Preventing Dementia: Understanding Modifiable Triggers and Genetic Variations

A significant stride has been made in understanding the preventable risk factors associated with dementia, a debilitating condition affecting memory, cognitive function, and reasoning. Researchers from the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford have identified key factors that could potentially delay the onset of dementia. These findings are based on a study involving brain scans of 40,000 participants from the UK Biobank, focusing on what they term as “weak spots” in the brain – specific networks of higher-order regions vulnerable to degeneration.

The study underscores the critical role of controlling diabetes, limiting alcohol consumption, and reducing exposure to traffic-related air pollution as essential measures in preventing dementia. Dr. Pawan Ojha, Director of Neurology at Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai, elaborates on the impact of these risk factors and offers insights into potential preventive strategies.

Diabetes emerges as a significant contributor to the vulnerability of key brain areas. Patients with Type 2 diabetes face an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease due to the detrimental effects of elevated blood sugar levels on the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. Excessive secretion of amylin hormone from the pancreas can further harm neurons, while impaired insulin function contributes to the formation of beta-amyloid plaque, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, abnormal inflammation in the brain exacerbates the neurodegenerative process associated with diabetes.

Air pollution from vehicular emissions poses another significant risk to brain health. Neurotoxicants present in traffic-related air pollution, such as particulate matter and nitric oxide, induce neuro-inflammation and oxidative stress, exacerbating cardiovascular diseases and negatively impacting cognitive function.

Heavy alcohol consumption is also strongly linked to dementia risk. Excessive alcohol intake, defined as more than 213 ml per week, leads to increased neurodegeneration, particularly affecting the brain’s white matter volume responsible for signal transmission between different brain regions. Prolonged alcohol abuse can result in the shrinkage of brain areas involved in memory, with consumption exceeding 28 units per week accelerating cognitive decline in older individuals.

To mitigate these risks, lifestyle modifications are paramount. Adopting a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, ensuring adequate sleep, and maintaining optimal weight are essential steps. Monitoring and limiting alcohol intake, along with reducing exposure to air pollution, are crucial preventive measures. Dr. Ojha stresses the importance of social interaction in maintaining cognitive health, highlighting the need for an active and engaged lifestyle.

The study also delves into genetic variations associated with dementia, focusing on seven genetic clusters related to immune and inflammatory responses. Genetic cluster 1 is specifically linked to Alzheimer’s disease, while clusters 2 and 4 show associations with both Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, particularly in individuals with heavy alcohol consumption habits. Cluster 5, located in the MAPT region, plays a role in various neurodegenerative disorders. Furthermore, genetic loci on the X chromosomes, such as genes XG and CD99, are associated with early-life and environmental factors impacting health outcomes. Four genetic loci contribute to abnormal leukocyte inflow in the brain, contributing to inflammation observed in Alzheimer’s disease.

Understanding and addressing modifiable risk factors such as diabetes, air pollution, and alcohol consumption are crucial steps in preventing dementia. Lifestyle modifications, coupled with genetic insights, offer promising avenues for reducing the burden of this debilitating condition on individuals and society as a whole.

New Zealand Overhauls Visa Program Amid Migration Concerns

New Zealand announced on Sunday that it would be implementing immediate alterations to its employment visa scheme, citing concerns over the near-record levels of migration experienced last year, which it deemed “unsustainable.”

In a bid to address these concerns, the modifications entail the introduction of an English language proficiency requirement for low-skilled positions and the establishment of a minimum threshold for skills and work experience for the majority of employer work visas. Additionally, the maximum continuous stay for most low-skilled roles will be shortened from five years to three years.

Immigration Minister Erica Stanford emphasized the government’s aim to prioritize attracting and retaining highly skilled migrants, particularly in professions facing shortages such as secondary teaching. She stated, “The Government is focused on attracting and retaining the highly skilled migrants such as secondary teachers, where there is a skill shortage.”

However, Stanford also stressed the importance of ensuring that New Zealanders are given priority for jobs where there are no shortages of skills. She emphasized, “At the same time we need to ensure that New Zealanders are put to the front of the line for jobs where there are no skills shortages.”

According to official statements, last year witnessed nearly 173,000 individuals migrating to New Zealand, approaching a historical peak in migration numbers.

With a population of approximately 5.1 million, New Zealand has experienced a rapid surge in migrant numbers following the conclusion of the pandemic, prompting apprehensions regarding its potential to exacerbate inflationary pressures.

In response to similar concerns, neighboring Australia, which has also observed a significant influx of migrants, has announced plans to halve its intake of migrants over the next two years.

YouTube Under Fire: Approval of Election Disinformation Ads Raises Concerns Ahead of Indian Polls

YouTube has greenlit numerous advertisements endorsing voter suppression and inciting violence ahead of India’s upcoming election, according to a recent investigation conducted by rights organizations Global Witness and Access Now, exclusively revealed to TIME.

India, renowned as the world’s largest democracy, is poised to conduct its election across seven phases from April 19 to June 1 of this year. Voters will determine whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi secures a third term or faces a setback to his Hindu nationalist agenda. With over half the global population participating in around 65 national elections this year, India’s election stands out as the largest and a pivotal test for social media platforms in combatting election misinformation, especially following industry-wide layoffs.

In a bid to assess YouTube’s efficacy in curbing disinformation, Global Witness and Access Now submitted 48 ads featuring election-related content banned by YouTube rules, written in Hindi, Telugu, and English. Surprisingly, within a 24-hour review window, YouTube gave the green light to all ads. Although the ads were withdrawn before publication, raising concerns about YouTube’s ability to halt the dissemination of paid disinformation during a significant global election. Namrata Maheshwari, senior policy counsel at Access Now, expressed disappointment, highlighting the broader issue of YouTube’s focus on particular countries.

Google refuted the report’s methodology, claiming it applies policies consistently worldwide and defended its enforcement process. The company asserted that none of the ads were published, and emphasized multiple layers of review to ensure policy compliance. YouTube’s massive user base in India, with over 450 million users, positions it as the second-most-popular tech platform after WhatsApp. Unlike WhatsApp, YouTube offers targeted advertising tools, which contributed to its substantial $9.2 billion ad revenue in the final quarter of 2023.

Some approved ads contained false information aimed at voter suppression, falsely stating ID requirements or suggesting voting by text message. Others hinted at violence, targeting religious communities or alleging electoral fraud hotspots. This report highlights a concerning global divide in platform enforcement against election disinformation, with the south often receiving less attention than the north.

The report’s authors contested Google’s response, arguing that the damage is already done once ads go live, even if later removed. They urged YouTube to enhance its efforts against disinformation before the Indian election begins. The organizations called for various measures, including evaluating the ad approval process, ensuring adequate resources for content moderation in local languages, and conducting an independent human rights impact assessment.

Henry Peck from Global Witness suggested recent layoffs in YouTube’s trust and safety division might have exacerbated the situation. Although Google didn’t disclose specific impacts of layoffs on ad review teams, they assured significant investments in countering election disinformation and highlighted a dedicated team for Indian languages.

As the election approaches, there’s an urgent need for YouTube to bolster its defenses against disinformation, ensuring a fair and transparent electoral process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass General Hospital Makes Medical History with Successful Pig Kidney Transplant

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a leading institution within the Mass General Brigham health care system, has achieved a groundbreaking feat by successfully completing the world’s first genetically-edited pig kidney transplant into a 62-year-old patient suffering from end-stage kidney disease (ESKD). This milestone procedure, conducted by surgeons from the Mass General Transplant Center, took place on Saturday, March 16, marking a significant advancement in the effort to address the scarcity of organ donors.

The surgical team, led by Dr. Leonardo V. Riella, along with Dr. Tatsuo Kawai and Dr. Nahel Elias, accomplished the transplant of a genetically-edited pig kidney with 69 genomic modifications into a living recipient. This achievement underscores Mass General Brigham’s longstanding commitment to pioneering innovations in organ transplantation, building upon past milestones such as the first successful human organ transplant in 1954 and the nation’s inaugural penile transplant in 2016.

Dr. Anne Klibanski, President and CEO of Mass General Brigham, praised the institution’s dedication to advancing medical science and addressing pressing health challenges, stating, “Our clinicians continue to push the boundaries of science to improve the lives of our patients worldwide.”

Acknowledging the collaborative effort behind this achievement, Dr. David F. M. Brown, President of Academic Medical Centers at Mass General Brigham, expressed gratitude to the hospital staff involved in the successful surgery and commended the patient for his bravery.

Dr. Tatsuo Kawai emphasized the collective endeavor spanning decades that led to this milestone, expressing hope that the transplant approach will offer hope to millions of kidney failure patients globally.

The pig kidney used in the transplant was sourced from eGenesis of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and underwent genetic editing using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to enhance its compatibility with humans. Measures were also taken to eliminate the risk of infection by inactivating porcine endogenous retroviruses. Collaborative research between MGH and eGenesis over the past five years culminated in this successful transplantation, with findings published in Nature in 2023.

Mike Curtis, CEO of eGenesis, hailed the achievement as a significant step forward in medical science, highlighting the potential of genome engineering to address the needs of millions of patients worldwide.

Dr. Nahel Elias underscored the multidisciplinary effort involved in the procedure, acknowledging the contributions of various teams and specialists at MGH.

This successful transplant represents a historic milestone in xenotransplantation, offering a potential solution to the global organ shortage crisis. With over 100,000 individuals in the U.S. awaiting organ transplants and 17 people dying each day due to the lack of available organs, this achievement holds profound implications for addressing the urgent need for organ donors.

The patient, Mr. Richard ‘Rick’ Slayman, is currently recovering well at MGH and is expected to be discharged soon. Praising Mr. Slayman’s courage, Dr. Joren C. Madsen, Director of the MGH Transplant Center, highlighted his role as a beacon of hope for individuals grappling with end-stage renal disease.

In a statement, Mr. Slayman expressed gratitude to the medical team at MGH for their unwavering support throughout his journey, emphasizing his trust in their expertise and commitment to improving patient outcomes.

Mr. Slayman, who has been battling Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, had previously undergone a kidney transplant from a deceased human donor in 2018. However, the transplanted kidney began to fail in 2023, leading to his inclusion in the groundbreaking pig kidney transplant procedure.

Dr. Winfred Williams, Mr. Slayman’s nephrologist, emphasized the potential of this breakthrough to address longstanding disparities in access to kidney transplants, particularly among ethnic minority patients.

The procedure was conducted under a single FDA Expanded Access Protocol (EAP), allowing access to experimental treatments for patients with life-threatening conditions. Mr. Slayman also received novel immunosuppressant drugs to support the success of the transplant.

Dr. Leonardo V. Riella, leading the team at Mass General Transplant Center, emphasized the significance of xenotransplantation in addressing the organ shortage crisis, expressing optimism about its potential to revolutionize the field of transplantation.

Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, stands as a pioneer in medical research and patient care, while Mass General Brigham continues to lead efforts in solving complex medical challenges through collaboration and innovation.

Mass General Brigham’s integrated academic health care system encompasses a comprehensive range of medical services, reflecting its commitment to patient care, research, and community service.

Indian American Lawmakers Urge DOJ To Address ‘Alarming’ Rise Of Hindu Temple Vandalism

In a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday (March 29), five members of Congress of Indian and Hindu heritage requested a briefing on the status of investigations into recent vandalism incidents at Hindu temples across the country.

Members of the “Samosa Caucus” — an informal term for the group, coined by one of its founders, U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois — also urged Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke to outline the the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s “broader strategy against hate crimes targeting Hindus in the United States.”

Attacks from New York to California have “increased collective anxiety among Hindu Americans,” the letter indicated, adding that “It takes relatively few coordinated acts of hate to create fear within a community that has often been marginalized or neglected.”

The letter was signed by Krishnamoorthi and U.S. Reps. Ro Khanna and Ami Bera of California, Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Shri Thanedar of Michigan.

The lawmakers requested that the department provide the briefing no later than April 18. The DOJ said it has acknowledged receipt of the letter, but declined a request for comment.

According to the FBI’s most recently published hate-crime report, there were 37 instances of anti-Hindu hate crimes in 2021 and 2022, with at least three known attacks on Hindu mandirs, or temples, in California since December of 2023. The temples were defaced with graffitied slogans protesting India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and supporting the Khalistan movement, a Sikh-led separatist demand for a sovereign state in India’s Punjab region.

In March of 2023, the Indian Consulate of San Francisco was attacked by a group of protesters who stormed the building and installed small Khalistani flags inside. Another mob attempted to set the consulate building afire in July of that year.

These instances followed the vandalism and destruction of a Mahatma Gandhi statue in front of a mandir in New York’s Queens borough in 2021, also defaced with anti-Modi and pro-Khalistan sentiments.

“Such acts of hate shake the foundation of our collective values of tolerance, respect, and freedom of religion,” said Thanedar in a statement to RNS. “I urge a swift and thorough response from the Department of Justice to not only address these specific incidents but also to reinforce our nation’s commitment to safeguarding the rights and security of every religious group.”

Hindu advocates say the trend points to a lack of an adequate response from law enforcement, which they blame on anti-Hindu bias. Though the FBI in all instances indicated it would investigate the vandalism as hate crimes, the agency has not commented publicly on the status of these efforts.

The letter from the members of Congress said Hindu communities “remain concerned about law enforcement coordination regarding these bias-motivated crimes, and they are left wondering if there is appropriate federal oversight to ensure equal protection under the law.”

Others in the Indian American community took issue with the letter’s message. Sangay Mishra, a prominent scholar of the Indian American diaspora, took to X to explain his view that the instances of vandalism and the “alleged involvement of Khalistan supporters” reflect more complex political dynamics than the umbrella term of “hate crime” covers.

“It is hard for me to ignore the fact that diaspora is going through a moment of extreme polarization,” tweeted Mishra. “It is unfortunate that these members of Congress are treating these incidents only as a law and order issue and framing them as incidents of hate crime.

“As elected leaders from the community, you can play an important role in building bridges and starting constructive conversations,” he said in a message directed toward Jayapal and Khanna.

Khanna has himself previously criticized Hindus who “cry Hinduphobia,” arguing that he had never felt Hinduphobia “at any single point” in his “97 percent white and Christian” hometown.

Yet some Hindu leaders, such as Pushpita Prasad of the Coalition of Hindus of North America, consider Hinduphobia to be the “root cause” of pro-Khalistani vandalism and have made the attacks part of their yearslong effort to have Hinduphobia recognized at the federal level. They point to a 2022 study published by Rutgers University’s Network Contagion Lab detailing a “widespread, insidious yet underreported” phenomenon of Hinduphobia both online and in person.

“Freedom of religion means little when sacred spaces that are meant to be an oasis of peace and calm are vandalized with no consequences,” said Prasad, whose organization has campaigned in the California area to ensure lawmakers understand the gravity of the “ongoing Khalistani violence.”

“We are glad to see some much overdue attention to the issue of repeated and frighteningly frequent attacks on Hindu temples,” said Prasad. ”It’s been shocking to see how many had no idea what’s going on.”

The Hindu American Foundation, the nation’s largest advocacy organization for Hindu Americans, has similarly lobbied local law enforcement, the FBI and the DOJ, according to community outreach director Ramya Ramakrishnan, urging more awareness of “Khalistan extremism and lawlessness that, over the past couple of years, has grown increasingly violent.”

“We’ve been frustrated by the lack of response — at best, diminishing the anti-Hindu nature of these attacks, and at worst, giving space to outright gaslighting by Khalistani groups who have falsely blamed the victims,” said Ramakrishnan. (https://religionnews.com/2024/04/03/indian-origin-lawmakers-urge-doj-to-address-alarming-rise-of-hindu-temple-vandalism/?utm_source=RNS+Updates&utm_campaign=748e896a84-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2024_04_04_01_36&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c5356cb657-748e896a84-%5BLIST_EMAIL_ID%5D)

Tech Leaders Hail Candid Chat Modi Had With Bill Gates

Leading IT and tech leaders have hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his candid chat with Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates on various topics, ranging from climate change to food to India’s advancements in digital technology.

A candid conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Business Tycoon and philanthropist Bill Gates about the AI revolution, India’s potential as a tech leader and more was live-streamed on Friday.

The teaser of the “interesting conversation”, where Gates told PM Modi that Indians are not only “adapting” to technology, but also leading the way, was released a day later building heavy anticipation.

“One of the themes that India brings to the table is that technology should be for everyone,” the billionaire said. During a discussion, Prime Minister Modi expressed his ambition to establish digital public infrastructure for rural India.

On Artificial Intelligence (AI), Modi explained to Gates that AI presents considerable challenges globally. He also emphasised the importance of comprehensive training for AI systems and proposed the idea of adding a watermark to AI-generated content.

The prime minister also highlighted his government’s initiatives aimed at empowering women, such as the Namo Drone Didi program, which equips women with drone piloting skills, thereby fostering economic independence and rural development.

Ronnie Screwvala, serial investor and Co-founder/Chairperson of edtech platform upGrad, posted on X: “Really well-spoken @narendramodi. Most of us debate so much about ‘work-life balance’ but the real answer lies here — if we love what we do, that’s the balance.”

Veteran investor and Info Edge Founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani termed the conversation between Bill Gates and PM Modi as “very interesting”.

“Wide range of topics covered — AI, data, climate, Green GDP etc., but the most interesting to me was the niche topic of millets and the PM’s advocacy of the various advantages of these grains in granular detail,” Bikhchandani posted on X. “As a millet consumer, I found it fascinating,” he added.

The conversation between PM Modi and Bill Gates also delved into the transformative role of technology in healthcare.

They explored India’s remarkable success in combating the Covid-19 pandemic with indigenously developed and produced vaccines, highlighting the nation’s self-reliance in crucial healthcare solutions.

Moreover, they also touched upon India’s proactive stance in addressing climate change, underscoring the country’s commitment to sustainable development. (IANS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Pranks to Pioneer: The Unlikely Evolution of Gmail

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, were renowned for their love of pranks. From the early days of their company, they made a tradition of unveiling absurd concepts every April Fools’ Day. Among these antics was a job posting for a Copernicus research center on the moon and the announcement of a “scratch and sniff” feature for their search engine.

Their jokes became so exaggeratedly extravagant that people began to expect them as part of Google’s mischievous nature. However, in a move to break away from this pattern, Page and Brin decided to reveal something utterly unexpected on April Fools’ Day – Gmail.

The introduction of Gmail in 2004 marked a significant departure from the norm. Offering a free email service with 1 gigabyte of storage per account, Gmail seemed modest compared to today’s standards of one-terabyte storage in iPhones. Yet, at the time, this amount of storage was perceived as preposterously generous, dwarfing the mere 30 to 60 emails storage capacity of other leading webmail services like Yahoo and Microsoft.

Apart from the ample storage, Gmail also integrated Google’s advanced search technology, enabling users to swiftly retrieve information from their emails, photos, and other personal data stored on the platform. Moreover, it automatically threaded together related communications, creating a seamless conversation flow.

Former Google executive Marissa Mayer, who contributed to Gmail’s development, highlighted the original pitch’s focus on the three ‘S’s: storage, search, and speed. The novelty of Gmail was such that when news of its launch broke on April Fools’ 2004, many initially thought it was another of Google’s pranks.

Former Google engineer Paul Buchheit, who played a pivotal role in creating Gmail, reflected on the project’s three-year journey under the codename “Caribou.” Despite the absurdity of the name, Buchheit found it amusing, symbolizing the lightheartedness prevalent in Google’s culture.

The credibility of Gmail’s launch was affirmed when an Associated Press reporter was summoned to Google’s headquarters and given a firsthand demonstration by Larry Page himself. Page showcased Gmail’s sleek interface and emphasized its efficiency within Microsoft’s web browser, assuring the reporter that the lack of a delete button was deliberate, given the ample storage and robust search capabilities.

Gmail’s success surpassed expectations, boasting an estimated 1.8 billion active accounts today, each offering 15 gigabytes of free storage. This evolution reflects a broader shift towards digital hoarding, where users are inclined to accumulate vast amounts of data, necessitating additional storage solutions offered by companies like Google and Apple.

Buchheit explained that Gmail aimed to challenge the prevailing mindset of storage scarcity, encouraging users to rethink the necessity of deleting content. Beyond revolutionizing email services, Gmail laid the foundation for Google’s expansion into various other digital domains.

Following Gmail’s debut, Google introduced transformative products like Google Maps, Google Docs, and acquired YouTube. These developments, coupled with the Chrome browser and the Android operating system, solidified Google’s position as a dominant force in the digital landscape. However, Gmail’s approach to scanning email content for targeted advertising hinted at broader ambitions involving digital surveillance.

Despite its initial limited capacity, Gmail’s exclusivity generated significant demand, with invitations to join the service becoming a sought-after commodity, fetching high prices on platforms like eBay. Over time, as Google’s infrastructure expanded, access to Gmail became more accessible, culminating in its full-scale release to the public in 2007.

On April Fools’ Day of that year, Google unveiled “Gmail Paper,” a satirical feature offering to print users’ email archives on peculiar materials and mail them via postal service. This light-hearted gesture underscored Google’s playful approach to innovation during that period.

Social Media Giants in UK and US Implement Significant Changes to Protect Children Online, Report Reveals

Social media companies in the United Kingdom have implemented nearly 100 modifications to their platforms to adhere to new standards aimed at enhancing online safety for children, as outlined in a recent report by the U.S.-based nonprofit Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.

The U.K.’s Children’s Code, also known as the Age Appropriate Design Code, was enforced in 2020, granting social media firms a year to comply with the updated regulations. The alterations spotlighted in the report encompass adjustments that various social media giants, including popular platforms among youngsters such as TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, have publicly announced. These adjustments also extend to platforms utilized in the United States.

Notably, these companies are part of the industry consortium NetChoice, which has actively opposed U.S. legislation concerning online safety by resorting to legal challenges.

Kris Perry, executive director of Children and Screens, applauds the report, stating, “It’s promising that despite the protests of the various platforms, they are actually taking the feedback from [researchers] and, obviously, policymakers.”

Similarly, child and adolescent psychologist Mary Alvord, co-author of The Action Mindset Workbook for Teens, acknowledges the companies’ responsiveness to feedback, noting, “It’s promising that despite the protests of the various platforms, they are actually taking the feedback from [researchers] and, obviously, policymakers.”

The modifications in platform design target four principal areas: youth safety and well-being, privacy, security, and data management, age-appropriate design, and time management.

To enhance youth safety and well-being, there have been 44 adjustments made across platforms. Instagram, for instance, has introduced features such as filtering out bullying comments and employing machine learning to detect bullying in photos. YouTube now notifies users about offensive comments and actively removes hate speech.

In terms of privacy, security, and data management, platforms have made 31 alterations. Instagram now notifies minors when they interact with adults flagged for suspicious behavior and prohibits adults from messaging minors who are more than two years younger than them.

Moreover, 11 changes across platforms aim to improve time management among minors. For instance, YouTube Kids has disabled autoplay by default, and regular reminders to take breaks are included for users aged 13 to 17.

Mitch Prinstein, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chief science adviser at the American Psychological Association, expresses optimism about the adjustments, remarking, “From what we know about the brain and what we know about adolescent development, many of these are the right steps to take to try and reduce harms.”

However, he highlights the lack of empirical evidence regarding the effectiveness of these measures in ensuring children’s safety and well-being on social media platforms.

Prinstein emphasizes the detrimental impact of addictive platform designs on children’s developing brains, particularly citing features like infinite scrolling, which aim to prolong user engagement but can be harmful to children’s ability to regulate their behaviors.

Furthermore, he commends the focus on eliminating hazardous or hateful content from platforms, emphasizing the importance of removing content that promotes disordered behaviors.

The report underscores that several U.S. states are considering legislation modeled after the U.K.’s Children’s Code. California, for instance, passed its own Age-Appropriate Design Code, although it faces temporary injunctions.

At the federal level, the U.S. Senate is poised to vote on the Kids Online Safety Act, a bipartisan initiative sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn. The bill seeks to compel social media platforms to mitigate harm to children and prioritize their privacy.

Despite legislative efforts, many families feel powerless as they await changes from both lawmakers and social media companies. Prinstein urges parents to engage in conversations with their children about their online activities, fostering digital literacy and awareness to promote safer usage of social media platforms.

Prinstein acknowledges the challenges ahead in enacting legislation but stresses the urgency of addressing children’s safety online without further delay.

Income Inequality Soars in India: Billionaires Tighten Grip on Economy Amid Political Turmoil

India currently faces an unprecedented level of income inequality, ranking among the highest globally. This disparity between the affluent and the impoverished surpasses that of nations like the US, Brazil, and South Africa, and even exceeds historical records during colonial rule. This raises a crucial question: Despite the significant disadvantage faced by the majority, why do one billion voters opt to further enrich the wealthy during their democratic participation in the upcoming April and May elections?

A recent study conducted by the World Inequality Lab highlights this alarming trend, dubbing India’s current state as the “Billionaire Raj,” a nod to the colonial era. The study spans a century but focuses notably on the period between 2014 and 2022, encompassing the initial eight years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure and his right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Under Modi’s leadership, India has witnessed the emergence of an extremely privileged class. The report indicates that fewer than 10,000 individuals among the 920 million adult population earn an average annual income of 480 million rupees ($5.7 million), a staggering figure surpassing the average income by over 2,000 times. Astonishingly, nine out of ten Indians earn less than this average.

The Modi administration has remarkably favored the affluent, resulting in a doubling of real income for the elite few at the pinnacle of the economic hierarchy. This surge in wealth accumulation has outpaced the growth experienced by the median earner by fourfold. At the 99.99% percentile, wealth increased by a staggering 175%, a sharp contrast to the 50% growth observed at the midpoint.

A handful of business magnates, including Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, and Sajjan Jindal, have ascended to the ranks of the world’s wealthiest individuals. However, their wealth accumulation hasn’t been fueled by global market innovation but rather by dominating domestic sectors such as transportation, telecommunications, energy, retail, and media. The Modi government has further incentivized large corporations through tax breaks, monopoly asset allocations like airports, and favorable policies, often at the expense of small businesses and workers.

Despite these economic windfalls for the elite, the benefits have failed to trickle down to the working class. The manufacturing sector, which could have alleviated unemployment, has shrunk significantly, accounting for only 13% of total output compared to China’s 28%. Real wages have remained stagnant for a decade, exacerbating India’s employment crisis, particularly among young college graduates.

Notably, mainstream media, predominantly influenced by wealthy business conglomerates, has neglected to cover protests by unemployed youth demanding government intervention. The dearth of employment opportunities has led to desperation among the youth, with some seeking jobs abroad or even engaging in conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war.

Despite these economic challenges, voter behavior remains perplexing. In the 2019 elections, Modi’s BJP witnessed a significant increase in vote share, reaching 37%. This trend suggests a likelihood of Modi securing a third term, a forecast echoed by numerous analyses of the upcoming polls.

The affluent have significantly contributed to political funding, with $1.5 billion funneled to the BJP since 2018, comprising 58% of all known political donations. It’s evident that these contributions aim to further the interests of the wealthy elite. However, the anonymity surrounding these donations has drawn scrutiny, culminating in a Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional.

Despite growing discontent, there’s a prevailing belief among the wealthy that electoral polarization along religious lines will mitigate voter concerns regarding political-business collusion. Additionally, government subsidies have somewhat placated the poor, albeit accompanied by divisive rhetoric targeting minority communities.

India’s recent classification as an “electoral autocracy” by the V-Dem Institute underscores the influence of billionaires on the nation’s democratic integrity. The potential for a stock market surge following a Modi victory further solidifies the oligarchs’ grip on the economy and political narrative.

If current trends persist, a mere 100 million adults could wield unprecedented economic control, paving the way for oligarchic dominance over India’s future.

Global Gathering of Physicians: GAPIO Conference 2024 Highlights Excellence in Medicine and Healthcare Innovations

Physicians hailing from Indian backgrounds and experts across various medical disciplines from 57 nations congregated in Lucknow on March 16 and 17, 2024, to partake in the 14th Annual Conference organized by the Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (GAPIO).

With a turnout exceeding 500 attendees from countries like the USA, UK, Australia, Canada, the Middle East, Africa, UAE, and India, the conference delved into crucial healthcare matters while also featuring the presentation of GAPIO Awards.

The event saw distinguished figures in attendance, including India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh as the Chief Guest, alongside Brajesh Pathak, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare and Medical Education of Uttar Pradesh state, and Sudhanshu Trivedi, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, as Guests of Honor, as detailed in a press release from GAPIO.

Over the years, the GAPIO conference has evolved into a prominent fixture in the medical community’s calendar, providing a platform for the exchange of insights on clinical skill enhancement, leadership development, women’s health, tackling contemporary health challenges, and modernizing healthcare delivery approaches.

Notably, the Uttar Pradesh Medical Council accorded three credit hours for participation in this conference, underscoring its significance in the medical fraternity.

Dr. Prathap C Reddy, the Founder President of GAPIO and chairman of Apollo Hospitals Group, emphasized the relentless pursuit of excellence among physicians of Indian origin, both domestically and internationally. He applauded their remarkable contributions worldwide, instilling a sense of pride among fellow Indians.

Furthermore, Dr. Reddy commended the awardees for their outstanding achievements, considering them as beacons of inspiration for others in the field. He expressed gratitude for the esteemed presence of dignitaries like Union Defense Minister Shri Rajnath Singhji and Deputy CM of UP Brajesh Pathakji, who added prestige to the awards ceremony.

Dr. Nandakumar Jairam, the president of GAPIO, highlighted the caliber of international and national experts participating in the conference, offering invaluable insights into cutting-edge advancements across various medical domains. The conference covered a diverse array of topics spanning Gastroenterology, Infectious Diseases, Endocrinology, ECMO, Physiotherapy, Women’s Health, Leadership Mantras, and more.

Dr. Anupam Sibal, Past President of GAPIO and Group Medical Director at Apollo Hospitals, underscored the dedication and commitment to academic excellence and social causes among GAPIO members. Despite geographical dispersion and diversities, this shared ethos binds the organization together, he noted. The hybrid format of the conference facilitated knowledge expansion and facilitated discussions on pressing issues faced in everyday medical practice.

Dr. Sudhir Parikh, Vice President of GAPIO and Chairman and Publisher of Parikh World Wide Media and ITV Gold 24×7 TV Channel in the USA, emphasized the significance of embracing technological advancements in medical sciences. He described GAPIO 2024 as an excellent opportunity to witness firsthand the integration of technology into medical practice and conference organization, aligning with GAPIO’s vision of improving health globally.

Dr. Mayank Somani, MD, and CEO of Apollo Medics Hospitals, Lucknow, stressed the role of research and innovation in enhancing healthcare delivery across India, particularly in addressing the country’s diverse health challenges.

Established in 2011 by Padma Vibhushan Dr. Prathap C Reddy, the Global Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (GAPIO) operates as a non-profit organization committed to fostering excellence in healthcare worldwide.

The conference also recognized exemplary individuals with various awards, celebrating their contributions to medicine:

– GAPIO Life Time Achievement Award – Dr. Gnanaraj Jesudian

– Dr. Prathap C Reddy Philanthropy Award – Dr. K V Ravishankar

– Dr. IA Modi award for excellence in Medicine in Distinguished Category – Dr. Sheffali Gulati

– GAPIO Surgical Excellence award in Distinguished Category – Dr. Achal Gulati

– GAPIO Excellence in Radiology / Radiation therapy award in Distinguished Category – Dr. Goura Kishor Rath

– GAPIO Excellence in Diagnostics award in Distinguished Category – Dr. Kashi Nath Prasad

– Dr. IA Modi award for excellence in Medicine in Young Category – Dr. Radha Vikas Taralekar

– GAPIO Surgical Excellence award in Young Category – Dr. Kirtikumar J Rathod

– GAPIO Excellence in Radiology / Radiation therapy award in Young Category – Dr. Pooja Nandwani Patel

– GAPIO Excellence in Diagnostics award in Young Category – Dr. Pradeep Kumar Dabla

– GAPIO Commendation Award for achieving excellence in Medicine – Dr. Nalini Mohan Guda

– GAPIO Commendation Award for achieving excellence in Surgery – Dr. J B Sharma

– GAPIO Commendation Award for achieving excellence in Radiology/ Radiation Therapy – Dr. Sanjay Gandhi

– GAPIO Commendation Award for achieving excellence in Diagnostic Medicine – Dr. Anoop Nigam

The GAPIO conference of 2024 served as a platform for medical professionals to engage in fruitful discussions, exchange knowledge, and honor outstanding contributions to the field, reaffirming GAPIO’s commitment to advancing healthcare globally.

Congressman Suozzi Secures Victory in NY District 3 Special Election, Emphasizes Bipartisan Unity in Victory Speech

Congressman Thomas Richard Suozzi marked his triumph in the special election of February 13, 2024, defeating Republican contender Mazi Pilip in New York’s District 3, as he basked in the revelry alongside his supporters, notably including many Indian Americans. The victory festivity unfolded at Leonard’s Palazzo in Great Neck, drawing an impressive crowd estimated at over eight hundred attendees, as disclosed in a press release.

During his address at the event, Congressman Suozzi underscored the imperative of bipartisan unity in confronting the formidable challenges confronting the nation. He extended gratitude to an extensive array of individuals and groups, encompassing his family, voters, supporters, campaign team, labor unions, civic organizations, activists, elected representatives, and the diverse constituent groups within his district, notably including the Indian American community.

