Droupadi Murmu Is The President Of India

Droupadi Murmu, a tribal politician from the Odisha (Orissa) state was sworn in as the 10th successive president of the Republic of India on Monday, July 25th, 2022 in the central hall of Parliament in New Delhi. The 64-year-old former teacher, the country’s first tribal leader has become the constitutional head of India. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India N V Ramana administered the oath of office to the youngest ever President of India. Murmu replaces outgoing President Ram Nath Kovind, whose term ended on July 24th. 

India, a country with 1.4 billion people and the largest democracy in the world, has a constitutional framework of India is parliamentary, which is led by the elected representative and overseen by the first person of the country, the President of India.

In attendance at the solemn ceremony were: The outgoing President Ram Nath Kovind; Vice President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Members of the Council of Ministers, Governors, Chief Ministers, heads of diplomatic missions, Members of Parliament and principal civil and military officers of the government will attend the ceremony. After the oath ceremony, the President arrived at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where an inter-services guard of honor was given to her in the forecourt.

The swearing-in ceremony was marked by pomp and grandeur. It began with the arrival of two presidents – the outgoing Ram Nath Kovind and the incoming Droupadi Murmu – in a procession from Rashtrapati Bhavan to the Parliament building. Murmu was then escorted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vice-President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha M Venkaiah Naidu, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to the Central Hall. After the short ceremony, Murmu and Kovind were escorted out of the Central Hall amid the roll of drums and blowing of trumpets.

Dressed in a white saree with green-and-red border,  in her address immediately after she took the oath as the President of India, Murmu thanked all MPs and MLAs who elected her to the highest office. Murmu, supported by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP was elected by the members of both the houses of parliament and of the legislative assemblies of states and federally-administered union territories. “I thank all of you. Your trust and cooperation is my strength. I am the first president who took birth in independent India,” she said.

Murmu said that she started her journey of life from a small tribal village in Odisha in the eastern part of the country. From the background that she came from, it was like a dream for her to get elementary education, she said. Her election to the top constitutional post proves that in India, the poor can not only dream but also fulfill those aspirations, she added. 

“I have been elected during an important time when the country is marking 75 years of Independence,” she noted. “Reaching this office is not my personal achievement but that of all the poor people in the country,” Murmu said. It is a matter of great satisfaction that those who have been deprived for centuries and those who have been denied the benefits of development, poor, downtrodden, backwards and tribals are seeing their reflection in her, she pointed out.

Tracing her background to the humble beginning, Murmu said, “I belong to the tribal society, and I have got the opportunity to become the President of India from the Ward Councilor. This is the greatness of India, the mother of democracy. It is the power of our democracy that a daughter born in a poor house, a daughter born in a remote tribal area, can reach the highest constitutional post of India.”

This is the first time that India has a tribal — considered the most original inhabitants of the land but have been on the margins of socio-economic development — as the President. This is happening in the 75th year of Independence, which marks the beginning of the government’s celebration of Amrit Kaal.

At 64, Murmu becomes the youngest person to be the President of India. She scripted history last week, defeating joint-opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha, a former Union minister, in a one-sided contest. She polled 6,76,803 votes against Sinha’s 3,80,177 votes to become India’s 15th President.

Born in 1958 in Baidaposi village of Mayurbhanj district, Murmu belongs to the Santhal community, one of India’s largest tribal groups. Daughter of a village council chief, she studied at the Ramadevi Women’s College in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. 

Beginning her career as a clerk for the Odisha government, Murmu served as a junior assistant in the irrigation and energy department from 1979-1983. After she quit her job in Bhubaneswar and returned to Rairangpur to take care of her family at the insistence of her mother-in-law, she took up a job as a teacher at the Sri Aurobindo Integral School.

Her political career began in 1997 when she was elected as a councillor in the local polls in Rairangpur. She was often seen personally supervising sanitation work in the town, standing in the sun as drains were cleaned and garbage cleared.

As a member of the BJP, she was elected to the state assembly twice – in 2000 and in 2009 – from the Rairangpur seat. Murmu came into the limelight in 2017 when it was rrumoreded that the BJP was considering her name for the presidential election that year. She was then serving as the governor of the state of Jharkhand.

Murmu devoted her life to serving society, empowering poor, downtrodden and marginalized sections of society. She has rich administrative experience and an outstanding gubernatorial tenure in Jharkhand. Murmu has made a special identity in public life by spreading awareness about education in tribal society and serving the public for a long time as a public representative.

The Indian president acts as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces but the prime minister holds executive powers. he president, nevertheless, has a key role during political crises, such as when a general election is inconclusive, by deciding which party is in the best position to form a government. “A daughter of India hailing from a tribal community born in a remote part of eastern India has been elected our President!” PM Modi said on Twitter.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the world leaders to congratulate Murmu and said he was “ready to work” with his new Indian counterpart to strengthen relations, according to Chinese state media.

After Droupadi Murmu took oath as India’s 15th President in Delhi on Monday, celebrations were held at her native place – Rairangpur. To celebrate Murmu’s oath, people from her native performed tribal dance on the beats of the folk music. Notably, Draupadi Murmu is the first tribal and second woman to hold the country’s highest constitutional office.

Voice Of Dissent Is Necessary For A Healthy Democracy

A Delhi court In India granted bail to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair in the case involving his 2018-tweet. The court invoked Hindu religion in its bail order to argue that his tweet did not appear violative of Section 153A (communal enmity) and 295A IPC (insulting religion).

He had posted an image from the 1983-movie Kissi Se Na Kehna, showing a hotel’s name changing from Honeymoon Hotel to Hanuman Hotel. He wrote: “Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel. After 2014: Hanuman Hotel.”

“The voice of dissent is necessary for healthy democracy. Therefore, merely for the criticism of any political parties it is not justified to invoke Section 153A and 295A of Indian Penal Code,” the court said.

Zubair continues to be in jail over other FIRs registered against him in Uttar Pradesh, where he is facing six cases in Hathras (two), Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Lakhimpur Kheri, and Sitapur over his tweet or calling certain persons “hatemongers”.

“Hindu religion is one of the oldest religions and most tolerant. The followers of the Hindu religion are also tolerant. Hindu religion is so tolerant that its followers proudly name their institution/organization/facilities in the name of their Holy God or Goddess,” the court said.

“Naming of an institute, facility or organization or child in the name of Hindu deity on the face of it is not violative of Section 153A and 295A IPC, unless the same is done with malice/guilty intention.”

The court noted that the police have not identified the Twitter users who complained saying they were offended by Zubair’s tweet. “The statement of this aggrieved person/witness under Section 161 CrPC is not yet recorded. The police have failed to record the statement under the Section.”

On the charge of illegal foreign contribution, the court observed that prima facie the accused has taken all the safeguard to prevent the receipt of any foreign contribution.

India Elects New President

India held Presidential Elections on July 18th, 2022 with 99.18 percent voter turnout from the eligible voters to elect a new ceremonial head of the largest democracy in the world. The ruling coalition led by Shri Narendra Modi supported NDA candidate Droupadi Murmu has a clear edge over the Opposition nominee Yashwant Sinha as over 60 per cent votes are expected to be cast in her favor. With NDA Presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu set for a near-certain win, she will be the 15th President of the Republic of India. 

As per media reports, over 99 per cent of the total 4,796 electors cast their votes in the presidential poll held at the Parliament House and the state legislative assemblies.  As many as 10 states and the Union Territory of Puducherry recorded a 100 per cent turnout.

Secretary General of Rajya Sabha PC Mody on Monday informed that out of the 736 electors comprising 727 MPs and 9 Legislative Assembly members, who were permitted by ECI to vote, 730 electors comprising 721 MPs & 9 Legislative Assembly members cast their votes. He also said that elector turnout was at 99.18%.

National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate Droupadi Murmu has a clear edge over Sinha as over 60 per cent of votes are expected to be polled in her favor. She has the support of BJD, YSRCP, BSP, AIADMK, TDP, JD(S), Shiromani Akali Dal, Shiv Sena and JMM.  If elected, she will become the first woman from the tribal community to hold the country’s top constitutional post.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, chief ministers from across the country, and other MPs and MLAs cast their votes on Monday morning. In all, around 4,800 MPs and MLAs have cast their votes to elect the 15th President of India. The counting of votes will take place on July 21 while the next President will take oath on July 25.

Appealing to lawmakers for support, Opposition nominee Yashwant Sinha stated, “I have repeatedly said that this election is very important as it will decide the direction as to whether democracy will remain in India or will slowly end.” 

BJP MP and film actor Sunny Deol and Union Minister Sanjay Dhotre were among those who missed casting their votes in the presidential poll. While Deol is abroad for medical treatment, Dhotre is in the ICU. Two MPs each from BJP and Shiv Sena, and one each from the BSP, Congress, SP and AIMIM were among those who did not cast their votes during the election, media reports stated.

BSP leader Atul Singh who is in jail could not vote. Shiv Sena leaders, Gajanan Kirtikar and Hemant Godse, also did not vote. AIMIM leader Imtiyaz Jaleel also was among the eight who did not vote. Senior leaders like Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman came in a PPE, while former PM Manmohan Singh and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav came in wheelchairs to cast their votes. 

Droupadi Murmu, a tribal leader from Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district to trace her journey, is said to be the first girl in her village to go to college to now being possibly India’s first tribal president. Murmu is a former Governor of Jharkhand and a former Odisha minister. If elected, she will be the first tribal President of India and the country’s second female President.

The current President, Ram Nath Kovind, who was elected the 14th President in 2017, will remain President till July 24th 2022. As the country will get a new President on July 25th, here is a list of the previous Presidents, who occupied the Presidential Palace, Raisina Hill at the heart of India’s capital, New Delhi. 

Rajendra Prasad (1950 – 1962): Rajendra Prasad was the first President of Independent India and stayed in office for the longest term of around 12 years. Post the completion of his tenure, he quit the Congress and set up new guidelines for parliamentarians which are still followed. Prasad played a major role in forming the Bihari Students Conference in 1906 and served as the president of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution of India.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1962 – 1967): September 5, the birthday of Radhakrishnan, one of the most learned scholars and statesmen of the nation, is celebrated as ‘Teacher’s Day’ in India. He was one of the first to receive the Bharat Ratna, in 1954, and was also the first to lead the line of five Presidents to receive the Bharat Ratna till now. Shortly before his death in 1975, he was honoured with the Templeton Prize for his work.

Dr. Zakir Hussain (1967 – 1969): Dr. Hussain was the country’s first Muslim president, who occupied the office for the shortest period. His untimely death two years after being elected made VV Giri the first acting president of India.

Varahagiri Venkata Giri (1969-1974): Giri resigned two months after being appointed as the acting President of India, following the death of Dr. Zakir Hussaian as he wanted to become an elected President. He was later elected as the fourth President of India in 1969.

Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (1974 – 1977): Ahmed served as the President of India during the time of Emergency. He was the second Muslim to be elected as the President of India and also the second to die in state.

Neelam Sanjiva Reddy (1977 – 1982): Reddy was the sixth President of India and the first to be elected unopposed and the youngest to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Giani Zail Singh (1982 – 1987): The only Sikh President of India till now, Singh also served as the Chief Minister of Punjab.

Ramaswamy Venkataraman (1987 – 1992): As a President of India, Venkataraman had the distinction of working with four Prime Ministers. Before being elected as the President, Venkataraman served a stint as the Governor of the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Asian Development Bank.

Shankar Dayal Sharma (1992 – 1997): Shankar Dayal Sharma served as the eighth Vice-President of India and was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh state.

Kocheril Raman Narayanan (1997 – 2002): Popularly known as KR Narayanan, he was the first Dalit-origin President of India. Narayanan, who formerly served as a diplomat, served as India’s ambassador to China and the United States.

APJ Abdul Kalam (2002 – 2007): Known for his role in the development of India’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, APJ Abdul Kalam was the first scientist to become a President in 2002.

Pratibha Patil (2007 – 2012): Pratibha Patil was the first woman to become the President of India.

Pranab Mukherjee (2012 – 2017): Pranab Mukherjee served as the 13th President of India. Before entering into politics, Mukherjee worked as a lecturer and journalist. Mukherjee is the only President who served all the major portfolios as the Centre – Foreign, Defense, Commerce and Finance – at different times in his political career.

2 Billion Covid Vaccinations Given In India

India celebrated its dedication commitment to prevent Covid virus as it has now provided over two billion Billion Vaccines to its 1.4 billion people. Celebrations were across the nation, after India administered 2 billion doses of vaccinations against COVID-19. 

According to reports compiled by Reuters, Macau kicked off an 11th round of COVID-19 testing for residents on Monday, as the world’s biggest casino hub extended a lockdown of casinos and other businesses in the fight on its worst outbreak since the pandemic began.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

ASIA-PACIFIC

* The Indian government’s COVID-19 vaccinations hit 2 billion on Sunday, July 17yj with booster doses underway for all adults, as daily infections hit four-month high, official data showed.

* Japan’s daily COVID-19 infections hit a record of more than 110,000, Jiji news agency reported on Saturday. Faced with a seventh COVID wave, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has urged the public to exercise maximum vigilance.

* Shanghai will require residents across nine of the city’s districts and some smaller areas to undergo testing for COVID-19 over July 19-21 in an effort to stem any community spread of the virus, the city government said.

* North Korea is on the path to “finally defuse” a crisis stemming from its first acknowledged outbreak of COVID-19, the state news agency said, while Asian neighbours battle a fresh wave of infections driven by Omicron subvariants.

* China reported 598 new coronavirus cases for July 17, of which 167 were symptomatic and 431 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said.

EUROPE

* An estimated 3.5 million people in Britain had COVID-19 in the latest week of available data, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Friday, up nearly 30% on the 2.7 million recorded in the previous week.

* British athlete Morgan Lake was forced to pull out of the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday after the 25-year-old tested positive for COVID-19.

* The Czech Republic will begin offering a second COVID-19 boosters from July 18, recommending the shot for people over 60 and those in risk groups, the Health Ministry said.

AMERICAS

* Canada authorized Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine for babies as young as 6 months old, making it the country’s first vaccine against coronavirus for children under 5, Health Canada said.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS* Patients with long COVID may see some improvement after breathing pure oxygen in a high-air-pressure environment, according to data from a small Israeli trial.

* The European Medicines Agency identified severe allergic reactions as potential side-effects of Novavax Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, a day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorised the use of the shot.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* China’s economy is facing pressure due to COVID-19 and external shocks, and the central bank will “increase implementation of prudent monetary policy” to support the real economy, China’s central bank Governor Yi Gang said.

* New Zealand’s consumer prices rose at their fastest pace in three decades, beating forecasts and raising the prospect of an unprecedented 75-basis-point interest rate hike at the central bank’s policy meeting next month.

* Asian shares inched higher on Monday following a much-needed bounce on Wall Street, but nerves are stretched ahead of a near-certain interest rate hike in Europe and another round of corporate earnings reports.

(Compiled by Rashmi Aich; editing by Uttaresh.V of Reuters: https://apac1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=1592404098 for a case tracker and summary of news.)

India’s Urban Population Will Be 675 Million In 2035

The United Nations-Habitat’s World Cities Report 2022, released last week claimed that India’s urban population is estimated to stand at 675 million in 2035, the second highest behind China’s 1 billion population. It said that the rapid urbanization was only temporarily delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic but the global urban population is back on track to grow by another 2.2 billion people by 2050.

“Urbanization remains a powerful 21st century mega-trend,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN Under-Secretary-General and executive director of UN-Habitat.

According to the report, India’s urban population is projected to reach 67,54,56,000 in 2035 from 48,30,99,000 in 2020. At the same time, it is likely to be 54,27,43000 by 2025 and 60,73,42,000 by 2030. 

It states that by the year 2035, the percentage of people living in urban areas will be 43.2 percent of the total population.

The report says about China that by 2030 there will be an urban population of 1.05 billion. Whereas the population of people living in cities in Asia will be 2.99 billion. In South Asia this number will be 98.76 million. 

According to the United Nations report, large economies such as China and India account for a large share of the global population and economic growth in these countries has positively affected global inequality.

“The economic growth and urbanization of China and India have increased rapidly in Asia over the past two decades,” it said. This has significantly reduced the number of people living in poverty.

According to the report, the existing urban population will continue to grow as birth rates increase, especially in low-income countries. With this, the number of people living in cities is projected to reach 68 percent of the total global population by 2050, which is currently 56 percent.

It states that poverty and inequality are one of the most difficult and complex problems facing cities.

Highlights of the UN Report:

  • According to the World Cities Report 2022 by UN-Habitat, the pandemic only momentarily slowed down urbanization’s rapid pace.
  • According to the report, India’s urban population is expected to reach 675,456,000 in 2035, up from 483,099,000 in 2020, 542,743,000 in 2025, and 607,342,000 in 2030. 43.2 percent of India’s population will be living in urban areas by the middle of the year in 2035.
  • The report underlined the need to address urban inequality and climate change, citing “heatwaves in Delhi” and Mumbai’s “overcrowded slums.”

US Officials, NRIs Ask Govt. Of India To Stop Discrimination

The demolition of the homes of Muslims in India was part of a continuing pattern of discrimination against Muslims and the US must ask the Indian government to end such action, United States Senator Ed Markey has said.

“In recent years we have seen a continuing pattern of discrimination against religious minorities [in India] and narrowing of the space for the practice of different religious beliefs,” Senator Markey said at the International Religious Freedom summit organized at Washington, DC, that concluded on Thursday.

“This includes the demolition of in predominantly Muslim cities, vandalism of mosques and churches, and the implementation of laws that specifically discriminate against religious minorities.”

Senator Markey said the United States “must encourage the Indian government to fulfill its commitment to its own citizens the right of all individuals to practice and propagate religious [beliefs] enshrined in India’s constitution.” Senator Markey said it was “incumbent on the Indian government to uphold the principles of pluralism and secularism which are embedded in the Indian constitution.”

Senator Markey made his remarks at a panel discussion “Religious Freedom in India: Challenges for the US” organized by the India Working Group of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. This over-a-decade-old Roundtable is the world’s largest civil society collective for religious freedom.

The demolition of the homes of Muslims in India was part of a continuing pattern of discrimination against Muslims and the US must ask the Indian government to end such action, United States Senator Ed Markey has said. “In recent years we have seen a continuing pattern of discrimination against religious minorities [in India] and narrowing of the space for the practice of different religious beliefs,” Senator Markey said at the International Religious Freedom summit organized at Washington, DC, that concluded last week.

Also speaking at this discussion, Nadine Maenza, the former Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), pressed the Biden administration to immediately condemn the crimes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against Indian religious minorities.

Maenza, who recently finished her two year term as the chair of USCRIF stated that it was “disappointing” to see that the situation in India “has sharply worsened” since the release of USCIRF’s annual report documenting religious freedoms violations in 2021. This report included a recommendation to the Biden administration to designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for ongoing and egregious crimes against religious minorities for the third year in row.

“We made clear that these recommendations are urgent due to the undemocratic manner in which Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and affiliated Hindu extremist groups have advocated, instituted, and enforced sectarian policies seeking to establish India as an overtly Hindu state, at grave danger to India’s religious minorities,” Maenza said. 

She said that it is long past time for the Biden administration to heed the recommendations made by USCIRF for three consecutive years. “If urgent action is not taken,” Maenza warned, “we could very well be staring down the barrel of yet another genocide”.

Islam Siddiqui, former Chief Agricultural Negotiator with the rank of ambassador at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representatives under the Obama administration questioned Biden administration’s reluctance to designate India as CPC. “Secretary Blinken should stop talking about [India as a] secular democracy… That was in the past. The Modi government’s actions clearly indicate that they do not uphold those values,” Amb. Siddiqui said.

Dr. Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch while calling Hindutva a Nazi project described Modi and other fascist world leaders as “racists dedicated to the triumph of their own race or religion [and] nationalists who would deny basic human rights to anyone not of their race or religion.” 

“We’re seeing from… our history of working on genocide, how media is being used in India like it was used in Bosnia, how Facebook is being used in India like it was used during the Rohingya genocide, how there are detention camps much like the Uyghur detention camps in China,” said Hena Zubairi, Director of Justice For All, an advocacy group that works to combat global Islamophobia and anti-Muslim violence.

“When Freedom House says that India is ‘Partly Free’… they are being polite and very subtle. India is not a democracy. India is formally known as a socialist, secular democratic republic. It is neither socialist now, nor secular; not democracy… Today India is ruled by the killers of Gandhi, and they come here wearing Gandhi’s mask,” said Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director of IAMC.

John Prabhudoss, Chairman of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA), a Washington DC-based advocacy organization, called on the US churches to defend the rights of minorities in India. “What the church in America needs to understand is that the Muslims, the Christians, [and] the Sikhs are all in the same boat as far as India is concerned. One of them sinks, everybody sinks,” Prabhudoss said.

Speaking on behalf of Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), an organization that advocates for civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, Policy Director Ria Chakrabarty said, “We not only denounce Hindutva; we also believe that it is not encompassed by the Hinduism that we believe in. One of the things we hope for other Hindu Americans to do is join us to stand against majoritarian violence and support the fight for justice in India.”

The India Working Group of the IRF Roundtable comprises US-based religious freedom organizations including Indian American Muslim Council, Hindus for Human Rights, New York State Council of Churches, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, Jubilee Campaign, Justice for All, American Muslim Institution, Association of Indian Muslims, International Christian Concern, Center for Pluralism, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Sunshine Ministries.

AAPI’s Historic 40th Convention Begins In San Antonio, TX , Celebrating The Achievements of Indian American Physicians & Celebrating Unique Culture of India

(San Antonio, Tx. June 24, 2022) The historic 40th annual convention organized by the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) began at the world famous Riverwalk Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio in Texas on Thursday, June 23rd, 2022, celebrating the achievements of Indian American Physicians and focusing on the theme, “Physician Heal Thyself” with several unique and first of a kind opportunities to help AAPI members self-care, especially in the context of Covid related physicians burn out.

There was a sense of joy and relief on the faces of the over 1,000 physicians who have come together to celebrate their achievements, contributions, and to network and deepen their relationship even as the Covid Pandemic is waning and people are able to mingle freely and interact with one another cautiously.

In her opening remarks at the beginning of the Gala organized by TIPS on the inaugural nite of the four days long convention, Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, the President of AAPI said, “Our leadership team has worked diligently on so many wonderful projects and activities including educational, philanthropic, legislative, networking, and many more activities benefitting our members and communities. This has been possible because of the incredible work and support from the dedicated team of leaders, members, and our supporting office staff,” the only 4th woman President of AAPI in the four decades long history of AAPI, said.

Dr. Jack Resneck, President of American Medical Association praised the contributions and achievements of Indian American physicians, who serve and provide best healthcare to every 7th patient in the United States. “It’s time our nation renews our commitment to you for the incredible services you provide to our nation,” he said.

“Our physician members have worked very hard during the covid 19 pandemic. The 2022 convention is a perfect time to heal the healers with a special focus on wellness,” said Dr.  Jayesh Shah, Chair of AAPI Convention 2022. Dr. Shah praised the dedication and generosity of each member for giving their best, to make this Convention truly a memorable one for every participant.

Put together by a highly talented and dedicated team of Convention Committee members, the 4 days long event will be filled with programs and activities that cater to the body, mind and soul. The Convention is going to be a unique experience for everyone, he added.

Convention Committee members include Mr. Venky Adivi, Chief Executive Officer of the Convention; Dr. Aruna Venkatesh, Convention Treasurer; Dr. Vijay Koli, Past President of AAPI & Convention Advisor; Dr. Rajam Ramamurthy, Convention Advisor; Chief Operating Officers, R. Reddy Yeluru and Ram Joolukuntla; Dr. Rajeev Suri, President of TIPSSW & Co-Chair of the Convention, and the other Co-Chairs of the Convention, including Dr. Shankar Sanka, Dr. Hetal Nayak, and Kiran Cheruku. Each of them was honored on stage with a plaque appreciating their dedication and for putting together a fabulous convention.

Honoring India and its  75 years of Independence Day celebrations- co-sponsored by the Embassy of India & the Consulate General of India (CGI) – Houston, AAPI delegates had a rare glimpse to the rich cultural heritage of India through a video presentation depicting the unique diversity of India and a variety mesmerizing performance of Indian/Mexican Fusion Dances, ranging from Bharatnatyam, folk dances, and the traditional Indian dances in sync with Mexican pop dances, which were a treat to the hearts and souls  of everyone. National Spieling Bee Champion 2022 Harini Logan was recognized during the convention Gala.

The much anticipated wellness package in collaboration with all the 10 City Council Districts of San Antonio, TX and Mayor Ron Nirenberg and iDoYoga San Antonio is organizing its flagship Free Yoga Classes and Education on the benefits and ways to make yoga a part of one’s daily life during the course of the entire convention.

Led by internationally famed yoga gurus, including  Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, PhD, Spiritual leader, teacher and author; Paramaguru Sharath Jois, Lineage holder of Ashtanga Yoga; and, Eddie Stern, Yoga teacher, speaker and author, the highly anticipated and popular Yoga on the famous Riverwalk is part of the global celebration of the 8th International Day of Yoga (IDY).

The convention is focused on themes such as how to take care of self and find satisfaction and happiness in the challenging situations they are in, while serving hundreds of patients everyday of their dedicated and noble profession.

Accordingly, the wellness sessions at the convention include: Yoga and Meditation practices, welcome kit with books & self-care supplies, personal Reflexology Sessions, take home wellness routine, ailment based yoga therapy sessions, workshop on Spiritual well-being, book talk with Yoga Gurus, including on the science of Yoga & Lifestyle medicine, and a unique opportunity to visit first of its kind in San Antonio, Aum Ashram.

Dr. Ravi Kolli, President-Elect of AAPI said, “This is the first time in the AAPI convention we offer these exclusive wellness packages geared towards the well-being of Physicians and their families by bringing the essence of science and spirituality of yoga and lifestyle medicine into our self-care routine. As we all are aware, a calm mind and a refined intellect are essential for making right choices. We promise to leave you empowered with the tools required.”

Each day of the convention has a specific theme. On Thursday, the theme chosen is “Unity in Diversity” and the delegates showcased one’s own state dress code. Heritage India is the theme for Friday honoring and celebrating India’s rich culture and diversity. On Saturday, the focus is on the much loved Bollywood with special performance by popular Bollywood singer Shaan, The cuisine served each will day match the theme chosen for each day.

Some of the major events at the convention include: Workshops and hands-on sessions on well-being, 10-12 hours of CMEs, Women’s Forum, CEOs Forum, AAPI Got Talent, Mehfil, Bollywood Nite, Fashion Show, Medical Jeopardy, Poster/Research Contest, Alumni and Young Physicians events and Exhibition and Sale of Jewelry, Clothing, Medical Equipment, Pharma, Finance and many more.

Physicians and healthcare professionals from across the country and internationally have convened and participate in the scholarly exchange of medical advances, to develop health policy agendas, and to encourage legislative priorities in the coming year.

AAPI delegates have the opportunity to attend a multidisciplinary CME conference that allows specialists and primary care physicians to interact in an academic forum. World-renowned speakers will discuss gaps between current and best practice of wide-ranging topics at the CME sessions.

“Welcome to my home city, San Antonio and thank you for coming here to the annual convention offering extensive academic presentations, recognition of achievements and achievers, and professional networking at the alumni and evening social events,” Dr. Gotimukula added. For more details, please visit:  www.aapiconvention.org  and www.aapiusa.org

India To Have A New President Next Month

The successor of President Ram Nath Kovind will be decided next month as India’s 16th presidential election is scheduled to be held on July 18, and if needed the votes will be counted on July 21, according to a statement issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI). The new President will take oath on July 25, the ECI said.

India’s federal and state lawmakers will vote for a new president on July 18 to succeed Ram Nath Kovind, whose five-year term comes to an end next month. The counting of votes will take place on July 21, Rajiv Kumar, chief election commissioner of India, said at a press conference in Delhi last week.

While this is largely a ceremonial post, the president holds India’s highest constitutional office and is the supreme commander of the armed forces. The president plays a major role in deciding who forms government if there’s a hung parliament.

The Indian presidency differs from most presidencies across the world. The president does not exercise executive powers – he is the head of the state, and is required by the constitution to act on the advice of ministers.

So the role is more akin to that of the British monarch or monarchs in countries like the Netherlands or Spain: a referee over a parliamentary system where ministers possess the real power. Countries like Germany and Israel have presidencies similar to India’s.

How Does India Elect Its President?

The President of India, who is the titular head of state is elected by  an electoral college, comprising the elected members of Parliament and legislative assemblies of states and Union Territories (Delhi and Puducherry as Jammu and Kashmir is under President’s Rule).

Altogether, 776 MPs and 4,033 legislators will vote in the presidential election. Each vote of an MP or an MLA is assigned a value for electoral arithmetic.

Value of an MP’s vote depends on the number of MLAs in all assemblies. In 2017, an MP’s vote had a value of 708 – fixed since the 1997 presidential election. With J&K Assembly not there, the value is likely to go down to 700 this election, reports said.

The value of an MLA’s vote depends on its population as per 1971 Census and the number of MLAs in the current assembly. So, the value of a Uttar Pradesh MLA is 248 and of Sikkim 7.

The total vote value of legislators is 5,43,231 and that of MPs 5,43,200. So there will be 4,809 electors with a vote value of 10,86,431.

Who could be the next President?

There is no clarity yet. Incumbent Ram Nath Kovind’s term ends on July 24. Only Rajendra Prasad, the first President, has been elected to the office twice.

With a consensus candidate unlikely, the presidential election is expected to be a close contest. As of now, the ruling BJP-led NDA is close to the half-way mark with about 49% votes.

Mamata’s invitation Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief, has called a meeting of top non-BJP leaders to formulate a common strategy for the July-18 presidential election. She has invited eight chief ministers, and wrote to 22 non-BJP leaders.

She has invited her counterparts Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi), Bhagwant Mann (AAP), Pinarayi Vijayan (Kerala), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha), K Chandrashekar Rao (Telangana), MK Stalin (Tamil Nadu), Uddhav Thackeray and Hemant Soren (Jharkhand). She has also invited Sonia Gandhi, who is undergoing treatment at a Delhi hospital for Covid-19.

Sonia in picture The Congress president, too, has reached out to a number of Opposition leaders to put up a fight against the BJP in the presidential election. One of the leaders she reached out to was Mamata Banerjee, who has her own plans ready.

While Banerjee called the election “monumental”, Sonia Gandhi’s party described it as an opportunity to “elect a President, who can apply a healing touch to its fractured social fabric and defend our Constitution”.

Exit before meet Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, a key Opposition leader currently smarting under a setback in the Rajya Sabha election, will not join the deliberations that her West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee has announced to be held this week in New Delhi over the presidential election.

Uddhav Thackeray will be in Ayodhya – where a Ram temple is being constructed for which the BJP takes the credit to boost its Hindutva credentials – that day, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said on Sunday. The Shiv Sena has been BJP’s old ally and a rival Hindutva-based party.

In 2017, the ruling coalition had the support of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) of K Chandrashekhar Rao, the YSR Congress of Jagan Reddy and the BJD of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. In a critical difference this time round, Telangana Chief Minister Chandrashekhar Rao, or KCR, is leading efforts to gather opposition forces to take on the BJP jointly.

The ruling coalition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the main opposition Congress party have not yet put forward their nominees.

Meanwhile reports suggest, The opposition’s search for a Presidential candidate has picked up pace with a series of meetings and phone calls in the run-up to the election next month. With these discussions pivoting around former Union Minister Sharad Pawar, there is speculation that he could be the opposition’s pick for India’s top post.

Sharad Pawar’s Maharashtra allies Congress and Shiv Sena are reportedly on board with the idea. Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge met with Sharad Pawar last Thursday, with a message from party chief Sonia Gandhi. The two met at Pawar’s Mumbai home “Silver Oaks”, say sources. Pawar, one of India’s senior most and – many say, craftiest – politicians, has been credited with making and breaking many alliances and coalition governments over the past few decades. He was the creator of Maharashtra’s ruling coalition, bringing together ideologically opposed parties Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress together to thwart the BJP’s bid for power.

The BJP has authorized its party chief JP Nadda and Union Minister Rajnath Singh to hold discussions with parties across the spectrum and steer them towards a consensus. In 2017, the BJP had nominated Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu for a similar outreach. Later, Venkaiah Naidu was named the NDA’s Vice Presidential candidate.

Many fear that governments with overwhelming majorities – like the present BJP – could easily lead to weakening of presidents. That may not be entirely true. Ruling parties have enjoyed hefty majorities for most of the period since 1947. “This alone has not led – under Congress or the BJP – to a weakening of the presidency. When a party or an alliance has a Lok Sabha majority, the president is supposed to have very limited powers,” says Prof Manor.

While the search is on for a candidate by both the Ruling BJP and the Opposition, if there is no consensus, the BJP and the Opposition will choose their own candidates and will prepare for an election.

India’s Dark Turn From Model Of Religious Pluralism To Cautionary Tale

Born in India, I’ve spent most of my life in the United States, including 20 years in academia writing about religion in America. For years, I imagined a “someday” project to write a book comparing and contrasting my two home countries’ religious landscapes. Two of the world’s largest democracies, they are both officially secular while also being dominated by one faith group that wields almost all the legal and social power: Christians in the United States, Hindus in India.

India, I once thought, could offer Americans another model of religious pluralism. While far from having a perfect record on religious liberty, in its 75 years the Hindu-majority country has had a Sikh prime minister and multiple Muslim presidents, with popular movie and sports stars of all religious backgrounds. The U.S., in nearly 250 years, has had only Christian heads of state, all but two of them Protestant. You can almost count our minority-faith movie stars on one hand.

My dream of that study has faded in recent years, because India looks today less like a model than a cautionary tale. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist elected in 2014 and now in his second term, has made India an increasingly difficult place to be a religious minority.

At the institutional level, the Citizen Amendment Act challenges Muslims’ Indian citizenship; the government has also shown a clear pattern of staying silent when communal violence occurs. At the societal level, Hindu mobs have harassed religious minorities on holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Maundy Thursday. At the individual level, there are attempts to control what people eat by enforcing Hinduism’s dietary standards on all Indians.

When one of my cousins in Mumbai attended a Catholic school in the 1970s and 1980s, his circle of friends included people of numerous religions — Hindus, Muslims and Parsis, among others. They would go to each other’s homes and to each other’s houses of worship — even to pray, if there was an exam coming up!

When this same group of friends gathers today, they talk about the fact that their children, who attend schools with just as much religious diversity, don’t hang out with kids of other religions. Today’s Hindu kids would not dream of going to a mosque; the Muslim kids never think of praying at a Hindu temple. “We all agree, it’s really sad,” my cousin tells me.

In Modi’s India, as in the U.S. political right, the culture is bound up in nationalism, and specifically in the manufacture of a national identity tied to religion. Instead of the model I envisioned years ago, India has become an object lesson in what could have happened if Donald Trump had been re-elected — and could still happen, if he or another leader from America’s theocratic right wing is elected in 2024.

Members of JK Awami Aawaz Party hold placards as they take part in a protest against minority killings, in Srinagar, Indian -ontrolled Kashmir, Thursday, June 2, 2022. Assailants fatally shot a Hindu bank manager in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Thursday, said police, who blamed militants fighting against Indian rule for the attack. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

For somebody who writes about white Christian privilege, who has examined the historical and legal landscape of the U.S., the parallels are easy to see. India is Hindu like the United States is Christian: officially not so in its founding documents but with a history of state-sanctioned violence against religious minorities and the majority faith’s privilege embedded deeply in the laws, mores and culture.

I’m not arguing that Hindus in India never experience discrimination or that no one in the U.S. has ever been targeted for being Christian. But power lies with the majority and in the legal and social infrastructure it has built.

Indian American Hindus know what it feels like to be discriminated against. We’ve seen our mandirs vandalized. We’ve heard our faith ridiculed and trivialized. And we have suffered the indignities and marginalization that shape our everyday lives as non-white and non-Christian Americans. If you’ve been treated like you have divided loyalties because of your religion, you know what Indian Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are experiencing.

Given that experience, it’s incumbent on Indian Americans to take a clear-eyed look at what’s going on in India. We need to remove the blinders of nostalgia — stop seeing only the India we left in the 1970s, ’80s or ’90s. We need to act on the lessons of our experience in America and see ourselves in India’s religious minorities.

Many Indian American Hindus have strong transnational ties. We have family there, are involved in diasporic politics, have investments in India or stay connected through philanthropy and remittances. We all have a responsibility to exert our power in support of religious minorities in India.

If you’re against states like Georgia purging minority voters from the rolls, you have to be just as active when Assam purges 2 million Muslims from its national registry. If you won’t shop at Abercrombie & Fitch or Hobby Lobby because of their histories of religious discrimination, you’d better speak up when Indian schools force girls to choose between wearing hijab and going to class.

In short, if you’re someone in the Hindu diaspora who has economic or social power and you don’t speak up against state-sanctioned violence and discrimination in India, you might as well be participating in it. If you’re against discrimination here, then you’ve got to be against discrimination there.

These days, many of us worry about the loss of American democracy, and especially about the ways that white Christian nationalists feel emboldened to talk about going back to segregation, targeting immigrants and restoring an America where LGBTQ people were marginalized and women “knew their place.”

We need to worry as much about Hindu nationalism in Modi’s India. And we need to be just as involved in steering clear of that dark future — before it’s too late for both our democracies.

Boycott In Arab World Forces India To Sack BJP Leaders For Blasphemous Comments

In response to facing major diplomatic outrage and calls for boycott from Muslim-majority countries after top officials in the governing Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made derogatory references to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, Narendra Modi-led Hindu nationalistic government has sacked the  Party’s National Spokesperson Nupur Sharma on Sunday, June 5th.

The anger and outrage has been growing in the past week after the two BJP spokespeople, Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal made speculative remarks that were seen as insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. The remarks made by Sharma during a TV program in India and Jindal in a tweet risk damaging India’s ties with Arab nations.

Their remarks have been drawing accusations of blasphemy across some Arab nations that have left New Delhi struggling to contain the damaging fallout. At least five Arab nations have lodged official protests against India.

Modi’s party took no action against the two BJP leaders until Sunday, when a sudden chorus of diplomatic outrage began with Qatar and Kuwait summoning their Indian ambassadors to protest. The BJP suspended Sharma and expelled Jindal and issued a rare statement saying it “strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities,” a move that was welcomed by Qatar and Kuwait.

While Pakistan and Afghanistan, India’s neighbors reacted strongly Monday to the comments made by two prominent spokespeople from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, anger has poured out on social media, and calls for a boycott of Indian goods have surfaced in some Arab nations. At home, it has led to protests against Modi’s party in some parts of the country.

The controversial remarks follow increasing violence targeting India’s Muslim minority carried out by Hindu nationalists who have been emboldened by Modi’s silence about such attacks since he was first elected in 2014. Over the years, Indian Muslims have often been targeted for everything from their food and clothing style to inter-religious marriages. Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have warned that attacks could escalate.

They have also accused Modi’s governing party of looking the other way and sometimes enabling hate speech against Muslims, who comprise 14% of India’s 1.4 billion people but are still numerous enough to be the second-largest Muslim population of any nation.  Modi’s party denies the accusations, but India’s Muslims say attacks against them and their faith have increased sharply.

Anti-Muslim sentiments and attacks have risen across India under Modi. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said India was seeing “rising attacks on people and places of worship,” eliciting a response from New Delhi, which called the comments “ill-informed.”

Later, Saudi Arabia and Iran also lodged complaints with India, and the Jeddha-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation said the remarks came in a “context of intensifying hatred and abuse toward Islam in India and systematic practices against Muslims.”

India’s Foreign Ministry on Monday rejected the comments by the OIC as “unwarranted” and “narrow-minded.” On Sunday, India’s embassies in Qatar and Kuwait released a statement saying the views expressed about the Prophet Muhammad and Islam were not those of the Indian government and were made by “fringe elements.” The statement said that strong action had already been taken against those who made the derogatory remarks.

The criticism from Muslim countries, however, was severe, indicating that insulting Prophet Muhammad was a red line. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said it expected a public apology from the Indian government, and Kuwait warned that if the comments go unpunished, India would see “an increase of extremism and hatred.” The Grand Mufti of Oman described the “obscene rudeness” of Modi’s party toward Islam as a form of “war.” Riyadh said the comments were insulting and called for “respect for beliefs and religions.” And Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni world’s foremost institution of religious learning, described the remarks as “real terrorism (that) can plunge the entire world into severe crises and deadly wars.”

India maintains strong relations with Gulf countries, which rely on millions of migrant workers from India and elsewhere in South Asia to serve their tiny local populations and drive the machinery of daily life. India also depends on oil-rich Gulf Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to power its energy-thirsty economy. “India accords the highest respect to all religions,” ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.

Modi’s party also faced anger from some of its own supporters, but it was for a different reason. Many Hindu nationalists posted comments on social media saying the government was buckling under international pressure.

More recently, religious tensions have escalated after some Hindu groups went to a local court in northern Varanasi city to seek permission to pray at a 17th century mosque, claiming that it was built by demolishing a temple. Critics say these tensions have been further exacerbated by Indian television anchors during raucous debates.

‘Vote Bank Politics In International Relations’: India Hits Out At US Report On Attacks On Minorities

India’s Ministry of External Affairs has reacted sharply to the US State Department’s report alleging attacks on minorities in India, calling it “ill-informed comments” by senior US officials.

The MEA, in its statement, said: “It is unfortunate that vote bank politics is practiced in international relations.”

“We have noted the release of the US State Department 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom, and ill-informed comments by senior US officials. It is unfortunate that vote bank politics is being practiced in international relations. We would urge that assessments based on motivated inputs and biased views be avoided,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

“As a naturally pluralistic society, India values religious freedom and human rights. In our discussions with the US, we have regularly highlighted issues of concern there, including racially and ethnically motivated attacks, hate crimes and gun violence,” the official asserted via the statement.

The US State Department 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom, released by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, alleges that in India, attacks on minority communities, including killings, assaults and intimidation, continued throughout the year.

India previously rejected the US religious freedom report, saying it sees no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of its citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.

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

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

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

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

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

GO WEST

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

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

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

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

New Delhi has arguably supported Moscow.

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

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

CARROTS WITHOUT STICKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington should not pressure India to criticize Russia.

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

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

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

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

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

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

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

Dispute Over Mosque Becomes Religious Flashpoint In India

For nearly three centuries, Muslims and Hindus in India’s northern Varanasi city have prayed to their gods in a mosque and a temple that are separated by one wall. Many see it as an example of religious coexistence in a country where bouts of deadly communal violence are common.

That coexistence is now under threat due to a controversial court case. A local court earlier this month began hearing a petition filed by a group of Hindus that seeks access to pray inside the Gyanvapi mosque compound, arguing it was built on top of the ruins of a medieval-era temple that was razed by a Mughal emperor. The petitioners say the complex still houses Hindu idols and motifs, a claim that has been contested by the mosque’s authorities.

The legal battle is the latest instance of a growing phenomenon in which Hindu groups petition courts demanding land they claim belongs to Hindus. Critics say such cases spark fears over the status of religious places for India’s Muslims, a minority community that has come under attack in recent years by Hindu nationalists who seek to turn officially secular India into an avowedly Hindu nation.

“The idea to bombard the courts with so many petitions is to keep the Muslims in check and the communal pot simmering,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst and commentator. “It is a way to tell Muslims that their public display of faith in India is no more accepted and that the alleged humiliation heaped on them by Muslim rulers of the medieval past should be redressed now.”

The court case involving the 17th century Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, one of Hinduism’s holiest cities, in many ways embodies India’s contemporary religious strife. The widely accepted consensus among historians is that it was built on top of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva after it was demolished by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb.

The two communities have in the past stuck to their claims but also made sure the dispute didn’t worsen. That changed last week when a local court in Varanasi ordered the mosque to be surveyed after five Hindu women filed a petition seeking permission to offer prayers there.

A video survey found a stone shaft alleged to be a symbol of Shiva inside a reservoir in the mosque used by Muslim devotees for ablution before offering prayers, according to Hari Shankar Jain, a lawyer representing the Hindu women. “The land on which the mosque is built belongs to Hindus and should be returned to us,” Jain said.

Mosque representatives have refuted the claims. Rais Ahmad Ansari, a lawyer for the mosque’s committee, said the alleged stone shaft found in the reservoir was the base of a fountain. The discovery of the alleged Hindu symbol led the local court in Varanasi to seal the premises, banning large Muslim gatherings inside. India’s Supreme Court later overturned that judgment and allowed Muslims to pray in the mosque. But it also ordered local authorities to seal off and protect the area where the stone shaft was found, dispossessing Muslims of a portion of the mosque they had used until this month.

The dispute over the mosque and survey has now been taken up by a higher court in Varanasi, with hearings set to continue Thursday. Lawyers representing the Muslim side have questioned the legal basis for the survey, arguing that it was against the law and a precedent most recently upheld by the Supreme Court in 2019.

India’s Hindu nationalists have long claimed that thousands of medieval-era mosques are built on the sites of prominent temples that were demolished by Mughal rulers. Many historians have said the numbers are exaggerated, arguing that a few dozen temples were indeed razed but largely for political reasons and not religious.

In the late 1980s, Hindu nationalist groups started campaigns to reclaim these mosques. One such campaign culminated in 1992 with the destruction of the 16th century Babri mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya by Hindu mobs.

