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?
01 May 2017
Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.
Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.
Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.
However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.
Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.
It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?
Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.
22nd April 2017
My views on the unnecessary importance that we ascribe to religions in our lives and the extraordinary negative impact that the segregation of people is having on societies around the world are well established via this blog communication in the past. I have written about the destruction caused by religions over the centuries and how religions divide, rather than unite us.
While nothing much has changed in our societies with regard to the treatment of religions and the impact that the religions have on societies, it is now widely accepted that multiple religions with differing philosophies have succeeded in dividing people, and polarize their views about what is right and what is wrong. Strong indoctrination of religious principles which are not subject to debate and discussion, has further fomented these divisions. Only a few religions are pacific, the rest push for indoctrination of principles, adoption of basic tenets, and followership of the “cult” to the exclusion of all others.
Added to the above religious divisions forged by major religions, the caste system perpetrated in India (for example) has further deeply polarized the society. While the caste system in itself is deplorable, the adoption of non-economic criteria in stratifying a country’s population into haves and have-nots has worsened the deep divisions in society, and has led to the departure of meritocracy from running of the society and the country. India was accordingly set back by several decades when compared to caste-less societies such as Japan or China, which are much more homogeneous in population demographics and treatment of citizens.
We argue vigorously oftentimes that equal treatment should be meted out to equal votes from citizens. Such is not always the case even in developed countries. There are very few examples wherein countries do not even differentiate based on gender – these are the Nordic countries which have reached a very advanced state of development, not found even in the wealthiest and more developed nations such as the U.S., U.K., or Germany. The treatment that citizens usually receive in countries such as India is dependent on religion, caste, race, colour or gender. We tend to ignore such treatment from society in the hope that economic advancement will eventually obliterate such divisive tactics. I am not so sure.
While we have felt the acute impact of religious and caste divides in our current generation, somehow we have been able to navigate our way through not just one system, but multiple systems, during our lifetime. This may be because of the early experiences that many of us have had in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, which had made most of us rather matured for our time. The ability to navigate the world in an equitable and non-offensive manner, while keeping our heads firmly on our shoulders, has been a key characteristic of our generation who are now in our fifties.
But, what about the next generation and the one after it?
My worry is that the next generation who are in their teens and twenties are not yet experienced the way we were – probably they will never get our experience because they have grown up mostly outside India. The conditions are vastly different and meritocracy is the norm rather than the exception, and societies have matured rather aggressively towards equal and equitable treatment in a conscious way. This did not happen overnight of course, but took several decades of enlightened governance with the interests of citizens at heart.
However, as we move towards our twilight years, we need to be concerned about how our future generations will shape up and react to the world at large when it comes to the articifical divisions caused by religions. I always believed that we should set an active example, by following our own religion in a light manner (not with a lot of religiosity) without too many rituals which segregate us even from our own people (meaning other Indians in my case), and have an inquisitive mind on any subject matter thrown in front of us as an “accomplished” fact or a done deal. I wrote recently about thinking, and it is an extremely critical concept. If we do not think for ourselves and the world, then we would be doing what our ancestors had been doing over centuries without questioning their larger impact. If I am not considered as very religious, that is by my own design. I do not wish to be “special” in any category that divides me from others. I go to temples, but I also visit churches and mosques occasionally. We should look not for conformity, but for unity in what unites us all. I have communicated my thoughts to my family members, and sometimes to my close friends. I have not always received a positive sync, but I thought there indeed was a sense of appreciation on my thinking for myself. I do not of course, wish to indoctrinate anyone!
Coming to the conclusion, it is my earnest submission that people should look for similarities while maintaining their individuality. Non-conformance to a tenet or philosophy does not mean any kind of insult is proferred. Every individual has a right to his or her own thinking. It is most important to shape the thinking of future generations accordingly.
Let us all think! It is the most important thing to do today!!
Cheers, and Have a great weekend,
15th April 2017
India has been a fine example of secularism since Independence from the British in 1947. The country was a Hindu-majority nation in 1947 (and still remains so though with a diminished Hindu population), but chose to embrace secularism as one of its main pillars of governance, separating religion from the government irrespective of the religious affiliation of the governing party. Secularism became embedded in the conscience of the nation, and India remained an envy for many countries who could not achieve that balance. Indonesia was another successful example which adopted secularism in a Muslim-majority country.
The main benefit to the citizens was the equal treatment accorded not just in the eyes of the law but in every facet of life. Minorities got integrated into the society and though there were incidents of stray attacks on them over the years, the racial segregation of the blacks in the U.S. was not witnessed in India. Secularism was the pride of India for many decades.
