford to hire security, and, the Milwaukee Islamic Center’s Quereshi noted, in some cases it’s even illegal to do so. Quereshi added that many faith leaders face the challenge of balancing a fundamental belief that places of worship should welcome everyone with an urgent need to protect themselves and their community. 

Lanier said it’s important for people to look out for not just their own but other communities as well. “It’s like being in a neighborhood. It can’t be that I’m just going to look out for my house and not worry about what’s happening at your house … let’s get together like this evening so that we can share resources, information, best practices, collaborate and have a narrative and have a critical mass of people who are on the same page and sharing similar messages.”

Kaleka, whose father was one of the seven victims at Oak Creek a decade ago, said one of the lessons the Sikh community learned that day was how everyone can keep moving forward with compassion while also learning to fortify their walls.  

“In all communities who are targeted, we have been blessed to be surrounded by love, by compassion, by kindness,” Kaleka told the audience. “We could have left whatever happened as whatever happened, but you all made the conscious choice of being here because of seven people who died, but you would not let hope die. And we’re here 10 years later, simply because of that.”  (A version of this article originally appeared on Interfaith America magazine.)

Assault On The Media Continues Across The Globe

“Finally it is also an important right in a free society to be freely allowed to contribute to society’s well-being. However, if that is to occur, it must be possible for society’s state of affairs to become known to everyone, and it must be possible for everyone to speak his mind freely about it. Where this is lacking, liberty is not worth its name,” Peter Forsskål, a philosopher, theologian, botanist and orientalist wrote in his pamphlet, Thoughts on Civil Liberty, published in Stockholm in 1759. 

And, it’s noteworthy that The World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki in 2016 adopted the Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms, which is the right of every human being around the world, and its three perspectives: freedom of information as a fundamental freedom and a human right; protecting press freedom from censorship and surveillance overreach; and ensuring safety
for journalism online and offline. 

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and a prerequisite for several other democratic rights. It is a right, but it implies responsibility and respect for the
rights of others. The role of media has been changing rapidly, especially in recent times, with the advent of social media platforms where not only the news and views of the trained and well-established journalists are published, but anyone has the right reports, post a comment and be appreciative or critical of people, programs and policies for their worth. 

The media is expected to be the “watchdog” of the other three branches of the government. Promoting the safety of journalists and combatting impunity for those who attack them are central elements within UNESCO’s support for press freedom on all media platforms. Media is described as the Fourth Estate after the executive, legislature, and judiciary and

However, media has been constantly criticized, intimidated and their rights taken away for being the “watchdog.’ There are many forces assaulting journalism around the world: misinformation, intimidation, pressures on revenue models, and a growing trend of autocrats attacking press freedoms. Journalists are attacked, and imprisoned and their rights to disseminate news and views taken away in numerous countries across the globe. 

According to UNESCO, on average, every five days a journalist is killed for bringing information to the public. Attacks on media professionals are often perpetrated in non-conflict situations organized crime groups, militia, security personnel, and even local police, making local journalists among the most vulnerable. These attacks include murder, abductions, harassment, intimidation, illegal arrest, and arbitrary detention.”

The 2020 UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger Impunity stated that with 22 killings each, Latin America and the Caribbean, together with Asia and the Pacific, registered the highest number of fatalities among journalists.

These organized crimes and strategies to prevent journalists, media and media platforms are not unique to the Third World or autocratic/tyrant rule d states alone. They are occurring on a daily basis well-established democracies, using so called “democratic laws” as well as in those nations and their rulers who have no regards for freedom of speech and do not tolerate dissent or criticism.

It’s noteworthy, after four years of contestant attacks on the media by his predecessor, President Jose Biden of the United States has kept the media at arm’s length while being decidedly less combative than his predecessor with reporters, an approach that was on display when he attended the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this year.  It’s an approach that administration officials say is deliberate, and that Democrats say is part of Biden’s effort to return the White House to a more normal rapport with the media.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the Trump and Biden administrations are now going after tech giants in antitrust lawsuits, based on deals that were solidified under Obama’s watch. The FTC’s case against Facebook seeks to undo the company’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram that were approved under the former president. 

Filipino American media executive and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, founder of the digital media outlet Rappler in the Philippines in 2012, has become the target of a series of attacks. Ressa has been arrested several times. This month, with the new administration of Bongbong Marcos in place, Rappler was ordered to shut down, for being the voice of the people.

Rana Ayyub, a senior journalist summarized the state of today’s journalistic fraternity: “The burden of bearing witness and speaking truth to power comes at great personal risk for journalists in many countries around the world. They live a relentless struggle, slapped with lawsuits and criminal cases for sedition, defamation, tax evasion and more. Their lives, and too often the lives of their families, are made miserable.”

Ayyub points to the heinous crimes inflicted on “Gauri Lankesh, Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jamal Khashoggi—all journalists with a profile, all brazenly killed in broad daylight. Their murders dominated the front pages of international publications. But their killers, men in power, remain unquestioned not just by the authorities but often by publishers and editors who develop a comfortable amnesia when meeting those in power. They do not want to lose access to them.” 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Termed the recent murders of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous issues expert Bruno Pereira, whom police suspect were killed by people with ties to illegal fishing in the Amazon, amounted to a “nightmare” come true. “Central African Republic authorities should investigate the threats made against journalist Erick Ngaba and ensure his safety,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in Durban, South Africa. “The security situation in the Central African Republic is worrisome enough for media professionals without additional online harassment.”

India’s record on violations against Journalists has been among the worst in recent times. A nation, said to be the “beacon of hope” and the “largest democracy” in the world dropped eight laces to 150 — out of 180 countries — on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) for 2022. The index’s report notes that “with an average of three or four journalists killed in connection with their work every year, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media.” In the current year alone, it states, while one journalist has been killed, another 13 are behind bars.

In fact in the last 20 years, India, which was ranked 80th on the index in 2002, has seen its press freedom ranking progressively plummet. The country profile by RSF on India also says that “the Indian press used to be seen as fairly progressive but things changed radically in the mid-2010s, when Narendra Modi became prime minister and engineered a spectacular rapprochement between his party, the BJP, and the big families dominating the media.”

Twitter’s latest transparency report, for July-December 2021 says that the country made the highest number of legal demands to remove content posted by verified journalists and news outlets on Twitter. Of the total 326 legal demands Twitter received globally, against 349 accounts of verified journalists, India sent in 114 legal demands. India in fact also raised the second highest number of information requests, after the US, accounting for 19% of global information requests and 27% of the global accounts specified. Information requests seek details about an account and are issued by law enforcement or government agencies.

Terming the Indian press as “a colossus with feet of clay”, RSF adds that Indian “journalists are exposed to all kinds of physical violence including police violence, ambushes by political activists, and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials” by “supporters of Hindutva” with the situation “very worrisome in Kashmir where reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries.”

If the powerful rulers of the countries use their power to intimidate the media world, the public are not immune to such ill thought out and narrow views. For some it’s their ideology that motivates them, for others it’s the belief in their “leader” who spreads lies and the flock follow them blindly, and for some who are so called well educated and well informed, it’s their goals to attain power, position and prestige in the society. 

Recently, I came across on a WhatsApp media posting, where a picture of half a dozen veteran, well respected and award-winning journalists meeting with a Justice of the Supreme Court of India were called as “traitors of India” because they criticize and point to the the ruling party for its policies that do not benefit the people of India, but the members of the ruling regime.

Speaking at a Stanford University event, former US President Barack Obama called the present as “another tumultuous, dangerous moment in history,” where social media platforms are well-designed to destroy democracies. “Disinformation is a threat to our democracy, and will continue to be unless we work together to address it,” he said.

According to analysts, while free speech is protected by both the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, these legal instruments offer governments much greater leeway than the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when it comes to defining categories, such as hate speech, that can be regulated. 

Reports state. the European Union is in the midst of finalizing the Digital Services Act (DSA), an ambitious legislative attempt to create a “global gold standard” on platform regulation. After five trilogues, on April 23, the European Parliament and European Council reached a provisional political agreement on the DSA. As such, the DSA is likely to affect the practical exercise of free speech on social media platforms, whether located in Silicon Valley or owned by American tech billionaires.

Freedom of expression is a vital part of democracy, considering it does not cross the “Lakshman Rekha” of public order and morality, said former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
Gogoi, while expressing his views on action against individuals over social media posts, said, “Now on social media — is a critical part of healthy democracy, so long as it does not cross the Lakshman Rekha of public order and morality, be it against an individual or an institution. If the opinion is within the line (of public order), it should not be restrained…,” said Gogoi.

Adding that such an opinion should be based on facts and bonafide information, the former CJI said, “If it is an opinion not based on facts and disturbs public order and transgresses morality or creates distrust among the public for the institution, posing a threat to national interest, action needs to be taken. Nothing can be bigger than national interest.”

Gogoi also said that the present generation youth in the country are fortunate to have the power of social media. “It is a powerful tool, but it can be misused, which is unfortunate… Youth today, who wish to enter public life or politics must be aware that they cannot be successful unless they work hard and base their journey on facts. This is because it is very easy for misinformation to be spread…”

Media reports pointed out that in the first quarter of 2018, Facebook removed 2.5 million pieces of content for the transgression of community standards on hate speech. By the third quarter of 2021, the number had increased almost tenfold to 22.3 million. This was mainly the result of increased reliance on AI-based content-filtering algorithms. In 2018, AI caught 4 out of 10 transgressions before any user complaint, but in the third quarter of 2021, this rose to 96.5 percent.

“We’ve come a long way towards realizing freedom of expression, and other fundamental freedoms. The right to access to information is entrenched in law in over a hundred countries,” said Secretary-General Guterres of the United Nations during the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Association of UN Correspondents (ACANU). “But despite these advances, in recent years, civic space has been shrinking worldwide at an alarming rate.”

In the midst of all these, some recommend a model that would “encourage the implementation of human-rights standards as a framework of first reference in the moderation practices of large social media platforms. This would result in a social media environment that would be both more transparent and protective of users’ free speech on categories such as hate speech and disinformation. Using human rights law as the standard of content moderation would also provide platforms with norms and legitimacy to resist demands to censor dissent made by authoritarian states keen to exploit the well-intentioned but misguided attempts by democracies to rein in harmful online speech.”

Stating that Journalism and the media are “essential to peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights for all – and to the work of the United Nations,” Guterres noted, paying tribute to reporters who “go to the most dangerous places on earth, to bring us important information, to give a voice to people who are being ignored and abused, and to hold the powerful to account. Your work reminds us that truth never dies, and that our attachment to the fundamental right that is freedom of expressions must also never die… Informing is not a crime.”

The Democratic Paradox The Right To Say Anything Has Been A Challenge To Every Democracy That Has Ever Existed

On Jan. 6, 2021, a group of self-professed patriots stormed the U.S. Capitol, a building last raided by the British during the War of 1812. Some in the group were spangled with face paint and wore military garb. Some were toting Confederate flags. Many were taking selfies or livestreaming the rebellion. They erected a gallows and smashed up media equipment outside, then roamed the halls of Congress, screaming, “Stop the steal!” Offices were destroyed. A member of the mob was shot and killed. A Capitol Police officer died. It was a remarkable assault on the foundation of American democracy, staged at the very moment a peaceful transfer of power was under way.

We can now add the United States to the list of Athens, Rome, France, Spain, and Peru, among others, as democracies that have experienced a self-coup attempt. The people who invaded the Capitol did so because they believed—truly believed—that then-U.S. President Donald Trump had won a landslide victory in the 2020 presidential election, which subsequently was stolen.

This article is adapted from The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion by Zac Gershberg and Sean Illing (University of Chicago Press, 320 pp., $30, June 2022).

Trump had raised over $200 million in the month after the election by alleging voter fraud—what some termed the “Big Lie,” which gained widespread purchase in the United States’ fragmented information space and particularly in conservative media across radio, cable television, and social networking. Dozens of lawsuits echoing these charges struggled to gain standing in U.S. state and federal courts. Trump and his advisors then suggested the possibility that Vice President Mike Pence and Congress could overturn the election on Jan. 6, whereupon the president instructed his supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to “fight like hell.”

American democracy is fortunate that the insurrection failed; that it happened at all is instructive. The event exposed the paradox at the center of every democratic culture: a free and open communication environment that, because of its openness, invites exploitation and subversion from within. This tension sits at the core of every democracy, and it cannot be resolved or circumnavigated. To put it another way, the essential democratic freedom—the freedom of expression—is both ingrained in and dangerous to democracy.

The belief that democracy is a fixed system with inherent features has led to a lot of confusion. Many still hold what’s often called the “folk theory of democracy”: Ordinary citizens have preferences about what the government ought to do, and they vote for leaders they think will carry out those preferences. The result of this process is a government that serves the majority. And all of this is supposed to take place in a culture of rules and norms that privileges minority rights, respects the rule of law, and welcomes peaceful transitions of power.

But that culture is precisely what we call “liberalism”—it is not democracy as such. Confusion on this point has obscured the nature and demands of democratic life.

Despite its flaws, democracy still affords freedom of expression and the possibility of confronting power in all its forms—that is democracy’s claim to superiority over all other political cultures. But democratic freedom contains the seeds of its own destruction. This is something the ancient Greeks understood long before us, and they even developed two frameworks for free speech that highlighted the problem. Isegoria described the right of citizens to participate in the public debate; parrhesia described the right to say anything one wanted, whenever one wanted, and to whomever one wanted. Isegoria created the political environment of democracy, while parrhesia actualized it.

But the right to say anything opened the door to all manners of subversion, and this has been a challenge to every democracy that has ever existed. The emergence of isegoria in Athens, for instance, was accompanied by the joint rituals of ostracism and tribalism. In today’s language, you might say that Socrates was the first notable citizen to be “canceled” by the same democratic forces that made his speech free in the first place. This is the defining tension of any democratic society.

Citizens, philosophers, and politicians have always fretted about democracy for exactly this reason. While it facilitates a culture in which deliberative discourse and collective judgment are possible, it can also be gamed and exploited, prompting crises from within. The panic today over democracy is no different. A whole genre of literature has emerged seeking to explain how democracies fall or why Western liberalism is in retreat. The consensus is that if democracy isn’t quite dead, it’s certainly under attack.

There’s no point in diminishing the reality of the crisis. We are surely living through a period of intense democratic disruption. All over the world, from the United Kingdom to Hungary to Poland to Brazil to the United States, populist insurgents are disordering democratic cultures. Liberal democracy, as a culturally dominant period, has died. So have many of the norms and institutions that undergird it.

But the discourse around this problem is far too circumscribed. To read many of the current books about democracy is to walk away with the impression that we’re in the midst of something new, something unique to our moment. It’s as though the default state of democracy is stability, and periods of disruption are the exception.

The reverse is much nearer to the truth.

To function properly, democracies require more than just voting. Citizens need comprehensive, accurate information as well as a healthy, open system of debate. But throughout history, when new forms of communications arrive—from the disingenuous use of rhetorical techniques developed in Athens to the social media-enabled spread of fake news today—they often undermine the practice of politics. The more widely accessible and democratic the media of a society, the more susceptible that society is to distraction, spectacle, and demagoguery. We see this time and again throughout history: Media continually evolve faster than politics, and the result is recurring patterns of democratic instability.

Classical rhetoric was a necessity for the early democratic cultures of Athens and Rome, but sophistry, a form of deceptive, crowd-pleasing speech, overwhelmed both societies and hastened their collapse. The printing press allowed for the mass production of books and the creation of newspapers, which ushered in the Enlightenment and the democratic revolutions of the 18th century, yet these public networks also sowed chaos in the aftermath of the American and French Revolutions. The former dealt with a deeply partisan press that threatened the viability of the United States in its infancy, and France exploded into the violence of the Reign of Terror.

In the 19th century, the telegraph’s speedy dissemination of news collapsed geographical distances and helped spread the norms of liberal society across Europe, but it also fomented nationalist discourses. Political leaders and news outlets generated narratives full of nativist fears and petty resentments to gain traction in place of actual debate, and the appeals of this mediated rhetoric would eventually speed Europe toward World War I. While cinema and radio further democratized media and created a more accessible mass culture, they also provided essential platforms for European fascists who were able to bypass traditional gatekeepers.

Television transformed politics so citizens could directly see and listen to representatives, with many positive results, but the imperatives of the medium also reshaped politics. To succeed, politicians in the TV era had to adapt to a new incentive structure in which branding, sound bites, and optics reigned.

The public sphere of the 21st century is more democratic and open than ever before. Political leaders communicate directly with the public; citizens provide immediate feedback and can publish or broadcast to mass audiences on their own. Yet the democratic openness of communication in the 21st century has destabilized political conversations. There are no longer any controls on the flow of information, and that has short-circuited a system built largely on the control of information. The public is now angry, distrustful of whether their representatives can even make sound decisions. That may be healthy from a democratic perspective, but with so much noise on social media and so many news outlets disseminating contradictory information, citizens are justifiably confused and cynical.

Liberal democracies have long been sustained by traditional mass media, such as newspapers and later radio and network television. Citizens remained somewhat passive while media gatekeepers and politicians hashed out a norm-driven discourse of information and debate in the public sphere. People absorbed what they read, listened to, and watched, then registered approval at the polls.

Then something changed. The rise of polarizing cable television news, the blogosphere, and the outrageous flows of social networking, now hooked to our palmed smartphones, let citizens in on the act of forging discourses and choosing what news they prefer. The result is a more democratic and less liberal world.

The belief that the democratic experiment was destined to end in something like liberal democracy was just that: a belief. It turns out there is nothing inexorable about the logic of democracy; it is just as likely to culminate in tyranny as it is freedom. And the rise of illiberalism foregrounds a crucial point: Our present crisis is as much about culture as it is politics.

Despite all our assumptions about the inherent value of democracy, a democratic culture guarantees no outcome. Democratic cultures can support liberal democratic governments, or they can just as easily spawn plutocratic or authoritarian systems. It might seem counterintuitive to think of democracies as breeding grounds for tyranny, but it’s no contradiction at all.

Democratic theorists often miss the depth of the connection between communication and political cultures. So many accounts of democracy emphasize legislative processes or policy outcomes. When culture is discussed, it’s often in the context of liberal democratic values. But we should always ask: What determines the valence of those values? If a democracy stands or falls on the quality of the culture propping it up, then we ought to know under what conditions those values are affirmed and rejected.

Those conditions are determined largely by a society’s tools of communication, facilitated through media. Indeed, democracies are defined by their cultures of communication. If a democracy consists of citizens deciding, collectively, what ought to be done, then the process by which they do so determines nearly everything else that follows. This is the key insight of media ecologists like Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, both of whom warned of the impending disaster that was the age of television and the image. They sensed that the media environment decides not just what people pay attention to but also how people think and orient themselves in the world. For every form of media has its own epistemology, its own biases, and favors certain cognitive habits over others.

People like Postman were commenting on the sovereignty of television in American culture and how it transfigures everything it touches. But the internet and social media have now been added to that wasteland of spectacle, compounding the problem in a million different ways. The obsession with drama and entertainment is now buttressed by curated news feeds that carve out epistemological bubbles and foster tribal impulses. The United States and many other countries are now confronting the greatest structural challenge to democracy the world has ever seen: a truly open society. Without gatekeepers, there are no constraints on discourse. Digital technology has changed everything, and, consequently, reality is up for grabs in a way it never has been before.

To restate the paradox: Democracies cannot exist without an open communication environment; otherwise, citizens cannot carry out their deliberative responsibilities. This condition of informational freedom is central to any democratic culture worthy of the name. But this environment, precisely because it is free, is constantly exploited by demagogues and other anti-democratic actors. Democracies are thus constantly undermined by their constitutive conditions.

It’s not easy to live in this state of tension, especially in the wide-open rhetorical cultures we see in many countries around the world today. New media technologies have altered the social and psychic environment—and, by extension, the values and institutions that ground society. There is no going back; the winds of technological change will keep blowing whether we want them to or not.

The real challenge right now is not an absence of democracy. On the contrary, we’re confronting the true face of democracy: a totally unfettered culture of open communication. Nearly all democracies up until now have been democracies in name only; they’ve been mediated by institutions designed to check popular passions and control the flow of information. But those institutional walls were weakened by the electric revolution and later shattered by digital technology. It’s no longer possible to limit access to information or curate what is and isn’t news. The test is whether democratic institutions can withstand this kind of pressure—whether we can, somehow, keep pushing that democratic boulder up the hill. And that remains an open question.

Zac Gershberg is an associate professor of journalism and media studies at Idaho State University.

Modi’s Multipolar Moment Has Arrived India, Now Courted By All Sides, Is The Clear Beneficiary Of Russia’s War

In every crisis, someone always benefits. In the case of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that someone is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. By refusing to condemn Moscow and join Western-led sanctions, Modi has managed to elevate India’s global stature. Each of the other major powers—the United States, Russia, and China—are intensely courting India to deny a strategic advantage to their adversaries. Relishing the spotlight, Modi and his Hindu-nationalist government will surely look to keep the momentum going. Their likely goal is to carve out an independent superpower role for India, hasten the transition to a multipolar international system, and ultimately cement its new status with a permanent United Nations Security Council seat for India.

None of this negates the fact that the United States has become India’s most important strategic partner. The two nations have made enormous progress in recent years. Since 2018, New Delhi and Washington have held annual summits and signed numerous groundbreaking security agreements. Both nations are part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as the Quad), along with Australia and Japan.

At the Quad summit in Tokyo last month, Modi met U.S. President Joe Biden in person for the second time, complementing the two nations’ ongoing virtual discussions. New Delhi also joined Washington’s recently unveiled Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, which aims to intensify economic relations in the region short of a formal trade treaty. Throughout their blossoming partnership, India and the United States, as the world’s two largest democracies, have pledged to channel their shared values (and strategic interest in containing China) into upholding the rules-based liberal international order.

But when Russia invaded Ukraine, India decided to pursue an ultra-realist policy and protect Indian interests above all else—not least its deep dependence on Russia for military equipment. Rather than condemning one sovereign nation for invading and seeking to destroy another—an indisputable violation of the rules-based order—India demurred. At first, the Modi government’s strategy appeared destined to damage the U.S.-India partnership. In March, Biden described India’s commitment on punishing Russia as “somewhat shaky.” In early April, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh visited New Delhi and warned of potential “consequences” for countries that attempt to undermine U.S. sanctions.

By mid-April, however, the Biden administration had dramatically changed its tune. Biden and Modi met virtually during the kickoff of the so-called 2+2 dialogue in Washington. Following the meeting, it was clear that Biden had accepted Modi’s position. The U.S. readout noted the two leaders would continue their “close consultations” on Russia, with no indication that Washington was prepared to take any action against New Delhi. Additionally, India did not have to condemn Russia or make any other concessions, such as curbing or terminating its import of cheap Russian oil.

Subsequent statements from the White House clearly indicate that Washington will not be pushing New Delhi any further, probably for fear of ruining cooperation on countering China in the Indo-Pacific. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for instance, said in April that “India has to make its own decisions about how it approaches this challenge.” And in Tokyo last month, Biden said, “I am committed to make the U.S.-India partnership among the closest we have on Earth” in spite of differences regarding Russia. In their joint statement, only Biden condemned Russia; Modi did not. It was the only instance of glaring daylight between the two leaders’ positions.

Over the last few months, India has also preserved its close ties to Russia by repeatedly abstaining at the United Nations when Western countries tabled resolutions against Russia. Russia and India have a long-standing partnership that dates back to the Cold War, when New Delhi believed Washington was actively supporting archrival Pakistan. India has always appreciated Russian support, particularly in the U.N. Security Council, where the territorial status of Jammu and Kashmir has routinely come up.

India also has a long history of leveraging its partnership with Russia against its other archrival, China, with which it has ongoing border tensions. For decades, India has purchased Russian arms. According to one recent estimate, approximately 85 percent of India’s military hardware is Russian. As of last month, the Biden administration was reportedly considering $500 million in military financing to India to wean it off of Russian-made equipment. Washington has also, thus far, looked the other way on enforcing the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act for New Delhi’s purchase of Moscow’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system, suggesting India is simply too important to the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy to risk angering it with sanctions.

India has further benefited from discounted Russian oil and coal since the outbreak of war. Although Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar quipped in April that India probably imports less Russian oil in a month than Europe does in an afternoon, New Delhi’s oil imports from Russia rose sharply following Western-led sanctioning of Moscow. The same is true for coal, where India’s stocks may be running alarmingly low. India is certainly grateful to have Russian energy to fuel its development. Western criticism of these imports, coming after decades of haranguing India on fossil fuel emissions, has only irritated the world’s largest post-colonial state—one that still holds deep sensitivities when rich, majority-white nations appear to tell it to abandon its national interest in energy security and energy-fueled development.

To thank New Delhi for its unwavering support in shielding Moscow at the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited India in April. While there, he praised the rupee-ruble currency exchange system, which provides an alternative means of conducting transactions with sanctioned Russian banks. Additionally, Lavrov said, “We will be ready to supply any goods which India wants to buy.” And given Modi’s ongoing discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the war, Lavrov even raised the possibility of India playing a mediator role in the Russian-Ukrainian war, which would place India in a very prominent position on the world stage.

Because India’s neutral stance is so obviously at odds with U.S. policy, Beijing has also sensed a strategic opportunity to engage New Delhi—with the primary goal of prying it from Washington’s tightening embrace. In March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was the first senior Chinese official since 2019 to visit India, where he made Beijing’s courtship explicit. “If the two countries join hands, the whole world will pay attention,” he said. In the runup to Wang’s visit, the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language mouthpiece, the Global Times, also struck an unusually conciliatory tone, writing: “China and India share common interests on many fronts. For instance, the West recently pointed the finger at India for reportedly considering buying Russian oil at a discounted price. But it is India’s legitimate right.”

Indian officials, however, were not prepared to cozy up to China in part because of the benefits they were receiving by staying neutral, most notably from the United States. After Wang’s visit, Jaishankar rhetorically asked: “Do the Americans distinguish and differentiate between India and China over [their] respective stands on Russia amid [the] Ukraine crisis? Obviously, they do.” Notwithstanding closer U.S.-Indian ties, preserving India’s strategic autonomy through a nonaligned policy remains a long-standing objective for New Delhi. In the Russia context and as great-power competition intensifies, that stance is proving especially beneficial vis-à-vis China. Furthermore, China and India have a lingering border conflict that New Delhi has argued must be resolved prior to normalizing bilateral ties. Wang did himself no favors by stopping in Pakistan first and making anti-India comments about the status of Jammu and Kashmir. Rather than agree with Beijing’s openly pro-Russian stance, New Delhi decided to move ahead on a different Chinese request: Modi’s continued participation in the BRICS forum, which joins Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

Beyond the great powers, India has essentially won the argument with key countries in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for example, visited India in April and remarked, “Russia-India ties are historically well-known, and [New Delhi’s actions] are not going to change that.” Modi’s three-nation tour through Germany, Denmark, and France last month further demonstrated that India won’t be sidelined by its Russia policy. To the contrary, in all three nations, Modi received the red-carpet treatment. In the case of Germany, Modi remains on the guest list to join the G-7 nations later this month in the Bavarian Alps.

And in the Indo-Pacific, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, when asked about India at last month’s Quad summit, said: “Each country has its own historical developments as well as geographical situation. Even amongst like-minded countries, the positions may not agree fully. That is only natural.” Although Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has only been on the job for a few weeks, he met with Modi on the sidelines of the Quad summit and boasted that bilateral relations “have never been closer” in spite of what Albanese said were “strong views” exchanged on Russia during the Quad’s proceedings.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has undoubtedly benefited India as great powers are competing more vigorously for New Delhi’s affection, particularly the United States and China. India has also prevented its Russia policy from spoiling partnerships with key European and Indo-Pacific partners. These trends, if sustained, will contribute to India’s rise to great-power status and, in turn, shift the global system toward even greater multipolarity. What could derail New Delhi’s success is a serious escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which might finally force India to choose sides among great powers. Partners that have so far tolerated India’s aloof, realpolitik approach could become frustrated that New Delhi is refusing to carry its weight as an emerging great power. But unless or until this happens, Modi’s India is set to continue benefiting from this horrific crisis.

Derek Grossman is a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp., an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, and a former daily intelligence briefer to the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs. Twitter: @DerekJGrossman

Choosing The West Over Russia Could Make New Delhi A Great Power

India’s neutrality over the war in Ukraine has exposed its vulnerability. New Delhi depends on Russia for military supplies, and so, even though Russia is blatantly violating Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty in an attempt to re-create its erstwhile empire, India has opted to stay silent. It has done so even though India, as a former colony, knows all too well what it’s like to be the victim of imperialism. It has done so even though its own territorial integrity is threatened by another authoritarian power—namely, China. India, it seems, feels caught in a vise grip by Moscow.

To some extent, New Delhi’s concerns are understandable. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been shy about cutting trade with states that condemn his invasion. But viewed more broadly, New Delhi’s approach is shortsighted and risky. It ignores the dangerous precedent that Russia’s reckless behavior is setting in other parts of the world. It provides diplomatic cover to China—Moscow’s most conspicuous international backer—to also ignore Russia’s bad behavior. And although criticizing the invasion might worsen relations with Russia, refusing to take a stand could alienate an even more powerful country: the United States.

The prospect of upsetting Washington should be particularly concerning for Indian policymakers. The United States has become one of New Delhi’s most important partners, particularly as India tries to stand up to Chinese aggression in the Himalayas. But although Washington is not happy that New Delhi has refused to condemn Russian aggression, Indian policymakers have calculated that their country is so central to U.S. efforts to counterbalance China that India will remain immune to a potential backlash. So far, they’ve been right; the United States has issued only muted criticisms of Indian neutrality. Yet Washington’s patience is not endless, and the longer Russia prosecutes its war without India changing its position, the more likely the United States will be to view India as an unreliable partner. It may not want to, but ultimately New Delhi will have to pick between Russia and the West.

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In-depth analysis delivered weekly. It should choose the West. The United States and its allies can offer India more—diplomatically, financially, and militarily—than can Russia. They can better help New Delhi stand up to China. In the short term, this reorientation may make procurement difficult for India’s military, but Russia’s invasion has already weakened Moscow’s ability to provide India with supplies. New Delhi, then, has little to lose by throwing its lot in with the United States and Europe, and it ought to use Russia’s invasion as an opportunity to boldly shift away from Moscow.

GO WEST

When it comes to the war, India is something of an outlier among the world’s democracies. The United States, Canada, almost all of Europe, and multiple countries in Asia and the Pacific—including Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan—have condemned and sanctioned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. India, by contrast, has remained neutral.

Indeed, New Delhi has arguably even supported Moscow. Unlike most of the world, it has actively increased its economic ties to Russia since the war began. According to The New York Times, India’s crude oil purchases from Russia went from 33,000 barrels per day in 2021 to 300,000 barrels a day in March and then to 700,000 a day in April. Indian importers are purchasing Russian liquified natural gas on the so-called spot market at reduced prices. India’s buys are still far smaller than those made by European countries, but the latter states are working to drastically reduce their dependence on Moscow. India, by contrast, has handed Russia a possible lifeline. It’s no surprise, then, that Moscow has praised New Delhi for, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov put it, “taking this situation in the entirety of facts, not just in a one-sided way.”

For now, U.S. officials have been tolerant of India’s behavior. They understand that the country relies on Russian military hardware, and they recognize that India cannot break its dependence overnight. But there’s a difference between neutrality and support, and as Russian atrocities mount and India continues to import large amounts of Russian crude oil and gas, Washington may begin to see New Delhi as an enabler. To preserve the United States’ deepening relationship with India, U.S. policymakers will want to ensure that India is not facilitating Russia’s invasion.

They will also want New Delhi to turn to other military suppliers. If India doesn’t do so, it will become more difficult for the United States to increase its transfer of sophisticated defense technologies to New Delhi, since Washington cannot expose its high-tech equipment to Russian systems. Under the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, India could even face economic penalties for its ties to Moscow. India recently purchased an S-400 air defense system from Russia, and unless U.S. President Joe Biden decides to waive the penalties for national security reasons, Indian officials could be hit with restrictions on access to U.S. loans from U.S. financial institutions and prohibitions on bank transactions subject to U.S. jurisdictions, among other sanctions. The White House appeared to be on a path to waive the sanctions, but that was before Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Now, it is no longer clear what the administration will do.

New Delhi has arguably supported Moscow.

Thankfully for Indian-U.S. relations, there are signs that India may be starting to reduce its military ties with Moscow. The country has been gradually cutting its defense imports from Russia over the last several years, and Indian media recently reported that the country has cancelled plans to upgrade its Russian Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft because the war has made it harder for Moscow to supply New Delhi with spare parts. This month, India halted negotiations with Russia to acquire ten Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopters, also over concerns about Moscow’s ability to fulfill the order. But 80 percent of the country’s current military stocks still consist of Russian-origin equipment.

For India, curtailing dependence on Russian military gear is not just the right move for moral reasons. Ultimately, it will also help advance the Indian’s military modernization goals. As Russia becomes poorer and increasingly isolated, it will be less and less able to assist the Indian military (a fact that the canceled orders illustrate). That’s because Russia will have fewer high-quality weapons to sell, and it will need to focus more on replenishing its own military stocks, particularly as it loses access to critical Western technologies. New Delhi, then, should move quickly to find other countries that manufacture spares and upgrades for Russian-made equipment. And over the long term, India should focus on building up domestic military production so that it becomes less dependent on other countries for its national defense.

CARROTS WITHOUT STICKS

India has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion for reasons beyond just its military needs. Moscow has long offered diplomatic support to India, including over the issue of Kashmir, and New Delhi is reticent to antagonize a friend. But in recent years, Russia has become far less dependable. For example, Russia has recently made overtures to Pakistan, perhaps India’s biggest antagonist. Last year, Lavrov visited Islamabad, and he pledged that Moscow would boost military cooperation and construct a $2.5 billion gas pipeline between Pakistani cities—Russia’s first major economic investment in Pakistan in 50 years.

Even more alarming for New Delhi was the release of Beijing and Moscow’s historic joint manifesto. Announced on February 4, following a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the 5,000-plus word document heralded an era of newly deep Chinese-Russian relations. For India, this partnership could not come at a worse time. In June 2020, Beijing and New Delhi came to blows after China spent months deliberately building up its forces at several points along the Line of Actual Control that divides the two nations. The resulting fight killed 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops—the first deaths along the disputed border since 1975.

Following the clash, New Delhi turned to Moscow for diplomatic assistance, hoping that Russia could defuse tensions and prevent an all-out conflict. Indian officials calculated that Russia had more influence and leverage with Beijing than did any other country, and that it might therefore be able to get China to step back. And Moscow did host a virtual Russia-China-India trilateral meeting of foreign ministers shortly after the fight.

Moscow has long offered support to India, and New Delhi is reticent to antagonize a friend.

But ultimately it was Washington that backed India with robust material and moral support in its time of crisis. It publicly vowed to stand with India in the country’s efforts to protect its territorial sovereignty, and it expedited the leasing of two MQ-9B surveillance drones. It gave winter military gear to Indian troops. Most important, Washington enhanced information and intelligence sharing with New Delhi. This marked a turning point in Indian-U.S. relations. Before the clash, Indian policymakers had actively debated whether India could count on the United States for support in a conflict with China. Washington’s response made it clear that the answer is yes.

In the years since, ties between the two countries have only grown stronger. The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, released in mid-February, made clear that India plays a critical role in Washington’s efforts to compete with Beijing. The Biden administration further affirmed U.S.-Indian ties in April by hosting a 2+2 dialogue between the U.S. secretary of state, the U.S. secretary of defense, and their Indian counterparts. It added a virtual meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the last minute, further signaling the importance of U.S.-Indian relations.

The United States’ allies have largely followed its lead. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a visit to India in April to advance negotiations on a British-Indian trade deal and to streamline licensing for British military exports. Three days later, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited New Delhi, where she and Modi agreed to establish a joint trade and technology council and to resume negotiations on an EU-Indian free trade agreement.

Washington should not pressure India to criticize Russia.

These steps have all signaled to India that it is welcome to partner with the West. But if the United States wants to move New Delhi further into its camp and away from Moscow’s, it should take additional measures. Washington could give New Delhi even more access to sensitive U.S. technologies that would enhance Indian defense capabilities. It could also provide incentives to U.S. private companies to co-develop and co-produce additional high-tech military equipment in India. It might make its military gear more affordable for India. Recent media reports indicate Washington may be getting ready to take a step in this direction by providing a $500 million Foreign Military Financing package to incentivize India to purchase U.S. weapons. (Given India’s robust defense requirements, however, this is still a small amount.)

What Washington should not do is pressure India to criticize Russia. New Delhi strongly values having an independent foreign policy, and so it would bristle at being told how to act. But U.S. officials can be clear that they will offer India more help, more quickly, if the country reduces its reliance on Russian military systems.

The United States can also help woo India by encouraging the Quad to cooperate on Ukraine in policy domains where all members can agree. During the 2+2 talks, for example, Indian and U.S. officials discussed how to deal with global fuel and food shortages stemming from the war. Biden, Modi, and the Quad’s other two leaders (the prime ministers of Australia and Japan) should also discuss these brewing crises. Talking about such issues will be productive—every member of the Quad has a strong incentive in stopping famines—while avoiding excoriations of India for its neutral position on the war. India wants to be engaged, not shamed, and so this lighter approach is Washington’s best bet for bringing India’s response to the war in Ukraine into alignment with its own.

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

For India, closely embracing the West may be discomforting. New Delhi has a proud tradition of strategic autonomy, and it prefers a multipolar world in which it does not have to choose between major geopolitical blocs. Beijing knows this and has been happy to play into India’s concerns. It relishes the current situation in no small part because it views the conflict as an opportunity to woo India with promises of a multipolar world while at the same time driving a wedge between New Delhi and Washington.

But India should recognize that it would be a loser in such a system. China and Russia’s version of multipolarity would make it easier for authoritarian powers with revisionist goals to redraw borders, as China hopes to do in the Himalayas. Beijing and Moscow’s manifesto should underscore these risks. As part of the document, both states criticized the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy—which promises stronger cooperation with India.

But the best way for the country to protect itself is to not play into China’s and Russia’s hands. It is, instead, to exude strength—including by speaking out against Russian aggression, rather than being cowed by Moscow. And that means New Delhi should deepen its partnership with the United States, the country best positioned to help India achieve its great-power ambitions.

Fighting Inflation Excuse For Class Warfare

A class war is being waged in the name of fighting inflation. All too many central bankers are raising interest rates at the expense of working people’s families, supposedly to check price increases.

Forced to cope with rising credit costs, people are spending less, thus slowing the economy. But it does not have to be so. There are much less onerous alternative approaches to tackle inflation and other contemporary economic ills.

Short-term pain for long-term gain?
Central bankers are agreed inflation is now their biggest challenge, but also admit having no control over factors underlying the current inflationary surge. Many are increasingly alarmed by a possible “double-whammy” of inflation and recession.

Nonetheless, they defend raising interest rates as necessary “preemptive strikes”. These supposedly prevent “second-round effects” of workers demanding more wages to cope with rising living costs, triggering “wage-price spirals”.

In central bank jargon, such “forward-looking” measures convey clear messages “anchoring inflationary expectations”, thus enhancing central bank “credibility” in fighting inflation.

They insist the resulting job and output losses are only short-term – temporary sacrifices for long-term prosperity. Remember: central bankers are never punished for causing recessions, no matter how deep, protracted or painful.