Hindus believe the site of the mosque was the exact birthplace of their god Ram. Its demolition sparked massive communal violence across India that left more than 2,000 people dead — mostly Muslims — and catapulted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party to national prominence.

A grand Hindu temple is now being constructed on the site after India’s Supreme Court handed over the disputed land to Hindus in a controversial 2019 judgement. However, the court assured Muslims that the order would not be used as a precedent or pave the way for more such contentious cases.

The court in its judgment cited the 1991 Places of Worship Act, which forbids the conversion of a place of worship and stipulates that its religious character should be maintained as “it existed” on August 15, 1947, the day India won its independence from British colonialists.
Lawyers representing the Muslim side say the Gyanvapi mosque court case goes against that very judicial commitment.

“The act was seen as sacrosanct, that it was there to not reopen old controversies. But allowing a survey is doing exactly that — you are scraping at old wounds. This is what it was meant to prohibit,” said Nizam Pasha, a lawyer representing the mosque’s committee.

The Gyanvapi mosque case also fits into a narrative of Modi’s party, which has long campaigned to reclaim what it calls India’s lost Hindu past. Many party leaders have openly suggested they would take such legal battles head on.

Critics say the party does so by providing support to Hindu nationalist groups that often contest such cases in court. Modi’s party has denied this, saying it cannot stop people from going to the courts.

Pasha, the lawyer, said the filing of such court cases was a “very carefully thought out pattern” meant to bolster Hindu nationalists.

He said the cases are brought by ordinary Hindu citizens as plaintiffs who say they are devotees of a deity asking for the right to pray at disputed sites. Once the matter goes to court, the Hindu plaintiffs then push for searches of the sites and present evidence that is used to build a media narrative and galvanize the public, he said.

“It is very difficult to convince a public then, already influenced by the media, that this is not true, that this is a fountain,” Pasha said of the Gyanvapi mosque case. Meanwhile, Hindu nationalists have begun eyeing more such mosques.

Last week, a local court accepted a petition to hear a case on the site of another mosque in Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura city, located next to a temple, that some Hindus claim is built on the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna. Similarly, another court in New Delhi heard arguments this week on restoring a temple that Hindu petitioners say existed under a mosque built at the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Qutub Minar. The court said it will deliver a verdict next month.

Many other cases are expected to take years to resolve, but critics say they will help Modi’s party as it prepares for elections in 2024. “These cases help Hindu nationalists with a groundswell of support for their divisive politics. And that’s what they need,” said Mukhopadhyay, the political analyst.

Volcanic Islands Of Hate Have Brought India To A Boil, Warns Catholic Union

The All India Catholic Union is deeply disturbed at the targeted hate against religious minorities which has in recent months erupted like so many volcanoes in the sea of religious harmony in India. If not checked now, it may do untold damage to national peace and damage.

Mr. Lancy D Cunha, the National President of the 103-year-old Catholic group, has called upon the Prime Minister of India and the chief ministers of the states to take urgent steps to end targeted hate and provocative steps taken by state and non-state actors seemingly acting in concert.

It has gone far beyond the polarisation through the so-called Freedom of Religion laws which have been criminalized inter religious marriages on the pretext of curbing conversions by force or by fraud. These anti-conversion Acts, the most recent of which have been in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Haryana, empowered hoodlums, vigilantes and political leaders in villages, small towns, and districts to terrorize minority communities, their clergy, and their institutions.

The Catholic Union has, with other Christian groups, already challenged in the Supreme Court the terrible laws that deny Dalit Christians the protection of Constitutional provisions as given to their counterparts professing Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist religions as well as those not practicing any religion at all.

The AICU will now once again with other religious groups and civil society movements challenge the anti-conversion laws which go against the letter and spirit of the Constitution and trigger targeted violence.

The Catholic Union in its span of over a century seen the nation face challenges such as Partition, the 1984 anti-Sikh Violence, the bloodshed in the name of caste, and the fuse of death and destruction lit by the Rath Yatra and Babri mosque demolition. The nation has always come back to the path of peace and has assured its minorities, Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised communities that their future is safe under the Constitution and culture of India.

The history of any nation is beset with great violence. Most nations, and specially ancient civilizations such as India, have emerged from those fires to become leaders of peace and development.

Nothing good can come of digging into history to relive its horrors, or to scour its wounds till they again bleed. We must learn from mistakes other nations have made, which have ruined their economies and social fabric, and brought them to the brink more than once.

The political and religious leaders must act in concert to strengthen peace and amity. They cannot look away from their responsibility. The Catholic Union is committed to work towards peace, harmony between religious and social groups, and the integrity and progress of our country.

Released to the Media by Mr. Lancy D’Cunha, National President, All India catholic Union and Official Spokesman Dr John Dayal

Please feel free to contact Dr John Dayal at [email protected]  +91-9811021072

Indian Americans Condemn Connecticut Statement On ‘Sikh Independence’

Several groups of Indian Americans have come together to condemn a statement by the Connecticut State General Assembly purporting to show support for what it called the “Declaration of Sikh Independence.”

The Indian Consulate General in New York has described it an attempt to use the name of the Assembly to “promote bigotry and hatred. We condemn the so-called citation of the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut in the USA regarding an illegal act.” It said that the Consulate and the Embassy in Washington “will take up this issue appropriately with the concerned US lawmakers”.

The Consulate said that the adoption of the General Assembly’s statement “is an attempt by some mischievous elements to use the name of the Assembly for their nefarious purposes. These vested interests seek to divide communities and promote bigotry and hatred”.

“Their agenda of violence has no place in democratic societies like the USA and India.”

Thomas Abraham, the Chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin said that the group’s Connecticut chapter will meet the legislators behind the statement and explain the situation. He deplored the statement calling it “terrible”. Abraham, who is based in Connecticut, said that a “fringe group got it adopted at the tail-end of the Assembly session without the knowledge of most elected officials”.

Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) – Connecticut Chapter has deplored the citation by a few members of Connecticut General Assembly congratulating declaration of Sikh Independence.  “This initiative is from a few fringe elements who have no interest in the State of Connecticut, but promoting their own personal divisive agenda,” said Dr. Thomas Abraham, Chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin and Trustee of GOPIO-CT.

“Indian American community in Connecticut consists of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsees. All these communities live together as one Indian community and Connecticut state has no business to comment on issues pertaining to local issues in India or supporting fringe elements to promote their divisive agenda,” Dr. Abraham added. “There are 20 million Sikhs living peacefully with all other communities all over India and this citation goes against the integrity of India,” said Ashok Nichani, President of GOPIO-CT

The statement by the CT Assembly attributed to the Democratic Party-controlled State General Assembly comprising both the House of Representatives and the Senate was read out at a ceremony in front of the Norwich City Hall on April 29, according to a video by TV84, a New York Punjabi online media.

“Connecticut General Assembly offers its sincerest congratulations to the World Sikh Parliament in recognition of the 36th anniversary of the declaration of Sikh Independence”, said the statement purportedly signed by Senate President Pro-tem Mark Looney, Speaker Matthew Ridder and Secretary of State Denise Merril, according to the video.

“We join with you and your friends and family in commemorating the historic resolution passed on April 29th 1986 by the collective Sikh nation,” it added. The World Sikh Parliament is a Khalistani organization.

The Day newspaper in New London said that Democrat Swaranjit Singh, who is a Norwich Alderman (the equivalent of council member), participated in the observances in Norwich. The newspaper said that World Sikh Parliament leaders hoisted what it called a “Punjab flag” in front of the City Hall.

As of May 1, the General Assembly statement could not be found in its online records or on the websites of legislators who could have sponsored it. Nor were there any US media reports about the statement.

Sikh issues have come up in the past in Connecticut. Its legislature passed a resolution in 2018 declaring November 1 as “Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day” for those killed in the 1984 Indian government action against Sikh separatists in the Golden Temple.

The public library in Norwich put up a “1984 Sikh Genocide Memorial” that featured a large portrait of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the Khalistan separatist leader in 2019.

But the display donated by Swaranjit Singh was removed within weeks after the Indian consulate protested. Last month, a Sikh issue also made it to the US House of Representatives in Washington.

On April 18, Massachusetts Democrat member of the House Richard Neal made a statement wishing the World Sikh Parliament for Baisakhi and declared: “Despite their beliefs of good-will, Sikhs have been subjected to violence and have fought relentlessly to defend their faith, most notably in 1984 with Sikh genocide during the anti-Sikh riots in India”.

The statement is in the Congressional Record and it is not clear if he actually made it on the House floor or if it was added to the record as many such statements are because of the tight schedule of Congress.

India’s Covid-19 Death Tally Estimated To Over 4.74 Million; WHO

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report on excess COVID-19 mortality has estimated 4.74 million deaths for India in 2020 and 2021, nearly 10 times higher than the country’s official coronavirus toll of 4.84 lakh during the two years.

India, according to the report, had the highest excess COVID-19 deaths, followed by Russia and Indonesia. Globally, the world health body has estimated that almost three times more people have died of COVID-19 than the official data.

As per the UN body, there were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by end-2021. The official count of deaths directly attributable to COVID-19 and reported to WHO in that period — from January 2020 to the end of December 2021 — is slightly more than 5.4 million. This means that the estimated toll is 9.5 million higher than the recorded fatalities.

Health ministers of several Indian states, cutting across party lines, appear to be united in questioning the veracity of the World Health Organization (WHO) report on Covid-19 fatalities worldwide, with India’s fatality count pegged at 4.74 million between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021 — labelling it “fabricated” and “devoid of facts”.

But why is the death tally doubtful?

The WHO report isn’t the first to question the death tally due to Covid-19 in India. Earlier too, several reports have come out with estimates of India’s Covid-19 death toll that has been at wide variance with the official figures. According to a University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, India’s fatality count due to the pandemic between March 2020 and early May 2021 stood at 6.54 lakh. A New York Times analysis, based on sero surveys, put the figure at closer to 4.2 million, up to May 24 last year while another study by The Lancet pegged the number at 4.07 million, between January 2020 and December 2021.

The gaps: 8% of all deaths in India are never registered, according to government data with just 20% of deaths being medically certified. In certain states like Bihar, Nagaland and Manipur, the registration of deaths with the civil registration system (CRS) is less than 50%. In fact, just one state — Goa — has a 100% record in registering all its deaths with the CRS. The Centre and the states, while dismissing WHO’s report, cited the death registration figures from the CRS to buttress their claims that India’s official Covid-19 fatality count is up to date.

Counting methodology: In the initial days of the pandemic, in 2020, only those people who tested positive for Covid-19 and later succumbed to it were counted as pandemic casualties. All those who may have died without being tested, whether at home or in a hospital — testing facilities were limited leading to delays in getting test reports — but who may have shown clear symptoms of the disease, as also those who had underlying health conditions such as diabetes or weakened immune systems due to cancer treatments were not counted as Covid-19 fatalities.

Revised guidelines following a direction by the Supreme Court, to both the Centre and the states to be more liberal in recording Covid-19 deaths coupled with the apex court’s order for paying Rs 50,000 as compensation for Covid-19 deaths led to a surge in claims being filed, which were higher than the official death count in several states, such as Gujarat. Some states, such as Kerala, have in fact regularly carried out ‘reconciliation’ exercises to update their official fatality figures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Dawn In Indo-UK Relationship

In Persian there is an old proverb: “Amad’an, nashist’am, ghuft’am, barkhas’tam’”, meaning “they came, they sat, they talked and then dispersed”. It actually means to say that nothing substantial was achieved by the visit or the talks. The same could be said about UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent visit to India, after his two previous trips scheduled last year were cancelled due to Covid-19 pandemic.

The diplomacy nowadays, thrives on optics. On this count the BoJo visit clicked all the boxes, but was also marred by angry reactions on the social media on photos showing him in the driver’s seat at a JCB bulldozer. Perhaps his advisers were unable to connect the continuing controversy over bulldozers being used by the establishment against the minorities across India, or his close connections with the owner of the JCB, Anthony Bamford, an old Conservative Party donor and supporter, overweighed the local sensibilities.

The Gujarat leg of his visit, a carbon copy of his Home Secretary Priti Patel’s 2015 trip to the state, was in essence aimed at garnering the support of the Gujarati electorate back home, keeping an eye on his uncertain political future.

In Gujarat he also met Gautam Adani at his company’s head quarters. BoJo described the feeling of being in Ahmedabad similar to as those of Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan, two Indian icons used for boosting his own public image and trying to resonate or connect with the Indian audiences.

In New Delhi, he referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “khaas dost” and continuously as Narendra during his speech at Hyderabad House. But no more “khaas” treatment to the Indian demands of a relaxed visa regime and post study work for the Indian students, an indication towards which was given in Ahmedabad, but not granted finally.

Bilateral Cooperation

His main focus remained the FTA between the two countries, as he expected to take back home something substantial in economic terms, particularly after his failed Brexit strategy. He urged the negotiators on both sides to hasten the pace of negotiations so as to have a final document ready for signing by Diwali in October. Certainly an over ambitious demand for an agreement, which has been under negotiations for more than last ten years.

Though the Indian side stated that it would demonstrate the same speed and urgency that it did in concluding recent FTAs with the UAE and Australia in recent months, yet nothing can’t be said for sure about an Indo-UK FTA, as there are many thorny issues on both sides.

British trade with India, the world’s second-most populous country with nearly 1.3 billion people, was worth 23 billion pounds ($29.93 billion) in 2019, much lower than the UK’s trade with some much smaller economies such as Ireland and India’s trade with smaller countries like Belgium which stands at 18 billion pounds.

Russian-Ukraine War

In addition, though not expressed overtly by the British side and neither by BoJo, the Russia-Ukraine war had an ominous shadow over the visit. Though his foreign secretary was very firmly told by New Delhi just 22 days before his visit that India is not going to change stand on its ties with Russia, BoJo thought he might be able to convince New Delhi to do so.

However, predicting the Indian response he had set the tone for this when even before meeting Modi he had said that he understands India’s historic ties with Russia, but still chose to lecture New Delhi on its relationship with ‘autocratic’ states, though this time also New Delhi politely stood its ground.

The manner in which the visit was seen by both sides, was remarkable by the manner in which the two prime ministers delivered their speeches at Hyderabad House. While BoJo avoided mentioning Russia, Modi reaffirmed the ties with Russia.

India-focused issues

Though the British side is referring to a host of agreements signed in different sectors, and BoJo’s statements on counter-terrorism task force being constituted and against the Indian economic fugitives currently at home in the UK, everyone is certain that they are just mere words, nothing substantial. His announcement of One billion pounds trade deals and creating 11,000 jobs is just peanuts for India.

Both sides also agreed to deepen bilateral defence and security cooperation. India welcomed Britain’s Indo-Pacific tilt and joining the Indo-Pacific Economic Initiative; on its part Britain announced the decision to ease the transfer of defence equipment and technology for India and also for developing an advanced jet fighter. But overall, nothing concrete was inked down by both the sides and the technology transfer could be viewed as just a gimmick to wean India away from Russia.

Overall, the two sides showed commitment to joint research, development and production of advanced weapons and related technologies. The two Prime Ministers also issued a statement on strengthening partnership in cyber-security domain, and plans to boost cooperation on mitigating climate change and promoting clean energy. But these agreements should be seen as just part of a normal bureaucratic visit.

The visit seems to be a hastily stitched plan, with no long-term goals and no narrative setting, and was unable to achieve anything bilaterally. In the end BoJo was unable to get anything substantial from India and his political troubles back home persists. The coming days will show how he’ll be able to deal with them and survive as even his closest Asian origin lieutenants like Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel, who were predicted to take over from him, are facing politically damaging controversies of their own.

India Deemed A ‘Country Of Particular Concern’ Over Religious Freedom Violations

A US watchdog has for the second year running recommended that the State Department should designate India as a “country of particular concern”, a category it uses for countries whose governments engage in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of religious freedoms.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended this designation for 15 countries in its annual report for 2022 released on April 25.

Ten of them were declared countries of particular concern by the State Department in 2021 — Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The rest were Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam.

The USCIRF report also recommended in the case of India that the US should impose “targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States”.

In 2021, the report said in its key findings, “The Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies — including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda — that negatively affected Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities. The government continued to systemize its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and state levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities”.

The report added: “In 2021, the Indian government repressed critical voices — especially religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them — through harassment, investigation, detention, and prosecution under laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Sedition Law.”

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government agency created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. It monitors the state of religious freedom around the world and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state and congress.

The USCIRF had made the same recommendation for India — to be declared a country of particular concern — in 2021 as well, but it was not accepted. The commission’s recommendations are not binding on the US government or the Congress. The State Department compiles its own international religious freedom report every year.

“We are disheartened by the deterioration of freedom of religion or belief in some countries, especially Afghanistan under the Taliban’s de facto government since August. Religious minorities have faced harassment, detention, and even death due to their faith or beliefs, and years of progress toward more equitable access to education and representation of women and girls have disappeared,” USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said in a statement announcing the release of the 2022 report.

Treatment Of Muslims In India Has Echoes From The Holocaust, Says Genocide Expert

Washington, DC– The Indian government is gearing up for genocide of Muslims similar to the Holocaust through discriminatory policies and acts of state-sponsored violence, said Dr. Ellen Kennedy, founder and Executive Director of World Without Genocide, during a Congressional Briefing on April 26.

“I speak to you as a Jew… We must pay attention to what is happening to Muslims in India today because it is beginning to echo what happened to Europe’s Jews 80 years ago,” said Dr. Kennedy, while speaking on the decision of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to recommend India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in its 2022 annual report for egregious violations of religious freedom for the third year in a row.

Drawing parallels between the Indian government’s policies of forced statelessness for Muslims and Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg laws, Dr. Kennedy stated that India’s growing Hindu extremist movement had “created anti-Muslim hate and official support and impunity for anti-Muslim violence.”

“In the past few months, violence against Muslims in India has escalated to the point that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ranks India second in the world in this year’s Early Warning statistical risk assessment second in the world. Dr. Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch warns that a genocide of Muslims in India is about to take place,” she said.

Professor Rohit Chopra, academic and author, drew attention to the infiltration of the Hindu supremacist ideology in all levels of the government, legacy media, and social media.

“What has happened is essentially the BJP has fused with the Indian state… This is extremely, extremely alarming because it actually not just excuses violence or turns a blind eye to it, but actually calls upon Hindus to perform violence against Muslims… as proof of being a good Indian and being a good Hindu. Lower level leaders have openly bayed for Muslim blood and nothing has happened to them,” he said.

“[Hindu nationalists] defy their Constitution… by devoting themselves to creating a Hindu nationalist state where Hindu people have more rights than anyone else. And they will do anything, including the barring of non-Hindu visitors to India… to carry out their discriminatory and violent practices,” said Rev. Peter Cook, Executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches.

“USCIRF has made this recommendation three years in a row, and things are getting worse, not better, for religious minorities in India… Congress must hold hearings on human rights in India. Through its power of the purse, Congress can condition foreign and security aid to India based on religious freedom issues,” said Ria Chakrabarty, Policy Director at Hindus for Human Rights.

“Nearly every single pillar of democracy in India seems to have crumbled under the weight of Hindu nationalism…  United States foreign policy is going to suffer immeasurably if it continues to behave in an ostrich-like manner and ignore the violations of human rights and religious freedom in India,” said Ajit Sahi, Advocacy Director at Indian American Muslim Council.

The briefing was co-hosted by Genocide Watch, World Without Genocide, Indian American Muslim Council, Hindus for Human Rights, International Christian Concern, Jubilee Campaign,  21Wilberforce, Dalit Solidarity Forum, New York State Council of Churches, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, India Civil Watch International, Center for Pluralism, American Muslim Institution, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, International Society for Peace and Justice, The Humanism Project and Association of Indian Muslims of America.

HinduPACT Demands USCIRF Stop Outsourcing its Research on India to the “Islamist Lobby”

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has again recommended placing India on the “blacklist” as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC), a practice that began in 2020. HinduPACT condemns the continued outsourcing of the USCIRF report and recommendations on India, comparing it to propaganda narratives provided by Jamaat-e-Islami linked groups.”

Utsav Chakrabarti, Executive Director of HinduPACT said, “This year’s report follows a pattern of reports that have appeared in previous years. Based on publicly available information on topics like Citizen’s Amendment Act (CAA) and Kashmir, the USCIRF report is a ‘copy-and-paste’ of talking points peddled by an agglomeration of Islamist groups working with radical Islamist-linked group “Justice for All”, on whose platform USCIRF commissioners are known to appear regularly.

Ironically, the USCIRF report chose to use images of Sikh victims of Islamist terror, and Muslim Afghan women – living peacefully in India – who fled their nation at the onset of the Taliban’s takeover, protesting with signs in English and Pashto (in October 2021) to demand better rights for women in Afghanistan, on its cover page.

Ajay Shah, President of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) and Convenor of HinduPACT, sharply criticized the report and said, “It is now obvious that the USCIRF has been taken over by the Indophobic and Hinduphobic members. Many of these members have attended India and Hindu bashing events. It is no surprise that their selective observations are meant to promote a political agenda and further their electoral reach in selected communities.” He further asked: “If for example, Sikhs were discriminated against in India, why did the Afghan Sikhs fleeing the Taliban seek refuge in India taking advantage of preferential immigration that USCIRF criticizes? Why would the report ignore the violence against Hindus in West Bengal, Rajasthan, or Kerala? And why would they report on a purely internal economic issue of India such as ‘Farm Bills’?” Shah concluded, “We are confident that the State Department will reject this religious fundamentalist driven, corrupt NGO-promoted report on India.”

We hope that USCIRF will regain some of its credibility in future reports, if it refrains from becoming an instrument of propaganda promotion targeting democratically elected leaders in diverse, peaceful multi-ethnic countries around the world, HinduPact said in a statement.

“India And Indian Americans Need To Think About The Possibility Of A Reduction In Defense Supplies From Russia:” Dr. Sampat Shivangi

The world order has changed since the Ukraine war, said Dr. Sampat Shivangi, National President of Indian American Forum and a past Legislative Committee Chairman of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) after he attended a breakfast meeting last week with Senator Roger Wicker, the top Republican Senator from Mississippi.

“Here is a great opportunity for India that Senator Roger Wicker who is a great friend of India can help India in providing the defense needs of the country and with better technologies than Russia, even though Russia has been a steady partner of India,” said Shivangi, after his 1:1 meeting with the Ranking Member of the Senate Arms Services Committee last week.

“In a changing world order, post-Ukraine invasion, India and Indian Americans think about the possibility of reduction in defense supplies from Russia to India a steady friend and partner of India for many decades,” the veteran AAPI leader told this writer. “With plummeting and devastating effects of war, can Russia provide assured suppliers to India especially possible ban of Western digital supplies to Russia in their defense production?” Dr. Shivangi, a physician, and an influential Indian-American community leader asked.

The ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia has exposed the vulnerabilities of Russia made weapons and their effectiveness. While India has been a long-time friend and defense purchaser of Russia. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, since 2010, Russia has been the source of nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of all Indian arms imports and India has been the largest Russian arms importer, accounting for nearly one-third (32 per cent) of all Russian arms exports.

Between 2016 and 2020, India accounted for nearly one-quarter (23 per cent) of Russia’s total arms exports and Russia accounted for roughly half (49 per cent) of Indian imports, the CRS report said.

Dr. Shivangi is of the opinion that “It is apt time India should think alternative suppliers source. What can be a better source than US? We have a great opportunity here as our Senior Senator from Mississippi has been elected as a Ranking member of the US Armed Service Committee of the US Senate.  With his assistance and good offices, especially after 2+2 summit, I hope and look forward to such increased collaboration with the successful Indo pacific QUAD treaty.

With India being in a tough neighborhood, Russia will not be able to provide or be a major supplier to India as with its war with Ukraine it has lost an enormous amount of its war machinery and a Western ban on high tech imports. As a result, it will be tougher for Russia to provide its arms and technology to India, Shivangi said in a statement after his meeting with Wicker. It’s noteworthy that during Monday’s 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, India and the US have agreed to step up military-to-military cooperation.

Dr. Sampat Shivangi has been a conservative life-long member of the Republican party, hailing from a strong Republican state of Mississippi.  He is the founding president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian-origin in Mississippi and is the past president and chair of the India Association of Mississippi. Advisor to US department of Health & Human Services at NHSC Washington, DC 2005-2008 President Bush Administration

A conservative life-long member of the Republican Party, Dr. Shivangi is the founding member of the Republican Indian Council and the Republican Indian National Council, which aim to work to help and assist in promoting President Elect Trump’s agenda and support his advocacy in the coming months.

As the National President of Indian American Forum for Political Education, one of the oldest Indian American Associations, Dr. Shivangi, has lobbied for several Bills in the US Congress on behalf of India through his enormous contacts with US Senators and Congressmen over the past three decades.

A close friend to the Bush family, Dr. Shivangi has been instrumental in lobbying for first Diwali celebration in the White House and for President George W. Bush to make his trip to India. He had accompanied President Bill Clinton during his historic visit to India.

Dr. Shivangi is a champion for women’s health and mental health, whose work has been recognized nationwide. Dr. Shivangi has worked enthusiastically in promoting India Civil Nuclear Treaty and recently the US India Defense Treaty that was passed in US Congress and signed by President Obama.

Dr. Sampat Shivangi, an obstetrician/gynecologist, has been elected by a US state Republican Party as a full delegate to the National Convention. He is one of the top fund-raisers in Mississipi state for the Republican Party. Besides being a politician by choice, the medical practitioner is also the first Indian to be on the American Medical Association, the apex law making body.

Days after the high-profile visit to India and the remarks by Mr. Daleep Singh, Deputy National Security Advisor to President Joe Biden at the White House recently, Dr. Shivangi hoped that this would not have a major impact on the Indo-US ties. “Many in India and many Indian Americans felt that Daleep Singh’s remarks were abrasive, coming from a fellow Indian American. Hopefully, his remarks have not muddled the water as reported in Indian media,” Mississippi-based Shivangi said in a statement. “India is a major QUAD partner of the US and will continue to have strong ties and mutual respect and friendship in the coming days,” he added.

Singh got front-page attention as the architect of economic sanctions against Russia in its war against Ukraine, he said. During his visit to India, Daleep Singh, in his interaction with reporters, cautioned India against expecting Russia to come to the country’s defense if China were to violate the Line of Actual Control as the two countries are now in a “no limits partnership”.

While moderating a session on “Latte with Legislators” organized by AAPI, Dr. Shivangi lamented that there is “a new wave of Anti-Indian American sentiments especially against Indian Physician group which makes up 15% of Doctors in the US,” Dr. Shivangi, feels, “IIt may be due to Indian Americans have the highest per capita income and highest education level in the nation.”

Calling it as “prejudicial” Dr. Shivangi, urged that “we need to resolve this prejudice against minorities. With this in mind, I requested Congressmen Jamie Ruskin from Maryland to seek his advice and possible way to resolve this. Congressman Ruskin was very supportive and offered his unconditional support.”

After meeting with the top Republican Senator, Dr. Shivangi thanked the Senator Roger Wicker for advocating that the US should help India address its defense needs so as to reduce its dependence on Russia. Recently, Wicker introduced a Bill in the US Senate to cut the backlog of thousands of Indians who are waiting on their Green Cards for decades. “He was gracious enough to introduce this Bill at my request, which was a great honor for me and many Indian Americans. He continues to fight for the cause of Indian Immigrants,” Dr. Shivangi said.

India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Advocates For Regulating Cryptocurrencies At A Global Level

India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is on an official visit to the USA to attend spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. She will also participate in G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meetings.

During her visit, Sitharaman will take part in bilateral meetings with several countries, including Indonesia, South Korea, Sri Lanka and South Africa. The FM is scheduled to hold one-on-one meetings with top executives from the semiconductor, energy and other sectors of priority for the Indian government, the ministry said.

Sitharaman on Tuesday made a case for regulating cryptocurrencies at a global level to mitigate the risk of money laundering and terror funding. Participating at a high-level panel discussion organized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Sitharaman said: “The risk which worries me more on the non-governmental domain is essentially you’re looking at unhosted wallets across the borders, across the globe… So, regulation cannot be done by a single country within its terrain through some effective method and for doing it across the borders, technology doesn’t have a solution which will be acceptable to various sovereigns at the same time applicable within each of the territories,” she said.

“I harp on that very much because I think the biggest risk for all countries across the board will be on the money laundering aspect, and also on the aspect of currency being used for financing terror,” she said.

However, she said, cross border payments between countries will become very effective through Central Bank-driven digital currencies. RBI is planning to come out with a central bank-backed digital currency using blockchain technology in 2022-23.

During the current visdit, Sitharaman will participate in the meetings of the finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 nations, apart from holding bilateral meetings with many countries, the finance ministry said in a statement. Sitharaman will also be attending an event at the Atlantic Council and meeting with faculty members and students at Stanford University in California.

The FM is scheduled to hold one-on-one meetings with top executives from the semiconductor, energy and other sectors of priority for the Indian government, the ministry said.

She is also scheduled to meet World Bank president David Malpass and take part in a high-level panel discussion on “Money at a Crossroad” hosted by IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva.

She will be also meeting with CEOs from the semiconductor, energy, and other industries the Indian government is concerned with.  “In a high-level meeting, the Finance Minister will also meet Mr. David Malpass, President, World Bank. During the course of the visit, Smt. Sitharaman will participate in a high-level panel discussion on ‘Money at a Crossroad’ hosted by the Managing Director, IMF,” the statement read.

The visit comes amid Washington and NATO’s pressures to push India into taking an anti-Russia stance on the Ukraine conflict, in addition to pressing New Delhi to join the West-led sanctions against Moscow. India has been pushing back against such pressures, aligning itself with its interests with Russia.

Last Monday, US President Joe Biden met with Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi virtually.  Biden underlined that Washington and New Delhi share “common values and resilient democratic institutions” before the meeting.

However, many are saying that no matter how much Washington emphasizes the strategic partnership with India, the differences between the two on their approach to the Ukraine conflict is the elephant in the room. It also does not change the fact that Washington, throughout the meeting, pressured India to condemn Russia. In fact, it was the theme of the meeting.

Over the past 2 years, the US and India have had close interactions, amid Washington’s attempts to contain China in Asia. However, their “friendship” could not withstand the tough tides of the Ukraine war and thus the two are now at odds.

India has refused to participate in Washington’s and Europe’s sanctions against Russia. Furthermore, unlike a plethora of countries that have cut economic ties with Russia, India maintained it and, actually, increased Russian energy imports and helped keep the Russian ruble stable. 

Jaishankar’s Parting Message To US: “We Know What We Are Doing”

Indian’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar delivered a clear message to both US officials and non-officials during his visit this week: India follows global developments closely, it is fully aware of its national security interests, and, lastly, it knows how to protect and pursue them.

In short: please stop thinking for us, stop telling us what is in our best interest, what isn’t, and what is it that we should do.

Countless US officials, lawmakers, policy experts and media personalities had taken upon themselves in recent weeks to tell India what is in its best interest regarding the Russia-Ukraine war, why it should condemn Moscow and drastically reduce its reliance on Russian military hardware or its support, specially in any future conflict with China.

“Thank you for the advice and suggestions in your question. I prefer to do it my way and articulate it my way,” Jaishankar said at a joint press availability with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh  last week.

A reporter had asked him if condemning Russia for invading Ukraine would “best reflect India’s foreign policy goals and international standing”. If Jaishankar seemed snappy, he probably meant it.

“This seems to be my day to get a lot of advice and suggestions from the press, so thank you for joining that,” the minister said to another reporter at the availability. “But look, we watch what’s happening in the world, like any country does, and we draw our conclusions and make our assessments. And believe me, we have a decent sense of what is in our interest and know how to protect it and advance it. So I think part of what has changed is we have more options than we did before.”

This reporter had asked if India was concerned over the growing diplomatic, military and economic ties between China and Russia. And in light of that concern, is India going to reduce its reliance on Russia economically and militarily?

Though directed at reporters, Jaishankar’s remarks could not have been lost on the two US officials on the stage with him, Blinken and Austin. Multiple American officials including Under-Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh  had pressed India in recent weeks to forcefully condemn Russian invasion suggesting that Moscow cannot be a reliable partner any longer because of its growing ties with Beijing; they underscored the vow of “no-limits” in the relationship professed recently by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Singh kicked up a furor during a visit to India in March when he tried to hard-sell this line with a threat of “consequences”. Nuland sought to clean up the mess left behind by Singh telling NPR last week: “In our conversations with India, whether it was my conversations to Daleep Singh’s or Secretary Blinken, it is not a matter of warning. It’s simply a matter of reminding India that Russia will try to abuse their longstanding defence relationship to get advantages here, and that it is not a good bet to help Russia out during this brutal conflict.”

Jaishankar did not name any of the US officials or mention their remarks, but probably meant them as well for trying to “remind” India of its security concerns as if India was unable to see them for itself.

So the minister continued in the same vein Wednesday when he said this in an interaction with Indian media reporters: “We follow everything and international relations which are of interest to us, which affects us. And obviously, you know, where there are developments or interactions. You mentioned Russia and China, we also follow America and China. So, and rightly so, because that then gives us a view of, you know, what is happening in the world and how our interests are impacted in some way, from that. So, we do monitor and do assess and do on where, where it is warranted, respond to what happens in international relations, especially between major, major states.”

The career diplomat-turned-politician left Washington DC and all who live and work here and fret about India with a clear and unequivocal message: We know what is best for us and we know what we are doing. (IANS)

Time For A Higher Poverty Line In India

The time has come for India to raise its poverty line from the existing extreme poverty line of $1.90 per person per day to the lower-middle income (LMI) poverty line of $3.20, a level some 68 percent higher. This may seem odd to aspire to in what is not even the first post-pandemic year, but that is the main message coming out of our recent IMF working paper “Pandemic, Poverty and Inequality: Evidence from India.”

No one should be surprised at this need for a higher poverty line. Per capita GDP growth in India averaged 3.5 percent per annum for twenty years from 1983 to 2003. In 2004, the official poverty line was raised by 18 percent, when the head count ratio (HCR) was 27.5 percent. Rapid growth (5.3 percent per annum) and an improved method of measurement of consumption (the modified mixed recall period (MMRP) rather than the Uniform Recall Period (URP)), resulted in the HCR reaching the low teens in 2011-12.

The poverty line should have been raised then, as Bhalla (2010) argued. Most countries change from the concept of absolute poverty to relative poverty as they get richer, and India should too. Relative poverty—subject to minor debate—is mostly chosen to mean an HCR level of around a quarter or a third of the population. Hence, the$1.90 poverty line was already too low in 2011-12 and is extremely low today.

The HCR of the $1.90 poverty line (Figure 1) has shown a steep decline since 2004—from approximately a third of the population in 2004 to less than 1.5 percent in 2019. These numbers are lower than those shown in the World Bank’s Povcal database, the most commonly used source, because Povcal does not correct for the misleading uniform recall period used or for the provision of food subsidies.

Figure 1. The poverty rate in India steeply declined starting in 2004

Source: NSS 2011-12 MMRP data; Private Final Consumption Expenditure (PFCE)  growth rates for estimates of monthly per capita consumption; authors’ calculations.

By our estimates, in the pre-pandemic year 2019, extreme poverty was already below 1 percent and despite the significant economic recession in India in 2020, we believe that the impact on poverty was small. This is because we estimate poverty (HCR) after incorporating the benefits of in-kind food (wheat and rice) subsidies for approximately 800 million individuals (75 percent of rural and 50 percent of urban residents). This food subsidy was not small and rose to close to 14 percent of the poverty line for the average subsidy recipient (Figure 2) in 2020. This was enough to contain any rise in poverty even in the pandemic year 2020.

Figure 2. Food subsidies contained any increases in poverty

Source: NSS 2011-12 MMRP data; Private Final Consumption Expenditure (PFCE)  growth rates for estimates of monthly per capita consumption; Indian poverty line very close to PPP $1.9 per capita per month; authors’ calculations.

A notable feature of the pandemic response was the provision of a free extra 5 kilograms of wheat or rice per person per month via the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) program plus 1 kg of pulses. This was in addition to the existing food transfers of 5 kg per capita per month of wheat or rice at subsidized prices. Total subsidized food grain in 2020 therefore amounted to 10 kg, which is the average per capita level of food (wheat and rice) consumption by Indian citizens for the last three decades.

The additional food subsidy was a pandemic-centric response. We would conjecture that a cross-country comparative study could show that this policy response was possibly the most effective in the world. Hence, the Indian experience can provide lessons for individual countries, and multilateral agencies concerned with effective redistribution of income.

Poverty measurement) in India was in 2011-12. The following survey conducted in 2017-18 generated results that have not been officially released, on the grounds that the data were not of acceptable quality. Our paper has an extensive discussion on the validity of the evidence regarding this controversial decision where we conclude that the data is indeed unreliable and of extremely questionable quality and hence should not be released. A very recent World Bank April 2022 study by Edochie et. al. suggests support for our conclusion and inference.

Our paper presents a consistent time series of poverty and (real) inequality in India for each of the years 2004-2020. Our estimate of real inequality (Figure 3) shows that consumption inequality has also declined, and in 2020 is very close to the lowest historical level of 0.28. Poverty and inequality trends can be emotive, controversial, and confusing. Consumption inequality is lower than income inequality, which itself is lower than wealth inequality. And each can show different trends. The levels and trends are different, and intermingled use should carry a warning about this when discussing “inequality.”

Our results are different than most of the commentary and analysis of poverty in India. All the estimates are made in the absence of an official survey post-2011-12. A large part of the explanation for the difference in results is because of differences in definition. Our paper makes a strong case for the acceptance of the official consumption definition (accepted by most countries and also recommended by the World Bank); it should be measured according to the classification of consumption according to the nature of the good or service consumed. This is the MMRP method for obtaining consumption expenditures.

The Indian government has officially adopted this method, and the above mentioned “ill-fated” 2017-18 survey was the first time when the National Statistical Organization exclusively measured consumption (and poverty) according to the MMRP definition.

However, many studies continue to rely on the now obsolete uniform reference period (URP or 30-day recall for all items) method. For example, a very recent World Bank study estimated the HCR to be around 10 percent in 2019; it uses the outdated (URP) definition of consumption and does not adjust for food subsidies. Incidentally, both in 2009-10 and 2011-12, the URP and MMRP poverty estimates diverged by approximately 10 percentage points, as did their respective estimates of mean consumption.

Thus, given the approximate magnitude of definition differences observed both in 2009-10 and 2011-12 and making the necessary adjustment for food subsidies, the World Bank poverty estimate for 2019 is likely to be very close to our estimate.

Inclusive growth is a very relevant policy goal for all economies. With the pandemic ebbing and the IMF’s expected growth for India rebounding very strongly for three successive years from 2021-23, Indian policymakers will soon be confronted with a policy choice—how long should they keep the extra PMGKY subsidy? This query is part of a huge success story of poverty decline. Additionally, another query pertains to whether policies should move toward targeted cash transfers instead of subsidized food grains.

In the past, the key argument in support of a policy shift to cash transfers was to reduce leakages, but our results indicate that leakages have substantially been reduced over the last decade even in the in-kind food transfer scheme. In fact, the recent food transfer program was a very successful intervention, especially during the pandemic when supply chains were breaking down and there was heightened uncertainty. Under normal circumstances, cash transfers are likely to be more efficient, and they retain broadly the same allocative outcomes as food transfers. The debate therefore now should be on the efficiency trade-offs associated with use of either in-kind or cash transfers as the key instrument of poverty alleviation.

These debates are significant given the improvement in targeting of transfers and are consistent with the objective of building a modern social security architecture in developing countries.

Accumulating all the evidence, the strong conclusion from our work is that Indian policy has effectively delivered both growth and inclusion, and in a fundamental sense has faithfully followed the Rawlsian maximin principle—maximizing the welfare of the poorest.

Deepening The Educational Ties Between India And The United States

This week I visited Howard University to talk about how to deepen the educational ties between India and the United States. As I have come to learn throughout its history, Howard University has played an important role in building bonds between our countries. And really, it’s hard to overstate the importance of those bonds not just as we look back but, I believe, as we go forward.

Let me tell you about one key figure from what has been already a very storied past. Howard Thurman, former dean of Rankin Chapel here at Howard. Going back to September of 1935, Thurman led a four-member delegation on what was a monthslong pilgrimage to India. He was trying to find lessons from the country’s independence movement that might be relevant to the racial justice movement in the United States.

Near the end of the trip, Thurman met with Mahatma Gandhi. They talked, the books record, for about three hours, covering a wide range of issues: segregation, faith, nonviolent resistance. The conversation and the trip made a lasting impression on Thurman. So when he came back to Howard, he developed his interpretation of nonviolence – not as a political tactic, but as a spiritual lifestyle. He shared his views with sermons, speeches, and eventually what came to be an incredibly influential book, Jesus and the Disinherited.

Gandhi’s views and Thurman’s interpretation of those views – of nonviolence – would influence one of the greatest figures in our nation’s journey, Martin Luther King, Jr. As he traveled the country laying bare the sins of segregation, Dr. King carried two books with him. One was the Bible, the other – Jesus and the Disinherited.

These connections and so many others across our shared history make clear that our people do share a special bond, and that as the world’s oldest and largest democracies, our countries always have something to learn from each other.

That’s why we see our cultural and educational ties continue to grow every single year. We’re incredibly fortunate in the United States to have 200,000 Indians studying at our universities, enriching our campuses, enriching our fellow citizens. And we see many American students studying and working in India through programs like Fulbright, the Gilman fellowships, including some who are here today.

To make it easier for people to continue learning from each other, Indian Minister of External Affairs Jaishankar and I announced yesterday the Working Group on Education and Skill Training, which will bring academic institutions in the United States and India together to develop new joint research programs. The group will also focus on creating more opportunities for universities to partner on exchange programs that the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Lee Satterfield runs so that ultimately more of our people can learn alongside each other.

I know the importance of building stronger bonds between U.S. and Indian higher education systems. Many students have benefited from studying in both countries. Students are using that knowledge now to teach in the United States and Indian respectively. That’s a very powerful thing. Students are developing recommendations on how India and the United States can support each other’s clean energy transitions. They are promoting trade between our countries and more equitable opportunities that flow from that trade. And that’s just to name a few examples of the things that people are working on.

So in foreign policy, one of the things we talk a lot about is the importance, the strength, the imperative of people-to-people ties. We do a lot of work as diplomats between our countries, but ultimately what really matters are those bonds between our people – between students, between businessmen and women, between academics, between tourists and others. This is what really brings us together.

And when we’re talking about that, in effect we’re talking about students: those who do the daily work of sharing their perspectives, sharing their knowledge with each other, and in so doing, building what are really lifelong personal and professional relationships with one another. That’s what makes all the difference because these kinds of connections, the people-to-people connections, many of them fostered by the exchange programs that we run, they actually build lifelong connections and a lifelong appreciation for each other’s countries, cultures, histories, and futures. And as a result, we are better able to take on shared challenges together.

I believe firmly that the United States and India need continued collaboration, hard work, and leadership for the biggest challenges both countries face, whether it’s combating COVID, whether it’s building a more inclusive global economy, whether it’s tackling the climate crisis.

To put it another way, the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership, I am convinced, is absolutely crucial, essential, for addressing the problems of the 21st century, and the work of students at institutions like Howard University, is at the heart of that relationship.

I’m looking forward to staying connected in the months to come. And I’d love to hear your thoughts – please share them by writing to me and my team at [email protected]

(Secretary Anthony Blinken is the 171st Secretary of State and delivered this speech at Howard University where he was joined by India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar April 12, 2022, in a discussion on U.S.-India higher education development)

U.S. Monitoring Rise In Rights Abuses In India

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was monitoring what he described as a rise in human rights abuses in India by some officials, in a rare direct rebuke by Washington of the Asian nation’s rights record.

“We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values (of human rights) and to that end, we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials,” Blinken said on Monday in a joint press briefing with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.

Blinken did not elaborate. Singh and Jaishankar, who spoke after Blinken at the briefing, did not comment on the human rights issue. Blinken’s remarks came days after U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar questioned the alleged reluctance of the U.S. government to criticize Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on human rights.

“What does Modi need to do to India’s Muslim population before we will stop considering them a partner in peace?” Omar, who belongs to President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, said last week.

Modi’s critics say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014. Since Modi came to power, right-wing Hindu groups have launched attacks on minorities claiming they are trying to prevent religious conversions. Several Indian states have passed or are considering anti-conversion laws that challenge the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief.

In 2019, the government passed a citizenship law that critics said undermined India’s secular constitution by excluding Muslim migrants from neighboring countries. The law was meant to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015.

In the same year, soon after his 2019 re-election win, Modi’s government revoked the special status of Kashmir in a bid to fully integrate the Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country. To keep a lid on protests, the administration detained many Kashmir political leaders and sent many more paramilitary police and soldiers to the Himalayan region also claimed by Pakistan.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently banned wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka state. Hardline Hindu groups later demanded such restrictions in more Indian states.

‘Why Indians Are Falling For BJP’s ‘Politics Of Negation’ That Shifts Focus From Governance Failures’

Away from the electoral gains earned through the freebie-based welfarism, there should be no mistaking that the making of a Hindu rashtra is under way at full swing at all levels – by attempted legal changes and by weapon sing one minority community by subsuming it under the majoritarian impulse against another minority community through films.

Linking “parivaarvaad”, or dynasty politics, with democracy, as Narendra Modi has done, shows the obsession which the Congress occupies within the ruling dispensation. While the Congress’s party structure has been put under the national scanner – for all the right reasons – the media and citizens have little interest in knowing about the kind of authoritarianism developing within the BJP. Linking the fate of Indian democracy to the Congress’s mode of functioning is an extremely clever way to keep the focus away from matters of governance.

