Category: politics

Campus Protests and Free Speech


You might have followed media coverage of campus protests against conservative speakers in prestigeous U.S. universities like University of California Berkeley. This is an important development in the annals of free speeach and freedom of expression in university campuses and society in general.

Key questions to be asked in this context:

  • Is there real freedom of expression in society and specifically, in university campuses today?
  • What is free speech and what are the limits of free speech?
  • Why do students generally and largely consider themselves “liberal”? Why do students not respect the need for universities and societies to listen to “alternative” facts, theories, hypotheses, though propounded by conservatives who have equal rights for expressing their views?
  • Why do we militate against people with different views on social matters as compared to ours? Why can’t we treat all people normally?
  • Why do universities, generally considered the bastion of free speech, free thoughts and freedom of expression, tend to invite controversial speakers and then buckle to student protesters? Do they not have a responsibility to execute their plans to defend the above key tenets of academic life?
  • Why do Republicans (in this context, I am referring to legislators belonging to the Republican Party of U.S.) wish to legislate this aspect of campus life, allowing fiery speakers belonging to either liberals or conservatives into campus without any cancellations (like what has been happening a few times already in the recent past), but without due regard to university administration?
  • Why has almost everything polarized in U.S. society? Why can’t things be simpler? Where is the need to create several camps of thoughts in a university, except for mock debates?
  • And, so on and so forth

I believe it is critical to hear what opponents to your belief say in a public forum. If not for anything, it allows one to strategize for evolving a counter approach to the ideas propagated by powerful believers of opposing philosophy. It is the right thing to do. Impeding free speech by anyone is not the right way to operate in a true democracy. If this is not possible in the U.S., then one can assume that the U.S. is not a true democracy. Unfortunately, what happens in the U.S. is frequently copied in other countries. Or else, excuses will be used based on what has happened in the U.S. Such practices, while unhealthy, are inevitable due to the influence of the U.S. on world affairs.

Don’t we disagree with other people all the time? We must disagree respectfully, however. Sometimes, we do not say anything, or respond to provocations. Sometimes, we reserve the right to speak or respond in a civil manner. Sometimes, we congregate and evolve a uniform approach towards countering people who vocally drive a wedge in society for their own benefit.

However, violence is not an option at all. Attacking professors and guest speaker? A strict NO, NO. Our students should know better, they are not kids in primary school. The changed political landscape in the U.S. does not give permission to students to physically assault folks who have an opinion different from theirs. If such be the case, what is the difference between illiterates settling disputes by show of force, and educated elite doing the same in an open forum. Walking out of a convocation being addressed by Vice President of the U.S. is fine, but disrupting the convocation is not.

Students have to learn reality of life. In real life, one learns to respect others. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. When a co-passenger on a recent flight out of the U.S. asked me about what Asians think of President Trump, I told her what I think of him. I said I cannot talk for others, almost everyone seems to be enjoying the fun of a rather brash President. I uttered what I did on U.S. soil without any fear, because I believed in what I believe. She was a Democrat and might not have liked what I said about Trump and Hillary Clinton, but she did not shout at me or hit me! Civility and respect are the cornerstones of intellectual debates, and these cannot disappear from U.S. university campuses due to the outsized influence of extreme Left. Sometimes, the political Right may also be right.

Let us listen to all views before analysing and concluding. Academics should know this better than anyone else.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

A negative vote today in French Elections


Will France follow Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the U.S. Presidential Elections and the Brexit philosophy endorsed by millions of British voters to get Britain out of the European Union (EU)? Will the French voters elect an untested nationalist, against a well-established urbanite with a global outlook?

How France decides today in its Presidential Elections (7th May Sunday) will have far-reaching ramifications around Europe and the world. It will determine if the EU survives as a political and economic entity.

While I have no personal views on the French Elections, I am debating if  young, disillusioned French voters will swing in favour of Marine Le Pen, against Emmanuel Macron. If that swing happens in a wild fashion, it is not inconceivable for Le Pen to claim the French Presidency and that would turn Europe upside down. Le Pen is against all established norms in French and European society – against trade, against immigration, against globalization.

