Haifa and Akko


I made a rather quick visit to Haifa, the third largest city of Israel, some 90 KMs to the north of Tel Aviv. It is situated on a mountainous terrain, and is also a port city. Some views of the city as below:

The Bahai Temple in all its beauty:

I also visited the port city of AKKO (also known as ACRE). Pictures from that visit as below:

Vegetable and Fruit market:

Israel is an expensive country to live. I would think it is more expensive than Singapore though its national income per capita at around USD 38K in 2016 is smaller than that of Singapore which was around USD 52K in 2016. The New Shekels, the currency of Israel, runs like water when you are at a nice restaurant or shopping. Even the hotels at more than USD 250 per night are more expensive than those of Singapore for similar 5-Star brands. So, one would need lot of New Shekels (1 SGD = 2.7 New Shekels) when going to Israel. Unfortunately, Singapore and Tel Aviv are not connected directly by air, and so I had to fly to Bangkok and catch the EL AL airlines flight to Tel Aviv.

Israel is a safe country with lots to see. I would not mind taking my family to Israel on a historical tour (they all love history!). May be I need to find another air route and another airline probably.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th August 2018

Caesarea


When I visited Israel last week, I did not realize that I was going to visit a country with a very ancient history – I always thought that Israel is a modern country with cities and skyscrapers. It is not the case actually – most locations have some ancient historical background. The religious nature of the land of Israel is of course, well known. Many religions have existed for thousands of years in this region. The influence of Romans, Moghuls, Ottomans, Jews, and Crusaders are to be seen almost everywhere. I did not spend too long, just a couple of days going around so I cannot claim that I have seen most of the places or understood their significance. One thing is for sure – this is a country which should not be missed by itinerant travellers!

Some pictures from the ancient city of Caesarea which is located less than an hour from Tel Aviv on the way to Haifa. I am not recounting the history of this famous port city, but I am going to provide two web links which will be very useful in understanding the history and importance of Caesarea.

Caesarea Story from BRITANNICA

Tourist Israel site – useful one

A few views of the beautiful inlaid marble or mosaic work from a villa during Roman times as below –

Visit this ancient land and enjoy the sights of beautiful architecture built by rulers who lived in this same land a few thousand years ago!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th August 2018

Jerusalem Visit #2


More pics and story of Jerusalem…………an amazing city that’s a must for everyone to visit and experience…………..

Cemeteries that one sees first before entering Jerusalem……….they bury the dead and have been doing so for hundreds of years……….

A road in the Old City of Jerusalem……….it is surprising they allow cars in the narrow streets of the Old City

A building which has Hebrew, Arabic and English on the name board – it is actually a small church

A scroll of the Torah (written by hand on a leather parchment) – which is the first 5 books of the Bible.

A Synagogue in the Old City………….

 

The story of this Synagogue……….

The inside of the Synagogue – the first time I have ever been inside one………..

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation

A view of the Western Wall……..

Jews praying at the Western Wall

Jews praying at the Western Wall

Inside an enclosure at the Western Wall – old and young pray

Vijay posing at the plaque at the entrance to the Western Wall

No one can go near this place at the Western Wall – the stones are from 2,000 years ago

Inside the Walled area of the Moslem Quarter of the Old Jerusalem City

Another view of the Wall

The bridge which provides access to the Moslem Quarter

Another view

A partial view of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the hills at a distance

A view from the parapet opposite the wall

 

A view of the golden dome inside the Moslem Quarter

Jerusalem continues to amaze – it is the confluence of multiple large religions and religious followers, multiple cultures, multiple philosophies, and multiple intense histories. It is a great place to visit with a guide like what I did. There are so many places to visit in the Old City and outside the Old City, that it would be better to dedicate a minimum of 2 days. There is also the “Capitol” or the area where there are several government institutions such as the Knesset (the Parliament), the Central Bank, the Prime Minister’s residence, the National Library, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept, and so on……………..

