You thought wrong. This is not about Indian IT companies getting the much-coveted H1B visas for their IT professionals, which is under threat from the Trump Administration.
This is not about getting any visa to the U.S. As you are well aware, the U.S. will not grant visas to human rights violators, criminals, and convicted offenders. For more than a decade, the U.S. Government applied this policy against the entry of Indian Prime Minister Modi, till it was gently revoked without much fanfare. Mr Modi’s violation? He was accused of turning a blind eye in the midst of killings of around a thousand Muslims in his Gujarat State in 2002, where he was the Chief Minister, in the aftermath of violent riots.
President Obama reversed the long-established American policy after the Supreme Court of India could not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Modi and his state administration. Not only that, he embraced Mr Modi and his reformist agenda.
However, President Trump is not Obama – in fact, he detests any comparisons with Obama’s rule. Trump thinks he has achieved more than any other president of the U.S. in the first 100 days of his presidency. So, it was not surprising at all that he continues to delude himself, in the hope of achieving a lasting legacy. Not just for the next 1,360 days but may be for another 4 years after the conclusion of his first term, which is not inconceivable though there are a multitude of constituents who would dread that possibility.
Now, American human rights policy has hit dirt. President Trump has invited President Duterte of the Philippines to visit him in the White House. He has already met with the dictatorial President of Egypt – Mr Sisi, at the White House. He has welcomed the consolidation of dictatorial powers of President Erdogan of Turkey. He also used to like the strongman president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin.
Mr Duterte would not even be considered for a visa in the light of his murderous streak, killing thousands of his own citizens (more than 8,000 at last count) in the name of elimination of drug trade in the Philippines. How can a legally elected popular president be allowed to use his law enforcement machinery to kill the citizens in cold blood? Where is his Congress? Where is the Church of the Philippines? Where are the Courts of Law? And, finally, where is the conscience?
And now, President Trump is going to entertain President Duterte at the White House and legitimize all the killings which have happened and which are going to continue unabated because the leader of the so-called “free world” has endorsed the actions taken by Duterte thus far. How ridiculous it can get?
The U.S. Congress should not allow this visit with all its power and voice. Of course, Trump will do what he wants, but the U.S. should now clearly realize that it has irretrievably lost its bully pulpit of human rights advocacy around the world because of the completely wrong, adhoc actions of its President without much thought or advice whatsoever.
The ASEAN Summit, of course, cannot condemn any killings in member states, as that would be construed as interference and the construct of ASEAN is based on non-interference and non-criticism (I do not agree with that philosophy however). But for the U.S. to show a welcoming approach towards President Duterte at the current juncture is very wrong and is going to damage the standing of the U.S. in the eyes of the free world. There is no more free world in any case. Europe is the last bastion of freedom and democracy and even there a severe test is happening in France.
So to get a visa to the U.S. any elected representative has to commit murders – more so for the invitation from a sitting president. I do not buy the argument that Duterte got the invitation to ensure the Philippines remains as an ally of the U.S. against the interest of China – that shift has already happened.
What about the other dictators? Should they kill more of their own before getting the invite from President Trump?
01 May 2017
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.
23rd April 2017
My views on the unnecessary importance that we ascribe to religions in our lives and the extraordinary negative impact that the segregation of people is having on societies around the world are well established via this blog communication in the past. I have written about the destruction caused by religions over the centuries and how religions divide, rather than unite us.
While nothing much has changed in our societies with regard to the treatment of religions and the impact that the religions have on societies, it is now widely accepted that multiple religions with differing philosophies have succeeded in dividing people, and polarize their views about what is right and what is wrong. Strong indoctrination of religious principles which are not subject to debate and discussion, has further fomented these divisions. Only a few religions are pacific, the rest push for indoctrination of principles, adoption of basic tenets, and followership of the “cult” to the exclusion of all others.
Added to the above religious divisions forged by major religions, the caste system perpetrated in India (for example) has further deeply polarized the society. While the caste system in itself is deplorable, the adoption of non-economic criteria in stratifying a country’s population into haves and have-nots has worsened the deep divisions in society, and has led to the departure of meritocracy from running of the society and the country. India was accordingly set back by several decades when compared to caste-less societies such as Japan or China, which are much more homogeneous in population demographics and treatment of citizens.
