US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan Visits India to Strengthen Strategic Tech Partnership and Enhance Indo-Pacific Security

As the world’s two oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India share a unique friendship, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s recent visit aims to strengthen this partnership, creating a safer and more prosperous Indo-Pacific, according to the White House.

Sullivan visited New Delhi from June 17 to 18, marking the first trip to India by a senior official from the Biden administration since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government secured its third term. During his visit, Sullivan met with Prime Minister Modi and his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, on Monday.

John Kirby, White House National Security Communications Advisor, highlighted the significance of the visit during his daily news conference on Monday. “As the world’s two oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India share a unique bond of friendship, and Mr. Sullivan’s trip will further deepen the already strong US-India partnership to create a safer and more prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Kirby stated.

In New Delhi, Sullivan will co-chair the US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET), a landmark partnership aimed at expanding strategic cooperation across key technology sectors. These sectors include space, semiconductors, advanced telecommunications, artificial intelligence, quantum technology, biotechnology, and clean energy.

Kirby refrained from commenting on the case of Indian national Nikhil Gupta, who has been accused of being involved in a murder-for-hire plot against Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil. Gupta has been extradited to the US from the Czech Republic. “I don’t have more to add on the conversations that Jake’s having. He’s still over there having these conversations. But the main focus of his visit, as I said, was to look for ways to deepen the US-India bilateral relationship, particularly when it comes to emerging technology,” Kirby remarked.

Gupta appeared before a federal court in New York on Monday, where he pleaded not guilty. India has publicly stated that a high-level inquiry is examining the evidence shared by the US regarding the alleged plot to kill Pannun.

Sullivan’s visit underscores the importance of US-India relations, especially in the context of technological advancements and strategic cooperation. The iCET initiative represents a significant step in this direction, aiming to bolster collaboration in critical and emerging technologies that are pivotal for both nations’ security and prosperity.

The partnership between the US and India is built on shared democratic values and a commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Sullivan’s visit is expected to enhance this partnership, fostering greater cooperation in areas that are crucial for global security and economic growth.

The discussions during Sullivan’s visit are likely to cover a wide range of topics, including defense cooperation, trade relations, and regional security issues. Both countries are keen to address common challenges and leverage their strengths to promote stability and development in the Indo-Pacific region.

The US-India relationship has seen significant growth in recent years, with increased collaboration in various fields, including defense, trade, and technology. Sullivan’s visit is seen as a continuation of this positive trend, aiming to further strengthen the ties between the two nations.

In addition to his meetings with Modi and Doval, Sullivan is expected to engage with other Indian officials and business leaders to discuss opportunities for collaboration and investment. The focus will be on identifying areas where the US and India can work together to achieve mutual benefits and address global challenges.

The iCET initiative is a prime example of the strategic cooperation between the US and India, highlighting the importance of technological innovation in driving economic growth and enhancing national security. By working together on critical technologies, both countries can ensure their continued leadership in these fields and contribute to global progress.

Sullivan’s visit also reflects the Biden administration’s commitment to strengthening alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region. The US sees India as a key partner in its efforts to maintain a balance of power and promote stability in the region. The visit aims to reinforce this partnership and explore new avenues for cooperation.

Overall, Sullivan’s visit to India is a significant milestone in the US-India relationship, emphasizing the importance of strategic cooperation in critical and emerging technologies. It is expected to pave the way for deeper collaboration and stronger ties between the two democracies, contributing to a safer and more prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

The discussions and outcomes of Sullivan’s visit will likely shape the future trajectory of US-India relations, with both countries poised to benefit from enhanced cooperation and shared goals. The focus on emerging technologies and strategic sectors underscores the forward-looking nature of the partnership, aimed at addressing contemporary challenges and harnessing new opportunities.

Sullivan’s visit to India marks an important step in the ongoing efforts to deepen the US-India partnership. With a focus on critical and emerging technologies, the visit is expected to yield positive outcomes for both nations, fostering greater cooperation and contributing to regional and global stability. The strong bond of friendship between the US and India continues to serve as a foundation for this partnership, driving progress and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Modi’s Meeting with Pope Francis Sparks Hope and Controversy in India: Calls for Official Papal Invitation Amidst Religious Tensions

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, newly re-elected for a third consecutive term, shared through his official channels that he had met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the G7 Summit. Modi expressed his admiration for the Pope’s dedication to serving people and improving the world. Modi also extended an invitation to the Pope to visit India. This renewed meeting, following their initial encounter at the Vatican in 2021, has been widely covered by Indian media, resonating strongly with public opinion in India.

Indian news outlets extensively reported on Pope Francis’ speech at the G7 Summit, where he urged democratic and developed nations to prioritize human dignity in the development and application of artificial intelligence. This issue is particularly relevant for India as it navigates the challenges of technological advancement.

The renewed meeting between Pope Francis and Modi elicited mixed reactions. India’s Catholic community expressed optimism, hoping that the encounter would increase the likelihood of a papal visit to India and positively impact relations between India and the Holy See.

Conversely, some Hindu politicians from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi’s party, were displeased with the meeting, criticizing Modi for shaking hands and even embracing the head of the Catholic Church. Eleven Indian states, predominantly governed by the BJP, have implemented “anti-conversion laws.” These laws require judicial scrutiny for religious conversions and restrict freedom of conscience, primarily targeting Christian proselytism activities.

Opposition politicians also questioned Modi’s sincerity in meeting the Pope, pointing out his recent use of religious rhetoric to appeal to voters by portraying himself as a “messenger of God.” They expressed skepticism about Modi’s genuine intentions.

Father Cedric Prakash, an Indian Jesuit, commented on the situation, urging people to look beyond appearances and assess Modi’s actions. “We must understand and prove with facts that this is not the embrace of a hypocrite. Modi and his party have made the Muslim-Christian minorities in India suffer during these years of government. It must be proven with concrete political actions that the government respects the Constitution and the principles of citizenship for citizens of all religious beliefs,” said Prakash.

Father Prakash further emphasized the importance of a formal invitation to the Pope. He noted that while Modi’s verbal invitation is appreciated, it must be transformed into an official invitation from the Indian government to the Holy See. He recalled that an official invitation was expected in 2021 but was not formalized. Prakash highlighted the potential benefits of a papal visit, stating, “If the Pope comes to India, he will surely be able to highlight the plight of the poor, the weakest and suffering, the fishermen and farmers, the indigenous peoples: his presence among us would be a blessing. We therefore urge Prime Minister Modi to take concrete and real steps now to invite Pope Francis.”

Modi’s recent meeting with Pope Francis has sparked significant discussion and debate in India. The Pope’s message at the G7 Summit, emphasizing the importance of human dignity in the realm of artificial intelligence, has been well-received in Indian media. The Pope’s advocacy for ethical considerations in technological development aligns with global concerns, including those in India, about the implications of artificial intelligence on society.

The encounter has generated hope within India’s Catholic community, who view it as a step towards strengthening ties between India and the Vatican. They are hopeful that a papal visit could become a reality, enhancing the relationship and fostering a spirit of inclusivity and respect for all religious communities in India.

However, the meeting has also highlighted the ongoing tensions within India’s political landscape. The criticism from some BJP politicians reflects the broader issues surrounding religious freedom and the treatment of minority communities in India. The “anti-conversion laws” in several BJP-governed states are a point of contention, seen by many as measures that infringe on religious freedom and target Christian communities.

The skepticism from opposition politicians regarding Modi’s intentions underscores the complexities of Indian politics, where religion and political strategy often intersect. Modi’s portrayal of himself as a religious figure during elections raises questions about the authenticity of his outreach to religious leaders like Pope Francis.

Father Cedric Prakash’s call for concrete actions and a formal invitation to the Pope underscores the need for genuine efforts to improve interfaith relations and uphold constitutional values. His emphasis on the potential positive impact of a papal visit highlights the broader significance of such an event for India’s diverse population.

The meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pope Francis has brought to the forefront various issues related to religious freedom, political strategy, and interfaith relations in India. While it has generated hope within the Catholic community, it has also exposed the underlying tensions and skepticism within the broader political and religious landscape. The call for a formal invitation to the Pope and concrete actions to support minority communities reflects the ongoing challenges and opportunities for fostering a more inclusive and respectful society in India.

Indian National Extradited from Czech Republic to U.S. Over Alleged Murder-for-Hire Plot Against Sikh Separatist Leader

Indian national Nikhil Gupta, implicated in a murder-for-hire plot targeting a Sikh separatist leader, has been extradited from the Czech Republic, according to media reports on June 16.

Gupta, 52, was apprehended in the Czech Republic last year at the request of the U.S. government. He faces charges related to a conspiracy to assassinate Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Gupta is expected to appear before a federal court in New York on Monday.

Currently, Gupta is being held at the federal Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn, where he is listed as an inmate. The Washington Post was the first to report his extradition.

“Gupta, who had been detained in the Czech Republic, arrived in New York over the weekend, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive legal proceedings. Typically, extradited defendants must appear in court within a day of their arrival in the country,” the daily reported.

Federal prosecutors allege that Gupta hired a hitman to eliminate Pannun and paid $415,000 upfront. They further claim that an unnamed Indian government official was involved in the scheme.

Gupta’s extradition coincides with the upcoming visit of U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to New Delhi for the annual ICET dialogue. It is anticipated that Sullivan will address the matter with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval.

In response, India has denied any involvement in the plot and has launched an investigation into the allegations.

Gupta, through his attorney, has denied the charges, claiming he has been “unfairly charged.”

In a petition to the Indian Supreme Court, Gupta’s attorney, Rohini Musa, argued that her client is being unjustly prosecuted. “There is nothing on record to link the Petitioner to the massive alleged plot to assassinate the alleged victim,” Musa stated, as reported by The Washington Post.

Musa also expressed concerns over the legal representation Gupta received in the Czech Republic, suggesting it was compromised. She claimed that Gupta was given adverse legal advice from a Czech government-appointed attorney “under the undue influence of … U.S. Agencies” during the early stages of his detention. Additionally, she accused both India and the United States of using the situation to “blame each other for their foreign policy.”

This extradition comes at a critical time, given the sensitive nature of international relations and the implications of the indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Priyanka Gandhi May Contest Wayanad Bypoll if Rahul Gandhi Shifts to Raebareli, Sources Say

Speculation about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s potential entry into electoral politics surged ahead of the Lok Sabha elections but was abruptly quelled when she opted not to run. However, the buzz has reignited, with sources informing NDTV on Thursday that the Congress leader might contest the bypoll from the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency if Rahul Gandhi vacates the seat.

Rahul Gandhi, who secured significant victories from both Raebareli and Wayanad in the Lok Sabha polls, added fuel to the speculation about his sister’s political debut. He remarked on Tuesday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have lost “by two-three lakh votes” if Priyanka had contested against him in Varanasi.

Long History

The uncertainty surrounding Ms. Gandhi’s candidacy has been present since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. During that period, there was talk that she might challenge PM Modi in Varanasi, especially as the Congress struggled against the BJP’s dominance. Despite the speculation, Ms. Gandhi did not contest. Subsequently, she suggested she might run in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh elections, where she was the Congress General Secretary for the state, even hinting at the possibility of being the chief ministerial candidate. However, she later clarified that she was speaking tongue-in-cheek.

Before the 2024 elections, Sonia Gandhi vacated the Raebareli seat, which she had held since 2004, to become a Rajya Sabha MP. This development intensified speculation, with reports suggesting that Priyanka Gandhi would contest from Raebareli while her brother aimed to reclaim Amethi from the BJP’s Smriti Irani.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge reportedly asked the Gandhi siblings to decide on their candidacies, indicating a preference for both to run. Kharge suggested that their participation would send a positive message to party workers, allies, and the NDA. Despite this, Ms. Gandhi chose not to contest, with sources close to her explaining that having three Gandhis in Parliament—herself, her mother, and her brother—would bolster the BJP’s criticism of dynastic politics.

Winning Call?

Priyanka Gandhi dedicated much of her campaign efforts to Raebareli and Amethi, both of which her party won by substantial margins. The Lok Sabha results saw the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance surprise the BJP and pollsters by securing 43 out of 80 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, with the Congress improving from one to six seats compared to its 2019 tally. The BJP, which had won 62 seats in the previous election, was reduced to 33, trailing the Samajwadi Party’s 37.

Rahul Gandhi praised his sister’s campaign contributions, thanking the people of UP after the results were announced.

Rahul Gandhi’s Dilemma

The prospect of Priyanka Gandhi contesting the Wayanad bypolls depends on Rahul Gandhi relinquishing the constituency in favor of Raebareli. Despite his statement on Wednesday about facing a dilemma and being undecided, sources suggest he is likely to choose Raebareli due to its national political significance.

Two senior Congress officials have also supported this idea. Kishori Lal Sharma, a close aide to the Gandhi family who orchestrated a surprising defeat for Union Minister Smriti Irani in Amethi, has advised Rahul Gandhi to retain the Raebareli seat. Meanwhile, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee chief K Sudhakaran hinted that Rahul Gandhi might give up the Wayanad seat.

Sudhakaran remarked, “We should not be saddened as Rahul Gandhi who is supposed to lead the nation cannot be expected to remain in Wayanad. Therefore, we should not be sad. Everyone should understand that and give all their wishes and support to him.”

Congress workers in Wayanad have expressed their dismay, holding banners urging Rahul Gandhi not to leave. These banners also requested that Priyanka Gandhi “takes care of” the constituency if he decides to vacate it.

By-elections will be required within six months of Rahul Gandhi vacating the seat, potentially setting the stage for an intriguing electoral battle.

George Kurian: A Christian Face in Modi Ministry

George Kurian, a seasoned politician, a lawyer by profession, and the BJP state general secretary in Kerala, has made history by becoming a Minister from the southern Indian state, Kerala in the newly formed Narendra Modi-led NDA government. George Kurien joined the cine actor turned politician, Suresh Gopi, who gave the saffron party a resounding win in the recently held Lok Sabha elections, by representing Kerala and the minority Christian community in a Hindu dominated Modi-led government that assumed charge of the largest democracy, India on June 9th, 2024.

Per reports, Kurien had reached Delhi on the day of the swearing-in ceremony to be part of the audience to watch and be part of the historic moment. After arrival in India’s capital city, Kurien, to his surprise, was informed that he was chosen to be on the podium with the ministerial designates. As a minister of state, Kurien is given the charge of the Ministry of Minority Affairs, in addition to the Ministry of Animal Husbandry and Dairying.

“I treat this as a recognition for a BJP worker and also as a new responsibility,” Kurien (63), told the media when asked about his entry into the ministry. The ministerial decoration of Kurian, who belongs to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, is also being seen in the backdrop of the BJP’s publicly demonstrated outreach to woo the Christian community in Kerala.

Kurian’s appointment to the Modi-led cabinet is seen as part of the BJP’s strategy to strengthen its foothold in Kerala by reaching out to the Christian community.

Asked about it, Kurien said: “The oath I took as minister has clearly stated that I shall discharge my responsibilities impartially with all. I, therefore, will work for the good of all sections of society, including the Christian community”.

Kurien is a devout Church-going Christian who is also totally committed to his political faith and work, starting his student politics during the Janata Party phase with closer affiliation with the Jan Sangh (previous avatar of BJP).

Kurien is known as a dyed-in-the-wool BJP man, unwaveringly sticking to his party and its ideology since his student days, at a time when most of his fellow Christians in Kerala had been indifferent to the saffron party. His journey in politics began in 1980 when, as a young man of 19, he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindutva organization.

“I started with the Vidyarthi Parishad and then with Yuva Morcha (where he became a national officer-bearer) before starting to work with the BJP,” he said, recollecting his political journey.

Kurian’s decision to join the BJP, despite being a Christian, was met with criticism from various quarters, including his conservative Christian family circles. However, Kurian remained steadfast in his political choices, overcoming numerous challenges. Over the years, he has held various significant positions within the BJP, including membership in the national executive committee, serving as the national vice-president of BJP’s Yuvamorcha, and being the vice-chairman of the National Commission for Minorities.

During his tenure at the National Commission for Minorities, Kurian shared the concerns of the Christian community in Kerala on the “love jihad’’ controversy. When BJP veteran O Rajagopal was a union minister with the Vajpayee government from 1999 to 2004, Kurian served as his officer on special duty.

 He never had a stint with the RSS but has many friends among the RSS activists. A soft-spoken politician-lawyer, currently a general secretary of the BJP Kerala Party and its regular spokesman in Malayalee TV news debates, Kurien has also in between fought some tough elections for his party and lost, including once against Congress stalwart Oommen Chandy from the latter’s Puthuppally fortress. But the leadership’s eye for him and his work was also evident when he was made vice-chairman of the National Commission for Minorities by the previous Modi government.

Kurian has been an organization man within the Kerala BJP for the past four decades after he entered politics through the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM). Despite being in a tough political climate in a state where the BJP has not had much success electorally, Kurian stayed with the party and worked overtime to increase its outreach to the minorities, especially the Christian community to which he belongs.

Kurian has served in the past as the national vice-chairman of the National Commission for Minorities and the officer on special duty (OSD) to O Rajagopal, the veteran BJP leader, during his term as Union minister in the AB Vajpayee government.

Kurian’s induction into the Union council is seen as the BJP’s acknowledgement of the Christian support to the party in the just-concluded elections, especially in Thrissur where the party won. It will also be seen as the party’s further outreach to the community in shoring up support ahead of the Assembly elections in the state in 2026.

This is not the first time the BJP has attempted to gain support from Christian voters in the state. In the first Modi government, Alphonse Kannanthanam was appointed as a minister, but it did not yield electoral benefits in Kerala in the 2019 elections.

Senior BJP leader P K Krishnadas told the media that Kurian’s induction into the Council of Ministers was a major recognition for the state. “We have now two ministers from Kerala. It shows that Narendra Modi has given due consideration for the state,” he said.

After assuming charge as a Minister, George Kurian  was welcomed by Secretary Srinivas Katikithala and other senior officials of the ministry. Addressing the media on the occasion Mr. Kurian expressed his gratitude to the Prime Minister for giving the opportunity and said that he would work towards improving the socio- economic conditions of minority communities of the country.

 Kurian’s inclusion in the Modi cabinet is expected to further boost the BJP’s efforts to make inroads into Kerala’s Christian community. Kurian’s journey from a young Christian youth to a cabinet minister in the NDA government is a testament to his dedication and perseverance. He has overcome numerous challenges and criticisms to reach his current position. Per political pundits, he is seen as a strong and articulate representative of the community, and his appointment is likely to resonate well with Christian voters in the state.

PM Modi to Attend G7 Summit in Italy Amid Global Tensions: Key Leaders and Agenda

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his inaugural overseas visit since assuming office for a third consecutive term, is set to participate in the annual summit of the G7 advanced economies in Italy this week. The summit, slated from June 13 to 15, is expected to grapple with pressing global issues such as the ongoing conflict in Gaza and the intensifying war in Ukraine. The venue for this high-profile gathering is the lavish resort town of Borgo Egnazia in Italy’s Apulia region.

The summit will see the participation of prominent world leaders including US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Notably, there is a scheduled meeting to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Modi’s travel itinerary, as per sources familiar with the matter, indicates his departure for Italy on June 13, with a return slated for late June 14. This marks Modi’s premier foreign visit since commencing his third term as prime minister. While the formal announcement of Modi’s trip to Italy is pending, sources suggest he will be accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising NSA Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. Among the slated bilateral engagements, the prime minister is set to meet with Giorgia Meloni, the prime minister of Italy.

It’s noteworthy that Modi had attended the previous G7 summit in Hiroshima last May. Ahead of the summit, he engaged in discussions with Zelenskyy and various other global leaders. The G7, consisting of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, and Japan, is pivotal in shaping global agendas. Italy’s current presidency of the G7 entails hosting the summit.

Under Italy’s presidency, there is a clear emphasis on upholding the rules-based international order. Italy contends that Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine undermines these foundational principles, leading to escalating instability and crises worldwide. Additionally, the G7 aims to accord significant attention to the Middle East conflict due to its far-reaching global ramifications.

Originally established as the G8 in 1997, with Russia included, the bloc saw an expansion until 2013. However, Russia’s involvement was suspended in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea. As per tradition, the host country extends invitations to various countries and international organizations for summit participation.

Italy, besides India, has invited leaders from 11 developing nations across Africa, South America, and the Indo-Pacific region. Interestingly, despite not being a G7 member, the European Union participates in the annual summit, indicative of the event’s global significance.

India’s General Election Upset: Opposition Celebrates as Modi’s BJP Falls Short

India’s recent general election results have sparked an unusual interpretation. While the victors maintain a subdued demeanor, the runners-up are in celebratory spirits.

The NDA alliance, helmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, clinched a historic third term in power, securing over 290 seats in the 543-member parliament. However, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alone fell short of the crucial 272-seat mark required for forming a government independently. Consequently, Modi’s leadership is perceived as significantly weakened.

Conversely, the outcome signals a remarkable resurgence for the opposition INDIA alliance and its face, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi. Despite falling short of the majority with just over 230 seats, they are yet to concede defeat even after more than 24 hours since the vote counting began.

Political analyst Rashid Kidwai describes the outcome as extraordinary, emphasizing the unexpected success of the opposition. He notes, “The result is surprising. The opposition has managed to pull off the unexpected.”

The Congress party, in its jubilant response, labels the verdict as “a moral and political defeat for Mr. Modi,” whose campaign heavily relied on his personal brand and track record. Gandhi, addressing a press conference, asserts, “The country has unanimously sent a message to Mr. Modi and [Home Minister] Amit Shah that we do not want you.”

The exuberance of the opposition finds its roots in a turbulent backdrop. Prior to the elections, the opposition appeared fragmented, with the Congress-led INDIA bloc, comprising over two dozen regional parties, facing internal strife. Experts questioned their ability to challenge Modi’s seemingly invincible position.

In the lead-up to the elections, the opposition encountered numerous obstacles. Government agencies raided parties and leaders, two chief ministers were incarcerated, including Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi, and Congress’s bank accounts were frozen by tax authorities.

Analyst Rashid Kidwai credits much of the opposition’s performance to Rahul Gandhi, despite his lineage drawing substantial criticism. Gandhi, representing the fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, faced hostility from mainstream media and was portrayed as an unserious politician. However, Kidwai observes Gandhi’s efforts to reshape this perception through extensive outreach programs across the country.

Despite facing legal challenges, including a defamation conviction in Modi’s home state, Gandhi managed to rally support and transform his image. The BJP’s aggressive tactics to suppress the opposition inadvertently strengthened the resolve of the INDIA bloc.

Ajoy Bose, another political analyst, highlights the BJP’s miscalculations, asserting that their attempts to intimidate the opposition backfired. The fear of being marginalized led to the formation of the INDIA bloc, with echoes of past authoritarian measures fueling public discontent.

The election results reflect strong opposition in several states traditionally ruled by Modi’s party. Tamil Nadu’s ruling DMK party swept all 39 seats, while in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee limited the BJP to 12 seats, down from 18 in the previous election. Similarly, in Maharashtra, the BJP’s seat count reduced to nine from 23, with its former ally Shiv Sena securing 18 seats.

However, the most significant blow to Modi and the BJP came from Uttar Pradesh (UP). Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), in alliance with Rahul Gandhi, secured 43 out of 80 seats, surpassing the BJP’s tally of 33. This alliance’s success defied Modi’s earlier dismissal of Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav as ineffective.

Despite banking on the Ram Mandir temple as a trump card, symbolized by Modi’s inauguration of the temple in Ayodhya, the BJP suffered setbacks in key constituencies. Abhishek Yadav, an SP youth-wing leader, notes a shift in public sentiment against the BJP due to economic grievances and changes in military recruitment policies.

However, despite the opposition’s commendable performance, Rashid Kidwai believes there were missed opportunities due to gaps in their strategy. He suggests that forging alliances in states like Andhra Pradesh and Odisha could have bolstered the INDIA bloc’s position.

Looking ahead, Kidwai emphasizes the need for the opposition to consolidate its alliance and for Rahul Gandhi to assume leadership actively. He anticipates continued government scrutiny of the opposition but urges a more tempered approach from the ruling party. Coalition politics, with Congress leading the charge, is seen as essential for maintaining parliamentary balance.

In this context, the Gandhis must transition from being custodians of power to active leaders. Rahul Gandhi, in particular, is urged to embrace his role and guide the opposition coalition effectively.

NDA’s 293 MPs Exclude Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs Despite Significant Populations

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently has 293 elected Members of Parliament (MPs), none of whom are from Muslim, Christian, or Sikh communities. This lack of representation is particularly stark given that India is home to over 200 million Muslims, more than 23 million Sikhs, and over 22 million Christians. This observation was highlighted in an analysis by the Hindustan Times.

Trinamool Congress leader and elected MP Mahua Moitra addressed this absence of minority representation, stating, “Over 200 million Muslims, 23 million Sikhs & 22 million Christians in India and yet NDA has zero representation in Lok Sabha. Modi Ke Saath Sabh Ka Vinaash.”

The BJP’s election campaign has often been criticized for promoting hate and making genocidal comments against Muslims, who are India’s largest religious minority. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been reported to have delivered over a hundred speeches with such undertones. Over the past decade under Modi’s leadership, religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, have endured various forms of violence ranging from right-wing street violence to state-sponsored actions.

In terms of caste representation within the NDA, upper-caste Hindus, including Brahmins, Rajputs, and others, form 33.2% of the elected MPs. Intermediate castes such as Marathas, Jats, Lingayats, Patidars, Reddys, and Vokkaligas account for 15.7%, while Other Backward Classes (OBCs), including Yadavs and Kurmis, make up 26.2%. In comparison, the INDIA alliance’s composition includes 12.4% upper-caste Hindus, 11.9% intermediate castes, and 30.7% OBCs.

Dalit representation is another significant aspect of the parliamentary demographic. Within the NDA, Dalits constitute 13.3% of the elected MPs, while in the INDIA alliance, they account for 17.8%. Tribal representation is 10.8% in the NDA and 9.9% in the INDIA alliance.

Muslims, despite their significant population in India, have very limited representation. The INDIA alliance has 7.9% Muslim MPs, with 22 Muslim MPs elected on INDIA alliance tickets. Across the entire 18th Lok Sabha, there are only 24 Muslim MPs. Christian representation in the INDIA alliance stands at 3.5%.

Interestingly, the Buddhist community has no representation in the winners from both the NDA and the INDIA alliances. This lack of diversity highlights ongoing issues regarding the inclusivity of India’s parliamentary representation.

President of India Allocates Portfolios Among Union Council of Ministers

In a significant reshuffling of the Union Council of Ministers, the President of India, following the advice of the Prime Minister, has directed the allocation of portfolios among the members of the cabinet. The official announcement, released by the President’s Secretariat, outlines the responsibilities assigned to each minister, reflecting a strategic approach to governance and administration.

Prime Minister’s Responsibilities:

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will continue to hold the positions of:

  • Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions
  • Department of Atomic Energy
  • Department of Space
  • All important policy issues
  • All other portfolios not allocated to any Minister

President of India Allocates Portfolios Among Union Council of Ministers 1

Cabinet Ministers:

  1. Shri Raj Nath Singh – Minister of Defence
  2. Shri Amit Shah – Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Cooperation
  3. Shri Nitin Jairam Gadkari – Minister of Road Transport and Highways
  4. Shri Jagat Prakash Nadda – Minister of Health and Family Welfare, and Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers
  5. Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan – Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, and Minister of Rural Development
  6. Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman – Minister of Finance, and Minister of Corporate Affairs
  7. Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar – Minister of External Affairs
  8. Shri Manohar Lal – Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, and Minister of Power
  9. Shri H. D. Kumaraswamy – Minister of Heavy Industries, and Minister of Steel
  10. Shri Piyush Goyal – Minister of Commerce and Industry
  11. Shri Dharmendra Pradhan – Minister of Education
  12. Shri Jitan Ram Manjhi – Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises
  13. Shri Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh – Minister of Panchayati Raj, and Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying
  14. Shri Sarbananda Sonowal – Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways
  15. Dr. Virendra Kumar – Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment
  16. Shri Kinjarapu Rammohan Naidu – Minister of Civil Aviation
  17. Shri Pralhad Joshi – Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, and Minister of New and Renewable Energy
  18. Shri Jual Oram – Minister of Tribal Affairs
  19. Shri Giriraj Singh – Minister of Textiles
  20. Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw – Minister of Railways, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, and Minister of Electronics and Information Technology
  21. Shri Jyotiraditya M. Scindia – Minister of Communications, and Minister of Development of North Eastern Region
  22. Shri Bhupender Yadav – Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
  23. Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat – Minister of Culture, and Minister of Tourism
  24. Smt. Annpurna Devi – Minister of Women and Child Development
  25. Shri Kiren Rijiju – Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, and Minister of Minority Affairs
  26. Shri Hardeep Singh Puri – Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas
  27. Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya – Minister of Labour and Employment, and Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports
  28. Shri G. Kishan Reddy – Minister of Coal, and Minister of Mines
  29. Shri Chirag Paswan – Minister of Food Processing Industries
  30. Shri C R Patil – Minister of Jal Shakti

President of India Allocates Portfolios Among Union Council of Ministers 2

Ministers of State (Independent Charge):

  1. Rao Inderjit Singh – Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation; Ministry of Planning; Ministry of Culture
  2. Dr. Jitendra Singh – Ministry of Science and Technology; Ministry of Earth Sciences; Prime Minister’s Office; Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions; Department of Atomic Energy; Department of Space
  3. Shri Arjun Ram Meghwal – Ministry of Law and Justice; Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs
  4. Shri Jadhav Prataprao Ganpatrao – Ministry of Ayush; Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
  5. Shri Jayant Chaudhary – Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship; Ministry of Education

Ministers of State:

The complete list of Ministers of State includes 36 officials, each assisting with multiple portfolios. Some key appointments include:

  1. Shri Jitin Prasada – Minister of State in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Minister of State in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology
  2. Shri Shripad Yesso Naik – Minister of State in the Ministry of Power, Minister of State in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy
  3. Shri Pankaj Chaudhary – Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance
  4. Shri Krishan Pal – Minister of State in the Ministry of Cooperation
  5. Shri Ramdas Athawale – Minister of State in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
  6. Shri Ram Nath Thakur – Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
  7. Shri Nityanand Rai – Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs
  8. Smt. Anupriya Patel – Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Minister of State in the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers
  9. Shri V. Somanna – Minister of State in the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Minister of State in the Ministry of Railways
  10. Dr. Chandra Sekhar Pemmasani – Minister of State in the Ministry of Rural Development, Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications
  11. Prof. S. P. Singh Baghel – Minister of State in the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Minister of State in the Ministry of Panchayati Raj
  12. Sushri Sobha Karandlaje – Minister of State in the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Employment
  13. Shri Kirtivardhan Singh – Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs
  14. Shri B. L. Verma – Minister of State in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Minister of State in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
  15. Shri Shantanu Thakur – Minister of State in the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways
  16. Shri Suresh Gopi – Minister of State in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism
  17. Dr. L. Murugan – Minister of State in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Minister of State in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs
  18. Shri Ajay Tamta – Minister of State in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways
  19. Shri Bandi Sanjay Kumar – Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs
  20. Shri Kamlesh Paswan – Minister of State in the Ministry of Rural Development
  21. Shri Bhagirath Choudhary – Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
  22. Shri Satish Chandra Dubey – Minister of State in the Ministry of Coal, Minister of State in the Ministry of Mines
  23. Shri Sanjay Seth – Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence
  24. Shri Ravneet Singh – Minister of State in the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Minister of State in the Ministry of Railways
  25. Shri Durgadas Uikey – Minister of State in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs
  26. Smt. Raksha Nikhil Khadse – Minister of State in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports
  27. Shri Sukanta Majumdar – Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Minister of State in the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region
  28. Smt. Savitri Thakur – Minister of State in the Ministry of Women and Child Development
  29. Shri Tokhan Sahu – Minister of State in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs
  30. Shri Raj Bhushan Choudhary – Minister of State in the Ministry of Jal Shakti
  31. Shri Bhupathi Raju Srinivasa Varma – Minister of State in the Ministry of Heavy Industries, Minister of State in the Ministry of Steel
  32. Shri Harsh Malhotra – Minister of State in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Minister of State in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways
  33. Smt. Nimuben Jayantibhai Bambhaniya – Minister of State in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution
  34. Shri Murlidhar Mohol – Minister of State in the Ministry of Cooperation, Minister of State in the Ministry of Civil Aviation
  35. Shri George Kurian – Minister of State in the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Minister of State in the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying
  36. Shri Pabitra Margherita – Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs, Minister of State in the Ministry of Textiles

This comprehensive allocation of portfolios underscores the government’s commitment to addressing diverse aspects of governance and ensuring effective management across various sectors. The reshuffle aims to bring in a balanced mix of experienced and new leaders, fostering a robust administrative framework to drive the nation’s development agenda forward.

Modi’s Grip Weakens as Indian Billionaires Face Scrutiny: A Tale of Cronyism and Economic Inequality

A few weeks before the election that diminished Narendra Modi’s hold on India, the elite flocked to his home state of Gujarat. The event was described by an Indian writer as “likely the most ostentatious pre-wedding ceremony the modern world has ever seen”.

In March, to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of Anant Ambani, the youngest son of Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Ivanka Trump flew in. The entertainment included Rihanna and Akon. The nearby airport, typically reserved for India’s armed forces, received special permission for non-military jets to land, as reported by the media.

“When it comes to helping out his rich industrialist friends, prime minister Modi is willing to do anything,” Jairam Ramesh, a leading opposition politician, posted on X at the time.

After a decade in power, a recent study showed that 40% of India’s wealth is now in the hands of just 1% of the population. This stark inequality, embodied by Modi’s favored tycoons, may explain his shocking loss of majority in parliament this week.

Discontent has been simmering for years. When Modi attempted to scrap price protections for small farmers in 2020, protesters burned effigies of him and two moguls who have thrived under his rule, one being Ambani.

Ambani oversees an industrial empire founded by his father, amassing a $110bn (£86.4bn) fortune, comparable to the wealth of the US tech moguls who attended his son’s pre-wedding event. Ambani’s competitors have alleged that Modi’s administration facilitated his telecom venture’s dominance in the Indian market.

While the Ambanis have maintained good relations with the state across various administrations, the other effigy-burning protestors targeted a businessman whose rise is closely linked to Modi.

Gautam Adani supported Modi when he was Gujarat’s chief minister and became a pariah after overseeing riots that killed hundreds of Muslims. When Modi ascended to the prime minister’s office, propelled by his strong Hindu nationalism, he traveled to New Delhi on Adani’s private jet. Adani soon secured numerous government infrastructure contracts, boosting his wealth until he joined Ambani among the world’s top 20 richest individuals. Both tycoons praise the prime minister. Neither’s company responded to requests for comment.

Adani claims he is engaged in “nation-building”. His supporters, like Ambani’s, draw parallels with South Korea’s chaebol business clans, which enjoy privileges but drive economic growth. Under Modi, growth has been rapid enough for India to surpass the UK as the fifth largest economy.

However, the rise of Indian billionaires offers little to the millions of Indians barely scraping by. “There’s a lot of pain clouded by these huge top-line growth numbers,” said Sandipto Dasgupta, an expert on Indian politics at the New School for Social Research in New York.

A recent analysis by economists, including Thomas Piketty, suggested that India under Modi is now more unequal than it was under British rule. “It is unclear how long such inequality levels can sustain without major social and political upheaval,” they wrote. When asked about the study, Modi responded: “Should everyone be poor?”

Rahul Gandhi, who has led the opposition Indian National Congress party to a resurgence, focused on cronyism in his attacks. Early in Modi’s tenure, Gandhi labeled his administration a “suit-boot ki sarkar”, meaning a government for the wealthy.

Such criticisms seemed to have little impact on the seemingly invincible Modi for years. But Gandhi persisted, often mentioning Adani and Ambani. In May, Modi appeared to distance himself from the two tycoons, claiming they were providing “truckloads” of money to his opponents.

“During the campaign, people said nobody cares about this,” said James Crabtree, author of Billionaire Raj. “But maybe, actually, they did.” Defeats for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, suggest his anti-Muslim rhetoric failed to secure votes from poorer Indians, who remain affected by chronic unemployment.

If the stock market is any indicator, the election results spell trouble for the likes of Adani. When exit polls wrongly predicted a resounding BJP victory, prices soared for “Modi stocks”, including those in Adani’s companies. The actual results caused a sharp decline. At one point, Adani’s worth dropped by $25bn from its pre-election value.

For the first time, Modi will need to govern in coalition, requiring him to share ministries and their budgets with allies. This shift, according to Rohit Chandra, a political economist at the Indian Institute of Technology, will alter who benefits from state favoritism. “There will be different cronies from different regions. This is a welcome change.”

