Category: Humanity

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

Charlie’s Counsel


I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.

He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.

Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.

He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.

It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?

If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.

Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.

May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?

What are you going to do with that money?

We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.

So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?

A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.

Have a good one.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anti-Climate


President Donald Trump again made history this week.

He withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed by 195 countries, including the U.S. It was a signature achievement of President Obama, working closely with other world leaders. The U.S. became a leader in effecting positive climate change under the auspices of this historic climate agreement, in close cooperation with countries such as Germany, France, China and India.

Now, the biggest Carbon emitter of the world is leaving this agreement.

President Trump stated that the agreement was unfair to Americans. He promised to walk out of the agreement during his campaign, and he has done so, without so much as consultation with energy academics and the industry.

Good. Now the global climate leadership shifts to who else, but China. Increasingly, China is finding itself in leadership roles due to the vacuum created by the U.S. and it is happily grabbing the same with glee. Why not? Europe is looking for replacing the U.S. with China, and it is already happening this week, with the visit of the Chinese Premier to Germany.

President Trump needs to realize that he does not need to keep all his campaign promises. He is now President of the U.S. and the U.S. has a global obligation not to walk out of agreements that it has signed on. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Paris agreement is non-binding. Once signed, it should stay signed on for ever.

Climate change is for real, and if the global temperatures rise by 2 degrees there will be disaster. I am wondering how come the vaunted U.S. academics in the field of energy and environment did not make serious attempts to influence the thinking of the U.S. government and President Trump on this most critical challenge confronting the planet.

In any case, now that the damage is done, what next?

The world will go on, now with only 194 countries supporting the climate agreement. Who are the three dissenters? Nicaragua, Syria and the U.S. Does the U.S. want to be in this glorious company of nations? President Trump needs to think more carefully about making such critical decisions for the welfare of his own country. It is a wrong and completely misinformed decision.

I am sure that the decision will be reversed. If not by President Trump, by the very next President.

Coal is out of fashion in the environment conscious world. Citizens want clean energy. They want clean air and clean water. Fossil fuels is not the way to go. It should be nuclear energy, solar energy, wind energy, et al………the world is changing, old habits are dying, new habits are taking root with the young demographics……….how can anyone refute this positive momentum coursing throughout the world?

When China and India signed on to this agreement after arduous negotiations, the world heaved a sigh of relief. The most difficult country was India which did not wish to sacrifice economic growth and jobs for the sake of signing the climate agreement. Compromises were made and finally India signed on and the world celebrated, and now the U.S. which applied so much pressure on India to sign, has exited the agreement.

What kind of message does this U.S. action send to India, China and the rest of the world?

Let us hope no other nation exits the agreement.

Climate change is for real.

It will affect the future of our planet earth irretrievably.

If we do not take much needed actions today and strictly control carbon emissions.

So, let us all execute what our respective nation has committed to honour via this agreement.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

03 June 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

Gurus not exempt from Law


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.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd April 2017

Religions and Future Generations


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,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2017

Secularism under threat


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!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th March 2017