Yale University Issues Formal Apology for Historical Ties to Slavery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Report On India Exposes Transnational Repression and Online Censorship of Minorities

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

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

Key sections of the report include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A leader of enormous charisma from a modest

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

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

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

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

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

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

PORTRAIT IN POWER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A HINDU KINGDOM

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

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

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

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

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

THE BURDENS OF THE FUTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maldives Struggles with Financial Crisis Amidst Escalating Tensions with India

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Modi Government Targeting Opposition Leaders for Political Reasons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Indian States Protest Alleged Fiscal Discrimination in New Delhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gandhi’s Ramrajya Vs. Modi’s Ramrajya

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

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

Gandhi’s Idea of Ramarajya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Features of Gandhi’s Ramarajya:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Public Lynchings

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

  1. Arrests of Journalists

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

III. Misuse of the UAPA

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

  1. Police Atrocities

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

  1. The Manipur Ethnic strife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eminenet physician leaders joined  on Zoom on Jan 17th Wednesday

Organised by

Dr Sudhir Sekhsaria, Dr Raj Bhayani

Dr Manbir Takhar

Dr Hemant Dhingra

Dr Narendra Kumar

About 30 physician leaders from USA joined the meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Yorkers Celebrate Inauguration Of Ram Mandir With Car Rally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crafting the Idol:

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

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

Designing Facial Features:

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

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

The Captivating Smile:

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

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

Emotional Journey:

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

Significance of Idol’s Dimensions:

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

Choice of Krishnashila Stone:

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

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

Traditional Craftsmanship:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Renewable Energy: Powering a Greener Future

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

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

Electric Mobility: Revving Up Sustainability

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

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

International Solar Alliance: Illuminating the Global Path

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

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

Beyond Rankings: A Holistic Approach to Climate Action

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

Graph of India’s Rise in the CCPI

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

Voices from the Ground

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

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

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

Challenges and the Road Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMEC: Paving the Way for Global Prosperity through Economic Connectivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Voting Trends Expats’ Influence on Home Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many local residents, such as Chandramal Mishra, a 38-year-old supervisor on the project, have come to work on the temple and other new buildings. Some had never worked in construction before. A native of a village less than 10 miles from Ayodhya, he had juggled several jobs before landing a role as the head of an electrical team at the temple site. For the last eight months, he has slept in a makeshift dorm with 500 beds and 35 bathrooms. “There are times when I’m needed even at 2 a.m. for work on site,” he said.

Far from complaining, Mishra said that the camaraderie among the volunteers is enough to sustain him. “I’m a Brahmin” — considered the highest of India’s social castes — “but no one asks me why I am working on a construction site. To use a shovel on the land of Ram Mandir is a matter of pride for me.”

Many workers, such as Sapna Sahu, tirelessly polish blocks of intricate marble with sandpaper, chanting “Jai Shri Ram” as they work, which they consider seva, or service, to their beloved Lord. Though each block takes two weeks to polish, she said, “I haven’t counted the stones I polished so far in two years.”

In the past year, luxury hotels, an international airport and major clothing brands have established outposts in Ayodhya, offering not only employment opportunities but shiny attractions for outsiders. But as part of the massive revamp to host millions of expected tourists, some residents have been dispossessed of their homes and land and claim that they were compensated poorly. These residents are now questioning the price of the Ram temple.

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Construction crews work on Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram, being built at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, India, Friday, Dec. 29, 2023. The 16th century mosque was destroyed by Hindu radicals in December 1992, sparking massive Hindu-Muslim violence that left some 2,000 people dead. The Supreme Court’s verdict allowed a temple to be built in place of the demolished mosque. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Sahu’s friend and fellow stone polisher Snehlata watched as her in-laws’ house was demolished by district authorities. “Ayodhya is our home,” said the 28-year-old. “That’s why we are sad. It is a very sad feeling to lose our home. But if they are well compensated for this, then it is better for all.”

An economic boom, it is hoped, will erase Ayodhya’s political notoriety. The inauguration of the temple “is the day we all have waited for,” Snehlata said. “Until the Mandir exists, this stone will be etched in there. … Our kids will remember that I worked on this.

“A person can earn a living anywhere, but this is beyond belief. An opportunity of a lifetime.”

The area’s Muslims are taking less satisfaction from the city’s growth. In 2019, the Indian government, having awarded the disputed site to the temple, allocated 5 acres in a nearby village for a new mosque, barely 150 meters from the highway to the state’s capital, Lucknow. The trust responsible for the mosque construction, the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation, still awaits funds, an official said.

Mohsin Khan, who grew up near the mosque site, was elated to hear that a “grand mosque” would be built in his neighborhood. “But it has been a long time since then and there has been no work,” he said. “It is saddening and cruel.”

As the sun went down and children finished their prayers at the existing mosque and ran toward the open field where the Ayodhya Mosque is to be built, local women looked after their grazing buffaloes in the field. “Children play here. Sometimes we even join them for a bit. That’s all that happens here,” said Khan. “What’s the point of keeping looking at this land otherwise?”

With little time left until the inauguration date for the temple, roads remain unpaved, stones remain uncarved and the temple is still unfinished. The murti, or idol, of Ram Lalla will be consecrated on Jan. 22, but Mishra suggested that the temple complex will not be fully ready until 2028.

The rush to meet deadlines has triggered political divisions, with opposition leaders declining an invitation to the ceremony. “The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the leaders of the BJP and the RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gain,” the Congress Party said in a statement on Jan. 10, referring to both their political opponents and the RSS, the religious and social organization that fostered the BJP.

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Construction crews work on the entrance to the new Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram, in Ayodhya, India. (RNS photo/Richa Karmarkar)

Still, tourists are already beginning to arrive, some sneaking construction debris into their pockets to bring home. Others stack rocks to make little “homes” in a spiritual tradition similar to tossing coins in a wishing well.

Nitish Yadav, a 30-year-old pilgrim from central India, traveled with his family for 48 hours to reach Ayodhya. “No one can stop it now,” he said regarding the construction site, as tears welled in his eyes. “Ram has returned home.”

“We have also made a home for Ram lalla on this land,” added Yadav’s wife, Rajni, as she watched her son stack up rocks near the fence. “We couldn’t wait till the opening to see this.”

Yadav has an added sense of pride from having a hand in the event. “After waiting for 500 years, a Hindu of Modi’s stature has come to realize this dream,” he said. “I voted for the BJP in 2014 so that this day can come.”

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A pedestrian avenue will connect an established Hanuman temple to the new Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, India. (RNS photo/Richa Karmarkar)

Grand Celebrations and Global Enthusiasm Surrounding Ayodhya’s Ram Temple Inauguration

As anticipation grows in India for the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya later this month, Indians residing in the United States have displayed their enthusiasm through a grand car rally organized in Edison, New Jersey. More than 350 cars, adorned with flags depicting images of Lord Ram, participated in the event, as captured in visuals accessed by ANI.

Simultaneously, preparations for the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple on January 22 have taken on a global scale. Giant billboards featuring Lord Ram and the majestic shrine have been erected in over 10 states in the United States, thousands of miles away from Ayodhya. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), US chapter, in collaboration with Hindus from across the country, has installed over 40 billboards, conveying the significance of the grand ceremony at the birthplace of Shri Ram Lalla.

These billboards are prominently displayed in states such as Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia. Additionally, Arizona and the State of Missouri are scheduled to join this visual celebration from January 15 onwards, according to the VHP, American chapter.

Amitabh VW Mittal, the general secretary of the Hindu Parishad of America, emphasized the joy and excitement of Hindu Americans, stating, “The resounding message conveyed by these billboards is that Hindu Americans are elated and joyously participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Their emotions overflow as they eagerly await the auspicious day of the consecration ceremony.”

Teja A Shah, joint general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, America chapter, echoed this sentiment, expressing the palpable enthusiasm within the Hindu community in New Jersey. He mentioned the various events leading up to the ceremony, including a car rally, exhibition, curtain raiser, and billboards across New York and New Jersey, culminating in a grand celebration on the 21st night.

To mark the inauguration of the Ram Temple, the Hindu American community in the US has organized several car rallies, with more events planned in the lead-up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ in Ayodhya.

Meanwhile, President Bhojraj Ghoorbin of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharm Temples Federation shared the preparations in Mauritius. Temples across the country will organize Ramayan Chanting and celebrations on January 22, commemorating the Pran Pratishtha of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Ghoorbin highlighted the festive atmosphere, revealing that all Hindu brothers and sisters in Mauritius are actively participating in the celebrations, with special events planned, resembling the fervor of Diwali.

“In Mauritius, we are celebrating two Diwalis. The first Diwali is on January 22, and the second Diwali is on October 31. We will do it the same as we all know: after 14 years of Vanwas (exile), Prabhu Shri Ram is coming to Ayodhya. So this time, not after 14 years, Prabhu Ram is coming after 500 years,” added President Ghoorbin. He also announced a cultural program a day before the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, with Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth attending as the chief guest.

On the Indian front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the ceremonial installation of the idol of Shri Ram Lalla inside the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple on January 22. Leaders and dignitaries from various fields have been invited to the grand temple opening, which will span seven days starting January 16. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has set the date for the enthronement of Ram Lalla at noon on January 22, with Vedic rituals for the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony beginning on January 16, a week prior to the main event.

Reflecting on the cultural significance of the Ramayan, the Indian envoy to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, highlighted its universal appeal and timeless lessons. Speaking at an event titled ‘Ramayana across Asia and Beyond’ at the US Capitol Hill, Sandhu stated, “The epic gives insights into the complexities of human relationships, governance and spirituality, dharma or duty, justice, sacrifice, loyalty, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.

He emphasized the global reach of the Ramayan, serving as a bridge across geographies and influencing diverse cultures in the Indo-Pacific region. Ambassador Sandhu shared his personal observations of the epic’s impact across boundaries, showcasing its adaptability in various artistic, literary, and religious traditions.

The fervor surrounding the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is not confined to the borders of India. The global Hindu community, especially in the United States and Mauritius, is actively participating in and celebrating this historic event, showcasing the universal appeal and cultural significance of the Ramayan.

Hindu Americans Celebrate Ayodhya’s Grand ‘Pran Pratishtha’ Across the US with Billboards and Rallies

Amidst the ongoing global events and celebrations leading up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, massive billboards featuring Lord Ram and the majestic shrine in the temple town of Uttar Pradesh have been erected in more than 10 states, extending thousands of miles away in the United States.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) US chapter, in collaboration with Hindus from various parts of the US, has installed over 40 billboards across 10 states, showcasing the message surrounding the grand ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the birthplace of Shri Ram Lalla in Ayodhya on January 22. The billboards adorn prominent locations in states such as Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia, with Arizona and the State of Missouri joining this visual celebration from Monday, January 15, as per the VHP American chapter.

Amitabh VW Mittal, the general secretary of Hindu Parishad of America, emphasized the sentiment conveyed by these billboards, stating, “The resounding message conveyed by these billboards is that Hindu Americans are elated and joyously participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Their emotions overflow as they eagerly await the auspicious day of the consecration ceremony,” as reported by ANI.

In commemoration of the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the Hindu American community across the US has arranged numerous car rallies and has scheduled additional events leading up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ in Ayodhya.

The ceremonial installation of the idol of Shri Ram Lalla inside the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple on January 22 will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A multitude of leaders and dignitaries from various walks of life have been invited to witness the grand opening of the temple in Ayodhya.

According to temple officials, the ceremony is planned over a seven-day span, commencing on January 16. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has finalized the enthronement of Ram Lalla at the sanctum-sanctorum of the Ram Temple at noon on January 22.

To mark the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony of Ram Lalla in Ayodhya, Vedic rituals will commence on January 16, a week before the main ceremony.

The Indian envoy to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, highlighted the cultural significance of the Ramayan during an event at the US Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, titled ‘Ramayana across Asia and Beyond’. He expressed, “Ramayan is a bridge across geographies and teaches people about the complexities of human relationships and the eternal struggle between good and evil.”

Sandhu further emphasized the widespread influence of Ramayan across the Indo-Pacific region, stating, “The lessons and tales from Ramayan are passed down from generations, and it is hard to say exactly when one learns them. The epic gives insights into the complexities of human relationships, governance and spirituality, dharma or duty, justice, sacrifice, loyalty, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.”

In response to the growing anticipation in India regarding the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the Mauritian government announced a special break for Hindu public officers on January 22. The Mauritian Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, granted a two-hour special leave for Hindu public officers to participate in local events marking the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ of Shri Ram Lalla in the Indian temple town.

The official statement from the Mauritian Cabinet read, “(The) Cabinet has agreed to the grant of a one-off special leave of two hours on Monday, 22 January 2024, as from 1400 hours to public officers of Hindu faith, subject to exigencies of service, in the context of the inauguration of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir in India, which is a landmark event as it symbolizes the return of Lord Ram in Ayodhya.”

Former Kenyan Prime Minister’s Daughter Praises Ayurveda’s Healing Touch, Vows to Introduce it to Kenya

Ayurveda, an ancient healing system originating from the Indian subcontinent, has garnered acclaim from Rosemary, the daughter of Raila Odinga, the former Prime Minister of Kenya. In 2019, Rosemary regained her eyesight through Ayurvedic treatment in India and now expresses her intention to introduce Ayurveda to Kenya, believing it can benefit millions.

Rosemary conveyed her gratitude, stating, “Earlier I couldn’t see, now I can. PM mentioning my treatment shows close relations b/w our countries. I’ll take Ayurveda to my country, it can help millions of people,” as reported by news agency ANI on Wednesday.

This development coincides with the recent inauguration of the Global Centre for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Jamnagar, Gujarat. Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, attended the ceremony alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The WHO center in Gujarat aims to harness the potential of Ayurveda by integrating ancient practices with modern science, making it the world’s first and only global outpost center for traditional medicine.

Raila Odinga himself had lauded Ayurveda and expressed his intent to bring it to Kenya. In February, he discussed with PM Modi the possibility of establishing a branch of the hospital where his daughter underwent treatment in Kenya. Odinga stated, “I have suggested to them that they should come and set up a branch in Nairobi, Kenya, and I am going to work with them to set up this center,” as reported by ANI.

Odinga was referring to the Sreedhareeyam Ayurvedic Eye Hospital and Research Centre in Kerala. Following a diagnosis of a brain tumor in 2017, Rosemary underwent surgery in Nairobi. However, during the post-operative period, she experienced a severe loss of eyesight. In 2019, she traveled to India and received treatment at Shreedhareeyam Ayurvedic Eye Hospital in Koothattukulam, Kerala, which successfully restored her vision.

Grand Celebrations and Global Enthusiasm Surrounding Ayodhya’s Ram Temple Inauguration

As anticipation grows in India for the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya later this month, Indians residing in the United States have displayed their enthusiasm through a grand car rally organized in Edison, New Jersey. More than 350 cars, adorned with flags depicting images of Lord Ram, participated in the event, as captured in visuals accessed by ANI.

Simultaneously, preparations for the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ ceremony at the Ram Temple on January 22 have taken on a global scale. Giant billboards featuring Lord Ram and the majestic shrine have been erected in over 10 states in the United States, thousands of miles away from Ayodhya. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), US chapter, in collaboration with Hindus from across the country, has installed over 40 billboards, conveying the significance of the grand ceremony at the birthplace of Shri Ram Lalla.

These billboards are prominently displayed in states such as Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia. Additionally, Arizona and the State of Missouri are scheduled to join this visual celebration from January 15 onwards, according to the VHP, American chapter.

Amitabh VW Mittal, the general secretary of the Hindu Parishad of America, emphasized the joy and excitement of Hindu Americans, stating, “The resounding message conveyed by these billboards is that Hindu Americans are elated and joyously participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Their emotions overflow as they eagerly await the auspicious day of the consecration ceremony.”

Teja A Shah, joint general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, America chapter, echoed this sentiment, expressing the palpable enthusiasm within the Hindu community in New Jersey. He mentioned the various events leading up to the ceremony, including a car rally, exhibition, curtain raiser, and billboards across New York and New Jersey, culminating in a grand celebration on the 21st night.

To mark the inauguration of the Ram Temple, the Hindu American community in the US has organized several car rallies, with more events planned in the lead-up to the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ in Ayodhya.

Meanwhile, President Bhojraj Ghoorbin of the Mauritius Sanatan Dharm Temples Federation shared the preparations in Mauritius. Temples across the country will organize Ramayan Chanting and celebrations on January 22, commemorating the Pran Pratishtha of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. Ghoorbin highlighted the festive atmosphere, revealing that all Hindu brothers and sisters in Mauritius are actively participating in the celebrations, with special events planned, resembling the fervor of Diwali.

“In Mauritius, we are celebrating two Diwalis. The first Diwali is on January 22, and the second Diwali is on October 31. We will do it the same as we all know: after 14 years of Vanwas (exile), Prabhu Shri Ram is coming to Ayodhya. So this time, not after 14 years, Prabhu Ram is coming after 500 years,” added President Ghoorbin. He also announced a cultural program a day before the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, with Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth attending as the chief guest.

On the Indian front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the ceremonial installation of the idol of Shri Ram Lalla inside the sanctum sanctorum of the grand temple on January 22. Leaders and dignitaries from various fields have been invited to the grand temple opening, which will span seven days starting January 16. The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust has set the date for the enthronement of Ram Lalla at noon on January 22, with Vedic rituals for the Pran-Pratishtha ceremony beginning on January 16, a week prior to the main event.

Reflecting on the cultural significance of the Ramayan, the Indian envoy to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, highlighted its universal appeal and timeless lessons. Speaking at an event titled ‘Ramayana across Asia and Beyond’ at the US Capitol Hill, Sandhu stated, “The epic gives insights into the complexities of human relationships, governance and spirituality, dharma or duty, justice, sacrifice, loyalty, and the eternal struggle between good and evil.”

He emphasized the global reach of the Ramayan, serving as a bridge across geographies and influencing diverse cultures in the Indo-Pacific region. Ambassador Sandhu shared his personal observations of the epic’s impact across boundaries, showcasing its adaptability in various artistic, literary, and religious traditions.

https://www.ndtv.com/indians-abroad/watch-indians-in-us-organise-car-rally-ahead-of-ram-temple-consecration-4858644

Transformation in India-US Relations: A Shift Towards Equality and Collaboration

In a significant revelation, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar emphasized a perceptible change in the way America perceives India today, highlighting that the two countries now engage on a more equal footing. Speaking at the Manthan: Townhall meeting in Nagpur, Maharashtra, Jaishankar shared his observations from the visit to the United States in June, accompanying Prime Minister Modi.

“Last June, when I went to the US with PM Modi, I felt there is a difference in the way in which America views India today. The level of how we deal with each other is more equal,” noted Jaishankar during the townhall meeting.

This shift in dynamics, according to Jaishankar, is underpinned by the acknowledgment of India’s crucial role in the global technology landscape. Furthermore, he highlighted the evolving enthusiasm among American businesses for India, signifying a positive change in bilateral interactions.

“The level of how we deal with each other is more equal,” reiterated Jaishankar, emphasizing the growing parity between the two nations.

On the historical context of India-US relations, Jaishankar remarked on the transformation from a challenging and somewhat negative relationship post-Independence in 1947. He credited the beginning of this shift to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as the Indian Prime Minister, particularly citing the nuclear deal as a pivotal moment.

Speaking on India-US relations, he said: “What was a very difficult, almost negative relationship from 1947 till the next 50 years, started changing under Atal ji and the change continued thereafter. We saw the nuclear deal.”

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, serving three terms as the Indian Prime Minister, played a crucial role in reshaping the narrative, with a notable period from 1998 to 2004.

The Indo-US nuclear agreement, initiated in July 2005 during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US, focused on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This agreement laid the foundation for enhanced cooperation between the two nations in subsequent years.

The recent statements by President Joe Biden underscore the significance of the friendship between the United States and India, deeming it among the most consequential globally. The two countries have signed several major deals aimed at elevating their strategic technology partnership.

Earlier, the United States expressed support for India’s emergence as a leading global power and a vital partner in promoting a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. The US-India relationship is characterized as one of the most strategic and consequential of the 21st century, according to a fact sheet released by the US State Department.

Key highlights from the fact sheet include the establishment of strong defense industrial cooperation, with a focus on co-development and co-production of essential military capabilities for both countries. In a significant move in 2023, the US approved a groundbreaking manufacturing license for the co-production of GE F414 engines in India.

Furthermore, both nations launched an educational series aimed at preparing startups and young innovators to contribute to the defense industries in both countries. Cooperation extends to the bilateral US-India Counterterrorism Joint Working Group and the Defence Policy Group, as outlined in the fact sheet.

The United States and India share a common vision for deploying clean energy at scale, evident in both countries’ ambitious 2030 targets for climate action and clean energy. Exploring avenues for increased mineral security cooperation, they aim to advance their clean energy goals through initiatives like the Minerals Security Partnership.

Collaboration extends to the Strategic Clean Energy Partnership and the Climate Action and Finance Mobilisation Dialogue. India’s signing of the Artemis Accords in June signals a common vision for the future of space exploration for the benefit of humanity, as stated by the US State Department.

Multilateral cooperation is evident in their engagement through various organizations and fora, including the United Nations, G20, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-related fora, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.

“The vibrant people-to-people ties between our countries are a tremendous source of strength for the strategic partnership,” states the fact sheet. Highlighting the Indian community of over 4 million in the United States as a vital driver of collaboration, innovation, and job creation in both countries.

In essence, the evolving dynamics between the United States and India signify a paradigm shift towards a more equal and collaborative relationship. The acknowledgment of India’s significance on the global stage, coupled with joint initiatives across various sectors, paints a picture of a robust and mutually beneficial partnership poised for further growth and development.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/theres-difference-in-the-way-us-views-india-today-s-jaishankar-4857711

Atal Setu: India’s Longest Sea Bridge Inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi, Stands as Engineering Marvel with Earthquake-Resistant Technology

The momentous Atal Setu, slated for inauguration by Prime Minister Modi in Mumbai today, stands as not just India’s lengthiest sea bridge but also one of the sturdiest, boasting earthquake-resistant technology, as revealed by an expert from IIT Bombay in a discussion with NDTV on Friday.

According to Professor Deepankar Choudhury, the Head of Civil Engineering at IIT Bombay, the 21-kilometer long bridge has been meticulously designed, taking into consideration its strategic location in Mumbai, falling under a moderate earthquake damage risk zone. He emphasized the significance of considering seismic activity’s impact on the soil beneath the majority of the bridge, which spans over the sea. Choudhury affirmed, “It has been designed to withstand four different types of earthquakes of up to 6.5 magnitude.”Atal Setu India's Longest Sea Bridge Inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi Stands as Engineering Marvel with Earthquake Resistant Technology

Highlighting the collaborative effort behind this engineering feat, Choudhury revealed that a dedicated team of over six scholars from IIT Bombay had been engaged in designing the bridge since 2018, following the institute’s involvement in the project. The team successfully submitted a comprehensive report within six months, outlining support systems crucial for fortifying the bridge’s foundation.

Choudhury expressed pride in contributing to a project that had been conceived as far back as 1963, stating, “A bridge to connect Mumbai and Navi Mumbai has been envisioned since 1963, so we are proud to be a part of this project.”

Known as the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), this colossal bridge comes with a hefty price tag of ₹17,840 crore. Experts laud it as an “engineering marvel” that is set to drastically reduce travel time between Mumbai and Navi Mumbai from a cumbersome 2 hours to a mere 20 minutes.

Atal Setu India's Longest Sea Bridge Inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi Stands as Engineering Marvel with Earthquake Resistant Technology

Anticipation surrounds the official inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, scheduled for today, coinciding with the launch of over ₹30,500 crore worth of projects across Maharashtra. While a substantial 95% of the construction work is already complete, the finalization of remaining tasks, including road laying, electrical work, and the implementation of an intelligent transport system, will take place after the bridge’s connection to the mainland on January 12.

Upon completion, the Atal Setu is expected to accommodate around 70,000 vehicles, playing a pivotal role in alleviating the burgeoning traffic congestion in the region. The bridge emerges not only as a symbol of connectivity but also as a testament to India’s engineering prowess, positioning itself as a transformative force in the realm of infrastructure development.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/atal-setu-indias-longest-sea-bridge-built-with-quake-resistant-tech-iit-expert-4847506

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India’s Dilemma: Balancing AC Boom and Climate Crisis as Rising Temperatures Push Demand

In the scorching heat of India’s capital this summer, Ramesh found himself laboring under the burning sun to provide for his family. Despite feeling faint, he had no choice but to continue working. Living in a congested suburb in western Delhi with his extended family, Ramesh experienced firsthand the unbearable heat that has become synonymous with the city in recent years.

“The heat is becoming unbearable,” he lamented. “But we do not have a choice, we have to work.”

To cope with the rising temperatures, Ramesh borrowed $35, nearly half of his monthly salary, to purchase a second-hand air conditioner for his home. Despite its imperfections, including noise and occasional dust release, the AC was a necessity for his family’s well-being.

This predicament reflects the paradox faced by India, where increasing wealth and temperatures drive the demand for air conditioners. By 2050, India is expected to be among the first places where temperatures exceed survivability limits, and the demand for air conditioners is projected to rise nine-fold, outpacing all other appliances, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Ramesh’s struggle highlights a broader question raised by climate scientists: should developing nations bear the cost of reducing emissions when they are among the least responsible for the surge in greenhouse gases? At the recent COP28 climate talks in Dubai, India, a rapidly growing economy, was not among the countries that pledged to cut emissions from cooling systems.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the need for developing countries to have a fair share in the global carbon budget, but India finds itself at the forefront of the climate crisis. The challenge is how to balance development goals while ensuring environmental protection.

India’s population, especially in the more tropical southern regions, heavily relies on air conditioning for physical and mental well-being. Over the past five decades, the country has experienced over 700 heat wave events, claiming more than 17,000 lives. In June alone, temperatures soared to 47 degrees Celsius, resulting in at least 44 deaths and numerous heat-related illnesses.

According to a World Bank report, by 2030, India may account for 34 million of the projected 80 million global job losses from heat stress. With over 50% of the workforce engaged in agriculture, the risks are significant. As incomes rise and urban populations grow, the ownership of air conditioners has surged.

Electricity consumption in India from cooling, including AC and refrigerators, increased by 21% between 2019 and 2022, according to the IEA. By 2050, India’s total electricity demand from residential air conditioners is expected to surpass the total electricity consumption in all of Africa today. However, this demand exacerbates the global climate crisis, as many air conditioners use harmful greenhouse gases like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and large amounts of electricity generated from fossil fuels.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that, if unchecked, air conditioning-related greenhouse gas emissions could contribute to a 0.5 degrees Celsius rise in global temperatures by the end of the century.

India faces a dilemma, caught between the need for economic growth and the imperative to limit cooling-related emissions. At the COP summit, 63 countries pledged to cut their emissions from cooling systems by 68% by 2050. However, India did not join this group. Despite this, experts acknowledge India’s important leadership in sustainable cooling domestically, though international partners hope for future collaboration.

Under the 2016 Kigali Amendment, India is phasing out HFCs and replacing them with more climate-friendly options. Radhika Khosla, an associate professor at Oxford University, emphasizes the importance of providing assistance to countries lacking access to adequate cooling to meet the costs of energy improvement.

“Cooling is now on the global agenda,” she said. “But the hard work must begin to ensure everyone can stay cool without further heating the planet.”

Passive cooling strategies, such as planting trees, creating water bodies, promoting courtyard spaces, and enhancing ventilation, are suggested by Khosla as sustainable measures. Installing ceiling fans can reduce household energy consumption for cooling by over 20%.

India has committed to reducing its power demand for cooling purposes by 20-25% by 2038 under its Cooling Action Plan, seen as one of the first comprehensive national plans globally. Renewable energy is growing rapidly in India, putting the country on track to meet its emission reduction targets.

Despite being a significant contributor to the climate crisis, India remains proactive in finding climate solutions, as stated by Leena Nandan, India’s secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

“We have gone on to scale up our climate ambitions,” she asserted.

However, the visible impact of India’s AC boom is evident in urban areas, with construction sites dotting the capital and the rise of high-rise towers. While some, like businessman Penta Anil Kumar, consciously opt for energy-efficient models, others like laborer Ghasiram, who struggles to afford even a second-hand AC, remain unaware of the emissions contributing to rising temperatures.

“The heat has gotten worse over the years,” Ghasiram said. “When I need to step out to work in the heat, I feel nervous. I prefer to not go out.”

Hindu Temples in San Francisco Bay Area Face Vandalism, Prompts

Call for Increased Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maldives Faces Tourism Boycott Amidst Controversial Remarks on Indian PM Modi

Maldives is grappling with a potential tourism crisis as one of its primary sources of income, Indian tourists, contemplates a boycott following derogatory comments made by three Maldives officials about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The controversy unfolded after Modi shared images on social media showcasing his time snorkeling and walking along the beaches of Lakshadweep, a southern Indian island chain. Although Modi did not explicitly mention the Maldives in his post, the effusive praise for Lakshadweep’s scenic beauty raised eyebrows, potentially diverting attention away from the popular Maldivian destination.

In response to Modi’s post, three Maldives officials, identified as deputy ministers with the Ministry of Youth Employment, Information, and Arts, described him as a “clown,” “terrorist,” and a “puppet of Israel,” according to Reuters. The Maldives government swiftly distanced itself from these comments, suspending the officials and emphasizing that their opinions were personal and did not reflect the government’s stance on the matter.