Shashi Tharoor Asserts INDIA Bloc’s Role as Strong Opposition Amid Modi’s Coalition Government Formation

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor stated on Thursday, June 6, 2024, that the INDIA bloc will act as a strong and effective opposition. Speaking with ANI, Tharoor emphasized that the alliance’s numbers give them legitimacy, and there is no point in creating unnecessary drama. He said, “The truth is that they do have the numbers in a pre-poll alliance, so there’s no question of begrudging them their right to form the government. And I think the INDIA bloc decided very clearly there’s no point in trying to create drama out of this. Let them form the government and we will be a robust and effective opposition.”

Tharoor also highlighted that coalitions, contrary to being detrimental, can enhance accountability for the Prime Minister and his party. Reflecting on the past decade of governance, he remarked, “In the last ten years, the kind of governance we saw was my way or the highway, demonetize the currency and don’t even consult the cabinet and your Finance Minister.” He took a critical stance on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, indicating that Modi will now have to heed the views of his coalition partners due to the lack of a majority.

The Election Commission of India reported that the BJP won 240 seats, a significant drop from their 2019 tally of 303 seats. In contrast, the Congress party showed notable progress, securing 99 seats. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won a total of 292 seats, whereas the INDIA bloc managed to secure over 230 seats, presenting a formidable challenge and surpassing many predictions.

Despite winning his third term, PM Modi’s BJP required the support of coalition partners, particularly JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu. NDA leaders passed a unanimous resolution during their meeting, re-electing Narendra Modi as their leader. PM Modi is scheduled to take the oath for the third time over the weekend.

Following the Union Cabinet’s recommendation, President Droupadi Murmu dissolved the 17th Lok Sabha on Wednesday, June 5. The Rashtrapati Bhavan issued a statement confirming the dissolution: “The President accepted the advice of the Cabinet on June 5, 2024, and signed the Order dissolving the 17th Lok Sabha in the exercise of the powers conferred upon her by Sub-Clause (2) of Article 85 of the Constitution.”

NDA Unanimously Elects Modi as Leader for Third Term, Securing Government Formation

The 15-party National Democratic Alliance (NDA) officially named Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its leader for a third consecutive term on Wednesday, initiating the formation of a new government under his leadership.

“We are all proud that the NDA fought the 2024 Lok Sabha polls unitedly under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and won. We, the leaders of the NDA, unanimously elect Narendra Modi as our leader,” declared a resolution in Hindi, endorsed by top NDA leaders.

This resolution emphasized the country’s comprehensive development over the past decade, attributing it to the pro-people policies of the NDA government under PM Modi. It highlighted the government’s dedication to serving the poor, women, youth, farmers, and marginalized sections of society.

The meeting, convened by PM Modi, saw attendance from 21 leaders, including key figures such as Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar, Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu, and Maharashtra CM and Shiv Sena chief Eknath Shinde. These three leaders are crucial for their numbers in the alliance. The TDP secured 16 Lok Sabha seats (along with two seats won by its partner, the Jana Sena, totaling 18), the JD(U) won 12 seats, and the Shiv Sena won 7 seats. Adding these 37 seats to the BJP’s 240 seats comfortably surpasses the majority threshold of 272.

Other notable NDA allies in terms of parliamentary strength include Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (RV) with 5 MPs, and Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal and HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), each with 2 MPs.

The NDA meeting occurred just hours after PM Modi officially submitted his resignation to President Droupadi Murmu, along with the Union Cabinet’s decision to dissolve the 17th Lok Sabha. President Murmu accepted PM Modi’s resignation and requested him to remain in office until the new government is constituted.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest party with 240 seats, falling 32 seats short of the majority mark. However, with support from MPs of 14 other parties, the NDA’s total reached 293 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

With the NDA securing 293 seats, PM Modi is set to become only the second Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to secure a third consecutive term. Nevertheless, the BJP’s failure to achieve an outright majority independently places PM Modi at the mercy of his unpredictable allies, Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu.

BJP Falters as Congress Stages Dramatic Comeback in India’s Seven-Phase General Election

The seven-phase general election in the world’s largest democracy, India, began on April 19 and ended on June 1. The results saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) winning 293 seats, while the INDIA Bloc secured an unexpected 232 seats. However, the significant story was the BJP’s surprising underperformance.

Despite predictions that the BJP would surpass 400 seats, the so-called ‘Modi Magic’ faltered, with the party winning only 240 seats and failing to achieve an absolute majority. Although the BJP emerged as the single largest party, the Indian National Congress celebrated a strong performance, winning 99 seats. This comeback was notable given that the Congress had been largely dismissed by political analysts and the media. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leader, also achieved personal success by winning both Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh and Wayanad in Kerala.

On the day of the results, Indica interviewed Sam Pitroda, former Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress (IOC), who resigned on May 8 following a controversial statement. Pitroda discussed the election outcomes and how the consecration of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya, which was expected to be a major advantage for Modi, did not secure the majority for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. Pitroda, 82, also spoke about his relationship with Rahul Gandhi and expressed confidence that the INDIA Bloc would form the next government.

A key factor in the BJP’s diminished results was their poor performance in Uttar Pradesh, where they lost 29 seats, ending up with 33. Meanwhile, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party gained 37 seats, boosting the alliance’s standing.

One of the most shocking defeats was the BJP’s loss in Faizabad, which includes Ayodhya. Two-term incumbent BJP candidate Lallu Singh was defeated by Samajwadi Party’s Awadhesh Prasad. Pitroda commented that the temple inauguration appeared more as a spectacle for the wealthy rather than a significant event for the common people. “The jets which landed at the Ayodhya Airport, ferried the rich and famous,” he said. “The fancy clothes that they wore is not what Indian people are used to. It was a show.”

Pitroda identified another issue: public fear that a BJP majority would alter the constitution. He noted that the BJP’s silence on employment issues and their divisive strategies drove voters towards the opposition. “People rejected Modi, not the BJP, because everything was seen as Modi ki guarantee (Modi’s Guarantee). ‘Modi will deliver,’ and people feel that this is not the democracy that we want,” Pitroda said.

Pitroda praised Rahul Gandhi’s message of inclusivity. “I think the people of India have spoken, and Rahul’s message of inclusion went through well, saying we need opportunities for OBC, Dalit, minority, and we need jobs for the young and security for women, and the environment and we need to take care of the farmers,” he said.

Pitroda, who collaborated with Gandhi on the Congress manifesto, recalled their bond. He mentioned that Rahul would meet him whenever he visited India after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. “The mentorship, I wouldn’t call it a mentor but promoting him to the overseas audience since he was in the US several times. Even this morning we spoke, and I speak with him regularly,” he said. Pitroda shared that he and Rahul often communicate using emojis on WhatsApp, indicating Rahul’s happiness with the election results through three emojis.

Regarding the next steps for the INDIA Bloc, Pitroda said, “The partners will meet and decide what steps they should take, whether they should go forward and form the government or let the BJP form its third consecutive government.” He predicted that the hung government might not last a full five-year term and anticipated another election within a couple of years. However, he believes Narendra Modi will do everything possible to maintain his position as Prime Minister.

Pitroda explained his support for Rahul Gandhi, stating, “Because I believe in the Congress party. I was born in the British Raj, and so I am a product of the British Raj, but the fervor and ethos of the independence movement.” He emphasized the historical values of the Congress party and its role in shaping modern India. “I could go to college almost free, low fee, and how can I forget. All that was possible because the Congress party had the idea of democracy.”

Pitroda asserted that his loyalty to the Congress stems from its foundational values. “I have seen Rajiv as the custodian of the idea of India, and when he died, Sonia Gandhi became the custodian, and then Rahul became the custodian of the idea of India. There is nothing to do with dynasty.”

He highlighted the significance of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, a march led by Rahul Gandhi before the elections, as pivotal in the Congress’s revival. “Not just people, but it changed Rahul, and made him bold. Now Rahul speaks with confidence,” Pitroda said.

Pitroda also mentioned that the BJP-NDA often twisted his words to create false narratives, which led to his resignation. “The larger goal was no matter what I say, they will twist and make agenda for 24 hours, and so I resigned,” he said, adding that he did not want to negatively impact the party.

Commenting on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s role, he noted her effective campaigning. He suggested that had she contested a seat, her efforts would have been limited to that area. Instead, she campaigned extensively. He hinted that Rahul might give up the Raebareli seat, allowing Priyanka to contest it in a by-election.

In a press conference, Rahul Gandhi stated he had not yet decided which seat to retain. When asked if Rahul was suited to run the country, Pitroda affirmed his support, acknowledging that no one is perfect but grows into the role with time and support.

Indica  also interviewed George Abraham, Vice-Chairman and Former President of the Indian Overseas Congress, who supported the INC’s campaign. Abraham said, “The people of India have unequivocally rejected the BJP’s agenda, which sought to undermine the constitution and transform the country.”

He stressed that if Modi and Amit Shah continue to lead, they must adhere to the constitution, stop divisive politics, and allow free expression and objective journalism. “We at the Overseas Congress salute the INDIA coalition and its leaders, especially AICC President Kharge Ji and Rahul Ji, for their tireless efforts in getting the message to the people,” he added.

Kharge: INDIA Bloc Open to New Allies After Decisive Mandate Against Modi

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge announced on Wednesday that the opposition’s INDIA bloc is open to welcoming all parties that share a fundamental commitment to the values enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution. In his address at the opposition group’s first meeting following their significant success in the Lok Sabha election results of 2024, the Congress leader stated that the mandate was “decisively against Mr Modi.”

Kharge also emphasized that all INDIA bloc partners had fought the elections well, unitedly, and with determination. He made these remarks during a gathering of opposition leaders at his residence.

“The mandate is decisively against Mr Modi, against him and the substance and style of his politics. It is a huge political loss for him personally apart from being a clear moral defeat as well. However, he is determined to subvert the will of the people,” Kharge said, highlighting the alliance’s stance on Modi’s governance.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibilities of forming a government, strategizing for the alliance’s future, and potentially reaching out to former allies Nitish Kumar and N Chandrababu Naidu.

“The INDIA alliance welcomes all parties which share its fundamental commitment to the values enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution and to its many provisions for economic, social and political justice,” Kharge remarked in his opening speech.

Expressing gratitude to the INDIA bloc partners, Kharge stated, “I welcome all INDIA alliance partners. We fought well, fought unitedly, fought resolutely.”

Following the meeting, Kharge addressed the media and conveyed the alliance’s appreciation for the public’s overwhelming support. “The constituents of the INDIA bloc thank the people of India for the overwhelming support received by our alliance. The people’s mandate has given a befitting reply to the BJP and their politics of hate, corruption. This is a mandate in defense of the Constitution of India and against price rise, unemployment and crony capitalism and also to save democracy. The INDIA bloc will continue to fight against the fascist rule of the BJP led by Modi…”

Prime Minister Modi Reviews 100-Day Program Amid Anticipation of Third Term

Following projections indicating a potential third term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he convened a review meeting to discuss a 100-day program that his team aims to execute upon the completion of government formation. Senior bureaucrats of the government of India participated in this review meeting on June 2, where plans for the first 100 days of the new government were outlined.

Implementation Strategy:

Sources have revealed that at least 10 groups, each led by a Secretary-level official as a coordinator, have been established to execute this agenda over the initial 100 days of the new government. It has been reported that the plans are slated to be put into action by at least July 1.

Sectoral Group of Secretaries (SGOS):

An official disclosed that each Sectoral Group of Secretaries (SGOS) is headed by a Secretary of the government of India, accompanied by four or five senior officers. These groups, established in February, are responsible for fine-tuning plans, with a focus on governance, infrastructure, security, and the economy.

Key Initiatives:

Under the governance theme, the SGOS is tasked with evaluating the foundation courses of the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) and introducing a ‘Karmayogi Talent Bank’, aimed at assessing civil servants before their promotions. Additionally, the BJP manifesto’s commitment to conducting simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies is a part of the 100-day plan, with a focus on creating a common electoral roll, vital to this exercise.

Prime Minister’s Involvement:

Some of these groups presented their plans to the Prime Minister, who also presided over review meetings on the aftermath of Cyclone Remal and the challenges arising from the heatwave affecting northern and western India.

As Prime Minister Modi prepares for a potential third term, the strategic planning and implementation of the 100-day program are indicative of the government’s focus on key governance and electoral initiatives. The Prime Minister’s active involvement in these discussions underscores the significance of these plans for the future direction of India.

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.”

Historic Digitization Project Preserves 7,000 Indian Diaspora Documents in Oman

The Embassy of India in Muscat, in partnership with the National Archives of India (NAI), has undertaken an ambitious project to digitize over 7,000 historical documents belonging to Indian families who have lived in Oman for more than 250 years. This initiative, known as ‘The Oman Collection – Archival Heritage of the Indian Community in Oman,’ is the first of its kind by the NAI to archive documents from the Indian diaspora abroad.

The digitization project, conducted from May 19-27, 2024, involved contributions from 32 prominent Indian families originating from Gujarat. These families have been integral to Oman’s cultural and social fabric since the late 18th century. The process included meticulously scanning documents in various languages such as English, Arabic, Gujarati, and Hindi. Among the scanned materials, the oldest dates back to 1838, while most documents are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The project also captured oral histories from the elder members of the Indian community in Oman.

The collection comprises a diverse range of documents, including personal diaries, account books, trade invoices, passports, letters, and photographs. Together, these records paint a detailed picture of the Indian community’s life in Oman, illustrating their cultural practices, social engagements, and contributions to the local society.

Arun Singhal, Director General of the National Archives of India, emphasized the importance of this groundbreaking project, stating, “This is the first time that we have collected and digitized the private archives of diaspora documents from abroad. This marks a historic milestone for the NAI and a significant step towards preserving the rich heritage and narratives of the diverse overseas Indian community.”

The initiative also aligns with broader diplomatic objectives, as noted by Amit Narang, Ambassador of India to the Sultanate of Oman. He remarked, “This project aligns with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to strengthen connections with the Indian diaspora worldwide. By documenting and preserving the history of the Indian community in Oman, we are rekindling a vital part of our shared heritage and fostering a deeper engagement with our diaspora.”

Sheikh Anil Khimji, leader of the Indian community in Oman, expressed his appreciation for the project: “We thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar for their vision of engaging and connecting with the Indian diaspora. The archiving of the historical documents of the Indian diaspora by the Embassy of India will go a long way in preserving their history and showcasing the time-tested bonds of friendship between India and the Sultanate of Oman.”

The National Records and Archives Authority (NRAA) of Oman played a crucial role in supporting the project by providing necessary logistical assistance and ensuring its smooth execution. The digitized documents will be accessible on ‘Abhilekh Patal,’ the NAI’s digital portal, thus making this valuable historical resource available for research and public access.

This digitization project highlights the Indian community’s enduring legacy in Oman. By preserving these documents, the project not only safeguards the history of Indian families in Oman but also enhances understanding of their significant contributions to the region. The collection includes an array of personal and official documents that offer insights into the daily lives, commercial activities, and social interactions of the Indian diaspora.

The collaborative effort underscores the close ties between India and Oman. The project is a testament to the longstanding relationship between the two nations and their shared commitment to preserving and celebrating their intertwined histories. By making these documents publicly accessible, the initiative supports both academic research and general interest in the rich heritage of the Indian community in Oman.

The digitization of over 7,000 historical documents by the Embassy of India in Muscat and the NAI represents a pioneering effort to preserve the cultural heritage of the Indian diaspora in Oman. This project, the first of its kind by the NAI outside India, highlights the significant contributions of the Indian community to Oman’s history and culture. The support from the NRAA of Oman and the availability of these documents on the NAI’s digital portal ensure that this invaluable resource will be accessible for future generations. The initiative not only strengthens diplomatic ties but also deepens the engagement with the Indian diaspora, celebrating their legacy and fostering a greater understanding of their role in the region’s history.

India’s Christian Community Faces Crucial Crossroads Amidst 2024 Elections: Persecution, Representation, and Political Stakes

As India prepares for the largest national elections ever conducted globally, the Christian community, though a minority, faces unique challenges highlighting the importance of their political representation.

The issues range from religious persecution to anti-conversion laws, with recent unrest in the Christian-majority state of Manipur underscoring the urgent need for Christian voices to be heard.

Comprising about 2.3 percent of India’s population, the Christian community is a significant part of this pluralistic society. However, this community often navigates a complex landscape of religious freedom and cultural integration. Despite constitutional protections, incidents of persecution persist, making political empowerment essential for safeguarding their rights.

A recent report by the United Christian Forum (UCF), a civil society organization based in Delhi dedicated to Christian concerns, revealed a significant decline in the fundamental rights and protections of Indian Christians in the first three months of this year.

The 2024 Indian election, which began on April 19 and concludes on June 1, has been a lengthy process.

The UCF reported 70 violent incidents against Christians in January, 62 in February, and 29 in the first half of March, totaling 161 incidents over two and a half months. These incidents included violence, assaults on churches or prayer meetings, harassment of individuals practicing their faith, social ostracism, restricted access to communal resources, and unfounded accusations, notably concerning “forced conversions.”

A.C. Michael, a former member of the Delhi state minority commission, told Religion Unplugged that he wants the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to lose the upcoming elections.

“The Christian community is in deep prayers these days,” he said. “They want this government to go. There is a fear among the Christian community that if this government comes to power the attacks on Christians will increase.”

He added that under BJP rule, Christians have faced both physical and legal violence, referring to the anti-conversion laws existing in 12 Indian states.

Persecution and representation

One of the most pressing issues for the Christian community in India is the prevalence of anti-conversion laws enacted by various states. These laws, justified as measures to prevent coerced conversions, have been criticized for their potential misuse against minorities. They create an atmosphere of suspicion and hostility, deterring individuals from freely choosing or changing their faith.

Christians and other minorities see these laws as impediments to their religious autonomy, emphasizing the need for sensitive and secular governance that Lok Sabha representatives can influence. Historically, the BJP has provided minimal representation to Christians. In the previous Lok Sabha, John Barla from Bengal was the only Christian BJP member of Parliament, serving as a deputy minister for minority affairs. During the last Parliament’s five-year term under Modi’s leadership, there were no Christian or Muslim cabinet ministers.

Modi and his party have been making efforts to establish a presence in Kerala, a state traditionally oscillating between the Marxist alliance and Congress-led governments. Currently, the Marxists govern the state, while Congress controls 19 out of 20 parliamentary seats.

The BJP has attempted to deepen divisions between Central Kerala’s Christian communities and the Muslims in the neighboring northern regions. In a bid to expand its reach in Kerala, the BJP succeeded in winning over Anil Antony, son of the renowned Congress leader and former defense minister A.K. Antony.

Christians running for office

This development represents a significant setback for Congress, a party deeply entrenched in the state and representative of diverse groups ranging from fishermen and boatmen to affluent stakeholders in the spices, tea, coffee, and rubber industries and business segments held by Christians. With a scant industrial presence, Kerala lacks a substantial corporate and industrial elite.

Despite these efforts, the BJP has not nominated additional Christian candidates in Kerala. The Congress-led United Democratic Front has five Christians in the race: Dean Kuriakose, Hibi Eaden, Benny Behanan, Anto Antony, and Francis George.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) has nominated P.C. George. In Goa, Viriato Fernandes is contesting for a seat, and while the number of Christians running for the DMK in Tamil Nadu remains unclear, the state typically sends at least two Christians to Parliament.

Meanwhile, the count of Christian candidates in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is complicated by several Dalit candidates possibly registering as Hindus. The Congress has nominated at least one known and one Dalit candidate from Telangana.

The northeast, often perceived as predominantly Christian, presents a stark contrast. Arunachal Pradesh features a Christian candidate from the Congress, and Assam has just one, RoslinaTirky. Jones IngtyKathar, a former bureaucrat, has support from the Autonomous Hills People Party. Except for Orissa and Jharkhand, which may collectively have about four Christian candidates representing Congress and its allies in Jharkhand and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa, other states are unlikely to see Christian candidates from major parties.

Additionally, several individuals are running as independents or with support from lesser-known parties, such as Anson Thomas of the PPI Secular, a former official and activist, and Samuel Soni, a candidate in Punjab supported by a group of independent churches.

As India moves closer to another election, the Christian community, like many other minorities, stands at a crossroads. The choice of representatives could very well determine the course of their rights, security, and place within the Indian tapestry for the next several years.

Kapil Sibal Takes Electoral Integrity Battle to Supreme Court: Calls for Transparency Measures in EVM Usage

Kapil Sibal, a senior lawyer and prominent political figure, has approached the Supreme Court of India with a plea urging the court to direct the Election Commission (EC) to take critical steps to ensure transparency and integrity in the electoral process. Specifically, Sibal is advocating for the preservation of electronic voting machine (EVM) logs for a period of two to three years. Additionally, he is calling for the publication of voting records before the counting process begins.

Context and Background

The issue of EVM reliability has been a contentious topic in Indian politics for several years. EVMs were introduced to streamline the voting process and reduce instances of electoral fraud associated with paper ballots. However, concerns about their susceptibility to tampering and technical glitches have persisted. These concerns have been amplified by several political parties, particularly after the assembly elections where allegations of EVM manipulation were rife.

Sibal’s Plea to the Supreme Court

In his plea, Sibal argues that preserving EVM logs for an extended period would provide a verifiable audit trail that could be examined in cases of disputed election results. This measure, he contends, is necessary to uphold the sanctity of the democratic process. By retaining the logs, authorities and independent observers would have the opportunity to review the data to confirm the accuracy of the election results.

Furthermore, Sibal emphasizes the need for the EC to upload Form 17C, which contains detailed voting data, before the commencement of vote counting. This form, which is crucial for maintaining transparency, records the number of votes cast and the sequence in which they were cast. Making this data publicly available would allow political parties, candidates, and voters to independently verify the voting process’s integrity, thus enhancing trust in the electoral system.

Importance of EVM Logs and Form 17C

EVM logs serve as a digital record of all activities performed on the machines during the election. These logs include timestamps of when votes were cast and other critical data points that can help identify any irregularities or unauthorized access. By preserving these logs, the EC can provide a reliable method for forensic analysis if any discrepancies arise.

Form 17C, on the other hand, is a document mandated by the Representation of the People Act, 1951. It provides a summary of the total number of votes recorded in each EVM, along with details such as the names of the candidates and the number of votes each candidate received. Public access to Form 17C before vote counting can act as a preemptive measure to ensure transparency and address any potential allegations of vote tampering.

Legal and Political Ramifications

Sibal’s appeal to the Supreme Court is not merely a procedural request but carries significant legal and political implications. Legally, if the Supreme Court mandates the preservation of EVM logs and the publication of Form 17C data, it would set a precedent for future elections, ensuring a higher standard of accountability and transparency.

Politically, this move could address the skepticism and mistrust harbored by various political parties and sections of the electorate regarding the reliability of EVMs. In recent elections, parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have vocally alleged that EVMs were manipulated to favor the ruling party. These allegations, though not conclusively proven, have nonetheless cast a shadow over the credibility of the electoral process.

The Election Commission’s Stance

The EC has consistently defended the robustness and tamper-proof nature of EVMs. It has conducted multiple demonstrations and “EVM challenges” where political parties were invited to attempt tampering with the machines under controlled conditions. The EC maintains that no party has successfully compromised the integrity of EVMs during these challenges. Moreover, the EC has introduced Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines in several elections to add an extra layer of verification.

Conclusion

Kapil Sibal’s call for preserving EVM logs and publicizing voting records aims to bolster the transparency and trust in India’s electoral system. While the EC has taken steps to ensure the security and reliability of EVMs, Sibal’s proposals seek to address lingering doubts and enhance public confidence. The Supreme Court’s response to this plea could significantly influence the future of electoral integrity measures in India.

By implementing these measures, the EC can demonstrate its commitment to transparency and accountability, thereby strengthening the democratic process and reassuring voters that their votes are accurately counted and securely recorded.

India’s Rising Inequality

India’s problem is that it is under-taxed. This has been said several times, including in the Economic Survey published by the government, and by a former finance minister on the floor of the parliament. What is referred to here is the low tax-to-GDP ratio and not the tax rates. The rates are quite high, with top individual marginal income tax rates touching 42 percent, and median Goods and Services Tax at 18 percent.

GST is an indirect tax paid by all, whether rich or poor, on their consumption. Since it does not depend on the income of the taxpayer, it is inherently regressive. Not surprisingly a much higher proportion of total GST collected comes from the lower half of the income distribution, highlighting its unfairness. We need both income and consumption taxes, but the rate of GST has to be much lower. And dependence on income tax has to increase, and it should be progressive and rates increasing by income slab.

Unfortunately, we give such a large exemption, that up to 7 lakhs (700,000 rupees) of annual income, the tax burden is zero. This is almost four times the per capita income of the country. It is equivalent to saying that in America nobody will pay income tax below an annual income of a quarter million dollars. Americans start paying income tax for income as low as 5000 dollars, only one-tenth of their per capita income.  India certainly needs to widen its income tax net. We have only 7 income taxpayers for every 100 voters as per the Economic Survey.

Rising inequality

Along with a low tax-to-GDP ratio, we have rising inequality. The latest report from the World Inequality Lab based on hundred years of data from 1922 till 2023 shows income and wealth inequality to be the highest ever. Fighting inequality is not the same as fighting poverty. The poverty ratio has been falling in India, but there are people still living dangerously close to the poverty line or just above it. One illness in the family can drive the entire family below the poverty line. Hence, we have food security schemes such as free food grain for 800 million Indians, i.e. nearly 65 percent, even though the poverty rate is below 15 percent.

One of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations calls for a reduction in inequality. On that count, India must exert more by making the income tax net wider and ensuring a lower indirect tax burden of GST and other sundry taxes. Most importantly inequality of opportunity (not outcomes) can be reduced by providing much higher quality and quantity levels of primary education and healthcare.

But spending on social priorities has been going down as a fraction of government budgets.  This means we need more tax collection. What other heads are there? This is where the discussion of wealth tax comes in. Thomas Piketty claims that just by taxing the wealth of the richest two hundred people in the world, at a small rate, the world can generate hundreds of billion dollars for social spending. That same logic can be applied in India.

Wealth is difficult to assess, especially if kept in real estate. It is also notoriously difficult to discover since people have an incentive to hide it. There is tax evasion and dodging. The correlation between wealthy individuals and the highest-income taxpayers in India is not strong. How many of the Forbes billionaires are also the highest-income taxpayers?

So, is there a workable and reasonable way to tax wealth?  Countries like Spain, Norway, Switzerland and France have some form of wealth tax. Even the Netherlands has a tax called “Box-3” which is a tax on wealth, i.e. by taxation of savings and investment. Of course, all these are rich countries. And their financial systems are highly evolved, with evasion rather difficult.

Wealth concentration

India is a poor or medium-income country, so it is premature to talk about wealth tax. It has among the highest number of dollar billionaires in the world. A small annual tax of say 0.1 percent per annum would surely not deter these wealthy from wealth or employment creation or investing in India. If there is capital flight out of the country it is not because of wealth taxes.

Unlimited wealth concentration cannot be healthy for any democracy. The principle of political and social equality of our republic is in sharp contradiction to rising economic inequality. That is why we need to find ways to arrest worsening income and wealth inequality. No modern capitalist economy can be rid of inequality. But it is like industrial pollution. Modern life is impossible without some emissions. But there comes a time when as a society we say this is enough. Otherwise, worsening inequality leads to social instability, the rise of gated communities, the threat of rising crime and ultimately investor flight. What is that stage when inequality becomes intolerable and excessive is for us to decide collectively.

India’s macro savings are only half in instruments like stocks, bonds, insurance and bank deposits. The rest is in real estate or gold. Real estate valuations are revealed only when there is a transaction on which stamp duty is imposed. Such transactions are rare and hence stamp duty collection is low at the state level from real estate.

Thanks to digitization and better triangulation, we have good data on financial savings. Hence it is possible to levy a wealth tax on just that part, above a threshold of say 100 crore rupees. It could be as small as 0.1 percent. The purpose is not merely to raise fiscal resources. Many prominent rich people such as Narayan Murthy, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Nikhil Kamath, Sir Richard Branson have all said that they welcome higher taxes.

In the Financial Times, Ian Gregg, chairman of the British bakery chain Greggs, wrote an op-ed saying that the wealthy should be taxed more, and that trickle-down economics was not working.  Are these wealthy people saying tax us more just to sound politically right, or out of genuine compassion? Maybe a bit of both, and also to save society from a worsening scenario, where fury is unleashed on the obscenely wealthy.

In the UK it was estimated during Covid that a one-off small tax on the wealthy would generate a quarter trillion pounds for the government. Such is the scale of this potential fiscal gain.  A workable wealth tax can use best practices from some of the dozen countries that implement it and start with a small rate applicable to disclosed financial assets alone.  Taxing real estate can be kept as a domain of stamp duty for now, and taxing the ownership of gold is something for the future.

(The writer is a noted economist and commentator. Views are personal. By special arrangement with The Billion Press)

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/perspective/indias-rising-inequality-government-should-work-toward-workable-wealth-tax

Indian Stock Market Achieves Historic $5 Trillion Milestone Amid Domestic Investor Surge

The Indian stock market made history on Tuesday by achieving a market capitalization of $5 trillion for the first time. This milestone was reached after the market generated $1 trillion in wealth over just six months, despite foreign institutional investors (FIIs) withdrawing funds before the Lok Sabha election results on June 4.

The cumulative market capitalization of all listed stocks on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) climbed to Rs 414.75 lakh crore ($5 trillion) during the day as investors continued to purchase stocks in the broader market, even though the Nifty and Sensex indices were struggling to find direction following last week’s rally.

Dalal Street’s journey from $4 trillion on November 29, 2023, to $5 trillion on May 21, 2024, took less than six months. The Nifty is now approximately 250 points away from its all-time high, while the mid-cap and small-cap indices reached new peaks during Tuesday’s session. This phase of the bull run is primarily driven by domestic institutional, retail, and high-net-worth individual (HNI) investors, even though FIIs have withdrawn at least Rs 28,000 crore this month.

India now ranks as the fifth-largest stock market globally, trailing only Hong Kong, Japan, China, and the United States. The country first hit the $1 trillion mark on May 28, 2007. It took another decade for the market to double to $2 trillion, a milestone achieved on May 16, 2017. The $3 trillion milestone came faster, within four years, on May 24, 2021.

Despite a volatile period in recent weeks due to election-related speculations, investors found reassurance in statements from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. “You will see that in one week within June 4, the day election results would be declared, market participants would get tired,” said PM Modi in an interview with NDTV. Similarly, Amit Shah advised investors to buy the dip, predicting a market upturn post-election results.

India is projected to become the third-largest economy by 2027, with the market cap expected to reach $10 trillion by 2030, assuming market returns align with historical trends and new listings continue. As a favorite among emerging market investors globally, India’s increasing market size is expected to attract significant attention from large investors, providing ample liquidity for major players.

Market depth in India has also increased significantly in recent years, with the number of stocks having a market cap of $1 billion nearly doubling to 500. India is among the major emerging market economies that have consistently delivered annualized returns greater than 10% over the last 5, 10, 15, and 20-year periods.

In the MSCI Emerging Markets (EM) index, India’s weightage is set to rise from 18.3% to nearly 19% from May 31, potentially leading to FII inflows of around $2.5 billion. “Over the next four years, India’s GDP will likely touch $5 trillion, making it the third-largest economy by 2027, overtaking Japan and Germany, being the fastest-growing large economy with the tailwinds of demographics (consistent labor supply), improving institutional strength, and improvement in governance,” said analysts from Jefferies.

The surge in India’s stock market capitalization can be attributed to several factors. New listings, whether through Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), Follow-on Public Offerings (FPOs), or Offers for Sale (OFS), contribute significantly to the increase in market cap. Jefferies analysts estimate that IPO and FPO issuances could account for 4%-5% of market cap as Indian unicorns mature over the next 5-7 years, and a new capital expenditure (capex) cycle triggers equity requirements across various sectors.

With cumulative funding of $100 billion, Indian unicorns currently hold a valuation of approximately $350 billion. Companies like Flipkart, Swiggy, Ola Electric, and PhonePe are expected to list on exchanges in the near to medium term. Additionally, Reliance Industries is anticipated to unlock value for shareholders by listing Reliance Jio and Reliance Retail.

The Indian stock market’s rapid ascent to a $5 trillion market capitalization reflects robust domestic investor participation, favorable economic projections, and significant contributions from new listings. Despite global uncertainties and election-related volatility, the market’s resilience and growth potential remain strong, positioning India as a formidable player in the global financial landscape. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have indicated, the market is expected to stabilize and grow post-election, further solidifying India’s position as a key destination for investors worldwide.

India Champions UN Security Council Reforms, Urges Inclusive Decision-Making

India is pushing for reforms within the United Nations Security Council, emphasizing the need for a more inclusive approach to decision-making. Ruchira Kamboj, India’s Permanent Representative, underscored the significance of consensus achieved at forums like the G20 Summit in addressing issues that remain unresolved within the UN’s highest decision-making body. She highlighted the contrast between the stagnation of the Security Council, often trapped in a “cold war” mentality due to polarization among its permanent members, and the progress made at the G20 Summit.

Kamboj reiterated the necessity of restructuring the Security Council’s permanent membership to better reflect contemporary global realities, asserting that diplomacy and dialogue require a more representative framework to effectively tackle challenges. She emphasized the significance of initiatives such as the Veto Initiative, which aims to hold Security Council permanent members accountable for their veto actions.

Despite the Security Council’s paralysis in addressing conflicts like the ongoing Ukraine War, forums like the G20 Summit have demonstrated the potential for consensus-building among a broader range of nations. Kamboj pointed out that the G20’s diverse membership and commitment to equality facilitated agreement on critical issues like territorial integrity and the inadmissibility of nuclear weapons use or threats.

The Veto Initiative, established in 2022 in response to the Security Council’s impasse over Ukraine, reflects the urgent need for reform within the Council. UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis emphasized the importance of revitalizing the Council’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities, urging member states to engage in constructive dialogue and bridge divisions to drive impactful solutions.

Kamboj criticized the “dysfunctionality” of the Security Council, attributing it not only to the use of the veto but also to the outdated membership structure that fails to align with contemporary global dynamics. She stressed that a majority of member states, including those that were not independent at the UN Charter’s drafting, support reform efforts, highlighting the disconnect between the Council’s decisions and the diverse perspectives of its constituents.

Addressing the obstacles to reform, Kamboj lamented the influence of a minority of dissenters within the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN), who hinder progress by demanding consensus before negotiations and blocking the adoption of a negotiating text. She also raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the Security Council’s operations, particularly regarding the use of holds and blocks within the Sanction Committee, which often shield terrorists from accountability.

Kamboj specifically highlighted instances where China has leveraged its influence to protect terrorists with ties to Pakistan, underscoring the need for greater transparency and accountability within the Security Council. Through her remarks, Kamboj emphasized India’s commitment to reforming the Security Council to better serve the interests of all member states and address pressing global challenges.

India’s First Bullet Train Project Gains Momentum, Set to Launch Initial Section by 2026

Construction advancements in India’s inaugural bullet train project are on track, poised to inaugurate the initial section by 2026, announced Union Railways and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in an interview with IANS on Tuesday.

“The progress on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai route for the bullet trains is notably substantial,” Vaishnaw stated, detailing the significant strides made in infrastructure development.

“We’ve accomplished over 290 kilometers of groundwork, including the construction of bridges over eight rivers. Concurrently, construction activities are underway at 12 stations, which are swiftly nearing completion,” the Minister disclosed.

Highlighting the project’s complexity, Vaishnaw noted the meticulous design process that spanned nearly two-and-a-half years since its commencement in 2017.

“The intricacies of the design are paramount due to the intense vibrations expected at the operating speed of the bullet train,” he explained. “Every aspect, from managing vibrations to electricity supply mechanisms and aerodynamics, demanded meticulous attention right from the outset.”

Acknowledging the pandemic-induced hurdles, Vaishnaw mentioned the temporary setback caused by Maharashtra’s initial reluctance under Uddhav Thackeray’s administration.

“Despite the brief delay stemming from administrative issues, progress resumed promptly, and the project is now advancing steadily,” Vaishnaw affirmed.

The bullet train corridor encompasses a 21-kilometer tunnel, including a challenging 7-kilometer stretch submerged beneath the sea, with the tunnel’s deepest point reaching 56 meters.

Within the tunnel, the bullet trains are slated to operate at speeds ranging between 300 to 320 kilometers per hour, underscoring the project’s commitment to establishing a high-speed, high-capacity transportation system.