But raising interest rates only makes recessions worse, especially when not caused by surging demand. The latest inflationary surge is clearly due to supply disruptions because of the pandemic, war and sanctions.

Raising interest rates only reduces spending and economic activity without mitigating ‘imported’ inflation, e.g., rising food and fuel prices. Recessions will further disrupt supplies, aggravating inflation and worsening stagflation.

Wage-price spirals?
Some central bankers claim recent instances of wage increases signal “de-anchored” inflationary expectations, and threaten ‘wage-price spirals’. But this paranoia ignores changed industrial relations and pandemic effects on workers.

With real wages stagnant for decades, the ‘wage-price spiral’ threat is grossly exaggerated. Over recent decades, most workers have lost bargaining power with deregulation, outsourcing, globalization and labour-saving technologies. Hence, labour shares of national income have declined in most countries since the 1980s.

Labour market recovery, even tightening in some sectors, obscures adverse overall pandemic impacts on workers. Meanwhile, millions of workers have gone into informal self-employment – now celebrated as ‘gig work’ – increasing their vulnerability.

Pandemic infections, deaths, mental health, education and other impacts, including migrant worker restrictions, have all hurt many. Contagion has especially hurt vulnerable workers, including youth, migrants and women.

Workers’ share of national income, 1970-2015

Ideological central bankers
Economic policies by supposedly independent and knowledgeable technocrats are presumed to be better. But such naïve faith ignores ostensibly academic, ideological beliefs.

Typically biased, albeit in unstated ways, policy choices inevitably support some interests over – even against – others. Thus, for example, an anti-inflation policy emphasis favours financial asset owners.

Politicians like the notion of central bank independence. It enables them to conveniently blame central banks for inflation and other ills – even “sleeping at the wheel” – and for unpopular policy responses.

Of course, central bankers deny their own role and responsibility, instead blaming other economic policies, especially fiscal measures. But politicians blaming central bankers after empowering them is simply shirking responsibility.

In the rich West, governments long bent on fiscal austerity left the heavy lifting for recovery after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis (GFC) to central bankers. Their ‘unconventional monetary policies’ involved keeping policy interest rates very low, enabling corporate shenanigans and zombie business longevity.

This enabled unprecedented increases in most debt, including private credit for speculation and sustaining ‘zombie’ businesses. Hence, recent monetary tightening – including raising interest rates – will trigger more insolvencies and recessions.

German social market economy
Inflation and policy responses inevitably involve social conflicts over economic distribution. In Germany’s ‘free collective bargaining’, trade unions and business associations engage in collective bargaining without state interference, fostering cooperative relations between workers and employers.

The German Collective Bargaining Act does not oblige ‘social partners’ to enter into negotiations. The timing and frequency of such negotiations are also left to them. Such flexible arrangements are said to have helped SMEs.

Although Germany’s ‘social market economy’ has no national tripartite social dialogue institution, labour unions, business associations and government did not hesitate to democratically debate crisis measures and policy responses to stabilize the economy and safeguard employment, e.g., during the GFC.

Dialogue down under
A similar ‘social dialogue’ approach was developed by Australian Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke from 1983. This contrasted with the more confrontational approaches pursued in Margaret Thatcher’s UK and Ronald Reagan’s USA – where punishing interest rates inflicted long recessions.

Although Hawke had been a successful trade union leader, he began by convening a national summit of workers, businesses and other stakeholders. The resulting Prices and Incomes Accord between the government and unions moderated wage demands in return for ‘social wage’ improvements.

This consisted of better public health provisioning, pension and unemployment benefit improvements, tax cuts and ‘superannuation’ – involving required employees’ income shares and matching employer contributions to a workers’ retirement fund.

Although business groups were not formally party to the Accord, Hawke brought big businesses into other new initiatives such as the Economic Planning Advisory Council. This consensual approach helped reduce both unemployment and inflation.

Such consultations have also enabled difficult reforms – including floating exchange rates and reducing import tariffs. They also contributed to the developed world’s longest uninterrupted economic growth streak – without a recession for nearly three decades, ending in 2020 with the pandemic.

Social partnerships
A variety of such approaches exist. For example, Norway’s kombiniert oppgjior, from 1976, involved not only industrial wages, but also taxes, salaries, pensions, food prices, child support payments, farm support prices, and more.

‘Social partnerships’ have also been important in Austria and Sweden. A series of political understandings – or ‘bargains’ – between successive governments and major interest groups enabled national wage agreements from 1952 until the mid-1970s.

Consensual approaches undoubtedly underpinned post-Second World War reconstruction and progress, of the so-called Keynesian ‘Golden Age’. But it is also claimed they have created rigidities inimical to further progress, especially with rapid technological change.

Economic liberalization in response has involved deregulation to achieve more market flexibilities. But this approach has also produced more economic insecurity, inequalities and crises, besides stagnating productivity.

Such changes have also undermined democratic states, and enabled more authoritarian, even ethno-populist regimes. Meanwhile, rising inequalities and more frequent recessions have strained social trust, jeopardizing security and progress.

Policymakers should consult all major stakeholders to develop appropriate policies involving fair burden sharing. The real need then is to design alternative policy tools through social dialogue and complementary arrangements to address economic challenges in more equitably cooperative ways.

The Hinduization Of India Is Nearly Complete

When the british withdrew from the Indian subcontinent in 1947, paving the way for the independence of the newly partitioned nations of India and Pakistan, the Muslims of the region had a choice. They could resettle in Pakistan, where they would be among a Muslim majority, or remain in India, where they would live as a minority in a majority-Hindu but constitutionally secular state.

 

For Shah Alam Khan, whose great-grandparents were among the roughly 35 million Muslims who opted to live on the Indian side of the Radcliffe Line in the aftermath of Partition, his family’s decision was in many ways a political gamble. “They didn’t want to go to a theocratic state,” Khan told me from his home in Delhi. Indeed, when Pakistan finally adopted a constitution, nine years after Partition, it enshrined Islam as the state religion. For his family, the promise of a pluralist India, as envisaged by the country’s founders, trumped the warnings of the pro-Partition Muslim League (which went on to become the party of Pakistan’s founders) that a Muslim minority would inevitably be subordinate to the Hindu majority.

 

Seventy-five years later, those warnings have gained a new prescience. Nominally, India remains a secular state and a multifaith democracy. Religious minorities account for roughly 20 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people, who include about 200 million Muslims and 28 million Christians. But beneath the country’s ostensible inclusivity runs an undercurrent of Hindu nationalism that has gained strength during the eight-year rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The concern shared by many among the country’s religious minorities, as well as by more secular-minded liberals within the Hindu majority, is that the country’s secular and inclusive ethos is already beyond repair.

 

Muslims and Christians alike have faced a surge in communal violence in recent years. A raft of new laws has reached into their daily lives to interfere with the religious garments they wear, the food they eat, where and how they worship, and even whom they marry. Many of the Indian journalists, lawyers, activists, and religious leaders I’ve spoken with for this article say that the institutions on which the country once relied to keep this kind of ethnic supremacism in check—the courts, opposition parties, and independent media—have buckled.

 

To Khan, it feels as though the India he has inherited is gradually becoming another version of the theocratic state his family turned away from all those years ago. “They were promised a secular nation,” he said. For them, and for the country’s religious minorities today, “the unmaking of secular India is a betrayal.”

 

This ideal of a pluralist, secular India is popular not only among its religious minorities. A 2021 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that by a wide margin, Indians of all faiths consider religious tolerance an essential part of what it means to be “truly Indian.” This civic value is as old as the country itself: Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, rejected any concept of the nation as Hinduism’s answer to Pakistan. His India would not be “formally entitled to any religion as a nation,” he said, but a placewhere all faiths could coexist and be celebrated equally.

 

That founding ideology, however, has long been disputed by Hindu nationalists. “To be a Hindu means a person who sees this land, from the Indus River to the sea, as his country but also as his Holy Land,” wrote the politician and activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1923 book, Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu? (Hindutva, meaning “Hindu-ness,” has become shorthand for Hindu nationalism itself.) In Savarkar’s view, only those who regard India as both their country and their sacred Hindu homeland could be truly Indian. While Christians and Muslims could fulfill the first requirement, of patriotism, they would never be able to achieve the second. “Their holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine,” Savarkar wrote. “Consequently their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin. Their love is divided.”

 

Modi’s own Hindutva credentials run deep. Before he went into mainstream politics with the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, he cut his teeth as a member of its allied paramilitary organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS. After his landslide reelection victory in May 2019, one of the first things he did with his new mandate, in August of that year, was to fulfill a long-standing demand of the RSS by revoking the special autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s sole Muslim-majority territory (over which Pakistan also claims sovereignty).

 

That same month, the northeastern BJP-led state of Assam published a national registry that left nearly 2 million people, many of them Muslim, off the list, casting their Indian citizenship into doubt. Perhaps the most contentious decision came at the end of the year, when Modi’s government pressed through a new law granting non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan the right to seek fast-tracked citizenship in India. Critics likened the move to a religious test for citizenship, and warned that it would open the door to additional forms of legal discrimination against Muslims.

 

These events loom large in Indian politics, but when I spoke with members of India’s Muslim and Christian communities about how life in India has changed under Modi’s rule, they rarely came up. People attested instead to the smaller, often more insidious ways in which the experience of India’s religious minorities has been altered.

 

To belong to a religious minority in India today is to feel “there is no future,” an Indian Muslim from Kashmir, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation, told me. That sentiment is echoed by Ajit Sahi, a former journalist who left India for the United States days after Modi’s reelection. “I have friends who are desperate to get out,” Sahi, a secular-inclined Hindu who now serves as the advocacy director of the Indian American Muslim Council in Washington, D.C., told me. “There is no future for somebody like me back in India.” Nandita Suneja, who moved from her native Delhi to Australia in 2019, told me that the communal tensions made her Hindu family’s decision to leave much easier. She didn’t want to raise her daughter in an “atmosphere of stifling freedom and hate.”

 

For Indian Muslims, in particular, the situation is dire. During the recently passed holy month of Ramadan, they saw their houses and shops bulldozed, their businesses boycotted, and their religious gatherings heckled by Hindu-nationalist mobs. Open calls for genocide against Muslims have become commonplace, as have violent clashes and lynchings. Although the authorities generally avoid the appearance of explicitly endorsing these kinds of actions, they rarely go out of their way to condemn them. A recent open letter signed by more than 100 former civil servants accused the Indian government of being “fully complicit” in the subordination of the country’s religious minorities as well as in the undermining of the country’s constitution.

 

Shah Alam Khan, who teaches orthopedic medicine at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences, considers himself relatively privileged compared with most Indian Muslims, who tend to be among the country’s poorer and more marginalized citizens. But even for him, he says, the country’s majoritarian turn has forced a change in his quotidian habits. He thinks twice before using the greeting Assalamualaikum, or using any other obviously Islamic phrase, in a crowded public space. Asked for his name, he typically offers only Shah, because it’s more common and less identifiably Muslim than his surname.

 

This type of self-surveillance has affected other members of his family. “Whenever I used to go meet my mom, she used to give me food,” Khan said. “But ever since [Modi] came to power, she stopped giving me that food, because a large part of that food used to be meat.” Cows are considered sacred to the Hindu faith, and their slaughter has been proscribed in most states—a rule often enforced by vigilante mobs. If Khan were stopped by a hostile crowd on suspicion of carrying beef, his mother feared, he could be arrested, even lynched.

 

Akif—who asked to be identified by only his first name for fear of persecution—grew up in what he describes as comfortable circumstances in Aligarh, southwest of Delhi. But that comfort has slipped in recent years. He won’t leave home wearing traditional Islamic attire if he is going to an unfamiliar neighborhood. His wife, who works in academia, has been asked by colleagues about why she wears a hijab, the Muslim headscarf, and why she doesn’t work at an Islamic institution. Some of the most incendiary comments, Akif says, have come from people he considered friends.

 

These restrictions, compounded by public debates at the local, state, and even national levels over whether Muslim students should be allowed to wear headscarves in school or how loudly mosques should broadcast the call to prayer (known as the azaan), have left many Indian Muslims feeling unwelcome in their own country. “Initially, they came for our dietary habits, now the azaan,” Rana Ayyub, an Indian Muslim journalist and author, told me. “Every day you wake up and it’s like, ‘Okay, what part of our identity are you going to attack today?’”

 

Indian Christians face similar hostility. Attacks on Christians have been rising steadily since 2014, and 2021 was the most violent year on record for the community: The United Christian Forum, an ecumenical organization based in Delhi, reported a tally of more than 500 violent incidents—an 80 percent increase over the previous year. A human-rights lawyer who works on minority-rights and religious-freedom cases, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about their work, told me that most of these incidents originate with Hindu-nationalist mobs, which descend on religious gatherings at churches and in homes to accuse those involved of forcing Christianity upon unsuspecting Hindus, in violation of the country’s anti-conversion laws. In the violence that ensues, pastors have been beaten, churches vandalized, and religious schools attacked.

 

In many cases, rather than intervene to maintain public order, police officers join the mobs, ready to arrest the suspected Christian proselytizers. In one incident, on April 14, dozens of worshippers were gathered at a church in the state of Uttar Pradesh to observe Maundy Thursday when a mob showed up with police. “Everyone was arrested,” the lawyer told me. “‘Who are you converting? Everyone is detained.’ It was a little bizarre.” That case is still pending.

 

Hindu-nationalist groups and BJP lawmakers claim that forced conversions are rampant in the country. But there is little evidence for this. None of the arrests have yet resulted in a single conviction, A. C. Michael, a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission and the national coordinator of the United Christian Forum, told me. But if the real purpose of the harassment is to intimidate members of a religious minority, it has already had its desired effect. “Earlier, we were very proud to display our faith, like wearing a cross or, if we were traveling, we would say our prayers aloud,” Michael said. “All that has now stopped.”

 

This is so far from the India that Nehru’s vision promised that Muslims and Christians now have little expectation that the state will protect not just their rights but their very lives. “The year I left India, in 2015, there were several attacks on churches in Delhi,” Dominic Emmanuel, a former spokesperson of the Delhi Catholic Church who is now based in Vienna, Austria, told me. When he and his fellow congregants staged a protest against attacks within their church compound, they were arrested.

 

Modi’s ruling bjp has no incentive to change course. In March, the party won a resounding victory when it held on to power in Uttar Pradesh, where the government is now led by Yogi Adityanath, a hard-line nationalist and former monk widely seen as Modi’s likely successor. The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, was once the standard-bearer of secularism in India, but it has failed to mount a strong defense of the country’s religious minorities. Analysts I spoke with attribute part of that failure to the opposition’s fears of alienating a Hindu majority that has been swayed by Hindutva ideology.

 

If the political system is no longer a check on majoritarian rule, neither is the legal system. Just as the authorities fail to protect minorities from communal violence—or even participate in the violence themselves—the legal system fails to hold officials to account. Worse, a series of draconian and discriminatory laws have recruited both police and courts to efforts to silence government critics and advocates for India’s religious minorities. (The Indian government did not respond to requests for comment.)

 

At grave personal risk, several Indian journalists have shed unflattering light on Modi’s majoritarian rule. Some have been jailed for their reporting. One is Siddique Kappan, who was charged with sedition and conspiracy to incite violence for trying to report on the gang rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman. (Dalits, pejoratively known as the “untouchables,” are at the bottom of India’s caste system.) Others, like Ayyub, have been hit with spurious fraud and money-laundering charges; their cases are laborious and expensive to defend. The BJP-controlled state does not need to worry about time or money, so the process is the punishment.

 

“There is no one left,” Ayyub said, noting that as the country’s high-profile figures in politics, law, and the media have been largely silenced, so, too, have celebrities in India’s entertainment industry. The most prominent example is Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, as well as one of the country’s most influential Muslim figures, whose films portray India’s pluralism at its best. Last year, the actor’s son was embroiled in allegations of drug use—a charge seen by some as part of a broader effort by the government to crack down on its critics in the film industry, as well as an attempt to discredit Khan personally.

Khan not only embodies that anathema to the BJP of being a Muslim married to a Hindu, but he has also spoken out against religious intolerance in the country. By attacking a personality like Khan, Ayyub said, the government’s message was clear: “If it can happen to Shah Rukh Khan, the biggest superstar,” she said, “imagine what happens to a regular Muslim without the access.”

  

That Modi feels emboldened enough to take on a movie star like Khan is telling. Modi “is popular because of the fact that he’s a bigot,” Aakar Patel, the chair of Amnesty International’s India Board and the author of The Price of the Modi Years, told me. “He is seen as somebody who has put Muslims in their place.” Despite rising inflation and high unemployment, as well as the government’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and democratic backsliding, the prime minister still enjoys widespread popularity with his own BJP-supporting constituency. For most Indians, he is an Indian success story.

 

“Modi has been a real son of the soil for young Indians and they see themselves in him,” Vivan Marwaha, a researcher in emerging markets and the author of What Millennials Want, told me. If the son of a tea seller can become prime minister and command an international stage, the logic goes, so could they. “His appeal is in his personality,” Marwaha added. “Foreign leaders have to listen to him speaking in Hindi. He sells out stadiums in New York, London, and Sydney.”

 

Many Hindu Indians also appear comfortable with Modi’s ethnonationalist aims, despite the outbreaks of communal violence. “The whole religious agenda is not seen as something radical because, at the end of the day, something like 80 percent of India’s population is Hindu,” Marwaha said. “People just believe, ‘Well, why can’t they just live with our rules? Why can’t they not eat beef? Why does the azaan need to be played in public places?’ Things like that.”

 

If no check to the Hinduization of state and society comes from within India, then what about from without? So far, India’s international allies have shown little inclination to call Delhi out over the treatment of its religious minorities, largely because they see India as too important a partner to alienate. This is especially true of the Biden administration, which counts its relationship with India as a strategic asset in its Indo-Pacific strategy.

 

When Washington has voiced concern about the treatment of religious minorities in India, it has done so in private. That could be starting to change. In April, at a joint press conference with the Indian foreign and defense ministers, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that the United States is monitoring the rise of human-rights abuses in the country. That same month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal body created by Congress in 1998, designated India as a country of “particular concern” for the third year in a row in its annual religious-freedom report, placing India alongside countries such as Afghanistan, China, Iran, Russia, and Pakistan. In India’s case, the commission recommended imposing targeted sanctions against those responsible for severe religious-freedom violations.

 

Although the commission has no power to enforce such measures, its condemnations may have some cumulative effect. “When your own agency is recommending a policy move for three years in a row, it becomes harder to ignore with each passing year,” Pranay Somayajula, an advocacy and outreach coordinator at Hindus for Human Rights, a group based in Washington, D.C., told me.

As menacing as the persecution of religious minorities has become, for most Indians, emigrating is not an option. Only about 5 percent of citizens have a passport, and those who leave the country tend to be among the wealthiest. “If we decide to abandon the ship, what will happen to people who do not have the resources to go out? That is a very big concern,” Akif told me. As the last of his siblings still living in India, he can’t bring himself to leave his parents behind.

 

For Shah Alam Khan, remaining is a point of principle too. Because he spent several years working as a doctor for the National Health Service in Britain, he could emigrate there. But doing so would hand the nationalists who don’t see him as a true Indian a win. “It’s like running away. I won’t do that,” he said. “This is my country at the end of the day.” (Yasmeen Serhan is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Rise of the Super Rich & Fall of the World’s Poor

Michael Bloomberg, the three-term Mayor of New York city and a billionaire philanthropist, was once quoted as saying that by the time he dies, he would have given away all his wealth to charity – so that his cheque to the funeral undertaker will bounce for lack of funds in his bank account.

Sounds altruistic – even as the number of billionaires keep rising while the poorest of the world’s poor keep multiplying.

The latest brief by Oxfam International, titled “Profiting from Pain” and released May 23, shows that 573 people became new billionaires during the two-and-a half-year Covid 19 pandemic —while the world’s poverty stricken continued to increase.

“We expect this year that 263 million more people will crash into extreme poverty, at a rate of a million people every 33 hours,” Oxfam said.

Billionaires’ wealth has risen more in the first 24 months of COVID-19 than in 23 years combined. The total wealth of the world’s billionaires is now equivalent to 13.9 percent of global GDP. This is a three-fold increase (up from 4.4 percent) in 2000, according to the study.

Asked about the philanthropic gestures, Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, told IPS wealthy individuals who use their money to help others should be congratulated.

“But charitable giving is no substitute for wealthy people and companies paying their fair share of tax or ensuring their workers are paid a decent wage. And it does not justify them using their power and connections to lobby for unfair advantages over others,” she declared.

Oxfam’s new research also reveals that corporations in the energy, food and pharmaceutical sectors —where monopolies are especially common— are posting record-high profits, even as wages have barely budged and workers struggle with decades-high prices amid COVID-19.

The fortunes of food and energy billionaires have risen by $453 billion in the last two years, equivalent to $1 billion every two days, says Oxfam.

Five of the largest energy companies (BP, Shell, Total Energies, Exxon and Chevron) are together making $2,600 profit every second, and there are now 62 new food billionaires.

Currently, the world’s total population is around 7.8 billion, and according to the UN, more than 736 million people live below the international poverty line.

A World Bank report last year said extreme poverty is set to rise, for the first time in more than two decades, and the impact of the spreading virus is expected to push up to 115 million more people into poverty, while the pandemic is compounding the forces of conflict and climate change, that has already been slowing poverty reduction.

By 2021, as many as 150 million more people could be living in extreme poverty.

Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director at Equality Now, told IPS Oxfam’s report demonstrates systemic failings in the discriminatory nature of countries’ economies and underscores the urgent need for financial systems to be restructured so that they benefit the 99%, not the 1%.

“As with any crisis, Equality Now foresaw that gender would influence how individuals and communities experienced the pandemic, but even we were shocked at how exceptionally and intensely pre-existing inequalities and sex-based discrimination has been exacerbated”, she said.

While billionaires — the vast majority of whom are men — continue to amass vast sums of wealth, women around the world remain trapped in poverty. Wealthy elites are profiting off women’s labor, much of which is underappreciated, underpaid, and uncompensated, she pointed out.

“Economic hardship and inadequate policy responses to the pandemic have eroded many of the hard-won gains that have been achieved over recent years for women and girls. From increases in child marriage, sexual exploitation and human trafficking, to landlords demanding sex from female tenants who have lost their job, and domestic workers trapped inside with abusive employers, women and girls around the world have borne the brunt of the pandemic,” Hassan declared.

The Oxfam study has been released to coincide with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting—which includes the presence of the rich and the superrich—taking place in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland from 22-26 May. The meeting, whose theme is ‘Working Together, Restoring Trust’, will be the first global in-person leadership event since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020

“Billionaires are arriving in Davos to celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes. The pandemic, and now the steep increases in food and energy prices have, simply put, been a bonanza for them. Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” said Oxfam’s Bucher.

She said billionaires’ fortunes have not increased because they are now smarter or working harder. But it is really the workers who are working harder, for less pay and in worse conditions.

The super-rich, she argued, have rigged the system with impunity for decades and they are now reaping the benefits. They have seized a shocking amount of the world’s wealth as a result of privatization and monopolies, gutting regulation and workers’ rights while stashing their cash in tax havens — all with the complicity of governments.”

“Meanwhile, millions of others are skipping meals, turning off the heating, falling behind on bills and wondering what they can possibly do next to survive. Across East Africa, one person is likely dying every minute from hunger. This grotesque inequality is breaking the bonds that hold us together as humanity. It is divisive, corrosive and dangerous. This is inequality that literally kills.”

Elaborating further, Hassan of Equality Now said women are more likely to be informally employed, low-wage earners, and this disadvantaged position has resulted in higher rates of women losing their jobs, particularly in sectors that were not prioritized in government relief packages.

“Women are also more likely to be primary caretaker and many have had to absorb increases in unpaid duties while schools and nurseries shut down. As a consequence, some women have been forced out of jobs as they found it impossible to juggle full-time work while also providing full-time childcare. This loss of income has been especially catastrophic for women in poverty and has made them more vulnerable to a range of human rights violations.”

She said world leaders must stop pursuing policy agendas that benefit the rich and hurt the poor.

“Instead, we urgently need a committed and coordinated response from governments and policymakers to reduce inequality and poverty, and address discrimination that is holding women and girls back while allowing the super-rich to get richer still,” she added.

The Oxfam study also says the pandemic has created 40 new pharma billionaires.

Pharmaceutical corporations like Moderna and Pfizer are making $1,000 profit every second just from their monopoly control of the COVID-19 vaccine, despite its development having been supported by billions of dollars in public investments.

“They are charging governments up to 24 times more than the potential cost of generic production. 87 percent of people in low-income countries have still not been fully vaccinated.”

“The extremely rich and powerful are profiting from pain and suffering. This is unconscionable. Some have grown rich by denying billions of people access to vaccines, others by exploiting rising food and energy prices. They are paying out massive bonuses and dividends while paying as little tax as possible. This rising wealth and rising poverty are two sides of the same coin, proof that our economic system is functioning exactly how the rich and powerful designed it to do,” said Bucher.

Oxfam recommends that governments urgently:

–·Introduce one-off solidarity taxes on billionaires’ pandemic windfalls to fund support for people facing rising food and energy costs and a fair and sustainable recovery from COVID-19. Argentina adopted a one-off special levy dubbed the ‘millionaire’s tax’ and is now considering introducing a windfall tax on energy profits as well as a tax on undeclared assets held overseas to repay IMF debt. The super-rich have stashed nearly $8 trillion in tax havens.

  • — End crisis profiteering by introducing a temporary excess profit tax of 90 percent to capture the windfall profits of big corporations across all industries. Oxfam estimated that such a tax on just 32 super-profitable multinational companies could have generated $104 billion in revenue in 2020.

— Introduce permanent wealth taxes to rein in extreme wealth and monopoly power, as well as the outsized carbon emissions of the super-rich. An annual wealth tax on millionaires starting at just 2 percent, and 5 percent on billionaires, could generate $2.52 trillion a year —enough to lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the world, and deliver universal healthcare and social protection for everyone living in low- and lower middle-income countries.

India’s Attempt To Marry Biometric And Voter ID Databases

Over the past decade, the Indian government has assembled a sprawling biometric database designed to improve the delivery of social services to the country’s more than 1 billion citizens. The Aadhaar database is one of the world’s largest biometric identity programs and has been credited with making it easier for Indians to access subsidies and pension payments. Using fingerprints and iris scans, Aadhaar has made it possible for the government to verify the identity of the country’s residents with relative ease. Now, the Election Commission of India wants to link their voter registration database with Aadhaar, a move that would have profound consequences not only for the privacy of Indian citizens but for the future of biometric databases worldwide.

As it stands, the Election Commission of India (EC) stores its voter registration information in its own database and has its own verification tools. However, the Election Commission of India believes Aadhaar can offer increased protections against fraud and registration errors. In August, the Government of India, on behalf of the EC, approached the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the body that administers Aadhaar, with a proposal to integrate the two databases. In December 2021, the Lok Sabha passed the Election Laws Amendment Bill, which creates a legal framework for integrating the two systems. Opposition groups argue that the bill will face serious legal hurdles.

The Aadhaar-EPIC controversy illustrates the serious problems that can arise when large biometric identity databases are expanded beyond their remit. Far from making India’s elections more secure, the marriage of the two systems could lead to disenfranchisement and increased voter microtargeting. With countries around the world launching or already administering biometric databases, India’s efforts to marry its biometric identification system to its voter registration database will provide an important precedent for how governments deploy such systems. India’s experience with biometric identification systems should be a lesson for policymakers overseeing similar efforts about the importance of investing in the security of the information ecosystem in which biometric and voting data is housed, how access to this data is regulated and monitored, and how the technology is actually deployed in voter registration and identification.

A global democratic leader

As the world’s largest democracy and an exporter of voting technology, India’s approach to electoral management is likely to influence how other countries run their elections. It was a mere decade ago that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described India’s election commission as the “the global gold standard for running elections” and observed that the commission “is already sharing best practices with counterparts in other countries, including Egypt and Iraq.” Today, India is an exporter of technology used to administer elections, and decisions made in India regarding the administration of domestic elections are likely to influence its peers.

The Aadhaar-EPIC controversy touches on two issues of concern to policymakers and scholars interested in the ways that biometric technologies are being integrated into electoral processes and democratic governance more broadly. The first is the global spread of biometric identity databases. According to the World Privacy Forum, 160 countries collect biometric data for national ID systems. Even when these systems work as intended, critics argue that they become tools of state surveillance creating “risks to privacy and anonymity” and conditioning “citizens into participating in their own surveillance and social control.” And these systems often do not work as intended. Their data ecosystems are often insecure and unregulated, consisting of multiple private and public actors, networks, and databases. This creates opportunities for private actors to access personal data, making them an attractive target for malicious hackers. They can also be exclusionary, placing undue burdens on rural and urban poor to take time off work, travel, and produce papers in order to get IDs. When biometric indicators change, a person’s identity could effectively be lost.

The second issue is the integration of biometrics into voter registration and identification systems. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 50 of the 176 democracies in their database use some form of biometrics to verify the identity of voters. The reasons for using biometrics are straightforward. Ideally, they curb fraud, eliminate multiple registrations, and make elections more secure and efficient. In practice, however, the utility of these systems depends on the context in which they are deployed, such as the independence of a given country’s electoral management body, poll policy and training, civic education and voter confidence, and overall cost. Moreover, election management bodies often do not have the expertise or resources to design and implement their own biometric systems and are thus reliant on private actors to install and manage these systems. These private actors further complicate the information ecosystem in which personal data circulates.

The EC argues that integrating Aadhaar and EPIC is important for two main reasons. First, it will eliminate fraudulent and duplicate registrations, which can bog down electoral administration, slow voting times, and in some cases affect electoral outcomes. Second, it will make it easier for migrant laborers to vote as it would allow them to walk into any polling station, have their identity verified, and then cast a ballot in their home election.

Critics of the move contend that the union of the two systems poses major risks. Civil society actors and journalists have argued that not only is the move unnecessary, but that it could also threaten voter privacy and lead to mass disenfranchisement and fraud. Most recently, a group of 500 prominent citizens and 23 civil society organizations signed a statement decrying the EC’s proposal, calling it “a dangerous idea which can fundamentally alter the structure of our democracy.”

The Aadhaar ecosystem

Launched in 2010 by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Aadhaar was initially designed as a voluntary system for verifying the identities of Indian residents. Explicitly not a citizenship card, Aadhaar aimed to ease access to welfare services such as pension systems, cooking gas subsidies, and income taxes by providing people a simple mechanism for confirming their identity. Enrollees receive a unique 12-digit ID number in exchange for some simple demographic information and two forms of biometric identification: a fingerprint and an iris scan.

But Aadhaar quickly expanded past its initial remit and became a quasi-mandatory form of identity for accessing social services. Aadhaar’s rapid and largely unregulated expansion has resulted in data leaks, an inability to access government services, and degraded biometrics and loss of identity. Aadhaar’s rapid expansion spurred a series of legal challenges that were resolved in 2018, when India’s Supreme Court validated Aadhaar’s constitutionality but limited its use to certain kinds of welfare programs. Critics of Aadhaar continue to attack the system’s security and data gathering procedures and argue that Aadhaar is a tool of state surveillance that makes it harder for the poor to receive benefits. (For an in-depth history of the Aadhaar controversy see here.)

Researchers have identified myriad issues with Aadhaar but two are particularly relevant to its integration with EPIC. The first is the lack of data standards in Aadhaar’s enrollment process. This process usually involves three actors: the UIDAI, registrars, and enrollment agencies (EA). First, the UIDAI signs a memoranda of understanding with a government agency, a public service undertaking (a company that’s ownership is split between the state and private entities), or other organization granting them the authority to enroll people in Aadhaar. Registrars then farm out enrollment to an EA. These agencies use UIDAI-approved software and biometric devices to register people for Aadhaar. While EAs use certified equipment and software, there is no standardized approach to data collection. EAs have significant discretion as to what kinds of documents they can accept to identify someone for Aadhaar enrollment. This creates possibilities for data-entry errors and corruption in the Aadhaar registration system, causing a host of issues that range from failure to receive pension payments and other welfare benefits to identity theft and the public exposure of personal information.

The second relevant issue is a lack of transparency and accountability in how Aadhaar’s data is handled when it is seeded with other databases. In 2017, for example, in a report for the Center for Internet and Society, Amber Sinha and Srinivas Kodali analyzed publicly available datasets from four schemes seeded with Aadhaar. They found 100-135 million Aadhaar numbers and 100 million bank account numbers disclosed across the four schemes. Incidents such as this emphasize that Aadhaar’s insecure ecosystem creates real-world harms for Indian citizens. The original intent behind Aadhaar was to create a simple system for verifying the identity of Indian citizen’s trying to access government services. However, data leaks and inappropriately handled data have led to many accounts of personal information being exposed. A recent audit of the UIDAI by India’s Comptroller and General Auditor (CAG) found that the organization had failed to properly regulate its client vendors and ensure the security of their data vaults. The report also found many instances of duplicate and incomplete registrations. The audit also criticized the UIDAI for failing to ensure the quality of biometrics and making cardholders responsible for fees associated with updating poorly taken biometrics. “The lack of accountability is an inherent feature of the Aadhaar system,” Apar Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation, said in reacting to the audit. “The findings of the CAG audit confirm ground level studies of junk enrollments, faulty and low-quality demographic and biometric data.” The insecurity of the Aadhaar system along with the UIDAI’s lack of accountability should make the Election Commission wary of partnering with them.

Aadhaar, the EC, and mass disenfranchisement

Aadhaar’s insecure ecosystem, lack of data standards, and the UIDAI’s lack of transparency and accountability have led researchers like Vibhav Mariwala and Prakhar Misra to argue that the marriage of Aadhaar and EPIC will exacerbate the principal problem it is intended to solve: voter disenfranchisement and registration irregularities. Mariwala and Misra’s concerns stem not just from the extant issues with Aadhaar, but also from the Election Commission’s first attempt to combine the databases. In 2015, the Election Commission launched its first attempt to marry Aadhaar and EPIC—an initiative known as the National Electoral Roll and Purification Program (NERPAP). NERPAP only operated for a few months before being halted by a Supreme Court decision that limited the use of Aadhaar to four specific welfare schemes. In the brief period it was operational, NERPAP linked the registration information of 320 million voters to their Aadhaar number—but also disenfranchised 3 million voters.

In the aftermath of NERPAP, controversy arose over whether or not the EC had actually received consent from voters to link their EPIC data with Aadhaar. At the time, the Election Commission claimed that the only mechanism for linking the two systems was the National Voters Service Portal. When voters logged in, they could voluntarily choose to link their accounts to Aadhaar. Four years later, these claims were challenged when over 3 million voters showed up to cast ballots in the state of Telangana only to find their names deleted from the polls. In the ensuing scandal, multiple right to information requests filed after the election in four states revealed that the EC pursued several tactics to rapidly seed the EPIC database with Aadhaar. According to reports in Scroll.in and The Wire, these tactics included accessing other national databases, enlisting local election officials to gather Aadhaar numbers during registration processes, and using the UIDAI’s DBT Seeding Data Viewer (DSDV) tool, which allowed the EC to search Aadhaar records and view non-biometric Aadhaar data side by side with voter ID information. In each of these cases, consent was sketchy at best and was certainly not attained in the straightforward way that the EC claimed.

The controversy also forced the EC to admit that voter names were deleted during NERPAP in 2015. In this case, the software that was used to link Aadhaar and EPIC deleted supposedly duplicate voters without verifying that they were in fact duplicate registrations. In the ensuing controversy, the EC did not reveal how its software identified duplicate registrations and insisted that despite the mass deletion, this type of de-duplication process needed to be carried out across the country. Critics of the government’s effort to marry Aadhaar and EPIC fear that another such mass deletion could take place if the government is allowed to once more attempt to combine the two databases. While it is difficult to gauge the likelihood of another mass deletion, the Election Commission’s lack of transparency about the first linkage, their continued unwillingness to spell out how EPIC will be connected to Aadhaar certainly raises red flags. These concerns are heightened by the serious security concerns plaguing the Aadhaar ecosystem.

Aadhaar, EPIC, and microtargeting

As it stands, voter data in India is easily available online, but because it isn’t machine readable, it is difficult to microtarget voters. The lack of machine-readable data is exacerbated by the fact many people have the same name, and sometimes those names are spelled differently across different databases. Marrying EPIC and Aadhaar would solve both these problems. As Anuj Srivas writes in The Wire, it would make matching one’s voter information with information in a wide array of other databases easy because Aadhaar allows identification across databases. The marriage of the two databases could thus lead to increased opportunities for microtargeting by the sitting government.

The possibility of microtargeting in India would seriously threaten the secrecy of the ballot. Each polling station in India serves approximately 3000 voters, and polling stations have to be within two kilometers of a voter’s home—making it fairly easy to determine whom a given voter cast their ballot for if microtargeting data is available. Moreover, microtargeting at this level could allow government actors to direct specific policies toward groups of local beneficiaries, as Aadhaar is primarily used to deliver government services. For example, these techniques could potentially allow a ruling party to target welfare schemes and infrastructure projects to specific polling communities. This might sound far-fetched, but in the run-up to the 2019 general election, the ruling BJP openly engaged in poll-based, benefit-focused campaigning. If the BJP were able to further tailor this kind of campaigning to smaller communities, it would allow them to consolidate their base and gain new voters.

Researchers warn that political microtargeting could result in a loss of privacy and exposure to selective information, providing fertile ground for mis- and dis-information to spread and polarization to increase. The fact that voters are typically unaware that they are being targeted undermines their ability to determine which information is relevant to them. Private companies often carry out microtargeting on behalf of political parties, and as digital intermediaries, the companies are not subject to the transparency and accountability mechanisms assigned to traditional political actors. It is important to note, however, that the actual efficacy of political microtargeting is debatable. As Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, the political communications scholar, notes, it is important to separate theoretical concerns about microtargeting from analyses of their actual impact. With that distinction in mind, marrying EPIC with Aadhaar has the potential to facilitate problematic forms of microtargeting. Or as Retired Supreme Court Justice, B.N. Srikrishna provocatively summed up these concerns: “Instead of having a Cambridge Analytica you’ll have a Delhi Analytica, a Mumbai Analytica, a Calcutta Analytica. That is the danger.”

Conclusion

The EPIC-Aadhaar controversy has serious implications for global actors interested in identification technologies, e-governance, and electoral processes. First, it provides additional evidence that national biometric identity databases are at best problematic, especially when they expand far past their initial remit. Second, it adds a list of contextual factors that need to be considered when gauging the utility of using biometrics in electoral processes. These factors include the security of the information ecosystem in which biometric voting data is housed, how access to this data is regulated and monitored, and how the technology is actually deployed in voter registration and identification. Finally, the introduction of biometrics into electoral processes could lead to their integration into the actual voting process. For example, the EC revealed that it was developing blockchain voting technology with the Indian Institutes of Technology in Madras and Chennai for use as early as the 2024 general election. Blockchain voting technology would use biometric data to confirm voter’s identity, meaning that they would need an Aadhaar number to cast their ballot. Using biometric data in this way would heighten concerns about mass disenfranchisement and electoral transparency.

Patrick Jones is a scholar of emerging media and digital technologies and received his PhD from the University of Oregon in 2020.

