The Thirteenth Vision (21 February, 2024)

This is the real world. This is the world that Mother knows.

She is inside her home. It is a two-story cottage in Toledo, a town of Castilla La Mancha. The town encircles a hill. The houses are egg-shell yellow or dove white and covered with brick-coloured roof tiles. Her home sits on the top of a lane curving up to the Alcázar.

Mother is in her bed, opening her eyes. She goes to the window and opens her curtains, seeing the hazy clouds and the Tagus river underneath, as well as the sharp green cliffs on the other side.

She had dreamt she was on top of a horse in Mongolia just now.

Su vida ahora tiene que ser la realidad. No es una ilusión.

She yawns and stretches, still in the pants and shirt she sleeps in. She goes for a shower, then gets herself ready to go downstairs.

As she passes the hallway into the kitchen, she notices someone right by the wooden table. It is her mother-in-law, sitting in her wheelchair. This is more and more of a sign that Mother cannot be in a dream. She remembers the day her mother-in-law was moved into her house. Was it a week ago? Was it two? Certainly, the way her husband and his two brothers had bickered, that could not have been an illusion. They had been shouting so loudly that she could hear them on the second floor while doing her prayers. When she came downstairs, their hands and arms were flailing in the air, gesticulating with passion their shared concern for their mother that had led each of them to a separate conclusion.

She must come home. She must stay with me. We will take care of her.

That was what her husband felt despite what his brothers had said. And so her mother-in-law was now staying at home with them as they tried to improve her medical state.

Mother tries to shake herself awake. Why is her mother-in-law downstairs by herself? There she is, sitting in her wheelchair, her mouth stuck in a smile, staring not at any person but deeply at the wall. Mother’s husband, Pedro, must have taken her in her wheelchair up and down the cobblestones to show her around the town before leaving to go to the hospital. It is only around six in the morning. Pedro must have left ten minutes ago. He trusts Mother to help him with the rest of his mother’s needs. This includes cleaning out her diaper, bathing her from head to toe, and feeding her by spoon the gazpacho or paella she makes for lunch.

This is not a dream. This is very much reality.

Mother suddenly shivers. She feels like she is in the middle of the tundra, but how can she feel this cold when she’s indoors and the heater is on? She feels like she has horse hair stuck to her pants, but when she picks it up, the hairs are grey and blond, clearly hers. She could have sworn she was in the middle of doing something, and it wasn’t cooking or cleaning.

I was about to realise something, and it was important…

« Oye… oye… ¿me escuchas?»

Is that her mother-in-law speaking? First of all, the dementia has been strong for the last year. If her mother-in-law speaks, which happens at random moments, it usually isn’t anything comprehensible, just a word here or there followed by a few sentences that don’t cohere to what was previously said.

The voice is also not coming from that side of the room. It’s almost like it is coming from somewhere underneath her. How is that possible? There is nothing below her other than the floor tiles they installed a few years ago…

« Oye… oye… ¿me escuchas? »

This is clearly a man’s voice. Mother is now scared. She reaches for the knife nearest to her, the one she normally uses to cut peaches and apples. The rough gesture frightens her mother-in-law, who gasps and looks about, as if she has been suddenly awoken from whatever dream world she was living in. What a beautiful thing, to live in a dream. Mother is almost jealous of her mother-in-law’s innocence, but only for a moment. Mother fears getting older and slowly losing her mind.

In a bid to console her mother-in-law, Mother comes to her side and tries to pat her arm.

« Suegra… no te asustas, por favor »

Her mother-in-law looks like she is about to cry. Teardrops are forming under her eyes. She is trying to lift a finger, like she is about to point somewhere behind Mother. She always does this regardless of what’s going on, but this time Mother wants to turn around. She brandishes the knife and faces the other side.

There is nothing. No one. It’s just the corridor that leads towards the living room, and a window facing the cliffs. Mother holds the knife firmly but considers putting it back on the table. She remembers she should be cutting some fruit for breakfast. It is difficult for her mother-in-law to chew apples, so Mother mashes them and feeds them to her mother-in-law via a spoon, like she would a little boy.

« Oye… you need to look below, not behind… »

Right on the tiles is the upper half of a man’s body. The man is wearing armour from the Medieval era. He has a sharp pointed goatee, and the two tips of his moustache curl upwards.

« ¿Quien eres tú? » Mother shouts. He cannot be human. His body is literally bifurcated by the floor. And yet when Mother stares firmly, she sees the rest of him. He is sitting up, lying on a bed, with the covers partially on top of him. He looks almost exactly like how Mother must look when she wakes up. Even the lower part of his body is in pyjamas, and the covers of his bed resemble hers.

« ¿Quien eres tú? » Mother asks again. « ¿And why are you on my bed? ¿How are you on my bed? ¿Who are you? »

« Tantas preguntas » the man complains. He rolls his eyes at Mother, then closes them, as if he would rather be sleeping. « I used to have all of these questions arise to me in my dreams. ¿Where is my Dulcinea? ¿What has happened to Sancho? ¿And who are you? ¿Who are you? Ultimately, it never mattered. I acted and made a lot of mistakes and embarrassed myself. And now here I am, lying here for eternity, known to the world as a fool. I just lie in bed and hide under the covers. If I had known back then that everything I believed in was an illusion, I would have never done what I did. »

Mother takes a few steps back. The fingers that are holding the knife are quivering. She has to concentrate to make sure she doesn’t drop it. Mother’s bottom lip wobbles.

The man carries on: « But then would I take it back? I acted as I did because I believed it. Belief is such a strong emotion. We do everything with the conviction that it is right, but most of the time, when we are in that state of mind, we do so much wrong. »

Mother would nod if she had the composure to do so. She sees a bit of herself in the man’s reflections, and the pit of feeling in the centre of her chest is aching, as what tends to happen whenever a truth is said and one is unprepared to deal with it.

« And yet the world is turning, the turns are turning. The world is like one giant windmill, and we are trying to catch on to it. »

The man laughs peculiarly, taking Mother out of the pain she is feeling. She now feels irate, annoyed, and confused. She wants to take the knife and cut the man right at the point where the tiles are reflecting the bed, to make the illusion dissipate like fog.

The man pulls at his moustache, twisting the hairs into an even finer upward curl. He looks at Mother and contracts his eyebrows.

« Life itself is a farce. We call something madness when we think it’s close to the odd, but in reality, being so fixed in how we should live life is a madness itself. What is wrong with dreaming? I lived my entire life as a dream, and the world made fun of me for it. And yet because I was willing to live this way, many others came after me and made a fool of themselves as well. People call such fools heroes. They make stories about them, they erect statues of them, they memorialise them, as time goes on and on. »

The man stifles a laugh, and then turns his eyes to meet Mother’s.

Mother turns away to face the wall, but the man’s half-body is coming out of the beige paint. Mother turns towards the kitchen, only the man is appearing out of the sink. Mother suddenly worries about her mother-in-law. Mother turns to face her, but she is facing the man instead, who is now sitting in the wheelchair, but also on the bed, as if it were an image pasted all around the wheelchair’s frames.

How is it that she can’t escape this man? He has become a part of everything she sees. She doesn’t have the time for this. It’s already getting late, the sun which was starting to rise is now full in the sky. She has to get on with washing and feeding her mother-in-law. If this apparition wasn’t disturbing her, she would have been in the midst of her prayers by now.

Mother closes her eyes and wishes, Dios, denounce this devil and leave me in peace.

She opens her eyes and sees he is still in front of her.

« You cannot get rid of me yet, dear. I am in front of you for a reason. I’m here to propose to you an adventure. It is an adventure far greater than the one I have undertaken. For though I have slayed many a knight and rescued many a damsel, it was only at the end of my journey that I realised anything about myself. You, my dear, have the gift of taking such a journey after countless others have tried and failed. You can start already knowing something a bit about yourself. You can start having already learned from our failures. And deep down, dear, you are far less in the fantasy than I ever was. I think you already know what you need to work on. »

The man touches Mother in the middle of her chest, and as if she is a pool stuck in stillness, she feels something inside of her ripple.

« You were dreaming for a reason. »

Mother looks at her mother-in-law, remembers the feeling of annoyance of having someone intrude on the schedule of her day. There are so many people and existences suffering on the planet, but Mother has not done anything for them. Mother has been extremely inactive. She wanders in her mind, she wanders in the four corners of her house. She has only lived her life while waiting for her life to end.

Perhaps she could use an adventure to take her closer to her destiny.

Mother suddenly imagines her son kissing another man, and her heart fills with disgust.

The man says:

« Do you want to leave this dream, to become disillusioned like I have? You have the chance to keep dreaming, to reach the heights I could only imagine reaching. »

Mother shakes her head.

The man smiles and extends his hand.

World Social Forum in Kathmandu Calls for Peace and Justice Across Borders

Social advocates from 72 nations convened at the five-day World Social Forum (WSF) conference, which concluded on February 19 in Kathmandu, issuing a plea for the establishment of a world devoid of warfare.

The event, bearing the motto ‘Another World is Possible,’ kicked off on February 15 with a spirited rally involving 20,000 participants who paraded through the streets of Nepal’s capital, pressing for the liberation of Palestine, the eradication of slavery, casteism, fundamentalism, human trafficking, the empowerment of women, Dalits, and all marginalized groups.

A total of 252 seminars, workshops, and related sessions were organized by diverse human rights and social advocacy bodies from across the globe, tackling an array of subjects including climate justice, discrimination, secure migration, and the cessation of trafficking.

Approximately 9,000 individuals engaged in smaller group discussions, dissecting and reflecting on contemporary socio-political landscapes in various regions worldwide, and articulating statements advocating for unity, solidarity, and the revitalization of democratic values.

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Picture: Matters India

Indian representatives from numerous social and Christian organizations made a significant presence, with a notable turnout from Christian denominations, including Catholics and members of the World Council of Churches, who hosted seminars and workshops.

Among these, 60 members of the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace from India, along with their 70 associates, led sessions focusing on themes such as environmental conservation, the protection of minority rights to foster an inclusive society, and ensuring safe and dignified migration.

During discussions on environmental stewardship, attendees deliberated on the degradation of natural habitats and ecosystems, water pollution, and the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, advocating for a transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy to sustain the web of life.

Calls were made for South Asian governments, particularly India and Nepal, to take decisive measures towards phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Additionally, developed nations were urged to compensate South Asian countries for the financial losses incurred during this transition, ensuring sustainable livelihoods for all, especially the most impoverished segments of society in the region.

Forum members and their collaborators listened attentively to accounts of persecution faced by minorities, particularly Christians, in India and Pakistan. Renowned Pakistani human rights activist Saeda Diep recounted various atrocities inflicted upon Christians, Hindus, Ahmediyas, and Shias in Pakistan, while Jesuit Father Bosco Xavier from India shed light on systemic discrimination based on ancestry and occupation worldwide.

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Picture: Matters India

The assembly condemned the prevailing atmosphere of xenophobia, exclusion, and violence targeting minority communities and those on the fringes of society, pledging to champion religious, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity, which they regarded as integral to the region’s identity and deserving of respect and promotion.

In a joint statement, the forum demanded that South Asian governments, notably India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, halt discrimination and violence against minorities and vulnerable groups, and instead, celebrate their distinctive cultural and religious heritage.

On the topic of safe and dignified migration, forum members affirmed the reality of extensive internal and international migration within South Asia driven by economic aspirations and conflict, emphasizing the need for robust legal protections for migrant workers and measures to shield them from discrimination and indignity.

Montfort Brother Varghese Theckanath, a forum participant, orchestrated a three-day International Tribunal on Evictions, wherein testimonies regarding forced displacement were presented. A panel of esteemed human rights activists from various continents rendered a verdict in favor of the rehabilitation of all displaced communities.

Forum national convener Presentation Sister Dorothy Fernandez, along with Congregation of Jesus Sister Ancy, Father Xavier, and Father Anand from the Indian Missionaries of Society, orchestrated various initiatives throughout the five-day event.

The program also featured a diverse array of cultural performances, with Bhrikuti Mandap, the event venue, resounding with Nepali melodies and dances, as well as musical renditions in various other Asian, African, South American, and European languages.

Each evening, Prerna Kala Manch, the theatrical arm of Vishwa Jyoti Communications in Varanasi, staged professional dramas addressing issues pertinent to farmers and minorities, captivating audiences with street plays that elucidated environmental concerns, discrimination, and communal strife.

Shift in Economic Sentiment: Voters’ Views on Inflation Impact Biden’s Prospects Ahead of November Election

Nancy Pontius is prepared to voice an unpopular opinion: she doesn’t perceive inflation as a significant concern and asserts that economic worries won’t sway her voting decision in the upcoming November election.

Despite experiencing financial strain akin to tens of millions of Americans in recent years, the 36-year-old Democrat from Pennsylvania remains resolute. “I definitely felt the gas price increase,” she acknowledges, “but I also recognized that it was likely to be temporary.” Having cast her ballot for Joe Biden four years ago, she intends to do so again, driven by issues like abortion. “I’m not concerned about the broader economic landscape,” she affirms.

This sentiment comes as a relief for President Biden, whose first term grappled with an unprecedented 18% surge in prices, sparking economic discontent and diminishing political backing. While America’s robust post-pandemic economic resurgence drew admiration globally, domestic sentiments remained starkly pessimistic.

However, there are indications of a shift as gasoline prices regress towards $3 per gallon nationally and wages edge closer to keeping pace with inflation. Economic sentiment, often described as the “vibe” people perceive about the economy, has seen improvement in business surveys recently.

According to the University of Michigan, Democrats like Nancy now express optimism about the economy akin to 2021 levels, surpassing any point during the Trump administration. Even Republican sentiments have slightly brightened, as per their research.

The White House is hopeful that this change in mood will endure, bolstering support for the president as the November election looms, especially in pivotal swing states like Pennsylvania. Yet, such optimism is far from guaranteed.

The president’s approval ratings linger near the lowest of his term, weighed down by concerns over immigration, his age, and conflicts like the one in Gaza. Despite positive indicators, overall economic sentiment is yet to rebound from the pandemic’s blow, notwithstanding robust growth and record low unemployment.

Within the Democratic camp, dissatisfaction with Biden’s economic policies, particularly among those under 30, presents a challenge. Kim Schwartz, a 28-year-old health technician from Pennsylvania, who voted for Biden in 2020, feels let down by the administration’s economic agenda.

“I don’t see any progress in getting more money into the hands of middle class and working class Americans to keep up with [inflation],” she laments. Kim’s financial situation has improved since 2020, yet she still diligently hunts for bargains at multiple grocery stores each week.

Her concerns resonate with others like John Cooke, a 34-year-old restaurant manager in Pennsylvania. While his eatery’s business remains strong, inflation has eaten into profits, and he hasn’t received a pay increase despite rising expenses.

Republicans, traditionally favored on economic matters, have seized on inflation to criticize Biden, attributing it to his spending policies. Economists attribute inflation to a combination of factors, including pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions and the Ukraine conflict’s impact on oil prices.

Democrats have maintained their electoral ground by attributing inflation to broader forces and focusing on other issues like social justice and climate change. However, swing voters, often prioritizing economic concerns, hold significant sway in presidential elections.

Strategists acknowledge Biden’s previous reliance on national economic metrics as a defense strategy as emotionally disconnected. Consequently, Biden has adopted a more populist rhetoric, criticizing price gouging and advocating against “shrinkflation” while denouncing “extreme MAGA Republican” economic policies.

Don Cunningham, a veteran Democratic figure in Pennsylvania, anticipates a reconciliation between economic sentiment and reality in the coming months. As head of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, he notes challenges for Biden unrelated to economic issues, such as generational divides and personal connections with voters.

Yet, signs indicate many Americans are disheartened by the probable 2020 rematch between Biden and Trump. Even Nancy, who ardently displayed her support for Biden in 2020, plans a more subdued approach this time, wary of discord with her neighbors.

“We might still put the Biden-Harris sign out,” she muses, “But I was willing to be a little louder in 2020… than I am now.”

Is Modi Government Targeting Opposition Leaders for Political Reasons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Threatens to Abandon NATO Allies Over Defense Spending, Sparks Concerns Over Alliance’s Future

Former President Donald Trump has asserted that the United States would not come to the defense of NATO allies in the event of a Russian attack if those allies failed to meet his criteria for defense spending. This declaration, made during a campaign rally in Conway, S.C., raises significant concerns about the future of the alliance should Trump be reelected in 2024.

Trump’s stance on NATO spending has been a longstanding point of contention, with him consistently criticizing other member countries for not meeting defense spending targets and inaccurately claiming that there are outstanding balances owed by allies. However, his recent remarks take this criticism a step further, suggesting that Russia should be encouraged to attack countries that are “delinquent” in their contributions.

During the rally, Trump recounted a hypothetical scenario where a country asked if the U.S. would protect them in the event of a Russian attack due to unpaid contributions. Trump’s response was blunt: “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

Trump also claimed that his threats led to a significant increase in NATO spending, stating that “hundreds of billions” flowed into the alliance as a result. However, data shows that NATO spending was already on the rise before Trump took office in 2016.

The issue of NATO spending has been a focal point since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. In response, NATO countries pledged to increase defense spending to 2% of their gross domestic product by 2024. Yet, according to data from July 2023, only 11 out of the 31 member countries have met this target. Notably, the United States contributes 3.49% of its GDP to defense, while several other countries, including France, Germany, and Canada, have fallen short.

The White House swiftly condemned Trump’s remarks, describing them as “unhinged” and emphasizing President Joe Biden’s commitment to strengthening NATO. White House spokesman Andrew Bates emphasized that Biden’s approach prioritizes American leadership and national security interests.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed these sentiments, stating that any suggestion of allies not defending each other undermines collective security and increases risks for American and European soldiers.

Trump’s comments on NATO come amid a campaign rally in South Carolina, just weeks before the state’s Republican presidential primary. At the rally, he reiterated his hardline stance on immigration, promising to reverse Biden administration policies and implement aggressive deportation measures.

Trump also addressed the legal challenges he faces, including numerous criminal indictments, attributing them to bolstering his poll numbers rather than seeking revenge against Biden.

These remarks on foreign policy coincide with congressional struggles to advance aid packages for Israel and Ukraine, issues Trump claims would not have arisen under his administration’s leadership.

Unlocking the Enigma: Exploring the Depths of Consciousness Across Disciplines

“The enigma of consciousness, often termed ‘the hard problem,’ resonates across disciplines, permeating both academic discourse and popular culture,” reflects the opening lines of an article discussing the elusive nature of consciousness. Coined by philosopher David Chalmers three decades ago, this label has since found its way into various realms, even serving as the title of a play by Tom Stoppard. Notably, it’s referenced in a recent episode of Big Think’s Dispatches from the Well, featuring discussions on consciousness with prominent figures including neuroscientist Christof Koch, Swami Sarvapriyananda from the Vedanta Society of New York, technology entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, complexity expert Melanie Mitchell from the Santa Fe Institute, and mathematical physicist Roger Penrose.

Koch delves into the essence of consciousness, describing it as encompassing sensory perceptions, emotions, and experiences. He states, “It’s what you see, it’s what you hear, it’s the pains you have, the love you have, the fear, the passion.” This sentiment echoes Descartes’ famous assertion, “Cogito, ergo sum” – “I think, therefore I am.” Sarvapriyananda draws parallels to Descartes as well, portraying consciousness as “the light of lights” that illuminates all existence.

Mitchell offers a perspective of consciousness as a spectrum, varying in intensity and present not only in humans but also in different species. She suggests, “I’m more conscious when I’m awake,” indicating a fluctuation in consciousness levels. Moreover, Mitchell ponders the potential for consciousness to emerge in non-biological entities, envisioning a spectrum where machines might one day reside.

The conversation turns to the realm of artificial intelligence (AI) as host Kmele Foster engages with Hoffman, an AI researcher. Despite remarkable advancements in AI technology, few would attribute consciousness to current AI chatbots. Yet, Hoffman suggests that striving to imbue machines with not just intelligence but consciousness could yield insights into the workings of human consciousness.

Penrose introduces a provocative theory positing that consciousness arises from unpredictable quantum processes within the brain’s microtubules. This perspective challenges conventional understandings of consciousness and underscores its complexity. Koch adds a speculative dimension by proposing that consciousness might permeate all forms of matter to varying degrees.

The article reflects on the multifaceted nature of consciousness, encapsulating various philosophical, scientific, and speculative perspectives. Ultimately, whether consciousness stems from quantum processes, emerges across a spectrum of entities, or remains a deeply personal experience, its true nature continues to elude definitive explanation.

Unlocking India’s Potential with AI

A new UN Advisory Body is expected to make recommendations on international governance of AI. The members of the AI Advisory Body – launched October 2023 by Secretary-General António Guterres – will examine the risks, opportunities and international governance of these technologies. Credit: Unsplash/Steve Johnson

BANGALORE, India, Feb 5 2024 (IPS) – India is on the brink of a transformation that could change its economic and social future.

Before the end of this decade, more Indians will use AI every day than in any other country in the world. What’s more, people in advanced economies will be surprised by the ways the country will use AI.

India is on the cusp of a technological revolution that could alter the trajectory of its social and economic future, and in this revolution. there are lessons for the rest of the world.

Our prediction hinges on three facts: India needs it, India is ready for it, and India will do it.

India needs it

The concept of “China plus one” has been gaining traction, with its admonition that global companies should not depend inordinately on China for their manufacturing and software needs.

India, with its growing infrastructure investments, favorable policies, and young working population, is the most likely beneficiary of this shift. It is perhaps the only country poised to match the scale of China.

With 1.4 billion people, India is closer to a continent than a country. Its population is almost twice that of Europe. But the average age in India is 28, compared with Europe’s 44, which means a higher share of the population is of working age. This is the starting point: India is a very large country of very young people.

This demographic dividend, favorable global trends, and the unlocking of decades of suppressed potential are starting to show returns. Even as the macroeconomic projections for most of the world seem modest or bleak, India remains a bright spot. These young Indians are aspirational and motivated to use every opportunity to better their lives.

What really sets India apart from the West are its unique challenges and needs. India’s diverse population and complex socioeconomic concerns mean that AI there is not just about developing cutting-edge technology. It’s about finding innovative solutions to address pressing problems in health care, education, agriculture, and sustainability.

Though our population is just double the size of Europe’s, we are much more diverse. Indians, like Europeans, are often bi- or multilingual. India recognizes 19,500 dialects spoken by at least 10,000 people. Based on data from the Indian census, two Indians selected at random have only a 36 percent chance of speaking a common language.

This language barrier is complicated by the fact that the official literacy rate in the country hovers near 77 percent, varying vastly between states. This means that roughly 1 in 4 people can’t read or write. Even though the government tries to provide welfare assistance for its most vulnerable, it’s hard to spread awareness about the service and reach the last mile.

Filling out a simple form to access welfare can be daunting for someone who is illiterate. Determining eligibility for assistance means depending on someone who can read, write, and navigate the bureaucracy.

Actually. receiving services means assistance seekers must have an agent helping them who is not misinformed—or worse, corrupt. These barriers disproportionately affect those who need government assistance the most.

We have the ability to solve a lot of problems for our population, but the hard part has always been in the distribution, not the solution. In India, we believe that AI can help bridge this access gap.

AI enables people to access services directly with their voice using natural language, empowering them to help themselves. As Canadian writer William Gibson aptly said, “The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” Nowhere is this more glaringly evident than in India.

The rest of the world has been eyeing AI with curiosity, waiting for real-use cases. In India, we see potential today. While this may be true of many other developing economies, the other important factor is that.

The rest of the world has been eyeing AI with curiosity, waiting for real-use cases. In India, we see potential today.

India is ready for it

India’s population isn’t just young, it is connected. According to the country’s telecommunications sector regulator, India has more than 790 million mobile broadband users. Internet penetration continues to increase, and with the availability of affordable data plans, more and more people are online. This has created a massive user base for AI applications and services.

But where India has surpassed all others is in its digital public infrastructure. Today, nearly every Indian has a digital identity under the Aadhaar system. The Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identity number with an option for users to authenticate themselves digitally—that is, to prove they are who they claim to be.

Further, India set up a low-cost, real-time, interoperable payment system. This means that any user of any bank can pay any other person or merchant using any other bank instantly and at no cost.

This system—the Unified Payments Interface—handles more than 10 billion transactions a month. It is the largest real-time payment system in the world and handles about 60 percent of real-time payment transactions worldwide.

With the success of these models, India is embracing innovation in open networks as digital public infrastructure. Take the example of Namma Yatri, a ride-hailing network built in collaboration with the union of auto-rickshaw drivers in Bangalore and launched in November 2022.

These drivers have their own app, with a flat fee to use it, no percentage commission and no middleman. The app has facilitated close to 90,000 rides a day, almost as many as ride-hailing companies in the city.

Unlike Western countries, which have legacy systems to overhaul, India’s tabula rasa means that AI-first systems can be built from the ground up. The quick adoption of digital public infrastructure is the bedrock for these technologies.

Such infrastructure generates enormous amounts of data, and thanks to India’s Account Aggregator framework, the data remain under the citizens’ control, further encouraging public trust and utilization. With this solid footing, India is well positioned to lead the charge in AI adoption.

India will do it

In September 2023, the Indian government, in collaboration with the EkStep foundation, launched the PM-Kisan chatbot. This AI chatbot works with PM-Kisan, India’s direct benefit transfer program for farmers, initiated in 2019 to extend financial help to farmers who own their own land.

Access to the program, getting relevant information, and resolving grievances was always a problem for the farmers. The new chatbot gives farmers the ability to know their eligibility and the status of their application and payments using just their voice. On launch day more than 500,000 users chatted with the bot, and features are being released slowly to ensure a safe and risk-managed rollout.

These steps are part of an encouraging trend of early adoption of new technology by the Indian government. But the trend extends beyond the government. India’s vibrant tech ecosystem has taken off as well, a direct offshoot of its booming IT exports—currently at nearly $250 billion a year.

Next to those from the US, the largest number of developers on GitHub, a cloud-based service for software development, are from India. This sector not only innovates but also widely adopts digital public infrastructure.

The effect is cyclical: start-ups feed the growing tech culture and, in turn, leverage the data to build more precise and beneficial AI tools. India’s dynamic start-up ecosystem, moreover, is actively working on AI solutions to address various challenges.

AI can be a game changer in education as well, helping close the literacy gap. AI technologies are uniquely positioned to help students learn in their native languages, as well as learn English. AI’s applications are useful not only for students; they extend to teachers, who are often overwhelmed by administrative tasks that detract from teaching.

As AI takes over routine tasks in government and start-ups, the roles of teachers and students evolve, and they form dynamic partnerships focused on deep learning and meaningful human interaction.

What India needs is a strategic plan to chase down the most important opportunities for AI to help. The trick is not to look too hard at the technology but to look at the problems people face that existing technology has been unable to solve.

And organizations such as EkStep have stepped up with a mission called People+AI. Instead of putting AI first, they focus on the problems of people. This has led to surprising new uses unique to India.

India’s emerging status as a technological powerhouse, combined with its unique socioeconomic landscape, puts it in a favorable position to be the world’s most extensive user of AI by the end of this decade.

From streamlining education to aiding in social protection programs, AI has the potential to deeply penetrate Indian society, effecting broad and meaningful change.

Nandan Nilekani is the chairman and cofounder of Infosys and founding chairman of UIDAI (Aadhaar); Tanuj Bhojwani is head of People+AI

Source: IMF Finance & Development

Opinions expressed in articles and other materials are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.

IPS UN Bureau

Is the Reform of the UN Security Council a Good Try in a Lost Cause?

(IPS) – The myriads of proposals for the reform of the much-maligned Security Council have been kicked around the United Nations for more than two decades—with no significant progress.

Speaking at the General Assembly’s (GA) annual debate, GA President Dennis Francis told delegates last November that without structural reform, the Council’s performance and legitimacy will inevitably continue to suffer.

“Violence and war continue to spread in regions across the world, while the United Nations seems paralyzed due largely to the divisions in the Security Council,” he said.

With the world changing quickly, the Council is “dangerously falling short” of its mandate as the primary custodian for the maintenance of international peace and security, he said.

Meanwhile, a proposed new model for reforms, initiated by the Group of Four (G4: Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan), has been doing the rounds.

Not surprisingly, all four countries have been longstanding contenders for permanent seats (P5s) which have remained the privilege of five countries since the creation of the world body 79 years ago: the US, UK, France, China and the Russian Federation (replacing the USSR of a bygone era).

The G4 is calling for a total of 11 permanent members (P11): China, France, The Russian Federation, UK and the US, plus six others.

In the event of possible expansion, and upon the adoption of a comprehensive framework resolution on Security Council reform, interested Member States prepared to assume the functions and responsibilities of permanent members of the Security Council would submit their candidatures in writing to the President of the General Assembly.

The General Assembly will then proceed, as soon as possible, at a date to be determined by the President, to the election of six new permanent members, by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly. through a secret ballot. The rules of procedure of the General Assembly will be applied to the election of the new permanent members.

Is the Reform of the UN Security Council a Good Try in a Lost CauseThe criteria of Article 23 (1) should also apply to the election of the new permanent members: “due regard shall be paid, in the first instance to their contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization, and also to equitable geographical distribution”.

The non-permanent members with a two-year term, currently at 10, will be increased to a total of 14/15 seats – The election process for non-permanent members will follow current practices.

According to the G4 proposal, the six new permanent members of the Security Council shall be elected according to the following pattern: (i) Two from African Member States: (ii) Two from Asia-Pacific Member States, (iii) One from Latin American and Caribbean Member States; (iv) One from Western European and Other Member States.

The four/five new non-permanent members of the Security Council shall be elected according to the following pattern; (i) One/Two from African Member States: (ii) One from Asia-Pacific Member States: (iii) One from Eastern European Member States; (iv) One from Latin American and Caribbean Member States.

Member States should give due consideration during the nomination and election of non-permanent members to adequate and continuing representation of small and medium size Member States, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Andreas Bummel, Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders, told IPS any reconfiguration of the Security Council would have to be adopted in line with Article 108 of the Charter, which means it requires the support of two thirds of UN members and the P5.

“Given the fact that Security Council reform has been discussed for decades, I think it is legitimate to pursue such a vote instead of consensus. Whether it is politically wise is a different question.”

In essence, he said, the G4 are not willing to compromise. “If they can mobilize a two thirds majority and the P5, fine. But if not, it’s finally game over for them. I can’t see how a broad agreement is possible without introducing new concepts that go beyond today’s permanent and non-permanent seats.”

Re-electable seats rotating among the membership of certain regions is a good approach, in my mind. New permanent seats vested with a veto will make the Security Council even more unworkable.

This option should be off the table. Delaying a decision for fifteen years does not solve this, he declared.

On the question of the veto, the G4 says Member States should be invited to continue discussions on the use of the veto in certain circumstances.

The new permanent members, would as a principle, have the same responsibilities and obligations as current permanent members.

However, the new permanent members shall not exercise the veto-right until a decision on the matter has been taken during a review, to be held fifteen years after the coming into force of the reform.

Amendments to the charter shall reflect the fact that the extension of the right of veto to the new permanent members will be decided upon in the framework of a review.

The enlarged Security Council would be encouraged to, inter alia, hold regular consultations with the President of the General Assembly; submit an analytical and comprehensive evaluation of the Council’s work in the annual report to the General Assembly; submit more frequently special reports to the General Assembly in accordance with Articles 15 (1) and 24 (3) of the Charter, improve participation of the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission and the chairs of the country-specific configurations of the Commission in relevant debates and, in an appropriate format, in informal discussions

Asked for her comments, Barbara Adams, Senior Policy Analyst, Global Policy Forum, told IPS: Surely, now 11 (not 5) veto-wielding powers, will not correct the inability of P5 or P11 to put their chartered responsibility for international peace and security above their national security interests.

She pointed out that the G4 proposal for a 15-year pause on use of the veto acknowledges the tension between expanding the number of permanent members and the veto.

Re the proposal for seats for developing countries, and countries from other regions, they should not need to be justified by the concept of regional representation, she argued.

“The privilege of permanency in the Security Council extends beyond the use of veto. The “chill factor” of this privilege reaches into many parts of the UN system in ways formal and informal such as preferential treatment for senior UN positions,” Adams declared.

Joseph Chamie, a consulting international demographer and a former director of the UN Population Division, told IPS reform of the United Nations Security Council is not a new proposal; it’s been around for decades.

Despite committees, discussions and calls by many Member States for reform of the Council, he pointed out, little progress has been achieved towards equitable representation, inclusiveness and legitimacy.

“Increasing numbers of both governments and people consider the Council to be ineffectual and unjust and require reform, including expanding membership and restricting vetoes”.

While enormous changes have occurred in the world over the past eight decades, he said, the Council continues to have the same five permanent members.

When established, the five permanent members accounted for about 35 percent of the world’s population. Today, they represent 25 percent and by mid-century they are expected to represent 20 percent of the world’s population, said Chamie, author of numerous publications on population and related issues.

In brief, the desire for reform of the Security Council is both understandable and reasonable and despite the geo-political challenges, reform should be undertaken without further delays, he declared.

IPS UN Bureau Report

Gandhi’s Ramrajya Vs. Modi’s Ramrajya

I mean by Ramarajya-Divine Raj, the kingdom of God. Ramarajya of my dream ensures equal rights alike of Prince and Pauper…. Ramarajya is undoubtedly one of true democracy…. (Young India, September 19, 1929)

On January 22 in Ayodhya, the Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, presided over the Pranapratistha ceremony at the Ram Mandir. In his speech after that, he claimed that the event heralded the birth of a new era. Further, he declared that the foundation for the next thousand years had been laid. The Sangh Parivar, its allies, and sympathisers announced that India is moving towards Ramarajya. The term Ramarajya was close to the heart of Mahatma Gandhi, and it was his vision for an independent India. This article attempts to understand the concept of Ramarajya as used by the Father of the Nation and the reality in India today.

Gandhi’s Idea of Ramarajya

According to Gandhi’s political philosophy, Ramarajya literally means Rajya or reign of Rama. Rama being the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu, Ramarajya could be understood as the ‘reign of Lord Vishnu or God’. In the common parlance, Ramarajya is a ‘perfect democracy’.

Gandhi wrote in Hind Swaraj in 1929, “By Ramarajya, I do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean by Ramarajya, a Divine Raj, the Kingdom of God. For me, Rama and Rahim are one and the same deity. I acknowledge no other God but the one God of Truth and righteousness.”

Gandhi's Ramrajya Vs Modi's Ramrajya (Medium)For Gandhi, the state embodies a relationship between the government and its citizens. The state unites its people into a community and provides all possible means for its well-being, security and development. The state functions in the common interest without neglecting the last individual’s interest (Anthyodaya). Gandhi’s concept of Ramarajya is inspired by morality, ethics, and spirituality, as Rama is believed to embody all these virtues. Therefore, in Ramarajya, laws are guided by morality, power is decentralised, and the interests of every individual are attended to.

According to Gandhi, religion binds one inextricably to the Truth within and purifies one’s thoughts, intentions and actions. For Gandhi, there is no religion higher than Truth and Righteousness. Religion and morality go hand in hand. Therefore, one who loses morality ceases to be religious. For India, which is heterogeneous, multireligious, and characterised by inter-caste and inter-religious problems, Gandhi proposed the concept of Ramarajya, which is based on morality and virtues. Not one religion’s dominance over other religions. Rama is the embodiment of morality and virtues.

Rama is Truth incarnate. Truth is God. Every religion worships ‘Truth’. Therefore, the end of all religions is Truth. But the means to achieve this end may be varied. Different religions may perceive the Ramarajya in different terms. Muslims may call it ‘Khudai Raj’. For Christians, it is the ‘Kingdom of God’. Or ‘Dharmarajya’ may be a more inclusive word.

In Dharmarajya or Ramarajya, every individual is of great value. No one should be discriminated against on any basis whatsoever. Gandhi was against any social discrimination, so he called for eradicating untouchability. Ramarajya, of his dreams, ensures equal rights to princes and paupers alike.

Features of Gandhi’s Ramarajya:

Gandhi’s Ramarajya is a reign characterised by wisdom, compassion, morality and justice. The following are some of its features:

  • Equal status of all: In Gandhi’s Ramarajya, all individuals are equal regardless of their caste, creed or gender and therefore, all must have equal opportunities and rights.
  • Equal distribution of resources:Gandhi’s Ramarajya is where there are no rich or poor, no class conflict, where there is an equal distribution of national resources, and where there is a self-sufficient economy. The nation’s wealth is to be used to serve the common good. The prosperity of the country should be shared by all its citizens. In such a Ramarajya, the wealthy and powerful would act as trustees and use their resources for the betterment of the poor and the needy.
  • Decentralised Power:Ramarajya of Gandhi advocates local self-government and decentralisation of power. Decisions that affect the local people should be made locally, involving people at the grassroots level.
  • Morality and Spiritual Values:Ramarajya of Gandhi’s dreams is governed by morality and spiritual values. Truth, love, compassion, and forgiveness are characteristic values of every citizen, and an Individual’s conscience should be his or her guiding light.
  • A Just Society:In this Ramarajya, no one is above the law, and all should be treated justly. Self-discipline is the most crucial ingredient of justice. A self-disciplined person respects the rights of others as well.
  • Non-Violence:Non-violence is Ramarajya’s mantra. All violence should be done away with, and all conflicts should be resolved peacefully. Non-violence and Satyagraha are the means to press for one’s rights.
  • Education for Empowerment:For Gandhi, education is essential for the development of individuals and the whole society. He emphasised the importance of holistic education, including intellectual and moral development.

In the background of these features of Gandhi’s Ramarajya, let us cast a bird’s eye view on the Modi’ Ramarajya’Gandhi's Ramrajya Vs Modi's Ramrajya (Federal News) during the past ten years, its relentless attempts with phenomenal success to communalise and polarise the Indian society and how it has undermined the democratic values of the Indian Constitution.

The Ram Mandir movement catapulted the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) to power in 2014. Notwithstanding the promises of efficient and corruption-free governance, the country witnessed a gradual and steady onslaught on its democracy and its institutions. The governance was transformed into totalitarianism with religious hegemony. When Gandhi’s concept of Ramarajya is juxtaposed with that of Mr Narendra Modi, one may get a fair idea of what the Sangh Parivar and its allies meant by Ramarajya and what to expect in the coming years.

  • Poverty and Unemployment:Most of India’s public enterprises have been handed over to corporates. About 10.1% of people have been affected by unemployment. Rising prices of food grains and commodities of daily consumption are soaring to the skies. The lives of rural and urban poor have been reduced to abject poverty. Many young Indians leave the country to pursue education and jobs in foreign lands.

Demonetisation grounded the economy almost to a halt. Sales, traders’ incomes, production, and employment nose-dived. Small producers and traders lacking capital to stay afloat were shut down. India’s multitude of daily wage workers could not find employers with the cash to pay them. Local industries suspended work for lack of money. The informal financial sector, which conducts 40% of India’s total lending, predominantly in rural areas, collapsed.

  • Socio-Economic Inequality:According to Oxfam’s Report “Survival of the Richest: The India story”, the rich have grown richer and the poor poorer over the past decade. Thewealthiest 1% in India now own more than 40% of the country’s total wealth, while the bottom half of the population together share just 3% between 2012 and 2021. The report also highlighted gender inequality in India, stating that female workers earned only 63 paise for every 1 rupee earned by male workers.

The Scheduled Castes and rural workers are the worst affected. They earned only 55% and half of what the advantaged social groups earned, respectively, between 2018 and 2019. Oxfam India stated that the country’s marginalised communities, such as Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Women, and informal sector workers, are continuing to suffer in a system that prioritises the survival of the richest.

Thanks to the implementation of GST, the poor in India are paying disproportionately higher taxes and spending more on essential items and services compared to the rich.

  • Standard of Education:In an era of science, technological revolution, and artificial intelligence making inroads into daily lives, the country’s education system is being taken back to primitive times. Everything from science to history is being mythicised in such a primitive manner that India has become a laughing stock at the international level. The following findings of the latest ASER report titled “Beyond Basics” smack at the face of the country with a pathetic scenario of our educational standard.
  1. About 25% of this age group still cannot fluently read a standard II-level text in their regional language. 
  2. More than half struggle with division (3-digit by 1-digit) problems. Only 43.3% of 14-18-year-olds are able to do such problems correctly. This skill is usually expected in Std III-IV. 
  3. A little over half of the surveyed group between 14 and 18 can read sentences in English (57.3%). Almost three-quarters of those who can read sentences in English cannot tell their meanings (73.5%). 
  • Religious Intolerance and Discrimination:Ram, who was an avatar of God, is taking the avatar of a destroyer. Hailed as the ‘Maryadapurusha’ and ‘Purushottama’, Rama’s values have been thrown into the winds. Hatred, intolerance and vilification of minority religions are being disseminated in all possible ways, the media being the leading national channel for this purpose.

The Indian constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; as a secular state, it requires the state to treat all religions impartially and prohibits discrimination based on religion. But the ground reality is devastating.

  • Thirteen states in the Indian Union have passed laws prohibiting religious conversions for all faiths. Some states have imposed penalties and severe punishments against religious conversions, even for the purpose of marriage.
  • The police and law enforcement authorities have been let loose on minorities in the states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. They harass, persecute, penalise and even publicly flog men of minority religions based on allegations. Some state governments have bulldozed Muslim-owned homes and shops following communal violence. A report drafted by a Citizens Committee stated that there were “multiple instances of apparent police complicity” in violent actions against protestors, who were chiefly Muslim, in the Delhi riots in 2020.
  • In its report, the ‘Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC)’ said Christians were “increasingly targeted using these anti-conversion laws,” as “allegations of forced conversion, no matter if false, have led many Christians to be attacked, arrested and detained by police.” In several BJP-ruled states, the Sangh Parivar’s foot soldiers disrupted Christian prayer assemblies, desecrated Christian churches and beat up Christian congregations. The police either witnessed the attacks, sometimes joined the miscreants and finally arrested the Christians alleging conversion.
  • In its annual report, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government “continued its systematic discrimination and stigmatisation of religious and other minorities, particularly Muslims.”
  • United Christian Forum (UCF) said till November 26, 2022, 511 anti-Christian incidents around the country had been reported to its hotline, compared to 505 in all of 2021. It urged the government to take action in response to these incidents. The Modi administration maintained a deafening silence.
  • Religious leaders, academics, political figures, and activists made inflammatory public remarks about religious minorities. The cries of minorities, the anguish of the right-thinking citizens and letters of senior government officials and retired bureaucrats did not cut any ice with the Prime Minister.
  • Justice for all?