“The overarching goal is to establish a cutting-edge mass transportation network by leveraging Japan’s renowned Shinkansen technology,” Vaishnaw reiterated, emphasizing the transformative potential of the bullet train initiative connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

India Ranks Fourth in Global Military Spending as U.S. Maintains Dominance: SIPRI Report

India solidified its position as the fourth-largest spender on military endeavors globally in 2023, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), while the United States retained its top spot. India allocated $83.6 billion towards defense, marking a 4.2 percent increase from the preceding year. Meanwhile, the United States led the pack with an expenditure of $916 billion, constituting 37 percent of the world’s total military spending. China followed in second place with an estimated $296 billion.

In light of escalating tensions, particularly along the China border since the Ladakh standoff in May 2020, India has ramped up efforts to enhance its defense capabilities. The country’s strategic emphasis on modernization, covering a range of assets from fighter jets to unmanned technologies, highlights its proactive stance in addressing regional security concerns.

India’s defense budget for 2024-25 reflects a slightly lower allocation compared to the revised estimates of the previous year. Nevertheless, it still represents a significant increase from the budget estimates for 2023-24.

The latest data also revealed a substantial surge in arms exports by the United States between 2014–18 and 2019–23, with a notable 17 percent increase, cementing its status as the leading exporter worldwide. During 2019–23, the US supplied major arms to 107 countries, surpassing the collective efforts of its closest competitors.

On a global scale, amid disruptions to international peace, military spending soared by 7 percent to reach $2.43 trillion in 2023, marking the most substantial annual increase since 2009, as per SIPRI’s findings. The Democratic Republic of the Congo witnessed the largest percentage surge (+105 percent) in military expenditure among all nations in 2023, largely attributed to escalations between the government and non-state armed groups.

Established in 1966, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is a global organization headquartered in Stockholm. It provides data, analysis, and recommendations pertaining to armed conflicts, military expenditure, arms trade, as well as disarmament and arms control.

Indian Consulate in New York Hosts Vibrant #Baisakhi Celebration, Uniting Communities in Festive Spirit

The Indian Consulate in New York commemorated #Baisakhi at the Consulate premises on April 19, 2024, with the active involvement of the community. Publisher of Indian Panorama, Indrajit Singh Saluja, emerged as one of the key figures behind the organization of the festival. The Consulate’s expansive hall brimmed with attendees, representing not only the Sikh community but also individuals from diverse faiths, converging to honor the festival symbolizing the New Year for Sikhs and Punjabis, and the genesis of the Sikh Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Collaborating closely with leaders from gurudwaras in New York and New Jersey, the event fostered a sense of unity and celebration.

Various speakers took the stage, including Dr. Jeph and Dr. Sudhir Parikh, who emphasized the universal significance of Vaisakhi and the principles advocated by Sikh Gurus, such as compassion, harmony, service, and equality. Dr. Jeph highlighted the significant contributions of the Punjabi community to India’s nation-building endeavors, extending warm wishes for a Happy Baisakhi to the assembled audience.

Reflecting on the occasion, DCG Jeph articulated, “We are marking the beginning of the Punjabi New Year, we are marking the beginning of the Sikh pant that Guru Gobindji established, and we are celebrating the spirit of togetherness, love, harmony, and that is reflected in all the people from different faiths coming together in this joyous occasion.”

Padma Shri awardee Dr. Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, reiterated the multifaceted essence of Vaisakhi, stating, “Vaisakhi is not just a religious festival, or a part of the agriculture harvest, . It is a celebration of Humanity, its a celebration of the starting of the great Khalsa  paner. And its a celebration to learn more about Guru Gobind Singh. It speaks about love and peace in the world. Today it is a celebration of love of each other, respect of each other.” He extended an invitation to the attendees to leverage the platform of his media outlets to disseminate their ideas and initiatives, concluding with a blessing, “God bless America, God bless India, God bless Khalsa pant, and God bless all of you.”

Speaking to ITV Gold, Saluja remarked, “We celebrated Vaisakhi with a lot of fun, a lot of entertainment, and also a lot of very serious consideration of what Vaisakhi is and what Sikhism is. We have had people coming from all walks of life, from New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island and New York City.” He particularly highlighted the captivating Bhangra dance performance by Surati for Performing Arts as one of the event’s highlights.

Dr. V.K. Raju, the founder of Eye Foundation of America, extended his greetings for Happy Baisakhi and underscored the imperative of aiding children and eradicating the menace of blindness globally.

The event served as a platform to showcase Punjab’s rich heritage and traditions, which intricately contribute to India’s diverse cultural mosaic, fostering a sense of communal celebration rooted in shared ancestry.

India’s General Election Signals Potential for Scientific Renaissance: Balancing Research Funding for Economic Growth

India’s upcoming general election commences this week, marking a significant event in the world’s largest democracy. Opinion polls anticipate a continuation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s tenure, led by an alliance against an opposition coalition spearheaded by the Indian National Congress. The outcome will shape the destiny of the world’s fifth-largest economy, potentially propelling India to the third spot by the decade’s end, trailing behind China and the United States.

Simultaneously, India is poised to elevate its stature as a scientific powerhouse, although this aspiration hinges on pivotal factors. Scholars caution that successive administrations have overlooked fundamental research, emphasizing the necessity for greater research autonomy. A vital facet in this endeavor involves addressing the funding deficit. To this end, India could augment science expenditure by fostering increased corporate involvement, mirroring practices observed in other major economies.

India boasts substantial achievements in various domains. Notably, it hosts the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical industry by volume, renowned for supplying affordable medicines and generic drugs crucial in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, India achieved a historic soft Moon landing, becoming the fourth nation to do so and the first to land near the lunar south pole. Additionally, it operates the world’s largest array of remote-sensing satellites.

The country exhibits remarkable research productivity, trailing only the United States and China in terms of research output. Over the past seven years, the number of universities surged from 760 to 1,113, accompanied by the establishment of seven new Indian Institutes of Technology and two Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research.

However, these accomplishments are juxtaposed against a stark reality: India allocated a mere 0.64% of its GDP towards research and development (R&D) during the 2020–21 period. Regardless of the election outcome, addressing this deficiency and unlocking the potential of increased funding remain imperative.

Comparatively, high-income nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) allocated an average of 2.7% of GDP to R&D in 2022, underscoring the vast disparity. China, a formidable global competitor, devoted 2.4% of its GDP to R&D in 2021.

While India’s absolute science spending, adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), exhibited growth from $50.3 billion in 2014–15 to $57.9 billion in 2020–21, the share of R&D expenditure relative to GDP tells a different story. After reaching a peak of 0.82% of GDP in 2009–10, India’s R&D spending dwindled to its present levels.

A notable observation lies in the composition of India’s science spending compared to economies of similar scale. Approximately 60% of India’s research funding originates from central and state governments and universities, with the private sector contributing the remaining 40%. In contrast, private-sector funding constitutes a more substantial proportion in comparable nations, averaging 74% in OECD countries and 66% in the European Union in 2022.

India’s burgeoning corporate landscape, spanning construction, information technology, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals, presents a ripe opportunity for enhanced research contributions. Yet, a paradigm shift is required to mobilize these entities towards bolstering national research endeavors.

In a significant legislative move, the Indian parliament endorsed the establishment of the Anusandhan National Research Foundation (ANRF) last August. Endowed with disbursing 500 billion rupees ($6 billion) over five years to universities and laboratories, with 70% sourced from non-governmental entities such as philanthropists and industry, the ANRF aims to rectify perceptions of neglect towards basic research. However, ANRF constitutes only one facet of a multifaceted strategy. The incoming government, in collaboration with corporate entities, must explore avenues to further augment science investment.

Investments in scientific research, both public and private, yield substantial dividends, catalyzing economic growth, societal advancement, and improved health outcomes. Acknowledging this, leading economies prioritize science in their budgets, cognizant of the transformative potential of research investments. The incoming administration, post the culmination of India’s electoral marathon on June 1, must emulate these practices, recognizing India’s capacity and obligation to prioritize scientific advancement.

Massive Lok Sabha Election Commences: High Turnout Amidst Sporadic Violence

The extensive endeavor to elect the 18th Lok Sabha commenced today, marking the initiation of elections on 102 seats spread across 21 states and Union Territories. As the first phase drew to a close, approximately 60.03% of the electorate cast their votes. Instances of sporadic violence marred the process in Manipur and Bengal.

Here’s a concise breakdown of the key highlights from this significant event:

The Election Commission, overseeing the seven-phase electoral process spanning 43 days, affirmed, “The Election Commission is working strenuously to ensure a smooth, transparent, and inclusive electoral process in the subsequent phases of General Elections 2024.”

Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, which also held assembly elections concurrently, witnessed turnouts of 68% and 68.3%, respectively. In comparison, Sikkim had recorded an 80.1% voter turnout, while Arunachal Pradesh saw 65.1% in the 2019 elections.

Tamil Nadu, conducting a single-day election, registered a voter turnout of 67.2%, down from 72.4% in 2019. Rajasthan, sharing half of the 102 contested seats with Tamil Nadu, witnessed a voter turnout of 57.3%, a decrease from the previous 64%.

By 7 pm, Uttar Pradesh reported a voter turnout of 59.5%, while Madhya Pradesh recorded 66.7%. Bengal saw one of the highest turnouts at 77.6%, where the BJP aims to narrow the gap with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. In 2019, the BJP secured victory in 18 out of Bengal’s 42 seats.

The northeastern states, predominantly BJP-led, demonstrated substantial turnout rates: Assam at 72.3%, Meghalaya at 74.5%, Manipur at 69.2%, Arunachal Pradesh at 67.7%, and Tripura at a remarkable 80.6%.

Incidents of clashes between Trinamool Congress and BJP workers erupted in Cooch Behar, Bengal, with accusations of violence, voter intimidation, and assault on poll agents exchanged. Despite police denial of violence, gunfire was reported at a polling station in Bishnupur, Manipur, and a polling booth was vandalized in Imphal East district. Tragically, two elderly individuals, including a 77-year-old woman, passed away at polling booths in Salem district, Tamil Nadu.

The BJP, despite its confident stance on securing a third consecutive term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, managed to secure only 50% of the contested seats in the previous general election. The NDA and UPA clinched 41 and 45 seats, respectively, with six seats undergoing redrawn boundaries as part of delimitation.

With ambitions set on achieving 370 seats, the BJP is placing significant reliance on southern states, particularly Tamil Nadu, where it has yet to establish a foothold, and Bengal. In an exclusive interview with NDTV, Union Minister and BJP’s chief strategist, Amit Shah, emphasized PM Modi’s popularity, expressing optimism that it will translate into the party’s success in the south.

Despite being marginalized in northern India, the Congress remains optimistic about its resurgence. Senior leader KC Venugopal anticipates an enhanced performance in several northern states, including BJP strongholds like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Bolstered by victories in Telangana and Karnataka assembly polls, and the alliance with DMK in Tamil Nadu, the party is confident about its prospects in the southern region.

The counting of votes is scheduled for June 4th.

India Is Our Strategic Partner, World’s Largest Democracy: US

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller has said that India is the world’s largest democracy and an important strategic partner of Washington.

His remarks came while answering a question on recent reports critical of the Indian government ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in the country.

Replying to a question raising concern on alleged “democratic backsliding in India” on Monday, he said, “India is the world’s largest democracy, it is an important strategic partner of the United States, and I expect that to remain true.”

In January, US state secretary Antony Blinken had hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that the latter’s policy and programmes have benefitted people and ally countries.

The bilateral relationship between the nations saw some unease after the US State Department, said that the US is closely following the reports of the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.’

CM Kejriwal was arrested in connection with a corruption case linked to the alleged excise policy scam. Taking a strong exception to the comments of the US State Department, India had said, “We take strong objection to the remarks of the Spokesperson of the US State Department about certain legal proceedings in India.

In diplomacy, states are expected to be respectful of the sovereignty and internal affairs of others. This responsibility is even more so in the case of fellow democracies. It could otherwise end up setting unhealthy precedents.”

“India’s legal processes are based on an independent judiciary that is committed to objective and timely outcomes. Casting aspersions on that is unwarranted,” the MEA said. (IANS)

South Asia Peace Activists Committed To Regional Dialogue And Harmony

“If France and Germany can be part of the European Union, why can’t Pakistan and India be part of a South Asian Union?” asked Dr Mubashir Hasan, former finance minister of Pakistan and a founder of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy.

The former hawk-turned-dove was talking to journalist Beena Sarwar in Lahore, and when she said it sounded impossible, he replied, “Par hum baat toh kar sakte hai” (But we can at least talk about it).

Years later, in 2021, during a time of renewed tensions between Pakistan and India, she remembered the words of her late mentor who had passed away in January 2020. This idea is what lies behind the foundation of the Southasia Peace Action Network. Writing the abbreviation like a word, Sapan, rather than in all caps, conveys the meaning of a dream.

This is a dream that connects millions, giving hope for solidarity, peace, and friendship in the region. The network, which encourages dialogue and connections amongst South Asians and across various issues, has managed to virtually overcome borders and build bridges between those who have historically been divided.

Commitment to dialogue

The idea of meeting each other without the hassle of obtaining visas was a resilient attempt at peace and friendship. At the third anniversary of Sapan last weekend, commemorated at a virtual event live over Zoom and YouTube, organisers reviewed Sapan’s achievements in the past three years, presented by youth activist Sarita Bartaula from Nepal. Well known feminist activist Khawar Mumtaz in Lahore who hosted the milestone event, highlighted the organisation’s ongoing commitment to fostering dialogue and understanding.

South Asia Peace Activists Committed To Regional Dialogue And Harmony (SAM)
Picture: SAM

Participants looked back and looked forward. The brief ‘In Memoriam’ paid tribute to giants in the peacebuilding sphere, like Dr Mubashir Hasan, Nirmala ‘Didi’ Deshpande, journalists Kuldip Nayar and I.A. Rehman, human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir and many others. There was a special tribute to members of the ‘peacemongers’ tribe who have recently passed on, like journalist Babar Ayaz in Karachi, senior activist Radhakant Saxena of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Jaipur, and not least, former Indian Navy chief L. ‘Ramu’ Ramdas, a founder member of Sapan and a longtime peace and anti-nuclear activist.

The ‘peacemongers’ vowed to not only continue talking to each other, but to continue talking until they achieve their dream, their Sapan, of a South Asia with soft borders, or at least, ease of visas.

The past three years of Sapan activities and connection-building are a testament to the unwavering support and faith for the ideals enshrined in the three-point Founding Charter. Nearly 80 organisations and hundreds of individuals in the region and beyond have endorsed this call for soft borders, healthy cooperation, and dignity for all in the South Asian region.

As the saying goes, “The heart wants what it wants”. This is reflected in Sapan’s concentrated, consistent efforts with a Whatsapp channel, dedicated ‘Peacemongers’ groups, regular monthly webinars, campaigns, and consistent check-ins, campaigning for peace and harmony in South Asia.

Art beyond borders

The second part of the meeting featured a thought-provoking discussion on art and artists beyond borders. The panelists included acclaimed artists Salima Hashmi, Manmeet Walia, and Roshan Mishra, joining from Pakistan, India, and Nepal respectively. They recognized how art is a thread that connects artists across the South Asian region because it is expressed in the language, known to all.

“Through Art, we reflect each other,” said Roshan Mishra, emphasising our ‘sameness’ in the ‘other’.

The event concluded with a ‘solidarity song’ written by the iconic Southasian feminist Kamla Bhasin, “Tumhara sath milne se” (With your support), sung by three generations of Bangladeshi feminists led by the feminist activist Khushi Kabir, together with Sohanna Ahmed and Bipasha Saed. With this song, there was a mutual recognition that we may have a million miles to go, but at least we have started, and we are in it together.

The virtual anniversary event brought together a diverse range of intergenerational peacemongers, including supporters, experts, members, volunteers, and friends. After the recording stopped, many lingered on to catch up with each other, meet new friends, and express their support.

Seniormost was probably Vasanth Pai, 92, in Bangalore. He has been part of the peace movement since 2010 when he was involved as a volunteer with Aman Ki Asha (Hope for Peace). From Islamabad, human rights activist and former Pakistani senator Farhatullah Babar also stayed on to express his solidarity and support. And that’s why “Hum Baat Karte Rahenge: We will continue to talk” is so powerful.

(The author is an Indian-origin peace activist from Jaipur, with a masters in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Manchester, UK. She is currently based in Manchester and is a volunteer with Sapan. Views are personal. By special arrangement with Sapan News)

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/medley/dream-connects-millions-south-asia-peace-activists-committed-regional-dialogue-and-harmony

India Votes To Elect Lok Sabha’s 102 Seats In 21+ States

After months of build-up, the Lok Sabha polls got underway with 102 seats spread across 21 states voting. This marks the beginning of a rigorous electoral battle. Tens of millions of Indians have voted on the first day of a staggered general election that ends on June 1ST, 2024.

Almost a billion people are eligible to cast their ballots in a seven-phase election to the 543-seat lower house of parliament. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is seeking a third consecutive term.

Eleven states and Union Territories completed voting on Friday, April 19th, 2024. The states that voted today included all 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, all five seats in Uttarakhand, 12 constituencies in Rajasthan, five in Maharashtra, and all seats in six Northeastern states and three UTs. The Assemblies in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim are also going to polls. Of the 102 seats, 18 are reserved for Scheduled Castes and 11 for Scheduled Tribes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking his third consecutive term, while the opposition bloc-INDIA- a coalition of opposing parties formed to take on the BJP in the general elections, is eyeing ousting him from power.

The 2024 elections are taking place at a time when opposition leaders, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, have been arrested on charges of corruption in the liquor policy case.

The opposition has alleged that they have been denied a level playing field, a charge denied by the ruling BJP. The Congress party also alleged that income tax authorities froze their accounts weeks before the elections and blamed the ruling party at the Centre.

India Votes To Elect Lok Sabha’s 102 Seats In 21+ States (Britanica)

The BJP centered its campaign on PM Modi’s popularity. Even its election manifesto emphasized Modi’s “guarantees” while seeking another term. The Congress-led INDIA bloc focused on issues like unemployment, farmers’ distress, and price rise amid its tussle for seat arrangements among allies.

In Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, with DMK-led alliance looking to continue its dominance and the BJP eyeing to make a mark in the Tamil region. About 6.23 crore voters will decide the fate of about 950 candidates on these 40 seats.

In Uttar Pradesh, with eight of the 80 seats voting today, UP sees a three-way contest among the NDA, INDIA bloc, and BSP. The election campaign in UP saw the BJP consolidating its Hindutva brand with events like Surya Tilak of Ram Lalla’s idol in the newly constructed temple in Ayodhya, while the Opposition bloc described their electoral campaign as a fight to save India’s Constitution.

In Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, four of the 40 seats in Bihar and six of the 29 LS seats in Madhya Pradesh are voting going to the polls today. In Bihar, the NDA had won all four — Aurangabad, Gaya, Jamui, and Nawada — in 2019.

In Madhya Pradesh, Nakul Nath — former CM Kamal Nath’s son and the richest candidate in the first phase of polls — is fighting to retain the only seat that the Congress had won in 2019 in the state.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the scrapping of Article 370 remains in focus in J&K, whose Udhampur-Doda is voted today. This is the first legislative election in J&K after its special status was revoked, statehood stripped and it was bifurcated into two almost five years ago.

Twelve of the 25 LS seats are going to the polls in Rajasthan in the first phase. All went to the BJP in 2019. In Maharashtra, the focus is on Nitin Gadkari’s seat, Nagpur, housing the RSS headquarters. Of five of the 48 seats voting today, the Congress had one Chandrapur — the only seat the party had won in 2019 in Maharashtra. It’s a high-pitched electoral battle between TMC, BJP, and Left-Congress alliance in the three of the 43 seats going to the polls today.

In the Northeast, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim are also voted in their assembly elections.

Of the 102 Lok Sabha seats, in 2019, the parties that now constitute the INDIA bloc and the NDA (in its current configuration) each won 48 of these seats, with the unaligned BSP and AIADMK winning three and one seats, respectively. The undivided Shiv Sena and NCP won a seat each. In terms of the vote share, the parties of the INDIA bloc secured 41.7% across these seats (excluding the five in Maharashtra, owing to the split in the NCP and Shiv Sena) compared to the NDA’s 34%.

In 2019, among these 102 seats that went to the polls today, the BJP alone won 40 of these seats across 12 states, followed by the DMK at 24 in Tamil Nadu, and the Congress at 15 in eight states.

There were 1,625 candidates in the fray on Friday. Given that all seats in Tamil Nadu are going to polls, most of the candidates (950) are from the state. Among the parties, the BSP has fielded the most candidates at 86, followed by the BJP at 77, and the Congress at 56.

Candidate analysis

Of the 251 candidates with criminal cases, 137 are in Tamil Nadu, followed by 28 in Uttar Pradesh. But in terms of the share of candidates with criminal cases, UP tops the first phase list at 35%, followed by Nagaland at 33% and Meghalaya at 30%. Sikkim, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Manipur have no candidates with pending cases. In six of the states and UTs going to polls, more than one-fourth of the candidates are facing cases. The BJP has the highest number of candidates facing cases at 28 among the parties.

A recent pre-poll survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) revealed that the foremost concerns for voters in India are price rises and unemployment. The plight of tea garden workers will have a say in Assam as estate workers demand better facilities and wages.

Reportedly, health and education are also among the major demands raised by the estate workers. Assam will be voting in five Lok Sabha seats in the first phase out of the 14 constituencies. Inflation, farmers’ issues, crimes against women, and paper leaks were among the most discussed in states including Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, among others.

Electoral Bonds Scandal In India Speaks Of A Compromised Private Sector

This much should be now clear and settled to any reasonable person – the scheme of electoral bonds was an extortion racket, even if it is granted that – to be charitable to its designers  – that was not the intention with which it was devised. The legalised corruption that the scheme unleashed will be studied and analysed for a long time and will go down as a milestone in the history of scandals, one that leaves nothing to the imagination given the remarkable and audited documentation that it leaves behind.

Specifics of the transactions in all their horror, particularly when it comes to a) pharma companies and their donations in the wake of investigations into the quality of drugs, b) assorted investigations that began and stopped after “donations”, one of these kinds leading to the process against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, c) long-pending clearances and other accommodation in favour of business houses against payments and d) a clear path for foreign funds coming in as donations, are just the headline concerns. They point to not only the anti-national character of the scheme but also stand out as an invitation to corruption – an open-door policy that lays out a clear path to tamper with the Indian system.

What can a business leader or a vested interest not do when the price is known, legal cover is guaranteed, secrecy is written into the law, and the party of the Prime Minister of India is the recipient of the booty? It legitimises the “rate-card” method of corruption that makes rent-seeking an efficient, predictable and quantitative enterprise, only that this one is legalised, works at the highest echelons of power, and gets your job done, whatever that job be. It marks the collapse of India as a modern democratic nation and a firm entry into the territory of a banana republic, with an outer sense of calm barely concealing an inner dealing room where the dirty jobs are done.  This is the inner rottenness of India’s growth story, a self-imposed colonisation of a nation that has lost its standing, never mind the growing GDP.

Deep damage to nation

Electoral Bonds Scandal In India Speaks Of A Compromised Private Sector (South Asain Monitor)

What A R Antulay as chief minister set up in Maharashtra can be described as an early version of the electoral bonds scheme, save that his collections were meant for the poor and not funds to fight elections.  Antulay was forced to resign in 1982 when what was then universally regarded as a monumental scandal about “donations” to trusts he controlled came to light. It was the BJP that filed the case against Antulay, who collected Rs.50-odd crore in trust funds, partly in return for cement allocations to builders at a time of shortages. As the scandal hit the national headlines, the BJP was at the forefront of raising issues of corruption. L K Advani led efforts to highlight the scandal. Today, the same party has reached a stage where its leadership talks of a pro-rata justification of the collections: we got this much with so many MPs versus the amount that the opposition got with fewer MPs, as the attempted justification offered by Home Minister Amit Shah goes.

Yet, the deep damage caused to the nation by electoral bonds is yet to be captured. The bigger twist is that India must come to terms with the realisation that its directional 1991 turn to the era of liberalisation and privatisation has failed. India’s liberalisation was meant to free the private sector from the license-control-Raj, fire up “animal spirits”, the term given to us by John Maynard Keynes, and provide the economic escape velocity to enable us to float high above the so-called Hindu rate of growth. Pre-reforms, businesses kept liaison offices in New Delhi to ease the process of business-government interaction. In one case from a long time ago, the chief executive of Unilever in India was asked to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to help put an end to price control on soap, which had been brought in a desperate bid to control inflation in light of the “oil shock” of the 1970s. None of this would be required after Dr. Manmohan Singh under Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao abolished industrial licensing on July 24, 1991, and declared: “As a whole, the Indian economy will benefit by becoming more competitive, more efficient and modern and will take its rightful place in the world of industrial progress.”

What has this turn yielded? India has GDP growth but government spending remains a significant part of this growth. The private sector still has to and is equally happy and willing to negotiate the corridors of power and pay speed money to those who matter. The ones closest to power have grown the most. Worse, the inefficiencies this builds into the system will not allow the private sector on the one hand to mature and on the other hand to stand up to authority, build governance systems, take bold decisions and the risks that must come with “animal spirits”. Why risk it all when there is a side gate to manage the process?

A handmaiden of government

With a bent spine, it is entrenched players who will continue to rule and what we have in the name of the private sector (barring some exceptions) is money-making at all costs and with the least risks to the money-makers. This cannot be the dream of an India firing away on all cylinders to solve the burning problems of society. It is, therefore, no surprise that with liberalisation, we have built wealth and income inequality higher than that obtained during the British Raj, as the World Inequality Lab’s working paper titled “Income and Wealth Inequality in India, 1922-2023: The Rise of the Billionaire Raj” by Bharti, Chancel, Piketty and Somanchi notes. It should also be clear that India’s private sector has not really matured and remains comfortable only as a handmaiden of the government.

It may therefore not be a stretch to argue that there is not a strong and purposeful private sector worth the name in India. It is no surprise that many Indians still don’t trust private enterprises. In India today the working system is to pay a price, buy peace and make money – the government and those with the means stand together in an anti-people agenda.

(The writer is a journalist and faculty member at SPJIMR, Mumbai. Views are personal. By special arrangement with The Billion Press)

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/perspective/electoral-bonds-scandal-india-speaks-compromised-private-sector

7 Persons of Indian Origin on TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People List

Bollywood star Alia Bhatt, World Bank President Ajay Banga, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and British actor with Indian roots, Dev Patel have made it to Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People’ list for 2024.

Another prominent Indian who features in the list is wrestler Sakshi Malik, India’s only female Olympic medallist who led the protest against the alleged sexual harassment of female grapplers by former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.

“Proud to be included in the 2024 #TIME100 list,” Sakshi wrote on X.

Tom Harper, the director of the streaming film ‘Heart of Stone’, Alia’s first Hollywood project, heaped praises on the actress, calling her a “truly international star”.

“Despite her fame, Alia is self-effacing and funny on sets. There is a grace to the way she goes about her work: focused, open to ideas, and willing to take creative risks. One of my favourite moments in the film came from an improvisation at the end of a take where she took the emotional thread and ran with it.

“Alia’s superpower is her ability to mix movie-star magnetism with authenticity and sensitivity. As an actor, she is luminous, and as a person, she brings the grounded assurance and creativity that make a truly international star.” Alia is the only Bollywood actor to feature in the Time magazine list.

The other names with an India connect featured in the list include astronomer Priyamvada Natarajan, senior US Department of Energy official Jigar Shah, and chef and rights activist Asma Khan.

The also features singer-songwriter Dua Lipa, Oscar-awardee American actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Oscar-nominated actors Jeffrey Wright and Colman Domingo.

Also featured in the list are film personalities Taraji P Henson, Elliot Page, Michael J. Fox, Sofia Coppola, and Hayao Miyazaki.

British actor Dev Patel, whose parents are Indian, also finds himself on the list.  Patel, who rose to fame in “Slumdog Millionaire,” recently made his directorial debut with “Monkey Man.”  Oscar-winning actor Daniel Kaluuya praised Patel in his TIME profile, calling him “limitless” and “fearless.”

Ajay Banga, the current President of the World Bank, is commended for his transformative leadership in tackling global poverty and climate change.  U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen lauded Banga’s “skill and drive” in transforming the World Bank.

Jigar Shah, Director of the US Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office, is recognized for his role in spearheading global economic development initiatives.  Richard Branson noted that Shah leads “one of the largest economic-development programs the world has ever seen.”

India Emerges as Fourth-Largest Exporter of Digital Services, WTO Report Reveals

India has solidified its position as the globe’s fourth-largest provider of digitally transmitted services, contributing more than a fifth to the global service trade. According to the latest findings from the World Trade Organisation (WTO), India’s exports of digitally transmitted services hit $257 billion in 2023, reflecting a 17% surge from the preceding year. This growth surpassed that of Germany and China, each experiencing a 4% uptick. The report underscores that worldwide, exports of digitally transmitted services soared to $4.25 trillion in 2023, marking a 9% year-over-year escalation. This accounted for 13.8% of global exports of goods and services. Despite a decline in global goods trade across all regions, exports of digitally transmitted services continued to thrive. Europe and Asia, together commanding a 76.2% global share, saw export escalations of 11% and 9%, respectively.

In 2023, business, professional, and technical services led the global exports of digitally transmitted services at 41.2%, trailed by computer services (20.5%), financial services (16%), intellectual property related services (10.9%), insurance and pension services (5.2%), telecommunications services (2.6%), audio-visual and other personal, cultural, and recreational services (2.1%), and information services (1.5%).

The report also noted a surge in the utilization of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, including AI models proficient in producing various forms of content such as text, images, music, and videos. This swift adoption is poised to transform several facets of the economy, fostering enhanced efficiency, innovation, cost savings, personalization opportunities, job generation, and economic expansion, thereby further propelling trade in digitally transmitted services.

Looking forward, the WTO foresees enhancements in the global economy and trade. Following a 1.2% contraction in goods trade volume, the organization predicts a 2.6% upturn in 2024. In terms of value, world goods trade dropped to $24 trillion in 2023, while commercial services swelled to $7.5 trillion, registering a 5% decline and 9% growth, respectively.

Digitally deliverable services encompass a broad spectrum of services that can be conveyed via information and communications technology (ICT) networks. These encompass ICT services, sales and marketing services, financial services, professional services, education and training services, among others.

OFBJP Supporters Rally at Times Square in Solidarity with Modi: Global Display of Unity

OFBJP supporters, led by Dr. Adapa Prasad, president of OFBJP-USA, organized a gathering dubbed “Modi Ka Parivar” at the iconic Times Square in New York City on Sunday, April 14, 2024.

The event witnessed hundreds of supporters of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi congregating to exhibit their solidarity, reinforcing their association with the Modi Parivar (family) and conveying a resounding message that the Modi Parivar transcends geographical boundaries, according to a press release from OFBJP-USA. Participants proudly displayed flags, banners, and placards adorned with slogans echoing their unwavering support.

Dr. Prasad commended the dedication of OFBJP volunteers, underscoring the significance of standing united in backing Prime Minister Modi’s vision for a prosperous and inclusive India.

Krishna Reddy, a leading volunteer, expressed his gratification, stating, “It’s heartening to witness so many people coming together to support our beloved Prime Minister. This gathering truly demonstrates the strength and unity of the Modi Parivar.”

Dr. Vasudev Patel, General Secretary of OFBJP-USA, extended gratitude to community leaders and volunteers for showcasing solidarity.

Charan Singh, a community leader, highlighted the overwhelming support from the NRI community. Notable figure Kalpana Shukla depicted Modi as a “savior for the world, tirelessly working for the betterment of people in India and around the globe,” as per the press release.

The event attracted supporters from New Jersey, all boroughs of New York, and Connecticut, as confirmed by organizers.

Additionally, various prominent community leaders and volunteers, including Amar Goswamy, Gunjan Mishra, Jayesh Patel, Sivadasan Nair, Jayasree Nair, Madhukar Reddy, Pranav Patel, Nilima Madan, Anand Gupta, along with numerous others, participated in the march.

Similar demonstrations took place in Detroit, Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, and Hollywood, California. At each location, over a hundred OFBJP supporters waved flags and chanted slogans in solidarity with Modi, while local community leaders delivered speeches.

India Welcomes Taliban’s Restored Land Rights for Afghan Hindus and Sikhs as Positive Step

India hailed the Taliban’s decision to reinstate land rights for Afghan Hindus and Sikhs as a “positive development.” The Taliban administration has reportedly taken steps towards restoring property rights to these minority communities, which External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal described as a favorable move. Jaiswal made these comments during the weekly media briefing in response to inquiries regarding the matter.

The Taliban regime has initiated a commission tasked with ensuring the return of privately owned land to its rightful owners, which had been seized by warlords during the previous administration’s tenure in Kabul. This action follows India’s engagement with Afghan authorities, as J.P. Singh, India’s pointsperson on Afghanistan, held discussions with senior members of the Afghan government in Kabul. Singh, who heads the division for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran within the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), also met with Taliban’s foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last month.

India, while refraining from officially recognizing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, has consistently advocated for the establishment of an inclusive government in Kabul. Additionally, India has emphasized the imperative that Afghan territory should not serve as a base for terrorist activities against any nation. Furthermore, India has been vocal about the necessity of providing unimpeded humanitarian assistance to address the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.

In June 2022, India took steps to re-establish its diplomatic presence in Kabul by deploying a “technical team” to its embassy in the Afghan capital. This decision followed India’s earlier withdrawal of embassy personnel after the Taliban’s seizure of power in August 2021, prompted by concerns over their safety and security.

India Gears Up for World’s Largest Election: Battle Lines Drawn as Modi’s Leadership Faces Crucial Test

The upcoming week marks the commencement of the world’s largest election, as 960 million eligible voters out of India’s 1.4 billion population prepare to cast their votes to determine the occupants of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, India’s powerful lower house of Parliament, and ultimately, the next Prime Minister of India.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces off against a coalition of over a dozen opposition parties, notably the Indian National Congress, which has a historical legacy of governing India for more than five decades. Central to this electoral clash is the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ascended to power in 2014 on a platform promising economic reform and championing Hindu nationalism. A victory for Modi would see him join the ranks of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, as a three-term leader.

The election unfolds as a protracted and resource-intensive endeavor, with voting scheduled to commence on April 19th and span seven phases over six weeks, culminating in the announcement of results on June 4th. Mirroring the 2019 election, this year’s iteration anticipates the establishment of over a million polling booths nationwide, staffed by nearly 15 million polling personnel, facilitating the voting process through electronic means. The meticulous orchestration of these proceedings falls under the purview of the Election Commission of India, with projections hinting at a cost surpassing the $8.5 billion expenditure of the preceding election.

In essence, India’s electoral mechanism aligns with the British parliamentary system inherited until independence in 1947, constituting a multiparty parliamentary framework with a bicameral legislature. The attainment of a majority, requiring 272 seats, enables a party or coalition to form a government and nominate a Prime Minister. The process unfolds across seven distinct phases, enabling the deployment of security personnel to safeguard the transportation of voting equipment and ensure the integrity of the electoral process.

Post-voting, the Election Commission undertakes a comprehensive tallying and verification process, following which the President of India extends an invitation to the victorious party to form a government, with its leader assuming the role of Prime Minister. In cases where no single party secures an outright majority, alliances with smaller parties typically ensue.

The primary electoral tussle manifests between India’s dominant political entities—the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Indian National Congress (INC). The BJP, led by Prime Minister Modi since its 2014 ascension, governs in tandem with the National Democratic Alliance, securing a resounding triumph in the 2019 elections with 303 parliamentary seats. Modi’s tenure, marked by a transformation from an anti-corruption crusader to a polarizing figure, resonates strongly with India’s Hindu majority, fostering widespread support despite governance challenges such as pandemic mismanagement, unemployment, and minority persecution.

Facing Modi’s BJP juggernaut are figures such as Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi from the Congress Party, which has endured consecutive electoral setbacks in recent years. The party’s electoral prospects face hurdles, including financial constraints and legal entanglements, notwithstanding alliances forged with regional opposition parties under the banner of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). However, internal dissent and strategic divergences have undermined the cohesion of this united front.

The electoral discourse revolves around pressing socio-economic issues, notably unemployment and inflation, compounded by the plight of farmers grappling with debt and meager incomes. Despite India’s economic growth trajectory, job creation remains insufficient, particularly for the youthful demographic comprising a significant portion of the population. The BJP administration has implemented welfare measures dubbed “new welfarism,” subsidizing essential services and devising digital infrastructures to facilitate direct cash transfers, thus shaping voter expectations regarding continued government support.

Furthermore, Modi’s espousal of Hindu-centric policies and the erosion of secular principles through initiatives like the Citizenship Amendment Act and the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomy have polarized public opinion. These measures, while consolidating Hindu support, have alienated the Muslim populace, accentuating societal fault lines and invoking scrutiny regarding India’s secular ethos.

