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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

Catholic Bishops in India Stand Firm Amidst Rising Attacks, Affirm Commitment to Serving the Marginalized

Christian institutions and individuals in India are facing an escalation of attacks and harassment, yet the Catholic bishops affirm their unwavering commitment to serving the marginalized. The 36th biennial meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), attended by over 170 bishops from the country’s 174 dioceses, concluded with a resolute statement emphasizing their dedication to the nation despite adversities.

In their final statement, the bishops affirmed, “As loyal citizens of India, we will continue serving our country whatever be the cost, walking in the footsteps of Jesus our Master.” The conference, held from January 31 to February 7 at Bengaluru’s St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, deliberated on pertinent themes including the Church’s role in the current socio-political landscape and the implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Acknowledging India’s strides in various domains, the bishops expressed pride in the nation’s achievements while highlighting persistent socio-economic disparities. They lamented that the benefits of development have disproportionately reached a small segment of society, leaving many grappling with unemployment and rural-urban migration, exacerbating the digital divide.

The bishops voiced concern over rising divisive tendencies, hate speech, and fundamentalist movements eroding the secular fabric enshrined in India’s Constitution. They deplored attacks on Christians and their institutions, citing incidents of violence, property destruction, and harassment under the pretext of allegations related to conversions.

During the bishops’ gathering, several arrests occurred in Uttar Pradesh, where a Catholic priest, five Protestant pastors, and a layperson were detained over accusations of engaging in conversion activities. Despite a denial of bail by a lower court on February 7, efforts are underway to secure their release through legal avenues.

The meeting also addressed the protracted violence in Manipur, condemning clashes between the Meitei and Kuki ethnic communities, with a significant Christian population among the latter. Expressing dismay at the loss of lives and livelihoods, the bishops urged for lasting peace and reconciliation in the region.

Highlighting concerns about democratic institutions’ integrity and media responsibility, the bishops emphasized the need to uphold constitutional principles and combat religious polarization. They called upon political leaders to safeguard India’s secular and democratic ethos, urging citizens to actively participate in the upcoming elections.

Reiterating longstanding demands, the bishops urged the government to grant Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and other marginalized minorities while safeguarding the Scheduled Tribe status of Christian tribal communities. Additionally, they reaffirmed their commitment to fostering interreligious dialogue and community solidarity.

Despite facing challenges and setbacks, the Catholic bishops in India remain steadfast in their mission to uphold democratic values, promote social justice, and advocate for the rights of the marginalized, demonstrating resilience and determination in the face of adversity.

New Jersey-India Commission Formed to Strengthen Bilateral Ties and Economic Collaboration

The relationship between New Jersey and India is deeply intertwined, with numerous connections and partnerships that underscore their significance. Approximately 5% of New Jersey’s population is South Asian, with significant clusters in dynamic locales like Edison/Iselin, Jersey City, and Robbinsville. Moreover, India stands as the state’s second-largest foreign direct investor, with New Jersey boasting the highest concentration of Indian businesses across the nation. This robust connection translates into substantial bilateral trade, amounting to over $10 billion annually.

Recognizing the importance of fostering and nurturing this relationship, New Jersey recently established the New Jersey-India Commission, marking the third commission of its kind in the state’s history. Notably, India is the sole nation boasting two Choose New Jersey offices, underscoring the depth of collaboration between the two entities. Governor Phil Murphy emphasized the significance of this move, stating, “This is a statement about the breadth, scale and size of not just the relationship as it is today — everything from the diaspora living here, to the jobs created, to the trade between India and New Jersey — but also a statement about the potential future growth of all of the above.”

The commission comprises 39 distinguished members hailing from diverse industries, with Wes Mathews, CEO of Choose New Jersey, appointed as its chairperson. Governor Murphy indicated that the appointment of an executive director would follow. Notable figures on the commission include state senators Vin Gopal and Raj Mukherji, along with representatives from prominent organizations such as RWJ Barnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health, and Princeton University.

Consul General Binaya Srikanta Prasad expressed his support for the establishment of the commission, highlighting the importance of further strengthening ties between New Jersey and India. Leading the commission is Wes Mathews, whose extensive experience in diplomacy and leadership roles uniquely positions him to guide the commission’s endeavors. With roots in Kerala, Wes has held diplomatic posts in several countries, including Germany, Saudi Arabia, India, and Pakistan.

The commission boasts a diverse lineup of members, representing a wide array of fields and expertise. Notable individuals include Vidya Kishore, who brings over 18 years of experience from Johnson & Johnson and is committed to fostering connections between New Jersey and India. Krishna Kishore, with over 25 years of global corporate experience, including stints at Bellcore, Deloitte, and PwC, is eager to contribute his expertise to bolster economic and cultural exchanges between New Jersey and India.

The commission’s formation underscores the deep-rooted connections and mutual benefits that exist between New Jersey and India. By leveraging the expertise and resources of its members, the commission aims to further enhance bilateral cooperation and capitalize on the vast potential for growth and collaboration between these two dynamic regions.

Unlocking India’s Potential with AI

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

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

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

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

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

India needs it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India is ready for it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India will do it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: IMF Finance & Development

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

IPS UN Bureau

Canada’s Intelligence Service Accuses India of Election Interference; PM Trudeau Orders Inquiry

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada’s premier foreign intelligence agency, has raised concerns about potential interference by India in the country’s recent election, according to a recent intelligence report. The report, made available to the media on Thursday, identified India as a ‘foreign interference threat’ and emphasized the need for greater protection of Canada’s democratic institutions and processes.

In a top-secret briefing document obtained by Canadian media outlet Global News, it was further highlighted that India’s interference could escalate if left unchecked. This revelation marks the first time India has been implicated in election interference in Canada, joining China and Russia, which were already under scrutiny for similar activities.

The declassified report, titled ‘Briefing to the Minister of Democratic Institutions on Foreign Interference,’ dated February 24, 2023, also singles out China, labeling it as “by far the most significant threat.”

According to the report, China’s foreign interference activities are extensive and resource-intensive, targeting various levels of government and civil society nationwide. The term ‘FI’ refers to foreign interference, with ‘PRC’ representing the People’s Republic of China.

Notably, India and China were the only countries explicitly named in the latest intelligence briefing.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has responded to these allegations by initiating an inquiry into the claims outlined in the recently disclosed intelligence report.

Relations between India and Canada have been strained since September 2023, following Trudeau’s accusations of potential Indian involvement in the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18 in British Columbia. India has vehemently denied these allegations, dismissing them as baseless and driven by ulterior motives.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


India 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 Remarkable Rise to 10th Position in Global 5G Speed Rankings: A Paradigm for Digital Transformation

In a remarkable stride towards technological supremacy, India has swiftly ascended to the 10th position in global 5G speed rankings within just a year of launching its 5G network, boasting a median download speed of 312.26 Mbps, as per a recent Ookla report. This not only surpasses stalwart tech nations like the UK and Japan but also underscores a significant leap from its previous ranking, highlighting India’s prowess in the realm of high-speed connectivity.

Ookla, a leading global authority in mobile and broadband network intelligence, has lauded India’s strategic approach to enhancing its 5G network performance. The nation’s successful implementation of strategic traffic offloading, a model now gaining global recognition, effectively addresses the ubiquitous challenge of network congestion in the telecom industry. As countries grapple with high user density and limited spectrum, they are increasingly turning to India’s template to improve network efficiency and service quality.

India’s efficient spectrum utilization in 5G technology provides a blueprint for global digital partners. By transitioning traffic to 5G, nations can optimize their spectrum resources, serving more users with higher data speeds, a crucial aspect in the data-driven global economy. The impact is being felt globally, with digitally advanced countries like Japan aiming to replicate India’s success in providing faster data speeds and lower latency directly benefiting end-users.

Investment in infrastructure, including the deployment of new 5G base stations and upgrading existing networks, positions India as a guide for other nations in their 5G rollout endeavours. The emphasis on investing in fiber technology for improved backhaul capabilities, replicated globally, underscores the importance of effective backhaul for delivering high-speed connectivity in 5G networks.

India’s achievement is particularly noteworthy when compared to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, surpassing their European counterparts in 5G speed. The introduction of 5G has not only boosted speeds but also elevated customer satisfaction levels, evident in higher Net Promoter Scores for 5G users compared to 4G users. The deployment of 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services has further augmented broadband connectivity, particularly in areas where fiber deployment is impractical.

Despite these successes, challenges loom, especially in maintaining and enhancing these speeds. The eventual introduction of 5G pricing will play a pivotal role in shaping consumer perceptions and decisions regarding network upgrades.

India’s telecom giants, including Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio, have played a pivotal role in the rapid expansion of 5G networks across the country. According to Ericsson’s Mobility report, India is expected to reach 130 million 5G subscribers by the end of 2023, with projections soaring to 860 million by 2029. This anticipated growth rate is among the highest globally, positioning India as a major player in the 5G landscape.

India’s 5G speed of 312.26 Mbps stands out, especially considering the global median speed increase of 20% in Q3 2023, reaching 203.04 Mbps. This progress places India ahead of neighboring nations in South Asia and some G20 countries, creating extensive market opportunities for international telecom equipment manufacturers, service providers, and tech innovators.

India’s burgeoning 5G user base sets the stage for the country to emerge as a global hub for 5G innovation, fostering research and development in critical areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT), smart city technologies, and industrial automation. The global ripple effect is evident as many countries adopt India’s approach in manufacturing core 5G equipment and developing essential supporting technologies.

India’s 5G regulation and policy-making approach are gaining visibility as a potential model for other nations, particularly those in the developing world. Key aspects, including spectrum allocation, network security, and pricing strategies, may set valuable precedents for global telecommunications policy.

The 5G era journey reflects a harmonious blend of technological prowess and strategic market operations. As India continues to expand its 5G footprint, it stands as a key player in the global telecom landscape, showcasing the potential of emerging markets in defining the future of connectivity. In the words of Ookla, India’s rise is not just a leap in speed but a paradigm shift in the global digital 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 Economic Ascent: Poised for a $10 Trillion Dawn by 2030

Davos, Switzerland: India’s economic trajectory has ignited global fervor, with the World Economic Forum (WEF) President Borge Brende predicting a meteoric rise to a $10 trillion economy by 2030. This ambitious feat, if achieved, will propel India from its current fifth-place ranking to the coveted third, surpassing economic giants like Germany and Japan.

Brende’s optimism rests on a bedrock of compelling factors:

  • Robust Growth: Despite global headwinds, India is projected to register an 8% growth rate in 2024, dwarfing the anemic 0.8% global trade growth. This resilience emanates from a thriving service-oriented economy and a digital revolution that is metamorphosing at twice the pace of the rest of the economy.
  • Digital Dynamism: India’s breakneck adoption of digital technologies positions it at the vanguard of the global digital service trade boom. This sector, a goldmine of future job creation and economic expansion, holds immense promise for propelling India’s ascent.
  • Geopolitical Advantage: Amidst a turbulent global landscape, India’s relative geopolitical stability stands out. Coupled with its unwavering focus on bolstering internal infrastructure and research & development, India emerges as an attractive investment haven, further fueling its economic engine.

World leaders have resonated with Brende’s optimism, showering India’s economic potential with accolades:

  • Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund: “India is now a beacon of hope for the global economy.”
  • Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan: “India’s rise will be one of the defining stories of the 21st century.”
  • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX: “India is on track to become a true economic powerhouse.”

However, this rapid ascent is not without its own set of challenges:

  • Job displacement: AI and automation pose a potential threat to traditional job markets, necessitating proactive reskilling and upskilling initiatives to ensure a future-proof workforce.
  • Inequality: The widening chasm between the rich and the poor demands urgent attention. Inclusive growth strategies and robust social safety nets are crucial to bridge this gap and ensure shared prosperity.
  • Environmental sustainability: Balancing rapid economic growth with environmental responsibility is paramount for long-term success. Sustainable practices and a green economy are key to securing a future for generations to come.

Brende underscores the criticality of global collaboration and trust-building in navigating these challenges and achieving sustainable prosperity. The WEF 2024 theme, “Rebuilding Trust in a Fractured World,” resonates deeply with India’s journey. As it aspires to solidify its position as a leading economic power, India’s commitment to democracy, inclusivity, and responsible governance will be instrumental in shaping a future of shared progress for itself and the world.India's Economic Ascent Poised for a $10 Trillion Dawn by 2030

Beyond the headline figures, a closer look reveals the driving forces behind India’s economic surge:

  • Government initiatives: Programs like “Make in India” and “Digital India” are fostering innovation, attracting foreign investment, and boosting domestic manufacturing.
  • Policy reforms: Streamlining regulations, simplifying taxes, and investing in infrastructure are creating a conducive environment for businesses to flourish.
  • Young population: India’s demographic dividend, with a burgeoning youth population eager to contribute, presents a vast pool of talent and entrepreneurial spirit.
  • The potential ramifications of India’s economic rise extend far beyond its borders:
  • Regional trade dynamics: India’s economic resurgence is poised to reshape regional trade patterns, making it a key player in South Asia and beyond.
  • Global economic landscape: India’s emergence as a major economic power will undoubtedly redefine global trade partnerships and investment flows.

By harnessing its inherent strengths, embracing technological advancements, and prioritizing responsible governance, India’s $10 trillion dream by 2030 is not just a possibility, but a distinct probability. This economic ascent promises not only to transform India’s own destiny but also to contribute to a more prosperous and equitable world for all.

India’s Diaspora Emerges as a Global Economic Force: Leading the 2023 Global Remittance List with a Record $125 Billion

In a landmark achievement, India has ascended to the summit of the global remittance charts in 2023, registering an astounding $125 billion, according to the latest World Bank report. This financial milestone not only underscores the strength of India’s diaspora but also highlights their pivotal role in shaping the economic landscape of their home country.

The Indian diaspora, dispersed across the globe, has emerged as a significant workforce in key nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. Their unparalleled contribution to India’s economy is evident in the record-breaking remittance figure, solidifying India’s position at the forefront of South Asian remittances.

The World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief, released on December 18, 2023, reveals that the total remittance flow to low- and middle-income countries reached a staggering $669 billion in 2023. India’s share of $125 billion represents a substantial increase from the previous year’s $111.22 billion, showcasing a remarkable 66% contribution to South Asian remittances in 2023, up from 63% in 2022.

Key contributors to India’s remittance influx are the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, particularly the United Arab Emirates. Collectively, these nations account for 36% of India’s total remittances, with the UAE alone contributing 18%.

