Modi’s BJP Falls Short of Winning Majority in India’s Parliamentary Elections

After all the media hype of a Modi wave, and alleged abuse of government agencies to silence and intimidate political and independent minded opponents from all walks of life  by the Narendra Modi led Government in India in the past 10 years, India’s nearly one billion people, who went to the elect their new government, have given their verdict on June 4, 2024.

According to the latest election results available,  prime minister Narendra Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is falling well short of expectations, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is projected to lose its majority in Indian parliament after a decade. The opposition INDIA bloc has performed much better than projected in exit polls, as many expect the 20 party alliance could possibly form the fovern in New Delhi with other like minded parties.

As the election season began over two months ago, Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had hoped to win 400+ seats in the 543 member Indian parliament. However, BJP is projected to be short of the 272 needed to form a government, leading in 241 seats, which is well behind the 303 it won in the 2019 election.

The opposition bloc, known as the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), which is made up of more than 20 opposition parties including the Indian National Congress, is on course to win more than 228 seats. Despite being behind, opposition leaders have not ruled out talks on forming their own governing coalition

Now that Modi’s ruling party is expected to lose its majority in parliament, forcing him to rely on allies to form a government. It’s a stunning blow to a leader who has dominated Indian politics since he first took power a decade ago. “India will likely have an NDA government, where the BJP does not have a majority on their own, and coalition politics will come into real play,” said Sandeep Shastri, the national coordinator of the Lokniti Network, a research programme at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

The results also show that India has rejected the Hindutva ideology that Modi and his Party have been trumpeting for the past decade. In a major shock to Modi and his ideology, BJP has lost a seat in the Ayodhya constituency, a deeply symbolic loss after he opened a controversial Hindu temple there in January. BJP candidate, Lallu Singh, lost to a rival from the regional Samajwadi Party. Modi and his party had campaigned heavily at the temple dedicated to Lord Ram, built on the historic ruins of a mosque that was destroyed by Hindu mobs in 1992.

Modi is set to return to parliament as he wins national elections from his constituency Varanasi. After initially trailing behind his closest rival, Ajay Rai of Congress, he returned strong securing 612,970 votes beating his opponent by 152,513 votes.

Rahul Gandhi, the Congress party leader is leading by a whopping 350,000 votes, with his current vote tally at 623,539, according to the election commission. Annie Raja of the Communist Party of India, a member of the Congress-led INDIA bloc, is trailing there with 273,509 votes for her counted so far. He is also running from the family bastion of Rae Bareli in northern Uttar Pradesh state, where he is leading by more than 370,000 votes.

The vote, which began on April 19 and concluded on June 1, was carried out in seven phases over six weeks and saw over 1 billion Indians heading to the polls—making it the largest democratic election in the world. The Election Commission says a record-breaking 642 million voters cast their ballots in the staggered election.

There have been doubts expressed about the ability of the BJP to put together a ruling coalition, as there have been informal consultations started among various parties to join the INDIA Alliance in an attempt to form a non-BJP government.

Even if BJP is able to put together a government, a smaller-than-expected majority means that Modi may face a more powerful opposition than at any point over the past decade, making implementation more difficult unless the BJP works with smaller alliances and negotiates with opposition leaders.

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi did not outright reject the possibility of his INDIA alliance forming a government. When a reporter asked him the question, he deflected it by saying that the bloc would meet tomorrow and discuss it.

Two of the BJP’s allies – the Janata Dal (United) and the Telugu Desam Party – are leading in close to 30 seats. The BJP – which has been restricted to around 240 seats – needs them to reach 272 seats to be able to form the government in New Delhi.

Both the TDP and the JDU are former Congress partners, and Gandhi did not rule out the possibility of holding talks with them. Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh and Nitish Kumar of Bihar, hold the key to forming the next government.

“TDP has a pre-poll alliance with NDA and it will continue, no doubt about that,” party lawmaker K Ravindra Kumar told the media. JD (U) spokesperson Abhishek Jha said, “We are formally with this NDA alliance and will participate in making the government.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the people of India have “placed their faith” in the BJP-led NDA alliance “for a third consecutive time. This is a historical feat in India’s history,” he posted on X, moments before he is expected to address party workers in New Delhi.

Shama Mohamed, a Congress party’s spokesperson said, leaders of the opposition knew that exit polls showing a wide-margin of victory for Modi’s alliance were not reflective of the reality on the ground. “You have to understand that there is a lot of unemployment in India, the price rise is huge. There is the capture of various institutions for example,” Mohamed added, referring to the opposition’s allegations that Modi’s government has consolidated power at key institutions, including the country’s election commission.”

The initial election results have spooked India’s financial markets, which had expected a hefty win for Modi.

While Modi government tried to project a “shining India” campaign, the reality of huge unemployment, inflation, a controversial army recruitment reform, Modi’s aggressive and divisive campaign, totalitarianism, abuse of government machineries and turning the impartial government agencies and Courts to act as stooges of the Modi government seem have had a negative impact, leading to the party’s down fall. “And the most compelling was the unemployment and that trumped the BJP in a way they did not expect,” as an analyst put it. The BJP has performed badly in India’s vast rural areas.

Modi’s ambitious slogan “Ab ki baar, 400 paar,” aiming for over 400 seats for his NDA alliance, may also have backfired, raising fears of constitutional changes with such a massive majority.

As Surendra Kumar Dwivedi, a political analyst summed it all: “The trend very clearly shows that in a state like Uttar Pradesh, which has Ram Temple, the temple is not the only deciding factor anymore and developmental issues especially, which are related to youths like rampant leaks of the competitive examination (services) and unemployment, had made an impact on the youths who were the largest chunk of voters.”

A Time to Heal, A Time to Build

Our nation is more divided than it has to be. It is both possible and urgent to reduce polarization, division, and the tensions they create. Healing these divides is not a utopian aspiration. Nor does this hope entail denying that citizens in a democratic republic will always have disagreements.

They will treasure their freedom to argue about them, to persuade and convert each other—and ultimately to win the debate at election time and with the public. A free society cannot escape, and shouldn’t want to evade, the legitimate clash of interests. Although we sometimes think so, anger in politics is not unique to our moment, or to our country. And anger over injustice can be a productive emotion when it is linked to considered action. Some of the struggles of our time are inevitable and necessary, none more so than a reckoning with a four-century history of racial injustice.

One can believe all these things and still recognize that misunderstanding and mistrust have reached toxic levels in the United States. Large groups of Americans currently fear that the triumph of their opponents will render the country unrecognizable and inhospitable to their deepest beliefs. Many have said we are in the midst of a cold civil war, which implies the possibility of violence. Religion defines only one dimension of our coming apart, but it is the source of some of our deepest divisions. Faith defines the ultimate concerns of many of our citizens even as others, who do not count themselves as religious believers, fear that their rights will be overlooked or violated by the pious and the devout. And of course, there are sharp divides among those who belong to the same religious traditions and read the same scriptures.

Consider how these issues often present themselves: One side fears that marriage equality and Roe v. Wade will be reversed and that Americans will be denied basic health care, commercial goods and services, and government-funded benefits based on an individual’s gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The other side fears their government will brand them as bigots for their religious opposition to marriage equality, close their colleges and universities, press them to engage in activities that violate their consciences, and strip their institutions’ tax-exempt statuses because of their beliefs.

Religion has become more polarizing for another reason: As religious conservatism has become an important force inside the Republican Party, the proportion of Americans who do not identify with any religious tradition has skyrocketed, especially among the young, and these nonbelievers are an important part of the Democrats’ constituency. Americans’ religious commitments have often had an impact on their political views over the course of our history, but religious and partisan loyalties now reinforce each other more than ever.

“When the next administration takes office, it will confront a pandemic, the scourge of systemic racism, a deep economic recession, and a dangerously warming planet. Government must act boldly in all these spheres, yet government will not succeed alone.”

A president cannot instantly alter these underlying forces, but he (and, some day, she) can acknowledge that the weaponization of such divisions for political purposes is dangerous to the nation’s long-term stability; give fellow citizens across religious traditions and religious divides evidence that their views and concerns are being taken into account, even when their policy preferences are not enacted into law; and take seriously the powerful contributions that religious groups make to problem solving and community-building as part of the United States’ vibrant civil society—while also honoring work done in this sphere by secular and resolutely nonreligious institutions working on behalf of charity and justice.

The task begins with respecting the dignity of all citizens and being candid about how deeply divided we are. As Pete Wehner, a top official in George W. Bush’s administration put it: “Giving voice to what each side fears can help us make progress. An administration should never underestimate the importance of people feeling like they are heard.”

Our leaders should also never underestimate the power of a call to service as they confront a pandemic, the scourge of systemic racism, a deep economic recession, and a dangerously warming planet. Government must act boldly in all these spheres, yet government will not succeed alone. At the outset, the president should recognize the work of community-serving leaders and organizations, both religious and nonreligious—and seek their help to move forward. “Our nation is hurting and dangerously divided,” said the Rev. Brian McLaren, channeling what a president might say. “We ask you to represent not only your own interests but also to help us seek the common good together.”

Religious institutions and congregations, with their deep roots in communities across our nation, have a special opportunity and responsibility to help address the profound racial disparities revealed by the pandemic. These include, as the Kaiser Family Foundation has documented, the “disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases and deaths” on communities of color. Joshua DuBois, the director of the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office in President Obama’s first term, sees the task of addressing these disparities as a “focusing lens” for partnerships between government and civil society. An effort to remedy the nation’s racial injustices may provide a path for healing some of our divisions around religion even as the quest for racial justice might also bring home the ways in which religious bodies themselves have been complicit in racism and discrimination.

We offer this report to encourage the next administration to understand how important government’s relationship to both religion and civil society will be in bringing our nation together. It must staff itself properly to deal with these questions and reflect in its actions the genuine respect for the careful balances that the First Amendment requires. Issues related to faith and faith-based institutions will only occasionally be top-of-mind for those organizing a government, given the range of challenges the country faces. But issues related to religion are implicated in a wide range of policy issues, both domestic and foreign, and they need to be surfaced and addressed. Mishandling church-state issues (often because they have been overlooked) can be terribly damaging, both to religious freedom and to a president’s other projects. You might say that even when public officials are not particularly interested in religion, religion will find a way to be interested in them.

“These issues may seem tertiary, until they aren’t,” said Denis McDonough, who served as President Obama’s chief of staff. Yet matters related to the First Amendment’s religion clauses are not always treated with the consideration they require. From the start, the next administration must have a considered and detailed plan for meeting the challenges of issues implicating the relationship between church and state. We offer this report to suggest ways in which an administration might deal with these issues—and avoid unforced errors. And we hope it might contribute to a new public discussion of these questions that is less divisive and more inclusive.

We should be candid about our own perspective. One of us served as the director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in President Obama’s second term and is a Baptist committed to religious freedom and church-state separation. The other is a columnist, an academic, and a Catholic who writes from a broadly liberal or social democratic perspective. Both of us identify with the social justice and civil rights orientations within our religious traditions, and we embrace America’s commitment to pluralism and openness.

Yet while we take our political and religious commitments seriously, we have both tried in our work in this area over the last two decades—both together and separately—to take seriously the views of the many people of good faith working in this sphere whose perspectives differ from ours. We have long believed that it is possible to find wider agreement on the proper relationship between church and state, and government and faith-based organizations—and to get good public work done in the process. We have shared the hope that although differences on church-state matters will inevitably persist (our nation, after all, has been arguing about some of these questions since the beginning of the republic), those differences can be narrowed, principled compromises can be forged, and the work of lifting up the least among us can be carried out and celebrated across our lines of division. That hope lies behind what we have tried to do here.

(By: E.J. Dionne, Jr. and Melissa Rogers at the Brookings Institute: The above is the introduction to “A Time to Heal, A Time to Build,” a report from the Center for Effective Public Management at The Brookings Institution. Authors E.J. Dionne and Melissa Rogers offer recommendations on how the executive branch should approach issues related to religion and civil society and highlight opportunities for the next administration. Download the full PDF report here.)

It is Time for a Democratic Global Revolution

The people of the world need to seize the moment and bring about a democratic global revolution. It is time for a global parliament and real representation.

More than 21 million people got infected with the novel coronavirus and over 770,000 have died. Never before did the world witness similar collective lockdowns of social and economic activity that had to be enforced to contain the pandemic.

For many, the corona-related global crisis exacerbates a situation that was already critical before the outbreak of the virus.

The climate crisis is unfolding with record temperatures in Siberia, Greenland, the Antarctic and other places like the Middle East. The new climate apartheid is characterized by whether you can afford to shield yourself from such heat or not. Most cannot.

135 million people are facing crisis levels of hunger. There are currently more than 70 million displaced people who have fled war, persecution and conflict. It’s the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis in seventy years.

There is a global inequality crisis. Productivity gains and globalization disproportionately benefit the affluent. Financial assets in the trillions are hidden in offshore accounts from tax authorities. The world’s 26 richest billionaires own as much as the poorest 3.8 billion people on the planet.

While global surveys confirm that people across all world regions strongly believe in democracy, there is in fact a democratic retreat. Confidence in the actual performance of democratic governments is waning. Populist nationalism and authoritarianism has been advancing, aided and abetted by social media platforms and the internet. Major arms control treaties are crumbling, geopolitical tensions are rising and multilateralism is under attack.

Civil society and citizens across the world are fighting back, though. Pro-democracy movements are at an all-time high as widespread protests in dozens of countries now and in recent times demonstrate. Freedom and justice have lost no appeal. At the same time, millions of citizens joined climate protests around the world and called for quick and effective action in this critical field.

The present issues are symptoms of a crisis of global governance. There is a scale mismatch between a political world order that is based on 200 states and territories and issues that demand decisive global action.

As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, the organization continues to lose significance and impact. The UN is only as strong and effective as its member states allow it to be. The same applies to all intergovernmental organizations and forums, including the World Health Organization that had to launch an investigation into its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UN’s Security Council, in particular, is suffering from a dysfunctional decision-making method that grants the five victors of the Second World War and official nuclear powers not only a permanent seat but also a veto right.

If long-lasting solutions are to be achieved, this scale mismatch must be tackled. It is not enough to call on individual governments to change their policies. The way how the world is governed must be changed. What is needed is a new vision of a democratic world order that is based on shared sovereignty on global issues, a clear commitment to human rights, the principle of subsidiarity and complete disarmament.

When the UN was founded it was recognized that this should only be a beginning and that changes would be required. Article 109 of the Charter provides that a conference to review the Charter should be held by 1955. The UN’s member states did not deliver on that promise. Now is the time to hold them to account. 

The world’s people need an actual say in global affairs that is not intermediated by national governments and their diplomats. The key ingredient of a new UN should be a democratically elected world parliament that complements intergovernmental bodies such as the UN General Assembly.

The creation of a new democratic world organization that has actual powers seems to be a gigantic project that raises numerous questions. How is a global democracy to be created while major states themselves are not democratically organised? Can decisions of a world parliament be enforced against the will of individual states? How is it possible that states will agree to the creation of a superior political unit?

These questions show the way forward: The people of the world themselves need to embrace and call for global democracy. Eventually, they are the sovereigns not only in their individual states but on the planet as a whole, too.

A global democratic revolution needs to push for a legitimate, inclusive and representative global body that will deal with these questions in a serious way. The creation of a UN Parliamentary Assembly could be an important stepping stone to launch a global constitutional process and a transformation of global governance.

This global democratic revolution will be peaceful because it is not about destroying structures or conquering territories, but about opening up a political level that is lying idle. Supranational integration cannot be imposed by force. It will happen because the people want it. If existing movements in the fields of climate, environment, peace, disarmament, democracy, social justice and others join forces, the global democratic revolution will become very real.This may sound visionary. But the big issues troubling this planet and its people will remain, and worsen, unless the root cause is addressed. A democratic global government is not a mind game in some ivory tower. It is the most important question on the agenda of humanity today. (Daniel Jositsch is a Member of the Swiss Senate and President, Democracy Without Borders-Switzerland, and Andreas Bummel is Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders. Twitter: @democracywb)

The U.S.-India Health-Care Partnership Will Be Crucial In The Battle Against The Coronavirus

As both India and the United States combat a pandemic of unprecedented scale, we have drawn upon the strength of our long-standing health-care ties to help us better understand the novel coronavirus and find workable solutions.

In India, the government and the private sector have worked together to ensure the integrity of medical supply chains, and essential medicines from India have continued to reach the United States and some 150 partner countries. But more urgently, the India-U.S. cooperation is proving crucial to confront health challenges posed by the pandemic, including future vaccine development and distribution.

From therapeutics to diagnostics, the medical supply industry in India has ramped up production to meet domestic needs and also respond, where feasible, to global needs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the initiative of bringing together leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to deliberate on collaborative efforts to combat the disease, including establishing a SAARC Emergency Response Fund.

And as we move toward an effective vaccine for the novel coronavirus, India’s research laboratories and manufacturing facilities — which produce more than 60 percent of the world’s vaccines in a normal year — are integral to the effort. There are at least four ongoing vaccine development programs between Indian and U.S. firms and research institutions.

Over the years, scientific cooperation has become a critical element of India’s expanding strategic ties with the United States. Last year India and the United States signed an agreement to promote scientific exchanges, cooperative research projects and the establishment of innovative public-private partnerships. U.S.-India scientific collaborations have expanded in fields ranging from health and energy to earth and ocean sciences, and from space to agriculture. Such collaborations have fostered innovation, empowered industry and economic growth.

Further, under the bilateral Health Dialogue that commenced in 2015, supported by private-sector engagements, India’s partnership with the United States in the health sector has yielded significant results on a global scale. The collaboration under the Vaccine Action Program resulted in the development of the ROTAVAC vaccine against the rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhea in children. The rollout of an affordable vaccine by an Indian company has enabled its use in several developing countries. This success stands as a true testament to the benefits of the India-U.S. partnership for the greater good of humanity. Today there are more than 200 active collaborations between the U.S. National Institutes of Health network of labs and leading research agencies in India, all focused on delivering affordable health-care solutions.

The India-U.S. partnership in medical research has been complemented by the strength of our cooperation in pharmaceuticals. India’s capabilities in R&D and in manufacturing have made its pharmaceutical sector the world’s third-largest by volume. These strengths have been bolstered by government incentives to encourage investments in the manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients. Indian generic drugs have found a ready market across the globe, with Indian firms supplying about 40 percent of generic formulations marketed in the United States. This has allowed American health-care consumers to save billions and enjoy enhanced access to quality medicines. The pharmaceutical sector has also been a significant job creator in the United States, with Indian firms investing billions to establish manufacturing facilities in different states in this country.

When the coronavirus outbreak began, the network of existing collaborations between our countries sprang into action. Using the platform of the India-U.S. Science and Technology Forum, an initiative led by both governments, calls were put out to support joint research and incubate start-up engagements. The initiative was directed at developing technologies for the containment and management of the novel coronavirus, including diagnostics and therapeutics.

As a country we are committed to increasing health-care spending to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2025. Regulatory reforms, policy actions and investment incentives are imparting fresh dynamism to health care in India. Ayushman Bharat, the National Health Protection Mission, is the world’s largest such public-funded program. The pandemic has also not stopped India from undertaking bold initiatives. The recently launched National Digital Health Mission will facilitate the creation of a virtuous health ecosystem, expanding access for hitherto underserved populations. All this opens up immense opportunities for expanding the India-U.S. health-care partnership.

Meanwhile, we continue to combat the virus at home. While the number of coronavirus cases in India has surpassed 3 million, we are encouraged that the recovery rate is also significantly high, at more than 70 percent, and the case fatality rate is below 2 percent. India’s health-care providers, comprising 1 million mostly female workers, have also risen to the challenge and have been active at the clinical, treatment and grass-roots levels, playing an essential role in pandemic control. The current pandemic has made it clear that ensuring affordable and timely access to health care is a priority for all. It has emphasized the need to diversify health supply chains and foster new international partnerships for global health safety. India is well positioned to offer a reliable alternative, with its strengths in manufacturing and innovation, and with its skilled workforce. As societies that respect innovation, India and the United States can do much to provide solutions to the novel coronavirus pandemic and to build a healthier, safer world beyond.

Joe Biden’s Agenda for the Indian American Community

As Senator, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and as Vice President, Joe Biden has supported Indian Americans and a strong friendship between India and the United States. Diverse and vibrant communities of Indian Americans enrich the fabric of our nation in every state of the union. As President, Biden will work in partnership with these communities; celebrate their extraordinary contributions to America’s success, prosperity, and safety; listen to Indian Americans’ needs; and put in place policies that address their priorities. Indian Americans, like all Americans, are deeply invested in the core elements of our future — education, access to high-quality, affordable health care, addressing the climate crisis, and reforming and modernizing our immigration system in a way that aligns with our values.

 

Biden will ensure that South Asian Americans are represented in his administration, starting with his Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris, whose mother emigrated from India to study and build a life in the United States. Our government will reflect the diversity of the United States, and Indian American voices will be included in shaping the policies that impact their communities.
 
From fighting COVID-19 to building our economy back better to reforming our system of immigration, a Biden-Harris Administration will be one that Indian Americans can count on. 
 
Stem the Rising Tide of Hate and Bigotry
 
Since Donald Trump took office, the number of hate crimes that take place across our country has greatly increased, according to the FBI’s hate crime statistics. We have a President who, in clear language and in code, encourages and emboldens prejudice and hatred — and that’s dangerous. 
 
Indian Americans of all backgrounds — Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jain, and others — have been subjected to bullying and xenophobic attacks and need now, more than ever, a reassurance that our leaders in Washington will have their backs.
 
During the Obama-Biden Administration, the FBI expanded its hate crime statistics program to include Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists. As President, Biden will directly address the rise in hateful attacks and enact legislation prohibiting someone convicted of a hate crime from purchasing or possessing a firearm. Biden will appoint leaders at the Department of Justice who will prioritize the prosecution of hate crimes, and he will order his Justice Department to focus additional resources to combat hate crimes — including religion-based hate crimes — and to confront white nationalist terrorism. He will also seek legislation that increases the potential sentence for certain hate crimes that occur in houses of worship and other religious community sites, such as gurudwaras, mandirs, temples, and mosques. And, he will use his executive power to ensure that the Department of Justice pursues such heinous acts of violence against houses of worship to the fullest extent of the law.
 
Address the Security Needs of Houses of Worship
 
In 2012, the Sikh community suffered a terrible tragedy when a white supremacist opened fire in an Oak Creek, Wisconsin, gurdwara, ultimately killing seven and wounding four. In January 2019, a Hindu mandir was the victim of a horrific act of vandalism and destruction, with windows shattered and xenophobic messages spray-painted across the walls. A murti (sacred image) was defaced and a knife was stabbed into a chair. Biden understands that mandirs, mosques, gurudwaras, and temples are sacred spaces and that acts of vandalism and destruction gnaw at a community’s sense of belonging and undermine its ability to freely and safely worship. America was built on a foundation of religious freedom and, as President, Biden will redouble our efforts to end hate-filled acts of violence and intimidation and help us to reach our highest values. He will also ensure that places of worship have access to robust and direct security support from the federal government. We cannot leave our faith-based organizations to rely on donations and internal fundraising efforts to guard against deadly attacks. Biden will work with Congress to attain an immediate and substantial increase in direct security grant funding to faith-based organizations through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP).
 
Restore the American Dream for all Americans
 
Biden is running for President to rebuild the backbone of America — the middle class — and make sure that this time everyone comes along. He knows that the middle class isn’t a number — it’s a set of values: owning your home, sending your kids to college, being able to save and get ahead. He will ensure all workers are treated with dignity, and receive the pay, benefits, and workplace protections they deserve. Biden is committed to a stronger, more inclusive middle class. Many Indian Americans are small business owners, entrepreneurs, and inventors. Biden will spur public-private investment through a small business opportunity plan that will fund successful state and local investment initiatives and make permanent the highly effective New Markets Tax Credit, expand access to low-interest business loans, and eliminate barriers to technical assistance and advisory services by investing in a national network of cost-free business incubators and innovation hubs.   

Secure our Values as a Nation of Immigrants
 
As a largely immigrant community, but in some cases with American roots reaching back generations, Indian Americans know firsthand the strength and resilience that immigrants bring to the United States of America. But President Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants. It’s wrong, and it stops when Biden is president. Biden will rescind Trump’s “Muslim ban” on day one and reverse the detrimental asylum policies that are causing chaos and a humanitarian crisis at our border. He will immediately begin working with Congress to pass legislative immigration reform that modernizes our system, with a priority on keeping families together by providing a roadmap to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants — including more than 500,000 from India.
 
Biden will support family-based immigration and preserve family unification as a core principle of our immigration system, which includes reducing the family visa backlog. He will increase the number of visas offered for permanent, work-based immigration based on macroeconomic conditions and exempt from any cap recent graduates of PhD programs in STEM fields. And, he will support first reforming the temporary visa system for high-skill, specialty jobs to protect wages and workers, then expanding the number of visas offered and eliminating the limits on employment-based green cards by country, which have kept so many Indian families in waiting for too long.

Biden will restore and defend the naturalization process for green card holders. And, he will increase the number of refugees we welcome into this country by setting the annual global refugee admissions target to 125,000 and seek to raise it over time commensurate with our responsibility, our values, and the unprecedented global need. He will also work with Congress to establish a minimum admissions number of 95,000 refugees annually. Biden will remove the uncertainty for Dreamers by reinstating the DACA program and explore all legal options to protect their families from inhumane separation. And, he will end workplace raids and protect other sensitive locations from immigration enforcement actions. No one should be afraid to seek medical attention, or go to school, their job, or their place of worship for fear of an immigration enforcement action.

Streamline Processing for Religious Worker Visas
 
Many Indian Americans belong to faith communities that rely on the counsel, support, and wisdom of scholars and religious specialists, who may be foreign nationals travelling to the United States on a temporary religious worker (R-1) visa. For many Indian American organizations, the submission and review process for religious worker visas requires substantial administrative and financial resources. Moreover, processing times can result in travel delays, which adversely impact these communities across the country. Biden will direct the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to identify methods and programs for streamlining the review of religious worker visas submitted by any faith-based organizations with a reliable track record of faithfully utilizing the religious worker visa program.
 
Eliminate Language Barriers for the Indian American Community
 
Language barriers to vital services and resources can prevent limited English proficient Indian Americans from realizing their potential and the American Dream. Biden will work to ensure that individuals who are limited English proficient have access to health care and other government services and identify ways to increase access to federal programs for Indian American individuals and families. He will also create neighborhood resource centers or welcome centers to help new immigrants find jobs; access services and English-language learning opportunities; and navigate the school system, health care system, and other important facets of daily life. And, he will work to ensure that all public schools have sufficient English-language learning support to help all children reach their potential.
 
Honor the Diversity and Contributions of Indian Americans
 
The Obama-Biden Administration respected and celebrated America’s diversity as an essential strength, including hosting the first White House event to honor the military service of Indian Americans and celebrations of Diwali at the White House, the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory, and at the Pentagon. A Biden Administration will once more recognize and honor important cultural celebrations of American faith and heritage communities. The Obama-Biden Administration also made history by changing U.S. Army policy to allow observant Sikhs, as well as Muslim women, to wear religious head coverings while in uniform, so that our brave soldiers could both honor their faith and serve their country. Biden will seek to ensure reasonable religious accommodations across all our armed services. And, he will nominate and appoint federal officials and judges who look like America, including from the Indian American community. Biden will bring key stakeholders to the table to ensure that the communities of those impacted by policies are an essential part of the decision-making process. 
 
Create a Safe Environment in School for All Children
 
Every child should receive a good education, no matter their zip code, their gender, their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, their religion, whether they have a disability, or their parents’ income. Biden will ensure that educators are equipped with the support, dignity, and pay that they need and deserve so that students can grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults. He will support passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which requires school districts to develop bullying and harassment policies, and he will double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in our schools so that all of our kids get the mental health care they need.
 
The Biden Administration will also allocate additional funding for the Department of Justice and Department of Education for anti-bullying initiatives, including programs specifically opposing the bullying of religious youth. He will also re-establish the Obama-Biden White House AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force with community organizations.
 
Biden will also invest in educator mentoring, leadership, and additional education, so that educators can focus their energy on shaping the next generation of Americans. He will triple Title I funding to eliminate the funding gap between high- and low-income school districts, make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000, as well as ensure that everyone has access to two years of community college or other high-quality training without debt to improve student success and grow a more prosperous middle class.
 
Support the U.S.-India Partnership
 
Biden played a lead role, both as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Vice President, in systematically deepening our strategic engagement, people-to-people ties, and collaboration with India on global challenges. In 2006, Biden announced his vision for the future of U.S.-India relations: “My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States.” He has also worked to make that vision a reality, including leading the charge in Congress, working with Democrats and Republicans, to approve the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2008.   
 
The Obama-Biden Administration continued to deepen collaboration between India and the United States on strategic, defense, economic, regional, and global challenges. Biden was a major champion of growing and expanding the U.S.-India partnership. Recognizing India’s growing role on the world stage, the Obama-Biden Administration formally declared U.S. support for India’s membership in a reformed and expanded United Nations Security Council. The Obama-Biden Administration also named India a “Major Defense Partner” – a status approved by the Congress – to ensure that when it comes to the advanced and sensitive technology that India needs to strengthen its military, India is treated on par with our closest partners. 
 
President Obama and Vice President Biden also strengthened our cooperation with India to fight terrorism in each of our countries and across the region. Biden believes there can be no tolerance for terrorism in South Asia – cross-border or otherwise. A Biden Administration will also work with India to support a rules-based and stable Indo-Pacific region in which no country, including China, is able to threaten its neighbors with impunity. 
 
The Obama-Biden Administration worked closely with India to secure the successful signing of the Paris Climate Agreement to address the global climate crisis that threatens all our peoples. A Biden Administration would bring the United States back into the Paris Agreement, giving us the ability to again work closely with India to fight climate change and once more work hand in hand to reduce our carbon emissions and secure our clean energy future, without which we cannot build the green economy we need. 
 
Biden will deliver on his long-standing belief that India and the United States are natural partners, and a Biden Administration will place a high priority on continuing to strengthen the U.S.-India relationship. No common global challenge can be solved without India and the United States working as responsible partners. Together, we will continue strengthening India’s defense and capabilities as a counter-terrorism partner, improving health systems and pandemic response, and deepening cooperation in areas such as higher education, space exploration, and humanitarian relief. 
 
As the world’s oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India are bound together by our shared democratic values: fair and free elections, equality under the law, and the freedom of expression and religion. These core principles have endured throughout each of our nations’ histories and will continue to be the source of our strength in the future.

 

In Emotionally Integrated India Offers The Best Defense Against Both Internal And External Threats And Challenges

As we move closer to celebrate the 75 years of our independence, our motto should be — perform or perish. This applies to all individuals and institutions. Realise your strength, build on them and create a united, prosperous India.

The adjective “august” means respected and impressive, something special. The month of August has special significance in the history of modern India. The freedom struggle came to fruition on August 15, 1947. Five years prior to that, the Quit India movement was launched with a clarion call to “do or die” by Mahatma Gandhi on August 8. On the fifth of this month, construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya commenced. These events were a culmination of long-drawn struggles that offer certain lessons for the present and the future.

India’s independence was not just about the end of colonial British rule. It was also bringing down curtains on the dark age of about 1,000 years that began with the invasion of Mahmud Ghazni in 1001. It was the period when India’s inherent weaknesses were exploited by a regular stream of invaders, traders and colonialists. The socio-cultural-economic landscape of our country was brutally battered and exploited, enfeebling the masses.

The invaders had a free run coming in and looting at will. The lack of a sense of belonging to each other and the missing unity of action and purpose among the myriad rulers of the day made the country a soft target. Solo campaigns of brave resistance by the likes of Prithviraj Chauhan, Maharana Pratap, Chhatrapathi Shivaji, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Veerapandya Kattabomman, Alluri Sitarama Raju were not adequate. Moreover, there were Mir Jaffers all through. A divided nation suffered from disgrace and dismemberment. Once rich, India was reduced to an ocean of poverty and backwardness.

During this long dark period, India lost its soul and inner strength. The people began to rediscover themselves as British colonial exploitation became evident. The freedom struggle brought the people together in the quest to shape their own destiny. It was rightly called the Indian National Movement as emotive nationhood gained currency. The follies of a long period of disunity were too stark to be ignored. Finally, the Indian nation was born on August 15, 1947. It is hence appropriate to say that the hard-fought independence was the liberation of our country from the dark age of centuries marked by lack of social cohesion and the glue of nationhood.

The Quit India movement was the most defining moment of our freedom struggle. The Quit India Resolution adopted on August 8, 1942, stressed that “…the immediate ending of British rule in India is an urgent necessity for both the sake of India and for the success of the United Nations. The continuation of that rule is degrading and enfeebling India making her progressively less capable of defending herself and contributing to the cause of world freedom.”

A few hours later on the same day, in his Quit India speech, Gandhi roared with a clarion call to the people to “do or die”. The apostle of peace and non-violence who lent a moral and mass dimension to the freedom struggle, using such language had rattled the British who were already reeling under the crippling impacts of the World War-II. Why did Gandhiji say so?