Plan a visit!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th August 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerusalem Visit #1


I visited Israel this week.

Here are some pics from my Jerusalem trip on the 6th August.

On the Highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The four Quarters dividing the Old City of Jerusalem: Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Moslem

Walking into the Old City of Jerusalem

A view of the Old City

The Temple Mount in the Moslem Quarter, fortified with solid gold by the King of Jordan

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter

A beautiful view of the Jerusalem skyline

Armenian Church

Holy Sepulchre Church

Inside the Church

Inside the Church

 

The Room of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples

Room of the Last Supper

Another view of the room of the Last Supper

David’s Tomb, a holy place for the Jews

Inside the Old City

2,000 year old columns

Complete Columns from 2,300 years ago

This is a painting of life in the Byzantine era, around 300 AD (300 years after Christ)

Entrance to the Holy Sepulchre Church where Jesus was entombed by the Romans after his Crucifixion

Devotees praying and kissing the slab in which Jesus was laid down after his Crucifixion

The Orthodox Russian or Armenian area of Cruxifixion

The Catholic area of Crucifixion (just adjoining the above orthodox area)

The dome above the area of Crucifixion

The tomb of Jesus

T

The tomb of Jesus

===================================================================

It was simply amazing feeling to visit Jerusalem. I cannot describe it adequately. Whatever be one’s religious belief or denomination, it gives a sense of agelessness to walk on the same ground in which so much of history has occurred. There is enough evidence in the Old City of Jerusalem to prove that the stones used and the architectural designs belonged to the age of over 2,000 ago. So much of history, so many conflicts, and so much of global attention………

I will publish more pics in the next installment.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th August 2018

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

 

Secular Life in Turmoil


I have written about secularism in the past.

Some of my previous blog posts are listed here:

Secularism under threat

The Debate on Secularism

Spirituality departing from the land of discovery

The rising intolerance

I am adding on to the above posts with some additional thoughts on a bright Sunday morning here in Singapore, as I gaze across the expanse of a water reservoir which is serene and calm. I am disturbed with the onset of these thoughts, so the calmness around me is surreal.

I believe no religion owns a country or a people, around the world. Religion is the creation of man and woman. For thousands of years, the religious faith of a group of people had provided to them a solid hold on their lives as well as guidance to lead their lives. Religions, unfortunately, had been the cause of wars between people and untold millions of deaths.

Religion is not a necessary prerequisite or condition for sustaining a faith on things which matter to you. It is nice to have a system of faith which is what a religion should provide to its followers. A religion cannot dictate what someone should do or should not do. Of course, these are my personal views (as always).

So, my point of view on secularism is rather simple – since no religion should own a sect of followers or people, no one religion can control a country. This surely and firmly applies to democracies (theocracies are not being discussed in this post as I have not understood their rationale for existence in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan world). This would mean that democracies should disown ALL religions, irrespective of the majority affiliation to any one religion.

What does this mean in practice? A Catholic country with majority of its people Catholics, cannot have Catholicism embodied in its constitution as the “state religion”, as long as it remains a secular democracy. The same applies to other religious denominations. Coming to the example of India, it is enshrined in the Constitution of India that India is a secular democracy, though over 85% of its population are Hindus who generally follow Hinduism as their religion. The founders of India did this with a clear purpose in mind – that India is a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious country even at the time of its Independence in 1947. A Hindu theocracy would have seriously impacted the emergence of a peaceful India as a nation-state.

Think about the wisdom of the founders and original thinkers of Indian Constitution. They were not ordinary folks, they were serious people who contributed to the formation of India. Were they wrong? Absolutely not.

The racism and the attendant violence that the U.S. witnesses every day is because the government and law enforcement are discriminating on colour of people and their ethnicity. European countries are having huge problems on absorbing new immigrants because their social integration into European societies has not been possible due to the differing customs and religious practices. India did not have many of these issues for several decades. In India, law enforcement did not shoot at people they do not like.