The incident comes at a delicate time, coinciding with Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s five-day visit to China, his first as president since winning the election in October. President Muizzu, known for his pro-China stance, aims to strengthen ties with Beijing and sign key agreements for trade, professional, and socioeconomic development during his visit. However, maintaining positive relations with India, Maldives’ closest neighbor and a crucial contributor to its tourism sector, remains essential.

Maldives heavily depends on tourism, with India being the largest source of tourists in recent years. In 2023, Indian tourists accounted for 11% of the country’s tourism market, making more than 209,000 trips to the Maldives. The officials’ disparaging remarks have triggered a backlash from Indian tourists, who have taken to social media to announce cancellations under the hashtag #BoycottMaldives. Prominent figures, including Bollywood actors and cricket players, have also encouraged travelers to explore local destinations, with the hashtag #ChaloLakshadweep gaining traction.

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, known for his patriotic roles, condemned the Maldivian officials’ remarks as “hateful and racist” and urged people to support domestic tourism. He said, “We are good to our neighbors, but why should we tolerate such unprovoked hate? Let us decide to #ExploreIndianIslands and support our own tourism.”

In a significant move, Indian travel site EaseMyTrip announced the suspension of flight bookings to the Maldives, expressing solidarity with the nation. Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of EaseMyTrip, stated, “In solidarity with our nation, @EaseMyTrip has suspended all Maldives flight bookings.” The Confederation of All India Traders, a prominent trade body, also called on its members to suspend business with the Maldives until an apology is issued or remedial measures are taken.

Maldives Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer denounced the officials’ remarks as “unacceptable” and emphasized the archipelago’s commitment to fostering positive and constructive dialogues with its partners. The Indian High Commission in the Maldives has reportedly raised concerns with the Maldivian Foreign Office over the issue.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, noted that the swift action taken by the Maldives government to suspend the officials and disavow their comments underscores the importance it places on maintaining strong relations with India. Kugelman suggested that while challenges may arise, the new leadership in the Maldives aims to balance its relationships with both India and China, emphasizing the significance of preserving ties with its immediate neighbor.

Reforming Bollywood: Screenwriters Seek Fairer Contracts to Improve Working Conditions

Crafting stories for the big screen in India’s Bollywood can be a solitary and often financially unrewarding pursuit. The dream of landing a breakthrough project, where a screenwriter receives due credit and financial compensation, keeps many in the industry driven. However, the harsh reality is that until such a milestone is achieved, money and opportunities remain elusive, primarily due to what writers claim are unfair contracts designed to favor producers.

Anjum Rajabali, a senior member of the Screenwriters Association (SWA), India’s counterpart to the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which boasts over 55,000 members nationwide, sheds light on the challenges writers face. Rajabali points to what he describes as “harsh contracts,” characterized by arbitrary termination clauses and meager fees, especially for newcomers. Furthermore, he asserts that these contracts often fail to remunerate writers for reworking drafts and grant producers the authority to determine whether a writer deserves credit for their contributions. Some agreements even go so far as to prohibit writers from seeking union intervention in the event of a dispute with the producer.

Rajabali, a vocal advocate for writers’ rights, emphasizes the need for change. He explains, “Most contracts have arbitrary termination clauses and offer paltry fees, especially to newcomers.” He highlights the power dynamics within the industry, stating, “They also don’t pay writers for reworking drafts and give producers the right to decide whether a writer should be credited for their work or not.” Rajabali points out the restrictive nature of some contracts, noting, “some contracts even ban writers from approaching the union if there’s a dispute with the producer.”

The SWA, a longstanding proponent of writers’ rights, has recently embarked on a more assertive approach to address the perceived imbalance of power between producers and writers. In December, the association convened a meeting to deliberate on the modifications writers desire in their contracts. Over 100 writers participated, including notable Bollywood figures such as Abbas Tyrewala and Sriram Raghavan.

Rajabali outlines the strategy moving forward, stating, “The plan now is to invite producers to sit across the table and work with us to make contracts more equitable.” He suggests that many producers recognize the need for improved compensation and job security for writers. The SWA’s initiative signals a shift towards collaboration, fostering a dialogue to bring about positive changes in the industry.

The BBC sought input from the Producers Guild of India regarding these concerns but, as of now, has not received a response. The industry awaits the producers’ perspective on the matter, as the conversation around fairer contracts gains momentum.

The challenges faced by Bollywood screenwriters highlight the urgent need for contract reform. The Screenwriters Association’s proactive approach and the willingness of influential writers to engage in the conversation demonstrate a collective effort to reshape the landscape of the industry. As the industry navigates these discussions, the hope is that a collaborative effort between writers and producers will lead to contracts that better reflect the contributions and rights of the creative minds behind the screenplays that captivate audiences worldwide.

Democracy Under Scrutiny: South Asian Nations Face Key Elections Amidst Challenges

As four South Asian countries gear up for crucial elections in the coming year, nearly 2 billion people across Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka will cast their votes from January through September. Each nation, having gained independence from Britain within the last century, presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities in their democratic processes.

Bangladesh: A Struggle for Democracy Amid Economic Growth

Bangladesh, with its 170 million people, kicks off the election season on January 7. The multiparty democracy is under threat as the ruling Awami League party faces accusations of silencing dissent, moving the nation toward resembling a one-party state. The current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, is poised to secure her fourth consecutive term despite claims of election rigging and a boycott by the main opposition, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Julia Bleckner, a senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, voiced concerns about the government’s actions, stating, “A free election is impossible when the government stifles free expression and systematically incapacitates the opposition.” Despite political turmoil, Bangladesh is experiencing economic growth, primarily driven by its garment manufacturing industry, constituting 35.1% of the annual GDP.

Sreeradha Dutta, a professor of international affairs, emphasized Bangladesh’s consistent growth and its efforts to build strong regional relations, predicting that developmental models would persist regardless of the leader.

Pakistan: Political Turmoil Amid Economic Uncertainty

Pakistan, in its 76 years of existence, has struggled with political dynasties, military rule, and economic crises. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, a popular figure, is behind bars, facing charges he claims are politically motivated. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister in self-exile, returned, adding complexity to the political landscape. Pakistan grapples with economic uncertainty, militant attacks, and climate catastrophes, creating challenges for its future leadership.

Fahd Humayun, an assistant professor of political science, highlighted the link between political and economic uncertainty, emphasizing the importance of transparent elections to attract necessary capital inflows for the country.

India: Democracy at a Crossroads Amid Global Significance

India, touted as the world’s largest experiment in democracy, is poised for elections in the spring. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a rare third term, having tightened his grip on democratic institutions. While India achieves global significance in various arenas, concerns arise about the erosion of its secular and democratic values under the Hindu nationalist BJP.

An alliance of 26 political parties known as INDIA, including the main opposition Indian National Congress, aims to challenge Modi. However, recent regional losses for the Congress party have bolstered Modi’s position. Analysts caution that Indian politics remains unpredictable as parties prepare for upcoming campaigns.

Sri Lanka: A Nation Recovering from Economic Crisis Faces Election Decisions

Sri Lanka, grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades, faced a momentous protest movement that forced then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee. The current President, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is expected to seek a second term after implementing economic reforms and securing international aid. Despite delays in holding elections due to the economic crisis, the country is on the path to recovery, and its citizens anticipate decisions on their future leader.

As these South Asian nations embark on significant electoral processes, the challenges and opportunities they face will undoubtedly shape the future trajectory of democracy in the region. The coming months will be critical in determining how each country addresses its unique issues and paves the way for its political and economic future.

India’s Economic Surge Faces Dilemma as Investment Lags

India’s economic landscape is experiencing a remarkable upswing, with soaring stock prices and substantial government investments in critical infrastructure projects. The nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to grow by 6 percent this year, surpassing the rates of economic giants like the United States and China. However, a notable concern looms large: domestic investment by Indian companies is not keeping pace, posing potential challenges for sustained growth.

In contrast to the robust performance of India’s stock markets, there is a discernible slowdown in long-term investments from both domestic and foreign sources. The disparity raises questions about the sustainability of the current economic boom, especially as the government may need to curtail its extensive spending in the near future.

India’s ambitious goal of becoming a developed nation by 2047, coupled with its continually expanding population, demands a more vigorous growth trajectory, ideally between 8 and 9 percent annually. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, amidst a re-election campaign and rallying public support, faces the challenge of addressing the sluggish investment scenario.

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Picture: The NewYork Times

Sriram Viswanathan, managing partner at Celesta, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund, sees an opportunity for India amid China’s economic slowdown and geopolitical tensions. He notes, “Investors [are] wanting to fill the vacuum that has been created in the supply chain. That, I think, is the opportunity for India.”

The World Bank acknowledges India’s commitment to infrastructure spending during the pandemic, emphasizing the need for a corresponding surge in corporate investments. The concept of a “crowd-in effect,” where government spending attracts private investment, is deemed crucial for sustained economic growth. Auguste Tano Kouamé, the World Bank’s country director for India, underscores the necessity for deeper reforms to encourage private sector investments.

Despite the booming stock markets in Mumbai, valued at nearly $4 trillion, there is a noticeable decline in foreign direct investment, dropping from an annual average of $40 billion to $13 billion in the past year. Foreign investors appear hesitant, cautious about the stability of India’s economic environment.

A key factor contributing to this caution is Modi’s government, which, while pro-business and stable in leadership, tends to intervene in the economy abruptly. Instances of sudden import restrictions on laptops and retroactive taxes on online betting companies have created uncertainty and impacted businesses. The success of conglomerates like Reliance Industries and the Adani Group, closely associated with Modi’s political circle, further raises concerns about fair business practices.

Arvind Subramanian, an economist at Brown University and former chief economic adviser under Modi’s government, highlights the vulnerability felt by domestic investors, particularly those not affiliated with major conglomerates. He acknowledges the positive aspects of the Modi government’s achievements in improving various aspects of the business environment but points out persistent challenges, including bureaucratic red tape.

Foreign officials responsible for attracting investment to India express concerns about lingering difficulties in doing business, citing red tape as a major obstacle. The slow pace of legal processes and enforcement further deters long-term investments.

The underlying weakness in India’s growth story lies in the skewed distribution of consumer wealth. While a small segment of the population can afford luxury goods, the majority grapples with inflation in essential commodities. Banks, though extending credit to consumers, remain cautious about providing the same support to businesses fearing a prolonged belt-tightening phase for the majority of customers.

Subramanian remains cautiously optimistic, citing the annual growth rate, albeit below 6 percent, and the potential for improved infrastructure to attract more private investment. The uneven distribution of consumer wealth, over time, could contribute to raising overall incomes.

The wildcard in India’s economic trajectory is its ability to capture a substantial share of global business from China. Apple’s gradual shift of its supply chain away from China to India serves as a prominent example. While Apple’s market share in India is currently modest, the intention to increase the production share to 25 percent by 2025 could open up significant possibilities for India on the global stage.

India’s economic success is at a crossroads, with the need for a substantial increase in domestic and foreign investments to sustain the current momentum. While challenges persist, the nation’s potential to capitalize on global economic shifts and ongoing reforms could pave the way for a more robust and inclusive growth trajectory. As the world watches, India stands on the precipice of a transformative economic future.

Ayodhya Ram Mandir: Prime Minister Modi to Inaugurate Majestic Temple Amidst Green Oasis

The grand opening of the Ayodhya Ram Mandir is scheduled for January 24, 2024, and will be marked by the inauguration led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The construction, set in motion following a landmark 2019 Supreme Court judgment, is on the verge of completion, covering a vast 70-acre area. The temple itself spans 2.7 acres and has incurred a cost of US$216 million.

In accordance with the vision of the Ram temple trust, the temple stands not only as a religious symbol but also as an embodiment of self-reliance and environmental sustainability. Remarkably, the temple complex boasts a 70 percent green cover, incorporating dense sections adorned with preserved existing trees. The infrastructure further includes sewage and water treatment plants, a dedicated power line, and a strategically positioned fire brigade post.

Designed in the traditional Nagara style, the temple complex is a marvel with three stories, 392 pillars, and an impressive 44 gates on each floor. For the convenience of pilgrims, a facilitation complex has been incorporated, featuring healthcare facilities, a toilet block, and storage provisions for personal items before embarking on the revered ‘darshan.’

Anticipating the momentous occasion, Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to visit Ayodhya on December 30. During this visit, he will inaugurate the redeveloped railway station and unveil a new airport. In a significant move, Air India Express is set to initiate its inaugural flight from Delhi to Ayodhya on December 30, with daily services commencing from January 16. Additionally, IndiGo is following suit with its inaugural flight on December 30, commencing commercial services from January 6.

The celebration of this auspicious event extends beyond national borders, as the Ram Temple Trust has extended invitations to political leaders, actors, industrialists, and sports icons. The trust is also gearing up to host representatives from 50 foreign countries, adding a global touch to the grand inauguration ceremony, which is expected to be attended by a gathering of 7,000 people.

In the words of the Ram Temple Trust, “The temple is not just a place of worship; it symbolizes a harmonious blend of spirituality and sustainability. We invite the world to witness this historic moment in Ayodhya, as we open the doors to the monumental Ram Mandir, a testament to our rich cultural heritage and architectural prowess.”

Government Issues Advisory to Combat Deepfakes on Social Media Platforms

In a significant move to address the rising threat of deepfakes, the Central government has issued an advisory to all social media platforms, urging them to comply with Information Technology (IT) rules. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has mandated intermediaries to effectively communicate prohibited content, specifically focusing on Rule 3(1)(b) of the IT Rules, to users in a clear and precise manner.

The advisory, which follows a two-day meeting involving officials from major companies such as Meta, Google, Telegram, Koo, Sharechat, Apple, HP, and Dell, emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach in dealing with deepfake-related concerns. The meeting, chaired by Minister of State for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar, aimed to address the growing threat posed by deepfakes.

According to a press release from the Press Information Bureau (PIB), the advisory outlines that content prohibited under Rule 3(1)(b) of the IT Rules should be communicated to users explicitly through terms of service and user agreements. The communication should occur during the initial registration process and be reiterated through regular reminders, especially during login and when uploading or sharing information on the platform.

Furthermore, the advisory underscores the importance of informing users about the penal provisions associated with Rule 3(1)(b) violations, including those outlined in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the IT Act of 2000. It states, “The terms of service and user agreements must clearly highlight that intermediaries/platforms are under obligation to report legal violations to the law enforcement agencies under the relevant Indian laws applicable to the context.”

Rule 3(1)(b) falls within the due diligence section of the IT rules, requiring intermediaries to communicate their rules, regulations, privacy policy, and user agreement in the user’s preferred language. It also mandates platforms to make reasonable efforts to prevent the dissemination of information related to 11 specified user harms or content prohibited on digital intermediaries. The primary objective is to identify and promptly remove misinformation, false or misleading content, and material impersonating others, including deepfakes.

Expressing his views on the advisory, IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar highlighted the serious threat posed by misinformation, particularly fueled by artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of deepfakes. Chandrasekhar stated, “Misinformation represents a deep threat to the safety and trust of users on the Internet. Deepfake, which is misinformation powered by AI, further amplifies the threat to safety and trust of our Digital Nagriks.”

The advisory aligns with Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s earlier caution on the dangers of deepfakes. On November 17, the Prime Minister warned the country about the potential risks associated with deepfake technology. Subsequently, the Ministry conducted two Digital India Dialogues to apprise stakeholders of the IT Rules, initially notified in October 2022 and amended in April 2023, outlining 11 specific types of prohibited content applicable to all social media intermediaries and platforms.

Last month, the IT Ministry raised concerns about platforms not aligning their terms of service with India’s internet laws and urged them to promptly inform users about permissible and prohibited content on their platforms. Additionally, the Union government designated an officer to assist users in filing First Information Reports (FIRs) against social media firms in cases related to deepfakes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier sought media assistance in educating the public about the capabilities of artificial intelligence and deepfake technology. He expressed concern about the rapid spread of disaffection facilitated by these technologies in a country as diverse and vast as India.

The rise of deepfake videos targeting prominent actors on social media platforms has heightened concerns about potential misuse of this technology. The government’s advisory aims to strengthen regulations and promote responsible use of social media platforms to counter the growing threat of deepfakes.

Surge in International Interest as India’s Stock Market Hits Record Highs

Fund manager Abhay Agarwal is witnessing an unexpected surge in calls from international investors, expressing a keen interest in India’s financial landscape. Agarwal, the founder of Mumbai-based Piper Serica Advisors, noted that these inquiries are coming from family offices in Europe and significant investors in the US who had previously shown little inclination towards investing in India. The nature of their questions reveals a newfound seriousness, as Agarwal explains, “For the first time, I find them to be very serious and they’re calling and asking questions such as, ‘Look, will my money be safe? And is there a rule of law here?'”

This heightened interest coincides with India’s stock market reaching historic highs, with the market value of listed companies surpassing $4 trillion in late November, according to Refinitiv. India boasts two major exchanges: the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) and the BSE, Asia’s oldest bourse, formerly known as the Bombay Stock Exchange. The NSE has now overtaken Hong Kong to become the seventh-largest bourse globally, based on daily transaction value, as per data from the World Federation of Exchanges.

Abhay Agarwal reflects on the changing dynamics, stating, “People are getting excited about India.” International investors contacting him are eager to understand if India can deliver returns similar to China’s performance in the early 2000s. Notably, Agarwal observes a shift in investor profiles, with long-term strategic and financial investors now taking a 10-year perspective rather than a short-term outlook.

India’s benchmark indices, the Sensex and Nifty 50, have seen robust growth, climbing over 16% and 17%, respectively, this year. Additionally, the country is experiencing a surge in Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), with 150 listings in the first nine months of 2023, outpacing Hong Kong’s 42, as reported by Ernst & Young.

The surge in India’s stock market is indicative of the strength and potential of the world’s fastest-growing major economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects India’s growth at 6.3% this year, with some economists anticipating a closer figure of 7%. The country’s economy expanded by 7.6% in the quarter ending September 30, surpassing estimates by the central bank, prompting Citigroup and Barclays to revise their annual GDP projections for India to 6.7%.

In contrast, China faces challenges, with weak consumer demand and a protracted real estate crisis affecting its markets. China’s Shanghai Composite is down 7% this year, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index has plummeted nearly 19%. The divergent growth trajectories of India and China are becoming crucial in the battle for emerging market investments.

Goldman Sachs, in a November report, highlights India’s resilience, citing its limited economic linkage to China’s end demand. The report notes, “Moreover, Indian equities exhibit the lowest price sensitivity to slowing China growth in the region.” Domestic institutional and retail investors in India are gaining influence, making the country less sensitive to global economic risks. Nomura echoes this sentiment in a December note, stating that India is “less exposed to (a) global trade slowdown” and could act as a counter-weight to North Asia in case of a slowdown in the West and continued disappointment in China.

India’s appeal extends beyond its economic strength, with companies diversifying their supply chains away from China. Apple, for instance, has significantly expanded its production in India, addressing supply chain challenges experienced in mainland China. A survey by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation identifies India as the “most promising medium-term business destination” for Japanese manufacturers, surpassing China due to its economic slowdown and rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.

Looking ahead, foreign investors may exhibit caution in the first half of 2024, coinciding with India’s general election expected in April and May. Goldman Sachs notes that election-related uncertainty and the challenging global macro environment could keep foreign flows weak for the next 3-6 months. However, optimism prevails, with expectations that foreign flows will pick up after the election uncertainty fades, especially if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party secures victory, ensuring political stability.

Not all economists share the same level of optimism regarding India’s prospects. Some anticipate a slowdown, expressing concerns about the sustainability of private consumption, which has been strong but partly debt-fueled. Alexandra Hermann of Oxford Economics warns that this year’s spending may have repercussions next year, particularly as the labor market faces challenges. Additionally, critics argue that the current buoyancy of the stock market may not accurately reflect India’s broader economic challenges, such as job creation for its vast working-age population and the need for sustainable and inclusive growth.

Former central bank governor Raghuram Rajan and economist Rohit Lamba, in their recently-released book “Breaking the Mould,” point out that the profitability of large firms is on the rise, while small and informal businesses face difficulties. They caution that the stock market’s performance offers a misleading picture of the broader economy, with high-employment sectors like apparel and leather experiencing contractions in recent years.

India’s Modi hosts Christian leaders for Christmas amid rising persecution

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hosted over 100 Christian leaders from all denominations at his official residence on Christmas morning amid criticism for the continued persecution of Christians in India.

Several Catholic leaders, including Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai and Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, who were seated on either side of Modi during the event, were in attendance.

The archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, and Bishop Thomas mar Anthonios of the Syro-Malankara Church also joined bishops of different denominations and Christian leaders from different walks of life at the gathering.

Asked to comment on the meeting with the prime minister, considering the uptick in attacks on Christians in the country, Bharanikulangara told CNA: “Everybody knows what is happening … But when the prime minister invites [us], how can we decline?”

“It is for the prime minister to show that he is really concerned about the Christians,” said Bharanikulangara, a former Vatican diplomat.

“Christmas is an occasion to remember Jesus Christ’s life’s message and values,” Modi said, addressing the gathering of Christian leaders that included academicians and Christian businessmen from across the country. The prime minister went on to hail the service of the Christians, saying: “The nation proudly acknowledges the contribution of the Christian community.”

“Our government is ensuring that the benefits of development reach everyone and no one is left untouched,” Modi said, adding that many people of the Christian faith, especially poor segments, are benefitting from his government’s welfare programs.

Among several Christians who spoke during the two-hour program was Cardinal Gracias, who thanked Modi for his “efforts” on behalf of the country, the Christian community, and the world.

“Our country could be the leading country in the world,” Gracias said, according to an ANI report.

However, several Christians said they were skeptical about the motivation behind Modi’s Christmas meeting and his failure to address the steadily worsening persecution that has taken place in nearly a decade of Modi rule.

“This [Christmas celebration] is a political gimmick and image-making by Prime Minister Modi ahead of the next elections,” A C Michael, an outspoken Catholic activist, told CNA.

“We are concerned over the silence of Prime Minister Modi, who praises Christian service publicly but does nothing to stop the increasing violence and persecution of Christians,” pointed out Michael, coordinator of the United Christian Forum (UCF), which monitors atrocities and incidents of persecution against Christians.

UCF published a report Dec. 8 recording 687 incidents of violence against Christians in 334 days of 2023 (from the start of the year to the end of November). The report further said that while only 147 incidents of violence against Christians were reported in 2014 (when the BJP regime under Modi came to power), the incidents steadily spiraled to reach 687 by November’s end.

Armed with this data, Michael along with Catholic activist John Dayal and Supreme Court lawyer Sister Mary Scaria addressed a news conference with secular activists on Dec. 28 in New Delhi on the Modi government’s “Lunch Diplomacy and Christian Persecution.”

“The prime minister is not only free but duty-bound to embrace the nation’s religious minorities and invite their leaders to functions at his house on Christmas. … But the Christmas spirit must not let us forget the condition and tribulations of our brothers and sisters who suffer because of government impunity and the brazen political elements who have no respect for the constitution of India and its guarantees of freedoms to the citizens,” the Catholic leaders lamented in their press statement.

“The persecution of the community is rampant, hate towards it from the highest quarters of nationalist religious leadership as deep as it can be,” they decried.

“The government seems keen to starve it [Christianity] out of existence by withdrawing the FCRAs [license to receive foreign donations] of a vast number of churches and its NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], and using the investigating agencies against cardinals and bishops, pastors and laypeople. In UP [Uttar Pradesh], for instance, over 100 pastors and even ordinary men and women are in jail under charges of illegal conversions when celebrating birthdays or conducting Sunday prayers,” the statement said.

Dayal, former president of All India Catholic Union, dubbed Modi’s Christmas hosting of Christian leadership as “just an eyewash to impress the Christians.”

“The prime minister has made a mockery of the pains of the Christian community by remaining silent and [was] not bothered to even visit bleeding Manipur,” Dayal told CNA Dec. 29.

“If he was concerned about peace and safety of the hounded Christians, he could have taken stern preemptive action to curb and stop the Manipur violence,” Dayal added.

Beginning in May, Manipur state in northeast India, which borders Myanmar, has witnessed a protracted violent ethnic clash between the majority Meiteis, most of them Hindus, and the minority Kuki tribals (almost all of them Christians).

St Paul's Church in Imphal capital of Manipur state after the church was set on fire in 2023 Credit Anto Akkara
St. Paul’s Church, in Imphal, capital of Manipur state, after the church was set on fire in 2023. Credit: Anto Akkara

Among the nearly 200 killed and over 60,000 displaced in Manipur, the overwhelming majority are Kukis who have been chased out from Meitei strongholds, such as the Imphal Valley, in the simmering violence.

Media and independent investigators have blamed the BJP-led state government’s condoning of the violence by Meitei groups that have also destroyed or damaged more than 600 churches.

Hindus For Human Rights Demands Restoration Of 141 Opposition MPs In Parliament

Hindus for Human Rights demands the immediate restoration of 141 opposition MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The opposition MPs have been suspended from the Lok Sabha for causing disruptions after they raised concerns about the Indian government’s response to a security breach in Parliament.

India, the Mother of Democracy, has always encouraged healthy debates and open discussions among its politicians, and this rich tradition is undermined by the suspension of MPs.

The importance of dissent in a democracy cannot be overstated. It is through dissent that new ideas emerge, existing policies are challenged, and change is instigated. Dissent ensures that all voices, no matter how small or unpopular, are heard. Dissent holds power to account and prevents the onset of autocracy.

Democracy thrives not when we silence the opposition, but when we listen to it, engage with it, and challenge it. We strongly urge the Indian Parliament to immediately reverse its decision to suspend opposition MPs and allow them to serve the remainder of the winter session.

On Fifth Avenue, a giant puppet of Modi rode in a convertible, brandishing a banner: “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, OK?

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla To Run For US Congress

Mayor Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken in the state of New Jersey, who announced his run for the   US Congress from the solidly Democratic NJ District 8, lambasted one of his opponents, Rep. Robert Menendez Jr., for riding on his family’s coat-tails to get to Capitol Hill.

In a wide-ranging interview with Desi Talk Dec. 18, 2023, a week after announcing his run, Bhalla recounted his years of political experience and success in various endeavors. He did not shy away from strong words against his main opponent, and contrasted his achievements to Menendez Jr. who he said held the seat because of “nepotism at its worst.”

His announcement video spoke of his journey growing up in New Jersey, feeling the stings of discrimination and hate speech as a Sikh, countering hate-mongers by excelling in school, games and career as an elected official

“It simply boils down to one word – ‘qualification’,” he said in his interview about the difference between him and Menendez Jr. “I’ve been serving this region for approximately 15 years. He has less than a year. I have a solid record of accomplishments … based on pure merit. And he is also compromised by his father (Sen. Bob Menendez),” Mayor Bhalla said, referring to controversial legal problems being faced by the elder Menendez.

The Indian American Mayor contended that the dynamics of District 8 had changed “dramatically”- and that his opponent had basically been “gifted” a seat, something that would no longer be tolerated.

Robert Menendez Jr. was elected November 8, 2022 with more than 72 percent of the vote and prior to that in the Democratic primary last year, he was endorsed by 83 percent of the Party vote.

“There is a strong feeling in the District that it is time to move on,” Bhalla said, from dynastic politics.

“I feel like my journey as Mayor has been a very position ad very innovative one. I have faced challenging issues in Hoboken and the rest of the country, like climate action, climate change etc., and done this through innovation and hard work,” he said. He has the support of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, insidernj.com reported.

The Mayor is currently engaged in building the campaign team and is “singularly focused” on winning in the Democratic Primary for the “Solid Democratic” District as defined by all rating agencies. Whoever wins the primary, sails through the November 5 elections.

Bhalla says the response from the general public and Indian Americans has been great and within four weeks, his campaign has raised $500,000. He needs more than a million he estimated, and “Money does not seem to be the problem.”

“It has been a very, very exciting time for them (Indian Americans,” he said. “I’ve received very enthusiastic response from around the country, but especially in Jersey City. They want to help, and have supported in many ways. We’ve really only started.”

He described his campaign in few words – “People Power, Grassroots Campaign”, directed at people who had been deprived of a choice.

Agenda

In his formal announcement of Dec. 12, Mayor Bhalla expressed his concerns.

“We are at a pivotal moment in our nation, facing rising sea levels, rising inequality and rising hatred,” he said. “For Congress to rise to the challenge, we need new voices and new leadership—leadership that is focused on making real progress on solving problems and ensuring that all New Jerseyans and Americans no matter their skin color, ethnicity, gender, whom they choose to love, or where they started in life can still realize the American Dream.”

His goal is to “make healthcare a right for everyone, take on climate change, protect a woman’s right to choose, battle back against hatred, and build an economy that works for all.”

Some Achievements

One of only 22 elected officials nationwide selected by the US State Department to serve on an inaugural Assembly of Local Leaders (ALL) to address “global challenges that effect local communities,” Bhalla recently participated in COP28, the UN Climate Summit, held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“The climate crisis is not a predetermined catastrophe, but a challenge we can and must meet,” he said.

Elected mayor of Hoboken in 2017 and re-elected in 2021, Bhalla is credited with making his city more resilient to climate change, overseeing the design, creation and opening of ResilienCity Park, one of the largest resiliency parks in the country, working toward zero emissions, to name just a few.