Since his return to India in 1915, Gandhiji steered the freedom struggle on a new path using the “force of truth” as a weapon to open the eyes of the British to the need for letting Indians govern themselves. His approach found resonance across the globe with British coming under pressure even from their war-time allies to mend their colonial ways. For long, Gandhiji engaged the British in negotiations, seeking to prevail on them. India was declared as a party to the Second World War without even consulting the leaders of the freedom struggle and the people. This incensed Gandhiji and others.

Fearing a Japanese invasion from the east and under pressure from the allies to gain the support of Indians for the war efforts, the Cripps Mission was sent to India. But it failed as it fell short of the demand for immediate independence for the country. Gandhiji who had a good measure of the mind of the British, their trickery of divide and rule and shifting goalposts, decided that it was the time to strike. The three words he used urging the masses to “do or die’’ had the fullest contextual justification and fired the imagination of the people. The then Viceroy Linlithgow unleashed violence to quell the movement, but it lasted for two years.

The freedom struggle was marked by different streams of thought and action. To start with, moderates like Dadabhai Naoroji and Pherozeshah Mehta took to petitioning the British for incremental improvements. Assertive nationalists like Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal believed in bold action. Revolutionaries like Khudiram Bose, Chandrasekhar Azad, and Bhagat Singh took to armed resistance. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose revived the INA and sought Japanese help to evict the British from India. It was, however, Mahatma Gandhi who emerged as the voice of the freedom struggle for over 30 years.

Though territorially not integrated, the people had been in different kingdoms and provinces over the centuries, they were bound by shared cultural norms and values. Temples were key instruments of such cultural homogeneity. The foreign invaders were bent on destroying this cultural fabric. Major temples were attacked, looted and destroyed, resulting in sacrilege.

Mahmud Ghazni attacked the famous Somnath temple umpteen times during 1001-25. It took over 925 years to rebuild and restore it. It took about 500 years to start construction of the Ram temple. Such is the price paid for being divided for too long.

Some apologists of colonialism have sought to portray British rule as beneficial to India. Nothing is farther from the truth. All the initiatives of the British were guided by their commercial and administrative interests. The noted economist Utsa Patnaik, based on nearly two centuries of data on tax and trade, estimated that Britain drained about $45 trillion during 1765-1938 in different ways. This was 17 times the GDP of the UK. Indians were fleeced to support the advancement of the UK. During the 200 years of colonial rule, there was almost no increase in per capita income; during the last half of the 19th century, income in India dropped by half; the average life expectancy dropped by a fifth during 1870-1920. India would have emerged as an economic powerhouse if its revenues were invested within the country.

The humiliating experiences of the last millennium should guide us. The first lesson is — united we stand, divided we fall. An emotionally integrated India offers the best defence against both internal and external threats and challenges. We need to knit an India based on the principles of democratic-righteous governance that upholds equality of all and equal opportunities for all. We need to empower every Indian with the necessary tools to realise his or her fullest potential. A strong sense of Indianness that supersedes all other identities and a deep commitment to national interest should guide our actions.

In the present global order, it is the economic power that enables a nation to have its say. We need to fully harness our economic potential. For this, we need to scale new heights in scientific, technological, industrial and human resource development domains. The effective functioning of the legislatures, judiciary and the executive should be ensured by removing all the impediments.

As we move closer to celebrate the 75 years of our independence, our motto should be — perform or perish. This applies to all individuals and institutions. Realise your strength, build on them and create a united, prosperous India.

India is a constructive, dependable actor globally, writes Harsh Vardhan Shringla

Covid-19 continues to exact a heavy toll worldwide. In India too, positive cases are rising. However, our effective domestic response has led to a significant improvement in our recovery rate, which is now 68.78%. The case fatality rate at 2.01% remains one of the lowest in the world.

High recovery and low-fatality outcomes can be attributed to proactive measures taken to deal with the outbreak from its early stages. We started screening Covid-19 cases a full 13 days before the first case was detected in India. We implemented full lockdown on the 55th day of the outbreak when we had only around 600 cases. Our public health response has been appreciated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The government took rapid steps to augment health infrastructure. As Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi noted, India now has over 11,000 Covid-19 facilities and 1.1 million isolation beds. We have ramped up testing to over half-a-million tests a day, to be scaled up to a million.

India’s response has not been confined to meeting our domestic requirements. We have been significantly engaged with the international community in providing the leadership that the global situation demanded. As a responsible stakeholder in global health supply chains, we ensured timely access to essential drugs and medical items for over 150 countries, while meeting our own domestic requirements. We reaffirmed our position as the first responder to humanitarian crises in the region by deploying medical teams to help Maldives, Mauritius, Comoros and Kuwait deal with the pandemic. India also dispatched naval assets to the Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles to deliver assistance. This demonstrated our strong commitment to the PM’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR).

From being a net importer of Covid-19-related medical items, we have emerged as a net exporter. Today, we are manufacturing over 500,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and over 300,000 N-95 masks every day. Our system has shown the necessary adaptability and agility to significantly ramp up production to go beyond our domestic requirements.

The repatriation of Indian nationals stranded abroad and the evacuation of foreigners from India to their home countries have been among the most successful aspects of our response. In the initial days, the ministry of external affairs had promptly set up a Covid cell and a 24×7 control room to assist Indian citizens abroad. The PM had also personally directed our heads of missions to extend all possible assistance to our nationals stranded abroad. Subsequently, the Vande Bharat mission, launched to repatriate our nationals stranded overseas, has been the largest exercise of its kind ever undertaken by the government and has demonstrated our capacity to effectively carry out complex humanitarian missions. Over one million Indians have returned under the Vande Bharat mission so far through flights, across land borders and on naval ships. We have been able to bring home Indian nationals from distant locations, and also facilitated the return of Bhutanese and Nepalese nationals stranded in third countries to their homes on Vande Bharat flights.

Rigorous screening of returnees by our diplomatic missions has ensured that the proportion of positive cases remains extremely small (less than 0.2%). Testing on arrival by the health ministry and state governments has helped detect these cases. The mission just doesn’t end with the arrival of our nationals. We are also mapping their skills on arrival to link them with companies for job opportunities.

There has also been no let-up in our diplomatic outreach during the pandemic. We have initiated and been part of several important conversations globally. Our Neighborhood First policy was on full display when the PM hosted a video conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) leaders early in the crisis — our first such engagement on Covid-19. He announced a series of measures to deal with the pandemic, including the creation of a Covid-19 emergency fund with a commitment of $10 million from India. We have also called for a better multilateral response to global crises in the future. The PM has, on several occasions, including in the G-20 and Non-aligned Movement virtual summits, proposed the reform of multilateral cooperation by bringing people to the centre of our efforts. Our own initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure are prime examples of this approach. The decision of the G-20 on debt service suspension for developing countries, which India fully supported, reflects this people-centric approach. At the virtual Global Vaccine Summit, the PM highlighted how India’s contribution to the global response in terms of sharing medicines was guided by our philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkum. The PM also hosted the first virtual bilateral summit with Australia, which was followed by the India-European Union summit. In addition, the PM has spoken to his counterparts from 61 countries during this period. The external affairs minister has spoken to foreign ministers from 77 countries. We have kept open channels of virtual communication to strengthen partnerships and deal with situations that require diplomatic engagement.

We have been constantly adjusting, adapting and innovating to deal with the changed reality, particularly in our engagement with the world. And in the process, we have been successful in elevating India’s profile as a constructive and dependable actor on the global stage.

While USA Is Abandoning WHO!

Most of the underdeveloped countries were shocked about President’s sudden announcement that the United States is leaving and discontinuing its funding to World Health Organization (WHO). Why is it so devastating to the worldwide public health scenario.?

President Trump has been strongly criticized  for the delay in handling the spread of Corona virus in the US; in turn Trump blames WHO for its  slow response in raising the alarm over the global threat of the Pandemic Covid-19.  Due to the fact that WHO is possessed by Chinese domination, Trump  named WHO as “ China-centric”, as they mismanaged and covered up the spread of corona virus, which is suspected to have been leaked and started spreading from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

The world so far was considering the US, UK, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Italy are the real representatives of world’s advanced economies; and they decide the fate of the world. President Trump at least concords that there are emerging countries like China, Australia, India,  Brazil, and South Korea, which are emerging countries to be considered to promote democratic values for the betterment of the world. In front of the Covid pandemic; all nations have knelt down, in controlling the spread or finding an effective vaccine to stop its forward journey.

WHO was founded as the UN global health body in 1948 with the ultimate mandate of promoting global health, protect the human beings against infectious diseases and to serve the vulnerable from health emergencies. We have found its immediate responses to combat communicable diseases like cholera, yellow fever, plague, swine flu, HIV, plague, Ebola etc. it is the directing and coordinating authority on international health within UN for their 194 member countries. But why they failed when the new enemy started engulfing the whole world?

Especially when the whole world is looking to the US for leadership, and the so called leader is leading only in their daily death rate; US also lost its supremacy, as they were uncontrollable just like any other nation. But to a great extent Americans think that Trump is not the right leader to do anything during critical situations. And they join with the media in accusing Trump for the wrong way he has been handling the issue of Pandemic Covid, killing already about 125,000 innocent Americans, and still continuing.

Looking back to the 72 years of the history of WHO, the US has been the largest sponsor. America has off late contributed $893 million, 15% of the entire budget and the contribution is more than twice as much as any other country so far done. Hence USA has been the center of importance of the public health system all over the world.

USA has an assessed contribution of $237 million as its membership dues. But America generosity has provided with additional $656 million during 2018-19. The contributions were earmarked specifically as for Polio (166M), Health & Nutrition Services (121M), Vaccines for Preventable diseases (58M), Tuberculosis (41M), Emergency Preparedness (36M), HIV & Hepatitis (34M), Infectious Hazard Management (32M), Leadership & Governances (30M), Prevention & Control of Outbreaks (27M), Reproductive, Material, newborn & Child Health (27 M) etc.

Even during the Covid-19 pandemic spreading in America, Trump has liberally helped many other countries, in spite of his helplessness to harness the situation with lack of enough masks and PPE, and no panacea or vaccine is invented to curb the unexpected enemy. US helped 64 of the world’s most-at-risk countries with a bulk foreign assistance of $274 million.

USA as the leader of health services has failed to arrest the vast spread, as WHO or CDC had failed to alert the worl. Trump believes that WHO was hiding the facts for the sake of China. In spite of the vast support to WHO and UN, US did not get any first hand information, and China played a dirty game.

Trump was blamed that he could not help the Americans or the rest of the world.   Whether WHO or his advisors failed to lead Trump for a speedier-actions, Trump was largely without any coherent scientific inputs into his immediate plans and policy making. His slow response, even complacency, in the early days of the epidemic exploding in China is sympathetically “understandable”. Media accused him that “A pandemic plan was in place. Trump abandoned it – and science- in the face of Covid-19.”

On May 29th, Trump announced his hard decision of terminating the relationship and support to WHO, though it may need at least a year to fully discontinue membership and terminate agreement with WHO. President Trump’s rhetoric is impacting the whole world, more than his decision to quit supporting Paris Agreement on climate change.

Keeping up the pressure for these kinds of economic changes, will lead the world to more perilous situations; nevertheless the support of the superpower cannot be ignored. Making the accord work without United States will require other developing nations like China and India to come forward, but it will be a limited support. The real impact of this withdrawal from WHO, will be visible outside USA. US Scientists and Public Health experts will have limited access to the communication on important global health issues. Just like the data from China was not  available to US or other leading nations.

“Trump’s decision is extremely problematic” said Devi Sridharan, the chairperson of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, as Trump’s assault on the reliability of WHO data and early warning systems. For instance, some of the nations have cut back their funding in recent years and the effects are already visible as Ebola virus is still not contained in West Africa.

Faced with reduced income, WHO will be compelled to scale back its budget. It may have to slash down its Human Resources. Ultimately the world is going to face severe consequences, if any epidemic or pandemic is unknowingly crept into any part of our world in the near future. Will WHO be equipped to sound the alarming siren sufficiently earlier to bring the outbreak under control, or a much severe suit follow than we face now with Covid-19!

Christmas is HOPE

In a world that is beset with hatred, violence, divisions, uncertainty and fear, HOPE

can sometimes be overshadowed by doubt, despair and a sense of defeat. The ongoing wars around the world between nations, religious, ethnic, and ideological groups, threats to human existence by terrorist groups and piling up of nuclear and biological weapons, as well as through the mindless destruction of the resources of the planet earth, have made us lose HOPE in ourselves and the world we live in. The future appears grim, as been found in a recent Pew Research, where majority of people from the developing nations are less hopeful of the future.

Living in a world that is self-centered, it’s important to imbibe in our children the values of generosity and kindness. When we as parents are willing to come forward and make efforts to touch the lives of the needy, our children are witnesses to this reality and want to follow in our footsteps. When we forget our roots and are comfortable taking care of our own families here and forget our neighbor, we are not challenging our children to go beyond their personal selves and touch the lives of others.

However, there is HOPE in the midst of all these challenges around us. Initiatives of small and large by individuals, groups and nations give us hope for a better world. Technological advances that help fight diseases, protect the earth, and keep the peoples around the world connected with one another instantly through the social media give rise to HOPE.

Great Thunberg, 16, who has become the youngest to be declared TIME Person of the Year, has become a leading face of a movement that has inspired millions of other children and adults in at least 100 countries to argue passionately for action against climate change. That gives us HOPE.

Eight-year-old Licypriya Kangujam, known as Indian ‘Greta’ for her passion towards the fight against climate change has urged global leaders to take immediate action to save the planet and the future of young children like her.

Speaking at the COP25 climate conference, the young activist from Manipur who has already spoken in 21 countries on climate change, gave the world a glimpse of her resolve as she urged global leaders to “act now against climate change”. The little girl has quickly shot to limelight hailing her as ‘Greta’ of the Global South.  Watching Kangujam speak with such wisdom is what giving us HOPE.

When President Donald J. Trump was impeached by the US House of Representatives on December 18, 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, that gives us HOP as we believe that one is above the law, not even the President of the most powerful country on earth.

Protests have erupted all across India following the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Law, known as CAB, in India. The Act that will provide Indian nationality to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists fleeing persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh before December 31, 2014, excludes Muslims. Protesting against the high handedness of Modi’s Hindutva government, and raising the voice against tarnishing India’s image as a secular nation, gives us HOPE.

Aditi Shah is an inspiration for everyone. After losing her sight due to reginitis pigmentosa at the age of 15, Aditi earned two degrees in India before coming to Georgia Tech in the United States. Her life is an inspiration to all. Her life story of success in spite of grave odds, gives us HOPE.

For the first time ever 20 Indian American community organizations from New England Region came together and jointly hosted an event at the Northeastern University and they committed to work together to help the needy and make India great. That gives us HOPE.

My local Church sent me an email last week that they are coming to sing carols in my house next weekend. The money raised from singing carols will help build houses for two deserving families in India who lost their homes in the floods that had devastated the lives and homes of millions last year. That spirit of helping someone rebuilding one’s house, gives us HOPE.

More than ever, Christmas is the Season of Giving. Instilling HOPE in those who have lost everything. Little acts of kindness and small words of appreciation can instill HOPE in those who feel that they have lost everything in life. We can, and we are called to help revive HOPE in the present and the future for all by our little acts of kindness and by raising our voice for a just and humane world.  That’s my HOPE for this Solemn Christmas Season and for the New Year.

Wishing You And Your Families 

A Merry Christmas 

And  

A Joy & Hope Filled New Year 2020

Modi Leads BJP To A Landslide Win In Indian Election

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party won a landslide victory in the world’s largest election as voters endorsed his vision of a muscular, assertive and stridently Hindu India. The election results represent a stunning mandate for Modi and his new Team of Ministers, who are entrusted with the task of leading the nation in the next five years.

Modi, a charismatic and polarizing politician who towers over his rivals, led the BJP to a stunning and historic victory in the Lok Sabha battle, with the ruling party itself winning 303 seats in a marked improvement over its 2014 showing that left the Opposition dazed and demoralized.

For the second successive Lok Sabha polls, the BJP has managed to cross the halfway mark of 272 seats — where it had won 282 seats in 2014, this time, it won 21 more seats to finish with 303 seats. The BJP-led NDA won 348 of the 542 Lok Sabha seats where polling took place in a seven-phase election. The development sent the Sensex breaching the 40,000-mark as India Inc celebrated.

No Indian prime minister has returned to power with a similarly large mandate in nearly five decades. Modi’s win is a victory for a form of religious nationalism that views India as a fundamentally Hindu nation and seeks to jettison the secularism promoted by the country’s founders. While India is roughly 80 percent Hindu, it is also home to Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and other religious communities.

Modi first swept to power five years ago on a desire for change and the belief that he would transform this country of more than 1.3 billion people, unshackling the economy and creating millions of jobs. Unemployment has risen to a 45-year high and there are worrisome signals that Indian consumers are buying less, slowing the broader economy.

Such expectations remain unfulfilled, but in this election, Modi pushed a message of nationalist pride and told voters he was the only candidate who would safeguard the country’s security and combat terrorism.

Nearly 900 million people were eligible to vote in the six-week long election. The election results represent a tectonic shift that cements the BJP’s dominance of Indian politics under Modi’s leadership. “Something fundamentally has shifted” with this vote, said Milan Vaishnav, who heads the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The BJP “has emerged as the hegemonic force in Indian politics.”

The Indian National Congress, the country’s main opposition party, had a disastrous showing for a once-mighty political force that governed India for most of its post-independence history. Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi clan, failed to find a strategy to counter Modi’s appeal. Gandhi was unable to retain his own seat in the Congress stronghold of Amethi.

Gandhi, the Congress party leader, tried to dent Modi’s dominance. He attacked Modi for threatening the secularism promoted by the country’s founders and for failing to create jobs for millions of young people or to help struggling farmers.

Modi struck back, calling Gandhi the scion of a corrupt dynasty. Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as prime ministers of India (the family is not related to independence leader Mohandas Gandhi).

The opposition had “neither a program, nor a leader, nor a narrative,” Pavan Varma, a spokesman for a regional party aligned with the BJP, told the Indian television channel NDTV. The BJP, meanwhile, had Modi as a candidate and a potent election machine, he said. It also had more money than any other party in the race by several orders of magnitude.

Modi’s supporters exulted at the outcome. “It’s nothing short of a landslide,” wrote Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu on Twitter, calling the result a political tsunami that had swept the country. Indians have “voted for a clear, unambiguous choice,” he wrote. Several world leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chinese President Xi Jinping, congratulated Modi on his victory as votes were still being counted.

While Modi focused the election debate on national security – particularly after a terrorist attack in February in Kashmir – the next government’s major challenges promise to be economic. Bread-and-butter issues “got very little time and space” in this election, said Puja Mehra, the author of a new book on the Indian economy. Modi was “able to sway voter attention [away] from the economic hardships they faced” and toward issues central to his campaign, such as national security, religion and the importance of strong leadership.

Modi also benefited from considerable popularity among voters, many of whom view him as a corruption-free politician. The son of a tea seller, Modi comes from humble roots and rose through the ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a group that seeks to make India a “Hindu nation.”

As chief minister of the state of Gujarat, Modi modernized infrastructure and successfully courted investment by domestic and foreign businesses. In 2002, he presided over the country’s worst communal violence in decades, when more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed by Hindu mobs. Members of his own party wanted him to resign.

Since Modi became prime minister in 2014, reports of violence by Hindu extremists have increased, including lynchings in the name of protecting cows, which some Hindus consider sacred. Some Muslims say they are increasingly fearful about the country’s direction. In the election campaign, senior BJP leaders engaged in anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Modi’s decisive mandate means that India will move further toward becoming a majoritarian democracy, said Suhas Palshikar, a political scientist and columnist. “It is not so much that the formal institutional structure will change,” he said. “What will change are the social and cultural values in the society.” Religious minorities will be “reduced to secondary citizens” while Hindu nationalists “have free play.”

Two months before voting began, a suicide bomber killed 40 security Indian security forces in the disputed region of Kashmir. Modi launched a retaliatory airstrike on an alleged terrorist training camp within Pakistan, an unprecedented step for India.

There is no proof the strikes killed any militants. In the confrontation that followed, an Indian pilot was captured by Pakistan and six Indian soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash now believed to be a case of friendly fire. But on the campaign trail, Modi repeatedly cited the strikes as proof of his government’s unique ability to combat terrorism and his toughness in matters of national security.

After the official campaigning period ended, Modi went to a Hindu pilgrimage site high in Himalayan mountains where he prayed and mediated overnight in a cave, an exercise in piety broadcast across the nation.

BJP Overseas Supporters Celebrate Party’s Win

After a four-month campaign from 12,000 kilometres away for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Overseas Friends of BJP-USA, known as OFBJP, celebrated BJP win in Indian elections in 20 cities across the United States—from Boston to San Francisco.

BJP supporters from Massachusetts gathered at Brookside Club House in Andover, MA, to celebrate the victory. Overseas Friends of BJP-USA President Krishna Reddy Anugula said celebrations were planned in 20 cities across the United States, including New York, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco.

Anugula told the media that over 1,000 volunteers from his organization participated in phone bank call-a-thons that made more than 1 million calls to people in India asking them to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

During the four months before the elections, the OFBJP also held yagnas, “Chowkidar Marches” and other programs to encourage Indian citizens here to support Modi and to boost the party’s image in India, he said.

As the election trends started trickling in starting at around 11 p.m. on Wednesday night (local time), the OFBJP and the US-based station TV Asia began an overnight election watch in Edison, New Jersey, he said. About 400 Indians and Americans kept vigil overnight watching the results at a community center.

The group in a statement said: “Overseas Friends of BJP-USA congratulates Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party President Amit Shah, BJP leaders, millions of volunteers and volunteers of OFBJP and NRIs4Modi across the globe who toiled hard for this stupendous victory.”

“Millions of voters, including first time voters have participated enthusiastically in this world’s largest democratic elections to elect an able and proven leader, Narendra Modi,” it said.

Reddy asserted that although the BJP did not make a sweep of his home state of Telangana, his party was emerging as the main challenger to the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) improving its position both in the number of votes and seats.

In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the defeat of the Telugu Desam Party showed that the people of the state were ready for change and a corruption-free administration. It presented the BJP future opportunities there, he said.

TV Asia, the largest India-oriented TV operation in the US, held a marathon overnight coverage of the Indian elections for its viewers across the US, News Director Rohit Vyas told IANS.

The news operations, which are separate from the company’s community outreach and is politically independent, had representatives of both the OFBJP and the Overseas Indian Congress, as well as Indian community leaders on its programme analysing the elections, he added.

How Narendra Modi Seduced India With Envy and Hate The prime minister has won re-election on a tide of violence, fake news and resentment.

Before dawn on Feb. 26, Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist prime minister of India, ordered an aerial attack on the country’s nuclear-armed neighbor, Pakistan. There were thick clouds that morning over the border. But Mr. Modi claimed earlier this month, during his successful campaign for re-election, that he had overruled advisers who worried about them. He is ignorant of science, he admitted, but nevertheless trusted his “raw wisdom,” which told him that the cloud cover would prevent Pakistani radar from detecting Indian fighter jets.

Over five years of Mr. Modi’s rule, India has suffered variously from his raw wisdom, most gratuitously in November 2016, when his government abruptly withdrew nearly 90 percent of currency notes from circulation. From devastating the Indian economy to risking nuclear Armageddon in South Asia, Mr. Modi has confirmed that the leader of the world’s largest democracy is dangerously incompetent. During this spring’s campaign, he also clarified that he is an unreconstructed ethnic-religious supremacist, with fear and loathing as his main political means.

Indian girls, wearing masks depicting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in support of the ban on old high denomination currency in 2016.CreditJaipal Singh/European Pressphoto Agency

India under Mr. Modi’s rule has been marked by continuous explosions of violence in both virtual and real worlds. As pro-Modi television anchors hunted for “anti-nationals” and troll armies rampaged through social media, threatening women with rape, lynch mobs slaughtered Muslims and low-caste Hindus. Hindu supremacists have captured or infiltrated institutions from the military and the judiciary to the news media and universities, while dissenting scholars and journalists have found themselves exposed to the risk of assassination and arbitrary detention. Stridently advancing bogus claims that ancient Hindus invented genetic engineering and airplanes, Mr. Modi and his Hindu nationalist supporters seemed to plunge an entire country into a moronic inferno. Last month the Indian army’s official twitter account excitedly broadcast its discovery of the Yeti’s footprints.

Yet in the election that began last month, voters chose overwhelmingly to prolong this nightmare. The sources of Mr. Modi’s impregnable charisma seem more mysterious when you consider that he failed completely to realize his central promises of the 2014 election: jobs and national security. He presided over an enormous rise in unemployment and a spike in militancy in India-ruled Kashmir. His much-sensationalized punitive assault on Pakistan in February damaged nothing more than a few trees across the border, while killing seven Indian civilians in an instance of friendly fire.

Modi has infused India’s public sphere with a riotously popular loathing of the country’s old urban elites.

Mr. Modi did indeed benefit electorally this time from his garishly advertised schemes to provide toilets, bank accounts, cheap loans, housing, electricity and cooking-gas cylinders to some of the poorest Indians. Lavish donations from India’s biggest companies allowed his party to outspend all others on its re-election campaign. A corporate-owned media fervently built up Mr. Modi as India’s savior, and opposition parties are right to suggest that the Election Commission, once one of India’s few unimpeachable bodies, was also shamelessly partisan.

None of these factors, however, can explain the spell Modi has cast on an overwhelmingly young Indian population. “Now and then,” Lionel Trilling once wrote, “it is possible to observe the moral life in process of revising itself.” Mr. Modi has created that process in India by drastically refashioning, with the help of technology, how many Indians see themselves and their world, and by infusing India’s public sphere with a riotously popular loathing of the country’s old urban elites.

Rived by caste as well as class divisions, and dominated in Bollywood as well as politics by dynasties, India is a grotesquely unequal society. Its constitution, and much political rhetoric, upholds the notion that all individuals are equal and possess the same right to education and job opportunities; but the everyday experience of most Indians testify to appalling violations of this principle. A great majority of Indians, forced to inhabit the vast gap between a glossy democratic ideal and a squalid undemocratic reality, have long stored up deep feelings of injury, weakness, inferiority, degradation, inadequacy and envy; these stem from defeats or humiliation suffered at the hands of those of higher status than themselves in a rigid hierarchy.

I both witnessed and experienced these explosive tensions in the late 1980s, when I was a student at a dead-end provincial university, one of many there confronting a near-impossible task: not only sustained academic excellence, but also a wrenching cultural and psychological makeover in the image of the self-assured, English-speaking metropolitan. One common object of our ressentiment — an impotent mix of envy and hatred — was Rajiv Gandhi, the deceased father of main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, whom Mr. Modi indecorously but cunningly chose to denounce in his election campaign. An airline pilot who became prime minister largely because his mother and grandfather had held the same post, and who allegedly received kickbacks from a Swedish arms manufacturer into Swiss bank accounts, Mr. Gandhi appeared to perfectly embody a pseudo-socialist elite that claimed to supervise post-colonial India’s attempt to catch up with the modern West but that in reality single-mindedly pursued its own interests.

There seemed no possibility of dialogue with a metropolitan ruling class of such Godlike aloofness, which had cruelly stranded us in history while itself moving serenely toward convergence with the prosperous West. This sense of abandonment became more wounding as India began in the 1990s to embrace global capitalism together with a quasi-American ethic of individualism amid a colossal population shift from rural to urban areas. Satellite television and the internet spawned previously inconceivable fantasies of private wealth and consumption, even as inequality, corruption and nepotism grew and India’s social hierarchies appeared as entrenched as ever.

No politician, however, sought to exploit the long dormant rage against India’s self-perpetuating post-colonial rulers, or to channel the boiling frustration over blocked social mobility, until Mr. Modi emerged from political disgrace in the early 2010s with his rhetoric of meritocracy and lusty assaults on hereditary privilege.

India’s former Anglophone establishment and Western governments had stigmatized Mr. Modi for his suspected role — ranging from malign indifference to complicity and direct supervision — in the murder of hundreds of Muslims in his home state of Gujarat in 2002. But Mr. Modi, backed by some of India’s richest people, managed to return to the political mainstream, and, ahead of the 2014 election, he mesmerized aspiring Indians with a flamboyant narrative about his hardscrabble past, and their glorious future. From the beginning, he was careful to present himself to his primary audience of stragglers as one of them: a self-made individual who had to overcome hurdles thrown in his way by an arrogant and venal elite that indulged treasonous Muslims while pouring contempt on salt-of-the-earth Hindus like himself. Boasting of his 56-inch chest, he promised to transform India into an international superpower and to reinsert Hindus into the grand march of history.

Since 2014, Mr. Modi’s near-novelistic ability to create irresistible fictions has been steadily enhanced by India’s troll-dominated social media as well as cravenly sycophantic newspapers and television channels. India’s online population doubled in the five years of Mr. Modi’s rule. With cheap smartphones in the hands of the poorest of Indians, a large part of the world’s population was exposed to fake news on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp. Indeed, Mr. Modi received one of his biggest electoral boosts from false accounts claiming that his airstrikes exterminated hundreds of Pakistanis, and that he frightened Pakistan into returning the Indian pilot it had captured.

Mr. Modi is preternaturally alert to the fact that the smartphone’s screen is pulling hundreds of millions of Indians, who have barely emerged from illiteracy, into a wonderland of fantasy and myth. An early adopter of Twitter, like Donald Trump, he performs unceasingly for the camera, often dressed in outlandish costumes. After decades of Western-educated and emotionally constricted Indian leaders, Mr. Modi uninhibitedly participates — whether speaking tearfully of his poverty-stricken past or boasting of his bromance with Barack Obama — in digital media’s quasi-egalitarian culture of exhibitionism.

Brexit brings down Prime Minister Theresa May

British PM Theresa May has confirmed the inevitable: She will step down soon. After a series of setbacks, which saw the House of Commons (equivalent of Lok Sabha) vote down her Brexit proposals multiple times as well as vote to take more control of the process, the question for months was when than if. May has answered that: June 7.

The ruling Conservative Party will have to choose a new leader to take over. A frontrunner is former foreign secretary Boris Johnson. If that does happen, the burden of steering Britain out of the EU will fall on his shoulders, and some would see that apt as Johnson was one of the strongest voices against EU ahead of the 2016 referendum that voted for Brexit.

In April, the 28-member European Union had given UK an extension of six months to thrash out Brexit. The new deadline thus is October 31. Which means the British Parliament will have time until then to vote on a Withdrawal Agreement that would lay down the terms on customs, trade, and civilian movement between EU and Britain post the exit. Or the new PM will have to go back to talks with the EU for a new agreement and then vote on it. As long as there is no second referendum — highly unlikely — Britain is exiting EU. How and when, that’s unanswered.

Looking back over the 34 months Theresa May spent as Britain’s Prime Minister, it’s hard to pick a low point.

Was it the Conservative Party conference in October 2017 when she couldn’t stop coughing, a protestor hijacked her big speech and the lettering behind her peeled off the wall?

Was it the day President Donald Trump announced his arrival to the U.K. with a newspaper interview in which he poured scorn on her Brexit plan, just a few hours before they were due for a joint press conference?

Was it the time she arrived in Brussels for a high stakes meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, only to momentarily find herself trapped inside her car while the world’s media looked on?

It’s tempting to think May was chosen to succeed Cameron as Prime Minister as the unity candidate — the experienced cabinet minister whose past fence-sitting on Brexit meant she could unite her divided party. But May won the contest because her rivals self-immolated in a frenzy of backstabbing and electioneering. Her victory came because she was the last person standing, not necessarily the best.

She began her premiership still attempting to straddle the divide in the Conservative Party, with so much caution that she won herself the nickname “Theresa Maybe.” But she soon sided with the hardliners agitating for a harder Brexit, egged on by the frenzied editors of Britain’s mass-market tabloids.

With the Labour Party seemingly in decline under far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, May was persuaded by her advisors to capitalize on the moment and call an election that would not just expand the Conservative majority, but also give her government a mandate for a clean break with the E.U. The Daily Mail exhorted her in a screaming front-page headline to “CRUSH THE SABOTEURS.”

But the vote turned out to be an act of self-sabotage. The electorate defied the polls and gave Corbyn’s Labour Party more support — though not enough to form a government. Instead, a weakened Conservative Party had to partner with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland to govern as a minority.

As negotiations with the E.U. leadership continued, it became evident that the balance of power laid with the 27 nations united against the U.K. May was forced to bend to reality, and hammer out a hard compromise that all parties could settle on. But the U.K. parliament could not agree on a majority for anything related to Brexit, least of all the status of Northern Ireland — the key sticking point in the talks.

Key facts about Asian origin groups in the U.S.

