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)

Modi Returns To India, As 4 Million-Strong Diaspora’s Importance Comes To Fore

The importance of the Indian diaspora has come to the fore in India-US relations with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden highlighting this factor as part of the strengthening relationship between the world’s largest and oldest democracies.

President Biden during his bilateral meeting with PM Modi mentioned that “there are more than 4 million Indian-Americans who are participating in the journey of progress of America.” PM Modi responded by saying: “As I look at the importance of this decade and the role that is going to be played by this talent of Indian-Americans, I find that this people-to-people talent will play a greater role and Indian talent will be a co-partner in this relationship and I see that your contribution is going to be very important in this.”

The diaspora factor was also very evident at PM Modi’s meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris. He told Harris “between India and the US, we have very vibrant and strong people-to-people connections, you know that all too well,” referring to her Indian roots. “More than 4 million people of Indian origin; the Indian community is a bridge between our two countries, a bridge of friendship and their contribution to the economies and societies of both our countries is indeed very praiseworthy,” the Prime Minister pointed out.

With Indian-Americans playing a crucial role in the technology sector it was only natural that at least two of the five top CEO’s that PM Modi held a one-on-one meeting with in Washington, were Indian-Americans. His meeting with Vivek Lall, Chief Executive of General Atomics Global Corporation, focused on strengthening the defence technology sector in India. Lall appreciated the recent policy changes to accelerate defence and emerging technology manufacturing in India. The company makes state-of-art drones which is a technology that India urgently requires to counter the growing threat from China in this field.

The discussion with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen centred around the software technology company’s ongoing collaboration and future investment plans in India. Discussions also focused on India’s flagship programme Digital India, and use of emerging technologies in sectors like health, education and R&D. India with its huge market and skilled manpower offers an alternative investment destination for US tech giants at a time when they are decoupling from an increasingly aggressive Communist China and looking to set up alternative supply chains.

In this backdrop, the Prime Minister met Cristiano Amon, CEO of leading computer chip maker Qualcomm to present the investment opportunities in India’s telecommunications and electronics sector. This included the recently launched Production Linked Incentive Scheme (PLI) for Electronics System Design and Manufacturing as well as developments in the semiconductor supply chain in India. Strategies for building the local innovation ecosystem in India were also discussed.

Similarly, he took up the issues of cutting-edge solar equipment with the CEO of renewable energy major First Solar. (IANS)

Modi Visit To US Leads To “A New Chapter In The History Of US-Indian Ties”

“I think that the relationship between India and the United States, the largest democracies in the world, is destined to be stronger, closer and tighter, and I think it can benefit the whole world,” President Joe Biden

“I think that the relationship between India and the United States, the largest democracies in the world, is destined to be stronger, closer and tighter, and I think it can benefit the whole world,” President Joe Biden said at the Oval Office about the face-to-face bilateral meeting between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, held on Sept. 24, 2021. “And, I think that’s begun to come to pass and today we’re launching a new chapter in the history of US-Indian ties and taking on some of the toughest challenges we face together, starting with a shared commitment to ending the Covid pandemic,” the President asserted.

Modi echoed the sentiments. “Today’s bilateral summit is important. We are meeting at the start of the third decade of this century,” said Prime Minister Modi. “Your leadership will certainly play an important role in how this decade is shaped. The seeds have been sown for an even stronger friendship between India and USA,” he added. “The Prime Minister and I are going to be talking today about what more we can do to fight Covid-19, take on the climate challenges that the world face(s), and ensure stability in the Indo-Pacific, including with our own Quad partners,” President Biden detailed.

“Of course our partnership is more than just what we do. It’s about who we are. It’s rooted in our shared responsibility to uphold democratic values, our joint commitment to diversity, and it’s about family ties, including 4 million Indian-Americans who make the United States stronger every single day,” President Biden said, a statement certain to gladden the hearts of the community. Modi extolled the 4 million-strong Indian-American talent and its contribution to the U.S. economy, and said such People-to-people exchanges would continue to grow. “I thank you for the warm welcome accorded to me and my delegation. Earlier, we had an opportunity to hold discussions and at that time you had laid out the vision for India-US bilateral relations. Today, you are taking initiatives to implement your vision for India-US relations,” Modi said.

Biden also mentioned Gandhi Jayanti which will be celebrated Oct. 2 to recognize Mahatma Gandhi’s birth. “As the world celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday next week, we’re all reminded that his message of nonviolence, respect, tolerance matters today maybe more than it ever has,” said Biden. In his comments, Modi, responding to President Biden’s reference to Oct. 2 birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, emphasized the philosophy of ‘Trusteeship” of the planet that Gandhi espoused.

The U.S.-India relationship was crucial for the two countries and the world, during this decade, to implement this principle of Trusteeship, Modi said, While President Biden has spoken with Prime Minister Modi on the phone a number of times and has been in virtual summits, this was their first in-person meeting. They both attended the virtual summit of The Quad on March 12, 2021, and the Leaders Summit on Climate Change on April 22. Top Biden administration officials have been visiting India regularly – Defense Secretary Austin Lloyd to New Delhi from March 19-21; Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry to New Delhi- April 6 to 8 and again September 11 to 14; and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to New Delhi July 27-28.

Others who made the trek to New Delhi include Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger from August 31 to September 1; and CIA Director Bill Burns after U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan. Visits of senior Indian officials to the U.S. over the past few months have included External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to Washington DC from May 26 to 29; and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Washington DC from September 1 to 3.

Thanking the President for a “warm welcome, the Indian leader harked back to past interactions, “I recall our interactions in 2014 and 2016. That time you had shared your vision for ties between India and USA. I am glad to see you are working to realize this vision,” Modi said. He said he is confident that together the two countries could tackle the problems besetting the world. Modi predicted that the cooperation between the two countries would be ‘transformative’ for the world.

The seeds have been sown for Indo-U.S. cooperation, Modi noted. The tradition, the democratic values that both countries are committed to, and the importance of these traditions will only increase further, Modi predicted. Technology, he said, would be the driving force in today’s world – technology for the service of humanity. And in that context, trade would play a big part. U.S.-India trade, Modi said, was complimentary, with each country having things that the other country needs.

Prime Minister Modi Meets With Vice President Kamala Harris

“India, of course, is a very important partner to the United States.  Throughout our history, our nations have worked together, have stood together to make our world a safer and stronger world,” Harris said

In what can be considered a historic moment, American Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Indian-American in the history of this country to occupy that position, held a one-on-one meeting Sept. 23, 2021, with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was visiting the United States for bilateral, multilateral and United Nations General Assembly meetings from Sept. 22-25.

Harris praised India for stepping forward to help other countries with vaccines at the outset of the pandemic. Prime Minister Modi praised the leadership of the new administration in overcoming challenges besetting the country.

“India, of course, is a very important partner to the United States.  Throughout our history, our nations have worked together, have stood together to make our world a safer and stronger world,” Harris said in her opening remarks at the White House meeting. “Early in the pandemic, India was a vital source of vaccines for other countries.  When India experienced a surge of COVID in the country, the United States was very proud to support India in its need and responsibility to vaccinate its people,” the Vice President said.

The bilateral discussions between the two delegations, were “substantive” and lasted more than an hour, Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla said at a press briefing later on. Subjects discussed ranged from Covid-19, climate change, terrorism, education exchange, technology cooperation, space and cyber technologies in particular. In the context of terrorism, Shringla said, Vice President Harris recognized the terror elements operating from Pakistan. She noted that both U.S. and India had been the victims of terrorism for decades, and urged Pakistan to restrain terror elements active within its borders.

Modi’s comments lauded the work of the new administration. “President Biden and yourself, you took up the leadership of the United States in a very challenging atmosphere and challenging times, but within a very short period of time, you have had many achievements to your credit, whether that be COVID, climate, or the Quad.  On all these issues, the United States has taken very important initiatives,” said Modi.
Harris welcomed India resuming vaccine exports, and expressed admiration for the 1 million a day vaccines being administered in that country. On the issue of the climate crisis, she said, “I know that India and you take this issue quite seriously.  The President and I believe very strongly that the United States working together with India can have not only a profound impact on the people of our respective nations, but on the world itself,” Harris said.

And as it relates to the Indo-Pacific, “the United States, like India, feels very strongly about the pride of being a member of the Indo-Pacific, but also the fragility and the importance and strength as well of those relationships, including maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific,” she said.

Neither leader mentioned China by name although it is concern over that Asian giant’s potential ambitions in the Indian and Pacific oceans that has led to The Quad coming together.

Harris also addressed the issue of human rights, saying, “it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world and that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home. And it is incumbent on our nations to, of course, protect democracies in the best interest of the people of our countries,” she said.

The two leaders also dwelt on the personal connection that Harris has to India where her mother immigrated to the U.S. and where the Vice President’s extended family lives. “I know from personal experience and from my family of the commitment of the Indian people to democracy and to freedom and to the work that may be done and can be done to imagine and then actually achieve our vision for democratic principles and institutions,” Harris said.

Modi recalled their past telephone conversation when the Biden administration came into office in January this year. “We had a detailed discussion at that time.  And the way you spoke to me so warmly and so naturally, I will always remember that.  Thank you so much,” said Modi, adding that it felt “like a family, the sense of kinship and so warmly you extended a helping hand, the words that you chose when you spoke to me… I will always remember that…”

“Between India and the U.S., there are very vibrant and strong people-to-people connections that we have.  You know that all too well.  More than 4 million people of Indian origin, the Indian community is a bridge between our two countries — a bridge of friendship.  And their contribution to the economies and societies of both our countries is indeed very praiseworthy,” Modi said, and her election to the high office was “such an important and historic event.”

“I am completely confident that under President Biden and your leadership, our bilateral relationship will touch new heights,” Modi asserted, adding that people in India were waiting to welcome Harris, extending her a special invited to visit India.

Multiple Protests Held As Modi Speaks At UN

Several separate protests were held outside the UN on Saturday, September 25th as Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. The groups were separated from each other in enclosures put up with police barriers, advocating different causes.

While observers said it was “shameful” that President Biden failed to publicly address widespread persecution of religious minorities in India when he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday, more than 100 members of interfaith and human rights groups spoke out as Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers condemned the egregious human rights violations and murders of religious minorities in India under a government that openly supports Hindu supremacy.

The rally was sponsored by 21 organizations under the banner of Coalition to Stop Genocide in India, including Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King Study Circle, Black Lives Matter, Coalition Against Fascism in India, Dalit Solidarity Forum, New York City Democratic Socialists’ Racial Justice Working Group, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America, Hindus for Human Rights, Indian American Muslim Council, India Civil Watch International, International Commission for Dalit Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, MICAH Faith Institute, Muslim Community Network, National Coalition against Caste Discrimination in the USA, NY Sikh Council, New York State Council of Churches, SALAM, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, and Voices Against Fascism in India.

Another group comprising of 100 Khalistan supporters waving yellow flags and carrying portraits of Simranjit Singh Mann, the president of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), came in support of the Khalistan movement. The organizers of the other protests disowned the Khalistanis and said they were not associated with them, pointing to the barriers separating them from that group.

Another protest was organized by a local gurdwara in support of the farmers’ agitation in India focused solely on the agriculturists’ issues. They stationed themselves far from the Khalistanis and an organizer said that they did not have anything to do with that protest and distinguished themselves with green turbans.

The Hindus for Human Rights (HHR) organized yet another protest that was sandwiched between the Congress and Khalistani protests. An organizer said that they were not associating themselves with the Khalistanis and their enclosed barrier next to that group’s was assigned by the police.

HHR protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and other laws and regulations, as well as what they called human rights violations and detention of activists in India.

They were joined by a representative of the New York State Council of Churches, a protestant organization that also lists the World Council of Churches among its members. Its executive director, Peter Cook, a protestant pastor who said he had been deported from India, asserted that his organization opposed the CAA even though it gave citizenship rights to Christians fleeing persecution, because it “pits Christians against Muslims”.

The Khalistani protesters, who were not allowed by the police to demonstrate outside India’s mission to the UN, drove past it in cars flying their flags and raising slogans. Supporters of Kashmiri separatists and Pakistanis, who held protests in the previous years, were not seen this time.

“As religious people, we have a responsibility to build an inclusive multi racial democracy. So when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu comes to New York in the name of perverting my religious tradition, Judaism, it is a way of creating religious oppression, and it is important for me to stand here. And when Indian Prime Minister Modi comes here, we organize in solidarity to demand that we build a world not on theocratic or fascist principles,” said Brad Lander, New York City Councilmember and comptroller elect.

Hindu Pandit Sanjai Doobay said: “As Hindus, we salute the light, ‘Shubham Karoti Kalyanam.’ As Muslims, ‘Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.’ And the Christian Bible says God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’ If we are together, our light will always be brighter. We will pray for that light, for that peace. Mr. Modi, your Hindutva is not my Hinduism. You are not Hindu. A Hindu is a brother or sister of Humanity.”

“As Christians, we grieve for many Hindus who watch their faith being co-opted and distorted by nationalist government using Hinduism to oppress people of other faiths,” declared Rev. Peter Cook, New York State Council of Churches. “In Jesus’ name, I condemn the government of any country which uses the dominant faith of its people to destroy democracy and deny the freedom and human rights of religious minorities. In this spirit, we call on the Modi government to stop distorting Hinduism to give tacit approval to the burning and desecration of churches, mosques and temples.”

The Indian Overseas Congress, USA, an advocacy organization that promotes democracy, human rights, and equal justice together with its supporters and friends, held a protest rally in front of the United Nations, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was delivering his address to the General Assembly.

“Although we have no issues with a Prime Minister of India visiting the U.S. or the U.N. and promoting better bi-lateral relations or promoting world peace, it is imperative to let him know at the same time that we do not approve of his misgovernance in dealing with COVID epidemic or undermining the democratic institutions,” said George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the IOCUSA. “If there is to be genuine economic progress and social development in India, political tranquility and social harmony is a prerequisite without which there would be very little hope for the future. Let us, at the minimum, raise our voices, no matter how feeble it may be, because one day our next generation might ask where you have been when India took a turn towards authoritarianism and fascism,” Abraham added.

“I am glad to state that IOCUSA stands firmly behind India’s farmers who have been denied their rightful voice and concerns to be heard by the Modi government which has pushed a set of bills through the parliament for the benefit of the crony capitalists and to the detriment of our farmers” Mr. Mohinder Singh Gilzian, President of the IOCUSA said.  “We want Modi to know that the NRI voice will continue to be raised in support of their protest unless and until he resolves these issues,” Mr. Gilzian added.

Secretary General Harbachan Singh referring to the plight of the farmers suggested that a Prime Minister should not abuse his power or shirk his responsibility and torture peaceful farmers protesting for their legitimate concerns by not heeding to their concerns.”  It is claimed that this is perhaps the largest and the longest peaceful protest rally in the history of the world.

The protesters carried slogans and chanted examples to point out the failures of the Modi government, e.g. “Anti-Narendra Modi isn’t anti-national,” “We are all Indians. Stop discrimination based on religion, caste and language”, “Protect India’s constitution”, “IOCUSA supports democracy, freedom, and human rights”,” IOCUSA supports India’s farmers”, “IOCUSA -proud supporter of pluralistic India” and so forth.

Mr. Mohinder Singh Gilzian, President of the IOCUSA, Mr. Harbachen Singh, Secretary-General, Mr. George Abraham, Vice-Chairman, Mr. John Thomas, Ms. Sophia Sharma, General Secretary, Vice-President, Ms. Leela Maret, President, Kerala Chapter, Mr. Amar Singh Gulshan and President, Haryana Chapter were among those who took part in the protest.

Hindu Group In India Threatens To Demolish Churches In BJP-Ruled Northern State

The onslaught on citizens of minority faith continues in Madhya Pradesh. Individuals claiming to be members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) say they are preparing to demolish churches in the Jhabua district on Sunday, 26thSeptember.  Auxiliary Bishop Paul Muniya, of the Protestant Shalom Church in Jhabua, led a delegation to District Collector, the highest government official, and submitted a memorandum addressed to the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, seeking his urgent intervention to ensure the safety and security of Christians and to stop the anti-Christian violence. He has also appealed to the state’s governor and chief minister to intervene and diffuse the situation.

Located in western Madhya Pradesh, bordering Baroda, this district had witnessed similar unrest when Azad Prem Singh, a local leader of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council, had demanded the closure of all churches in the area earlier this year. Although Singh focused on Jhabua and surrounding tribal-dominated districts, the continued escalation of communal threats could have repercussions across the country, particularly in states like Madhya Pradesh which have enacted the anti-conversions laws.

However, far from helping the cause of the minorities under threat, a District Revenue official has directed the Christian priests to present themselves before him and explain the nature of their religious activities and has even sought details of their appointment as priests. The official letter also asked priests to certify if they themselves were converted through allurement or force while threatening to initiate legal proceedings against any illegal conversions, if detected.

Bishop Muniya, while addressing the media, expressed his anguish and concern over what appears to be the local administrators siding with the perpetrators responsible for harassing Christians who number a mere four percent of the one million population of the district. “If there is an illegal structure, let the administration take action. Why are private individuals and organizations issuing such threats?” the Bishop asked. He also sought to know if the same yardstick would be applied to other religious structures in the district and the state.

Father Maria Stephan, PRO of Bhopal Catholic Archdiocese feels both the revenue and police administration of the district are biased against Christians. “Christians are peace-loving citizens. We are seeking judicial remedies to ensure peace and harmony in our society. We have no objection to sharing any official details about our work and personnel to the government provided the intention is right.”

President of UCF, Dr. Michael Williams, while expressing concern and distress over the situation in Jhabua, has appealed to the Prime Minister and Home Minister to help put a stop to this targeted violence.  “The very fabric of our secular nation is being stretched by a few who do not respect the Constitution of India.  Such people are the real anti -nationals and must be dealt with as strictly under law as possible.  This intolerance has no room in our country”, he added.

FIACONA Is Grateful to Biden, Harris For Emphasizing Need For Democratic Values In India

The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA) has expressed gratitude to Vice President Harris for telling Prime Minister Modi, “I know from personal experience and from my family, of the commitment of the Indian people to democracy and to freedom, and to the work that may be done and can be done, to imagine and then actually achieve our vision for democratic principles and institutions”. “While we greatly applaud the Vice President’s powerful testimony and her heartfelt remarks, we also feel that Mr. Modi may not have understood the gravity of what she was trying to convey to him,” a statement issued by FIACONA said. “It is not the first time that Mr. Modi and his team have completely missed the point of suggestions coming from American leaders, including the then Vice-President Biden and President Obama on past occasions,” FIACONA pointed out.

FIACONA has urged the President Biden and Vice President Harris “to be more direct and explicit in expressing that India should not and could not afford to go down the path of religious nationalism at the expense of pluralist democratic principles that values Christian and other religious segments of the population. Should Modi and his party choose to continue down this path of religious nationalism despite warnings from leaders of the free world, there is no reason to assume that India would end up any better than Pakistan, Sri Lanka, or Myanmar in that region, thus jeopardizing the stability and commerce in the Indo-Pacific region.”

In a statement issued here, FIACONA pointed out that, India is going through unprecedented challenges under Prime Minister Modi’s watch. “We are concerned that some of those challenges have the potential to cause civil unrest in many parts of the Union where it has seriously undermined the democratic values and institutions in the name of religious majoritarianism.” Reports indicate that Modi’s hardline Hindu nationalist policies have seriously threatened the fundamentals of a multi-faith, multi-linguistic, and multi-racial equilibrium among different sections/regions of the Union. These aggressive domestic policies of the government of the Union of India headed by Modi are already stifling growth and threaten stability in many parts of India. Only those who are aligned with the hardcore Hindu nationalism, both in India and abroad refuse to acknowledge this fact, FIACONA stated.

“A continued push for aggressive domestic policies by the Hindu nationalists would have far-reaching implications not only within the Union of India but also across the region. It has the potential to adversely impact the US business interests in the region as well,” FIACONA cautioned. “The United States cannot afford to make similar strategic mistakes over and over. Ignoring the tell-tale signs of an increasingly radicalized society, or the deterioration of liberal democratic values in a country like India just to achieve short-term strategic goals will only turn out to be an expensive mistake for the US in the long run,” FIACONA warned.

Urging the US policymakers “to take serious cognizance of the style of functioning and perceived goals of the governments in member countries instead of just accepting their talking points however rationale it may sound,” FIACONA stated,  “The safety and security of over 100 million Christians and their continued existence in the Union of India without daily harassment from Hindu nationalist vigilante groups (supported and encouraged by Mr. Modi’s party officials) are inextricably tied to the respect for democratic values by successive governments there.”

FIACONA urged “the Biden Administration is direct and honest with their Indian counterparts in saying that the Union of India must stop sliding down its current path. Measures need to be taken to ensure that. The Hindu nationalist leaders must be told publicly in unambiguous terms that there will be consequences for continuing to encourage and lead India down the path of religious radicalism and vigilantism. They need to be told that all kinds of rationale and false narratives offered to the International community by the Modi government must stop.”

Modi, Joe Biden To Discuss Ways To Combat Terrorism

Cementing bilateral ties, stabilization of Afghanistan, counterterrorism, Indo-Pacific and climate change are expected to be on the agenda when Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes on a three-day visit to the US this week.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden, during their bilateral meeting on September 24 in Washington, are expected to discuss ways to stem radicalization and combat terrorism, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. Modi and Biden are also expected to discuss ways to bolster defence and trade ties between the two countries, he added. “PM Modi and President Biden expected to discuss ways to stem radicalisation and combat terrorism. They are also expected to discuss ways to bolster defence and trade ties. Regional developments are also expected to figure in bilateral meeting,” Shringla said.

Modi_Joe_BidenHe added, “Modi and Biden will review the robust and multifaceted ties between the India and the US. They will also deliberate on ways to further enrich India-US global partnership.” As per a tentative schedule, PM Modi’s visit will take place between September 22-27. During his trip, the Prime Minister is expected to visit both Washington and New York.

PM Modi, Joe Biden to discuss ways to fight ‘common enemy terrorism’, says senior US official here in DC, adding that they would discuss ways to working together to fight a common enemy of terrorism. During a briefing, the official said: “This will be the first face-to-face meeting [of President Biden] with Prime Minister Modi on Friday, and it will be an opportunity to really step up from the perspective of our global partnership with India, working together to defend a free and open Indo-Pacific and our two countries were both essential in the global fight against COVID-19. And by taking conservative action to deal with the climate crisis. “

Biden will host Modi for their first in-person bilateral meeting at the White House on September 24. Later on the same day, Modi is expected to participate in the first in-person Quad — India, US, Australia, and Japan — leaders’ summit in Washington on September 24 being hosted by US President Joe Biden at the White House. Apart from addressing the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan, the two sides will also be working on an ambitious agenda concerning the Indo-Pacific region.

A statement by White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that “President Biden is looking forward to welcoming to the White House Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan.” Modi will later address the General Debate of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on September 25 in New York. This will be Modi’s first visit to the United States since President Joe Biden assumed charge early this year. The two have met virtually on at least three occasions – the Quad summit in March, the climate change summit in April, and the G-7 summit in June this year.

Modi was supposed to travel to the UK for the G-7 summit where he could have met Biden, but had to cancel the trip due to the second Covid-19 wave across India. Centre says it will resume vaccine export, ahead of Modi’s US visit India will resume the export of Covid-19 vaccines in October to fulfil the country’s commitment to the WHO-supported COVAX programme, union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya announced on Monday. “The surplus supply of vaccines will be used to fulfil our commitment towards the world for the collective fight against Covid-19,” he said.

Meanwhile, India expects a supply of 300 million doses of the Covid vaccines in October from different makers, the minister added. Separately, news agency Reuters report that India could receive 43.5 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine next month. India had stopped vaccine exports in April amidst the devastating second wave, allowing it to accelerate the vaccination of its population but derailing the COVAX program that supplies vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. COVAX depends on the Serum Institute of India-made AstraZeneca doses to meet its goals.

The decision to resume exports comes ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US, where he will address the UN General Assembly as well as sit with fellow leaders of the Quad group. Vaccine distribution is to be on the agenda at both the UN meet and Quad summit. PM is to address the UN on September 25. At the Quad summit, the leaders will review the “vaccine initiative” announced in March, the ministry of external affairs had said. Reports say, a plan to distribute vaccine doses to Indo-Pacific nations, largely by leveraging India’s production capabilities, is on the agenda.

Following the Quad virtual summit, the US said it will provide financial support to help Hyderabad-based Biological E to produce a billion doses of the Covid vaccine by the end of 2022. Modi’s visit to the US is his first visit abroad in six months—the prime minister had visited Bangladesh in March for the 50th anniversary celebrations of Bangladesh’s emergence as a separate country. Modi was supposed to visit Europe in May but the trip was called off after India was hit by a particularly brutal second wave of covid-19 infections.

The US statement said that the “Biden-Harris Administration has made elevating the Quad a priority, as seen through the first-ever Quad Leaders-level engagement in March, which was virtual, and now this Summit, which will be in-person. Hosting the leaders of the Quad demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration’s priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

India Critical Of New York Times Article on India’s Covid Response

Addressing a media briefing on the prevailing Covid situation in the country, the director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, Balram Bhargava, Sept. 16 termed a recent New York Times article on India’s Covid response as “provocative” and “attention-seeking.”

The article published in New York Times had claimed that the “ICMR tailored its findings to fit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s optimistic narrative despite a looming crisis.” Responding to a question, Bhargava said, “This is a provocative and attention-seeking article published at a time when India is doing good and our vaccination drive is also excellent. It is aimed at diverting attention. All the issues raised are dead ones and probably do not merit any attention.”

“We greatly value journalistic and editorial freedom. But at the same time we must also realize that all of us, including the Union government and the state governments, are fully engaged in fighting the pandemic and all our energy and time is devoted to that,” said Union Health Secretary, Rajesh Bhushan.”We cannot afford to get diverted by things that can be addressed at a later date, or which are not a priority from the public health point of view,” Bhushan added. Condemning the article, NITI Aayog member (Health) V.K. Paul said, “We condemn such distorted and out of context reporting. This is not desirable.”

Modi To Visit US Next Week- Quad Summit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit the United States from September 23 to 25 to participate in the Quad Summit and to address the United Nations General Assembly, reports here suggested. Modi, who will be making only his second visit abroad since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, is also expected to hold a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington.

Modi will join Biden and his Australian and Japanese counterparts, Scott Morrison and Yoshihide Suga at the White House on September 24 – six months after their first virtual Quad Summit on March 12, when the four leaders of the Quad hold their first in-person summit, signaling Washington’s focus on the Indo-Pacific region in the face of China’s growing economic and military clout, PTI reported. Known as the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the representatives for the four-member nations — US, India, Australia and Japan — have met periodically since its establishment in 2007.

Quad-Summit-PM-ModiModi will then travel to New York, where he will address the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Saturday morning. On September 25, Mr. Modi is scheduled to be the first speaker at the U.N. The theme for the general debate is: “Building resilience through hope to recover from COVID-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people and revitalize the United Nations.”

The general debate is being held partly virtually this year owing to the COVID-19 situation. Modi is one of about 109 leaders to address the General Assembly in person, while 60 will deliver virtual addresses, PTI reported. The situation in Afghanistan and ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific in the face of continuing concerns about China’s aggression across the region are expected to be in focus during the first-ever in-person Quad Summit. Among other issues expected to figure prominently in the Quad Summit are ways to given fresh impetus to the ambitious Quad vaccine partnership, which was announced in March and envisages the distribution of one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines across the Indo-Pacific, and the situation in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover on August 15.

“The Biden-Harris administration has made elevating the Quad a priority, as seen through the first-ever Quad leaders-level engagement in March, which was virtual, and now this summit, which will be in-person,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said. Hosting the Quad leaders demonstrates the US administration’s “priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” she added. They will also discuss partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, she said. “President Joseph R Biden, Jr will host the first-ever Quad Leaders Summit at the White House on September 24. President Biden is looking forward to welcoming to the White House Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan,” Psaki said.

The deliberations at the Quad Summit are expected to shape the approach of the four countries on the crucial issue of any recognition of the Taliban set up in Kabul. The four leaders will also exchange views on global issues such as critical and emerging technologies, connectivity and infrastructure, cyber security, maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief, climate change, and education. In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs said the four leaders will review progress made since their first virtual Summit on March 12 and discuss regional issues of shared interest. The Summit would provide a valuable opportunity for dialogue and interactions among the leaders, anchored in their shared vision of ensuring a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, the MEA said in a press release on Tuesday.

Australian Prime Minister Morrison said, “The Quad represents four great democracies working in partnership for an Indo-Pacific region that is open, inclusive, resilient, and anchored by shared principles.” Biden’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell, said in July the long-planned in-person meeting should bring “decisive” commitments on vaccine diplomacy and infrastructure. Psaki said the Quad Leaders would “be focused on deepening our ties and advancing practical cooperation on areas such as combating COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Quad meeting comes after Biden’s image has taken a battering over the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan. US officials have said ending America’s longest war will allow the administration to divert resources and attention to tackling China-related issues. India has insisted the world community’s approach to Afghanistan should be in line with UN Security Council resolution 2593 which demands Afghan soil must not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist acts, and specifically raises the activities of proscribed groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Former ambassador Arun Singh, who served as India’s envoy to the US during 2015-16 and is a member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), said: “The scheduling of the in-person Quad Summit is a deliberate signal that the US attaches importance to this structure for building relationships with India, Australia and Japan.” Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican, and former U.S. ambassador to Japan welcomed the plan to host the Quad leaders. “Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal debacle made India’s neighborhood more dangerous & raises legitimate questions for Japan and Australia as well, so it’s good we will be hosting Quad partners soon,” he said on Twitter. “We must repair & renew our alliances, and this one is key.”

Modi last visited the United States two years ago, in September 2019, when Donald Trump was the President to address the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston, Texas. PM Modi’s “Abki Baar, Trump Sarkar” call at the event didn’t go down well the Democratic Party at the time. And now, reaching out to Biden-led Democratic administration could be quite “an effort.”

India Is Largest Troop Contributor To UN Peacekeeping

Highlighting the importance of the UN peacekeeping missions, Union Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi Sept. 8th informed the member states that India is the largest troop contributor to the peacekeeping operations since their inception. Addressing the UNSC Open Debate on “UN Peacekeeping Operations: Transitions,” Lekhi said, “India is the largest troop contributor to the UN peacekeeping operations in cumulative terms since their inception, having deployed more than 250,000 peacekeepers across 49 UN missions. This bears testimony to India’s commitment towards contributing a reliable, well-trained and highly professional peacekeeping force.”

“As of today, nearly 5,500 Indian peacekeepers are deployed across nine UN missions,” she said. India takes pride in the fact that the first-ever all-women peacekeeping contingent was from India and stationed in Liberia, Lekhi added. “Due to their dedication, professionalism and motivation, the all-female FPU proved to be strong, visible role models, gaining world-wide attention and illustrating the significant contribution that women can make towards global peace and security.” She said that UN Peacekeeping Missions have been playing an important role in bringing about peace and stability in countries of deployment, despite numerous operational challenges. “One of the major operational challenges that continue to hamper peacekeeping operations has been the transition phase from peacekeeping to peacebuilding,” Lekhi noted.

“The drawdown of a UN Peacekeeping Operation and its reconfiguration into a minimal modified UN presence represents a critical phase for the success of a UN Peacekeeping Mission. For the host country, on one hand this signals progress towards political stability and new development opportunities, but on the other hand, it also presents a real risk of the country relapsing into conflict.” Lekhi stated that the transition of peacekeeping operations and peacebuilding depend on several factors, including the way such transitions are envisaged, planned and executed by the UN. “To be successful, this critical phase needs the active collaboration of all stakeholders.”

The minister offered several observations for better transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding. “First, effective mandate delivery of the UN peacekeeping missions is critical to achieve the benchmarks for transition. The peacekeeping missions should be given clear, focused, sequenced, prioritized and practically achievable mandates, and most importantly, these should be matched by adequate resources.”  Secondly, she said it is important that mission transitions are well planned, taking into account the objective assessment of various factors in the host country. “The drawdown of a peacekeeping mission should not be driven by the temptation for austerity. The cost of relapsing is always much higher than the short-term savings.”

“Third, the primary responsibility to protect civilians across its territory lies with the host state. The Council should encourage and support the efforts of the host state towards the effective implementation of a national plan for civilian protection.” Lekhi stated that political stakeholders should strive for the creation of political and administrative institutions that improve governance, inclusiveness, and provide equal political opportunities for women, youth as well as the marginalized and the underprivileged. “Peacekeeping and peacebuilding are not mutually exclusive. It is important to actively support the post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery initiatives of the host states,” she added.

PM Modi Likely To Visit US In September

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to travel to Washington DC and New York in the United States around September end, reports said on Saturday. If the plan materialises, this will mark Modi’s first official visit to the US ever since Biden took the charge of the country. Even as preparations are underway for PM Modi’s visit to the US, no official confirmation has been issued so far. If the schedule works out as per ongoing discussions, the window of opportunity that is being explored is September 22-27, said sources. The last time PM Modi came to the US saw a great fanfare amidst the growing public friendship display of former President Trump and Modi. This time, however, with President Joe Biden at the helm there may not be such an outward display of star-studded show, but many experts expect to have some significant steps taken towards strengthening the relationships between the two countries.

This will be Modi’s first in-person meeting with Biden. The two have met virtually on at least three occasions — the Quad summit in March, the climate change summit in April, and the G-7 summit in June this year. Modi was supposed to travel to the UK for the G-7 summit where he could have met Biden, but had to cancel the trip due to the second Covid-19 wave across India. With the situation in Afghanistan unfolding rapidly, Modi’s visit is significant. Besides meeting Biden, he is expected to have important meetings with the top echelons of the US administration.

Modi last visited the US in September 2019, when then US President Donald Trump had addressed the Howdy Modi event — the Prime Minister’s “abki baar Trump sarkar” line had not gone down well with the Democratic party’s establishment. Two years since, it will be an effort to reach out to the Democratic establishment, which has been quite vocal about the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir. On the strategic side, the two sides will work on an ambitious agenda on the Indo-Pacific – with the Chinese challenge being one of the shared concerns. In this context, an in-person Quad leaders’ summit is being planned in Washington DC, around the same time as Modi’s visit. But Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga’s decision on Friday to step down after a one-year tenure has put a spanner in the works. Sources said that while an in-person summit for all the Quad leaders looks like a remote possibility, a “hybrid format” could be an option, where at least two leaders – Modi and Biden – join in person, while Australia’s Scott Morrison and Japan’s Suga join virtually.

According to reports, after Washington, PM Modi will visit New York to attend the annual high-level United Nations General Assembly session. India is a non-permanent member of the UN security council and its month-long presidency has just ended. Afghanistan, which has plunged into crisis following the Taliban takeover, will be the key topic at the UNGA this time. In a bid to give shape to the PM’s agenda, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla has met top Biden administration officials in Washington DC, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman, and held substantive discussions with them on the strategic bilateral ties and regional and global issues like the current situation in Afghanistan. The Biden administration has made cooperation with India a key aspect of its overall foreign policy priorities in the Indo-Pacific, a region that has witnessed growing Chinese military assertiveness.

The United States has been seeking to convene the in-person summit of Quad leaders to advance practical cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as to send a strong signal about Washington’s commitment to the group. In March, President Biden organized the first summit of Quad leaders in the virtual format that promised to fight for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, inclusive, anchored in democratic values ​​and not constrained by coercion, sending an apparent message to China. In Washington, while talking to reporters, foreign secretary Shringla indicated that there is a possibility of a Quad meet.

“I mean, look, I can’t comment on that, but the fact of the matter is that if there is a summit, Prime Minister has already said that he would, he would be happy to attend that summit. I think other leaders have also said that they will be ready so it all it’s all a question of, you know, getting the leaders together and going ahead,” he said. “If the leaders come in they would come because of this (Quad) meeting, as you know the UNGA is this time is a truncated version, it’s a hybrid version. Very few heads of state and government will actually attend it. So, attending that meeting in person is not a great priority. But then again, I mean, it’s a fluid situation so let’s see how that goes,” he added.

In India, Hindu Support For Modi’s Party Varies By Region And Is Tied To Beliefs About Diet And Language

India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is sometimes said to prioritize Hindu interests. Hindus were the religious group most likely to say they voted for the BJP in the country’s most recent parliamentary election, but there are vast differences in how Hindus from different regions voted, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of nearly 30,000 Indian adults. These regional political differences are connected to Hindu attitudes on a range of issues including language, diet and religious observance.

How we did this In 2019, roughly half of Hindu voters (49%) supported the BJP, giving the party a majority in the Lok Sabha – India’s lower house of parliament – and allowing Prime Minister Narendra Modi a second term to lead the country. Among Hindus, the BJP received some of its highest vote shares in the Northern (68%) and Central (65%) regions of the country, which include India’s capital, Delhi, and its most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. By comparison, 46% of Hindu voters in the East and just 19% in the South say they voted for the BJP, according to the Center’s survey.

In the South, significant shares of Hindu voters (20%) say they instead supported the Indian National Congress (INC), which has led the country for most of the years since its independence. Regional parties, including the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party, also received significant vote shares among Southern Hindus (both 11%). Southern states tend to have higher per capita income and have experienced faster economic growth than most Northern and Central states. Differences in voting patterns between Southern Hindus and those who live in the Northern and Central regions are part of broader regional differences among Hindus in India. For example, Hindu nationalist sentiments appear to have a smaller foothold in the South. Nationally, 64% of Hindus in India say being a Hindu is very important to being truly Indian. But while this share is as high as 83% in the Central region, it falls to 42% in the South.

A closely related sentiment is the importance of the Hindi language to national identity: The majority of Hindus in the Central (87%) and Northern (71%) regions say that speaking Hindi is very important to being truly Indian, while just 27% of Southern Hindus say this. Among the dozens of commonly spoken Indian languages, Hindi is the most widespread. However, while it is often spoken in the Northern and Central parts of the country, it is far less common in the South. Views on the connection between the Hindu religion, Hindi language and Indian identity are highly correlated with support for the BJP – a party that has supported making Hindi the national language and has enacted laws (such as restricting cow slaughter) that are seen as favorable to Hindus.

Indeed, attitudes about cow slaughter and beef consumption mark another division between the South and other regions of the country. Many Hindus consider cows sacred animals, but there are mixed views about whether eating beef disqualifies a person from being a Hindu. Most Hindus in the Northern and Central regions (both 83%) say someone who eats beef cannot be Hindu, compared with half of Southern Hindus. And attitudes about beef and Hindu identity are correlated with support for the BJP: Hindus who say they voted for the BJP are more likely than other Hindu voters to say someone who eats beef cannot be Hindu (77% vs. 66%).  Southern Hindus also differ in their religious observance. For instance, while 92% of Hindus in the Central region say religion is very important in their life, the share is substantially lower among Southern Hindus (68%). More religious Hindus tend to support the country’s ruling party: About half of Hindus who say religion is very important in their lives (52%) voted for the BJP in 2019, compared with around a third of Hindus (32%) who say religion is less important in their lives.

Views of the BJP differ along other religious lines in India, too. Among minority religions analyzed in the Center’s report, Jains appear to be the only group who strongly embrace the BJP. While the survey did not include enough Jain voters to report how they voted in the 2019 election, 70% of Jains said in a separate question that they feel closest to the BJP, regardless of whether they voted in the last election. Meanwhile, other religious groups showed less support for the ruling party: Fewer than a third of Buddhists (29%), Muslims (19%), Sikhs (19%) and Christians (10%) say they voted for the BJP in the 2019 parliamentary election.

Many voters from minority religions opted to vote for parties other than the BJP or INC. For example, 14% of Buddhists say they voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), a national party focused primarily on the welfare of lower castes and minority religions; 89% of Buddhists are members of Scheduled Castes. Support for regional parties is also tied to religion. For instance, 16% of Sikhs say they voted for Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in 2019. SAD is a regional party representing Punjabi interests; according to the most recent national census, conducted in 2011, 77% of India’s Sikhs live in Punjab.

Shashi Tharoor Cleared By Delhi Court In Sunanda Pushkar Death Case

In a big relief for Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, a Delhi court Aug. 18 discharged him in the Sunanda Pushkar death case. Special judge Geetanjali Goel said, “The accused is discharged.” The order was pronounced in the presence of Tharoor, senior advocate Vikas Pahwa appearing on behalf of Tharoor, and additional public prosecutor Atul Shrivastava.

Tharoor, who attended the court proceedings virtually, thanked the court for discharging him of all offenses. “It had been seven and half years and it was a torture. I’m so grateful,” he said. Tharoor had been accused of subjecting his late wife to cruelty and abetting her suicide by Delhi Police, which had filed a detailed chargesheet in the matter.  Pushkar’s body was discovered in a room of a five-star hotel in the capital on January 17, 2014. An FIR was registered by police a year later, on January 1, 2015, against unknown persons for murder. Tharoor was later booked under IPC Sections 498-A (subjecting a woman to cruelty) and 306 (abetment to suicide).

After the pronouncement of the judgment, senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, appearing for Tharoor, said that the charges of abetment of suicide and cruelty levelled by police against his client were “absurd and preposterous”. “I am delighted to hear the pronouncement of discharge for Dr Shashi Tharoor. It was a long battle of seven years. Ultimately, justice has prevailed. He had faith in the judicial system right from the beginning. I had always advised Dr Tharoor not to make any public statement as the matter was sub judice… Even the most essential ingredients of the offences were not present in this case,” he said. Earlier on April 29, May 19 and June 16, the order was deferred due to the pandemic impacting the judicial work. The order pronouncement was adjourned again on July 2, after the court received an application from the prosecution seeking one week’s time to file written submissions.

Pushkar was found dead on the evening of Jan. 17, 2014. Initially, Delhi police investigated the same as a murder, with an FIR registered under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), charging Tharoor under Sections 306 (abetment of suicide) and 498A (cruelty by husband). Shrivastava had argued that before her death, Pushkar had sustained injuries on her body, and they were reflected in the post-mortem report. He submitted that 27 tablets of Alprax were found in her room, although it was not clear as to how many pills she had consumed

India Is Critical Of UNSC’s “Selective Approach To Tackle Terrorism”

India has called upon the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) not to “take a selective, tactical or complacent view” of terrorism saying groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Haqqani Network still operate with impunity. It said some countries continue to “undermine or subvert our collective resolve”, and the unfolding events in Afghanistan remain a cause of global concern.

“Let us always remember that what is true of Covid is even more true of terrorism: none of us are safe until all of us are safe,” Indian external affairs minister S Jaishankar said in an impassioned plea comparing the scourge of terrorism to Covid-19, the pandemic that has killed millions around the world. The minister was participating in a UNSC briefing on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, specially the Islamic State.

This was the second UNSC meeting he chaired since Wednesday, when he had presided over an open debate of the council on peacekeeping. “We are happy to note that a very strong substantive, clear press statement has been adopted by the council today that outlines, many of the key concerns, especially the need to ensure a strict check on terror financing and bringing the perpetrators of terror attacks to justice,” the minister said to reporters after the UNSC meeting, adding, “During our deliberations today all Security Council members with one voice, endorsed a zero tolerance approach to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We are clear that there cannot be double standards and distinctions are really made at our collective peril.” On Afghanistan, the minister reiterated what he said on Wednesday that India, like other countries, was focused on getting back its citizens safely and that India’s ties with the future dispensation in Kabul will be guided by its historic ties with the people.

The press statement specifically condemning specific terrorist incidents around the world and the spread of IS. Making a larger point, it also urged member countries “to ensure that all measures undertaken to counter the financing of terrorism comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international refugee law”.

During his remarks at the UNSC briefing, the minister did not name any country, as he went on to reiterate an eight-point plan that he had first laid out for the Security Council in January, that had called for not to justify or glorify terrorism as has been done by Pakistan, not to distinguish between good or bad terrorists, which has also been done by Islamabad, and, in a thinly veiled reference to China, not to block and hold up designation of terrorists and entities without any reason. The minister recalled India’s long involvement in countering terrorism as a country that has suffered more than its fair share of terrorist incidents to express “solidarity with victims and their families all over the world who have suffered, and continue to suffer, from the scourge of terrorism”.He added: “We must never compromise with this evil.”

In spite of the progress made to tighten the legal, security, financing and other frameworks to combat terrorism, terrorists are constantly finding newer ways of motivating, resourcing and executing acts of terror, the minister said, adding, “Unfortunately, there are also some countries who seek to undermine or subvert our collective resolve to fight terrorism. This cannot be allowed to pass.” Jaishankar was pointing to Pakistan’s continued support for terrorism, which came under fresh scrutiny as the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan operating from sanctuaries across the border.

As India Turns 75, Prime Minister Modi Unveils $1.35 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

India will soon launch a $1.35 trillion national infrastructure plan that will boost the country’s economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on August 15 as part of the Independence Day celebrations.

