Rude Awakening


For thousands of Kashmiris it was a rude shock last week to abruptly discover that the Indian Government had overnight changed the status of the Jammu & Kashmir State. The Home Minister passed a resolution in the Upper House of the Parliament, in effect voiding Article 370 and associated clauses and amendments.

Without getting into too much details and nuances of law, suffice to say that the Indian Government nullified the special status granted to Jammu & Kashmir State and integrated that state effectively into India as a Union Territory, directly to be administered by the Central Government. The resolution cancelled all the special privileges accorded to Kashmir, such as separate laws, separate flag, approval of Kashmir legislature required for central government laws, discrimination against Indian citizens settling down in Kashmir, et al.

Of course, this abrogation of Article 370 goes against the premise under which the Jammu & Kashmir kingdom joined the Indian Union way back after India’s independence from the British. This is another instance when the British walked away from the mess that they had created in the first place, among many other things in the Indian subcontinent.

Pakistan lodged a vehement protest against the changes that India had promulgated. Kashmir is considered as an occupied and disputed territory by Pakistan, and India’s position, obviously, is opposite. India claims the whole of Kashmir, including the Pakistan-occupied region as well as the China-occupied region.

Like the Israel-Palestine dispute, this one is never going to be resolved during our lifetime.

Let us now see where India stands on this entire matter. India is very clear that Kashmir belongs to India as a whole. It is just another state of India, and therefore, there should be nothing special – it should have as much rights and obligations as any other state. Moreover, the Indian government wants to bring in more private investments into Kashmir, integrate it better with the rest of India, settle more non-Kashmiris in the state as that would bring more integration and investments, etc., The BJP Government had outlined its principles on Kashmir integration very clearly in its election manifesto earlier this year, before the conduct of the Indian Parliamentary elections, so it says that it is just implementing its manifesto commitments.

Pakistan does not see it that way. I was watching Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.N., being interviewed by Christiane Amanpour on CNN yesterday. I have to acknowledge one thing – Ms Lodhi was suave and articulate, perfectly balanced in her delivery to the questions: I would say that she did a great job as an individual interviewee with a tough journalist. However, her scathing remarks on India startled even Ms Amanpour. At the end of the day, it does not matter – whatever Ms Lodhi does at the U.N. or U.N.S.C., is not going to change the ground situation in Kashmir or the will of the Indian government.

From my own personal perspective, I am bothered more about the bottled up feelings and reactions of millions of Kashmiris who are likely to burst out and protest after the curfew is lifted. The government or the military cannot control an entire population by the lockdown imposed – eventually, it has to be lifted. People have to get back to their daily routines, offices have to function, schools have to start, markets have to work, internet has to be restored, phone connections have to be re-established, et al………the Indian Central Government cannot pursue the approach of non-stop military intimidation against ordinary Kashmiris who are not terrorists. Sympathies cannot be used as excuses for such aggressive lockdown – ordinary Kashmiris will have their own sympathies lying with protesters, and antipathy against government machinery. Can that be changed for the better? for the benefit of India as a whole?

Things could easily get out of control when protests begin again. Police and para-military forces may not have much choice, and they are prone to commit grievous mistakes under pressure of assault by protesters. Pakistan will try to exacerbate the volatile situation by sending in official terrorists. The Indian government will take very aggressive police actions which would lead to human rights abuses and cries for international intervention. Thousands of people are likely to be killed or maimed.

So, the Indian Government has to think very, very carefully about escalating the situation. It needs to use social media and TV/Radio/Newspapers to communicate its approach lucidly and elaborate on its first 90-day plan to improve the lot of the common people of Kashmir. It also needs to explain its plans for the huge investments being planned, the jobs that can bring to Kashmiris, the improvements envisaged in the education system, the increased potential of tourism in a peaceful state, and so on and so forth. I do not see any evidence that such things are being planned.

The other thing that should happen is a global campaign by India to explain its actions on Kashmir and bring to light the atrocities committed by Pakistan-based terrorists over the past 3 decades in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. Why not a roadshow in the top 10 nations of the world and at the U.N. itself (though it is a useless organization in my opinion)?

It is critical for India to (a) strengthen its defences along the actual Line of Control separating the two Kashmirs; (b) launch a campaign to explain its principled position to the global audience; (c) strictly avoid human casualties going forward; and (d) directly communicate to the Kashmiris via social media on the benefits of integration with India.