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing major racial or ethnic group in the United States. More than 20 million Asians live in the U.S., and almost all trace their roots to 19 origin groups from East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Significant differences exist by income, education and other characteristics among the nation’s largest 19 Asian origin groups. These differences have been central to debates about how much data governments, colleges and other groups should collect about Asian origin groups, and whether it should be used to shape policies.

Here are some key differences between Asian origin groups in the U.S. and how they compare with Asian Americans overall.

1Six origin groups – Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese – accounted for 85% of all Asian Americans as of 2015. These groups together largely shape the overall demographic characteristics of Asian Americans. The remaining 13 origin groups each made up 2% or less of the nation’s Asian population. These groups have a variety of characteristics that can differ greatly from the largest groups.

2About half of Asians in the U.S. ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or more in 2015, a higher share than other races and ethnicities, but this share varies greatly by origin group. Those of Indian, Malaysian or Mongolian origin, for example, were more likely than other Asian origin groups to have at least a bachelor’s degree. By comparison, fewer than 20% of Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians and Bhutanese had a bachelor’s degree or more. Roughly a third of all Americans ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or more.

The differences in educational attainment among origin groups in part reflect the levels of education immigrants bring to the U.S. For example, 72% of U.S. Indians had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2015. Many of them already had a bachelor’s degree when they arrived in the U.S. with a visa for high-skilled workers, such as an H-1B visa. Half of H-1B visas, which require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, have gone to Indians since 2001.

3Seven-in-ten U.S. Asians ages 5 and older speak English proficiently. Large majorities of Japanese (84%), Filipinos (82%) and Indians (80%) spoke English proficiently in 2015. By contrast, Bhutanese (27%) and Burmese (28%) had some of the lowest rates of English proficiency.

4Income inequality is rising more rapidly among Asian Americans than other racial or ethnic groups, reflecting wide disparities in income among Asian origin groups. Asian households in the U.S. had a median annual income of $73,060 in 2015, higher than the $53,600 among all U.S. households. Only four Asian origin groups had household incomes that exceeded the national median for Asian Americans overall: Indians ($100,000), Filipinos ($80,000) and Sri Lankans and Japanese (both $74,000). By contrast, most of the other 15 origin groups were well below the national median for Asian Americans, including the two with the lowest median household incomes – Nepalese ($43,500) and Burmese ($36,000).

5As with education and income, poverty rates vary widely among Asians in the U.S. Asians overall had a poverty rate of 12.1% in 2015, 3 percentage points lower than the U.S. poverty rate (15.1%). Bhutanese (33.3%) and Burmese (35.0%) had the highest poverty rates among all Asian origin groups – more than twice the national average and more than four times the poverty rates among Filipinos and Indians (both 7.5%).

6Immigrants make up a higher share of some Asian origin groups than others. Among all Asians in the U.S., nearly six-in-ten were foreign born in 2015, significantly larger than the immigrant share among Americans overall (13%) and other racial and ethnic groups that same year.

Some Asian groups arrived as immigrants more recently than others. For instance, 85% of Burmese in the U.S. are foreign born, and many of them arrived as refugees starting in 2007. Eight-in-ten Burmese immigrants (81%) have been in the country for 10 years or less.

But not all U.S. Asian groups have high foreign-born shares. For instance, the first Japanese immigrants came to the U.S. in the 19th century as plantation workers in what is now the state of Hawaii. More recently, fewer Japanese immigrants have arrived to the U.S. compared with other Asian origin groups. This history is reflected in the low share of Japanese Americans who are immigrants (27%). Additionally, among Japanese immigrants, two-thirds (64%) have been in the country for more than 10 years.

7Among Asian immigrants, 58% have become U.S. citizens, though naturalization rates vary widely. Nearly eight-in-ten Hmong and Vietnamese immigrants are U.S. citizens (77% and 75%), the highest shares among U.S. Asian groups. Differences in naturalization rates reflect how long immigrants have lived in the U.S. Large numbers of Vietnamese and Hmong arrived in the U.S. as refugees starting in the 1970s and have had more time to naturalize. By contrast, many Bhutanese have arrived in the U.S. as refugees starting in 2008 (98% of Bhutanese immigrants have been in the U.S. for 10 years or less) and only 6% have naturalized, the lowest share of any group.

For more information on Asians in the U.S., see Pew Research Center’s detailed fact sheets for each national origin group and the methodology for the analysis.

Vision-Aid’s Revathy Ramakrishna is Woman of the Year 2019

Revathy Ramakrishna, who was bestowed Woman of the Year Award 2019 by an independent panel of nine judges, said that this award is less about her and more about the cause she is so passionate about: Vision-Aid. The 17th Annual Woman of the Year Awards Gala, which was organized by INDIA New England News on Friday at Burlington Marriott Hotel in Burlington, MA, was attended about 500 people. World-class Carnatic Music Teacher Tara Anand received the Lifetime Achievement Award 2019.

“On behalf of all the volunteers and visually impaired beneficiaries of Vision-Aid, I gratefully accept the award,” said Ms. Ramakrishna. “I feel so very grateful and honored to be selected from such a talented pool of nominees. When I read the profiles of, and met the other 19 nominees, I honestly thought each of them was so much more accomplished than I was. This decision to confer this award on me was less about me and more about the cause I am so passionate about – Vision-Aid.”

“It was inspiring to learn about the many amazing things our nominees have accomplished.  It was a privilege to celebrate them all. As an Indian American, it makes you proud to know that their contributions are making a difference not only in our community but also far beyond,” said Ms. Chandra. “Their work spans the preservation of our cultural roots, working with non-profits in several realms, excellence in the fields of law, business and medicine, to much needed work in refugee resettlement, domestic violence and gender issues.”

She said the committee was thrilled to honor Vision-Aid’s Ms. Ramakrishna. “We are thrilled to honor Revathy Ramakrishna as the India New England Woman of the Year, 2019.  She demonstrates focus and passion for an idea she has nurtured for over 15 years along with her professional accomplishments and service work in the local community.  The impact of her work at Vision Aid to empower and rehabilitate thousands of visually impaired individuals speaks for itself.  It can easily be said that in her case the whole is so much greater the sum of the individual parts,” said Ms. Chandra. “While we could only select one winner in a field with a lot of depth, we wanted to recognize two other individuals – Meena Ramamurti and Meena Subramanyam – who received an honorable mention for their terrific professional achievements and their ability to stitch our community together in magical ways.”

Ramakrishna serves as the volunteer Vice-President for Vision-Aid, a non-profit organization that serves the visually impaired by enabling, educating and empowering them to live their lives with independence and dignity. Vision-Aid has blossomed into an organization which has offered enablement, rehabilitation and skills training programs for thousands of blind and visually impaired across 10 locations in India, besides also running several programs online through the Vision-Aid Online Academy. Ramakrishna dedicated the Woman of the Year Award to visually impaired and volunteers of Vision-Ad.

Judges also selected two out of 20 Outstanding Women for Honorable Mentions: Meena Subramanyam, a scientist and an accomplished Bharatanatyam artist and teacher and Vice President and Global Program Leader in the gastroenterology therapeutic area unit at Cambridge, MA-based Takeda Pharmaceuticals; and Meena Ramamurti, Vice President at the Shishu Bharati School of Indian Languages and Culture.

Ramakrishna, the 2019 Woman of the Year, is an electronics engineer and health informatics professional by training. She works as a Program Manager at Fresenius Medical Care North America, a premier health care company focused on delivering the highest quality care to people with chronic renal conditions. She has been with the company for over 10 years and oversees the Government Reporting and Clinical Informatics program related to specific CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) government mandated quality and reimbursement initiatives that are aimed at improving the quality of health care and patient outcomes.

Her analytical and technical background, subject matter expertise and communication and collaboration skills help her liaise as effectively with the Medical Office, Clinicians and business team as with the IT and technical teams to build consensus among diverse viewpoints and build high quality systems.

Ms. Ramakrishna says that she feels privileged to serve Vision-Aid alongside so many other community leaders and volunteers and be in the front-row seat of this amazing cause which aims to bring independence and dignity to the visually impaired while also creating a more inclusive world for them through our advocacy efforts.

“I am very passionate about this cause because I have personally experienced the immense challenges posed by visual disability faced by members of my family and have also seen first-hand how these can be mitigated and overcome, when a supportive environment is provided,” says Ms. Ramakrishna. “Unfortunately, even today, in developing countries like India, too many people still lack this kind of support and are turned away when their impairment cannot be cured by modern medicine and surgery.

“When my husband and I first started Vision-Aid it was a small organization running out of my husband’s home town in Vizag, India, benefiting people in that region. At the present time, it is gratifying to see its more expansive scope,” says Ms. Ramakrishna. “In 2019, Vision-Aid is bringing light into the lives of over 1000 visually impaired in 10 different locations across India each year. Our partners include the Aravind Eye Care system, the largest eye care system in the world, Sankara Netralaya of Chennai, Nethra Blind Schools in Hyderabad and Vizag and other leaders in the field.”

One million species threatened with extinction because of humans

One million of the planet’s eight million species are threatened with extinction by humans, scientists warned Monday in what is described as the most comprehensive assessment of global nature loss ever.
Their landmark report paints a bleak picture of a planet ravaged by an ever-growing human population, whose insatiable consumption is destroying the natural world.
The global rate of species extinction “is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years,” according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a UN committee, whose report was written by 145 experts from 50 countries.
Shrinking habitat, exploitation of natural resources, climate change and pollution are the main drivers of species loss and are threatening more than 40% of amphibians, 33% of coral reefs and over a third of all marine mammals with extinction, the IPBES report said. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” said Sir Robert Watson, IPBES chair, adding that “transformative change” is needed to save the planet.
The report comes six months after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)warned that the world has less than 12 years to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming.
In the same way that the IPCC report put the climate crisis on the political agenda, the authors of the IPBES report hope that it will thrust nature loss into the global spotlight.
 Just as with climate change, humans are the main culprits of biodiversity damage, altering 75% of Earth’s land and 66% of marine ecosystems since pre-industrial times, according to the report.
The report emphasizes the disastrous impact of population growth and rising demand. It notes that the world’s population has more than doubled (from 3.7 to 7.6 billion) in the last 50 years, and gross domestic product per person is four times higher.
More than a third of the world’s land and 75% of freshwater supplies are used for crop or livestock production, it noted.
“[There is] very little of the planet left that has not been significantly altered by us,” Sandra Diaz, co-author of the report and professor of ecology at the University of Córdoba, told CNN. “We need to act as stewards for life on Earth.”
Diaz said countries in the Global North are particularly to blame for nature damage due to their “unsustainable” levels of consumption, especially when it comes to fishing and logging.
In 2015, a third of marine stocks were being fished at unsustainable levels and the amount of raw timber being harvested has increased by almost half since 1970, with up to 15% of it cut illegally, according to the report.
Marine plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, with an average of 300-400 million tons of waste dumped into the world’s waters annually.
Pollution entering coastal ecosystems has produced more than 400 ocean “dead zones,” totalling an area bigger than the United Kingdom. These areas are so starved of oxygen they can barely support marine life.
It’s not too late
Despite the ominous picture “it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” said Watson, adding that this would require an overhaul of economic systems and a shift in political and social mindsets.
Diaz said that governments should implement drastic changes now to avoid a “dire future” in 10-20 years when their “food and climate security [is] in jeopardy.”
Climate change has already contributed to biodiversity loss by triggering more extreme weather events and rising sea levels and will exacerbate the crisis over the coming decades, the report noted.
The report says we can improve sustainability in farming by planning landscapes so that they provide food while also supporting the species that live there. Other suggestions include reforming supply chains and reducing food waste.
When it comes to healthy oceans, the report recommends effective fishing quotas, designated protected areas and reducing the pollution that runs off from the land into the sea, among other actions.
Rachel Warren, professor of global change and environmental biology at the University of East Anglia, told CNN that governments should focus on “the restoration of destroyed or degraded ecosystems with native species [as this] helps to address both biodiversity loss and climate change.”
“Biodiversity underpins ecosystem services such as pollination, flood prevention, water and air purification, and soil conservation. We are in danger of losing vital ecosystem services which will have major negative consequences for human civilization,” she said.
Guenter Mitlacher, director of international biodiversity policy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said, “Ours is the first generation with the tools to see how the Earth has been changed by people at our own peril. We’re also the last generation with the opportunity to influence the course of many of those changes. Now is the time to act, not halfheartedly and incrementally but drastically and boldly.”
 The IPBES report comes ahead of two high-level summits in 2020 where world leaders will scale up their climate and environment protection goals. That is when China will host the UN convention on biodiversity to set new 20-year targets and when the signatories of the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees will revise their commitments.

India wins global support in naming Masood Azhar’s terror tag

Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar was on Wednesday designated a global terrorist by the UN after China withdrew its long-standing block to the move, marking a major diplomatic and political victory in the Indian government’s efforts to counter cross-border terrorism.

Azhar was listed by the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee for his association with al-Qaeda and his role in financing, planning and facilitating terrorist acts by the JeM, shortly after officials announced in Islamabad that Pakistan would no longer object to his designation – a sign to iron brother China to lift the “technical hold” it had placed on four attempts to sanction Azhar.

Hindustan Times first reported on Tuesday that China was expected to lift its hold on listing Azhar at the UN on May 1.

Following the designation, Pakistan will be required to take three steps – freeze the funds and financial assets of Azhar, enforce a travel ban on him, and cut off his access to arms and related materials.

India’s permanent representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, informed Sanjeev Singla, private secretary to PM, about the listing and asked him to “brief the boss”. Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been inquiring about the matter since morning, he could not be directly informed by Singla as the premier was in the midst of an election rally.

Singla is believed to have informed National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who rushed to the PMO from Sardar Patel Bhawan and informed Modi of the development on a secure line.

Shortly after the February 14 suicide attack in Pulwama that killed 40 Indian troopers and was claimed by JeM, France, with the backing of the US and the UK, moved a proposal at the 1267 Sanctions Committee to sanction 50-year-old Azhar. After a 10-day period to consider the matter, China blocked the proposal on March 13 by saying more time was needed to discuss the issue.

This angered the US, which threatened to take the matter to the UN Security Council, where discussions are held in public, unlike consultations held behind closed doors by the sanctions committee. The heavy lifting was done by the US as it wanted the terrorist tag for Azhar during consultations on April 23, but China and Pakistan wanted it to happen after the Indian elections as they didn’t want the listing to benefit Modi, people familiar with developments said.

The date was then moved by the US to April 30, though China was insisting on May 15. A compromise of May 1 was reached after the US hinted it would take the matter to the Security Council, the people said.

India and its Western allies also continued to work with China throughout this period. During a visit to Beijing last week, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale shared evidence on the role of Azhar and JeM in terrorist attacks with Chinese officials, including foreign minister Wang Yi.

A fifth proposal to sanction Azhar was moved by France, the US and UK last month. In an apparent face-saving measure for Pakistan at the behest of China, this proposal didn’t contain references to the Pulwama attack and terrorism in Kashmir, the people said.

The statement issued by the UN on Azhar’s listing referred extensively to his links with al-Qaeda, its slain chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban, and his role in supporting and facilitating these terrorist entities and providing them arms but made no mention of Kashmir, where JeM has carried out several devastating attacks, or Pakistan, where Azhar is based.

The statement referred to Azhar’s role as former leader of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen but made no mention of this group’s activities in Kashmir. The statement also referred to Azhar’s activities only till 2008, with no mention of attacks such as the 2016 assault on Pathankot airbase blamed on JeM.

The 10 Happiest Countries in the World

Happiness, unlike cost of living or exchange rates, is a difficult thing to measure, but one initiative at the United Nations thinks it can get close to figuring it out. In honor of the International Day of Happiness on March 20, the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network has published the 2019 World Happiness Report—an annual study that examines the connections between happiness and development (while encouraging policymakers to place more of an emphasis on happiness, rather than the more easily quantifiable measures of development). Around 1,000 people in every U.N. member state rate their quality of life on a scale from 0 to 10, while researchers cull data from six areas—GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support, trust and corruption, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity. While you may not be lucky enough to find yourself in one of these blisstopias today, we still recommend slapping a smile on your face and paying it forward.

  1. Finland

For the second year in a row, Finland is number one when it comes to happiness. The country consistently ranks among the top education systems in the world, occasionally only beaten out by South Korea, Japan, and Singapore. Much of that educational success comes from a widespread reverence for teachers, who are required to have a master’s degree (state-funded), and a pedagogical system that focuses less on quantitative testing and more on experiential learning and equal opportunity. To celebrate their ranking, the country’s tourism board is launching a contest where the eight winners get a free summer trip to experience that happiness for themselves and explore the Finnish landscape, alongside a local host. The “Rent a Finn” contest runs through April 4, 2019.

  1. Denmark

Denmark moved up a spot this year, from third on the list to number two. The country rates near the top in all the metrics the data geeks at the U.N. pored over for the report—life expectancy, social support, and generosity among them—but it is also a country hugely committed to renewable energy production (39.1 percent of its energy was wind-generated in 2014). Home to the world’s most bike-friendly city and a coastline that you could spend a lifetime exploring, the country’s happiness certainly comes in part from a respect for the planet it’s built on. But a recent study from the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute (whose existence is probably reason enough for a top spot) narrows down Denmark’s happiness to a number of different categories, including trust in the government, economic security, freedom, civil participation, and work-life balance. Our main takeaway from the institute’s continuing research is that if you want to be happy, the first step is to stop stressing about how happy you are…and go for a bike ride.

  1. Norway

Norway has been dropping in the ranks since 2017—when it held the top spot—and this year it comes in as the third-happiest country in the world. But, there’s not too much to complain about. Like the U.N. shows, year after year, in its Human Development Report, where Norway has taken the top spot for 13 years in a row, there is more to the country that makes it so livable—and its people so happy. The mix of a well-integrated government welfare system and a thriving economy built on responsible management of its natural resources (good riddance, fossil fuel-powered cars), means that very few are left behind, and the feelings of social support, trust in government, and economic well-being that come from that all contribute to overall happiness.

  1. Iceland

Iceland ranks high in terms of the proportion of respondents who said they felt like they had a fellow citizen to count on when the going gets rough. This perhaps became most obvious in the wake of the country’s post-2007 financial collapse and subsequent revitalization. You’d think that the perpetual flood of American tourists arriving into Reykjavik might have dealt a blow to the residents’ happiness—it’s got to be a little harder to get that dinner reservation than it used to be, after all—but when it comes to well-being, the Icelanders are unfazed. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they can always escape the city to a countryside that looks like another planet.

  1. Netherlands

The biggest stat from the Netherlands this year? That its happiness levels have barely changed (we’re talking less than 0.03 percent) between 2005 and 2018. And in the Netherlands, it turns out, happiness starts young. A 2013 Unicef report rated Dutch children the happiest in the world, based on a number of metrics related to educational well-being, safety, and health. Vincent van Gogh was the exception, not the rule.

  1. Switzerland

From how many vacation days workers should have to how many immigrants should be allowed into the country, Switzerland is a country where everything is voted on, and referendums down to the local level happen many times a year. This system of direct democracy means that Swiss citizens feel an unparalleled sense of participation in their country’s evolution, from landmark decisions on human rights to whether a new traffic light should be installed in their neighborhood. The Swiss are known to be insular, and it can be off-putting to first time visitors, but there is a strong social fabric held together by a belief that every voice matters, which can go a long way toward feeling content. This political outlook also may help explain why three of its cities—Basel, Geneva, and Zurich—made the top 10 rankings of the best cities for expats.

  1. Sweden

This year, Sweden continued to jump up in the rankings, from the ninth spot last year to the seventh. A high GDP per capita, which it shares with many of its Nordic neighbors, is not the sole reason, either: An emphasis on social equality that is built into the education system starting in kindergarten, 16 months of paid family leave that can be split between a couple after a new child is welcomed into a family, and free day care also make Sweden the best country for women, according to a separate study. Basically, an emphasis on work-life balance leads to a happier populace. Turns out feeling productive and rested leads to major smiles. Are you listening, New York City?

  1. New Zealand

Sure to fuel an already burning rivalry, New Zealand beat its neighbor Australia, who didn’t even make the top 10, this year. Condé Nast Traveler readers say, year after year, that Kiwis are a warm, welcoming bunch, but according to the U.N.’s research, a lot of that comes from satisfaction not only when they’re out and about, but also in the workplace. We would guess the country’s vast natural wealth—its beachesvineyards, and mountains—plays a role, too.

  1. Canada

Here’s yet another reason for all those Americans to grab their best hiking boots and head north. The only country from the Americas to have made it into the top 10, Canada’s number nine placement is proof that money isn’t everything, as it beats out its neighbor (the U.S. came at number 19, down from 18 last year). Canada’s best ranking? In its citizens sense of freedom to make their own life choices.

  1. Austria

Knocking out Australia from the top 10, Austria made the cut with high scores in life expectancy and GDP per capita. Remember when we mentioned that taking a bike ride might help with happiness rankings? Well consider this: biking is one of our favorite ways to get around Austria (well, at least its wine country).

MTA Votes to Increase Fares

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board voted on February 27, 2019 to increase fares and tolls. The new tolls take effect March 31, 2019 and the new fares take effect April 21, 2019.

MTA board members voted on Wednesday to once again increase subway fares, raising the weekly MetroCard price to $33 and bringing a monthly pass to $127, up from $121. The hike, which does not impact the $2.75 base fare, will go into effect on April 21st. Tolls on most MTA bridges and tunnels will also see an increase of about 36 cents.

“This is painful for a lot of people, but it wasn’t exactly a mugging,” Acting MTA Chairman Freddy Ferrer told reporters.

The decision comes after a planned vote on the fare hike was delayed last month, with some board members citing the need to tie any cost increase to improved subway performance. The price hike voted on today, which ends the pay-per-ride discount, does not include a performance metric for subway service. The MTA’s decision to push back the vote cost the authority an estimated $30 million, according to transit officials.

Included in the decision are increases to the following unlimited, weekly and monthly passes:

Unlimited Ride MetroCard: Increase the price of unlimited ride cards: 7-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard increases from $32 to $33

7-Day Express Bus Plus Unlimited Ride MetroCard: Increase from $59.50 to $62.00

30-Day and Calendar Monthly Unlimited Ride MetroCard: Increase from $121 to $127

Additional fares were increased. You can read more about the full changes in our blog post linked below.

A Better World With Hope For Future Generations

Our world that we have inherited is a beautiful place. Nature, in its abundance has bestowed on us numerous blessings. The people in our lives, the opportunities that come on our way to learn, to grow, to flourish, and to share, are all miracles that we enjoy and cherish every day of our lives.

However, our world has its own challenges. We are witnesses to hatred, wars, violence, divisions, epidemics, uncertainties, natural calamities, injustices, discriminations, and fear. Our faith in humanity can sometimes be overshadowed by doubt, despair and a sense of defeat.

The ongoing wars around the world between nations, religious, ethnic, and ideological groups, threats to human existence by terrorist groups and piling up of nuclear and biological weapons, as well as through the mindless destruction of the resources of the planet earth, have made us lose hope in ourselves and the world.

For nearly seven decades since the end of the Second World War, the United States played a key leadership role for the world. It’s interventions in Korea, Vietnam, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other parts of the world, including efforts to thwart communist insurgencies, dictatorships and other threats to peace, were aimed at sustaining a balanced world order.

Taking office in 2009, newly elected U.S. President Barack Obama lost no time in spelling out his new vision for America’s role in the world. “Leading from behind” was to become America’s new role on the world stage. A decade after this new approach, leading to many actions or inaction, had its consequences.

There are dozens of hotspots around the world that calls for immediate attention and action. The Middle East remains a seething cauldron of unrest and instability. Years of painstaking negotiations between Israel and Palestine has not produced a breakthrough, resulting in an ongoing war in Gaza that has caused the death and destruction of lives of thousands across the borders.

Despite more than a decade of warfare and more than a trillion dollars spent, Iraq is disintegrating into civil war. Afghanistan is still a hotspot with uncertainty over government formation years after the elections. Threats from Al-Qaeda affiliates around the world have posed constant threat to the safety of the world.

China continues o flex its muscles with almost all the nations on its borders, including with Japan, Taiwan, India and Tibet, contributing to unrest and tensions among the nations of the world. After Syrian president Bashar al-Assad used poison gas to kill hundreds of Syrian civilians, a clear violation of international law, and having no consequence has emboldened him and Assad continues to slaughter and displace hundreds of innocent civilians. Half a Million people, mostly civilians, have died in Syria’s continuing civil war, and the world seems powerless to stop the carnage.

Wars and sectarian violence in Yemen, Sudan, Congo, Nigeria, Pakistan, and parts of Central American nations continue to cause the deaths of thousands of people every year. Terrorism has become a real threat to the entire humanity, with the brutal murder of innocent people.

Russia does not seem to help build peace in the world. It brazenly fomented discontent and among the majority Russian-leaning citizens of the Ukrainian province of Crimea, then simply annexed the region. Human right violations and interfering in the democratic processes of free nations around the world, including the United States, have been dealt with muteness.

Stephen Hadley, President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, stated that it would be harder to recover from this cold war era tactics than in the past because Bladimir Putin is effectively rejecting the international order established after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”If Not a Cold War, a Return to a Chilly Rivalry,” he was said.

Natural calamities around the globe, in response to man-made global warming, and short-sighted and narrow vision for political gains by leaders around the world, have become a common feature killing tens of thousands of people every year, and causing destruction of places, properties and nature itself, in hundreds of Billion Dollars every year.

The mindset of millions of people to radicalism, racism, and violence is a major threat to the whole world and its continuance of the current civilization. We are often not concerned because these tragedies are often not occurring in places and people closer to us. Many of us seem to be unconcerned about these threats until they come our way. And they continue to happen, and soon all of us will be consumed by these violent forces that have become a threat to humanity.

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it,” stated Albert Einstein decades ago. Looking around us we have every reason to be concerned that the world we live in has become more dangerous to the current generation than it ever has been. The advancement in technology, innovations, more open and broad minded society of the 21st century have not ushered us into a safer world. No, it has exposed humanity and the entire world to more dangers than ever been before.

The policies and programs of Donald Trump, President of the US, allegedly delivering for a faithful base of supporters who voted for him as the ultimate anti-globalism, abdicating America’s responsibilities as the world leader, and leading to trade war between nations, anti-Islamist and anti-Immigrant policies, deregulation of environmental and monetary policies that were created to safeguard the nature and common man, have pushed the US and the world to the brink of destruction.

However, there is hope in the midst of all these. Initiatives of small and large by individuals, groups and nations give us hope for a better world. Technological advances that help fight diseases, protect the earth, and keep the peoples around the world connected with one another instantly through the social media give rise to hope.

I have personally met and been enriched by the examples of several individuals and small groups who have made it a commitment to share their riches, resources, skills, talents, time, and their lives to bring hope in this hopeless world.

The beginning of the New Year 2019 is a perfect time to take stock of our lives. It may be helpful at this time to reflect on the achievements of the past year, congratulating ourselves for both personal growth and goals met, and setting our agendas for the New Year.

It’s the time to make or re-evaluate our own hopes and dreams for the year, thus providing a basis to guide our year. Creating a plan for our year and something to strive for enables us to become more and more successful in our own lives.

As we celebrate Christmas, the festival of peace, joy, and love, we dedicate this issue to those who continue to bring hope and peace, making a positive changes in the lives of people, for the greater good of humanity, to make our world a better place than the one we inherited, and to give our children and for generations a better future.

Merry Christmas And A Bright, Healthy, Joy-filled, And Prosperous New Year To All.

Send in your thoughts/comments/ideas to: [email protected]

Why we American immigrants should vote – By Dr. Mathew Joys and Anil Augustine

It’s so relieving that in the US there are only two political parties with real federal representation, although independent candidacy is a sure possibility in the North American electoral system. Not that we are ignoring the existence of other political thought streams; however they all are limited to State representations as of now.
The limited choice of electoral selection ideology has its merits and demerits.
When compared to the election process back home in India where there are so many national/federal political parties, comparatively the American election process is very simple. At large these days it is a process of choosing between the lesser evil, it appears!
It’s well said that in the US presidential election, the Ohio or the Florida states gets the final say, courtesy to the interesting “electoral college” voting system of The USA.   Although the 2018 ongoing election is a midterm election, it is of considerable impact. The results of this year’s elections will be enormously important – not just in shaping the future of Donald Trump’s presidency, but in shaping the American political landscape for a great many years to come. There is so much at stake for both the political isles.
Our diaspora is infamously considered to be of less representation and participation in the domestic political process. However there certainly is hope as we are seeing people of Indian origin as candidates being blessed with increased success recently. Republican Governors Nikki Nimrata Haley and Bobby Piyush Jindal as well Democrats Pramila Jaypal and Raja Krishnamurthy Members of the U.S House of Representatives are among the prominent representatives of Indian origin, who successfully achieved political offices in The USA.
With the otherwise default insecurities of an immigrant social mindset, our diaspora generally but unfortunately ignores our voting power. We ignorantly assume that “It doesn’t count for us who ever happens to be in political office” as we are busy and focused earning for our daily bread and footing the bills. In fact, only when in need of a political connection/representation do we realize the precious value of participation in the domestic voting process.
As America has a very well documented electoral process, it is very easy for any politicians to find out our voting history. They may not be able to find whom we have voted directly, but certainly can make out whether you/me have voted in the past.
Our friend. K. P. George, who has been on the county School board and is currently contesting for the position of County Judge in Fort Bend, Houston, TX passionately shared his experience and reason to stand for the public office.
KPG said, as a businessman he was very much involved in society; however, there were times he experienced that he was not treated fairly. He could find out the reason that US politicians are of the knowledge/assumption that we Indians do not go and vote, then what is the point of helping us at the peril of incurring the displeasure of participating folks/herd.  Unless we as a community exercise our vote it is impossible to quantify the political impact and value of our community. He says it doesn’t matter whom you are voting for, but what matters and will make an impact is the registration of your vote. When we happen to go to a Senator’s or Councilman’s office after speaking with you they will ask for a day’s time to respond to our need, the one thing their office certainly look into is into your voting history, for sure.
On a personal note, our 2nd generation children might feel that they are American enough in the inside comforts of their respective homes, however the reality is such that we are neither white enough before the Caucasians nor black enough for the African Americans and not wheatish enough for Latinos either. Hence unless we and our children get out and vote, our community will not be counted in the political system either! It is estimated that there are about 3 million Indians in US, and many have US citizenship. But how many really intend to vote nor interested in the national politics remain a vague situation.
On a large picture, at a time when federal programs such as Social Security that will impact Health programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and the other retirement financial benefits and its uncertainties of future funding, as well issues such as immigration, National debt or Federal deficit is at its alarming status, not participating in the election process is the worst injustice one can injure oneself with as a citizen of this nation.
Especially when 35 out of the 100 in the Federal Senate seats, all 435 of the House of Representatives and 36 out of 50 State governors’ seats are out for grabs, the 2018 midterms is of very much importance!
Further selection of 71 Supreme Court Justices, 6070 State legislature seats, Mayors of about 25 major cities such as Phoenix, AZ, San Francisco, CA and Austin, TX too are facing elections this current midterm elections denotes the importance of this peculiar voting occasion.
Health insurance certainly is one of the major issues bothering Americans. The unsuccessful attempt by the 2017 senate to repeal The Affordable care act (better known as Obama Care) is a burning issue for the current administration. It is essential to prevent the denial of healthcare for senior citizens reasoning the excuse of preexisting condition.
With respect to Social security, reports are alarmingly disclosing that by 2034 the reserves are going to be exhausted and thereby benefits are to be reduced by 20%. It’s hopefully assumed that provided republicans are successful to attain majority in the Senate, the Social Security program benefits that is directly influenced by the Cost of living index shall be improved upon.
As well it is essential that the medicine formulation prices are alarmingly increasing than the inflation rate in the country and is to be kept in check. The announcements of President Trump promising to deploy price cuts through the Medicare is enabling a bit ease is a hopeful perspective.
It’s essential that more measures are to be ensured towards Cyber security. Concerns are more to the volatility of exploiting the Senior citizens in these regards. The need of having more effective programs nationally favoring the aged is a real alarming concern of the times. The ideas of Medicare vouchers and Medicaid block grants are blamed to be of helping the big healthcare Corporates to benefit.
Increased allegations of inequality and racial discrimination are the visible signs of the times. Problems of opium drugs and marijuana abuse is on the increase. The slow but steady increase in utility prices of Gas and Electricity too are not good signs of a promising economy for sure.
We hope the newly elected representatives from the November 2018 elections will responsibly act upon these very worries of our people. Hence voicing our concern through responsible representation of our causes through voting is the correct thing to do.
(Dr. Mathew Joys and Anil Augustine are US based journalists.)

Voter suppression: Republicans are engaged in an aggressive effort to prevent Americans from voting

With less than a week to go to mid term polls, Republican party and its candidates and state run governments by Republicans across the nation, while sensing heavy losses, are resorting to voter repression and false propaganda.

After the 2010 election, state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.

The restrictions range from requiring government-issued photo identification to vote, to delaying voter registration if application information differs from government databases, to limiting voting times and locations. What remains unclear is how much they actually deter voting.

