George Abraham

Chengannur by-election: How Congress in Kerala has ceded the Secular space to Communists

Not too long ago, a Christian in Central Travancore in Kerala would have had a hard time pulling the lever for the hammer and sickle in an electron booth, the forever symbol of the Communist Party of India. Times have indeed changed. In a recently concluded election in Chengannur, Kerala, Christians overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Communists whose original doctrine is based on anti-God and anti-Church philosophies; under that red flag scores of Christians were persecuted and murdered in the former Soviet Union and China.

What is the reason for this drastic turn of events? Why have the staunch supporters of the Congress Party and dedicated followers of its values and principles shown the about-face? If one carefully examines the recent election history, there should be no surprise at this slow evolution among Christians switching the allegiance from a party which founded the Secular Democratic Republic to a party dedicated to the totalitarian philosophy!

I belong to the Chengannur Constituency and happened to be there in the early part of the campaign after attending the AICC plenary session in Delhi. With all those whom I have conversed, it became quite evident that all the indications pointed to a Communist victory in Chengannur. Some of the pundits who have analyzed the election results have concluded that Chengannur constituents wanted to continue with development work that was initiated under the late MLA Ramachandran Nair and therefore voted for CPM. Some others including the opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala openly stating that some minority consolidation bordering on reverse communalism was the reason for the loss.

Once again, we are witnessing Congress party leadership that is tone deaf and so detached from the grassroots that they are even unable to comprehend the aspirations of their constituents. Knowing fully well the daunting task ahead for the Congress party before the election, I took the initiative in bringing together Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, a former Home Minister and one of those Congress stalwarts together with a Pastor of one of the leading Pentecostal Churches in Kallissery for a meeting. The Pastor did not mince words by telling him that he along with other believers of the Church have just utterly lost faith in the Congress leadership in protecting their religious freedom or  providing security to their places of worship. 

The Protestant churches that may have about 15,000 or more votes in the constituency were becoming increasingly fearful of the BJP agenda and terrified at the stories of attacks on minorities and Dalits that were occurring across North India. They were even more distressed and disappointed at the lack of response from the Congress leadership in the State who seem to appear at their doorstep only at a time of an election. There may be the only handful of Congress leaders in the State who might even pick up their calls or return their emails.

Although Kerala is known for its communal harmony over the years, any NRI who returns to Kerala could easily sense the change in the cultural and religious dynamics. Communities appear to be increasingly growing apart and a sense of division and polarization has been seeping in. Although there is no large-scale riots or mayhem taking place anywhere in Kerala, the BJP under Amit Shah appears to have succeeded in exploiting the differences of the people, primarily based on religion.

RSS, which was quietly amassing their strength in Kerala over the years, has also become louder and bolder since the ascendance of Narendra Modi at the helm in Delhi. Although they have mostly shied away from physical violence in the central Travancore area, they would use any legal means to stop or delay Christian gatherings for worship such as Section 153 A of the Indian penal code (promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, etc.)  For Christian communities, getting a permit for a convention or mounting a sound system in the public space or merely inviting a Christian leader from abroad have become a procedural nightmare. Moreover, any new building permit for a church would require intense police scrutiny and certification of unanimous approval from the surroundings.

An incident before the election in Kumbanad has also shaken the confidence of a segment of the Christian Community - a gang of RSS activists broke the wall and destroyed the gate of the Church of God, an evangelical group that has a strong presence in the area. According to the sources, the Church has  made multiple calls to the leaders of the Congress Party as well CPM. The response from CPM leadership was swift and effective while Congress leaders showed up only a few days later. That pretty much illustrates the widening chasm between the Congress party and the people of the minority faith.

It should also be noted that Muslims in the Constituency have also voted overwhelmingly for CPM although Muslim league is a member of the UDF coalition. The sad reality is that the Congress Party that won independence for India and founded the constitutional republic which guaranteed religious freedom to every citizen has now found itself with leaders who are reluctant to hoist its secular flag and not brave enough to challenge the growing menace of communalism. Some of them would even go to the extent of arguing that such a loud voice would alienate the majority community. However, the truth of the matter is Congress Party was at its peak when it had leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru who was an unapologetic defender of secularism. 

Mr. D. Vijaykumar, the candidate selected by the Congress, was an excellent choice considering his long and dedicated service to the party. He has indeed won more votes for the party this time than in the previous election. However, he couldn’t turn the tide in his favor due to some of the issues discussed before. There was also an underlying group rivalry along with lack of volunteers for a door-to-door campaign that might have also influenced the outcome. 

The Christian Community in Kerala has a 2000 year old history. Christianity came to Kerala even before England had embraced that religion. Why then, they are made to feel that they don’t belong there or should act subservient to the majority community? Does religion define Indian ness? Obviously, RSS appears to be following Golwalker, their Guru of hate to the hilt.

Unless the Congress Party examines themselves well and readies a plan of action soon, a minority consolidation towards CPM will not only continue, but the Congress Party may be in grave danger of ceding the Secular space to CPM and consequently may be relegated to a third-place supplanting BJP in Kerala.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

Karnataka election: voters to choose between tainted leadership and clean governance

Interacting with media during a tour of Lingayat and Dalit mutts in central Karnataka, Amit Shah, the national President of BJP began making allegations against the current Siddaramaiah government. “ Recently, a Supreme Court judge said if ever there was a competition for the most corrupt government, then Yeddyurappa government will get number one..” shocking Yedurappa who was seated near him. It may have been a faux pas by Mr. Shah who immediately tried to control the damage. Congress Party wasted no time in seizing the original quote and expressing their total agreement.

A few weeks later, Karnataka has witnessed the tainted Reddy brothers sharing a dais with Yeddyurappa and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan at a rally in Molakalmur. It appears that Mr. Janardhana Reddy who came out of jail on bail from the noxious mining scam is back along with the Bellary gang asking people to vote for BJP. The party has also given tickets to his two brothers Somashekhara Reddy and Karunakara Reddy despite the statement by Mr. Shah that BJP has no links with Reddy brothers.

In 2012, India’s Supreme Court ordered the CBI to probe charges of corruption against B S Yeddyurappa. That order followed a court-appointed committee’s suggestion that Mr. Yeddyurappa be investigated for alleged abuse of power. The anti-corruption report had indicted him in a mining scandal that cost the exchequer more than 3 Billion dollars. He also holds the distinction of being the first sitting Chief Minister of a State to spend time in jail.

All the BJP talk about corruption in the opposition camps seem to fly in the face of what has happened under BJP rule in Karnataka. With openly courting the Bellary gang, Yedurappa is once again signaling to the Karnataka voters that nothing has been changed regarding their attitude towards corruption or abuse of power. Mr. Shivraj Chouhan, whose administration was embroiled in the VYPAM scandal in Madhya Pradesh, sharing the dais with Yeddyurappa and  Janardhana Reddy may only reinforce the notion that corruption is endemic in the system and across the country and BJP pays merely lip service in countering it. 

Rahul Gandhi, President of the All India Congress Committee, tweeted the following in response to the latest developments: “When in power, Yedurappa and Reddy Brothers looted Karnataka. Our government brought them to justice. Now Modi is trying to take 8 of them from jail, into the Vidhan Sabha. This is an insult to every honest citizen, to Karnataka and to the spirit of Basavanna.”

Congress High Command appears to be following a ‘Captain Model,’ strategy in Karnataka giving Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, enormous latitude in decision making as in regards the running of the election campaign. The decision may be based on the premise that strong regional and local leadership is critical in winning elections as in Punjab where Captain Amarinder Singh wrested away the power from Akali Dal in the last election where his charisma, leadership and independent decision making were all at full display.

In contrast to the BJP rule, the Congress Party under the leadership of Siddaramaih has fulfilled many of the promises that were made to the people of Karnataka. Key among them is the government’s social welfare policy. Within an hour of oath-taking as Chief Minister, he has implemented the food subsidy scheme to give 30kg rice per month at Re 1 per kg to 10.2 million families below poverty line across the State with a plan outlay of Rs.4300 crore. The State later on added Wheat, Ragi, and Jowar to the scheme. The State also started distributing 150ml milk thrice a week to 6.5 million children studying in state-run and aided schools across the state to check malnutrition and prevent dropouts. 

Under the Bhagyalakshmi and Kuteer Jyoti schemes, the state government waived off Rs.268 crore arrears due from two million energy consumers in the rural areas. It also waived off Rs. 1340 crore loans with interest borrowed by a million SCs, STs and OBCs and minorities for various economic activities and increased the housing subsidized loan to economically weaker sections to Rs. 120,000 per unit from Rs. 75,000 under the Rajiv Gandhi Housing Corporation.

Programs and projects like the opening of the Indira Canteens, the introduction of the new economic policy that focused on Industries, construction of Medakettu Dam, Introduction of Bike Ambulance and the Scheme for Organ Donation etc. have shown the people of Karnataka that a government committed to the service of its people could still deliver results. Most importantly, there have been no significant financial scandals during its tenure that stands in stark contrast to the Yedurappa rule.

Siddaramaiah in his tweet recently challenged Prime Minister Modi to walk the talk when it comes to dealing with corruption. He called on Modi to “appoint Lok Pal, investigate Judge Loya’s death, investigate the astronomical rise of Jay Shah, and appoint an untainted person as your CM candidate.” 

The fate of Karnataka is said to be hanging on the swing voters who are actively weighing in on the promises made on the campaign trail. Janata Dal (S), the third party in the puzzle may yet to play a critical role if there is a hung Assembly. For the Congress Party, stakes are very high in Karnataka. A win by the party in Karnataka will provide a huge momentum towards the upcoming elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chattisgarh and eventually towards the 2019 general election. However, the party may require a better post-election strategy to prevent a repeat of what has been transpired in Goa, Manipur, and Meghalaya!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer at the United Nations and Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

Christmas Musings….

I was merely happy to be invited to the ‘Holiday Party’ organized by the South Asian Community in Queens. However, I have learned that the main purpose of the gathering was to honor the newly appointed Consul General Sandeep Chakraborthy of India and introduce him to various elected officials from Queens, New York. The program ran in typical Indian style, with as many of the community leaders jockeying for VIP seats and later on putting up a brave struggle to position themselves for a celebrity photo for their next Facebook post. 

These politicos in New York City appear to show very little respect for the South Asian Community. To them, we are an ATM they could push a button on and get their so-called campaign contributions. They seem to be quite confident as well that we are ‘simple-minded’ and would go away happily after an embrace and a Selfie shoot for the next edition in an Indian weekly newspaper. 

I wonder why the South Asian Community, probably the largest concentration anywhere in the U.S. has so far failed to get a footing in the mainstream politics in New York City! Indians who live even in the old Confederacy seem to have more success than their peers who live in the most liberal city in the U.S.

I had long wanted to vent this boiling frustration within me to somebody when Professor Saluja, the emcee for the evening, informed me that I would have an opportunity to say few words at the function felicitating the Chief Guest before all those public officials from the Queens. However, it never came to pass, and they simply had too many speakers who paid the bill, they said!

However, I had an opportunity to speak to Ms. Letitia James, the Public Advocate for the New York City Council. I tried to make my case and requested her to help appropriate one city council seat, probably District 23, for an Asian Indian if not a South Asian. She tried to convince me that we have to come together and fight the election. My response to her was that we are quite observant of the political dynamics here and unless the Democratic Party officially put their weight behind a South Asian, it will be a futile effort. We have indeed learned how the ‘single-party system’ dominated by the Democratic party in New York is lately reduced into machine politics and unless you are in it, ‘you ain’t going anywhere’! 