Bhalla’s own resilience is evident from his announcement video, where he recounts his experiences growing up and his method of tackling challenges. The video begins by saying – “This is a story about a Jersey kid… Who grew up not looking like all the other Jersey kids.”

“My parents came here from India to work hard and honestly, with only the promise of opportunity. … And to practice our Sikh faith in a country where it is self-evident that all of us are created equal,” Bhalla begins.

“But that didn’t stop the schoolyard bullies from hurling insults or tugging on my hair. …. I fought back. The only way I knew how. … On the diamond. … And the court,” he recalls about his days on the baseball field and his law degree.

“When my baseball helmet wouldn’t slide over my patka…My coach modified one that would fit me on the field. He knew our team was stronger when each of us could play,” he says, adding, “In the courtroom, I fought barriers to access and for those who faced discrimination.”

Hate has many faces, he says, “But all are cowardly and familiar,” he notes in the backdrop of a newscast about a racist flier, and another where he was labeled a terrorist on a leaflet.

He wants to run to keep America a place “Where an immigrant story is the American story.”

In his interview with Desi Talk, he said, “My immediate family, my Hoboken family, we are all in it together,” and concluding with, “I’m in it to win it.”

A Bold Call to Action in the Heart of New York City

On December 19, 2023, the bustling streets of New York City witnessed an extraordinary event that turned heads and sparked critical conversations. On Fifth Avenue, a giant puppet resembling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode in a convertible, brandishing a banner with a provocative message: “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, OK?” This audacious display, echoing a controversial statement made by former presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016, was more than a theatrical stunt; it was a stark symbol of protest and a desperate cry for global attention.

The Collaborative Effort of Diaspora Groups

This remarkable demonstration was the brainchild of leading Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim diaspora organizations. These groups came together in a show of unity and strength to highlight a disturbing and pressing issue: the alleged strategy of the Indian government in assassinating and intimidating US citizens of Indian descent, as well as other activists living abroad. The audacity of this act in a foreign nation and its implications for international relations and human rights have raised significant alarms.

Alarming Incidents and International Concerns

A Bold Call to Action in the Heart of New York City 2The backdrop to this protest is a series of troubling events that have unfolded both in the United States and Canada. In June, reports emerged of an alleged attempt by Indian authorities to assassinate a US citizen in New York. This harrowing incident occurred simultaneously with the killing of a prominent Canadian Sikh activist. The situation escalated to such an extent that the FBI felt compelled to warn several activists in California about similar threats. These incidents are not random or isolated; they represent a clear and disturbing pattern of behavior that has caught the attention of US prosecutors and the international community.

Voices of Protest and the Demand for Action

Sunita Viswanath of Hindus for Human Rights put forth a powerful message: “The point we make is deadly serious. American lives are not chips in trade deals. It’s high time President Biden acknowledges this reality and communicates unequivocally to both American citizens and Prime Minister Modi that our lives matter and are to be protected.”

Echoing these sentiments, Safa Ahmed of the Indian American Muslim Council highlighted the urgency of the situation: “We find ourselves asking who is next and what will it take for our government to intervene? America needs to stand up not just for its citizens but also for the principles of democracy and human rights across the globe.”

The Significance of the Stunt and the Path Forward

Today’s event in NYC was not just a visual spectacle; it was a powerful and symbolic act of protest and a call for urgent action. It reminds us of the critical role of democratic nations in safeguarding the rights and lives of individuals, regardless of their nationality or location. The Biden administration, along with the global community, faces a crucial test in responding to these allegations and taking concrete steps to ensure the safety and rights of diaspora communities.

In the wake of this demonstration, we are left with pressing questions: How will the global community respond to these alleged acts of cross-border violence? What measures will be taken to protect the vulnerable and hold perpetrators accountable? The answers to these questions will shape the future of international relations, human rights, and the very essence of democratic values.

As we reflect on the events of today, let us remember that the struggle for human rights and justice knows no borders. It is a universal pursuit that demands our collective attention and action.

Egypt Proposes Comprehensive Plan to Halt Israel-Hamas Conflict

In an effort to bring an end to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, Egypt has presented a bold initial proposal that includes a cease-fire, a phased release of hostages, and the establishment of a Palestinian government of experts to govern the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank. A senior Egyptian official and a European diplomat revealed the details of the proposal on Monday.

The Egyptian initiative, developed in collaboration with Qatar, aims to address the immediate crisis and lay the groundwork for a sustainable resolution. However, the proposal, currently in its early stages, does not align with Israel’s objective of completely dismantling Hamas and seems to fall short of Israel’s demand to maintain military control over Gaza in the post-war period.

Reports indicate that the Egyptian proposal has been shared with Israel, Hamas, the United States, and European governments. Although the proposal is under consideration, it is not yet clear whether it will be accepted or modified. Israel’s War Cabinet, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is set to discuss the proposal in an upcoming meeting.

As Israeli airstrikes intensify, causing significant damage in central and southern Gaza, the humanitarian situation worsens. The Maghazi refugee camp witnessed a devastating strike that claimed at least 106 lives, making it one of the deadliest incidents in Israel’s air campaign. The proposal from Egypt comes amid escalating violence, with both sides expressing their determination to continue the conflict.

The Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, outlined the key components of the proposal, emphasizing its comprehensive nature. The plan begins with an initial two-week cease-fire during which Palestinian militants would release 40 to 50 hostages, including women, the sick, and the elderly. In return, Israel would release 120-150 Palestinians held in its prisons. Negotiations would then continue to extend the cease-fire and secure the release of additional hostages and bodies held by Palestinian militants.

The proposal also envisions Egypt and Qatar working with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, to establish a government of experts. This transitional government would govern Gaza and the West Bank while facilitating the resolution of internal disputes among Palestinian factions. The ultimate goal is to create a roadmap for holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

Simultaneously, Israel and Hamas would engage in negotiations for a comprehensive “all-for-all” deal, encompassing the release of all remaining hostages, the withdrawal of the Israeli military from Gaza, and the cessation of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. However, the success of this ambitious plan hinges on the willingness of all parties to engage in constructive dialogue and make concessions.

While the proposal has been discussed with Ismail Haniyeh, the Qatar-based political leader of Hamas, and other Palestinian factions, doubts remain about whether Israel’s government, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, will accept the entire proposal. A Western diplomat, speaking anonymously, expressed skepticism about the Israeli government’s readiness to embrace the comprehensive plan.

The toll of the conflict on both sides is becoming increasingly apparent. In Gaza, more than 20,400 Palestinians have been killed, and almost the entire population of 2.3 million has been displaced. U.N. officials have raised concerns about a quarter of the population facing starvation due to Israel’s blockade, allowing only limited supplies into the territory.

Israel, too, is grappling with a rising death toll among its troops, with 17 soldiers killed since Friday and a total of 156 since the ground offensive began. The mounting casualties may impact public support for the war, which was triggered by an attack on southern Israeli communities by Hamas-led militants on Oct. 7, resulting in 1,200 deaths and 240 hostages.

Despite increasing international pressure against Israel’s offensive and the widespread suffering among Palestinians, public sentiment in Israel remains largely supportive of the stated goals of crushing Hamas and securing the release of remaining captives. Prime Minister Netanyahu has emphasized the need to expand the fight in the coming days, signaling a prolonged battle.

As the conflict continues to exact a heavy toll on both sides, the proposed Egyptian initiative offers a glimmer of hope for a comprehensive resolution. However, the path to peace remains uncertain, and the willingness of all parties to engage in meaningful dialogue will be crucial in determining the success of this ambitious proposal.

Supreme Court Dominates 2024 Election Narrative: Decisive Rulings Await on Trump’s Eligibility, Immunity, and Key Policy Issues

The 2024 presidential election has taken a decisive turn, with the Supreme Court emerging as the pivotal player, navigating various disputes surrounding the GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump. The court, no stranger to election controversies, faces a critical juncture in determining Trump’s eligibility for the ballot and assessing his immunity to prosecution linked to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, culminating in the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.

According to Justin Levitt, an election law specialist at Loyola Law School, these cases, usually avoidable by the Supreme Court, have become unavoidable national controversies thrust upon the court. The stakes are high, given the impact on both the primary and general elections. The Colorado Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled Trump constitutionally ineligible for the 2024 run based on the 14th Amendment’s prohibition on insurrectionists holding public office. This decision, anticipating an appeal, awaits resolution at the national level.

Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor, emphasized the significance of this decision, asserting that its implications extend beyond Colorado to impact all 50 states. The 14th Amendment’s insurrectionist clause, a focal point of the case, awaits the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court, underscoring the national gravity of the issue.

Trump’s legal challenges also encompass claims of immunity from January 6 prosecutors. His strategy relies heavily on asserting presidential immunity to dismiss charges related to his alleged subversion of the 2020 election. Special counsel Jack Smith seeks a prompt resolution, urging the Supreme Court to address the immunity question and double jeopardy concerns. The court’s decision on these matters could significantly influence the trajectory of Trump’s trial, scheduled for March 4.

In a parallel case in Atlanta, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an attempt by former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to move his criminal case to federal court. This decision, critical in determining the nature of post-election conduct, supports Smith’s argument that Trump’s actions were not within his official capacity as president.

Another key issue the Supreme Court will scrutinize revolves around a federal obstruction law and its applicability to individuals involved in the Capitol attack. The outcome may impact Trump’s case and numerous other DOJ prosecutions related to January 6. The ripple effect is already evident, with defendants seeking modifications in ongoing cases, highlighting the broader implications of the court’s decision.

Trump’s legal battles extend to a dispute over a gag order issued against him in the federal election subversion case. While the DC Circuit upheld most of the gag order, it narrowed restrictions on comments about Smith and altered the prohibition on speaking about witnesses. Trump’s legal team, viewing the order as an unconstitutional restriction on political speech, intends to escalate the fight to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Amidst these legal challenges, the Supreme Court’s docket for the term includes impactful policy issues that will resonate with voters. The court will address the availability of the abortion drug mifepristone, a significant case following its reversal of Roe v. Wade last year. Additionally, a major Second Amendment case and two cases challenging decades-old precedent on federal agency power further contribute to the court’s role in shaping the political landscape.

As the Supreme Court takes center stage in these critical matters, public opinion remains at historic lows, and ethical concerns persist. Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent attempt to address ethics criticism was met with skepticism, highlighting the challenges faced by the court in maintaining public trust.

The Supreme Court’s decisions on Trump’s eligibility, immunity, and other pivotal issues will profoundly impact the 2024 presidential election, marking a defining moment for the court and the nation.

PM Modi Addresses Allegations of India’s Involvement in US Assassination Plot, Stresses Confidence in India-US Relations

Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured that India would thoroughly investigate any evidence presented regarding its alleged involvement in an assassination plot in the United States. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, he addressed the November incident where a US charge implicated an Indian individual in a conspiracy to murder Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist leader in New York.

Mr. Modi emphasized that these allegations would not strain the relationship between India and the US, stating, “If a citizen of ours has done anything good or bad, we are ready to look into it. Our commitment is to the rule of law.”

The target, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, holds dual US-Canadian citizenship and actively supports the Khalistan movement, advocating for a separate Sikh state. US prosecutors alleged that Nikhil Gupta, a man associated with the Indian government, paid $100,000 in cash to a hitman to assassinate Mr. Pannun.

India has labeled Pannun as a terrorist, while he maintains that he is an activist, denying the accusations. These developments occurred approximately two months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of having links to the murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot dead in Canada in June.

India has vehemently denied these allegations, accusing Canada of providing shelter to “Khalistani terrorists and extremists” threatening its security. The diplomatic tensions have strained India-Canada relations, with Delhi asserting that Ottawa has not shared concrete evidence supporting its claims.

Trudeau revealed in an interview with Canada’s public broadcaster CBC that he went public with the allegations after weeks of private diplomacy, intending to “put a chill on India” and discourage potential agents from carrying out further attacks in Canada. He noted a change in India’s tone following the US’s similar allegations.

Despite these challenges, Prime Minister Modi expressed confidence in the positive trajectory of India-US relations. He stated, “There is strong bipartisan support for the strengthening of this relationship, which is a clear indicator of a mature and stable partnership.” Modi dismissed the idea of linking isolated incidents to diplomatic relations, asserting that it is inappropriate to do so.

Moreover, he highlighted India’s concerns about the “activities of certain extremist groups based overseas.” The government has consistently reacted sharply to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan. While the Khalistan movement witnessed its peak in India during the 1980s with a violent insurgency in Sikh-majority Punjab state, it has lost resonance within India. However, it still garners support among some members of the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the UK.

Experts suggest that these recent accusations of extra-judicial killings of Sikh separatists pose a potential threat to India’s growing ties with the US. Despite the challenges, Prime Minister Modi remains optimistic about the strength and stability of the partnership between the two nations.

Parliamentary Turmoil in India: Record Suspensions Ignite Protests Amid Security Breach Fallout

India’s parliament erupted in heated protests as an additional 49 opposition MPs faced suspension, bringing the total to 141, all in response to their protest against a recent security breach within the parliamentary premises. Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of undermining democracy, the opposition witnessed a record-breaking suspension of 78 MPs in a single day. Most of the lawmakers are excluded for the remainder of the winter session, concluding on Friday, while a subset awaits the parliament’s privileges committee decision for potential extended exclusion.

The majority of the suspended MPs belong to the INDIA alliance, a coalition of opposition parties gearing up to challenge Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming general election. Of the alliance’s 142 MPs in the 543-member Lok Sabha, 95 have been suspended, while in the 250-member Rajya Sabha, 46 out of 101 members face suspension.

Expressing dismay at the state of parliamentary democracy, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor remarked, “Unfortunately, we have to start writing obituaries for parliamentary democracy in India” following his suspension.

In response, the BJP accused opposition leaders of intentionally disrupting parliamentary proceedings, escalating tensions between the opposition and Modi’s government. Many opposition MPs had demanded a statement from either federal Home Minister Amit Shah or Modi regarding the recent security breach where individuals entered parliament, set off colored gas, and shouted slogans. Six individuals have been arrested, with the four protesters facing charges under an anti-terror law.

While Modi did not address the issue directly in parliament, he acknowledged its severity in a Hindi newspaper interview, emphasizing the need for a thorough investigation. Shah, at a separate event, announced a high-level inquiry into the incident, accusing the opposition of politicizing the security breach.

Opposition MPs have also sought a parliamentary discussion on the security lapse. Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the Congress party, criticized the government for sidestepping parliamentary accountability while granting interviews to the media. Manoj Kumar Jha, an MP from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, viewed his suspension as a “badge of honor,” asserting that it recognizes their efforts to pose challenging questions to the government.

Some opposition MPs, including Kharge, alleged that the government strategically suspended key figures to pass crucial bills without proper debate. However, federal minister Piyush Goyal labeled the opposition’s protest as a “pre-planned strategy” to disrupt parliamentary functioning and block essential bills. Goyal accused opposition MPs of disrespecting the parliament by refusing to comply with requests from the Lok Sabha speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman to refrain from displaying protest signs in the well of the house.

India’s Economic Surge: S&P Predicts Fastest Growth, Aims for Third-Largest Global Economy by 2030

India is poised to maintain its status as the swiftest-growing major economy over the next three years, propelling it toward claiming the position of the world’s third-largest economy by 2030, according to a report from S&P Global Ratings.

“S&P anticipates that India, presently ranking as the fifth-largest global economy, will witness a growth rate of 6.4% in the ongoing fiscal year, with projections indicating a further acceleration to 7% by fiscal 2027,” as reported by the original article. In contrast, the report foresees a deceleration in China’s growth to 4.6% by 2026 from an estimated 5.4% in the current year.

Recent data revealing a more substantial than expected 7.6% growth in India’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the second quarter of fiscal 2024 has led several brokerages to revise their full-year estimates upward. However, S&P, having revised its forecast prior to this data release, emphasizes that India’s growth trajectory hinges on a successful transition from a services-dominated economy to one dominated by manufacturing.

“A paramount test will be whether India can become the next big global manufacturing hub, an immense opportunity,” emphasizes S&P in its Global Credit Outlook 2024 report dated December 4th. While the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has actively promoted domestic manufacturing through initiatives such as the “Make in India” campaign and production-linked incentives (PLIs), the manufacturing sector still contributes only about 18% to the GDP. In stark contrast, services constitute more than half of India’s GDP.

S&P underscores the pivotal role of developing a robust logistics framework for India to truly emerge as a manufacturing hub. Additionally, the report emphasizes the necessity to “upskill” the workforce and boost female participation in the labor force to fully leverage the demographic dividend.

The report notes, “India possesses one of the youngest working populations globally, with nearly 53% of its citizens under the age of 30.” This demographic advantage could be a significant driver of economic growth if the country strategically addresses challenges in its economic structure and focuses on enhancing the capabilities of its workforce.

In essence, S&P’s projections for India’s economic trajectory highlight both the potential for remarkable growth and the challenges that must be addressed for the nation to realize its economic ambitions. As the government continues its efforts to promote manufacturing and economic diversification, the outcomes in the coming years will play a crucial role in shaping India’s position on the global economic stage.

India Resumes Venezuelan Crude Oil Imports After Three-Year Hiatus Amid Eased US Sanctions

India’s Petroleum Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, announced that India is set to resume crude oil imports from Venezuela after a three-year hiatus, citing the readiness of several Indian refineries to process heavy crudes. With the United States easing sanctions on Caracas in October, Puri emphasized that India, as a major global consumer of crude oil, is open to purchasing oil from any country not under sanctions.

Puri stated, “Many of our refineries, including (IOC’s) Paradip (refinery), are capable of using that heavy Venezuelan oil, and we will buy…We always buy from Venezuela. It’s when Venezuela came under sanctions that they were not able to supply.” This move comes as at least three Indian refiners—Reliance Industries (RIL), Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), and HPCL-Mittal Energy (HMEL)—have reportedly booked Venezuelan oil cargoes, expected to arrive in India over the next few months. Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) is also exploring the possibility of resuming oil imports from Venezuela.

India, specifically private sector refiners RIL and Nayara Energy (NEL), was a regular buyer of Venezuelan crude before the imposition of US sanctions in 2019, which led to a cessation of oil imports from Venezuela. According to data from commodity market analytics firm Kpler, the last time India imported Venezuelan crude was in November 2020. In 2019, Venezuela was India’s fifth-largest oil supplier, contributing nearly 16 million tonnes of crude, valued at $5.70 billion, according to India’s official trade data.

With Washington easing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector in October, allowing unlimited oil exports for six months, India is looking to capitalize on the opportunity. Venezuela, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and possessing the world’s largest proven oil reserves, is keen to expand its crude sales in major markets. India, being the world’s third-largest consumer of crude oil and heavily reliant on imports to meet over 85 percent of its demand, remains committed to procuring oil from cost-effective sources amid the volatile global oil markets.

The recent developments also shed light on Venezuela’s strategy to offer substantial discounts to Chinese independent refiners, historically its primary buyers during the sanctions. However, reports suggest that these discounts have narrowed in recent weeks due to the easing of sanctions and the interest of other buyers in acquiring Venezuelan oil. Caracas appears motivated to diversify its crude sales by extending discounts to attract buyers in other major markets.

US President Biden’s Absence Alters Plans for India’s Republic Day and Quad Summit; Investigation into Alleged Assassination Plot Adds Complexity

US President Joe Biden will not attend India’s Republic Day parade in January 2024, and the Quad summit, initially scheduled around the same time, is being postponed to the latter part of 2024, according to sources on Tuesday.

“We are looking for revised dates (for Quad) as the dates currently under consideration do not work with all the Quad partners,” the source said.

India had invited President Biden for the Republic Day celebrations, intending to host the Quad leaders’ summit in January next year. The Indian Express reported on September 7 New Delhi’s plans to invite the US President for Republic Day along with other Quad leaders and hold the Quad summit in January.

US Ambassador Eric Garcetti confirmed on September 20 that President Joe Biden had been invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the Republic Day celebrations. The invitation was extended during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

A final decision would be made after confirming the availability of leaders—President Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Albanese’s commitment to Australian national day on January 26 and the Japanese parliament, the Diet, being in session posed scheduling challenges.

Biden’s schedule awaited by the other three sides, the Quad summit could have taken place on January 27, a day after Republic Day celebrations on January 26. An invitation to be the Republic Day Chief Guest is highly symbolic and is usually extended only after informal confirmation of leaders’ availability.

Biden’s unavailability coincides with the US investigating an alleged assassination plot of a Khalistan separatist on US soil. Given an Indian official’s alleged involvement, the Indian government is also investigating information shared by US agencies. Federal prosecutors filed an indictment in November detailing the alleged plot against the separatist with dual US-Canadian nationality.

This marks the second time a US President couldn’t attend Republic Day celebrations. Former President Donald Trump, invited in 2018 for January 2019 celebrations, also couldn’t make it. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was invited as a replacement. The only instance of a US President attending Republic Day was in January 2015 when President Barack Obama visited during the first year of the Modi government.

While officials emphasize that Biden’s unavailability should not cast a shadow on bilateral ties amid the Pannun assassination plot, they stress the deep stakes and vital interests the two sides share. The Quad grouping is expected to convene towards the end of the year, after elections and before the US election cycle takes over.

Despite ongoing US-China engagement, with Biden meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in California, officials affirm the commitment to the Quad grouping. A summit, even at a later date, will send a strong signal to China, whose aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region has brought the four countries together.

India’s Supreme Court Upholds Abrogation Of Article 370 In Kashmir, Directs EC To Hold Elections By September 2024

India’s Supreme Court has upheld the Indian Government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and said that every decision taken by the Centre on behalf of a State can’t be subject to a legal challenge. On August 5, 2019, the Modi government announced the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir granted under Article 370 and split the region into two Union Territories.

A five-judge Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, BR Gavai, and Surya Kant delivered the verdict on December 11, 2023. The five-judge Constitution Bench pronounced three judgments in petitions challenging the Centre’s move to scrap Article 370.

A Constitution Bench said, “The exercise of power by the President under Article 370(1)(d) to issue CO 272 is not mala fide. The President in exercise of power under Article 370(3) can unilaterally issue a notification that Article 370 ceases to exist”.

“The President did not have to secure the concurrence of the Government of the State or Union Government acting on behalf of the State Government under the second proviso to Article 370(1)(d) while applying all the provisions of the Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir because such an exercise of power has the same effect as an exercise of power under Article 370(3) for which the concurrence or collaboration with the State Government was not required,” added the bench.

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Picture: LawTrend

The bench, which also comprised Justices S K Kaul, Sanjiv Khanna, B R Gavai and Surya Kant, pronounced three judgments – one by the CJI for himself and Justices Gavai and Surya Kant, a concurring judgment by Justice Kaul and a third by Justice Khanna concurring with the other two rulings. The Constitution Bench was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories.

CJI Chandrachud reading out the judgement said that every decision taken by the Centre on behalf of a State under proclamation can’t be subject to a legal challenge and it will lead to the administration of the State to a standstill.

Supreme Court said that it has held that Article 370 was a temporary provision. “The proclamation of Maharaja stated that the Constitution of India will supersede. With this, the para of Instrument of Accession ceases to exist….Article 370 was an interim arrangement due to war conditions in the State. Textual reading also indicates that Article 370 is a temporary provision,” the Court said.

The Apex court also mentioned that the argument of petitioners that the Union government cannot take actions of irreversible consequences in the State during Presidential rule is not acceptable. “We have held that the state of Jammu and Kashmir did not retain an element of sovereignty when it joined the Union of India. We have arrived at this conclusion for the following reasons. First paragraph eight of the instrument of acession executed by Maharaja Hari Singh provided that nothing in the instrument would affect the continuance of the sovereignty of the Maharaja in and over the state,” CJI Chandrachud said. The CJI further noted that on November 25, 1949, a proclamation was issued for the State of Jammu and Kashmir by “Yuvraj Karan Singh”.

“The declaration on this proclamation, that the Constitution of India would not only supersede all other constitutional provisions in the state, which were inconsistent with it, but also abrogate them, achieves what could have been attained by an agreement of merger. With the issuance of the proclamation, paragraph of the instrument of acession ceases to be of legal consequence. The proclamation reflects the full and final surrender of sovereignty by Jammu and Kashmir through its sovereign ruler to India ” the CJI added.

The Supreme Court said, “The declaration issued by the President exercises the power and clause 3 of Article 370 is a culmination of the process of integration. Thus, we do not find that the President’s exercise of power under Clause 3 of Article 370 was malafide. We hold the exercise of Presidential Power to be valid.”

The Court also noted that Article 370 was meant for the constitutional integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union and it was not for disintegration and the President can declare that Article 370 ceases to exist.

“Concurrence of the State government was not required to apply all provisions of the Constitution using Article 370(1)(d). So, the President of India taking the concurrence of the Union government was not mala fide,” the Court noted.

The Supreme Court also directed the Election Commission to hold Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections by September 30, 2024. The Supreme Court said in view of Centre’s submission on restoration of statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, it directs that statehood shall be restored as soon as possible.

On September 5, the apex court reserved the judgement after hearing the arguments for 16 days.
The central government had defended its decision to abrogate Article 370, saying there was no “constitutional fraud” in repealing the provision that accorded special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Attorney General R Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for Centre. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, had opened the arguments, saying Article 370 was no longer a “temporary provision” and had assumed permanence post the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Kaul also recommended setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission to look into alleged violations of human rights by both state and non-state actors in J-K. Justice Kaul said it should be based on a dialogue and cautioned that it should not become a criminal court.

Reading out his ruling, CJI Chandrachud said, “The State of Jammu and Kashmir does not retain any element of sovereignty after the execution of the Instrument of Accession (IoA) and the issuance of the Proclamation dated 25 November 1949 by which the Constitution of India was adopted. The State of Jammu and Kashmir does not have ‘internal sovereignty’ which is distinguishable from the powers and privileges enjoyed by other States in the country. Article 370 was a feature of asymmetric federalism and not sovereignty”.

On the reorganisation of the erstwhile state of J-K into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the ruling said, “The Solicitor General stated that the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir will be restored (except for the carving out of the Union Territory of Ladakh). In view of the statement, we do not find it necessary to determine whether the reorganisation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir is permissible under Article 3”.

The court, however, upheld “the validity of the decision to carve out the Union Territory of Ladakh in view of Article 3(a) read with Explanation I which permits forming a Union Territory by separation of a territory from any State”.

The SC directed, “Steps shall be taken by the Election Commission of India to conduct elections to the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir constituted under Section 14 of the Reorganisation Act by 30 September 2024”. “Restoration of statehood shall take place at the earliest and as soon as possible,” added the court.

“The power under Article 370(3) did not cease to exist upon the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. When the Constituent Assembly was dissolved, only the transitional power recognised in the proviso to Article 370(3) which empowered the Constituent Assembly to make its recommendations ceased to exist. It did not affect the power held by the President under Article 370(3)”.

India’s Permanent Representative To UN Hosts ‘Mission Life’ Event On Millets

Millets have been an integral part of our diet for centuries. In addition to a plethora of health benefits, millets are also good for the environment with low water & input requirement. With the aim to create awareness and increase production & consumption of millets, United Nations, at the behest of the Government of India, declared 2023 the International Year Millets. To commemorate this, the  India’s Permanent Mission to the UN in ccordination with India’s Ministry of External Affairs is hosting various interactive activities around Millets.

India’s Permanent Representative To UN Hosts ‘Mission Life’ Event On Millets 2Mission LiFE, a global initiative for ‘Lifestyle for Environment’ is a groundbreaking step towards sustainable living, according to Ruchira Kamboj, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN. Kamboj was speaking at a reception hosted by India’s Permanent Mission to the UN on December 4, 2023 at the UN headquarters in New York to highlight 2023 as the International Year of the Millet.

According to Kamboj, Mission LiFE and the focus on Millets jointly represent a holistic approach to sustainability. “It’s a clarion call for everyone, everywhere, to rethink their lifestyles and make choices that contribute positively to the Earth’s well-being,” Kamboj said. Earlier at the ‘India Roundtables’ panel discussion at the UN about Mission LiFE, Kamboj had said that the initiative focuses on mindful and deliberate utilization instead of mindless and destructive consumption.

Based on the Gandhian concept of Lifestyle for Environment and Human Flourishing to promote sustainable lifestyles and enduring peace, the Indian initiative was launched globally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UN Secretary General António Guterres in February 2023.

Acknowledging the need for global support to the initiative at the reception, Secretary-General Guterres said, “’Mission LiFE’s vision aligns perfectly with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. It’s a testament to how individual responsibility can foster a sustainable future for the entire planet.”

India is the world’s largest producer and second-largest exporter of millet according to sources. Technically seeds, millets are small grains grown on poor quality soil with very little irrigation. There are nine kinds of millets which grow in India, including sorghum, finger millet, little millet, kodo millet, foxtail millet and barnyard millet. They all differ from each other in color, texture and size.

However, its consumption has largely remained in the rural areas, a scenario which, Modi has been working to change since 2014 to boost millet production and consumption. At the G20 summit in September 2023 in New Delhi, world leaders were served an all-vegetarian dinner predominantly made of millets. At the commemorating ceremony of the International Year of the Millet in February 2023, India organized a special exhibition on the occasion on different kinds of millets grown in India, their nutritional value and health benefits, and a reception with millet-based savories.

Millet and millet based fusion dishes have been introduced by well-known Indian restaurants and gourmet chefs including barley and sorghum salad, millet tortillas and dosas, sorghum pita pockets, ragi pancakes, millet risotto, ragi pizzas, and also millet  chips, chakli, noodles, breakfast cereals, and even millet-based beers.