Representing NY District 3, which boasts a significant Indian American population and stands as one of the nation’s most affluent congressional districts, Suozzi has a track record of engagement with Indian and South Asian affairs. Previously serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and as a member of the Congressional India Caucus, Suozzi has actively participated in cultural events within his district and engaged in discussions pertaining to India-U.S. relations. Notably, his 2018 visit to India included meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and various Indian ministers.

Described as an attorney and CPA with a three-decade-long tenure in public service, encompassing roles such as Nassau County Executive, Mayor of Glen Cove, and Congressman for New York’s 3rd District, Suozzi has consistently championed the interests of Indian Americans and the broader South Asian community.

Throughout his campaign, Suozzi emphasized the universality of concerns such as crime, immigration, and taxation, framing them not as partisan issues but as matters of national importance. His assertion that “Crime and immigration and taxes is not a Republican message. It’s an American message,” and that “Democrats as well as Republicans need to be addressing these issues” resonated strongly with constituents.

In his victory speech, Suozzi reiterated the necessity of seeking common ground to enhance the country’s welfare, acknowledging the inherent challenges in doing so. Reflecting on his career in public service, he expressed fulfillment in his ability to fulfill his aspirations of aiding individuals, addressing environmental concerns, spearheading construction projects, resolving issues, and striving to improve people’s lives.

Fear Among Christians Rises in India as Election Looms

KANDHAMAL, India: In India’s Kandhamal district, the scars of brutal attacks on Christians 16 years ago still linger, evoking fear and uncertainty among the minority community. As the country braces for upcoming elections with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to secure another term, many Christians worry about the resurgence of violence and persecution.

The 2008 attacks, triggered by the murder of a Hindu priest, left a devastating impact, with mobs targeting Christians and leaving scores dead. Survivors like Deepti recall the horrors of that time, including incidents of gang rape and widespread sexual assault.

Last year, the Vatican initiated the beatification process for 35 individuals killed in the violence, offering a glimmer of hope for the community. However, for many, the trauma persists, overshadowing any sense of closure or justice.

The looming elections add to the apprehension, especially amid concerns of rising Hindu nationalism and the BJP’s alleged agenda to convert India into a Hindu state. Reports of attacks against Christians across the country further fuel anxiety, with memories of past atrocities still fresh.

Despite reassurances from political leaders, including Modi, many Christians remain wary, fearing a repeat of past violence. The recent inauguration of a temple in Ayodhya, a site marked by historical religious tensions, served as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by religious minorities in India.

While efforts are made to foster inclusivity and dispel fears, the specter of communal discord looms large, casting a shadow of doubt on the promise of religious freedom and harmony in the country. As Kandhamal’s survivors navigate between fear and hope, the road ahead remains uncertain, with the need for genuine reconciliation and peace more urgent than ever.

China Condemns US Interference in India Border Dispute

China has criticized the United States for interfering in its border disagreement with India, following Washington’s assertion that it recognizes the contested Arunachal Pradesh as a part of Indian territory.

“China strongly deplores and firmly opposes this,” remarked Lin Jian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, during a press conference in Beijing on Thursday. “The China-India boundary question is a matter between the two countries and has nothing to do with the US side.”

This reaction comes in response to the U.S. dismissing China’s “unilateral attempts” to push forward its territorial claims and intervening in a dispute between New Delhi and Beijing after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh.

This development adds to the escalating tensions between neighboring India and China, which have a shared border spanning 3,500 kilometers. China, known as Zangnan, asserts that Arunachal Pradesh is part of southern Tibet, a claim India vehemently rejects, maintaining that Arunachal Pradesh has always been an integral part of its territory.

The U.S. State Department intervened on Wednesday, stating, “The United States recognizes Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory and we strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims by incursions or encroachments, military or civilian, across the Line of Actual Control,” according to spokesperson Vedant Patel.

The Line of Actual Control (LAC) demarcates India-controlled territory from that controlled by China. China reiterated its claims over Arunachal Pradesh on Thursday, asserting, “Zangnan has always been China’s territory, a basic fact that is undeniable.”

“It is known to all that the US has consistently spared no efforts to provoke and take advantage of other countries’ conflicts to serve its selfish geopolitical interests,” Lin added.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, highlighted the U.S.’s consistent efforts to align itself with India in its competition with China, indicating that U.S. support for India in this border dispute reflects this alignment.

Kugelman noted that while the U.S. typically refrains from commenting on certain Indian border disputes, such as the one with Pakistan over Kashmir, in this case, it is signaling its solidarity with New Delhi, akin to its efforts, including intelligence-sharing, to assist India in deterring Chinese aggressions on its northern border.

Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the “Sela Tunnel,” the world’s longest bi-lane tunnel situated at an altitude above 13,000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh, eliciting strong reactions from Chinese officials.

Border tensions between India and China have intensified in recent years, with a major escalation in 2020 resulting in a clash that claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese troops. Last year, China renamed 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh, a move vehemently opposed by India.

Senior Colonel Zhang Xiaogang, deputy director-general of the Information Office of China’s Ministry of National Defense, stated days after the road tunnel inauguration that “China never recognizes and firmly opposes India’s illegal establishment of the so-called ‘Arunachal Pradesh.'”

China’s defense ministry reiterated its claim over the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh last week. In response, India’s foreign ministry reiterated that Arunachal Pradesh “was, is, and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India.”

Regarding the U.S. siding with India, Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at Observer Research Foundation, noted the significant progress in India-U.S. relations. He remarked, “It shows how far India-U.S. relations have come. Even when it comes to the matter, which has been very sensitive, such as the India-China border dispute, the U.S. today is openly standing with India.

Indian Archbishop Urges Prayer and Vigilance Amidst Concerns Over Democracy and Religious Freedom

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore has expressed deep concerns about the state of affairs in India, highlighting issues of poverty, economic inequality, unemployment, and erosion of democratic values. These concerns come ahead of the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace and Harmony in India, organized by the country’s bishops on March 22. Additionally, the timing of these prayers coincides with the upcoming general elections for the lower house of India’s parliament, scheduled between April 19 and June 1.

The political landscape of India is marked by a fierce contest between the Congress party and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress party has accused the BJP-led government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of resorting to tactics such as freezing the party’s bank accounts and issuing tax notices dating back several years, which they perceive as attempts to undermine democracy. Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi condemned these actions, alleging them to be a deliberate assault on democratic principles.

Archbishop Machado underscores the challenging circumstances prevailing in India despite its advancements in various sectors. He points to growing economic disparity, monopolization by select capitalists, escalating unemployment among educated youth, and large-scale migration of rural poor as alarming trends. He also highlights the proliferation of hate speech, systematic attempts to deprive citizens of their rights, and erosion of pluralistic and secular values enshrined in the constitution. According to him, India’s political sphere is plagued by populism, polarization, and the cult of personality, rendering democracy hollow.

Minority communities in India, particularly non-Hindu faiths, have voiced concerns over increased oppression since the BJP came to power. Archbishop Machado, who serves as the President of the Karnataka Regional Bishops’ Conference and Chairman of the All-Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights, emphasizes the significance of prayer and fasting in combating falsehood, violence, and division while advocating for truth, non-violence, and justice.

Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, echoes similar sentiments, urging parishioners to pray continuously for 12 hours to intercede for the nation, especially during the upcoming elections. He expresses apprehensions about religious polarization and fundamentalist movements, which pose a threat to India’s pluralistic ethos and constitutional rights.

In an interview with Crux, Archbishop Machado emphasizes the bishops’ call for prayer and fasting during the Lenten season to promote peace and harmony, particularly amidst the fervor of the upcoming elections. He urges citizens to exercise their voting rights judiciously, emphasizing the importance of selecting leaders who uphold secular values and respect the constitution. According to him, it is imperative for every citizen to participate in the electoral process responsibly, ensuring the choice of candidates who embody moral values and principles.

Testimony of John Sifton before the US House Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Testimony of John Sifton before the US House Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

Hearing on India: Recent Human Rights Reporting

Testimony of John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch

Thank you for inviting Human Rights Watch to testify. We are grateful for the opportunity to provide details on the worrying trajectory of India’s human rights situation.

Human Rights Watch is an independent, non-governmental organization that monitors and reports on human rights abuses by governments and non-state armed groups in about 100 countries around the world. This includes India, where we have done work for more than three decades, and the United States, where we have worked since our founding in 1978. To ensure our independence and impartiality we accept no government funding. We are non-partisan and do not endorse or oppose political parties or candidates in any country where we work.

The current human rights situation in India is immensely concerning.

In the 10 years since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s government has accelerated a crackdown on civil society and the media and adopted an increasingly majoritarian form of governance that tramples on the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

The authorities have prosecuted activists, journalists, and peaceful protesters on fabricated counterterrorism and hate speech laws. They have stifled civil society and human rights groups with pretextual investigations and prosecutions.

Authorities have also threatened diaspora critics and journalists with restrictions on their travel documents. An indictment of an Indian national in New York City in 2023, for allegedly attempting to hire an assassin to murder a Sikh Indian-American resident, echoes earlier accusations by the Canadian government about a similar plot in Canada.

The ruling BJP party has encouraged and supported local vigilante groups that employ hateful rhetoric and violence directed at religious minorities, including against Muslims, the minority Christian Kuki community in Manipur, and minority communities in several other parts of the country. In addition, BJP leaders, including elected officials, regularly vilify Muslims in speeches, and their hate speech or incitement have further increased vigilante violence.

Police complicity in violence, or dereliction in protection of victims, has also emboldened perpetrators. And in the wake of violent incidents, authorities typically focus on minority communities for legal enforcement or punish those that protest their discriminatory conduct by destroying their homes and property.

Security forces have also used excessive force and threats against farmers protesting about agricultural problems in Delhi and other locations, many of them Sikh. BJP party leaders have dangerously labeled the protesting farmers “separatists,” an accusation that increases their risk of suffering discrimination and violence.

In several areas facing unrest, authorities have shut down internet and communications platforms for long periods—actions that have imposed immense hardships on populations and made it difficult to document and communicate information about human rights abuses, especially during protests. Shutdowns hamper vital access to information and essential services like health care, banking and welfare services.

In the lead-up to India’s elections scheduled for April 2024, these problems have combined to create a perilous situation. Several actions and policies of the Indian government, in the lead up to the election, deserve particular attention.

In August 2019, the government revoked the constitutional status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, splitting the region into two federally governed territories. To prevent protests in the wake of this decision, security forces arbitrarily detained hundreds of people, including journalists and human rights defenders, and imposed a total communications blackout, including on the internet, and severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of movement and peaceful assembly. The government intensified the crackdown in 2021 and 2022, including on media and civil society groups, frequently using India’s vague and overbroad counterterrorism laws.

Another issue concerns the site of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, a source of longstanding disputes between Hindus and Muslims and which has repeatedly led to incidents of violence. In December 1992, BJP supporters, encouraged by BJP leaders to march to the site, ended up destroying it, an event which then set off violence across India that killed thousands. In 2002, a prayer ceremony at the site led to another spate of violence, first when 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya to Gujarat were killed in a fire on their train that started during an attack by Muslims. In revenge attacks that followed across the state, mobs killed hundreds of Muslims and police did little to intervene. Modi was chief minister of Gujarat at that time, and the US government later revoked his visa to the US in connection with his role in the riots.

After being elected in 2014, the Modi government targeted human rights defenders who had documented his and other BJP leaders’ role in sparking violence in Gujarat, while publicly making the construction of a temple on the site a priority.

In January 2024, after Modi presided over a ceremony to inaugurate the temple, clashes broke out in several locations in India, including cases in which Hindu mobs attacked Muslims and their properties.

Also of concern is the government’s plan to move forward to create a National Register of Citizens: a process providing a basis for local officials to label persons’ citizenship as “doubtful” or otherwise challenge it, but which could set the stage for stripping people of their citizenship.

India’s new Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 compounds fears that this NRC process could be used in a discriminatory and problematic way. The law specifically excludes Muslims from fast-track processing of people eligible for citizenship from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Indian officials in recent years have made numerous statements about Muslims from Bangladesh and Myanmar contending that they entered India illegally and are “infiltrators,” “migrants,” and “foreigners.”

These distinctions demonize Muslims. When the CAA and NRC processes were first floated five years ago, BJP leaders, including the Home Minister, were clear about its discriminatory intent. “Illegal immigrants are like termites and they are eating the food that should go to our poor and they are taking our jobs,” Home Minister Amit Shah said at a BJP election rally in September 2018. “They carry out blasts [bombings] in our country and so many of our people die.”

Combined with the Citizenship Amendment Act, the NRC process can create a system in which millions of Muslims could be rendered stateless—especially in border areas where their citizenship might be questioned by authorities. When the Citizenship Amendment Act was first enacted in December 2019, widespread protests broke out that led to over 50 deaths. Protesters specifically cited that NRC lists and voting rolls in the state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh, had been prepared in an arbitrary manner, rendering over a million people stateless, most of them Muslim.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented in Assam that in tribunals for deciding cases of “doubtful” citizenship, the burden of proof is placed upon individuals to prove their citizenship, and in a “process” that is arbitrary, discriminatory, inconsistent, and error-ridden. Tribunals are operated without uniform standards and are led, very poorly, by officials without any legal or judicial experience. Some individuals are expected to provide documentary evidence dating back over 50 years, a particularly difficult burden for more marginalized people, or those who had been repeatedly internally displaced because of common natural disasters such as floods, as well as outbreaks of violence.

The Hindu Leaders Fighting Hindu Nationalism

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

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

Watch more from TIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court Temporarily Bans Patanjali’s Misleading Claims: Ayurvedic Medicines Under Scrutiny Amid Government Support

Imagine a world where a single pill could ward off COVID-19, where diabetes could be cured with vegetable juices and herbal concoctions instead of insulin, or where asthma could vanish with just yoga and breathing exercises. These are the bold assertions put forward by Patanjali Ayurved, a major player in India’s traditional ayurvedic products industry, reflecting the ancient Hindu healing practices dating back 3,000 years. The term “ayurveda” originates from Sanskrit, combining “ayur” meaning life and “veda” meaning science or knowledge. Practitioners of ayurveda utilize herbs, animal extracts, and minerals prepared according to age-old texts.

Despite widespread acceptance among Indians, concerns linger among scientists regarding the safety and effectiveness of ayurvedic products. Unlike medicinal drugs, ayurvedic products are classified as dietary supplements in the United States, lacking the rigorous testing required for medical approval.

Under the Hindu-nationalist government in power since 2014, alternative systems of medicine, including ayurveda, have received unprecedented support. India’s Ministry of Alternative Medicine receives nearly $500 million annually, with the government actively promoting ayurveda on the international stage, boosting the fortunes of companies like Patanjali.

However, the Supreme Court of India has recently issued a temporary ban on certain Patanjali products. This move follows allegations by the Indian Medical Association that Patanjali and its brand ambassador Baba Ramdev made false claims against evidence-backed modern medicine and spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

“The entire country has been taken for a ride,” remarked one of the judges during the court proceedings. The case, brought to court in August 2022, highlights Patanjali’s bold advertisements in Indian newspapers, claiming the ability of ayurvedic products to cure chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseases.

Notably, Patanjali’s public face, Baba Ramdev, is a vocal supporter of India’s ruling party, the BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The company’s ties to the government have raised concerns among scientists who accuse the administration of prioritizing alternative medicines over modern medical practices to glorify India’s cultural heritage.

Despite court orders and warnings from regulatory agencies, Patanjali continues to defy restrictions on misleading advertisements. Critics allege the company’s close association with the ruling party shields it from accountability.

However, the rise of traditional medicine in India coincides with a broader cultural shift in healthcare policy. Since Modi assumed office in 2014, the government has significantly increased funding for traditional medicines, despite ongoing doubts about their efficacy.

“The worry is people are being misguided,” expresses Dr. Jayesh Lele of the Indian Medical Association, citing cases where patients suffered adverse effects from ayurvedic treatments due to misinformation.

Yet, skepticism persists among some experts, like Kishor Patwardhan of Banaras Hindu University, who believe that the promotion of ayurveda should be based on robust evidence rather than political agendas.

Critics accuse the Modi government of undermining scientific education and promoting historical inaccuracies, eroding public trust in evidence-based practices. The dissemination of unscientific ideas by influential political figures contributes to societal damage, undermining the progress of rational thinking and scientific inquiry.

Consulate In New York Hosts Launch Of Chalo India Global Diaspora Program

The Indian Consulate in New York hosted a special event on March 7, 2024, that showcased the ‘Chalo India Global Diaspora Campaign’ launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Consulate In New York Hosts Launch Of Chalo India Global Diaspora ProgramIndia’s Consul General in New York Binaya S. Pradhan, speaking at March 7, 2024 event at Consulate. PHOTO: X @IndiainNewYork

The stately hall at the Indian Consulate was full, and during the event, a video showing the inauguration of the campaign by Prime Minister Modi in Jammu & Kashmir was presented to the audience.

Tourism in India is lagging despite good landscapes, history, culture, art, crafts, and music. We are still unable to attract more international tourists. In 2019, India attracted around 10.7 million tourists, which came down drastically due to Covid. Now, we have achieved around 70% of the pre-Covid level but India is receivingConsulate In New York Hosts Launch Of Chalo India Global Diaspora Program 3 only 2% in terms of tourist spending, which is around $20 billion.

India urges members of the Indian diaspora to act as Incredible India campaign ambassadors so that each Indian member living abroad can bring five non-Indians to India thereby giving a boost to Indian tourism. “The contributions of those Indian diaspora members who send more people to India will be recognized during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in India and some awards will also be given to them in collaboration with the private sector.

Consul General of India in New York Binaya Srikant Pradhan, speaking at the event,  encouraged members of the Indian diaspora “to act as Incredible India’s ambassadors” and inspire their American friends, Indian and non-Indian, and their families to visit and explore India’s diversity and beauty, a post on X, formerly Twitter, India in New York said.

Temple Inaugurations Are Not Decolonization; Indian Culture Is Much Broader

The recent ‘pran pratishtha’ (consecration) of Lord Ram in Ram Temple in Ayodhya has been a major spectacle. This has accompanied the promotion of the mass display of religiosity in most parts of the country, more so in northern India. This also saw the fusion of the roles ‘chief of religion’ and ‘chief of political power’ into a single person, the Prime Minister of India. It was immediately followed by Narendra Modi inaugurating another big temple (Swaminayan) in Abu Dhabi with gaiety and publicity. Soon the foundation for another temple in Chambal, Kalki Dham, was also done by Modi. Impressed by the serial temple events many right-wing ideologues are claiming that Modi is the first statesman from post-colonial societies to move towards the decolonization of cultures in post-colonial societies.

Temple Inaugurations Are Not Decolonization; Indian Culture Is Much BroaderHow did colonialism affect South Asia in particular? South Asia was predominantly a feudal society, ruled by the landlord-kings legitimized by the clergy. The British succeeded in colonizing most parts of South Asia, the Indian subcontinent in particular. Their primary focus was on plundering its wealth and creating markets for the goods being produced in England. It had to lay the structure of a colonial state in which transport, education and foundations of modern administration were laid down. Incidentally, they also supported the eradication of some of the ghastly practices like sati. For other reforms, the likes of Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule, B R Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi moved the mountains to bring in reforms and cultural changes.

The culture of society is not a static thing. It did start changing in multiple ways during the colonial period. While a blind aping of the West was a small part of cultural change, the major accompanying part was the journey towards a society with equality. These were baby steps towards the culture of industrial-modern society in India. This was looked down upon by the conservative political forces like the Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, the communalists, as being “Western values”. They were essentially piqued by the journey towards equality of the downtrodden, they were opposed to it and they labeled it as being ‘Western’.

On these lines, they called the Indian constitution, the embodiment of India’s political culture, as being based on Western values. One recalls that the ideologues of the Hindu Right were opposed to the ideology that talks of equality. In opposition to this, they harp on holy books like Manu Smriti, which talks of the inequality of caste and gender. Interestingly those social forces that had roots in feudal power structure stuck to the ‘anti-Western narrative’. At the same time, they collaborated with the colonial rulers. Interestingly the national movement was shaping the culture and also opposing colonial rulers.

One recalls the Muslim Brotherhood (West Asia) at this point as yet another example. It also calls the democratic culture and values as Western import and tries to impose dictatorial norms and social inequality in the name of Islam. In India, the Hindu Right wing seeks to oppose equality as being a Western import. The opposition to the values of the Indian constitution is also couched in the garb of opposition to colonial culture and is propagated as a glorification of ‘Indian culture’.

Misplaced cultural convictions

So what is being called opposing colonial culture at times is the culture that bases itself on opposing fraternity and justice. Justice for all, irrespective of caste and gender, has been the goal of the emerging Indian democracy; this gives space to pluralism and diversity. Amongst the post-colonial states, India had the best political journey till a few decades ago. This was also accompanied by a culture, which had continuity and change. This was reflected in the life patterns promoted by the likes of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Bose and Maulana Azad, to name a few. This was an attempt to tune the culture which is compatible with democratic values.

The spree of temple-related events is accompanied by the right-wing assertion that this is the decolonization of culture. Also, the impression being created that the inauguration of the temple in Abu Dhabi is the first one in the ‘Muslim countries’ of West Asia is false. One knows there are many temples in the region, including UAE, Muscat, Bahrain and Oman to name a few. As the global migrations; the economy in this case, of Indians are accompanied by the temples in the region. We also recall there are many temples in our neighboring Muslim countries. Dhakeshwwari temple in Bangladesh is well known and we also recall that apart from other existing temples in Pakistan, Lal Krishna Advani visited Pakistan to inaugurate the renovated Katasraj Temple.

The glorification of Modi for ensuring a Hindu temple is unwarranted. To assert that by inaugurating temples in India and in Abu Dhabi, Modi is showing the conviction to bring in decolonization is misplaced. In India the colonial impact was undone during the freedom movement itself, as the roots of progressive social steps and progressive writings, the theatre also ran parallel with the national movement. Post independence the process continued with Nehru’s encouragement of scientific temper and Ambedkar’s well-drafted Indian constitution.

India did not get subdued by colonial culture in totality. What we are facing today is the promotion of religiosity and conservatism. Since politics is stalking the streets in the garb of religion, India’s traditional syncretic culture is coming under attack from conservative and orthodox values. A hilarious example of this is the opposition by BJP associate VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and company legally challenging the forest department to let the lion Akbar cohabit with the lioness Sita at the Kolkata zoo.

Onslaught of orthodoxy

As far as Abu Dhabi is concerned, not only Abu Dhabi but the whole of West Asia (Middle East) has suffered the onslaught of orthodox values due to the promotion of Islamic fundamentalism by the United States. In pursuit of its control over oil resources, it had overthrown the democratically elected government of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 paving the way for a fundamentalist regime in due course. Later it was instrumental in propping up madrassas in Pakistan to train mujahedeen which gave rise to Al Qaeda with huge funding and also supplied them with armaments. This whole American intervention shifted West Asian culture towards a retrograde one.

The inauguration of the temple in Abu Dhabi in no way can undo the cultural damage done to the region by the global forces with infinite hunger for oil. Temples are one part of the culture. The definition of culture has to be much broader than just temple-related events.

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.)

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/perspective/temple-inaugurations-are-not-decolonization-indian-culture-much-broader

Tata Sons Chairman Says, New Chip Manufacturing Hubs To Have A Lasting Impact

The new semiconductor manufacturing plants will have a lasting impact on the entire nation and the ecosystem from across the globe will mobilize to have India as their preferred semiconductor destination, N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Sons Pvt Ltd, said on Wednesday.

Addressing the ‘India’s Techade: Chips for Viksit Bharat’ program where Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of three chip manufacturing units worth Rs 1.25 lakh crore — including two from the Tata Group — Chandrasekaran said that today is a special day, “with the foundation stone being laid simultaneously for our projects in Dholera and Jagiroad 2,500 kms apart”.

“On this historic occasion, I would like to thank PM Modi for his enduring vision to bring the semiconductor industry to the shores of our country,” said the top Tata executive.

The semiconductor industry is innovation-driven as it is a foundation for everything digital.

“We look forward to closely partnering with industry, academic institutions, and ecosystem players to select an infrastructure of tomorrow, right here in India. We will be creating thousands of jobs in this journey and this is just the beginning,” N. Chandrasekaran told the gathering.

Today, every major economy is looking for self sufficiency in the semiconductor supply chain.

“From the very beginning, we have been fortunate to pioneer several businesses. And today, our journey of building semiconductor chips has begun”.

The fabrication facility at the Dholera Special Investment Region (DSIR), Gujarat is being set up by Tata Electronics Private Limited (TEPL). With a total investment of more than Rs 91,000 crore, this will be the first commercial semiconductor fab in the country.

The Outsourced Semiconductor Assembly and Test (OSAT) facility in Morigaon, Assam is being set up by Tata Electronics Private Limited (TEPL), with a total investment of about Rs 27,000 crore. The third semiconductor facility in Sanand, Gujarat will be set up by CG Power.

Is Mobile Screen The New Cocaine?

In 2017, Frontiers in Psychiatry published ‘An Update Overview on Brain Imaging Studies of Internet Gaming Disorder’ as part of their research on IGD or Internet Gaming Disorder.

The conclusion was startling:

“There is emerging evidence that IGD is associated with similar brain mechanisms responsible for substance use disorders. The brain imaging studies in IGD show similarity in brain mechanisms between IGD and substance use disorder and therefore support the classification of IGD as a behavioral addiction.”

In simple words,

— Screen addiction is an addiction classified as per WHO

— Its impact on the brain is similar to substance (e.g. Narcotics like Cocaine) use addiction

In short, there may be an irreversible long term impact on the brains of children addicted to Internet games. However the question arises if only internet games are to be blamed or the problem is broader. In 2019, researchers made an attempt to bring together all the use cases under the umbrella of SmUD (Smartphone Use Disorder).

It was the research of Joel Billieux who provided clear pathways into problematic mobile phone usage. He emphasised on the following four pathways for SmUD:

— Impulsive

— Relationship

— Extraversion

— Cyber Addiction

Billieux further broke down cyber addiction into online gambling, online video games, online sex, social networks and mobile phone, thereby defining a spectrum of cyber addictions

Many parents despair at the amount of time their kids spend glued to screens, as a recent study by Kantar for Amazon India showed. However, they may not be in a position to co-relate symptoms in a child’s behavior with cyber or mobile addiction.

A research published by National Library of medicine suggests that both physical and mental well-being can be adversely affected by too much screen use. It divided students into low cellphone usage and high-cell phone usage groups and came up with the following conclusions.

— Physical: High Cell Phone usage group observed higher numbers of eye strain, neck pain, back pain, and gain in weight

— Mental: High Cell Phone usage group were more likely to report loneliness, depression, and mood disorders

Is Mobile Screen The New CocaineIn short, excessive phone usage is going to do you and your children harm. And what you may be passing off as a lifestyle aberration, may be the symptom of a larger disorder taking shape for e.g. eye strain and lack of concentration may be the trigger point for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) aggravated by years of mobile phone usage.

At this point, it is important for us to introduce neurotransmitters, especially dopamine commonly called the happiness hormone. But sudden surges in dopamine release causes addiction, this is exactly what cocaine or narcotics do inside our body. They release a lot of dopamine, the brain responds less to the excess dopamine. Then we consume more to release more dopamine.

Eventually this cycle leads to mania, hallucinations and delusions. Now, here is the fun fact: the reason you can’t put that mobile phone down is because it releases cheap and plentiful dopamine in your brain. So you are on a high without consuming anything, just by spending more and more time on a mobile screen on gaming, gambling, sex or social networks!

A logical question therefore is how many hours a day is classified as addiction. A few researchers came up with a limit of 20 hours a week. But, this is hotly contested and WHO has refrained from providing hour-based classification of mobile addiction. Among practitioners a generally held view is that the behaviors of the addict should be such that spending time on the phone comes at the expense of normal life commitments. An often-cited example is that you have an exam or an assignment submission but you skip it because you were unable to keep your mobile phone away.

You may start wondering if this is such an important problem, considering that 70 per cent of India’s population has smartphones. What is being done to solve the problem? To begin with, is it being identified as a problem? The bugle was sounded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Pariksha Pe Charcha wherein he highlighted the distractions mobile phones may cause to students preparing for exams.

There is a lot that needs to be done by different stakeholders like Educators, Health Practitioners, Mobile Device Manufacturers, Mobile Gaming Companies.

However, the biggest question to ask is for a parent themselves. When you hand over a phone or a mobile device to a young child, are you aware you may be starting a one-way cycle for impairing the potential of your own child? What do you think you can do as a parent to change course midway? If you are just starting out, what may be your alternatives to entertain your newborn beyond the mobile screen? To all parents, the question is “are you making your child addicted to cocaine”? (IANS)

Tata Group Will Soon Announce Mega Investment In Semiconductor Sector: Chandrasekaran

Multi-product conglomerate Tata Group will soon announce its next big investment in the semiconductor and mobile battery manufacturing businesses, a top official of Tata Sons said on Wednesday.

Accepting the MMA-Amalgamations Business Leadership Award 2023 and delivering the 20th Anantharamakrishnan Memorial Lecture here on ‘India’s Leadership in a Pivotal Decade’, Tata Sons Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran said the group will soon announce its investment to manufacture semiconductors.

Chandrasekaran also said the group will soon announce investment in mobile battery products as well.

According to him, the group will be doing many things relating to mobile phones. “The job is just the beginning,” Chandrasekaran added while talking about the kind of business opportunities that the Tata Group will be opting for.

He said the group exited the mobile telephone business and other businesses whose contributions were marginal and focused on cash flows for all its businesses, simplified every business and worked to scale them up.

Speaking on his learnings as a business leader, Chandrasekaran said it is always ‘values first and valuations next’.

He said business valuations are an outcome of the input. While input can be controlled, the outcome cannot be controlled, he said.

According to Chandrasekaran, like an athlete working his different muscles depending on the type of terrain, a company has to work its different muscles to stay alive and move forward.

As regards the competition, he said every company should run its own race, and provide value to its customers.

Chandrasekaran also said that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government has done a tremendous job with every major global company wanting to source from India or manufacture in India. He said that in geopolitics, India is finding its own place in the new order. (IANS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hindu Vote Is An Important Factor In US Elections

Niraj Antani, a Republican running for US Congress, is aggressively projecting his Hindu faith. Bhavini Patel, a Democrat running for Congress, is battling allegations of courting Hindu nationalist donors. And Indian-descent donors are pressing the Biden-Harris campaign for a “Hindu page” in its 2024 campaign manifesto.

The “Hindu Vote” appears to have become a factor in US politics. There is no rock solid count of Hindus in the US because the US Census does not record religious affiliation in its surveys. But there are several estimates.

Pew Research Center said 0.7 per cent of Americans were Hindu in 2015 and that their number is projected to grow to 4.8 million by 2050. Harvard Divinity School estimated their number to be 2.5 million in 2018. And some Hindu Americans put the number generously at 5 million, which, they concede, includes Sikhs and Jains. As crucial as their number is US politics, so is their ability to write big donation checks.

Niraj Antani, an Ohio state lawmaker who is running in the Republican primary for a congressional seat, has frequently described himself as Hindu and posted this message on X, to mark the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya: “As the 1st Hindu American State Senator in Ohio history, today it was my privilege to do Darshan to Lord Ram at @BAPS Cincinnati Mandir to mark the opening of his Mandir in Ayodhya. As we celebrate this occasion, let us stand for religious freedom around the world. Jai Shri Ram!” His pinned post on X is an endorsement from the Hindu American PAC.

Hindu Vote Is An Important Factor In US Elections (The Week)
Picture: The Week

Bhavini Patel, a Democrat who is seeking to unseat the incumbent Democrat in a congressional race in Pennsylvania, is being attacked by her opponent for courting Hindu nationalist donors, as also for her unstinting support for Israel.

A fundraising call she hosted with Mihi Meghani, a co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation was being cited as proof of her courting Hindu groups. Meghani is also the chair of the Hindu American PACs whose endorsement is a pinned post on Antani’s X feed.

The Patel campaign has denied these allegations. The back and forth only demonstrates the growing presence of a Hindu vote in US politics.

“There was always a Hindu vote, which was not recognized publicly,” said Ramesh Kapur, a longtime Democratic donor and strategist.

“But it is being recognized now, and has come to the fore in the context of the 2024 elections.” A bunch of donors are also pressing the Biden-Harris re-election campaign to include a “Hindu Page” in its manifesto, whenever it is announced.

The same group had tried but failed to convince the Biden campaign to feature the same page in its manifesto that ran on the campaign’s website as “Joe’s Vision”. It had sections dedicated to Muslims, Jews, African American, and so on. The campaign did issue Biden’s agenda for Indian Americans but this group of Hindu donors were insistent on a “Hindu Page” in “Joe’s Vision” specially because of the observances in the section for Muslims.

“Joe Biden has been disappointed by the measures that the government of India has taken with the implementation and aftermath of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act into law,” it had said, referring laws that sought to fast-track citizenship request from non-Muslims fleeing neighboring countries and keeping a national registry of citizens.

Both laws remain un-enforced.

These donors are pressing for the page with an offer to provide President Biden the cushion of Hindu American votes to offset the possible boycott of Arab and Muslim votes over the administration’s support of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza, especially in the key swing states that tend to determine most presidential races.

A phrase being used frequently in this context is “plug the gap”.