Jaishankar’s Tough Talk On India’s Foreign Policy Priorities

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has had geopolitical, military, and economic consequences for every nation on earth. The economic consequences is impacting every market and causing disruptions that will take time to recover. More than anything else, the invasion is causing a massive humanitarian crisis. Over two months into the war, with no end to the war in sight, the impact of the war has been felt in every corner of the earth.

As in any war, uncertainty of the outcome of this violent conflict is high. The escalation of conflict has triggered an immediate and steep rise in humanitarian needs as essential supplies and services are disrupted and civilians flee the fighting. The UN estimates that 12 million people inside Ukraine will need relief and protection, while more than 4 million Ukrainian refugees may need protection and assistance in neighboring countries in the coming months.

“I am here to focus on ways on how the UN can expand support for the people of Ukraine, saving lives, reduce suffering and help find the path of peace. I want the Ukrainian people to know that the world sees you, hears you, and is in awe of your resilience and resolve, UN Secretary-General António Guterres in remarks at a press encounter with the President of Ukraine in Kyiv, said on April 28th.

Countries across the globe have reacted to this situation in ways that suit their interests, based on their long standing relationship with Russia and the Western Alliance led by the United States. The message of the United Nations General Assembly is loud and clear:  End hostilities in Ukraine — now. Silence the guns — now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy — now.

President Joe Biden has condemned Russia for an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine while promising that his country and its allies “will hold Russia accountable”.

The Group of Seven industrialised nations strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said they would bring forward severe and coordinated economic and financial sanctions against Moscow.

“This crisis is a serious threat to the rules-based international order, with ramifications well beyond Europe,” the G7 leaders said in a joint statement, adding Russian President Vladimir Putin had re-introduced war to the European continent.

A majority of the nations at the United Nations were  unanimous in their condemnation of Russia’s unprovoked invasion and the implications of its war crimes on the innocent. However, India, the rising power on world stage, abstained on all the 12 United Nations resolutions condemning the invasion. Its initial statements at the UN Security Council were decidedly mild, while the Indian ambassador did not even mention Russia by name, and avoided criticizing Russia for the invasion. Another major world player, China rejected calling Russia’s moves on Ukraine an “invasion” and urged all sides to exercise restraint.

There has been mounting pressure on India to condemn Russia. The Western nations have implied that there could be consequences for India’s ambivalence. Shortly after the invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden warned, “Any nation that countenances Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine will be stained by association.” During a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in early April, Biden pressed India to align itself with the Western nations in condemning Russia. Despite leaders from several Western during their recent visits to New Delhi expressing understanding for the Indian position, India has not heeded to the wishes of the West.

India has been focused on seeking to establish itself as a major player on the world stage, trying to be a moderate voice on international affairs, responding to the new realities of the world, establishing friendship with the US, sometimes in its own terms, less reliant on Russia and diversifying its dependence for military needs and trade with multiple nations.

India’s career diplomat turned politician, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has been talking tough on India’s position on Russia-Ukraine conflict. While responding to questions from world leaders on the crisis Jaishankar pointed to challenges in Asia and India’s neighborhood — in Afghanistan, and from China — and said it was a “wake-up call” for Europe to look at these instances where “problems have been happening”.

For instance, in response to Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi last week, Jaishankar said, “You talked about Ukraine. I remember less than a year ago what happened in Afghanistan, where the entire civil society was thrown under the bus by the world. We in Asia face our own sets of challenges, which often has an impact on the rules-based order.”

“For India, the past week, without a doubt, belonged to external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. It is hard to recall another foreign affairs minister who articulated India’s views so firmly and well in international for a,” Sandipan Deb  wrote in the popular magazine, The Mint.

“In recent weeks, Jaishankar has been sharp in his comments on Europe. In Washington DC, he said India’s total purchase of Russian energy for the month was “less than what Europe does in an afternoon”. Days earlier, speaking on the issue of sanctions as British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss listened, he said “it looks like a campaign,” Deb pointed out.

According to Jaishankar, India is prepared to take a much bigger role in global affairs and would help the world with more supplies of wheat to tame food inflation if WTO rules allow. He asserted the West has been oblivious to the pressing challenges facing Asia including last year’s events in Afghanistan and the continuous pressure on the rules-based order in the region.

However, while refraining from condemning Russia and not offering to mediate in the conflict just as some other neutral nations have done, it has been noted by analysts on foreign policy that  India is abdicating its rising role as a model democracy and world leader.

“Despite the rhetorical care the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has adopted to appear neutral, the time may have come for India, in its own interest, to rethink its stance,” Shashi Tharoor, an opposition member of India’s Parliament, a former Undersecretary General of the United Nations, who has served as Minister of the Government of India and Chair of the Indian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in “Foreign Affairs.”

In recent days, India, still without naming Russia has criticized what is being done in Ukraine, in an effort to uphold the principles of international law India has traditionally upheld, especially, respect for the UN Charter and the sovereignty of states, the inviolability of borders, and opposition to the use of force to resolve political issues.

While pointing to the remarks by diplomat Shivshankar Menon, who stated, “Asia’s sense of its own difference—its focus on stability, trade, and the bottom line that has served Asian countries so well in the last 40 years,” Tharoor rightly says, “But it would be wrong to look at the reluctance to take sides that India and other developing countries in Asia have shown and conclude that a faraway war in Europe simply does not matter to the rest of the world. India’s dilemma is more complicated than its repeated abstentions on the Ukraine question imply, and it illustrates why the world order cannot simply remain what it was before the invasion.”

While describing India’s growing importance on world stage, Tharoor pointed out how in recent years has gained prominence and admiration. Tharoor wrote, India became a founding member of the G-20 when that organization was established in 1999; concluded a nuclear deal with the United States in 2005 that was portrayed as enshrining an “Indian exception”; took over the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2006, dubbing itself “the world’s fastest-growing free market democracy”; won then President Barack Obama’s endorsement of India’s claims to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2010; got the UN to adopt an International Day of Yoga in 2015, showcasing its cultural soft power; and joined the quadrilateral security dialogue with the United States, Australia, and Japan known as the Quad.

With India’s recent stand in failing to condemn and isolate Russia, there are fears that India may face consequences for its ambivalence. Shortly after the invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden warned, “Any nation that countenances Russia’s naked aggression against Ukraine will be stained by association.”

“India’s lack of influence on Russia and failure to take a clear stand on the war have also undermined its case for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council,” Tharoor writes.

One way for India to salvage its reputation in the West would be to leverage its nonaligned position to play peacemaker on Ukraine. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba had asked “India to use all influence in its relations with Russia to force it to cease military aggression against Ukraine.”

I am reminded of what Jaishankar elaborated in what has come to be called the “Jaishankar doctrine” in his 2020 book The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World. “Asserting national interests and securing strategic goals through various means is the dharma of a state,” he wrote. India must discard “political romanticism” and think in realpolitik terms. There are no true friends or allies; the world is a “transactional bazaar”, a fact that India has long been in denial of. In this marketplace, India must advance and maximize its “national interests by identifying and exploiting opportunities created by global contradictions,” he wrote.

If that principle “no true friends or allies” in the world market place, it is time for India to come out of the shadow of past dependence on Soviet Union and show the world that India stands with truth, condemn aggression, deny autocracy and tyranny, respect true freedom, human rights and true democracy, and stand with and lead by example in India and around the world, India respects and appreciates freedom and democracy in letter and spirit.

When The World Is On The Brink, Neroes Of Washington Are Fiddling!

The war between Russia and Ukraine is in its second month, and apparently, there is no end in sight! Where are all the peace seekers and peacekeepers? Why is the Secretary-General of the United Nations not shuttling between Kyiv and Moscow? How come there is little interest in finding a peaceful solution to this crisis? It is quite bizarre to think that after witnessing the destruction, atrocities, and mayhem at the battleground, it is business as usual for the rest of the world!
The Washington elites, led by Neocons, are cheerleading from the sidelines and egging the Ukrainians to continue with the fighting. Yet, they are reluctant to give the Ukrainians the necessary offensive firepower to win a war. Sitting in their comfortable multi-million abodes in the Washington suburbs, they are toying with the lives, property, and the future of the nation of Ukraine. It is another smart move in their geopolitical games where they would never let a severe crisis go to waste.

With the recent sinking of the Russian warship Moskov, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukraine president, has upped the ante. To the western media, Zelensky is this great war hero fighting the evil forces from the trenches. He conducts press conferences or addresses various legislative bodies across the west in his military fatigues, often echoing the speeches of Winston Churchill, coaxing the rest of the world to join him in his fight with the Russians.

‘However, one wonders how a genuine national leader could allow the subjugation of his people to this level of destruction and suffering and let his motherland be laid to ruins.’ He has been urging women and children of Ukraine to welcome the Russians with Molotov cocktails while lamenting the toll of the civilian deaths. Now that he has succeeded in keeping Russia’s army at bay from taking Kyiv, he must be dreaming about becoming the ultimate warrior who has saved Europe from the Russians. Of course, the power elites in Washington must be reassuring him of their unflinching support and are delighted to see the travails of the Russians on the battlefield.

However, it is a sad spectacle for the rest of the world where innocent people, some of them with their hands tied to their back and shot with their bodies strewn across the street in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv. More and more, cities across Ukraine resemble Dresden, Germany, during World War II, where allied planes obliterated cities with fire bombings. In many cities, including Mariupol, the absolute magnitude of this great human tragedy is yet to be unfolded.

Looking at the reports from the battlefield, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, may have committed war crimes targeting innocent civilians as a strategy to terrorize the citizenry and bring them into submission. Shelling the residential buildings and destroying the ecosystems of civilian life, Putin is presiding over a despotic regime that is authoritarian, vengeful, self-serving, and may stoop down to any low level to achieve his nefarious objectives. He has miscalculated the resilience and underestimated the willpower of the Ukrainians while exposing the weak links in his mighty military machine the U.S. has long been touting to increase the Pentagon budget.

Whether a country is not directly affected, the economic consequences of harsh economic sanctions of this disastrous war are felt across the globe. The conflict has already triggered turmoil in the financial markets. In addition, it has drastically increased the uncertainty about the recovery of the global economy after the Covid Pandemic. Due to the high commodity prices, the inflationary pressures may well lead to a recession and even social unrest.

Russia is the world’s 3rd oil producer and 2nd natural gas producer. Ukraine is a key producer of Corn, wheat, and sunflowers. Therefore, continuing this war will disrupt the energy and essential commodities marketplace and may also intensify the risk of stagflation in both advanced and emerging economies. In a prolonged conflict,  tough western sanctions and disruptions of Russia’s oil and gas exports might blow global markets with higher interest rates and slow down the world economy. The slide in Russia’s ruble has been expected, but this could also put the dominance of the U.S. dollar in question as the world’s reserve currency.

Most importantly, according to various press reports, Russia has warned the U.S. and NATO this week that “unpredictable consequences” could be if they continue sending Ukraine “sensitive” weapons. In response, Ukrainian President Zelensky said in an interview with CNN on Friday that the world should be prepared for the possibility of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons. What should we conclude about these threats and counter-threats?

Undoubtedly, our world is at an inflection point. One may not dismiss the possibility that the Russian bear being pushed to the wall through western sanctions and battlefield losses due to the constant funneling of advanced weapons from NATO countries might react even more destructively. The world might pay even a heavier price. Ukrainians are proud people who may want to have assurances of no more wars in the future while protecting their independence and way of life.

Many would argue that the creation of the Taliban and subsequent attack on 9/11 by the Al Qaeda from the safe haven in Afghanistan was the direct result of the American foreign policy run amok after the Soviet invasion of that country. Is history about to repeat itself? Why is the world watching and waiting instead of actively engaged in finding a peaceful solution?
Today, we live in a global village without any boundaries to communication and relationships. It is in the interest of the world citizenry to keep the faith and persevere for peace to avert a potential carnage the world has never seen before! (George Abraham is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)

How Putin Underestimated Ukraine

In the eyes of the Kremlin leadership, the basic precondition of the successful war against Ukraine has been the perceived power of the Russian Armed Forces and possible superiority over the Ukrainian forces.

This idea is clearly visible in the numerous pre-war statements in which it was assumed that Ukrainian people would not fight, that they would welcome Russians, and that they would and should be ‘liberated’ or ‘protected’.

The reality showed the opposite. Not only did Ukrainian Armed Forces fight back, but Ukrainian society demonstrates unity and resistance, something that definitely contradicts the notion of a ‘divided East and West’ promoted by Russian propaganda for years.

Do Ukrainians still have different views regarding politicians, economic development, and even the state of their foreign policy? Yes, absolutely, as any other democratic nation should.

Still, according to the latest sociological surveys (March), 76 per cent of Ukrainian think that their country is going in the right direction, in February, this number was just 25 per cent.

Moreover, Ukrainians are not ready to give up Crimea and the occupied territories of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions: 86 per cent think that Ukraine should use all means necessary to return Donbas, and 80 per cent – to return Crimea – these numbers are also higher than they were before the war started.

A united Ukrainian people

The imperative of the Russian leadership was that Russian-speaking cities such as Kharkiv and Odesa would surrender first. Just before the invasion, there had been rumours in Odesa’s social networks that a mayor bought one million roses to greet Russian soldiers.

Moreover, Kharkiv appeared in the Ukrainian president’s interview with the Washington Post as a city that has the potential to be occupied by the Russian Federation. The latter provoked strong opposition among the local politicians and activists who have been publicly confirming the readiness to resist and the pro-Ukrainian mood of the city.

Some experts now consider that the brutal Russian shelling of Kharkiv is a punishment for that January position. In Odesa too, sociological polls on the third week of the war demonstrated that 91 per cent agreed that Russia is at war with Ukraine, 74 per cent absolutely disagreed that Russia is liberating Ukraine from ‘nationalists’, and 93 per cent supported the actions of President Zelenskyy.

Moreover, an initial plan that these occupied cities would quickly follow ‘the Crimea scenario’ of the fake referendum and the instalment of proxies as heads of the municipality did not work out.

The occupied cities of Kherson, Kahovka, and Energodar have seen daily participation of pro-Ukrainian demonstrations against the Russian forces. Mayors of several towns in Eastern Ukraine, including Melitopol, were kidnapped, but local inhabitants still did not support a new ‘leadership’.

In 2013, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians came to the Maidan after the brutal attack against a small group of students. In 2022, millions of Ukrainians, despite ethnicity, religion, or language preferences, came out in support of the towns that have been under constant attack.

While in January, the newly established Territorial Defence Forces of Ukraine was trying to attract 100 thousand reservists, in March, it is almost impossible to join the TDF because of quantity of applications.

These volunteers now have an experience of eight years of continuous war with Russia and bring both humanitarian aid and military supply. But what is most important is that people believe in the Armed Forces, and this trust and support is what makes the situation so difficult for the Kremlin.

2014 is not 2022

In the development of different strategic documents for the Armed Forces or diplomats of Ukraine, we always emphasised an important element – personnel and their motivation. Air superiority or outnumbering in personnel and missiles are important, but only if you have personnel ready to fight and with an understanding for what the country is fighting.

After three weeks of the Russian invasion, it seemed that despite military superiority, the Russian army is confused and demoralised. But unfortunately, not their leadership.

These examples clearly demonstrate the how the Russian leadership underestimated Ukraine’s military, as most conclusions were based on the 2014 situation. Ill-equipped Armed Forces, significant support of the pro-Russian political parties, misunderstanding of the undemocratic processes happening in Russia itself have diminished gradually after eight years of the occupation of Crimea and the war in Donbas.

The desire for peace cannot be confused with the willingness to surrender, and the desire for stability should not be confused with willingness to suppress a democratic and sovereign choice of people.

‘It is our land, it is our home’. ‘We are not contesting anybody or disputing over something. We defend our family’. ‘Don’t ask how is my family, my family is 44 million Ukrainians’. These are the most popular slogans these days. It is not nationalism or excessive patriotism.

This is the type of resilience which experts and politicians have been discussing during the last years. Ukraine adopted its first National Resilience Concept in September 2021. Six months later came a reason to check its validity.

Dr. Hanna Shelest is editor-in-chief of Ukraine Analytica and heads the security policy department at the Ukrainian think tank Ukrainian Prism. Source: International Politics and Society (IPS), published by the Global and European Policy Unit of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin.

United Nations & Its Leadership Challenged By An Existential Crisis

The other day a friend asked me “Can Russia be expelled from the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority?”  Almost impossible to do that, I responded.

Two of the articles of the Charter of the United Nations relate to the issue of possible exclusion of Russia from the United Nations. Article 5 talks about suspension and Article 6 talks about expulsion. According to those articles, the action needs be taken by the General Assembly with two-thirds majority, upon the recommendation of the Security Council. That recommendation of the Council cannot be made as it is subject to veto by the Russian Federation as one of the five Permanent Members.

The obvious follow-up question was “Has any country been ever expelled or suspended from the General Assembly?”  The U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) has effectively excluded a state on three occasions: Cambodia in 1997, Yugoslavia in 1992 and South Africa in 1974.

UNGA Resolution 47/1 was adopted on 22 September 1992 expelled Yugoslavia from the UN General Assembly. In this case, the Security Council by its Resolution 777 (1992) recommended action under Article 6 of the UN Charter, considering that the nation known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had ceased to exist and therefore recommended to the General Assembly to exclude Yugoslavia from General Assembly and asked the country as constituted to apply for membership in the United Nations.

Some countries tried to expel South Africa, which was one of the 51 founding members of the United Nations in 1945, because of its policy of apartheid, but the three permanent members of the Security Council – France, UK, and US – used their veto power to block that move.

After the Council informed the General Assembly on its failure to adopt a resolution, the then President of the General Assembly, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, ruled that the delegation of South Africa should be refused participation in the work of the General Assembly. His ruling was upheld by 91 votes to 22, with 19 abstentions on 12 November 1974.

Although remaining a member of the UN, South Africa was not represented at subsequent sessions of the General Assembly. Following South Africa’s successful democratic elections of May 1994, after 20 years of refusing to accept the credentials of the South African delegation, the General Assembly unanimously welcomed South Africa back to full participation in the United Nations on 23 June 1994. It also deleted its agenda item on “the elimination of apartheid and the establishment of a united, democratic and nonracial South Africa.”

It is also important recall that in 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on all member states to impose a trade boycott against South Africa. A US Congressional legislation aimed to ban all new U.S. trade and investment in South Africa and that acted as a catalyst for similar sanctions in Europe and Japan. In 1963, the UN Security Council called for partial arms ban against South Africa, but this was not mandatory under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Deadlock but not dead-end – other courses of action

As mentioned earlier, the suspension or expulsion of Russia is “almost impossible” according to the UN Charter. To that, I would add that it is a deadlock but not a dead-end.

Some UN watchers are of the opinion that there are still ways to limit Russia’s presence in the U.N. beyond the Security Council as has been decided today (7 April) by the UNGA to suspend its membership in the UN Human Rights Council.

According to the General Assembly’s 1950 resolution 377A (V), widely known as ‘Uniting for Peace’, if the Security Council is unable to act because of the lack of unanimity among its five veto-wielding permanent members, the Assembly has the power to make recommendations to the wider UN membership for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

For instance. most frequently, the Security Council determines when and where a UN peace operation should be deployed, but historically, when the Council has been unable to take a decision, the General Assembly has done so. For example, in 1956, the General Assembly established the First UN Emergency Force (UNEF I) in the Middle East.

In addition, the General Assembly may meet in Emergency Special Session if requested by nine members of the Security Council or by a majority of the Members of the Assembly. To date, the General Assembly has held 11 Emergency Special Sessions (8 of which have been requested by the Security Council).

On 1 March 2022, the General Assembly, meeting in emergency session, adopted a resolution by which it deplored “the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the Charter. Can any other process feasibly be exploited to suspend a state in such circumstances, as a way of circumventing article 5? Yes, there is a way to try that.

Though the General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, but they are considered to carry political weight as they express the will of the wider UN membership.

Some UN watchers believe that Article 5 of the Charter is not completely the end of the road on suspension. They are of the opinion that that there are two dimensions to a state’s participation in the UN: the actual membership of the state (the subject of article 5 of the Charter); and the representation of that state at the General Assembly’s sessions.

Matters of representation are considered in the context of the General Assembly’s credentials process, which is the process by which the Assembly assesses the eligibility of individual delegates to represent their states at the Assembly’s annual sessions. The process is essentially procedural in nature. It is regulated not by the UN Charter but by the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure.

While the credentials process is usually a procedural one, the credentials process effectively gives the General Assembly the power to decide which authority should be regarded as the legitimate representative of the state – at least so far as the UN is concerned. UNGA could vote to suspend Russian delegation from participating in the General Assembly, a step that does not require the Security Council.

In this context, it has been asserted that “ This move, which would strip Russia of its right to speak or vote at the UN but allow it to retain membership, previously happened in 1974, when diplomats voted to suspend South Africa for its apartheid system.”

Veto is the Chief Culprit

The headline of my opinion piece for the IPS wire of 8 March 2022 argued that “Veto is the Chief Culprit” emphasizing that “Expulsion or Suspension is Not the Remedy”. Since 1946, all five permanent members have exercised the right of veto at one time or another on a variety of issues.

To date, approximately 49 per cent of the vetoes had been cast by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and thereafter the Russian Federation, 29 per cent by the United States, 10 per cent by the United Kingdom, and six per cent each by China and France.

I repeat my main contention in that opinion as “The chief culprit in the failure of unified global action by the UN is the continuation of the irrational practice of veto. As a matter, I have said on record that, if only one reform action could be taken, it should be the abolition of veto. Believe me, the veto power influences not only the decisions of the Security Council but also all work of the UN, including importantly the choice of the Secretary-General.”

Further, I added, “I believe the abolition of veto requires a greater priority attention in the reforms process than the enlargement of the Security Council membership with additional permanent ones. Such permanency is simply undemocratic. I believe that the veto power is not “the cornerstone of the United Nations” but in reality, its tombstone.”

Proactive UN leadership missing

Amid all these legal explanations, diplomatic exchanges, and diverse conjectures, it is unfortunate that questions have been raised about the reticence of the UN Secretary-General in getting his hands dirty and in getting more actively involved in towards ending the Russian aggression and promoting peace in Ukraine.

As much as I recall, this is first time the world public has done that about the role of the UN leadership so vocally. The UN website mentions “near daily press stakeouts by the Secretary-General” on the war in Ukraine. Is this the extent of his active role and involvement?

Well-respected UN watcher and former high UN official Kul Chandra Gautam in an opinion piece recently even exhorted the SG “not to hide behind the glasshouse at Turtle Bay and go beyond invisible subtle diplomacy to more visible shuttle diplomacy.” That is the way to go.

On 3 April, the UN website publicized a Twitter message from the SG saying: “I am deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine. It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability.”

Just two pitiable sentences in Twitter (I wonder how many of the global population has a Twitter account). His operatives – the UN secretariat – misled the world by the trick headline: “UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday called for an independent investigation into the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, a suburb of the capital, Kyiv.”

Which official language(s) of the UN would interpret “It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability” as “called for an independent investigation”? This is the height of public deception. I wonder why this is necessary.

The Ukraine President lamented on 5 April about the failure of UN Security Council saying that the Council can “dissolve yourselves altogether” if there is nothing it can do other than engage in conversation. First time, a UN Member State has spoken so frankly, so openly, so rightly in a speech before the Council which was at an impasse to stop the aggression in his country.

Unfortunately, it is widely understood that for the UN system, more so for the SG, the dominant instinct for being pro-active in any crisis situation is “the fear of failure.” That “fear” determines the process of decision-making in a big way. A global organization like UN should be smart and mature enough to understand the value of critical opinions to improve its efficacy. Unfortunately, we are not there.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is Former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN; President of the UN Security Council (2000 and 2001); Senior Special Adviser to UN General Assembly President (2011-2012) and Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN.

Credible Opposition In India: A Far Cry

The fact that the BJP managed to get into power in four Assembly elections out of five gave a jolt to the Opposition. It had hoped that lack of governance, anti-incumbency, politics of hatred and division, inflation, unemployment, and a poorly managed pandemic would relegate them into a corner. But precisely, the opposite happened.

India’s voters have changed. All these crucial issues did not weigh in during the polls. The most eloquent example is Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. In rally after rally, the Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, said that this election would determine who would win — the Hindus or the Muslims. It was one of the most polarising elections in recent history. Hate speeches were the highlight of the campaign.

Journalists who traveled extensively into the Hindi heartland say that they found the voters constantly complaining about lack of jobs, high inflation, cooking gas, petrol prices, and many other issues. But when asked who they would vote for, their choice was unanimous: BJP. What was the rationale? They said that Modi was in for the big fight, so they wanted to support him and his party. What they meant by the big fight was Hindus versus Muslims.

Let us not miss this new political culture that has whipped India by storm. For the opposition to change the BJP narrative of Hindutva being supreme and the formation of what they call the Hindu Rashtra is not easy now as it has taken roots in the last seven years.

Even in a state like Kerala, where communalism could not be easily ignited, there are clear signs of how right-wing groups are growing. It is another story that the BJP has not been able to make electoral inroads. The party does not have a single Assembly seat or an MP in Lok Sabha.

No Opposition party in India, including the Congress, has organisational support like the BJP, which has the RSS, the VHP, Bajrang Dal, and numerous other organisations that work for it round-the-year, building grassroots and working on systematic propaganda.
Politics in India is also about perception. Look at what Modi has done with calibrated propaganda along with his leaders to show that no one else can succeed like them in politics and governance.

No more is it just caste groupings that are going to work. Nor is anti-incumbency a factor. Yogi Adityanath, Pinarayi Vijayan, Navin Patnaik, Arvind Kejriwal, and Mamata Banerjee have shown they can ride back to power again, reinforcing that good governance has a role to play in the future. Kerala has never seen a Chief Minister come up with a repeat performance. But, in the last elections, Vijayan broke that record primarily due to the excellent management of the pandemic and floods that ravaged Kerala despite little help from the Centre.

Is the Opposition Ready?

How is the Opposition planning to fight the BJP, which today is the wealthiest party with the enormity of funds no party can imagine? Elections in India demand hordes of cash. Most parties today are struggling to attract funds.

According to the Election Commission, more than Rs 6,500 crore was spent in elections between 2015 and 2020 by 18 political parties. These included seven national parties and seven regional parties. Rs 3,400 crore, or 52.3 percent, was spent on publicity alone.

Audit reports show that when it comes to election expenditure, the BJP spent over Rs 3,600 crore of the total election outlay by all 18 parties in five years. In contrast, the Indian National Congress spent over Rs 1,400 crore. While the BJP itself spent over 56 percent of the total amount, the Samajwadi Party spent 3.95 percent, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) spent 3.06 percent, Bahujan Samaj Party spent 2.04 percent, and the Trinamool Congress spent 1.83 percent. How are these parties ever going to catch up as election expenditures soar? The new norm is to advertise heavily and aggressively using digital media.

Look at the kind of digital reach that the party today has. When the Election Commission banned campaigning due to the Covid-19 protocol, parties like the Samajwadi Party in UP realised that they were checkmated by the digital reach of the BJP and were unable to match it.

According to the EC data, of the total electoral bonds sold in 2019-20, the BJP got over 75 percent, while the Congress could manage just 9 percent. Other parties like the Trinamool Congress, DMK, NCP, AAP, and RJD could mop comparatively minuscule amounts.

New Strategies Needed

The Congress decided to give tickets to women, but it could win just two seats; one was a female who had won numerous elections earlier. At one time, UP was a stronghold of Congress. Today, it has two seats in an Assembly of 403. It fielded 160 women out of its 401 candidates, something of a first in Indian elections, but only one of them won as she had won earlier too. What did Priyanka Gandhi, in-charge of the UP elections, expect in an intensely feudal and patriarchal state? So, strategies have to be dramatically different. It has to be workable to win elections and not just look politically correct.

Can the rag-tag Opposition of India take on the BJP in the next parliamentary elections? It indeed cannot if we take the current scenario into account. The Opposition is currently disunited, insecure, and has no shared vision that can even sound like an excellent alternative to the high-pitched BJP propaganda. More importantly, it does not have a single leader who has emerged with the personality that Indian voters would like to look at or trust. The Opposition has done little to catch the electorate’s imagination in the last seven years.

Which Opposition leader can carry disparate parties with different ideologies on one platform? They cannot agree even on a standard programme. All of them have burning ambitions and are vying for the top post.

Hurt and False Egos

Mamata Banerjee has been fearless and combative more than any other leader. She has made some feeble attempts at cobbling up an alternative front but has not succeeded. She does not get along with the Congress leadership, and it is well-known that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi do not want to give the leadership mantle to her.

Mamata did not even attend a recent meeting called by the Congress of Opposition leaders. She has said that Congress is no more able or fit to lead the Opposition in the country as it has lost credibility. The Congress did toy around with having a joint meeting with Opposition parties after the recent elections.

Still, even Mallikarjun Kharge, the Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha, was apprehensive that some parties might not join and would send a wrong message about opposition unity. He is right as in the present circumstances, both TMC and AAP are eyeing the space of the Congress in various states wanting to capture it as they did successfully in West Bengal, Delhi, and Punjab. After the recent elections, Congress alleged that the TMC and AAP had split opposition votes in Goa, helping the BJP.

Many Congress leaders have joined the TMC, while others are now looking at AAP and assessing their future as politicians as India’s grand old party plummets to a new low. Mayawati, the Chief Minister of UP for four terms, chose not to campaign as she does. Her Bahujan Samaj Party was virtually non-existent in the high-decibel campaign. Political onlookers suspect that she had opted to become the B-Team of the BJP and help it win. They suspected that a deal was thrashed out between her and the BJP.

The BSP, which once ruled UP, got just one seat. Mayawati is ambitious, and in these circumstances, she will have to join the Opposition bandwagon though not much will come out of it as the BJP and the Samajwadi Party have made inroads into her traditional strongholds. The SP will now not want to do anything with her.

Just Regional Satraps

The Trinamool Congress is strong in West Bengal, but that is it. While it is a critical state that sends many MPs, the fact is that it has no significant presence anywhere. Mamata Banerjee also does not have the persona to emerge as a national leader. She is seen as an aggressive street fighter, but that is not enough. Not many regional leaders like her style of functioning.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has its presence only in Tamil Nadu. Though Stalin is surprising everyone with his astuteness and vision to change the future of Tamil Nadu, the fact is that he has no pan-India appeal. Nor has his party. At least the AAP and the TMC are trying to contest in other states to make a dent or impression. The TMC contested in Goa for the first time and managed to get 6 percent of the vote share.

The Telugu Desam Party also has its presence only in Andhra Pradesh and in Telangana. The same goes for the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha, where it has developed strong roots in the last fifteen years. As the elections in Punjab demonstrated, the Shiromani Akali Dal, which once ruled Punjab, is a spent force and will make little difference. The RJD is also a regional party with its primary influence in Bihar and Jharkhand.

That leaves the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar, a part of the ruling coalition in Maharashtra. It has grown in strength and has an influence also in some other states in the north-east. The Shiv Sena is not likely to ever join the BJP as a coalition partner as they have figured out that it would not get the space it deserves. They are a formidable force, and the BJP will have to fight hard to get back to Maharashtra.

Congress not a Force

Congress is no more seen as a party that can bind the Opposition. It is caught in the whirlpool of its own making. It does not have decisive leadership. It cannot even enforce discipline. It has not had a full-time president for a long time. Look at how the Congress chief in Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu, behaved throughout the campaign. He was virtually destroying what little support Congress had. He was not reprimanded or punished. Even after losing the election, he continued to work against his party’s interests. He has already started flirting with the AAP as he has no political future.

One would have expected Sonia Gandhi to step down from interim president, but the Congress Working Committee asked her to stay on as they had complete faith in her. The party has become a laughing stock, and no one seems to care. Gandhi’s loyalists attacked those who demanded inter-party democracy and elections along with restructuring. It will be surprising if the party does not split, as patience is dying among party workers who do not see any future.

How does Opposition unity work here in such a grim political situation? No one seems to understand that the only way to dislodge the BJP is to band together to form a genuine united front. It should be such that voters feel that there is a viable alternative. The BJP knows how weak the Opposition is today.

United Opposition a Must

Democracy can flourish only with a vibrant and robust Opposition fighting to protect the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. They should be guarding the rights of people. They should be raising their concerns and aspirations of the people to the government. They should be correcting the government’s flaws and scrutinising legislation and policies. It must hold the government accountable and play a vital role in various committees so that the powers do not steamroll whatever it wants or what its political agenda is dictating. In a way, the Opposition is an alternative government keeping an eye open for any discrepancy. It must be credible and not just hungry for power, as we see in India.

Many regional parties like the DMK, BJD, SP, NCP, TDP, RJD and some others may be able to win seats in the next parliamentary elections. Still, the moot question is whether they will be able to band together as one force with a joint programme that would force the electorate to think twice before voting the BJP back to power.

Putin’s Unkindest Cut of All

Nikita Kruschev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s predecessor, even though not immediate, is known to have said that he accepts every single teaching of Jesus except the one in which Jesus tells his disciples that if anyone slaps on one cheek, he/she should offer the other cheek instead of retaliating, and hitting back. Kruschev’s way of going about, if anybody would slap him, would be, to hit back with such force that the head of the aggressor would fall off! That is how far Kruschev was from Jesus and His teachings.

Now, Putin seems to have gone even further than Kruschev when he started an undeclared war, and invaded Ukraine. It is an unprovoked war, and therefore, unjustified on every count. He has not been slapped by anyone on his cheek, but he is out to destroy a democratic free country. Kruschev would be lagging far behind, as an opponent of Christ, having been put to shame by Putin with this act of aggression against Ukraine, not to be justified by anyone.

With great anxiety and with a prayer in my heart I have been reading newspapers and watching news in the last few weeks, as tension had been building up between Russia on one side, and the U.S.A., NATO and Ukraine on the other side. Everybody had been wondering why Russia had deployed 1,50,000-plus troops around Ukraine, if they had no intention of annexing Ukraine, as they claimed.

In fact, the Russians were talking about a hysteria of the West for fear of the annexation of Ukraine which, they said, was never on their mind, but only a fiction of the hysterical minds of the West. And then came the onslaught on Ukraine and the Ukrainians, turning the seeming glimmer of goodness and hope into a lie. And what a lie it was! The reports are that, as I am writing this, over 2 million of Ukrainian refugees have sought refuge in neighbouring countries like Poland, Moldova, Lithuania, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania. Besides, millions of people have been displaced within the country, and they are going about helplessly trying to find a safe place for themselves.

My heart weeps when I see those poor people leaving their homes and heading towards unknown destinations. It is particularly painful and heart-wrenching to see little children walking or being carried by their mothers. In most cases the mothers are left alone to fend for themselves in this task, because the Ukrainian authorities have ordered the men-folk to stay back and defend their country from the Russian aggressor. And they are heroically doing this for the love of their country.

I am asking myself if the aggressors and their bosses do not know what kind of suffering they are giving these poor people. So many are getting killed, so many are getting injured. Do the aggressors not have hearts of flesh? Are their hearts of stone? Or do they not have hearts at all? Not even the sight of little children dragging their suitcases, bigger than themselves, seems to melt the heart of Putin and his men. Expecting Putin to know how Jesus loved little children, and always wanted them to be brought to him (Mt. 19:14), is perhaps too much?! But then Putin is a Christian, belonging to the Orthodox Church, and so he should have known this. I am wondering why the leaders of his Orthodox Church are not opening their mouths to teach Putin what Jesus would have liked to teach him.

Unlike Pope Francis, who has condemned this war without mincing words, we are yet to hear the voice of the Orthodox Church!

I wonder if President Putin has seen the picture of a mother carrying a little child, which has gone viral these days. It is the picture of Putin’s mother carrying Putin in her arms. The story is that a soldier came home from the front-lines for a brief break, during the World War II. He reached his house to see people loading dead bodies onto a truck. Sticking out of the pile of bodies, the soldier saw the leg of a lady with a pair of shoes, which he recognised as his wife’s shoes. He had to plead and fight with the men who were loading the dead bodies onto the truck, so he could hug the body of his wife. The reluctant men relented and let the man pull the body of his wife out from the pile of dead bodies. To his and everybody’s surprise, he realized that the woman was still alive and breathing. He carried her home, and nursed her to, what could be called, a new life.

A few years later, a son was born to the couple. And that was Vladimir Putin! How I wish I could go and put this picture in front of Putin’s eyes to remind him that it was God’s mercy that had kept his mother alive, and given him the gift of life. I would also like to remind him that he had to show the same mercy towards one and all, rather than be a cause of sorrow and suffering for others.

It is difficult for me to understand how the man’s heart does not melt to see those women and children fleeing their homes, knowing that, in all probability, they will not live to see their beloved ones back at home. Not everybody can have the same good fortune that Putin had. How can anyone be so untouched by the heart-wrenching scenes we see on TV unless one has no heart at all?

We are reminded of similar scenes we saw some time back here in our own country, when our roads were filled with thousands of people, migrant workers, returning to their homes, having lost their jobs, sometimes mothers delivering babies along the roads, and many people breathing their last on the roads. At that time, too, we had felt that those who were responsible to inflict these sufferings on the poor people had no hearts. Unfortunately and sadly, we are made aware that there are such people in this world even today.

I started by saying that both Kruschev as well as Putin are far away from Jesus and His teachings. Those who act and behave like this, with no feelings of love and mercy in their hearts, like many of our own leaders, are far removed from the teachings of Jesus.

The Gospels present Jesus as a loving and merciful teacher, who always thought of others, rather than of himself. Why would he, otherwise, even though he was God, “not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but rather empty himself, taking the form of a servant?” (Philippians 2:6) And, therefore, his teaching was always “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). I can well imagine Jesus weeping with all those who are suffering now because of this senseless and unjust war inflicted upon the poor people of Ukraine. In fact, his infinite love and mercy, even in this situation, says to the Ukrainians: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Rom. 12:14).

A glimmer of hope

In the darkness and hatred of this war, there is a glimmer of light and hope because there are people who see evil in it and condemn it. One such powerful and shining beacon is Pope Francis who had been raising his voice against the dangers of this war. And once it had unfortunately started, he went to the Russian Embassy in Rome to plead for peace and negotiations across the table. Here is a man, who is a true disciple of Jesus, who is prepared to go to any extent, to live the message of Jesus and to propagate it. And he is aware that all over the world people are hungering for love and peace. Therefore, he has taken it upon himself to promote love, peace, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. He has knocked at the doors of embassies and fallen at the feet of leaders pleading for peace.

Pope Francis shows and teaches that one has to be prepared to turn the other cheek, and live the message of Jesus in its entirety. He has often said that wars never solve problems, but only bring about misery upon the people who are involved in them. The Pope always harps upon the theme of God’s mercy to such an extent that it led a prominent Italian clergy-man to say that he seems to be exaggerating on the mercy of God. But I countered him by asking him how he could talk about exaggerating on God’s mercy, when we know that God’s mercy is infinite. How does one exaggerate on something which is infinite?

What Putin and his stooges are very much in need of, at this juncture, is God’s Mercy. They must be prepared to humble themselves, and cease hostilities acknowledging that these are purely based on their lies and on their selfishness and pride. This may seem difficult and even impossible now. But we know that for God nothing is impossible. And we know that people all over the world are praying for peace. With the prayers of millions of people God can change the heart of Putin and his advisers. As it is rightly said, a Church kneeling in prayer is more powerful than an army on its feet.

