The Make-Believe Yet Real


I have been wanting to write on this topic for quite a while.

I struggled with the title a bit, as I thought it should reflect what I really feel about the specific matter about which I am going to write in this post. How do I communicate about something in a succinct yet penetrating manner? I realized that I have to go a long way in mastering the English language! It has been tough though I might sound simplistic!!

This post is about the City-State of Singapore.

It is sometimes too hard to believe that this bustling city of 5.6M people produces a GDP of USD 330B, translating to USD 57K GDP per capita, placing it as the third richest country in the world. It is managed like a global corporation with efficient allocation of capital and resources, with long-term planning firmly in place, assuring its citizens and residents of long-term economic and political stability. It is hard to grow at more than 3% GDP growth rate for such a highly developed country with physical limitations on geographical size and population (which is not growing).

My point in writing this post is to compare how Singapore manages peace and prosperity in a cogent and planned manner, as compared to cities like Paris or New York or London. I cannot compare it with large countries as Singapore is just a city. When I look at the extensive TV coverage on the yellow-vest protest in Paris, or the multiple people protests in New York that went on last week, it is apparent that the respective governments are not doing a fine job of addressing the issues or grievances of the people who are protesting. Probably they couldn’t care less. There is law and order problem in almost every major city around the world – as we know, there are downtowns and also the seedier parts of town with criminal gangs operating in many cities. There is violence perpetrated every day – you just need to look at the gun-related crimes in the U.S. or even in just one major city in the U.S. to understand how far violence has embedded itself into the psyche of the American society.

I am not trying to say that people cannot protest to convey their views. This is possible in Singapore in a government regulated place which is designated for that purpose. Disrupting the city’s business and economy should not be the way. In cities in India, people protests are often infested with political parties’ radical elements who have their own agenda and also criminals who get a free ride to perpetrate violence in the guise of being part of such “people protests”. There is no way to control such situations. The images of public transport buses burning, public property damaged, private cars destroyed, civil services disrupted, and so on and so forth, have poured in even from such a civilized and cultured country such as France. The massive outpouring of people against the government is a big indication of disconnect between those who govern and those who are governed.

Violent protests causing damage and death have no place in civil society. The best way to bring down an elected government is to precipitate a massive defeat in the next elections – not to dethrone it via the undemocratic method of public violence. Such a thing has happened in many countries – such as Ukraine in 2014 when a popularly elected government was overthrown with the support of Western governments and people protests. [Note: I am not a supporter of Russia – I am mentioning this fact just as an example].

Of course, there are governments which suppress people protests with a heavy hand, causing further damage. They incarcerate people who did nothing but participate in protests for a long time without due process. There are many examples of such happenings around the world.

Governments which do not listen to their electorate will eventually face defeat in the subsequent elections. So, people have to be patient to exercise their franchise in the next elections. While peaceful protests are fine, how will any government ensure peace when they are dealing with some 10,000 or more people at one go in one place in a city? Law enforcement is likely to make errors in judgement.

Coming back to Singapore, the peace and prosperity remain the key tenets of the government and of the people. There is absolute sync between the government and its citizens on certain fundamental principles and frameworks. Citizens may not always agree with the government, and there are plenty of examples of such situations. I would mention the issues of overcrowding of subway system and immigration – there are many more. The government, however, heard the issues, analyzed the causes and addressed the same. It is absolutely critical that countries have “listening” governments.

The government – citizen compact has to be heavily communicated and understood. I agree that bigger countries such as the U.S., China, India and the U.K. have larger issues and more people problems to be tackled. Singapore may not have those kinds of problems and issues. The key difference is the measured approach, cautious thinking, consultations with key affected parties, and communication. As we can witness the current ongoing stalemate in the U.S. government shutdown, hard positions between key branches of government are untenable and unsustainable, because the affected people will eventually hit back. Maturity is needed, and if the elected President and House Speaker cannot even sit down and sort out the issues bedeviling the country, then the hope for a positive resolution drops considerably in the minds of the citizens. In the meanwhile, running of the government suffers, and 800,000 government servants are going without paycheck. Not at all acceptable in a civil society and in a democracy.