Police or military atrocities in Kashmir will not be a good idea at all, irrespective of the provocations, as that will lead to continued alienation of all Kashmiris from mainstream India.

Hope Mr Modi and Mr Shah will think through the consequences extremely carefully.

Cheers, and have a great long weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th August 2019

People Power – not the right approach


Is People Power, meaning protests, demonstrations, civil disobedience and disruptions by common citizens, the right approach to dislodge elected governments?

Increasingly, we are witnessing people power protests even in democracies. Of course, it is no wonder if people protest in countries like Russia (happened yesterday in Moscow in support of opposition party leaders who could not get on to the ballot), which falls in a grey area between truly elected democracies and autocratic form of almost essentially single party governments (though apparently elected).

But it becomes challenging to define people protests in countries like Hong Kong (which is not a country but a special administrative region of China) which disrupt the normal functioning of a global financial centre, with no apparent end in sight. When such protests turn violent, then the governments have to enforce law and order.

Then you have the long-running people protests in Venezuela against the incumbent government of President Nicolas Maduro. If an elected President has to succumb to people protests, that is not a sustainable form of government, irrespective of the moral rights and wrongs facing Venezuelans. What is the guarantee such protest mechanism will not be re-used in the future to pull down a duly elected government with popular mandate? How is Venezuela going to eliminate foreign governmental influence in such a situation?

If you dial back to 2010, you would recall the “Arab Spring” – a series of protests, demonstrations and violence which spread across a series of North African and Middle Eastern countries. Only Tunisia achieved a transition to democratic form of government as a result of the Arab Spring people protests. All the other countries failed in their democratic transformation efforts, though some changes occurred in the way governance was administered.

If you dial back to some 100 years ago, you would recall the non-violent people protests organised by Mahatma Gandhi against British rule of India, which eventually succeeded in securing independence for India.

But things are very different today. Social, political and economic situations are vastly different. Social media has been instrumental in driving the Arab Spring revolution across several countries. However, what has become clear is that anti-democratic governments are not going to give up power despite people protests and in some cases, armed rebellion like in Syria. The deeply entrenched political and ruling elite will fight back against the common people, and will win the battle most of the time.

Given this kind of evolution of people power, is it any wonder that most people protests are not succeeding anymore? For unorganised people to wage a protest against the power of a government, it is essential that violence should be avoided – at least on the people side. Gandhi took the physical attacks on him by the British police valiantly as he knew that he needed to show both to the British government and to his own people that he was totally unafraid and capable of facing the police baton. He did not encourage his people to indulge in any form of violence or conflict with the police. It is only futile to expect that the government will strive to avoid violence in the face of threat to its own existence.

In my opinion, people protests are definitely futile in truly anti-democratic government run countries. In democratic countries, people protests should not be warranted at all as people have access to ballots in an election. The only situations which warrant people power are (a) liberation of a country from an occupying foreign nation; (b) serious endemic corruption in any kind of country; and, (c) lack of action by the government to implement its commitments made via election manifesto of the ruling party presented to the people during elections, leading to increased poverty and unemployment. There could be couple more situations, but in any such protests, people should totally avoid violence and should not give a basis for their governments to perpetrate official violence.

On the situation in Hong Kong, I am on the side of the government though I sympathise with the protesters, especially the students. Protesters cannot impose pre-conditions for negotiations, which we have seen are mostly deal-breakers.

So, in a nutshell, people power is not a good idea as it leads to quick deterioration in civil society and economy, and brings a nation to its knees. Is that something that the people desire? I am not sure.

Cheers, and have a good week ahead,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th July 2019

Edging towards a Conflict


The U.S. is “itching” for the next war in the Middle East, and is edging towards a potential conflict with Iran. Very soon. Not at all good for the U.S. Hopefully the President of the U.S. will now take a better quality decision based on real facts on the ground, instead of getting prodded by Saudi Arabia, which has been itching to eliminate its only major religious enemy in the Middle East, which is Iran.

