Category: History

The Republic of England


While there is a lot to dislike about Late Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, the one thing I liked about her was her firm and strong opinions on matters of State. She pushed through the abolition of the Privy Purse in the Indian Parliament in 1971, which abolished the significant payout of monies to the Princely States of India which had acceded to the Indian Union by 1947 (some states required coercion and joined only by 1949). These states wer ruled by rich kings (no capital “K”) or princes, who had enough assets to pay for themselves and their families’ maintenance. However, under an arrangement worked out around the time of Indian Independence, Privy Purses were established, ensuring annual payments were made by the Government of India from its budget.

However, India became a Republic in 1950. It was the classic state with rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. Kings, princes and emperors and their accompaniments were of no value after 1950, though there were many Indians who were subservient to these folks (the same tendency which brought India down against the British). After the 1971 abolition of privy purses, the kings and princes and princesses officially became “poor” and common citizens. There are not many countries in the world apart from France, of course, which disbanded royalty which had ruled them for hundreds of years, and let them go away. There was no bloodshed in India against the kings and princes – there are many stories of how the erstwhile royalty survived in conditions worse than that of the common man of India, even living on railway station platform for instance.

All told, royalty is extinct in India. Nobody even mentions the titles of kings (some of whose lineage still exist, like in Rajasthan State and Mysore, a part of Karnataka State).

How about England? How about Australia, which is still shy of talking about becoming a republic? How about many other nations which were under British rule, and still are subservient to the Crown of England?

Absolute stupidity and nonsense, I would say.

Gone are the days of royalty and obeisance to them. Now they spend taxpayers’ money. In the U.K., the Queen of England has a huge budget allocation as the equivalent of the privy purse. Her palaces require expensive maintenance. The weddings of the royal family are huge affairs with huge costs picked up by the British taxpayer (one is coming up pretty soon if you are following the news).

I wrote about the “anachronism of royalty” in a 2011 blog post – you can read it here The anachronism of royalty.

Why does the common man still believe that the royalty are superior to him, and so deserve a better treatment? Do they have genes which distinguish them as royalty? Are they descendants of God himself? Do they deserve what they are getting for free, without doing any work of substance in return for the state?

The subservience of the common man to people with authority can only be allowed if it is out of respect for a democratic title – like the president or prime minister. The role is critical for the performance of duties in a democracy, and so we respect the role. Not necessary, of course. In a democracy, every person is equal to another person – there cannot be a distinction. This fundamental principle is violated in the current treatment of royalty.

France abolished royalty in 1789. Russia did that in 1917. India did that in 1971.

It is time for England and other princely states (there are many of them still around) to abolish monarchy in a democratic manner, like what India did. There will be protests, of course, but the fundamental principle of human equality and democratic application of the same cannot be contested either on legality or parliamentary procedures. One day or the other, it has to happen. Then you will have kings and princes walking on the street and drinking the same coffee that we do.

I am sure there are many poeple amongst us who still revere any royalty, and this concept of abolition of their privileges is going to be a big anathema to them. However, they have to just think of the sufferings of the common man. Things have not improved for the common man in many countries of the world. Why bother about the rich royalty who in any case, have huge assets and are incredibly wealthy?

The Indian way has proven to be the best – peaceful, no protests, even-handed. Legal battles went on, but finally the Supreme Court of India ruled against the reinstatement of the privy purse and other benefits in 1993. Speaking for the bench, the Chief Justice, L M Sharma, said: ‘The distinction between the erstwhile rulers and the citizenry of India has to be ended so as to have a common brotherhood.’ He added: ‘In a country like ours, with so many disruptive forces of regionalism and communalism, it is necessary to emphasise that the unity and integrity of India can be preserved only by a spirit of brotherhood.’

Yes, the Chief Justice captured the essence of democracy in that statement.

Think about it. England invented the concept of democracy and rule by elected representatives to the parliament. They invented parliamentary democracy, which has been adopted by scores of countries including India. But, the English system of governance still remains as constitutional monarchy.

Time for a rethink, I guess?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd December 2017

 

 

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Language Emotions and Economic Loss


I came across a LinkedIn post and discussion thread today about Tamil vs Hindi (for people who do not know, both are Indian languages).