As I sat there listening to speaker after speaker greeting the audience, not a single one uttered the word “Merry Christmas”. A number of them were eager to say “Happy Hannukah’ that was mostly addressed to the visiting Jewish public officials. Anyway, we could come to the conclusion by now that ‘Merry Christmas’ has become a toxic greeting phrase in New York as our Diaspora is pretty much adapted to the PC culture of the Northeast.  As a Christian who was sitting there, probably one of the few in the audience, my mind wandered back to the younger days of growing up in Kerala, India where we all greeted each other with ‘Merry Christmas’ for the simple reason for the season.

Upon my return home that evening, Gujarat poll results started coming in. Congress had indeed outperformed all the expectations and appeared to have thoroughly thrashed the much-heralded exit poll results. However, people of Gujarat still handed BJP another term despite becoming miserable and more impoverished through their demonetization policies as well as the messy GST implementation. The verdict sends a clear message to the world that hate and bigotry trumps over economic troubles and personal misery! 

Opening up the Internet browser the following day, I am once again reminded that this is not a season of peace and goodwill toward men as right-wing fringe groups have threatened to disrupt Christmas and New Year celebrations in some Uttar Pradesh towns. A series of warnings have come from these groups just days after an alleged attack on priests in a Madhya Pradesh town. In Aligarh, a group called the Hindu Jagran Manch has warned schools against celebrating Christmas, saying they could do so "at their own risk".

In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared that December 25, Christmas Day, would be observed as Good Governance day. India has 2000 years of history of Christianity that was long before even England had embraced the religion. Why then this alienation of a religious group in India that has contributed much to the educational and social development of the nation! Nevertheless, it is quite impressive to note that as the first generation Indians to the US, we are already lobbying to make Diwali a holiday in New York City!

By this time you may have heard about the decimation of ISIS and its Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Recently, Iraqi forces with overwhelming support from U.S. Airforce have retaken the city of Mosul. ISIS has pushed Iraq’s religious minorities to the edge of extinction. However, the sad story of one Christian family brings the ugly face of religious discrimination home to us all. 

The story is told as follows:  A family of four lived in a small village about sixteen miles outside of Mosul. Shortly after the Islamic State took over, the father, a construction worker, took his wife of twenty-eight years to Mosul to continue her breast cancer treatments. But at the hospital, a guard refused to allow the man’s wife to enter because they were Christians. He told her that to continue receiving medical care, she would have to convert to Islam. She refused and the couple was forced to return to their village. Ten days later she died with her husband and sons at her bedside. 

New York city, that sits thousands of miles away and Oceans apart, is once again on the edge during this Christmas season as ISIS propaganda machine shows chilling  picture of Santa Claus next to a box of dynamite in Times Square! As we are on the threshold of a new year, the human effort to bring peace, security and harmony among disparate groups appear to be as elusive as ever! Will the year 2018 bring us a ray of hope? We can only pray!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)

Read more

Modi’s ‘Gujarat Model’ of development: a reality check’

Narendra Modi rode the wave of ‘Gujarat Model of development’ in 2014 to catapult himself to the most powerful office in India. The social media campaign, most probably waged with the help of Madison Avenue agencies, that heralded the State’s economic performance nothing short of spectacular and credited its success to the visionary leadership of Narendra Modi started years earlier. 

Is the ‘Gujarat Model’ of development a myth or reality? As the Gujarat state elections scheduled for December are only a few days away, it is an imperative that  the voters are better informed and the cloud of doubts that is hanging over the claims and counterclaims be removed.

Mr. Maitreesh Ghatak, a professor at London School of Economics, characterized as such: ‘Gujarat is a proverbial case of darkness under the lamps”. According to an article written in, “Over the years, the high growth figures have covered up a dark underbelly of poverty, inequality and poor performance on human development indicators” said Mr. Ghatak.

To Gujarat’s credit, the World Bank has listed it as the top state on the ease of doing business. In the early 90’s, during the Congress rule, Gujarat has been at the forefront regarding both level and growth rate of income as well as infrastructure development.

However, an analysis of social data reveals the true underbelly of Gujarat, which is far behind other States in Human Development Index. If states are ranked in terms of people below poverty line, Gujarat is  No.13 and has made it quite obvious that the prosperity from the high growth rate is not trickling down fast enough to make any substantial difference.

Looking at other social indicators such as Infant mortality rate and life expectancy, Gujarat ranks 17th and 10th respectively. In terms of sex-ratio, Gujarat is at 21st and in literacy, it ranks at 7th. Overall, if states are compared on the Human Development Index, Gujarat only stands at number 10. If one examines the entire period in which Modi was the CM of Gujarat, these numbers more or less remained the same.

On the other hand, a study conducted by Bangalore-based NGO Public Affairs Center rates the three south Indian States Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as the best-governed states in India. The ranking was done by the Public Affairs Index computed on ten equal parameters including human development, law and order and basic infrastructure.

In a story on the State of States awards reported by India Today, Kerala grabbed the number 1 position as the best state topping three categories such as Law and Order, Health and Environment. It topped all States in categories for Literacy, Life Expectancy, Infant Mortality and Sex-ratio. Tamil Nadu was reported to be the most improved state in eight of the ten categories and developed into an innovation-based economy with a strong performance in Manufacturing and Services.

Even when it came to economic growth, states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Haryana increased their growth performance by a bigger margin than Gujarat. Modi may have a higher rate of economic growth than the national average, however, he may not stake any claim to the fame as it has also been true during the pre-Modi era. Why then there are no Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu models of development?

If the high economic growth and development does not translate into the better living conditions for its ordinary citizens by creating more jobs, increasing their wages, improving educational opportunities for the poor and the disadvantaged or providing better healthcare to its citizens and in general succeeding in poverty reduction as a goal; what is there to boast about? It might have been at best simple ‘crony capitalism’ favoring a group of powerful people with capital-intensive industries that did not generate necessary jobs for the masses.

When it comes to infrastructure development, one needs to take a look at the borrowing the Government has been engaged in the Modi-era. When Narendra Modi stepped into the State’s Chief Ministership in October 2001, Gujarat debt stood at roughly around 53,000 crore rupees. When he left his post to become the Prime Minister, the public debt of the state was 165,000 crores. These figures once again question the much acclaimed ‘Gujarat Model’ of development especially considering all the ongoing social upheavals in the state particularly among the Dalits and the Patidars.

In today’s Gujarat, 49% of the Children are malnourished, and 6 million Gujarati youth including 80 percent of the Engineering graduates are unable to find suitable jobs, and the unemployment rate stood at around 6.8% which is above the national average. As a matter of fact, conditions in Gujarat have only deteriorated for the workers in rural and urban areas. The major increases in the agricultural income that was accounted in the growth story in the previous years appeared to have leveled off. Meanwhile, small and medium-size industries suffered heavily under the disastrous demonetization policies and half-baked implementation of the GST. The state also has seen the closure of more than 60,000 small scale industries in 10 years and a massive mounting of debt.

Although much of the nation and the majority of the Diaspora have bought into the ‘Gujarat Model’ story in 2014, there was plenty of early skepticism, including from this very author ( However, the opposition parties including Congress were unable to capitalize on the available information from Gujarat government’s own Department of Economics and Statistics.

According to Alpesh Thakor, leader of ‘Ekta Munch’ in Gujarat who has once announced plans to boycott the vibrant Gujarat Summit at Gandhinagar, “ Vibrant Gujarat was always media hype and a flawed model of Gujarat was highlighted as the development model”.

The ‘Gujarat Model’ of development was a mythical and fictitious tale that is not in sync with the reality. It was primarily the result of the large incentives given to big corporate houses in terms of land, water, and other resources with little regard to environmental concerns or even adverse fiscal consequences that almost left the state treasury almost empty to spend on uplifting of masses from basic poverty and inequality.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer at the United Nations and Executive Director of the Indo-US Democracy Foundation)

Read more

Gurdaspur election: a repudiation of Modi’s disastrous economic policies

The newly elected Member of Parliament Sunil Jhakar characterized his Gurdaspur constituency win with the following statement. “I had said it from the very first day that this election will be a mandate on the policies of union government led by Modi. People have vented their anger against demonetization and GST by making me an MP with a huge margin of votes. I had asked people to vote for me and against BJP’s economic and communal agenda. People have responded to my call, and it has sent a clear message to union government on behalf of the whole country that people are fed up with its policies, and it is time for change,” 

Gurdaspur election victory may be a turning point in history for the Congress Party which has been reeling from its inability to expose the failures of the Modi Government efficiently and to change the mindset of the electorate that is still clinging on to the promise of Modi’s ‘Ache Din.' The Modi PR machine which has helped to catapult BJP to power in Delhi by riding on the bandwagon of a fraudulent ‘Gujarat Model of development’ platform still hasn’t lost its full steam. Nevertheless, Gurdaspur election victory by a recorded margin by the Congress party is pointing probably to the severe first crack of the theory that Modi will be unbeatable in the upcoming Parliamentary election, in 2019.

Most of the reputed Economists including some of the senior stalwarts of the BJP such as the former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and the former minister of communications Arun Shourie expressed grave concern that the economy is fast slipping into deep recession, with no hope of recovery in the foreseeable future. It is believed that all fundamental parameters are declining along with GDP that has fallen for six quarters in a row. The demonetization alone may have shaved off 2 points from GDP growth just as Dr. Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister has predicted. Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine characterized the demonetization process as the “massive theft of people’s property – a shocking move for a democratically elected government”. The negative consequences from the demonetization are still being felt across the spectrum jeopardizing the livelihood of poor farmers and ordinary citizens alike.

Another one of Modi’s grand promises was to create millions of job for the youth. He not only has failed to create those promised jobs but has presided over an economy that started shedding jobs especially in the technology sector. Various protectionist measures across the world including that of President Trump’s new ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order followed by several countries including Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore introducing their own legislation aimed at curbing the inflow of foreign labor where Indian Engineers make a sizable chunk of those immigrants to those countries. This new global dynamics rooted in the nationalistic sentiment has further precipitated these jobless growth phenomena in India while automation and new technologies using artificial intelligence (AI) continued to reduce job opportunities across the board. The Modi government is behaving as if it has no clue as to how to confront this crisis to placate the youth who put their faith in the BJP government to improve their destiny.

The sharp fall in the international crude oil prices has been a boon for the Modi government as it has refused to pass on the benefit to the consumer. To a great extent, the government is profiteering at people’s cost while driving up inflation and putting additional pressure on small businesses, 

Finally, the messy implementation of the GST appears to have done grave damage to the economy, especially on the small entrepreneurs and traders. Many of these businesses are shutting down resulting in more job losses. 

According to Anand Sharma, the deputy leader of the Congress parliamentary party and former minister of Commerce and Industry, “Prime Minister Modi and the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley remain in denial and clueless on addressing the crisis of their own making. They are guilty of monumental mismanagement of Indian economy”. 

Therefore, Gurdaspur election victory is not a shocking development to those astute political observers but rather a window of opportunity for the Congress party to seize the initiative and capitalize on Modi’s failures to rescue the people of India from the disastrous economic policies pursued by this administration.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

Murder of Gauri Lankesh; an ominous sign for India’s flailing democracy!

Gauri Lankesh, a prominent Kannada journalist and a vehement critic of communal politics of the BJP government, was gunned down at her doorstep in Rajarajeswari Nagar in Bangalore by some unknown assailants.  She worked as an editor in Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly started by her father P. Lankesh and ran her own weekly called Gauri Lankesh Patrike.

She was known as a fearless journalist and activist who opposed communalization of politics, casteism, and marginalization of minorities in the society. Her forceful advocacy on behalf of  Rohingya people is a true manifestation of her deeply held convictions. Death threats or intimidation from any quarters never stopped her from confronting the ever increasing challenges to the freedom of expression by the media, the fourth estate.