In the U.S. Presidential Elections, I bet against Hillary Clinton and won my bet. I thought that she did not really appeal vigorously to the male, white, Christian, rural base of the middle America – and she didn’t, apart from all the other issues which plagued her campaign (like the email server problem, et al). I was not entirely in favour of Donald Trump, but then there was no other credible alternative, and he easily won the elections against Hillary Clinton, though he missed out on the popular vote count.

Can something like that happen in the French Elections?

Why not? A negative vote is entirely possible.

France is in a crisis. Its political and societal divides have engulfed its core to such an extent that radical outcomes cannot be thrown out of the door. France is under attack by immigrant extremism, or terrorism. Economy is in a turmoil and youth unemployment is rising. France has so many problems today that a traditional, globalized, suave and urban President will not get far into his presidency. Macron could prove himself otherwise, but it is highly unlikely he can fix France’s problems, as he does not have enough political and economic management experience. If he fails in his first year as President, it is almost a given that Le Pen’s supporters will revolt and her base will increase dramatically. And, let us not forget that Macron does not even have any party’s support – in fact, he has no party! Yes, he is coming on the strength of a people movement, not a political party!!

Can Le Pen fix the problems of France?

Even less likely than Macron. Her party has always been on the fringes, and most people are shocked she made it to the final leg of the Presidential Elections. She has no experience managing a large country or economy. She would need a lot of management help if she ever gets close to the seat at the Elysee Palace.

So, in a nutshell, it is going to be a huge challenge for France. May be Macron will win as he has a 25 point lead over Le Pen, but then one never knows. But France has to blame itself for any fiasco, as both candidates have never held elected posts and have hardly got any experience, and may not win parliamentary elections scheduled for June this year. How can this happen? How will a President govern without the support of the French Parliament?

All this points to a hugely challenging time for the French people.

The implications for Europe and the larger world community are huge.

Watch the news today and tomorrow closely to see how France votes for its President.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th May 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

Pathetic TN vs Rocking AP


I was visiting Chennai these past few days.

Given that it was almost end of April with the fast approaching “Agni Nakshatra” of May/June, the heat was piercing through to the skin at close to 40 deg C. The evenings were a bit milder but still a strong 34/35 deg C. People were having no respite from the harsh weather, neither were they having any respite from a dysfunctional government reeling from corruption and nepotism.

The Tamil Nadu State was once the second top industrialized state of India, competing with Gujarat State for manufacturing plants of foreign companies setting up shop in India. Now, it has fallen to the bottom rungs of the ladder, with neighbouring Andhra Pradesh State climbing rapidly to the very top.

What is the difference?

In one word, it is “Leadership”. In two words, it can be explained as “development-oriented and corruption-free”. Indian citizens are very tired of corruption and politicians making huge pots of money without delivering any kind of service at all to the nation.

Tamil Nadu has long been reeling in corruption (only Karnataka State beats Tamil Nadu in corruption per capita), nepotism, mismanagement of government departments, distribution of subsidies and election gifts in a deficit state, lack of water, poor power supply situation even in metro cities, and generally characterized by apathy towards improvement in the state of affairs of the state and its people. The latest rumour is that a major Korean car manufacturer decided to move away from its original plans to establish a car manufacturing plant near Chennai due to the exorbitant demand for bribes. Of course, it is a rumour, but the rationale for such decisions need to be explored conscientiously.

Poor Tamilians. They just have to look a little north towards their enterprising neighbour, Andhra Pradesh (AP) which is run by a charismatic, influential, reform-minded and effective CEO kind of Chief Minister, Mr Chandrababu Naidu. He is running AP State as a corporate company, much like Singapore, with an effective administration carrying out his vision. Mr Naidu has always been in favour of induction of technology to address governance and peoples’ problems in the state, and it is no accident that AP State is a front-runner in using technology in all of India.

Mr Naidu has achieved a lot in the short span of less than 3 years that he has been in power, after his first long stint of 9 years. The milestone project was the interlinking of the Krishna and Godavari rivers, which not only has irrigated the rice bowl of India but also provided water to the parched villages in the Rayalaseema region of AP State. Apart from his many other achievements, I believe that the linking of two of the key rivers of India will always be recognized as his signature accomplishment. The Congress governments in the past only talked about such water projects but never delivered. Mr Naidu has done that now.