The original post was by a Chennai-based IT recruiter who complained that North Indians assume that he speaks Hindi when he calls them up, instead of responding to his English queries in English. He even goes on to mention that he teases the potential candidates by occasionally speaking in Tamil!

There were more than 10,000 comments by the time I came across this post, and thousands of “Like” (LinkedIn should also provide an easy button for “Dislike”).

Haven’t we heard this kind of topic before? Of course, we have, especially in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu and Tamilians apparently have not yet got the 1960’s imbroglio with the Central (Federal) Government on the then hot topic of imposition of Hindi on all States of India, against the Constitution of India and the regional peoples’ will, out of their heads even after 50 years. They are very emotional whenever the topic comes up.

Hindi is sparsely spoken in Tamil Nadu even today, though there are many Tamilians in Tamil Nadu who can speak Hindi rather well. It is not an accepted form of communication, however. Tamilians prefer English, even to talk to other Tamilians. Such is the impact of those old days when Tamil Nadu erupted in violence against Hindi. That misstep also led to the successful emergence of the Dravidian Political Parties of Tamil Nadu, which have been feuding even amongst themselves ever since. The result has been that the national political discourse and national political parties have been locked out of Tamil Nadu for all these past 5 decades.

The bad thing which came out of this anti-Hindi feeling has largely been detrimental to the overall economic interests of the State and its people, though many will argue (even now) that it was the best thing that could have happened for Tamil Nadu (apart from reduced plan allocations and constant challenges, I don’t know what we gained – if someone can elaborate, I would be more than happy to listen without a murmur). In the Sixties and Seventies, when Tamilians educated in Tamil Nadu purely in Tamil and English travelled to Delhi or Mumbai or Calcutta, they were at a big disadvantage. Those days (and even now), the Northern and Western regions of India had the biggest economic investments (both by governments and private sector), and offered more economic opportunities to job seekers. While English was the business language, more often than not it was not the spoken language in the office – it was almost always Hindi.

Who lost out?

Tamilians and Tamil Nadu. India is a country with more than 28 official languages and over 200 dialects. But, 70% of the populations (that is 900M as of now!) speak Hindi in almost a native fashion, or they learn the language from primary school onwards. Another 10% of the population (that is, another 130M people!) understand Hindi well, and would respond in Hindi if spoken to in Hindi.

So, a Billion people can operate in Hindi.

How about Tamil Nadu? It has 68M people only, just 5% of India’s population.

While I am not saying it is compulsory for everyone in the country to learn Hindi or speak Hindi, look at the advantages which I lacked as a non-Hindi speaker. One’s acceptance is higher at business offices, in government offices, in industrial environments and surely in society. Further, one would not need English sub-titles while watching Hindi movies! I survived with extremely half-baked and poor Hindi, and had to mostly depend on others to get my way through. I got into several tricky situations because I insisted on speaking only in English (you cannot blame me, apart from Tamil, English was the only other language that I know!).

I suffered quite a bit during my sojourn in Mumbai for some six years. I always felt left out, and my rather late attempts to learn Hindi did not work out as I just could not recall the right word at the right time. If only I had had the opportunity to learn Hindi even as my third language in my primary school, I would not have had any problems.

At the end of the day, it is the business and social acceptance across the country, notwithstanding any perceived language or cultural supremacy. Tamil is rarely spoken outside of Tamil Nadu in India – except in Tamil communities spread around the country which also speak Hindi fluently as they have settled in the so-called Hindi heartland due to economic or job necessities.

Why take up a fight against Hindi and waste precious time now? What is it going to produce in terms of benefits to Tamilians?

The world is moving fast, and India is moving very fast. Tamil Nadu should worry more about keeping its #3 rank in the State-wise rankings of GDP, it is in a good position to overtake Uttar Pradesh which has three times its population. Let us focus on bread and economics, and jobs and wealth creation for Tamil Nadu. That is a more important fight (in a positive manner, competing with other States of India) than spending an inordinate amount of time on language issues. If Tamilians wish to proceed and establish strong working relationships with Northern and Western regions of India, I would say learning Hindi is a good place to start – a positive thing to progress economically, rather than a negative thing which will impact Tamil. Tamil will never be impacted, it is a language which has stood the test of time over 30 centuries or even more.