Soon after he unfurled the national flag to mark nation’s 75th Independence Day at the historic Red Fort here, Modi addressed the nation, saying the infrastructure plan will create job opportunities for millions of Indian youth. “It will help local manufacturers turn globally competitive and also develop possibilities of new future economic zones in the country,” he said.

India’s economy, pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic, contracted 7.3% in the fiscal year that ended in March. Economists fear there will be no rebound similar to the ones seen in the U.S. and other major economies.

In his 90-minute speech, Modi also listed his government’s achievements since 2014 and hailed India’s coronavirus vaccination campaign. “We are proud that we didn’t have to depend on any other country for COVID-19 vaccines. Imagine what would have happened if India didn’t have its own vaccine,” he said.

India has given more than 500 million doses of vaccines but its vaccination drive has been marred by its slow pace. About 11% of eligible adult Indians have been fully vaccinated so far.

Modi also said India was committed to meeting targets for the reduction of its carbon footprint. He said his government would invest more in electric mobility, solar energy and “green hydrogen” — which does not emit carbon dioxide — as part of its goal to make India energy independent by 2047.

Modi began his speech by praising India’s athletes who took part in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics. India won one gold, two silver and four bronze medals at the games.

On Saturday, Modi announced that Aug. 14 will be observed as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day.

In his eighth address to the nation on Independence Day since 2014, Modi said, “There is no dearth of political will in taking up reforms. Today, the world can see that there is no dearth of political will in India. The world is a witness to how India is writing a new chapter of governance,” the prime minister said.

During his nearly one and half hours speech, Modi made several important announcements like the National Hydrogen Mission, Rs 100 lakh crore PM Gati Shakti Infrastructure to make a foundation for holistic infrastructure and admission for girls in ‘Sainik Schools’.

“We are set to present the PM Gati Shakti’s National Master Plan in the near future which will make a foundation for holistic approach in infrastructure construction. During the 75 weeks of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, new 75 Vande Bharat Express trains will be launched and will connect every corner of the country,” he said.

Talking about Jammu and Kashmir, Modi said that the Delimitation Commission has been formed in J&K and the government is making preparations for Vidhan Sabha elections. “Ladakh, too, is walking its road towards development. On one hand, Ladakh is witnessing the creation of modern infrastructure, while on the other, ‘Sindhu Central University’ is going to make Ladakh a center of higher education,” he said.

In a veiled attack on Pakistan and China, Modi said, “In the post-pandemic time, world will see a new world order with two major challenges – terrorism and expansionism – and India is fighting and effectively responding to both.

“Talking about infrastructure, Modi said, “From new waterways to connecting new places through sea-planes, work is undergoing at rapid speed. Indian Railways, too, is undergoing a change to modernize itself. It is our collective responsibility that we walk ahead in the 75th year of India’s Independence believing in India’s abilities. We have to work together on next-gen infrastructure, world class manufacturing, connecting-edge innovations and new age technology.”

Talking about the agriculture sector, the prime mnister said, “In the next few years, we will have to increase the collective power of India’s small farmers. We have to provide them with new facilities. They must become the nation’s pride.

“It is time we apply scientific research and suggestions in our agriculture sector. We need to reap all its benefits. It will not just provide food security to the nation, but will also increase food production. In this decade, we will have to work dedicatedly to provide a new economy in rural India. Today, we are witnessing our villages getting transformed,” he said.

Modi also listed several key initiatives of his government like the ‘Har Ghar Jal’ Mission in which over 4.5 crore families started receiving piped water within two years of launch of programs.

“In the last seven years, crores of poor have received benefits of several initiatives. The needy have benefited from Ujjwala to Ayushman Bharat and others…Today we see our villages changing rapidly. In the past few years, facilities like road, electricity have reached villages. Today the optical fiber network is providing the power of data to villages,” he said.

In his speech, Modi mentioned that malnutrition has been a barrier in the development of poor women and poor children. “We have, thus, decided to give nutrient-added rice to the poor. By 2024, from ration shops to mid-day meals, all rice being provided to the poor will be fortified,” he said.

The prime minister also lauded the efforts of doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, cleaning workers, and vaccine makers for diligently serving people during the Covid pandemic.

India needs to “hand hold” the disadvantaged sections of society, PM Narendra Modi said during his Independence Day address delivered from the Red Fort on Sunday, highlighting the government’s decision to extend OBC reservations in medical colleges through the all-India quota system and the new constitutional amendment that empowers states to identify OBC beneficiaries.

“We need to provide hand holding to the backward categories… Along with the concern of fulfilling basic needs, reservation is being ensured for Dalits, backward classes, Adivasis and the poor from general category,” he said. “By formulating a law in Parliament, the right to make their own list of OBCs has been given to the states,” he said.

India needs to achieve “saturation”, or 100% coverage, on welfare programs such as bank accounts for the poor, health cover under Ayushman Bharat and Ujjwala scheme.

Modi Is The First Indian PM To Chair A UNSC Debate

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become the first Indian PM to chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on maritime security, which saw unprecedented high-level participation from other countries On August 9th.

India decided to focus on all aspects of maritime security in a holistic manner as one of its signature events during its current presidency of the UNSC during August. India took a responsible yet consensus-building approach by initiating consultations amongst all UNSC members from several months in advance. A concept note was prepared that incorporated ideas of all.

Prime Minister Modi’s five-point principles, which called on the UNSC to develop a roadmap for international maritime security, were welcomed by all participants.

India’s role as a “net security provider” in the Indian Ocean was reiterated. PM’s vision on SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and IPOI (Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative) was discussed in the UNSC.

Russian President Vladimir Putin were among several world leaders who are reported to have participated in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on maritime security conducted at the initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, August 9, 2021.

Prime Minister Modi presided over the meeting being convened under India’s presidency. Last year, the Russian president had for the first time participated in a UN event in a video format – on September 22, the recording of his speech was aired during the UN General Assembly along with speeches of other leaders, TASS reported.

Other dignitaries who had participated in the event held via video conferencing are the President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum, the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, Prime Minister of Vietnam Pham Minh Chinh, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Felix Tshisekedi and the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The MEA statement said that the meeting, through video conferencing slated for 5.30 pm IST, will focus on ways to effectively counter maritime crime and insecurity and strengthening coordination in the maritime domain.

The UN Security Council has discussed and passed resolutions on different aspects of maritime security and maritime crime. However, this will be the first time that maritime security will be discussed in a holistic manner as an exclusive agenda item in such a high-level open debate.

“Given that no country alone can address the diverse aspects of maritime security, it is important to consider this subject in a holistic manner in the United Nations Security Council. A comprehensive approach to Maritime Security should protect and support legitimate maritime activities while countering traditional and non-traditional threats in the maritime domain,” the MEA said.

Earlier, PV Narasimha Rao as PM attended an UNSC meeting on January 31, 1992. Atal Bihari Vajpayee as EAM had attended the UNSC meeting on September 29, 1978, when he had advocated for Namibian independence in the UNSC.

In Efforts To Control Media, India Considers Single Law To Supervise All Media

The Union government is considering a super legislation for all traditional and digital media companies so as to ensure a level playing field and to give it an upper hand in controlling and supervising the media on all platforms.  The idea is to have an umbrella law that will cover print and electronic media, digital media, cinema, even so-called over-the-top or OTT platforms such as Netflix and Hotstar, government officials familiar with the matter said.

According to one of the officials, the new law will draw elements from the Cable Television Network Act, Cinematograph Act, Press Council Act, and the new digital media guidelines. “The space is evolving,” added this person. “There is a need for platform-wise self-regulation. But at the same time, the technology is converging, the viewers and readers are converging. Earlier, different platforms were using different technologies, but now increasingly we are seeing them move towards a similar approach.”

The process, however, is still at a discussion stage. Amit Khare, secretary, information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, did not respond to HT’s request for comments. The new law may have been borne from the realisation that while print media has the Press Council, digital news media does not have a corresponding body.

The I&B ministry has already amended the Cable Television Network Act and proposed draft amendments to the Cinematograph Act to ensure they are not at odds with the new social media and intermediary guidelines and digital media code of ethics, which were notified by the government under the Information Technology Act in February to bring hitherto unregulated digital platforms under a three-tier grievance redressal system.

The new IT guidelines require platforms to appoint grievance redressal officers in case of OTT and digital news media platforms, institute a three-tier mechanism for grievance redressal with an inter-ministerial committee at its apex and give the I&B ministry takedown powers over the content circulated online. The government’s oversight mechanism, however, will also including members from industry bodies such as Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Confederation of Indian Industry and the Press Council. The rules have been challenged in court by several media companies.

To create a balance between the regulation of online and offline platforms, the government on June 17 amended the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, to mandate that the earlier ad-hoc structure of self-regulation now be mandated under law, with a similar three-tier structure .

According to an official at the I&B ministry, there are around 900 channels which are already part of a system of self-regulation and the amendment just added builds on that. The amendment, notified in a gazette notification issued on June 17, states that cable TV channels under the programme rules must have self-regulation by broadcasters themselves, regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the broadcasters, and an oversight mechanism by the central government. Broadcasters also have to acknowledge complaints within 24 hours of being filed.

Similarly, amendments have been proposed to the Cinematograph Act, 1952, that will enable the introduction of a broader age-related classification, grant the central government the ability to ask the central board of film certification (CBFC) to re-examine a film, and curb piracy in the industry. The proposed amendments to the Act will introduce an age classification system akin to the one specified under the new intermediary and digital media guidelines. They also grant the government powers to ask the CBFC to re-examine a film on the grounds of national security and threat to public order.

Supreme Court lawyer and co-founder of Cybersaathi, NS Nappinai, said a common legal framework would be a good move “but the government should also be cognisant of existing frameworks and see if a complete overhaul is needed”.

Eric Garcetti Nominated As US Envoy To India

President Joe Biden has nominated Eric Garcetti, the current Los Angeles Mayor, to be the succeeding ambassador for India. The excitement in the Indian American community was undeniable, with news and celebrations circulating around Southern California and reaching social media platforms.

Prior to his nomination’s announcement, Garcetti assured the reporters at a Los Angeles Media Roundtable that he has deep-rooted connections to India and claimed that his experience visiting India as a teenager had influenced his life. As a U.S. college student at Columbia University, Garcetti managed to continuously keep in touch with his culture and traditions by studying Hindi and Urdu. He even expressed his regrets for not being able to study Buddhist studies abroad in Bodhgaya due to his school council responsibilities.

 

The student council member at Columbia University, later on, became mayor in 2013, becoming Los Angeles’ first Jewish and its second elected Mexican American mayor. Not only is his ethnic background unique when compared to previous mayors, but his youthful 42 years of age is also a characteristic that distinguishes him from the rest. In 2017, he easily won his re-election as well as voter approval for the extension of his term to 2022. Although he received voter approval, enabling him to carry out his mayor duties for another extra year, he has decided to respond to the task of assisting India as the next ambassador instead.

A commonality Garcetti has pointed out between the governments of the U.S. and India is the urgent response to climate change. Beginning from 2019, the nominee leads the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group as the chairperson, along with the former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg as president of the board. The organization consists of 98 cities, with at least six being Indian cities, around the world, incorporating one-twelfth of the world’s population and one-quarter of the global economy. Garcetti promises that he has “engaged very extensively with Indian leaders, chief ministers, and urban leaders around climate change and as much as I can around Covid now.”

When asked about what he will take from Los Angeles to his new job, Eric Garcetti responded by expressing his hopes of prioritizing what he can bring from India to the United States. He states that there are lots of similarities between our challenges and opportunities that take place in various areas such as Hollywood and Bollywood, or the digital economy where both California and India are big leaders. He goes on to say that he “would hope to bring the culture of Los Angeles to potential service abroad.” With California producing 85% of the produce for America, there is a large potential for building agricultural connections, which is principal in the Indian tradition.

Many are looking forward to the nomination in hopes of improving U.S.-India relations and are reassured given Garcetti’s previous responsibilities with the nation’s second-largest city and his numerous political connections.

India Day Parade in New York Throws Light On Sympathizers of Farmer’s Issue in India

The India Day Parade held on August 8, 2021 by a local group in Hicksville in Long Island, New York, brought to the fore the issue of the Indian Farmers and their ongoing struggle.  Hundreds of Indian Overseas Congress USA members joined by others raised the issue of the Farmer’s agitation in Delhi in the parade. It should be recalled that the Indian government had, essentially in 2020, hastily passed unfair legislation on the marketing of crops that the farmers did not ask for and which would deter them from making a livelihood in marketing their products under the newly legislated conditions.

 Since the issue relating to the Farmer’s plight was central to the concerns of the Indian diaspora which had gathered, this prohibition would prevent them from venting their sentiments and showing support to the cause of the farmers, as a result of which it left them no choice but to stay put at the location and voice their bitter disappointment over the unfair and undemocratic imposition of conditions which prevented them from participating in celebrating the joyous occasion of the Independence Day of India while at the same time expressing serious concern on the inaction of the sitting government to resolve the issue.

“Indian Overseas Congress, USA threw its support behind the cause of the protesting farmers in India and objected to the heavy-handed approach of the India Day Parade organizers in Long Island to stifle dissent,” said President Mohinder Singh Gilzian. “This celebration is about freedom, and it is a fundamental right of people to express one’s opinion without fear of repercussions.”

“The Government of India’s stonewalling to the concerns of the farmers is not what one expects from a true democracy,” said George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the IOCUSA. ” the current government is only interested in protecting the interests of the crony capitalists” Mr. Abraham added.

Secretary-General Harbachan Singh pointed out that after almost ten months of a peaceful demonstration by the farmers in a gathering which is said to be so large and prolonged that it broke not only records in India’s recent history but perhaps the world – way more than 600 people had also lost their lives.  Both the demonstrators and their families back home are not only suffering both physically and economically under the Covid-19 pandemic but also acutely enduring the record-breaking severe cold, floods and burning hot weather conditions.”

Chants to the Prime Minister to settle the issues of the farmers were loud and incessant.  Even the heavy downpour of rain could not drown out their thunderous voices and their strong punches into the air.  At the same time, solemn allegiance to Mother India was repeatedly orchestrated by all with fervent respect and love.  Chairman of Punjab Chapter Satish Sharma, President of Punjab Chapter, Gurmit S. Gill, President of Haryana Chapter Amar Singh Gulshan, President of Kerala Chapter Ms. Leela Merat, and other IOCUSA leaders also addressed the gathering.

India’s Supreme Court Is “Bothered” By Pegasus Scandal, Says It Is “Serious”

Describing the allegations of surveillance through the use of the Pegasus spyware as “serious”, the Supreme Court on August 5th wondered why no one had filed an FIR if there was reason to believe that phones had been hacked. It also pointed out that the allegations first surfaced in 2019.

Chief Justice of India N V Ramana who, along with Justice Surya Kant, was hearing eight petitions seeking an independent probe into the matter, said: “No doubt, the allegations are serious, if the reports are true.” The Chief Justice of India’s Supreme Court, while stating that he was not getting into facts of each and every case, said: “You know there are provisions under the Telegraph Act, IT Act etc to file complaints. These are the things which bother us.”

Replying to the query on why no one had filed an FIR, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for senior journalists N Ram and Shashi Kumar as well as the Editors Guild of India, said: “We did not have access to materials.” The petitions, he said, had information about multiple cases of spyware infiltration.

Sibal drew the court’s attention to proceedings initiated by WhatsApp against NSO in a California court. He said according to the court order, Pegasus once activated causes the target device to connect with the malware. The malware, he said, is then enabled and data is transferred.

“Pegasus is a rogue technology and infiltrates lives without our knowledge. All that it requires is a phone and it enters into our lives and then hears and surveys every movement. It’s an assault on privacy, human dignity and the value of our republic,” Sibal said, adding that “it penetrates into our national Internet backbone”.

He said the government, in its statement in the Parliament, had not disputed that Indians were among those targeted, “If the Government of India knew this was happening, why did it not take action against NSO Technologies? Why did they not lodge an FIR? This is about the privacy and safety of Indians,” he said.

The bench did not issue notice to the Centre and instead asked the parties to first supply copies of their petitions to the government counsel after which it would hear the matter again on August 10. “Somebody should appear for the government to take notice,” it said, making clear that the question of issuing notice will be considered after hearing from the government as well.

The bench indicated that most of the petitions were based on news reports and should have had something more for the court to set the legal process in motion. “You all know that there is a prima facie material, as well as credibility of reports, on the basis of which we can order an inquiry etc. Unfortunately, from what I read from the writs, this matter came to light in May 2019. I don’t know if any effort was made. Persons who have filed the writ petitions are knowledgeable persons having resources. They should have made more effort to bring forth more material… Some of the petitioners who have filed the pleas are not affected and some claim their phones are hacked. But they have not made efforts to file a criminal complaint,” the CJI said.

This led to exchanges in the courtroom with senior advocates representing the petitioners making their submissions on the pleas. Appearing for two journalists whose names figured in the alleged Pegasus target list, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar said there is no provision in the IT Act, 2000 for filing an FIR.

The criminal remedy in the Act, Datar said, relates to infringement of privacy in relation to bodily parts while the identity of the hacker needs to be known in civil remedy for damages. “Privacy is about the privacy of one’s bodily area. So there are no provisions for me to file an FIR… Someone has definitely accessed my computer and remedy is damages, and for this we should know who did (it). We need to know if the allegations are true,” he said.

Referring to the Aadhaar judgment, Datar said the Supreme Court had stated that privacy permeates all through Part 3 of the Constitution. Urging the bench to take cognizance, he said: “Today 300 people have come to light. Who else will take cognizance of this apart from the judiciary? We don’t know if it is 300 or 3000 individuals.” He said this can be taken up as a class-action case.

Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for academician Jagdeep Chhokar, said: “These media organizations enjoy a very high degree of credibility. A whistle-blower released the numbers… These numbers are of judicial and Constitutional authorities. Mr Chhokar is an academician, and for a private citizen to find a spyware installed on his phone is equal to war against a citizen by the government,” he said.

Asked if he had filed any FIR, Divan said “no” and “this case requires an independent probe by a fact-finding committee” under a bureaucrat of the highest level, preferably the Cabinet Secretary.

“My question is if you know the phone is hacked, then why wasn’t an FIR lodged. That is the only question,” The CJI  told Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora who appeared for Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas. Arora said that former IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said in Parliament that no unauthorized interception was done. “If you have said in 2019 that you have not done, and now it is known that it has been done, there is a need to investigate”, she said.

“You all know that there is a prima facie material, as well as credibility of reports, on the basis of which we can order an inquiry etc. Unfortunately, from what I read from the writs, this matter came to light in May 2019. I don’t know if any effort was made. Persons who have filed the writ petitions are knowledgeable persons having resources. They should have made more effort to bring forth more material… Some of the petitioners who have filed the pleas are not affected and some claim their phones are hacked. But they have not made efforts to file a criminal complaint,” the CJI said.

Ebrahim Raisi And India’s Bet On Iran The U.S. Afghanistan pullout and other geopolitical shifts are aligning New Delhi with Tehran.

The presence of Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the inauguration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran this week might simply be a matter of protocol and an unremarkable expression of mutual goodwill. But as Afghanistan descends into crisis following the withdrawal of U.S. forces, New Delhi’s long-term calculus on the regional balance of power is nudging it toward stronger strategic cooperation with Tehran.

Iran appears eager to reciprocate. When Jaishankar was in Tehran last month on his way to Moscow, Raisi received him—making him the first foreign minister of any country to get that opportunity—and signaled Iran’s interest in stepping up cooperation with India. And in recent weeks, New Delhi and Tehran have intensified consultations on the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan.

Drawing India and Iran closer are common concerns about the Taliban’s Sunni extremism and their possible return to power in Kabul now that the United States is ending its military presence. So is the shared determination to prevent Pakistan’s hegemony over Afghanistan, which would not only profoundly alter the geopolitics of South and Central Asia, but have repercussions in West Asia as well.

On the flip side, New Delhi and Tehran have divergent perceptions on the U.S. role in the region. India’s strategic partnership with the United States has deepened in recent decades—at the same time as the confrontation between Washington and Tehran has escalated. Similarly, India’s relations with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have intensified in recent years, while Iran and its Gulf Arab neighbors have increasingly been in conflict. India has also gotten closer than ever before to Israel, even as the hostility between Jerusalem and Tehran has intensified.

For New Delhi, managing the many contradictions in the Middle East is part of growing up as a geopolitical actor. India has begun to transcend the easy certainties of the post-independence decades, when its foreign policy framed the Middle East in simple binaries between Western imperialism versus the developing world, Israeli Zionism versus pan-Arabism, Islamism versus secular rule.

India needs a strong regional partner—and in New Delhi’s calculus, Tehran is that partner.

India’s Middle East policy was also shaped by the need to prevent Pakistan from mobilizing the region in the name of Islam in its disputes with India. Supporting Arab nationalism and promoting developing-world solidarity across political and religious lines, New Delhi hoped, would help counter Pakistan’s efforts to leverage pan-Islamism.

Since the end of the Cold War, India has worked to develop reasonable relations with most countries in the Middle East. The sole exception today is Turkey. India is deeply disturbed by the new alignment among Turkey, Pakistan, and Qatar to support the Taliban. New Delhi is also acutely conscious of the larger support for political Islam by these three countries and its implications for India’s own stability and security. If Afghanistan comes under the Taliban’s sway, the experience of the last episode of Taliban rule suggests there will very likely be an intensification of Islamist militancy in India’s Kashmir region and the rest of the country.

Unsurprisingly, then, New Delhi has taken a strong diplomatic stance against the violent overthrow of the current political order in Kabul, even as it has opened contact with the Taliban. To reinforce its political position on the ground—and to be of any consequence in Afghanistan—India needs a strong regional partner. In New Delhi’s calculus, Tehran is that partner.

But New Delhi and Tehran have not always been on the same page about Afghanistan. In the 1970s, India watched warily as Iran and Pakistan both sought to destabilize Afghanistan and draw it away from Soviet influence, ultimately triggering the Soviet invasion and occupation. After the Iranian revolution, the new regime in Tehran was preoccupied with the Iran-Iraq War and its growing conflict with the Gulf Arab states, which left it with little time and resources for Afghanistan.

But once the war with Iraq ended, Iran began to pay closer attention to Afghanistan again, which at the time was embroiled in a civil war that followed the Soviet occupation. After the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan in 1996 and began to target Shiite and Persian-speaking minorities as part of their harsh Sunni ideology, Iran joined hands with Russia and India to support the so-called Northern Alliance fighting Taliban rule.

It does not seem likely that a return of the Taliban to power would reinstate the old Indian-Iranian-Russian coalition. Moscow, this time around, is giving the Taliban the benefit of a doubt and otherwise focused on working closely with Islamabad. China, which has good relationships with Pakistan and Russia and a deteriorating one with India, also seems open to an early normalization of the Taliban.

All these realignments leave Iran as the most important potential partner for India in Afghanistan, not least to help with geographic access for the delivery of civilian and military assistance to the Afghan government. While the shortest route from India to landlocked Afghanistan is through Pakistan, Islamabad has been unwilling to facilitate New Delhi’s overland access. Instead, India has long looked to Iran as the gateway to Afghanistan and from there to Central Asia. These efforts aren’t new: Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, successive Indian governments have invested in alternative access to Afghanistan through Iran.

The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has therefore devoted special attention to transportation infrastructure linking Iran with Afghanistan. India is helping build out Chabahar port on Iran’s southeastern coast and is now promoting Chabahar as a viable option for connecting Central Asia and Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea via Iran—as an alternative to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. New Delhi and Tehran are also interested in exchanging notes on the turbulent Baluchistan region that straddles Iran and Pakistan along the Arabian Sea and reaches into Afghanistan.

But any cooperation between India and Iran will be constrained by multiple factors. Although both countries share apprehensions about the Taliban’s ideological orientation, Iran of course shares their intense anti-Americanism. Tehran has maintained close contacts with the Taliban not only as a hedge against the group’s return to power but also as a useful instrument to push U.S. forces out of its neighborhood. At the same time, Iran is preparing to counter the Taliban if they begin to express their Sunni extremism. India has a lot less flexibility than Iran on the Taliban, given the group’s alignment with a hostile Pakistan.

India hopes that a Raisi-led Iran will be able to de-escalate tensions with the United States and de-conflict ties with its Gulf Arab neighbors.

India has struggled to shield its evolving Iran relationship from Washington’s maximum pressure campaign against Tehran. New Delhi has been less willing than Beijing and Moscow to skirt U.S. sanctions—for example, by taking Iranian oil shipments. Meanwhile, Tehran has kept up continuous pressure on New Delhi to increase its distance from Washington on Iran-related issues.

Iran’s potential support for the Kabul government against the Taliban could also be a mixed blessing for Kabul. Over the last few years, Iran has developed the Fatemiyoun Brigade, which is composed of Afghan Shiite fighters and has been deployed in Syria. Earlier this year, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered the services of the brigade to the Afghan government, but Kabul worries about inflaming the sectarian passions in the country. New Delhi is conservative by instinct in these matters and would prefer traditional forms of support to Kabul or a broad-based anti-Taliban coalition rather than the sectarian militias.

To be sure, the Taliban themselves give a sectarian dimension to the conflict in Afghanistan. But the Iranian use of a Shiite brigade to intervene in Afghanistan could trigger support for other groups from various Middle Eastern powers, notably the Gulf Arab states. New Delhi, however, would like both Tehran and the Gulf Arabs to see the long-term threats to their own stability from the Taliban rather than viewing the group through the lens of sectarian conflict. The Taliban’s triumphalism at having successfully resisted the United States will give a big boost to Islamist groups seeking to overthrow governments across the region.

India has not forgotten that Iran, which shares borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, has always been a critical factor in the region’s geopolitics. From the 1950s until the 1970s, the shah’s Iran had the big strategic ideas about economic modernization, connectivity, and regional integration between the Middle East and the subcontinent. It was only after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that Pakistan, with its weaponization of Islamist extremism, became the main external driver of Kabul’s unfortunate destiny.

India’s recent high-level contacts with Iran have raised hopes in New Delhi that Raisi’s close ties with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei might bring greater coherence to Iran’s regional policies. India also hopes that a Raisi-led Iran will be able to de-escalate tensions with the United States and de-conflict ties with its Gulf Arab neighbors. In fact, back-channel talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia that have been going on since April could, according to some accounts, be close to a breakthrough. Skeptics will raise an eyebrow at those hopes. But as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, New Delhi has no choice but to build on the few options it has with Iran—and manage the consequences.

(C. Raja Mohan is the director of the National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies and a former member of India’s National Security Advisory)

 

 

Attempting To Intimidate Critics, Modi Gvt. Locks Rahul Gandhi ’s Twitter Account

The Twitter account of senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was ‘temporarily’ locked on last week, a day after a photograph he had posted with the family of the nine-year-old Dalit rape victim was taken down by the microblogging site.

The action came after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) issued a notice to Twitter India, asking the social media platform to remove the tweet which revealed the identity of the rape victim.

“Shri @RahulGandhi’s Twitter account has been temporarily locked & due process is being followed for its restoration,” the Congress tweeted. “Until then, he will stay connected with you all through his other SM platforms & continue to raise his voice for our people & fight for their cause. Jai Hind!”

“Based on a complaint by the BJP, the Twitter account of Rahul Gandhi has been locked. Instead of giving justice to the 9-year-old Dalit girl, the BJP and the Narendra Modi government are far too preoccupied in intimidating Twitter as also illegally chasing Rahul Gandhi. Had PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah used this time in ensuring justice for the Dalit girl…Delhi would have been a safer place,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala told the media.

The girl, who has not been named by authorities and belonged to the Dalit community, one of Hinduism’s most oppressed castes, was found dead near a Delhi crematorium on Sunday night, Ingit Singh from Delhi Police’s South West District told NBC News over the telephone. Her whole body was burnt apart from her ankles and feet, he added.

Four men were arrested on suspicion of rape and murder in the death of a 9-year-old girl, whose killing has brought into focus both rampant sexual violence and caste prejudice in the country. Four men, including the crematorium’s priest, were arrested early Monday on suspicion of rape, murder and destruction of evidence, Singh said.

“The brutality from this incident is barbaric beyond words,” Yogita Bhayana, founder of the women’s rights group People Against Rapes in India, said. “And the saddest part is incidents like these are not rare. We see cases where Dalit women are killed, raped, and tortured daily. … Only a few come to the limelight.”

There are 200 million Dalits in India, out of a population of 1.3 billion, according to the most recent government census. Rahul Gandhi visited the girl’s family and offered his condolences and support to the family last week, seeking action for those behind the heinous crime.

On 75th Independence Anniversary, India Elected President of UN Security Council

“It is a singular honor for us to be presiding over the Security Council the same month when we are celebrating our 75th Independence Day,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T S Tirumurti said here on August 1st.

India on Sunday assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month of August and is set to organize key events in three major areas of maritime security, peacekeeping and counter-terrorism.

Tirumurti, who will preside over the Council this month, said in a tweet that during its presidency India will organize three high-level meetings focusing on maritime security, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism.

“India has just assumed the presidency of The UN Security Council on 1st August. India and France enjoy historical and close relations. I thank France for all the support which they’ve given us during our stint in the Security Council,” he further added.

As part of its new role, India will decide the UN body’s agenda for the month and coordinate important meetings on a range of issues. “Security Council will also have on its agenda several important meetings including Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and the Middle East. Security Council will also be adopting important resolutions on Somalia, Mali, & UN Interim Force in Lebanon,” TS Tirumurti said.

Meanwehile, Pakistan has expressed concerns about India holding such an important role on the most important and powerful body of the United Nations.  India will obviously use its SC Presidency to promote its own narrative on various issues, including terrorism and UN reform,” Ambassador Munir Akram told Dawn. “We will watch its conduct carefully and ensure that no moves that are against Pakistan’s core interests are allowed to succeed,” he said.

According to The Hindu, India will organize a ministerial-level meeting titled “threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts” at the end of August. India is seeking to enhance coordination between the UN and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the money laundering and terror financial watchdog which has kept Pakistan on its increased monitoring list.

The FATF had announced on June 25 that Pakistan would continue to remain on its increased monitoring list till it addressed the single remaining item on the original action plan agreed to in June 2018 as well as all items on a parallel action plan handed out by the watchdog’s regional partner — the Asia Pacific Group — in 2019.

India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that at the Council “India will keep the international spotlight firmly focused on the task of combatting” terrorism, the pandemic and climate change, which are global challenges that transcend national boundaries.

S Jaishankar took to Twitter to mark the occasion, and said that India will always be “voice of moderation, an advocate of dialogue and a proponent of international law.” Apart from meeting on maritime security, peacekeeping and counter-terrorism, India will also be organizing a solemn event in memory of peacekeepers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the first Indian PM to preside over a meeting of the UNSC, Former permanent representative of India to the United Nations, Syed Akbaruddin said.

“In 75 plus yrs, this is the first time our political leadership has invested in presiding over an event of UNSC. It shows that leadership wants to lead from the front. It also shows that India&its political leadership are invested in our foreign policy ventures. Although this is a virtual meeting, it’s still a first meeting of the sort for us. So, it is historic. The last time an Indian PM was engaged in this effort was the then PM PV Narasimha Rao in 1992 when he attended a UNSC meeting,” Syed Akbaruddin added.

Flagging concern over ‘a dangerous and worrying trend in global terrorism’ as increasing number of children are being recruited for terrorism-related activities’, India at a UNSC debate on children and armed conflict in June had said there is a need for a more coordinated approach in implementing the child protection and counter-terrorism agendas.

In January at a UNSC meeting, India had pointed out that preventing terrorists from accessing financial resources was crucial to successfully countering the threat of terrorism. Earlier at the debate on ‘Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts’ hosted by Tunisia to mark 20 years of the landmark resolution in the global fight against terrorism after the 9/11 terror attacks, India had proposed an eight-point Action Plan for an effective response to international terrorism.

Anchored in its non-aligned and independent foreign policy guided by values of democracy, respect of law and its mission to build a fair and equitable international system, India’s tenure as a non-permanent member of the UNSC is much awaited among the international community.

Guided by the “Five S’s”, as set out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi viz. Samman (Respect), Samvad (Dialogue), Sahyog (Cooperation) and Shanti (Peace), and Samriddhi (Prosperity), India’s overall objective during its tenure in the UN SC has been the achievement of N.O.R.M.S: a New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System.

India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in his meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres earlier this month had listed maritime security, peacekeeping and counter-terrorism as India’s priorities during its upcoming presidency.

This will be the country’s first presidency during its 2021-22 tenure as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. India began its two-year tenure as a non-permanent member of the UNSC on January 1, this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ajay Ghosh Chronicles Journey Of Indian American Physicians In A Book Charting Success Story/Rise Of Indian Americans

WhileIndian American physicians play a critical role, serving millions of patients in the United States, leading the policies and programs that impact the lives of millions today, it has been a long and arduous journey of struggles and hard work to be on the top of the pyramid,” writes Ajay Ghosh, Editor of the www.theunn.com and the Media Coordinator of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) in a new book, released in New Delhi last month and is due for release in the United States next month.

Edited by the Delhi-based veteran journalist and foreign policy analystTarunBasu, the evocative collection titled, “Kamala Harris and the Rise of Indian Americans,” captures the rise of the Indians in the US across domains by exceptional achievers like Shashi Tharoor, a former UN public servant-turned Indian politician, and top diplomats like TP Sreenivasan and Arun K Singh. Sixteen eminent journalists, business leaders and scholars have contributed essays to the timely and priceless volume, which charts the community’s growing and influential political engagement. The book was released July 15 by New Delhi-based publisher Wisdom Tree and is available in the U.S. via Amazon. Basu describes the book as an “eclectic amalgam of perspectives on the emerging Indian-American story.”

This evocative collection—of the kind perhaps not attempted before—captures the rise of Indian-Americans across domains, by exceptional achievers themselves, like Shashi Tharoor, the ones who have been and continue to be a part of the “rise,” like MR Rangaswami and Deepak Raj, top Indian diplomats like TP Sreenivasan and Arun K Singh, scholars like Pradeep K Khosla and Maina Chawla Singh, and others who were part of, associated with, or keenly followed their stories. “With 100,000 Indian American doctors; over 20,000 Indian American hoteliers; with a growing number of Indian American CEOs employing an estimated 3.5 million people worldwide; with one in three tech startups having an Indian American founder, and one is ten tech workers being of Indian origin, only sky is the limit for the enterprising community,” writes Basu, who is now the president of New Delhi-based think tank Society for Policy Studies, said.

A collector’s item, this eye-opening saga of a diaspora, which is possibly amongst the most successful and enterprising globally, would not only prove to be highly readable and insightful for a wide readership, but also immensely substantive for scholars and people in governance. As a long-time analyst of India’s foreign policy, Basu has tracked international relations across multiple Indian governments, having traveled widely with eight Indian prime ministers.

Basu has maintained a keen interest in the accomplishments of Indians abroad and has kept close touch with the community. The purpose of this anthology of essays edited by him is to bring to the global eye the unfolding saga of four million Indians in the United States. Indian Americans currently are just 1% of the US population but are expected to rise to 2% by 2030. Portraying the rise of the Indian American physicians as a strong and influential force in the United States, Ajay Ghosh chronicling their long journey to the United States and their success story, in a Chapter titled, “Physicians of Indian Heritage: America’s Healers” takes the readers to the times of Dr. AnandibaiJoshi, the first documented physician of Indian origin who had landed on the shores of the United States in 1883.

The arrival of Dr. YellapragadaSubbarow in the early 20th century, who has been credited with some of the biggest contributions in more than one basic field of science—biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, oncology, and nutritional science, portrays the discrimination and injusticesinflicted by the mainstream Medical professionals in the US. The story of the present day “Covid Warriors” who work as frontline healthcare workers treating millions of patients across the nation during the current Covid pandemic, and the thousands of others who lead the cutting-edge research and pioneer modern medical technology to save the lives of critically ill patients around the world, shows to the world, how through hard work, dedication and vision, they have earned a name for themselves as “healers of the world.”

Through the lens of AAPI and its remarkable growth in the past 40 years, Ajay Ghosh, a veteran journalist in the US, who has seen and experienced how the Indian-American physicians have gone beyond their call of duty to meet the diverse needs of the larger American community, by dedicating their time, resources and skills during national disasters and family crises, says, “The importance and high esteem with which physicians of Indian heritage are held by their patients is self-evident, as they occupy critical positions in the healthcare, research and administrative policy positions across America.” Their contributions to the US, to India and to the entire world is priceless, he writes, as “they have made their mark in institutions from Harvard Medical School to Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center to the Mayo Medical Center.”

The Indian American community is the most educated with the highest median income in the US and has excelled in almost every area it has touched―from politics to administration, entrepreneurship to technology, medicine to hospitality, science to academia, business to entertainment, philanthropy to social activism. The election of Vice President Kamala Harris has put the global spotlight like never before on the small but high-achieving Indian-American diaspora.

Highlighting the achievements of Indians in America, Basu, who is the founder-editor of news agency IANS, saidthat the community’s success serves as a ‘model’ for other nations. “A community that has made its mark with its culture of hard work, risk-taking, inclusive attitude, and passion for excellence can only be rising to greater prominence, making them a global diasporic “model community” for other nations whose governments are studying the success stories of the Indian American community with great interest.

“Indian Americans are most talked about because they live in the world’s most powerful and richest nation, a shining exemplar of meritocracy, and yet Indians have excelled in almost every area they touched – public affairs to administration, entrepreneurship to technology, medicine to hospitality, science to academia, business to entertainment, philanthropy to social activism,” Basu explained, highlighting the achievements of Surgeon-General DrVivek Murthy, Virgin Galactic’s SirishaBandla, and Samir Banerjee, who lifted the Wimbledon boys’ singles title recently.

“The nomination — and subsequent election — of the U.S.-born Indian origin Kamala Harris put the media spotlight on the small, but respected and high-achieving Indian American community,” writes Basu in his preface. “It is a fascinating and inspiring story of how an immigrant population from a developing country, with low education levels, became the most educated, highest-earning ethnic community in the world’s most advanced nation in almost a single generation,” he said, noting that Indian Americans have made their mark in almost every field, from the traditional trifecta of science, engineering and medicine, to the arts, academia, philanthropy, and, increasingly, politics.

Veteran journalist Aziz Haniffa wrote a preface, noting that Harris had initially bypassed the radar of the Indian American community at the start of her political career. Shashi Tharoor wrote, noting Harris’s multiple identities. “For the thousands of little Black girls who made ‘My VP Looks Like Me’ T-shirts go viral over the next few days, Harris represented an expansion of their horizons.” “Over the past decade, I watched as, one by one, the world’s most powerful technology titans announced an Indian would be their new CEO,” wrote Rangaswami, a venture capitalist and founder of the Sand Hill Group.

Other contributors for the include: former Indian ambassadors TP Sreenivasan and Arun K. Singh; Deepak Raj, chairman of Pratham USA; businessman Raj Gupta; hotelier Bijal Patel; Pradeep Khosla, Chancellor of UC San Diego; scholar-professor Maina Chawla Singh; Sujata Warrier, Chief Strategy Officer for the Battered Women’s Justice Project; Shamita Das Dasgupta, co-founder of Manavi; and journalists Arun Kumar, MayankChhaya, Suman GuhaMozumder, Ajay Ghosh, VikrumMathur, and LaxmiParthasarathy.

The book is now available at: https://bit.ly/HarrisIA – Amazon India book link, and at https://bit.ly/HarrisIndAm – Amazon USA link

“All People Deserve To Have A Voice In Their Government And Be Treated With Respect” US Secretary Blinken Declares During Visit To India

Democratic values and free citizenry define India, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinkensaid in New Delhi, during his first ever visit to India after the Biden Administration was installed in Washington, DC.  At a press conference after holding bilateral talks with his counterparts in India on Wednesday, July 28, 2021, Secretary Blinken said the United States views India through the prism of common democratic values and that there are challenges that can be ‘ugly’ that need to be dealt through “corrective mechanisms.”

“Our shared values and democratic traditions were part of our conversation,” Blinken said. “The relationship is so strong because it is a relationship between two democracies. Americans admire Indians’ commitment to rights, democracy and pluralism. Indian democracy is powered by its freethinking citizens. I approach this with humility. U.S. has challenges too. The search is for a more perfect union which means we are not perfect. Sometimes, the challenges can be painful, even ugly,” said Blinken to a question about ‘backsliding’ of democratic values in India. Blinken pointed at the free press and independent judiciary as part of the “corrective mechanism” that can repair challenges to democracy.

Blinken arrived in India on July 27th to discuss strengthening Indo-Pacific engagement, seen as a counter to China, as well as New Delhi’s recent human rights record and other issues. Blinken’s visit included meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior officials on Wednesday, and was held just days after his No. 2 diplomat, Wendy Sherman, was in China for face-to-face talks.

Earlier, at a civil society roundtable held by Antony Blinken, Inter-faith relations, the farmers’ protest, freedom of expression and the Pegasus spyware issue were discussed by the participants.

Blinken, in his first visit to the country since joining US President Joe Biden’s administration, discussed supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, the security situation in Afghanistan as well as India’s human rights record.

Speaking to a group of civil society leaders at a New Delhi hotel, Blinken said that the relationship between the United States and India was “one of the most important in the world”. And he added, “The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity and equality of opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms including freedom of religion and belief … these are the fundamental tenets of democracies like ours. And of course, both of our democracies are works in progress. As friends we talk about that.”

The role of civil society in India also figured in the discussions, with Blinken saying in his opening remarks that democracies such as the US and India need a vibrant civil society if they are to be “more open, more inclusive, more resilient, more equitable.” He added that “all people deserve to have a voice in their government and be treated with respect”. GesheDorjiDamdul, director of the Tibet House in New Delhi; Inter-Faith Harmony Foundation of India head KhwajaIftikhar Ahmed; Representatives of the Ramakrishna Mission and Sikh and Christian organizations were part of the round table, where the seven representatives spoke and shared their concerns about the situation in India.

Concerns over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and China’s aggressive actions were also raised by the seven civil society representatives who joined the roundtable with the theme “Advancing equitable, inclusive, and sustainable growth and development”, according to participants who declined to be named. “The farmers protest, CAA, restrictions on the media, freedom of expression, rights of minorities, inter-faith relations and the Pegasus surveillance issue were all raised by the representatives but there was no substantial discussion on these matters,” said another participant.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit, the US had said it intended to raise human rights and democracy during his engagements in New Delhi. The US has in the recent past spoken out on issues such as the situation in Kashmir and movements such as the farmers’ protest on the outskirts of Delhi. Following the globally conducted investigation by several media outlets on Pegasus, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken  said that he would discuss human rights and democracy during his two-day visit to India in a constructive way.

“I will tell you that we will raise it, and we will continue that conversation, because we firmly believe that we have more values in common on those fronts we don’t,” Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Dean Thompson told reporters during a conference call last week. With specific mention to the Indian government’s usage of Pegasus, Thompson said that the US is concerned with the idea of using spyware against a civil society, journalists or anybody for that matter. He also said that the US does not have a particular insight on this issue but they have been quite vocal about ensuring companies do not sell such pieces of technology.

Blinken said India and the US should continue to stand together as leading democracies at a time when global threats to democracy and international freedoms are increasing. Both sides talk about issues such as democracy as friends “because doing the hard work of strengthening democracy and making our ideals real is often challenging”, he said.

Media reports state thatBlinken flagged the concerns of the US regarding democracy and human rights during his talks with external affairs minister S Jaishankar.Asked about these issues at a joint media interaction with Jaishankar, Blinken said shared values and democratic traditions “were very much a part of our conversation today.” He described Indian democracy as a “force for good in defense of a free and open Indo-Pacific and a free and open world” and said both countries have “self-righting mechanisms” made up of free citizens of different faiths, a free media and independent courts powered by a system of free and fair elections.

Jaishankar said he made three points to Blinken, including the fact that the “quest for a more perfect union applies as much to the Indian democracy as it does to the American one”.Ahead of Blinken’s visit, India’s foreign ministry said the country was proud of its pluralistic traditions and happy to discuss the issue with the top US diplomat.Modi’s government has faced allegations it has suppressed dissent, pursued divisive policies to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base and alienated Muslims, the country’s biggest minority.

Opponents of Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party have accused it of squashing dissent and introducing policies aimed at refashioning a multi-faith democracy into a Hindu nation that discriminates against Muslims and other minorities. Modi has also been accused of trying to silence voices critical of his administration’s handling of the massive pandemic wave that tore through the country in April and May.India routinely denies criticism of its human rights record and has rejected criticism by foreign governments and rights groups that say civil liberties have shrunk in the country.

Referring to efforts in the US to become a “more perfect union,” Blinken said that “sometimes that process is painful, sometimes it’s ugly, but the strength of democracy is to embrace it”. Blinken also tweeted about “India’s pluralistic society and history of harmony” and said civil society “helps advance these values.” SecretaryBlinken announced an additional $25 million in US government funding to bolster India’s vaccine program. Blinken told a press conference following delegation-level talks between the two sides that the financing will help save lives by bolstering vaccine supply networks across India, since the country has yet to reach a double-digit mark in the percentage of completely immunized individuals.