What about Tamil Nadu? It has been begging Karnataka for release of the Cauvery river water, has fought with Karnataka in the Supreme Court, and taken the matter to special arbitration. Over the years, the farmers of Tamil Nadu have suffered. Why? There was just no leadership focused on solving problems of the farmers and suffering people of the state.

In a nutshell, the defining characteristic of a successful government is leadership and the composition of the leadership team. If this active and critical ingredient is missing, no amount of funds or intent can do the job. And when corruption rules the roost, then you can rest assured that development will remain far, far away.

Tamil Nadu is destined to hit the fringe state status very soon, if no effective leadership emerges. What a pathetic situation for a state to be in? Tamil Nadu should aggressively reclaim its premier status and time is not on its side either.

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

Secularism under threat


India has been a fine example of secularism since Independence from the British in 1947. The country was a Hindu-majority nation in 1947 (and still remains so though with a diminished Hindu population), but chose to embrace secularism as one of its main pillars of governance, separating religion from the government irrespective of the religious affiliation of the governing party. Secularism became embedded in the conscience of the nation, and India remained an envy for many countries who could not achieve that balance. Indonesia was another successful example which adopted secularism in a Muslim-majority country.

The main benefit to the citizens was the equal treatment accorded not just in the eyes of the law but in every facet of life. Minorities got integrated into the society and though there were incidents of stray attacks on them over the years, the racial segregation of the blacks in the U.S. was not witnessed in India. Secularism was the pride of India for many decades.

However, the way Indian politics operates has long been detrimental to the future of minorities in the country. All parties appease the minorities to win elections, making promises that could not be kept without disturbing the delicate fabric of society. Eventually the majority Hindus got alienated but became helpless when the minorities started deciding the election winners in many constituencies. Unfortunately, this was the result of monumental mistakes committed by all political parties of India, especially the Congress Party which ruled India for many decades, but has been on serious decline after the ascendancy of Mr Modi’s BJP Party.

Now, secularism as a principle of stability of the country has come under serious threat. Prime Minister Modi has been ruling India with a better and stronger hand at the till than any of his predecessors for the past over two years. He moved away from his past when he was more known as the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the inter-religious communal violence when more than a thousand Muslims perished, to an economic development plank which has widely been admired, especially outside India. For him not to consolidate the development gains of the past two years and aggressively move towards a Hindutva platform as the main aftermath of the U.P. Elections could turn out to be counterproductive to his primary mission of uplifting India and creating jobs.

The Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) State of India is its largest state with a population of 220M, which would position it as one of the top 10 populous nations of the world if it were an independent country. It is also a diverse state, with Muslims constituting 20% of the population. It sends 80 Members to the national Parliament, and it is often stated that if a party wins U.P., it would win India. Given its importance, and its economic backwardness, it is only natural for Mr Modi to carefully select a Chief Minister who would unite the state’s populations under a strong economic focus, centred on creating millions of jobs and improve the infrastructure. Instead, Mr Modi and his BJP Party selected a firebrand politician who has long been known for his divisive and militant political approach, and who incites fear in the minorities.

What India needs is development, not divisiveness. What India needs is a million jobs a month for its aspiring young citizens who are coming into the workforce. What India needs is strong infrastructure. What India needs is equal treatment for all its citizens as enshrined in the Constitution. What India needs is secularism. By moving away from these core principles, India will create in-house militancy on both sides of the religious divide. If Muslims do not have jobs, if they are discriminated across the society and economy, if they are always under attack and live with a fear psychosis, then what is the difference between Mr Trump’s fear politics which incites racial hatred and that of Mr Modi? Society cannot be divided, it needs to be united. By following a very divisive and militant politics, India is sure to create more terrorists in-house, who are frustrated with the society, economy and lack of opportunities. And, then, Pakistan would make use of this frustration and attack the core of India. Anyway, what then would be the difference between a theology-driven Pakistan and a theology-driven India?

Should we allow this to happen? Can Mr Modi rethink his strategy? He needs all Indians to support him in his economic development agenda for India. That is possible only if he is seen as a uniting force all across the country. India is not just a “Hindu” nation, it is a secular country for all its citizens and it should set a glorious example for the rest of the world. India might even be able to convince Mr Trump as to the need for the U.S. to remain totally secular and non-racist!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th March 2017