“Untouchables” – the class of people that Mahatma Gandhi tried hard to integrate into mainstream Indian society – are in a far better position today than at the beginning of the 20th Century. I would argue that they are in a better situation due to strong affirmative actions than the African-Americans in the U.S.

Given all this complexity in various large nations, the only solution is to maintain a religion-neutral, race-neutral, ethnicity-neutral, and colour-neutral system of governance and law enforcement. The argument that the majority religion is being neglected and more importance is being paid to minorities is not appropriate, as majority population can always elect a party that they want to run the government. Religious sects across a large country cannot easily integrate election voting, that is just a dream. Individual people vote according to their conscience mostly (at least the people who understand partisan politics which is dominant today everywhere in the world). Religion can never integrate a society, it can only disintegrate it.

So, in a nutshell, secularism is the only way forward for the world, at least for the democratic nations of the world. If a party or government is formed on theocratic principles, then that is doomed to fail in the medium term as the majority electorate would realize their folly in electing them in the first place. No religion can run a government, and no government can operate a people as though they are religious levers to be pulled up for convenience.

I am absolutely sure that many folks may not like what I am writing here, nevertheless I believe that it is very important to express one’s thoughts and discuss the same with folks who are interested in the global development of the world. Anger against a particular religion, majority people, or minority people is not going to solve any issue. Every one is equal in this world and secularism ensures that as far as religious faiths are concerned.

Have a wonderful weekend, and see you next weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2018

 

Right Wingism


Once upon a time, I had a personal opinion that if the majority of the population belongs to one religion, caste, creed, colour, or ethnicity, then they would have to have a say in how a government is run and how minority populations have to behave under a majority dispensation. A kind of “right wing” orientation with an attitude of “my way or highway”………

But, luckily, I had that view only for about a year or so.

I was forced to change my view under the glaring reality of what could potentially go wrong under that scenario.

Examples of what could happen to a minority people under the force and pressure of a majority rule are everywhere to be seen. In China, we saw what could happen to the minority Muslim population in the western part of the country. In Russia, we saw what a majority dictatorship can do to minority people in the southern part of the country. In the U.S., which is a major democracy, we see human rights violations against the Black and Latino people and other minority population almost on a weekly basis now – whether they are legal or illegal immigrants.

But these countries never had the background, sophistication and diversity of India, which remains even today as the biggest and most impactful civilization ever. In thousands of years of successful and peaceful co-existence, many different religions have flourished in India, even Judaism! India continues to have Chinese speaking people in Kolkata (Calcutta); it has over 200 minority communities speaking their own languages, and existing peacefully along with the majority Hindus.

The beauty of Hinduism is its “pacifist” nature – a peaceful and non-dictatorial religion which recognizes the existence of other religions and philosophies, and is always open to assimilation of different ideologies while not giving up its core thoughts. Hinduism spawned Buddhism, and that has spread throughout South East and East Asia as well as China.

It is critical not to disturb the hallowed reputation of Hinduism under any majority rule. While it is not necessary to kowtow to the minorities or minority religions, equal treatment of citizens and their affiliations is absolutely necessary to sustain a peaceful co-existence, especially in a very diverse country with multiple minority groups. This also means respect for each other and each others’ religious practices.

The recent wave of immigrants to Europe has changed the debate, because most of these immigrants are from the Northern regions of Africa and Syria. European countries worry about the integration of these people into their mainstream, about potential crime, and other socio-political issues. India never bothered about such issues over the past hundreds of years, because it has always been open to foreign influences and cultures, as it is today, with foreigners eventually adjusting and integrating into society.

With the unique amalgam of various kinds of people in Indian society, one may wonder how the governance and societal systems work out in India. It may surprise people elsewhere that India has been able to manage such a huge diversity in a peaceful manner over the years, and remains as a beacon of hope for the world.