The push for millets by India is based on their being environment friendly. They require less water and can grow in harsher climates, making them a sustainable choice while the world faces increasing water scarcity and global warming.

One of the highlights of last week’s special reception was a performance by Falguni Shah, a Grammy nominee, of her number, ‘Abundance In Millets’ originally ‘written and performed’ by Falu and Gaurav Shah with the prime minister who came up with the concept and contributed the lyrics and collaborated in creating it.

One of the lyrics by Modi goes, “The shared efforts of our farmers and us….will adorn India and the world’s prosperity with a new radiance.”

Rajasthani Association Announces 2023-25 Leadership

The Rajasthan Association of North America has elected a new leadership team for the year 2023-25 .Current president and prominent New York-based social activist Prem Bhandari has been re-elected to the post of president.

In addition to Bhandari serving as president, the newly elected vice president, Dr Sharad Kothari, secretary Ravi Jargad, and treasurer Neelam Modi make up the executive committee of RANA, New York. According to the organization’s election committee, the elections were unanimous.

In light of RANA’s upcoming 25th anniversary, Bhandari announced that preparations are underway to host a worldwide convention next year. The organisation has held several international conventions over the years, which former Rajasthan Chief Ministers, Ashok Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje attended.

RANA’s primary goals include bridging the gap between the state of Rajasthan and its diaspora and bringing attention to and support for Rajasthani cultural heritage across the United States. This year the organisation spearheaded the Millets awareness campaign abroad on the occasion of the International Year of Millets (IYM).

Bhandari, who also serves as the chairman of Jaipur Foot USA and of US chapter of REDIO – Rescuing every Distressed Indian Overseas, was instrumental in the globalisation of the millets awareness campaign. Under his direction an an all millets meal was launched in collaboration with the head chef of New York-based restaurant SAAR. He has also worked with Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Chief Coordinator for India’s G20 Presidency in 2023 to organize the Jodhpur Millets Festival, among others. RANA’s primary goals include bridging the gap between the state of Rajasthan and its diaspora.

Sewa USA Launches Fundraiser For Cyclone Michaung Victims

Sewa USA, a Hindu-faith-based humanitarian nonprofit service organization with over 40 chapters in the country, has called for donations to help victims of the tropical storm cyclone Michaung that recently battered the south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Tamil Nadu (TN).

“Our Cyclone Michaung Relief Fund provides immediate assistance to those in need. Your support can make a significant difference in the lives of affected individuals and families,” the campaign reads. The organization has requested contributions toward emergency shelter and supplies, medical aid, and food and water distribution. They have garnered US $2,842 in donations from their US $50,000 goal.

Sewa USA Launches Fundraiser For Cyclone Michaung VictimAt least 17 people were killed in rain-related incidents in Chennai, which suffered the most damage from the cyclone, according to city police. These deaths were caused by collapsing walls, electrocution, drowning, and falling trees. More than ten people were injured in the city and taken to various hospitals for treatment. Despite Michaung making landfall with sustained winds of 90-100 kmph, no casualties were reported in Andhra Pradesh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a post on X, “My thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their loved ones due to Cyclone Michaung, especially in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry. My prayers are with those injured or affected in the wake of this cyclone. Authorities have been working tirelessly on the ground to assist those affected and will continue their work till the situation fully normalises.”

Aside from the loss of life and property, the constant rains in the states of AP and TN caused the cancellation of hundreds of inbound and outbound flights from the airports in Hyderabad and Chennai. The downpours caused power outages and cellular network outages in different areas of these states.

Modi Invites Global Participation For AI Summit 2023

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited tech enthusiasts, innovators and stakeholders across the world to participate in the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) Summit 2023, scheduled to take place between December 12 and 14 in New Delhi, India.

Emphasizing the significance of the event in the current times, PM Modi wrote in a LinkedIn post, “In this whirlwind of rapid advancement, artificial intelligence (AI) is one area where its applications are expanding at an exponential rate.”
According to the PM, India is taking a giant leap to empower citizens in the field of this revolutionary technology, which will be heralded by the new generation. He emphasized that the country is poised to be an “active contributor to the evolution of AI as the world leaps into a not-so-distant future.”

We live in interesting times and making it even more interesting is AI, which has a positive impact on
tech industry.

“India offers solutions that are scalable, secure, affordable, sustainable, and replicable on a global scale. India’s Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) initiative is a prime example of such pioneering efforts,” his post read. He stressed that the country is dedicated to clearing the path for a regulatory framework that ensures safe and trusted AI.

The GPAI is an association of 28 member countries and Europe Union to guide in development and use of AI technology, since its inception in June 2020, to which India is a co-founder.

Since then, according to PM Modi, the country has been actively engaging in various initiatives to foster the development, deployment, and adoption of open, safe, secure, and accountable AI. The summit will feature many sessions, including the AI Expo, which will have 150 startups showcasing their strengths.

Faith Pavilion Adds Spiritual Dimension to Climate Crisis Resolution

(IPS) – For the first time at COP28, faith has a pavilion alongside science, technology, nations, and philanthropy, allowing religious leaders from all over the world to discuss the potential for using spiritual merits to protect the earth from climate change.
Syed Salman Chishty, representing India’s largest spiritual shrine, Ajmer Sharief, gave IPS the rationale for the pavilion: “As we gather at COP28, we are reminded of the importance of justice and compassion as guiding principles for transformation—this is the overarching theme of the event—the need for genuine change rooted in universal values found in diverse cultures.”

The Ajmer Sharief shrine is the tomb of Moinuddin Chishti, a 13th-century Iranian Sufi saint and philosopher who made India his final abode. People of all faiths venerate his shrine, which is often described as a symbol of India’s pluralism.

The Faith Pavilion at COP28 has also brought together heads of countries, religious leaders, scientists, and activists in a united front against the looming threat of climate change. Among the dignitaries present at its opening was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with spiritual luminaries, climate activists, and representatives of global think tanks.

Faith Pavilion Adds Spiritual Dimension to Climate Crisis Resolution (BNN)
Picture: BNN

The Coalition of Faith Partners and the USA both supported the initiative, which has co-hosts like the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance and Coexistence, Judge Mohamed AbdlSalaam of the Muslim Council of Elders in Abu Dhabi, and Iyad Abumoghil, Director of Faith for Earth at the UN Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi.

The Faith Pavilion at COP28 aims to tap into the power of faith communities and religious institutions to address the climate crisis. A diverse array of leaders congregated to explore the potential of spirituality in combating environmental challenges. The discussions were not merely about policies and technologies; rather, they delved into the profound realms of justice, compassion, and conscious transformation.

The Call to Consciousness event panel featured international delegates such as Audrey Kitagawa, founder and President of the International Academy for Multicultural Cooperation in the USA; Ben Bowler, Executive Director of Unity Earth in Australia; Ambassador Mussie Hailu of the United Religious Initiative in Ethiopia; Surender Singh Kandhari, chair of Gurudwara Gurunanak Darbar in Dubai; and Rocky Dawuni, a musician and Global Peace Ambassador of UNEP from Ghana.

The leaders at the Faith Pavilion, says Chishty, emphasized the cultivation of three attitudes towards nature: sunlight-like grace, river-like generosity, and earth-like hospitality. These attitudes, they argued, could serve as a blueprint for individuals to integrate into their daily lives. By doing so, they believed that these principles could bridge differences and divisions in the collective service of others.

“The call for unity in diversity echoed through the discussions, inspired by the teachings of our saint, Khwaja Garib Nawaz, also known as the patron saint of the poor. It was a celebration of the interconnectedness of humanity and nature, urging everyone to look beyond borders and backgrounds in the pursuit of a shared goal: combating climate change,” Chishty said.

He added that the Faith Pavilion at COP28 became a platform not only for dialogue but also for the formulation of actionable strategies. “The leaders recognized the urgency of the situation and committed to translating the discussions into tangible initiatives. The combination of spiritual wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the collective will of diverse faith communities generated a sense of hope and purpose,” Chishty.

According to him, the event marked a departure from conventional approaches to climate change discussions. “It acknowledged that addressing the environmental crisis requires more than technological advancements and policy changes; it necessitates a profound shift in consciousness and values. The Faith Pavilion was a testament to the understanding that faith, when aligned with a shared vision, has the potential to drive transformative change on a global scale,” Chisty said.

According to him, once the deliberations in the Faith Pavilion were concluded, the participants left with a renewed sense of purpose and a shared commitment to take concrete actions in the fight against climate change.

“The fusion of faith, science, and activism paved the way for a new chapter in the global response to environmental challenges—a chapter written with the ink of unity, compassion, and a deep reverence for the interconnectedness of all life on Earth,” Chishty concluded.

IPS UN Bureau Report

Modi’s Canada Policy Impacts Indian Student Applicants To Canada, Drops By 40%

The diplomatic tug of war betwwen the Modi-led Indian government and the Canadian government has hit the growing flow Indian students aspiring to come to this North Americann nation seeking higher education.

The number of Indian students choosing Canada as a destination for further studies has seen a downtick, as per data for the period of July to October 2023. As per data reported by Better Dwelling, new study permits from India dropped from a total of 145,881 last year between July-October to 86,562 in the same period of 2023, representing a 40 per cent decline.

The report said that overall applications have declined by 9 per cent compared to 2022, despite being observed annually that the period between July to August shows growth ahead of September when terms commence.

The drop in applications can be attributed to the ongoing diplomatic row that India and Canada are tied up in, Following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations in mid-September about India’s involvement in the death of Canadian national Khalistani Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

The decline was reported months after the federal government announced plans to consider a cap on international students in the face of Canada’s housing crisis. In August, Federal Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser told reporters that he planned to sit down with post-secondary institutions to find out what can be done to make it easier to find living space for students.

Modi’s Canada Policy Impacts Indian Student Applicants To Canada Drops By 40% 2“If they’re going to continue to bring in record numbers of students, that they are being part of the solution as well by making sure that they have a place to live,” Fraser had said. He called out institutions for exploiting students by enrolling more than they had space for, which in turn also hurt the housing market.

“There are good private institutions out there and separating the wheat from the chaff is going to be a big focus of the work that I tried to do with [Immigration Minister Marc] Miller.”

Earlier this year, a record number of Indian students faced the threat of deportation from Canada after being accused of entering the country on the base of fraudulent letters. These letters were used to obtain their entry visa into the country.

While the fraud was attributed to the agents in India who processed their applications, students also questioned Canada’s federal government for granting the visas in the first place. The government ordered a temporary freeze on the deportation of these students after mass protests.

FDA Approves Groundbreaking Gene-Editing Therapies for Sickle Cell Disease

In a historic decision, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted approval for the first-ever gene-editing treatment aimed at mitigating human illness. This groundbreaking development encompasses two gene therapies specifically designed for individuals aged 12 and above grappling with the most severe manifestation of sickle cell disease, an agonizing blood disorder that has long been overlooked in medical research.

Dr. Nicole Verdun, the director of the Office of Therapeutic Products within the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, expressed enthusiasm, stating, “Sickle cell disease is a rare, debilitating and life-threatening blood disorder with significant unmet need, and we are excited to advance the field, especially for individuals whose lives have been severely disrupted by the disease by approving two cell-based gene therapies today.”

The approval marks significant milestones in both sickle cell treatment and the swiftly advancing domain of gene editing, generating anticipation for addressing numerous diseases. Dr. Verdun emphasized the potential of gene therapy, stating, “Gene therapy holds the promise of delivering more targeted and effective treatments, especially for individuals with rare diseases where the current treatment options are limited.”

Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, a key figure in the discovery of the CRISPR gene-editing technique employed in one of the sickle cell treatments, conveyed her excitement, stating, “I’m elated, excited, in awe. It’s an exciting day and the beginning of a new day in medicine.”

The CRISPR treatment, developed collaboratively by Vertex Pharmaceuticals and CRISPR Therapeutics, involves extracting cells from the patient’s bone marrow, editing a gene using CRISPR, and then reintroducing billions of modified cells back into the patient. This process prompts the production of fetal hemoglobin, restoring normal red blood cell function. While not a definitive cure, the therapy, named Casgevy, is designed as a one-time treatment expected to alleviate symptoms for a lifetime.

According to data presented to the FDA, the CRISPR treatment resolved severe pain crises for 96.7% of subjects for at least 18 months, demonstrating promising results. Another gene therapy, Lyfgenia, developed by bluebird bio inc., received FDA approval for sickle cell treatment without utilizing CRISPR. Instead, Lyfgenia employs a conventional gene therapy approach using a virus to transport a gene into cells.

However, the approval’s celebratory tone is tempered by concerns about accessibility and cost. Both treatments are priced significantly, with Casgevy at $2.2 million and Lyfgenia at $3.1 million wholesale. Additionally, the complex and labor-intensive procedures involved may pose challenges for many hospitals, limiting accessibility for patients.

“We have a lot more work to do,” cautioned Doudna, emphasizing the need to make gene-editing treatments widely available.

 

Sickle cell disease, caused by a genetic defect leading to abnormal hemoglobin production, results in misshapen red blood cells that cause severe pain and organ damage. Primarily affecting individuals of African, Middle Eastern, and Indian descent, sickle cell is a rare yet prevalent genetic disorder.

While bone marrow transplants offer a potential cure for some patients, the majority struggle to find suitable donors. Approximately 20,000 severe cases in the U.S. could potentially benefit from the CRISPR treatment.

Dr. Lewis Hsu, a pediatric hematologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, expressed excitement, stating, “This is something that we’ve been waiting for in the sickle cell community for basically 70 years. This is a very big deal.”

The approval holds personal significance for Victoria Gray, a sickle cell patient from Forest, Miss., who became the first person to receive the CRISPR treatment in the U.S. in 2019. Reflecting on the approval, Gray said, “I’m ecstatic. It’s a blessing that they approved this therapy. It’s a new beginning for people with sickle cell disease.” She described the treatment as transformative, allowing her to lead a more energetic life, work full time, and spend quality time with her children.

Despite these positive outcomes, concerns persist regarding the technical complexity and lengthy hospitalization required for the treatments. The intricate procedures involve multiple hospital visits, bone marrow transplants, and extended hospital stays, potentially deterring patients due to physical and logistical challenges.

Melissa Creary, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan studying sickle cell, acknowledged the promise of technology but cautioned about potential disparities, stating, “I am excited about the promise that this technology has for those living with sickle cell disease. But as this technology comes to market, it’s going to be really interesting to see the ways in which profit overtake social justice.”

The geographical and financial challenges of accessing treatment also raise concerns. Many countries lack the necessary medical infrastructure for these advanced treatments, and even in the U.S., availability may be limited.

Doudna, leading a center at Berkeley focused on simplifying gene-editing treatments, and the National Institutes of Health are actively working to address these challenges. Biotech companies are collaborating with insurers to explore coverage options. Advocates argue that the high upfront costs may be justified by the long-term savings from avoiding lifelong sickle cell complications.

Amid these developments, concerns about potential “off-target” effects and unintended consequences of gene editing persist. The FDA has issued a warning about Lyfgenia, which employs a more conventional gene therapy approach, potentially increasing the risk of blood cancer.

The companies involved plan to monitor patients for 15 years to assess the treatment’s longevity, effectiveness, and potential long-term complications. CRISPR-based treatments also show promise in addressing other conditions, such as amyloidosis and familial hypercholesterolemia.

“This is only the beginning,” remarked CRISPR researcher Doudna, underscoring the ongoing evolution of gene-editing technologies.

Alleged Hands-On Images of Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Emerge Online

Unverified hands-on images of the rumored Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra have surfaced online, providing a sneak peek into the design of the anticipated flagship smartphone. These images, which have garnered attention from Samsung enthusiasts, showcase the bottom and top edges of the device, hinting at some notable design modifications compared to its predecessor, the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Notably, the leaked visuals reveal a distinctive elongated strip-like design for the bottom speaker on the Galaxy S24 Ultra, setting it apart from its forerunner.

One of the noteworthy alterations is the introduction of 8.6mm thin bezels, marking a slimmer profile when contrasted with the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The bottom edge of the smartphone, as depicted in the leaked images, discloses a SIM tray and microphone, accompanied by a USB Type-C port and a speaker grille. Notably, the speaker grille stands out with its long rectangular strip design, a departure from the six pill-shaped holes seen on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Additionally, the air vents appear to have been relocated to the top, contributing to a revised aesthetic.

In these purported hands-on images shared by tipster Ice Universe on X (formerly Twitter), a flat design for the S Pen is suggested, introducing a potential shift from the previous model’s design. The right spine of the smartphone reveals the presence of volume rockers and a power button, notable for their increased thickness compared to the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The incorporation of Titanium alloy material is claimed to enhance the device’s texture.

An intriguing revelation from the leaked visuals is the reduced thickness of the Galaxy S24 Ultra, measuring at 8.6mm, in contrast to the 8.9mm body of its predecessor. Despite the detailed insights provided by the leaked images, Samsung has yet to make any official announcements or disclosures regarding the Galaxy S24 Ultra, leaving room for speculation and anticipation among consumers.

Tipster Ice Universe, also known as @UniverseIce, took to X to share these alleged hands-on images, shedding light on the possible design and features of the upcoming flagship smartphone. The images portray a SIM tray, microphone, USB Type-C port, and speaker grille on the bottom edge of the device, emphasizing the distinctive rectangular strip design for the speaker. The relocation of air vents to the top is evident, providing a visual distinction from the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Additionally, the leaked images suggest a flat design for the S Pen, adding a touch of novelty to the potential features of the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

The right side of the smartphone exhibits volume rockers and a power button, with a noticeable increase in thickness compared to the previous model. The incorporation of Titanium alloy material is touted to offer an improved texture for the device, enhancing the overall user experience. The reduction in thickness, down to 8.6mm, is a notable departure from the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 8.9mm body, potentially contributing to a sleeker and more ergonomic design.

Given the absence of official confirmation from Samsung regarding the Galaxy S24 Ultra, it is essential to approach this information with caution, recognizing the speculative nature of these leaks. The hands-on images and details shared by tipster Ice Universe provide an intriguing glimpse into the possible design evolution of Samsung’s flagship handset, yet the veracity of these claims remains unverified until an official announcement is made.

In recent weeks, the Galaxy S24 Ultra has been the subject of numerous speculations and leaks, offering insights into its expected features and specifications. Among the anticipated highlights is a 6.8-inch QHD+ display boasting a 120Hz refresh rate, promising a visually immersive experience for users. The device is rumored to be powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 SoC, paired with 12GB of RAM and storage options ranging from 256GB to 1TB, catering to diverse user preferences.

The imaging capabilities of the Galaxy S24 Ultra are said to include a quad rear camera setup, comprising a remarkable 200-megapixel wide-angle camera, a 12-megapixel ultra wide-angle sensor, a 50-megapixel telephoto camera featuring 5x optical zoom, and a 10-megapixel telephoto sensor with 3x optical zoom. On the front, a 12-megapixel selfie shooter is expected to deliver impressive photography capabilities for users.

To support these advanced features, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is rumored to house a robust 5,000mAh battery, equipped with super-fast charging 2.0 and fast wireless charging 2.0 capabilities. This powerhouse of a battery is anticipated to ensure prolonged usage without compromising on charging speed, aligning with the demands of modern smartphone users.

As the anticipation builds around the potential launch of the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, these leaked images and speculative details contribute to the excitement within the tech community. However, until Samsung officially unveils the device and provides concrete details, it is prudent for consumers and enthusiasts alike to approach these leaks with a level of skepticism, acknowledging the speculative nature of pre-release information.

US Ambassador Garcetti Foresees Bright Future for India-US Relations: A Multiplicative Force for Global Good

The US ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, expressed optimism about the India-US relationship, stating that it is a “force of good for the world” with a “positive romantic ambiguity” for the future. Speaking at Carnegie’s Global Tech Summit 2023, Garcetti highlighted the growing breadth and depth of ties between the two nations, emphasizing efforts to negotiate differences and plan for the future.

In his address, Garcetti humorously likened the historical status of the relationship to a Facebook status of “It’s complicated,” suggesting that it has evolved into a phase resembling dating. He remarked on the complexities of merging habits, symbolizing the ongoing efforts to understand and navigate the partnership’s direction. Despite the uncertainties, he underscored a shared desire on both sides to advance the relationship.

Quoting Garcetti, “There’s a positive romantic ambiguity about where this will ultimately lead… But there’s a strong desire on both [sides to take the relationship forward].”

Reflecting on the partnership’s effectiveness, Garcetti pointed to the G20 Summit as a notable example. He commended the collaboration between India and the US, emphasizing how their joint efforts surpassed a simple additive relationship, producing a historic consensus involving 20 countries.

Quoting Garcetti, “India-US relationship is not additive, its multiplicative. We demonstrated that at G20, where it was more than just 1+1 equals 2 countries, 1+1 actually produced 20 countries together with a historic and strongest, deepest statement ever put forward by a G20.”

The ambassador highlighted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States as a significant milestone in the relationship’s growth. He noted the extensive discussions and numerous deliverables, emphasizing the unprecedented nature of the continued communication between the two nations.

Quoting Garcetti, “if you get three to five deliverables, that’s a strong state dinner. The week before [the state dinner], we were ploughing through 123 different deliverables.”

Garcetti concurred with External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s perspective that the state dinner should be viewed not as the pinnacle but as a new base for US-India relations. He emphasized President Joe Biden’s recognition of the relationship as the most consequential in the world.

Quoting Garcetti, “[President Joe Biden] is the very first president to say this is most consequential relationship in the world.”

Addressing the role of China in the bilateral ties, Garcetti acknowledged its importance but refuted the notion that the relationship was primarily centered around China. He asserted that 95% of the relationship was fundamentally about other matters, characterizing China as a component related to deterrence.

Quoting Garcetti, “Peace is critical, but deterring war, respecting borders and sovereignty, making sure that we don’t have people who steal intellectual property, that we are not overly dependent on any one place for a supply chain, is a deterrent peace.”

Responding to concerns about India’s ability to absorb the impact of US-China derisking, Garcetti emphasized that missing this opportunity would be a loss. He also addressed challenges hindering the desired flow of Foreign Direct Investment, pointing to India’s status as the “highest taxed input major economy in the world.”

Quoting Garcetti, “It’s not a criticism…but it’s harming your own internal capacity to be the manufacturing powerhouse that India should be. That we want it to be. That it is starting to accelerate to become but it will require some fundamentally deeper changes.”

G20 Chief Coordinator Harsh Vardhan Shringla, participating in the discussions, echoed the sentiment that the relationship is multifaceted and constantly evolving. He emphasized the collaborative role of the US and India as a force for good in the world beyond their individual interests.

Quoting Shringla, “The relationship is amazingly multifaceted, but it’s also constantly evolving. US and India are a force for good in the world together, not just for our countries.”

Cyclone Michaung Leaves Chennai in Deluge Crisis: Rescuers Battle Flooding as City Grapples with Devastation

In the aftermath of Cyclone Michaung’s assault on India’s southern coast, the city of Chennai faced widespread flooding on Wednesday, compelling rescuers to employ boats to reach stranded individuals in their inundated homes. The cyclone, accompanied by heavy rain and powerful winds, uprooted trees, and inflicted damage on roads, resulting in the loss of an estimated 13 lives, particularly in the manufacturing hub of Tamil Nadu. The flooding, triggered by torrential rains preceding the cyclone’s landfall in Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday afternoon, prompted rescuers to utilize inflatable rafts and ropes for evacuations in Chennai, a city with a population exceeding 6 million, renowned for its status as a major automobile and technology manufacturing center.

As Greater Chennai Corporation Commissioner Dr. J. Radhakrishnan highlighted, “There are pockets of low lying areas.” The efforts of rescue workers were vividly captured by local media, showcasing their determination as they waded through waist-deep water and engaged in the retrieval of stranded individuals. Additionally, air force helicopters played a crucial role by airdropping food rations to those marooned in flooded homes.

The impact of the deluge extended beyond immediate human consequences, affecting industrial operations. Notably, Taiwan’s Foxconn and Pegatron had temporarily halted Apple iPhone production at their Chennai facilities due to the rains, with Foxconn resuming operations on Tuesday.

In the state of Andhra Pradesh, which bore the brunt of Cyclone Michaung, damage was relatively contained, primarily manifesting as road impairments and uprooted trees from the force of crashing waves along the coast. This calamity evoked memories of a devastating flood eight years prior, claiming around 290 lives, raising questions among residents about the city’s infrastructure resilience in the face of extreme weather events.

State Chief Minister M K Stalin expressed concern by writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking 50.6 billion rupees ($607.01 million) for the extensive damage. However, civil engineer and geo-analytics expert Raj Bhagat P emphasized that even with improved stormwater drainage systems in the city, preventing flooding in the face of very heavy and extremely heavy rains would have remained a challenge.

Bhagat P noted, “This solution would have helped a lot in moderate and heavy rainfall, but not in very heavy and extremely heavy rains.” Despite these challenges, the spirit of resilience prevailed as rescue efforts persisted amidst the adversity, emphasizing the need for both short-term relief and long-term infrastructure improvements to fortify Chennai against the unpredictable forces of nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Launches Visa Renewal Program for Indian Tech Workers

The United States is launching a domestic visa renewal program for certain H-1B visas in December, mainly benefiting Indian technology professionals.

The initiative aims to alleviate long wait times for visa appointments, particularly in India, initially issuing 20,000 visas to foreign nationals already in the US, with a focus on Indians due to their significant skilled workforce presence.

This move, announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit and formally endorsed later, has received positive feedback from the Indian community in the US. Indian-American community leader Ajay Jain Bhutoria praised the program’s implementation, highlighting its positive impact on over a million H-1B visa holders and advocating for further policy changes to support legal immigrants.

Highlights: US to begin H-1B visa renewals starting from December

US to launch a pilot program for H1-B visa renewals which is an advantage for Indian tech professionals.

The focus is on reducing waiting times, easing the process of renewals, and eradicating the need for individuals going back to their home country for appointments.

The program aims on covering 20,000 work visa renewals starting from 1st of December and looks forward on extending the program plan in 2024.

Pilot program details and objectives

US Launches Visa Renewal Program for Indian Tech Workers 2The program which started 0n December 1st, aims to have around 20,000 work visa renewals, constituting approximately 10% of the anticipated 583,420 H-1B visa holders. The program was initially proposed in February gained formal announcement and recognition during PM Modi’s visit to the US in September.

Presently, visa applicants must wait for an average period of 130 days, which is equivalent to 6–8 weeks for appointments in their home country. Moreover, individuals are restricted from traveling abroad until their visa has been renewed every three years.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, Julie Stufft, acknowledged the high demand in India for US visas and that the existing waiting times are unnecessary. She highlighted the program’s focus on simplifying the renewal process by aiming on easing it for Indians by enabling them to schedule appointments promptly.

Positive impact and future prospects

The program will be benefitting India, and will reduce the need for individuals to travel back to their home country for visa appointments. The streamlined renewal process also intends to free up valuable time for US missions in India in order to concentrate on new candidates.

A formal notice in the federal register which details the procedures, requirements, and guidelines for the first round of applicants is expected to be released shortly. The program covering 20,000 cases from December to February, paves the way for the State Department’s plan to extend the program for more employment categories in 2024.

Ajay Jain Bhutoria, a prominent figure in the Indian-American community, expressed happiness with the outcome, highlighting the positive impact on over a million H-1B holders, many of whom are Indian.

Immigration laws are seen becoming more inclusive, which is viewed as a positive development with commitment to easing restrictions on lawful immigrants. The evolving landscape aims to create a more accessible and accommodating environment for skilled professionals seeking opportunities in the United States.

Homelessness In The Most Advanced Nation: USA

Meticulously, it is no small matter that the term “homeless” or “homelessness” is dimming the brightness of the major cities of America, but exudes an aura of nasty politics or indirect support to the-drug-mafia!

When American President Trump passed through some of the beautiful roads of India, Trump did not ask why green tarpaulin was beautifully stretched for kilometers on one side.

Homelessness In The Most Advanced Nation USA 2But when the dark streets of most American cities, especially Los Angeles and San Francisco, in the state of California, are turning into the ‘mecca of homeless’,  it is just hypocritical to laugh at the broad-mindedness of this great country and not hide it by applying “Modi tech ” here.

America is the so-called paradise on earth for developing countries, but its streets are rapidly being invaded by the homeless. In many places, morning scenes of their excrement, piles of stale food, and hardboard carton waste are becoming so common and obscure

.Unsheltered homeless means sleeping somewhere at night, not primarily designed for human habitation, such as a car, park, abandoned building, or train station. Over the past seven years, 40 percent of the nation’s homeless are now unsheltered homeless.

What are the causes of homelessness? The causes vary widely,  but are often linked to homelessness and poverty. Poor people generally do not have enough money to cover basic needs like housing, food, child care, health care, and education; with the nominal social security benefits they get every month.

Individuals may have terminal illnesses, an accident, or a lack of permanent employment. But the reasons we hear from those living on the streets are many.

Irresponsible gambling, misappropriation of money through money laundering, drug addiction, etc.

Factors that drive young and old to the streets more strongly than other causes are not particularly evident. Unsheltered homeless means sleeping somewhere at night not primarily designed for human habitation, such as a car, park, abandoned building, or train station. Over the past seven years, 40 percent of the nation’s homeless are now unsheltered homeless.

Lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, low wages, mental illness, substance abuse, and lack of needed services are creating more homeless people.

I recently happened to visit Los Angeles and San Francisco, the major cities in the state of California, and the miserable situation of the homeless in these cities prompted me to write a few lines on the subject. All facts and figures are supported by the internet and only my opinions are non-political. By evening, many of San Francisco’s streets were filled with homeless wretches. Homeless people crowded the alley leading to Eddy Street, where there were several hotels. It is not a group of old beggars, but a permanent group of people of all ages who have become homeless due to bad decisions, unemployment, and victims of drug abuse.

In the middle of the night, singing and shouting were heard, like a moment of pure jubilation and celebration. From the window of the fifth floor of the hotel where we were staying, I was astonished to see a young woman dancing naked but wearing only a hat: she could also be seen collecting dollar bills and shoving them into the hat. She also seems to be the one who distributes the drugs. In between, her show seems to have been a bonus for her intoxicated audience.

As light rain began to fall, many people began to move elsewhere. Seeing the old and unable to walk, huddled in the same shelter with the old hardboard sheets they had to sit and lie on, was saddened by the plight of the homeless. But when it came to know that most of them were “drug addicts”, the irresponsibility of the drug policy of this great country began to be realized. Freedom without restraint will never produce good results.

Los Angeles has a very high rate of homelessness. But most of the tents were finished and seemed a little more cramped. According to the city’s own statistics, about 30% of the homeless have already moved there after losing their housing. Another 17% were said to have lived in the city for less than a year before becoming homeless.

As Mayor London Breed admits, one of the reasons people come is because drugs are readily available here. The San Francisco Standard attempted a one-week cleanup two months ago, taking over the homeless encampment at Van Ness Avenue and Eddy Street. A completely different look was seen that day, the planting boxes of plants and trees were lined up at many places on the pavement.

APEC 2023 is the year-long hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in the United States in 2023 in San Francisco. Although some things were put together for that purpose,

The situation is worse than before.

Minna Street, lined with tents between Seventh and Julia Streets, about a mile from APEC, disappeared two months ago. But neither the political parties nor the rulers are interested in finding a permanent solution.

All of this leads us to several questions: We found many of San Francisco’s homeless population on Willow Street. The busy transit corridor has become the latest scene of controversy over the city’s drug, mental health, and homelessness crises, as residents and visitors alike decry increasingly unsanitary street conditions. They say the situation has had a devastating effect on surrounding businesses. It is becoming difficult to park our car there or eat in a restaurant in peace.

 

In recent years, court rulings have made it more difficult for cities, especially on the West Coast, to remove homeless encampments. In 2018, the US Ninth Circuit Court found that homeless people cannot be punished for sleeping outside in public places unless adequate alternatives are available.

There is another side to this. In September 2022, the Coalition on Homelessness sued San Francisco for violating its own laws to remove homeless shelters. A federal judge has barred the removal of homeless shelters in San Francisco unless people can find alternative shelter.

Los Angeles will have the largest homeless population in the country in 2022. According to 2022 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data, approximately 582,000 Americans were homeless on the streets. The city of San Francisco was officially named “Little Saigon” for a portion of the western stretch of Tenderloin, Larkin, and Hyde Streets between Turk and O’Farrell. The area has one of the highest levels of homelessness and crime in the city.

Experts say the biggest reason California’s per capita homelessness rate is five times that of Texas is because housing in California is so expensive;

The average one-bedroom unit in California rents for $2,300 per month, compared to $1,200 in Texas. Although both cities suffer from crime, Los Angeles is actually safer. LA’s crime rate was 2870 per 100,000 residents, 22% higher than the national average. The violent crime rate is 722 per 100,000 residents, 86% higher than the national average. Many advocates claim that providing a welcoming environment for camping and drugs does not attract the homeless and that only more subsidized housing can solve homelessness. San Francisco shows the folly of those arguments.

As Mayor London Breed admits, one of the reasons people come is the easy availability of drugs. Claims that adequate subsidized housing will solve the homelessness problem are belied by San Francisco’s efforts. In the last 15 years, the city has created more than 7,000 permanent housing units, reports said.

It is shameful to say that 7000 units have been built in a place with 70000 homeless people.

Homelessness and how to deal with it has become one of the most pressing political issues in recent elections in liberal cities like Portland, San Diego, Seattle, and Austin. Republicans have portrayed Democrats as incompetent and fearless when it comes to addressing the crisis. The public across the political spectrum wants elected officials to take action.

The local administration has to devise a mission to rehabilitate all the unimaginative-size of homeless people on a wartime basis. This requires the first establishment of bonded facilities, such as correctional centres. There should be strict controls to prevent intoxicants and drug dealers from entering these centers.

Because homeless people who have lived on the streets are accustomed to living with abusing their freedom, these centers may have difficulty keeping them. A good percentage of them are able to work. If nothing else, large farms created with these centers would be able to produce the fruits and grains needed by this country at a low cost.

Or small industrial units manufacturing other goods can be established within these centers.Rehabilitation would be more feasible if the funds for the running of these centers were raised and wages commensurate with the work.

Nothing will be solved if political parties continue to blame each other. True, the current administration may not be giving much importance to it. While the number of poor people in this country is increasing and the homeless people on the streets are dimming the brightness of this country, it is our rulers who turn a blind eye to it and dim the country’s prosperity and the tourists inflow to these cities.

Instead of guaranteeing the basic amenities of those at home, the “hidden agenda” of keeping the walls and gates open for anyone to come into this country and provide luxury living facilities and citizenship to those who come in the name of unaccountable refugees, while common people know, is nothing short of a double standard, USA is prosperous, only if no citizen is found wandering the streets of America as typical homeless. Otherwise the world will proclaim that we run on a shameful double standard policy.

BJP Wins In 3 Hindi Heartland States in India, Congress Wins In Telangana

India’s ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won big in the Hindi heartland, wresting Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh from the Congress while comprehensively beating anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress party failed to retain its bastions in the three states. However, the grand old party achieved significant success in southern India, wresting Telangana from K Chandrashekar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi. The Northeastern state of Mizoram has elected a regional party, the Mizo National Front, where the ruling BJP came a distant third. The elections results were announced on Sunday, December 3, 2023.

Of 90 assembly constituencies in Chhattisgarh, the BJP bagged 54 while the Congress won 35. In Rajasthan, the BJP got 115 of 199 seats.

The right-wing party was also likely to be re-elected in Madhya Pradesh for a record fifth term by winning 163 of 230 seats.

The Congress comfortably won Telangana state, which was ruled by the Bharat Rashtra Samithi party, formerly known as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Of 119 seats in the southern state, the Congress won 64, while the BRS got 39. The BJP won eight seats in the state.

Elections in the five states were held last month and more than 160 million people, or a sixth of India’s electorate, were eligible to vote. Polling in India is generally done in phases owing to the large population. “We always said we will win the heartland states,” BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda told the media. “The results are the outcome of our finest political strategy and work on the ground.”

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said the party should not get “disheartened by this defeat” and should start preparing for the general elections with INDIA parties with “double enthusiasm”.

Modi and leaders of Congress, led by Gandhi, criss-crossed the states, addressing campaign rallies and promising cash payouts, farm loan waivers, subsidies and insurance cover, among other incentives, to woo voters.

The election results indicate the voter mood ahead of the national elections in May in which Modi is eyeing a third consecutive term. At the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Sunday evening, party members and supporters lined up on the two sides and Modi walked between them, waving. The activists showered him with flower petals, chanting “Long live Mother India” and other slogans.

BJP Wins In 3 Hindi Heartland States in India, Congress Wins In Telangana (NDTV)
Picture: NDTV

BJP’s performance was better than widely expected as opinion and exit polls had suggested a close contest between Modi’s party and Congress. Modi remains widely popular after a decade in power and surveys suggest he will win again next year. However, a 28-party opposition alliance led by the Congress has come together to jointly fight the BJP, posing a renewed challenge.

Modi told jubilant BJP members at the party headquarters the results suggested a third term next year was guaranteed.

“The results in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan indicate that the people of India are firmly with politics of good governance and development, which the @BJP4India stands for,” Modi wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

BJP had suffered a setback itself when it lost the big southern state of Karnataka to Congress this year, as Rahul Gandhi, Congress Party leader worked hard to revive the party since its drubbing in the 2019 election and went on a 135-day march across the country covering more than 4,000 km (2,500 miles).

Rahul Gandhi has been instrumental in building the united opposition alliance, called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance or INDIA, after the Karnataka victory and his temporary disqualification from parliament after being convicted in a defamation case. Gandhi posted on X “the battle of ideology will continue.”

Politicians and analysts say state elections do not always influence the outcome of the general elections or accurately indicate national voter mood. Results of the last round of state elections before national elections have been misleading in the past.

The 2024 general election to India’s Parlaiument comes at a time when India is facing multiple challenges, including rising unemployment, attacks by Hindu nationalists against the country’s minorities, and a shrinking space for dissent and free media.

Modi Announces Green Credit Initiative At COP28

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on December 1, 2023 that India has shown the world the perfect balance of ecology and economy. He made the remarks while delivering an address at the high-level segment of COP28 in Dubai.

“Despite India having 17 percent of the world’s population, our share in global carbon emissions is only less than 4 percent. India is one of the few economies in the world that is on track to meet the NDC targets,” the PM said adding that his country is continuously making progress to achieve the goal of reaching net zero by 2070.

He highlighted that targets related to emissions intensity were achieved 11 years ago while non-fossil fuel targets were achieved nine years ahead of schedule. Additionally, the PM underscored that efforts are being made to reduce emission intensity to 45 percent by 2030 and increase the share of non-fossil fuel to 50 percent.

“India has consistently given importance to the issue of climate in its G-20 Presidency with the spirit of One Earth, One Family, One Future,” Modi said enumerating the various green initiatives launched by India, including the Global Biofuels Alliance and Mission LiFE – Lifestyle for Environment.

Modi Announces Green Credit Initiative At COP28 (FE)
Picture: FE

Urging participation from the COP states, Modi announced the launch of the Green Credits initiative, a campaign that aims to facilitate mass participation as an effective response to the challenge of climate change. The program’s long-term goal is to restore degraded and abandoned land and river catchment areas through the issuance of green credits to plant trees there.

At a joint session, the United Arab Emirates and India officially launched the Green Credits initiative and unveiled a website that would compile policies and best practices that encourage eco-friendly behaviors.

The Prime Minister concluded his address by expressing India’s commitment to the UN Framework for Climate Change Process and proposed to host the COP-33 summit in India in 2028. In the hopes of a successful COP28, he advocated for an inclusive and equitable energy transition, as well as the continuous development of innovative technologies and their transfer to other countries, to propel collective progress toward a secure future.

Asserting that the world does not have much time to correct the mistakes of the last century, PM Narendra Modi on Friday announced a ‘Green Credit Initiative’ focused on creating carbon sinks through people’s participation and also proposed to host the UN climate conference in 2028, or COP33, in India.

Carbon sinks are essentially anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases.

What is it?

Addressing the high-level segment for heads of states and governments during the UN climate conference (COP28) in Dubai, Modi called for a pro-planet, proactive and positive initiative.

He further said the Green Credits Initiative goes beyond the commercial mindset associated with carbon credits, which are essentially permits that allow entities to emit certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.

The Green Credit Initiative is similar to the Green Credit Programme, notified domestically in October. It is an innovative, market-based mechanism designed to reward voluntary environmental actions in different sectors by individuals, communities and the private sector.

‘India has walked the talk’

Asserting that India has presented a great example to the world of striking balance between development and environment conservation, PM Modi said India is among the only few countries in the world on track to achieve the national action plans to restrict global warming to 1.5C, the guardrail to avoid worsening of the impact of the changing climate.

Modi called for maintaining a balance between mitigation and adaptation and said that energy transition across the world must be “just and inclusive.” He also urged rich countries to transfer technologies to help developing nations combat climate change.

Meetings that matter

On the sidelines of the COP28 summit, Modi met with the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and said that India deeply values its strong ties with the Gulf nation.

Modi also met Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed Ali, UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

While Israel has a war going on with Hamas, the other countries (Bahrain, Ethiopia and UAE) have deep economic ties with India.

Global Electoral Landscape 2024: From Biden-Trump Rematch to Putin’s Prolonged Reign and Modi’s Bid for a Third Term, Key Elections Define a Pivotal Year

In anticipation of the 2024 elections, the global political landscape is poised for significant shifts. As we approach November 5, millions of Americans will cast their votes, potentially deciding whether incumbent Joe Biden will secure another term at the age of 86. Despite concerns about Biden’s age, a majority of voters view him as the favored candidate, setting the stage for a potential rematch with former President Donald Trump. However, echoes of disinformation from the previous contentious election, marked by the storming of the US Capitol, are likely to linger.

“Disinformation looks set to be a feature of the campaign,” reflecting the challenges of the past, where misinformation played a role in the polarized political climate. Trump, despite facing multiple criminal trials, stands as the standout favorite for the Republican party nomination.

Across the globe, another enduring political figure, Vladimir Putin, has been at Russia’s helm for 23 years, making him one of the longest-serving leaders. The constitutional amendment in 2020 allows him to extend his rule until 2036, potentially surpassing even Joseph Stalin’s reign. With the war in Ukraine quelling dissent and imprisoning opponents, Putin’s path to another six years seems unhindered, particularly with key challengers like Alexei Navalny and Igor Girkin detained.

Moving to India, where nearly a billion voters are gearing up for the April-May elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his nationalist BJP party aim for a third term. Modi’s political strategy, criticized for stoking tensions with the Muslim minority, has garnered substantial support from the majority Hindu population. Despite concerns about civil liberties, Modi is the clear favorite, credited with elevating India’s global standing, notably achieving milestones in space exploration.

In June, the European Union will witness its largest transnational election, involving over 400 million eligible voters across 27 countries. This election will be a pivotal moment for right-wing populists, testing the momentum gained from recent successes in Dutch and Italian elections. The outcome will influence decisions on issues ranging from mobile phone roaming charges to online data privacy, reflecting the broad impact of the EU Parliament’s decisions.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, the June elections hold the promise of historic change. Two women, former Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and businesswoman Xochitl Galvez, are vying to become the first female president in a country with a history of machismo. Sheinbaum, representing the Morena party, leads early polls, while Galvez, part of an opposition coalition, brings a diverse perspective to the race. Samuel Garcia, a young governor, adds another dimension to the electoral landscape.

As the world watches these elections unfold, the political dynamics are undoubtedly complex, with implications reaching far beyond national borders. The challenges of disinformation, power consolidation, and the push for historic milestones underscore the significance of these electoral events on the global stage.

US Thwarted India’s Plan To Assassinate Sikh Separatist Leader

US authorities have thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate a Sikh separatist on American soil and issued a warning to India over concerns that it was involved in the plot, according to multiple people familiar with the case, a media report said.

The target of the plot was Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American and Canadian citizen who is the general counsel for Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a US-based group that is part of a movement pushing for an independent Sikh state called “Khalistan”, Financial Times reported.

People familiar with the case, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence that prompted the warning, did not say whether the protest to New Delhi led the plotters to abandon their plan, or whether the FBI intervened and foiled a scheme already in motion, Financial Times reported.

The US informed some allies about the plot following the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh separatist killed in Vancouver in June. In September, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said there were “credible allegations” linking New Delhi to Nijjar’s fatal shooting.

One person familiar with the situation said the US protest was issued after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a high-profile state visit to Washington in June. Separate from the diplomatic warning, US federal prosecutors have filed a sealed indictment against at least one alleged perpetrator of the plot in a New York district court, according to people familiar with the case, Financial Times reported.

The US justice department is debating whether to unseal the indictment and make the allegations public or wait until Canada finishes its investigation into Nijjar’s murder.

Further complicating the case, one person charged in the indictment is believed to have left the US, according to people familiar with the proceedings.

The US justice department and FBI declined to comment on the matter. The National Security Council said the US does “not comment on ongoing law enforcement matters or private diplomatic discussions with our partners” but added: “Upholding the safety and security of US citizens is paramount,” Financial Times reported.

Washington shared details of the Pannun case with a wider group of allies after Trudeau went public with details of the Vancouver killing, the combination of which sparked concern among allies about a possible pattern of behaviour. (IANS)

Indian Community Bids Farewell to Ambassador Randhir Kumar Jaiswal

The Indian American community in the New York region organized a farewell dinner in honor of India’s Consul General in New York Randhir Jaiswal, who returns to India soon to take over another important assignment as spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs. Held at the Moghul restaurant’s banquet hall in Edison, NJ on November 20, 202 hundreds of Indian Americans and leaders representing several community organizations attended the event, sharing of their fond memories of their close association with the Consul General of India.

Indian Community Bids Farewell to Ambassador Randhir Kumar Jaiswal 2Nearly 400 people attended the Federation of Indian Association’s farewell for one of the most memorable diplomats in recent history from India, one who had weathered the storm of COVID, brought the diaspora of Indian Americans closer to the Consulate, and who oversaw the delivery of consular services to the doors of many communities in the 10 states of the United States which were under his jurisdiction – for a period of 3 years.

In addition to Consul General Jaiswal and his wife Abha, the leadership and executive committee of FIA-NYNJCT, there were several high-profile guests who came to bid a fond farewell, among them Dr. Sudhir Parikh, advisor to FIA and chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media, Deputy Consul General Dr. Varun Jeph, Mayor of Edison Sam Joshi, Mayor of West Windsor Hemant Marathe, and H.R. Shah of TV Asia, to name a few. Edison, NJ, which boasts possibly the highest number of people of Indian origin, presented a proclamation in the name of CG Jaiswal, to him, at the event.

In all the speeches delivered at the event, the departing Consul General was recognized for his easy accessibility toIndian Community Bids Farewell to Ambassador Randhir Kumar Jaiswal those in his jurisdiction. Whether it was opening the Consulate to numerous community events, or going to many other events where he was honored and where he was making the presence of India felt in the diaspora.

Dr. Sudhir Parikh said CG Jaiswal was the “exceptional” person for exceptional times, when Covid hit, and India celebrated its 75th independence year. As soon as he landed, “he right away recognized the plight of the Indian students. … he did such an excellent handling of the situation,” Dr. Parikh recalled. He also helped many Indian organizations channel their assistance to India including the FIA, to help victims there; He took the Consulate to the community, holding consular camps all over the 10-state jurisdiction. “Jaiswalji has broken the record with events every other day. I have seen the last 23 Consuls General work here, and I can tell,” Dr. Parikh said.

Describing him as a “people person” – “calm, cool, always smiling,” Dr. Parikh said, whose quality of making one feel he or she is the center of his attention – “I really appreciate that quality.”

Edison Mayor Sam Joshi speaking at the farewell function for Indian Consl General in New York Randhir Jaiswal, hosted by FIA Nov. 20, at Edison, NJ. PHOTO ITV Gold

Edison’s Mayor Joshi said he had come to see CG Jaiswal not only as a diplomat but as a friend. He recounted an instance of when a building burnt down in Edison and most of those affected were Indian origin. He called CG Jaiswal about their passports etc., and they got the help needed.

“On behalf of all of Edison, thank you so much,” the Mayor said, and he read out from a special proclamation issued for the time and effort the Indian diplomat had given to help Edison citizens, and for his “superior leadership.”

Consul General Jaiswal in his speech, praised the Indian community for helping and supporting him and his team to carry out their duties. “In this 3 years, we have received excellent support in meeting our responsibilities,” he said, describing it as a “very healthy relationship” between the Consulate and the people it served. He added that he is most impressed by the achievements of the Indian American community and the second generation.

After Covid hit, “Since May of 2020, the Indian Consulate has been open every day of the week,” CG Jaiswal told the audience, something not seen in any other consulate around the world. He recounted some highlights during his tenure – such a the raising of the Indian flag at Times Square; people coming at 2 am at night to listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s telecast speech; and the 8,000 who came to the White House to welcome PM Modi during his state visit to Washington, which he said, speaks volumes for the community’s achievements and recognition.

Deputy Consul General Jeph spoke of how the Consular team worked diligently under CG Jaiswal’s leadership, and how community engagement was the departing diplomat’s primary objective.

Ankur Vaidya, chairman of FIA, spoke emotionally about how CG Jaiswal had served his Motherland in taking up the diplomatic path of the Indian Foreign Service. “You have championed the diaspora,” Vaidya noted, adding, that the farewell was more to recognize and salute the journey to serve their nation. He also recognized Abha Jaiswal for her steadfast support without which the hard task would not have been possible.
Vaidya recalled the millions and millions of dollars in aid sent by organizations from the US and how the CG facilitated all that. “Kudos for putting that effort … to you and your team.”

From a time when going to the Consulate was intimidating, Vaidya said, today, people want to visit the building and see for themselves. “May your career shine…” to bring India and US closer together, he added.

Ambassador Randhir Kumar Jaiswal , on July 19, assumed charge as Consul General of India in New York . He succeeded Ambassador Sandeep Chakravorty  who remained Consul General from April 2017 to June 2020. Ambassador Jaiswal ‘s last posting was as  Joint Secretary cum Social Secretary to the President of India Ramnath Kovind . A 1998 Indian Foreign Service officer, Jaiswal headed the foreign affairs office of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and advised  the President on India’s foreign policy. He had earlier served as Consul General of India in Johannesburg ,South Africa.

Jaiswal is no stranger to New York. He had earlier worked as a Counselor at the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York. Jaiswal, an officer of the 1998 batch of the Indian Foreign Service, will succeed the current spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, who has been appointed India’s permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva.

During his diplomatic career of more than two decades, Jaiswal has served in Portugal, Cuba, South Africa and at India’s permanent mission to the UN in New York. Jaiswal has also served in the external affairs ministry as the deputy secretary, looking after relations with the US and as joint secretary managing ties with countries in western Europe. In mid-2017, he was deputed to serve the President as the joint secretary responsible for international relations. He was appointed in his current position of consul general in New York in July 2020.

Jaiswal has also been part of the Indian delegation at climate change conferences. He has a masters degree in history from Delhi University.

What is the cause of the increase in Indian migrants without proper documentation entering the United States by foot?

In recent data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an unprecedented surge in the number of undocumented Indian immigrants crossing U.S. borders on foot has been reported. The migration trend, which has been on the rise for several years, has witnessed a dramatic spike, with 96,917 Indians encountered – whether apprehended, expelled, or denied entry – from October 2022 to September 2023, marking a fivefold increase compared to the period from 2019 to 2020, when the figure stood at 19,883.

Experts in immigration attribute this surge to various factors, including the overall increase in global migration post-pandemic, the oppression of minority communities in India, the utilization of more sophisticated smuggling methods, and extreme visa backlogs. The number of undocumented Indians in the U.S. has steadily risen since the borders reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic, with 30,662 encounters in the 2021 fiscal year and 63,927 in the 2022 fiscal year.

Out of the nearly 97,000 encounters in the current year, 30,010 occurred at the Canadian border, and 41,770 took place at the Southern border. Muzaffar Chishti, the director of the Migration Policy Institute’s New York office, noted that the Southern border has become a preferred staging ground for migrants worldwide, as it allows for a quicker entry into the U.S. compared to waiting for a visitor visa in Delhi.Gaurav Khanna, an economics professor at the University of California, San Diego, highlighted the relatively unguarded stretches at the Canadian border, making it an attractive entry point. The migration route from India to the U.S. typically involves multiple legs, with migrants passing through various facilitators and regions like the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and South America before reaching the U.S.

Despite the challenges faced by migrants on these long and treacherous journeys, the overwhelmed immigration systems often leave them in limbo. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) emphasized that families entering the U.S. illegally would face removal, but experts argue that deporting individuals to faraway places is not as straightforward, as countries like Mexico may not readily accept them.

Pawan Dhingra, a professor of American studies at Amherst College, noted that the number of undocumented Indians crossing U.S. borders has been growing for years, reaching an unprecedented level in the current fiscal year. Concerns arise that the spike may be linked to worsening conditions for minorities, such as Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians, in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has faced criticism for human rights violations.

Dhingra pointed to the agricultural sector deregulation in India in 2020 as a potential trigger, leading to massive protests and unrest, especially in the state of Punjab. While the bills were repealed in December 2021, the destabilization and protests may still constitute grounds for asylum claims.

The promised new life in the U.S. appears ideal to migrants compared to perceived challenges in India, with success stories of Indian Americans and previous migrants serving as attractive factors. Decades-long visa backlogs and the aftermath of COVID-19 have created desperate migrants in India, who, with the help of social media-savvy groups posing as travel agencies, often pay their life savings for the perilous journey.

Gaurav Khanna and Muzaffar Chishti emphasized that misinformation, circulated on platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, further complicates the situation. The treacherous nature of the journey is not always fully understood by migrants, contributing to the dangers they face. Last year, a tragic incident involved a lower-income family of four found dead near the U.S.-Canada border, underscoring the risks associated with these journeys.

Chishti concluded that the journey is extremely difficult, requiring individuals to either mortgage their life savings or take on significant risks, emphasizing the desperation for economic or political change among those willing to undergo such challenges.

Upon reaching the U.S. border, individuals who have embarked on journeys spanning multiple continents often encounter a disorganized immigration system that lacks the capacity to provide clear answers, according to Chishti. The Southern border processes have historically been designed with the assumption that single Mexican men are entering the country for work. However, the evolving dynamics, including the presence of more families and non-Mexican or Central American migrants, have outpaced the system’s ability to adapt to the new volume and challenges.

The current immigration system struggles to cope with the increased diversity of arrivals, primarily driven by asylum claims. Chishti highlighted the insufficient number of beds and Border Patrol officers to screen individuals, leading to a practice of allowing people in various categories. A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement emphasized that each case is individually assessed, considering the circumstances in accordance with U.S. law and Department of Homeland Security policy.

However, Chishti pointed out that returning asylum-seekers is diplomatically complex and necessitates agreements between countries. The absence of such agreements between the U.S. and India often results in Indian migrants being issued notices to appear before judges, contributing to the existing backlog in immigration courts. Without legal representation, migrants may face significant delays in their hearing dates, exacerbating the strain on the immigration system.

Chishti described the system as buckling under its own weight, and he noted that smugglers exploit this information, using it as part of their marketing strategy.

While other destinations like Europe or the U.K. may be logistically easier for migrants, the U.S. holds a distinct allure for Indian nationals, according to experts. Dhingra emphasized that the perception of the U.S. as a highly developed country with abundant opportunities makes it an attractive destination. Despite the logistical challenges and the strained immigration system, the U.S. remains a promised land for many in the South Asian diaspora.

As the number of undocumented Indian immigrants continues to rise, questions arise about how the Indian American community will respond to this growing group of lower-income immigrants. Dhingra pondered whether the community would advocate for acceptance and support for these migrants or adopt a stance focused on “law and order” with little sympathy for those crossing without full documents. The outcome, he noted, is challenging to predict.

Republicans Form Congressional Hindu Caucus

House Republican Conference Chair, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik officially launched the Congressional Hindu Caucus (CHC), in the presence of fellow Republican lawmakers and 600 Hindu American Leaders from around the country, on November 15, 2023, at The Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill.

The event hosted by the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC) and its Chairman and CHC’s Policy Advisor, Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, also celebrated Diwali along with CHC’s Co-Chairs Elise Stefanik and Pete Sessions, along with lawmakers and community members.

“And for each of you here from the Republican Hindu Caucus, your core values of free enterprise, fiscal discipline, family values, and a firm foreign policy not only guide the Hindu American community, but our central tenets shared and fought by House Republicans and Republicans across America,” noted Stefanik while adding “That is why, today, I am so excited to announce the official launch of the Congressional Hindu Caucus in the United States Congress with my good friend and Co-Chair Pete Sessions.”

Stefanik said, “As we conclude Diwali festivities, we have the joyous reminder of the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. This guidance must remain at the core of our mission each and every day as we tackle the very great challenges in front of us,” and reminded everyone of the ongoing battle between Israel and Hamas.

Commending the role of Hindu Americans for their support to Israeli and Jewish friends, she said both India and the United States form a “unified force to counter terrorism.” “Countering communist China’s malign influence, collaborating on technological development and security cooperation, and supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific must remain top priorities,” added Stefanik while talking about US-India jointly tackling China. “To do so, we will continue to pursue policies that encourage and enhance trade between the United States and India, decrease India’s reliance on Russian and Chinese made defense equipment and increase collaboration and joint quad and bilateral military exercises.”

Republicans Form Congressional Hindu Caucus

She urged that the “United States and India can continue to pursue a strong foreign policy [stance] to combat aggression, discourage authoritarian regimes and contain territorial expansions,” adding House Republicans and CHC should join forces with millions of Hindu Americans nationwide and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It is also vital to fortify connections and further amplify the considerable achievements established by Shalli, RHC, President Trump, and Prime Minister Modi, she added.

Stefanik also recalled that President Trump was the first Presidential candidate to acknowledge the noteworthy achievements of Hindu Americans during a 2016 rally in New Jersey. She noted that during the rally Trump said in Hindi “Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkar” which went viral with 1.2 billion views around the world. She went on to say “Ab Ki Baar Republican Sarkar,” on behalf of the House Republicans.

Commending second-generation Hindu Americans for their “significant impact on American society, business, culture, and American history,” she continued “From all over the world your unique experiences have shaped and influenced our country, continuing the time-honored tradition of American exceptionalism and the American dream.”