Let us make language-based fights and issues a thing of the past, and focus on what is best for our people.

Cheeers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th November 2017

Dialling back two centuries


For anyone looking from outside the U.S. at the events unfolding in the U.S., pitting the “alt-right” against the “alt-left” movements, it is just unbelievable – that the leader of the free world is having such serious problems pertaining to racism. This is after almost six decades of work trying to eliminate racial segregation in the southern part of the U.S. I am no student of history, so I do not wish to analyse American history and derive conclusions from the past. My understanding is that the U.S. sincerely tried to fix the race problem under various government administrations. The results are not perfect, and that is not surprising at all. These are never perfect. Look at scores of other large countries, and the problem persists in one way or the other.

When there is a divisive problem (like the bringing down of Confederacy Statues in Charlottesville, Virginia), then the underlying racial sensitivities come out to the top of peoples’ sensibilities and overtake with emotional force which is rarely seen in our daily lives. And, when there is a President who apparently supports one or the other factions, or try to stay neutral in an ambiguous manner, then that position lends support to the faction which thinks that the President supports their cause. And, when the administration is made up of people who espouse right-wing ideology (mostly), then their silence on critical and dangerous matters like what happened last weekend, further accentuates the issues on hand.

There are many more important matters for the U.S. Government to attend to, rather than waste time on things like the violent fight which erupted in Charlottesville, and similar fights expected in other rallies pertaining to this “statues” matter. Racism should be dead and gone in the 21st Century, but apparently it is refusing to die. Not just in the U.S., but unfortunately the U.S. still sets the benchmark on most things, so the world expects the U.S. to handle such things with a firm hand and squelch the hunger for people to make divisions amongst themselves with violence at the fore.

There are a number of articles which have been published on the matter of racism in the past one week in international newspapers. The clear conclusion is that the President of the U.S. is on the wrong track with his rather inept handling of the Charlottesville incident wherein one poor woman died and many people were injured. To avoid such situations in future, clear and categorical message needs to go out from the President and the Department of Justice that violence will not be permitted, display of weapons will not be allowed in rallies, fighting between two sets of protesters will be banned, and the government has the right to implement its policies without court intervention when the matter pertains to public safety and security. In the U.S., courts intervene in matters such as this rally, and the judge made a wrong decision (please read for yourself on this aspect). Law Enforcement and the City Council failed to put up a stronger argument.

Banning of leftist and rightist organizations is not the solution to avoid problems such as these – they should be given clear and strong messages that the government will prosecute offenders without fear or favour, without any allegiance to any ideology whether the President supports or not. This has not been done in the U.S. – rather surprising! I had written earlier about the lack of “liberalism” in University Campuses where opposing ideologies from conservatives are not allowed, which is also ridiculous. Sometimes, it does appear that “both” sides commit sins, but in the case of Charlottesville it is the alt-right which appears to be at fault.

In a free country, different options are available to the people. There will be moderate approaches, milder leftist views, and then there is the possibility of aggressive leftist movement. In the U.S., the “anti-fascist” of “antifa” movement is an aggressive version of the “alt-left” movement, which is not shy to take up physical cudgels against the weapon carrying “alt-right” activists. All this leads to dangerous development in societies leading to potential of violence.

In a nutshell, the U.S. is going back to old times of racism and racial segregation, and lumping of all immigrants as undesirables. This is not good for the U.S. and not at all good for the world. The U.S. is an immigrant nation, and its success has been based on this simple fact.

Why can’t the President of the U.S. see this fact for himself? And, make amends for the disastrous press conference he gave last week. The U.S. is at a turning point now, with this development. The world is waiting for a logical resolution.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th August 2017

The emergence of a global power (again)


You can easily guess, right?

I am going to write about……….

Cannot guess? Of course, you can.

My brackets in the title line should give you a hint.

No, it is not about India. May be that will take another 5 years or so.

It is about………RUSSIA. Yes, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia is again emerging as a global power that needs to be respected and feared about.