Government initiatives have played a pivotal role in bolstering these remittances. The integration of India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) with Singapore’s payment systems and collaborations with the UAE, involving the use of local currencies for cross-border transactions, have streamlined the flow of remittances.

Furthermore, India’s implementation of non-residential deposit programs has attracted substantial foreign currency. As of September 2023, non-residential deposits in India amounted to $143 billion, marking a $10 billion increase from the previous year, as per the World Bank report.

The report underscores the role of remittance costs in these financial flows. South Asia, particularly the remittance corridor between India and Malaysia, boasts the lowest remittance costs globally, standing at just 1.9%. This, coupled with robust labor markets and declining inflation in high-income source countries, has been instrumental in the surge of remittances to India.

However, the World Bank cautions against potential risks, including a projected decline in real income for migrants in 2024 due to global inflation and low growth prospects. Despite these concerns, remittances to low- and middle-income countries are expected to grow, albeit at a slower pace, in the coming years.

Crucially, this report sheds light on the multifaceted impact of these financial inflows on the Indian economy. Beyond the monetary value, it signifies a complex interplay of global migration, economic policy, and the pivotal role of the Indian diaspora. As India continues to lead the charge in global remittances, the diaspora’s influence on the nation’s economic trajectory becomes increasingly undeniable.

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.”

Proposed Revisions to H-1B Visa Program Aim to Address Shortcomings and Boost Foreign Worker Recruitment

In an effort to streamline the recruitment of foreign workers, the US Economic Innovation Group (EIG) has put forth suggested amendments to the H-1B Visa program.

The current H-1B program has some acknowledged deficiencies, including the annual allocation of 65,000 H-1B visas, with an additional 20,000 reserved for individuals holding a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution. This limitation poses challenges, particularly for engineering graduates from U.S. universities who fail to secure an H-1B visa, leaving them without a straightforward avenue to stay.

Another drawback is the imposition of a cap of 7% of total H-1B visas for any single nation, placing a disadvantage on countries with sizable populations, such as China and India, which are major sources of STEM workers. Additionally, the lottery system governing the transition from an H-1B visa to a permanent residency Green Card leads to extended waiting times for individuals from China and India, largely due to country-specific caps.

Furthermore, H-1B visa holders face a tight window of only 60 days to secure a new position if they lose their job, beyond which they are required to leave the country. Complicating matters, current H-1B visa holders must depart the U.S. to renew their visas, as the domestic renewal program was discontinued in 2004 over security concerns.

To address these challenges, the EIG has proposed a series of changes, including the issuance of 10,000 ‘Chipmakers’ Visas’ annually, featuring an expedited pathway to a Green Card. In this proposed system, 2,500 visas would be auctioned off quarterly to qualifying firms, with immediate transfer of visa ownership to the sponsored worker. This five-year visa would be renewable once, providing firms with the certainty of adequate time to scale up their investments in the U.S. and train domestic workers.

Moreover, the proposed revisions aim to dedicate the fees generated from visa auctions to the training of American workers and the provision of domestic scholarships for students and workers across the semiconductor supply chain. This move is intended to foster a more sustainable and inclusive workforce development approach.

Acknowledging the existing challenges, the U.S. State Department has recently taken a step towards addressing some of the problems by initiating a pilot program. This program allows eligible H-1B holders to renew their visas within the U.S. rather than requiring them to leave the country for the renewal process.

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) has emphasized the urgency of implementing these changes, warning that without a concerted effort in overseas recruitment, the U.S. is projected to face a shortage of 67,000 employees by 2030. The proposed revisions to the H-1B Visa program aim to strike a balance between meeting the demand for skilled workers and addressing the shortcomings of the current system.

AAPI Brings Together Leaders In Medical Education Regulatory Boards From India, USA & UK During GHS 2024

India, home to one of the oldest medicinal systems in the world has made remarkable progress in medical education in the recent past. As the world is evolving to meet the ever-changing needs, medical education in India is moving forward with the objective of enabling every medical graduate and postgraduate to be the best in the world. Several changes are being made for graduates from Indian schools to be at par and for easy mobilization around the world, with the goal of making India the medical education hub for the world.

AAPI Global edIn this context, the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), which has been leading efforts to help streamline medical education in India to meet the global standards, assembled a galaxy of medical regulatory organization leaders from India, the United Kingdom and the United States during the 17th annual Global Healthcare Summit in New Delhi, India on January 2, 2024.

Leaders of National Board of Examination in Medical Science (NBEMS) India, National Board of Examination in Medical Science (NBME) USA, and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) were among the panelists that discussed and educated the aspiring medical students from some of the premium Medical Schools in India who had keenly participated at the panel discussion.

Dr. Lokesh Edara, BOT-Chair Elect and Dr. Sumul N. Raval, current Secretary of AAPI led and coordinated the initiative. During a prior meeting with AAPI leaders last year, they had invited AAPI leaders and those from other US regulatory bodies at the meeting to visit his office in New Delhi during their current visit to India. AAPI leaders invited the leadership of these regulatory groups to the AAPI annual convention in Philadelphia in July 2023 and to the AAPI Global Healthcare Summit meeting in New Delhi in January 2024.

Describing the initiative as “a historic mile stone and a testament to the commitment of AAPI towards Global Medical Education,” Dr. Lokesh Edara said, “AAPI is providing amazing opportunity to connect the medical education and licensing boards of USA (NBME, FSMB) and from India (NMC, NBEMS, AIIMS) to learn from one other’s experiences, sharing vital insights and collaboration on future endeavors, mutual exchange of ideas, sharing of best practices that are critical for advancing medical education and enhancing examination process, assuring high standards for protecting public health will positively shape the medical education.”

20240102 153214AAPI Global Medical Education has led this effort taking the delegation to the Indian National Board of Examinations in medical science NBEMS ( which conducts examination for the 1.8 million students and UG entrance examination across India and conduct the PG NNET entrance examination for 200,000 students annually. AAPI has been able to connect their visits to the National Medical Commission (NMC – that monitors ll700+ medical collges,100,000 MBBS admisisions,60,000 post graduate admissions and their education. During panel discussions lasting more than 3 hours of their experiences and their challenges.

The Indian delegation consisted of Dr. B.N. Gangadhar, Chairman, National Medical Commission; Dr. Aruna V. Vanikar, President, Undergraduate Medical Education Board, Dr Vijay Oza, President, Postgraduate Medical Education Board.

NBEMS (INDIA) was represented by Dr Abhijat Sheth, President of NBEMS, Dr Minu Bajpai, Executive Director of NBEMS; Dr Rakesh Sharma, member Director of NBEMS. NBEMS India also has more than 14000 PG seats in many specialties.

FSMB delegates included: Dr. Humayun Chaudhry, President CEO of FSMB, Dr Jeffery Crater, Chair Board of directors FSMB, Kate Lynn Templeton, Chair-Elect Board of directors FSMB, and Dr Sarvam Terkonda, past Chair Board of directors FSMB.

NBME had the following members at the Panel: Dr. Peter Katsufrakis President CEO of FSMB and Dr. Reena Karani, Chair Board of directors NBME (USA).

Jeffrey D. Carter, MD (Missouri) Chair of the FSMB is a distinguished medical professional, and was elected to the FSMB Board of Directors in 2017. Dr. Sarvam TerKonda (Past Chair, FSMB USA) is a highly regarded plastic surgeon based in Jacksonville, Florida.

Ms. Katie Templeton JD (Chair-elect, FSMB,USA), and Prof. Hasmukh Shah, Recruitment and Training in UK were some of the others from the Medical education field, who were part of the distinguished panelists.

Dr. Sheth presented the NBEMS mission and PG NEET examination, FMGE examination and more than 50 specialties for postgraduate and super specialties courses they are conducting and graduating. Dr. Katsufrakis provided an update on the NBME history and current examination-system.

Se, Edara urged Dr. Sheth to increase family medicine PG seats and nationalized formative assessment tests in theory part for all postgraduates and for post-graduate exit theory examination suggested computerized online test. Nationwide E-Learning systems for higher transfer of Knowledge in medical education.

Feature and Cover AAPI Brings Together Leaders In Medical Education Regulatory Boards From India USA & UK During GHS 2024Dr. Raval said, “In order for us to meet the unprecedented demand and to bring up the quality of education, the Indian medical education system is changing rapidly. The meeting today was a great beginning to facilitate collaborative efforts between India and the United States.”

Medical education has many challenges in the transfer of knowledge and quality. India is introducing the NEXT examination, which is the licensing examination similar to USML in the US, while the UKMLE is starting in the UK in 2024 in the place of PLAB examination. NMC has applied for WFME Recognition status, which is mandatory to apply for USMLE examination.

NBEMS is responsible for NEET PG Entrance Test, which is taken up by more than 200,000 students annually. 694 Medical schools in India with106,083 MBBs admissions per year selected from 2.1 million applicants through the UG NEET examination across India in 3 hours. The current government policy has been to have one medical college in every district to meet the growing needs of India,

FSMB federation of state medical boards leadership ( and NBME National board of examination USA ( leadership is visiting India for the first time in 30 years.

“Overview National Board of Examinations” was the main theme discussed during the meeting. AAPI hopes the excellence gained through long term vision, insight and hard work with both organizations and exchange of ideas and challenges will benefit the medical education system in India and help tens of thousands of medical graduates coming from India to have recognition in the US.

AAPI educationExpressing appreciation for Dr. Edara and Dr. Raval for taking the lead in facilitating interaction and dialogue between the Medical Education Boards of India and the United States, Dr. Anjana Samadder, President of AAPI said, “Since its inception over four decades ago, AAPI has been in the forefront advocating for medical school education reform and for the medical graduates from India to be treated on par with their counterparts in India. India is already leading the global pharmaceutical industry, and rebooting medical education will help India enter the league of leaders in healthcare around the world. The meeting today was a great start, and I look forward to AAPI continuing to lead such efforts in the coming years benefitting the medical fraternity.” For more information on AAPI and its many initiatives, please visit:

The Qatar-India Diplomatic Conundrum: What’s India’s Next Move?

Should Bharat reconsider landing rights for Qatar Airways? A Test of Strategic Resolve

The Qatar-India Diplomatic Conundrum: What's India's Next Move?

By: Amb. Pradeep Kapur & Dr. Joseph M. Chalil

The recent sentencing of eight Indian Navy veterans, including the highly respected Cmdr. Purnendu Tiwari (Retd), by a Qatari court on espionage charges, is a moment of deep introspection for India’s foreign policy machinery. With bilateral ties between Qatar and India already hanging in the balance, this event marks a significant, potentially disruptive moment in their shared history.

Cmdr. Tiwari, a previous recipient of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, has been honored by India for his remarkable contributions to bilateral ties with Qatar. The naval officers were in Kotász to provide training to the Qataris. They are respected and enabled officers, and they are not terrorists. Thus, the sentencing of eight Indian naval officers to death on charges of spying for Israel poses severe questions about trust, respect, and the future trajectory of Indo-Qatari relations.

Qatar and Bharat used to enjoy good bilateral relations. Of late, these relations have come under severe stress as Qatar’s policies have become more closely aligned with Türkiye and Iran due to Qatar’s support and funding of terrorist organizations, including some such organizations within Bharat. Also, the media channel Al Jazeera operates freely from Qatar, with its bias against Bharat.

However, the economic ties and bilateral trade are significant. Qatar is an important source of oil for Bharat. On the other hand, the 800,000 migrant workers from Bharat constitute the most significant component of foreign workers in Qatar, and they contribute significantly to the Qatari economy, along with the 6,000 Indian companies operating in Qatar. Under normal circumstances, the Indian envoy in Doha has a lot of access and clout within the Qatari establishment, and this issue could perhaps have been resolved without it escalating to this level.

Implementing the IMEC (India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor), which was already under stress due to the continuing Russia-Ukraine war and has also been impacted by the Middle East conflict between Israel and Hamas, will be further delayed.

  1. Diplomatic Channels and Open Dialogue

Bharat’s first line of action should continue to be diplomatic. The primary objective should be securing the safe return of the detained individuals, especially given the potentially politically motivated nature of the verdict. India must invoke the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to ensure regular consular access and a fair appeal process for the detained veterans.

Further, a lower court in Qatar has given the death sentence. An appeal must be made to a higher court. An appeal can also be made to the Emir for pardoning the Indian naval officers.  So far, in the last 20 years, only one Nepali migrant worker has been executed in Qatar.

New Delhi must open communication channels at the highest levels, possibly involving Prime Ministerial or Presidential diplomacy. A direct conversation between leaders can often break the ice and prevent a full-blown crisis.

  1. Bilateral Talks and Strategic Diplomacy

While securing the safety and well-being of its nationals is paramount, India must also address the core allegations which link it to Israel. India could propose a joint bilateral committee to investigate the charges independently. This gesture would show India’s commitment to transparency and respect for Qatar’s concerns while upholding its interests.

If Qatar delayed the resolution of the case and set free the former naval officers, Bharat would have to think about the various options, which it could communicate privately to Qatar.

  1. Rethinking Qatar Airways’ Landing Rights

India could reconsider landing rights for Qatar Airways, a major connector between the two countries. One of the significant sources of revenue for Qatar Airways is the Indian diaspora. Qatar Airways has been given rights to many Indian airports. While this move might strain the relationship further, it would be a strong statement about the seriousness with which India views the detentions.

  1. Collaborative Engagement with Israel

Given the alleged Israeli connection, India can deepen its ties with Israel on intelligence-sharing and defense cooperation, signaling a shift in its strategic alignment. While this doesn’t mean outright siding against Qatar, it indicates a diversified strategic partnership beyond traditional alliances. India could list Hamas as a terrorist organization. This will put Qatar under notice as a state sponsor of terrorism.

  1. Economic Leverage: A Double-Edged Sword

Qatar has significant resources for oil. It is also one of the richest per capita GDP countries. Qatar and India have a robust trade relationship. Qatar is one of India’s critical natural gas suppliers and is essential to India’s energy security. Conversely, India is one of Qatar’s largest trading partners. While using economic leverage, such as trade restrictions or curbing investments, is tempting, this tactic can backfire.

Instead of immediately resorting to sanctions or trade curbs, India could consider a phased approach. An initial step might be to review ongoing projects and investments in Qatar, signaling the potential economic consequences of strained relations.