“This funding will contribute to saving a life by strengthening vaccine supply chain logistics, addressing misinformation, vaccine hesitancy and helping to train more health care workers,” he said.The latest support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) comes on top of the US government’s announcement of more than $200 million in Covid-19 assistance. Blinkenemphasized that the two governments are committed to putting an end to the Covid-19 pandemic in India and the US.

The New Delhi talks were expected to lay the groundwork for a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US – later this year, Indian media reported. Washington has long viewed India as a key partner in efforts to blunt increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region. The U.S. and India are part of the Quad — a group that also includes Japan and Australia — allies in the region helping deal with China’s growing economic and military strength.

US Lawmakers Urge Action on Pegagus

In the context of Modi government snooping on diplomats, activists, political opponents and the media, U.S. lawmakers are growing increasingly alarmed by reports that the Israeli firm NSO Group leased military-grade spyware to authoritarian regimes around the world, who allegedly used it to hack the phones of politicians, journalists, human rights activists and business executives.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, who has been at the forefront of demands that Saudi Arabia be held accountable over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, told Haaretz that he is considering legislation aimed at regulating the private spyware industry. “I’ve been following this for a while, so I’m not at all surprised that the reporting has uncovered evidence of what any rational person would have assumed to be true given the NSO Group’s client list and potential uses of sensitive technology,” the New Jersey Democrat said.

“I’m glad it’s getting the attention it deserves because this is an industry that is currently completely unregulated — which is a scandal in itself. This kind of sensitive hacking and surveillance technology should not be sold by private companies to the highest bidder on the open market,” Malinowski added. “The problem goes well beyond one company. There’s an industry that has been created to meet a demand for this technology and it’s enabled by the lack of regulation. What they are doing is technically legal; the point is it should not be,” he noted.

Malinowski, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security Committees, said NSO Group needs to come clean following the company’s firm rejection of the revelations. “The categorical denials, combined with a refusal to provide any information about who their clients are, should be unacceptable to the U.S. government and other governments seeking to prevent the proliferation of this technology,” he said, adding that “their denials suggest either unbelievable credulity or arrogant dishonesty. “A fundamental principle should be that authoritarian governments cannot receive this kind of technology. What NSO Group is saying right now is equivalent to saying ‘we sold silencers to the mafia, but don’t worry, they’re only using it for target practice,” Malinowski continued. “I don’t care what promises are signed on a piece of paper, these are governments that do not distinguish between dissent and terrorism.

When they say they will use the technology against terrorists, they are saying they will use it against journalists.” “I do think responsibility is first and foremost with the United States government. I’d love to see Israel work with the U.S. and other democratic countries to establish some rules governing this trade, but I wouldn’t expect the Israeli government to do this alone,” said Malinowski, who also previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. “The U.S. should lead this effort, and I expect this to be the case moving forward.” While Malinowski is calling for the swift development of rules that would enable companies like NSO Group to be held accountable, he notes there are already tools that can be implemented — namely the Khashoggi Ban, a sanction and visa restriction established by the Biden administration that would target anyone believed to have targeted dissidents outside the borders of their country on behalf of a foreign government.

“The U.S. does have tools to prohibit companies and investors from doing business with entities like NSO Group. Sanctions should be explored and possibly implemented. We can’t deal with this on a case-by-case basis, however,” Malinowski said. “We need much more clear rules for the industry that signal that people cannot be monetizing their talents by selling sensitive technology to authoritarian states. Malinowski is not the only U.S. lawmaker to call for action following the reporting on NSO Group. Sen. Ron Wyden, who has previously called for investigations into whether technology sold by NSO Group and other foreign surveillance companies was involved in the hacking of U.S. citizens, raised the topic during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this week.

“There’s got to be some accountability for spies for hire. And that is going to be a central part of this discussion,” Wyden said, echoing his comments to the Washington Post that “these spy-for-hire firms are a threat to U.S. national security, and the administration should consider all options to ensure that federal employees are not targeted.” A U.S. State Department official told Haaretz that they have no announcements concerning visa restrictions. “The United States condemns the harassment or extrajudicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” the official said.

“Just as states have the duty to protect human rights, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights. Thus, they should ensure that their products or services are not being used by end users to abuse fundamental freedoms,” the official added. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on Congress to investigate “this threat to democracy,” adding that his office is working with the San Antonio-based family of Paul Rusesabagina, currently imprisoned in Rwanda. His daughter’s phone was among those hacked by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, according to The Guardian.

He said he did not want to speculate without evidence regarding linkage between NSO Group‘s client list and countries with whom Israel improved diplomatic ties under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but noted that he “would assume if the Israeli government assumes export licenses, that it knows where products are being exported to.” Democratic lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to consider placing NSO Group on an export blacklist, saying that recent revelations of misuse reinforced their conviction that the “hacking-for-hire industry must be brought under control”.

The statement by four members of Congress followed reports by the Pegasus project, a collaboration of 17 media organisations including the Guardian, which investigated NSO, the Israeli company that sells its powerful surveillance software to government clients around the world. The leak at the heart of the Pegasus project contained tens of thousands of phone numbers of individuals who are believed to have been selected as candidates for possible surveillance by clients of NSO. The numbers included those of heads of state such as the French president, Emmanuel Macron, government ministers, diplomats, activists, journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers.

NSO has also said the data has “no relevance” to the company, and has rejected the reporting by the Pegasus project as “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories”. It denied that the leaked data represented those targeted for surveillance by the Pegasus software. NSO has said the 50,000 number is exaggerated and said it was too large to represent individuals targeted by Pegasus. The company has also said that its government clients are contractually mandated to use Pegasus to target suspected criminals and terrorists and has said it would investigate any allegations of abuse.

Rahul Gandhi Accuses Modi Of ‘Treason,’ Demands Home Minister’s Resignation

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “treason”, called for the resignation of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and demanded a judicial probe into allegations of surveillance using Pegasus spyware. Gandhi’s name has been featured in the list of potential targets. On Friday, Gandhi claimed all his phones were being tapped. “Pegasus is classified by the Israeli state as a weapon, and that weapon is supposed to be used against terrorists. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister have used this weapon against the Indian state and our institutions. They have used it politically, they have used it in Karnataka,” Gandhi told reporters. “The only word for this is treason.”

Pegasus took center stage in Parliament, leading to repeated adjournments of both Houses Gandhi’s name has been featured in the list of potential targets. Phones of at least five of Gandhi’s close friends and aides, including AlankarSawai and Sachin Rao, were also identified as potential targets using the spyware.

Two numbers belonging to Gandhi were picked as candidates for possible surveillance, media reports said. Gandhi claimed all his phones were being tapped. Responding to Gandhi’s remarks, the Bharatiya Janata Party said the Congress leader should “submit his phone to a probe agency if he thinks it was tapped”. BJP spokesperson RajyavardhanRathore claimed the Congress was using the issue to stall Parliament.

 

The government has maintained that the media reports around the Pegasus spyware are intended to malign the country, as part of an “international conspiracy.” Whereas, several Opposition leaders have ramped up their protests against the alleged surveillance, leading to the adjournment of the monsoon session multiple times and the suspension of TMC MP Shantanu Sen. A list of 300 Indians and 50,000 people worldwide was released in a global collaborative investigation, spearheaded by French journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. The presence of an individual’s phone number in the data set accessed by the group, however, is not evidence of hacking, which can only proved by a forensic analysis of the corresponding device.

Academic Freedom In India Under Threat

A group ofacademicnsia in the United States — scholars, activists and students of South Asian studies and adjacent fields — have formed the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective to fight back against what they called the threat to academic freedom from Hindutva groups. The homepage of the SASAC includes a “Hindutva Harassment Field Manual,” which is the Collective’s first project.

“The Hindu right has attacked U.S.-based scholars for the past few decades, attempting to dissuade and discredit academic research, and the assaults have intensified recently,” says an article explaining the rationale behind the Collective. “In the past year, one historian of South Asia here had his parents “swatted”; another scholar battles a lawsuit by a Hindu group that is a subject of her current research. Others in the field have received violent threats, sometimes prompting police involvement,” it goes on to add.

“Such hate seeks to undermine our genuine, nuanced research, which presents a vision of South Asian history, religions and cultures as multifaceted and pluralistic. In so doing our scholarship undercuts Hindutva’s project to remake India and Indian history.” “…The manual defines Hindutva and explains how its political ideology is distinct from the broad-based faith tradition of Hinduism. It covers common features of Hindutva attacks, including how such assaults are often coordinated and how Hindutva hate frequently intersects with other prejudices, including misogyny and casteism.”

Audrey Truschke, associate professor of History at Rutgers University, New Jersey, told indica News that she took the initiative to form the SASAC in the early spring on 2021. “Many of us have been targets of harassment by the Hindu Right for years; some of our colleagues have been targets for decades. Many of us have long provided support in individual cases and on an informal basis. The acceleration in Hindu Right attacks on academics over the past several years inspired me to participate in a more formal collective,” Truschke said.

“In some cases, I am aware of individuals who have orchestrated harassment campaigns against me, including ones that resulted in threats of violence against me and my family,” she said. “I have reported such individuals to law enforcement. Often, however, Hindutva attacks rely on anonymity and the illusion of widespread outrage that is manufactured, as the Hindu Harassment Field Manual covers in the Organized Harassment section,” she added. Another professor who is part of the collective is Rohit Chopra, who teaches at Santa Clara University in California. He said he used to have over 75,000 followers on Twitter but has been blocked for his free speech.

Chopra has written several books, including The Virtual Hindu Rashtra: Saffron Nationalism and New Media; Inter-religious Marriages Among Muslims: Negotiating Religious and Social Identity in Family and Community; and Technology and Nationalism in India: Cultural Negotiations from Colonialism to Cyberspace. He told indica News: “I used to get a lot of attacks from the Hindu Right; spam and Twitter trolling — such as ‘this person is anti-Hindu’, and far right propaganda. So, I have experienced this in a small way.”

He said that many non-Indian scholars get a lot of the far more vicious attacks. “What is happening now is completely one-sided,” he said when asked why he joined the Collective. “On the other side there are hundreds of individuals who write and give you death threats.” He cited the murders of journalist Gauri Lankesh and activists such as MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare by far right groups in India.  Chopra took aim at the Hindu American Foundation, accusing it of claiming monopoly over the Hinduism. “This is deeply troubling, They are policing who can talk about Hinduism, they are policing what can be said. But who gave them the authority?” Chopra said.

“In that sense having this kind of a resource is a really important thing. It’s really welcoming,” said Chopra on the formation of the SASAC. He said, “I am not saying what scholars write should not be criticized, in fact freedom of expression is the heart of the university. If you look at the debates of the scholars they really get into the nitty gritty.” On the Indian-American support to right-wing groups, he said: “The hypocrisy is amazing if you want to vote for Joe Biden who supports secularism and minority rights, the right to freedom of worship in the American context and In the Indian context you want to deny religious and caste minorities those rights.”

He added: “So, resources offered at SASAC are going to help to combat well-orchestrated attacks that need some kind of organizational basis… These threats are every cleverly worded they’ll tweet: Hey if a professor has to die tomorrow, I won’t feel sorry.’ Not directly saying, ‘we will kill you’.”

Mat McDermott, senior director, communications, Hindu American Foundation defending on ‘claiming a monopoly on Hindu thoughts’ told the media, “HAF does not at all claim a monopoly on Hindu thought, nor believe we are the gatekeepers on who gets to comment on Hindusim. While we do take issue with the acdemic conclusions and interpretations of some of the work done by members of the SASAC, that is the nature of academic freedom and free speech — both of which we support.” “Expressing differences of opinion is not the same as attempting to stifle academic inquiry and is certainly not harassment, which is something HAF has never taken part in not has encouraged any of our supporters to do. Any accusation or insinuation that we have done so is categorically false,” McDermott said.

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

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

One of the most prominent people on the list is Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress and a vehement critic of the Modi Administration on their undemocratic policies. In a statement, Mr. Gandhi said, “ targeted surveillance of the type you describe, whether in regard to me, other leaders of the opposition or indeed any law-abiding citizen of India is illegal and deplorable.”

It is becoming evident that power is all that matters to the current leadership at the Centre, and they may stoop to any low to snatch it even at the cost of undermining constitutional freedom and individual liberties. News reports suggest that key political players, including the then deputy chief minister Parameswara and the personal secretaries of then Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, may have been potential targets of surveillance by the Pegasus spyware in the run-up to the collapse of the Congress-JD (S) alliance government in 2019. If these reports are accurate, it is undermining the democratically run election process and severe violations of constitutional provisions these authorities are sworn to uphold.

The Biden administration has condemned the harassment and ‘extra-judicial surveillance of journalists and others in reaction to the story. “The United States condemns the harassment of extra-judicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” a White House spokesperson stated.

Significantly, the list includes a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against India’s former Chief Justice, whose turnaround from a critic to a supporter of the Modi regime policies has surprised many. It may very well make a case study about how skeletons in the closet of any individual can be unearthed and weaponized to extract concessions or demand behavioral changes. It is a sad state of affairs in India today that reveals how much the world’s largest democracy has deteriorated under the BJP rule.

Persecutions Against Christians Continue Under Modi

Before the year 2021 had reached its halfway mark, some of the most powerful forces in modern India prepared to counter the Christian – and Muslim – presence in India, with discussions and statements on how to rid the country of “padri” [Hindi of the Latin Padre, father or Christian priest, pastor or clergy], pushing a massive 145 incidents of religious persecution against Christians, including three murders, into the background. That the incidents, and the threats, took place even as the country, still reeling from the impact of the first wave of the Corona Virus pandemic, was struck anew by the second wave, which struck the country, particularly the metropolitan cities including the national capital New Delhi, the worst hit.

In the hill town of Chitrakoot on the border of the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, held holy according to the epic Ramayana, the top echelons of the RashtriyaSwayamSewakSangh [RSS], the ideological mother of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the main grassroots force behind the government of the Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, met in a secret conclave. The main agenda, according to the authoritative Hindi newspaper and TV group DainikBhaskar, was to launch a campaign with the slogan “Chadaraur Father Mukt Bharat” (An India liberated from Chadar (Cloth Sheet symbolizing Muslims) and Father (Christian Priests).

The threat of such campaigns has accompanied promises — or threats – of bringing in legislation in Parliament against conversion. One such Bill listed in Parliament is moved by RSS spokesman and member of the Upper House [Rajya Sabha] Mr Rakesh Sinha. Indeed, as reported by other news outlets, one of the other things that the Sangh spoke about was to propose to the Modi government to bring a nationwide anti-conversion law. The violence, detailed in the report, itself was vicious, widespread and ranged from murder to attacks on church, false cases, police immunity and connivance, and the now normalised social exclusion or boycott which is becoming viral.

An analysis of the 145 cases recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission and its associate Helplines and activists, documents three murders, attacks or desertion of 22 churches / places of worship, and 20 cases of ostracization or social boycott in rural areas of families which had refused to renege on their Christian faith and had stood up to mobs and political leaders of the local majority community.

True to the pattern of previous years, Madhya Pradesh topped the list with 30 cases. The state, which has large pockets of forest lands where Adivasis, or Tribals live, was amongst the earliest to enact anti-conversion laws, which it has periodically applied on the ground with increasing viciousness. The neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, continued to be a dangerous place for Christians too with 22 cases. Karnataka and Chhattisgarh, also polarised by a decade of religiously divisive political campaigns, documented 14 and 13 cases each. Violence against Christians by non-state actors in India stems from an environment of targeted hate. The translation of the hate into violence is sparked by a sense of impunity generated in India’s administrative apparatus.

COVID-19, which has severely impacted data collection, grassroots investigations and even a measure of solidarity with victims in distant villages, seems to have given the police a ruse not to register cases – police have generally been loath to register cases. Access to courts for relief was restricted too. The violence was also facilitated by the absence of civil society on streets as activists were unable to travel because of lockdowns restrictions and because of the collapse of the media.

The most alarming development has been the expansion and scope of the notorious Freedom of Religion Acts, which are popularly known as the anti-conversion laws, earlier enforced in 7 states, to more states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Once targeting only Christians, they are now armed also against Muslims in the guise of curbing ‘Love Jihad’. This is an Islamophobic term coined some years ago to demonise marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women, particularly those belonging to the Hindu upper castes. The laws ostensibly punish forced or fraudulent religious conversions. But in practice, they are used to criminalise all conversions, especially in non-urban settings.

Uttar Pradesh has become the eighth state in India to enforce an anti-conversion law. Similar laws are in force in the states of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. The states of Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have passed anti-conversion laws that are not in force for various reasons, and Tamil Nadu has passed and repealed its anti- conversion law. Christian activists fear that the expanding footprint of the anti-conversion laws bring a step closer the BJP’s manifesto promising a nation-wide law to check evangelisation by “missionaries”, a term designed to impute western conspiracy to Christianise Dalits, Tribals and others in rural areas, small towns and urban slums.

The most bizarre incident which caught the eyes of the international media took place on 19 March 2021 in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, when four nuns from the Delhi Province of the Sacred Heart Society (SH) were arrested while on their way to Odisha from Delhi. The incident occurred while the train in which they were traveling stopped at 6.30 pm at Jhansi railway station. A group of religious extremists, who were returning from a pilgrimage, unjustifiably accused them of religious conversion and caused trouble. They challenged the faith of the women and raised religious slogans. Subsequently police arrived at the spot and arrested the women without paying any heed to their side of the story. Around 150 religious radicals accompanied the women in procession to the police station. The terrified nuns were released at 11.30 pm after the intervention from advocacy groups convinced police that the nuns were innocent and had credible documents to prove their story.

There was perhaps some consolation for religious minorities in recent pronouncements by various courts of law in the land. A Haryana court held that “hate speech is violence,” as other courts said reiterated that the health of the Indian democracy depended much on the health of its minorities. Helping the judicial sentiment was the national outrage over the custodial death of Jesuit priest and social activist Fr Stan Swami who’d been detained und the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevent Act in which the arrested can be held for long periods without bail pending trial which may begin years later. Responding to several writ petitions, the Supreme Court of India has agreed to examine the constitutional validity of laws enacted by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand but has said that the laws need to be first challenged in the respective high courts.

EFIRLC appeals to the Government of India and the respective State Governments of the States named in the report to ensure the rule of law and the security of religious minorities in India. We especially appeal to the State Governments of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh to deal stringently with the various right-wing organizations operating in these states whose primary agenda is to create an atmosphere of fear among the Christian community and other religious minorities. For further information, please write to [email protected]

Modi Govt. Comes Under Fire For ‘Extrajudicial Surveillance’ Of Journalists, Activists, Regime Critics

The Pegasus report kicked up a storm on the first day of the Monsoon Session of Indian Parliament as several Opposition leaders condemned the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government, stating the spyware was being used to snoop on journalists and politicians in the country. India’s main Oppoision party Leader Rahul Gandhi is among dozens of Indian politicians, journalists, activists and government critics who were identified as potential targets of an Israeli-made spyware, media reports say.

More than 1,000 phone numbers in India were among tens of thousands worldwide selected as possibly of interest to clients of NSO Group, maker of the Pegasus spyware, according to a group of media outlets. The leaked list was shared with the news outlets by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International. The identities behind around 300 of the Indian phone numbers were verified by the media outlets.

The Biden administration has condemned the harassment and ‘extrajudicial surveillance’ of journalists and others in reaction to reports published by a consortium of news websites that Israeli company NSO Group’s spyware, Pegasus, was used for illegal hacking and surveillance of individuals, including in India. “The United States condemns the harassment or extrajudicial surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, or other perceived regime critics,” a White House spokesperson said in response to a question on what U.S. President Joe Biden’s position on the issue was.

The news reports on Pegasus say that in addition to actually or potentially targeting journalists, leaders of the opposition in India, and others, a database of phone numbers that allegedly belonged to the NSO Group contained the numbers of two U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials in New Delhi and employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Just as states have the duty to protect human rights, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, including by ensuring that their products or services are not being used by end-users to abuse fundamental freedoms,” the spokesperson said.

While reports of Indian politicians and journalists being targets of surveillance operations carried out with the help of Pegasus spyware took centre-stage on Monday, French newspaper Le Monde reported that several Delhi-based diplomats were also on the list of potential targets for phone hacking from 2017-2021, along with a phone associated with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Media organizations in the 17-member consortium published more details of the leaked database allegedly belonging to Israeli technology company, the NSO group, that developed Pegasus. U.S.-based Washington Post, UK-based The Guardian and The Wire in India reported that the telephone numbers of a British High Commission official and two officials of the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and employees of international NGOs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were also in the database of those targeted.

New Delhi has hostile relations with China and Pakistan at present, and their diplomats are under close watch, but it is significant that the list included several countries that India has very friendly ties with as well. They include a woman who made sexual harassment allegations against India’s former chief justice, as well as Tibetan Buddhist clerics, Pakistani diplomats and Chinese journalists, the reports said. More than 50,000 phone numbers of citizens clustered mainly in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been studied as a part of the international collaboration by NGOs and media organisations investigating phone surveillance using Pegasus.

The government has denied any wrong doing or carrying out any unauthorized surveillance, but has not confirmed or denied whether it has purchased or deployed Pegasus spyware. The Indian government reiterated in a statement to the Washington Post that “allegations regarding government surveillance on specific people has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever”. India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said the reports aimed to “humiliate India at the world stage, peddle the same old narratives about our nation and derail India’s development trajectory.”Critics say that the world’s largest democracy has become increasingly authoritarian under Prime Minister Modi, with the government accused of seeking to silence dissent. Rahul Gandhi, from the main opposition Congress party, told the media that if the allegations were correct, it was “an attack on the democratic foundations of our country.”

India Bans Mastercard From Issuing New Cards In Data Storage Row

MUMBAI (Credit/Reuters) -The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Wednesday indefinitely barred MastercardInc from issuing new debit or credit cards to domestic customers for violating data storage rules, dealing a blow to the U.S. company in a key market. In a notification, the RBI said Mastercard had not complied with data storage rules from 2018 that require foreign card networks to store Indian payments data “only in India” so the regulator can have “unfettered supervisory access”.

“Notwithstanding lapse of considerable time and adequate opportunities being given, the entity (Mastercard) has been found to be non-compliant with the directions,” the RBI said. Mastercard said it was “disappointed” with the RBI’s decision and that it had provided regular updates on its compliance with the rules since 2018. “We will continue to work with them to provide any additional details required to resolve their concerns,” it said in a statement late Wednesday. The ban takes effect on July 22. The move comes less than three months after India’s central bank barred American Express and Diners Club International, owned by Discover Financial Services, from issuing new cards due to similar violations.

But unlike American Express, which is a relatively small player in India, companies such as Mastercard and Visa have partnered with many Indian banks that offer cards using the U.S. firms’ payments network. In 2019, Mastercard said it was “bullish on India”, announcing $1 billion in investment over the next five years, in addition to its earlier investment of $1 billion from 2014-2019. “It does leave a big vacuum in credit cards and can come as a good opportunity for Visa … Banks will have to start re-negotiating the deals and this will be a blow for Mastercard,” said Ashvin Parekh, an independent financial services consultant.

The RBI’s decision will not impact existing customers of Mastercard, and the company should advise all card issuing banks in India to comply with the order, the RBI added. The RBI directive in 2018 sparked an aggressive lobbying effort from U.S. companies, which said the rules would increase their infrastructure costs and hit their global fraud detection platforms, but the central bank did not relent. The order comes as companies such as Mastercard and Visa also face growing competition from domestic payments network Rupay, which has been promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2018, Mastercard told the U.S. government that New Delhi’s protectionist policies were hurting foreign payment companies, Reuters has previously reported.

Widespread Persecution Of Religious Minorities In India Highlighted At International Religious Freedom Summit

Speakers at the International Religious Freedom summit here this week detailed how the Indian government is intentionally stoking Hindu nationalism, which has caused widespread persecution of religious minorities, enactment or reactivation of laws designed to curtail or deny citizenship, control or prohibit interfaith marriages, silence NGOs by freezing their bank accounts, and state-sponsored Islamophobia campaigns that encourage mob violence against non-Hindus.

They were speaking at a panel discussion on “Religious Freedom in India: Challenges & Opportunities,” organized by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that advocates for human rights, religious freedom and civil liberties in both the US and India.Click here to see their presentations. (Note: Presentations by U.S. Senator Markey and Reps. Newman and Levin were the subject of a separate news release.) Anurima Bhargava, a commissioner with theU.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said that for the past two years, the commission has recommended the U.S. State Department designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), like Pakistan and Burma, because of the systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom in India.

IAMC this week led an initiative to have a Joint Resolution approved at the summit that also calls for the State Department to designate India a CPC. The resolution was supported by more than 30 signatories and is being transmitted to the office of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Ms. Bhargava pointed out that the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens are limiting or eliminating pathways for Muslims to be able to demonstrate their citizenship, which can lead to them being wrongfully detained, deported, or worse, rendered stateless. With those laws, India is acting much like Myanmar, in how the latter systematically discriminated against the Rohingyas leading up to their genocide.

Further, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act is designed to limit or eliminate dissent, while the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act can freeze the bank accounts of NGOs and religious organizations that traditionally have worked to promote unity, harmony and understanding in India. “The other area that is of concern, which we have documented in our reports, are the anti-conversion laws,” she said. “Essentially how I describe this is an attack on any kind of interfaith, interreligious engagement. A third of Indian states have these kinds of laws that limit or prohibit religious conversion to protect the dominant religion from any perceived threats from religious communities and religious minorities.”

“And so we’re seeing a situation the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) doesn’t really allow dissent and it is very high standard for someone to get bail or to be able to come out of being incarcerated, so people can be detained and held for quite a long time without being charged, as in the case of 84-year-oldFather Stan Swamy, who lost his life last week in an Indian prison because of Parkinson’s and COVID,” she said. In addition to naming India a CPC, the USCIRF has also recommended that individuals at the state and the national level who have fomented hate, but also have implemented policies that are targeting religious communities, be sanctioned, whether in economic or in visa actions.

Joanne Lin, National Director ofAmnesty International USA, detailed how the Indian government used the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act and other means to essentially shut down Amnesty International’s offices in India by freezing its bank account. “The shuttering of Amnesty India is just one example of the Indian government activating an overbroad legal framework to crush human rights defenders who dare to challenge grave abuses of state authorities,” she declared. “The Indian government has leveraged financial and other institutions to strip human rights from religious minorities, to crush dissent and to silence advocates for freedom of religion and expression.

“The U.S. government should call for the release of human rights defenders and other critics, many of whom have been held for over a year without being charged,” she said. “In addition, Amnesty calls for the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for attacks carried out by vigilante mobs, and police officers against Muslims during the February March 2020 violence in Delhi, which occurred in the context of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.  These steps are necessary to ensure that religious freedom is a reality for all people in India regardless of their religion.”

State-sponsored Islamophobia in India is anti-Muslim racism and a tool of oppression, declared Tabassum Haleem, CEO,Islamic Networks Group. In her presentation, Ms. Haleem pointed out tropes used to denigrate and motivate hatred of Muslims include, “Muslims don’t belong” in India, and “Muslims are terrorists,” with some Hindu nationalists calling for a Trump-like Muslim ban, and others declaring “Muslims did no favor by staying here,” and “very few Muslims are patriotic.” It was even widely alleged that Muslims were intentionally spreading COVID-19, an enormous lie that resulted in discrimination, repression, persecution and violence against Muslims. And sadly, interfaith marriages have been criminalized clearly as a means of ensuring racial and ethnic “purity,” of the majority.

The Rev. Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar of theEvangelical Lutheran Church in America, who is a Dalit (the lowest class), referring to the ruling Hindu class, declared, “In this class hierarchy, to consider oneself upper class is such a myth. There is nothing upper about the upper class.” She lamented that because freedoms for religious minorities are being so eroded, and in many cases eliminated, the Indian Constitution is becoming increasingly irrelevant. “We know that for people to have dignity and worth is a God-given reality. But we have a situation in India where the prominent Hindutva forces can actually challenge that and deny whole peoples of their ability to reflect the image of God, and the possibility of them even being considered as a worthy human, of being human. And this is the crux of the whole problem of caste consciousness.”

Explained AnantanandRambachan, professor of religion,St. Olaf Collegein Minnesota, “Because the Hindu condition is so internally diverse, it generally exemplifies an open and hospitable attitude toward religious diversity. One of the pillars of Hinduism is the belief in the unity of the oneness of God, even though this God is spoken of in many ways. God’s oneness implies the oneness of the human community.”

He also made these salient points:

  • “All beings are part of a single human community, and must be treated with dignity, justice and compassion, and be accorded equal rights.”
  • “Hindutva betrays the core theological commitment of Hinduism by ascribing unequal worth on the basis of religious identity and by seeking to deprive them of equal rights in the civic sphere.”
  • “There is an ancient and a powerful tradition of hospitality to religious diversity in the Hindu tradition, which made it possible to accommodate a wide diversity of religious beliefs and practices, and to offer shelter to persecuted religious groups for centuries.”
  • “There are teachings in the Hindu tradition that offer solid ground for diversity, for justice, for dignity, and for the equal worth of all human beings. We must lift up these Hindu teachings.”

The Indian American Muslim Council has welcomed the news about the Biden administration’s imminent announcement of an ambassador-at-large of international religious freedom. The post has been vacant since January 20 of this year, and is a requirement of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.

Over 4 In 10 Of Modi’s New Council Of Ministers Have Criminal Cases, 90% Are Millionaires

If being a criminal is a qualification in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, he has proved it by inducting 42% of those with criminal records into the Union Council of Ministers in the reshuffle he has carried out last week. The proportion of Union ministers who have declared criminal cases against them has risen by 3 percentage points after the expansion, a report by poll rights group Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) stated.ADR has cited election affidavits to highlight the cases against the ministers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit the reset button to bring in 36 new faces in his Council of Ministers, taking the tally to 78, just a notch short of the statutory limit of 81. Of these 78, however, as many as 33 ministers (42%) have criminal cases against them. Of these, 24 have serious ones related to murder, attempt to murder and robbery, a report published by poll rights group Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) stated. ADR found that around 90% members of the new Union cabinet (70 ministers) are millionaires, meaning that they have declared total assets amounting to over Rs 1 crore. Four ministers — Jyotiraditya Scindia (over Rs 379 crore), Piyush Goyal (over Rs 95 crore), Narayan Rane (over Rs 87 crore), and Rajeev Chandrasekhar (over Rs 64 crore) — have been categorized as “high asset ministers”, which means they have declared assets worth more than Rs 50 crore.

Jyotiraditya Scindia is the richest among the Council of Ministers having assets worth around Rs 380 crore. The average worth of assets per minister has been found to be around Rs 16.24 crore, the report noted. The cabinet ministers who have the least amount of assets are: Pratima Bhoumik from Tripura (around Rs 6 lakh), John Barla from West Bengal (around Rs 14 lakh), Kailash Choudhary from Rajasthan (around Rs 24 lakh), Bishweswar Tudu from Odisha (around Rs 27 lakh), and V Muraleedharan from Maharashtra (around Rs 27 lakh). Analysing the educational qualification of the new ministers, the report stated a majority of them (21) are post-graduates. Nine ministers have a doctorate, while 17 each are graduates and professional graduates. Two ministers have only passed their Class VIII exams, three Class X and seven others Class XII.

No Muslim face in Modi cabinet revamp, Naqvi remains lone face

The Nearly 400 million Muslim population in India has a single Member representing the community in the Hindutva Ministry of Prime Minister Modi. And the Christian community is not represented. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledging ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas and sabka vishwas’ mantra, his cabinet’s lone Muslim face Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi will have the responsibility of winning the hearts of minorities and taking forward the ‘development without appeasement’ policy.

The Narendra Modi cabinet reshuffle did not see any Muslim being inducted, despite a few aspirants in the fray, and Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi remains the community’s lone representative in the Union Cabinet. BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Zafar Islam was one of the aspirants but could not find a place while after the resignation of M.J. Akbar, there was speculation that one person from the community could be inducted. Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal said: “There should be no expectation from the BJP as the second largest minority is not on their agenda.”

Community leaders are of the same view. Majlis-e-Mushawarat President Navaid Hamid said: “Muslims don’t expect anything from the BJP except they follow the constitutional mandate… the more they ignore, the more they discriminate, the more they are exposed about their prejudice and vicious agenda against most persecuted, the most marginalised, and the most discriminated community in the country. Even if they have given any more representation, Indians would have not expected any good that from Muslim man for the betterment of the community.”

2021 Had 154 Incidents Of Violence Against Christians In India

This year, 2021, hasn’t been any difference to Indian Christians in practicing their faith in their own country except that Indian Christians across globe came together to establish an exclusive day for themselves on July 3rd and launched a decade of celebrations (2021-2030) to honour 2000th anniversary of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.

One hundred and fifty-four (154) incidents of violence were reported on UCF toll-free helpline number: 1-800-208-4545 against Christians across India. January witnessed the highest number of incidents with 34 followed by 28 in June, 27 in March, 26 in April, 21 in February and 16 in the month of May.

Two North Indian states Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have recorded 22 incidents of violence against Christians in these six months followed by 19 in Uttar Pradesh and 17 in Karnataka. Other states which are witnessing violence against Christians for their faith are: Madhya Pradesh (15), Odisha (12), Maharashtra (9), Tamil Nadu (6), Punjab (6), Bihar (6), Andhra Pradesh (4), Uttarakhand (3), Delhi (3), Haryana (2), Gujarat (2), Telangana (1), West Bengal (1), Assam (1) and Rajasthan (1).  Over one thousand (1137) calls were attended to at UCF helpline number and provided much needed solace to them through advocacy and assisting in reaching their grievances to the concerned authorities. Through these interventions the team could manage to obtain release of 84 persons from detention. Also 29 places of worship were reopened or continue to have prayer services. But, sadly, as always 18 FIRs could only be registered against the violence perpetrators.

Mob violence led by a crowd of a-hundred-two-hundred accompanied by a police team arriving at a place of worship disrupting the prayer or church service beating up faithful and pastors including women and children have become a culture. This is despite slew of directions to the government from the Supreme Court of India led by then CJI, Dipak Misra to stop the horrendous acts of mobocracy.

Over six hundred (603) women were injured in these incidents and over four hundred Tribals (223) and Dalits (202). One hundred and fifty-two (152) incidents of mob attacks/violence were reported in these six months. Eighteen (18) incidents of causing damage to the places of worship/ churches too were reported. Police or/and other concerned authorities disallowed the assembly of people for religious activities under one pretext or the other.

Seven (7) fresh cases were filed under the Freedom of Religion Act in this year. Though such laws in certain states have been in force since 1967 – over 50 years now – but till today, no one, not a single Christian have 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 136.64 Crores (2019).

UCF toll-free helpline number: 1-800-208-4545 was launched on 19th January 2015 with the aim of upholding fundamental freedom and promotion of values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity of India. The helpline helps people in distress, especially those who are not aware of the law of the land and the system by guiding them how to reach out to the public authorities and by providing the way to legal remedies.

Eric Michael Garcetti Nominated To Serve As US Ambassador To India

President Joe Biden has nominated Los Angeles Mayor Eric Michael Garcetti to serve as the American ambassador to India. Indian American organizations welcomed the announcement, made Friday, July 9, calling it an opportunity for the Indian diaspora to work together to continue bridging US-India ties. Garcetti, 50, born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, has been mayor of Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the US, since 2013.Garcetti’s nomination has long been anticipated. He needs Senate confirmation to get the position. If he makes it, he will be the first sitting Los Angeles mayor to leave the position voluntarily in more than 100 years, according to the Los Angeles Times

Prior to his election to the Los Angeles City Council, Garcetti was a visiting instructor of international affairs at the University of Southern California, and an assistant professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College. His academic work focused on ethnic conflict and nationalism in Southeast Asia and Northeast Africa.

On accepting the nomination Garcetti posted a statement on the city’s website: “I love Los Angeles and will always be an Angeleno. I want you to know that every day I am your mayor, I will continue to lead this city like it is my first day on the job, with passion, focus, and determination. I have committed my life to service –– as an activist, as a teacher, as a naval officer, as a public servant and, if confirmed, next as an ambassador. Part of that commitment means that when your nation calls, you answer that call. And should I be confirmed, I’ll bring this same energy, commitment, and love for this city to my new role, and will forge partnerships and connections that will help Los Angeles.”

Welcoming Garcetti’s nomination MR Rangaswami, a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur, investor, and founder of Indiaspora, stated in a press note, “We are excited that President Biden has nominated a reputed leader who has proven himself on several fronts. “It speaks volumes to the importance of the U.S.-India relationship that a close and trusted ally of President Biden may be America’s point person in Delhi.”

According to Sanjeev Joshipura, Indiaspora’s executive director, “Mayor Garcetti recognizes the importance of international cooperation and how to bring different actors together on the world stage.” Neil Makhija, executive director of IMPACT, another Indian American non-profit organization, said, “Ambassadorship to India is a critical position for strengthening ties between the world’s largest and the world’s oldest democracy, and President Biden has made an excellent choice in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.” He added, “Mayor Garcetti’s credentials and national stature make him an excellent pick for the ambassadorship to India, a position that is critical to key American priorities like the global COVID-19 crisis, climate change, and immigration.

“As mayor, Eric Garcetti oversaw the vaccine deployment in the nation’s second-largest city, where over 50% of people over the age of 16 are now vaccinated. Garcetti understands the urgency and reality of addressing climate change, and is familiar with geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region from his service in the US Navy.” The ongoing trade war between the two countries reached its lowest point in 2018 when India imposed tariffs on 28 products in retaliation to the U.S. government’s imposing of heavy tariffs on aluminum and steel from India. Earlier that year, the U.S. ended its generalized system of preferences for India, a program that allowed for duty-free exports of certain products.

Former President Donald Trump called India “the tariff king,” saying: “When we send a motorcycle to India, it’s a 100 percent tariff. When India sends a motorcycle to us, we brilliantly charge them nothing.” On defense, Rossow noted: “Mayor Garcetti will have a particularly steep learning curve to cover our defense relationship with India.” He referred to military exercises, finding a comfortable “strategic pathway,” pending defense sales, and the evolution of Quad, an initiative by the U.S., Japan, Australia and India to get Covid vaccines to the developing world. Garcetti’s close ties to Biden could accelerate Quad’s strategy, predicted Rossow.

The veteran India expert acknowledged that Garcetti presently has no relationship to India nor to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His views on contentious issues, such as India’s treatment of its minorities, or his position on statehood for Jammu and Kashmir are unknown. However, the two-term mayor serves on the executive committee of Human Rights Watch, which has been critical of the Modi government. Indiaspora founder MR Rangaswami cheered Biden’s announcement. “It is good for India to have an ambassador from the U.S., who is a Rhodes scholar and familiar with geopolitics.”

Narendra Modi Drops 12 Ministers, Inducts 43 In Major Cabinet Reshuffle

In a massive Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, July 6th, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped 12 senior ministers and inducted a younger team aimed at refurbishing his government’s image after widespread criticism of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifteen Cabinet ministers and 28 junior ministers were sworn in by President Kovind at a ceremony in the presidential palace. Eight junior ministers were elevated to Cabinet rank.

Hours after 43 leaders took oath as ministers in the RashtrapatiBhavan, the Centre allocated portfolios to the newly inducted ministers. While Home Minister Amit Shah will be in charge of the newly created Ministry of Cooperation, Ashwini Vasihnaw has been given ministries of Railways, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology. KirenRijiju will be the new Minister of Law and Justice. Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, whose response to the epidemic came under close examination, Education Minister Ramesh PokhriyalNishank, Law and Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar were among those who resigned hours ahead of the reshuffle. Prasad was involved in a bitter row with Twitter over India’s new internet regulations, which digital activists say could curtail online speech and privacy. He has been replaced by Ashwini Vaishnaw.

Mansukh Mandaviya replaces Dr. Vardhan as the new Health Minister, says a statement by the president’s office. He is from Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Modi retained Home Minister Amit Shah, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister SubrahmanyamJaishankar. Other key portfolios were given to KirenRijiju (Law and Justice), Hardeep Singh Puri (Petroleum and Natural Gas), Bhupender Yadav (Environment), Anurag Singh Thakur (Information and Broadcasting) and Dharmendra Pradhan (Education).

JyotiradityaScindia — one of the BJP’s high-profile acquisitions from the Congress — has been given charge of the Civil aviation ministry at a time the sector is struggling under the Covid onslaught. The ministry was once handled by his father MadhavraoScindia, who died in a plane crash in 2001. It is the first Cabinet reshuffle since Modi was returned to power for a second term in 2019. The government is facing increasing criticism for its handling of the pandemic. Vardhan, who was in charge of the Health Ministry as well as the Science and Technology Ministry, led the response to the pandemic.

“In one clean sweep, you have senior ministers being removed. The government has admitted by these changes that it has failed miserably in handling the pandemic as it should have,” said NilanjanMukhopadhyay, a well-known journalist and political analyst. As the country braces for a third wave of Covid following a debilitating second surge, Mansukh Mandaviya has been given the challenge of leading the containment efforts as the head of the crucial health ministry. His junior minister will be DrBharatiPawar. In addition, he would retain the Ministry of Chemical Fertilizers.

More than half of India’s reported 400,000 coronavirus deaths — the third most of any country — have occurred over the past two months as the delta variant of the virus tore through the nation and overwhelmed its already strained health system. New cases are on the decline after exceeding 400,000 a day in May, but authorities are preparing for another possible wave and are trying to ramp up vaccinations. The reshuffle also came after the defeat of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in April elections in key West Bengal state, a test of its handling of the pandemic.

Modi will face another major test of his popularity in legislative elections in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand states in February and March next year, which may prove to be a bellwether for his party’s fate in 2024 national elections. “I congratulate all the colleagues who have taken oath today and wish them the very best for their ministerial tenure. We will continue working to fulfil aspirations of the people and build a strong and prosperous India,” PM Modi had tweeted after the oath ceremony this evening.

RASHTRAPATI BHAVAN

PRESS COMMUNIQUE

The President of India, as advised by the Prime Minister, has directed the allocation of portfolios among the following members of the Council of Ministers :-

Shri Narendra Modi Prime Minister and also in-charge of:

Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions;

Department of Atomic Energy;

Department of Space;

All important policy issues; and

All other portfolios not allocated to any Minister

 CABINET MINISTERS

1. Shri Raj Nath Singh Minister of Defence
2. Shri Amit Shah Minister of Home Affairs; and

Minister of Cooperation

3. Shri Nitin Jairam Gadkari Minister of Road Transport and Highways
4. Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman Minister of Finance; and

Minister of Corporate Affairs

5. Shri Narendra Singh Tomar Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
6. Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar Minister of External Affairs
7. Shri Arjun Munda Minister of Tribal Affairs
8. Smt. Smriti Zubin Irani Minister of Women and Child Development

CABINET MINISTERS (CONTD.)

9. Shri Piyush Goyal Minister of Commerce and Industry;

Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution; and

Minister of Textiles

10. Shri Dharmendra Pradhan Minister of Education; and

Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship

11. Shri Pralhad Joshi Minister of

Parliamentary Affairs;

Minister of Coal; and

Minister of Mines

12. Shri Narayan Tatu Rane Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises
13. Shri Sarbananda Sonowal Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways; and

Minister of AYUSH

14. Shri Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi Minister of Minority Affairs
15. Dr. Virendra Kumar Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment
16. Shri Giriraj Singh Minister of Rural Development; and

Minister of Panchayati Raj

17. Shri Jyotiraditya M. Scindia Minister of Civil Aviation
18. Shri Ramchandra Prasad Singh Minister of Steel
19. Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw Minister of Railways;

Minister of Communications; and

Minister of Electronics and Information Technology

CABINET MINISTERS (CONTD.)