Undoubtedly, journalists, opinion makers, and reporters are being increasingly targeted by Hindu nationalists who are on a crusade to promote their hateful agenda. In the last few years, journalists who appear to be critical of Hindu nationalists have been threatened, berated on the social media, while many women journalists have been threatened with rape and assault.

India has just celebrated its 70th anniversary of its independence. The Democratic Institutions that were created under the Nehruvian vision are increasingly under threat from right-wing forces that are closely aligned with BJP. The fundamental right to express one’s opinion is under assault as either sedition charges are filed against the individuals or the institution that exercise those rights or the law enforcement mechanism is being manipulated to intimidate and silence those voices.

Gauri Lankesh’s death appears to be a meticulously planned and executed to silence a powerful voice. The opposing forces could not match her rationale pointing up the dangers of right-wing politics and its possibly disastrous effect on the secular fabric of the nation. Her harsh criticism of prevailing casteism in the society was often directed at Institutions that still harbor those sentiments and made her more of a passionate activist who had little patience for the status-quo.

This is not the first murder of a rationalist and thinker after the ascension of BJP to the power at the Center. A rationalist professor and thinker M M Kalburgi was murdered in the quaint town of Dharwad. In the neighboring state of Maharashtra, rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar were also shot, and the one thing that united them all was their strident voices against intolerance and hatred of the right wing ideology.

It is no more an exaggeration to say that India is governed under a ‘simulated emergency’ without truly declaring it. Shani Prabhakaran, a television reporter from Kerala, spoke candidly about the treatment of the media by the BJP government at a recent seminar in Chicago sponsored by the India Press Club. According to her, as soon as she finished a television segment analyzing the last three years of the governance by the Modi regime, a questionnaire from Delhi had arrived with a number of questions asking her to substantiate each criticism! Commenting on the recent raids, NDTV’s Prannoy said the following ‘our fight is not against the CBI, I-T or the ED but against politicians who were using these Institutions and ruining and destroying our country.'

The basic responsibility of a journalist is to inform the public free of hype and bias. The fourth estate, as the media is often dubbed, acts as a mirror and a watchdog for the good of the public. However, most of the media in India today are controlled by big corporations whose professional responsibilities of the news outlets they own are intertwined with their business interests. The result is an abject failure in reporting the news with fairness and balance that could prove to be detrimental to a vibrant democratic society.

Never in the history of India, a governing party had made such blatant attempt to eliminate an opposition party (Congress Mukhta Bharat), intimidated and scared Media houses from reporting factual news, invoked colonial-era sedition laws to silence student activists from speaking out or created a hostile environment where these killings go unabated.

Through her sacrifice, Gauri Lankesh has woken up our conscience once again. She had recognized the fact that our hard fought freedom and liberty, once again is in danger. In her death, our flailing democracy will be missing one of its strongest defenders. May I salute this brave soul for her true grit and passion for justice!

‘The power to question is the basis of all human progress’ – Indira Gandhi

(The writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

Prevention of Cruelty to Cows; not to humans: an emerging reality in Modi’s India.

The long anticipated cow slaughter ban across India under the BJP rule is already here! Most observers were expecting a legislative move probably after the 2019 election when BJP could muster majorities at both houses of the parliament. However, the Modi Sarkar found an ingenious way to test these waters under the guise of the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act’ that was enacted in 1960 to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals.

It is indeed a sinister move by the Environmental Ministry issuing new rules to regulate these animal markets with an eye towards limiting or stopping cow slaughter across the nation. The new rule states that animal markets can no longer be used to sell or purchase cattle for the purposes of slaughtering. The regulations apply to bulls, cows, buffaloes and camels.

The reactions from the southern states were quick and predictable and the Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarai Vijayan, took the lead in saying that    “Malayali diet need not be decided by Delhi (read Union Government) or Nagpur (read RSS headquarters). Nobody can change our diet,’’ he said. Student organizations belonging to the Left front as well as Congress in Kerala protested the ban by organizing ‘beef fests’ across the state. 

However, some of the youngsters who belong to the Youth Congress wing of the Congress Party went to the extreme in slaughtering a bull in the open and thereby eliciting strong condemnation from the national leadership in addition to receiving walking papers from the Party’s State leadership. It is regrettable that their stupefied action did cast a shadow on the merit of their arguments in defense of the constitutional protection from the onslaught of religious fundamentalism and may have negatively impacted on the seriousness of the issue at hand.

Nevertheless, what is most shocking to many of us who are living abroad is the overt and loud reaction to the slaughter of a bull in the open in comparison to the low-key responses to the ongoing lynching of human beings by the self-appointed vigilantes of cow protection. The medieval barbarism by these outlaws was on full display in 2015 when they falsely accused and then dragged Mr. Mohammed Akhlaq from his home in Dadri, U.P. to the street and lynched him before the gathering public.  

On 1 April 2017, Pehlu Khan and at least four others were injured when a mob attacked them while transporting cows that were legally bought in the market. Khan in his fifties later succumbed to his injuries suffered at the hands of these vigilantes. In March 2016, two Muslim cattle traders were found hanged to death in Jharkhand’s Latehar district. Mazlum Ansari and teenager Imteyaz Khan were heading to an animal fair in a nearby district when they were allegedly lynched and hanged by a mob.

According to the report in The Indian Express, a 20-year old truck driver from Saharanpur was lynched by a village mob in Himachal Pradesh allegedly for carrying cattle from Uttar Pradesh. Mustin Abbas, a 27-year-old father of four, was traveling back home after buying bulls from Haryana was allegedly fired upon by Gau Raksha Dal members on April 5, 2016. A month later, a probe into his murder was ordered, according to ‘The Wire.' 

In an incident that went viral on the social media, on 11 July, 2016 Dalit youths were beaten up outside Mota Samadhiyala village, when they were skinning a dead cow brought from Bediya village. The victims included Vashram Sarvaiya, His broter Ramesh, and their cousins Ashok an Bechar, all residents of Mota Samadhiyala. Later the members of Gau Rakshak Dal took them to nearby Una town and again thrashed them with sticks and iron rods after tying them to a vehicle. They were paraded half-naked on the road in full display of public view.

 These are few of the ongoing instances cruel justice meted out to the human beings and the country and its leadership remained largely silent. With the issuance of this new order, the Gau Rakshak Dal will be further emboldened and will have the license to terrorize farmers and traders across the land.

If the issue is indeed borne out of cruelty to animals, why this ban only applies to cattle, camels, and buffaloes but not extended to other species like sheep, goats, and chickens. India exports about 4 Billion dollars worth of beef every year, and it looks simply duplicitous on the part of the Government to close its eyes to the so-called ‘cruelty’ by these big slaughterhouses, many of them owned and operated by the cronies of those are close to power centers.

This order may effectively cut the flow of red meat to consumers in those states where beef is consumed. All animal markets will be strictly regulated and will be brought under the control of the bureaucrats. As per the new rules, your butcher cannot buy any cattle from the market, and a declaration will have to be signed stating that ‘ I promise not to resell the cattle for slaughter.' In short, the center has made it near impossible to buy or sell cattle for meat or animal markets.

By circumventing the legislative process in this instance, BJP is busy at work promoting its saffron agenda by imposing a uniform diet code on the people of India. The reason they have rushed it through as a directive may have dual purposes. The first and foremost will be to sow the seeds of division and intolerance well before the upcoming 2019 campaign, a vital environment to profit from. 

Also, this is a direct infringement of the fundamental right of the people as to what to consume, and this order may even have usurped the State rights in deciding vital issues that impact its citizens. The federal structure that stood the test of time since Independence may also be in the crosshairs. The socio-economic consequences from nutrition to the poor and backward in the society who rely on cheap meat as a staple food, and to the small farmers and traders who rely on these animals for their livelihood are yet to be seen!

However, let us not be under any illusion that all these developments are taking place in a vacuum. But rather, it is part of a calculated plan being implemented by the Modi-Shah power structure to impose a majoritarian view and rule on the country thereby undoing the progress achieved post-independence under the Nehruvian vision: respect for the minority religions and its traditions and equal protection under the law. The regressive forces that were in control of the nation in collusion with colonial powers are back indeed, and they are back with a vengeance!  

Mahatma Gandhi, who was a great advocate of Ahimsa said once: “How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed? It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here.” Will we hear such sane voices of enlightenment ever from the heartland of India again!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

Congress needs a winning strategy: Will the ‘Captain Model’ succeed?

Amid the talk of the Modi Tsunami in Uttar Pradesh, the election victory by Congress Party in Punjab hasn’t received the needed attention it deserved. Captain Amarinder Singh, the leader of the Congress Party in Punjab scored a very impressive win surprising even the most ardent supporters while embarrassing many of the pundits in the media who predicted that AAP would form the next Government.

What is significant about this decisive victory in Punjab is that Captain Amarinder Singh is credited for his charisma, inspiring leadership and simply plain hard work in motivating the party cadre to make this victory possible. Therefore, in the midst of a sea of failures during the 2017 election, Punjab stands out not only as a bright spot for the Congress Party but a case study in planning for the future.

There is indeed a rush to judgment when the party loses, often laying the entire blame at the foot of the Gandhi family. Ultimately, the leadership at the top bears a greater responsibility for success or failures of any entity. However, the collective failures of many in the senior leadership who concentrated on self-development while they were in power and marginalization and decimation of the party cadre during the UPA I and UPA II regimes have much more to do with the falling fortune of the party now than anything else.

However, that does not absolve the tactical errors or strategic failures at the top in dealing with elections and more importantly running the daily operations in a diverse and complex environment. At present, there is too much power concentrated at the top and its inability to communicate in a timely fashion and failure to address recurring conflicts at the local level appears to have done some damage to the credibility and standing of the party apparatus. Many in the top leadership, who are decision makers, are said to be living in their own bubble totally detached from real people never having to see them or even ask for their votes. 

If the party has strong leadership at the top - a perception of the public that is critical for influencing events and changing mindsets - similar to the days of Nehru and Indira Gandhi, there would be discipline within the cadre and strict adherence to party directives across the board. However, the current dispensation calls for a rethinking of the status quo with the goal of decentralizing control and ceding more of the decision-making powers to the local level. History teaches us that when the party had stronger regional leadership, it has performed better in those States. K. Karunakaran (Kerala), Sharad Pawar ( Maharashtra), Kamaraj Nadar (Tamil Nadu)  and YSR (Andhra Pradesh) are among some of the notable regional leaders who have managed the party and governed their states with the great success of their own.

There has been a strong suspicion among the pundits that many in the High Command were not thrilled about strong personalities at the local level. Consequently, ‘groupism’ was allowed to flourish in every State thereby weakening the local leadership and leaving all the decision making powers at the top. Therefore, those local leaders were forced to travel to Delhi for even minor decisions and wait for days to get resolutions to some of their pressing issues and often the same wait merely to get an appointment to air their grievances. Stories have been abounding of people returning home without an appointment, and some have simply left the party in disgust and joined the opposition simply to vent their frustrations. It is common knowledge that many in the top leadership wouldn’t even acknowledge a letter or an email from the grass roots willing to share their ideas to improve the party’s sagging fortune!

The ‘Introspection’ by the Congress Party after every election is turning into a butt of jokes in many circles simply because little or no action has been accompanied by that process. However, here is an opportunity to look at the Punjab election and re-learn some of the lessons from the past. Captain Amarinder Singh is often referred to as ‘Raja’ for his authoritarian style and imposing mannerism dealing with complex issues involving people. However, he has proved once again that a strong and charismatic leadership can inspire confidence in the cadre and motivate them to work hard for the success of the party. That is the basic essence of political leadership, Gandhiji has taught us, the sheer ability to motivate and mobilize the masses.