Evidently, the negation – talking about the opponent’s past and not their own present – is the core of the mobilization technique of the BJP and its supporters, which shifts the onus of evaluation from the present to the past.

This new political culture has been nurtured diligently by the ruling dispensation through various mechanisms: control over the media, making institutions pliable, criminalising dissent and activating the hydra-like tentacles of hate in which a command from the top is no longer required to naturalize religious conflict in neighbourhoods and mohallas.

In this regard, people have become active shapers and consumers of this new political culture. They, therefore, should not escape the weight of analysis. They should not be treated merely as docile receivers of political campaigns and programmes. They cannot have it both ways: to act as passive agents of good or bad communication strategies of political parties when suitable, and yet become the bearers of hatred-filled divisive politics that is on display in the physical as well as virtual worlds.

I had earlier mentioned that there are two types of people who use the Congress-BJP tussle to think about the current situation. The second type does not need too many words. They are those who mock the Congress under the shade of being liberal – more as a sign of their suffering, frustration, and lament at the unchanging nature of the party in relation to the power which a dynasty holds over it. Some of them, not so ironically, also praise Modi for his great oratory and communication skills. Some of them, still further, see hope in the rising electoral success of the Aam Aadmi Party.

As it appears currently, the electoral success of the Aam Aadmi Party (or even the Trinamool Congress) would fail to change the new political culture. Borrowing a leaf from the playbook of the BJP will not necessarily change the content and texture of that leaf.

Political choices based on religious majoritarianism, punitive hyper nationalism, and the institutional and moral policing of dissent have shaken social faith in the values and practices of togetherness (and equally importantly, weakened the ways in which conflicts were resolved). The current politics of India is hardly political in its scope and ambition, in its effect and reach. As politics has become emotive, the social appears to be perilously mangled. It is the future of the social that requires raising uncomfortable questions of the people. (Excerpted from: <https://amp.scroll.in/article/1021873/how-the-bjps-politics-of-negation-discredits-opponents-and-shifts-focus-from-governance-failures>.)

Persecution Of Christians In India As World Observes Good Friday

Today, over two thousand years ago Jesus Christ was persecuted or believed to be crucified on this day. Followers of Jesus are even today being persecuted in certain parts of the world including in India wherein vested groups of people are spreading hatred against minorities for their political gains.

2014          127
2015          142
2016          226
2017          248
2018          292
2019          328
2020          279
2021          502
2022          127

(till April 13)

The persecution of Christians in India is intensifying which is leading to a systemic and carefully orchestrated violence against Christians, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.

The strong infiltration of hatred against Christians, have witnessed 127 incidents of violence in 2014 which increased to five hundred fold in 2021 as 502 incidents of violence was reported in 2021 on UCF toll-free helpline number 1800-208-4545.

Most church leaders are men, and being a pastor is understood to be one of the riskiest vocations in India. Pastors and their families are targeted to instill fear among them.

In the first 103 days of 2022 we have already witnessed 127 incidents of violence against Christians. January saw 40 incidents, 35 incidents in February, 34 incidents in March and just in 13 days of April 18 incidents of violence were reported on UCF helpline. In which 89 Pastors were beaten up and threatened from conducting prayers for which they became pastors. 68 Churches were attacked in which 367 women and 366 children received injuries. Out of 127 incidents 82 incidents were mob violence.

There are 42 cases pending in various courts challenging the constitutional validity of the so-called “Freedom of Religion Act against” which have been framed with a malafide intention to harass the Christian community who are falsely accused of forceful conversion. Whereas, till today, not a single Christian has been convicted for forcing any one to convert. Moreover, census after census have shown that Christian population remained 2.3 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion.

There are many false cases that were filed against Christians which the courts have found untrue and pulled up the police and the authorities for misusing the poser. One example is in May 2017, 72 Christian children going for Christian camp from Madhya Pradesh to Nagpur accompanied by six elders were detained on charges of being “kidnapped to be converted’. The Madhya Pradesh High Court granting bail to children and elders directed the police to come back with evidence to prove their claim that children are not Christians and that they were being kidnapped to be converted. Till today, the police have not come back to Court.

In another judgement, beginning of 2019, the Delhi High Court while restoring the status of Overseas Citizen of India said that the government could not show any proof whatsoever of having forcefully or fraudulently converting even a single person. Under similar charges, there were over 40 Churches in Jaunpur District of Uttar Pradesh that were shut down in 2018. Even though pastors and other Christian leaders are out on bail, the police are yet to file the charge sheets against any of them as they do not have any evidence to prove fraud or forceful conversions. There are hundreds of such cases, if not in thousands, that are lying in front of various courts across India due to the absence of proof of fraud or forceful conversions.

The various courts in India in the last 15 months – January 2021 to March 2022 have acquitted Christians of false allegations of conversions in 59 cases (41 in 2021 and 18 till March 2022).

There are racial and ethnic differences in college graduation patterns, as well as in the reasons for not completing a degree. Among adults ages 25 and older, 61% of Asian Americans have a bachelor’s degree or more education, along with 42% of White adults, 28% of Black adults and 21% of Hispanic adults, according to 2021 Current Population Survey data. The share of bachelor’s degree holders in each group has increased since 2010. That year, 52% of Asian Americans had a four-year degree or more, compared with a third of White adults, 20% of Black adults and 14% of Hispanic adults.

The October 2021 Center survey found that among adults without a bachelor’s degree, Hispanic adults (52%) were more likely than those who are White (39%) or Black (41%) to say a major reason they didn’t graduate from a four-year college is that they couldn’t afford it. Hispanic and Black adults were more likely than their White counterparts to say needing to work to support their family was a major reason.

While a third of White adults said not wanting to go to school was a major reason they didn’t complete a four-year degree, smaller shares of Black (22%) and Hispanic (23%) adults said the same. White adults were also more likely to cite not needing more education for the job or career they wanted. (There weren’t enough Asian adults without a bachelor’s degree in the sample to analyze separately.)

Only 62% of students who start a degree or certificate program finish their program within six years, according to the most recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit verification and research organization that tracked first-time college students who enrolled in fall 2015 with the intent of pursuing a degree or certificate. The degree completion rate for this group was highest among students who started at four-year, private, nonprofit schools (78.3%), and lowest among those who started at two-year public institutions (42.2%).

Business is the most commonly held bachelor’s degree, followed by health professions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about a fifth (19%) of the roughly 2 million bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2019-20 were in business. Health professions and related programs were the second most-popular field, making up 12.6% of degrees conferred that year. Business has been the single most common major since 1980-81; before that, education led the way.

The least common bachelor’s degrees in 2019-20 were in military technologies and applied sciences (1,156 degrees conferred in 2019-20), library science (118), and precision production (39).

There is a growing earnings gap between young college graduates and their counterparts without degrees. In 2021, full-time workers ages 22 to 27 who held a bachelor’s degree, but no further education, made a median annual wage of $52,000, compared with $30,000 for full-time workers of the same age with a high school diploma and no degree, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This gap has widened over time. Young bachelor’s degree holders earned a median annual wage of $48,481 in 1990, compared with $35,257 for full-time workers ages 22 to 27 with a high school diploma.

The unemployment rate is lower for college graduates than for workers without a bachelor’s degree, and that gap widened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In February 2020, just before the COVID-19 outbreak began in the U.S., only 1.9% of college graduates ages 25 and older were unemployed, compared with 3.1% of workers who completed some college but not a four-year degree, and 3.7% of workers with only a high school diploma. By June 2020, after the pandemic hit, 6.8% of college grads, 10.8% of workers with some college, and 12.2% of high school grads were unemployed.

By March 2022, the unemployment rate had nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels for college graduates (2%) while dropping to 3% among those with some college education but no four-year degree, and 4% among those with only a high school diploma.

Recent college graduates are more likely than graduates overall to be underemployed – that is, working in jobs that typically do not require a college degree, according to an analysis of Census Bureau and BLS data by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of December 2021, 41% of college graduates ages 22 to 27 were underemployed, compared with 34% among all college graduates. The underemployment rates for recent college grads rose in 2020 as the COVID-19 outbreak strained the job market, but have since returned to pre-pandemic levels.

As of the end of 2021, only 34% of underemployed graduates ages 22 to 27 worked what the Fed defines as “good non-college jobs” – those paying at least $45,000 a year – down from around half in the 1990s. The share of underemployed graduates ages 22 to 27 in low-wage jobs – those earning less than $25,000 annually – rose from about 9% in 1990 to 11% last year.

When it comes to income and wealth accumulation, first-generation college graduates lag substantially behind those with college-educated parents, according to a May 2021 Pew Research Center analysis. Households headed by a first-generation college graduate – that is, someone who has completed at least a bachelor’s degree but does not have a parent with a college degree – had a median annual income of $99,600 in 2019, compared with $135,800 for households headed by those with at least one parent who graduated from college. The median wealth of households headed by first-generation college graduates ($152,000) also trailed that of households headed by someone with a parent who graduated from college ($244,500). The higher household income of the latter facilitates saving and wealth accumulation.

The gap also reflects differences in how individuals finance their education. Second-generation college graduates tend to come from more affluent families, while first-generation college graduates are more likely to incur education debt than those with a college-educated parent.

Most Americans with college degrees see value in their experience. In the Center’s October 2021 survey, majorities of graduates said their college education was extremely or very useful when it came to helping them grow personally and intellectually (79%), opening doors to job opportunities (70%) and developing specific skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace (65%).

Younger college graduates were less likely than older ones to see value in their college education. For example, only a third of college graduates younger than 50 said their college experience was extremely useful in helping them develop skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace. Among college graduates ages 50 and older, 45% said this.

Ukraine Main Theme During Modi-Biden Talks

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden met virtually on Monday, April 11, 2022, as India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh were in Washington for the fourth ‘2+ 2’ foreign and defense ministry dialogues with their U.S. counterparts. The war between Russia and Ukraine featured prominently in the opening remarks of both, media reports here stated.

During the opening segment of the bilateral meeting, Jaishankar, Singh, India’s U.S. Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan were seen seated at the table with Biden.

The meeting also involved a discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy and climate action, as well as regional and global issues, including those in South Asia and the Indo Pacific. The U.S. official briefing reporters said that Sri Lanka and Pakistan were discussed, but not in detail, with more detailed discussions expected over the next day and a half, i.e., during the course of the 2+2 meetings..

According to reports, U.S. President Joe Biden told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that buying more Russian oil is not in India’s interest, as the United States pushes New Delhi to take a harder line against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden told Modi during an hour-long video call Monday that the U.S. is ready to help India diversify its sources of energy, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “The president also made clear that he doesn’t believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy or other commodities,” Psaki said.

The statement from the government of India regarding the meeting said the two leaders had discussed Ukraine at the meeting, as well as regional and global issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy, climate and “recent developments in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region”. Speaking to reporters on a briefing call, a Senior U.S. administration official said that developments in Sri Lanka and Pakistan had been “touched on” but not discussed in a detailed manner.

Modi, who spoke via videolink to Biden, described the situation in Ukraine as “very worrying” and said he had spoken, several times, with both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin and had not just urged peace, but also direct talks between them. India’s unwillingness to call out Russia by name for its attack on Ukraine has not gone down well in Washington, but U.S. officials have also said that they hoped countries that have relationships with Moscow might leverage them to bring about a resolution to the situation.

“The United States and India are going to continue our close consultation on how to manage the destabilizing effects of this Russian war,” Biden said in his opening remarks. The US government’s readout of the meeting said that Ukraine was also discussed. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, a senior U.S. administration official said there was a “pretty detailed and candid exchange of views” on Ukraine but added that Biden made no “concrete ask” of India and Modi gave no “concrete answer”.

India has also continued to purchase Russian oil and gas, despite pressure from the United States and other Western countries to refrain. Russia has offered steep discounts on its energy supplies, and India has bought at least 13 million barrels of Russian crude oil since the invasion of Ukraine, compared with the 16 million barrels it bought in 2021, according to data compiled by Reuters.

The comment by the official was in response to a reporter’s question on whether any explicit commitments were sought from India in terms of Russian oil, and also with regard to condemning Russia for attacking Ukraine. Both the official and Press Secretary Jen Psaki emphasized that while payments for energy from Russia were not sanctioned, the U.S. was discouraging India from increasing its purchases of Russian energy.  In comments shortly after the bilateral meeting, Psaki said that Biden had “made clear” what the impact of US sanctions would be, adding, “We expect everybody to abide by those”.

“The President made clear that he does not believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy and other commodities,” Psaki said, adding that Mr. Biden had reiterated a U.S. offer to help India diversity its energy imports. India currently imports only a small 1-2% of its energy from Russia as per official estimates. Psaki used the words “constructive”  “productive” and “direct” to describe the conversation. She said the call was not “adversarial”.

Referring to Biden’s slogan, ‘Democracies can deliver,’ Modi said, ‘The success of the India-America partnership is the best means to make this slogan meaningful.” “At the root of our partnership is a deep connection between our people, ties of family, of friendship, and of shared values,” Biden said. The President was seen nodding as Modi outlined the humanitarian assistance that India had provided Ukraine.

“I want to welcome India’s humanitarian support for the people Ukraine, who are suffering a horrific assault, including a tragic shelling on a train station last week that killed dozens … attempting to flee the violence,” Biden said.

Modi expressed growing concern about the situation in Ukraine, particularly in Bucha, where the remains of many civilians have been found. “Recently, the news of the killings of innocent civilians in the city of Bucha was very worrying. We immediately condemned it and have asked for an independent probe,” Modi said.

A U.S. official described the call between the two leaders as “warm and productive,” saying Biden stopped short of making a “concrete ask” of Modi on Russian energy imports. During a short portion of the call open to reporters, Biden started the conversation by highlighting the partnership between the U.S. and India, saying the nations would “continue our close consultation on how to manage the destabilizing effects of this Russian war.”

Opposition Grows To Imposing Hindi On Indian States

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent statement that time has come to make official language Hindi, an important part of the country’s unity, which has come under severe criticism from main Opposition leaders in India, several state leaders and Bollywood and media persons from across the nation.

While the main opposition parties called it an assault on India’s pluralism and asserting they will thwart the move to impose “Hindi imperialism,” Oscar-winner and one of India’s top music directors A R Rahman has tweeted a poster highlighting the significance of Tamil and what the language means to Tamilians. The tweet is being seen as a strong response to Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent statement on Hindi being an alternative to English.

Rahman tweeted the poster of a woman holding a staff with the Tamil letter ‘a’ (lazha) on it. Interestingly, the letter is unique to Tamil language. The poster, titled ‘Tamizhanangu’, also had lines from a poem by revolutionary poet Bharathidasan. The line, “Inba Thamizh Engal Urimai Sempayirukku Vaer” (Delightful Tamil is the root of the staple crop of our rights). Thousands have liked the tweet that Rahman has put out with several other top writers, actors, journalists retweeting the tweet to voice their support for Rahman’s statement.

India’s multilingual Bollywood actor Prakash Raj has responded strongly to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent remarks that Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English. “Amit Shah ji, I want to know where do you want us to speak Hindi, learn Hindi,” asked the actor. The actor joins us on this episode of ‘Left, Right and Centre’.

India’s main opposition party, Congress accused Shah of trying to impose Hindi, and said in doing so he is doing a disservice to the language. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh contended Hindi is ‘Raj Bhasha’ (official language) and not ‘Rashtra Bhasha’ (national language), as Rajnath Singh had noted in Parliament when he was the home minister. “Hindi imperialism will be the death knell for India. I’m very comfortable with Hindi, but I don’t want it rammed down anybody’s throat. Amit Shah is doing a disservice to Hindi by imposing it,” Ramesh said on Twitter.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the home minister has tried to sermonize about Hindi which he should not. He also alleged that by raking up the issue of Hindi, the home minister is also trying to divert people’s attention from inflation and price rise. “Don’t conflagrate…don’t give us sermons,” he said.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, whose DMK has been at the forefront of anti-Hindi agitations which often turned violent, said Shah’s thrust on Hindi went against India’s ‘integrity and pluralism’. Reacting to Shah’s April 7 statement, Stalin said it will wreck the nation’s integrity. The BJP top brass is continuously working towards causing damage to India’s pluralism, Stalin, who is also the DMK president, said on Twitter.

The main opposition in Tamil Nadu, AIADMK said people may learn Hindi on their own volition but imposition of the language is unacceptable. Quoting Dravidian icon, the late C N Annadurai, AIADMK top leader O Panneerselvam said if needed, people willing to learn Hindi may do so voluntarily. However, foisting Hindi on people is never acceptable, the AIADMK coordinator tweeted.

A TMC spokesman said, BJP’s agenda of “one nation, one language and one religion” will remain unfulfilled. “If Amit Shah and the BJP try to impose Hindi on non-Hindi speaking states, it will be resisted. The people of this country, where there is so much diversity, will never accept such a thing. “Even India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said that Hindi will not be imposed on non-Hindi speaking states until they are willing to accept it,” senior TMC leader Sougata Roy said.

In India’s restive northeastern region, where people speak at least 220 languages or dialects, separatist rebel groups have always detested the use of Hindi, calling it an instrument of so-called “colonial Delhi” to suppress indigenous people and their cultures. In the past, many Hindi-speakers were gunned down by outlawed groups.

Shah’s recent remark has sparked a huge backlash in the region. The Asom Sahitya Sabha, Assam’s apex literary body, said in a statement, “The Union home minister should have instead taken steps to develop Assamese and other indigenous languages. Such steps spell a bleak future for Assamese and all indigenous languages in the Northeast. The Sabha demands that the decision to make Hindi mandatory till Class X be revoked.”

The influential North-East Students’ Organisation (NESO), an umbrella body of the various student outfits in the region, said Hindi can be an optional subject, but they are against any kind of “imposition”.

Noted academician Pabitra Sarkar claimed that the statement was “premature” and “unacceptable”. He said, “This is a very premature statement made without taking into cognizance the views of others. There is a history of resistance in southern India against the imposition of Hindi.”

Presiding over the 37th meeting of the Parliamentary Official Language Committee in New Delhi, Amit Shah had said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided that the medium of running the government is the official language and this will definitely increase the importance of Hindi, according to a statement issued by the Union Home Ministry. He informed the members that now 70 per cent of the agenda of the Cabinet is prepared in Hindi.

Shah said now the time has come to make the official language Hindi an important part of the unity of the country, adding Hindi should be accepted as an alternative to English and not to local languages.

This isn’t the first time A R Rahman has commented on the language debate. In June 2019, when there were plans to make a three-language policy mandatory for all states, Rahman had tweeted: “AUTONOMOUS | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary,” with web link of the word’s meaning in the dictionary. His tweet triggered a popular hashtag, ‘#autonomousTamilNadu’ by his fans worldwide.

Similarly, when the Centre decided to drop the provision of compulsory teaching of Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states, Rahman had tweeted in praise of Tamil Nadu’s two language policy: “Good decision. Hindi is not compulsory in Tamil Nadu. The draft has been corrected.”

The two-language policy that is being followed in Tamil Nadu was born out of a peculiar pride in the Mother Tongue, Tamil, which is based on an assertion that Tamil is the oldest language and cannot be placed lesser than Hindi or any other language in India. For majoritarian reasons and a perception that a single native language will make the governance easier, Delhi had been consistently pushing for Hindi on various levels for several decades. But most Tamil parties and almost all Tamil politicians continue to resist efforts to impose or bring in a single national language in the country, Hindi.

India Critical Of Russian Invasion, But Will Not Name It

India appeared to be giving up its diplomatic equivocation by offering its strongest criticism on the crisis in Ukraine yet by “unequivocally” condemning the killings of civilians in Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv, media reports stated.

The statement by India’s Permanent Representative T S Tirumurti last week at the UN Security Council came after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky described in stark detail the atrocities in Bucha. Tirumurti said, “Recent reports of civilian killings in Bucha are deeply disturbing. We unequivocally condemn these killings and support the call for an independent investigation.”

Tirumurti still managed to walk the fine line of delicately calibrated neutrality by not naming Russia even though the implication of his statement was obvious. “India continues to remain deeply concerned at the worsening situation and reiterates its call for an immediate cessation of violence and end to hostilities”, he said.

“We continue to emphasize to all member states of the UN that the global order is anchored on international law, UN Charter and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of states”, he said reiterating the stance New Delhi has taken during earlier U.N. discussions and votes over Ukraine.

India on Saturday abstained on a US-sponsored resolution at the United Nations Security Council that “deplores in the strongest terms” Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine, but sharpened its language by flagging three important concerns — respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, the UN charter and international law—without naming Russia.

Hours later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that he “urged India to give political support in the UN Security Council”. “Spoke with Prime Minister @narendramodi. Informed of the course of Ukraine repulsing Russian aggression. More than 100,000 invaders are on our land. They insidiously fire on residential buildings. Urged India to give us political support in UN Security Council. Stop the aggressor together!” he tweeted.

Zelensky made a video address to the U.N. Security Council during which he said there were dozens of other communities other than Bucha where the Russian troops had committed atrocities.

He said “there is not a single crime that they would not commit” and went on to describe in graphic terms what he claimed were Russian atrocities on the civilians of Ukraine. Quite strikingly, he likened the atrocities to those committed by the Islamic State terrorist organizations in the Middle East. He also showed the Security Council a video documenting what he described as war crimes with piles of bodies, some of whose hands were tied.

But Russia’s Permanent Representative Vasily Nebenzia offered Moscow’s familiar argument that images in the video were staged. He also claimed that those were victims of Ukrainian forces or “neo-Nazis”. It might be recalled that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had made a manifestly exaggerated claim that his military operation was aimed at “denazifying” Ukraine even though Zelensky and other members of his cabinet are Jewish.

Both, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo spoke of their horror at the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine. Guterres said, “I will never forget the horrifying images of civilians killed in Bucha”.

“I am also deeply shocked by the personal testimony of rapes and sexual violence that are now emerging”, he said while calling for an independent inquiry.

DiCarlo said, “The horror deepened this past week as shocking images emerged of dead civilians, some with hands bound, lying in the streets of Bucha, the town near Kyiv formerly held by Russian forces. Many bodies were also found in a mass grave in the same locality”.

“Reports by non-governmental organizations and media also allege summary executions of civilians, rape and looting in the Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv regions” she added.

Although there is no prospect of New Delhi acknowledging that its statement today was a clear departure from its careful neutral tone so far, it was quite clear that the Indian government’s concern at the atrocities had crept in more assertively.

Tirumurti said, “The situation in Ukraine has not shown any significant improvement since the Council last discussed the issue. The security situation has only deteriorated, as well as its humanitarian consequences”.

“When innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option. In this context, we take note of the ongoing efforts, including the meetings held recently between the parties,” he said.

Tirumurti yet again pointed out that New Delhi had sent medicines and other relief supplies to Ukraine and will continue to do so.

It has been exacting diplomatic calisthenics for New Delhi since the invasion of Ukraine some 40 days ago because its historically robust relations with Moscow as well as its inordinate dependence on Russian manufactured armaments. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visit New Delhi last week in an obvious continuing effort to keep India on his country’s side.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that Zelenskyy had “briefed” Modi about the conflict in Ukraine. Modi expressed his deep anguish about the loss of lives and property due to the conflict, it said and reiterated his call for an “immediate cessation of violence” and a return to dialogue, and “expressed India’s willingness to contribute in any way towards peace efforts”.

While Modi had appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for “immediate cessation of violence”, this is the first time that he has expressed his willingness to participate in peace process. Modi also conveyed deep concern for the safety and security of Indian citizens, including students, present in Ukraine. “He sought facilitation by Ukrainian authorities to expeditiously and safely evacuate Indian citizens,” the PMO said.

Though India’s statement after the vote did not name Russia, it is stronger than previous statements made at the Security Council on the issue in the last one month or so. The vote and the explanation by TS Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative to the UN in New York, came after sustained diplomatic pressure was mounted by the US-led Western bloc as well as Russia.

With Religious Tensions Worsening in India, Understanding Caste Is More Urgent Than Ever

A new Bollywood movie is galvanizing Hindu audiences and stirring up a fresh wave of anti-Muslim bigotry. In the name of India’s Hindu majority, hijabs are banned in one Indian state and Muslims attacked for praying publicly in New Delhi. A hardline Hindu supremacist, infamous for his anti-Muslim comments and for policies that demonize or exclude Muslims, wins a second term as chief minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. His victory is seen as a ringing endorsement of the ideology of Hindutva.

The belief that India is not a secular nation, or even multi-religious, but an intrinsically Hindu country, is the central platform of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the “Hindu majority” invoked by supporters of Hindutva, in their agitation against Muslims and other minorities, is not a monolithic bloc. In fact, it is highly stratified, with elite groups of Hindus exploiting the vulnerability of marginalized communities for their own political ends.

If Hindu unity is a facade, it also follows that the Hindu-Muslim binary, while a common framing for the discussion of Indian politics, cannot be as straightforward as it appears.

To understand the nuances of Indian politics, one needs to understand the complex caste system. At three thousand years old, this system of organizing Hindus by their professions and obligations is the world’s longest running hierarchy and probably the most rigid. By some estimates, there are 3,000 main castes and as many as 25,000 sub-castes, with Brahmins (intellectuals) at the top and Shudras (menials) at the bottom.

Lying outside this system are the Dalits (formerly called “untouchables”) and the Adivasi (indigenous tribes), together totaling 350 million people, or just over a quarter of India’s population. They are the most socio-economically marginalized groups in the country, but they are also contested over by Hindu nationalists, who see them as useful foot soldiers in the struggle against Islam.

“Hindu nationalism is led by the upper castes and their incitement of all Hindus against the Muslim minority is a ploy that enables them to keep their grip on Hindu society,” says the welfare economist Jean Drèze. “It makes it all the more difficult for Dalits and other exploited groups to question their own oppression by the upper castes and revolt against it.”

Some 200 members of Dalit and other castes attend a religious program to convert to Buddhism in Ahmedabad, India, on Sept. 30, 2017.

At the same time, there is a fear that other religions will prove more attractive to the disadvantaged communities who, being outside the caste system, need not have any particular loyalty to Hinduism. Dalits are not even allowed to enter many Hindu temples. Small wonder that Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), a revered Dalit leader and the head of the committee that drafted Indian constitution, urged every Dalit to convert to Buddhism.

If the 25% of the population represented by such communities were to become Buddhists or Christians, the idea of Hindutva would be seriously weakened. Mass Dalit conversions have already taken place. In response, legal moves have been made in several Indian states to prevent people from leaving the Hindu religion.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu Nationalist group and the parent organization of the BJP, is also making strenuous if belated efforts to include Dalits and the Adivasis in the Hindu fold. Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the RSS, told a gathering in January that the caste system was “an obstacle to Hindu unity.” Last year, he also said “we consider every Indian a Hindu.”

Using such language, the RSS is able to appeal to emotionally vulnerable Dalits, helping them feel accepted in a society that has historically excluded them. Dalits are told that they are “the real warriors of Hinduism.”

The next step is conversion “into active anti-Muslim sentiments,” says Bhanwar Meghwanshi. Today a Dalit-rights activist, Meghwanshi formerly served in the organization and wrote a book about his experiences entitled I Could Not Be Hindu: The Story of a Dalit in the RSS.

“We were trained to hate Muslims,” he says, “so we could be [RSS] foot soldiers in anti-Muslim riots.” (Tellingly, the great majority of those arrested in the 2002 Gujurat riots were from Dalit and other disadvantaged groups.)

Ironically, its middle initial stands for swayamsevak or “self-reliance,” when the RSS is heavily reliant on Dalits and Adivasis to do its dirty work during periods of communal violence.

Compounding the issue is the fact that the Muslim community is also stratified on caste lines, in ways that mirror the Hindu system. Indian Islam has its ashrafs (nobles), ajlafs (commoners), and arzals (“despicables”).

The political manipulation of disadvantaged castes will continue so long as they refuse to see that they are “simply pawns in the middle,” being led by “oppressor castes,” says Suraj Kumar Bauddh, an anti-caste activist and the founder of Mission Ambedkar. “Whether they are Hindu lower-caste communities, or Muslim lower-caste communities, they are only told to kill and die, to gain acceptance within either fold.”

The existence of a ready supply of expendable fighters can only exacerbate India’s spiraling religious tensions. Now more than ever, Dalits, Adivasis—and disadvantaged Muslims—must reframe the political debate.

US Rights Groups Ask USCIRF Not To Heed To Pressure To Dilute Report On Religious Freedom In India

Hundreds of U.S.-based civil rights and faith groups and individuals from across the country have condemned the pressure being placed on a prominent federal commission to dilute its reporting on religious persecution in India.

In a letter to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Sunday, these organizations and individuals said the commission must withstand the pressure from US-based Hindu nationalists and recommend again that the US Department of State designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), its harshest nomenclature for the world’s worst persecutors of religious minorities.

“It is clear that those seeking to obfuscate the reality of India’s persecution of its religious minorities are now using intense lobbying and combative communication with the goal of preventing USCIRF from recommending India’s designation as a CPC for the third straight year,” the letter said.

“We have also learned that such pressure includes attempts to influence USCIRF Commissioners and officials to exclude even a mention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2022 report.”

The USCIRF has announced it will release its Annual Report for 2022 on April 25. Its last two reports in 2020 and 2021 had recommended that India be designated as CPC, along with China, Pakistan, Iran, Vietnam, Nigeria and several other countries. Both the Trump Administration and the Biden Administration did not accept that recommendation.

Leading organizations that have signed the letter include Indian American Muslim Council; Hindus for Human Rights; Jubilee Campaign USA; International Christian Concern; India Civil Watch International; Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations; Dalit Solidarity Forum in the USA; Cameroon American Council; Asian Children Education Fellowship; Association of Indian Muslims of America; International Society for Peace and Justice; Justice For All; Dar El Eman; Coeur d’Alene Bible Church; New Life Church; Fresh Heart Ministries; Director of Governmental Affairs, Greentree Global; pokane Fatherhood Initiative; Indian Muslim Association of Carolinas; Christian Freedom International; and International Asian Christian Front.

“We urge you to not allow Hindu supremacist individuals or organizations to influence the integrity of USCIRF in general and your annual report in particular. As you must know, religious persecution in India has only escalated since last year’s publication of USCIRF’s Annual Report 2021. More than ever before, Muslims, Christians and Dalits are under intense attacks and are experiencing massive human rights abuses as well as diminishing space for religious freedom,” their letter said.

Thousands of Muslims,Christians, and human rights advocates had been jailed under “draconian laws” such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. “Vigilante mobs connected to Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have mushroomed across the country, attacking Christians ,Muslims, and Dalits, often lynching them to death.

“Karnataka, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, three states under BJP rule, have passed highly discriminatory laws targeting these two minority communities in the name of anti-conversion. Churches and mosques are vandalized and outrightly demolished by officials, as happened near the Indian capital of New Delhi and in Uttar Pradesh.

“In December 2021, repeated calls were made by saffron-robed Hindu “monks” calling for a genocide of millions of Muslims, for sexual violence against Muslim women, and much more. The past year also saw the highest attacks on record on Indian Christians, including large-scale assault and vandalism on Christmas Day, December 25.

“The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India recorded 505 incidents of hate against Christians in 2021, including threats and harassment, physical violence, false accusations of conversion, desecration of houses of worship, arbitrary arrests, hate campaigns, and more. USCIRF must not ignore the significant  decline of democracy in India that is accompanied by most horrific forms of religious persecution.

Biden’s Nominee To Be US Envoy, Garcetti May Not Make It To India

Concerns are mounting on Capitol Hill around the viability of Mayor Eric Garcett’s India ambassadorship nomination. AXIOS reported on March 3rd that US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s team is privately acknowledging to Senate Democrats that Eric Garcetti doesn’t currently have 50 votes within their caucus to be confirmed as ambassador to India, congressional aides reportedly told Axios.

The comments by the Senate majority leader’s office, delivered last week through his legislative director during a call with other LDs, mean the Los Angeles mayor is unlikely to receive a floor vote any time soon, Axios reported. Garcetti was formally nominated eight months ago.

His remarks also indicate the growing concern — and confusion — within the Democratic Party about the fate of President Biden’s nominee to serve as ambassador to a crucial country resisting the administration’s efforts to get tougher on Russia.

Politico reported last week thatAs the US Senate considered making Garcetti emissary to the world’s biggest democracy, the consternation was initially confined to the GOP: Republican Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley both placed holds on Garcetti’s nomination last month over allegations that Garcetti knew of sexual misconduct in his office, when he was the mayor of Los Angeles.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has placed a “hold” on Garcetti’s nomination, pending his own independent investigations into the allegations. Sen. Joni Ernest (R-Iowa) has placed a second hold on the nomination. The core of the allegations stems from a lawsuit filed by Los Angeles Police Department officer Matthew Garza, who claimed that Rick Jacobs, while the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, sexually harassed him. Jacobs has denied the allegations and Garcetti has denied being aware of them.

As per reports by Politico, the Biden administration dispatched a State Department emissary to mollify anxious Democratic Senate staffers about Garcetti. Perennial swing vote Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has not made up her mind — once again raising the prospect that the Arizona Democrat could deny her party a unified vote, which would effectively torpedo Garcetti’s chances in a 50-50 Senate.

AXIOS reports that Schumer’s team was asked about the timing of a possible Garcetti vote during a weekly call designed to provide a big-picture issues overview to Senate offices. The staffer’s comments were based on the public indications from some Democratic senators — a number of whom have said they want more information about allegations of workplace sexual harassment before supporting Garcetti. “At this time, Schumer’s office is not formally “whipping” the vote — asking senators how they plan to vote.” The comments were made before Axios reported Thursday last week that Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) had “concerns” about the allegations. That brought the public number of wavering Democratic senators to five.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee looked into the allegations and concluded Garcetti had been truthful in a legal deposition during which he denied any knowledge. Garcetti’s nomination was voted out of committee in January without Republican opposition.

On March 25, a State Department official briefed Senate chiefs of staff, explaining the allegations had been investigated by the department and the committee and they determined Garcetti didn’t know about the alleged behavior. A Biden administration representative reiterated last week that Garcetti still has the administration’s confidence, saying both the State Department and the White House were calling senators on his behalf.

The US Warns India Of Consequences For Circumventing Sanctions Against Russia

India has come under pressure from the U.S. and Western countries to take a tougher position with Russia, a country with which it has long had strong ties. Top diplomats from the U.S., Russia, and Europe have traveled to India last week for separate meetings with officials in New Delhi, underlining the efforts by Moscow and Washington to get India more on its side in the international battle over Russia’s invasion and bombardment of Ukraine.

US Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Daleep Singh, a key architect of the Biden administration’s sanctions against Russia, traveled to meet with officials from India’s government this week. While there, he criticized New Delhi’s imports of Russian oil and its reliance on military hardware from Moscow.

There will be consequences for countries looking to circumvent the US sanctions against Russia, the US warned even as Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in India last week on March 31st. Visiting US deputy NSA Daleep Singh, who was in India and is leading US efforts to sanction Russia, didn’t specify the consequences but said these were part of private discussions and the US would not like to see any country attempting to take advantage of the current situation.

“The conversation I’ve had here is that we stand ready to help India diversify its energy resources, much like is the case for defense resources over a period of time,” Singh said at the briefing, according to media reports.

The Biden administration and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have grown increasingly frustrated that India has been on the sidelines of the pressure campaign against Moscow.

India has abstained from all United Nations votes condemning Russia and has made no moves to impose sanctions against the Kremlin.

Singh emphasized that the democracies across the world, and specifically the Quad, to come together and voice their shared interests and their shared concerns about the developments in Ukraine and the implications for the Indo-Pacific,” Singh said. The US Deputy NSA said the impact of the Russian aggression if not checked will be devastating.

“Think of the chilling effect that would cause the uncertainties that would be raised, the signal that would be sent to autocrats all over the world that might wish to exert their own sphere of influence, bully their neighbors, perhaps right on India’s doorstep. And those are costs that we are not willing to accept,” he said.

Singh said the US had not set any red line for India to follow, as the latter seeks to buy oil from Russia at a discount, and that India’s current energy import from Russia didn’t violate any US sanction as there was an exemption for energy imports. Indian sources, while not naming the US, had said earlier this month that countries with oil self-sufficiency could not “credibly advocate” restrictive trading with Russia.

The US commerce secretary and the Australian trade minister criticized India for considering a Russian proposal to buy oil that would undermine sanctions. “Now is the time to stand on the right side of history, and to stand with the US and dozens of other countries, and not funding and fuelling and aiding President Putin’s war,” commerce secretary Gina Raimondo said in Washington. Dan Tehan, Australia’s trade minister, said it was important for democracies to work together “to keep the rules-based approach that we’ve had since the second world war”.

The Ukraine crisis figured prominently in talks between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his visiting British counterpart Liz Truss on Thursday. “Foreign secretary Liz Truss is in India as part of a wider diplomatic push following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine last month,” a British High Commission statement said. On Wednesday, German security and foreign policy adviser Jens Plotner had met with India officials.

Despite the fact that relations between the United States and India have improved in recent years, including during the Trump administration, experts on the matter said India is likely to want to maintain its partnership with Russia — which goes back to the Cold War.

“There’s a lot of momentum in U.S.-India relations, and I think Russia now, unfortunately, brings to bear one of the real sore points in the relationship, that India wants to maintain it at all costs,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst with the RAND Corporation.

Donald Lu, the top State Department official focused on U.S. relations with India, told lawmakers earlier this month that officials have been in a “pitched battle” to convince New Delhi to more bluntly condemn Russia, and are weighing whether to impose congressionally mandated sanctions over New Delhi’s earlier purchase of a Russian missile defense system, the S-400.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), the ranking member with oversight of U.S. foreign relations in South Asia, told The Hill in a statement he opposed sanctioning India, but urged New Delhi to separate itself from Moscow. “India remains a critical partner in the Quad Security Dialogue as they work with the U.S. to combat China in Asia, and around the globe,” Young said. “I hope this will be the moment that India realizes the liability that its longstanding defense relationship with Russia means for their security in the future.”

Former Indian foreign secretary and ex-ambassador to China and the U.S. Nirupama Rao tweeted on Saturday that “our relations with the West matter significantly to us but pressure that we see as unreasonable can’t work.”

India’s FM Jaishankar Hold Talks With Russian FM Lavrov In Delhi

Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Friday, April 1, 2022, just a day after the US warned of consequences for countries attempting to “circumvent” American sanctions against Moscow and stated that ties between the two countries have sustained them through difficult times in the past.

Russia’s foreign minister lauded India for not judging in a “one-sided way” as he discussed Moscow’s military involvement in Ukraine with his Indian counterpart, after Washington urged New Delhi to use its leverage with Russia to end the war. Jaishankar emphasized the importance of a cessation of violence but avoided condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Differences and disputes should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy and by respect for international law, the U.N. Charter, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states,” he said.

Lavrov praised India for judging “the situation in its entirety, not just in a one-sided way.” He expressed hope that mutual respect in search of a balance in ties will prevail in the future.

The Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted that both the leaders held bilateral talks. Lavrov arrived in New Delhi on Thursday evening after concluding a two-day visit to China. Ahead of the meeting, Jaishankar said their talks are taking place in a “difficult international environment quite apart from the pandemic”.

“India, as you are aware, has always been in favor of resolving differences and disputes through dialogue and diplomacy.  In our meeting today, we will have an opportunity to discuss contemporary issues and concerns in some detail. I look forward to our discussions,” the External Affairs Minister said.

Jaishankar also noted that 2022 is an “important year in our bilateral relations as we mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations”. “Despite the Covid related difficulties, last year turned out to be one of intense bilateral activity that included holding the inaugural 2+2 meeting and, of course, the 21st Annual Summit.”

He further said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been in “regular touch and have spoken to each other on multiple occasions this year”.

“Our bilateral relations has continued to grow in many areas and we have diversified our cooperation by expanding our agenda.”

Since the start of war, India has been facing pressure from the West and its allies to take a stronger stand against Russia. As the war between Russia and Ukraine cost India’s military capabilities dearly with delivery of many platforms like nuclear powered submarines, Grigorovich class frigates, Fighter jets, Triumf S-400, AK 203 assault rifle and others were expected to delay.

Lavrov also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and briefed him on the situation in Ukraine, including ongoing peace negotiations, the Indian foreign ministry said. Modi urged an “early cessation of violence, and conveyed India’s readiness to contribute in any way to the peace efforts,″ it said in a statement. Asked by journalists if Modi could mediate between Moscow and Kyiv, Lavrov replied, “I haven’t heard about such talk, frankly speaking. Given India’s position of a just and rational approach toward international problems, it can support such a process. No one is against it, I think,” he said.

India was Moscow’s ally during the Cold War but has since sought to maintain ties with both Russia and Western nations. Experts say up to 60% of Indian defense equipment was acquired from Russia. In the early 1990s, about 70% of Indian army weapons, 80% of its air force systems and 85% of its navy platforms were of Soviet origin. India is now reducing its dependency on Russian arms and diversifying its defense procurement, buying more from the United States, Israel, France, and Italy. But Indian energy dependency on Russia remains a factor in relations

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. expects India to use its relations with Russia to help end the war in Ukraine. “Different countries are going to have their own relationship with the Russian Federation. It’s a fact of history, it’s a fact of geography. That is not something that we are seeking to change,“ Price told reporters in Washington. He said the U.S. is looking for its friends and allies to speak in unison and loudly against the “unjustified, unprovoked, premeditated Russian aggression.”

Did India Ask WHO To ‘Hide’ Its Covid-19 Death Estimates For 10 Years?

The official global total of Covid deaths around the world is far below the real tioll the pandemic has claimed. Everyone agrees the true toll is far greater than what has been officially reported.  A study released last year looked at how much of a disparity there may be in India, one of the epicenters of the pandemic.

The analysis, from the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, D.C., looked at the number of “excess deaths” that occurred in India between January 2020 and June 2021 — in other words, how many more people died during that period than during a similar period of time in 2019 or other recent years.

The study found that between 3.4 and 4.7 million more people died in that pandemic period than would have been predicted. That’s up to 10 times higher than the Indian government’s official death toll of 414,482 at that point of time in the pandemic period in history.

The researchers looked at India in particular because, says study co-author Justin Sandefur, the country was hit so hard by COVID-19. “The second wave in particular led to heart-wrenching stories from friends and colleagues — and a sense that official numbers are not capturing the true scale of that toll.”

Not surprisingly, a technical advisory group (TAG) of the World Health Organization (WHO) has told Devex, an independent news and development platform that the Indian government asked the global health body to publish its estimates of the country’s pandemic death toll “10 years later.”

According to the TAG report, authored in collaboration with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, India’s actual Covid-19 death toll is at least four times higher than its official count of over 5.2 lakh. Interestingly, the TAG team includes Dr Anand Krishnan, professor of community medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, apart from two other Indian-origin doctors.

The WHO is expected to publish the report in early April as scheduled as “it would be irresponsible to say let’s wait until the pandemic is over, then we will reflect.” The upward revision, says the WHO’s TAG, is based on a count of both direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic. According to Devex, which quoted a WHO spokesperson, “the excess mortality estimates associated with Covid-19 provide a more comprehensive measure of the impact of the pandemic” since “the direct measure (deaths directly attributable to Covid) provides only a limited, and in many cases problematic measure.”

A spat in the making?
India, which has often bristled at previous independent studies, including by the medical journal Lancet, that have pegged its official Covid-19 death toll as a gross undercount, has hotly contested the WHO’s estimate, with the global health body’s report expected to double the worldwide death toll due to the pandemic from the current 6.14 million.

When counting “excess deaths,” the cause of death is not part of the data set. But during a health crisis like the pandemic, the assumption is that these additional deaths are part of the COVID-19 toll, said Ali Mokdad of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). They reflect not only those who died of the virus but those who might have died, say, of heart disease or diabetes because they were afraid to seek treatment during lockdowns, and those who killed themselves due to pandemic stresses, he added.

India’s official Covid-19 death toll has also come under scrutiny from the Supreme Court while fixing the compensation amount to be paid to next of kin of the deceased as several states have paid the ex-gratia to more number of people than the official death count. That apart, some states have also carried out ‘reconciliation’ exercises between actual and official fatalities.

India is in a sweet spot, courted by the Quad, China and Russia

The Quad is willing to look past India’s refusal – including in four recent UN resolutions – to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • India’s value as a democracy and capacity as the only other military power able to push back against Chinese aggression in Asia is not lost on the Quad.
  • In a surprising turn of events, even traditional rival China is making overtures to India at this time, seeking New Delhi’s assent to a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appears to have unwittingly put India at the sweet center of a diplomatic triangle in the Indo-Pacific.

As the war enters its fourth week, New Delhi has been receiving a stream of high-profile visitors from major capitals around the world.

At one end, this has included delegations from the United States, Australia and Japan, the three nations which are India’s partners in the Quad, officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

The Quad is willing to look past India’s refusal — including in four recent UN resolutions — to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

An informal grouping, the Quad works to deepen strategic cooperation on issues related to security, technology and the economy while implicitly countering China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

The high profile visits are ongoing.

The foreign minister of Greece Nikos Dendias arrived on Tuesday and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is scheduled to visit in early April. But in a surprising turn of events, even traditional rival China is making overtures to India at this time, seeking New Delhi’s assent to a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Another suitor is Russia, India’s trusted arms supplier for decades, which is now also becoming a supplier of discounted crude oil to New Delhi as Moscow recoils from sanctions enforced by western consumers of its natural gas.