The upcoming election assumes significance as a barometer of India’s democratic ethos amidst allegations of rights infringements and institutional subversion. Despite commendable voter turnout rates, concerns linger over the government’s stifling of dissent and curtailment of media independence, prompting scrutiny from international observers and a reassessment of India’s democratic credentials.

The 2024 Indian election signifies a pivotal juncture in the nation’s democratic trajectory, testing the endurance of democratic principles amidst socio-political turbulence and the legacy of a decade under Modi’s leadership.

India Makes Significant Strides in Global University Rankings: QS World University Rankings 2024

Sixty-nine Indian universities have been included in the rankings, with 424 entries in the 2024 QS World University Rankings by Subject. This represents a notable increase of 19.4 percent from the previous year’s 355 entries.

“Interestingly, 72 percent of the Indian entries this year are either new to the list, have shown improvement, or have maintained their positions, whereas a mere 18 percent experienced a decline. Overall, India has demonstrated a significant 17 percent year-on-year improvement.”

The list is compiled by global higher education experts QS Quacquarelli Symonds.

“The 12 Institutes of Eminence (IoE), which represent just a fraction of Indian universities, contribute 40 percent of the country’s total entries, amounting to 180. Furthermore, the IoE lead the way with 47 of the 69 top-100 Indian positions and 14 of the 21 positions across 55 academic disciplines and five faculty areas in the 14th edition of the rankings.”

The University of Delhi, IIT Bombay, and IIT Kharagpur are the most represented Indian universities in this edition of the rankings, with 30, 28, and 27 entries respectively. IIT Madras follows closely with 22 entries this year, showing improvements in eight, decline in six, and no change in four. IIT Delhi secured the fifth spot with 19 entries, out of which 11 improved, three declined, and three remained unchanged.

“IIT Guwahati has been named as one of the world’s top universities for the study of Data Science and Petroleum Engineering subjects, securing a global ranking of 51-70, and Petroleum Engineering, where it ranks 51-100 globally. Additionally, four of IIT Guwahati’s subjects have witnessed an improvement in rank this year.”

IIT Guwahati’s subject wise ranks

Sr. No Subject/ Department Rank – 2024
1. IIT Guwahati – Engineering and Technology 210
2. Chemical Engineering 201-250
3. Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering 201-250
4. Electrical & Electronics Engineering 201-250
5. Computer Science & Information Systems 251-300
6. Chemistry 251-300
7. Physics & Astronomy 301-350
8. IIT Guwahati – Natural Sciences 343
9. Biological Sciences 401-450
10. Mathematics 301-350
11. Petroleum Engineering 51-100
12. Environmental Studies 201-250
13. Civil Engineering 151-200
14. Economic & Econometrics 451-500
15. Data Science 51-70
16. IIT Guwahati – Arts & Humanities 501-550
17. Business & Management Studies 501-550
18. Agriculture & Forestry 351-400

Jindal Global Law School has made a significant leap to the 72nd rank in the world this year from the 84th rank last year, maintaining its top position for the fifth consecutive year. Other Indian law schools included in the list are National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru (ranked 151-200), and the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi (ranked 201-250).

Jessica Turner, QS CEO, highlighted the challenges faced by India in providing high-quality tertiary education amidst increasing demand. She also noted the positive progress made by several programs at India’s three privately-run Institutes of Eminence, emphasizing the role of well-regulated private provision in enhancing India’s higher education sector.

“While there is still room for improvement in standards, access to higher education, universities’ digital readiness, and global competitiveness, it is evident that India is moving in the right direction.”

India’s Youth Struggle Amidst Job Scarcity: Unemployment Crisis Grips Nation Ahead of Elections

Jagdish Pal, a math graduate from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, found himself amidst fierce competition when he applied for a government job last year. Despite being aware of his overqualification, Pal, along with over 75,000 applicants, vied for the position, reflecting the dire job scarcity even for low-level roles in India. Pal expressed, “I knew I was overqualified but there are simply no jobs on offer, that’s why I applied.”

This predicament is not unique to Pal; it resonates with many young individuals across India. Despite the Indian economy’s rapid growth, exemplified by an 8.4% expansion in the fourth quarter of 2023, job creation struggles to keep pace with the influx of millions of young job seekers annually.

A significant contributing factor to this conundrum is the disproportionate growth between India’s services and manufacturing sectors. While the services sector has thrived, it’s not as labor-intensive as manufacturing. Santosh Mehrotra, a visiting professor at the University of Bath, highlighted the necessity for inclusive growth, emphasizing the need for job creation at all levels of the socioeconomic hierarchy.

The employment scenario in India is further exacerbated by persistently high unemployment rates, even among college graduates. This is aggravated by a mismatch between the skills possessed by job seekers and the requirements of available positions, with many new jobs emerging in sectors like agriculture and construction, unsuitable for the educated workforce.

The India Employment Report 2024, jointly released by the Institute for Human Development (IHD) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), paints a grim picture of the employment landscape. The report reveals that nearly 83% of the unemployed workforce comprises youth, and the proportion of educated youth among the unemployed has significantly increased over the years.

As India gears up for general elections, scheduled to commence on April 19, youth unemployment emerges as a pivotal issue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, focusing on economic stewardship, faces scrutiny over its inability to address the unemployment crisis adequately. Despite substantial investments in infrastructure projects aimed at job creation, the efforts have fallen short, as highlighted by the IHD/ILO report.

Arun Kumar, an economist, emphasized the multidimensional nature of unemployment, underscoring its economic, social, and political ramifications. With a considerable expansion in education but a meager growth in job opportunities, unemployment among educated youth has emerged as a pressing concern.

The opposition parties have seized on this issue, attributing the problem to the Modi administration’s policies. Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the principal opposition Congress party, cited the ILO and IHD report, condemning the government’s purported indifference towards addressing unemployment.

As the elections draw nearer, unemployment has become a focal point for political campaigns, particularly given India’s predominantly young demographic, with approximately 65% of the population under 35 years old.

Women bear a disproportionate brunt of the jobs crisis in India. The IHD/ILO report highlighted that a higher proportion of educated unemployed youth comprises women compared to men. Additionally, India exhibits one of the lowest female labor force participation rates globally, standing at around 25%.

Lekha Chakraborty, a senior economist at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, identified three primary factors contributing to joblessness among educated women in India: inadequate care economy infrastructure policies, rigid social norms, and insufficient skills. She emphasized the need for integrating care economy considerations into macroeconomic policies and implementing concrete measures to combat labor market discrimination against women and marginalized groups.

UN Urges India That ‘Everyone’s Rights Protected’ In India’s Elections

The arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the Delhi excise policy case is garnering more and more international reactions. This time, the United Nations (UN) has commented on Kejriwal’s arrest.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hopes that in India’s elections, “everyone’s rights are protected”, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric has said. “What we very much hope that in India, as in any country that is having elections, that everyone’s rights are protected, including political and civil rights, and everyone is able to vote in an atmosphere that is free and fair”, he said on Thursday in response to a question from a Bangladeshi journalist at his daily briefing.

In making a general statement, Dujarric did not directly react to the journalist’s assertion that India was at a “crisis point” mentioning the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and what he said were the freezing of Congress Party funds.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was responding to a question on the “political unrest” in India ahead of the upcoming general elections in the wake of the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the freezing of the opposition Congress Party’s bank accounts.

“What we very much hope that in India, as in any country that is having elections, that everyone’s rights are protected, including political and civil rights, and everyone can vote in an atmosphere that is free and fair,” Dujarric said at a press conference here.

The UN spokesperson’s reaction comes days after the United States (US) and Germany reacted to the Delhi chief minister’s arrest. On Monday (March 25), a US State Department spokesperson said that it was closely following reports on Kejriwal’s arrest, and urged a fair, transparent, and legal process for him.

Germany, meanwhile, said that like anyone facing accusations, Kejriwal was “entitled to a fair and impartial trial, this includes he can make use of all available legal avenues without restrictions.”

India Marches Towards $5 Trillion Economy

Homegrown solutions and products built on top of the digital public infrastructure (DPI) by young entrepreneurs will pave the path towards India becoming a $5 trillion economy, industry experts said on Sunday.

With successful mass adoption and larger economic impact, DPIs are impacting approximately 1.3 billion citizens, covering 97 per cent of India’s population.

The matured DPIs enabled a value creation of $31.8 billion, equivalent to 0.9 per cent of India’s GDP in 2022, according to a Nasscom-led study that came out last month.

“Digital technology is creating an enabler for the larger ecosystem in India, whether it is in healthcare or agriculture. What is most exciting for me is in the space of education,” Mayank Kumar, Co-founder and MD of edtech platform upGrad, told IANS.

“A robust digital infrastructure has been laid across the country. Multiple companies and entrepreneurs can now build strong solutions on top of that which will pave the path towards India being a $5 trillion and a $10 trillion economy in the coming future,” Kumar added.

India Marches Towards $5 Trillion Economy

India’s interoperable and open-source DPIs are now being adopted or considered by over 30 countries to enhance social and financial inclusion.

According to experts, DPI provides a close-up approach to fostering digital inclusion and contributing to economic growth at scale.

“Think of ‘India stack’ as a bridge between the physical infrastructure such as broadband and an array of digital services that’s contributing to digital adoption at scale – ranging from identity (Aadhaar) to payments to health care, among others,” Prabhu Ram, Head, Industry Intelligence Group at market intelligence firm CMR, told IANS. (IANS)

Diaspora Urges Modi Government to Sign into Law, NRI Protection Bill that Protects Their Assets in India

In 2023, the Indian Police arrested five people involved in a most shocking incidence of forgery against NRIs. All the five accused, including a lawyer, had teamed up to forge the documents of an NRI’s land valued at Rs 40 crore. NRIs and OCIs, who live abroad most of the time in a calendar year, do often fall prey to such crimes as land encroachment, forgery, unauthorized money withdrawals…in India. Precisely, one out of every 3 NRIs is a victim of organized crime, according to the NRI Grievance Forum led by Indian American Subhas Balappanavar in San Francisco.

Indian Diaspora, at over 30 million, is not only the largest in the world but also more successful than any other immigrant community. Besides their substantial contribution to the economy of their country of residence, they play an important role in bolstering India’s foreign exchange reserves through investments, remittances and deposits. More than one-fourth of NRIs, OCIs and PIOs invest a significant portion of their overseas earnings in various sectors, including real estate, stocks, mutual funds and bonds, in India.

Some own ancestral properties in India, some others deposit their money in Indian bank accounts, and a large number of NRIs send money to their families and relatives back home. The total remittance inflow into India in 2023 accounts for $125 billion, which is higher than the net worth of the richest Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani. Notably, India is the largest recipient of foreign remittances. A common concern of the overseas Indian community with active financial ties to their homeland is their susceptibility to fraud and deception.

Non-residents are an easy target for scamsters who indulge in criminal activities from property encroachment to signature forgery and illegal bank withdrawals. And seeking legal action is full of challenges for NRI victims. They are often plagued by jurisdictional complexities, lack of proper awareness and guidance, and lengthy legal proceedings often requiring NRIs to be physically present for extensive documentation, court appearances, etc.

The grim situation of NRIs who lose their hard-earned money to swindlers prompted the NRI Grievance Forum to advocate for the ‘NRI Protection Bill’ at every Indian embassy and consulate, marking one of the largest worldwide initiatives by NRIs. This month, Subhas Balappanavar and his team visited all 6 consular offices across the USA and petitioned them to protect NRI investments and assets in India. They had already emailed their concerns to the Prime Minister of India and also submitted the memorandum at Indian consulates in East Asia, Australia, Middle East, Europe and Canada.

The Forum urges the Indian Government to enact the NRI Investment Protection Bill and establish a centralized NRI Investigation Agency to address NRI grievances, digitize documentation processes, and provide timely resolution. Its other proposals include legal protection for property disputes, provisions for online FIR filing, online inquiry and documentation, 90-day timeframe for issue resolution, non-bailable warrants for accused parties, invalidation of counter FIR against NRIs, and prosecution of officers involved in false arrest of NRIs.

The NRI Protection Bill also advocates for a uniform tax structure for NRI taxation in India in terms of TDS etc. Swift repatriation of investments and online voting facility are other proposals of the bill. Assurance of safety and legal protection can go a long way in encouraging NRIs’ participation in the nation’s growth, reiterates Subhas Balappanavar. (Courtesy: Indian Eagle)

World Bank’s Positive About Indian Economy

The World Bank has revised its projections for the Indian economy, forecasting a growth rate of 7.5% in 2024, an increase of 1.2% from previous estimates.

This growth contributes to a strong outlook for South Asia, with the region expected to grow at 6.0% in 2024, driven by India’s robust performance and recoveries in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Fastest growing in region

The World Bank’s South Asia Development Update predicts South Asia to maintain its position as the fastest-growing region globally for the next two years, with a projected growth of 6.1% in 2025.

India is highlighted as a significant contributor to the region’s economy, with expected output growth of 7.5% in FY 2023-24, followed by a moderate decrease to 6.6% in the medium term.

The services and industry sectors are anticipated to sustain robust activity.

Economic performance

India’s economic performance in Q4 of 2023 surpasses expectations, driven by investments and government spending.

Favorable financial conditions are noted, with domestic credit issuance growing by 14% year-on-year in December 2023.

The nonperforming-loan ratio has decreased to 3.2%, and regulatory capital adequacy surpasses requirements.

Optimizing demographic dividend

“South Asia is failing right now to fully capitalize on its demographic dividend. This is a missed opportunity,” said Franziska Ohnsorge, World Bank Chief Economist for South Asia.

If the region employed as large a share of the working-age population as other emerging markets and developing economies, its output could be 16% higher, Ohnsorge said.

Challenges ahead

While short-term growth prospects for South Asia appear promising, fiscal vulnerabilities and climate-related shocks pose challenges to the region’s resilience.

Strengthening private investment and employment growth are crucial to bolstering economic resilience.

Opposition Raises Alarm Over Election Integrity, Alleges ‘Match-Fixing’ by Modi Government

With just over two weeks remaining until the commencement of the 17th Lok Sabha elections, the Opposition INDIA bloc staged a rally on Sunday, igniting a discourse that is anticipated to deepen the divisions in the forthcoming contentious campaign: it cast aspersions on the integrity of the electoral process itself.

In a manner tantamount to questioning the validity of the poll process, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of attempting “match-fixing” — essentially, manipulating the election mechanism in favor of the ruling BJP. Furthermore, he issued a foreboding caution regarding the potential repercussions.

“If the BJP prevails in this rigged election and subsequently alters the Constitution, it will plunge the country into chaos… this nation will not endure… This is not a routine election. It’s about safeguarding the nation, defending our Constitution,” Rahul asserted.

Indeed, the focal point of the “save-democracy” Opposition rally at the Ramlila ground was precisely this concern. Convened primarily to protest against the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on March 21, one leader after another contended that democracy would be imperiled and the Constitution endangered if the Modi government regains power.

The event witnessed the participation of top leadership figures from the Congress — party chief Mallikarjun Kharge, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — alongside NCP (SP) chief Sharad Pawar, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, and Shiv Sena (UBT)’s Uddhav Thackeray.

A majority of the speakers accused the Government of operating in a “dictatorial and arrogant” manner. Referring to the BJP’s “ab ki baar 400 paar” slogan, senior RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav remarked, “They are making claims… setting targets… it seems as though the EVMs have been tampered with in advance.”

In fact, three out of the five points in the charter of demands, as outlined by Priyanka at the conclusion of the rally, pertained to the fairness of elections.

The demands included: “The Election Commission of India must ensure a level playing field in Lok Sabha elections; ECI must halt the coercive actions by IT, ED, and CBI against Opposition political parties; immediate release of Hemant Soren and Arvind Kejriwal; immediate cessation of coercive actions aimed at financially crippling political parties in the Opposition during the elections; establishment of an SIT, under the supervision of the Supreme Court, to probe allegations of quid pro quo, extortion, and money laundering by BJP using Electoral Bonds.”

Since its establishment in June 2023, the Opposition coalition had frequently accused the Modi government of stifling democracy and flouting Constitutional norms. However, it is arguably the first instance where some of the leading figures of the alliance have, from the INDIA bloc platform, expressed apprehensions regarding the fairness of the ongoing election process.

“You must be familiar with the concept of match-fixing. When a match is unlawfully won by influencing umpires, purchasing players, coercing the captain… it is termed match-fixing in cricket. We are facing Lok Sabha elections. Who appointed the umpires? Narendra Modi. Even before the match commenced, two players (Kejriwal and Soren) from our team were detained… Narendra Modi is attempting to fix these elections,” Rahul asserted.

“The country is witnessing match-fixing… everyone can see it… Narendra Modi has appointed individuals within the Election Commission… two chief ministers have been incarcerated… you have frozen our bank accounts… you desire to prevent the Opposition from contesting elections… hence you have frozen the bank accounts of the Congress, planted your representatives in the EC… you are exerting pressure on the judiciary… because you wish to rig the match… the Constitution is being disregarded, and you seek to retain power,” he continued.

He contended that the BJP would be incapable of achieving the claimed “400 seats” without resorting to EVM tampering, match-fixing, influencing and purchasing social media and the press… they wouldn’t even surpass 180 collectively. Rahul’s tirade came in the wake of the Congress’s allegation that the Income Tax authorities had issued notices demanding a total of Rs 3,567 crore in taxes.

During a previous press conference with Sonia and Kharge earlier in the week, Rahul had accused the BJP of financially crippling the party on the eve of elections and had proclaimed that the “notion of India being a democracy is a sham.” On Sunday, he escalated his rhetoric significantly.

“This match-fixing isn’t solely orchestrated by Narendra Modi alone. It is orchestrated by Modi and three or four of India’s billionaires in unison… that’s the reality,” he stated, adding that the match-fixing is aimed at wresting the Constitution from the impoverished citizens of India.

“India cannot survive without the Constitution… Our Constitution represents the voice of the people; it is the heartbeat of India. India cannot endure without it. States will fragment… And that’s their objective… If the BJP triumphs in this rigged election and subsequently amends the Constitution, the entire nation will be engulfed in flames. This nation won’t endure (if the BJP wins this match-fixing election and changes the Constitution afterward, it will set the country on fire… This is not an ordinary election. This election is to save the country, protect our Constitution),” he asserted.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra evoked the Ramayana to drive home a political message: “When Lord Ram fought for truth, he lacked power, resources, or even a chariot. Ravan possessed chariots, resources, an army, and golden Lanka, but Lord Ram had truth, hope, belief, love, kindness, modesty, patience, courage, and truth. I want to convey to those in power and Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the essence of Lord Ram’s life is that power is transient; it comes and goes, and arrogance is eventually shattered.”

Significantly, most leaders made fleeting references to bread-and-butter issues like unemployment, inflation, and MSP for farmers, maintaining their focus on the overarching theme of democracy in jeopardy for the day.

Thackeray expressed apprehensions about the country veering towards dictatorship, asserting that it is not merely an apprehension anymore, but a reality. He argued that the “one party, one person” government poses a threat to the nation, emphasizing the necessity for a coalition government that respects and honors the aspirations of every state and region.

Tejashwi also contended that there exists an “undeclared Emergency” in the country, alleging that the government has adopted a “dictatorial and arrogant” stance. “They lack faith in the Constitution. They seek to implement Nagpuria law… they endeavor to execute the RSS agenda,” he claimed.

While DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin — whose speech was conveyed by his party colleague and Rajya Sabha MP Tiruchi Siva — remarked that “history demonstrates that nobody has prospered through tyranny” and that “people will never tolerate the nefarious machinations of tyrants,” Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien framed the struggle as “BJP versus democracy.”

O’Brien’s party colleague and TMC Rajya Sabha MP Sagarika Ghose affirmed that the Trinamool Congress stands firmly with the INDIA bloc. “We understand the challenges faced by the AAP and Arvind Kejriwal

India’s Billionaire Boom: Soaring Income Inequality Raises Alarms, Study Reveals

A recent study conducted by the World Inequality Lab reveals a concerning trend regarding income inequality in India, attributing it to the booming era of Indian billionaires. The study, co-authored by esteemed economist Thomas Piketty, indicates that India’s income inequality has now reached unprecedented levels, surpassing even countries like the U.S., Brazil, and South Africa. Surprisingly, the distribution of income in India appears to have been more balanced during British colonial rule compared to the current scenario.

In 2023 alone, India witnessed the addition of 94 new billionaires, bringing the total count to 271, as reported by the Hurun Research Institute’s 2024 global rich list. This surge in billionaire numbers is second only to the United States, collectively amassing wealth nearly equivalent to 7% of the world’s total wealth. Notably, prominent Indian magnates like Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, and Sajjan Jindal are now rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, signifying their global economic influence.

The study’s authors express a striking sentiment, likening the contemporary Indian billionaire realm to the era of British colonial rule, dubbing it “The Billionaire Raj.” This observation starkly contrasts with India’s current economic status, celebrated for its robust 8% GDP growth, with forecasts suggesting a potential rise to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2027.

The research methodology employed by the World Inequality Lab involved analyzing India’s income and wealth distribution among the top 1%. Tracking data from as early as 1922, the study found that despite historical periods of high inequality during colonial rule, the top 1% held around 20 to 21% of the national income. Presently, this figure has escalated to 22.6%, underscoring the exacerbation of income disparity.

Similarly, wealth inequality has intensified over time. Starting from 1961, when the Indian government initiated large-scale household surveys on wealth, the study combined this data with information from the Forbes Billionaire Index. It revealed that the top 1% in India commands a staggering 40.1% of the national wealth, indicating a significant concentration of economic resources.

The meteoric rise in the number of Indian billionaires, from merely one in 1991 to 162 in 2022, has substantially amplified their collective net wealth share from under 1% to a substantial 25% of India’s net national income. This rapid accumulation of wealth has coincided with significant political and economic reforms since 2014, characterized by a centralized decision-making structure and a growing nexus between big business and government under the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rule.

The authors suggest that public investments in crucial sectors like health, education, and nutrition could potentially benefit average Indians and mitigate the widening wealth gap. Proposing a “super tax” of 2% on the net wealth of the wealthiest 167 Indian families in 2022-23, they argue that this measure could generate substantial revenue, facilitating vital public investments.

However, until such reforms are implemented, the authors caution against the looming threat of India sliding into plutocracy. They emphasize the importance of closely monitoring and challenging income and wealth inequality, pointing out the decline in the integrity of key institutions and economic data in India. They assert that India’s historical role as a beacon of integrity among post-colonial nations necessitates vigilant scrutiny of its economic disparities.

India Strongly Objects to US and German Comments on Legal Proceedings, Asserts Sovereignty

India has voiced strong objections to comments made by a spokesperson from the US State Department regarding legal proceedings in the country, specifically concerning the recent arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal by the Enforcement Directorate.

The Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson, Randhir Jaiswal, emphasized the importance of diplomatic respect for sovereignty and internal affairs, particularly among fellow democracies. Jaiswal remarked, “In diplomacy, states are expected to be respectful of the sovereignty and internal affairs of others. This responsibility is even more so in case of fellow democracies. It could otherwise end up setting unhealthy precedents.”

Furthermore, Jaiswal asserted that India’s legal processes are grounded in an independent judiciary committed to impartial and prompt outcomes. He stated, “India’s legal processes are based on an independent judiciary which is committed to objective and timely outcomes. Casting aspersions on that is unwarranted.”

The US State Department’s spokesperson had previously commented on Kejriwal’s arrest, expressing a desire for a fair legal process. This prompted India to summon a senior US diplomat to convey its response.

This recent diplomatic exchange follows a similar instance where India defended its Citizenship (Amendment) Act as an internal matter in response to criticism from Washington. The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson reiterated this stance, labeling the US State Department’s statement on the implementation of CAA as “misplaced, misinformed and unwarranted.”

Germany also weighed in on Kejriwal’s arrest, expressing concern and emphasizing the importance of upholding judicial independence and democratic principles. India responded by summoning the German deputy chief of mission in New Delhi and lodging a protest against the remarks made by the German foreign ministry.

This confrontation with Germany marks the third instance in the past three years where Indian authorities have clashed with the German foreign ministry over perceived interference in Indian judicial proceedings against opposition and civil society figures. Indian officials stressed to the German deputy envoy that such remarks constitute interference in the country’s judicial process and that biased assumptions are unwelcome.

India has firmly defended its legal processes and sovereignty against perceived external interference, particularly regarding the recent arrest of Arvind Kejriwal and the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, while also pushing back against comments from both the United States and Germany.

Renowned Mathematician Dr. T N Subramaniam Passes Away, Leaves Behind Legacy of Technological Innovation

Dr. T N Subramaniam, a distinguished mathematician hailing from India known for his significant contributions to technology, has passed away in Michigan at the age of 76.

Dr. Subramaniam, who made the United States his home in 1979, garnered immense respect within academic circles in both India and the US, leaving behind a profound legacy of groundbreaking mathematical models and theories.

An exceptional milestone in his illustrious career was the creation of Route One for General Motors, a venture that transformed auto-financing and GPS systems for GM vehicles.

Playing a pivotal role as the mastermind behind the server for General Motors in Troy, Michigan, Dr. Subramaniam left an indelible mark on the technological landscape and customer service standards within the automotive industry.

His extraordinary accomplishments caught the attention of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during her visit to the US, leading to a personal audience where she lauded his innovative endeavors aimed at bringing honor to his homeland. This recognition underscores Dr. Subramaniam’s global impact and the widespread acknowledgment of his invaluable contributions.

Dr. Subramaniam’s legacy endures through his family, which includes his wife, daughter, and son-in-law.

USCIRF Raises Concerns Over India’s Citizenship Amendment Act Exclusion of Muslims

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed apprehension concerning the Indian government’s steps to initiate the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). Enacted in 2019, the CAA aims to confer citizenship upon undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who entered India before 2014. USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck criticized the act, labeling it as “problematic” due to its exclusionary stance towards Muslims. He highlighted this issue in a congressional hearing, emphasizing that the law offers a swift pathway to citizenship for several religious groups while explicitly excluding Muslims. Schneck argued that if the law genuinely aimed to protect persecuted religious minorities, it should encompass other marginalized groups such as Rohingya Muslims from Burma, Ahmadiyya Muslims from Pakistan, or Hazara Shi’a from Afghanistan. He stressed the principle that citizenship should not be denied based on religion or belief. The commissioner urged members of Congress to continue raising concerns about religious freedom issues in India and to prioritize discussions on religious freedom during diplomatic engagements.

Prior to USCIRF’s statement, the U.S. Ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, had also expressed reservations regarding the CAA’s implementation. He asserted that the U.S. would closely monitor the situation, emphasizing that religious freedom and equality are fundamental tenets of democracy. However, New Delhi dismissed these concerns, suggesting that they were influenced by political motivations aimed at securing voter support.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) functions as an independent, bipartisan federal government body established by the U.S. Congress. Its mandate includes monitoring, analyzing, and reporting on religious freedom issues abroad. USCIRF provides recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress with the aim of preventing religious persecution and promoting freedom of religion or belief in foreign policy decisions.

The Hindu Leaders Fighting Hindu Nationalism

As India hurtles toward the world’s largest elections next month, I mourn for the democracy of my homeland that once was. The press is increasingly muzzled, dissent is met with incarceration, and a palpable climate of fear pervades society. My country is inching closer to becoming a Hindu supremacist state, as Muslims are getting more excluded by the day.

India’s majority Hindu community seems largely oblivious or in denial of the brewing catastrophe. Despite their silence, a significant number of Indians, both within the country and among the diaspora, are actively resisting. I have been resisting in my own way, by creating a platform for Hindus—secular, cultural, or religious—who oppose both the caste system and the nationalist Hindutva ideology.

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I had previously been inspired by my dear friend and mentor, the late Swami Agnivesh, a radical monk who had devoted his life to ending bonded labor. But my colleagues and I at Hindus for Human Rights were keen to meet a new crop of brave religious leaders who reject hate. In 2023, we journeyed to India for a prema yatra, or “pilgrimage of love,” and met 15 Hindu leaders firmly opposed to Hindutva.

In our latest trip to India, in February 2024, we were joined by Swami Raghavendra, a leader of the organization Satya Dharam Samvad (SDS). As a monk with strong academic credentials, he represents a new generation of spiritual leaders who challenge Hindutva. In 2021, he organized the inaugural SDS gathering in Haridwar, in the BJP’s stronghold of northern India, as a counter to a hate assembly that explicitly called for a genocide of Muslims. At the SDS gathering that year, faith leaders took a “do or die” oath to protect secular India and the Hindu faith from Hindutva.

During the 2024 trip, Raghavendra and I were hosted by Swami Korneshwar, a leader in the Lingayat community, in Karnataka. The Lingayat movement was founded in the 12th century by the philosopher Basavanna, and is known for its staunch anti-caste stance and egalitarian ethos. But the community is at a crossroads, with some aligning with Hindutva while others strive to maintain their unique identity separate from mainstream Hinduism. Several prominent members of the Lingayat community have been assassinated by Hindutva proponents, most notably the journalist Gauri Lankesh. Others remain vocal, despite incessant death threats. During the visit, I saw how many Lingayats were willing to risk their lives to vocally oppose Hindutva.

In Kerala, we met with Swami Sandeepananda Giri, another vocal critic of Hindutva. We learned of the risks he’s faced because of his opposition to Hindutva, including a violent attack on his ashram by affiliates of the Hindu nationalist RSS paramilitary group. We were heartened by the growing resistance in Kerala, a state long known for its political diversity and progressive politics.

Our final stop was the Ayyavazhi ashram in Kanyakumari, at India’s southern tip, where we met Bala Prajapati. He represents the Ayyavazhi faith, a 19th century offshoot of Hinduism emphasizing egalitarianism, anti-casteism, and social reform. Despite the risk of violence—the ashram has a 24 hour police guard—Prajapati maintains a firm stance against Hindutva.

Overall, the journey illuminated the stark contrast between the oppressive, exclusionary nature of Hindutva, which is a much newer creation, just over 100 years old, and the inclusive, liberatory aspects of the many diverse and ancient Hindu traditions. The leaders who draw on the latter tradition can claim many progenitors, including anti-caste revolutionaries in Indian history like Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi, Vaikunda Swami, and Kabir Das.

But the challenge of combatting Hindutva is a steep one. The prevalence of nationalist symbols in unexpected places, like saffron flags on fishing boats along the beaches of Goa, one of India’s most diverse states, was a jarring reminder of this during our trip. The elections next month in India will also almost certainly see Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party win a third five-year term.

Still, I remain an optimist. The brave Hindu leaders I have met, guardians of inclusive traditions that have survived millennia, are quick to admit that India is going through a dark period. But, they say, it will return to the path of secular democracy and unity. I hope that comes sooner than later.

India Announces General Elections: Modi’s Victory Anticipated Amidst Nationalist Surge

India announced on Saturday that its general elections, spanning six weeks, will commence on April 19, with expectations leaning towards a triumph for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), steeped in Hindu nationalism.

The electoral process, unfolding across seven phases, will witness various states voting at distinct intervals, culminating in the announcement of results on June 4. A staggering 970 million voters, constituting over 10% of the global populace, will cast ballots to select 543 members for the lower house of Parliament, serving a five-year term.

Prime Minister Modi, vying for a third consecutive tenure, confronts minimal opposition, with the primary challenger being an alliance of more than twenty regional parties led by the Indian National Congress, grappling with internal discord, defections, and ideological disparities.

Pundits speculate that these elections could solidify Modi’s position as one of India’s most influential and transformative leaders, intent on reshaping the nation from a secular democracy to an overtly Hindu-centric state.

The electoral process will unfold in successive phases, with each phase spanning a single day, enabling the government to deploy substantial security forces to deter violence and facilitate the movement of electoral officials and voting machines across diverse constituencies, encompassing populous cities and remote rural areas.

India employs a first-past-the-post multiparty electoral system, wherein the candidate garnering the highest number of votes emerges victorious.

In the lead-up to the polls, Modi has embarked on a nationwide tour, inaugurating infrastructure projects, delivering speeches, and engaging with the electorate. His popularity surged notably following the inauguration of a Hindu temple in the northern city of Ayodhya in January, perceived as the unofficial commencement of his election campaign, as it fulfilled a longstanding Hindu nationalist pledge of his party.

Modi, aged 73, ascended to power in 2014, riding on promises of economic progress and portraying himself as an anti-establishment figure challenging the entrenched political elite. Over the years, he has garnered increased support, blending religious rhetoric with politics—a strategy resonating profoundly with India’s Hindu majority, albeit at the expense of diluting the country’s secular foundations.

These elections coincide with India’s heightened influence on the global stage under Modi’s leadership, owing to its robust economy and its role as a perceived counterbalance to China’s ascendancy.

Critics highlight that Modi’s nearly decade-long tenure has witnessed a surge in unemployment, notwithstanding economic expansion, along with instances of Hindu nationalist violence targeting minority communities, particularly Muslims, and a shrinking space for dissent and independent media. The opposition warns that a victory for Modi’s BJP could imperil India’s secular and democratic ethos.

A potential victory for the BJP would follow its resounding triumph in the 2019 elections, where it secured an absolute majority with 303 parliamentary seats, eclipsing the Congress party’s tally of 52 seats.

Fundamentalists in India Want to Remove Christian Symbols from Faith-Run Catholic Schools

An extremist Hindu group has called for the removal of Christian symbols from schools run by the Catholic Church, and for Catholic Religious not to wear emblems. The Hindu group of the state of Assam, in the northeast of India, has given an ultimatum to Christian schools, as well as to priests and women religious, to remove Christian signs from schools.

The Bharatiya Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Hindu nationalist, governs the state of Assan and wants all Christian symbols to disappear, including the habits and soutanes of the Religious, as reported by UCA News. The group wants photographs and sculptures of Jesus and Mary, which they call idols, to be removed within 15 days, threatening them with harsh consequences.

“Christian missionaries are changing schools and educational institutions into religious institutes. “We won’t allow it,” said Satya Ranjan Borah, President of the Kutumba Surakshua Parishad or Council of Family Security Hindu group, during a press conference on February 7 in Guwahati, with a population of 900,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area of Dispur, capital of the state of Assam. Ranjan Borah said that Christian missionaries use schools for activities to convert Hindus and he accused the priests and women religious of promoting Christianity in schools with Christian symbols.

The Hindu group also asked for the suppression of churches and chapels installed in school complexes, according to “Northeast Now,” a British news portal. John Moolachira, Archbishop of Guwahati, said the accusations “are unfounded.” “We are aware of the threats, and I don’t know why they happen,” he said to UCA News on February 9. ”It’s a very difficult situation when such open threats are made.” Christians number just over a million among the 31 million inhabitants of Assam, with an average 50% higher than the national average.

Christian leaders plan to approach Assam’s principal Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party, to show that Christians have participated for decades in the education of people that live in remote areas of Assam, and of poor people and that threats to Christian missionary activities have increased over the last years in the northeast region of India. They point out that Hindu groups promote cultural nationalism, which ends in opposition to Christians. Moreover, Hindu groups promote the image of Christianity as a diabolical force that intends to destroy the native Hindu culture with the conversion of Hindus to Christianity. Thank you for reading our content. If you would like to receive ZENIT’s daily e-mail news, you can subscribe for free through this link.

IOCUSA Bemoans The Weaponization Of OCI Cards To Silence Critics

“The recent denial of entry to India by Professor Nitasha Kaul from the U.K. is nothing short of weaponization of OCI cards to silence the critics of the BJP Government. This action that is contrary to the democratic traditions not only diminishes the value of the OCI card but also tarnishes the image of India as a beacon of freedom and liberty,” said George Abraham, Vice-Chair of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA.

Last Sunday, Nitasha Kaul, an Indian-origin UK-based professor at the University of West Minister, claimed that she was denied entry into India and was sent back to London from the Bengaluru airport based on “orders from Delhi.” She is said to have stated that she was denied entry because of her opinions on “democratic and constitutional values.”

During a weekly media briefing by MEA spokesperson Randir Jaiswal said, “This U.K. national (Nitasha Kaul) came to India on February 22. As you know, the entry of foreign nationals into our country is a sovereign decision,” a surprising statement from a person who has been celebrating the diversity and achievements of India with the overseas Indian community until very recently.

The BJP-led government is said to have canceled at least 102 OCI cards between 2014 and May 2023, including several journalists and academicians. In 2021, the Centre issued a notification introducing a series of new restrictions that curtailed the rights and liberties of OCI card holders.

According to the notification, OCI card holders had to secure a special permit to undertake any research, missionary, Tablighi, or journalistic activities or to visit any area in India notified as protected, restricted, or prohibited.