Hence, it is my view that nothing should disturb this very unique diversity of philosophies and peoples. Any government that is running India should recognize the critical importance of this diversity and ensure the safety of all its people irrespective of where they come from or what they profess. If such a complex country has survived millennia of foreign influences, then it can continue to survive with less turbulence than the other large countries. In the next decade or so, India will overtake China as the most populous country in the world with over 1.4B people, so the continued peaceful management of the country assumes critical proportions.

It should be every political party’s responsibility to support the above existence and management of the country. Every party should support the governing party’s mandate to enhance the well-being of all of its population without distinction. This would mean all parties sign up for a common cause to benefit all people. It might be wishful thinking, but a serious evaluation of the ground situation in the country could lead sober people at the helm of affairs in various parties to conclude that cooperation is a must to eliminate societal disturbances and any kind of violence.

There should be no pre-judged or predicated mindset to support only the minorities every time. Majorities also could be right. A tripartite system of Parliament – Executive – Judiciary in India is so mature that it should be able to handle the systemic disturbances without clash or conflicts, and reach peaceful and meaningful resolutions. There may be confusion elsewhere in more mature democracies on how to handle difficult scenarios, for example, gun violence against minority Blacks. India does not and should not have such situations, and even if such problems arise, the tripartite system of governance and justice should take timely decisions to alleviate problems.

I am not taking any extreme view or position on matters of governance and justice. It is for any country to figure out the issues and resolve problems which affect its people. However, I am confident on the resilience of the India story.

It is my sincere hope that India will find its way ultimately and reach its goal of economic upliftment for its people – moving confidently towards USD 5,000 GDP per capita (a USD 7T economy) and then on to USD 10,000 per capita (a USD 14T economy) by 2030 and 2040 respectively. That should be the focus and not on any kind of class conflict. Any and all governments should respect peoples’ wish to pull themselves out of poverty.

Hope this happens for India!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd July 2018

 

 

Two Dictators and their Antics


Singapore was witness to a historic summit between two dictators earlier this week (on the 12th June 2018) in the idyllic small island of Sentosa off the main Singapore island.

One dictator has established himself as a ruthless governor of the pariah state of North Korea (NK or otherwise known as DPRK – Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea). He has been the leader of NK for the past 7 years only, but has amply demonstrated his cruelty by murdering many of his people in the shortest possible time, including his own uncle. His citizens are starving. He has channeled all his slush funds into developing ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, and his unstable government has incited fears even in his closest ally, China. I do not understand the relationship between NK and Russia, however. May be technology transfer? In a nutshell, NK is neither democratic nor socialistic – people are just slaves of the Kim family for over 7 decades.

All these things are well documented, with news coverage of NK being incessant over the past 12 to 18 months or so, with the aggressive posturing of its young leader, often against the U.S.

The other dictator I am referring to here is of course, Donald Trump, the President of the U.S. who is unpredictable, unstable, and easily incited into drastic actions. How can he be the so-called “leader of the Free World”?. Under his stewardship, the U.S. is being castigated for a series of diplomatic and trade-related missteps. No one in the U.S. government or even the White House knows what Trump is up to with his early morning tweets setting government policy and heavily criticizing his opponents and the media. He wants his way in everything that matters to him, and appears to be totally devoid of careful counsel. And, that is exactly the way he made the trip to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong Un.

The meeting was totally unscripted and was deemed to be a “relationship” meeting as Trump continually attempted to downgrade expectations, having built up those expectations to a feverish level in the days leading up to the “dictators’ meting” in Singapore. Kim was wiser, he hardly stated anything publicly, and kept his counsel, and demonstrated a cool head during his Singapore visit without appearing to be unduly excited.

Why should he be? He was, in any case, not giving away anything to Trump. The meeting was hailed as an outstanding success by Trump, though many observers thought it was a complete waste of time having accomplished nothing of substance – no complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization; no stopping of missile launches; no resolution to the thorny issue of abducted Japanese citizens by NK agents; no tight time schedule for anything; no way forward on the big human rights violations by NK against its own citizens; and no, no, no for many other demands.