I can also cite the example of the U.K. where a “no-deal” Brexit is staring at peoples’ faces with its attendant uncertainty and impending economic chaos. If it were Singapore’s problem, it would have been tackled differently, in a more mature way. There is not much rationale in countering that Singapore would not have such an issue as Brexit. If an “Asian Union” were formed in the same manner as the European Union, then Singapore would be a part of it, and such a situation as Brexit is entirely feasible. A referendum is not a solution, in my opinion. Citizens are good in electing popular governments, but collective policy making cannot be sub-contracted to the whims and fancies of sections of society who could sway the vote which could affect the entire country and its people. This is a debatable argument, and I am not strong in propounding this – I have to work on strengthening the logic and rationale of such an argument. An elected government has been given the task of running the country in the best possible manner, and it has to execute its job keeping the best interests of its citizens, yet be ready to compromise where needed. There is nothing like “my way, or highway”. If that were the case, Malaysia and Singapore would not have enjoyed peaceful co-existence over the past five decades.

Well, I can keep going on. In a nutshell, the large countries of the world need enlightened governments with a broad perspective on public issues and long-term thinking. I know it is easier said than done, as large countries have fractious and finicky electorates and fragmented political parties. But then, we want the best amongst ourselves to govern us, right? It means that successful people in their own fields of endeavour have to be persuaded to participate in the political process and be part of the government execution even if they do not win elections.

Singapore continues to be one of the best managed countries in the world, even without the economic statistics to support it. If that is not the case, how do we explain the fact that foreigners who come here do not really wish to leave a city which has almost zero crime, decent economic opportunities based on merit, good public transport, almost all government services available on a digital mode to its citizens, a good healthcare system (although expensive), etc., though I have to state that the real estate is extremely expensive. It is a long track record which is hard to beat amongst the developed countries of the world.

Yes, it appears to be “make-believe” when you live here, yet it is absolutely real.

Have a great week ahead folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th January 2019

Wrong Expectations


This post might get me into trouble, I guess!

As my readers know well, I am a “liberal” in mindset, outlook and approach, but sometimes I have taken sides with conservatives when I feel the rational logic resides with them on a specific topic, though it has not been often. Everyone has a right to their own view, and everyone has a right to not support others’ views irrespective of the popularity or otherwise of such views.

I believe that liberal views promote an equitable society with a good balance, in general. However, I have always taken cognizance of the fact that conservatives have a certain hold on the richer, more well-to-do sections of the society which oftentimes get not only a seat at the table, but also get to make the rules of conformance in society. It is very true in a generally traditional, conservative and religious society.

Notwithstanding all the segmentation and fragmentation of societies the world over, there is one principle that I will never compromise on and that is, give equal opportunity to both sides (and to a third side, if that position exists!) so that arguments and counter-arguments can be heard and understood well. It is upto any individual to make his/her own conclusion, and it is also his or her prerogative to voice or not voice the same, in other words, you cannot force anyone publicly on a vote of conscience. This means tolerance and acceptance of contrarian views, though you may not agree with those views which could be anathema to your views. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same as acquiescence and agreement!

So, I read with interest the news coverage on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s wife going back to work for a strict evangelical Catholic school in Virginia. I warned you, my readers, that this could get rather sensitive! Some mainstream newsmedia covered her decision to rejoin the school and teach there, due to the avowed principles of the school against the LGBTQ section of the society and its non-admittance rules against any member of that group. The school further states that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and so on and so forth.

Without going further into the individual person’s choice to be associated with such a school, notwithstanding the fact that she is the Second Lady of the U.S. Government as the wife of the Vice President, it is not up to any one else to pass judgement on her action or behaviour – simply because she has the individual right to do so and the freedom to follow her heart. There is no official government endorsement or support for her action.

Mike Pence condemned the attack on his wife’s decision to serve in the school and also the attack on “Christian education”. I am not sure what he meant and which media really attacked, but as a beneficiary of Christian education right from Kindergarten to High School, I can only say that without the dedication of Christian education system, many of us in India would not have succeeded in life, despite most of us belonging to the Hindu religion.

Coming back to this Virginia school, I totally and unequivocally disagree with their principles, but they exist in a free society and they have teachers and students enrolled. So, there is a section of society in the U.S. which agrees with those severe and incompatible restrictions, and endorses such a system of education. I can tell you however, that there is no such Christian school ever that existed in India!

Coming back to Mrs Pence’s decision, I respect her choice – both Mr and Mrs Pence are openly espousing the cause and rationale of Christian Evangelism, and there is nothing wrong with their position. They have an inalienable, constitutionally protected right to do so. We have to give equal importance to such positions which are not hidden from sight and are openly stated and defended. In this moralistic or religious clash, no one can claim to be right or wrong. Both sides could even be right!