After the 2008 election, when Republicans gained control of a number of really important states in 2010, they began to introduce a wave of new restrictions to tighten access to the ballot. Then those efforts were basically given a green light by the Supreme Court when it removed a critical part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 in the Shelby County v. Holder decision and said that those states with the longest histories of discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government. That allowed states in the South that previously had to prove their voting changes with the federal government – places like Texas and Georgia and North Carolina and Alabama – to implement these new restrictions on voting.

Overall, 24 states have put in place new restrictions since then — 13 states have more restrictive voter ID laws in place (and six states have strict photo ID requirements), 11 have laws making it harder for citizens to register, seven cut back on early voting opportunities, and three made it harder to restore voting rights for people with past criminal convictions.

In 2016, 14 states had new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. Those 14 states were: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In 2017, legislatures in Arkansas and in North Dakota passed voter ID bills, which governors in each state signed, and Missouri implemented a restrictive law that was passed by ballot initiative in 2016. Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, and New Hampshire also enacted restrictions last year, in addition to laws that were on the books for previous elections.

In 2018, New Hampshire and North Carolina have enacted new restrictions. In 2013, a bare majority of the US supreme court gave the green light to North Carolina by striking down a provision of the Voting Rights Act that required states, such as North Carolina, that had a history of discrimination to preclear electoral law changes with the Department of Justice.

In addition to a requirement that voters show particular forms of ID, the state eliminated Sunday voting, narrowed the window for early voting and eliminated same-day vote registration and early registration for 16- and 17-year olds. Voter ID requirements at least have the superficial appearance of addressing the integrity of elections, although in practice the justification is bogus.

In Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere, Republican officials are purging the voter rolls — taking away people’s registration, often for no good reason.

In Arizona, North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere, Republicans have closed polling places.

In Arkansas, Iowa and North Dakota, Republicans have added onerous new identification requirements.

And in Florida, Iowa and Kentucky, Republicans have tried to make it even harder for people previously convicted of felonies to vote.

These efforts and many others across the nation, in the nation that boasts of it being called the greatest democracy in the world, are anti-voter campaign to be an outrageous injustice. And now, President Trump wants to take away the birthright citizenship that has been granted by the 14th amendment to the constitution. President Donald Trump said he’s considering an executive order removing the right to citizenship for babies born in the U.S. to parents who aren’t citizens.

To energize his base, President Trump has lasered in on immigration ahead of next week’s midterm elections, stoking fear about the caravan of migrants heading toward the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America.

According to analysts, there’s so little evidence voter fraud exists at all that Trump’s appointed voter-fraud commission collapsed. Backed by independent experts, Democrats say the GOP’s principal goal is limiting ballots cast by Democratic-leaning black, Latino, young and low-income voters.

“These laws have been pushed in recent years by Republicans, and the hardest hit have been people of color and young people and poor people,” says Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. “Restricting the vote appears to be strategic.”

Two political scientists found that Wisconsin’s voter ID law deterred thousands of voters, disproportionately poor and African-Americans from casting ballots in a state Trump narrowly carried in 2016. Another study found similar effects nationally, especially among Hispanics.

Donald Trump has tweeted about voter fraud. He repeatedly claimed without any evidence that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 elections. In fact, voter fraud is a very rare problem in American elections. It’s not like it never happens, but it’s not nearly as widespread as many people, including the president, would have you believe.

The GOP’s voter suppression efforts have continued to be well-executed and disenfranchised too many Americans from casting a ballot. That’s where organizations like Let America Vote, Flippable, and When We All Vote come into play. Extreme voter suppression laws that disproportionately impact people based on race, gender, age, income, and sexual orientation have multiplied all over the country.

Voting rights organizations are fighting back against proposals that make it harder for eligible voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Whether it’s extreme identification requirements, questionable purges of voter rolls, or voter intimidation – Republicans know how difficult it is to get certain communities to vote for them, so better they can’t vote at all.

The Guardian view on Modi’s mistakes: the high costs of India’s demonetisation

India’s prime minister ought to own up to the mistakes of his own policies which have cost lives, jobs and growth. If he doesn’t then voters will get a chance to do so in elections – and they should take it

Well now we know. Narendra Modi, the prime minister of the world’s biggest democracy, popped the expanding balloon of the Indian economy with a mistaken policy implemented at high speed in a bungling manner. It might be expected that the office-bearer be held accountable for this monumental mistake. Not a chance. Mr Modi is determined not to concede the folly of demonetisation, which cost 100 lives, at least 1.5m jobs and left 150 million people without pay for weeks.

Mr Modi has no one else to blame. It was he who, in November 2016, when Donald Trump’s election transfixed the world, announced that all 500- and 1,000-rupee notes would be withdrawn immediately from circulation. At a stroke the Indian prime minister rendered 86% of currency worthlessoutside a bank branch. Old notes would have to be exchanged for limited supplies of new currency. This was a populist measure carried out in the name of the poor, who had been convinced by Mr Modi’s lurid tales of purging the country of black-economy millionaires and their piles of illicit cash.

Yet as data from India’s central bank shows, almost 99.3% worth of currency notes that were in circulation have come back into the banking system. Corruptly acquired fortunes in India are not kept in cash at home. “Black money”, acquired through shady means, had, as economists explained at the time, been converted to shares, gold and real estate long ago. There was also no direct fiscal gain from demonetisation through an increase in the central bank surpluses. Mr Modi’s government has been reduced to boasting that the fact that almost all the cash was returned revealed how efficiently the government can collect money. This is, one columnist wrote, “like throwing yourself off a building while praising how hard the ground is”.

Mr Modi claims to be a religious man. That perhaps explains why his belief in this wrong-headed policy has never wavered. He had promised that “if any fault is found … I am willing to suffer any punishment”. Plenty of faults have been found, but Mr Modi is not interested in accepting them. Instead, he wants to let the arguments die – which might explain why the Indian parliamentary finance committee can’t seem to publish a report into the demonetisation debacle. Or he changes the subject, which is bizarre given that the government came into power saying it would focus on the economy. Or the prime minister warns critics about how the state can be unleashed on dissent, which is what the recent absurd arrests of human rights activists appear to be about.

Democracy’s conceit is that governments are accountable while in power. Mr Modi exposes this as hollow: he ducks arguments rather than faces them. True, India’s economic credibility has been dented – an important consideration given how portfolio flows are debauching emerging market currencies. The underlying angst about corruption is now being tapped by Mr Modi’s political opponents, who may make him pay for the high costs of demonetisation. Three large Indian states – all ruled by the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party – will go to polls later this year.

The opposition Congress party looks set to sweep all three. There were reports Mr Modi wanted to defer these polls so that they take place simultaneously with next year’s general election. Such blatant politicking has rightly been ruled out. Rather than be humble and admit his shortcomings, he persists with excessive self-confidence. His hubris may mean his party meets its electoral nemesis. Voters ought to take the opportunity to punish Mr Modi for his mistakes if he won’t own them.

India at 72

Celebrating India’s 72nd Independence Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on where India is today. There are many achievements the 1.2 Billion people of India are so proud of. Seventy two years ago, when India achieved freedom from the colonial British Rule, India’s thousands of years of growth was at a stand still. Freedom with it also brought division of the nation in the name of Religion, mistrust, war, crimes, poverty, and fear.
Today, India is the world’s largest democracy, one of its most diverse societies, and the economy with growth potential that could rival China’s. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) believes the $2.6 trillion economy of India is an elephant that is starting to run. Its latest report on India not only reaffirms that the country is “again one of the world’s fastest-growing economies” – accounting for about 15 percent of global growth – but also that India it could be what China previously was for the world economy.
“Real GDP growth is estimated to have bottomed out after the dual shocks of demonetization and disruptions from GST implementation. Growth was 6.7 per cent in 2017/18 and is projected to increase to 7.3 per cent in 2018/19,” said the IMF in its 2018 assessment of the Indian economy.
Seven decades after independence, the miracle of Indian democracy continues to shine like a beacon of hope for those who cherish freedom with its foundations in basic human values. The democratic consciousness of independent India is a reflection of the legacy of our struggle for independence from colonial rule.
Some three decades ago an eminent sociologist called Indian democracy “a secular miracle of the modern world and a model for other developing countries.” On the global stage, India has gained a lot of significance. Decisions are carried out taking India into consideration. Indian companies are going global and competing with other MNCs on equal grounds. Indians shine around the world, making their mark all across and in almost every field.
India is a plural society of immense diversity with different social, religious, cultural and linguistic expressions. It has almost as many ethnic groups as the entire African continent. The Indian Constitution recognizes 22 languages and India is home to over a hundred dialects. The value of currency units is written in 17 different scripts. Adherents of all major religions of the world are present in our citizen body. Religious minorities constitute 19.4 percent of our people.
However, as political and social scientists say, India, in the midst of rapid growth and advancements in almost every field, continues to remain one of the poorest and unequal, with hundreds of millions mired in deep poverty and limited by a rigid caste system that constrains social mobility. The Narendra Modi-led government’s turn to Hindu nationalism has sharpened sectarian tensions and raised questions over the rule of law, dividing the nation on the basis of religion.
We have been facing communalism and regionalism, destroying the social fabric of our tolerant Indian society. Corruption is always a perennial problem with us. Illiteracy and health issues, though being attended to, are still matters which need be dealt more efficiently.
 
India needs to be a more just and inclusive society, where people of all faiths, caste, and sections of society enjoy and experience equal opportunity to flourish, to grow, and achieve their individual dreams. A strict and just government with fair politics is needed. The political parties are not elected for their adherence to certain castes or creeds, but because they respect and serve the entire population and work towards the greater good of the nation as a whole. This can be possible only if more and more responsible people come out together, working towards strengthening the democracy and the pluralistic nature of the Indian society. More youngsters and people with broader vision for the nation need to join politics and commit to serve the nation. Then only can we proudly say that “Yes! India has developed.”

Political role for priests ripe for debate: Could the church in the future be headed by a council rather than an absolute ruler?

A recent letter from Indian Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi calling for a prayer campaign ahead of national elections next May has sparked a backlash, mostly from politicians ignorant of history.

The letter was branded by the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as an attempt to dissuade voters from supporting it. A clear understanding of how the church has functioned over the centuries, and how it does today, could help place the controversy in context.

The relationship of priests (or sants, mahants and mullas) to politics depends on the kind of society one lives in. If one lives in a feudal society, theocracy is usually the rule, and religion and politics are blended, so that the religious values of the majoritarian community predominate, especially its idea of God (whence theocracy, God’s rule). Anyone who does not belong to this community is considered a heretic and deviant, and so persecuted.

Religious leaders (priests, sadhus, ayatollahs) play an important role in such societies. This was the case with medieval Christian Europe, and so it is in many majority-Muslim countries today. Hindu society in India is increasingly torn between a fundamentalist medieval outlook and adherence to the secularist principles of its constitution.

For India (like many countries of the West) society is officially secular, with a clear demarcation between state and religion. The legal set-up in such a society accepts pluralism, with multiple beliefs and values, over which the guiding norm is the common good guided by reason, and not religious creed. Such societies, which define themselves as modern, generally oppose priests meddling in politics or politicians meddling in religion.

However, there is usually a wide gap between the ideal enshrined in the constitution and the reality on the street. Even more, in secular states even today, human rights are denied to certain groups based on ideology, race and gender.

Christian society in antiquity and in medieval times was theocratic, where a Christian king or emperor ruled, and his decisions were final. For centuries in Christian Europe it was the kings who chose bishops, and through their bishops, controlled the election of the pope.

But things were to change. Steadily, through manipulation, forgery and deceit, and sometimes by outright violence, the popes established themselves as the supreme arbiters in religious and political matters in Europe. This is a fascinating, if somewhat uncomfortable history of papal control, both of territory and status, and it culminates in the infallibility doctrine, the last vestige of an absolutist monarchical system.

So today when Rome decrees that priests shouldn’t take part in politics, it is trying to establish something new: the exclusive right of the pope to arbitrate in matters of politics and statecraft, a right which is not to be shared with any priest or bishop.

But throughout history, priests have always taken part in politics, usually as advisers and ministers of royalty (Cardinals Richelieu, Mazarin, Ximenez, Wolsey); occasionally as princes ruling over a fiefdom (the prince bishops of central Europe), and as popes claiming the right to select and reject kings.

At present, the leaders of the church in every country are not laymen/women, but the hierarchy. They are really religious leaders who have a political voice. Usually they are lacking in political savvy, but as they command the total veneration and obedience of the Catholic laity, they are assumed to be its leaders by government.

From what we can ascertain, in the church of the first centuries (of Palestine, Syria and the Greek cities), the leaders were charismatic prophets. Side by side were the elders in the community, presbyters, who, assisted by deacons and deaconesses, cared for the community in routine matters. From these elders came the episkopoi, the supervisors, bishops.

As the centuries rolled on, charismatic prophecy receded as the church became an institution. And in this institution, pride of place was given to the clergy and hierarchy. The laity existed only to promote and support this hierarchy.

But the prophetic spark, though diminished, was never quite extinguished. The charismatic and prophetic element in the church now expressed itself through the religious reformers, especially in the great founders of religious groups of the medieval ages, almost all of whom did their greatest work as laymen and women.

So, can we foresee a time when the Catholic community will be governed by a council, and not by an absolute leader (like a pope or bishop)? In this council, lay men and women, priests and bishops, both married and single, will speak for the local church to society at large and to governments of the day.

The leaders (whether by election or nomination) will be merely “first among equals.” The question of a religious leader engaging in politics (or in theology) then becomes a redundant question.

To sum up, religious leaders have always taken a role in politics, and — as Gandhi said, one who argues that politics should be divorced from religion, knows nothing of either — it is foolish to argue that priests should be packed off to the sacristy and given no public forum.

The issue for debate is; what kind of society does one wish to live in? A theocratic society or a secular one? And related to this, what kind of Christian church structure is one looking at — a modern one with complementary roles between clergy and lay, men and women; or an archaic model in which a monarch makes all the decisions in the name of God?

Father Myron Pereira SJ is a media consultant based in Mumbai.

Source: UCAN

Global perception of India has taken a beating

For a decade and a half now I’ve been a tireless advocate of India’s soft power, arguing that in the information age, it is not the side with the bigger army that wins, but the side that tells the better story. In the past India has successfully managed to be what I’ve called the “land of the better story”: As a society with a free press and a thriving mass media, with a people whose creative energies are daily encouraged to express themselves in a variety of appealing ways, India has an extraordinary ability to tell stories that are more persuasive and attractive than those of its rivals.

This is not about propaganda; indeed, it will not work if it is directed from above, least of all by the government. But conversely, government actions can undermine the story. Indeed, troubling internal disruptions have begun to tarnish this global perception of India.

If one were to pick up an international daily of repute, such as the New York Times or the Washington Post in the US or Le Monde or Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Europe, to look for stories on India, one would be assailed by the reportage on incidents of communal violence, cow vigilantism, minorities feeling besieged and the alienating effects of the present ruling party’s disposition towards a narrow-minded Hindutva ideology. Even less traditional news outlets and programmes such as Vice and John Oliver’s popular Last Week Tonight show have picked up on this disturbing trend in India. The recent murder of Gauri Lankesh raises India high on the list of countries where journalists are perceived to be in danger.

In this super-connected world, people across the globe are now more aware than ever of incidents of beef violence, the rise of gau rakshaks, the assassinations of rationalists and the episodes of mob-lynchings that have taken place in India in the last couple of years. Instead of strongly condemning these incidents and bringing the elements that have perpetrated them to heel, our dominant political dispensation has instead decided that their energies are best spent making unbecoming statements about everything from disowning the Taj Mahal as a symbol of Indian culture to the “cleansing” of Western cultural influences from India’s ethos. The horrors of Kathua and Unnao, and the unforgivable political defence of the perpetrators by the ruling party, have plunged India’s image worldwide into the depths.

For the “better story” is not merely the story that can be told; it is the story that is heard and seen (and repeated), whether or not you are trying to tell it. That is what the Indian government and ruling circles seem to be in danger of overlooking.

For millennia, India offered a haven for the persecuted, a refuge to Jews after the destruction of their Temple by Babylonians and Romans, a new home for Parsis, Tibetans, Sri Lankan Tamils, Nepalese fleeing their civil war, and most famously 10 million Bengalis escaping the Pakistani Army’s crackdown in 1971, the largest recorded refugee crisis in the history of humanity. In all this India’s humanitarian record has been exemplary and has been admired around the world. Yet our present government announced a unilateral decision to deport all members of the Rohingya refugee community in India back to Myanmar, where a state-sponsored genocide is currently taking place in the Rakhine state against this ethnic group. This move, which seems prompted by the fact that the Rohingyas are Muslims (and therefore are being accused without evidence of supporting terrorism), has invited strong condemnation across the board and has damaged the popular perception of India abroad as a democracy and a land of asylum.

As a result of all these developments, a global impression has gained ground that India is now governed by obscurantist and intolerant forces determined to put minorities, rationalists and liberals in their place. This has far-reaching implications for India and threatens to derail the country’s soft power projection. It is a far cry from the time of the 2004 elections. I remember, when I was travelling through the Gulf as a diplomat with the UN, senior officials I was meeting expressed their astonishment and unabashed admiration about the 2014 election results, where a party led by an Italian woman of Roman Catholic faith had made way for a Sikh to be sworn in by a Muslim President as the Prime Minister — of a country where 80 per cent of the population were Hindus. To go from that celebration of diversity to a time when our President, Vice President and Prime Minister are all followers of a sectarian Hindu chauvinist movement is a fall indeed in the eyes of the world.

I have repeatedly argued that we cannot simultaneously sell ourselves to the world as a land of pluralism, tolerance and Gandhianism, while promoting intolerance, communal hatred and minority insecurity within the country. The present government would do well to learn that it cannot promote ‘Make in India’ abroad while condoning the propagation of ‘Hate in India’ at home.

However, that said, as a cautious optimist, I still believe that India can reverse this recent trend. It continues to have a thriving free press, a strong watch guard in its civil society and an independent judiciary (which has passed verdicts that have struck down triple talaq, upheld an Indian citizen’s fundamental right to privacy and convicted a popular religious leader for rape, despite an overwhelming show of force and violence from his supporters). I believe it is these principled elements of India’s society, along with our civilisational ethos, that are and will continue to be an immeasurable asset for our country.

This is also soft power and we don’t have to thank the government for it. When people argue that cultural diplomacy is important, they tend to focus on what governments can do to showcase culture and promote Indian society. I believe the message that really matters and the one that gets through is that of who we are, not what we want to show.

As an opposition Member of Parliament, that is my message to the Indian government too. Don’t change our invaluable traditions. Don’t try to remake India in a way that will actually damage its soft power. We as a society have celebrated our own diversity, our own democracy and our own pluralism and the world has admired us for these very things. Today we have unfortunately given free rein to those who have promoted bigotry and intolerance that should have no place in the narrative of Indian society.

We must be conscious of the qualities that are so attractive about our culture and that give us our soft power in the world and we must ensure those qualities are not undermined by recklessly irresponsible, often semi-educated individuals who have been given a free hand by some of those in power who should know better.

I believe that the principal ingredients for India’s soft power success continue to remain. But in order to realise that potential, India needs to address its own internal challenges first. It is essential that India does not allow the spectre of religious intolerance and political opportunism to undermine the soft power that is its greatest asset in the world of the 21st century.

Our democracy, our thriving free media, our contentious civil society forums, our energetic human rights groups, and the repeated spectacle of our remarkable general elections — all of these together make India a rare example of the successful management of diversity in our globalised world. It adds to India’s soft power when its non-governmental organisations actively defend human rights, promote environmentalism and fight injustice. It is a vital asset that the Indian press is free, lively, irreverent, disdainful of sacred cows. Maintain that, and true leadership in our globalising world — the kind that has to do with principles, values and standards — will follow.

(Shashi Tharoor traces the changing dynamics of India’s soft power in this article written exclusively for IANS. Shashi Tharoor is a former UN diplomat; a writer of several bestselling books and a Member of Parliament, representing Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram constituency. The views expressed are personal. The copyright of this article rests with the author.)

Mystic Mantra: Hope of the hopeless world

The belief in Jesus’ resurrection actually changed that defeat, that darkness and hopelessness into a new Hope. We have been asked to double our prayers with deeper fervour for peace in the world”, announced the organiser during the social gathering of senior citizens of the church where I serve as priest last Friday. “There is a strange sort of disturbance in the world that needs addressing”, she added. Though she meant the likes of war in Syria where even children suffered due to poisonous gas, my thoughts inadvertently flew farther away from my current location in Austria, to Kathua, Surat, Indore and so on. The organiser having no idea whatsoever of the horrific incidents that shook the nation, causing widespread “disturbance” to the conscience of more than a billion people, was so right. Besides the endless questions that God fearing people raise, along with candle light marches for the ghastly incidents, there is also a strong sense of losing hope in the future — losing faith in human goodness that finds its origin in God’s benevolence.

Reflecting on such distressing situations Christian mystics and theologians contend that God too suffers and feels as much, if not more, helpless as we do. It is such incidents that throw some people out of balance leading them often to abandon their faith in God. “Where indeed is God in such earth-shattering inhuman events”, they ask. And would anyone blame them? Certainly not I! Until of course I am led to the incident that took place 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem with a man named Jesus.

Analysing that whole event from the biblical perspective, the Christian mystics believe that God too writhed in pain when He saw His own son crucified. With all His might and power, He did not intervene to save Jesus. He remained silent and seemingly ignored Jesus’ plea, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? Completely abandoned by God and by his friends Jesus died a lonely death much like the children in our cruel world.

Suddenly then a new hope dawned as the doubts of the disciples began to slowly change into faith when they saw and

Political Mind Games: How the 1% Manipulate Our Understanding of What’s Happening, What’s Right, and What’s Possible

Giant corporations are raking in record profits, while millions of Americans remain scarred by the Great Recession and a recovery that has left them behind. Mammoth defense contractors push for more of everything military, while programs for the poor are on life support. Global polluters are blocking effective responses to climate change, while the disenfranchised suffer disproportionately from environmental disasters and devastation. Influential voices ridicule those who are disadvantaged by prejudice, by discrimination, and by dwindling resources. All the while, our middle class is shrinking, imperiled, and insecure. This is not the America most of us want.

It’s really no secret that certain individuals and groups—the Koch brothers, Walmart heirs, some Wall Street CEOs, prominent politicians (many Republicans, and some Democrats too), big-business lobbyists, right-wing think tanks, Fox News—use their wealth and influence to pursue a self-serving agenda that betrays the common good. Indeed, they’ve been doing it since long before Donald J. Trump moved into the White House. But what often flies under the radar is the extent to which they rely on psychologically manipulative appeals to advance their narrow interests at the expense of the rest of us. Examples include “The dangers of global warming are overblown,” “Voter fraud is a rampant injustice,” “Workers protesting low wages are devious and dishonest,” “We’ve earned every dollar and deserve your praise, not criticism,” and

“Everyone will be helpless if gun reformers have their way.”

In my new book, POLITICAL MIND GAMES: How the 1% Manipulate Our Understanding of What’s Happening, What’s Right, and What’s Possible, I explain the psychology behind the success of today’s plutocrats in marketing their false claims—and what we can do to counter them. Offering a research-based framework, I show how the 1% exploit five fundamental concerns that govern our daily lives: issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. These concerns are soft targets for manipulation because each is linked to a basic question we ask ourselves as we try to make sense of the world around us. Consider:

Are we safe? Whether as pass

Woman Empowerment……the need of the hour

I had the honor of representing India at the prestigious World Summit for Entrepreneurs held in Washington DC. In fact, I spoke on woman empowerment and received a standing ovation. I recalled my journey from one herbal salon to a global chain of franchise salons, and how I started a network by encouraging ordinary women to start salons in their own homes in a small way, to enable them to achieve financial independence. Education, of course, is the most important aspect of women empowerment. Mahatma Gandhi had said, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate an entire family.”

Yes, in a developing country like hours, education of women is the need of the hour, especially in rural areas. In fact, education helps to highlight a woman’s strength and how much she can do to better the life of her children. I believe that it would help to improve the quality of life of women in the rural areas, paying particular attention to education and health care of women and children. In fact, I feel that special attention should be given to extracurricular activities for girls and women in rural areas. An exercise and diet regime would help both mental and physical health.

Great emphasis should be given to every mother to empower her financially and mentally, so that she can educate her girl child of her rights and also inculcate the values of good health, nutritious diet and education. I believe that woman empowerment means financial independence and selfreliance for women. If women are encouraged to go out to work, the family can benefit from the earnings of two members. The quality of life of their children would definitely improve. I also believe that the development of skills and vocational training are very important for financial independence. I have been committed to vocational training of the speech, hearing and visually impaired, through my free beauty training courses for them.

Today, I feel proud that women have achieved so much. But we still have a long way to go. Woman empowerment is not just about one day in the year. It should be an on-going process, so that each of us can focus on the areas that need change and do our bit. The woman has to realize her own potential and strength as an equal member of society. In fact, the educated and selfreliant mothers can also bring about change in the mindset of society and teach their sons to honour and respect women.

Empowerment is also about women realizing that they should embrace change. Creating awareness is so important, drawing public attention to instances of injustices towards women. Educated women and professionals can work together to focus on issues – like literacy, learning of skills and opportunities for entrepreneurship, through kitchen and cottage industries. They can also participate in programmes on social issues and health care.

The “Pulse Polio” program, for instance, is a successful example. Changes cannot come from outside and by force. It has to come from within the society. The change can be complete when society recognizes that the woman has a separate identity, her own dreams and ambitions and every right to fulfill them. To women, I also want to say “Believe in yourself and your own abilities. Keep learning. Do you dream of being successful? Don’t stop! It is important to dream. Then have the faith and courage to take the first step towards realizing the magic of your dreams.” Indeed, let each woman redefine her place in the world, giving it her own color and fragrance. It would make this world a better place.

The theme for International Women’s Day in 2018 is “Press for Progress.” So this year, let us consider the roles played by women, all over the world, in economic development and social causes. Today is the day to appreciate women for their achievements, so that it inspires all women towards further progress. I feel that each and every one of us can take steps forward in different areas, like education, vocational training, skill development, gender bias, as well as women’s safety and security. We need to come together to help women move forward and realize their limitless potential and strength as an equal member of the family and society. So, this International Women’s Day let us all contribute at an individual level or collectively to Press for Progress!

Omar Vaid vying for a Congressional seat in New York

Omar Vaid, the son of immigrant parents of Gujarati Indian heritage, growing up Muslim in Illinois and Florida, embraced his family’s rich cultural heritage, as well as that of his schoolmates and friends. This background is one of the reasons Omar feels compelled to run in 2018. As a member of the Democratic Party he believes diversity is an asset and that all voices must be included.

Indian American Omar Vaid is running for the 11th Congressional District seat which is currently being held by Rep. Dan Donovan (R-Staten Island, Southern Brooklyn), and has been gaining a lot of attention on social media, according to Voices of NY.

After attending UCF and completing his bachelor’s degree in Business Management, Omar moved to Brooklyn in 2006, and started his career in the movie industry. Omar moved to Bay Ridge in 2008, and remembers fondly the many nights he spent at a local Turkish restaurant eating adana kebab and drinking laziza. In 2009 he joined the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 52. In the same year, Omar left Bay Ridge due to prolonged problems with the R train. This is one reason that improving transportation is so important to Omar.

Now, Vaid works with props and set decoration for New York productions, along with working on the TV shows “Luke Cage” and “The Get Down.” According to his website, Vaid has also spent the “last decade directly working with teamsters, welders, electricians, carpenters, mechanics and manufacturers to make sets and scenes possible. He votes with his dollars and for this reason, buys largely from a network of local business owners and small suppliers and believes that ‘Made in America’ and strong allied trades are key to our future prosperity and the perseverance of the American Dream” and believes that “diversity is an asset and that all voices must be included.”

Vaid believes that immigrants and unions make America stronger. Becoming part of the IATSE Local 52 mirrored what his father did decades earlier, he noted. After coming to the U.S. in the early 1970s on a student visa, the elder Vaid gained citizenship and became one of the first Indian American union workers at Light Metals Factory in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“I believe in a free-market system, regulated to protect the average citizen from corporate overreach and abuse,” Omar says.  “It is no secret that today in America the top .1% own as much as the bottom 90%.  To make matters worse, 99% of new income goes to the .1%. People rightfully feel the economy is rigged, jobs don’t pay what they used to and unionizing efforts are in decline. It’s time for the billionaires to pay their fair share.

“We have the power to change all of this. Will you join me in taking on the most powerful people in the world in an effort to reduce their influence on Washington?  I don’t believe there is any other way forward.   We must recalibrate our economy, so the pie begins to grow for everyone.  Unity is our way forward.  America is the greatest nation on Earth. I’m asking you to join me in the fight to make our democracy serve everyone equally.”

Narendra Modi’s leadership is an impediment to US-India relations and a drain on India’s standing in the world

By Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations

Washington DC, June 25, 2017. India achieved tremendous progress from 2004 to 2014 under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s leadership. Successive US Administrations were competing each other to honor the Indian Prime Minister recognizing India’s place in the world. There was a rare unified voice of support from both political parties in the US.

The relationship Prime Minister Manmohan Singh government was able to build with the United States and other governments were unprecedented. Prime Minister Singh’s leadership brought the world leaders to consider India as a deserving member of the UN Security Council and a responsible nuclear power.

But, ever since, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in New Delhi making Mr. Narendra Modi as its Prime Minster, decisions of his government and the free-hand offered to vigilante groups to do whatever they want, from intimidation and harassment to looting and lynching religious minorities has caused tremendous damage to the image and reputation of India on international stage. It has sullied the image of India and affected India’s standing in the world, to the extent of hitting a pause button in bilateral relations between India and many industrialized nations including the US.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological group and the power behind Mr. Modi’s BJP party, wants to create a Hindu nation State – more like a Hindu version of Pakistan. RSS continues to attack Christian church goers in one part of the country or the other, almost on a daily basis. The state governments run by BJP are actively targeting and shutting down churches and church run organizations.

Compassion International, a US based Christian charity helping 165,000 poor children in India was shut down by Modi government in 2017 on false charges with no regard for their own laws.

Recently, the appointment of a hardline Hindu monk to be the Chief Minister of India’s largest state, Utter Pradesh, sent a chilling message to the world about the direction in which Prime Minister Modi wants to take India in the future. Modi’s election has made every country to tread cautiously towards India. But because India is a large economy, the world is forced to deal with her in spite of Mr. Modi and not because of him.

In 2014, President Obama refused to honor Prime Minister Modi with a State Banquet at the White House in spite of enormous pressure brought on him when the later visited the US on a UN Visa. A disappointed Prime Minister refused to eat lunch with President Obama claiming he was fasting.

Modi thought his rehab would be complete if only he could trick the President of the United States to invite him personally to the White House. So he invited Obama to be the Chief Guest at India’s Republic day Parade in January 2015, hoping the visiting head of state, as a norm, would reciprocate the courtesy by extending a personal invitation to him. Unfortunately it was not to be.

President Obama gave a heartfelt speech on why the vision of BJP/RSS is detrimental to the future of India and left for Washington without extending an invitation to Mr. Modi. A shell shocked BJP and RSS did not know how to react for two full days.

Had there been another Prime Minister instead of Modi, the White House which hosted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a lavish State Banquet in his honor would have gone over and above to help improve US-India relationship. But instead what we saw was a halfhearted invitation to the Prime Minister of India (and not to Mr. Modi personally) in the last days of Obama Administration, to get him to sign few bilateral agreements in Washington.

Disappointed Modi’s supporters made a tactical shift soon after by supporting Trump Campaign by misrepresenting themselves hiding their real motive in rehabilitating Mr. Modi’s image. Since then there has been plenty of talk about improving Mr. Modi’s relations with President Trump. But the fact is, from the Presidents of tiny nations like El Salvador and Panama to Presidents of Egypt and Philippines were invited to the White House, not to mention the Chinese Premier, long before the Trump Administration asked Mr. Modi to come.

Contrary to media hype seasoned observers would say, it is not the sign of improving relationships but an invitation out of necessity based on the argument that India and US must work together regardless of who happens to run the government in India.

Had there been anyone else as the Prime Minister instead of Modi, India would not have lost its standing in the world. They could have benefited from the trajectory Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set for India. Even Arun Jaitley or Rajnath Singh from Modi’s own Hindu party could have done a better job of saving India’s prestige in the international stage.

Congress needs a winning strategy: Will the ‘Captain Model’ succeed?

Amid the talk of the Modi Tsunami in Uttar Pradesh, the election victory by Congress Party in Punjab hasn’t received the needed attention it deserved. Captain Amarinder Singh, the leader of the Congress Party in Punjab scored a very impressive win surprising even the most ardent supporters while embarrassing many of the pundits in the media who predicted that AAP would form the next Government.

What is significant about this decisive victory in Punjab is that Captain Amarinder Singh is credited for his charisma, inspiring leadership and simply plain hard work in motivating the party cadre to make this victory possible. Therefore, in the midst of a sea of failures during the 2017 election, Punjab stands out not only as a bright spot for the Congress Party but a case study in planning for the future.