For Trump, it was a public relations exercise, becoming the first ever sitting President of the U.S. to have met with the leader of NK – ever. He thinks he has figured Kim out and can handle him well. How? All by touch and feel, as Trump claimed in his media interactions? Why would he think and then say that Kim is a “talented” guy? Trump expressed his appreciation of the fact that Kim took over as Chairman in 2011 when he was barely 26 years of age, and brushed aside questions on the very bad human rights record of NK.

In my opinion, it was a waste of time with no solid returns for the stakeholders – South Korea, Japan and the U.S. It was a failure.

It was horrifying to see that the leader of the Free World has now become a close friend of the worst dictator on earth. For a very long time, the U.S. has entertained dictators all over the world, and antagonized democracies. Any one who has followed world history will attest to this fact. The U.S. always hid behind domestic compulsions, national security, and cold war antagonism. In the past one week, Trump has even alienated his closest allies in the G-8 meeting in Canada, and blasted Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, as a dishonest person and a liar.

So, the world is heading towards a circus play of these two dictators. We have no choice but to play along, as otherwise the world will be headed towards another war – as Trump himself stated during his Singapore trip, he has saved 28M lives! Totally ridiculous, unacceptable and irresponsible.

Singapore spent a lot of money in organizing this summit of the two dictators – upwards of $15M. Many locations, especially the hotels in which the two dictators were staying, and the meeting venue in Sentosa were all in locked-down status. Thousands of police personnel were pressed into duty. For Singapore, it was beneficial as it gained worldwide attention as the venue of the summit, having been friends with both sides over the years. Singapore is a close military ally of the U.S. and it also has other wide-ranging business, trade, economic relations with the U.S. Singapore has also maintained diplomatic relations with NK, though it complied with the U.N. sanctions against the regime.

Chairman Kim Jong Un gained big publicity as well – he was treated as a visiting head of state and acquired legitimacy as a leader in his own right. This would not have happened for a long, long time under the U.N. sanctions scenario (which still apply).

So, in a nutshell, lot of noise and fanfare for a very weak 4 points agreement which has been touted as something huge back in the U.S. by President Trump, and deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Prize? Forget it. NK has a long way to go before the world recognizes it on par with South Korea (unless there is a merger).

In any case, visit Singapore and see the Capella Hotel in Sentosa Island – you might like to walk along the same corridor that both the dictators walked on!

Here’s Wishing all Friends a “Selamat Hari Raya or Eid Mubarak”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th June 2018

 

Falling Markets


We saw that the major equity markets around the world suffered steep losses during the week which just ended.

There are always multiple reasons why the equity investors fret at times and start a major selling operation of their holdings. Mostly it is sentiment, sometimes emotions, but almost always there is a reason or many reasons why the market sell-off happens.

In the current scenario, the negative sentiment is driven by multiple factors afflicting the U.S. economy, aggravated by bad government policies which appear to keep shifting all the time under the wise administration of President Trump. To start with, there has been a series of exits of experienced people from the administration – the latest being General McMaster who was the National Seecurity Advisor to the President. He has been replaced by the rather hawkish hothead – John Bolton, who is likely to plunge the U.S. into another back-breaking war, either with Iran or North Korea.