If the party can cultivate a new generation of influential leaders at the local level, it is bound to bounce back. Narendra Modi could only keep up with his polarizing and misleading rhetoric for so long and a day of the reckoning appears to be not too far away. However, Congress needs a new awakening, and it can only happen with some decisive restructuring at the top which will allow a new dynamism to flourish and spread across every facet of the party’s life. Only a reinvigorated Congress Party could defend the vision of an inclusive India envisaged by Nehru and Ambedkar, the founding architects of the modern India.

Those who have written off the 2019 election already for another Modi sweep may be making a grave error in judgment. History has taught us that in a democracy two years is a long period to sustain any momentum. A lot could happen in these uncertain times between now and April 2019. For example, in a lesson learned for ages, in 2004,  the BJP was so sure of its ‘India Shining’ campaign and confident of a big victory yet they fell short of their goals. Therefore, this moment of disappointment is a time to find new resolve and to fight, not to surrender.

Along with empowering local leadership, Congress party needs go to work urgently with like-minded parties to create a grand coalition, similar to the one that was cobbled up during the election in Bihar. In 2014, BJP was able to collect only 31 percent of the votes cast, and in the just concluded UP election, their vote share zoomed to 42 percent in total. It proves that the plurality of the votes was still cast for  secular-minded parties and the Congress Party should do everything in its power to make  alliances with regional parties towards a higher index of opposition unity for the ultimate purpose of defeating BJP in 2019.

Undoubtedly, BJP has won UP on a platform of polarization of religious communities, and if they continue to succeed along those lines while splintering the non-BJP vote, the future of a plural India will be at stake. A  gain of a 2/3 majority in both houses would even embolden them to transform the nation from a democratic one to a majoritarian one, and hence, history would never forgive the grand old party for its colossal failure in preserving the very idea of India for which their founding fathers have fought and died. If it takes the ‘Captain model’ of change that we have just witnessed in Punjab to reverse the current tide, go for it!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and the Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

ക്രിസ്തീയ ചാരിറ്റബിള്‍ സംഘടനകള്‍ക്കെതിരെ ഇന്ത്യാ ഗവണ്മെന്റിന്റെ രഹസ്യയുദ്ധം

ഇന്‍ഡ്യയിലെ 580 അംഗീകൃത കേന്ദ്രങ്ങള്‍ വഴി അമേരിക്കയില്‍ നിന്നും ലഭിക്കുന്ന ഫണ്ടുപയോഗിച്ച് ഒരുലക്ഷത്തി നാല്പത്തയ്യായിരം ദരിദ്രകുട്ടികള്‍ക്ക് സഹായം നല്കിവരുകയായിരുന്ന ഒരു ക്രിസ്തീയ ചാരിറ്റബിള്‍ സംഘടനയാണ് കമ്പാഷന്‍ ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണല്‍. എന്നാല്‍ കമ്പാഷന് ലഭിച്ചിരുന്ന സഹായം ഒരു മുന്നറിയിപ്പുമില്ലാതെ ഇന്ത്യാ ഗവണ്മെന്റ് പെട്ടെന്ന് നിര്‍ത്തലാക്കി. ഇതു സംബന്ധിച്ച് കൊളൊറാഡോയില്‍ നിന്നുള്ള സെനറ്റര്‍ കോറിഗാര്‍ഡനര്‍ നല്കിയ വിശദീകരണം യു.എസ്. സ്റ്റേറ്റ് സെക്രട്ടറി റെക്‌സ് ടില്ലേഴ്‌സന്റെ ശ്രദ്ധയില്‍പെടുത്തുകയുണ്ടായി.

ഒരു ക്രിസ്തീയ സംഘടനയാണെന്ന ഏകകാരണത്താല്‍ 2014 മുതല്‍ ഗവണ്മെന്റിന്റെ വിവിധ തരത്തിലുള്ള ആക്രമണങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് കമ്പാഷന്‍ ഇരയായിട്ടുണ്ട്. ആയിരക്കണക്കിനു കുഞ്ഞുങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് മനുഷ്യോന്മുഖ സേവനങ്ങള്‍ നല്കിവരികയായിരുന്നു ഈ സംഘടന. യാതൊരു നിയമലംഘനവും നടത്തിയിട്ടില്ലെങ്കിലും 2016 ഫെബ്രുവരി മുതല്‍ ഇന്ത്യാ ഗവണ്മെന്റ് ഏര്‍പ്പെടുത്തിയ നിയന്ത്രണങ്ങള്‍ മൂലം കമ്പാഷന്‍ പ്രവര്‍ത്തനങ്ങള്‍ തടസ്സപ്പെട്ടിരിക്കുകയാണ്. കമ്പാഷന്‍ ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണലിനോട് ഇന്ത്യാ ഗവണ്മെന്റ് കാട്ടുന്ന ഈ മോശമായ പെരുമാറ്റം അവസാനിപ്പിക്കുന്നതിന് സ്റ്റേറ്റ് ഡിപ്പാര്‍ട്ട്‌മെന്റ് ശ്രദ്ധിക്കണമെന്നും, ഇന്‍ഡ്യയിലെ ഇതര എന്‍.ജി.ഒകളും ഇതേ പ്രതിസന്ധി നേരിടാന്‍ ഇടയുണ്ടെന്നും ഗാര്‍ഡനര്‍ പ്രസ്താവിച്ചു.

ഈ സംഭവം ശ്രദ്ധയില്‍പ്പെടുത്തിയതിന് ഗാര്‍ഡനറെ അഭിനന്ദിച്ച ടില്ലേഴ്‌സണ്‍, ഇതു സംബന്ധിച്ച് വ്യക്തമായ വിവരം ലഭിച്ച ശേഷം സെനറ്ററോടൊപ്പം ഇതിനായി പ്രവര്‍ത്തിക്കാം എന്നു സമ്മതിച്ചു. കഴിഞ്ഞ ഒരു വര്‍ഷത്തോളമായി ഇക്കാര്യത്തില്‍ ഇന്‍ഡ്യാ ഗവണ്മെന്റുമായി നിരന്തരം സമ്പര്‍ക്കം പുലര്‍ത്തിയിരുന്ന ഫോറിന്‍ റിലേഷന്‍സ് കമ്മറ്റിയുടെ ചെയര്‍മാന്‍ ബോബ് കോര്‍ക്കറും ഈ വിഷയം ഉന്നയിച്ചതിന് സെനറ്റര്‍ ഗാര്‍ഡനറോടു നന്ദി പറയുകയും, ഹൗസ് ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണല്‍ കമ്മറ്റിയുടെ ചെയര്‍മാന്‍ എഡ്‌റോയിസും ഇക്കാര്യം പരിഗണിച്ചിട്ടുണ്ടെന്ന് അറിയിക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു.

മനുഷ്യസ്‌നേഹത്തിനു വിലക്കു കല്പിക്കുന്ന നടപടിയാണ് ഇന്ത്യയില്‍ ഗവണ്മെന്റിതര സംഘടനകളോടു കാണിക്കുന്ന ഇത്തരം നിയന്ത്രണങ്ങള്‍. മോദിയുടെ സങ്കുചിത മനോഭാവത്തിനും, രാജ്യ സംരക്ഷണ ദര്‍ശനത്തിനും കൂട്ടുനില്ക്കാത്തവരെയെല്ലാം ഇല്ലായ്മ ചെയ്യുക എന്ന ഗൂഢ ലക്ഷ്യമാണ് ഇവിടെ പ്രായോഗികമാക്കുന്നത്.

ഇന്‍ഡ്യയിലെ ദരിദ്രജനതയെ ജീവകാരുണ്യ പ്രവര്‍ത്തനങ്ങളിലൂടെ സഹായിക്കുന്നതില്‍ എണ്‍പതു ശതമാനവും നിര്‍വ്വഹിക്കുന്നത് ക്രിസ്തീയ ഗവണ്മെന്റിതര സംഘടനകളാണ്. 1968 മുതല്‍ ഇന്‍ഡ്യയില്‍ പ്രവര്‍ത്തിക്കുന്ന കമ്പാഷന്‍ വഴി 1,45,000 കുട്ടികള്‍ക്ക് പ്രയോജനം ലഭിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. ഇന്‍ഡ്യയിലെ നിര്‍ദ്ധനരായ കുഞ്ഞുങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് മനുഷ്യോന്മുഖ പ്രവര്‍ത്തനം നടത്തുവാനായി പ്രതിവര്‍ഷം 50 മില്യന്‍ ഡോളറാണ് കമ്പാഷനിലൂടെ ഇന്‍ഡ്യയ്ക്കു ലഭിച്ചിരുന്നത്. ഇന്‍ഡ്യയ്ക്കു ലഭിച്ചിരുന്ന ഏറ്റവും വലിയ ധനസഹായമായിരുന്നു അത് എന്ന് കമ്പാഷന്റെ യു.എസ്. കമ്മ്യൂണിക്കേഷന്‍ ഡയറക്ടര്‍ ടിം ഗ്ലെന്‍ പറഞ്ഞു.

മോദി ഗവണ്മെന്റ് 'കമ്പാഷനെ' അടച്ചുപൂട്ടുന്നതുവഴി അവശ്യ സഹായം ലഭിക്കേണ്ട ഒരു വലിയ വിഭാഗം ജനസമൂഹം ദുരിതത്തിലായിരിക്കുന്നത് ചര്‍ച്ചചെയ്യപ്പെടേണ്ട കാര്യമാണ്. രാഷ്ട്രീയ ചര്‍ച്ചകള്‍ പോലെ ഇത്തരം വിഷയങ്ങള്‍ പലപ്പോഴും ശ്രദ്ധിക്കപ്പെടാറില്ല. രാഷ്ട്രീയക്കാരും ഉദ്യോഗസ്ഥ മേധാവികളും ഇത്തരം നശീകരണപ്രക്രിയകള്‍ നടത്തുമ്പോള്‍ അതിന്റെ ദൂഷ്യഫലം അനുഭവിക്കുന്നത് സമൂഹത്തിലെ ദരിദ്രവിഭാഗമാണ്. കമ്പാഷനില്‍ ഉള്‍പ്പെട്ട കുഞ്ഞുങ്ങളുടെ ഭാവി ഭദ്രമാക്കുന്നതിനുള്ള യാതൊരു നടപടിയും കൈക്കൊണ്ടിട്ടില്ല. കഴിഞ്ഞ ഏപ്രില്‍ മുതല്‍ മോദി ഗവണ്മെന്റ് കമ്പാഷന്റെ 3.5 മില്യന്‍ ഡോളറാണ് തടഞ്ഞതെന്ന് കമ്പാഷന്‍ പ്രസിഡന്റും സി.ഇ.ഒയുമായ സാന്റിയാകോ മെല്ലാഡോ ഒരു ലേഖനത്തില്‍ എഴുതി. കമ്പാഷന്‍ ക്രിസ്തീയ മൂല്യങ്ങളിലധിഷ്ഠിതവും സ്ഥാപിതവുമാണെന്ന ഏകകാരണം മാത്രമേ ഇതിനു പിന്നിലുള്ളു. ക്രിസ്തീയ മൂല്യങ്ങള്‍ ദേശീയ താല്പര്യങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് ഒരു ഭീഷണിയാണെന്നും സാധുക്കളെ അതു പഠിപ്പിക്കുന്നത് കുറ്റകരമാണെന്നും ഇന്ത്യയുടെ മിനിസ്ട്രി ഓഫ് ഹോം അഫയേഴ്‌സ് കരുതുന്നുണ്ടാവാം എന്ന് ചാരിറ്റിക്കു നേതൃത്വം നല്കുന്ന അറ്റോണി സ്റ്റീഫന്‍ ഓക്ക്‌ലേ പറഞ്ഞു. 