There are many who consider this war as an evil, and condemn it. We know that there are thousands of people all over the world, and even within Russia, who are protesting against this unjust war. This gives us another glimmer of hope. The hardened heart of dictator Putin has clamped down upon them, and locked them up in prison. However, as our own Father Stan Swamy, of happy memory, said, when he was put behind bars, “a caged bird can still sing”. So, they will continue to protest against Putin and his actions. May they and millions of people all over the world continue to condemn the dictator of Russia. And may their protesting voices continue to resound and eventually touch and change the hardened heart of Putin. Let us remember that The Lord is the one who said to His people: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

Let us remember that the Lord came to the rescue of Israelites when the powerful Egyptians pursued them. The book of Exodus tells us that “in the morning watch, the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked upon the host of the Egyptians, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians, clogging their chariot-wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said: “let us flee from before Israel; for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14: 23-25). We also have the case of David and Goliath, when a shepherd’s sling proved to be mightier than a sword (1 Sam. 17:48). God is almighty, and He is always in command.

Why India Repeatedly Abstains Against Russian Invasion Of Ukraine?

In the midst of the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine, India abstained from a United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC’s) resolution sponsored by the United States that deplores Russia’s actions in the strongest terms. Explaining its abstention, India’s permanent representative at the UN, T S Tirumurti said, “India is deeply disturbed by the recent turn of events in Ukraine.”

“Dialogue is the only answer to resolve differences and controversies, but it can be daunting at this point. It’s a shame that the diplomatic path has been abandoned. We have to go back to it. For all these reasons, India has chosen to refrain from this resolution, “said Tirmulti.

Russia vetoed the resolution as expected, but China and the United Arab Emirates also abstained from voting, with the remaining 11 members of the UNSC voting in favor of the resolution.

India’s abstention is described by experts as a balanced act of maintaining friends and partners on both sides. It is also a legacy of the non-aligned NeHrvian foreign policy and the way the two countries interacted in the United States. United Nations.

India’s inclination towards the Soviet Union

After independence, India has followed non-aligned policies and maintained a neutral position in the bipolar world. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a group of 120 countries in developing countries and is inconsistent with the major power blocks. It was founded in 1961 under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru with the leaders of Yugoslavia, Egypt, Ghana and Indonesia. Despite the official non-aligned policy, a slight inclination towards the Soviet Union was noticeable during this period.

In December 1971, India and Pakistan fought for 13 days—one of the shortest wars in history—over the humanitarian crisis in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. India had, for months, been trying to convince the world that West Pakistan’s subjugation of East Pakistan was an emergency. Refugees from East Pakistan were pouring into India, and the situation would only be improved with a resolution of the political predicament between West and East Pakistan.

The Soviet Union was the only country that listened. In August of that year, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi signed the India-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. Gandhi had held off on completing the agreement for domestic political reasons; she had not wanted to give fodder to those political opponents who accused her of being too cozy with the Soviet Union. But international concerns were soon more pressing: With the signing of the treaty, the Soviet Union provided India both the diplomatic and arms support it needed for the war Gandhi knew was coming, helping India over Pakistan.

While the world in 2020 is in many ways changed from that time, 1971 looms large in the India-Russia relationship today. Moscow was a reliable partner for New Delhi when no one else was. And the United States, meanwhile, actively ignored India’s pleas to deal with the situation in East Pakistan: President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger considered Pakistan a key go-between in opening relations with China.

In a 2018 research paper, Professors Sanjay Kumar Pandy and Ankur Yadav suggest that the foundation of India’s affinity for the Soviet Union can be explained through the profound influence that socialist and Marxist ideas have had on many leaders of the free struggle. increase. “Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose’s ideological devotion, the formation of the Socialist Republican / Army, and the adoption of socialism and national planning by India are the links between socialist thought and the Soviet Union in India’s post-independence history. It’s a proof of sex,” TThey write.

Another reason India seeks intimacy with the Soviet Union is often cited as the growing proximity between the United States and Pakistan. “The true foundation of this relationship was laid when Nehru visited the Soviet Union in 1955 and the Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin visited again.” Write Pandey and Yadav. Since the 1950s, the Soviet Union has been closely involved in India’s industrial development, including the construction of the Birai and Bokaro steelworks and the establishment of public sector companies such as Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL) and oil and natural gas. Co., Ltd. (ONGC).

The deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations during the war between India and China in the 1960s brought the two countries closer together, leading to the signing of the Indo-Soviet Peace and Friendship Treaty in 1971. The basis of cooperation provided by the Soviet Union in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. This was important to ensure India’s victory.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between India and Russia deteriorated, and Russia recognized the need to build close ties with the United States in order to rebuild economically and politically. In the 1990s, there was a change in India’s idealistic position.

However, by the mid-1990s, Russia had warmed up to India again as expectations for Russia’s western aid did not come true. When Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited India in January 1993, he claimed that both countries had ended a long-term suspension. Over the next few years, several treaties and agreements have been signed between the two countries to establish trade, diplomatic, military, industrial, scientific and technological cooperation. India is currently the second largest market for Russia’s defense industry. Indian military hardware cents are known to be imported from Russia.

In his dissertation, Pandey and Yadav suggest that the joint declaration and agreement between India and Russia shows that the two countries are in much the same position on many global and regional issues. .. Based on the prominent role of the United Nations and international law, common interests, equality, mutual respect, and non-interference in national affairs, “they write.

India and Russia at the United Nations

India’s devotion to Russia was evident in the way the two countries interacted at the United Nations. In an ORF article written by Aparajita Das in 2017, “Subtle balance: India’s voting record at the UN General AssemblyThe author wrote that during the 69 years since India’s independence, India’s voting pattern at the United Nations was the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation for only four years, 1946, 1948, 1950 and 1962.

“It had little to do with the Soviet Union because it was about ideologies such as anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-apartheid, and pro-Palestine, which were the basis of non-allied nations. We also supported the Soviet block, “explains TP Sreenivasan, India’s former Deputy Standing Representative for the United Nations in New York. In her article, Das writes that the tendency towards the Soviet Union is likely to be partly due. “India and the former Soviet Union share a position as an economically developing country rather than an inherent idealistic affinity.”

Since the 1970s, India has approached the Soviet Union and moved away from the United States. India supported the Soviet Union or refrained from voting on many issues such as the Czechoslovak intervention in 1968 and the invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Srinivasan, who abstained from India’s vote against the invasion of Afghanistan, said the sentiment within India’s political corridor was to oppose the Soviet Union, including then Prime Minister Charan Singh. The Soviet Union resulted in India abstaining from UNGA when all other non-allied and Western nations voted against it.

At the same time, India was the beneficiary of Russia’s veto in some cases. The Soviet Union was the only country to reject a UN Security Council resolution against UN intervention in Kashmir in 1957, 1962, and 1971. Friendship with the Soviet Union began in 1955 when Nikita Khrushchev, the secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, came to Kashmir and declared it an integral part of India. Near that, call us from the top of the mountain and we will appear by your side. But in recent years, even Russia has changed its position slightly to argue that the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved through bilateral dialogue. “

Yet another example of Russia’s veto support for India was during the 1961 Gore liberation movement. The United States, Britain, France and Turkey have accused India of invading Goa and proposed a UN resolution calling on the country to withdraw its troops. The veto from the Soviet Union destroyed the resolution. Historian SR Sharma, who writes about Russia’s support for India in the case of Goa, states in his book “India-USSR Relations” (Volume 1): The situation when the West decided to pass a veto and withdrawal resolution at the Security Council. “

Russia’s veto was once again important in determining India’s victory in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The United States has passed a Security Council resolution calling for the suspension and withdrawal of troops by India and Pakistan. The Russians again vetoed the resolution allowed India to continue fighting for the cause, which ultimately led to the liberation of Bangladesh.

Sreenivasan states that despite the clear affinity between the two countries at the United Nations, there are some differences to remember. The Soviet Union also opposed India on many other issues. Most importantly, India will conduct a nuclear test in 1974. “Although not as loud as the Western nations, the Soviet Union did not agree with the violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” Sreenivasan said. As a result, India and the Soviet Union differed in voting on the disarmament issue.

Another issue that the Soviet Union severely opposed was the expansion of the Security Council. Brijesh Mishra, India’s permanent member of the UN Security Council, proposed in 1979 to expand the number of non-permanent members of the Security Council. While also a permanent member of the Security Council, India opposed the Soviet Union on the issue of collective security in Asia.

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: How to Reunite India

Unity in diversity is a phrase we all picked up in our school years. Enjoying the Ramlila festivities for the ten days to Vijayadashami ran parallel to watching the Tazia processions or the Jaina processions with slogans of Vande Viram (Hail Lord Mahavira), the celebrations of Dalits on the day Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism, and the celebration of Christmas. These diversity experiences were deeply rooted in how Indians marked various festivals—it was experiential, not just in the realm of theory.

In Indian society, diversity goes as far back as the imagination can. Christianity is older in India than many countries with far larger Christian populations. Right in the seventh century, Islam became a part of this land. The Shaka, Kushana, Hunas, and Greeks added their flavours to our culture. How did diversity become so deep-rooted in our culture? While there was ethnic strife, the social conditions settled into coexistence and harmony between religious streams.

The Ashokan edicts ask for mutual respect between members of different religions (which included Buddhism, Brahmanism, Jainism, and the Ajivikas). Much later, the Mughal ruler Akbar promoted Deen-e-Ilahi and Sulh-e-Kul. In his book Majma Ul Baharayn, Dara Shukoh described India as a vast ocean made of two seas, Hinduism and Islam.

The Bhakti saints such as Kabir, Ramdeo Baba peer, Tukaram, Namdeo and Narsi Mehta drew followers from Hindus and Muslims. Sufi saints such as Nizamuddin Auliya, Muin al-Din Chishti, and Haji Malang became part of the Indian ethos. These saints embraced all the people irrespective of their religion and caste. They melded with the local culture fully.

 During the colonial period, divisive tendencies in the name of religion reared their head due to the British policy of divide and rule. The elite sections of society initiated and encouraged these tendencies. However, they were overshadowed by the integrative and all-inclusive freedom movement. It is here that the magical interpretation of Hinduism by Gandhi succeeded in mobilising people of all religions within the single thread of Indian nationalism. The charisma of Gandhi’s movements left a deep impression on people of all faiths. People recited shlokas from the Gita and verses from the Koran and the Bible in his prayer meetings.

During this period, we saw Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Shaukatullah Shah Ansari, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Allah Bakhsh, and many others rubbed shoulders with Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and other leaders of the freedom movement. Diversity added richness and strength to the composite notion of Indian nationalism.

Cultural values drew heavily from interactions in subtle and profound ways, influencing all aspects of our life from food habits, literature, art, music, architecture and what have you. For the last few decades, events in India appear to be moving in the reverse direction, detrimental to peace and harmony. On the positive side, we witness the bubbling up of integrative efforts within and beyond religion. We had eminent social workers such as Swami Agnivesh and Asghar Ali Engineer, who promoted interfaith dialogue and sought to remove misunderstandings between members of different faiths. Many crusaders are silently working in society—Martin McWan, John Dayal and Cedric Prakash come to mind—who dedicated their lives to promote harmony. Such movements of interfaith dialogue went a long way in reducing theological and social misunderstanding among Hindus and Muslims and members of other faiths. Their initiative contributed in profound ways to maintaining amity between diverse groups. Each in their own way has come to imprint harmony on all of society.

Faisal Khan revived Khudai Khidmatgar, the organisation Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan founded. This grassroots organisation promotes amity and the spirit of mutual respect between Hindus and Muslims. They launched an open house—Apna Ghar—a system wherein members from all communities can live together and share their practices with others in a respectful way. Noted film maker Anand Patwardhan wrote, “…the Khudais have touched people’s hearts across the country and membership has swelled to 50,000. Today it has many Hindus, including a few who had once been in the RSS.”

India has been the site of many ghastly lynchings. The families of the victims have no social support and are desperately helpless. To empathise with them, social activist Harsh Mander started the Karwan-e-Mohabbat—Caravan of Love—that reaches out to the families of the victims of lynching to extend moral and social support. It has come as significant assistance to families and communities.

Many cities have communal harmony groups today and charity groups that help all, even though we may not hear about them much. These groups are working silently, unnoticed, while the violence of groups that promote divisiveness always hog the limelight. Even the farmer movement, the most significant post-independence mass movement, has promoted communal amity in a big way. Similarly, the Shaheen Bagh protests strengthened intercommunity amity.

The deeper problem is the global rise of those who believe in the “clash of civilisations” thesis and promote divisive tendencies. India is no exception. A United Nations-sponsored high-level committee when Kofi Annan was Secretary-General put forward the notion of an ‘Alliance of Civilisations’. This is the guiding principle of many groups who wish to revive India’s syncretic traditions. In the current troubling scenario, these rays of hope are lesser-known but critical for a peaceful future.

The Acquittal Of Kerala Bishop Is Best Example Of A Bad Judgement

It is good that an official appeal is to be filed against the judgement of the Additional Sessions Judge in Kerala exonerating Bishop Franco of all charges of multiple rape of a nun who was his subordinate. Hopefully, the appeal will lead to a restoration of justice and dignity to not only the complainant in this case, but also to all survivors of rape.

Too often in the recent past have survivors of sexual assault found themselves repeatedly victimised by what can be termed a judicial default setting which sets a false and utterly bigoted standard of how a rape survivor is supposed to behave; if she conducts herself differently, her testimony is not considered credible. Why did she smile the day after she was raped? How could she travel in the same car as the accused? Why did she take so long to speak about it? We have heard these questions too many times.

According to case law and many more sensitive judgements, the sole testimony of a rape survivor must be given due weightage as often there are no direct witnesses. Special consideration to the statement of the survivor helps the processes of justice. However, this is also linked to the satisfaction of the court of the credibility of the statements and of the survivor herself.

This has led in case after case to the subversion of justice. It is open season for destroying the survivor’s credibility and her narration of the facts. It is not the rapist but the survivor who becomes the accused, having to prove herself credible. Thus a direction to give special consideration to a survivor’s testimony is turned into a legal instrument against her. The onus shifts to the survivor to prove that she is credible as a “sterling witness.” When the eyes and ears of the law are not tuned in to hear the survivor, or to understand her circumstances or how the world appears to her, when the law fails to see in her silences the power of the perpetrator, then you can be sure that justice will be a long time coming.

The 250-page judgement reads more like an investigation into the complainant rather than the accused and ends up a hit job against her. The judgement holds that she is a liar, that she is inconsistent, that she has ulterior motives, that she is part of a power play within the specific congregation to which she belongs; worst of all, there is the damning indictment of her character, in which the judgement finds “credibility” in the outright malicious libelous charges made by the accused against her of having an affair and fabricating the entire charge against the Bishop to conceal this. The judgement deserves to be taught in law schools as an example of a really bad judgement.

After decades of struggle, sacrifice and suffering by survivors of sexual assault, the laws concerning definition of and punishment for sexual assault were amended in 2013 to look at issues from the survivor’s point of view. For a woman, any invasion of her bodily integrity is equally horrific, and the narrow definition of rape as penile penetration disregarded and downplayed that horror. The amended laws recognised the different levels and forms of sexual assault, including forced oral sex, use of fingers, or any instrument without consent as rape.

But the judgement displays an extraordinary obsession with proving that the survivor never mentioned “penile penetration” – although she had on several occasions – and reams are devoted to this, while ignoring the detailed descriptions by the survivor of what she went through, all of which are clearly within the legal definition of rape. Going by the judgement, a survivor of rape has to use very precise language. On several occasions, the survivor had spoken about her fear that she would be forced to “sleep with him”, to “share his bed”, but the judgement, while bringing this on record, does not consider this evidence because the word “rape” is not mentioned. Presumably there are reasons other than sex as to why a Bishop would force a woman to “share his bed.” It is on such flawed grounds that a woman complainant is described as not being “credible.”

What is striking in the judgement are its double standards. It plays down glaring lies by the accused. For example, on the day that the first assault was made in May 2014, the accused denied that he was there at all. His alibi unravelled in the face of documentary and witness evidence which conclusively established his presence on that day in a room on the same floor where the complainant resided. It was also established that the other residents were on another floor.

Why did he concoct an alibi if he had nothing to hide? But there is no reference at all in the judgement’s conclusions that he had tried to build a false alibi, that he had lied. This is of no importance to the judgement. There is a charge made against the accused by another witness nun that he had tried to get physical with her. This is brushed aside as “behaviour of accused towards this witness is not relevant.

” There are sexually colored and vulgar messages sent by the accused which were printed out and are on record, but the judgement hardly gives credence to them. When the complainant warned him that she would leave the convent if he visited it again, he sent her the following message: “With heavy heart I am joining with your decision. I want to see you, I want to need you, call me.” Is it normal for a superior to send such an objectionable message to his subordinate? Doesn’t it raise questions at least about inappropriate behaviour and give an indication of something which requires answers? But the judgement finds nothing odd in this. On the contrary, it is quoted as proof in the judgement that there were no “threats” to the complainant.

The survivor’s every word, gesture, smile is under the scanner. The judgement in the section on photographic evidence goes out of the way to mention how carefully the videos were studied to reach a conclusion. The day after the first sexual assault took place, the survivor and accused had to attend a function of first communion for the child of her elder sister where the accused was the chief priest. She puts up a brave face and yet the camera shows her “gloomy”, a word frequently favored in the judgement, to describe grief and sadness. The judgement says “she can be seeing crying sitting on the back bench of the church”…”victim looks gloomy, but the very next minute, the victim can be seen smiling.” So the counter to the charge that she behaved “normally”, which apparently proves she was not traumatized, is dismissed – because she smiled. On other occasions where her colleagues in the Convent noticed how upset she used to get when news of the Bishop coming to the convent was conveyed to her, the judgement finds fault with the survivor. It says “though she was asked repeatedly about her gloominess, her replies were evasive.”

In December 2014, six or seven months after she was first sexually assaulted, she narrated all that had happened to her spiritual mother. This was the first time she had spoken to another. The statement of how they “wept together” is part of the record, and gives an indication of the trauma. Soon after, she also spoke to a priest who heard her “confession.” Then she went on a retreat and there, too, she spoke of her ordeal to a priest. She was wrestling with the nightmare the best way she could. From her own statements, she was hoping the issue could be resolved within the church. For any woman, it is difficult enough to deal with repeated assault by a man who uses his power for sexual gratification. For a woman who had chosen to live her life as a nun with a vow of chastity, dealing with such a situation was even more difficult. Her younger sister was also in the same congregation. Her elder sister was concerned that if the sisters left the congregation as the complainant thought of doing, “parishioners would make fun of them…All the problems could be resolved within the Church itself.” In fact, she did write several letters to the authorities. These too are criticized by the judgement as not being explicit enough. The fear of social disapproval and acrimony is a heavy burden on the shoulders of a survivor. But these realities are ignored in the judgement.

Once she decided to file a police complaint, all statements of those to whom she had spoken were recorded. Shockingly, each of her witnesses was dismissed in the judgement as unreliable. The spiritual mother’s witness was dismissed as being “planted”, the statement to the priest was not followed up “as he can’t reveal what she said”, the statement at the retreat was similarly dismissed. The statements of her colleagues were also not considered reliable – and then the conclusion is reached that the inordinate delay in reporting the crime is inexplicable, and is held as a major finding against her testimony. In contrast, a statement admittedly manufactured by a relative, who herself retracted the charge, accusing her of having an affair with her husband, is taken as the basis for the entire case. In other words, if the judgement is to be believed, a woman starts building up her defence from 2014 to conceal an affair that she has three years later! Anything becomes possible except the facts narrated by the survivor.

The prosecution has expressed disbelief and shock at the outcome. The nuns who stood by her have issued similiar statements pledging to appeal against the judgement. There are those who would like to use the case to defame the Church. They should desist from doing so. This is a struggle for justice, and has little to do with religion. This is equally a fight against insensitive and patriarchal judicial blinkers that dehumanise a survivor of rape and expect her to abide by a preconceived code of conduct as a “sterling witness”. In the light of this judgement, the issue of educating the judiciary on amended laws concerning sexual assault also has an added urgency.

India: A Nation In Disharmony With Its Philosophical And Constitutional Values

The values that are glorified today ironically are those that were always held anathema by classical Hindu society – majoritarianism, intolerance, hatred, and revanchism, writes Tarun Basu for South Asia Monitor

If there is despair and dark foreboding at the turn of the year in India, it is not just because the pandemic has engendered in all a feeling of existential confusion, or the political and social discourse is becoming more caustic by the day, but the spreading clouds of hate and inter-community ill-will that has taken hold of a nation always held up to the world as an exemplar of democratic pluralism and inter-faith harmony.

Hinduism, an eternal and inclusive religion, has been figuring in the global media for all the wrong reasons — lynching, hate speeches, attacks on minority institutions and places of worship, obstruction of their religious practices, call to violence against minorities – particularly Muslims who comprise over 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population and are the third-largest Muslim population in the world.

Although these actions and utterances go against the country’s secular constitution and violate some of its sacred principles, like freedom of worship, there has been no condemnation of these from anyone in the government, and in most cases the offenders have got away with impunity or slapped with mild charges that have not held up in courts.

What Bhagavad Gita says

Most hate actions and utterances have been in the name of protecting Hinduism, a religion practised by 82 percent of the nation and whose most sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, is known for its wide catholicity and against absolutism.

“The Gita does not speak of this or that form of religion but speaks of the impulse which is expressed in all forms – the desire to find God and understand our relation to HIm,” Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the nation’s second President, one of its foremost thinkers and a renowned exponent of Hindu philosophy and its ancient texts, says in his scholarly work The Bhagavadgita.

“Hindu thinkers are conscious of the amazing variety of ways in which one may approach the Supreme, of the contingency of all forms….no manifestation is to be taken as absolutely true from the standpoint of experience; every one of them has some validity….The same God is worshipped by all….All manifestations belong to the same Supreme,” Radhakrishnan says.

Radhakrishnan, whose birthday on September 5 is celebrated as Teachers’ Day all over India, goes on to say that “(Only) the spiritually immature are unwilling to recognize other gods than their own. Their attachment to their creed makes them blind to the larger unity of the Godhead. The Gita affirms that though beliefs and practices may be many and varied, spiritual realization to which these are means is one.”

What Ramakrishna preached

Radhakrishnan’s interpretations have validation in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the 19th-century mystic saint who personally experienced all  the major religions and came to the conclusion that the world’s various religious traditions represented “so many paths to reach one and the same goal.

“Never insist what you profess is the sole truth and rest all fallacy. Hindus, Muslims, Christians – all are travelling in the same direction, albeit on different paths (Jato moth, too poth) – I have tried all known paths to God, and I accept them all,” Ramakrishna famously said.

That Hindu-majority India would travel down a path quite contrary to their sages’ teachings has confounded the cognoscenti, but has been debunked by the Hindu right and its vocal proponents who see the present sectarian politics as a chance to assert its majoritarianism, overturn the country’s secular constitution, which they say is an anachronism, reassert what they hold is the Hindu pride that they say was crushed by centuries of Muslim rule and “appeasement” of minorities under successive Congress-led governments since independence.

His disciple, Swami Vivekananda, in his famous speech at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. said,”I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”

Ruling party’s silence

The present assault on minorities is seen to have the tacit support of the ruling BJP leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has remained enigmatically silent despite a spate of anti-minority actions and utterances. These include shocking calls from self-proclaimed Hindu religious leaders calling for a “genocide” against Muslims, community support promised for such attackers, dubbing of Mahatma Gandhi as a “traitor”, and the spreading virus of degradation and vilification of Muslims, including its women, that has led to an atmosphere which analysts see as the cynical exploitation of a society’s fault lines for political gain, especially as the BJP faces crucial state elections in the coming months.

“That is not Hinduism. Hindutva is fundamentally the most un-Hindu set of beliefs and practices that you can imagine. And that they call themselves Hindutva which means Hindu-ness is an absolute travesty…,” rued opposition politician Shashi Tharoor, a former UN civil servant and author on books of Hinduism.

The values that are glorified today ironically are those that were always held anathema by classical Hindu society – majoritarianism, intolerance, hatred, and revanchism with the Hindu reactionary forces using the majority muscle to snuff out any opposition to what has been often called by those opposing such religious extremism as the “Talibansation of Hinduism”. It is a testing time for India, and the kind of country that future generations will inherit will depend a lot if the “silent majority” is able to assert itself.

As the scholar Rajmohan Gandhi wrote of his grandfather, the Mahatma’s core beliefs that in India, a person of any religious belief – a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Sikh, a Jew, a Zoroastrian, a Jain, a Buddhist, an atheist, an agnostic, whatever – had an equal right to India. Religion was one thing, national another.

Vice President is upset  Even India’s Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, a former BJP president, was constrained to call out the hate mongers, saying in a recent speech that “Hate speech and writings are against (the country’s) culture, heritage, tradition and Constitutional rights and ethos” and expressed his “disapproval of attempts to ridicule other religions and create dissensions in society”.

“What we are witnessing today is a deliberate and cynical attempt to resurrect painful wounds of the past, re-enact past contestations and prevent the consolidation of a common and equal citizenship, which is the foundation of a democracy,” India’s former Foreign Secretary and respected public intellectual Shyam Saran wrote recently in The Tribune.

“If these vile threats are tolerated and go unpunished and unchecked, the very idea of India that we have inherited and nourished through many challenges will cease to exist. This is a moment of peril for all Indians,” Saran warned.

India Remains A Work In Progress At 75

It would not be an exaggeration to say that independent India has witnessed a policy meandering during its 75 years of eventful journey as a free and democratic nation.

At the time of independence, India was still being pulled by two different ideological camps: one a Hindu majoritarian ideology that wanted the new nation to be a theocratic state like Pakistan, the other a liberal democracy with religious and cultural plurality.

The ideological struggle was quite palpable even during the debates in the Constituent Assembly where there were strong voices supportive of turning India into a Hindu nation.

However, between these two opposing ideologies, a majority of the assembly members opted for a democratic republic that would respect all the varied cultures and religions of the country.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, played a crucial role in leading India on the path of secularism. Although Vallabhbhai Patel had huge success as the party chief, Mahatma Gandhi chose Nehru to succeed him and also as the first prime minister of the country.

“Nehru was cultured and refined. Patel was coarse to a degree. Nehru had a worldview. Patel was ignorant of world affairs. Nehru was great despite his serious flaws and grave failures. Patel was small and mean despite his admirable qualities. Nehru’s foreign policy was seriously flawed. But what an image he projected to the world for years as prime minister of newly independent India,” says A.G. Noorani, a constitutional expert.

Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy, which means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life

If Nehru had a strong proclivity for promoting secularism which would encompass all religious traditions in India as valid but none of them would be privileged by the state, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar augmented his efforts by introducing social reformation both through the legislative route as well as social mobilization.

Ambedkar was a staunch believer in secularism and democracy. As someone who played a pivotal role in the drafting of India’s constitutions, he wanted to establish political democracy in all earnestness because that alone would, according to him, ensure social justice for all sections of society, particularly the socially ostracized segments.

While addressing the Constituent Assembly on Nov. 25, 1949, he asserted: “Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy, which means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life.”

The secular spirit found in the constitution wasn’t an alien concept inserted into it but rather it was the natural reflection of the larger national ethos of according respect to all religions.

However, that spirit of secularism was being undermined by certain right-wing political and social organizations, creating fissures among various religious communities.

They went as far as to denounce the secular character of the constitution as a creation of Western political and social systems alien to the Indian ethos. It is this motivated campaign of right-wing Hindu organizations and political parties that has put the ideal of secularism under severe strain.

They have caricatured it to such an extent that it is being portrayed as pseudo-secularism, practiced by the leftist parties as well as those left of center.

Commenting on the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ram temple held in Ayodhya town, The Hindu newspaper wrote that the “ceremony itself manifested multiple possibilities for the country’s future. In symbolism and rhetoric, the line of separation between state and religion was crossed, notably by the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in it.”

If Indian policies on secularism have been meandering during the last seven decades of independence, there is another equally important policy matter — affirmative action — that has repeatedly been subjected to the rigorous scrutiny of various sociopolitical organizations.

The constitution made provisions for affirmative action with a view to bringing the hitherto socially and economically marginalized sections of Indian society to the mainstream.

Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian constitution, was instrumental in ensuring affirmation action for the benefit of the oppressed classes of India categorized as scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SCs/STs) and constituting nearly one quarter of the country’s population. That he belonged to a scheduled caste himself made him convinced of the fact that constitutional sanction must be provided in order to ensure social justice.

Although the reservation for the SC and ST sections of Indian society was initially meant for only 10 years as some claim, Ambedkar had not put a timeline on it. He probably wanted it to continue until the oppressed classes of Indians got their sociopolitical and economic justice fully redressed.

Reservation in India has now been turned into a political weapon that is often deployed during state and central elections

One could ask the question: have these stated objectives of reservation been met during the last seven decades? It would be awfully wrong if we were to say a total no for an answer; for the reservation policy has brought in both quantitative and qualitative changes in the lives of marginalized groups.

For instance, due to the reservation policy in education, enrolment of SC and ST students in colleges has substantially increased. Similarly, in employment there is a significant rise in the presence of these groups who otherwise have totally been out of the organized job market.

While the reservation policy was truly a shot in the arm of the SCs and STs, it served as a precursor for similar demands from other sections of society that were not sufficiently represented in the education and employment sectors. It is in this context that we need to view the 27 percent of reservation granted to the other backward castes (OBCs) in both education and employment.

Reservation in India has now been turned into a political weapon that is often deployed during state and central elections. No political party in India can afford to antagonize the large section of voters who continue to benefit from reservation facilities. As a matter of fact, there is a clamor from many more communities that want to be included in the OBC category in order to reap the benefits of reservation.

The reservation conundrum has been deepened with the Narendra Modi government introducing 10 percent reservation in 2019 for the economically weak forward castes of India. It is a fact that not all socially forward castes are economically sound and they have no access to any government grants; therefore, a new provision is made to absorb them as well into the reservation orbit.

As India turns 75 as an independent nation on Aug. 15, 2022, we have reasons to be proud of what we as a nation have achieved. But we also have some legitimate concerns regarding the direction the nation is taking, particularly under a political dispensation that seems to share very little with an inclusive social vision, equitable economic development and concern for the less fortunate sections of society.

We have miles to go if we are to achieve what Pandit Nehru said at the dawn of Indian independence: “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.” His words couldn’t be truer as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Indian independence.

Modi’s Christmas Shocker Hurts The Poor And Disadvantaged In India During The Covid

“These calls have an eerie familiarity with what has happened to the Jews in Germany during World War II. Even Hitler has used euphemism instead of direct appeal to annihilate a community. However, the religious extremists in India have gone even a step further and made their open call. Undoubtedly, India is at an inflection point in history, and the question is whether the current leadership acquiesce to the sounds and fury from these diabolical mindsets by keeping their deafening silence!”

Like many other nations globally, India has been navigating through an economic crisis while battling an onslaught of Covid-19 and its variants. However, one may find it hard to pin down a leadership anywhere bent upon augmenting that misery for its own people through arbitrary and quirky actions. That is probably what the Modi administration has done by canceling about 6000 of FCRAs (Foreign Currency Remittance Act) of NGOs and various religious organizations that serve the poorest of the poor and disadvantaged in the educational, charitable, and healthcare arena.

These leaders appear to be unimpressed with the vital work done by many of these civic organizations in blunting the fury of the pandemic by providing food and assistance when the government was found missing in action. Missionaries of Charity, an organization founded by Mother Teresa, is one of the impacted organizations and might have garnered the most attention. However, so many of those organizations on that list might soon be depriving a dying patient of urgent medical care due to their inability to pay or denying a meal to a hungry person from the ranks of the poor and disadvantaged.

It is bizarre to learn that one of the reasons for cutting off funds for the Missionaries of Charities was that the inspectors had found copies of Bibles on the premises! Missionaries of Charities have had a long record of distinguished humanitarian service that began in 1950 on the streets of Calcutta. The group is revered worldwide for its work under Mother Teresa, an Albanian Christian nun who made India her home. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her dedicated work over a lifetime, and her legacy inspires so many to carry on with similar missions.

The published list contains organizations belonging to various religious affiliations. Although one can fully understand the need for transparency and accountability in these organizations, this discretionary decision may have a far-reaching effect of closing their doors for good, resulting in a denial of services to the most vulnerable needy. Moreover, by releasing this list on the eve of Christmas, the Modi administration may also be sending a clear message to the Christians in India that you are no longer welcome as a partner in the social development arena. They may look at the Christian community as having undue influence in the society-at-large through their educational and charitable work and are determined to shut it down. While people worldwide are on edge dealing with variants of this virus, only a wicked mindset could think of this type of ordinance in a time such as these.

Thanks to the rising antagonism of the authorities towards minorities, we have also seen a spate of attacks on Christians during this holiday season. The right-wing extremists, who are emboldened by the words and deeds of the current leadership, went on a rampage disrupting Carol services and destroying church properties in several parts of India. A group of men led by a politician barged into a Gurgaon private school and disrupted the Christmas carnival. They also chanted slogans of “Jai Shri Ram and Bharat Ki Jai,” and the videos of the incident show a man addressing the gathering, stating that “Christianity is not acceptable here.”

In another incident, a statue of Jesus Christ was vandalized at the Holy Redeemer Church entrance, a century-old building with great historical importance. In the Chandmari district of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, a group of right-wing men carrying saffron flags protested outside the Matridham Ashram before a Christmas event was to take place. The group of 20-30 people raised the “Jai Shri ram” slogan along with “Church murdabad” (death to the church) and “stop conversion.” In Assam, the Bajrang Dal was also involved in impeding the Christmas midnight mass celebrations in Silchar. The men allegedly forced their way into the church and demanded that the celebration be shut down because it was also ‘Tulsi Diwas.’

The action against Missionaries of Charity also happened in the backdrop of an anti-conversion bill passed in the Karnataka Assembly that has stoked anxieties among Christians in that southern state, the IT hub of India. The first anti-conversion law was passed in Odisha in 1967, leading to an attack on Christians, culminating in the Kandhamal violence in 2008. Six other states followed suit resulting in increased violence against Christians. Rev. Peter Machado, Archbishop of Bengaluru, summed up his heartfelt feelings this way: “This is frightening and a sad commentary on secularism, signals are suggesting it is not a good time to be a Christian in Karnataka.” One also wonders that if there is such a rampant conversion as alleged, why has the Christian population in Karnataka decreased from 1.91% as per the 2001 census instead of 1.87% as per the 2011 one?

Why are these attacks occurring at an increased frequency now? For those observers, it becomes apparent that it is part of the BJP efforts to promote their long-cherished goal of a majoritarian rule under the banner of a Hindu Rashtra. The recently held Dharam Sansad in Haridwar in the name of Sanatana Dharma indicated what extent they are willing to go to accomplish that goal. One of the main organizers of the Sansad, Prabodhhanand Giri, was heard praising the Myanmarese people for killing and driving out Rohingya Muslims. The Swami wants the Hindus in India to imitate the Buddhists and drive out the Muslims from the country. A female speaker went even further, asking every Hindu to wield the sword and start killing Muslims. Christians may be considered collateral damage in their quest to fulfill that dream in the whole scheme of things.

These calls have an eerie familiarity with what has happened to the Jews in Germany during World War II. Even Hitler has used euphemism instead of direct appeal to annihilate a community. However, the religious extremists in India have gone even a step further and made their open call. Undoubtedly, India is at an inflection point in history, and the question is whether the current leadership acquiesce to the sounds and fury from these diabolical mindsets by keeping their deafening silence!

Tools For Peace: Pope Francis Presents Three Points To Ponder

Every year on the New Year’s Day, the Church celebrates the World Day of Peace. Each year the Holy Father sends a message for the celebration of this day. This year, on the 55th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis had this message for us: “Dialogue Between Generations; Education; and Work: Tools for Building Lasting Peace.”

In his introductory remarks, Pope Francis expresses his sadness over the fact that the path of peace which St. Pope Paul VI called by a new name of integral development, “remains sadly distant from the real lives of many men and women and thus from our human family, which is now entirely interconnected.” Despite numerous efforts, wars and armed conflicts, diseases of pandemic, effects of climate change and environmental degradation, hunger and economic slowdown add up to disruption of peace in the world.

The Pope reminds us that peace is both a gift from high and the fruit of a shared commitment. All of us, therefore, must contribute our mite towards peace beginning with our own individual hearts and families, then within the society and all working up to relationships between peoples and nations.

Pope Francis proposes three paths for building lasting peace. First, Dialogue between Generations, second, Education and third Work. A word on each:

Dialogue Between Generations to Build Peace: In a world beset with untold problems, two common reactions of people are, either to flee from reality or to react with destructive violence. But the Pope says that there is another possible option: “Yet between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue. Dialogue between generations”. He goes on to explain: “Dialogue entails listening to one another, sharing different views, coming to agreement and walking together.” This sounds very much like the way we are to be involved in the current synodal process on Synodality.

We must note here that the Pope does not merely preach but works to promote peace. We recall with great admiration how a couple of years ago the Pope brought leaders of two warring factions of South Sudan together and even knelt down and kissed their feet to broker peace.

Stressing the urgent need for an inter-generational partnership, Pope Francis affirms: “Young people need the wisdom and experience of the elderly, while those who are older need the support, affection, creativity and dynamism of the young.” The Pope is of the opinion that “the global crisis we are experiencing makes it clear that encounter and dialogue between generations should be the driving force behind a healthy politics, that is not content to manage the present with piecemeal solutions or quick fixes, but views itself as an outstanding form of love for others, in the search for shared and sustainable projects for the future”.

For such lasting endeavours, dialogue between the elderly (“keepers of memory”) and the young (“those who move history forward”) is necessary. Each must be willing to make room for others and not to insist on monopolizing the entire scene for pursuing their own immediate interests.

Such inter-generational dialogue is also necessary when we think of care for our common home. The environment, the Pope reminds us, “is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.”

Teaching and Education as Drivers of Peace: To build paths of peace together we cannot ignore education which is a privileged setting and context for integral development. “Education provides the grammar for dialogue between generations,” observes the Holy Father.

However, the Supreme Pontiff laments that “In recent years, there has been a significant reduction worldwide in funding for education and training; these have been seen more as expenditures than investments. Yet they are the primary means of promoting integral human development; they make individuals free and responsible, and they are essential for the defence and promotion of peace. In a word, teaching and education are the foundations of a cohesive civil society capable of generating hope, prosperity and progress”.

While there is a significant reduction in the funds for education, on the other hand, military expenditures have increased and they seem certain to grow exorbitantly, says the Holy Father. He goes on to call governments to “develop economic policies aimed at inverting the proportion of public funds spent on education and on weaponry”.

The Pope hopes that “investment in education will also be accompanied by greater efforts to promote the culture of care…. A country flourishes when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic culture, technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture”.

Pope Francis says that it is essential then “to forge a new cultural paradigm” through “a global pact on education for and with future generations, one that commits families, communities, schools, universities, institutions, religions, governments and the entire human family to the training of mature men and women”.

It is by investing in the education and training of younger generations, we can help them, through a focused programme of formation, to take their rightful place in the labour market, affirms the Pope.

Creating and Ensuring Labour Builds Peace: “Labour is an indispensable factor in building and keeping peace”. Humans are social animals. We always work with or for someone. Hence the work place enables us to learn to make our contribution towards a more habitable and beautiful world.

The Pope is well aware that the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected the labour market. Millions of economic and productive activities have failed. Migrant workers have suffered particularly with no system of welfare or social security for them. Violence and organized crimes are on the increase in many countries. The only answer to this is “an expansion of dignified employment opportunities” according to the Holy Father.