If a democratic government is sure-footed about their policies and actions, they may not go down to this level to silence someone who participates in a policy debate. It is also ironic that this is the same government that takes pride in chastising foreign governments on their failures to protect the safety and religious freedom of its citizens abroad.

There is increasing evidence that global freedom is at risk where democratic governments are becoming increasingly authoritarian and more effective in curtailing the freedom of their citizens but also reaching out and beginning to control their expatriate population from expressing their disapproval of the governance or differing on their policy making that may be quickly interpreted as ‘anti-national.’ Unless the voters in India and the Diaspora recognize this looming danger, free expression will become a thing of the past.

Therefore, IOCUSA appeals to the government of India to stop targeting Overseas Indians for expressing their opinions on the current state of affairs and instead focus on building a more robust relationship through meaningful dialogue for mutually beneficial interests.

PM Modi Inaugurates Sela Tunnel: A Landmark Achievement in Arunachal Pradesh’s Infrastructure Development

Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked a significant milestone today during his visit to Arunachal Pradesh by inaugurating the Sela Tunnel, a crucial infrastructure development connecting Tezpur to Tawang. Constructed at a hefty cost of ₹825 crore, this tunnel serves as a vital link near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, overcoming the challenges of inclement weather and difficult terrain.

Outlined below are five key points regarding the Sela Tunnel:

1.Longest Bi-lane Tunnel at High Altitude: The Sela Tunnel stands as an engineering marvel, being hailed as the world’s longest bi-lane tunnel at an elevation exceeding 13,000 feet. Its primary objective is to ensure all-weather connectivity, addressing the issues posed by heavy snowfall and frequent landslides along the Balipara-Chariduar-Tawang Road.

2.Project Execution: Executed by the Border Road Organisation (BRO), the project comprises two tunnels and a link road. Tunnel 1 stretches 980 meters in length, serving as a single-tube tunnel, while Tunnel 2, spanning 1,555 meters, consists of twin tubes. One tube facilitates traffic flow, while the other is reserved for emergency services. Connecting these tunnels is a link road covering 1,200 meters.

3.Initiation and Manpower: Prime Minister Modi laid the foundation stone for the Sela Tunnel project on February 9, 2019. The completion of this extensive undertaking demanded over 90 lakh man-hours, with an average of 650 workers and laborers dedicatedly contributing on a daily basis over the past five years. The construction process involved approximately 71,000 metric tonnes of cement, 5,000 metric tonnes of steel, and 800 metric tonnes of explosives.

4.Modern Features for Safety: Incorporating modern amenities, the Sela Tunnel is equipped with features such as jet fan ventilation, firefighting equipment, and SCADA-controlled monitoring systems to ensure enhanced safety and operational efficiency.

5.Strategic Significance: Positioned 400 meters below the Sela Pass, this tunnel assumes critical importance, especially during the harsh winter season. It facilitates swift movement of troops, weaponry, and machinery along the Sino-Indian border, bolstering strategic defense measures.

The inauguration of the Sela Tunnel by Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscores a significant achievement in enhancing connectivity and bolstering security infrastructure in the region. This monumental project not only symbolizes India’s commitment to modernizing its transportation networks but also serves as a testament to its strategic preparedness along the borders.https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/5-facts-about-the-worlds-longest-bi-lane-sela-tunnel-set-to-be-inaugurated-by-pm-modi-5204917

India: The Next Global Economic Powerhouse

India’s optimistic outlook stems from various factors, including its youthful population and burgeoning industrial sector. The International Monetary Fund predicts India’s growth to outpace China’s, with Jefferies analysts envisioning India becoming the world’s third-largest economy by 2027.

Similar to China’s transformative phase decades ago, India is embarking on an infrastructure overhaul, investing in roads, ports, airports, and railways. Suresh highlights the substantial economic impact of such investments, stating, “There is a very strong multiplier effect… which you cannot roll back.”

India’s appeal extends to global companies reevaluating their supply chains, seeking alternatives to China’s challenges. Hubert de Barochez of Capital Economics notes India’s potential to benefit from this shift, terming it “friend-shoring” of supply chains.

Leading global companies, including Apple supplier Foxconn and Tesla, are expanding operations in India. Elon Musk expressed keen interest in investing in India, citing Modi’s encouragement.

However, some caution against excessive optimism. While India’s allure is growing, the steep valuation of Indian stocks deters some international investors. Suresh points out that Indian shares have always commanded a premium compared to other emerging markets, a trend exacerbated in recent times.

Domestic investors currently dominate India’s stock market, with foreign interest expected to increase post-election. Nonetheless, challenges remain, including India’s capacity to absorb the massive capital outflow from China.

Yet, India’s reliance on domestic investors strengthens its resilience against global market fluctuations. Suresh highlights this, stating, “It just massively insulates India from global dynamics.”

Unlike China, India enjoys favorable relations with major economies and actively courts foreign investment. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman emphasized India’s commitment to attracting foreign investment, signaling a conducive environment for sustained economic growth.

Analysts assert that India’s economic momentum is irreversible, positioning it as a formidable player on the global stage. Mittal reflects on India’s rise, stating, “Even if China comes back to the table and resolves a lot of problems, I don’t think India is going back into the background anymore. It has arrived.”

Karnataka to Establish Dedicated Secretariat for NRIs, Echoing Kerala’s Initiative

Karnataka plans to establish a dedicated administrative body for non-resident Indians (NRIs), akin to the initiatives undertaken by the Kerala government, as announced by Home Minister G. Parameshwara on Wednesday. This move follows the reception of NRIs from over 15 countries, who were present in the visitors’ gallery of the state Assembly.

“NRIs have expressed the need for a distinct ministry, a demand we had promised to fulfill in our manifesto. Consequently, we will soon set up a separate secretariat,” stated Parameshwara, affirming the government’s commitment to the NRI community.

Health Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao, while addressing the NRIs, emphasized the significant presence of individuals from Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts in foreign nations. He highlighted their enduring connection to their cultural roots and stressed the importance of bolstering ties with them, foreseeing potential benefits in terms of investments.

Echoing similar sentiments, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Arvind Bellad remarked, “NRIs have brought laurels to our nation. Strengthening our bonds with them is pivotal for the state’s progress… NRIs commend the governance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

The essence of the original article remains intact in the paraphrased version, retaining the key points and quotes provided.

India’s Henley Passport Index Ranking Slips to 85th Position in 2024 Despite Increased Visa-Free Access

India’s position on the Henley Passport Index for 2024 has experienced a slight decline, slipping to 85th place compared to the previous year’s 84th position. Despite this, Indian passport holders still enjoy visa-free access to 62 countries, a slight increase from the 60 countries in 2023. This includes nations such as Bhutan, Bolivia, Cambodia, El Salvador, and Fiji, among others (“India slips to 85th position on Henley Passport Index for 2024”).

This drop marks a continuation of a trend, as India had previously climbed to the 81st ranking in 2018 before experiencing a consistent decline thereafter. The current standings on the index see France leading the list, offering its citizens access to 194 visa-free destinations. Other top-ranking countries include Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and Spain (“India slips to 85th position on Henley Passport Index for 2024”).

In sixth place, countries like the USA, Canada, Czechia, and Poland provide their citizens with visa-free access to 189 countries. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, and Luxembourg share the third rank, enabling their citizens to travel visa-free to 192 destinations. Notably, Maldives has secured the 58th position, with access to 96 visa-free destinations, while China maintains its position at 64th place (“India slips to 85th position on Henley Passport Index for 2024”).

The Henley Passport Index, which compares the visa-free access of 199 different passports to 227 travel destinations, relies on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Authority (IATA), spanning 19 years. This data is updated monthly, making the index a standard reference tool for global citizens and sovereign states alike when evaluating the global mobility spectrum (“India slips to 85th position on Henley Passport Index for 2024”).

Indian Table Tennis Sensations Stun Chinese Powerhouses at World Championships

In the realm of table tennis, the Chinese dominance is a well-established narrative. They typically steamroll through competitions, leaving little room for doubt. The 2022 World Team Table Tennis Championships exemplified this trend as the Chinese women’s team clinched the gold medal without dropping a single match. Sun Yingsha, in particular, boasted an impeccable record, having never been defeated in such events, triumphing in all her 26 singles matches in international team tournaments.

However, in a dramatic turn of events, Ayhika Mukherjee and Sreeja Akula emerged as the unlikely protagonists, scripting their own narratives of success. Their performances on Friday were nothing short of remarkable, marked by monumental victories in their singles careers.

The duo caused quite the stir by stunning the world’s top-ranked players. Ayhika Mukherjee overcame World No. 1 Sun Yingsha, while Sreeja Akula outplayed No. 2 Wang Yidi. Their stellar performances propelled India to a surprising 2-1 lead against China in the opening encounter of the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Busan. Although the Chinese powerhouses eventually managed to restore order and secure a 3-2 victory, their dominance was notably challenged, shaking them unlike in recent memory.

Remarkably, this wasn’t the first time Indian women had outshone their Chinese counterparts. Less than six months prior, Ayhika Mukherjee and Sutirtha Mukherjee had triumphed over Wang and Cheng Meng, securing the Asian Games doubles bronze—a feat previously deemednearly improbable in women’s table tennis.

Ayhika Mukherjee’s distinctive playing style, featuring the Dr. Neubauer Gorilla backhand rubber, played a pivotal role in unsettling the formidable Sun Yingsha. Her 3-1 victory (12-10, 2-11, 13-11, 11-6) provided India with a crucial early lead. However, India’s top-ranked player, Manika Batra, faltered against world No. 4 Wang Manyu, losing 1-3 (3-11, 8-11, 15-13, 6-11). It was then up to Sreeja Akula, newly ranked in the top 50, to elevate the team with a clinical 3-0 (11-7, 11-9, 13-11) triumph over No. 2 Wang Yidi. Although Manika Batra managed to claim a game in her match against Sun Yingsha, she ultimately succumbed to a 1-3 defeat (3-11, 6-11, 13-11, 9-11). Meanwhile, Wang Manyu proved too formidable for Ayhika Mukherjee in the decider, securing a 3-0 victory (11-9, 13-11, 11-6).

While the defeat may have pinched India, especially considering the promising position they found themselves in, it also injected a renewed sense of belief for their upcoming group matches. Their next challenge against Hungary holds the potential to secure a quarter-final finish and possibly secure a Paris Olympics quota from the event.

Ayhika Mukherjee’s unorthodox playing style, coupled with her change of pace from the anti-spin backhand rubber, kept the top-ranked player, Sun Yingsha, on the back foot. Despite trailing in every game, Ayhikashowcased resilience, consistently finding a way to surge ahead. Notably, in the opening game, she fought back from deficits of 3-5 and 7-10, saving three game points and clinching victory with a rally dominated by her backhand strokes.

Sreeja Akula, on the other hand, relied on her formidable forehand to unsettle the world No. 2, Wang Yidi. Asserting dominance from the outset, Sreeja demonstrated her prowess with big forehands, seizing control of crucial points. Her composed demeanor and strategic use of backhand slices paved the way for a straight-game victory, a rare sight against a Chinese opponent.

Reflecting on her triumph, Ayhika Mukherjee expressed her elation, stating, “I really feel great beating Sun Yingsha. Today was my day… I was confident and I just told myself that I should enjoy the match.”

Indeed, the unexpected victories of Ayhika Mukherjee and Sreeja Akula have not only challenged the established order but have also sparked hope and excitement for the future of Indian table tennis on the international stage.

Indian Supreme Court Ruling Overturns Electoral Bonds, Paving the Way for Transparency in Political Funding

Political analysts in India have consistently raised concerns about the role of political finance in fostering corruption within the largest democracy globally.

The essence of this concern is vividly displayed during general elections, where the lack of transparency in political funding and the obscure movement of funds have often favored the ruling party, also leading to a significant escalation in election expenses. The 2019 general elections in India, for instance, marked the most expensive electoral event globally, tallying a staggering $8.6 billion in costs—an amount nearly twice the expenditure of the 2014 elections, as indicated by research from the Centre for Media Studies based in Delhi.

However, a remarkable and unexpected legal verdict from India’s Supreme Court might herald a shift in this landscape. On February 15th, in a historic decision, the apex court of India invalidated the electoral bond system, which had been in place for seven years, aiming to inject a basic level of transparency into campaign financing.

Introduced in 2017 by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), electoral bonds permitted individuals and corporations to make unrestricted and anonymous donations to political parties. Under this framework, contributors could acquire interest-free, tax-exempt bonds from the state-owned State Bank of India (SBI) for donation to a political entity of their choice, which could then convert these bonds into cash. Former Finance Minister of the BJP, Arun Jaitley, contended that this mechanism would enhance transparency in political funding by facilitating the flow of clean money while safeguarding the anonymity of the donors.

However, critics argue that over the years, the system has predominantly obstructed the public’s right to transparency regarding the sources of political funding. Moreover, it has disproportionately benefited the BJP, with reports indicating that by November of the previous year, approximately 90% of corporate donations from bonds, amounting to nearly $2 billion, went to the ruling party, according to findings from the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a nonprofit organization advocating for electoral reforms and one of the petitioners in the case.

In its recent ruling, the court declared electoral bonds unconstitutional and directed the SBI to immediately cease issuing them. Additionally, the court instructed the bank to furnish details of all bond transactions since April 2019 to the Election Commission, including the value, date of purchase, and the purchaser’s identity, within a week.

According to Trilochan Sastry, the chairman of ADR, the court’s decision signifies a potential transformation ahead of the next election cycle, empowering voters to ascertain the sources of political party funding and enabling civil society organizations to scrutinize potential quid pro quo arrangements between companies and political entities, thus averting the risks associated with crony capitalism.

The petitioners argued that electoral bonds have fostered a culture of secrecy, posing a threat to the democratic process. Sastry emphasized the fundamental right of voters to be informed about the financial backing received by political parties.

While the government justified the anonymity of donors as a means to shield them from potential retribution, critics contend that since the state-owned bank maintains records of both donors and recipients, the ruling party could exploit this information to its advantage. ADR’s data revealed that to date, electoral bonds worth 160 billion rupees ($1.9 billion) have been issued, with the BJP accounting for a significant majority of 57%, compared to just 10% for the primary opposition, the Congress party.

The Supreme Court, in a comprehensive 232-page judgment, sided with the petitioners’ arguments. Chief Justice DY Chandrachud asserted that India’s right to information extends beyond state affairs to encompass information crucial for participatory democracy. He stressed the indispensability of transparency in political party funding for informed electoral decision-making, urging the government to embrace openness rather than cloaking matters in secrecy.

The judges further remarked that corporate donors seldom contribute to political parties out of altruistic motives, highlighting the imperative for accountability in the electoral process. They cautioned against allowing unlimited corporate contributions, which could undermine the accountability of elected representatives to their constituents.

The BJP’s spokesperson, Gopal Krishna Agarwal, affirmed the party’s commitment to ongoing reforms in electoral funding, pledging compliance with the court’s ruling. The Congress Party, India’s principal opposition, welcomed the decision, expressing hope for a departure from such practices in the future.

Election monitoring bodies, including ADR, anticipate that the court’s verdict will impose stringent constraints on corporate funding. Sastry emphasized the necessity of adopting transparency norms similar to those in other democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom, where regulations limit corporate contributions to curb undue influence on elections and policymaking.

However, skeptics caution that while the abolition of electoral bonds may mitigate some issues, the broader political finance system, both before the introduction of electoral bonds and now following their annulment, remains shrouded in opacity. Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described a system where corporations, hesitant to openly contribute funds for fear of reprisal, channel donations clandestinely, perpetuating a culture where cash remains paramount and leaving no digital trail.

 

Report On India Exposes Transnational Repression and Online Censorship of Minorities

On World Social Justice Day this year, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) unveiled a pioneering report titled, Virtually Vulnerable: Exposing the Human Cost of Digital Harassment. This in-depth study examines the escalating problem of online harassment and censorship, specifically targeting the Sikh diaspora and allied communities like secular Hindus, Indian Muslims, and Dalits.

The report traces the evolution of digital censorship against all non-Hindu supremacist advocates and leaders in the 2020s, offering a detailed analysis of the sophisticated methods used to silence minority voices online. It highlights the troubling practices of Big Tech, specifically social media firms in censoring content under the guise of preserving national integrity, often resulting in the shadow banning and deletion of community-based social media accounts.

Key sections of the report include:

  • Online Harassment and the BJP IT Cell: Analyzing the role of the Bharatiya Janata Party in controlling online narratives.
  • Censorship of the Sikh Diaspora: Documenting the trends in misinformation and suppression of Sikh voices on significant dates and events–by SALDEF.
  • Silencing Dissent: Examining the strategic misinformation campaign against various minority groups, including Indian Muslim and progressive Hindu communities–by the Indian-American Muslim Council (IAMC) and Hindus for Human Rights (HHR).
  • Big Tech’s Failure to Protect Caste Equity: Discussing the manipulation of technology by nationalist groups and the implications for caste equity–by Equality Labs.

In addition to detailing these critical issues, SALDEF and our co-authors of “Virtually Vulnerable” present a series of policy recommendations aimed at promoting transparency, accountability, and collaboration between tech companies and democracy-oriented nonprofits. These recommendations are geared towards mitigating international censorship and supporting the rights of free speech for diasporic communities.Report On India Exposes Transnational Repression and Online Censorship of Minorities

“This report goes beyond simply highlighting the challenges faced by the Sikh diaspora; it serves as a clear call to action,” said Kavneet Singh, SALDEF Acting Executive Director. “We must urgently address the lack of transparency and accountability in the digital realm to safeguard the fundamental human and civil rights of all communities.”

“As the US government grows increasingly concerned about India’s escalating transnational repression, it is important to understand that this issue has roots in India’s ongoing abuse of online platforms against religious minorities and dissenters,” said Safa Ahmed, Associate Director of Media and Communications for IAMC. “This report offers critical recommendations to the US government on how to better protect Indian Americans from being targeted by the Modi regime online.”

“’Virtually Vulnerable’ sheds crucial light on the insidious ways digital harassment is employed against minority voices, including those in the Hindu community who stand for secular and democratic values. This report not only exposes these harmful practices but also provides vital policy recommendations. It’s essential that we come together to ensure that digital platforms are spaces of free expression and not tools of oppression.” said Sunita Viswanath, Executive Director, HFHR.

“We are currently witnessing the digitization of caste apartheid, violent disinformation campaigns, and an era of surveillance capitalism exacerbated by right-wing authoritarianism. Caste-oppressed people have a right to advocate for their communities without the fear of being attacked and targeted by foreign state actors. This report is a critical look into the correlations between Big Tech, civil rights advocacy, and repression of dissent, and anyone concerned with free and ethical digital spaces should pay attention to it,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, Executive Director of Equality Labs, the nation’s leading Dalit civil rights organization.

The report is available for download on the SALDEF website, as well as those of our partners, and is a must-read for policymakers, human rights activists, and anyone interested in the intersection of technology, human rights, and minority representation.

For more information or to request an interview with the authors of the report, please contact Amrita Kular, Communications Director at (202) 393-2700 | [email protected]

New Proposals For NRIs To Curb Marriage Fraud: Compulsory Registration In India

Mandatory registration of marriages between Indian citizens and NRIs or OCIs is proposed by the Law Commission, under the leadership of Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi. This aims to address issues of fraud and abandonment. The proposed law includes provisions for divorce, maintenance, and child custody, aiming for fair resolution. Additionally, raising awareness among NRIs and OCIs through community engagement is suggested.

The Law Commission, led by Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, has proposed that all marriages between Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Indian citizens must be officially registered in India. This recommendation aims to tackle issues such as deceitful promises, misrepresentation, and abandonment often seen in such unions. The commission expressed concern over the growing number of fraudulent marriages involving NRIs marrying Indian partners, particularly affecting Indian spouses, particularly women, and emphasized the need for preventive measures.New Proposals For NRIs To Curb Marriage Fraud Compulsory Registration In India

The report further suggests that it should be mandatory for all marriages between Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) or Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) and Indian citizens to be registered in India.

The panel has proposed that the new law should encompass provisions concerning divorce, spousal maintenance, child custody and maintenance, as well as the service of legal documents such as summons or warrants to NRIs and OCIs. Additionally, it recommends amending the Passports Act of 1967 to require the declaration of marital status, linking spouses’ passports, and noting the marriage registration number on both spouses’ passports.

Furthermore, the panel suggests granting domestic courts jurisdiction to handle and resolve issues arising from such marriages. According to the panel’s report, disputes within these marriages often require the involvement of local legal systems to ensure fair and equitable resolution.

The panel has also advised the government to raise awareness by actively engaging with the Indian diaspora through community events and regular interactions with Indian communities and organizations. This proactive approach aims to inform and educate NRIs and OCIs about the legal requirements and protections surrounding marriages with Indian citizens, thereby helping to prevent fraudulent practices and safeguard the rights of individuals involved in such unions.

Is Modi Government Targeting Opposition Leaders for Political Reasons?

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) in India used to be a sleepy corner of India’s Finance Ministry and was not known to majority of Indians until recently. Mandated to investigate money-laundering and foreign-exchange violations, it rarely made headlines under the previous governments, including during the coalition led by the Congress party, which ruled from 2004 to 2014. Its record on money-laundering—a big problem in India—was particularly lackluster: it conducted only 112 raids and failed to achieve a single conviction.

Under Narendra Modi, the ED has become one of India’s most feared agencies. Since he became prime minister in 2014 it has conducted more than 3,000 money-laundering raids and secured 54 convictions. Most controversially, especially in the run-up to a general election due by May, it has targeted dozens of Opposition politicians, including at least five party leaders—while largely steering clear of bigwigs in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In March 2023, The Union government introduced changes to rules on money laundering which significantly widen the net under which the Enforcement Directorate (ED) can access the financial history of individuals and organisations. This has implications on all those the powerful central agency can now act against.

Is Modi Government Targeting Opposition Leaders for Political Reasons (TOI)The recent offensives against the Opposition Party leaders by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) may owe partly to the BJP’s objective of winning the 2024 general election with a much bigger margin, which requires it to “discredit and disunite” its opponents, analysts across India say.

Indian investigators have raided multiple premises linked with a prominent rights activist in the national capital – a move that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s critics say is part of a pattern that has seen his government targeting political opponents two months before general elections.

Congress Party leader and a former Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information at the United Nations, Shashi Tharoor crticized the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India, accusing it of misusing central agencies to target political opponents. Tharoor expressed concern about the state of central agencies and independent institutions in the country under what he termed as “electoral autocracy.”

Highlighting that the ruling government is misusing central agencies for political benefits, Tharoor said, “Now we are seeing the government being quite shameless in misusing even those institutions that were meant to be independent like the ED, CBI, and law enforcement bodies, which were meant to chase wrongdoers. They are now being unleashed selectively only on those whom the BJP deems to be its political opponent.”

The recent offensives against the Opposition Party leaders by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) may owe partly to the BJP’s objective of winning the 2024 general election with a much bigger margin, which requires it to “discredit and disunite” its opponents, analysts across India say.

The latest victim of this lopsided ED raids and arrests was on January 31st, 2024, when ED officers arrested Hemant Soren of the Congress Party and the chief minister of the eastern state of Jharkhand, on suspicion of money-laundering.

Soren is the fourth opposition chief minister to come under the scanner of the central investigation agency. Earlier,Is Modi Government Targeting Opposition Leaders for Political Reasons (Yahoo) former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and his associates were accused by the ED of being involved in an illegal online betting case. Baghel was named by the ED days ahead of the state’s assembly polls, which allowed the BJP to carry out a political campaign against the chief minister’s alleged corruption.

Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and his son and former deputy chief minister of Bihar Tejashwi Yadav have also been implicated in an alleged “land for jobs” scam. Lalu Prasad, who is severely ill, was called for questioning by the ED in a case that the CBI had first registered in May 2022 as a “land-for-jobs” scam. The CBI has named Lalu Prasad, his wife and former chief minister Rabri Devi, and their son Tejashwi Yadav and two daughters Misa Bharti and Hema Yadav, along with 12 others.

Other opposition leaders, including Tejashwi Yadav, the former deputy chief minister of neighbouring Bihar state, and Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, have also been raided by federal agencies in recent months. Kejriwal’s deputy and one of his party’s parliamentarians are already in jail.

The ED raided the premises linked to AAP leaders in Delhi, prompting the party to accuse the Centre and the probe agency of intimidation. ED sources refuted the claims and added that the agency will take  “legal recourse.”

Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal, too, has been served multiple notices by the ED in the excise policy case, in which his deputy Manish Sisodia and party MP Sanjay Singh have already been arrested. Satyendra Jain, another AAP minister in Delhi, has been in prison for around two years. Speculations are rife that Kejriwal may soon be arrested for refusing to present himself for questioning, as the chief minister has maintained that the questioning was politically motivated and a ploy to arrest him to prevent him from campaigning during the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

In the central Chhattisgarh state, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and his associates were picked up by the ED officials right before elections in November last year. The BJP accused them of multiple scams, including an illegal coal mining deal, and used the charges as a major plank to win the state polls.

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan is now facing the heat from central agencies. In its efforts to portray a negative perception on the Communist leader in Ketrala, the CBI pushed for a March or April hearing on its plea, ahead of the national elections, challenging the discharge of Pinarayi in an over-25-year-old corruption case, but the Supreme Court listed it for a final hearing in May.

The case is about an allegation that as Kerala power minister, Pinarayi visited Canada as “a guest” of Lavalin and decided to grant it a contract for the renovation and modernisation of three hydroelectric projects in Idukki. The CBI alleges the decision resulted in a loss of Rs 86.25 crore to the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). The trial court and the Kerala High Court have discharged Pinarayi in the case. The CBI says the high court’s decision to discharge Pinarayi was “not correct.”

Several other Opposition leaders are under the scanner of the central agencies, including a former Congress minister in Rajasthan Mahesh Joshi in the alleged Jal Jeevan Mission scam, associates of a few Congress leaders in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in an alleged Haryana Urban Development Authority scam, and several local opposition leaders in southern states.

The Tamil Nadu government has moved the Madras High Court against the Enforcement Directorate (ED), opposing the agency’s recent summons to 10 district collectors in the state in connection with alleged irregularities in sand mining. The state’s petition on behalf of the collectors, in which it alleged constitutional overreach by the ED and a deliberate attempt to harass state officials, marks an escalation in the ongoing tussle between the state machinery and central agencies.

This can potentially be an election issue during the Lok Sabha polls, especially in Kerala, where the BJP is trying to expand its base and the CPI-M and the Congress have been the leading parties for decades.

The ED’s raids against the Opposition, however, have served the BJP readymade campaigns to target the Opposition and advance its own anti-corruption plank. Curiously, however, the ED hasn’t been able to substantiate many of its charges, with its conviction rate remaining at an abysmal low.

In yet another instance of abus eof power by the Modi government, a total of 141 federal lawmakers – 95 from the lower house (Lok Sabha) and 46 from the upper chamber (Rajya Sabha) – were suspended since December 14, 2023 for allegedly disrupting House proceedings, after they demanded a debate on a Parliament security breach.

Alleging that central agencies are silent in the BJP-ruled states, Aam Aadmi Party Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chadha added that 95 per cent of the cases registered by the CBI and ED are against politicians of the Opposition.

Calling ED, I-T department and CBI as the “jawans” of the Modi government, Mallikarjun Kharge, President of the Congress Party said that the prime minister is afraid because of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) defeat in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh and therefore the agencies are trying to scare the Congress. He questioned why action is not taken against BJP leaders despite them having money and property. He said that the BJP has a “washing machine” through which tainted people in BJP are made clean. He said the agencies get active ahead of polls and target only Opposition leaders.

As the Lok Sabha elections approach, there are allegations that the BJP is using government agencies to intimidate and stifle opposition voices. Interestingly, the ED has yet to initiate any investigations against leaders of the BJP and its NDA coalition partners. Such alacrity against Opposition leaders contrasts that with ED’s lack of any initiative in pursuing similar cases of alleged financial fraud against BJP chief minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma or deputy chief minister of Maharashtra Ajit Pawar, against whom allegations of corruption were being vigorously followed up before he joined ranks with the BJP.

Old cases like Vyapam during the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in Madhya Pradesh have also been put in cold storage. The same is the case of multiple small and big cases of corruption during the BJP rule in Karnataka under chief ministers B.S. Yediyurappa and B.S. Bommai when many of their ministers faced allegations of financial irregularities.

Sushil Sunny Agrawal, a 39-year-old former minister in Baghel’s cabinet, was among the politicians the ED raided before the state elections last year. “They mentally tortured us. The ED officials told me: ‘What’s in there to stay with the Congress? Join BJP, that’s where the future is,’” Agrawal said. “These agencies have become liaisons for the BJP. They deal on their behalf: If you go with Modi, you will be cleared from all this and stand a chance at a bright future.” Agrawal said the Modi government is “hijacking” the forthcoming vote by targeting Opposition leaders and activists. “Democracy has completely ended in India,” he said.

The upcoming general elections are keeping Agrawal on edge. “The BJP knows no limits. And they are in a full-on attacking mode, weaponising the central agencies to completely curb the opposition,” he said.

The Congress Party along with most Opposition parties expressed concern over the “worrying trend” of the ED being used as a “political tool” by the ruling BJP against Opposition leaders and also cited the raids at the residence of Rajasthan Congress president Govind Singh Dotasra.

Last April, 14 Opposition Parties moved the Supreme Court to challenge the Modi government’s alleged misuse of bodies like the ED. A delegation led by Congress Working Committee member Abhishek Singhvi met the Chief Election Commissioner and others when they also demanded disciplinary action against ED officials who are “misusing” their powers and violating the guidelines of the of the EC, which insists on “neutral, impartial and non-discriminatory” actions by agencies.

The politicization of central agencies is not limited to political leaders who are opposed to BJP alone. They have targeted businessmen, heads and staf of financial institutions, Bollywood stars and their families, Media personnel, Human Rights activists, Not for Profit Agencies and many other groups who are considered independent and oppose Modi regime’s policies and abuse of power.

The arrest and ongoing investigations on Chanda Kochhar is another typical example. The Bombay High Court on February 13, 2024 declared the arrests of ex-ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar and her husband Deepak Kochhar in the ICICI Bank-Videocon loan fraud case as “illegal” as it upheld the 2023 interim bail order. The court had questioned the CBI over the delayed investigation since the FIR in 2019, while granting interim bail to the Kochhars. They were arrested on December 23, 2022, when their plea was pending. It ruled that the arrests were not in accordance with the law, citing lack of clarity on the reason for arresting them four years into the probe.

CBI officials raided the residence of former bureaucrat Harsh Mander and the office of a think tank, the Centre for Equity Studies (CES) in New Delhi, linked to him, alleging financial irregularities under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.

Mander, a fierce critic of the Modi government’s Hindu supremacist agenda, served as an Indian Administrative Service officer for 22 years before he resigned in 2002 in the wake of the riots in Gujarat state when Modi was its chief minister. More than 1,000 people died in the violence, most of them Muslims, according to the state government.

Apoorvanand, professor of Hindi Literature at the University of Delhi and one of Mander’s close acquaintances, said he woke up to the “upsetting news” of the raids. “Mander and the civil society members have been relentlessly hounded by the investigative agencies,” he added.

The crackdown by the government is an attempt to establish a one-party rule in India, Apporvanand said. “When the opposition parties should be hitting the roads [to campaign] ahead of the elections, they are running from one agency to another,” he said. “The campaigns are distracted and their followers will be demoralised. You can practically achieve a one-party state without changing the constitution. From the civil society to academia, I can feel this fear – who’s going to be next?” said Apoorvanand.

“These raids or allegations of financial irregularities seem to have become a norm for the authorities to silence peaceful criticism,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division said. Several activists are currently facing charges, some under draconian terror laws. “When independent state agencies are seen to act in a partisan manner, with politically motivated targeting of dissent, it undermines India’s image as a country that upholds the rule of law,” Ganguly said.

The ED’s raids against the Opposition, however, have served the BJP readymade campaigns to target the opposition and advance its own anti-corruption plank. Curiously, however, the ED hasn’t been able to substantiate many of its charges, with its conviction rate remaining at an abysmal low.

The Wire reported that there is a four-fold jump in ED cases since 2014 and that 95% of the cases probed by the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation against political leaders are from the Opposition. Although the ED claims that it has a high conviction rate of 96%, the figures appear to be misplaced if one factors in the number of cases it has closed since 2005. The ED registered 5,906 cases until March 2023 but completed the probe and filed a chargesheet in only 1,142 cases – out of which it has disposed of only 25 cases, a mere 0.42 of the total number of cases. Of those 25 cases, the ED has managed convictions in 24 cases, which is around 96% conviction rate as claimed by the agency.

Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said, “Like the politicians, the civil society or anybody who is a critic of this government is being targeted. This is the rise of a fascist state under Modi and unfortunately, the judiciary is doing very little or hardly anything to protect the rights and liberties of the citizens. Its independence appears to have collapsed.”

According to Tharror, “The institutions are those that give body and strength to our democracy, whether it’s parliament, whether it’s an independent election commission, whether it’s the information commission or the Reserve Bank of India. All of these institutions have found their independence vitiated.”

“Let the ED, income tax department, and CBI do their job, but how come all of their targets are from the Opposition? How is this possible that there are no other criminals anywhere but only in Opposition? Till now, nobody has given any satisfactory answer to these questions,” the Tharror said. “The respected V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) institute in Sweden decided to call us not a democracy anymore, but an “electoral autocracy” that is that, we elect our leaders but then they behave as autocrats.”

Southern Indian States Protest Alleged Fiscal Discrimination in New Delhi

Ministers and legislators hailing from the southern regions of India convened in the nation’s capital, New Delhi, on Wednesday to voice grievances regarding what they perceive as biased allocation of federal funds by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration.

Led by the chief minister of Karnataka state, the protest underscores longstanding disparities between the more affluent southern states and their economically disadvantaged northern counterparts.

The five southern states of India are governed either by regional parties or opposition entities to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with the upcoming protests scheduled to be spearheaded by the chief minister of Kerala on Thursday, February 8.

Bengaluru, renowned as a technological hub, serves as the capital of Karnataka, a state renowned for its substantial contribution to national tax revenues. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, known mononymously, informed demonstrators that over the past four years, Karnataka’s portion of tax funds redistributed from the central government had dwindled from 4.71% to 3.64% of the total national tax collection.

In addition to this, New Delhi had reneged on commitments regarding the allocation of grants, obstructed irrigation projects, and disregarded pleas for special funding to alleviate drought, Siddaramaiah lamented. Hailing from the primary opposition party, Congress, he criticized the federal policy of apportioning funds based on states’ populations, arguing that this system unfairly disadvantaged southern states which had effectively managed population growth.

“North Indian states did not tackle population growth,” Siddaramaiah asserted to the assembly of ministers and lawmakers gathered at Jantar Mantar, the primary protest site in New Delhi.

Protesters raised voices and brandished placards bearing slogans such as ‘Our Tax, Our Right’, and ‘Our Tax Money, Give it to us’, highlighting their demand for equitable distribution of tax revenues.

“Population control has become a curse for us. Is this not injustice?” Siddaramaiah questioned.

However, the federal government rebuffed these allegations, with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman dismissing them as politically motivated and affirming the existence of a well-established system governing fund allocation.

On Wednesday, February 7, Modi retaliated against Siddaramaiah’s accusations, decrying the emergence of a divisive north-south narrative.

“‘Our tax, our money’—what kind of language is this? I don’t discriminate against states,” Modi retorted during parliamentary proceedings.

Ambassador Eric Garcetti Hails ‘Multiplicative’ India-US Partnership

US envoy to India Eric Garcetti lauded the “multiplicative” US-India partnership during his address at the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce Conference on ‘Strengthening Indo-US relationship in Amritkal-Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ held on January 30.

In his speech, the Ambassador discussed ways to strengthen the bilateral cooperation between the two nations by harnessing technology, AI, agriculture, and telecommunications among other powers.

“With technology, we see it harm people, divide people. But we could instead, the US and India together make sure that it connects us, and protects us,” Garcetti said in his address.

He also underlined that 2023 was the best year for the US-India partnership, highlighting strong people-to-people ties and a manifold increase in bilateral trade between the two nations, which positioned Washington as the number one trading partner to New Delhi.

“I am less proud, though it’s a good number, that India is just 10th for us, and I want to see you bring India in the single digits,” he said to the audience.

‘US, India thinks the same way through democracy’

Ambassador Eric Garcetti Hails ‘Multiplicative’ India US PartnershipGarcetti noted US cabinet members do not just visit India for a chance to see monuments like the Taj Mahal or with a touch-and-go attitude. Instead, they leave with concrete deliverables like greater cooperation and co production and development in the defense industry, such as the GE Engine deal.