My personal position, as I stated earlier in this post, is that I am not taking sides with any one philosophy, I am a liberalist with my own views on almost everything under the Sun, and I will not endorse any position if that is not compatible with rational logic. I am not a political person, neither am I a deeply religious person. I am not a Christian but appreciate the service that the Christian school system rendered for me. I try to learn about and appreciate other religions as a philosophical curiosity venture than anything else. I have more and enough blog posts on my blog site to justify what I am stating above!

In a nutshell, let us not have wrong expectations of people, however exalted or powerful they may be. It is not necessary to agree with their stated positions on any matter. We should have our own thoughts about anything which impacts global affairs. I thought that this purported attack by “media” organizations on Christian Evangelism and School system was something of relevance to dissect and understand. If such an attack has happened, that is also despicable because not all systems and people will toe a Supreme Court judgement – they make their own judgements which, if not illegal, should be tolerated in a free society. In effect, tolerance should work both ways, if you know what I mean. It cannot be unidirectional in terms of complete support to the affected part of society – what about taking a non-supportive, yet tolerant view of the incontrovertible fact that there are people who exist who espouse a totally contrarian view which they think is their right to believe in, espouse and endorse – publicly or privately. The response should not be violence, we have seen that such an unacceptable behaviour happens even in the U.S., and so often in third-world countries (I am deliberately not using the politically correct terminology of “developing countries” here!).

Have a great weekend, and more to come from me during the next day or so,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th January 2019

Does Government own You?


For thousands of years, humans did not have a form of government which took responsibility to manage and defend a nation or territory. Before government came into picture, the rule of law was based on the inalienable rights of an individual to his or her life, liberty and property. You might have read this principle of what is known as “natural rights” during your school years.

Fights and battles happened when one person or his army tried to violate this natural set of rights, and take away the life, liberty or property of one individual. That was not at all acceptable, and it was perfectly fine for the aggrieved individual to wage a fight against the aggressor.

With the advent of a system of government, people came under the government’s governance mechanism. In return for infrastructure, safety and security, the people were ready to pay taxes to cover the costs of governance. In essence, a social “compact” was struck between the society and the government which was elected by the society. The government assumed primacy in all matters pertaining to the state, running of the governmental affairs, dealing with other states, protecting the people, investing in infrastructure, et al.

The influence of the government on the society or any individual in the society is nothing short of phenomenal, whether we are living in a democratic society or not. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are no option to live “outside” of your society or country’s system of governance (after all, we don’t choose our parents or country of birth!). We can carry our thoughts which will never be subject to any external controls, but even our thoughts are subject to controls once explicitly expressed. This is the situation in many countries.

So, the question arises: which part of you the government owns? Whole or some part? The physical part or the mind part? Are we really fully free in any society? Does the government own us? Can the government take away our “inalienable” rights to life, liberty and property? Where does the government stop?

And so on and so forth………..can the government dictate to us on what we should be doing? Is it a facilitator or commander of your talent and skills?

Do we have the option to break our social “compact” and return to the nomadic way of life?

Do we subjugate ourselves to the primacy of the government which rules us? Do we totally give up?

Well, of course, we all know that the situation is not so dire in most countries. The government does not intervene in your personal life, unless there is a law and order problem. It really does not care.

Some governments, however, try to own you, commandeer you, and punish you if you commit offences not palatable to them. Taking away a citizen’s life, as we have seen recently appear to be quite extraordinary (I am referring here to the Kashoggi case in Istanbul). While I am stunned by the apparent indifference to the murder of an innocent civilian citizen in a diplomatic facility, let us not forget the foreign intelligence agencies of the top nations of the world routinely carry out targeted assassinations around the world, in countries where they do not have any jurisdiction. Torture, cruelty, killings and threats are all normal practices practiced every day in the name of national security, or if that does not work, in the name of regional security / protection of valuable allies / in the cause of world peace, etc.,

So, in a nutshell, be prepared at any time to be owned by your own government apparatus. And, if your country’s government is very closely connected with the the government(s) of the most powerful nations of the world, then you are in for an even scarier ride if your thoughts are on the wrong side of what these governments think is right. How about sympathizing with the suffering Palestinians, Uighurs, Yemenis or Rohingyas, just to name a few?