The state violates the Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and the right to dissent daily. Any criticism of the ruling dispensation or public disagreement with its policies is construed as ‘anti-national’ and an act of ‘sedition’. Protests or demonstrations are silenced in the name of national interest, and human rights are violated with impunity.

Here are five instances out of the many others that signify the slow but steady withdrawal of the promise of social justice enshrined in the Constitution of India.

  1. Public Lynchings

The public lynching incidents have steadily increased since 2014. Muslims, Dalits and other minorities have been victims of public lynching based on false allegations.

  1. Arrests of Journalists

At least fifty-five journalists have faced arrest and imprisonment for practising their profession and exercising freedom of speech and expression on various issues of national concern. Journalists arrested on charges of sedition during the Modi rule include Siddique Kappan, Prashant Kanojia, Rahul Kulkarni, Dhaval Patel and many others.

III. Misuse of the UAPA

The UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) has been misused as a weapon to subdue social activists or human rights activists. The Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case, the arrest of journalists in Kashmir, and the violence against activists in the Delhi riots cases are but a few examples. The incarceration of 83-year-old Stan Swamy and his murder in the police custody has stirred the nation’s conscience.

  1. Police Atrocities

The protest of Students of Jamia Millia Islamia against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was brutally handled by the Delhi Police. The police were given a free hand to enter the university campus, to thrash the students and to damage university property. JNU also saw a similar ferocity.

  1. The Manipur Ethnic strife

The state-sponsored ethnic cleansing in the BJP-ruled state of Manipur set ablaze the state. The gross human rights violations and wanton killings and pillage are the orchestrated events. The rape, the naked parade and the torture of women of the Kuki tribe are the ultimate blot on Indian democracy. Aren’t these the ‘Sita Matas’ in Modi’s Ramarajya?

If this scenario is the foretaste of Modi’s Ramarajya, one shudders to think what will be the actual Ramarajya that is envisioned by the Sangh Parivar on the occasion of ‘Pranapatishta’ of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.

Unveiling Trump’s Triumph: The Reign of Extrinsic Values in American Society

Numerous analyses attempt to comprehend the ongoing ascent of Donald Trump and the unwavering support he commands, despite the accumulating controversies and legal allegations. While many of these explanations hold weight, there’s one factor, largely overlooked, which could arguably be paramount: Trump reigns supreme in the realm of extrinsics.

Psychologists posit that our values tend to gravitate towards distinct poles termed “intrinsic” and “extrinsic.” Those inclined towards intrinsic values prioritize empathy, intimacy, and self-acceptance, alongside a receptiveness to change and challenge, a commitment to universal rights, equality, and a protective stance towards others and the environment.

On the other hand, individuals leaning towards extrinsic values exhibit a keen attraction to prestige, status, image, fame, power, and wealth. Their motivations revolve around individual rewards and accolades, often manifesting in objectification and exploitation of others, alongside a propensity for rudeness, aggression, and disregard for societal and environmental welfare.

Donald Trump epitomizes extrinsic values in myriad ways, from the ostentatious towers bearing his name to exaggerated claims of wealth, incessant rhetoric about winners and losers, and reported instances of cheating at golf. His objectification of women, including his daughter, his fixation on physical attributes like hand size, and his disdain for public service, human rights, and environmental concerns further underscore his allegiance to extrinsic values.

Unveiling Trump's Triumph The Reign of Extrinsic Values in American Society

Our values aren’t innate; they’re shaped by societal cues and norms, and the political landscape we inhabit plays a crucial role. Under oppressive political systems, individuals tend to internalize extrinsic values, perpetuating a cycle of insecurity and unmet needs, fostering a breeding ground for further exploitation.

Since Ronald Reagan’s tenure, marked by societal divisions and a lack of public support mechanisms, U.S. politics has increasingly embraced extrinsic values. Even Democratic administrations, influenced by neoliberal principles, have struggled to reverse this trend, inadvertently bolstering support for right-wing ideologies.

Beyond politics, the U.S. has long championed extrinsic values, epitomized by the American dream of wealth acquisition and conspicuous consumption. Cultural narratives promoting success at any cost, alongside rampant consumerism and media fixation on fame, further entrench extrinsic values in society.

Blaming individuals for their misfortunes has become a hallmark of this shift, exemplified by punitive measures against rough sleepers, who are criminalized for their destitution, often exacerbated by government policies.

Beneath societal polarization and the mental health crisis lies a fundamental shift in values, wherein the pursuit of status, wealth, and dominance engenders widespread frustration and resentment. In a culture glorifying winners, the blame for societal discontent often falls on those advocating for a more equitable world.

Trump’s potential reelection hinges not only on factors like racial resentment or culture wars but also on deeply entrenched values that shape individuals’ perceptions and choices.

Trump’s appeal lies in his embodiment of extrinsic values, perpetuated by societal norms and political dynamics, which fuel resentment and division. Understanding this phenomenon is crucial in navigating and addressing the underlying causes of societal dysfunction.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/jan/29/donald-trump-americans-us-culture-republican

Restoring the Inclusive Idea of India in the Times of Sectarian Nationalism

Satyapal Malik, the ex-Governor of many states stated that the role of Pulwama and Balakot was very much there in the victory of Modi-BJP in the previous 2019 General elections. He also predicted some other major spectacle may happen before the 2024 elections. The hysteria created around the temple consecration is a spectacle of high order. At the same time Suranya Aiyer, a lawyer and author has undertaken a fast and penitence, calling it 72 hours of love and sorrow to fellow Muslims. She proclaims her pride in Mughal heritage. One can see the creation of a stifling atmosphere of divisiveness around, which sounds very intimidating.

As such temple inaugurations have also been occasions of promoting communal harmony as a couple of instances will show. Mahatma Gandhi while inaugurating Laxminarayan Temple (Birla Temple) in Delhi in 1939 had stated, “It must be the daily prayer of every adherent of the Hindu faith…that every known religion of the world should grow from day to day and should serve the whole of humanity…I hope that these temples will serve to propagate the idea of equal respect for religions and to make communal jealousies and strife; things of the past.”

More or less on similar lines Swami Vivekananda had earlier stated, (1997) ““it is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans.” In his book ‘Lectures from Colombo to Almora’ we see Swamiji stating “Nay more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but also positively helpful to each other, however different our religious ideas and convictions may be. And that is exactly what we do in India as I have just related to you… That is the thing to do.”

The present atmosphere is in total contrast to this as reflected by the fast of Suranya. It is also reflected in the incidents where cultural activists screening censor approved all time classic by Anand Patwardhan, ‘Ram Ke Naam’ are being arrested and issued non bailable arrest warrants. This happened in Hyderabad on 20th January.

Then there are claims by the likes of Prafulla Ketkar, Editor of unofficial RSS mouthpiece Organiser claiming that “the pran-pratishta (consecration ceremony) of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya was not simply the culmination of the decades-old Ram Janmabhoomi movement, but the beginning of a “reconstruction of national consciousness”. This essentially means the whole process of social change and the idea of India which accompanied the freedom movement now stands to be negated and what can roughly called ‘Hindu India’ is already there and multiple steps towards Hindu rashtra have been achieved by the communal forces.

What accompanied the ‘Idea of India’ was a coming together of different sections of society to fight the colonial powers, with the aspirations of striving for Liberty Equality, Fraternity and Justice for all. This massive movement had the overarching ‘Idea of India’, which culminated in the values of Indian Constitution.

There were challenges to this idea of India, which were rooted in the values of Kingdoms and what can be roughly called feudal society. The core of these values which are being hailed by the forces creating hysteria around temple consecration were/are the birth based hierarchies of caste, class and gender. The roots of these lay in the Kings and landlords of different religions and their ideologues who came forward as Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabah and RSS. While Muslim communal forces are implementing their idea of feudal values in Pakistan, the Hindu communal forces are now rejoicing, in gradually increasing intensity, now reaching its semi-peak with Ram Temple consecration.

The idea of India of freedom movement got manifested in the values of Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar and Gandhi focusing on Liberty Equality and Fraternity or friendship. Despite few differences with the father of Nation, Subhash Chandra Bose was also firmly committed to this “idea of India’.

The elite landlord and Manusmiriti worshipping ideology was the social base of Hindu Rashtra, Hindutva. These forces and this ideology have grown stronger particularly during last four decades and are rejoicing the sectarianism becoming stronger by the day. They are also giving narrow projection of the temple consecration in contrast to what Gandhi and Vivekananda stood. The sectarian nationalists are for the further deepening of particular ‘civilizational values’ inherent in what can be called as Brahmanism inherent in Manusmriti.

Those standing for doing away with the values of Manusmriti, those integrating all into the umbrella of Indian-ness, those who have stood together cutting across class, caste and gender are currently under different types of intimidations of Hindu India, the parallel and opposite of Muslim Pakistan are emerging.

The only ray of hope for ‘idea of India’ is the same classes of society who ushered in the Idea of India during freedom movement to come together. It is their collective movement; the overarching effort to undermine the forces which gloat over the birth based hierarchical values in the name of religion, those who uphold the Holy Scriptures in contrast to the Indian Constitution. Their movements have been scattered. Their group interests may be different but their interests in protecting the Indian Constitution and Idea of India which emerged during freedom movements does need a collective expression, cutting across the groups- party lines.

Many non sectarian parties do exist today. The predecessors of many of these had fought the British colonial powers together despite their differences. It is time that the social and political alliance of these sections of society given primacy. As colonial rule was detrimental to the interests of large sections of society, similarly those in power ruling through polarization are also out to undermine the rights of weaker sections of society. This is abundantly clear during the last ten years or so.

Hysteria cannot be combated by hysteria. We need the ideology which binds the weaker sections of society, the dalits, religious minorities, women, workers and Adivasis. They have many common values to protect and that is the ‘Idea of India’ which came with freedom movement. Can Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra be the first step in building such a common platform, can the yatra succeed in doing this is the question baying us all?

Overcoming Envy: The Power of Positive Self-Talk and Personal Definition of Success

“What am I doing wrong?” This nagging question echoed persistently in my mind. A recent revelation about a friend’s thriving business left me pondering. Their numbers dwarfed mine in every aspect.

“My newsletter had tens of thousands of subscribers. His had a hundred thousand. My podcast got thousands of downloads. His got millions.”

Comparing our material possessions exacerbated the situation. He flaunted a larger house, a swankier car, seemingly more success. But this fixation on his apparent triumphs was eroding my contentment, albeit temporarily. I realized I was ensnared by envy.

However, this wasn’t an isolated incident. I found myself repeatedly ensnared in the same trap. Hence, I devised a straightforward mental framework to extricate myself whenever these feelings resurfaced.

In these moments of envy, I uttered a concise two-word mantra to myself: “Don’t compare.”

The simplicity of this phrase belies its effectiveness. It draws from principles of psychology and emotional intelligence, offering a means to navigate and manage emotions effectively.

“Why is this phrase so effective? And how can it help you manage your feelings and emotions, when you start to feed the envy animal? Here’s a breakdown.”

Decades of scholarly research underscore the potential benefits of self-talk, the internal dialogue shaping one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions. The key lies in fostering a positive self-narrative.

While critical self-talk may be inevitable, its duration is within our control. By infusing positivity into our inner dialogue, we can reshape our perceptions and responses. This shift in mindset is crucial, a concept I refer to as the blue dolphin rule.

The mantra “don’t compare” proves invaluable in curbing envy. It serves as a poignant reminder:

“No matter how good things are going, there will always be someone who ‘appears’ to be doing better.”

These appearances can be deceptive, concealing unseen challenges and adversities. Moreover, others’ achievements hold no sway over our happiness.

In tandem with this mantra, I employ a two-pronged framework:

  1. Define success.

It is incumbent upon us to delineate our own metrics of success, independent of others’ benchmarks.

By discerning our goals and priorities, we avoid the perennial pursuit of others’ ideals. This pursuit not only breeds dissatisfaction but also tempts us to compromise our values.

  1. Strive to be the best you can be.

Embrace your uniqueness; it sets you apart.

Your distinct strengths, experiences, and style are your assets. Embrace them wholeheartedly, for they attract those aligned with your vision.

In essence, the next time envy rears its head, remember the tenets of positive self-talk and affirm to yourself:

“Don’t compare.”

This practice not only propels you towards your vision of success but also cultivates enduring happiness along the way.

Shades of Divinity: Debating the Complexion of Lord Ram in Contemporary Politics

“He possesses a voice reminiscent of the resonating tones of a dundubhi (kettledrum). His skin exudes a radiant glow, brimming with splendor. His physique is robust and square-built, with symmetrically proportioned limbs. He is adorned with a dark complexion.”

In the Sundara Kanda of Valmiki Ramayan, when Sita challenges Hanuman to demonstrate his knowledge of Ram and Lakshman, this is his eloquent reply. The repetitive emphasis on Ram’s dark skin appears consistently in various versions of the Ramayana. However, scriptures don’t always mirror the lived reality. In a world marked by diversities, where the struggle between great and little traditions persists, Ram is at times portrayed in blue, black, and occasionally even in white or green.

The question of Ram’s skin color becomes pertinent in a country predominantly inhabited by people labeled as ‘brown’ by the West. In the case of the most politically active deity of the century, who himself engaged in a legal battle to secure rights over his birthplace, the debate over his depiction takes on broader political implications.

The controversy emerged when three renowned sculptors from different regions were commissioned to create a 51-inch idol of five-year-old Ram lalla for the sanctum sanctorum of the Ram Mandir. Ganesh Bhatt and Arun Yogiraj sculpted the idol from bluish-grey stone known as Shyam-Shila, sourced from Karnataka. On the other hand, Satyanarayan Pandey fashioned a white idol from the makrana marble of Rajasthan.

Union Minister Prahlad Joshi announced on January 1, through a tweet, that Yogiraj’s idol would be installed in the consecration ceremony. However, reports suggested that during a meeting on December 22, a few senior trust members favored Pandey’s ‘Shweta’ version, despite 11 members supporting Yogiraj’s idol. Does the color of the idol hold significance in contemporary politics? Hindu saints and scholars argue that diverse interpretations lead to varied perceptions and, consequently, multiple depictions.

This isn’t the first instance of Ram being portrayed as white. Various television adaptations, including the widely popular one by Ramanand Sagar, depict Ram as anything but dark. Even when depicted differently, he is often shown in blue. Mythologist and author Devdutt Pattanaik points out the preference for blue over black, stating, “We had gods who were always pink, demons who were always brown, and dark gods who were always blue. Indra, Brahma, and Durga were pink, Asuras and Rakshasas were brown. Vishnu, Ram, and Krishna were blue.” He attributes this preference to the symbolism of blue representing the sky, ether, and divinity.

Discussing the blue depiction of Ram, Deepam Chatterjee, author of The Millennial Yogi, notes, “Blue depicts the infinite. It is the color of the clear day sky and of the deep sea. Divinity is often depicted as infinity. Hence, depictions of Lord Rama as blue are symbolic of his divine nature.” Referring to the Bhakti literature tradition, Chatterjee adds that Ram is called “Nīlameghashyama”—the one with the complexion.

Dr. Thomas Abraham on LinkedIn: GLOBAL ORGANIZATION OF PEOPLE OF INDIAN ORIGIN (GOPIO) INC.

A Tribute to the Late Prod. Ved Prakash Nanda By Dr. Thomas Abraham, Chairman, GOPIO International Prof. Nanda was a good friend. He was a patriotic Indian. I have had an opportunity to work with him closely since 1981 when I took up a job at the University of Denver where Prof. Nanda was already working at the law school. Since then, we worked together on many community campaigns. We jointly did a couple Indian-American fundraising campaigns for candidates running for elections in Colorado in the 1980s.        Other than his professional contribution as a professor of law and a leading legal expert, he stood out for his contribution to the Indian Diaspora community for the last five decades.   Other than what others spoke earlier, Prof. Nanda’s had made major contribution to the mainstream Indian community organizations. At our First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in 1989 in New York City, Prof. Nanda was entrusted to come up with a structure for a global Indian Diaspora organization. He helped to draft the constitution and bylaws of the Global Organization of People Indian Origin (GOPIO). He had attended many of our early steering committee meetings and conventions in the USA, Europe and India.   He was also a frequent speaker at the conventions organized by the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) held in different US cities.   After our First GOPIO Convention in 1989 in New York, he had chaired GOPIO Human Rights Council and successfully campaigned on the human rights violation of Indo-Sri Lankans and Indo-Fijians at the UN Human Rights Commission in 1991 and 1992 in Geneva.   He made substantial contribution to build Indian American community’s infrastructure through national organizations for the last five decades. His passing away is a great loss for our community.   GOPIO International and its chapters convey our heartfelt condolences to Nanda family and particularly Anjali and her family. We will miss him in our midst. May his soul rest in peace. Like a bird singing in the rain, let grateful thoughts prevail at this time. In fact, we are now celebrating his life for his contribution to Indian Diaspora, India and society at large.

https://lnkd.in/e4pkY-bT

Navigating the Swings of American Favorability: A Historical Perspective

If we examine the trajectory of American favorability on the global stage since World War II, two significant troughs emerge: the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the election of Donald Trump thirteen years later.

These moments, though seemingly disparate, share a common thread, portraying an America characterized by testosterone-driven decisions, bluster, xenophobia, and nativism—a nation that adheres to a “my way or the highway” ethos. In essence, theyrepresent 21st-century incarnations of the Ugly American stereotype from the 1950s.

During the Trump Administration from 2017 to 2020, U.S. favorability witnessed a decline across major global regions, especially among key security and trade partners. The country’s favorability ratings plummeted from the 70s to the 20s and 30s. Under Joe Biden’s leadership, there was a significant effort to rebuild international credibility, bringing the median favorability rating to 62%. However, recent events, particularly America’s stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict, have reignited anti-American sentiments worldwide.

President Biden acknowledged concerns about diminishing global support for the U.S. and Israel during a campaign event in December. Subsequently, a UN General Assembly vote in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza, with only 10 states, including the U.S., opposing, signaled a potential resurgence of global anti-Americanism.

The apprehension about America’s image globally is deeply ingrained in the nation’s history. Dating back to 1630, John Winthrop envisioned America as a “city on a hill,” emphasizing the scrutiny of the world’s eyes. The Founders, cognizant of the opinions of mankind, meticulously crafted a narrative that projected America as both a revolutionary force and a model for the existing world order.

Over the centuries, America’s global reputation has fluctuated, from a revolutionary upstart to a global superpower. The Cold War era cast a shadow on America’s image, characterized by perceived brutishness and heavy-handedness, diverging from the ideals it purportedly stood for. The post-Soviet era marked the U.S. as the lone superpower, promoting the “Washington Consensus” of democratic free-market capitalism for global prosperity and security.

However, the goodwill garnered from this era waned after the invasion of Iraq post-9/11. The present echoes of global disapproval surrounding America’s unwavering support for Israel parallel the aftermath of the Iraq invasion.

Public Diplomacy, as defined by Harvard professor Joe Nye, embodies “soft power”—influence through culture, music, movies, and ideas. The author, having served as President Obama’s Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, emphasizes the impact of cultural influence on international perceptions. Yet, during times of controversial policy decisions, such as the Iraq invasion or the Trump administration’s “Muslim ban,” American soft power loses ground.

The author cites an example of declining Coca-Cola sales after the Iraq invasion, highlighting a Pew survey noting global dislike for the spread of U.S. ideas and customs. Presently, social media depicts Arab boycotts of American companies, symbolized by images of empty McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Domino’s outlets across the Middle East.

Navigating the Swings of American Favorability A Historical Perspective

 

The Obama administration brought a shift in Brand America, aligning it with innovation and technological prowess. However, the election of Donald Trump reversed this trend, contributing to a decline in global favorability. The U.S. experienced a notable hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing a lack of manufacturing capabilities despite being the birthplace of technological innovations like the iPhone.

Biden’s presidency saw a gradual recovery in global favorability, yet challenges persist. The author underscores the indelible global image of the Capitol attack on January 6th, characterizing it as a negative-Statue of Liberty. While U.S. favorability has improved to a median of 62% across 12 nations, it no longer resonates as a model for democracy. Only 17% consider the U.S. a good example, a significant drop from the previous 57%.

The Israel-Hamas conflict has further complicated America’s image, with Israel perceived as an oppressor and the U.S. as its enabler. The strategy of normalizing relations with Sunni nations while marginalizing Palestinians has backfired, and America is losing ground in the messaging battlespace, particularly in Arab nations.

The global landscape is witnessing an existential struggle between the Western rules-based order and the Chinese/Russian might-makes-right approach. China and Russia advocate for a sphere-of-influence diplomacy, challenging the democratic ideals upheld by the U.S. This shift is part of a broader global decline in democracy, as evidenced by the decrease in the number of democratic countries over the last fifteen years.

The author highlights the contrast between the Enlightenment principles of democratic self-government and individual rights and the 21st-century authoritarianism of China and Russia. As the world grapples with this ideological struggle, the U.S. faces internal challenges, with a significant minority supporting an authoritarian leader and a growing appetite for an American “strongman.”

The article concludes by acknowledging America’s unique foundation based on uncommon ideas rather than common blood or religion. The nation’s commitment to universal human rights, even in the face of difficult choices, remains a defining aspect. However, the global narrative surrounding American exceptionalism is evolving, and the U.S. must confront the current reality where hard power choices overshadow its historical advantage in soft power.

This adaptation is derived from a speech given to the Virginia Civil Rights Law Institute.

https://time.com/6553202/resurgence-global-anti-americanism-essay/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=sfmc&utm_campaign=newsletter+brief+default+ac&utm_content=+++20240113+++body&et_rid=207017761&lctg=207017761

Puri Shankaracharya Addresses Concerns on Political Interference in Religious Affairs

Reaffirming his stance against participating in the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, Puri Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati emphasized the undesirability of political interference in religious and spiritual matters. He asserted that even the Constitution does not permit such intrusion. The Shankaracharya spoke out against the encroachment of politicians into realms governed by religious and spiritual regulations, labeling it as both irrational and a violation of constitutional principles.

In a statement made at the Ganga Sagar Mela in West Bengal, where he attended the annual ritualistic bath for Makar Sankranti, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati elaborated on the need for politicians to respect their constitutional limits. He stressed, “Politicians have their limits and they have responsibility under the Constitution. There are rules and restrictions in religious and spiritual domain and these rules should be followed. Interfering in every area by politicians is insanity. This is also a heinous crime according to the Constitution.”

Acknowledging his own limitations as a Shankaracharya, he explained the boundaries that dictate where he can go, what he can involve himself in, and even what he can eat. He specifically addressed the ‘murti pratishtha’ (consecration of idols) and underscored that established rules based on scriptures should be adhered to, especially by the head of state or the Prime Minister.

“Overstepping these rules for propagating one’s name is an act of rebellion against God… and going down the path of destruction,” Puri Shankaracharya warned. Despite clarifying that he harbors no resentment towards Ayodhya and occasionally visits, he firmly stated his decision not to partake in the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ of the Ram Mandir on January 22.

Swami Nischalananda Saraswati emphasized that there exists unanimity among the four Shankaracharyas regarding attending the inauguration ceremony of the Ram Mandir on August 22. He clarified that he does not dissuade anyone from participating in the event.

While expressing his lack of displeasure with the central government, the religious leader did express regret over the invitation to the inauguration ceremony of the Ram Temple. He revealed that he was asked to attend with a colleague, a condition he found disagreeable. The Shankaracharya lamented the fact that despite the religious and spiritual eminence of the Shankaracharyas, they were not granted access to the ‘garbhgriha sanctum sanctorum’ of the temple but were instructed to stay outside. “This is not acceptable to me. I do not like the prospect of watching the inauguration of the Ram Temple by sitting at the event and clapping,” he asserted.

Swami Nischalananda Saraswati also drew attention to certain irregularities within the country’s political system, highlighting how politicians often seek votes by capitalizing on the distress of the population.

When asked about the Ganga Sagar Mela potentially receiving the status of a ‘National Mela,’ the religious leader responded humorously, suggesting that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s habit of gifting kurtas to the Prime Minister might influence such a decision. He remarked, “If she makes the requests while offering these gifts, the Prime Minister might agree and declare the Ganga Sagar Mela a National Mela.”

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/political-interference-not-desirable-in-religious-events-says-puri-shankaracharya/article67738571.ece

Congress Launches Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, Decrying ‘Era of Injustice’ under Modi’s Rule

In a bid to underscore what they term the “anyay kaal [era of injustice]” during the past decade of the Narendra Modi-led government, the Congress party officially announced the commencement of the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra from Manipur to Mumbai. Speaking at a press conference in Manipur’s capital, Jairam Ramesh, the chief of Congress communications, emphasized that the primary challenge facing the nation is an ideology characterized by polarization, economic disparities, and political authoritarianism.

Ramesh clarified that the purpose of the yatra is not electoral but rather focused on safeguarding and upholding Constitutional values. He criticized Prime Minister Modi’s portrayal of a utopian ‘amrit kaal’ (golden era), contrasting it with the harsh reality of the last decade, which he labeled as ‘anyay kaal’ (era of injustice). Ramesh stated, “The Prime Minister shows the golden dreams of ‘amrit kaal,’ but what is the reality of the last 10 years — ‘anyay kaal.’ No mention of ‘anyay kaal’ is made while big boasts of ‘amrit kaal’ are projected.”

The press conference also featured the presence of former Manipur Chief Minister OkramIbobi Singh, State party chief KeishamMeghachandra Singh, and Congress Working Committee member Gaikhangam.

Ramesh emphasized that the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra is an “ideological yatra” focused on highlighting the political, economic, and social injustices of the past decade. The yatra is set to cover a distance exceeding 6,500 km, passing through 100 Lok Sabha constituencies across 15 states. These states collectively account for 355 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats. Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge will flag off the yatra from a private ground in Manipur’s Thoubal district, deviating from the initial plan to start from Imphal. The yatra is scheduled to conclude in Mumbai on March 20, following a 67-day journey primarily on a customized bus, with occasional foot marches covering five to seven km stretches.

The Congress party justified the initiation of the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra by pointing out that the government had not provided opportunities to raise critical issues in Parliament. According to the party, the yatra aims to re-establish the fundamental principles of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity enshrined in the Constitution.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/bharat-jodo-nyay-yatra-is-to-highlight-the-anyay-kaal-of-the-modi-led-government-congress/article67738774.ece

Understanding the Persistent Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Comprehensive Analysis

If one has delved into the intricate history of the modern Middle East and closely monitored the developments in the region, forming opinions on the enduring conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians becomes almost second nature. However, for those not well-versed in this complex history and only tuning in during times of crisis, a common question arises: Why has the resolution of differences between Israelis and Palestinians been so elusive? Drawing parallels with successful reconciliations in other parts of the world, such as post-World War II relations between America, Germany, and Japan, or the peaceful transformations in South Africa and Northern Ireland, prompts the inquiry into the reasons behind the ongoing strife in the Holy Land.

To shed light on this issue, let’s delve into the top five reasons why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists, causing loss of innocent lives, regional destabilization, and a disproportionate drain on Washington’s political resources, perpetuating fear, suffering, and injustice.

  1. Indivisible Objectives:

At the core of the conflict lies a fundamental structural problem – both Israelis and Palestinian nationalists lay claim to and aspire to control the same piece of territory. This situation, known in international relations as an “indivisibility” problem, makes resolution challenging when both parties vehemently believe in the righteousness of their cause. The contested status of Jerusalem, a sacred site for three major religions, adds complexity to the issue. Despite various proposals for sharing the land over the past century, the voices advocating compromise have been stifled by those demanding the entirety of the disputed territory, illustrating the inherent challenges within nationalist movements.

  1. The Security Dilemma:

The conflict is compounded by a severe security dilemma stemming from the first problem and the small size of the disputed territory. Zionist leaders, recognizing the difficulty of establishing a Jewish-controlled state with a significant Arab minority, resorted to acts of ethnic cleansing during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and again in 1967. The expansionist impulse, driven by Israel’s vulnerable geography and small population, led to the retention of the West Bank and Golan Heights post-1967, creating a demographic problem. The pursuit of a “Greater Israel” clashes with democratic principles, leaving the least undesirable option – giving up a substantial portion of controlled territory for a two-state solution.

  1. Unhelpful Outsiders:

The involvement of third parties with self-interested interventions has fueled and prolonged the conflict. From Britain’s mismanagement in the interwar period to the United States and the Soviet Union arming respective sides during the Cold War, external influences have often been counterproductive. Interventions by Iran, backing groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, further complicated the situation, deflecting attention from resolving the core Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  1. Extremists:

Extremists on both sides have consistently undermined well-intentioned efforts for peace. The Oslo peace process in the 1990s faced challenges from suicide bombings by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The opposition to a two-state solution, notably exemplified by Benjamin Netanyahu, has impeded progress. Netanyahu’s covert support for Hamas aimed to weaken the moderate Palestinian Authority interested in a two-state solution, culminating in tragic events on Oct. 7.

  1. The Israel Lobby:

Groups like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and Christians United for Israel, while not solely responsible, have impeded progress. By shaping a one-sided view of the conflict within the American body politic, these groups obstructed serious attempts by U.S. presidents to bring about a resolution. Despite public commitments by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama to a two-state solution, the lack of meaningful pressure on Israel hindered progress, leading to successive Israeli governments avoiding compromise.

Each of these five factors, alone a formidable obstacle, collectively contributes to the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The tragedy extends to both Israelis and Palestinians, with the latter bearing the greatest losses. Furthermore, the present actions of Israel in the Gaza war raise concerns about global repercussions, potentially fueling antisemitism and implicating the United States in a moral and strategic quagmire. As the conflict persists, the prospects for a timely resolution seem increasingly remote, posing a challenge to the region’s stability and global peace.

Nikki Haley Seeks to Surpass Expectations in Iowa Caucuses, Emerging as Top Contender Against Trump in Republican Primary

Nikki Haley aims to exceed expectations in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, positioning herself as a formidable challenger to former President Trump in the Republican presidential primary. Recent weeks have witnessed a surge in Haley’s poll numbers and fundraising efforts, prompting increased attention and scrutiny from Trump, indicative of concerns about her growing influence.

As of now, Trump maintains a substantial lead in Iowa, raising uncertainties about Haley’s ability to generate enough momentum to carry into the subsequent New Hampshire primary. According to The Hill/Decision Desk HQ polling average, Trump commands 51.6 percent support in Iowa, with DeSantis trailing at 18 percent and Haley closely behind at 17.1 percent.

Matthew Bartlett, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist, emphasizes the significance of outperforming expectations in Iowa, stating, “It would always be great for someone to outperform expectations in Iowa, and right now Trump’s expectations are a resounding win.”

However, strategists anticipate that New Hampshire and Haley’s home state of South Carolina will play crucial roles in her campaign’s trajectory. In New Hampshire, Trump leads with 41.6 percent, followed by Haley at 29.7 percent, Chris Christie at 10.9 percent, and DeSantis at 7.4 percent. Bartlett suggests that if Trump fails to secure over 50 percent in New Hampshire, a strong showing by Haley could reshape the narrative of the race.

Addressing the dynamics between the two states, Haley hinted at the correction of Iowa’s results during a recent visit to New Hampshire, a statement that drew criticism. Doug Heye, a national Republican strategist, notes that Iowa often serves to “winnow the field,” emphasizing the greater importance of New Hampshire and South Carolina.

While Haley currently leads DeSantis in South Carolina polling, Trump holds a commanding lead with 53.6 percent support, leaving uncertainty about Haley’s ability to surpass him in her home state. Some South Carolina Republicans believe that the outcome in their state could be influenced by events in New Hampshire.

Alex Stroman, a South Carolina Republican strategist, suggests, “If she’s able to win in New Hampshire, I think it really sets up a true battle royal in South Carolina.”

Despite challenges, Haley’s allies maintain optimism about her multiple paths forward. Preya Samsundar, spokesperson for the pro-Haley Stand for America PAC, asserts, “I think they’re all states that we want to win. Nikki is not playing for second. She’s said that over and over again. At the end of the day Nikki has so many pathways to moving forward.”

Trump has signaled his perception of Haley as a threat, evident in recent campaign ads targeting her in New Hampshire. The ads focus on immigration issues, portraying Haley’s perceived weakness against Trump’s claimed strength. Additionally, a pro-Trump super PAC has released an ad featuring past remarks from Haley, highlighting her stance on describing immigrants crossing the border as “criminals.”

Haley is beginning to reveal her strategy for a one-on-one matchup against Trump, taking a more aggressive stance during a CNN town hall in Iowa. She emphasized the need for stability, asserting, “We can’t have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive it.”

In contrast to Trump’s approach, Haley concentrates on counterpunching rather than direct attacks. Haley’s focus is on running her own race and providing truthful responses when necessary. Matthew Bartlett notes, “That is a position of strength. That is somebody that is saying, ‘I’m not going to start it, but I’m certainly not going to take it.’”

However, Republicans caution Haley against falling into Trump’s provocations, drawing parallels with past candidates like Marco Rubio, whose campaigns faltered after direct confrontations with Trump. Bartlett advises, “Remember, when you roll around in the mud with a pig, you both get dirty, but the pig likes it. Donald Trump wants that.”

Haley faces competition not only from Trump but also from DeSantis, who is actively challenging her in the race. The two will engage in a one-on-one debate in Iowa, providing insight into their dynamic. DeSantis has criticized Haley for ties to big-dollar donors and labeled her as “phony,” while Haley has countered by scrutinizing DeSantis’ positions on China.

The upcoming debate will be a pivotal moment for both candidates. Despite potential challenges, Haley has proven her debating prowess in previous encounters, gaining appreciation from voters. Bartlett observes, “It seems as if voters appreciate that.”

Hindu Temples in San Francisco Bay Area Face Vandalism, Prompts

Call for Increased Security

In the span of two weeks, three Hindu temples in the San Francisco Bay Area have fallen victim to acts of vandalism, raising concerns among Hindu advocates about the safety and security of temples across the United States. The incidents have prompted a call for heightened vigilance and security measures within the Hindu community.

On January 5, Vijay’s Sherawali Temple in Hayward, California, experienced an act of vandalism when the entrance sign was spray-painted with the phrases “Modi is a terrorist” and “Khalistan Zindabad” (Khalistan Forever). Khalistan represents the aspiration of Sikh separatists for an independent state carved out of the Indian state of Punjab. This incident follows an earlier burglary at the Shiv Durga Temple of Santa Clara on January 1, where three perpetrators were captured on camera stealing gold jewelry from the temple’s idols and donation boxes.

Sunil Khanna, president of the Santa Clara temple’s board, expressed shock at the incident, emphasizing the community’s belief that temples are invulnerable. He highlighted the emotional impact, stating, “The main thing that hurt all of us was how they misbehaved with the gods.”

The Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Newark, California, faced a different form of desecration on December 23, with a vulgarity aimed at Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, defacing the premises. Jonathan Arguello, police captain for the city of Newark, indicated that the act appeared to be targeted, leading to a commitment to a thorough investigation.

These attacks are part of a concerning trend of anti-Hindu hate crimes, according to Ramya Ramakrishnan of the Hindu American Foundation. She noted the impact on community members, saying, “This is supposed to be a safe place where you go to pray and get peace of mind. But this holy and sacred space is now being violated.”

The recent wave of vandalism follows previous incidents, including an attack on the Indian Consulate in San Francisco and the vandalism of a Mahatma Gandhi statue in New York. These occurrences point to a growing pattern of anti-Hindu sentiments and actions.

The incidents also coincide with charges by the U.S. Department of Justice in November, accusing an Indian government official of plotting to murder Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York. The Canadian prime minister’s office had earlier accused India of involvement in the assassination of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Pro-Khalistani vandalism has been ongoing since at least March 2023 when protesters in San Francisco entered the Indian Consulate, displaying Khalistani flags. A subsequent arson attack in July further highlighted the issue. Despite these incidents, law enforcement has emphasized the criminal nature of vandalism against diplomatic facilities without explicitly addressing Sikh separatism.

Anti-Khalistani activist Puneet Sahani highlighted the need for the Hindu and Sikh communities to address separatist sentiments, referencing a 2021 incident in Queens where Khalistani rhetoric was spray-painted. Sahani expressed concern that Hindu organizations might avoid speaking out against the Khalistan movement due to fears of being labeled anti-Sikh. He emphasized the importance of addressing extremists within the community.

Ramakrishnan pointed out that Hinduphobia is yet to be fully recognized by law enforcement, calling for increased federal-level efforts. While local authorities have responded promptly to recent crimes, she stressed the need for broader recognition and swifter action, comparing the incidents to potential reactions if they had occurred in synagogues or mosques.

The Hindu American Foundation, the largest Hindu advocacy organization in the U.S., regularly provides resources for temples to enhance security measures. These resources include a manual with information on safety assessments, education on security measures ranging from CCTV cameras to alarms, and a call for reporting all incidents to prevent Hinduphobia-related crimes from going unnoticed.

“We really want our Hindu community to be aware that this is happening in your backyard,” Ramakrishnan said. “Not to be afraid, but to face this. We need to be united as a community.”

Sunil Khanna, determined to rebuild, aims to lead a consortium for Bay Area Hindu temples, advocating for recognition of the community’s unity in the face of these attacks. He emphasized resilience, stating, “No temple should close their doors… This is a time to stand up and rebel against the negative forces.”

Pope Francis Urges Unity Amidst Church Discontent and Emphasizes Compassion for the Marginalized

In the face of opposition from conservative factions within the Catholic Church, Pope Francis delivered a message of unity, cautioning against the fragmentation of the faithful based on personal ideologies. The pontiff issued this plea during his homily at St. Peter’s Basilica on Epiphany Day, the final significant celebration of the Christmas season.

In his address, Pope Francis specifically discouraged the adoption of “ecclesiastical ideologies” and urged believers to transcend such divisions. He emphasized the need to avoid forming groups rooted in individual ideas, urging unity and a focus on shared faith. The Pope’s words served as a response to internal resistance within the Church, particularly regarding recent policy decisions.

Last month, Pope Francis granted permission for priests to bless couples outside of traditional marriages, including same-sex relationships. However, this move was met with opposition from some conservative bishops who labeled the Pope’s stance as dangerously progressive. In response to the pushback, the Vatican issued a statement earlier this week, clarifying that the blessings did not constitute heresy, and there were no doctrinal grounds to reject the practice.

While Pope Francis did not explicitly reference the controversy surrounding same-sex blessings in his Epiphany homily, he did deviate from the prepared text to emphasize the broader need to abandon ecclesiastical ideologies. The pontiff underscored the importance of ensuring that faith does not become a mere collection of religious devotions or outward appearances.

“We find the God who comes down to visit us, not by basking in some elegant religious theory, but by setting out on a journey, seeking the signs of his presence in everyday life,” Pope Francis remarked. He specifically highlighted the significance of recognizing God in the faces of the poor, urging the Church to focus on compassion and genuine connection rather than theoretical discussions.

Despite turning 87 last month and facing health challenges in the previous year, Pope Francis displayed resilience during the Epiphany ceremony, which included the singing of Christmas hymns. At the conclusion of the 90-minute service, an aide assisted the Pope, who has a chronic knee problem, in navigating the basilica’s center aisle using a wheelchair.

Throughout his almost 11-year papacy, Pope Francis has dedicated significant attention to advocating for marginalized groups, particularly the poor. Despite the Church’s teachings that deem homosexual acts as sinful, the Pope has actively sought to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ Catholics. His recent approval of blessings for same-sex couples outside traditional marriages aligns with his broader efforts to promote acceptance and compassion within the Church.

Reflections on the Third Anniversary of the Capitol Storming: A Deep Dive into the State of American Democracy

As the nation marks the third anniversary of the Capitol storming on January 6, experts are expressing increasing concern about the current state of American democracy, especially as the country heads into an election year with deep divisions over the significance of that fateful day.

The violent events of January 6, 2021, resulted in multiple fatalities, the desecration of the Capitol building, the subsequent prosecution of former President Trump, and a wave of shock as the public witnessed the disturbing scenes unfolding from the heart of American democracy.

However, the collective reflection on that dark day proved short-lived. Former President Trump has consistently sought to deflect responsibility for the attack, downplaying it as mere expressions of concerns about the election. He continues to propagate unfounded claims of election fraud while endorsing conspiracy theories surrounding the assault. Notably, Republicans who initially condemned Trump shortly after the attack realigned themselves with the former president just weeks later.

On the first anniversary of January 6, only one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), joined Democrats in commemorating the day. Rachel Kleinfeld, a democracy expert and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace, expressed her concern about the direction of the Republican Party, stating, “I think among the signs of concern regarding our democracy, the biggest concern is that we have one of our two main political parties being taken over by a faction that is probably only about a third of its voters but is very willing to eschew democratic rules.”

“We now seem to think that if we don’t have another major riot that disrupts the transfer of presidential power, things aren’t so bad…And we just need to take a big step back and say, is this where we want our society to go?” she added.

The anniversary arrives amidst troubling indicators regarding the strength of America’s democracy. A recent USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll revealed that just over half of Trump supporters lack confidence in the accuracy of the 2024 election results, aligning with the former president’s claims of a “rigged” last presidential election. In contrast, 81 percent of President Biden’s supporters expressed strong confidence in the upcoming election’s accuracy.

A Washington Post-UMD poll found that a quarter of Americans believe in the conspiracy theory that the FBI orchestrated and encouraged the Capitol attack. Furthermore, several polls indicate a growing openness among Americans to resorting to violence for political ends. A Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution poll in October discovered that 23 percent of Americans agreed that “American patriots may have to resort to violence to save our country,” marking an increase from 15 percent in 2021.

These studies coincide with the steady decline in America’s Freedom House ranking over the past decade, attributed to factors such as rising political polarization, extremism, and partisan pressure on the electoral process, according to Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz.

Abramowitz highlighted the role of social media in exacerbating these issues, stating, “The rise of social media has really made it harder for the country to unite around a shared narrative or shared set of facts…There’s not a shared agreement on the facts. There’s not a shared agreement on what actually happened,” referring specifically to the events of January 6.

Matt Hall, a professor at Notre Dame University involved in the January 6th, 2025, Project, emphasized how social media has contributed to the contradictory viewpoints held by many Trump supporters regarding the Capitol attack. He explained, “Somehow January 6th was no big deal, just a minor protest overhyped by the media, and it did happen but it was a false-flag operation perpetrated by Democrats, and it was actually a deep-state conspiracy to keep Trump out of power, and it was a completely justified effort to defend our democracy.”

Despite widespread divisions in news sources and perspectives, Kleinfeld argued that the current polarization in U.S. politics is more nuanced than perceived. While Americans may hold mixed views on various topics, a failure to bridge emotional polarization persists. Efforts to address political divides face challenges within a system where politicians are rewarded for playing to their polarized bases.