New Delhi is basking in its sudden limelight

On Monday, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland met India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, to reaffirm the two countries’ commitment to shared objectives in the Indo-Pacific.

There was a brief allusion to the Ukraine war but it was almost an afterthought, mentioned at the end of issues pertaining to South Asia, the Indo-Pacific and West Asia. If there was unhappiness over India’s “somewhat shaky” position on Ukraine, to which President Joe Biden alluded hours later in Washington, there was no mention of it in statements issued after the official talks.

Talks with the U.S. were preceded by meetings between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida in New Delhi on Saturday and a virtual consultation with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday.

Discussions on China were at the front and center of both summits. While Modi brought up the June 2020 border clash on the Himalayan border, Kishida made references to the territorial dispute with China over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu.

Kishida announced a $42 billion investment in India and also invited Modi to the next Quad summit in Japan later this year. Again, there was no reference to India’s stand on Ukraine except for calls to end the war.

Morrison had expressed understanding of India’s position on Ukraine, Shringla said, briefing reporters. “There was a great deal of comfort … both sides saw that conflict in Europe should not be a reason for us to divert our attention from the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

A visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to New Delhi is also on the cards. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will hold talks with Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi later this month, in a visit to prepare ground for the yet unannounced visit by Johnson.

China’s changing tone on India

China’s proposal for its foreign minister’s visit comes just short of two years of a bloody confrontation between Chinese and Indian soldiers in Ladakh that claimed the lives of 20 Indian troops and four Chinese soldiers in June 2020.

India has so far been non-committal about the visit but China appears to be eager, in part to secure Modi’s in-person presence at this year’s BRICS summit. The annual meeting of leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will be hosted by China this year. A Russia-India-China summit may also be held on the sidelines.

China has also proposed an “India-China Civilization Dialogue” to be held in both countries and an India-China Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum.

In recent weeks, nationalistic newspaper Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, has shown a marked shift in its tone toward India. “China and India share common interests on many fronts. For instance, the West recently pointed the finger at India for reportedly considering buying Russian oil at a discounted price. But it is India’s legitimate right,” the paper said in an essay last week.

Commenting on Kishida’s visit to New Delhi, the Global Times called the Japanese prime minister a “lobbyist” who failed to “sway India on Ukraine.”

“Although Kishida pushed Modi to take a tougher line on Russia over the Ukraine issue during his first visit to India after he took office, the joint statement issued later showed that the Japanese lobbying did not meet the expectations of Washington and Canberra,” the Global Times said.

And on Sunday, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan — India’s traditional foe and a close China ally — also praised India’s “independent foreign policy.”

India’s ‘fortuitous’ geopolitics

India’s value as a democracy and capacity as the only other military power able to push back against Chinese aggression in Asia is not lost on the Quad. But a lot will depend on how well India — more nimble under Modi — articulates its position on Ukraine.

“India is today in an enviable position because of years of careful diplomacy, and fortuitous geo-politics,” Aparna Pande, a South Asia expert at the Hudson Institute, a Washington DC think tank, told CNBC.

“The US and its partners — in Europe and Asia — need India on their side in the long-term peer competition with China. They are, therefore, more understanding of India’s predicament.”

But Pande cautioned that India’s reluctance, as a democracy and as a key member of the Indo-Pacific to support the liberal international order will be remembered. Russia, says think tank

India faces a stark choice, said Bruce Bennett from the Rand Corporation, a think tank headquartered in Santa Monica, California.

“The key question is whether India will want to be known as a principled country or a nationalistic country. A principled country stands up against any violation of national boundaries, whether it is Russia invading the Ukraine or China invading parts of India,” he said.

“If India decides to ‘sit on the fence’ to maximize its national leverage and influence, I think many people around the world will lose sympathy for India’s concerns about its own territorial integrity.”

India Abstains On Resolution By Russia At UN Security Council

Signaling that India is not aligned with the Russian position, India on March  24th abstained on a resolution pushed by Russia in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine — the resolution was perceived to be critical of Ukraine. The resolution failed to get adopted as it did not get the required nine votes to pass.

Reports state, this is the first time that India has abstained on a Russia-sponsored resolution. In previous votes on the Ukraine war, India abstained from resolutions sponsored by the West that were critical of Moscow’s actions. The latest move reflects Delhi’s attempt to portray its neutrality as it continues to engage and maintain its diplomatic tightrope walk on the issue.

Hours later, India again abstained on an United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution moved by the French and the Mexicans, which got 140 votes in favor, 38 abstentions and five against, and was “strong” in its condemnatory language against Russia.

Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden has said that among the Quad countries, India was “somewhat shaky” in terms of showing its opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Australia and Japan, who make up the Quad along with India and the US, have criticised Russia’s aggression. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla is at the UN in New York where the resolution was negotiated and India’s abstention took place.

Russia and China voted in favor of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Syria, North Korea and Belarus, while India and the remaining 12 UNSC members abstained.

India had previously abstained on two occasions at the UNSC and once in the General Assembly on resolutions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday, unlike the other abstaining UNSC members, India did not issue any statement on the vote.

Russia had called for a vote in the 15-nation UNSC on its draft resolution. It “demands that civilians, including humanitarian personnel and persons in vulnerable situations, including women and children, are fully protected, calls for negotiated ceasefire for enabling safe, rapid, voluntary and unhindered evacuation of civilians, and underscores the need for the parties concerned to agree on humanitarian pauses to this end.”

The Russian resolution, which makes no reference to its invasion, calls upon all parties concerned to allow safe and unhindered passage to destinations outside of Ukraine, including to foreign nationals without discrimination.

It also seeks to facilitate safe and unhindered access of humanitarian assistance to those in need in and around Ukraine, taking into account the particular needs of women, girls, men and boys, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield tweeted that “in a unified protest vote”, 13 members of the Security Council abstained from Russia’s resolution deflecting blame for the humanitarian crisis it has created in Ukraine.

The Russian resolution was one of the three on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine that were put up before the UN General Assembly and Security Council.

The 193-member General Assembly resumed its 11th Emergency Special Session on Ukraine and voted Thursday on a draft resolution ‘Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine’, which was sponsored by France and Mexico.

In a bid to project a “neutral attempt”, South Africa has put forward a rival resolution for UNGA, ‘Humanitarian situation emanating out of the conflict in Ukraine’, which makes no mention of Russia.

South Africa is a member of the BRICS grouping and had earlier abstained, along with India, on the resolution condemning Russia. Its resolution calls for immediate cessation of hostilities by “all parties” in the conflict, and encourages political dialogue, negotiations, mediation and other peaceful means aimed at achieving peace.

The fact that Shringla has gone to New York when a series of Foreign Ministers are visiting India — Greece and Oman Foreign ministers are in Delhi — shows the importance India is attaching to this round of resolutions

Earlier this month, the US State Department had recalled a cable to American diplomats that instructed them to inform counterparts from India and UAE that their position of neutrality on Ukraine put them “in Russia’s camp”, US news outlet ‘Axios’ had reported.

Since then, a series of leaders and officials from Western countries — US, Australia, Japan and Austria – have visited India and have discussed the situation in Ukraine.

After Biden Remarked Of “Somewhat Shaky” Relationship With India, US State Dept. Says “India Is An Essential Partner Of US”

Making clear his unhappiness with New Delhi’s stand, United States President Joe Biden on Tuesday termed India’s response to the Russian military offensive in Ukraine as “shaky”, while also making it clear that the response of other Quad members such as Japan and Australia was “strong.”

US state department spokesperson Ned Price said notwithstanding India’s historic relationship with Russia, which came together at a time when the US was not prepared to have such kind of a relationship with India, now the US is a partner of India. 

India has so far abstained from voting against Russia on any of the UN resolutions so far on the Ukraine conflict. The issue could be raised by the US at the high-level 2+2 talks between the two nations at the defence and foreign ministerial level that is expected to take place in Washington next month.

India has time-tested ties with Russia spanning decades, especially in the defence and civil nuclear sectors and is now also purchasing Russian oil at discounted rates, much to the dismay of Washington.

Speaking at a Business Roundtable, President Biden said, “In response to dealing with his (Russian President Vladimir Putin’s) aggression, there has been an united front in NATO and the Pacific. The Quad has, with the possible exception of India (which has) been somewhat shaky on some of this, but Japan has been extremely strong. So has Australia in terms of dealing with Putin’s aggression.”

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week that India is an essential partner of the United States as both the countries share the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. New Delhi’s stand on Russia because of their historic defense relationship does not come in the way as the US is a partner of choice for India. The comment follows US president Joe Biden’s recent remark that only the response of India, among the Quad countries, has been “somewhat shaky” against Russia.

The India – UAE Agreement: A Developmental Milestone

The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which was signed between India and the UAE on February 18, 2022, is the biggest milestone in the relationship between the two countries so far. This is the biggest agreement signed by the two countries till date. The Arab media covered the signing of the agreement under the headline “New Boundaries, New Milestone”. However the Indian media neglected to see the scope and importance of the agreement.

This agreement on trade, industry and labor, the biggest agreement that the UAE has signed with any country so far, is a reflection of India’s changed attitude towards trade relations. It certainly opens the road to great progress in the commerce between the two countries. The agreement is estimated to help increase the trade between the two countries by 100 billion dollars in five years. That is, trade worth Rupees 7.5 lakh crores.

Till now China was  UAE’s largest market. With the new agreement, India will step into that place. This agreement is particularly important at a time when India is taking a strong stance against Chinese products. It is heartening to note that the UAE has not taken into consideration Pakistan which is trying to gain a better foothold there than India on considerations like religion. The agreement aims at encouraging, rejuvenating and generally improving sectors like economy, energy, weather forecasting, technology, education, food safety, health, defense and security. With the signing of the agreement, the import duties on various products will come down.

The agreement will also open the way for a large number of Indian products to find a market in the UAE. About 90% of products from India will be excluded from import duties. This will become 99% in five years. India will not charge import tax on 80% of imports from the UAE. This will become 90% within ten years. These reductions open new avenues for Indian investors.

At the same time, some very important products from India have been put in a safe section and excluded from the agreement. These include milk products, fruits, vegetables, rubber, tobacco, tea, grains, coffee, hair dye, soap, tyre, footwear, medical instruments, vehicle spares and a few others.

The UAE is India’s second largest market in jewelry export. Refined petroleum, mobile phones, diamonds, iron, steel, organic chemicals, grains, vessels, etc  are products that India exports to the UAE in large quantities. Gold, crude oil, plastic, copper, aluminum  etc are the products that India buys from the UAE. The UAE is also the second largest source of gold import in India.

This is the first time that an IIT is being set up anywhere outside India. As part of the agreement, India will set up educational institutions of excellence in the UAE. This will be a blessing to talented children of Indians living there.

The UAE rulers have realized that the era of oil money is coming to an end. That is why they are focusing on business startups and are opening the country’s doors to investors. It is because of this realization by the rulers, that the UAE has become the main hub of business in the Gulf. The decrease in the flow of oil money has been adversely affecting Indian workers in the Gulf for a long while now, and they have been desperately looking for ways to safeguard their future.

The new India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, signed by the two countries, comes as a big ray of hope. The agreement signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at a virtual summit, lays open an entire world of opportunities before the employment sector, job seekers and entrepreneurs.

This agreement alone will create a hundred and fifty thousand new jobs for Indians in the UAE. These gigantic job opportunities are being created for us by the agreement at a time when Nitaqat, Covid and the economic slowdown have destroyed innumerable jobs in the Gulf. Experts say that one million more jobs will be created in India through the investments the UAE will make there.

This agreement between India and the UAE needs to be seen only as a beginning. Economists forecast that other Gulf countries will not be able to ignore the economic development that will happen in the UAE through the commercial and industrial partnership with India. Such creative partnerships always destroy the boundaries of inequalities.

Credible Opposition In India: A Far Cry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Opposition Ready?

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

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

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

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

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

New Strategies Needed

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

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

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

Hurt and False Egos

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

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

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

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

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

Just Regional Satraps

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

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

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

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

Congress not a Force

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

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

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

United Opposition a Must

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

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

India Actively Undercutting US’ Efforts To Isolate Russia: Report

India’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and efforts to protect trade mean one of Washington’s most valued strategic partners is actively undercutting its efforts to isolate Moscow, Axios reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion has become a stress test for America’s global partnerships. America’s treaty allies are all onside, including those outside NATO such as Japan and South Korea. India, for reasons of history and geopolitical pragmatism, is very much not, the report said.

India abstained on a series of UN votes condemning the invasion.

One such resolution was backed by 141 countries, though a Russian diplomat contended that with China and India both abstaining, the critics represented less than half of the global population.

While the US and EU have led a global push to isolate Russia economically, India has been buying up more Russian energy at a discount, Axios reported.

As per the Financial Times, India’s central bank is discussing a rupee-ruble trade plan with Moscow to ensure it can continue to buy Russian goods, potentially weakening the effects of Western sanctions, the report said.

US officials say they understand India’s delicate position vis-a-vis Russia, though White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called on India’s leaders to “think about where you want to stand when history books are written”.

The British Trade Secretary said Thursday that the UK is “very disappointed” by India’s position and hopes it will change. That’s not looking likely, Axios reported.

‘Which Side Of History Do You Want To Be On?’ White House Asks India On Russia

India has expressed deep concern at the worsening situation in Ukraine and called for immediate cessation of violence and end to all hostilities. New Delhi has, however, abstained from UN resolutions criticizing Russia.

While acknowledging that India’s imports of oil from Russia will not fall within the sanctions regime imposed by the United States (US) and its allies, the White House has said that it was time for India — and other countries — to choose which side of history they wanted to be on.

When asked about reports that India could take up Russian offers of discounted crude oil, and what would be the US’s response to such moves by India and others, White House spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said, “Our message to any country continues to be that, obviously, abide by the sanctions that we have put in place and recommended. I don’t believe this would be violating that. But also think about where you want to stand when the history books are written in this moment in time.”

Psaki derides Russian sanctions on US officials

White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed Russia’s announcement of sanctions against a number of U.S. officials including President Joe Biden and Psaki herself, joking that Biden “is a junior, so they may have sanctioned his dad.” (March 15)

Psaki added that any “support for the Russian leadership” was “ support for an invasion that obviously is having a devastating impact”.

Reports of India’s plans to continue its economic engagement with Russia, through alternative payment mechanisms, have, sparked off a new set of critical responses in the US against India’s stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Amy Bera, the chair of the House of Representatives subcommittee on Asia, Pacific, Central Asia and non-proliferation, said in a statement that as a senior Indian-American member of the Congress, he had been “deeply disappointed” with India’s abstention at the votes in the United Nations condemning Russian aggression, despite India’s long history of defending its own borders from outside aggression.

“Even worse, India is now reportedly looking to bypass international sanctions and buy Russian oil at a steeply discounted rate, potentially giving (Vladimir) Putin an economic lifeline at a time when the Russian economy is reeling from international sanctions.”

Bera added that if these reports were accurate then New Delhi would be “choosing to side” with Putin. “As the world’s largest democracy, and as a leader of the Quad, India has a responsibility to ensure its actions do not directly or indirectly support Putin and his invasion.”

In recent hearings on India and the Indo-Pacific on the Hill, US lawmakers have expressed their anger and disappointment at India’s stance, despite efforts by administration officials from both the State Department and Pentagon to give a glimpse of India’s constraints vis a vis its dependence on Russia.

The administration has said that it would not “stand by” and allow countries to compensate Russia at this moment. In the context of China’s support to Russia, Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, said on Monday, “We are watching very closely the extent to which the PRC, or any other country for that matter, provides any form of support, whether that’s material support, whether that’s economic support, whether that’s financial support, to Russia. Any such support from anywhere in the world would be of great concern to us.”

India has expressed deep concern at the worsening situation in Ukraine and called for immediate cessation of violence and end to all hostilities. New Delhi has, however, abstained from UN resolutions attacking Russia. External affairs minister S Jaishankar told Parliament on Tuesday that India has “reiterated at the highest levels of our leadership to all parties concerned that there is no other choice but the path of diplomacy and dialogue. We have emphasised to all member states of the UN that the global order is anchored on international law, UN Charter and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.”

What About Anti-Hindu, Anti-Sikh Phobias, Asks India At UN Meet On Islamophobia

On declaring March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia, India told the UN General Assembly that New Delhi wasn’t convinced that we need to elevate phobia against one religion to the level of an international day.

The UN General Assembly on Tuesday adopted a Pakistan-sponsored resolution to declare March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia, with India expressing concern at the elevation of the phobia against one religion to such a level while excluding others.

The resolution, introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was adopted by consensus. It was backed by 57 members of OIC and eight other countries, including China and Russia.

Explaining India’s position on the resolution, TS Tirumurti, the country’s permanent representative to the UN, expressed deep concern at the rise in instances of discrimination, intolerance and violence against members of many religious communities in different parts of the world.

“Let me also state that we condemn all acts motivated by anti-Semitism, Christianophobia or Islamophobia. However, such phobias are not restricted to Abrahamic religions only,” he said.

Tirumurti noted that Hinduism has more than 1.2 billion followers, Buddhism more than 535 million and Sikhism more than 30 million, and said the time had come to acknowledge the “prevalence of religiophobia, rather than single out just one”.

He added, “It is in this context that we are concerned about elevating the phobia against one religion to the level of an international day, to the exclusion of all the others. Celebration of a religion is one thing but to commemorate the combating of hatred against one religion is quite another.”

Tirumurti also argued the resolution “may well end up downplaying the seriousness of phobias against all other religions”.

While explaining India’s position, Tirumurti cited what he contended were religion phobias that have affected the followers of non-Abrahamic religions, including “anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist and anti-Sikh phobias”.

“These contemporary forms of religiophobia can be witnessed in the increase in attacks on religious places of worship like gurudwaras, monasteries, temples etc or in spreading of hatred and disinformation against non-Abrahamic religions in many countries,” he said.

He also cited the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, “violation of gurudwara premises, massacre of Sikh pilgrims in gurudwara, attack on temples, glorification of breaking of idols in temples” and said these incidents “contribute to the rise of contemporary forms of religiophobia against non-Abrahamic religions”.

Tirumurti said India, as a pluralistic and democratic country that is home to almost all world religions, has always welcomed “those persecuted around the world for their faith or belief”.

He said, “They have always found in India a safe haven shorn of persecution or discrimination. This is true whether they were Zoroastrians or Buddhists or Jews or people of any other faith. Therefore, it is with deep concern that we have viewed the growing manifestation of intolerance, discrimination or violence against followers of religions, including rise in sectarian violence, in some countries.”

Tirumurti said India is proud that pluralism is at “the core of our existence and we firmly believe in equal protection and promotion of all religions and faith”. In this context, he said, it was unfortunate that the word “pluralism” finds no mention in the resolution and its sponsors did not take on board India’s amendments to include the word in the text.

India hopes the resolution does not set a precedent which will divide the UN into “religious camps”, and it is important for the world body to remain above “religious matters which may seek to divide us rather than bring us together”, he said.

The representatives of France and the European Union also expressed reservations that the resolution singled out only Islam while religious intolerance is prevalent across the world.

A Call To Stand Up Against Impending Muslim Genocide In India

“Many of us need to understand the replacement theory, which has been developed in France, but the Hindu nationalists are using the same type of argument,” said Dr. Hatem Bazian, Professor of Islamic Law and Theology at Zaytuna College. “[They say] that the minorities who are coming to Europe, or the Mexicans who are coming to the United States, are attempting to replace the white race. In a similar way, Hindu nationalists [say] that the Muslims are attempting to replace Hinduism.”

“I [have written] about American political candidates and elected officials and their links or ties, their interactions with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), especially with their RSS and BJP affiliates here in the US,” said Pieter Friedrich, a freelance journalist specializing in analysis of affairs in South Asia. “Thanks to my relentless efforts to expose the RSS-BJP agenda in India and abroad, I was named in a press conference by Delhi police a year ago, and I am now presumably and sadly banned from India.”

“Hindus everywhere need to stand up and speak up against this really poisonous variant of Hindu nationalism that threatens to destroy not just the wonderful civilization and ethos that is India, but really a lot of communities everywhere in the world,” said Prof. Rohit Chopra, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Santa Clara University.

“How can I represent an India where Muslim girls and Muslim women are stripped of their head covering, which is part of their clothing, in the middle of the streets before they step into their schools and colleges? How can I represent an India where Muslim women are sold on an app on other online platforms?” said Dr. Samina Salim, Associate Professor in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Houston. “I do not represent this India where Muslim women are raped, killed, and burned alive. I am not proud of that India. This is an India I did not grow up in; this is an India that I do not identify with.”

The organizers of the event also stressed the importance of international solidarity with Indian Muslims.  “Muslims in India, who have contributed so immensely to India’s civilization, are being threatened and assaulted by Hindu extremists,” said Malcolme Morgan, Public Relations Director of Muslim Leadership Council of San Diego.  “We must unite together, whether we are Muslim or not, to hold the oppressive Indian government accountable for  spreading Islamophobia and inciting violence against Muslims minorities. Our rich heritage as Muslims can be seen from West Africa to East Asia. Unfortunately Muslims in India, who have contributed so immensely to India’s civilization, are being threatened and assaulted by Hindu extremists. We must unite together, whether we are Muslim or not, to hold the oppressive Indian government accountable for  spreading Islamophobia and inciting violence against Muslims minorities. This is not merely a case of religious rights being violated. This is an egregious human rights violation that must not be ignored,” added Mr. Morgan.

“Our event… was an important reminder that we must all be vocal and insistent on the need to bring attention to the dire situation of Muslims in India,” said Khalid Alexandre, President of Pillars Of The Community, San Diego.

The San Diego Coalition For Human Rights has reaffirmed its commitment to upholding India’s constitutional values of tolerance, pluralism, and secularism, where the human rights of all communities are upheld

Modi-Led BJP Wins 4/5 State Elections In India: Kejriwal’s AAP Expands To Punjab

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, won key state elections On March 10th that strengthen its position in national politics and offer a ringing endorsement of Modi’s vision of guiding India away from its secular founding principles.

In the battleground state of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won 275 seats, winning a clear majority of the 403 seats that went to the polls, according to the Election Commission of India. The northern state is the country’s most populous and is considered a political bellwether. It sends more legislators to Parliament than any other state and was key to Modi’s victories in previous national elections. The party also swept back into power in the states of Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand. These results make Modi’s BJP the favorite to win the next national election, in 2024.

With its historic victory in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP showed its popular support overcame criticism of its stewardship of the economy, which has stalled amid soaring unemployment and inflation, and of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which devastated the state. “Today is a day of celebration for Indian democracy,” Modi said. “The results vindicate the BJP’s pro-poor and proactive governance.”

The results from Uttar Pradesh indicate a “triumph” for the BJP, said Nalin Mehta, author of “The New BJP,” a recent book on the party and Modi. The party’s model of welfare — direct benefits transfers and provisions of free food grains to people during the pandemic — helped it “overcome the stresses of anti-incumbency and deep economic deprivation along with an unapologetic positioning of Hindu-ness,” Mehta said. “The broad social coalition across caste and class that powered BJP’s victories since 2014 has not only remained intact, but deepened its roots.”

In the agrarian state of Punjab in northern India, a regional party known as the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party, or AAP, won handsomely over the incumbent Indian National Congress. With its victory in Punjab, the AAP, which controls the Delhi capital region, became the first regional party in decades to capture power in more than one state.

The AAP’s growing reach — and the dismal performance of the Congress party — casts doubt on the future of one of India’s most storied political parties and throws into question the Congress party’s status as the BJP’s main opponent at the national level. Raghav Chadha, a leader of the AAP, told New Delhi Television that his party will be the “national and natural replacement” of the Congress party.

But the BJP’s win in Uttar Pradesh, experts say, again reinforces the dominance of the 71-year-old Modi in the country of more than 1.3 billion people for the foreseeable future. Modi in recent years has grown a long white beard, a move seen as an attempt to cast himself as a sage-like figure towering over the country’s contemporary political life.

Politics in Uttar Pradesh has long been dominated by parties catering to various castes. Under Modi, the BJP successfully brought under its umbrella voters from different castes who identify as Hindu first.

The results also indicate the emphasis on welfare politics in the country. While BJP’s victory in the states can be attributed to the welfare schemes and its effective delivery system, cutting across caste and religious lines, Kejriwal’s politics are appreciated by voters because of its focus on the welfare aspects.

The AAP’s emergence in Punjab with a splendid performance is going to create ripples that could lead to realignments at the national level too. Political observers who watch AAP closely see this performance as an endorsement of Kejriwal as a prospective national leader against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A little over eight years after it emerged as a formidable force in Delhi by unseating the Congress and leaving the BJP diminished, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is cruising to victory in Punjab by steamrolling the traditional players, heralding a tectonic shift in Indian politics.

The latest victory is likely to help the BJP forge ahead with its controversial agenda, including implementing a citizenship law that excluded Muslims from its ambit and had been pushed to the back burner after nationwide protests. Indian right-wing hard-liners also could push for their long-standing demands, such as a national civil code, which would override religious laws on matters including marriage and inheritance.

The bitterly fought state elections, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, have been held in staggered phases over more than a month. They were billed as a battle for India’s future, in which voter preferences would either burnish the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda or challenge what critics call the country’s tilt toward illiberal democracy.

A recent report by the Swedish V-Dem Institute, which maps the state of democracies in the world, said India was among the top 10 countries sliding into authoritarianism, a group that V-Dem says includes Brazil and Hungary. The U.S.-based nonprofit Freedom House, which assesses political rights and civil liberties globally, listed India as “partly free” for a second consecutive year in 2022, noting its decline in civil liberties.

As the incumbent party going into the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections, the BJP faced a patchy governance record. Last year, the state was one of the worst-hit when the ferocious delta wave of the coronavirus pandemic swept the country and overwhelmed the health infrastructure. Corpses floated in the sacred Ganges river and were buried on sandbanks, revealing an enormous toll not always reflected in official figures, experts said.

For the Congress Party, its footprint shrunk to just two states, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, from the nine it had when Narendra Modi took charge in 2014. Congress president Sonia Gandhi signaled that the meeting of the party’s Working Committee will be called soon to discuss the way ahead but several leaders media spoke to were groping in the dark. Some younger leaders, referring to the landslide AAP victory in Punjab, did argue that the “old and jaded” need to make way for fresh blood.

Modi said that some political experts had said the results of polls in five states in 2017 decided the results of the general election in 2019, which the BJP won with a sweeping majority. “I believe this time also they will say that the results of 2022 have decided the results of 2024,” he said.

‘Repressed’ India Added To Human Rights Watch List

India has been added to a watchlist of countries that have seen a rapid decline in civic freedoms.Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to resort to drastic measures to silence critics of his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to the CIVICUS Monitor.

In January, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids on a prominent human rights watchdog, People’s Watch, in Madurai.

“Authorities used politically motivated allegations of fraud and financial irregularities to target the civil society organization, which has been an outspoken critic of the government,” said Josef Benedict, civic space researcher for the CIVICUS Monitor.

The raid came on the heels of over 6,000 other civil society organizations including Oxfam losing their licenses under the controversial Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. The government has used the law to ban organizations from receiving foreign funds.

Since coming to power in 2014, Modi has sought to squeeze charities and non-profit groups that receive foreign funds. Greenpeace and Amnesty International are among the civil society groups that have had to close their offices in India.

“The use of broadly worded anti-terrorism laws against activists, journalists, academics and students reflects a multi-year decline in the state of civic and democratic freedoms in the country”

Scores of human rights defenders and activists remain in detention under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other laws. They include the 15 human rights defenders linked to the 2018 Bhima Koregaon incident who have been accused of having links with Maoist organizations, based on evidence believed to be fabricated.

At least 13 activists arrested under the UAPA for their advocacy work against the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 remain in detention. The slow investigative processes and extremely stringent bail provisions ensure that those detained under the law are held in pre-trial detention for long periods.

“The office raids and foreign funding bans are part of the government’s strategy to harass and silence their critics,” said Benedict.

“The use of broadly worded anti-terrorism laws against activists, journalists, academics and students reflects a multi-year decline in the state of civic and democratic freedoms in the country.”

Journalists have continued to be targeted in India for their work and there have been concerns about the widespread surveillance of activists, journalists and others critical of the Modi government following the Pegasus spyware expose.

“The government must release all human rights defenders detained and come clean about its surveillance of activists and journalists as well as establish an independent and effective oversight mechanism to monitor all stages of interceptions of communications,” said Henri Tiphagne, national working secretary of Human Rights Defenders’ Alert (HRDA) India.

In recent months, the government has arrested human rights defender Khurram Parvez as well as journalists and taken control of the Kashmir Press Club, the largest independent media body in Kashmir

CIVICUS also cites persecution and harassment in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Since August 2019, when the government revoked the constitutional autonomy of the country’s only Muslim-majority state and split Jammu and Kashmir into two federally governed territories, hundreds have been detained and restrictions placed on internet access.

In recent months, the government has arrested human rights defender Khurram Parvez as well as journalists and taken control of the Kashmir Press Club, the largest independent media body in Kashmir.

India is currently rated “repressed” by the CIVICUS Monitor along with 48 other countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Other countries added to the watchlist with India are El Salvador, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

CIVICUS is a global alliance of over 10,000 civil society organizations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.

The CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, including the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, across 197 countries and territories.

Why India Repeatedly Abstains Against Russian Invasion Of Ukraine?

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

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

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

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

India’s inclination towards the Soviet Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India and Russia at the United Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Thinks India Is In “Russia’s Camp” Will Standing With Russia Cost India UNSC Membership?

As India abstained on a US-sponsored UN Security Council resolution that “deplores in the strongest terms” Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine, analysts have begun to worry if India’s stance will cost India in its bid for UN Security Council Permanent Membership.

Even as US President Joe Biden is said to have played the China angle with PM Narendra Modi to get India to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at an emergency meeting of the quad, an Axios report said that the US, in a diplomatic cable that’s now been recalled, asked its diplomats to tell New Delhi that its stance of neutrality on the invasion places it “in Russia’s camp, the aggressor in this conflict.”

No fence-sitting

Listing some talking points, US diplomats were instructed to tell the Indian side that “continuing to call for dialogue, as you have been doing in the Security Council, is not a stance of neutrality.” It further said that the US would “strongly encourage” India “to take the opportunity to support Ukraine in the Human Rights Council, an opportunity you failed to seize in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).”

What triggered it?

While last week India had abstained from a US-sponsored UNSC resolution condemning Moscow’s aggression, on Wednesday, it abstained from voting on a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution asking Moscow to “immediately, completely and unconditionally” withdraw from Ukraine.

India’s predicament

While India is heavily dependent on Russia for its military hardware, not to mention seeking its help in evacuating its nationals from Ukraine, it’s also part of the quad — comprising US, Australia, Japan and itself — that seeks to counter an increasingly aggressive China. It has therefore justified the abstentions, saying they were in India’s best interests and based on “certain careful considerations.”.

Meanwhile, the war rages on…

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reached out to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for direct talks between them to end the war that entered its second week. According to the UN, 1 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, even as both countries agreed to hold a third round of talks for a ceasefire along with setting up humanitarian corridors to allow civlians to escape.

Russian forces, which had already captured the port city of Kherson, are battling for control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is Europe’s second largest and is located in southeastern Ukraine.

India Abstains From Condemning Russian Invasion Of Ukraine At UN Security Council Ending 77 Years Of Peace In Europe, Putin’s Military Forces Invade Ukraine

For the first time since the end of World War II, 77 years ago, one European state has attacked another European state. Chosen by Russia’s Dictatorial President, Vladimir Putin, Russian troops and tanks are storming the capital, Kyiv, in his efforts to seize power from the democratically-elected Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

India, along with China and the United Arab Emirates, has abstained on a Security Council resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The resolution proposed by the US and Albania with the backing of nearly 60 countries received 11 votes in favor, giving it a majority in the 15-member Council, but was nullified by the Russian veto on February 25th.

The resolution proposed by the US and Albania sought to declare that Russia has committed acts of aggression against Ukraine and the situation is a breach of international peace and security. It had also demanded that Russia immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine and completely withdraw its military forces from within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.

Amid ongoing military operations by Russia against Ukraine, US Permanent Representative, Linda Thomas Gre, said: “We are here today because of Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified, unconscionable war on Ukraine. This is a war of choice. Russia’s choice. Russia chose to invade its neighbor. Russia chose to inflict untold suffering on the Ukrainian people and on its own citizens. Russia chose to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty, to violate international law, to violate the UN Charter.”

The strange part is that the early stages of the invasion seem to be all too familiar – especially Russia’s recognition of “independent” Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Putin’s moves during the Georgian War in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were eerily similar to what he is doing in Ukraine in 2022.

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale war into Ukraine in the name of military operation, the Russian troops have now captured Chernobyl nuclear plant and Vorzel village, which is just 8 kilometers away from Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to remain in the capital and has said that he is Russia’s number 1 target.

Russia claims its assault on Ukraine is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighborhoods have been hit since the invasion began Thursday with air and missile strikes and Russian troops entering Ukraine from the north, east and south.

Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others had been wounded during Europe’s largest land war since World War II. It was unclear whether those figures included both military and civilian casualties.

In Kyiv, a missile struck a high-rise apartment building in the southwestern outskirts near one of the city’s two passenger airports, leaving a jagged hole of ravaged apartments over several floors. A rescue worker said six civilians were injured.

Explaining the abstention at the United Nations, for abstaining from condemning the Russian invasion of its neighbor, Ukraine, India’s Permanent Representative, T.S. Tirumurti said, “It is a matter of regret that the path of diplomacy was given up. We must return to it. Dialogue is the only answer to the settling of differences and disputes, however daunting that may appear at this moment,” he added.

Without naming Russia, Tirumurti, however, said, “India is deeply disturbed by the recent turn of developments in Ukraine.” But taking a neutral stance, he added, “We urge that all efforts are made for the immediate cessation of violence and hostilities.”

India’s abstention followed a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. But US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken called India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar to press the case for voting for the resolution. India’s abstention is a bump in the road to closer relations with the US and the West.

US Permanent Representative, Linda Thomas Greenfield made the voting on the resolution a litmus test for how countries stand with the US. “There is no middle ground,” she said before the vote. And after the vote, she added, “This vote showed which countries truly believe in supporting the core principles of the UN and which ones deployed them as convenient catchphrases. This vote showed which Security Council members support the UN Charter and which ones do not.”

Shortly afterwards, Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres said, “The UN was born out of war to end war. Today, that objective was not achieved. But we must never give up. We must give peace another chance.  The UN Charter has been challenged in the past, but it has stood firm on the side of peace, security, development, justice, international law & human rights. The international community must do everything in its power so that these values prevail in Ukraine & for all humanity.”

He added, “The contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, international law and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. all member states need to honor these principles and finding a constructive way forward.”

The matter now goes to the 193-member General Assembly, which is expected to take up a similar resolution next week and the nonmembers of the Council who backed the failed resolution would be able to register their votes there.

Russia’s isolation was apparent because the three abstentions did not amount to support for it either. As symbolisms go, it was stark as China abstained even though Russia’s President Vladimir and China’s President Xi Jinping had signed a statement this month on ties with “no limits”.

India was courted by both the US and Russia given the symbolic nature of the vote and the West’s desire to isolate the US. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday. And US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to press the case for voting for the resolution.

India’s abstention will strain India’s growing relationship with the US and the West as Washington had made the voting on the resolution a litmus test for how countries stand with Washington’s position. “There is no middle ground,” US Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield said before the vote.

And after the vote, she said, “This vote showed which countries truly believe in supporting the core principles of the UN and which ones deployed them as convenient catchphrases. This vote showed which Security Council members support the UN Charter and which ones do not.”

Britain’s Permanent Representative Barbara Woodward said, “History will record how we voted today. And which countries stood up to be counted in defense of the charter and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Tirumurti’s remark that India “was deeply concerned about the welfare and security of the Indian community” in Ukraine drew a sharp response from Ukraine’s Permanent Representative Sergiy Kyslytsya. Turning towards Tirumurti and raising his voice he said, “It is exactly [for] the safety of your nationals right now in Ukraine that you should be the first to vote to stop the war to save your nationals in Ukraine.”

The vote was taken by a show of hands around the horseshoe-shaped desk of the Council against a mural symbolizing UN’s mission of bringing peace and freedom to a world ravaged by war. Kyslytsya asked to observe a moment silence to “pray for the souls” of all victims of the war in Ukraine without mentioning any nationalities or to meditate for peace.

Fearing Imminent Russian Invasion, India Asks Citizens To Leave Ukraine

Concerns over Russia’s intentions in Ukraine mounted after talks in Geneva between Russia and the U.S.-led NATO security alliance ended last week without success. Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops and moved heavy weapons along its border with Ukraine in recent weeks and has begun positioning forces along the Belarus-Ukraine border.

The Pentagon accused Moscow of deploying armed saboteurs into Eastern Ukraine to start violence as a pretext for moving its troops into the country, a tactic Russia used in 2014 during its invasion and occupation of the Crimean Peninsula. The Russians said they would withdraw if NATO agreed to a series of security measures, including permanently banning Ukraine from the Western military alliance, a proposal that has been flatly refused. Secretary of State Antony Blinken ’84 will meet with Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, Friday in an attempt to find a resolution to the standoff.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday he was convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a decision to invade Ukraine, and though there was still room for diplomacy, he expected Russia to move on the country in the coming days. Russia has repeatedly denied preparing to invade Ukraine.

Acknowledging the “real possibility” of war, US Vice President Kamala Harris Harris tried to make the case to American allies that rapidly spiraling tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border meant European security was under threat and there should be unified support for economic penalties if the Kremlin invades its neighbor, Reuters reported.

As Western leaders warn of an imminent Russian invasion, Belarus defense minister Sunday said that in a step that further intensifies pressure on Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are extending military exercises that were due to end on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Indian Embassy in Ukraine, meanwhile, advised all Indian nationals, whose stay is not deemed essential, to temporarily leave Ukraine. Indian students were also advised to also get in touch with respective student contractors for updates on chartered flights.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has posed the question that’s kept the world on edge for weeks: will Russia attack Ukraine? Not even those in the Russian government — besides President Vladimir Putin — appear to know the answer, but the fact remains that there has been a steady buildup of Russian troops and military hardware near the Ukraine border; the largest since the end of the Cold War.

“They have all the capabilities in place, Russia, to launch an attack on Ukraine without any warning at all. No one is denying that Russia has all these forces in place,” Stoltenberg told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. “The question is, will they launch an attack?”

Over 150,000 Russian troops are stationed at various points along the border with Ukraine. Russian forces have also been posted in Belarus, an ally that lies to the north of Ukraine.

According to reports, multiple explosions could be heard late Saturday and early Sunday in the center of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The origin of the explosions was not clear. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC that the plans that the West is seeing at Ukraine’s border suggest that a Russian invasion could be “the biggest war in Europe since 1945 in terms of sheer scale”.

Almost 2,000 ceasefire violations were registered in eastern Ukraine by monitors for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Saturday, a diplomatic source told Reuters Sunday. The Ukrainian government and separatist forces have been fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014. An upsurge in shelling has thrust the region to the center of tensions between Moscow and the West over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine.

“The fact is that this directly leads to an increase in tension. And when tension is escalated to the maximum, as it is now, for example, on the line of contact (in eastern Ukraine), then any spark, any unplanned incident or any minor planned provocation can lead to irreparable consequences,” he added. So all this has – may have – detrimental consequences. The daily exercise of announcing a date for Russia to invade Ukraine is a very bad practice,” a report by Reuters, quoting Biden stated.

Repeated Western predictions of a Russian invasion of Ukraine are provocative and may have adverse consequences, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday. Putin takes no notice of such Western statements, Peskov told Rossiya 1 state TV.

Moscow has insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine and its forces in Belarus are there for military drills set to take place in the coming days. The U.S. and its Western allies have warned of severe economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia should an invasion go ahead.

How A Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Could Affect The World?

The number of Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders have continued to build in recent days, with U.S. officials estimating that 169,000 to 190,000 personnel are in place near Ukraine or in Russian-occupied Crimea.

President Biden spoke about the situation on Friday, saying that U.S. intelligence now believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to proceed with an invasion.

“We have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week, in the coming days,” Biden said. “We believe that they will target Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people.”

Biden has signaled to the American public that it, too, may feel effects if Russia invades Ukraine.

“If Russia decides to invade, that would also have consequences here at home. But the American people understand that defending democracy and liberty is never without cost,” he said in a speech Tuesday. “I will not pretend this will be painless.”

Russia says it is not preparing to invade, and it is not a certainty that Putin will decide to do so. World leaders are continuing diplomatic talks in a high-stakes effort to avoid that outcome.

Still, the possibility of an invasion has raised the specter of consequences — sanctions, countersanctions, energy supply issues, a flood of refugees — that would be felt far beyond Ukraine’s borders. Here’s what to know.

The U.S. has promised severe sanctions if Russia invades — and Russia could retaliate

“If Russia proceeds, we will rally the world and oppose its aggression. The United States and our allies and partners around the world are ready to impose powerful sanctions and export controls,” Biden said Tuesday.

Those sanctions could include restrictions on major Russian banks that would dramatically affect Russia’s ability to conduct international business. Severe U.S. sanctions could drive up prices for everyday Russians or cause Russia’s currency or markets to crash.

Because the U.S. does not rely much on trade with Russia, it is somewhat insulated from direct consequences. Europe is more directly affected. But certain sectors of the U.S. economy rely on highly specific Russian exports, primarily raw commodities.

“The premise of sanctions is to hurt the other guy more than you hurt your own interests. But that does not mean there will not be some collateral damage,” said Doug Rediker, a partner at International Capital Strategies.

Energy prices could soar

Russia is a major exporter of oil and natural gas, especially to Europe. As a result, officials have reportedly shied away from severe sanctions on Russian energy exports.

But there are other ways the energy market could be disrupted. Nearly 40% of the natural gas used by the European Union comes from Russia. President Biden has said the not-yet-operational Nord Stream 2 pipeline would not move ahead if Russia invaded Ukraine.

For one, Russia could choose to cut off or limit oil and gas exports to Europe as retaliation for sanctions. Nearly 40% of the natural gas used by the European Union comes from Russia — and no European country imports more than Germany, a key ally of the United States.

Even if Russia chooses not to limit exports, supplies could still be affected by a conflict in Ukraine because multiple pipelines run through the country, carrying gas from Russia to Europe. “They could simply be casualties of a military invasion,” Rediker said.

Either way, if Europe’s natural gas supply is pinched, that could cause energy prices — which have already been climbing — to rise even further. And even though the U.S. imports relatively little oil from Russia, oil prices are set by the global market, meaning local prices could rise anyway. On Tuesday, Biden promised to work with Congress to address “the impact of prices at the pump.”

Other industries, from food to cars, might also be hurt

Russia is a major exporter of rare-earth minerals and heavy metals — such as titanium used in airplanes. Russia supplies about a third of the world’s palladium, a rare metal used in catalytic converters, and its price has soared in recent weeks over fears of a conflict.

And a major conflict in Ukraine would disrupt Ukrainian industries too. Ukraine is a major source of neon, which is used in manufacturing semiconductors.

As a result, U.S. officials have warned various sectors to brace for supply chain disruptions, including the semiconductor and aerospace industries.

Fertilizer is produced in major quantities in both Ukraine and Russia. Disruptions to those exports would mostly affect agriculture in Europe, but food prices around the world could rise as a result.

The shock to international stability could hit global markets

Beyond sanctions and countersanctions, global financial markets would likely have a negative reaction to a European military invasion of a scale not seen since World War II.

Americans with exposure to the stock market — like those with 401(k)s and other retirement accounts — could feel an effect, though it would most likely be short term.

“Markets are fundamentally not prepared for a land war in Europe in the 21st century,” Rediker said. “It’s something people just have not contemplated.”

The U.S. stock market has already been unusually volatile in recent weeks, churning over inflation, possible moves by the Federal Reserve and the possible conflict in Ukraine.

Historically, the market has bounced back relatively quickly after geopolitical events. That’s what’s most likely today too, analysts say.

But if a major Russian invasion and subsequent conflict cause long-lasting disruption of energy markets and other exports, investors could rethink that conventional wisdom.

“You’re potentially at a point where not only are we looking at Russia potentially invading Ukraine and sanctions and countermeasures, but you are also looking at a rise of China that doesn’t necessarily agree with the American perspective on the world anyway,” Rediker said. “Are we looking at a point in which some of the major premises that people take for granted have to be reassessed?”

Russia might respond with disruptive cyberattacks on U.S. targets

Another way Russia could respond to U.S. sanctions is through cyberattacks and influence campaigns.

Various federal agencies, including the Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security, have warned of possible cyberattacks on targets like big banks and power grid operators. And just last week, U.S. cybersecurity officials held a tabletop exercise to ensure that federal agencies are prepared for possible Russian retaliation, The Washington Post reported.

“They have been warning everyone about Russia’s very specific tactics about the possibility of attacks on critical infrastructure,” Katerina Sedova, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, told NPR.

Russian cyberattacks have targeted Ukraine relentlessly in recent years, including attacks on the capital city of Kyiv’s power grid in 2015 and 2016. But a major escalation could shift focus to U.S. targets.

Sedova pointed to the Russian state-backed attack on the IT software company SolarWinds and a ransomware attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline for six days as examples of how major Russian cyberattacks could disrupt U.S. operations. (The Biden administration said it does “not believe the Russian government was involved” in the pipeline attack.)