When the U.S. has gone to war, its cabinet has always managed to cook up an excuse. If the excuse is credible, like what appeared to be in the case of Iraq (when the evidence was presented in the U.N.), then the U.S. Allies would join in a common cause against a common enemy. But now we know that the WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) excuse cooked up by the U.S. was non-existent in Iraq – and Colin Powell sullied his name and reputation forever, along with George W Bush and other officials. Collectively, they created a major fake excuse to wage a war on a defenseless country, which has caused probably close to a million deaths over the past 15 years, and not less than USD 2T in cost to the American taxpayers (which could have been invested on U.S. infrastructure). A totally unnecessary war, which fed the appetite of the war-hungry defence manufacturing companies, and which managed to create a huge backlash via the ISIS formation, and subsequent blowbacks. Let us also not forget the fact that over 5,000 U.S. servicemen sacrificed their lives. I do not have the count of how many allied servicemen died in the Iraqi war (which started in 2003).

A similar thing happened in Vietnam when a fax communication from a U.S. warship was construed as an excuse to attack Vietnam, which then caused huge miseries on both sides of the conflict. All in the name of eliminating Communism, which was considered an arch-enemy of Democratic Capitalism in the Sixties and Seventies………but Communism is still not dead. Vietnam is still a Communist country, so is China, Russia, Cuba and several other nations. The main issue is the calamity of deaths caused by wars.

I agree with President Donald Trump on one thing: the U.S. should not take up the role of the world’s policeman, and should withdraw from unnecessary conflicts. It is up to the individual countries affected to forge an international opinion and a coalition if needed. The U.S. is a very large country and the world’s #1 economy, and it should worry more about China than any other nation on earth (not even Russia!). President Trump is absolutely right to say that the U.S. actually does not benefit from any war situation (apart from selling more arms to Saudi Arabia!), and should not get drawn into any new conflict.

The jury is out on Iran, of course. Without the U.S., the rest of the signatories to the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran are not able to make much progress – they are, in fact, struggling to talk to Iran and contain the fallout of the U.S. pullout from the JCPOA. Iran has set ultimatums, and is now on the verge of breaking free from several commitments made in that agreement. If it does so, and enriches Uranium to a weapons-grade level with more advanced centrifuges (which it has the capability to manufacture and run), then all hell will break loose. The Europeans will have no stomach to continue their support for Iran. The U.S. will then get its “allies” back in any potential conflict with Iran. Look at how this story is playing out!

Well, none of us would like to have yet another useless war in the Middle East, which, apart from more casualties and destruction of a very ancient Persian culture, would also lead to oil breaching the USD 100 per barrel price point. This will lead to huge inflation in all oil-consuming countries, including the U.S. We cannot also forget the real fact that Iran is a much stronger adversary than Iraq (and Saddam Hussein), with significant resources at its disposal. And further, any UN Security Council resolution on waging war on Iran will most certainly be defeated by BOTH Russia and China (who have now banded together against the U.S. for good). I am also not sure if Germany, France and the U.K. will support such a resolution, given the world’s very fragile situation.

We should hope that wiser counsel influences the White House and the U.S. Congress. I support President Trump’s call for negotiations with Iran. I am surprised that the Iranian Government rejected it during their meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week in Tehran. It does not show positive intent to avoid a looming conflict, which Iran should avoid at any cost. While national pride and self-respect are very important to any nation, it is also critical to avoid unnecessary bloodshed against the most powerful country in a completely avoidable war. I hope the Iranians see the point and start talking via their usual interlocutors – any positive communication will be sure to get an overtly and strongly positive tweet response from President Trump. He can then go on to demonstrate how good a negotiator he is and work out a new agreement with Iran.

We all know that if he solves the North Korea, Israel-Palestine and Iran problems, he is destined to get the Nobel Peace Prize! Does he deserve it? I don’t know, but then he is the most powerful guy on this planet and is surely capable of getting things done and solving intractable problems faced by the world. Every U.S. President tries to do so, the only difference now is the occupation of the White House by one of the most unique Presidents ever, who is trying a completely different undiplomatic approach in a very public manner. Let us give him a chance!

Welcome to the continuing world of “seat of the edge conflicts” with a romantic mix of diplomatic tweets thrown in. Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and have a wonderful week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th June 2019

New Emerging Global Alignments


The world was ordered in a specific way for the past over seven decades.

The Western Alliance has dominated the world order all these years with its commitment towards freedom and democracy, international institutions, peace and capitalistic form of economic growth.