  1. Internationalizing the Issue

If bilateral channels fail to yield satisfactory outcomes, India could consider raising the matter on international platforms. This could include discussions in the United Nations, Commonwealth, or other international forums where both nations participate. By internationalizing the issue, India can rally support from like-minded countries and build pressure on Qatar.

The US had declared Qatar as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA). The US has a major base in Qatar with 10,000 US army personnel. It also carries out a lot of its air force operations and drone attacks in the region from its base in Qatar. This base was also used extensively for the evacuation of Afghans when the Taliban took over.

On the other hand, Qatar provides a haven to representatives and leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda. Thus, Qatar is said to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

  1. Engaging the Indian Diaspora

With a significant Indian expatriate community in Qatar, their well-being and sentiments become pivotal in such a crisis. Engaging with the diaspora, ensuring their safety, and leveraging their influence in Qatar can be crucial in resolving the situation.

The Indian diaspora in the US can also play an essential role by leveraging their connections within the US administration to seek the urgent release of the Indian naval officers.

  1. Exploring Alternative Energy Partnerships

While disrupting the energy trade between Qatar and India could immediately impact India’s economy, the long-term strategy might include diversifying energy sources. India can reduce its dependency on Qatari gas by exploring deeper partnerships with other Gulf nations or looking towards non-traditional partners.

India’s initiatives to create the International Global Solar Alliance (GSA) and, more recently, the Global Biofuel Alliance and its impetus to renewable energy will contribute significantly to energy security. These initiatives need to be expedited.

  1. Approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ)

India should approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning the detention and sentencing of its Navy veterans in Qatar, which can be strategically framed by focusing on international legal principles, especially regarding the right to a fair trial and human rights considerations. Here’s how India can approach the ICJ to block the execution:

As seen in the case between India and Pakistan concerning Kulbhushan Jadhav, India invoked the ICJ’s jurisdiction based on alleged violations of the VCCR. The Convention outlines consular officials’ rights to visit, converse with, and ensure legal representation for their citizens detained abroad. India can argue that its rights under the VCCR were breached if they were not given appropriate consular access. Both India and Qatar are also parties to the ICCPR. Article 14 of the Covenant guarantees the right to a fair trial. If India believes the Navy veterans didn’t receive a fair trial in Qatar, it can base its arguments on violations of this treaty.

  1. Humanitarian Grounds:

While legal arguments will form the core of India’s case, the country can also emphasize the humanitarian aspects, especially given the irreversibility of the death penalty. This can build international pressure, making it more than just a legal issue but a global concern.

  1. Seeking Provisional Measures:

Once the case is brought before the ICJ, India can seek provisional measures, effectively an interim order, to prevent Qatar from executing the Navy veterans until the issue is conclusively decided. This ensures that no irreversible action is taken during the court’s proceedings.


The ICJ’s involvement can be a double-edged sword, as it can help bring attention to the matter and potentially halt executions. Still, it also requires substantial evidence and solid legal arguments. It is crucial for India to meticulously prepare its case, ensuring that it stands on firm legal and moral grounds. Moreover, the entire process can be time-consuming and has no guaranteed outcome. With the right strategy, India can use the ICJ as a critical platform to seek justice for its veterans.

Declaring a state as a sponsor of terrorism is a significant and severe diplomatic move, and it’s essential to understand the complexities and implications of such an action. India could consider declaring Qatar as a state sponsor of terrorism based on alleged support for Hamas. It would likely strain bilateral ties considerably, impact regional geopolitics, and could lead to retaliatory measures by the designated state.

India’s response to this crisis will test its foreign policy’s resilience, maturity, and strategic depth. While the immediate priority is securing the release of the detained veterans, New Delhi must also ensure its actions maintain the delicate balance in West Asia and its strategic interests.

Economic and diplomatic actions should be measured and phased, ensuring room for de-escalation. At its heart, diplomacy is about dialogue, trust-building, and finding common ground. It’s time for India and Qatar to navigate this challenging moment and forge a path of mutual respect and understanding.

Ambassador Pradeep Kapur

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

Joseph M Chalil

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

India, 4th Country Ever To Land A Spacecraft On The Moon

India has landed its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the moon, becoming only the fourth nation ever to accomplish such a feat. The mission could cement India’s status as a global superpower in space. Previously, only the United States, China and the former Soviet Union have completed soft landings on the lunar surface.

India is on the brink of a historic moment to land its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the moon that could make it only the fourth nation ever to accomplish such a feat.

The Indian Space Research Organization confirmed  that Chandrayaan-3, which is Sanskrit for “moon vehicle,” is on track and “smooth sailing is continuing.” The spacecraft is set to begin its final descent to the moon’s surface on Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. IST (8:15 a.m. ET). India’s space agency will livestream the landing attempt starting at 5:20 p.m. IST (7:50 a.m. ET) on Wednesday.

If successful, the mission could cement India’s status as a global superpower in space. Previously, only the United States, China and the former Soviet Union have completed soft landings on the lunar surface.

Chandrayaan-3’s projected landing site is also closer to the moon’s south pole than any other spacecraft in history has ventured. The south pole region is considered an area of key scientific and strategic interest for spacefaring nations, as scientists believe the region to be home to water ice deposits.

The water, frozen in shadowy craters, could be converted into rocket fuel or even drinking water for future crewed missions.

India’s attempt to land its spacecraft near the lunar south pole comes just days after another nation’s failed attempt to do the same. Russia’s Luna 25 spacecraft crashed into the moon on August 19 after its engines misfired, ending the country’s first lunar landing attempt in 47 years.

As Chandrayaan-3 approaches the moon, its cameras are capturing photographs, including one taken on August 20 that India’s space agency shared Tuesday. The image offers a close-up of the moon’s dusty gray terrain.

Meanwhile, India’s space agency has unveiled the latest captivating images of the Moon as its third lunar expedition makes its approach towards the lesser-explored south pole. The imagery has been captured by Vikram, the lander of Chandrayaan-3, which commenced its final mission phase on Thursday.

Picture : Earth Sky

Accompanied by a rover, Vikram is scheduled to make a landing near the lunar south pole on the 23rd of August. On Thursday, the lander successfully separated from the propulsion module, responsible for ferrying it to the Moon’s proximity. These monochromatic photographs provide intricate views of lunar rocks and craters, even featuring a snapshot of the propulsion module.

Chandrayaan-3 and Russia’s Luna-25 are currently at the forefront of the lunar race, both en route to the Moon’s southern pole with anticipated landing dates in the upcoming week. Notably, Luna-25, Russia’s initial lunar undertaking since 1976, when it was under the banner of the Soviet Union, initiated its journey last week.

The mission aims to etch history by executing a gentle touchdown on the 21st or 22nd of August, merely days prior to India’s own lunar touchdown. A successful Luna-25 mission could potentially place Chandrayaan-3 in the secondary position for reaching the south pole.

Picture : AlJazeera

However, India will mark a significant milestone as only the fourth country to achieve a soft lunar landing, following the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) shared on Friday that the lander module has begun its descent towards a lower lunar orbit. Chandrayaan-3, the third installment in India’s lunar exploration endeavor, is anticipated to build upon the triumphs of its predecessors.

This endeavor comes 13 years after India’s inaugural lunar mission in 2008, a pivotal mission that unveiled the presence of water molecules on the parched lunar terrain and validated the existence of lunar daytime atmosphere. In 2019, Chandrayaan-2 was launched, encompassing an orbiter, lander, and rover components. However, its success was only partial, as the orbiter continues its lunar observations, while the lander and rover failed to execute a soft landing and crashed upon touchdown.

ISRO’s leader, Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, conveyed that the agency meticulously analyzed the crash data and performed simulation exercises to rectify the issues in Chandrayaan-3. The mission, with a mass of 3,900kg and a budget of 6.1 billion rupees ($75 million), seeks to rectify the setbacks of its predecessor. The lander module itself weighs around 1,500kg, including the 26kg Pragyaan rover.

The south pole of the Moon remains largely uncharted, with the shadow-covered surface area exceeding that of the lunar north pole. Experts propose that these shadowed regions might harbor water resources. A primary objective shared by both Chandrayaan-3 and Luna-25 is to seek out water ice, a resource deemed crucial for potential lunar habitation. Moreover, water ice could serve as propellant for spacecraft voyaging to destinations such as Mars and beyond.

As India’s third lunar pursuit inches closer to its landing, Vikram’s awe-inspiring photographs provide a glimpse into the enigmatic lunar landscape. The concurrent missions of Chandrayaan-3 and Luna-25 signal a renewed race to unravel the mysteries of the Moon’s south pole. While Luna-25 aims to rekindle Russia’s lunar legacy, Chandrayaan-3 aspires to fortify India’s position in the realm of space exploration. Both missions are fueled by the hope of uncovering invaluable resources that could potentially pave the way for human settlement on the Moon and facilitate interplanetary travel.

UN Urges World Leaders to Declare ‘Climate Emergency’ at Virtual Climate Summit

Global climate leaders took a major stride towards a resilient, net zero emissions future today, presenting ambitious new commitments, urgent actions and concrete plans to confront the climate crisis.

World leaders should declare a “climate emergency” in their countries to spur action to avoid catastrophic global warming, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in opening remarks at a climate summit on Saturday.

On the fifth anniversary of the 2015 Paris Agreement, more than 70 world leaders are due to address the one-day virtual meeting in the hope of galvanizing countries into stricter actions on global warming emissions.

Guterres said that current commitments across the globe did not go “far from enough” to limit temperature rises. “Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency?” Guterres said. “That is why today, I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached.”

The summit showed clearly that climate change is at the top of the global agenda despite our shared challenges of Covid-19, and that there is mutual understanding that the science is clear.

Climate destruction is accelerating, and there remains much more to do as a global community to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, the summit showed beyond doubt that climate action and ambition are on the rise. The announcements at or just before the summit, together with those expected early next year, mean that countries representing around 65 per cent of global CO2 emissions, and around 70 per cent of the world’s economy, will have committed to reaching net zero emissions or carbon neutrality by early next year.

These commitments must now be backed up with concrete plans and actions, starting now, to achieve these goals, and the summit delivered a surge in progress on this front.

The number of countries coming forward with strengthened national climate plans (NDCs) grew significantly today, with commitments covering 71 countries (all EU member states are included in the new EU NDC) on display. As well as the EU NDC, a further 27 of these new and enhanced NDCs were announced at or shortly before the summit.

A growing number of countries (15) shifted gears from incremental to major increases. Countries committing to much stronger NDCs at the Summit, included Argentina, Barbados, Canada, Colombia, Iceland, and Peru.

The leadership and strengthened NDCs delivered at the summit mean “we are now on track” to have more than 50 NDCs officially submitted by the end of 2020, boosting momentum and forging a pathway forward for others to follow in the months ahead.

Saturday’s announcements, together with recent commitments, send the world into 2021 and the road to the Glasgow COP26 with much greater momentum. The summit showcased leading examples of enhanced NDCs that can help encourage other countries to follow suit – particularly G20 countries.

Following this Summit, 24 countries have now announced new commitments, strategies or plans to reach net zero or carbon neutrality. Recent commitments from China, Japan, South Korea, the EU and niw Argentina have established a clear benchmark for other G20 countries.

Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Today we have seen what can be achieved if nations pull together and demonstrate real leadership and ambition in the fight to save our planet.

“The UK has led the way with a commitment to cut emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030 and to end support for the fossil fuel sector overseas as soon as possible, and it’s fantastic to see new pledges from around the world that put us on the path to success ahead of COP26 in Glasgow.

“There is no doubt that we are coming to the end of a dark and difficult year, but scientific innovation has proved to be our salvation as the vaccine is rolled out. We must use that same ingenuity and spirit of collective endeavour to tackle the climate crisis, create the jobs of the future and build back better.”

China and India vowed to advance their commitment to lower carbon pollution at the summit. President Xi Jinping was one of the first leaders to address the virtual conference and he said China will boost its installed capacity of wind and solar power to more than 1,200 gigawatts over the next decade. Xi also said China will increase its share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25% during the same period. And “China always honors its commitments,” Xi promised.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India was ramping up its use of clean energy sources and was on target to achieve the emissions norms set under the 2015 Paris agreement. India, the second-most populous nation on Earth and the world’s fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, is eyeing 450 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity by 2030, Modi said.


Protesting Indian Farmers Call For 2nd Strike In A Week By SHONAL GANGULY (AP News)

Tens of thousands of protesting Indian farmers called for a national farmers’ strike on Monday, the second in a week, to press for the quashing of three new laws on agricultural reform that they say will drive down crop prices and devastate their earnings.

The farmers are camping along at least five major highways on the outskirts of New Delhi and have said they won’t leave until the government rolls back what they call the “black laws.” They have blockaded highways leading to the capital for three weeks, and several rounds of talks with the government have failed to produce any breakthroughs.

Scores of farmer leaders also conducted a token hunger strike on Monday at the protest sites. Heavy contingents of police in riot gear patrolled the areas where the farmers have been camping.

Protest leaders have rejected the government’s offer to amend some contentious provisions of the new farm laws, which deregulate crop pricing, and have stuck to their demand for total repeal.

At Singhu, a protest site on the outskirts of New Delhi, hundreds of farmers blocked all entry and exit routes and chanted anti-government slogans. Some of them carried banners reading “No farmers, no food.”

About two dozen leaders held a daylong hunger strike at the site, while a huge communal kitchen served food for the other protesters.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to provide social benefits (to people.) And if they don’t give those, then people will have to come together” to protest, said Harvinder Kaur, a government employee who came from her home in Punjab state to help at the kitchen.

Another protester, Rajdeep Singh, a 20-year-old student who helps his farming family back home in Punjab, said the protest would continue until their demands are met.

“Now it’s their (government’s) ego and the question of our pride,” he said.

Farmer leaders have threatened to intensify their actions and have threatened to block trains in the coming days if the government doesn’t abolish the laws.

The farmers filed a petition with the Supreme Court on Friday seeking the quashing of the laws, which were passed in September. The petition was filed by the Bharatiya Kisan Union, or Indian Farmers’ Union, and its leader, Bhanu Pratap Singh, who argued that the laws were arbitrary because the government enacted them without proper consultations with stakeholders.

The farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push prices down. The government says it is willing to pledge that guaranteed prices will continue.

With nearly 60% of the Indian population depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, the growing farmer rebellion has rattled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration and its allies.

Modi’s government insists the reforms will benefit farmers. It says they will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment.