So, you have a combination of the following factors:

  • a huge deficit budget of USD 1.3T which has just been signed off by the President, necessary to keep the government running till end of September 2018, which has a massive allocation for the military (not all of that is necessary);
  • a possible credit squeeze, with the Federal Reserve planning to raise the interest rates at least twice if not more times during this calendar year;
  • a high dependency on China which buys most of the U.S. Treasury Bills;
  • a looming trade war primarily with China, with the President planning to impose tariffs worth USD 50/60B on imports from China, and the already planned retaliation by China;
  • a strong noose tightening around the President’s neck – the Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller – Trump cannot fire Mueller as that would lead to unforeseen consequences, but he might still do it, plunging the U.S. into uncertainty;
  • more potential exits from the Trump administration – Jeff Sessions is one clear possibility;
  • sex scandals threatening Trump from a series of women – the courts are admitting the cases against the wishes of Trump and his lawyers;
  • the clear possibility that Kim Jong Un might refuse to enter into talks with the U.S. if John Bolton is involved; North Korea termed Bolton as a “scum” and a “blood sucker” in 2003/04 and is unlikely to talk to him if Trump deputes him or brings him along to threaten Kim Jong Un, which will very likely happen;
  • the Iran nuclear deal imbroglio; Trump might refuse to certify the continuance of the deal when it comes for his quarterly certification signature as required by the U.S. Congress, in which case Iran will be free to walk away from the deal, and that might lead to Bolton arguing his case to bomb all of Iran’s nuclear facilities;
  • the continuing loss of elections to the Democratic Party as just happened in Pennsylvania – the potential loss of both the House and the Senate majority, which is not likely, but appears possible now;
  • and, so on and so forth…………there are many such factors

So, the equity markets falling was expected by all and sundry. If I recollect, the U.S. market ran up by more than 6,500 points (DOW) in about 14 months from the time Trump took office, allowing him to tout the market gain as one of his signature achievements. Now out of this increase, 3,000 points are gone, and it is likely that the sell off will continue into next week.

A government that is so critical for world peace and stability cannot be tottering every day. One has to just see CNN News and the U.S. Talk Shows by major news organizations, to get the full import of what is going on in Washington D.C. The Trump administration has become a laughing stock, even within the U.S.

The only silver lining is that Trump is the first U.S. President who has succeeded in pushing North Korea to the negotiating table (mostly by harsh tweets from Trump!), though both Koreas claim that they decided to play the Olympic game together and cool off the rhetoric. The other achievement of Trump is that he is the first U.S. President to stand up to China without any fear of repercussions and challenge them to a trade war.

While these are great to see and hear about, we have to recognize that Trump has still not won any battle with either one of these countries. He could not even win the Border Wall case against Mexico, which refused to foot the bill. It is going to be very tough for the U.S. to negotiate when Trump has surrounded himself with foreign policy and military hawks such as Mike Pompeo (the new Secretary of State, yet to be confirmed by the Congress), John Bolton (the new National Security Advisor who does not need Congress confirmation), Gina Haspel (the new CIA Director nominee who needs to be confirmed by the Congress), and the perennial lady hawk Nikki Haley who is the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. A war is surely looming with such hot heads around the President, who himself is a strong hot head who will not take a slight from anyone, or advice from anyone. All the major departures have happened apparently due to the fact that the concerned person begged to differ from the views of the President.

So, here we are, with markets having fallen all around the world, including India’s SENSEX. We are entering an uncertain phase in world history and diplomatic relationships. Everything can come off unhinged. No relationship is going to remain sacred. Continuous drama at the White House is going to rock the markets on a daily basis. The markets can no longer afford to do their own business disconnected from political and economic realities.

So, we are all in for a rocky ride, folks.

Enjoy the ride however.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th March 2018

The Passing of an Eventful 2017


Today is the last day of 2017.

What an eventful year it was – every year has some significant events which define it. However, 2017 was one of those years which had multiple significant events trying to define it, the most important one being the coronation (!) of Donald Trump as the President of the U.S. in January 2017.

That changed almost every other significant event in the entire world – Trump changed the world order for everything significant. It became a topsy turvy world defined by uncertainty, chaos, confusion, war-mongering, spiced up elections, enhanced killing of civilians, increase in the number of refugees, increase in the severe perpetration of atrocities on ethnic minorities, diplomacy torn to tatters, more urban violence, intolerance towards minority races, testing of long-established alliances, threat to dismantle trade partnerships, ruinous twitter shots, anti-immigrant rhetoric, vilifying genuine polictical opponents, and what not. The list is endless, but the defining moment of the year was the unexpected anointing of Donald Trump as the most temperamental power-mongering trigger-happy IDK (I don’t know or care) president of the most powerful nation on earth.