Food for lot of thought, I should say, pun intended!

Have a good week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th October 2018

Laughing Stock


The widely covered and reported saga of Brett Kavanaugh for appointment as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has become a laughing stock for all the world to witness as an example of things which have gone wrong in the U.S. democratic system of governance.

It was apparent from the beginning that the FBI had not conducted a thorough check of the background of Judge Kavanaugh. At least it was clear that the FBI had not dialled back even up to his Yale college days, an investigation of which would have provided grist upon his bad drinking habits and sexual exposition.

While what happened at age 17 or 18 should not be of major concern after 36 years have passed (though disturbing if you had seen the testimony of Dr Christine Ford in the Senate Judiciary Committe hearing), the key aspect for any public appointment, and more so for a judicial appointment, is integrity, and it was apparent that Judge Kavanaugh lied in his testimony about his drinking problem. Lying is clearly a non-starter in pursuing public office, and apart from this, it was also clear that the Judge was a wild adolescent and then a wild adult during his Yale college days. I cannot recall any other appointment which has caused such a major controversy, partisan split, and serious doubts about the adequacy of the candidate (not his competency).

In India, the Judicial Collegium shortlists and recommends judicial nominees for the government to approve. While there has been a serious disconnect between the Indian Supreme Court and the government on the last such appointment a few months ago, the government had to ultimately yield to the Collegium. There is no public hearing for public service appointments in India.

I am not suggesting that the Indian system of selecting judges is better, but it is important to recognize alternative systems are in place around the world. Not that there is no controversy – we know that the last judicial appointment led to a tough public fight between the Supreme Court and the government, represented by the Law Minister (India’s equivalent of Jeff Sessions).

Of course, the whole world looks up to the example of the U.S. democracy in full action, as it played out in this case in a totally public fashion. Every day, right through all of September, the world witnessed the intense testimonies and the tough questioning of Judge Kavanaugh at the U.S. Senate.

There is one long-standing and widely respected (though now widely adopted) principle in public service life in democratic nations, and that is simply the following: even if there is an iota of doubt about a nominee for high office in the minds of the selectors, as to his/her complete suitability, competency, integrity, and commitment, then that nominee needs to be thoroughly investigated, and in most cases the nomination should be withdrawn for the greater good of the larger public. The loss of faith in the ability of one to discharge public duties and service cannot be sustained if there is a slight doubt on one’s integrity.

The argument that the nominee’s reputation and future are irreversibly damaged by unsubstantiated and unverified allegations, and so these accusations should be dispensed with forthright, is not amenable to a logical and rational interpretation on how nominees should be prepared for a totally open and transparent yet risky interrogation and investigation.

Given what has transpired, especially the emotional outbursts of Judge Kavanaugh against Democratic Senators who questioned him vigorously and his explicit allegiance to President Trump and the ideals of the GOP, it would be rather interesting to carefully watch how Justice Kavanaugh plays out and leverages the conservative majority in the Supreme Court in the months and years to come. Don’t forget the fact that the Supreme Court appointments are for lifetime, and so what happens to the decisions of the Supreme Court now tainted by overt partisanship is no longer anybody’s guess – it will hit Americans in a way they would not have imagined till now.

Well, the idiosyncracies of democracy are well known. Unfortunately, there are significant negatives and inefficiency in the system of checks and balances.

Let us see how this drama unfolds in critical legal policy issues confronting the U.S. Supreme Court.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2018

Fauda


“Fauda” in Arabic means “chaos” or “riot”.

I just completed viewing the two Seasons of the Netflix Serial “Fauda”, fascinated by my recent visit to Israel.

Fauda is based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Being an Israeli Serial, it shows mostly the Israeli version of tackling terrorism from the eyes of an elite counter terrorism unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. The creators of the show came from that unit. While there seems to be a sincere attempt to depict the normal lives of Palestinians living on the West Bank, it does not come through effectively. The rationale for why Palestinians would even pursue an armed conflict against the much more well-armed Israeli soldiers beats me when the average Palestinian would want to lead as normal a life as an average Israeli.

But then, I am talking from far away. I do not understand the complex history of the Middle East or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the countless battles that have harmed both sides since 1948 when Israel was established. My visit to Israel clarified some of my queries, especially when I visited the Yitzhak Rabin Centre in Tel Aviv. The story of Israel is indeed fascinating to any foreigner – its emergence from nowhere as a country of around 8.5M today with some world-beating technologies and an incredible intelligence service. In fact, I was more impressed about the Israeli tech startups and the infrastructure they have put in place to nurture these startups at several key locations around this rather small country.