Power grids, hospitals and local governments could all be targets, she said. For now, Sedova said she is more worried about subtler attacks — like influence campaigns that aim to “sow discord between us and our allies in our resolve” to act jointly against Russia.

“Oftentimes, cyber-operations go hand in hand with influence,” she said. “They’re targeting a change of decision-making, a change in policy in that direction, a change in public opinion.”

A major invasion would likely spark a refugee crisis

A full Russian invasion could send 1 million to 5 million refugees fleeing Ukraine, U.S. officials and humanitarian agencies have warned.

“It will be a continent-wide humanitarian disaster with millions of refugees seeking protection in neighbouring European countries,” Agnès Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said last month in statement.

Poland, which shares a border with Ukraine and is already home to more than a million Ukrainians, would likely see the most refugees. Over the weekend, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said his country was preparing for an “influx of refugees” from Ukraine.

The U.S. military says that the thousands of soldiers deployed to Poland this month are prepared to assist with a large-scale evacuation.

“Assistance with evacuation flow is something they could do, and could do quite well. They are going to be working with Polish authorities on what that looks like and how they would handle that,” Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby said this week.

At the largest scale, a refugee crisis would not be contained to Europe — the U.S. would likely see refugees seeking asylum too.

US To Back India’s ‘Rise, Regional Leadership’ Against ‘Coercion And Aggression’ By China: Strategy Document

In a document invested with tremendous geopolitical significance, US President Joe Biden’s administration has outlined its Indo-Pacific strategy that would “support India’s continued rise and regional leadership” as Washington seeks to counter China’s attempts at global domination.

The long-awaited document released on Friday said, “We recognize that India is a like-minded partner and leader in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, active in and connected to Southeast Asia.” China’s “coercion and aggression” is acute “along the Line of Actual Control with India,” it said.

It said that as it continues to build its strategic partnership with India, the US will “contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific” – a region where China confronts the US and other countries. The strategy plan said that the US would “steadily advance our Major Defense Partnership with India and support its role as a net security provider.”

India was given the Major Defense Partner designation in 2016 and the two countries have steadily built it up with several agreements for defense cooperation.

The document prepared mostly by the National Security Council and released a year after Biden assumed office sets out the plan for the Indo-Pacific, a region that his administration had said was going to be the focus of its diplomatic and strategic engagement.

Other developments like the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the standoff in Europe with Russia that is deploying a huge military force along the Ukraine border have come in the way, but now the Biden administration is reinforcing its commitment to the Indo-Pacific even as it says a Russian invasion is imminent.

Its release in Washington was timed to coincide with the meeting in Melbourne of the foreign ministers of the Quad, the group of India, the US, Japan and Australia that is emerging as the linchpin of the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

The strategy document warned, “The PRC (People’s Republic of China) is combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power.”

A senior administration official who briefed reporters about the strategy document said that there was “a recognition that India is a critical strategic partner, and a desire to continue building on the very good work of previous administrations to significantly broaden and deepen that relationship.”

Working with India is seen “as a very, very high priority,” the official said. “There is tremendous appreciation of the importance and the challenges of strengthening the engagement with India and a recognition that India is a critical strategic partner,” according to the official.

Asked about the likelihood of a defense pact with India like the AUKUS – the alliance between the US, Australia and Britain – the official cited the different situation in India in regards to achieving such an agreement without explicitly ruling it out.

“Obviously, you know, India is in a very different place, in many ways, than Australia, than other countries,” the official said.

But the official added, “India faces very significant challenges. And I think that, you know, China’s behavior in the Line of Actual Control has had a galvanizing impact on India.”

“We see tremendous opportunities in working with another democracy, with a country that has a maritime tradition that understands the importance of the global commons to advance critical issues in the region,” the official said.

The official turned to the Quad as the vehicle for promoting strategic cooperation with India.

“Obviously, India’s role in the Quad, I think, is a very significant element of that, including the much-enhanced ability to speak frankly about issues in the region; to work together to deliver, you know, essentially, public goods that address, you know, challenges in the region, and to enhance ways in which we can coordinate,” the official said.

The strategy document promised to “bring together our Indo-Pacific and European partners in novel ways, including through the AUKUS partnership.”

“We will foster security ties between our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, including by finding new opportunities to link our defense industrial bases, integrating our defense supply chains, and co-producing key technologies that will shore up our collective military advantages,” it added.

Highlighting the challenge from China, the strategic plan said, “We will focus on every corner of the region, from Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, to South Asia and Oceania, including the Pacific Islands.”

“In a quickly changing strategic landscape, we recognize that American interests can only be advanced if we firmly anchor the United States in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen the region itself, alongside our closest allies and partners,” it said.

Injecting a note of urgency, the document said, “Our collective efforts over the next decade will determine whether the PRC succeeds in transforming the rules and norms that have benefitted the Indo-Pacific and the world.”

The document noted that many of the US allies and partners are also focusing on the region and support for enhancing US involvement in the region has support in the US across party lines.

The document acknowledges that the US illusions of changing China into a responsible democracy through engagement are dead. “Our objective is not to change the PRC but to shape the strategic environment in which it operates, building a balance of influence in the world that is maximally favorable to the United States, our allies and partners, and the interests and values we share,” the document said.

“We will also seek to manage competition with the PRC responsibly,” but will cooperate with Beijing in areas like climate change and nuclear nonproliferation,” it said. (From South Asia Monitor)

Thousands Join The Campaign Against Anti-Conversion Laws In India

Many prominent citizens in India demanded for a Repeal of All Anti-Conversion Laws in India, in the context of the Anti-Conversion Bill scheduled to be tabled in Karnataka Upper House on February 14, 2022. The initial signatories for the Petition to the President of India included nationally well known citizens like:

Admiral L Ramdas (Former Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy), Mallika Sarabhai (Accomplished dancer & choreographer),  Medha Patkar (NAPM), Anand Patwardhan (Film Maker),  Mani Shankar Aiyar (Former Minister), Prof. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd (Writer, Academician), Rev. Peter Machado (Archbishop of Bangalore), Margaret Alva, Former Governor of Goa, Gujarat and Uttarakhand), Teesta Setalvad (Advocate, Civil Rights Activist), K. Satchidanandan (Writer, Poet, Former Secretary of Sahitya Akademi),  Annie Raja (National Federation of Indian Women), Prof. Ram Puniyani,  Harsh Mander (Author, Social Activist), Kavita Krishnan (AIPWA), Dr. John Dayal (Senior Journalist, Human Rights Activist), Sandeep Pandy (General Secretary, Socialist Party of India), Tehmina Arora (Human Rights Activist), Brinelle D’Souza (Centre for Health and Mental Health, TISS), Susmit Bose (Musician), Irfan Engineer (Centre for Study of Society and Secularism ), Vidya Dinkar (Human Rights Activist), A C Michael (Former Member of Delhi Minorities Commission), and others.

While articulating that that a new Anti-Conversion Law is not necessary since the Indian Constitution has enough provisions for the same, the signatories also stated: `Wherever the Anti-Conversion law, ironically officially called Freedom of Religion Act, was passed, it became a justification for the persecution of the minorities and other marginalized identities.  The attacks on the minorities grew sharply in recent years since this law was used as a weapon targeting the dignity of Christians and Muslims particularly belonging to Adivais, Dalits and women.’ The petition called for joining hands to defend the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution and protection of human rights of the minorities and other marginalized sections in India. The petition was initiated by the National Solidarity Forum, a network of groups and individuals who started acting in response to the Kandhamal Genocide on the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians in 2007-2008.

In India, from the last few years there have been scattered and sporadic sub-radar attacks on Christian communities. Pretext made is that Christian Missionaries are converting by force, fraud, coercion or allurement. Population census shows a small decline in the percentage of Christians from 2.6 percent in 1971 to 2.3 percent in 2011. These Anti- Conversion Laws, generally called freedom of religion laws, are attempts to intimidate the Christian Community and the planned law in Karnataka is on the same lines,’ said Prof. Ram Punyani, the Convenor, National Solidarity Forum (NSF).

Ajay Kumar Singh, a Co-Convenor of NSF stated: `A Dalit converted to Christianity or Islam loses the reservation and protection from the State. The Dalit does not lose any reservation and protection if he or she converts to Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism. It is a reality that the discriminatory dalit identity does not change no matter which religion one belongs to.  .  There are stringent penal for restricting the dalit and adivasi to convert to Christianity or Islam.  This law itself acts as an inducement to remain in Hinduism and violates the individual’s right to choose one’s own religion. It treats them as objects, who cannot decide for themselves.’

`The law disrespects women, and places restrictions for a woman to choose her partner. It is conceived with a notion that women in India are not in a position to think on their own and act on their own. This law is highly patriarchal. It is not acceptable,’ said Vidya Dinkar, human rights activist and a core team member of NSF.

Dr. John Dayal, senior journalist, human rights activist and a founder member of the National Solidarity Forum stated: `The Anti-Conversion Laws are not just affecting the Christians alone, they are meant for further persecution on the Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and women also in this country. They violate the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution and India’s secular heritage.’

`This law discriminates against certain religions. It is a violation of the principle enshrined in the Indian Constitution that all religions are equal. It is meant to strengthen religious conflicts and majoritarian nationalism in India. Moreover, it infantilizes the poor and gives the State power over matters that are deeply personal.’ Said Brinnele D’Souza, Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Thousands of people have already responded to the petition immediately by endorsing it and thousands of endorsements  are pouring in. The petition is available  on https://chng.it/gBYcGCPZyV

Supporting the petition, Margaret Alva, the former Governor of Goa, Gujarat and Uttarakhand, appealed: `the National Solidarity Forum is trying to collect signatures of people from all religions and backgrounds to dissuade the Government from passing this Bill. I request you to sign this appeal to withdraw the anti-Christian bill and such laws in other states of the country.’

Many political parties like Congress, Janata Dal, Aam Aadmi Party, Welfare Party, Socialist Party (India) and other political organisations have already come forward strongly against the Anti-Conversion Bill and the need to protect the Indian Constitution and the secular tradition in India.

Pegasus: The New Cyber Weapon For Dismantling Democracy

The New York Times recently reported that India had purchased the Pegasus software from an Israeli company, NSO, as part of the multi-billion-dollar armaments deal that included sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear. The report also said that the purchase was finalized during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel and cleared by the then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017.

Once again, the Government officials in India kept their silence on the New York Times story. Earlier, the Supreme Court in India has ordered an independent probe into Pegasus upon a ruling that came after petitions were filed which sought an investigation into allegations of unauthorized surveillance. The Court stated while ordering the inquiry that “the mere invocation of national security by the State does not render the Court a mute spectator.”

The Court also listed several compelling circumstances that were weighed before issuing an order. The right to privacy and freedom of speech are alleged to be impacted, and the entire citizenry is affected by such allegations due to the potential chilling effect. The bench went on to say that the “right to privacy is directly infringed when there is surveillance or spying done on an individual, either by the State or by an external agency” and “if done by the State, the same must be justified on constitutional grounds .” During the hearing, the Centre had filed a brief affidavit “unequivocally” denying the allegations and said the matter involved national security concerns. The Indian Express recently reported that two Cybersecurity experts had told the Supreme Court-appointed committee on the Pegasus issue that there is concrete evidence that the application was used to spy on the petitioners.

The NSO group claims that the product it sells to government clients is intended to collect data from the mobile devices of specific individuals suspected to be involved in serious crime and terror. However, contrary to their assertion, it has been reported that this spyware has been widely misused. In response, a global consortium of more than 80 journalists from 17 media outlets in 10 countries came together under the ‘Pegasus project’ coordinated by Forbidden Stories with the technical support of Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Their findings shed light on the fact that at least 180 journalists across the globe have been selected as targets in countries like India, Mexico, Hungary, Morocco and France, and others. Potential targets also included human rights activists, academics, business people, lawyers, doctors, union leaders, diplomats, politicians, and several heads of state.

In a recent column, Siddharth Varadarajan, of ‘The Wire’ wrote further on his interaction with Ronen  Bergman of the New York Times stating that the Indian leadership showed ‘specific interest’ in and ‘specific emphasis’ on acquiring the controversial spyware. The column went on to say that the forensic tests by Amnesty International’s tech lab revealed the presence of military-grade spyware on the smartphones of several journalists, including two of the publication’s founding editors, investigative journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Sushant Singh and the leading opposition strategist Prashant Kishor. Their numbers were part of a leaked database of probable Pegasus targets, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa, and former CBI director Alok Verma.

What is Pegasus? Pegasus is a spyware that can be covertly installed on mobile phones running most versions of iOS and Android. Pegasus can be installed on the phone through vulnerabilities in common apps such as SMS, WhatsApp, iMessage, or by tricking a target into clicking a malicious link. Once installed, Pegasus can theoretically harvest any data from the device  (SMS, Emails, WhatsApp chats, photos, videos, calendar, or contacts) and transmit it back to the attacker. It could also activate a camera or a microphone, record calls, and scan the GPS data. When iPhone is compromised, it’s done in such a way that allows the attacker to obtain so-called root privileges, or administrative rights, on the device. Pegasus could easily do more than what the device owner can do.

For a long time, Israel has used the sale of sophisticated weapons as part of its broader efforts to win diplomatic successes abroad or at the United Nations. Subsequently to this agreement, India voted in favor of Israel by denying observer status at the UN’s Economic and Social Council to a Palestinian human rights organization. India has maintained a commitment to the Palestinian cause for decades, and its records at the United Nations speak for itself. This sudden about-face by India is viewed as a betrayal of the Palestinian people, and Pegasus may have a lot to do with it. It is not only India that has changed its attitude towards Israel after a Pegasus deal; a few countries, including Mexico and Panama, also appeared to have done the same. After installing Pegasus spyware in Panama City in 2012, Panama’s Government voted to oppose the United Nations decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinian delegation.

The story of Khadija Ismayilova’s story is available in the public domain. In Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation nestled next to the Caspian Sea, has increasingly stifled free speech and dissent in the last decade. Ismayilova’s investigation into the ruling family had made her a prime target of her own Government. The authorities had thrown the book at her arresting her: surreptitiously filming her during sex, accusing her of driving a colleague to suicide, and eventually charging her with tax fraud and sentencing her to seven years in prison. However, she was released on bail after 18 months and banned from leaving the country for five years. So, in 2021, at the end of the travel ban, when Ismayilova packed away all her belongings boarded a plane to Ankara, Turkey, she may have thought she was leaving all that behind.

Little did she know the most invasive spy was coming with her. For nearly three years, Khadija Ismayilova’s phone was regularly infected with Pegasus. “All night, I have been thinking about what I did with my phone. I feel guilty for the messages I have sent. I feel guilty for the sources who sent me information thinking that some encrypted messaging ways are secure, and they didn’t know my phone was infected,” she told reporters. “My family members are also victimized. The sources are victimized, and private secrets of the people I have been working with are victimized,” she added.

There is little doubt that the use of Pegasus is an assault on the right to privacy everywhere and specifically an attack on the very fabric of Indian democracy. Undoubtedly, the Government is responsible for monitoring people involved in criminal wrongdoings, and there are established procedures involving the judiciary laid out for it. However, targeting opposition leaders, journalists, and regular citizenry for surveilling for their God-given right to express themselves is tantamount to undermining the democracy itself. This Pegasus scandal exposes the mindset of the current leadership, and it does not bode well for the future of India.

George Abraham is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and the Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA

Developmental Roadmap For Jammu And Kashmir

With the overall objective of ensuring good governance, socio-economic development, to address regional disparity and improve administrative efficiency, since Independence India has undertaken exercise of state reorganization on several occasions. The 12th such reorganization of states in India saw the reorganization of the State of Jammu & Kashmir as the Union Territory (UT) of Jammu & Kashmir with an elected Legislative assembly and Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh with an elected Council – on 5 August 2019, the Indian Parliament voted in favor of the reorganization by abrogation of Article 370, ended exceptionalism of the Jammu & Kashmir region and brought it on the same footing as the rest of India.

Since then, the region has seen many positive developments. All Central laws have been extended to the UT including legislations meant for protecting and promoting social, economic, and political rights of women, children, under-privileged sections as well as those for ensuring transparent and accountable governance. These include the Right to Information Act 2005, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2007 etc.

The UT has now amended the Panchayat Act for establishment of the 3rd tier of Panchayats at district level. This is a step forward to strengthening grass-root democracy. Elections to Block Development Councils (BDC) were held for the first time in the history of J&K in October 2019 with 98.3 % voter turnout. For the first time, women benefited from reservation bringing them into mainstream politics. In October-November 2020, elections were conducted for District Development Council, with 51.7 % voter turnout. The newly elected BDC chairpersons and Sarpanchs were sent for training visits to other states.

Over USD 230 million has been devolved through Panchayat institutions for MGNREGA, Mid-Day meals and other programs. 44 Digital village centers have been established at Gram Panchayat to provide internet access to rural areas as well as access to e-delivery of Government services. Over 70,000 ration cards were seeded with Aadhar while 50,000 families were covered under state-sponsored Health Insurance Schemes. Over 15,000 loans have been sanctioned which included 4600 loans for women entrepreneurs.

To improve infrastructure in villages, over 20,000 development works have been identified directly by the people, of which 7000 have already been executed. Under the Budget Estimation Allocation Monitoring System – information regarding funds released by the Government for developmental projects can be monitored, thus ensuring transparency in allocation and disbursement of Government funds. An integrated grievance redressal and monitoring system was launched in September 2020, to provide an online grievance redressal system to the people of J&K. Over 85,000 grievances have been received, with over 90 % grievances being satisfactorily dealt with.

J&K Industrial Development Policy 2021-30 has been notified with an outlay of INR 28,400 crores to provide incentives to all new industrial units being set up in the UT as well as any existing units undertaking substantial expansions. J&K Industrial Land Allotment Policy 2021-30 has been adopted under which land has been allocated to 15 industrial projects with a projected investment of INR 1,548 crore (200 million USD). Single window clearance rules have been notified.

Under Prime Minister’s Development Package 54 projects have been identified with the investment of INR 56,261 crores (USD 7.5 billion). 20 of these projects have been completed/substantially completed. 13 more are likely to be completed by the end of 2021-22 and remaining by 2022-23.  The completed projects include the all-weather 8.45 km long hi-tech tunnel between Qazigund and Banihal built at a cost of USD 420 million. Rambagh flyover in Jammu has been completed. During 2020-21, 1289 road construction works were completed at a cost of INR 1638 crores (USD 220 million). Construction work of 14500 km of road has been completed so far under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna, which has connected about 2000 places. The Udhampur-Sringara-Baramulla Railway Link project is under construction. The world’s highest railway bridge is being built over the Chenab river for this link. An international flight from Srinagar to Sharjah has been started in October 2021. In addition, nine flights from Jammu and Srinagar have also been started.

Power generation capacity is to be doubled in the next 3 years. 3500 MW of hydro-power capacity was installed in the last seven decades, another 2500 MW is to be added by 2024-25. J & K achieved 100% household electrification. Over 350,000 beneficiaries were covered by laying down new electric cables in remote areas and thus eliminating dependency on diesel generators. All 18.16 lakh rural households of J&K to have functional household tap connections by March 2022. 100% saturation has been achieved in 17 individual beneficiary centric schemes, including Saubhagya (universal household electrification), Ujala (domestic lighting program), Ujjwala (LPG connections to deprived households) and Indradhanush (full immunization of children) schemes. Social Security schemes have been expanded to include over 270,000 additional people. Transgender people have been added for the first time to provide them with pension benefits.

J&K has received investment proposals of over USD 4 billion. The J&K Government has also entered into six agreements with global investors at the Dubai Expo 2020 to bring in investments in real estate, infrastructure, tourism, healthcare, and manpower development.

7 new medical colleges and hospitals including 2 AIIMS, 2 cancer institutes, bone institutes and child hospitals are being established in J&K. IIT Jammu and IIM Jammu have started functioning from its own campus while work on AIIMS Jammu has started. Seats for graduation in medicine (MBBS) have been increased from 500 to 1100.

50 new colleges are being established with additional opportunities to over 20,000 students. Government has facilitated translation of textbooks in local languages of Dogri, Hindi, Kashmiri, and Urdu for primary schools. Two special Centers have been established in Jammu and Srinagar for providing tutoring and guidance to students for civil services and other competitive examinations under the PARVAAZ Scheme. In addition, scholarship assistance is being provided to students. Centers for Invention, Innovation, Incubation and Training have been established in Jammu and Baramulla as a joint venture between the Government and Tata Technologies, to provide training to unemployed engineers. During FY 2021-22 nearly 140,000 persons have been covered under various self-employment schemes of the Government. Government plans to establish 1,000 Atal Tinkering Labs in J&K, of which 187 will be established by the end of FY 2021-22. Work on two IT parks, one each in Jammu and Srinagar, and rural BPOs in all district headquarters will be commenced soon. This will provide employment opportunities to youth.

Sports infrastructure has received impetus in J&K. Under Prime Minister’s Development Package for upgradation of sports infrastructure, Government has allocated INR 200 crore (26 million USD) to the region. Government is developing two Khelo India Centres of Excellence in Jammu and Srinagar.

A new Wool Processing, Handicrafts and Handloom Policy 2020 has been adopted for promotion and development of Handicrafts and Handloom sector. Financial Support Scheme to the tune of INR 100,000 for each Cooperative/Self Help Group in the Handicrafts and Handloom Sector has been approved. Government has also approved a new Credit Card Scheme for providing a loan of INR 200,000 for Artisans/Weavers with interest subvention of 7% for five years.

To boost agriculture sector, a unique market intervention scheme for J&K has been introduced – Government of J&K has entered into an agreement with National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd (NAFED) wherein NAFED will invest nearly USD 230 million into high density plantations of Apple, Walnut, Cherry, Pear over the next five years in order to increase produce. Moreover, Kashmiri Saffron has been given the Geographical Indication (GI) tag. Government is working on developing 3 cold storage clusters with the investment of INR 500 crores (67 million USD).

J&K has one of the highest budget allocations for healthcare sector (5%) in India.  Free and universal healthcare insurance scheme in J&K has been extended to all its residents.  J&K is one of the leading UTs in India in COVID-19 vaccination coverage, having fully vaccinated more than 99 % of its adult population. Booster dose vaccination campaign for health care and frontline workers and elderly has been launched. Government has provided special monthly pensions and scholarships to the families who have lost their bread winners to COVID-19.

As per the recent data released by the Home Ministry, compared to 2019, number of terrorist incidents have reduced in the region by 59% in 2020. The incidents reduced by a further 32% till June 2021 compared to the corresponding period in 2020. The UT of J&K is witnessing governance reforms, implementation of progressive legislations and big impetus to economic development. Currently, J&K is positioned 21st in the ‘ease of doing business’ rankings among 36 states and UTs.

Is India On The Path To Genocide?

Genocide is the willful extermination of a whole ethnic group and calls to mind Hitler’s death camps to kill the Jews (1939-45), Stalin’s use of starvation to crush the Ukrainian peasants (1932-33) and Kemal Ataturk’s slaughter of the Armenians (1915).

American scholar and activist Gregory Stanton has publicly asked whether India too in recent years has been showing “early warning signs” of genocidal behavior.

In a recent address to the US Congress, he appealed to his government to let India know that its recent actions regarding minorities were a matter of universal concern.

Stanton is the founder and chairperson of Genocide Watch, an organization that monitors the policies and actions of governments regarding their ethnic minorities. It is not only totalitarian governments and dictatorships that veer toward genocidal policies; some democracies are no better.

Stanton cites instances from his own US government. White Americans have been responsible for the virtual extermination of Native Americans and for the oppression and impoverishment of Afro-Americans through slavery. To which we might add that Americans deliberately annihilated two Japanese cities in the final stages of World War II through atomic bombing.

What are the early warning signs of a majoritarian government’s evil designs on its minorities? Stanton lists six.

“Classification” is the way in which politicians refer to “us” and “them” as an acceptable form of “othering.” This may be based on skin color or on ethnic background. On the subcontinent, it is based on religion. While India poses as a Hindu majoritarian state, Sri Lanka and Myanmar claim to be Buddhist, while Pakistan and Bangladesh are Islamic.

And each of these South Asian countries has had a history of aggression towards its ethnic minorities — from Partition to the persecution of the Rohingya.

Classification leads naturally to “markings” or “symbolizations.” Hitler wanted all Jews to wear a yellow Star of David sewn on their outer clothing. Hindu mobs demand that “Jai Shri Ram” become the identity mark of Hindutva. In Islamic Pakistan, the blasphemy law has been misused to incriminate every manner of opponent.

“Discrimination” and “dehumanization” are the third and fourth steps in genocidal behavior.  Muslims have been described as “termites” in this country in the same way that other derogatory epithets such as “chinkis” (an offensive term for northeast Indians) are used for others we dislike.

The fifth stage is “polarization.” Here hostile actions against the victimized group are routinely enacted and justified: “love jihad,” “forced conversion,” “gharwapsi,” (a program of religious conversion to Hinduism from Islam and Christianity) “shuddhikaran” (purification) and lynching are some of the hostilities against minorities in this country.

Finally, “extermination.” In this country, the state will probably use non-state actors to achieve its ends. Instead of a gulag or death camps for the victims, riots and lynching serve the purpose — that of expulsion from one’s homeland or extermination.

This has happened in Kandhamal (Odissa, 2008) and in the Dangs (Gujarat, 1998). The officials of the state stand aside and watch while the violence takes place. They do not interfere. Theirs is the silence of complicity.

So will such genocide take place?

It is always difficult to foresee the future, but some things may certainly be said. India is not a small country; it is vast and diverse. Where there is diversity of background and ambition, there is also a plurality of opinion. Not everyone in India feels the same way.

For it is a sad truth that human beings are more easily incited to hate and violence than to love and acceptance of each other

Much of the hostility to minorities — Muslims, Christians, Dalits, tribal people and women — takes place in the north of the country, still backward and undeveloped in many respects and susceptible to manipulation by political propaganda.

Any attempt at genocide will certainly provoke a violent reaction on the part of the minorities, which will rupture the fabric of the nation. In Sri Lanka, the ethnic tensions between Sinhala and Tamil erupted in a bloody civil war that dragged on for 26 years (1983-2009).

Besides, most Hindus are uncomfortable with the more violent aspects of Hindutva and its divisive politics. While discomfort exists, it does not translate into active opposition to this toxic agenda. How true is that oft-quoted saying, “For evil to succeed, all that is required is that good people do nothing.”

It would be foolhardy to ignore Gregory Stanton’s warnings. They are not alarmist or exaggerated but based on hard evidence and dismissed at our peril.

For it is a sad truth that human beings are more easily incited to hate and violence than to love and acceptance of each other. This is what makes world peace such an elusive goal.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official editorial position of UCA News.

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

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

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

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

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

What Bhagavad Gita says

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

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

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

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

What Ramakrishna preached

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

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

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

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

Ruling party’s silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India Remains A Work In Progress At 75

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India Seeks to Escape an Asian Future Led by China

Last week’s launch of formal trade talks between India and the United Kingdom, with the declared ambition to ink a smaller deal in the next few months and a comprehensive agreement by the end of the year, is not much of a surprise. After all, Britain has made no secret of its desperate search for any and all partners to keep trade flowing after it walked out on the European Union.

But if one shifts focus to India and its reasons for pursuing a deal with Britain, things suddenly get more interesting. Even if Britain isn’t among India’s biggest trade partners, the start of talks marks nothing less than several major shifts in India’s foreign and economic policies. If Britain is seeking an economic future beyond Europe, India is looking westward to escape the growing prospect of a Chinese-led Asia.

Although India embraced globalization at the turn of the 1990s, there was little domestic support for liberalizing trade. Opposing free trade agreements united the left and the right; even more powerful was the resistance from an Indian capitalist class reluctant to open its captive market for foreign producers.

In the limited political space they thus had, the weak coalition governments ruling India until 2014 managed to negotiate just a small handful of free trade agreements—mostly with Asian partners, such as Japan, South Korea, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

India’s new enthusiasm for trading with the West has not escaped Beijing’s attention.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party to power in 2014 with a majority in parliament, his government ordered a review of all the free trade deals India had signed. Despite a strongly held view across India that the agreements worked to the disadvantage of Indian industry, Modi continued to participate in the Asia-wide free trade negotiations that would eventually produce the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), but he pulled out at the very last moment in 2019.

If New Delhi’s decision generated deep disappointment among its Asian partners, there was also strong domestic criticism of having isolated India in the global trade domain—a sea change compared to the debate over previous decades. Over the last year, Modi has ended India’s blanket opposition to free trade agreements and returned to bilateral free trade talks with several blocs, including the EU and the Gulf Cooperation Council. The shift wasn’t just toward a new attitude on trade but toward a new set of countries: India’s natural economic partners, especially those in the Anglosphere and the West.

Britain has not traditionally been on the list of countries the Indian establishment has been comfortable with. During the Cold War and afterward, Britain’s presumed tilt toward Pakistan chipped away at New Delhi’s goodwill for London. But the Modi government has transcended hesitations and invested political capital in expanding the partnership by focusing on potential areas of convergence. Trade liberalization has emerged as a major priority with Britain.

In walking away from the RCEP in 2019, India signaled its reluctance to be part of an Asian economic integration led by China. The sharpening border conflict with Beijing as well as the fear of the Indian manufacturing sector being wiped out by cheap Chinese imports contributed to the decision. In the spring of 2020, Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh reinforced India’s decision.

As it turned its back on the East, New Delhi began to look to the West for trade partnerships, and the Anglosphere seemed the most responsive. It’s not just post-Brexit Britain that began to take a fresh look at India. Australia, reeling under the economic coercion imposed by China, also sought to revive moribund trade talks with India.

Netaji Bose: Attempted Appropriation by Hindu Nationalism

Netaji Sbhashchandra Bose’s birth anniversary was marked by various events this year (January 23). His portrait was unveiled by the President in Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was declared that his anniversary will be celebrated as Parakram Divas (Bravery day). Railway Minister announced the renaming of Howrah-Kalka Mail as Netaji Express. Mamta Bannerjee in contrast stated that his anniversary will be celebrated as Dehs Nayak Divas (National Hero Day). Through word of mouth propaganda and the social media BJP and company is spreading the falsehood that Congress did not honor Bose and that Bose supported Hindutva.

All this is happening in the backdrop of forthcoming West Bengal elections where BJP is making all the attempts to win the Assembly elections. In tune with the attempt to pick up the icons by BJP; Subhash Bose is the latest on the line. He is a tall National figure and is greatly revered in WB. So far BJP never talked of putting Netaji in such a way as it is doing currently. The truth that Netaji’s ideology was totally in opposition to the one being pursued by BJP is being hidden under the carpet and strong attempt is underway to show that Netaji had ideology similar to the present ruling dispensation. Netaji was for socialism, democracy and communal amity and the present ruling party is for Hindu nation, is practicing the divisive politics and is undermining democracy through all its action.

As far as his differences with Congress party (INC) are concerned they related more to means to be employed for getting Independence. He was twice President of INC. The difference came up mainly in the wake of Second World War when Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi planned a nationwide agitation; ‘Quit India Movement’. Bose at this point of time wanted to make the British quit by allying with Germany and Japan who were Britain’s enemy countries. The majority of Congress Central committee was with Gandhi’s proposal and leaders like Patel and Nehru totally opposed the strategy proposed by Bose.

Still it was a tactical difference; Congress and Bose both were for getting freedom, while Hindu Mahasabha and RSS supported the British war efforts. Savarkar of Hindu Mahasabha was in the lead to make the British army strong by helping them to recruit Indians into British army. Bose on the contrary formed ‘Azad Hind Fauz’ (Indian National Army, INA ) in Singapore with the aim of countering British army. He continued to be admirer of INC, Gandhi and Nehru; as is evident from the fact that he wrote to Mahatma Gandhi addressing him as Rashtrapita (Father of the nation). He sought Gandhi’s blessings while forming INA and two of INA Brigades were named after Gandhi and Nehru.

While Hindu Mahasabha and RSS have been totally against the state sponsored welfare programs and the concept of Socialism, Bose was a firm socialist. Within Congress he was with Nehru and other socialists for incorporation of socialist ideals in the national movement. When he left Congress he formed Forward Block, a socialist outfit, which had been part of the Left Alliance which ruled WB for decades.

Congress also looked at INA in a positive light and when after the end of World War II, the soldiers and officers of INA were tried in the Courts; lawyers like Bhulabhai Desai and Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru among others fought the case for the INA. Interestingly Nehru adorned the lawyer’s gown precisely to fight the cases for the brave soldiers of INA.

One should note that Hindu Mahasabha’s Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was part of the Government of Bengal in alliance with Muslim League. When British Government was suppressing the Quit India Movement, Mukherjee promised British not to bother about the Quit India Movement in Bengal as he will deal with them properly. Parallel to this Hindu Mahasabha’s Savarkar wanted British army to be strong and chief of RSS, Golwalkar put out a circular to its branches to stick to their regular activities and not to do anything which will annoy the British.

Hindu Rashtra (Nation) has been the main plank of Hindu Mahasabha-RSS. It is not much projected as to what were the ideas of Bose on the issue of nature of Nationalism and Hindu Muslim unity.  To quote Bose from his writings, “With the advent of the Mohammedans, a new synthesis was gradually worked out. Though they did not accept the religion of the Hindus, they made India their home and shared in the common social life of the people – their joys and their sorrows. Through mutual co-operation, a new art and a new culture were (sic) evolved ….” And also that, “Indian Mohammedans” have continued to work for national freedom.” In order to uphold rights of minorities, he conceptualized a new State where “religious and cultural freedom for individuals and group” should be guaranteed and no “state-religion” would be adopted [‘Free India and her Problems’].

While sticking to ‘first comers’, RSS ideologues say that Aryans were the original inhabitants in India and from here they emigrated to parts of West Asia and Europe. In contrast Bose points out “, “The latest archeological excavations … prove unmistakably that India had reached a high level of civilization as early as 3000 B.C. … before the Aryan conquest of India.” His praise for Mohenjo-daro and Harappa is certainly a rational counter-argument based on ‘scientific findings’ against the imagination of a Hindu-Aryan origin of Indian culture.

Time and over again the Hindu nationalists have been trying to gain legitimacy by appropriating the national icons like Vivekanad, Sardar Patel and the like. Now with WB elections forthcoming ‘no holds barred’ efforts is on to appropriate a tall leader of freedom movement, whose ideology is totally in opposition the one of Hindu nationalists. He was a true socialist wedded to the concept of Hindu Muslim unity. He fought against British while Hindu nationalists supported them. He called Gandhi as rashtrapita, while one of the Hindu nationalist murdered him!

Peoples Media Advocacy & Resource Centre- PMARC has been initiated with the support from group of senior journalists, social activists, academics and intellectuals from Dalit and civil society to advocate and facilitate Dalits issues in the mainstream media. To create proper & adequate space with the Dalit perspective in the mainstream media national/ International on Dalit issues is primary objective of the PMARC.

Human Rights Violations And Culture Of Impunity In South Asia

As countries across South Asia continue to battle the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, causing serious public health and economic crisis, this region, which is home to almost 2 billion people, is also grappling with the erosion of democratic norms, growing authoritarianism, the crackdown on freedom of press, speech and dissent.

Despite the committed efforts of human rights defenders across South Asia, achieving human rights objectives remains a challenging task. Almost all countries in the region – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – face a common trend of human rights violations and a culture of impunity.

Afghanistan 

In Afghanistan, the Taliban rule has had a devastating impact on the lives of Afghan women, girls, journalists and human rights defenders. “The crisis for women and girls in Afghanistan is escalating with no end in sight. Taliban policies have rapidly turned many women and girls into virtual prisoners in their homes, depriving the country of one of its most precious resources, the skills and talents of the female half of the populations,” said Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch in this report.

This report states, “the Taliban’s return to power has made members of some ethnic and religious minorities feel more vulnerable to threats even from those not affiliated with the Taliban. Taliban authorities have also used intimidation to extract money, food, and services. Fighting has mostly ended in the country, but people expressed fear of violence and arbitrary arrests by the Taliban and lack of the rule of law and reported increased crime in some areas.”

A group of three dozen Human Rights Council appointed experts in this report said, “waves of measures such as barring women from returning to their jobs, requiring a male relative to accompany them in public spaces, prohibiting women from using public transport on their own, as well as imposing a strict dress code on women and girls. Taken together, these policies constitute a collective punishment of women and girls, grounded in gender-based bias and harmful practices.”

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has urged the UN security council to hold all perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, “I ask the security council to ensure that the perpetrators of these violations are accountable, I ask all states to use their influence with the Taliban to encourage respect for fundamental human rights. Denial of the fundamental rights of women and girls is massively damaging to the economy and the country as a whole,” Bachelet said.

The Taliban victory propelled Afghanistan “from humanitarian crisis to catastrophe”, with millions of Afghans facing severe food insecurity due to lost income, cash shortages, and rising food costs. Afghan refugees constitute one of the world’s largest refugees population, with more than 2.2 million refugees. “Afghanistan’s displacement crisis is one of the largest and most protracted in UNHCR’s seven-decade history,” says UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Bangladesh

While Bangladesh, despite making economic progress and getting upgraded by the United Nations from the category of least developed country to developing country last November, the country continues to be in the news for enforced disappearances, abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings by its security forces with impunity.

In this letter written by 12 organizations to Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix, urging the United Nations Department of Peace Operations to ban Bangladesh’s notoriously abusive paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from UN deployment.

As many as 600 people, including opposition leaders, activists, journalists, business people, and others, have been subjected to enforced disappearance since 2009. In this report, Dhaka–based rights organization Odhikar said that “some of the disappeared persons resurfaced in government’s custody after being arrested under the draconian Digital Security Act 2018.”

“Human rights defenders, journalists, and others critical of the government continue to be targeted with surveillance, politically motivated charges and arbitrary detention,” says this report. Earlier in November 2021, the United States slapped sanctions on elite Bangladeshi paramilitary force, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), stating it threatens US national security interests by undermining the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the economic prosperity of the people of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the only South Asian country other than Afghanistan to receive US sanctions since 1998.

India

In 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in India was downgraded from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy” by global political rights and liberties US-based nonprofit Freedom House. Following this, a Sweden based V-Dem institute said, India had become an “electoral autocracy”. The country has slid from No. 35 in 2006 to No. 53 today on The Economist’s list.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended India be designated as a “country of particular concern, or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act in its report.

In its World Report 2022, Human Rights Watch said, “Indian authorities intensified their crackdown on activists, journalists, and other critics of the government using politically motivated prosecutions in 2021. “Attacks against religious minorities were carried out with impunity under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Hindu nationalist government.”

Indian authorities have continued to press charges against students, activities, journalists, including counter-terrorism and sedition laws. To undermine rights to privacy and freedom of expression, reports of Pegasus spyware, developed and sold by Israeli company NSO group, were used to target Indian human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition politicians.

The ongoing harassment of journalists, including particularly those reporting from and in Kashmir, including the recent crackdown on Kashmir’s independent press club being shut down, arbitrary detention of journalists, alleged custodial killings, and a broader pattern of systematic infringement of fundamental rights used against the local population,” the report said.

According to this report, calls for genocide have become more common than ever, “where Hindu extremists organized 12 events over 24 months in four states, calling for genocide of Muslims, attacks on Christian minority and insurrection against the government. In this interview, the founding president of Genocide Watch, has warned: “Genocide could very well happen in India.”  

Nepal

In Nepal, lack of effective government leadership, inadequate and unequal access to health care, and a ‘pervasive culture of impunity’ continue to undermine the country’s fundamental human rights. “A lack of effective government leadership in Nepal means that little is done to uphold citizens’ rights, leaving millions to fend for themselves without adequate services such as for health or education, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director, Human Rights Watch.

“Systemic impunity for human rights abuses extends to ongoing violations, undermining the principles of accountability and the rule of law in post-conflict Nepal. The report states that the authorities routinely fail to investigate or prosecute killings or torture allegedly carried by security forces,” the report states.

In October 2020, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) published 20 years of data, naming 286 people, mostly police officials, military personnel, and former Maoist insurgents, “as suspects in serious crimes, including torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings”.

Along with this, the situation of women’s and girls’ human rights continues to be alarming in the country. According to this report, Nepal has the highest rate of child marriages in Asia, with 33 percent of girls marrying before 18 years and 8 percent by 15. Reports also indicate there has been an increase in cases of rape in 2021, with widespread impunity for sexual violence.

Patriarchal Citizenship Law in Nepal which does not treat men and women equally, has been criticized for undermining Nepali women’s identities and agency, subordinating them to the position of second-class citizens – also impacting children.

Pakistan

The Pakistan government, on the other hand, “harassed and at times persecuted human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists for criticizing government officials and policies,” said this report by Human Rights Watch. Significant human rights issues include freedom of expression, attacks on civil society groups, freedom of religion and belief, forced disappearances by governments and their agents, unlawful or arbitrary killings, extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, terrorism, counter-terrorism and law enforcement abuses.

“Pakistan failed to enact a law criminalizing torture despite Pakistan’s obligation to do so under the Convention against Torture,” the report said.  The country’s regressive blasphemy law provides a pretext for violence against religious minorities, leaving them vulnerable to arbitrary arrests and prosecution.

According to this report by Human Rights Without Frontiers, 1,865 people have been charged with blasphemy laws, with a significant spike in 2020, when 200 cases were registered.

This piece highlights the plight of thousands of Pakistan’s Baloch who security forces have abducted. International human rights law strictly prohibits enforced disappearances, in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed that a draft law to criminalize enforced disappearances would be “fast-tracked”. A bill about enforced disappearances, which the National Assembly passed, mysteriously went missing after it was sent to the Senate.

The continued attack on journalists and activists for violations of the Electronic Crimes Act, the use of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption agency to target critics, attacks and well-coordinated campaigns and attacks on women journalists on social media, and reported intimidation of nongovernmental organizations, including harassment and surveillance are all crackdowns which are only getting worse.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the government continued to ‘suppress minority communities and harassed activists, and undermined democratic institutions.’ According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2022, “President Gotabaya Rajapaksha seems determined to reverse past rights improvements and protect those implicated in serious abuses. While promising reforms and justice to deflate international criticism, his administration has stepped up suppression of minority communities,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

The report highlights the harassment of security forces towards human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and the families of victims of past abuses and suppression of peaceful protests. As covid-19 cases surged in the country, military-controlled response to the pandemic “led to serious right violations”.

A major concern from the minority Muslim and Christian communities in Sri Lanka was the government’s order not to allow the bodies of Covid victims to be buried. According to this report, “several bodies were forcibly cremated, despite experts saying that bodies could be buried with proper safety measures.” This order, which rights activists said was intended to target minorities and did not respect religions, after much criticism was reversed.

A leading British religious freedom advocacy group, CSW, in its report titled, “A Nation Divided: The state of freedom of religious or belief in Sri Lanka,” said the Muslim community experiences “severe” religious freedom violations. A key factor in the violations is the perception by Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalists that Muslims are a threat to both Buddhism and the Sinhalese. The report also noted attempts to “reduce the visibility of Islam through the destruction of mosques and restrictive stances on religious clothing.

Kashmiri Pandits In Search Of A New Path To Return Home

After 32 long years of exile, the Kashmiri Pandit community longs to return to its homeland in the valley.

Notwithstanding the devastating effects of the wave of despondency that has overwhelmed the internally displaced people since 1990, aggravated by the medical condition created by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a glimmer of hope perceptible on the horizon so far as the community’s deliverance from its predicament is concerned. A number of initiatives to empower it on vital parameters and see it settled back home, with an assured sense of irreversibility, are underway at the local, national and global levels.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to be part of one of such initiative – by way of an interaction with a number of eminent persons of the community, some situated within the country, others stationed across the globe. It was held under the auspices of a group christened Kashmir Par Charcha or Discussion on Kashmir. Suneel Wattal and Sanjay Sapru, technocrat and social activist, respectively, based in Delhi, with the blessings of community stalwart Ashok Bhan, political leader of repute and senior advocate of the Supreme Court, had arranged it through the medium of a Zoom meeting.

One shouldn’t sound pessimistic, but it is a fact, nonetheless, that for us the zone of choice is restricted. As it appears, the internally displaced community has come to a crossroads where one path leads to hopelessness, the other to extinction. In this situation, if some strive to find a third way which may lead to amelioration of the community’s woes and rid it of the curse of homelessness, they must be encouraged.

The exercise undertaken by the young men Wattal and Sapru must be appreciated in this context. They have sought to rekindle hope in us, as other well-meaning people within the community are doing elsewhere to further the same cause.

The proceedings commenced on an amiable note without anger or rancor on the part of the panelists. Nonetheless, a hint of pain and anguish became palpable in tone once the proceedings were underway. Given that the community has gone through ethnic cleansing and a traumatic experience in the recent past, one has to make allowance for such a demeanor.

The panelists, who are repositories of a wealth of wisdom and knowledge of varied nature in their own way, brought many positive points to the table. At the same time, they were cautious enough to flag some hurdles the community may have to surmount on the way to deliverance.

What struck me as outstanding was the near unanimity on the view that we can’t afford to live perennially in a time warp, as hostages to history. While it may not be prudent to forget history – lest it repeat itself – an attempt must be made to cut through the mesh woven around our thought process and unshackle mental prejudices so as to judge things in an evolving perspective.