“My message to my Indian friends is, I believe for the first time our heads are aligned, our hearts are aligned, truly. We think the same way now through democracies….So if our heads think together and our hearts feel together, the question is, can our feet now move together?” Garcetti asked.

He concluded by urging India and the US to “march together” for a more equal, just, prosperous, and safe world.

About the IACC Conference

The Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) was established in 1968. It is the apex bilateral chamber synergizing India-US economic engagement.

The ‘Strengthening Indo-US relationship in Amritkal-Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ conference brought together industry experts to discuss critical topics like investment, travel, and tourism. Esteemed speakers and distinguished guests included India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh; U.S. Intellectual Property Counselor for South Asia U.S. Embassy John Cabeca; and Commercial Attache Anastasia Mukherjee, among others.

India Ranks 93 In 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index

India fell from 85th place in 2022 to 93rd place in 2023 on the Index.

India has ranked 93rd, falling from 85th place in 2022, on the list of the world’s most corrupt nations according to the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released by Transparency International on January 30.

According to the index, most of the countries faced difficulty in controlling corruption in the public sector. For the twelfth year in a row, the average global CPI remained at 43, with more than two-thirds of countries scoring worse than 50. The CPI ranked 180 countries from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean) based on assumed levels of public sector corruption.

India’s rank in Global Corruption Index

India Ranks 93 In 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (TOI)
Picture: TOI

The Transparency International report stated that India received a score of 39 and was placed at 93rd on the corruption perceptions index for 2023. However , the country’s its overall score remained essentially unchanged since 2022 when it was ranked 85 with a score of 40. The survey also stated that India’s neighbours Pakistan, with a score of 29, and Sri Lanka, with a score of 34, struggled with debt loads and the consequent political unrest.

Most corrupt countries

The countries with the highest scores on the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index were Somalia (11), Venezuela (13), Syria (13), South Sudan (13), and Yemen (16).”They are all affected by protracted crises, mostly armed conflicts,” according to the report. North Korea is also one of the most corrupt nations, scoring 172.

Least corrupt countries

Denmark’s “well-functioning justice systems” allowed it to top the list for the sixth year in a row with a score of 90, according to the report. Second and third place went to Finland (87) and New Zealand (85) respectively.

These were followed by Norway (84), Singapore (83), Sweden (82), Switzerland (82), the Netherlands (79), Germany (78), and Luxembourg (78).

Views on corruption in the public sector served as the foundation for the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index. It used information from 13 external sources, including research tanks, the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, and commercial risk and advisory firms.

The Coming-of-Age of Indian Americans

“Despite constituting less than 1% of the U.S. population, Indian Americans are 3% of the nation’s engineers, 7% of its IT workers and 8% of its physicians and surgeons,” wrote the popular Forbes magazine in 2008. “The overrepresentation of Indians in these fields is striking–in practical terms, your doctor is nine times more likely to be an Indian American than is a random passerby on the street.”

Sixteen years later, in 2024, the Indian American community has grown even stronger; their successes encompassing almost all areas of American life – living  the American Dream.  The less than four million Indian Americans appear to be gaining prominence and have come to be recognized as a model community, and a force to reckon with in this land of opportunities that they have come to call as their adopted homeland.

In 1960, there were only 12,000 Indian immigrants living in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Today, the number of Indian Americans or Indian immigrants has climbed to more than 4 million, census data shows. Historically, Indians in the US worked in medicine, science & technology, engineering and mathematics-related jobs. Some, like the Patel community from Gujarat, took to the hotel industry and grew to dominate it. Others were entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley after the digital revolution of the 1980s.

In 1997, Ramani Ayer became the CEO of the Fortune 500 financial firm The Hartford, becoming the first in the list of Indian leaders heading American businesses. At present, 2% of the Fortune 500 companies of American origin — including Microsoft, Alphabet, Adobe, IBM, and Micron Technologies — are led by Indian American CEOs. One in every seven doctors in America is of Indian descent.

Among all these fields, if there is one area, where the influential Indian Americans have come to be recognized more than any other is the political arena, where they are seeking to win elections at the national, state and local levels, vying to occupy top jobs across the nation.

The Coming of Age of Indian Americans 3Ever since Gov. Bobby Jindal the first ever major Indian American presidential candidate who had sought to occupy the White House, there have been many others who have followed in his footsteps. Indian Americans have expressed keen interest in carving out their political space at the national table for decades, and now, the fruits of their labor are paying off, with more successes now than ever before.

Four years ago, it was then-California Sen. Kamala Harris, who made headlines and then elected as the vice president, becoming the highest-ranking person of Indian descent in the US government. The rise of Kamala Harris, daughter of an Indian mother, as the Vice President represented a coming-of-age of the Indian American community in the United States. Harris was born to civil rights activist parents a year before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed; this Act relaxed the quota regime that restricted foreigners. At that time, there was one Indian American lawmaker in the US House of Representatives — the Punjab-born Dalip Singh Saund, also from California.

It’s still a relatively small number, compared with the country’s total population of more than 333 million. But Devesh Kapur, co-author of “The Other One Percent: Indians in America,” said he was not surprised to see three Indian Americans in the political spotlight in the 2024 race. “Indian Americans have been selected to be the outliers — they have been selected for success,” Kapur wrote in his book with Sanjoy Chakravorty and Nirvikar Singh.

The 2024 election season in the United States (US) kicked off and now with less than 10 months to go until Election Day and a week before the next Republican primary, one group that has emerged on the national political stage in a way they never have before in U.S. history: Indian Americans.

The current election cycle is shaping up to be historic for the Indian American community at every level, from local to the presidential. After months of campaigning, only a handful of GOP hopefuls were qualified for the last Republican Party Presdetial Debate; two of them were former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur and commentator whose White House bid has skyrocketed his profile.

While insurgent candidate Vivek Ramaswamy bowed out after finishing fourth in the Iowa Caucus, former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, emerged with a strong showing and is now poised to give former President Donald Trump a run for his money in South Carolina primary on Tuesday, February 13.

“You have to sit and wonder, we have these two folks who are showing these all-star abilities — will we end up with an Indian American on this ticket?” said Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College and co-author of the Indian American Election Survey.

Harris, Haley, and Ramaswamy have many notable political differences. In a way, each is competing against the other in the 2024 election. But together, they represent a remarkable moment in American politics, experts say: Indian Americans account for about 1.3% of the country’s population, according to census data — and three Indian American politicians have risen close to the top of both major parties. “Mathematically, you would not have expected this,” said University of California, Riverside, public policy professor Karthick Ramakrishnan.

Haley had made history as the first female governor of South Carolina and the first Indian American to be appointed to a cabinet-level position, serving as the US ambassador to the United Nations in 2016. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants who reminded my brothers, my sister and me every single day how blessed we were to live in this country,” said Haley, as she announced her presidential campaign last February.

In addition to the leading Presidential aspirants, there are five Indian American members in the current US Congress —Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ami Bera (D-CA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Shri Thanedar (D-MI) who are seeking re-elections this year. Each of them is expected to be reelected in 2024 due to the advantages of incumbency and their substantial campaign funding.

According to Indian American Impact, an organization dedicated to strengthening the political influence of the community, there are already more than 200 Indian Americans who are elected to positions ranging from school boards and city councils to state assemblies and senates across the country.

However, what is promising as the nation goes into another round of elections is the prospect of several candidates from a wide range of congressional districts across the country from New York to California, and from Illinois to Alabama, are aiming to join the ranks of the “Samosa Caucus.”

Kevin Thomas, a New York state senator vying to win the fourth congressional district, is a prominent Democratic contender to become the sixth Indian American member of the 119th Congress. The district, currently represented by first-term GOP Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, has historically leaned towards the Democratic party, consistently supporting their presidential nominees in the past eight elections. This favorable trend significantly boosts Thomas’ prospects of winning the primary and securing a seat in Congress.

Ohio state senator Niraj Antani is seeking the GOP nomination from the state’s second congressional district. The 32-year-old, who has been in the state legislature since 2014, is expected to get elected to Congress if he wins the Republican primary, as the district is heavily Republican. “In Congress, I will have a steel-spine in standing for life, our 2nd Amendment rights, and for pro-growth economic policies. As a fiercely pro-Trump Republican, I will work hard every day for our community in Congress to ensure every Ohioan has an opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

Arizona State Rep. Amish Shah, the first Indian American elected to the Arizona legislature, is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for Arizona’s first congressional district. Shah, an emergency physician, has raised more than $1 million for his campaign and will have a fair shot in November if he wins the primary in this seat, currently represented by Republican David Schweikert and leans slightly Republican.

Ashwani Jain, a former Gubernatorial candidate of Maryland, is running for Congress from Maryland’s 6th District. He says, “I am running for Congress in the district I live in and call home – not just to be Maryland’s first Millennial, first Asian-American and first Indian-American ever elected – but because I have specific policy solutions that will open the doors of opportunity for our community.” Jain, a cancer survivor, is focused on issues including immigrant rights, climate change, labor rights and raising teachers’ pay, reproductive justice, and gun violence.

Hoboken Mayor in the state of New Jersey, Ravi Bhalla is running for Congress from the 8th District. At Congress, Bhalla says, he “will be an advocate for New Jersey’s working families as he fights to make healthcare a right for everyone, tackle climate change, protect a woman’s right to choose, and build an economy that works for all New Jerseyans.”

Suhas Subramanyam and Krystle Kaul: Two Indian Americans are vying for the Democratic Party nomination in Virginia’s 10th congressional district. Krystle Kaul Kaul, much like Subramanyam, is focusing on issues such as national security, women’s rights, economy & jobs, healthcare, education, and energy & the environment. Subramanyam, a Virginia state senator has been serving in the state legislature for the past four years. Kaul, a veteran of the defence and intelligence community, is running on her national security experience. If either of them wins the primary, they would be formidable candidates to represent this Democratic-leaning district.

Susheela Jayapal, a candidate for Oregon’s third congressional district, and Rishi Kumar, who is running for California’s 16th congressional district are other Indian Americans, who are “strong candidates who have run for office before and have name recognition.” Jayapal had served as the commissioner of Oregon’s most populous county, Multnomah County. In 2020, Kumar secured nearly 37% of the votes against the incumbent and fellow Democrat Anna Eshoo, who is now retiring, boosting his chances of victory in 2024.

Vimal Patel from Alabama’s 2nd district abd Nikhil Bhatia from Illinois’ 7th District are others who are in the fray to enter the Congress this Fall. Another Republican seeking to win on a Republican ticket is Dr. Prashanth Reddy from Kansas’ 3rd district is a physician, who is focused on defending the nation and standing up for parents and students in addition to securing the border, supporting law enforcement, standing up to China, and protecting taxpayers.

In addition, dozens of highly qualified and experienced Indian American candidates are also vying for statewide offices in this election cycle. Among those who have announced their candidacies for statewide offices, include: Minita Sanghvi, a Democrat currently serving as the Saratoga Springs finance commissioner, vying for the 44th state senate district in New York; Tara Sreekrishnan, a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, running for the California state assembly from district 26; Ashwin Ramaswami seeking election to the Georgia state senate from senate district 48; and Seema Singh, a member of the Knoxville City Council, running for district 90 of the Tennessee house of representatives.

Irrespective of political differences, the Indian American community is happy about the sharp increase in their political participation, especially over the last three election cycles, and is proud of the rise of another of their own. As Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah and United States Ambassador to China, had said: “In the last half-century, Americans of Indian descent epitomize how new waves of immigrants have been renewing our communities and our economy. ”

Shekar Narasimhan, founder and chairman of the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Victory Fund, sums it all, saying that while he is happy to see more Asian-Americans gain prominence in politics,  “A beautiful thing is happening: Indian-Americans are coming to the forefront. If our children see Americans with a name like Ramaswamy run, and a Khanna or Krishnamoorthi can win, that’s a good thing.”

Karnataka Congress Leader Warns of Southern Secession Over Alleged Central Fund Diversion

A Karnataka Congress leader, immediately following the unveiling of the interim budget today, accused the Central government of diverting developmental funds from south India to bolster the northern regions. DK Suresh Kumar, a Congress MP, warned that if this issue remains unaddressed, it might necessitate the southern states to seek autonomy, stating, “If we don’t condemn this in the upcoming days, we will have to place a demand for a separate country as a result of the situation the Hindi-speaking region has forced on us.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) responded by accusing the Congress of promoting divisive sentiments. Chaluvadi Narayanaswamy of the BJP criticized the Congress’s stance, suggesting that instead of fostering unity (“Bharat Jodo”), they seem to advocate for division (“Bharat Todo”). He condemned the Congress mindset, drawing parallels to the partition of India in 1947, and questioned the party’s commitment to upholding the nation’s unity despite Rahul Gandhi’s calls for integration.

This discontent echoes Mamata Banerjee’s grievances in West Bengal, where the Congress, newly in power in Karnataka, aligns itself with her narrative of inadequate central funding. DK Suresh Kumar emphasized the perceived injustice faced by southern states, asserting, “We want to receive our money. Whether it is the GST, Custom or Direct taxes, we want to receive our rightful share… our share of money for development is getting distributed to north India.”

Recently, the Karnataka Congress administration released a white paper highlighting the disparity between the state’s contributions to the national economy and the funds it receives from the Centre. M. Lakshmana, a spokesperson for the state Congress, cited figures indicating that Karnataka’s tax contributions far exceed the returns it receives. Despite contributing significantly to corporate and other taxes, as well as GST, Karnataka is reportedly receiving disproportionately low allocations from the Centre.

The grievances are not limited to Karnataka alone. Similar concerns have been raised by Kerala and the DMK-led government in Tamil Nadu. This discontent culminated in Karnataka’s Congress government contemplating the formation of a coalition to challenge what they perceive as biased tax devolution by the Central government. Officials noted a decrease in Karnataka’s share of taxes from 4.71% to 3.64% under the current Finance Commission, further exacerbating the perceived imbalance in resource allocation.

Annie George Mathew Appointed As A Member Of The 16th Finance Commission Of India

Annie George Mathew, a senior of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IA & AS) of the 1988 Batch has been appointed as a member of the Sixteenth Finance Commission on Tuesday, January 30th, 2024.

Annie George Mathew recently retired as the Special Secretary Expenditure from the Ministry of Finance, Government of India.  She has over 34 years of experience in areas of Public Finance, Financial Management, Government Audit and Accounts, and Public Procurement including Defense Capital Acquisitions, Human Resource Management

The 16th Finance Commission was constituted on 31.12.2023 with Shri Arvind Panagariya, former Vice-Chairman, NITI Aayog as its Chairman. According to a government order issued on January 30, 2024, three full-time members of the 16th Finance Commission include former Expenditure Secretary Ajay Narayan Jha; former Department of Expenditure official Annie George Mathew; and Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, executive director of policy consultancy firm, Artha Global. Dr. Soumya Kanti Ghosh, Group Chief Economic Advisor, State Bank of India will serve as a Part-time member of the powerful financial body.

“The chairman and other members of the commission shall hold office from the date on which they respectively assume office up to the date of the submission of report or October 31, 2025, whichever is earlier,” the order from President of India, Droupadi Murmu appointing members to the constitutional body stated.

AnnieThe Sixteenth Finance Commission has been requested to make its recommendations available by October 31, 2025, covering an award period of 5 years commencing 1st April, 2026. The Finance Commission usually takes about two years to consult stakeholders in the States and Centre and arrive at their conclusions.

The Finance Commission mainly decides the tax-sharing formula between the Centre and the states.  The Sixteenth Finance Commission’s terms of reference include a review of the present arrangements for financing disaster management initiatives and mooting measures to augment States’ consolidated funds to supplement resources available with panchayats and municipalities.

Per reports, in November last year, the Indian Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had approved the Terms of Reference for the 16th Finance Commission. As per the terms of reference (ToR), “The Finance Commission shall make recommendations as to the following matters, namely: The distribution between the Union and the States of the net proceeds of taxes which are to be, or may be, divided between them under Chapter I, Part XII of the Constitution and the allocation between the States of the respective shares of such proceeds.”

The commission is expected to make recommendations on the “principles which should govern the grants-in-aid of the revenues of the States out of the Consolidated Fund of India and the sums to be paid to the States by way of grants-in-aid of their revenues under article 275 of the Constitution for the purposes other than those specified in the provisos to clause (1) of that article,” according to a statement issued after the Union Cabinet meeting on November 29.

Ms. Mathew was the Government’s nominee on the Boards of the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) and Indian Overseas Bank (IOB).  She had served earlier on the Board of State Bank of Hyderabad.

She has varied experience in the Indian Audit and Accounts Department through her postings within the country and abroad.  She has also led audit teams working with different international and multi-lateral organizations like the United Nations, and UNHCR in Europe, Africa, and Asia. She has been a member of the International Standards Laying Committees on Auditing.

With her vast experience of working in public finance at various levels in the Ministry of Finance and her exposure to state finances during her tenure in various Accountant General Offices in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Delhi, Ms. Mathew has a deep understanding of  India’s Federal and State finances.

Ms. Mathew graduated from Miranda House and completed post-graduation from the University of Delhi and after that, joined India’s civil services as an IA & AS Officer.

India’s Population Dynamics: Religious Growth, Caste Challenges, and Demographic Projections

India has experienced a significant population surge since Partition, with numbers skyrocketing from 361 million in 1951 to over 1.2 billion in 2011. The United Nations Population Division predicts that India’s monthly population growth of about 1 million individuals could lead it to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030.India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

During the period from 1951 to 2011, all major religious groups in India witnessed growth. Hindus increased from 304 million to 966 million, Muslims from 35 million to 172 million, and Christians from 8 million to 28 million. However, there are indications that Christians might be undercounted in census data. This discrepancy arises from individuals identifying as Hindu to access government benefits meant for Scheduled Castes, which Christians are not typically eligible for. The 2015 National Family Health Survey showed that 21% of Christians interviewed identified as Scheduled Castes.

India’s caste system, a hierarchical social structure, has historically influenced societal roles and opportunities. Affirmative action programs, known as “reservations,” aim to mitigate caste-based disparities by allocating government jobs and educational seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. However, these reservations are not extended to Muslims and Christians, prompting debate over their exclusion from poverty-alleviation programs.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

India has implemented various measures to control population growth, including contraceptive promotion and penalties for large families. These efforts have led to a slowdown in population expansion since the 1990s, with growth rates declining for all religious groups. While Hindus remain the majority, the growth rate of religious minorities has tapered off, particularly among Muslims and Christians.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

 

Despite slower growth rates, India’s major religious groups continue to gain millions of followers. Hindus added 138 million people between 2001 and 2011, while Muslims increased by 34 million. Christians, however, experienced the slowest growth rate among the three largest groups.

 

India’s religious composition has remained relatively stable since Partition, with Muslims experiencing a modest increase in percentage share while Hindus declined slightly. Christians have consistently comprised 2-3% of the population since 1951.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

Minor religious groups, including Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains, have seen their numbers double or triple over the decades. Geographically, Christians are concentrated in Southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, while Sikhs are prevalent in Punjab.

 

The 2011 census revealed about 8 million people identifying with smaller religious groups, with over 80 lakh claiming no affiliation with the six largest religions. The census allows for an open-ended response to religion, with over 83 smaller religious groups represented.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

Looking ahead to 2050, demographic projections suggest continued growth for Muslims and Hindus, with Muslims expected to comprise around 18% of the population. Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains, however, are projected to decline as a share of the population due to lower fertility rates.

India's Population Dynamics Religious Growth Caste Challenges and Demographic Projections

India’s population dynamics, influenced by religious demographics, continue to shape its societal landscape, with implications for policies and societal inclusion.

 

India Celebrates Republic Day 2024

India celebrated its 75th Republic Day today, with President Droupadi Murmu leading the parade and French President Emmanuel Macron as the chief guest on January 26th, 2024 in India’s capital, New Delhi.

The day marks the anniversary of India officially adopting its constitution, making it a sovereign republic. The parade, held in the capital, Delhi, went through the avenue of Kartavya Path (Path of Duty), formerly known as the Rajpath, which connects many important landmarks in the city. It culminated at the Red Fort, a 7th Century monument, about 7km (4.3 miles away).

The day celebrated Nari Shakti (women power), among others, and was marked by a series of firsts, from an all-women tri-service contingent to the reinstatement of the parade buggy.

Part of the parade is a display of the country’s cultural heritage as well as its military might. This year, President Murmu and her French counterpart Macron arrived at the Kartavya Path in New Delhi in a ‘traditional buggy’. For the first time, a French army contingent marched alongside counterparts from the Indian army, navy, air force, and paramilitary troops.

The themes for the parade were ‘Viksit Bharat’ (developed India) and ‘Bharat – Loktantra Ki Matruka’ or India – the mother of democracy.

India’s Republic Day, observed annually on January 26, marks a significant moment in the nation’s history. This day is not only about extravagant parades and tributes to the armed forces but is also a celebration of the finalization of the Indian Constitution. Without this foundational document, India wouldn’t have achieved the greatness it embodies today.

Republic day 5After gaining independence on August 15, 1947, India remained under the British Commonwealth, with the UK’s monarch as its head of state.

But the leaders of India’s independence movement, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, believed the country should be a sovereign, democratic republic. After Mr Nehru became the first prime minister of an independent India, his government began to draft a constitution.

The constitution was officially adopted on January 26, 1950.

Interesting facts about India’s Republic Day

As the 75th anniversary of India’s Republic Day approaches, the country gets ready to commemorate this historic day by showcasing the country’s military strength, rich cultural diversity, unity, achievement and progress.

Going back in time, the Indian constitution went into effect on January 26, 1950, and history continued to be written. The Constitution of India is crucial for citizens to follow as it acts as a legal and political structure, and also as a sign of democracy, justice, and individual rights.

Let us examine some fascinating facts about this auspicious day:
Dr. B.N. Rau, an Indian civil servant and constitutional adviser, was the first to draft India’s constitution. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar is known as the father of the Indian constitution.

The Drafting Committee which was established by the Constituent Assembly on August 29, 1947, was led by Ambedkar. The Indian Constitution is recognized as the world’s longest-written constitution.

The Republic Day parade is the centre of attention, drawing large crowds of spectators eager to see the amazing demonstration of India’s military prowess, cultural variety, and accomplishments.On January 26, 1950, India’s first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, unfurled the country’s flag.The inaugural Republic Day parade was held in 1950 at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi, which had previously been known as Irwin Amphitheatre.The National Anthem, “Jana Gana Mana,” was originally composed as Bharoto Bhagyo Bidhata in Bengali by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore on 11 December 1911.

On January 24, 1950, only the first stanza of the hymn Bharoto Bhagyo Bidhata was adopted as India’s National Anthem, which is sung during Republic Day celebrations.With the themes of ‘Viksit Bharat’ and ‘Bharat – Loktantra ki Matruka’, the 75th Republic Day Parade at Kartavya Path on January 26, 2024 will be women-centric.As a first, the 2024 parade is to be heralded by 100 women artists with Indian musical instruments; 16 States/UTs and nine Ministries/Organisations tableaux. (IANS)

IMEC: Paving the Way for Global Prosperity through Economic Connectivity

Economic corridors are emerging as transformative agents, capable of fostering increased trade, foreign investment, and societal improvement across participating nations. The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) stands out as a beacon of economic integration, promising to revolutionize interactions among India, the Middle East, and Europe. As we delve into the details of IMEC, its potential as a catalyst for global prosperity becomes increasingly apparent.

At its core, IMEC seeks to establish a multi-modal transport network, seamlessly integrating sea and rail routes, accompanied by innovative infrastructural components like hydrogen pipelines and advanced IT connections. The corridor’s game-changing potential is highlighted by its ability to significantly reduce transit times for goods, offering a more efficient alternative to the Suez Canal and projecting a 40% reduction in transit times. This efficiency not only expedites trade but also renders it more cost-effective, setting the stage for robust economic growth and expanded trade opportunities.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s characterization of IMEC as a “game-changing investment” underscores its potential to influence not only the regions it directly connects but also the global community. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) emphasizes the establishment of a “reliable and cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit network,” showcasing the corridor’s potential to reshape global supply chains and international trade dynamics.

European Union President Ursula von der Leyen further emphasizes the corridor’s significance, branding it the “quickest link between India, the Middle East, and Europe.” This accolade positions IMEC as a major catalyst in reducing logistical costs and streamlining trade routes.

Beyond its role in trade facilitation, IMEC holds the promise of driving industrial growth and employment in participating regions. By providing an efficient mechanism for transporting raw materials and finished goods, the corridor is poised to stimulate industrial activity, addressing prevalent employment challenges. The correlation between enhanced transportation infrastructure and economic growth suggests that IMEC’s impact on job creation and industrial development could be substantial.

IMEC’s strategic importance extends to energy security and environmental sustainability. Access to the Middle East’s abundant energy resources is enhanced, bolstering the energy security of participating nations. The corridor’s emphasis on clean energy transportation aligns with global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, presenting a model for sustainable development.

Furthermore, IMEC’s potential to attract foreign investment and strengthen diplomatic ties positions it as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, reshaping global trade dynamics and reducing dependency on traditional maritime routes. The corridor’s focus on cultural integration fosters connections among diverse cultures and civilizations, contributing to enhanced regional connectivity and peace.

IMEC is evidence of India’s strategic realignment towards the Middle East, particularly the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (GCCs), under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership. This evolving relationship encompasses security cooperation, cultural ties, and technological exchanges, transcending a simplistic framework of oil trade and market access.

In the context of a shifting global landscape, IMEC represents a transition from a unipolar or bipolar world to a more multipolar system. By knitting together diverse economic, cultural, and political strengths, the corridor contributes to a balanced and resilient global system.

However, the success of IMEC is contingent upon the geopolitical stability of the Middle East. The region’s historical political unrest underscores the global necessity for peace in the Middle East. A stable Middle East is vital for ensuring secure trade routes, reliable energy resources, and unhindered knowledge and people exchange. It creates an environment conducive to the economic and technological collaborations envisioned by IMEC and contributes to global economic stability.

In conclusion, IMEC stands as a testament to the transformative power of economic connectivity, promising to shape a more prosperous and interconnected world. As leaders and nations come together to support this initiative, the potential for IMEC to catalyze global prosperity becomes increasingly tangible, fostering a future of shared economic growth, cultural integration, and geopolitical stability.

India’s Dilemma: Balancing AC Boom and Climate Crisis as Rising Temperatures Push Demand

In the scorching heat of India’s capital this summer, Ramesh found himself laboring under the burning sun to provide for his family. Despite feeling faint, he had no choice but to continue working. Living in a congested suburb in western Delhi with his extended family, Ramesh experienced firsthand the unbearable heat that has become synonymous with the city in recent years.

“The heat is becoming unbearable,” he lamented. “But we do not have a choice, we have to work.”

To cope with the rising temperatures, Ramesh borrowed $35, nearly half of his monthly salary, to purchase a second-hand air conditioner for his home. Despite its imperfections, including noise and occasional dust release, the AC was a necessity for his family’s well-being.

This predicament reflects the paradox faced by India, where increasing wealth and temperatures drive the demand for air conditioners. By 2050, India is expected to be among the first places where temperatures exceed survivability limits, and the demand for air conditioners is projected to rise nine-fold, outpacing all other appliances, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Ramesh’s struggle highlights a broader question raised by climate scientists: should developing nations bear the cost of reducing emissions when they are among the least responsible for the surge in greenhouse gases? At the recent COP28 climate talks in Dubai, India, a rapidly growing economy, was not among the countries that pledged to cut emissions from cooling systems.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the need for developing countries to have a fair share in the global carbon budget, but India finds itself at the forefront of the climate crisis. The challenge is how to balance development goals while ensuring environmental protection.

India’s population, especially in the more tropical southern regions, heavily relies on air conditioning for physical and mental well-being. Over the past five decades, the country has experienced over 700 heat wave events, claiming more than 17,000 lives. In June alone, temperatures soared to 47 degrees Celsius, resulting in at least 44 deaths and numerous heat-related illnesses.

According to a World Bank report, by 2030, India may account for 34 million of the projected 80 million global job losses from heat stress. With over 50% of the workforce engaged in agriculture, the risks are significant. As incomes rise and urban populations grow, the ownership of air conditioners has surged.

Electricity consumption in India from cooling, including AC and refrigerators, increased by 21% between 2019 and 2022, according to the IEA. By 2050, India’s total electricity demand from residential air conditioners is expected to surpass the total electricity consumption in all of Africa today. However, this demand exacerbates the global climate crisis, as many air conditioners use harmful greenhouse gases like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and large amounts of electricity generated from fossil fuels.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that, if unchecked, air conditioning-related greenhouse gas emissions could contribute to a 0.5 degrees Celsius rise in global temperatures by the end of the century.

India faces a dilemma, caught between the need for economic growth and the imperative to limit cooling-related emissions. At the COP summit, 63 countries pledged to cut their emissions from cooling systems by 68% by 2050. However, India did not join this group. Despite this, experts acknowledge India’s important leadership in sustainable cooling domestically, though international partners hope for future collaboration.

Under the 2016 Kigali Amendment, India is phasing out HFCs and replacing them with more climate-friendly options. Radhika Khosla, an associate professor at Oxford University, emphasizes the importance of providing assistance to countries lacking access to adequate cooling to meet the costs of energy improvement.

“Cooling is now on the global agenda,” she said. “But the hard work must begin to ensure everyone can stay cool without further heating the planet.”

Passive cooling strategies, such as planting trees, creating water bodies, promoting courtyard spaces, and enhancing ventilation, are suggested by Khosla as sustainable measures. Installing ceiling fans can reduce household energy consumption for cooling by over 20%.

India has committed to reducing its power demand for cooling purposes by 20-25% by 2038 under its Cooling Action Plan, seen as one of the first comprehensive national plans globally. Renewable energy is growing rapidly in India, putting the country on track to meet its emission reduction targets.

Despite being a significant contributor to the climate crisis, India remains proactive in finding climate solutions, as stated by Leena Nandan, India’s secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

“We have gone on to scale up our climate ambitions,” she asserted.

However, the visible impact of India’s AC boom is evident in urban areas, with construction sites dotting the capital and the rise of high-rise towers. While some, like businessman Penta Anil Kumar, consciously opt for energy-efficient models, others like laborer Ghasiram, who struggles to afford even a second-hand AC, remain unaware of the emissions contributing to rising temperatures.

“The heat has gotten worse over the years,” Ghasiram said. “When I need to step out to work in the heat, I feel nervous. I prefer to not go out.”

Hindus For Human Rights Demands Restoration Of 141 Opposition MPs In Parliament

Hindus for Human Rights demands the immediate restoration of 141 opposition MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The opposition MPs have been suspended from the Lok Sabha for causing disruptions after they raised concerns about the Indian government’s response to a security breach in Parliament.

India, the Mother of Democracy, has always encouraged healthy debates and open discussions among its politicians, and this rich tradition is undermined by the suspension of MPs.

The importance of dissent in a democracy cannot be overstated. It is through dissent that new ideas emerge, existing policies are challenged, and change is instigated. Dissent ensures that all voices, no matter how small or unpopular, are heard. Dissent holds power to account and prevents the onset of autocracy.

Democracy thrives not when we silence the opposition, but when we listen to it, engage with it, and challenge it. We strongly urge the Indian Parliament to immediately reverse its decision to suspend opposition MPs and allow them to serve the remainder of the winter session.

On Fifth Avenue, a giant puppet of Modi rode in a convertible, brandishing a banner: “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, OK?

PM Modi Addresses Allegations of India’s Involvement in US Assassination Plot, Stresses Confidence in India-US Relations

Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured that India would thoroughly investigate any evidence presented regarding its alleged involvement in an assassination plot in the United States. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, he addressed the November incident where a US charge implicated an Indian individual in a conspiracy to murder Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist leader in New York.

Mr. Modi emphasized that these allegations would not strain the relationship between India and the US, stating, “If a citizen of ours has done anything good or bad, we are ready to look into it. Our commitment is to the rule of law.”

The target, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, holds dual US-Canadian citizenship and actively supports the Khalistan movement, advocating for a separate Sikh state. US prosecutors alleged that Nikhil Gupta, a man associated with the Indian government, paid $100,000 in cash to a hitman to assassinate Mr. Pannun.

India has labeled Pannun as a terrorist, while he maintains that he is an activist, denying the accusations. These developments occurred approximately two months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of having links to the murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot dead in Canada in June.

India has vehemently denied these allegations, accusing Canada of providing shelter to “Khalistani terrorists and extremists” threatening its security. The diplomatic tensions have strained India-Canada relations, with Delhi asserting that Ottawa has not shared concrete evidence supporting its claims.

Trudeau revealed in an interview with Canada’s public broadcaster CBC that he went public with the allegations after weeks of private diplomacy, intending to “put a chill on India” and discourage potential agents from carrying out further attacks in Canada. He noted a change in India’s tone following the US’s similar allegations.

Despite these challenges, Prime Minister Modi expressed confidence in the positive trajectory of India-US relations. He stated, “There is strong bipartisan support for the strengthening of this relationship, which is a clear indicator of a mature and stable partnership.” Modi dismissed the idea of linking isolated incidents to diplomatic relations, asserting that it is inappropriate to do so.

Moreover, he highlighted India’s concerns about the “activities of certain extremist groups based overseas.” The government has consistently reacted sharply to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan. While the Khalistan movement witnessed its peak in India during the 1980s with a violent insurgency in Sikh-majority Punjab state, it has lost resonance within India. However, it still garners support among some members of the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the UK.

Experts suggest that these recent accusations of extra-judicial killings of Sikh separatists pose a potential threat to India’s growing ties with the US. Despite the challenges, Prime Minister Modi remains optimistic about the strength and stability of the partnership between the two nations.

Parliamentary Turmoil in India: Record Suspensions Ignite Protests Amid Security Breach Fallout

India’s parliament erupted in heated protests as an additional 49 opposition MPs faced suspension, bringing the total to 141, all in response to their protest against a recent security breach within the parliamentary premises. Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of undermining democracy, the opposition witnessed a record-breaking suspension of 78 MPs in a single day. Most of the lawmakers are excluded for the remainder of the winter session, concluding on Friday, while a subset awaits the parliament’s privileges committee decision for potential extended exclusion.

The majority of the suspended MPs belong to the INDIA alliance, a coalition of opposition parties gearing up to challenge Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming general election. Of the alliance’s 142 MPs in the 543-member Lok Sabha, 95 have been suspended, while in the 250-member Rajya Sabha, 46 out of 101 members face suspension.

Expressing dismay at the state of parliamentary democracy, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor remarked, “Unfortunately, we have to start writing obituaries for parliamentary democracy in India” following his suspension.

In response, the BJP accused opposition leaders of intentionally disrupting parliamentary proceedings, escalating tensions between the opposition and Modi’s government. Many opposition MPs had demanded a statement from either federal Home Minister Amit Shah or Modi regarding the recent security breach where individuals entered parliament, set off colored gas, and shouted slogans. Six individuals have been arrested, with the four protesters facing charges under an anti-terror law.

While Modi did not address the issue directly in parliament, he acknowledged its severity in a Hindi newspaper interview, emphasizing the need for a thorough investigation. Shah, at a separate event, announced a high-level inquiry into the incident, accusing the opposition of politicizing the security breach.

Opposition MPs have also sought a parliamentary discussion on the security lapse. Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the Congress party, criticized the government for sidestepping parliamentary accountability while granting interviews to the media. Manoj Kumar Jha, an MP from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, viewed his suspension as a “badge of honor,” asserting that it recognizes their efforts to pose challenging questions to the government.

Some opposition MPs, including Kharge, alleged that the government strategically suspended key figures to pass crucial bills without proper debate. However, federal minister Piyush Goyal labeled the opposition’s protest as a “pre-planned strategy” to disrupt parliamentary functioning and block essential bills. Goyal accused opposition MPs of disrespecting the parliament by refusing to comply with requests from the Lok Sabha speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman to refrain from displaying protest signs in the well of the house.

Unexpected Twist: Mamata Banerjee Proposes Mallikarjun Kharge for Prime Ministerial Candidacy in Opposition Meet

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who previously stated that the INDIA bloc would defer the decision on its Prime Ministerial candidate until after the Lok Sabha election, made a surprising reversal today by suggesting Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge’s name for the position.

In the ongoing Opposition INDIA bloc meeting, Ms. Banerjee put forward the proposal, receiving widespread approval due to Mr. Kharge’s prominent status as a Dalit leader in the Opposition. Reports indicate that twelve participating parties applauded the plan, with even Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, often at odds with the Congress, endorsing the idea, citing it as an opportunity for the country’s first Dalit Prime Minister.

Mr. Kharge, however, declined the proposition, expressing his focus on working for the downtrodden. “We have to win first, and think what to do to win. What is the point in discussing PM before having MPs? We will try to get a majority together,” he stated when asked about the matter.