“Labour, in fact, is the foundation on which to build justice and solidarity in every community. Peace is not possible without justice and solidarity. Efforts must be made to encourage a renewed sense of social responsibility, so that profit will not be the sole guiding criteria.” The fundamental human rights of the workers must be respected. When justice is ensured and human rights are respected, the workers will themselves contribute to building peace.

Holy Father concludes his World Day of Peace Message with the following appeal to government leaders, those with political and social responsibilities, priests and pastoral workers, and to all men and women of good will: “Let us walk together with courage and creativity on the path of intergenerational dialogue, education, and work.

May more and more men and women strive daily, with quiet humility and courage, to be artisans of peace. And may they be ever inspired and accompanied by the blessings of the God of peace”. Let us pay heed to the Holy Father’s appeal and to his peace message. Let us use the three tools proposed by him and contribute our share in building world peace. Peace be with you!

Unisex Public Schools In Chicago

Paris, often referred to as the ‘City of Light’ (La Ville Lumière), has always fascinated me for its clean roads and fashion shops. Surprisingly, a few years back, while in the international airport, I was in a Uni-sex toilette with no astonishment of passengers of either sex running up and down in it. Earlier, I felt as if I had done some sinning entering a Ladies’ restroom.

However, after a few hours, while sitting on my flight to New Delhi, my senses became diluted when I used the same bathroom both genders were using. So there is absolutely nothing special about Unisex public toilets (also referred to as gender-inclusive, gender-neutral, mixed-sex or all-gender, or without any prefix at all) are public toilets that are not separated by gender or sex.

Thinking about Gender equity, of course, the problem may be that genders are different and not equal. Somehow the custom and cultural ideologies kept them separate- at least for using the restrooms, and nothing wrong in that practice for many reasons.

But the latest news in the USA that Chicago expels sex-specific restrooms from public schools is a whistleblower for a provocative issue indeed.So far, boys and girls were using their specific restrooms in their own privacy and had no fear of peer pressure from the other gender. However, public school bathrooms will now be “gender-neutral,” a reform that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) boasts of as a “big step forward for gender equity.”

This reformative initiative requires the schools to display language outside of restrooms, informing students, whether male or female, that they may use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity. CPS prompted others, “We require all schools to adopt new signage to make our restrooms more inclusive. This is a big step forward for gender equity for our students and staff.” Is it going to influence the schooling practices themselves, or will it just be ignored?

This initiative not only impacts school children but also the school staff initially. As per CPS, the signage will “make it clear that all restrooms are open for use by anyone who feels comfortable.” It is also stated that the move is to “increase gender equity for all.”

One example of signage that will be displayed at schools reads: “This is a gender-neutral restroom with multiple stalls. It is open to users of any gender identity or expression.”

Is the School system meticulously worried about the health and safety of all students?. If so, Schools need to rip out the existing restrooms and replace them with single-user toilets. It will take up more space, but everyone’s privacy will be protected with no fear of peeping toms!

This is not what they are implementing in Chicago, and it is not a private restroom; it is the standard multi-stall bathrooms. We are really worried about the teens with all confused inhibitions and early sexual emotions.

We agree that all children need to be safe in the bathroom. Lack of safety and lack of comfort may be the two different concerns, which need to be clarified by the school administrators. Across our country, many students avoid using bathrooms fearing that another student might mistreat or harm them emotionally or physically.

Most of them will try to hold it till they reach home because, as we are talking about pre-teens and teens. Middle & high school students are very sensitive and insecure and shameful about their changing bodies and the opposite sex. So, a young girl getting her period for the first time or any girl needing to take care similar situation might have real embarrassment if there is a boy in the next stall; that is the reality. The consequences of these fears can be severe, impacting a child’s health, well-being, and ability to concentrate on learning.

If the real issue is on how to protect and respect individuals with a different gender than one assigned at birth, we need to recognize them. The emotionally disturbed trans may be less than 1%. Why do we change everything for the 1%? – that is what the average parent does not understand. Maybe, rather than designating all bathrooms gender-neutral, they should have at least one set for girls or boys only as well.se

“While the binary male/female gender paradigm is no longer sufficient for understanding gender identity and gender expression, this perspective is new to many people. Therefore, school leaders can reduce misunderstanding and conflict by raising awareness and educating constituencies about gender diversity, including transgender status.” (NAIS- Fox News).

We are apprehensive about the ever-increasing sexual assaults going on in many schools. Having gender-specific toilets will not necessarily stop teenage sexual assaults in school. Instead, how many of those implementing this reforming program would be comfortable in a restroom with someone of the opposite gender in the next stall?. Apart from that, usually, girls spend as much as twice as long in the bathroom as men, and that’s because they have physiological changes, and they have more layers of clothes to remove before using the toilette. Boys waiting outside usually show their impatience, ending up with angry words or shoutings. Needless to affirm that this setup is ripe for bullying, which is already out of control.

Why are so many throwing away gender norms for everyone else, making the majority uncomfortable so the one or two students in question can feel comfortable?.

Neither schools nor parents can assume that every child knows appropriate behavior with unisex concepts. When a school conveys what behaviors are and are not acceptable, the issues related to bathrooms move from assumptions and misperceptions about an individual’s intent and instead focus-on their observable act. Question remains – Is this a “big step forward,” and gender-neutral bathrooms in schools are of the utmost importance now?

Prevention Is Better Than Cure The Significance of Your Annual Physical Exam

Advika was in her late forties. Despite feeling tired and noting some abnormal pains during her monthly cycle, she declined to go to the doctor. The cost of traveling to the doctor was expensive and she didn’t have the extra funds or time to take a day off work for the trip. Eventually, she started feeling so bad that working was almost impossible. Finally, she went to the doctor, only to find out that she had an advanced stage of cervical cancer.

While we would all wish that her story was rare, the truth is that undiagnosed cancer happens frequently in India. Advanced stages of cancer are less likely to be cured and have a greater chance of relapse. In stage one, for instance, the cure rate is around 85% but that number falls dramatically for those in stage 3. Cancer patients who are diagnosed with stage 4 cancer are not likely to survive for more than five years.

The World Health Organization says that cancer is diagnosed in more than 14 million people worldwide annually and ends up killing approximately 8.8 million. What is most shocking is that two-thirds of these deaths are in low-middle income countries where diagnosis is found to be inadequate.

Indian system of modern medicine does not promote an annual preventive physical exam for patients even though several private hospitals promote comprehensive executive check ups for the wealthy.  Its time to change that. Identifying chronic diseases like Diabetes, Hypertension, and heart diseases early and managing them is a lot more effective than managing and treating its complications.

In the United States, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine. The Task Force works to improve the health of people nationwide by making evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services. “The Prevention TaskForce” application assists primary care clinicians to identify the screening, counseling, and preventive medication services that are appropriate for their patients. Government of India could implement a similar project and use the lessons learned in the United States and other countries.

If all patients in India have access to complimentary annual preventive physical exam, including routine lab tests and cancer screenings, this will increase the chances of finding cancer and deadly diseases earlier and will enhance the likelihood of a cure. The cost to the taxpayers of India will eventually be far less as we prevent long term complications of Cancer and Chronic diseases.

For the individual patient who is covering the costs of seeing a doctor, the idea of annual physical examination when they feel fine seems like a waste of financial resources. As has become the case in countries around the world, primary care and annual physical examinations are beginning to disappear. As telehealth and digital medicine options have continued to increase in use, particularly during the pandemic, the idea of a traditional physical exam has come under greater scrutiny. A combination physical exam and telehealth might be the way of the future in keeping our nation healthy.

The annual physical exam is part of the larger discussion about primary care and whether it is necessary. In the U.S., India, and other countries around the world, medicine has become the way you manage disease, not prevent it. Primary care, on the other hand, is a way to prevent disease by talking with patients about their potential health risks and giving them practical advice on how to care for their health, while considering their unique lifestyle challenges.

Unfortunately, there is little discussion about how focusing on primary care, including the annual physical exam, could positively impact the costs of healthcare. Far too often, individuals throughout the world find themselves waiting to seek medical attention until they are much sicker, simply because they do not have the funds to afford basic preventive primary care or may struggle to stick with prescribed preventive health measures and lifestyle changes due to costs or social status.

While telemedicine does offer a way for physicians to connect with their patients in a cost-effective manner, there is something to be said for having a patient in front of you, where you can physically examine them. When a patient disagrees with their doctor, for instance, having a physical exam can give you data that informs the discussion and could be helpful in getting the patient on board with the treatment options available.

A patient who might be looking for antibiotics to treat a respiratory infection might feel better about not needing medication when they know that their lungs are clear, and their oxygen saturation levels are within normal range.

Telehealth does offer a means for doctors to understand the home environment of their patients and give them the opportunity to connect more frequently with their patients throughout the year. Virtual visits can also respect the patient’s time, as well as the doctor’s. Plus, technology is continuing to improve the ways available for doctors to collect physical data from their patients without physically having them in the office.

End stage renal diseases can be prevented by preventing or managing health conditions that cause kidney damage, such as diabetes and high blood pressure The costs for cancer treatments increase dramatically at later stages, as your medical team deals with the cancer and its side effects. Families often see any cancer diagnosis as a huge financial blow, meaning that they are also willing to make choices between treatment and caring for family needs. Annual physical exams, which include routine tests and screenings, could be a way to save individuals and their loved ones the financial and emotional costs of cancers and many other preventable diseases.

How can we make this happen in an affordable way using digital technology platforms like Telehealth? India being a leader in digital technology- this can be implemented more efficiently and make healthcare more accessible to common man especially in rural areas across the nation.

American Association of Physicians  of Indian Origin (AAPI), the largest ethnic physician organization in the United states, representing over 100,000 Indain American Physicians, has initiated preventive healthcare screenings in 75 villages to understand the concept of preventive screenings help to diagnose any silent diseases which are causing premature deaths from Coronary heart disease and cancers like Breast cancer, cervical cancer which are preventable if diagnosed early through these annual screenings as mentioned above.

During the annual Global Healthcare Summit AAPI has planned to organize in India at Hotel AVASA in Hyderabad from January 5th to 7th, 2022, physician leaders from the United States and India will have an opportunity to brainstorm and explore ways to focus on the theme, “Transformation of Healthcare through Telehealth and Technology usage during this post Covid Era” recommend possible ways to plan and implement preventive medicine that will save resources and precious human lives.

It’s our hope that Government of India will appoint an expert panel of nationally recognized experts in the disciplines of preventive medicine and primary care, including internal medicine, family medicine, geriatrics, pediatrics, preventive medicine, behavioral medicine, public health, obstetrics and gynecology, and nursing to create an Indian Preventive Task Force (IPTF) recommendations should be promoted and Implemented as part of the Free annual physical exam or telemedicine visit at Government Hospitals and Primary care centers. Private hospitals and Insurance companies should be encouraged to provide Annual Physical exam or Telehealth visit, following IPTF recommendations for free or at affordable cost. Many of the routine lab tests, vaccinations, blood pressure checks and some cancer screenings like self-breast examination can be done remotely and event at patient’s home with the help of Asha workers. The annual physical exam is a critical part of quality primary care and one that needs to be automatically covered as part of Indian healthcare system.

To shift our healthcare from being disease and treatment centered, we need to elevate the value of primary care, particularly the annual physical exam and recognize how critical this is to having a healthy nation and a healthier world.

With one of the largest populations in the World, India could lead the World in providing quality health care to all its citizens and the recent COVID-19 vaccination drive is a great example. The biggest democracy in the World needs urgent Investment in the health of all its citizens and reform the public healthcare system.

*Dr. Anupama Gotimukula is the President of American Association of Physicians  of Indian Origin (AAPI), resides in San Antonio, TX. A board certified Pediatric Anesthesiologist, practicing since 2007, Dr. Gotimukula is affiliated with Christus Santa Rosa, Baptist and Methodist Healthcare systems in San Antonio.

*Prof. (Dr.) Joseph M. Chalil is an Adjunct Professor & Chair of the Complex Health Systems advisory board at Nova Southeastern University’s School of Business; Chairman of the Indo-American Press Club and The Universal News Network publisher.

*He recently published a Best Seller Book – “Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic: Envisioning a Better World by Transforming the Future of Healthcare.”

Glasgow, Greta, And Good Intentions

Both anxiety and hope are increasing in the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. There is anxiety because, barring a handful of the willfully blind, we can all see the damage we are doing to the planet. Fires, floods, and rising sea levels are creating havoc around the world, while environmental destruction and the resulting conflict are triggering large-scale refugee movements that evoke biblical images.

But there is also hope, because some—not least the climate activist Greta Thunberg, with her longstanding and heartening call for more ambitious action—recognize the scale of the challenge facing humanity. In that spirit, the European Union has launched the European Green Deal, which aims to make the EU carbon-neutral by 2050.

The United States also aims to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, and recently announced that it would double its financial contribution to help developing countries tackle the climate crisis, to $11.4 billion per year. Some U.S. lawmakers, notably Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, have proposed a Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to redesign the U.S. economy and eventually eliminate all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

When we see climate action trail so far behind rhetoric, we inevitably wonder if all the talk is just hypocrisy. But it need not be.

Yet, despite these efforts, the fact is that we started out late in combating climate change and now need to accelerate corrective action if humans are not to go the way of the dinosaurs. The climate crisis is a global issue and requires action from all countries, but many developing economies, including some of the most climate-vulnerable ones, lack the financial wherewithal to do enough on their own. Some emerging economies, including South Africa and much of South and Southeast Asia, are hugely reliant on coal, and will have to undergo a disruptive green transition.

We therefore need a collective commitment to design support systems—financial and scientific—to help all countries do their part. The 2015 Paris climate agreement was a diplomatic success, marshaling the support of almost 200 countries. But the world is falling woefully short of meeting the target—limiting global warming to 1.5º Celsius, relative to preindustrial levels—that was agreed in Paris.

Will the gathering in Glasgow catalyze genuine action? Thunberg recently warned that “the leaders will say we’ll do this and we’ll do this, … and then they will do nothing.” And the widespread frustration at leaders’ insufficient climate ambition is not limited to young people. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II expressed a similar sentiment, saying that “it’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.”

Such despair is natural. When we see climate action trail so far behind rhetoric, we inevitably wonder if all the talk is just hypocrisy.

But it need not be. If we want to bequeath a livable planet to future generations, it is crucial to understand why there may be a disjuncture between what each person intends to do and what the group actually delivers. Iconic games like the prisoner’s dilemma have shown this to be the case in the domain of selfish decision-making. Mobilizing the determination and commitment needed to address the climate crisis is a problem for the social sciences and moral philosophy as much as it is for politicians.

Contrary to what neoclassical economics would have us believe, the modern economy does not operate as a series of impersonal markets driven purely by the aspirations of individual actors. Rather, as Mariana Mazzucato notes in her book “Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism,” markets are “embedded in rules, norms, and contracts affecting organizational behavior, interactions, and institutional designs.”

It is therefore a mistake to equate collective action with the sum of individual intentions. When people say they want to do everything to avert climate disaster but do little, this may not be hypocrisy. They may be in the grip of what I have described in a recent paper as “Greta’s Dilemma.”

In this game, a group of people initially pursue their own interests, with no concern for how the environmental damage caused by their actions will harm future generations. If people then become environmentally conscious and take corrective action, traditional economic models would predict that such a shift will lead to improvements in future generations’ welfare.

But in the complex, strategically connected world that we inhabit today, the outcome may be different. Greta’s Dilemma illustrates the paradoxical result whereby individuals who become environmentally conscious collectively do greater damage to the environment. Akin to one of those paradoxical paintings by M.C. Escher, it is the intertwining of small individual steps that lead the group to a destination they did not seek. Far from helping future generations, they end up hurting them.

Admittedly, this game is crafted deliberately to highlight the paradox. But it shows that, in today’s complex global economy, we need to devote much greater attention to the strategic foundations of human interaction in order to design policies that can help us turn away from the brink of climate disaster.

This may sound like a narrow academic argument, but it is not. If we are to realize Thunberg’s ambition, which I believe many people—including many leaders—genuinely share, we need to use Greta’s Dilemma as a basis for designing the policies and institutions we need.

So, although we are right to fret that leaders may not do enough at COP26, we also have to be aware that there is a scientific problem here. On climate change and other issues, we need to understand the social and economic game we are playing, and try to alter its rules so that our individual moral intentions are reflected better in collective outcomes.

Glossing Over in Glasgow – Some Thoughts on COP26

A week has gone by since COP 26 with 197 Parties ended in the Scottish city of Glasgow on extended time last Saturday. Climate change which covers wide array of issues affecting all living beings engaged the people around the world for COP 26 in a way never experienced since COP1 was held in Berlin in 1995.

Extensive and round-the-clock media coverage, huge presence of the civil society, activism by the young people, substantive advocacy by large number of non-governmental organizations, even the creatively decorated conference venue – all gave COP 26 a profile never seen before.

Before Glasgow, 25 annually convened sessions of COPs have been held by Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in New York in May 1992 which “determined to protect the climate system for present and future generations”. But never in the history of COPs there was an occasion when the Parties publicly negotiated to change the outcome document which was televised around the world as in the Glasgow COP.

As is natural for such multilateral gatherings, reactions to the question whether COP 26 was successful were different from the Parties and other entities engaged in the process. Efforts to gloss over following COP 26 left the common people uncertain and unsure whether there was really any forward movement in Glasgow.

Contradictions

What was somewhat intriguing that speaking for the United Nations system as a whole, the Secretary-General expressed his disappointment about the compromise reached in the outcome commenting “…unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.”

He even warned “It is time to go into emergency mode — or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.” At the same time, Secretary-General’s rather confusing, ill-composed comment in his remarks at the conclusion of COP 26 that “We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe” left many wondering what he was trying to convey.

Even more intriguing is that where was his leadership as the universally accepted global leader in getting rid of those contradictions he was complaining about.? On the other hand, the Executive Secretary entrusted with the responsibility of organizing COPs was upbeat about the outcome and may be reflecting another contradiction in Glasgow. COP 26 also invited the UN Secretary-General to convene world leaders in 2023 to consider ambition to 2030 dangling the traditional carrot of expectation to the people of the world.

Alok Sharma touch

Let me bring out a very uniquely remarkable thing that happened in COP 26 as its UK-appointed full-time President Alok Sharma openly and visibly choked back tears saying “I am deeply sorry” as he banged his gavel for the adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact.

His emotions and true feelings came out spontaneously as he was considerably upset by the proposal of India, joined by China, to change the expression “phase out” relating to coal consumption as agreed to by all till the moment of adoption.

India replaced that phrase with “phase down” thereby watering down the consensus intent of the Parties at COP 26. President Sharma expressed his apologies for the way things evolved in changing the agreed COP 26 outcome negotiated under his leadership and which he was about to gavel down. In my half a century of engagement in multilateral diplomacy,

I am not aware of any conference chair apologizing ever for his inability to protect the best interest of the participants in the outcome. Bravo to Alok Sharma for that honesty and integrity! He has shown the way to all future chairs that they can openly and courageously pronounce their failure identifying those who are dragging their feet destroying a forward-looking outcome.

It was also impressive the way President Sharma asserted the reality with his pithy comment that we have kept 1.5 Celsius alive “but its pulse is weak”.

Loss and Damage

The insensitivity of the Parties and their self-centered policy positions were starkly manifested in the decision relating to a major issue known as “Loss and Damage”. Not much media highlight was given to this very relevant item on COP 26 agenda. Even the UN’s Climate Change website does include in its list of topics.

I am sure many readers are picking their brains trying to recall the issue. “Loss and damage” is used within the COP process to refer to the harms caused by anthropogenic climate change. Establishing liability and compensation for loss and damage has been a long-standing goal for vulnerable and developing countries in the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries Group in negotiations.

However, developed countries have resisted this. At Glasgow, the developing countries lamented the outcome on loss and damage. They had called for a financial mechanism for loss and damage, but the outcome on loss and damage only included strengthening the existing technical support functions, and expectedly more empty and rejectionist talks to convene from 2022 to 2024.

The existing UNFCCC mechanism created by COP 19, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, focuses on research and dialogue rather than liability or compensation.
Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network succinctly described COP 26 as “a clear betrayal by rich nations – the US, the EU and the UK- of vulnerable communities in poor countries.”

She went on to say that by blocking the proposal of the developing countries representing 6 billion people, on the creation of a Glasgow Loss and Damage Finance Facility “rich countries have once again demonstrated their complete lack of solidarity and responsibility to protect those facing the worst of the climate impacts.

Referring to close-door pressure tactics, Saleemul Huq, Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) regretted that “The COP Presidency has overnight been bullied into dropping the Glasgow Loss and Damage Finance Facility. The UK’s words to the vulnerable countries have been proven to be totally unreliable.”

Natalie Lucas, Executive Director, Care About Climate very forcefully spoke about the loss and damage issue and expressed total disappointment commenting that “Developed nations, including the US, have not risen to the challenge to do what is necessary to protect people. We have missed the train on mitigation, on adaptation, and now it is colliding into the most vulnerable people.”

At the end the Glasgow Climate Pact pitifully agreed “to enhance understanding of how approaches to averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage can be improved”. It clearly reflects how the “powerful” of the world impose their totally irrelevant and illogical position on the poorest and most vulnerable humanity.

About the Glasgow outcome, globally respected eminent economist Jeffrey Sachs rightly opined “That leaves us stuck between the reality of a devastating global climate crisis and rich countries’ nationalist politics…” He articulated further that “The financial failures at COP26 are both tragic and absurd … Financing for “losses and damages,” that is, to recover and rebuild from climate disasters, fared even worse, with rich countries agreeing only to hold a “dialogue” on the issue.”

Kowtowing to the obstinacy of the developed countries, UN Secretary-General insensitively tried to console the developing world by his non-committal words saying “I want to make a particular appeal for our future work in relation to adaptation and the issue of loss and damage.”

He was oblivious that the Climate Change Convention of 1992 of which he is the depository asserts that “The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.”

Civil society

At Glasgow, the civil society engagement and advocacy for forward-looking actions fell on deaf ears of the leaders and negotiators. The civil society was separated from the so-called Blue Zone at the conference center where the wheeling-dealing was taking place.

If the civil society seriously wants a space to be heard and make an impact on the outcome of COP processes, it should ask for that opportunity clearly offered to them in all future climate negotiations. Protesting outside and commenting on the social media have limited value in influencing the decision-makers.

Even Greta Thunberg’s disparaging slogan “blah, blah, blah …” was laughed away by the leaders. COP 26 outcome proves that in a terribly frustrating manner. For COP 27 next year, the mode of operations for the civil society participation needs to change.

American climate scientist and author Peter Kalmus articulated that “The one thing the climate summit in Glasgow made clear is that human society remains in business-as-usual mode, with no meaningful curb on fossil fuel use. The soft pledges made at COP 26 might have been acceptable decades ago, but not now.”

He went on to highlight that “Unless COP26’s failure is recognized as failure, there is no way to learn from it. Allowing global leaders to feel that what happened in Glasgow was acceptable – and spinning it as some sort of success – would be a disastrous mistake.”

The whole COP process is flawed if the powerful Parties can brush aside the wishes of countries representing a huge majority of the world population just like that. Developing countries need to join together to stop this circus and find another approach.

“Phase down” – the new mantra

There has been strong criticism of the last-minute and veto-like proposal to replace “Phase out” by “Phase down” at the final moments of the Glasgow gathering. But “phase down” has always been the position of the worst and historically responsible polluters of the world who would prefer to follow their own pace for addressing the climate crisis.

Be it emissions control, be it fossil fuels, be it financing, be it adaptation, be it mitigation, be it loss and damage, be it transfer of technology, “phase down” mode has always been the preferred way of doing business by the developed world. India has only taken a dubious lead in actually introducing the phrase in a formal COP outcome.

The global community would find more and more such instances as the climate change negotiations evolves in the coming years. “Phase down” is the new mantra of the climate change negotiators. Be prepared for that. Sorry!  (Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations.)

Climate Talks Draft Agreement Expresses ‘Alarm And Concern’

Governments are poised to express “alarm and concern” about how much Earth has already warmed and encourage one another to end their use of coal, according to a draft released Wednesday of the final document expected at U.N. climate talks.

The early version of the document circulating at the negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland, also impresses on countries the need to cut carbon dioxide emissions by about half by 2030 — even though pledges so far from governments don’t add up to that frequently stated goal.

In a significant move, countries would urge one another to “accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” in the draft, though it has no explicit reference to ending the use of oil and gas. There has been a big push among developed nations to shut down coal-fired power plants, which are a major source of heat-trapping gases, but the fuel remains a critical and cheap source of electricity for countries like China and India.

While the language about moving away from coal is a first and important, the lack of a date when countries will do so limits the pledge’s effectiveness, said Greenpeace International Director Jennifer Morgan, a long-time climate talks observer.

“This isn’t the plan to solve the climate emergency. This won’t give the kids on the streets the confidence that they’ll need,” Morgan said.

The draft doesn’t yet include full agreements on the three major goals that the U.N. set going into the negotiations — and may disappoint poorer nations because of a lack of solid financial commitments from richer ones. The goals are: for rich nations to give poorer ones $100 billion a year in climate aid, to ensure that half of that money goes to adapting to worsening global warming, and the pledge to slash emissions that is mentioned.

The draft does provide insight, however, into the issues that need to be resolved in the last few days of the conference, which is scheduled to end Friday but may push past that deadline. Still, a lot of negotiating and decision-making is yet to come since whatever emerges from the meetings has to be unanimously approved by the nearly 200 nations attending.

The draft says the world should try to achieve “net-zero (emissions) around mid-century.” That means requiring countries to pump only as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as can be absorbed again through natural or artificial means.

It also acknowledges “with regret” that rich nations have failed to live up to the climate aid pledge.

Poorer nations, which need financial help both in developing green energy systems and adapting to the worst of climate change, are angry that the promised aid hasn’t materialized.

“Without financial support little can be done to minimize its debilitating effects for vulnerable communities around the world,” Mohammed Nasheed, the Maldives’ parliamentary speaker and the ambassador for a group of dozens of countries most vulnerable to climate change, said in a statement.

He said the draft fails on key issues, including the financial aid and strong emission cuts. “There’s much more that needs to be done on climate finance to give developing countries what they need coming out of here,” said Alden Meyer, a long-time conference observer, of the European think-tank E3G.

The document reaffirms the goals set in Paris in 2015 of limiting warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, with a more stringent target of trying to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) preferred because that would keep damage from climate change “much lower.”

Highlighting the challenge of meeting those goals, the document “expresses alarm and concern that human activities have caused around 1.1 C (2 F) of global warming to date and that impacts are already being felt in every region.”

Small island nations, which are particularly vulnerable to warming, worry that too little is being done to stop warming at the 1.5-degree goal — and that allowing temperature increases up to 2 degrees would be catastrophic for their countries.

“For Pacific (small island states), climate change is the greatest, single greatest threat to our livelihood, security and wellbeing. We do not need more scientific evidence nor targets without plans to reach them or talking shops,” Marshall Islands Health and Human Services minister told fellow negotiators Wednesday. “The 1.5 limit is not negotiable.”

Separate draft proposals were also released on other issues being debated at the talks, including rules for international carbon markets and the frequency by which countries have to report on their efforts.

The draft calls on nations that don’t have national goals that would fit with the 1.5- or 2-degree limits to come back with stronger targets next year. Depending on how the language is interpreted, the provision could apply to most countries. Analysts at the World Resources Institute counted that element as a win for vulnerable countries.

“This is crucial language,” WRI International Climate Initiative Director David Waskow said Wednesday. “Countries really are expected and are on the hook to do something in that timeframe to adjust.’’ Greenpeace’s Morgan said it would have been even better to set a requirement for new goals every year.

In a nod to one of the big issues for poorer countries, the draft vaguely “urges” developed nations to compensate developing countries for “loss and damage,” a phrase that some rich nations don’t like. But there are no concrete financial commitments.

“This is often the most difficult moment,” Achim Steiner, the head of the U.N. Development Program and former chief of the U.N.’s environment office, said of the state of the two-week talks.

“The first week is over, you suddenly recognize that there are a number of fundamentally different issues that are not easily resolvable. The clock is ticking,” he told The Associated Press.

Mullaperiyar Dam- A Ticking Time Bomb In Kerala

Damocles Sword- we have heard about it or sometimes felt around a situation like that. But an old dam in Kerala has been scaring millions of people with a fear of its disastrous breach at any time.

Once again, due to the alarming flood in Kerala State, the good old  Mullaperiyar Dam is a ticking time bomb, waiting to detonate to give way to nature’s fury. As a result, the people of Idukki and the adjoining districts of Kerala have been living in constant fear of losing their livelihood or even lives. It may wipe away two or three densely populated districts of the Kerala State itself. Google says that the average lifespan of a dam is often estimated to be 50 years. In that case, this particular dam would have been in the process of rebuilding for the third time.

As per the long history cut short; Mullaperiyar dam was built in the late 1800s in the princely state of Travancore (present-day Kerala) and given to British-ruled Madras Presidency on a 999-year lease in 1886. The agreement granted full rights to the secretary of state of Tamil Nadu, a British official, to construct irrigation projects on the land. The dam was built to divert a part of the west-flowing Periyar river eastwards to feed the arid areas of Tamil Nadu. Now there is no princely state or British rule, so better forget about the 999 year lease. Only thing we need to care is the safety and  fraternity among neighboring states and mutual help by each other.

Current safety concerns relate to several issues. First, we need to understand that the dam was constructed using stone rubble masonry with lime mortar grouting, following prevailing 19th-century construction techniques that have now become archaic. As a result, seepage, cracks and leaks from the dam have caused concern.

Considering the endangered situation, the level of water in the Mullapperiyar Dam was restricted to 136 feet. Mullaperiyar dam continues to be an issue of an ongoing disagreement between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Multiple interpretations on everything from the integrity of the 1886 agreement governing its use to the project’s structural safety are being questioned at various stages and platforms.

Mullaperiyar dam located above Southern Naval Command is a threat to national safety, and it should be decommissioned immediately. We cannot compromise on national security. The Kerala government is hiding this potential threat to the Navy.(Aug 26, 202). If the Mullaperiyar Dam bursts, three reservoirs downstream Idukki, Cheruthoni, and Kolamavu would face the brutal onslaught of unleashed water. If these dams cannot hold the force, the lives of 3.5 million people living in the region will be changed forever.

In case the Dam bursts, with a water level at 136 feet, the resultant flood will submerge at least 50 square kilometers of land downstream. The thundering water would flow at the height of 36 feet, inundating buildings, uprooting trees, and filling muddy destruction all over the way.

On the other hand, Kerala contends it is not safe to raise the water level as Idukki district, where the dam is located, is earthquake-prone and has experienced multiple low-intensity quakes. Scientists, too, have said the dam cannot withstand an earthquake measuring over six on the Richter scale and that if such a calamity were to happen, the lives of more than three million people would be imperiled.

Tamil Nadu claims that though it has undertaken periodic repairs on the dam, the Kerala government has not raised the water level. As a result, it says it has suffered huge losses from not using the dam to its total capacity.

We remember that the 1979 Morvi Dam failure which killed up to 15,000 people, Kerala Government has repeatedly brought to the attention of the Supreme Court, the fear and safety concerns of the aging Mullaperiyar dam and alleged cracks and leaks in it’s structure. Kerala has abundant water resources, and they have no objection to giving it out to Tamilnadu. Tamilnadu is the only benefactor of this dam, providing sufficient water for irrigation and electric power generation.

While considering the extraordinary method of construction, everybody knows it is not safe. So many temporary fixings helped to survive the minor earthquakes and flooding. But there may not be the next time.  Both Kerala and Tamilnadu governments need to safeguard the lives and properties of millions of Keralites living under the shadow of vanishing at any time. If Tamilnadu wants to enjoy the water resources from Kerala exclusively for their use, let them build a new dam with no delay; keralites will gladly agree to it. But delaying an immediate action, can cause unexpected disasters in Kerala State. If so, the so far gentle nature of the public, may not be reflecting indeed.

Elections are over. Let this be the utmost important issue in southern India, lest humanity will never forgive the negligence of the judiciary and governments, who ignore the hazardous situation of tormenting millions of Keralites in the struggle.

Day Of The Girl Child: A Digital Generation Where Every Girl Counts

The theme of this year’s annual International Day of the Girl Child, on October 11, “Digital generation. Our generation.”, recognizes the digital transformation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. But while the pandemic accelerated the transition to online learning, working and networking, it also accelerated women and girl’s risk of being left behind In 2020, more than 60 million women in Europe and Central Asia (ECA) had no access to the mobile internet and so, were more likely than men to miss out on learning and working opportunities.

Access, ownership and use of digital tools are not gender-neutral: For instance, parents may be stricter with girls than boys in the use of mobile phones and activities that require the use of the internet, while households with limited computing resources might redirect these to boys and men over girls and women, often tasked with domestic chores and unpaid work. Factors such as affordability and cost also affect women and girls disproportionally. Moreover, social norms, gender bias and a lack of support from the family and teachers often dissuade girls and women from choosing education programmes in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and from pursuing careers in these fields.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, one in three girls report being discouraged by their families from choosing STEM subjects more broadly at university, while in Ukraine 23 percent of women aged 15-24 report a lack of self-confidence as the main reason for not pursuing a career in technology. With fewer women pursuing STEM fields, the scarcity of women role models for the younger generation persists, reinforcing the problem.

Gender equality in STEM

We must all join forces to advance gender equality in STEM. Measures include removing gender stereotypes in education, raising awareness and promoting STEM subjects to girls and women, and offering career guidance to encourage girls to consider studying in fields dominated by men. Our regional advocacy platform, STEM4All, is engaging with multiple partners – from policymakers and academic institutions to women and girls themselves– in sharing knowledge, building coalitions and making connections to advance gender equality in STEM.

Earlier this year, the platform facilitated a ‘Girls in Tech: Central Asia’ event, which brought together leaders from the tech industry and ICT role models to share experiences and offer advice to more than 120 girls and women in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. One of our goals in the platform is to profile high-impact initiatives by our partners, government, and the private sector. For instance, the Engineer Girls of Turkey project is a wonderful model of how we can increase the employability of qualified women in engineering with scholarships, internships and mentoring, and coaching support.

In Azerbaijan, UNDP has partnered with USAID in piloting a nine-month mentorship programme to equip young women and girls with tools and advice to progress in STEM fields. The platform is powered by the Accelerator Labs, a UNDP learning network created to accelerate progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Future of work

While the demand for workers in STEM occupations is only expected to grow in the future, in Europe and Central Asia, the share of women researchers in engineering and technology crosses 40 percent only in a few countries. The number of women in computer science is also particularly low compared to men: women are only 18 percent of ICT specialists in the EU, while just 16 percent of founders in the ICT and tech fields in Southern Caucasus and Western CIS are women.

Cultural and social norms, a lack of childcare support, and inadequate parental leave policies are major barriers to women entering and progressing in careers of their choice. These obstacles are amplified manifold in STEM fields, whose men-dominated workplaces and entrenched gender stereotypes present formidable impediments for many talented women. Gender equality in STEM and in the future of work is a goal unto itself. We cannot deny half of humanity the opportunity to enter and succeed in this high-growth sector which powers the green and digital transition. But there are also compelling economic and social reasons for us to strive towards this goal.

In the EU, for example, closing the gender gap in STEM could lead to an additional 1.2 million jobs. More women graduating in STEM subjects and choosing careers in higher-wage sectors can gradually increase their average earnings, helping to close the gender wage gap. The world and the future of work need women’s skills and perspectives, talent and leadership, as much as those of men. This requires all our concerted actions to close the gender digital gap and leverage the power of technology to advance girls’ and women’s education, leadership and equal future.

Health Of The Human Race & Survival Of The Planet In Danger

(IPS) – Addressing the UN General Assembly last month President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka raised several concerns, two that had to do with health. One concerned the health of the human race; the other the health of Planet Earth on which man struggles increasingly to survive. It is understandable for the President to draw the world’s attention to the current pandemic that plagues the people of Sri Lanka as it does the populations of most other nations that constitute the UN family that have struggled in the last two years to overcome COVID-19 which has brought some nations almost to their knees.

As we know some countries have dealt with the spreading virus more effectively and efficiently than others because they relied on the correct professional advice and had the right people in the places instead of dilettantes with inflated egos. The immediacy of the pandemic with its daily effects on health care and peoples’ livelihoods is seen as urgent political and health issues unlike the dangers surrounding our planet which, to many, appear light miles away while still others treat it with large doses of skepticism.

Quite rightly President Rajapaksa pointed to the dangers ahead for the survival of the planet – as underscored in the recent report of the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — due to human activity and said that Sri Lanka, among other measures, aims to increase its forest cover significantly in the future.

What really matters is whether those on the ground — like some of our politicians and their acolytes who seem to think that saving the planet is somebody else’s responsibility but denuding the forests and damaging our eco-systems for private gain is theirs — pay heed to the president’s alarm signals that should appropriately have been sounded at least a decade ago. But what evoked a quick response was not the call for international action to save the people from the pandemic or the planet from climate change as President Rajapaksa told the UN but what he told the UN chief Antonio Guterres at their New York meeting.

While reiterating Sri Lanka’s stance that internal issues should be resolved through domestic mechanisms what aroused interest was the president’s sudden and unexpected readiness to invite the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora scattered across the Global North and in smaller numbers elsewhere, for discussions presumably on reconciliation, accountability and other outstanding matters. One would have thought that there would be a gush of enthusiasm from some sections of the Tamil diaspora which had previously shown an interest in being involved in a dialogue with the Sri Lanka Government over a range of issues that concern the Tamil community.

But the few reactions that have been reported from a few Tamil organisations appear lukewarm. Yes, the Non-Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka (NRTSL), a UK-based group, welcomed the President’s announcement saying that “engagement with the diaspora is particularly important at the time when multiple challenges face Sri Lanka”. However, there was a caveat. The NRTSL is supportive of “open, transparent and sincere engagement of the government of Sri Lanka,” the organization’s president V. Sivalingam was quoted as saying.

The better-known Global Tamil Forum (GTF) called it a “progressive move” and welcomed it. But its spokesman Suren Surenderan questioned what he called President Rajapaksa’s “sudden change of mind”. Surendiran said that in June President Rajapaksa was due to meet the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) but that meeting was put off without a new date been fixed. “When requests are made by democratically elected representatives of Tamil people in Sri Lanka to meet with the President, they are “deferred with flimsy excuses”, {and} now from New York he has declared that he wants to engage with us, Tamil diaspora,” Surendiran said rather dismissively in a statement.

Though the Sri Lanka Tamil diaspora consists of many organisations and groups spread across several continents there has been a studied silence from most of them, a sign that many of them are sceptical about how genuine the gesture is. In March this year, after the UN Human Rights Council passed a highly critical resolution on Sri Lanka, the Rajapaksa government proscribed several Tamil diaspora organisations and more than 300 individuals labelling them terrorist or terrorist linked. These included Tamil advocacy organizations such as the British Tamil Forum, Global Tamil Forum, Canadian Tamil Congress, Australian Tamil Congress and the World Tamil Coordinating Committee. Precisely seven years earlier in March, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government banned 424 persons and 16 diaspora organizations.