We argue vigorously oftentimes that equal treatment should be meted out to equal votes from citizens. Such is not always the case even in developed countries. There are very few examples wherein countries do not even differentiate based on gender – these are the Nordic countries which have reached a very advanced state of development, not found even in the wealthiest and more developed nations such as the U.S., U.K., or Germany. The treatment that citizens usually receive in countries such as India is dependent on religion, caste, race, colour or gender. We tend to ignore such treatment from society in the hope that economic advancement will eventually obliterate such divisive tactics. I am not so sure.
While we have felt the acute impact of religious and caste divides in our current generation, somehow we have been able to navigate our way through not just one system, but multiple systems, during our lifetime. This may be because of the early experiences that many of us have had in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, which had made most of us rather matured for our time. The ability to navigate the world in an equitable and non-offensive manner, while keeping our heads firmly on our shoulders, has been a key characteristic of our generation who are now in our fifties.
But, what about the next generation and the one after it?
My worry is that the next generation who are in their teens and twenties are not yet experienced the way we were – probably they will never get our experience because they have grown up mostly outside India. The conditions are vastly different and meritocracy is the norm rather than the exception, and societies have matured rather aggressively towards equal and equitable treatment in a conscious way. This did not happen overnight of course, but took several decades of enlightened governance with the interests of citizens at heart.
However, as we move towards our twilight years, we need to be concerned about how our future generations will shape up and react to the world at large when it comes to the articifical divisions caused by religions. I always believed that we should set an active example, by following our own religion in a light manner (not with a lot of religiosity) without too many rituals which segregate us even from our own people (meaning other Indians in my case), and have an inquisitive mind on any subject matter thrown in front of us as an “accomplished” fact or a done deal. I wrote recently about thinking, and it is an extremely critical concept. If we do not think for ourselves and the world, then we would be doing what our ancestors had been doing over centuries without questioning their larger impact. If I am not considered as very religious, that is by my own design. I do not wish to be “special” in any category that divides me from others. I go to temples, but I also visit churches and mosques occasionally. We should look not for conformity, but for unity in what unites us all. I have communicated my thoughts to my family members, and sometimes to my close friends. I have not always received a positive sync, but I thought there indeed was a sense of appreciation on my thinking for myself. I do not of course, wish to indoctrinate anyone!
Coming to the conclusion, it is my earnest submission that people should look for similarities while maintaining their individuality. Non-conformance to a tenet or philosophy does not mean any kind of insult is proferred. Every individual has a right to his or her own thinking. It is most important to shape the thinking of future generations accordingly.
Let us all think! It is the most important thing to do today!!
Cheers, and Have a great weekend,
15th April 2017
The Syrian armed forces and government crossed many red lines last week when they attacked a rebel-held provincial town with chemical weapons. I agree with the almost immediate response taken by Donald Trump, retaliating against the airbase which launched the attack planes and almost completely destroying it with Tomahawk missiles from some 1,000 miles away. The U.S. blew away the airbase while President Trump was having his talks and dinner with the visiting Chinese President Xi, giving yet another strong message about the invincibility and decisiveness of American control of airspace around war zones.
More than anything else, President Assad of Syria has been a cruel dictator, officially killing over 400,000 of his own citizens and sending away millions of Syrians as refugees to other countries, mainly to Europe. How can he justify mass killings of Syrians – families, women and children – whether they are held hostage by the rebels fighting his government or not. And, how can Russia justify any more support to President Assad?
President Obama missed a wonderful opportunity to eliminate President Assad way back in 2013, when the red line was crossed on chemical weapons deployment by Syrian armed forces. Most of the middle eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia, were aghast that the U.S. would pardon off such a cruel dictator and not strike him militarily. That was a terrible mistake by Obama, and he would regret it forever.
Look at what happened – Russia supported Syrian Government, and strengthened its armed forces, which went on to decimate the rebel forces. The allied forces were more focused on ISIS, not on the continuous attacks carried out by Syrian armed forces against the rebels. Russia pounded both the rebels and the ISIS. At the end, the U.S. and allies ended up strengthening a dictator that they all along detested and wanted him gone.
President Putin of Russia should now sit up and think carefully about Russian support for President Assad. If he had not wanted the U.S. to attack the airbase, he could have told the Americans that he would protect the airbase with his S-400 missiles, or could have easily warned the Americans that Russian forces are at the airbase which therefore should not be attacked. He did not apparently take any action, and thereby corroborated the necessity of the U.S. missile attack, though Putin later said that the attacks were wrong.