Farmers have been protesting the laws for nearly two months in Punjab and Haryana states. The situation escalated three weeks ago when tens of thousands marched to New Delhi, where they clashed with police.

Amidst Pandemic, Poverty, Indian PM Lays Foundation For New Parliament Building

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday laid the foundation stone of the new Parliament building which will be equipped with all modern audio visual communication facilities and data network systems — making it a symbol of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Modi also performed ‘Bhoomi Poojan’ for the construction of the four-storied new Parliament building, one of the most magnificent buildings in the country, would be built in an area of 64,500 square meter at an estimated cost of Rs. 971 crore.

While laying the foundation stone for the new Parliament Building for India, Modi said the new Parliament building, for which the ground-breaking ceremony was held, would channel and reflect the aspirations of 21st century India.

Each Member of Parliament would also be provided with a 40 square metre office space in the redeveloped Shram Shakti Bhawan, construction for which is slated to be completed by 2024. The new Parliament building has been designed by HCP Design and Management Pvt Ltd Ahmedabad and the construction would be carried out by Tata Projects Ltd, keeping the needs and requirements for the next 100 years in mind.

Critics say the 200 billion rupees ($2.7bn) that the Hindu-nationalist government is reportedly spending on the vast project could be better directed to fighting COVID-19 and repairing the pandemic-battered economy. The project has also run into legal trouble with several petitions in India’s top court questioning its validity on the grounds of land and environmental rules. The Supreme Court on Monday expressed unhappiness over the government’s rush to inaugurate the project before it had considered the pleas.

The ceremony was attended by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Harivansh, Union Minister Hardeep Puri and Pralhad Joshi along with senior members of the Union Cabinet, diplomats, and Members of Parliament. The ceremony included an all-faith prayer as well, while priests from the Sringeri Math, Karnataka, did the rituals.

“The new building will be the amalgamation of the new and the ancient, and reflects also the spirit of fostering change in oneself adapting to changing circumstances,” said Modi. “Our Constitution was framed and given to us in the current parliament building and it is the repository of much of our democratic legacy but it is important to be realistic as well. Over the last 100 years, several modifications have been made to the current building to the point where even the building requires rest. Which is why the decision was taken to construct a new Parliament building”.

The Prime Minister spoke of some of the new features added to the new building, including a space where people from constituencies could meet their MPs on visiting the building, something lacking in the current building.

The building will have a seating capacity for 888 members in the Lok Sabha chamber with an option to increase to 1,224 members during Joint Sessions. Similarly, the Rajya Sabha Chamber would have a seating capacity for 384 members.

India’s glorious heritage too will find a place in the building. Artisans and sculptors from all over the country would contribute to and showcase India’s cultural diversity in the building.

Modi called upon MPs to keep the spirit of optimism alive around democracy by being always accountable to people and the Constitution. He spoke of the spirit of conversation and dialogue, quoting the first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Devji: “as long as the world exists, conversations must continue”, noting that it was the spirit of democracy, a comment significant with regard to the stalled negotiations between his own government and agitating farmers groups over three farmer-specific laws passed by Parliament in the last session. While there could be disagreements, there cannot be space for disconnect, he pointed out.

While pointing out that many nations felt Indian democracy would not last, the country had proven naysayers wrong, especially because of the ancient roots of democracy in India as elaborated in the concept of the 12th century Anubhava Mantapam set up by Basaveshwara; a 10th century stone inscription in a village near Chennai, describing a panchayat mahasabha and its elaborate rules, including the need for members to disclose their income; and the ancient republics of the Lichchavis and Shakyas.

“As a nation we must pledge to keep the spirit of democracy and public service alive,” he observed. “The day isn’t far when the world acknowledges that India is the mother of democracy,” he added.

Due for completion in 2022, when India marks 75 years of independence from Britain, the much larger new parliament will replace an old building that the government says is showing signs of “distress”. Designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century, the current Parliament building is the commanding centerpiece of the British Raj, with the adjoining grand Rajpath boulevard, the president’s residence, government offices, the national museum and the India Gate war memorial.


In a bold move to boost the Indian Overseas Congress, USA, six new Secretaries and a new Chapter President were appointed to strengthen the organization.   IOC, USA has been continuously taking various steps to re enforce and augment the organization to meet its obligations and responsibilities, particularly to its membership and the Indo-American community in the USA.

Even during the lockdown brought about the Covid 19 pandemic, with the advent and popularity of the Zoom platform, IOC, USA has had numerous meetings with its membership and with invited dignitaries from India who not only spearheaded the meetings as guest speakers but also gave valuable insight and advice of the developments at the AICC.   IOC, USA

has sprung ahead significantly under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Sam Pitroda. The six Secretaries who received letters of appointment were: Mr. Nikhil Thagadur, Mr. Rajan Padavathil, Mr. Hirenkumar M. Patel, Mr. Rajdeep Singh Sandhu, Mr. Gurinderpal Singh, and Mr. Anurag Gawande. Mr. Amey Duduskar was appointed new Chapter President of Maharashtra Chapter.

Each of the appointees had demonstrated their keen interest in serving IOC, USA, and had individually recruited dozens of new members to augment the organization’s strength. Their prior experience and involvement with the party’s policies and goals make these appointees valuable members whose support and contribution could provide significant strength and impetus further to invigorate the forward thrust of the organizational initiatives.

Congratulating the appointees, the Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress Department of AICC, Dr. Sam Pitroda, wished them success in their new undertakings and advised them tovisualize and seek solutions to problems and obstacles in using modern technology while bearing in mind the new needs of the post Covid 19 world.   Secretary-in-charge, Indian Overseas Congress of AICC, Mr. Himanshu Vyas wished the appointees well and was very encouraged by their interest to serve IOC, USA. He believed that the new team possessed a great deal of potential and expected to receive strong support from them. The vice-Chairman, Mr. George Abraham, felicitated the appointees and emphasized the importance of their IT knowledge and experience and impressed upon them to use it to its maximum. President Mr. Mohinder Singh Gilzian, who was delighted at the prospects of the appointees’ added strength, said that he was very hopeful of the value of the contribution that they are capable of making and looked forward to working with them closely.   Secretary-General, Mr. Harbachan Singh, who played an important role in the appointment process, was encouraged by their enthusiasm. He congratulated the appointees and advised them to work in unison as part of the team.

Felicitations and expressions of good wishes poured in from various senior officials of IOC, USA. They included Senior Vice President, Mr. Phuman Singh Ibrahimpur, Senior Vice President Mr. Ravi Chopra, General Secretary, Mr. Rajendar Dichpally, General Secretary R. Jayachandran , General Secretary Narinder Singh Mundar, General Secretary Sophia Sharma, Vice President Ms. Malini Shah, Vice President Pradeep Samala, Vice-President Jose George, Vice President Harpal Singh Tanda, Vice-President Paul Karukappally and various Chapter Presidents and Committee Chairs.

(By Harbachan Singh, Secretary-General, IOCUSA 917-749-8769)

Nassau County Celebrates India Independence Day

Mineola, NY- On August 12th, 2020, the Office of Asian American Affairs hosted a virtual event to celebrate India’s Independence Day. This event was hosted by County Executive Laura Curran and Executive Director Farrah Mozawalla. It celebrated the independence of India and the heritage of our Indian-American Nassau residents.

The event was held via Zoom and over 100 attendees were present. Special guests included the Consul General Mr. Randhir Kumar Jaiswal of the Consulate General of India in New York and New York State Senator Kevin Thomas.

The virtual event was organized through the efforts of the host committee members Indu Jaiswal, Mohinder Singh, Dr. Bobby Kumar, Shashi Malik, Mukesh Modi, Jyoti Bhatia Gupta, and Pink Jaggi. Sponsoring organizations included the Indian American Forum, India Association of Long Island, IDP USA, and Long Island Ladies Club.

The virtual event started off with the playing of the American and Indian national anthem. Attendees then enjoyed the dance performances of residents followed by a video from community members wishing all a happy Indian Independence Day. The Office of Asian American Affairs also presented citations to eight honorees to recognize their special efforts to their local community.

These eight honorees were: Kuljeet Karishma Ahluwalia, Mukesh Modi, Siddhi Vaishnav, Jessica Kalra, Quddus Ahmed, Flora Parekh, Prakash Shilagani, and Darshan K. Nangia. In addition, the dome of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building was lit in the colors of the Indian flag. During the midst of a pandemic, we were pleased to be able to commemorate this significant event for the Indian community. To see videos and pictures of the beautiful event, visit the Nassau County Office of Asian American Affairs Facebook page at

Indian Overseas Congress, USA, seeks dismissal of Ankhi Das, FACEBOOK content Chief in India

Indian Overseas Congress, USA, an advocacy group that promotes democracy, freedom, and equal justice in India, condemns the FACEBOOK management for its election-year interference, content bias, and suppression of free expression by Indian citizens to help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that is in power.

The Wall Street Journal dated August 14, 2020, wrote a story on how FACEBOOK’s blatant bias and dubious practices in India in favor of the Modi government is having an impact on the social media as regards its citizen’s right to express their opinions in public. These revelations shine a light on how major business houses that include Ambani’s Jio platform and Tech companies in Silicon Valley are heavily invested in India’s current politics and interferes in its communal faultlines.

“It is quite unfortunate that a company founded in a free society undermines the very essence of that philosophy in a sister democracy in the world and that too in favor of a political party that demonstrated its disdain for pluralism, democracy and freedom of religion, “ said George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA.

It has been reported that Ms. Ankhi Das, the content manager in charge of FACEBOOK in India, is said to have told her colleagues “punishing violations by politicians from the @narendramodi party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country.” Reuters reported that a handful of employees had written a letter asking FACEBOOK to denounce “anti-Muslim” bigotry” from BJP politicians that Ankit Das said to have protected.      
       “Congress party valiantly fought for freedom and independence and the dignity of every Indian for the last 74 years, and it is regrettable to see that India’s democracy has now been undermined by a profit-making company such as FACEBOOK,” said Mohinder Singh, president of the IOC, USA.

It is a well-known fact that India is the largest market for FACEBOOK and WhatsApp, and these companies have a huge responsibility in managing the content without bias and bigotry. However, they have chosen the side of those that incite violence and encourage instability that has led to destruction of lives and property. Facebook shoulders a heavy responsibility for what has transpired.     

IOC, USA, supports the proposal by the AICC asking Facebook to set up a panel to investigate the blatant bias regarding BJP-RSS and punish those who have engaged in such dubious practices. As a first step, Ankhi Das, who is the content manager for FACEBOOK in India, should be relieved of her duties and be investigated for her connection to a political party since her actions have tainted the company’s reputation as an independent arbiter of opposing viewpoints.

Facebook says will purge hateful posts by public figures in India

Facing intense political heat in India over its alleged role in favouring the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on its platform, social networking giant Facebook on Friday clarified its position, saying it has removed and will continue to remove content posted by public figures in India which violate its community standards.Ajit Mohan, Vice President and Managing Director, Facebook India, said in a statement that Facebook has always been an open, transparent and non-partisan platform where people can express themselves freely.

“Over the last few days, we have been accused of bias in the way we enforce our policies. We take the allegations of bias incredibly seriously, and want to make it clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in any form,” Mohan said.

He was referring to the controversy generated after a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report claimed that Facebook’s content regulation policies favoured the BJP.

The WSJ report sparked a widespread debate in India, raising serious questions over Facebook’s content regulation practices.

The report claimed that Facebook India’s Public Policy Head Ankhi Das had told staff members that punishing violations by BJP politicians would damage the company’s business prospects.

Mohan said the policies at Facebook are “ever-evolving to take into account the local sensitivities, especially in a multicultural society such as India”.

“An example is the inclusion of caste as a protected characteristic in our global hate speech policy in 2018,” Mohan said.

The Facebook India chief said that the employees represent a varied political spectrum who have either served in many administrations or have political experience and take immense pride in being active contributors to public service.

“Despite hailing from diverse political affiliations and backgrounds, they perform their respective duties and interpret our policies in a fair and non-partisan way. The decisions around content escalations are not made unilaterally by just one person; rather, they are inclusive of views from different teams and disciplines within the company,” he elaborated.

Amid the debate, BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya has claimed that Mohan worked with the Planning Commission during the UPA era.

According to Mohan, there is no place for hate speech on Facebook but they need to do more.

“We know this work is never over, which is why we will continue to invest in our efforts to combat hate speech on our services. We welcome the opportunity to engage with all parties — political or otherwise — who want to understand our content policies and enforcement more,” he said, adding that Facebook’s commitment to India and its people is unwavering.

The Congress has demanded that Facebook should order a high-level inquiry into its leadership team and their operations in a time-bound manner, and publish and make transparent all instances of hate speech since 2014 that were allowed on the platform. “Facebook India should appoint a new team so that the investigation is not influenced,” said Congress leader K.C. Venugopal in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Indian Tricolour to be hoisted at iconic Times Square in New York

The Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) of the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut said in a statement that it “will be creating history” on August 15, 2020 by “hosting the first ever flag hoisting ceremony at Times Square” to commemorate India’s Independence Day.

A leading diaspora group in the US will hoist India’s National Flag at the Times Square this week, the first time the Indian tricolour will be unfurled at the iconic New York City destination.

The Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) of the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut said in a statement that it “will be creating history” on August 15, 2020 by “hosting the first ever flag hoisting ceremony at Times Square” to commemorate India’s Independence Day.

“It will be the first time ever that India’s tricolour will be unfurled at the iconic venue in all its glory,” the organisation said, adding that Consul General of India in New York Randhir Jaiswal will be the Guest of Honour at the event.

The FIA said this year’s Independence Day celebrations will include the flag-hoisting ceremony at Times Square and the annual tradition of illuminating the Empire State Building in hues of the tricolour – orange, white and green.

The Empire State lighting ceremony will be held on August 14.

“The Times Square flag hoisting ceremony is a testament to the Indian-American community’s growing patriotism and is a fitting tribute to the FIA which is celebrating its golden jubilee year,” the organisation said.

Established in 1970, the FIA is among the largest umbrella diaspora organisations. In July, Ankur Vaidya was appointed the FIA Chairman, succeeding prominent Indian-American community leader Ramesh Patel who passed away due to complications from coronavirus.

Vaidya, 40, has been long associated with the FIA and was the President of the umbrella diaspora organisation for the year 2014. He is the youngest member of the Board and the youngest to be chosen as its chairman.