Wisconsin, one of the swing states, will be critical. Biden won this state by 20,000 in 2020. It has an estimated 38,400 Hindu Americans and they may be able to cushion the blow from the boycott by the state’s 68,000 Muslims to an extent. These numbers come from a document prepared by these donors to make their case.

Hindu Americans are more confident of their ability to help Biden better in Georgia, a state he won by roughly 12,000. The state is home to 172,000 Hindu Americans, who can more than compensate for its 123,000 Muslims.

In Pennsylvania, which Biden won by 44,000, Hindu Americans number 129,700 to 149,500 Muslim Americans. Hindu Americans are not able to fill the gap completely but, they are arguing, they can help the campaign fill the gap.

But all this presumes Hindu Americans will turn up and vote and not, as mostly before, staying home. These Hindu Americans feel particularly confident of their clout on account of two key political developments.

One, they believe, they helped Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, win the Governorship of Virginia, and, two, convinced Gavin Newsom, the California Governor with widely acknowledged White House aspirations, to veto a legislation passed by the California legislatures to add “caste” to the list of prohibited discriminatory practices.

Hindu Americans are mostly of Indian descent but a sizable number of them are also from Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Caribbean, Afghanistan and American converts such as former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s family.

Indian Americans have been a growing political force in the US, but many among them have begun to differentiate themselves as Hindu Americans, a trend that has been helped along by the rise of the BJP in India, specially the immense popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Multiple groups have cropped up with names wrapped around the word “Hindu” — Republican Hindu Coalition, American Hindu Coalition, Hindus 4 America, Hindu American PAC (Political Action Committee).

Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal, the three Indian American members of the House of Representatives are all Hindu, but they have rarely, if ever, flouted their faith to further their politics. And they have now been members of US Congress since 2017, serving three terms. Shri Thanedar, who joined them in the House in 2023 has been demonstrably bolder. He heads the Hindu Caucus in the House. (IANS)

Kolkata Dancer Shot Dead In Missouri

The Consulate General of India in Chicago promptly responded, expressing deep condolences and ensuring support for Ghosh’s family.

An Indian classical dancer was fatally shot on the evening of Feb. 27 in the St Louis Academy neighborhood in Missouri.

Amarnath Ghosh, a Bharatnatyam and Kuchupudi dancer from Kolkata, was reportedly shot mutiple times by an unknown assailant during his evening walk in the neighborhood. He was pursuing an MFA in Dance at the Washington University in Saint Louis.

The news was initially shared by noted television actor Devoleena Bhattacharjee, who expressed deep sorrow and urged the Indian Embassy to assist in claiming the body.

“Well, the reason, accused details, everything are not revealed yet or perhaps no one left in his family to fight for it except his few friends. He was from Kolkata, an excellent dancer, was pursuing a Ph.D., was taking an evening walk, and suddenly he was shot multiple times by an unknown,” her post on X read.

“Some friends in the US are trying to claim the body but still no update about it. @IndianEmbassyUS kindly see to it if you could. At least we should know the reason for his murder,” she added, tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

The Consulate General of India in Chicago promptly responded, expressing deep condolences and ensuring support for Ghosh’s family. “Taken up the case strongly with St Louis police and the University for investigation of the reprehensible gun attack,” the consulate’s post said.

This tragic incident adds to a concerning trend of attacks against Indian nationals and people of Indian origin in the United States. The country witnessed a surge in such incidents, including the brutal killing of Haryana’s Vivek Saini in Georgia and the mysterious deaths of students Sameer Kamath, Akul Dhawan, and Neel Acharya.

The White House addressed the alarming situation, with John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, stating, “There is no excuse for violence, certainly based on race or gender or religion or any other factor. That’s just unacceptable here in the United States.”

President Joe Biden’s administration is reportedly working tirelessly to prevent and disrupt such attacks, emphasizing the commitment to holding perpetrators accountable. In this context, the Consulate General assured that they are extending all possible help to the relatives of the deceased Amarnath Ghosh.

According to Ghosh’s website, he was pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Dance at Washington University in Saint Louis. As investigations unfold, the artistic community mourns the loss of a talented dancer, and authorities work towards unraveling the circumstances of this tragic incident.

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

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

Outlined below are five key points regarding the Sela Tunnel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK and India Conclude Landmark Free Trade Agreement After Two Years of Negotiations

The UK and India have concluded negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) after two years of discussions, marking a significant milestone in their economic relationship. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his enthusiasm for the agreement, stating, “This landmark pact underlines our commitment to boosting economic progress and creating opportunities for our youth.” He further emphasized the potential for increased prosperity and mutual growth as ties with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nations strengthen. The pact follows nearly 16 years of negotiation efforts.

In this FTA, India has agreed to reduce most import tariffs on industrial goods from the four EFTA countries in exchange for investments spanning a 15-year period. These investments are anticipated to be directed across various sectors such as pharmaceuticals, machinery, and manufacturing. The EFTA hailed the agreement for improving market access and streamlining customs procedures, which will facilitate expansion opportunities for businesses from both India and the EFTA nations.

The next steps involve the ratification of the agreement by both India and the four EFTA countries. Switzerland aims to complete its ratification process by the following year. Notably, India is on the brink of general elections, with Prime Minister Modi vying for a historic third term in office. Over the past two years, India has also inked trade deals with Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

Despite optimism regarding the FTA, challenges remain, especially concerning the timing of its implementation vis-à-vis India’s electoral calendar. UK’s trade minister Kemi Badenoch acknowledged the possibility of finalizing a free trade deal before India’s elections but conceded that it would be a formidable task. She remarked, “I suspect that that is not necessarily going to be the case because I don’t want to use any election as a deadline.” This statement underscores the complexities associated with aligning trade negotiations with political timelines.

India’s Mobile Phone Manufacturing Surges 21-Fold in a Decade, Becomes Key Export Commodity

Mobile phone manufacturing in India has experienced an unprecedented surge in value over the past decade, skyrocketing from Rs 18,900 crore in 2014-15 to an estimated Rs 4,10,000 crore in the fiscal year 2024. This staggering 21-fold increase, amounting to a remarkable 2000 per cent rise, underscores the significant strides made in domestic production. The India Cellular and Electronics Association (ICEA) highlighted the pivotal role of government initiatives such as the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme in this phenomenal growth trajectory. According to ICEA, policies like PLI have been instrumental in attracting global players and fostering a conducive environment for local manufacturing, contributing to India’s emergence as a major hub for mobile phone production.

In a statement, ICEA revealed that India now fulfills 97 per cent of its total mobile phone demand through local production, showcasing a remarkable level of self-sufficiency in the industry. Additionally, the country has witnessed a notable shift towards export-oriented production, with 30 per cent of the total output in FY’24 designated for export markets. ICEA anticipates that by the end of the fiscal year, mobile phone exports from India will reach an estimated value of Rs 1.2 lakh crore, marking a substantial 7500 per cent increase over the past decade.

The note on manufacturing also highlighted the significant contributions of industry giants like Apple and Samsung in bolstering mobile phone exports from India. These companies have played a crucial role in leveraging India’s manufacturing capabilities to cater to global markets. Indian-manufactured devices are now being exported in large volumes to countries such as the UK, Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, as well as regions like the Middle East, North Africa, and South America, indicating the growing international footprint of India’s mobile phone industry.

The exponential growth in production and exports can be attributed to strategic government initiatives aimed at promoting domestic manufacturing, such as the Phased Manufacturing Programme (PMP) launched in May 2017. This program has been instrumental in nurturing a robust indigenous manufacturing ecosystem for mobile handsets in India, incentivizing large-scale production and positioning the country as the world’s second-largest mobile phone producer.

Central to this growth trajectory is the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, which has played a pivotal role in attracting leading global manufacturers to establish production bases in India. The scheme offers lucrative incentives, ranging from 3 to 5 per cent of the incremental sales value, to eligible players for a specified duration. Global giants like Foxconn, Pegatron, Rising Star, and Wistron have been drawn to India’s competitive manufacturing landscape, while Samsung operates its second-largest mobile phone factory in Noida.

ICEA emphasized the collaborative efforts between industry stakeholders and key government ministries, including the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Finance, NITI Aayog, and the Prime Minister’s Office. This close partnership, combined with a conducive policy environment, has been instrumental in fostering the unprecedented growth witnessed in India’s mobile phone manufacturing sector, propelling it to become one of the country’s key export commodities.

TV Actor Devoleena Bhattacharjee Appeals to PM Modi After Friend’s Fatal Shooting in US

Television personality Devoleena Bhattacharjee has appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian government for assistance following the tragic death of her friend in the United States. She revealed that her friend was fatally shot while taking an evening walk, expressing her grief and shock over the incident.

In a heartfelt post on social media platform X, Bhattacharjee shared the devastating news, stating, “My friend #Amarnathghosh was shot and killed in St Louis academy neighbourhood, US on Tuesday evening.” She further elaborated on his background, highlighting the profound loss he had endured, being the sole survivor in his family after the deaths of both his parents.

Describing the circumstances surrounding the incident, Bhattacharjee lamented the lack of information regarding the perpetrator or motive behind the attack. She expressed concern that there might be minimal support for seeking justice, emphasizing the need for assistance, particularly since her friend hailed from Kolkata and was pursuing a Ph.D. while showcasing talent as an excellent dancer.

The actor’s anguish was palpable as she mentioned the challenges faced in claiming her friend’s body, with updates still pending on the situation. Through her post, she reached out to relevant authorities, including the Indian Embassy in the US, Prime Minister Modi, and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, urging them to intervene in the matter.

This plea for help comes amidst a disturbing trend of violence targeting individuals of Indian descent or Indian-Americans in the United States. Recent incidents include the tragic shooting of an Indian-origin motel owner by a homeless intruder in Newport, North Carolina, as well as the fatal assault on a 41-year-old Indian-origin IT executive outside a restaurant in Washington.

Additionally, the tragic death of 25-year-old Indian student Vivek Saini in Lithonia, Georgia, at the hands of a homeless drug addict serves as another grim reminder of the challenges faced by the Indian community in the US.

The heart-wrenching plea from Devoleena Bhattacharjee underscores the urgent need for attention to these incidents and the broader issue of violence against individuals of Indian descent abroad. As efforts continue to seek justice for the victims and their families, the importance of international cooperation and support in addressing such matters cannot be overstated.

India: The Next Global Economic Powerhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**India’s Growth Story Captures Global Attention**

Peeyush Mittal has been making the 185-mile journey from the Indian capital to Jaipur for over three decades. Despite infrastructure improvements, the trip always took six hours. Mittal, a portfolio manager at Matthews Asia, expressed his long-standing frustration: “For 30 years there’s been this promise of doing that journey in three hours. It has never been possible.” However, last year, he experienced a significant change. Driving at 75 miles per hour on a new expressway, he completed the journey in just half the time, leaving him astonished: “My jaw dropped when I first time got on that highway. I was like, ‘Wow, man, how is this even possible … in India?”

The quality of India’s new infrastructure is just one factor driving excitement among investors like Mittal, who manage funds focused on emerging markets. India’s development trajectory since 2014, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, has sparked optimism. Modi’s ambition to elevate India to a $5 trillion economy by 2025 has garnered attention globally.

Contrastingly, China faces economic challenges, including capital flight and stock market slumps, with trillions of dollars lost in market value. In contrast, India’s stock market is thriving, surpassing $4 trillion in value last year, with projections indicating it could double to $10 trillion by 2030.

Investors are eyeing India as a potential replacement for China in driving global growth. With China facing uncertainties, India’s prominence in international markets is on the rise. Aditya Suresh, head of India equity research at Macquarie Capital, notes the significant shift: “India’s weight in the MSCI emerging market index was about 7% a couple of years back. Do I think that 18% [in the MSCI index] is naturally gravitating more towards 25%? Yeah, that’s kind of clearly where our conversations are leading us to believe.”

As India approaches national elections, market observers anticipate that a continued mandate for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party could provide stability and further boost investor confidence. Mittal asserts, “If Modi is back with a majority and political stability is there, then I can certainly say with confidence that there’ll be a lot more investor interest in India on a more sustainable basis.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renowned Ghazal Singer Pankaj Udhas Passes Away at 72

Veteran ghazal-playback singer and Padma Shri recipient Pankaj Udhas passed away today at the age of 72 in Mumbai after battling a prolonged illness. He breathed his last at 11 am at Breach Candy Hospital, where he had been receiving treatment for some time. The news of his demise was confirmed by his family, who mentioned that he had been suffering from a long-term illness. His daughter, Nayaab, shared the sad news on Instagram, stating, “With a very heavy heart, we are saddened to inform you of the sad demise of Padmashri Pankaj Udhas on 26th February 2024 due to a prolonged illness.”

Expressing their condolences, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute to the iconic singer, recalling his contributions to Indian music and the profound emotions his ghazals evoked. He noted the personal interactions he had with Udhas over the years and highlighted the irreplaceable void left by his departure.

Similarly, Bollywood playback singer Sonu Nigam reminisced about the significant role Udhas played in his childhood, expressing deep sadness at his passing and thanking him for his presence in his life.

Indian Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Nitin Gadkari, also mourned the loss, acknowledging Udhas’ immense contribution to the world of ghazals and extending heartfelt condolences to his family.

Pankaj Udhas, survived by his two daughters, Nayaab and Rewa Udhas, will be remembered for his soul-stirring ghazals that transcended generations. His famous compositions such as ‘Chitthi Aayi Hai’, ‘Chandi Jaisa Rang Tera’, ‘Thodi Thodi Piya Karo’, ‘Ek Taraf Uska Ghar’, and ‘Aaj Jinke Kareeb Hote Hai’ will continue to resonate with listeners, offering solace in times of joy and sorrow.

As we bid farewell to this legendary artist, let us cherish the legacy of his mesmerizing voice and the profound impact he had on our lives through his timeless music.

UIDAI Introduces New Aadhaar Enrollment Rules, Includes NRIs; Mandatory Updates Every Decade

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has revealed adjustments to the procedures for Aadhaar enrollment and updates, introducing distinct forms tailored for resident and non-resident Indians (NRIs). These modifications, as per the UIDAI, aim to streamline the process of Aadhaar Card enrollment and updates.

Previously, NRIs were ineligible to apply for Aadhaar cards, but now they are permitted to do so at any Aadhaar Kendra. Initially, the 2016 regulations restricted Aadhaar cardholders to updating their addresses exclusively via online means; however, for more detailed updates, a visit to the nearest enrollment center was obligatory.

Under the updated rules, individuals can now update Aadhaar card information in the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) by either visiting the nearest Aadhaar Seva Kendra, using the mobile application, or accessing the UIDAI website.

New forms have superseded the previous ones for both Aadhaar enrollment and updating Aadhaar details. Form 1 will facilitate the enrollment of both residents and non-residents (aged 18 and above with proof of address in India), with the same form serving for updates for this group. Form 2, on the other hand, is designated for NRIs providing address proof outside India.

Form 3 is intended for the enrollment of children aged between 5 and 18 years, whether resident or NRI with a permanent Indian address, while Form 4 is tailored for NRI children with addresses outside India. For children below 5 years of age, Form 5 is used for residents or NRI children with an Indian address, while Form 6 applies to NRI children with addresses outside India. Form 7 is designated for resident foreign nationals above 18 years, with specific mandatory documents including a foreign passport, a valid long-term visa, OCI Card, Indian visa, and a compulsory email ID. Form 8 caters to resident foreign nationals below 18 years, while Form 9 is for the cancellation of the Aadhaar number upon reaching 18 years of age.

The updated rule also stipulates that Aadhaar number holders should update their documents every 10 years from the generation date of the Aadhaar number. This can be accomplished online via the UIDAI website or mobile application, or in person at an Aadhaar Kendra.

Regarding the necessity of Aadhaar cards for NRIs, it is mandatory for every Indian citizen to enroll in the Aadhaar program, which serves as a crucial identification document in various contexts within India. The Aadhaar card serves as both an identity proof and an address proof, and it is also utilized for online Know Your Customer (KYC) processes required for investments in the Indian market.

OCI cardholders can obtain an Aadhaar card; however, it is essential to note that Aadhaar is not a proof of citizenship. Individuals with foreign citizenship, including OCIs, can apply for an Aadhaar card, provided they have resided in India for 182 days or more in a year, in accordance with the Income Tax Act (1961).

The process for NRI enrollment in the Aadhaar program involves visiting any Aadhaar Kendra, presenting a valid passport (Indian passport for NRIs or the country passport for OCIs), filling out the enrollment form, providing a mandatory email ID (international mobile numbers are currently not accepted), and completing the biometric capture process. A declaration specific to NRI enrollment must be read and signed in the enrollment form. The process also involves providing proof of identity, address, and date of birth, either through the passport or other valid documents as per the UIDAI Valid Documents List. After completing the enrollment process, individuals should verify the details displayed on the screen in both English and the local language before submission. Finally, an acknowledgment slip containing the 14-digit Enrolment ID and date & time stamp is issued, which can be used to track the Aadhaar status.

India’s Global Temple Diplomacy: Strengthening Cultural Bonds Across Borders

India’s endeavors in constructing, inaugurating, and restoring its temples worldwide stand as a testament to its efforts in strengthening connections with its extensive diaspora of over 32 million and the estimated 1.2 billion Hindus globally.

Long before the colonial era and continuing long after, Hindus have migrated across the globe for various reasons, contributing significantly to the establishment of numerous temples in their adopted countries.

The global count of Hindu temples is estimated at around two million, with notable examples including Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Indonesia’s Prambanan temple, Nepal’s Pashupatinath Temple, and Australia’s Shiva Vishnu Temple.

The tradition of Hindu temple construction dates back centuries, with Thailand witnessing the beginning in the third and fourth centuries AD, evidenced by early depictions of Lord Vishnu, while Vietnam’s Cham people erected several Hindu temples.

Reflecting on this dispersed cultural heritage, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar remarked during a visit to Cambodia in 2022, “There are temples not only in India and the Indian subcontinent but in many regions beyond.” He emphasized the significance of temple construction and restoration as a means to uphold the continuity of civilization beyond national borders.

For Hindus, these temples serve as vital centers for maintaining cultural identity, values, and traditions across generations. Kajal Dhadwal, a resident of Tanzania for over 14 years, finds solace and strength in temples like the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and the ISKON center in Arusha.

With the growing population of Hindus globally, there arises a greater demand for places of worship. According to data from the External Affairs Ministry, the number of Indians relocating abroad permanently was 2,25,620 in 2022 and 87,026 until June 2023.

In line with this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple, the BAPS Mandir, on February 14, underscoring the UAE’s significant role in fostering communal harmony. The UAE already hosts three other Hindu temples in Dubai, showcasing its commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

This event followed closely after Modi’s participation in the consecration ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, highlighting the significance of temple construction both domestically and internationally.

Further expanding the global footprint of Hindu temples, the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, the world’s largest Hindu temple outside India, was inaugurated in New Jersey’s Robbinsville Township in October of the previous year.

In a bid to preserve heritage and promote cultural exchange, Modi initiated a multi-million-dollar renovation project for Bahrain’s 200-year-old Shrinathji Temple in Manama in 2019.

The demand for temples abroad extends beyond providing places of worship; they also serve as showcases of Indian art and architecture, garnering international recognition and contributing to the cultural landscape of their host countries.

Recognizing the soft power potential, countries view the construction of Hindu temples as a means to bolster their economies, promote tourism, and enhance bilateral relations through increased people-to-people interactions.

India Showcases Wedding Destination Diversity: Consulate General in New York Hosts Webinar

The Indian Consulate General in New York recently organized a webinar titled ‘Wedding Destinations in India’ on February 17. The purpose of the session was to introduce various locations across India that offer a rich blend of music, local customs, culture, and a diverse range of settings including desert, forest, mountain, beach, palace, and spiritual locales, along with options for meditational retreats.

The event was graced by the presence of Consul General of India in New York, Binaya Srikanta Pradhan, Deputy Consul General of India, New York, Dr. Varun Jeph, and Parthip Thyagarajan, the CEO of WeddingSutra, a company specializing in providing comprehensive wedding information and inspiration to couples.

Dr. Jeph referred to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative, “Wed in India,” which encourages affluent families, both within the country and abroad, to choose India as the venue for their family weddings.

CGI Pradhan emphasized India’s status as an ideal wedding tourism destination, stating, “When it comes to wedding tourism, I would say, India probably is the ideal destination.” He highlighted India’s diverse offerings suitable for weddings of all religions and budgets, ranging from the Himalayas and Kerala’s backwaters to Rajasthan’s forts and Orissa’s lakes, as well as the emerging tourism sector in the North East.

Thyagarajan outlined several popular wedding destinations and properties across India. He particularly emphasized the appeal of spiritual sites among Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), such as the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram. Thyagarajan also discussed the popularity of temple towns like Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh and Guruvayur in Kerala for weddings on auspicious days, noting that while they offer budget-friendly options, they come with challenges like limited room availability and dining choices.

Additionally, Thyagarajan highlighted Bengaluru’s growing popularity as an ideal wedding destination due to its favorable weather year-round and the availability of quality properties within a short distance from the airport, making it convenient for guests who prefer shorter travel times.

According to a report by WedMeGood, the wedding tourism industry surpassed the $75 billion mark during the 2023-2024 period. In 2023, the Ministry of Tourism launched a wedding tourism campaign aimed at promoting India as a preferred wedding destination and boosting tourism in the country.

Yale University Issues Formal Apology for Historical Ties to Slavery

Yale University has issued a formal apology for its historical connections with slavery, acknowledging its past involvement and expressing regret for the actions of its early leaders. In a statement released on February 16th, the Ivy League institution stated, “Today … we recognize our university’s historical role in and associations with slavery … and we apologize for the ways that Yale’s leaders, over the course of our early history, participated in slavery.”

This apology coincided with the publication of the book Yale and Slavery: A History, authored by Yale history professor David W Blight and the Yale and Slavery Research Project. The book delves into Yale’s dark past, shedding light on its entanglements with slavery.

One significant aspect discussed in the book is the connection between Elihu Yale (1649-1721), after whom the university is named, and India. Yale, who was born into a wealthy merchant family in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1649, spent a considerable portion of his life in India, primarily in Madras (now Chennai), where he amassed wealth through various endeavors, including the slave trade.

Elihu Yale’s journey from Massachusetts to Madras began when he joined the East India Company as a clerk in 1670. After a brief stint at the company’s London office, he was appointed as a ‘writer’ and sent to India. Arriving in Madras in 1672, Yale quickly ascended the ranks within the company, eventually serving as the governor-president of Madras from 1684 to 1685, and again from 1687 to 1692.

During Yale’s tenure, the East India Company conducted extensive trade in Madras, including commerce in spices, textiles, and unfortunately, human beings. Yale was implicated in overseeing sales and adjudications of enslaved individuals for the company. Historian Joseph Yannielli noted Yale’s involvement in the slave trade, stating that he and other company officials took advantage of labor surpluses, purchasing hundreds of slaves and shipping them to English colonies.

While the exact extent of Yale’s personal involvement in the slave trade remains unclear, it is evident that his wealth, amassed during his time in Madras, was intertwined with the purchase and sale of human beings. Although Yale primarily profited from trade in various commodities, including cloth, silks, and precious jewels, historian David W Blight emphasizes that this commerce was inseparable from the slave trade prevalent in the bustling port of the British Empire.

One poignant piece of evidence linking Yale to slavery is a painting housed at the Yale Center for British Art. The painting depicts Yale and three other men in opulent 18th-century attire, accompanied by a child, likely of African or Indian descent, wearing a silver collar indicating enslavement. Edward Town, assistant curator at the Yale Center for British Art, explained that such collars were not merely restraints but symbols of high status and enforced servitude.

Following his time in India, Yale returned to England in 1699, having amassed significant wealth through his various ventures, including illicit trade and allegations of embezzlement. Despite his controversial reputation, he became a prominent collector of art and artifacts and a generous benefactor of the Collegiate School in New Haven, Connecticut.

Established by Calvinists in 1701, the Collegiate School struggled financially until Yale’s intervention. His substantial donations, including books, a portrait of King George I, and other items, helped fund the construction of the college building. In recognition of Yale’s contributions, the Collegiate School renamed itself Yale College in 1718, cementing his legacy as one of the institution’s most significant benefactors.

Yale’s complex legacy, historian David W Blight notes that while Elihu Yale’s name adorns one of America’s oldest institutions of higher learning, it is essential to acknowledge the darker aspects of his past, including his involvement in the slave trade. Yale University’s apology serves as a step towards confronting and addressing this troubling history, ensuring a more comprehensive understanding of the university’s origins and evolution.

 

Report On India Exposes Transnational Repression and Online Censorship of Minorities

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

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

Key sections of the report include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India’s Feet of Clay: How Modi’s Supremacy Will Hinder His Country’s Rise

This spring, India is scheduled to hold its 18th general election. Surveys suggest that the incumbent, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is very likely to win a third term in office. That triumph will further underline Modi’s singular stature. He bestrides the country like a colossus, and he promises Indians that they, too, are rising in the world. And yet the very nature of Modi’s authority, the aggressive control sought by the prime minister and his party over a staggeringly diverse and complicated country, threatens to scupper India’s great-power ambitions.

A leader of enormous charisma from a modest

background, Modi dominates the Indian political landscape as only two of his 15 predecessors have done: Jawaharlal Nehru, prime minister from Indian independence in 1947 until 1964, and Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, prime minister from 1966 to 1977 and then again from 1980 to 1984. In their pomp, both enjoyed wide popularity throughout India, cutting across barriers of class, gender, religion, and region, although—as so often with leaders who stay on too long—their last years in office were marked by political misjudgments that eroded their standing.

Nehru and Indira Gandhi both belonged to the Indian National Congress, the party that led the country’s struggle for freedom from British colonial rule and stayed in power for three decades following independence. Modi, on the other hand, is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which spent many years in opposition before becoming what it now appears to be, the natural party of governance. A major ideological difference between the Congress and the BJP is in their attitudes toward the relationship between faith and state. Particularly under Nehru, the Congress was committed to religious pluralism, in keeping with the Indian constitutional obligation to assure citizens “liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship.” The BJP, on the other hand, wishes to make India a majoritarian state in which politics, public policy, and even everyday life are cast in a Hindu idiom.

Modi is not the first BJP prime minister of India—that distinction belongs to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was in office in 1996 and from 1998 to 2004. But Modi can exercise a kind of power that was never available to Vajpayee, whose coalition government of more than a dozen parties forced him to accommodate diverse views and interests. By contrast, the BJP has enjoyed a parliamentary majority on its own for the last decade, and Modi is far more assertive than the understated Vajpayee ever was. Vajpayee delegated power to his cabinet ministers, consulted opposition leaders, and welcomed debate in Parliament. Modi, on the other hand, has centralized power in his office to an astonishing degree, undermined the independence of public institutions such as the judiciary and the media, built a cult of personality around himself, and pursued his party’s ideological goals with ruthless efficiency.

Despite his dismantling of democratic institutions, Modi remains extremely popular. He is both incredibly hardworking and politically astute, able to read the pulse of the electorate and adapt his rhetoric and tactics accordingly. Left-wing intellectuals dismiss him as a mere demagogue. They are grievously mistaken. In terms of commitment and intelligence, he is far superior to his populist counterparts such as former U.S. President Donald Trump, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, or former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Although his economic record is mixed, he has still won the trust of many poor people by supplying food and cooking gas at highly subsidized rates via schemes branded as Modi’s personal gifts to them. He has taken quickly to digital technologies, which have enabled the direct provision of welfare and the reduction of intermediary corruption. He has also presided over substantial progress in infrastructure development, with spanking new highways and airports seen as evidence of a rising India on the march under Modi’s leadership.

Modi’s many supporters view his tenure as prime minister as nothing short of epochal. They claim that he has led India’s national resurgence. Under Modi, they note, India has surpassed its former ruler, the United Kingdom, to become the world’s fifth-largest economy; it will soon eclipse Japan and Germany, as well. It became the fourth country to land a spaceship on the moon. But Modi’s impact runs deeper than material achievements. His supporters proudly boast that India has rediscovered and reaffirmed its Hindu civilizational roots, leading to a successful decolonizing of the mind—a truer independence than even the freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi achieved. The prime minister’s speeches are peppered with claims that India is on the cusp of leading the world. In pursuit of its global ambitions, his government hosted the G-20 meeting in New Delhi last year, the event carefully choreographed to show Modi in the best possible light, standing splendidly alone at center stage as one by one, he welcomed world leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, and showed them to their seats. (The party was spoiled, only slightly, by the deliberate absence of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who may not have wanted to indulge Modi in his pageant of prestige.)

Nonetheless, the future of the Indian republic looks considerably less rosy than the vision promised by Modi and his acolytes. His government has not assuaged—indeed, it has actively worked to intensify—conflicts along lines of both religion and region, which will further fray the country’s social fabric. The inability or unwillingness to check environmental abuse and degradation threatens public health and economic growth. The hollowing out of democratic institutions pushes India closer and closer to becoming a democracy only in name and an electoral autocracy in practice. Far from becoming the Vishwa Guru, or “teacher to the world”—as Modi’s boosters claim—India is altogether more likely to remain what it is today: a middling power with a vibrant entrepreneurial culture and mostly fair elections alongside malfunctioning public institutions and persisting cleavages of religion, gender, caste, and region. The façade of triumph and power that Modi has erected obscures a more fundamental truth: that a principal source of India’s survival as a democratic country, and of its recent economic success, has been its political and cultural pluralism, precisely those qualities that the prime minister and his party now seek to extinguish.

PORTRAIT IN POWER

Between 2004 and 2014, India was run by Congress-led coalition governments. The prime minister was the scholarly economist Manmohan Singh. By the end of his second term, Singh was 80 and unwell, so the task of running Congress’s campaign ahead of the 2014 general elections fell to the much younger Rahul Gandhi. Gandhi is the son of Sonia Gandhi, a former president of the Congress Party, and Rajiv Gandhi, who, like his mother, Indira Gandhi, and grandfather Nehru, had served as prime minister. In a brilliant political move, Modi, who had previously been chief minister of the important state of Gujarat for a decade, presented himself as an experienced, hard-working, and entirely self-made administrator, in stark contrast to Rahul Gandhi, a dynastic scion who had never held political office and whom Modi portrayed as entitled and effete.

Sixty years of electoral democracy and three decades of market-led economic growth had made Indians increasingly distrustful of claims made on the basis of family lineage or privilege. It also helped that Modi was a more compelling orator than Rahul Gandhi and that the BJP made better use of the new media and digital technologies to reach remote corners of India. In the 2014 elections, the BJP won 282 seats, up from 116 five years earlier, while the Congress’s tally went down from 206 to a mere 44. The next general election, in 2019, again pitted Modi against Gandhi; the BJP won 303 seats to the Congress’s 52. With these emphatic victories, the BJP not only crushed and humiliated the Congress but also secured the legislative dominance of the party. In prior decades, Indian governments had typically been motley coalitions held together by compromise. The BJP’s healthy majority under Modi has given the prime minister broad latitude to act—and free rein to pursue his ambitions.

Modi presents himself as the very embodiment of the party, the government, and the nation, as almost single-handedly fulfilling the hopes and ambitions of Indians. In the past decade, his elevation has taken many forms, including the construction of the world’s largest cricket stadium, named for Modi; the portrait of Modi on the COVID-19 vaccination certificates issued by the government of India (a practice followed by no other democracy in the world); the photo of Modi on all government schemes and welfare packages; a serving judge of the Supreme Court gushing that Modi is a “visionary” and a “genius”; and Modi’s own proclamation that he had been sent by god to emancipate India’s women.

In keeping with this gargantuan cult of personality, Modi has attempted, largely successfully, to make governance and administration an instrument of his personal will rather than a collaborative effort in which many institutions and individuals work together. In the Indian system, based on the British model, the prime minister is supposed to be merely first among equals. Cabinet ministers are meant to have relative autonomy in their own spheres of authority. Under Modi, however, most ministers and ministries take instructions directly from the prime minister’s office and from officials known to be personally loyal to him. Likewise, Parliament is no longer an active theater of debate, in which the views of the opposition are taken into account in forging legislation. Many bills are passed in minutes, by voice vote, with the speakers in both houses acting in an extremely partisan manner. Opposition members of Parliament have been suspended in the dozens—and in one recent case, in the hundreds—for demanding that the prime minister and home minister make statements about such important matters as bloody ethnic conflicts in India’s borderlands and security breaches in Parliament itself.

Sadly, the Indian Supreme Court has done little to stem attacks on democratic freedoms. In past decades, the court had at least occasionally stood up for personal freedoms, and for the rights of the provinces, acting as a modest brake on the arbitrary exercise of state power. Since Modi took office, however, the Supreme Court has often given its tacit approval to the government’s misconduct, by, for example, failing to strike down punitive laws that clearly violate the Indian constitution. One such law is the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, under which it is almost impossible to get bail and which has been invoked to arrest and designate as “terrorists” hundreds of students and human rights activists for protesting peacefully on the streets against the majoritarian policies of the regime.

The civil services and the diplomatic corps are also prone to obey the prime minister and his party, even when the demands clash with constitutional norms. So does the Election Commission, which organizes elections and frames election rules to facilitate the preferences of Modi and the BJP. Thus, elections in Jammu and Kashmir and to the municipal council of Mumbai, India’s richest city, have been delayed for years largely because the ruling party remains unsure of winning them.