The Eastern or Russia-dominated Alliance generally failed in its mission of establishing Communism as a preferred form of government, and collapsed in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is also considered as an economic failure with state-dominated economic paradigms which relied on curtailing individual freedoms and free enterprise. The only difference was that the countries in this alliance belonged to the same international institutions and were forced to respect their rules and regulations.

The West and the East never met in a happy manner all this while with few exceptions – one comes to mind: the collaboration on the International Space Station, launched by Russia in 1998, and still operating with multinational participation.

Now, in 2019, things are changing. The Western Alliance has become shaky in itself, due to reasons now well understood by the entire world: President Donald Trump and Brexit. There are fissures appearing all over this successful alliance, due to leadership differences and approaches. Western Europe is caught in a bind, as the iron-clad support that they had been enjoying from the U.S. all these years suddenly appear to be not so firm. The U.K. is destined to leave the European Union (EU) very soon. Russia has been flexing its muscles with the inscrutable President Putin running the show on the Eastern flank of Western Europe. Turkey (a NATO member) is threatening to collaborate more closely with Russia than with the U.S. with the induction of sophisticated S-400 missile systems and is likely to be ejected from the F-35 fighter plane program by the U.S. as a result. And so on and so forth……….you just need to keep abreast of the news and you will know what I am talking about.

Whereas the “Eastern” Alliance is suddenly on the resurgence, though not with the same set of old USSR partner countries, but with the potent combination of two Super Powers – Russia and China. At the St Petersburg economic forum earlier this week, the bonhomie between President Putin and President Xi Jinping was on show for everyone to see. If and when they combine militarily and economically, they could easily challenge the mightiness of the U.S. all around the world. We already see them cooperating in Venezuela keeping Mr Nicolas Maduro in power, who is detested by the U.S. There is no question about the combined might of Russia and China – both well-established nuclear and missile powers with UN Security Council vetoes on hand. It is inevitable that bilateral trade between the two countries will now increase dramatically, with one variation: the balance of trade will be in favour of Russia!

Other countries will now be left in the lurch as this emerging global alliance will demand commitment to their cause. Most Asian countries play both ways – they welcome U.S. investment and military policing in the oceans around them, while also embracing China which is well on its way to becoming the world’s biggest economy by GDP in the next few years. Big claims by China on the ownership of the South China Sea has upset many Asian nations, but they can hardly do anything against China. The African countries will follow China in general, as it has been extending huge loans for their development.

The emergence of China on the world stage as an economic and military super power will now have the full support of Russia, another super power though on a weakened platform. Most countries will do business with both alliances for military procurement, and keep their silence on contentious issues which could cloud bilateral relations.

So, for the next decade or so, there will be global challenges on almost all issues which dominate the world’s attention, and a fight between the two alliances. The unfortunate thing is that the Western Alliance as we know it today, might get further weakened, though not decimated. We should also not forget that the member countries have democratic elections, and governments change every few years, potentially causing more instability, which is generally not the case with Russia and China. There is of course, a significant price for freedom and democracy as we all know.

The worry is that a deliberate miscalculation, such as an invasion of Taiwan by China, could cause a limited global war. Russia will surely support China in that eventuality, and Japan will support Taiwan; and the U.S. will defend Taiwan, as required by a law passed by the U.S. Congress in the Seventies. China might impose a trade and shipping embargo in the South China Sea. All this is entirely possible.

While I am not offering any “consultancy” (!) towards averting the West – East Cold War from emanating again, it is only reasonable to expect that nations sit down and talk instead of war mongering. While Washington think tanks are active on scenario projection especially focused on the doomsday, peace overtures do not create enough attention. President Putin has been constantly seeking to reduce the tension by asking for a full presidential summit with President Trump – it is now absolutely clear that the U.S. sanctions on Russia have not had the desired effect, and Russia is making economic progress on its own with or without the U.S. and the Western countries. You cannot just sanction off every difference with other nations who just could not care less!

A lot of food for intense thought amongst concerned people like us, I guess!

Cheers, and have a great week ahead,

Vijay Srinivasan

09 June 2019

The Nuclear Disaster


I saw the “Chernobyl” miniseries on HBO recently. This huge nuclear explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant happened in 1986 in what is now Ukraine – it was part of the USSR (Soviet Russia) at that time.