There is indeed a rush to judgment when the party loses, often laying the entire blame at the foot of the Gandhi family. Ultimately, the leadership at the top bears a greater responsibility for success or failures of any entity. However, the collective failures of many in the senior leadership who concentrated on self-development while they were in power and marginalization and decimation of the party cadre during the UPA I and UPA II regimes have much more to do with the falling fortune of the party now than anything else.

However, that does not absolve the tactical errors or strategic failures at the top in dealing with elections and more importantly running the daily operations in a diverse and complex environment. At present, there is too much power concentrated at the top and its inability to communicate in a timely fashion and failure to address recurring conflicts at the local level appears to have done some damage to the credibility and standing of the party apparatus. Many in the top leadership, who are decision makers, are said to be living in their own bubble totally detached from real people never having to see them or even ask for their votes.

If the party has strong leadership at the top – a perception of the public that is critical for influencing events and changing mindsets – similar to the days of Nehru and Indira Gandhi, there would be discipline within the cadre and strict adherence to party directives across the board. However, the current dispensation calls for a rethinking of the status quo with the goal of decentralizing control and ceding more of the decision-making powers to the local level. History teaches us that when the party had stronger regional leadership, it has performed better in those States. K. Karunakaran (Kerala), Sharad Pawar ( Maharashtra), Kamaraj Nadar (Tamil Nadu)  and YSR (Andhra Pradesh) are among some of the notable regional leaders who have managed the party and governed their states with the great success of their own.

There has been a strong suspicion among the pundits that many in the High Command were not thrilled about strong personalities at the local level. Consequently, ‘groupism’ was allowed to flourish in every State thereby weakening the local leadership and leaving all the decision making powers at the top. Therefore, those local leaders were forced to travel to Delhi for even minor decisions and wait for days to get resolutions to some of their pressing issues and often the same wait merely to get an appointment to air their grievances. Stories have been abounding of people returning home without an appointment, and some have simply left the party in disgust and joined the opposition simply to vent their frustrations. It is common knowledge that many in the top leadership wouldn’t even acknowledge a letter or an email from the grass roots willing to share their ideas to improve the party’s sagging fortune!

The ‘Introspection’ by the Congress Party after every election is turning into a butt of jokes in many circles simply because little or no action has been accompanied by that process. However, here is an opportunity to look at the Punjab election and re-learn some of the lessons from the past. Captain Amarinder Singh is often referred to as ‘Raja’ for his authoritarian style and imposing mannerism dealing with complex issues involving people. However, he has proved once again that a strong and charismatic leadership can inspire confidence in the cadre and motivate them to work hard for the success of the party. That is the basic essence of political leadership, Gandhiji has taught us, the sheer ability to motivate and mobilize the masses.

If the party can cultivate a new generation of influential leaders at the local level, it is bound to bounce back. Narendra Modi could only keep up with his polarizing and misleading rhetoric for so long and a day of the reckoning appears to be not too far away. However, Congress needs a new awakening, and it can only happen with some decisive restructuring at the top which will allow a new dynamism to flourish and spread across every facet of the party’s life. Only a reinvigorated Congress Party could defend the vision of an inclusive India envisaged by Nehru and Ambedkar, the founding architects of the modern India.

Those who have written off the 2019 election already for another Modi sweep may be making a grave error in judgment. History has taught us that in a democracy two years is a long period to sustain any momentum. A lot could happen in these uncertain times between now and April 2019. For example, in a lesson learned for ages, in 2004,  the BJP was so sure of its ‘India Shining’ campaign and confident of a big victory yet they fell short of their goals. Therefore, this moment of disappointment is a time to find new resolve and to fight, not to surrender.

Along with empowering local leadership, Congress party needs go to work urgently with like-minded parties to create a grand coalition, similar to the one that was cobbled up during the election in Bihar. In 2014, BJP was able to collect only 31 percent of the votes cast, and in the just concluded UP election, their vote share zoomed to 42 percent in total. It proves that the plurality of the votes was still cast for  secular-minded parties and the Congress Party should do everything in its power to make  alliances with regional parties towards a higher index of opposition unity for the ultimate purpose of defeating BJP in 2019.

Undoubtedly, BJP has won UP on a platform of polarization of religious communities, and if they continue to succeed along those lines while splintering the non-BJP vote, the future of a plural India will be at stake. A  gain of a 2/3 majority in both houses would even embolden them to transform the nation from a democratic one to a majoritarian one, and hence, history would never forgive the grand old party for its colossal failure in preserving the very idea of India for which their founding fathers have fought
and died. If it takes the ‘Captain model’ of change that we have just witnessed in Punjab to reverse the current tide, go for it!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and the Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Congrats To Trump For Excellent Speech, God Bless America!

(Editorial Note: “Where is the Capital of United States of America?” I remember asking this question, to kids and friends, pretending I knew a great deal. That was when I was studying journalism at Marquette in the 1950es. You all know where the capital is. And most of them, not all, told me: Its in Washington DC. Then I would retort and say: It is not! Then some would retort, some nicely, some furiously and ask: “Then where is it?” And my simple reply used to be: “It is all over the world!” America has been making the whole world rich! American capital took flight and got deposited itself in all the countries of the world. Now the new president Trump wants to bring back all that capital to US to make America rich again. That was the sum and substance of the President’s  inaugural speech. I don’t blame him at all for that. Instead to him, goes all my praise!

 In my question at the outset, by ‘capital’ I was referring to: “Das Capital” of the Commies, meaning, “wealth, investment resources in dollars”(Not the headquarters of US).  America has been and still investing in other countries to have a foothold everywhere, but  not so much, at least to the extend needed at home in US itself, in health, education, homes for homeless, poverty alleviation areas etc. of their other own people. Charity begins at home. Put your own home in order first, the homes of the poor in America first, before becoming the top Good Samaritan of the world, or the Super policeman fighting some one else’s war in foreign lands, or  an exporter of American version of Democracy to countries infested with illiteracy. Hasn’t this election prove beyond all doubt how faulty and crippling is American democracy trying to prop itself up on two crutches – electoral college votes and popular votes? Which country wants this kind of voting system?

 Of course  American Capital (wealth) must be shared but not at the cost of starving to death its own children, its own citizens, white or black, WASP or otherwise. On this point, is not the New President hundred percent correct? I quote from the President’s  own speech: “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.”(Recall what is said above:Capital of US is all over the world!)

The whole speech of President Trump could have  a come from the mouth of an Indian president or prime Ministers like Manmohan or Modi, with small changes of few names to suit India and the whole world would have applauded. The problems facing America and India are almost identical: a corrupt and corrupting political class looting the poor to fatten themselves! Three cheers to the newly elected President and congrats to his speech writer. Only one problem! Now the President is on record. He has bound himself in so many knots in public view of the whole world  with ever so many promises. He can’t now wriggle out  without performing, without implementing every one of his solemnly given promises, assurences!

 Here comes the  serious duty of all Americans which Obama your former president of beautiful mind and heart, reminded you in his farewell speech, quoting Thomas Paine: “The duty of a true patriot is to protect his country from its government.” So wake up all Patriotic Americans, your new government is President Donald Trump as unfolded before you in his inaugural speech. Each of you are to be the watchman/woman to make sure that he does not deviate one bit from the path he has marked out for himself and his government. That will make America  truly the greatest country in the world, truly the city seated on the mountain top, to the envy of nations! God bless the new president! God bless Great Ameria, the Greatest! james kottoor, editor)

President’s Speech

Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world: Thank you.

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.

Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done.

Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.That all changes — starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.

It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

Everyone is listening to you now.You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.

For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. 

We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.

But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

I will fight for you with every breath in my body — and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before.We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.

We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.  At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.

When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.There should be no fear — we are protected, and we will always be protected.We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God.

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger.In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.

The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.

We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.

It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.

And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator. So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again.

Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way. Together, We will make America strong again.We will make wealthy again. We will make America proud again.We will make America safe again.

And yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.

U.S. Election: It was mostly about ‘the forgotten man’

By George Abraham

A pre-election poll suggested that 72% of the people who surveyed had the opinion that the country is on the wrong track. Mr. Donald J. Trump who detected that anger among the electorate and tapped it to win the Presidency is on the way to the white house. It is a historic victory that stunned the ‘Political Class’ in this country and the Globalists around the world.

The recently concluded campaign for the Presidency was characterized as one of the most acrimonious in history and vitriolic in tune that has brought disrepute and scorn upon the candidacies of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, one is described as misogynist, xenophobic, sexist and racist and the other as deeply corrupt and untrustworthy.

Obviously, the polls were wrong, and projection models turned out to be flawed. The pundits in the media who were veterans of previous presidential campaigns got it totally wrong as well. Defying all predictions, American voters swept Republicans to power, handing the GOP the White House, the Senate and the House in a wave very few who saw it coming. Academia will now spend the coming weeks and months studying just how and why everyone missed it!
What has gone wrong? According to Peggy Noonan of Wall Street Journal written months before the election, ‘the rise of Donald Trump is directly attributable to “protected” Americans dismissing the needs of “unprotected” ones.

Noonan who was a speechwriter for President Reagan defined the protected class as not only wealthy Americans but also financially successful people in Government, Media, Hollywood, and Wall Street and Tech sector with strong careers. They have money; they live in nice neighborhoods and ‘they can pretty much do anything and they are insulated’.

“The protected make public policy and the unprotected live in it” Noonan added. In other words, unprotected Americans with less money, less access to good schools and less opportunity than the ‘Elites’ ( also dubbed as ‘Establishment’), who mostly live in rural and suburban America are left to fend for themselves without help from either Democrats or Republicans.

The protected class, the types of Think Tanks, Career Politicians, Bureaucrats and Lobbyists continued to make policies that have enormous negative consequences on the lives of the average American, and it appears to have gone on for so long and that it finally reached a boiling point. In short, the story is that Trump, the Republican nominee, was able to tap into that feeling of alienation and succeeded.

Undoubtedly, the election of Trump is also viewed as a rebuke to the Technocratic driven policies, increasing centralization of power in Washington and unchecked Immigration policies that are heavily favored by the Democrats. Obamacare has become a hot button issue towards the end of the campaign as soaring costs of premium was seized upon as an issue by opponents and used it to sway a significant number of voters in the Blue States to go Red.

It has been said that in every election, people ultimately vote with their pocket book and there is no wonder then, the economy and the jobs were trending as top priority issues for the electorate. Trump was able to hammer home the issue that the loss of manufacturing jobs from the Rust Belt States was directly attributable to the Trade deals like NAFTA and promised to renegotiate to make it more of a ‘Fair Trade’ than ‘Free Trade.’

The failures of the Obama-Clinton foreign policies loomed large over the discourse of the election debates as well. Trump has questioned the wisdom of spending Trillions of dollars in foreign wars where America gained few advantages while wreaking havoc in the regions, especially in the Middle East, and creating millions of refugees fleeing their homes. A case in point is the US support for the Al-Nusrah Front in Syria, an offshoot of Al-Qaida that is fighting for the overthrow of the President Bashar al-Assad. The atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians, Yezidis and other minorities in the region and the threat of terrorism from these Islamic groups at home remained top concerns to many voters across the nation.

People of faith have also witnessed increased hostility and scorn from the ruling class in Washington and reacted strongly with greater mobilization and participation that certainly cushioned a Trump victory. The vacant seat in Supreme Court and its future direction also weighed heavily on this conservative segment of the electorate.
The United States was the leading proponent of globalization but the recent Brexit decision and the Trump election clearly points to a re-thinking on the part of the voters in both countries. An upswing of nationalism based on culture and sovereignty was apparently a hidden component that might have energized the largely white middle class, especially in rural America to go and vote for a change in this election cycle. However, it is unfair to characterize this whole group as ‘basket of deplorables’ though some elements who support racism and anti-immigrant policies might be part of the entire equation.

Despite the torrent of criticisms from all quarters, the United States is still considered the lone superpower in the world and a beacon to millions who value democracy, freedom, and justice. However, it is also viewed now as a nation in decline. With 90 million people out of work and 50 million people on Government assistance and 20 Trillion dollars in debt and with anemic growth in GDP and no real income growth for the middle class in last several years, the country was ready for a change.

In summary, the election of Trump is mostly about the economy and jobs, and it is also about the ‘forgotten man’ whom the establishment looked down with disdain. When someone came along and listened to their voices and connected, a tectonic shift has taken place in America; a Trump presidency!
(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)

Trump Triumps in US

Man proposes, God disposes! Triumph of Donald Trump, 70 years young, but oldest ever to become US president, is proof you can never trust people’s judgments starting with your own. CCV was terribly upset and disappointed already, when Bernie Sanders was sidelined for Clinton to lead the Democratic party. So as in India, there was no candidate to choose from. In fact people there were thirsting for change, tired of a two time rule of many unfulfilled promises by Democrats.

But when Obama himself, the ruling president and Michel Obama the first lady put their necks on the block as if for their own election victory – something US presidents never do — we reluctantly thought she might manage to pull through, but failed miserably. The election day itself was memorable, called Super Tuesday and 9/11.

The underdog, Trump called the most divisive, inexperienced in politics seems to have surprised everyone the world over, with his brief-bright-begone victory speech. To the cheering crowd the unexpected his words: “It is time for us to come together as one united people. Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division.” To the “white Americans” WASP(White American anglo-saxon protestant), to revive old memories, he said: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” And he added: “To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.” He repeated over and over again: “I will never ever let you down!”

Office Makes the Man

“Office makes the man”, it is said. If the weight of the office of presidency made him rethink globally, it augers well for US and to the whole world. For this we wish him well and extend our sincere congrats for rising up to the demands of his office as President, not just a controversial billionaire with whom the Republicans themselves are not in full agreement. Factr is he wants to make America Great again.

On relations with other countries his comment was: “We will seek common ground, not hostility. Partnership, not conflict.” As for India and Indians, he has professed himself to be a “friend of Hindus” and he was all praise for Indians whom he labelled as brainy and smart. What he wanted of Indians is to stay in US and build America, not to go back after yearning degrees there. There are already five Indians in the US Congress.

What is more his words on Hilary conceding defeat was very gracious: “Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for service to the country, I mean that very sincerely.” During campaign he had called her a liar who should be locked up and other unprintable names. In short the triumph of Trump was a literal repeat of “Brexit”, an explosion of the pent up frustration with the status quo of White people in UK and USA, jobeless and slipping out of better possibility and visibility.

Contentless Campaign

What surprised us most and the whole world was the hollowness of the whole election campaign debate which was focussed totally on trivialities, name-calling and vilifying the contestants, instead of discussing burning issues bothering the majority of middle class Americans like domestic insecurity, terrorism, influx of Muslims with radical vision of Islam, racial conflict killing blacks most of the time, job-loss to Mexicans ready to work for $5/- per hour, minimum wage, influx of illegal immigrants, education, and health (threat to scrap Obama care), building walls of division instead of opening boarders, outsourcing, Chinese debt and goods suffocating US, foreign policy and diminishing military might of the country, in short the election promises and platforms for the forthcoming four year period. Usually parties contesting elections publish in advance their policies and promises. Of course these platforms are to run on and not to stay on (stay on and fulfil).

What is worse American media known for its excellence seemed to have chosen play ball with (especially with Hilary) the candidates to please as bedfellows, not critics. The media went the whole hog, to live up to their present de-facto practice of “embedded journalism”. Not only the American media, but printed and visual TV and electornical channels seems to have got fooled totally. All predicted a Clinton Victory and wrote off Trump from the realm even of possibility. Some even prepared in advance their cover page for Clinton. She on her part, for comfort, reportedly emerged as the winner of top popular vote catcher. As for electoral votes she could garner only 232 compared to 306 (only 270 needed to win) in a total of 538 electoral votes. Why? Because both the American and World press were totally focussed only on the positive side of Clinton and the negative side of Trump. The fifth estate, supposed to be the watchman, critique of ground realities and predictor of danger signals appearing on the horizon failed miserably in this US elections. (Qui custodiet ipse custodies)Who will guard the guards themselves!

Urgent Need: Change

The need of the day, any day, is not continuity but change for the better. To stay still or to tread beaten track is to slide down, not to go up or make progress. This was immortalized by the famous Ottaviani(cardinal) motto: “Semper Idem”, do the same, never change, which was and still is to some extent, the practice of the Catholic Church which was shell-shocked out of its practice of stagnation by Pope John XXII with his call for aggiornomento (updating) by letting open the closed doors and windows to light and breeze form the outside.

It was this principle that Cardinal Newman hammered in years ago when he said: “It may be different in a higher world! But here below, to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed more often.” That is why a fixed term – 4 year rule – is assigned for US presidency and similar rule for any public office in secular democratic governments. This must also become the thumb rule in the Catholic Church for office bearers – priests and bishops — through constant transfers or retirement, since the proclaimed principle is “Ecclesia simper reformanda” (Church is to be constantly reformed). CCV has to assess happening around and apply them for its own better functioning, so this comment.

The church preaches ad nauseam for change for the better, constant, reform, dialogue, discussion and consensus of the people of God, collegiality, coresponsibility, subsidiarity, in short, all best modern practices of secular institutions, but practices hardly any of them. To start with bishops, they hardly ever consult the laity, never respond even to their legitimate queries, never set up even mandated Parish and Financial committees at parish and diocesan councils. Bishops are elected for life, never retire even when incapacitated on their own like Pope Benedict. So they ought to forfeit their right to preach.

Hoping against Hope

To come back to the topic we started dealing with. President Trump’s elevation to US presidency, is an eye-opener for the whole world. He is a business man billionaire and real estate Mugul, married thrice with four children, with no experience in politics except his tree failed attempts to run for it.

Recall the monkey jumping for the bitter grapes and not reaching it. But this time he succeeded and succeeded well surprising the world with additional number of votes than required. Still a green horn in politics, the world leaders are vying with one another to get into his good books. Even those who expressed worst fears are now sending best compliments in an effort to make friends and influence people.

To begin well is half done, they say. One who has been notorious for off-the-cup dirty language has started on a very civilized and polite speech of camaraderie, collaboration, cooperation and conflict (enmity) with none, augers well for the defeated candidate Hilary and critiques in US and the all over the world. It is said we all have to live in hope even if we have to die in despair. So may better light lead American democracy the oldest, Indian democracy the largest and all democracies around the world for a better world order building bridges, not walls of separation. God bless Donald Trump, God bless America and God bless the comity of nations working in harmony!

Contact at: [email protected], Mob. 9446219203

Hartals in Kerala: a shameful exercise in futility

By George Abraham

Perspective of a Non-resident Keralite

It was supposed to be just another ordinary day in the life and times of Malayalees who live in ‘God’s own country,’ as I arrived at Thiruvananthapuram for a short vacation. However, it turned out to be a day of Hartal, a tumultuous few hours, courtesy of the Congress Party and the current political dynamics in the State.

It is quite extraordinary that I had the dubious honor of facing another Hartal upon my return to the U.S. two weeks later. This time, I had to leave my hometown, Chengannur a day early, to escape the wrath and fury of the BJP and RSS loyalists for a timely arrival at the airport.

One picture in the newspaper explained it all: a man in the Khadi Shirt and Mundu (supposed to be a Gandhian!) deflating a tire of a KSRTC bus right in the middle of the Road in Palayam. There were other stories where people were dragged out of their private vehicles and some beaten up, transport buses were stoned and damaged, government offices were attacked,  and stores were forced to shut their doors including ATM counters. With protestors blocking roads and clashing with police, normal life came to a standstill on 28th September in Thiruvananthapuram.

What surprised me most about the first Hartal is that it was planned and staged by the Congress leadership in Kerala. It is quite amazing that the party which introduced a bill to curb Hartal has now provided guidance and cover in holding one. The party was apparently protesting the hike in the tuition fees in the Medical colleges and the alleged brutality of the police to the protestors.

The explanation by the Opposition leader Shri Ramesh  Chennithala is rather amusing as well. He stated that the Hartal could be held in emergency situations but struggled to clarify his evolving rationale. However, Mr. Shashi Tharoor, M.P. expressed his disagreement in tweeting. “we are right to express our anger and demand an inquiry against the police misbehavior but not to disrupt the lives of the public through Hartals.”

Hartal is one item that seriously concerns every Non-resident Keralite. Many have experienced it first hand by being held up at an airport or prevented from getting timely medical help. It is indeed a travesty of justice and infringement on the freedom of every citizen guaranteed under the constitution. Despite repeated promises to the NRKs to bring this draconian and antiquated practice to a halt, Congress has now given impetus to a whole new generation to go out and destroy public property and stop the daily lives of the ordinary people in its tracks.

The history of development in Kerala is replete with incidents involving Industrial leaders walking away from their investment plans in the State due to political instability. Communist Party has been the champion of Gheraos and Strikes and the flag bearer as the top disruptor against investment and growth opportunities. BJP is also feared for its communal angle and have used their intimidating style of operations to hold successful Hartals.

However, it is shameful for Congress Party to revert to this arcane form of protest that would have cost millions of Rupees in business and lost productivity. In the last five years, the party has prided itself as the party of development, growth and equal opportunity!  A senior Congress leader A K Antony quoted once as saying ‘ the public does not support calls for Hartals and Gheraos  but stand by those who bring about development.’ He implied at the time that the LDF failed to understand the people of Kerala who are exposed to progress through development and not by violent means.

However, after the recent severe losses in the election, it appears that the Congress party in the state seems to be in disarray and search of some new relevance.  LDF has consolidated its power, and they are digging in for the long haul. BJP has become the fastest growing political power in the State and obviously is a serious threat to supplant Congress party as the next possible alternative.

It is as if ‘when Rome is burning, the Ceasar is fiddling,’ the Congress leadership in the State at all levels is either out of touch with the aspirations of the people or simply too focused on their internal quarrels and pitiful rivalries to boost their self-development. They appear to be either so oblivious or merely unconcerned to so many serious issues facing this country such as Growing Intolerance, Rising Mistreatment and Discrimination of Dalits and Backward Castes, Eroding Civil Rights, Youth Unemployment, Environmental Degradation, Adulterated Food Supply, Rising Inflation and Falling Infrastructure, just to mention a few. It is no wonder then they have chosen the ‘rise in the tuition fee in medical colleges’ as the most pressing issue where students have already paid their dues that they could well afford,  and started their classes.

There is no doubt that the Education in the state has become a booming business. Undoubtedly, people with money stand to gain most from the current system. Most political parties also tend to benefit from it and exploit every opportunity that comes their way. I am told by someone closer to these negotiations that the Chief Minister initially warned the private school management representatives that the opposition would not accept these increases, but they persisted. It begs the question then, how they could agree to a change in tuition schedule now that the Opposition is ratcheting up the case!

It is time for the Congress Party, in particular, to level with the people of Kerala and go back to the grass roots and build up a faithful following with commitment if they are to play a meaningful role in the future. Perception of Corruption and lack of fortitude in fighting communal forces continue to dog the party and hurt its image.  It is probably time for the renewal of the Congress Party in the State with some fresh ideas outside the box and maybe, with a younger and more vibrant leadership!  A Youth Congress leader deflates the tire of a KSRTC bus as its driver and conductor look on at Palayam in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday. (Photo: A.V. MUZAFAR-Deccan Chronicle)

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Politics and Corruption

Is Corruption endemic to politics? With Politics front and center in both India and the US, US Attorney Preet Bharara discusses corruption in various avenues on October 9th at Rosenthal Pavilion, Kimmel Center, NYU.

On May 15, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Preet Bharara to become the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Mr. Bharara’s nomination was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 7, 2009, and he was sworn in on August 13, 2009. As U.S. Attorney, Mr. Bharara oversees the investigation and litigation of all criminal and civil cases brought on behalf of the United States in the Southern District of New York, which encompasses New York, Bronx, Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Sullivan counties. He supervises an office of more than 200 Assistant U.S. Attorneys, who handle a high volume of cases that involve domestic and international terrorism, narcotics and arms trafficking, financial and healthcare fraud, cybercrime, public corruption, gang violence, organized crime, and civil rights violations.

Under Mr. Bharara’s leadership, the office has experienced one of the most productive periods in its history. Early in his tenure, he formed the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit, which has continued the office’s long history of prosecuting leaders and associates of global and domestic terrorist, narco-terrorist, narcotics, and money – laundering organizations. Its convictions have included major terrorists such as Usama bin Laden’s son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, London imam Abu Hamza, and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and international criminals such as arms trafficker Viktor Bout and Somali pirate Abduwali Muse.

Since Mr. Bharara’s appointment, the office has continued the tradition of being at the forefront of prosecuting financial misconduct, including securities fraud. The office has secured convictions of numerous insider trading defendants, including Galleon hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam, McKinsey managing director and Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta, and hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors. The Civil Frauds Unit has brought a number of significant civil actions alleging financial and healthcare fraud and collected hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements, including from Deutsche Bank, CitiMortgage, and Bank of America for fraud relating to faulty lending practices.

Little Hope In An Unequal World

We live in an unequal world.  World Bank figures for world poverty reveals a higher number of people living in poverty than previously thought to be in most nations today, Inequality—the gap between the rich and the poor—is quite high and often widening. High levels of inequality will affect social cohesion and lead to problems such as increasing crime and violence. Almost half the world — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s seven richest people combined. One billion children live in poverty today, which is half of world’s total children. Eighty percent of the global wealth is in the hands of 15% of the “privileged.”

Poverty is the state for the majority of the world’s peoples and nations. A report on inequality published by The Economist recently  corroborates this sad scenario that deserves attention: one in two people live on less than two dollars a day, one in three have no access to electricity, one in five have no access to drinking water, one in six is illiterate. One in every seven adults and one child in three suffers from malnutrition. Every five seconds a child dies of hunger in the world, although there is fertile land for growing food.

If the world around is facing poverty, the United States, the world leader, is not free from this evil. The US Census Bureau states that nearly 13 to 17% of Americans  are living below the federal poverty line at any given point in time, and roughly 40% falling below the poverty line at some point within a 10-year time span.  The recession that the country has been going through has affected the poor more than the others. Poverty rate in the US in 2009 was 14.3 percent — up from 13.2 percent in 2008, the second statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004. In the same year, 43.6 million people were in poverty, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty. This number is the largest in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published.

The relative poverty rate is higher among the colored people. Between 2008 and 2009, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites from 8.6 percent to 9.4 percent, for Blacks from 24.7 percent to 25.8 percent, and for Hispanics from 23.2 percent to 25.3 percent. For Asians, the 2009 poverty rate was 12.5 percent, not statistically different from the 2008 poverty rate.

Poverty reduction is a central feature of every country’s agenda and contemporary poverty reduction strategies increasingly focus on “targeting the poor.” Over the past decades, policies and programs by nations across the globe have not resulted significantly in alleviating poverty. In recent decades, economic and social policies of the nations of the world have contributed to increasing poverty levels around the globe.

Government policies and their priorities play a significant role in poverty reduction or its increase. Quoting aCensus Bureau report, Ronald Brownstein, a columnist, wrote that the United States lost ground during George Bush’s two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country’s condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton’s two terms, often substantially. Under Bush, the number of people in poverty increased by over 8.2 million, or 26.1 per cent. When Clinton left office in 2000, the Census counted almost 31.6 million Americans living in poverty. When Bush left office in 2008, the number of poor Americans had jumped to 39.8 million, the largest number in absolute terms since 1960.

President Barak Obama recently acknowledged that inequality is on the rise “even though the economy is growing.” That growth hasn’t helped many people who lost mid-wage jobs during the recession. Half of the U.S. population is now considered poor or low-income. The U.S. is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet nearly one-quarter of the nation’s residents recently said they had trouble putting food on the table over the past year, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

A recent report from the International Labour Organization says, income inequality in the U.S. is much worse than it is in other industrialized countries, where it is also an alarming problem. The gap between the rich and the poor is only getting wider as the median wage continues to fall. The top 1% own as much as 80% of the nation’s wealth whereas, the bottom 80% of the people own only 7% of the nation’s wealth.

Income inequality has become a familiar part of American life over the last half-century. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston says, the bottom 90 percent of Americans saw their incomes grow by just $59 between 1966 and 2011, where as the average income for the top 10 percent of Americans rose by $116,071 on average over the same period.

In comparison with the US, the poverty level in India is even more alarming. The sheer number of people below poverty line is shocking. Although, the number of people living below the poverty line has shrunk to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12 from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05 on account of increase in per capita consumption, the total number of people in a country of over 1.1 billion is alarming.

According to Dean Nelson of The Telegraph, India now has a greater share of the world’s poorest than it did thirty years ago. Then it was home to one fifth of the world’s poorest people, but today it accounts for one-third, nearly 400 million. Based on a recent study, Nelson says, the number of extremely poor people had declined from half the world’s population in 1981 to one fifth in 2010, but it has increased in Sub-Saharan Africa and in India. On an all-India basis, there were 217 million poor in rural areas and 53 million in urban areas in 2011-12, as against 326 million and 81 million, respectively, in 2004-05. This means that roughly every fifth Indian lives below the poverty line.

Thomas Chandy of Save The Children said 200 million people had been lifted from poverty in the last two decades but the recent economic growth had left one third of the population untouched. “India’s status has gone down despite the economic growth, inequality has widened which makes the poor poorer. In child mortality, infant mortality and maternal mortality, India seems to have the largest populations in all these categories. We would like to see focused interventions [because] the most difficult areas remain untouched,” he said.

A recent United Nations Flagship report tilted, Combating Poverty and Inequality, based on extensive analysis of country case studies, found that increases in inequality are linked to a range of economic policies that have dominated the development agenda in recent decades. These include financial liberalization, regressive taxation, privatization in the context of weak regulation, public expenditure policies that fail to protect the poor during crisis or adjustment periods, and labour market policies that lead to precarious forms of flexibility, informalization and an erosion of minimum wages and union bargaining power. Other causes of rising inequality include disparities in educational attainment, technological change and employment policies that widen wage gaps between skilled and unskilled workers; rural-urban wage differentials in the process of structural change; inequality in asset ownership (including land); and unequal access to credit and basic production inputs, particularly in the agricultural sector.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said while the overall decline was “remarkable progress,” the remaining 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty was “a stain on our collective conscience.” Poverty around the world is very alarming. More than 1.4 billion people across the globe are reported to be living in poverty so extreme that they can barely survive. Nearly 25,000 people die from hunger each day. At the same time, a new billionaire is created every second day. The call for a global safety net for all human beings has never been so urgent. The sharp and cruel realities of inequality and unjust policies must compel the international community to transform economic priorities and guarantee the universal securing of basic human necessities.

Former President Bill Clinton told Yale seniors that today’s college graduates will be left to deal with a world that has three major problems. “It is too unstable; it is too unequal, and it is completely unsustainable.”  He urged them to change that, and said that will mean working together. I am reminded of what Victor Hugo, a French novelist, wrote: “The real relief to be provided to the poor is the abolition of poverty.” That’s the challenge that we all face today.

Recently, I had the privilege to attend a ceremony where 14 young and talented Indian American students from across the United States were honored in New York City. They had won an Essay contest on “My Role in Eradicating Hunger in India” organized by The New York Life. Of the hundreds of youth, who had participated, these 14 were chosen and they were sent out on a 14-days Journey to discover and experience India and its people.

The event in New York was the culmination of their journey. These 14 youngsters were full of zeal to “give back to their motherland.” These 18-23-year-old youngsters were born and raised in the US, studying in professional colleges here, ranging from Medicine to Computer Sciences. Now, after returning from India, where they witnessed and were face to face with real life struggles of the people in India, they had returned with full of zeal and enthusiasm to give back and enrich the lives of the people back in India.

In their personal sharing with a select audience, many of them adhered to the fact that this spirit of generosity and openness to reach beyond their own selves and see the larger interest of the community was instilled in their hearts and minds by their parents. They also said, they saw this spirit of giving to the less fortunate and to those who are in many ways are suffering from disadvantages in their lives, in their parents. After coming to this nation of plenty, they have not forgotten their origins,  and their past lives back in India. Their parents were successful in imbibing in these youngsters the spirit of generosity and kindness.

I was touched by the stories of each individual as he/she shared with us how each of them found in the suffering people in India a sense of hope. They are not despaired in the midst of suffering and pain. They taught these youth the value of the many gifts and blessings of life we all take for granted everyday in our lives. These poor, illiterate, and disadvantaged people taught these educated young professionals the value of looking at the positive things in life rather than being discouraged by the obstacles of daily living. The lepers and the handicapped persons whom they met while in India, taught the youth to see how lucky they are to have a healthy body and mind.

These rich experiences have enriched the lives of the young tourists and they are ever enthusiastic about returning to India, especially after they graduate as Doctors, Teachers, Social Workers, Computer Professionals and Scientists, trying to touch the lives of as many people as possible.

Soon after coming back from India, many have already started doing fund-raisers for various projects back in India. One of them said, he will use his musical talents to raise awareness on the problems he saw in India. Another said, he has developed a website to share with other youth of his experiences, trying to inspire many others to come forward and give a helping hand to the people who are in suffering and pain.