The Consulate General of India in New York will host a virtual Independence Day celebration on August 15 in which it has invited “members of the Indian community and friends of India” for the commemoration that will be live streamed.

The FIA annually organises its flagship event – the India Day Parade to mark India’s Independence Day in August.

Top US political leaders, lawmakers as well as prominent members of the Indian-American community and celebrities from India have participated in the annual parade that draws a crowd of thousands in the heart of Manhattan each year. This year, however, the parade will not be held due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

India, Nepal Fight Over Buddha’s Birthplace

Nepal is the land of origin of Lord Buddha, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu asserted after India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar described the founder of Buddhism as one of the greatest Indians ever. The comment from the Indian Minister also drew a series of reactions from leading Nepalese figures, including former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who said Mr. Jaishankar’s comments about Lord Buddha were “objectionable”.

“It is a well-established and undeniable fact proven by historical and archaeological evidence that Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha and the fountain of Buddhism, is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites,” said the official spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal in an official statement.

The controversy erupted after Mr. Jaishankar, during an interaction with the Confederation of Indian Industries on Saturday, referred to Buddha while discussing India’s soft power. “Who are the greatest Indians ever that you can remember? I would say one is Gautama Buddha and the other is Mahatma Gandhi,” said Mr. Jaishankar.

The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, however, responded saying that the Minister was referring to the “shared Buddhist heritage.” The Indian statement supported the Nepalese assertion and said, “There is no doubt that Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini, which is in Nepal.” India’s statement, however, did not clarify how Mr. Jaishankar regarded the Lumbini-born Sakyamuni or the Buddha as an Indian.

It is understood that the Nepalese side believes Lumbini is of paramount importance in Buddhism, and the Indian side highlights the importance of Bodhgaya, the place of enlightenment of the Buddha and Sarnath, where the first Buddhist sermon was delivered.

Earlier Mr. Jaishankar drew an angry retort from Mr. Nepal who described the remarks as “insensitive and wrong.” “The Indian Foreign Minister has described Nepal’s Lumbini-born Gautama Buddha as a ‘great Indian’. This amounts to misinformation and is objectionable,” said Mr. Nepal.

The war of words about the Buddha has highlighted the Buddha diplomacy that both India and Nepal have been practising for the last few years. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been highlighting India’s Buddhist heritage since 2014, Nepal, with the help of international partners, including China, has invested in developing Lumbini as a major tourism destination. During the Kathmandu visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2019, both countries agreed to collaborate on building a road connecting Kathmandu and Pokhara with Lumbini. Notably, Mr. Modi visited Bodhgaya, the place where prince Sidhartha Gautama became the enlightened Buddha. He, however, could not visit Lumbini during his visits to Nepal due to scheduling problems.

Apart from Lumbini, Bodhgaya and Sarnath, classical Buddhism also attaches high significance to Kushinagar, the place where the Buddha breathed his last. India categorically said that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal thereby defusing a controversy about Buddha’s birth place after Nepal had responded to remarks attributed to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

Jaishankar had talked about about India’s moral leadership and how Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings are still relevant. However, reports suggest that the Nepalese media attributed remarks to him as saying that Buddha was an Indian.

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Sunday said the minister’s remarks on Saturday at an event “referred to our shared Buddhist heritage”.

“There is no doubt that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, which is in Nepal,” Srivastava said. Earlier in the day, the Nepalese Foreign Ministry issued a statement in response to Jaishankar’s remark quoted in the Nepalese media.

“It is a well-established and undeniable fact proven by historical and archaeological evidences that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Lumbini, the Birthplace of Buddha and the fountain of Buddhism, is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites,” said the Nepal Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The official spokesperson of the Nepal ministry said: “During his visit to Nepal in 2014, the Prime Minister of India H.E. Shri Narendra Modi himself, while addressing Nepal’s Legislature Parliament, had said that ‘Nepal is the country where apostle of peace in the world, Buddha, was born’.”

“It is true that Buddhism spread from Nepal to other parts of the world in the subsequent period. The matter remains beyond doubt and controversy and thus cannot be a subject of debate. The entire international community is aware of this,” Nepal’s statement said.

Former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal reacted to the statement attributed to Jaishankar and said the alleged statement that Buddha was a great Indian is “baseless and objectionable”. This controversy comes weeks after Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli had stirred a controversy by claiming that Lord Ram was born in Nepal and was a Nepali

Bloody Partition of India: An eyewitness account

Yash Pal Lakra has made his peace with a painful past, but the memories refuse to go away.  Yash, now a retired surgeon in the US, was only eight years old when the Indian subcontinent was sliced into two nations – India and Pakistan. Overnight, the prosperous Lakras went from a life of affluence to being homeless and penniless. They were stripped of everything – wealth, property, status, their very sanctuary and life as they knew it in their small village of Bopalwala, in Sialkot, a district in present day Pakistan.

The partition of India has been labelled as the “biggest mass migration in human history” with the Hindus fleeing from Pakistan and Muslims fleeing India. The catastrophic event uprooted fifteen million people and killed over a million. Simply because they happened to be a Hindu or a Muslim.

The atrocities inflicted on innocent people as they crossed the border in the scorching summer of 1947 is well archived. Survivors, grown men today, break down and cry as they recall this period of troubled history. Not only is it a black blot on humanity but it is paradoxical because the violence was based on religion – the very religions that tell us to love each other, live in peace and abstain from harming anyone
His voice trembles as he revisits the traumatic experience: the stench of mutilated bodies, the cold fear of being butchered by angry mobs, the ordeal of walking for miles on an empty stomach or the humiliation of begging for food. He grieves as he evokes his father’s struggles to keep his daughters’ honor safe in the mayhem, or his pregnant mother’s parched lips pleading for water. Memories flood his mind and he often pauses to compose himself. The sensitive eight-year-old mind saw death and deprivation in all its grotesqueness and their ghosts still haunt him.

The grief has lessened, and some wounds have healed but the why-of-it-all continues to trouble him. He questions how neighbors, who co-existed peacefully for generations and fought shoulder to shoulder against the British for independence, could turn into blood thirsty monsters, all in the space of a few months. What drove mobs to go on killing sprees?  What stroked the fires of such hatred against those praying to a different God?

Was it an outlet for the pent-up anguish and fear? A reaction to the past few months? A survival instinct or were they victims of circumstances? He speculates that it may have been a combination of all these reasons.

The nightmare began around June 1947 – a few months before independence. Yash’s father Niranjan Das returned from a business trip in Lahore with troubling news of the escalating hostilities between Hindus and Muslims. Hindu homes were being looted and burned, their women raped and abducted. An uneasy fear descended on the household.

The Lakras were residents of Bopalwala, a farming community with a population of about eight to ten thousand people. Hindus occupied the central part of the village, the Sikhs lived in another section of the village while the Muslims lived on the fringes.

A prosperous and highly respected family, they had the distinction of being one of the two richest families in the village. Their ancestral house was the highest in the village and was used by the Indian army as an Observatory Post during World War 2. They ran a flourishing textile shop and a manufacturing unit that fabricated shells for locks and galvanized metal sheets to make buckets and boxes. While his grandfather lived in the imposing ancestral house, Yash’s family lived a few houses away in a sprawling four-bedroom house with a huge verandah that jutted out and covered the narrow street.

On 15 August 1947, India and Pakistan attained dominion status. Yash remembers the moment vividly. His mother Shanti Devi was cooking lunch when his sister came running in to announce India’s freedom from the British. There was jubilation at the news, but the family did not own a radio and so had little inkling of the inflamed tensions brewing beyond their village.

Before too long, trouble reached Bopalwala. In a matter of days, the gulf between Muslims and Hindus widened: Hindus would refer to Gandhi as Mahatma which translates into “Great soul” while Muslims used the denigrating term “Maha tamma” – denoting a “greedy man.” Fears were further fanned when a Sikh man was lynched by a Muslim mob. When his son went to the Kazi (the Urdu title for the head of police) to file a complaint, he was also knifed. The simmering tensions drove a wedge of distrust between the two communities and the Lakras went as far as terminating all their Muslim employees. The galvanized iron sheets used to make buckets were now employed to make body vests to protect family members from attacks by knives and swords.

The situation deteriorated so rapidly that Hindus began to feel unsafe after dark, even in the confines of their own homes. Prominent Hindu families congregated at the Arya Samaj building every night seeking safety in numbers.

Yash remembers those long, dark nights when even the clouds eclipsed the light of the moon. The Arya Samaj building was a one storied corner house. Huge cauldrons of boiling water were kept ready to be tipped over in case the Muslims attacked or climbed the building. Heaped trays of ground red chilli powder were stocked to fling into the enemy’s eyes. Women huddled in the center, rocking their babies to sleep, sharing their fears with each other in hushed whispers. Men took turns standing guard all night patrolling the walls of the house. This continued for a few days until the Hindus realized that these makeshift devices were not going to save them from frenzied mobs.

This feeling of being unwanted led to the exodus of many families to India. The Lakras were divided here. Yash’s grandfather Labha Mal refused to leave the village but Niranjan Das decided to migrate to India with his family. They would later learn that after their departure for India, an angry mob entered Labha Mal’s house with sticks and swords. A neighbor intervened and persuaded the goons to spare his grandfather’s life in exchange for money. Soon after this, the senior Lakra hired a horse carriage to take him and his wife to the nearest railway station to board the next train for India.

Before Niranjan Das left for India, he needed to gather their money and jewelry from their safe deposit box in Sialkot.  The Lakras had transferred their money to the city a few months ago believing it would be safer there than the village.

The keys to the safe deposit box were stored in a little alcove next to another bunch of keys which a relative who had fled to India had given them for safe keeping.  His father described the keys he needed and Yash’s eldest sister brought them and handed them to her father. Accompanied by an army escort, Niranjan Das departed for Sialkot.

At the locker, Niranjan Das inserted the key into the keyhole but it did not turn. He tried again and again, his trembling fingers now desperately twisting the key to force the safe open, but the door would not budge. His horror can only be imagined when he realized that he had the wrong set of keys in his hand. So vivid are Yash’s memories of the sound of his father slapping his sister, tears streaming down her face, the despondency on his father’s face as he paced agitatedly in the dawning realization that there was no time to make another run to the safe. To this day, the Lakras have no idea what has happened to the considerable wealth they left behind.

Each new day presented a different challenge. The army truck had room for only nine members of the family of eleven. It was decided that Niranjan Das would take his full-term pregnant wife, the daughters as their “honor” had to be protected and the younger children with him. Yash and his older brother would follow later.

In late August, a military truck drew up in front of their house. It was a teary separation – his mother wept inconsolably as she clung to her sons. His father locked the house with a heavy heart, the family turned to look at it one last time and boarded the truck. The two little boys stood forlornly and watched the taillights of the truck slowly disappear.

They moved in with their grandfather but a few days later, an army truck pulled up again at the door. It transpired that Yash’s father pleaded with the camp officer in charge of the food supplies to allow his two sons to come with them to India. As the camp was running low on food, the officer agreed in exchange for food grains. The price for each boy was one bag of wheat.

The Lakras stayed at the army headquarters and for the first time in their lives, slept on the bare floor. Every morning they would rise, eat a sparse breakfast, pack their meager belongings and leave for the station in the hope that a train would arrive. Their desperation to leave intensified when a bomb exploded near them one day. After several days, a train finally arrived to take the Hindus and Sikhs to Dera Baba Nanak, the first station across the border on the Indian side.

During this historic train journey, the young Yash would witness unimaginable depths of savagery and hatred. He would see the remainders of a stomach-turning carnage, a beheading and survive a harrowing walk on the bridge of a gushing river. He would replay these scenes with stinging clarity all his life.

While travelling on the train from Dera Baba Nanak to Amritsar, Yash recalls being seated next to six Sikhs. A little into the journey, one of the Sikhs had a niggling doubt that the man sitting opposite them in the garb of a Hindu Pandit was not really who he claimed to be. They pulled the alarm chain to stop the train, dragged him out and disrobed hm. He was circumcised.  Incensed, one of the Sikhs drew out his sword and swung it at the man. The man ducked and the blade snipped a few strands of hair. With the second swing, the sword found its mark and to Yash’s traumatic horror, the man’s head separated from its owner.
The splatter of blood on the ground, the streaks on the sword and the eruption of gleeful cheers that accompanied this grisly act is imprinted in Yash’s mind. He remembers cheering from his seat, but today the cold-blooded killing evokes feelings of shame, remorse and revulsion.

In another incident, the Lakras were waiting at the Dera Nanak Station to go to Amritsar when a rumor spread that a train carrying Muslims to Pakistan was arriving shortly. Hindus and the Sikhs instantly armed themselves with swords and sticks to massacre the unsuspecting passengers with frenzied cries of “Har har Mahadev and “Jo Bole so Nihal.” As the train  chugged into the station, the mounting anticipation of killing the Muslims and the bloodthirsty slogans grew fiercer and louder. The train slowly screeched to a halt. One by one, the people on the platform dropped their swords and fell silent. In an act of providence, the train was completely empty. Strangely enough, Yash sensed a palpable relief among the crowd that the slaughter had been avoided.

The constant fear of being butchered also hung heavily. In one instance, the train taking them from Sialkot to India suddenly came to a standstill on the outskirts of Jasar, a city in Pakistan. Outside, the silence was broken only by the piercing sound of the train’s whistle. As they peered through the windows, the overpowering stench of dead bodies was the first to hit them. Yash  still remembers the bile rising in his throat as he saw flies feasting on  hundreds of rotting corpses, hacked limbs strewn around, bodies slashed with swords and stabbed with knives, crusted splotches of blood, an open suitcase, a copper utensil, a shoe, and clothes littered on both sides of the tracks. The previous train had been slaughtered by the nearby Muslim villages and the whistle was a signal for them. As the minutes slowly ticked by, everyone feverishly began reciting their prayers. A few agonizing minutes later, the train lurched and inched forward. The relief was dizzying as it was nothing short of a miracle. Their savior was an English guard who had cocked his gun at the driver to restart the train.

The passage to India was filled with more ordeals. It was the monsoon season and the rivers were swollen with rain. The train clattered its way over a bridge across the river Ravi and stopped right in the middle of the bridge. An Indian flag and a Pakistan flag marked the borders and the passengers had to disembark here. There was no station, no platform – just the railroad bridge fenced by metal columns and a flooded river beneath them. Solid ground was half a mile away. The lashing rains made the bridge slippery and dangerous and gaps of one and a half foot between the slippers on the bridge compounded the danger. A misstep would plunge them to their deaths in the swirling waters below.