Someone put it appropriately that the matter of ‘ghar wapsi’, or homecoming, has assumed a complex nature which, with our extended exile, has become more complicated. That realization calls for a calibrated approach to tackle the issue and requires careful peeling, leaf by leaf. It can’t be done in one go. A sustained and determined effort is called for. We may keep our expectations at a subdued level for some time, lest it have a frustrating effect on our psychology.

It was heartening to note that everyone on the panel emphasized the need for an interaction with the emancipated and nationalistic quarters among the majority community in Kashmir which may subsequently mature into a reconciliation of sorts. Reconciliation is always desirable, but it ought to be on equal terms without any hint of condescension. However, the logistics of the matter and when to go ahead in this direction were, understandably, left for another day.

The participants, including Dr Vijay Sazawal (USA), Ashok Koul (Canada), Krishna Bhan (UK), Prof Sudhir Sopori (ex-vice-chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University), Kuldeep Khoda (ex-director general of police, J&K), Prof Raj Kachroo, Rohit Dhar, Sunil Kaul and Sanjay Tikoo (Kashmir) rose for the day with the hope that the government led by Narendra Modi, who is known for taking bold decisions in the nation’s interest, may see the exiled KP community back home, settled with honor restored and empowered with rights that constitutionally flow to religious minorities.

All the participants agreed on the new phase of the investment narrative driven by the Modi government in Jammu & Kashmir. The Kashmiri Pandit community has to be available to participate to the fullest in new business ventures being created under the Naya Kashmir vision.

All in all, it was an encouraging development, both in management and substance, for which we owe a debt of gratitude to the organizers and look forward to another session. Whether by design or coincidence, the exercise happened at the beginning of 2022. We hope it bears fruit by the end of the year.

Eric Garcetti Confirmed BY Senate Committee To Be U.S. Ambassador To India

Ending many months of waiting, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, January 12th confirmed the nomination of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to be US ambassador to India, during a session chaired by Sen. Menendez of New Jersey. The committee is made up of 22 senators — an even split of Democrats and Republicans. Now, the nomination needs to be confirmed by a majority of the U.S. Senate and the vote is yet to be scheduled.

The mayor was nominated to be an ambassador by President Biden, who announced the nomination on July 9, 2021. Garcetti was among a series of ambassadors and other foreign affairs nominees approved Jan. 12, 2022. Although individual senators raised public objections to some of the nominees, none did to Garcetti’s selection.

During his appearance before the committee on December 14, Mayor Garcetti was questioned by lawmakers weighing his nomination to become the U.S. ambassador to India. Garcetti during his testimony gave a statement followed by questions from lawmakers of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”Few nations are more vital to the future of American security and prosperity than India,” Garcetti told the committee.

Earlier last month, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Sen. Menendez, D-N.J., along with only a handful of Democrats and two Republicans, stressed how Washington sees India as a key partner in its effort to push back against China’s expanding power and influence.

“If confirmed, I will endeavor to advance our ambitious bilateral partnership united by a free and open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region,” Garcetti had said in his remarks. “I intend to double-down on our efforts to strengthen India’s capacity to secure its borders, defend its sovereignty, and deter aggression – through information sharing, counterterrorism coordination.”

Known to be President Biden’s close aide, Garcetti is a political appointee who in the past has served as a co-chair of Biden’s presidential campaign. In announcing his nomination, the White House emphasized Garcetti’s role in co-founding the bipartisan “Climate Mayors” network and in leading more than 400 U.S. mayors to adopt the Paris Climate Agreement.

According to sources, the White House strongly considers Garcetti to have a steady hand to guide the India US relationship because Washington sees India as a key partner in its effort to push back against China’s expanding power and influence.
A Biden loyalist, Garcetti has served as mayor of Los Angeles since 2013. He has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and he studied international relations as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University.

The White House statement released earlier this year said Garcetti had spent 12 years as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve Component, serving under the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and with the Defense Intelligence Agency, before retiring in 2017 as a lieutenant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India’s Vice President Naidu Lauds Indian American Physicians For Being ‘Ambassadors Of Indian Value Systems’

“With numerous initiatives, AAPI has proved to be beneficial not only to Indian-origin American Physicians, but to Indian healthcare as well,” Mr. Naidu tells AAPI Delegates at 15th annual Global Health Care Summit in Hyderabad

(Hyderabad, India: January 5th, 2022) The Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu praised Indian origin medical professionals for “making their mark in every corner of the world” and being the “personification of our nation’s civilizational value of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.”

Mr. Naidu was addressing the international delegates from the United States and India during the 15th Annual Global Healthcare Summit 2022 being organized by American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) at the AVASA Hotel in the historic city of Hyderabad on January 5, 2022.

“With numerous initiatives, AAPI has come a long way since its inception and has proved to be beneficial not only to Indian-origin American Physicians, but to Indian healthcare as well,” Mr. Naidu observed. He urged the medical fraternity and told them, “as you seek excellence in human health and well-being, do not forget the power of a kind human touch when treating your patients.”

Expressing regrets for not being able to be present in person due to the ongoing pandemic, Mr. Naidu told the hundreds of delegates in a recorded inaugural message stated that the Indian origin physicians in the United States have gained a formidable reputation and that several of them occupy the top administrative positions in the country. “They are among the most successful ambassadors of India’s value systems.” he said.

The Vice President complimented AAPI for its services in India – for raising $5 million during the second wave of the pandemic, for its ‘Adopt a Village’ program among its other initiatives.

The Vice President of India noted that “AAPI, founded in 1982, is one of the largest groups that represent the interests of more than 80,000 practicing Indian-origin physicians in the United States and 40,000 medical students, residents and fellows of Indian origin.”

In her welcome address, Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, President of AAPI, said, “This year’s Summit is focused on the theme: “Prevention is better than cure” through Technology, Telemedicine, and Transformation from the current disease-care system to a preventive healthcare system.” Dr. Gotimukula, who has chosen to focus on the “Adopt a Village” Rural Preventive Healthcare screening initiative, stated that “AAPI has brought to the attention of the Government of India the need for preventive health care screening to help detect diseases at an early stage and our purpose of the Global health summit is to interact and collaborate with Government of India and emphasize the need of annual preventive healthcare screening and have the healthcare accessible and affordable.”

She thanked Dr. Udaya Shivangi, Chair GHS, Dr. Dwarakanatha Reddy, Convener India, Dr. Sujeeth Punnam, US Coordinator, Dr. Lokesh Edara, Chair Global Medical Education, Ms. Vijaya Kodali, AAPI Office Manager, and my entire planning committees for dedicating their personal time and spending countless hours in shaping the conference well.” The official GHS Souvenir was presented to the leadership by Dr. Anupama Gotimukula.

In her introductory remarks, Dr. Udaya Shivangi said, “This annual tradition is a way of sharing, caring and giving back our medical expertise to our motherland. The theme of this year’s summit is “Prevention is Better than Cure”. Using Technology and Telemedicine as a platform we can make healthcare more accessible, Transforming the healthcare approach from Disease Care to Preventive Care.”

“We thank all the AAPI Members who are sparing their valuable time to come over to Hyderabad in order to attend this event, despite the ongoing situation of the existence of Omicron and travel restrictions. We really appreciate this gesture of courage and confidence displayed by you on behalf of Local Org. Committee, for braving odds and attending the 15th Annual AAPI GHS, Hyderabad. This is highly admirable,” said Dr. D. Dwarakanatha Reddy, India Chair, AAPI GHS 2022.

Dr. Ravi Kolli, President-Elect f AAPI said, “We have made great strides in helping people to live longer, however, people are spending too many years in poor health, and these gains in health not felt equally across society. We need to focus on the rising levels of obesity, mental illness, addictions, age-related conditions like dementia, and a growing, ageing, and diverse populations, often living with multiple and chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and arthritis. We also need to be aware of cyberbullying, pervasive misinformation and other harmful social media influences affecting our youth.”

“Continuing with our magnificent efforts to help our motherland, members of AAPI, the premier medical organization in the United States has initiated Adopt-A-Village, a Rural Health Initiative in India, with plans to adopt 75 villages to commemorate 75 years of India’s independence,” said  Dr. Satheesh Kathula, the Secretary of AAPI and the Chair of AAPI’s Adopt A Village Program.

Dr. Krishan Kumar, Treasurer of AAPI, pointed out, “India, thus needs to redouble and continue its efforts and dedicate resources to tackle these perennial challenges. Many of these projects and programs need regular funding, and management of resources. We are grateful to dozens of AAPI members who have committed to serve India with an ongoing commitment.”

Mr. Naidu lauded the contributions of API, stating, “I am happy to know that  during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, AAPI members had raised $5 million in a short time to support relief activities including sending life-saving equipment such as oxygen concentrators and ventilators” and that “AAPI team is working on installing oxygen plants in hospitals serving rural India, with some of these units having been commissioned already.”

He commended “this initiative because improving the infrastructure for rural healthcare is the pressing need of the hour in our country.” He expressed appreciation as “AAPI has started an ‘Adopt a Village’ pilot program to provide free health screening camps in villages across five states—Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Telangana. I am told they are planning vaccination camps in India with the help of local doctors, to address the issue of vaccine hesitancy. These are commendable initiatives indeed.”

Calling it an important initiative, he praised AAPI for its “awareness program for CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation). At a time of increasing share of Non-Communicable Diseases, especially those related to the heart, we need greater awareness among people to apply CPR as a lifesaving first-aid technique and save lives during heart attacks or near drowning. I believe school children, at least at higher secondary level, and in fact, every citizen, must be taught CPR along with other basic aspects of first-aid,” her added.

“Apart from being the ‘pharmacy to the world’ with path-breaking innovations in the pharmaceuticals industry, India has over the years, become a much sought after ‘medical tourism destination of the world’. Data reveals that nearly 7 lakh foreign tourists came for medical treatment in India in the year 2019 alone,” Mr. Naidu pointed out.

Mr. Naidu stated that “Indian medical professionals—doctors, nurses and technicians have been making their mark in every corner of the world and have been offering invaluable services for many decades now. It is estimated that there are 1.4 million physicians of Indian origin all over the world.”  Several of them occupy the top administrative positions in the medical field in the country, including Dr Vivek Murthy, the present Surgeon-General of the United States, among others.

These Indian-origin physicians are a personification of our nation’s cherished civilisational value of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. They are among the most successful ambassadors of India’s value systems and propagators of our mission to ‘Share and Care’ for all the people of the world, irrespective of their nationalities. We are indeed proud of them and their services.

Noting that Indian firms have collaborated with US-based organizations to produce the recently approved vaccines — Corbevax and Covovax, the Vice President said “this experience clearly shows India-US collaboration in healthcare can reap great benefits not only for our countries, but for the entire world”.

In the midst of a possible 3rd wave of Covid infections, Naidu called for a sense of urgency in dealing with the new surge in COVID cases and to apply the lessons of the past waves of the pandemic. “We must consider it our ‘Dharma’ and ‘Kartavya’ to follow the COVID protocol at all times – wearing a mask, maintaining physical distancing and getting vaccinated, and secure ourselves and our community.”

He called upon public-minded individuals, social advocacy groups, medical professionals and the government to reach out to as many people as possible and get rid of any vaccine hesitancy that may be stopping India in its collective fight against the pandemic.

To bridge the gap between urban and rural communities, the Vice President suggested seriously exploring the use of telehealth and other technological solutions in reaching out better to rural and remote areas. “This will expand the utilization of our limited manpower and health infrastructure to reach the last mile,” he said.

Pointing to the many health-tech start-ups in India, Mr. Naidu suggested scaling up their healthcare services for rural areas, so that the geographical barriers may be overcome and out-of-pocket expenditures are rationalized. He observed that Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, with a digitized record of the patient’s medical history, will boost these efforts.

The historic Global Healthcare Summit, especially during the challenging C ovid situation around the world, organized by AAPI in collaboration with the Government of India, BAPIO & GAPIO, as well as Host Alumni Chapters, including OGKTMA, ATMGUSA, KAMCOSA, and GMCGA, will have participation from some of the world’s most well-known physicians, and industry leaders.

Offering education to First Responders, a CEO Forum by a galaxy of CEOs from around the world, inauguration of AAPI-sponsored clinic, CMEs, Research contests, Med Quiz, cultural events, interactive roundtables, clinical practice workshops, scientific poster/research session and meet-the-expert sessions, Women’s Forum by internally acclaimed successful worm from India, a session on Public-Private Partnership featuring AAPI Healthcare Charitable showcase & innovation, are only some of the major highlights of the Healthcare Summit.

“With the changing trends and statistics in healthcare, both in India and US, we are refocusing our mission and vision, AAPI would like to make a positive meaningful impact on the healthcare delivery system both in the US and in India,” Dr. Gotimukula said. For more information on Global Health Summit, please visit www.aapiusa.org

India To Raise Marriage Age For Women To 21

The Cabinet Union Cabinet has cleared a bill that proposes to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21, bringing it in line with the men’s. The government is expected to bring before the parliament amendments to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, Special Marriage Act, and the Hindu Marriage Act.

It’s based on the recommendation of an expert panel headed by MP Jaya Jaitly and NITI Aayog member Dr. Vinod K. Paul.  The 10-member task force was formed by the union government on June 4.

PM Narendra Modi had also said during his Independence Day speech that the legal age of marriage should be raised from 18 to 21 for women for the “health of daughters and sisters” and to prevent malnutrition

The amendments could be placed before the parliament as early as this winter session, TOI reports. A scourge Currently, the legal age for marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. Yet, according to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, 26.8% of women aged 20-24 were married before they turned 18.

Several studies have linked child marriage to maternal mortality, malnutrition of the child and poverty. Maternal mortality rate is the number of maternal deaths for every 100,000 children born.

For instance, sustained campaigns and policies such as making the legal age of marriage at 18 have helped reduce India’s maternal mortality rate from 677 in 1980 to about 145 now.

But… The NFHS data show that penalising marriage under 18 has not stopped the practice. Experts, therefore, say raising the age to 21 will, therefore, not truly serve the purpose as educational and welfare schemes would. Data protection panel: Social media should be publishers

The joint parliamentary committee’s report on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, was tabled before both Houses of Parliament on Thursday. The 542-page report was finalised after nearly two years of deliberation.
It recommends.declare all social media platforms as ‘publishers’.widen the scope of the Bill to include non-personal data. 81 recommendations for modifications and over 150 drafting corrections and improvements in various clauses of the bill.

Rare cooperation Congress MP Jairam Ramesh tabled the report in Rajya Sabha amidst opposition protests demanding the revocation of suspension of 12 MPs and sacking of junior home minister Ajay Mishra Teni.

BJP’s PP Chaudhary, the chairman of the committee, tabled the report in Lok Sabha. “This report shows that if the chairman is cooperative, (and) the government is accommodative, the opposition is responsive,” Ramesh said.

And dissent The report contains seven dissent notes, one each by Congress MPs Jairam Ramesh, Manish Tewari, Vivek Tankha and Gaurav Gogoi, TMC’s Mahua Moitra, BSP’s Ritesh Pandey and BJD’s Amar Patnaik.

Among other things, they flag the “unbridled powers” certain sections of the Bill accord to the union government, including the power to exempt any government agency from the entire Act.

What now?

Under Parliamentary rules, the bill as amended by the JPC is considered draft legislation that will need to be cleared by Cabinet before it returns to Parliament for passage.

The Union cabinet may accept the draft as it is. It could also move official amendments to the Bill tabled by the committee.

India’s Muslims See Politics Behind Marriage Law Move

The Indian government’s decision to raise the marriageable age for women to 21 from the current 18 irrespective of caste, creed, and religion has evoked strong reactions from sociopolitical groups and Muslim leaders.

There is also a view that the move is political as this could polarize voters in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is desperate to retain power in the polls early next year.

The influential All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has urged the Narendra Modi-led dispensation to refrain from fixing any age of marriage and termed it as interference in personal liberty.

“Marriage is a very important requirement for human life but no age of marriage can be fixed as it is also an issue related to the protection of moral values,” said Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, general secretary of AIMPLB.

He also asserted that any new laws to fix an age would be “useless and harmful laws.”

The marriageable age for women has been fixed at 18 since 1978, but the norm applied to Hindus and Christians.

The government should have done it five years before … why today just on the eve of elections? It is because women are now educated and know how to fight for their rights

“It is a futile exercise. The government should instead focus on helping and educating a girl before she attains the age of 18,” said Muslim lawmaker and Hyderabad-based leader Asaduddin Owaisi.

Smriti Irani, the federal minister for women and child development, introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, in the lower house on Dec. 21.

As expected, there was no consensus or unanimity on the draft law from Congress and other parties at the stage of introduction itself.

“The government has neither spoken to any stakeholder nor consulted any state government.  We demand that the bill be referred to a standing committee of parliament,” said Congress floor leader Adhir Chowdhury.

Tamil Nadu Engages Tamil Diaspora In Efforts To Raise Trillion Dollar

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin is in the process of roping in Tamil diaspora abroad to achieve the state’s trillion-dollar goal by 2030, a pet project of the Chief Minister.

The Tamil Nadu government has already roped in the services of several nonresident Tamils for this project.

US-based entrepreneur R. Rangaswami, who is Founder and Chairman of Indiaspora which is a network of global Indian origin leaders, has already been roped in for executing the project. A panel of Tamil diaspora including Sunder Pichai of Google, Indira Nooyi, the former Chairperson of Pepsico, and several other technocrats and management experts will be used for developing the economic investment in the state.

Tamil Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu will be the Chairperson of the 12 member panel, and the Vice Chairman of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission, and the state Industries Secretary are the ex-officio members. The Managing Director and CEO of Guidance will also be an ex-officio member.

The others in the 12 member panel are Dr Bala Swaminathan, of the Bala family foundation, Ganesh Radhakrishnan, CEO, Wharfedale Technologies Inc, US, Saravanan M. Sinapan, President, DHRRA, Malaysia, Suresh Sambandam, CEO, KISSFLOW (Founder, Dream Tamil Nadu), M. Arumugam, CEO, Broadline Computer Systems Private Ltd, Tamil Nadu, Elenchezhian Loganathan, CEO, Yaal Exports, Tamil Nadu and Rm Arun, President, SICCI, Tamil Nadu.

Thennarasu said that the members would act as brand ambassadors of Tamil Nadu’s industrial ecosystem and they would be given the mandate to open sub-chapters in their respective countries of residences.

The panel will help the Tamil Nadu government to conduct an annual investment and cultural conclave and the panel members will help the Chief Minister and Industries Minister to conduct physical and virtual meetings with the diaspora in their respective countries.

The panel will connect with the Tamil diaspora and create an online platform for regular interactions.

Tamil Nadu is arguably the best governed state of the country. It is probably the only state which has successfully moved labour from agriculture to other sectors as it is the only state to register absolute decline in labour employed in agriculture in the last two census.

It is among the top states that have maximum number of engineering colleges, polytechnique institutes and medical colleges.Its dream run from USD 1 billion of GDP in 1980s to USD 260 billion today is nothing sort of a miracle.It marched forward right from the time of Independence.

The foundation for this growth was laid by K. Kamaraj, then Chief Minister, who got large PSUs into the state and also set up industrial parks like Guindy in Chennai.Another popular CM, M.G. Ramachandran, made two decisive policies which resulted in an unintended economic boom.First one is the mass implementation of the midday meal scheme.

He didn’t want children to go hungry and staked his personal political capital to bring more kids to school.He was ridiculed and scoffed at for making children ‘beggars’. But it turned out to be the single trigger for Tamil Nadu’s enhanced literacy.

The second one, his zeal to privatise technical education which had created abundant supply of seats where anyone who wanted to pursue technical education got the opportunity.

The first corporate hospital “Apollo” was set up in his time and it resulted in more healthcare entrepreneurs setting up hospitals across TN, and this also emerged as a fore-runner for successful corporate hospitals across the country.

There is no wonder that TN has the maximum number of labs testing for Covid-19, compared to any other state, and has the least mortality rates, bettering even developed countries.There is no denying the fact that the successive chief ministers could pursue on that foundation to make TN the best governed state.

“I Am A Hindu But Not Hindutvawadi,” Says Rahul Gandhi

Addressing a mammoth gathering in Jaipur during the national rally organised to protest against the price rise and inflation, veteran Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday fiercely attacked the central government’s policies and said that he is a Hindu but not Hindutvawadi.

Elaborating the difference between the two, he said, “Two words cannot mean the same thing. Every word has a different meaning. In our country’s politics today, the meaning of Hindu and Hindutva are the same. These are not the same thing, they are two different words and they mean completely different things. I am a Hindu but not a Hindutvawadi. Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu and Nathuram Godse was a Hindutvawadi, he added.

“No matter whatever happens, Hindu seeks and spends his whole life in search of truth whereas Hindutva spends his whole life in search of power and getting empowered. He will kill anyone for the sake of power. The path of Hindu is ‘Satyagraha’ while the path of Hindutva is ‘Sattagraha.’

Attacking the Modi government, Rahul Gandhi said that the entire country has been left in the hands of a few industrialists and the country is being run by “Hum Do, Hamare Do”.

Rahul Gandhi further said that the government of the country says that no farmer has died during the agitation. “I gave them a list of five hundred people from Punjab and Haryana and asked them that the Punjab government has given compensation, you should also give it. But they didn’t.”

He also took a jibe at PM Modi for giving concessions to industrialists. He said that the country belongs to the poor, farmers, small shopkeepers, only these people can give employment to this country. Adani-Ambani has a place but they cannot create jobs on a large scale. Small business people, farmers can generate large scale employment.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi was unaware of the absence of Punjab CM Charanjit Channi from the rally. He kept calling his name but then Sonia Gandhi and Ashok Gehlot signalled him about Channi’s absence.

Before Rahul, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also addressed the gathering and attacked the policies of the central government and the BJP. She termed the central government as the government of lies, greed and loot.

I know how roads are being built in Goa just for the sake of transportation of coals to benefit one industrialist, she said and termed Modi as Paryatak PM.

“Modiji travelled throughout the world but did not go to farmers who were protesting on the roads,” she said adding that “the state in which I work spends crores of rupees on advertisement but does not spend on fertilizers for farmers.”

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also spoke on the occasion and said that all state governments are facing the challenge of financial crisis as the central government stays mum.

He said that Narendra Modi is one such PM who has not replied to a letter from the CM. “This government is being run with hubris,” he added. Ttributes were paid to late CDS Bipin Rawat and other soldiers who died in a chopper crash on December 8.

Why India, Russia Blocked Move To Take Climate Change To UNSC

India and Russia have blocked a proposal that would have allowed the UN Security Council to deliberate on climate-related issues. What is the UNSC’s role in such issues, and why was the proposal opposed?

A contentious proposal to authorise the UN Security Council to deliberate on climate change-related issues was rejected on Monday after veto-wielding Russia and India voted against it. The draft resolution, piloted by Ireland and Niger, had been in the making for several months, and sought to create a formal space in the Security Council for discussions on climate change and its implications on international security.

This was the second time in weeks that India went against the tide to block a climate change-related proposal that it did not agree with. At the annual climate change conference in Glasgow last month, India had forced a last-minute amendment in the final draft agreement to ensure that a provision calling for “phase-out” of coal was changed to “phase-down”.

The UN already has a specialised agency, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC, for discussing all matters related to climate change. The parties to the UNFCCC — over 190 countries — meet several times every year, including at a two-week year-ending conference like the one at Glasgow, to work on a global approach to combat climate change. It is this process that has given rise to the Paris Agreement, and its predecessor the Kyoto Protocol, the international instrument that is designed to respond to the climate change crisis.

The Security Council, on the other hand, exists primarily to prevent conflicts and maintain global peace.

For the last few years, however, a few European countries, led by Germany, have been pushing for a role for Security Council in climate change discussions as well, arguing that climate change had an international security dimension. Climate change-induced food or water shortage, loss of habitat or livelihood, or migration can exacerbate existing conflicts or even create new ones. This can have implications for the UN field missions that are deployed across the world in peacekeeping efforts.

The draft resolution piloted by Ireland and Niger was not the first attempt at bringing climate change on Security Council’s agenda. Last year, a similar, stronger resolution was proposed by Germany. However, it was never put to vote because of possible objections from the United States, which had made it clear that it would block any such attempt with a veto. Germany’s two-year term at the Security Council was over last year, but the proposal had other backers, and Ireland and Niger agreed to refresh the draft resolution. With the US position shifting decisively under new President Joe Biden, the draft resolution had realistic chances of getting approved if China and Russia, the known opponents of the proposal, had agreed to abstain.

Telling Numbers |Changing monsoon patterns over 30 years, and 2021 trends

On the face of it, the draft resolution seemed academic in nature. It called for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to submit a report on security aspects of climate change in the next two years. It also asked the Secretary General to appoint a special envoy for climate security. Further, it asked UN field missions to regularly report on climate change assessments in their areas of operation and take the help of climate experts in carrying out their routine functions.

UNSC and climate change

Although it is not the forum to discuss climate change, the Security Council and its secretariat has hosted a few debates and informal discussions on the subject in the past. According to a recent research report, the frequency of such discussions has increased significantly since 2017, with climate change finding a mention in several Security Council decisions as well. It said several European countries, initially led by Sweden and the Netherlands, began to make efforts towards integration of the security implications of climate change in the Security Council’s work.

The same year, one of the UN’s visiting missions in Lake Chad region heard from Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou about how the shrinking of Lake Chad, a direct consequence of climate change, had contributed to the rise of the Boko Haram. Issoufou told the mission that the lake had lost 90 per cent of its surface area since the 1960s, which had destroyed livelihoods of local communities which became fertile ground for Boko Haram to grow. The research paper said this account of the Nigerian President left an impression on several UNSC members.

The objections

Russia and China, two permanent members with veto powers, have always been opposed to the move to bring climate change on the Security Council agenda. While the US switched sides this year, India, which started a two-year term in January, joined ranks with Russia and China. Brazil, which will join the Security Council next year, is also known to be against this move.

The opposing countries have been arguing that the UNFCCC must remain the appropriate forum for addressing all climate change-related issues, and claim the Security Council does not have the expertise to do so. They have also been pointing out that unlike UNFCCC, where decisions are taken by consensus of all the 190-plus countries, the UNSC would enable climate change decision-making by a handful of developed countries.

“We therefore need to ask ourselves what is it that we can collectively do under this draft resolution which we cannot achieve under the UNFCCC process. Why is it that one needs a UN Security Council resolution to take action on climate change when we have commitments made under UNFCCC towards concrete climate action. The honest answer is that there is no real requirement for this resolution except for the purpose of bringing climate change under the ambit of the Security Council and the reason for that is now decisions can be taken without involvement of most developing countries and without recognising consensus,” India’s permanent representative to the UN T S Tirumurti said. “Today, climate change decisions are sought to be taken out of the wider international community represented in the UNFCCC and given instead to the Security Council. Ironically, many of the UNSC members are the main contributors of climate change due to historical emissions. If the Security Council indeed takes over the responsibility on this issue, a few states will then have a free hand in deciding on all climate related issues. This is clearly neither desirable nor acceptable,” he said.

While the draft resolution was said to have the support of more than 100 countries, Russia said many developing countries had been backing it in the hope that they would get some assistance in fighting climate change.

Vladimir Putin’s Visit To India Will Usher In A New Dynamic Relationship

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s India visit has brought back the issue of ‘strategic balance’ in the Indian foreign policy narrative.  Not many analysts doubt the independent nature of India’s foreign policy. Still, there has been an impression that in the changing geopolitical dynamics, New Delhi and Moscow were somewhat drifting apart.

There will be a series of meetings, including the maiden 2+2 dialogue of the defense and foreign ministers, before the 21st annual India-Russia Summit. India and Russia will have an extensive engagement on defense and political ties and regional and international developments during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi for the annual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 6.

Russia has started delivering the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system to India, the director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Dmitry Shugaev has said. The S-400 Triumf air defense missile system will give a major boost to India’s capabilities to take out enemy fighter aircraft and cruise missiles at long range. News agency ANI reported citing people familiar…

There will be a series of meetings, including the maiden 2+2 dialogue of the defense and foreign ministers, before the 21st annual India-Russia Summit. Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov will arrive in India on December 5.

The two sides will have an “intensive engagement” that will culminate with the summit, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told a regular news briefing.

Defense minister Rajnath Singh and Shoigu will co-chair a meeting of the inter-governmental commission on military-technical cooperation, while external affairs minister S Jaishankar will hold a bilateral meeting with Lavrov early on Monday. These meetings will be followed by the inaugural 2+2 ministerial dialogue, which is expected to discuss bilateral, regional, and international political and defense issues, Bagchi said.

India has 2+2 ministerial meetings with very few countries, including Australia, Japan, and the US. At their annual summit in the afternoon on December 6, the two leaders will review the state and prospects of bilateral relations and discuss ways to further strengthen the bilateral strategic partnership. The summit will be an opportunity to exchange views on regional, multilateral, and international issues, and several agreements are expected to be signed during and in the run-up to the summit.

Asked about the US threatening to impose secondary sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on India’s deal to acquire five S-400 air defense systems from Russia, Bagchi said, “India and the US have a special global strategic partnership. We also have a special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia and we pursue an independent foreign policy.

Despite India’s increasing closeness to the West, a strong Russia and stronger India-Russia ties are important for India’s vision of a multipolar world and its own balanced foreign policy approach. It is also crucial for India to assert its strategic autonomy, defense modernisation and ambition to become an important producer of defense equipment.

The government-to-government linkages are quite strong. In the last 20 summits, about 230 agreements of different kinds were signed between the two countries. This summit has added 28 more MOUs/agreements. This time, however, there are also many MOUs beyond the government sector.

Almost every summit has coincided with some announcement of major arms purchases. This summit was not an exception as India agreed to buy over six lakh AK 203 rifles. Due to diversification, there has been some decline in the last few years. Still, Russia is India’s biggest arms supplier. For 2021-31, a new Military-Technical program has also been agreed. Some of these purchases particularly, S-400 missiles are under threat from the United States because of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which India hopes it will be able to work through with the Americans. The supply of parts of S-400 missiles has already begun.

One of the major challenges has been how to sustain this relationship in the absence of dynamic commercial ties. Bilateral trade is stuck around $10 billion for many years. The problem areas are well-known — these include lack of information, visa problems and logistic issues etc. In recent years, attempts have been made to address some of these issues.

There has been renewed focus on the International North South Trade Corridor (INSTC). Now, the Chabahar port has been added within the INSTC framework. A feasibility study on Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor is also at the advanced stage. There was also a mention of the need for creating linkages between India and the Eurasian Economic Union. A new trade target of $30 billion by 2025 was also mentioned. These narratives are good for the summit outcomes. The experience of the last many years shows that progress on most of these fronts has been slow for various reasons.

Apart from strategic convergence on some of the global and regional issues, the main pillars are still defence ties, hydrocarbons and nuclear. Russia has a clear comparative advantage in these areas and played an important role in our ties in the past 20 years. But in the next decade, when defence diversification and energy transition is going to happen, we need to find new areas of cooperation. For many years, India has talked about Information Technology, pharma sector, diamonds, textiles and the like. Still, it has not been able to make them core areas of interaction.

In the changing global geopolitics, India-Russia ties have the potential to stabilise increasing geopolitical tensions in the Indo-Pacific region as well as in Eurasia. Although India is working closely with the US and other western partners in the Indo-Pacific, its interests are clearly aligned with Russia in the Eurasian region, including now in Afghanistan. Although defence and energy will continue to bind us together, much more needs to be done in trade and connectivity sector. Once private sectors of both the economies are also linked with each other, India and Russia can truly complement each other’s modernisation.

What Biden’s Democracy Summit Is Missing

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to host a virtual summit this week for leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector to discuss the renewal of democracy. We can expect to see plenty of worthy yet predictable issues discussed: the threat of foreign agents interfering in elections, online disinformation, political polarization, and the temptation of populist and authoritarian alternatives. For the United States specifically, the role of money in politics, partisan gerrymandering, endless gridlock in Congress, and the recent voter suppression efforts targeting Black communities in the South should certainly be on the agenda.

All are important and relevant topics. Something more fundamental, however, is needed. The clear erosion of our political institutions is just the latest evidence, if any more was needed, that it’s past time to discuss what democracy means—and why we should care about it. We have to question, moreover, whether the political systems we have are even worth restoring or if we should more substantively alter them, including through profound constitutional reforms.

Such a discussion has never been more vital. The systems in place today once represented a clear improvement on prior regimes—monarchies, theocracies, and other tyrannies—but it may be a mistake to call them adherents of democracy at all. The word roughly translates from its original Greek as “people’s power.” But the people writ large doesn’t hold power in these systems. Elites do. Consider that in the United States, according to a 2014 study by the political scientist’ Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, only the richest 10 percent of the population seems to have any causal effect on public policy. The other 90 percent, they argue, is left with “democracy by coincidence”—getting what they want only when they happen to want the same thing as the people calling the shots.

This discrepancy between reality—democracy by coincidence—and the ideal of people’s power are baked in as a result of fundamental design flaws dating back to the 18th century. The only way to rectify those mistakes is to rework the design—to fully reimagine what it means to be democratic. Tinkering at the edges won’t do.

The best starting place to rectify such flaws is to better understand how they came about. Representative government, the ancestor of modern democracies, was born in the 18th century as a classical liberal-republican construct rather than a democratic one, primarily focused on the protection of certain individual rights rather than the empowerment of the broader citizenry. The goal was to give the people some say in choosing their rulers without allowing for actual popular rule. In other words, representative government historically favored the idea of people’s consent to power over that of people’s exercise of power.

The Founding Fathers of the United States, for example, famously wanted to create a republic rather than a democracy, which they associated with mob rule. James Madison, in particular, feared the tyranny of the majority as much as he disliked and rejected the old monarchical orders. He wanted to create a mixed regime with aristocratic and popular features whose main goal would be to protect individuals as much from powerful minorities as oppressive majorities. Alexander Hamilton even defended the ideal of a government that would include a president elected for life.

The federalist founders were thus explicit in their intent to create a republic that would not rest on demos Kratos, or “people’s power,” but instead on the power of elected elites, restrained by a complex system of checks and balances. They aimed to staff representative assemblies with a natural aristocracy of talent and wisdom capable of enlarging and refining the views of common people. In this way, the system would serve as a filter, maximizing the individual competence of representatives while accepting the costs of reducing that group to a sociologically and economically homogeneous group.

The next historical step in the evolution of representative government was to go from parliamentary democracy—where the legislative assembly was seen as a place of deliberation among individually superior minds—to party democracy. Elections became a competition among policy platforms in which individual citizens or their representatives could exercise their vote.

In the process, we moved from the Madisonian view of electoral representation as a proxy for public sentiment to something quite different. Party competition was seen by some as an effective system to ensure the periodic removal of the worst political leaders or, in an even more optimistic view, as a rational battle of ideas among partisan platforms.

The move to this form of the political regime was accompanied—and buttressed—by the flattening out of social distinctions and what the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville saw as an irresistible equalization of conditions. It was during this process that we started to call modern societies and by extension their governments, democracies. This began around 1830 in the United States and France and 1870 in the United Kingdom, despite the remarkable fact that women and minorities did not get the right to vote until much later. But while there was some real but limited progress toward sociopolitical equality, actual decision-making power—over anything from economic to foreign policy—remained in the hands of the elites.

Not only is this unequal distribution and indeed concentration of power hardly compatible with the idea of democracy, but it also makes the system vulnerable to systematic failures of governance. One of the main advantages of democracy, according to thinkers from Aristotle to W.E.B. Du Bois, is its capacity, when properly institutionalized, to tap into the distributed collective wisdom of its entire public. Along these lines, Aristotle thought that two heads were better than one. More poetically, Du Bois argued that “in the people, we have the source of that endless life and unbounded wisdom which the rulers of men must-have.”

Yet by design, representative democracies only sample the wisdom of a narrow subset of the population, namely the one that wins elections. Such a subset has globally skewed male, wealthy, educated, and of the locally dominant ethnicity. One might also add the following traits: charismatic, articulate, tall, and extroverted. It is not clear that any of these qualities—undeniably useful to win electoral campaigns—have any bearing on the capabilities of our ruling class to legislate well. This is especially problematic if, as some social scientists argue, the collective competence of a group is only partially a function of individual qualities and more so a function of the group’s diversity. Parliaments as we staff them might well be too homogenous for good lawmaking. Meanwhile, the rest of the population—including the introverted, inarticulate, short, and shy, as well as, typically, poor and Black or other people of color—is left to opine, at best, from a distance, if they don’t retreat from the system altogether.

While there is some wisdom to be gained from the aggregation of popular judgment in elections, pure electoral democracy misses out on all that can be gained from the diversity of knowledge and insight among the broader population. The key is to involve that broader group of people in a more deliberative and participatory way. Leaving them out creates massive blind spots, simmering resentment, and a systematic failure to address the needs and preferences of a portion, sometimes even a majority, of the population.

Examples of such failures abound, from the plight of the suburban working class in most advanced industrial societies, which is vastly underrepresented in all Western parliaments, to that of Black Americans, who are also still underrepresented in the U.S. Congress.

Such areas of underrepresentation might explain political events that surprised our pundit class: U.S. President Donald Trump’s electoral victory, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and the yellow vest rebellion against a tax on gas in France. The example of the yellow vests, or gilets jaunes, offers a textbook case of the inability of electoral institutions to respond to the interests and concerns of a significant portion of the population that feels invisible—hence, the neon yellow jackets—and has in some cases given up on voting altogether.

These democratic flaws at the heart of representative democracy are sufficiently serious to account for at least some of its current institutional crisis, which may be better described as a chronic illness due to a congenital defect. Perhaps other factors, such as globalization, unfettered capitalism, and rapid technological change, as well as the economic inequalities they entail, made things worse in some countries. But make no mistake: Each of these vulnerabilities is part of the initial design.

Some may see this essay as a call for revolution. It is not. We have inherited the legacies of the 18th century, both institutional and ideological, and we should figure out how to make do with them, at least in part and for the time being. Yet having a clearer idea of what an authentic democracy should look like can usefully guide institutional reform in more radical directions—ones that are compatible with current power structures and prevailing ways of thinking.

Wherever possible, we should build new models of democratic decision-making so they can nudge the old ones aside as those become obsolete. That, I believe, is our best hope for renewing democracy.

There are many proposals for what a true democracy should look like, and they are all worth debating. My view defended in my book Open Democracy, is that an authentic democracy would center on ordinary citizens rather than elected politicians. One way forward, therefore, is to break with the dogma of electoral representation as the only—let alone the most democratic—a form of representation.

If democracy is truly ruled by the people, then all of us should be able to represent and be represented in turn—that is, have an equal chance to engage in lawmaking and policymaking on behalf of the rest of the group. The ruling, in other words, should not be a job reserved for those who can win elections. It should be accessible to all.

The open democracy I envisage would center on a House of the People selected by a randomized civic lottery—a large-scale jury, if you will—in which ordinary citizens have a chance to participate as democratic representatives with legislative prerogatives of their own (for example, on climate change and other long-term issues that remain largely unaddressed by our current political systems). Such a body could replace—or at the very least complement—existing elected chambers. This House of the People would be a forum for nonpartisan, informed, and transparent deliberation.

Furthermore, such a body should be open to the input of the larger public, including through mechanisms that enable individuals to put issues on its agenda or trigger a referendum on its proposals or even convene a citizens’ assembly—a large body of randomly selected citizens gathered to deliberate about a specific issue.

Critics of this idea might argue that putting ordinary citizens at the center of our democratic process naively assumes that politics is an amateurs’ sport. To some extent, that is correct because having a say about the common good and defining the law that governs all of us should be open to all, regardless of class, gender, age, race, education levels, or other characteristics. Only once we acknowledge that fact can we both live up to the ideal of political equality and tap the collective intelligence of the whole.

But more importantly, when given the proper resources and the same access to experts that elected officials routinely enjoy, the so-called amateurs can cultivate skills and legislate well. The proof of concept here is provided not just by the example of ancient Athens, which essentially functioned based on open assemblies and randomly selected councils and juries, but the modern-day as well. Ordinary citizens in recent times have demonstrated their competence on all kinds of issues, from the more technical, as with the 2004 Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in the Canadian province of British Columbia, to the more controversial, as with the 2012 Constitutional Convention and 2016 Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland, which deliberated on marriage equality and abortion, respectively.

In 2019, in a landmark case given the size and diversity of the country, French President Emmanuel Macron entrusted 150 randomly selected citizens with the task of generating bills to curb greenhouse gas emissions in ways that align with social justice. After nine months of hard work, and in consultation with experts, they succeeded. While foreign policy has only been put on the agenda of citizens’ assemblies a few times, there is no reason to think that ordinary citizens would be less equipped to make decisions on these issues as well. Particularly when it comes to decisions related to starting or ending wars, it would seem both fair and smart to involve a much more representative sample of all affected interests.

Just as in an elected parliament, citizen legislators should avail themselves of existing knowledge. They should be served by a loyal bureaucracy and have easy access to experts. And these bureaucrats and experts should be put “on tap, not on top,” to use a phrase common in deliberative democracy circles—meaning they are available to advise but are not the decision-makers. In addition, assemblies of citizen legislators, just like parliaments, should be autonomous and self-ruling, including in the choice of experts appearing in front of them.

If those conditions are in place, the risk that the House of the People could be captured by technocrats and bureaucrats is not nil, but it is arguably less than in existing systems where elected officials are so busy raising funds and campaigning that they have every incentive to delegate the actual business of legislating to others.

What about accountability, you might ask? Accountability is an overused and underdefined term that we have come to identify within the very process of modern politics. After all, we should be able to remove elected officials who have underperformed. But elections can be a blunt and not particularly effective tool. There are other ways to sanction people for disappointing or wrongful use of power. More importantly, accountability has a broader meaning: the presentation of accounts, namely justifications for the laws and policies imposed on the population. Deliberative assemblies of ordinary citizens are a much better place than elected parliaments to generate such explanations.

What about the democratic legitimacy of randomly selected legislatures? This objection shows how much our political intuitions are shaped by the historical centrality of elections. Yet consider juries, the democratic institution par excellence according to Tocqueville. Do jury members lack democratic legitimacy because they have been selected by lot rather than elected? No. The intuition of our current system, in which we emphasize the exercise of power rather than the consent to power, is that the democratic legitimacy of jury members comes from the fact that they could be any one of us. We could be them. But what this example shows is that elections are not strictly necessary for either democratic representation or democratic legitimacy.

Does an open democracy still sound like science fiction or perhaps like a dated vision of politics only fit for small and homogenous Greek city-states? Only if you ignore the now close to 600 examples of randomly selected deliberative bodies documented at the local, regional, national, and international levels in the last 40 years, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

While such bodies often face resistance on the part of existing structures, which tend to view them as competition, several have had an important impact. Deliberative polls conducted by electric utilities in Texas between 1996 and 1998 were largely responsible for a major reversal in the state’s energy policy, turning it from a pure oil and gas state into a leader in green energy. The Irish citizens’ assemblies on marriage equality, abortion, blasphemy, and the right to divorce have all led to constitutional changes, and the Irish Citizens’ Assembly on climate led to the recently enacted Climate Act. In France, despite much resistance from Parliament, between 10 and 50 percent of the Citizens’ Convention on Climate’s recommendations were incorporated into real law, producing the most ambitious French climate bill to date. In fact, in 81 percent of the 55 examples of randomly selected bodies for which OECD data is available, public authorities accepted at least half of the recommendations that citizens developed in these processes.

The next phase of democratic transformation is to build more empowered, permanent citizens’ assemblies with legislative capabilities of their own. This has already begun. Examples include the region of East Belgium, which inaugurated the first permanent Citizens’ Council with agenda-setting power in 2019, and the city of Paris, which just convened a similar council of 100 Parisians, with more power still.

It might take a while before a country gives so much power to citizens at the national level. But it is worth noting that France briefly toyed with the idea of replacing its third legislative chamber, a largely symbolic advisory body where representatives of organized civil society currently convene, with a Chamber of Citizen Participation. Various scholars and activists have called for abolishing upper chambers seen as corrupt or out of dates, such as the Canadian Senate or the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, with so-called “legislatures by lot.” What might have seemed like radical thinking a few years ago is now entering the realm of the possible.

First, the summit needs to question and broaden the definition of democracy. If the aim of pro-democracy forces is simply to return to some imagined pre-Trump or pre-Brexit utopia, then we will have learned nothing. If the solution is simply to empower courts and raise supermajority thresholds to try to protect the system against populist surges, then we will possibly worsen the problem caused by elitism and democratic deficits in the first place. Returning to the core idea of people’s power—and interrogating the conditions under which the wisdom of the many can be channeled into law and policymaking—should be the starting point of any conversation.

The second pitfall to avoid is holding a summit on democracy that is itself elitist and exclusionary. The only invitees, as far as we know, are more than 100 world leaders, who are likely to be very educated, wealthy, and rather old. Just as this year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, (and all 25 before it) failed to be truly inclusive and representative of the diversity of climate interests and concerns around the world, summits that only gather people from the top of various social, economic, political, and other hierarchies are premised on a flawed idea of what produces collective wisdom. As a result, it risks reproducing the blind spots that yielded the world’s democratic crisis in the first place.

Democratic leadership can come from surprising places. I would hope the summit organizers at the very least invite participants from former citizens’ assemblies, who could bring a diversity of background as well as unique perspectives on a different kind of democratic politics. Better yet, they could start thinking about institutionalizing the principle of an international citizens’ assembly for the summit’s next iterations, as several thinkers, including myself, have called for in a joint letter to Biden. Such an assembly could follow the model of the Global Assembly on the climate crisis, which ran in parallel to the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland.