Many of them have vowed to return to India, after they graduate and dedicate their time and resources at the service of the needy that they saw while they were in India during the two-week long journey. People such as these are the HOPE for a better world.

Living in a world that is self-centered, it’s important to imbibe in our children the values of generosity and kindness. When we as parents are willing to come forward to touch the lives of the needy, our children are witnesses to this reality and want to follow in our footsteps. When we forget our roots and are comfortable taking care of our own families here and forget our neighbor, we are not challenging our children to go beyond their personal selves and touch the lives of others.

The tragedy, often, is that when we are busy with our own work and the challenges of taking care of our own families, we tend to forget the path we have undertaken to reach where we are today. We have forgotten the people and the institutions that have helped us reach where we are and accomplish the achievements that we are so proud of. We are so engrossed in our lives, we tend to forget that there are many who need our helping hands to reach the heights that we have been able to climb.

BJP, Dalits, and the ‘Cow politics.’

George Abraham

“In these four years, I also saw with, some disquiet, forces of divisiveness and intolerance trying to raise their ugly head. Attacks on weaker sections that militate against our national ethos are aberrations that need to be dealt with firmly. The collective wisdom of our society and our polity gives me confidence that such forces will remain marginalized, and India’s remarkable growth story will continue uninterrupted” so said honorable Pranab Mukherjee, President of India, addressing the nation on the eve of the 70th year Independence Day from British colonialism.

It is indeed quite an emphatic and forceful statement coming from the bully pulpit of the highest office in the land. It also put to shame those who refuse to acknowledge the growing intolerance and prejudice that is sweeping across India by the rightwing zealots who are emboldened by the election of Narendra Modi to power. The question to ponder is whether this is only an aberration or a growing trend that may have disastrous consequences to the way of life as we experience it today!

Just as India was celebrating its Independence Day, the word has come out from Bengaluru that SEDITION charges are being filed against Amnesty International of India, an organization that promotes human rights and creates awareness when it is violated in any part of the world.  Once again, it appears that the law enforcement agencies are made pawns by ultra-nationalists who bent upon imposing their version of cultural hegemony on the diverse people of India.

Millions of Indians everywhere must be feeling the shame of India as the President has spoken out on the continuing assaults of Dalits. In a recent incident in Una,  Gujarat, four Dalit youths were severely beaten up and dragged on the road for nearly a kilometer for allegedly possessing beef.  It is widely known that the so-called upper castes will not touch the carcass and the Dalits are forced clear or handle it and when they do, they are mercilessly beaten up in the name of self-appointed ‘Gau Rakshak Samiti.’

Dalits who constitute one-sixth of India’s population, some 170 million people, live in precarious existence, shunned by much of Indian society because of their rank as “untouchables” or Dalits – meaning broken people – at the bottom of India’s caste system. Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land and basic resources, forced to work in degrading conditions, and routinely abused at the hands of police and dominant caste groups that enjoy state’s protection.

It appears that the Prime Minister had finally broken his silence when he made a statement in a town hall meeting saying that “I feel really angry that some people have opened shops in the name of cow protection. I have seen that some people commit anti-social activities through the night, but act as cow protectors by day”. It is noteworthy that Modi did not call for the prosecution and punishment of these cow vigilantes but asked the authorities to prepare ‘dossiers’ on them and keep them under control!

Almost a year ago, a mob lynched Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri U.P. on suspicion of possessing beef in his home refrigerator. Subsequently, the meat was sent for forensic examination. In June, Baliyan, who is a member of Modi’s Council of Ministers, BJP MP Yogi Adityanath and BJP MLA Sangeet Som defended the killers and demanded action against the dead man’s family for the ‘crime of eating beef.’

If there is growing intolerance on the dietary habits of Indians and rising violence by the emboldened vigilante groups who have taken up law unto their hands, many in the current leadership are in complicity lending credence to their nefarious activities with their overt or covert support to this highly charged environment.

Amit Shah, the President of BJP, boasted once that wherever there is a BJP government, there is a ban on the beef. Raja Singh, a member of Parliament, went even further stating that he extends his full support to all those who take it upon themselves to teach those Dalits a valuable lesson! Mohinder Lal Khattar, the current Chief Minister of Haryana, is on the record saying that Muslims can live in the country only if they give up eating beef.   Panchajanyam, an RSS newspaper has quoted Vedic scriptures that ordered the killing of sinners who slaughtered cows and the Union Minister of Agriculture Radhamohan Singh termed cow slaughter a ‘mortal sin.’

There is no doubt that these vitriolic statements from higher ups have given fodder and cover to these cow vigilantes who roam the streets and become the judge, jury, and the executioners. Since BJP came to power, states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand have tightened laws against cow slaughter, but those in the leadership used the beef issue as an emotive political tool without any repercussions from the Prime Minister. In Maharashtra state, one may get five years incarceration for possession of beef as opposed to two years for sexual harassment of a woman!

Prime Minister himself effectively conjured up the specter of a ‘pink revolution’ – cow killing on a mass scale – in the event of a BJP’s defeat in the 2014 election as a part of a   strategy to motivate people and to vote for his party. Both in Western Uttar Pradesh and again in Bihar Modi spoke at length about the dangers of ‘pink revolution.’ “ The agenda of the Congress is the pink revolution,” he said. “we have heard of the green revolution and white revolution but never pink, and this means the slaughter of animals (pashu). You see, the color of mutton is pink, and they are committing the sin of exporting it and bringing revolution…Because of this, our animal wealth is being slaughtered, our cows are being slaughtered, or sent abroad to be slaughtered….And now the Congress is saying, ‘if you vote for us, we will give you permission to kill cows’”

It is quite apparent that if Modi has to call the heinous and brutal beating of the Dalit boys in Gujarat as criminal wrongdoing and ask that the perpetrators to be punished, he would have to cross that ideological line he and his party have helped to formulate in attaining the power.  However, what he has done with his recent statement to the nation is an attempt to soothe the bruised feelings of Dalits who are critical to the BJP’s prospects in the upcoming elections in U.P. and Punjab. What else could explain his silence in all these months when Muslim youths were lynched or beaten up by cow vigilantes?

The very idea of a consolidated vote bank based on the ideology of ‘Hindutva’ to include the Dalits and other backward castes may be fast unraveling as the video footage of the beating has gone viral and stoked Dalit Anger. The nation also witnessed the de-recognition of the Ambedkar Students Association in Chennai, mistreatment and subsequent suicide of the  Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula in Hyderabad, torching of a Dalit home in Haryana and killing of the two children. All these incidents may only reinforce the age-old Dalit thinking that BJP is essentially a party dominated by an upper caste ideology, and there may be very little room left in it for anyone else!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

The UN Human Rights Council adopts the Declaration on the Right to Peace

The Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations in Geneva adopted a Declaration on the Right to Peace by a majority of its Member States recently. It is the result of three years of work with all stakeholders led by Costa Rica, through its Ambassador Christian Guillermet-Fernández.

The draft resolution L. 18, in which the Declaration was annexed, was presented by the delegation of Cuba. In its presentation, they highlighted not only the hard work of its Chairperson-Rapporteur, his team and Secretariat during the negotiation and preparation of this text.

They’ve emphasized that the adoption of this Declaration is framed in the context of the bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities signed in Havana, between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) on 23 June 2016.

While Costa Rica has provided the necessary guidance towards its completion from the first session of the Working Group on the Right to Peace, held in February 2013, to the last session in April 2015 in Geneva, the HRC’s work was aided by the invaluable mobilization and leadership shown by public figures from the world of art, culture and sport, gathered around Peace Without Borders founded by Miguel Bose and Juanes.

Furthermore, the wide-ranging civic engagement is reflected in the wording contained in the first article, which states that “everyone has the right to enjoy peace”.

In light of this Declaration, the main elements of the right to peace agreed among the various international actors, including most of the civil society organizations which actively participated in the intergovernmental process, are the following: the principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations; the absolute obligation to respect human rights in combating terrorism; the realization of the right of all peoples, including those living under colonial or other forms of alien domination or foreign occupation; the recognition that development, peace, and security and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing; the peaceful settlement and prevention of conflicts; the positive role of women; the eradication of poverty and sustainable development; the importance of moderation, dialogue, cooperation, education, tolerance and cultural diversity; the protection of minorities and the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

In promoting the right to peace, it is imperative that we implement the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, which focuses its attention on human security and the eradication of poverty, disarmament, education, development, environment and protection of vulnerable groups, refugees, and migrants.

The Declaration invites all stakeholders to guide themselves in their activities by recognizing the great importance of practicing tolerance, dialogue, cooperation and solidarity among all peoples and nations of the world as a means to promote peace. To reach this end, the Declaration states that present generations should ensure that both they and future generations learn to live together in peace with the highest aspiration of sparing future generations the scourge of war.

At the level of implementation, the Declaration recognizes the crucial role of UNESCO, which together with the international and national institutions of education for peace, shall globally promote the spirit of tolerance, dialogue, cooperation, and solidarity. To this end, the Declaration recognises in its operative section that “University for Peace should contribute to the great universal task of educating for peace by engaging in teaching, research, post-graduate training and dissemination of knowledge”.

Based on the resolution A/HRC/32 /L.18, the HRC recommends that the General Assembly adopts the “Declaration on the Right to peace” as contained in the annex to this resolution, which will occur in the 71st regular session of the General Assembly, which began its work in September 2016.

Thanks to research, the academic contribution and the trust of many people, governments and institutions, this joint adventure has successfully concluded in Geneva. In particular, the Declaration is the result of the important role played by some sectors of civil society for years, which have shown that genuine dialogue among all stakeholders and regional groups are the foundation of peace and understanding in the world.

Children of a Lesser God: Human Trafficking Soars in India

Sunita Pal, a frail 17-year-old, lies in a tiny bed in the women’s ward of New Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. Her face and head swathed in bandages, with only a bruised eye and swollen lips visible, the girl recounts her ordeal to a TV channel propped up by a pillow. She talks of her employers beating her with a stick every day, depriving her of food and threatening to kill her if she dared report her misery to anybody.
“I worked from 6am until midnight. I had to cook, clean, take care of the children and massage the legs of my employers,” Sunita recounts to the journalist, pain writ large on her face. “In exchange, I got only two meals and wasn’t even paid for the six months I worked at the house. When I expressed a desire to leave, I was beaten up.”
Sunita is one of the fortunate few who got rescued from her hell by an anti-slavery activist and is now being rehabilitated at a woman’s home in Delhi. But there are millions of Sunitas across India who continue to toil in Dickensian misery for years without any succour. Trafficked from remote villages to large cities, they are and sold as domestic workers to placement agencies or worse, at brothels. Their crime? Extreme poverty and illiteracy.
The Global Slavery Index released recently by the human rights organisation Walk Free Foundation states that globally, India has the largest population of modern slaves. Over 18 million people are trapped as bonded labourers, forced beggars, sex workers and child soldiers across the country. They constitute 1.4 percent of India’s total population, the fourth highest among 167 countries with the largest proportion of slaves. The survey estimates that 45.8 million people are living in modern slavery globally, of which 58 percent are concentrated in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.
Between 2011 and 2013, over 10,500 children were registered as missing from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest tribal states.
Grace Forrest, co-founder of the Australia-based foundation, told an Indian newspaper that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including inter-generational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into non-state armed groups and forced marriage.
Children of a Lesser God: Human Trafficking Soars in IndiaAccording to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), trafficking of minor girls — the second-most prevalent trafficking crime in India – has surged 14 times over the last decade. It increased 65 percent in 2014 alone. Girls and women are the primary targets of immoral trafficking in India, comprising 76 percent of all human trafficking cases nationwide over a decade, reveals NCRB.
As many as 8,099 people were reported to be trafficked across India in 2014. Selling or buying girls for prostitution, importing them from a foreign country are the most common forms of trafficking in India, say experts. Sexual exploitation of women and children for commercial purposes takes place in various forms including brothel-based prostitution, sex-tourism, and pornography.
Last year, the Central Bureau of Investigation unearthed a pan-India human trafficking racket that had transported around 8,000 Indian women to Dubai. Another report about a man who trafficked 5,000 tribal kids from the poor tribal state of Jharkhand also caught the public eye.
Equally disconcerting are thousands of children which go missing from some of India’s hinterlands. Between 2011 and 2013, over 10,500 children were registered as missing from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest tribal states. They were trafficked into domestic work or other forms of child labour in cities. Overall , an estimated 135,000 children are believed to be trafficked in India every year.
Experts point to the exponentially growing demand for domestic servants in burgeoning Indian cities as the main catalyst for trafficking. A 2013 report by Geneva-based International Labour Organization found that India hosts anywhere from 2.5 million to 90 million domestic workers. Yet, despite being the largest workforce in the country, these workers remain unrecognized and unprotected by law.
This is a lacuna that a national policy in the pipeline hopes to address. Experts say the idea is to give domestic workers the benefits of regulated hours of work with weekly rest, paid annual and sick leave, and maternity benefits as well entitlement of minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948.
“Once these workers come under the ambit of law,” explains New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Kirit Patel, “it will be a big deterrent for criminals. But till then, domestic workers remain easy targets for exploitation.”
Despite growing awareness and media sensitization, however, registered human trafficking cases have spiralled up by 38.3 percent over five years from 2,848 in 2009 to 3,940 in 2013 as per NCRB. Worse, the conviction rate for such cases has plummeted 45 percent, from 1,279 in 2009 to 702 in 2013.
Not that human trafficking is a uniquely Indian phenomenon. The menace is the third-largest source of profit for organised crime, after arms and drugs trafficking involving billions of dollars annually worldwide, say surveys. Every year, thousands of children go missing in South Asia, the second-largest and fastest-growing region in the world for human trafficking after East Asia, according to the UN Office for Drugs & Crime.
To address the issue of this modern-day slavery, South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation recently held a conference on child protection in New Delhi. Ministers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and the Maldives agreed to jointly combat child exploitation, share best practices and common, uniform standards to address all forms of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking.
One of the pioneering strategies adopted at the conference was to set up a toll-free helpline and online platform to report and track missing children. “We need to spread the message to support rescue efforts and rehabilitate victims. With the rapid advance of technology and a fast-changing, globalized economy, new threats to children’s safety are emerging every day,” said India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh at the conference.
Rishi Kant, one of India’s leading anti-trafficking activists, says it all boils down to prioritizing the issue. “For poor Indian states, providing food, shelter and housing assume far greater importance than chasing traffickers. Besides, many people don’t even see trafficking as a crime. They feel it’s an opportunity for impoverished children to migrate to cities, live in rich homes and better their lives!”
Initiatives like anti-trafficking nodal cells — like the one under the Ministry of Home Affairs — can be effective deterrents, say experts. The ministry has also launched a web portal on anti-human trafficking, while the Ministry of Women and Child Development is implementing a programme that focuses on rescue, rehabilitation and repatriation of victims.
But the best antidote to the menace of human trafficking, say experts, is a stringent law. India’s first anti-trafficking law — whose draft was unveiled by the Centre recently — recommends tough action against domestic servant placement agencies who hustle poor children into bonded labour and prostitution. It also suggests the formation of an anti-trafficking fund.
The bill also makes giving hormone shots such as oxytocin to trafficked girls (to accelerate their sexual maturity) and pushing them into prostitution a crime punishable with 10 years in jail and a fine of about 1,500 dollars. Addressing new forms of bondage — such as organised begging rings, forced prostitution and child labour — are also part of the bill’s suggestions.
Once the law is passed, hopefully, girls like Sunita will be able to breathe a little easier.

Freida Pinto, Michelle Obama join hands for ‘Let Girls Learn’ initiative

Actress Freida Pinto has joined hands with the Michelle Obama, the First Lady for Let Girls Learn – a government initiative aimed at helping girls obtain quality education. Freida, along with Michelle Obama, her daughters Sasha and Malia, their grandmother Marian Robinson – will travel to Liberia, Morocco and Spain at the end of June and early July as part of the Let Girls Learn initiative, a statement issued on behalf of the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ actress, stated.

The focus of the trip, which includes Monrovia, Marrakesh and Madrid, is for them to speak to young girls about the importance of education and staying in school. Starting with Liberia, Freida and Michelle will take part in a discussion which will cover the educational barriers girls face in the country.

In Liberia, Pinto, 31, and Obama will take part in a discussion, which will cover the educational barriers girls face in the country. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will meet with the First Lady and Pinto. Next, in Morocco, Hollywood star Meryl Streep will be seen joining Michelle and Freida to discuss the challenges women in the African country deal with on a regular basis.

Freida Pinto, Michelle Obama join hands for 'Let Girls Learn' initiativePinto, who became popular after her award winning role in Slumdog Millionaire, recently launched a women’s empowerment project at the 69th Cannes International Film Festival. As Plan International’s Girls’ Rights Ambassador, Freida Pinto is fast following in the humanitarian footsteps of Hollywood starlets like Angelina Jolie, Emma Watson and Beyonce, using their fame to help shine a spotlight on issues affecting women and girls around the world.

In a recent interview, Pinto said, “There are events in history that should have shaped the future for women differently, but they haven’t so far and that’s been frustrating. But now there’s a huge amount of awareness and technology has made it possible for people to come together and not isolate their struggles. The struggles of a girl from Africa aren’t that different to those of a girl in India, and in turn, a girl in America. No matter how modern and educated she might think her community or society is, there’s still sexual violence against women, there’s still rape. I think technology has made it easier for people to come together, and their voices are united and louder than ever before.”

Acknowledging that she always knew that she was “born more privileged than some of the girls who I’ve met through Plan,” Pinto believes that she feels “that protection, comfort and privilege I had growing up is something that every girl should have. We’re not asking for a luxury car or a big home, we’re just saying that girls should be able to go to school. That’s not a big ask. There’s a domino effect that may start small but before we know it, we can have an impact on a whole community, then a whole nation, then the world will catch up. We have to start small though.”

Pinto, who had travelled to some of the poorer nations advocating for women’s ruights and education, recalls her earlier trip to Sierra Leone, “where I met one little girl at a school, during a class discussion about what the children wanted to become when they were older. This girl said to me that she’d like to become a finance minister. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s kinda boring but great!’ I asked her why and she said: ‘Because my country does not know how to spend their money on what they should be spending it on, and I would like to help them do that.’ These girls have no choice but to be aware of what’s going on around them and so many of them are using this knowledge to their advantage, which is really inspiring.”

Human Rights Abuses: a recurring alarm on Modi’s travels abroad!

As Prime Minister Modi is about to embark on his fourth visit to the U.S. in the last two years, U.S. lawmakers have sharply criticized India’s human rights record. In a speech in New Delhi, U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md), the ranking minority-party member of the  Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on India to “do better” to address issues of violence against women, government corruption, extra-judicial killings, human trafficking and outdated anti-conversion laws that are still in use. “ A country must respond to these challenges,” he said.

Modi faced similar criticisms and faced protest demonstrations from one group of another every time he has touched down on the American soil. However, these strident criticisms from prominent lawmakers on the eve of Modi’s address to a joint session of Congress reveals a deep-seated reservation by many in Washington of a leader who once was denied entry into the country based on his human rights record.

At a Congressional hearing held a week ago in Washington, Bob Corker (Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee R-Tenn) and Timothy M. Kaine (D-VA) questioned State Department officials on India’s human rights issues, including its crackdown on nongovernmental organizations receiving foreign funding such as Greenpeace and Ford Foundation, rising intolerance and India’s recent decision to deny visas to the members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom who were planning to travel to India.

Undoubtedly, the Indian American Community as a whole would like to see the bi-lateral relations between the U.S. and India strengthened and the progress achieved in the last decade or so to be consolidated between these two democracies. However, a strategic alliance is a partnership that would require trust and confidence in each other for a long term value creating relationship. There is no doubt that both of these nations need each other in the new world order, and the question is whether these two countries are at a point where they are ready to move forward with such a commitment.

Therefore, it is pertinent to analyze the upcoming visit of the Prime Minister from that vantage point. If the objective of the collaborative relationship is to achieve success for both nations, how can one advance that notion while justifying the denial of visas to a U.S. government body that monitors the core tenets of both of these democracies: freedom and justice? The appropriate action ought to be in assisting each other to achieve these goals and together building a stronger relationship.

For those who are advocating more reliable protection of religious freedom got a boost recently when Congress upgraded the ‘Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act’ giving Administration and the State Department new political tools in monitoring and creating watch lists. The legislation has also upgraded the office to Ambassador-at-large, who will be directly reporting to the Secretary of State. It includes a provision as well directing the President to focus sanctions on individuals who carry out or order religious restrictions. The impact of these rules will eventually be felt across the board while nations draft agreements ranging from Trade to environment and Defense purchases.

President Obama’s speech in New Delhi, to a great discomfiture of Modi, was a parting shot directed at his government to modify its behavior as regards respecting the pluralistic legacy of the modern India. He listed the relevant articles in the Indian Constitution to make his case. Despite the public posture, one could detect a chasm between these two leaders who seem to think and view things from different perspectives.

I have been told that at a recent dinner party in Washington, a former official was standing in line to greet President Obama. While shaking hands, the official congratulated the President for the bold statement he has made in New Delhi. First, he smiled and let go his hands and ready to greet the next guest, but on second thought, leaned forward, tapped his shoulder and said ‘I meant every word of it.’ That says a volume of the thinking in Washington, especially with this White House.

However, U.S. is dealing with a different India today that has gained stature as a growing economic power and a global player that has to be respected and may even be courted. For the U.S, the changing dynamics in Asia necessitates new alliances and reliable partnerships.  A rising China has created new challenges for the U.S. in that part of the world and past agreements like the Indo-US civil nuclear deal points to a strategy of exploring ways to sustain their global engagement capability. Also, a 4 million strong Indian immigrant community in U.S. has become vocal supporters of close collaboration between these two countries, often lobbying with their Senators and Congressmen.

Despite all these natural advantages, India seemed to have put in a lot of effort in convincing the U.S. authorities for this ‘state visit’ and the upcoming appearance before the joint session of Congress. There are unconfirmed reports of a quid-pro-quo as regards major defense purchases preceded by a veiled warning of India taking its defense purchases elsewhere if the same level of respect is not accorded to Modi as it was with Dr. Manmohan Singh, his predecessor. It is widely known that the sound of money garners a lot of mileage in Washington just as in any other capital around the world. Apparently, Modi is getting his requital by gaining an opportunity to bloviate before those who once denied him a simple entry visa to the country.

However, if India has to gain genuine respect and to be able to operate from a position of strength and moral clarity, it has to start dealing with some of the issues the lawmakers have raised. Last two years have witnessed a growing intolerance in the country with attacks on places of worship of minorities, the murder of secular advocates and harassment of liberal thinkers. People are afraid that even their dietary habits like eating beef could cost them their lives. The HRD ministry has been converted to become a vehicle to promote the ‘Hindutva’ ideology across campuses by shutting down Dalit student organizations and applying sedition charges on students for mere sloganeering.

BJP and its followers seemed to believe that they have a monopoly in defining what constitutes nationalism, and it has become a cause of confusion and conflict in many university campuses. History teaches us that ultra-nationalism is a sentiment of superiority and aggression towards others or other countries. It is intrinsically connected to war and imperialism. Therefore, India as a pluralistic nation will be treading on dangerous waters with the ongoing nationalist campaign, and the Prime Minister has a great responsibility to set the right tone for the country.

Indian Diaspora in U.S. is much more a diverse community representing different regions, languages, cultures and faiths than what it is given credit for? According to latest statistics, 51% of the Diaspora consists of Hindus and the rest includes Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and other faiths. Indian Diaspora is primarily taking the shape of Hindu Diaspora due to the cultural identity, and most of the Indians including those who belong to other religions accept it as a practical matter.  However, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS branches outside of India) is becoming increasingly assertive in demanding unflinching patriotism and preservation of Hindu culture and continuing with their efforts to present a monolithic view of the Indian Diaspora to the American public.  It is alleged that many of the Diaspora organizations are raising money under the cover of ‘charity’ and ‘development’ to support RSS and its affiliates to wage violence against religious minorities in India.

There is little doubt that the RSS cadre is playing a prominent role in many of the Modi’s visits around the globe, particularly wherever there is a significant Indian community. It is only laudable that the Diaspora is enthusiastic and heartwarming towards any visit of a Prime Minister from their motherland. However, when that community is used as political pawns by turning them into a weapon against those who want to express their grievances; it not only defeats the purpose and good will but rather pits one group against the other and imports the same level of polarization and divisions to the country of their adoption.  The recent attempt by Sangh organizations to reserve all 25 grounds on the Capitol Hill on the day of Modi’s visit to address the joint session of Congress is a case in point. That ‘clever’ and calculated maneuver made it almost impossible for any other groups to gather near the venue and air their dissenting point of view that is protected under the U.S. Constitution.  It is quite obvious to any independent observer that the objective of such action is to stifle criticism and banish any dissent which is contrary to the spirit of democracy, and it is quite appalling to see it happening right here in U.S.

It is time for the Prime Minister to be more assertive in addressing these concerns at home and abroad and speak out forcefully when human rights violations occur in India. Unless he can align the actions of the radical elements of  his party in line with his lofty pronouncements abroad, the human rights issue will continue to cast a shadow on his trips abroad, especially to U.S. Alfred Whitney Griswold who once said the following: “Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor, and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas”. Let freedom reign!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Human right violations, intolerance major irritants on Modi’s visit to USA

Religious intolerance and violence, constraining minority rights and the restrictions on civil society organizations in India have become major irritants on otherwise successful Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-day visit to the U.S. The issues are reported to have featured prominently in the conversation between Modi and President Barack Obama, according to senior U.S. administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. However, responding to a question whether human rights issues came up during the talks, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, however, said: “No, I do not believe the subject came up today in the discussions.”

A number of Indian American groups have also protested against Modi’s visit to the US Capital. A group of Sikhs from across the nation also staged a protest against Modi in front of the White House, even as the Indian Premier was meeting with the US President.

Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations has called for a Prayer Vigil across the US Capitol during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s speech to the US Congress. In a statement issued, here, FIACONA stated that while FIACONA has welcomed Modi to Washington in the past when he was elected
Prime Minister of India, however, this Prayer Vigil is organized to pray for the people of India who are being harassed, intimidated and attacked by Modi’s followers. “Modi continues to be silent about the violence against Christians. Modi has failed in his constitutional obligation to protect the lives and property of all citizens, including the Christians,” the statement stated.

Human right violations, intolerance major irritants on Modi’s visit to USAJust as Modi and Obama were concluding their discussions, the U.S. Congress Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission began a hearing on “the current state of human rights in India, challenges to fundamental freedoms, and opportunities for advancement” on Tuesday.

“…In spite of…constitutional protections, religious minority communities, including Sikhs, have experienced harassment and violence, often at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups, while impunity for the perpetrators of the violence persists. State-level “anti-conversion” laws allow government officials to decide whether conversions from Hinduism are legal – but choosing a religion is a private act that should not be subject to government regulation,” James P. McGovern, co-chairman of the Commission said.

Deposing before the Commission as a witness, Musaddique Thange of the Indian American Muslim Council said: “The Prime Minister who is able to tweet birthday greetings to prominent people, took months before he even addressed the attacks on five churches and a Christian school, and even then his words fell short of an unequivocal condemnation. Modi’s response to the campaign of forced conversions to Hinduism, launched by extremist organizations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad, was to challenge the opposition to support the anti-conversion law that is generally implemented in a way that seeks to curb conversions out of Hinduism.”

In a related development, a group of 18 bi-partisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to Speaker Paul Ryan, ahead of Modi’s address to the joint session of the Congress on Wednesday urging him to prioritize religious freedom in India during his meeting with Mr. Modi, “especially in light of ongoing violence and harassment against religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs”.

The group led by Republican Trent Franks and Democrat Betty McCollum, wrote: “Religious minority communities — including Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs — have endured ongoing violence and harassment for decades in India, and continue to live in a climate where known perpetrators commit violence with impunity. It is in the best interest of the United States and India to reaffirm religious freedom as a shared value in this growing partnership, and ensure that conversation concerning justice and accountability for such horrific acts of violence continues.”

A U.S. official who briefed the media said these issues came up while the leaders discussed the rise of extremism. “While enhancing security measures, democratic freedoms must be protected. Issues related to the role CSOs, violence against minority communities were discussed in the context of the rise of extremism, and how this can be tackled in a democratic society,” the official said. The official said democracies have a particular challenge in dealing with extremism, as it has to deal with the problem without negating freedoms.

The Power of Money in Politics

The recent guilt plea by Congressman Ami Bera’s father, 83-year-old Babulal Bera, that he had violated campaign finance laws by making excessive contributions to his son’s Congressional campaign and now facing a 30-month prison term after pleading guilty to two counts of violating campaign finance laws has brought to the fore the discussions about the power of money in the election process in the greatest democracy in the world. While, no one can condone the so-called illegal ways of contributing money to his son’s tough election battle in the state California, Babulal Bera’s action is so insignificant to the way the rich are influencing the elections and their outcomes across the nation.

The Power of Money in PoliticsIn this context, the US Supreme Court ruling in 2013, with the then conservative majority by a 5-4 margin affirming their earlier decision disallowing any limit on corporate election spending, is very significant. Everyone knows the impact of the court’s ruling that has ushered in an era of unprecedented money power that is unleashed on the citizens of this country, influencing their beliefs and voting patterns.

The Supreme Court ruling not only allows individuals and corporations to contribute unlimited money to their respective political parties and candidates, but also they could remain anonymous from disclosing their names and the amount to the public. In the name of the First Amendment, corporations and individuals pour in millions of Dollars into campaigns. The irony is that these biggest donations are given to tax-free advocacy groups of political parties and campaigns in defiance even of the admonition in Citizens United that independent contributions should be disclosed. Congress can — and should — require disclosure of secret donations. The Internal Revenue Service should crack down on political organizations that pose as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations to avoid current disclosure rules.

The net result of this ruling and its national implications are that rich people are going to buy our elections. Estimates say, the money raised during the 2012 cycle of elections has exceeded an unprecedented three Billion Dollars. If President Obama had vowed to raise a Billion Dollars, his opponent, Mitt Romney raised more money than the President every month since he secured his Party’s nomination.

The 2016 election cycle is going to break all the past records. More than six months before the General Elections, according to a Washington Post report, of the $461.7 million donated so far to support Democratic candidates, 17 percent has been raised by super PACs and other independent groups. The presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton raised $191 million and allied super PACs and other independent groups raised$72.9 million. The presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders raised $184.3 million and allied super PACs and other independent groups raised$4.4 million. Republican Party is not behind in any away. Of the $765.6 million donated so far to support Republican candidates, 55 percent has been raised by super PACs and other independent groups.

This is a blow to democratic governance. It means that  the political process in this country is going to be up for sale. It allows billionaires to buy the political process. Businesses all over the place want to do away with regulation on business practices. The banks and finance companies are for deregulation.  They don’t want government regulation. The corporations that do not want government regulators to monitor their shady deals could pour in millions of Dollars to elect a President or a Member to the Congress or a Senator of their choice and who would favor their unregulated plundering and mismanagement of wealth and ways to generate profits. This is also true with the elected Judiciary members, where there are cases where corporations have poured millions into an election to oust or have a Judge favorable to deregulation elected to the Courts.

It was of some relief to note Justice Stephen Breyer sharing his unwillingness to accept the majority’s belief, expressed in Citizens United, that independent expenditures do not give rise to corruption or even give the appearance of corruption. He also pointed out that the majority conservative Justices had made it plain that they did not have the slightest interest in reconsidering or altering its (unjust) decision.

Democracy is of the people, by the people and for the people, where a majority decide the type of government and leaders they want to rule over the country. However, when money decides who the winner is and the ruling party is going to be, it is not true democracy. A small minority with its money power is able to buy votes, influence elected officials and ultimately has a greater say in policy making. The more the money the rich spend, the more chance they have, they think, of getting their way and of getting policies that are more to their liking. Billionaires come in and spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat a candidate they don’t like or to support a candidate they do like.

The First Amendment is about freedom of speech. It’s not about freedom to spend unlimited amounts of money in an election to buy votes and influence elections and policies. There’s a difference between speaking freely and the sort of influence-peddling that campaign finance reform laws attempt to protect. And in allowing unlimited political spending, this court has opened the door to corruption and to special interest domination of politics. David Axelrod, President Obama’s political strategist, recently invoked a common perception about the 2012 campaign by blaming the Supreme Court for empowering 21st-century “robber barons trying to take over the government.” And that’s not democracy.

Shani Patel at Rutgers University Fatally Shot

Shani Patel, an Indian American student at New Jersey-based Rutgers University was killed on April 10 in a shooting at an off-campus apartment near the university’s Newark campus. Shani Patel, 21, was fatally shot and his 23-year-old roommate was undergoing surgery and listed in critical condition at a hospital, said Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray in an Associated Press report.

A substantial amount of drugs and money were found at the scene of the fatal shooting, and authorities believe the shooting may have occurred during a robbery, according to nj.com.