Yash eased down the steps and held his mother’s hand tightly as they both jumped from one slipper to the other bracing themselves with the bridge’s columns. His mother was carrying his baby sister in her other arm and they were all soaked to their skin. His teeth chattered from the cold until a kind neighbor wrapped him in a blanket that became soaked in minutes. In the chaos, they were separated from their father.  Wearily, they made it to the bank of the river and spent the whole night in the open – stranded, wet and hungry. The next morning, they walked for nine miles to the Dera Baba Nanak railway station to catch the train to Amritsar, but every step was pure torture. Yash recollects his mother crying and begging for scraps of food for her children.

In the first week of September, the Lakras reached Amritsar where the famished family was fed some dal (lentils), roti (pita bread) and kheer or rice pudding. They were eating after three days and to this day, Yash can relive the taste of that kheer.

In one sense, the Lakras were fortunate that they had all made it safely to India including the grandparents but the task of starting from scratch was just beginning. The family made their way to Ludhiana hoping to stay with an aunt but were clearly unwelcome there. They left after a day for Naini Allahabad to seek help from another aunt. By this time, their money had dwindled to nothing. The family found shelter in Naini Allahabad but it meant living in the cow shed with the animals for several months.

Niranjan Das’s attempts to run a provision store did not fare well. A much-needed break came in the form of an uncle who worked for the Steel Authority of India. He helped Yash’s father obtain a permit to manufacture steel and the family moved back to Ludhiana.

Despite starting their own business, the Lakras struggled to make ends meet for years. They lived in cramped housing, food was carefully rationed, and Yash says he and his siblings ran around in tattered clothes and grimy faces. In the process, he contracted every infectious disease possible. The children were enrolled in a government school and struggled to cope in an alien culture, language and surroundings. There was little money and Yash remembers wearing cheap footwear that did little to protect his feet from the scorching pavements in summer. The stress of providing for the family of twelve also took its toll on his father’s health.

The one thing that pulled the family out of the mire of poverty, Yash believes, was his father’s insistence on education for all his children. Each one of his siblings did well in their respective careers and Yash himself went on to become a surgeon. He made his way to the United States in 1968 and established a thriving medical practice in Pontiac, Michigan for forty-five years before retiring in 2010.

At 81, what angers Yash the most is the futility of the suffering that millions of people had to endure on both sides of the border. He holds leaders like Gandhi and Nehru responsible for not foreseeing the consequences of the partition and the scale of the tragedy. Their naïve belief that people would leave on amicable terms was fundamentally flawed. The trauma, he believes, could have been easily avoided, had they taken timely and decisive action by mobilizing the army early and making adequate arrangements for an orderly evacuation.

In his more pensive moods, the memories of deprivation weigh him down, but one hurts more than others: the day Yash showed his father his fifteen business suits. Overwhelmed with emotion, his father clung to him and cried for a long time.

In 2012, Yash Pal Lakra took a trip back to Bopalwala in Pakistan. His grandfather’s imposing house had been divided into four sections. He met its current occupants who were warm and hospitable. The house he grew up in was in a dilapidated state as the owner lives in Saudi Arabia. The name of the house “Ram Bhavan” had been completely obliterated, much like their lives when they left their ancestral village in 1947.

Google’s Tez will take India closer to digital transformation: Sundar Pichai

A day after Google launched its new digital payment app “Tez” in India, the company’s Indian-born CEO Sundar Pichai on Tuesday tweeted it will help India move closer to digital transformation. “We hope that the launch of @TezByGoogle will help take India one step closer to your vision of @_DigitalIndia,” Pichai tweeted.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who launched the app here had said the idea of “Tez” was discussed by Pichai in January, just after demonetization. “Google saw a great potential in Indian economy and businesses,” Jaitley said, adding that Google’s new digital payments app over the next few months was likely to make major advances in digital transaction volumes.

Built on the Indian government-supported Unified Payments Interface (UPI), Tez allows users, free of charge, to make small or big payments straight from their bank accounts.

The app was built for India, working on the vast majority of the country’s smartphones and available in English and seven Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu).

The app works in partnership with four Banks — Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and State Bank of India — to facilitate the processing of payments across over 50 UPI-enabled banks.

According to D.D. Mishra, Research Director, Gartner, Tez provides promising features which are in-line with the requirements.

“It is too early to say whether it can be a game changer as evolution in this business is going to continue, but yes it has the capabilities to bring some disruption as of now,” Mishra said in a statement.

Moreover, Google’s information about an individual’s preferences can play a good role in enabling business to know their preferences and provide offers with interesting options.

“The mobile wallet industry too, is evolving and we are at an interesting stage in this competition. Eventually, UPI payments will have an upper hand if it continues to remain free and provide better security, convenience and add more Value Added Services,” Mishra informed.

Time is right for push on U.S.-India ties, says Asia Society Policy Institute Paper

The U.S. strategic partnership with India provides an opportunity to advance many of the key foreign policy objectives of the Donald Trump administration, according to a new issue paper published by the Asia Society Policy Institute.

“The convergence of U.S. and Indian security interests and policies, together with parallel ‘America First’ and ‘India First’ economic policies, holds potential benefits for both nations,” Dr. Marshall M. Bouton, Senior Fellow for India at the Asia Society Policy Institute, writes in the paper.

The issue paper posits that President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both highly-nationalistand pro-business, are likely to find common ground. Additionally, “strong bipartisan support in Congress for U.S.-India ties and official optimism in India about relations with the United States under the Trump administration argue for seizing the opportunity decisively.”

The issue paper urges the Trump administration to move rapidly on five fronts: Develop with Prime Minister Modi a common strategic view of the U.S.-India relationship, especially as it relates to shared interests in China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; Make India a clear strategic and diplomatic priority; Demonstrate American commitment to India’s expanding role in Asia; Develop new avenues for U.S.-India cooperation on defense and security; Manage economic relations, especially on trade and immigration issues, positively while looking for ways to expand ties.

“Among the major countries that seek the administration’s attention, India stands out for the opportunities it offers to advance U.S. objectives,” Bouton writes. “The two nations’ security interests are increasingly aligned. Their economic interests could be an obstacle to closer partnership but, with careful management and imaginative leadership, could become a new frontier in the relationship.”.

For 60 years, the Asia Society has sought to explain the diversity of Asia to the United States and the complexity of the United States to Asia, and to be a bridge in problem-solving within the region and between Asia and the wider world. With a problem-solving mandate, the Asia Society Policy Institute builds on this mission by tackling major policy challenges confronting the Asia-Pacific in security, prosperity, sustainability, and the development of common norms and values for the region.

Jaishankar in DC to plan for Modi-Trump Summit

With the Trump administration’s state department in disarray amid reports of being downgraded and downsized, India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar was at the White House to meet with National Security Council Advisor H.R.McMaster on March 1st to seek a continuation of ever-improving ties with Washington.

According to reports, India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar met Donald Trump’s new National Security Advisor, ahead of the possible Summit between India’s premier Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump.  Among other things,  safety of Indian immigrants and working professionals in the US was discussed in the meeting. The first personal engagement between Trump and PM Modi is expected to take place in May this year.

“Overall, our sense was that the (US) administration has a very positive view of the relationship and a very positive view of India,” foreign secretary S Jaishankar, who led the Indian delegation, told reporters on Friday after the talks.

“It is natural that any new administration that comes in, takes stock of the progress made, sets new targets and bigger ambitions,” he said. And fixing them is the task that lies ahead for the two sides.

On H-1B, the team, which included Indian commerce secretary Rita Teaotia, told Americans the temporary visa scheme, which is in the crosshairs of several Trump officials including the president himself, will “actually help the American economy to be more competitive”, especially as, and when, the administration brings American companies home. Did it carry? They were met with “a degree of understanding”, Jaishankar said.

The Trump administration urged the Indian delegation in these meetings, and at the highest level in the cabinet, to treat the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian aviation engineer, in a case of hate-crime in Olathe, Kansas, last week as an “act by an individual” and that the “American justice system was at work” and the arrested perpetrator would be brought to justice.

The high-ranking Indian official, considered one of the architects of burgeoning US-India ties, met with Trump’s new National Security Advisor H.R.McMaster even as the new dispensation in Washington is struggling to find its feet. Among his remits is laying the groundwork for the first personal engagement between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi that could take place as early as May by way of a visit, ahead of a possible meeting already on the diplomatic calendar on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg on July 7-8.

Ironing out matters relating to movement of professionals, visa issues, trade barriers, and a defense cooperation agenda, including on the manufacturing front that has already been agreed to by the previous dispensation, are part of the discussions with the new players in Washington, with some familiar faces providing an element of continuity. Jaishankar also met House Speaker Paul Ryan in the familiar Indian outreach that goes beyond the executive to the Congress, where there is bipartisan support for strong ties with India.

The safety of Indian immigrants and working professionals in the U.S following the killing of an engineer from Hyderabad in an apparent hate crime in Kansas featured high in the list of Jaishankar’s talking points going by the statement from Ryan on the meeting, absent a readout from the Indian side. Expressing condolences over the ”senseless murder” of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, Ryan said ”our peoples must stand together,” while calling for building on what he described as a ”critical partnership… by discussing ways to enhance our economic and defense cooperation.”

India, just as many countries across the world, is having to deal with the new reality of a powerful White House and an emasculated State Department, and to that extent, Jaishankar’s experience in Washington, where he was the ambassador before being recalled to New Delhi to become foreign secretary, is seen as an advantage.

Indian-origin businessman shot dead in South Carolina

With the nation still in shock from the killing of an Indian engineer Feb. 22, an Indian American businessman who was well-liked in his neighborhood was shot dead outside his home in Lancaster, South Carolina, on the night of Marvh 2.

A 43-year-old Indian-origin store owner in the US has been shot dead outside his home, just days after an Indian engineer was killed in Kansas in a hate crime shooting that had sent shockwaves across the country, reports PTI.

Harnish Patel, the owner of a convenience store in Lancaster County, South Carolina, was found dead of gunshot wounds in the front yard of his home on Thursday, coroner and police officials said.

Patel closed his store and drove in his silver minivan to his nearby home where authorities believe he was confronted by his killer. The store is about 6 km from his house, The Herald reported. He had locked up his nearby store less than 10 minutes before he was found dead, police said.

Patel’s death comes two days after President Donald Trump had said the nation condemned as “hate and evil” the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was shot dead in a bar in Olathe, Kansas, by a white man who screamed, “Get out of my country.”

Local officials in Lancaster said they do not believe that Patel’s killing was a hate crime and that investigations are continuing, according to The Herald. “I don’t have any reason to believe that this was racially motivated,” County Sheriff Barry Faile said Mar. 3.

WSOCTV said that in Lancaster there was a lot of anger over the killing of Patel, who was considered an important member of the community and a kind person who treated his customers as friends and helped law enforcement. A sign on the shop door read, “Store closed for few days because of family emergency. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

A tearful customer, Nicole Jones, told the station that when someone didn’t have money, Patel gave them food. “I would have no idea who would do this to him as good as he is to everybody,” she said. A store employee, Keira Baskin, said that he only wanted the best for his employees and his family.

An IANS report from New Delhi adds: The Indian Consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, has deputed an official to meet the family of Harnish Patel, it was learnt Mar. 4. “CGI Atlanta is in touch with the family. It is deputing a consular official to meet the family and offer condolences and any required assistance,” a source here said.

India will have highest Muslim population by 2050

Key Pew findings in the U.S. and around the world

Indonesia is currently the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, but Pew Research Center projects that India will have that distinction by the year 2050, while remaining a majority-Hindu country, with more than 300 million Muslims. The Muslim population in Europe also is growing; with the projected 10% of all Europeans to be Muslims by 2050.

In 2015, according to estimates, there were 3.3 million Muslims of all ages in the U.S., or about 1% of the U.S. population. Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study  found that 0.9% of U.S. adults identify as Muslims. A 2011 survey of Muslim Americans, which was conducted in English as well as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, estimated that there were 1.8 million Muslim adults (and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages) in the country. That survey also found that a majority of U.S. Muslims (63%) are immigrants.

According to a Pew Research report, there were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world as of 2010 – roughly 23% of the global population. But while Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity), it is the fastest-growing major religion. Indeed, if current demographic trends continue, the number of Muslims is expected to exceed the number of Christians by the end of this century.

Although many countries in the Middle East-North Africa region, where the religion originated in the seventh century, are heavily Muslim, the region is home to only about 20% of the world’s Muslims. A majority of the Muslims globally (62%) live in the Asia-Pacific region, including large populations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.

Pew’s demographic projections estimate that Muslims will make up 2.1% of the U.S. population by the year 2050, surpassing people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion as the second-largest faith group in the country (not including people who say they have no religion.

A recent Pew Research Center report estimated that the Muslim share of immigrants granted permanent residency status (green cards) increased from about 5% in 1992 to roughly 10% in 2012, representing about 100,000 immigrants in that year.

Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. The growth and regional migration of Muslims, combined with the ongoing impact of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and other extremist groups that commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, have brought Muslims and the Islamic faith to the forefront of the political debate in many countries. Yet many facts about Muslims are not well known in some of these places, and most Americans – who live in a country with a relatively small Muslim population – say they know little or nothing about Islam.

There are two major factors behind the rapid projected growth of Islam, and both involve simple demographics. For one, Muslims have more children than members of other religious groups. Around the world, each Muslim woman has an average of 3.1 children, compared with 2.3 for all other groups combined.

Muslims are also the youngest (median age of 23 years old in 2010) of all major religious groups, seven years younger than the median age of non-Muslims. As a result, a larger share of Muslims already are, or will soon be, at the point in their lives when they begin having children. This, combined with high fertility rates, will fuel Muslim population growth.

While it does not change the global population, migration is helping to increase the Muslim population in some regions, including North America and Europe.Americans view more warmly the seven other religious groups mentioned in the survey (Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons). But views toward Muslims (as well as several of the other groups) are now warmer than they were a few years ago; in 2014, U.S. adults gave Muslims an average rating of 40 degrees in a similar survey.


BAPS celebrates Indian-American culture at the Texas capitol building in Austin

The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha hosted a celebration of Indian-American culture at the historic Texas State Capitol in Austin earlier this month. The celebration was sponsored by State Representative Matt Rinaldi of House District 115, who represents a BAPS temple in Irving, Tex.