2016 ഡിസംബറില്‍ കമ്പാഷന്‍ ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണലിന്റെ ഇന്‍ഡ്യയിലെ പ്രവര്‍ത്തനങ്ങളെക്കുറിച്ച് ഫോറിന്‍ അഫയേഴ്‌സ് കമ്മറ്റിയുടെ ചെയര്‍മാന്‍ എഡ്‌റോയ്‌സ് ശ്രവിക്കുകയുണ്ടായി. ''ഇന്‍ഡ്യയിലെ അമേരിക്കന്‍ കമ്പാഷന്‍: ഗവണ്മെന്റ് തടസ്സങ്ങള്‍'' എന്നതായിരുന്നു വിഷയം. എല്ലാ തലങ്ങളിലുമുള്ള കമ്പാഷന്‍ പ്രവര്‍ത്തനങ്ങളെ വിശകലനം ചെയ്തു പഠിക്കുകയും ചര്‍ച്ച ചെയ്യുകയും ചെയ്തുവെങ്കിലും അനുകൂലമായ ഒരു തീരുമാനത്തിലെത്താന്‍ കഴിഞ്ഞില്ല.

ഇന്ത്യയെ ഒരു വിവിധ സംസ്‌കാര, ബഹുമുഖ സമൂഹമായി വളര്‍ത്തുന്നതിനുള്ള ഉദ്ദേശ്യലക്ഷ്യങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് ഒരു വെല്ലുവിളിയാണ് ഹിന്ദുത്വ തത്വസംഹിതയിലധിഷ്ഠിതമായ മോദി ഗവണ്മെന്റിന്റെ ഈ നീക്കം. വിദേശ രാജ്യങ്ങള്‍ സന്ദര്‍ശിക്കുമ്പോള്‍ മോദി ഗാന്ധിജിയുടെ സ്വപ്നങ്ങളെ താലോലിച്ചു സംസാരിക്കുമെങ്കിലും അങ്ങനെയുള്ള സ്ഥാപനങ്ങള്‍ ഇന്ത്യയില്‍ ആക്രമിക്കപ്പെടുമ്പോള്‍ അദ്ദേഹം മൗനമവലംബിക്കും.

ബി.ജെ.പി ഗവണ്മെന്റ് ക്രിസ്തീയ സംഘടനകള്‍ക്ക് വിദേശത്തു നിന്നും ഫണ്ട് സ്വീകരിക്കുന്നതിന് നിയന്ത്രണവും വിലക്കുകളും ഏര്‍പ്പെടുത്തിയിരിക്കെ സംഘപരിവാര്‍ പോലെയുള്ള സംഘടനകള്‍ വിദേശ രാജ്യങ്ങളില്‍നിന്നും ലക്ഷക്കണക്കിനു ഡോളര്‍ ശേഖരിക്കുന്നുവെന്ന യാഥാര്‍ത്ഥ്യം ശ്രദ്ധിക്കേണ്ടതാണ്. യുണൈറ്റഡ് സ്റ്റേറ്റ്‌സ് കമ്മീഷന്‍ ഫോര്‍ ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണല്‍ റിലീജിയസ് ഫ്രീഡം (UNCIRF) അടുത്തകാലത്ത് പുറത്തിറക്കിയ ഒരു റിപ്പോര്‍ട്ട് ഇപ്രകാരമാണ്: ''ഇന്‍ഡ്യന്‍ ഗവണ്മെന്റ് ചില എന്‍.ജി.ഒ കള്‍ക്ക് വിദേശ സംഭാവനകള്‍ നിയന്ത്രിക്കുന്നതിനായി FCRA  നിയമങ്ങള്‍ നവീകരിക്കുകയും ഹിന്ദുത്വ പിന്തുണയുള്ള സംഘടനകളെ ഈ നിയന്ത്രണങ്ങളില്‍ ഉള്‍പ്പെടുത്താതിരിക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുന്നതിലൂടെ ഇത്തരം സംഘടനകള്‍ക്ക് വിദേശ ധനവിനിമയം കൂടുതല്‍ ഉപയോഗയോഗ്യമാക്കുന്ന അവസ്ഥയാണുണ്ടാകുന്നത്. ഈ ആനുകൂല്യം ഒരു രാഷ്ട്രീയ ആയുധമായി മാറ്റുന്നതുവഴി സാധാരണ പൗരന്റെ ജനാധിപത്യ അവകാശങ്ങളാണ് ഹനിക്കപ്പെടുന്നത്.

2002-ലെ ഗുജറാത്ത് കലാപത്തിനിരയായവര്‍ക്ക് നീതി ലഭിക്കുന്നതിനുവേണ്ടി പോരാടിയ പൗരാവകാശ പ്രവര്‍ത്തക ടീസ്റ്റസെറ്റല്‍വാദ് മോദി ഗവണ്മെന്റിനെതിരെ ശക്തമായി പ്രതിഷേധിച്ചിരുന്നു. അവര്‍ നേതൃത്വം നല്കുന്ന ''യൂണിറ്റി ഫോര്‍ പീസ് & ജസ്റ്റിസ് ആന്‍ഡ് സബ്രാങ്ങ് ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണല്‍ എന്ന സംഘടന അനധികൃതമായി വിദേശപണം സ്വീകരിച്ചുവെന്നാരോപിച്ച് കുറ്റം ചുമത്തപ്പെടുകയും സംഘടനയുടെ FCRA ലൈസന്‍സ് റദ്ദാക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു. ഗ്രീന്‍ പീസ് ഇന്‍ഡ്യയുടെ പ്രിയ പിള്ളയെ ഇംഗ്ലണ്ടില്‍ ഒരു കോണ്‍ഫറന്‍സില്‍ പങ്കെടുക്കുവാന്‍ പോകവേ ഇന്ത്യയുടെ ദേശീയ താല്പര്യത്തിനു ഹാനി വരുത്തി എന്നാരോപിച്ച് വിമാനത്തില്‍ തടയുകയും, സംഘടനയുടെ FCRA റദ്ദാക്കുകയും ചെയ്തു. മനുഷ്യാവകാശാധിഷ്ഠിതമായി പ്രവര്‍ത്തിക്കുന്ന ആംനെസ്റ്റി ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണല്‍ പോലെയുള്ള എന്‍.ജി.ഒകളെപ്പോലും വെറുതെ വിട്ടിട്ടില്ല.

FCRA ലൈസന്‍സ് റദ്ദാക്കുന്നതോടെ ഈ സംഘടനകള്‍ക്ക് വിദേശ സംഭാവനകള്‍ സ്വീകരിക്കുവാന്‍ കഴിയാതെവരികയും പ്രവര്‍ത്തനങ്ങള്‍ മരവിപ്പിക്കുകയും ചെയ്യും. കാരണം ഇത്തരം സംഘടനകളെല്ലാം വിദേശ സംഭാവനകളാല്‍ മാത്രം മുമ്പോട്ടുപോകുന്നവയാണ്. രാജ്യാന്തര ഉറവിടങ്ങള്‍ ഇവരുടെമേലുള്ള രാഷ്ട്രീയ ദൃഷ്ടി മനസ്സിലാക്കിയോ അധികാരകേന്ദ്രങ്ങളില്‍ നിന്നുള്ള ഭീഷണി ഭയന്നോ ഇവരെ സഹായിക്കുവാന്‍ മുതിരുകയില്ല. കഴിഞ്ഞ മൂന്നു പതിറ്റാണ്ടിനുള്ളില്‍ നേടിയ ധനസ്ഥിതി വച്ചുനോക്കിയാല്‍ ഇന്ത്യയുടെ ജീവകാരുണ്യ മനോഭാവം ഇനിയും വളരെ മെച്ചപ്പെടേണ്ടതുണ്ട് എന്നു മനസ്സിലാകും.
ഏകദേശം 20,000 എന്‍.ജി.ഒ കളുടെ FCRA ലൈസന്‍സാണ് ഇതുവരെ റദ്ദാക്കിയത്. FCRA ലൈസന്‍സിനെ അടിച്ചമര്‍ത്തലിനുള്ള ഉപകരണമാക്കുന്ന മോദി ഗവണ്‍മെന്റിന്റെ നയത്തിനെതിരെ ഇതില്‍ ചില സംഘടനകള്‍ ഒത്തുചേര്‍ന്ന് സംയുക്ത പ്രസ്താവന ഇറക്കി. ഈ നടപടിയെക്കുറിച്ച് ഒരു മനുഷ്യാവകാശ നിരീക്ഷകന്‍ അഭിപ്രായപ്പെട്ടത് 'FCRA ലൈസന്‍സ് പുതുക്കാതിരിക്കുന്നത് പ്രഥമദൃഷ്ട്യാ നിയമപരമായോ വസ്തുതാപരമായോ കുറ്റകരമല്ല. വിദേശ ഫണ്ടുള്‍പ്പെടെയുള്ള സംഘടനകളുടെ ഫണ്ടിന്മേല്‍ ഗവണ്മെന്റ് പിടിമുറുക്കുന്നതുവഴി മനുഷ്യാവകാശം തടയപ്പെടുകയാണു ചെയ്യുന്നത്.''

പേരുകേട്ട എന്‍.ജി.ഒ കളായ ഗ്രീന്‍ പീസ്, ആംനെസ്റ്റി ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണല്‍ തുടങ്ങിയ സംഘടനകളുമായി ഗവണ്മെന്റിന്റെ തുറന്ന യുദ്ധം, ഇന്‍ഡ്യയിലെ ഗ്രാമാന്തരങ്ങളില്‍ തികച്ചും ദരിദ്രരായി കഴിയുന്നവര്‍ക്കുവേണ്ടി പ്രവര്‍ത്തിക്കുന്ന ക്രിസ്തീയ എന്‍.ജി.ഒ കളോടുള്ള ഒരു രഹസ്യപോരാട്ടം കൂടിയാണ്. ഇന്ത്യയിലുടനീളം 350 എന്‍.ജി.ഒ കളിലായി 25000 വോളണ്ടിയര്‍മാര്‍ വഴി വിവിധ മനുഷ്യോന്മുഖ പ്രവര്‍ത്തനങ്ങള്‍ നടത്തുന്ന കത്തോലിക്കാ സഭയുടെ കാരിത്താസ് ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണലും, ഇന്ത്യാ വിരുദ്ധ പ്രവര്‍ത്തനം ആരോപിക്കപ്പെട്ട് ഗവണ്മെന്റിന്റെ ഏകാധിപത്യ നടപടിക്ക് ഇരയായിരിക്കുകയാണ്.