Hall contended that Trump is exploiting these divisions and distrust to foster a “revival of fascist politics.” He explained, “MAGA politicians like Donald Trump are using divisive rhetoric to divide us into an ‘us’ versus ‘them’…Fascist leaders are then able to exploit these social divisions to break down basic social norms and shared understandings about our politics.”

Kleinfeld stressed the importance of political leaders calling out actions that erode democracy, acknowledging the difficulty in doing so within the current environment. She stated, “A lot of times the media reports on our democratic breakdown as left versus right or right versus left. But in fact, what’s happening is that a small faction of the Republican Party is trying to take over, and fellow Republicans who want to uphold the rule of law and liberal ideals — those are the ones being ejected from the party, threatened with violence, called all sorts of names and [had] their children threatened.”

Recent statistics released by the Justice Department highlighted that out of over 1,265 people charged in connection with January 6, 2021, 718 have pleaded guilty, and 139 have been convicted at trial. Trump has pledged to pardon them.

Abramowitz concluded, “The January 6 attack tested the strength of American democracy, and American democracy did hold…But we can’t take that for granted in the future. And so I think we really do have our work cut out for us when it comes to reinforcing American institutions and democratic safeguards.”

Nikki Haley Faces Backlash and Swift Damage Control Over Civil War Remarks

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) moved to clarify her controversial remarks on the cause of the Civil War, acknowledging in a New Hampshire radio interview, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That’s the easy part of it. What I was saying was what does it mean to us today? What it means to us today is about freedom. That’s what that was all about.”

Haley faced scrutiny after a video of her exchange with a voter in New Hampshire surfaced on social media. When pressed by a Granite State voter on the cause of the Civil War during a town hall in Berlin, N.H., she responded, “Well, don’t come with an easy question, right? I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.”

The voter expressed astonishment that slavery wasn’t mentioned, to which Haley defended her stance, emphasizing the role of government and the importance of capitalism and economic freedom. The exchange quickly drew attention, with critics questioning her interpretation of historical events.

In response to the backlash, Haley accused the voter of being a “Democrat plant,” as reported by the New Hampshire Journal. This swift attempt to deflect criticism highlighted the potential threat to her campaign. Recent polls in New Hampshire showed a narrowing gap between Haley and former President Trump, with Trump holding a 17-percentage-point lead, down from 27 points on Dec. 6.

Republican and Democratic figures alike criticized Haley’s initial comments, with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) bluntly stating on social media that the cause of the Civil War was “slavery, period.” Despite the criticism, Donalds believed that Haley’s remarks wouldn’t impact the outcome, confident that Trump would secure the GOP presidential nomination.

Even Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s campaign weighed in, sharing the video with a simple caption, “Yikes.” President Biden also reposted the video, reiterating, “It was about slavery.” Democratic Representative Ro Khanna characterized Haley’s remarks as a “sad betrayal of her own story,” pointing to the shared immigrant experience of their fathers in the context of the civil rights movement.

Attempting to address the controversy, Haley’s campaign emphasized the lesson that “freedom matters and individual rights and liberties matter for all people.” She acknowledged slavery as a stain on America’s history but underscored the need to avoid reliving such dark periods and protect freedoms.

In the broader national context, Haley and DeSantis found themselves in a tight race for second place behind Trump in the polls. As of the latest data, Trump led with 63.1 percent support, followed closely by Haley at 10.8 percent and DeSantis at 10.6 percent, according to Decision Desk HQ and The Hill’s polling index. The evolving dynamics of these poll numbers reflected the shifting landscape and the potential impact of controversial statements on candidates’ standings in the presidential race.

Vivek Ramaswamy’s Presidential Campaign Takes Bold Approach, Shuns TV Ads for Innovative Voter Outreach Strategy

Vivek Ramaswamy’s bid for the presidency has taken an unconventional turn as his campaign shifts its focus away from television advertisements, as reported by NBC News. Confirming this change in strategy, the campaign’s press secretary, Tricia McLaughlin, emphasized their commitment to mobilizing identified voters. In a statement to NBC News, McLaughlin outlined their approach, stating, “We are focused on bringing out the voters we’ve identified — best way to reach them is using addressable advertising, mail, text, live calls and doors to communicate with our voters on Vivek’s vision for America, making their plan to caucus and turning them out.”

This shift in strategy is part of what McLaughlin described as an “intentionally structured strategy” that allows the campaign to be “nimble and hypertargeted” in their advertising efforts. Ramaswamy himself echoed this sentiment in a post on X, expressing his disdain for traditional TV ad spending, deeming it “idiotic” and “low-ROI.” He characterized it as a ploy used by political consultants to deceive candidates with lower intelligence. Ramaswamy emphasized their departure from this norm, stating, “We’re doing it differently. Spending $$ in a way that follows data…apparently a crazy idea in US politics. Big surprise coming on Jan 15.”

McLaughlin responded to Ramaswamy’s post, highlighting their commitment to “playing smarter and working harder.” This strategic pivot comes just a month after the campaign initially announced plans to allocate over US $10 million across various advertising platforms, including broadcast, cable, radio, digital, and direct mail promotions in Iowa and New Hampshire. AdImpact confirmed that they had already spent US $2.2 million on TV, digital, and radio ads.

In contrast to Ramaswamy’s unconventional approach, his GOP rivals, including Chris Christie, Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, and Ron DeSantis, continue to invest heavily in traditional advertising methods. While Ramaswamy’s campaign spent a modest US $6,000 on TV ads in a given week, Trump’s campaign allocated a substantial US $1.1 million, Haley’s team spent US $1 million, DeSantis’ team invested $270,000, and Christie’s campaign expended US $88,000 in the same period. The divergence in spending strategies raises questions about the effectiveness of traditional advertising in the current political landscape. The outcome of this experiment will unfold on January 15, promising a potential surprise that challenges the conventional norms of US politics.

Trump’s Pattern of Denying Historical Knowledge: From Hitler’s Rhetoric to White Supremacy, a Recurring Theme Emerges

In an unexpected journey from reality television fame to a brief presidency and a potential return, Donald Trump has consistently portrayed himself as a shrewder alternative to Washington’s often inept political class, even dubbing himself a “very stable genius.” However, when confronted with accusations of echoing Adolf Hitler’s rhetoric in relation to immigrants entering the U.S. unlawfully, Trump claimed ignorance of the Nazi dictator’s similar use of language.

“I never knew that Hitler said it,” Trump asserted in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, emphasizing that he had never read Hitler’s biographical manifesto, “Mein Kampf.” This denial of knowledge about one of the most notorious figures of the 20th century is remarkable for someone seeking the presidency, a role deeply rooted in historical understanding. Yet, this pattern of claiming ignorance, especially regarding individuals espousing racist or antisemitic views, has become a recurring tactic for Trump.

During his 2016 campaign, when endorsed by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, Trump insisted he had no awareness of Duke’s background as a white supremacist. Despite Duke’s notoriety as, according to the Anti-Defamation League, “perhaps America’s most well-known racist and anti-Semite,” Trump stated, “I don’t know anything about David Duke.” This strategy of disavowing knowledge was similarly employed when confronted about QAnon, a conspiracy theory alleging Democratic involvement in a satanic pedophilia ring, and the Proud Boys militia group, organizers of the Capitol assault in 2021.

Even in matters of American history, Trump has professed unawareness. At a rally in Nevada, he claimed to have sought the definition of Reconstruction from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, illustrating a lack of familiarity with a pivotal period post-Civil War. Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer emphasized the importance of a president having a basic understanding of history, citing Reconstruction as a crucial moment for civil rights and race relations.

Trump’s statements regarding Hitler, particularly given his New York upbringing with a substantial Jewish population, are notable. Despite participating in Holocaust memorial events and condemning Holocaust deniers, he insisted on having no knowledge of Hitler’s words. Notably, in 1990, journalist Marie Brenner reported that Trump’s ex-wife claimed he had a copy of Hitler’s speeches, “My New Order,” though Trump later denied reading it.

Amid criticism, Trump maintained that his message about immigrants “poisoning” the country’s blood was vastly different from Hitler’s, asserting zero racist intent. Despite the repeated use of “poisoning” references, Trump contended that his focus was on those entering the country illegally and posing threats, rather than echoing Hitler’s dehumanizing rhetoric. This raises questions about the importance of historical awareness in a leader and the motivations behind disavowing knowledge of contentious figures and ideologies.

International Relations Will Be More Issue-Based Than Bloc-Based

In a multipolar, multi-discipline, multisource, and multi-requirement world, torque will play a predominant role in stability in international relations more than the centre of gravity.

The world has come to be defined as a global village. A village being the smallest social community living space, the world view of the day is significant in defining the close interactions in international relations at all levels. With such close cohabitation, interdependency cannot be homogenous across the spectrum and will be defined by specific requirements of nations leading to multipolarity.

World is One Family

“Vasudeva Kudumbakam” is a Sanskrit phrase found in Indian texts such as the Upanishads, of the Vedic era, which means “The World Is One Family”. The idea of the phrase remains relevant today as it emphasizes a global perspective, prioritizing collective well-being over individual or family interests. It encourages thinking about the welfare of others, fostering global solidarity. This ancient Indian concept is all the more relevant today when the world, in addition to the usual issues, is grappling to address crucial issues like climate change, sustainable development, and tolerance of diversity.

Global communications

Global communication such as satellites and the internet are redefining power in world politics in ways that traditional theories of international relations have not yet seriously considered. The most telling effect is the increased forced transparency in interactions between Nations. Information technologies since decades and Artificial Intelligence presently, have profoundly transformed the nature of military power because of emerging weapons systems dependent on laser and information processing.

International Relations Will Be More Issue Based Than Bloc Based (Wikipedia)
Picture: TheUNN

Then there are the satellites. The worries expressed by the West, on the recent launching of spy satellites by North Korea, is an example of how digital footprints have established an information power and deterrence similar to the nuclear power and deterrence of an earlier era.

Emerging technologies in communications have also had a profound impact on soft power such as ideological, cultural, or moral appeals. Although there is no hard or soft theoretical evidence on the dynamics, trends indicate that the latter is assuming increasing traction and importance.

Communities of affinity

International relations in politics and cooperation in security and economics, through government, businesses and nonprofits develop cooperative exchanges between nations and benefit commerce, security, quality of life, and the environment. Today’s world is richly connected and complex and for stability, there is a need for a globally oriented perspective on issues that transcend international boundaries. Exceptional economic integration, unprecedented threats to peace and security, and an international focus on human rights and environmental protection all are subject to the complexity of international relations in the twenty-first century.

Global communications, powered digitally, are empowering hitherto dormant groups and voices in the international community. Their voices have created an ecosystem for the contestation of new political, economic, and, more tellingly, cultural boundaries. The interactive and instant nature of these communications has created large perceived moral spaces for exploring changing values among communities of affinity rather than geography.

Surge of nationalism

Nationalism is both omnipresent and elusive. It pervades global behavior and can be seen as both a conservative and a revolutionary force. It attacks the status quo such as populism and authoritarianism. Nationalism calls for allegiance in a nation greater than other groups that may be based on religion, political leaning, or other socio-economic groups.

Nationalism is perceived as seeking distinction from other nations. It gives preference to political representation striving to preserve the nation by the nation for the nation. Nationalism can be dormant including legal immigrants and minorities or a problematic, infectious, escalatory, and overtly violent nationalism to exclude minorities, endangering stability. At the end of the day, the fresh thought of nations for the nation with slogans such as “America for Americans” and “Make in India’ and the spirit behind them in vibrant democracies cannot be faulted.

Conflicting relationships

As late as the end of the Second World War, the world was divided into two camps – the Allied and the Axis. In the succeeding decades, the Cold War set in and the communist bloc came into being as a powerful section under the leadership of the erstwhile USSR. On the opposite side was the West, including the vanquished in war,  under the economically fast-growing influence of the growing [power of the USA.

Over the last few years, all of this changed, especially after the disintegration of the erstwhile USSR. Here are a few samples of conflicting relationships in the world today, if you may. Iran and Türkiye are together against Israel but on opposing sides against Armenia. Türkiye, while spewing venom against Israel, does not want to cut economic ties with it. China is “neutral” in the matter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine but wants a close economic relationship with the USA who, as part of NATO, are wholly behind Ukraine.

Issue-based relationships

A system is said to be in stable equilibrium if, when displaced from equilibrium, it experiences a net force or torque in a direction opposite to the direction of the displacement. By the laws of physics, there can be no stability without tension. Would you say that going forward the world will see stability in contradictory multilateral relations rather than gravitating towards any particular permanent bloc?

In an environment where the practice of international relations is valuable in their own respective space, in a wide array of settings, and differing players distinct from each other, the requirement for stability is varied and independent of each other. The kaleidoscope of such relations is explicit in areas of trade policies between nations, travel related to business, tourism, and immigration, providing people with opportunities to enhance their lives. These different spaces help nations to cooperate to pool resources, and share information as a way to face global issues that go beyond any particular country or region in that particular space.

In a multipolar world, the relationships will be defined by the requirements in each separate space like security, economy, etc rather than gravitating wholesome to defined blocs.

(The author is an Indian Army veteran and a contemporary affairs commentator. Views are personal. He can be reached at [email protected] )

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/spotlight/changing-world-order-international-relations-will-be-more-issue-based-bloc-based

Trump Appeals for Presidential Immunity in Federal Election Subversion Case

Former President Donald Trump is urging a federal appeals court to dismiss the federal election subversion criminal case against him in Washington, DC. In a filing late Saturday, Trump’s legal team reiterated the claim that he is protected under presidential immunity. The appeal, currently under consideration by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, seeks to overturn a lower-court ruling that rejected Trump’s immunity assertions in the election subversion case brought by special counsel Jack Smith. The Supreme Court, however, refused to expedite the case as requested by Smith.

In the filing, Trump’s lawyers maintained that the former president, in his official capacity, was working to “ensure election integrity” during the alleged undermining of the 2020 election results. They argue that this official duty grants him immunity and that his indictment is unconstitutional, asserting that presidents cannot face criminal prosecution for “official acts” unless impeached and convicted by the Senate. Trump’s attorneys emphasized the structural checks established by the Constitution to prevent the abuse of criminal prosecution as a tool to disable the president and target political enemies.

“The Constitution establishes a powerful structural check to prevent political factions from abusing the formidable threat of criminal prosecution to disable the President and attack their political enemies,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in the filing. “Before any single prosecutor can ask a court to sit in judgment of the President’s conduct, Congress must have approved of it by impeaching and convicting the President. That did not happen here, and so President Trump has absolute immunity.”

The former president has sought to delay his March 4 trial, with the fight over the immunity claim being a focal point of these efforts. The appeals court has expedited its consideration of Trump’s appeal and is scheduled to hear oral arguments on January 9. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, overseeing the criminal case, has temporarily halted all procedural deadlines pending the outcome of the appeal.

The Supreme Court declined Smith’s request for an immediate hearing, allowing the DC Circuit to assess the case first. Both parties will retain the option to appeal the eventual ruling from the appeals court to the Supreme Court.

Trump’s legal team had previously requested the appeals court to review the immunity ruling issued by Judge Chutkan. Chutkan had rejected Trump’s immunity claims, asserting in an opinion that his service as Commander in Chief did not grant him immunity from criminal accountability. The judge dismissed arguments that Trump’s actions were part of his official capacity as president, emphasizing that such actions do not exempt him from criminal charges. Trump’s lawyers reiterated these arguments in the recent filing, contending that Chutkan overlooked the Founders’ recognition that the punishment of the president is inherently political and belongs primarily to the politically accountable branch, Congress, and ultimately, the Senate.

In their filing, Trump’s legal team expressed concern about the potential repercussions of the indictment, warning that it “threatens to launch cycles of recrimination and politically motivated prosecution that will plague our Nation for many decades to come.” The assertion implies that Trump’s case could set a precedent affecting future presidents and the political landscape of the country. The legal battle continues, with the upcoming oral arguments serving as a critical juncture in determining the trajectory of the federal election subversion case against Donald Trump.

Americans for Prosperity Action Amplifies Nikki Haley’s Iowa Campaign in a Last-Minute Push for Republican Nomination

Tyler Raygor knocked on the door of a gray, single-story house in a neighborhood in northern Ames, Iowa. He patiently waited until a man in a hoodie and jeans emerged before launching into his pitch.

In this encounter, the man, Mike Morton, expressed his inclination to vote for either Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida or former President Donald J. Trump in the upcoming caucuses. However, Mr. Morton hadn’t considered Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina. Mr. Raygor, the state director for Americans for Prosperity Action, a super PAC supporting Ms. Haley, seized the opportunity. He referred to a recent poll showing Ms. Haley with a significant lead over President Biden in a general election matchup and emphasized her tenure as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. After handing Mr. Morton a Haley campaign flier, Mr. Morton acknowledged that he would now take a closer look at Haley, noting, “If you didn’t come to my house, I probably would overlook her a little bit more.”

With less than a month remaining before January’s caucuses, Ms. Haley’s campaign, along with Americans for Prosperity Action, is actively working to build on the momentum gained in recent months. The goal is to reach persuadable voters and firmly position her as the primary alternative to Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination.

Ms. Haley received a last-minute boost with the endorsement of Americans for Prosperity Action, a well-funded organization founded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. This endorsement provided access to donors and injected much-needed funds into her campaign for television spots and mail advertisements. While her campaign initially faced challenges in Iowa against better-funded rivals, the A.F.P. Action apparatus has come to life, deploying a network of volunteers and staff members across the state to engage voters.

The super PAC has mobilized approximately 150 volunteers and part-time staff members to canvass Iowa, with a goal of knocking on 100,000 doors before the caucuses, according to Drew Klein, a senior adviser with A.F.P. Action. Since endorsing Ms. Haley, the super PAC has spent over $5.7 million on pro-Haley advertisements and canvassing efforts nationwide. Financial filings with the Federal Election Commission indicate that the organization had more than $74 million on hand as of July.

Both Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis are vying for a pool of undecided voters, although Mr. Trump continues to maintain a significant lead. Recent polls indicate that Mr. Trump is the top choice for 51 percent of Republicans likely to caucus, up from 43 percent in October. Mr. DeSantis’s support increased slightly to 19 percent, while Ms. Haley’s remained at 16 percent. However, the super PAC’s efforts might be insufficient to overtake Mr. DeSantis, who has invested considerable time and money in Iowa.

Despite recent challenges, including the departure of top strategist Jeff Roe from Never Back Down, an affiliated super PAC supporting Mr. DeSantis, the Florida governor has established a strong presence in Iowa. He has visited all 99 counties, and his well-funded ground operation, managed by Never Back Down, has been active for months, boasting over 801,000 doors knocked.

The A.F.P. Action’s endorsement is considered by some, like Republican strategist Jimmy Centers in Iowa, as the potential “missing link” for Ms. Haley. However, the group faces a time constraint. Mr. Centers poses the open question of whether Ms. Haley peaked too soon in Iowa and if A.F.P. has sufficient time to catch up. A spokesman for Mr. DeSantis, Andrew Romeo, dismisses A.F.P. Action’s efforts as a “rent-a-campaign gambit” by Ambassador Haley, asserting that grassroots success cannot be bought.

A critical component of A.F.P. Action’s strategy is the ground game, aiming to reach voters just as attention to the Republican nomination race intensifies. Mr. Raygor, addressing criticism from the Trump campaign about door-knocking on Christmas, stated, “Maybe not on Christmas, but we’ll be knocking on the 23rd. We’ll be knocking on the 26th. My team’s knocked in negative-30-degree wind chills before. Winter does not scare us.”

However, a recent visit to Ames revealed the challenges of a last-minute push. Among the six Republican voters Mr. Raygor spoke with, one was already a Haley supporter, two were persuadable, and three were firmly supporting either Mr. Trump or Vivek Ramaswamy. One voter, Barbara Novak, emphatically declared, “You’re not going to get me off of Trump, ever.”

In another neighborhood in Cedar Rapids, the efforts of A.F.P. Action staff members Cheryl Jontz and Kyla Higgins to promote Ms. Haley proved less successful. Few residents were interested in answering their doors in freezing morning temperatures, and those who did mostly expressed their support for Mr. Trump. One voter, Lisa Andersen, was somewhat open-minded, indicating a willingness to consider Ms. Haley if former President Trump faced legal troubles.

A spokesperson for the Haley campaign maintains that A.F.P. Action’s support hasn’t altered the campaign’s strategic approach and ground game in Iowa. The campaign has intensified its efforts in the final weeks before the caucuses, including a five-day swing through the state. Additional staff members, such as Pat Garrett, a former adviser to the Iowa governor, have been brought on board to lead the Iowa press team.

David Oman, a Republican strategist and Haley supporter, believes that Ms. Haley is focusing on the metro areas where the majority of Iowa’s voters reside, running a nimble campaign with a small core staff and dedicated volunteers. As Ms. Haley’s team makes a final push in Iowa, the outcome of the caucuses remains uncertain, and the effectiveness of A.F.P. Action’s endorsement and ground game will be closely watched.

For 2024, INDIA Opposition Is Still In The Game

The next general election is not a done deal. Not yet. Unless the Opposition surrenders to this psychological warfare and gives a walkover before the match begins

On the eve of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, I had written an article, ‘Never Mind the Pollsters, the Race is Still Open’ (The Hindu, March 15, 2004). It made a limited point: Notwithstanding the hype about “India Shining”, a dispassionate look at electoral numbers showed that a defeat for the BJP was a possibility. Something similar needs to be said now in the wake of the hype around BJP’s hat-trick in the three assembly elections: Never mind the darbari media, the race is still open.

For 2024 INDIA Opposition Is Still In The Game (AP)
Picture: AP

Let me clarify what I am not saying. There is no doubt that the outcome in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is a setback for the Congress, and all those who wish to see restoration of democracy in 2024. The BJP’s victory in three north Indian states does overshadow the Congress’ historic comeback in Telangana. It creates favourable optics for the BJP in the run-up to the national polls. But this does not translate into cold numbers. The outcome of these four states does not change the electoral calculus as it stood before the results. I just don’t see how these reverses for the Opposition close the 2024 contest.

Let us start by counting votes. Before we conclude that a 3-1 victory for the BJP is a ringing endorsement of the regime by the voters, let us add up votes of both the leading parties for these states. Of the 12.29 crore votes polled, the BJP secured 4.82 crore, while the Congress had 4.92 crore (5.06 crore, if you include all INDIA parties). Except in MP, the margin of the BJP’s victory is very small in terms of popular votes. Congress’s lead over the BJP in Telangana is large enough to make up for its deficit in the rest. So the BJP has not received a massive popular endorsement in the latest round.

Let us convert these votes into parliamentary seats. We have a surprise in store. These states have 83 seats in the Lok Sabha, of which BJP had as many as 65 and Congress secured only 6 seats in the last Lok Sabha elections. Suppose the citizens of these states vote exactly the same way next year as they did in the recent assembly elections, the net gainer will be Congress, not the BJP.

Even after this hat-trick, the BJP’s performance is way below its post-Pulwama support in 2019. If we add up assembly-wise votes for each parliamentary seat, the tally will be 24 for BJP and 5 for the Congress in Madhya Pradesh (compared to 28-1 in 2019), 8 for BJP and 3 for the Congress in Chhattisgarh (9-2 in 2019), 14 for BJP and 11 for Congress in Rajasthan (24-0 in 2019) and 0 for the BJP and 9 for the Congress in Telangana (4-3 in 2019). In all, it would mean 46 seats for the BJP (loss of 19) and 28 seats for the Congress (gain of 22). If we merge the votes of the INDIA partners, there would be 38 seats for the BJP and 36 for INDIA. I am not saying that this is the likely outcome. But this notional calculation puts to rest the idea that the BJP has sealed its victory.

Let us now consider the obvious argument that the Lok Sabha outcome may not replicate the Vidhan Sabha verdict. That’s true. We have seen a reversal in the BJP’s favour in 2019 and for the Congress in 2004. But this argument cuts both ways. If the BJP can look to improve upon its position in the next few months, so can the Congress. You can choose which of these scenarios is more likely, but the outcome of the recent elections is no basis to close any of these. The idea that the BJP is bound to improve its votes in the run-up to the national elections draws upon the misplaced parallel with 2019 when Balakot intervened between these two polls.

For 2024, INDIA Opposition Is Still In The Game (The Guartdian)
Picture: The Guardian

Let us for a moment assume that the BJP improves further during the next few months and sweeps the three Hindi states in the Lok Sabha just as it did last time. Assume further that this sweep extends to states like Gujarat, Delhi and Haryana. Does that settle the national contest? Not really, as the BJP had already reached saturation level in these states. A sweep here is necessary but not sufficient for the BJP.

The Opposition’s game plan for 2024 is not dependent on these states.

Look at the big picture. In 2019, the BJP won 303 seats, just 30 seats above the majority mark. The BJP faces significant depletions in its unprecedented tally in Bengal (where it faces a meltdown), Karnataka (where, going by assembly election results for BJP-JDS combine, Congress would gain 10 seats), Maharashtra (where it faces the MVA), Bihar (pitted against a new Mahagathbandhan) and Uttar Pradesh (even a repeat of the 2022 Assembly results would mean a loss of 10 seats to BJP). Add to it near-certain but minor losses in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Telangana and Assam. Put any number to these losses for the BJP and it is sure to exceed 30. The hard question is: Where can the BJP possibly add to its 2019 tally and make up for these losses?

I am not saying that there is no way the BJP can contain its losses or make up for them. I am simply pointing to the writing on the wall, written in cold electoral numbers, as it stands today: 2024 is not a done deal. Not yet. Unless the Opposition surrenders to this psychological warfare and gives a walkover before the match begins.

(The Indian Express link: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/yogendra-yadav-writes-for-2024-opposition-is-still-in-the-game-9058961/)

Psychologists Report Escalating Mental Health Struggles for Patients, Prolonged Waitlists, and Provider Burnout Amid Lingering Pandemic Impact

In a study released this week by the American Psychological Association (APA), psychologists nationwide have highlighted the persistent challenges faced by their patients, revealing that symptoms are escalating, necessitating extended treatment periods for the third consecutive year. The annual survey, initiated by the APA in 2020 to assess the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on practicing psychologists, emphasizes the growing demand for mental health services.

According to the survey, a majority of psychologists have noted a surge in individuals seeking mental health care in the current year, exacerbating the already lengthy waitlists. An alarming 56% of respondents indicated that they had no available slots for new patients. For those managing waitlists, the average waiting period extended beyond three months, and nearly 40% acknowledged an expansion of their waitlists over the past year.

Psychologist Vaile Wright, the Senior Director of Health Care Innovation at the APA, expressed concern about the unsustainable situation, stating, “We continue to see incredibly high demand for mental health services and an incredibly limited supply. This is not a sustainable solution to addressing the mental health crisis in this country.”

The survey findings also shed light on a notable increase in the number of individuals seeking assistance for specific mental health issues, particularly anxiety disorders, depression, trauma, and stress-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disturbances, and addiction. Over half of the psychologists observed a lengthening of the duration for which patients required treatment.

Wright attributes these lingering mental health challenges to the enduring impact of the pandemic. She explains, “I think there are a variety of ways that individuals experienced trauma during the pandemic,” citing the loss of loved ones, associated grief, personal sickness, and the consequences of hospitalizations. Additionally, pandemic-induced changes to personal lives, encompassing alterations in social interactions, employment circumstances, and the ability to care for loved ones, have contributed to heightened stress levels.

The repercussions of these stressors often manifest after the initial traumas and stresses have subsided. Wright notes, “It’s when things actually start to quiet down that the impacts of all that we’ve gone through, all that stress, actually start to hit us.”

Furthermore, mental health care providers themselves have grappled with significant stress since the pandemic’s onset. Adapting rapidly to virtual platforms and coping with increased care demands have added to the strain. Psychologist Mary Alvord, founder of Alvord, Baker & Associates, a private practice in Chevy Chase and Rockville, Md., acknowledges the challenges, stating, “It’s been just very difficult the last number of years, first pivoting to virtual and now pivoting back to accommodation of in-person and hybrid.”

Alvord notes changes in patient preferences, with children increasingly requesting in-person sessions, while adults prefer virtual meetings after one or two initial in-person appointments.

The survey exposed the toll on mental health care providers, with 36% of psychologists admitting to feeling burned out. Although slightly lower than the 2021 peak of 41%, the report underscores the substantial number of practitioners struggling to meet the demands of their profession. However, a positive aspect revealed in the survey is that two-thirds of psychologists actively practice self-care to combat work pressures and burnout, with nearly half relying on peer support to enhance their well-being.

While not part of the survey, Alvord attests to the significance of peer support in managing stress. “We have peer consult groups throughout the week, and this is where we really support one another,” she reveals. Personally, she emphasizes physical activity, walking 3 to 5 miles a day, as a crucial means of stress relief.

India’s Role in Rebuilding and Revival of Post-War Middle East

Can there be a Permanent Solution to the Plight of Palestinians and Israelis?

Feature and Cover India’s Role in Rebuilding and Revival of Post War Middle East

The recent release of a number of Israeli and Palestinian hostages and the temporary week long truce, which ended on December 1st should have been an occasion for the global community to reflect on how we could try to strive for not just a cease-fire but for long-lasting peace and economic development in the region.

While on the one hand, Israel has achieved significant economic development despite being surrounded by Islamic countries, on the other hand, Gaza remains backward and dependent primarily on Israel for even its basic needs of water, electricity, fuel, and employment for quite a few of its residents.

The attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7 demonstrated to the world the brutality and the barbarism of the terrorists. The reprisals by Israel have resulted in a lot of destruction, death, and misery for the people of Gaza in the West Bank. There is a much greater sense of insecurity for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

This has also led to a very significant surge in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes not only in the region but in the US, Europe, and other countries.

Is the world destined to continue down the spiral of more wars, hatred, death, and destruction? Or is there an alternative vision or path possible?

Brief background

A lot has already been written and discussed about the conflict’s historical evolution and origins. The Israel-Palestine issue has persisted for decades and has resulted in considerable human suffering. Resolving the plight of the Palestinians and Israelis is of utmost importance for regional peace. Focusing on economic empowerment, employment opportunities, and education for the Palestinians could perhaps serve as a powerful tool to counter the allure of extremist ideologies and promote peace. The acceptance by the Islamic countries of the right of Israel to exist as a free country is also an essential requirement.

The dust of war eventually settles, but its scars are often long-lasting, especially in regions plagued by protracted conflicts like the Middle East. Yet, as daunting as the task of rebuilding might seem, the post-war era can serve as an inflection point, an opportunity to sow seeds of lasting peace and prosperity.

War robs individuals, particularly youth, of their aspirations, thrusting them into a vortex of despair and, often, extremist ideologies. So, the question is, how can we pivot from devastation to a renaissance in the post-war Middle East?

How can we aspire for a prosperous Palestinian and Israeli population living in peace and harmony, reaping the benefits of regional economic cooperation, and providing a model for conflict resolution worldwide?

Economic Integration: The Power of Unity

The prospect of the India-Middle East Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEEC) need not be seen only as an economic initiative but also as a gesture for peace in a conflict-prone region. By linking Bharat to Europe via the Middle East, we’re not merely talking about trade and investment; we’re fostering an environment where economies are interdependent, thus making conflict detrimental to all.

The India-Middle East Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEEC) can possibly bring significant investments and trade opportunities for Palestinians and others in the region. Developing Special Economic Zones (SEZ) within Palestine in collaboration with Israel and other countries involved in IMEEEC would focus on manufacturing, technology, and services, drawing investment from nations. This would be a win-win situation, as the corridor will bolster the economies of all participant countries.

Imagine the ripple effects of infrastructure projects intertwining Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel into this corridor. These aren’t just roads, ports, and rails but lifelines of hope, conduits of opportunity.

Investing in Youth and Women: The Beacon of Hope

Youth and women are the torchbearers of our future. However, radical voices can seductively intercept a future shadowed by unemployment. By aligning with nations like Bharat, known for its prowess in the IT sector, we can equip the youth and women with sought-after skills. The twofold vision is to reduce unemployment and nurture ambassadors of peace, who have far more to lose in times of conflict. Bharat has already been extending phenomenal support under the ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation) Program to the citizens of many of these countries for many decades now. Bharat, therefore, has the experience and the expertise in this regard.

Moreover, let’s incentivize peace. If companies from the IMEEEC region employ Palestinian youths, they should benefit from tax breaks and other incentives.

  1. Skill Development: Collaborate with international agencies to establish vocational training centers. Partner with countries like India, which has vast experience in IT and service sectors, to train youth in these domains.
  2. Job Fairs and Employment Drives: Regularly organize job fairs featuring companies from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries to promote employment among Palestinian youths.
  3. Incentives for Employers: Provide tax breaks and financial incentives to companies from the IMEEEC region that employ a significant percentage of Palestinians.

Education: The Pillar of Progress

Schools must become the sanctuaries of hope and enlightenment in our quest for lasting peace. Through partnerships with global universities, we can elevate academic standards and instill values of coexistence and unity. When children are taught stories of camaraderie, not conflict, they’ll pen a different, peaceful chapter for the region.

  1. Educational Exchange Programs: Collaborate with universities in Israel, India, Europe, and the Middle East to offer scholarships for Palestinian students.
  2. Upgraded Curriculum: Ensure that the curriculum in Palestinian schools is in line with international standards. Focus on teaching critical thinking, STEM, peace education, and coexistence.
  3. Teacher Training Programs: Collaborate with international educational organizations to train teachers, ensuring high academic standards.

Promoting Peace, Countering Terrorism, and Anti-Semitism:

Bharat has always condemned terrorism in the strongest terms and has shown zero tolerance for terrorism in any shape or form. Promoting peace, countering terrorism, and addressing anti-Semitism requires a multi-pronged approach, encompassing education, dialogue, policy reform, and community engagement.

  1. Media and Education: Promote peace, unity, and coexistence narratives in Palestinian media and educational content. Counter any narratives of hatred and division. Incorporate lessons on the Holocaust, the history of Jews, and the contributions of diverse groups to human civilization to foster understanding and dispel myths.
  2. Youth Engagement: Establish peace clubs in schools and universities that organize events promoting peace and understanding. Promote exchange programs where individuals can immerse themselves in different cultures and religions to foster understanding.
  3. Interfaith Dialogues: Encourage interfaith dialogues within Palestine and between Palestinians and Israelis to foster understanding and unity. Set up interfaith discussions where religious leaders can address common misconceptions about their beliefs and highlight similarities.
  4. Hate Crime Legislation: Strengthen laws that penalize hate crimes, ensuring they are adequately enforced.
  5. Counter-radicalization Programs: Develop programs explicitly targeting individuals at risk of radicalization, offering them support, education, and alternative perspectives.
Ambassador Pradeep Kapur

Ambassador Pradeep Kapur is an acknowledged “luminary diplomat,” with a distinguished career working with leaders and policymakers in different continents of the world: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. He was the author and editor of many books. Kapur was Ambassador of India to Chile and Cambodia and Secretary at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs before joining as an academic in reputed universities in the USA and India. A graduate of the globally acclaimed Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D), he is Executive Director of Smart Village Development Fund (SVDF); International Economic Strategic Advisor, Intellect Design Arena; and Chairman, Advisory Council, DiplomacyIndia.com. His healthcare contributions include setting up of BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences in Eastern Nepal, which is acclaimed as an exemplary bilateral India Nepal initiative.

Joseph M Chalil

Dr. Joseph M. Chalil, Chief Medical Officer at Novo Integrated Sciences, Inc., is a renowned physician executive with international recognition for his extensive contributions to healthcare innovation and research. Currently pursuing an LLM in Medical Law and Ethics at the University of Edinburgh Law School, he holds influential roles as Chairman of the Complex Health Systems Advisory Board and Adjunct Professor at Nova Southeastern University, Florida. Dr. Chalil, a U.S. Navy Medical Corps veteran, also serves as Chief Strategic Advisor for the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. His impactful book, “Beyond the Covid-19 Pandemic,” reflects his commitment to transforming global healthcare systems. A respected figure in healthcare and media, Dr. Chalil is known for his leadership in healthcare administration, balanced media representation, and insightful discussions on Indian TV news channels, showcasing his expertise in areas such as US-India relations, geopolitical issues, and public policy.

The Abraham Accords 2.0: A New Dawn in Middle Eastern Diplomacy

The Middle East, often perceived as a complex web of animosities and alliances, witnessed a historical turn with the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020. These agreements, brokered with the significant involvement of the United States, marked a paradigm shift in the diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab nations.

Named after the patriarch Abraham, a revered figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the Abraham Accords are a series of normalization agreements between Israel and various Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.

Before 2020, only two Arab nations—Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994)—had established full diplomatic relations with Israel. The Abraham Accords, therefore, represent a significant expansion of Israel’s formal recognition within the Arab world.

The Accords entail the establishment of full diplomatic ties, including the opening of embassies, direct flights, trade deals, and broader cooperation in sectors such as technology, energy, and medicine.

The stymied Israel-Saudi Arabia Peace Accord needs to be restarted. This isn’t just about peace agreements; it’s a cultural and economic confluence. We’re not just linking economies; we’re linking destinies. Mutual investments and cultural exchanges between nations have historically proven to be robust peacekeepers.

MBS and Biden with Modi
Picture: PMO India

India/Bharat: A Potential Peace Broker in the Middle East

India’s unique positioning in global politics and its historical ties and soft power make it a potential mediator in the volatile Middle East, particularly between Arabs and Israelis. Bharat has managed to maintain cordial relations with both Arab nations and Israel. Historically, Bharat has supported the Palestinian cause, while in recent decades, it has fostered robust ties with Israel, particularly in the defense, agriculture, and technology sectors. This dual affinity ensures that India is seen as a neutral player, which is essential for effective mediation.

The significant Indian diaspora in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf countries, strengthens Bharat’s cultural and economic ties with the region. This diaspora contributes to their resident countries’ economies and acts as a bridge between their homeland and the Middle East. Their presence can be leveraged as they symbolize the mutual respect and shared values between Bharat and the Middle East.

Every brick we lay in the post-war Middle East can be a stepping stone towards an enduring peace or another block in an endless maze of conflicts. By integrating our economies, investing in the youth and women, and reimagining education, we don’t just rebuild post-war Palestine and ensure the future security of Israel; we revive hope, unity, and a promise of a brighter, peaceful tomorrow.

A prosperous and peaceful Palestinian society living in peace with Israel can be realized through a combination of regional cooperation, economic initiatives, and education. A focus on these areas will provide Palestinian youth with hope and purpose, making the ideologies of hate and extremism less attractive. Bharat has emerged as an essential global player, as was apparent during the G20 Summit and the Voice of Global South Summit recently in Bharat. Due to the high stakes for all countries and its greater acceptance as an essential global entity, Bharat can endeavor to line up the support of the USA, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and other like-minded countries in these efforts. With the cooperation of regional powers and the international community, a brighter future for Palestine, Israel, and the entire region is within reach.

Given its deep-rooted connections, neutrality, and the respect it commands in the Middle East, Bharat can play a pivotal role in fostering peace in the region. While the challenges in the Middle East are complex, Bharat’s involvement can provide a fresh perspective and a neutral ground for dialogue. As the world’s largest democracy, Bharat can be a beacon of hope for a peaceful Middle East.

Delhi Police Ramp Up Security Amidst Threats to Parliament’s Foundation on Anniversary of 2001 Attack

The Delhi Police have heightened their vigilance in response to a video message from Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, a Khalistani supporter based in the United States. In the video, Pannu issued a threat to “shake the very foundation of Parliament” on December 13, coinciding with the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. The authorities are taking the threat seriously, with a senior police officer confirming the implementation of enhanced security measures in and around Parliament.

The senior officer emphasized the commitment to maintaining law and order, stating, “No one will be allowed to disturb law and order. When Parliament is in session, we remain alert.” These assurances were accompanied by a clear message that all necessary precautionary measures are being taken to prevent any untoward incidents. Security has been bolstered not only in the vicinity of Parliament but throughout the entire city of Delhi.

The video message, delivered by Pannu, who is the chief of the banned organization Sikhs for Justice, also featured a photograph of Afzal Guru, the convict in the 2001 Parliament attack. In the video, Pannu made serious allegations against the Narendra Modi government, claiming an attempt on his life and vowing to respond on December 13. His ominous promise asserted that his retaliation would “shake the very foundation of the Indian Parliament.”

The threat issued by Pannu has raised concerns and prompted a proactive response from law enforcement agencies. The reference to the 2001 Parliament attack, a dark chapter in India’s history, adds gravity to the situation. Authorities are not taking any chances, and the increased security measures are indicative of the seriousness with which they are approaching this potential threat.

While the specific nature of Pannu’s allegations against the Modi government remains unclear, the mere mention of an attempt on his life suggests a heightened level of tension and animosity. Such claims, when made by individuals with affiliations to proscribed organizations, demand thorough investigation and a robust security response.

The timing of the threat, coinciding with the anniversary of the 2001 Parliament attack, adds a layer of historical significance to the situation. December 13 is a solemn day in the memory of the brave individuals who lost their lives in the 2001 attack. The threat to disrupt Parliament on this particular day is not only a security concern but also a potential attempt to exploit the emotional resonance associated with the anniversary.

As the authorities work to ensure the safety and security of Parliament and the people of Delhi, the larger question looms regarding the motivations and objectives behind such threats. Pannu’s affiliation with Sikhs for Justice, an organization that has been banned in India, raises questions about the broader implications of the threat and its potential impact on the socio-political landscape.

The heightened security measures in response to Gurpatwant Singh Pannu’s video threat reflect the seriousness with which law enforcement is treating the situation. The anniversary of the 2001 Parliament attack adds historical significance to the threat, emphasizing the need for a robust and comprehensive security response. As the authorities remain vigilant, the coming days will be crucial in determining the credibility of the threat and ensuring the safety of Parliament and the citizens of Delhi.

Al Gore Challenges COP28 Host UAE’s Leadership, Exposes Rising Emissions, and Slams Fossil Fuel Companies at Climate Summit

Former U.S. Vice President and climate advocate Al Gore criticized the United Arab Emirates (UAE), host of the COP28 climate summit, for what he deemed an abuse of public trust in overseeing international negotiations on global warming. Speaking to Reuters at the conference in Dubai, Gore expressed skepticism about COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, who heads the UAE’s national oil company ADNOC, being an impartial broker of a climate deal.

Gore remarked, “They are abusing the public’s trust by naming the CEO of one of the largest and least responsible oil companies in the world as head of the COP.”