Finally, when it comes to the situation in the United States, one hopes that Biden’s summit will be an opportunity to change the country’s mostly sterile public conversation about democracy. Americans must finally allow themselves to question the foundations of the Constitution they so uncritically worship. The achievements of the Founding Fathers, as brilliant as they were, need to be reassessed in light of more than two centuries of dramatic change and a wealth of new social scientific knowledge. If we are to overcome the many profound challenges we face today, we need to be as bold and visionary in our time as they were in theirs.

Indian Army’s ‘STRIKE’ For Ladakh-Like High-Altitude Areas

The Indian Army is on the lookout for Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) to assist infantry troops in high-altitude areas with surveillance, tactical reconnaissance, targeting enemy positions, delivering critical supplies, and carrying out rapid evacuations.

The need for such a platform stems from the difficulties encountered in Ladakh, such as incidents involving a military clash with China at heights of over 15,000 feet.

The army’s requirements for the platform state that the unmanned ground vehicles, or UGVs, should be able to carry a load of 250500 kg and should be able to operate in high altitude areas along the northern borders-a reference to the frontier with China.

A weapon platform variant mounted with a machine gun has also been listed as one of the requirements that the UGVs should have.

Twelve Indian companies will showcase 35 such platforms to the Indian Army in Babina from December 9-14 in an experiment called “Strike”-surveillance, tactical recce, intelligence, kinetic effect, and evacuation systems.

“Over 30 different types of unmanned ground vehicles will be showcased by the developers, and these will be imbedded with sub-units for tactical exploitation. The experiment involves various categories of UGVs, viz., surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence, kinetic effect, logistics, casualty evacuation,” said an official.

The unmanned vehicle that the army is looking for should perform recce and surveillance and have a load carrier aimed at last-mile delivery and casualty evacuation.

According to the army’s requirements, the UGV should be able to operate in varied terrain conditions, including deserts, plains, mountainous and high-altitude areas, existing along our borders. The army wants the vehicles to be operated remotely as well as in an autonomous mode.

The unmanned vehicles can also be used for explosive detection and neutralisation of improvised explosive devices. The army has stated that a robotic arm with the capacity to lift a minimum weight of 5 kg is a must.

The requirements further state that it should be able to place explosives and carry out remote detonations of identified IEDs and mines.

Attacks On Christians Rises In Karnataka: UCF/APCR/UAH Report

Karnataka state in India has seen rise in attacks against Christians after govt’s anti-conversion law proposal, reveals report  In its state-wise classification, UCF found that Uttar Pradesh reported the most such cases (66), followed by Chhattisgarh (47), and Karnataka (32). This also makes Karnataka top the list among south Indian states.

Karnataka has seen a rise in attacks against Christians in October and November after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) proposed an anti-conversion law in the state, a fact-finding report by several civil society organisations revealed. While 27 such attacks took place during the first 272 days of this year, five incidents took place between October and mid-November alone, it highlighted.

The report by United Christian Forum (UCF), Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), and United Against Hate also claimed that Karnataka ranks third among states with the most number of attacks on the community and their places of worship in India.

According to the report that took into account calls made to UCF, as of September 2021, the helpline recorded 305 cases across the country. The calls comprised complaints mentioning mob attacks (288 cases), and damage to places of worship (28 cases). As many as 1,331 women, 588 tribals, and 513 Dalits were injured in these attacks, as per the report. Further, it noted that the police did not allow congregations in at least 85 instances this year (2021).

In its state-wise classification, UCF found that Uttar Pradesh reported the most such cases (66), followed by Chhattisgarh (47), and Karnataka (32). This also makes Karnataka top the list among south Indian states.

Advocate Mohammed Nayaz, State Secretary of APCR Karnataka, told The Indian Express that it was important to note that the frequency of such cases have increased in the state since the government’s proposal for an anti-conversion law began. “While a total of 32 such cases were reported across months since January, at least five of them have taken place in quick succession in the months of October 10 and November 14,” he said.

The report noted incidents of vandalism, false accusations, and forced arrests from the state in separate incidents from Udupi, Belagavi, Uttara Kannada, Chitradurga, and Bengaluru districts.

President of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops’ Council, Reverend Peter Machado, after releasing the report, noted that Karnataka seems to have “lost its humanity despite being known for progressive politics and (Bengaluru) being the IT hub of the country”.

Machado, who is also the Archbishop of Bangalore, added that the report might have missed many such attacks as it was based only on calls made to the UCF helpline. He, however, stressed that the report has never stated that “most of these attacks were led by right-wing groups and the police have failed to act on them.” He alleged that members of the community were instead charged with cases. “In Belagavi, community members have been asked by the police to restrain from holding prayer meetings during the upcoming legislature session,” Machado highlighted.

Earlier, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had announced that a Bill to prohibit “forced conversions” in the state would be passed by the government during the Winter Session of the Assembly that is scheduled to begin on December 13.

Modi’s Growing Crackdown On Bollywood India’s Film Industry Is Under Growing Pressure To Bend Its Knee To Hindu Nationalists.

Last month, the son of superstar Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan was arrested for consuming drugs at a party. In most parts of the world, celebrity news of this sort provides a momentary public distraction. In India, where the divide between Hindus and Muslims has deepened since Narendra Modi became prime minister, Khan’s arrest has focused attention on India’s fraying social fabric.

Supporters of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government defend the arrest as a matter of law and claim it reveals decadence in the movie industry. But India’s liberals contend it was a deliberate move intended to tarnish a Muslim idol’s image to appease the Hindu right.

Khan has been a star for more than a decade and is widely referred to as “King Khan,” the King of Bollywood. He is also known for his rise from poverty; he often regales the public with stories of the hardships he endured, including having to sleep on Mumbai’s streets while trying to make it as an actor. Tales of his struggle and success have inspired millions of Indians, including Muslims, and his exalted status delivers on India’s promise as a secular and inclusive nation where anyone—irrespective of religion, caste, or creed—can succeed.

But the Hindu right has a deep history of resenting the rise of Muslims, especially those who challenge their exclusivist politics—a group that includes Khan. In 2015, Khan spoke against the lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs for allegedly smuggling cows to be slaughtered and served as meat. Many Hindus consider cows to be holy. “We have made a huge thing about our meat-eating habits. How can the food habits of people be an issue?” Khan told NDTV, a local news channel. “Religious intolerance and not being secular in this country is the worst kind of crime that you can do as a patriot.”

There is a pattern of far-right resentment focused on Bollywood stars. A year ago, Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone was accused of being a part of a nefarious drug network and was summoned for questioning by India’s national Narcotics Control Bureau. In 2019, Padukone joined a student protest against a controversial anti-Muslim citizenship law passed by the Modi government.

The cases might expose a “nexus of drugs” in the film industry, as claimed by several pro-Modi news networks. But liberals suspect Khan and Padukone were punished for speaking up against Islamophobia, and the cases against them are part of a more insidious campaign to intimidate Muslims and liberals associated with Bollywood.

This would be part of a wider pattern. Since Modi came to power, minorities and liberals in all influential segments of society have insinuated they are under pressure to silently accept the Hindu right’s discriminatory ideas about what India should be.

First, journalists complained of duress as pressure to self-censor increased. Most news networks either gave in or walked a fine line while others became unabashed mouthpieces of government policies. Left-leaning universities and those dominated by minorities were targeted next. India’s film and television industry, which employs more than 1 million people and has admirers around the world, is the latest to feel the heat. Movies and movie stars are now at the heart of a cultural revolution designed to crush dissent against the Modi government and change India’s path from a diverse to a culturally homogenous society.

Bollywood has been the conscious keeper of a country navigating multiple fault lines at once. Although it has always had to tread cautiously to avoid irking the political powers that be, Bollywood has been a secular space that promoted cohesion among communities and played a constructive role in building a tolerant society. Over the last few years, however, actors have felt afraid to speak their minds regarding controversial political decisions, the industry is being discredited as a den of drug addicts, and the language of Indian cinema is slowly but surely changing.

For the longest time, songs such as, “Mazhab nahi sikhata aapas mein bair rakhna,” (or “Religion does not teach animosity”) spread the ideas of coexistence. They ingrained the value of syncretism in the minds of generations of Indians. But now, religious chauvinism is interspersed in songs and storylines without compunction. There seems to be a new obsession with making films about Hindu warrior kings who challenged Muslim rulers—the latter almost always painted as evil. A whole lot of chest-thumping and sword-wielding is done while hailing Hindu gods as if trying to invoke not just pride in Hindu heritage but something more—perhaps a sense of superiority.

Shubhra Gupta, a film critic and leading columnist with the Indian Express, told Foreign Policy that Hindi cinema set out to promote the values of “pyaar and bhaichara” (or “love and brotherhood”) in its early nation-building years post-independence. But that is changing fast. “Conservatism, patriarchy, and status quo-ism know no political boundaries. That is the kind of cinema that all mainstream [movie] industries in India are being relentlessly pushed towards,” Gupta said.

“Given its massive popularity, all governments down the decades have used the film industry to propagate its messages,” she continued. “But it is now more than ever under pressure to toe the state line of command and control, as the present regime understands the power of the image in a way none other has before it.”

Rahul Vohra, an Indian actor who has worked with Khan, said lawyers are now vetting scripts to not be on the wrong side of the central government. “And yes, all this is deliberately being done to install an invented narrative with a calculated aim of re-writing history,” Vohra said. “Many actors are scared to express their opinions, and many actually believe in the opinions of the government.” Vohra, like many others, suspect the drug charges were trumped up, especially since the evidence presented thus far has been thin. “I sincerely feel these are cooked-up stories with the specific intent of diverting attention from issues staring at us in the face,” he said, alluding to the country’s worsening economic crisis and rising inflation.

It began with the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in early 2020, whose parents alleged foul play even though the autopsy confirmed suicide. Rajput’s girlfriend, actress Rhea Chakraborty, was charged for procuring drugs for him. Chakraborty was the first to be arrested as part of an alleged “drug nexus” in the industry. Although she was a fresh face, her case set the stage to investigate the morals of movie stars. Rajput’s death also led to a debate on Bollywood’s widespread nepotism, and that was most certainly a good thing. Movies in the country are run like family businesses, with the children of actors and directors first in line to become next-generation stars. Yet there are many outsiders who have made it—Khan being among them. Central agencies’ focus and the media and trolls’ wrath, however, appear reserved for those who have not given public approval to New Delhi’s power center.

“The line that all of Bollywood is full of nepotism and drug addicts has been peddled with a great deal of energy,” Gupta said. “And that anything that comes out of it is tainted unless, of course, it wishes to stay on the safe side with movies about bad Muslim invaders and valiant Hindu kings who are defenders of the faith.”

India’s massive movie industry is split. There are actors who swear by the Modi government; just last week, one of them even said India attained freedom in 2014—the year Modi became the country’s premier. But others fear the space for them to be true artists and challenge rising majoritarianism in the country is shrinking. They are worried their films might be blocked or they might be slapped with cases like the ones Khan’s son and Padukone face.

Indian movies have many problems, including a highly sexist lexicon, but bigotry is not one of them. If the artists are silenced, there will be no one left to hold the mirror to society. Both Khan and Padukone have been cautious since the cases.

U.S. NGO Names Modi Among World’s Seven Worst Persecutors, Clubs RSS With Taliban

A reputed global Christian organization has named Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi among the world’s seven biggest persecutors of religious minorities and called for the U.S. government to impose visa and economic sanctions on India to pressure it to end that persecution.

In a report, “2021 Persecutor of the Year Awards,” released here this month, the International Christian Concern (ICC) clubbed the “Sangh Parivar,” India’s Hindu extremist movement that informs Modi’s ideology and policies, with the Taliban and the Boko Haram, and named India as one of the world’s seven biggest persecutors.

The Modi administration had overseen “a massive cultural shift” in India from a pluralistic society to Hindu nationalism, and “consistently punished all forms of dissent,” cracking down on NGOs seeking to hold it accountable, the ICC report said.“The U.S. and its allies should consider economic and visa sanctions against key decision-makers in the Modi administration,” the report said.

Also, the U.S. Congress should designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations,” and also “emphasize improving religious freedom conditions at the national level with India in any future strategic or economic partnerships.”

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to designate India as CPC, rejecting a recommendation from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Numerous organizations have condemned that decision.

Apart from Modi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also joined the Rogue’s Gallery of the world’s seven biggest persecutors. The others on that list include Chinese President Xi Jinping and the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un.

The others besides India on the country list include Nigeria, China, Myanmar and Pakistan. The ICC and the Indian American Muslim Council collaborate in the pursuit of their advocacy towards ending religious persecution in India.

The Modi administration “frequently looked away” as its Hindu extremist allies “violently targeted” religious minorities, the report said. Modi “actively suppresses dissent through his administration and fails to hold persecutors accountable. He has sent a message throughout India that his administration will tolerate the persecution of Christians.”

Modi’s “knowing inaction” to end persecution was the “single most significant contributing factor to the dire state of religious freedom in India… that allows Hindu radicals to persecute India’s Christian minority with impunity,” the report said. There were “virtually limitless reports” of persecution of pastors, new or lifelong Christians, and whole churches by Indian officials and police. “Hindu extremists who commit acts of vandalism, violence, and even murder frequently go un-prosecuted.”

India was also “hostile” to critics such as Amnesty International, which it accused of violating foreign funding laws, just as it accuses Christian ministries, and forced it to shut operations in India. It was widely believed, the report said, that “this act was politically motivated to silence Amnesty’s criticism of the Indian government’s abuses.”

The ICC said the “Sangh Parivar’s… single ideology” of Hindutva had “a single agenda: to make India a Hindu nation,” and establish a “theocratic Hindu-majority state where religious minorities, including Christians, are relegated to second class status.”The establishment of such a state would be a “complete rejection of India’s founding principles, which provide religious freedom and equal protection to all religious groups.”

The leader of this Sangh Parivar, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), “fuels a religiously intolerant narrative that views all non-Indic faiths, like Christianity and Islam, as foreign and something to be feared,” the ICC said. The RSS demonized Christians and other religious minorities through “hateful narratives, instigating violence in the streets” and used such narratives to advocate for laws and policies that discriminated against religious minorities.

The RSS’s estimated over six million members across India in over 50,000 locations meet daily and do martial arts training which they use “against religious minorities.” Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the RSS’s political wing, used “hateful narratives” for political victories to establish India as a Hindu nation, the ICC said. The BJP used “political support garnered by these narratives” to pass discriminatory laws.

“Anti-conversion laws and cow slaughter bans name just a few of the laws and policies the BJP enacts as a part of their nationalist agenda,” the report said. “These laws also provide a legal cover under which street thugs can attack Christians with impunity.”

Another organization is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which “mobilizes resources within and outside India to support the Hindutva movement” and falsely accused Christian educational and health institutions of converting Hindus to Christianity, sowing a narrative that there was a conspiracy led by “Western agencies” to take over India.

“These narratives only help fuel the fires of intolerance against Christians and other religious minorities, justifying violence and discriminatory laws and policies.” The Bajrang Dal, the Sangh Parivar’s youth wing, was mobilized “as foot soldiers” to enforce the Hindutva ideology on the street attacking Christians and their places of worship, and holding rallies against Christians. “In recent years, the severity of attacks by the Bajrang Dal has increased even to the extent of targeted killings,” the ICC said.

Anti-conversion laws, forced conversions to Hinduism, blasphemy laws, state-sanctioned impunity, social boycotts, and government restrictions on foreign funding were means to target and persecute India’s Christians, the report said.

The ICC report was released by USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza and ICC President Jeff King. IAMC’s Advocacy Director Ajit Sahi joined in releasing the report.

Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin Appoints MR Rangaswami As State’s ‘Investment Ambassador’

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has appointed a prominent Indian American venture capitalist, M.R. Rangaswami as Tamil Nadu’s ‘Investment Ambassador’ on Friday, November 26.

Rangaswami has been an active member of the Indian American community whose influence has inspired many.

Over the years he has worn many hats including being an entrepreneur, investor, corporate eco-strategy expert, community builder and a philanthropist.

Most importantly, he is the founder of Indiaspora, a nonprofit who mission is to unite the Indian diaspora and to transform their success into meaningful impact in India and on the global stage.

By sharing insights, hosting events and connecting people, Indiaspora unites the professionally, geographically and religiously diverse Indian American community toward collective action, the press release said.

On honoring him his new crown, CM Stalin praised Rangaswami for his achievements in the US.

Dr. VGP, an Indian American community leader and president of the World Federation of Tamil Youth, USA in Chicago, congratulated CM Stalin on the appointment and said Tamil Nadu will soon become India’s number one industrialized state under Rangaswami’s captaincy, it said.

Neil Khot, national chairman of the Indian American Business Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., congratulated Rangasawami, saying that he is an excellent and apt choice who can make things happen.

Tamil Nadu has made giant strides in attracting global investment recently, thanks to IAS officer T. Muruganandam, who was till recently industries secretary and was now promoted to the key position as the state’s finance secretary, noted the release.

The event was attended by Rangaswami wife and his two children, who have been supportive of his past endeavors and his current leadership position to tackle more India-centric issues.

Bowing To Farmers’ Demand, Modi Scraps Controversial Farm Laws

In a surprise announcement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on November 19th that his government will withdraw the controversial farm laws that prompted year-long protests from tens of thousands of farmers and posed a significant political challenge to his administration.

The three controversial farm laws at the heart of massive farmer protests across the country for over a year will be withdrawn, PM Narendra Modi announced on Friday. “In the Parliament session starting later this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three agricultural laws,” he added. “I apologise to the people of the country…there must have been some deficiency in our efforts that we could not convince some farmers Whatever I did, I did for farmers. What I`m doing, is for the country.”

Modi made the announcement during a televised speech that was broadcast live. He urged the protesters to return home and said the constitutional process to repeal the laws will begin in December when parliament sits for the winter session. “Let us make a fresh start,” Modi said during the address.

The laws were passed in September last year and the government had defended them, saying they were necessary to modernize India’s agricultural sector and would boost production through private investment. But the farmers protested, saying the laws would devastate their earnings by ending guaranteed pricing and force them to sell their crops to corporations at cheaper prices.

These perceived threats to their income terrified India’s farmers, who mostly work on a small scale: More than two-thirds of them own less than 1 hectare of land.

Clauses in the legislation also prevented farmers from resolving contract disputes in court, leaving them with no independent means of redress apart from government-appointed bureaucrats.

Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the group of farm unions organizing the protests, said it welcomed the government’s announcement. But the group said the protests would continue until the government assures them guaranteed prices for certain essential crops — a system that was introduced in the 1960s to help India shore up its food reserves and prevent shortages.

The government had so far yielded very little to the drawn-out demonstrations that led to unprecedented farmer protests across India and posed a major challenge to Modi, who swept the polls for the second time in 2019.

Modi’s decision is being seen as a political masterstroke ahead of some key state polls, particularly in Punjab, where growing alienation of the Sikh community over the laws was palpable.

Initially, Modi’s government had tried to discredit the Sikh farmers by dismissing their concerns as motivated by religious nationalism. Some leaders in Modi’s party called them “Khalistanis,” a reference to a movement for an independent Sikh homeland called “Khalistan” in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Such allegations backfired, further angering the farmers.

In November last year, the farmers escalated their movement by hunkering down on the outskirts of New Delhi, where they have camped out for nearly a year, including through a harsh winter and a coronavirus surge that devastated India earlier this year.

While the farmers’ protest movement has been largely peaceful, demonstrators in January broke through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort in the capital’s center. Clashes with police left one protester dead and hundreds injured.

“At last, all of our hard work paid off. Thanks to all the farmer brothers and salute to the farmer brothers who were martyred in this battle,” said Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers’ leader.

Dozens of farmers died due to suicide, hostile weather conditions and COVID-19 during the demonstrations.

Farmers form the most influential voting bloc in India — and are often romanticized as the heart and soul of the nation. Politicians have long considered it unwise to alienate them, and farmers are particularly important to Modi’s base. Northern Haryana and a few other states with substantial farmer populations are ruled by his party.

The laws: The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 were passed in Parliament during the Monsoon Session last year.

Reason for repeal? No official reason has been cited but in the last session of Parliament, the Opposition had attacked the government strongly over the laws, and it led to acrimony and impacted the functioning of the Houses.

The decision also comes months before five states, including Punjab and Uttar Pradesh — a key section of the protesting farmers hail from the two states, along with Haryana — will hold Assembly polls. The BJP’s performance in the civic polls in Punjab earlier this year, and in Assembly byelections in Haryana were dismal.

It’s been 373 days (from Nov. 26, 2020) since farmers began their agitation. After several rounds of talks between the government and farmer unions failed to end the lockjam, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of three farm laws.

Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said: “The protest will not be withdrawn immediately, we will wait for the day when the farm laws are repealed in Parliament. Along with MSP, the government should talk to farmers on other issues too.”

Farmers Demand Action

Hardening their stand, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha Nov. 21 put forth six conditions in an open letter to Prime Minister Modi and threatened to continue the agitation if the government failed to discuss those six issues with the farmers.

The Open Letter with a threat to continue pre-planned rallies and morchas came after a marathon meeting of the 40-odd representatives of all the participating organizations of the SKM, two days after Modi announced that the government intends to repeal the three contentious farm laws passed by Parliament last year.

The open letter reminded the prime minister that the repeal of the three farm laws was not the only demand by the agitating farmers and that there were three other demands.

The farmers’ first and foremost demand is to make the minimum support price that is based on the formula of C2+50 percent (means 50 percent above the cost of production) as a legal right for all crops and for all farmers. The letter reminded the Prime Minister Modi that it was a committee under his chair that had in 2011 recommended this to the then prime minister and his government later announced it in Parliament too.

The second demand is to withdraw the draft Power Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2020/2021, which, the SKM said, the government had promised to withdraw but inserted it in the Parliament’s proceedings.

Removal of provisions to punish farmers (who burn stubble) under the Commission for Air Quality Management Act for Delhi and its Surrounding Regions Act, which did remove the provision that termed farmers as “criminal” but retained the Section 15 that can still punish the farmers.

The Morcha letter said they had much hope regarding these three demands but the prime minister’s address to the nation did not make any specific announcements regarding these, the SKM said, adding, “There are several other issues that have been raised during the last one year or so of our agitation, which too need to be looked into immediately.”

Cases that were lodged against hundreds of farmers from Delhi, Haryana, Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh and many other states since June 2020 till now should be withdrawn with immediate effect; suspend and arrest Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra Teni, who is an accused under section 120B in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri tragedy (where four farmers among others were killed as a car mowed them down) and compensation and rehabilitation of the families of about 700-odd farmers who have lost their lives during the course of this agitation, the SKM said, and demanded land for a Shaheed Smriti Smarak (Martyrs’ Memorial) at Singhu Border.

Earlier in the day, at its first meeting at the Kisan Andolan headquarters at Singhu Border in north Delhi after the announcement made by the prime minister, SKM (the consortium of farmers organizations and other NGOs) had decided to continue with all the announced programs as per plan.

Opposition leaders, who earlier called the laws exploitative and supported the protests, congratulated the farmers. “The country’s farmers, through their resistance, made arrogance bow its head,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi, India’s main opposition party leader in Congress. “Congratulations on the victory against injustice!”

200 Nations Agree On Pact To Save Earth From Climate Change Glasgow Climate Pact Diluted After India, China Force Amendment On Emission From Coal

The two-week global conference ended with a historic agreement between the 200 national delegations who agreed to, for the first time, to target fossil fuels as a key driver of global warming in a bid to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050 in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The historic and much needed Glasgow Climate Pact 2021 was adopted on Saturday, November 13th, which is a mixed bag of modest achievements and disappointed expectations. The achievements include a tacit consensus on a target of keeping global temperature rise down to 1.5 degrees Celsius with the Paris Agreement target of 2 degrees being no longer appropriate to the scale of the climate emergency. The notional target of 2 degrees remains but the international discourse is now firmly anchored in the more ambitious target and this is a plus.

The Pact is the first clear recognition of the need to transition away from fossil fuels, though the focus was on giving up coal-based power altogether. The focus on coal has the downside of not addressing other fossil fuels like oil and gas but a small window has opened.

Even as the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres conceded that the final agreement was “a compromise”, several vulnerable nations were left disappointed as the deal made no mention of the $100 billion a year in funding that high-income countries had promised, in 2009, for five years starting 2020 to help low-income countries move away from fossil fuels. While the UN will come out with a report next year on the progress of delivering the funding, the issue of finance will now be taken up only in 2024 and 2026.

“This is just a very small step forward. The pace is extremely slow. We are moving in inches when we need to gallop in miles,” said Harjeet Singh, senior advisor with Climate Action Network International, a large group of NGOs working in climate space.

The original draft had contained a pledge to “phase out” coal. India introduced an amendment at the last moment to replace this phrase with “phase down” and this played negatively with both the advanced as well as a large constituency of developing countries. This was one big “disappointment”.

This amendment reportedly came as a result of consultations among India, China, the UK and the US. The phrase “phase down” figures in the US-China Joint Declaration on Climate Change, announced on November 10. As the largest producer and consumer of coal and coal-based thermal power, it is understandable that China would prefer a gradual reduction rather than total elimination. India may have had similar concerns. However, it was inept diplomacy for India to move the amendment and carry the can rather than let the Chinese bell the cat. The stigma will stick and was unnecessary.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken centerstage at Glasgow during its early high-level segment thanks to the absence of Xi Jinping. His commitment to achieving net-zero carbon by 2070 compared favorably with China’s target date of 2060. His announcements of enhanced targets for renewable energy were also welcomed. However, the favourable image wore thin by the end of the conference with India declining to join the initiatives on methane and deforestation. India’s ill-considered amendment on the phasing out of coal pushed the positives of its position off the radar.

According to India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav, the change in phraseology was reflective of “national circumstances of emerging economies” as the agreement had initially “singled out” coal but was turning a blind eye to emissions from oil and natural gas, with the final agreement reflecting a “consensus that is reasonable for developing countries and reasonable for climate justice.”

According to UNEP, adaptation costs for developing countries are currently estimated at $70 billion annually and will rise to an estimated $130-300 billion annually by 2030. A start is being made in formulating an adaptation plan and this puts the issue firmly on the Climate agenda, balancing the overwhelming focus hitherto on mitigation.

There is now a renewed commitment to delivering on this pledge in the 2020-2025 period and there is a promise of an enhanced flow thereafter. But in a post-pandemic global economic slowdown, it is unlikely these promises will be met. In any event, it is unlikely that India will get even a small slice of the pie. As long as ambitious targets are not matched by adequate financing, they will remain ephemeral.

The same applies to the issue of compensation for loss and damage for developing countries who have suffered as a result of climate change for which they have not been responsible. This is now part of the multilateral discourse and the US has agreed that it should be examined in working groups. That is a step forward but is unlikely to translate into a meaningful flow of funds any time soon.

The most important is an agreement among 100 countries to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. India is not a part of this group. Methane is a significant greenhouse gas with a much higher temperature forcing quality than carbon — 28 to 34 times more — but stays in the atmosphere for a shorter duration.

Another group of 100 countries has agreed to begin to reverse deforestation by 2030. Since the group includes Brazil and Indonesia, which have large areas of forests that are being ravaged by legal and illegal logging, there is hope that there will be progress in expanding one of the most important carbon sinks on the planet.

Going beyond the Glasgow summit and climate change, a noteworthy development was the US-China Joint Declaration on Climate Change. This was a departure for China, which had held that bilateral cooperation on climate change could not be insulated from other aspects of their relations. The November 10 declaration implies a shift in China’s hardline position but this may be related to creating a favourable backdrop to the forthcoming Biden-Xi virtual summit on November 15. US Climate Envoy John Kerry and China’s seasoned climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, were seen consulting with each other frequently on the sidelines of the conference. It appears both countries are moving towards a less confrontational, more cooperative relationship overall. This will have geopolitical implications, including for India, which may find its room for manoeuvre shrinking.

How should one assess the Glasgow outcome?

There is more ambition in the intent to tackle climate change but little to show in terms of concrete actions. These have been deferred to future deliberations. Enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are expected to be announced at a meeting next year and further deliberations are planned on the other pledges related to Adaptation and Finance. There are no compliance procedures, only “name and shame” to encourage delivery on targets. As in the past, the can has been kicked down the road, except that the climate road is fast approaching a dead-end. What provides a glimmer of light is the incredible and passionate advocacy of urgent action by young people across the world. This is putting enormous pressure on governments and leaders and if sustained, may become irresistible.

Glasgow delivered some important successes. In response to the demands from the developing countries, and in keeping with the commitment of Paris Agreement, a new process has been initiated to define a global goal on adaptation. The Paris Agreement has a global goal on mitigation, defined in terms of temperature targets. It seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in amounts sufficient to keep the rise in global temperatures to within 2 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times, while pursuing efforts to limit this under 1.5 degree Celsius.

But a similar goal for adaptation has been missing, primarily because of difficulties in setting such a goal. Unlike mitigation efforts that bring global benefits, the benefits from adaptation are local or regional. There is no uniform global criteria against which adaptation targets can be set and measured.

In a big concession to major economies like India, China or Brazil, the COP26 has allowed old carbon credits, earned under the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms, to be traded in the new carbon market being set up, provided these credits have been earned after 2012. Countries have been allowed to use these credits to achieve their emission reduction targets till 2025.

Politics of Petrol Prices In India

On the eve of Diwali, the Central government had cut excise duty on petrol and diesel prices by Rs 5 and Rs 10, pronouncing this as “Diwali Gift” .This brought relief to customers, who were reeling under inflation and skyrocketing fuel prices. Following this, at least 22 states and UTs cut VAT in different proportions.

The petrol price was cut in the range of Rs 5.7 to Rs 6.35 per litre and diesel rates by Rs 11.16 to Rs 12.88 across the country on November 4. The BJP-ruled states have slashed VAT rates on petrol and diesel by Rs 8 and 9, respectively.

According to Indian Oil Corporation, the country’s largest fuel retailer, in the national capital, petrol is retailing at Rs 103.97 per litre and diesel is available at Rs 86.67 per litre. The rate of petrol stands at Rs 109.98 in Mumbai and diesel costs Rs 94.14 per litre. The prices of petrol and diesel are the highest in India’s financial hub, Mumbai, among all the four metro cities.

In Tamil Nadu’s capital, Chennai, petrol is available at Rs 101.40 per litre and people have to shell out Rs 91.43 for one litre of diesel. Similarly, the prices of petrol and diesel remained unchanged in Kolkata and stood at Rs 104.67 and Rs 89.79 per litre, respectively.

Petrol, diesel prices in major Indian cities

CITY PETROL (PER LITRE) DIESEL (PER LITRE)
DELHI Rs 103.97 Rs 86.67
MUMBAI Rs 109.98 Rs 94.14
CHENNAI Rs 101.40 Rs 91.43
KOLKATA Rs 104.67 Rs 89.79
HYDERABAD Rs 108.20 Rs 94.62
BENGALURU Rs 100.58 Rs 85.01
BHOPAL Rs 107.23 Rs 90.87
CHANDIGARH Rs 94.23 Rs 80.90
BHUBANESWAR Rs 107.91 Rs 94.51

The Mechanism of Fuel Prices

 Fuel prices are revised by OMCs like Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum based on international prices in the preceding 15 days and foreign stock exchanges. The prices of petrol and diesel vary from state to state and also in cities, depending on the incidence of local taxes like value-added tax (VAT) and freight charges.

Politics Behind Price Cut

 The Rs 5 cut in the central levy on petrol and Rs 10 on diesel is the highest-ever reduction. This reduction came immediately after Bypoll election losses of BJP and comments from Himanchal Pradesh Chief Minister that inflation (mahangai) was the main reason of dismal performance of BJP in that state. To pacify or rather to fool people, this small reduction in fuel prices was announced as Diwali Gift.

The Central Government had increased fuel taxes twice by Rs 13 and Rs 16 per litre effected between March 2020 and May 2020. The twin hikes in central levies had taken the Centre’s collection on each litre of petrol to their highest level of Rs 32.9 and diesel to Rs 31.8 a litre. So even after reducing levy by Rs.5 per litre on petrol, the Center is collecting Rs27.9 (32.9-5) on petrol and Rs.21.8 on diesel. Clearly, the BJP government is trying to fool the people without giving them real relief.

The second politics is that for the coming five state elections, the BJP government is indirectly pressurizing the opposition ruled states to give up their major source of revenue which is VAT on fuel prices.

This would significantly reduce the budget of states and curtail their ability to spend on welfare measures just before elections. So if the opposition ruled states reduce VAT, they will be in a weaker position to fulfill the welfare demands of their voters. If they don’t reduce VAT, BJP will shift the entire blame of inflation on them. So far, except Odisa, non of the opposition ruled states have reduced their VAT while BJP ruled states immediately reduced their VATS. In the coming election advertisement, BJP will show the price differentials of petrol in BJP ruled states vs non-BJP ruled states. That way BJP expects to get the best of both the worlds in the coming state elections by playing this master stroke politics of small fuel price concessions.

Opposition States Cry Foul

The Centre had lowered not the excise component but the road and infra cess to Rs 13 from Rs 18 on petrol and to Rs 8 from Rs 18 on diesel. Since the Centre has cut cess and not the excise on fuels, there is going to be no change in the revenue share states get from the Centre. They will continue to get 41 per cent of Rs 12.40 per litre among states for unbranded petrol and Rs 9.80 a litre for diesel as per the recommendation of the 15th Finance Commission.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel criticised the Centre for making minor tweaks to fuel prices that don’t make an impact. He claimed that the Centre first raised the price of petrol and diesel by up to Rs 30 and then decreased it by Rs 5. Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal confirmed that the state government will soon take a call on the Center’s demand to reduce state levies on fuel. The Kerala government has also spoken up against the Centre’s move on fuel prices.

India Announces Net Zero Emissions Goal For 2070

India has promised to cut its emissions to net zero by 2070 – missing a key goal of the COP26 summit for countries to commit to reach that target by 2050. Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged on Monday, November 1st, 2921 in his speech at the opening of the COP26 U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, a target that climate advocates recognized as further off than is ideal but potentially transformative for the world’s third-largest emitter.

The announcement—which was accompanied by four other climate-related targets, all light on detail—caught climate advocates by surprise, given that Indian officials have previously rejected global pressure to make such a commitment, saying as recently as last week that net-zero goals were not the solution to the climate crisis. The Indian leader is one of more than 120 leaders to have gathered in Glasgow for the two-week conference.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in Glasgow, England for the climate summit, has announced that the country would make one billion-ton reduction in projected emissions from now until 2030.  He also increased India’s previous climate targets on renewable energy and non-fossil fuel energy made during the Paris Agreement.

India is the world’s fourth biggest emitter of carbon dioxide after China, the US and the EU. But its huge population means its emissions per capita are much lower than other major world economies. India emitted 1.9 tons of CO2 per head of population in 2019, compared with 15.5 tons for the US and 12.5 tons for Russia that year.

A net-zero target refers to the date by which a country plans to be adding no more carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to the earth’s atmosphere than it sucks out of it, using carbon-absorbing plants and still-developing technologies. Dozens of countries have set net-zero targets over the last few years, with most wealthy nations, including the U.S., the U.K., Japan and others, opting for a 2050 goal. China, Saudi Arabia and Russia have all recently pledged to hit net-zero by 2060.

It’s not immediately clear if India’s 2070 net-zero target refers only to carbon dioxide emissions, which is responsible for around 80% of the warming effect that is driving up global temperatures, or to emissions of all greenhouse gases.

The 20-year lag behind other powerful nations’ targets may make India’s goal seem unambitious. If other major emitters were to align efforts along similarly extended time frames, the world would have no hope of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.

But Ulka Kelkar, climate director of the India chapter of the World Resources Institute, a prominent scientific research group, says India’s goal has to be considered in the context of a developing country. Developed countries have used fossil fuels to power their industrialization for centuries and therefore have more resources available now to transition away from them.

“If it is net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, then I would say it’s on par with Western commitments,” Kelkar told a press call Monday evening. “The fair comparison, I would say, is not with the U.S. and Europe as of today, but with the U.S. and Europe of 20 or 30 years ago. That’s where we are in our development trajectory.”

India’s developing economy is still heavily reliant on coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, which makes up 70% of its energy production. Coal consumption in the country has increased by 39% over the last decade, and, because it has a population of 1.3 billion people, almost half of them under 25, the International Energy Agency says that India’s energy needs will rise by more than any other country over the next 20 years.

Kelker admitted that it would “of course” have been better to have an earlier target, but said that the announcement would have a significant impact by setting a “direction of travel” for India’s economy. ”Net zero became a topic of public discourse only six months ago. Just having this concept understood in India is going to give a very strong signal to all sectors of industry and society. So this coming from the Prime Minister is going to be pretty transformative.”

Modi also announced that by 2030, India would shave 1 billion metric tons off its projected carbon emissions and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy—how much carbon is emitted to generate a unit of economic activity—by 45% from 2005 levels. That’s up from the 33%-35% target it submitted in Paris in 2015. The country also plans to get half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, increasing its non-polluting energy capacity to 500GW, up from a 450GW goal set in 2015.

A lot remains unclear about these targets. Modi did not specify, for example, against what baseline the plan to reduce carbon emissions by 1 billion metric tons by 2030 is set. In 2019, India emitted 2.62 billion metric tons of CO2. The baseline that the government ends up using will likely be higher, Kelker says.

In any case, reaching these targets will be a challenge. As of July 2021, India had 96.96 GW of renewable-energy capacity—representing 25.2% of its total power generation capacity. Reaching Modi’s 2030 targets will require huge investments in updating India’s electricity grid and setting up new clean energy projects.

Modi also used his speech to call on developed countries to mobilize $1 trillion of climate finance to help developing countries decarbonize and adapt to climate change. That is far higher than the current $100 billion commitment—which originally had a 2020 deadline but has now been pushed back to 2023.

Lack of Adequate Attention By BJP Govt. To Meet Needs of Indian Judiciary Criticized

Stressing on the need of proper infrastructure, CJI N V Ramana, the Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court has said: “If you want a different outcome from the judicial system, we cannot continue to work in this present condition.” N V Ramana was speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the new annex building of the Bombay High Court’s Aurangabad Bench. (File Photo)

Judicial infrastructure is “important for improving access to justice”, but “it is baffling to note that the improvement and maintenance of judicial infrastructure is still being carried out in an ad hoc and unplanned manner,” Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said on Saturday, October 21st.

The CJI was speaking at the inauguration of two wings of the annexe building at the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Union Minister for Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju were among those present.

“People’s faith in the judiciary is the biggest strength of democracy,” the CJI said, adding that courts in India have “stood up whenever individuals or society are at the receiving end of the executive excesses”.

“Good judicial infrastructure for courts in India has always been an afterthought” and “it is because of this mindset that courts in India still operate from dilapidated structures, making it difficult to effectively perform their function,” he said.

“The total sanctioned strength of judicial officers in the country is 24,280 and the number of court halls available is 20,143 (including 620 rented halls)… Twenty-six per cent of court complexes do not have separate ladies toilets and 16% do not have gents toilets… Only 54% of court complexes have purified drinking water facility… only 5% have basic medical facilities,” he said.

“Only 32% of courtrooms have separate record rooms… only 27% have computers placed on the Judge’s dais with video-conferencing facility… These are the hard facts,” he said.

Judicial infrastructure, the CJI said, “is important for improving access to justice and to meet the growing demands of a public that is more aware of its rights and is developing economically, socially, and culturally”.

He said the building that was inaugurated in Aurangabad on Saturday was envisioned in 2011. “This is not the fault of any institution or organ of the state but is emblematic of a deeper structural problem that has plagued judicial infrastructure development in our country since independence,” he said.

Stating that an effective judiciary can aid in the effective growth of the economy, the CJI said that “if we want a different outcome from the judicial system, we cannot continue to work in these circumstances”.

He said he had sent a proposal for establishment of a National Judicial Infrastructure Authority to the Ministry of Law and Justice, and was hoping for a positive response soon. He urged the Law Minister to expedite the process and ensure that the proposal is taken up in the winter session of Parliament.

The CJI also said that there is a common notion that only criminals or victims of crime approach the courts and people take pride in stating that they have never seen a court building in their lifetime. “But, it is high time that we make efforts to remove the taboo associated with approaching courts for the affirmation of rights,” he said.

“Courts are extremely essential for any society that is governed by the rule of law. Court buildings are not merely structures made of mortar and bricks. Rather, they actively assure the constitutional guarantee of right to justice. The courts in India have repeatedly upheld the rights and freedoms of individuals. They stood up whenever the individuals or society were at the receiving end of the executive excesses. It is an assurance that the seeker of justice, howsoever weak, need not worry about the might of the State,” he said.

Celebrating Pak’s Cricket Win Against India Comes Under India’s Anti-Terror Law

Two days after Pakistan beat India for the first time in a World Cup match, many, mostly students, face police action for “cheering” Pakistan’s win. Besides the UAPA charges invoked against medical students in Srinagar, three engineering students have been rusticated from their Agra college and a private school teacher who was expelled.

Kashmiri medical students who allegedly celebrated the Pakistan cricket team’s win over Team India at the ongoing World T20 Cup will be charged under the anti-terror law UAPA. The students will also be listed as overground workers of anti-India organisations in police records, which will deny them government-funded benefits in future, TOI reports.

Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir are investigating students and staff at two medical colleges under a harsh anti-terror law for celebrating India’s loss to archrival Pakistan in a T20 World Cup cricket game, officials said Tuesday.

Police said some students and staff at the government-run colleges cheered and shouted pro-Pakistan slogans during the match Sunday night, calling it “anti-national” activity.

Pakistan crushed India by 10 wickets for its first-ever victory against its archrival in a T20 World Cup game in Dubai. Minutes after Pakistan won the match, hundreds of people in Kashmir danced in the streets, lit firecrackers and chanted “Long live Pakistan” while seeking the end of India’s rule over the disputed region.

The celebrations came as India’s powerful home minister, Amit Shah, was visiting the region for the first time since New Delhi in 2019 stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy, scrapped its statehood and removed inherited protections on land and jobs, further fueling tensions in the region.

Love of cricket, a legacy of Britain’s long colonial role of South Asia, is one of the few things that unites Pakistan and India despite their long history of animosity that has fueled three wars since the subcontinent’s partition in 1947, including two over control of Kashmir, which is divided between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

The fracas over Sunday’s match shows how easily passions can be inflamed in predominantly Muslim Kashmir, where anti-India sentiment runs deep. Rebels have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.

An amended anti-terror law allows police to detain people for six months without producing any evidence A police spokesman said authorities on Monday registered preliminary investigations at two police stations in the city of Srinagar under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Police said the suspects were yet to be identified and officers were using videos of the celebrations on social media in an attempt to name them.

The anti-terror law was amended in 2019 to allow the government to designate individuals as terrorists. Police can detain people for six months without producing any evidence, and the accused can subsequently be imprisoned for up to seven years. Rights activists have called the law draconian.

Over a dozen Kashmiri students were attacked in India’s northern Punjab state for celebrating Pakistan’s victory, news reports said.

India describes the armed rebellion in the portion of Kashmir it controls as a Pakistan proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism. Most Muslim Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.

The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict

Facebook Dithered in Curbing Divisive User Content in India

Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly anti-Muslim content, according to leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press, even as the internet giant’s own employees cast doubt over its motivations and interests.

Based on research produced as recently as March of this year to company memos that date back to 2019, internal company documents on India highlight Facebook’s constant struggles in quashing abusive content on its platforms in the world’s biggest democracy and the company’s largest growth market. Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence.

The files show that Facebook has been aware of the problems for years, raising questions over whether it has done enough to address the issues. Many critics and digital experts say it has failed to do so, especially in cases where members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are involved. Across the world, Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different.

Modi has been credited for leveraging the platform to his party’s advantage during elections, and reporting from The Wall Street Journal last year cast doubt over whether Facebook was selectively enforcing its policies on hate speech to avoid blowback from the BJP. Modi and Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have exuded bonhomie, memorialized by a 2015 image of the two hugging at the Facebook headquarters.

The leaked documents include a trove of internal company reports on hate speech and misinformation in India that in some cases appeared to have been intensified by its own “recommended” feature and algorithms. They also include the company staffers’ concerns over the mishandling of these issues and their discontent over the viral “malcontent” on the platform.

According to the documents, Facebook saw India as one of the most “at risk countries” in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for “automation on violating hostile speech.” Yet, Facebook didn’t have enough local language moderators or content-flagging in place to stop misinformation that at times led to real-world violence.

In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it has “invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali” which “reduced the amount of hate speech that people see by half” in 2021.

“Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally. So we are improving enforcement and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online,” a company spokesperson said.

This AP story, along with others being published, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.

Back in February 2019 and ahead of a general election when concerns of misinformation were running high, a Facebook employee wanted to understand what a new user in India saw on their news feed if all they did was follow pages and groups solely recommended by the platform itself.

The employee created a test user account and kept it live for three weeks, a period during which an extraordinary event shook India — a militant attack in disputed Kashmir had killed over 40 Indian soldiers, bringing the country close to war with rival Pakistan.

In the note, titled “An Indian Test User’s Descent into a Sea of Polarizing, Nationalistic Messages,” the employee whose name is redacted said they were “shocked” by the content flooding the news feed. The person described the content as having “become a near constant barrage of polarizing nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore.”