നിയമപരമായോ, പ്രവര്‍ത്തനരംഗങ്ങളിലോ യാതൊരു വീഴ്ചയും വരുത്താതെ പ്രവര്‍ത്തിക്കുന്ന ക്രിസ്തീയ എന്‍.ജി.ഒ കളെ മനഃപൂര്‍വ്വം അടിച്ചമര്‍ത്തുവാനും ഇല്ലായ്മ ചെയ്യുവാനുമുള്ള ഗൂഢലക്ഷ്യമാണ് ഇവിടെ നടപ്പാക്കുന്നതെന്ന് നിസ്സംശയം മനസ്സിലാക്കാം. ആംനെസ്റ്റി ഇന്റര്‍നാഷണലിന്റെയും മനുഷ്യാവകാശ നിരീക്ഷകരുടെയും സംയുക്ത പ്രസ്താവന വ്യക്തമാക്കുന്നത് എന്‍.ജി.ഒ കളെ പിടിച്ചുകെട്ടുവാന്‍ ഗവണ്മെന്റ് FCRA ഉപയോഗിക്കുന്നു എന്നാണ്. പൊതു താല്പര്യം, ദേശീയ താല്പര്യം തുടങ്ങിയ നിയമപരമായി വ്യക്തതയില്ലാത്ത പ്രയോഗങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് അമിത പ്രാധാന്യം നല്കി രാജ്യത്ത് ഹിന്ദു ഐക്യം വളര്‍ത്തുന്നതിനുള്ള ശ്രമമാണിത്. ആര്‍.എസ്.എസ് നേതൃത്വം നല്കുന്ന ഹിന്ദുത്വ ആശയത്തെ വളര്‍ത്തുന്നതിനുള്ള ''ദേശീയ താല്പര്യ''മാണ് ഇവിടെ സംരക്ഷിക്കപ്പെടുന്നത്.

(ലേഖകന്‍ ജോര്‍ജ് ഏബ്രഹാം, യു.എന്‍ മുന്‍ ചീഫ് ടെക്‌നോളജി ഓഫീസറും, അമേരിക്കയില്‍ ഇന്ത്യന്‍ നാഷണല്‍ ഓവര്‍സീസ് കോണ്‍ഗ്രസിന്റെ ചെയര്‍മാനും ആണ്.) 

Read more

Trump effect on the US-India ties

Following the stunning victory by Mr. Donald J Trump for the presidency of the United States, the question many Asian Indians are asking is what kind of an impact this would have on the US-India relationship. President George W. Bush was instrumental in bringing this bi-lateral relationship to new heights with his open and aggressive advocacy for the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Treaty and created a continuum through the Obama years to further develop and foster this relationship into a strategic alliance. 

Donald Trump is not a stranger when it comes to dealing with Indians, and his business undertakings in Pune and Gurgaon are clear evidence of that existing bond. Also, we have witnessed a surge of support for him from the Indian community in U.S. spearheaded by businessman Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar, who has not only raised campaign funds for the President-elect but also arranged a large gathering in New Jersey in honor of him. At the outset, one may also wonder whether Shalli Kumar, who is said to be having close ties to Sangh Parivar organizations in India, acted alone or with blessings from those power centers!

Regardless, the election of Donald Trump has raised serious concerns among the Indian community in U.S. which have overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton for the Presidency. Although Indian Americans are mostly conservative in their social outlook and not necessarily cleansed out of their caste affiliations or prejudicial minds, Trump’s proposals dealing with issues such as Immigration and Trade have unnerved their senses. Also, many seem to have justifiable apprehensions on the possible rise of the far right movements that could threaten their safety and the economic stability of their children.  

Although some those concerns are beyond the pale, this just concluded election has its consequences not only for the community but also for the US-India relationship especially when it comes to Trade and Immigration. Trump’s ‘America First’ populist slogan, was a shot across the bow to the globalists and one that was fully embraced by the blue collar workers of America. There is a widespread feeling in U.S., particularly among the white working class, that globalism has decimated the middle class here while creating them in countries like China and India. Although putting tariff and trade restrictions are anathemas to the Republican orthodoxy, Donald Trump may try to renegotiate many of the existing business deals that may include trade treaties with India as well.

Trump called the H1B visa program as ‘unfair’ and criticized the Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton for her support for outsourcing of jobs. Although H1B was designed to provide a temporary workforce, there were widespread allegations of abuses that may have resulted in American labor being supplanted by many of those foreign temporary workers. With Alabama Senator Jeff Session in line to take charge of the Justice Department as the future Attorney General - considered by much as more hawkish on Immigration issues - we may see a limit on the H1B entries and new guidelines for a stricter adherence to the law.  However, it could also be a boon for India where these technical hands may experiment with their ideas in their homeland rather than in Silicon Valley where 44% of the startups has an immigrant founder. India’s software services accounted for 82 Billion dollars worth of exports to North America in 2015 and only time will tell how adversely the incoming Trump administration would impact it.  

Mr. Trump has promised to reform the Tax Code and is calling for a tax reduction down to 15% for the corporate sector. He has vowed to bring the offshore deposits of multi-national corporations back to U.S. to revitalize the economy and to rebuild the Infrastructure. If he succeeds with his proposals in Congress, that will tantamount to a paradigm shift in tax policies resulting in a friendlier ecosystem for business in U.S. especially in the area of manufacturing.  That could reduce the appetite for many Businesses to jump on the bandwagon of the ‘Make India’ push by India’s Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. President-elect Trump is already under pressure to stop Obama Administration’s efforts to strike a deal to build F-16 Fighting Falcons and F/A-18 Super Hornets in India to replace an aging fleet of Russian-made fighters.

In the area of Foreign policy, India may stand to gain as Trump has repeatedly slammed China for its monetary policies and unfair Trade practices. His recent conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was not seen as an accident but probably setting a new tone for his administration. Trump may carry on with the Obama policies of increased cooperation with India in the strategic and defense areas as a bulwark against an aggressive and menacing China in the Asian theater. However, Trump’s angry rhetoric against Iran and America’s impending policy changes towards that nation may imperil some of India’s long standing plans for energy security.

Trump’s tough stand against Islamic radicalism may also play into the hands of India as Pakistan has become a hotbed of terrorism and stands to lose Billions of dollars in aid with a change in policy. However, there is little doubt that with the continuing US involvement in Afghanistan, Trump may have any flexibility to punish Pakistan for its protection of the terrorist elements in their backyard that are creating havoc across the border with India. Trump’s attitude towards Putin, the President of Russia, and his willingness to cooperate with the cold war rival may lessen India’s concern arising from the threat of ISIS or similar threats.

In an interview with Forbes India, while launching his Pune project in 2014, Trump said India had become a ‘top place’ in the international rollout of his property empire. Overall, Trump has shown a very positive approach to India and let us hope that he will continue to build on the improved relationships promoted by two of the successive Presidents before him.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

A Cashless Society via Demonetization? India’s uncertain future!

When Dr. Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India, criticized the ongoing demonetization program championed by the Narendra Modi Government as “organized loot” and “legal plunder”, it struck a cord with many of the skeptics including me, who felt initially that if this program could reduce corruption and eliminate black money, it would be well worth the effort. Then again, it was quite uncharacteristic of Dr. Singh to use such strong words without reason. He called the whole initiative a ‘monumental management failure.' It is noteworthy that this rebuke comes from a person who had served the centre as chief economic advisor, finance secretary, the finance minister, deputy chairman of the planning commission, and RBI Governor.

There is little doubt that what is unraveling in today’s India is a near disaster probably not brought upon the nation with bad intentions but certainly with botched execution by the Modi administration. Today, India is reeling from the disastrous implementation of the demonetization program with no end in sight. The crisis started when the Prime Minister surprised the nation on Nov 8th with the announcement that he would withdraw two-highest Denomination Bank Notes, (500 and 1000). He injected an element of nationalism in his speech and exhorted Indians to join this endeavor to ‘make his contribution to the country’s progress.' 

In a country where cash is used by 98% of the consumer transactions, a sudden unavailability of money has brought untold sufferings to people across India especially in the rural areas forcing factories to be idle; small retails shops to close and the farming industry to come to a near halt. Millions of people are now spending their valuable time waiting in line at the Bank branches or ATMs to exchange or withdraw their money under various restrictions imposed by the Reserve Bank of India.

This whole effort was made under the assumption that the banknotes are a way the rich people have stored their wealth. The poor folks are made to believe that those corrupt rich guys are finally getting soaked for their past sins, though the real burden of this reform measure has mostly fallen upon them. It is quite delusional to think that the rich have kept all their black money in 500 and 1000 rupee notes in a pillow case somewhere under the floor.  The truth of the matter is that the ill-gotten wealth of the much rich may only be added up to 7% in cash, but the rest are invested in real estate, equities, and jewelry or other investments. With more than 13 lakh crores of rupees that already returned out of the 15.44 lakh crores and the rest is expected to be accounted shortly, Government is vigorously challenged to explain what happened to their assumptions on black money?

The biggest casualty in this regard appears to be the credibility of the banking system. Anand Sharma, senior leader, and spokesperson for the Congress party alleged that ‘crores and crores of newly printed currency notes are going out” from the “back doors” of the banks while ordinary people were denied their right to withdraw their hard earned money they have deposited in these banks. “People had faith in the banking system, however, today, people’s trust in the Indian banks is shattered, and the reputation of RBI is dented,” Mr. Sharma told reporters in New Delhi.

There are also stories of BJP leaders going on a buying spree of real estate just before Prime Minister’s announcement. A report by ‘Catch news’ alleged that the BJP had brought land worth crores before announcing that RS500 and RS1000 notes are no longer valid. They also claimed to have the deeds of ten such transactions done by BJP functionaries on behalf of the higher-ups in the party, including party president Amit Shah.

As many as 111 deaths are directly attributed to this crisis so far along with stories of struggles of daily laborers, shopkeepers, and farmers for their daily survival. P. Chengal Reddy, Secretary General, Consortium of Indian Farmers Association says that the country is divided into India and Bharat. ‘Farmers are like a living corpse in India’ he added. The ruling class that includes the bureaucrats, Industrialists and so-called City-based experts do not see their plight and the demonetization have amplified how detached they are from this vital sector. 

The government has also decided to exclude co-operative banks from this demonetization process alleging that they are not trustworthy. There are those who suspect that it is a deliberate move to destroy these cooperative banks in favor of big commercial ones or to bring them under stricter reserve bank guidelines. In thousands of villages, people depend on these cooperative banks for their banking and unfortunately they are allowed to run dry with little or no infusion of new currency notes.

To any independent observer, it is quite amusing to watch how the Government is dealing with the crisis with ever changing terms of the scheme and daily issuance of new directives. Originally, the purpose was to expose black money and to stop the terrorist funding directed by Pakistan. Lately, the BJP leaders sound as if they had a hidden agenda for this program all along that is to transform India into a cashless society.  One doesn’t know whether it was the original intent or shifting of the goalpost since the game has started. If it is all about black money, one wonders why Modi has failed to take any action against the unaccounted fortune hidden in offshore accounts! 

Any rational mind would know that most of the Indian villages are a century behind the urban centers. They still do not have necessary facilities for education, medical care or banking and it is preposterous to talk about digital transactions and cashless society with these folks before helping them to meet minimum goals in human development. I am not sure whether our political leaders are making these decisions based on the cost-benefit analysis with an ample input of the current capabilities of the target population or they are falling victims to the utopia offered by the titans of the service sector which are dominated by Tech companies. 

It is a known fact that half of the Indian population does not have access to any credit or debit cards. Also, only 53 percent of the population has access to a bank account, and the Internet is unavailable in the remote areas of the country. Security is also of paramount concern to many as the country is still reeling from a massive leak of credit card information from a database of 3 million card holders.  

Sweden, an advanced economy with 10 million people, is currently undertaking the cashless experiment and the latest report showed that Sweden’s central bank had put a brake on that effort in the interim. With only 20% of the retail payments in Sweden were made in cash, they were in a better position to make that effort. However, they are having second thoughts stating that ‘we welcome digital development, but cannot leave any group behind’!  Riksbank, Sweden’s central bank has recently advised all those online banking services to change their business model to include cash.

After all, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization may have this ulterior motive of digitizing the Indian economy. If the demonetization is a step in that direction, the government needs to be deliberate and transparent in that process. The digital payment industry supported by the World Bank, multi-nationals, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID seem to be hard at work nudging world leaders who are susceptible to political opportunism and conscious of their inflated ego to demonetize and drain the liquidity of the banks. For those global elitists, there is a fortune to be made in the days ahead and if it takes leaving half of the population behind, so be it!