I had mostly positive impressions about Israel all these years, though occasionally I used to be disturbed by the radical statements made by Israeli government ministers and the brutal attacks against unarmed Palestinian civilians. I also did not empathize with the need for Israeli government to build settlements in occupied territories.

However, it is pertinent here to note that Israel has helped countries like India in countless ways – a good example being agriculture. The drip irrigation system developed by Israel has fostered astounding agricultural innovations. Israel has also provided much-needed advanced military equipment to India. Overall, Israel is viewed positively in India, I would say. The government-to-government cooperation is deepening every year.

Given all this background, seeing the Fauda serial on Netflix provided me with the much needed context, though I do not agree with everything that was shown or to be accurate, not shown. I liked the show overall – it was thrilling in many sequences, and weaves almost a real-life kind of story and human emotions into what should strictly be a military operation. I do not know whether it reflects reality – it may not. However, it is good to see the story flow seamlessly in Season I of the Serial which appeared to be more interesting than the Season II. The transformation of the elite unit members to support one special operative in sorting out his personal enmity is not that believable, and I do not think it is feasible to violate orders of the Commander of the unit. The tolerance shown towards the main actor (who is the special operative, Doron) is reflective of the empathy that the hardened special unit members develop over long years of working together.

Israel has had a huge challenge these past 7 decades managing its borders and the security of its citizens. But the cost incurred is prohibitive. Young people are wasted away in tough fighting assignments wherein they are forced to fire at civilians. They develop post traumatic stress syndrome, and find it difficult to lead normal lives. Some of these struggles can be seen in Fauda.

The mutual recriminations between the Israelis and Palestinians are interspersed with harmless banter between senior intelligence officers from both sides. Even when tough action is going to be taken, the Israeli officer meets with the Palestinian officer in his office, and is offered coffee! The culture is almost the same, the ethnicity and the affiliation to the land are the same. It is the armed conflict which is destroying the lives of people on both sides, coupled with unnecessary belligerence on the political side.

Fauda has a very good narrative, and excellent cast of actors, most of them from army background. It “feels” realistic, and shows the struggle in a somewhat oblique manner. It also demonstrates the good intentions of certain good folks on either side. At the end of it, I felt sad at the situation on the ground – I have seen the barricades, the army outposts, the metal detectors, the soldiers, almost everywhere. It appears Israelis are having peaceful coffee in nice cafes, but the insecurity is palpable. I am not surprised that people can get jittery even for the simplest of things. Unfortunate really.

You will enjoy Fauda, if you have not visited Israel; and you will enjoy it much more if you have visited Israel!

Have a good week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th August 2018

Revolution


If there is a people-driven revolution in any autocratic country, that is a good sign. After all, the legitimacy of even a theocratic state is based on the support of its citizens. There is no god-given authority to any human to rule over his or her “subjects” – such anachronisms continue to damage the real strength of people even in democratic nations such as England. I had recently written about The Republic of England.

The people revolution that is occurring in Iran is a good example of how the citizens of a country can protest, in a non-violent manner, against the social and economic conditions afflicting them. There is actually no real explanation that the Iranian Government can provide, except to flex its police and military muscle. Such things happen even in purely democratic, non-theocratic, non-autocratic nations of the world.

Iran is a special case however. The 1979 people revolution comes to mind, when thousands of protesters took to the streets against the Shah of Iran and the U.S. Government’s intervention in Iranian affiars (the U.S. is very famous for interfering and intervening in the affairs of almost all countries under a coordinated C.I.A. strategy over the past 7 decades). The Shah of Iran was overthrown, and the protesters took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran holding hundreds of hostages.

So, Iran is not immune to civilian and student protests. It is a well-developed country, with a social development and people maturity comparable to many Western nations. The theocratic approach to governing what is the most advanced country in the Middle East has resulted in serious skirmishes with the U.S. which does not, obviously, like to deal with religious figures and considers political figures as too weak to negotiate.

After couple of false starts, here comes another chance for the long-suffering Iranians to assert their human rights, not as stooges of the U.S. or any other Western country, but as rightful owners of their own proud country whose history dates back thousands of years of enlightened civilization and growth. Of course, they are going to be repressed by the police and military in a brutal fashion, which is happening now. More than 20 civilians have been killed in the protests over the last week or so, and hundreds are incarcerated with potential, nay, guaranteed torture in unknown jails or locations.

