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

Europe under continuous attack


Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).

Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.

However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?

Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.

Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.

The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?

Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd April 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

Non-interference


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.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

4th March 2017