Almost everyone knows what could have happened to completely decimate the European Continent if things had been allowed to further deteriorate from the precipice at which the Chernobyl nuclear power plant found itself on the 24th April 1986. Most of the western part of Russia and Western Europe would have become uninhabitable for at least a hundred years.

I am not going to delve into the technicalities of the nuclear disaster itself, which pertains to the faulty Russian design of the specific type of reactor (there are still some 10 such reactors in operation in Russia even today, can you believe it?).

What puzzled me the most while viewing the Chernobyl miniseries (which had 5 episodes) was the arrogance of the power plant management hierarchy which refused to see or believe what really happened, and tried to hide behind the Soviet Communist Party hierarchy, blaming various technical folks for their mismanagement. The other more critical aspect was the absolute loyalty that the Party and the Government expected of its managers, rather than the scientific analysis that was put in front of them by one of the most seasoned nuclear veterans in the country (who was almost thrown to the dogs by the KGB in 1988). All the occurrences depicted in the play may not be true or accurate, but I would expect a close adherence to what the witnesses stated in many depositions over the years, and that was surely the case.

Communism was and is never a form of government that can be suitably justified – there have been a long string of failures of Communist governments, the still ongoing examples being that of Cuba and North Korea, and several others. Communism depended on an absolute commitment to respecting and serving a dilapidated party hierarchy, which was far removed from the realities on the ground (or, which chose to remain isolated). Compare the Chernobyl nuclear disaster with the The Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in the U.S. – you can immediately see the vast difference between the transparency and accountability of a Democratic dispensation and an autocratic functioning of the Communist form of government.

It is no wonder to infer that the Chernobyl disaster eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, though the Communist Party survived. Russia became a bit more transparent as a result, after several countries broke away from its orbit. Gorbachev did the right thing of bringing in “Glasnost” or transparency in the way that USSR operated, he realised that he needed Western technology and assistance. As we see in this miniseries episodes, Gorbachev made the right decisions as the disaster unfolded with total support to the effort to contain it.

I am not commenting here on the way that Russia had progressed ever since, but am still bothered that the Chernobyl-kind of reactors still operating in Russia have not yet been decommissioned. The big issue with nuclear power is that it is not fool-proof, and also the very damaging and life-threatening effects of any disaster involving a nuclear power plant are not contained within the country which operates the plant. It could be a disaster for the entire world. Lack of transparency and accountability are the key areas of concern under an opaque system of governance, and these issues have not gone away. Thousands of lives could have been saved if stupid administrators of the power station and party-driven bureaucrats had done their job in the case of the Chernobyl disaster.

I am not giving a clean chit to democratic countries however. They are also eminently capable of hiding problems, but if a problem is likely to explode beyond their control, they instantly become totally transparent. They would seek cooperation across the government. Not like the manner in which the noted Soviet nuclear scientist Legasov was treated by the Soviet government bureaucracy with apathy and disdain.

There are good and capable scientists on both sides – there is no doubt about it. However, scientist operate in only one way, seeking the underlying truth and addressing the problems. Exactly like the way Legasov approached the Chernobyl disaster with a series of solutions while explaining the fundamentals of nuclear fission to Communist party officials. Democracy or Communism – these ideologies are not going to change science, but they can undermine science by relegating scientific findings to the backyard of trash, exactly like what U.S. President is doing with the science of Climate Change, which he refuses to understand or appreciate, while the outcomes of climate change are spreading throughout the world.

So, if we learn one lesson from Chernobyl, it is respect for science and its findings. It cannot be cost optimisation due to lack of budget, which is a key reason why the Soviet nuclear reactor was badly designed and implemented, with no regard to safety. It is also the reason why the Chernobyl Reactor No. 3 was run at low power for 12 hours, instead of its rated power, and the reactor design was not suited to long hours of low power operation, etc…….there were several reasons why the nuclear core exploded, and there is a lot of physics and chemistry involved!

See the HBO miniseries – it will have a serious impact on you, and let me tell you that you can neither ignore the power of science nor the stupidity of politicians or bureaucrats.

Excellent!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

08 June 2019

The World of Intolerance


The world is becoming more intolerant. This is a fact, and not fake news!