The human spirit is so strong that it cannot be repressed for too long. We have seen that consistently over many centuries, and that revelation is irrespective of the country, ethnicity, religion or war. It always comes back to assert its superiority over the mundane affairs which holds it back for many years.

In the case of Iran, the U.S. would do well not to interfere. The Iranians know the pitfalls of “external” interference which would quickly be translated as “foreign support” for the protesters by the Government and the military. While President Trump and the U.N.S.C.  Permanent Representative Nikki Haley relish the “big” opportunity to hit back at Iran and extend their unequivocal support for the Iranian citizens, and even call for an emergency session of the Security Council, all these actions and tweets are being interpreted in a rather different manner by the folks who run the religion, the government and the military of Iran. It is not going to be easy to seek a regime change, which has always been the single most important objective of the U.S. despite its ardent denials. The people of Iran have to do what it takes to secure a more positive outcome for themselves and their country without any external help, and that is going to take a lot of sacrifice and time.

In a nutshell, the Iranian people protests again prove that social and economic challenges are more important to people than politics and conflicts and wars. It is irrelevant to them if Iran wins over Yemen or Lebanon, or scores a political victory over Saudi Arabia in its conflict with Qatar. How does that matter to Iranians at the end of the day? Economy is suffering in what could be the most dynamic Middle Eastern country of all for the past nearly 4 decades – even better and stronger than Saudi Arabia. Iran needs to work with other democracies to deliver better results to its own people instead of securing just propaganda wins. If the U.S. continues to impose more severe sanctions against Iran, it is only a question of time before there is an economic collapse or there is a war instigated by one of these countries on some pretext or the other.

Given that the U.S. under President Trump is not going to be nice towards Iran, and would make all attempts to prevent the other top Western nations such as the U.K., England, France and Germany from developing a partnership with Iran in any economic sphere, there is no choice left for Iran. Except to work more closely with Russia and China.

At the end of the day, Iran has to drop its territorial ambitions, drop its political and military interventions/support in other Middle Eastern countries, strictly adhere to the nuclear deal signed in 2015, restrain its ballistic missile testing, and fall in line with the expectations of the world community (not necessarily that of the U.S.). For achieving this, it has to work real hard with the U.N. and few large countries in a deliberate and well-articulated manner over the next couple of years.

That would be the best way to eliminate the potential for a damaging war with the U.S., vastly reduce the economic misery of its people, and realize its scientific and technological ambitions to be a real world leader (the only one from the Middle East, apart from Israel).

Now is the time to do it, without giving further cause to more people revolutions – if nothing is done, something similar to the takeover of the U.S. Embassy is likely to recur.

Cheers to the Iranian people,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

06 January 2018

 

The Murderous Violence Against Innocents


On the day when the world’s most renowned and celebrated non-violent leader was born (2nd October 2017 in Asia, 1st October Sunday in the U.S.), the U.S. witnessed its most murderous violence against innocent people, perpetrated by a violent gun-loving murderer in Las Vegas. The non-violent leader I am referring to is, of course, Mahatma Gandhi, who preached absolute non-violence against the occupying British police during India’s Freedom Struggle.

America indeed has a serious problem. More than 15,000 people died in the past 12 months because of GUN violence, the highest among all developed countries. In the Las Vegas massacre, 58 innocent civilians died and over 500 were injured. These folks were among a huge crowd enjoying a country music performance opposite to the now infamous Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino – I remember walking past this place couple of years ago in Las Vegas.

I do not think the U.S. Government and Congress have any excuse now but to impose some controls over how guns can be deployed in a civilized society. But they will do no such things under the strong, incestuous influence exerted by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Things will be forgotten, like it was after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 during President Obama’s tenure. No government and no congress has the power to outmaneuvre the very powerful NRA, who are the main reason for Americans currently possessing over 300M guns, the most of any country in the world. Not only that, most state governments in the U.S. are now permitting gun owners to carry their weapons in public places, an open invitation for their usage. Who can determine if it is intentional or not? The victims won’t live to tell their side of the story. The usual excuse proferred by the NRA upon the occurrence of every such gun violence will not hold water in any case – the NRA says if only there are enough guns donned by gun owners out there, gun violence won’t happen as there would be an immediate retaliation. Isn’t it laughable that Americans are buying this argument? How about shooting back at the Las Vegas murderer on the 32nd Floor of the Mandalay Bay from the ground below some more than 400 yards away, if only the music lovers all carried their guns?