It is not about ancient Russian history or the enormity of the Russian geography (it is the single biggest country by geographical size). It is not about Russians, per se. The Russian population is shrinking. It is not about their nuclear power. It is not about their army. It is not about Russian energy industry (the biggest oil producer in the world, neck to neck with Saudi Arabia). It is not about Russian technology.

It is about one single man who has brought Russian pride to the fore. It is Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia.

An inscrutable man, Putin exudes power. He is far more potent than any other politician in power today in the world scene. He is surely more powerful than President Donald Trump of the U.S. He can get things done in Kremlin, that Trump cannot get done in Washington DC today. He is extremely powerful, he is not easily understood, he is not easily accessible, he has over 80% approval rating amongst the Russian public, as against less than 40% for Trump in the U.S.

The inability of other countries (including the U.S.) to make a reasonable guess on what is next on Putin’s Agenda, ensures that his aura remains intact. Putin is investing in his country’s defences, investing in modernising his nuclear forces, enhancing his cyber warfare technology, improving his energy productivity, mining the Arctic Ocean, and doing a number of other things in a concerted manner which should worry the Western nations, especially the European countries. It is critical to note that he is doing everything very fast.

Is there any benefit in provoking the Russian bear?

Not at all. While there is no need to be paranoid about what Putin will do (it is as difficult to guess that as guessing what Trump will do next), it is also very important not to unnecessarily provoke Russia. That is exactly what NATO is doing. It is reasonable for Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland to be mortally afraid of Putin, but that is no reason to bring advanced missiles and tanks to the borders of Russia. Putin has no use for these countries – he just wanted Crimea back (which was donated to Ukraine).

What are these guys smoking (I mean the NATO leadership and the U.S.).? It takes hardly any time for Russia to smoke out many of these countries. It is better to build a strong relationship with Russia on a sustainable basis, invite Russia to participate in NATO deliberations, and coordinate military activities with Russia, rather than to needle it. Russia unambiguously portrayed its capabilities in Crimea and most recently in Syria.

Does NATO want to take a calculated risk? It is not advisable to do so.

Russia has the advantage of surprise element built into all its planning. It has moved its active divisions to its western borders in response to NATO military exercises. It has moved its advanced S-400 missile batteries to Kaliningrad, the location of which is strategic and dangerous to NATO countries. It has its military waiting on the eastern borders of Ukraine. It is surely not happy with Ukraine, Poland and Latvia.

What are the options open to NATO?

Nothing much, except to destroy all of Europe with an all-out war with Russia, which could easily turn nuclear. Russia apparently does not have a nuclear non-first-use policy. And, neither does the U.K. which has Trident nuclear submarines trained on Russia. A nuclear holocaust in Europe would be unthinkable, but that does not mean Russia will not activate its strategic nuclear forces in response to aggressive and provocative actions by NATO. Loading nuclear missiles with active nuclear warheads appears out of line in today’s world, but not impossible given the tensions. While a nuclear war may never happen again, it is best that all nations avoid unnecessary provocation.

So, in a nutshell, NATO needs to sit back and think carefully, and should not get prodded by the U.S. and the U.K. It should use more sober heads in plotting a collaborative strategy. Putin may not be the worst of Russian presidents yet. He may be more reasonable than others in Kremlin. The West is not even in a position to predict who will be the next Russian president!!!

The European people should push the European Parliament and NATO to take a step back in the confrontation with Russia. THINK! Before ACTING RASHLY!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

Visa to the U.S.


You thought wrong. This is not about Indian IT companies getting the much-coveted H1B visas for their IT professionals, which is under threat from the Trump Administration.

This is not about getting any visa to the U.S. As you are well aware, the U.S. will not grant visas to human rights violators, criminals, and convicted offenders. For more than a decade, the U.S. Government applied this policy against the entry of Indian Prime Minister Modi, till it was gently revoked without much fanfare. Mr Modi’s violation? He was accused of turning a blind eye in the midst of killings of around a thousand Muslims in his Gujarat State in 2002, where he was the Chief Minister, in the aftermath of violent riots.

President Obama reversed the long-established American policy after the Supreme Court of India could not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Modi and his state administration. Not only that, he embraced Mr Modi and his reformist agenda.