I am here specifically referring to intolerance within a society, or towards immigrants in a society. This intolerance is a by-product of animosity which has always existed in any society towards minority religions, minority races, and immigrants from economically disadvantaged countries. Immigrants include asylum seekers who are facing religious or racial persecution in their own countries. Immigrants include folks who just want a better life for their children and who are fleeing countries like Venezuela where their own currency is completely worthless. Apart from immigrants, any society has built-in, embedded fault lines. In some societies, these are well managed and duly contained by governmental and social leadership. In some other societies, these fault lines manifest in terms of on and off violence towards other religions or races which fall under the minority category.

The entire world has been witnessing the serious fault lines in the U.S. society, where minority freedoms are under serious threat (there has always been a serious issue in the U.S. when it comes to minority rights) in the vicious atmosphere created by President Trump’s utterances, and the increasingly reckless shootings of unarmed Blacks by the police. I laugh when the U.S. State Department issues their reports on religious and racial freedom issues in other countries – I am not belittling such issues, but how can the U.S. take the high moral ground when its own house is in serious disarray? But then, there is no other nation which issues such reports, and we need to really know the status in the countries that the U.S. is pointing fingers at. It would be better if the U.N. does its job properly, but unfortunately it does not perform the “policing” and “monitoring” activities well when it comes to religious and racial persecution – and if it does, then it always comes very late, by the time most damage is already done. The U.N. also does not have the moral high ground as it listens to the powerful countries which fund its operations more than the poorer countries where most issues are present. The U.N. also does not have the guts to investigate similar issues in the most powerful countries such as the U.S.

When right-wing political parties take power in democratic nations, the problem of intolerance gets accentuated. Why is this so? It is because the right-wingers resent the traditional libertarian left-wing activists, who elegantly combine their elitism with egalitarianism. The right-wingers generally wear their likes and dislikes on their sleeves, and are mostly dominated by religious and racist tendencies leading to non-separation of powers between the state and the religion, even where such separation is mandated as in the U.S. or India. The emergence of right-wing governments in large, diverse countries is a serious cause of concern, though the fight has always got to be at the hustings and not in the streets. The problem with left-wing activists is that they are very quick to take to the streets and their activism could rapidly degenerate into street violence. That should be avoided at all costs, as such violence gives strong rationale for the right-wing governments to take retaliatory action and squelch any revolutionary tendencies.

The feeling of intolerance is insidious, it seeps into the veins – and it is trans-generational. The Black slavery matter is still a huge problem in the U.S. for the past three centuries, and the blatant discrimination of the Blacks in American society is no secret. The scar on the conscience of Whites is so bad that even Congressmen have started talking about reparations to the Black people. Universities are discussing about how to compensate Blacks for all the slavery and atrocities committed by White slave masters. I am no student of American history, and cannot comment further on what should be done, but all of us see the hugely negative media coverage about unarmed Blacks being shot at by mostly White policemen in American cities and counties. Such recurring problems are not prevalent in most other democratic countries, including India.

Why are people so influenced by race and religion?

There is no simple straightforward answer. It is a complex matter with no clear answer. Since “old” and even “middle-aged” folks cannot be changed easily, we have to rely on the education system to properly educate the next generation on such serious matters. Since we cannot depend just on self-policing by the society, the governments of the day have to legislate non-discrimination with violations to be punished vigorously. Law enforcement requires to be seriously educated, surely in the U.S., where guns are pulled out by the police at the drop of the hat and aimed at the head or chest rather than the leg!

All this does not address the emergence of right-wingism, unless the moderates come to the fore and fight the battle. Right-wing politicians prefer brute force in general, and law enforcement gets encouragement by such people; they push through their ideologies and policies in a rather vigorous manner, and create new intolerance in societies where none existed. They inflame passions wherein these were simmering just below the surface. Of course, they will claim that they want to change the country for the better, make it more secure, reclaim its past glory, et al. However, the intolerance quotient will keep raising, and will eventually damage the society at its core, like it has happened in the U.S.

I am not a left-winger. The best way to characterise me is that I am a moderate. But since I am liberal in my thoughts, it comes through as left-wing activism when I write on matters such as these. My preference is to seek a balance in whatever we do both in our personal life as well as social life. Government should be even more balanced, as it is the government for all of the citizens, not just for the people who voted for it to be elected to office.