During a presentation at the COP’s main plenary hall, Gore revealed data indicating a 7.5% increase in the UAE’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2022 compared to the previous year, contrasting with a 1.5% global rise. This data, sourced from the Climate TRACE coalition—a group Gore co-founded—utilizes artificial intelligence and satellite data to monitor carbon emissions from specific companies.

The UAE did not immediately respond to Gore’s comments or the TRACE data.

Gore, who previously ran for the U.S. presidency in 2000 as the Democratic Party’s nominee, criticized the presence of oil and gas companies at the annual climate summit. He particularly opposed their endorsement of technologies like carbon capture as a means of mitigating fossil fuel emissions.

Addressing the first-ever appearance of Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods at a COP conference, Gore dismissed the significance, asserting that the oil giant’s engagement doesn’t negate its historical resistance to climate policies. Gore stated, “He should not be taken seriously. He’s protecting his profits and placing them in a higher priority than the survival of human civilization.”

Exxon Mobil declined to provide a comment on Gore’s remarks.

In urging summit delegates, Gore emphasized the need for language in the final text that commits to phasing out fossil fuels without conditional statements or references to carbon capture technology. He criticized the current state of carbon capture and direct air capture technology as a long-term research project, highlighting a lack of cost reduction over the past 50 years. Gore accused fossil fuel companies of falsely presenting these technologies as readily available and economically viable.

“The current state of the technology for carbon capture and direct air capture is a research project,” Gore said. “There’s been no cost reduction for 50 years, and there is a pretense on the part of the fossil fuel companies that it is a readily available, economically viable technology.”

Hopes And Expectations From COP28: The World Is At A Tipping Point On Climate Change

What happens in COP28 on Dubai’s climate conference battleground in the first half of December 2023 may not result in bloodshed but its consequences could be drenched in blood, mass migration, and starvation.

Happily, about 70,000 participants including political leaders, diplomats, business managers, academicians, and researchers will be participating in COP28. The COP -Conference of Parties – is held annually by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is the 28th COP scheduled to start in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, known as the expo-city, ever happy to welcome tourists and visitors.

Hopes And Expectations From COP28 (Yahoo)
Picture: Yahoo

Sadly, it is the time when the number of battlegrounds around the world is on the rise without any end in sight! Ukraine and Russia in northern Europe; Israel and Palestine in the Middle East; internal wars in Syria, Sudan and Sahel. United Nations Security Council, which is charged with ensuring international peace and security, continues the efforts to stall the battles but has not succeeded in ensuring the peace.

One more battleground, on the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, is opening from 30th November to 12th December in the expo-city of Dubai. The battleground will be over on 12th December, but the planetary-level war will certainly continue. It has the potential to be termed World War III, the war between humanity and nature. The UN Security Council is not charged to even start a dialogue for a ceasefire and making peace in that war.  It is left to Bonn, Germany-based UNFCCC to fight the cause of WWII!

Categorically, all humans to varying degrees are responsible for starting and continuing this war. The choice of path to human development has now caused nearly irreversible damage to nature. It is the turn of nature now to hit back. Nature is reacting by causing droughts, floods, landslides, and wildfires that have started affecting human society across the borders of the countries. The hostages are poor of the world and they are rising in numbers.

World caught in a vicious cycle of chaos

As per a UN report released this year, extreme weather has caused the deaths of two million people and $4.3 trillion in economic damage over the past 50 years. The tragedy is that the poor suffer the most in extreme weather. Rich people have economic muscles, not only to ensure their survival but continue their onslaught on nature by emitting greenhouse gases. The richest one percent of the global population is responsible for the same amount of carbon emissions as the world’s poorest two-thirds, or five billion people, according to the research results released in  November 2023. The worst is that rich people continue to invest their money more in polluting industries.

The planet is caught in a vicious circle of chaos in which even the rich would perish. We do not know when but perish they will. Because the rich depend on the market consisting of these five billion people to make their money. As the market starts suffering the rich would suffer too! As the doomsday scenario says, ‘sixth planetary extinction’ is on the way. The fifth extinction was 65 million years ago when dinosaurs and the ecosystem vanished.

To use the United Nations term used in Agenda 21, rather sarcastically, ‘No one is left behind’ by nature in its climate onslaught. And nature has been literally ‘inclusive’ in the destruction of human habitats!  But let us not make a mistake, this larger war is also the result of the battles between factions. Factions include global south and global north, developed and developing countries. The list of factions also includes small-island-developing countries (SIDS), least developed countries (LDCs), indigenous groups, powerful fossil fuel businesses, farmers, and so on.

What happens in COP28 on Dubai’s climate conference battleground in the first half of December 2023 may not result in bloodshed but its consequences could be drenched in blood, mass migration, and starvation. COP after COP, the post-Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, the pledges and promises made by 198 countries that are party to climate conventions. 195 countries that are Parties to the Paris Climate Agreement committed through Nationally Determined Contributions NDCs to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. What is more, the commitments are made by the developed countries to provide USD 100 billion to the developing countries for reducing emissions. But the promises and pledges are not met, and implementation is not only slow but miserable and inadequate and almost suicidal.

The decade from 2010 to 2019 had the highest increase in greenhouse gas emissions in human history; the last four months of 2023 are the hottest on record; the last 11 months have caused the highest economic losses due to extreme climate events. The window to limit warming to 1.5°C, the target set by the world leaders in the Paris Climate Agreement, is rapidly closing; and the gap between where emissions should be and where they are is widening fast as per the UNEP Emission Gap Report (EGR) released recently.

So what one should expect from 2023

Experts have stated over the last year the expectations: strong action-oriented negotiations; making mitigation and adaptation finance available to developing countries as a matter of emergency; operationalizing loss and damage fund; focussing on non-CO2 greenhouse gases like methane; community-based and sub-national climate actions; undertaking out-of-box technologies, including carbon dioxide removal (CDR); space reflected solar electricity and so on.

And what is NOT expected from COP28

Firstly, the world is not expecting non-verified claims by countries, particularly by world leaders in COP28. Such claims promote greenwashing – misleading the public to believe that climate action is being taken for net zero. There is more risk from greenwashing than the climate crisis itself, as stated by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Secondly, the world is NOT  expecting that the vital issues related to mitigation, adaptation and finance are sidelined and duped by conned climate diplomacy. Recently, we have witnessed commotions like denouncing UAE’s presidency as ‘oil nation’s presidency’; prioritizing the action on mitigating fugitive methane by ignoring the reduction of emissions of carbon dioxide; including private finance in meeting the governmental public finance pledge of USD100 billion annually from 2020; asking China to contribute to the finances to developing countries; prioritizing carbon-offset;  changing the definitions of developing countries to ‘least-developing-countries; uncertain schemes like carbon-trading and carbon removal by overlooking the mitigation through lifestyle change.

Thirdly, the world is NOT expecting speeches by world leaders with deceptive declarations and diplomacy-coated false promises delivered in the COP. In this context decision of President Joe Biden not to attend COP28 is indeed welcome. Better not to be there than tricking the world with fake pledges!

Fourthly, the world is NOT expecting alternative technologies like battery-operated EVs and solar panels to be considered climate-friendly unless the environmentally friendly reuse, recycling and disposal of panels and batteries are integral parts of such technologies.

Fifthly, the world is not expecting the issue of climate justice to be discussed without historical context. Recently, the report has revealed that carbon emissions during colonial rules of Europeans and Japanese were assigned to the countries that were engaged in colonial rules after the industrial revolutions. The world, in this context, is not expecting to keep the International Court of Justice excluded from the issue of climate crimes during World War III. Punitive measures could range from exposing the countries by ‘naming and shaming’ to more serious ‘climate-sanctions’.

Can Dubai succeed in meeting these expectations? Let us wait to see by the end of COP28 if the negotiators are serious about delivering what the world is expecting and also not expecting.

(The author is a noted environmentalist, former Director UNEP, and Founder Director, Green TERRE Foundation, Pune, India. Views are personal)

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/spotlight/hopes-and-expectations-cop28-world-tipping-point-climate-change

American Weapons Used in Gaza Trigger War Crime Accusations Against US

(IPS) – The widespread use of American weapons by Israel, which has killed thousands of civilians in Gaza, has triggered accusations of war crimes against the United States.

But US has always escaped these charges in contemporary military conflicts –particularly in the killing fields of Afghanistan and Iraq –and also in the use of American weapons in Yemen where thousands have been killed.

The United Nations once described the deaths and destruction in the eight-year-old civil war in Yemen as “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster”.

The killings of mostly civilians have been estimated at over 100,000, with accusations of war crimes against a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), whose primary arms supplier is the US.

And now, the killings of Palestinians in Gaza have come back to haunt the Americans in a new war zone. But still, the US is unlikely to be hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

American Weapons Used in Gaza Trigger War Crime Accusations Against US (Global Issues)
Picture: Global Issues

“If U.S. officials don’t care about Palestinian civilians facing atrocities using U.S. weapons, perhaps they will care a bit more about their own individual criminal liability for aiding Israel in carrying out these atrocities,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an American non-profit organization that advocates democracy and human rights in the Middle East.

“The American people never signed up to help Israel commit war crimes against defenseless civilians with taxpayer funded bombs and artillery,” she noted.

According to DAWN, U.S. law requires that United States monitor and ensure that weapons and munitions it provides to Israel are not used to commit war crimes in Gaza.

The advocacy group reminded both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in a letter sent last week.

“Failure to comply with end-use monitoring requirements not only breaches U.S. laws but also could expose U.S. officials to prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for aiding and abetting war crimes,” warned DAWN.

In a separate letter to ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan, DAWN asked the Prosecutor urgently to issue a public statement reminding the parties to the conflict of the ongoing investigation there and send an investigative team to the Gaza region of Palestine to document and investigate potential crimes under the Rome Statute.

Mouin Rabbani, Co-Editor, Jadaliyya, an independent ezine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, told IPS the United States is in violation of international law, as well as its own domestic legislation, by providing weapons to Israel in the full knowledge that these are being used for the express purpose of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

www.jadaliyya.com

“I would go further and state that it is providing them to Israel for precisely this reason. This is because the US is determined to see Israel achieve its objectives in the Gaza Strip; Washington recognizes that Israel does not have the military capacity and political will to physically occupy the Gaza Strip for a prolonged period and eradicate Hamas and other groups, and has instead — with unqualified US support — adopted as its primary objective the systematic destruction of the Gaza Strip and mass killings of Palestinian civilians”, he pointed out.

As for international law and domestic US legislation, these are as irrelevant as Palestinian lives in this context. That’s how the US-designed rules-based international order works and was designed to work, he said.

“US legislation, the laws of war, and international law more generally, are rigorously applied to rivals and adversaries, while the US and its partners are free to violate them with total impunity, Rabbani argued.

It would be fair to say that ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan is the personification of this system — fearlessly prosecuting official enemies and adversaries with rabid zeal, but more docile than a dead canary when similar or greater crimes are committed by states his government and its Western partners support without qualification, said Rabbani.

If there’s one thing US officials complicit in Israel’s war crimes don’t have to worry about, it is prosecution by the ICC, he declared.

Asked about US weapons in killings in Gaza, Matthew Miller, Spokesperson for the State Department told reporters last week that American weapons cannot be deliberately used against civilians.

“Of course – and one of the tragedies of war –is that there are always civilian deaths. It is one of the great tragedies of war, and what we try to do is work to minimize civilian deaths to the greatest extent possible,” he said.

Asked if there is “any concern among the administration that by supplying this military assistance, the US might be involved in any possible war crimes against civilians”, Miller said: “No, I would say that we have made very clear that we expect Israel to conduct its operations in compliance with international law.”

“That is the standard we hold – uphold – that’s the standard we hold ourselves to; it’s the standard we hold our partners to; it’s the standard every democracy ought to be held to. And we will continue to work with them and continue to deliver messages to them that they should conduct their military operations in – and to the maximum extent possible to protect civilians from harm,” he declared.

According to the Washington-based Stimson Center, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. military assistance since the Second World War, amounting to more than $158 billion over the past seven decades– not adjusted for inflation.

In recent years, U.S. assistance to Israel has been outlined in a 10-year memoranda of understandings, the most recent of which was signed in 2016 and pledges $38 billion in military assistance between FY2019-FY2028.

Dr Ramzy Baroud, Palestinian journalist and author, told IPS asking the US to clarify the End Use Monitoring (EUM) measures, or Israel’s compliance with the use of American weapons in its war against Gaza, may give the impression that Washington lacks awareness of how US weapons, and US tax payers money are being used.

https://ramzybaroud.net/

“Never before in the history of the US’s relationship with the Middle East has Washington been so directly involved in an Israeli war. The closest was the 1973 war, and even then, the US involvement arrived a week later, and was hardly as direct,” he said.

Every statement made by top US officials, starting with Biden, to Blinken to Sullivan, to all others, indicate that the US is a party in the war, not an outsider, a benefactor, and certainly not a mediator. They even sat in on meetings to discuss Israeli war plans on Gaza. They cannot claim ignorance, Dr, Baroud pointed out.

“In the past, Israel has violated the US’s rules on the use of US arms against civilians, and repeatedly so. Much has been written about this subject, particularly in terms of Israeli violation of the Lehy Laws.”

But what is happening right now is a whole different reality. By sending massive arm shipments, aircraft carriers, and even soldiers to Israel, the US has become a party in the world, therefore it is responsible for the unprecedented war crimes in Gaza, he argued.

“The fingerprints of US weapons are on the body of every Palestinian killed in Gaza, from the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, to UN schools, to every house and every street.

We don’t demand clarification regarding the use of these weapons. We know precisely how they are being used. We demand accountability from war criminals, whether in Tel Aviv or Washington,” he noted.

Meanwhile, a report on Cable News Network (CNN) October 22 said the death toll in Gaza since October 7 has risen to 4,651, with more than 14,245 wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

IPS UN Bureau Report

Global Community Should Realize Futility Of War: Usher In Era Of Coexistence And Conflict Management

The post-Cold War era witnessed two distinct phases following the dismemberment of the USSR in 1991 and another significant shift a decade after the events of 9/11 in 2001. After looking at the current geo-political developments, the emergence of a new phase seems inevitable, i.e., the era of co-existence and conflict management. The crucial moment for the start of this phase was the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in 2021 and the Taliban regaining control there in the same year.

The dissolution of the USSR marked the end of a bipolar power structure, and despite the US aspiration to maintain sole supremacy, the dynamics of global power have evolved into a more balanced and multipolar landscape. The geopolitical landscape has become more complex, with multiple centers of influence shaping international affairs.

Israeli attacks continue on the 27th day in Gaza
Picture: Middle East Monitor

Despite the US’s determined efforts to assert itself as the singular global superpower, events unfolded in a manner contrary to its aspirations, contributing to the emergence of a more interdependent and distributed power structure on the world stage.

The contemporary global landscape is marked by several competitors to the “once considered” sole superpower, the USA, with China taking the lead, alongside contenders such as India, and Japan, and robust European economies like Germany. Notably, in the realm of international conflicts, the US has adopted a strategy of collaborative engagement rather than unilateral action. Instances such as Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate a reliance on alliances, reflecting the evolving nature of global collaboration.

Avoiding armed conflicts:

The concept of coexistence has found resonance, especially in regions where armed conflicts were avoided or approached diplomatically. Take the Arab Spring, for instance, where the USA supported a revolutionary uprising without being overtly involved in any armed conflict.

A critical case is Syria, where the USA navigated complex dynamics without directly confronting Russia in armed conflict. This exemplifies a shift towards a new phase of global interactions, one characterized by a subtle management of relationships. Instead of plunging into crises—be they political, economic, or security-related—the world appears to be steering towards a more measured and cooperative mode of coexistence.

Another illustration is the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. The United States, having experienced a previous intervention in Afghanistan, opted not to reengage militarily. This strategic decision reflects a recognition by other powers that nations have the right to determine their own path, and imposing Western values may not be feasible. The focus has shifted from attempting to Westernize or modernize every inch of the world to respecting diverse ways of life and letting nations pursue their chosen paths without interference. This marks a departure from previous interventionist approaches.

Normalizing various long-standing conflicts:

Examining various sectors of global relations reveals a noteworthy trend in handling political crises—a shift toward coexistence. One compelling example is the diplomatic breakthrough in Arab-Israeli relations, where several Arab countries have embraced a coexistent approach with Israel and have started to develop diplomatic relations with it.

In the case of the long-standing conflict between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, a significant development occurred when India revoked Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir in its constitution. Surprisingly, Pakistan’s response was quite passive, avoiding any massive escalation. This demonstrated a nuanced approach, allowing India to proceed with the reconfiguration of Kashmir’s administration without triggering a full-scale crisis.

Incidents like the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi American at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul and in Saudi Arabia the execution of a Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, popular in Iran, led to a diplomatic crisis but were resolved by compromises without any escalation. The recent case of the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in Canada shall also close without any serious and long-term diplomatic deadlock between India and Canada.

Economic Interdependency:

A necessity of coexistence and interdependency has evolved even in the realm of economy. The ascendant economic competency of China drew considerable attention and, at times, frustration from Western powers, particularly the US. In response, the US deployed sanctions to bolster its own local economy and counteract China’s growth. However, the reality unfolded differently—China not only weathered these sanctions but continued to flourish economically.

A standout illustration is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative. Despite initial concerns and attempts to limit China’s economic influence, the US acknowledged the impracticality of halting the economic rollercoaster that China has become. The coexistence principle became evident as the US shifted focus from attempting to stifle others’ growth to nurturing its own economic development.

Similarly, the world’s dependence on Asia, particularly in terms of manpower and being a global production factory, is undeniable.

The emergence of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) further exemplifies this era of coexistence. Despite being serious economic competitors and occasional clashes at the border, India and China, in particular, recognized the mutual benefits of collaboration. The formation of BRICS underscores the understanding that joining forces, rather than impeding one another, fosters collective growth and prosperity. This cooperative approach reflects a departure from confrontational economic strategies and emphasizes the importance of shared prosperity in the global economic landscape.

Common threats

The world is demonstrating a united front in facing common threats like terrorism, climate change,  pandemic, etc. After 9/11, terrorism was seen as a preserve of Muslim communities. However witnessing examples of incidents like the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, Quran burnings in European cities, and persecution and harassment of minorities in Myanmar and India, terrorism is now recognized as a global concern transcending religious boundaries.

The COVID-19 crisis has showcased global cooperation and a shared sense of humanity. Nations collaboratively navigated the pandemic, emphasizing a collective response and coexistence during challenging times. This solidarity highlights the interconnectedness of the world, emphasizing a shared responsibility for each other’s well-being in the face of calamities like epidemics or natural disasters.

Another common thread unifying humanity is the urgent battle against climate change. Every country is actively addressing and managing this threat to avert serious damage to the planet. The commitment to tackling climate change underscores a collective understanding that environmental challenges require global cooperation and joint efforts to ensure the well-being of the entire world and humanity.

Global cultural connectedness

The global embrace of modernization and, to a certain extent, Westernization signifies a collective willingness to coexist amid diverse cultures. While not an absolute adoption of Western values, this acceptance is evident in the migration of Muslims and Arabs to Western countries in search of economic opportunities and a good standard of living. The welcoming of refugees from various parts of the world by developed nations exemplifies a broader acceptance, demonstrating that advanced societies acknowledge and accommodate individuals from developing nations. This trend reflects a growing understanding of the interconnectedness of the world and a shared commitment to fostering inclusivity.

Similarly, the welcome of non-Muslims in oil-rich Middle Eastern countries is another example of acceptance and harmony on the basis of merit and equal participation in the required fields.

Red Zones, turbulent realms

However, this perspective doesn’t imply that the world will turn into heaven—there will still persist conflict zones that the world must learn to navigate and live with. Regions like Israel, Palestine, Iran, and North Korea present ongoing challenges of potential confrontation for the rest of the world. The key emphasis lies in developing strategies to coexist with these ‘angry birds’ rather than allowing them to escalate into major catastrophes. While acknowledging the existence of conflict zones, the predominant trend is toward global efforts to avoid catastrophic events such as world wars. It’s a pragmatic view that recognizes the complexities of international relations and strives for a balanced and peaceful cohabitation on a global scale.

The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia demands attention, yet there’s a notable absence of its escalation into other regions. Instead, the conflict seems to be eroding Russia’s strength, pointing towards a potential resolution soon. It’s anticipated that Russia, too, will evolve to embrace a coexistence mindset rather than persisting in a confrontational stance.

The only viable solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict is to declare it a global zone accessible by everyone and not ruled by anyone, administered by the United Nations and secured by the UN peacekeeping force.

War is not a solution

Efficient diplomacy, characterized by across-the-table talks, negotiations, and compromises, emerges as the optimal approach to overcome conflicts in the current multipolar world. Drawing lessons from history, such as the aftermath of World War II, where the devastation led European powers to unite in the form of the European Union for enduring peace, reinforces the idea that cooperation is the pathway to prosperity and development.

The notion here is clear: war is not a solution. The global community should learn from the lessons of the past and realize that managing differences through dialogue is the only sustainable way forward. Reflecting this mindset, there may come a time when even nuclear powers decide to diminish their reliance on nuclear weapons. The ultimate blessing for the world would be the dismantling of these destructive arsenals, signaling a commitment to peaceful coexistence and conflict management without resorting to a scenario like Armageddon.

(The author is an entrepreneur and a lecturer in history and development studies at Iqra University, Army Public School And College (COD), Karachi, Pakistan. Views are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/spotlight/global-community-should-realise-futility-war-usher-era-coexistence-and-conflict

Michigan Judge Dismisses Challenge to Remove Trump from 2024 Ballot

In a significant development on Tuesday, a Michigan judge dismissed a lawsuit attempting to utilize the 14th Amendment’s “insurrectionist ban” to prevent Donald Trump from appearing on the state’s 2024 ballot. The judge also affirmed that Michigan’s secretary of state lacks the authority under state law to determine the former president’s eligibility based on the 14th Amendment, which prohibits individuals who engaged in insurrection from holding office.

The rulings represent a substantial victory for Trump, who currently leads the 2024 Republican presidential primary race, despite facing legal challenges in various states alleging his involvement in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a similar constitutional challenge against Trump, and a comparable case is pending in Colorado, with a ruling expected later this week. Experts anticipate that, regardless of the initial rulings, these cases are likely to reach the US Supreme Court, potentially settling the issue nationwide.

The liberal advocacy group involved in the Michigan case has announced an “immediate appeal” and intends to request the state Supreme Court’s intervention. The 14th Amendment, enacted after the Civil War, bars individuals who took an oath to uphold the Constitution from future office if they engaged in insurrection. However, the Constitution does not specify how to enforce this ban, and it has been applied only twice since 1919, making these challenges widely viewed as a long shot.

While these rulings maintain Trump’s position on key GOP primary ballots, they leave the door open to future challenges regarding his eligibility in the November 2024 general election.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge James Redford emphasized that questions about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection should be addressed by elected representatives in Congress, characterizing the matter as a “political question” outside the jurisdiction of the judicial branch. Redford stated, “A court disqualifying Trump would’ve taken that decision away from a body made up of elected representatives of the people of every state in the nation.”

He further argued that he lacked the authority under state law to compel election officials to scrutinize Trump’s eligibility based on the 14th Amendment. Redford’s decision was made in response to two cases seeking to block Trump from the Michigan ballot and a countersuit filed by Trump to preserve his position.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, had already announced the list of names for the 2024 presidential primaries in the state, including Trump. Rejecting arguments from anti-Trump challengers, the judge deemed it premature to disqualify Trump, considering he has not secured the GOP nomination and the 2024 general election has not taken place.

Redford acknowledged that even if Trump were to win the presidency and subsequently face new lawsuits questioning his eligibility, the 20th Amendment provides a process for addressing a president-elect no longer “qualified” to serve, wherein the vice president-elect would ascend to the presidency.

The Trump campaign welcomed the decision, highlighting victories in similar cases in Minnesota and New Hampshire. Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung criticized these legal challenges as “un-Constitutional left-wing fantasies orchestrated by monied allies of the Biden campaign.”

Conversely, Free Speech For People, the advocacy group behind the Michigan and Minnesota cases, condemned the judge’s decision, asserting that he adopted a “discredited theory” about Congress’ role in enforcing the 14th Amendment. The group plans to appeal the decision and continue legal actions in other states to enforce Section 3 of the 14th Amendment against Donald Trump, as stated by Ron Fein, the group’s legal director.

Obama Emphasizes Need for Acknowledging Complexity in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Resolution

Former President Barack Obama emphasized the need to recognize the “complexity” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a prerequisite for any constructive resolution. In an interview on the podcast “Pod Save America,” Obama stated, “If there’s any chance of us being able to act constructively to do something, it will require an admission of complexity and maintaining what on the surface may seem contradictory ideas that what Hamas did was horrific, and there’s no justification for it. And… that the occupation and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable.”

These remarks by the former president coincided with heightened Israeli military operations against Hamas in Gaza City and northern parts of the region. Additionally, American officials believe that Israel has limited time to achieve its stated goal of weakening Hamas in its ongoing operation before concerns about humanitarian suffering and civilian casualties reach a critical level.

Obama specifically criticized the discourse on social media and the activism seen on platforms like TikTok regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He argued that to truly address the issue, one must confront the complete truth and acknowledge that no one’s hands are entirely clean; everyone bears some level of complicity in the conflict.

Many people have turned to platforms like TikTok and Instagram to gain insights into the ongoing conflict. However, Obama expressed a preference for people engaging in direct conversations, especially with those they disagree with. He emphasized the importance of understanding differing perspectives and avoiding dismissive attitudes. Obama stated, “Including people who you disagree with. If you genuinely want to change this… you’ve got to figure out how to speak to somebody on the other side and listen to them and understand what they are talking about and not dismiss it.”

Washington Is Losing Credibility Over the Canada-India Spat

Nearly five years ago, acting on a warrant from a federal judge in New York, Canadian police arrested a high-profile Chinese businesswoman, Meng Wanzhou, as she was changing planes at Vancouver’s international airport on her way from Hong Kong to Mexico City and points beyond.

The charges against Meng, the chief financial officer of Chinese mobile phone and electronics giant Huawei, had nothing to do with Canada. They involved allegations that she had knowingly used a Huawei subsidiary, Skycom, to do business with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions against that country. In arresting her, Ottawa was merely complying with a U.S. request in accordance with standing extradition arrangements between the two countries. But it also complied for another, less tangible reason: Canada and the United States have long been among the world’s closest allies.

Picture: FP

The economic, military, and civilian ties linking two countries with similar histories, and which stretch along either side of the world’s longest border, is so solid that one hears little hyperventilation or chest-beating about it in either country. It’s nothing like the United States’ relationship with Britain, which seems to require constant political reminders of the greatness of their partnership, or with Japan, which gets its own slightly less ritualized restatements of its importance to the United States.

In fact, Canada paid a high price for living up to its side of the relationship with Washington. Beijing condemned Meng’s arrest as arbitrary and illegal, warning Canada that there would be “grave consequences” for its actions. This proved no idle threat: Nine days after Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadians, Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, on espionage charges. The two were held for the next three years, effectively as hostages, until Meng and her lawyers reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government, allowing her to fly home. China, in return, released Kovrig and Spavor.

This saga, which consumed Canadian public attention from start to finish but rarely generated comparable attention south of Canada’s border, has been in my mind as I’ve watched Canada work its way through another sticky and delicate international spat. In this recent crisis, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly expressed suspicion that India had been involved in the assassination of a Sikh activist named Hardeep Singh Nijjar on Canadian soil. This drew a furious response from New Delhi, resulting in the two countries expelling some of each other’s diplomats and India suspending new visas for Canadian applicants, among other measures.

Why India’s Warnings About Sikh Separatism Don’t Get Much Traction In The West

The current crisis between India and Canada has brought to light a significant divergence in their perspectives on Sikh separatism. This divide was laid bare when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that India might have had a hand in the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia, back in June. New Delhi responded by emphasizing a long-standing grievance: that Canada harbors dangerous anti-India extremists whom Ottawa refuses to rein in. This is a contentious claim, and Ottawa has never officially endorsed it.

In India’s view, individuals like Nijjar epitomize these anti-India elements. Nijjar is known for his support of the Khalistan movement, which seeks to establish a separate Sikh homeland in India’s Punjab state. Indian officials accuse him of leading the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), a banned violent group, and formally designated him as a terrorist in 2020. Recent leaked Indian intelligence reports have alleged that Nijjar financed terrorism in India and organized arms training camps in Canada.

India’s response to this situation included issuing a new travel advisory cautioning Indians to “exercise utmost caution” in Canada and suspending visa services for Canadians. The intention behind this move is to convey that with anti-India elements allegedly operating freely in Canada, Indians are at risk. In response, Canada issued its own travel advisory advising Canadian citizens in India to “stay vigilant and exercise caution.” Additionally, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi referred to Canada as a “growing reputation as a safe haven for terrorists, for extremists, and for organized crime.”

When it comes to counterterrorism, India typically aligns its positions, especially on Islamist militancy, with those of Washington and other Western capitals. However, Sikh extremism presents a different story.

Mourners carry the casket of Sikh community leader and temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar during Antim Darshan, the first part of a day-long funeral service for him, in Surrey, British Columbia, Sunday, June 25, 2023. Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat Monday, Sept. 18, as it investigates what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called credible allegations that India’s government may have had links to the Sikh activist’s assassination. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

In the aftermath of 9/11, counterterrorism was a central focus of U.S.-India cooperation, especially following the 2008 Mumbai attacks attributed to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist group. These attacks resulted in the deaths of 166 people, including six Americans. Both U.S. and Indian officials identified LeT as the perpetrator and, subsequently, Washington increased its covert presence in Pakistan to gather intelligence on LeT.

While the U.S. and India generally see eye to eye on the threats posed by groups like LeT, al-Qaida, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Islamic State, Western officials have not explicitly condemned violent Sikh separatism. U.S. officials and lawmakers did denounce two incidents involving pro-Khalistan protesters at the Indian Consulate in San Francisco this year. However, Washington hasn’t officially designated any violent Khalistan groups as terrorist organizations, although it did designate the Baluchistan Liberation Army in Pakistan as such in 2019.

Several factors may explain why India’s warnings about Sikh separatism haven’t garnered stronger support from Western governments. Firstly, unlike Islamist terrorism, the Khalistan movement rarely poses a direct threat to the West. Its violence primarily targets India, though there have been instances of threats against Indian diplomats in the West, and in 1985, Sikh terrorists bombed an Air India jet departing from Montreal, killing all on board, most of whom were Canadians.

Moreover, Sikh separatist violence has diminished in recent years, reducing its visibility in Western headlines. Many in the West, especially outside Canada, may be unaware of the seriousness of this threat in the past. During the 1980s and 1990s, a Khalistan insurgency raged in India, and U.S. officials expressed significant concern at the time. A declassified CIA memo from 1987 referred to Sikh extremism as a “long-term terrorism threat.” In 1984, radical Khalistan supporters seized a Sikh temple in Amritsar, India, leading to a violent government crackdown and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards. This triggered reprisal attacks on Sikhs, resulting in significant religious violence, one of the worst since the 1947 Partition of British-ruled India.

However, these historical events are not as well-remembered in the West, contributing to reduced threat perceptions. Democracy also plays a role in Western restraint. While India believes that many dangerous Sikh separatists are based in Western countries such as Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and the U.S., these nations uphold democratic principles that allow nonviolent Sikh activists to gather and demonstrate. They are cautious about implementing policies that might conflate a small number of violent Sikh separatists with a larger community of nonviolent Sikh individuals, some of whom advocate peacefully for a separate Sikh state.

In the coming days, India is likely to press Washington on the growing Khalistan threat originating from Western soil and the need for the U.S. and its Five Eyes allies to take more decisive action against it. This will be a sensitive discussion, not only due to New Delhi’s perception of Western inaction but also due to growing concerns among Sikhs in the U.S., intensified by FBI warnings, about potential threats to their safety. Furthermore, historical grievances come into play. Some prominent Indians, including Indira Gandhi and former senior intelligence officer B. Raman, have alleged that the U.S. covertly supported Sikh separatists in the 1970s and 1980s when Washington was allied with Islamabad, a likely sponsor of the Khalistan movement. While there is no concrete evidence to support this claim, it underscores the lingering mistrust in U.S.-India relations, despite their deepening partnership, particularly in the context of countering Chinese power. The differing U.S. and Indian positions on Khalistan today serve as a reminder that historical baggage can persist even in otherwise strong relationships.

‘India’ Or’bharat’: Constituent Assembly Debates Showed Reasonableness Amid Opinion Divergence

As “India, that is Bharat” plunges into a frenzied if largely risible political jockeying over the country’s nomenclature, reading the debates of the Constituent Assembly dating back to December 9, 1946, reveals a sober and civilized parliamentary discussion on the subject.

A sampling of comments in the Constituent Assembly debates shows none of the current angst over the name triggered by the speculations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is about to rename India as Bharat. The incongruity of “India, that is Bharat”, as given by Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, who drafted the Constitution, was pointed out by some members of the Constituent Assembly just as an independent India was taking shape.

The incongruity of “India, that is Bharat”, as given by Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, who drafted the Constitution, was pointed out by some members of the Constituent Assembly just as an independent India was taking shape.

Addressing the Assembly. Dr. Ambedkar said, “I propose to move amendment No. 130 and incorporate in my amendment No. 197 which makes a little verbal change in sub-clause (2). I move “That for clauses (1) and (2) of article 1, the following clauses be substituted: India, that is, Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”

Blending of East and West’

Mohammed Tahir, a member from Bihar, said, “I would like to submit that it is a matter of shame that our Constitution could not fix a name for our country. This is a proof of the intelligence of Dr. Ambedkar that he suggested a hotch-potch sort of name and got it accepted. Well, if somebody would have asked Doctor Saheb about his homeland, he could have replied with pride that he belonged to Bharat or India or Hindustan. But now the Honourable Dr. will have to reply in these words: “I belong to India that is Bharat”. Now, Sir, it is for you to see what a beautiful reply it is.”  Tahir’s comments came during a debate on November 24, 1949.

Algu Raj Shastri, a member from the United Provinces, said this on November 21, 1949, “It is, Sir, a matter of deep sorrow and deep regret for me that we in this country did not rise above the slave mentality and we did not say frankly what would be the name of our country. I think, Sir, there is no single country of the world which has such a clumsy name as we have given to our land that is ‘India, that is Bharat.’ The fact, Sir, is it is no name at all and we have failed very badly in giving it a proper name.”

Picture : TheUNN

Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava, a member from East Punjab took a more nuanced position on November 18, 1949, saying, “Now I would like to draw your attention, Sir, to a few minor things embodied in the Constitution. India has, no doubt, recovered herself; we have got our ancient India now. As regards the name of the country the term India that is Bharat” has been laid down in the Constitution and some of my friends objected to this term. As for me, I have no serious objection to it. It is a fact that we cannot live in isolation from the rest of the world; We have centuries-old connections with England and the rest of the world. The world will always know us by the name of India. But so far as we are concerned, in our hearts and souls our country shall always remain as Bharat. So the terms India and Bharat have been bracketed in order to meet the needs of our countrymen as well as of the outsiders. The world will call us as India and we ourselves will call us as Bharat. Thus there will be blending of the East and the West.”

Divergent opinions

Hari Vishnu Kamath, a member from Central Provinces and Berar, put a much finer point on the debate on November 14, 1949.  “The Draft as passed by the House reads, “India, that is, Bharat”. The revised draft presented to the House says, “India, that is Bharat”. That I do not think is what was intended by the House when we accepted article 1. What was meant was, India, that is to say, Bharat. That is why two commas were inserted and the phrase was interposed. It does not mean, “India, that is Bharat,”. This is wrong English, so far as the meaning intended is concerned. I think the original was perfectly correct and it was absolutely wrong on the part of the Drafting Committee to change the wording.”

In another debate he also said, “Some ascribe it (name of Bharat) to the son of Dushyant and Shakuntala who was also known as “Sarvadamana” or all conqueror and who established his suzerainty and kingdom in this ancient land. After him this land came to be known as Bharat. Another school of research scholars hold that Bharat dates back to Vedic…”

That seemed to test Ambedkar’s patience. “Is it necessary to trace all this? I do not understand the purpose of it. It may be well interesting in some other place. My friend accepts the word “Bharat”. The only thing is that he has got an alternative. I am very sorry but there ought to be some sense of proportion, in view of the limited time before the House,” he said.

Jagat Narain Lal, a member from Bihar, had a different spin altogether. “I come to some of the drawbacks, or, I might say, some of those omissions which I regret. For example, Sir, I would have liked the name ‘Bharat’ to come before India. It is a fact that ‘Bharat’ and India have come in, but I would have liked ‘Bharat’ to come before India, he said on November 25, 1949.

R K Sidhva, a member from the Central Provinces and Berar, was both prescient and reasonable in saying on November 25, 1949, “India in future will be called Bharat but that does not mean that we discard the name Hindustan.”

Kamalapati Tripathi, a member from the United Provinces, said, “We are pleased to see that this word has been used and we congratulate Dr. Ambedkar on it. It would have been very proper, if he had accepted the amendment moved by Shri Kamath, which states “Bharat as is known in English language ‘India’”.

Change in debating nature

To which Ambedkar responded saying, “This matter was debated at great length last time. When this article came before the House, it was kept back practically at the end of a very long debate because at that time it was not possible to come to a decision as to whether the word “Bharat” should be used after the word “India” or some other word, but the whole of the article including the term “Union”—if I remember correctly— was debated at great length. We are merely now discussing whether the word “Bharat” should come after “India”. The rest of the substantive part of the article has been debated at great length.”

Several other members had also chimed in during the historic debates. Seth Govind Das, also from the Central Provinces and Berar, said on November 17, 1949, “In this Constitution, our country has been named ‘India that is Bharat’. It is a matter of gratification that the name Bharat has been adopted, but the way in which this has been put there has not given us full satisfaction. ‘India that is Bharat’ is a strange name.”

Lakshminarayan Sahu, from Orissa, said on 17 November 1949, “Our country was first named Bharat. Then it was thought that ‘Bharat’ would not be understood by other countries of the world and the words ‘India that is Bharat’ were included. What is this?”

A.B. Mandloi of the Central Provinces and Berar, said on November 18, 1949, “Taking into account our ancient civilisation, culture and traditions, we have adopted a suitable name for our country, namely, Bharat. That has also been done with the common consent of all.”

“It fills our heart with joy when we consider that once more this ancient land which was hitherto known as India only will be known as Bharat,” said Rohini Kumar Chaudhuri, of Assam, on November 22, 1949. “For the first time, after a dependence of more than 1,000 years India, Bharat has emerged as a Sovereign Democratic Republic,” said S. V. Krishnamoorthy Rao of Mysore State the same day.

The overall tone of the debates over the name of the country as incorporated in the new constitution was reasonable even though at times very detail-oriented. Dr. Ambedkar did seem to occasionally display impatience over the way some of the members dwelt on the country’s ancient past to make their points.

From there to now, there has been a remarkable change in the way the same subject is being discussed with the politics of its timing as well as its hidden motivation, namely, to thwart the newly minted INDIA opposition alliance, dominating the discourse. (The author is a Chicago-based journalist, author, filmmaker and commentator. Views are personal. By special arrangement with Indica) Read more at:

UN Living In The 1940s Mindset, Urgently In Need Of Reforms

(IPS) – Politically, the United Nations has largely been described as a monumental failure —with little or no progress in resolving some of the world’s past and ongoing military conflicts and civil wars, including Palestine, Western Sahara, Kashmir, and more recently, Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan and Myanmar, among others.

Still, to give the devil its due, the UN has made some remarkable progress providing food, shelter and medical care to millions of people caught in military conflicts, including in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Somalia. Has the UN been gradually transformed into a humanitarian aid organization — diplomats without borders?

How fair are these characterizations?

Meanwhile, during the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly beginning September 18, some of the world’s political leaders, representing four of the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council, were MIAs (missing in action): Prime Minister Rushi Sunak of UK, President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China.

The only P5 member present was US President Joe Biden. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, a country described as one of the world’s rising political and economic powers willing to lead the Global South, was also missing.

Picture: FP

Is there a hidden message here for the UN? And is the UN beginning to outlive its usefulness–politically?

Asked about the absence of four P-5 members of the Security Council, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was blunt when he told reporters: “I don’t think it is because we have or we have not a leader of a country that the high-level week is more relevant or less relevant. What’s important is the commitments that Governments are ready to make in relation to the SDGs, in relation to many other aspects of this week. So, this is not a vanity fair… What matters is not the presence of this or that leader. What matters is the commitment of the respective government in relation to the objectives of the summit.

Meanwhile, the reform of the UN – including the revitalization of the General Assembly, the increase in the number of permanent members of the Security Council and the lack of gender empowerment at the highest echelons of the UN hierarchy, with nine all-male Secretaries-General and only 4 women out of 78 presidents of the General Assembly – has been discussed for decades. But still these issues have never got off the ground. Or will they ever?

In an interview with IPS, Natalie Samarasinghe, Global Director, Advocacy, Open Society Foundations, said change is challenging at the UN. The organization is predicated on balancing principle with politics — and the former prevails only when it can be aligned with the latter. It has been subversive, supporting the fight against colonialism and apartheid, and helping the marginalized to advance their cause through development and human rights.

At the same time, it has helped to maintain the power structures of 1945. That is reflected in the UN’s priorities,programming and personnel. And this formula seems weaker now, with the UN now seemingly peripheral in the peace and security realm, and struggling to coordinate global responses to the shocks of recent years.

This does not mean the organization cannot change. Today’s UN would be unrecognisable to its founders: with its strong focus on sustainable development, nearly four times the number of member states, and bodies devoted to almost every dimension of human endeavour.

The UN’s charter does not mention the iconic blue helmets or UNICEF — perhaps the organization’s best-known ‘brand’, nor does it allude to the role of the Secretary-General as the world’s top diplomat. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change and GAVI, the multistakeholder vaccine alliance — inconceivable seven decades ago — are further examples of the UN’s ability to adapt to new realities.

A wide view of the General Assembly Hall at the start of the Assembly’s seventy-first annual general debate.

Yet, other parts of the organization seem frozen in time, most obviously the Security Council. So, is change possible? It is depressing that the prospect of a female Secretary-General still feels remote, or that only four of the 78 presidents of the General Assembly have been women. This should not be our ceiling for reform but our floor.

We have regional rotation for positions. Why not gender rotation? This is surely as achievable a change as it is necessary.

The Security Council, meanwhile, is probably the least likely area of movement. But its gridlock — on substance and reform — has increased the appetite for the General Assembly to act as a counterweight to exclusive clubs.