The problem for the present administration is that if it is intent on inviting Tamil organisations to participate in talks it would have to lift the existing bans on individuals and groups without which they are unlikely to talk with the government. As transpired before peace talks at various times between the government and the LTTE, the Tamil groups are most likely to insist on participation as legitimate organisations untainted by bans. That is sure to be one of the key conditions, if not the most important pre-condition.

It is also evident that the Tamil diaspora is not a homogenous entity. It consists of moderate organizations that are ready to resolve the pressing issues within a unitary Sri Lanka, to those at the other end of the spectrum still loyal to the LTTE ideology and demanding a separate state. If the Government cherry-picks the participants-particularly the ones that are more likely to collaborate with the administration, it would be seen as an attempt to drive a huge wedge in the Tamil diaspora. That could well lead to the excluded groups strengthening their existing links with political forces in their countries of domicile including politicians in government as one sees in the UK and Canada, for instance, and Tamil councillors in other elected bodies to increase pressure on Sri Lanka externally.

That is why some Tamil commentators already brand this as a “diversionary move” to lessen the international moves against Colombo. What would be the reactions of powerful sections of the Buddhist monks and the ultranationalist Sinhala Buddhists who strongly supported a Gotabaya presidency?.

And across the Palk Strait there are the 80 million or so Tamils in Tamil Nadu and an Indian Government watching developments with a genuine interest and concern.

When Will India’s Quest For A Seat UNSC Be Realized?

Though the United States and other countries talk of reforms in the United Nations, the world body’s reform movement has been at a snail’s pace. India has been in quest of a place at the UN high table for a long. The issue has arisen again during last week’s bilateral meeting in Washington between US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India has been lobbying for the Security Council’s expansion and has staked its claim for a place. At least four American Presidents — George Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and now Joe Biden — have openly declared their support to India’s candidacy. In November 2010, Barack Obama said he looked forward to India becoming a permanent member of a reformed UNSC. Trump, too, backed India’s claim. Now, Joe Biden has joined the list, also reiterating his support for India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. However, no sign of UN reforms so far. India was elected as a non-permanent member of the powerful Security Council for two years in June 2020. She served eight two-year terms earlier.

As a UN founder member, we have a strong case.  India has the world’s second-largest population and is the world’s largest democracy.  The country has been consistent in its contribution to the UN peacekeeping missions and has sent close to 200,000 troops, including an all-women force in 2007. Should India become a permanent member, it would have the ability to shape a range of global institutions and regimes. Last September, frustrated at the snail’s pace of the reform movement, Modi, while addressing the UNGA, asked, “Till when do we have to wait?”

Currently, the Council does not represent the developing world and global needs — with the importance of policy resting with the Permanent Five (P-5) – US, UK, Russia, China, and France. Any one of them could sabotage any proposal with their veto power. Four out of the five permanent members back India’s claim to UNSC. They have bilaterally expressed support for its candidature. But none of the P-5 is in any hurry to relinquish their veto-wielding seat on the Council. India, Brazil, South Africa, Germany, and Japan are solid contenders for permanent membership of the Council, forming a G-4 pressure group.

The story of India’s claim to the Council goes back to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s time. His critics, then and now, accuse him of sacrificing India’s national interest on the grounds of international morality. Reports claim that back in 1950, the US quietly sounded New Delhi about replacing Taiwan on the Council. Nehru demurred and suggested that it should go to the People’s Republic of China. Similarly, he is reported to have declined Soviet Russia’s modest proposal in 1955. Nehru wrote to his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit, “India, because of many factors is certainly entitled to a permanent seat in the Security Council but we are not going in at the cost of China”. He obviously did not visualize China’s future growth.

Going by the trend, the world body is not in a hurry for reform. Though the US and other countries talk of reform, it is not a priority for the UN. Every UN Secretary General has pleaded for reform. Former SG Kofi Annan (2015) has aptly said if the UNSC does not appoint new permanent members, its primacy may be challenged by some of the new emerging countries. He noted that the Council has thus become an organization that can pass strong resolutions against weak countries and weak resolutions against solid countries. This indicates the helplessness of the UN in dealing with P-5 on the subject.

This brings us to whether the UN has performed its role in the past 75 years. Critics point out that several authoritarian rulers have used conventional weapons against innocent citizens on the UN watch. Moreover, the UN resolutions are non-binding. The World Body was supposed to prevent conflicts and war, yet over 80 clashes have started since its inception. The US Presidents, from Bush to Trump, have all criticized the UN for its functioning. UN is also facing a resource crunch because members, including the US, do not pay their contribution in time.

Despite all complaints and criticism, the UN is currently the only international organization where leaders from different countries come together to work out some of the world’s problems. It takes time to build a world body like the UN. Instead of destroying it, it should be reformed.  That is why India is lobbying for its rightful place in the UN sooner than later. Who will reform the UN is indeed a question mark, which needs to be answered by the P-5.

India, The QUAD And AUKUS

India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar earlier this week tweeted about his separate meetings with his Australian and French counterparts. That hadn’t been the plan—there was supposed to be a meeting of their trilateral on the U.N. General Assembly sidelines. However, that meeting was an early casualty of the rollout of AUKUS, the new Australia-U.K.-U.S. security partnership, which upset Paris. Although Delhi has not explicitly endorsed or criticized the arrangement, it is on balance likely to be seen positively by India.

Delhi’s relative silence about AUKUS does not signify a lack of interest. The development involves three of India’s closest partners in the Indo-Pacific (Australia, France, and the U.S.), and a fourth emerging partner in that region (the U.K.). India sees these countries as helpful in preserving a favorable balance of power and rules-based order in the region and globally. And India will see AUKUS and the subsequent family feud through the lens of their effect on these Indian objectives.

The Indian strategy to achieve these goals has involved building its capabilities and partnerships, encouraging the U.S. to remain engaged in the region, welcoming the efforts of like-minded Indo-Pacific and European partners, and building coalitions with these partners. AUKUS is likely to have a net positive effect on these efforts—though the transatlantic tension that its rollout has generated will also elicit some concern in Delhi. Thus, while India will have to navigate the awkward extended family dinner in the short term, it will not lose sight of the medium- and long-term benefits.

The Potential Benefits

The pros from India’s perspective include the signal AUKUS sends about its members’ perceptions, priorities, power and presence in the Indo-Pacific. Delhi has deep concerns about Chinese actions and intentions in the region. The ongoing border crisis and fatal military clash last year brought Sino-Indian relations to their worst point in decades. Given these circumstances, Delhi watches the U.S. and other countries’ stance on China very closely. And, notwithstanding the emphasis on competition with China from two consecutive U.S. administrations and the hardening of the U.S.’s attitudes on China, Delhi worries about the possibility of American commitment to the region waning or a reversion to a more accommodating position on China. There has been even more concern about Canberra reverting to its more sanguine approach to China.

In this context, AUKUS is beneficial for India because it reflects continued and intensifying U.S. and Australian concerns about China. Moreover, it is designed to increase their capabilities in the region (which will also, consequently, increase the cumulative capabilities of the Quad). And this, in turn, will bolster both the Australian and the American ability to deter China or to respond in the event of a crisis. In this way, it supplements the Quad’s efforts. One question for the future is whether India will perceive and seize opportunities for new kinds of defense and security engagement with AUKUS members that the arrangement may offer.

This is related to another advantage that India might see with AUKUS. In recent years, Indian policymakers and analysts have, on balance, gone from worrying about too much U.S. presence and interest in the Indian Ocean to worrying about Washington paying too little attention to this region. AUKUS could ease this concern, as will the enhanced American rotational deployments and other activities envisaged by the recent AUSMIN discussions. Given increased Chinese forays into the region, the Indian government will likely see this as a positive outcome that matters more than lingering concerns among some officials or analysts about an increased U.S. presence.

There is an additional benefit from India’s perspective in that AUKUS conveys the U.K.’s seriousness about its tilt to the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, this involvement will be in ways that broadly complement India’s interests and efforts. It also signals that the British view of the China challenge has evolved. Given that London has had a more accommodating view of China—as have other European partners—than India would prefer, AUKUS could also be a platform that helps socialize the U.K. even further to the acuteness of the China challenge. Here, too, AUKUS could pull in the same direction as the Quad, which reportedly will conduct a maritime exercise with the British navy next month.

Another potential benefit could be the leverage the AUKUS rollout gives India in both the diplomatic and defense trade realms, particularly with France. Paris will probably double down on its efforts to secure arms deals with India—for commercial and political economic reasons and maybe even to get one over on the U.S. This goes beyond platforms like fighter aircraft. Specifically, India has an indigenous program to develop nuclear-powered submarines and is leasing a nuclear-powered submarine from Russia, with reports that it is considering leasing a second. Some Indian commentators have raised the question of whether France’s reaction to AUKUS could make Paris (or even the U.S.) more willing and able to help Delhi in this realm in addition to or in place of Russia. While France’s interest might raise concerns among arms control experts, this might not be unwelcome to those in the U.S. interested in reducing India’s dependence on Russia.

The Complications

France’s unhappiness with AUKUS has complicated the situation a bit from India’s perspective. On the one hand, Delhi recognizes that different coalitions will form based, in part, on different tiers of threat perceptions of China. Its own multitude of trilaterals (as well as participation in the Quad) reflects this understanding. Moreover, Delhi, too, has found European partners to be less concerned about China than it would like—and that has set limits to the depth of its own cooperation with them in certain sensitive realms.

On the other hand, Delhi will be chagrined by the family feud sparked by the lack of AUKUS consultation with France, which seems only to help Beijing. Paris’s discontent feeds China’s narrative about U.S. unreliability and supports China’s efforts to drive wedges between European and Indo-Pacific partners and forestall their collaborative efforts. Delhi will be less concerned about arguments that AUKUS angst will affect Paris’ commitment to the Indo-Pacific—it believes this is motivated by resident power France’s own interests in the region. Indian policymakers will be more concerned about any adverse impact on U.S.-Europe cooperation on issues like technology or developing resilient supply chains.

And Delhi might worry about what persisting strains might mean for its efforts to work collaboratively with like-minded partners in domains such as maritime security. The Quad members, for instance, had participated in a French-led naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal earlier this year. And the Australia-France-India trilateral focuses on this issue. Delhi might also be concerned about any fallout related to U.S.-French collaboration in multilateral institutions. Recently, this has often benefited Indian interests, and, at the U.N. Security Council, even directly helped India when China has backed Pakistan. Delhi wants these partners to be proactively involved in helping shape international rules, norms and standards, as well as the leadership of these organizations—and not have them hold back or have to pull them along.

Lingering Questions

There have been some questions raised by Indian commentators about AUKUS and its rollout. One is what the U.S. treatment of Afghanistan and France says about American reliability. Others have countered that AUKUS might signify greater U.S. investment and commitment in the Indo-Pacific, at least, and demonstrate that Washington is willing to make hard choices toward that goal.

Some have also questioned why India hasn’t received a similar offer. Others, however, rightly have pointed out that India is not an ally—by choice—and cannot expect that it will always have access to the same technology. An ally like Australia is also much more likely to join U.S. efforts in certain contingencies such as a Taiwan Strait crisis. It’s also worth pointing out that the U.S. has taken similarly unprecedented steps for non-ally India—the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, most significantly—and given Delhi access to military equipment that only Washington’s closest allies operate.

Others have wondered whether AUKUS signals a dilution of interest in India or the Quad, particularly within the White House. However, the Biden administration has spent more time engaging India than any previous U.S. administration in its first eight months in office, including taking time to explain its perspective on AUKUS to Indian policymakers (Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently spoke with his Indian counterpart). Furthermore, the other actors involved also thought it important to brief India on their perspective. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Australian High Commissioner to India hosted a press conference on AUKUS. Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron talked as well, with the latter promising that France was “strongly committed” to the Indo-Pacific.

The Biden administration and Morrison government have also not diluted or done away with the Quad these past few months but rather doubled down on it. There’s been an elevation to the leaders’ level, two summits, ministerial and senior officials’ meetings, concrete initiatives, cooperation on a broader range of issues, and even some institutionalization in the form of working groups, sherpas, and established processes.

One additional concern expressed has been that AUKUS “might weaken strategic cooperation under the Quad … and reduce the quadrilateral grouping to dealing with just climate change, COVID vaccines and the like.” This is a departure from the usual criticism in India that Delhi has been cooperating too much with the U.S. in this regard. Indeed, India has itself been reluctant to securitize the Quad, particularly in a visible fashion. And the Quad has collectively decided to focus on areas that help build resilience in the region and demonstrate that the grouping can deliver practical solutions to regional problems. That does not preclude—nor has it precluded—the security dimensions of the four countries’ cooperation, as the ongoing MALABAR exercise and technology cooperation makes clear. It certainly has not precluded a further deepening of bilateral U.S.-India defense and security ties.

Indeed, as mentioned above, AUKUS could actually help the Quad. It could even take some of the pressure off the grouping, by attracting Chinese ire. It might make the four-country grouping relatively more palatable to ASEAN in comparison. And, as another non-Quad venue for security collaboration, AUKUS could also reduce the pressure on India and Japan to undertake commitments or activities on the defense and security front that they are unable or unwilling to sign on to. This potentially increases the freedom of action—or strategic autonomy—of these members and other like-minded countries in the region.

Some of these aspects might become clearer over the course of the current Quad summit or at least in Modi’s bilaterals with his Quad counterparts. He will seek to better understand AUKUS and its implications for the region. India will also be hoping that the Macron-Biden call was a sign of things to come and AUKUS hasn’t done lasting damage to collaborative efforts in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. At the end of the day, India wants to see its various partners and like-minded coalitions pulling in the same direction. Thus, it will do what it can to soothe ruffled feathers. Finally, Indian officials will assess what opportunities have opened up for India particularly with France, which it considers relatively more reliable as a defense trade partner, and with the U.S. and Australia, which are in better alignment regarding China.

When Love Is Called As A Conspiracy The ‘Love Jihad’ Bogey Targeting Interfaith Couples In India

When Ali (name changed) proposed to his best friend, little did he know that her parents would take six years to agree to their alliance because he was born into a Muslim family, and they were Hindus. “Everything they had heard all their life pointed to Muslims being violent, conservative, forceful etc. The idea of me being Muslim and marrying their Hindu daughter was too much to fathom despite them thinking of me highly,” he said in an interview with IPS.

This story is one of the few where the end was ‘happy’, and the family did not bow to societal pressure. However, if one looks at recent propaganda and the increase of Islamophobia in India, one concept which has added fuel to this fire is the fictitious propaganda of ‘Love Jihad’. Love Jihad is a term propagated by religious fundamentalist groups, alleging a conspiracy by Muslim men to convert non-Muslim girls in the guise of love.

The propagation of this concept is perhaps one reason why Ali had to struggle to convince his wife’s parents that his religion had nothing to do with his love for their daughter. While it may be easy to counter such a narrative, socially, with more awareness, what has made this term popular and the hate associated with it resulting, in some cases, in violence is the support it has garnered from right-wing political parties and their success at turning such marriages into a criminal offence.

“Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, host hundreds of pages and handles which post unverified incidents as ‘real news’ of Hindu women being deceived by Muslim men into marrying them and ending up either dead or as captives forced to convert and live in the homes of their supposedly violent Muslim husbands,” says Ashwini KP, an academic and rights activist based in Bangalore.

Challenging the provisions of one such draconian state law passed in the state of Gujarat as Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, Advocate Isa Hakim, one of the petitioners’ lawyers, argued: “Amendments (in the Act), read with the discourse around Love Jihad, it is clear that the impugned Act is enacted with nothing but a communal objective and is thereby opposed to the constitutional morality, basic features and fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19, 21, 25, and 26 of the Constitution.”

The Gujarat High Court, through an order on August 19, 2021, put a stay on the operation of several sections of the Act, including a provision that termed interfaith marriages as a means for forceful conversion. The order, the court stated, was being passed “to protect the parties solemnising inter-faith marriage from being unnecessarily harassed”. The state government soon after decided to challenge this order in the Supreme Court of India.

Addressing a rally last year in Uttar Pradesh, the chief minister Yogi Adityanath openly proclaimed: “Govt will work to curb ‘Love-Jihad’, we’ll make a law. I warn all those who conceal their identities and play with the respect of our sisters if you do not mend your ways, your ‘Ram naam satya’ journey (a phase associated with people being taken to be cremated) will begin”. Therefore, it is not surprising that in a state whose chief minister makes such open threats, right-wing groups have used love Jihad to stoke communal tensions and rioting. A total of five states in India, where the BJP is in power, have laws based on the conspiracy theory of Love Jihad, without actually using the phrase.

“It is also to undermine the agency of 21st-century Hindu women. We are a society that is afraid of its own daughters, and to keep a check on them prohibiting them from making their own choices, they (current regime) have brought out very Islamophobic and communal legislation under the garb of a safety and security issue for ‘their’ women,” says Sheeba Aslam Fehmi, research scholar and journalist in an exclusive interview with IPS.

Fehmi, also the president of Dhanak, works to protect the couples’ right to choose marriage or relationship partners. The organisation supports couples in inter-faith and inter-caste marriages. She told IPS they also try to assist interfaith couples with safe houses to ensure they do not become targets of right-wing attacks. Popular Indian jewellery brand Tanishq withdrew this advert with a depiction of an inter-faith marriage. It said while the campaign was to celebrate diversity it had prompted reactions “contrary to its objective”.

It is perturbing that couples who want to marry under the ‘Special Marriage Act’ (an Act passed by the Indian Parliament allowing interfaith marriages without conversion) have a section, which is now being challenged, where a 30-day notice is publicly displayed, inviting objections, before the marriage is registered.

Shital (name changed), shared with IPS how she received threatening calls from some right-wing groups once she and her Muslim partner decided to register under the Act.

“My Aadhar card (national ID) details were made public on a Facebook group. My parents, who approved of our alliance, received calls where they were threatened with ‘dire consequences’ if they did not stop our marriage,” Shital said. She called the marriage off because of these security concerns.

Asif Iqbal, the co-founder of Dhanak, said in an exclusive interview to IPS that they started the organisation because there was no support system for interfaith couples trying to marry using the Special Marriage Act. The objective was to organise people against religious fanaticism.

“I was made to sit for six hours in a police station in Delhi. The investigating officer was trying to enquire about a possible conspiracy as I was the last person an interfaith couple spoke to before they eloped. The boy was Muslim, and the girl Hindu,” said Iqbal.

The fear of vigilante groups, in the online and in actual physical spaces, is so prevalent that even brands advertising using the idea of inter-faith marriages, particularly where the boy is Muslim, are targeted as promoters of Love Jihad. A recent example was a popular jewellery brand depicting a Hindu woman and a Muslim man getting married. The advert was trolled on social media, that the company removed the advertisement from all forums.

For couples looking to challenge the draconian laws, the only recourse is the courts. However, the worrying feature is that Love Jihad targets Muslims and criminalises its men in a society with frequent incidences of Islamophobia.

“We Will Live With The Scars Of 9/11 Forever”

Twenty years later, Jack Grandcolas still remembers waking up at 7:03 that morning. He looked at the clock, then out the window where an image in the sky caught his eye — a fleeting vision that looked like an angel ascending. He didn’t know it yet, but that was the moment his life changed.  Across the country, it was 10:03 a.m. and United Flight 93 had just crashed into a Pennsylvania field. His wife, Lauren, was not supposed to be on that flight. So when he turned on the television and saw the chilling scenes of Sept. 11, 2001, unfolding, he was not worried for her. Then he saw the blinking light on the answering machine.

Lauren had left two messages that morning, as he slept with the phone ringer off in the bedroom. First, with good news that she was taking an earlier flight from New Jersey home to San Francisco. Then she called from the plane. There was “a little problem,” his wife said, but she was “comfortable for now.” She did not say she would call back, Grandcolas recalls. She said: “I love you more than anything, just know that. Please tell my family I love them too. Goodbye, honey.”  “That moment I looked over at the television and there was a smoldering hole on the ground in Pennsylvania. They said it was United Flight 93,” said Grandcolas, 58. “That’s when I dropped to the ground.” All 44 people on board were killed. Lauren was 38 years old and three months pregnant with their first child. She had traveled East to attend her grandmother’s funeral in New Jersey, and then stayed a few extra days to announce the pregnancy — a little “good news to lift the spirits of her parents and sisters after burying their grandmother,” Grandcolas said.

Flight 93 was the fourth and final plane to be highjacked on Sept. 11 by four al-Qaida terrorists on a suicide mission aimed at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Passengers and crew members used seatback phones to call loved ones and authorities and learned of the first two attacks, on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Realizing their hijacking was part of a broader attack, they took a vote to fight back and try to gain control of the plane. It was a heroic act that spared countless more lives. “What they did was amazingly dramatic,” Grandcolas said. It was “a selfless act of love to conquer hate.” Outlines of the plan were relayed in phone calls and captured on the cockpit voice recorder, though many families will never know the specific roles their loved ones played.

Grandcolas believes that Lauren was involved. A hard-charging advertising sales consultant with a big heart and a zest for life, Lauren was athletic and outgoing and trained as an EMT because she wanted to be able to help people “Lauren was a doer, she was not going to sit there idly,” he said. He imagines her taking part in the planning of how to wrest control of the plane, gathering intelligence and knowing that time was running short. “She would have been tapping her watch to say, ‘We’ve got to do something fast.’” For years, Grandcolas bristled at the term “9/11 anniversary.” An anniversary is something to celebrate. But the 20th anniversary is an important one, Grandcolas said, adding that he plans to travel to Pennsylvania to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial for the first time since 2003.

Grandcolas attended the first two annual memorials at the Pennsylvania crash site and then stopped, finding it too painful. Instead, in years thereafter, he would spend Sept. 11 doing things Lauren loved, like going for a bike ride or a quiet walk on the beach. “Every year it’s a gut punch,” he said in an interview near his home in Pebble Beach, Calif. “We will live with the scars the rest of our lives.” Grandcolas struggled with depression and survivor’s guilt in the aftermath of the tragedy. With the help of therapy, he came to see Lauren’s message from the plane as meant to reassure him and her family and “to let us know that she was OK with what was transpiring.” That unworldly image he saw in the sky the morning of Sept. 11 took on new meaning as he healed: “It didn’t dawn on me until later that the vision was Lauren.” He would hear her voice in times of struggle, telling him to get up and keep living his life.

Grandcolas eventually remarried and moved out of the home he and Lauren had bought in San Rafael, California. Today, he’s semi-retired from his career as an advertising executive. He is writing a book about the grieving process that will be a tribute to his unborn child. It will be published in April, when the child would have turned 20. On the 20th anniversary, Grandcolas finds himself thinking back to how the country came together after 9/11, which he sees as a stark contrast to the division plaguing America today. “This country was united from sea to shining sea, and today, maybe now, would be a good time to let the divisiveness drop,” he said.

While Abandoning Afghanistan!

“What happened in Vietnam?” – we had been hearing the question on different platforms for so many years. On U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam in 1975, many political analysts said China or the Russians would take it over; even now, we are blaming it as America’s humiliating military defeat. “The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 because the country’s Taliban rulers at the time hosted Osama Bin Laden along with  other Al Qaeda leaders who plotted the Sept.11 attacks on America. Since then, Islamist terrorist groups, particularly the far more radical Islamic State, have established other footholds worldwide, from Mozambique to the Philippines to West Africa.”

When U.S. troops withdrew from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport within the stipulated time, the nation’s most prolonged war cost was more than $ 2.3 trillion. During the last 20 years, more than 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan alone. World astonished to hear that even while retrieving, thirteen U.S. soldiers were killed in the latest suicide bombing in Kabul Airport.  Taliban’s praise of China is aimed at gaining recognition for their government at the international level by establishing links with power like China. China and Pakistan are now the only countries in the region that fully support the Taliban.

According to diplomats, the Taliban decided to end trade with India due to pressure from the two countries. Whether all other hypothesis is right or wrong, this development is a real threat to India in the days ahead. Though we are doubtful about China, America is still stronger in technology, manufacturing, and military power. China is not ready to replace the U.S. in the region unless Pakistan pushes them to do so. Generally, it is criticized that the U.S. could have remained involved in Afghanistan, including by helping the country to maintain stability and combat terrorism and violence, The Taliban infiltration began after the United States began withdrawing from Afghanistan. First, they conquered each of the provinces. The American-trained Afghan fighters had to look on helplessly. Eventually, the militants took over. Not only did the militants take power on the soil they had fought for 20 years to drive out the militants, but they also took the lives of 13 American soldiers before withdrawing from there.

Have you ever heard the old sarcasm on U.S.: “They nurtured terrorist organizations by giving U.S. dollars to Pakistan to fight terrorism. American soldiers were shot dead with guns provided by the United States. When the U.S. was sifting through Afghanistan to capture Bin Laden, Pakistan hid him in their base and made the U.S. play a monkey. Unaware that Bin Laden was hiding in the next room, Hillary Clinton went to Pakistan, blamed India, and befriended Nawaz Sharif. She said a poor developing country was seeking permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council. Sharif and his group laughed at Hillary’s joke. How about American intelligence” if that was the actual story,  the U.S replied promptly later.

The story remains the same even after 21 years, US went to overthrow militants and terrorists in Afghanistan, but now left by handing over power to them only!. (Do not try to teach new tricks to old dogs, or democracy to Islamic conservatives.) We may be hearing more about the foolish things that happened on our quick withdrawal, leaving so many supporters helpless in the terrorists’ hands and leaving many weapons, bomber planes, and ammunition with the enemy..

The whole world knows that the Taliban captured Kabul, but they have no power to speak. Terrorist organizations like ISK, more potent than them, are growing in Afghanistan. Pakistan will be ready to help them.  This is where the importance of USA or NATO needs to be highlighted; America is burdened with more challenges and responsibilities, including the refugees and terrorists being spread everywhere!

America’s Failure To Deliver Sufficient Vaccines Worldwide Will Cost The U.S. Its Global Leadership

Since the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and Japan after World War II, the U.S. has exhibited global leadership on many different fronts. But failure by the U.S. to distribute sufficient Covid-19 vaccines worldwide is costing the country its global reputation — and there will likely be economic fallout, as well. The loss of the U.S.’s global leadership could have lasting impacts on global peace and prosperity. Madeleine Albright famously called the U.S. “the world’s indispensable nation” during her tenure as Ambassador to the United Nations. However, when we look at the U.S.’s track record thus far in dispensing doses of Covid vaccines to the developing nations, the country no longer fits that description. Instead, China has taken the lead on sharing doses of its vaccines with the developing world. This is a propagandistic victory for China, even though vaccines from Sinovac and Sinopharm reportedly have lower efficacy than the vaccines from Pfizer PFE +0.3% and Moderna.

China plans to export two billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine this year, including 770 million doses it says it has shipped already. In contrast, the U.S. has shipped 110 million doses worldwide. In addition, in June, the U.S. pledged to donate 500 million Covid-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer to lower-income countries. Compared to a global population of nearly 8 billion people, the U.S.’s pledge falls far short of what is needed. According to Our World in Data, 30.2% of the world population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19, and only 15.6% is fully vaccinated. In low-income countries, however, just 1.1% of the population has received one dose.

Vaccine inequity is a global reality. While the U.S. is trying to incentivize Americans to get vaccinated, people in developing countries are protesting a lack of access. As Forbes observed, Covid vaccine distribution has been “extremely uneven.” The U.S. needs to step up its global vaccine sharing, not only to keep pace with China, but also to ensure Covid-19 inoculations do not become yet another divide between “have” and “have-not” nations.

The vaccine divide is producing an uneven map of global economic recovery, “a lopsided global recovery” that is widening the economic gap between rich and poor countries, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Overall, the IMF projects a global economic growth rate of 6 percent in 2021, but that is largely due to the economic recovery in larger, developed nations; the expected 2021 growth rate for low-income, developing countries is only 3.9 percent. IMF’s chief economist, Gita Gopinath, has called for “multilateral action” to promote “rapid, worldwide access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.” Among the benefits of such actions, Gopinath added, would be adding “trillions of dollars to global economic growth.”

The IMF has put forth a proposal to end the pandemic that calls for vaccinating at least 40 percent of the population of every country by year-end, and at least 60 percent by mid-2022. To reach this goal, at least one billion vaccine doses would need to be shared this year. Other steps include vaccine producers prioritizing deliveries to developing countries and removing trade restrictions on vaccine inputs and finished vaccines. Importantly, regional vaccine capacity would need to be established to ensure sufficient production and distribution in markets around the world. Increasing global access to vaccines clearly falls on the shoulders of the U.S. and other developed nations. One way to achieve quicker global vaccine distribution would be for developed nations to support COVAX, a partnership of several global health organizations, which could accelerate the development and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines and improve fair and equitable access worldwide.

The U.S. government could also apply pressure on the major Covid vaccine makers to release their patents and share their technology, allow regional production of the vaccines to improve global access, and also lower the price of their vaccines. Pharma companies such as Pfizer and Moderna have been reaping windfall profits from the sale of vaccines. To illustrate, in the first three months of the year alone, Pfizer generated $3.5 billion in revenue from the Covid vaccines—nearly one-quarter of its total revenue. Moderna’s revenues from the vaccine totaled $1.73 billion in the first quarter of 2021, and it has projected Covid-19 vaccine sales of $19.2 billion this year. International business leaders have a role as well, particularly to help employees and their dependents around the globe to get vaccinated. From a humanitarian perspective, such efforts will help secure greater equity in vaccine supplies worldwide. From a business perspective, it could very well help preserve the security of the global supply chain and contribute to worldwide economic growth.

The U.S. has a history of global leadership and distributing the vaccine as widely as possible would add to that legacy. While the U.S. has lagged China in dispensing vaccines to developing countries, there is still time to pick up the slack. Everyone would benefit from wide vaccine distribution in the global community, in terms of health, wellness, and economic growth.

U.S. Legally, Morally Obligated To ‘Clean Up The Mess’ In Afghanistan, WVU Researcher Says

West Virginia University researcher who has worked with refugees and women in the Arab world believes the United States has a legal and moral obligation to aid the Afghan population after the Taliban’s takeover. The Taliban’s leadership has stated it would protect women’s rights, but Karen Culcasi is doubtful of that and fears for the safety of women and girls in Afghanistan.

QUOTES

“Women and girls are being drastically affected by the (U.S.) withdrawal. The Taliban, which the U.S. overthrew in 2001, had oppressed women so severely since the early 1990s that the 2001 U.S. invasion was justified, in part, to ‘liberate’ women and girls from their power. While the U.S. and NATO’s 20 years in Afghanistan was violent, oppressive and led to the deaths of over 100,000 Afghan civilians, police, and soldiers, the overthrow of the Taliban did greatly improve women’s rights. Job opportunities and political representation increased for women, while child marriages and maternal mortality declined. Improvements in education were profound. Approximately 900,000 boys were in school in 2001 and as of early 2021, there are 9.2 million children in school, of which 39% are girls.

“But with the Taliban back in Kabul, women and girls are at risk of being shrouded back into their homes and denied educational opportunities. The Taliban has recently pledged to allow girls to go to school and that they will be ‘inclusive’ in their governance, but these are just words. “In addition to women and girls, there are some 300,000 Afghans who were employed by the U.S. government and whose lives are now in danger. In 2009, the U.S. began to issue Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans whose safety was threatened because of their association with the U.S. But the process of issuing the visas has been slow and has benefited only a tiny fraction of those Afghans.

“As this catastrophe continues to unfold, we need to be asking some serious philosophical questions about the value of U.S. military and neo-imperial actions in Afghanistan (and across the globe) and about the U.S.’s responsibility to protect marginalized people. But in the immediate, we need to act quickly to issue visas and to help Afghans to seek safety in Iran, Pakistan and the U.S. The U.S. is legally obligated to help refugees and morally obligated to clean up the mess we have made.” – Karen Culcasi, associate professor, Geology, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

The Afghanistan Tragedy: Will There Be An End To Endless Wars?

“Many of these bureaucrats in Washington who are the true architects of these infamous wars have little in common with the folks who are sent to these godforsaken places to fight these unseen enemies. They are part of the elite society, mostly come with Ivy League credentials and live in their multi-million abodes in Washington suburbs.

Most of them might not have served a single day in the United States armed forces, and some of the older ones might even have gotten away with waivers during the time of the draft. At the end of the day, it is either those boys from the Midwest who believe that it is their duty to serve their country and honor its flag or the poor black and Latino kids who are hoping to build a better life after completing their service in the Military are the ones who fall prey to these odious designs of the so-called establishment.”

President Dwight Eisenhower once gave the nation a dire warning. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” He called the military-industrial complex a formidable union of vested interests and a threat to democratic government.

As the tragedy in Afghanistan unfolds before our very eyes, the question is whether this could have been avoided? There is no doubt that this shameful exit by the United States has not only tarnished the reputation of the superpower but put thousands of Afghan lives in danger. There is little doubt that the current administration has failed miserably in executing a proper exit strategy. History will harshly judge those who have authored and run such an ill-conceived plan. Who are the victims of this unfolding strategy? The United States went to Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda that has planned and staged the attacks on the World Trade Center that killed around 3000 Americans on September 11, 2001. There is no doubt that American intervention prevented more such episodes from the Afghan soil in the U.S., and the chief strategist of the 9/11 attack, Bin Laden, was pursued and eliminated.

However, the United States got bogged down in this protracted struggle with the Taliban, who found a haven in Pakistan for their hit and run attacks. Therefore, this was a fight lost by the United States that had no patience to outlast the enemy’s will. Taliban once boasted that “NATO has watches, but we have the time,” The truth is that the Taliban simply waited out the NATO forces and the American resolve to recapture Kabul in lightning speed that may have shocked the bureaucrats in Washington. The infantile justification by Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor to the President, that this chaos was inevitable is symptomatic of the mindset of the Washington establishment that is so detached from reality and back to their business as usual.

George W. Bush, who initiated the foray into Afghanistan, was never content with one war. Instead of focusing on eliminating the Taliban, which was dubbed as a terrorist organization, and securing the freedom for the people of Afghanistan from these regressive and evil elements reminiscent of medieval times, he started another war in Iraq that ended in disaster. Along with destabilizing the entire Middle East paving the way for the creation of a Caliphate by ISIS, American invincibility that was seen at the initial stages of the Afghan invasion was not only lost, but the American people simply got tired of these endless wars. Many of these bureaucrats in Washington who are the true architects of these infamous wars have little in common with the folks who are sent to these godforsaken places to fight these unseen enemies. They are part of the elite society, mostly come with Ivy League credentials and live in their multi-million abodes in Washington suburbs. Most of them might not have served a single day in the United States armed forces, and some of the older ones might even have gotten away with waivers during the time of the draft.

At the end of the day, it is either those boys from the Midwest who believe that it is their duty to serve their country and honor its flag or the poor black and Latino kids who are hoping to build a better life after completing their service in the Military are the ones who fall prey to these odious designs of the so-called establishment. Making war has become the primary business for many of these bureaucrats who are part of this military-industrial complex. People like Dick Cheney, who has never served in the Military, are prime examples who promoted wars and stood to profit. To them, these young men and women who are sent to these battlefields to die or permanently scarred for life are only of peripheral interests. Thousands of others who are caught up in the crossfire and lost their lives are simply collateral damages.

President Dwight Eisenhower once gave the nation a dire warning. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” He called the military-industrial complex a formidable union of vested interests and a threat to democratic government. Take, for example, the folly of continuing to provide billions of dollars in funding to the Pakistan government while allowing bases for Afghan insurgents and actively supporting their mission. According to various reports, the Pakistani Military was also engaged in providing training and tactical support to terrorist groups crossing the border and creating havoc in Kashmir. How could the United States justify supporting the counter-insurgency funding for Pakistan while the country remained a factory for brainwashing young minds with fundamentalist ideology and turn them loose to commit horrendous crimes across the globe?

Taxpayers of the United States indeed have lost Trillions of dollars fighting these regime-changing wars. Still, all is not lost for these conniving bureaucrats who represent potent lobbies and special interests in the Capitol. Washington suburbs have become the most expensive real estate on American soil today as these folks continue to rake in riches while the rest of the country is undergoing economic hardships and facing an uncertain future. ‘Powell doctrine,’ named after the four-star general Colin Powell, said that “war should be the politics of last resort. And when we go to war, we should have a purpose that our people understand and support; we should mobilize the country’s resources to fulfill that mission and then go in to win”.

The precipitous withdrawal from Vietnam, Iraq, and now Afghanistan runs contrary to that principle, and Powel himself may have violated the spirit of his own proclamation with his WMD speech at the United Nations while promoting the invasion of Iraq. Obviously, people have lost control of their ‘greatest democracy.’ Once again, they are reeling from a shameful and disheartening scenario in Kabul as thousands who risked their lives supporting U.S. policies are stranded and fearing for their lives simply as the result of terrible decision-making in Washington. In the meantime, the powerful establishment may be plotting for yet another conflict somewhere around the world in the name of ‘promoting democracy and freedom’! (George Abraham is a former Chief Technology Officer at the United Nations)

Radical Socialist Statement on Afghanistan: A Double Tragedy

We mourn with the Afghan people their double tragedy. The first tragedy—the US’s illegal and utterly unjustified military invasion twenty years ago—helped prepare the ground for today’s tragedy, the accession to power of the Islamo-fanatical Taliban. Condemnation of the latter must not mean any softening of the criticism of US and Western imperialism or in shedding tears at its departure from the country.

The single most important democratic advance in the whole of the second half of the 20th century was the end of foreign colonial and imperialist rule even where this unfortunately resulted in the emergence of indigenous dictatorships. In a world where peoples are constituted as belonging to separate and multiple states, the fundamental moral-political principle to uphold (minus the rarest of exceptional cases) is respecting the freedom of agency of a people to overthrow their own tyrants. This is why it was the responsibility of Indians to overthrow British rule, of Indonesians the Dutch, of South Africans against Apartheid, and so on. Calling for external help of all kinds, even military aid, was one thing; calling for external military liberation, No!

In the 1978 ‘Saur Revolution’ a secular and reform-minded pro-Soviet ‘Communist’ party, the PDPA (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) came to power but was bedevilled by internal armed faction-fighting and had no real social base beyond Kabul. The Soviet invasion in 1979 to support this government was morally unjustified and condemnable while politically disastrous, handing over as it did the mantle of ‘popular nationalist struggle’ against the foreign invader, to a host of ethno-tribal Islamist groups including Al Qaeda and Taliban. The primary military aiders, equippers and trainers of these were the US, its British/French allies along with Pakistan. The Soviets finally withdrew in 1989 with its factotum government collapsing three years later amidst a civil war waged by the various Islamists until the Taliban capturing  90% of the territory established its dominance in 1996.

In 2001 the US government deliberately refused to characterise the assault on Twin Towers and Pentagon as what it was, namely an international crime against humanity. For that would have meant going after the criminals and their network only. Instead, by declaring a ‘Global War on Terror’ and claiming that no distinction would be made between the guilt of the perpetrators and that of the governments of countries which the US declared to be ‘housing terrorists’—the way was cleared for the US to transform a conflict between itself and a non-state network into one against any number of countries in West and Central Asia in keeping with its wider geo-political ambitions of achieving global dominance. In the new millennium Afghanistan was the first of many to suffer such military assaults. The US foreign policy establishment had already identified China, Iran and Russia as the ones to watch out for and were accordingly well aware that Afghanistan, apart from Pakistan, abuts Iran, China and pro-Russia Central Asian Republics, the latter also a region having large relatively untapped sources of oil and gas.