The whole world is looking at the U.S. (repeatedly over the past 3 years of incessant gun violence) more carefully – how can the so-called leader of the “free world” be so ignorant of so much that needs to be done within its own country, how it fails to repeatedly protect its own citizens from gun violence, how it has failed to protect large cities, and how the whole government machinery is just spinning out of control under the eminent direction of the Honourable President Donald Trump. Among his many promises, Mr Trump assured he will take action against inner city violence and has often cited Chicago as the worst example of continuous gun violence.

My conclusion: nothing will ever change on the issue of gun control in the U.S. Hiding behind the U.S. Constitution is an easy way to fend off criticism from right or left. Judiciary won’t act against constitutional rights of citizens (“the right to bear arms”), despite some of these being outdated. So, there goes yet another wonderful opportunity to stop the carnage and bring sense into American society.

Most other Western nations have controlled guns, the best example being that of Australia under its gun amnesty program. It has been a big success, and major gun violence has long since been eradicated. People generally feel safe in countries with strict gun laws. The argument that America is a vast country, and so guns are needed in remote locations to protect oneself is also specious. If guns are controlled, it also means that guns will be controlled in remote locations. If there is a device that gun manufacturers can fit on all guns which would identify itself and give away its location before use, will that help? Of course, the NRA will fight tooth and nail against any legislative restrictions on gun acquisition, possession, and use.

So, there goes a great country which does not mind sacrificing its citizens and innocent bystanders for the benefit of gun-loving Americans and the NRA. How about the so many innocent lives lost? How about the sacrifices of young and old? All justifiable in the eyes of the NRA. Can it bring back those lives lost on the night of 1st October due to the violent gun-driven actions of a mass murderer who had so many guns ready in his hotel room? The NRA will justify anything to keep its gun lobby going. Do they have conscience? You bet they don’t.

Let us stay completely gun-free in our respective countries and societies. After all, we are already in the 21st Century and in the most civilized phase of our existence thus far, let us keep it that way.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2017

The Refugee Fear


The anti-refugee “movements” in some European countries have been sowing fear in refugee communities for the past couple of years. Several far-right fascist parties have gained public credibility in their nations, though they have not won the mandate to govern. The extremist views of these parties and social movements are a danger not only to refugees who are seeking asylum, but also to non-local residents of these countries who could easily be misconstrued as belonging to the refugee community. Even worse, locals who try to help the refugees arriving in their town are (or were) targeted by these anti-social movements.

I happened (by chance) to see the BBC’s show on Germany’s New Nazis: it was simply frightening to see the violent tactics of the Freital Group, who unleashed terror on the refugee shelter homes and almost escaped without getting caught over many months. Such insidious activities of a rebel group with the tacit approval of the “silent” majority, could have led Germany towards an abyss, from which it escaped just 70 years ago. Of all countries, it is rather surprising that Germans would accept such a radicalism in their society, which would engender violence, killings, and eventually, a move away from democracy towards a populist leader who would isolate Germany, stop all immigration, and segregate foreigners into “ghettos”. Rather sickening, frightening, and appears easy to achieve, right?

It was funny to note that the German local police feigned ignorance of any of the violent actions taken by the Freital Group for a long time, reminding me of the Indian Police and its ineffectiveness in the past. Only after the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office took over the investigation, things started moving, and eventually, the Freital Group was declared a terrorist organization. It is critical to understand that there will always be an apparent undercurrent of support for fascist and extremist groups amongst the population who have lost their jobs and feel that their lives are being threatened by refugees who do not follow the German way of life. Further, states such as Saxony have administrative and police machinery who had known about extremist tendencies and violent actions, but never took any action thereby undermining their credibility. Humans are fragile, and their idea of infallibility and superiority will reign supreme in their minds long after their predecessors are dead. You know who I mean here……….

Let me now explain my own views. I am not a supporter of uncontrolled immigration. Yes, I supported Angela Merkel when she decided to admit Syrian immigrants in 2015 into Germany, notwithstanding the fact that it could imperil her chance of becoming the German Chancellor for a record fourth time. However, more work should have been done on planning (a) the education of Germans about the rationale for taking in the immigrants (could have been done, I simply do not know); and, (b) the social integration of the immigrants into mainstream German society (also, this might have happened, but does not appear so looking from the outside).