CHC’s Co-chair, Congressman Pete Sessions, said, “The things that the Republican Party teaches today are the same things that Ronald Reagan taught also… that we will stand with our allies. And America will stand with its allies like we’re doing not just with India, but also with Israel.

Praising the work of Hindu Americans, Sessions said “Shalli Kumar, Elise Stefanik, and I will be taking our message around the United States. And we intend to take not only our candidates, but we intend to take our members, some 150, who represent people [from] all over this country and include Hindu Americans in that political relationship to reshape our world and our country,” while asking the help of Hindu Americans to share and spread the message.

Kumar emphasized, “This will be one of the largest caucuses in the US Congress that would be actively engaged in enacting legislation and passing resolutions important to the Hindu American community,” while highlighting the “impressive educational and professional achievements of the Hindu American community,” said a press statement from RHC.

Notably, Congressman Shri Thanedar also launched a Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Jain American Congressional Caucus on September 29, 2023. “We should really fight against hatred in the world. We should fight against bigotry, and we need to unite and lift people. We need to foster understanding, promote inclusion, and take affirmative policy actions” Thanedar said after launching the Caucus.

A congressional caucus is a group of members of the United States Congress that meet to pursue common legislative objectives. Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, an Indian-American is the founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition. Shalabh Kumar said more than 150 members of the US House of Representatives have committed to becoming members of the Congressional Hindu Caucus.

This would make it one of the largest caucuses in the US Congress that would be actively engaged in enacting legislation and passing resolutions important to the Hindu American community, Kumar added.

Hindus In The US Celebrate Ancient Sun Festival

(RNS) — An ancient ritual as old as Hinduism itself has traveled through time and space all the way to the waters of California’s Bay Area.

Starting at sundown on Friday (Nov. 17), hundreds of Hindus will wade into the waters of Quarry Lakes, a manmade lake in Fremont, California, to express reverence to nature, which they believe to be God manifest.

The festival of Chhath, which originated in the Indian state of Bihar, is devoted to Surya, the god of the sun. Worshippers thank Surya for providing light, warmth and life by fasting for three days and offering solitary prayers and fruits.

The ritual celebrating the rising and setting sun predates the Hindu gods that are more commonly known today, and stems from the earliest tradition of Hinduism, known as Vedic Hinduism.

But Chhath’s rituals, stemming from the earliest roots of Hinduism, known as Vedic Hinduism, which was prevalent in India more than 3,000 years ago, predate the Hindu gods we know today by some 1,400 years.

With a focus on meditation and gratitude, the Vedic tradition, named for the Vedas, its sacred texts, is still present in yoga’s Sun Salutation, or suryanamaskar.

“What I really value in Chhath is a connection to my roots and to an ancient tradition,” said Pushpita Prasad, a Bihari Californian who has participated in the festival in recent years. “It makes me feel very powerful to be a part of something that my ancestors might have been doing thousands of years ago.”

While it began with a single family’s observance in 2011, the Quarry Lakes Chhath has turned into an event that will draw 1,700 people this year — a number limited by the Quarry Lakes park authority’s cap on attendance. With more than 4,000 Hindus expressing interest, the event is sold out in minutes after word spreads that registration is open.

“People become very nostalgic about this,” said Sunil Singh, who founded the Quarry Lakes celebration with his wife, Shalini. “It is the holiest and most auspicious festival in Bihar. “My goal is to encourage the next generation, so they get engaged and they know what Chhath is.”

In India, families celebrating Chhath will travel to the holy waters of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, considered by many Hindus to be blessed with spiritual properties from their namesake goddesses. They will break their three-day fast with a particular type of wheat that they have grown in a way that ensures it is untouched by birds. They also use a special set of utensils to break the fast.

While details like these are not always the same here in the States, to the Singhs, having the community eagerly show up to perform an ancient practice aimed at being one with nature is enough.

“The puja is not only doing the formalities,” said Shalini, using the Sanskrit word for an act of worship. “The real prayer is how you connect with God. It’s better to do whatever little modifications you can do to keep the culture, and keep your heart clean and pure.”

Hindus In The US Celebrate Ancient Sun Festival

When the couple started the Quarry Lakes Chhath, their daughter was just 4 years old. This year she wrote about her family’s mark on the Bay Area in her college applications.

“Because it’s so big now, it’s not possible for just two people to handle it,” said Shalini. “We are very thankful for our community and our friends for engaging with us from end to end.”

When she came to the U.S. from Bihar, Shalini said, she never expected to celebrate Chhath in a bigger way than she did at home. “My prayers were heard,” she said.

For Manisha Pathak, founder of the Overseas Organization for Better Bihar, the festival creates an awareness about Bihari culture beyond its attendees. “Chhath is so relatable because it’s all about nature, and nature is for everyone,” said Pathak. “It is not just for Biharis.”

A Silicon Valley software engineer, Pathak began performing the ritual herself about 10 years ago. As the puja requires only meditation on the self, it doesn’t require a priest, a rarity in Hinduism.

As with many of the spiritual philosophies of Hinduism, Chhath is said to offer health benefits: The vitamin D from the sun radiates energy within the observer and can be passed along to anyone who is touched by the vrati, or person performing the puja.

“At the end of the puja and the sun rises, when I am gazing at the sun with water in my hands, that is a burst of energy that I absorb,” said Pathak. “It feels like I can move mountains.”

The tradition requires one member of a family to maintain a strict fast from sundown on Friday to sunrise on Sunday. At the end, everyone is fed Thekhua, a famous Bihari treat made of wheat, jaggery (made from cane sugar) and clarified butter, or ghee.

“Chhath puja is an experience of union with God,” said Pathak. “What is God according to Hindu belief? It is nature, the energy, the vibration. You experience that unity when you are standing in water just with your eyes closed. There is stillness there, and it is so amazing.”

Prasad, an advocate for Hindu Americans and board member of the Coalition of Hindus of North America, said the power of this ancient tradition lies in its ability to be celebrated just as fervently in modern times. As a lesser-known festival, she added, Chhath is emblematic of the sheer diversity of beliefs that are honored from every Indian state.

“This is a beautiful ecosystem that has nourished and cherished diversity for thousands of years. It has allowed massively different beliefs to coexist,” she said.

Pathak, who is a Hindustani classical vocalist, posts covers of traditional Chhath folk songs in the Bhojpuri dialect on YouTube for audiences of hundreds of thousands. Many of the songs are dedicated to Chatthi Maya, the goddess associated with Chhath, said to be the protector of children. “As a kid, I used to go to a river and see my whole family doing the puja together,” said Pathak. “And the same feeling comes up here. When I see other people doing it at the same time, those same memories come alive.”

Australia Stun India, Lifts Cricket World Cup 2023

The much anticipated and unbeaten winning spree of the Indian cricket team in the current tournament fell short of the hope and hype Team India had created leading up to the final match of the One Day International World Cup Cricket Tournament on Sunday, November 19, 2023

India’s rivals, Australia won a record-extending sixth men’s Cricket World Cup on Sunday, defying the odds and a partisan home crowd in Ahmedabad, India to defeat host nation  by six wickets.

India failed to live upto the expectations after it had dominated much of this tournament, cruising to 10 consecutive wins and ratcheting up the pressure in this cricket-obsessed nation that has waited 12 years for another one-day trophy.

But its near impregnable batting line-up faltered in the face of Australia’s savvy bowling while Travis Head’s spectacular 137 off 120 balls anchored Australia’s run chase as it cantered towards victory and another World Cup trophy.

Australia quietened the wild support from the 130,000-strong home crowd by dismissing their previously unbeaten opponents for 240 before Travis Head’s sensational century meant they romped to victory with seven overs to spare. After their bowlers expertly took advantage of a slow pitch, Australia were themselves reduced to 47-3 as India hit back in an electric new-ball spell.

But Head and Marnus Labuschagne calmly weathered the storm with a stand of 192 as Indian hope drifted away from the world’s largest cricket stadium. Head was caught for 132 from 120 balls with just two runs needed, but Glenn Maxwell flogged the winning runs a ball later while Labuschagne ended 58 not out from 110.

The superb victory means Australia extend their record as the most successful side in 50-over World Cup history and now sit four titles clear of the rest of the pack. It also caps a six-month period in which they beat India to win the World Test Championship and retained the Ashes in England.

India, meanwhile, were left crestfallen as their bid for a first white-ball title since 2011 – an achievement which looked unstoppable as they made rampant progress through the semi-final and group stage – fell at the final hurdle.

One of Australia’s greatest nights

This was supposed to be India’s day in front of an enormous home crowd with their prime minister Narendra Modi, who this stadium is named after, up in the stands. Instead, it ended in crushing disappointment as Head produced one of the great World Cup knocks and Australia ran out surprise and comfortable winners.

By the time 29-year-old Head reached his century, some in the vast stands had already made their exit, while seamer Mohammed Siraj was in tears at the end.

Australia were contenders when this tournament began, without being tipped by many to go all of the way, just like when they won the 2021 T20 World Cup. Their campaign hit serious jitters early on with defeats in their opening two games, first by India and then South Africa, but they have won the title with nine consecutive victories, beating every team in the tournament in a row. Australia may have won it all before, but this ranks as one of their greatest nights.

Australia Stun India Lifts Cricket World Cup 2023

Indeed, Australia and India opened their campaigns against each other in Chennai on October 8, when star India batter Virat Kohli combined with KL Rahul to steer his team’s chase of a moderate total and get their first win of the tournament.

India were in a similar situation in Ahmedabad, where Kohli (54) and Rahul (66) once again came together for a rescue act. However, India’s batting collapse on the biggest stage saw them put up a paltry target of 241 at the end of 50 overs.

Australia’s bowlers, led by Mitchell Starc’s brilliant display of fast bowling with figures of 3-55 in his 10 overs, kept the Indian batting powerhouse at bay with regular dismissals. Captain Cummins ended with figures of 2-34 in 10 overs, while fellow seamer Josh Hazlewood had 2-60 in his 10 overs.

Head ends India’s dream

Head did not play in the first four games of Australia’s campaign because of a broken hand, but Australia kept him in their squad, knowing the match-winning quality he possesses. He scored 109 in his first appearance against New Zealand but this innings was on another level as he first dealt with intense pressure before punishing the bowling.

After his opening partner Warner nicked the first ball of the chase through the slips, Head crashed two boundaries to settle Australian nerves. Warner then edged a wide ball to slip for seven off Mohammed Shami, while Mitchell Marsh and Steve Smith both fell to the brilliant Jasprit Bumrah.

The crowd was alive again at that stage, although Smith’s lbw decision would have been overturned had he reviewed. Those wickets came in a manic opening period in which India took the upper hand but also gave up 15 extras in the powerplay alone, those in blue seemingly too eager to defend their low score.

content Australia Stun India Lifts Cricket World Cup 2023

Batting became easier on a slow pitch that had offered more turn in the day, and Head took advantage. He cracked 14 fours and four sixes, with the sixes all pumped high over mid-wicket. On 99 he would have been run out as he scampered to three figures, had Ravindra Jadeja’s throw hit from cover.

He was finally out for 137, caught at deep mid-wicket attempting to finish in style. As he left the field he was embraced by Labuschagne and was congratulated by the Indians with the result already decided.

Superb Aussies tie down India

Head’s innings will take the headlines, but this victory was built on a sensational performance with the ball and a brave decision to bowl first at the toss by Pat Cummins.

Captain Rohit Sharma gave India a rapid start with 47 from 31 balls, but from 76-1 in the 10th over, Australia applied a stranglehold on India’s star-studded batting line-up and did not let go.

Head played a crucial hand too, brilliantly catching Rohit as he ran back from cover, before Shreyas Iyer was caught behind off Cummins four balls later to leave the hosts 81-3.

That left Virat Kohli and KL Rahul to attempt a rebuild, but the canny Australia bowlers kept the scoring to a crawl through a mix of short, slower balls and athletic fielding, all while captain Cummins mixed his pack to great effect.

Kohli and Rahul put on 67 in 109 balls before the former captain played on to Cummins for 54 in the 29th over to leave the vast stadium stunned in silence. Rahul then nicked a beauty from Starc, ending any real hope of a significant India score.

India’s lower order had hardly been needed in this tournament, and when finally called upon, Ravindra Jadeja managed only nine and Suryakumar Yadav 18 with just four boundaries coming after the first 10 overs.

India’s worst performance with the bat came at the worst possible time in the tournament, but huge credit must go to Cummins and his champion attack.

‘We saved our best for last’ – what they said

 Australia captain Pat Cummins: “We saved our best for last and a couple of big-match players stood up and we’re pretty chuffed. We were desperate in the field, I thought it all started against South Africa last week. The boys were fantastic. We’ve got an ageing squad but we are still throwing ourselves around. We were really chuffed with 240 because we were happy with anything under 300.”

India captain Rohit Sharma: “We were not good enough today but I’m really proud of the team and how we played from game one. We tried everything we could from our side but it wasn’t supposed to be. We were looking at 270 or 280 but then we kept losing wickets. We couldn’t get a partnership together and that is exactly what Australia did to win the game, they stitched a good partnership after they lost three wickets.”

Player of the match, Australia’s Travis Head:

“Not in a million years did I think that would happen [being man of the match today and in the World Test Championship final]. What an amazing day. I’m just thrilled to be a part of it. It is a lot better than being sat on the couch at home! I’m very lucky that everything went well and I was able to get back and the support that the boys showed, I didn’t think this would happen. I was nervous in the first 20 balls but Marnus [Labuschagne] batted brilliantly and it is great to bat with him. It was an amazing partnership.”

Las Vegas F1 Grand Prix- Countdown Starts!

The wait is almost over after so many months of wondering what it will look like to see the world’s best racing cars here on the busy Las Vegas Strip.

The Las Vegas Grand Prix is a planned Formula One Grand Prix due to form part of the 2023 Formula One World Championship, with the event taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada, in the United States, on a temporary street circuit including the Las Vegas Strip.

It seems to be a big, impossible challenge, revamping one of the most well-known streets in the world the Las Vegas Strip, into a racing circuit. But the inaugural Formula 1 Heineken Silver Vegas Grand Prix, set for Nov.16 to 18th, is hustling to do just that in a $560 million civil-planning and engineering feat underway before the track goes hot within a few hours.

Las Vegas F1 Grand Prix Countdown StartsThe F1 World Championships season consists of a series of races, known as the Grand Prix, held usually on purpose-built-in circuits and, in a few cases, on closed city streets.But it is going live in the busy streets of Las Vegas, with enough modifications and protections erected in the brightly lighted streets inside the city itself.

Have you ever heard names like Michele Alboreto, John Watson, Eddie Cheever, Alain Prost, Keke Rosberg,  Derek Daly, Marc Surer, Andrea de Cesaris, Niki Lauda, Derek Warwick, Elio de Angelis, Mario Andretti; they are all legends in the grand prix car racing challenges.

Of course, you might have heard of Lewis Hamilton, who holds the record for the most race wins in Formula One history, with 103 wins to date. Michael Schumacher, the previous record holder, is second with 91 wins, and Sebastian Vettelis, third with 53 victories.

You might wonder about the prize money for the winner of the F1 race.To put this in perspective, Mercedes’ win as ‘constructors’ champion in 2020 saw them take home $135 million, while Aston Martin – known as Racing Point at the time – took home $60 million for finishing last, which, as you can see was less than half of Mercedes’ winnings.

F1 is returning to Las Vegas for the first time since the 1982 Caesars Palace Grand Prix, with an all-new circuit twisting through some of the city’s most famous landmarks set to provide thrilling scenes under the lights.

The new Las Vegas Grand Prix has strong support from the state and local government and will be held at night on a course awash in neon lights and before a crowd of up to 100,000 each day of the weekend. Pook estimates that 20,000 to 25,000 people attended the inaugural Caesars Palace Grand Prix for comparison’s sake.

Tickets were priced at roughly $2,000 a year ago for the Las Vegas race. Prices for practice on Thursday and qualifying races on Friday have also dropped dramatically. The current  price dropped about 50% from $385 to $180 for Thursday and on Friday.

Vegas track has 17 corners, is one of the three longest in Formula One, and has one of the lengthiest straights: nearly 1.2 miles along Las Vegas Boulevard, aka the Strip. Drivers are expected to reach a top speed of 212 mph, running around in 50 laps. But those are just specs. What makes it unique is the location, The Las Vegas Strip.

The CEO of F1’s parent company issued a public apology to Las Vegas for the many challenges its residents have tolerated and endured on the road to bringing the Las Vegas Grand Prix to the city by this weekend. There will be 105,000 people, so the sheer scale of it, even for Las Vegas, will be the most significant event Las Vegas will have, said Greg Maffei.

And that is not just the race crowd itself, as thousands are expected to visit Las Vegas next week to be a part of the race experience, even if they don’t have tickets to the event.

Just after the event, these roads will have to be repainted for normal traffic patterns.Thousands of temporary lights will have to be dismantled. A three-story huge grandstand across from the Bellagio fountain will be dismantled as well.

(Dr. Mathew Joys, is an accredited journalist and columnist contributing to English and Malayalam media. He is the GIC Global Media Chair and Director of Indo American Press Club.)

India To Take On Australia In World Cup 2023 Final

India will take on Australia in the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 on Sunday, November 19 at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. It is going to be a special occasion at the largest stadium in the world as Team India will chase their third title in what has been dubbed as the ‘3 ka dream’ while the five-time champions, Aussies will eye a record sixth title.

India are on course for a historic third One Day International World Cup title, having just reached the final of the 2023 Cricket World Cup. The Men in Blue defeated New Zealand to book their place in the final of the 2023 edition. With that, India’s unbeaten run in the World Cup is now extended to 10 matches.

Only one win remains in between the Rohit Sharma-led Indian cricket team and the Cricket World Cup trophy. India have not an ICC trophy since 2013 and the Indian cricket team is on the cusp of ending that drought at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday.

India To Take On Australia In World Cup 2023 Final (The Guardian)
Picture: The Guardian

Australia beat South Africa by three wickets in the second semi-final of the ICC ODI World Cup. Australia crept into Sunday’s World Cup final against India after winning a low-scoring thriller against South Africa at Eden Gardens by three wickets.

Chasing 213 after a superb century from David Miller had helped the South Africans recover from 24 for four and 116 for six, Australia’s batsmen took it in turns to throw away their wicket in front of a crowd of nearly 48,000.

India and Australia had last clashed in the final of a World Cup back in 2003. Australia won that game by 125 runs and lifted the World Cup trophy for the third time. It also went on to win the following edition in 2007.

This would be the fourth final for India in the ODI World Cups and the country that started the trend of winning the World Cup on home soil when they won it in 2011 under MS Dhoni’s captaincy, would look to continue on the momentum.

Since then, Australia and England won the World Cup on their home soil in 2015 and 2019 as well. This will also be India’s first victory against Australia in a World Cup final and after West Indies and Sri Lanka, they could become the second team to defeat the Aussies in a World Cup final. The last time these two teams met in a final, India lost badly in 2003 in South Africa.   India last won the title in 2011 after beating Sri Lanka in the final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. It won its first World Cup title in 1983 under the captaincy of Kapil Dev.

India would also become only the second team after Australia to win the World Cup three times or more, Currently, they are tied at two along with the West Indies. India would also become the only team to win the World Cup twice at home after having hosted it four times.

The Indian Diaspora’s ‘Indentured Route’ – And A ‘Lost’ Children’s Quest For Identity

Ironically, the forced migration also laid the seeds of a diaspora in countries where Indians of another generation looking for better economic opportunities would not have normally settled.

The Indian diaspora – estimated at 30 million and growing depending on how inclusive one makes it – has been the subject of much writing and discussion in recent times.  It is seen as an important source of  ‘soft power’ for India, and the one to leverage it politically and diplomatically has been none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who unfailingly includes an engagement with the diaspora in every country he visits where Indians have settled in substantial numbers. The Indian diaspora is a source of investment and support for the ruling dispensation, and large sections of the diaspora in turn idolizes Modi – he calls them “brand ambassadors” of the country  – and the mass adulation that he receives from New York to Sydney has been the envy of his hosts, whether in the United States to Australia.

The Indian Diaspora's 'Indentured Route'However, the diaspora is not just the affluent and well-settled Indians In the richer economies of the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, or Down Under who have been the subject of special reports in The Economist and other reputed international publications as a “powerful resource” for the nation. When talking or writing about the Indian diaspora and their experiences, a segment that is often lost sight of are the so-called ‘lost Indians’ – descendants of “more than 2,2 million indentured labor (who) were moved from India to more than 26 countries in various parts of the world, making it one greatest mass movements of India’s future Diaspora worldwide”.

Bhaswati Mukherjee, a former Indian diplomat who was Ambassador to UNESCO and the Netherlands and has studied this subject extensively, delves in her recently published book “The Indentured Route: A Relentless Quest for Identity”,  about how a few million Indians were shipped in the 19th and early 20th century as indentured or contract labour to work in British plantations across the world, from Suriname to South Africa, to Mauritius and the Reunion Islands; to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.

The Kalapani metaphor

This is a story that hasn’t been told in its entirety or the trials and tribulations of the shipped labour documented for posterity. “The journey of India’s children across the Kalapani, their suffering and humiliation at the hands of the colonizers and their relentless quest for identity cannot remain an untold narrative,” argues Mukherjee who chose to shine the light on what she calls “a forgotten part of our history” in which the British, adept at using transportation to distant shores as a form of punishment, came up with the system of indenture “as a substitute for slavery” after the British Parliament abolished slavery in 1833.

How the term Kalapani – literally meaning ‘dark waters’ – gained currency as a metaphor for the forbidding ocean whose crossing, it was believed, would not just bring them evil but make high-caste Indians lose their exalted status is itself a fascinating commentary on how the British played upon Indian religious sentiments and economic deprivation, which in many ways was their creation, to set one community against another in the process of crushing “a so-called subordinate culture”.

The penal act of transportation across the high seas and oceans as contract labour to run the sugar and coffee plantations of British, as well as Dutch and French colonies, that had lost African labour following the abolition of slavery was just not an act of crafty business and political manipulation but a cynical economic action that duped tens of thousands of poor Indian workers into believing that they were being given the choice of a better life which they could harness to better the indigent family conditions back home.

This thinking gets reinforced by a question from the Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series quoted by Mukherjee that, in a bout of self-searching, wonders if  “It is important to consider whether the Indian indentured labour had been inveigled into a new system of slavery’.

Rainbow nations

Ironically, the forced migration also laid the seeds of a diaspora in countries where Indians of another generation looking for better economic opportunities would not have normally settled. “The movement of one-and-a-half million Indians across continents from the mid-nineteenth century was dictated by the demands of imperialism and finance capitalism,” noted Mukherjee, as the “descendants of the indentured built new rainbow nations in the erstwhile plantation colonies as free and independent states” to become the “protagonists of a hybrid culture, similar to India but also different.”

How Indian culture and traditions, in the form of festivals like Diwali, have not only taken roots in these countries, much to perhaps British chagrin, in the form of cross-cultural celebrations is perhaps illustrated in the nine-day Divali Nagar festival, a popular diaspora draw, that takes place in Trinidad and Tobago, where nearly 40 per cent of the 1.3 population of the twin islands is of Indian extraction.

At the recent inauguration of the 35th edition of the festival, Mayor Faaiq Mohammed of Chaguanas, Central Trinidad, pointed out that the National Council of Indian Culture, through the Divali Nagar festival,  “(had) brought cultural traditions of our ancestors, allowing our multi-cultural and multi-religious and multi-ethnic society to embrace Divali and what it represents as a national festival” in the Caribbean nation.

This is a meticulously researched book spanning continents that narrates the painful story of India’s earliest migrants who established new cultural roots that kept them emotionally connected to their native land and whose forefathers’ epic transoceanic journeys have now come to be acknowledged in the UN system as one of history’s greatest tragedies of human exploitation just as slavery had come to be accepted. (The author is a veteran editor and founder, South Asia Monitor. Views are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

Read more at: https://www.southasiamonitor.org/medley/indian-diasporas-indentured-route-and-lost-childrens-quest-identity

Ayodhya Illuminates with Record-Breaking 22.23 Lakh Diyas in Deepotsav Celebration, Sets New Guinness World Record Ahead of Ram Temple Inauguration

Ayodhya, located in Uttar Pradesh, experienced a spectacular Deepotsav celebration on Saturday, adorning its ghats with hundreds of thousands of earthen lamps. On the eve of Diwali, the temple city set a new Guinness World Record by lighting 22.23 lakh diyas simultaneously across 51 ghats along the Saryu River.

This record-breaking tradition began with the onset of Deepotsav celebrations in 2017 under the governance of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The inaugural year witnessed 51,000 diyas, and the numbers escalated to 4.10 lakh in 2019. The subsequent years marked a substantial increase, with over 6 lakh diyas in 2020 and more than 9 lakh in 2021. Notably, in 2022, the ghats of Ram ki Pairi were adorned with a remarkable 17 lakh diyas. However, the Guinness Book of World Records only considered those lamps that remained lit for at least five minutes, setting the record at 15,76,955.

Preceding the Deepotsav festivities, a procession featuring eighteen tableaux, themed around the Ramayana, Ramcharitmanas, and various societal issues, paraded through Ayodhya. Uttar Pradesh Minister of Tourism and Culture, Jaiveer Singh, flagged off the procession at Udaya Square, navigating through different parts of the city before reaching Ram Katha Park.

These thematic tableaux addressed crucial topics such as children’s rights and basic education, women’s safety and welfare, self-reliance, protection of forests and the environment, and advancements in science and technology. Additionally, they showcased various government initiatives aimed at societal development.

The significance of this year’s Deepotsav celebrations is heightened by the ongoing construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The eagerly anticipated inauguration of the Ram Mandir is scheduled for January 22, 2024, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi slated to attend the historic event. The confluence of cultural festivities and the temple’s progress adds a distinct charm to this year’s Deepotsav in Ayodhya.

During Diwali, “Dispel the Inner Darkness through the Light of Knowledge”

Gopi Diwali at Times Square, presented by KIA, lit up the heart of Times Square, celebrating cultural diversity, equity, and inclusion. Aligned with the NYC Diwali school holiday, the event transcended the traditional symbolism of Diwali, focusing on illuminating the inner self and fostering unity, enlightenment, love, peace, and harmony for a more peaceful world.

“The festival aimed to unite people from diverse backgrounds, focusing on education to foster unity and diversity, prioritized including children and teaching them to be responsible citizens, compassionate individuals, and good neighbors.”, said the Founder of Diwali at Times Square, Neeta Bhasin.

One of the evening’s highlights was the grand Diya (lamp) lighting on stage, synchronized with the countdown on the One Times Square tower. The ceremony drew distinguished guests, including Eric Adams, NYC Mayor, Senator Chuck Schumer, Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, Consul General of India Randhir Jaiswal, Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, Justice Karen Gopee, and various esteemed dignitaries.

During Diwali Dispel the Inner Darkness through the Light of Knowledge 2The Gopi, a California-based family-run dairy company, emphasized the universal message of peace and love through Diwali. Annie Keropian-Dilsizian, Gopi’s Marketing Manager, highlighted the event’s historic significance. Festival goers received complimentary full-size product samples, including Gopi Lassi and Paneer, to add joy and tradition to their Diwali celebrations.

Steven Center, COO & EVP of Kia America, expressed “Diwali’s core values of balance, harmony, and joy are mutual guiding principles of Kia’s ‘Opposites United’ design philosophy, which takes inspiration from the contrasts found in nature and humanity, that’s why Kia is proud to participate as presenting sponsor of Diwali in Times Square and recognize the festival of lights.”

The festival showcased an awards segment, honoring outstanding individuals: Neera Tanden the recipient of the “Woman of the Year in Public Service” US Domestic Policy Council Director, expressed gratitude “Celebrating Diwali in Times Square was a pleasure. Thanks to Neeta Bhasin and the Board for recognizing my commitment to improving lives. This event honored the invaluable contributions of the Indian American community, enriching and strengthening America”.

Procter and Gamble COO, Shailesh Jejurikar, was honored with the “Man of the Year in Private Service” Award said “I am humbled and honored by this recognition. As I reflect on my career, I am inspired by Procter & Gamble’s commitment since its founding 185 years ago to improve consumers’ everyday lives. This dedication fuels my determination to create a meaningful and lasting impact.”

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar who played a pivotal role in establishing the NYC School Holiday and strong support for Diwali at Times Square was honored with the ‘Samman Award’.

NYC Mayor Eric Adams declared October 28th as Diwali Day.

Senator Chuck Schumer who never misses Diwali at Times, loves the Indian community. In support of the community Senator said ‘I wrote laws to allow more Indians to come to America and New York. The more Indians are in New York, the better New York is. I will change the law to make it more so”.

Randhir Jaiswal, the Consul General of India, NY stated, “As we celebrate Diwali in Times Square, we mark not just a festival but a milestone in the recognition of our culture, as Diwali becomes a public holiday in schools.”

The “Light Up Concert” dazzled with Bollywood star Mika Singh, Indian American sensation Shuba, and local talents, making it a vibrant celebration of cultural diversity and impactful individuals.

A R Helping Hands Diwali at Times Square is an annual event that celebrates Diwali with grandeur, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds to embrace unity in diversity, honor outstanding achievements, and celebrate the festival of lights.

We are honored to receive a message from Prime Minister Modi, extending heartfelt greetings for the joyous occasion of Diwali.