Where is the world headed? We have a weak United Nations, and an ineffective UN Security Council, where the Permanent Ambassadors from the Big 5 nations talk tough but fail to reach consensus on any major issue of global interest, almost fighting with each other. How can the world trust these folks?
In any case, the chemical attack on poor people by Syrian government forces is unconscionable and unpardonable, and should be condemned whole-heartedly by the world. There are many quiet nations which keep their own counsel, but they will come to regret their inactions sometime or the other.
Just take time to see the pictures from the chemical attack. Horrible, horrible. On this one thing, I totally and fully agree with President Trump and his quick military action. How he will carry through further needs to be seen, but sometimes gut feel does produce results. President Assad should now know how an American attack feels, and how helpless he would be if President Trump chooses to attack his palace. What will the Russians do then?
It is critical for world leaders to condemn this reckless and horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians. President Assad needs to take total responsibility – he cannot lay the blame at the doorsteps of rebels. All chemical weapons were shipped out of Syria by Russia as per the agreement reached with President Obama, but apparently that does not seem to be the case.
At the end of the day, the world revolves on perception, and Syrian Government has done nothing to dispel any suspicion or perception about its hand in the attacks. And Russia is increasingly being viewed as a co-conspirator. This is not good for Russia.
Hopefully, rationale will prevail now, and President Assad will stop using chemical weapons like the deadly Sarin nerve gas. However, further actions must be taken against the Syrian government by world community. Russia should watch out as it also needs world support despite it being a super power.
Let us not kill our own people, or any people. The world needs peace for economic prosperity and growth.
8th April 2017
People like to talk with others, whether they know these others or not. If I run into a challenge in a large place which is unknown to me previously, my natural tendency would be to seek out someone from the milling crowd around me who I think has the propensity to respond to my query. I choose the right kind of person, and voila, I get my answer. Sometimes, I choose the clueless guy, who either says he does not know the answer, or points me in the wrong direction. I then need to make a judgement call whether to follow his advice, or ask someone else, provided I develop a suspicion on his response.
We of course, like to talk with people that we do know. There is much less resistance, or reluctance, in starting a conversation with these folks. The assumption here is that they do tolerate you, they know the pitfalls of having the conversation with you, they know that it could lead to a debate, or even to a new problem. It depends on their acceptance of you as an individual with a history of interactions with them, and their current level of tolerance to discuss a topic which could create an issue or a problem. Of course, initiation of a conversation also depends on your comfort level to discuss difficult topics, as your assumption is that there might be a good quality of discussion and a potential outcome which will then help you.
But, what about thoughts? Thinking through any problem, or challenge, or a topic of interest, is one of the most difficult endeavours one could undertake. Your ability to think through the genesis of the problem statement, identify a solution approach, mentally argue on the pros and cons of your proposed approach, and predicting how others would approach the problem given all the evidence in front of you, are all intriguing puzzle pieces. I spend a lot of time thinking about several things on any one day – for example, today I thought about the endurance of distance runners while I was walking early in the morning in the MacRitchie reservoir park, trying to understand how the bio-mechanics of a runner contrasts with mine (I do not run or jog) by observing the guys who were running in front of me. While I was walking back home (after a walk which took me two hours and 13,000 steps), I thought about the perennial fight between the Palestinians and Israelis, and how that problem could be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties – I thought through the options and determined that there is indeed a “bloodless” way which could guarantee Israel’s security and safety, while providing for the establishment of the State of Palestine. I compared that huge challenge with the India – Pakistan fight over Kashmir (which is unlikely to be resolved during our lifetime), and identified issues which are different between the two struggles. Then I thought about the interesting discussion I had with some close friends on Richard Dawkins and Bruce Lipton. On that matter, my view was that it is absolutely essential to understand the position and logic of all parties who could contest a central hypothesis. I have to be able to put myself into someone’s shoes and argue the case for that someone, which helps me to refine my case, logic and rationale against that someone’s position.
And so on, and so forth……….
The more we think, the less we talk nonsense. The more we think, the more logical we become. The more we think, the better we become tolerant and accepting. The more we think, the less isolated we become – though this might sound surprising. Once we think a lot about any particular topic, our mind chases us to validate our position or conclusion, either via secondary research, or by talking to people we know. It is a bit risky talking to people we do not know on weighty topics which could lead to trouble, unless we are a renowned professor who can give a lecture on the matter without inflaming passions!