The closest thing we have to a world parliament, the importance of the Assembly has grown as lower-income countries become increasingly frustrated at shouldering the brunt of global shocks without any real say in solutions.

This is part of a broader trend. At the UN, it encompasses improvements to the Secretary-General selection process in 2016, Liechtenstein’s success in ensuring that a Council veto automatically triggers a debate in the Assembly, and the Syria investigative mechanism.

But the real action is likely to be outside the New York. Leaders like Biden and Macron seem to have taken up the calls of Mottley, Akufo-Addo and others to reform the international financial architecture. The G20 in New Delhi echoed language in the Bridgetown Initiative and V20 Agenda on issues such as debt and access to capital.

All of this shows that we may have finally reached a point where smaller, more vulnerable countries can no longer tolerate the status quo, and where larger, richer countries realise that interdependence is not just a concept.

Q: At a press conference last month, Barbara Woodward, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, emphasized the “UK’s ambition to drive forward reform of the multilateral system,” saying, “We want to see expansion of the Council’s permanent seats to include India, Brazil, Germany, Japan and African representation.” But even if this proposal is adopted by the GA and the UNSC, it has to be followed up with an amendment to the UN charter. How arduous and long-drawn-out is the process of amending the charter?

A: Even in 1945, the composition of the Security Council was a compromise, with permanent membership and vetoes intended to encourage the five powers of the time to serve as guardians of the international order. That illusion was shattered before the ink had dried on the charter, as the Cold War cut short the organization’s honeymoon.

Today, our multipolar and polarised world is better described as a hot mess. Longstanding conflicts such as Palestine and Kashmir remain intractable, while crises pile up: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Myanmar, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine.

Some commentators argue that Russia’s wanton aggression is not the first time one of the five permanent members (P5) has invaded a country. Others adopt a reductionist view of the Council’s role: preventing conflict between the P5 rather than maintaining peace and security. But after 18 months of genocidal acts, it’s hard not to see it as emblematic of the UN’s failures and constraints.

Even areas where the UN previously banked successes are flagging. Most people go back two decades to Liberia or Sierra Leone when asked to cite successful peace operations. Until its collapse, the Black Sea grain deal was a rare example of mediation gone right.

Invariably, debates on how to strengthen the UN’s peace and security capacity focus on the Security Council. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, states including the US have been more vocal on the need for change. Yet renewed interest has not made reform more likely.

Procedurally, reform requires amending the UN charter. This needs approval by two-thirds of the General Assembly’s members and ratification by their legislatures, including the all of the P5. It has happened only once in relation to the Council (in 1965, when the number of members was raised from 11 to 15, and the voting threshold increased accordingly). Politically, one of the biggest hurdles is the lack of agreement within regions on who should get a seat.

Council reform is a prize worth pursuing — and one that merits more creativity, on the role of regional organisations, for instance. But it may be better to channel this energy into how to leverage the collective power of the UN system as a whole.

From sanctions to investigations, there is much more the General Assembly could do on peace and security, including by building on Liechtenstein’s proposal. The Peacebuilding Commission, too, could become more central, for example by bringing in actors such as the international financial institutions. And it is worth looking at how mediation could be done differently, with more resources and a more diverse pool of negotiators.

Q: Civil society organizations (CSOs) have played a significant role in UN’s mandate to provide international peace and security, protect human rights and deliver humanitarian aid. Has the UN given CSOs, their rightful place?

A: Over 200 civil society organizations were at the birth of the UN. Their presence helped to secure references in the Charter to human rights, gender equality and social justice.

Seventy-eight years on, thousands will come to New York for the opening of the General Assembly. Even more work with the UN every day, as its development and humanitarian activities have mushroomed. These areas now account for over 70 percent of its funds and roughly two-thirds of its staff.

But many CSOs engage from the sidelines. Only a fraction will be allowed into UN Headquarters, while those on the ground often face steep barriers to cooperation. For all the talk about partnerships, a similar situation exists for other actors, from local governments to business.

This ignores that perhaps the most profound transformation of the ‘‘international community’ in recent decades has not been geopolitical realignment but the rise of non-state actors.

We live in a world where private sector profits eclipse GDP, where social movements can mobilise millions of people, and influencers can wipe out billions with a single post; and where a girl sitting outside her school with a sign can change the global conversation. And yet the international system remains stubbornly state-centric.

Instead, partnerships should be the norm. CSOs are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and addressing climate change. They provide essential assistance in humanitarian crises and step into the breach in conflict zones. They stand up for those who are ignored and abused, serving both as the UN’s partners and its conscience.

Their contributions should be valued and harnessed, through a high-level champion for civil society, greater resourcing of grassroots groups; and an overarching strategy for engagement. As concerns around legitimacy and power grow, this strategy should include a gradual transfer of the UN’s development and humanitarian functions to local partners.

This would foster a greater sense of ownership, agency and accountability. It could also breathe new life into the SDGs. From the UN’s vantage point, it would help to alleviate the unsustainable growth in its workload, free up limited resources and mitigate the incompatibility on the ground of various functions it is expected to perform – political, humanitarian, development and human rights.

Such a move is likely to meet with considerable resistance, including from inside the UN. It is easier to cite the number schools built or refugees rescued as evidence of success, especially when geopolitical tensions make advances in areas such as norm-setting and mediation more challenging.

But it is precisely in those areas where the UN is most needed: functions that cannot easily be fulfilled by others — even with two regional organisations on board, the G20 is not the G193; and where it is uniquely placed to make a difference — from emergency coordination to global solidarity.

That should be the guiding spirit leading up to next year’s Summit of the Future: a realistic task list for the UN, greater responsibility for partners, and higher ambition for the world’s people.

(Natalie Samarasinghe has also served as CEO of the United Nations Association – UK, becoming the first woman appointed to that role; she was speechwriter to the 73rd President of the General Assembly; and chief of strategy for the UN’s 75th-anniversary initiative.

A frequent commentator on UN issues, she has edited publications on sustainable development, climate change and conflict; written for Routledge and OUP on human rights; and co-edited the SAGE Major Work on the UN. She has also supported a number of civil society coalitions, including the 1 for 7 Billion campaign to improve the Secretary-General selection process, which she co-founded. IPS UN Bureau Report)

No Politics, No Religion – An American Outlook

My outlook may be deceptive or wrong, but intellectuals can correct my notions. Before coming to the great nation, I was under the strong feeling that the USA is a Christian country just because of the missionary and connected charity activities they do globally.

Picture : TheUNN

Instead, it nurtured my earlier misunderstanding when I read, “The First Amendment reads that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The first part of that requirement (the Establishment Clause) means that there should be no official state church and that government should be prohibited from entangling itself in religious matters without a religiously neutral reason. Government shouldn’t take sides in support of one religion over another or generally favor the spiritual over the nonreligious.(Religion and Government Seperation: American Humanity Association:Good without a God).

But on the other hand, recent deliberations among certain Senators and media add more misconceptions to my vivid thoughts. For example, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) loves Jesus Christ and America. And that is why influential leftists want to marginalize him and destroy his influence. Recently, they unleashed a vicious attack labeling him a “dangerous” Christian nationalist.

The Washington Post, in a significant “hit piece” on Senator Hawley on July 8th, acknowledges that the quotes and other quotes Hawley posted are accurate. But then the Post wrote that these quotes “promote a historical argument popular among purveyors of Christian nationalism that the United States was founded as a Christian country.”

What were Senator Hawley’s “allegations”? He remarked, on social media, early American heroes who linked the founding of the United States to Christianity. Yes, you read that correctly. Here are some of the quotes that have caused the firestorm.

“Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission on earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.” -John Quincy Adams, 1837, 6th President of the United States

“I have heretofore argued to show that the Christian religion, its general principles, must ever be regarded among us as the foundation of civil society.” -Daniel Webster

The Post refers to a speech Hawley delivered to a conservative conference in 2022 titled “Biblical Revolution.” The senator is quoted as saying, “We are a revolutionary nation precisely because we are the heirs of the revolution of the Bible.” He later adds, “Without the Bible, there is no modernity. Without the Bible, there is no America.”

These quotes by John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, and Senator Hawley are factual statements. Most Americans would have embraced these ideas and expressed similar sentiments in any decade throughout American history.

But in recent years, a powerful campaign has been launched to erase the key role Christianity played in inspiring the American Revolution and our founding documents and the role Christians, including pastors, played in winning the Revolutionary War. Neo-Marxists and radical secularists see this history as an impediment to their plans to turn America into a socialist state where the government is God. (Courtesy:JDFI)

Senator Hawley seems to be speaking the truth. Remember that America’s central idea is clearly written in Bold letters in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, where our founders stated that our liberty comes from God, our Creator.

Could Ethnic Conflict In India Become An Issue Modi Cannot Ignore?

It’s been the same old thing recently for Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India: honorary pathway trips abroad, strip cuttings and political meetings at home.

However, he has largely avoided discussing the ethnic violence that has been raging for months in the northeastern state of Manipur. Mobs of the majority ethnic Meitei community have destroyed villages of the minority Kuki and other tribes, killing more than 150 people and forcing over 60,000 people to flee their homes.

The tumult has been broad to the point that huge number of public safety powers shipped off suppress the distress have attempted to reestablish quiet, with the region really parceled along ethnic lines in the thing occupants are portraying as a nationwide conflict.

However a few senior figures inside Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have gotten more engaged with the emergency, the state leader has kept a concentrated on quietness.

The flash was a court deciding that undermined a fragile equilibrium by basically giving greater government advantages to the Meiteis. In spite of the fact that they control the switches of state power, they have had a little portion of the state’s territory.

Meitei mobs, which activists and rights groups contend are enabled by the state government, attacked tribal communities as they protested the ruling. India’s Supreme Court  has since proclaimed the lower court’s decision “totally genuinely off-base,” yet halting the violence was past the point of no return.

To drive Mr. Modi to address inquiries on the issue, India’s opposition groups depended on something exceptional last week: a motion in Parliament to vote against his government’s no-confidence.

The move, which is merely procedural and is Mr. Modi’s second such vote in his nearly decade in power, There is no chance that voters will remove his government.

Yet, it has featured how India’s most impressive forerunner in many years has reshaped the country’s parliamentary majority rule government. With an outright greater part in the governing body permitting him to obstruct and crash banter; a tyrannical national media that largely follows his lead and conceals difficult topics; Mr. Modi wields power increasingly unchecked by India’s political system’s previous guardrails and an overwhelmed judiciary.

Also, experts say what is happening in Manipur epitomizes India’s more extensive weaknesses even in the midst of the country’s ascent as a monetary and strategic power. Misusing homegrown separation points in the immensely assorted country opens room that foes at its boundary could take advantage of.

It also puts India’s military at risk. The division that is primarily in charge of providing security along China’s extensive border, where the two sides have been at odds for more than two years, sent troops to Manipur.

The opposition leader Gaurav Gogoi, who initiated the vote of no confidence, referred to it as an effort “to force” Mr. Modi, who rarely attends sessions or debates, to discuss Manipur.

Mr. Gogoi, deputy leader of the Indian National Congress party in the lower place of Parliament, said that the ethnic gatherings engaged with the savagery were spread across a few states and that “gradually expanding influences” were conceivable. In a region that has a history of violent insurgencies, he added, mobs had robbed police weapons depots, leaving approximately 5,000 weapons unaccounted for.

“The way that there are these weapons which are at large — monstrous number of refined weapons — is an extremely tremendous gamble to our public safety,” Mr. Gogoi said in a meeting.

Mr. Modi’s quietness, experts said, reflects how vital his image is for the estimations of his administering party, known as the B.J.P., around the following year’s overall decisions. He has been able to save state and local elections where the B.J.P. was having trouble because he is personally more popular with voters than the party he leads. Party pioneers need to try not to connect him in the public brain with Manipur.

Amit Shah, Mr. Modi’s  home minister, visited Manipur last month and told Parliament last week that he was able to have a conversation in the interest of the public authority. In addition, he and other officials informed the local media that Mr. Modi had been frequently briefed on the government’s efforts to restore order through security operations, legal action, and meetings between Meiti and Kuki groups.

Insurgencies based on tribal and ethnic grievances have plagued India’s northeast region ever since it became a republic seven decades ago. Many have resulted in fragile cease-fires, creating a delicate equilibrium between tribes competing for resources and land from New Delhi as well as a share of illicit trade along the border. Connections through the northeast, which have been prioritized by successive national governments, have the potential to expand trade with Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Southeast Asia as a whole.

The winding in Manipur “brings into question something beyond India’s homegrown story, more than India’s network story,” Avinash Paliwal, a researcher at SOAS College of London and the writer of a forthcoming book on India’s northeast ” You are making old wounds worse.

The Meiteis are to a great extent Hindu and the Kukis generally Christian, yet the savagery has been more along ethnic lines than strict.

Strains had stewed for quite a long time as Biren Singh, the Meitei chief minister of the B.J.P., adopted an inexorably biased strategy to the ancestral networks, especially the Kuki and the Kuki-Zo, portraying them as outcasts usurping land. In the ongoing emergency, he has portrayed the contention as between the state and what he named “psychological oppressors,” alluding to Kuki gatherings.

In any case, the Indian Armed force’s head of safeguard staff said the “circumstance in Manipur doesn’t have anything to do with counterinsurgency and is essentially a conflict between two nationalities.”

Mr. Singh has stayed in his occupation in spite of far and wide requires his renunciation, some from his own party. Ancestral administrators from the B.J.P. have basically denounced Mr. Singh of complicity in the viciousness..

Rather than holding Mr. Singh responsible, examiners said, the public authority has attempted to put a top on Manipur, hindering web access in the state.

As of late Mr. Modi talked diagonally about Manipur when a viral video on Twitter dodged the web closure. It showed a Meitei crowd strutting ancestral ladies stripped and attacking them. His remark zeroed in on the “disgrace” of the episode prior to lumping it with maltreatments against ladies and savagery during nearby surveys in resistance run states.

His administration moved to pressure Twitter into bringing the video down, and authorities told the neighborhood news media that the one who had recorded it had been captured.

The government has really divided Manipur — keeping Mr. Singh as boss clergyman to care for the Meitei regions, while the areas of Kukis and different clans are run from New Delhi, with the military attempting to keep a support zone, experts and occupants said.

“This ought to be a contextual investigation on how not to deal with the rule of law circumstances, not to mention ones of ethnic partitions,” said Vikram Singh, a previous senior police official.

Among those compelled to escape was Ngaliam, a Kuki lady in her 60s. At the point when she and her sibling got away from their town, her 38-year-old child, Thangkhochon, remained behind. The family claims that a mob with police assistance carried out the attack that resulted in his death. It was impossible to verify that assertion.

Ngailam, who utilizes just a single name, is presently at a help camp in the Churachandpur region. Via telephone, she said she was confused for how to sort her life back out.

Volunteer medical caretakers depicted her as melancholy and said she discusses how she feels remorseful for abandoning her child.

Lunminthang Kipgen, one of the nurses, stated in a telephone interview, “She wakes up crying in the middle of the night and saying, ‘My son is looking at me and blaming me for being alive.'”

Hello!… Manipur Is Still Burning! Is There Anyone In Charge?          

It has been almost three months since the State of Manipur in India has been in flames. The latest news reports speak about 140 or more people killed, 50,000 or more people made destitute and homeless, many hiding in forests, 317 churches burned, and 6137 homes set ablaze. It is indeed a colossal human tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes, and the power centers in the State or at the Center seem to be cavalier in their approach to a resolution.

The Godi media in India is spinning the story as an age-old rivalry between two ethnic groups, and many pundits have dismissed it as some tribal infighting that occurs relatively often. However, there is little doubt that since the 3rd of May, the Kuki-Zomi tribals have been at the receiving end of this horrible attack, which has all the designs of a well-orchestrated and planned campaign of ethnic cleansing. Kuki-Zomi forms about 16% of the population of Manipur, and the Meiteis, predominantly Hindus, make up about 53% of the State.

There is a raging debate over whether this ongoing crisis has any religious undertones! There is no doubt that it all started with an effort by the State Government to empower the Hindu majority at the expense of the Scheduled Tribes (mostly Christians) as regards their land rights. A writ petition filed in the High Court by members of the Meitei Tribe Union towards that goal appeared to have produced a ruling in favor of Meities, triggering the current mayhem. These anti-tribal policies are increasingly put in place in various states by the BJP government. Fr. Stan Swamy is a victim of those disastrous initiatives supporting crony capitalists that have hurt the indigenous and tribal people across India.

The attacks appeared to have been pre-meditated and well-planned. In the valley, the reports indicate the precision pinpointing of minority houses that were selected and burnt. The Hindu militants, who mostly belong to Arambai Tenngol and Meitei Leepun, appeared to have the tacit support of the Police and the law enforcement authorities. As per sources, it has now been revealed that over 4000 weapons, including sophisticated ones, have been looted from different locations in Manipur since the unrest began. These arms appeared to have played a critical role in exacerbating the violence. Using mortars against fleeing Kukis-zomi refugees to the forest to escape death and destruction may point to a higher-level conspiracy in aiding and abetting these militant groups.

It is also a known fact that there are Christians among the Meities. According to Dominic Lumon, the Archbishop of Imphal,  249 churches belonging to the Meitei Christians had been destroyed within 36 hours since the start of the violence. He said, “The wonder is, amid the fight between the Kukis and the Meiteis, why did the Meitei mob burn down and destroy 249 churches in the Meitei heartland? How is it that there was almost a natural attack on the church in the Meitei localities itself, and how did the mob know where the churches were located if not previously planned”. He attributed these attacks to the revival of Sanamahism, and the emergence of groups like Arambai Tenggol and Meitie Leepun.

Therefore, the theory that has been promoted by vested interests that there is hardly any religious angle to the whole unrest is quite suspect. BJP has long been critical of Northeastern states and blamed foreigners, especially missionaries, for their separatist tendencies. Although people in those states are apprehensive about the Hindutva agenda, they have given in to supporting the party because it allows proximity to state power and, more importantly, to central funds. After the BJP took control of the central government in 2014, political leaders in these states gradually switched loyalties to the BJP. Now, they are beginning to pay a heavy price for their wanton disregard for making crucial decisions.

While looking back at recent BJP history, the initial grabbing of power in Manipur and the subsequent unrest and violence come directly from the BJP playbook. According to Human Rights Watch, a majority of the reported incidents of violence against Christians in 1998 occurred in the western State of Gujarat, the same year that the BJP came to power in the State. The year began with an unprecedented hate campaign by Hindutva groups and culminated with ten days of nonstop violence against Christian tribals and the destruction of churches and Christian institutions in the southeastern districts at the year’s end. Human Rights Watch investigated these attacks in Dangs district in southeastern Gujarat. The events were preceded by escalating violence throughout the State in which many police and state officials were implicated. Biren Singh, the Chief Minister of Manipur, seems to be following the same model. Before the current crisis, his government bulldozed three churches in the name of an anti-encroachment drive, though some have existed since the early 70s in Imphal’s’ East district Tribal colony.

Despite widespread destruction and human loss of lives, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept a vow of silence until now while making several important state visits to various capitals around the world, including the United States. His primary constitutional duty is to protect the lives and property of every citizen of India, regardless of caste, religion, or region. Yet, this leader of a great nation, whose aim is to make India the Vishwaguru and would readily tweet if a cricketer is involved in an accident, found it convenient to close his eyes to a State ablaze under his premiership. On his foreign visits, he often asks foreign leaders, especially in Christian-majority countries, to protect Hindu shrines and safeguard their sanctity. Yet, he is pretty undaunted about the destruction of 300 or more Christian Churches under his watch. His External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar who has specialized in propaganda, could always rationalize his thoughts in the name of traditions and culture, and even as he has redefined human rights, one that would fit the people of his stripes abroad and the other for the marginalized communities in his homeland.

For astute political observers, Manipur is coming apart at its seams, and so does the rest of India. The politics of polarization championed by the Modi administration is taking its toll on human lives and personal properties. However, more than anything else, transforming trajectories are not only causing the alienation of its people and the dismantlement of its institutions but also destroying the moral underpinnings of a great country. The party that prides itself on nationalism has given the impetus to the extremist elements to tear the nation apart for the selfish pursuit of power regardless of its consequences. Who is anti-national now: is that someone who drives the country towards disintegration with odious policies using religion as a tool with disastrous results or who honestly criticizes the downward spiral of a nation under the current governance? This question remains to be answered!

How Do Americans’ Views Of The U.S. Compare With International Views Of The U.S.

People around the world see both strengths and flaws in the United States, but they generally view the U.S. positively, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 24 countries.

How we did this

The survey also asked Americans how they feel about their own country. Compared with people internationally, Americans are more likely to view the U.S. as tolerant and democratic and to praise America’s role in world affairs. But they are less likely to view the U.S. as politically stable and to rate its universities or technological achievements highly.

Views of how the U.S. compares with other wealthy nations

The survey asked people in 23 countries, and in the U.S., how America compares with other wealthy nations on a variety of measures, including tolerance, democracy, safety, religiosity and political stability.

People around the world generally see the U.S. as similar to other wealthy nations on many of these measures. However, a median of 31% in other countries say the U.S. is less tolerant than other wealthy countries, while 21% say it is more tolerant. Among Americans, the balance of opinion is reversed: 44% say the U.S. is more tolerant than other nations while 22% say it is less tolerant.

People in other countries are relatively divided over whether the U.S. is more democratic or less democratic than other wealthy nations. But Americans themselves are far more likely to see the U.S. as more democratic than other countries, as opposed to less (42% vs. 18%).

There are also differences when it comes to the relative political stability of the U.S. A median of 33% of people in the 23 surveyed countries believe the U.S. is more politically stable than other countries, while 17% say it is less stable. Americans themselves take a more pessimistic view: 34% say the U.S. is less politically stable than other wealthy countries, while 23% say it is more stable.

How Americans’ views of the U.S. vary by political party

Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. have different perceptions of how the country compares with other wealthy nations on nearly every measure in the survey.

Roughly half or more of Republicans and GOP leaners say the U.S. is more tolerant (54%) and democratic (51%) than other wealthy nations. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are much less likely to hold these views and more likely to see the U.S. as similar to other countries.

When it comes to safety, Democrats are about twice as likely as Republicans to say the U.S. is a more dangerous place to live than other nations (43% vs. 21%).

Both Republicans and Democrats most commonly say the U.S. is as religious as other nations, but a larger share of Democrats than Republicans say the U.S. is more religious than other nations.

Views of political stability are roughly similar among both parties.

Views of American institutions and products

The survey also asked people to compare the U.S. with other wealthy nations when it comes to its military, entertainment (such as music, movies and television), technological achievements, universities and standard of living. Overall, people abroad and in the U.S. have very positive opinions of these aspects of American culture and society. Americans, however, are more negative than people in many other countries on several items.

In fact, the military is the only item where Americans tend to rate the U.S. higher than people in other countries do. Three-quarters of Americans say the U.S. military is the best or above average, compared with a median of 68% across the 23 other countries surveyed. People from only five other countries have a more positive assessment than Americans do of the U.S. military: Israel (where 94% say the U.S. military is the best or above average), Nigeria (86%), Poland (86%), Sweden (79%) and Kenya (78%).

When it comes to American music, movies and television, Americans agree with others around the world that these products are the best or above average compared with those of other wealthy nations. About seven-in-ten Americans (69%) and a median of 71% of people in other countries see U.S. entertainment this way.

Americans have more critical views than people in other countries of the United States’ standard of living, technological achievements and universities. While 44% of Americans say that the U.S. standard of living is the best or above average, a median of 51% in other countries say the same. And while 56% of Americans say U.S. technology is superlative, a median of 72% in other countries say this.

When it comes to U.S. universities, Americans are the least likely to say they are above average or the best. Only around half (48%) say this, compared with a median of 69% in other countries.

In the U.S., Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the standard of living in America is the best or above average among wealthy nations (55% vs. 36%). But Democrats rate American entertainment higher than Republicans (75% vs. 64%), as well as universities (54% vs. 45%).

Views of U.S. role in international affairs

Compared with people in other nations, Americans are especially likely to say the U.S. considers other countries’ interests when making international policy decisions (71% of Americans say this). By comparison, across the 23 other countries surveyed, people are generally split: A median of 49% say Washington considers other nations’ interests and 50% say it does not.

Americans are also more likely than people in other countries to say the U.S. contributes to peace and stability around the world (69% vs. a median of 61%). But Americans are not the most likely to hold this view: 85% of people in Poland and more than 70% in Israel, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria and South Korea think the U.S. helps maintain global stability.

At the same time, a median of 82% in the 23 surveyed nations say the U.S. interferes in the affairs of other countries.

Roughly the same share of Americans agree (80%). But Americans are less likely than others to say the U.S. interferes a great deal: 31% say this, compared with a median of 42% elsewhere.

Unlike most other questions in the survey, Republicans have more negative views than Democrats on this measure: 35% of Republicans say the U.S. interferes a great deal in other countries’ affairs, compared with 28% of Democrats.

UNDER MODI GOVT, India beats the world in medical infrastructure

Medical colleges grew by 78% in India compared to 9% in the US and 0% in Canada since 2014, while the MBBS seats increased by 105% in India, outpacing growth in the US and Canada. AIIMS grew by 186%. Is this time for ‘One India, One Healthcare?’

With the term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi entering its 9th year, the effect of his government’s healthcare policies has been scrutinized, particularly analyzing its response to the pandemic that swept the globe. Covid exposed many weaknesses in healthcare systems worldwide, from manufacturing critical vaccines to a shortage of medical personnel, facilities, and equipment. India uncovered several areas that needed attention, but also plenty to celebrate. Although India has only been independent for 75 years, it has managed to build a significant infrastructure meant to care for its citizens, which quickly adapted to meet the demand for manufacturing and production in the face of the worldwide health crisis. During the nine years of the Modi government, several changes have been made in the healthcare sector that made this possible. Here are some of the highlights:

Ayushman Bharat: One of the significant healthcare initiatives of the Modi government is the Ayushman Bharat scheme, which aims to provide health coverage to over 500 million people from economically weaker sections of society. The scheme provides cashless health insurance coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization and prescriptions after a hospital stay for up to a year. As a result, India has made significant strides in providing coverage of what could otherwise be catastrophic healthcare costs. But now the focus needs to shift towards covering annual physical exams and prescription drugs for chronic disease management like diabetes and heart disease to prevent those hospitalizations while maximizing the health of Indians, regardless of income status.

Digital Health Mission: The government launched the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) in August 2020, which aims to create a digital health ecosystem that will provide universal health coverage, including access to health records and other healthcare services for all citizens. Millions have transitioned to telehealth consultations during Covid-19, allowing them to receive care without extensive travel costs while minimizing the spread of illness.

Infrastructure Development: The government has invested significantly in improving healthcare infrastructure, including building new medical colleges, upgrading existing healthcare facilities, and expanding the number of hospital beds. Many of these programs have succeeded, mainly as India established 302 new medical colleges in the past nine years, outpacing countries worldwide. Today, India can boast an over 78% growth in its number of medical schools, opening the doors for more doctors and medical personnel to be trained, thus addressing an ever-increasing need for these professionals globally. While more medical professionals are needed, India is increasing the educational opportunities available. The next stage in its development is maintaining the highest standards within each new medical school as it comes online. In addition, a recommendation will be to mandate NABH accreditation for all medical colleges and hospitals, including government hospitals.

Covid-19 Response: The government took several steps to combat the pandemic, including setting up Covid-19 hospitals and increasing the number of testing facilities. They also increased the production of vaccines and could vaccinate nearly their entire population, which was a target few other countries achieved.

Despite these initiatives, several challenges still need to be addressed in the healthcare sector. Here are just a few suggestions to continue to build upon the progress that has already been made:

ONE INDIA, ONE HEALTHCARE

Healthcare delivery in India is decentralized and varies from state to state as it’s currently a state subject. Various factors like low levels of education, lack of environmental sanitation and safe drinking water, under-nutrition, poor housing conditions, tobacco consumption, poverty, unemployment, unhealthy lifestyle, etc., impact health.

The allocation of funds to the health sector inter-alia depends on the government’s overall resource availability, competing sectoral priorities, and the system’s absorptive capacity. With the advancement in technology and telemedicine and labour migration leading to interstate commerce, one could argue it is time for a constitutional amendment to guarantee access to primary healthcare to every citizen as a fundamental right and change healthcare to a Central subject. The Covid-19 pandemic also showed us that state borders are irrelevant regarding disease prevention and healthcare delivery. It’s time for “One India, One Healthcare.”

PUBLIC HEALTHCARE CIVIL SERVANTS

Government hospitals are managed by doctors promoted based on their seniority rather than their training in hospital management, while professional hospital managers manage private hospitals. Managing a public health system for the largest population in the world takes work, even for the best doctor with decades of experience in patient care.

Indian civil services select and train senior bureaucrats who lead the Indian government. India currently has several IAS and IFS officers with MBBS training. I propose that the Government of India create an Indian Health Service (IHS) branch. India will need 742 “IHS” officers, one per district, who are ranked equal to the IAS officers to coordinate the public health system of the district. By creating a civil service branch to manage healthcare centres and increasing medical and nursing colleges to one per district, a large workforce could be made available to staff these facilities adequately.

Work in rural areas could also be mandated, allowing communities and villages to receive quality care. For instance, part of a doctor’s training could include a year or more of service in a rural village working in a primary care centre. Other options include incentives to reduce educational costs in exchange for time served in a primary healthcare center.

FOCUS ON PRIMARY AND PREVENTIVE HEALTHCARE

While the Ayushman Bharat scheme focuses on secondary and tertiary healthcare, more future emphasis should be given to preventing fraud using the DRG payment system and covering primary healthcare, including chronic disease management and community health. With all its progress, India still struggles with the rapidly growing burden of chronic diseases and the demands on its healthcare system. Chronic conditions like diabetes only worsen, resulting in complications and hospitalizations without proper and consistent treatment.

How can these issues be addressed? First, by mandating wellness exams yearly and prioritizing primary and preventive care for all citizens. Identifying and managing chronic diseases early is more effective and less costly than managing and treating their complications. Like countries around the globe, India faces geographic variations in the quality of healthcare services and providers, reflecting the need for consistent processes and standards throughout the country.

Second, in determining the best path forward, the process of delivering healthcare services needs to be improved by differences in the funding and availability of healthcare options within each state. To move to a universal healthcare system, India needs to be willing to step away from the current state model that does not evenly address the needs of all Indian citizens. Instead, we must embrace a “One India, One Healthcare” for all citizens. Private-public partnerships in primary healthcare delivery should be encouraged.

With a long history of rising to the challenge, India can continue to lead the world in tackling healthcare issues for all, particularly by elevating the value of primary care, annual physical exams, and continued investment in environmental policies that can positively impact all Indians. With the largest population in the world, India could lead the world in providing quality healthcare to all its citizens.

The biggest democracy in the world needs urgent investment in the health of all its citizens and reform the public healthcare system while maintaining the current rate of infrastructure growth.

Prof (Dr.) Joseph M. Chalil is an Adjunct Professor & Chair of the Complex Health Systems advisory board at Nova Southeastern University’s School of Business, the Chief Medical Officer at Novo Integrated Sciences, Inc, and the Chief Strategy Officer of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI). He recently published a best-seller book, “Beyond the Covid-19 Pandemic: Envisioning a Better World by Transforming the Future of Healthcare.”

Does India Need Uniform Civil Code?

The Indian Government is exploring the possibility of implementing a Uniform Civil Code. Religions and Communities should educate themselves on why personal law needs reform. We must modernize, democratize, and strengthen our institutions to make this transformation. People think that India needs the Uniform Civil Code to bring together its many different cultures. India runs by personal rules that don’t come from any religion at the moment.

“Uniform Civil Code is defined in the Constitution of India under Article 44 of the Directive Principles of the State Policy. According to Article 44 of the Constitution, the government must make every effort to provide UCCs for its residents across India.”

There is a fear that if a uniform Civil Code is enacted, it will erode the identity of every community, and they will be forced to adopt uniformity for the solemnization of marriage for the burial of the dead, and all kinds of things, which is total without basis because the object of uniform civil law is not to dictate you what customs and rituals you want to have. It is only about unity about the uniformity of justice.

The beauty of Indian democracy is the worst diversity in terms of culture cast and religion that it has it. Practical difficulties – India is a country with diversity in religion, ethnicity, castes, etc. Hence it is practically not feasible to come up with uniform rules for personal issues like marriage due to the cultural diversity. It is also difficult to convince every community to replace their age-old rules and traditions.

If we talk about freedom struggles or wars with Pakistan, the freedom fighters and our defense forces contributed to defending our land without caring about their religion. Indians are citizens and not people belonging to different communities. The Prime Minister has given a vision of “Amrit Kaal” and as citizen we have to work towards the realization of this goal. Abolition of racism, offering equal opportunities for higher education, supporting minority children in their education, and providing loans for minorities are some of the landmark decisions of the Narendra Modi government. When India is moving ahead to become a global superpower, Western powers with vested interests are putting all offers to defame India, and Indians have no union.

The collective effort to implement a uniform civil code would benefit the nation and humanity. It is natural if a man marries a woman, but if someone goes for four marriages, that is unnatural. Therefore, it is not against any religion but the collective decision that would benefit humanity. It was among the central promises of the BJP to form a committee for the implementation of the UCC.

According to reports, a meeting was held between Union Minister Amit Shah, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, and Solicitor General. Earlier, the Center had left the matter to the Law Commission. The Supreme Court had earlier also clarified that the issue falls within the purview of the legislatures. It is crucial that such a move comes at a time when elections are near.

Earlier for 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP promised to implement the Uniform Civil Code. The BJP is hinting that the legislation will be enacted with only a year to go before the next Lok Sabha elections.

Almost all laws in India (Criminal, Civil, Contract, Motor Vehicle Act etc.) are the same for any religion. But personal rules differ from religion to religion. There is also a change in religion and laws. A change from this is intended by the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code.

That is laws regarding marriage, divorce, property rights, alimony, wills, adoption, etc., differ from religion to religion. For example, according to Islamic law, a person can have up to 4 marriages. But according to Hindu law, a person can legally marry only once. New Delhi: The Center is exploring the possibility of implementing the Uniform Civil Code. According to reports, a meeting was held between Union Minister Amit Shah, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, and Solicitor General.

Earlier, the Center had left the matter to the Law Commission. Earlier, the Supreme Court had also clarified that the issue falls within the purview of the legislature. At this time, introducing UCC would only make things worse as it would make Muslims more insecure and vulnerable to being attracted towards fundamentalist and extremist ideologies. People worry that the UCC will remove their freedom of religion: Many people, especially religious minorities, think the Uniform Civil Code takes away their right to religious liberty. They fear a universal code of conduct because it would override their traditions and replace them with rules set by the majority religious group.

It is crucial that such a move comes at a time when elections are near. The plural democracy is an identity of modern India. Hence initiatives should be concentrated on bringing harmony in plurality, rather than blanket uniformity for flourishing Indian democracy.

A little progress each day, adds up big results. There are only two options: try to make progress or make excuses!

Christian Priesthood

Let me share and reflect with you my thoughts on the ‘mysteries’ the ‘church’ ‘celebrates’ on Maundy Thursday.

It is said to be the day of the institution of *priesthood* as well as *Eucharist*, the reason for priestly ministry.

Let us now reflect on certain biblical, rather gospel sayings attributed to Jesus whom people expected, experienced and who evolved into the *Christ*.

The only call Jesus makes in the gospels is to follow him, that is, to be his *disciples*. The only references to priests were for ritualistic reasons and predominantly for plotting, executing and ensuring the death of Jesus.

As for the gospels, Jesus could be anything other than a priest. Making Jesus a priest might have been the handiwork of Pauline school with its Jewish overtures to be found specifically in the letter to the Hebrews.

There were enough reference to his being the Christ, both in the infancy narratives as well as later in his public ministry. Also, his *kingship* was foreseen by the Magi and it was rather the sole issue at his trial. However, he was clearly recognized to be a *prophet*.

And this ‘priesthood’ was far fetched institution for specific reasons of *authority* which Jesus denounced categorically (Mk 10:42-43). Though kingship was a succession, ‘priesthood’ belongs to a clan, a tribe, specifically Levitis. And prophetism was a call and conferred, though at times it too was succeeded.

With regard to the *’call’ to priesthood*, it must be deciphered that it is not from Jesus. The Jesus before ‘Christianity’ and as emerged from the gospels is the real Jesus. But the Jesus who is made into a priest was, is and would be the necessity of the institutional church after the Constantanion embrace…

The *’way’* of the disciples became *’Christians’* of Antioch which was slowly and steadily converted into a *’church’* by the Pauline school and it got definitively metamorphised into what we see today was Constantine’s contribution compromising with the categorical demands of the Kingdom.

This is not to disturb or to discourage priesthood, but to caution against all possible temptations to compromise, if not forget and abandon Jesus.

In spite of the ‘sinfulness’ and the consequent ‘unworthiness’ we are called and made priests, we are told repeatedly. And thereafter we go after everything unworthily and never try to be worthy.

This is contrary to what Jesus taught us in the true biblical tradition which in the very first chapter of the first book, Genesis says that we were created in God’s own image and likeness. He taught us that God is our father and we, his *children*. He called us *friends*. He who claimed to be the light of of the world said that we are the *light of the world*. He asked us to *be perfect as his heavenly father is perfect.*

The entire Sermon on the mount (Mt 5-8) is an exhortation for the disciples. Let’s try our best not to compromise with that, and betray Jesus and his Kingdom whatever be the temptations, power, position or possession. Let’s remind ourselves of his exhortation, *”seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”* (Mt 6:33).

Will Keralites Get Carried Away By Modi’s Meetings With Bishops?

While the ruling Hindutva Party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continues to engage in a war against the minority Christian community across India, falsely accusing Christians of converting Hindus and arresting and punishing several Christian leaders on trumped up charges, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken upon himself to win the Christian vote bank in Kerala by wooing the Christian leadership in the southern state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the top leaders of various church leaders in Kerala, giving a push to the BJP’s efforts to reach out to the influential minority community in the southern state ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, sources said.

Picture : TheUNN

It is learned that Modi, who arrived in Kerala on a two-day visit on Monday, April 24, 2023, met eight top Church leaders including Syro-Malabar Catholic Church head Cardinal George Alencherry, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church head Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis, Syrian Orthodox Church head Baselios Marthoma Mathews III and Metropolitan Trustee of the Jacobite Church Joseph Mor Gregorios.

The Prime Minister also met the senior leaders of the Latin Catholic Church Archbishop

Joseph Kalathiparambil, Archbishop of Knanaya Church Mathew Moolakkatt, Archbishop of the Knanaya Jacobite Archdiocese Kuriakose Mar Severios, and Metropolitan of the Chaldean Syrian Church Mar Awgin Kuriakose, reports said.

The meeting, a part of the BJP’s outreach campaign ‘Sneha Yatra’, took place at Hotel Taj Malabar in Kochi after the Prime Minister attended a massive road show and a youth conclave, Yuvam 2023, at the Sacred Hearts College ground here.

As part of the party’s minority outreach, BJP leaders in Kerala had visited Christian and Muslim leaders and the homes of people belonging to these communities on the festive occasions of Easter and Eid, respectively.

Ahead of the last assembly elections in Kerala in 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met similarly with Catholic bishops as part of what was construed as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) efforts to reach out to the Christian community ahead of the assembly elections in Kerala. Modi met Cardinal Oswald Gracias of the Latin-rite Church, Mumbai, Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church — both Kerala — in his office in 2021.

In the same year, Pope Francis received at the Vatican, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first-ever meeting between the two leaders.  After holding talks with the Pope, Modi was received by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher.

Picture : TheUNN

Keralites were not impressed with such meetings and the BJP did not win any seat in the state assembly elections.

On Easter Sunday this year, Modi visited the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Delhi, where he joined the Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi Archdiocese and the Christian community at a prayer service and planting a tree at the Cathedral premises.

After the visit, PM Modi tweeted, “Today, on the very special occasion of Easter, I had the opportunity to visit the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Delhi. I also met spiritual leaders from the Christian community.” The prime minister’s rare visit to the church is imbued with political significance as well, as the ruling BJP has been actively wooing Christians.

Two years later in 2023, buoyed by the BJP’s performance in polls in three Northeastern states including Christian-dominated Nagaland and Meghalaya last month, the Prime Minister had announced that the party-led alliance would form a government in Kerala too in the coming years.

“It is a matter of fact that incidents of violence against Christians have increased from little over 100 in 2014 to 600 by the end of 2022 according to UCF toll free helpline (No: 1800-208-4545) service. This year, 2023, has already witnessed 200 incidents in the first 100 days,” pointed out A C Michael, a former member of the Minority Commision, Delhi Government. “It is also another matter of fact that the Supreme Court of India since 1st September 2022 repeatedly has been asking for details of violence against Christians across India and the Modi government has already sought three extensions as they are unable to find incidents of forceful conversions which are the pretext to target Christians.” Michael disagreed with the claims of Rev Father Francis Swaminathan, the pastor of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Delhi, who claimed that the visit of the prime minister shows his support for minorities.

The BJP is looking for support from the community in Kerala, the state with their largest population in the country, as it works to make a fresh headway there after tasting little success in previous elections. Anil Antony, son of senior Kerala Congress leader A K Antony, a Christian, joined the BJP recently.

It may be too early to say if the BJP’s strategy will deliver electoral dividends. What has been apparent so far is that at least some of the Christian church leaders are either not averse to the BJP’s political ideology or to BJP continuing in power, ignoring the atrocities unleashed in many other parts of India by the BJP and its supporters.

But, will the visits and meetings by the Hindutva party leader win Christian votes in Kerala and in other parts of the country? Maybe not. As a Christian leader summarized: “Mercifully, Catholic Bishops have almost zero impact on non-Catholics.  And among Catholics, among Latinos, it is much less than imagined by the PMO or even presumed by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI).” 

Picture: TheUNN

Activists, Journalists Jailed for ‘Spurious Reasons’ In India

(IPS) – India’s Chief Justice, Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, has a significant challenge – as activists and minorities remain hopeful that he will remain true to his legacy of delivering judgments that enshrined the Constitution, especially on personal liberty.

Sanjay Kapoor, founder editor of Hardnews Magazine and political analyst told the IPS that many of the rulings by Indian courts in recent times have been deeply disturbing.

“In the name of national security, draconian laws are evoked to curb personal liberty. Journalists and activists have been arrested and locked away under anti-terror law without evidence,” said Kapoor.

He gave the example of Siddique Kappan, who has remained in jail for more than two years for unknown reasons. Kappan got bail from the Supreme Court, but anti-money laundering laws were immediately slapped upon him to ensure that he remained in prison.