The Modi government has also worked systematically to narrow the spaces open for democratic dissent. Tax officials disproportionately target opposition politicians. Large sections of the press act as the mouthpiece of the ruling party for fear of losing government advertisements or facing vindictive tax raids. India currently ranks 161 out of 180 countries surveyed in the World Press Index, an analysis of levels of journalistic freedom. Free debate in India’s once vibrant public universities is discouraged; instead, the University Grants Commission has instructed vice chancellors to install “selfie points” on campuses to encourage students to take their photograph with an image of Modi.

This story of the systematic weakening of India’s democratic foundations is increasingly well known outside the country, with watchdog groups bemoaning the backsliding of the world’s largest democracy. But another fundamental challenge to India has garnered less attention: the erosion of the country’s federal structure. India is a union of states whose constituent units have their own governments elected on the basis of universal adult franchise. As laid down in India’s constitution, some subjects, including defense, foreign affairs, and monetary policy, are the responsibility of the government in New Delhi. Others, including agriculture, health, and law and order, are the responsibility of the states. Still others, such as forests and education, are the joint responsibility of the central government and the states. This distribution of powers allows state governments considerable latitude in designing and implementing policies for their citizens. It explains the wide variation in policy outcomes across the country—why, for example, the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu have a far better record with regard to health, education, and gender equity compared with northern states such as Uttar Pradesh.

As a large, sprawling federation of states, India resembles the United States. But India’s states are more varied in terms of culture, religion, and particularly language. In that sense, India is more akin to the European Union in the continental scale of its diversity. The Bengalis, the Kannadigas, the Keralites, the Odias, the Punjabis, and the Tamils, to name just a few peoples, all have extraordinarily rich literary and cultural histories, each distinct from one another and especially from that of the heartland states of northern India where the BJP is dominant. Coalition governments respected and nourished this heterogeneity, but under Modi, the BJP has sought to compel uniformity in three ways: through imposing the main language of the north, Hindi, in states where it is scarcely spoken and where it is seen as an unwelcome competitor to the local language; through promoting the cult of Modi as the only leader of any consequence in India; and through the legal and financial powers that being in office in New Delhi bestows on it.

Since coming to power, the Modi government has assiduously undermined the autonomy of state governments run by parties other than the BJP. It has achieved this in part through the ostensibly nonpartisan office of the governor, who, in states not run by the BJP, has often acted as an agent of the ruling party in New Delhi. Laws in domains such as agriculture, nominally the realm of state governments, have been passed by the national Parliament without the consultation of the states. Since several important and populous states—including Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and West Bengal—are run by popularly elected parties other than the BJP, the Modi government’s undisguised hostility toward their autonomous functioning has created a great deal of bad blood.

In this manner, in his decade in office, Modi has worked diligently to centralize and personalize political power. As chief minister of Gujarat, he gave his cabinet colleagues little to do, running the administration through bureaucrats loyal to him. He also worked persistently to tame civil society and the press in Gujarat. Since Modi became prime minister in 2014, this authoritarian approach to governance has been carried over to New Delhi. His authoritarianism has a precedent, however: the middle period of Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership, from 1971 to 1977, when she constructed a cult of personality and turned the party and government into an instrument of her will. But Modi’s subordination of institutions has gone even further. In his style of administration, he is Indira Gandhi on steroids.

A HINDU KINGDOM

For all their similarities in political style, Indira Gandhi and Modi differ markedly in terms of political ideology. Forged in the crucible of the Indian freedom struggle, inspired by the pluralistic ethos of its leader Mahatma Gandhi (who was not related to her) and of her father, Nehru, Indira Gandhi was deeply committed to the idea that India belonged equally to citizens of all faiths. For her, as for Nehru, India was not to be a Hindu version of Pakistan—a country designed to be a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims. India would not define statecraft or governance in accordance with the views of the majority religious community. India’s many minority religious groups—including Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Parsis, and Sikhs—would all have the same status and material rights as Hindus. Modi has taken a different view. Raised as he was in the hardline milieu of the Hindu nationalist movement, he sees the cultural and civilizational character of India as defined by the demographic dominance—and long-suppressed destiny—of Hindus.

The attempt to impose Hindu hegemony on India’s present and future has two complementary elements. The first is electoral, the creation of a consolidated Hindu vote bank. Hinduism does not have the singular structure of Abrahamic religions such as Christianity or Islam. It does not elevate one religious text (such as the Bible or the Koran) or one holy city (such as Rome or Mecca) to a particularly privileged status. In Hinduism, there are many gods, many holy places, and many styles of worship. But while the ritual universe of Hinduism is pluralistic, its social system is historically highly unequal, marked by hierarchically organized status groups known as castes, whose members rarely intermarry or even break bread with one another.

The BJP under Modi has tried to overcome the pluralism of Hinduism by seeking to override caste and doctrinal differences between different groups of Hindus. It promises to construct a “Hindu Raj,” a state in which Hindus will reign supreme. Modi claims that before his ascendance, Hindus had suffered 1,200 years of slavery at the hands of Muslim rulers, such as the Mughal dynasty, and Christian rulers, such as the British—and that he will now restore Hindu pride and Hindu control over the land that is rightfully theirs. To aid this consolidation, Hindu nationalists have systematically demonized India’s large Muslim minority, painting Muslims as insufficiently apologetic for the crimes of the Muslim rulers of the past and as insufficiently loyal to the India of the present.

Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, is a belief system characterized by what I call “paranoid triumphalism.” It aims to make Hindus fearful so as to compel them to act together and ultimately dominate those Indians who are not Hindus. At election time, the BJP hopes to make Hindus vote as Hindus. Since Hindus constitute roughly 80 percent of the population, if 60 percent of them vote principally on the basis of their religious affiliation in India’s multiparty, first-past-the-post system, that amounts to 48 percent of the popular vote for the BJP—enough to get Modi and his party elected by a comfortable margin. Indeed, in the 2019 elections, the BJP won 56 percent of seats with 37 percent of the popular vote. So complete is the ruling party’s disregard for the political rights of India’s 200 million or so Muslims that, except when compelled to do so in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, it rarely picks Muslim candidates to compete in elections. And yet it can still comfortably win national contests. The BJP has 397 members in the two houses of the Indian parliament. Not one is a Muslim.

Electoral victory has enabled the second element of Hindutva—the provision of an explicitly Hindu veneer to the character of the Indian state. Modi himself chose to contest the parliamentary elections from Varanasi, an ancient city with countless temples that is generally recognized as the most important center of Hindu identity. He has presented himself as a custodian of Hindu traditions, claiming that in his youth, he wandered and meditated in the forests of the Himalaya in the manner of the sages of the past. He has, for the first time, made Hindu rituals central to important secular occasions, such as the inauguration of a new Parliament building, which was conducted by him alone, flanked by a phalanx of chanting priests, but with the members of Parliament, the representatives of the people, conspicuously absent. He also presided, in similar fashion, over religious rituals in Varanasi, with the priests chanting, “Glory to the king.” In January, Modi was once again the star of the show as he opened a large temple in the city of Ayodhya on a site claimed to be the birthplace of the god Rama. Whenever television channels obediently broadcast such proceedings live across India, their cameras focus on the elegantly attired figure of Modi. The self-proclaimed Hindu monk of the past has thus become, in symbol if not in substance, the Hindu emperor of the present.

THE BURDENS OF THE FUTURE

The emperor benefits from having few plausible rivals. Modi’s enduring political success is in part enabled by a fractured and nepotistic opposition. In a belated bid to stall the BJP from winning a third term, as many as 28 parties have come together to fight the forthcoming general elections under a common umbrella. They have adopted the name the Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance, an unwieldy moniker that can be condensed to the crisp acronym INDIA.

Some parties in this alliance are very strong in their own states. Others have a base among particular castes. But the only party in the alliance with pretensions to being a national party is the Congress. Despite his dismal political record, Rahul Gandhi remains the principal leader of the Congress. In public appearances, he is often flanked by his sister, who is the party’s general-secretary, or his mother, reinforcing his sense of entitlement. The major regional parties, with influence in states such as Bihar, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, are also family firms, with leadership often passing from father to son. Although their local roots make them competitive in state elections, when it comes to a general election, the dynastic baggage they carry puts them at a distinct disadvantage against a party led by a self-made man such as Modi, who can present himself as devoted entirely and utterly to the welfare of his fellow citizens rather than as the bearer of family privilege. INDIA will struggle to unseat Modi and the BJP and may hope, at best, to dent their commanding majority in Parliament.

The prime minister also faces little external pressure. In other contexts, one might expect a certain amount of critical scrutiny of Modi’s authoritarian ways from the leaders of Western democracies. But this has not happened, partly because of the ascendance of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Xi has mounted an aggressive challenge to Western hegemony and positioned China as a superpower deserving equal respect and an equal say in world affairs as the United States—moves that have worked entirely to Modi’s advantage. The Indian prime minister has played the U.S. establishment brilliantly, using the large and wealthy Indian diaspora to make his (and India’s) importance visible to the White House.

In April 2023, India officially overtook China as the most populous country in the world. It has the fifth-largest economy. It has a large and reasonably well-equipped military. All these factors make it ever more appealing to the United States as a counterweight to China. Both the Trump and the Biden administrations have shown an extraordinary indulgence toward Modi, continuing to hail him as the leader of the “world’s largest democracy” even as that appellation becomes less credible under his rule. The attacks on minorities, the suppression of the press, and the arrest of civil rights activists have attracted scarcely a murmur of disapproval from the State Department or the White House. The recent allegations that the Indian government tried to assassinate a U.S. citizen of Sikh descent are likely to fade without any action or strong public criticism. Meanwhile, the leaders of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, seeking a greater share of the Indian market (not least in sales of sophisticated weaponry), have all been unctuous in their flattery of Modi.

The rampant environmental degradation across the country further threatens the sustainability of economic growth. Even in the absence of climate change, India would be an environmental disaster zone. Its cities have the highest rates of air pollution in the world. Many of its rivers are ecologically dead, killed by untreated industrial effluents and domestic sewage. Its underground aquifers are depleting rapidly. Much of its soil is contaminated with chemicals. Its forests are despoiled and in the process of becoming much less biodiverse, thanks to invasive nonnative weeds.

This degradation has been enabled by an antiquated economic ideology that adheres to the mistaken belief that only rich countries need to behave responsibly toward nature. India, it is said, is too poor to be green. In fact, countries such as India, with their higher population densities and more fragile tropical ecologies, need to care as much, or more, about how to use natural resources wisely. But regimes led by both the Congress and the BJP have granted a free license to coal and petroleum extraction and other polluting industries. No government has so actively promoted destructive practices as Modi’s. It has eased environmental clearances for polluting industries and watered down various regulations. The environmental scholar Rohan D’ Souza has written that by 2018, “the slash and burn attitude of gutting and weakening existing environmental institutions, laws, and norms was extended to forests, coasts, wildlife, air, and even waste management.” When Modi came to power in 2014, India ranked 155 out of 178 countries assessed by the Environmental Performance Index, which estimates the sustainability of a country’s development in terms of the state of its air, water, soils, natural habitats, and so on. By 2022, India ranked last, 180 out of 180.

The effects of these varied forms of environmental deterioration exact a horrific economic and social cost on hundreds of millions of people. Degradation of pastures and forests imperils the livelihoods of farmers. Unregulated mining for coal and bauxite displaces entire rural communities, making their people ecological refugees. Air pollution in cities endangers the health of children, who miss school, and of workers, whose productivity declines. Unchecked, these forms of environmental abuse will impose ever-greater burdens on Indians yet unborn.

These future generations of Indians will also have to bear the costs of the dismantling of democratic institutions overseen by Modi and his party. A free press, independent regulatory institutions, and an impartial and fearless judiciary are vital for political freedoms, for acting as a check on the abuse of state power, and for nurturing an atmosphere of trust among citizens. To create, or perhaps more accurately, re-create, them after Modi and the BJP finally relinquish power will be an arduous task.

The strains placed on Indian federalism may boil over in 2026, when parliamentary seats are scheduled to be reallocated according to the next census, to be conducted in that year. Then, what is now merely a divergence between north and south might become an actual divide. In 2001, when a reallocation of seats based on population was proposed, the southern states argued that it would discriminate against them for following progressive health and education policies in prior decades that had reduced birth rates and enhanced women’s freedom. The BJP-led coalition government then in power recognized the merits of the south’s case and, with the consent of the opposition, proposed that the reallocation be delayed for a further 25 years.

In 2026, the matter will be reopened. One proposed solution is to emulate the U.S. model, in which congressional districts reflect population size while each state has two seats in the Senate, irrespective of population. Perhaps having the Rajya Sabha, or upper house, of the Indian Parliament restructured on similar principles may help restore faith in federalism. But if Modi and the BJP are in power, they will almost certainly mandate the process of reallocation based on population in both the Lok Sabha, the lower house, and the Rajya Sabha, which will then substantially favor the more populous if economically lagging states of the north. The southern states are bound to protest. Indian federalism and unity will struggle to cope with the fallout.

If the BJP achieves a third successive electoral victory in May, the creeping majoritarianism under Modi could turn into galloping majoritarianism, a trend that poses a fundamental challenge to Indian nationhood. Democratic- and pluralistic-minded Indians warn of the dangers of India becoming a country like Pakistan, defined by religious identity. A more salient cautionary tale might be Sri Lanka’s. With its educated population, good health care, relatively high position of women (compared with India and all other countries in South Asia), its capable and numerous professional class, and its attractiveness as a tourist destination, Sri Lanka was poised in the 1970s to join Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan as one of the so-called Asian Tigers. But then, a deadly mix of religious and linguistic majoritarianism reared its head. The Sinhala-speaking Buddhist majority chose to consolidate itself against the Tamil-speaking minority, who were themselves largely Hindus. Through the imposition of Sinhalese as the official language and Buddhism as the official religion, a deep division was created, provoking protests by the Tamils, peaceful at first but increasingly violent when crushed by the state. Three decades of bloody civil war ensued. The conflict formally ended in 2009, but the country has not remotely recovered, in social, economic, political, or psychological terms.
India will probably not go the way of Sri Lanka. A full-fledged civil war between Hindus and Muslims, or between north and south, is unlikely. But the Modi government is jeopardizing a key source of Indian strength: its varied forms of pluralism. One might usefully contrast Modi’s time in office with the years between 1989 and 2014, when neither the Congress nor the BJP had a majority in Parliament. In that period, prime ministers had to bring other parties into government, allocating important ministries to its leaders. This fostered a more inclusive and collaborative style of governance, more suitable to the size and diversity of the country itself. States run by parties other than the BJP or the Congress found representation at the center, their voices heard and their concerns taken into account. Federalism flourished, and so did the press and the courts, which had more room to follow an independent path. It may be no coincidence that it was in this period of coalition government that India experienced three decades of steady economic growth.

When India became free from British rule in 1947, many skeptics thought it was too large and too diverse to survive as a single nation and its population too poor and illiterate to be trusted with a democratic system of governance. Many predicted that the country would Balkanize, become a military dictatorship, or experience mass famine. That those dire scenarios did not come to pass was largely because of the sagacity of India’s founding figures, who nurtured a pluralist ethos that respected the rights of religious and linguistic minorities and who sought to balance the rights of the individual and the state, as well as those of the central government and the provinces. This delicate calculus enabled the country to stay united and democratic and allowed its people to steadily overcome the historic burdens of poverty and discrimination.

The last decade has witnessed the systematic erosion of those varied forms of pluralism. One party, the BJP, and within it, one man, the prime minister, are judged to represent India to itself and to the world. Modi’s charisma and popular appeal have consolidated this dominance, electorally speaking. Yet the costs are mounting. Hindus impose themselves on Muslims, the central government imposes itself on the provinces, the state further curtails the rights and freedoms of citizens. Meanwhile, the unthinking imitation of Western models of energy-intensive and capital-intensive industrialization is causing profound and, in many cases, irreversible environmental damage.

Modi and the BJP seem poised to win their third general election in a row. This victory would further magnify the prime minister’s aura, enhancing his image as India’s redeemer. His supporters will boast that their man is assuredly taking his country toward becoming the Vishwa Guru, the teacher to the world. Yet such triumphalism cannot mask the deep fault lines underneath, which—unless recognized and addressed—will only widen in the years to come.

Lakshadweep: Island Paradise Emerges as Prime Tourist Destination After PM Modi’s Visit

When preparing to touch down on the Lakshadweep archipelago, situated in the Arabian Sea about 490 kilometers west of Kochi, India, a captivating panorama of blues greets the eye. The closest strip to the pristine white shores, adorned with countless coconut palms, presents a gentle hue of light blue. As the view extends towards the sea, the water transitions into shades of turquoise, and further out, it deepens into an emerald blue expanse.

“It’s truly captivating,” remarked Shradha Menon, a geologist from the Indian Institute of Technology, who made multiple visits to the islands over the past two years to investigate carbon sedimentation. On each journey, she found herself among a select few passengers on the 36-seat flight from Kochi to Lakshadweep, mostly comprising island residents and government officials.

However, recent times have witnessed a surge of interest in the islands among Indian travelers, sparked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in January 2024. Images of him strolling along the pristine beaches and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters were shared on his official social media accounts, garnering hundreds of thousands of views. In his message, he expressed, “The beauty of Lakshadweep can’t be described in words. To those who like to visit beaches and islands around the world, I urge them to visit Lakshadweep.”

Subsequently, the archipelago found itself thrust into the limelight. Google searches for “Lakshadweep” spiked to their highest level in 20 years, reported The Economic Times. Mainstream media outlets suddenly featured travel articles, while YouTube and Instagram were inundated with videos and reels. MakeMyTrip, a major Indian travel booking platform, reported a staggering 3,400% surge in searches for Lakshadweep after Modi’s visit.

The Society for Promotion of Nature Tourism and Sports (SPORTS), responsible for tourism in Lakshadweep, experienced an unprecedented influx of inquiries. Abdul Samad, one of SPORTS’ water sports instructors who accompanied Modi during his snorkeling excursion, noted a drastic increase from one or two inquiries per day to at least 10 since the previous month. Cordelia Cruises, operating routes from Mumbai, Kochi, and Goa to Lakshadweep since September 2021, witnessed a staggering 2,500% surge in booking queries post-Modi’s visit.

Plans are already underway for new beach and water villas on Suheli and Kadmat islands, confirmed Samad. Additionally, during India’s budget speech on February 1, Finance Minister Neermala Sitharaman highlighted Lakshadweep’s inclusion in discussions regarding improved connectivity to India’s islands to boost tourism.

Lakshadweep, a speck in the Arabian Sea, comprises 36 islands, including 12 atolls, three reefs, and five submerged banks. With a population of approximately 70,000 on its 10 inhabited islands, the region relies predominantly on fishing and coconut cultivation.

Distinguished by its pristine white sands, Lakshadweep’s beaches stand apart from those along India’s mainland coast. Vardhan Patankar, with 15 years of experience in the region and serving as conservation director of GVI, elucidated that the atolls, unique to India, hover just above sea level. These formations, remnants of ancient volcanoes, gradually submerged to their current level, fostering coral rings protruding from the ocean’s surface. “Lakshadweep, mere meters above sea level, finds protection in its coral reefs,” Patankar explained.

Like many islands worldwide, Lakshadweep confronts the impacts of climate change. According to The Lakshadweep Research Collective, rapid coastal erosion threatens the archipelago’s land cover, with the loss of an entire island, Parali 1 in Bangaram atoll, documented in 2017. Moreover, the region has endured four significant ENSO-related temperature anomalies and three devastating cyclones in recent years, leading to widespread coral bleaching.

“Based on conservative estimates by scientists, Lakshadweep could succumb to submersion by 2050,” Patankar cautioned. He emphasized that any additional strain on the islands due to tourism or development projects, coupled with industrial fishing, could exacerbate the situation, hastening their demise.

In an effort to mitigate the impact of escalating tourism, SPORTS intends to maintain restrictions via a permit system. Encouraging cruise ships and yachts to visit the islands is part of their strategy, aiming to minimize overnight stays and thereby regulate waste production and preserve groundwater resources.

However, concerns linger among scientists regarding potential damage to the delicate coral reef barrier by large vessels, critical for deflecting storm surges. Furthermore, the construction of high-end villas and associated carbon footprints raise apprehensions, along with the potential escalation of commercial fishing to meet tourist demands.

“Tourism growth must be carefully regulated to ensure the sustainability of Lakshadweep’s ecology,” Menon stressed.

For travelers venturing to Lakshadweep, practicing environmental consciousness is paramount. Fortunately, a plethora of low-impact activities awaits exploration.

Renowned for its shallow waters and diverse marine life, Lakshadweep offers unparalleled snorkeling and scuba diving experiences. “Underwater visibility is exceptional, enhancing the allure of the reefs during diving and snorkeling expeditions,” noted Patankar.

The underwater realm teems with a vibrant array of marine species, including snappers, groupers, moray eels, butterflyfish, and black-blotched stingrays. Green sea turtles often grace the waters, sometimes visible even from the shores. Among the fascinating sightings is the yellowmask surgeonfish, which undergoes a striking color transformation from yellow to purple as it matures.

The night sky, unperturbed by light and air pollution, provides a mesmerizing spectacle. “I’ve never witnessed such a profusion of stars, constellations, and shooting stars as during my three-day sojourn on the island,” shared Shalina CV, who visited Lakshadweep with her family in September 2023. She added, “Lakshadweep epitomizes a serene island where time seems to stand still, enveloping visitors in a surreal tranquility.”

Night fishing presents another captivating adventure, allowing tourists to join local fishermen on boating excursions and try their hand at pole-and-line fishing for skipjack and yellowfin tuna. Government-operated dive centers offer a range of water sports, including kayaking, windsurfing, and parasailing.

Several locally-run homestays, such as Abdul Rahman Homestay and Feroze Homestay on Agatti island, and Kinak on Kalpeni island, provide clean and comfortable accommodations. Some enterprising locals have also established private tourism enterprises, such as Landiago, offering unique experiences like visits to Minicoy Island’s Juma Masjid or exploration of an old lighthouse. Booking trips through local operators not only contributes directly to Lakshadweep’s economy but also facilitates a deeper engagement with the islands’ culture and heritage.

“I believe the islands are safest in the hands of locals. Collaborating with them to empower and bolster their capacity to safeguard the islands represents the best hope for their preservation,” asserted Patankar.

Indian National Congress Faces Bank Account Freeze Ahead of Elections: Democracy Under Threat, Alleges Opposition

India’s principal opposition party, the Indian National Congress, declared on Friday that its bank accounts had been subjected to freezing by federal tax authorities, just weeks ahead of an anticipated nationwide election.

The move sparked widespread condemnation from the Congress and its allies, who accused the government of undermining democracy. Congress Treasurer Ajay Maken revealed in a press briefing that the freeze occurred subsequent to an examination of the party’s income tax filings for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Maken disclosed that the Income Tax Department had issued a payment demand amounting to 2.1 billion rupees ($25.3 million) concerning the ongoing investigation.

Maken emphasized the broader implications, stating, “The Congress party’s bank accounts haven’t been frozen. It’s the democracy that has been frozen.” He questioned whether the nation was heading towards a single-party system.

Later in the day, an income tax tribunal provisionally reinstated access to the party’s accounts pending a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, as confirmed by lawyer and Congress lawmaker Vivek Tankha.

Efforts to obtain comments from India’s Income Tax Department, Finance Ministry, and various leaders within the Congress party were underway, as reported by CNN.

Protests erupted in Delhi’s prominent Jantar Mantar area, with Congress supporters gathering to denounce the action. Party chief Mallikarjun Kharge urged the judiciary to intervene and “safeguard the multi-party system in this country and preserve India’s Democracy.”

Allegations of democratic suppression in India have been recurrent, with the latest incident on Friday adding to a series of investigations targeting notable adversaries of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Former Congress luminary Rahul Gandhi, scion of a political lineage that produced three prime ministers, faced disqualification as a lawmaker last year and was handed a two-year jail sentence for defamation in a verdict his supporters allege was politically motivated. Gandhi’s status as a lawmaker was subsequently reinstated following intervention by India’s Supreme Court.

In a staunch declaration, Gandhi asserted his party’s determination to defend India’s democracy. “We have never bowed down before dictatorship, nor will we ever bow down,” he conveyed on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The Congress party, once a formidable force in Indian politics, has witnessed a decline in electoral fortunes since Modi assumed power a decade ago, pledging economic advancement and societal prosperity.

Attempting to forge an opposition coalition to challenge Modi’s BJP in the upcoming election, the Congress Party faces internal strains as backing for the BJP swells, just weeks before an estimated 900 million Indians are slated to cast their votes.

Termed the world’s largest democratic exercise, the Indian election assumes critical significance for the nation, as it garners global attention with Modi positioning himself as a statesman solidifying India as a contemporary superpower.

However, domestic tensions persist, particularly among minorities who feel marginalized under the BJP’s majoritarian Hindu nationalist policies.

In the latest barometer of voter sentiment, the Congress Party suffered setbacks in three out of four regional contests in key state elections in December, bolstering Modi and the BJP.

Maldives Struggles with Financial Crisis Amidst Escalating Tensions with India

Maldives is facing unexpected turmoil due to recent actions that strained its relations with India, resulting in the declaration of bankruptcy by the island nation. The dispute, worsened by President Mohammed Muizzu’s ‘India Out’ campaign, has led to a critical financial situation prompting Maldives to seek a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), exacerbating its economic woes.

President Muizzu’s ‘India Out’ campaign, aiming to remove Indian soldiers from Maldives and replace them with qualified technical staff from India by May 10, marked a significant escalation in tensions between the two countries. The situation worsened when three Maldivian ministers made controversial remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Lakshadweep.

Despite the subsequent expulsion of the three ministers, President Muizzu refrained from condemning their remarks, further straining India-Maldives relations. This deliberate provocation led to reports of Maldives declaring bankruptcy, prompting the government to turn to the IMF for financial assistance.

Under President Muizzu’s leadership, the once-positive relations between India and Maldives have dramatically shifted. His anti-India stance, evident in efforts to expel the Indian army and controversial ministerial comments, has severely strained diplomatic ties.

The fallout from these actions has caused widespread dissent among Indians, resulting in many canceling trips to Maldives, significantly impacting the nation’s tourism industry. India, previously a major source of tourists for Maldives, has seen a sharp decline in visitor numbers, slipping from the top spot to fifth place last year.

The combination of financial implications and strained diplomatic relations presents multifaceted challenges for Maldives, affecting both its economic stability and diplomatic standing.

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.”

Revolutionizing Education: AI-Powered Tools Reshape Classroom Dynamics and Learning Experiences

In a quaint five-room village school shaded by coconut trees, educator Ravindra K. Nagaiah has something special in store for his seventh-grade science class today.

The lesson revolves around “Acids, Bases, and Salts.” Alongside the customary supply of litmus strips, hydrochloric acid, and baking soda, Ravindra has arranged small beakers containing juice extracted from hibiscus flowers and lemons. The students eagerly gather around the table as one of them combines lemon juice with hibiscus juice. The resulting solution turns green, indicating acidity. Another student mixes baking soda with hibiscus juice, causing it to turn pink.

“Who knew, children, that hibiscus juice could serve as a natural pH indicator?” Ravindra asks with a smile.

The inspiration for this engaging activity came from Shiksha copilot, an innovative AI digital assistant designed to formulate lesson plans – complete with activities, videos, and quizzes – in a matter of minutes. Developed in collaboration with the non-profit Sikshana Foundation, this software is currently being trialed in English and Kannada languages by 30 teachers across 30 schools in Karnataka state, with encouraging feedback from educators.

Shiksha copilot forms part of Project VeLLM, an initiative by Microsoft Research India aimed at creating specialized generative AI assistants accessible to various sectors, from educators to farmers and small business owners. The platform, built on Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service, is intricately linked with the school curriculum and learning objectives. By leveraging Azure Cognitive Service, the software can analyze textbook content and its structure.

The ultimate goal of Shiksha copilot is to provide relief to India’s overburdened government schoolteachers while enriching the learning experience for their students. Ravindra attests to the significant time savings achieved through this tool, allowing him to dedicate more attention to his students. Previously, crafting a single lesson plan could consume up to 40 minutes, whereas now, he can devise a new lesson in just 10 minutes.

In a school with limited resources like his, Ravindra often needs to adapt lesson plans according to available materials. Shiksha copilot proves invaluable in such situations, offering alternative ideas tailored to his requirements. Whether it’s adjusting activities, shortening videos, or modifying assignments, the software enables him to personalize lessons effectively.

The conventional method of teaching with chalk and blackboard no longer suffices in today’s digital age, observes Ravindra. Thanks to Shiksha copilot, he can allocate the time saved to engage more actively with his students.

The challenge of crafting lesson plans is compounded by the prevalence of large class sizes in Indian primary schools. With a teacher-to-student ratio of 1:33, compared to the global average of 1:23, educators face an uphill battle in capturing the attention of their pupils. In urban areas, class sizes can soar to between 40 and 80 students, exacerbating the situation.

This disparity has led many families, regardless of their income level, to opt for private schooling, exacerbating the exodus from government schools. Prasanna Vadayar, CEO of Sikshana Foundation, emphasizes the organization’s mission to enhance the quality of education in government schools, aiming to reverse this trend permanently.

Sikshana’s initiatives, such as the Prerana project, incentivize student participation and academic performance through innovative methods like peer leadership and rewards for achievements. By implementing such interventions, Sikshana has reached over 50,000 schools across six states in India, impacting millions of students.

The collaboration between Sikshana Foundation and Microsoft Research India heralds a new era of educational innovation. Shiksha copilot represents a step towards addressing the pressing challenges faced by teachers and students alike. Through a combination of generative AI technology and domain-specific knowledge, the software streamlines the lesson planning process while ensuring accuracy and relevance.

Feedback from teachers involved in the pilot program underscores the effectiveness of Shiksha copilot in reducing preparation time and enhancing classroom engagement. With plans to expand the initiative to 100 schools and curate top-rated lesson plans, the project aims to further empower educators and optimize learning outcomes.

As Smitha Venkatesh, Chief Program Officer at Sikshana Foundation, reflects on the potential of AI in education, she emphasizes its capacity to support teachers and students alike. Beyond simplifying lesson planning, Shiksha copilot holds promise in addressing a myriad of educational challenges, from scheduling classes to aiding struggling students.

In the evolving landscape of education, AI emerges as a valuable ally, offering solutions to enhance teaching and learning experiences. As educators like Ravindra and Mahalakshmi embrace these technological advancements, every classroom becomes a vibrant hub of knowledge and discovery, nurturing the future generation.

Southern Indian States Protest Alleged Fiscal Discrimination in New Delhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grocery Prices Surge 30% in Four Years: Consumers Bear the Brunt of Industry’s Profit Drive

The cost of groceries has surged by 30% over the past four years, marking a significant departure from the industry’s foundational aim of providing affordable and abundant food supplies post-World War II. The pandemic-induced disruptions in supply chains have been exploited by the grocery sector to inflate prices substantially, yielding substantial profits despite selling less food. This trend not only burdens consumers’ budgets but also underscores ongoing policy shortcomings within the Biden Administration.

The U.S. grocery market, valued at $1.03 trillion, has seen prices soar nearly 30% across all categories and channels since 2019, even as unit volumes remain stagnant. This translates to consumers spending more while obtaining fewer goods. Corporate dominance in various grocery segments, particularly by a select few consumer packaged goods (CPG) giants, accentuates the market’s lack of competition.

Soft drinks exemplify this consolidation, with Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Keurig Dr. Pepper controlling around 90% of the market. Despite a 2% decline in unit volumes, soda sales surged by 56%, with prices spiking by 59%. Pepsico, for instance, witnessed a 21% surge in operating profit, primarily driven by consecutive double-digit price hikes over two years.

Similarly, Kraft Heinz, commanding 65% of the packaged cheese market, prioritizes profitability over volume, leading to a 21% price hike despite a mere 6% increase in unit volumes. Chocolate candy sales soared by 34%, accompanied by a 46% price surge, largely dictated by the top three companies—Hershey’s, Mondelez, and Mars—controlling over 80% of the market.

The trend extends to beef, where unit volumes plummeted by 14%, while prices skyrocketed by over 50% in four years, enabling major meat processors like Tyson Foods to double profits through strategic pricing actions.

In the diaper market, unit volumes dropped by 11.7%, yet prices surged by 38%, exceeding $13 per pack, as industry giants like Proctor & Gamble and Kimberly Clark monopolize 70% of the sector.

Further analysis of NIQ data unveils a consistent pattern: processed commodities experience sharper price hikes than their base ingredients. For instance, milk prices surged by 23.8% with a 5.8% decline in unit volumes, while yogurt prices soared by over 47% despite a 10% drop in volumes.

Shrinkflation, a practice of reducing pack sizes while maintaining prices, further exacerbates consumer woes, affecting various categories like household paper products, salty snacks, and cleaning products.

Experts attribute much of this pricing surge to sellers’ inflation, driven by supply shocks that enable tacit collusion among corporations to hike prices and maximize profits.

While conventional wisdom often blames labor costs and consumer demand for inflation, the math doesn’t align. Corporate profits have soared to historic highs, while workers’ share of national income has dwindled. Labor shortages, although garnering media attention, have minimal impact on grocery prices.

Despite widespread consumer outcry and economic strain, initiatives to address corporate price gouging remain limited. However, opportunities abound for regulatory intervention, including summoning food executives to Capitol Hill, scrutinizing anti-competitive practices, and potentially implementing price controls to ensure affordability.