The university says the shooting isn’t a random act and there are no threats to the school community, which serves about 12,000 students at the downtown campus. “I write with the sad news that last night we lost one of our students,” Rutgers chancellor Nancy Cantor wrote in an email to students. “There is an active, ongoing investigation by the Newark Police Department of a crime that took place at a private residence located off campus.”

Cantor went on to write, “While law enforcement is still investigating and we understand that it was not a random act that led to Shani’s death, it is a shock to lose a member of our community under any circumstances. Our deepest condolences go out to Shani’s family and to all who knew him as a student, colleague or friend.”

An Ashbury Park Press report said that, at the time of his death, Patel was on probation for possessing more than 50 grams of marijuana with the intent to distribute it, stemming from an arrest on April 15, 2013, in Toms River, when Patel was 18 years old, according to court records.

“It’s really sad to see that this has happened to him, very sad,” said Patel’s lawyer, Bradley D. Billhimer, in the AP report. “He was an economics major and was interested in becoming an entrepreneur. He was always talking about having his own business. He was a very smart young man. He was a nice kid.”

As per reports, Shani Patel was placed on probation following a 2013 arrest in Toms River for possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana with intent to distribute, the documents indicate. Bradley Billhimer, the attorney who represented Patel in the criminal case that resulted from the 2013 arrest, remembered him as a “bright young man.”

No suspects have been identified and no arrests have been made, Murray said. An award of up to $10,000 was being offered for information that leads to arrest and conviction. Two assailants, both believed to be in their early to mid-20s, fled the scene.

Replacing ‘India With South Asia’ In Textbooks Leads To Protests In California

Replacing ‘ancient India’ with ‘South Asia’ in school textbooks has led to protests and public awareness campaigns that included letters from professors of religion and history in the sgtate of California. Over 100 “Hindu Americans” converged on Sacramento March 25 to voice their concerns about the California Department of Education Instructional Quality Commission’s plans to accept problematic edits made by a small group of South Asian studies faculty. These proposed edits, according to reports, would have largely removed references to India and Hinduism, and replaced them with the terms “South Asia” and “ancient Indian religion,” respectively.

During the public comment period, the Hindu American Foundation and community members as well as non-Hindus, testified before the commission about both the inaccuracies in the proposed edits and the last-minute process by which they were initially uniformly accepted.

Some of the proposed edits included removing mention of Hinduism’s acceptance of religious diversity, re-linking Hinduism with caste, and removing mention of the contributions of Hindu sages of different backgrounds such as Valmiki and Vyasa. They argued that edits would erase their religious and cultural histories and urged the commission to reject the changes. Moreover, they asked the commissioners to adopt a more inclusive and culturally competent frameworks document.

The community’s efforts was also supported by a coalition of 20 government leaders and elected officials, including Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), CA State Senator Steven M. Glazer (District 7), and several local leaders.

Academics such as Barbara A. McGraw of St. Mary’s College of California, an award-winning scholar and former American Academy of Religion president, and Sofia University philosophy professor Kundan Singh also testified.

While HAF and other groups believe progress has been made, concerns remain about the way in which the edits were accepted. “Our concerns remain with how many of these edits were accepted, particularly in the commission’s apparent privileging of one group of scholars over the views of many others,” said Murali Balaji, HAF’s Director of Education and Curriculum Reform. The IQC will publish its revised set of recommendations two weeks before the May 11 State Board of Education hearing.

Nuclear Weapons: Greatest Threats To Global Security

“Of all the threats to global security and peace, the most dangerous is the proliferation and potential use of nuclear weapons,” wrote President Barack Obama in an article he wrote for The Washington Post. Quoting former President Ronald Reagan, who had said “we seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth,” Obama wrote, “That’s why, seven years ago in Prague, I committed the United States to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and to seeking a world without them.” Obama inaugurated the first Nuclear Security Summit nearly six years ago, after a landmark speech in Prague in 2009 laying out the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Weapons: Greatest Threats To Global SecurityMore than 50 world leaders along with international organizations like the United Nations and INTERPOL attended the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit 2016 of Obama’s presidency, March 31st – April 1st focusing on efforts to lock down vulnerable atomic materials to prevent nuclear terrorism, which he called “one of the greatest threats to global security” in the 21st century. While speaking at the nuclear security summit in Washington, Obama said, the world faced a persistent and evolving threat of nuclear terrorism despite progress in reducing such risks. But he insisted: “We cannot be complacent.”

While addressing the Summit leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India pledged to accord a high national priority to nuclear security through strong institutional framework, independent regulatory agency and trained and specialized manpower, while developing and deploying technology to deter and defend against nuclear terrorism, by making efforts to stop nuclear smuggling and strengthen the national detection architecture for nuclear and radioactive material.

These biannual nuclear summits, aimed at locking down fissile material worldwide that could be used for doomsday weapons, were proposed by President Obama back in 2009, barely two months into his presidency. “We must insure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon,” he declared, calling such a scenario “the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” In that same April 2009 speech, Obama challenged the world’s keepers of some 2,000 tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.”

Since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, proliferation of nuclear weapons has increased tremendously. During the Cold War, much of the debate centered on the U.S.-Soviet nuclear balance. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons have continued to be a major preoccupation of America, with more nations acquiring the nuclear weapons and many more trying to build nuclear arsenals. But, the most dangerous threat has been from the terrorist and rogue groups that have been stealing and making all out efforts to get hold of enriched uranium, a component that is used to build nuclear weapons.

Deadly bomb attacks in Brussels last month have fueled concern that Islamic State could eventually target nuclear plants, steal material and develop radioactive “dirty bombs”. Militants were found to have videotaped the daily routine of a senior manager of a Belgian nuclear plant, Obama said. Obama said the required 102 countries had now ratified an amendment to a nuclear security treaty that would tighten protections against nuclear theft and smuggling. “Our nations have made it harder for terrorists to get their hands on nuclear materials. We have measurably reduced the risks,” Obama said. But he acknowledged that with roughly 2,000 tons of nuclear material stored around the word, “not all of this is properly secured.”

While gains have been made, arms-control advocates say the diplomatic process – which Obama conceived and championed – has lost momentum and could slow further once he leaves the White House in January, next year. A boycott by Russian President Vladimir Putin, unwilling to join in a U.S.-dominated gathering at a time of increased tensions between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine and Syria, added to doubts that the meeting would yield any major decisions.

Moscow, which holds the world’s largest nuclear weapons stockpiles, ended virtually all its nuclear cooperation with the U.S. more than two years ago as part of the political fallout from tensions over Ukraine. “One could argue that without Russia there to weaken some of the [summit’s] statements, as it has done in the past, you could probably get more forceful results,” says Olga Oliker, a Russia expert at CSIS. “I mean, there’s progress that could be made on a number of areas, but there are a lot of areas where Russia’s absence is sort of a missing elephant in the room.”

Nuclear Weapons: Greatest Threats To Global Security
Seated from left, Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Barack Obama, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi

World leaders and international organizations pledged to boost communal efforts to secure nuclear materials. But there won’t be any more global summits on the issue in the near future. The leaders said in a joint communique at the summit’s close that this year’s meeting will be the last. They’re turning to the United Nations, Interpol, the International Atomic Energy Agency and other entities to take over responsibility for the issue. The broad goal of the summit process has been to address the threat of nuclear terrorism by minimizing and securing weapons-usable nuclear materials, enhancing international cooperation to prevent the illicit acquisition of nuclear material by non-state actors such as terrorist groups and smugglers, and taking steps to strengthen the global nuclear security system.

The world leaders say there’s more work to prevent nuclear terrorism and promote disarmament, which requires further international cooperation President Barack Obama says there’s a persistent and evolving threat of terrorists conducting a nuclear attack.

For now, U.S. experts are less concerned about militants obtaining nuclear weapon components than about thefts of ingredients for a low-tech dirty bomb that would use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material and sow panic. U.S. officials said they had no doubt that Islamic State, which controls swaths of Syria and Iraq, was interested in obtaining such materials, but authorities had no explicit evidence that the group had tried to do so.

Rightly so, in his concluding remarks at the Nuclear Summit 2016, President Barack Obama urged world leaders on April 1st to do more to safeguard vulnerable nuclear facilities to prevent “madmen” from groups like Islamic State from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon or a radioactive “dirty bomb.” Obama said no group had succeeded in obtaining bomb materials but that al Qaeda had long sought them and cited actions by Islamic State militants behind recent attacks in Paris and Brussels that raised similar concerns. There is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material, they would certainly use it to kill as many innocent people as possible,” he said. “It would change our world.”

Nine countries together possess more than 15,000 nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia maintain roughly 1,800 of their nuclear weapons on high-alert status – ready to be launched within minutes of a warning. Most are many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. A single nuclear warhead, if detonated on a large city, could kill millions of people, with the effects persisting for decades.

China is seeking to soon achieve a nuclear triad (land, air, and sea-based nuclear delivery capabilities). Analysts estimate that China’s inventory is close to two hundred and fifty warheads. This includes short, intermediate, and long-range ballistic missiles. Some experts say China has as many as sixty long-range missiles with ranges between 4,350-9,320 miles. North Korea’s quest to acquire nuclear weapons has been never ending.

Nuclear Weapons: Greatest Threats To Global SecuritySouthern Asia is home to three nuclear powers—China, India, and Pakistan—that continue to expand and modernize their arms programs. Motivated by the need to address perceived security threats, each is seeking to expand ballistic missile and cruise missile-based nuclear delivery systems. Such nuclear competition is dangerous given mounting mistrust and a dearth of diplomatic measures in place to reduce risk of confrontation. Experts estimate that Pakistan has 110 to 130 warheads and two types of delivery vehicles (PDF): aircraft and surface-to-surface missiles. Pakistan’s chronic political instability, spotty nonproliferation record, and ongoing threats posed by militant forces have focused special concern on the safety of its nuclear materials.

India possesses a developed strategic nuclear program and currently fields nuclear-capable aircraft and ballistic missiles controlled by a civilian command structure, the Nuclear Command Authority. New Delhi has an estimated stockpile of 110 to 120 warheads and is expanding its military nuclear capabilities. In 2011, New Delhi spent approximately $4.9 billion (PDF) on nuclear weapons, up from $4.1 billion the previous year, according to Global Zero, a nongovernmental disarmament movement.

The United States and India negotiated a landmark civil nuclear deal beginning in 2005, which was later signed into U.S. law in 2008. Washington saw the deal as a practical way to overcome barriers to cooperation and also because it believed “it would be better to have India inside the international nonproliferation tent than outside,” says CFR’s Alyssa Ayres. Other nuclear energy powers also boost India’s civilian program: Tokyo pledged to negotiate a nuclear energy pact, a deal with Australia allows the export of uranium to India, and Russia has assisted India for years on the construction of reactors, with new deals in the works between the two countries. While India remains outside the NPT and the CTBT, its civilian nuclear facilities are now under IAEA safeguards and India has signed and ratified the IAEA Additional Protocol.

The failure of the nuclear powers to disarm has heightened the risk that other countries will acquire nuclear weapons. The only guarantee against the spread and use of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them without delay. Although the leaders of some nuclear-armed nations have expressed their vision for a nuclear-weapon-free world, they have failed to develop any detailed plans to eliminate their arsenals and are modernizing them.

According to analysts, nuclear safeguards like those that have emerged from previous Nuclear Security Summits are playing an increasingly important role in protecting the world from security threats. White House Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes all but declares that goal accomplished, pointing to the achievements of the previous three summits. “Because of these efforts, it is harder than ever before for terrorists or bad actors to acquire nuclear materials,” Rhodes told reporters in a conference call prior to this week’s summit. “That, of course, makes all of our people more secure.”

According to Sharon Squassoni, a non-proliferation expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington defense think tank, the job isn’t finished, warning that the political pressure to get it done is waning. “We know what to do,” she says. “The question is, do we have enough willpower and money and attention to do it.”

Will Raising Minimum Wages & Raising Taxes On The Rich Solve Income Inequality?

There is an increasing anger among the majority of people in the country towards the American establishment, towards the mainstream American politicians and towards both the political parties. The rise and growing popularity of unconventional politicians with varied ideologies and outlook to the future of the United States in both the Republican and the Democratic Parties may be explained, to some extent due to this growing frustration among the middle class and the poor in this country.

Income inequality is one of the major global issues talked about today. It is the bane of the working class’s existence. It’s more evident in the United St6ates today than ever before. In the US, income inequality increased the most among all the developed nations – the richest 1% growing by 275%, while wages of the poor grew by only 20% in 30 years. This growing inequality has immense consequences flor the nation’s future. As the children of the rich are getting better services, and in turn, a higher likelihood of social and cognitive development, which means that they are more likely to take up the high paying executive positions than the others, whose parents were perhaps not so lucky. Unequal starting points only mean that the finishing points will be unequal as well, and it’s important that every nation needs to  address this problem by giving everyone a uniform starting point, meaning that people win the race based on merit, rather than a never-ending cycle of rich breeding rich.

Will Raising Minimum Wages & Raising Taxes On The Rich Solve Income Inequality?Over the past four decades, the American middle class has been shrinking relative to upper- and lower-income groups, both of which represent bigger shares of the population than at any time since at least 1971, a new Pew Research Center report finds. An analysis finds that, the upper-income tier has grown the most in the financial and natural-resources industries, and among executives and managers. At the same time, the lower-income tier increased the most among retail sales workers and “operators,” a grouping of mostly blue-collar manufacturing-type jobs.

The increased income inequality since the 1980s is due to a decreasing real minimum wage, which means, the real wages were growing slower than inflation, contributing to increase in the inequality.  The Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, states that the total net worth of those on the list in 1982, the first year the list was compiled, was $93 billion. In 2014, that number was $2.3 trillion, up 2,400%. At the same time, median household income in the United States rose only about 180%.

Both income inequality and the minimum wage have become hot-button political issues in recent years, particularly since the rise of the Fight for $15 campaign and the release of Thomas Piketty’s tome Capital in the 21st Century. Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) talk about income inequality as a major economic problem and advocate for raising the minimum wage as one possible solution for the issue.

In this context, it’s a welcome initiative that two of the nation’s largest states – California and New York – are exploring proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Kim Weeden, director of the Center for the Study of Inequality at Cornell University, says while raising the minimum wage will unlikely decrease the levels of income inequality, it would make a huge difference for those struggling to make ends meet.

Will Raising Minimum Wages & Raising Taxes On The Rich Solve Income Inequality?Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont admitted that raising the national minimum wage to $15 an hour could cause a rise in prices but added the benefits outweigh the risks. In a Feb. 12 Medium post, Hillary Clinton wrote, “As president, I will work to raise the federal minimum wage back to the highest level it’s ever been  —  $12 an hour in today’s dollars  —  and support state and local efforts to go even further.”

However, there are those in the Republican Party and others, who think that increasing the minimum wages will not help in diminishing income inequality. According to Heritage Foundation expert James Sherk, labor economists have found no correlation between higher minimum wages and lower poverty. Raising the minimum wage simply would not reduce poverty. Sherk says, raising the minimum wage will not affect many poor families. Higher minimum wages cost some workers their jobs. Raising the minimum wage makes these entry-level jobs harder to find. That makes it harder for less skilled workers to gain the skills necessary to get ahead. And finally, the welfare state claws back raises that low-income families do receive. Low-income workers qualify for a host of means-tested federal benefits. These include food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. As workers’ incomes rise they qualify for less and less aid—effectively an additional tax on their income.

As per other analysts, a declining minimum wage throughout the 1980s was likely not the primary reason that the income of poor people moved farther away from that of the wealthy. That means raising the minimum wage is likely not the solution to reducing inequality, though it very well might be helpful to that bottom rung of workers. America could need a higher minimum wage for the poorest workers, while also needing a different — and likely much more difficult — solution to income inequality for everyone in the 99 percent.

The exact cause of income inequality is up for debate. But many people, including Piketty, think it has to do with the returns that the already wealthy see on their holdings, causing the rich to see more and more wealth every year, even as incomes don’t budge.

Will Raising Minimum Wages & Raising Taxes On The Rich Solve Income Inequality?Middle income is defined as households making between two-thirds and double the median household income, which is about $42,000 to $126,000 annually in 2014 dollars for a household of three. The upper income is defined as more than twice the median, and “lower income” as less than two-thirds of it. Accordingly, at the end of the 1960s, about 61 percent of all American adults were part of the middle class. Today, only half of all Americans can consider themselves middle class, and that might have something to do with income inequality.

As more people fall out of the middle class and into poverty, more people are also climbing up into wealth. “Better off” households — defined by Pew as earning more than $125,608 a year or twice the “median income” — now make up more than 20 percent of the US population.

Shawn Donnan of the Financial Times says, “We’re seeing a real divergence in American society. What’s interesting about these numbers that have come out from the Pew Research Center and that we’ve built our series around is that, really, this is the broadest measure in terms of income of the American middle class out there.”

Another notable change seen in middle class America is its racial makeup. “Between 1971 and 2015, the American middle class has become less white than it used to be,” Dannon says. “It was 80 percent white in 1971, and the next biggest ethnic group was Hispanics at 11 percent, and you found 7 percent of the middle class was black. Those numbers have improved, but they probably haven’t improved as much as many of us would have thought. Today, the American middle class is 67 percent white, 15 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent black. The big winners, in terms of really surging in the middle class, have been Asian Americans, who now make up 6 percent of the American middle class.”

Though the middle class seems to be shrinking on the whole, the upper class appears to be growing. Though some Americans are working their way into the higher income brackets, many too are also slipping below the middle class threshold. “Just under half of America is sitting in the middle, and then, really, you’ve got one-fifth of America living on less than $31,000 a year — half of them below the poverty line — and then you have the fifth at the top,” Dannon says. “That lower end has continued to grow since 1971. In 1971 it was 16 percent of the population, and in 2015 it’s 20 percent of the population. It has gone up since the crisis in 2008, which clearly has played a big role in this and making everyone feel a lot more fragile.”

“The share of middle-income adults who are ages 65 and older doubled from 9 percent in 1971 to 18 percent in 2015,” the Pew study finds. But Dannon also says that many older Americans are working longer. “The fact that older people are hanging on in the workforce longer could be a result of lifestyle choices, and it could be a result of economic reality,” he says.

Will Raising Minimum Wages & Raising Taxes On The Rich Solve Income Inequality?According to Weeden, in inflation-adjusted terms, the real value of the minimum wage is lower today than it was at its late-1960s peak. This decline in the real value of the minimum wage, coupled with the decline in unionization and the rise of automation, accounted for much of the growth in income inequality in the 1980s. In the last 25 years, however, most of the extraordinary growth in income inequality has occurred at the top of the wage distribution, as the incomes of the top one percent and especially the top 0.1 percent pulled away from everyone else’s.

While there is a push to increase the minimum wages, there is also a demand to increasing income taxes on top earners, and in turn giving those funds to those on the bottom. It sounds like simple math, and has an allure for many politicians and American families alike, but a new Brookings research suggests that this proposal would actually do little to reduce inequality.

Tax the rich more. It’s a popular idea on the 2016 campaign trail, but a new study says that won’t do much to dent inequality in America. Many of America’s uber rich, including billionaires Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon, have said they would be willing to pay more in tax. Buffett has repeatedly pointed out that his overall tax rate is lower than his secretary’s. In the past, America’s top income tax rate has been as high as 91%. It was 50% as recently as the mid-1980s. The current top rate is the same as it was during President Bill Clinton’s time in office.

Bernie Sanders has proposed a “billionaire surtax” of 10% that he says would only impact the nation’s 530 billionaires. He also wants to increase the inheritance tax — what people pay when they transfer land or money to their kids — from 40% to a top rate of 55%. Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have all proposed eliminating the “carried interest loophole” that allows many hedge fund managers to tax their investment income at a lower tax rate (20% versus 39.6%).

In a new paper from Brookings Economics Studies, Brookings Senior Fellow William G. Gale and Nonresident Seniors Fellows Melissa S. Kearney and Peter R. Orszag found that raising the top income tax rate to 50 percent would mean an additional $6,464 in taxes owed for households in the 95-99th percentiles of income and an additional $110,968 for households in the top 1 percent. Extremely wealthy households in the very top 0.1 percent could expect to experience an average income tax increase of $568,617. As per the analysis, increasing the top marginal tax rates for those in the 95th percentile and up had a “trivial effect on overall income inequality.” only lowering the gap modestly.

Will Raising Minimum Wages & Raising Taxes On The Rich Solve Income Inequality?So raising taxes for top earners didn’t move the needle on inequality. Re-distributing revenue from the 50 percent tax rate would result in $1,760 in additional post-tax income for households in the lowest quintile of earners. They also found that tax hikes for top earners could raise critical revenue for the federal government, and redistribution policies would still provide substantial benefits to low-income households, if not economic mobility as a whole.

The researchers also looked at what would happen if all the extra money raised from the tax hike on the rich were given to America’s poorest. Lower-income families would receive about $2,650 a year, they found. That kind of redistribution would lessen inequality a little bit more, but the country would still remain far more unequal than it was in the 1970s. The need to close the gap between the rich and the poor and according the majority poor, lower middle class and the middle class their right to thrive is a basic necessity. They need to be able to meet their daily needs and offering them resources to grow and become productive citizens rather than become a burden on the nation, means, investing in the present by raising the minimum the income, redistributing the wealth of the nation to invest in the products and services that will enhance the quality of the lives every citizen.

With the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, attention turns to Justice Sri Srinivasan

Washington, DC: February 14, 2016: With the sudden death of conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, all eyes are on Sri Srinivasan, 48, who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since May 2013. If chosen by President Obama, Srinivasan would be the first Indian-American on the court and has impeccable bipartisan credentials. The Senate confirmed him on a 97-0 vote three years ago. He was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, now retired, a 1981 appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan. At Srinivasan’s confirmation hearing, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, now a presidential candidate, described himself as a long-standing friend dating back to their time together as law clerks in the U.S. appeals court based in Richmond, Virginia. So far on the appeals court, his rulings have not sparked controversy.

“He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement. “His passing is a great loss to the court and the country he so loyally served.” Born in 1936 in Trenton, New Jersey, Justice Scalia was the first Italian American to serve on the high court.

He was one of the most prominent proponents of “originalism” – a conservative legal philosophy that believes the US Constitution has a fixed meaning and does not change with the times. In 2008, Justice Scalia delivered the opinion in District of Columbia v Heller, a landmark case that affirmed an individual’s right to possess a handgun.

Throughout his career, the outspoken justice has been a vocal opponent of abortion and gay rights, often writing scathing dissenting opinions. He supported business interests and was a strong advocate for the death penalty, but he often parted with his conservative colleagues on issues of free speech.

Justice Scalia’s death could shift the balance of power on the US high court, allowing President Barack Obama to add a fifth liberal justice to the bench. The court’s conservative 5-4 majority has recently stalled major efforts by the Obama administration on climate change and immigration.

Justice Scalia, 79, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He died in his sleep early on Saturday while in West Texas for hunting trip, the US Marshals Service said. “For almost 30 years, Justice Scalia was a larger-than-life presence on the bench,” President Obama said, calling him “an extraordinary judicial thinker” with “an incisive wit”.

The president said he intends to name a replacement in due time, despite calls from Republicans to wait until the next president is elected. “There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfil its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote,” Obama said.

The sudden departure of Justice Scalia has set up a major political showdown between President Barack Obama and the Republican-controlled Senate over who will replace him just months before a presidential election. It has been nearly 50 years since political wrangling between a president and Senate pushed a Supreme Court nomination into the next administration.

Republicans in the US Senate are expected to do everything they can to prevent Barack Obama, who has fewer than 11 months left in his presidency, from naming a successor to a court that had been sharply divided between liberals and conservatives. If they succeed, a Democratic victory in November would mean a court with a decidedly more liberal bent. If Republicans prevail they preserve their slender conservative majority on a court that regularly issues landmark decisions on issues like gay rights, immigration law, healthcare reform, campaign finance reform and civil liberties.

It is difficult to overestimate the impact that the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will have on US politics in the coming months. A vacancy on the court that serves as the final arbiter on legal and political controversies of all stripes, is always a significant, and significantly contentious, event.

The appointment of Justice Scalia’s successor is certain to become a major issue in the presidential race, with stark divisions emerging over whether he or she should be nominated by this president or the next. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on Saturday that the new justice should be selected after the presidential election.  “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” he said. His stance was echoed by Republican presidential candidates including senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Senator Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the chamber, called the move to delay the confirmation “unprecedented”. “The Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail who are calling for Justice Scalia’s seat to remain vacant dishonor our constitution,” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said. “The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons.”

Appointed by Democratic presidents, associate justices Mrs Ginsburg, 82, Sonia Sotomayor, 61, Stephen Breyer, 77, and Elena Kagan, 55, make up the court’s liberal wing. Appointed by Republican presidents, Chief Justice John Roberts, 61, along with justices Clarence Thomas, 67, Anthony Kennedy, 79, and Samuel Alito, 65, are the court’s conservative bloc. With a Supreme Court closely divided between five conservative justices and four liberal ones, every person on the bench is critical. Many of the most groundbreaking Supreme Court decisions of recent times have been decided by the slimmest of majorities.

Other Justices, who are said to be in consideration for the Supreme Court Bench are: Jane Kelly of Eighth Circuit and Paul Watford of the Ninth Circuit. California Attorney General Kamala Harris is another name that has been floated as a possible Supreme Court nominee, although she’s currently campaigning to replace Barbara Boxer in the US Senate. All are young – which is key when seeking Supreme Court longevity – and popular among liberals, while not having a controversial judicial track record that could be picked apart by conservatives.

Supreme Court justices don’t need to have an extensive background in the judicial branch, however. Normally, if a vacancy opens up on the court, the president will name a successor after a few weeks of consideration. At that point, the US Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings in which the nominee is extensively questioned. Then the entire Senate votes on whether to approve the nominee. Although a simple majority of the 100-member Senate is necessary for confirmation, senators could “filibuster” the pick – a procedural manoeuvre that effectively raises the bar for approval to a three-fifths majority.

Republicans in the Senate are going to be under intense pressure from some conservatives to do everything they can to delay confirmation of a replacement until a new chief executive is sworn in on 20 January 2017. That could involve slowing down confirmation hearings in the Senate committee and filibustering any nominee before they receive a vote in the full Senate.

Justice Srinivasan has been considered as a Supreme Court Judge in Waiting. During his prior hearing before the Senate for his current job, it was reported that Justice Sri Srinivasan’s  “credentials would surely appeal to Obama, who has a fondness for technocrats, and his thin paper trail would make him difficult to attack. Which is why it looks very much like this hearing isn’t just a test for Srinivasan—it’s a dress rehearsal.” Now that he had won the nomination with unanimity in the US Senate, all eye are once again on this young judge with impeccable record.

Rising Intolerance In Criticized By Leading Thinkers

The belligerent provocation of various Indian minorities has raised ethnic tensions, says Moody’s Analytics in a report that warned of “a possible increase in violence.” In a report titled, “India Outlook: Searching for Potential,” Moody’s Analytics, a division of Moody’s Corporation, said: “Along with a possible increase in violence, the government will face stiffer opposition in the upper house as debate turns away from economic policy.”

Moody’s Analytics, a top economic policy research and analysis institution, said the politics need to improve and the government’s reform agenda needs attention to achieve long-term growth. While the government met with obstructionist opposition in the upper house with regard to crucial reform measures, the ruling party also hasn’t helped itself with controversial comments by its members, Moody’s Analytics said.

Rising Intolerance In Criticized By Leading ThinkersThe Indian economy is likely to grow at 7.6 percent this year and in 2016 while closing of negative output growth is going to be difficult due to external headwinds and the government failing to deliver on reforms, Moody’s was quoted to have said. “Overall, it’s unclear whether India can deliver the promised reforms and hit its growth potential. Undoubtedly, numerous political outcomes will dictate the extent of success.”

According to a New York Times report, “First writers then artists, followed by filmmakers, historians and scientists. The chorus of Indian intellectuals protesting religious bigotry and communal violence grows louder by the week with a single message for Prime Minister Narendra Modi: protect India’s tradition of secularism and diversity.”

Those protesting are angry and worried by a spate of deadly attacks against atheist thinkers and minorities, and by Modi’s relative silence through it all. That silence appears to have encouraged some of his party colleagues to make comments asserting Hindu pride and superiority.

Last week, more than 100 scientists, including some of India’s top nuclear physicists, space scientists and mathematicians, expressed their anguish at the ways in which they said “science and reason were being eroded in the country.” The protest by scientists is significant, given that most work for the government or in state-funded organizations and so could risk being punished for speaking out.

“What we are witnessing instead is the active promotion of irrational and sectarian thought by important functionaries of the government,” the scientists said in a statement. They said the dozens of Indian writers who have returned national awards in protest had “shown the way.”

As per media reports, there have been other incidents in recent years, including the killings of three atheist scholars who had campaigned against religious superstition, and more mob killings over rumors of cow slaughter or smuggling. Many Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of India’s population of 1.25 billion, consider cows to be sacred, and many states ban the slaughtering of the animals.

Scientists as well as historians have said they are increasingly alarmed by government attempts to rewrite Indian history by distorting facts about a glorious Hindu past. “I fear that we are losing our democracy and replacing it with a Hindu religious autocracy,” said molecular biologist P.M. Bhargava, adding that he would be returning a national award in protest. “I would not like to live in a country that has lost its democracy and has become a theocratic state.”

Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy on Saturday expressed concerns that there is considerable fear in the minds of minority in India and said the governments should bring back the sense of confidence in them. “I am not a politician, I am not interested in politics, therefore, I don’t want to comment on that but the reality today is that there is considerable fear in the minds of minority in India,” he said. He said there was also “considerable fear” in the minds of people of one region living in another region. Citing the Shiv Sena campaign against the South Indians living in Mumbai in 1960s, he said, “Today there is a lot of that worry. I get lots of emails, I get a lot of people talking to me even though I stay at home because of my leg.”

Rising Intolerance In Criticized By Leading ThinkersNo country, the IT veteran said, has ever made steady economic progress unless “there is no distrust, there is no fear, unless the majority community doesn’t oppress the minority community, doesn’t want the minority community to do what it wants etc.”

Communal violence and prejudice are nothing new for India, born as a secular democracy in 1947 amid deadly Hindu-Muslim riots that killed an estimated 1 million people as Muslim-majority Pakistan was carved out of mostly Hindu India with the end of British rule. Since then, horrific riots and clashes have erupted at intervals, mostly between Hindus and Muslims.

Yet India has still largely been seen as overwhelmingly tolerant, with a cacophony of cultures that have lived side by side for centuries. Secularism is enshrined in its constitution. Worries over India’s secular identity began rumbling before Modi was elected prime minister last year. Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won the election in a landslide, largely on promises of lifting the economy.

But some cautioned that his support was grounded in the party’s Hindu base, and noted that Modi himself had come up through the militant Hindu fundamentalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which translates as the National Volunteers Association. For years, the group has been accused of stoking anti-Muslim prejudice, including among teenagers attending youth camps.

Modi, having dodged allegations of responsibility for deadly 2002 riots in Gujarat, insisted during his election campaign that he would be prime minister for all of India and guaranteed protection for minorities. Since taking office, however, Modi has said very little on the subject of tolerance and diversity, even questioning why his government should be called on to comment on local matters.

Freedom and Liberty: – Are we true to its creed?

Dwight Eisenhower, the former President of the United Sates once said ‘only our individual faith in freedom can keep us free’. The question to ponder on this August 15, as we celebrate the Independence of India from British colonialism is whether we are losing faith in that hard fought victory of freedom with the blood, toil and sweat of our founding fathers.

Some may argue that my skepticism is rather unfounded as democracy has taken deep root in India, and freedom and liberty are ingrained in the psyche of the nation’s conscience. While that assertion may ring true in a larger sense, one needs to be concerned with eroding civil liberties and increasing threats to the basic rights of all citizens.

The preamble to the Indian constitution reads as follows: “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation; IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION”. In 1995, the Supreme Court has upheld that the preamble is an integral part of the constitution.

The Jeffersonian definition of freedom always referred to release from despotic restraints, whether it is freedom of religion or of the press or any other freedom. It has been said that a free conscience is indeed the beginning of freedom.  Conscience is a difficult concept to study because of its abstract nature. However, freedom of conscience is without equal in a democratic society, as all other rights flow from it. The idea of choice is borne out of it. A free conscience is, indeed the beginning of freedom.

Freedom of conscience is innate; it is god-given and nobody has the right to trample on it. There is an inherent yearning in every human being to be free. In other words, people wish to live and behave towards each other in a way in which each serves the community, which in turn provides for and looks after its members.

The United States declaration of Independence spells out the basic essence of that iconic document without any ambiguity: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’. — Perhaps no one sentence in American history has had such a profound impact than these powerful words written by Thomas Jefferson.

During the march in Washington in 1963, Martin Luther King, recited these words, and challenged the nation to make good on this promise. A year later, President Lyndon B. Johnson fulfilled that promise with the signing of the landmark civil rights legislation that transformed the nation once and for all. One hundred years earlier, Abraham Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg address insisted on the proposition that all men are created equal.