20. Shri Pashu Pati Kumar Paras Minister of Food Processing Industries
21. Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat Minister of Jal Shakti
22. Shri Kiren Rijiju Minister of Law and Justice
23. Shri Raj Kumar Singh Minister of Power; and

Minister of New and Renewable Energy

24. Shri Hardeep Singh Puri Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas; and

Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs

25. Shri Mansukh Mandaviya Minister of Health and Family Welfare; and

Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers

26. Shri Bhupender Yadav Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; and

Minister of Labour and Employment

27. Dr. Mahendra Nath Pandey Minister of Heavy Industries
28. Shri Parshottam Rupala Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying
29. Shri G. Kishan Reddy Minister of Culture;

Minister of Tourism; and

Minister of Development of North Eastern Region

30. Shri Anurag Singh Thakur Minister of Information and Broadcasting; and

Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports

 

MINISTERS OF STATE (INDEPENDENT CHARGE)

1. Rao Inderjit Singh Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation;

Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Planning; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs

2. Dr. Jitendra Singh Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Science and Technology;

Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Earth Sciences;

Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office;

Minister of State in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions;

Minister of State in the Department of Atomic Energy; and

Minister of State in the Department of Space

 

MINISTERS OF STATE

1. Shri Shripad Yesso Naik Minister of State in the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism

2. Shri Faggansingh Kulaste Minister of State in the Ministry of Steel; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Rural Development

 

3. Shri Prahalad Singh Patel Minister of State in the Ministry of Jal Shakti; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Food Processing Industries

4. Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey Minister of State in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

5. Shri Arjun Ram Meghwal Minister of State in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Culture

6. General (Retd.) V. K. Singh Minister of State in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Civil Aviation

7. Shri Krishan Pal Minister of State in the Ministry of Power; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Heavy Industries

8. Shri Danve Raosaheb Dadarao Minister of State in the Ministry of Railways;

Minister of State in the Ministry of Coal; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Mines

9. Shri Ramdas Athawale Minister of State in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
10. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti Minister of State in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Rural Development

11. Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Balyan Minister of State in the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying

 

12. Shri Nityanand Rai Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs
13. Shri Pankaj Chaowdhary Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance
14. Smt. Anupriya Singh Patel Minister of State in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry
15. Prof. S. P. Singh Baghel Minister of State in the Ministry of Law and Justice
16. Shri Rajeev Chandrasekhar Minister of State in the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology

17. Sushri Shobha Karandlaje Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
18. Shri Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma Minister of State in the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises
19. Smt. Darshana Vikram Jardosh Minister of State in the Ministry of Textiles; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Railways

20. Shri V. Muraleedharan Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs

21. Smt. Meenakashi Lekhi Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Culture

22. Shri Som Parkash Minister of State in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry

 

23. Smt. Renuka Singh Saruta Minister of State in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs
24. Shri Rameswar Teli Minister of State in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Labour and Employment

25. Shri Kailash Choudhary Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
26. Smt. Annpurna Devi Minister of State in the Ministry of Education
27. Shri A. Narayanaswamy Minister of State in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
28. Shri Kaushal Kishore Minister of State in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs
29. Shri Ajay Bhatt Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism

30. Shri B. L. Verma Minister of State in the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Cooperation

31. Shri Ajay Kumar Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs
32. Shri Devusinh Chauhan Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications

 

33. Shri Bhagwanth Khuba Minister of State in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers

34. Shri Kapil Moreshwar Patil Minister of State in the Ministry of Panchayati Raj
35. Sushri Pratima Bhoumik Minister of State in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
36. Dr. Subhas Sarkar Minister of State in the Ministry of Education
37. Dr. Bhagwat Kishanrao Karad Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance
38. Dr. Rajkumar Ranjan Singh Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Education

39. Dr. Bharati Pravin Pawar Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
40. Shri Bishweswar Tudu Minister of State in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Jal Shakti

41. Shri Shantanu Thakur Minister of State in the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways
42. Dr. Munjapara Mahendrabhai Minister of State in the Ministry of Women and Child Development; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of AYUSH

43. Shri John Barla Minister of State in the Ministry of Minority Affairs

 

44. Dr. L. Murugan Minister of State in the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting

45. Shri Nisith Pramanik Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs; and

Minister of State in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports

 

 

Death Of Indian Jesuit Stan Swamy Throws Light On Abuse Of India’s Anti-Terrorism Laws

The body of 84-year-old Indian Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, who died under detention, was cremated on July 6 after a court asked Jesuit officials to follow prison rules. Father Stan Swamy was championing the rights of indigenous and marginalized people in eastern India’s Jharkhand state, breathed his last at the Holy Family Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai, where he was admitted for treatment over a month ago. Father Swamy was a Jesuit for 64 years, and a priest for 51 years.

The body of Father Swamy, who died of post-Covid-19 complications on July 5 in church-run Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai, was taken to a government crematorium after a requiem Mass. “Although he was free from Covid-19, we have been asked by the court to follow prison rules,” Jesuit Father Joseph Xavier said at the end of the July 6 funeral service after announcing the decision to cremate the priest’s body.  Father Swamy’s body was cremated in an electric crematorium at around 6.30pm after the funeral Mass, Father Joseph told UCA News on July 7.

Dr. Stanislaus D’Souza SJ, the Jesuit Provincial of India, said: “With a deep sense of pain, anguish and hope we have surrendered Fr Stan Swamy, aged 84, to his eternal abode.”The funeral service and Mass was led by Father Arun De Souza, Jesuit provincial of Mumbai, at St. Peter’s Church in Bandra, a Mumbai suburb. Only some 20 people attended the service because of Covid-19 restrictions.  Jesuits said the ashes will be carried to Ranchi town in eastern India where the missionary priest was based and to Jamshedpur town, the base of his Jesuit province. Father Stanislaus Arulswamy, known popularly as Stan Swamy had Parkinson’s disease, developed a pulmonary infection, post-Covid-19 complications in the lungs and pneumonia, according to the hospital’s medical director Ian D’Souza.  India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) that is tasked with fighting terrorism and sedition under the controversial Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), arrested Father Swamy on October 8 from Bagaicha, a Jesuit social action center on the outskirts of Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand.

The following day, he was lodged in Taloja Jail, near Mumbai.  He was arrested for alleged links with Maoist insurgents who were said to have been behind the caste-based violence in BhimaKoregaon village in Maharashtra state in January 2018, in which one person was killed and many others injured.  Fifteen others, including scholars, lawyers, academicians, cultural activists and an ageing radical poet, have also been implicated in the same case. Father Swamy who suffered from Parkinson’s disease had difficulty in even sipping water from a glass and depended on co-prisoners for his other basic needs.  Besides, he also had hearing impairment and other age-related ailments.

The NIA court denied him bail twice, forcing him to twice move the Bombay High Court for bail. In the second week of May, the priest’s family members sought his release on grounds that he had contracted Covid-19 and was unable to even speak to his lawyers.  While hearing his bail plea on health grounds on May 21 through a video linkup, the Bombay High Court sensed Fr. Swamy’s failing health, and offered him treatment in a government or private hospital.  But the Jesuit turned down the offer, saying all he wanted was bail to go back to his home.  “I would rather suffer, possibly die very shortly if this were to go on,” he said.  He explained that when he arrived at the prison, his bodily systems “were very functional”, but in the over 7 months in prison, “there has been a steady, slow regression” of his health.

JCSA said “the Bombay High Court was hearing some petitions, seeking bail and a constitutional challenge to a section of UAPA, on July 5 when his lawyer announced Stan Swamy’s death.” “He suffered a cardiac arrest at 4.30 am on Saturday, and deteriorated thereafter,” JCSA said. The Archdiocese of Ranchi where Father Swamy served hailed him as  “a champion of tribal rights, a fighter for justice and a symbol of courage”.  “The fact that this sick man suffering with Parkinson disease was arrested at the age of 84, refused bail for over 7 months, not even allowed a sipper and finally contracted COVID in jail, itself is a sad reflection on those who got the innocent man arrested and the courts that refused to give him bail,” said a statement signed by

Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi and Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.  “The ‘caged parrot’ now sings in heaven but its blood is on our hands,” they wrote,   “May the hand of God intervene to bring justice to all innocent victims of insensitivity, vindictiveness and injustice. We have lost Fr. Stan Swamy but we still hope in the God of justice,” they added.The Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, to which Father Swamy belonged, also expressed “a deep sense of pain, anguish and hope” at the death of the “servant in mission of justice and reconciliation”. In a Facebook post, Father Jerome Cutinha noted that the “author of life” had given Father Swamy “a mission to work among the Advasis [indigenous], Dalits [downtrodden] and other marginalized communities so that the poor may have life and life to the full, with dignity and honour”. “The Society of Jesus [Jesuits], at this moment, recommits itself to take forward the legacy of Fr. Stan in hits mission of justice and reconciliation,” Father Cutinha wrote.

“We are deeply saddened at the passing away of Fr. Stan Swamy. We give thanks to God for Fr. Stan’s life and commitment to the poor indigenous people and their struggles,” wrote Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay in a brief statement.  “Fr. Stan’s arrest was very painful,” lamented the cardinal who is President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).   “Under the Indian criminal law, one is innocent until proved guilty,” he wrote. “Fr. Stan’s case did not even come up for hearing. We were eagerly waiting for the case to be taken up and the truth to come out,” the cardinal wrote.

Fr. Swamy’s commitment

Father Swamy has denied all charges against him saying BhimaKoregaon is “a place that I have never been to in all my life.” However, sensing his imminent arrest, he had released a video message explaining his situation.  He said that what was happening to him was not something unique or happening to him alone. “It’s a broader process that is taking place over the country.”  Prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists and student leaders, he said, “are all put into jail just because they have expressed dissent…”.

This however did not dim his resolve to pursue his convictions.  “I am happy to be part of this process because I am not a silent spectator,” he said in the video.  He explained that with the creation of Jharkhand state in 2000, there were issues, such as displacement and land alienation because of mining, factories townships and dams”, in which the people who owned that land were not consulted.  He engaged young activists to resort to the country rulings or laws that empowered the indigenous people in issues regarding their lands and territories.

The death in India of an octogenarian human rights activist who was denied bail even as his health deteriorated in prison has sparked anger across the country, with critics decrying the government’s alleged misuse of anti-terrorism laws. For decades, he fought for the human rights of India’s marginalized and indigenous groups, speaking and writing in depth about caste-based injustices.

India’s caste system was officially abolished in 1950, but the 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth still exists in many aspects of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, what jobs they can do and who they can marry. In October last year, Swamy was arrested and charged under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which critics have described as draconian.

Stan Swamy was among 16 renowned activists, academics and lawyers who were charged under a draconian anti-terror law in what came to be known as the BhimaKoregaon case.  Prison authorities were criticized for denying him access to basic amenities such as a straw and sipper – a plastic drinking beaker with a spout or straw – which he needed to drink water because of hand tremors caused by Parkinson’s. The Elgar Parishad case is related to inflammatory speeches made at a conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which, the police claimed, triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial located on the outskirts of the western Maharashtra city. The police had claimed the conclave was organized by people with alleged Maoist links.

Human Rights Violated: Modi Regime Abuses Power

Stan Swamy’s arrest sparked outrage worldwide, prompting several opposition politicians, national and international rights groups to demand his release. The others accused in the case termed Stan Swamy’s death an “institutional murder” and held the “negligent jails, indifferent courts and malicious investigating agencies” responsible for it. As a mark of protest, 10 of the co-accused in the case – Rona Wilson, SurendraGadling, SudhirDhawale, Mahesh Raut, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, GautamNavlakha, AnandTeltumbde, Ramesh Gaichor and SagarGorkhe – went on a one-day fast in the Taloja jail on Wednesday.

They informed about the protest to their family members, who released a statement saying all Elgar case prisoners have blamed the NIA and the Taloja jail’s former superintendent KaustubhKurlekar for the death of Father Stan Swamy. They believe that “the separation of Stan Swamy from them is a deliberate institutional murder,” the release said. The statement alleged that the NIA and Kurlekar never missed a single opportunity to “harass” Stan Swamy, whether it was the “ghastly treatment” inside the jail, the haste to transfer him back from hospital to jail or even protesting against trivial things like a sipper (which Stan Swamy required due to his medical conditions).

“It is these that have caused the death of Stan Swamy and therefore, for this institutional murder, NIA officials and Kurlekar should be tried under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code,” the statement said, while demanding a judicial inquiry into his death.

The statement said the family members of the accused will submit these demands to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray through the Taloja jail administration. It also said that though these accused were lodged in different barracks, they met on Tuesday and shared their memories of Father Stan Swamy, and also observed a two-minute silence as a mark of tribute to him. Three women accused in the case- SudhaBharadwaj, Shoma Sen and JyotiJagtap – are currently lodged at the Byculla prison in Mumbai.

The United Nations Human Rights on Tuesday issued a statement on his death and detention, criticising India. The international body tweeted, “We are saddened and disturbed by the death of 84-year-old human rights defender Father Stan Swamy, after prolonged pre-trial detention. With Covid-19, it is even more urgent that states release every person detained without sufficient legal basis.” In its statement, the UN Human Rights’ office of the high commissioner had said that Father Stan had been held in pre-trial detention without bail since his arrest, charged with terrorism-related offences in relation to demonstrations that date back to 2018.

“High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the UN’s independent experts have repeatedly raised the cases of Father Stan and 15 other human rights defenders associated with the same events with the Government of India over the past three years and urged their release from pre-trial detention. The High Commissioner has also raised concerns over the use of the UAPA in relation to human rights defenders, a law Father Stan was challenging before the Indian courts days before he died,” the UN statement said. “We stress, once again, the High Commissioner’s call on the Government of India to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association,” Bachelet said in her statement.

An international alliance of civil rights groups has blamed the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the death of an 84-year-old Jesuit social activist who died under detention. Human rights defender Father Stan Swamy’s death on July 5 while awaiting trial has deeply shocked and outraged global civil society alliance CIVICUS. A slew of opposition politicians, rights groups and academics, have expressed sadness for his death — as well as anger for the laws under which he was arrested and denied bail. Critics have long accused India’s government of increasingly using anti-terrorism laws as a means to quell any form of dissent.

Harsh Mander, a prominent Indian rights activist called Swamy’s death a “tragedy for the nation.” “A cruel state jailed him to silence his voice, the judiciary did nothing to secure his freedom,” he said on Twitter. International figures have spoken out as well — the European Union’s special representative for human rights said the EU had been “raising his case repeatedly with authorities,” calling Swamy a “defender of indigenous people’s rights.”

MeenakshiGanguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Swamy’s arrest highlights “a degree of cruelty and callousness that is shameful.” “The counter terror law is draconian. We see it is being used rampantly to jail peaceful critics without bail,” Ganguly said. “It was for the courts to decide if Swamy was guilty, but in repeatedly stifling bail, the authorities chose not to protect,” the “fragile, ailing” activist, she added.

The priest’s death “is a result of the persecution he has faced by the Modi government after revealing abuses by the state,” the group said in a press statement. “Swamy’s death is a tragic loss for civil society and highlights the dangerous situation for other human rights defenders currently in jail in India,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS secretary-general. “Human rights activism and criticism of the state should not amount to the equivalent of a death sentence.”

Thousands of activists, political leaders and Indian citizens have taken to social media to pay tributes to Stan Swamy.  Many also expressed anger at the way he was jailed during Covid-19 and repeatedly denied bail. The government said Swamy’s arrest followed “due process under law”. Historian Ramachandra Guha called his death “a case of judicial murder“.  Leader of the main opposition Congress party Rahul Gandhi tweeted that “he deserved justice and humaneness”:

Indian American organizations have condemned the death of Father Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old defender of indigenous peoples’ rights in India, calling it a blot on India’s consciousness. “It is a dark day for democracy in India, and the national leadership and members of the judiciary should hang their heads in shame” questioning the failure of freedom of expression in a democratic nation,” George Abraham, vice-chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, said in a statement.

In his last bail hearing in May, Swamy had predicted his death. “I would rather suffer, possibly die here very shortly if this were to go on,” he told the judges. The Indian Express newspaper said Swamy’s death had “left the highest institutions of India’s justice system diminished”.”In the nearly nine months of his incarceration, till his death, the ailing activist came up – again and again – against the heavy hand of the state, an unresponsive judiciary and a broken prison system,” the newspaper said in an editorial. Chief Minister Hemant Soren of the eastern state of Jharkhand – where Swamy lived and worked – said the federal government “should be answerable for absolute apathy and non provision of timely medical services, leading to his death”.

PM Modi Is A ‘Predator of Press Freedom’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the list of 37 heads of state or government that the global body Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has identified as ‘predators of press freedom’. The entry against Modi notes how his “close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires” has helped him spread his nationalist-populist ideology through continued coverage of his “extremely divisive and derogatory” speeches.

India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index. RSF is the world’s biggest NGO specialising in the defence of media freedom, which is regarded as a basic human right to be informed and to inform others. Modi joins the likes of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Myanmar’s military head Min Aung Hlaing and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, along with 32 others who “trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.” This is the first time since 2016 that RSF is publishing such a list. Seventeen of the heads identified as ‘predators’ are new entrants. Thirteen of the 37 in the list are from the Asia-Pacific region.

Seven of the list’s world leaders have been a part of it since it was first published in 2001 and include Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Ali Khamenei, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko. The latter has gained credence as a ‘predator’ since the dramatic rerouting of a plane to capture critique and journalist Roman Protasevich. Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina and Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam are the two women identified as ‘predators’. For each of the predators, RSF has compiled a file identifying their ‘predatory method,’ their press release notes. The list also highlights how each ‘predator’ censors and persecutes journalists, and their ‘favourite targets’ – the kinds of journalists and media outlets they go after, along with quotations from speeches or interviews in which they ‘justify’ their predatory behaviour.

Modi’s entry notes that he has been a “predator since taking office” on May 26, 2014 and lists his ‘predatory methods’ as ‘national populism and disinformation’. His favourite targets, RSF says, are ‘sickulars’ and ‘presstitudes’. The former is a word which the Hindu rightwing and supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party use to slam viewpoints that are ‘secular’ – a word which is also in the Preamble of the Indian constitution – and not ostensibly rightwing Hindu-adhering. The latter is an amalgamation of ‘press’ and ‘prostitute’ – intended to indicate with the help of misogyny that media critical of Modi is a sellout.

The following is how the RSF describes Modi’s impact on the free press:

After becoming Gujarat’s chief minister in 2001, he used this western state as a laboratory for the news and information control methods he deployed after being elected as India’s prime minister in 2014. His leading weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimise his national-populist ideology. To this end, he has developed close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires.

This insidious strategy works in two ways. On the one hand, by visibly ingratiating himself with the owners of leading media outlets, their journalists know they risk dismissal if they criticise the government. On the other, prominent coverage of his extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation, enables the media to achieve record audience levels.

All that is left for Modi is to neutralise the media outlets and journalists that question his divisive methods. For this, he has a judicial arsenal with provisions that pose a major threat to press freedom. For example, journalists risk the possibility of life imprisonment under the extremely vague charge of sedition. To round off this arsenal, Modi can count on an army of online trolls known as “yodha” (the Hindi word for “warriors”), who wage appalling hate campaigns on social media against the journalists they don’t like, campaigns that almost routinely include calls for the journalists to be killed.

The note also points out the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, in 2017, was a significant victim of Hindutva, “the ideology that spawned the Hindu nationalist movement that worships Modi.” It also notes like women journalists like Rana Ayyub and BarkhaDutt, who have been critical of Modi, receive the brunt of virulent attacks, including doxxing and call for gang-rapes. As a rule, any journalists or media outlets that question the prime minister’s national-populist ideology are quickly branded as “sickular” – a portmanteau of “sick” and “secular” – and are targeted by “bakht,”

Modi devotees who bring lawsuits against them, defame them in the mainstream media and coordinate online attacks against them. Recently, RSF had been critical of the “absurd charges” of “criminal conspiracy” brought against The Wire, Twitter India, and journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi and Mohammed Zubair in connection with tweets and reports on an attack against a Muslim elderly man in Ghaziabad.

(Courtesy: Thewire.in)

India Is The World’s Biggest Vaccine Maker. Yet Only 4% Of Indians Are Vaccinated

When Mumbai began lifting its coronavirus lockdown this month, Rekha Gala could finally reopen her late father’s photocopy and stationary store, which she runs with her siblings in a jumble of low-slung businesses north of the city center. They’d been closed for nearly three months. They needed to recoup business. But she was terrified. Gala had lost both her parents to other illnesses in the past year and several neighbors to COVID-19. She’d only been able to get her first vaccine dose, which she knew wouldn’t fully protect her from getting ill. So she strung a rope across her shop’s open doorway. Customers point at merchandise through the front window, and Gala passes things to them across the rope. Even so, business is “not even 50%” of what it was before the pandemic, she says.

“Small businesses like ours, we’re struggling to survive,” Gala says. “But we also need to take precautions for ourselves – and take vaccines if we can get them.” A medical worker observes COVID-19 patients in a sports stadium converted into a care facility. At the peak of the pandemic in India, there were over 400,000 cases — and 4,500 deaths — a day. Numbers are now starting to decline. On Tuesday, India confirmed 37,566 new coronavirus cases — less than a tenth of what it was seeing at its peak last month. As the country emerges from the world’s biggest and deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, scientists and policy makers say vaccinations will be key to India’s safety, confidence and economic recovery. Small business owners like Gala agree. But so far, only about 4% of people in India are fully vaccinated. And scientists say another COVID-19 wave may hit India this fall.

The Government’s Insufficient Order

That’s a surprising position for the country that’s home to the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India. It has long churned out more vaccine doses by volume than any other company, even before the coronavirus pandemic. A technician at India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, waits to collect vials containing vaccine after they pass through a machine that checks for bottling and vaccine substance deficiencies. For a number of reasons, the supply of COVID vaccines for Indians has fallen short. So far only 4% of the population has been vaccinated.

Last spring, Serum’s CEO Adar Poonawalla made a gamble: He began mass-producing several COVID-19 vaccines even before clinical trials revealed which ones would work. He concentrated on one in particular – the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. He knew it would be useful in low resource countries because it doesn’t require ultra-cold refrigeration. Adar Poonawalla is the CEO of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. In late April, amid rising public anger over shortages of vaccines, Poonawalla left India for the United Kingdom. He told a British newspaper he faced “threats and aggression” from VIPs in India who couldn’t get their shots. He returned to India in June.

In late 2020, clinical trials yielded positive results. Countries around the world began granting emergency authorization to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and the World Health Organization followed suit. By then, the Serum Institute already had tens of millions of doses ready to distribute. Poonawalla promised half of his production to his home country of India. Confident with that pledge from Serum, the Indian government set ambitious goals at the start of its COVID-19 vaccination campaign in January. But it didn’t order enough doses. It wasn’t until Jan. 11 — five days before India’s national vaccination drive began – that the government ordered its first batch of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute. And it was an order for just 11 million doses – in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people. The government also pledged to order another 45 million from Serum and a smaller number of doses of another vaccine from another Indian company, Bharat Biotech.

At the time, coronavirus cases had hit record lows in India. So there wasn’t much urgency. Opinion polls revealed some vaccine hesitancy among the public. And the government was still negotiating with Serum for better prices before ordering more. The Indian government eventually did up its order and even donated tens of millions of doses as a gesture of goodwill to neighboring countries – and, analysts say, to compete with Russia and China, which have been selling and donating their own vaccines around the world. Then a second wave of COVID-19 exploded across India – and the country desperately needed those vaccines it had given away.

‘A Series Of Missteps’ Amid Increased Demand

Throughout April and May, Indians died of COVID-19 in record numbers. Many couldn’t get ambulances. Hospitals ran out of oxygen. At its peak, India was confirming more than 400,000 coronavirus cases a day and more than 4,500 daily deaths. But the real numbers may be many multiples higher because coronavirus testing collapsed too. Amid rising demand for vaccines at home, the Indian government quietly cut back on vaccine exports in April, redirecting those doses to the domestic population. “It’s unofficial of course, but India is going to be using all the vaccine manufactured in the country,” says MaliniAisola, one of the leaders of the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), a health-care watchdog. “There is nothing left for export.”

In late May, Serum acknowledged that it would be unable to supply coronavirus vaccines to COVAX, the WHO’s program to distribute vaccines to lower-income countries, until the end of this year. Serum was supposed to be the program’s biggest supplier. In addition to COVAX, dozens of countries had placed orders with Serum and in some cases even paid for vaccines they never received. A worker surrounded by boxes of vaccines in the cold storage unit of the Serum Institute of India. In addition to manufacturing the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, the institute produces vaccines for measles, tetanus and many other diseases. But the supply of COVID vaccines for India — and COVAX, the global vaccine program — has been problematic.

Meanwhile in India, even with all of Serum’s output redirected domestically, there still wasn’t enough. Hundreds of vaccine centers across the country were forced to close temporarily in April and May for lack of supplies. Hundreds of thousands of Indians who’d managed to get a first dose couldn’t get a second one. On May 1, shortages were further exacerbated when the Indian government opened up vaccinations to all adults age 18 and up – without enough supply. At the time, health and frontline workers still hadn’t all been inoculated. Huge lines formed at vaccine centers across the country, and thousands of them ran out of shots and had to shut again.

In mid-May, the government also lengthened the interval between doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, requiring people to wait 12 to 16 weeks for a second dose. The government denies it was rationing vaccines, and defended the interval decisionas based on scientific data. But members of the government’s own scientific advisory board told Reuters they did not back the decision. “Unfortunately I think there has been a series of missteps. The current situation was not entirely unforeseeable,” Aisola says. “There was always going to be a large amount of vaccine required to immunize a huge population, and the government really should have made efforts not just in terms of purchasing but also efforts early on to utilize unused capacity.

She says unlike the United States, which invoked the Defense Production Act to bolster vaccine production, India failed to use government authority to ramp up manufacturing and also exported or gave away early supplies. It also allocated 25% of its vaccine supply to private clinics, where prices were out of reach for a majority of Indians.

“What Happens When You Put All Your Eggs In One Basket”

Serum had pledged to ramp up its production, telling NPR in early March that it would soon be churning out 100 million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca per month. That never happened. The company has been producing 60 to 70 million doses per month instead. It has cited price caps by the Indian government, lack of raw material exports from the U.S. – and a fire that damaged part of its facility. “It’s a demonstration of what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket,” says Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington D.C. “Frankly, the Serum Institute’s story — what they’re telling to the U.S. government, what they’re telling to the government of India, what they’re saying publicly — those stories don’t match up.”

In late April, amid rising public anger over shortages of vaccines, Poonawalla left India for the United Kingdom. He told a British newspaper he faced “threats and aggression” from VIPs in India who couldn’t get their shots. A spokesperson for Poonawalla told NPR he returned to India in late June. While NPR interviewed him in summer 2020, he has refused several requests for a follow-up interview.

Signing Up For A Vaccine: ‘Definitely A Challenge’

Amid high demand and low supply, it’s been difficult to book vaccination appointments in India. Initially, all appointments had to be booked on a government website or app called CoWIN. But they’re notoriously buggy. When NPR visited a vaccination center north of Mumbai back in late January, even hospital administrators were having trouble using CoWIN, amid power cuts. Social media has been full of comments by users exasperated by glitches on the app and website. So Berty Thomas took matters into his own hands. He’s a computer programmer who, in the wake of these glitches, built two apps – one for the under-45 age group, and another for those over 45. (On CoWIN, vaccine eligibility is different for those two groups.) Thomas’ apps essentially monitor CoWIN and alert users when slots for appointments open up. His service sends out a text message instructing users when to get online and book. More than 3.5 million people in India have used Thomas’ tools – and a few others have since emerged too.

“On one hand, I like that the government is doing a technology-driven vaccine rollout. There needs to be a central database where they know who is getting vaccinated,” Thomas says. “But at the same time, there are places where people do not have access to internet. So this is definitely a challenge.” Hundreds of millions of Indians lack smartphones or regular access to the internet. Several tens of millions of Indians also are unable to read. At first, the CoWIN app was only in English – spoken by a minority of Indians — but it has since expanded to 12 languages. Earlier this month, all government vaccination centers began accepting walk-ins for registration. “I tried and tried but for months I wasn’t able to book a shot online,” one man told local TV, relieved that he could finally register in person at a clinic in the capital New Delhi.

Modi Hits Back At Criticism

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under widespread criticism for problems with the country’s vaccine rollout. He was also attacked for holding election rallies – with scant social distancing – as coronavirus cases were rising in April. His approval ratings have dipped. After several weeks of silence, Modi gave a televised address to the nation on June 7 in which he hit back at some of the criticism. “We should remember that our rate of vaccination is faster than many more-developed countries, and our tech platform CoWIN is also being appreciated,” Modi said. He’s right in terms of real numbers: India has administered more than 330 million vaccine doses. But most of those are first doses. The vaccines used in India require two. So India has a long way to go before a majority of its nearly 1.4 billion people have some protection.

Modi also announced a major policy reversal: Starting on June 21, everyone in India age 18 and up became eligible for free COVID-19 shots. Previously, Modi’s central government agreed to vaccinate only those aged 45 and up at no cost — and left it to individual states to obtain and provide vaccines for younger people, often for a fee. Aisola, the public health advocate, says she approves of the reversal. It’s something the Indian government should have done from the beginning rather than leaving it to individual states to try to procure vaccines on the global market, she says. “Centralized bulk procurement is really the most efficient way to keep the price low, and also to optimize public resources,” Aisola says.

Finally, A Record Vaccination Day

On June 21, India administered some 8.6 million shots – a daily record for any country except China. Officials said it was possible because fresh supplies that the government had ordered during April and May are now finally coming online. “This is a new chapter in the war on corona,” India’s home minister Amit Shah told supporters that day in the western state of Gujarat. But an analysis of state data by local media shows states ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, may have withheld vaccinations in the preceding days in order to achieve that one-day record.

India’s health minister claims all Indian adults will be able to get fully vaccinated by the end of this year. But even with increased supply, that target may be too ambitious, experts say. “If we are able to give two doses to all the vulnerable, and if we can give one dose to the rest of the population, then we are in real good shape,” says Dr. GiridharaBabu, a Bengaluru-based member of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which is basically India’s equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Babu says he hopes that by late July, India might be able to vaccinate up to 10 million people a day.

Vaccinating quickly, ‘preparing for a third wave.’

Dr. Daksha Shah isn’t taking any chances. She’s a municipal health official in Mumbai — where, despite declining infections, she’s setting up new field hospitals. “We’re slowly opening up the economy, plus doing the vaccination drives — but at the same time, we are keeping a watch on daily positivity [rates] and on bed occupancy in the hospitals,” Shah says. “So we are preparing for the third wave also in case it happens.” India’s second COVID-19 wave was spread in part by attendees at a huge religious gathering in April on the banks of the Ganges River. Again this month, thousands of faithful gathered there to take a ritual dip in the river they consider most holy – despite local rules banning large gatherings.

“We have taken a bit of risk in coming here,” one devotee told local TV. “But we have taken all the safety precautions, like masks and hand sanitizers.” Meanwhile, whenever you make a phone call in India these days, you hear a similar message: “Wear your mask properly, wash your hands frequently, and yes, do not forget to take your vaccine on your turn.” It’s a COVID safety message from the government that plays before the ringtone for all phone calls. Hundreds of millions of Indians would like to heed that call – including Rekha Gala, the photocopy shop owner in northern Mumbai. But she’s still waiting her turn for a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. And she only managed to book an appointment for her first dose, with help from a local politician. She reached out to him after having trouble booking an appointment on CoWIN.

“The government is trying its best, but sometimes you have to go around and use your connections. It’s difficult. We have to take care,” Gala says. Right after she got her first dose, the government changed the rules, and she has to wait 84 days for her second dose. She says she just hopes another wave of COVID-19 doesn’t hit Mumbai before that.

(NPR producer Sushmita Pathak contributed to this story from Hyderabad, India.)

Thumps Up Modi Over Yoga

“Yoga fever grips the world, and the credit goes to Narendra Modi” This was the heading of a prominent blog (wionews.com).On a great way, despite the receding Corona pandemic, Indians celebrated an ancient tradition that grew into a global phenomenon, in front of Red Fort, on submarines and mountaintops, in schools and parks, by the dozens and by the thousands. Last Monday marked the 7thInternational Day of Yoga, a yearly event created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to highlight yoga within India and worldwide.

Today, to our pride, India has already patented its ownership of Yoga and the credit definitely, goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Whether the opposition agrees or not, Narendra Modi helped yoga attain the global status it deserved. According to Indian Prime Minister Modi, Yoga became a medium of self-confidence. It made people believe that they could fight with COVID-19. While in the USA, the Consulate General of India, New York, partnered with the Times Square Alliance to host the International Yoga celebrations in Times Square on Sunday. Over 3,000 people attended the day-long event, which was themed ‘Solstice.’

Yoga for Peace and Harmony was organized by the Embassy of India, Paris, in front of the Eiffel Tower and Wall of Peace.   WHO is about to launch M-Yoga app globally; Yoga focuses on mental well-being, says PM Modi that elevates its significance to a higher level indeed.Today, Yoga is not seen as just a practice native to India, but as India’s gift to the world, and everyone has made it their own: said Union Minister of State for AYUSH Kiran Rijiju

It is known globally that Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that helps in maintaining physical and mental well-being, and over the years, it has found popularity in other countries as well. During this lockdown & pandemic period, yoga can be ideal  to adopt as a lifestyle habit.Yoga exercises help us build a strong physical, mental and spiritual balancing system. Combining breathing and meditation, it acts as the best element to take care of our mind and body.  Different  forms of yoga can help us to stay physically strong and mentally serene. With Yoga we can motivate others in our family & social circle to do, as it could help them get through these times safely & healthily. Just like jogging in the park or 30 minutes of  gym exercising, Yoga brings its own benefits to the table, which can be practiced  by people of all ages. Meticulously yoga provides you with a holistic sense of health, which is especially required during these times.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed marking a day as the International Day of Yoga in his speech at the UN General Assembly during 2014 , and the proposal was endorsed by 175 member states, by which the United Nations recognized June 21 as the day to celebrate Yoga. Yoga has become the talk of the town worldwide ,and hence the healing aspect of Yoga is being looked at in scientific research being conducted across the world. Numerous studies are being conducted on the benefits of Yoga and on its positive impact on the body.

In spite of too many criticism hovers around, no doubt, Modi’s attempts to promote yoga is part of PM’s broader push to tap Indian traditions as a source of national pride and international influence.  A career in Yoga is also considered as a great choice nowadays. A person can opt for Yoga as a full-time course offered at various universities to make it a profession. Even in western countries, who were reluctant in accepting Indian traditions so far, have advanced ahead in embracing the concept and benefits of Yoga as an exercise.

For politicians sharing Modi’s views on yoga’s roots in ancient Vedas and philosophy, yoga’s origins and its enormous secular popularity add up to “the perfect vehicle to create a shared national consciousness,” The question of yoga’s parentage, the product of thousands of years of history and multiple religious and geographic influences, is vividly complex.That is why, On Tuesday, PinarayiVijayan Chief Minister of Kerala emphasized that yoga was not a part of any religion and should be practiced with a free and secular mind.

“Some people have been trying to hijack yoga by reciting ‘suktas.’ Such attempts should be checked as yoga is not a religious ritual. There should not be any misunderstanding that it is part of any religion. Yoga should be practiced with a free and secular mindset,” the CM stressed. Undoubtedly, Indians have a hidden tendency to look at everything suspiciously; whether any other religion or party is behind any social programs – forget it. Yoga is purely for physical and mental wellness- India wholeheartedly endorsed it

Modi Delivers Keynote Address At The 5th Edition Of Vivatech

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi delivered the keynote address at the 5th edition of VivaTech today via video conference. The Prime Minister was invited as a Guest of Honour to deliver the keynote address at VivaTech 2021, one of the largest digital and startup events in Europe, held in Paris every year since 2016.

Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister said that India and France have been working closely on a wide range of subjects. Among these, technology and digital are emerging areas of cooperation. It is the need of the hour that such cooperation continues to grow further. It will not only help our nations but also the world at large. Shri Modi mentioned Infosys providing tech support for the French Open tournament and collaboration involving French companies like Atos, Capgemini and India’s TCS and Wipro as examples of IT talent of the two countries serving companies and citizens all over the world.

Modi pointed out that where convention fails, innovation helps. During the pandemic, said the Prime Minister, digital technology helped us cope, connect, comfort and console. India’s universal and unique bio-metric digital identity system – Aadhar – helped to provide timely financial support to the poor. “We could supply free food to 800 million people, and deliver cooking-fuel subsidies to many households. We in India were able to operationalise two public digital education programes- Swayam and Diksha – in quick time to help students”, the Prime Minister informed.

The Indian leader praised the role of the start-up sector in meeting the challenge of the pandemic. The private sector played a key role in addressing the shortage of PPE kits, masks, testing kits etc. Doctors adopted tele-medicine in a big way so that some COVID and other non-COVID issues could be addressed virtually. Two vaccines are being made in India and more are in the development or trial stage. The Prime minister indicated that indigenous IT platform, Arogya-Setu enabled effective contact tracing. The COWIN digital platform has already helped ensure vaccines to millions.

Modi said that India is home to one of the world’s largest start-up eco systems. Several unicorns have come up in the recent years. India offers what innovators and investors need. He invited the world to invest in India based on the five pillars of: Talent, Market, Capital, Eco-system and, Culture of openness. The Prime Minister also stressed the strengths like, Indian talent pool, mobile phone penetration and Seven Seventy-Five million internet users, highest and cheap data consumption in the world and the highest use of social media to invite investors to India.

The Prime Minister also enumerated initiatives like state-of-the-art public digital infrastructure, five hundred and twenty three thousand kilometres of fibre optic network linking One hundred and fifty six thousand village councils, public wi-fi networks across the country. He also elaborated on efforts to nurture a culture of innovation. There are state-of-the-art innovation labs in Seven Thousand Five Hundred schools under the Atal Innovation Mission, the Prime Minister informed. Talking about the disruption in different sector over the past year, the Prime Minister insisted that disruption does not have to mean despair. Instead, the focus should be kept on the twin foundations of repair and prepare. “This time last year, the world was still seeking a vaccine. Today, we have quite a few. Similarly, we have to continue repairing health infrastructure and our economies. We in India implemented huge reforms across sectors, be it mining, space, banking, atomic energy and more. This goes on to show that India as a nation is adaptable and agile, even in the middle of the pandemic” Said Shri Modi.

Modi stressed the need for insulating our planet against the next pandemic. Ensuring we focus on sustainable life-styles that stop ecological degradation. Strengthening cooperation in furthering research as well as innovation. The Prime Minister called upon the start-up community to take the lead in working with collective spirit and a human centric approach to overcome this challenge. “The start-up space is dominated by youngsters. These are people free from the baggage of the past. They are best placed to power global transformation. Our start-ups must explore areas such as: Healthcare. Eco-friendly technology including waste recycling,

Agriculture, new age tools of learning”, said the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister emphasized that France and Europe are among India’s key partners. Referring to his conversations with President Macron, in summit with EU leaders in Porto in May, The Prime Minister said that digital partnership, from start-ups to quantum computing, emerged as a key priority. “History has shown that leadership in new technology drives economic strength, jobs and prosperity. But, our partnerships must also serve a larger purpose, in service of humanity. This pandemic is not only a test of our resilience, but also of our imagination It is a chance to build a more inclusive, caring and sustainable future for all,” concluded the Prime Minister.

Tamil Nadu CM Stalin’s Economic Council Has World’s Top Luminaries

The Tamil Nadu government will constitute an Economic Advisory Council to guide chief minister MK Stalin to chart out a rapid and inclusive economic growth path for the state, said Governor BanwarilalPurohit on Monday, June 21st.A white paper detailing the true state of Tamil Nadu’s finances will be released in July, said Governor BanwarilalPurohit during the first session of the 16th state legislative assembly in Chennai. And it comprises an impressive lineup of leading economic experts from all over the world. We’re talking Nobel laureate Esther Duflo (in pic) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, former RBI governor RaghuramRajan, former chief economic advisor to the central government Dr Arvind Subramanian, development economist Jean Dreze and former Union finance secretary Dr S Narayan as council members.

The council will provide general guidance on economic and social policy, social justice and human development-related issues, and in matters related to equal opportunities for women and well-being of underprivileged groups.It will also make suggestions to boost growth, employment and productivity across all sectors, as well as act as a sounding board for ideas that might resolve roadblocks to development. As the first step towards bringing down the overall debt burden and improving fiscal position, a white paper detailing the true state of the state’s finances would be released in July so that the people are fully informed.

The Tamil Nadu government will form an economic advisory council comprising Nobel laureate Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, and former Reserve Bank of India governor RaghuramRajan, to advise the chief minister. The other members of the council will be former chief economic advisor to the central government Arvind Subramanian, development economist Jean Dreze and former Union finance secretary S Narayan, Governor BanwarilalPurohit announced in his ceremonial address during the first session of the 16th state legislative assembly in Chennai on Monday.

“Based on the recommendation of the council, the government will revitalise the state’s economy and ensure that benefits of economic growth reach all segments of society,” Purohit said. He said the government will focus on improving the fiscal position and bringing down the debt burden. A white paper detailing the true state of Tamil Nadu’s finances will be released in July. During the first session of the 16th state legislative assembly in Chennai. The governor said while the Tamil Nadu government under MK Stalin would maintain a cordial relationship with the Union government, it would still fight for the rights of states.

The government has constituted a committee chaired by Justice AK Rajanto to study the adverse effects of the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) on socially and educationally backward students, the governor said. Purohit announced that ‘Singara Chennai 2.0’ programme would be launched to provide world-class infrastructure and services in Greater Chennai Corporation. He also said the government would ensure speedy completion of phase two of metro rail.

Governor said the availability of medical infrastructure including oxygen beds has been substantially enhanced on a war-footing. “The Tamil Nadu government will urge the Union government to make necessary laws and amendments to grant Indian citizenship to Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka,” the governor said. He said the government is committed to transparency and accountability in temple management. “A state-level advisory committee for all major Hindu temples will be constituted to enhance the facilities for devotees, improve the maintenance of temples and to advise on related issues,” he said.

He added that the reservation policy of the state is 100 years old and has stood the test of time, delivering true social justice. “The 69% reservation currently available in Tamil Nadu will be continued and protected.” Purohit concluded his speech by saying DMK-led government will be a people’s government and not the party’s.

Modi Government Is Riddled With Abject Failures Both Short Term As Well As Long Term

The pandemic no doubt was sudden and brutal but the way it was  managed was  simply catastrophic. When we compare COVID related deaths and death rates of India versus  the second largest democracy, the USA and other neighbors we find that  the leaders of India have  failing miserably in saving Indian lives. According to the latest statistics from New York Times,    India’s COVID related deaths have been significantly higher when compared to  other countries and in the nearby region. At the peak, the number of weekly average death was 4454 on May 23, 2021. On June 12, this was 3303. The tragic  part is it increased after June 9 when this average was 2177.

For the USA, this average has been 370 on June 12. Since the population of India is roughly 4 times of the USA, the death rate in India should have been 4×370 or around 1600. This means the death rate in India has been twice of that of the USA despite aid coming from all over the world to save Indian lives.

The weekly average death rate in Bangladesh has been just 30 on June 121. India’s population is about 8.7 times larger than Bangladesh which implies that India’s weekly average death rate should have been just 330. At the peak death rate in Bangladesh on April 23, the average figure was just 981 which implies that the peak weekly average death rate in India should have been 850. For Pakistan, the peak weekly death rate was 140 on April 28 and on June 12 it was 61  Since population of India is 6 times that of Pakistan it implies that the even per Pakistan’s standard, the peak weekly deaths in India should have been 850 (140×6) and on June 12 it should have been 360 (61×6)1.  It is really shameful, that with population adjustment made, India has been performing 10 times worse than its immediate neighbors Bangladesh and Pakistan in handling Covid death rates and at the peak (worst time of both the countries compared) also India was 5 times worse than them.

The GDP Debacle

On GDP also India’s performance has been dismal. As per the latest data, the growth rate of India has been -7.3% for the fiscal year 2021 (4/20 to 3/21). US and China are much bigger economies than India and they also had COVID almost on the same scale as India. However, their economies grew at the rate of 2.6% and 8.4% respectively. It is clearly the dismal failure of Modi government because of  its  regressive and myopic economic policies.

Another issue of major concern is the alarming Balance of Trade Deficit with China as a Cause of sluggish GDP growth of India.  It is  being touted that “Trade between China and India soared 70.1% in US dollar terms in the first five months of this year to $48.16 billion, according to Chinese customs data released on Monday. Specifically, Chinese exports to India grew 64.1% year-on-year from January to May, while imports surged 90.2%,” the tabloid Global Times reported2. The trade deficit during the same first five moths of 2021 has been$45 billion, which is 1.5% of India’s GDP. Since GDP = Consumption + Investment + Government Expenditure + Balance of Trade, India’s GDP is down by 1.5% in just five months of trade with China. This implies that for the whole year at this rate of trade deficit with China, India’s 3.6% of GDP would taken away by China.

It is very surprising that Modi Government seems oblivious to  this drain on India’s economy. President Trump imposed heavy import duties on China in the year 2018 and that has been continued under Biden administration, but the Indian Government is not even realizing this problem. What kind of Finance and Commerce Ministers this government has that they are not even understanding that with this kind of trade deficit, India’s GDP can’t grow? Only under this government with India-China trade volume of $87.6 billion in 2020, China overtook the US to become India’s largest trading partner despite a bloody conflict along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the rising anti-China sentiment. All Asian tigers and both China and Japan achieved miracles because of trade surpluses, but Modi government does not even realize that India’s wealth is being drained by China! Even one of the richest and the most powerful country, the USA could not survive the economic drain on US GDP caused by trade deficit with China. This problem must be discussed in Parliament. This is absolutely urgent.

Failure to tackle  Inflation and reduce unemployment:

India’s inflation for the year 2020 was 6.2% which is far above the stated goal of 4%. The Government’s failure on Unemployment reduction too is stark and glaring.  Over 10 million (1 crore) Indians have lost their jobs because of the second wave of Covid-19, and around 97 per cent of households’ incomes have declined since the beginning of the pandemic last year, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) chief executive Mahesh Vyas said on Monday4. The total figure of unemployed labour  has been 3.5 crores or 350 million.