If the U.S. is making diplomatic and militaristic waves in the North American continent, the U.K. is making a different set of waves in an economic and trade sense, in Europe via its Brexit separation from the European Union. While massive chaos has not followed the Brexit vote, it is likely that the full impact of this separation would be felt in 2018/19, as both entities resolve trade, immigration, security and other issues between themselves. In Asia, the country which is making most of the persistent waves of a destructive impact would be none other than China, which is intent on flexing its military and political muscle towards an unreasonable, unjustified nationalistic expansion into the South China Sea, to the detriment of the South East Asian countries. While Japan and India are acting as joint counter-balance to the rising influence and belligerence of China, they would not be able to match China, without the active involvement and participation of the U.S.

The most peaceful economic rise is that of India. While marked down by the demonetization and the national goods and services tax initiatives, India is recovering and is on the verge of exceeding a 7% GDP growth rate, soon to reclaim as the fastest growing large economy on the planet. Such a focused, sustainable growth rate is expected to lift 200 to 300 million people out of poverty in the coming 3 to 5 years.

2017 saw military conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria – all in the Middle East. An accurate tally of the human cost of these conflicts is not available, even from the United Nations, but it is safe to assume that a million or more civilian lives has been lost in these countries. It appears that human lives are the easiest expendable commodity that is available to policy makers in both political/government and military circles. This is a pathetic evolution of unnecessary warfare on civilians who cannot defend themselves, or who cannot be defended by their own weak governments. A totally ridiculous situation which even the most sober people in the world are not able to address and resolve to this day.

The ejection of the Rohingya Muslim community by Myanmar is another sad refugee story, which is tainted by lots of blood in the hands of the government and the arumy. The glorified leader and Nobel peace prize laureate, Aung Saan Suu Kyi of Myanmar, has not done herself any favour, by not speaking out loudly and clearly on the ethnic cleansing which has characterized the army operations against the Rohingyas. The United Nations, again, is unable to do anything except giving media interviews.

2017 was positive in many aspects as well. Stock markets everywhere created huge additional wealth during the year. There was strongly positive action in corporate market, with several major mergers and acquisitions announced/completed. Tax rforms in the U.S. have been a positive news for U.S. corporations. Climate change initiatives are in progress, despite the lack of U.S. support and participation. Trade initiatives are in progress, despite lack of U.S. participation (Trans Pacific Partnership, Belt & Road initiative, etc.,). GDP per capita is firmly rising in Asian countries.

So, in a nutshell, 2017 while being a dramatic and significantly eventful year, has not diluted the human confidence on the criticality of economic growth, alleviation of poverty, elimination of wars, sustainability of peace, trade, manufacturing, healthcare, etc., At the end of the day, people need more bread on the table, and if governments can help in achieving that goal so much the better for everyone.

I think we can learn a lot from the happenings of 2017, and could plan execution of important events in our life a little better. Lack of study, analysis and preparation hampers our execution many a time, and we should not let that happen. However, we almost have to pray that a nuclear war is not unleashed on Asia (again). Only one country has suffered from a nuclear war, and that is Japan. Do we want the second such country in Asia as well?

Surely not. Let us hope better sense will prevail over hot heads who have been given the mammoth responsibility to make epochal decisions which affect all of mankind.