So, let us carefully think about the imbalances and inequities in the society in which we live in. We are worthless if we cannot collectively address the problems in our society. We are also worthless if we do not grasp the inequalities in other societies and share our thoughts about such problems, as what happens in one society has influence in other societies. We are, at the end of the day, totally interlinked in this new world of social media, right?

Intolerance is insidious and should not be encouraged or tolerated in any society.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th May 2019

The Venezuelan Conundrum


Let me share my conclusion right at the beginning of this post. Given my original reading that foreign military forces should not invade Venezuela and kick out the current President Nicolas Maduro, my current conclusion is surprising. Though the recent elections which Mr Maduro won were considered to be heavily rigged, Venezuela still continues to be a socialist democracy, and my thinking was that it is not appropriate to intervene militarily in a democratic nation just because you do not like the current leadership.

So, what is the rationale for my revised conclusion that it would now be OK for a military overthrow of a democratically elected government?

Well, it is strange, but one cannot ignore the humanitarian crisis that has plunged Venezuela from one of the richest Latin American countries to the poorest country in about a span of two decades. Further, its economy has shrunk by half in the past 5 years. More than 10% of the population has fled from the country. Children are dying of malnutrition and shortage of essential medicines. Venezuela has the distinction of the first country ever to cross a million % inflation. People are not able to sustain their livelihood. Oil exports have fallen dramatically after the imposition of sanctions by the U.S., which was also Venezuela’s biggest oil consumer.

I do not agree that the way to punish a country is via sanctions which are designed to punish the government, but instead punishes the poor citizens. The U.S. has again erred in its judgement on sanctioning Venezuela. The sanctions have worsened an already very bad situation, while the government and the rich folks seem to be sailing along.

Juan Guaido, the self-appointed President, has been unable to secure the support of the military which appears to remain loyal to Nicolas Maduro. Guaido has the support of the U.S., Canada, the EU as well as many other countries.

But Maduro has the support of Cuba, Russia and China.

Venezuela is becoming the next flashpoint in the proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. Looking at what Russia was able to achieve in Syria, it is only natural that the U.S. should be concerned.

So, what is my conclusion?

Nicolas Maduro should go and there should be an interim government installed under the auspices of the United Nations. Russia and the U.S. should not play their hands in the manner in which Venezuela will be run or governed (though it is a tall order, as Juan Guaido has been open about his alignment with the U.S.). The United Nations should take immediate globally supported actions to address the humanitarian crisis, and provide food, medicines and other essential items to the long suffering Venezuelan people.

So, again, how is Maduro going to be dislodged?

That would require military intervention by the U.S., or a joint effort by the UN Security Council. Nicolas Maduro should be let go, instead of bombing him and his leadership – may be Cuba will receive him with honours. Russia should be able to protect its massive oil investments in the country without being dictated to by the incoming Venezuelan government. The sooner this happens, the better it is for Venezuela. Continuing the status quo, punctuated by weak protests organised by the Opposition and lack of support of the military, will only compound the crisis and make it the worst humanitarian disaster in the world itself.

So, this would require cooperation between Russia and the U.S. (China will just follow Russia’s lead), which would not be difficult to secure if both parties negotiate in good faith. The U.S. Congress should be ignored as they are totally against any form of cooperation with Russia. We are not talking about the U.S. here, we are talking about Venezuela and its humanitarian crisis, so let there not be any hurdles in the process of resolution.

This is what I think is the right approach given the ground situation, which remains unsolvable. Nicolas Maduro has to be told by the Russians to leave, and the military generals should be given an opportunity to work for the new government, or else they can go as well. A military intervention could just be a show of force supporting the Russian actions on the ground – no bombing or foreign boots on the ground might be necessary. This is not like Syria – people are not fighting against each other. The current government should just pack up and leave peacefully.

Looks like a big deal. May not happen at all.

But, there might be no other option.

Think about it – Juan Guaido is not going anywhere. Nicolas Maduro, however, can be “persuaded” by the Russians, instead of the U.S. who hate him and his guts. He can then survive an inevitable coup attempt which could occur in the future and the resultant incarceration.

Let us see how this develops in the next couple of weeks. It should be precipitated by intervention, no other choice.

Have a great week ahead, folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th May 2019