More than a month after demonetization, many city dwellers especially the working poor still support the policy. However, the country can’t wait any longer to get back on its feet and normalize the situation. If this is not resolved in the immediate future, some of the damages inflicted on the real economy from this protracted economic slowdown may end up being irreversible!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

U.S. Election: It was mostly about "the forgotten man’. - George Abraham

A pre-election poll suggested that 72% of the people who surveyed had the opinion that the country is on the wrong track. Mr. Donald J. Trump who detected that anger among the electorate and tapped it to win the Presidency is on the way to the white house. It is a historic victory that stunned the ‘Political Class’ in this country and the Globalists around the world.

The recently concluded campaign for the Presidency was characterized as one of the most acrimonious in history and vitriolic in tune that has brought disrepute and scorn upon the candidacies of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, one is described as misogynist, xenophobic, sexist and racist and the other as deeply corrupt and untrustworthy.

Obviously, the polls were wrong, and projection models turned out to be flawed. The pundits in the media who were veterans of previous presidential campaigns got it totally wrong as well. Defying all predictions, American voters swept Republicans to power, handing the GOP the White House, the Senate and the House in a wave very few who saw it coming. Academia will now spend the coming weeks and months studying just how and why everyone missed it!

What has gone wrong? According to Peggy Noonan of Wall Street Journal written months before the election, ‘the rise of Donald Trump is directly attributable to “protected” Americans dismissing the needs of “unprotected” ones. Noonan who was a speechwriter for President Reagan defined the protected class as not only wealthy Americans but also financially successful people in Government, Media, Hollywood, and Wall Street and Tech sector with strong careers. They have money; they live in nice neighborhoods and ‘they can pretty much do anything and they are insulated’.

“The protected make public policy and the unprotected live in it” Noonan added. In other words, unprotected Americans with less money, less access to good schools and less opportunity than the ‘Elites’ ( also dubbed as ‘Establishment’), who mostly live in rural and suburban America are left to fend for themselves without help from either Democrats or Republicans.

The protected class, the types of Think Tanks, Career Politicians, Bureaucrats and Lobbyists continued to make policies that have enormous negative consequences on the lives of the average American, and it appears to have gone on  for so long and that it finally reached a boiling point.  In short, the story is that Trump, the Republican nominee, was able to tap into that feeling of alienation and succeeded.

Undoubtedly, the election of Trump is also viewed as a rebuke to the Technocratic driven policies, increasing centralization of power in Washington and unchecked Immigration policies that are heavily favored by the Democrats. Obamacare has become a hot button issue towards the end of the campaign as soaring costs of premium was seized upon as an issue by opponents and used it to sway a significant number of voters in the Blue States to go Red.

It has been said that in every election, people ultimately vote with their pocket book and there is no wonder then, the economy and the jobs were trending as top priority issues for the electorate. Trump was able to hammer home the issue that the loss of manufacturing jobs from the Rust Belt States was directly attributable to the Trade deals like NAFTA and promised to renegotiate to make it more of a ‘Fair Trade’ than  ‘Free Trade.'

The failures of the Obama-Clinton foreign policies loomed large over the discourse of the election debates as well. Trump has questioned the wisdom of spending Trillions of dollars in foreign wars where America gained few advantages while wreaking havoc in the regions, especially in the Middle East, and creating millions of refugees fleeing their homes. A case in point is the US support for the Al-Nusrah Front in Syria, an offshoot of Al-Qaida that is fighting for the overthrow of the President Bashar al-Assad. The atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians, Yezidis and other minorities in the region and the threat of terrorism from these Islamic groups at home remained  top concerns to many voters across the nation.

People of faith have also witnessed increased hostility and scorn from the ruling class in Washington and reacted strongly with greater mobilization and participation that certainly cushioned a Trump victory. The vacant seat in Supreme Court and its future direction also weighed heavily on this conservative segment of the electorate.

The United States was the leading proponent of globalization but the recent Brexit decision and the Trump election clearly points to a re-thinking on the part of the voters in both countries.  An upswing of nationalism based on culture and sovereignty was apparently a hidden component that might have energized the largely white middle class, especially in rural America to go and vote for a change in this election cycle. However, it is unfair to characterize this whole group as ‘basket of deplorables’ though some elements who support racism and anti-immigrant policies might be part of the entire equation. 

Despite the torrent of criticisms from all quarters, the United States is still considered the lone superpower in the world and a beacon to millions who value democracy, freedom, and justice. However, it is also viewed now as a nation in decline. With 90 million people out of work and 50 million people on Government assistance and 20 Trillion dollars in debt and with anemic growth in GDP and no real income growth for the middle class in last several years, the country was ready for a change. 

In summary, the election of Trump is mostly about the economy and jobs, and it is also about the ‘forgotten man’ whom the establishment looked down with disdain. When someone came along and listened to their voices and connected, a tectonic shift has taken place in America; a Trump presidency!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)

Read more

Hartals in Kerala: a shameful exercise in futility

It was supposed to be just another ordinary day in the life and times of Malayalees who live in 'God’s own country,' as I arrived at Thiruvananthapuram for a short vacation. However, it turned out to be a day of Hartal, a tumultuous few hours, courtesy of the Congress Party and the current political dynamics in the State.

It is quite extraordinary that I had the dubious honor of facing another Hartal upon my return to the U.S. two weeks later. This time, I had to leave my hometown, Chengannur a day early, to escape the wrath and fury of the BJP and RSS loyalists for a timely arrival at the airport.

One picture in the newspaper explained it all: a man in the Khadi Shirt and Mundu (supposed to be a Gandhian!) deflating a tire of a KSRTC bus right in the middle of the Road in Palayam. There were other stories where people were dragged out of their private vehicles and some beaten up, transport buses were stoned and damaged, government offices were attacked,  and stores were forced to shut their doors including ATM counters. With protestors blocking roads and clashing with police, normal life came to a standstill on 28th September in Thiruvananthapuram.

What surprised me most about the first Hartal is that it was planned and staged by the Congress leadership in Kerala. It is quite amazing that the party which introduced a bill to curb Hartal has now provided guidance and cover in holding one. The party was apparently protesting the hike in the tuition fees in the Medical colleges and the alleged brutality of the police to the protestors.
The explanation by the Opposition leader Shri Ramesh  Chennithala is rather amusing as well. He stated that the Hartal could be held in emergency situations but struggled to clarify his evolving rationale. However, Mr. Shashi Tharoor, M.P. expressed his disagreement in tweeting. “we are right to express our anger and demand an inquiry against the police misbehavior but not to disrupt the lives of the public through Hartals.”

Hartal is one item that seriously concerns every Non-resident Keralite. Many have experienced it first hand by being held up at an airport or prevented from getting timely medical help. It is indeed a travesty of justice and infringement on the freedom of every citizen guaranteed under the constitution. Despite repeated promises to the NRKs to bring this draconian and antiquated practice to a halt, Congress has now given impetus to a whole new generation to go out and destroy public property and stop the daily lives of the ordinary people in its tracks.

The history of development in Kerala is replete with incidents involving Industrial leaders walking away from their investment plans in the State due to political instability. Communist Party has been the champion of Gheraos and Strikes and the flag bearer as the top disruptor against investment and growth opportunities. BJP is also feared for its communal angle and have used their intimidating style of operations to hold successful Hartals.

However, it is shameful for Congress Party to revert to this arcane form of protest that would have cost millions of Rupees in business and lost productivity. In the last five years, the party has prided itself as the party of development, growth and equal opportunity!  A senior Congress leader A K Antony quoted once as saying ‘ the public does not support calls for Hartals and Gheraos  but stand by those who bring about development.' He implied at the time that the LDF failed to understand the people of Kerala who are exposed to progress through development and not by violent means.

However, after the recent severe losses in the election, it appears that the Congress party in the state seems to be in disarray and search of some new relevance.  LDF has consolidated its power, and they are digging in for the long haul. BJP has become the fastest growing political power in the State and obviously is a serious threat to supplant Congress party as the next possible alternative.

It is as if ‘when Rome is burning, the Ceasar is fiddling,' the Congress leadership in the State at all levels is either out of touch with the aspirations of the people or simply too focused on their internal quarrels and pitiful rivalries to boost their self-development. They appear to be either so oblivious or merely unconcerned to so many serious issues facing this country such as Growing Intolerance, Rising Mistreatment and Discrimination of Dalits and Backward Castes, Eroding Civil Rights, Youth Unemployment, Environmental Degradation, Adulterated Food Supply, Rising Inflation and Falling Infrastructure, just to mention a few. It is no wonder then they have chosen the 'rise in the tuition fee in medical colleges' as the most pressing issue where students have already paid their dues that they could well afford,  and started their classes.
There is no doubt that the Education in the state has become a booming business. Undoubtedly, people with money stand to gain most from the current system. Most political parties also tend to benefit from it and exploit every opportunity that comes their way. I am told by someone closer to these negotiations that the Chief Minister initially warned the private school management representatives that the opposition would not accept these increases, but they persisted. It begs the question then, how they could agree to a change in tuition schedule now that the Opposition is ratcheting up the case!

It is time for the Congress Party, in particular, to level with the people of Kerala and go back to the grass roots and build up a faithful following with commitment if they are to play a meaningful role in the future. Perception of Corruption and lack of fortitude in fighting communal forces continue to dog the party and hurt its image.  It is probably time for the renewal of the Congress Party in the State with some fresh ideas outside the box and maybe, with a younger and more vibrant leadership! 

A Youth Congress leader deflates the tire of a KSRTC bus as its driver and conductor look on at Palayam in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday. (Photo: A.V. MUZAFAR-Deccan Chronicle)

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

RSS, BJP and India’s Independence Struggle

“Even during the British times, the Congress party would not have faced so much adversity that we, our dedicated workers, have gone through in 50-60 years,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the event laying the foundation stone of the new party headquarters in New Delhi.

Congress response to the latest Modi swipe was swift and sharp. The senior spokesperson for the Congress party, Anand Sharma, responded during an urgently called press conference: "It does not behoove the Prime Minister of India to lower the dignity of his office by making a statement which is factually incorrect and an insult to the freedom fighters... It is a shocking untruth that the Prime Minister has publicly uttered. He has made a shocking comparison, trivializing the freedom struggle, insulting our national heroes for which he must not only withdraw that shameful statement but apologize.”

Ever since the ascendance of BJP to the center of power in New Delhi two years ago, it appears that a carefully crafted strategy is in place to appropriate icons and legacies that the party is sorely lacking. It is as if the party is so embarrassed by the lack of pedigree that they are even willing to go out and create some history of their own. With unlimited resources at their disposal, they get hold of some hired hands that are ready to scan every nook and corner to find any missing comma or invisible gaps in crumpled pieces of history to recreate a story to fit their narrative.

The recent efforts to diminish the contributions of Jawaharlal Nehru to the development of a modern India and to redefine Sardar Patel’s role during the independence struggle and to recast him as anything but pluralistic is quite evident to all those keen observers of the fast moving political dynamics in the country.  One may also witness the rush by the ruling class to embrace Ambedkar as one of their own while engaged in policies that continue to marginalize the Dalit community - all part of a public relations campaign to build a new image for the party and it’s faithful.

Despite their best efforts, RSS has failed miserably in proving that they have played any meaningful role to liberate India from the British colonialism. On the contrary, RSS only tried to disrupt the anti-imperialist struggle of the people of India. In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi had called upon the people to break different laws as part of the resistance to the British rule. In the context of these efforts, Gandhiji himself launched the famous Salt Satyagraha. However, Dr. K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, sent information down to his cadre not to participate in the Satyagraha.