Besides, the abysmally short-sighted policies of the government have accentuated the problem of Stagflation. India has experienced the worst of both the worlds during the current regime. Since the relationship between inflation and unemployment has historically been inverse in many parts of the world including India under Dr Man Mohan Singh’s government (also known as Phillips Curve), India under Modi government has seen higher inflation and higher unemployment as discussed above. This means stagflation is the special feature of this government because of its wrong economic policies.

The  inequality monster: India’s inequality had increased. Only two business houses of Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani have been accumulating wealth by exploiting the rest of India. As already discussed, that 97% of Indians have become poorer while the wealth of MukeshAmbani has tripled since the formation of this government in 2014 and Gautam Adani’s wealth has increased by about 30 times. As per Forbes records, Gautam Adani’s wealth was just $3.5 billion in March 2016 which jumped to $75 Billion on June 13, 2021. This kind of immense richness over just 5 years is not possible without government (Prime Minister in particular) favoring him.

The callous, insensitive and prejudiced Government under Modi has made a mockery of Governance and exposed the Indian nation and its people to the hydra of inflation, unemployment, crippling economy, a debilitating trade deficit and failing and a sinking health care system.

The present Government still has 3 more years to go before it faces the people in a general election. It is time for some serious course correction by the Modi Government, for the sake of its own survival and but more importantly for the people of India. Let us hope that the Modi Government shakes off the ignorance and arrogance, strategizes by putting the people of India first and performs with heart, mind and muscle in the second half of their thus far catastrophic tenure.

Sources:

Number in Subscript is the source number listed below:

  1.   https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/india/
  2. https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/trade-with-india-jumped-by-over-70-in-2021-shows-china-s-customs-data-101623143023368.html
  3. https://www.statista.com/statistics/271322/inflation-rate-in-india/
  4. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/second-wave-left-1-crore-indians-jobless-97-households-incomes-dipped-report-101622507233717.html
  5. https://www.forbes.com/profile/gautam-adani-1/?sh=492d278c5b0e

(RajendarDichpally is the  National General Secretary – Indian Overseas Congress, USA)

India Blames Twitter For Not Complying With Local Laws

NEW DELHI (AP) — The standoff between the Indian government and Twitter escalated Wednesday when the country’s technology minister accused the social media giant of deliberately not complying with local laws. Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Twitter has chosen “the path of deliberate defiance” when it comes to following new internet regulations that digital activists have said could curtail online speech and privacy in India.

“If any foreign entity believes that they can portray itself as the flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land, such attempts are misplaced,” Prasad said in a series of tweets.The Indian government has been at odds with major social media websites over a new set of sweeping regulations that give it more power to police online content. It requires companies to erase content that authorities deem unlawful, comply with government takedown orders, help with police investigations and identify the originators of “mischievous information.”

Under the new laws, social media websites and tech companies will also have to remove content within 36 hours after an administrative or legal order is issued. Their employees can be held criminally liable for failing to comply with the government’s requests.Twitter said in a statement Tuesday that it was making every effort to comply with the new regulations. The company said it had appointed an interim chief compliance officer in India, a requirement under the new regulations, and will soon notify India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

The new rules also require social media platforms to appoint what the government calls grievance officers to handle complaints from law enforcement agencies. Prasad, the IT minister, also accused Twitter of bias and said it was labeling some content as manipulated media, “only when it suits its likes and dislikes.” In May, leaders from Modi’s party tweeted parts of a document they said was created by the main opposition Congress Party to discredit the government’s handling of the pandemic. Some Congress leaders complained to Twitter, saying the document was forged. In response, Twitter marked some posts as “manipulated media.”

Twitter rules apply “manipulated media” tags to posts that have been “deceptively altered or fabricated.” The new internet regulations, announced in February, are among many challenges social media companies face after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pushed back against criticism that its new rules restrict online speech.Modi’s government has sought for years to control social media and has often directed Twitter to take down tweets or accounts that appear critical of his party and its leaders, including his administration’s handling of the pandemic. Twitter has complied with most of those orders.

The friction has intensified recently, with the government threatening social media companies with legal action and their employees with prison time if they refuse to comply with the takedown directives.Initially, Twitter expressed concern about what it called “the potential threat to freedom of expression” when the new rules came into effect late last month.

Eric GarcettiLikely To Be Named US Envoy ToIndia

President Biden is said to nominate Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti,50 to be the U.S. ambassador to India; and former senior State Department official Nicholas Burns to serve as his ambassador to China. With these selections, Biden is turning to a longtime political ally and a seasoned diplomat to serve in two of the country’s highest-profile diplomatic postings.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti,50, is likely to be nominated as U.S. ambassador to India by President Biden. The Associated Press reported last week that Biden is expected to announce that Garcetti will be picked for the post, citing a person familiar with the matter.Biden, who has yet to announce any of his picks to fill ambassador posts, has been planning to roll out the list all at once, a strategic move that has allowed speculation to build around several likely nominees. Sources also stated, former senior State Department official Nicholas Burns to serve as his ambassador to China, according to a person familiar with the matter.With these selections, Biden is turning to a longtime political ally and a seasoned diplomat to serve in two of the country’s highest-profile diplomatic postings.

It was not clear when either nomination would be announced, according to the person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to publicly comment on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity. The White House declined to comment on either Garcetti or Burns and noted that “no one is final until they’re announced.”Garcetti and Burns, if confirmed by the Senate, would come to their postings at high-pressure moments in the U.S. relationships with India and China. Garcetti, if confirmed, would be dispatched to India as it has been overwhelmed by a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths. India’s death toll is the third highest reported in the world after the U.S. and Brazil, and true numbers are thought to be significantly greater.

Garcetti had considered a 2020 White House bid and later on, became part of Biden’s inner circle, emerged as a widely discussed possibility to join Biden’s Cabinet last year. But he took himself out of the running, saying the raging coronavirus crisis made it impossible for him to step away.The two-term mayor would leave LA with an uneven record. He has been credited with continuing a transit buildup in a city choked with traffic, establishing tougher earthquake safety standards for thousands of buildings, and steering the city through the deadly pandemic as it became a hot spot for infections. Cases have fallen steeply in the city and some restrictions have been rolled back, consistent with the trajectory in the state.

Garcetti’s popularity has slipped in recent years, and Black Lives Matter protesters had banged drums outside his official residence earlier this year to urge Biden not to choose Garcetti for a Cabinet position. Garcetti was overmatched by a crisis of homelessness that became a national embarrassment despite the massive jump in government spending to fight it. Many streets and sidewalks remain cratered and crumbling, despite his early pledge to make fixing them a cornerstone of his administration.In picking Garcetti, the president would be rewarding a loyalist who was one of his national campaign co-chairs, who served on the committee that vetted his pool of vice presidential contenders, and who served as one of several co-chairs for Biden’s inaugural committee.

Garcetti was elected mayor in 2013 and reelected in 2017. He is serving a longer second term — of 5½ years, as opposed to four — because voters in 2015 backed a one-time change in the city’s election dates. Garcetti’s possible departure for India comes as the city slowly recovers from the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and grapples with an ongoing homelessness crisis.The overseas position, if it goes to the mayor, will be viewed as a reward to a longtime supporter of Biden’s. The India posting would allow the politically ambitious Garcetti to burnish his foreign policy credentials ahead of a possible future White House run. That’s a conspicuous gap on his resume — the Ivy League graduate and Rhodes scholar has spent two decades in city government, either as mayor or a city councilman.

Covid and (Lack of) Management and Acceleration of the Crisis in India

A summary of the presentation/talk by this writer via a Zoom Meeting at an Online Interaction with Shri DIGVIJAYA SINGH,” Senior Congress Leader & Member of Indian Parliament, Rajya Sabha on “PANDEMIC EFFECT ON URORGNIZED SECTOR AND CONGRESS RESPONSE,” organized by All India Unorganized Workers Congress in India on Sunday, May 23rd, 2021.

During the meeting, Mr. Arbind Singh, National Chairman of AIUWC welcomed the participants and invited Ajay Ghosh,  Chief Editor of the Universal News Network and BasvarajSankin, Head of Indian Overseas Congress in Spain to address the audience. Mr. Anshu Antony, Chair of the All India National Congress Party’s Training Wing introduced Mr. Ghosh to the audience.

Following the presentations, Mr. DigvijaySingh addressed the audience and responded to the concerns shared by the members of AIUWC, during which Mr. Singh responded to questions raised by AIUWC state presidents and Regional Coordinators.Below is the detailed address by Mr. Ajay Ghosh at the Event:

Covid-19 is notoriously hard to control, and political leaders are only part of the calculus when it comes to pandemic management. However, where leaders of the nations have responded adequately and planned and executed actions to prevent the spread and mitigate and eradicate the pandemic, the cases have been well contained. New Zeeland, Taiwan, Denmark, and some of the European countries and the United States under the current Biden administration are such examples of visionary leadership, protecting the people and saving lives from the pandenmic.

The US under Trump, several south American nations and India fall under the category of those world leaders who have made little effort to combat outbreaks in their country, whether by downplaying the pandemic’s severity, disregarding science or ignoring critical health interventions like vaccines, social distancing and masks.

India, which has been a shining example of development, freedom and fast growth, is the new epicenter of the global pandemic, recording some 400,000 new cases per day by May 2021. However grim, this statistic fails to capture the sheer horror unfolding there. Covid-19 patients are dying in hospitals because doctors have no oxygen to give and no lifesaving drugs that could save millions of lives. The sick are turned away from clinics that have no free beds.

In January 2021, Modi declared at a global forum that India had “saved humanity … by containing corona effectively.” In March, his health minister proclaimed that the pandemic was reaching an “endgame.” Covid-19 was actually gaining strength in India and worldwide—but his government made no preparations for possible contingencies, such as the emergence of a deadlier and more contagious Covid-19 variant.

The net result of such complacency and lack of vision and planning: Covid pandemic is killing thousands daily, crushing India’s modest health system, causing crippling shortages of doctors, nurses, medicines, even oxygen. Hospitals and medical professionals have put out urgent notices that they were unable to cope with the rush of patients.

How did we land here facing such a critical stage?

With India experiencing a devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, questions are being asked about how the country — which is home to the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer — got to this tragic point.The second wave of Covid-19, with the spiraling cases and deaths across cities and towns, making India currently the world’s worst pandemic-affected country, have now dented India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image in India and around the world for the poor vision, poor planning, and mismanagement of the most deadly virus in over a century.

India is now in a living hell. A new “double mutant” variant, named B.1.617, has emerged in a devastating coronavirus second wave which has seen hospitals run out of beds and oxygen. Mortuaries are so full that bodies are justify to decompose at home.A recent story in TIME magazine titled, “’This Is Hell.’ Prime Minister Modi’s Failure to Lead Is Deepening India’s COVID-19 Crisis” pointed out how India has mismanaged and sent misleading messages.

After declaring ‘victory’ over Covi, the Prime Minister and other political leadership spent their time organizing a blitzkrieg of election rallies in West Bengal and Assam without wearing masks and while exhorting large crowds to gather.When Covid was spreading rapidly in several states, killing thousands daily, the BJP leaders led by Modi were campaigning in poll bound states neglecting the responsibility to coordinate efforts to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

The Guardian newspaper wrote: “Like Donald Trump, Mr Modi would not give up campaigning while the pandemic raged. India went ahead with five state elections in April, and an unmasked MrModi held huge rallies. Mr Modi’s brand of Indian exceptionalism bred complacency. A presumption of national greatness has led to a lack of preparedness, most notably in vaccine production.”

People are dying in their hundreds in India because of a lack of medical oxygen and other supplies in the country’s overloaded hospitals. An investigation by Indian news website Scroll.in revealed that the country’s government waited until October 2020, eight months after the pandemic began, to invite bids for a $27 million contract to place oxygen generation systems inside more than 150 district hospitals. Six months later, most still aren’t up and running. Several states across the nation have expressed despair as most hospitals have run short of Oxygen.

Modi also allowed a religious festival that draws millions to proceed from January to March. Public health officials now believe the festival may have been a super-spreader event and was “an enormous mistake.”“The Uttarakhand chief minister declared on March 20, “nobody will be stopped in the name of COVID-19 as we are sure the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus.” Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees showed up each day for a dip in the Ganges as part of the KumbhMela pilgrimage in Haridwar, Uttarakhand.

There has been certainly a big lapse from the complacent government and the general public, paying scant regard for the social-distance norms while the state machinery ignored enforcing norms.International media have criticized Indian states for attempting to hide the death rate. In the state of Uttar Pradesh workers were pictured covering the crematorium with tin sheets. The Wire news portal published an article titled, “Varanasi: Cremation, Burial Grounds Show About 50% of COVID-19 Deaths Aren’t Officially Recorded.”

In Gujarat, the Prime Minister’s home state, crematoriums are burning day and night, while the state refuses to acknowledge the high number of deaths. The Gujarat high court has demanded the state government reveal the accurate count of COVID-19 patients and deaths.The government is blatantly lying on official figures of the grim reality.As Modi touted his successes last year, India—the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer—sent over 100 million vaccine doses to 68 countries around the world. Yet just 1.9% of India’s 1.3 billion people had been fully inoculated against COVID-19 by early May.

In the race to produce and secure vaccines for Indians, Modi regime failed miserably. India invested too little in vaccine against Covid production. While epidemiologists, specialists and opposition leaders have long urged Modi to give approvals for foreign vaccines, the decision to give emergency use license to the Russian manufactured Sputnik V vaccine was only taken in the second week of April.Indian government had ordered 21 million doses of Covishield from the Serum Institute at the end of February this year but didn’t indicate when or if it would buy more, then it ordered an additional 110 million doses in March 2021 when infections started to rise.

When the vaccine rollout slowed, there was no effort or coordination with the states as Modi’s cabinet indulged in a blame game with ministers from opposition parties.Against the skepticism for vaccines by a vast majority of Indians, Modi government has done too little to reinforce public health messaging. The vaccine rollout became a global PR campaign for Modi’s leadership—in March, an Indo-Canadian group sponsored billboards erected in Canada thanking Modi for exporting Indian-made vaccines abroad—even while many Indians were apprehensive about their efficacy and side effects.

While the pandemic is raging across the nation and India is seeking help, medical and financial, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the new Parliament building and a new Residence for the Prime Minister at an estimated cost of Rs. 971 crore. Why is the Modi Government spending billions of Dollars on the project, which could be better directed to fighting COVID-19 and repairing the pandemic-battered economy.

The sudden and abrupt lock down promulgated by Modi even before the 1st wave of the pandemic hit India caused enormous problems for millions of poor. It lies with the upper-middle-class Indians who were last year banging plates from their high-rise windows and lighting candles to praise Modi and celebrate the success of the unplanned lockdown—while poor migrant workers lost their jobs and had to leave the cities. While the rich booked themselves in hospitals using their contacts, the govt. cared little to alleviate the sufferings of the millions of the daily wage earners did not offer any monetary help.

While people are seeking help desperately, India has shut down its doors to get help by and through the NGOs abroad. The government of India implemented a set of bureaucratic regulations by amending a law called Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in the middle of the pandemic. Hundreds of charities and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across India are now required to have special permission under this law to receive any donations from overseas.

The new amendment put in place last September mandates the charities to open a new bank account at a particular New Delhi branch of the State Bank of India before March 31, 2021, regardless of where the charity is located or operating from. Though many charities have managed to open this account in New Delhi, they have run into bottlenecks and red tape. As a result they are unable to receive much needed funds to help the suffering  people in the middle of this pandemic.

The current stringent FCRA rules that were put in place by the Government are jeopardizing many donor’s plans to provide equipment like oxygen concentrators and other essential supplies from around the world in providing needed help to hospitals especially in rural areas.

Many Indian-American community and charity organizations in the United States say they are not able to send funds to NGO partners in India thanks to a newly amended law even as that country gasps from a tsunami of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.Many US-based non-profits said the Narendra Modi government’s action in regulating of foreign funds was arbitrary.The NGO members and have also pointed to the alleged slow processing of paperwork by State Bank of India (SBI), and are asking the Indian government to revise the deadline so that they can help the country in its time of acute need. Earlier, donations could be received in any bank where the NGO had a designated FCRA account.

NGOs now cannot sub grant their foreign contributions to another NGO even if they have FCRA registrations as was the case earlier. This has been a blow for many NGOs who have been working collaboratively on various programs and projects. Thisd impedesCovid relief work, including making direct cash transfer to low-income families of the Covid deceased, often an earning member.

GOPIO chapters in India are yet to get the permission FCRA. For example, it is going to be more than two years since GOPIO-Kochi, a duly registered nonprofit organization, applied to receive funds from outside, especially from GOPIO International which collected funds for the 2018 Kerala flood relief. The chapter’s application is still pending and we have not been able to send the money collected to our chapter yet.

A large number of nonprofit community organizations are raising funds for India, including to send oxygen concentrators which are badly needed all over India. The government must immediately remove all hurdles to get this medical equipment and supplies to the hospitals which need them urgently.

Suppressing Truth and Penalizing Media and Voice of the Public:

At times, Prime Minister Narendra Modis government has seemed more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the Covid-19 pandemic, a premier medical journal The Lancet has said in an editorial. “Modi’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are inexcusable,” Lancet said.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates that India will see a staggering 1 million deaths from Covid-19 by August 1.If that outcome was to happen, Modi’s government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe,” Lancet said in a scathing criticism of the government.

India squandered its early successes in controlling Covid-19. Until April, the government’s Covid-19 taskforce had not met in months. The consequences of that decision are clear before us, and India must now restructure its response while the crisis rages. The success of that effort will depend on the government owning up to its mistakes, providing responsible leadership and transparency, and implementing a public health response that has science at its heart.

But above all it lies with Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, who calls himself the servant of 1.3 billion Indians, yet who has criminally abdicated his responsibility. At this critical juncture in its history, Indians have been left to fend for ourselves

Mismanagement?

  1. Complacency and lack of visionby the Indian Govt.
  2. Poor planning and lack of preparedness
  3. Lack of transparency and lack of foresight
  4. Intimidating and penalizing critics, including the media and those expressing their views on social media platforms
  5. Favoritism and lack of will to help the poor and the powerless: siding with the businesses and political supporters at the cost of the poor
  6. Blaming the opposition and those who criticize the government rather than an attitude of dialogue, open mindedness, collaboration, and cooperation
  7. An attitude of “I know it all” rather than the willingness to listen to the scientific community and professionals, and make amends for the wrongs committed
  8. Suppressing and denying the NGOs, particularly the minority communities from receiving foreign funds through the short sighted FCRA regulations, and in the process denying much needed help to millions who would have benefitted from such resources from abroad
  9. Lack of political will to contain market forces from hijacking medical supplies and hiking up the prizesfor essential medical suplies
  10. Prioritizing the image of the party and the leaders in power over the needs of the nation of the people.
  11. Lack of thoughtfulness and taking decisions arbitrarily and abruptly not reflecting on the consequences of govt. actions on millions of people

Some Suggestions For Action

  1. India must reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission as much as possible by educating the public about the necessity of masking, social distancing, halting mass gatherings, quarantine, and testing
  2. Transparent: as cases continue to mount, the government must publish accurate data in a timely manner, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve, including the possibility of a new federal lockdown
  3. Genome sequencing needs to be expanded to better track, understand and control emerging and more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants
  4. The botched vaccination campaign must be rationalized and implemented with all due speed. Increasing vaccine supply (some of which should come from abroad) and setting up a distribution campaign that can cover not just urban but also rural and poorer citizens, who constitute more than 65 per cent of the population (over 800 million people).
  5. The government must work with local and primary healthcare centers that know their communities and create an equitable distribution system for the vaccine.
  6. Expand the production and supply of oxygen and import while lifting unnecessary restrictions
  7. Stop middlemen and business from raising the prizes of medical supplies, oxygen and much needed treatment for Covid, at this hour of crisis. Punish those who inflate the prize of these essentials
  8. Open more centers, use schools and other institutes in every village and town to provide health care and treat covid patients
  9. India has a large number of medical professionals. Use the newly graduates and who are in the final years of Medical schools and Nursing programs to fill the shortage of medical professionals to treat covid patients
  10. There are thousands of not for profit organization and individuals abroad who want to help their suffering sisters and brothers in India. Make it easier for them help India as she bleeds. Relax FCRA rules and make it easier for them to send money.
  11. India Needs to act on a war footing, using all possible resources and work collaboratively, using all sections, the political parties, the ruling and the opposition together, the medical professionals, hospitals and academicians, research institutes, the media and the public, in a transparent manner, putting the safety, security and well being of the people before that of the interests of the ruling party.

Does Indian PM Narendra Modi Really Need A New House?

Rajpath (King’s Avenue), in the centre of the Indian capital, is to Delhi’ites what Central Park is to New Yorkers, or the Champs-Elysees to Parisians.The manicured lawns on either side of the wide ceremonial boulevard are a place for thousands to gather to soak up the winter sun or have an ice-cream on summer evenings.But the 3km (1.8 mile)-long road, stretching from RashtrapatiBhavan, the presidential palace, at one end to the India Gate war memorial at the other, now resembles a massive dust bowl.

The area is dotted with craters and mounds of earth – barricades stop people from getting close to men in reflective vests and yellow hard hats who are laying sewage pipes and tiled footpaths. A sign warns against taking photos and videos.The work is part of the Central Vista project – a vast redevelopment plan that includes a new parliament, new homes for the vice-president and prime minister and multi-storey office blocks. It’s expected to cost upwards of 200bn rupees ($2.7bn; £2bn).

The project has been mired in controversy since it was announced in September 2019, with critics saying the money could be better spent on people’s welfare or cleaning up Delhi’s air, which is among the filthiest in the world.The government rejects those arguments, saying Central Vista will be a major boost to the economy. Urban Development Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has said it will generate “large-scale direct and indirect employment” and make all Indians “proud”.

Construction work is continuing even as India battles a devastating second wave of Covid-19, which has fuelled further public resentment. Critics have questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s priorities, comparing him to “Nero fiddling while Rome burns“.

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has called it a “criminal waste” and urged Mr Modi to focus instead on dealing with the pandemic. In an open letter to Mr Modi, scholars criticised the project as an extravagant waste of resources “that could be used to save lives”.Much scorn has been reserved in particular for the PM’s new house, due for completion by December 2022.

“This is pure escapism,” historian Narayani Gupta told the BBC. “At a time when the pandemic is killing thousands, crematoria are full and graveyards have run out of space, the government is building castles in the air.”

Where does the PM live now?

By all accounts, Mr Modi’s current accommodation is pretty fancy.The 12-acre complex on LokKalyan Marg (formerly Race Course Road), with five bungalows and sprawling lawns, is some 3km from the presidential palace and parliament.

Besides the PM’s residential quarters, the complex has accommodation for guests, offices, meeting rooms, a theatre and a helipad. A few years ago, an underground tunnel was built to connect it to nearby Safdarjung airport.”The Indian PM occupies an entire street – in Britain, 10 Downing Street is just a door with a number,” says Delhi-based architect Gautam Bhatia.

The property was chosen by Rajiv Gandhi in 1984. Intended to be temporary, it has been home to all Indian prime ministers ever since.”Gandhi used three bungalows, the fourth and the fifth were added later on as the requirement to host more staff and security personnel grew,” says political analyst Mohan Guruswamy, a regular visitor over the years.”It’s a relatively new construction,” says Gautam Bhatia. However, it has been repeatedly refurbished “at a great deal of expense”.

In recent years, Indians have had glimpses inside the closely-guarded complex as Mr Modi’s office released videos of him feeding peacocks, doing yoga or pushing his mother’s wheelchair.

What do we know about the new house?

It will be centrally located in Delhi’s power corridor – between the RashtrapatiBhavan at one end and the Supreme Court at the other, with parliament just across from the PM’s house.

According to government documents, the prime minister will occupy 10 four-storey buildings on a 15-acre plot between the president’s house and South Block, where offices of the PM and defence ministry are currently located. Rows of barracks built by the British in the 1940s and currently used as temporary offices will be demolished.

But further details about the residence are scarce. In an email to the BBC, project architect Bimal Patel’s office said “for security reasons we cannot share the details/blueprints with you”, refusing to say how much it would cost.Architects, conservationists and environmentalists have criticised the authorities for a “lack of transparency”.

“There have been no proper public hearings and the project details keep evolving so there is no clarity,” said one architect, Anuj Srivastava.Another, Madhav Raman, said building “such a massive structure” so close to South Block – a protected monument designed by leading 20th Century British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker – was a cause for concern.

“The Archaeological Survey of India rules stipulate that there should be a minimum distance of 300m from a heritage structure but the new PM house will be just 30m away. There are also lots of trees on the plot, what will happen to them?”

So why does Mr Modi want to move?

Authorities say the PM’s present home is “not well-located”, is “difficult to secure” and needs “better infrastructure that is comfortable, efficient, easy to maintain and cost-effective”.They say it should be located in “close proximity” to his office since road closures during his travels “cause major disruptions to city traffic”.But Mohan Guruswamy believes the new house has more to do with Mr Modi’s ambition.

“All real decision-making takes place in the PM’s house. He has a staff of hundreds and they clear 300 files a day. “He has centralised power in his hands. He is creating a presidential form of government and he needs a bigger building – a White House or a Kremlin.”

MrGuruswamy says Indian prime ministers have always lived in “buildings at the back”. But with his new home, Mr Modi wants to put himself in the centre of Delhi’s power corridor.”But separation of power has to be physical too. He’s not just making a new home, he’s rearranging the institutions of government. Architecture changes the nature of power.”

What will happen to the Rajpath area?

Rajpath is a public space popular for recreation and also for protests and candle-light marches.And even though the government insists that it will remain a public space, critics say it’s unlikely that large gatherings would be allowed because of the proximity to the PM’s house.

Historian Narayani Gupta says the multi-storey office buildings, which will replace popular cultural centres like the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the National Museum and the repository of our modern history, the National Archives, would overshadow India Gate and drive away people.

“They are moving rare manuscripts and fragile objects to temporary locations. How do we know that there won’t be any damage?”KanchiKohli, of the think tank Centre for Policy Research, says land in Delhi is designated for specific purposes – such as recreational, semi-public or government – and authorities can’t just take over an area and change its use.”This is a land grab.”

What is the government saying?

Minister for Urban Development Hardeep Singh Puri has defended the project.Rejecting criticism of government priorities during the pandemic, he said the project cost was 200bn rupees over several years “while the government has allocated nearly twice that amount for vaccination”.In a series of recent tweets, he asked people to “not believe in fake photos and canards about ongoing work at Central Vista Avenue”.

“The transformed Central Vista will be a world class public space,” he said, adding “it will eventually be something every Indian will be proud of”.A senior bureaucrat who did not want to be named said MrPuri was trying to “defend the indefensible”.

“I do not doubt that the end result will be something every Indian will be proud of, but I do believe that the timing is completely wrong. What is the tearing hurry to erect yet another building when all around us people are dying?” (Courtesy: BBC News)

Misinformation Surges Amid India’s COVID-19 Calamity

The man in the WhatsApp video says he has seen it work himself: A few drops of lemon juice in the nose will cure COVID-19. “If you practice what I am about to say with faith, you will be free of corona in five seconds,” says the man, dressed in traditional religious clothing. “This one lemon will protect you from the virus like a vaccine.”

False cures. Terrifying stories of vaccine side effects. Baseless claims that Muslims spread the virus. Fueled by anguish, desperation and distrust of the government, rumors and hoaxes are spreading by word of mouth and on social media in India, compounding the country’s humanitarian crisis.“Widespread panic has led to a plethora of misinformation,” said Rahul Namboori, co-founder of Fact Crescendo, an independent fact-checking organization in India.While treatments such as lemon juice may sound innocuous, such claims can have deadly consequences if they lead people to skip vaccinations or ignore other guidelines.

In January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India had “saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.” Life began to resume, and so did attendance at cricket matches, religious pilgrimages and political rallies for Modi’s Hindu nationalist party.Four months later, cases and deaths have exploded, the country’s vaccine rollout has faltered and public anger and mistrust have grown. “All of the propaganda, misinformation and conspiracy theories that I’ve seen in the past few weeks has been very, very political,” said Sumitra Badrinathan, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist who studies misinformation in India. “Some people are using it to criticize the government, while others are using it to support it.”

Distrust of Western vaccines and health care is also driving misinformation about sham treatments as well as claims about traditional remedies.Satyanarayan Prasad saw the video about lemon juice and believed it. The 51-year-old resident of the state of Uttar Pradesh distrusts modern medicine and has a theory as to why his country’s health experts are urging vaccines.

“If the government approves lemon drops as a remedy, the … rupees that they have spent on vaccines will be wasted,” Prasad said. Vijay Sankeshwar, a prominent businessman and former politician, repeated the claim about lemon juice, saying two drops in the nostrils will increase oxygen levels in the body.While Vitamin C is essential to human health and immunity, there is no evidence that consuming lemons will fight off the coronavirus. The claim is spreading through the Indian diaspora, too.

“They have this thing that if you drink lemon water every day that you’re not going to be affected by the virus,” said Emma Sachdev, a Clinton, New Jersey, resident whose extended family lives in India. Sachdev said several relatives have been infected, yet continue to flout social distancing rules, thinking a visit to the temple will keep them safe.

India has also experienced the same types of misinformation about vaccines and vaccine side effects seen around the world. Last month, the popular Tamil actor Vivek died two days after receiving his COVID-19 vaccination. The hospital where he died said Vivek had advanced heart disease, but his death has been seized on by vaccine opponents as evidence that the government is hiding side effects.

Much of the misinformation travels on WhatsApp, which has more than 400 million users in India. Unlike more open sites like Facebook or Twitter, WhatsApp — which is owned by Facebook — is an encrypted platform that allows users to exchange messages privately.

The bad information online “may have come from an unsuspecting neighbor who is not trying to cause harm,” said Badrinathan, the University of Pennsylvania researcher. “New internet users may not even realize that the information is false. The whole concept of misinformation is new to them.”Hoaxes spread online had deadly results in 2018, when at least 20 people were killed by mobs inflamed by posts about supposed gangs of child kidnappers.

WhatsApp said in a statement that it works hard to limit misleading or dangerous content by working with public health bodies like the World Health Organization and fact-checking organizations. The platform has also added safeguards restricting the spread of chain messages and directing users to accurate online information.

The service is also making it easier for users in India and other nations to use its service to find information about vaccinations.“False claims can discourage people from getting vaccines, seeking the doctor’s help, or taking the virus seriously,” Fact Crescendo’s Namboori said. “The stakes have never been so high.”

Modi Government Accused Of Hampering Relief Efforts By Christian Charities With Mandating More Red Tape

Federation of Indian Christian Association of North America (FIACONA), an advocacy organization working to defend the religious freedom of Christians and other minorities in India accused the Government of India of hampering the efforts of non-governmental agencies (NGOs). The government of India implemented a set of bureaucratic regulations by amending a law called Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in the middle of the pandemic. Christian charities and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across India are required to have permission under this law to receive any donations from overseas.

The new amendment put in place last September mandates the charities to open a new bank account at a particular New Delhi branch of the State Bank of India before March 31, 2021, regardless of where the charity is located or operating from. Though many charities have managed to open this account in New Delhi, they have run into bottlenecks and red tape. As a result they are unable to receive much needed funds to help the suffering  people in the middle of this pandemic.

“The current stringent FCRA rules that were put in place by the Government are jeopardizing many donor’s plans to provide equipment like oxygen concentrators and other essential supplies from around the world in providing needed help to hospitals especially in rural areas” said Koshy George, President of FIACONA. “Unless the Modi Government shows more flexibility towards charitable donations from abroad by suspending some of these bureaucratic provisions of the FCRA, more lives would be lost as a result” Mr. George cautioned.

These FCRA regulations were put in place for the purpose of monitoring and controlling minority charitable and educational institutions as part of the Hindutva agenda to minimize their appeal and reduce their influence on the society at-large.  The secular NGOs who would not toe the government  line also paid a price.  However, NGOs affiliated with Hindu nationalist groups continue to collect money from unsuspecting donors in Western Countries and channel their funds mostly towards sectarian work without any hindrance from authorities.

FIACONA appeals to the Government to suspend these rules that created the current impediments and submit them later for a panel review to ease the restrictions on a permanent basis so that the needy will not suffer in a future crisis.

U.S. International Religious Freedom Report: India Encouraged to Consult Religious Communities

International Religious Freedom senior official Dan Nadel, speaking at a news conference to announce the annual International Religious Freedom Report at the State Department in Washington, DC, on May 12, 2021, said: “When laws are passed, when initiatives are undertaken that are done without effective consultation with these communities, it creates a sense of disempowerment…the best way to address that is to engage in that direct dialogue between government and civil society, including religious communities.” (Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A senior State Department official dealing with religious freedom said the U.S. is regularly engaging with Indian officials on protecting the rights of minorities and the government has opportunities to address the concerns of civil society groups.Briefing reporters about the 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom May 12, Daniel Nadel said: “With respect to India, I think there’s genuine opportunities there for the government to address some of the concerns they hear from Indian civil society through greater dialogue and engagement.

“We do regularly engage with Indian government officials at all levels, encouraging them to uphold human rights obligations and commitments, including the protection of minorities, in keeping with India’s long tradition of democratic values and its history of tolerance.”The report said that among the issues discussed with officials were “the Muslim community’s concerns about the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), difficulties faced by faith-based (religious) NGOs in the wake of amendments to the FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act), and allegations that Muslims spread Covid-19.”

Nadel, the senior official in the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, said that the U.S. encourages the Indian government to consult “religious communities, these outside actors” on passing laws to avoid alienating them.”When laws are passed, when initiatives are undertaken that are done without effective consultation with these communities, it creates a sense of disempowerment; at times, of alienation. And the best way to address that is to engage in that direct dialogue between government and civil society, including religious communities.”

The annual report, which is mandated by Congress, did not grade India nor deliver an overall verdict on the state of religious freedom in the country.It listed incidents involving attacks on minorities taken from reports by the media and religious and civil society groups, and legislative actions.

Releasing the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “Our promise to the world is that the Biden-Harris administration will protect and defend religious freedom around the world. We will maintain America’s longstanding leadership on this issue.”He acknowledged that “anti-Muslim hatred is still widespread in many countries, and this, too, is a serious problem for the U.S.”

Among the incidents it lists were the protests in February 2020 against the CAA, which it said “became violent in New Delhi after counter-protesters attacked demonstrators. According to reports, religiously motivated attacks resulted in the deaths of 53 persons, most of whom were Muslim, and two security officials.”Another incident it mentions is the Islamic TablighiJamaat organization’s conference last year in New Delhi, which the report said the government and media initially blamed for some of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But the report also said that “in an online address to the nation on April 26, Mohan Bhagwat, the leader of the RSS, called on Indians not to discriminate against anyone in the fight against Covid-19. In a reference to the March TablighiJamaat conference, he asked people not to target members of a ‘particular community’ (i.e., Muslims) ‘just because of the actions of a few’.”Some of the incidents listed in the report relate to actions taken against Muslim and Christian groups over alleged violation of Covid regulations in holding religious services.

However, the report also listed the deaths of two Christians, P. Jayaraj and his son Bennicks, in police custody after they were arrested for allegedly keeping their shop open in violation of a curfew as if those were religious violence.The report mentions two cases of Hindu women being killed for refusing to convert to Islam and of Christian women “forcibly” converted.It noted Amnesty International India ending operations in the country “after the government froze its bank accounts in response to a FCRA investigation that the NGO says was motivated by its critical reporting against the government.”

Modi Govt Holds Up Funds From US To Indian NGOs As Covid Rages

Many Indian-American community and charity organizations in the United States say they are not able to send funds to NGO partners in India thanks to a newly amended law even as that country gasps from a tsunami of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.Many US-based non-profits said the Narendra Modi government’s action in regulating of foreign funds was arbitrary.The NGO members and have also pointed to the alleged slow processing of paperwork by State Bank of India (SBI), and are asking the Indian government to revise the deadline so that they can help the country in its time of acute need.

On September 28, 2020, the Indian government amended its Foreign Contribution Regulation Act or FCRA, which regulates the steps that India-based nonprofits must follow in order to receive foreign funding, including from US-based foundations and corporations.“Two important things changed with the amendments,” AtulSatija, CEO, GiveIndia, which has been working on the ground in India, explained to indica News.

“Firstly, every NGO in the country had to set up an FCRA designated account at the main branch of State Bank of India in New Delhi to receive all foreign donations. Earlier, donations could be received in any bank where the NGO had a designated FCRA account.

“Second,” Satija added, “NGOs now cannot sub grant their foreign contributions to another NGO even if they have FCRA registrations as was the case earlier. This has been a blow for many NGOs who have been working collaboratively on various programs and projects. However, FCRA donations can be spent on the ground — which is what we are doing for our Covid relief work, including making direct cash transfer to low-income families of the Covid deceased, often an earning member.”

Under the amended FCRA, all nonprofits must create and solely use a new account with the State Bank of India in New Delhi. Once the account gets opened, the bank then reports the contribution and its intended use to the federal government.The Indian government gave until March 31, 2021 for charitable groups to set up this account. It said that the NGOs can continue to use existing FCRA accounts until the transition date.However, many nonprofits in the US said that funds have not gone to recipients in India.

For example, AbhayBhushan one of the pioneers in terms of the Indian-American nonprofit sector, who helms Indians for Collective Action (ICA), told indica News that money he has sent to India has been returned, not once but several times.He said that the ICA has partnered with 50 NGOs in India and 20 percent of those who applied have got the new accounts and some are just getting it. “Due to covid the processing has gone slow,” Bhushan said.

He said an application takes months to process and government officials were nixing FCRA applications for the slightest of errors in the application.“So the government of India, for whatever reason, is putting a lot of stoppages [in the path of foreign aid],” he said.

“I don’t know why,” Bhushan added. “I understand they want to have control. Now through this, they can see they have clear visibility.”Dr Thomas Abraham, chairman of the Global organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), shared similar views.“The [Indian] government has been making arbitrary decision on giving permission to non-profits in India under FCRA rules without properly looking at the merit of organizations applying for the same, or even delaying the permission to genuine groups which have been active in the field,” Abraham told indica News.

“GOPIO chapters in India are yet to get the permission FCRA,” he said. “For example, it is going to be more than two years since GOPIO-Kochi, a duly registered nonprofit organization, applied to receive funds from outside, especially from GOPIO International which collected funds for the 2018 Kerala flood relief. The chapter’s application is still pending and we have not been able to send the money collected to our chapter yet.

“Now,” Abraham continued, “a large number of nonprofit community organizations are raising funds for India, including to to send oxygen concentrators which are badly needed all over India. The government must immediately remove all hurdles to get this medical equipment and supplies to the hospitals which need them urgently.”

DrTulika Narayan, a development economist who has been associated with the non-profit Association for India’s Development (AID) in Washington DC, told indica News that some NGOs are still waiting for the FCRA account approval letter either from the SBI or the ministry of home affairs.

“All the work has stalled and we are trying our best to help,” said Narayan. “We are sending medical equipment but imagine right now in the time of need is exactly when we are not able to help.She said that the grassroots NGOs that have good connections in the community and those working on issues of public health in remote areas, urban slums, etc, could play a very powerful role in stemming the spread of the pandemic.

“In fact, many of them are already doing it. But without support, the efforts might begin to fade. Also to support people who are moderately ill or help severely ill people to get to the hospitals, NGOs can play a significant role,” she pointed out.

Asked what she wanted the Indian government should do, Narayan said: “Authorize all NGOs which have FCRA clearance to use their earlier FCRA bank accounts to receive new funds from grants… Our request is to the government is only that you extend the deadline by six months.”Shaheer Khan, who is on the board of directors of the Aligarh Muslim University Alumni Association of Northern California, echoed Narayan.

“I request the government to extend the deadline for six months and facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid, whether funds or medical supplies,” Khan told indica News.The Modi government has earlier severely curtailed the functioning of many international charity organizations, including Amnesty International, in India — mostly by choking them of funds.

(Courtesy: IndicaNews)

Modi’s Actions In Attempting To Stifle Criticism During Crisis Inexcusable

At times, Prime Minister Narendra Modis government has seemed more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the Covid-19 pandemic, medical journal The Lancet has said in an editorial. “Modi’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are inexcusable,” Lancet said.

The editorial published in the world’s most renowned medical journal said the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates that India will see a staggering 1 million deaths from Covid-19 by August 1.“If that outcome was to happen, Modi’s government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe,” Lancet said in a scathing criticism of the government.

Lancet said India squandered its early successes in controlling Covid-19. Until April, the government’s Covid-19 taskforce had not met in months, it said.“The consequences of that decision are clear before us, and India must now restructure its response while the crisis rages. The success of that effort will depend on the government owning up to its mistakes, providing responsible leadership and transparency, and implementing a public health response that has science at its heart,” Lancet said.

In the suggested course of action, Lancet said India must reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission as much as possible while the vaccine is rolled out.“As cases continue to mount, the government must publish accurate data in a timely manner, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve, including the possibility of a new federal lockdown,” it said.

Genome sequencing needs to be expanded to better track, understand and control emerging and more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants, it said.“Local governments have begun taking disease containment measures, but the federal government has an essential role in explaining to the public the necessity of masking, social distancing, halting mass gatherings, voluntary quarantine, and testing,” it added.

Lancet said the botched vaccination campaign must be rationalised and implemented with all due speed. There are two immediate bottlenecks to overcome: increasing vaccine supply (some of which should come from abroad) and setting up a distribution campaign that can cover not just urban but also rural and poorer citizens, who constitute more than 65 per cent of the population (over 800 million people) but face a desperate scarcity of public health and primary care facilities, the editorial said.

The government must work with local and primary healthcare centres that know their communities and create an equitable distribution system for the vaccine, it added.Lancet said the scenes of suffering in India are hard to comprehend. As of May 4, more than 20.2 million cases of Covid-19 had been reported, with a rolling average of 3,78,000 cases a day, together with more than 2,22,000 deaths, which experts believe are likely to be substantial underestimated, Lancet said.

Hospitals are overwhelmed, and health workers are exhausted and becoming infected. Social media is full of desperate people (doctors and the public) seeking medical oxygen, hospital beds, and other necessities, it said.Lancet said that yet before the second wave of cases of Covid-19 began to mount in early March, Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan declared that India was in the “endgame” of the epidemic.

The impression from the government was that India had beaten Covid-19 after several months of low case counts, despite repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of a new strain, it added.“Despite warnings about the risks of superspreader events, the government allowed religious festivals to go ahead, drawing millions of people from around the country, along with huge political rallies —conspicuous for their lack of Covid-19 mitigation measures,” the editorial said.

The message that Covid-19 was essentially over also slowed the start of India’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign, which has vaccinated less than 2 per cent of the population, it said.

“At the federal level, India’s vaccination plan soon fell apart. The government abruptly shifted course without discussing the change in policy with states, expanding vaccination to everyone older than 18 years, draining supplies, and creating mass confusion and a market for vaccine doses in which states and hospital systems competed,” it added.

The crisis has not been equally distributed, with states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra unprepared for the sudden spike in cases, quickly running out of medical oxygen, hospital space, and overwhelming the capacity of cremation sites, and with some state governments threatening those asking for oxygen or a hospital bed with national security laws, Lancet said.

Others, such as Kerala and Odisha, were better prepared, and have been able to produce enough medical oxygen in this second wave to export it to other states, it said. (IANS)

Kamala Harris Describes India’s Covid Situation As Heartbreaking

“The surge of Covid-19 infections and deaths in India is nothing short of heartbreaking. To those of you who have lost loved ones, I send my deepest condolences,” Vice President Kamala Harris Says

In an address to the Indian diaspora in the US, Vice President Kamala Harris lamented over the deteriorating Covidd-19 situation India, saying it was “nothing short of heartbreaking”.

“Generations of my family come from India. My mother (Shyamala Gopalan) was born and raised in India. And I have family members who live in India today. The welfare of India is critically important to the US,” Harris said in her pre-recorded message played at a diaspora event hosted by the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) on Friday.

“The surge of Covid-19 infections and deaths in India is nothing short of heartbreaking. To those of you who have lost loved ones, I send my deepest condolences. As soon as the dire nature of the situation became apparent, our administration took action.

“On Monday, April 26, President Joe Biden spoke with the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) to offer our support. By Friday, April 30, US military members and civilians were delivering relief on the ground.

“Already, we have delivered refillable oxygen cylinders, with more to come. We have delivered oxygen concentrators, with more to come. We have delivered N95 masks, and have more ready to send. We have delivered doses of Remdesivir to treat Covid patients.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, when our hospital beds were stretched, India sent assistance. And today, we are determined to help India in its hour of need.

“We do this as friends of India, as members of the Asian Quad, and as part of the global community. I believe that if we continue to work together, across nations and sectors, we will all get through this,” the Vice President added.