However, the way Indian politics operates has long been detrimental to the future of minorities in the country. All parties appease the minorities to win elections, making promises that could not be kept without disturbing the delicate fabric of society. Eventually the majority Hindus got alienated but became helpless when the minorities started deciding the election winners in many constituencies. Unfortunately, this was the result of monumental mistakes committed by all political parties of India, especially the Congress Party which ruled India for many decades, but has been on serious decline after the ascendancy of Mr Modi’s BJP Party.
Now, secularism as a principle of stability of the country has come under serious threat. Prime Minister Modi has been ruling India with a better and stronger hand at the till than any of his predecessors for the past over two years. He moved away from his past when he was more known as the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the inter-religious communal violence when more than a thousand Muslims perished, to an economic development plank which has widely been admired, especially outside India. For him not to consolidate the development gains of the past two years and aggressively move towards a Hindutva platform as the main aftermath of the U.P. Elections could turn out to be counterproductive to his primary mission of uplifting India and creating jobs.
The Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) State of India is its largest state with a population of 220M, which would position it as one of the top 10 populous nations of the world if it were an independent country. It is also a diverse state, with Muslims constituting 20% of the population. It sends 80 Members to the national Parliament, and it is often stated that if a party wins U.P., it would win India. Given its importance, and its economic backwardness, it is only natural for Mr Modi to carefully select a Chief Minister who would unite the state’s populations under a strong economic focus, centred on creating millions of jobs and improve the infrastructure. Instead, Mr Modi and his BJP Party selected a firebrand politician who has long been known for his divisive and militant political approach, and who incites fear in the minorities.
What India needs is development, not divisiveness. What India needs is a million jobs a month for its aspiring young citizens who are coming into the workforce. What India needs is strong infrastructure. What India needs is equal treatment for all its citizens as enshrined in the Constitution. What India needs is secularism. By moving away from these core principles, India will create in-house militancy on both sides of the religious divide. If Muslims do not have jobs, if they are discriminated across the society and economy, if they are always under attack and live with a fear psychosis, then what is the difference between Mr Trump’s fear politics which incites racial hatred and that of Mr Modi? Society cannot be divided, it needs to be united. By following a very divisive and militant politics, India is sure to create more terrorists in-house, who are frustrated with the society, economy and lack of opportunities. And, then, Pakistan would make use of this frustration and attack the core of India. Anyway, what then would be the difference between a theology-driven Pakistan and a theology-driven India?
Should we allow this to happen? Can Mr Modi rethink his strategy? He needs all Indians to support him in his economic development agenda for India. That is possible only if he is seen as a uniting force all across the country. India is not just a “Hindu” nation, it is a secular country for all its citizens and it should set a glorious example for the rest of the world. India might even be able to convince Mr Trump as to the need for the U.S. to remain totally secular and non-racist!
25th March 2017
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.
18th March 2017
I don’t know how many people read about this report by the U.N. which was presented to the Security Council last week.
Starvation. Famine. Deaths. Irreversible losses in economic development. 20M people affected. Scary headlines, covered in almost all major news media. But does anyone care?
Most countries are currently in the process of getting their national budgets approved by their respective parliaments. During the year starting 1st April 2017, more than a trillion dollars will be spent just by the top 20 countries in the world, just only on defence – military expenditures and investments. The U.S. alone will spend nearly 600B dollars on its defences, dwarfing every other nation on the earth.
How much money flows to impoverished countries on the planet? Far less than a trillion dollars every year. The U.N. Humanitarian Chief, Stephen O’Brien says that he needs USD 4.4B by July 2017 if significant positive impact needs to be made to save people from disaster and death. Is that too much? It is not even 1% of a trillion dollars, and here we are talking about children dying because of lack of nutrition, food, water and shelter.
This is a very precarious situation, not just for the four affected countries (Yemen, South Sudan, Northeast Nigeria and Somalia), but is likely to spread across Africa if urgent actions are not taken. The U.N. should be ashamed for not pushing the envelope on this matter to all its member countries and demand that immediate financial assistance be rushed to the affected countries. Yemen is plagued by a non-stop war which is utterly destroying that country and its people, and the U.N. has failed to stop the war. Things are going from very bad to really worse, and should the rest of the world take urgent notice? It should, and take expeditious actions to avoid the onset of famine and deaths (especially among children).