Failure to seize these opportunities could perpetuate high prices, exacerbating food insecurity and economic hardship for millions of Americans. As such, the era of cheap food appears to be nearing its end unless significant policy changes are enacted promptly.

IAMC Condemns Demolition of 600-Year-Old Mosque in Delhi

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) has vehemently condemned the shocking and brazen demolition of Masjid Akhonji, a 600-year-old mosque in Delhi’s Mehrauli.

The demolition was carried out by officials from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), an autonomous body controlled by the Central Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This reprehensible act, which took place without any prior notice, not only obliterated a revered place of worship but also displayed a blatant disregard for the rich cultural and religious history embedded in Masjid Akhonji.

The callousness exhibited by the DDA in the wanton destruction of a site with deep-rooted historical significance is both shocking and deplorable. The mosque, standing as a testament to over six centuries of religious and cultural heritage, was reduced to rubble, leaving the local residents, mosque-goers, and Madrasa students in a state of disbelief and anguish.

IAMC unequivocally denounces this act as a gross violation of religious freedom and an assault on the nation’s secular fabric.

“The demolition of Masjid Akhonji is not just an attack on a physical structure; it is an assault on the collective memory and identity of a community. This act, carried out under the guise of development, reeks of a sinister agenda to erase the rich Muslim heritage from the socio-cultural landscape,” IAMC Executive Director Rasheed Ahmed said.

Masjid Akhonji’s demolition directly contradicts assurances made by the DDA to the Delhi High Court, where they explicitly stated that no mosque, graveyard, or legally owned Waqf property would face demolition. This betrayal of trust and the destruction of a sacred site is part of a disturbing pattern witnessed in BJP-ruled states, where mosques, shrines, and symbols of Muslim heritage are systematically targeted and obliterated.

IAMC calls for an immediate, impartial investigation into this reprehensible act, urging accountability for those responsible. We demand that authorities take decisive action to safeguard religious sites and put an end to the alarming trend of erasure of Muslim heritage. We stand united against this blatant disregard for history, culture, and the principles of coexistence that define India.

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.

Paytm Plummets: Regulatory Woes and Market Turmoil Lead to Sharp Stock Decline

The once-thriving Paytm, a leading startup in India, has experienced a dramatic decline in the stock market this week, marking a continued plummet since its massive initial public offering (IPO) in 2021. Shares of the digital payment giant have undergone a staggering decline, hitting the maximum allowable decrease in Mumbai for two consecutive days, despite India’s stock markets reaching new highs. Since Wednesday’s closing, Paytm has tumbled by 36%, with a nearly 25% drop this year alone.

The company has faced significant challenges since its turbulent market debut in November 2021, failing to persuade investors of its potential profitability amid intensifying competition from domestic and international tech companies. Compounding its woes, regulatory issues emerged when the central bank prohibited its banking division from onboarding new customers two years ago.

With shares now trading at a mere 487 rupees (approximately $6) per share, the recent nosedive has erased a staggering $2 billion in market capitalization, leaving the company with a diminished valuation of only $3.7 billion. The latest downturn was triggered by additional regulatory actions from India’s central bank.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) recently instructed Paytm Payments Bank to cease accepting deposits and suspend other essential services due to “persistent non-compliances.” This directive, which caught the Indian tech community off guard, prompted Paytm to adopt damage control measures in an attempt to reassure investors and its vast user base of over 300 million.

However, despite pledges to swiftly address regulatory concerns and a subsequent conference call held after trading hours on Thursday, investor confidence continued to erode. According to Manish Chowdhury, head of research at brokerage firm StoxBox, the RBI’s directive poses a significant “reputational risk” to Paytm’s overall business and raises uncertainties about its future performance.

Founded in 2017 as a joint venture with founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Paytm initially operated as a payments bank, allowing deposits but not extending loans to customers. During Thursday’s conference call, Sharma downplayed the central bank’s actions as a temporary setback, asserting that Paytm will henceforth collaborate solely with other banks.

Paytm gained widespread recognition in 2016 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invalidated the nation’s two largest currency denominations, constituting approximately 86% of the country’s cash supply, as part of efforts to combat tax evasion and illicit wealth accumulation. Although the move caused significant disruptions to the economy, it fueled Paytm’s rapid expansion, attracting 10 million new users within a month and cementing its status as a household name in India.

US Approves $4 Billion Sale of Drones to India Amidst Allegations, Strengthening Military Ties in Face of China

The United States gave its approval on Thursday for a significant $4 billion transaction involving cutting-edge drones destined for India, a move aimed at bolstering India’s military capabilities vis-à-vis China. This approval comes after a delay attributed to an alleged plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader on US soil.

This sale signifies a notable shift in India’s procurement strategy from its traditional reliance on Russian arms, which have increasingly faced scrutiny due to sanctions stemming from Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The discussions regarding the drones began during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit last year, at the invitation of President Joe Biden. These talks gained urgency against the backdrop of skirmishes between India and both China and Pakistan.

Following extensive deliberations with US lawmakers and Indian authorities, the State Department formally notified Congress about the sale, comprising 31 MQ-9B Sky Guardians, the most advanced variant of General Atomics’ Predator drones.

According to a statement from the State Department, “The proposed sale will improve India’s capability to meet current and future threats by enabling unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance patrols in sea lanes of operation.” It further asserted, “India has demonstrated a commitment to modernizing its military and will have no difficulty absorbing these articles and services into its armed forces.”

While India has historically enjoyed bipartisan support in the US Congress, the sale encountered a setback following allegations by US prosecutors of a plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader with US citizenship on American soil. The Justice Department went as far as to allege remote direction of the plan by an Indian government official.

India responded to these allegations with a more measured approach compared to its vehement reaction to similar accusations by Canada in the past. However, some US lawmakers questioned the seriousness with which both the Modi government and the Biden administration addressed these allegations, leading to a temporary halt in the informal approval of the sale.

Despite this, observers anticipate that Congress will not obstruct the sale within the 30-day window it has to do so. Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute, commented, “The notification gets the sale back on track, but it could still encounter some choppy seas in Congress. The assassination allegations against India continue to cast a shadow over US-India relations.” He added, “Strategic imperatives tend to carry the day in this partnership, and that will likely ensure the sale eventually goes through, but one can’t rule out the possibility of some hiccups during the finalization process.”

Regarding the approval process, Randhir Jaiswal, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, stated that the United States was following its “internal processes,” refraining from further elaboration.

The drones in question, Sea Guardians, possess the capability to monitor seas, submarines, and remain airborne for up to 35 hours, equipped to fire Hellfire missiles and carry approximately 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) of bombs.

India’s navy has been operating two Predator drones on lease, utilizing them to monitor the Arabian Sea, safeguarding ships from potential threats posed by Yemen’s Huthi rebels and Somali pirates.

In 2019, India made headlines by conducting airstrikes in Pakistani airspace, marking a departure from past precedents. Additionally, tensions along the Himalayan frontier between India and China, the two most populous nations globally, have been escalating, highlighted by a deadly clash in 2020 that claimed the lives of 20 Indian troops and at least four Chinese soldiers.

Despite concerns expressed by some US lawmakers regarding Modi’s human rights record, US policymakers generally view India as a strategic partner due to shared apprehensions about China.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emergence of Assertive Hindu American Politics: Candidates Proudly Represent Faith in U.S. Political Arena

Vivek Ramaswamy expressed his pride in his Hindu identity while campaigning in New Hampshire, stating, “I’m Hindu, and I’m proud of that.” He emphasized his commitment to defending religious liberty without apology. Although his presidential bid faltered in Iowa, his presence underscored a significant emergence: the visibility of assertive Hinduism in American politics.

The burgeoning influence of Hindu American politics was vividly demonstrated in 2019 during the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston’s NRG Stadium, where around 50,000 people gathered to witness then-President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi share the stage.Emergence of Assertive Hindu American Politics Candidates Proudly Represent Faith in U S Political Arena

In late 2019, a dispute over an anti-caste discrimination bill in California showcased the increasing political acumen of Hindus in pursuing their interests. With representatives from across the country on opposing sides, proponents and opponents of the bill showcased their ability to mobilize support and shape public opinion. Governor Gavin Newsom’s subsequent veto of the bill marked a victory for those who argued it would unfairly stereotype Hindus.

Rishi Bhutada, treasurer of the 12-year-old Hindu American PAC, noted that Hindus, traditionally leaning towards the Democratic Party, are now more focused on supporting candidates who understand their specific concerns, from addressing Hinduphobia to advocating for immigration policies aligned with their interests.

Reflecting on this evolution, Bhutada remarked, “The community is getting way more discerning about candidates now.” Over the past decade, Hindu Americans have seen an increasing array of candidates from their community vying for positions at various levels of government, including the U.S. Congress.

Tulsi Gabbard’s historic election as the first Hindu congressperson in 2013 marked a turning point, signaling to the community that electoral success was achievable. Subsequently, Democrats like Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois and Ro Khanna from California were elected to Congress, further validating the potential for Hindu candidates to succeed nationwide.

Looking ahead, three more Hindu Americans, all Democrats, are currently running for Congress, each with unique backgrounds and platforms:

Emergence of Assertive Hindu American Politics Candidates Proudly Represent Faith in U S Political Arena

Rishi Kumar, a Silicon Valley tech executive and former mechanical engineer, emphasizes his “fiscally moderate” Democratic stance. His successful tenure on Saratoga’s city council, where he received the highest number of votes in history, propelled him into the political arena. Kumar has been vocal in opposing misrepresentations of Hinduism and advocating against anti-Hindu prejudice.

Emergence of Assertive Hindu American Politics Candidates Proudly Represent Faith in U S Political Arena

Bhavini Patel, raised by a single mother in Pennsylvania, draws upon her upbringing working on an Indian food truck to connect with working-class families. She attributes her values of kindness and authenticity to her Hindu upbringing, aiming to represent her faith proudly while addressing issues such as education, small business support, and public safety.

Suhas Subramanyam, currently serving as a delegate in the Virginia Legislature, made history as the first Hindu and Indian American elected in Virginia. Inspired by his Hindu faith, Subramanyam seeks to address issues such as gun violence, clean energy, and immigration reform while ensuring that his community’s concerns are heard and acted upon.

The rise of Hindu American politicians reflects a growing engagement and sophistication within the community, as they navigate political landscapes while staying true to their religious and cultural identities.

https://religionnews.com/2024/01/26/meet-three-hindu-democrats-running-for-congress-this-season/

Women with Fatty Liver Disease from Alcohol Consumption Face Higher Mortality Risk Than Men, Study Find

A recent study conducted by researchers from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai and their colleagues has revealed that women diagnosed with fatty liver disease due to alcohol consumption are at nearly double the risk of mortality within a specific timeframe compared to men with the same condition.

The study, published in the esteemed Journal of Hepatology, underscores the imperative for women at risk of liver disease to abstain from excessive alcohol consumption.

Also termed steatotic liver disease, fatty liver disease develops when an excess of fat accumulates in the liver, potentially leading to enduring liver damage. This condition is also associated with an elevated risk of heart disease.

Dr. Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, the director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute and the lead author of the study, emphasized, “Steatotic liver disease is a significant and increasingly prevalent ailment, likely serving as an underlying precursor to numerous conditions, including those affecting the heart. We are increasingly concerned about steatotic liver disease as we observe its close correlation with established cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.”

Recent medical discourse has introduced new terminology to classify distinct types of steatotic liver disease, including metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD), alcohol-related liver disease (ALD), and metabolic dysfunction-associated and alcohol-related liver disease (MetALD).

The investigators from Cedars-Sinai endeavored to investigate how these variants of steatotic liver disease might manifest differently in men and women.

Data spanning from 1988 to 1994, sourced from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, were scrutinized by the investigators. The study participants underwent comprehensive medical assessments, including questionnaires, physical examinations, and liver imaging scans, providing insights into alcohol consumption patterns, cardiometabolic risk factors, and liver health.

The analysis encompassed over 10,000 individuals aged 21 and above residing in the United States, with accessible data from liver scans and other medical evaluations. Approximately one-fifth of the cohort, totaling 1,971 individuals, exhibited steatotic liver disease, with MetALD accounting for over 75% of cases. While all forms of steatotic liver disease were approximately twice as prevalent in men compared to women, the data unveiled a significantly elevated risk of mortality among women over a median duration of 26.7 years. For instance, women diagnosed with MetALD faced an 83% higher risk of mortality compared to men without liver disease. Moreover, women afflicted with ALD confronted a mortality risk 160% greater than their male counterparts with ALD.

Dr. Alan Kwan, MD, a research instructor in the Department of Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai and a collaborator on the study, remarked, “These findings are particularly alarming against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which alcohol consumption and associated mortality, particularly among women, have surged.”

Indicators of underlying metabolic liver disease include being overweight or obese, prediabetes or diabetes, high blood pressure, or abnormal blood cholesterol levels. The investigators caution that women exhibiting these risk factors should be particularly vigilant regarding excessive alcohol consumption.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate alcohol consumption for women as one drink per day or less.

The researchers intend to further explore why alcohol exerts a more pronounced impact on the female liver than the male liver and identify lifestyle modifications, beyond curtailing alcohol intake, that may mitigate a woman’s susceptibility to fatty liver disease.

They underscore that since the study relied on data collected between 1988 and 1994, additional research is imperative to ascertain how the prevalence of liver disease and alcohol consumption patterns may have evolved over time.

Dr. Yee Hui Yeo, MD, and Dr. Hirsh Trivedi, MD, both affiliated with Cedars-Sinai, also contributed to the study.

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?

Eminent Indian Physician Leaders in USA organize a FAREWELL for MR. AMBASSADOR!

Hon. Ambassador Taranjit S. Sandhu is retiring at the end of the month as an Ambassador to USA after 4 years. He has had an illustrious career having served as Ambassador to Sri Lanka and DCM as well as other    Prestigious positions in USA

Eminenet physician leaders joined  on Zoom on Jan 17th Wednesday

Organised by

Dr Sudhir Sekhsaria, Dr Raj Bhayani

Dr Manbir Takhar

Dr Hemant Dhingra

Dr Narendra Kumar

About 30 physician leaders from USA joined the meeting

Meeting was initiated by Dr Sudhir Sekhseria with warm welcome and introduction of all participants and greetings to hnorable ambassador.

Dr Raj Bhayani expressed gratitude to Ambassador for his amazing leadership in making Indo-US leadership stronger and applauded his role in making Prime Minister Modi ji historic visit to white house.a grand success.

Dr Narednra Kumar emphasized the role of Ambassador in uniting all different factions of Indian communities in USA.

image0 (3)Dr Hemant Dhingra said in his remarks how the economic ties between two countries have reached a new high under leadership of Ambassador

Dr Manbir Thakkar elaborated how Indian community had warm reception at India House in Washington DC and bond between India House and community has been strongest ever during the last four years..

Dr Vinod Shah appreciated the services of Ambassador to Indian Physicians in USA.

Dr Harbhajan Ajrawat who knows Ambassador for a long time gave a historical perspective of life of Ambassador

As Taranjit Singh Sandhu is finishing his current assignment as the Ambassador of India to the United States of America, I would like to take this opportunity to wish him farewell and success in any future endeavor he may choose to undertake.  It is no secret and much has been said about his illustrious career in the Indian Foreign Service. This was his second appointment as Ambassador, his first being Ambassador to Sri Lanka. He was posted to the United States four times, three times with the Indian Embassy in Washington DC.  During his tenure in Washington, he was not only instrumental in bringing the Indian Diaspora in the United States together but also bringing the two great democracies together as well.  Due to his untiring efforts, and his diplomatic acumen he was able to mitigate and thwart quite a few obstacles that threatened the relationship of the two countries. At present India continues to enjoy a very good relationship with the United States. That he was able to make this meaningful contribution is no small task and is easy to understand once one is familiar with his rich family legacy and heritage.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu belongs to a prominent Sikh family with deep roots in Punjab, India. He is the grandson of Sardar Teja Singh Samundri.  Sardar Teja Singh Samundri was a prominent leader and visionary who played a key role in the Gurdwara Reform Movement (GRM) which returned the Sikh religious institutions to their democratic roots and brought  the sikh community into the freedom struggle and thereby altered the perception of Sikhs in Colonial India. In honor of his work and contribution to the sikh community, he is the only non-guru in whose honor a building inside the sacred Golden Temple complex has been named The Teja Singh Samundri Hall. Besides his role in the GRM movement, Sardar Teja Singh Samundri was very much involved in bringing education, knowledge and information to the common man. Even though he had limited education himself, he opened several schools to educate the masses and was instrumental in launching the newspaper Hindustan Times which was later acquired by M.M.Malaviya and later GD Birla. Much of this was through personal sacrifice and putting up his own funds. This promising young life came to a tragic end, under mysterious circumstances, at the young age of 44, while imprisoned by the British in a Lahore jail.  Nevertheless, his legacy continued through his son, Sardar Bishan Singh Samundri who was awarded a scholarship to study at Ohio State University. After acquiring his Masters degree, he returned to India and became the Principal of Khalsa College Amritsar, Punjab. He eventually became the founding Vice Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University, Punjab. Sardar Bishan Singh was the father of Taranjit Singh Sandhu. Taranjit’s mother, Jagjit Sandhu, also having studied abroad, retired as Principal of Government College for Women in Amritsar, Punjab.

Mr Gary Sikka president of American Punjabi Association emphasized the role of Ambassador in uniting the Hindu Sikh community and his visit to New York Gurudwara.

In concluding remarks Ambassador expressed his gratitude to Indian community in USA. He applauded the strength of the Indian diaspora. It is the bond of Indian diaspora which has been very powerful in making the Indo us relationship stronger. He highlighted the role and sacrifice  of Indian physicians during covid in serving humanity. He emphasised the strength of Indian physician community in USA which has helped him to create closer ties between INdia and USA.

Dr Sudhir Sekhseria thanked Ambassador and all eminent physicians for joining the farewell for Ambassador and everyone expressed that they all are in solidarity and supportive of next endeavour of Ambassador in serving our motherland

New Yorkers Celebrate Inauguration Of Ram Mandir With Car Rally

Being thousands of miles away from Ayodhya, where a monumental Temple in honor of Lord Ram was inaugurated this month, Indian Americans living in the United States and other countries celebrated this historic occasion, showcasing their unbridled enthusiasm and reverence to Lord Ram.

image1Braving the sub-zero temperatures, hundreds of enthusiastic Non-Resident Indians filled the streets of New York with a Car Rally on January 21st, 2024. Devotion to Lord Ram filled up the air in New York as over 150 cars drove through the busy streets starting in Hicksville, NY, while thousands of devotees gathered to celebrate and show their devotion and solidarity to Ram Mandir’s consecration in Ayodhya.

The car rally was organized by the ASA MAI Hindu Temple in New York as a way of expressing gratitude and joy for welcoming Lord Sri Ram to the newly constructed Temple that has been awaited for almost 500+ years.

Starting the car rally from Patel Brothers in Hicksville in Long Island, New York,  a hamlet within the Town of Oyster Bay in Nassau County on Long Island, in New York, with a large Indian American population, the car rally halted midway at a Gurudwara in Hicksville. Dr Raj Bhayani said, “The Hindu, Sikh, Jains and Buddhist communities have all come together to celebrate this historic moment.”\

Floats that were part of the rally had DJ which played Bhajans devoted to Lord Ram, while others played videos on large screens from the epic TV seria, Ramayana, and other floats displayed images of the Rama Mandir.

Indian Americans who were part of the rally wore the saffron scarf with Hanuman and Rama pictures in them, with the bitter cold conditions not dampen the enthusiasm and the celebratory mood.

In addition to the cars, the floats and the LED trucks with children dressed as Ramayana characters such as Rama,image0 Sita, Laxman, and Hanuman,  brought the experience and excitement to the rally. Each car was adorned with saffron-colored flags. The huge lineup of cars finally reached the beautiful AsaMai temple in Hicksville. LED Truck displayed Ramayana and float carried the banners celebrating Ram Mandir. The entire event was telecast live on AASTHA TV AND radio Zindagi.

Dr. Raj Bhayani, Mukesh Modi, Dr. Dipak Nandi, Mohan Wanchoo, Naveen Shah, Chintu Patel, Gary Sikka, and Dr Neeta Jain were among others who had organized the cart rally. The committee comprised of Sunil Hali, Gobind Bhatija, Pradeep Tandon, Dr Urmilesh Arya, Vimal Goyal, Eric Kumar, Kanak Goliya, Kishore Malik, Harahad Bhai Patel, Vibhuti Jha, Mohinder Taneja, Dr Satish Anand, Dr Inderpal Chhabra, and Ajay Patel.

Divine Artistry Unveiled: Arun Yogiraj’s Masterpiece Brings Lord Ram’s Smile to Life in Ayodhya

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spearheaded the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony marking Lord Ram’s long-awaited return to Ayodhya after a span of 500 years. The unveiling of Ram Lalla’s visage, sculpted by Arun Yogiraj from Mysuru, left onlookers captivated, particularly by the innocence reflected in the eyes and the smile of the infant Lord Ram.

The smile on Ram Lalla’s face evoked varied descriptions, ranging from expressions of beauty and divinity to terms like ‘mandahasa’ and enchanting.

The inauguration of the Ram Mandir was a momentous occasion, accompanied by jubilant festivities. Yogiraj expressed profound gratitude, attributing the opportunity to divine selection by Lord Ram himself.

Crafting the Idol:

Vijetha outlined the criteria provided by the temple trust for Arun Yogiraj and two other contestants, GL Bhat and Satyanarayana Panday, which included a smiling face, a divine countenance, a depiction resembling a five-year-old, and a princely appearance.

She explained the initial step involved in sculpting, which entails sketching the design on paper.

Designing Facial Features:

Vijetha elaborated that the proportions of facial features were meticulously crafted in accordance with the Shilpa Shastra, an ancient Indian scripture governing traditional arts and architecture.

Yogiraj extensively studied human anatomy to ensure realism, consulting both Shilpa Shastra and anatomy books. He even observed children to capture the innocence and naturalness of their smiles.

The Captivating Smile:

Experts noted the roundish shape of the idol’s face, a characteristic common in South Indian sculptures, contrasting with sharper features prevalent in northern sculptures.

Historian and author Vikram Sampath lauded the beauty of Ram Lalla, praising the curls, rosy cheeks, mystic smile, and divine aura, attributing the accomplishment to the skilled craftsmanship of Arun Yogiraj.

Emotional Journey:

Reflecting on the arduous seven-month journey, Yogiraj revealed the emotional investment he had made, seeking feedback even from his own daughter, who likened the idol’s appearance to that of a child.

Significance of Idol’s Dimensions:

Vijetha elucidated that the height of 51 inches for the Ram Lalla idol was chosen for its scientific significance. This height ensures that the Sun’s rays fall precisely on Ramlalla’s forehead every year at noon on Ram Navami day, lending a unique feature to the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.

Choice of Krishnashila Stone:

Krishnashila stone was selected for its chemical composition, which renders it inert to acid, heat, and adverse weather conditions. This feature allows for the safe consumption of milk used during Abhishekam as ‘prasad’ without any detrimental effects on health.

Furthermore, the durability of Krishnashila stone ensures the idol’s longevity, capable of withstanding over a thousand years without deterioration. This high-quality stone is found predominantly in regions like HD Kote near Mysuru and Karkala in Uttar Kannada district, thereby establishing Mysuru as a hub for sculpting.

Traditional Craftsmanship:

Despite utilizing modern software for visualization, Yogiraj relied on traditional methods, employing manual sculpting techniques involving hammers and chisels to bring the idol to life.

India Surpasses Hong Kong to Become Fourth-Largest Stock Market Globally: Bloomberg Report

India’s stock market has achieved a significant milestone, surpassing Hong Kong to claim the title of the fourth-largest equity market globally, as per a report by Bloomberg.

As of January 22, the combined value of shares listed on Indian exchanges reached $4.33 trillion, edging past Hong Kong’s $4.29 trillion. This development highlights India’s growth trajectory, positioning it prominently within the global financial arena. Notably, the United States, China, and Japan hold the top three spots in the world’s largest stock markets hierarchy.

The Bloomberg report underscores the significance of India’s achievement, stating, “India’s stock market overtakes Hong Kong’s for the first time in another feat for the South Asian nation whose growth prospects and policy reforms have made it an investor darling.”

The journey leading to India’s ascent as the fourth-largest stock market globally can be attributed to various factors, including investor-friendly policy reforms and the sustained economic growth of the nation.

The market crossed the $4 trillion mark on December 5, 2023, and continued its upward trajectory owing to several contributing factors. These include a burgeoning retail investor base, consistent inflows from foreign institutional investors (FIIs), strong corporate earnings, and a consumption-driven macroeconomic landscape.

India’s stock market landscape is characterized by the presence of seven official operating stock and commodity exchanges, all regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). However, the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) emerge as the two primary authorities in the country’s stock market arena.

The BSE, headquartered in Mumbai, has contributed significantly to the Indian stock market with a market cap of $3.3 trillion. Meanwhile, the NSE boasts a market cap of $3.27 trillion, further solidifying India’s position as a major player in the global equity landscape.

 

India’s Green Leap: Scaling Climate Performance on the Global Stage

India’s ascent to the 7th position in the 2023 Global Climate Performance Index (CCPI) is not just a climb up the rankings, but a transformative leap onto the world stage as a climate leader. This remarkable achievement reflects the nation’s unwavering commitment to environmental stewardship, spearheaded by a relentless pursuit of green initiatives under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Renewable Energy: Powering a Greener Future

At the heart of India’s climate action lies a resolute shift towards renewable energy. The Modi government has unleashed an ambitious renewable energy expansion program, propelling the country to become the world’s fourth-largest producer of solar power. As of January 2024, India boasts an impressive 72.02 GW of installed solar capacity, a testament to its dedication to clean energy generation.

“India’s rapid deployment of renewables is a game-changer in the fight against climate change,” remarked UN Secretary-General António Guterres during COP-28. “Their commitment to solar power is a beacon of hope for developing nations looking to decarbonize their economies while ensuring energy security.”

Electric Mobility: Revving Up Sustainability

Embracing the future of transportation, India has charted an ambitious course with the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMP) 2020. This visionary initiative aims to electrify the nation’s roads, targeting 6-7 million annual sales of electric vehicles by 2030. The government’s strategic mix of fiscal and monetary incentives is paving the way for a smooth transition to a cleaner, greener transportation landscape.

“India’s NEMP is a bold and necessary step towards curbing emissions and improving air quality,” stated Michael Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Climate Action. “Their focus on electric mobility positions them as a pioneer in this critical domain, inspiring other developing nations to follow suit.”

International Solar Alliance: Illuminating the Global Path

Prime Minister Modi’s leadership extends beyond national borders, as he champions the International Solar Alliance (ISA), a global coalition dedicated to harnessing the sun’s potential. Founded in 2015 with France, the ISA has steadily grown into a formidable force, uniting nations between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn in their pursuit of solar energy solutions.

“The ISA is a shining example of international cooperation in the fight against climate change,” lauded French President Emmanuel Macron. “By empowering developing nations to tap into their abundant solar resources, the ISA is helping to alleviate energy poverty and mitigate climate change, paving the way for a more sustainable future for all.”

Beyond Rankings: A Holistic Approach to Climate Action

India’s commitment to climate action extends far beyond mere rankings. The nation has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 45% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2070, ambitious targets backed by concrete policies and initiatives. These include:

Graph of India’s Rise in the CCPI

  • Green Infrastructure Development: Promoting smart cities, eco-friendly buildings, and sustainable urban planning to create resilient communities.
  • Forestry and Wildlife Conservation: Restoring forests, protecting endangered species, and enhancing biodiversity to sequester carbon and maintain ecological balance.
  • Adaptation Strategies: Building resilience against climate change impacts through flood control, drought management, and early warning systems.

Voices from the Ground

Beyond statistics and policies, India’s climate action is impacting the lives of its citizens in real and tangible ways. Take, for example, Rakesh Yadav, a farmer in Rajasthan who switched to solar irrigation pumps. “Since using solar power, my electricity bills have come down significantly, and I am able to irrigate my land more efficiently,” he says. “It’s been a game-changer for my livelihood.”

Or consider Asha Devi, a resident of Delhi who now commutes to work via the city’s expanding metro network. “The cleaner air thanks to fewer cars on the road has made a noticeable difference in my health,” she shares. “I feel more energetic and have fewer respiratory problems.”

These are just a few examples of how India’s climate initiatives are creating a positive ripple effect across the nation, touching the lives of people from all walks of life.

Challenges and the Road Ahead

While India’s climate achievements are undeniable, challenges remain. Ensuring equitable access to clean energy solutions in rural areas, managing the integration of renewables into the grid

India’s Economy: A Beacon of Growth in a Turbulent World

Amidst a choppy global landscape, India’s economic trajectory shines with the vibrancy of a beacon, defying headwinds and emerging as one of the fastest-growing major economies in FY22/23 with a remarkable 7.2% growth rate. This feat, as highlighted by the World Bank’s India Development Update (IDU), positions India as a testament to resilience, surpassing global benchmarks and offering valuable lessons for the world.

The IDU underscores India’s economic fortitude in the face of significant global challenges, citing the nation’s growth rate as the second-highest among G20 countries, nearly double the average for emerging market economies. This commendable achievement, the report suggests, stems from India’s robust domestic demand, substantial public infrastructure investment, and the strengthening of the financial sector.

“India’s economic performance is truly remarkable,” declares Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. “Showcasing its robust domestic engine amidst global uncertainties, this growth story, fueled by smart policy interventions and a vibrant private sector, offers valuable lessons for the world.”

Bank credit growth, a pivotal indicator of economic vitality, surged to 15.8% in the first quarter of FY23/24, compared with 13.3% in the corresponding period of FY22/23, indicating a robust financial landscape supporting economic expansion.

India’s economic ascent is far from over. By capitalizing on its strengths, mitigating future challenges, and adopting smart policy measures, India has the potential to become a global economic powerhouse. As Auguste Tano Kouame, World Bank’s Country Director in India, aptly states, “Tapping public spending to attract private investments will create favorable conditions for India to seize global opportunities and achieve even higher growth.

In addressing the spike in headline inflation, the report notes adverse weather conditions as a contributing factor. Headline inflation rose to 7.8% in July, primarily due to increased prices of food items like wheat and rice. Senior Economist and lead author of the report, Dhruv Sharma, anticipates a gradual decrease in inflation as government measures boost the supply of key commodities, ensuring a conducive environment for private investment.

The report also sheds light on India’s fiscal consolidation, projecting a decline in the central government fiscal deficit from 6.4% to 5.9% of GDP in FY23/24. Public debt is expected to stabilize at 83% of GDP, indicating prudent fiscal management. On the external front, the current account deficit is anticipated to narrow to 1.4% of GDP, supported by foreign investment flows and robust foreign reserves.

“India’s handling of the pandemic has been a masterclass in crisis management,” observes Hardeep Puri, Director-General of the World Trade Organization. “Its proactive approach, combined with decisive policy measures, helped mitigate economic damage and paved the way for a faster rebound.”

As the world grapples with economic uncertainties, India’s economic story serves as a testament to the nation’s resilience, foresight, and strategic economic policies. The international community recognizes India’s steadfast commitment to sustaining growth even amidst unprecedented challenges. In the words of global leaders, the remarkable growth of India’s economy stands as a beacon of hope and inspiration for nations around the world, reaffirming India’s status as a key player in the global economic landscape.

India Emerges as a Stock Market Superpower with Market Values Crossing $4 Trillion

In a spectacular turn of events, India’s stock market has achieved a historic milestone, surging past the $4 trillion mark in market valuation. The year 2023 witnessed India securing its position as a stock market superpower, trailing only behind the United States, China, Japan, and Hong Kong. This momentous feat underscores the remarkable performance of Nifty and Sensex, India's primary stock market indices, which soared to new heights. Notably, Nifty experienced a remarkable growth of 18.5%, while Sensex posted a robust 17.3% growth in 2023.

As the world grappled with ongoing conflicts and a global economic slowdown, India’s stock exchanges displayed resilience and outshone their counterparts worldwide. To put India’s success into context, it is essential to examine the broader global economic environment. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported in October 2023 that the global growth rate was expected to dip from 3.5% in 2022 to 3% in 2023. In contrast, India defied expectations with a projected annual growth rate of 6.3%, surpassing the realized growth rate of 7.2% in 2022.

Despite a global inflation rate expected to decline to 6.9% in 2023, India’s quarterly growth rates in 2023 exceeded expectations, with the economy expanding by 7.8% in Q2-23 and 7.6% in Q3-23. These positive indicators, coupled with India’s ability to maintain annual average retail inflation within 6%, contributed to the investor confidence evident in the record-breaking performance of the Indian stock markets.

In a stark contrast to the global economic landscape, India received a net Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) of $20.2 billion in 2023, the highest among emerging markets, bringing the total FPI to an impressive $723 billion. Notably, while Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) saw a decline of 16% in 2023 globally, India’s stock market continued to attract significant foreign investments. The aftermath of the Covid-19-induced global economic recession witnessed a negative growth rate of -3.1% worldwide. However, India’s high growth rate positioned Indian companies as attractive options for global investors seeking better returns on their investments. The surge in Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) reflects the confidence global investors place in India’s economic resilience.

