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.
28th May 2017
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.
7th May 2017
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
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.
01 May 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
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
For the past more than five decades, the philosophy of Capitalism has become well entrenched around the world. The Western world developed the concept of Capitalism, where the free allocation of capital and labour to the most demanding production jobs in the right proportion generated products required by the market, while also generating more than adequate returns to the investors (in most cases). The wealth created from the productive use of Capital led to more investments, and so on and so forth. The opposing ideology of Communism which is state-assisted labour deployment only had partial success in the predominantly Communist countries (though Israel followed the state-farming approach which yielded positive results).
In every ideology, there is cause for mistakes to happen – in the case of Capitalism, the owner of the capital becomes greedy and squeezes the labour for higher returns on employed capital – so the term “greedy capitalists”. In later years, this term was used for people who tried to grab whole companies by throwing money – if you recall “Barbarians at the Gate”, who then tried to fire the employees, make the company lean and mean, and then re-list the company on the stock exchange for fat profits, or sell off the company. These are developments of the capitalist theme and nothing wrong (except on moral grounds) from a business perspective as the purpose of a capitalist is to make money at the end of the day, and that concept is not going to change.
In the meanwhile, several large countries such as India, experimented with Socialism in a democratic context (unlike Communism which always had dictatorial undertones). While the world appreciated the new ideology of India such as removal of poverty, the results from the experimentation were not pleasant, as the social investments made by the government did not reach the intended recipients in most situations, and corruption became a bugbear with insidious politicians siphoning off money meant for productive deployment. A corrupt bureaucracy was the downfall of socialist initiatives pioneered by the government. Over the past 50 years or so, socialism gained only one moniker – which is non-interference in the affairs of other nations in the Non-Aligned Movement – and no concrete economic results or benefits which could upend the surge of Capitalism around the world. Hence, socialism was largely considered as a failure, though most political parties will never acknowledge the fact.
But now, we see an upsurge of socialist movements starting with the most capitalistic countries of all – the U.S. The youngsters who I categorize as late teenagers and early twenty somethings, have become tired of the greedy excesses of the Capitalist era, which concentrates wealth in the hands of few people. A case in point is that the top 82 wealthiest people in the world have more wealth compared to 3.7B people of this world, which is just ridiculous. This scenario of excessive wealth within the top 0.01% (or even less %) of the people reduces the possibility of wealth creation for the remaining people, and the resulting gross and obscene income and wealth inequality has caused the youngsters of the world to question the status quo system which favours the rich folks. There is nothing wrong in questioning the status quo and asking governments and political parties to explain the rationale for continued patronage that they extend to the wealthiest people.
There is only one reason why a government (prime example would be the U.K. Government) would want to support the wealthiest folks from anywhere in the world – one is that they bring most of their wealth. The other primary reason is that the wealth could be deployed to create industries which would then require employment – so you would then achieve more than two critical objectives for any government – you create lots and lots of jobs via productive capital investments, the money would be in your country’s banking system, and the resulting employment and business operations would generate additional tax revenues for the government.
Looks absolutely logical, isn’t it? The flaw in the above logic is that most people who move their money do not deploy the same to generate employment and taxes. These greedy folks are looking for ease of a sanctuary location (with no questions asked) and ease of moving the capital in and out, and of course, ease of living. Several countries are greedy enough to provide all of the above facilitators and more.
More and more insight reveals that the government directly does not gain any new net revenues. This is one major reason that social agendas do not receive budgets necessary to sustain the operation. Healthcare is ignored, while defence gets huge investments to support the defence industries. Education is ignored. All put together, people do not see justice and equality in the way things have panned out over the years, and it is no secret.
Socialism is therefore coming back, not with the same mantle but in a different avatar. The key expectation now is reduction of income and wealth inequality (not exactly “redistribution of wealth”), more opportunities for job creation, fairer treatment in the hands of the government, freer and fairer elections which would allow people to better elect their representatives, elimination of corruption and lobbyism, et al. These are all noble objectives, and we all tend to appreciate the new logic which is inherent in this new socialistic approach.
While Capitalism is not going to go away, it should be fearing that the attacks on it would not subside anytime soon. It would lose substantial power in the coming years as more socialists get elected around the globe. It would be rather interesting to witness this transformation in the coming decade, when socialism would be pitted against capitalism and conservatives, as we have seen in the U.S. Elections within the Democratic Party nomination fights.
Have a good weekend,
12th February 2017