India-US Défense Ties Key Pillar For World Peace, Stability: Blinken, Austin

Amidst the ongoing conflicts in Israel, Hamas, and the Russia-Ukraine war, the ongoing fifth India-US 2+2 Ministerial Level Talks in New Delhi, has been described as very crucial.

US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, both are for meetings with their Indian counterparts, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

Blinken has said that India-US defense cooperation is “a key pillar” for bolstering the partnership of the two countries in “international peace and security, and specifically, working to promote the rules-based order and uphold the principles at the heart of the UN Charter: sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence.”

“Our defense cooperation, which we’re strengthening again today, is a key pillar of that work,” Blinken said in his opening remarks at the 2+2 India-US Ministerial Dialogue that began in the national capital earlier in the day

Also in his opening remarks, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in his opening remarks that there have been “impressive gains in building our major defense partnership over the past year, and that will help us contribute even more together to the cause of peace and stability. We’re integrating our industrial bases, strengthening our interoperability, and sharing cutting-edge technology,” he added.

India US Défense Ties Key Pillar For World Peace StabilityBlinken said the two countries were taking very concrete steps to deliver on the vision that President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi put forward at their meeting in Washington in June.

“We are promoting a free and open, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific, including by strengthening our partnership through the Quad, with Japan and Australia,” he explained.

Blinken went on to say that “one significant way we’re doing that is by enhancing maritime domain awareness: sharing commercial satellite data with countries in the region to boost their capacity, for example, to combat illegal fishing, piracy, drug trafficking”.

“We’re also coordinating humanitarian relief and disaster response efforts in the Indo-Pacific. We’re harnessing together the power of innovation to make our economies more resilient and to make our communities more secure, while expanding inclusive economic opportunity.

“That’s evident in the cooperation on semiconductors and advanced biotechnology; on our unprecedented investments in deploying clean energy at scale in our countries as well as across the region; and our joint research and exploration projects in space,” he added.

The top diplomat mentioned the people-to-people ties between the two countries and the steps that are being taken to reduce visa wait times and facilitate travel between India and the US.

Jaishankar held “an open and productive discussion” with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken here on Friday on strengthening strategic New Delhi-Washington ties, the fallout of the raging Israel-Hamas war and regional issues including the geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific region.

The meeting took place ahead of the fifth edition of the India-US 2+2 Defence and Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue. “Pleased to meet with Secretary of State @SecBlinken this morning. An open and productive conversation on further developing our strategic partnership,” Jaishankar posted on X.

“This visit has a particular significance because we need to follow up on PM Modi’s June visit and President Biden’s September visit. This is a 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, so we take a broader view of what we are doing.”

The central focus of these talks is to address the ongoing conflicts and regional security concerns while strengthening the strategic ties between India and the United States. The agenda is expansive, encompassing the India-US Strategic Relationship, as well as exploring avenues to enhance bilateral relations and collaboration within international forums such as the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) and I2U2.

One prominent subject for discussion is the military standoff on the northern borders between India and China. Both countries have a vested interest in resolving this standoff amicably, thereby contributing to regional stability.

Another matter of great concern is the global security implications of the Russia-Ukraine war. As members of the QUAD, a coalition dedicated to ensuring security in the Indo-Pacific region, India and the U.S. are likely to deliberate on their respective roles in the context of this global event. The ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza region may also find a place on the agenda, with a focus on containment to prevent further escalation.

ITServe Alliance’s Highly Successful Synergy 2023 Sets the Path for a Brighter Future

(November 9th, 2023: Atlantic City, NJ) Networking, learning, and sharing of knowledge, great and highly acclaimed speakers, insightful workshops, collaborating with one another, strengthening bonds, celebrating one’s achievements and accomplishments, cultural and fun events, awards ceremony, showcasing of business booths and products, and delicious and multi-ethnic cuisine, and attended by over 2,200 members of ITServe Alliance, who are small and medium size companies of Information Technology were only some of the highlights of ITServe Alliance’s flagship Synergy 2023 held from October 26th to 27th, 2023 at the popular Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, NJ.

In his presidential address, Vinay K. Mahajan, National President of ITServe Alliance, welcomed the members, leaders, chapter presidents, sponsors, and volunteers to Synergy 2023 and expressed his “sincere gratitude for your unwavering commitment, and dedication, and for investing your time and energy and resources. You are the backbone of our organization, and your unwavering commitment is what propels us forward.”

Describing the mission of ITServe Mahajan said, “We are the voice representing the interests of small and medium scale enterprises of IT industry, protecting our members’ interests. We give back to the community and invest in startups, which is to help the United States maintain its leadership in innovation and technology. It is about coming together, collaborating, and liberating our collective strength. It is about finding synergy, not only within our own businesses but also across our entire community.”

Vinodbabu Uppu, Governing Board Chair of ITServe said, “Synergy 2023 is the only one-of-a-kind conference delivering innovative strategies, unique insights, and proven tactics for success, exclusively for IT service companies and individuals. Synergy 2023 will focus on developing strategic relationships with our partner organizations, sponsors, and supporters to work for a better technology environment by building greater understanding.”

Venu Sangani, Director of Synergy 2023 said, “As we gather here, let’s remember that our unity as a community is our strength. I took on this leadership role, an opportunity, driven with a single objective: to help at the end of the conference, each attendee departs with concrete insight to grow their business to the next level. Because in all of you here today, there is both gratitude and a deep sense of accomplishment, knowing our collective vision is alive and thriving.”

Sangani, who led a dedicated and visionary team organizing this historic event said, “Synergy 2023 is our landmark flagship gathering. The essence of synergy lies not only very knowledge exchange but inspiring one another. Let the success stories of fellow entrepreneurs ignite your ambitions, be it scaling your business to the next level, diversifying investments or starting new territories. Let’s make the most of Synergy.”

Jagadish Mosali, President-Elect of ITServe said, “Hope everyone at our flagship event has enjoyed Synergy 2023. Some of you know and some might not know the countless amount of time our “Volunteer CEOs” from the Synergy Team as well as the Board have spent to make the event successful as you have seen. My deepest appreciation to both Sung Hero’s as well as  the “Unsung Heroes. Thank you all for your service and commitment to the organization and giving back to the community.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Chief Guest at Synergy 2023 delivered the Keynote Address during an interactive session with ITServe members on October 27th evening. Ms. Clinton, the 67th Secretary of State of the United States has dedicated over four decades in public service as an advocate, attorney, First Lady, and US Senator.

During a candid “Fireside Chat” Secretary Clinton shared with the audience very candidly about her private life, growing up as a child, her marriage to Bill Clinton, struggles in managing careers as a daughter, wife, mother, and a public figure holding numerous important positions locally, nationally and internationally.

Secretary Clinton praised the contributions and accomplishments of the fast-growing and influential ITServe Alliance members. She said, “I’m so proud of the many accomplishments of the Diaspora in the United States. I want to thank you and commend you for your extraordinary contributions to the nation.  I am so impressed by the many contributions you’ve made, in addition to building your businesses and providing employment for people.”

Secretary Clinton urged the ITServe member community “to continue to be involved in your communities, to be members of civic clubs, volunteer groups and take part in American society in every way possible, and also decide if you so may choose to become an American citizen. And for those of you who have children, who are American citizens, guide them to be very active. Not just getting their education or being a successful person economically but being involved in civic life. There’s a lot to it. I know you are good role models for people in many parts of our country. So, I am very grateful for the many contributions that you are making and will make in the future.”

Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media spoke about “Leadership Lessons: The Stunning Parallels Between Great Leaders of the World and Today’s Top Business Leaders.” He said, “You have to do things even if you feel you’re not fully ready to do it. The next year or two will be very severe. But also keep in mind that enormous positive changes are coming. There will be in 2025, after the elections, with your help a new immigration law on H1 B Visas, virtually unlimited to meet the needs of a growing economy.” Giving hope in this world of wars, Forbes pointed to areas of hope. “We saw it in the meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi weeks ago. These forces are coming together to make sure there is peace in the world.”

Phaneesh Murthy, Founder & CEO of Primentor addressed the audience with his insightful talk on, “Strategies for Scaling and Sustaining a Successful IT Company from One to 100 Million Plus” The keynote address by Zack Kass, Technology Futurist, and Generative AI Solutions Specialist focused on: “AI for Small Business Success: Navigating the Future of Entrepreneurship.”

Ashish Agarwal from Turbo Start, DVC led the Startup Cube Panel on “GTM Pitfalls Faced by Growing Startups.”  Post Lunch, a Financial Panel Discussion explored “Alternative Investments for Diversified Business Portfolios and Funding Solutions for Diversified Growth.” The Breakout Session in the Afternoon was about: “Mastering the Art of Effective Recruiting in the Staffing Industry” by Barbara Bruno.

“State, County, City, High-Ed & Federal Government Contracting: Opportunities & Challenges” was yet another important topic at the Breakout Session in the afternoon and was led by Nazeera Dawood, CEO of Vendorship.net. The M & A Panel Discussion deliberated on, “Driving Growth and Value Through Strategic M&A: Opportunities and Challenges: Accelerating Business Expansion.”

Another interesting Breakout Session on the first day was about, “Increase Cash Flow $$$ and Collect Bad Debt,” led by Douglas Fuchs at Goldman, Evans & Trammell LLC.

Kevin O’Leary, a Venture Capitalist and Star of ABC’s Shark Tank delivered the Evening keynote address on: “The Path to Profit: Strategies for Building a Successful Business.” Through specific portrayals from his popular Shark Tank, his insightful address to the loud applause from the crowd referred to successful business strategies to enhance business profits.

During the Gala ITServe honored the Grand Sponsors: Four Oaks Insurance and TrackEx, as well as the Platinum Sponsors of Synergy 2023: AG FinTax, BBI Law Group, Ceipal, Imagility, Oorwin, Q 1 Technologies, SOMIREDDY Law, Tech Insurance Agency, and Vitel Global were honored for their generous support to ITServe Alliance and its Synergy 2023. In addition, 20 Platinum Members of ITServe were honored during the Gala with Mementos.

The morning of October 27th began with the keynote address on “Navigating the Financial Crises and Regulatory Landscape: Lessons Learned and Insights for IT Staffing Company Owners” by Sheila Bair, Former FDIC Chair.

Other sessions in the morning included a Startup Cube Finals on GTM Pitfalls Faced by Growing Startups, which Ashish Agarwal, Turbo Start, DVC led. The Immigration Panel Discussion focused on “Navigating Immigration Challenges and Policies.” The CXO Panel focused on “The Evolving Role of IOs and CTOs in AI and ChatGPT Powered Digital Transformation.” Other panel discussions addressed issues related to “Contracts And Litigations,” and “Direct Client Engagement in the World of Contingent Workforce.”

A Special Guest Session at Synergy was a “Dialogue with Yuvraj Singh,” a highly popular international Cricketer, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist. Synergy 2023 will conclude with a Live Musical Concert by Bollywood Playback Singer and Filmfare Awardee Kanika Kapoor.

During Synergy 2023, ITServe honored high-achieving Entrepreneurs with Leadership Awards. ITServe Alliance recognized and honored companies that have demonstrated exceptional growth and success during a specific period. The ITServe Fastest Growing Company Awards were a testament to the impact of businesses that embrace innovation and strive for excellence.

Ashok Dandamudi, PR Director for ITServe said, “Synergy 2023 offered participants a platform to come together to hear industry leaders speak, engage in discussions with lawmakers, participate in interactive breakout sessions, deliberate on the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in the world of IT Staffing and Technology.

Amar Varada, Chair of Synergy 2023 said, “Synergy 2023 had prominent speakers, and valuable sponsorships, and helped grow a community network of industry professionals across the country. We are grateful to the unwavering support of our members, volunteers, and sponsors, whose collective efforts made this event a memorable one for all.”

Anil Atyam, Chair of Speakers for Synergy 2023 emphasized the curated lineup of speakers and panels. “We are thrilled to have a diverse and esteemed set of speakers for this year’s conference. From policymakers, and technology leaders to industry innovators, our speakers are pivotal in shaping the discussions and providing invaluable insights that can be immediately applied in various sectors of the IT industry.”

As a participant at Synergy put it, “Synergy 2023 an incredible experience, and I feel so grateful to have been a part of it. The energy and enthusiasm that you brought to the event were truly inspiring, and I came away with a wealth of knowledge and new connections. Once again, thank you for all of your hard work in putting together such a fantastic event.”

With cultural events, music, dance, and sumptuous food, in addition to all the learning and sharing of knowledge, Synergy 2023 provided actionable insights and strategies that companies can directly implement, serving as a catalyst for taking businesses to the next level. Beyond being an arena for networking and knowledge sharing, Synergy 2023 has proved to be a veritable marketplace for ideas and innovations.

Led by an amazing, energetic, and inspiring leadership, ITServe is a fully voluntary organization, where its members and leaders dedicate their valuable time and resources, working selflessly to strengthen the organization and its mission to give back to the larger society. ITServe’s core leadership consists of: Vinodbabu Uppu, Governing Board Chair; Vinay Mahajan, President; Jagadeesh Mosali, President-Elect; Anju Vallabhaneni, Secretary; Mahesh Sake, Treasurer; Ravi K. Komatireddy, Joint Secretary; Sunil Savili, Joint Treasurer. The Governing Board Members include Vinodbabu Uppu, Governing Board Chair; Shashidhar Devireddy, National President 2016; Gopi Kandukuri, National President 2018; Amar Varada, Synergy Chair 2023, & National President 2020; Raghu Chittimalla, National President 2021; Devender Aerrabolu, National President 2022; and, Vinay Mahajan, current National President.

In addition to the 21 ITServe Chapter Presidents across the United States and the dozens of various Committee Chairs, the Executive Board of Directors of ITSeve, who play a critical role in enhancing the mission and vision of ITServe Alliance include: Manish Mehra, Director Chapter Relations; Samba Movva, Director-Corporate Social Responsibility; Srikanth Dasugari, Director-Membership; Ram Nandyala, Director-Benefits & New Chapters Launch; Siva Moopanar, Director-Political Action Committee; Ashok Dandamudi, Director – Public Relations  & Media; Omprakash Nakka. Director- Products & Startups; Dasarath Kunapaneni, Director – Sponsorship; Venu Sangani, Director – Synergy; Vinay Parachuri, Director – Bylaws; and, Anil Atyam, Director – Technology.

Founded in 2010, ITServe Alliance is the largest association of Information Technology Services organizations functioning across the United States. Established to be the voice of all prestigious Information Technology companies functioning with similar interests across the United States, ITServe Alliance has evolved as a resourceful and respected platform to collaborate and initiate measures in the direction of protecting common interests and ensuring collective success. ITServe Alliance now has 21 Chapters in several states across the United States, bringing the Synergy Conference to every part of this innovation country. For more information, please visit: www.itserve.org

Blooming BRICS: Former White House Economist Warns of Dollar’s Growing Challenge

The US dollar could encounter a formidable challenge from BRICS countries due to their expanding size and influence in global trade, warns former White House economist Joe Sullivan.

Sullivan, in a recent op-ed for Foreign Policy, highlighted the rising concerns that BRICS nations might introduce a currency to rival the US dollar in international trade. This potential currency could potentially displace the dollar from its current dominant position in global trade markets and as the primary reserve currency.

Although BRICS officials have denied the existence of such a rival currency, Sullivan cautioned that the bloc of emerging market countries, which has recently welcomed Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, poses a threat to the greenback based on its growing influence.

Sullivan also pointed out the substantial influence of the BRICS bloc in commodities markets. Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates are among the world’s leading exporters of fossil fuels, while Brazil, China, and Russia are significant exporters of precious metals.

The inclusion of Saudi Arabia, in particular, could provide BRICS+ with a significant advantage, as the Middle Eastern nation holds over $100 billion in US Treasury bonds, contributing to the total holdings of US Treasurys by BRICS countries surpassing $1 trillion, according to Sullivan.

Sullivan argued, “The BRICS+ nations do not need to wait until a shared trade currency meets the technical conditions typical of a global reserve currency before they swing their newly enlarged economic wrecking ball at the dollar.”

He also highlighted the growing prominence of China’s yuan in global trade, as Beijing’s trading partners increasingly use the renminbi.

Sullivan further warned that these trends could eventually place the US dollar in a position similar to that of the British pound in the 1800s when it lost its international dominance.

He explained, “The BRICS+ states do not even necessarily need to have a shared trade currency to chip away at King Dollar’s domain. If BRICS+ demanded that you pay each member in its own national currency to trade with any of them, the dollar’s role in the world economy would diminish. There would not be a clear replacement for the dollar as a global reserve. A variety of currencies would gain in importance.”

However, some economists hold a different view, suggesting that the US dollar’s role as the world’s primary trading and reserve currency will likely persist for an extended period. The data from the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund show that the greenback continues to outperform rival currencies in international trade and central bank reserves by a significant margin. The yuan has only recently made modest gains in central banks’ holdings.

FDA Proposes Banning Brominated Vegetable Oil from US Food Products

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put forward a proposal to discontinue the use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) as an additive in food products across the nation. This move is in response to concerns about its safety and follows California’s recent ban on BVO, making it the first state in the US to do so. It’s worth noting that BVO is already prohibited in Europe and Japan.

James Jones, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for human foods, stated, “The agency concluded that the intended use of BVO in food is no longer considered safe after the results of studies conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health … found the potential for adverse health effects in humans.”

Brominated vegetable oil is a substance created by modifying vegetable oil with bromine, a pungent, deep red chemical. It is typically used as an emulsifier in citrus-flavored beverages to prevent the separation of flavoring. Bromine is also commonly found in flame retardants.

While BVO is still used in some products, especially in sodas, the number of items containing this additive has decreased over the years due to previous restrictions by the FDA. In the 1970s, the FDA reevaluated BVO and determined that it was no longer “Generally Recognized as Safe,” leading to increased regulation of its use.

Furthermore, market pressure and consumer awareness played a significant role in companies voluntarily removing BVO from their products. A petition in 2012 with over 200,000 signatures highlighted the health concerns associated with this ingredient.

Health Risks Associated with Brominated Vegetable Oil

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization focused on consumer health and environmental issues, has identified several health risks linked to BVO. These include damage to the nervous system, headaches, irritation of the skin and mucous membranes, fatigue, loss of muscle coordination, and memory problems. BVO can also accumulate in the body over time.

While the studies that prompted the FDA’s decision were conducted on animals, they revealed negative health effects at levels that closely approximate real-world human exposure. One of the observed harms includes toxic effects on the thyroid gland, which is responsible for producing hormones critical for regulating blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism.

The proposal by the FDA to ban BVO is currently open for public comment until January 17, 2024, and it will undergo a review process before a final decision is made. In the meantime, consumers who wish to avoid BVO in their food products are advised to carefully check ingredient lists before making purchases.

Scott Faber, the senior vice president for government affairs at the EWG, expressed his support for the FDA’s move, stating, “Today’s announcement will ensure everyone has access to products that don’t contain BVO.” James Jones of the FDA emphasized that this proposed ban is a result of the agency’s commitment to monitoring emerging evidence and taking regulatory action when safety concerns arise.

PM Modi and UAE President Express Deep Concerns Over West Asia’s Security and Terrorism

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed shared concerns over terrorism, security issues, and civilian casualties in West Asia during a recent phone conversation with UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed. This discussion is part of India’s outreach to Arab nations amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Modi took to social media, stating, “Had a good conversation with my brother HH @MohamedBinZayed, President of UAE, on the West Asia situation. We share deep concerns at the terrorism, deteriorating security situation, and loss of civilian lives.”

He emphasized the importance of resolving the security and humanitarian challenges promptly and highlighted the mutual interest in achieving lasting regional peace, security, and stability.

India has strongly condemned the recent terrorist attacks by Hamas in southern Israel, asserting that there is no justification for any form of terrorism. Simultaneously, India has reiterated its enduring support for a two-state solution, leading to the establishment of a sovereign, independent, and viable Palestinian state living alongside Israel within secure and recognized borders.

The UAE stands as one of India’s closest strategic partners in West Asia, and both nations are part of the I2U2 grouping, which also includes Israel and the United States.

Modi’s conversation with the UAE President follows his previous phone calls with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan. During the conversation with President Sisi on October 28, they discussed the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in West Asia. Modi mentioned that India and Egypt share concerns about terrorism, violence, and civilian casualties. They agreed on the need for early restoration of peace and stability while facilitating humanitarian assistance.

On October 23, Modi engaged in a conversation with King Abdullah of Jordan, exchanging views on West Asian developments. They both expressed concerns regarding terrorism, violence, and civilian casualties, underscoring the necessity for concerted efforts to resolve security and humanitarian issues promptly.

Furthermore, Modi spoke with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu on October 10, reaffirming India’s strong support for Israel during challenging times. He unequivocally condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

ITServe’s Flagship Synergy 2023 Held In Atlantic City

(November 1st, 2023: Atlantic City, NJ) Networking, learning and sharing of knowledge, great and hignly acclaimed speakers, insightful workshops, collaborating with one another, strengthening bonds, celebrating one’s achievements and accomplishments, cultural and fun events, awards ceremony, showcasing of business booths and products, and delicious and multi-ethnic cuisine, and attended by over 2,200 members of ITServe Alliance, who are small and medium size companies of Information Technology were only some of the highlights of ItServe Alliance’s flagship Synergy 2023 held from October 26th to 27th, 2023 at the popular Harrahs Resport in Atlantic City, NJ.

In his Presidential address, Vinay K. Mahajan, National President of ITServe Alliance, welcomed the members, leaders, chapter presidents, sponsors, and volunteers to Synergy 2023 and expressed his “sincere gratitude for your unwavering commitment, and dedication, and for investing your time and energy and resources. You are the backbone of our organization, and your unwavering commitment is what propels us forward.”

Describing the mission of ITServe Mr. Mahajan said, “We are the voice represent the interests of small and medium scale enterprises of IT industry, protecting our members’ interests. We give back to the community, and invest in startups, which is to help the United States maintain the leadership in innovation and technology. It is about coming together, collaborating and liberating our collective strength. It is about finding synergy, not only within our own businesses but also across our entire community.”

Venu Sangani, Director of Synergy 2023 said, “As we gather here, let’s remember that our unity as a community is our strength. I took on this leadership role, an opportunity, driven with a single objective: to help at the end of the conference, each attendee departs with concrete insight to grow their business to the next level. Because in all of you here today, there is both gratitude and deep sense of accomplishment, knowing our collective vision is alive and thriving.”

Sanghani, who led a dedicated and visionary team organizing this historic event said, “Synergy 2023 is our landmark flagship gathering. The essence of it so synergy lies not only very knowledge exchange, but inspiring one another. Let the success stories of fellow entrepreneurs ignite your ambitions, be it scaling your business to the next level, or diversifying investments or starting new territories. Let’s make the most of Synergy.”

Vinodbabu Uppu, Governing Board Chair of ITServe said, “Synergy 2023 is the only one-of-a-kind conference delivering innovative strategies, unique insights, and proven tactics for success, exclusively for IT service companies and individuals. Synergy 2023 will focus on developing strategic relationships with our partner organizations, sponsors, and supporters to work for a better technology environment by building greater understanding.”

Jagadish Modsali, President-Elect of ITServe said, “Hope everyone at our flagship event has enjoyed Synergy 2023. Some of you know and some might not know the countless amount of time our “Volunteer CEOs” from Synergy Team as well as the Board have spent to make the event successful as you have seen. My deepest appreciation to both Sung Hero’s as well as  the “Unsung Heroes.”. Thank you all for your service and commitment to the organization and giving back to community.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Chief Guest at Synergy 2023 delivered the Keynote Address during an interactive session with ITServe members on October 27th evening. Ms. Clinton, the 67th Secretary of State of the United States has dedicated over four decades in public service as an advocate, attorney, First Lady, and US Senator.

During a candid “Fireside Chat” Secretary Clinton shared with the audience very candidly about her private life, growing up as a child, her marriage to Bill Clinton, struggles in managing careers as a daughter, wife, mother, and a public figure holding numerous important positions locally, nationally and internationally.

Secretary Clinton praised the contributions and accomplishments of the fast-growing Indian Americans. She said, “I’m so proud of the many accomplishments of the Indian diaspora in the United States. I really want to thank you and commend you for the extraordinary contributions to the nation.  I was so impressed by the many contributions you’ve made, in addition to building your businesses and providing employment for people.:

Secretary Clinton urged the Indian Diaspora “to continue to be involved in your communities,to be members of civic clubs. volunteer groups, and really take part in American society in every way possible, and also to make the decision if you so choose, to become an American citizen and as you wish to do. And for those of you who are the children, who are American citizens, guide them to be very active. Not just getting their education or being a successful person economically, but to be involved in things. There’s a lot to it. So, I think that the Indian diaspora, you know are good role models for people in many parts of our country. So, I personally am very grateful for the many contributions that you are making and will make in the future.”

Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media spoke about “Leadership Lessons: The Stunning Parallels Between Great Leaders of the World and Today’s Top Business Leaders.” He said, “You have to do things even if you feel you’re not fully ready to do it. The next year or two will be very severe. But also keep in mind that enormous positive changes are coming. There will be in 2025, after the elections, with your help a new immigration law on H1 B Visas, virtually unlimited to meet the needs of a growing economy.” Giving hope in this world of wars, Forbes pointed to areas of hope. “We saw it in the meeting between President Biden, Prime Minister Modi weeks ago. These forces are coming together to make sure there is peace in the world.”

Phaneesh Murthy, Founder & CEO of Primentor addressed the audience with his insightful talk on, “Strategies for Scaling and Sustaining a Successful IT Company from One to 100 Million Plus” The keynote address by Zack Kass, Technology Futurist, and Generative AI Solutions Specialist focused on: “AI for Small Business Success: Navigating the Future of Entrepreneurship.”

Ashish Agarwal from Turbo Start, DVC led the Startup Cube Panel on “GTM Pitfalls Faced by Growing Startups.”  Post Lunch, a Financial Panel Discussion explored “Alternative Investments for Diversified Business Portfolios and Funding Solutions for Diversified Growth.” The Breakout Session in the Afternoon was about: “Mastering the Art of Effective Recruiting in the Staffing Industry” by Barbara Bruno.

“State, County, City, High-Ed & Federal Government Contracting: Opportunities & Challenges” was yet another important topic at the Breakout Session in the afternoon and was led by Nazeera Dawood, CEO of Vendorship.net. The M & A Panel Discussion deliberated on, “Driving Growth and Value Through Strategic M&A: Opportunities and Challenges: Accelerating Business Expansion.” Another interesting Breakout Session on the first day was about, “Increase Cash Flow $$$ and Collect Bad Debt,” led by Douglas Fuchs at Goldman, Evans & Trammell LLC.

Kevin O’Leary, a Venture Capitalist, Star of ABC’s Shark Tank delivered the Evening keynote address on: “The Path to Profit: Strategies for Building a Successful Business.” Through specific portrayals from his popular Shark Tank, his insightful address to the loud applauses from the crowd referred to successful business strategies to enhance business profits.

During the evening Gala Grand Sponsors: Four Oaks Insurance and TrackEx as well as the Platinum Sponsors of Synergy 2023: AG Fintax, BBI Law Group, Ceipa; Corp, Imagility, Oorwin, Q 1  Technologies, Somireddy Law, T I A Tech Insurance Agency, and Vitel Global were honored for their generous support to ITSereve Alliance.

As a participant at Synergy put it, “Synergy 2023 an incredible experience, and I feel so grateful to have been a part of it. The energy and enthusiasm that you brought to the event were truly inspiring, and I came away with a wealth of knowledge and new connections. Once again, thank you for all of your hard work in putting together such a fantastic event.”

With cultural events, music and dance, sumptuous food, in addition to all the learning and sharing of knowledge, Synergy 2023 provided actionable insights and strategies that companies can directly implement, serving as a catalyst for taking businesses to the next level. Beyond being an arena for networking and knowledge sharing, Synergy 2023 has proved to be a veritable marketplace for ideas and innovations.

“Synergy 2023 had prominent speakers, and valuable sponsorships, and helped grow a community network of industry professionals across the country,” said Amar Varada, Chair of Synergy 2023.

Anil Atyam, Chair of Speakers for Synergy 2023 emphasized the curated lineup of speakers and panels. “We are thrilled to have a diverse and esteemed set of speakers for this year’s conference. From policymakers, and technology leaders to industry innovators, our speakers are pivotal in shaping the discussions and providing invaluable insights that can be immediately applied in various sectors of the IT industry.”

Ashok Dandamudi, PR Director for ITServe said, “Synergy 2023 offered participants with a platform to come together to hear industry leaders speak, engage in discussions with lawmakers, participate in interactive breakout sessions, deliberate on the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in the world of IT Staffing and Technology.

The morning of October 27th began with the keynote address on “Navigating the Financial Crises and Regulatory Landscape: Lessons Learned and Insights for IT Staffing Company Owners” by Sheila Bair, Former FDIC Chair.

Other sessions in the morning included a Startup Cube Finals on GTM Pitfalls Faced by Growing Startups, which were led by Ashish Agarwal, Turbo Start, DVC. The Immigration Panel Discussion focused on “Navigating Immigration Challenges and Policies.” The CXO Panel’s focused on “The Evolving Role of IOs and CTOs in AI and ChatGPT Powered Digital Transformation.” Other panel discussions addressed issues related to “Contracts And Litigations,” and “Direct Client Engagement in the World of Contingent Workforce.”