In her address, she also acknowledged diaspora groups like Indiaspora and the American India Foundation that “have built bridges between the US and India”.

“And this past year, you have provided vital contributions to Covid-19 relief efforts.”

Harris’ remarks come as India is battling the devastating second wave of the pandemic that have triggered record number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths, leading to a shortage in oxygen supplies across the country, including in the national capital of New Delhi.

On Sunday, India reported 4,03,738 new cases, which took the overall tally to 2,22,96,414, the second highest in the world after the US.

Meanwhile, the country’s death toll, currently the third largest after the us and Brazil, increased to 2,42,362.

Sunday’s figure is the fifth highest since India crossed the four-lakh-mark of new Covid cases, while over 3,000 casualties have been reported for the last 11 days. (IANS)

“We’re Helping India Significantly,” President Biden Says

President Joe Biden has said that the US was “doing a lot for India” by sending it oxygen and materials to make anti-COVID-19 vaccines. He said last week that he had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and “what he needs most is, he needs the material and the parts to be able to have his machines that can make the vaccine work. We’re sending them that.

“We’re sending them a lot of the precursors,” he added, referring to the ingredients needed for making the vaccines. He said the US was also sending oxygen, which is in short supply in the nation in the throes of a COVID-19 resurgence. “We’re helping India significantly,” he said.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has acknowledged assistance last year from India when the US was facing its deep crisis while speaking of the aid the US is now sending it. “India came to our assistance early on in our hour of need when we were having real struggles with COVID-19, providing millions and millions, for example, of protective masks. We remember that, and we’re determined to do everything we can to help now,” he told the Financial Express according to the interview transcript provided by the State Department.

He said, “What I’ve seen really is an amazing mobilisation not just of the United States government, but of our private sector, and of Indian Americans as well. I was on a call a week ago with virtually every leading CEO — it was a who’s who — all wanting to help. And the government, our government, is coordinating those efforts. So we are doing everything we can.”

Biden’s Spokesperson Jen Psaki, who gave a rundown of the assistance to India, said that the US government was sending ingredients for making 20 million doses AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine from supplies that it had ordered.

These were ingredients had been ordered on a priority basis by invoking the Defence Production Act to supply to companies under contract to make vaccines for it.

The US is unlikely to need the 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it had contracted because it has adequate supplies of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. She said that the total value of the COVID-19 aid will exceed $100 million.

Psaki said that six air shipments funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) with oxygen and oxygen supplies, N95 masks, rapid diagnostic tests, medicines and components requested by the Indian government have already been sent.

“At the request of the government of India, USAID provided these urgently needed supplies to the Indian Red Cross to ensure they reach those most in need as quickly as possible,” she said.

India is in dire need of oxygen and USAID sent about 1,500 oxygen cylinders that will remain in India and can repeatedly be refilled locally, 550 concentrators to obtain oxygen from ambient air and a large-scale unit to support up to 20 patients, she said.

She said that 2.5 million N95 masks have been sent and an additional 12.5 million are available if the Indian government asked for them, she said. One million rapid diagnostic tests and 20,000 treatment courses of the anti-viral dug Remdesivir have also been sent, she said.

White House officials said Sunday, May 2, 2021, that they are doing all they can to help India cope with the country’s escalating coronavirus crisis, pushing back against criticism that the United States should be moving faster on actions such as waiving patent rights on vaccines.

In interviews on several political shows Sunday, Biden administration officials emphasized the aid the U.S. has already delivered to its South Asian ally, including the first planeloads of medical supplies and supplemental oxygen to the country on Friday. The United States has also diverted raw materials for vaccines to India.

“In a crisis of this speed and ferocity, we always wish we could move faster and do more. And we’re proud of what we’ve done so far,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We are continuing to work to source additional critical materials to move them as fast as we can, both directly from the United States and also galvanizing partners around the world.”

A recent surge in coronavirus cases has sent the pandemic spiraling anew in India, which reported more than 400,000 new coronavirus cases Saturday, a new global record. People being treated for covid-19, the illness that can be caused by the novel coronavirus, have overwhelmed hospitals there, while images of mass cremations and funeral pyres burning overnight have spread worldwide.

“We are concerned about variants. We’re concerned about spread,” Sullivan said. “We’re concerned about the loss of life, and also all of the secondary effects that emerge as this pandemic rages out of control in India.”

On Monday, April 26, 2021, President Joe Biden spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and pledged to provide supplemental oxygen, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies to the country.

Modi and other world officials have called on the United States to go a step further and waive vaccine patent protections, saying that would let other countries and companies speed up production of generics and expedite the vaccination effort worldwide.

“If a temporary waiver to patents cannot be issued now, during these unprecedented times, when will be the right time?” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, tweeted in March. “Solidarity is the only way out.”

The administration has also vowed to share up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries, prompted in large part by the crisis in India. Officials made that announcement several days ago, adding assurances here that the United States does not need the AstraZeneca vaccine to continue inoculating the U.S. population.

Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Biden, said that the 60 million AstraZeneca doses the U.S. has promised to other countries have been ordered but that not all have been produced. The AstraZeneca vaccine is undergoing a safety review by the Food and Drug Administration.

“To be clear, there isn’t some huge warehouse filled with AstraZeneca vaccines that we can just release at a moment’s notice,” Dunn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “As soon as it is ready to be shared with the world, we plan to share it.”

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that despite the calls by Modi and others, vaccine patents were only part of the problem, and that manufacturing limits would still hinder production.

“India has its own vaccine, the Covishield vaccine,” Klain said. “Production is slow there because they don’t have the scarce raw materials to make that. We sent enough raw materials to make 20 million doses immediately. Intellectual property rights is part of the problem, but manufacturing is the biggest problem.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the United States had an obligation to share vaccines with the rest of the world faster, particularly in poorer countries. “Not only do we have a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world, it’s in our own self-interest, because if this pandemic continues to spread in other countries, it’s going to come back and bite us at one point or another,” Sanders said.

Sanders and other Democratic senators last month sent a letter to Biden, urging him to support a temporary patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines, one of several efforts to advocate what some have taken to calling “vaccine diplomacy.” China and Russia, some critics note, have been aggressive about distributing their vaccines to developing countries, a move that could help them earn goodwill.

A temporary patent waiver would let the Biden administration not only “reverse the damage done by the Trump administration” to U.S. reputation but bring the global pandemic to an end more quickly, the senators wrote.

“What we have got to say right now to the drug companies, when millions of lives are at stake around the world, is, ‘Yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so that they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries,’ ” Sanders said Sunday.

Sullivan said Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, has been engaged in “intensive consultations” at the World Trade Organization to work through the issue of waiving vaccine patents. “We should have a way forward in the coming days,” Sullivan said on “This Week.”

Amidst Deadly Pandemic, Work At Delhi’s Rajpath As Central Vista Redevelopment Project Takes Shape

Over the past several weeks, New Delhi’s iconic Rajpath stretch that has India Gate as the backdrop has witnessed drastic changes as the ambitious Central Vista redevelopment project takes shape. Trenches dug on the sides of the road and red road blockers have replaced the iconic chain link fence and lamp posts. The path leading up to the Rashtrapati Bhavan too is fenced with yellow boards set up by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), which read: ‘Development/ Redevelopment of Central Vista Avenue’.

Officials from HCP Design, Planning and Management, the architectural consultant of the Central Vista project, have said the original design elements of the area will be kept intact to a large extent after work is complete.

Media reports say, barring a few construction workers, Rajpath wore a deserted look. Officials from the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) said they are trying to meet the initial deadlines despite fewer workers showing up in the past few days.

Against the backdrop of a Covid-induced lockdown, workers said they have been issued e-passes and are being paid daily wages since the lockdown. Sanjay (27), a contractual worker with MTNL, said he has been coming every day so that he has some savings in case they are barred from working in the near future. The men travel to work and back home in a rented two-wheeler.

“Earlier, there were eight of us. But now only four of us can come to work in a vehicle. When the others tried to come, we were issued a challan so they don’t come any more,” said Sanjay, who lives in Bhatti Mines with his family of five. He said they will have to sustain on the meagre amount his wife earns from tailoring work, in case his work stops.

The four men dug a trench to bury existing underground wires further underground, saying this was being done since sewerage work will begin soon and some public amenities might be underground. According to a CPWD official, digging of an underground passageway is about to begin.

The redevelopment at Rajpath, under Phase I of the project, is aimed at making the area pedestrian friendly and providing better amenities for visitors and tourists. This includes refurbishing the lawns, creating underpasses at Janpath and C Hexagon crossing with Rajpath, building wide walkways or footpaths parallel to the avenue, and constructing low-level bridges at 12 selected locations.

Other amenities include toilets, drinking water facilities, vending areas, parking spaces, signages, lighting and CCTV cameras.

More trees will also line the lawn, with the plan envisaging increasing green cover from 3,50,000 sq mts to 3,90,000 sq mts. Also under Phase 1, a sewerage treatment plant will be set up for recycling of waste water along with rainwater harvesting systems and water supply systems.

Book, “India And Asian Geopolitics: The Past, Present” By Shivshankar Menon Shows Light At Modern India’s Role In Asia’s And The Broader World

One of India’s most distinguished foreign policy thinkers addresses the many questions facing India as it seeks to find its way in the increasingly complex world of Asian geopolitics. A former Indian foreign secretary and national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon traces India’s approach to the shifting regional landscape since its independence in 1947. From its leading role in the “nonaligned” movement during the cold war to its current status as a perceived counterweight to China, India often has been an after-thought for global leaders—until they realize how much they needed it.

Examining India’s own policy choices throughout its history, Menon focuses in particular on India’s responses to the rise of China, as well as other regional powers. Menon also looks to the future and analyzes how India’s policies are likely to evolve in response to current and new challenges.

As India grows economically and gains new stature across the globe, both its domestic preoccupations and international choices become more significant. India itself will become more affected by what happens in the world around it. Menon makes a powerful geopolitical case for an India increasingly and positively engaged in Asia and the broader world in pursuit of a pluralistic, open, and inclusive world order.

Shivshankar Menon is a Distinguished Fellow at CSEP and a Visiting Professor at Ashoka University. His long career in public service spans diplomacy, national security, atomic energy, disarmament policy, and India’s relations with its neighbours and major global powers. Menon served as national security advisor to the Indian Prime Minister from January 2010 to May 2014. He currently serves as chairman of the advisory board of the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi. He was also a Distinguished Fellow with Brookings India. He is the author of “Choices: Inside the Making of Indian Foreign Policy” published by the Brookings Press and Penguin Random House in 2016. His new book, “India and Asian Geopolitics; The Past, Present” is likely to be out in 2021.

Menon has previously served as foreign secretary of India from October 2006 to August 2009 and as ambassador and high commissioner of India to Israel (1995-1997), Sri Lanka (1997-2000), China (2000-2003) and Pakistan (2003-2006). From 2008 to 2014, he was also a member of India’s Atomic Energy Commission. A career diplomat, he also served in India’s missions to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Geneva and the United Nations in New York.

As high commissioner of India to Pakistan, Menon restored high commissioner level relations after a gap of a year and a half and initiated what is so far the best period in the two countries’ relationship. He also served as India’s ambassador to China, restoring relations following the India nuclear weapons tests of 1998. During his work as high commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, he was responsible for the free trade agreement with Sri Lanka. Menon was the second Indian ambassador to Israel and oversaw the beginning of the now flourishing India-Israel defence and intelligence relationship.

During his service in the Ministry of External Affairs from 1992 to 1995, Menon negotiated the first boundary related agreement between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China, the root of the subsequent series of agreements that have maintained peace on the border despite ongoing boundary disputes. He also served as special representative of the prime minister of India on the boundary issue from 2010 to 2014, and has dealt with the India-China boundary and India-China relations since 1974.

Menon has been a Richard Wilhelm Fellow at the Center for International Studies at MIT and Fisher Family Fellow at the Belfer Center, Harvard University. In 2010, he was chosen by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the world’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” He attended the Scindia School, Gwalior and St. Stephens College of the University of Delhi, where he studied ancient Indian history and Chinese. He speaks Chinese and some German.

Praise of India and Asian Geopolitics

“In this brilliant examination of India’s recent past as an Asian power, the distinguished Indian diplomat Shivshankar Menon gives us much to consider about its future as well. His evocation of India as central to Asia’s geopolitics and yet also set apart from it is a major contribution to our understanding of this great, rising power in this Asian century.”
—Nicholas Burns, former U.S. under secretary of state; professor, Harvard University

“This book is a tour de force by one of today’s most perceptive strategic thinkers. Menon deftly surveys how India has navigated its geopolitical environment in the past, while illuminating the international landscape and challenges it faces today. Anyone interested in Asia’s future should read this book.”
—M. Taylor Fravel, Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science, and director, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“An important work that restores India into the Asian story, and a timely reminder that active engagement with Asia and the world will not just be a choice, but also a necessity for New Delhi.”
—Tanvi Madan, senior fellow and director of the India Project, the Brookings Institution

“Shivshankar Menon is one of the most distinguished diplomats in the world. In his latest book, he has brilliantly laid out the stages of India from independence to the rise of Modi. When he looks to history, he focuses on Asian geopolitics. But when he turns to the future, he opens the aperture to the global trend of illiberality. He believes India, with no existential outside threat and a vast diversity in its populace, can afford expansive rights of all its citizens.”
—Strobe Talbott, distinguished fellow, the Brookings Institution; U.S. deputy secretary of state (1994–2001)

India and Asian Geopolitics: The past, present by Shivshankar Menon (Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC, 2021) may, at first glance, appear to be primarily on India. But it is about Asia as a whole, its past, present and future in the context of global developments.”
Eurasia Review

Modi-Led BJP Trounced In 3 Key Indian State Polls. Mamata Emerges As Contender On National Political Stage

In the state Assembly elections held last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP has been defeated by regional parties, in spite of major efforts by Modi and leaders from the Hindutva party that is in power in India for the past 7 years.

In the state Assembly elections held last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP had sought to expand its footprint in the country’s east and south, where it has struggled to gain traction. The long awaited elections results in the five states that went to the polls have come as a huge shock to Modi and his Hindutva ideology-led party that is governing India for the past seven years.

India held its biggest democratic exercise in two years over the past month, with 175 million people eligible to vote in five regional elections. But the marathon polls involved huge rallies where many attendees were maskless, and a record-breaking coronavirus spike coincided with the final phases of voting.

In West Bengal, incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress won around 72% of 292 seats up for grabs, while Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party took 77, according to results posted on the Election Commission of India. Last month, the prime minister predicted his party would win more than 200 seats in the state, which held voting over eight phases starting on March 27.

Modi’s opponents won in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, while his party kept power in the northeastern state of Assam and gained the federally-controlled territory of Puducherry, where it contested in alliance with a regional party.

In Puducherry, a small former French colony previously known as Pondicherry, the BJP was expected to come to power through an alliance amid efforts to increase its presence in the country’s south, where it has been traditionally weak.

In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, M.K. Stalin returned his DMK party to power after a decade by defeating an incumbent coalition that has the BJP as its national partner.

In Kerala in the south, where the BJP until now has played only a bit part, a justify-wing alliance retained power with a comfortable victory over a Congress-led coalition. It was the first time a government in the state had been re-elected since 1977.

The Congress party, which was expected to win at least two states but could not do, failing to wrest Assam from the BJP and Kerala from the justify, still insists that it is the only option to BJP.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said: “Congress is the sole national party which is alternative to the BJP as it is fighting BJP in all the states.”

But the messages from the leaders of regional parties indicate that Banerjee, whose Trinamool which was once part of the UPA, has shown her mettle by single-handedly defeating the BJP and in a convincing manner.

In a victory speech later Sunday, 66-year-old Banerjee said West Bengal’s “immediate challenge is to combat the Covid-19 and we are confident that we will win This victory has saved the humanity, the people of India. It’s the victory of India,” Banerjee, a fierce critic of Modi, added.

After winning a bitterly-fought battle with the BJP to record her third successive victory in the West Bengal Assembly elections, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee seems to have emerged as a formidable challenge to the Centre’s ruling party.

With almost all the results counted, the Trinamool Congress party (TMC) led by the state’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has won more than 200 seats in the 294-seat assembly. The results are set to make Ms Banerjee the leader of West Bengal for a third time. She is also India’s only female chief minister.

With leaders of different regional parties, including NCP chief Sharad Pawar, sending her congratulatory massages, the message from the Assembly election is clear that Banerjee is capable of taking the challenge of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, and combating it successfully.

The BJP targeted West Bengal heavily during campaigning but the state was comfortably held by the incumbent, Mamata Banerjee, a fierce Modi critic.  Her win came as a surprise to political observers, who noted how much time and money the BJP invested in the state.

The poll results show that people of West Bengal have rejected the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempt to polarise the elections. The BJP, which had justify no stone unturned to dislodge the Banerjee government, could not cross three-digit figure despite its claims of getting 200-plus seats out of the state’s 294.

The reason behind Banerjee’s masterful performance was admitted by a BJP leader, who said that their leadership “failed to understand the pulse of Bengal and its culture”. “And that is the reason despite leading in 121 Assembly constituencies in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, we are facing difficulties in winning over 100 seats in less than a two-year period.”

“People rejected politics of polarization or communal politics. Muslim votes polarized in favor of the Trinamool while the Bengali Hindu also rejected communal politics and voted for the Trinamool,” the BJP leader said.

The alleged gross failures of Modi’s administrative management of the second wave of Covid were reflected in the West Bengal mandate. The BJP could win only 24 of the 114 seats that went to the polls in the last three phases, when the pandemic had turned traumatic.

With thousands of Modi critics campaigning for his resignation, and the BJP’s electoral debacle adding fuel to their demands, the pro-Hindu party is indeed at a crossroads in its history. “The BJP has met its match and lost,” says Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor, praising the success of Mamata Banerjee, the leader of Trinamool (Grassroots) Congress, a party based in West Bengal.

Here lay the folly. This aggrandizement — a characteristic of Modi’s politics — epitomized the sloppiness and errors in electoral strategy. The BJP underestimated the influence of Banerjee in the state and ignored the Minorities, who are known for voting against Modi’s party.

“As three strongly anti-BJP regional leaders have emerged victorious, they are likely to be the nucleus of the opposition challenge to Modi in the months ahead as he battles the backlash to his mismanagement of the Covid crisis,” said Arati Jerath, a New Delhi-based author and political analyst who has written about Indian politics for nearly three decades. The results weaken the government and indicate there are “huge political and constitutional challenges ahead for Modi.”

India Pursued Assertive Foreign Policy In 2020, Says US Defense Intelligence Agency

India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pursued an assertive foreign policy in 2020 aimed at demonstrating the country’s strength and its perception as a net provider of security in the strategically vital Indian Ocean Region, a top American intelligence agency has said.

The Defense Intelligence Agency also told lawmakers adding that New Delhi also hardened its approach towards an aggressive China. “Throughout 2020, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi’s government pursued an assertive foreign policy aimed at demonstrating India’s strength and its perception as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean Region,” Scott Berrier, Gen Director of Defense Intelligence Agency told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing on worldwide threats.

In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Delhi played a leading role in delivering medical equipment to countries throughout South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, facilitating the evacuation of Indians and other South Asians from virus hotspots, he said on Friday.

“India hardened its approach towards China following a deterioration in bilateral relations that followed Chinese efforts to take Indian-claimed territory along the disputed Line of Actual Control border beginning in the summer of 2020,” Berrier said.

In response to the June clash between Indian and Chinese troops, and the deaths of 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers, New Delhi responded by deploying an additional 40,000 troops, artillery, tanks, and aircraft to the disputed border, occupying strategic mountain passes in disputed territory, and sending Indian Navy ships to shadow Chinese ships in the Gulf of Aden, it said.

India also implemented economic measures meant to signal its resolve against China, including banning Chinese mobile phone apps and taking steps to use trustworthy vendors of telecommunications, he told the lawmakers.

According to Berrier, India also maintained an assertive approach on its border with Pakistan, refusing to engage in diplomatic dialogue in the absence of Pakistani action to end support to anti-Indian militant groups.

Tensions remain high in the aftermath of the 2019 Pulwama terrorist attack and subsequent military reactions, and the Modi government’s August 2019 action ‘to curtail Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy by revising the Indian Constitution’.

The Indian Army units along the Line of Control border periodically conducted artillery strikes targeting suspected militant camps and Pakistan Army positions throughout the year.

India and Pakistan announced a ceasefire agreement in late February 2021, but any high-profile militant attacks by suspected Pakistan-based groups will likely elicit an Indian military response that could escalate to military confrontation, he said.

“New Delhi is continuing to pursue a wide-ranging military modernisation effort encompassing air, ground, naval, and strategic nuclear forces with an emphasis on domestic defence production.

‘It will continue its longstanding defence relationship with Russia because of the large amount of Russian-origin equipment in India’s inventory and Moscow’s willingness to assist New Delhi in strengthening its domestic defence industry,” Berrier said.

India continued to develop its own hypersonic, ballistic, cruise, and air defence missile capabilities, conducting approximately a dozen tests since September.

India has a growing number of satellites in orbit and is expanding its use of space assets, likely pursuing offensive space capabilities to boost the role space assets play in its military strategy.

It conducted a successful ASAT (anti-satellite) missile test in March 2019, and has since announced plans to define further the role of ASAT weapons in its National Security Strategy.

New Delhi also seeks to build space expertise with the formation of its Defence Space Agency and through space warfare exercises, such as IndSpaceEx held in July 2019.

Berrier also told lawmakers that the Pakistan military continues to execute counterterrorism operations against militant groups that pose a threat to it. These efforts have been successful in reducing violence from some anti-Pakistan militant, terrorist, and sectarian groups in Pakistan.

“However, we assess these groups remain capable of conducting mostly small-scale attacks and occasional high-profile attacks. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan—an anti-Pakistan militant group—was weakened by leadership losses, but recently announced its reunification with two splinter groups to bolster its capabilities,” he said.

“While Pakistani intelligence continues to provide material support and safe haven to the Taliban, Islamabad continues to support Afghan peace efforts, encouraging the Taliban to engage in dialogue with the Afghan Government,” he added.

Berrier said that Pakistan’s relations with India continue to remain tense since New Delhi’s August 2019 revocation of Kashmir’s semiautonomous status.

During the year, tensions with India probably will remain elevated, and concerted efforts by both sides to fully implement the February 25, 2021 ceasefire will be necessary to reduce tension along the Line of Control.

Pakistan perceives nuclear weapons as key to its national survival, specifically to counter the threat from India’s growing conventional force superiority, and likely will increase its nuclear stockpile in 2021.

To that end, Pakistan continues to modernise and expand its nuclear capabilities by conducting training with its deployed weapons and testing developmental missiles.  (Courtesy: The Council for Strategic Affairs)

Politics of Pandemic in India

Current Covid-19 (Corona) situation in India is quite grave. There is no denying that the mistakes were made on multiple fronts which resulted into Corona taking awful tolls across the country. The central government’s errors were compounded by the State governments (govt). During the first corona-wave when the central-govt took over all the precautionary elements into its own hand, the State-govts cried out loud labeling it as ‘authoritarian’ or ‘dictatorial’. The central-govt ultimately gave in to their demands in the last quarter of 2020 and provided them instead, enough funds to fight this beastly virus. The money was supposed to be used for PPT kits, essential medicines, setting up bed-facilities and to procure Oxygen-equipment but nothing of that sort happened. The States showed complete laxity to take any proactive step, the moment they felt that Corona was receding. No one knows what the States did with their money. Maharashtra Govt in particular, which had 1/3 of cases and 1/4 of deaths started shutting down the bed facilities. When India was basking in the praise of the western world as the ‘role model’ for the containment of Corona, the Central and the State govts should have collectively started preparations for the impending second wave of the pandemic. This did not happen. Although in democracy, the elections are inevitable come what may, there should have been complete clamp down on rallies, however unrealistic this may sound. The central-govt should not have permitted any religious gatherings (including ‘Kumbh-Mela’ – April 2021), processions to take place, although Corona had started taking enormous tolls weeks before (February-March 2021) such gatherings. The collective lapses sent wrong signals to the public. Nevertheless, the fatal expansion of Corona squarely rests with ‘the public at large’. People not only disregarded the severity of Corona by not following mandated safety precautions, but also, started all their routine activities and celebrations, as if it did not exist. This had deadly consequences.

Covid-19 is a global phenomenon but in India it is being tossed around like a political football whose ultimate goal is, not only to project how the country is on the brink of ‘Armageddon’, but also, to emphasize how inept and insensitive the current administration is. The major players in this game are the opposition political parties and their surrogates. Scores of leading opposition political leaders who are now clamoring for vaccines, had earlier not only mocked the idea of vaccination, but also, had floated vigorous anti-vaccine campaign. The current shortage of ‘oxygen’ has everything to do with the lethargy of the State-govts. The Central-govt had sectioned 162 oxygen generating PSA plants for strategic areas across India but the States collectively set only 33 plants and blamed the Central-govt for their own ineptitude. Make no mistake, in this game, some national and international Medias are also involved. Instead of reporting positive inspiring stories, they mass-marketed unflattering, exaggerated or sometimes even fake stories. The international Media has converged on India’s plight as if it is the biggest calamity the world has ever witnessed. When China, the birthplace of Covid-19 and the global capital of misinformation, recently planted a mischievous tweet on the social-media, it was summarily condemned by a major news organization in U.S. We all know how a leading New York tabloid, couple of weeks back, used a picture of a roadside dead body from some gas leakage somewhere, to support their claim, ‘how the people in India are dying on the streets’. This is not an isolated incidence. Scandal-sniffing notorious British press isn’t less offensive either. The international media-cartel has never publicized the complicity of their own govts in the current crisis. As per WHO, 87% of vaccines have been cornered by high-income countries and only 0.2% of vaccines have gone to poor countries. The Indian ‘netizens’ who also now include numerous private TV channels, have proved themselves equal to so-called ‘yellow journalism’ by exposing all the falsification and putting it against rock-solid proofs. When, opposition parties are harping on the sorry conditions in the country, it is worth noting that none of their cadre or party-workers are seen anywhere helping out the masses. In their stark absence, the people have taken things into their own hands. At this moment, lot of caregiving is being done by numerous social or religious local organizations. All these organizations are collectively providing hundreds of thousands of meals to the needy people; setting up thousands of beds and acquiring necessary equipment & medications, where possible. Spearheading these efforts, nationwide, are RSS, VHP volunteers.

It is true that the healthcare system in India is simply overwhelmed at this moment by Corona cases. At the same time, it is very essential to analyze whether the current tragic phase is as ‘cataclysmic’ as the Media, think-tanks, and the govt-bashing pseudo-secular activists have made it out to be. When the western media is so eager to call the situation in India as ‘genocide’ or ‘criminal act’ without any regards to journalistic decency, where were they with the same verbalism when 3,500-4,000 people were dying each day in U.S. amid hundreds of thousands of covid cases? Let’s take a break and have comparative study with hard numbers. As of now, populations of India, USA, U.K. and ‘European Union (EU)’ are respectively 1,391 Million, 332.60 Million, 68.18 Million and 447 Million. As of May 1,2021, the Corona cases they have are 19.60 Million, 32.80 Million, 4.4 Million and 30.29 Million. The death tolls are respectively 216,000, 576,700, 151,200 and 679,000. In short, statistically, although U.S. population is less than 1/4 of India, it had 11 TIMES more deaths and 7 TIMES more corona cases. In U.K., although the population is measly 4.77% of India, it had 14.32 TIMES more deaths and 4.54 TIMES more Corona cases and though ‘EU’ population is less than 1/3 of India, it has 9.68 TIMES more deaths and 4.77 TIMES more Corona cases. Although the pandemic numbers of the highly developed countries look shocking in comparison to India, they are in no way comforting to what is unfolding in India, now. Each life is precious. The whole objective of this numerical exercise is only to put Indian pandemic in global perspective. It’s not just India, even developed nations like Canada, England and so many European countries are currently struggling with the acute shortage of vaccines and medical facilities. (My nephew is ER-Chief in a Toronto Hospital and one of my closest friends is overseeing a Hospital in London). Needless to say, the question that pops up in one’s mind is – ‘why then, the western world is finding Indian pandemic so monstrous when they themselves have fared so badly’ in reality? The reason being – India’s formidable stature as a rising world power under the leadership of PM N. Modi. This is their way of pointing out India’s vulnerability. Dr. Gautam Sen of ‘London School of Economics’ says, (as per the report that is available) – ”a professional international campaign has been launched in the context of Covid crisis in India in the hope of delegitimizing the Modi Govt and weaken it fatally … the goal is to instigate rejection of BJP in the forthcoming elections.”

India produces 70% of the world’s vaccine and a major chunk of generic drugs that U.S. needs. Even before under Trump administration, United States (U.S.) relations with China had started deteriorating, the American consumer-giants had already started eyeing India as the alternative manufacturing hub for their goods. By this time India had established itself as one of the biggest consumer markets in the world. When the new U.S. President Joe Biden bought 600 million dosages to play vaccine-diplomacy, his administration wasn’t fully aware of how much U.S. depended on India. During Trump administration, when U.S. badly needed millions of ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ dosages, it was India who had come to U.S. rescue.  When President Biden prematurely arrested raw material supply for Vaccine production in India, it took his administration some time to realize what a blunder he had made. As numerous countries started coming to India’s aid, it not only reflected badly on U.S. as a selfish, isolationist country, but also, presented a Public-Relation nightmare for the U.S. giants doing business with India. There is no doubt that PM Modi and his team charmed the new President and smoothen out diplomatic wrinkles but that wasn’t the only reason why Biden administration reversed its earlier decision. The tripping point that delivered the goods in India’s favor came in the third week of April. during an emergency meeting of U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken with 135 CEOs of major U.S. conglomerates. The CEOs reportedly convinced the new Administration that if the U.S. didn’t reciprocate India’s earlier goodwill gesture, it would have disastrous economic repercussions, especially when nationalistic fervor running so high in India. Moreover, lately PM Modi’s new motto of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant, self-sufficient, with self-esteem – India) had become worrisome to them. Nevertheless, the pandemic situation in India is definitely a matter of great concern which needs global efforts. Afterall one-fifth of the humanity and the world’s largest consumer clientele is at stake. In U.S., Indian diaspora is raising lot of funds through various organizations to fight Corona in India. Organizations, like ‘Sewa International’, ‘VHP of America’, ‘BAPS’, ‘Ekal V. Foundation’, ‘Share & Care’, ‘AAPI’ have collectively raised millions of dollars. Various American groups and organizations are also busy raising quite bit of money for India. It is very comforting to know that the people around the world are motivated to help India. One World! One Humanity! One Objective!

Report Finds Additional Evidence In Case Against Indian Activists Accused Of Terrorism, Was Planted

An unknown hacker planted more than 30 documents that investigators deemed incriminating on a laptop belonging to an Indian activist accused of terrorism, a new forensic analysis finds, indicating a more extensive use of malicious software than previously revealed, Niha Masih and Joanna Slater at The Washington Post wrote last week.

The WP says, these findings will heighten concerns about the controversial prosecution of a group of government critics under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Arsenal Consulting, a Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm, examined an electronic copy of the laptop at the request of defense lawyers. The Washington Post reviewed a copy of the report.

A previous analysis by Arsenal, which The Washington Post reported in February, found that 10 letters had been deposited on the laptop, including one that discussed an alleged plot to assassinate Modi. The latest report by Arsenal finds that 22 additional documents were also delivered to the computer by the same attacker.

The documents – now totaling 32 – have been cited by law enforcement as evidence against a group of activists accused of working with a banned Maoist militant group that has waged a decades-old insurgency against the Indian state.

Known as the Bhima Koregaon case, the prosecution is considered a bellwether for the rule of law in India. Human rights groups and legal experts view the case as an effort by the government to clamp down on critics.

The space for dissent has diminished in Modi’s India, where journalists, activists and members of nongovernmental organizations have faced arrest and harassment.

The activists accused in the case deny the charges against them. They include a prominent academic, a labor lawyer, a justifyist poet, a Jesuit priest and two singers. All are advocates for the rights of the country’s most disadvantaged communities and vocal opponents of the ruling party. Many of them have been jailed for nearly three years as they await trial.

The two reports by Arsenal focus on a laptop belonging to Rona Wilson, a Delhi-based activist. In February, lawyers for Wilson submitted the first report to a court in Mumbai and urged the judges to dismiss the charges against their client. The court is expected to hold a hearing on the petition.

Jaya Roy, a spokeswoman for the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the anti-terrorism authority overseeing the case against the activists, said an analysis by a government forensic laboratory did not indicate that the laptop had been compromised by malware. She did not provide details on how the laboratory reached that conclusion.

“Our investigation is complete,” Roy said. The NIA cannot revisit “any evidence based on a private lab’s report.” The Washington Post asked three experts on malware and digital forensics in North America to review Arsenal’s initial report, and they found its findings valid. A fourth expert reviewed both reports and said the conclusions were sound.

In its latest report, Arsenal includes data it recovered from the laptop showing the attacker typing commands to deliver documents to a hidden folder. It’s the equivalent of a “videotape of someone committing the crime,” said Mark Spencer, Arsenal’s president.

Arsenal has so far conducted its work on the reports on a pro bono basis, Spencer said. Founded in 2009, Arsenal performs computer forensic analysis for companies, law firms and government agencies, and it has provided expert testimony in cases such as the Boston Marathon bombing.

In the Indian case, an attacker used NetWire, a commercially available form of malware, to compromise Wilson’s laptop for nearly two years starting in 2016, Arsenal said.

The latest report shows that 22 additional documents were placed in a hidden folder on Wilson’s computer. They include details of purported meetings of Maoist militants, alleged correspondence with Maoist leaders and details of funds received by the banned group.

Two other files were stored in a folder on the Windows drive of the laptop. Unlike the other 22 files, Arsenal could not confirm they were delivered specifically by NetWire. But it found no evidence of any legitimate interaction with the documents and called their location in an unrelated application folder “suspicious.”

Arsenal’s “step-by-step” explanation of how the 22 documents were delivered is very clear and experts in the field “would draw all the same conclusions” based on that data, said Kevin Ripa, president of the Grayson Group of Companies and an expert in digital forensics.

The compromising of Wilson’s computer was just one element of a larger malware campaign. The same attacker also targeted his co-defendants, Arsenal said. Eight people seeking to help the activists, too, received emails with malicious links that deployed NetWire, according to a report from Amnesty International.

Several of the same domain names and internet protocol addresses were used to target both the activists and their associates.

Most of the IP addresses are assigned to HostSailor, a web-hosting and virtual private server company whose website indicates it is based in the United Arab Emirates. HostSailor declined to respond to requests for comment on whether it was aware of the reports or had taken any action in response to them.

The case against the activists has its origins in a clash that unfolded on Jan. 1, 2018, in a village known as Bhima Koregaon following a memorial event celebrated by Dalits, who occupy the lowest rung in India’s caste hierarchy. The investigation into the violence, which justify one dead, rapidly expanded into a wider probe of conspiracy against the Indian state.

The authorities alleged that the clash was linked to the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a banned militant group based primarily in the forests of central India. Earlier this month, 22 security personnel were killed in an apparent ambush by militants, the worst such incident in nearly four years.

The most recent activist to be jailed in the Bhima Koregaon case is an 83-year-old Jesuit priest named Stan Swamy. He is the oldest person in India to be arrested on terrorism charges. Swamy suffers from Parkinson’s disease and requires help to bathe and write letters, said Joseph Xavier, a priest and close friend. Swamy has spent more than six months in jail during the coronavirus pandemic.

Rev. Swamy lived in Jharkhand, one of the poorest states in India, where he worked for the rights of Indigenous tribal communities. He has spearheaded campaigns challenging the acquisition of tribal land and the detentions of tribal youths on flimsy or no evidence. In a video recorded before he was arrested, Swamy said he and other activists were being targeted because they had “expressed their dissent or raised questions” about India’s ruling party.

On a recent phone call from jail, Swamy’s chief concern was the well-being of his colleagues and the organization he ran, Xavier said. Even in moments of hardship or pain, Swamy “will not complain,” his friend said. “That is the kind of person he is.”

US Lifts Ban On Exports Of Key Ingredients To Manufacture Covid Vaccine To India

With the Covid-19 surge crippling the healthcare system in India, the US, which had earlier said its primacy was for its citizens, changed its stance and has lifted export controls on raw materials for vaccines that were put in place in February.

With the Covid-19 surge crippling the healthcare system, hectic diplomacy is on with major countries for urgent supply of vaccines, oxygen-related equipment such as tankers, ventilators and other critical life-saving devices. The US, which had earlier said its primacy was for its citizens, changed its stance on lifting export controls on raw materials for vaccines that were put in place in February, following repeated requests from Indian officials and the Serum Institute of India.

A lethal, fast-paced second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has brought India’s health care systems to the verge of collapse and is putting millions of lives and livelihoods at risk, wrote Ramanan Laxminarayan, an economist and epidemiologist, in The New York Times. According to The Wall Street Journal, hospitals in New Delhi and other hard-hit cities have been turning away patients and running low on oxygen, beds, and other medical supplies.

After declining, the Biden-Harris administration has finally agreed to provide it raw materials for vaccines that had previously been under export controls, as well as other key material. A White House statement said that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke by phone on Sunday with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, and expressed “deep sympathy for the people of India following the recent spike in Covid-19 cases”, and affirmed America’s solidarity with India.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need. To this end, the United States is working around the clock to deploy available resources and supplies, it said.

“The United States has identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India. To help treat Covid-19 patients and protect front-line health workers in India, the United States has identified supplies of therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that will immediately be made available for India,” it read.

Many in Washington DC’s political and business elite are in favor of helping India, sources said. On Saturday, the US Chamber of Commerce made a vocal pitch, calling on the White House to release “the millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses in storage” — apart from life-saving equipment — to India, Brazil, and other nations hit hard by the pandemic.

Several US lawmakers have expressed concern over the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in India and have urged the Biden administration to provide all necessary help to the country. “We have the resources to help, and other people need it; that makes it our moral obligation to do so,” Democratic Senator Edward Markey said in a tweet.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was concerned about the situation in India. “Sending my thoughts and support to our friends in India fighting this terrible second wave of the COVID19 pandemic,” he said Congresswoman Haley Stevens said that her thoughts are with the people of India during this devastating COVID-19 surge.

Indian American Congressman Ro Khanna, while sharing a tweet from eminent public health expert Ashish K Jha, said, “India is in the throes of a horrendous COVID surge.
Horrendous. They are struggling to get more people vaccinated. We are sitting on 35-40 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine Americans will never use. Can we please give or lend them to India? Like, maybe now? It’ll help. A lot,” Jha had said.

On Friday, US Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted, “Heartbreaking scenes from India… We stand ready to help fight this awful virus.” Top medical advisor to the US President Dr Anthony Fauci also said the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was in talks with Indian counterparts for technical assistance, adding, “we’re trying to help in any way we can”. “Obviously they need to get their people vaccinated because that’s the only way we’re going to turn that around,” Dr Fauci said.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the US is “working closely with Indian officials at political and experts’ level for ways to help address the crisis”. For a month now, vaccine manufacturers and upstream suppliers have been reporting shortage of raw and packaging materials, critical consumables and equipment. Over time, such shortages can lead to shortage of vaccines and impact delivery commitments, as well as delay regulatory clearances for some products, experts said.

UK to Send Raw Materials to India

The UK will be sending more than 600 pieces of vital medical equipment to India to support it in fight against Covid-19, the UK government announced. The assistance package, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, includes ventilators and oxygen concentrators from surplus stocks. The Department of Health and Social Care have worked closely with the NHS, as well as suppliers and manufacturers in the UK to identify reserve life-saving equipment that can be sent to India.

Recently, India has been reporting high number of Covid-19 cases and deaths while several reports of shortage of oxygen are also coming. The first shipment of equipment has already justify the UK and it will be arriving to India in the early hours of Tuesday. Further shipments are due to follow later this week.

In total, nine airline container loads of supplies, including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators, will be sent to the country this week. This equipment will be crucial in helping to save the lives of the most vulnerable in India. The oxygen concentrators, for example, can extract oxygen from the air in the atmosphere so that it can be provided to patients, taking the strain off hospital oxygen systems and allowing oxygen to be provided in situations where hospital oxygen supplies have run out.

Indian American Groups Offer Help to India

Several Indian-American groups have started raising funds to urgently airlift medical supplies including oxygen to help India in its fight against coronavirus.

“In the past week, we have been receiving nothing but mind numbing news from many countries around the world, particularly in India, the land of our birth,” stated Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalgadda, President of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (APPI) the largest ethnic medical organization in the country. Pointing to the fact that the statistics are chilling,

Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalagadda, while referring to the several proactive steps in educating their members and the general public about the disease, the preventive steps that needs to be taken at this time and most importantly, they are using all their contacts and resources at the hospital administrative and government levels to facilitate treatment protocols to be in place at the various hospitals in the US and in India, urged AAPI members and the general public to step up and donate generously as India, our motherland is facing one of the most serious health crisis in decades. “This is the time for immediate AAPI action. As doctors, we all share a visceral urge to do something about it,” he added.

“This is truly a humanitarian crisis of apocalyptic proportions which needs an immediate response,” wrote Indian-American Mike Sikand, chairman Oceanport Democratic Committee in New Jersey to Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Another step that you could take is to help increase hospital bed capacity in India by providing equipment and financial assistance to set up makeshift hospitals or even sending USS Mercy to help India deal with this crisis,” Sikand said in the letter to Menendez.

GOPIO Thanks President Biden and Appeals to Release AstraZeneca Vaccines to India

Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) thanked US President Joe Biden for his announcement of USA sending raw materials for COVID-19 vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to help India respond to a massive surge in coronavirus infections.  India is going through a grim situation now in Covid Pandemic infection and deaths. The latest report says that the new infections are about 350,000 and deaths about 3,000 per day.

GOPIO Chairman Dr. Thomas Abraham said that in the last three months, India acted as a global leader in sending vaccines to many countries. However, with the sudden unexpected Covid-19 outbreak, India needs an enormous quantity of vaccines for its 1.3 billion population. As a close ally of India, our country must help India in this grave situation.

“We appeal to you to send AstraZeneca vaccines which are stored by US manufacturers in their warehouses since the US is yet to authorize its use here while it has been used in India,” Dr. Abraham appealed in his letter to President Biden. GOPIO also requested President Biden to facilitate manufacturing of other vaccines in India so that the global demand can be met sooner.

As Covid Strikes India Hard, Narendra Modi’s Image Sinks

The pandemic is killing thousands daily, crushing India’s modest health system, causing crippling shortages of doctors, nurses, medicines, even oxygen. If last week witnessed Narendra Modi government’s biggest crisis, it’s only become bigger since.

The second wave of Covid-19, with the spiraling cases and deaths across cities and towns, making India currently the world’s worst pandemic-affected country, have now dented India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image in India and around the world for the poor vision, poor planning, and mismanagement of the most deadly virus in over a century.

The pandemic is killing thousands daily, crushing India’s modest health system, causing crippling shortages of doctors, nurses, medicines, even oxygen. If last week witnessed Narendra Modi government’s biggest crisis, it’s only become bigger since. It threatens to grow bigger over the next several weeks, healthcare experts say.

With over 350,000 new coronavirus cases daily and more than 2,000 people dying every 24 hours, the situation has become too tumultuous for Modi, the leader of Hindutva or Hindu nationhood. The daily increase in cases has forced many Indians to raise their eyebrows about the governance efficiency of Modi, hitherto considered the superhero and a catalyst of good governance.

Modi’s government has faced criticism that it let its guard down, allowed big religious and political gatherings to take place when India’s cases plummeted to below 10,000 a day and did not plan on building up the healthcare systems. Hospitals and doctors have put out urgent notices that they were unable to cope with the rush of patients.

India’s total tally of infections stands at 16.96 million and deaths 192,311 after 2,767 more died overnight, health ministry data showed. In the last month alone, daily cases have gone up eight times and deaths by 10 times. Health experts say the death count is probably far higher.

India’s surge is expected to peak in mid-May with the daily count of infections reaching half a million, the Indian Express said citing an internal government assessment. V.K. Paul, a COVID-task force leader, made the presentation during a meeting with Modi and state chief ministers and said that the health infrastructure in heavily populated states is not adequate enough to cope, according to the media reports.

The Guardian, a popular Western publication wrote in an editorial this week: “At the beginning of March, the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi claimed the country was in Covid-19’s “endgame”. India is now in a living hell. A new “double mutant” variant, named B.1.617, has emerged in a devastating coronavirus second wave which has seen hospitals run out of beds and oxygen. Mortuaries are so full that bodies are justify to decompose at home. Charities warn that the dead risk being justify on the streets.”

The second wave of cases has been made more deadly by oxygen shortages in hospitals. An investigation by Indian news website Scroll.in revealed that the country’s government waited until October 2020, eight months after the pandemic began, to invite bids for a $27 million contract to place oxygen generation systems inside more than 150 district hospitals. Six months later, most still aren’t up and running. Several states across the nation have expressed despair as most hospitals have run short of Oxygen.