Kapoor’s main concern is the undermining of courts by the government, which is sure to weaken institutions and harm democracy in India.

Meanwhile, the CJI also warned that he was not here to do miracles.

Picture : HRW

“I know that challenges are high; perhaps the expectations are also high, and I am deeply grateful for your sense of faith, but I am not here to do miracles,” Chandrachud said after his appointment.

The challenges facing the judiciary include a backlog of cases, delays in appointing Supreme Court judges, and significant inconsistencies in judicial approaches.

Soon after Chandrachud took oath on November 9, Chandrachud expressed concern over the long list of requests before the Supreme Court for bail. He said that district judges are reluctant to grant bail in a fair manner out of fear of being targeted.

Activists say that this is the same reason that media personnel, political opponents, and social activists are languishing behind bars without bail today.

Activist Teesta Setalvad was arrested in June 2021, and her bail plea was only accepted three months later when she was finally released. There are others, like student leader Umar Khalid, who has languished in jail for more than two years.

The judicial system in India is under tremendous pressure. Until last May, countless cases were pending in courts across different levels of the judiciary. Many of the cases were pending in subordinate courts, a large percent in High Courts, while a hundred thousand cases have been pending for over 30 years. Amid the rising trend of litigation, more and more people and organisations seek justice from courts today. However, there are not enough judges to hear the cases. The courts are overburdened, and the backlog of cases is intimidating.

The reluctance to grant bail to especially political opponents has only aggravated the matter. Most recently, Sanjay Raut, senior opposition party leader, said that he had lost 10 kgs while in prison. The legislature was accused of money laundering. He was in jail for 100 days before bail was granted to him in November. He was kept in a dark cell where he did not see sunlight for 15 days.

Raut said that he would not have been arrested if he had surrendered to the will of the ruling party and remained a mute spectator to the politics of the day. He wondered if only those who oppose the politics of the ruling party would continue to be arrested.

The use of the justice system as a political tool and reluctance to grant bail at the district level has clogged the higher judiciary with far too many cases.

“The reason why the higher judiciary is being flooded with bail applications is because of the reluctance of the grassroots to grant bail, and why are judges reluctant to grant bail not because they do not have the ability to understand the crime.

They probably understand the crime better than many of the higher court judges because they know what crime is there at the grassroots in the districts, but there is a sense of fear that if I grant bail, will someone target me tomorrow on the ground that I granted bail in a heinous case. This sense of fear nobody talks about but, which we must confront because unless we do, we are going to render our district courts toothless and our higher courts dysfunctional,” Chandrachud said at an event hosted by the Bar Council of India last week to felicitate his appointment as the country’s 50th CJI.

The Supreme Court of India is perhaps the most powerful Court in the world. However, in recent times the judiciary has been criticised for its uneven handling of cases. It is under scrutiny over contradictions found in its functioning. The fact that a former CJI accepted a seat in the upper house of parliament soon after his retirement two years ago had raised eyebrows.

The judiciary’s perceived deference to the present government is a major concern, including the ongoing arrest of political opponents, and refusal to grant bail to those arrested is becoming the norm. On the other hand, ‘friends’ of the ruling party are allowed to get away with murder and rape.

The nation was shocked after a document was made public last October as proof that the premature release of 11 men convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the killing of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots was approved by the home ministry despite opposition by a special court. A Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and Professor Roop Rekha Verma together filed a public interest litigation (PIL) against a remission granted to 11 convicts who were released on August 15, India’s 75th Independence Day celebrations this year on account of good behaviour.

Bano was gang-raped along with 14 members of her family. Her 3-year-old daughter Saleha was killed by a mob in a village in the province of Gujarat as they fled communal violence in 2002. Bano was 19 years old and five months pregnant at that time. Shobha Gupta, the lawyer for Bano has battled for years for the rape survivor to get justice. Gupta told Barkha Dutt, a senior journalist, that she is shattered and unable to face Bano. That after the release of her rapists from custody, Bano is silent and feels alone.

Dutt had interviewed Bano 20 years ago. Today she wrote in her column that an unspeakable injustice is unfolding with brazen impunity. Its legality is dodgy. Dutt said, “Let’s raise hell”.

After the men who raped Bano and killed her child were freed, they were greeted outside the prison with sweets and garlands. This is the story of a very seriously ill nation, columnist Jawed Naqvi said.

“The nation that was baying for the execution of men who raped a young woman in a bus in Delhi in 2012 seemed deaf to Bilkis’s trauma,” Naqvi wrote. The executive has turned its back on Bano. The media is disinterested and civil society has been bullied into silence at a time when principles are passe for most politicians.”

So, who will give justice to citizens like Bano?

In a plea filed by Azam Khan last July, the opposition party leader pointed out a new trend amongst the high courts to impose unnecessary bail conditions. Khan said that a high court had ordered the politician to hand over allegedly encroached land as a condition for bail. The ruling was overturned.

Seeking justice these days is tough within the courts and outside.

The 74-year-old Khan has been behind bars since early 2020. Multiple charges have been slapped on him, including corruption, theft, and land grab, in an effort to make sure that he remains behind bars on some charge or the other. However, Khan was granted interim bail last May. A few months later, he was fined and has been sentenced to three more years in prison for a hate speech made in 2019. At that time, Khan was accused of blaming the Prime Minister for creating an atmosphere in the country in which it was difficult for Muslims, the largest minority community in India, to live.

A new report published by the USA-based NGO Council on Minority Rights in India (CMRI) and released on November 20 at New Delhi’s Press Club found that by helping offenders, detaining victims, and failing to register first information reports (FIR) in some cases, law enforcement agencies play a role in furthering hate crimes.

Discussing the legal aspects of persecution, lawyer Kawalpreet Kaur said that minorities are facing the brunt of the state to varying degrees. Cases of the pogrom against Muslims during the Delhi riots have been lying in the high court for the last two years.

“Indian courts need to keep their eyes and ears open; it is not a one-off case of Afree Fatima’s house bulldozed or when the stalls of working-class Muslims were razed in Delhi despite a stay from the court,” she said.

The lawyer called it an attack by the Indian state against its minorities and a campaign of misinformation and Islamophobia witnessed every day.

The release of the CMRI report comes at a time when numerous countries and organisations are calling upon India to take stock of the plight of its religious minorities.

Six international rights groups – the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Inter­national Dalit Solidarity Network, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have reminded New Delhi in a joint statement that it is yet to implement recommendations of a recent UN report on India which cover topics which include the protection of minorities and human rights defenders, upholding civil liberties, and more.

“The Indian government should promptly adopt and act on the recommendations that United Nations member states made at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process on November 10,” the joint statement read. (IPS UN Bureau Report)

Modi Is Trying To Silence The Media

India’s tax crackdown on the BBC, weeks after it aired a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has made news around the world. But foreign correspondents based in the country say this is not the first act of hostility by the Modi government.

Privately, since 2019, they allege they have been facing visa uncertainty, denial of travel permits, even deportation threats, prompting them to conduct internal surveys to capture the extent of the harassment.

These surveys, which Scroll has seen, paint a picture of growing intimidation, which many respondents attributed to their critical reporting of the government. They said the government wanted to suppress coverage of the persecution of religious minorities in India and regions such as Kashmir and Assam.

Many left anonymous comments in the surveys stating that they had been “summoned” by officials and ministers and shown “files” and “spreadsheets” detailing their “negative coverage”.

A journalist working for a European news organisation recounted an instance of the Indian embassy in their home country emailing the publication, asking it “not to cover Muslim persecution”. (Scroll has reviewed this email sent by a senior Indian diplomat to the news organisation in 2020. Identifying details are being withheld on request.)

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Delhi has shared the findings of these surveys with the Ministry of External Affairs, officials on the board of the club said. “The discussions are ongoing,” one of them said, requesting anonymity. “The ministry has told us they will be taking up the issues with the relevant authorities.”

Scroll has sought a response from the ministry to the allegations made by the foreign journalists in the surveys. The ministry is yet to respond.

Restricting access

The surveys were conducted by journalists based in Delhi, who are members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, among foreign correspondents all over the country. The first survey was carried out among 40 journalists in January 2020, in the aftermath of major upheavals in Jammu and Kashmir and Assam.

In August 2019, the Indian government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. As foreign journalists prepared to travel to report on the impact of the move, they were told by the external affairs ministry that they had to seek prior permission to travel anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir, including the capital, Srinagar.

Picture : Digital Photo Pro

Until then, only “parts of Jammu and Kashmir” were included in the government’s list of restricted and protected areas for which foreign journalists require travel permits from the home ministry. Even the partial restriction on travel to J&K had gone largely unenforced, barring a brief period in 1990, according to journalists who have been in the country for decades.

The noose, however, had started tightening since 2016. In May that year, the external affairs ministry sent an email to foreign correspondents “reiterating” that travel permits were required for visiting Nagaland, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and parts of Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir. Two years later, it sent another reminder on similar lines.

But in August 2019, it extended the restrictions to the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, which has resulted in a near-total ban on foreign reporting from the former state that is now directly governed by New Delhi. No foreign correspondent has since independently gone on a reporting trip to the Kashmir valley.

In October, the Indian government arranged a Kashmir tour for select members of a European Union parliamentary delegation. Photo: PTI

Around the same time, Assam was updating its National Register of Citizens – a highly contentious exercise that critics said targeted religious and linguistic minorities. Although Assam was not officially on the list of places that foreign correspondents required a permit to visit, a foreign journalist was allegedly put back on a plane by state authorities in September 2019.

The January 2020 survey attempted to capture the extent of this clampdown. Of the 30 foreign journalists who had applied for travel permits in 2019 – most to report from Kashmir and Assam – 21 never heard back. (https://scroll.in/article/1044558/modi-is-trying-to-silence-the-foreign-press-heres-how)

Survey Or Raid Has No Difference To BBC

The word survey means “to examine and record the area and features of a place so as to construct a map, plan, or description”. It also means “to collect data over a period in order to assess them and reach a conclusion”.

The word raid means “a rapid surprise attack on an enemy by troops, aircraft, or other armed forces”. In the civil context, it means sending a large number of officers to an office or home to collect evidence, without giving time to the people concerned to hide or camouflage wealth or data”.

The Income Tax Department says it did not conduct a “raid” on the offices of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Delhi and Mumbai. What it conducted was a “survey”. What exactly did the department do? It did not give any advance notice to the BBC about the “survey”.

What happened was that a large number of Income Tax officers descended on the two buildings and started searching the offices. The staff, including journalists, were not allowed to make telephone calls, hold meetings or leave the offices. Their computers were opened and they were asked so many questions. The “survey” continued for two days.

How can this be called a survey when it resembles a “raid”? The government wanted to give the impression that what it did was a routine “survey” of the two offices and there was nothing more than met the eye in the action. Let it be made clear that only fools can be misled in this manner.

There was a report circulated by Hindenburg Research, which the mainstream media tried to ignore when it came out. But when it became viral on social media, the media was compelled to take notice of it. What did the report say?

It said that the Adani Group, headed by Gautam Adani, was using devious means to achieve its growth rate. It mentioned how it saved money on tax, how it parked money abroad and how it used the parked money to re-invest in the company and how the company used the expansion process to become richer and richer, day by day.

Adani was just a small company when, in 2014, he gave Narendra Modi his commodious helicopter to campaign all over the country. He is a good investor and he knew that the investment he made in providing a helicopter with full tank aviation fuel and staff throughout the period of the campaign would fetch him rewards.

What a proud moment it was for Adani when Modi arrived in Delhi to take over as the Prime Minister of India in his aircraft! Modi was very grateful to him. Whenever he went abroad, he took with him a group of businessmen in his special aircraft.

He stopped the practice of letting journalists travel with him. Among the businessmen who accompanied him on such trips was Gautam Adani. Neither JRD Tata nor Dhirubhai Ambani had the privilege of travelling with Prime Minister.

Adani used the connections so well that he began to outstep every company in the country. The Tatas, the Birlas, the Ambanis and the Mahindras were all overtaken by the Adani Group in no time. When Covid struck the nation and the government imposed a lockdown on the country, millions of people lost their livelihood.

We saw tens of thousands of people leaving cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad and walking all the way to their villages in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, etc. It was the period when even middle class people were dipping into their savings to manage their day-to-day affairs, as many companies were closed or could not pay salaries.

One extraordinary thing was happening in the country during this period. The Adani Group was growing by leaps and bounds. Everyday its assets were increasing by about Rs 1700 crore. Did Adani invent a new product like a car which can run 10,000 miles on a single litre of petrol?

No, he was doing what a good trader always does. He was fleecing the customer, in this case, the Indian state. He was bypassing every law of the land to become richer. The government helped him in the process by letting him have the contracts for new airports and new seaports.

Suddenly, Gautam Adani became the richest person in India, richer than Mukesh Ambani. What’s more, he became the richest person in Asia that includes China. He also became the third richest person in the world, overtaking Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Speculations already began when he would become the world’s richest person. That is when the Hindenburg Research report came. It was just a prick for the over-aired Adani balloon. Within days, he came down from the position of the third richest person to the 24th richest person!

Social media is full of stories of how he cheated investors and the government to become so rich. All his wealth was based on cooked-up figures. The Group tried to brave the challenge by going forward with its follow-on-public offer worth Rs 20,000 crore.

As was required, some shares were earmarked for the employees of Adani. Who knows the company better than the employees? Is it, therefore, any surprise that only 50 per cent of the shares earmarked for the staff were sold? Only 11 per cent of the shares meant for the general public were lifted?

It means that the people believe in the Hindenburg Research report that the Adani Group used “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud”. What the report said was known to everyone who matters in the country. If one searches Parliament records, he will know how Opposition MPs had pointed their accusing finger at the Adani Group.

The company was forced to withdraw its follow-on-public offer. It offered to return the money invested to the investors. If the investors were various outfits of the same Group, it could be treated as a coincidence.

As the controversy over the Adani saga filled the minds of the people, one person remained silent. He is Narendra Modi. Even when he was asked specific questions in Parliament, he preferred to attack the Congress for what it did in the hoary past.

A sensible government would have ordered a check of all the institutional mechanisms to ensure that if the Adani Group went down the Sabarmati River, it would not affect the general public, especially those whose money is deposited in banks like the State Bank of India and public sector companies like the Life Insurance Corporation of India.

Instead, a raid-like survey of the BBC was ordered. Ideally, the Income Tax authorities should have conducted the raid on the Adani Group offices to find out the truth contained in the Hindenburg Research report that the people in general believe. Why did it choose BBC, instead?

Let there be no mistakes. It is a retaliation in the context of the two-part documentary the BBC broadcast on the Gujarat riots of 2002 and later developments in the country titled “India: The Modi Question”. Officially what the IT Department said was that the BBC was indulging in “transfer pricing” and “diversion of profit”.

In these days when the Income Tax Department has access to all the banking transactions of a person or a company, it is not difficult to find out if there are any suspicious transactions. In any case, the BBC is a public broadcaster which runs on the licence fee every British citizen pays to listen to or watch its programmes.

Its offices in Delhi do not have transactions which are worth even a fraction of the transaction of the Adani Group which is now under a cloud. The BBC is not new to India.

Former Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s son was so perturbed over the BBC documentary that he even risked his membership in the Congress to attack the BBC.

He asked rhetorically whether the BBC had not shown the Indian map, showing Kashmir as a disputed territory? Did he not know that Britain and the US did not give Modi a visa to visit their countries when he was the chief minister of Gujarat?

Did he not know that the BBC has been reporting India even before his father was born, i.e., when the Rashtrapati Bhavan was known as the Viceroy’s House and the Union Jack received the salute of the Indian Army. If tomorrow India occupies what the Pakistanis call Azad Kashmir and what we call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, the BBC will show the map differently to indicate that Muzaffarabad and Gilgit are now part of India.

I would have been happy to know Antony Junior’s response to the raid on the BBC, which Rajiv Gandhi tuned into to confirm whether the Intelligence Bureau report about her mother’s assassination was correct or not. Modi was once an unabashed admirer of the BBC when All India Radio was known as All Indira Radio! It is a different matter that Modi evaded arrest and went abroad when the Emergency was clamped on the country.

Even a child knows that the IT survey was related to the BBC documentary which critically examined the riots in Gujarat in 2002, even giving the views of the ruling party. The overall impression it gave to the viewers was that the leadership in Gujarat at that time had a lot to explain for its acts of omission and commission. Modi was the chief minister at that time.

The commentary was a compilation of facts, figures, videos and statements that could be left to the people to reach their own conclusions. The aggrieved parties like the BJP could have come out with their own version of how and why the “pogrom” happened, particularly when the Union Home Minister Amit Shah himself claims credit for the achievements that flowed from the riots.

Even before the second part of the documentary was released, the Government ordered online media platforms to disable the links they had given to the first part of the documentary under rules which should not have been invoked at all.

It also ordered blocking of all tweets that had links to the documentary. Such a hyper-active reaction was unwarranted. It only raised doubts about the government’s own credibility. It is against this backdrop that the people in general have reservations about the IT Survey.

Nobody argues that if the BBC violated Indian tax laws, it should be let off simply because it is a multinational broadcaster with enormous clout. However, there are established ways in which its transgressions, if any, could have been dealt with. The survey was certainly not the way.

It is not the first time that government agencies like the CBI, the IT Department and the Enforcement Directorate have been used to pressurise media organisations which had either critically examined government policies or exposed some wrong-doing.

Organisations like NDTV, NewsClick, the Dainik Bhaskar Group of Publications and the organisation that funds the Centre for Policy Research have over the last few years experienced the high-handedness of such agencies. What the BBC has been undergoing is a similar kind of treatment.

Perhaps, the government wants to proclaim that it can get even with any organisation that embarrasses it, even if it is by way of espousing the truth. Revenge has now become a state policy!

A few years ago, the BBC did a documentary on the Uighars of the Xinjiang province of China, which was not to the liking of the government there. It brought to limelight the problem of missing Muslims. The broadcaster was condemned for what it did.

However, there is a fundamental difference between India and China. While it is a dictatorial regime that rules China, India takes pride in the fact that it is the largest democracy in the world.

A nation cannot be considered democratic, if it does not have a vibrant media that can critique the government. The media serves the purpose of a watchdog and if it is bridled, it will cease to be a democracy.

Ask any media person in Delhi and he will tell you how the government has stopped journalists from visiting the Central hall of Parliament to interact with political leaders. He will also tell you how the government has imposed more restrictions on journalists covering Parliament.

In short, the media has become “unwanted” in the country. Modi believes that he can communicate directly with the people through his tweets and Mann Ki Baath, little realising that a controlled media can play havoc, as it would give credence to rumours. Indira Gandhi realised the danger of controlling the media. Modi too will realise it, sooner than later.

See how the secrecy that surrounded the Adani companies finally brought it down when a mirror was shown to it by Hindenburg Research. (Courtesy: The Indian Currents)

US Policies Cause World Economy To Slow Down

(IPS) – Few policymakers ever claim credit for causing stagnation and recessions. Yet, they do so all the time, justifying their actions by some supposedly higher purpose. Now, that higher purpose is checking inflation as if it is the worst option for people today. Many supposed economists make up tall tales that inflation causes economic contraction which ordinary mortals do not know or understand.

Inflating inflation’s significance
Since early 2022, like many others in the world, Americans have been preoccupied with inflation. But official US data show inflation has been slowing since mid-2022.

Recent trends since mid-2022 are clear. Inflation is no longer accelerating, but slowing. And for most economists, only accelerating inflation gives cause for concern.

Annualized inflation since has only been slightly above the official, but nonetheless arbitrary 2% inflation target of most Western central banks.

At its peak, the brief inflationary surge, in the second quarter of last year, undoubtedly reached the “highest (price) levels since the early 1980s” because of the way it is measured.

After decades of ‘financialization’, the public and politicians unwittingly support moneyed interests who want to minimize inflation to make the most of their financial assets.

War and price
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine began last February, with retaliatory sanctions following suit. Both have disrupted supplies, especially of fuel and food. The inflation spike in the four months after the Russian invasion was mainly due to ‘supply shocks’.

Price increases were triggered by the war and retaliatory sanctions, especially for fuel, food and fertilizer. Although no longer accelerating, prices remain higher than a year before.

To be sure, price pressures had been building up with other supply disruptions. Also, demand has been changing with the new Cold War against China, the Covid-19 pandemic and ‘recovery’, and credit tightening in the last year.

There is little evidence of any more major accelerating factors. There is no ‘wage-price spiral’ as prices have recently been rising more than wages despite government efforts ensuring full employment since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Despite difficulties due to inflation, tens of millions of Americans are better off than before, e.g., with the ten million jobs created in the last two years. Under Biden, wages for poorly paid workers have risen faster than consumer prices.

Higher borrowing costs have also weakened the lot of working people everywhere. Such adverse consequences would be much less likely if the public better understood recent price increases, available policy options and their consequences.

With the notable exception of the Bank of Japan, most other major central banks have been playing ‘catch-up’ with the US Federal Reserve interest rate hikes. To be sure, inflation has already been falling for many reasons, largely unrelated to them.

Making stagnation
But higher borrowing costs have reduced spending, for both consumption and investment. This has hastened economic slowdown worldwide following more than a decade of largely lackluster growth since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Ill-advised earlier policies now limit what governments can do in response. With the Fed sharply raising interest rates over the last year, developing country central banks have been trying, typically in vain, to stem capital outflows to the US and other ‘safe havens’ raising interest rates.

Having opened their capital accounts following foreign advice, developing country central banks always offer higher raise interest rates, hoping more capital will flow in rather than out.

Interestingly, conservative US economists Milton Friedman and Ben Bernanke have shown the Fed has worsened past US downturns by raising interest rates, instead of supporting enterprises in their time of need.

Four decades ago, increased servicing costs triggered government debt crises in Latin America and Africa, condemning them to ‘lost decades’. Policy conditions were then imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for access to emergency loans.

Globalization double-edged
Economic globalization policies at the turn of the century are being significantly reversed, with devastating consequences for developing countries after they opened their economies to foreign trade and investment.

Encouraging foreign portfolio investment has increasingly been at the expense of ‘greenfield’ foreign direct investment enhancing new economic capacities and capabilities.

The new Cold War has arguably involved more economic weapons, e.g., sanctions, than the earlier one. Trump’s and Japanese ‘reshoring’ and ‘friend-shoring’ discriminate among investors, remaking ‘value’ or ‘supply chains’.

Arguably, establishing the World Trade Organization in 1995 was the high water mark for multilateral trade liberalization, setting a ‘one size fits all’ approach for all, regardless of means. More recently, Biden has continued Trump’s reversal of earlier trade liberalization, even at the regional level.

1995 also saw strengthening intellectual property rights internationally, limiting technology transfers and progress. Recent ‘trade conflicts’ increasingly involve access to high technology, e.g., in the case of Huawei, TSMC and Samsung.

With declining direct tax rates almost worldwide, governments face more budget constraints. The last year has seen these diminished fiscal means massively diverted for military spending and strategic ends, cutting resources for development, sustainability, equity and humanitarian ends.

In this context, the new international antagonisms conspire to make this a ‘perfect storm’ of economic stagnation and regression. Hence, those striving for international peace and cooperation may well be our best hope against the ‘new barbarism’. (IPS UN Bureau)

Love Is Life, Hatred Is Death

“Strength is Life; Weakness is Death.

Expansion is Life; Contraction is Death.

Love is Life; Hatred is Death”.

Any idea who said these famous words in 1893?

If not, the following narration of an incident will reveal the inspiration that molded a legend in an Indian village about 160 years ago; and kindled Indian religious and cultural concepts worldwide.

Imagine a classroom or may be kids sitting around a teacher under a banyan tree.

In that class, the teacher asked the children.

“Children, what do you want to be when you grow up?” One bright boy said: Teacher

Another: Doctor

So big jobs were said, one by one..

The teacher approached the last child and sat on the other end.

“Who do you want to be, kid?”

Boy: “I want to be a horseman.”

Teacher: “What..? Just a horseman? Aren’t you ashamed, kid. Bad! Bad!”

All that day, the boy was teased by all the children, and he was humiliated. He came home in the evening, sadly.

His mother was standing at the door waiting for him as usual.

Seeing her son’s face withered, the mother asked, “What’s the matter with you, Unni?”

Child: Teacher scolded me… All the children made fun of me…

Mother: Why?

Boy: “When the teacher asked me who I wanted to be, I said I wanted to be a horse-drawn carriage driver”.

The mother laughed and hugged her son and said, “Why my son should be a horse and carriage driver… but what kind of horse and carriage driver should he be?

Mother: Son come on, let me show you something to remember.”

The mother took her son to the pooja room and opened the door to a large picture. She pointed to the image of the horse carriage.

“Look at the Geeta Upadesam picture. There is a chariot on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Arjuna as a passenger is seated at the back. The chariot is driven by a charioteer (driver), Lord Krishna. He is holding the reins”.

His mother said, “Unni, you should become a horse carriage driver like this and lead the whole world; that is what mother wants.”

Mother’s words flowed through the child’s body like a thousand watts of electricity. The child’s sadness and humiliation suddenly changed to extreme joy.¦.

Who was that intelligent mother who changed her son’s thinking with a single word?

Goddess Bhuvaneshwari!

Who was that boy? Narendra !! Yes, our very own great- SWAMI VIVEKANANDA.

The World Ahead In 2023

India is continuing on its path to majoritarian chauvinism

Narendra modi had a better 2022 than most world leaders. India’s prime minister was projected to end the year as leader of the world’s fastest-growing major economy, with growth close to 7%, in spite of multiple global crises.

Russia’s war in Ukraine plunged Europe into an energy crisis and strained relations among Western allies. In India, by contrast, it facilitated the purchase of cheap Russian oil and lifted Mr Modi’s international standing. As Western countries jostled to gain India’s support, the prime minister succeeded in styling himself as an ostensibly neutral advocate of resolving the conflict peacefully, managing to scold Vladimir Putin while simultaneously resisting Western entreaties to join the anti-Russia coalition for good.

Yet Mr Modi’s rising star abroad may not be good news for many Indians in 2023. The prime minister’s growing clout in foreign relations will probably reduce Western leaders’ already limited appetite for criticising his government. That removes one more check on Mr Modi’s power at home. It will leave him freer than ever to reshape India in the image championed by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp) and its ideological ally, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a century-old paramilitary volunteer outfit.

Critics of Mr Modi’s government spend nearly as much time complaining about the hopeless domestic opposition as they do about the man himself. At the start of 2022 they hoped that the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, led by Sonia Gandhi, might manage to regroup and make a dent in the bjp’s dominance in state-level elections. Yet nothing of the sort has happened.

As the bjp retained power in all elections it contested as the incumbent, and gained control of the government of the wealthy state of Maharashtra following a political crisis it helped to engineer, Congress lost an important election in Punjab to the Aam Aadmi Party (aap). The aap runs Delhi, the capital, and is seen as another potential rival to the bjp at the national level. But, since winning the elections in Punjab, it has struggled to govern, while also having to deal with multiple crises, including corruption investigations, in Delhi.

In 2023 Mr Modi’s government is likely to intensify its efforts to consolidate control over state politics in the run-up to national-assembly elections in 2024. It will also probably continue to use central-government agencies to hound its critics, filing spurious corruption cases in order to embroil them in time-consuming legal proceedings or using national-security laws to neutralise its critics with pre-trial detention.

It will continue to stack the civil service and academic institutions with loyalists, and to shrink the space for political opponents and members of minority groups, particularly Muslims. Gautam Adani, a billionaire ally of Mr Modi’s, may soon finalise his takeover of ndtv, India’s last remaining major independent television channel.

The campaign to get Mr Modi’s idea of India recognised as representative of the nation abroad will be stepped up, too. S. Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, says forces that are frustrated to be “no longer winning within India” are trying to shape the discourse abroad, and warned foreign observers against believing them. As Indian politics increasingly play out on the global stage, so do the attempts to stifle the voices of opponents.■

Big 5 Are At The Heart Of The Problem In Reforming UNSC

(IPS) – The UN Charter mandates the Security Council to maintain international peace, but wars rage on and nations arm themselves with ever more lethal weapons. No wonder that the Council’s critics are so many and calls for its reform so urgent.

On December 11, 1992, with post-Cold War optimism, the UN General Assembly voted to gather comments from member states on Council reform. Eighty governments made submissions, many sharply critical.

In the thirty years since, there have been endless meetings and initiatives. Year after year, governments, scholars, NGOs, and citizen movements have advanced proposals for Council renovation. In all that time, little progress has been made.

The Council’s five Permanent Members (the P-5) are the heart of the problem. Armed with vetoes, never-ending Council membership, and many other special privileges, they perpetuate their power, protect their global interests and shield their incessant war making.

They shape international law to suit themselves. The United States, the global giant, has by far the most dominant role in the Council. But it is adverse to following the rules itself and rarely inclined towards peaceful conflict solutions. Many ask: should the foxes guard the global chicken coop?

Various powers outside the P-5 want to be elevated to the highest rank. Brazil, India, Japan and Germany have long announced that they want to join the Permanent club. They argue that they would bring fresh ideas to better “represent” world regions and promote world peace.

Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt want to belong to the exclusive club too, bringing (they say) an African voice. But (to use an African metaphor) would these new crocodiles protect the world’s little fish? It seems unlikely!

Other reformers insist on more seats (and longer terms) for the Elected Members of the Council, presently ten in number. Smaller members are very vulnerable to pressure, threats and bribes from the P-5. Further, these lesser countries manage to have only the slightest influence on the Council’s proceedings.

They are, said the exasperated Singapore ambassador, “like short-term commuters on a long-distance passenger train.” So, a simple increase in Elected Members would not be a sure bet.

Limiting the veto or abolishing it entirely would have a very positive result but, needless to say, the P-5 fiercely oppose it. Reformers have also pressed for fairer membership elections and more frequent open public meetings.

Yet (with the exception of cosmetic tweaks) the reform process constantly runs up against P-5 blocking power. Their veto can stop any reform proposal dead in its tracks. But we should not forget that the world is changing and that autocratic power in history never lasts forever!

All reform proposals reflect an idealistic notion that the Council can be changed to restrain the enormous power, appetite and influence of the strongest and richest nations. This idea is rooted in the dream of democratic institutions within nation states, that rich and poor can elect representatives and determine policy in what passes for the general interest.

Difficult as it is at the national level, how could it possibly work in the war-torn world of global politics? Might one day the P-5 Ancien Regime collapse in a great crisis, under desperate pressure from a global citizens’ movement? What would it take to set such a process in motion? It may seem impossible, but so was the French revolution. We can be skeptical, but if we want peace we must press for change. So, watch out, P-5 autocrats! Change is coming!

(IPS UN Bureau)

Bharat Jodo Yatra Unites India

Rahul Gandhi started Bharat Jodo Yatra on September 7, 2022 with the plan of covering a distance 3500 km from Kanyakumari to Srinagar. According to the Congress party, the yatra is the biggest Mass contact programme where the concerns of people will be raised. Although the main purpose of the yatra is to revive and rejuvenate the Congress party, people belonging to different ideologies, walks of life, professions and members of civil society organizations have joined the yatra because they appreciate the idea of knitting India, an India that is being divided on the basis of religion and besieged by soaring unemployment, price rise and widening economic disparities. Presence of a large number of ordinary people is the specialty of the yatra, besides participation by many social activists and film celebrities.

By observing and analysing the yatra, the kind of people who participate in the walk and the issues raised during the walk, one can draw some spiritual insights.

Picture : TheUNN

Personal Transformation, a Prerequisite for Social Transformation: Mahatma Gandhi has said, “You be the change you want to see in others”. The Bharat Jodo Yatra has certain specific objectives, which Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party have clearly articulated. While the yatra entered Madhya Pradesh in the last week of November, Rahul Gandhi said that he feels some changes in himself during the yatra, especially more patience and the ability to listen to others. “Now I don’t get irritated even for eight hours, if someone pushes or pulls me. It doesn’t affect me, whereas earlier I used to get irritated even in two hours,” he said. “If you are walking in the yatra and experience pain, then you have to face it, you can’t just give up”, he added.

Relevance of Tapasya: During the yatra, Rahul Gandhi often repeated that for him, Bharat Jodo Yatra is a tapasya. In a conversation with Darshan Mondkar, a Pune-based entrepreneur, who joined the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s Maharashtra leg, Rahul Gandhi explained what he means by tapasya. “Tapasya comes from the word tup. When you do tapasya you generate heat; the energy which consumes you. It hurts you; it pains you. And, then, you achieve,” Rahul said. He further explained: “Yes. Sure. I do not want to achieve anything without putting in an effort, without doing tup. Unless it hurts me, it pains me, any achievement is not worth it. This Bharat Jodo Yatra is my tapasya.”

“It is like an expiation, a cleansing of the soul. It is no easy task to walk even a single day in the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The physical stamina has to match a personal, political and an emotional commitment,” commented one of those walked with Rahul Gandhi in Karnataka.
The crucial question is how many of our political and religious leaders are ready to do tapasya. How many of them are ready to leave their comfort zones and walk to see and experience the problems and difficulties of people?  On the contrary, often, they make provocative statements sitting in their comfort zones and adopt controversial policies to divide people. They want to attain power and remain in power by polarizing people. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra challenges these comfort-seeking, power-hungry and manipulative leaders.

Ability to Listen: The root cause of many conflicts is the failure on the part of individuals and groups to listen to others. Very often divorces take place in families, and many families are disintegrated due to the failure of the members to listen to each other. Many failures in governance happen because the rulers are not ready to listen to people. In the case of India, two mammoth protests — one against the three controversial farm laws and another against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) — took place because of the stubbornness of the ruling party to listen to people. Without listening to people, the ruling party imposed the two laws on the people of India. The tendency to impose laws without consulting people, who have to bear the consequence of the laws, is found among the religious leaders also. Often, they too behave like dictators.

Because Rahul Gandhi was ready to listen to people, many individuals and groups met him during the yatra and presented before him their problems and views. They include children, unemployed youth, women, students, farmers, weavers, intellectuals and social activists. A government, which is deeply committed to a majoritarian ideology that is exclusive, divisive and discriminative, is not willing to listen to people and their elected representatives.

Getting Rid of Fear: A constant theme running through Rahul Gandhi’s speeches during the yatra is the need for getting rid of fear. The root cause of hatred is fear. RSS and BJP have fear and that is why they spread hatred. He spoke why and how we need to overcome the fear within us so that we can become strong voices against the fascism of BJP/RSS. He showed the courage to speak against Adani and Ambani without mentioning their names, as they have cornered huge wealth of the nation due to the pro-corporate policies of the BJP government, neglecting the interests of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

Yogendra Yadav, President of Swaraj India, in an interview with Karan Thapar said that the tide is turning. “The climate of loneliness and fear has cracked but not shattered.” A few months ago, people were afraid of speaking against the government because of the fear of ED and CBI pouncing upon them. Now, thousands of people are walking on the streets along with Rahul Gandhi and it is making a dent in the fear.

Suzanne Furtado, an entrepreneur and writer from Bengaluru, who took part at the Mysore phase of the march, shared her experience in the following words. “Today’s India, where people’s voices, freedoms, lives, are being silenced, snatched, snuffed out, is not where I grew up. What I love most about my country is our incomparable diversity, and my heart grieves at what is happening to our people, our homeland. To me, Rahul Gandhi’s simple call to all to join him on this mission of unity, to come together to conquer the violent politics of hate, feels like Satyagraha. The Satyagraha of today’s India.”

Courage, the courage to stand alone and speak truth to power, is a significant quality of a spiritual person. A combination of courage and compassion makes a person spiritual. Rahul Gandhi has been consistent in his strident criticism of the dangerous ideology of the RSS-BJP combine. Even when the yatra entered Maharashtra, he had the guts to criticize the ideology of V D Savarkar, one of the protagonists of Hindutva. At the same time, because of his compassion for the people of India, he has been constantly focusing on the issues of the people — unemployment, rising prices and growing economic inequality. How many of our political and religious leaders have the courage to criticize the misuse of power by the ruling dispensation? Many religious leaders, despite knowing the dangerous virus that is infecting the whole nation, keep mum because of fear. Cowards can never be spiritual. Mahatma Gandhi has said, “Non-violence and cowardice are contradictory terms. Non-violence is the greatest virtue, cowardice the greatest vice. Non-violence springs from love, cowardice from hate. Non-violence always suffers, cowardice would always inflict suffering.”

Unity, Love and Fraternity: One of the proclaimed goals of Bharat Jodo Yatra is to replace division and hatred with unity and love. While addressing people at Hingoli in Maharashtra, Rahul Gandhi said, “We will reach Srinagar and hoist tri-colour and spread a message that this country can neither be divided nor can hatred and violence be spread in this country.” As an example of defeating hatred with love, Rahul Gandhi gave flying kisses to people who had gathered at the BJP Jhalawar office’s rooftop to catch a glimpse of the march. Later Rahul Gandhi wrote on Facebook: “No malice, no anger, no resentment — none of this is in the hearts of Bharat yatris. What they have is a desire to unite India, compassion for the sufferings of Indians and love for all citizens.”

The unity that Rahul Gandhi wants to promote is not the ruthless uniformity imposed by the RSS-BJP combine; it is a unity rooted in brotherhood and diversity. Imposing uniformity is totally against the spirit of India. While addressing a gathering in Kerala, Rahul Gandhi admired the people of Kerala for fostering unity in diversity. “Kerala is the symbol of unity in diversity and model for the entire country. The people of the state do not allow hatred to spread among them and encourage mutual respect. This was the reason that the state has a good education system and most compassionate nurses.”

One of the basic differences between religiosity and spirituality is that religiosity divides people whereas spirituality unites people. Religiosity is based on rituals, dogmas, rules, pilgrimages and devotions. These aspects generally differ from religion to religion and often people fight because of the overemphasis on these aspects. On the other hand, spirituality is based on the practice of humanitarian values, ideals, morals and ethical principles. These are more or less common to all religions. Because of the overemphasis on rituals and dogmas, fundamentalism and fanaticism flourish in religions. Fundamentalists always insist on uniformity and they impose uniformity by force. The result is conflict, division and enmity both within the religions and between the religions.

Unity in diversity is the millennial heritage of India. Unity of India consists in accepting, appreciating and celebrating differences, especially with regard to religion, culture and language. The great leaders of India, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Babasaheb Ambedkar etc., believed and practiced it. That is why secularism/pluralism is included as one of the core principles in the preamble of the Indian Constitution. Ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre under the leadership of Narendra Modi, this principle is being ridiculed and blatantly violated. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra can restore and reassert one of the basic foundations of the Indian nation.

India has a long history of foot-marches by spiritual gurus and political leaders. Saints like Adi Shankaracharya, Lord Buddha, Guru Nanak and Sree Chaitanya had embarked on foot-marches to communicate their spiritual messages and bring about transformation in individuals and in society. Mahatma Gandhi led the longest foot-march as part of the national freedom struggle, which gave the final push to the independence struggle. Bharat Jodo Yatra, being political and spiritual, can lead to an urgently needed socio-political transformation of India. (Indian Currents)

While Opponents Of Ruling BJP Arrested for ‘Spurious Reasons,’ India’s Judiciary Faces Major Challenges

(IPS) – India’s new Chief Justice, Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, has a significant challenge ahead – as activists and minorities remain hopeful that he will remain true to his legacy of delivering judgments that enshrined the Constitution, especially on personal liberty.

Sanjay Kapoor, founder editor of Hardnews Magazine and political analyst told the IPS that many of the rulings by Indian courts in recent times have been deeply disturbing.

“In the name of national security, draconian laws are evoked to curb personal liberty. Journalists and activists have been arrested and locked away under anti-terror law without evidence,” said Kapoor.

He gave the example of Siddique Kappan, who has remained in jail for more than two years for unknown reasons. Kappan got bail from the Supreme Court, but anti-money laundering laws were immediately slapped upon him to ensure that he remained in prison.

Kapoor’s main concern is the undermining of courts by the government, which is sure to weaken institutions and harm democracy in India.

Meanwhile, the CJI also warned that he was not here to do miracles.

“I know that challenges are high; perhaps the expectations are also high, and I am deeply grateful for your sense of faith, but I am not here to do miracles,” Chandrachud said after his appointment.

The challenges facing the judiciary include a backlog of cases, delays in appointing Supreme Court judges, and significant inconsistencies in judicial approaches.

Soon after Chandrachud took oath on November 9, Chandrachud expressed concern over the long list of requests before the Supreme Court for bail. He said that district judges are reluctant to grant bail in a fair manner out of fear of being targeted.

Activists say that this is the same reason that media personnel, political opponents, and social activists are languishing behind bars without bail today.

Activist Teesta Setalvad was arrested in June 2021, and her bail plea was only accepted three months later when she was finally released. There are others, like student leader Umar Khalid, who has languished in jail for more than two years.

Picture : CNN

The judicial system in India is under tremendous pressure. Until last May, countless cases were pending in courts across different levels of the judiciary. Many of the cases were pending in subordinate courts, a large percent in High Courts, while a hundred thousand cases have been pending for over 30 years. Amid the rising trend of litigation, more and more people and organisations seek justice from courts today. However, there are not enough judges to hear the cases. The courts are overburdened, and the backlog of cases is intimidating.

The reluctance to grant bail to especially political opponents has only aggravated the matter. Most recently, Sanjay Raut, senior opposition party leader, said that he had lost 10 kgs while in prison. The legislature was accused of money laundering. He was in jail for 100 days before bail was granted to him in November. He was kept in a dark cell where he did not see sunlight for 15 days.

Raut said that he would not have been arrested if he had surrendered to the will of the ruling party and remained a mute spectator to the politics of the day. He wondered if only those who oppose the politics of the ruling party would continue to be arrested.

The use of the justice system as a political tool and reluctance to grant bail at the district level has clogged the higher judiciary with far too many cases.

“The reason why the higher judiciary is being flooded with bail applications is because of the reluctance of the grassroots to grant bail, and why are judges reluctant to grant bail not because they do not have the ability to understand the crime. They probably understand the crime better than many of the higher court judges because they know what crime is there at the grassroots in the districts, but there is a sense of fear that if I grant bail, will someone target me tomorrow on the ground that I granted bail in a heinous case. This sense of fear nobody talks about but, which we must confront because unless we do, we are going to render our district courts toothless and our higher courts dysfunctional,” Chandrachud said at an event hosted by the Bar Council of India last week to felicitate his appointment as the country’s 50th CJI.

The Supreme Court of India is perhaps the most powerful Court in the world. However, in recent times the judiciary has been criticised for its uneven handling of cases. It is under scrutiny over contradictions found in its functioning. The fact that a former CJI accepted a seat in the upper house of parliament soon after his retirement two years ago had raised eyebrows.