A Special Guest Session at Synergy was a “Dialogue with Yuvraj Singh,” a highly popular international Cricketer, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist. Synergy 2023 will conclude with a Live Musical Concert by Bollywood Playback Singer and Filmfare Awardee Kanika Kapoor.

During Synergy 2023, ITServe honored high achieving Entrepreneurs with Leadership Awards. ITServe Alliance recognized and honored companies that have demonstrated exceptional growth and success during a specific period. The ITServe Fastest Growing Company Awards were a testament to the impact of businesses that embrace innovation and strive for excellence.

Founded in 2010, ITServe Alliance is the largest association of Information Technology Services organizations functioning across the United States. Established to be the voice of all prestigious Information Technology companies functioning with similar interests across the United States, ITServe Alliance has evolved as a resourceful and respected platform to collaborate and initiate measures in the direction of protecting common interests and ensuring collective success. ITServe Alliance now has 21 Chapters in several states across the United States, bringing the Synergy Conference to every part of this innovation country. For more information, please visit: www.itserve.org

Government Denies Phone Hacking Allegations After Apple Alerts

Opposition Leaders Accuse Government of Hacking Attempts

Several Indian opposition leaders and journalists have accused the government of trying to hack into their phones after receiving warning messages from Apple. Apple’s alert stated that it believed the recipients were “being targeted by state-sponsored attackers” without specifying the attackers’ identity. The Indian government has dismissed these allegations, with federal ministers calling them “destructive politics.” However, they also noted that the government would “investigate to get to the bottom of these notifications.”

Around a dozen opposition politicians, including MPs from the Congress party and other opposition parties, confirmed receiving the messages from Apple. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi stated that he and his staff had also received the alert and expressed no fear, saying, “You can do as much [phone] tapping as you want, I don’t care.”

Some journalists, including Siddharth Varadarajan, a founding editor of news website The Wire, reported receiving the message as well. The government has asked Apple to participate in the investigation “with real, accurate information on the alleged state-sponsored attacks,” according to federal information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.

Apple’s Statement on State-Sponsored Attacks

Apple’s support page for users explains that “state-sponsored attackers are very well-funded and sophisticated, and their attacks evolve over time.” These attackers target a “very small number of specific individuals and their devices.” However, Apple does not provide specific details about what triggers these threat notifications, as revealing such information could help state-sponsored attackers adapt their behavior to avoid detection in the future.

Technology analyst Prasanto K Roy explained that companies like Apple look for activity patterns to detect large-scale, coordinated malware attacks. While it is technically possible to attribute such attacks to a particular country or state agency, Apple prefers not to make specific attributions.

Political Reactions and Allegations

Indian politicians and journalists shared screenshots of the messages they received from Apple on social media, with some pointing out that no member of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had confirmed receiving the notification yet. Opposition leaders raised questions about the selectiveness of these notifications.

However, later in the day, BJP minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar stated that his colleague Piyush Goyal had also received the alert, prompting further discussions about the implications of the notifications.

Aam Aadmi Party MP Raghav Chadha connected the alerts to the upcoming general election and stated that they should be viewed within the context of ongoing attacks on the opposition.

BJP leaders responded to the allegations by calling them baseless and shifting the responsibility to Apple to clarify the meaning of the notifications.

Historical Surveillance Allegations

Several opposition leaders in India had previously accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of placing them under surveillance. In 2019, WhatsApp filed a lawsuit alleging that Indian journalists and activists were targeted by Pegasus, a surveillance software developed by Israeli firm NSO Group. NSO claimed to work only with government agencies.

In 2021, Indian website The Wire reported that over 300 phone numbers on a leaked database of thousands of numbers, associated with government clients of NSO, belonged to Indians.

Additionally, in the previous year, a political controversy arose after the New York Times reported that India had acquired Pegasus from Israel as part of a defense deal in 2017. The Indian government denied purchasing the spyware.

As the allegations continue to circulate, questions surrounding the notifications and their implications persist.

Synergy 2023 Begins in Atlantic City, Celebrating Remarkable Achievements of ITServe Members

(October 27, 2023: Atlantic City, NJ) ItServe Alliance’s flagship Synergy 2023 was inaugurated here on Thursday, October 26th, 2023 as over 2,200 members of ITServe Alliance, who are small and medium size companies of Information Technology came together at Harras Resort in Atlantic City in New Jersey for networking, learning and sharing of knowledge, collaborating with one another, strengthening bonds, and celebrating their achievements and accomplishments.

In his Presidential Welcome address, Vinay K. Mahajan, National President of ITServe Alliance, welcomed the members, leaders, chapter presidents, sponsors, and volunteers to Synergy 2023 and expressed his “sincere gratitude for your unwavering commitment, and dedication, and for investing your time and energy and resources. You are the backbone of our organization, and your unwavering commitment is what propels us forward.”

Describing the mission of ITServe Mr. Mahajan said, “We’re in the forefront, guiding and empowering its members. ITServe today is a powerful force focused on safeguarding the interests of small and medium business enterprises. We have more than 2,200 member companies, spread over 21 Chapters, they generate 175,000 high paying jobs across the United States. Our members contribute almost $12 billion to the US GDP. We at ITServe Alliance are immensely proud of us for being very successful. We are the voice represent the interests of small and medium scale enterprises of IT industry, protecting our members’ interests. We give back to the community, and invest in startups, which is to help the United States maintain the leadership in innovation and technology.”

Mahajan went on to say, “I always thank you members, because of you, we are all strong together. Our success today is not about working alone in isolation. It is about coming together, collaborating and liberating our collective strength. It is about finding synergy, not only within our own businesses but also across our entire community. As we navigate the challenges and opportunities of the digital age, our role today is even more critical. We are not just service providers. We are architects of transformation. We shape the future of industries and enhance the lives of individuals worldwide. This event is dedicated to you. Together we will innovate and lead the way in the IT services industry. Thank you for being part of synergy. Let us embark on the journey together and fueled by the spirit of collaboration and the pursuit of success.”

In his opening remarks, Venu Sangani, Director of Synergy 2023 said, “As we gather here, let’s remember that our unity as a community is our strength. Last year in Orlando, Florida, I took on this leadership role, an opportunity, driven with a single objective:  to help at the end of the conference, each attendee departs with concrete insight to grow their business to the next level. Because in all of you here today, there is both gratitude and deep sense of accomplishment, knowing our collective vision is alive and thriving.”

Sanghani, who led a dedicated and visionary team organizing this historic event said, “ Synergy 2023 is our landmark flagship gathering, whether you’re a familiar face from previous years, or you’re experiencing this your first time, I promise you that the opportunities for growth and learning forging a path with connections during this event unmatching with featuring seven keynote sessions from seven different domain panels, panel discussions, interactive breakout sessions and I encourage each one of you to be fully present, engage dynamically and above all, collaborate with fellow members. The essence of it so synergy lies not only very knowledge exchange, but inspiring one another. Let the success stories of fellow entrepreneurs ignite your ambitions, be it scaling your business to the next level, or diversifying investments or starting new territories. That is going to happen at Synergy 2023. Let’s make the most of Synergy.”

Vinodbabu Uppu, Governing Board Chair of ITServe said, “Synergy 2023 is the only one-of-a-kind conference delivering innovative strategies, unique insights, and proven tactics for success, exclusively for IT service companies and individuals. Synergy 2023 will focus on developing strategic relationships with our partner organizations, sponsors, and supporters to work for a better technology environment by building greater understanding.”

In his inspiring inaugural keynote address, Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media sooke about “Leadership Lessons: The Stunning Parallels between Great Leaders of the World and Today’s Top Business Leaders.” Forbes said, “You have to do things even if you feel you’re not fully ready to do it. The next year or two will be very severe. But also keep in mind that enormous positive changes are coming. For example, the issue of immigration today looks hopeless in a town called Washington, which is becoming the epitome of hopelessness. There will be in 2025, after the elections, with your help a new immigration law on H1 B Visas, virtually unlimited to meet the needs of a growing economy.”

Referring to the global situation, Forbes said, “We know we live in a world today, where Russia, China, North Korea and Iran feel that the United States is a declining power. China has made very clear it wants world domination. Russia under Putin has made it very clear he wants to recreate the Soviet empire. Iran wants to be the hegemony of the Middle East and control the oil and dominate the region and ultimately eliminate Israel. In the crazy border wars, China keeps pushing against India. Not a good environment.”

Giving hope in this world of wars, Forbes pointed to areas of hope. “We saw it in the meeting between President Biden, Prime Minister Modi weeks ago. The meetings with South Korea, Japan and the United States. Whoever would have thought that Japan and South Korea would be cooperating with one another. These forces are coming together to make sure there is peace in the world.” In the domestic front, Forbes advocated for tangible, practical and cost-effective measures with minimum regulations to address the issues affecting the United States, which includes, rising inflation, climate change, labor market and annual growth of the economy.

Phaneesh Murthy, Founder & CEO of Primentor addressed the audience with his insightful talk on, “Strategies for Scaling and Sustaining a Successful IT Company from One to 100 Million Plus” The keynote address by Zack Kass, Technology Futurist, and Generative AI Solutions Specialist focused on: “AI for Small Business Success: Navigating the Future of Entrepreneurship.”

Ashish Agarwal from Turbo Start, DVC led the Startup Cube Panel on “GTM Pitfalls Faced by Growing Startups.”  Post Lunch, a Financial Panel Discussion explored “Alternative Investments for Diversified Business Portfolios and Funding Solutions for Diversified Growth.” The Breakout Session in the Afternoon was about: “Mastering the Art of Effective Recruiting in the Staffing Industry” by Barbara Bruno.

“State, County, City, High-Ed & Federal Government Contracting: Opportunities & Challenges” was yet another important topic at the Breakout Session in the afternoon and was led by Nazeera Dawood, CEO of Vendorship.net. The M & A Panel Discussion deliberated on, “Driving Growth and Value Through Strategic M&A: Opportunities and Challenges: Accelerating Business Expansion.” Another interesting Breakout Session on the first day was about, “Increase Cash Flow $$$ and Collect Bad Debt,” led by Douglas Fuchs at Goldman, Evans & Trammell LLC.

Kevin O’Leary, a Venture Capitalist, Star of ABC’s Shark Tank delivered the Evening keynote address on: “The Path to Profit: Strategies for Building a Successful Business.” Through specific portrayals from his popular Shark Tank, his insightful address to the loud applauses from the crowd referred to successful business strategies to enhance business profits.

During the evening Gala Grand Sponsors: Four Oaks Insurance and TrackEx as well as the Platinum Sponsors of Synergy 2023: AG Fintax, BBI Law Group, Ceipa; Corp, Imagility, Oorwin, Q 1  Technologies, Somireddy Law, T I A Tech Insurance Agency, and Vitel Global were honored for their generous support to ITSereve Alliance.

With cultural events, music and dance, sumptuous food in addition to all the learning and sharing of knowledge, Synergy 2023 has been curated to provide actionable insights and strategies that companies can directly implement, serving as a catalyst for taking your business to the next level. Beyond being an arena for networking and knowledge sharing, Synergy 2023 has proved to be a veritable marketplace for ideas and innovations.

Founded in 2010, ITServe Alliance is the largest association of Information Technology Services organizations functioning across the United States. Established to be the voice of all prestigious Information Technology companies functioning with similar interests across the United States, ITServe Alliance has evolved as a resourceful and respected platform to collaborate and initiate measures in the direction of protecting common interests and ensuring collective success. ITServe Alliance now has 21 Chapters in several states across the United States, bringing the Synergy Conference to every part of this innovation country. For more information, please visit: www.itserve.org

India-NZ ODI most-watched online sports event worldwide

India’s triumph over New Zealand in the ongoing 2023 ODI World Cup ended a two-decade-long drought. Faced with a formidable challenge from New Zealand, Indian Tech and Infra proudly declared that the India versus New Zealand match became the most-watched online sports event worldwide.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended his heartfelt congratulations to the team, expressing on X, “Kudos to the Indian cricket team for their remarkable victory against New Zealand! This was a splendid collective effort where every player made significant contributions. The dedication and skills displayed on the field were truly commendable.”

The clash unfolded in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, and delivered an exhilarating showdown, featuring a track set for a 300-plus total. Mohammed Shami left an indelible mark by claiming five wickets for 54 runs, securing his second five-wicket haul in an ODI World Cup and joining the elite company of Anil Kumble. Virat Kohli, with his 95 runs, steered India to a four-wicket triumph over New Zealand with two overs to spare.

This victory marked the Indian cricket team’s first win against New Zealand in the ODI World Cup since 2003. It not only ended a two-decade-long wait but also made a significant impact in the digital sphere. The match captured the attention of 43 million viewers worldwide, making it the most-watched online sports event globally.

India, 5 th Largest Economy Ranks 111 out of 125 Countries in the Global Hunger Index

Even as nearly one million children of Gaza face a genocidal campaign by Israel driven by relentless bombing and a cruel embargo on essential supplies, the Global Hunger Index 2023 has drawn our attention to the growing pangs of hunger across the world. The GHI2023 report attributes the alarming global hunger scene to a combination of recent developments like the Covid pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war apart from deeply embedded socio-economic reasons and the rapidly worsening climate crisis. Now Israel’s genocidal siege and invasion of Gaza reminds us how in today’s world hunger can still be inflicted as a form of war. If Israel is not immediately restrained, we will soon witness a veritable famine and thousands of people dying of hunger and thirst in Gaza.

The GHI 2023 report indicates a general stagnation and even reversal on the front of combating hunger. The hunger index is calculated as a combined measure of four factors – undernourishment (among children as well as adults), child stunting (percentage of children below five years of age with low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition), child wasting (percentage of children below five years of age with low weight for their height, indicating acute undernutrition) and child mortality (the mortality rate of children under the age of five). The two most critical regions of the world in terms of the spread and scale of hunger are South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa with a GHI value of 27.0, way above the global average of 18.3.

Picture: IAS Compass

The biggest contributor to South Asia’s alarming situation is none other than India which has been steadily slipping in GHI rankings over the last one decade. With a GHI score of 28.7, India now stands at 111 out of 125 countries. Each of India’s South Asian neighbours fares significantly better than India – Pakistan ranks 102 with a GHI value of 26.6 while Nepal (GHI 15.0) and Bangladesh (GHI 19.0) have made remarkable progress occupying respectively the 69th and 81st positions. Sri Lanka, of course, still has the best record in South Asia with a GHI score of 13.3 and the 60th rank. Among the four factors making up the GHI index, India has the most alarming child wasting rate of 18.7% which reflects acute undernutrition. The overall GHI score of 28.7 puts India in the ‘serious’ category of hunger-stricken countries. Undernutrition is not just stunting the growth of millions of India’s children; an alarming 58.1 percent of India’s women suffer from various levels of anaemia.

The response of the Modi government to the GHI 2023 report has been similar to its standard response to all such global reports – be it the Oxfam inequality report or India’s alarming decline
in terms of press freedom or various other indices or measures of democracy. The Modi government lives in a perpetual denial mode and even contemptuously rubbishes these reports as foreign or western conspiracies.

India has been the only country to find fault with the GHI report, but the authors of the report have convincingly rebutted Modi government’s objections. The data used in the GHI report are
collected from verified sources including statistical updates issued periodically by concerned countries and studies by various multilateral agencies. The GHI findings are corroborated by other global studies on hunger and food security. The Global Food Security Index report released annually by the British weekly magazine The Economist placed India at 71st position out of 113 countries in 2021 and at 68th position in 2022. While India with 57.2 points was placed at the same level as Algeria, China stood at 25th position with a score of 74.2.

While the GHI report focuses on undernutrition, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality, the GFSI report is based on measures of food security driven by factors like affordability, availability, quality and safety and natural resources and resilience. The problem in India is now not so much with availability of food where India ranks 42 with a score of 62.3 as with affordability where India finishes 80th with a score of 59.3. The lack of affordability can only be overcome by running a powerful public distribution system, stopping profiteering of food and by improving the purchasing power of the common people. The Modi governmen’s policies are taking the country in the opposite direction. While the regime denies the shocking reports of hunger and lack of food security, in election time it projects the claim of distributing ‘free ration’ to 80 crore people as its biggest achievement. This claim itself is the strongest official testimony to India’s abysmal performance as revealed by the global reports on hunger and food security.

One look at the reports focusing on inequality, hunger and the conditions of India’s workers is enough to deflate the hype manufactured around the G20 summit and the celebration over the tag
of the world’s fifth largest economy. The government keeps talking of demographic dividends and empowerment of women.

The GHI report throws light on the alarming health conditions of India’s children and young women. Add to this the gloom caused by the trajectory of India’s jobless, nay job-loss, economic growth and the precarious conditions of India’s young working and job-seeking population and we know how the Indian people are being systematically impoverished and ruined. The question
of the Indian people’s right to food and effective and universal food security cannot be reduced to the Modi government’s cynical vote-seeking in the name of ‘free ration’. The GHI and GFSI
reports tell us that continued neglect of the agenda of food security is bound to push India into a bigger disaster.

Modi, Sundar Pichai Discuss AI, Electronics For Good Governance In India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a virtual meeting with Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, on Monday. During this interaction, PM Modi and Pichai discussed Google’s plans to contribute to the expansion of the electronics manufacturing ecosystem in India. The Prime Minister commended Google for its collaboration with Hewlett Packard (HP) to manufacture Chromebooks in India.

Additionally, PM Modi acknowledged Google’s “100 languages initiative” and expressed his support for making AI tools accessible in Indian languages. He encouraged Google to focus on developing AI tools that promote good governance, as stated by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Modi also extended a warm welcome to Google’s intention to establish its global fintech operations center in the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) located in Gandhinagar. During the meeting, Pichai informed the Prime Minister about Google’s plans to enhance financial inclusion in India by leveraging the capabilities of GPay and UPI. He emphasized Google’s commitment to contributing to India’s developmental trajectory.

Furthermore, PM Modi invited Google to participate in the upcoming Global Partnership on AI Summit, which is scheduled to be hosted by India in December 2023 in New Delhi.

Picture: TOI

Notably, earlier this year, Sundar Pichai had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Modi during the Prime Minister’s official visit to the United States. At that time, Pichai had announced Google’s significant investment of $10 billion in India’s digitization fund and shared insights with the Prime Minister.

Pichai also highlighted Google’s plans to establish a global fintech operation center in GIFT City, Gujarat. He praised PM Modi’s visionary approach to Digital India, considering it a blueprint that other nations are eager to emulate.

The meeting between PM Modi and Sundar Pichai is not a first. The Google CEO had previously met with the Prime Minister during his visit to India in December the previous year. During this meeting, PM Modi expressed his delight in discussing innovation, technology, and related matters with Pichai, emphasizing the importance of global collaboration in leveraging technology for the betterment of humanity and sustainable development.

Winter Weather Outlook: Possible El Niño Influence

The upcoming winter season in the United States may bear the hallmark of El Niño’s influence, as indicated in a recent forecast from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and Atmospheric G2.

This influence is discernible in the comprehensive three-month winter outlook. The forecast suggests that a robust El Niño is anticipated for this winter, a phenomenon typically linked to above-average temperatures in much of the northern United States. In contrast, it often results in slightly below-average temperatures in parts of the southern U.S.

However, it’s important to note that this outlook provides a broad three-month trend, so there could be periods of both warmer and colder weather in specific regions compared to the general forecast.

Month-by-Month Projections

Let’s delve into the month-by-month projections for this upcoming winter and examine some key factors that might alter this outlook.

December: Winter could kick off with unseasonably warm conditions in the Northern Plains, Great Lakes, and Northeast. If you were hoping for a chilly December to set the holiday mood, you might be in for disappointment. Cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, and New York City are all expected to experience temperatures significantly above average. Meanwhile, the southern tier of the U.S. is likely to see temperatures close to the seasonal norm.

January:As the new year begins, the southern U.S. might experience slightly colder-than-average temperatures. A typical feature of El Niño is cool and wet conditions in parts of the southern states during the heart of winter, and this outlook suggests that from the Southern Plains to Georgia and the Carolinas, there’s a possibility of increased chances for snow and ice. On the other hand, parts of the Northwest and Northeast have the highest likelihood of experiencing above-average temperatures in January.

February:The last full month of winter may bring a split in temperature trends. In February, the warmest temperatures compared to the seasonal average could prevail in the Northwest and northern Rockies. Conversely, the Southeast to the mid-Atlantic might have a higher chance of encountering colder-than-average temperatures.

Factors that Could Alter the Winter ForecasT

Several critical factors could potentially modify the winter forecast.

  1. Atmospheric Response to El Niño:The extent of the atmospheric response to El Niño’s warm Pacific waters plays a pivotal role. According to Dr. Todd Crawford, Vice President of Meteorology at Atmospheric G2, the current atmospheric conditions resemble those of the 2009-10 El Niño, which was characterized by cooler temperatures in the central and eastern U.S. Therefore, close monitoring of trends in the coming weeks and months is necessary to determine the extent of El Niño’s influence on winter weather patterns and whether the outlook may shift towards cooler conditions.
  2. Polar Vortex Strength:The weakening of the polar vortex later in the winter can have significant implications for weather patterns. When the polar vortex weakens, the frigid air typically trapped in the Arctic can spill into parts of Canada, the U.S., Asia, and Europe. This happens because the jet stream becomes more blocked with sharp, southward meanders, redirecting cold air toward lower latitudes. Dr. Crawford suggests a good chance of a mid-winter weakening of the polar vortex, which could lead to colder conditions during the latter part of winter.
  3. Global Warming Influence:The recent surge in global warmth is another factor to consider. As of the end of September, the Earth was on track to experience its warmest year on record. Dr. Crawford notes that this additional burst of global warmth in 2023 may result in an upward shift in temperatures. In practical terms, this means that warm periods could be even warmer than usual, while cold periods may be less severe than typical.

While the winter outlook suggests an influence of El Niño with a predisposition towards warmer conditions in the northern U.S. and cooler conditions in the southern U.S., these projections are subject to modification based on the evolving interplay of these significant factors. Therefore, as winter approaches, we must remain vigilant and adaptable in our preparations for the upcoming season.

Arundhati Roy Charged Over Kashmir Comments Made 13 Years Ago

Indian authorities have filed charges against the acclaimed author Arundhati Roy for public statements she made over a decade ago regarding the tumultuous Kashmir region, marking the latest development in the Indian government’s increasingly restrictive stance on free speech under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership.
Suman Nalwa, a spokeswoman for the New Delhi police, stated that the government had given approval for charges to be brought against Ms. Roy and Kashmiri law professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain. The charges encompass various sections of Indian law, including those related to provocative speech and the incitement of enmity between different groups.

The Lieutenant Governor of the Delhi region indicated that the government had contemplated pursuing a more severe sedition charge against Ms. Roy and Mr. Hussain in connection with a case originating from a complaint lodged in October 2010 by a right-wing Kashmiri Hindu activist against speakers at a conference on Kashmir.
However, no such sedition charge was filed, as India’s highest court is currently deliberating the validity of the colonial-era sedition law, which critics assert has been misused for decades to stifle dissent. The reason for the police’s decision to act on the activist’s complaint over a decade after its filing remains unclear.

Picture: NYT

The action taken against Ms. Roy, a prominent critic of Prime Minister Modi, and Mr. Hussain occurred shortly after New Delhi police conducted raids on the residences and offices of numerous journalists associated with an online news portal recognized for its critical stance on the Indian government.

Previously, the authorities had also targeted the organization NewsClick. However, their crackdown escalated following the publication of an article in The New York Times that revealed connections between an American tech mogul financing the website and the Chinese government.

On Tuesday, a New Delhi court denied bail to the founder of NewsClick and another individual linked to the website, ordering their detention for ten days. Both individuals, who deny any wrongdoing, face charges under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, an anti-terrorism law. Many individuals charged under this law have spent years in detention awaiting trial.

Regarding the Kashmir conference-related case, Mr. Hussain, speaking from Kashmir, informed The New York Times that he had not received any formal communication regarding the charges. When asked for comment, Ms. Roy stated that she needed to consult with her lawyer before discussing the case.

Two other individuals accused in the activist’s complaint, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a prominent figure in Kashmir’s separatist movement, and Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, a former university professor, have since passed away. The two men were not related.

The conference, titled “Freedom — the Only Way,” took place in New Delhi on October 21, 2010. During that period, tensions in Muslim-majority Kashmir were running high after the death of a 17-year-old boy who was struck by a tear gas canister fired at close range by Indian security forces as he returned from a tutoring session.

The year saw a cycle of unrest in Kashmir that resulted in the deaths of approximately 120 demonstrators.

In a guest essay published in The New York Times that autumn, Ms. Roy described the turmoil, noting, “Since April, when the army killed three civilians and then passed them off as ‘terrorists,’ masked stone throwers, most of them students, have brought life in Kashmir to a grinding halt. The Indian government has retaliated with bullets, curfew, and censorship.”

In the complaint filed by the Kashmiri Hindu activist, it was alleged that several speeches at the conference, including Ms. Roy’s, had “endangered public peace and security” and that the speakers had advocated for the “separation of Kashmir from India.”

In her speech, Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize-winning author of “The God of Small Things,” recounted an incident in which she was accosted by a television reporter who repeatedly asked her, “Is Kashmir an integral part of India?”

She responded, “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. However assertively and frequently you ask me, even the Indian government has acknowledged that it is not an integral part of India.”

The Modi government, which assumed power four years after these events, has taken measures to bring the Kashmir region under direct control, revoking its limited autonomy and suppressing democratic principles and opposing voice

“One Nation, One Election Concept By B.J.P. Will Disrupt The Democratic Process:” Anil Shashtri

Anil Shastri, son of late Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, was hosted by the I.O.C.U.S.A. in New York at Baldev Randhawa’s residence in New Rochell on September 28, 2023, to discuss current political dynamics in India. Mr. Shastri shared memories of his father and discussed the need to strengthen the I.O.C.’s hand to support the Indian National Congress party. He spoke in detail about how democracy is being diminished in India under Modi’s leadership and the importance of recapturing the letter and spirit of the constitution and saving democracy by defeating the ruling B.J.P. in the upcoming election.

“Unlike in last eight years, India’s electorate and young generation are now realizing their misperception of Narendra Modi’s rule, and re-election of B.J.P. for a third time could lead to a disaster. Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi formed a broad coalition, “I.N.D.I.A.,” after winning states like Karnataka.” Mr. Shastri said. “Opposition parties like A.A.P., T.M.C., and NCP were reluctant to work under I.N.C.’s leadership before Karnataka elections. However, they now understood that Congress-led opposition with a one-on-one fight only can defeat B.J.P.,” he added.

He asserted that if any leader in India can answer Narendra Modi by looking into his eyes, it is Rahul Gandhi. Despite all the posturing, Narendra Modi is now afraid and feels threatened by the resurgence of the Congress Party. Anil Shastri criticized the B.J.P.’s “one nation, one election” concept, stating that simultaneous elections in the state and central governments would disrupt the Indian democratic process, potentially extending the President’s rule beyond six months, which needs a constitutional amendment and that the basic structure of Indian constitution is unchangeable. He criticized Modi’s government for deliberately using issues such as “one nation, one election,” etc., to divert the attention of the people from the real problems that they are facing. This is also a “Chunav ki jhumla” like depositing 15 lakh rupees in every citizen’s bank account.

Great leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastry and Jawaharlal Nehru thought their image would be magnified if the country’s image was built up. Contrary to that, Narendra Modi believes precisely the opposite, and Narendra Modi, as Prime Minister, used the recent G-20 sessions to build his own image, said Mr. Shastri.   He also advised the I.O.C. volunteers to use social media and other related technology to the maximum extent to change people’s perceptions in India by conveying reality and facts to them.

Anil Shastri recounted his father Lal Bahadur Shastri’s extraordinary determination, honesty, and hard work. He shared anecdotes about his father’s refusal to accept Russian and other countries’ aid during food shortages and his father’s determination to protect his self-respect as Prime Minister of India. Answering an audience’s question, Anil Shastri said that his father was so poor that he could not afford a boat ticket. He also rejected the free ride offer of the boatman and used to swim across the mighty Ganges to attend his school.

When asked why he swam, Lal Bahadur Shastri said to Anil Shastri, “When a person cannot protect his self-respect, he will not have the right to live.” Similarly, he said that he could not compromise with the self-respect of India by accepting money or any aid from other countries during a food shortage. He not only advocated but also gave up dinner once a week as a response to the food grains blockade by the major powers during the Indo-Pak war. The meeting commemorated the immense achievements of Lal Bahadur Shastri, such as the sowing seeds of the green revolution and the victory of the Indo-Pak war.

Harbachan Singh, Secretary-General, welcomed Shri. Anil Shastri and his wife Manju to the meeting. Mr. George Abraham, vice-chairman, described the goals and aspirations of the I.O.C. and emphasized the importance of close cooperation and dialogue. Mohinder Singh Gilzian, the President, introduced Anil Shashtri to the audience and lauded him for his dedication and commitment to the party.

Gurmit Gill Mulapur, Amar Singh Gulshan, Sophia Sharma, Dayan Naik, Sharath Chandra Vemuganti, Joshua John, Baldev Randhawa, Jose George, Paul Karukapallil, Thomas Koshy and Harry Singh also spoke.

John Joseph thanked host Baldav Randhawa for their generous hosting of the event and the Chief Guest Anil Shashtri and Manju Shastri for their kind presence.