Seemingly benign and innocuous groups recommended by Facebook quickly morphed into something else altogether, where hate speech, unverified rumors and viral content ran rampant.

The recommended groups were inundated with fake news, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobic content. Much of the content was extremely graphic.

One included a man holding the bloodied head of another man covered in a Pakistani flag, with an Indian flag partially covering it. Its “Popular Across Facebook” feature showed a slew of unverified content related to the retaliatory Indian strikes into Pakistan after the bombings, including an image of a napalm bomb from a video game clip debunked by one of Facebook’s fact-check partners.

“Following this test user’s News Feed, I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past three weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total,” the researcher wrote. The report sparked deep concerns over what such divisive content could lead to in the real world, where local news at the time were reporting on Kashmiris being attacked in the fallout.

“Should we as a company have an extra responsibility for preventing integrity harms that result from recommended content?” the researcher asked in their conclusion.

The memo, circulated with other employees, did not answer that question. But it did expose how the platform’s own algorithms or default settings played a part in spurring such malcontent. The employee noted that there were clear “blind spots,” particularly in “local language content.” They said they hoped these findings would start conversations on how to avoid such “integrity harms,” especially for those who “differ significantly” from the typical U.S. user.

Even though the research was conducted during three weeks that weren’t an average representation, they acknowledged that it did show how such “unmoderated” and problematic content “could totally take over” during “a major crisis event.”

The Facebook spokesperson said the test study “inspired deeper, more rigorous analysis” of its recommendation systems and “contributed to product changes to improve them.”

“Separately, our work on curbing hate speech continues and we have further strengthened our hate classifiers, to include four Indian languages,” the spokesperson said.

India’s SC Orders Independent Probe Into Pegasus

Ruling that the Indian government does not get a free pass every time the specter of national security is raised, the Supreme Court appointed a committee on October 27, 2021 comprising three technical members and supervised by its retired judge Justice R V Ravendran to conduct a “thorough inquiry” into allegations of use of Pegasus software for unauthorized surveillance.

Justice Ravendran will be assisted in this task by Alok Joshi, former IPS officer (1976 batch) and Sundeep Oberoi, Chairman, Sub Committee in (International Organisation of Standardisation/International Electro-Technical Commission/Joint Technical Committee). The three technical members of the committee are Naveen Kumar Chaudhary, Professor (Cyber Security and Digital Forensics) and Dean, National Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat; Prabaharan P, Professor (School of Engineering), Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri, Kerala; and Ashwin Anil Gumaste, Institute Chair Associate Professor (Computer Science and Engineering), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said the committee will “enquire, investigate and determine:”

  • whether the Pegasus suite of spyware was used on phones or other devices of the citizens of India to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and/or for any other purposes not explicitly stated herein;
  • The details of the victims and/or persons affected by such a spyware attack;
  • What steps/actions have been taken by the Respondent-Union of India after reports were published in the year 2019 about hacking of WhatsApp accounts of Indian citizens, using the Pegasus suite of spyware;
  • Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Respondent Union of India, or any State Government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of India;
  • If any governmental agency has used the Pegasus suite of spyware on the citizens of this country, under what law, rule, guideline, protocol or lawful procedure was such deployment made;
  • If any domestic entity/person has used the spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such a use authorised;
  • Any other matter or aspect which may be connected, ancillary or incidental to the above terms of reference, which the Committee may deem fit and proper to investigate.

The committee has been asked  make recommendations on:

  • Regarding enactment or amendment to existing law and procedures surrounding surveillance and for securing improved right to privacy;
  • Regarding enhancing and improving the cyber security of the nation and its assets;
  • To ensure prevention of invasion of citizens’ right to privacy, otherwise than in accordance with law, by State and/or non ­State entities through such spywares;
  • Regarding the establishment of a mechanism for citizens to raise grievances on suspicion of illegal surveillance of their devices;
  • Regarding the setting up of a well-equipped independent premier agency to investigate cyber security vulnerabilities, for threat assessment relating to cyberattacks and to investigate instances of cyberattacks in the country;
  • Regarding any ad­hoc arrangement that may be made by this Court as an interim measure for the protection of citizen’s rights, pending filling up of lacunae by the Parliament;
  • On any other ancillary matter that the Committee may deem fit and proper.

The ruling came on a batch of 12 petitions which sought an independent probe into the allegations which surfaced in the media about the unauthorized surveillance.

Senators Mark Warner and John Cornyn Urge US To Waive Sanctions Against India

Two US Senators have urged President Joe Biden to waive Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions against India for buying military arms from Russia.

US Senators and India Caucus Co-Chairs Mark Warner and John Cornyn sent a letter to President Biden encouraging him to waive CAATSA sanctions against India. India signed a $5.43-billion deal with Russia for the purchase of five S-400 surface to air missile systems during the 19th India-Russia Annual Bilateral Summit in New Delhi on October 5, 2019, for long-term security needs.

Washington had indicated that the Russian S-400 systems may trigger CAATSA sanctions.

“While India has taken significant steps to reduce its purchases of Russian military equipment, it has a long history of purchasing arms from the Soviet Union, and later Russia. In 2018, India formally agreed to purchase Russian S-400 Triumf air-defence systems after having signed an initial agreement with Russia two years prior. We are concerned that the upcoming transfer of these systems will trigger sanctions under the CAATSA, which was enacted to hold Russia accountable for its malign behaviour,” the letter read.

The Senators said that while they shared the administration’s concern regarding the purchase and the continued Indian integration of Russian equipment, such transactions between New Delhi and Moscow were declining.

“As such, we strongly encourage you to grant a CAATSA waiver to India for its planned purchase of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system. In cases where granting a waiver would advance the national security interests of the U.S., this waiver authority, as written into the law by Congress, allows the President additional discretion in applying sanctions,” they wrote.

“We share your concerns regarding the purchase and the continued Indian integration of Russian equipment, even with these declining sales. We would encourage your administration to continue reinforcing this concern to Indian officials, and engaging with them constructively to continue supporting alternatives to their purchasing Russian equipment,” the senators added.

India Vaccinates One Billion People Against Covid

Reaching a milestone, in India’s efforts to vaccinate all, 1 Billion (100 crore) jabs milestone shows the power of India’s collective effort, reports here suggest. India completed the administration of 100 crore doses of the Covid-19 vaccine on October 21, 2021, in just about nine months since the start of the vaccination drive.

PM Narendra Modi tweeted: “The journey from anxiety to assurance has happened and our nation has emerged stronger, thanks to the world’s largest vaccination drive.”

Observing that India has achieved a “difficult but extraordinary” target of 100 crore Covid vaccine doses, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday cautioned people to remain vigilant and not become careless, and urged them to continue wearing masks, saying that weapons are not thrown away while the battle is on.

Addressing the nation, the Prime Minister said, “Yesterday, on October 21, India has achieved the difficult but extraordinary target of 1 billion – 100 crore – vaccine doses. Behind this achievement is the power (kartavyashakti) of 130 crore countrymen; so this success is the success of India, the success of every countryman.”

This has been a tremendous journey in dealing with Covid-19, especially in comparison with  how things stood in early 2020. Humanity was dealing with such a pandemic after 100 years and no one knew much about the virus. We remember how unpredictable the situation appeared then, as we were faced with an unknown and invisible enemy mutating rapidly.

“When the biggest pandemic of 100 years came, questions started arising about India. Will India be able to fight this global pandemic? From where will India get the money to buy so many vaccines from other countries? When will India get the vaccine? Will the people of India get the vaccine or not? Will India be able to vaccinate enough people to stop the pandemic from spreading? There were various questions, but today the 100-crore vaccine doses are answering every question,” the Prime Minister said.

Describing the achievement of 100-crore vaccine doses as a new chapter in India’s history, Modi said, “The country started the campaign of ‘Free vaccine, vaccine for everyone’, by taking everyone along… There was only one mantra that if the disease does not discriminate, then there cannot be any discrimination in the vaccination. Therefore, it was ensured that the VIP culture did not dominate the vaccination campaign.”

It has been a truly bhagirath effort involving multiple sections of society. To get a sense of the scale, assume that each vaccination took just two minutes for a healthcare worker. At this rate, it took around 41 lakh man-days or approximately 11,000 man-years of effort to reach this landmark.

For any effort to attain and sustain speed and scale, the trust of all stakeholders is crucial. One of the reasons for the success of the campaign was the trust that people developed in the vaccine and the process followed, despite various efforts to create mistrust and panic.

There are some among us who only trust foreign brands, even for simple everyday necessities. However, when it came to something as crucial as the Covid-19 vaccine, the people of India unanimously trusted “Made in India” vaccines. This is a significant paradigm shift.

The vaccine drive is an example of what India can achieve if the citizens and the government come together with a common goal in the spirit of Jan Bhagidari. When India started its vaccination programme, there were many people who doubted the capabilities of 130 crore Indians. Some said India would take three to four years. Some others said people will not come forward to get vaccinated. There were those who said there will be gross mismanagement and chaos in the vaccination process. Some even said that India will not be able to manage supply chains. But just like the Janata Curfew and subsequent lockdowns, the people of India showed how spectacular the results can be, if they are made trusted partners.

In early 2020, when Covid-19 was rampaging across the world, it was clear to us that this pandemic will have to be eventually fought with the help of vaccines. We started preparing early. We constituted expert groups and started preparing a roadmap right from April 2020.

Till today, only a handful of countries have developed their own vaccines. More than 180 countries are dependent on an extremely limited pool of producers and dozens of nations are still waiting for the supply of vaccines, even as India has crossed 100 crore doses.

I am optimistic that the success achieved in the world’s largest vaccination drive will further spur our youth, our innovators and all levels of government to set new benchmarks of public service delivery, which will be a model not only for our country, but also for the world.”

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) illuminated 100 monuments with tri-color across the country as India achieved the landmark milestone of administrating 100 crore COVID vaccinations. The world is witnessing the largest and fastest vaccination drive in India against the pandemic. ASI gesture was a mark of respect and gratitude towards corona warriors who have contributed relentlessly in the fight against the pandemic.

Ambassador Sandhu Acknowledges Deep Appreciation In US For India Reaching 1 Billion COVID Vaccinations

Indian Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, has said that there is “very strong and deep appreciation” in the United States as India achieved the one billion COVID-19 vaccinations milestone.

Speaking at Public Affairs Forum of India’s 8th National Forum 2021 on Thursday, Sandhu said: “It is a very proud moment for us and I can tell you that there is very strong and deep appreciation in the US that we have crossed the one billion landmark and all through the vaccines manufactured in India.”

India attained the milestone of administering 100 crore COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday morning. Several world leaders congratulated India on this achievement.

India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive was launched on January 16, 2021. Initially, the vaccination was opened for Health Care Workers (HCWs) only.

From February 2, front line workers were made eligible for vaccination. These included state and Central Police personnel, Armed Force Personnel, Home Guards, Civil Defence and Disaster Management Volunteers, Municipal workers, Prison Staff, PRI Staff and Revenue workers involved in containment and surveillance, Railway Protection Force and election Staff.

The vaccination drive was expanded from March 1 to include persons above 60 years of age and those above 45 years with associated specified 20 comorbidities.

It was further expanded to all people above 45 years of age from April 1. From May 1 all persons above 18 years of age were made eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

Talking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s last month visit to the US, Sandhu said the visit was a “testament to the enduring strength of our partnership”.

“My focus here is to share perspective on India-US relationship that has emerged as the most imp bilateral partnership and this was predicted by President Biden in 2006,” he said.
“Last month, PM Modi visited the US for his 1st bilateral face-to-face summit with President Biden and first in-person QUAD Leaders’ Summit. It was a landmark visit during which he identified 5 T’s that define the partnership — tradition, talent, trade, technology & trusteeship,” he added.

US, India To Cooperate In Fighting Cybercrimes, Telemarketing Fraud

The United States and India have agreed to expand their cooperation in fighting cybercrimes, telemarketing fraud and enforcing consumer protection, the US Justice Department said on Thursday.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Arun G. Rao of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, together with colleagues from the Consumer Protection Branch and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), met this week with Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials in New Delhi to further strengthen law enforcement cooperation.

During the meeting, they discussed means for combating emerging crime trends, including fighting rising telemarketing fraud.

“In their meetings, the parties affirmed their shared commitment to strengthen cooperation in combating crime, specifically with respect to efforts to investigate and prosecute cyber-enabled financial frauds and global telemarketing frauds, including international robocalls and communications,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

They additionally discussed the need for continued cooperation in tackling emerging technology-based crimes through faster information exchange and evidence sharing, with a view to ensure security and protection of citizens of both jurisdictions, the department added.

“While I’m Alive, I’ll Keep Speaking” Journalist Rana Ayyub’s Fight to Expose the Truth in India

For the last several months, every time Rana Ayyub’s phone or doorbell rings, she has felt a pang of fear. Could this be the day the Indian government finally throws her in prison—or worse?

In early October, Ayyub was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night with a suspected heart attack. She remembers screaming to doctors in her hospital bed: “I’m dying.” The scare turned out to be a palpitation, and she was prescribed blood pressure medication. “It happened because I was fearful of my life,” Ayyub, 37, says in a phone interview with TIME two weeks later. “I was just tired of this existence.”

Ayyub is one of India’s most famous journalists, and a thorn in the side of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She rose to prominence after she self-published Gujarat Files, a 2016 book about the 2002 violence in the state of Gujarat that left at least 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead. Ayyub’s work accused Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, and his allies of being complicit in the anti-Muslim violence and included undercover audio recordings of politicians in India’s now-ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. (Modi has never been formally charged and has said his government used its “full strength” to “do the right thing.”)

Since then, Ayyub has struggled to find editors at mainstream Indian publications willing to publish her work. This summer, she joined the American newsletter platform her Substack. She also writes a regular column for the Washington Post, and has occasionally written for TIME, including a TIME cover story in April highlighting the Modi government’s mismanagement of the country’s devastating second wave of COVID-19. And for the past several months, she has endured an escalating campaign of intimidation from Indian authorities and supporters of the ruling party.

“Of all the cases of journalists we work on around the world, at the moment Rana is one of my top concerns,” says Rebecca Vincent, the director of international campaigns at rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “The hate she’s facing has been escalating for years but it’s so intense at the moment. We have a history of journalists being killed with impunity in India, and frankly it’s very possible that could be repeated. When I receive urgent calls from Rana, my immediate instinct is concern for her life.” The Indian government should know, Vincent says, that the world’s eyes are watching out for Ayyub’s safety. “If something happens to her, it will be very obvious where it came from and why,” she says.

Although India is often called the world’s largest democracy, U.S.-based nonprofit Freedom House downgraded India from “free” to “partly free” in March, citing a decline in civil liberties since Modi came to power in 2014, including the intimidation of journalists and activists. Independent journalists, especially women, face particularly intense harassment, abuse and rape threats.

In 2017, prominent journalist Gauri Lankesh, known for her outspoken criticism of the Hindu nationalist government, was shot dead in Bangalore. RSF notes that India “is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly” and the group’s annual World Press Freedom Index ranks India at 142 out of 180 countries.

Modi’s government set up a committee in 2020 to improve India’s ranking; the committee said in March that the RSF methodology lacked transparency and identified a “Western bias” in the index. (India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting did not reply to a request for comment.)

Ayyub is used to living on the edge. In 2018, for example, BJP supporters shared on social media a pornographic video doctored to include Ayyub’s face in an attempt to discredit her. For more than four years, she has received a barrage of anonymous death and rape threats on her social media. But for the last several months, she has been the victim of a campaign of intimidation by Indian authorities that has taken even her by surprise.

In June, the Uttar Pradesh police opened an investigation into Ayyub and other Muslim journalists after they tweeted a video showing a violent attack against a Muslim man. Police and government officials said the man’s claim was faked and police accused Ayyub and several others of attempting to “create animosity between Hindus and Muslims,” saying they did “not make an attempt to establish truth in the case.” In a statement at the time, the Uttar Pradesh government said it placed “absolute sanctity to rule of law, civil liberties and freedom of expression” and the investigation was not lodged “due to any witch-hunt.”

In June, the central government’s Income Tax Department sent Ayyub a summons, investigating her income in relation to her fundraising for COVID-19. (During the height of India’s pandemic earlier this spring, she traveled the country distributing humanitarian aid that she had raised funds for via her online following.) Shortly after, the Enforcement Directorate began investigating Ayyub’s foreign sources of income. Ayyub describes the accusations as baseless. She says she has been followed in the street by mysterious cars, and that she has been forced to disclose to authorities confidential information and emails, including with her editors. On Sept. 27, she filed an appeal against the Income Tax Department, where her case is pending. (The department did not respond to TIME’s request for comment.)

After an experience being tailed by an unknown car for 90 minutes in Mumbai, Ayyub wrote a letter for one of her family members to publish in the event of her death. “It just says that in case anything happens to me, I don’t want you to let my death go in vain,” she says. “I want the future generation of journalists, writers, activists to know that even if my life is short-lived, it’s a fight worth fighting. While I’m alive, I’ll keep speaking.”

Press freedom is under growing threat around the world. In October, the Nobel Committee awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia, editors-in-chief of independent publications who have each faced state-sanctioned intimidation for daring to stand up to authoritarian regimes. Ayyub has spoken to Ressa and gathers strength from knowing that others like her are going through similar trials. She welcomes the recognition for Ressa and Muratov, and sees parallels between their countries and India. (The Philippines is ranked at 138 on the World Press Freedom Index, while Russia is at 150.) “It has given so many of us the courage to fight,” she says of the Nobel Peace Prize going to embattled journalists. “It felt like it was for each one of us.”

But Ayyub is no editor-in-chief. She is a single journalist working mostly alone, without institutional support, and largely for international publications. This makes her particularly vulnerable, but also more determined. “If anything, what they are doing to me has made me realize that my words count, and they are having an impact,” she says.

After Ayyub’s heart scare in early October, her 75-year-old father suggested the family leave the country. His daughter refused. “I love this country more than I can ever explain,” she told TIME. “If I hated it, I would have left a long time ago. Our forefathers, our freedom fighters, fought the British to give us this independent India, this grand idea of a democracy. And I’m fighting for this very idea.”

India Slips To 101st Spot In Global Hunger Index 2021

India slipped to 101st position in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 of 116 countries and is behind neighbors Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. In 2020, India was ranked 94th out of 107 countries.

The report, prepared jointly by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and German organization Welt Hunger Hilfe, termed the level of hunger in India “alarming”. India’s GHI score has also decelerated — from 38.8 in 2000 to the range of 28.8 – 27.5 between 2012 and 2021.

The GHI score is calculated on four indicators — undernourishment; child wasting (the share of children under the age of five who low weight for their height); child stunting (children under the age of five who have low height for their age) and child mortality (the mortality rate of children under the age of five).

The share of wasting among children in India rose from 17.1% between 1998-2002 to 17.3% between 2016-2020, according to the report. “People have been severely hit by COVID-19 and by pandemic related restrictions in India, the country with highest child wasting rate worldwide,” the report said.

However, India has shown improvement in other indicators such as the under-5 mortality rate, prevalence of stunting among children and prevalence of undernourishment owing to inadequate food, the report said.

A total of only 15 countries — Papua New Guinea (102), Afghanistan (103), Nigeria (103), Congo (105), Mozambique (106), Sierra Leone (106), Timor-Leste (108), Haiti (109), Liberia (110), Madagascar (111), Democratic Republic of Congo (112), Chad (113), Central African Republic (114), Yemen (115) and Somalia (116) — fared worse than India this year.

A total of 18 countries, including China, Kuwait and Brazil, shared the top rank with GHI score of less than five, the GHI website that tracks hunger and malnutrition across countries reported last week.

According to the report, the share of wasting among children in India rose from 17.1 per cent between 1998-2002 to 17.3 per cent between 2016-2020, “People have been severely hit by COVID-19 and by pandemic related restrictions in India, the country with highest child wasting rate worldwide,” the report said.

Neighboring countries like Nepal (76), Bangladesh (76), Myanmar (71) and Pakistan (92), which are still ahead of India at feeding its citizens, are also in the ‘alarming’ hunger category.

However, India has shown improvement in indicators like the under-5 mortality rate, prevalence of stunting among children and prevalence of undernourishment owing to inadequate food, the report said.

Stating that the fight against hunger is dangerously off track, the report said based on the current GHI projections, the world as a whole — and 47 countries in particular — will fail to achieve even a low level of hunger by 2030.

“Although GHI scores show that global hunger has been on the decline since 2000, progress is slowing. While the GHI score for the world fell 4.7 points, from 25.1 to 20.4, between 2006 and 2012, it has fallen just 2.5 points since 2012. After decades of decline, the global prevalence of undernourishment — one of the four indicators used to calculate GHI scores — is increasing. This shift may be a harbinger of reversals in other measures of hunger,” the report said.

Food security is under assault on multiple fronts, the report said, adding that worsening conflict, weather extremes associated with global climate change, and the economic and health challenges associated with Covid-19 are all driving hunger.

“Inequality — between regions, countries, districts, and communities — is pervasive and, (if) left unchecked, will keep the world from achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) mandate to “leave no one behind,” it said.

India’s wholesale price index (WPI)-based inflation remained in double-digits for the sixth consecutive month in September, though at 10.66% it was lower than 11.39% in August.

Food inflation contracted 4.69% in September compared with a 1.29% fall a month ago, while that of manufactured products rose to 11.41% from 11.39% in August.

The sharp contraction in food prices was mainly due to easing vegetable prices though price of pulses continued to spike at 9.42%. Retail inflation in September also slowed to a five-month low of 4.4% due to moderating food prices.

Fuel’s a concern

The inflation in the fuel and power basket was 24.91% in September, against 26.09% in the previous month. The rise in crude petroleum and natural gas prices was 43.92% in September over 40.03% in the previous month.

Fuel is likely to keep pinching in the days ahead. After two days of lull, petrol and diesel prices were again hiked by 35 paise per litre on Thursday, sending retail pump prices to their highest ever level across the country.  This is the 13th time that petrol price has been hiked in two weeks while diesel rates have gone up 16 times in three weeks.

Is Sonia Gandhi Returning To Lead Congress Party Actively?

In her address to the powerful Congress Working Committee on Saturday, October 16, 2021, Congress president Sonia Gandhi indulged in some plain speak, saying she is a “full-time and hands-on party president”. Reacting to comments by some G-23 leaders that the party needs an active president, Sonia said, “I am, if you will allow me to say so, a full-time and hands on Congress President.”

“In the last two years, a large number of our colleagues, particularly the younger ones have taken on leadership roles in taking party policies and programmes to the people — whether it be the agitation of farmers, provision of relief during the pandemic, highlighting issues of concern to youth and women, atrocities on Dalits, Adivasis and minorities, price rise, and the destruction of the public sector,” the Congress president said during her opening address.

She added, “Never have we let issues of public importance and concern go unaddressed. You are aware that I have been taking them up with the Prime Minister as have Manmohan Singh and Rahul ji. I have been interacting with like-minded political parties regularly. We have issued joint statements on national issues and coordinated our strategy in Parliament as well.”

She further said, “I have always appreciated frankness. There is no need to speak to me through the media. So let us all have a free and honest discussion. But what should get communicated outside the four walls of this room is the collective decision of the CWC.”

Kapil Sibal, one of the G 23 leaders, had said during a press conference last month: “In our party, at the moment, there is no president, so we don’t know who is taking these decisions. We know and yet we don’t know.”

On the eve of the meeting, several Congress leaders, including members of the Group of 23 who have been seeking sweeping changes in the party structure, argued that the party should not go in for polls now.

Gandhi, while referring to organizational elections for electing a new president, said, “The entire organization wants a revival of the Congress.  But this requires unity and keeping the Party’s interests paramount. Above all, it requires self-control and discipline.”

She added, “I am acutely conscious of the fact that I have been interim Congress President ever since the CWC, asked me to return in this capacity in 2019. We had thereafter, you may recall, finalized a roadmap for electing a regular President by June 30th 2021.  But the second wave of Covid-19 overtook the country and this deadline was extended indefinitely by the CWC in its meeting held on May 10, 2021.  Today is the occasion for bringing clarity once and for all. A Schedule for full-fledged organizational elections is before you.”

Leading upto the first meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) in five months on Saturday, the chances of the party announcing organizational elections, including to the post of party president, seemed bleak. On the eve of the meeting, several Congress leaders, including members of the Group of 23 who have been seeking sweeping changes in the party structure, argued that the party should not go in for polls now and should focus on the forthcoming Assembly elections in five states.

“There is again election in some states. There will be continuously elections in one or the other state or group of states till 2024. I think the party’s priority should be to win these elections or consolidating our position, instead of thinking of these issues. There are challenges before the party and there are bigger challenges before the nation… There are issues of democratic values, the issue of weaker sections, unemployment… economy is in a very bad shape. All these things are very dear to the Congress. I think we should focus on these issues and on winning elections in the states. Everybody realises this… But anyway, if the party feels there should be elections, we are ready for elections also,” CWC member Harish Rawat told The Indian Express.

Some of the leaders of the G-23, however, added that the CWC can decide the timeline for holding the membership drive, which was last held in 2016-17, in the run up to the organisational elections.

“We have not had a membership drive for five-six years. So how can we hold organisational elections? We will have to hold the membership drive first. But the coming Assembly elections are the priority. We can discuss the schedule (for organisational elections). But first the membership drive will have to begin at some point of time,” a G-23 leader said.

Need For Management Of Perception About India:” V. Muraleedharan Tells Diaspora

“India is fully democratic. Judiciary is independent. Media is free. There is no substance to the claims that the media is controlled by the government,” declared India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Shri V. Muraleedharan on October 12th at the Mill River Hotel in Stamford, CT.

The visiting Indian leader from the ruling BJP Party was responding to a question raised by this writer about the “intimidation, influence and control” on the media by the government and about the negative image portrayed by the Western media due to the short-sighted and communalistic policies and programs of the ruling BJP.

Shri Muraleedharan urged for a “management of perception” to change the way India is being portrayed by the Media and appealed to the NRIs to be the “ambassadors of India” to help reshape the image outside of India. “I am here to listen to you. Want to make sure your suggestions are heard and implemented,” Muraleedharan said.

The young leader from the state of Kerala and elected from to India’s Upper House of Parliament from the state of Maharashtra was addressing the representatives of the Diaspora during a Reception and Interactive session organized by the Consulate of India in New York and the GOPIO – CT Chapter. Stating that the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi calls himself a sewak of every Indian, Muraleedharan said, “The role of the Ministry of External Affairs is to care for the Diaspora. And my visit today is for the purpose of benefitting the Indian Diaspora,” he told the audience.

Shri Muraleedharan, who officially took charge as Minister of State for External Affairs and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in May 2019, is visiting the United States to address the United Nations. He took the opportunity to travel to Connecticut to “listen” directly to the Diaspora and address their concerns. “I’ve been in charge of the External Affairs Ministry for the last 2 years. I was feeling that there is a need for interaction with the Diaspora. And this forum is a place where people have an opportunity to share their problems and concerns,” he told the audience. While assuring the community that he has listened to the concerns of the Diaspora, he will address each one of them and find an amicable solution.

On Press Freedom in India, the Minister categorically denied that Government is interfering with or “controlling” the media. “Allegations that the Indian media is controlled by the government doesn’t have any substance to it,” he said. Pointing to the fact that there are several media who are openly critical of the government, he asked the audience, “If the freedom for the media is restricted, how can the media be allowed to be critical of the Government? How could the media publish the stories of the bodies floating in the Ganges during the peak of the Pandemic, even though the situation is far from what was reported?” He described such allegations as totally false and there is a need for the “management of perception.”

The event was led by Dr. Thomas Abraham, Chair of GOPIO International and GOPIO – CT leadership including President Ashok Nichani, Exec. VP Prasad Chintalapudi, Secretary Prachi Narayan, Treasurer Biru Sharma, and Joint Secretary Meera Banta. Several past presidents Sangeeta Ahuja, Shailesh Naik, Shelly Nichani and Anita Bhat.

Among others who attended the Reception and the Interactive Session with the Honorable Minister Shri V. Muraleedharan, included, Deputy Consul General of Indian in New York, Dr. Varun Jeph; Consul for Community Affairs at the Indian Consulate Mr. A.K.Vijayakrishan; CT Assemblyman Harry Arora, several community organizations including Milan cultural Association President Suresh Sharma; Past President of the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and CT, Andy Bhatia; CT Tamil Sangam President Shivakumar Subramaniam and past president Uma Sekhar; CT Telugu Association Past President Rao Yelamachali; Malayalee Association of Southern Connecticut President T.P. Sujanan; GOPIO Media Council Chair Nami Kaur; Sabinsa Corporation President Dr. Asha Ramesh; and former Provost and Vice President of Academic affairs of GOPIO, Dr. Rupendra Paliwal.

In his introductory remarks by Dr. Thomas Abraham, welcoming Minister V. Muraleedharan said, “After the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs was merged with the External Affairs Ministry, Cabinet Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and his associate Minister Shri Muraleedharan have been dealing with Diaspora affairs. Minister Muraleedharan, we are so pleased that you took some time off your busy schedule at the UN to join us and interact with us.”

Dr. Abraham provided a brief history of GOPIO International, which was formed at the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in 1989 in New York, which has now grown into  a Pan-Indian community organization for NRIs and PIOs with over 100 chapters spread in 35 countries. “We at GOPIUO are a partner with Indian missions abroad to protect India’s interest around the world.

Drawing the attention of the Minister to some of the issues faced by the NRI/PIO community, Dr. Abraham said, “We campaigned for Dual Nationality and the govt. came up with PIO Card and later on with the OCI card. We asked for voting rights for Indian citizens living outside India. Although voting rights are given, there has been very little participation because of the requirements of physical voting in India. The Election Commission has recommended Proxy Voting, but not implemented yet.”

He urged the government of India to appoint at least two Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, representing the 32 million people of Indian origin living outside India, more than half of them Indian citizens.

Other issues raised during the meeting included, violence against Indians in South Africa; post pandemic issues of Indian workers in the Middle East; Challenges for NRIs to open and operate banking accounts in India and the technical problems faced while submitting application for OCI Cards, removing travel restrictions to India for people of Indian origin who are citizens outside India and issues relating to OCI card holders doing business in India, but are treated as foreigners in some areas where changed government rules such as the Biodiversity Act are affecting them. “We also suggest some initiatives through ICCR for sending cultural troupes to PIO countries for India’s 75th Celebration next year.”

Dr. Abraham introduced Deputy Consul General at the Indian Consulate Dr. Varun Jeph, whom he described as a medical professional, “Dr. Jeph, and has joined the mission only last month and has already reached out all community organizations.”

The ministry of external affairs wants to offer opportunities for every Indian abroad the right to vote, the Minister Muraleedharan said. However, the practical aspect of this major issue has several challenges. Pointing to the fact that Indians are spread over more in almost all 193 countries and coordinating the efforts and ensuring that all those who are eligible are given the opportunity to vote has been a major challenge, while assuring the Diaspora that he will address the issue and follow with the concerned officials.

On Cronoa related travel restrictions, the Minister said, the situation is evolving. We want that every Indian should be given the opportunity to travel to India.  However, it’s based on international civil aviation authority and that commercial flight operations have not started to the full yet. In order to attract foreign tourists to India, the Government has announced that the there will be no charges for visa for the first five lakh Visa applicants to India, Muraleedharan said.

Responding to a question of NRIs not being allowed to own properties in India, he assured “you need not be worried” and said that he is not aware of any law in any state, including in the state of Andhra Pradesh that the properties of NRIs are going to be taken away by the state.

Muraleedharan said, the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence is “a celebration of Indians across the globe so I don’t think that you need to come to India to participate in that. All our Missions are organizing the events and I urge every Community organization to take the lead so that every Indian is involved in the celebration of the 75th year of India’s Independence.”

“I am here to listen to you. Want to make sure your suggestions are heard and implemented” V. Muraleedharan Tells Community Representatives During Interactive Session In Connecticut

“I am here to listen to you. Want to make sure your suggestions are heard and implemented,” India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Shri V. Muraleedharan during a Reception and Interactive session with the Indian Diaspora on October 12th at the Mill River Hotel in Stamford, CT. Stating that the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi calls himself a sewak of every Indian, Muraleedharan said, “The role of the Ministry of External Affairs is to care for the Diaspora. And my visit today is for the purpose of benefitting the Indian Diaspora,” He told the audience.

“India is fully democratic. Judiciary is independent. Media is free. There is no substance to claims that the media is controlled” by the government, declared Shri V. Muraleedharan, who is visiting the United States to address the United Nations.

Muraleedharan, who officially took charge as Minister of State for External Affairs and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in May 2019, took the opportunity to travel to Connecticut to “listen” directly to the Diaspora and address their concerns. “I’ve been in charge of the External Affairs Ministry for the last 2 years. I was feeling that there is a need for interaction with the Diaspora. And this forum is a place where people have an opportunity to share their problems and concerns,” he told the audience. While assuring the community that he has listened to the concerns of the Diaspora, he will address each one of them and find an amicable solution.

The event was jointly organized by the Consulate of India in New York and GOPIO – CT, led by GOPIO-CT President Ashok Nichani, Exec. VP Prasad Chintalapudi, Secretary Prachi Narayan, Treasurer Biru Sharma, and Joint Secretary Meera Banta. Several past presidents including Sangeeta Ahuja, Shailesh Naik, Shelly Nichani, and Anita Bhat joined in at the reception.

Among others who attended the Reception and the Interactive Session with the Honorable Minister Shri V. Muraleedharan, included, Deputy Consul General of Indian in New York, Dr. Varun Jeph; Consul for Community Affairs at the Indian Consulate Mr. A.K.Vijayakrishan; CT Assemblyman Harry Arora, several community organizations including Milan cultural Association President Suresh Sharma; Past President of the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and CT, Andy Bhatia; CT Tamil Sangam President Shivakumar Subramaniam and past president Uma Sekhar; CT Telugu Association Past President Rao Yelamachali; Malayalee Association of Southern Connecticut President T.P. Sujanan; GOPIO Media Council Chair Nami Kaur; Sabinsa Corporation President Dr. Asha Ramesh; and former Provost and Vice President of Academic affairs of GOPIO, Dr. Rupendra Paliwal.

In his introductory remarks by Dr. Thomas Abraham, welcoming Minister V. Muraleedharan said, “After the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs was merged with the External Affairs Ministry, Cabinet Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and his associate Minister Shri Muraleedharan have been dealing with Diaspora affairs. Minister Muraleedharan, we are so pleased that you took some time off your busy schedule at the UN to join us and interact with us,” Dr. Abraham said.

Dr. Abraham provided a brief history of GOPIO International, which was formed at the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in 1989 in New York, which has now grown into  a Pan-Indian community organization for NRIs and PIOs with over 100 chapters spread in 35 countries. “We at GOPIUO are a partner with Indian missions abroad to protect India’s interest around the world.

Drawing the attention of the Minister on some of the issues of the NRI/PIO community, Dr. Abraham said, “We campaigned for Dual Nationality and the govt. came up with PIO Card and later on with the OCI card. We asked for voting rights for Indian citizens living outside India. Although voting rights are given, there has been very little participation because of the requirements of physical voting in India. The Election Commission has recommended Proxy Voting, but not implemented yet.”

He urged the government of India to appoint at least two Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, representing the 32 million people of Indian origin living outside India, more than half of them Indian citizens.

Other issues raised during the meeting included, violence against Indians in South Africa; post pandemic issues of Indian workers in the Middle East; Challenges for NRIs to open and operate banking accounts in India and the technical problems faced while submitting application for OCI Cards, removing travel restrictions to India for people of Indian origin who are citizens outside India and issues relating to OCI card holders doing business in India, but are treated as foreigners in some areas where changed government rules such as the Biodiversity Act are affecting them. “We also suggest some initiatives through ICCR for sending cultural troupes to PIO countries for India’s 75th Celebration next year.”

Dr. Abraham introduced Deputy Consul General at the Indian Consulate Dr. Varun Jeph, whom he described as a medical professional, “Dr. Jeph, and has joined the mission only last month and has already reached out all community organizations.”

The ministry of external affairs wants to offer opportunities for every Indian abroad the right to vote, the Minister said. However, the practical aspect of this major issue has several challenges. Pointing to the fact that Indians are spread over more in almost all 193 countries and coordinating the efforts and ensuring that all those who are eligible are given the opportunity to vote has been a major challenge, while assuring the Diaspora that he will address the issue and follow with the concerned officials.

On Cronoa related travel restrictions, the Minister said, the situation is evolving. We want that every Indian should be given the opportunity to travel to India.  However, it’s based on international civil aviation authority and that commercial flight operations have not started to the full yet. In order to attract foreign tourists to India, the Government has announced that the there will be no charges for visa for the first five lakh Visa applicants to India, Muraleedharan said.

On Press Freedom in India, the Minister categorically denied that Government is interfering with or “controlling” the media. “Allegations that the Indian media is controlled by the government doesn’t have any substance to it,” he said. Pointing to the fact that there are several media who are openly critical of the government, he asked the audience, “If the freedom for the media is restricted, how can the media be allowed to be critical of the Government? How could the media publish the stories of the bodies floating in the Ganges during the peak of the Pandemic, even though the situation is far from what was reported?” He described such allegations as totally fals and there is a need for the “management of perception.”

Responding to a question of NRIs not being allowed to own properties in India, he assured “you need not be worried” and said that he is not aware of any law in any state, including in the state of Andhra Pradesh that the properties of NRIs are going to be taken away by the state.

Muraleedharan said, the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence is “a celebration of Indians across the globe so I don’t think that you need to come to India to participate in that. All our Missions are organizing the events and I urge every Community organization to take the lead so that every Indian is involved in the celebration of the 75th year of India’s Independence,”

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Finally Heeding To Protest Worldwide, Ashish Mishra Sent To 3-Day Police Custody

India’s Union Minister’s son Ashish Mishra, accused of running over farmers in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri triggering violence that claimed eight lives earlier this month, was sent to police custody for three days on Monday, October 11th

Ashish Mishra, was arrested last week after nearly 12 hours of questioning in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.  Chief Judicial Magistrate, Lakhimpur Kheri, Chinta Ram remanded Ashish to three-day police custody after the prosecution sought a 14-day remand noting that the accused had not yet cooperated in the matter and had been unable to satisfactorily answer queries about his location at the time of the crime.

Ashish is named as a prime accused in one of the two FIRs in the case, which says he was seated on the left front seat of a Mahindra Thar, which was the first of the three SUVs that mowed down protesters in the area on October 3. The FIR also says that Ashish was carrying a gun and escaped into the fields firing shots. It adds that Ashish was accompanied by 15-20 persons and rammed into protesting farmers under a “planned conspiracy.”

Although Ashish and his father Ajay Mishra have claimed to be absent from the crime scene, the former has been unable to prove his whereabouts at the time of the crime that killed eight people—five of them allegedly mowed down by the SUVs and the rest allegedly lynched to death by angry agitators.

Ashish was named in an FIR following allegations that he was in one of the vehicles in the convoy that mowed down four farmers at the anti-farm law protest site in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri, where they were protesting UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit on October 3. Meanwhile, BJP sources have stated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take a final call on MoS Ajay Mishra’s resignation once the police probe is completed. Senior party leaders have pointed out that the Union Minister has denied his son’s involvement in the incident and that the police have not found any evidence against him.

‘White House Did Not Roll Out Red Carpet For Narendra Modi’

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States last month looked more like a goodwill gesture than a business trip, a number of experts told the media. Beyond the optics, they pointed out, there was much work to do to bring the two countries closer. In Washington DC where he stayed for three days, Modi maintained an uncharacteristically low profile. He met President Joe Biden, a handful of CEOs, leaders from Japan and Australia and adopted one-on-one meetings. Despite the photo-ops and the invites and long walks, some uncomfortable questions propped up their heads.

“I hope his White House visit includes honest conversations about how the Modi government can ensure India’s democracy remains a democracy for all of its people,” said US Representative Andy Levin (Democrat, Michigan). Others pointed to Biden and Harris stressing on threats to democracy globally and underlining the values of Mahatma Gandhi. In the realm of trade and economy, too, Silicon Valley voices were not exuberant in their praise of the visit. A number of them pointed out that India currently has no trade agreement with the United States of America.

In April 2018, the United States launched an eligibility review of India’s compliance with the General System of Preferences (GSP) market access criterion. In March 2019, it was decided that India no longer meets the GSP eligibility criteria and India’s GSP status was revoked. Termination of GSP benefits removed special duty treatment for $5.6 billion of exports to the US, particularly affecting India’s export-oriented sectors such as pharmaceuticals, textiles, agricultural products, and automotive parts. The United States and India continue holding discussions to address trade issues and to prepare a limited trade deal. Kanwal Rekhi, founder and managing director, Inventus Capital Partners said the sudden rise of China has put India in an awkward position.

“China is five times the size of India and has spent lavishly building its military,” Rekhi pointed out. “India is unable to match that. China and India have a 2100 mile unsettled border and China has toyed with India from time to time and uses Pakistan to pin India down. India needs time to build its economy to stand up to China. India does have nuclear capability and as such ultimate security. India needs Quad to balance China and the US needs a heftier partner than Japan to take on China. The moment is right and it is imperative that India overcome its traditional hesitancy and form a firmer partnership to maintain its independence.”

Vish Mishra, venture director at Clearstone Venture Partners, said in his view the main purpose of this visit was to build goodwill with President Joe Biden who is a bit more reserved than his predecessors Donald Trump and Barack Obama. Mishra said he was expecting more, beyond the optics such as Modi citing Harris’s India heritage and inviting her to visit India. “Given that there have been many advance visits by the US defense and commerce Secretaries as well as Mr Kerry to India, leading up to Mr Modi visit, I would surmise that the security and trade dialogs are on-going. And I did not see any agreements or MoUs being signed,” Mishra pointed out. “What I really find missing is US not appointing its new ambassador to India. Hopefully this will happen post Modi’s visit,” Mishra said.

He pointed out that Modi’s meeting with the five CEOs represented five major sectors critical to India. Adobe for technology, Qualcomm for 5G, General Atomics for energy and space, First Solar for renewal energy, and Blackstone for Capital investment.

“They all look at India favorably and are doing business there already,” Mishra said. “From my observations, Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s CEO, turned out to be the biggest champion and booster for India. He was unabashed in his praise for India, declaring that he has already invested $60 billion in India and plans to another $40 billion in the near term. Shantanu Narayen, the Adobe CEO, was equally bullish about India, citing Adobe’s investment in India for a very long time. “The White House did not roll out the red carpet for Modi and I don’t think this was an expectation on either side,” Mishra said. “More work needs to be done from both sides. However, in the meanwhile, trade and investments will continue to rise between private sectors from both countries. In addition, India will see more investments from other countries as well.”

Dinsha Mistree, fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford Law School, called Modi’s visit a promising start. “India and the US need to form a stronger relationship,” Mistree said. “On the matter of a trade agreement, there are still a multitude of issues that negotiators will have to get through. Also, both sides — and particularly leaders in the US — still have to vocalize support for an agreement. Not much will happen without that kind of buy-in. Hopefully the value of a trade deal will be recognized during Biden’s and Modi’s respective tenures.”

Mistree said that there were a number of sticky points.  “If the agreement is being made on purely economic grounds, then the US is going to want access to industries that are heavily protected in India. Consider agriculture, for example. The US wants to sell agricultural goods in India, but Modi will find it difficult to open up agriculture to foreign competition,” he said. “One just has to look at the ongoing farmer protests from the recent attempts at domestic liberalization to realize how politically problematic such a move would be to allow outside competition.”

He added: “Also, don’t forget that there are upcoming state elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh in 2022. And apart from opening up traditionally protected markets, India will probably be pressed to change policy on various IP matters, and will have to address labor and environmental issues. “If, on the other hand, the US recognizes a security dimension or some other strategic interest in a trade agreement with India, then we might see a deal where India gains access to US markets without having to reciprocally open its own markets.”

He said India has been pushing for a preferential trade agreement for years, but under Biden it would only come as part of a broader security arrangement, if at all. “Personally speaking, I think that the US should agree to a preferential deal with India,” Mistree said. “What often gets lost among the quid-pro-quo aspects of these negotiations is the long-term value of bringing the US and India closer together. “Stronger trade relations could help both sides recognize our shared values and interests and might provide a springboard for working together on a number of other issues. Hopefully we will see some movement, but I fear we are still far away.”

Under BJP Regime, India’s External Debt Rises To $571 Billion

India’s external debt for the quarter ended June 2021 increased on a year-on-year as well as on sequential basis, official data showed last week. The external debt during the period under review rose to $571.3 billion from $555.2 billion reported for the quarter ended June 2020.

On a sequential basis, at end-June 2021, the external debt recorded an increase of $1.6 billion over $569.7 billion reported for end-March 2021 period. “The external debt to GDP ratio declined to 20.2 per cent at end-June 2021 from 21.1 per cent at end-March 2021,” the RBI said in a statement.

“Valuation gain due to the appreciation of the US dollar vis-a-vis Indian rupee was placed at $1.7 billion. Excluding the valuation effect, external debt would have increased by $3.3 billion instead of $1.6 billion at end-June 2021 over end-March 2021.”

According to the RBI, commercial borrowings remained the largest component of external debt, with a share of 37.4 per cent, followed by non-resident deposits at 24.8 per cent, and short-term trade credit 17.4 per cent. “At end-June 2021, long-term debt (with original maturity of above one year) was placed at $468.8 billion, recording an increase of $0.2 billion over its level at end-March 2021.” (IANS)

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