The Opposition, criticized by the ruling BJP for fielding candidates against Scheduled Castes and Tribes members during Presidential elections, faces allegations of bias against Dalits and tribals. The approval of Mr. Kharge is viewed as a testament to his stature among the Opposition parties and, conversely, a snub to Rahul Gandhi, whose candidature for the top post has consistently divided the opposition.

Discussing the meeting outcomes, Mr. Kharge mentioned that the contentious issue of seat-sharing would be addressed at the state level. “If there is any issue, it will be taken up at the Central level,” he added. Sources indicate that the Trinamool Congress and other parties have set December 31 as the deadline for seat-sharing talks.

The mega meet of the INDIA bloc, involving 28 parties, is part of a series of upcoming gatherings. Mr. Kharge emphasized the necessity of multiple meets across various cities to raise people’s awareness. “Unless we do that, we cannot raise people’s awareness,” he asserted.

New COVID Variant In India

Everyone is advised to wear a mask because the new COVID-Omicron XBB variant of the coronavirus is different, deadly and not easy to detect properly:-
   Symptoms of the new virus COVID-Omicron XBB are as follows:-
     1. No cough.
     2. No fever.
     There will just be a lot :-
     3. Joint pain.
     4. Headache.
     5. Neck pain.
     6. Upper back pain.
     7. Pneumonia.
     8. Generally no appetite.
   Of course, COVID-Omicron XBB is 5 times more virulent and has a higher death rate than the Delta variant.
   The condition takes a shorter time to reach extreme severity, sometimes without obvious symptoms.
    Let’s be more careful!
   This type of virus does not reside in the nasopharyngeal area and directly affects the lungs, namely the “window”, in a relatively short time.
   Several patients diagnosed with Covid Omicron XBB were finally classified as having no fever, no pain, but X-ray results showed mild chest pneumonia.
   Nasal swab tests frequently provide negative results for COVID-Omicron XBB, and cases of nasopharyngeal tests providing false negative results are increasing.
   This means that the virus can spread in the community and directly infect the lungs, causing viral pneumonia which can cause acute respiratory stress.
   This explains why Covid-Omicron XBB is very contagious, very virulent and deadly.
   Please note, avoid crowded places, keep a distance of 1.5 m even in open spaces, wear a two-layer mask, use a suitable mask, and wash your hands frequently if everyone is asymptomatic (not coughing or sneezing).
   Covid Omicron *”WAVE”* is more deadly than the first wave of Covid-19. So we have to be very careful and take all kinds of coronavirus precautions.
   Also maintain vigilant communication with your friends and family.
   Don’t keep this information to yourself, share it with as many other relatives and friends as possible, especially your own family and friends.
 Karnataka on alert as Covid cases surge in Kerala

Opposition Unites: MPs Strategically Opt for Suspension in Solidarity Amid Parliament Security Breach Fallout

In the midst of escalating tensions between the ruling and opposition factions concerning the breach of Parliament security and the subsequent suspension of 14 members, a senior leader from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) reportedly proposed a course of action during a meeting on Friday. Sources revealed that T R Baalu, a prominent figure in the DMK, suggested that all opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) should stage protests and willingly face suspension in a show of solidarity.

During the pre-session meeting of the INDIA bloc on Friday morning, held prior to the convening of the House, Baalu articulated his stance, emphasizing the need for continued opposition protests within both Houses and advocating for a collective suspension to support their fellow MPs. Specific reference was made to the suspension of Derek O’Brien from the Rajya Sabha, with Baalu asserting, “We all should continue our protest…and let them suspend all of us. We should not leave them (the suspended MPs) alone,” as reported by a source present at the meeting.

Following this strategic discussion, the opposition, as a united front, has decided to implement this approach in both Houses. N K Premachandran, leader of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), confirmed the decision, stating, “The INDIA bloc MPs, including leaders, have decided to take placards to both the Houses and get suspended in solidarity with the others.” This move comes in response to the suspension of thirteen MPs from the Lok Sabha for the remainder of the Winter Session due to their perceived “unruly behavior” while demanding a statement from Union Home Minister Amit Shah regarding the Parliament security breach and a subsequent discussion on the matter in the House. Additionally, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Derek O’Brien faced suspension from the Rajya Sabha.

The repercussions of this decision were evident on Friday, as both Houses witnessed immediate adjournments shortly after the 11 am meeting. In the Lok Sabha, opposition MPs swiftly converged at the well of the House, brandishing placards bearing messages such as ‘Save Democracy, Down Fascism’ and ‘We want PM and HM to come to the House to make a statement’. Simultaneously, they vocalized their dissent through slogans. The scene escalated when Congress MP Anto Antony ascended the steps near the Speaker’s chair, attempting to obstruct the secretary general.

This orchestrated demonstration reflects the opposition’s firm stance against the suspension of their colleagues and their determination to use parliamentary platforms to voice their concerns. The decision to willingly face suspension as a unified front showcases a strategic move aimed at drawing attention to the perceived injustice and fostering a sense of collective responsibility among opposition MPs. As events unfold, the parliamentary landscape is likely to witness further polarization and heightened rhetoric from both the ruling and opposition sides.

India Resumes Venezuelan Crude Oil Imports After Three-Year Hiatus Amid Eased US Sanctions

India’s Petroleum Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, announced that India is set to resume crude oil imports from Venezuela after a three-year hiatus, citing the readiness of several Indian refineries to process heavy crudes. With the United States easing sanctions on Caracas in October, Puri emphasized that India, as a major global consumer of crude oil, is open to purchasing oil from any country not under sanctions.

Puri stated, “Many of our refineries, including (IOC’s) Paradip (refinery), are capable of using that heavy Venezuelan oil, and we will buy…We always buy from Venezuela. It’s when Venezuela came under sanctions that they were not able to supply.” This move comes as at least three Indian refiners—Reliance Industries (RIL), Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), and HPCL-Mittal Energy (HMEL)—have reportedly booked Venezuelan oil cargoes, expected to arrive in India over the next few months. Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) is also exploring the possibility of resuming oil imports from Venezuela.

India, specifically private sector refiners RIL and Nayara Energy (NEL), was a regular buyer of Venezuelan crude before the imposition of US sanctions in 2019, which led to a cessation of oil imports from Venezuela. According to data from commodity market analytics firm Kpler, the last time India imported Venezuelan crude was in November 2020. In 2019, Venezuela was India’s fifth-largest oil supplier, contributing nearly 16 million tonnes of crude, valued at $5.70 billion, according to India’s official trade data.

With Washington easing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector in October, allowing unlimited oil exports for six months, India is looking to capitalize on the opportunity. Venezuela, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and possessing the world’s largest proven oil reserves, is keen to expand its crude sales in major markets. India, being the world’s third-largest consumer of crude oil and heavily reliant on imports to meet over 85 percent of its demand, remains committed to procuring oil from cost-effective sources amid the volatile global oil markets.

The recent developments also shed light on Venezuela’s strategy to offer substantial discounts to Chinese independent refiners, historically its primary buyers during the sanctions. However, reports suggest that these discounts have narrowed in recent weeks due to the easing of sanctions and the interest of other buyers in acquiring Venezuelan oil. Caracas appears motivated to diversify its crude sales by extending discounts to attract buyers in other major markets.

India’s Supreme Court Upholds Abrogation Of Article 370 In Kashmir, Directs EC To Hold Elections By September 2024

India’s Supreme Court has upheld the Indian Government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and said that every decision taken by the Centre on behalf of a State can’t be subject to a legal challenge. On August 5, 2019, the Modi government announced the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 and split the region into two Union Territories.

A five-judge Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, and Surya Kant delivered the verdict on December 11, 2023. The five-judge Constitution Bench pronounced three judgments in petitions challenging the Centre’s move to scrap Article 370.

A Constitution Bench said, “The exercise of power by the President under Article 370(1)(d) to issue CO 272 is not mala fide. The President in exercise of power under Article 370(3) can unilaterally issue a notification that Article 370 ceases to exist”.

“The President did not have to secure the concurrence of the Government of the State or Union Government acting on behalf of the State Government under the second proviso to Article 370(1)(d) while applying all the provisions of the Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir because such an exercise of power has the same effect as an exercise of power under Article 370(3) for which the concurrence or collaboration with the State Government was not required,” added the bench.

Copy of canvas 1
Picture: LawTrend

The bench, which also comprised Justices S K Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai and Surya Kant, pronounced three judgments – one by the CJI for himself and Justices Gavai and Surya Kant, a concurring judgment by Justice Kaul and a third by Justice Khanna concurring with the other two rulings. The Constitution Bench was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories.

CJI Chandrachud reading out the judgement said that every decision taken by the Centre on behalf of a State under proclamation can’t be subject to a legal challenge and it will lead to the administration of the State to a standstill.

Supreme Court said that it has held that Article 370 was a temporary provision. “The proclamation of Maharaja stated that the Constitution of India will supersede. With this, the para of Instrument of Accession ceases to exist….Article 370 was an interim arrangement due to war conditions in the State. Textual reading also indicates that Article 370 is a temporary provision,” the Court said.

The Apex court also mentioned that the argument of petitioners that the Union government cannot take actions of irreversible consequences in the State during Presidential rule is not acceptable. “We have held that the state of Jammu and Kashmir did not retain an element of sovereignty when it joined the Union of India. We have arrived at this conclusion for the following reasons. First paragraph eight of the instrument of acession executed by Maharaja Hari Singh provided that nothing in the instrument would affect the continuance of the sovereignty of the Maharaja in and over the state,” CJI Chandrachud said. The CJI further noted that on November 25, 1949, a proclamation was issued for the State of Jammu and Kashmir by “Yuvraj Karan Singh”.

“The declaration on this proclamation, that the Constitution of India would not only supersede all other constitutional provisions in the state, which were inconsistent with it, but also abrogate them, achieves what could have been attained by an agreement of merger. With the issuance of the proclamation, paragraph of the instrument of acession ceases to be of legal consequence. The proclamation reflects the full and final surrender of sovereignty by Jammu and Kashmir through its sovereign ruler to India ” the CJI added.

The Supreme Court said, “The declaration issued by the President exercises the power and clause 3 of Article 370 is a culmination of the process of integration. Thus, we do not find that the President’s exercise of power under Clause 3 of Article 370 was malafide. We hold the exercise of Presidential Power to be valid.”

The Court also noted that Article 370 was meant for the constitutional integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union and it was not for disintegration and the President can declare that Article 370 ceases to exist.

“Concurrence of the State government was not required to apply all provisions of the Constitution using Article 370(1)(d). So, the President of India taking the concurrence of the Union government was not mala fide,” the Court noted.

The Supreme Court also directed the Election Commission to hold Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections by September 30, 2024. The Supreme Court said in view of Centre’s submission on restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, it directs that statehood shall be restored as soon as possible.

On September 5, the apex court reserved the judgement after hearing the arguments for 16 days.
The central government had defended its decision to abrogate Article 370, saying there was no “constitutional fraud” in repealing the provision that accorded special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Attorney General R Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for Centre. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, had opened the arguments, saying Article 370 was no longer a “temporary provision” and had assumed permanence post the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Kaul also recommended setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission to look into alleged violations of human rights by both state and non-state actors in J-K. Justice Kaul said it should be based on a dialogue and cautioned that it should not become a criminal court.

Reading out his ruling, CJI Chandrachud said, “The State of Jammu and Kashmir does not retain any element of sovereignty after the execution of the Instrument of Accession (IoA) and the issuance of the Proclamation dated 25 November 1949 by which the Constitution of India was adopted. The State of Jammu and Kashmir does not have ‘internal sovereignty’ which is distinguishable from the powers and privileges enjoyed by other States in the country. Article 370 was a feature of asymmetric federalism and not sovereignty”.

On the reorganisation of the erstwhile state of J-K into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the ruling said, “The Solicitor General stated that the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir will be restored (except for the carving out of the Union Territory of Ladakh). In view of the statement, we do not find it necessary to determine whether the reorganisation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir is permissible under Article 3”.

The court, however, upheld “the validity of the decision to carve out the Union Territory of Ladakh in view of Article 3(a) read with Explanation I which permits forming a Union Territory by separation of a territory from any State”.

The SC directed, “Steps shall be taken by the Election Commission of India to conduct elections to the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir constituted under Section 14 of the Reorganisation Act by 30 September 2024”. “Restoration of statehood shall take place at the earliest and as soon as possible,” added the court.

“The power under Article 370(3) did not cease to exist upon the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. When the Constituent Assembly was dissolved, only the transitional power recognised in the proviso to Article 370(3) which empowered the Constituent Assembly to make its recommendations ceased to exist. It did not affect the power held by the President under Article 370(3)”.

India’s Permanent Representative To UN Hosts ‘Mission Life’ Event On Millets

Millets have been an integral part of our diet for centuries. In addition to a plethora of health benefits, millets are also good for the environment with low water & input requirement. With the aim to create awareness and increase production & consumption of millets, United Nations, at the behest of the Government of India, declared 2023 the International Year Millets. To commemorate this, the  India’s Permanent Mission to the UN in ccordination with India’s Ministry of External Affairs is hosting various interactive activities around Millets.

India’s Permanent Representative To UN Hosts ‘Mission Life’ Event On Millets 2Mission LiFE, a global initiative for ‘Lifestyle for Environment’ is a groundbreaking step towards sustainable living, according to Ruchira Kamboj, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN. Kamboj was speaking at a reception hosted by India’s Permanent Mission to the UN on December 4, 2023 at the UN headquarters in New York to highlight 2023 as the International Year of the Millet.

According to Kamboj, Mission LiFE and the focus on Millets jointly represent a holistic approach to sustainability. “It’s a clarion call for everyone, everywhere, to rethink their lifestyles and make choices that contribute positively to the Earth’s well-being,” Kamboj said. Earlier at the ‘India Roundtables’ panel discussion at the UN about Mission LiFE, Kamboj had said that the initiative focuses on mindful and deliberate utilization instead of mindless and destructive consumption.

Based on the Gandhian concept of Lifestyle for Environment and Human Flourishing to promote sustainable lifestyles and enduring peace, the Indian initiative was launched globally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UN Secretary General António Guterres in February 2023.

Acknowledging the need for global support to the initiative at the reception, Secretary-General Guterres said, “’Mission LiFE’s vision aligns perfectly with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. It’s a testament to how individual responsibility can foster a sustainable future for the entire planet.”

India is the world’s largest producer and second-largest exporter of millet according to sources. Technically seeds, millets are small grains grown on poor quality soil with very little irrigation. There are nine kinds of millets which grow in India, including sorghum, finger millet, little millet, kodo millet, foxtail millet and barnyard millet. They all differ from each other in color, texture and size.

However, its consumption has largely remained in the rural areas, a scenario which, Modi has been working to change since 2014 to boost millet production and consumption. At the G20 summit in September 2023 in New Delhi, world leaders were served an all-vegetarian dinner predominantly made of millets. At the commemorating ceremony of the International Year of the Millet in February 2023, India organized a special exhibition on the occasion on different kinds of millets grown in India, their nutritional value and health benefits, and a reception with millet-based savories.

Millet and millet based fusion dishes have been introduced by well-known Indian restaurants and gourmet chefs including barley and sorghum salad, millet tortillas and dosas, sorghum pita pockets, ragi pancakes, millet risotto, ragi pizzas, and also millet  chips, chakli, noodles, breakfast cereals, and even millet-based beers.

The push for millets by India is based on their being environment friendly. They require less water and can grow in harsher climates, making them a sustainable choice while the world faces increasing water scarcity and global warming.

One of the highlights of last week’s special reception was a performance by Falguni Shah, a Grammy nominee, of her number, ‘Abundance In Millets’ originally ‘written and performed’ by Falu and Gaurav Shah with the prime minister who came up with the concept and contributed the lyrics and collaborated in creating it.

One of the lyrics by Modi goes, “The shared efforts of our farmers and us….will adorn India and the world’s prosperity with a new radiance.”

BJP Wins In 3 Hindi Heartland States in India, Congress Wins In Telangana

India’s ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won big in the Hindi heartland, wresting Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh from the Congress while comprehensively beating anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress party failed to retain its bastions in the three states. However, the grand old party achieved significant success in southern India, wresting Telangana from K Chandrashekar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi. The Northeastern state of Mizoram has elected a regional party, the Mizo National Front, where the ruling BJP came a distant third. The elections results were announced on Sunday, December 3, 2023.

Of 90 assembly constituencies in Chhattisgarh, the BJP bagged 54 while the Congress won 35. In Rajasthan, the BJP got 115 of 199 seats.

The right-wing party was also likely to be re-elected in Madhya Pradesh for a record fifth term by winning 163 of 230 seats.

The Congress comfortably won Telangana state, which was ruled by the Bharat Rashtra Samithi party, formerly known as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Of 119 seats in the southern state, the Congress won 64, while the BRS got 39. The BJP won eight seats in the state.

Elections in the five states were held last month and more than 160 million people, or a sixth of India’s electorate, were eligible to vote. Polling in India is generally done in phases owing to the large population. “We always said we will win the heartland states,” BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda told the media. “The results are the outcome of our finest political strategy and work on the ground.”

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said the party should not get “disheartened by this defeat” and should start preparing for the general elections with INDIA parties with “double enthusiasm”.

Modi and leaders of Congress, led by Gandhi, criss-crossed the states, addressing campaign rallies and promising cash payouts, farm loan waivers, subsidies and insurance cover, among other incentives, to woo voters.

The election results indicate the voter mood ahead of the national elections in May in which Modi is eyeing a third consecutive term. At the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Sunday evening, party members and supporters lined up on the two sides and Modi walked between them, waving. The activists showered him with flower petals, chanting “Long live Mother India” and other slogans.

BJP Wins In 3 Hindi Heartland States in India, Congress Wins In Telangana (NDTV)
Picture: NDTV

BJP’s performance was better than widely expected as opinion and exit polls had suggested a close contest between Modi’s party and Congress. Modi remains widely popular after a decade in power and surveys suggest he will win again next year. However, a 28-party opposition alliance led by the Congress has come together to jointly fight the BJP, posing a renewed challenge.

Modi told jubilant BJP members at the party headquarters the results suggested a third term next year was guaranteed.

“The results in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan indicate that the people of India are firmly with politics of good governance and development, which the @BJP4India stands for,” Modi wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

BJP had suffered a setback itself when it lost the big southern state of Karnataka to Congress this year, as Rahul Gandhi, Congress Party leader worked hard to revive the party since its drubbing in the 2019 election and went on a 135-day march across the country covering more than 4,000 km (2,500 miles).

Rahul Gandhi has been instrumental in building the united opposition alliance, called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance or INDIA, after the Karnataka victory and his temporary disqualification from parliament after being convicted in a defamation case. Gandhi posted on X “the battle of ideology will continue.”

Politicians and analysts say state elections do not always influence the outcome of the general elections or accurately indicate national voter mood. Results of the last round of state elections before national elections have been misleading in the past.

The 2024 general election to India’s Parlaiument comes at a time when India is facing multiple challenges, including rising unemployment, attacks by Hindu nationalists against the country’s minorities, and a shrinking space for dissent and free media.

Modi Announces Green Credit Initiative At COP28

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on December 1, 2023 that India has shown the world the perfect balance of ecology and economy. He made the remarks while delivering an address at the high-level segment of COP28 in Dubai.

“Despite India having 17 percent of the world’s population, our share in global carbon emissions is only less than 4 percent. India is one of the few economies in the world that is on track to meet the NDC targets,” the PM said adding that his country is continuously making progress to achieve the goal of reaching net zero by 2070.

He highlighted that targets related to emissions intensity were achieved 11 years ago while non-fossil fuel targets were achieved nine years ahead of schedule. Additionally, the PM underscored that efforts are being made to reduce emission intensity to 45 percent by 2030 and increase the share of non-fossil fuel to 50 percent.

“India has consistently given importance to the issue of climate in its G-20 Presidency with the spirit of One Earth, One Family, One Future,” Modi said enumerating the various green initiatives launched by India, including the Global Biofuels Alliance and Mission LiFE – Lifestyle for Environment.

Modi Announces Green Credit Initiative At COP28 (FE)
Picture: FE

Urging participation from the COP states, Modi announced the launch of the Green Credits initiative, a campaign that aims to facilitate mass participation as an effective response to the challenge of climate change. The program’s long-term goal is to restore degraded and abandoned land and river catchment areas through the issuance of green credits to plant trees there.

At a joint session, the United Arab Emirates and India officially launched the Green Credits initiative and unveiled a website that would compile policies and best practices that encourage eco-friendly behaviors.

The Prime Minister concluded his address by expressing India’s commitment to the UN Framework for Climate Change Process and proposed to host the COP-33 summit in India in 2028. In the hopes of a successful COP28, he advocated for an inclusive and equitable energy transition, as well as the continuous development of innovative technologies and their transfer to other countries, to propel collective progress toward a secure future.

Asserting that the world does not have much time to correct the mistakes of the last century, PM Narendra Modi on Friday announced a ‘Green Credit Initiative’ focused on creating carbon sinks through people’s participation and also proposed to host the UN climate conference in 2028, or COP33, in India.

Carbon sinks are essentially anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases.

What is it?

Addressing the high-level segment for heads of states and governments during the UN climate conference (COP28) in Dubai, Modi called for a pro-planet, proactive and positive initiative.

He further said the Green Credits Initiative goes beyond the commercial mindset associated with carbon credits, which are essentially permits that allow entities to emit certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.

The Green Credit Initiative is similar to the Green Credit Programme, notified domestically in October. It is an innovative, market-based mechanism designed to reward voluntary environmental actions in different sectors by individuals, communities and the private sector.

‘India has walked the talk’

Asserting that India has presented a great example to the world of striking balance between development and environment conservation, PM Modi said India is among the only few countries in the world on track to achieve the national action plans to restrict global warming to 1.5C, the guardrail to avoid worsening of the impact of the changing climate.

Modi called for maintaining a balance between mitigation and adaptation and said that energy transition across the world must be “just and inclusive.” He also urged rich countries to transfer technologies to help developing nations combat climate change.

Meetings that matter

On the sidelines of the COP28 summit, Modi met with the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and said that India deeply values its strong ties with the Gulf nation.

Modi also met Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed Ali, UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

While Israel has a war going on with Hamas, the other countries (Bahrain, Ethiopia and UAE) have deep economic ties with India.

Youth Heartbreak: Gujarat Launches Massive CPR Training Initiative as 1,052 Young Lives Lost to Heart Attacks in Six Months

In the past half-year, Gujarat has witnessed a tragic toll of 1,052 lives claimed by heart attacks, a revelation shared by State Education Minister Kuber Dindor on Friday. Shockingly, 80% of the victims fall within the 11-25 age bracket, a demographic that typically evades the specter of heart-related issues. Dindor, during a media address in Gandhinagar, underscored the urgency of the situation, emphasizing that these young individuals, despite lacking obesity concerns, succumbed to cardiac events. Disturbingly, the 108 ambulance service fields an alarming average of 173 cardiac emergency calls daily.

Expressing concern over the palpable fear gripping youngsters due to the prevalence of heart attacks in their peer group, Minister Dindor urged teachers to partake in a vital initiative. This initiative, spearheaded by the State Education Department, seeks to equip nearly two lakh school and college educators with the skills needed for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a critical intervention that can be life-saving during such medical emergencies.

Dindor lamented the unfortunate incidents where individuals met their demise due to heart attacks while engaging in seemingly innocuous activities like playing cricket or participating in garba, a traditional dance form synonymous with Navratri festivities. In response to this distressing trend, he called upon educators to actively engage in CPR training camps, highlighting the potential for them to become lifesavers.

To address this pressing need, the Education Department’s initiative entails organizing CPR training camps across 37 medical colleges between December 3 and 17. The ambitious goal is to train nearly two lakh school and college teachers during this period. A cadre of 2,500 medical experts and doctors will be on hand to impart essential knowledge and skills at these training camps. Participants in the program will also receive certificates acknowledging their completion of the training.

Minister Dindor emphasized the precedence of such training, citing instances where Bharatiya Janata Party workers and police personnel in the state had previously undergone similar programs. The scale of this initiative reflects a proactive response to the alarming surge in heart attacks among the youth, underscoring the gravity of the situation and the need for a collective effort to mitigate its impact.

725,000 Indians Listed As Illegal, 3rd Largest Illegal Immigrant Population In US

Numbering around 725,000, Indians form the third largest population of illegal immigrants in the US after Mexico and El Salvador, according to new Pew Research Center estimates.

As of 2021, the country’s 10.5 million unauthorised immigrants represented about three per cent of the total US population and 22 per cent of the foreign-born population, the research said.

Mexico, which accounted for 39 per cent of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants in 2021 numbering around 4.1 million, was followed by El Salvador (800,000); India (725,000); and Guatemala (700,000).

While the number from Mexico dropped by 900,000 from 2017 to 2021, the number of illegal immigrants from other countries grew rapidly at the same time. In 2021, this population was 6.4 million, up by 900,000 from 2017.

India, Brazil, Canada and former Soviet Union countries all experienced growth from 2017 to 2021.

According to new data from US Customs and Border Protection, an unprecedented number of undocumented Indian immigrants are crossing the US borders on foot.

From October 2022 to September 2023, 96,917 Indians were apprehended, expelled or denied entry for having entered the US without papers.

Since borders opened after Covid, the number of undocumented Indians in the US went up with 30,662 encountered in the 2021 fiscal year and 63,927 in the 2022 fiscal year.

Out of the nearly 97,000 encounters this year, 30,010 were at the Canadian border and 41,770 at the Southern border.

The Pew research also found that overall, about 7.8 million illegal immigrants were in the US labour force in 2021.

Among the US states, only Florida and Washington witnessed increases to their unauthorised immigrant populations, while California and Nevada saw decreases.

Meanwhile, the lawful immigrant population grew by more than eight million — a 29 per cent increase, and the number of naturalised US citizens grew by 49 per cent in 2021. (IANS)

Community Weddings In Rajasthan To Reduce Child Sex Ratio

According to the Census of India reports, Sri Ganganagar of Rajasthan State, India was the worst hit district in terms of child sex ratio, with only 850 girls to 1000 boys in the 0 to 6 year age group.  Several helpful interventions have been undertaken to address the problem of declining child sex ratios. One such initiative is the celebration of community weddings that was initiated in 2004.

Community Weddings In Rajasthan To Reduce Child Sex RatioCommunity weddings of girls from economically weaker sections are held every year at Dhan Dhan Baba Deep Singh Gurudwara. The Gurudwara Samiti, Sri Ganganagar Chamber of Commerce, and the people of Sri Ganganagar come together to organize this celebration.  It is open to all religions, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. Truly a people’s event!

All of Ganganagar seems to gather for this event year after year! Dr Ashok and Dr Meeta Singh who studied at Armed Forces Medical College have been supporting this community function since 2005.

This year too, on October 29, we had the privilege to support and participate in this event.  Meeta undertook an overnight train journey to participate in the most precious wedding celebration of the year. Dr Meeta Singh was honored with Saropa by Gurudwara Samiti . Truly, this celebrates life and defines her volunteer role, community service and her mission towards enhancing dignity of the  girl child.

India-US Défense Ties Key Pillar For World Peace, Stability: Blinken, Austin

Amidst the ongoing conflicts in Israel, Hamas, and the Russia-Ukraine war, the ongoing fifth India-US 2+2 Ministerial Level Talks in New Delhi, has been described as very crucial.

US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, both are for meetings with their Indian counterparts, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

Blinken has said that India-US defense cooperation is “a key pillar” for bolstering the partnership of the two countries in “international peace and security, and specifically, working to promote the rules-based order and uphold the principles at the heart of the UN Charter: sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence.”

“Our defense cooperation, which we’re strengthening again today, is a key pillar of that work,” Blinken said in his opening remarks at the 2+2 India-US Ministerial Dialogue that began in the national capital earlier in the day

Also in his opening remarks, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in his opening remarks that there have been “impressive gains in building our major defense partnership over the past year, and that will help us contribute even more together to the cause of peace and stability. We’re integrating our industrial bases, strengthening our interoperability, and sharing cutting-edge technology,” he added.

India US Défense Ties Key Pillar For World Peace StabilityBlinken said the two countries were taking very concrete steps to deliver on the vision that President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi put forward at their meeting in Washington in June.

“We are promoting a free and open, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific, including by strengthening our partnership through the Quad, with Japan and Australia,” he explained.

Blinken went on to say that “one significant way we’re doing that is by enhancing maritime domain awareness: sharing commercial satellite data with countries in the region to boost their capacity, for example, to combat illegal fishing, piracy, drug trafficking”.

“We’re also coordinating humanitarian relief and disaster response efforts in the Indo-Pacific. We’re harnessing together the power of innovation to make our economies more resilient and to make our communities more secure, while expanding inclusive economic opportunity.

“That’s evident in the cooperation on semiconductors and advanced biotechnology; on our unprecedented investments in deploying clean energy at scale in our countries as well as across the region; and our joint research and exploration projects in space,” he added.

The top diplomat mentioned the people-to-people ties between the two countries and the steps that are being taken to reduce visa wait times and facilitate travel between India and the US.

Jaishankar held “an open and productive discussion” with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken here on Friday on strengthening strategic New Delhi-Washington ties, the fallout of the raging Israel-Hamas war and regional issues including the geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific region.

The meeting took place ahead of the fifth edition of the India-US 2+2 Defence and Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue. “Pleased to meet with Secretary of State @SecBlinken this morning. An open and productive conversation on further developing our strategic partnership,” Jaishankar posted on X.

“This visit has a particular significance because we need to follow up on PM Modi’s June visit and President Biden’s September visit. This is a 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, so we take a broader view of what we are doing.”

The central focus of these talks is to address the ongoing conflicts and regional security concerns while strengthening the strategic ties between India and the United States. The agenda is expansive, encompassing the India-US Strategic Relationship, as well as exploring avenues to enhance bilateral relations and collaboration within international forums such as the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) and I2U2.

One prominent subject for discussion is the military standoff on the northern borders between India and China. Both countries have a vested interest in resolving this standoff amicably, thereby contributing to regional stability.

Another matter of great concern is the global security implications of the Russia-Ukraine war. As members of the QUAD, a coalition dedicated to ensuring security in the Indo-Pacific region, India and the U.S. are likely to deliberate on their respective roles in the context of this global event. The ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza region may also find a place on the agenda, with a focus on containment to prevent further escalation.

Government Denies Phone Hacking Allegations After Apple Alerts

Opposition Leaders Accuse Government of Hacking Attempts

Several Indian opposition leaders and journalists have accused the government of trying to hack into their phones after receiving warning messages from Apple. Apple’s alert stated that it believed the recipients were “being targeted by state-sponsored attackers” without specifying the attackers’ identity. The Indian government has dismissed these allegations, with federal ministers calling them “destructive politics.” However, they also noted that the government would “investigate to get to the bottom of these notifications.”

Around a dozen opposition politicians, including MPs from the Congress party and other opposition parties, confirmed receiving the messages from Apple. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi stated that he and his staff had also received the alert and expressed no fear, saying, “You can do as much [phone] tapping as you want, I don’t care.”

Some journalists, including Siddharth Varadarajan, a founding editor of news website The Wire, reported receiving the message as well. The government has asked Apple to participate in the investigation “with real, accurate information on the alleged state-sponsored attacks,” according to federal information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.

Apple’s Statement on State-Sponsored Attacks

Apple’s support page for users explains that “state-sponsored attackers are very well-funded and sophisticated, and their attacks evolve over time.” These attackers target a “very small number of specific individuals and their devices.” However, Apple does not provide specific details about what triggers these threat notifications, as revealing such information could help state-sponsored attackers adapt their behavior to avoid detection in the future.

Technology analyst Prasanto K Roy explained that companies like Apple look for activity patterns to detect large-scale, coordinated malware attacks. While it is technically possible to attribute such attacks to a particular country or state agency, Apple prefers not to make specific attributions.

Political Reactions and Allegations

Indian politicians and journalists shared screenshots of the messages they received from Apple on social media, with some pointing out that no member of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had confirmed receiving the notification yet. Opposition leaders raised questions about the selectiveness of these notifications.

However, later in the day, BJP minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar stated that his colleague Piyush Goyal had also received the alert, prompting further discussions about the implications of the notifications.

Aam Aadmi Party MP Raghav Chadha connected the alerts to the upcoming general election and stated that they should be viewed within the context of ongoing attacks on the opposition.

BJP leaders responded to the allegations by calling them baseless and shifting the responsibility to Apple to clarify the meaning of the notifications.

Historical Surveillance Allegations

Several opposition leaders in India had previously accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of placing them under surveillance. In 2019, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit alleging that Indian journalists and activists were targeted by Pegasus, a surveillance software developed by Israeli firm NSO Group. NSO claimed to work only with government agencies.

In 2021, Indian website The Wire reported that over 300 phone numbers on a leaked database of thousands of numbers, associated with government clients of NSO, belonged to Indians.

Additionally, in the previous year, a political controversy arose after the New York Times reported that India had acquired Pegasus from Israel as part of a defense deal in 2017. The Indian government denied purchasing the spyware.

As the allegations continue to circulate, questions surrounding the notifications and their implications persist.

Jaishankar Emphasizes India’s Consistent Stance on Terrorism and Sound International Judgments

India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, emphasized the importance of India maintaining a consistent stance on terrorism, regardless of where it occurs. He made these remarks in the context of India’s recent abstention from a UN resolution related to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Jaishankar highlighted the need for India to uphold its credibility in addressing terrorism, considering its status as a victim of such acts.

During the UN vote, India supported Canada’s proposal to amend the resolution by including language condemning Hamas. However, since this amendment was not adopted, India chose to abstain from voting. Yojana Patel, Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, underscored the global nature of terrorism, emphasizing that it transcends borders, nations, and races. She called for a unified, zero-tolerance approach to terrorism, regardless of differences.

Speaking at an event in Bhopal, Jaishankar elaborated on India’s foreign policy stances. He drew parallels between the importance of good governance domestically and making sound judgments on international matters. Jaishankar cited the example of India’s stance on purchasing oil from Russia. Despite international pressure, India stood firm on its decision, which ultimately protected its citizens from the adverse effects of higher oil prices and inflation.

Jaishankar pointed out that some European countries, which had advised against buying Russian oil, themselves continued to do so to shield their populations from negative consequences. He acknowledged that India faces pressure from the international community but emphasized that a strong and good government should prioritize the welfare of its people.

Jaishankar emphasized the need for India to maintain a consistent stance on terrorism, irrespective of where it occurs, to safeguard its credibility. He also highlighted the importance of making sound decisions on international matters, citing the example of India’s oil purchases from Russia and the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens’ interests.

Lanka okays visa-free entry for Indians

Sri Lanka’s Cabinet has given its approval for the issuance of free visas to visitors from India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand. This initiative, introduced as a pilot project, took effect immediately and will remain in place until March 31, 2024. The announcement was made by Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Sabry, via a tweet.

“Sri Lanka Cabinet approves issuing of free visas to India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand with immediate effect as a pilot project till 31 March,**” Sabry posted on Twitter.

This move is a significant shift, allowing travelers from these countries to obtain visas for Sri Lanka without any charges. India, in particular, has historically been a major source of inbound tourism for Sri Lanka. In September, India led the statistics with over 30,000 arrivals, making up 26 percent of the total visitors. Chinese tourists were the second-largest group, with over 8,000 arrivals.

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry has faced challenges in recent years, primarily due to a decline in arrivals following the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019, which resulted in the loss of 270 lives, including 11 Indians, and left over 500 people injured.

Beyond the tourism sector, Sri Lanka has been grappling with severe economic challenges since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. The country is currently experiencing political turmoil, marked by protests calling for the resignation of President Rajapaksa.

The economic crisis has led to critical shortages of basic necessities such as food, medicine, cooking gas, fuels, toilet paper, and even matches. Sri Lankans have been enduring long queues outside stores for months, waiting for hours to purchase these essential items.

In light of these challenging circumstances, the Ministry of Tourism introduced a Cabinet Paper during a recent Cabinet meeting. This proposal suggested offering complimentary tourist visas to foreign travelers from five countries who plan to visit Sri Lanka for tourism.

The move to provide free visas to visitors from India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand is seen as a step to revive the country’s tourism industry and attract tourists from these nations, with the hope that it will contribute to the country’s economic recovery and stability.

India-NZ ODI most-watched online sports event worldwide

India’s triumph over New Zealand in the ongoing 2023 ODI World Cup ended a two-decade-long drought. Faced with a formidable challenge from New Zealand, Indian Tech and Infra proudly declared that the India versus New Zealand match became the most-watched online sports event worldwide.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended his heartfelt congratulations to the team, expressing on X, “Kudos to the Indian cricket team for their remarkable victory against New Zealand! This was a splendid collective effort where every player made significant contributions. The dedication and skills displayed on the field were truly commendable.”