“India is in the ICU and those who put her there now spend their time trying to shift the blame. The change from ‘victory’ over Covid to gasping for oxygen began in the last week of January this year when the Prime Minister proudly declared that India had not only defeated the pandemic but had been an inspiration for other countries. He then proceeded to personally oversee vaccine exports to needy countries and his Minister of External Affairs boasted about it. After this ‘victory’, the Prime Minister and Home Minister spent their time organizing a blitzkrieg of election rallies in West Bengal and Assam without wearing masks and while exhorting large crowds to gather,” wrote columnist Tavleen Singh in The Indian Express.

If you’ve been tempted to think the pandemic is over, journalist Rana Ayyub’s reporting from India will prove you sorely mistaken. “If the apocalypse had an image,” she writes for TIME, “it would be the hospitals of India.” India’s sheer volume of cases is contributing to that unimaginable death toll, but there are extenuating factors, too. Oxygen supplies are running out across the country, in part because the Indian government waited until October 2020 to seek contracts for installing oxygen generation systems in many hospitals, Ayyub reports. Some are still not working today, leaving critically ill patients without the thing they need most as their lungs fail.

A recent story in TIME magazine titled, “’This Is Hell.’ Prime Minister Modi’s Failure to Lead Is Deepening India’s COVID-19 Crisis” pointed out how India has mismanaged and sent misleading messages. “The Uttarakhand chief minister declared on March 20, “nobody will be stopped in the name of COVID-19 as we are sure the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus.” It wasn’t until mid-April that Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that participation in the pilgrimage should be kept “symbolic” to combat the pandemic. Is it any wonder that the festival has become a super-spreader event?”

But the statement by Modi came too late. Mega political rallies in poll bound states, led by Modi himself and his party leaders in several states has been stated to be instrumental in spiking the covid cases across India. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees showed up each day for a dip in the Ganges as part of the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in Haridwar, Uttarakhand. Millions of worshippers have participated in the weeks-long festival since the first day of bathing on March 11, despite clear evidence that thousands are testing positive for the virus after attending. In the space of just a few days in mid-April, more than 1,600 cases were confirmed among devotees. In March, when the second wave was already underway, state leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) published full-page ads in national newspapers telling worshippers it was “clean” and “safe” to attend.

Last week, as India reported the highest number of daily cases of anywhere in the world, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party tweeted a video of one of Modi’s political rallies. Alongside Modi was his close confidante and home minister, Amit Shah. In theory, Shah should have been in the capital, coordinating with various state governments on how to deal with the devastating spike in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks. Instead, Shah has been holding roadshows with thousands of joyous crowds on the streets of West Bengal which is in the midst of elections to the state Assembly. “Since January, Modi has organized mass political rallies in various states and has allowed religious events like the Kumbh Mela to go ahead, while his party continued with its dog-whistle campaigns against Indian minorities,” TIME reported.

The Guardian wrote: “Like Donald Trump, Mr Modi would not give up campaigning while the pandemic raged. India went ahead with five state elections in April, and an unmasked Mr Modi held huge rallies. Mr Modi’s brand of Indian exceptionalism bred complacency. A presumption of national greatness has led to a lack of preparedness, most notably in vaccine production.”

“The country has been too complacent and relaxed for too long. Now we are paying the price for that negligence,” Archbishop Prakash Mallavarapu, chairman of the Healthcare Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), told the Register.  “There has been certainly a big lapse from the complacent government and the general public, paying scant regard for the social-distance norms while the state machinery ignored enforcing norms,” said Archbishop Mallavarapu, whose Visakhapatnam Archdiocese in located in the state of Andhra on the east coast of India.

TIME criticized states that are attempting to hide the death rate. “In the state of Uttar Pradesh workers were pictured covering the crematorium with tin sheets. Priyanka Gandhi, of the opposition Congress party, accused local authorities of hiding the truth.” In Gujarat, the Prime Minister’s home state, crematoriums are burning day and night, while the state refuses to acknowledge the high number of deaths. The Gujarat high court has demanded the state government reveal the accurate count of COVID-19 patients and deaths,” TIME pointed out.

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, an internationally known social activist based in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, was much more unsparing is his choice of words, when asked for his reaction to the calamity that has gripped the nation. “Absolutely abominable,” Father Prakash described the situation on the ground in Gujarat. Among over two dozen Christians who have died of COVID in Gujarat were five of his Jesuit confreres, who died on April 17 alone. A week earlier, another eminent Jesuit, Father Varghese Paul, former president of the Indian Catholic Press Association and mentor of dozens of writers in Gujarat, also died of COVID at the age of 78.

“The government is blatantly lying on official figures of the grim reality,” said Father Prakash, endorsing the media reports that exposed the underreporting of deaths in Gujarat and several other Indian states. “They play down deaths and the number of infected by the pandemic.” While the Gujarat government acknowledged only 78 deaths on April 16, national daily The Hindu reported cremation of 689 bodies in seven cities alone under COVID protocol in the state, in an article titled, “COVID-19 Deaths in Gujarat Far Exceed Government Figures.”

“The situation is miserable here. Many are dying. I know an entire Christian family that has been wiped out. One of our young bishops is also in hospital with COVID,” Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore, in Madhya Pradesh state in central India, told the Register.  “The media reports here routinely challenge the government death figures, with some networks challenging the actual figures to be several times higher,” said Bishop Thottumarickal, the former chairman of the Office for Communication of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.

After The Wire news portal published an article titled, “Varanasi: Cremation, Burial Grounds Show About 50% of COVID-19 Deaths Aren’t Officially Recorded,” Prime Minister Modi called a meeting of top officials of Varanasi, as he personally represents the Hindu holy city in the Indian Parliament.

In the race to produce and secure vaccines for the 1.4 Billion Indians, Modi regime failed miserably. India invested too little in vaccine against Covid production. While epidemiologists, specialists and opposition leaders have long urged Modi to give approvals for foreign vaccines, the decision to give emergency use license to the Russian manufactured Sputnik V vaccine was only taken in the second week of April. Against the skepticism for vaccines by a vast majority of Indian, Modi government has done too little to reinforce public health messaging. In West Bengal, where Modi himself has been campaigning, the BJP Chief has advocated drinking cow urine to treat COVID-19.

The net result of all these is: People are dying in their hundreds in India because of a lack of medical oxygen and other supplies in the country’s overloaded hospitals. The healthcare system is collapsing as India records more than 350,000 new coronavirus cases each day and thousands lose their lives daily.

“The Indian prime minister suffers from overconfidence in his own instincts and pooh-poohs expert advice,” The Guardian wrote. “His ministers turned on a former Congress prime minister for daring to offer them counsel just before he was admitted to hospital with Covid this week.” Guardian was referring to the recommendations suggested by Manmohan Singh, former Prime Minister of India.

As this COVID-19 “tsunami” floods across the nation, a chorus of protest has erupted from opposition parties, social-action networks and the media, challenging the government’s lack of foresight. One of the most prominent is a report by The Times that accuses the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “floundering” in the face of the giant surge in cases. Another media account accuses the Indian government of indulging in “vaccine diplomacy” by exporting more than 60 million COVID vaccines to 84 countries at the cost of Indian citizens while the country’s own vaccination centers are crippled by vaccine shortages.

 “This is the first time Modi has been on the receiving end and he may have to pay a political price. It is also the first time that India has experienced a catastrophe of such magnitude,” a political analysts wrote recently. “Thus, it may not be wrong to suggest that it would be far from easy for Modi to remake and reshape the politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), say some skeptics. And the skepticism has come not without good reason.”

His critics are already predicting doomsday. Many have gone vocal demanding the prime minister’s resignation. On social media and in general discussions, the refrain is that the limit of good governance under Modi has been reached. At this critical juncture in its history, Indians have been justify to fend for themselves.

Modi Announces US-India Partnership To Fight Climate Change

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a global initiative in cooperation with the US to mobilize investments for the greening of the world and promote collaboration to fight global warming.

Warning that the Covid-19 pandemic is a grim reminder of the dangers of climate change, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a global initiative in cooperation with the US to mobilize investments for the greening of the world and promote collaboration to fight global warming.

“Humanity is battling a global pandemic right now and this event is a timely reminder that the grave threat of climate change has not disappeared,” he said at the Leaders Summit on Climate Change convened by President Joe Biden.

“President Biden and I are launching the India-US Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership. Together we will help mobilise investments, demonstrate clean technology and enable green collaboration.”

Leaders of 40 countries are participating in the summit. They include Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, with whom Biden has an increasingly hostile relationship, but they have put aside their difference in the climate cause.

Biden said: “The signs are unmistakable (of climate change dangers). The science is undeniable. The cost of inaction keeps mounting. The United States isn’t waiting. We are resolving to take action.” Biden said that the US would cut its greenhouse emissions from the 2005 level by half by 2030.

He announced the first US Climate Finance Plan to promote public sector “to increase the quality and quantity of climate financing” and spur the private sector to contribute to developing countries’ programs. He said that the global goal was mobilising $100 billion per year for developing countries to meet the climate challenge.

To help meet this goal, he said that the US will double by 2024 “our annual public climate development finance to developing countries compared to what we were providing during the second half of Obama-Biden administration”.

The US will also “triple our financing for climate application for developing countries by 2024”. Calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, he said he said that it was important to “help developing countries leapfrog to the clean technologies of tomorrow”.

In a subtle dig at the hypocrisy of Western leaders, media and activists who paint India as the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter and demand it cut down emissions, Modi pointed out that each Indian’s greenhouse gas footprint is 60 per cent lower than the world average.

“It is because of our lifestyle is still rooted in sustainable, traditional practices,” he said. “Today I want to emphasize the importance of lifestyle change in climate action, sustainable lifestyle changes and guiding philosophy of back to basics,” he added.

Modi said that India was doing its part to fight climate change. “Our ambitious renewable energy target of 450 gigawatts by 2030 shows our commitment. Despite our development challenges we have taken many bold steps on clean energy, energy efficiency, afforestation and biodiversity.”

“That is why we are among the few countries whose NDCs (nationally determined contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement goals) are 2 degrees Celsius compatible,” Modi said. “Climate change is a lived reality for millions around the world. Their lives, their livelihoods are already facing its adverse consequences,” he said.

India has encouraged global initiatives like the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, Modi added. “As climate resposnsible developing country, India welcomes partners to create templates of sustainable development in India. This can also help other development countries who need affordable acess to green finance and clean technology,” he said.

Modi was the second non-US leader to speak after Xi at the virtual conference. Xi said that China was making extraordinary efforts like ending coal power generation in order to reach its cimate change goals. (IANS)

Address by Prime Minister at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate 2021

April 22, 2021

Your Excellency President Biden,
Distinguished colleagues,
My fellow Citizens of this Planet,

Namaskar!

I would like to thank President Biden for taking this initiative.Humanity is battling a global pandemic right now.And, this event is a timely reminder that the grave threat of Climate Change has not disappeared.

In fact, Climate Change is a lived reality for millions around the world.Their lives and livelihoods are already facing its adverse consequences.

Friends,

For humanity to combat Climate Change, concrete action is needed.We need such action at a high speed, on a large scale, and with a global scope.We, in India, are doing our part.Our ambitious renewable energy target of 450 Gigawatts by 2030 shows our commitment.

Despite our development challenges, we have taken many bold steps on clean energy, energy efficiency, afforestation and bio-diversity.That is why we are among the few countries whose NDCs are 2-degree-Celsius compatible.

We have also encouraged global initiatives like International Solar Alliance, LeadIT, and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.

Friends,

As a climate-responsible developing country, India welcomes partners to create templates of sustainable development in India.These can also help other developing countries, who need affordable access to green finance and clean technologies.

That is why, President Biden and I are launching the “India-US climate and clean energy Agenda 2030 partnership”. Together, we will help mobilise investments, demonstrate clean technologies, and enable green collaborations.

Friends,

Today, as we discuss global climate action, I want to leave one thought with you.India’s per capita carbon footprint is 60% lower than the global average.It is because our lifestyle is still rooted in sustainable traditional practices.

So today, I want to emphasise the importance of lifestyle change in climate action.Sustainable lifestyles and a guiding philosophy of “Back to Basics” must be an important pillar of our economic strategy for the post-Covid era.

Friends,

I recall the words of the great Indian monk Swami Vivekananda.He called on us to “Arise, awake and stop not until the goal is reached”.Let us make this a Decade of Action against climate change.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

***

India’s Second Wave Of Covid-19 Crisis Is Catastrophic

India reported 273,810 new Covid-19 infections and 1,619 deaths—both highest single-day spikes. That takes the active Covid-19 caseload tally up to nearly 2 million.

India, which was reporting less than 15,000 cases a day just last month, has been seeing over 200,000 Covid-19 infections a day since April 15. On April 19th alone, India reported 273,810 new Covid-19 infections and 1,619 deaths—both highest single-day spikes. That takes the active Covid-19 caseload tally up to nearly 2 million.

The current wave started in the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat and has now engulfed almost the entire country. Delhi, for instance, had only around 2,800 new infections on April 1, and active infections stood at 10,498. Yesterday, it recorded 25,462 infections and an active caseload of 74,941. That amounts to a 900% increase in new infections and a 700% increase in active cases in just 18 days.

India has now recorded more than 15 million infections and more than 178,000 deaths. Experts agree that even these figures are likely undercounts. New Delhi imposed a weeklong lockdown Monday night to prevent the collapse of the Indian capital’s health system, which authorities said had been pushed to its limit amid an explosive surge in coronavirus cases.

In scenes familiar from surges elsewhere, ambulances catapulted from one hospital to another, trying to find an empty bed over the weekend, while patients lined up outside of medical facilities waiting to be let in. Ambulances also idled outside of crematoriums, carrying half a dozen dead bodies each. In an effort to combat crisis, India announced that it would soon expand its vaccination campaign to all adults. “People keep arriving, in an almost collapsing situation,” said Dr. Suresh Kumar, who heads Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, one of New Delhi’s largest hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients.

Meanwhile, election campaigns are continuing in West Bengal state in eastern India, amid an alarming increase there as well, and experts fear that crowded rallies could fuel the spread of the virus. Top leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have campaigned heavily to win polls in the region.

By contrast, in New Delhi, officials have begun to impose stringent measures again. The Indian capital was shut down over the weekend, but now authorities are extending that for a week: All shops and factories will close, except for those that provide essential services, like grocery stores. People are not supposed to leave their homes, except for a handful of reasons, like seeking medical care. They will be allowed to travel to airports or train stations — a difference from the last lockdown when thousands of migrant workers were forced to walk to their home villages.

That harsh lockdown last year, which lasted months, justify deep scars. Politicians have since been reticent to even mention the word. When similar measures were imposed in Mahrashtra state, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, in recent days, officials refused to call it a lockdown. Those restrictions are to last 15 days.

India is not alone. Several places in the world are seeing deepening crises, including Brazil and France, spurred in part by new variants. More than a year into the pandemic, deaths are on the rise again worldwide, running at nearly 12,000 per day on average, and new cases are climbing, too. Over the weekend, the global death toll passed a staggering 3 million people.

Jaishankar, Blinken Work Together Enhancing India-US Collaboration

In a growing sign of increased cooperation, S Jaishankar and Antony Blinken discuss developments in the region and health cooperation.

India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and his US counterpart Antony Blinken discussed developments in the region and health cooperation against the backdrop of the planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and the Covid-19 crisis.

“Spoke to my US counterpart Secretary of State @SecBlinken this evening. Conversation covered recent developments in India’s immediate and extended neighbourhood. Exchanged views on the UNSC agenda. Also discussed issues pertaining to our health cooperation,” Jaishankar said in a tweet without giving details.

There was no official word from both countries on the conversation. People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the situation in Afghanistan and the US embargo on exports of raw materials needed for Covid-19 vaccines had figured in the discussions.

The Biden administration invoked the US Defence Production Act in February to curb the export of raw materials for vaccine production. The Serum Institute of India’s (SII) ability to make some 160 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine a month could be hit in the coming weeks if the US doesn’t lift the embargo on supplies of 37 critical items, reports have said. On April 16, SII CEO Adar Poonawalla raised the issue in a tweet addressed to US President Joe Biden.

Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said last month that the issue had been officially raised with the US through the Indian ambassador in Washington.

Participating in an online discussion on Monday, Jaishankar referred to the matter indirectly when he said he was “pushing other countries, particularly some big countries, [to] please keep the raw materials flowing for vaccines to be made in India”.

Responding to a question on criticism of India’s exports of Covid-19 vaccines amid growing domestic demand, Jaishankar noted that the vaccine being produced in India in the largest quantity – the AstraZeneca jab made by SII – is a “co-creation” and an international product. “Can I, on one hand, go round the world and say, guys, keep your supply chain flowing towards me, and by the way… I am asking you for raw material but I am not going to give you the vaccine?” he asked

He added, “As things got tough we spoke to the world very honestly and said look, we have done our best to live up to commitments – contractual commitments of producers, COVAX commitments – but right now please understand that I have this very serious situation at home and I think most countries understand that.”

On the US exit from Afghanistan, Jaishankar said India has always played an active role in that country. “Afghanistan is a doorstep away. So how can we not have a role, influence, presence [and] activity out there?” he said.

India’s Second Covid-19 Wave Is Much Worse Than The First

India records one of the highest new infections as Covid-19 last week. Vaccinations, a mammoth task in such a large nation, are dangerously behind schedule. Hospital beds are running short.

When the coronavirus first struck India last year, the country enforced one of the world’s strictest national lockdowns. The warning was clear: A fast spread in a population of 1.3 billion would be devastating. The new wave will hurt global efforts and vaccine supplies, experts say. Researchers are scrambling to assess whether new coronavirus variants are playing a role in India.

 India on Saturday reported a daily record of 145,384 new infections as Covid-19 raced out of control. Deaths, while still relatively low, are rising. Vaccinations, a mammoth task in such a large nation, are dangerously behind schedule. Hospital beds are running short.

This second wave is much, much worse than the first one, so it is not just cities like Mumbai and Delhi that have started imposing curfews and lockdowns. Smaller cities like Lucknow, Kanpur, Varanasi and Raipur are enforcing curbs as well, and these will, as they did last time, serve mostly to hurt the economy and not control the pandemic. Already migrant workers are beginning to flee because their jobs have gone. It was one of these fleeing migrants who had the best comment to make on what is happening.

Parts of the country are reinforcing lockdowns. Scientists are rushing to track new strains, including the more hazardous variants found in Britain and South Africa, that may be hastening the spread. But the authorities have declared contact tracing in some places to be simply impossible.

India cannot afford to fall behind in the vaccination race because the whole world now knows that the only way to defeat Covid-19 is by vaccinating as many people as possible, as soon as possible. So, when high officials in the Government of India declare that only those who ‘need’ vaccinations should be given them, they seem either to be covering up for the serious shortage of vaccines or to be totally removed from reality. Every government in the world today is centering its fight against the pandemic on massive vaccination programs so that there can be some sort of return to normal times by the middle of this year. Only in India do we seem to continue believing that the way forward is to scale up testing.

Something has gone very wrong. And it could be because the Prime Minister and his advisors continue to invest their faith in centrally planning the vaccination strategy. Why are state governments not allowed to procure as many vaccines as they want from whoever they want? Why are they not being allowed to decide the price of these vaccines so that Indians who can afford to pay a full price should be allowed to? Why is the Government of India not distributing among state governments the Rs 35,000 crore set aside for vaccinations in this year’s national Budget? Why are private hospitals not being allowed to play a much bigger role than they have so far? Why is the Serum Institute not already being given the

The truth is that things have clearly gone very, very wrong with our vaccination strategy and nobody in the Government of India seems ready to acknowledge this. Gimmicks like a ‘Vaccination Utsav’ will not work. What is needed urgently is a comprehensive review and a whole new strategy, but who is going to do this when the two men who make the big decisions for India are both totally immersed in the campaign for West Bengal. Winning Bengal or any other state will mean nothing if the war against the pandemic is lost.

The double mutant variant of the coronavirus first identified in India has been classified officially as B.1.617, The Hindu reports, separating it from the UK (B.1.1.7) and South Africa variants (B.1.351).  B.1.617 has two specific mutations that have not been seen together in other variants, namely E484Q and L452R.

The variant has been found in circulation in Maharashtra, which is in the throes of a second wave of the Covid-19. It has since been found in California, US.  India’s health officials had previously said there is no proof yet that the variant is causing the resurgence in cases in the country.

The mutations E484Q and L452R, found on the receptor-binding domain of the virus, possess traits that are worrying.  L452R, also found in the California variant, has been shown to make the virus more transmissible.  E484Q is closely related to the E484K mutation, which has been found in the South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (P.1 and P.2) variants and is less susceptible to neutralizing antibodies. The Indian variant has these two mutations at the same time.

“What we don’t know is how those [two mutations] will behave when they’re put in the same virus,” Dr. Benjamin Pinsky, director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory at Stanford University, tells the LA Times. “There’s a reasonable amount of information about those [two mutations] individually. But will it be worse if they’re together? We don’t really know how they’re going to interact.”

India Is an Essential Counterweight to China

As America seeks to counter a rising China, no nation is more important than India, with its vast size, abundance of highly skilled technical professionals, and strong political and cultural ties with US.

As America seeks to counter a rising China, no nation is more important than India, with its vast size, abundance of highly skilled technical professionals, and strong political and cultural ties with the United States. But the parallels between America’s dependency on China for manufacturing and its dependency on India for IT services are striking, according to a study published by The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).
A leading think tank for science and technology policy has said as Washington seeks to counter a rising China, no nation is more important than India with its abundance of highly skilled technical professionals and strong political and cultural ties with the United States.
It however cautioned that ‘overreliance’ on India as an IT services provider could become a strategic problem if major disagreements emerge between the two nations on issues such as intellectual property, data governance, tariffs, taxation, local content requirements or individual privacy.
While America and India are both rightly keen to move more manufacturing operations from China to India, significant shifts will take time, as China still has many advantages. Most large U.S. companies now rely heavily on India-based IT services—whether from India-headquartered IT service providers, U.S.-headquartered IT services companies with large India-based operations, or their own India-based capability centers.
The United States risks becoming overly reliant on India as an IT services provider if major disagreements emerge over issues such as intellectual property, data governance, tariffs, taxation, local content requirements, or individual privacy.

Leading U.S. tech companies are well positioned in India’s booming Internet and e commerce marketplaces, but strong local competitors are emerging.

India is moving up the value chain into R&D, innovation centers, machine learning, analytics, product design and testing, and other areas, especially in IT and life sciences.

Outside of IT, U.S. companies operating in India typically face stiff competition from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and of course, Indian firms—and doing business in India is still often difficult.
While geopolitical forces are drawing America and India closer together, long-term alignment with the United States and the West is by no means assured and will require successful policymaking by both India and the United States.

There are many complex dynamics that will affect the degree to which the U.S./India relationship can help offset today’s increasingly powerful China. The authors of the study David Moschella and Robert D. Atkinson offer the following pessimistic and optimistic scenarios:
Scenario 1: Tensions between India and China are reduced, and the many business synergies between these two neighboring nations come to the fore. The combination of China’s manufacturing might and India’s software and service prowess provides across-the-board value-chain capabilities. The United States remains heavily reliant on both nations, whose market sizes dwarf that of America, giving Chinese and Indian companies colossal economies of scale and leading to large bilateral trade deficits for the United States with both nations. These dynamics ultimately result in world-leading Chinese and Indian universities, companies, and research institutions. Given its relatively small size and many dependencies, there is little the United States can do, as the heart of the global economy shifts to the East, and as democratic nations and norms are increasingly seen as failing to keep pace with China’s rapid societal progress.

Scenario 2: The interests of India and the United States become increasingly aligned, as the economic, military, and international relations challenges from China grow. Rapidly growing Indian manufacturing, much of it from plants moving out of China, helps reduce U.S. dependencies on China while slowing China’s growth. At the same time, Indian students continue to flock to the United States, with many staying and making essential contributions to America’s technological capabilities.

The Indian diaspora creates even more-powerful bonds between India and the United States, generating a great many business, political, and cultural leaders. Rising U.S. company dependence on India-based technology services proves to have more benefits than drawbacks and is largely offset by the success of U.S. tech giants in India and by ever-improving cloud services that make extensive customized IT services less necessary. As a result, Indian exports to the United States are broadly matched by U.S. business within India, and both nations grow. The combined military prowess of the United States, India, Japan, and Australia (and eventually South Korea and Taiwan) proves sufficient to prevent China’s hegemony within the Pacific region. Democratic norms prevail across most of the developed world, with many developing nations looking to the “Delhi model” rather than the “Beijing model.”

Clearly, there is a vast middle ground between these two extremes. But by 2030, one scenario will likely prove closer to reality than the other. Which will it be? When we argue that there is now no more important bilateral relationship for the United States than India, this is what we mean. America’s technology dependencies on India in the 2020s seem certain to rise. But will the United States be dependent on a strategic partner with strong mutual interests, or on an increasingly neutral rival? Much will depend on the strategic choices the Biden and Indian administrations make. The economic and geopolitical stakes could not be much higher.

Modi Addresses Inaugural Session Of Raisina Dialogue

PM Modi said the pandemic has presented opportunity to reshape the world order and reorient our thinking. He was delivering the inaugural address virtually at the sixth edition of the Raisina Dialogue on Tuesday, April 13th.

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, India has tried to walk the talk “in our own humble way and within our own limited resources” to tackle the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), which has affected and killed millions across the world. PM Modi said the pandemic has presented opportunity to reshape the world order and reorient our thinking. He was delivering the inaugural address virtually at the sixth edition of the Raisina Dialogue on Tuesday, April 13th.

He was joined by Chief Guests H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and H.E. Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark during the annual event. The 6th Edition of the prestigious Raisina Dialogue, jointly organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation,will be held virtually from 13-16 April, 2021.The theme for the 2021 Edition is “#ViralWorld: Outbreaks, Outliers and Out of Control”. “This edition of Raisina Dialogue takes a place at a watershed moment in human history.

A global pandemic has been ravaging the world for over a year. The last such global pandemic was a century ago,” PM Modi said during his addresses at the inaugural session of Raisina Dialogue. “During this pandemic, in our own humble way and within our own limited resources, we in India have tried to walk the talk.

We have tried to protect our own 1.3 billion citizens from the pandemic. At the same time, we have also tried to support pandemic response efforts of others,” he added. “We understand fully that mankind will not defeat the pandemic unless all of us, everywhere, regardless of the color of our passports, come out of it. That is why, this year, despite many constraints, we have supplied vaccines to over 80 countries,” the Prime Minister said.

The Indian Premier emphasized that global systems should adapt themselves, in order to address the underlying causes and not just the symptoms. Modi called for keeping humanity at the center of our thoughts and action, and creating systems that address the problems of today and the challenges of tomorrow. The leader of the largest democracy elaborated upon India’s pandemic response efforts, both domestically as well as in form of assistance to other countries. He called for joint efforts to meet the varied challenges posed by the pandemic and reiterated that India would share its strengths for global good.

India Surprised As US Announces Freedom Of Navigation Operation In Indian Waters

Days after the first summit of the Quadrilateral grouping and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin’s visit to New Delhi, the US Seventh Fleet announced that one of its warships, USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), had carried out a Freedom of Navigation operation west of Lakshadweep Islands, “inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law”.

Responding to this public announcement by the US Navy which raised eyebrows given the growing ties between the armed forces of the two countries, especially their navies, New Delhi said: “We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of USA through diplomatic channels.”

The US Navy statement said: “On April 7, 2021, the USS John Paul Jones asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s EEZ, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.“India requires prior consent for military exercises or manoeuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law.” The statement further said the FONOP upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims.

US forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the US will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, the statement said.“We conduct routine and regular FONOP), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements.” Indian government officials said it’s unusual for such a statement to be released.

Any activity within 200 km nautical miles, which falls under EEZ or Indian waters needs prior permission as per Indian laws. Chinese vessels on the pretext of carrying out research activities in Indian waters have been tracked and sent back in the past.“The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state,” it said.

Under Indian law — The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 — “all foreign ships (other than warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles) shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters” and a passage is innocent “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of India”.

“Foreign warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles may enter or pass through the territorial waters after giving prior notice to the Central Government,” the law states. The US Navy’s Freedom of Navigation operation near Lakshadweep is not unprecedented. The US Department of Defence publishes an annual Freedom of Navigation report and India found mention in the 2019 report along with 21 other countries that included China, Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Saudi Arabia. India was mentioned in the 2017, 2016 and 2015 reports as well.

Rahul Gandhi Describes How Assassination Of His Father Changed Him

As a leader, Rahul Gandhi has always been the strongest proponent of politics of purpose. Over the years, he has lent his voice to a number of issues but has always remained focused on propagating non-violence, equality and justice.

 

Through his life, Rahul Gandhi has always been the strongest proponent of politics of purpose. Over the years, he has lent his voice to a number of issues but has always remained focused on propagating non-violence, equality and justice. He has imbibed these virtues through a lifelong tryst with Indian politics and history and has developed a keen understanding of the Indian social fabric. Having experienced the pain of losing both his father and grandmother to acts of violence and hatred, Rahul Gandhi has always been a champion of Gandhian philosophies of ahimsa and truth.

Rahul Gandhi has said that the assassination of his father and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 changed him. Also noting that he had always been accustomed to an “environment” of public service, he said that he was brought up with the idea that you cannot tolerate injustice.

Rahul Gandhi made the remarks during an online interaction with Nicholas Burns, the Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a former US Under Secretary of State.

To a question by Burns about his family’s engagement in public service and if he had always assumed, when young, that some form of public service would be his life’s work, Rahul Gandhi, a Lok Sabha MP from Kerala’s Wayanad, said: “First of all, families are unique in a way. So, I guess I don’t see it (my family) as a unique family, I just see it as a family that just happens to go through certain things.” He said that he grew up in the environment of public service.

“When I was small, there was this underlined thing of a sense of trying to understand India, what is going on, what are the forces it plays and some of these things on how it works. In this sense I was embedded in it and I saw it from the beginning,” he said.

Discussing the assassination of his father in Tamil Nadu in the run-up to the 1991 general elections, he said: “Of course, there were certain events that sort of pushed me… in a way, my father’s assassination was one of them that developed that sense that I felt that my father was fighting some particular forces and he was wronged. And so as a son, that of course, had an effect.”

“And also I was brought up when I was small and young with the idea that you cannot tolerate injustice. And that’s something what I have been trained from beginning. If I see this up, it rattles me up and I get agitated and it doesn’t matter to whom the injustice is being done. And if that injustice is going with somebody whom I am not very fond of, that gets me going. So those are the type of things,” he said.

In interviews and speeches, Rahul Gandhi has often spoken of his traumatic childhood during which he saw his father and grandmother assassinated. These statements are often dismissed as ploys to gain sympathy. Yet he makes the point so often and so forcefully, it may be useful to consider the possibility that his grief is genuine, and that it has defined his politics in ways that makes it impractical for him to lead the Congress party.

Rahul’s personal agony is reflected in his ambivalence towards politics, his distrust of the system in which he must operate, and his fleeting attempts at redefining the idea of power and its pursuit. His psychological makeup seems to explain why he is out of sync with his party, unable to become an inspiration to it.

Rahul won his first election with an overwhelming margin of 2,90,853 votes — a testament to the faith placed by the people of his constituency in him. From the beginning, it was apparent that Rahul believed that our nation’s future lies with her people. Through the ebbs and flows of a decade-long political career, Rahul has held true to the very principles that won him the hearts of the people in his very first election.

In 2013, Rahul Gandhi was elected as the Vice-President of the Congress Party. Within the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi played the key role of channeling the party along the lines of Congress’ core principles. He tirelessly worked to democratise the student wing and youth wing of the Congress party and ensured a breath of fresh air entered the grand old party by encouraging young leaders to take up leadership positions. His pivotal role in shaping the party along Congress’ core values over his political career earned him the post of President of the Congress Party in 2017. Under Rahul Gandhi’s guidance, the Congress Party has once again emerged as the voice of the nation.

While he was President of the Opposition party, Rahul Gandhi played a key role in raising the demands of various stakeholders of the country. He championed the rights of the poor & the marginalised. He led the battle against the ruling government on poorly implemented policies such as Demonetisation, Aadhar, GST and more.

The vision of Rahul Gandhi and his strategy to fight the democratic battle with love and unity is what makes the Congress Party the true representative of a united India. Going forward, he aims to put these principles into action by creating systems that provide India’s citizens with the tools and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.

In his current role as a Member of Parliament in the 17th Lok Sabha, he represents the constituency of Wayanad in Kerala. After leaving his position as President of the Congress party, he has put all his focus & energy in representing the people of Wayanad & taking on the government on a number of issues, like the undemocratic abrogation of Article 370 & the violation of human rights by the government in Kashmir. He remains steadfast in his quest for truth, peace & harmony for the people of India.

Indian Americans Welcome US State Department’s Concerns About Deteriorating Human Rights Violations Under Modi Regime

Leading Indian American civil rights organizations have welcomed the US Department of State’s Annual Report on Human Rights in India that has detailed the massive violations of civil liberties by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and its failure to prevent such violations and hold the perpetrators to account.

The Department of State’s report, released March 30, was a scathing account of the ground situation in India, where millions of social and religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and Adivasis, as well as the 8 million residents of Kashmir, are facing ongoing brutal State repression, the organizations said on Sunday.

The organizations that released the statement include Hindus for Human Rights, Dalit Solidarity Forum, International Christian Concern, Indian American Muslim Council, India Civil Watch International, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, and Federation of Indian Christian Organizations of North America.

The 68-page report, released by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, observed that a “lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity” in India during the year 2020.

The Department of State’s report on India documents unlawful and arbitrary killings; torture, arbitrary arrest and detention; impunity for police, paramilitary, and military violence; persecution of Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, and Christians; attacks on the news media and the internet and site blocking; criminalizing free speech and restricting freedom of expression; excessive curbs on NGOs; and restrictions on academic freedom.

The report also highlights the brutal police crackdown on the “legitimate and peaceful protests” by students at Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Milia Islamia, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, which the government “portrayed as terrorist activities.” The Delhi police also “selectively pursued cases against Muslims and anti-CAA protesters.”

“The Modi government’s discriminatory citizenship law, the persecution of Muslims and other minorities, the pogrom against Muslims in Delhi and the manufacturing of criminal cases against Muslims for the violence, and the judiciary’s failure to provide justice all clearly indicate an alarming decline in civil liberties,” IAMC Executive Director Rasheed Ahmed said.

Raju Rajagopal, co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, said the State Department report was especially significant as it was the first such report under President Biden’s Administration. “We expect that President Biden will act on this report and raise the issues of human rights abuses with the Indian government,” Mr. Rajagopal said.

Feroz Mehdi, Secretary-Treasurer at India Civil Watch International, said, “The most disturbing facet of the human rights situation in India is the systematic muzzling of all kinds of dissent. The Indian state has arrested renowned activists, artists, and scholars who speak up for the underprivileged, has turned the media from watchdog to lapdog, and used procedural attacks to shut down civil society organizations, notably Amnesty International. Indian democracy is facing an existential crisis: it cannot survive if these checks and balances are destroyed.”

“India’s religious freedom has been on a steady decline for years, and the manifestations of this deterioration is now more clear than before,” Matias Perttula, Advocacy Director with International Christian Concern (ICC), said. “Christians are a constant target of persecution and discrimination within India. One of the greatest culprits of this injustice comes powered by laws known as the anti-forced conversion laws as well as the blasphemy laws that only serve as a source of courage for Hindutva radicals to attack and persecute Christians. More needs to be done to hold India accountable for their ongoing human rights violations.”

The report said societal violence based on religion and caste and by religiously associated groups continued to be a serious concern. Muslims and lower-caste Dalit groups continued to be the most vulnerable. Dalits, Tribals and Muslims led the list of those killed in police custody.

The report also quoted the high court in Telangana state that held the police to account for arresting a “disproportionately high number of Muslims” for violating COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. The court noted police often used excessive force when enforcing the lockdown rules. A Muslim volunteer arrested while distributing food to migrants required 35 stitches on his face due to police brutality, the report said.

In its annual report on global political rights and liberties, US-based non-profit Freedom House downgraded India from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy.” The Sweden-based V-Dem Institute in its latest report on democracy said India had become an “electoral autocracy.” And last month, India, described as a “flawed democracy,” slipped two places to 53rd position in the latest Democracy Index published by The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Kamala Harris Steps Into Role As A Voice For Asian Americans

Vice President Kamala Harris was in Atlanta to meet with community leaders in the wake of the mass shooting two weeks ago when she summoned top aides to discuss what she would say.Her speechwriter had called in from Washington. Others were seated in front of her in a semicircle. The attacker had killed eight, including six women of Asian descent, and a draft of Harris’s speech had focused on the need for everyone to feel safe.

“That’s true, but it’s more than that,” she told the aides, according to one person familiar with the conversation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting. “It’s about being seen as American and not as the other.”A short time later, after emerging from the meeting with local Asian American leaders, Harris told reporters: “Sadly, it’s not new. Racism is real in America, and it has always been. Xenophobia is real in America, and it always has been. Sexism, too.” With President Joe Biden standing behind her, she ticked through laws discriminating against Chinese immigrants in the 1860s, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and attacks against Muslim Americans after 9/11.

“Ultimately, this is about who we are as a nation,” Harris said. Asians “have the right to be recognized as American – not as the ‘other,’ not as ‘them,’ but as ‘us.’ ”For Harris, the use of the collective pronoun was poignant. Though her late mother was an immigrant from India, Harris, 56, whose father is from Jamaica, was raised to identify as Black – a reflection of her mother’s recognition that a young biracial woman would be viewed that way in a society whose racial dialogue was defined principally through a lens of Black and White.Now, amid accounts of rising violence targeting Asian Americans, it is her South Asian heritage that has put Harris in a unique position to give voice to the pain and anger that inspired a nascent political movement.

People who have worked with her said that Harris – although she seldom talks publicly about her Indian background – has an authentic understanding of the trepidation felt by many Asian Americans and shares their sense of urgency. The question, they said, is how far she is willing or able to go to embrace the role of forceful advocate and how much pressure she will face from the Asian American community to act as an influence on Biden to follow through on his pledges to prioritize their concerns.

“Kamala’s speech in Atlanta was very well done. It was clear and to the point. She spoke from a position no other vice president could,” said Shekar Narasimhan, the Indian American chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund, a SuperPAC focused on bolstering political activism among the nation’s 23 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.Though Harris did not offer a personal reflection, “her lived experience is translating on the world stage into that authenticity,” Narasimhan added. “I’m not worried about her representing us or advocating for the right causes. The only thing I preach about her to others is: ‘Be patient.’ She has to have time to find her footing. When she finds her legs, she will be the person we want her to be, to be advocating for us and for communities of color.”

Among Asian American leaders, Harris is widely regarded as a source of pride and as an ally of their causes. Yet they cautioned that her ability to advocate for them could be compromised by her multiple responsibilities as Biden’s deputy. Last week, for example, the president put Harris in charge of managing an influx of unauthorized migrants, mostly from Central America.For months, starting during the campaign and continuing through the transition, Democrats in Congress and community leaders have expressed frustration that Biden has not named more Asian Americans to his senior ranks.

Biden assembled the most racially diverse leadership team of any administration, with people of color making up half of his nominees and appointees.But none of his nominees for the 15 statutory Cabinet positions is an Asian American, breaking two decades of precedent from Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

The impatience boiled over last week during a private call between Democratic lawmakers and Biden aides, during which Jen O’Malley Dillon, the White House deputy chief of staff, reportedly pointed to Harris in the discussion over Asian representation in the Cabinet.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who is of Chinese Thai descent, later called the remarks “insulting” and announced – along with Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, a Japanese American – that they would oppose all of Biden’s nominees other than those who are racial minorities or LGBTQ. The senators withdrew their threat after the White House hastily agreed to appoint a senior official to focus on Asian American issues, a new position whose duties have yet to be defined.

Duckworth told reporters that White House aides had pointed at Harris “multiple times” over the past year in response to lawmakers’ pressure. She questioned whether the White House would dare tell the Congressional Black Caucus: “Well you have Kamala, so we’re not going to put any more African Americans in the Cabinet.”Biden administration officials said they are working to address lawmakers’ concerns. They noted that the president has been at the forefront of the efforts to address the violence, signing an executive action in January that barred the government from using racist or xenophobic language to describe the pandemic and that instructed the Justice Department to improve hate-crime tracking and prosecutions.

The senators emphasized that their anger was not aimed at Harris, with whom they had collaborated closely when she served on the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus as a senator from California.In May, Harris introduced a Senate resolution condemning Trump’s use of “Wuhan virus” to blame China for the coronavirus pandemic, and she joined her former CAPAC colleagues for a celebratory event after the election. She has spoken out numerous times over the anti-Asian hate incidents, including on social media and in an op-ed in the California-based Asian Journal in May in which she accused Trump of “race-baiting.”Yet Asian American leaders have made clear to the White House that Harris, alone, is not enough.

“We need more than the vice president. This is a national issue that deserves the highest level of coordination and a whole-of -government approach,” said Russell Jeung, an Asian American studies professor at San Francisco State University. He is a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group that has tallied 3,800 incidents of bias and hate directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year.

Biden aides responded to the criticism by noting that 15 percent of his Senate-confirmed nominees are Asian American, including U.S. Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, plus two Cabinet deputies and the directors of the Office of Property Management and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Neera Tanden, an Indian American, failed last month to win Senate confirmation to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

The absence of Asian Americans at the White House has been noticeable. Last month, White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and senior adviser Cedric Richmond, both of whom are Black, led a videoconference with Asian American community groups.
Rohini Kosoglu, a Sri Lankan American who serves as Harris’s domestic policy adviser, was the highest-ranking Asian American official in attendance, participants said.

“They got themselves into an unfortunate situation, and they are beginning to understand the problem, but it’s not easy to fix,” said a former Obama administration official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.This person called the new senior official position a “consolation prize” and said the political blowback over the Cabinet “was entirely predictable and having a voice in the White House would have foreseen it.”

In some ways, Harris’s position underscores the complexities of the term “Asian American,” which was coined by activists during the civil rights movement of the 1960s to demonstrate political solidarity in the fight against racism. Experts said the label was purposely broad, loosely tying together a broad and diverse swath of immigrants from East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia who do not share a common language, religion or immigration history.

“The concept was a political marker and a political commitment – a commitment to act in solidarity with other Third World people, in the U.S. and abroad,” said Daryl Maeda, an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “In the broadest sense, Asian America is a coalition – a highly diverse coalition filled with people of different aims, backgrounds, histories, priorities.”Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan – who raised her two daughters after divorcing Donald Harris when Kamala was 7 years old – was active in the civil rights movement. She recognized early on that Americans would largely view her children as Black and, though she steeped them in elements of Indian culture at home and took them on trips to India to meet relatives and learn about their heritage, she raised them to be aware of that reality.

The family worshiped at an African American church, and Kamala and her sister, Maya, were bused with other Black kids to an elementary school in a wealthier White neighborhood. Harris attended Howard University, a historically Black institution in Washington, D.C., and former classmates have said that they did not learn of her Indian heritage until years after they had graduated and she became a public figure.

In that sense, advocates said, it is through political solidarity, perhaps more so than through cultural affinity, that Harris and the Asian American community have begun to demonstrate their mutual kinship.“When she ran for president, some criticized her for not emphasizing her Indian heritage enough,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside and co-founder of AAPI Data, a polling and research organization. “She generally had not done much to put herself out there, in terms of not talking much about her identity, but that changed under the glare of the presidential race. What you did see once she was tapped to be vice president was an outpouring of enthusiasm among South Asians and among Asian Americans more broadly.”

They also rallied to her defense in the fall after then-Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., mocked the pronunciation of Harris’s first name at a Trump campaign rally – a reminder that despite her pedigree, Harris is subject to the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype so often aimed at Asian Americans. The incident prompted a wave of support from actors Kal Penn, Kumail Nanjiani and Daniel Dae Kim, Olympian Michelle Kwan, and comedian Ken Jeong, who led a social media campaign titled #MyNameIs aimed at mobilizing Georgia voters.
Biden and Harris won the state in November, the first time Democrats carried it since 1992, and Perdue was defeated by Democrat Jon Ossoff in his re-election bid.

Asian American identity “is a complex thing,” said Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council. “It’s not a true identity that many in the first generation or the second or the third identify with. It’s so broad. It’s a political identity as much as a cultural identity. I didn’t grow up eating dumplings or sushi or using chopsticks, but that doesn’t make me any less or more Asian.”

India Is An Important Partner In Rapidly Shifting International Dynamics, Says US Defense Secretary After Talks With Indian Officials

India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said India has reaffirmed its resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, which is in line with the Narendra Modi government’s ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) policy.

The United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, following his meeting with Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh last week, said India is an important ally in the rapidly shifting international dynamics and his visit to New Delhi conveys the Joe Biden administration’s “strong commitment towards their partners in the region”.