In these 20 years the US military and its puppet regimes (themselves corrupt and internally fractious) have carried out massive bombings (‘daisy cutters’, cluster bombs), drone attacks (extending into Pakistan) and brutal and indiscriminate ‘search and destroy’ missions against unknown insurgents and their families. US deaths (soldiers and contractors) have been around 6500.

In contrast, by extremely conservative estimates, total Afghan deaths up to the end of 2019 (government soldiers/police, opposition fighters, civilians) were around 160,000. Other sources which try to take account of unreported deaths have estimates of civilian casualties alone running from a few hundred thousand to over a million in an overall population between 35-40 million. Four million Afghans have been internally displaced with another 2.7 million external refugees. As of now around 48% are below the national poverty line. Some progressive laws and reforms have taken place but they no more justify US presence and rule than the fact of the British building hospitals, schools and introducing some legislatures, elections and limited franchise would have justified the persistence of colonial rule in India.

That the 300,000 plus official Afghan forces (soldiers, police, special militias) numbering 5 to 6 times more than Taliban fighters and also equipped with the most advanced arsenal of weapons and having full mechanical control of airspace should have so dramatically collapsed, indicates that the Taliban did have a measure of ground support and public acquiescence (no doubt considerably fear-induced) beyond its predominantly Pushtun base. However, it is strongly hostile to the Persian-speaking Tajiks who make up 27% of the population as compared to the 42% of Pushtuns which means there is every reason to fear serious internal repression and even a possible civil war type situation in the future. Taliban may or may not have learnt something from its past international isolation and avoid some forms of social  and civic repression. But given its history and social/civic programme of religious sectarianism, anti-democratic, anti-women measures—it has declared it will impose Sharia Law—there is every reason to oppose it forthrightly and without equivocation.

Governments everywhere including India’s, will shed crocodile tears for the Afghan people, but are in fact (accompanied by respective bus loads of ‘strategic experts’) only motivated by the crude and amoral considerations of realpolitik. Claiming to pursue the ‘national interest’—standardised subterfuge for the actual pursuit of ruling class interests that these different states actually represent—they will decide whether or when to establish diplomatic relations of some kind with the new Taliban government; or else to join hands with other self-serving major powers and their cohorts be these the Western Alliance or the possible front of Russia, China and Pakistan that looks more favourably at the new dispensation in Afghanistan.

No Afghan government has ever accepted the Durand line and the Taliban with even stronger sympathies with Pushtuni nationalism is not as beholden to Pakistan as the Islamophobic Modi government (some of whose Hindutva prescriptions are as debased as those of radical Islam) would like to make out for the purpose of whipping up anti-Pakistan sentiment domestically which then pays dividends for deepening repression in Kashmir.

It is the good of the Afghan people not our supposed ‘national interest’  that must be our point of departure for reflecting on what we must support and oppose. There should be no economic sanctions against Afghanistan. These hurt the people much more than the elites that govern. Humanitarian aid on an appropriate scale routed through progressive international and civil society organisations to this war-torn country is a must. No recognition to the Taliban regime while political, diplomatic and cultural pressures of various kinds (but not military) can play a role in pushing it to be less repressive in its laws and actions against women and ethnic and religious minorities.

A basic test for the West and many other countries will come with regard to the posture they adopt towards the flow of Afghan refugees now and afterwards. There should be no restriction to those seeking refuge or asylum and adequate provision be made for them to stay or relocate to where they can. This holds for India as well. Even before the advent of Modi, India was and remains a non-party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol which among other things rejects refoulement (forcible return of refugees to their places of displacement/persecution).

The Modi government has carried this out to a number of Rohingyas simply because they are Muslims. This hostility to Muslims and Islam is also reflected in the Citizenship Amendment Act applicable to Afghanistan. While New Delhi may in current circumstances allow for selective refugee influx this is not enough. Free flow must be allowed even as there can be discussion among neighbouring states for sharing the responsibility. Moreover, those Afghans, students and otherwise who are already in the country and wish to remain must have their visas extended until such time as they feel confident of returning back or they can in due course apply for Indian citizenship. NO TO IMPERIALISM, NO TO THE TALIBAN

Whose Freedom Are We Celebrating This August 15?

What is happening to the soul of Indian democracy? ‘The basis for democracy is Liberty,’ said Aristotle. However, today, the Institutions that were built to safeguard that principle are under duress. Laws like UAPA were used in colonial times to suppress the independence movement by suspending ordinary jurisprudence. Under these laws, jail is the rule, and bail is an exception.

“Many of the Desi civil rights organizations in this country would make loud protests, justifiably so, at the slightest discrimination or physical attack on an Indian but remain largely silent to any level of atrocities committed to vulnerable groups in India. Some of them act as if they are mouthpieces of the BJP regime, often defending actions that violate the fundamental values and principles of the democracy we all live in. As a minority, we demand equal opportunities and protection from the US government; however, we mostly remain reluctant to hold the Modi regime accountable to the same standard! It is quite a paradox!”

As I was sitting at a corner table in a conference room at the Indian Consulate in New York surveying the folks who were busy preparing for a curtain-raiser function to celebrate India’s 74th anniversary of Independence with a Parade in Long Island, I wondered whether anyone in that group truly cared whether India is still holding on to that promise of freedom to all its citizens! To some, that question is lost amidst the excitement and pageantry of the upcoming celebration, and to many others, the retrogressive trajectory of India’s current path is the real reason for joy and celebration!

As the Diaspora is about to celebrate Independence Day of India once again, one of the questions that arises in minds across the globe is whose freedom is being celebrated on August 15, 2021?

Obviously, it was not the freedom of Father Stan Swamy, who died recently in detention on trumped-up charges of terrorism. He was a man who had devoted his life fighting for the rights of Dalits and Adivasis from the onslaught of corporate interests. And it is not the freedom of Sudha Bharadwaj, who has been languishing in jail now for over three years for defending the rights of the workers and seeking justice for extrajudicial killings by police officers. Of course, it is not the freedom of Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita, and Natasha Narwal who were exercising their constitutional rights to protest CAA. For that alone, they were incarcerated under the draconian UAPA law.In the case of Stan Swamy, the authorities didn ‘t even show basic civility in providing the man with a straw as this frail 84-year-old with Parkinson’s disease had difficulty drinking water from a cup. Upon contacting Covid-19 in prison, it took a court intervention for him to get released to a hospital of his choice, a delay that may have cost him his life. What happened to his right to life and liberty? Why was Stan Swamy denied the freedom to have a presumption of innocence?

Last February 13, 2021, marks the civil rights lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj’s 900 days in detention under the UAPA law.

Last February 13, 2021, marks the civil rights lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj’s 900 days in detention under the UAPA law.  She took cases that many other attorneys refused to touch and represented workers wrongfully dismissed by companies, illegally evicted villagers from their land, and women who alleged sexual assault by security forces. Born in Boston to a distinguished economist, she went to IIT Kanpur to study Mathematics. Later, she moved to an iron mining ore town in Chhattisgarh and supported worker’s rights and safety while challenging land acquisition by major corporations and seeking justice for extrajudicial killings by police officers. Bharadwaj has denied the charges and said it was “totally concocted. Obviously, these arrests appear to be an affront to the rule of law and infringing on the citizen’s constitutional rights.

It has been said that a right without a remedy is no right at all. According to press reports, Sudha’s health situation continues to deteriorate in prison. The 59-year-old suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, making her susceptible to Covid-19 in the cramped prison. Her bail plea is being rejected, and she has been denied books and Newspapers in jail. Michele Bachelet, the UNHCHR commissioner, has expressed concern over using ‘vaguely defined laws’ to silence activists and government critics. Doesn’t Sudha Bharadwaj deserve the freedom to have a hearing on her case without indefinite detention?

According to press reports, the most bizarre incident took place on March 19, 2021, in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, when four Nuns from the Delhi province of the Sacred Heart Society were arrested while on the way to Odisha from Delhi. The incident occurred while the train they were traveling stopped at 6.30 PM at Jhansi railway station. A group of religious extremists returning from a pilgrimage accused them of religious conversion and raised religious slogans. Subsequently, police arrived at the spot and arrested the Nuns without paying any heed to their side of the story. Around 150 religious radicals accompanied the women in procession to the police station. The terrified nuns were finally released at 11.30 PM after the intervention of some advocacy groups. Don’t these Nuns deserve the freedom of unimpeded travel without harassment anywhere in India?

Mohammed Munazir arrived in Delhi decades ago, escaping poverty in his native Bihar, where his landless father worked on other people’s farms for a pittance. In the beginning, like poor migrants, he lived in a tarped hovel on the fringes of sprawling Capital, working in a bookbinding shop. Finally, when the bookbinding shop folded, he started selling home-cooked biryani on a cart. Ultimately, he saved enough money to buy a home, a nondescript building in a narrow lane. “It was a nest I finally built for my wife and six children after a lifetime of struggle,” says Mr. Munazir. “It was the only thing I wanted in life; it was my dream come true.” It is that dream that ended in flames on a bright sunny Tuesday when the Capital’s worst religious riots in decades took place in 2020, leaving 53 people dead and hundreds of wounded languishing in understaffed medical facilities, and corpses were still being discovered in drainage ditches. Doesn’t Mr. Munazir have the freedom to dream of building his own nest?

Born to a Dalit family in the slums of Indora, an Ambedkarite hub in Nagpur, fifty-four-year-old Sudhir Dhawale is an activist, editor, and writer. Dhawale was arrested alongside five other activists and professors on June 6, 2018, due to their connection to Elgar Parishad, which was blamed for the violence at Bhima Koregaon, which took place on January 1, 2018. The 1818 Battle of Koregaon is an important milestone for Dalits. On January 1818, eight hundred troops of the East India company’s Bombay Presidency army with a large number of Mahars defeated a numerically superior force of the Peshwa Baji Rao II. A victory pillar was erected in Koregaon by the British, and in 1928 B. R. Ambedkar led the first commemoration ceremony there. Since then, on January 1, every year, Ambedkarites gather at Bhima Koregaon to celebrate the victory against the upper castes and highlight the historical oppression they have suffered under the caste system. However, to the powerful establishment, these daring Dalits needed to be taught a lesson! They may have finally succeeded in putting a damper on Edgar Parishad’s luster through defamation, linking it to the Maoist and anti-national movements. Doesn’t Sudhir Dhawale and other Dalits have a right to celebrate a historical event without interference from the upper castes?

It should also be noted that Milind Ekbote, President of Dharmaveer Sambhaji Maharaj Pratishthan, and Sambhaji Bhide, a man associated with RSS and Shiv Pratishthan, who was accused of causing the violence, never faced any serious action.

Mr. Rajesh Tikait from Uttar Pradesh, a farm leader and spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, could be seen in a video distressed and wailing so loudly that his sobbing drowned out his words. Mr. Tikait said that the BJP was trying to “destroy” farmers and that he would not let it happen. He was indeed referring to how goons have infiltrated the January 26 protests by farmers to discredit their movement that has legitimate grievances against the farm laws passed by the Government in 2020. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a former Union Minister and erstwhile ally of the BJP government, said, “This anti-farmer attitude of the NDA government is responsible for the plight of farmers who are not only been stonewalled for eight months but even their dead are not being recognized.” Why this farming community that is ‘annadaata’ to the country is being humiliated in this manner and called anti-nationals for exercising freedom to air their grievances?

The alleged snooping by the Indian Government using Israeli spyware Pegasus on opposition politicians, media personnel, and private citizens indicates that individual freedom and the right to privacy have become a thing of the past. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, one of the victims of the phone tapping issue, asked, “we want to ask just one question. Has the Government of India bought Pegasus? Yes or No. Did the Government use Pegasus weapon against its own people?” The Indians in the snooping database include over 40 journalists, three major opposition figures, and one constitutional authority. What happened to the freedom of the opposition parties to hold the Government accountable and the freedom of the fourth estate to keep Government, legislators, and big business in check by keeping society or the public informed?

What is happening to the soul of Indian democracy? ‘The basis for democracy is Liberty,’ said Aristotle. However, today, the Institutions that were built to safeguard that principle are under duress. Laws like UAPA were used in colonial times to suppress the independence movement by suspending ordinary jurisprudence. Under these laws, jail is the rule, and bail is an exception. A polis project statement says ‘political prisoner’ is a category of criminal offense that sits most egregiously in any civilized society, especially in countries that call themselves liberal democracies. It is a thought crime: the crime of thinking, acting, speaking, probing, reporting, questioning, demanding rights, and, more importantly, exercising one’s citizenship. The assault on the fundamental rights has been consistent and ongoing at a global level, and rights-bearing citizens are transformed into consuming subjects of a surveillance state”.

Freedom of Conscience is fundamental to all other liberties. It is innate and God-given. It is guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. However, it is open season for those who freely exercise it. Academia has become another favorite target of the Modi Government. BJP and its ilk have always hated Institutions like JNU, where the free flow of ideas flourished, and lively debates on the pros and cons of contemporary issues were the order of the day. Today, the students and faculty in these revered institutions are intimidated, harassed, and called anti-national for failing to toe their Hindutva agenda line and are often charged with sedition. Modi Government has been openly hostile to civil society groups. It repeatedly denounces human rights and environmental activism as “anti-national” – a phrase that carries connotations of treason.

There is also quite an irony in the fact that today’s BJP leaders, who mostly come from the RSS ranks, are vocal on the issue of nationalism. The words and deeds of the founders of that organization, from Hedgewar to Veer Savarkar, clearly indicated that they were not only non-participants in the freedom struggle where hundreds of people were risking their lives daily but also collaborators who supported the British on critical occasions. The British acknowledged that RSS has “scrupulously kept itself within the law and refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942.” Sardar Patel, writing on the assassination of Gandhiji by Nathuram Godse, said, “As regards to RSS and Hindu Mahasabha…our reports do confirm that as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such ghastly tragedy became possible.”

“Religious freedom in India is taking a drastic turn downward, with national and various state governments tolerating widespread harassment and violence against religious minorities” said United States Commission for International Religious Freedom in its 2020 report. The BJP-led Government enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the Government completes its planned nationwide National Registry of Citizens”. USCIRF also recommended to the State Department that India be designated as a ‘Country of Particular Concern.’ India also slipped into 53rd position in the 2020 Democracy Index’s global ranking, dubbed a flawed democracy. The Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) said that in India, democratic backsliding by the authorities and crackdown on civil liberties led to a further decline in their global rankings.

Christians who constitute around 3% of the population are also under severe stress with many of their places of worship under attack, increased re-conversion efforts by Hindu fundamentalist organizations, removal of Christmas Day and Easter Day from the National Calendar, and the cancellation of FCRA of thousands of Christian charities effectively putting them out of business, the Saffron brigade appears to be questioning the very Indian ness of every Christian in India. In addition, they are engaged in a scathing campaign to link Christianity in India, which has a two-thousand-year history, with the colonial legacy.

Agencies such as India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate of the Finance Ministry, the Tax authorities, and even local police forces are often accused of doing the Government’s bidding. The opposition has charged that their leaders have often been targeted for harassment which they consider a political vendetta for expressing their opinions critical of the Government.

In this week, we may witness widespread celebrations of India’s Independence that will be held in many cities across the U.S. However, one may hear very little regarding whether the hard-fought freedom won by the founding fathers of modern India is in danger of being extinguished! The Cultural and Religious organizations that provide forums for these events appear not to be concerned about the ever-diminishing freedom of India’s citizens or the weakening of its institutions. The current dispensation favors singing Vande Mataram in place of Jana Gana Mana as parts of that national song are replete with Hindu symbolism that is more gratifying, albeit not the communities in their entirety.

Indians have done well with the open electoral process in the US, having elected four of their own to the House of Representatives and another one as the Vice-President. Although most of them ascribe to policies considered far left of the center and often very strident on issues dealing with Civil Rights, Social Policies, or Immigration, they rarely criticize the Government of India for any similar wrongdoings such as violations of human rights or religious freedom.  They seem reluctant even to raise these issues when meeting with the Prime Minister or other Embassy officials.

Many of the Desi civil rights organizations in this country would make loud protests, justifiably so, at the slightest discrimination or physical attack on an Indian but remain largely silent to any level of atrocities committed to vulnerable groups in India. Some of them act as if they are mouthpieces of the BJP regime, often defending actions that violate the fundamental values and principles of the democracy we all live in. As a minority, we demand equal opportunities and protection from the US government; however, we mostly remain reluctant to hold the Modi regime accountable to the same standard! It is quite a paradox!

The Bhartiya Janata Party’s victory in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and 2019 has ushered in an unprecedented attack on India’s democracy and injected new elements of intolerance and authoritarianism into the lives of people living in the country. The anti-democratic actions by the Government have sullied international reputation. Therefore, it is time to ask exactly whose freedom are we celebrating on this 74th anniversary? Is it the hard-fought freedom won under the long struggle by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, and Maulana Azad from the British to the benefit of all its citizens in India or the diminishing freedom at the expense of the minorities and Dalits solely to the delight of the feudalists/upper castes elites? Nevertheless, from a vantage point, this celebration may be all about the genuine freedom we enjoy in this land of the free and home of the brave, which includes the right to hold a foreign national flag and walk in a parade under a religious banner of our choice!

(The author is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA)

Should President Biden Receive Holy Communion? Cardinal Tobin & Bishop Rhoades Discuss

Catholic bishops meeting in regional cohorts have until the end of next month to submit their thoughts on what should be included in a forthcoming document on the Eucharist, which some Catholics fear may further divide the church over political support for abortion rights, the bishop heading the committee drafting the document said last week.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who leads the doctrine committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops, reiterated that the document will not bar any individuals from receiving Communion and said it is “going to be addressed to all Catholics, not a particular person or a single issue in the part on Eucharistic consistency.”

“The document will not be establishing national norms or a national policy,” he said. “That’s really beyond the scope of the document; it’s really beyond our competence.” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who leads the doctrine committee of the U.S. bishops, reiterated that the document will not bar any individuals from receiving Communion.

“We’re striving to write a document that will contribute to a real eucharistic revival in the church in our nation by highlighting the truth about the amazing gift that Jesus gave us on the night before he died,” Bishop Rhoades said.

But Bishop Rhoades also suggested that Catholics who do not accept the totality of church teaching are not prepared to receive Communion.

“In order to be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, we need to be in communion with the church, and we need to assent to the deposit of faith that’s contained in Scripture and tradition that the apostles entrusted to the church,” Bishop Rhoades said. “This is our perennial tradition.”

The comments came during a panel hosted by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.

Bishop Rhoades also suggested that Catholics who do not accept the totality of church teaching are not prepared to receive Communion.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the archbishop of Newark who spoke last month against moving ahead with drafting a statement, said during the panel that the perception around that document is that it is political in nature and is thus unlikely to achieve the goal of broadening understanding about the Eucharist.

​“One thing I’ve learned in 43 years as a priest is that preaching has two essential dynamics,” he said. “One is what you say and second is what they hear.”

He applied that dynamic to the forthcoming document, which follows statements from individual bishops condemning Mr. Biden’s support for abortion rights and an unusual working group formed by the U.S.C.C.B. president in the wake of Mr. Biden’s election.

“This document was born in some confusion,” Cardinal Tobin said. “This document was born in some confusion,” Cardinal Tobin said.

Cardinal Tobin suggested that U.S. bishops look to other nations that have dealt with similar situations for guidance. He noted that bishops in Argentina did not threaten to deny Communion to political leaders who sought to legalize abortion there.“Are they slacking or do they have a different pastoral sense?” he asked.

A Catholic commentator said she feared the document could reduce reflection about worthiness to receive the Eucharist to one’s views on abortion, which she called “simplistic.” “It does seem to me simplistic to say that abortion is the preeminent priority for Catholics politically, not just in a sense of ranking moral issues but also when it comes to making specific decisions about voting and about elections,” said Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, an editor at large at Commonweal. “Insisting on that has led the Catholic Church and the Catholic hierarchy into a de facto alliance with the G.O.P. over the last several decades.”

Mollie O’Reilly lamented that U.S. bishops have “come out on what looks like a kind of a war footing” against President Biden. Ms. O’Reilly lamented that U.S. bishops have “come out on what looks like a kind of a war footing” against President Biden. “I think this is an opportunity when the church could really be a fruitful partner in addressing a lot of those other issues that so badly need to be addressed and where I think there is a lot of common ground and common language,” she said.

John Carr, a longtime staffer of the U.S.C.C.B. and now the co-director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, called the debate over whether Catholic politicians are eligible to receive Communion “terrible timing.”

“In the midst of a pandemic racial reckoning, let’s have a fight about whether the president ought to be able to receive Communion?” he questioned.

“We ought to be saying to people, the Eucharist brings us together, we need you as part of our family and faith,” he said. “We’ve got to read the signs of the times. We’re in a particular moment, and we ought to do everything we can to make sure the Eucharist doesn’t get used or misused for political or ideological purposes.”

“In the midst of a pandemic racial reckoning, let’s have a fight about whether the president ought to be able to receive Communion?” John Carr questioned.

Mr. Carr said he is “bitterly disappointed” in the president’s support for abortion rights, “but what’s different is he continues to be a part of our community. He attends Mass every Sunday.”

“We need not to discipline politicians but to engage our politicians and to pull them back in, so they see the richness of our tradition in its everyday forms,” he said.

Some Catholics have lamented that the debate over the document—which lasted for more than two hours when bishops met virtually last month—highlights divisions in the church.

But Gretchen Crowe, the editor of the Catholic newspaper Our Sunday Visitor, said on the panel that fears over divisions should not deter bishops from talking about “eucharistic coherence.”

“A fear of division, or really a fear of anything else, really never should prevent the church from teaching what it professes about anything,”  Gretchen Crowe said.

“A fear of division, or really a fear of anything else, really never should prevent the church from teaching what it professes about anything, much less what it teaches about the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist,” she said.

A number of bishops have pointed to a 2019 poll from the Pew Research Center that found significant numbers of U.S. Catholics either disagree with or do not understand the church’s teaching that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ. That poll helped prompt bishops to adopt a strategic plan that highlighted church teaching on the Eucharist. Those backing the statement on “eucharistic coherence” said the document fits in with that plan.

Cardinal Tobin said on Wednesday’s panel that perhaps church leaders trying to inspire Catholics about the Eucharist might look to Rome for inspiration. “If Pope Francis’ great encyclicals were quoted as often as that Pew statistic, I think we might be better off as a church,” he said.

Secretary Blinken’s Assessment Of Indian Democracy Is Not Compatible With Ground Reality

“The most remarkable democratic election in the world, in many ways , is here in India” Blinken told a press conference.  As a pravasi Indian I wish these were true statements and I want India to be known this way among the nations of the world.  Blinken either believes this to be true or he was ignoring the truth for the sake of international diplomacy.  Since there is no freedom of the press in India only polished news comes out.

Blinken would have simply gone with a political argument ignoring the reality on the ground.  Either way, based on the facts on the ground Blinken was either misguided or as the UCA (United Catholic Asian) news quotes it was Blinken’s blinkered vision of India to suit Modi.  These words would have been soothing for the ears of Mr. Modi and his party.

However, this does not give justice to hundreds of Christians and other minorities who sacrificed their lives due to the quest of the ruling party to declare India as a Hindu state. The poor departed souls must have been churning in their graves when they hear such statements.  The injustices suffered by the 84-year-old Fr. Stan Sway alone should have been reason enough for Mr. Blinken to have been more cautious in his statements about human rights and respect for democratic principles by the government of India.

According to Reuters, on July 23, 2021 a senior State Department official said that  U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will raise human rights issues with officials in India when he visits the country next week.  If Secretary Blinken was aware of human rights violations in India, how can he take an about-turn stand after 12 hours of air travel to India?  USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) recommends India as one of the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) as India is listed by Open doors as the tenth most violators of human rights in the world.  Now Secretary Blinken will have to accept or reject the recommendations of the State Department’s own report by the bureau of democracy human rights and labor.

We hope and pray that Secretary Blinken will have the wisdom to do the right thing.  Of course, no one is happy about such a rating for India, but due to the stubborn stand of several nationalists in the Modi administration, this may be the only medicine for them to respect the basic human rights and religious freedom of minorities.

India had a good beginning after the independence which adopted the principles of pluralism and secularism.  However, the evils of the caste system and the supremacy ideologies of the majority squeezed out any decency that was left in the political system in India by the ruling majority of the Modi government.

The current government has been suppressing all kinds of freedom in India including individual and press freedoms.  Anyone criticizing any act of the government is termed as anti-national and they will be jailed indefinitely without the chance for a bail hearing.  Such atrocities are unheard of in a decent democracy.  What is the basis for Secretary Blinken’s assessment that India is a remarkable democracy?  Facts on the ground state otherwise.  All he needs is to talk to anyone of the church leaders in India to find the real situation.

Is the election process in India rigged?  Don’t know for sure unless there is a reliable process for recounts or investigations.  The EVM (electronic voting machines) in India are always under the control of the government where chances for abuses are real.  However, without blaming anyone, we should go back to paper ballots as adopted by many civilized nations.

Who ever may be ruling India we must have peace and harmony.  This is possible only if the ruling majority respects the interests of the minority.  Citizens to follow religious faith of their choice in India has become a challenge under Prime Minister Modi’s watch.  If India has to prosper, she has to get rid of the caste system.  We appeal to the government of India not to pass any more laws that hurt the interest of the minorities.  In the meantime, until India reverses all its unjust laws, US State Department must include India in the list of CPC nations to encourage India to go back to her roots and give all Indians the same rights and privileges under the law.

Snooping In India Indicates, Fundamental Freedom In India Is In Serious Jeopardy

“The alleged snooping in India using Israeli spyware Pegasus of opposition leaders, journalists, activists, and constitutional scholars is one more indication that fundamental freedoms in India are in serious jeopardy” said George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA. What we have been witnessing over the last six years is the steady deterioration of the rule of law and undermining of democracy, and the government must be held accountable” added Mr. Abraham.

One of the most prominent people on the list is Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress and a vehement critic of the Modi Administration on their undemocratic policies. In a statement, Mr. Gandhi said, “ targeted surveillance of the type you describe, whether in regard to me, other leaders of the opposition or indeed any law-abiding citizen of India is illegal and deplorable.”

It is becoming evident that power is all that matters to the current leadership at the Centre, and they may stoop to any low to snatch it even at the cost of undermining constitutional freedom and individual liberties. News reports suggest that key political players, including the then deputy chief minister Parameswara and the personal secretaries of then Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, may have been potential targets of surveillance by the Pegasus spyware in the run-up to the collapse of the Congress-JD (S) alliance government in 2019. If these reports are accurate, it is undermining the democratically run election process and severe violations of constitutional provisions these authorities are sworn to uphold.

The Biden administration has condemned the harassment and ‘extra-judicial surveillance of journalists and others in reaction to the story. “The United States condemns the harassment of extra-judicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” a White House spokesperson stated.

Significantly, the list includes a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against India’s former Chief Justice, whose turnaround from a critic to a supporter of the Modi regime policies has surprised many. It may very well make a case study about how skeletons in the closet of any individual can be unearthed and weaponized to extract concessions or demand behavioral changes. It is a sad state of affairs in India today that reveals how much the world’s largest democracy has deteriorated under the BJP rule.

Thank You, Dear Father Stan, You Will Live Forever

Jesuit priest Stan Swamy has inspired many to pursue his vision of a more humane and just society for the poor in India

Dear Father Stan Swamy,

On July 5, you completed your pilgrimage on earth. A light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. I am sure you will not want us to mourn your death. As we look back, we also celebrate your life of commitment, the rich legacy you have left us all. Our hearts are full as we say: “Thank you, dear Father Stan, you will live forever.” We cannot help but think of your incredibly committed and simple lifestyle. In fact, the media had a field day when authorities came to seize your possessions and found almost nothing.

As a young priest, you lived in an interior Adivasi (aboriginal) village, sharing a small room with one of the local families. You mastered the Ho language, studied the tribe’s culture and customs, ate their food and even sang and danced with them. You believed in youth, gave them a sense of identity and helped them to critically analyze what was happening to their tribal society. With their help, you also built your own residence, which was an open house to one and all. As an Adivasi rights activist, you worked on issues related to land, forest and labor rights, and for the protection, well-being and development of the local tribes.

The Adivasis and other excluded peoples, who had been consistently denied their legitimate rights, saw in you a person who left no stone unturned to champion their cause

You helped form the Persecuted Prisoners’ Solidarity Committee to gain justice for 3,000 tribal people illegally put in jail, expressing your dissent with official policies and laws, which you were convinced violated the Constitution of India. The Adivasis and other excluded peoples, who had been consistently denied their legitimate rights, saw in you a person who left no stone unturned to champion their cause. You did this unreservedly to the very end and taught us all the true meaning of solidarity — what it means to actually walk the talk.

We listened to your heartfelt words shortly before your arrest on Oct. 8, 2020: “What is happening to me is not something unique — happening to me alone. It is a broader process that is taking place all over the country …  In a way I am happy to be part of this process. I am not a silent spectator, but part of the game, and ready to pay the price whatever be it.” On May 21, you told Bombay High Court about the sufferings you were undergoing in jail. It had been eight months since you were brought there with your body fully functional. You could have a bath by yourself and also do some writing.

But the dire conditions in jail brought you to a situation where you could neither write nor go for a walk by yourself or even eat. “I am not able to meet this demand. Eating has become a real difficulty; someone has to feed me with a spoon,” you said. You also highlighted how prisoners came to help each other in difficult circumstances and were profoundly touched by the help you received from your fellow inmates. You seemed to have an intuition of your impending death. You wanted to be given regular bail and to go back to Ranchi in Jharkhand, where you had spent decades in the midst of your people.

“I want to go to Ranchi to be with my friends … Whatever happens to me I would like to be with my own,” you said.If not that, you were very clear about wanting to continue to be in jail: “I would rather die here very shortly if things go on as it is.” Your death seems to have spurred the opposition parties of the country into action, demanding the president of India’s intervention to act against those responsible for foisting false cases on you and subjecting you to inhuman treatment in jail.

Ironically, the opposition parties could not come together earlier on several key issues that plague the nation. But then your death provided them at least a cosmetic unity to address a serious reality. It is now incumbent that all those jailed along with you in the BhimaKoregaon case and other politically motivated cases by misusing draconian anti-terror laws be released forthwith.

The powers that tried to put you away, to annihilate you, have failed miserably in their evil design

A statement from the United Nations’ High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet raised your case along with the “15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events,” urging the Indian government to release them from pre-trial detention. She also raised concerns over the use of a draconian law in relation to human rights defenders, reminding that it was “a law Father Stan was challenging before Indian courts days before he died.”

The US State Department through its Office of International Religious Freedom called “on all governments to respect the vital role of human rights activists in healthy democracies.”All this has obviously raised the hackles of those who illegally incarcerated you. They were afraid and insecure for what you stood for. They tried to do away with you, not realizing that your spirit will never die. The powers that tried to put you away, to annihilate you, have failed miserably in their evil design. They did not realise that doing away with you would spawn hundreds and thousands of Stan Swamys everywhere.

Since your death, there have been numerous programs all over the world: rallies and demonstrations, candlelight vigils and processions, memorial prayer meetings and Masses, webinars and articles. Leading dailies and magazines have you on their cover with powerful editorials and op-eds; social media has not stopped talking about you. In several ways you have galvanized people across the board to celebrate your life and mission; and to condemn the way you were made to die. The underlying refrain everywhere is “I am Stan”; no longer the hashtag #StandWithStan, it has gone way beyond.

As a prophet of our times, you epitomized compassion, courage and commitment

A new cohesive, vibrant national campaign is emerging and gaining momentum — The Joint National Action to Defend Democracy; Defend Right to Dissent. A day of action has been planned for July 23. Called “Justice for Father Stan Swamy,” it will lead up to a national action program from Aug. 15-28 with thousands from all over India expected to participate.

We demand the immediate revocation of India’s anti-terror legislation, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA); the unconditional release of the Bhima Koregaon 15 and all others illegally incarcerated under this draconian law; we demand prison reforms and better conditions for prisoners — all that you relentlessly worked and died for. Strangely enough, in a lecture on July 13, Supreme Court Justice D.Y. Chandrachud stated that “criminal law, including anti-terror legislation, should not be misused for quelling dissent or for harassment of citizens.”

Powerful words, a vindication of what you lived and died for; we need to see now what happens in practice. As a prophet of our times, you epitomized compassion, courage and commitment. You had the audacity to dare: to walk with the excluded and the exploited and to make their struggles your own. Today you are a martyr for justice and truth. The Adivasis and many others already regard you as a saint. But you have not died; you will continue to live in each one of us. Many more Stan Swamys will continue to rise until that day when your vision of a more humane, just, equitable, fraternal, free and dignified society becomes a reality for the poor and underprivileged, the excluded and the exploited of India.

(Father Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist and writer. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of TheUnn.com)

Reflections On The Demise Of Fr. Stan Swamy

I don’t know if Fr. Stan Swamy’s soul will rest in peace. Given his sincerity to the cause of Dalit and adivasi rights, it is unlikely that it would, so long as the present situation continue. One thing, however, is certain. The present dispensation can now rest in peace. An octogenarian, enfeebled by Parkinson’s disease, unable even to hold a spoon with steady hands, will not destabilize the mighty Indian State anymore. Mera Bharat Mahan!

Why don’t I mourn Fr. Stan’s death, though it is ‘untimely’? His death is ‘untimely’ because senseless imprisonment expedited it. If so, the plain truth is that he is killed. But, if you ask me, ‘Who killed Fr. Stan?’ I will have to refer to Count Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy says that the State is able to perpetrate atrocities through a division of labour. Now if a judge, for example, had to not only condemn but also to take Fr. Stan personally to a prison and shut him up there, he would not be able to do it. If the NIA lawyers were to do it, their conscience too would revolt against it. Even the policemen involved, if they were to, on their own responsibility, throw Fr. Stan into the jail, they would have trembled at the abhorrence of it. But break this atrocity into many pieces and make different agencies carry out the fragments by way of discharging their ‘duties’, it can then be done with sincerity and national fervour. I too am part of this callous system. So, how can I mourn the death of this saintly man, having kept quiet about it for nearly a year?

Secondly, I feel happy for him because Fr. Stan is now in a better state than he was, while alive in circumstances such were inflicted on him for reasons he could not understand. There is a school of thought that it is easier for an innocent man to suffer. They think so because they have never suffered, innocently or otherwise. The anguish in guilt-less suffering is that one’s suffering makes no sense. It is absurd. What is absurd is unendurable. If you are punished for your wrongdoings, then you can reconcile yourself to your plight. Think, if you dare, of the plight of an old and chronically ill man in a prison. Prison-life conditions, including the psychological poison that goes with it, being what they are, even individuals much younger than Fr. Stan and in better states of health disintegrate fast. Fr. Stan himself said that it is better to die than to be in prison the way he was. So, why shouldn’t we celebrate his release from misery through the mercy of death, for neither mercy nor justice was likely to reach him in any other way?

Oh, no! It is not Fr Stan that we need to mourn. It is ourselves. Given the miasma of fear that is enveloping the country –of which the plight of Fr. Stan is a clear warning- the difference between being inside the jail and being outside of it is becoming merely notional. A story from Hitler’s Germany is relevant here. Pastor Martin Niemoller was visited in jail by some of his sympathisers who wondered why he had to be in jail. He quipped, ‘Why are you not in jail?’ That is to say, at what cost are you keeping yourself out of it?

What intrigues me most is not the efficiency and zealous patriotism of NIA that rids India of extreme threats like Fr. Stan, but the crass indifference of the Catholic Church. No one is in the dark about the communication lines between the church hierarchy and the Modi dispensation. We are also aware of the extent to which the church goes, covertly, if not overtly, to save worthies like Franko of the nun-rape fame. We have seen, over three decades, bow the accused in the Abhya nun murder case were sheltered from the arm of the law. The humongous financial investment made for their sake is also not unknown. The one thing we do not know is if anything comparable has ever been attempted by the same Church arms or agencies for the sake of Fr. Stan. He was abandoned, it seems, like an illicit baby by its unwed mother.

A couple of issues stare at us from the Fr. Stan tragedy, which is the tragedy of humanity as a whole. First, Fr. Stan has died condemned, without the due process of law. Under the UAPA, the accused is guilty until proven innocent. Fr. Stan was not proved innocent. He was ‘the accused’ at the time of his death. The accused is, under the UAPA, guilty. So, I suggest that his case be tried on an urgent basis and the truth or otherwise of the allegations against him established. This is a matter of larger significance. It is likely that many more will suffer Fr. Stan’s plight, given the increasing number of people booked under the UAPA and the inordinate in trying them as well as the protracted nature of their trials.

There is, besides, a humanitarian issue involved here. The State tends to mistake the cry of the poor for justice as a war-cry against peace and stability. Since Fr. Stan was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, we cannot but ask: Is it ‘unlawful’ to empathise with those who struggle for their rights: both human and constitutional? The Pathalgadi movement, with which Fr. Stan was in solidarity, is a tribal movement to realize the tribal rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. From Fr. Stan’s point of view, it is a spiritual and humanitarian duty to stand with those who struggle and suffer for justice. In itself it is a humane and laudable thing. But, under the law, it has become subversive and anti-national. It has become, that is to say, dangerous to do good, if the good you do seems to go against the interests of the ruling elite. But, the right and duty of human beings to express their conscience through humanitarian activities is not subject to the charity of a State; it is a God-given duty. It is reprehensible for the State to trespass into this domain of practical spirituality.

Let’s not forget that Fr. Stan is the victim not only of callous State action but also of the even more reprehensible indifference of the people at large. Today what is done to fellow human beings doesn’t matter to us, so long as it has either the tang of ideology or the veneer of legality. So long as our own skin remains intact, we sail along without any pang of conscience. Let me, yet again, borrow the words of Pastor Niermoller: today it is Fr. Stan. Tomorrow it will be your neighbor. The day after . . . ?

UN’s Most Powerful Political Body Remains Paralyzed Battling a New Cold War

UNITED NATIONS: (IPS) – A new Cold War – this time, between the US and China —is threatening to paralyze the UN’s most powerful body, even as military conflicts and civil wars are sweeping across the world, mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

The growing criticism against the Security Council is directed largely at its collective failures to resolve ongoing conflicts and political crises in several hot spots, including Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Ukraine and Libya — and its longstanding failure over Palestine.

The sharp divisions between China and Russia, on one side, and the Western powers on the other, are expected to continue, triggering the question: Has the Security Council outlived its usefulness or has it lost its political credibility?

The five big powers are increasingly throwing their protective arms around their allies, despite growing charges of war crimes, genocide and human rights violations against these countries.

Last week, Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director at Human Rights Watch, called on Britain “to step up as penholder on Myanmar and start negotiating a Security Council draft resolution on an arms embargo and targeted sanctions against the military”.

Over 580 people, including children, have been killed since the February 1 coup: “it is time for the Security Council to do more than issue statements and begin working towards substantive action,“ she warned.

But in most of these conflicts, including Myanmar, arms embargoes are very unlikely because the major arms suppliers to the warring parties are the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely the US, UK, France, Russia and China.

US President Joe Biden has described the growing new confrontation as a battle between democracies and autocracies.

In a recent analytical piece, the New York Times said China’s most striking alignment is with Russia, with both countries drawing closer after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The two countries have also announced they will jointly build a research station on the moon, setting the stage to compete with US space programs.

“The threat of a US-led coalition challenging China’s authoritarian policies has only bolstered Beijing’s ambition to be a global leader of nations that oppose Washington and its allies,” the Times said.