Immigration is always a tough issue when economic conditions are not good. Even if things are fine, thought has to be given about sending immigrants into states where there is serious unemployment.

I am not against folks who oppose immigration. I am against those folks who incite violence and throw petrol bombs into refugee shelters, knowing full well that refugees have suffered an ignominious life in their native country under a cruel dictator who bombed them. What kind of people are these local Germans who do not have human emotions and sympathy and generosity?

Luckily for Germany, it is still the largest European economy, it is a wealthy country, and it holds the conscience of Europe as a whole (not the U.K.). Given its leadership position, Germany cannot afford to be isolated. I heaved a sigh of relief when Dr Merkel won her fourth elections recently, though her margins got reduced. Never mind, she has another four years to work on the German mindset. My suggestion to her – halt further immigration and work on integrating the million refugees that she has already got in. This is not hard heart or mind, it is simply focusing on enhancing the well being of the admitted refugees.

The other European nations have failed in their immigration intake, and are messing up their immigration policy. It is only a question of time before Europe loses its conscious democratic ideology, if no actions are taken immediately to educate the angry electorates.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2017

Citizen Privacy and Social Service Delivery


The Supreme Court of India upheld the sanctity of personal individual privacy as enshrined in the Constitution of India last week in a landmark ruling, which was widely considered as a setback to the Government of India, though the Government lawyer denied it saying that he welcomed the ruling.

The intent of the Government was to ensure that it had access to citizens’ data to deliver e-services, eliminating middle men and corruption which are endemic in the Indian system of bureaucracy. Most of us from India have felt that there was a strong need to automate routine government services, avoiding the requirement to visit government offices, which are notorious for their poor services and demands for money to execute simple tasks. We have seen and experienced how other developed countries deliver such services efficiently and without much ado, and with zero corruption.

India has successfully implemented the world’s largest national identification system (called “AADHAAR”) based on biometric data of citizens. Though the card is unwieldy, and possibly prone to misrepresentation, it has emerged as the one single identity for all Indian citizens. The PAN or Permanent Account Number Card which is held by most Indians has served as the identification proof for many years, but it was predominantly meant to be used in connection with Income Tax matters. The government now intends to link the Aadhaar Card with the PAN Card in the Income Tax system, thereby clearly establishing the identity and address of the individual tax payer.

Coming back to the privacy case in the Supreme Court of India, it was funny to note the inconsistencies in the arguments put forward by the government on various occasions. The government said that personal privacy, though a fundamental right of citizens, is not “absolute” – it does not give absolute rights to the individual on privacy and privacy has to operate within reasonable limits. The government lawyer went to the extent of arguing that citizens do not have absolute rights over their “own bodies”. Can you believe that?

If there is one institution in India which does not take nonsense, it must be the Supreme Court. For more than couple of decades, Indian Supreme Court Judges have acted as the balancing force between the executive (the government) and the parliament, and have generally been protective of individual citizens and their rights. I was not surprised to learn that in this crucial case of individual privacy, they acted to support the individual, rather than the government. While arguments flew back and forth, it was apparent that the Court was not going to play around with fundamental rights of citizens, irrespective of the needs of the government.

It is critical for the government to deliver e-services to citizens efficiently; it is also important for the government to deliver subsidies to deserving citizens such as farmers. However, the Supreme Court of India differed with the government on the need to sacrifice the privacy of the individual in order to be able to deliver something of value and importance to that individual.

I do not think the government will contest this ruling, or try to pass a legislation to overturn the ruling. I am sure that the current government is pragmatic, if not anything else. They have heard the ruling, and have reconciled themselves to the fact that nothing much is actually going to change on the ground. “Reasonable restrictions” can still be applied to the data collected.

What this case proves is that while access to and use of citizens’ data are critical to various requirements of the government, there needs to be strong safeguards for data privacy and protection before any individual data can be seen or processed. Consent of the individual concerned is of paramount importance before his data can be “touched”. There are no absolute guarantees, everyone understands that, but there has to be a consciousness on the part of the government as to the criticality of the data and the potential for abuse and misuse.

Kudos to the Supreme Court of India for this ruling, coming so soon after another landmark ruling regarding the triple talaq divorce case.

India is setting new milestones as it grows into the next phase of its social development.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th August 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