The clash unfolded in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, and delivered an exhilarating showdown, featuring a track set for a 300-plus total. Mohammed Shami left an indelible mark by claiming five wickets for 54 runs, securing his second five-wicket haul in an ODI World Cup and joining the elite company of Anil Kumble. Virat Kohli, with his 95 runs, steered India to a four-wicket triumph over New Zealand with two overs to spare.

This victory marked the Indian cricket team’s first win against New Zealand in the ODI World Cup since 2003. It not only ended a two-decade-long wait but also made a significant impact in the digital sphere. The match captured the attention of 43 million viewers worldwide, making it the most-watched online sports event globally.

India to surpass Japan to become 2nd largest economy in Asia by 2030: S&P Global

India, currently the world’s fifth-largest economy, is on a trajectory to surpass Japan and become the third-largest economy by 2030, with a projected GDP of USD 7.3 trillion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s recent PMI report.

After experiencing rapid economic growth in 2021 and 2022, the Indian economy has sustained its robust expansion into the 2023 calendar year. India’s GDP is expected to grow by 6.2-6.3 percent in the fiscal year ending in March 2024, positioning it as the fastest-growing major economy for the year. Notably, Asia’s third-largest economy expanded by a remarkable 7.8 percent in the April-June quarter.

S&P Global predicts that the Indian economy will continue its rapid expansion throughout the remainder of 2023 and into 2024, driven by strong growth in domestic demand. This growth is further supported by a surge in foreign direct investment over the past decade, reflecting the favorable long-term growth outlook for India. Factors contributing to this outlook include a youthful demographic profile and rapidly rising urban household incomes.

The report forecasts that India’s nominal GDP, measured in USD, will rise from USD 3.5 trillion in 2022 to USD 7.3 trillion by 2030. At this rate, India’s GDP is expected to surpass Japan’s GDP by 2030, positioning India as the second-largest economy in the Asia-Pacific region. By 2022, India’s GDP had already exceeded that of the UK and France, and by 2030, it is projected to surpass Germany.

The current largest economy in the world is the United States, with a GDP of USD 25.5 trillion, constituting a quarter of the global GDP. China follows as the second-largest economy with a GDP of approximately USD 18 trillion, making up nearly 17.9 percent of the world GDP. Japan is a distant third with a GDP of USD 4.2 trillion, trailed by Germany with a GDP of USD 4 trillion.

The long-term outlook for India’s economy is supported by several key growth drivers. One of the primary factors is the substantial and rapidly growing middle class in India, which is fueling consumer spending. India’s expanding domestic consumer market, coupled with its large industrial sector, has made it an attractive investment destination for multinational corporations across various sectors, including manufacturing, infrastructure, and services.

India’s ongoing digital transformation is expected to accelerate the growth of e-commerce, reshaping the retail consumer market over the next decade. Leading global technology and e-commerce companies are increasingly drawn to the Indian market, recognizing the immense potential it holds.

By 2030, an estimated 1.1 billion Indians will have internet access, more than doubling from the approximately 500 million internet users in 2020. This growth in e-commerce, coupled with the transition to 4G and 5G smartphone technology, is fostering the success of home-grown companies like Mensa Brands, Delhivery, and BigBasket, whose e-sales have seen significant growth during the pandemic.

India’s substantial increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows over the past five years has continued, with strong momentum even during the pandemic years of 2020-2022. Notably, global technology giants such as Google and Facebook have been drawn to India’s vast and fast-growing domestic consumer market, contributing to the robust FDI inflows. Additionally, there has been a noticeable upswing in FDI from manufacturing firms.

India is expected to remain one of the world’s fastest-growing economies over the next decade. This positions India as a pivotal long-term growth market for multinational corporations spanning diverse industries, including manufacturing sectors such as automobiles, electronics, and chemicals, as well as services industries like banking, insurance, asset management, healthcare, and information technology.

India, 5 th Largest Economy Ranks 111 out of 125 Countries in the Global Hunger Index

Even as nearly one million children of Gaza face a genocidal campaign by Israel driven by relentless bombing and a cruel embargo on essential supplies, the Global Hunger Index 2023 has drawn our attention to the growing pangs of hunger across the world. The GHI2023 report attributes the alarming global hunger scene to a combination of recent developments like the Covid pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war apart from deeply embedded socio-economic reasons and the rapidly worsening climate crisis. Now Israel’s genocidal siege and invasion of Gaza reminds us how in today’s world hunger can still be inflicted as a form of war. If Israel is not immediately restrained, we will soon witness a veritable famine and thousands of people dying of hunger and thirst in Gaza.

The GHI 2023 report indicates a general stagnation and even reversal on the front of combating hunger. The hunger index is calculated as a combined measure of four factors – undernourishment (among children as well as adults), child stunting (percentage of children below five years of age with low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition), child wasting (percentage of children below five years of age with low weight for their height, indicating acute undernutrition) and child mortality (the mortality rate of children under the age of five). The two most critical regions of the world in terms of the spread and scale of hunger are South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa with a GHI value of 27.0, way above the global average of 18.3.

Picture: IAS Compass

The biggest contributor to South Asia’s alarming situation is none other than India which has been steadily slipping in GHI rankings over the last one decade. With a GHI score of 28.7, India now stands at 111 out of 125 countries. Each of India’s South Asian neighbours fares significantly better than India – Pakistan ranks 102 with a GHI value of 26.6 while Nepal (GHI 15.0) and Bangladesh (GHI 19.0) have made remarkable progress occupying respectively the 69th and 81st positions. Sri Lanka, of course, still has the best record in South Asia with a GHI score of 13.3 and the 60th rank. Among the four factors making up the GHI index, India has the most alarming child wasting rate of 18.7% which reflects acute undernutrition. The overall GHI score of 28.7 puts India in the ‘serious’ category of hunger-stricken countries. Undernutrition is not just stunting the growth of millions of India’s children; an alarming 58.1 percent of India’s women suffer from various levels of anaemia.

The response of the Modi government to the GHI 2023 report has been similar to its standard response to all such global reports – be it the Oxfam inequality report or India’s alarming decline
in terms of press freedom or various other indices or measures of democracy. The Modi government lives in a perpetual denial mode and even contemptuously rubbishes these reports as foreign or western conspiracies.

India has been the only country to find fault with the GHI report, but the authors of the report have convincingly rebutted Modi government’s objections. The data used in the GHI report are
collected from verified sources including statistical updates issued periodically by concerned countries and studies by various multilateral agencies. The GHI findings are corroborated by other global studies on hunger and food security. The Global Food Security Index report released annually by the British weekly magazine The Economist placed India at 71st position out of 113 countries in 2021 and at 68th position in 2022. While India with 57.2 points was placed at the same level as Algeria, China stood at 25th position with a score of 74.2.

While the GHI report focuses on undernutrition, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality, the GFSI report is based on measures of food security driven by factors like affordability, availability, quality and safety and natural resources and resilience. The problem in India is now not so much with availability of food where India ranks 42 with a score of 62.3 as with affordability where India finishes 80th with a score of 59.3. The lack of affordability can only be overcome by running a powerful public distribution system, stopping profiteering of food and by improving the purchasing power of the common people. The Modi governmen’s policies are taking the country in the opposite direction. While the regime denies the shocking reports of hunger and lack of food security, in election time it projects the claim of distributing ‘free ration’ to 80 crore people as its biggest achievement. This claim itself is the strongest official testimony to India’s abysmal performance as revealed by the global reports on hunger and food security.

One look at the reports focusing on inequality, hunger and the conditions of India’s workers is enough to deflate the hype manufactured around the G20 summit and the celebration over the tag
of the world’s fifth largest economy. The government keeps talking of demographic dividends and empowerment of women.

The GHI report throws light on the alarming health conditions of India’s children and young women. Add to this the gloom caused by the trajectory of India’s jobless, nay job-loss, economic growth and the precarious conditions of India’s young working and job-seeking population and we know how the Indian people are being systematically impoverished and ruined. The question
of the Indian people’s right to food and effective and universal food security cannot be reduced to the Modi government’s cynical vote-seeking in the name of ‘free ration’. The GHI and GFSI
reports tell us that continued neglect of the agenda of food security is bound to push India into a bigger disaster.

“Dancing The Christian Hymns”

The first of seven online seminars planned for 2023-2024, by the hostess, Sylvie Lagache, a contemporary dancer, therapist with a master's degree in theology specializing in liturgy is
scheduled for November 4 at 4 p.m. on the theme: “Dance in the liturgy.” Says Lagache, “I will develop the importance of a spiritualized body for a liturgy that is less mechanical, flat, reduced to formalism, but more lively, celebrating the living.”

Lagache will develop the concept  of a “spiritualized body” for a liturgy less reduced to formalism, but more lively, celebrating the Living. She will also talk about mystical dance and the parallel between the bodily learning of a dancer and the learning of the inner way.  “Being in your body as a temple of God and dance the prayer,” says Lagache.

The first seminar will focus on mystical dance and the parallel between the bodily learning of a dancer and the learning of the inner path: breath, anchoring, verticality and meditation and projection (giving and receiving). We will dialogue together on the universal dimension of dance as unity between religions.

“I have chosen to present to you a dance on the Kyrie Eleison, because for me, it is the message that Christ came to bring, that is to say the inner movement that every Christian must go through:
recognizing his errors, his transgressions, his negative emotions (anger, fears…) for a possible transformation which is metanoia, conversion,” says Lagache. “It's going from the Old Man bent and closed in on himself to the New Man, straight and open, on the move! It is Man resurrected in Christ, a subject developed in my book “The Unified and Spiritualized Body.”

Lagache says, she invited to this seminar first of all people who have been with her, one Ana for over 30 years and the other Beto for over 10 years, in Brazil. Both continue basic classical dance
classes with breathing online. They will give their testimony in relation to dance and spirituality.  Then she invited a dancer and dance therapist from Ivory Coast who lives his Christian faith
deeply and who will come and talk to us about the importance of dance in the Church.

“So the dance that I propose is not of the order of representation, but rather it is a communion between Man and God and God and Man. It is a prayerful dance, because instead of praying with
words we will pray with the body. The gestures purport to express prayer, repentance, listening, contemplating, bowing, begging, rising up, receiving grace,” adds Lagache.

The zoom link is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9414526266. Visit:
https://youtu.be/dUK45NusSF8 . One can register at [email protected]

Exploring India’s Pursuit of a U.N. Security Council Seat and China’s Opposition

In the complex realm of international diplomacy, India’s quest for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and China’s persistent efforts to thwart it are deeply rooted in their ancient histories. As two of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, their interactions are colored by centuries of mutual distrust, and their intentions are continually scrutinized.

Drawing inspiration from legendary grandmasters of statecraft, both nations have honed their strategies to navigate this complex geopolitical landscape. The enduring philosophies of India’s Chanakya and China’s Sun Tzu, even though they lived over two millennia ago, continue to shape their approach to international relations.

For India, the G4, a coalition formed in 2004 with fellow Security Council aspirants Japan, Germany, and Brazil, symbolizes a collaborative alliance of like-minded nations. In contrast, China perceives the G4 as a challenge to its established influence as one of the Security Council’s five permanent, veto-wielding members, alongside the U.S., the U.K., France, and Russia.

These differing interpretations of the G4’s significance reflect the lessons drawn from their respective grandmasters. India’s adherence to Chanakya’s wisdom that “There is no friendship without self-interest” underlines its approach, while China draws on Sun Tzu’s advice that “Battles are lost when adequate calculations are not made in advance.”

Despite its growing global influence, India recognizes that securing a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council requires the collective consent of all five current permanent members, including China. New Delhi has garnered support from all members except China. Beijing has adopted a shrewd strategy, indicating that it would support India’s bid only if it disengages from Japan.

China’s approach aligns with Sun Tzu’s famous dictum, “All warfare is based on deception.” The reality is that China is uneasy about India’s ascendance on the world stage. To counter this, China has been fostering a close relationship with Pakistan, using territorial disputes and territorial claims on Indian lands to exert pressure and maintain an edge. This mirrors Sun Tzu’s principle: “The best strategy is to break the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

India, in response, has adopted a foreign policy stance of “strategic autonomy.” Following Chanakya’s counsel to “Attack and destroy your fear, as soon as it approaches,” New Delhi’s strategy involves confronting China where it is vulnerable before entering negotiations.
In recent years, India has positioned itself as a viable alternative to China for multinational manufacturers and has become integrated into U.S. strategic plans for the Asia-Pacific region. This strategic move has been so successful that the U.S. now refers to the region as the Indo-Pacific, demonstrating India’s influence. India’s commitment to building goodwill, particularly among Global South nations, is consistent with Chanakya’s advice that “A person’s goodness spreads in all directions.”

New Delhi’s diplomatic achievements, such as garnering support for the African Union to join the global body and facilitating consensus on important issues, underscore its readiness for a permanent Security Council seat. If the U.N. General Assembly voted today, India would likely secure the necessary two-thirds support due to its effective positioning as a spokesperson for the developing world.

Nonetheless, India must further advance its strategy to isolate China and question why it is pursuing this goal, as Chanakya advised. India needs to build consensus directly, refuting China’s claim of a lack of agreement regarding its accession. This could potentially place China “outside the global consensus,” a position Beijing strives to avoid.

In their diplomatic jockeying, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s absence from the G20 summit in New Delhi aimed to diminish India’s influence. Surprisingly, his non-participation did not sway other leaders’ decisions to attend. China is undoubtedly devising a response to rectify past missteps in its efforts to contain India.

In this process, India can draw inspiration from Sun Tzu’s wisdom: “If you know your enemy and know yourself, you don’t have to fear the result of a hundred battles.” Understanding China’s tactics and its own strengths is crucial for India as it navigates the intricate world of international diplomacy.

Survey Reveals Consistency and Diversity in Asian American Hindu Identity

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center has shed light on the religious landscape within the Asian American community, with a particular focus on Hinduism. The findings provide insights into the faith and cultural connections of this demographic.

Approximately half of Asian American adults who self-identify as Indian continue to practice Hinduism, with 48 percent of respondents aligning themselves with this ancient religion. This statistic remains relatively stable compared to 2012 when it stood at 51 percent.

The survey also discovered that about one in ten Asian Americans now regard Hinduism as their religious affiliation, with 11 percent of respondents identifying as Hindus. This number has shown little change since 2012 when it was reported at 10 percent.

Furthermore, the survey revealed that 6 percent of all Asian Americans express a strong sense of closeness to Hinduism, often due to factors like ancestral or cultural ties. In total, two-thirds of Indian Americans either identify as Hindu or have a profound affinity for Hinduism.

Of those Asian American Hindus surveyed, one-third emphasized the importance of religion in their lives, while an additional 38 percent considered it to be somewhat important. The survey highlighted that approximately 31 percent of these individuals attend religious services monthly or even more frequently.

Hindus emerge as the group with the highest proportion among Asian American religious communities who incorporate altars, shrines, or religious symbols in their homes for worship, with a remarkable 79 percent adopting these practices. Among Hindus who place a high priority on religion in their lives, this figure rises to 89 percent.

Notably, approximately 92 percent of Asian American Hindu adults were born outside of the United States, representing the highest proportion of foreign-born individuals among Asian American religious groups.

In contrast, among religiously unaffiliated Asian Americans who feel a cultural closeness to Hinduism, a significantly higher percentage are born in the United States (35 percent) compared to those who explicitly identify as Hindus (8 percent).

When examining the socioeconomic status of Asian American Hindus, it becomes evident that this group exhibits remarkable achievements. A substantial 61 percent of them hold postgraduate degrees, in stark contrast to the 22 percent figure among all Asian American adults. Moreover, 44 percent of Asian American Hindus report a family income exceeding $150,000, which surpasses the 32 percent figure for Asian Americans as a whole.

The recent Pew Research Center survey has not only confirmed the resilience of Hinduism among Asian American adults who self-identify as Indian but has also highlighted the diversity within this community. While some strongly identify as Hindus and actively practice the religion, others feel a cultural or ancestral connection to Hinduism. The data also reveals that Asian American Hindus, as a group, have achieved remarkable success in terms of education and income, further enriching the complex tapestry of the Asian American experience.

India’s Supreme Court Rules on Same-Sex Marriage

India’s top court declined to legalize same-sex marriages in a historic ruling delivered on October 17, 2023. This ruling affects what is now the world’s most populous country. And same-sex marriages are not legal there at this time.

The marriage ruling will be a disappointment for LGBTQ+ people in India, who had hoped the supreme court judges would recognise their constitutional right to marriage equality.
In a sign of how contentious the issue remains in India, the five-judge bench of the supreme court, led by the chief justice of India, said they had been divided on the matter, and four separate judgments were written by the bench. Two of the judges had supported same-sex civil unions but the majority verdict ruled against them.
Rohin Bhatt, one of the lawyers in the case, said: “Today the court has reaffirmed that queer citizens will be relegated to an unsympathetic legislature and an apathetic executive. We are second-class citizens, no matter how many judicial platitudes say otherwise. We will rise in rage and protest.”

India’s Supreme Court delivered the judgment on petitions advocating for the legalization of same-sex marriage, and this decision has profound implications for the rights and recognition of LGBTQ+ individuals in the country.

Petitioners and Their Objectives

The court considered 21 petitions filed by same-sex couples, including those raising children together, LGBTQ+ activists, and organizations. The petitioners’ legal representatives argued that marriage is a union between two individuals, not restricted to a man and a woman. They asserted that laws should evolve to reflect changing concepts of marriage over time, with same-sex couples deserving the dignity and recognition of marriage.

Students and supporters of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) shout slogans, hold placards and pride flags as they take part in an LGBT+ Pride vigil organised after India’s top court on Tuesday declined to legalise same-sex marriage and left it to parliament to decide, at North Campus in New Delhi, India, October 18, 2023. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

The petitioners contended that the Indian constitution guarantees all citizens the right to marry a person of their choice and prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. They highlighted that the inability to marry deprives them of joint bank accounts, co-ownership of property, and the opportunity to adopt children together.

The petitioners argued that the prohibition on same-sex marriage infringes upon their constitutional rights and relegates them to “second-class citizens.” However, the government and religious leaders have staunchly opposed same-sex unions, contending that they run counter to Indian cultural norms.

In April and May during hearings, Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, leading the bench, described it as “a matter of seminal importance,” and these proceedings were “livestreamed in public interest.” The court reserved its order on May 12. Justice Chandrachud emphasized that they would not meddle with religious personal laws but would explore the possibility of amending a special law governing inter-caste and inter-faith marriages to include LGBTQ+ individuals.

This debate carries immense significance in a nation where tens of millions of LGBTQ+ people reside. While the Indian government reported their population at 2.5 million in 2012, global estimates suggest a much higher figure, possibly exceeding 135 million, or 10% of the entire population.

During the proceedings, the judges displayed empathy for the concerns of same-sex couples and pressed the government for its plans to address these issues.

Government’s Position

The government initially questioned the court’s authority to address this matter, arguing that it should be a decision for parliament. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, urged the court to dismiss the petitions, asserting that marriage could only occur between a heterosexual man and woman.

Government authorities also criticized the same-sex petitioners, characterizing them as “reflecting urban elitist views.” Remarkably, leaders from various religious denominations in India united in opposing same-sex unions, asserting that marriage should be reserved for procreation, not recreation.

Despite these strong objections from the government and religious leaders, the judges decided to hear the case. They clarified that they would not venture into religious personal laws but would explore the potential amendment of the Special Marriage Act (SMA) of 1954 to include LGBTQ+ individuals.

The Special Marriage Act: A Key Focus

In India, the majority of marriages occur under religious personal laws, such as the Muslim Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act. However, these laws recognize marriages only between couples of the same religion or caste. Consequently, if a Hindu and a Muslim sought to marry, one of them had to convert to the other’s religion.

This approach posed a significant challenge to the concept of personal liberty, a right guaranteed by the Indian constitution. Consequently, after India gained independence, the government introduced the Special Marriage Act in 1954 to facilitate inter-faith or inter-caste marriages.
The Special Marriage Act effectively detached marriage from religion, affirming that individuals did not need to renounce their religion to marry. This was a major step forward for personal liberty. During the court proceedings, the petitioners proposed substituting “man” and “woman” with “spouse” in the Act as a means of achieving marriage equality.

However, it became evident as the hearings progressed that amending this single law might be insufficient since numerous other laws govern divorce, adoption, succession, maintenance, and related matters, many of which fall under the purview of religious personal laws.

In a 2020 Pew survey, 37% of respondents believed homosexuality should be accepted, a substantial increase from 15% in 2014 when the question was first posed in the country. In a June survey by Pew, 53% of Indian adults supported legalizing same-sex marriage, while 43% opposed it.

Nonetheless, conservative attitudes towards sex and sexuality persist in India, and LGBTQ+ individuals continue to face stigma and discrimination. Lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, representing the petitioners, argued that society sometimes requires a push to acknowledge LGBTQ+ individuals as equals under the constitution, and legalizing same-sex marriage could be that catalyst for acceptance.

Empathy from SC Justices
The Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud and the four other judges ruled that amending the special marriage act went beyond the scope of the court, amounting to “judicial lawmaking”, and was instead the job of the legislature.
In his ruling, Chandrachud emphasised that LGBTQ+ people should have the right to choose their partners and co-habit and should not face discrimination under the law.
“Choosing a life partner is an integral part of choosing one’s course of life. Some may regard this as the most important decision of their life,” he said. He instructed the government to form a high level committee to examine the concerns, rights and welfare entitlements of same-sex couples.
“Queerness is not urban elite. Homosexuality or queerness is not an urban concept or restricted to the upper classes of the society,” added Chandrachud. He had also expressed his support for LGBTQ+ couples being allowed to adopt, but was overruled by the majority of the bench.
One of the petitioners, Mario da Penha, said it was “a day to be disappointed, but not to lose hope. There’s been tremendous work that has gone into these petitions, and many hopes and dreams of the queer community attached to them — to lead lives that most other Indians take for granted. The fact that the dream could not come to fruition today is a disappointment for all of us.”

“One Nation, One Election Concept By B.J.P. Will Disrupt The Democratic Process:” Anil Shashtri

Anil Shastri, son of late Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, was hosted by the I.O.C.U.S.A. in New York at Baldev Randhawa’s residence in New Rochell on September 28, 2023, to discuss current political dynamics in India. Mr. Shastri shared memories of his father and discussed the need to strengthen the I.O.C.’s hand to support the Indian National Congress party. He spoke in detail about how democracy is being diminished in India under Modi’s leadership and the importance of recapturing the letter and spirit of the constitution and saving democracy by defeating the ruling B.J.P. in the upcoming election.

“Unlike in last eight years, India’s electorate and young generation are now realizing their misperception of Narendra Modi’s rule, and re-election of B.J.P. for a third time could lead to a disaster. Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi formed a broad coalition, “I.N.D.I.A.,” after winning states like Karnataka.” Mr. Shastri said. “Opposition parties like A.A.P., T.M.C., and NCP were reluctant to work under I.N.C.’s leadership before Karnataka elections. However, they now understood that Congress-led opposition with a one-on-one fight only can defeat B.J.P.,” he added.

He asserted that if any leader in India can answer Narendra Modi by looking into his eyes, it is Rahul Gandhi. Despite all the posturing, Narendra Modi is now afraid and feels threatened by the resurgence of the Congress Party. Anil Shastri criticized the B.J.P.’s “one nation, one election” concept, stating that simultaneous elections in the state and central governments would disrupt the Indian democratic process, potentially extending the President’s rule beyond six months, which needs a constitutional amendment and that the basic structure of Indian constitution is unchangeable. He criticized Modi’s government for deliberately using issues such as “one nation, one election,” etc., to divert the attention of the people from the real problems that they are facing. This is also a “Chunav ki jhumla” like depositing 15 lakh rupees in every citizen’s bank account.

Great leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastry and Jawaharlal Nehru thought their image would be magnified if the country’s image was built up. Contrary to that, Narendra Modi believes precisely the opposite, and Narendra Modi, as Prime Minister, used the recent G-20 sessions to build his own image, said Mr. Shastri.   He also advised the I.O.C. volunteers to use social media and other related technology to the maximum extent to change people’s perceptions in India by conveying reality and facts to them.

Anil Shastri recounted his father Lal Bahadur Shastri’s extraordinary determination, honesty, and hard work. He shared anecdotes about his father’s refusal to accept Russian and other countries’ aid during food shortages and his father’s determination to protect his self-respect as Prime Minister of India. Answering an audience’s question, Anil Shastri said that his father was so poor that he could not afford a boat ticket. He also rejected the free ride offer of the boatman and used to swim across the mighty Ganges to attend his school.

When asked why he swam, Lal Bahadur Shastri said to Anil Shastri, “When a person cannot protect his self-respect, he will not have the right to live.” Similarly, he said that he could not compromise with the self-respect of India by accepting money or any aid from other countries during a food shortage. He not only advocated but also gave up dinner once a week as a response to the food grains blockade by the major powers during the Indo-Pak war. The meeting commemorated the immense achievements of Lal Bahadur Shastri, such as the sowing seeds of the green revolution and the victory of the Indo-Pak war.

Harbachan Singh, Secretary-General, welcomed Shri. Anil Shastri and his wife Manju to the meeting. Mr. George Abraham, vice-chairman, described the goals and aspirations of the I.O.C. and emphasized the importance of close cooperation and dialogue. Mohinder Singh Gilzian, the President, introduced Anil Shashtri to the audience and lauded him for his dedication and commitment to the party.

Gurmit Gill Mulapur, Amar Singh Gulshan, Sophia Sharma, Dayan Naik, Sharath Chandra Vemuganti, Joshua John, Baldev Randhawa, Jose George, Paul Karukapallil, Thomas Koshy and Harry Singh also spoke.

John Joseph thanked host Baldav Randhawa for their generous hosting of the event and the Chief Guest Anil Shashtri and Manju Shastri for their kind presence.

How Did Mahatma Gandhi’s Portrait Come On Indian Banknotes

Throughout history, the lens of prominent photographers captured Mahatma Gandhi, but perhaps the most iconic image of him is the one adorning Indian currency notes. As the Father of the Nation, it might seem natural for him to be featured on India’s national currency, but this honor was conferred upon him several decades after India gained independence in 1947. In 1996, Gandhi’s image became a permanent fixture on all denominations of legal banknotes issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the nation’s central bank entrusted with overseeing India’s banking system. As we approach Gandhi’s birth anniversary, we delve into the origins of this portrait, the symbol it replaced, and the suggestions that have emerged for featuring other iconic figures on Indian banknotes.

The Origins of Gandhi’s Image on Indian Currency

The portrait of Gandhi on Indian banknotes is not a caricature; rather, it is a cut-out of a photograph taken in 1946, where he stands alongside British politician Lord Frederick William Pethick-Lawrence. This particular photograph was chosen because it captured Gandhi with a suitable smile, which was then mirrored to create the iconic portrait. Interestingly, the identities of the photographer behind this image and the person who selected it remain shrouded in mystery.

The responsibility of designing Indian rupee notes lies with the RBI’s Department of Currency Management, which must obtain approval for its designs from the central bank and the Union government. According to Section 25 of the RBI Act, 1934, the central government has the authority to approve the “design, form, and material of banknotes” based on recommendations made by the central board.

When Gandhi First Appeared on INR Notes

Gandhi’s first appearance on Indian currency occurred in 1969 when a special series was issued to commemorate his 100th birth anniversary. These notes, bearing the signature of RBI Governor LK Jha, depicted Gandhi against the backdrop of the Sevagram Ashram.

In October 1987, a series of Rs 500 currency notes featuring Gandhi was introduced.

The Banknotes of Independent India

Following India’s declaration of independence on August 15, 1947, the RBI initially continued to issue notes featuring King George VI from the colonial period. However, this situation changed in 1949 when the government of India introduced a new design for the 1-rupee note. In this new design, King George was replaced with a symbol of the Lion Capital of Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath.

The RBI museum website shares insights from that era, noting that there were deliberations about selecting symbols for independent India. Initially, the idea was to replace the King’s portrait with that of Mahatma Gandhi. Design proposals were even prepared for this purpose. However, the consensus eventually shifted towards choosing the Lion Capital at Sarnath in place of Gandhi’s portrait. The new banknote designs largely followed the earlier patterns.

Consequently, in 1950, the first Republic of India banknotes were issued in denominations of Rs 2, 5, 10, and 100, all bearing the Lion Capital watermark. Over the years, higher denomination legal tenders were introduced, with motifs on the back of the notes evolving to reflect various aspects of new India, from wildlife motifs such as tigers and sambar deer to depictions of agricultural activities like farming and tea leaf plucking in the 1970s. The 1980s saw an emphasis on symbols of scientific and technological advancements as well as Indian art forms, with the Aryabhatta satellite, farm mechanization, and the Konark Wheel featuring on various denominations.

Gandhi’s Portrait Becomes a Permanent Feature

By the 1990s, the RBI recognized the need to enhance the security features of currency notes due to advancements in reprographic techniques such as digital printing, scanning, photography, and xerography. It was believed that inanimate objects would be easier to forge compared to a human face. Consequently, Gandhi was chosen as the new face of Indian currency due to his universal appeal. In 1996, the RBI introduced the ‘Mahatma Gandhi Series’ to replace the former Ashoka Pillar banknotes. This series also incorporated several security features, including a windowed security thread, latent image, and intaglio features designed for the visually impaired.

In 2016, the ‘Mahatma Gandhi New Series’ of banknotes was announced by the RBI, retaining Gandhi’s portrait while adding the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan logo and additional security features on the reverse side.

Demands for Inclusion of Others on Banknotes

In recent years, there have been calls to feature figures other than Gandhi on Indian currency notes. In October 2022, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed to the Prime Minister and the Union government to include the images of Lord Ganesha and goddess Lakshmi on currency notes.

Similarly, in 2014, there were suggestions to include Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and former President APJ Abdul Kalam on currency notes. However, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, addressing the Lok Sabha, revealed that the RBI had rejected these proposals in favor of retaining Gandhi’s portrait. He stated, “The Committee decided that no other personality could better represent the ethos of India than Mahatma Gandhi.”

Furthermore, then RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan emphasized that while India had many great personalities, Gandhi stood out above all others, and other choices could potentially be controversial.

The journey of Mahatma Gandhi’s image on Indian currency is a reflection of India’s evolving identity and the significance attributed to its national icons. While there have been calls to diversify the figures featured on banknotes, Gandhi’s enduring presence continues to symbolize the ethos of India.

India Asks Canada To Withdraw 40 Diplomats By Oct 10

India is learnt to have told Canada to withdraw around 40 diplomats from the country by October 10 amid worsening ties between the two nations, according to reports. The reports have said that New Delhi has conveyed to Canada that if the diplomats are not withdrawn by the deadline, they will lose their diplomatic immunity.

There are more than 60 Canadian diplomats posted in India.

Last month, after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had alleged in Parliament that Indian intelligence agents may have been involved in the murder of Sikh pro-Khalistan hardliner Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the diplomatic relations have hit an all time low between the two nations. Following Trudeau’s allegations, both the countries had expelled a diplomat each. India had also termed Canada’s allegations as “politically driven”.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said: “Yes, we’ve informed the government of Canada that there should be parity in strength in our mutual diplomatic presence. Their number is very much higher than ours in Canada… I assume there will be a reduction from the Canadian side.”

Caring for the Old: On the United Nations Population Fund’s India Ageing Report 2023

A substantial portion of the global population is aging, and India is no exception to this trend. According to the India Ageing Report 2023 by the United Nations Population Fund, there is a stark reality on the horizon. The population aged 60 and above is projected to double from 10.5% or 14.9 crore individuals (as of July 1, 2022) to 20.8% or 34.7 crore by the year 2050. This means that one in every five people will be a senior citizen, with far-reaching implications for healthcare, the economy, and society as a whole.

In regions like Kerala and West Bengal, a growing elderly population is experiencing solitude as their children migrate in search of better opportunities. While advancements in healthcare have contributed to increased life expectancy, and declining fertility rates are observed in various countries, including India, there are formidable challenges in providing for a burgeoning elderly population. Within this overarching demographic shift, there are numerous other noteworthy statistics. Notably, elderly women outnumber their male counterparts. A 60-year-old person in India can anticipate living another 18.3 years, with women having a slightly longer life expectancy of 19 years compared to men at 17.5 years. In India, where female labor force participation stands at a meager 24%, it is imperative to ensure economic and social security for women to prevent their increased vulnerability in old age.

Furthermore, there are substantial variations between states. In 2021, most southern states reported a higher proportion of elderly citizens compared to the national average, and this gap is expected to widen by 2036. In contrast, states with higher fertility rates, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, are also projected to witness an increase in the elderly population’s share by 2036, but it will remain below the national average. Overall, more than two-fifths of the elderly population belong to the poorest wealth quintile, ranging from 5% in Punjab to a staggering 47% in Chhattisgarh. Additionally, 18.7% of the elderly have no source of income, which exacerbates their economic vulnerability. A significant portion of the elderly population resides in rural areas and often faces economic hardships. Addressing these challenges necessitates a comprehensive societal approach that encompasses physical and mental health, basic necessities like food and shelter, income security, and social care. Geriatric care should be tailored to their distinct healthcare requirements.

While there are several government schemes aimed at assisting the elderly, many remain unaware of them or find the application process overly complex. The National Policy on Older Persons from 1999 and the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act of 2007 establish guidelines for the care of the elderly. However, to ensure that senior citizens can lead dignified lives, both public and private policies must create a more supportive environment.

India is witnessing a significant demographic shift with a rapidly aging population. This transformation has profound implications for various aspects of society, including healthcare, the economy, and social well-being. To address the challenges posed by this demographic transition, it is imperative to implement a holistic approach that encompasses healthcare, economic security, and social support. Furthermore, raising awareness about existing government schemes and simplifying access to them is essential to ensure that the elderly receive the assistance and care they deserve in their later years.

Tributes paid to India’s parliament at special session

Indian legislators, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have paid their respects to the country’s historic parliament building in anticipation of their move to a new facility. These
members of parliament made their remarks during the inaugural day of a special parliamentary session convened by the government, set to span a week.

Although the new parliament building was inaugurated by Mr. Modi in May, it had not yet been used for any legislative business until now. The session will transition to the new premises on Tuesday, following an event dedicated to celebrating the legacy of the old parliament.

This unique session occurs amidst criticism from opposition leaders who argue that the government has not been transparent about the full agenda for the week. The government has announced that eight bills are slated for discussion during this session. However, it’s important to note that this agenda could potentially change or expand as the week progresses.

Opposition figures have raised questions about the necessity of this special session to discuss these bills, given that MPs are already scheduled to convene later in the year for the customary winter session of parliament. Traditionally, Indian lawmakers meet for regular parliamentary business three times a year, encompassing a budget session, a monsoon session, and a winter session.

Prime Minister Modi initiated the special session on Monday by commemorating the parliament’s legacy since 1947, when India gained independence from British rule. The government has organized numerous events to mark the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. During his speech, Modi described the departure from the old parliament as an “emotional moment”, highlighting the building’s rich history and its continued inspiration for future generations. He stated, “The biggest achievement of this parliament is that it has kept people’s faith in democracy alive” while also mentioning India’s successful Moon landing and hosting of the G20 summit.

Some opposition leaders shared their personal reminiscences of the old parliament while taking swipes at Mr. Modi’s government, alleging that it avoids answering questions and targets
political rivals.

In preparation for the special session, Mr. Modi had indicated that its duration might be “short” but would include “historic decisions” Special sessions are relatively rare occurrences in Indian parliamentary history. According to legislative expert Chakshu Roy, they are typically convened “for specific occasions, like commemorating parliamentary or national milestones.”

The announcement of this session last month had triggered criticism from opposition leaders,who raised concerns about the government's secrecy regarding the agenda. It also sparked intense speculation, with some pundits speculating that the government might call for early elections or consider changing the country's name from India to Bharat (following a controversy over a possible name change).
Other speculations included the possibility of the government introducing a landmark bill reserving seats for women in state legislatures and parliament. In response, some opposition
lawmakers held protests outside parliament on Monday, advocating for the introduction of such a bill.

However, the government has yet to confirm any of these speculations. Last week, after weeks of opposition criticism, the government released a “tentative agenda” for the session, which included four bills for debate. Among them was a controversial bill that would alter the process for appointing India's chief election commissioner.

Opposition parties have strongly objected to this bill, characterizing it as “undemocratic” and asserting that it would diminish the independence of the Election Commission and its officials. However, it’s worth noting that this particular bill was not part of the list provided to opposition leaders during an all-party meeting on Sunday.

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