Several factors contribute to India’s sustained high economic growth rate. First, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has demonstrated political stability and proactive market reforms. Initiatives such as Goods and Services Tax (GST), the JAM trinity (Jandhan, Aadhar, Mobile), Digital Payments (UPI), Make in India, and Production Link Incentives (PLI) schemes have propelled India’s economic growth.

Second, the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Modi, has significantly increased capital expenditure, reaching $250 billion in 2023-24, a remarkable 433% increase from the FY 2013-14 figure of $48 billion. The focus on infrastructure development is expected to stimulate private investment, further bolstering economic growth.

Post Covid-19, GDP data indicates a strengthening of private investment, with Q3 estimates showing a year-on-year growth rate of 7.8%. The surge in government and private capital expenditure has boosted domestic demand, insulating the Indian economy from external shocks and global economic challenges.

Third, despite a substantial increase in capital expenditure, India’s fiscal deficit is contracting. The government’s commitment to fiscal consolidation, supported by robust growth in net direct tax and GST collections, instills confidence in external investors. India’s fiscal deficit target of 5.9% in FY 2023-24 is expected to be achieved, further facilitating access to cheaper investment funds.

Fourth, proactive measures by the Reserve Bank of India have strengthened the Indian banking system, reducing bad loans and supporting credit growth, which is projected to exceed 15% in FY 2023-24. The health of the banking system reflects robust economic activity within India and ensures the availability of funds for consumption and investment expenditure.

In conclusion, 2023 has been a triumphant year for the Indian economy, marking a significant milestone in its capital market. India’s outperformance and positive economic indicators signal a bright future, with the nation poised to continue leading the global economy despite prevailing challenges. The convergence of political stability, proactive reforms, increased capital expenditure, and a resilient banking system positions India as a beacon of confidence in the global economic

IMEC: Paving the Way for Global Prosperity through Economic Connectivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Voting Trends Expats’ Influence on Home Elections

In this pivotal year for global politics, over 60 countries, representing more than half of the world’s population, are gearing up for elections at various levels—presidential, legislative, and local. From the vast scale of the United States to the more modest dimensions of North Macedonia, political landscapes are evolving. The impact of these elections extends beyond borders, particularly with the significant influence of diaspora populations.

Last year, India surpassed China as the most populous country, reaching a population of 1,425,775,850, with an additional 29 million Indians residing outside their homeland. Kathleen Newland, co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute, notes the increasing desire of diaspora populations to actively participate in their home countries’ affairs, stating, “They want to have a say in what happens there.” The evolution of voting rights for overseas nationals is evident, growing from 21 nations in 1980 to 141 in 2020.

The manner in which expats cast their votes varies widely across countries. While some, like El Salvador and Moldova, facilitate electronic voting or voting at consulates and embassies, others, such as India, require in-person voting, demanding expatriates to return to their home country. Arvind Panagariya, a Columbia University Economics professor, residing in New York, shares his expectation to vote in person during India’s upcoming elections.

Navigating the complex electoral landscape in India falls largely on individuals, as Newland observes, highlighting the need for initiative. India, with its vast and intricate election process, will witness a monumental undertaking between April and May, involving up to 630 million voters out of its 900 million eligible citizens. The elections, spanning six phases, require the deployment of 11 million election workers and officials, including security forces.

India’s parliamentary system designates executive powers to the Prime Minister, who is appointed based on the political party or coalition securing an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. With approximately 500 political parties vying for 543 seats in the lower house, electoral workers must navigate challenging terrains, resorting to various modes of transport, including helicopters, trains, boats, walking, and even elephants, to ensure all eligible voters can cast their ballots.

Despite the active engagement of the Indian diaspora on social media platforms, Panagariya and Newland argue that its impact on the election outcome may be limited. Panagariya emphasizes that most electoral battles in India are still fought in physical spaces, downplaying the influence of overseas votes. However, in closely contested elections, the diaspora’s voice could potentially sway the results.

Communication professor Rohit Chopra suggests that narratives circulating in the international space, such as discussions on COVID-19 and the deep state, may find their way into Indian political conversations. Intriguingly, the perception of India as a strong state and Prime Minister Modi as a robust leader may have originated within the Indian diaspora.

Eligibility criteria for overseas voters in India include being an Indian citizen living abroad for education or employment, not having acquired foreign citizenship, and being 18 years old on January 1 of the election year. Registration involves filling out Form 6A, available from the Election Commission of India. This form must be submitted to the Electoral Registration Officer of the constituency where the applicant’s residence in India falls, either in person or by post.

As the world watches these elections unfold, the influence of diaspora populations, their voting methods, and their engagement in shaping narratives will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the democratic processes of their home countries.

Google Pay and NPCI Collaborate to Propel India’s UPI onto the Global Stage, Streamlining International Payments and Redefining Digital Payment Infrastructures Worldwide

Alphabet Inc.’s Google Pay is teaming up with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to propel India’s innovative mobile payment system, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), onto the global stage.

The collaboration between Google India Digital Services and NPCI aims to streamline international payments for Indian travelers and contribute to the establishment of UPI-like digital payment infrastructures in other countries. This aligns with NPCI’s goal to elevate India’s standing in the global digital payment arena and simplify remittances by reducing reliance on traditional money transfer systems.

Ritesh Shukla, CEO of NIPL, expressed excitement about the potential of this partnership, stating, “UPI has demonstrated to the world the change that happens in economies with the introduction of interoperable, population-scale digital infrastructure, and each economy that joins such networks will create an impact beyond the sum of parts.”

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian government has actively promoted the international expansion of UPI. In a significant move last year, India and Singapore merged their systems, enabling real-time monetary transfers. Ongoing explorations for collaborations with countries like Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates are indicative of India’s commitment to expanding UPI’s global reach.

According to recent statistics from India’s central bank, in November alone, UPI processed transactions worth approximately $209 billion. The new partnership with Google Pay is expected to further amplify UPI’s reach and influence in the international digital payments sphere.

Google Pay’s alliance with NPCI marks a strategic move to propel UPI onto the global stage, benefiting Indian travelers with simplified international payments and aiding the development of similar digital payment infrastructures worldwide. The enthusiasm expressed by NIPL’s CEO underscores the transformative potential of interoperable digital infrastructure, while the Indian government’s initiatives, under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, continue to drive UPI’s international expansion. The impressive transaction volumes in November highlight UPI’s current significance, with the collaboration set to enhance its impact in the global digital payments landscape.

 India Takes Center Stage at Davos: Showcasing Innovation, Growth, and Global Business Potential

Along the Davos Promenade, participants of the World Economic Forum encounter the WeLead Lounge, a repurposed storefront highlighting India’s female leadership and talent, and the India Engagement Center, showcasing the country’s growth story, digital infrastructure, and burgeoning startup ecosystem.

In another part of the forum, technology and consulting giants from India, including Wipro, Infosys, Tata, and HCLTech, are making a significant presence to exhibit the country’s prowess in crucial technologies, particularly artificial intelligence, a topic at the forefront of discussions.

The heightened visibility of India at Davos comes after it surpassed China as the world’s most populous country last year. India is now keen on showcasing its evolving strength as an innovative nation and a global business hub, attracting the attention of some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential figures.

Ravi Agrawal, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy and former CNN India bureau chief, emphasized the significance of India’s presence, stating, “India’s presence is certainly sizable — it has some of the most sought-after spots on the main promenade for tech companies.” He added, “As China’s economy slows down, India’s relatively rapid growth stands out as a clear opportunity for investors in Davos looking for bright spots.

China’s GDP increased by 5.2% last year, a significant improvement from 3% in 2022 but a decline from the 8.1% recorded the year before. In contrast, India achieved a growth rate of 7.2% in the last fiscal year, slightly lower than the just over 9% recorded a year earlier.

India has been actively positioning itself on the global stage, especially in the realms of technology and business. States such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Karnataka have established their presence at Davos, positioning themselves as leading tech hubs for manufacturing and AI.

“In that sense, the separate state pavilions send a message — that various regions in India are competing with each other to offer global companies the best access,” said Agrawal, an experienced Davos attendee and author of “India Connected,” which explores how smartphones led to a more connected and democratic India.

However, India faces several challenges, including a consistent net migration out of the country and a weakened rupee against the dollar, influenced by high U.S. interest rates and volatile oil prices. The International Trade Administration identifies “price sensitivity” among consumers and businesses as a key risk for doing business in India.

Agrawal raised concerns, stating, “The challenge, as always, is whether India can actually make it easier to do business there, and whether India’s domestic consumers can spend enough to make continued global investment worth it.”

Despite these challenges, foreign direct investment in India has surged, rising from $36 billion in 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi first took office, to $70.9 billion in 2023. Major international manufacturers like Dell, HP, Lenovo, and others are committing to local production in India under the country’s production-linked incentive scheme.

Apple, a notable example, has shifted its production from China to India, opening its first store, Apple BKC, in Mumbai last year. Apple CEO Tim Cook highlighted India’s significance, stating, “We had an all-time revenue record in India. It’s an incredibly exciting market for us and a major focus of ours.”

India is actively courting U.S. chipmakers, hosting the SemiconIndia event last year to showcase investments and announce new ones. AMD plans to invest around $400 million in India over the next five years, including a new campus in Bangalore. Micron also announced plans to invest up to $825 million in setting up a semiconductor assembly and testing facility in Gujarat.

Jack Hidary, CEO of SandboxAQ, emphasized the accelerating adoption of technology in India, particularly in areas like healthcare, due to inefficiencies in public services. He sees AI as an opportunity for India to distinguish itself, noting, “This is a transformation that is well beyond even the mobile phone.” Hidary believes that Mukesh Ambani’s smartphone company, Jio, will bridge the digital gap for about 600 million people in India through a $12 device.

As India positions itself at Davos, 2024 is set to be a crucial year for the country, with general elections scheduled between April and May. During Modi’s tenure, major U.S. tech companies, including Alphabet, Meta, and Amazon, have made substantial investments in India. The country’s stability, popular leadership, and strong growth make it an attractive prospect.

Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, highlighted India’s positive prospects, saying, “The good thing about India is the fact that it’s a stable country, with a very popular leader.” He contrasted India with the U.S., noting its decentralized nature and predicting individual U.S. states adopting a similar approach in the future.

“It’s not inconceivable to me that in five years time at Davos, you would see individual U.S. states deciding to do the same thing,” Bremmer said. “Texas would be mopping up on fossil fuels and sustainable energy if they had a storefront in Davos this year. And you know, California, frankly, would, too.”

In new temple to Lord Ram, the Indian city of Ayodhya hopes to shed a disturbing history

AYODHYA, India (RNS) — Once a quaint, if historically and religiously significant, village, this 2,500-year-old city in northern India has been transformed into a global pilgrimage site befitting the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.

Cobbled streets are being widened to hold tourist buses and VIP vehicles. Storefronts are uniformly being painted with the saffron emblem of Lord Ram. At worksites blaring Hindu-nationalist-themed pop music, laborers from across the country are building throughout the night. At the center of the face-lift is a long-anticipated temple honoring Ram, one of Hinduism’s most treasured deities, said in the Sanskrit epic the Ramayama to have been born here.

“This is a gift for Hindus of this nation and all around the world,” said Manmeet Gupta, a local TV news reporter. “Because after 500 years of struggle, they can finally see Ram lalla (infant) installed in his rightful birthplace.”

But the new temple, which will be the third-largest Hindu place of worship in the world, is a triumph too for the Hindu nationalist movement that in many ways was born in Ayodhya 30 years ago, when a Hindu mob tore down a mosque that occupied the site.

Hindutva, a Hindu-Sanskrit compound that translates to Hindu-ness, has existed for a century, but tensions in Ayodhya began in the 1980s, when Hindus belonging to Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which the CIA identified as a “religious militant organization,” began a campaign to replace the Babri Masjid, or Babri mosque, with a temple to Ram. Pointing to a finding by the government’s Indian Archaeological Survey that remnants of a “non-Islamic structure” and objects with ancient Hindu imagery were discernible beneath the mosque, the group argued that the land rightfully belonged to the god.

Rallies calling for a temple on the site were organized by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, contributing to its rising political power, which in turn emboldened Hindus with a strong nationalist tilt and a distaste for Muslim imperialism. It was a BJP rally in December 1992 that turned violent and resulted in the destruction of the masjid. The demolition sparked riots across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where more than 2,000 were killed in retaliatory violence.

Murari Kumar Pandey, a Hindu who grew up “500 meters from Ram’s birthplace,” recalls playing in Shaheed Galli, or Martyr’s Alley, where dozens of Hindu volunteers, known as kar sevaks, died at the hands of police. “Our parents and grandparents couldn’t see it. All they saw was the Babri Masjid.”

Apart from the riots, the mosque’s destruction spawned a legal case that raged on through all levels of the Indian justice system for two decades, ending only in 2019. At one point the infant Ram made an appearance as a litigant. Construction on the temple began in 2020, when the land was blessed with water from India’s sacred rivers. Since then, Hindus from Ayodhya’s Uttar Pradesh and neighboring states have come to work on the temple to be part of history.

In the meantime, in 2014, the BJP, running on the promise of restoring the temple site, took power in Congress, led by now Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi and BJP have a comfortable lead in elections that will be held this spring, thanks to Hindus such as Pandey, who takes great pride in the new temple and credits Modi and Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, for making it happen.

Many local residents, such as Chandramal Mishra, a 38-year-old supervisor on the project, have come to work on the temple and other new buildings. Some had never worked in construction before. A native of a village less than 10 miles from Ayodhya, he had juggled several jobs before landing a role as the head of an electrical team at the temple site. For the last eight months, he has slept in a makeshift dorm with 500 beds and 35 bathrooms. “There are times when I’m needed even at 2 a.m. for work on site,” he said.

Far from complaining, Mishra said that the camaraderie among the volunteers is enough to sustain him. “I’m a Brahmin” — considered the highest of India’s social castes — “but no one asks me why I am working on a construction site. To use a shovel on the land of Ram Mandir is a matter of pride for me.”

Many workers, such as Sapna Sahu, tirelessly polish blocks of intricate marble with sandpaper, chanting “Jai Shri Ram” as they work, which they consider seva, or service, to their beloved Lord. Though each block takes two weeks to polish, she said, “I haven’t counted the stones I polished so far in two years.”

In the past year, luxury hotels, an international airport and major clothing brands have established outposts in Ayodhya, offering not only employment opportunities but shiny attractions for outsiders. But as part of the massive revamp to host millions of expected tourists, some residents have been dispossessed of their homes and land and claim that they were compensated poorly. These residents are now questioning the price of the Ram temple.

webRNS Ayodhya Opening16 011124 807x538
Construction crews work on Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram, being built at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, India, Friday, Dec. 29, 2023. The 16th century mosque was destroyed by Hindu radicals in December 1992, sparking massive Hindu-Muslim violence that left some 2,000 people dead. The Supreme Court’s verdict allowed a temple to be built in place of the demolished mosque. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Sahu’s friend and fellow stone polisher Snehlata watched as her in-laws’ house was demolished by district authorities. “Ayodhya is our home,” said the 28-year-old. “That’s why we are sad. It is a very sad feeling to lose our home. But if they are well compensated for this, then it is better for all.”

An economic boom, it is hoped, will erase Ayodhya’s political notoriety. The inauguration of the temple “is the day we all have waited for,” Snehlata said. “Until the Mandir exists, this stone will be etched in there. … Our kids will remember that I worked on this.

“A person can earn a living anywhere, but this is beyond belief. An opportunity of a lifetime.”

The area’s Muslims are taking less satisfaction from the city’s growth. In 2019, the Indian government, having awarded the disputed site to the temple, allocated 5 acres in a nearby village for a new mosque, barely 150 meters from the highway to the state’s capital, Lucknow. The trust responsible for the mosque construction, the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation, still awaits funds, an official said.

Mohsin Khan, who grew up near the mosque site, was elated to hear that a “grand mosque” would be built in his neighborhood. “But it has been a long time since then and there has been no work,” he said. “It is saddening and cruel.”

As the sun went down and children finished their prayers at the existing mosque and ran toward the open field where the Ayodhya Mosque is to be built, local women looked after their grazing buffaloes in the field. “Children play here. Sometimes we even join them for a bit. That’s all that happens here,” said Khan. “What’s the point of keeping looking at this land otherwise?”

With little time left until the inauguration date for the temple, roads remain unpaved, stones remain uncarved and the temple is still unfinished. The murti, or idol, of Ram Lalla will be consecrated on Jan. 22, but Mishra suggested that the temple complex will not be fully ready until 2028.

The rush to meet deadlines has triggered political divisions, with opposition leaders declining an invitation to the ceremony. “The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the leaders of the BJP and the RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gain,” the Congress Party said in a statement on Jan. 10, referring to both their political opponents and the RSS, the religious and social organization that fostered the BJP.

webRNS Ayodhya Opening08 011124 807x605
Construction crews work on the entrance to the new Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram, in Ayodhya, India. (RNS photo/Richa Karmarkar)

Still, tourists are already beginning to arrive, some sneaking construction debris into their pockets to bring home. Others stack rocks to make little “homes” in a spiritual tradition similar to tossing coins in a wishing well.

Nitish Yadav, a 30-year-old pilgrim from central India, traveled with his family for 48 hours to reach Ayodhya. “No one can stop it now,” he said regarding the construction site, as tears welled in his eyes. “Ram has returned home.”

“We have also made a home for Ram lalla on this land,” added Yadav’s wife, Rajni, as she watched her son stack up rocks near the fence. “We couldn’t wait till the opening to see this.”

Yadav has an added sense of pride from having a hand in the event. “After waiting for 500 years, a Hindu of Modi’s stature has come to realize this dream,” he said. “I voted for the BJP in 2014 so that this day can come.”

webRNS Ayodhya Opening03 011124 807x605
A pedestrian avenue will connect an established Hanuman temple to the new Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, India. (RNS photo/Richa Karmarkar)

Grand Celebrations and Global Enthusiasm Surrounding Ayodhya’s Ram Temple Inauguration

As anticipation grows in India for the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya later this month, Indians residing in the United States have displayed their enthusiasm through a grand car rally organized in Edison, New Jersey. More than 350 cars, adorned with flags depicting images of Lord Ram, participated in the event, as captured in visuals accessed by ANI.

Simultaneously, preparations for the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple on January 22 have taken on a global scale. Giant billboards featuring Lord Ram and the majestic shrine have been erected in over 10 states in the United States, thousands of miles away from Ayodhya. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), US chapter, in collaboration with Hindus from across the country, has installed over 40 billboards, conveying the significance of the grand ceremony at the birthplace of Shri Ram Lalla.

These billboards are prominently displayed in states such as Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia. Additionally, Arizona and the State of Missouri are scheduled to join this visual celebration from January 15 onwards, according to the VHP, American chapter.

Amitabh VW Mittal, the general secretary of the Hindu Parishad of America, emphasized the joy and excitement of Hindu Americans, stating, “The resounding message conveyed by these billboards is that Hindu Americans are elated and joyously participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Their emotions overflow as they eagerly await the auspicious day of the consecration ceremony.”

Teja A Shah, joint general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, America chapter, echoed this sentiment, expressing the palpable enthusiasm within the Hindu community in New Jersey. He mentioned the various events leading up to the ceremony, including a car rally, exhibition, curtain raiser, and billboards across New York and New Jersey, culminating in a grand celebration on the 21st night.

To mark the inauguration of the Ram Temple, the Hindu American community in the US has organized several car rallies, with more events planned in the lead-up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ in Ayodhya.

Meanwhile, President Bhojraj Ghoorbin of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharm Temples Federation shared the preparations in Mauritius. Temples across the country will organize Ramayan Chanting and celebrations on January 22, commemorating the Pran Pratishtha of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Ghoorbin highlighted the festive atmosphere, revealing that all Hindu brothers and sisters in Mauritius are actively participating in the celebrations, with special events planned, resembling the fervor of Diwali.

“In Mauritius, we are celebrating two Diwalis. The first Diwali is on January 22, and the second Diwali is on October 31. We will do it the same as we all know: after 14 years of Vanwas (exile), Prabhu Shri Ram is coming to Ayodhya. So this time, not after 14 years, Prabhu Ram is coming after 500 years,” added President Ghoorbin. He also announced a cultural program a day before the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, with Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth attending as the chief guest.

On the Indian front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the ceremonial installation of the idol of Shri Ram Lalla inside the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple on January 22. Leaders and dignitaries from various fields have been invited to the grand temple opening, which will span seven days starting January 16. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has set the date for the enthronement of Ram Lalla at noon on January 22, with Vedic rituals for the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony beginning on January 16, a week prior to the main event.

Reflecting on the cultural significance of the Ramayan, the Indian envoy to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, highlighted its universal appeal and timeless lessons. Speaking at an event titled ‘Ramayana across Asia and Beyond’ at the US Capitol Hill, Sandhu stated, “The epic gives insights into the complexities of human relationships, governance and spirituality, dharma or duty, justice, sacrifice, loyalty, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.

He emphasized the global reach of the Ramayan, serving as a bridge across geographies and influencing diverse cultures in the Indo-Pacific region. Ambassador Sandhu shared his personal observations of the epic’s impact across boundaries, showcasing its adaptability in various artistic, literary, and religious traditions.

The fervor surrounding the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is not confined to the borders of India. The global Hindu community, especially in the United States and Mauritius, is actively participating in and celebrating this historic event, showcasing the universal appeal and cultural significance of the Ramayan.

Hindu Americans Celebrate Ayodhya’s Grand ‘Pran Pratishtha’ Across the US with Billboards and Rallies

Amidst the ongoing global events and celebrations leading up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, massive billboards featuring Lord Ram and the majestic shrine in the temple town of Uttar Pradesh have been erected in more than 10 states, extending thousands of miles away in the United States.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) US chapter, in collaboration with Hindus from various parts of the US, has installed over 40 billboards across 10 states, showcasing the message surrounding the grand ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the birthplace of Shri Ram Lalla in Ayodhya on January 22. The billboards adorn prominent locations in states such as Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia, with Arizona and the State of Missouri joining this visual celebration from Monday, January 15, as per the VHP American chapter.

Amitabh VW Mittal, the general secretary of Hindu Parishad of America, emphasized the sentiment conveyed by these billboards, stating, “The resounding message conveyed by these billboards is that Hindu Americans are elated and joyously participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Their emotions overflow as they eagerly await the auspicious day of the consecration ceremony,” as reported by ANI.

In commemoration of the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the Hindu American community across the US has arranged numerous car rallies and has scheduled additional events leading up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ in Ayodhya.

The ceremonial installation of the idol of Shri Ram Lalla inside the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple on January 22 will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A multitude of leaders and dignitaries from various walks of life have been invited to witness the grand opening of the temple in Ayodhya.

According to temple officials, the ceremony is planned over a seven-day span, commencing on January 16. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has finalized the enthronement of Ram Lalla at the sanctum-sanctorum of the Ram Temple at noon on January 22.

To mark the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya, Vedic rituals will commence on January 16, a week before the main ceremony.

The Indian envoy to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, highlighted the cultural significance of the Ramayan during an event at the US Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, titled ‘Ramayana across Asia and Beyond’. He expressed, “Ramayan is a bridge across geographies and teaches people about the complexities of human relationships and the eternal struggle between good and evil.”

Sandhu further emphasized the widespread influence of Ramayan across the Indo-Pacific region, stating, “The lessons and tales from Ramayan are passed down from generations, and it is hard to say exactly when one learns them. The epic gives insights into the complexities of human relationships, governance and spirituality, dharma or duty, justice, sacrifice, loyalty, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.”

In response to the growing anticipation in India regarding the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the Mauritian government announced a special break for Hindu public officers on January 22. The Mauritian Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, granted a two-hour special leave for Hindu public officers to participate in local events marking the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ of Shri Ram Lalla in the Indian temple town.

The official statement from the Mauritian Cabinet read, “(The) Cabinet has agreed to the grant of a one-off special leave of two hours on Monday, 22 January 2024, as from 1400 hours to public officers of Hindu faith, subject to exigencies of service, in the context of the inauguration of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir in India, which is a landmark event as it symbolizes the return of Lord Ram in Ayodhya.”

Former Kenyan Prime Minister’s Daughter Praises Ayurveda’s Healing Touch, Vows to Introduce it to Kenya

Ayurveda, an ancient healing system originating from the Indian subcontinent, has garnered acclaim from Rosemary, the daughter of Raila Odinga, the former Prime Minister of Kenya. In 2019, Rosemary regained her eyesight through Ayurvedic treatment in India and now expresses her intention to introduce Ayurveda to Kenya, believing it can benefit millions.

Rosemary conveyed her gratitude, stating, “Earlier I couldn’t see, now I can. PM mentioning my treatment shows close relations b/w our countries. I’ll take Ayurveda to my country, it can help millions of people,” as reported by news agency ANI on Wednesday.

This development coincides with the recent inauguration of the Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Jamnagar, Gujarat. Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, attended the ceremony alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The WHO center in Gujarat aims to harness the potential of Ayurveda by integrating ancient practices with modern science, making it the world’s first and only global outpost center for traditional medicine.

Raila Odinga himself had lauded Ayurveda and expressed his intent to bring it to Kenya. In February, he discussed with PM Modi the possibility of establishing a branch of the hospital where his daughter underwent treatment in Kenya. Odinga stated, “I have suggested to them that they should come and set up a branch in Nairobi, Kenya, and I am going to work with them to set up this center,” as reported by ANI.

Odinga was referring to the Sreedhareeyam Ayurvedic Eye Hospital and Research Centre in Kerala. Following a diagnosis of a brain tumor in 2017, Rosemary underwent surgery in Nairobi. However, during the post-operative period, she experienced a severe loss of eyesight. In 2019, she traveled to India and received treatment at Shreedhareeyam Ayurvedic Eye Hospital in Koothattukulam, Kerala, which successfully restored her vision.

Grand Celebrations and Global Enthusiasm Surrounding Ayodhya’s Ram Temple Inauguration

As anticipation grows in India for the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya later this month, Indians residing in the United States have displayed their enthusiasm through a grand car rally organized in Edison, New Jersey. More than 350 cars, adorned with flags depicting images of Lord Ram, participated in the event, as captured in visuals accessed by ANI.

Simultaneously, preparations for the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple on January 22 have taken on a global scale. Giant billboards featuring Lord Ram and the majestic shrine have been erected in over 10 states in the United States, thousands of miles away from Ayodhya. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), US chapter, in collaboration with Hindus from across the country, has installed over 40 billboards, conveying the significance of the grand ceremony at the birthplace of Shri Ram Lalla.

These billboards are prominently displayed in states such as Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia. Additionally, Arizona and the State of Missouri are scheduled to join this visual celebration from January 15 onwards, according to the VHP, American chapter.

Amitabh VW Mittal, the general secretary of the Hindu Parishad of America, emphasized the joy and excitement of Hindu Americans, stating, “The resounding message conveyed by these billboards is that Hindu Americans are elated and joyously participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Their emotions overflow as they eagerly await the auspicious day of the consecration ceremony.”

Teja A Shah, joint general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, America chapter, echoed this sentiment, expressing the palpable enthusiasm within the Hindu community in New Jersey. He mentioned the various events leading up to the ceremony, including a car rally, exhibition, curtain raiser, and billboards across New York and New Jersey, culminating in a grand celebration on the 21st night.

To mark the inauguration of the Ram Temple, the Hindu American community in the US has organized several car rallies, with more events planned in the lead-up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ in Ayodhya.

Meanwhile, President Bhojraj Ghoorbin of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharm Temples Federation shared the preparations in Mauritius. Temples across the country will organize Ramayan Chanting and celebrations on January 22, commemorating the Pran Pratishtha of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Ghoorbin highlighted the festive atmosphere, revealing that all Hindu brothers and sisters in Mauritius are actively participating in the celebrations, with special events planned, resembling the fervor of Diwali.

“In Mauritius, we are celebrating two Diwalis. The first Diwali is on January 22, and the second Diwali is on October 31. We will do it the same as we all know: after 14 years of Vanwas (exile), Prabhu Shri Ram is coming to Ayodhya. So this time, not after 14 years, Prabhu Ram is coming after 500 years,” added President Ghoorbin. He also announced a cultural program a day before the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, with Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth attending as the chief guest.

On the Indian front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the ceremonial installation of the idol of Shri Ram Lalla inside the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple on January 22. Leaders and dignitaries from various fields have been invited to the grand temple opening, which will span seven days starting January 16. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has set the date for the enthronement of Ram Lalla at noon on January 22, with Vedic rituals for the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony beginning on January 16, a week prior to the main event.

Reflecting on the cultural significance of the Ramayan, the Indian envoy to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, highlighted its universal appeal and timeless lessons. Speaking at an event titled ‘Ramayana across Asia and Beyond’ at the US Capitol Hill, Sandhu stated, “The epic gives insights into the complexities of human relationships, governance and spirituality, dharma or duty, justice, sacrifice, loyalty, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.”

He emphasized the global reach of the Ramayan, serving as a bridge across geographies and influencing diverse cultures in the Indo-Pacific region. Ambassador Sandhu shared his personal observations of the epic’s impact across boundaries, showcasing its adaptability in various artistic, literary, and religious traditions.

https://www.ndtv.com/indians-abroad/watch-indians-in-us-organise-car-rally-ahead-of-ram-temple-consecration-4858644

Transformation in India-US Relations: A Shift Towards Equality and Collaboration

In a significant revelation, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar emphasized a perceptible change in the way America perceives India today, highlighting that the two countries now engage on a more equal footing. Speaking at the Manthan: Townhall meeting in Nagpur, Maharashtra, Jaishankar shared his observations from the visit to the United States in June, accompanying Prime Minister Modi.

“Last June, when I went to the US with PM Modi, I felt there is a difference in the way in which America views India today. The level of how we deal with each other is more equal,” noted Jaishankar during the townhall meeting.

This shift in dynamics, according to Jaishankar, is underpinned by the acknowledgment of India’s crucial role in the global technology landscape. Furthermore, he highlighted the evolving enthusiasm among American businesses for India, signifying a positive change in bilateral interactions.

“The level of how we deal with each other is more equal,” reiterated Jaishankar, emphasizing the growing parity between the two nations.

On the historical context of India-US relations, Jaishankar remarked on the transformation from a challenging and somewhat negative relationship post-Independence in 1947. He credited the beginning of this shift to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as the Indian Prime Minister, particularly citing the nuclear deal as a pivotal moment.

Speaking on India-US relations, he said: “What was a very difficult, almost negative relationship from 1947 till the next 50 years, started changing under Atal ji and the change continued thereafter. We saw the nuclear deal.”

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, serving three terms as the Indian Prime Minister, played a crucial role in reshaping the narrative, with a notable period from 1998 to 2004.

The Indo-US nuclear agreement, initiated in July 2005 during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US, focused on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This agreement laid the foundation for enhanced cooperation between the two nations in subsequent years.

The recent statements by President Joe Biden underscore the significance of the friendship between the United States and India, deeming it among the most consequential globally. The two countries have signed several major deals aimed at elevating their strategic technology partnership.

Earlier, the United States expressed support for India’s emergence as a leading global power and a vital partner in promoting a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. The US-India relationship is characterized as one of the most strategic and consequential of the 21st century, according to a fact sheet released by the US State Department.

Key highlights from the fact sheet include the establishment of strong defense industrial cooperation, with a focus on co-development and co-production of essential military capabilities for both countries. In a significant move in 2023, the US approved a groundbreaking manufacturing license for the co-production of GE F414 engines in India.

Furthermore, both nations launched an educational series aimed at preparing startups and young innovators to contribute to the defense industries in both countries. Cooperation extends to the bilateral US-India Counterterrorism Joint Working Group and the Defence Policy Group, as outlined in the fact sheet.

The United States and India share a common vision for deploying clean energy at scale, evident in both countries’ ambitious 2030 targets for climate action and clean energy. Exploring avenues for increased mineral security cooperation, they aim to advance their clean energy goals through initiatives like the Minerals Security Partnership.

Collaboration extends to the Strategic Clean Energy Partnership and the Climate Action and Finance Mobilisation Dialogue. India’s signing of the Artemis Accords in June signals a common vision for the future of space exploration for the benefit of humanity, as stated by the US State Department.

Multilateral cooperation is evident in their engagement through various organizations and fora, including the United Nations, G20, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-related fora, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.

“The vibrant people-to-people ties between our countries are a tremendous source of strength for the strategic partnership,” states the fact sheet. Highlighting the Indian community of over 4 million in the United States as a vital driver of collaboration, innovation, and job creation in both countries.

In essence, the evolving dynamics between the United States and India signify a paradigm shift towards a more equal and collaborative relationship. The acknowledgment of India’s significance on the global stage, coupled with joint initiatives across various sectors, paints a picture of a robust and mutually beneficial partnership poised for further growth and development.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/theres-difference-in-the-way-us-views-india-today-s-jaishankar-4857711

Atal Setu: India’s Longest Sea Bridge Inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi, Stands as Engineering Marvel with Earthquake-Resistant Technology

The momentous Atal Setu, slated for inauguration by Prime Minister Modi in Mumbai today, stands as not just India’s lengthiest sea bridge but also one of the sturdiest, boasting earthquake-resistant technology, as revealed by an expert from IIT Bombay in a discussion with NDTV on Friday.