About 166 years later after Independence, the office of war information released a poster that added the following to that declaration: ‘we are of one mind – Hitler, Mussolini or Hirohito shall never take from us the freedom for which our forefathers sacrificed our lives and fortune’. United States today, despite many of its current shortcomings, still remains a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world.     .

On the eve of Independence in 1947, India’s first Prime Minister in his historical speech said the following: ‘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. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance’. Undoubtedly, Pandit  Jawaharal Nehru remained a valiant defender of the freedom of every citizen, as enshrined in the constitution, of which he was a co-architect, till the very end.

Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation said  “I do not expect the India of my dreams to develop one religion, i.e., to be wholly Hindu or Wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but I want to be wholly tolerant, with its religions working side by side with one another’.

India’s founding fathers had a dream to create a just society based on the values of that preamble, and they strove to create Institutions that would seem to protect that hard earned freedom and liberty. It is indeed our responsibility as succeeding generations, to safeguard those cherished principles. However, the constitution cannot protect our rights if we do not protect the constitution. If we display a cavalier attitude towards those who violate the constitution, we would very likely be accomplices in undermining our own rights and ultimately the freedom of the entire nation.

The biggest challenge India is facing today is the majoritarian view of democratic governance. Unfortunately, a large segment of the voting public along with a significant section of the NRIs seem to be either antagonistic or apathetic to the very notion of an open society where the freedom and liberty of every citizen of the country is respected regardless of their caste or religion. Without fully committing ourselves to this essential creed, we may never achieve the political tranquility that is required for economic development and prosperity of all its citizens.

Terrorism is ‘new world war’

Terrorism, a growing issue worldwide, is reported to have been responsible for killing 130,000 innocent people from a total of 90,000 terrorist attacks between 2006 and 2013 alone. Everyday we read, hear and watch of terror attacks and killing of innocent people in corner of the world. No country or continent is immune to this new threat that has endangered the existence of the world as we have known it for centuries.

There are many who believe that the next round of third World War has already started. An analysis of the casualty statistics of global terrorism shows they follow the pattern previously observed for conventional conflicts ranging from small local skirmishes to the Second World War. Recent public attention to the concept of terrorism created a popular perception of heightened vulnerability of the State.

“We have entered the Fourth World War,” said Cardinal Renato Martino, who had served for many years as Pope John Paul’s ambassador to the United Nations.  “I believe that we are in the midst of another world war,” he said in comments published in Italian newspapers. “And it involves absolutely everyone because we don’t know what will happen when we leave a hotel, when we get on a bus, when we go into a coffee bar. War itself is sitting down right next to each and every one of us,” he said.

So-called “international terror” is arguably no more than a type of asymmetric warfare.  The aims of “terrorists” typically are not the physical destruction of a military installation or the reduction in the capabilities of the military force to wage a decisive battle, but rather the exertion of influence on the domestic population of the target country in order to alter the external behavior of the target country’s government.

There is no commonly accepted definition of “terrorism.” But it is often described as the wrongful use of violence in order to intimidate people for ideological, religious, or political reasons with no regard for public safety.  It is a multifaceted phenomenon arising from a myriad of social, economic, and political factors. Focusing for present purposes on terrorists of most contemporary international concern, what is clear above all here that we are dealing with a very complex phenomenon, with quite different levels of organization and group identity and objectives.

In recent years, the countries with maximum terrorist attacks were Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Altogether, the number of terrorist attacks in these countries amounted to around 7,400 attacks.  The acts of indiscriminate violence by a State that necessitate the use of the unconventional tactic of “terrorism” usually inspire a limited reaction. Compare the events of the “Arab Spring” to events in Libya and Syria.

Terrorism continues to inflict pain and suffering on people all over the world. There are acts of terrorism taking place somewhere in the world, indiscriminately affecting innocent people, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Countering this scourge is in the interest of all nations and the issue has been on the agenda of every progressive nation. Education and training and the role of religious mentors are significant factors in waning these individuals and groups. Vigilance is the need of the hour. International cooperation among nations and organizations to fight terrorism need to be conducted in conformity with international law and safeguarding the lives of every human being who is a law abiding citizen. Concerted and coordinated efforts by all nations for the greater good of humanity is the only way to eliminate and win the war against terrorism.

Hope In A Hopeless World

In a world that is beset with inequality, hatred, violence, divisions, epidemics, uncertainty and fear, faith can sometimes be overshadowed by doubt, despair and a sense of defeat. The ongoing wars around the world between nations, religious, ethnic, and ideological groups, threats to human existence by terrorist groups and piling up of nuclear and biological weapons, as well as through the mindless destruction of the resources of the planet earth, have made us lose hope in ourselves and the world. The future appears grim, as been found in a recent Pew Research, where majority of people from the developing nations less hopeful of the future.

However, there is hope in the midst of all these. Initiatives of small and large by individuals, groups and nations give us hope for a better world. Technological advances that help fight diseases, protect the earth, and keep the peoples around the world connected with one another instantly through the social media give rise to hope.

The recent announcement by the Nobel Committee has sprung a happy surprise this year, with the Noble Peace Prize being given to two notable representatives from South Asia.   Every right-thinking person across the globe is delighted that Malala Yousafzai’s valiant championing of the rights of girls to education has been so well honored. The heroic young Malala’s recognition is a reminder for the entire humanity when she asks national leaders, international opinion makers, and families to see the urgency in confronting and changing ancient destructive patriarchal attitudes.

Kailash Satyarti, another humanist from India, awarded with the Nobel Prize is a reminder that all is not lost in this selfish world. And it proves beyond doubts that one man’s efforts for restoring basic human dignity and rights can have a lasting impact on millions.

Among the many noble causes that Vanita Gupta, who is featured on our cover this month, has championed over the last two decades, she has been lauded for working on a case to defend 40 African-Americans in Tulia, Texas, who were wrongfully convicted. The story on Neha Gupta, 18, the Indian American founder of Empower Orphans, a group that has raised more than $1 million to help 25,000 orphaned and underprivileged children, and has been shortlisted for the 2014 International Children’s Peace Prize, is truly inspiring.

Another individual we have featured this month is a Rutgers University student, who is striving to reduce the chances that his fellow South Asians will acquire diabetes by getting them to alter their traditional high-carb diet. That is making a difference in the lives of millions. The story on a Pew Research study stating that people in emerging and developing nations are more optimistic for the next generation, confirming that they will leave a better future for the next generation than the present generation is what gives and sustains our hope for a better world today and for all generations.

It is astonishing to note that the Clinton and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations, in their less than two decades of services to humanity have provided services to more than a billion people from around the world. Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation- USA (EVF-USA),whose story we carry this month, has raised over a Million Dollars to educate poor children in India. Prartham, another non-profit organization, supported by millions of people across the world has brought education to tens of millions of poor children across India. American India Foundation is yet another example of how corporate leaqders can commit to make a positive change in the lives of millions of poor and those denied human dignity.

During the course of my half a century long life on earth, I have personally met and been enriched by the examples of several individuals and small groups who have made it a commitment to share their riches, resources, skills, talents, time, and their lives to bring hope in this hopeless world. On the occasion of Diwali, the festival of lights,  we dedicate this issue to those who continue to bring hope and make a positive change in the lives of others.

Happy Diwali And A Bright, Healthy, And Prosperous New Year To All.

The Coming Of Age Of Indian Americans

The less than four million Indian Americans appear to be gaining prominence and have come to be recognized as a force to reckon with in this land of opportunities that they have come to call as their adopted homeland. They are the most educated population in the United States, with more than 80 percent holding college or advanced degrees, as per a report by Pew Research Center. They have the highest income levels, earning $65,000 per year with a median household income of $88,000, far higher than the U.S. household average of 49,000, according to the survey.

Although disparities persist with nearly nine percent of Indian Americans live in poverty, they have made a mark in almost every field in the United States through their hard work, dedication and brilliance.  Notching successes in fields as diverse as poetry and politics, some three million- strong Indian American community packed more power and influence far beyond their numbers in the year gone by.

A whopping 84 per cent Indian-Americans voted for President Barack Obama in the last general election. And they are recognized by the Democratic Party with important jobs in Washington, DC as never been before. “It is very exciting to serve in an Administration that has so many great Indian-Americans serving,” said Raj Shah, Administrator of USIAD, the highest ranking Indian-American in the Obama Administration.

A record 30 Indian Americans fought to win electoral battle with Republican Nikki Haley and Democrat Kamala Harris handily winning back their jobs as South Carolina governor and California’s attorney general respectively. Amiresh ‘Ami’ Bera, the lone Indian American in the US House of Representatives, repeated history by winning a tight California House race. Eight Indian Americans scored victories in the states with 23-year- old law student Niraj Antani, a Republican, creating history by winning a House seat in Ohio to become one of America’s youngest lawmakers.

Dr. Vivek Verma won an uphill battle against the powerful Gun Lobby and won the majority support at the US Senate last week. President Barack Obama appointed Richard Rahul Verma as the first envoy from the NRI community to India. Nisha Desai Biswal is heading the State Department’s South Asia bureau. Puneet Talwar took over as assistant secretary for political-military affairs to serve as a bridge between the State and Defense departments, while Arun Madhavan Kumar became assistant secretary of commerce and director general of the US and Foreign Commercial Service.

Satya Nadella is the CEO in place of Steve Ballmer, making him perhaps the most powerful Indian-born tech executive in the world. Stanford University Professor Thomas Kailath received the Medal of Science from Obama for his “transformative contribution to science and technology”, while Arun Majumdar was chosen to serve as one of four US Science Envoys.

Subra Suresh was inducted into the Institute of Medicine (IOM), making him the only university president to be elected to all three national academies, while Sujit Choudhry, a noted expert in comparative constitutional law, became the first Indian American dean of the University of California-Berkeley, School of Law, a top US law school. Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe won the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest after 52 years and for just the fourth time in the contest’s history. Indira Nooyi, another person of Indian origin has been leading as the CEO of Pepsi, one of the largest corporations.

New York’s US attorney Preet Bharara continues to make history with going after small and big law breakers in the nation. Among many judges of Indian origin, Sri Srinivasan stole the headlines with his unanimous support from the US Senate to the US Federal Court in DC.

The India-US relations are poised for a takeoff after an eventful year and a historic election that transformed India’s new leader Narendra Modi’s visit to India and the return visit by President Obama to preside over the Republic Day celebrations of India in New Delhi later this month. The Indian American community continues to play an important role in shaping the relationship between India, the largest democracy and the US, the greatest democracy in the world.

Indian-Americans are tremendously important and we hope they would be increasingly visible not only in the government, but also in all parts of American life,” said Maya Kassandra Soetoro-Ng, maternal half-sister of Obama, adding that the President was very proud of the community. “It is certainly a reflection of how important India is and how important Indian-Americans are to the fabric of the nation. I would just like to celebrate all of the contribution artistic, political and so much more of the community,” said Maya.

“It is time we come to recognize fully the contribution of the Indian-American community here,” said Maya, reflecting the views of Obama who has the distinction of appointing the largest number of Indian-Americans in any presidential administration ever.  Congressman Joe Crowley, Co-Chair of the Congressional India Caucus, agrees, “I think it is wonderful for the Indian-American community. It is coming of age, politically for them.”

Cows are Protected; Humans are Not: A New Reality in Digital India!

When Narendra Modi was campaigning, voters were led to believe that he would fight against corruption and promote a developmental agenda, if he were to be given a chance to govern. While only 31% of the voters heeded his call, it was sufficient to capture an absolute majority of the Lok Sabha seats for BJP and catapult him to the highest office of the land.

Sadly, to the disappointment of even his most ardent followers, governance in India now seems to have taken an ugly turn, with a focus on divisive cultural and religious issues, which have the potential to derail his promised agenda and to threaten the very fabric of the nation that is on the brink of greatness.

The Prime Minister has just returned from a trip to Silicon Valley in California, selling ‘Digital India’, a program to transform India to a digitally empowered society. Addressing the audience in Silicone Valley, he said the following: “I know, to achieve the vision of Digital India, the government must also start thinking a bit like you’.

According to news reports, days later at Dadri, UP, not too far from the Capital of India, a mob converged at the door of Mohammad Akhlaq, based on the rumor that a cow’s slaughtered meat was stored in his refrigerator at home. The mob broke open the door and bludgeoned Mr. Akhlaq; smashed his son’s head with a brick; and then dragged Mr. Akhlaq down 14 cement steps, and out to the main road where he was left for all to see. His son is currently fighting for his life in a hospital. The extremists did not even spare Akhlaq’s mother who is 70 years old, leaving her with a black eye. They also abused his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

Does this medieval barbarism of lynching of a person for his dietary practice go with the vision of ‘Digital India’?   It may have played a part after all, first to orchestrate the assault using ‘whatsapp’ and ‘facebook’ and then broadcasting to the entire world the aftermath.  According to New York Times which reported the story, many members of the ‘save the cow’ movement are also prominent local organizers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP administration.  Seven of the 10 youths named in the Dadri lynching FIR are said to belong to the family of district BJP worker Sanjay Rana. The list also includes Rana’s son, Vishal. A man is killed and his family is upended because what he eats! It is wrong.

Another sad commentary about this madness is that it has happened to a father of an Air Force personnel, who is serving to protect the country from external threats. Akhlaq’s eldest son, Sartaj is with IAF. Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha termed it as an ‘unfortunate incident’, and promised to move the air warrior’s family out of their area of a residence to a secure air force area.

It is quite incredible that the AkhileshYadav government in U.P. has sent pieces of meat in the refrigerator for a forensic test to find out whether it is beef. Does that mean if the results proved to be positive, Mr. Akhlaq deserved to die?  This is part of the idiosyncrasy that is taking place along with the irrational deeds of the political class, both of which damage the unity and harmony of a nation.

This is not the first such incident. However, something is different this time around. Although the account of the incident is on every news channel, the government refuses to acknowledge it, and Prime Minister NarendraModi’s silence in this regard is especially deafening. While, he cannot be responsible for every incident anywhere in the country, the person who tweets about Billiards championship, can certainly do more to set a moral tone for the country, and calm the situation using his own digital capability. There is no doubt that the Hindutva brigade is getting emboldened since Modi took office, and his silence is interpreted by many as tacit approval of the actions of these far right  groups.

One of the known BJP tactics includes creating panic and polarizing communities ahead of an election. This has happened in Muzaffarnagar, UP before the 2014 Parliament election. I recollect visiting the town and a refugee camp in the aftermath. I have heard story after story directly from many in that Jat community, detailing how Hindus and Muslims were living side by side for centuries without serious incidents. However, an auto accident involving young people was used as a pretext to create a wedge  between two communities, and the subsequent riots resulted in the death of 60 people  and rendered about 5000 people homeless. The violence of this degree did help to consolidate the Hindu Jat vote bank, and delivered almost all of the Lok Sabha seats from western U.P.  to the BJP. As the local elections are fast approaching, one could not discount the possibility of incitement in this case.

One of the ironies about the cow slaughter debate is that India retains its top spot as the world’s largest exporter of beef, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and has extended its lead over the next highest exporter, Brazil. According to the data, India exported 2.4 million tones of beef and veal in FY2015, compared to 2 million tones by Brazil and 1.5 million by Australia. There is also misconception that beef is consumed only by Muslims and Christians, however, poor Tribals and Dalits sustained themselves by consuming beef all throughout the history.

Dadri reminds us of the depth of hatred and barbarism that still exists in the society, and how it is being practiced and nurtured for political ends as some kind of a devotion to the Hindu Rashtra. The people in the rural areas, and many from the backward castes are increasingly falling prey to the Sangh Parivar’s divisive rhetoric, and taking the law unto their own hands.

While Modi is touring continents and rubbing shoulders with tech CEOs, and promoting the transfer of technology and inviting investments, Mahesh Sharma, his Minister of State for Culture said the following; “we will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernized and where Indian culture and civilization need to be restored – be it the history we read, our cultural heritage or our institutes that have been polluted over the years.”

For Sharma, globalization is a one-way street. Promoting Yoga on a worldwide stage or sharing India’s culture, food and festivals in various capitals may be fine with him. But his appeal to the rest of the world may sound like this: bring in only the money and the soft code!  There is no doubt that these regressive policies are part of a deliberate and larger effort to transform India, and to impose upper caste culture on all Indians. Sadhvi Prachi, a BJP leader known for her controversial remarks justified the Dadri lynching. “Those who consume beef deserve such action against them”.

The ongoing saffronization of secular institutions, and the silence of those who are in power when minorities are attacked may only lead to more political instability and social disharmony at home.  Speaking on a seminar on communal amity, Vice-President of India, Hamid Ansari said the following: ‘article 21 of the Constitution provides for right to life and it was the responsibility of not only the government but people as well to ensure that every Indian is secure. “We have our own religious books, but as a citizen, the constitution is one religious book. It says the right to life is a basic right of every citizen” he said.

George Abraham
George Abraham

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

India, United States Will Continue To Push Ties To New Heights: U.S. Ambassador

Houston:  U.S. and India have strengthened their ties in defence and counter-terrorism, global health, cyber security and deep space exploration, and will continue to push the bilateral cooperation to “new heights” in the months ahead, a top American diplomat has said.

“In our strategic cooperation, we’ve deepened our military-to-military relationships. We now train for joint operations, we’ve moved to joint production of defence items, and have developed a close and consequential counter-terrorism partnership to help keep both our populations safe”, U.S. Ambassador to India, Richard Verma, said. He was speaking at the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH) 16th Annual Gala.

Both as “natural allies” and “best partners”, we continue to push our cooperation to “new heights” from global health security, to agriculture, deep sea and deep space exploration, cyber security and law enforcement we are expanding our work together, and we will continue to do so in the months ahead. We have aligned our vision for cooperation in the Asia-Pacific ocean region, standing up for the post-World War II rules-based order that both our countries hold so dear, he said.

Addressing a packed gathering of over 600 prominent businessmen, community leaders, Mr Verma also said, “We support India’s move to become a rising power, with global political, strategic and economic influence. That’s why President Obama has explicitly called for India’s permanent seat on a reformed UN Security Council,” he said.

“During past nine months, I’ve witnessed first-hand the excitement of the U.S.-India relationship; I’ve seen the impact that our people and our programmes can make; and I’ve seen the great promise of our strategic partnership what clearly has become the critical strategic alliance for the 21st Century”.

Since the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington last September, we launched or re-energised some 30 different working groups, from trade to the environment. And, following the President’s January visit, we are working on some 80 different lines of work, Mr Verma said.

But perhaps most significantly, we are becoming increasingly aligned on the key strategic questions of our time. “In last one decade we’ve achieved a strong, solid record of performance. In 2005, our two-way trade numbers were around U.S. $ 30 billion, now it is U.S. $ 105 billion.

“10 years ago, we had around 30,000 Indian students studying in the U.S., but last year, it rose to highest number ever of was 1,05,000 students. Indian visitor visiting the U.S. in 2005 were 400,000, past year number soared to over 1.2 million. And in defence, we went from U.S. $ zero in defence sales to well over U.S.$ 10 billion, in just a few short years,” Mr Verma said.

Challenges To Journalists In A Digitalized World

Globalization and digitalization are two realities of our times. They pose tremendous challenges to all people especially the men and women in the mass media. There are two realities of globalization and digitalization. We also need to study the challenges posed by these two realities. Regarding digitalization, India, for instance, after China (575 m) and USA (275 m) has the 3 rd  largest internet population in the world. Internet Statistics shows that 111 million Indians are internet users as on January 2013. Among the 1210 million Indian population 904 million are mobile subscribers and among them 78.7 million people are mobile internet users. (“Internet Statistics India” web page downloaded on August 17, 2013).

In this context we need to answer for ourselves two fundamental questions. First: what are our responsibilities as professionals in the media? Second: how our International Christian Organization of the Media (ICOM) can help the people in the media to carry out these responsibilities?

We need to understand the globalization of capitalism, ownership patterns and consumerism in the light of human (individual & family) needs and human rights. In our globalized and digitalized world we see precisely the concentration of wealth in a few hands and the mass media applauding it! This is 100% true of India where I come from.

As against Mukesh Ambani, the richest person in India, who has a lavish lifestyle, the richest American is Warren Buffett, the owner of more than three score companies. He has been ‘numero uno’ for several years the Forbes’ list of richest persons in the world. Buffett lives with his family in a single story building with three bed rooms house, which he bought some 50 years back! Buffett drives his car himself He hardly uses private jet travels even though he owns the biggest private Jet Company.

When the globalized world took note of the infamous Antilia on one side, it took note that on the other side Buffett gave a generous donation of $31 billion to charity. He shared his wealth with those in dire needs like the marginalized people, the refugees, victims of wars and conflicts. When Buffet visited India in 2012 he called the rich people in India to share their wealth with the poor.

It may be by way of exception, but there are a few people who may not be rich like Ambanis and Buffetts but they do have care and concern for the poor and the needy. My senior bachelor friend and a well known Gujarati poet, Niranjan Bhagat of my city, Ahmedabad has recently done an unusual thing. He has transferred the ownership of his luxury flat in a posh Ashram Road area not to any of his relatives but to his servant of many years, Jagath Sinh and his family. We in India also have the example of Narayana Murthy of Infosys fame who has spent a substantial sum of his income in welfare programs for the needy people.

The rich and not so rich people in India need to follow the example of Buffett, Murthy and Bhagat. When the people learn to care and share their wealth with the BPL people and contribute to the basic need of education and health-care. India can get rid of the scourge of poverty. But will that happen in our globalized world where money is often pursued as the only goal of one’s life!? Many worship money as their God!

Pope Francis in a speech to ambassadors at Vatican in May 2013 said, “Our human family is resently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communication.”

Science and technology have made tremendous progress which was unimaginable a few decades back. But today they are realities. We have explored the depth of the seas and exploited the wealth of the waters. But the sad fact is that we have not reached out to our neighbours – the poor, the needy, the displaced, the refugees, in short the ‘anabim’ (the poor people of God) in the world.When everything has become big, has our heart become small?

I can give an example of the Gujarat state where I come from. Chief Minister Narendra Modi is certainly making an all out effort leaving no stone unturned to capture the Prime Minister’s chair projecting himself as a man of development and Gujarat as a model of a developed state! Modi does not want to compare the development of Gujarat to any other Indian state but with China! What is the ground reality in the state of Gujarat?

Modi does not want the development of Gujarat compared to other Indian states because in many criteria of Human Development Gujarat is far behind other states! According to India Human Development Report 2011, Planning Commission of India, Gujarat lags behind many other Indian states in development! [Naya Marg, (fortnightly), 16-7-2013, p.5] Yet Modi’s hugely paid advertisements in India and abroad project Gujarat at the top of the developed world! This is the biggest lie about Gujarat.

The rationalist people who care for facts say that Modi’s popularity is media-managed. No wonder even Nobel Laureate (Economics 1998) Amartya Sen has voiced his concern against Modi and Gujarat model of development. Sen has clearly stated that Modi should not be the Prime Minister of India. He says that Modi is a divisive force.  position! The child mortality rate according to 2009 information Gujarat  position! Basic human development index of health, primary  position (of 28 states) in India. A former member of planning commission and former Vice-Chancellor of Mumbai University Bhalchandra Mungekar wrote in The Indian Express: “Modi’s claim is too tall and not supported by evidence” Most of Modi’s claims for development are hollow that an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer told me simply, “Modi plus advertisements is Hero. Modi minus advertisements is Zero!”

As writers and journalists working in mass media we can be trend setters. This sort of ground realities of our globalized and digitalized world brings us back to our basic, fundamental questions. In answering the two vital questions, here are my seven practical suggestions for your consideration: 1) Develop a Sense of Fraternal Responsibility;  2) Highlight Developmental Issues; 3) Develop a nose for news about the progress of the aboriginals, tribals and the depressed class of people (Dalits) and for their problems and difficulties. And voice these concerns in the media and in our lives; 4) Be Defenders & Protectors of the Voiceless; 5) Fight the Evil of Corruption; 6) Protection of our Environment; and, 7) Be an Agent of Peace and Harmony.

In a societal analysis of our contemporary world we see spectacular progress of science and technology, communication and transportation, management and entertainment. On the other side we also see that the number of those excluded from the benefits of our globalized and digitalized world is increasing! There is no justice, equality and fraternity for all. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing wider and wider.

Fifty years ago, Dr Martin Luther King called for racial solidarity in his famous speech “I have a dream…” Today in our globalized and digitalized world we need not only racial solidarity but we also need economic solidarity, inter-religious solidarity and cultural solidarity.

We need solidarity with all people of good will leading to love and peace, equality and justice, freedom and fraternity. So we should firmly resolve that each one of us will work through mass media for the attainment of a new world of solidarity, a better world of solidarity.

Rakesh Kochhar: India’s middle class underperformance

It has proved hard for most Indians to better the global middle-income standard. Perhaps more than ever, India aspires to be a global economic powerhouse. This hope may have been behind the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose victory is tied by many to public faith in his economic agenda. Mr Modi, in fact, has launched a “Make in India”campaign that aims directly to boost investment and manufacturing in the country. The focus on economic issues is evident online: a Google search for “Narendra Modi and India’s middle class” yields more than one million results.

But exactly how big is the Indian middle class? And how does its size and growth compare with the rest of the world’s? The short answers to these questions are “not so big” and “not very well.” These findings emerge from a recent Pew Research Center study that looked at the size and the growth of the global middle class from 2001 to 2011 by analysing data for 111 countries.

India lags in key respects. Only 3% of India’s population in 2011 — 32 million people — fell into the middle-income bracket. Some eight million, or about 1%, were upper-middle income or better off. The vast majority of India’s population is estimated to be either poor (20%) or low income (77%), about 1.2 billion people in all.

By contrast, 13% of the world’s population could be considered middle income in 2011, more than four times the share of India’s population that is middle income. India also falls behind in higher-income brackets: 16% of the global population lives at the upper-middle income level or better. Like most Indians, however, most people worldwide were also either poor (15%) or low income (56%) in 2011.

In the Pew Research study, people living on $10-20 a day are considered middle income.There is a growing consensus among economists that the $10 threshold is sufficiently removed from poverty — $2 or less per day by the global standard — and represents a modicum of economic security. At the same time, the threshold is modest by the standards of advanced nations, in many of which median incomes are greater than $50 per day per capita.

To Indians, the global middle-income threshold of $10 means living on Rs 150 per day. For an Indian family of four, attaining middle-income status requires bringing home more than Rs 18,200 monthly or about Rs 220,000 annually. (The conversions are done at 2011 purchasing power parity rates, which are exchange rates adjusted for differences in the prices of goods and services across countries, and expressed in 2011 prices.)

It has proved hard for most Indians to better the global middle-income standard. Leaving aside the Pew Research study, India’s National Sample Survey, whose 68th round was conducted in 2011-12, found that, on average, a rural family of four lived on Rs 5,720 per month. In urban areas, a family of four lived on an average of Rs 10,519 per month. These data confirm that the typical Indian family lives on budgets that are mere fractions of the global middle-income threshold.

To be sure, India cut poverty dramatically. The share of India’s population living on $2 or less daily fell from 35% in 2001 to 20% in 2011, which meant that 133 million Indians were pulled out of poverty. But this mainly resulted in an increase in the share of its low-income population (daily budget of $2-10) from 63% to 77%.

Even as prospects for a sizable Indian middle class appear to languish, China’s surged from 2001 to 2011.The sizes of the India’s and China’s middle classes were close at the start of the 21st century: In 2001, 1% of Indians were middle income, compared with 3% of Chinese. But by 2011, the share of Chinese who were middle income jumped to 18% while the share of Indians in the middle-income bracket inched up to only 3%.

India trails China in part because the economic reforms Delhi launched in 1991 came more than a decade after Beijing’sin the late 1970s. Analysts also note that reforms cut deeper and reached farther within China’s economy, resulting in superior outcomes.

How does India compare with other BRICS in building its middle class? Not favourably. Russia leads the group, with the middle-income bracket accounting for 37% of its population in 2011. Brazil, with 28%, and South Africa, with 14%, also lead India by substantial margins. Compared with India, these countries, and China, also have higher shares of their populations living in the upper-middle income ($10-50 daily) or high-income (more than $50 daily) brackets.

It is possible that the size of India’s middle class is underestimated. Alternative estimates suggest that the middle class may account for between 5% and 10% of India’s population. Like the Pew Research study, these estimates use the $10 threshold for entry into the middle class. But they also encompass people living on as much as $50 per day and draw on other data sources. Even if as many as 10% of Indians are in the middle class, about one billion are still aspiring to join it. Many Indians remain optimistic that Modi’s economic agenda will deliver success in the near future. No one has a crystal ball. But whether the goal is “Make in India” or “Make for India,” the magnitude of the challenge is clear.

70 Years After Hiroshima

70 years ago, on August 6th, 1945 the city of Hiroshima in Japan was destroyed with an atomic bomb. In a few minutes, thousands of people lost their lives in the attack. Three days later the city of Nagasaki, also in Japan met the same fate. The Second World War ended six days later. Our world changed forever.

Within a single flash of light, Hiroshima, a city with a population of 360,000 — largely non-combatant women, children and elderly became a place of desolation, with heaps of skeletons and blackened corpses everywhere. As of now, over 250,000 victims have perished in Hiroshima from the effects of the blast, heat and radiation. 70 years later, people are still dying from the delayed effects of one atomic bomb, considered crude by today’s standard for mass destruction.

According to the Red Cross, nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of atomic bomb survivor deaths in the Hiroshima Red Cross hospital until March 2014 were caused by cancers. The most deadly cancers were lung (20 per cent), stomach (18 per cent), liver (14 per cent), leukaemia (eight per cent), intestinal (seven per cent) and malignant lymphoma (six per cent). Over this period, more than half of all deaths at the Nagasaki Red Cross hospital (56 per cent) were due to cancer.

As many believed, Hiroshima was targeted because of its strategic significance as a military headquarters, a major trading port and one of the main supply depots for the Japanese army. It was also largely untouched by previous bombings. However, the Stop the War Coalition points out that over 95 per cent of the combined casualties of the two cities were civilian. As the first country to use nuclear weapons against civilian populations, the US was in direct violation of internationally agreed principles of war, writes Professor Rodrigue Tremblay for the Global Research Centre. “Thus, August 1945 is a most dangerous and ominous precedent that marked a new dismal beginning in the history of humanity, a big moral step backward.”

After the first bomb fell, co-pilot Captain Robert Lewis said: “My God, what have we done? How many did we kill?” The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also changed the course of history by launching the global race for nuclear proliferation. Today, there are more than 16,000 nuclear weapons around the globe with landmines, biological and chemical weapons threatening the very existence of humanity.

Currently, just nine countries are known to possess nuclear weapons: the US, the UK, France, Israel, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The recently completed negotiations with Iran are only the latest attempt to keep the list at nine, says author and historian James Kunetka. “But realistically, the fight to halt the further spread of weapons will no doubt continue far into the future.”

These nine nations believe strongly in nuclear deterrence, arguing that by possessing a range of weapons, foreign states will refrain from attacking due to the fear of retaliation and “mutually assured destruction”. “In a world in which a rogue state like North Korea, a dysfunctional state like Pakistan and an increasingly bellicose state like Russia all possess the bomb, what major power is going to lead the way and unilaterally disarm?,” asks The Guardian‘s Andrew Anthony.

American journalist Eric Schlosser, says,”The problem with nuclear deterrence is that it requires secular rational thought on both sides of the equation,” he said adding that there are now groups like Islamic State with ideologies that glorify and celebrate the slaughter of civilians as well as militants who are not fearful of death. “That makes this technology even more dangerous.”

Most experts agree that nuclear weapons are more dangerous now than at any point in our history. The risks are too many and too huge. “Geopolitical saber rattling, human error, computer failure, complex systems failure, increasing radioactive contamination in the environment and its toll on public and environmental health, as well as the global famine and climate chaos that would ensue should a limited use of nuclear weapons occur by accident or design. Yet few people truly grasp the meaning of living in the nuclear age.”

The death of innocents that has been the driving force for millions of people around the world continues to inspire the struggle against the ultimate evil of nuclear weapons. In a speech at a Washington DC university President Obama said the agreement is publically supported by every country in the world, except for Israel. Obama described it as the “strongest non-proliferation agreement ever negotiated”. President John F Kennedy in 1963, spoke at the same Washington DC area university in support of diplomacy with the Soviet Union.

The Iran deal is considered a signature achievement of Obama’s foreign policy legacy. The nuclear deal calls for Iran to reduce its enrichment in exchange for the releasing of millions of dollars in frozen assets. Unfortunately, today, 70 years after the world witnessed the most horrific event in human history, humanity continues to live with the daily threat of nuclear weapons.

It’s time for action to establish a legally binding framework to ban nuclear weapons as a first step in their total abolition. Every peace loving citizen of the world must urge and work to join the growing global movement. And let us make the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal: to abolish nuclear weapons, and safeguard the future of our one shared planet earth. It’s time to rid the globe of the most destructive weapons of all and make sure there’s never another humanitarian tragedy like Hiroshima.’

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