On the morning of Feb. 1, a group of BAPS representatives were recognized during the 85th Legislative regular session, where a resolution commemorating this inaugural event was read. The resolution also noted the myriad of contributions by Indian-Americans to the Lone Star State and lauded BAPS’ commitment to community service in Texas and across the nation, a BAPS press release said.

Throughout the day BAPS members from across Texas met with their respective state representatives and senators to share the background on the Hindu faith and on the Indian-American community’s history and growth.

Hosted by BAPS, at the historic Texas State Capitol on Feb. 1, State Representative Matt Rinaldi of House District 115 fondly spoke of the contributions of Indian-Americans to the Lone Star State.

“This event is not only a chance for Indian-Americans to learn about government, but also for their government to learn about Indian culture and to provide a learning experience for senators and representatives,” the press release quoted Rep. Rinaldi as saying.

Throughout the celebration, speakers shared their thoughts on the diverse contributions of Indian-Americans to the economic and cultural fabric of Texas. “We value what BAPS has done for our community, from its Walkathon to its Health Fair…BAPS works tirelessly to make Irving, Texas and our district a better place,” Rep. Rinaldi continued.

“I am honored to be here this evening. I know firsthand from my work and relationship with BAPS about what a great job it does and how it impacts thousands of lives across the state,” Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business said. His remarks highlighted the importance of nurturing and advancing the relationship between the growing population of over 275,000 Indian-Americans in Texas and the state government, the press release noted.

The program also touched on the role of the BAPS temples. “Inspired by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, places of worship, such as the beautiful, hand-carved stone mandir in Stafford, Texas, reflects the diverse culture of our state and demonstrates that the contributions of the Indian-American diaspora go beyond simply the economic realm,” said Ketan Inamdar of Missouri City, Tex.

The current spiritual leader, Mahant Swami Maharaj, as always inspired the Indian- American community to celebrate our shared culture and develop a sense of identity and pride in our heritage, he said.

Dance Pe Chance by FIA displays talents and creativity of young Indian Americans

The 68th Republic Day of India was celebrated by the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut with its annual much expected dance competition – Dance Pe Chance, a colorful dance festival, showcasing the talents and creativity of budding artists from the New York region. More than 450 students representing nearly a dozen popular dance schools from the tristate area participated in the event that was held on January 28 at the Plainfield High School, NJ.

“It was heartening to watch young children, some of them as young as five, showcasing their talents, while the choreographers displayed their creativity in the dance sequences, costumes and techniques,” said Andy Bhatia, President of FIA. Different themes including patriotism, worship of Lord Ganesha, and life at an American school were featured.

Participants from the region, competed for honors in three categories – minor, junior, and senior dance contests, according to organizers of this much-anticipated event. The evening was kicked off with the opening remarks by Srujal Parekh, executive vice president, who introduced Mamta Narula, the master of ceremonies. Chhavi Dharayan, general secretary and chair of the Dance Pe Chance for the third consecutive year, introduced the DPC team.

Among the “Minor” category, the winners are: Best Costume: Fusion Arts; Best Choreography: Aum Dance Creations; Creativity (renamed as technique): Arya Dance Academy; 3rd place: Nirmiti School of Dance; 2nd place: Aum Dance Creations; and 1st place: Arya Dance Academy.

In the Junior category, the winners are: Best Costume: Nirmiti School of Dance; Best Choreography: Dance 4 Ever; Creativity (renamed as technique): Dancing Shiva; 3rd place: Aatma Performing Arts; 2nd place: Arya Dance Academy; and 1st place: Dancing Shiva.

The Senior group winners include: Best Costume: Aatma Performing Arts; Best Choreography: Aum Dance Creations; Creativity (renamed as technique): Arya Dance Academy and Nritya Creations; 3rd place: Aatma Performing Arts; 2nd place: Nritya Creations; 1st place: Arya Dance Academy; and, Best of the Best: Arya Dance Academy.

Anand Patel, FIA’s past president, formally welcomed all the participants. As per tradition, the new officials of FIA took the oath of office during the event. Andy Bhatia (president) Srujal Parikh (executive vice president); Alok Kumar (vice president); Chhavi Dharayan (secretary); Jatin Patel (joint secretary); and Himanshu Bhatia (treasurer) took the oath office before outgoing president Anand Patel and Deputy Consul General Dr. Manoj Kumar Mohapatra.

Ramesh Patel, chair of FIA, felicitated the outgoing and incoming officials and praised the team behind the event. H.R. Shah, recipient of the 2017 Padma Shri award was also felicitated at the event.

Jonathan Hollander, founder of the Battery Dance Company, and Dr. Kavita Gupta, were among the judges for the evening. Dr. Sudhir Parikh, Albert Jasani of Royal Albert’s Palace, Rajeev Bhambri of India Abroad, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Yash Paul Soi and other prominent members of the community presented the trophies to the winners.

In his address Deputy Consul General Mohapatra noted the quality of the performances and saluted each team for their excellence. He announced that TV Asia will be hosting a live program every Tuesday with a consulate official to answer questions about passport or visa related matters. He asked people to utilize it to get correct information.

“As Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, We Will Resist.”

Asian Americans critical of Trump’s policies

“As Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, We Will Resist,” said a statement issued by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). “We stand at a critical juncture in world history. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States represents a direct threat to millions of people’s safety and to the health of the planet.”

While expressing its commitment to equality, inclusion, and justice, “we pledge to resist any efforts by President-Elect Trump’s administration to target and exploit communities, to strip people of their fundamental rights and access to essential services, and to use rhetoric and policies that divide the American people and endanger the world,” the statement said.

Trump’s campaign used explicit racial appeals to win the support of disaffected white voters, promising to restore their economic and social standing by deporting millions of immigrants, building a wall, creating a Muslim registry, banning Muslim immigration, and punishing Black dissent.

“The actions of the Republican Hindu Coalition today do not reflect the breadth and diversity of the Indian American community, or our Diaspora,” asserted Bera at a press conference organized by the AAPIVictory Fund Jan. 31, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“I’m very troubled by the Executive Order,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, told the media, especially as it affected Green Card holders. The Trump administration’s exemption of permanent residents soon after passing the Executive Order, he contended, was a “reversal” in the face of the public outcry, and insisted that the order itself was “an assault on the Constitution.”

Sunita Viswanath, a co-founder and board member of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, appealed to Indian Americans to “resist” the Trump order. The Sikh Coalition, an advocacy organization, strongly objected to the Trump temporary ban supported by RHC. “The Sikh Coalition rejects this order as unconstitutional and will continue to stand in solidarity with communities targeted by discriminatory policies,” the organization said, adding, “We support an immigration system that treats people with fairness and dignity, not one based on stereotypes masquerading as law,”

On the social media networking site Twitter, activist Deepa Iyer called for a “Twitterstorm” against RHC on Jan 31. The author of the award-winning book, “We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants” and a Senior Fellow at the New York City-based Center for Social Inclusion, Iyer tweeted, “Progressive Hindus stand w/Muslims, refugees, condemn #Muslimban; call out GOP Hindu Coalition.”

Meanwhile in the New York region, as many as 19 Indian-American academics from universities in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania joined over 4,000 scholars from prestigious institutions across the nation Jan. 27, opposing President Trump’s executive order last week for a suspension of visas and other immigration benefits to nationals from certain Muslim countries.

The academics that included Nobel laureates, members of the National Academy of Sciences and faculty and department heads of universities and educational institutions from New York to California, signed an open letter opposing Trump’s 90-day suspension of visas and other immigration benefits to all nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. The ban is likely to become permanent after the 90-day suspension period. As many as 90 Indian-American professors and other academics across the U.S. had signed the letter, including people from Columbia, Cornell, Harvard and MIT, among others.

The academics have outlined three main reasons for their opposition, including the executive order’s discrimination against a large group of immigrants and longtime residents of the U.S. which is based solely on their country of origin, all of which have a majority-Muslim population. This executive order “is inhumane, un-American and entirely disproportionate to the threat it is purporting to address,” the letter said.

“This executive order would significantly damage the United States’ reputation for academic excellence in higher education. United States research institutions directly benefit from the work of thousands of researchers from the nations affected by this executive order,” the letter said.“The United States academic community relies on these talented and creative individuals for their contributions to the cutting-edge research,” it added.

The prominent Indian-American academic signatories to the letter include Karna Basu, Associate Professor of Economics, Hunter College, City University of New York; Kalyan Chatterjee, Distinguished Professor of Economics and Management Science, Department of Economics, The Pennsylvania State University; Anind K. Dey, Professor and Department Head, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University; Sampath Kannan, Henry Salvatori Professor and Chair, Computer and Information Science Department, University of Pennsylvania and Yash Kanoria, Assistant Professor of Decision, Risk and Operations, Graduate School of Business, Columbia University. The academics urged President Trump “to reconsider his stance to be more consistent with the longstanding values and principles of this country.”

“The actions of the Republican Hindu Coalition today do not reflect the breadth and diversity of the Indian American community, or our Diaspora,” asserted Bera at a press conference organized by the AAPIVictory Fund Jan. 31, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

LA Times reported that 28 other Asian American politicians in California and around the nation have sent a letter to President Trump asking him to rescind his executive order banning citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

The letter noted that Asian Americans have been targeted with similar policies in America’s past, including the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880s, which was the nation’s first major law excluding specific immigrants from the county. During World War II, Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps.

“Your 2,800-word executive order drips with cruel irony as it turns away refugees trying to escape the same Islamic terrorism and violence that you naively claim will be repelled from our shores if we only embrace your bigoted and cowardly directive,” the letter stated

Meanwhile the Republican Hindu Coalition, which worked closely with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and his transition team, is in the eye of a storm within the Indian-American community for its support of the President’s temporary ban on people from seven countries – an executive order that has itself brought forth an eruption of protest by many around the country.

“We applaud the Trump administration for taking this decisive move to protect our citizens from Islamic terror,” Shalabh Kumar, chairman of RHC said. That unqualified support for the ban has invited a storm of criticism from many Indian-Americans, Hindus and non-Hindus, political activists and former administration officials.

The majority-Democrat Indian-American community has lashed out against his stand. California Congressman Ami Bera, Democratic Party activist Shekar Narasimhan, and author and activist Deepa Iyer and others, have assailed the RHC for supporting the temporary ban. Others rejected the Executive Order as “illegal,” and former Indian-American diplomats said it made Americans less safe.

Two other Hindu organizations, Hindu American Foundation and the Sadhana Coalition have come out against Trump’s ban which indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from entering the United States. It also suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocks all citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries considered high-risk – Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — from entering the United States for 90 days.

United Punjabis of America celebrates Lohri festival with flavors of Punjab

Chicago IL: United Punjabis of America (UPA) celebrated Lohri on January 28th 2017 at Ashton Place, Willowbrook, IL. The event started with lighting the lamp and national Anthems sung by Nipa Shah and Aavni Limdi.  The UPAeExecutive board members Madhu Uppal and Dharam Pawani introduced the UPA core team Brij Sharma, Om Dhingra, Ramesh Malhan, Shammi Mittal, Girish Kapur Rosey Bhasin, Shikha Tandon, Kumkum Kumar, Atul Wahi and Vishal Dutt. The event was anchored by the famous emcee and founder of Desi Junction Radio Jassi Parmar.

The Introduction was followed by a variety of singing and Dance items brought by varipus dance schools of Illinois. Jagoo folk by Sangeeta Singh, Rosey Bhasin & Group from Sant Nirankari Mission added a traditional color to the event. Madhu Chawdhary’s school Danceology brought a kid’s dance performance on Sadi Gali Aayo Karo. Prachi Jaitly’s Bollywood Arts Acdemy presented a kid’s talent show with boys and girls performing on a mix of songs like Singh is King, Tutak Tutak Tootitayaan, Radha Teri Chunri and Aun wala Sama tere bhai da. Boys Group Dance by Gauri Mittal performed on the famous Daler Mehandi song Hayo Rabba, Hayo Rabba. Sheetal Dhanani,s Tarana Kathak gave a stupendous performance on Bajirao Mastani – Diwani Mastani. Shalini Dixit,s dance school  Nashe si Chadh Gaye and Love Letter, Nach De ne Sare – Cuite Pie and Phuttey Chuck De and Kala Chashma.

The UPA board honored three business leaders Shalabh Kumar, Hersh Ketharpal and Rahul Wahi for their contribution to Indian community as well as the entire society at large. Shalabh Kumar, “Shalli” is the CEO of AVG Group of companies with headquarters in Chicago and operations all over the world. AVG, established in 1975, has produced over 500 innovative hardware, firmware and software products He is an active supporter of the Indian community in the US.

Hersh Ketharpal, Distinguished Punjabi Spiritual & Community Leader and the founding director of the Yog Sadhna Ashram of Chicago, West Chicago, IL For 25 years she has been serving the community by sharing her knowledge of Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Pranayam, Mediation & and Yogic Cleansing not only at the Ashram but also at other locations, including Naperville, Oakbrook, Lemont etc.  Rahul Wahi, Distinguished Young Punjabi Entrepreneur Rahul Ji is the founder and CEO of LLT Group, a digital marketing company operating in Naperville, IL and Boston MA. LLT Group donates $50,000 per year to the College of DuPage for scholarship for creative art students.

UPA members Shammi Mittal, Rosey Bhasin, Girish Kapur & Atul Wahi gave a vote of thanks to all the sponsors with special thanks to GOLD sponsors Karl Kalra of Live2U and Om Dingra of Wholesome Health Pharmacy and media partners. The cultural program continued and another talented singer Sanjay Amin sang some evergreen songs like Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaye Roop Tera Mastana, Dil Kya Kare Jab, Kuch Na Kaho. Sukhdev Singh presented a Punjabi Skit by depicting Mast Malanga, a hilarious Punjabi Character. The Famous Punjabi Singer Maddy Singh made the audience dance on some fabulous Punjabi numbers. The grand finale performance Gidha was brought by Prachi Jaitly’s Bollywood Arts Academy and the dance floor was opened to the entire audience followed by BonFire.

As foreign students fear new US regulations, varsities try calm Indian students’ fears

Saaedah Shiravany, an Iranian MBA student at a top US business school, says news of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US left her feeling “empty”.