However, President Trump is not Obama – in fact, he detests any comparisons with Obama’s rule. Trump thinks he has achieved more than any other president of the U.S. in the first 100 days of his presidency. So, it was not surprising at all that he continues to delude himself, in the hope of achieving a lasting legacy. Not just for the next 1,360 days but may be for another 4 years after the conclusion of his first term, which is not inconceivable though there are a multitude of constituents who would dread that possibility.

Now, American human rights policy has hit dirt. President Trump has invited President Duterte of the Philippines to visit him in the White House. He has already met with the dictatorial President of Egypt – Mr Sisi, at the White House. He has welcomed the consolidation of dictatorial powers of President Erdogan of Turkey. He also used to like the strongman president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin.

Mr Duterte would not even be considered for a visa in the light of his murderous streak, killing thousands of his own citizens (more than 8,000 at last count) in the name of elimination of drug trade in the Philippines. How can a legally elected popular president be allowed to use his law enforcement machinery to kill the citizens in cold blood? Where is his Congress? Where is the Church of the Philippines? Where are the Courts of Law? And, finally, where is the conscience?

And now, President Trump is going to entertain President Duterte at the White House and legitimize all the killings which have happened and which are going to continue unabated because the leader of the so-called “free world” has endorsed the actions taken by Duterte thus far. How ridiculous it can get?

The U.S. Congress should not allow this visit with all its power and voice. Of course, Trump will do what he wants, but the U.S. should now clearly realize that it has irretrievably lost its bully pulpit of human rights advocacy around the world because of the completely wrong, adhoc actions of its President without much thought or advice whatsoever.

The ASEAN Summit, of course, cannot condemn any killings in member states, as that would be construed as interference and the construct of ASEAN is based on non-interference and non-criticism (I do not agree with that philosophy however). But for the U.S. to show a welcoming approach towards President Duterte at the current juncture is very wrong and is going to damage the standing of the U.S. in the eyes of the free world. There is no more free world in any case. Europe is the last bastion of freedom and democracy and even there a severe test is happening in France.

So to get a visa to the U.S. any elected representative has to commit murders – more so for the invitation from a sitting president. I do not buy the argument that Duterte got the invitation to ensure the Philippines remains as an ally of the U.S. against the interest of China – that shift has already happened.

What about the other dictators? Should they kill more of their own before getting the invite from President Trump?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 May 2017

The Korean Crisis


North Korea has long been a problem child of the world.

Now, it has also become very dangerous consequent to its acquisition of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Its vociferous claims that it will destroy the U.S., Japan and South Korea, have not gone unnoticed, and are increasingly being taken seriously while in the past such claims have been dismissed all too easily.

Any war on the Korean Peninsula is sure to kill thousands, if not millions of people, and devastate Asian economies. South Korea is a major global manufacturer, critical to the world’s supply chain in several key industries. Japan is not far from the Korean Peninsula, and there is bound to be huge impact on the Japanese economy as a result of any Korean conflict. And what about China which shares a border with Korea? Any war would have huge repercussions on China as a whole.

Is a war inevitable? It appears so if one reads/sees the world media. The war “noise” is increasing on a daily basis, both from the U.S. and North Korea. It is a fact that all Asian countries are dreading the prospect of an imminent war. It does not appear that President Donald Trump really cares about the impact of a Korean war on Asian countries and the global economy as such. Being unpredictable has been a success symbol for him, and he is more than a match in this aspect as compared to Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). Looks like in Trump, Kim Jong-un has found a tough, unpredictable, and surprising foe.

Notwithstanding all of the above, war is never inevitable. War, of course, should be avoided at all costs. War is really not an option in today’s modern, peaceful world. Sounds fancy, isn’t it?

It does, but I still believe that a genuine attempt has to be made, without any pre-conditions attached, to make peace with North Korea. This can only be made if all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council jointly agree on a peace pursuit, and appoint an emissary to negotiate peace terms with North Korea. In return for a permanent suspension of all nuclear and ballistic missile testing, North Korea should receive monitored humanitarian assistance, equal treatment as a full member of the United Nations, trade benefits, removal of all sanctions, and recognition as a state on an equal footing with South Korea in all matters. All war games on either side will be suspended permanently. The Korean Armistice will be converted into a full peace treaty between North and South Koreas.