According to Professor Deepankar Choudhury, the Head of Civil Engineering at IIT Bombay, the 21-kilometer long bridge has been meticulously designed, taking into consideration its strategic location in Mumbai, falling under a moderate earthquake damage risk zone. He emphasized the significance of considering seismic activity’s impact on the soil beneath the majority of the bridge, which spans over the sea. Choudhury affirmed, “It has been designed to withstand four different types of earthquakes of up to 6.5 magnitude.”Atal Setu India's Longest Sea Bridge Inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi Stands as Engineering Marvel with Earthquake Resistant Technology

Highlighting the collaborative effort behind this engineering feat, Choudhury revealed that a dedicated team of over six scholars from IIT Bombay had been engaged in designing the bridge since 2018, following the institute’s involvement in the project. The team successfully submitted a comprehensive report within six months, outlining support systems crucial for fortifying the bridge’s foundation.

Choudhury expressed pride in contributing to a project that had been conceived as far back as 1963, stating, “A bridge to connect Mumbai and Navi Mumbai has been envisioned since 1963, so we are proud to be a part of this project.”

Known as the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), this colossal bridge comes with a hefty price tag of ₹17,840 crore. Experts laud it as an “engineering marvel” that is set to drastically reduce travel time between Mumbai and Navi Mumbai from a cumbersome 2 hours to a mere 20 minutes.

Atal Setu India's Longest Sea Bridge Inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi Stands as Engineering Marvel with Earthquake Resistant Technology

Anticipation surrounds the official inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, scheduled for today, coinciding with the launch of over ₹30,500 crore worth of projects across Maharashtra. While a substantial 95% of the construction work is already complete, the finalization of remaining tasks, including road laying, electrical work, and the implementation of an intelligent transport system, will take place after the bridge’s connection to the mainland on January 12.

Upon completion, the Atal Setu is expected to accommodate around 70,000 vehicles, playing a pivotal role in alleviating the burgeoning traffic congestion in the region. The bridge emerges not only as a symbol of connectivity but also as a testament to India’s engineering prowess, positioning itself as a transformative force in the realm of infrastructure development.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/atal-setu-indias-longest-sea-bridge-built-with-quake-resistant-tech-iit-expert-4847506

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that, if unchecked, air conditioning-related greenhouse gas emissions could contribute to a 0.5 degrees Celsius rise in global temperatures by the end of the century.

India faces a dilemma, caught between the need for economic growth and the imperative to limit cooling-related emissions. At the COP summit, 63 countries pledged to cut their emissions from cooling systems by 68% by 2050. However, India did not join this group. Despite this, experts acknowledge India’s important leadership in sustainable cooling domestically, though international partners hope for future collaboration.

Under the 2016 Kigali Amendment, India is phasing out HFCs and replacing them with more climate-friendly options. Radhika Khosla, an associate professor at Oxford University, emphasizes the importance of providing assistance to countries lacking access to adequate cooling to meet the costs of energy improvement.

“Cooling is now on the global agenda,” she said. “But the hard work must begin to ensure everyone can stay cool without further heating the planet.”

Passive cooling strategies, such as planting trees, creating water bodies, promoting courtyard spaces, and enhancing ventilation, are suggested by Khosla as sustainable measures. Installing ceiling fans can reduce household energy consumption for cooling by over 20%.

India has committed to reducing its power demand for cooling purposes by 20-25% by 2038 under its Cooling Action Plan, seen as one of the first comprehensive national plans globally. Renewable energy is growing rapidly in India, putting the country on track to meet its emission reduction targets.

Despite being a significant contributor to the climate crisis, India remains proactive in finding climate solutions, as stated by Leena Nandan, India’s secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

“We have gone on to scale up our climate ambitions,” she asserted.

However, the visible impact of India’s AC boom is evident in urban areas, with construction sites dotting the capital and the rise of high-rise towers. While some, like businessman Penta Anil Kumar, consciously opt for energy-efficient models, others like laborer Ghasiram, who struggles to afford even a second-hand AC, remain unaware of the emissions contributing to rising temperatures.

“The heat has gotten worse over the years,” Ghasiram said. “When I need to step out to work in the heat, I feel nervous. I prefer to not go out.”

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.”

Maldives Faces Tourism Boycott Amidst Controversial Remarks on Indian PM Modi

Maldives is grappling with a potential tourism crisis as one of its primary sources of income, Indian tourists, contemplates a boycott following derogatory comments made by three Maldives officials about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The controversy unfolded after Modi shared images on social media showcasing his time snorkeling and walking along the beaches of Lakshadweep, a southern Indian island chain. Although Modi did not explicitly mention the Maldives in his post, the effusive praise for Lakshadweep’s scenic beauty raised eyebrows, potentially diverting attention away from the popular Maldivian destination.

In response to Modi’s post, three Maldives officials, identified as deputy ministers with the Ministry of Youth Employment, Information, and Arts, described him as a “clown,” “terrorist,” and a “puppet of Israel,” according to Reuters. The Maldives government swiftly distanced itself from these comments, suspending the officials and emphasizing that their opinions were personal and did not reflect the government’s stance on the matter.

The incident comes at a delicate time, coinciding with Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s five-day visit to China, his first as president since winning the election in October. President Muizzu, known for his pro-China stance, aims to strengthen ties with Beijing and sign key agreements for trade, professional, and socioeconomic development during his visit. However, maintaining positive relations with India, Maldives’ closest neighbor and a crucial contributor to its tourism sector, remains essential.

Maldives heavily depends on tourism, with India being the largest source of tourists in recent years. In 2023, Indian tourists accounted for 11% of the country’s tourism market, making more than 209,000 trips to the Maldives. The officials’ disparaging remarks have triggered a backlash from Indian tourists, who have taken to social media to announce cancellations under the hashtag #BoycottMaldives. Prominent figures, including Bollywood actors and cricket players, have also encouraged travelers to explore local destinations, with the hashtag #ChaloLakshadweep gaining traction.

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, known for his patriotic roles, condemned the Maldivian officials’ remarks as “hateful and racist” and urged people to support domestic tourism. He said, “We are good to our neighbors, but why should we tolerate such unprovoked hate? Let us decide to #ExploreIndianIslands and support our own tourism.”

In a significant move, Indian travel site EaseMyTrip announced the suspension of flight bookings to the Maldives, expressing solidarity with the nation. Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of EaseMyTrip, stated, “In solidarity with our nation, @EaseMyTrip has suspended all Maldives flight bookings.” The Confederation of All India Traders, a prominent trade body, also called on its members to suspend business with the Maldives until an apology is issued or remedial measures are taken.

Maldives Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer denounced the officials’ remarks as “unacceptable” and emphasized the archipelago’s commitment to fostering positive and constructive dialogues with its partners. The Indian High Commission in the Maldives has reportedly raised concerns with the Maldivian Foreign Office over the issue.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, noted that the swift action taken by the Maldives government to suspend the officials and disavow their comments underscores the importance it places on maintaining strong relations with India. Kugelman suggested that while challenges may arise, the new leadership in the Maldives aims to balance its relationships with both India and China, emphasizing the significance of preserving ties with its immediate neighbor.

Reforming Bollywood: Screenwriters Seek Fairer Contracts to Improve Working Conditions

Crafting stories for the big screen in India’s Bollywood can be a solitary and often financially unrewarding pursuit. The dream of landing a breakthrough project, where a screenwriter receives due credit and financial compensation, keeps many in the industry driven. However, the harsh reality is that until such a milestone is achieved, money and opportunities remain elusive, primarily due to what writers claim are unfair contracts designed to favor producers.

Anjum Rajabali, a senior member of the Screenwriters Association (SWA), India’s counterpart to the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which boasts over 55,000 members nationwide, sheds light on the challenges writers face. Rajabali points to what he describes as “harsh contracts,” characterized by arbitrary termination clauses and meager fees, especially for newcomers. Furthermore, he asserts that these contracts often fail to remunerate writers for reworking drafts and grant producers the authority to determine whether a writer deserves credit for their contributions. Some agreements even go so far as to prohibit writers from seeking union intervention in the event of a dispute with the producer.

Rajabali, a vocal advocate for writers’ rights, emphasizes the need for change. He explains, “Most contracts have arbitrary termination clauses and offer paltry fees, especially to newcomers.” He highlights the power dynamics within the industry, stating, “They also don’t pay writers for reworking drafts and give producers the right to decide whether a writer should be credited for their work or not.” Rajabali points out the restrictive nature of some contracts, noting, “some contracts even ban writers from approaching the union if there’s a dispute with the producer.”

The SWA, a longstanding proponent of writers’ rights, has recently embarked on a more assertive approach to address the perceived imbalance of power between producers and writers. In December, the association convened a meeting to deliberate on the modifications writers desire in their contracts. Over 100 writers participated, including notable Bollywood figures such as Abbas Tyrewala and Sriram Raghavan.

Rajabali outlines the strategy moving forward, stating, “The plan now is to invite producers to sit across the table and work with us to make contracts more equitable.” He suggests that many producers recognize the need for improved compensation and job security for writers. The SWA’s initiative signals a shift towards collaboration, fostering a dialogue to bring about positive changes in the industry.

The BBC sought input from the Producers Guild of India regarding these concerns but, as of now, has not received a response. The industry awaits the producers’ perspective on the matter, as the conversation around fairer contracts gains momentum.

The challenges faced by Bollywood screenwriters highlight the urgent need for contract reform. The Screenwriters Association’s proactive approach and the willingness of influential writers to engage in the conversation demonstrate a collective effort to reshape the landscape of the industry. As the industry navigates these discussions, the hope is that a collaborative effort between writers and producers will lead to contracts that better reflect the contributions and rights of the creative minds behind the screenplays that captivate audiences worldwide.

Democracy Under Scrutiny: South Asian Nations Face Key Elections Amidst Challenges

As four South Asian countries gear up for crucial elections in the coming year, nearly 2 billion people across Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka will cast their votes from January through September. Each nation, having gained independence from Britain within the last century, presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities in their democratic processes.

Bangladesh: A Struggle for Democracy Amid Economic Growth

Bangladesh, with its 170 million people, kicks off the election season on January 7. The multiparty democracy is under threat as the ruling Awami League party faces accusations of silencing dissent, moving the nation toward resembling a one-party state. The current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, is poised to secure her fourth consecutive term despite claims of election rigging and a boycott by the main opposition, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Julia Bleckner, a senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, voiced concerns about the government’s actions, stating, “A free election is impossible when the government stifles free expression and systematically incapacitates the opposition.” Despite political turmoil, Bangladesh is experiencing economic growth, primarily driven by its garment manufacturing industry, constituting 35.1% of the annual GDP.

Sreeradha Dutta, a professor of international affairs, emphasized Bangladesh’s consistent growth and its efforts to build strong regional relations, predicting that developmental models would persist regardless of the leader.

Pakistan: Political Turmoil Amid Economic Uncertainty

Pakistan, in its 76 years of existence, has struggled with political dynasties, military rule, and economic crises. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, a popular figure, is behind bars, facing charges he claims are politically motivated. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister in self-exile, returned, adding complexity to the political landscape. Pakistan grapples with economic uncertainty, militant attacks, and climate catastrophes, creating challenges for its future leadership.

Fahd Humayun, an assistant professor of political science, highlighted the link between political and economic uncertainty, emphasizing the importance of transparent elections to attract necessary capital inflows for the country.

India: Democracy at a Crossroads Amid Global Significance

India, touted as the world’s largest experiment in democracy, is poised for elections in the spring. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a rare third term, having tightened his grip on democratic institutions. While India achieves global significance in various arenas, concerns arise about the erosion of its secular and democratic values under the Hindu nationalist BJP.

An alliance of 26 political parties known as INDIA, including the main opposition Indian National Congress, aims to challenge Modi. However, recent regional losses for the Congress party have bolstered Modi’s position. Analysts caution that Indian politics remains unpredictable as parties prepare for upcoming campaigns.

Sri Lanka: A Nation Recovering from Economic Crisis Faces Election Decisions

Sri Lanka, grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades, faced a momentous protest movement that forced then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee. The current President, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is expected to seek a second term after implementing economic reforms and securing international aid. Despite delays in holding elections due to the economic crisis, the country is on the path to recovery, and its citizens anticipate decisions on their future leader.

As these South Asian nations embark on significant electoral processes, the challenges and opportunities they face will undoubtedly shape the future trajectory of democracy in the region. The coming months will be critical in determining how each country addresses its unique issues and paves the way for its political and economic future.

India’s Economic Surge Faces Dilemma as Investment Lags

India’s economic landscape is experiencing a remarkable upswing, with soaring stock prices and substantial government investments in critical infrastructure projects. The nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to grow by 6 percent this year, surpassing the rates of economic giants like the United States and China. However, a notable concern looms large: domestic investment by Indian companies is not keeping pace, posing potential challenges for sustained growth.

In contrast to the robust performance of India’s stock markets, there is a discernible slowdown in long-term investments from both domestic and foreign sources. The disparity raises questions about the sustainability of the current economic boom, especially as the government may need to curtail its extensive spending in the near future.

India’s ambitious goal of becoming a developed nation by 2047, coupled with its continually expanding population, demands a more vigorous growth trajectory, ideally between 8 and 9 percent annually. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, amidst a re-election campaign and rallying public support, faces the challenge of addressing the sluggish investment scenario.

02india econ 02 mtkp superJumbo
Picture: The NewYork Times

Sriram Viswanathan, managing partner at Celesta, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund, sees an opportunity for India amid China’s economic slowdown and geopolitical tensions. He notes, “Investors [are] wanting to fill the vacuum that has been created in the supply chain. That, I think, is the opportunity for India.”

The World Bank acknowledges India’s commitment to infrastructure spending during the pandemic, emphasizing the need for a corresponding surge in corporate investments. The concept of a “crowd-in effect,” where government spending attracts private investment, is deemed crucial for sustained economic growth. Auguste Tano Kouamé, the World Bank’s country director for India, underscores the necessity for deeper reforms to encourage private sector investments.

Despite the booming stock markets in Mumbai, valued at nearly $4 trillion, there is a noticeable decline in foreign direct investment, dropping from an annual average of $40 billion to $13 billion in the past year. Foreign investors appear hesitant, cautious about the stability of India’s economic environment.

A key factor contributing to this caution is Modi’s government, which, while pro-business and stable in leadership, tends to intervene in the economy abruptly. Instances of sudden import restrictions on laptops and retroactive taxes on online betting companies have created uncertainty and impacted businesses. The success of conglomerates like Reliance Industries and the Adani Group, closely associated with Modi’s political circle, further raises concerns about fair business practices.

Arvind Subramanian, an economist at Brown University and former chief economic adviser under Modi’s government, highlights the vulnerability felt by domestic investors, particularly those not affiliated with major conglomerates. He acknowledges the positive aspects of the Modi government’s achievements in improving various aspects of the business environment but points out persistent challenges, including bureaucratic red tape.

Foreign officials responsible for attracting investment to India express concerns about lingering difficulties in doing business, citing red tape as a major obstacle. The slow pace of legal processes and enforcement further deters long-term investments.

The underlying weakness in India’s growth story lies in the skewed distribution of consumer wealth. While a small segment of the population can afford luxury goods, the majority grapples with inflation in essential commodities. Banks, though extending credit to consumers, remain cautious about providing the same support to businesses fearing a prolonged belt-tightening phase for the majority of customers.

Subramanian remains cautiously optimistic, citing the annual growth rate, albeit below 6 percent, and the potential for improved infrastructure to attract more private investment. The uneven distribution of consumer wealth, over time, could contribute to raising overall incomes.

The wildcard in India’s economic trajectory is its ability to capture a substantial share of global business from China. Apple’s gradual shift of its supply chain away from China to India serves as a prominent example. While Apple’s market share in India is currently modest, the intention to increase the production share to 25 percent by 2025 could open up significant possibilities for India on the global stage.

India’s economic success is at a crossroads, with the need for a substantial increase in domestic and foreign investments to sustain the current momentum. While challenges persist, the nation’s potential to capitalize on global economic shifts and ongoing reforms could pave the way for a more robust and inclusive growth trajectory. As the world watches, India stands on the precipice of a transformative economic future.

Ayodhya Ram Mandir: Prime Minister Modi to Inaugurate Majestic Temple Amidst Green Oasis

The grand opening of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir is scheduled for January 24, 2024, and will be marked by the inauguration led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The construction, set in motion following a landmark 2019 Supreme Court judgment, is on the verge of completion, covering a vast 70-acre area. The temple itself spans 2.7 acres and has incurred a cost of US$216 million.

In accordance with the vision of the Ram temple trust, the temple stands not only as a religious symbol but also as an embodiment of self-reliance and environmental sustainability. Remarkably, the temple complex boasts a 70 percent green cover, incorporating dense sections adorned with preserved existing trees. The infrastructure further includes sewage and water treatment plants, a dedicated power line, and a strategically positioned fire brigade post.

Designed in the traditional Nagara style, the temple complex is a marvel with three stories, 392 pillars, and an impressive 44 gates on each floor. For the convenience of pilgrims, a facilitation complex has been incorporated, featuring healthcare facilities, a toilet block, and storage provisions for personal items before embarking on the revered ‘darshan.’

Anticipating the momentous occasion, Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to visit Ayodhya on December 30. During this visit, he will inaugurate the redeveloped railway station and unveil a new airport. In a significant move, Air India Express is set to initiate its inaugural flight from Delhi to Ayodhya on December 30, with daily services commencing from January 16. Additionally, IndiGo is following suit with its inaugural flight on December 30, commencing commercial services from January 6.

The celebration of this auspicious event extends beyond national borders, as the Ram Temple Trust has extended invitations to political leaders, actors, industrialists, and sports icons. The trust is also gearing up to host representatives from 50 foreign countries, adding a global touch to the grand inauguration ceremony, which is expected to be attended by a gathering of 7,000 people.

In the words of the Ram Temple Trust, “The temple is not just a place of worship; it symbolizes a harmonious blend of spirituality and sustainability. We invite the world to witness this historic moment in Ayodhya, as we open the doors to the monumental Ram Mandir, a testament to our rich cultural heritage and architectural prowess.”

Government Issues Advisory to Combat Deepfakes on Social Media Platforms

In a significant move to address the rising threat of deepfakes, the Central government has issued an advisory to all social media platforms, urging them to comply with Information Technology (IT) rules. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has mandated intermediaries to effectively communicate prohibited content, specifically focusing on Rule 3(1)(b) of the IT Rules, to users in a clear and precise manner.

The advisory, which follows a two-day meeting involving officials from major companies such as Meta, Google, Telegram, Koo, Sharechat, Apple, HP, and Dell, emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach in dealing with deepfake-related concerns. The meeting, chaired by Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar, aimed to address the growing threat posed by deepfakes.

According to a press release from the Press Information Bureau (PIB), the advisory outlines that content prohibited under Rule 3(1)(b) of the IT Rules should be communicated to users explicitly through terms of service and user agreements. The communication should occur during the initial registration process and be reiterated through regular reminders, especially during login and when uploading or sharing information on the platform.

Furthermore, the advisory underscores the importance of informing users about the penal provisions associated with Rule 3(1)(b) violations, including those outlined in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the IT Act of 2000. It states, “The terms of service and user agreements must clearly highlight that intermediaries/platforms are under obligation to report legal violations to the law enforcement agencies under the relevant Indian laws applicable to the context.”

Rule 3(1)(b) falls within the due diligence section of the IT rules, requiring intermediaries to communicate their rules, regulations, privacy policy, and user agreement in the user’s preferred language. It also mandates platforms to make reasonable efforts to prevent the dissemination of information related to 11 specified user harms or content prohibited on digital intermediaries. The primary objective is to identify and promptly remove misinformation, false or misleading content, and material impersonating others, including deepfakes.

Expressing his views on the advisory, IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar highlighted the serious threat posed by misinformation, particularly fueled by artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of deepfakes. Chandrasekhar stated, “Misinformation represents a deep threat to the safety and trust of users on the Internet. Deepfake, which is misinformation powered by AI, further amplifies the threat to safety and trust of our Digital Nagriks.”

The advisory aligns with Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s earlier caution on the dangers of deepfakes. On November 17, the Prime Minister warned the country about the potential risks associated with deepfake technology. Subsequently, the Ministry conducted two Digital India Dialogues to apprise stakeholders of the IT Rules, initially notified in October 2022 and amended in April 2023, outlining 11 specific types of prohibited content applicable to all social media intermediaries and platforms.

Last month, the IT Ministry raised concerns about platforms not aligning their terms of service with India’s internet laws and urged them to promptly inform users about permissible and prohibited content on their platforms. Additionally, the Union government designated an officer to assist users in filing First Information Reports (FIRs) against social media firms in cases related to deepfakes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier sought media assistance in educating the public about the capabilities of artificial intelligence and deepfake technology. He expressed concern about the rapid spread of disaffection facilitated by these technologies in a country as diverse and vast as India.

The rise of deepfake videos targeting prominent actors on social media platforms has heightened concerns about potential misuse of this technology. The government’s advisory aims to strengthen regulations and promote responsible use of social media platforms to counter the growing threat of deepfakes.

Surge in International Interest as India’s Stock Market Hits Record Highs

Fund manager Abhay Agarwal is witnessing an unexpected surge in calls from international investors, expressing a keen interest in India’s financial landscape. Agarwal, the founder of Mumbai-based Piper Serica Advisors, noted that these inquiries are coming from family offices in Europe and significant investors in the US who had previously shown little inclination towards investing in India. The nature of their questions reveals a newfound seriousness, as Agarwal explains, “For the first time, I find them to be very serious and they’re calling and asking questions such as, ‘Look, will my money be safe? And is there a rule of law here?'”

This heightened interest coincides with India’s stock market reaching historic highs, with the market value of listed companies surpassing $4 trillion in late November, according to Refinitiv. India boasts two major exchanges: the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) and the BSE, Asia’s oldest bourse, formerly known as the Bombay Stock Exchange. The NSE has now overtaken Hong Kong to become the seventh-largest bourse globally, based on daily transaction value, as per data from the World Federation of Exchanges.

Abhay Agarwal reflects on the changing dynamics, stating, “People are getting excited about India.” International investors contacting him are eager to understand if India can deliver returns similar to China’s performance in the early 2000s. Notably, Agarwal observes a shift in investor profiles, with long-term strategic and financial investors now taking a 10-year perspective rather than a short-term outlook.

India’s benchmark indices, the Sensex and Nifty 50, have seen robust growth, climbing over 16% and 17%, respectively, this year. Additionally, the country is experiencing a surge in Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), with 150 listings in the first nine months of 2023, outpacing Hong Kong’s 42, as reported by Ernst & Young.

The surge in India’s stock market is indicative of the strength and potential of the world’s fastest-growing major economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects India’s growth at 6.3% this year, with some economists anticipating a closer figure of 7%. The country’s economy expanded by 7.6% in the quarter ending September 30, surpassing estimates by the central bank, prompting Citigroup and Barclays to revise their annual GDP projections for India to 6.7%.

In contrast, China faces challenges, with weak consumer demand and a protracted real estate crisis affecting its markets. China’s Shanghai Composite is down 7% this year, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index has plummeted nearly 19%. The divergent growth trajectories of India and China are becoming crucial in the battle for emerging market investments.

Goldman Sachs, in a November report, highlights India’s resilience, citing its limited economic linkage to China’s end demand. The report notes, “Moreover, Indian equities exhibit the lowest price sensitivity to slowing China growth in the region.” Domestic institutional and retail investors in India are gaining influence, making the country less sensitive to global economic risks. Nomura echoes this sentiment in a December note, stating that India is “less exposed to (a) global trade slowdown” and could act as a counter-weight to North Asia in case of a slowdown in the West and continued disappointment in China.

India’s appeal extends beyond its economic strength, with companies diversifying their supply chains away from China. Apple, for instance, has significantly expanded its production in India, addressing supply chain challenges experienced in mainland China. A survey by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation identifies India as the “most promising medium-term business destination” for Japanese manufacturers, surpassing China due to its economic slowdown and rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Looking ahead, foreign investors may exhibit caution in the first half of 2024, coinciding with India’s general election expected in April and May. Goldman Sachs notes that election-related uncertainty and the challenging global macro environment could keep foreign flows weak for the next 3-6 months. However, optimism prevails, with expectations that foreign flows will pick up after the election uncertainty fades, especially if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party secures victory, ensuring political stability.

Not all economists share the same level of optimism regarding India’s prospects. Some anticipate a slowdown, expressing concerns about the sustainability of private consumption, which has been strong but partly debt-fueled. Alexandra Hermann of Oxford Economics warns that this year’s spending may have repercussions next year, particularly as the labor market faces challenges. Additionally, critics argue that the current buoyancy of the stock market may not accurately reflect India’s broader economic challenges, such as job creation for its vast working-age population and the need for sustainable and inclusive growth.

Former central bank governor Raghuram Rajan and economist Rohit Lamba, in their recently-released book “Breaking the Mould,” point out that the profitability of large firms is on the rise, while small and informal businesses face difficulties. They caution that the stock market’s performance offers a misleading picture of the broader economy, with high-employment sectors like apparel and leather experiencing contractions in recent years.

India’s Modi hosts Christian leaders for Christmas amid rising persecution

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hosted over 100 Christian leaders from all denominations at his official residence on Christmas morning amid criticism for the continued persecution of Christians in India.

Several Catholic leaders, including Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai and Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, who were seated on either side of Modi during the event, were in attendance.

The archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, and Bishop Thomas mar Anthonios of the Syro-Malankara Church also joined bishops of different denominations and Christian leaders from different walks of life at the gathering.

Asked to comment on the meeting with the prime minister, considering the uptick in attacks on Christians in the country, Bharanikulangara told CNA: “Everybody knows what is happening … But when the prime minister invites [us], how can we decline?”

“It is for the prime minister to show that he is really concerned about the Christians,” said Bharanikulangara, a former Vatican diplomat.

“Christmas is an occasion to remember Jesus Christ’s life’s message and values,” Modi said, addressing the gathering of Christian leaders that included academicians and Christian businessmen from across the country. The prime minister went on to hail the service of the Christians, saying: “The nation proudly acknowledges the contribution of the Christian community.”

“Our government is ensuring that the benefits of development reach everyone and no one is left untouched,” Modi said, adding that many people of the Christian faith, especially poor segments, are benefitting from his government’s welfare programs.

Among several Christians who spoke during the two-hour program was Cardinal Gracias, who thanked Modi for his “efforts” on behalf of the country, the Christian community, and the world.

“Our country could be the leading country in the world,” Gracias said, according to an ANI report.

However, several Christians said they were skeptical about the motivation behind Modi’s Christmas meeting and his failure to address the steadily worsening persecution that has taken place in nearly a decade of Modi rule.

“This [Christmas celebration] is a political gimmick and image-making by Prime Minister Modi ahead of the next elections,” A C Michael, an outspoken Catholic activist, told CNA.

“We are concerned over the silence of Prime Minister Modi, who praises Christian service publicly but does nothing to stop the increasing violence and persecution of Christians,” pointed out Michael, coordinator of the United Christian Forum (UCF), which monitors atrocities and incidents of persecution against Christians.

UCF published a report Dec. 8 recording 687 incidents of violence against Christians in 334 days of 2023 (from the start of the year to the end of November). The report further said that while only 147 incidents of violence against Christians were reported in 2014 (when the BJP regime under Modi came to power), the incidents steadily spiraled to reach 687 by November’s end.

Armed with this data, Michael along with Catholic activist John Dayal and Supreme Court lawyer Sister Mary Scaria addressed a news conference with secular activists on Dec. 28 in New Delhi on the Modi government’s “Lunch Diplomacy and Christian Persecution.”

“The prime minister is not only free but duty-bound to embrace the nation’s religious minorities and invite their leaders to functions at his house on Christmas. … But the Christmas spirit must not let us forget the condition and tribulations of our brothers and sisters who suffer because of government impunity and the brazen political elements who have no respect for the constitution of India and its guarantees of freedoms to the citizens,” the Catholic leaders lamented in their press statement.

“The persecution of the community is rampant, hate towards it from the highest quarters of nationalist religious leadership as deep as it can be,” they decried.

“The government seems keen to starve it [Christianity] out of existence by withdrawing the FCRAs [license to receive foreign donations] of a vast number of churches and its NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], and using the investigating agencies against cardinals and bishops, pastors and laypeople. In UP [Uttar Pradesh], for instance, over 100 pastors and even ordinary men and women are in jail under charges of illegal conversions when celebrating birthdays or conducting Sunday prayers,” the statement said.

Dayal, former president of All India Catholic Union, dubbed Modi’s Christmas hosting of Christian leadership as “just an eyewash to impress the Christians.”

“The prime minister has made a mockery of the pains of the Christian community by remaining silent and [was] not bothered to even visit bleeding Manipur,” Dayal told CNA Dec. 29.

“If he was concerned about peace and safety of the hounded Christians, he could have taken stern preemptive action to curb and stop the Manipur violence,” Dayal added.

Beginning in May, Manipur state in northeast India, which borders Myanmar, has witnessed a protracted violent ethnic clash between the majority Meiteis, most of them Hindus, and the minority Kuki tribals (almost all of them Christians).

St Paul's Church in Imphal capital of Manipur state after the church was set on fire in 2023 Credit Anto Akkara
St. Paul’s Church, in Imphal, capital of Manipur state, after the church was set on fire in 2023. Credit: Anto Akkara

Among the nearly 200 killed and over 60,000 displaced in Manipur, the overwhelming majority are Kukis who have been chased out from Meitei strongholds, such as the Imphal Valley, in the simmering violence.

Media and independent investigators have blamed the BJP-led state government’s condoning of the violence by Meitei groups that have also destroyed or damaged more than 600 churches.

Hindus For Human Rights Demands Restoration Of 141 Opposition MPs In Parliament

Hindus for Human Rights demands the immediate restoration of 141 opposition MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The opposition MPs have been suspended from the Lok Sabha for causing disruptions after they raised concerns about the Indian government’s response to a security breach in Parliament.

India, the Mother of Democracy, has always encouraged healthy debates and open discussions among its politicians, and this rich tradition is undermined by the suspension of MPs.

The importance of dissent in a democracy cannot be overstated. It is through dissent that new ideas emerge, existing policies are challenged, and change is instigated. Dissent ensures that all voices, no matter how small or unpopular, are heard. Dissent holds power to account and prevents the onset of autocracy.

Democracy thrives not when we silence the opposition, but when we listen to it, engage with it, and challenge it. We strongly urge the Indian Parliament to immediately reverse its decision to suspend opposition MPs and allow them to serve the remainder of the winter session.

On Fifth Avenue, a giant puppet of Modi rode in a convertible, brandishing a banner: “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, OK?

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla To Run For US Congress

Mayor Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken in the state of New Jersey, who announced his run for the   US Congress from the solidly Democratic NJ District 8, lambasted one of his opponents, Rep. Robert Menendez Jr., for riding on his family’s coat-tails to get to Capitol Hill.

In a wide-ranging interview with Desi Talk Dec. 18, 2023, a week after announcing his run, Bhalla recounted his years of political experience and success in various endeavors. He did not shy away from strong words against his main opponent, and contrasted his achievements to Menendez Jr. who he said held the seat because of “nepotism at its worst.”

His announcement video spoke of his journey growing up in New Jersey, feeling the stings of discrimination and hate speech as a Sikh, countering hate-mongers by excelling in school, games and career as an elected official

“It simply boils down to one word – ‘qualification’,” he said in his interview about the difference between him and Menendez Jr. “I’ve been serving this region for approximately 15 years. He has less than a year. I have a solid record of accomplishments … based on pure merit. And he is also compromised by his father (Sen. Bob Menendez),” Mayor Bhalla said, referring to controversial legal problems being faced by the elder Menendez.

The Indian American Mayor contended that the dynamics of District 8 had changed “dramatically”- and that his opponent had basically been “gifted” a seat, something that would no longer be tolerated.

Robert Menendez Jr. was elected November 8, 2022 with more than 72 percent of the vote and prior to that in the Democratic primary last year, he was endorsed by 83 percent of the Party vote.

“There is a strong feeling in the District that it is time to move on,” Bhalla said, from dynastic politics.

“I feel like my journey as Mayor has been a very position ad very innovative one. I have faced challenging issues in Hoboken and the rest of the country, like climate action, climate change etc., and done this through innovation and hard work,” he said. He has the support of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, insidernj.com reported.

The Mayor is currently engaged in building the campaign team and is “singularly focused” on winning in the Democratic Primary for the “Solid Democratic” District as defined by all rating agencies. Whoever wins the primary, sails through the November 5 elections.

Bhalla says the response from the general public and Indian Americans has been great and within four weeks, his campaign has raised $500,000. He needs more than a million he estimated, and “Money does not seem to be the problem.”

“It has been a very, very exciting time for them (Indian Americans,” he said. “I’ve received very enthusiastic response from around the country, but especially in Jersey City. They want to help, and have supported in many ways. We’ve really only started.”

He described his campaign in few words – “People Power, Grassroots Campaign”, directed at people who had been deprived of a choice.

Agenda

In his formal announcement of Dec. 12, Mayor Bhalla expressed his concerns.

“We are at a pivotal moment in our nation, facing rising sea levels, rising inequality and rising hatred,” he said. “For Congress to rise to the challenge, we need new voices and new leadership—leadership that is focused on making real progress on solving problems and ensuring that all New Jerseyans and Americans no matter their skin color, ethnicity, gender, whom they choose to love, or where they started in life can still realize the American Dream.”

His goal is to “make healthcare a right for everyone, take on climate change, protect a woman’s right to choose, battle back against hatred, and build an economy that works for all.”