I hope you all had a good 2017, and here’s wishing you an outstanding year in 2018 and more success, peace, and health. Forget the money and focus on these three things. You will come to the conclusion that your money priorities were not the right ones to lead a positive and cheerful life.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st December 2017

The Republic of England


While there is a lot to dislike about Late Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, the one thing I liked about her was her firm and strong opinions on matters of State. She pushed through the abolition of the Privy Purse in the Indian Parliament in 1971, which abolished the significant payout of monies to the Princely States of India which had acceded to the Indian Union by 1947 (some states required coercion and joined only by 1949). These states wer ruled by rich kings (no capital “K”) or princes, who had enough assets to pay for themselves and their families’ maintenance. However, under an arrangement worked out around the time of Indian Independence, Privy Purses were established, ensuring annual payments were made by the Government of India from its budget.

However, India became a Republic in 1950. It was the classic state with rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. Kings, princes and emperors and their accompaniments were of no value after 1950, though there were many Indians who were subservient to these folks (the same tendency which brought India down against the British). After the 1971 abolition of privy purses, the kings and princes and princesses officially became “poor” and common citizens. There are not many countries in the world apart from France, of course, which disbanded royalty which had ruled them for hundreds of years, and let them go away. There was no bloodshed in India against the kings and princes – there are many stories of how the erstwhile royalty survived in conditions worse than that of the common man of India, even living on railway station platform for instance.

All told, royalty is extinct in India. Nobody even mentions the titles of kings (some of whose lineage still exist, like in Rajasthan State and Mysore, a part of Karnataka State).

How about England? How about Australia, which is still shy of talking about becoming a republic? How about many other nations which were under British rule, and still are subservient to the Crown of England?

Absolute stupidity and nonsense, I would say.

Gone are the days of royalty and obeisance to them. Now they spend taxpayers’ money. In the U.K., the Queen of England has a huge budget allocation as the equivalent of the privy purse. Her palaces require expensive maintenance. The weddings of the royal family are huge affairs with huge costs picked up by the British taxpayer (one is coming up pretty soon if you are following the news).

I wrote about the “anachronism of royalty” in a 2011 blog post – you can read it here The anachronism of royalty.

Why does the common man still believe that the royalty are superior to him, and so deserve a better treatment? Do they have genes which distinguish them as royalty? Are they descendants of God himself? Do they deserve what they are getting for free, without doing any work of substance in return for the state?

The subservience of the common man to people with authority can only be allowed if it is out of respect for a democratic title – like the president or prime minister. The role is critical for the performance of duties in a democracy, and so we respect the role. Not necessary, of course. In a democracy, every person is equal to another person – there cannot be a distinction. This fundamental principle is violated in the current treatment of royalty.

France abolished royalty in 1789. Russia did that in 1917. India did that in 1971.

It is time for England and other princely states (there are many of them still around) to abolish monarchy in a democratic manner, like what India did. There will be protests, of course, but the fundamental principle of human equality and democratic application of the same cannot be contested either on legality or parliamentary procedures. One day or the other, it has to happen. Then you will have kings and princes walking on the street and drinking the same coffee that we do.

I am sure there are many poeple amongst us who still revere any royalty, and this concept of abolition of their privileges is going to be a big anathema to them. However, they have to just think of the sufferings of the common man. Things have not improved for the common man in many countries of the world. Why bother about the rich royalty who in any case, have huge assets and are incredibly wealthy?

The Indian way has proven to be the best – peaceful, no protests, even-handed. Legal battles went on, but finally the Supreme Court of India ruled against the reinstatement of the privy purse and other benefits in 1993. Speaking for the bench, the Chief Justice, L M Sharma, said: ‘The distinction between the erstwhile rulers and the citizenry of India has to be ended so as to have a common brotherhood.’ He added: ‘In a country like ours, with so many disruptive forces of regionalism and communalism, it is necessary to emphasise that the unity and integrity of India can be preserved only by a spirit of brotherhood.’

Yes, the Chief Justice captured the essence of democracy in that statement.

Think about it. England invented the concept of democracy and rule by elected representatives to the parliament. They invented parliamentary democracy, which has been adopted by scores of countries including India. But, the English system of governance still remains as constitutional monarchy.

Time for a rethink, I guess?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd December 2017