Ian Williams, President of the New York-based Foreign Press Association and author of ‘UNtold: The Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War’, told IPS that in the early years, with a secure majority in the General Assembly (GA), the US could pretend virtue and eschew using the veto. The embattled Soviets resorted it over and over.

“But as with so much UN and international law, the Israeli exception had the US making up for lost time. Now the Russians have been catching up with vetoes for Serbia and Syria”.

China, he pointed out, avoided using the veto unless Taiwan or Tibet was mentioned. In the old days there was a hint of an ideological element — Third World and Socialism versus Imperialism.

“But now it is entirely transactional, veto holders looking after their clients and allies, so no one should entertain illusions about China and Russia acting in a progressive and constructive way. But the US is no position to point fingers about Syria while it protects Saudi Arabia and Israel”.

“We can hope that the majority of members will grow indignant enough to try to effect indignation. But sadly, historical experience suggests many governments have almost unlimited tolerance for mass murder in far-away countries of which they know little,” he noted, including Darfur, the Balkans, Rwanda and now Myanmar.

The breakthrough would be the US saying, end the Occupation and then inviting others to join in a reaffirmation of the Charter.

“But since I don’t really believe in the tooth fairy, I would have to settle for a coalition of the conscious-stricken in the GA united for peace – and international law and order”, said Williams, a senior analyst who has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Australian, The Independent, New York Observer, The Financial Times and The Guardian.

Asked about the killings in Myanmar, and the lack of action in the UNSC, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on March 29: “We need more unity in international community. We need more commitment in the international community to put pressure in order to make sure that the situation is reversed. I’m very worried. I see, with a lot of concern, the fact that, apparently, many of these trends look irreversible, but hope is the last thing we can give up on.”

Vijay Prashad, Executive Director, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, who has written extensively on international politics, told IPS the United Nations is an essential institution, a process, in many ways, rather than a fully-finished institution.

The agencies of the UN – including WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, he said, provide vital service to the world’s peoples; “and we need to make these institutions more robust, and we need to ensure that they drive a public agenda that advances the UN Charter’s main goals (namely to maintain peace, to end hunger and illiteracy, to provide the basis for a rich life, in sum).”

The Security Council is a victim of the political battles in the world, he argued.  “There is no way to build a better framework to handle the major power differentials”., said Prashad, author of 30 books, including most recently ‘Washington Bullets’ (justifyWord, Monthly Review),

“It would be far better to empower the UN General Assembly, which is more democratic, but since the 1970s we have seen how the US – in particular – undermined the UNGA to take decision making almost exclusively to the UNSC”.

Ever since the fall of the USSR, he said, the UN Secretary-General has become subservient to the US government (“we saw this shockingly with the treatment of former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali”).  The new ‘Group of Friends to Defend the UN Charter’, which includes China and Russia, is a positive development, said Prashad.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on March 31: “And then in terms of working with my counterparts in the Security Council, I know that there are areas – and this is a discussion that I’ve had – with both my Russian and Chinese colleagues – we know that there are red lines”.

“There are areas where we have serious concerns, and we’ve been open and we’ve been frank about those concerns. In China, what is happening with the Uyghurs, for example. With Russia, in Syria, and there are many others. We know what the red lines are”, she added.

“We tried to bridge those gaps, but we also try to find those areas where we have common ground. We’ve been able to find common ground on Burma (Myanmar). With the Chinese, we’re working on climate change in, I think, a very positive way. We’re not in the exact same place, but it’s an area where we can have conversations with each other.”

“So as the top U.S. diplomat in New York, it is my responsibility to find common ground so that we can achieve common goals, but not to give either country a pass when they are breaking human rights values or pushing in directions that we find unacceptable,” she declared.

Meanwhile, harking back to a bygone era, during the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s, the United Nations was the ideological battle ground where the Americans and the Soviets pummeled each other– either on the floor of the General Assembly hall or at the horse-shoe table of the UN Security Council.

Perhaps one of the most memorable war of words took place in October 1962 when the politically-feisty US Ambassador Adlai Stevenson (1961-65), a two-time Democratic US presidential candidate, challenged Soviet envoy Valerian Zorin over allegations that the USSR, perhaps under cover of darkness, had moved nuclear missiles into Cuba—and within annihilating distance of the United States.

Speaking at a tense Security Council meeting, Stevenson admonished Zorin: “I remind you that you didn’t deny the existence of these weapons. Instead, we heard that they had suddenly become defensive weapons. But today — again, if I heard you correctly — you now say they don’t exist, or that we haven’t proved they exist, with another fine flood of rhetorical scorn.”

“All right sir”, said Stevenson, “let me ask you one simple question. Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium and intermediate range missiles and sites in Cuba?” “Yes or No? Don’t wait for the translation: Yes or No?”, Stevenson insisted with a tone of implied arrogance.

Speaking in Russian through a UN translator (who faithfully translated the US envoy’s sentiments into English), Zorin shot back: “I am not in an American courtroom, sir, and therefore I do not wish to answer a question that is put to me in the fashion in which a prosecutor does. In due course, sir, you will have your reply. Do not worry.”

Not to be outwitted, Stevenson howled back: “You are in the court of world opinion right now, and you can answer yes or no. You have denied that they exist. I want to know if …I’ve understood you correctly.”

When Zorin said he will provide the answer in “due course”, Stevenson famously declared: “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.”

*Thalif Deen is the author of a newly-released book on the United Nations titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That.” The 220-page book is filled with scores of anecdotes– from the serious to the hilarious– and is available on Amazon worldwide and at the Vijitha Yapa bookshop in Sri Lanka. The links follow:

IMF, World Bank Must Urgently Help Finance Developing Countries

(IPS) – COVID-19 has set back the uneven progress of recent decades, directly causing more than two million deaths. The slowdown, due to the pandemic and policy responses, has pushed hundreds of millions more into poverty, hunger and worse, also deepening many inequalities.

The outlook for developing countries is grim, with output losses of 5.7% in 2020. Compared to pre-pandemic trends, the expected 8.1% loss by end-2021 will be much worse than advanced countries dropping 4.7%.

COVID-19 has further set back progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As progress was largely ‘not on track’ even before the pandemic, developing countries will need much support to mitigate the new setbacks, let alone get back on track.The extremely poor, defined by the World Bank as those with incomes under US$1.90/day, increased by 119–124 million in 2020, and are expected to rise by another 143-163 million in 2021.Fiscal response constrainedGlobal fiscal efforts of close to US$14tn, plus low interest rates, liquidity injections and asset purchases by central banks, have helped. Nonetheless, the world economy will lose over US$22 trillion during 2020–2025 due to the pandemic.

Government responses have been much influenced by access to finance. Developed countries have accounted for four-fifths of total pandemic fiscal responses costing US$14tn. Rich countries have deployed the equivalent of a fifth of national income for fiscal efforts.
Meanwhile, emerging market economies spent only 5%, and low-income countries (LICs) a paltry 1.3% by mid-2020. In 2020, increased spending, despite reduced revenue, raised fiscal deficits of emerging market and middle-income countries (MICs) to 10.3%, and of LICs to 5.7%.

Government revenue has fallen due to lower output, commodity prices and longstanding Bank advice to cut taxes. Worse, they already face heavy debt burdens and onerous borrowing costs. Meanwhile, private finance dropped US$700bn in 2020.
Developing countries lost portfolio outflows of US$103bn in the first five months. Foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to emerging and developing countries also fell 30–45% in 2020. Meanwhile, bilateral donors cut aid commitments by 36% between 2019 and 2020.
Meanwhile, the liquidity support, debt relief and finance available are woefully inadequate. These constrain LICs’ fiscal efforts, with many even cutting spending, worsening medium-term recovery prospects!Debt burdens

In 2019, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) assessed half the LICs as being at high risk of, or already in debt distress – more than double the 2013 share. Debt in LICs rose to 65% of GDP in 2019 from 47% in 2010.Thus, LICs began the pandemic with more debt relative to government revenue, larger deficits and higher borrowing costs than high-income countries. And now, greater fiscal deficits of US$2–3tn projected for 2021 imply more debt.

Debt composition has become riskier with more commercial borrowing, particularly with foreign currency bond issues far outpacing other financing sources, especially official development assistance (ODA) and multilateral lending.More than half of LIC government debt is non-concessional, worsening its implications. External debt maturity periods have also decreased. Also, interest payments cost more than 12% of government revenue in 2018, compared to under 7% in 2010.

Riskier financial flow developing economies have increasingly had to borrow on commercial terms in transnational financial markets as international public finance flows and access to concessional resources have declined.Low interest rates, due to unconventional monetary policies in developed countries, encouraged borrowing by developing countries, especially by upper MICs. But despite generally low interest rates internationally, LIC external debt rates have been rising.

Overall ODA flows – net of repayments of principal – from OECD countries fell in 2017 and 2018. Such flows have long fallen short of the financing needs of Agenda 2030 for the SDGs. Instead of giving 0.7% of their national income as ODA to developing countries, as long promised, actual ODA disbursed has yet to even reach half this level.Although total financial resource flows (ODA, FDI, remittances) to least developed countries (LDCs) increased slightly, ODA remained well short of their needs, falling from 9.4% of LDCs’ GNI in 2003 to 4.3% in 2018. Meanwhile, FDI to LDCs dropped from 4.1% of their GNI in 2003 to 2.3% in 2018.

There has also been a shift away from ‘traditional’ creditors, including multilateral financial institutions and rich country Paris Club members. Some donor governments increasingly use aid to promote private business interests. ‘Blended finance’ was supposed to turn billions of aid dollars into trillions in development finance.

But the private finance actually mobilised has been modest, about US$20bn a year – well below the urgent spending needs of LICs and MICs, and less than a quarter of ODA in 2017. Such changes have further reduced recipient government policy discretion.Inadequate support
The 2020 IMF cancellation of US$213.5m in debt service payments due from 25 eligible LICs was welcome. But the G20 debt service suspension initiative (DSSI) was grossly inadequate, merely kicking the can down the road. It did not cancel any debt, with interest continuing to accrue during the all-too-brief suspension period.

The G20 initiative hardly addressed urgent needs, while private creditors refused to cooperate. Only meant for LICs, it did not address problems facing MICs. Many MICs also face huge debt, with upper MICs alone having US$2.0–2.3tn in 2020–2021.World Bank President David Malpass has expressed concerns that any change to normal debt servicing would negatively impact the Bank’s standing in financial markets, where it issues bonds to finance loans to MICs.

The Bank Group has made available US$160bn for the period April 2020 to June 2021, but moved too slowly with its Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). By the time it paid out US$196m, the amount was deemed too small and contagion had spread.Special Drawing RightsIssuing US$650bn worth of new special drawing rights (SDRs) will augment the IMF’s US$1tn lending capacity, already inadequate before the pandemic. But US$650bn in SDRs is only half the new SDR1tn (US$1.37tn) The Financial Times considers necessary given the scale of the problem.

To help, rich countries could transfer unused SDRs to IMF special funds for LICs, such as the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT) and the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT), or for development finance.Similar arrangements can be made for the Bank. A World Bank version of the IMF’s CCRT could ensure uninterrupted debt servicing while providing relief to countries in need. Investors in Bank bonds would appreciate the distinction.

Hence, issuing SDRs and making other institutional reforms at the Spring meetings in April could enable much more Fund and Bank financial intermediation. These can greatly help finance urgently needed pandemic relief, recovery and reforms in developing countries.

An Indian Citizen’s Musings

As a citizen of the country I felt it has to be conveyed to them. Modi ji, there is no point in shouting standing in a stage and asking question that what is achieved in 60 years. Dont think that the citizen of our country are fools. You are a Prime Minister of a country which was under British rule for more than 200 years. The people were living just like slaves. Congress came to power in 1947 after independence started with zero. There was nothing in this country except the garbages left out by the British.

India didn’t even had the resourse to produce even a pin since Britishers left India. The electricity was available only for 20 villages across the country. Telephone facility was available only for 20 rulers (kings) in this country. There was no drinking water supply. There was only 10 small dams. No hospitals, no educational institutions. No fertiliser, no feeds, no water supply for cultivation. There was no job & only starvation in the country. There was many infant death. Very few military staff in the border. Only 4 planes, 20 tankers & fully open borders on all 4 sides of the country. Very minimum roads & bridges. Empty exchequer. Nehru came power in these circumstances.

What is India after 60 years?

World’s largest army. Thousands of war planes, tankers. Lakhs of industrial institutions. Electricity in all villages. Hundreds of electic power stations. Lakhs kilometre of national highways & over bridges. New railway projects, Stadiums, super speciality hospitals, most of the Indian households with television, telephone for all the countrymen. All infrastructure to work in and outside the country, Banks, Universities, AIMS, IITS, IIMS, Nuclear weapons, sub-marines, nuclear stations, ISRO, Navarathna Public sector units.

Indian Army barging till Lahore years back? Split Pakistan into 2 pieces ? 1 lakh of military & commanders surrendered to Indian army? India started exporting minerals & food items ? Bank nationalization by Mrs. Indira Gandhi? Computer introduces to India & many job opportunities in India and outside the country? You have become PM using information technology?

When you took over as the PM, India was the top 10 economies in the world? Apart from this, GSLV, Mangalyan, Monorail, Metro rail, International airports, Prithvi, Agni, Naag, Nuclear submarines….all these were achieved before you became PM.

Please do not come to people asking what The Congress Party has achieved in 60 years.

Please tell people what you have achieved in the last 6 ½ years except changing names, doing statue and cow politics, failed demonetisation, poorly executed GST, and making people stand in long queues. Hypocrite BJPians opposed FDI like anything and now BJP is supporting FDI shamelessly.. BJP is selling India to Ambani and Rafale deal to Anil Ambani’s 2-month old company over HAL owned by government of India is a prime example of it.. BJP made petrol, diesel, and LPG price go up by putting more tax, while the price of crude oil became cheaper.. Modi government through SBI in the form of fine collected whopping Rs 1771 crore for not able to maintain minimum balance from the poor people of India. Vikas is happening for Amit Shah’s son, Amit Shah, Shaurya Doval, Ambanis, Adani, baba Ramdev’s Patanjali group, and the people who sponsors BJP.. 3000 crores have been spent by BJP to clean river Ganga, this corruption each and everyone can find out by taking a dip in river Ganga..

(PS This is not an advertisement for the congress campaign. I’m not a congress supporter. I’m just an informed voter who feels it is an insult to his intelligence each time the current government says our country has been no good over the last 60 years!)

Reimagining Diplomacy in the Post-COVID World An Indian Perspective | Opinion

We enter 2021, hoping to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us. While each society has dealt with it uniquely, global diplomacy will nevertheless focus on common concerns and shared lessons. Much of that revolves around the nature of globalization.

Our generation has been conditioned to think of that largely in economic terms. The general sense is one of trade, finance, services, communication, technology and mobility. This expresses the interdependence and interpenetration of our era. What COVID, however, brought out was the deeper indivisibility of our existence. Real globalization is more about pandemics, climate change and terrorism. They must constitute the core of diplomatic deliberations. As we saw in 2020, overlooking such challenges comes at a huge cost.

Despite its many benefits, the world has also seen strong reactions to globalization. Much of that arises from unequal benefits, between and within societies. Regimes and dispensations that are oblivious to such happenings are therefore being challenged. We must ensure that this is not about winners and losers, but about nurturing sustainable communities everywhere.

COVID-19 has also redefined our understanding of security. Until now, nations thought largely in military, intelligence, economic, and perhaps, cultural terms. Today, they will not only assign greater weight to health security but increasingly worry about trusted and resilient supply chains. The stresses of the COVID-19 era brought out the fragility of our current situation. Additional engines of growth are needed to de-risk the global economy, as indeed is more transparency and market-viability.

Multilateral institutions have not come out well from this experience. Quite apart from controversies surrounding them, there was not even a pretense of a collective response to the most serious global crisis since 1945. This is cause for serious introspection. Reforming multilateralism is essential to creating effective solutions.

Fashioning a robust response to the COVID-19 challenge is set to dominate global diplomacy in 2021. In its own way, India has set an example. That it has done by defying prophets of doom and creating the health wherewithal to minimize its fatality rate and maximize its recovery rate. An international comparison of these numbers tells its own story. Not just that, India also stepped forward as the pharmacy of the world, supplying medicines to more than 150 countries, many as grants.

As our nation embarks on a mass vaccination effort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s assurance that it would help make vaccines accessible and affordable to the world is already being implemented. The first consignments of Made in India vaccines have reached not only our neighbors like Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka but partners far beyond like Brazil and Morocco.

Other key global challenges today deserve similar attention. As a central participant in reaching the Paris agreement, India has stood firm with regard to combating climate change. Its renewable energy targets have multiplied, its forest cover has grown, its bio-diversity has expanded and its focus on water utilization has increased. Practices honed at home are now applied to its development partnerships in Africa and elsewhere. By example and energy, Indian diplomacy is leading the way, including through the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure initiatives.

The challenge of countering terrorism and radicalization is also a formidable one. As a society, long subjected to cross-border terrorist attacks, India has been active in enhancing global awareness and encouraging coordinated action. It will be a major focus in India’s diplomacy as a non-permanent member of the Security Council and in forums like FATF and G20.

Among the takeaways from the COVID-19 experience has been the power of the digital domain. Whether it was contact tracing or the provision of financial and food support, India’s digital focus after 2014 has yielded impressive results. The “work from anywhere” practice was as strongly enhanced by COVID-19 as the “study from home” one. All these will help expand the toolkit of India’s development programs abroad and assist the recovery of many partners.

2020 also saw the largest repatriation exercise in history–the return home of more than 4 million Indians. This alone brings out the importance of mobility in contemporary times. As smart manufacturing and the knowledge economy take deeper root, the need for trusted talent will surely grow. Facilitating its movement through diplomacy is in the global interest.

A return to normalcy in 2021 will mean safer travel, better health, economic revival and digitally driven services. They will be expressed in new conversations and fresh understandings. The world after COVID-19 will be more multi-polar, pluralistic and rebalanced. And India, with its experiences, will help make a difference.

(Dr. S. Jaishankar is the minister of external affairs of India and author of “The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World.” The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.)

 

The Devil Is A Better Loser Than Donald Trump

US bishops who pandered to Trump have failed to guide Catholics to be a discerning, peaceful, loving community. 

The legendary Faust’s desire for power led him into a pact with Mephistopheles, the agent of Satan. The deal was straightforward. In exchange for the fulfillment of all his desires in this life, hell would get Faust’s soul after death.

There are variations on the story. Goethe’s version differs from the tradition in having Faust saved in the end.

An American variation, Stephen Vincent Benét’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, has the devil bested in a trial over the contract. The devil is a better loser than Donald Trump.

But overall, those who contract with the devil are eventually told, “Go to hell!”

The attack by Trump’s partisans upon the verification of the American presidential election was no surprise to those who had paid attention to that man’s actions, the manipulation of his followers and the enabling by the Republican Party over four years. The only surprise for me was that the mob did not burn down the Capitol building.

 

This is the fruition of a pact with the devil that the Republican Party made in the 1960s. As civil rights legislation empowered Black Americans and threatened the political supremacy of Whites, especially in the South, the Republicans played upon the prejudices of those people to wean them from the Democratic Party. It was called the Southern Strategy.

Had that strategy included plans for guiding new supporters to openness toward other races and ethnic groups, it might have been good for the party and the nation. Instead, prejudices were nurtured and encouraged. In 2005, the chairman of the Republican National Committee finally apologized to Blacks in a de facto admission of his party’s use of racism as a means to draw voters.

But it was too late. Increasingly, the racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic stream that had been channeled into the Republican Party took control. The presidency of Donald Trump is the result. His rallies are festivals of racism and anti-Semitism with Confederate flags, swastikas and sweatshirts emblazoned with anti-Semitic slogans like 6MWNE (six million was not enough) or Camp Auschwitz.

The attack on the Capitol and democracy may mark the beginning of a “Go to hell!” period for Republicans as their pact with evil bears fruit.

The Republican Party must repent, reform and recover from that pact. But that is not the only institution that succumbed to the Faustian allure of power.

What of the American Catholic Church?

Traditionally, Catholics tended to support the Democratic Party. They were often city dwellers, immigrants and industrial workers. Their concerns differed from those of the business-oriented Republicans. However, their children and grandchildren prospered and began to find the Republicans attractive, overlooking the Faustian bargain the party had made.

But there is more to the Catholic story than a semi-natural migration to the Republicans. There has been a Faustian bargain on the part of some in the Church who for their own ends have allied themselves within the larger bargain with racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, though they might not admit that they have become fellows of those attitudes.

Their situation is like that of Germans who did not like what the Nazis were doing but went along for the sake of what that party might do for them. However, guilt by association is real and saying one does not like the way a ship is going does not change the fact that one has booked passage or even become a crew member.

Can we see that in the US Catholic Church? Yes.

Half of Catholics who voted in the November presidential election voted for Trump even after four years of blatant lies, hypocrisy, racism, nepotism, corruption, narcissism, bullying, boorishness, sexual abuse, defiance of the law, divisiveness, pettiness, general incompetence and childish petulance. Is there nothing in that list that repels those Catholics? Why not?

One reason may be that men who are supposed to guide Catholics in their lives as Christians told them to overlook those failings. Bishop Joseph Strickland said, “As the bishop of Tyler [Texas] I endorse” a priest’s message that said, “Repent of your support of that [Democratic] party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”

Bishop Strickland later took part virtually in one of the “Stop the Steal” rallies that denied Trump’s loss and was a precursor to the invasion of the Capitol. After that terrorist attack, he spoke of “a sad day” and that “we have to turn to God.” He did not say that the turn to God would include repentance for his part in laying the groundwork, nor anything about hell for terrorists.

He is only one of several bishops and priests who pandered to Trump and Trumpism. The question is, where are the US bishops who disagree? The episcopal code of omertà that allowed the scandal of Theodore McCarrick to fester remains an indictment of the whole pack.

The bishops and their clerical underlings have failed to guide America’s Catholics to be a discerning, peaceful, loving community shaped by the Gospel. But that’s their job!

They are failures who have decided to rely upon the political system to do what they failed to do, for example, regarding abortion. If they had done their job and led society to a vision of life that would make abortion as unthinkable as public hanging, drawing and quartering, they might not have resorted to supporting a fascist movement marked by racism, anti-Semitism and injustice.

Calling the bishops and not a few pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States “leaders” is a violation of truth and language. And so, to the managers of the United States Catholic Church: “Go to hell!”

(Father William Grimm is the publisher of UCA News based in Tokyo, Japan. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.)

(picture courtesy: Tulsa World)

Indian Farmers, We Need Not Fail!

The government and the farmers remain unchanged in their positions. For the eighth time, the farmers ordinance were discussed with the leaders of the farmers’ organizations. But the Central government washed their hands by saying that they let the Supreme Court decide on the issue.The panel, which will be nominated by the Supreme Court, will hold further deliberations. 

 

Supreme Court orders non-implementation of agricultural law The Supreme Court also directed the formation of an expert committee on agricultural law. The Center has asked for one day to decide the members of the expert committee. The Chief Justice also directed that the venue where the farmers are currently protesting should be changed. The court also directed that adults, women, and children withdraw from the strike. The court had earlier told the central government that it did not want to spill farmers’ blood. The court also said it was responsible for preventing the bloodshed. The apex court said it knew how to decide the matter

 

Representatives of the farmers’ strike ask if the discussions with the government could not yield any solution, what is the solution if it is discussed with the Supreme Court Committee? Farmers’ organizations are also confirming that the struggle is not over until the rules are upheld, and they have not stopped the protest.

 

On the other hand, supporting the farmers over the three farm laws, the Congress on Saturday said the Prime Minister should resign if he can’t repeal the laws and depend on the Supreme Court to break the deadlock with farmers. Incidentally, with the next round of deliberations among the representatives of both sides on January 15th, the opposition party Congress has decided to conduct Kisan Adhir Diwas [Farmer’s Rights Day] holding protest marches, dharnas, and petition Governors to annul the farm laws.

 

“The Constitution has not given the responsibility of framing the laws to the Supreme Court but to the Parliament of India. If this government is incapacitated to discharge this responsibility, then the Modi government has no moral authority to remain in power even for a minute,” Congress communication chief Randeep Surjewala added.

 

The central government is misleading the farmers declaring that the new laws are good for farmers.”Our stand is unequivocal — we want a legal guarantee for minimum support prices (MSPs) for farm produce, besides revoking all the three farm laws. If our demands are not fulfilled, we will continue with our agitation indefinitely,” Mr. Singh said.

 

The Sikh people are fighting to defeat the new agrarian laws that are not farmer-friendly, not wanted by the farmers, and implemented only for the corporates. All Indians, and all future generations, will have to pay bribes to corporates and work for them, of course.

 

Farmers are gearing up to intensify their strike after the eighth failed talks with the central government. The farmers’ decision is to block the Palwal Manesar highways. The farmers said that the tractor would march to the four borders of Delhi, and the Desh Jagran campaign will continue for two weeks. The question arises as to what is next as the farmers are not ready to accept the conditions put forward by the government or the government is not ready to accept the demands of the farmers. But the farmers are adamant that they will not back down from their stand. 

 

Joginder Singh, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), one of the largest outfits in Punjab, alleged that The government has been trying to justify the laws by saying that several farmers’ unions are supporting them, but this is only an attempt to weaken the ongoing movement and divert attention. “The government intends to establish a parallel platform to weaken the ongoing agitation.”

 

Punjabi actor Gurpreet Ghuggi at Singhu meeting protesting farmers, said, “This fight is of the ‘zameerdar’ (one with a conscience) the farmers have rejected the three farm laws, so you (Centre) should also reject it now.”

 

It is also alleged that some middlemen, commission agents & political leaders with vested interests are running this movement. The farm laws are meant to favor the farmers, but eventually, the new reforms are likely to hurt the peasants and be controlled by few corporates.

 

Despite the cold and rain, many are arriving at the border. The farmers have decided to hold a tractor rally led by women. With elections looming in four states and one union territory, the central government will try to end the peasant agitation as soon as possible.

 

Under a Blanket Challenge, AIYF youngsters at Thrissur, Kerala could collect 5000 new blankets they are sending to the Farmers on strike in the shivering cold weather in New Delhi.

 

Recently, Indo American Press Club hosted two Zoom Conferences with Ambassador Pradeep Kapur’s active participation, Mr. Khanderao Kand (Director of FIIDS USA, Yogesh Andlay, Co-founder of Polaris and Nucleus, Dr. Nishit Choksy, Berkeley, MI and another one with the leadership of Mr. N.K.Premachansran MP, Mr. P.C. Cyriac IAS, Dr. Ejaz Ghani ( Lead Economist at World Bank), Prof. M.D. Nalappat (Vice-Chair Manipal Advanced Research Group) analyzed the damaging Farmers Ordinance’s various features and how the laws are destroying the traditional agricultural system in India.

 

Media projection is more important on the Farmers’ agitation in India. As a responsible media club, Indo American Press Club is prompted to impact the mainstream western media for global narrative,” Ambassador Pradeep Kumar Kapoor said while presiding over the Zoom Meeting hosted by Indo-American Press Club (IAPC) on “What’s the truth behind the Indian Farmers Protest?”

 

Mr. Vimal Goyal, CPA, and industrialist from Long Island, NY, expressed a different perspective on economic considerations. He affirmed that the latest one is the most comprehensive farmers bill, as the farmers were left behind with no recognitions so far. He believed that this bill is going to promote the abundance of rice and wheat. He also mentioned that the poor farmers do not have resources for e-commerce or transporting facilities, and hence they have to resort to the greedy private middlemen.

 

For every grain produced by the peasantry, the leading share goes to the corporates without making a fair profit to the toiling masses. Today there is no Mahatmaji, no Nehru to lead a second freedom struggle. If the opponents were foreigners then, today the enemies are inside the democratic republic. It is not easy to fight and win against them.

 

If farmers fail today, in future we may to have to pay the price for the air we breathe, by leasing the entire atmosphere above India to the monopolies. If we fail today, we will have to lease out all the rivers flowing through the nation to the monopolies and even pay for the water we drink. It’s time to respond.

(Picture Courtesy” Gulf Today)

“A Nightmare Called Trump”

The breach of security on Jan. 6 at the ‘Capitol Building’ in Washington, D.C. while certification of Mr. Joe Biden as the next President of U.S. was under way, wasn’t just an incidence of one more demonstration of violent protest that besieged Yr.2020 … It was a total failure of our nation’s security apparatus, triggered by our own enragedly egotist President Trump. This day will remain as one of the darkest days in the history of U.S. It was a defining moment as an attempt to hijack the democratic values of this great nation in a coup by intimidating Congressional body to overturn the election results. Let’s not forget that the out-of-control mob of hoodlums, anarchists, white-supremist and false conspiracy theorists who converged on the Capitol were, incited earlier by none other than deranged Trump himself who exhorted them to take the matter in their own hand. It exposed how fragile our nation is, not only to the wide-spread barrage of venomed falsehood and divisiveness, but also, how vulnerable it is to anti-national militia & terrorist attacks.

 

Let’s stop the charade or pretend that what happened on Jan.6 was ‘totally shocking’. It was 4 years in making with the support of misguided supporters. Trump’s core support comes from numerous splinter ‘anti-groups’ – anti-immigrant, anti-nonwhites, anti-govt, anti-women’s rights, anti-establishment, anti-environment, anti-media, anti-rules & regulations for good governance etc. He systematically tapped into these lot’s insecurities and nurtured them to his selfish ends. President John Kennedy from the same ‘Capitol’ steps had motivated the Americans to work in harmony for the collective bright future with a historic proclamation – “Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country”. Trump, on the other hand put Americans against each other. Though this had been a country of immigrants, he made ‘immigrant’ an exclusionary word in the life of this country by equating it to only the ‘white people’, and making ‘non-white people’, the root-cause of all U.S. problems. Never in the history of U.S., there had been so many violent acts of bullying and infamous pogrom-style vengeful killings that ultimately resulted into global movement of ‘Black Lives Matter’. In spite of losing all court cases for lack of even a shred of evidence, except his own mere psycho-rhetoric to boot, all the way to the Supreme Court & ‘Electoral College’, Mr. Trump, in his delusional alternative world kept on spreading the falsehood just to satisfy his own whimper. The Republicans, right-wing media, and the so-called conservatives – all bear the responsibility for this greatest historic American tragedy.

He bullied them and this spineless lot caved in. They fully knew that the words have consequences, but intentionally kept mum as long as he did not turn against them. They did not stand with Sen John McCann, decorated Generals, experienced career Diplomats when he insulted them nor objected to his hundreds of lies, each month. They did not do a thing when he refused to take any action against Covid-19 epidemic or Russia’s cyber-attacks on vital components of U.S. government. They, in fact, stroked his outlandish conspiracy theories and went against the constitution they had pledged to upheld, to confirm their loyalty to him. When Trump was stroking his goons with hateful speeches, no republican or conservative protested that to be ‘unamerican’, then.  In short, the responsibility of creating this self-centered, self-absorbed monster rests solely with them. Some of the ardent supporters rallied around him even after his disgraceful fall simply because the reality was too painful and bruising for their own ego. It is worth noting the ‘double standards’ of some of the nationalist Indians who were Trump supporters. This cadre, had unequivocally lambasted outrageous accusations of the Indian Congress and its allies against Hon. N. Modi and BJP as ‘mere allegations without any shred of proof or merit’ but readily accepted Trump’s whimsical personal allegations against the electioneering process as the truth, when he lost the second term. The enthusiasm of some of them overflowed so much so that they even attached the word ‘Hindu’ to their support groups. This was outright blasphemy of what ‘Hinduism’ stands for. Trump had never ever exhibited any trait that ANY religion – leave alone just Hindu – could take pride in. All his life, Trump had cheated people & the government, ruined thousands of businesses, taken advantage of vulnerable women, spread hatred and never ever repented or regretted any of his unscrupulous actions.

Trump has been universally condemned after what happened on Ja.6. He personally has no political future, in my opinion. He lost his year 2024 chance to get elected when he refused to gallantly accept his loss in November elections. A Lot has been lost during four tumultuous years of Trump presidency. As a nation, our Democracy not only been disgraced, but also, lost clout or the power to make the things happen in our interest. Trump had already isolated U.S. from the rest of the world by going against all our allies. Jan.6, proved that we cannot manage our own affairs, peacefully and according to the ‘law of the land’. How different was Trump-era than the era of third world country dictators like ‘Mugabe’, ‘Idi Amin’ or ‘Gaddafi’. Like them he refused to relinquish the power when the time came. This was disgraceful, despicable and shameful to be played out on the world stage.

At such junctures, it is always customary to stress that the goodness in U.S. outweighs all negativity, lapses or bad episodes etc., put together … I say – not so fast … Make no mistake; Trump and his hateful twisted ideology is not going to go away, at least in near future, unless people and the lawmakers are vigilant about the future of this country. He and his humiliated surrogates in the Congress are likely to create hurdles for Biden administration, every which way they can, every step of the way for the next 4 years. Also, there is plenty of room to wonder whether challenging election results, is going to be the future ‘norm’? If it does, then it will be the beginning of U.S. becoming a ‘Banana Republic’.

2021: Year of Living Dangerously?

Goodbye 2020, but unfortunately, not good riddance, as we all have to live with its legacy. It has been a disastrous year for much of the world for various reasons, Elizabeth II’s annus horribilis. The crisis has exposed previously unacknowledged realities, including frailties and vulnerabilities.
For many countries, the tragedy is all the greater as some leaders had set national aspirations for 2020, suggested by the number’s association with perfect vision. But their failures are no reason to reject national projects. As Helen Keller, the deaf and blind author activist, noted a century ago, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.”
After JFK’s assassination in November 1963 ended US opposition to Western intervention in Indonesia, President Sukarno warned his nation in August 1964 that it would be ‘living dangerously’, vivere pericoloso, in the year ahead. A year later, a bloody Western-backed military coup had deposed him, taking up to a million lives, with many more ruined.
Further economic slowdown
Lacklustre economic growth after the 2009 Great Recession has been worsened in recent years by growing international tensions largely associated with US-China relations, Brexit and slowing US and world growth although stock markets continued to bubble.
Economic growth has slowed unevenly, with Asia slowing less than Europe, Latin America and even the US. With effective early pre-emptive measures, much of East Asia began to recover before mid-2020. Meanwhile, most other economies slowed, although some picked up later, thanks to successful initial contagion containment as well as adequate relief and recovery measures.
International trade has been picking up rapidly, accelerating rebounds in heavily trading economies. Commodity prices, except for fossil fuels, have largely recovered, perhaps due to major financial investments by investment banks and hedge funds, buoying stock and commodity prices since late March.
Very low US, EU and Japanese interest rates have thus sustained asset market bubbles. Meanwhile, new arbitrage opportunities, largely involving emerging market economies, have strengthened developing countries’ foreign reserves and exchange rates, thus mitigating external debt burdens.
Unbiased virus, biased responses
The pandemic worsened poverty, hunger and vulnerability by squeezing jobs, livelihoods and earnings of hundreds of millions of families. As economic activities resumed, production, distribution and supply barriers, constrained fiscal means, reduced demand, debt, unemployment, as well as reduced and uncertain incomes and spending have become more pronounced.
While many governments initially provided some relief, these have generally been more modest and temporary in developing countries. Past budget deficits, debt, tax incentives and the need for good credit ratings have all been invoked to justify spending cuts and fiscal consolidation.
Meanwhile, pandemic relief funds have been abused by corporations, typically at the expense of less influential victims with more modest, vulnerable and precarious livelihoods. Many of the super-rich got even richer, with the US’s 651 billionaires making over US$1 trillion.
On the pretext of saving or making jobs, existing social, including job protection has been eroded. But despite hopes raised by vaccine development, the crisis is still far from over.
Don’t cry for me, says Argentina
Meanwhile, intellectual property blocks more affordable production for all. Pharmaceutical companies insist that without the exhorbitant monopoly profits from intellectual property, needed tests, treatments and vaccines would never be developed. Meanwhile, a proposed patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines has been blocked by the US and its rich allies at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Hence, mass vaccination is likely to be very uneven and limited by intellectual property, national strategic considerations (‘vaccine nationalism’), prohibitive costs, fiscal and other constraints. Already, the rich have booked up almost all early vaccine supplies.
The main challenge then is fiscal. Economic slowdowns have reduced tax revenues, requiring more domestic debt to increase spending needed to ensure the recessions do not become protracted depressions. Meanwhile, rising debt-to-GDP ratios and increased foreign debt have long constrained bolder fiscal efforts.
But despite the urgent need for more fiscal resources, we are told that if the richest are required to pay more taxes, even on windfall profits, they will have no incentive to ‘save’ the rest of us. Nevertheless, new wealth taxes have just passed in Argentina.
This time is different
As the pandemic economic impacts began to loom large, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva quickly offered debt relief for low-income countries on terms much better than the G20’s miserly proposal.
Unlike well-meaning debt-fixated researchers and campaigners, even new World Bank chief economist, erstwhile debt hawk Carmen Reinhart has urged, “First you worry about fighting the war, then you figure out how to pay for it”.
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is concerned that “in the policies against the present pandemic, equity has not been a particularly noticeable priority… Instead, the focus has been on drastic control and sudden lockdowns…with little attention paid to labourers who lose their jobs or the many migrant workers, the poorest of the poor, who are kept hundreds of miles from their homes”.
COVID-19 may still bring major reforms, such as Roosevelt’s New Deal response to the Great Depression. But now, it seems likely to usher in a world where insecurity and unpredictability define the new normal. While professing to protect victims’ interests, ethno-populism blames ‘Others’ as the enemy responsible.
Still, many hope for a silver lining. Sen suggests that “a better society can emerge from the lockdowns”, as happened after World War Two, with greater welfare state provisioning and labour protections in much of the West and agrarian reforms in East Asia. But there is nothing to guarantee a better ‘new normal’.
Beyond neoliberalism?
For many, Joe Biden’s election to succeed Trump is being celebrated as a resurgent triumph for neoliberalism, enabling the US and the rest of the world to return to ‘business as usual’.
Incredibly, another Nobel laureate Michael Spence has even called for structural adjustment programme conditionalities for countries seeking help from the Bank and Fund, repudiating the Bank’s Growth Commission he once chaired, i.e., which found that seemingly fair, often well-intentioned conditionalities had resulted in “lost decades” of development.
But thankfully, there is widespread recognition that all is not well in the world neoliberalism and Western dominance created. Incredibly, Klaus Schwab, transnational capitalism’s high priest, has conceded, “the neoliberalist … approach centers on the notion that the market knows best, that the ‘business of business is business’…Those dogmatic beliefs have proved wrong”.
Instead, he advised, “We must move on from neoliberalism in the post-COVID era”, recognising: “Free-market fundamentalism has eroded worker rights and economic security, triggered a deregulatory race to the bottom and ruinous tax competition, and enabled the emergence of massive new global monopolies. Trade, taxation, and competition rules that reflect decades of neoliberal influence will now have to be revised”.
Will we ever learn?
The philosopher Santayana once warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Hegel had observed earlier that history repeats itself, to which Marx added, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”. Nevertheless, hope remains an incurable disease that keeps us all striving and struggling.
As FDR reminded his supporters, no progressive policies will come about simply by relying on the goodwill of those in authority. Instead, they will only be enacted and implemented thanks to popular pressure from below. As Ben Phillips has put it, “the story of 2021 has not yet been written: we can write it; we can right it”.