Looks impossible, right? But I believe not enough has been done on good faith from both sides for a very long time. It is critical to gain trust, and that is not possible when there are ballistic missile tests on one side, and war games on the other side of the 38th Parallel which divides the two Koreas. Sabre-rattling is not a good idea in a scenario of heightened tensions.

While the above positive situation could come about eventually, it is unlikely in the current context of who blinks first. I am afraid that President Trump might pull the trigger if the North explodes a nuclear device, and attack the test location with Tomahawk missiles like what he did with Syria recently. If that happens, then all bets are off. War will break out as Kim Jong-un will not accept the insult and the attack on his country, and will order his forces to attack the South with all its might. An all-out war on the Korean Peninsula will destroy most Asian economies and kill thousands of civilians, and could bring Japan and China into the war.

Such a situation is definitely not good for Asia and not good for the world.

Sober counsel needs to urgently prevail on both sides, and South Korea needs to aggressively push the U.S. not to launch pre-emptive strikes against North Korea. Japan needs to be more sober as well, not wanting to create an unnecessary war in its proximity. And, the U.S. needs to listen to its close allies and not make decisions on its own.

War mongering should stop urgently. Asia is now clearly on the brink of war, just as Middle East has always been.

Think! and, Think Again!! Peoples’ lives matter.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th April 2017

 

The Travails of Europe


There is a lot of news coverage on the visit of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to the White House. Highly anticipated on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it failed to deliver the goods for both sides. You can read the media, but my assessment is that Merkel did not do well to convince Trump that it is better to collaborate on world trade, rather than fight. She lost on the refugees’ matter, the need for the European Union as a policy integrator for all of Europe, the critical importance of NATO, et al. But that was to be expected when she was dealing with an obstructionist, anti-global, anti-immigration, anti-other developed countries, kind of President which is what Trump is, after all.

However, Merkel does realize the very important and critical trans-atlantic alliance that the EU and NATO have with the U.S. – not just a trade or economic partnership, but also a strong military alliance. With the impending exit of Britain from the EU, Germany becomes the only large and strong country of Europe pitted against the existing and future challenges facing Europe, and if there is one strong person that can steer Germany at this juncture of critical importance, it can be none other than Merkel. For sure, she is going to have troubles with not just Trump, but with the entire U.S. Government administration. There are people in the administration who would like to challenge Germany and the EU on trade and military matters pertaining to the funding of NATO for instance. There are folks in the administration who are not at all happy with the trade surplus that Germany is running with the U.S. which is close to USD 50B. America wants to export more to Germany and wants to tax the German cars which are getting imported into the U.S. from Mexico for example.

It is going to be very challenging to find some common ground.

In the meanwhile, Merkel has to deal with a host of other big issues in Europe, such as Brexit, Russia, Turkey, Syrian immigration challenges, etc., etc., She probably has the hardest job in all of Europe atleast amongst the Presidents/Prime Ministers of the various European countries. She realizes the strategic role that the new world order has imposed on Germany, quite the contrary from where Germany rose in the first half of the twentieth century, which ended in disaster and rubble. For Germany to have built one of the most robust democracies and economies in the world over the past five decades or so, is a reflection of the strength of the German people and their strong affection towards democratic institutions and free market principles. Merkel is not going to give up the hard won democracy which has formed the bedrock of Germany. Given her background as a “refugee” from East Germany, she realizes the very important responsibility for Germany to extend its arms with open and welcoming attitude towards Syrians fleeing their country.

I do not, for one, believe, she will give up these very strong principles, to improve her relationship with the U.S. For her, there are no contradictions here – both are important, but the first principles are critically more important than any one country. Europe is going to have to face its problems on its own, with all the messy politcs in various nations which are going for elections, but then the EU has survived the vagaries of politics and global challenges over the past so many decades. And, Merkel can only strengthen the EU to even further heights before she leaves her Chancellorship.

Let us wish Europe and the EU all the best under the stable, steady and strong leadership of Angela Merkel.

Cheers.

Vijay Srinivasan

18th March 2017