Some Achievements

One of only 22 elected officials nationwide selected by the US State Department to serve on an inaugural Assembly of Local Leaders (ALL) to address “global challenges that effect local communities,” Bhalla recently participated in COP28, the UN Climate Summit, held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“The climate crisis is not a predetermined catastrophe, but a challenge we can and must meet,” he said.

Elected mayor of Hoboken in 2017 and re-elected in 2021, Bhalla is credited with making his city more resilient to climate change, overseeing the design, creation and opening of ResilienCity Park, one of the largest resiliency parks in the country, working toward zero emissions, to name just a few.

Bhalla’s own resilience is evident from his announcement video, where he recounts his experiences growing up and his method of tackling challenges. The video begins by saying – “This is a story about a Jersey kid… Who grew up not looking like all the other Jersey kids.”

“My parents came here from India to work hard and honestly, with only the promise of opportunity. … And to practice our Sikh faith in a country where it is self-evident that all of us are created equal,” Bhalla begins.

“But that didn’t stop the schoolyard bullies from hurling insults or tugging on my hair. …. I fought back. The only way I knew how. … On the diamond. … And the court,” he recalls about his days on the baseball field and his law degree.

“When my baseball helmet wouldn’t slide over my patka…My coach modified one that would fit me on the field. He knew our team was stronger when each of us could play,” he says, adding, “In the courtroom, I fought barriers to access and for those who faced discrimination.”

Hate has many faces, he says, “But all are cowardly and familiar,” he notes in the backdrop of a newscast about a racist flier, and another where he was labeled a terrorist on a leaflet.

He wants to run to keep America a place “Where an immigrant story is the American story.”

In his interview with Desi Talk, he said, “My immediate family, my Hoboken family, we are all in it together,” and concluding with, “I’m in it to win it.”

A Bold Call to Action in the Heart of New York City

On December 19, 2023, the bustling streets of New York City witnessed an extraordinary event that turned heads and sparked critical conversations. On Fifth Avenue, a giant puppet resembling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode in a convertible, brandishing a banner with a provocative message: “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, OK?” This audacious display, echoing a controversial statement made by former presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016, was more than a theatrical stunt; it was a stark symbol of protest and a desperate cry for global attention.

The Collaborative Effort of Diaspora Groups

This remarkable demonstration was the brainchild of leading Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim diaspora organizations. These groups came together in a show of unity and strength to highlight a disturbing and pressing issue: the alleged strategy of the Indian government in assassinating and intimidating US citizens of Indian descent, as well as other activists living abroad. The audacity of this act in a foreign nation and its implications for international relations and human rights have raised significant alarms.

Alarming Incidents and International Concerns

A Bold Call to Action in the Heart of New York City 2The backdrop to this protest is a series of troubling events that have unfolded both in the United States and Canada. In June, reports emerged of an alleged attempt by Indian authorities to assassinate a US citizen in New York. This harrowing incident occurred simultaneously with the killing of a prominent Canadian Sikh activist. The situation escalated to such an extent that the FBI felt compelled to warn several activists in California about similar threats. These incidents are not random or isolated; they represent a clear and disturbing pattern of behavior that has caught the attention of US prosecutors and the international community.

Voices of Protest and the Demand for Action

Sunita Viswanath of Hindus for Human Rights put forth a powerful message: “The point we make is deadly serious. American lives are not chips in trade deals. It’s high time President Biden acknowledges this reality and communicates unequivocally to both American citizens and Prime Minister Modi that our lives matter and are to be protected.”

Echoing these sentiments, Safa Ahmed of the Indian American Muslim Council highlighted the urgency of the situation: “We find ourselves asking who is next and what will it take for our government to intervene? America needs to stand up not just for its citizens but also for the principles of democracy and human rights across the globe.”

The Significance of the Stunt and the Path Forward

Today’s event in NYC was not just a visual spectacle; it was a powerful and symbolic act of protest and a call for urgent action. It reminds us of the critical role of democratic nations in safeguarding the rights and lives of individuals, regardless of their nationality or location. The Biden administration, along with the global community, faces a crucial test in responding to these allegations and taking concrete steps to ensure the safety and rights of diaspora communities.

In the wake of this demonstration, we are left with pressing questions: How will the global community respond to these alleged acts of cross-border violence? What measures will be taken to protect the vulnerable and hold perpetrators accountable? The answers to these questions will shape the future of international relations, human rights, and the very essence of democratic values.

As we reflect on the events of today, let us remember that the struggle for human rights and justice knows no borders. It is a universal pursuit that demands our collective attention and action.

Egypt Proposes Comprehensive Plan to Halt Israel-Hamas Conflict

In an effort to bring an end to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, Egypt has presented a bold initial proposal that includes a cease-fire, a phased release of hostages, and the establishment of a Palestinian government of experts to govern the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank. A senior Egyptian official and a European diplomat revealed the details of the proposal on Monday.

The Egyptian initiative, developed in collaboration with Qatar, aims to address the immediate crisis and lay the groundwork for a sustainable resolution. However, the proposal, currently in its early stages, does not align with Israel’s objective of completely dismantling Hamas and seems to fall short of Israel’s demand to maintain military control over Gaza in the post-war period.

Reports indicate that the Egyptian proposal has been shared with Israel, Hamas, the United States, and European governments. Although the proposal is under consideration, it is not yet clear whether it will be accepted or modified. Israel’s War Cabinet, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is set to discuss the proposal in an upcoming meeting.

As Israeli airstrikes intensify, causing significant damage in central and southern Gaza, the humanitarian situation worsens. The Maghazi refugee camp witnessed a devastating strike that claimed at least 106 lives, making it one of the deadliest incidents in Israel’s air campaign. The proposal from Egypt comes amid escalating violence, with both sides expressing their determination to continue the conflict.

The Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, outlined the key components of the proposal, emphasizing its comprehensive nature. The plan begins with an initial two-week cease-fire during which Palestinian militants would release 40 to 50 hostages, including women, the sick, and the elderly. In return, Israel would release 120-150 Palestinians held in its prisons. Negotiations would then continue to extend the cease-fire and secure the release of additional hostages and bodies held by Palestinian militants.

The proposal also envisions Egypt and Qatar working with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to establish a government of experts. This transitional government would govern Gaza and the West Bank while facilitating the resolution of internal disputes among Palestinian factions. The ultimate goal is to create a roadmap for holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

Simultaneously, Israel and Hamas would engage in negotiations for a comprehensive “all-for-all” deal, encompassing the release of all remaining hostages, the withdrawal of the Israeli military from Gaza, and the cessation of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. However, the success of this ambitious plan hinges on the willingness of all parties to engage in constructive dialogue and make concessions.

While the proposal has been discussed with Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based political leader of Hamas, and other Palestinian factions, doubts remain about whether Israel’s government, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, will accept the entire proposal. A Western diplomat, speaking anonymously, expressed skepticism about the Israeli government’s readiness to embrace the comprehensive plan.

The toll of the conflict on both sides is becoming increasingly apparent. In Gaza, more than 20,400 Palestinians have been killed, and almost the entire population of 2.3 million has been displaced. U.N. officials have raised concerns about a quarter of the population facing starvation due to Israel’s blockade, allowing only limited supplies into the territory.

Israel, too, is grappling with a rising death toll among its troops, with 17 soldiers killed since Friday and a total of 156 since the ground offensive began. The mounting casualties may impact public support for the war, which was triggered by an attack on southern Israeli communities by Hamas-led militants on Oct. 7, resulting in 1,200 deaths and 240 hostages.

Despite increasing international pressure against Israel’s offensive and the widespread suffering among Palestinians, public sentiment in Israel remains largely supportive of the stated goals of crushing Hamas and securing the release of remaining captives. Prime Minister Netanyahu has emphasized the need to expand the fight in the coming days, signaling a prolonged battle.

As the conflict continues to exact a heavy toll on both sides, the proposed Egyptian initiative offers a glimmer of hope for a comprehensive resolution. However, the path to peace remains uncertain, and the willingness of all parties to engage in meaningful dialogue will be crucial in determining the success of this ambitious proposal.

Supreme Court Dominates 2024 Election Narrative: Decisive Rulings Await on Trump’s Eligibility, Immunity, and Key Policy Issues

The 2024 presidential election has taken a decisive turn, with the Supreme Court emerging as the pivotal player, navigating various disputes surrounding the GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump. The court, no stranger to election controversies, faces a critical juncture in determining Trump’s eligibility for the ballot and assessing his immunity to prosecution linked to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, culminating in the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.

According to Justin Levitt, an election law specialist at Loyola Law School, these cases, usually avoidable by the Supreme Court, have become unavoidable national controversies thrust upon the court. The stakes are high, given the impact on both the primary and general elections. The Colorado Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled Trump constitutionally ineligible for the 2024 run based on the 14th Amendment’s prohibition on insurrectionists holding public office. This decision, anticipating an appeal, awaits resolution at the national level.

Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor, emphasized the significance of this decision, asserting that its implications extend beyond Colorado to impact all 50 states. The 14th Amendment’s insurrectionist clause, a focal point of the case, awaits the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court, underscoring the national gravity of the issue.

Trump’s legal challenges also encompass claims of immunity from January 6 prosecutors. His strategy relies heavily on asserting presidential immunity to dismiss charges related to his alleged subversion of the 2020 election. Special counsel Jack Smith seeks a prompt resolution, urging the Supreme Court to address the immunity question and double jeopardy concerns. The court’s decision on these matters could significantly influence the trajectory of Trump’s trial, scheduled for March 4.

In a parallel case in Atlanta, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an attempt by former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to move his criminal case to federal court. This decision, critical in determining the nature of post-election conduct, supports Smith’s argument that Trump’s actions were not within his official capacity as president.

Another key issue the Supreme Court will scrutinize revolves around a federal obstruction law and its applicability to individuals involved in the Capitol attack. The outcome may impact Trump’s case and numerous other DOJ prosecutions related to January 6. The ripple effect is already evident, with defendants seeking modifications in ongoing cases, highlighting the broader implications of the court’s decision.

Trump’s legal battles extend to a dispute over a gag order issued against him in the federal election subversion case. While the DC Circuit upheld most of the gag order, it narrowed restrictions on comments about Smith and altered the prohibition on speaking about witnesses. Trump’s legal team, viewing the order as an unconstitutional restriction on political speech, intends to escalate the fight to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Amidst these legal challenges, the Supreme Court’s docket for the term includes impactful policy issues that will resonate with voters. The court will address the availability of the abortion drug mifepristone, a significant case following its reversal of Roe v. Wade last year. Additionally, a major Second Amendment case and two cases challenging decades-old precedent on federal agency power further contribute to the court’s role in shaping the political landscape.

As the Supreme Court takes center stage in these critical matters, public opinion remains at historic lows, and ethical concerns persist. Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent attempt to address ethics criticism was met with skepticism, highlighting the challenges faced by the court in maintaining public trust.

The Supreme Court’s decisions on Trump’s eligibility, immunity, and other pivotal issues will profoundly impact the 2024 presidential election, marking a defining moment for the court and the nation.

PM Modi Addresses Allegations of India’s Involvement in US Assassination Plot, Stresses Confidence in India-US Relations

Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured that India would thoroughly investigate any evidence presented regarding its alleged involvement in an assassination plot in the United States. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, he addressed the November incident where a US charge implicated an Indian individual in a conspiracy to murder Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist leader in New York.

Mr. Modi emphasized that these allegations would not strain the relationship between India and the US, stating, “If a citizen of ours has done anything good or bad, we are ready to look into it. Our commitment is to the rule of law.”

The target, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, holds dual US-Canadian citizenship and actively supports the Khalistan movement, advocating for a separate Sikh state. US prosecutors alleged that Nikhil Gupta, a man associated with the Indian government, paid $100,000 in cash to a hitman to assassinate Mr. Pannun.

India has labeled Pannun as a terrorist, while he maintains that he is an activist, denying the accusations. These developments occurred approximately two months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of having links to the murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot dead in Canada in June.

India has vehemently denied these allegations, accusing Canada of providing shelter to “Khalistani terrorists and extremists” threatening its security. The diplomatic tensions have strained India-Canada relations, with Delhi asserting that Ottawa has not shared concrete evidence supporting its claims.

Trudeau revealed in an interview with Canada’s public broadcaster CBC that he went public with the allegations after weeks of private diplomacy, intending to “put a chill on India” and discourage potential agents from carrying out further attacks in Canada. He noted a change in India’s tone following the US’s similar allegations.

Despite these challenges, Prime Minister Modi expressed confidence in the positive trajectory of India-US relations. He stated, “There is strong bipartisan support for the strengthening of this relationship, which is a clear indicator of a mature and stable partnership.” Modi dismissed the idea of linking isolated incidents to diplomatic relations, asserting that it is inappropriate to do so.

Moreover, he highlighted India’s concerns about the “activities of certain extremist groups based overseas.” The government has consistently reacted sharply to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan. While the Khalistan movement witnessed its peak in India during the 1980s with a violent insurgency in Sikh-majority Punjab state, it has lost resonance within India. However, it still garners support among some members of the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the UK.

Experts suggest that these recent accusations of extra-judicial killings of Sikh separatists pose a potential threat to India’s growing ties with the US. Despite the challenges, Prime Minister Modi remains optimistic about the strength and stability of the partnership between the two nations.

Parliamentary Turmoil in India: Record Suspensions Ignite Protests Amid Security Breach Fallout

India’s parliament erupted in heated protests as an additional 49 opposition MPs faced suspension, bringing the total to 141, all in response to their protest against a recent security breach within the parliamentary premises. Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of undermining democracy, the opposition witnessed a record-breaking suspension of 78 MPs in a single day. Most of the lawmakers are excluded for the remainder of the winter session, concluding on Friday, while a subset awaits the parliament’s privileges committee decision for potential extended exclusion.

The majority of the suspended MPs belong to the INDIA alliance, a coalition of opposition parties gearing up to challenge Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming general election. Of the alliance’s 142 MPs in the 543-member Lok Sabha, 95 have been suspended, while in the 250-member Rajya Sabha, 46 out of 101 members face suspension.

Expressing dismay at the state of parliamentary democracy, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor remarked, “Unfortunately, we have to start writing obituaries for parliamentary democracy in India” following his suspension.

In response, the BJP accused opposition leaders of intentionally disrupting parliamentary proceedings, escalating tensions between the opposition and Modi’s government. Many opposition MPs had demanded a statement from either federal Home Minister Amit Shah or Modi regarding the recent security breach where individuals entered parliament, set off colored gas, and shouted slogans. Six individuals have been arrested, with the four protesters facing charges under an anti-terror law.

While Modi did not address the issue directly in parliament, he acknowledged its severity in a Hindi newspaper interview, emphasizing the need for a thorough investigation. Shah, at a separate event, announced a high-level inquiry into the incident, accusing the opposition of politicizing the security breach.

Opposition MPs have also sought a parliamentary discussion on the security lapse. Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the Congress party, criticized the government for sidestepping parliamentary accountability while granting interviews to the media. Manoj Kumar Jha, an MP from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, viewed his suspension as a “badge of honor,” asserting that it recognizes their efforts to pose challenging questions to the government.

Some opposition MPs, including Kharge, alleged that the government strategically suspended key figures to pass crucial bills without proper debate. However, federal minister Piyush Goyal labeled the opposition’s protest as a “pre-planned strategy” to disrupt parliamentary functioning and block essential bills. Goyal accused opposition MPs of disrespecting the parliament by refusing to comply with requests from the Lok Sabha speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman to refrain from displaying protest signs in the well of the house.

India’s Economic Surge: S&P Predicts Fastest Growth, Aims for Third-Largest Global Economy by 2030

India is poised to maintain its status as the swiftest-growing major economy over the next three years, propelling it toward claiming the position of the world’s third-largest economy by 2030, according to a report from S&P Global Ratings.

“S&P anticipates that India, presently ranking as the fifth-largest global economy, will witness a growth rate of 6.4% in the ongoing fiscal year, with projections indicating a further acceleration to 7% by fiscal 2027,” as reported by the original article. In contrast, the report foresees a deceleration in China’s growth to 4.6% by 2026 from an estimated 5.4% in the current year.

Recent data revealing a more substantial than expected 7.6% growth in India’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the second quarter of fiscal 2024 has led several brokerages to revise their full-year estimates upward. However, S&P, having revised its forecast prior to this data release, emphasizes that India’s growth trajectory hinges on a successful transition from a services-dominated economy to one dominated by manufacturing.

“A paramount test will be whether India can become the next big global manufacturing hub, an immense opportunity,” emphasizes S&P in its Global Credit Outlook 2024 report dated December 4th. While the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has actively promoted domestic manufacturing through initiatives such as the “Make in India” campaign and production-linked incentives (PLIs), the manufacturing sector still contributes only about 18% to the GDP. In stark contrast, services constitute more than half of India’s GDP.

S&P underscores the pivotal role of developing a robust logistics framework for India to truly emerge as a manufacturing hub. Additionally, the report emphasizes the necessity to “upskill” the workforce and boost female participation in the labor force to fully leverage the demographic dividend.

The report notes, “India possesses one of the youngest working populations globally, with nearly 53% of its citizens under the age of 30.” This demographic advantage could be a significant driver of economic growth if the country strategically addresses challenges in its economic structure and focuses on enhancing the capabilities of its workforce.

In essence, S&P’s projections for India’s economic trajectory highlight both the potential for remarkable growth and the challenges that must be addressed for the nation to realize its economic ambitions. As the government continues its efforts to promote manufacturing and economic diversification, the outcomes in the coming years will play a crucial role in shaping India’s position on the global economic stage.

India Resumes Venezuelan Crude Oil Imports After Three-Year Hiatus Amid Eased US Sanctions

India’s Petroleum Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, announced that India is set to resume crude oil imports from Venezuela after a three-year hiatus, citing the readiness of several Indian refineries to process heavy crudes. With the United States easing sanctions on Caracas in October, Puri emphasized that India, as a major global consumer of crude oil, is open to purchasing oil from any country not under sanctions.

Puri stated, “Many of our refineries, including (IOC’s) Paradip (refinery), are capable of using that heavy Venezuelan oil, and we will buy…We always buy from Venezuela. It’s when Venezuela came under sanctions that they were not able to supply.” This move comes as at least three Indian refiners—Reliance Industries (RIL), Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), and HPCL-Mittal Energy (HMEL)—have reportedly booked Venezuelan oil cargoes, expected to arrive in India over the next few months. Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) is also exploring the possibility of resuming oil imports from Venezuela.

India, specifically private sector refiners RIL and Nayara Energy (NEL), was a regular buyer of Venezuelan crude before the imposition of US sanctions in 2019, which led to a cessation of oil imports from Venezuela. According to data from commodity market analytics firm Kpler, the last time India imported Venezuelan crude was in November 2020. In 2019, Venezuela was India’s fifth-largest oil supplier, contributing nearly 16 million tonnes of crude, valued at $5.70 billion, according to India’s official trade data.

With Washington easing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector in October, allowing unlimited oil exports for six months, India is looking to capitalize on the opportunity. Venezuela, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and possessing the world’s largest proven oil reserves, is keen to expand its crude sales in major markets. India, being the world’s third-largest consumer of crude oil and heavily reliant on imports to meet over 85 percent of its demand, remains committed to procuring oil from cost-effective sources amid the volatile global oil markets.

The recent developments also shed light on Venezuela’s strategy to offer substantial discounts to Chinese independent refiners, historically its primary buyers during the sanctions. However, reports suggest that these discounts have narrowed in recent weeks due to the easing of sanctions and the interest of other buyers in acquiring Venezuelan oil. Caracas appears motivated to diversify its crude sales by extending discounts to attract buyers in other major markets.

US President Biden’s Absence Alters Plans for India’s Republic Day and Quad Summit; Investigation into Alleged Assassination Plot Adds Complexity

US President Joe Biden will not attend India’s Republic Day parade in January 2024, and the Quad summit, initially scheduled around the same time, is being postponed to the latter part of 2024, according to sources on Tuesday.

“We are looking for revised dates (for Quad) as the dates currently under consideration do not work with all the Quad partners,” the source said.

India had invited President Biden for the Republic Day celebrations, intending to host the Quad leaders’ summit in January next year. The Indian Express reported on September 7 New Delhi’s plans to invite the US President for Republic Day along with other Quad leaders and hold the Quad summit in January.

US Ambassador Eric Garcetti confirmed on September 20 that President Joe Biden had been invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the Republic Day celebrations. The invitation was extended during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

A final decision would be made after confirming the availability of leaders—President Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Albanese’s commitment to Australian national day on January 26 and the Japanese parliament, the Diet, being in session posed scheduling challenges.

Biden’s schedule awaited by the other three sides, the Quad summit could have taken place on January 27, a day after Republic Day celebrations on January 26. An invitation to be the Republic Day Chief Guest is highly symbolic and is usually extended only after informal confirmation of leaders’ availability.

Biden’s unavailability coincides with the US investigating an alleged assassination plot of a Khalistan separatist on US soil. Given an Indian official’s alleged involvement, the Indian government is also investigating information shared by US agencies. Federal prosecutors filed an indictment in November detailing the alleged plot against the separatist with dual US-Canadian nationality.

This marks the second time a US President couldn’t attend Republic Day celebrations. Former President Donald Trump, invited in 2018 for January 2019 celebrations, also couldn’t make it. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was invited as a replacement. The only instance of a US President attending Republic Day was in January 2015 when President Barack Obama visited during the first year of the Modi government.

While officials emphasize that Biden’s unavailability should not cast a shadow on bilateral ties amid the Pannun assassination plot, they stress the deep stakes and vital interests the two sides share. The Quad grouping is expected to convene towards the end of the year, after elections and before the US election cycle takes over.

Despite ongoing US-China engagement, with Biden meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in California, officials affirm the commitment to the Quad grouping. A summit, even at a later date, will send a strong signal to China, whose aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region has brought the four countries together.

India’s Supreme Court Upholds Abrogation Of Article 370 In Kashmir, Directs EC To Hold Elections By September 2024

India’s Supreme Court has upheld the Indian Government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and said that every decision taken by the Centre on behalf of a State can’t be subject to a legal challenge. On August 5, 2019, the Modi government announced the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 and split the region into two Union Territories.

A five-judge Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, and Surya Kant delivered the verdict on December 11, 2023. The five-judge Constitution Bench pronounced three judgments in petitions challenging the Centre’s move to scrap Article 370.

A Constitution Bench said, “The exercise of power by the President under Article 370(1)(d) to issue CO 272 is not mala fide. The President in exercise of power under Article 370(3) can unilaterally issue a notification that Article 370 ceases to exist”.

“The President did not have to secure the concurrence of the Government of the State or Union Government acting on behalf of the State Government under the second proviso to Article 370(1)(d) while applying all the provisions of the Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir because such an exercise of power has the same effect as an exercise of power under Article 370(3) for which the concurrence or collaboration with the State Government was not required,” added the bench.

Copy of canvas 1
Picture: LawTrend

The bench, which also comprised Justices S K Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai and Surya Kant, pronounced three judgments – one by the CJI for himself and Justices Gavai and Surya Kant, a concurring judgment by Justice Kaul and a third by Justice Khanna concurring with the other two rulings. The Constitution Bench was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories.

CJI Chandrachud reading out the judgement said that every decision taken by the Centre on behalf of a State under proclamation can’t be subject to a legal challenge and it will lead to the administration of the State to a standstill.

Supreme Court said that it has held that Article 370 was a temporary provision. “The proclamation of Maharaja stated that the Constitution of India will supersede. With this, the para of Instrument of Accession ceases to exist….Article 370 was an interim arrangement due to war conditions in the State. Textual reading also indicates that Article 370 is a temporary provision,” the Court said.

The Apex court also mentioned that the argument of petitioners that the Union government cannot take actions of irreversible consequences in the State during Presidential rule is not acceptable. “We have held that the state of Jammu and Kashmir did not retain an element of sovereignty when it joined the Union of India. We have arrived at this conclusion for the following reasons. First paragraph eight of the instrument of acession executed by Maharaja Hari Singh provided that nothing in the instrument would affect the continuance of the sovereignty of the Maharaja in and over the state,” CJI Chandrachud said. The CJI further noted that on November 25, 1949, a proclamation was issued for the State of Jammu and Kashmir by “Yuvraj Karan Singh”.

“The declaration on this proclamation, that the Constitution of India would not only supersede all other constitutional provisions in the state, which were inconsistent with it, but also abrogate them, achieves what could have been attained by an agreement of merger. With the issuance of the proclamation, paragraph of the instrument of acession ceases to be of legal consequence. The proclamation reflects the full and final surrender of sovereignty by Jammu and Kashmir through its sovereign ruler to India ” the CJI added.

The Supreme Court said, “The declaration issued by the President exercises the power and clause 3 of Article 370 is a culmination of the process of integration. Thus, we do not find that the President’s exercise of power under Clause 3 of Article 370 was malafide. We hold the exercise of Presidential Power to be valid.”

The Court also noted that Article 370 was meant for the constitutional integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union and it was not for disintegration and the President can declare that Article 370 ceases to exist.

“Concurrence of the State government was not required to apply all provisions of the Constitution using Article 370(1)(d). So, the President of India taking the concurrence of the Union government was not mala fide,” the Court noted.

The Supreme Court also directed the Election Commission to hold Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections by September 30, 2024. The Supreme Court said in view of Centre’s submission on restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, it directs that statehood shall be restored as soon as possible.

On September 5, the apex court reserved the judgement after hearing the arguments for 16 days.
The central government had defended its decision to abrogate Article 370, saying there was no “constitutional fraud” in repealing the provision that accorded special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Attorney General R Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for Centre. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, had opened the arguments, saying Article 370 was no longer a “temporary provision” and had assumed permanence post the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Kaul also recommended setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission to look into alleged violations of human rights by both state and non-state actors in J-K. Justice Kaul said it should be based on a dialogue and cautioned that it should not become a criminal court.

Reading out his ruling, CJI Chandrachud said, “The State of Jammu and Kashmir does not retain any element of sovereignty after the execution of the Instrument of Accession (IoA) and the issuance of the Proclamation dated 25 November 1949 by which the Constitution of India was adopted. The State of Jammu and Kashmir does not have ‘internal sovereignty’ which is distinguishable from the powers and privileges enjoyed by other States in the country. Article 370 was a feature of asymmetric federalism and not sovereignty”.

On the reorganisation of the erstwhile state of J-K into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the ruling said, “The Solicitor General stated that the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir will be restored (except for the carving out of the Union Territory of Ladakh). In view of the statement, we do not find it necessary to determine whether the reorganisation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir is permissible under Article 3”.

The court, however, upheld “the validity of the decision to carve out the Union Territory of Ladakh in view of Article 3(a) read with Explanation I which permits forming a Union Territory by separation of a territory from any State”.

The SC directed, “Steps shall be taken by the Election Commission of India to conduct elections to the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir constituted under Section 14 of the Reorganisation Act by 30 September 2024”. “Restoration of statehood shall take place at the earliest and as soon as possible,” added the court.

“The power under Article 370(3) did not cease to exist upon the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. When the Constituent Assembly was dissolved, only the transitional power recognised in the proviso to Article 370(3) which empowered the Constituent Assembly to make its recommendations ceased to exist. It did not affect the power held by the President under Article 370(3)”.

India’s Permanent Representative To UN Hosts ‘Mission Life’ Event On Millets

Millets have been an integral part of our diet for centuries. In addition to a plethora of health benefits, millets are also good for the environment with low water & input requirement. With the aim to create awareness and increase production & consumption of millets, United Nations, at the behest of the Government of India, declared 2023 the International Year Millets. To commemorate this, the  India’s Permanent Mission to the UN in ccordination with India’s Ministry of External Affairs is hosting various interactive activities around Millets.

India’s Permanent Representative To UN Hosts ‘Mission Life’ Event On Millets 2Mission LiFE, a global initiative for ‘Lifestyle for Environment’ is a groundbreaking step towards sustainable living, according to Ruchira Kamboj, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN. Kamboj was speaking at a reception hosted by India’s Permanent Mission to the UN on December 4, 2023 at the UN headquarters in New York to highlight 2023 as the International Year of the Millet.

According to Kamboj, Mission LiFE and the focus on Millets jointly represent a holistic approach to sustainability. “It’s a clarion call for everyone, everywhere, to rethink their lifestyles and make choices that contribute positively to the Earth’s well-being,” Kamboj said. Earlier at the ‘India Roundtables’ panel discussion at the UN about Mission LiFE, Kamboj had said that the initiative focuses on mindful and deliberate utilization instead of mindless and destructive consumption.

Based on the Gandhian concept of Lifestyle for Environment and Human Flourishing to promote sustainable lifestyles and enduring peace, the Indian initiative was launched globally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UN Secretary General António Guterres in February 2023.

Acknowledging the need for global support to the initiative at the reception, Secretary-General Guterres said, “’Mission LiFE’s vision aligns perfectly with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. It’s a testament to how individual responsibility can foster a sustainable future for the entire planet.”

India is the world’s largest producer and second-largest exporter of millet according to sources. Technically seeds, millets are small grains grown on poor quality soil with very little irrigation. There are nine kinds of millets which grow in India, including sorghum, finger millet, little millet, kodo millet, foxtail millet and barnyard millet. They all differ from each other in color, texture and size.

However, its consumption has largely remained in the rural areas, a scenario which, Modi has been working to change since 2014 to boost millet production and consumption. At the G20 summit in September 2023 in New Delhi, world leaders were served an all-vegetarian dinner predominantly made of millets. At the commemorating ceremony of the International Year of the Millet in February 2023, India organized a special exhibition on the occasion on different kinds of millets grown in India, their nutritional value and health benefits, and a reception with millet-based savories.

Millet and millet based fusion dishes have been introduced by well-known Indian restaurants and gourmet chefs including barley and sorghum salad, millet tortillas and dosas, sorghum pita pockets, ragi pancakes, millet risotto, ragi pizzas, and also millet  chips, chakli, noodles, breakfast cereals, and even millet-based beers.

The push for millets by India is based on their being environment friendly. They require less water and can grow in harsher climates, making them a sustainable choice while the world faces increasing water scarcity and global warming.

One of the highlights of last week’s special reception was a performance by Falguni Shah, a Grammy nominee, of her number, ‘Abundance In Millets’ originally ‘written and performed’ by Falu and Gaurav Shah with the prime minister who came up with the concept and contributed the lyrics and collaborated in creating it.

One of the lyrics by Modi goes, “The shared efforts of our farmers and us….will adorn India and the world’s prosperity with a new radiance.”

Rajasthani Association Announces 2023-25 Leadership

The Rajasthan Association of North America has elected a new leadership team for the year 2023-25 .Current president and prominent New York-based social activist Prem Bhandari has been re-elected to the post of president.

In addition to Bhandari serving as president, the newly elected vice president, Dr Sharad Kothari, secretary Ravi Jargad, and treasurer Neelam Modi make up the executive committee of RANA, New York. According to the organization’s election committee, the elections were unanimous.

In light of RANA’s upcoming 25th anniversary, Bhandari announced that preparations are underway to host a worldwide convention next year. The organisation has held several international conventions over the years, which former Rajasthan Chief Ministers, Ashok Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje attended.

RANA’s primary goals include bridging the gap between the state of Rajasthan and its diaspora and bringing attention to and support for Rajasthani cultural heritage across the United States. This year the organisation spearheaded the Millets awareness campaign abroad on the occasion of the International Year of Millets (IYM).

Bhandari, who also serves as the chairman of Jaipur Foot USA and of US chapter of REDIO – Rescuing every Distressed Indian Overseas, was instrumental in the globalisation of the millets awareness campaign. Under his direction an an all millets meal was launched in collaboration with the head chef of New York-based restaurant SAAR. He has also worked with Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Chief Coordinator for India’s G20 Presidency in 2023 to organize the Jodhpur Millets Festival, among others. RANA’s primary goals include bridging the gap between the state of Rajasthan and its diaspora.

Sewa USA Launches Fundraiser For Cyclone Michaung Victims

Sewa USA, a Hindu-faith-based humanitarian nonprofit service organization with over 40 chapters in the country, has called for donations to help victims of the tropical storm cyclone Michaung that recently battered the south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Tamil Nadu (TN).

“Our Cyclone Michaung Relief Fund provides immediate assistance to those in need. Your support can make a significant difference in the lives of affected individuals and families,” the campaign reads. The organization has requested contributions toward emergency shelter and supplies, medical aid, and food and water distribution. They have garnered US $2,842 in donations from their US $50,000 goal.

Sewa USA Launches Fundraiser For Cyclone Michaung VictimAt least 17 people were killed in rain-related incidents in Chennai, which suffered the most damage from the cyclone, according to city police. These deaths were caused by collapsing walls, electrocution, drowning, and falling trees. More than ten people were injured in the city and taken to various hospitals for treatment. Despite Michaung making landfall with sustained winds of 90-100 kmph, no casualties were reported in Andhra Pradesh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a post on X, “My thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their loved ones due to Cyclone Michaung, especially in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry. My prayers are with those injured or affected in the wake of this cyclone. Authorities have been working tirelessly on the ground to assist those affected and will continue their work till the situation fully normalises.”

Aside from the loss of life and property, the constant rains in the states of AP and TN caused the cancellation of hundreds of inbound and outbound flights from the airports in Hyderabad and Chennai. The downpours caused power outages and cellular network outages in different areas of these states.

-+=