Shiravany (not her real name) worries that she will be unable to graduate because the ban, covering Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia as well as her homeland, would prevent her from participating in an overseas corporate assignment that is a requirement of her course. She fears that if she were to leave the US for the assignment, she may not be able to re-enter the country to complete her studies. “This ban has robbed me of the experience I came here to have,” she says. Leaving the US would mean saying goodbye to completing her MBA next year.

Shiravany is only one among the thousands of students in the USA from abroad, who have expressed and experienced such fears in the past week. Allaying fears of such international students following US President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order targeting immigrants, several American universities are mailing prospective students to let them know that that they are welcome to their campuses, regardless of what the Trump government says.

While these mails are an attempt to reassure immigrant students, these may have also become necessary since the US remains the hub for Indian students. Mubarak Kader, who applied for the engineering management program at Duke University in North Carolina, received a mail from the university this week. “We know many members of the global community are… concerned about the new policies,” wrote the university, adding links to statements from the institution president who promised to bring these concerns “to the attention of policymakers and public”. The president of our university sent out a similar message to us, international students, on the campus. He told us how the university will always be a place for people of different cultures to come together and engage in dialogue,” said a student pursuing law at the University of Miami. Other institutions, like the

University of Michigan and Northeastern University, too, have sent out similar mails to students who may be apprehensive about being subjected to discrimination while at university or being detained at immigration points as witnessed at several US airports over the week.

Anupama Vijay, an education consultant, said: “Indians pursuing professional courses will have no issues as their student visas entitle them to a five-year optional practical training period. Only after this period does securing an H-1B visa become a concern. Their status as students in the US will be untouched by the new policy,” she says.

Subba Rao Kolla, Puneet Ahluwalia to make bids to Virigina Assembly

Subba Rao Kolla, an Indian-American Republican from Washington DC, announced he will run against incumbent Democrat John Bell for the Virginia House of Delegates 87th District seat, the media reported.

Another Indian-American Republican leader from Virginia Puneet Ahluwalia is contesting for Virginia’s House of Delegates for the 34th district against incumbent Kathleen Murphy. Ahluwalia, 10th District Representative on the Virginia Republican State Central Committee, served as a financial chair of the Asian American presidential inaugural ball in January.

Kolla, a real estate businessman and a community activist, if elected, will become the first Indian-origin member of the Virginia House of Delegates, American Bazaar reported. Kolla immigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s and became an American citizen in 2008.

“Whether helping new citizens navigate the area and become citizens or volunteering as I have for the past three years on the Loudoun County Board of Equalization, I understand the importance of having accessible, hands-on help from our elected officials.

“My top priorities as a member of the State House will be education, transportation and working with small businesses and taxpayers to reduce government interference and regulation. As a conservative Republican, I believe the government that governs least, governs best,” he added.

The success of our community demands us to be active and participate in mainstream politics. It is our responsibility to strengthen the diversity of our nation,” he said. “We should be supporting President Trump and Republican leadership in creating and promoting American jobs with strong emphasis on balanced trade between US-Indo Pacific Region. We should not lose focus on eradicating terrorism and enemies of democracies,” he added.

Ahluwalia said that he would work to strengthen the Republican Party’s base in Virginia, among other things. “We will watch our allies’ back and it is important that communities, including the Indian-American community that has benefited most from this great nation, play a pivotal role in the revival process. I had a choice but I chose to stand up and participate in the political process and serve the public of 34th district,” Ahluwalia said. “Our nation is at a crossroad where we will take new positive direction as we embark on a journey to make our nation stronger.”

He added: “I have the support of my wife, kids and friends, and supporters and very importantly the leadership of the Republican Party, especially Barbara Comstock.” A Delhi Public School (DPS) alumni, Ahluwalia heads consultancy and IT businesses in the Washington DC area, along with active participation in the US politics, since 1998-99.

Kolla is a realtor in Loudoun County, having worked in real estate for over 10 years, and is well-known among the local Telugu community. He holds an M.Tech degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and owns his own real estate firm, Advin Realty.

He is also engaged with the Indian-American community, both at the local and national level. His work with the community has been lauded by former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell as well as by the Telugu Association of North America (TANA). Kolla was one of the delegates during the Republican National Convention held in Cleveland last July.

Republic Day Celebrations at Indian Embassy

​The Embassy of India in Washington, D.C. observed India’s 68th Republic Day at its premises. Ambassador Navtej Sarna paid floral tribute to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in front of the Embassy, after which he unfurled the national flag.

Ambassador Sarna addressed the guests and read out the address by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee. This was followed by singing of patriotic songs by a young Indian American. Over 200 members of the Indian-American community attended the celebrations. Documentaries titled “A Day in the Life of India” and “INDIAN ARMY: An Instrument of National Power” were screened on the occasion.

Picture Caption: Ambassador Navtej Sarna reads out the Republic Day message of President Pranab Mukherjee at Republic Day celebrations at the Embassy of India in Washington, D.C., Jan. 26.

Trump talks to Modi

Donald Trump tells Narendra Modi he considers India a ‘true friend’

President Donald Trump is reported to have invited Modi to visit the United States later this year, during a phone call on Tuesday, four days after the Republican President took oath as the 45th President of the US. During the call, “President Trump emphasised that the US considers India a true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world,” the White House said in a readout of the call.

Trump spoke with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a call last week, one of the few world leaders the new US President has spoken to since taking office on January 20th.

According to a White House statement, Trump emphasized that Washington considers India a “true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world.”  The new US leader also said he was looking forward to welcoming Modi in the US later this year.

Modi’s a frequent visitor to the US; he’s made four official visits since he assumed office in 2014. Last June marked the seventh time he had met former President Barack Obama.  On the call, Trump and Modi were said to have discussed opportunities to strengthen their partnership on the economy and defense, though no details were given. They also discussed security in south and central Asia, a region that encompasses Pakistan and Afghanistan, and resolved to “stand shoulder to shoulder in the global fight against terrorism.”

The leaders discussed economic and defense co-operations and regional security issues, the White House said in a statement. He was the fifth word leader President Trump spoke to after coming to office. The two men expected to find common ground going forward on terrorism and security, particularly in regard to the terrorist threat from neighboring Pakistan, experts said.

PM Modi was one of the first leaders to congratulate President Trump after his victory in the November elections and the inauguration last week. In a series of tweets, the Prime Minister had said he looked forward to working with President Trump to “further deepen” India-US ties and “realise the full potential of our cooperation”.

President Trump, whose “Buy American, Hire American” policy and plans to clamp down on H-1B visas has caused some unease in the Indian IT industry, has so far been positive about India. During his election campaign, he mentioned India as the only other nation besides Israel, with which he wanted to strengthen ties. Expressing personal admiration for PM Modi, Trump had called him a “great man” who was “very energetic in reforming India’s bureaucracy”.

Trump also said he had “great confidence” in India. “Generations of Indian and Hindu Americans have strengthened our country…your values of hard work, education and enterprise have truly enriched our nation.”


Chicagoans robustly represented at Global Indian Diaspora conference in India

Chicago’s Indian American Business Council’s [IABC] domineering presence at Pravasi Haryana Divas [PHD] was manifestly conspicuous with four prominent Chicagoans Poonam Gupta-Krishnan, Harish Kolasani, Keerthi Kumar Ravoori and Chacko Kurian actively participated and interacted as official representatives at this glittering global diaspora conference hosted on a grand epic scale with all the fanfare at the Kingdom of Dreams venue in Gurgaon in Haryana near Delhi.

The enthused Chicagoans of the Indian American Business Council actively interacted with ministers and several high ranking government officials to complement their efforts and discussed laying out of a preliminary road map on ways to inspire investors to make India the investment destination.   Poonam Gupta-Krishnan, CEO of Iyka International and IABC Chairperson said the Pravasi Haryana Divas served as a momentous opportunity for Chicago’s IABC to serve as an effective catalyst to garner investors in Haryana and other states in India from the United States — that which seeks to benefit both the countries. Poonam Gupta-Krishnan led the team to interact with the officials, corporate heads and other entrepreneurs in forging this alliance of collaboration.

Harish Kolasani, IABC President IABC said Pravasi Haryana Divas has opened sluice gates of investment opportunities in wide range of sectors and added that IABC would play a substantive role in leveraging its organizational business-acumen capital to build bridges of partnerships to encourage a mutually-beneficial business opportunities especially in the area of information technology.

Keerthi Kumar Ravoori, IABC Vice President outlined several initiatives to be undertaken by IABC with a goal of serving as ambassadors promoting business and investments opportunities between India and the United States and enable a robust exchange of business prospects between the two countries.

Connected by roots and united by vision, the state of Haryana in partnership with Confederation of Indian Industry [CII] hosted this grand scale 2-day diaspora summit that was replete with sectoral sessions and business seminars on information technology enabled service, education, sports, tourism, media and entertainment to usher a paradigm shift in the development of the state of Haryana. The 2-day conference also encompassed colorful cultural programs in the evening culminating with a grand awards presentation attracting the diaspora elite showcasing the best of Haryana and its global class city making the city as a ‘Preferred Investment Destination’

Earlier, the executive team of IABC also actively participated in Pravasi Bharitya Divas [PBD] in Bengaluru, India. Chairperson Poonam Gupta -Krishnan and President, Harish Kolasani held high level trade discussions at Pravasi Bhartiya Divas in Bengaluru. Discussions with Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah and his high-level team was productive especially the meeting with B. K. Shivkumar, MD Department of Industry and Commerce; Gaurav Gupta, Commissioner for Industrial Development ; Dr. K. Muralidhara, Secretary, NRI Forum, Government of Karnataka.

Other well-known Chicagoans who joined at this global Indian diaspora conference include Dr. Sanhita Agnihotri, Dr. Hyder Mohammed and Hina Trivedi.

DuPage Senior Citizen Council celebrates 68th republic day

Chicago IL:  DuPage Senior Citizen Council organized 68th Republic Day Celebration at Shahi Banquets, North Avenue, Lombard IL. Various local artists entertained the seniors and celebrated republic day. Program started with US and Indian National anthem.

Prachi Jaitly, Director, Bollywood Arts Academy performed semi-classical dance on a Bollywood medley paying tribute to the legendary actresses Asha Parekh and Saadhna. She performed on Raat Ka Sama, Khat Likh De Sawariya Ke Naam and Jhumka Gira Re.

A famous local singer Ishaan Ahmed sang patriotic songs like Ye desh hai veer jawano ka, Mere desh ki dharti.  Another singer, Avni Khanna sang beautiful numbers like Chalta Chalte from Pakeeza and Dama dam Mast kalander. Another local artist Hema Shastri danced on Yashomati Maiya se bole nand lala. The program featured flag hoisting and cake cutting by the founding president of FIA Sunil Shah. The entire program was very well coordinated by Moneek Khan.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon offers to mediate between India, Pakistan

With tensions mounting between the border of India and Pakistan, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has offered to act as mediator between India and Pakistan to defuse rising tensions over disputed Kashmir. The offer came after Pakistan’s ambassador met with the UN chief and urged him to personally intervene, while India said it did not want to aggravate the situation.

Ban called on “both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation,” a statement from his spokesperson said. The UN chief said India and Pakistan should address differences through diplomacy and dialogue, and offered to mediate. “His good offices are available, if accepted by both sides,” the UN spokesperson said.

Tensions between the two arch rivals have been boiling since the Indian government accused Pakistan-based militants of launching an assault on an army base in Kashmir earlier this month that killed 19 soldiers.

India had said it had carried out “surgical strikes” several kilometers (miles) inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on “terrorist” targets. “This is a dangerous moment for the region,” Pakistan’s ambassador Maleeha Lodhi told AFP after meeting with Ban at UN headquarters in New York. “The time has come for bold intervention by him if we are to avoid a crisis, because we can see a crisis building up.” Lodhi accused India of creating “conditions that pose a threat to regional and international peace and security”.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric earlier said the UN chief “would welcome all proposals” or initiatives aimed at de-escalation. Ban is following the situation “with great concern,” said Dujarric, citing the escalating rhetoric between the two countries and the increased tensions along the Line of Control that separates Kashmir between the nations.

A UN military observer mission (UNMOGIP) is looking into reports of ceasefire violations along the line of control and will report to Ban, he added. “UNMOGIP has not directly observed any firing across the line of control related to the latest incident,” he added.

In a statement to AFP, India’s mission to the United Nations said “India has no desire to aggravate the situation,” and that “our response was a measured counter terrorist strike. It was focused in terms of targets and geographical space,” the mission said. “It is reflective of our desire to respond proportionately to clear and imminent threat posed by terrorists in that instance. With our objectives having been met that effort has since ceased.”

The Pakistani ambassador said she had suggested to Ban that plans for a visit to India and Pakistan expected in November could be brought forward to avert a crisis. Lodhi also met this week with the current Security Council president, New Zealand ambassador Gerard van Bohemen, to ask that the top UN body keep a close eye on developments. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain seven decades ago, two of them over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Global competitiveness: Pakistan stands last in South Asia, India jumps 16 spots

Pakistan has been ranked at 122, last amongst its South Asian neighbours, in the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The forum has ranked India at 39th spot, followed by Sri Lanka 71, Bhutan 97, Nepal 98 and Bangladesh at 106 at the GCI, reports the Business Reporter, a financial daily of Pakistan.

The Global Competitiveness Report 2016-17 competitiveness ranking is based on the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), which was introduced by the WEF in 2005. Defining competitiveness as the set of institutions, policies and factors which determine the level of productivity of a country, the calculations of the GCI scores are made by drawing together country-level data covering 12 categories — the pillars of competitiveness — that collectively make up a comprehensive picture of a country’s competitiveness.

The 12 categories, or the pillars of competitiveness are-institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication, and innovation.

Among 114 global competitiveness indicators, Pakistan this year showed improvements on 54 key indices, whereas on 50 indices the country lost its previous position, while 10 indices remained same as last year.

According to the report, Pakistan has shown recovery on the economic front, where the country has been successful in improving its macroeconomic framework to improve its global competitiveness.

Pakistan improved from 119 in 2015-16 to 111 in 2016-17 on the institutions pillars, while infrastructure improved only one point and stands at 116 this year.

Corruption, followed by crime and theft, tax rates, access to finance and government instability and coups, has been identified has the most problematic factor for doing business in Pakistan.

The report also indicates that a ten-year decline in the openness of economies at all stages of development poses a risk to countries’ ability to grow and innovate.