“India, in particular, is an increasingly important partner amid today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics. And I reaffirmed our commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defence partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the region. As the world faces a global pandemic and growing challenges to an open and stable international system, the US-India relationship is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Austin added.

The US Defence Secretary had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday and conveyed Washington’s “strong desire” to further enhance the strategic partnership for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

“India stands for freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and adherence to international law. This is a resounding affirmation of our shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific. And it’s clear that the importance of this partnership, and its impact to the international rules-based order will only grow in the years ahead. Our work today is grounded in our shared values and converging strategic interests. We discussed opportunities to elevate the US-India Major Defense Partnership, which is a priority of the Biden-Harris administration… through regional security cooperation, military-to-military interactions, and defence trade. In addition, we are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration, including information-sharing, logistics cooperation, artificial intelligence, and cooperation in new domains such as space and cyber sectors,” Austin said.

Giving out details regarding the meeting, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in his statement, said a range of issues was discussed with a focus on “enhancing defence information sharing, cooperation in emerging domains of defence, mutual logistics support, and expanding military to military engagements across services.

“We are determined to expand India-US cooperation from bilateral and multilateral exercises to developing closer bilateral linkages. We intend to pursue enhanced cooperation between the Indian military and US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command. We also plan to optimize the LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA Agreements and achieve their full potential to contribute to our security and prosperity,” Rajnath added.

With China looking to expand its influence over the region, both Austin and Rajnath said they will be engaging with “like-minded partners”.

The meet comes barely a week after the first Quad summit that was attended by Prime Minister Modi, US President Biden, Japense Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Australian PM Scott Morrison.

Elaborating on this, Austin said, “We discussed engagement with like-minded partners through multilateral groupings such as the Quad and ASEAN. As the Indo-Pacific region faces acute transnational challenges, such as climate change, and challenges to a free and open regional order, cooperation among like-minded countries is imperative to securing our shared vision for the future. Despite today’s challenging security environment, the partnership between the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies, remains resilient and strong.”

Rajnath, too, while speaking about the Quad, said, “The summit has emphasized our resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Today, we reaffirmed that closer India-US cooperation in partnership with countries keen to uphold rules-based order, can promote security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. This is also in line with India’s ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) policy.”

Rajnath also appreciated the participation of the US in Aero India 2021 and expressed hope that “American manufacturers will take advantage of India’s liberalized foreign direct investment policies in the defense sector”.

It Is Dangerous To Speak Up In India Today.’ What the Resignations of 2 Academics Show About Freedom of Expression Under Modi Regime

Two prominent academics stepped down from their positions at one of India’s most respected universities this week, shining a spotlight on the state of academic freedom and a widening crackdown on dissent under the Hindu nationalist ruling party.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigned from his position as a professor of political science at Ashoka University near Delhi on Monday. In his letter of resignation, reproduced online Thursday, Mehta suggested that he had been forced to step down because of indirect pressure by the Indian government. In newspaper columns and academic work, Mehta had been critical of the majoritarianism of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Arvind Subramanian, an economics professor at Ashoka who once served as chief economic adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also resigned from his position on Thursday in solidarity with Mehta, calling his treatment an affront to “academic expression and freedom.”

The resignations are the latest example of what observers say is a tightening of academic freedoms, and dissent more broadly, driven by the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP. In 2020, the U.S. NGO Freedom House down-ranked India’s academic freedom score from three to two out of a possible four, “due to rising intimidation in recent years that is aimed at controlling academic discussion of politically sensitive topics.”

Police have also increasingly used sedition and anti-terror legislation to intimidate academics, journalists and activists, says Harsh Mander, a prominent academic who has been on the receiving end of government intimidation. “The government feels now that its only opposition is some voices in academia and civil society, and they are the only barriers to recasting India into a Hindu supremacist nation,” says Mander, who was charged with incitement to violence for a speech he made at a peaceful anti-government protest in 2019. “They have used many tactics to create fear.”

In his resignation letter, Mehta suggested that he had been forced to step down because of indirect pressure on Ashoka University from the Indian government. “After a meeting with [the university’s] Founders it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the university may be considered a political liability,” he wrote. “My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honor constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens, is perceived to carry risks for the university. In the interests of the university I resign.”

The founders of Ashoka, a privately-funded university established in 2014 as India’s answer to the Ivy League, had told Mehta in a meeting that his criticism of the Indian government was threatening the planned expansion of the university, according to an Ashoka employee with knowledge of the conversation, who requested anonymity out of concern for their job.

Neither Ashoka University nor the Indian government responded to TIME’s requests for comment. But in response to a similar allegation reported by the Edict, Ashoka’s student newspaper, a co-founder of the university said the Edict’s article was “factually inaccurate.” Mehta did not respond to a request for comment.

Mehta was formerly the university’s vice-chancellor, its highest academic post, until he stepped down in 2019. At the time, he cited personal reasons, but many have speculated that there was political pressure then, too. “That step sat uneasily for many of us, because it appeared that this was part of an escalating strategy where public intellectuals, civil society advocates, and human rights defenders who are progressive, liberal, with a certain idea of the free university and freedom of speech in a democratic society, were being identified, discouraged, and targeted,” says Angana Chatterji of the Center for Race and Gender at the University of California, Berkeley. “The government wants to send a message that it’s not just state institutions, [but] any institution that takes a position critical of the government [that] will be viewed and treated as unacceptable.”

Subramanian, the other academic who resigned from Ashoka on Thursday, cited the alleged pressure on Mehta as a reason for stepping down. “That someone of such integrity and eminence, who embodied the vision underlying Ashoka, felt compelled to leave is troubling,” wrote the prominent professor of economics. “That even Ashoka—with its private status and backing by private capital—can no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing.” Subramanian has been a critic of the government’s economic policies since stepping down from his role as an economic adviser in 2018. He did not respond to a request for comment.

For Chatterji, an Indian academic based in California whose work has focused on the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, the experience of intimidation is personal. In 2008, police attempted to charge her with inciting violence against the state, citing an article she had authored that investigated unmarked graves in Kashmir, where the Indian government has been blamed for human rights abuses in its decades-long counterinsurgency campaign. That was before the BJP came to power in 2014 — but since the party was elected, Chatterji says, she has often found it difficult to return home to India from the U.S. because of threats from individuals associated with Hindu nationalist organizations.

Other areas of civil society are also facing censure in India. In 2020, the government forced the Indian branch of Amnesty International to cease its work in the country, after it publicly criticized the government’s human rights record. “In a myriad of ways, people are being harassed, subdued, subjugated in India today,” Chatterji says. “It is dangerous to speak up in India today.”

Ambani security scare: NIA to take over probe into death of Mansukh Hiren

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had been probing the case and had registered a case of murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence against an unknown person in connection with Hiran’s death.

The National Investigation of Agency (NIA) will take over the investigation into the death of Mansukh Hiren, the owner of the vehicle found outside the residence of Mukesh Ambani with gelatin sticks and a threat letter.

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had been probing the case and had registered a case of murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence against an unknown person in connection with Hiren’s death. Now, the case has been handed over to the NIA.

The NIA is already investigating the Antilia bomb scare case and role of Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Waze.

Hiren’s body was found in a creek near Mumbra, after which an accidental death report was filed at Mumbra police station in Thane.

Hiren’s wife has accused Waze of involvement in her husband’s suspicious death.

On Friday night, NIA took Waze to the spot where the explosives-laden Scorpio was found near industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s residence, and recreated the crime scene as part of its probe.

recorded at the spot on the day of the incident was Waze, although it is being confirmed.

U.S. Senator Asks Lloyd Austin To Raise Concerns About Eroding Democratic Values During Visit To India

In a letter, Bob Menendez asks the Secretary of Defence to raise India’s planned purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Saying the Indian government is moving away from democratic values, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez has written to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asking him to raise concerns about democracy and India’s purchase of the S-400 Russian missile defence system during his visit to New Delhi. Mr. Austin is expected to meet Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and senior national security officials between March 19 and 21 when he is in New Delhi.

“I would like to see the U.S.-India partnership grow, but we must acknowledge that the partnership is strongest when based on shared democratic values and the Indian government has been trending away from those values,” Mr. Menendez says in the letter dated March 17.

“I also expect that you will raise the administration’s opposition to India’s reportedly planned purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system,” he writes.

Among his concerns, Mr. Menendez cites a crackdown on journalists and critics of the government, its handling of the farmer protests and the use of sedition laws and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).

‘Deteriorating democracy’

“The Indian government’s ongoing crackdown on farmers peacefully protesting new farming laws and corresponding intimidation of journalists and government critics only underscores the deteriorating situation of democracy,” Mr. Menendez says.

 “Moreover, in recent years, rising anti-Muslim sentiment and related government actions like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the suppression of political dialogue and arrest of political opponents following the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, and the use of sedition laws to persecute political opponents have resulted in the U.S. human rights group Freedom House stripping India of its ‘Free’ status in its yearly global survey,” he says.

India’s purchase of S-400 for just under $5.5 billion could attract sanctions under a 2017 law: the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The Trump administration’s repeated message was that sanction waivers are not automatic and decided on a case by case basis. Congress forced the Trump administration’s hand in December last year by requiring it to sanction Turkey for purchasing the S-400. In 2018, China was sanctioned for purchase of Russian equipment.

Sanctions on the cards

While India is not a treaty ally of the U.S. and is increasing its purchase of U.S. arms — mitigating circumstances as per U.S. law — the Menendez letter suggests that sanctions are still — at least in theory — an option as India is expected to take delivery of the S-400 later this year.

It reads: “India’s planned purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system is also a matter of concern. I recognize that India is not a U.S. treaty ally and has historical ties with the Soviet and Russian militaries. However, if India chooses to go forward with its purchase of the S-400, that act will clearly constitute a significant, and therefore sanctionable, transaction with the Russian defense sector under Section 231 of CAATSA.”

Mr. Menendez says the U.S. should seek to partner India on issues such as climate change and China but while doing so, it cannot let its “democratic values fall away”.

He also asks Mr. Austin to “make clear” to New Delhi that all areas of India-U.S. cooperation are contingent on India’s adherence to democratic values.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

Dr. S.S. Lal, The First NRI Candidate in Kerala, Promising To Lead the State to Progress, Peace and Unity

Dr. S.S. Lal, a UDF candidate and a world renowned healthcare expert, is contesting the Assembly elections from Kazhakkoottam Constituency, Thiruvananthapuram, in the ensuing Kerala Assembly elections.

Dr. SS Lal, has been nominated as a UDF candidate to contest at the upcoming Assembly elections from Kazhakkoottam Constituency, Thiruvananthapuram, in the ensuing Kerala Assembly elections. As an internationally well known medical professional and public health specialist, who worked in international organizations such as WHO, as a social activist, educationist, and writer, Dr. Lal embodies the great values and leadership of the state of Kerala and India needs at this critical time in India’s history.

The electorate of this southern Indian constituency in the state of Kerala is around 2 lakhs. CPM has a very large following among the poor and the fisher folk. Kadakapall Surendran of CPM  is the current MLA and Minister. BJP also has a large following.  Surendran, BJP President contested from here last time and cornered around 40,000 votes. The educated and professionals in techno park, University, medical establishments may not go by political affiliations. One lakh votes could be an ideal target i.e. around 50 % of the electorate. House to house campaigning especially among the poor and institutional campaigning would be required. This constituency represents almost all major communities, including Christians, Moslems, and Hindus who are equally strong here.

Although Dr. S. S. Lal has been away from India on international assignments, he is not an “imported candidate” as he has been always connected with Thiruvananthapuram District. Since his childhood, he has left behind his own historical imprints wherever he stepped in. He completed his primary education at Government School, Pettah, Thiruvananthapuram, and at St. Joseph’s School. He holds an MBBS from the Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, and a Master’s (M.P.H.) degree in Public Health from the Sree Chitra National Institute. He has achieved Ph.D. from the world-renowned Leiden University in the Netherlands. He has been a regular winner of state-level literary competitions since his school days. He has published two novels and several short stories in later periodicals. The story continues.

Leadership is an individual’s ability to lead, inspire, and guide to transform other individuals, groups, organizations, or society for a good cause. These qualities are immensely embedded in an uncorrupted doctor-cum-politician, Dr. S.S. Lal. Undoubtedly, we have the proud moment that an American NRI gets a prominent political party seat in the Kerala assembly elections. For Dr.S.S.Lal moves wherever his ideologies are politically correct, as he is a dedicated politician hidden inside a health expert.

Dr. Lal has been active in leadership and social work, and  was elected Chairman of the University College and Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram. He has also been a member of the Senate of the University of Kerala. He was the Secretary of the Kerala Medicos Association and the President of the Kerala House Surgeons Association. He was the Founding President of the Kerala Junior Doctors Association and the Founding Chairman of the Confederation of Medicos and Junior Doctors. Worked in leadership at the state and national levels of the I.M.A. Lal is the founder of the I.M.A.’s State Level Doctors Club and the I.M.A. Women’s Wing (WIMA). He is the Founding Secretary of the Kerala Doctors Trust and the Doctors Village.

His initiatives on  several health projects like The ‘Act Force,’ which trained taxi-autorickshaw drivers to provide first aid to road accident victims,  has helped thousands of people affected by road accidents. This pattern was later successfully repeated in various parts of the country. Many villages and old age homes were adopted with the help of doctors’ organizations. The village of Kallar, which rescued several other students on the day of several medical students’ death in a landslide, was thus adopted.

Dr: S.S. Lal is an internationally known public health expert. He has served as a senior official of the World Health Organization and some other international organizations in various countries, including India, and held position as  Professor and Head of the Department of Public Health at the Global Institute of Public Health, Thiruvananthapuram;  Vice-Chairman of a Global Committee of the World Health Organization and a member of several other committees.

His International work in Geneva and the United States has primarily led to suppressing tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria in various countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America.

His first job at the World Health Organization was in 1999. He became an official in the system set up by the World Health Organization to provide technical assistance to the TB program in the country. He later served as New York’s Health Commissioner. Dr. Lal was selected to the first sixteen-member team of CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. Dr.Lal was initially responsible for the team for Kerala, southern Tamil Nadu, and Lakshadweep.

Lal is a visiting Faculty Member at several international research institutes and universities, including the International Tuberculosis Research Institute in Tokyo; and Adjunct Professor at the Global Institute of Public Health, Thiruvananthapuram. He is a reviewer of scientific publications such as the World Health Organization’s Bulletin and the British Medical Journal.

Lal was the first doctor to present a series of health programs on Indian television. The weekly health program, ‘Pulse,’ which aired on the Asianet channel since its inception, quickly attracted a lot of attention. Launched in 1993, Lal aired over 500 episodes in a row till 2003. He was also a regular guest on All India Radio. He has been a columnist since the first issue of Mathrubhumi Health Magazine in 1997. He was a long-time columnist for the Delhi edition of Manorama newspaper from 2004.. For a long time, he was the editor and columnist of the health magazine ‘Our Health’. ‘He manages the ‘Rounds’ column in the Kerala Kaumudi newspaper. He continues to write in medical journals and other periodicals. He has published over four hundred scientific articles.

Dr. Lal is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards:  like the National Award in 1995 for his outstanding performance in implementing health schemes in the country. In 2005,  IMA’s most prestigious ‘Ranbaxy – IMA Award, and  the IMA’s own ‘Dr. Menda Memorial Award’, Best Television Health Program Presenter,  Rotary Award in 1998 for her work in the field of polio eradication. He has visited more than eighty countries as part of his international career in the field of health.

Until last year, he was the Director of the Infectious Diseases Unit in charge of the Tuberculosis Division at Family Health International, an American international health organization based in the U.S. capital, Washington, DC. From 2013 to 2018, he was the Global Director of the Tuberculosis Unit of the international organization Path in the United States. Dr. Lal has published several short stories and two novels. Lal is a blogger and photographer who is constantly interacting on Facebook through writing.

At present Dr. Lal is the President of All India Professional Congress at Kerala, and vibrant in the media and with his personal participation in channel discussions and active in social issues.

His eminent leadership as the President of Indo American Press Club is continuously uplifting the organization in its various activities in USA and Canada.

Abundantly enriched with his characteristics of honesty, integrity and confidence, Dr.Lal  is an ideal candidate who deserves to win so that he can fight for the common man, cleanse current politics, work towards providing a clean and corruption-free administration, and spearhead exponential socio-economic and technological development of Kerala and India, sure enough to make us proud with an exceptional international impact.

Dr. Lal may be a UDF candidate. However, irrespective of political affiliations, he is an ideal candidate who deserves to win in order to represent the interests of the common man, who can cleanse the current politics, work towards providing a clean and corruption-free administration, and spearhead exponential socio-economic and technological development of Kerala and India, making an international impact. In this post-COVID scenario his candidature becomes all the more relevant. As an expatriate Keralite and Indian, he is aware of the problems of the NRIs and NRKs and he will fight for their just causes. But above all he will use their  expertise and resources for Kerala’s and India’s development.

India Joins Quad Leaders, Committing To Free, Open, Secure And Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region

Quad Leaders from Australia, India, Japan and the US “a group of democratic nations dedicated to delivering results through practical cooperation”  coordinated rapid humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to people in need.

“To strengthen our quest for a region that is open and free, we have agreed to partner to address the challenges presented by new technologies and collaborate to set the norms and standards that govern the innovations of the future,” the leaders of the four-nation Quad said in a statement here on Friday, March 12th. The Quad leaders in the summit on Friday vowed to strive for a “free, open and inclusive” region unconstrained by “coercion”.

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post after holding the first Leaders’ Summit of Quadrilateral alliance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga asserted that all countries should be able to make their own political choices, free from coercion.

Australia, India, Japan and the US “a group of democratic nations dedicated to delivering results through practical cooperation”  coordinated rapid humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to people in need, they wrote. “Now, in this new age of interconnection and opportunity throughout the Indo-Pacific, we are again summoned to act together in support of a region in need,” they said.

Reaffirming that they are striving to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is accessible, dynamic and governed by international law and bedrock principles such as freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of disputes, and free from coercion, sending a clear message to China which is flexing its muscles in the region and beyond. They said the governments of India, Japan, US and Australia have worked closely for years, and now for the first time in “Quad” history, they convened as leaders to advance meaningful cooperation at the highest level.

The virtual Quad summit took place as China and India are involved in a military standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh since May last year. China is also engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. In the East China Sea, Japan has maritime disputes with China.

The leaders of the 4 nations said the cooperation, known as “the Quad,” was born in crisis. It became a diplomatic dialogue in 2007 and was reborn in 2017. “In December 2004, the continental shelf off the coast of Indonesia shifted two meters, creating one of the largest tidal waves in modern history and a nearly unprecedented humanitarian crisis around the Indian Ocean. With millions displaced and hundreds of thousands killed, the Indo-Pacific region sounded a clarion call for help. Together, our four countries answered it,” they wrote.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the quadrilateral grouping of the U.S., India, Japan and Australia has “come of age” as he attended the first Quad leaders’ summit virtually. The grouping is being seen as a united front to counter China’s imperialistic aggression and expansion through trade and military occupation. Modi started his speech by declaring, “It is good to be among friends.” The four countries, he said, “are united by our democratic values and our commitment to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.”

The agenda of the summit — covering areas like vaccines, climate change and emerging technologies — makes the Quad a force for global good, he said. Describing Quad as a positive vision, the prime minister said that it is an extension of India’s ancient philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,’which regards the world as one family. “We will work together closer than ever before for advancing our shared values and promoting a secure, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” Modi said.

Quad, he added, “is an important pillar of stability in the region.” Modi’s statement was welcomed by a lot of India watchers in the U.S. Former U.S. diplomat and Harvard academic Nicholas Burns praised the move, tweeting, “Today’s first-ever Quad leaders meeting – of the US, India, Japan and Australia – is a big deal. Led by the President of the United States Joe Biden, these four can lead on vaccine distribution, strengthen democracies in the region and limit China’s assertiveness.”

There are reports that India will produce Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid vaccine shot as part of the first Quad initiative. The project will be financed by Japan and the U.S., while Australia will use its logistics capability to ship the vaccines to Southeast Asia and Pacific countries.

“Against this backdrop, we are recommitting to a shared vision for an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, resilient and inclusive. We are striving to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is accessible and dynamic, governed by international law and bedrock principles such as freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of disputes, and that all countries are able to make their own political choices, free from coercion,” they wrote.

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout By India Has ‘Rescued The World’ From Pandemic

India is called the pharmacy of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines by India in collaboration with leading global institutions has ‘rescued the world’ from the deadly coronavirus.

 

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines by India in collaboration with leading global institutions has ‘rescued the world’ from the deadly coronavirus and the contributions by the country must not be underestimated, a top American scientist has said.

India is called the pharmacy of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic with its vast experience and deep knowledge in medicine. The country is one of the world’s biggest drug-makers and an increasing number of countries have already approached it for procuring coronavirus vaccines.

Dr Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston during a recent webinar said that the two mRNA vaccines may not impact the world’s low and middle income countries, but India’s vaccines, made in collaboration with universities across the world such as BCM and the Oxford University, have “rescued the world” and its contributions must not be underestimated.

During the webinar, “COVID-19: Vaccination and Potential Return to Normalcy – If and When”, Dr Hotez, an internationally-recognised physician-scientist in neglected tropical diseases and vaccine development, said that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is ‘India’s gift’ to the world in combating the virus.

India’s drugs regulator gave emergency use authorization to Covishield, produced by Pune-based Serum Institute of India after securing license from British pharma company AstraZeneca, and Covaxin, indigenously developed jointly by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech and Indian Council of Medical Research scientists. The webinar was organized by Indo American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston (IACCGH).

“This is something very special and I see it myself because I’m on weekly teleconferences with our colleagues in India, you make a recommendation, and within days it’s done and not only done, but it’s done well and with incredible rigor and thought and creativity,’ Dr Hotez said, stressing that he felt compelled to make this statement because ‘India’s huge efforts in combating global pandemic is a story that’s not really getting out in the world.’ Dr Hotez, considered as the authority on vaccinations, is working on an affordable coronavirus vaccine in collaboration with Indian pharmaceutical companies.

There is increasing evidence that vaccines not only “interrupt symptomatic illness and keep you out of the hospital” but halts asymptomatic transmission as well. However, the troubling news is that the vaccines work well against the UK B.1.1.7 variant, which is now accelerating across the US, but doesn’t work quite as well against the variant coming out of South Africa.

It is likely that all the vaccines will require a booster for two reasons: the durability of protection for the vaccines is unknown and to create an added immune response that’s better tailored towards the South African variant.

Consul General of India in Houston, Aseem Mahajan, along with a distinguished panel of doctors participated in this webinar, that tracked the possibilities of a return to some semblance of normality due to the accelerated roll out of vaccines across the country.

Appreciating Dr. Hotez for commending India’s efforts in getting vaccines to the world, Consul General Mahajan, said, “in keeping with “our tradition of sharing with the world,” India has exported vaccines to many countries across the world.

India has provided 56 lakh doses of coronavirus vaccines under grants assistance to a number of countries. The vaccines were sent to Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles.

There has also been a boost in the collaborative medical partnerships emerging between the US and India during this pandemic. In addition, India is one of the fourth largest destinations in Asia for medical devices manufacturing and many US companies have expressed interest in collaborating on this front,’ Mahajan said.

IACCGH Founding Secretary/Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia said that “India’s response to the COVID crisis, as acknowledged by Dr Hotez, falls in line with Chamber’s vision. Since its inception, 21 years ago, India would be a future global player in key areas like technology, medicine, manufacturing and international trade. This belief has been proved time and again particularly in the last decade.’ Chamber President Tarush Anand expressed pride that India has risen to this global challenge by leveraging the brilliance of its scientific community and extensive manufacturing capabilities in the most efficient manner to help the world recover from a deadly pandemic.

Describing vaccines as “one of the highest expressions of science in pursuit of humanitarian goals,” Chief Radiation Oncology Officer and moderator Dr Vivek Kavadi noted that over 28 million people had contracted the virus in the US and more than half a million Americans had tragically died. Lives and businesses had been upended but the breakthrough on the vaccine front has been one reason for cautious optimism.

More than 73 million vaccine doses have been administered to date, 15 per cent of the population has received 1 dose while 7 per cent have received both doses, Dr Kavadi said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s Visit to India to Further Strengthen Defense Cooperation

U.S. Secretary of Defense Gen. Lloyd J. Austin is scheduled to visit India from March 19 to March 21 to further strengthen bilateral defense cooperation. It will be the first high-level visit by someone from the U.S. after Joe Biden took over as the president on Jan. 20.

During his visit, Austin is expected to meet Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and other senior dignitaries in the government. The visit will take place a week after the first ever Indo-Pacific Quad summit on March 12, which will be attended virtually by the heads of states of India, the U.S., Australia and Japan. The U.S. defense secretary will also visit Japan and South Korea.

“Both sides are expected to discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral defense cooperation and exchange views on regional security challenges and common interests in maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region,” the defense ministry said in a statement.

Discussions regarding defense cooperation would also focus on how both countries could consolidate military-to-military cooperation and defense trade and industry cooperation.

Austin’s visit to India as part of his first overseas travel emphasizes the strength of the India-U.S. strategic partnership.

India has inked defense deals worth $18 billion with the U.S. since 2007. In the near future, a deal worth $3 billion for 30 armed drones from the U.S. to be used by all the three forces is likely to be signed. As per plans, India will be acquiring 30 MQ-9 Reaper – 10 each for the three services.

The procurement is being done as India is facing a war-like situation on two fronts – Pakistan and China. These MQ-9B Predator drones are manufactured by San Diego, Calif.-based General Atomics. The MQ-9B has an endurance of 48 hours and a range of over 6,000 nautical miles.

It comes with nine hard-points, capable of carrying sensors and laser-guided bombs besides air-to-ground missiles. During the Aero India show in Bengaluru last month, the U.S. Defense Attache in India, Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher, had stated that the U.S. is looking forward to enhancing bilateral relations with India and also to work together to tackle evolving space threats.

She had said: “As we build out our own space force, re-establish the space command, we look forward to wide-ranging cooperation with India and the defense space agency. It is imperative that we both work together in this emerging domain as space threats evolve.”

Referring to the growing Chinese assertiveness and emerging threats for the Indo-Pacific region, Laubacher had said: “Today we are seeing an increasingly provocative set of behavior throughout the Indo-Pacific, from the Taiwan Strait to the South China Sea, to India’s borders high in the Himalayas. These actions threaten the norms of international conduct, the norms which India and the U.S. uphold resolutely.”

US Secretary Of State To Look Into Case Of 83-Yr-Old Fr. Stan Swamy, Held In Custody

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that he would look into the case of an 83-year-old Catholic priest, Stan Swamy, held in custody in India on allegations he was linked to Maoists. Responding to a request from a member of the House of Representatives while he was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken asked for more information and said: “We’ll look into it.”

Juan Vargas, who is the vice chair of the House International Economic Policy and Migration Subcommittee, told Blinken while questioning him that it was “incredible injustice” that Swamy, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency, has been in jail for over 130 days.

Swamy belongs to the Jesuit order of priests and Vargas said that he had himself been a member of that society. He was arrested in Ranchi and taken to Maharashtra and detained in a Pune jail under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) on allegations that he participated in the activities of the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist.

The case relates to a celebration by Dalits on January 1, 2018, in Koregaon-Bhima near Pune, which was followed by violence that left one person dead. Swamy has been an activist for tribal and Dalit rights.

Earlier in his testimony to the Committee on President Joe Biden’s Priorities for US Foreign Policy, Blinken said that in furtherance of its aims, “we held the first ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between us, Japan, Australia, and India, and we will hold a leader-level summit this week on Friday”.

China was the dominant theme during the hearing with Blinken declaring, “Our relationship with China, the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century”. Repeatedly questioned about Biden’s comment when asked on a CNN programme about Beijing treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority that “culturally, there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow”, Blinken reiterated that he considers there was a “genocide” of the Uighurs and the US would continue to speak out forcefully against it.

An Indian Citizen’s Musings

As a citizen of the country I felt it has to be conveyed to them. Modi ji, there is no point in shouting standing in a stage and asking question that what is achieved in 60 years. Dont think that the citizen of our country are fools. You are a Prime Minister of a country which was under British rule for more than 200 years. The people were living just like slaves. Congress came to power in 1947 after independence started with zero. There was nothing in this country except the garbages left out by the British.

India didn’t even had the resourse to produce even a pin since Britishers left India. The electricity was available only for 20 villages across the country. Telephone facility was available only for 20 rulers (kings) in this country. There was no drinking water supply. There was only 10 small dams. No hospitals, no educational institutions. No fertiliser, no feeds, no water supply for cultivation. There was no job & only starvation in the country. There was many infant death. Very few military staff in the border. Only 4 planes, 20 tankers & fully open borders on all 4 sides of the country. Very minimum roads & bridges. Empty exchequer. Nehru came power in these circumstances.

What is India after 60 years?

World’s largest army. Thousands of war planes, tankers. Lakhs of industrial institutions. Electricity in all villages. Hundreds of electic power stations. Lakhs kilometre of national highways & over bridges. New railway projects, Stadiums, super speciality hospitals, most of the Indian households with television, telephone for all the countrymen. All infrastructure to work in and outside the country, Banks, Universities, AIMS, IITS, IIMS, Nuclear weapons, sub-marines, nuclear stations, ISRO, Navarathna Public sector units.

Indian Army barging till Lahore years back? Split Pakistan into 2 pieces ? 1 lakh of military & commanders surrendered to Indian army? India started exporting minerals & food items ? Bank nationalization by Mrs. Indira Gandhi? Computer introduces to India & many job opportunities in India and outside the country? You have become PM using information technology?

When you took over as the PM, India was the top 10 economies in the world? Apart from this, GSLV, Mangalyan, Monorail, Metro rail, International airports, Prithvi, Agni, Naag, Nuclear submarines….all these were achieved before you became PM.

Please do not come to people asking what The Congress Party has achieved in 60 years.

Please tell people what you have achieved in the last 6 ½ years except changing names, doing statue and cow politics, failed demonetisation, poorly executed GST, and making people stand in long queues. Hypocrite BJPians opposed FDI like anything and now BJP is supporting FDI shamelessly.. BJP is selling India to Ambani and Rafale deal to Anil Ambani’s 2-month old company over HAL owned by government of India is a prime example of it.. BJP made petrol, diesel, and LPG price go up by putting more tax, while the price of crude oil became cheaper.. Modi government through SBI in the form of fine collected whopping Rs 1771 crore for not able to maintain minimum balance from the poor people of India. Vikas is happening for Amit Shah’s son, Amit Shah, Shaurya Doval, Ambanis, Adani, baba Ramdev’s Patanjali group, and the people who sponsors BJP.. 3000 crores have been spent by BJP to clean river Ganga, this corruption each and everyone can find out by taking a dip in river Ganga..

(PS This is not an advertisement for the congress campaign. I’m not a congress supporter. I’m just an informed voter who feels it is an insult to his intelligence each time the current government says our country has been no good over the last 60 years!)

India’s Degraded And Downgraded Democracy

“The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments,” declared the judge while ordering bail for the 22-year-old climate change activist Disha Ravi, who was arrested recently, accused of working with the activist Greta Thunberg to undermine the Indian government — an outrageous fiction. Their only “crime” was expressing support for the farmers’ protest.

But the decision in Ravi’s case has much wider implications. It was a rare but welcome instance of the judiciary standing up to the Indian government’s increasingly authoritarian tactics.

The judge came down heavily against the use of sedition charges against activists and journalists. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sedition charges have been deployed as a clear tool of intimidation. A report by the organization Article 14 shows that 96 percent of sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticizing politicians and government officials were registered after 2014, when Modi assumed power.

So it didn’t really come as a surprise when the latest Freedom House democracy report degraded India from “free” to “partly free.” The report noted that the government and “its state-level allies continued to crack down on critics during the year, and their response to covid-19 included a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers. The ruling Hindu nationalist movement also encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs.”

The report’s conclusion is a scathing indictment. “Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism,” the report says.

Of course the Indian government — which has now dismissed criticism from the United Nations and Amnesty International, which was forced to shut down in the country — rushed to attack the report as “misleading, incorrect and misplaced.”

But the government offered few specifics in its rebuttal. That’s because the steady decline of Indian democracy is impossible to deny, and emphasizing PR-friendly stories of economic growth won’t mark that reality anymore. The V-Dem Institute, based in Sweden, also downgraded India’s classification from “world’s largest democracy” to “electoral autocracy” in its latest report.

The same day Freedom House released its report, tax officials raided the home of the filmmaker Anurag Kashyap and the actress Taapsee Pannu. Both have been fiercely critical of the arrests of students and activists and have also expressed support for the farmers’ protest. The duo stands out for deciding to raise their voices for social justice, defying the comfortable silence and denial prevailing among most Bollywood stars.

Indian movie stars and athletes are often deployed to promote government policies and amplify propaganda. It helps cement their popularity. So when Thunberg, along with celebrities such as Rihanna and Meena Harris, tweeted in solidarity with the farmers’ protest, the entire powerful ecosystem of government supporters started attacking them for wanting to “destabilize” India.

But many of those high-profile supporters have been silent about the Freedom House downgrade. It’s more convenient to pick fights with celebrities than actually contend with the fact-based reality that India’s vibrant democracy is descending into totalitarianism. A top Indian movie star who enjoys cult status told me early in the year that his blood boils seeing activists and students being thrown behind bars, but that he feared that expressing support would bring retaliation from the government, such as the launching of fictitious investigations against him. His fears are not without merit. The raid on Kashyap and Pannu was a clear message. It’s not just the film industry that has been neutralized and co-opted — critics in the Indian media are also being identified and monitored.

The Indian news magazine Caravan just published an investigation about how Indian ministers actively discussed ways of neutralizing “negative influencers” critical of the government. “Some negative influencers give false narratives and discredit the Government. These need to be constantly tracked so that proper and timely response can be given,” the report reads.

The Freedom House report highlighted what Indian activists and independent journalists have known for a long time. What the citizens of Kashmir, who are vilified in their own land, have known for a long time. What students and dissidents fighting each day to uphold India’s democratic traditions have known for a long time. What Muslims who feel orphaned in a country their forefathers helped built with their blood and sweat have known for a long time.

My hopes for this country, as a journalist and as a Muslim, are being crushed each day. But like many Indians who have cherished the dream of this inclusive plural nation, I see the Freedom House report as an important historical document. I hope it provides solace to the young and the restless and the disillusioned, even while our own people, our media, our popular figures decide to ignore the truth. Some seem to be reveling in the criticism like a badge of honor.

But the world is indeed watching.

Freedom House Report Declaring India Only A “Partly Free” Democracy A Recognition Of Reality Say Indian Americans

Indian American Muslim Council (www.iamc.com) an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos today expressed its concurrence with the annual report of Freedom House, the Washington-based pro-democracy think tank which designated India as only a “partly free,” democracy. Freedom House is a preeminent think tank in the US with significant influence on the discourse around American foreign policy.

The report on the global political rights and liberties, downgraded India, numerically the world’s largest democracy, from “Free” to “Partly Free” while highlighting a steady erosion of democracy increasingly manifested through pressure on human rights groups, the intimidation and harassment of journalists and academics, policies that target and harm religious minorities, particularly Muslims, and the politicization of the Indian judiciary.

“Under Modi, India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all,” said the Freedom House report titled “Democracy under Siege.”

The report reflects the worst four year decline in India’s Freedom House ranking- in 2018 it was 77th, the next year it was 75, in 2020 71 and in 2021 it is 67. The report referred in detail to atrocities against Muslims highlighting the fact that “the ruling Hindu nationalist movement also encouraged the scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs.”

“Last year, the government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposed to a discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response. Judicial independence has also come under strain; in one case, a judge was transferred immediately after reprimanding the police for taking no action during riots in New Delhi that left over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead,” said the Freedom House report.

In December, Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, approved a law that prohibits forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage, which critics fear will effectively restrict interfaith marriage in general; authorities have already arrested a number of Muslim men accusing them of “forcing” Hindu women to convert to Islam.

The report situates India’s status as part of a global shift in the balance between democracy and authoritarianism. It warns that India’s “fall from the upper ranks of free nations” could have damaging consequences for the prospect of world’s democratic standards.

“Rather than serving as a champion of democratic practice and a counterweight to authoritarian influence from countries such as China, Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism,” it said.

“The alarming report of the Freedom House is not surprising given the rapidly escalating situation in India that has gotten alarm bells ringing across the United States and other Western European democracies,” said Ahsan Khan, President of IAMC.

Various American newspapers and magazines have questioned if India could still be called a democracy given Mr. Modi’s persecution of free speech and dissent and targeting of its minorities. The Editorial Board of the Washington Post in February called into question India’s status as a democracy, highlighting the clampdown on dissent, especially in reference to the arrest of a 22-year-old climate and animal rights activist Disha Ravi. Similarly, the NYT and the Economist in the past questioned Mr. Modi’s pretense of a democratic government.

“Arresting those who have expressed dissent, on false and fabricated charges is pervasive. Merely giving a speech or protesting, legitimate rights of citizens under the Constitution, can land people in jail,” said Mr. Khan while highlighting the situation of student leader Umar Khalid and anti-CAA protester Gulfisha, both of whom are in jail on fabricated charges.

“Many experts in the United States have raised concerns that India’s rapid transformation into a fascist state is following a genocidal trajectory, against Muslims, minorities as well as Hindus opposed to the Hindutva movement,” added Mr. Khan.

IAMC is dedicated to promoting the common values of pluralism, tolerance, and respect for human rights that form the basis of the world’s two largest secular democracies – the United States and India.

New Face Of Great Indian Economy: An Exclusive Interview with DR. Swati V Kulkarni Consulate General Of India at Atlanta

Meticulously rebuilding and reshaping a great democratic nation need the dedicated efforts of politicians and diplomats who reflect the characteristics and features of the progress of their motherland on international platforms, and weaving vibrant relationships globally.

 

Indian Consulate General at Atlanta USA, Dr. Swati Vijay Kulkarni, with her exciting initiatives, demonstrates her dedication to uplift the greatness of India and bestow unparalleled benefits to the Indian community.

 

Dr. Swati Vijay Kulkarni is a career diplomat who holds an M.B.B.S. (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree from the prestigious Government Medical College, Nagpur, India. She joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1995.

 

In a recent interview with her, she revealed how much she is ambitious, energetic, and looking for ways to help people.Her achievements, background, and personality can be evident from the concrete answers provided for the questions of national importance, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic hit a developing nation like India, and how successful the Indian government is able to combat and control the disaster.

 

Q : How far Indian diplomacy is successful in expediting the Covid vaccination programs in India and other foreign countries in distress?

On January 16, we launched the world’s largest vaccination drive. The vaccination drive has been planned in a phased manner. The Phase 1 work is in progress. As of date, i.e., February 17, 2021, we have vaccinated over 9.42 million people, mostly frontline and health workers. The 2nd Phase is starting shortly. It will give priority to people over 50 years and those with co-morbidities. Both the phases will vaccinate about 300 million people, almost the entire America minus 32 million or so. This will fast-track our economic recovery.

The launch of ‘Vaccine Maitri’ in January has been a landmark in our diplomacy. In accordance with the Honorable Prime Minister’s commitment to deploy vaccine production and delivery capacity for the benefit of all humanity, vaccines have been delivered to 25 countries as of February 17, 2021. So far, we have delivered about 16.5 million doses. A limited quantity of vaccines has initially been supplied as grant assistance/as a gift as our commitment to neighborhood first policy and our commitment to special relationships. Rest supplied on a commercial basis. Our exports have taken place to Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, and other countries like Brazil, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Canada, and others. Forty-nine more countries will be supplied shortly. By doing this, we reinforced our image of brand India as the ‘pharmacy of the world.’ We demonstrated in practical terms our intent of being good international citizens and responsible stakeholders in global healthcare supply chains. Our COVID response needs to be seen in the context of

‘ Aatmanirbhar Bharat’- where we have come out with not one but two made in India corona vaccines to protect humanity. You may recall that we earlier supplied made in India Hydroxychloroquine, Paracetamol, PPE, RT-PCR test kits, etc., to our international friends. Our Hon’ble PM says: “Wherever India has capabilities, the benefits have reached the entire world.”

 

 

 Q: How far the last few years of the Government machinery pushed the economy of India to higher levels, and how positive is the latest Union Budget?

As far as our economic fundamentals are concerned, our economy is forecasted to contract by 7.7 % in 2020-2021. It will witness a sharp recovery of 10-12 % in 2021-2022. So, we will witness a V-shaped recovery. During early COVID, we saw interim measures such as liquidity infusion and direct cash transfers. We gave free cooking gas to over 80 million families, free food grains to about 800 million. Then we saw the launch of structural reforms – Aatmanirbhar Bharat 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 – i.e., reforms in growth sectors in agriculture, power, defense, civil aviation, mining, etc., reforms are introduced in the MSME sector with the focus on manufacturing, fast Track Investment Clearance through Empowered Group of Secretaries, New Education Policy, Tax Policy- Transparent Taxation- Honoring The Honest including Product Linked Incentive Scheme in over ten sectors. So, it was a crisis period for us, but an opportunity was taken to usher in five-mini budgets to bring in essential reforms that have been long overdue.

In fact, during the pandemic, we have seen certain positive developments. India’s foreign exchange reserves rose to an all-time high of more than US$ 586 billion, and external debt decreased by US$ 2 billion -we are expected to see a current account surplus after a gap of 17 years. FDI inflows were nearly US $ 50 billion in the last financial year as compared to US$ 44 billion in the year 2019. We added a record number of 12 start-ups to the Unicorn list the previous year with a valuation of over US $ 1 billion. Most significantly, India, for the first time, entered the top 50 innovative economies.

Our recent historic budget needs to be seen against this backdrop. Union Budget itself carries forward this process of reforms and other initiatives. It focuses on healthcare and wellness, universal water supply, voluntary vehicle scrapping, infrastructure, skilling, education, innovation – basically on holistic, inclusive development and a mantra of Minimum Government and Maximum governance.

 

Q: What is the impact of the  Farmers protest in India, and how distressing it is  to the overall growth- in-progress?

As you are aware, the Parliament of India, after a full debate and discussion, passed reformist legislation relating to the agricultural sector as our Government is committed to the socio-economic empowerment of the farmers. These reforms give expanded market access and provide greater flexibility to farmers. They also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming. A tiny section of farmers in parts of India has some reservations about these reforms. Union Ministers have been part of the negotiations, and eleven rounds of talks have already been held. The Government has even offered to keep the laws on hold and offer iterated by no less than India’s prime minister. It is miserable to see vested interest groups trying to enforce their agenda on the farmers’ protests and derail them. The vandalization of the Red Fort on Republic Day was a deplorable and anti-national act. Some of these vested interest groups have also tried to mobilize international support against India. Instigated by such fringe elements, Mahatma Gandhi statues have been desecrated in parts of the world. This is extremely disturbing for India and civilized society everywhere. Indian police forces have handled these protests with utmost restraint and have taken all these violent incidents seriously. It may be noted that hundreds of men and women serving in the police have been physically attacked and stabbed, and seriously wounded in some cases.

We want to emphasize that Government is committed to resolving the impasse within our democratic ethos and polity framework.

Motivated campaigns shall not succeed. We have self-confidence today to hold on to our own. This India will push back any propaganda.

 

Q In view of the new US administration, what are our priorities?

India’s global partnership with the US continues to deepen across the extraordinary breadth. There are many dimensions to our relationship, and it has assumed new significance in the changing world. Our co-operation is expanding at all fronts. Trade is growing. With the new administration in Washington, both sides will carry forward this momentum, especially in post-pandemic recovery. Our countries’ leadership had a telephone conversation on two occasions – one in November 2020 and another at the beginning of this month. Both the leaders have agreed to work closely to advance our comprehensive partnership built on shared values and common interests. The dialogue at the Ministerial and official level too continues for enhanced diplomatic consultation and coordination.

The priority area is to work on Healthcare and wellness front to contain the pandemic and promote access to vaccines on a fast-track basis. Other significant areas of India-US collaboration are digital, innovation, IT & start-Up; Education & Knowledge partnerships, clean energy including LNG & Solar and defense & related sectors.

 

Q How far India is supportive to Paris Climate Accord and what are the strategies in action?

India remains committed to the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. We know that climate change requires an integrated and comprehensive approach. India, therefore, has included climate action strategies in its national and developmental agenda. India has also demonstrated leadership by creating the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. Our solar energy production will reach 450 GW by 2030 as we expect to cross 220 GW in the next two years. Our National Clean Air Program aims to reduce greenhouse emissions by 20-30% in the next four years. Several other initiatives like safe drinking water for all by 2024, planting more trees, using LED lamps, promoting electric vehicles, creating Smart cities and green transport networks will help us to reduce the impact of climate change.

 

No doubt Dr. Swati Kulkarni has offered deep insights into her perspective on important topics through the analysis of their crisp responses. Best wishes to her all endeavors that make India Great again.