Intervention is key to not just halting the war in Yemen and South Sudan, but also to stopping the famine from taking root. Other countries have to intervene and stop the people from self-destruction and warring.
If children under the age of 5 are malnourished or severely impacted by famine, then the results will be disastrous for their future. The world cannot afford to let this situation continue.
Saudi Arabia should stop bombing Yemen which has caused untold misery amongst the people of Yemen. While there is not much news coverage on the Yemen situation, it can be culled out by concerted searches which would reveal the scope of the disaster confronting the poor Yemeni people who have been bombed out of shape by Saudi Arabia with military aid from the U.S. and the U.K. This is not a positive situation, and over the past two years, Yemen has gone from really bad to really worse. And continuing military actions have to completely stop with full access to the U.N. Humanitarian teams to provide urgent relief to the people.
The latest U.N. report covers only 4 countries, but makes for a very sorry reading. Can the world devote resources to avert famine and malnourishment in the affected countries – can each nation dedicate at least 0.1% of their national budgets to Africa? Can the U.N. Security Council act fast? Can the U.S. step in and show its magnanimity? Can Europe do something? Can China and India do something positive to alleviate the sufferings of these folks? We are talking about the poor people of Africa, who are already totally impoverished and with no access to food or water.
Come on, we just cannot sit there quietly and read the news papers and the internet and watch the cable TV channels. We got to do something impactful. Let us write to our respective governments. How about contributing just USD 10 every month to the U.N. Humanitarian Emergency Relief Fund? Let me go and check on that.
OK here it is –
Look up for yourself. Your money will go directly to the emergency relief fund. There is no politician here!
Cheers, and No Cheers,
12th March 2017
I felt very bad when I read about two bad things going on in neighbouring countries.
One was the long-standing problem of atrocities committed on the Rohingya Muslim community in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, which lies to the south of the border with Bangladesh. While accusations against the Myanmar security forces need to be investigated, there is evidence of forced evictions of villagers and around 70,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh. The UN Human Rights Council has been approached by various institutions for establishing a commission of inquiry.
The other problem is the killings perpetrated by the Philippines security forces on drug traffickers, drug users and unfortunate bystanders including children as reported by CNN. I was shocked to see the report on children being killed in cold blood, and the pictures were brutal. Is this how a legally elected government treats its citizens? Where is the judiciary and where is justice?
On both these situations, the ASEAN governments have maintained silence as they have always done over the past five decades – when it comes to pointing out human rights violations and extrajudicial killings, these governments keep their views to themselves. They have always argued that economy is more important than politics, but we are not talking about politics here. Common citizens are being murdered on the streets by security forces, and such atrocities are a thing of the past in most countries. ASEAN boasts of a growing economic union of over USD 2.4T in GDP, and generally the nations in this union are on a growth path. But that cannot come at the expense of human rights, which are constitutionally granted to citizens in the democratic countries at least.
Ethnic cleansing and extrajudicial killings should have been stopped immediately. Wiser counsel should have been firmly and strongly delivered by the UN and ASEAN. But apparently, this did not happen. ASEAN believes in total non-interference in the affairs of its member states. This is the old, failed policy of the bigger non-aligned movement, in which India and Indonesia were big partners. If a close neighbour cannot even comment, afraid of being knocked out of the potential economic growth of the offending nation, then that is not a strong marriage. I doubt if ASEAN will ever rise to the occasion and provide firm counsel to offending partner countries on the nature of the advanced economic and social union that should be their collective objective. The European Union is a successful model (notwithstanding the stupid “Brexit” by the U.K.), and has withstood the test of time while persevering not just for a common currency and regulations, but achieving uniformity in foreign policies, laws and immigration, etc., Turkey is having trouble joining the EU because its policies are not compatible with the wider EU policies of co-existence.
I strongly believe it should be each citizen’s responsibility to raise his or her voice against atrocities and killings committed anywhere, especially in the neighbourhood. Without peace and tranquillity, economic cooperation and development cannot happen. It is not right that we turn a blind eye and continue operating as though nothing bad is happening in our neighbourhood. What kind of social living is that?
While a country cannot interfere in another country’s affairs, countries which have chosen to co-exist in a trading bloc or social partnership for collective advancement, should have the right to publicly highlight issues of concern instead of keeping such issues hush-hush.
We should be deeply sorry about the state of affairs, and should represent our views to our respective governments. That would be a true democracy and a responsible one, which cares for not just the livelihood of its citizens but lives of citizens and neighbours.
4th March 2017