The judiciary’s perceived deference to the present government is a major concern, including the ongoing arrest of political opponents, and refusal to grant bail to those arrested is becoming the norm. On the other hand, ‘friends’ of the ruling party are allowed to get away with murder and rape.

The nation was shocked after a document was made public last October as proof that the premature release of 11 men convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the killing of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots was approved by the home ministry despite opposition by a special court. A Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and Professor Roop Rekha Verma together filed a public interest litigation (PIL) against a remission granted to 11 convicts who were released on August 15, India’s 75th Independence Day celebrations this year on account of good behaviour.

Bano was gang-raped along with 14 members of her family. Her 3-year-old daughter Saleha was killed by a mob in a village in the province of Gujarat as they fled communal violence in 2002. Bano was 19 years old and five months pregnant at that time. Shobha Gupta, the lawyer for Bano has battled for years for the rape survivor to get justice. Gupta told Barkha Dutt, a senior journalist, that she is shattered and unable to face Bano. That after the release of her rapists from custody, Bano is silent and feels alone.

Dutt had interviewed Bano 20 years ago. Today she wrote in her column that an unspeakable injustice is unfolding with brazen impunity. Its legality is dodgy. Dutt said, “Let’s raise hell”.

After the men who raped Bano and killed her child were freed, they were greeted outside the prison with sweets and garlands. This is the story of a very seriously ill nation, columnist Jawed Naqvi said.

“The nation that was baying for the execution of men who raped a young woman in a bus in Delhi in 2012 seemed deaf to Bilkis’s trauma,” Naqvi wrote. The executive has turned its back on Bano. The media is disinterested and civil society has been bullied into silence at a time when principles are passe for most politicians.”

So who will give justice to citizens like Bano? The Supreme Court?

In a plea filed by Azam Khan last July, the opposition party leader pointed out a new trend amongst the high courts to impose unnecessary bail conditions. Khan said that a high court had ordered the politician to hand over allegedly encroached land as a condition for bail. The ruling was overturned.

Seeking justice these days is tough within the courts and outside.

The 74-year-old Khan has been behind bars since early 2020. Multiple charges have been slapped on him, including corruption, theft, and land grab, in an effort to make sure that he remains behind bars on some charge or the other. However, Khan was granted interim bail last May. A few months later, he was fined and has been sentenced to three more years in prison for a hate speech made in 2019. At that time, Khan was accused of blaming the Prime Minister for creating an atmosphere in the country in which it was difficult for Muslims, the largest minority community in India, to live.

A new report published by the USA-based NGO Council on Minority Rights in India (CMRI) and released on November 20 at New Delhi’s Press Club found that by helping offenders, detaining victims, and failing to register first information reports (FIR) in some cases, law enforcement agencies play a role in furthering hate crimes.

Discussing the legal aspects of persecution, lawyer Kawalpreet Kaur said that minorities are facing the brunt of the state to varying degrees. Cases of the pogrom against Muslims during the Delhi riots have been lying in the high court for the last two years.

“Indian courts need to keep their eyes and ears open; it is not a one-off case of Afree Fatima’s house bulldozed or when the stalls of working-class Muslims were razed in Delhi despite a stay from the court,” she said.

The lawyer called it an attack by the Indian state against its minorities and a campaign of misinformation and Islamophobia witnessed every day.

The release of the CMRI report comes at a time when numerous countries and organisations are calling upon India to take stock of the plight of its religious minorities.

Six international rights groups – the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Inter­national Dalit Solidarity Network, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have reminded New Delhi in a joint statement that it is yet to implement recommendations of a recent UN report on India which cover topics which include the protection of minorities and human rights defenders, upholding civil liberties, and more.

“The Indian government should promptly adopt and act on the recommendations that United Nations member states made at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process on November 10,” the joint statement read. (IPS UN Bureau Report)

Bharat Jodo Yatra Unites India

Rahul Gandhi started Bharat Jodo Yatra on September 7, 2022 with the plan of covering a distance 3500 km from Kanyakumari to Srinagar. According to the Congress party, the yatra is the biggest Mass contact programme where the concerns of people will be raised. Although the main purpose of the yatra is to revive and rejuvenate the Congress party, people belonging to different ideologies, walks of life, professions and members of civil society organizations have joined the yatra because they appreciate the idea of knitting India, an India that is being divided on the basis of religion and besieged by soaring unemployment, price rise and widening economic disparities. Presence of a large number of ordinary people is the specialty of the yatra, besides participation by many social activists and film celebrities.

By observing and analysing the yatra, the kind of people who participate in the walk and the issues raised during the walk, one can draw some spiritual insights.

Picture : TheUNN

Personal Transformation, a Prerequisite for Social Transformation: Mahatma Gandhi has said, “You be the change you want to see in others”. The Bharat Jodo Yatra has certain specific objectives, which Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party have clearly articulated. While the yatra entered Madhya Pradesh in the last week of November, Rahul Gandhi said that he feels some changes in himself during the yatra, especially more patience and the ability to listen to others. “Now I don’t get irritated even for eight hours, if someone pushes or pulls me. It doesn’t affect me, whereas earlier I used to get irritated even in two hours,” he said. “If you are walking in the yatra and experience pain, then you have to face it, you can’t just give up”, he added.

Relevance of Tapasya: During the yatra, Rahul Gandhi often repeated that for him, Bharat Jodo Yatra is a tapasya. In a conversation with Darshan Mondkar, a Pune-based entrepreneur, who joined the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s Maharashtra leg, Rahul Gandhi explained what he means by tapasya. “Tapasya comes from the word tup. When you do tapasya you generate heat; the energy which consumes you. It hurts you; it pains you. And, then, you achieve,” Rahul said. He further explained: “Yes. Sure. I do not want to achieve anything without putting in an effort, without doing tup. Unless it hurts me, it pains me, any achievement is not worth it. This Bharat Jodo Yatra is my tapasya.”

“It is like an expiation, a cleansing of the soul. It is no easy task to walk even a single day in the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The physical stamina has to match a personal, political and an emotional commitment,” commented one of those walked with Rahul Gandhi in Karnataka.
The crucial question is how many of our political and religious leaders are ready to do tapasya. How many of them are ready to leave their comfort zones and walk to see and experience the problems and difficulties of people?  On the contrary, often, they make provocative statements sitting in their comfort zones and adopt controversial policies to divide people. They want to attain power and remain in power by polarizing people. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra challenges these comfort-seeking, power-hungry and manipulative leaders.

Ability to Listen: The root cause of many conflicts is the failure on the part of individuals and groups to listen to others. Very often divorces take place in families, and many families are disintegrated due to the failure of the members to listen to each other. Many failures in governance happen because the rulers are not ready to listen to people. In the case of India, two mammoth protests — one against the three controversial farm laws and another against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) — took place because of the stubbornness of the ruling party to listen to people. Without listening to people, the ruling party imposed the two laws on the people of India. The tendency to impose laws without consulting people, who have to bear the consequence of the laws, is found among the religious leaders also. Often, they too behave like dictators.

Because Rahul Gandhi was ready to listen to people, many individuals and groups met him during the yatra and presented before him their problems and views. They include children, unemployed youth, women, students, farmers, weavers, intellectuals and social activists. A government, which is deeply committed to a majoritarian ideology that is exclusive, divisive and discriminative, is not willing to listen to people and their elected representatives.

Getting Rid of Fear: A constant theme running through Rahul Gandhi’s speeches during the yatra is the need for getting rid of fear. The root cause of hatred is fear. RSS and BJP have fear and that is why they spread hatred. He spoke why and how we need to overcome the fear within us so that we can become strong voices against the fascism of BJP/RSS. He showed the courage to speak against Adani and Ambani without mentioning their names, as they have cornered huge wealth of the nation due to the pro-corporate policies of the BJP government, neglecting the interests of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

Yogendra Yadav, President of Swaraj India, in an interview with Karan Thapar said that the tide is turning. “The climate of loneliness and fear has cracked but not shattered.” A few months ago, people were afraid of speaking against the government because of the fear of ED and CBI pouncing upon them. Now, thousands of people are walking on the streets along with Rahul Gandhi and it is making a dent in the fear.

Suzanne Furtado, an entrepreneur and writer from Bengaluru, who took part at the Mysore phase of the march, shared her experience in the following words. “Today’s India, where people’s voices, freedoms, lives, are being silenced, snatched, snuffed out, is not where I grew up. What I love most about my country is our incomparable diversity, and my heart grieves at what is happening to our people, our homeland. To me, Rahul Gandhi’s simple call to all to join him on this mission of unity, to come together to conquer the violent politics of hate, feels like Satyagraha. The Satyagraha of today’s India.”

Courage, the courage to stand alone and speak truth to power, is a significant quality of a spiritual person. A combination of courage and compassion makes a person spiritual. Rahul Gandhi has been consistent in his strident criticism of the dangerous ideology of the RSS-BJP combine. Even when the yatra entered Maharashtra, he had the guts to criticize the ideology of V D Savarkar, one of the protagonists of Hindutva. At the same time, because of his compassion for the people of India, he has been constantly focusing on the issues of the people — unemployment, rising prices and growing economic inequality. How many of our political and religious leaders have the courage to criticize the misuse of power by the ruling dispensation? Many religious leaders, despite knowing the dangerous virus that is infecting the whole nation, keep mum because of fear. Cowards can never be spiritual. Mahatma Gandhi has said, “Non-violence and cowardice are contradictory terms. Non-violence is the greatest virtue, cowardice the greatest vice. Non-violence springs from love, cowardice from hate. Non-violence always suffers, cowardice would always inflict suffering.”

Unity, Love and Fraternity: One of the proclaimed goals of Bharat Jodo Yatra is to replace division and hatred with unity and love. While addressing people at Hingoli in Maharashtra, Rahul Gandhi said, “We will reach Srinagar and hoist tri-colour and spread a message that this country can neither be divided nor can hatred and violence be spread in this country.” As an example of defeating hatred with love, Rahul Gandhi gave flying kisses to people who had gathered at the BJP Jhalawar office’s rooftop to catch a glimpse of the march. Later Rahul Gandhi wrote on Facebook: “No malice, no anger, no resentment — none of this is in the hearts of Bharat yatris. What they have is a desire to unite India, compassion for the sufferings of Indians and love for all citizens.”

The unity that Rahul Gandhi wants to promote is not the ruthless uniformity imposed by the RSS-BJP combine; it is a unity rooted in brotherhood and diversity. Imposing uniformity is totally against the spirit of India. While addressing a gathering in Kerala, Rahul Gandhi admired the people of Kerala for fostering unity in diversity. “Kerala is the symbol of unity in diversity and model for the entire country. The people of the state do not allow hatred to spread among them and encourage mutual respect. This was the reason that the state has a good education system and most compassionate nurses.”

One of the basic differences between religiosity and spirituality is that religiosity divides people whereas spirituality unites people. Religiosity is based on rituals, dogmas, rules, pilgrimages and devotions. These aspects generally differ from religion to religion and often people fight because of the overemphasis on these aspects. On the other hand, spirituality is based on the practice of humanitarian values, ideals, morals and ethical principles. These are more or less common to all religions. Because of the overemphasis on rituals and dogmas, fundamentalism and fanaticism flourish in religions. Fundamentalists always insist on uniformity and they impose uniformity by force. The result is conflict, division and enmity both within the religions and between the religions.

Unity in diversity is the millennial heritage of India. Unity of India consists in accepting, appreciating and celebrating differences, especially with regard to religion, culture and language. The great leaders of India, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Babasaheb Ambedkar etc., believed and practiced it. That is why secularism/pluralism is included as one of the core principles in the preamble of the Indian Constitution. Ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre under the leadership of Narendra Modi, this principle is being ridiculed and blatantly violated. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra can restore and reassert one of the basic foundations of the Indian nation.

India has a long history of foot-marches by spiritual gurus and political leaders. Saints like Adi Shankaracharya, Lord Buddha, Guru Nanak and Sree Chaitanya had embarked on foot-marches to communicate their spiritual messages and bring about transformation in individuals and in society. Mahatma Gandhi led the longest foot-march as part of the national freedom struggle, which gave the final push to the independence struggle. Bharat Jodo Yatra, being political and spiritual, can lead to an urgently needed socio-political transformation of India. (Indian Currents)

Bharat Jodo Yatra – An Historic Initiative By Rahul Gandhi

Let me begin by revisiting history. In  2015-16, Mahatma Gandhi journeyed across the length and the breadth of the country. His objective was to understand the real India, its differences in terms of caste, creed and religion. His fight was against the forces of imperialism. More than a century later another individual carrying the same Surname has undertaken another seminal journey.

This time not to understand but to explain the credo of India – an ethos which stands for  harmony, trust and togetherness. His fight is against the forces of imperialism.

Yes, you have guessed it right I am talking about Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat jodo yatra’!

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” Victor Hugo the French novelist said ages ago. According to me Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo yatra’ is one such idea whose time has well and truly come.

Picture : Tribune India

Bharat Jodo Yatra is historic in many ways. It is being undertaken at a time when India is being torn apart by religious strife, when the fault lines between communities have deepened like never before.  The role of all the  4 pillars of democracy – Legislature,  Executive, Judiciary  and Media media has been compromised. The country’s public sector undertakings which have been the  backbone of the country’s infrastructure are being constantly eroded leading to  massive private monopolies and uneven distribution of wealth in the country.

In this chaos when the average Indian is looking for a voice of sanity and peace  Rahul Gandhi has undertaken one of the most strenuous and difficult exercises to assure the oppressed and the marginalised that he is committed to their cause.

I am reminded of a similar exercise undertaken by the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who had embarked on a satbhavana yatra in 1990  when the nation was battling the scourge of  casteism unleashed by VP Singh’s Naitonal Front and the curse of communalism  cut loose by L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra!

Rahul Gandhi’s  Bharat Jodo Yatra has immense contemporary relevance  because the country has been divided like never before on the basis of religion, region, caste and creed. It is time for someone to pick up the gauntlet and show the true path of time cherished values which India has always stood for.

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has been even more challenging  because he is covering the  entire distance from south to north on barefoot. His yatra started from September 7th from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and has so far covered Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and after covering many more states will culminate in  Srinagar in 2023

A look at his daily schedule will throw light on the gritty  man, his exemplary mission and his brilliant vision. His typical day starts at 5:30 am in the morning and he walks on the common man’s path till 7:30 where he takes a short break for tea. He then resumes his yatra and walks till 10:30-11:30 am where he breaks for lunch and a short rest. He then resumes his yatra from 3 pm to 6pm and has a public meeting or engagement with the people before he breaks for the day.

This exercise has continued despite inclement weather and several impediments in this yatra.

It should be mentioned here that the yatra has showed the people the real face of Rahul Gandhi where he has come across as a very good human being, a caring person who really loves the country for which his family has sacrificed so much including the ultimate sacrifice to the nation by his  father and grand mother. Rahul Gandhi also has shown how fit he is during the course of the yatra as he has never complained of fatigue or any other issues despite the hectic schedule and engagements during the strenuous yatra that involves constant and continuous public engagement and media glare. It is very rare in politics to see a determined and strong person who despite hardships is determined to continue with the yatra that wants to fight the divisive forces of the country and unite the nation.

People from many walks of life  interact with Rahul Gandhi on his bharat jodo yatra and he listens to their views and issues.  His patience is non-pareil and his ability to connect amazing. We see that he gives the same attention to the common man as he gives to any other celebrity who joins him in this historic yatra. Actors, writers, thinkers, spiritual leaders from different religions, school children, daily wage workers, retired Armed forces personnel,  law and order officials, former judges, farmers, students and  others from different walks of life are marching with Rahul in this momentous journey. People like Tushar Gandhi (Great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) and several intellectuals have reached out to Rahul Gandhi offering their support and encouragement.

This yatra will go down in history as one of the greatest initiatives of a leader who really cared for the country and wanted its citizens to  work together and respect each other’s differences. This yatra will be remembered by generations for the effort and initiative by yet another member of the Nehru/ Gandhi family to come out of their comfort zone and risk their personal security and health for the greater cause of the nation. Let us hope that this will bring a positive and much needed change and unity in the country.

When asked about his mission Rahul Gandhi said, “The spirit of the Yatra is to make the country focus on the attempt to change its nature. This country has never been fearful. Even in the worst of times, India was not scared. The people of India have a particular culture — the culture of compassion, of respect, of affection. You ask anybody — a villager, a billionaire, or the American President — they will say that India’s strength is compassion. You don’t believe it but the objective of the Yatra is not political. It is to remind the people what the true nature of this country is, what the culture and history of the country is, what its DNA is. Where India stands today, if we continue moving on the same path, the country will suffer enormous damage both at the domestic and international levels.”

I admire Rahul Gandhi’s historic initiative of understating the Bharat Jodo Yatra in these difficult times and trying to unite and assure the country under a sane voice.

Religious Polarization In India Seeping Into US Diaspora

(AP) – Recent events in the US and violent confrontations between some Hindus and Muslims last month in Leicester, England have heightened concerns that stark political and religious polarization in India is seeping into diaspora communities.

In Edison, New Jersey, a bulldozer, which has become a symbol of oppression of India’s Muslim minority, rolled down the street during a parade marking that country’s Independence Day.

At an event in Anaheim, California, a shouting match erupted between people celebrating the holiday and those who showed up to protest violence against Muslims in India.

Indian-Americans from diverse faith backgrounds have peacefully co-existed stateside for several decades. But these recent events in the US — and violent confrontations between some Hindus and Muslims last month in Leicester, England — have heightened concerns that stark political and religious polarisation in India is seeping into diaspora communities.

Hindu nationalism has split the Indian expatriate community just as Donald Trump’s presidency polarised the US, said Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California (USC). It has about 2,000 students from India, among the highest in the country.

Soni has not seen these tensions surface yet on campus. But he said USC received blowback for being one of more than 50 US universities that co-sponsored an online conference called “Dismantling Global Hindutva.” Hindutva is different from Hinduism, an ancient religion practiced by about 1 billion people worldwide that emphasizes the oneness and divine nature of all creation.

Soni said it’s important that universities remain places where “we are able to talk about issues that are grounded in facts in a civil manner,” But, as USC’s head chaplain, Soni worries how polarization over Hindu nationalism will affect students’ spiritual health.

“If someone is being attacked for their identity, ridiculed or scapegoated because they are Hindu or Muslim, I’m most concerned about their well-being – not about who is right or wrong,” he said.

Anantanand Rambachan, a retired college religion professor and a practicing Hindu who was born in Trinidad and Tobago to a family of Indian origin, said his opposition to Hindu nationalism and association with groups against the ideology sparked complaints from some at a Minnesota temple where he has taught religion classes.

He said opposing Hindu nationalism sometimes results in charges of being “anti-Hindu,” or “anti-India,” labels that he rejects.

On the other hand, many Hindu Americans feel vilified and targeted for their views, said Samir Kalra, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation in Washington, D.C.

“The space to freely express themselves is shrinking for Hindus,” he said, adding that even agreeing with the Indian government’s policies unrelated to religion can result in being branded a Hindu nationalist.

Pushpita Prasad, a spokesperson for the Coalition of Hindus of North America, said her group has been counseling young Hindu Americans who have lost friends because they refuse “to take Youthsides on these battles emanating from India.”

Rajiv Varma, a Houston-based Hindu activist, said tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the West are not a reflection of events in India but rather stem from a deliberate attempt by “religious and ideological groups that are waging a war against Hindus.”

Rasheed Ahmed, co-founder and executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Indian American Muslim Council, said he is saddened “to see even educated Hindu Americans not taking Hindu nationalism seriously.” He believes Hindu Americans must make “a fundamental decision about how India and Hinduism should be seen in the US and the world over.” “The decision about whether to take Hinduism back from whoever hijacked it, is theirs.”

India’s Hindu Nationalism Is Exporting Its Islamophobia

(RNS) — For years, one of the biggest threats to Muslims in the world has been the reinvention and rise of Hindu nationalism in India. This is in part because of the sheer number of Muslims in the country: Indian Muslims represent 10% of all Muslims worldwide. Now the movement known as Hindutva (“Hindu-ness”) is not only threatening Indian Muslims or India’s proud democratic tradition, it is spreading its radical nationalism around the globe.

The man behind India’s modern revival of Hindutva is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose career began in the ultraconservative Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In the early 2000s, when Modi was chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, a series of anti-Muslim riots there led to nearly 2,000 deaths by some estimates. Modi, who implicitly condoned the violence by doing little to stop it, became known as the Butcher of Gujarat. In 2005, Modi was denied entry to the United States under the International Religious Freedom Act.

But after Modi became prime minister in 2014, President Barack Obama welcomed him over fierce objections and protests from Indian Americans and human rights advocates. Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden have continued to normalize Modi’s facism, not only allowing him to visit but, in the case of Trump, appearing with him at a Texas rally celebrating his leadership.

In India, Hindutva has most egregiously impacted Muslims in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, but Hindutva has begun to come west. Last month in Leicester, England, young Hindu men marched through the streets chanting “Jai Sri Ram” — “Glory to Lord Ram,” a Hindu nationalist war cry — and attacking Muslims. Attacks at local houses of worship ensued, and nearly 50 people have been arrested.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a public intellectual in India, wrote that the tensions in Leicester followed a familiar ethno-nationalist playbook for stoking violence: “the use of rumors, groups from outside the local community, and marches to create polarization in otherwise peaceful communities.”

Majid Freeman, a Muslim activist, told The New York Times’ Megan Specia that the Hindu nationalist aggression in Leicester had drained public trust in the historically diverse community, where Muslims and Hindus together make up about a quarter of the population. “We just want the city to go back to how it was,” said Freeman. “Now everyone is looking over their shoulders.”

Across the Atlantic, at an India Independence Day parade in Edison, New Jersey, the festivities included a bulldozer draped with a picture of Modi, whose political party, BJP, is associated with Hindutva causes. Bulldozers have become a symbol of Islamophobia in India, where they have been used to demolish homes belonging to Muslims on the mere suspicion of participating in protests or riots. A few months ago, I spoke with Afreen Fatima, an Indian Muslim activist whose home was bulldozed and her father imprisoned.

Pranay Somayajula, outreach coordinator for Hindus for Human Rights, has emphasized the need for urgent action to counter the spread of Hindutva. “The diaspora, and in particular Hindu Americans, urgently need to speak out against the infiltration of Hindutva hatred into our communities,” Somayajula said.

Modi’s Hindutva is part of a wider rise in fascist movements across the globe. Masked as ultraconservative nationalism, modern fascism has developed as a racist and anti-immigration identity, rooted in ignorance and moral decay. In many places, it includes a virulent Islamophobia. India’s ethno-nationalism has created bonds with other states, such as Israel.

Indeed, in 2019, Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s consul general to New York City, told Kashmiri Hindus and Indian nationals that India will foster Kashmir’s depleted Hindu population by building settlements modeled after Israel’s implanting of Jewish residents in Palestinian communities.

To those paying attention, Hindutva is a growing international crisis. The threat of genocide is an abomination emanating from the world’s largest democracy, and it’s already spilling over into our politics and streets at home.

How China’s Civil Society Collapsed Under Xi Jinping

Human rights activist Charles remembers a time when civil society was blossoming in China, and he could dedicate his time to helping improve the lives of people struggling in blue-collar jobs. Now, 10 years into President Xi Jinping’s rule, community organisations such as Charles’s have been dismantled and hopes of a rebirth crushed. Charles has fled China and several of his activist friends are in jail. “After 2015, the whole of civil society began to collapse and become fragmented,” he told AFP.

Human rights activist Charles remembers a time when civil society was blossoming in China, and he could dedicate his time to helping improve the lives of people struggling in blue-collar jobs.

Now, 10 years into President Xi Jinping’s rule, community organisations such as Charles’s have been dismantled and hopes of a rebirth crushed.

Charles has fled China and several of his activist friends are in jail.

“After 2015, the whole of civil society began to collapse and become fragmented,” he told AFP, using a pseudonym for safety reasons.

Xi, on the brink of securing a third term at the apex of the world’s most populous country, has overseen a decade in which civil society movements, an emergent independent media and academic freedoms have been all but destroyed.

As Xi sought to eliminate any threats to the Communist Party, many non-governmental organisation workers, rights lawyers and activists were threatened, jailed or exiled.

AFP interviewed eight Chinese activists and intellectuals who described the collapse of civil society under Xi, though a few remain determined to keep working despite the risks.

Some face harassment from security officers who summon them weekly for questioning, while others cannot publish under their own names.

“My colleagues and I have frequently experienced interrogations lasting over 24 hours,” an LGBTQ rights NGO worker told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that psychological trauma from the repeated questioning has compounded his woes.

“We’ve become more and more incapable, regardless of whether it’s from a financial or operational perspective, or on a personal level.”

‘709 crackdown’

The collapse of China’s civil society has been a long process riddled with obstacles for activists.

In 2015, more than 300 lawyers and rights defenders were arrested in a sweep named the “709 crackdown” after the date it was launched — July 9.

Many lawyers remained behind bars or under surveillance for years, while others were disbarred, according to rights groups.

Another watershed moment was the adoption in 2016 of the so-called foreign NGO law, which imposed restrictions and gave police wide-ranging powers over overseas NGOs operating in the country.

“In 2014, we could unfurl protest banners, conduct scientific fieldwork and collaborate with Chinese media to expose environmental abuses,” an environmental NGO worker told AFP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

“Now we must report to the police before we do anything. Each project must be in cooperation with a government department that feels more like a supervisory committee.”

Zero-tolerance

Today’s landscape is markedly different from even a few years ago, when civil society groups were able to operate in the relatively permissive climate that started under previous president Hu Jintao.

“At universities, several LGBTQ and gender-focused groups sprung up around 2015,” said Carl, an LGBTQ youth group member, although he felt a “tightening pressure”.

By 2018, the government’s zero-tolerance of activism came to a head with the authorities suppressing a budding #MeToo feminist movement and arresting dozens of student activists.

“Activities quietly permitted before were banned, while ideological work like political education classes ramped up”, said Carl.

In July 2022, Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University handed two students official warnings for distributing rainbow flags, while dozens of LGBTQ student groups’ social media pages were blocked.

‘Like grains of corn’

Another harbinger of regression was a 2013 internal Party communique that banned advocating what was described as Western liberal values, such as constitutional democracy and press freedom.

“It treated these ideologies as hostile, whereas in the 1980s we could discuss them and publish books about them,” said Gao Yu, a Beijing-based independent journalist who was either in prison or under house arrest between 2014 and 2020 for allegedly leaking the document.

“In a normal society, intellectuals can question the government’s mistakes. Otherwise… isn’t this the same as in the Mao era?” he asked, referring to Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong.

Now, 78-year-old Gao endures social media surveillance, has virtually no income and is blocked from overseas calls or gathering with friends.

“We are all like grains of corn ground down by the village millstone,” she said.

Replacing Gao and her peers are celebrity academics who parrot hawkish nationalist ideology, while others have been forced out of their positions or endure classroom surveillance from students.

“A kind of tattle-tale culture has flourished in China’s intellectual realm over the past decade,” said Wu Qiang, a former Tsinghua political science professor and Party critic.

“Students have become censors reviewing their professor’s every sentence, instead of learning through mutual discussion.”

‘Unwinnable war’

Faced with the increasingly harsh climate, many activists have either fled China or put their work on hold.

Only a handful persevere, despite growing hostility including online bullying.

“Perhaps right now we are at the bottom of a valley… but people are still tirelessly speaking out,” said Feng Yuan, founder of gender rights group Equity.

For others, like the environmental organisation worker, it is an “unwinnable war” against nationalist trolls who claim all NGO staff are “anti-China and brainwashed by the West”.

“It makes me feel like all my efforts have been wasted,” they said.

Charles’s friends, #MeToo advocate Huang Xueqin and labour activist Wang Jianbing, have been detained without trial for over a year on subversion charges.

He believes authorities viewed their gatherings of young activists as a threat — and the threshold for prosecution is getting lower.

“The government is now targeting individuals who do small-scale, subtle, low-key activism,” he said. “They have made sure there is no new generation of activists.” (This story is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

Creating ‘Political Economy Of Hope’ At Pakistan-India Border

Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. — Pakistani nationals of the Hindu faith migrate to India based on religion, caste, culture and history – and lately Indian government officials all the way up to the prime minister have been encouraging them to “return,” according to Natasha Raheja, assistant professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S).

But at the border, many hopeful migrants find that Indian citizenship is not assured.

“Pakistani Hindus may imagine their migration as an enactment of their ‘right of return,’ but they in fact experience an ambivalent welcome on arrival,” Raheja wrote in “Governing by Proximity: State Performance and Migrant Citizenship on the India-Pakistan Border,” published Sept. 8 in Cultural Anthropology.

While embedded among migrants in the western Indian city of Jodhpur, Raheja found that Indian officials use physical closeness and digital connection to entice would-be citizens while keeping them waiting for recognition and basic welfare.

For the past eight years, Raheja worked with migrants from Pakistan waiting for Indian citizenship, as part of her broader inquiry on how border crossings demand new ways of imagining our geopolitical nation-state order.

“I wanted to understand how migrants continue to pursue recognition in the face of repeated deferral,” Raheja said. “During fieldwork, I noticed the enchantment and cynicism associated with the visits of national politicians to borderland regions. In this article, I make sense of these mixed affects of state performances through the concept of governing by proximity.”

Proximity is a modality of governance that yields mixed results, Raheja said. When politicians get close to constituents, either physically or digitally, they manage expectations and offer assurances to constituents. But they also expose themselves to scrutiny, giving people the chance to see beyond the performance into imperfect government workings.

“Proximity is like a magnifying glass that amplifies both stature and shortcomings,” Raheja said. “On one hand, when people in powerful positions are close to us, we can feel special and as if we personally belong. On the other hand, we can observe their shortcomings and inconsistencies.”

In Jodhpur, a city with a high concentration of Pakistani migrants from different castes, Raheja met Meera, an Indigenous farmworker hoping to get Indian citizenship for herself and her husband, parents and 10 children at a two-day citizenship camp.

“For Meera, meeting with high-ranking officers and seeing digital clips of welcoming political speeches in the palm of her hand made Indian citizenship feel like a close possibility,” Raheja wrote. “At the same time, she had relatives and acquaintances whose visa and citizenship applications had been delayed or rejected.”

Elsewhere in the citizenship camp, a man named Pankajlal waited for an hour to apply based on the fact that his mother, with him in the line, had been born in “undivided India” before the 1947 partition, which created the separate nations of India and Pakistan. When they finally reached the desk, they were refused because the affidavit Pankajlal had acquired was not sufficient; instead, they needed a birth certificate.

“The burden always falls on the common people, the way weight always falls on the wheel of a cycle,” Pankajlal said. “There [in Pakistan], they call us infidel Hindus; here [in India], bloody Pakistanis.”

But a fellow applicant encouraged Pankajlal to speak up. Together they approached government representatives to complain about the criteria for birth certificates.

“Their exchange conveys how this site, centered on a performative avowal of their special status as desirable Indian citizens, also generated refugee-migrants’ critiques of the Indian government,” Raheja wrote. “A few hours later, a Ministry of Home Affairs official came on the loudspeaker to make a special announcement: He had decided that, in lieu of birth certificates, the officers at the camp would accept applications with affidavits attesting to a parent’s birth in undivided India.”

Raheja’s wider research looks to migration to understand how majority-minority politics exceeds national frames. Her studies of the India-Pakistan border raise wider questions of state power over migration at borders worldwide.

“Across borders, manufactured national belongings and state legitimacies require maintenance,” Raheja said. “As the article carefully details, governing by proximity enchants but also generates fatigue and doubt. It is in this gap that there is potential for migrants to refuse and imagine alternatives.”

Bharat Jodo Yatra: Uniting India & Challenges

The Bharat Jodo yatra launched by Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi is getting tremendous response. It is as if the people were waiting for such an event to reaffirm their trust and faith in the composite Indian Nationalism. This Indian Nationalism has been undermined during last few decades in general and last few years in particular. While the national media and major TV channels are ignoring it, the social media is partly compensating for that by putting across lovely and beautiful clips and pictures of people of all age groups longing to associate with the same.

The response is mainly due to the undermining of what has been the “Idea of India’ of our freedom fighters, the response is due to the blatant bypassing of the values of Indian Constitution which underline: Equality on one hand and state’s obligation to reduce the economic gaps between rich and poor on the other. The Constitution also outlines the role of state in promoting scientific temper, which has been given a go-bye during last some time.

India became a secular nation with the emphasis on caste-gender equality. The kingdoms where the kings ruled with the ‘divine authority’ were replaced by colonial period in India. During the plunder by colonial rulers there were other changes also which led to social changes. Introduction of transport, communication, modern education and modern administration provided the ground for changes in caste and gender equations and promoting the unity among different religious communities. Those who were the bearers of feudal mindset kept themselves aloof from this process of ‘nation making’. They helped British in their policy of ‘divide and rule’, leading to the tragic partition and the biggest ever mass migration in the sub-continent.

India did embark on the path of nation making through anti-colonial struggle. After Independence, there was enhancement of the industrialization, education, irrigation, health facilities and social welfare among others. The sectarian nationalists, Muslim and Hindu communalists-mostly harped on identity issues. In due course Hindu communalists started dominating and their infiltration in different walks of life and different facets of state apparatus became apparent. Their taking over of media through sympathetic corporate world was accompanied by setting up of “social media cell’. This weakened the process of the gains of freedom movement. The major things which were undermined were the Hindu-Muslim unity also the slow march towards social justice has been further hampered. Communalization of society also retarded the march towards gender equality.

At political level, the party which led the freedom movement gradually was infiltrated by opportunist communal elements for which the politics is just for grabbing power for their own selves. Many regional satraps also came up with ambitions for regional power with local agenda. The left parties which should have been the upholders of the rights of the marginalized, themselves started getting marginalized.

So today India we see has a situation, where not only the divisive politics of BJP has tried to co-opt a section of marginalized but also its parent organization RSS, through its various arms, has worked consistently among the dalits and Adivasis to co-opt them into Hindu nationalist fold. It has also done social engineering through which at grass root level the micro identities have been strengthened. At the same time mega Hindu identity has been propped up through the issues like Ram Temple, Love Jihad, Cow-Beef, fear of Muslims becoming a majority among others.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra probably is the best thing which has happened in India during last several decades. This will surely strengthen the nation and also cleanse the Congress party. It is also an occasion of churning for social groups, which are committed to rights of weaker and marginalized, the groups committed to democratic values, the groups committed to religious minorities. This Yatra gives them a platform to work for their goals of humane democratic society with rights and dignity for all sections of society.

Another welcome part of Yatra is the pro active response of these social groups and many political parties to affirm the values of pluralism, diversity and democracy. There are many jarring parts of the yatra also. The route which it is has mapped so far seems to have lesser representation of Muslim majority areas. While we stand to criticize the fundamentalist elements of Muslim leadership, we need to connect to average Muslims (and Christians) who have been the major victims of the sectarian politics. Ridiculing Rahul Gandhi for marching with the little girl with Hijab was deliberately played up by the communal forces for sure. Yatra needs to stand up to associate with the religious minorities, emulating the Father of the Nation.

No short cuts are possible at this stage. The nation has been seriously undermined by the rise of identity politics. The diluting of caste differentials, through affirmative action has also been retarded. This yatra is a major landmark and should be beginning of the process where ‘Iswar Allah Tero naam’ and abolition of caste need to be integrated in the message of the yatra. It needs to go through the Muslim majority areas and the areas of ex Untouchables with equal frequency.

The message of Bharat Jodo (Nafarat Chodo) has been well received for sure. The need now is to give the signal for reduction of economic disparity, social and gender equality. This is the beginning of revival of what majority of Indians identified with during freedom movement. There is also a need to have backup action for consolidation of the positive energy being generated by the Yatra. This is where the major challenge will be. Lakhs of RSS shakhas are the backbone which give the ground for identity politics and glorification of past where the caste, class and gender hierarchies dominated the society. Need is to activate the quiescent Rashtra Seva Dal type organizations, community centers, which keep promoting the values of peace and harmony which majority of Indian cherish even today. These values of love and peace are very much there, but they have been dwarfed by those forces, which were never a part of freedom movement and never part of the movements, which made us Indian Nation.   (https://www.southasiamonitor.org/open-forum/rahul-gandhis-uniting-india-march-ignored-media-welcomed-social-groups)

Making India A Developed Nation By 2047: An Agenda For The Nation

By, Ambassador Sarvajit Chakravarti (retd)

Achieving developed country status by 2047 is a commendable goal set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for India on this Independence Day. The big question now is to determine an effective path and encourage the whole of society, that includes all Indian residents, into contributing their might and mite to achieve that goal which is today a distant dream. In a secular, democratic society this will require the recognition and upholding of all the fundamental rights of Indian citizens and allowing them the freedom and means to achieve their best potential to contribute to the upliftment of the nation.

Since the Constitution guarantees individual freedom of religion, people should mutually respect the external marks of faith that any one may choose to wear and not discriminate in access to goods and services on the basis of faith. As the choice of faith is a fundamental right of an Indian, the question of changing faiths must be left to the individual conscience and not prevented or denied by social or legal means. We must feel Indian first and not make faith our primary identity.

Similarly, the question of forward or backwardness must have only an economic basis and not be based on social or community considerations. A new classification based on income level must replace our present system of reservations. BPL people must be fully supported to achieve a basic income level necessary for the nation to be considered developed. Religion should not be the basis of political ideology, nor should it influence the administration of the state, at Central or state/UT government level.

Informal economy

The objective of developed country can be achieved in such a short time only by releasing the animal spirits not merely of the formal economy but more importantly of the informal one which, despite demonetization, constitutes over 90 percent of the Indian GDP today. A significant share of the necessary annual growth rate of 11 percent or more must come from the knowledge economy and its innovative output.

To eliminate the digital divide in our nation demonstrated during the Covid pandemic, cybercafes with a minimum of two computers can be encouraged in every village. The Internet service backbone must be strengthened to an average speed of 100 mbps, which now prevails in developed countries, to enable quick output and service delivery.

Trade and business licenses should be given freely online, along with a PAN, and require all sales to be through banking channels by freely distributing POS machines through the customer’s bank. The process of registering a business must be streamlined so that it takes no more than a day. People should be free to start whatever business they want and the market will take care of excess supply. A humane bankruptcy process is necessary to restructure failed enterprises so that banks do not suffer increased NPAs from social sector lending.

Aggregators and marketers may be encouraged to collect output for sale through more outlets. Villages and panchayats may be encouraged to create self-help groups to add value to output and develop new products and uses. Business creation, operation and wind-up must be made far easier so that savers become investors.

Free enterprise

Inspections should be limited to fire, industrial safety, health and sanitation measures at the workplace and be at predictable intervals unless irregularities or non-compliance are noticed. There should be no pressure for employment in excess of requirement, nor should an enterprise be considered a cash cow by local or other elements for unrelated purposes.

The process of company formation, land acquisition, development and construction must be made as automated as possible while procurement above a minimum threshold must be by public e-tendering. Tender evaluation committees must be constituted at a level higher than of the tendering authority to ensure fair scrutiny and finalization.

Inflexible labour policies must be modified to that employers may optimize their work forces as required. To compensate an 18-month unemployment insurance scheme will be useful, during which the retrenched worker should undergo a six-month upskilling course.

Innovation and discovery is the key to growth. Literacy and numeracy must become universal. The consumption of knowledge and its use in creating effective solutions to widespread problems depends upon making education inquiry-based from the primary stage. Students should be encouraged to acquire to apply their learning in practical ways to invent things or new processes. Much more investment is required in R&D activities,

Taxes

Ninety-nine percent of our population does not pay any direct taxes on income. It will be impossible for the nation to become developed until resources are increased by innovative means, by increasing labour productivity and skills, by bringing more people particularly women into the workforce, by encouraging and supporting MSME enterprise and opening new avenues of self-employment and community activity to add value to output, make products in frequent daily use and discourage imports of goods that can be adequately manufactured in India.

Unless we achieve a long-term trade surplus by increasing exports by diversifying both export baskets and importing countries, we will be increasingly hard-pressed to pay for essential imports such as fuel. Extracting investable surplus should be made primarily by market forces through issue of project-specific bonds or other instruments.

Small investment must be encouraged by offering inflation-linked floating interest rates, so that the value of investor funds does not depreciate. This will encourage the emergence of wealth hitherto hidden or locked up in households that are not liable to pay income tax. State level resources may be augmented by monetizing municipal and other services.

For example, those issued trade and professional or similar licenses may be charged an annual fee depending upon the nature and scale of business. If the investment made is in certain identified priority sectors, it may be useful not to question the source of funds, but to rather tax the earnings from such investment.

Small investors

This may reduce the hoarding of wealth in cash or other unproductive ways and put it to use in promoting national development. Overall small investors must be given confidence that their investments will be safe even in non-banking and market related investments and earn more than traditional alternative asset classes such as gold.

The formation of MSMEs and rural productive systems must be actively encouraged. Traditional artisans, weavers and craftsmen must be encouraged by well-established designers and other famous personalities and their output brought to market after giving them a fair price for their labour, through KVIC and other similar marketing organizations.

Vocational skill training must be increased and upgraded to internationally acceptable standards so that such qualified personnel may easily migrate to points of demand in India or abroad. Their remittances will not only improve the quality of their families’ lives but also support our continuing CAD.

Finally, administration must be streamlined and made as faceless as possible. NIC and other websites must be user-friendly and capable of handling high volumes without crashing. A civil administrator today is instructed by multiple authorities and personalities at Central and State levels. Local bodies should be empowered to undertake a list of tasks within the annually prescribed budget and report the results to the local civil administration.

Political parties

People who achieve salaried political positions in the State or Centre must thereafter be accountable for any wealth accumulated in excess of known legitimate sources of income. Salaries, dearness allowance and other perquisites are provided to give a modest but decent quality of life to the earners; so. they must not burden their voters with excess demands for services they are required to render to them.

Civil servants cannot be treated by the political class as subservient “Yes Men” but allowed to work autonomously within the law to implement the legitimate directives of their superiors in the hierarchy. Otherwise, the aspiration of good governance will suffer badly.

Political parties in a democracy present their programmes to the people for approval through manifestos and poll promises. Those who emerge victors should then fulfill those promises by breaking them down into tasks for the bureaucracy to implement within budgetary resources, ensuring that there is no undue expenditure or time lag in the process.