I strongly believe that the more we think and exercise our grey matter without looking at a book or the internet, the stronger we become in cogent thought formulation, analysis, identification of problems, probable approach to resolution, and determination of potential outcomes. The process positions us on a strong base from which we can argue our case, and persuade people as to the logic of our position. Our life experiences shape us and shape our thinking, and this cannot be denied.
It is not at all necessary to conform to others’ thoughts if you are not convinced. People mistakenly think that they need to conform or agree on the resolution approach propagated by someone else, before you can get into the inner circle of friends and influencers. This is a wrong way of looking at things. People appreciate if one has a view that one explains with passion and then sticks to that view while taking feedback and inputs from others. It is very critical to have an opinion, a view or an analysis of a subject matter of interest to you. Or else, you just read about it in the media, see it on the TV getting debated by erudite people, or hear another view from someone you know, and then you don’t have a view or opinion of your own!
Opinions and views are rarely popular. I have two kinds of approaches when it comes to thinking and then amplifying my views to others who would have the patience to listen. One is original thought process which I come up with (quite often) based on my random readings and very random inner voices, and the other is taking up a contrarian view to what I think people around me are expected to coalesce upon. This second approach has produced some rather interesting results, as I have to develop my thinking to a higher level which could then facilitate a vocal defence of my contrarian view.
In a nutshell, we are given the power and the faculties to think. We should use this power to the fullest. This power would make us a complete human being, with the potential ability and thinking to change the world.
2nd April 2017
President Erdogan of Turkey crossed a red line last week when he likened Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany to a Nazi. In simple English, that is what he said. He also used that abhorrent epithet against some of the key EU countries which did not allow his ministers to campaign for him in their respective countries. The idea was to garner support for enhancing presidential powers of the Turkish President amongst the overseas communities of Turks living in the European Union.
There is nothing more shocking and malevolent to the EU countries than calling them out loud publicly as Nazis. And, it hurts the Germans in a visceral fashion. Germany is probably the most democratic country in all of the European Union, and has come a long, long way from the clutches of Nazism. The use of the word Nazi is a serious insult not only to the memory of the victims of Nazi rule, but also to the survivors of the holocaust.
While the responses from several European nations were muted, the German reactions were severe enough to stop President Erdogan on his tracks. He, however, continued his hurtful tirade against the EU, going as far as to say that Europeans won’t be safe on their streets if the situation continues. That was an intolerable statement from a power-hungry dictator who has suppressed human rights in his country. I was surprised to see muted reactions from the EU even to this serious slight, and wondered what was going on.
The EU and the European Parliament should now seriously question Turkey’s accession to the EU. President Erdogan is going to rescind the ban on the death penalty after winning the referendum for more dicatatorial powers, and that, in itself, should stop the accession. The human rights violations involving the sacking of thousands of government workers and jailing of security forces as a result of the July 2016 coup still rankles the EU, and many nations have started granting political asylum to Turks fleeing the government repression.
I was sad to read about all of these happenings. My view of Turkey was shaped recently by the Ottoman TV Serial “The Magnificent Century” showcased on Netflix. I even wrote a blog post on this serial, and am waiting for Netflix to start the next Season. I was thoroughly impressed with the Ottoman history, culture, traditions, et al, only to be shocked by the violence let loose in Turkey by various factions. Turkey is a great country which was once the epicentre of civilizations, and remains as a cultural and geographical bridge between Asia and Europe. It should not derail into anarchy and dictatorship. President Erdogan might be a great president for Turkey, but he needs to understand that, to be part of the EU, he has to adhere to certain well established principles which cannot be compromised. The EU is not a joke, and the Europeans are not unreasonable. To take Turkey into Europe, President Erdogan has to establish good relationships with all the key countries of the EU and cannot continue to bad-mouth them. There has to be a spirit of collaboration. Strongman arm-twisting will not work with the EU. If President Erdogan is styling himself after President Putin of Russia or President Trump of the U.S., it will be huge mistake.
On the part of the EU, a more robust reaction would have positioned the unmistakeable stature of the EU in the eyes of the watching world. I think the EU missed a big opportunity to assert its strong position against the mistaken assertions of the Turkish President and his Foreign Minister. There has to be a cost for such deliberate provocations, and I wonder why the EU wouldn’t show the stick when the situation demands.
May be the EU is worried about a NATO ally. May be the EU has come under pressure from Mr Trump not to exacerbate an already volatile situation. May be the EU is worried about loss of trade with Turkey. May be the EU is worried about the millions of Turks who live in its countries across Europe – what their allegiance is like towards Turkey, and what their reactions would be if a tough stand is taken by the EU against their President. A strong man evokes passions for sure, and President Erdogan must be stirring nationalistic emotions in overseas Turks, may be.
Sober minds have to prevail to recover the bad situation of the EU – Turkey relations. And, there is no better politician to deliver a very strong message and lead the road to recovery other than the Chancellor of Germany. And, President Erdogan would have his final chance to listen and make amends to his despicable utterances involving comparisons with Nazis.
26th March 2017
India has been a fine example of secularism since Independence from the British in 1947. The country was a Hindu-majority nation in 1947 (and still remains so though with a diminished Hindu population), but chose to embrace secularism as one of its main pillars of governance, separating religion from the government irrespective of the religious affiliation of the governing party. Secularism became embedded in the conscience of the nation, and India remained an envy for many countries who could not achieve that balance. Indonesia was another successful example which adopted secularism in a Muslim-majority country.
The main benefit to the citizens was the equal treatment accorded not just in the eyes of the law but in every facet of life. Minorities got integrated into the society and though there were incidents of stray attacks on them over the years, the racial segregation of the blacks in the U.S. was not witnessed in India. Secularism was the pride of India for many decades.
However, the way Indian politics operates has long been detrimental to the future of minorities in the country. All parties appease the minorities to win elections, making promises that could not be kept without disturbing the delicate fabric of society. Eventually the majority Hindus got alienated but became helpless when the minorities started deciding the election winners in many constituencies. Unfortunately, this was the result of monumental mistakes committed by all political parties of India, especially the Congress Party which ruled India for many decades, but has been on serious decline after the ascendancy of Mr Modi’s BJP Party.
Now, secularism as a principle of stability of the country has come under serious threat. Prime Minister Modi has been ruling India with a better and stronger hand at the till than any of his predecessors for the past over two years. He moved away from his past when he was more known as the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the inter-religious communal violence when more than a thousand Muslims perished, to an economic development plank which has widely been admired, especially outside India. For him not to consolidate the development gains of the past two years and aggressively move towards a Hindutva platform as the main aftermath of the U.P. Elections could turn out to be counterproductive to his primary mission of uplifting India and creating jobs.
The Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) State of India is its largest state with a population of 220M, which would position it as one of the top 10 populous nations of the world if it were an independent country. It is also a diverse state, with Muslims constituting 20% of the population. It sends 80 Members to the national Parliament, and it is often stated that if a party wins U.P., it would win India. Given its importance, and its economic backwardness, it is only natural for Mr Modi to carefully select a Chief Minister who would unite the state’s populations under a strong economic focus, centred on creating millions of jobs and improve the infrastructure. Instead, Mr Modi and his BJP Party selected a firebrand politician who has long been known for his divisive and militant political approach, and who incites fear in the minorities.
What India needs is development, not divisiveness. What India needs is a million jobs a month for its aspiring young citizens who are coming into the workforce. What India needs is strong infrastructure. What India needs is equal treatment for all its citizens as enshrined in the Constitution. What India needs is secularism. By moving away from these core principles, India will create in-house militancy on both sides of the religious divide. If Muslims do not have jobs, if they are discriminated across the society and economy, if they are always under attack and live with a fear psychosis, then what is the difference between Mr Trump’s fear politics which incites racial hatred and that of Mr Modi? Society cannot be divided, it needs to be united. By following a very divisive and militant politics, India is sure to create more terrorists in-house, who are frustrated with the society, economy and lack of opportunities. And, then, Pakistan would make use of this frustration and attack the core of India. Anyway, what then would be the difference between a theology-driven Pakistan and a theology-driven India?
Should we allow this to happen? Can Mr Modi rethink his strategy? He needs all Indians to support him in his economic development agenda for India. That is possible only if he is seen as a uniting force all across the country. India is not just a “Hindu” nation, it is a secular country for all its citizens and it should set a glorious example for the rest of the world. India might even be able to convince Mr Trump as to the need for the U.S. to remain totally secular and non-racist!
25th March 2017