Those parties that fail to win popular approval should work to ensure that the approved agenda is properly implemented without corruption, delay, discrimination or the creation of creation of divisions within the social fabric of the nation. They must try to ensure that the people get a fair deal from the government they elected and enjoy their fundamental rights while fulfilling their defined obligations, including payment of due taxes on time, orderly behaviour and maintaining a clean, habitable and sustainable environment.

National outlook

Politics is today regarded largely as the refuge of the reprehensible. This attitude must be changed by the parties themselves agreeing upon a common set of objectives for the nation and using their organizations to devise possible alternative pathways to achieve those national objectives without their cadres physically fighting one another. Parties are made of of people with a particular set of opinions about a set of objectives.

If all parties debate over these rather than vying to control State and Central resources for their own ends, there will be less corruption, violence, delays and wastage of stretched national resources. They must think of the national rather than the community or personal good to keep our nation unified, strong and prosperous. We must set an example in probity integrity human values and scientific knowledge for all our neighbours and the world to look up in admiration rather than dismiss us in disdain.

The other pillars of democracy, the judiciary and media, must remain steadfastly independent and impartial guardians of the Constitution. The people still repose their greatest faith in them to protect their rights and uphold their aspirations.

Finally, the structure and systems of governance must concentrate on the four pillars of finance, territorial integrity and security, communications and foreign relations as well as the others included in the Central and Concurrent Lists of the Constitutions and leave the States to get on with their own listed activities without being denied their due share of revenues by the Centre.

Let the nation and its people be free to get on with the rest of the action required to raise the per capita income to developed country levels within 2047 without increasing the inequalities that already mar so badly our economic and social fabric.

(The author is a retired Indian ambassador. Views are personal) Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/perspective/making-india-developed-nation-2047-agenda-nation

 

 

75 Years After Independence, a Changing ‘Idea of India’

Modi Is Rewriting India’s National Narrative. The prime minister’s annual Independence Day speech reflected how far political discourse has fallen in New Delhi.

India celebrated the 75th anniversary of its independence this week. Unlike prior revolutions, India’s split from the British Empire came about through a political movement committed to nonviolence. The Indian National Congress, led by Mahatma Gandhi, organized peaceful demonstrations on an unprecedented scale, and the mighty British Empire ultimately capitulated, encouraging anticolonial movements around the world. Within a generation, countries in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean also achieved independence, ending a long and grotesque epoch of European imperialism.

India has long commemorated this watershed moment on Aug. 15, headlined by the prime minister’s speech on the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi. Leaders traditionally set aside partisan rivalries in these speeches, choosing to focus on apolitical themes: the importance of Gandhi and the nonviolence movement, the resilience of India’s democracy, and the importance of tolerance and inclusion. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mostly stuck to this formula, but this year’s speech signaled how Modi is trying to redefine what it means to be an Indian.

In his speech, Modi ticked the boxes by mentioning Gandhi and his commitment to inclusion, but he also departed from convention in important ways. First, he celebrated more than a dozen freedom fighters who had adopted a violent approach to independence. These freedom fighters operated independently of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, undermining Gandhi and nonviolence within India’s independence movement. By highlighting them in the speech, Modi subtly pushed back against the conventional narrative and Gandhi’s central role in it.

Second, although Modi touched on inclusion when it comes to geography and gender, he avoided mentioning secularism or religious tolerance. Instead, he sought to define Indians as Hindus: “This is our legacy. How can we not be proud of this heritage? We are those people who see Shiva [a main Hindu deity] in every living being,” he said. “We are people who see the divine in the plants. We are the people who consider the rivers as mother. We are those people who see Shankar [another form of Shiva] in every stone.” For India, a country with 280 million non-Hindu citizens that has struggled with religious tensions since its founding, Modi’s religious interjections clearly signal a break from the past.

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Finally, Modi used the occasion to launch familiar jabs against the opposition Indian National Congress party while overlooking critical challenges facing the Indian state—including religious intolerance. He concluded his speech by slamming people who defend corruption and by condemning nepotism. But this was coded language that may sound like a threat to some Indian citizens: Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have weaponized charges of corruption and nepotism to go after political opponents and dissidents. Just days after Modi’s speech, his government conducted an anticorruption raid against Manish Sisodia, one of the main leaders of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party.

Modi’s Independence Day speech is emblematic of a larger change taking place under his rule, which has faced criticism for democratic backsliding—moving away from the very constitution that came shortly after its independence. The prime minister and the BJP are working to unshackle India from its liberal and secular moorings, advancing a new national identity that champions Hindu supremacy. This enterprise is in fact antithetical to the very foundations of Hinduism, which is an inherently pluralistic faith.

Modi’s BJP government is also undercutting India’s institutions in unprecedented ways. It has made a mockery of India’s rich tradition of civil liberties by charging activists and dissidents with crimes under colonial-era laws. One egregious example is the case of left-wing activists detained under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for alleged links to Maoist groups and allegedly fomenting riots. One of the accused, lifelong Jesuit activist Rev. Stan Swamy, died in custody last year. Furthermore, Modi and the BJP have co-opted much of the media and important private sector actors. Journalists have faced intimidation and harassment; prominent nongovernmental organizations have been cut off from foreign funding while others can receive overseas money only into accounts with a government-owned bank.

Unfortunately, the most important lessons from the independence movement seem to be lost on India’s contemporary leaders, as shown by their approach to religious pluralism and democratic institutions. Although India’s leading revolutionaries were committed to nonviolence, tensions between Hindus and Muslims marred the independence movement. These tensions pulled the British Raj apart, and two new countries emerged in its place: India and Pakistan. This week also marks the anniversary of the Partition of India, which triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters as Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs were forced to flee in different directions across the new border. A few months later, India and Pakistan went to war over the status of Jammu and Kashmir—a disagreement that still plagues the subcontinent.

In the face of these tensions, India and Pakistan’s leaders charted opposing courses. India’s leaders advanced a progressive and modern vision for their new country, eschewing a national Hindu religion in favor of a secular identity. They worked hard to minimize religious tensions by speaking against communal strife and promoting religious protections. When Gandhi was assassinated in 1948—for supposedly being a supplicant to the Muslim community—his political heirs continued to push for a liberal vision of India. Working with the opposition, they produced a constitution that enshrined a liberal and secular democracy that remains in force today.

On the other hand, Pakistan struggled. The country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, led the Muslim League that split from the Indian National Congress. But he was rarely clear in his vision for Pakistan: There is some evidence that he wanted a secular state, but he also called for an Islamic republic. When Jinnah died in 1948, he left behind a political mess. Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, rejected amendments offered by the opposition in his own founding document, which became a precursor to the country’s 1956 constitution that gave Islam its pride of place in the project of Pakistan. By turning to communalism, Pakistan has suffered as political actors stir religious tensions to benefit their own ends. Without credible institutions or norms that allow political differences to be resolved, the country has not been able to maintain political order.

Modi’s speech reflects how he and the BJP appear to embrace some of these traits. By lionizing fringe actors from the independence movement—including those who exacerbated religious tensions—they are rewriting history to suit their own political agenda. They have undermined civil liberties and shown basic disregard for political opposition. Taking a page from Jinnah’s book, Modi has ensured that any substantive decision must come through him. Such a system may work in the short term, but what happens when Modi is no longer prime minister?

The contrast with then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s epic “A Tryst With Destiny” speech, delivered on Aug. 14, 1947, couldn’t be starker. Nehru said he sought to “bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic, and progressive nation.” Most poignantly, he highlighted that India’s religious pluralism was integral to the newly founded country: “All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India, with equal rights, privileges, and obligations.”

India’s Independence Day has traditionally provided an opportunity to reflect on the horrors of colonialism and the dangers of religious discord while also celebrating the vibrance of the country’s democracy. Modi’s speech this week reflects the departure that India’s contemporary leaders have made from these foundational values.

(Dinsha Mistree is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford Law School. He also teaches in the international policy program at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Sumit Ganguly is a columnist at Foreign Policy as well as a distinguished professor of political science and the Rabindranath Tagore chair in Indian cultures and civilizations at Indiana University Bloomington.)

(Courtesy: https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/08/19/india-modi-independence-day-speech-democracy/?utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Editors%20Picks%20OC&utm_term=46473&tpcc=Editors%20Picks%20OC&utm_source=PostUp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Editors+Picks+OC&utm_term=46478&tpcc=Editors+Picks+OC)

An Interfaith Discussion On The Role Of Religion In Mental Health

(The Conversation) — Religious leaders often try to support the people they serve during challenging times. This supportive role was especially important during the past few years as the nation dealt with a pandemic, social distancing and the loss of more than a million lives.

In a recent discussion sponsored by the Global Religion Journalism Initiative, academics and religious leaders discussed faith-based mental health counseling, including its benefits and limitations.

Academic panelists included Thema Bryant, a trauma psychologist, ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and professor at Pepperdine University and Rabbi Seth Winberg, senior chaplain at Brandeis Hillel at Brandeis University. Publisher and author David Morris also took part.

Below are some highlights from the discussion. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Natasha Mikles: Are there times when religion can actually be a source of stress rather than comfort for someone who’s going through a difficult time?

Thema Bryant: Yes, religion can be used for healing and empowerment, and it also can be used to oppress, marginalize and shame. In psychology, there’s something called positive religious coping and negative religious coping. Positive religious coping is believing that God is loving and ultimately wants to help, and that’s associated with positive mental health outcomes. Fundamentally believing that God is harsh and trying to penalize me is associated with more negative religious outcomes, and more negative mental health outcomes.

Seth Winberg: Yes, depending on the person and the circumstances, the faith, traditions and the community that one is living in, faith can certainly be a burden, or a strain, or a source of trauma. But for many people, faith provides a community, a social network, a sense of shared values, a rhythm to life and a common culture that I think is very powerful.

David Morris: Yes, too often people are given simplistic platitudes about how their loved one is in heaven. But as grief continues, they might be shamed a little bit and be told that they should move on. But grieving takes time. There are plenty of examples in religious literature of people in tremendous grief and tremendous sorrow.

Natasha Mikles: What tools can religious professionals use to help people have a more balanced understanding of how their religious tradition thinks about mental health?

Seth Winberg: In a page of the Talmud, there’s an open dialogue that rabbis across generations and people of faith across generations are having with each other. And I sometimes encourage students to feel free to try to talk to me or with anyone in that kind of open way – to take the risk of asking questions that we might think we can’t ask and still be a person of faith. I think, because of our modern, maybe American, perception of clergy, people don’t expect contemporary faith leaders or rabbis to be open to that kind of discussion. But that’s where Rabbinic Judaism started.

Thema Bryant: Yes, I think there’s a wonderful role for ministers and other faith leaders to play in promoting and creating space for mental health. And one of the pieces is transparency. I have seen ministers from pulpits talk about mental health challenges, talk about their grief, or talk about themselves going to therapy. That can really open the door, letting our humanity show.

Natasha Mikles: In the past two years of the pandemic, have you seen a change in the types of things that young people are struggling with?

Seth Winberg: What I’ve observed personally is a kind of suspended animation of young adults’ social, emotional and spiritual development. I think they’ve really suffered from a lack of in-person interactions in a variety of aspects of their lives, but particularly their social spiritual development. It really does something to be physically distanced from people in such extreme ways.

It’s not so obvious what the right faith-based responses are. One of them is just being present with people and being with them as they try to figure it out – not trying to give them answers and biblical verses, but to just let them express that really uncertain feeling. And having them feel that there’s a slightly older adult in their lives that just nods and lets them express those doubts and those questions, I think, can be helpful.

Thema Bryant: I would definitely agree that a major challenge for young adults has been loneliness and disconnection. Another big piece is around injustice. Some sanctuaries have fought for these issues, but other sanctuaries have not only been silent but have actually promoted really oppressive [ideas]. And I like to say it’s healthy to be outraged about outrageous things. And there are some outrageous things that have been done and said, even in the name of faith and religion. Young people have a need not only for community and companionship, but [support in] addressing social injustices.

Watch the full webinar to hear the panelists discuss the impact of COVID-19 on in person religious traditions, clergy burnout and share more actionable advice for incorporating mental health discussions in faith.

(Emily Costello, Managing Editor, The Conversation US. Thalia Plata, Editor. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

The Vision Of A World Divided Into Two Blocs: China & Russia Vs Europe & The United States

(IPS) – For years, Russia’s relations with the European Union and the United States have been one of the main areas of conflict in the media. Washington and Brussels accuse Moscow of manipulation and disinformation and, after the invasion of Ukraine, decided to close their media outlets to Russian companies.
Excerpts from the Q&A: 

Q: What do you think about the way this issue has been handled and what repercussions could it have on the management of the media, especially non-mainstream media such as Inter Press Service (IPS) or OtherNews?

A: Information has always been used by power, both economic and political. Information is, by definition, top-down. Whoever transmits it, whether in print form in newspapers and magazines, or in electronic form on radio and TV, sends it to an audience that cannot intervene in the process. That is why power has always tried to use it. 

The Gutenberg era represented by this phenomenon lasted six centuries. Communication, which is a more recent phenomenon and which until now has only been possible with the Internet, is different. Communication is horizontal: I am a receiver, but I can also be a sender. There, power has much more power. 

The media that provide information are closer and closer to power, they are no longer a business, and every year they are less and less powerful. And politics today is increasingly oriented towards social media. The most recent example was former US President Donald Trump, who had 80 million followers with Twitter (during his tenure at the White House) and completely gave up control of the media. (Trump was permanently banned from twitter in January 2021, right after he supported the attack on the capitol. So, Trump doesn’t actually have any twitter followers now.).

It must be added, however, that the Internet has been captured by the market, which has eliminated the horizontality we all hailed in the beginning. Today we have moved from the era of Gutenberg to the era of Zuckerberg, and we users are data, not people. 

This is of great importance for young people, who today find themselves involved in vertically created turmoil, brought about by search engines, which divide users into affinity groups, thus eliminating dialogue, because when someone from part A meets someone from part B, they clash, end up insulting each other, without listening or sharing. And search engines, in order to keep the user, prioritise what generates the most impact, so that the strangest news ends up taking precedence. 

The extreme polarisation of America would not have been possible without social media. Newspapers increasingly focus on events and abandon processes, and international relations cannot be understood without analysing the process in which events take place. 

In Nairobi in 1973 there were 75 foreign correspondents; today there are three. No European TV has correspondents in Africa. It is therefore easy for a government to decide to expel correspondents, but it is almost impossible to shut down social networks, even if autocratic governments try to do so. That is why the Russian public knows little about the reality of the war. 

But if someone is determined, they can always find a way to overcome censorship, even if it is a skill of the young, the old are not on the Internet and still rely on traditional media.

In Italy, the main daily newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera, had the front page for forty days with a nine-column headline dedicated to Ukraine. This was followed by the first twenty pages, all dedicated to Ukraine. The rest of the world had disappeared. And the same happened with most of the European media. 

Only with the French elections were newspapers forced to give significant space to Macron and not Zelensky. In this respect, representatives of the quality American press, such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have been more balanced. Of course, the longer the war goes on, the more the repetition of events in the media becomes insufficient. 

But the European press, like Europe itself, has sided with NATO, and with little argument. In Russia, of course, the press has been an amplifier for the government. The US media, for its part, often at odds with the government on domestic and national issues, tends to support the official foreign policy position. Factors such as national identity, nationalism and a lack of knowledge of international realities in newsrooms come into play.

It was surprising to see the European press become a megaphone of NATO positions. Putin was demonized as was Hitler, and Zelensky praised as a Greek hero. The Russians are portrayed as barbarians killing Minos. There has never been any negative news about Ukrainians, when in war violence and dereliction of ethics are inevitable and unfortunately widespread. 

It is as if the Cold War has never ended, and we are ready to accept an escalation that can become scorching hot. GDP has contracted, the cost of living is rising, inflation is on the rise, and so far, there has been no reaction. This is really surprising. 

For OtherNews, which is a news service on global issues, it was a very complex challenge. OtherNews represents a new design. The idea is that the non-profit association is owned by the readers, who can become members by paying a modest annual fee of 50 euros. 

They elect the board of directors and discuss the editorial line, thus guaranteeing full independence and a pluralistic and inclusive line. There are 12,000 readers, in 82 countries around the world: academics, international civil servants, global civil society activists, etc.

Q: How would you define the role of the media in covering the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?

A: The war in Ukraine is exclusively an affair of the global North. The global South is only a victim of the increase in food, energy and transport. In Africa it has reached 45% of the population. Articles from the North were criticized by readers from the South and vice versa. 

OtherNews lost almost 300 readers, almost all from the North, for publishing articles that criticized or questioned the war. I believe that this North-South divide will increase with the explosion of the multipolar world, as the values on which multilateralism was based are disappearing. 

An ‘active non-alignment’ could be recreated, which the press in Europe and the US will struggle to understand. The West still believes it is the centre of the world, the United States in particular.

But today, mainly because of the need to prioritise national interests over international cooperation, a path opened by (former President Ronald) Reagan and (former British Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher in 1981, we have moved from a multilateral to a multipolar world. In the Bush junior era, neo-conservatives preached the arrival of an American century, that the US should remain the dominant power. Since then, the US has lost in every conflict it has been involved in, from Iraq to Afghanistan. 

And Trump took the logic of the end of multilateralism to the extreme, advising all countries to put their own interests first. Today the result is that the multipolar world is not based on the idea of international cooperation for peace and development, but on the most brutal competition. 

And Biden now wants to revive multilateralism. But it is too late. Biden will lose the mid-term elections in November and become a lame duck, with a Congress of Trumpist Republicans vetoing everything. And in 2024 Trump is likely to return, and this whole NATO boom will go into deep crisis. But until November, if the war does not escalate and remain as it is, the European press will basically keep the war helmet on.

Q: After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the identity of the international blocs seems to have reconfigured: on the one hand, the United States and the European Union, which defend the liberal tradition, have drawn a very wide dividing line, at home and abroad, between ‘pro-Russian’ and ‘pro-democratic’; on the other hand, Russia, China and their allies are considered ‘illiberal’. What do you think of this construction and what can it lead to in the future?

A: This vision of a world divided into two blocs, China and Russia on one side and liberal democracies, Europe and the United States, on the other, is an easy illusion to see. In this multipolar world, countries stand alone. 

A good example is Turkey, which is part of NATO, but does not participate in the embargo against Russia and is very close to China. Or India, which continues to buy Russian arms, is on China’s New Silk Road, but does not want any problems with the US. Indonesia, which has always been a loyal US ally, continues to maintain Putin’s participation in G20 despite US protests. 

And also in Europe: Hungary and Poland are openly defying Brussels, splitting into a pro-NATO Poland and a pro-Russia Hungary. Saudi Arabia, Washington’s great ally, ignores Biden’s request to increase oil production, despite having been invited to the summit of democratic countries convened by Biden. This homogeneous bloc of liberal countries is a good marketing slogan, but it crumbles at the slightest analysis.

Q: How do you see the impact of US domestic political polarization on the international scene? Why?

A: The Cold War was a confrontation between two political and ideological visions that clashed in a proxy war. America is no longer Kennedy’s America and it is no longer Obama’s America. It is a country where political polarization has reached unprecedented extremes. In 1980, 12% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans told the Pew Institute that they would not want their daughter to marry a man of the other party. Today it is 91% of Democrats and 96% of Republicans. 

And the US Supreme Court is already part of this polarization. 72% of Republicans believe Trump was a victim of electoral fraud. And the crowd that stormed the Capitol is described by the Republican Party as a ‘display of political opinion’. Is this the exemplary leader of democracy’s fight against the world’s dictators? And we are only at the beginning of a process of radicalization. 

Right-wing states, with the endorsement of the Supreme Court, are banning abortion, reducing social protections, minority voting power and changing schoolbooks. With the return of Trump, or Trumpism, in two years the coexistence between the two camps will become even more difficult and few will see America as the beacon of the free world. And that won’t matter much to Trump either.

Q: What lessons do you see for Latin America, both politically and economically, after Donald Trump’s four years in office? And for Europe?

A: My opinion is that there will be great chaos in international relations, with a growing power struggle between the United States and China, with Russia, which we had the intelligence to push into Beijing’s arms. Of course, this struggle will be disguised as something political, but in reality, it will be a pure struggle for economic and military hegemony. 

It is a fight that the US cannot win. And China is a self-referential country that has never left its borders and has built walls to keep the enemy out. While the US has exploited its soft power, its music, food, clothing, sports and lifestyle, China has little interest in this kind of imperialism. 

I have been going to China since 1958 and have always been struck by how little they care to make a foreigner understand Chinese culture. But there are tens of thousands of Chinese students studying abroad, while the same cannot be said of Americans. The two countries are two big islands, which consider themselves surrounded by inferior nations. 

Latin America has always been considered a second-rate region by the US, despite many declarations, and I doubt that China sees the region beyond its raw materials and Latin Americans beyond its buyers.

My opinion, especially in light of Trump’s experience, is that Latin America should adopt a policy of active non-alignment, declaring that it will not get involved in a proxy war that is not in its interest, and that it will do exactly what the multipolar dynamic advises: put its interests as a region first. 

This would give it greater consideration and weight in international negotiations, and a clear advantage in a world divided by the New Cold War that is brewing. A war that, unlike the current NATO war against Russia, cannot be military, because it would mean the destruction of the planet. Of course, history and the present do not help to have great faith in the intelligence of power.

The big problem is that Latin America continues to be a continent divided by the inability to leave behind the experience of its ancestors. It is the most homogeneous region in the world, much more so than Asia and Africa, and in some ways more so than Europe and the United States, since the latter are experiencing a real disintegration. 

However, the Latin American integration process has been an optical illusion. Latin America is a region of permanent political experimentation, which has stifled any economic logic due to the rivalry between successive presidents, between whom there is a constant change of compass. 

I fear that instead of putting up a united front in the face of the next cold war, they will allow themselves to be bought off individually, convinced that they are doing what is best for their country. The only thing that can change the situation is a great popular movement. But this has always been directed at global issues, such as women or the environment, and of course at national issues: never at regional issues. 

And in the press, the issue of integration has at best been relegated to its bureaucratic aspects, to the various bodies that have sprung up and failed in modern times. So, in my opinion, I don’t think we have learnt a real lesson from what has happened in the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall to express an inclusive regional policy, with a strong identity, and which places us as important players in the inter-national arena of this century.

(Sebastián Do Rosario and Federico Larsen are researchers at the Institute for International Relations of Mar del Plata, Argentina. The interview was first published in the newsletter of the Institute.. Courtesy: IPS UN Bureau)

In Gun We Trust! Booming Guns Make US Unsafe

By, Matthew Adukanil At Indian Currents

Would it be an exaggeration to say that the US is a more dangerous place for living than Afghanistan? It may sound absurd but the abnormal is becoming the normal in a proud ‘civilised’ democratic nation like the US. President Biden vows to end ‘the gun violence’ time after time. Maybe before that the US needs to shed its Gun Blindness. His rival Donald Trump and the Republicans are hell bent on continuing the mayhem as they depend for their political prosperity on the massive funds from the gun lobby. The juvenile cowboy mentality of yesteryears continues to rule the national psyche in the US prioritising the right to carry arms in public over the lives of its citizens.

Two factors contribute potently to this assault on the lives of citizens. One, practically anyone over the age of 18 can bear arms in America, even military grade assault rifles, in public. Two, there are enough depressed and mentally deranged citizens in the US who will use the guns to cool their rage.  So, we have almost week after week chilling reports of some mass shooting or other in a mall or school or any other crowded place. The USA has become no doubt, a crazy ‘never never land’ where a former President recently organised an armed attack on the Capitol. Could you believe your eyes as they witnessed the violent and shocking visuals on our TV screens with security men running for cover like hunted-down rats? Has killing become a national obsession in the US? 

It is a country that is terribly upset over a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding so-called abortion rights for killing unborn humans. A cloud can only cover the sun, not wipe it out. The hidden behind-the -scene killings of the unborn could be at the root of all this national malaise. Maybe the offended spirits of the slain innocents have invaded the minds of deranged US citizens. Perhaps, this is a parallel to the boiling cauldron scene of the three witches in the tragedy of Macbeth

The latest episode in this mayhem was the July 4 mass shooting in Chicago during the Independence Day Parade. Maybe all the crazy citizens of the US are celebrating their independence with shooting at anyone in sight. And their remorseless inner demons find some solace   in the pitiful shrieks and wailing of scampering fellow citizens. You are comparatively safer in Afghanistan because at least civilians cannot carry arms there. You need to watch out only for the typically clad Taliban fighters. In the US, all can carry weapons  and use them at will  as we all carry  cell phones everywhere nowadays. In such a scenario, why do you need armed state police at all? Disband them and save money for the nation.  Citizens can administer whimsical cowboy justice themselves. 

The remedies suggested for this most worrying situation are still more baffling. To buffer up security in schools convert them into armed fortresses where you can carry more guns than school books. School masters have to turn into armed guards, maybe. Perhaps they should turn all their schools into military academies right from the KG and learn to shoot instead of getting shot. 

Who can advise this advanced world leader of nations about the absurdity of everyone bearing arms in public?  If you carry arms you must use them sometimes or else they grow rusty. If you are crazy you need them any time. It will sound cynical to say so, but it is the truth that frequent national lamentations over mass killings seem to be the current national occupation in the US. The rest of the world is wondering how such a great nation which considers itself the policeman of the world has regressed to being a callow political novice in keeping domestic peace. 

In such a self-created situation news of mass shootings in the US is no more news for the rest of the world. It is something like the ever-increasing petrol price notifications which have become routine exercise. This great nation is paradoxically wasting its time and energy monitoring freedom index in other nations when it has no clue as to how to protect its own citizens from maniacs. When your own house is in chaos preaching homilies to the rest of the world is a pointless waste of breath which will fall on deaf ears. What a fall for such a great nation, fellow citizens of the world!

Righteous Dissent

By, P. A. Chacko At Indian Currents

Righteous dissent is right to dissent; and it is a fundamental right. It is guaranteed by Indian Constitution in Article 19 with the freedom of expression. Dissent shows there is another angle or a different viewpoint.  Decent persons listen to what others have to say in dissent. It is letting others to have their freedom of opinion. It may be a critical observation. It could also be a point which the other party has not seen or taken into consideration or an alternative solution. 

When a government in power does not want to allow such freedom of expression, one smells a rat. If it suppresses dissent with an iron rod, it is the end of the road. Many citizens are of opinion that the ruling BJP deals with every dissenting opinion as unwanted, often dubbed criminal act, sometimes even anti-national. Peaceful demonstrations, representations, meetings, gatherings, etc. are constitutionally guaranteed exercises of democratic freedom of expression. Surprisingly, even such acts or exercises invite the wrath of the powers that are. 

Did not Prime Minister Modi put on a Himalayan stature at the recent G 7 summit in Bavaria when he, along with four other countries, signed the document on protecting the freedom of speech? The Hindu noted that “the joint statement came amidst allegations that the Indian Government was stifling the freedom of speech and the civil society actors…In a joint statement titled ‘2022 Resilient Democracies Statement’ on June 27 during the G 7 Summit, the leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said they were prepared to defend these principles and are resolved to protect the freedom of expression” (thehindu.com, June 28). 

But, what a contradiction, when, almost at the same time journalist and Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair was arrested by Delhi police for a four-year-old quote from a Hindi film accusing him of hurting religious sentiments. According to Justice Deepak Gupta, “Freedom of speech is one of the basic concepts of our democracy. People are put under pressure if they are made to feel that, if they express a certain point of view, they will have to face trouble either from the Enforcement Directorate or a money laundering case” (Interview to The Wire).

In contrast, a BJP spokesperson, who offended the sentiments of the Muslim community by saying insulting words against Prophet Mohammed, has not yet been arrested. Instead, she is being honoured with security cover. Another spokesperson who supported Nupur Sharma too has been given security cover. “If Nupur Sharma was not arrested, Zubair also should not have been arrested,” says Justice Deepak Gupta.

In every country there are opposition parties. They ventilate public grievances through their critical observations and suggestions. United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have shadow Cabinets of opposition parties. Its responsibility is to scrutinise the ruling party’s policies and offer alternative suggestions or amendments.  Unfortunately, India has no such arrangement. Rather, more often than not, the opposition parties are considered unwanted and treated like carbuncles.  

In today’s Indian scenario, public dissent often erupts into violent street theatricals which are not happy solutions. Such exercises may be outbursts of suffocations caused by the iron hand of the government. Instead of dealing with opposing situations through discussions and debates, if they are met with police atrocities and even bureaucratic punishments, the writing on the wall is clear. Executive orders to treat demonstrators as criminals are anti-democratic decisions. 

On the other hand, it is often seen that if you belong to the ruling party, you can go any length to create mayhem and terror. Whether to pull down the Ayodhya mosque or to attack minority communities with impunity, it is, as if, the prerogative of the muzzle men with the blessings of the party bosses.     

The U.P. incidents where Muslim homes were demolished because they allegedly took part in street demonstrations have attracted condemnations the world over. Here righteous dissent was treated with criminal assault. Three Rapporteurs of the United Nations (Housing Rights, Minority Issues and Freedom of Religion), jointly sent a letter to the government of India on 9th June criticizing and protesting against arbitrary demolitions of houses and properties of people, particularly of the Muslim community. The world is watching and is concerned. Yet we in India play the fiddle. 

In a recent Supreme Court case involving Nupur Sharma, Justice Surya Kant (slated to take over as the Chief Justice of India in May 2025) told Nupur’s counsel, “No Mr. Singh, the conscience of the court is not satisfied.” He stated that she should apologize to the nation for her arrogant and insulting remark against the Holy Prophet Mohammed and queried why she was not arrested. He also stated that the fact that she was not arrested shows her clout and power.  

It is highly praiseworthy that the Judge sends the incontrovertible message to the nation that the court has a conscience. It would be equally praiseworthy if all the judicial authorities believed in this message and acted accordingly.  The nation, particularly the common man, looks up to the court to exercise its conscience by pronouncing justice without bias or favor. 

That is where people expect that the courts in India not to keep mum when the nation is taken for a ride by terror outfits or nationalist marauders. When the wheels of justice turn too slow for ordinary people, the conscience of the court should wake up and call a spade a spade. 

When righteous dissent is bulldozed and pulverized by the ruling class or when the minority communities are treated as dirt, the conscience of the court cannot afford to take a blissful nap. The promising sign of the window of justice getting opened by the conscience keepers of the law courts is welcome. However, the suffocation of people suffering from sponsored spiral of violence can be removed only by opening not just a window but all the doors and windows of justice.

In Gun We Trust! Booming Guns Make US Unsafe

Would it be an exaggeration to say that the US is a more dangerous place for living than Afghanistan? It may sound absurd but the abnormal is becoming the normal in a proud ‘civilised’ democratic nation like the US. President Biden vows to end ‘the gun violence’ time after time. Maybe before that the US needs to shed its Gun Blindness. His rival Donald Trump and the Republicans are hell bent on continuing the mayhem as they depend for their political prosperity on the massive funds from the gun lobby. The juvenile cowboy mentality of yesteryears continues to rule the national psyche in the US prioritising the right to carry arms in public over the lives of its citizens.

Two factors contribute potently to this assault on the lives of citizens. One, practically anyone over the age of 18 can bear arms in America, even military grade assault rifles, in public. Two, there are enough depressed and mentally deranged citizens in the US who will use the guns to cool their rage.  So, we have almost week after week chilling reports of some mass shooting or other in a mall or school or any other crowded place. The USA has become no doubt, a crazy ‘never never land’ where a former President recently organised an armed attack on the Capitol. Could you believe your eyes as they witnessed the violent and shocking visuals on our TV screens with security men running for cover like hunted-down rats? Has killing become a national obsession in the US?

It is a country that is terribly upset over a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding so-called abortion rights for killing unborn humans. A cloud can only cover the sun, not wipe it out. The hidden behind-the -scene killings of the unborn could be at the root of all this national malaise. Maybe the offended spirits of the slain innocents have invaded the minds of deranged US citizens. Perhaps, this is a parallel to the boiling cauldron scene of the three witches in the tragedy of Macbeth.

The latest episode in this mayhem was the July 4 mass shooting in Chicago during the Independence Day Parade. Maybe all the crazy citizens of the US are celebrating their independence with shooting at anyone in sight. And their remorseless inner demons find some solace   in the pitiful shrieks and wailing of scampering fellow citizens. You are comparatively safer in Afghanistan because at least civilians cannot carry arms there. You need to watch out only for the typically clad Taliban fighters. In the US, all can carry weapons  and use them at will  as we all carry  cell phones everywhere nowadays. In such a scenario, why do you need armed state police at all? Disband them and save money for the nation.  Citizens can administer whimsical cowboy justice themselves.

The remedies suggested for this most worrying situation are still more baffling. To buffer up security in schools convert them into armed fortresses where you can carry more guns than school books. School masters have to turn into armed guards, maybe. Perhaps they should turn all their schools into military academies right from the KG and learn to shoot instead of getting shot.

Who can advise this advanced world leader of nations about the absurdity of everyone bearing arms in public?  If you carry arms you must use them sometimes or else they grow rusty. If you are crazy you need them any time. It will sound cynical to say so, but it is the truth that frequent national lamentations over mass killings seem to be the current national occupation in the US. The rest of the world is wondering how such a great nation which considers itself the policeman of the world has regressed to being a callow political novice in keeping domestic peace.

In such a self-created situation news of mass shootings in the US is no more news for the rest of the world. It is something like the ever-increasing petrol price notifications which have become routine exercise. This great nation is paradoxically wasting its time and energy monitoring freedom index in other nations when it has no clue as to how to protect its own citizens from maniacs. When your own house is in chaos preaching homilies to the rest of the world is a pointless waste of breath which will fall on deaf ears. What a fall for such a great nation, fellow citizens of the world!

Righteous Dissent

Righteous dissent is right to dissent; and it is a fundamental right. It is guaranteed by Indian Constitution in Article 19 with the freedom of expression. Dissent shows there is another angle or a different viewpoint.  Decent persons listen to what others have to say in dissent. It is letting others to have their freedom of opinion. It may be a critical observation. It could also be a point which the other party has not seen or taken into consideration or an alternative solution.

When a government in power does not want to allow such freedom of expression, one smells a rat. If it suppresses dissent with an iron rod, it is the end of the road. Many citizens are of opinion that the ruling BJP deals with every dissenting opinion as unwanted, often dubbed criminal act, sometimes even anti-national. Peaceful demonstrations, representations, meetings, gatherings, etc. are constitutionally guaranteed exercises of democratic freedom of expression. Surprisingly, even such acts or exercises invite the wrath of the powers that are.

Did not Prime Minister Modi put on a Himalayan stature at the recent G 7 summit in Bavaria when he, along with four other countries, signed the document on protecting the freedom of speech? The Hindu noted that “the joint statement came amidst allegations that the Indian Government was stifling the freedom of speech and the civil society actors…In a joint statement titled ‘2022 Resilient Democracies Statement’ on June 27 during the G 7 Summit, the leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said they were prepared to defend these principles and are resolved to protect the freedom of expression” (thehindu.com, June 28).

But, what a contradiction, when, almost at the same time journalist and Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair was arrested by Delhi police for a four-year-old quote from a Hindi film accusing him of hurting religious sentiments. According to Justice Deepak Gupta, “Freedom of speech is one of the basic concepts of our democracy. People are put under pressure if they are made to feel that, if they express a certain point of view, they will have to face trouble either from the Enforcement Directorate or a money laundering case” (Interview to The Wire).

In contrast, a BJP spokesperson, who offended the sentiments of the Muslim community by saying insulting words against Prophet Mohammed, has not yet been arrested. Instead, she is being honoured with security cover. Another spokesperson who supported Nupur Sharma too has been given security cover. “If Nupur Sharma was not arrested, Zubair also should not have been arrested,” says Justice Deepak Gupta.

In every country there are opposition parties. They ventilate public grievances through their critical observations and suggestions. United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have shadow Cabinets of opposition parties. Its responsibility is to scrutinise the ruling party’s policies and offer alternative suggestions or amendments.  Unfortunately, India has no such arrangement. Rather, more often than not, the opposition parties are considered unwanted and treated like carbuncles.

In today’s Indian scenario, public dissent often erupts into violent street theatricals which are not happy solutions. Such exercises may be outbursts of suffocations caused by the iron hand of the government. Instead of dealing with opposing situations through discussions and debates, if they are met with police atrocities and even bureaucratic punishments, the writing on the wall is clear. Executive orders to treat demonstrators as criminals are anti-democratic decisions.

On the other hand, it is often seen that if you belong to the ruling party, you can go any length to create mayhem and terror. Whether to pull down the Ayodhya mosque or to attack minority communities with impunity, it is, as if, the prerogative of the muzzle men with the blessings of the party bosses.

The U.P. incidents where Muslim homes were demolished because they allegedly took part in street demonstrations have attracted condemnations the world over. Here righteous dissent was treated with criminal assault. Three Rapporteurs of the United Nations (Housing Rights, Minority Issues and Freedom of Religion), jointly sent a letter to the government of India on 9th June criticizing and protesting against arbitrary demolitions of houses and properties of people, particularly of the Muslim community. The world is watching and is concerned. Yet we in India play the fiddle.

In a recent Supreme Court case involving Nupur Sharma, Justice Surya Kant (slated to take over as the Chief Justice of India in May 2025) told Nupur’s counsel, “No Mr. Singh, the conscience of the court is not satisfied.” He stated that she should apologize to the nation for her arrogant and insulting remark against the Holy Prophet Mohammed and queried why she was not arrested. He also stated that the fact that she was not arrested shows her clout and power.

It is highly praiseworthy that the Judge sends the incontrovertible message to the nation that the court has a conscience. It would be equally praiseworthy if all the judicial authorities believed in this message and acted accordingly.  The nation, particularly the common man, looks up to the court to exercise its conscience by pronouncing justice without bias or favor.

That is where people expect that the courts in India not to keep mum when the nation is taken for a ride by terror outfits or nationalist marauders. When the wheels of justice turn too slow for ordinary people, the conscience of the court should wake up and call a spade a spade.

When righteous dissent is bulldozed and pulverized by the ruling class or when the minority communities are treated as dirt, the conscience of the court cannot afford to take a blissful nap. The promising sign of the window of justice getting opened by the conscience keepers of the law courts is welcome. However, the suffocation of people suffering from sponsored spiral of violence can be removed only by opening not just a window but all the doors and windows of justice.

Hoover Dam And Lake Mead: Any Alert!!

Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, is known globally for its cute architecture. The reservoir created by the damming of the Colorado River became Lake Mead, drew thousands of visitors to this wondrous contrast of desert and water. Lake Mead gets water from Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the country. Its water supply is around a fourth of what it used to be.

Now the Lake Mead is at an elevation of 1,046.3 feet. That’s more than 40 feet lower than the 1,087.1 feet elevation two years ago in June 2020. The latest two-year projection from the federal agency shows that the lake could drop as low as 1,020 feet within the next two years.

From 1983, fast-forward nearly four decades, Lake Mead is now 178 feet lower and continuing to shrink, may find alarming!

The megadrought currently choking the western United States is the worst drought in the region in more than 1,000 years. It’s having an enormous impact across many states and on several major reservoirs, including Lake Mead, a water source for millions of people in the West. 

Last week measured at 1,044.03 feet, its lowest elevation since the lake was filled in the 1930s. If the reservoir dips below 895 feet — a possibility still years away — Lake Mead would reach dead pool, carrying enormous consequences for millions of people across Arizona, California, Nevada and parts of Mexico. A dead pool would not mean no water was left in the reservoir, but even before Lake Mead was hit, there were concerns that water levels could fall so low that hydroelectric power production would be hindered.

A clear high-water mark known as a “bathtub ring” is seen on the shores of Lake Mead at the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 10, comparing the reservoir when filled in the 1930s. (Photo by Bridget BENNETT).

Astounding to hear the latest news of a body in a barrel, human skeletons along the shorelines, ghost towns, a crashed B-29 Superfortress that used to track cosmic rays, Prehistoric salt mines etc., are revealed when the water level dropped. What all will the receding waters of Lake Mead show in the days ahead?

The Colorado River Basin, a lifeline of the American Southwest, is shrinking. And, with it, the country’s two largest reservoirs are going dry. Just 30 miles east of Las Vegas sits Lake Mead on the border of Arizona and Nevada. It’s the largest artificial reservoir in North America.

Lake Mead pumps water from the Colorado River to nearly 25 million people. It’s a significant water source for residents and tribes in Arizona, Nevada, California, parts of Mexico and some of the country’s most productive agricultural sites. About 75 percent of the water goes to irrigation for agriculture. That supplies about 60 percent of the food for the nation that’s grown in the United States.

But the lake has been declining for decades due to rising temperatures and climate change, cracked earth and mud where water used to be. Now it’s only 30 percent full, an historic low. Over the years, rusted debris and sunken boats have emerged, more recently, some darker discoveries, human remains lost for decades.

Below Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam provides hydroelectric power to 1.3 million people across three states. But the dam is operating at 67 percent of its capacity. If the reservoir’s elevation falls below 950 feet, the dam’s turbines will stop spinning.

States in the Southwest have started limiting some of their use of the Colorado River Basin. And last month, federal officials took unprecedented action to temporarily keep enough water in Lake Powell, one of the country’s largest reservoirs, to continue generating hydropower for a million homes.

Southern California already started restricting water use, including watering of lawns to once or twice a week, for about six million residents. It’s also having a significant impact on Lake Mead, a primary water source for agriculture and millions of people in the American West.

In Nevada there have been measures to remove grassy lawns and save irrigation water that they can put back into the system. So there is a spirit of ensuring that people can protect water for the folks in their jurisdictions.

Now as a creative solution,  the following report is highly impressive. Regarding the Mississippi Water Letters of June 26, citizens of Louisiana and Mississippi south of the Old River Control Structure don’t need all that water. All it does is cause flooding and massive tax expenditures to repair and strengthen embankments. 

The best solution would be for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build an aqueduct from the Old River Control Structure on the Mississippi to Lake Powell, fill it, and then send more water from there down the Colorado to fill lake Mead. About 4.5 million/gals a second flow past that structure on the Mississippi. As mentioned, New Orleans has a problem with that much water anyway, so let’s divert 250,000 gallons/sec to Lake Powell, which currently has a shortage of 5.5 trillion gallons.

Lake Mead has a somewhat larger shortage, about 8 trillion gallons, but it could be filled in about 370 days at 250,000 gallons/sec.Hence, this megadraught is not the catastrophic end of everything, alternative solutions will pave way for better days ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

GO WEST

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

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

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

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

New Delhi has arguably supported Moscow.

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

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

CARROTS WITHOUT STICKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington should not pressure India to criticize Russia.

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

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

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

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

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

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

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

The Hinduization Of India Is Nearly Complete

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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