The historical records show that Hedgewar himself participated in the Satyagraha in an individual capacity. However, he had an ulterior motive in doing so. According to the biography published by RSS, “Dr. Saheb had the confidence that with a freedom-loving, self-sacrificing and reputed group of people inside with him there, he would discuss the Sangh with them and win them over for its work.”

It became quite evident to the Congress leaders that Hedgewar went to jail not because he was committed to the freedom struggle but rather to break and disrupt the ranks of the Congress cadres who were united under the non-cooperation movement regardless of their religious affiliations. To thwart the sectarian and communal influence over the cadre, the All India Congress Committee passed a resolution in 1934 forbidding Congress members from becoming members of RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha, and the Muslim League.

The tradition of RSS keeping aloof from the freedom struggle that started by the founder Hedgewar continued under his successor M.S. Golwalker. As a matter of fact, he has taken it a step further by religiously complying with all the instructions from the government, disbanding RSS military department and not cooperating with the ‘Quit India’ movement.

Golwalker was also vehemently opposed to the very concept of a ‘Secular State’. In ‘We. Or our nationhood defined’, Golwalker praised the Nazi campaign against Jews and Gypsies and stated categorically that it was “a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.” He also excoriated the Chinese for eating pigs, dogs, and rats and said: “Such men cannot be expected to have human qualities.”

Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh which evolved into today’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wrote a letter to the Bengal Governor Sir John Hobart as to how to respond to the ‘Quit India’ movement.  In his letter dated July 26. 1942, he wrote: “Let me now refer to the situation that may be created in the province as a result of any widespread movement launched by the Congress. Anybody, who during the war, plans to stir up mass feeling, resulting internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by any Government that may function for the time being.”

Then there was a mercy plea by Veer Savarkar, leader of the Hindu Mahasabha to the British Government that “if he is released, then he would be loyal to the British Government and was also ready to serve it.”He also opposed the ‘Quit India’ movement and asked Hindus to stay active in the war effort and not to disobey the government.

The words and deeds of these erstwhile leaders of RSS and BJP clearly indicate that they were not only non-participants in the freedom struggle where hundreds of people were risking their lives on a daily basis but also collaborators who supported the British on critical occasions. The British acknowledged that the RSS had “scrupulously kept itself within the law, and refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942.”

It is quite a sad day when a prime minister of India belittles the sufferings of the freedom fighters under the courageous leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru while asserting that  BJP faced much more adversity during the post-independence era compared to the Congress party during the freedom struggle. Political discourse is often riddled with hyperbole. However, the memory of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom deserves much more gratitude and respect from all of us.

If we would like to take a peek into the individual and collective sacrifices, there would be a page to write: Pandit Nehru was sent to jail about nine times and spent a total of 3,259 days; Mahatma Gandhi served time in prison for a total of 2,338 days, and that is equivalent to 6.4 years. Conventional histories have counted, at the minimum, about 100,000 Indian soldiers who were slaughtered in severe reprisals by the British forces desperate to impose order. Also, the death toll at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre alone was around 1,000. Then there was the famine in the East that was exacerbated by British ruthlessness and took millions of lives. Even Ghadar, the first organized movement of overseas Indians, who primarily lived in Canada and the United States, played a role in the struggle for independence for their homeland, and many hundreds paid the ultimate price with their lives. 

If the 'adversity' Modi refers to is the ban on the RSS after the assassination of Gandhiji, one needs to pay attention to Sardar Patel, the first Union Home Minister, who wrote to Golwalker on September 11, 1948, commenting on the RSS activities: “As regards to RSS and Hindu Mahasabha..our reports do confirm that as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (RSS) an atmosphere was created in the country in which such ghastly tragedy became possible”.

Patel's letter continued as follows: “Apart from this, their opposition to the Congress, that too of such virulence, disregarding all considerations of personality, decency or decorum, created a kind of unrest among the people. All their speeches were full of communal poison. It was not necessary to spread the poison and enthuse the Hindus and organize for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the valuable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of sympathy for the Government or the people no more remained for the RSS. In fact, the opposition grew. The opposition turned more severe when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. Under these conditions, it became inevitable for the government to take action against RSS”.

If the erstwhile Jan Sangh was kept at bay by other secular political parties till the late 70s, Patel’s letter clearly shed light on why it happened. I honestly doubt that if it were not for the Emergency rule imposed by Indira Gandhi, the Jan Sangh would have been rehabilitated so quickly and become the force that it is today.

The BJP, undoubtedly, is the biggest beneficiary of the stable institutions built by the Congress Party, under the stewardship of Gandhi and Nehru, which paved the way for the preservation of democracy and the rule of law. The BJP is the guardian of those institutions now, with little or no investment, and Indians everywhere would like to see them protected and preserved for generations to come!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

BJP, Dalits, and the ‘Cow politics.’

“In these four years, I also saw with, some disquiet, forces of divisiveness and intolerance trying to raise their ugly head. Attacks on weaker sections that militate against our national ethos are aberrations that need to be dealt with firmly. The collective wisdom of our society and our polity gives me confidence that such forces will remain marginalized, and India’s remarkable growth story will continue uninterrupted” so said honorable Pranab Mukherjee, President of India, addressing the nation on the eve of the 70th year Independence Day from British colonialism.

It is indeed quite an emphatic and forceful statement coming from the bully pulpit of the highest office in the land. It also put to shame those who refuse to acknowledge the growing intolerance and prejudice that is sweeping across India by the rightwing zealots who are emboldened by the election of Narendra Modi to power. The question to ponder is whether this is only an aberration or a growing trend that may have disastrous consequences to the way of life as we experience it today!   

Just as India was celebrating its Independence Day, the word has come out from Bengaluru that SEDITION charges are being filed against Amnesty International of India, an organization that promotes human rights and creates awareness when it is violated in any part of the world.  Once again, it appears that the law enforcement agencies are made pawns by ultra-nationalists who bent upon imposing their version of cultural hegemony on the diverse people of India.

Millions of Indians everywhere must be feeling the shame of India as the President has spoken out on the continuing assaults of Dalits. In a recent incident in Una,  Gujarat, four Dalit youths were severely beaten up and dragged on the road for nearly a kilometer for allegedly possessing beef.  It is widely known that the so-called upper castes will not touch the carcass and the Dalits are forced clear or handle it and when they do, they are mercilessly beaten up in the name of self-appointed ‘Gau Rakshak Samiti.’

Dalits who constitute one-sixth of India’s population, some 170 million people, live in precarious existence, shunned by much of Indian society because of their rank as “untouchables” or Dalits – meaning broken people – at the bottom of India’s caste system. Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land and basic resources, forced to work in degrading conditions, and routinely abused at the hands of police and dominant caste groups that enjoy state’s protection.

It appears that the Prime Minister had finally broken his silence when he made a statement in a town hall meeting saying that “I feel really angry that some people have opened shops in the name of cow protection. I have seen that some people commit anti-social activities through the night, but act as cow protectors by day”. It is noteworthy that Modi did not call for the prosecution and punishment of these cow vigilantes but asked the authorities to prepare ‘dossiers’ on them and keep them under control!

Almost a year ago, a mob lynched Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri U.P. on suspicion of possessing beef in his home refrigerator. Subsequently, the meat was sent for forensic examination. In June, Baliyan, who is a member of Modi’s Council of Ministers, BJP MP Yogi Adityanath and BJP MLA Sangeet Som defended the killers and demanded action against the dead man’s family for the ‘crime of eating beef.’ 

If there is growing intolerance on the dietary habits of Indians and rising violence by the emboldened vigilante groups who have taken up law unto their hands, many in the current leadership are in complicity lending credence to their nefarious activities with their overt or covert support to this highly charged environment.

Amit Shah, the President of BJP, boasted once that wherever there is a BJP government, there is a ban on the beef. Raja Singh, a member of Parliament, went even further stating that he extends his full support to all those who take it upon themselves to teach those Dalits a valuable lesson! Mohinder Lal Khattar, the current Chief Minister of Haryana, is on the record saying that Muslims can live in the country only if they give up eating beef.   Panchajanyam, an RSS newspaper has quoted Vedic scriptures that ordered the killing of sinners who slaughtered cows and the Union Minister of Agriculture Radhamohan Singh termed cow slaughter a ‘mortal sin.’

There is no doubt that these vitriolic statements from higher ups have given fodder and cover to these cow vigilantes who roam the streets and become the judge, jury, and the executioners. Since BJP came to power, states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand have tightened laws against cow slaughter, but those in the leadership used the beef issue as an emotive political tool without any repercussions from the Prime Minister. In Maharashtra state, one may get five years incarceration for possession of beef as opposed to two years for sexual harassment of a woman! 

Prime Minister himself effectively conjured up the specter of a ‘pink revolution’ – cow killing on a mass scale – in the event of a BJP’s defeat in the 2014 election as a part of a   strategy to motivate people and to vote for his party. Both in Western Uttar Pradesh and again in Bihar Modi spoke at length about the dangers of ‘pink revolution.’ “ The agenda of the Congress is the pink revolution,” he said. “we have heard of the green revolution and white revolution but never pink, and this means the slaughter of animals (pashu). You see, the color of mutton is pink, and they are committing the sin of exporting it and bringing revolution…Because of this, our animal wealth is being slaughtered, our cows are being slaughtered, or sent abroad to be slaughtered….And now the Congress is saying, ‘if you vote for us, we will give you permission to kill cows’”

It is quite apparent that if Modi has to call the heinous and brutal beating of the Dalit boys in Gujarat as criminal wrongdoing and ask that the perpetrators to be punished, he would have to cross that ideological line he and his party have helped to formulate in attaining the power.  However, what he has done with his recent statement to the nation is an attempt to soothe the bruised feelings of Dalits who are critical to the BJP’s prospects in the upcoming elections in U.P. and Punjab. What else could explain his silence in all these months when Muslim youths were lynched or beaten up by cow vigilantes?

The very idea of a consolidated vote bank based on the ideology of ‘Hindutva’ to include the Dalits and other backward castes may be fast unraveling as the video footage of the beating has gone viral and stoked Dalit Anger. The nation also witnessed the de-recognition of the Ambedkar Students Association in Chennai, mistreatment and subsequent suicide of the  Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula in Hyderabad, torching of a Dalit home in Haryana and killing of the two children. All these incidents may only reinforce the age-old Dalit thinking that BJP is essentially a party dominated by an upper caste ideology, and there may be very little room left in it for anyone else!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

India Day Parade in Queens, NY: a great time for Malayalees to wake up from the slumber!

For the last five decades or so, Keralites have been immigrating to the United States and making it their home. In the early years, New York served as a gateway for most of those new immigrants. That explains why the tri-state area is still home to most of the early Malayalee settlers to this great country. 

Today, Keralites constitute the second largest regional group from India to the U.S. after people from the state of Gujarat. As we  know, Keralites are mostly professionals made up of Doctors, Nurses, Engineers, IT personnel and others in contrast to Gujaratis who exemplified themselves in Business. 

Keralites have been generally successful in their careers and led a comfortable living in the new land facing various challenges that naturally confront new immigrants anywhere. The community has built churches, created thousands of cultural and religious organizations, regularly celebrated Indian festivals and acted as goodwill ambassadors to their adopted country.

Most of the second generation of Keralites has followed the footsteps of their parents and become professionals in their own right and some others continue to search for new avenues to fulfill their destiny. As any other community, we may have our own share of difficulties, problems, and disappointments, however, we continue to strive and overcome!

For all the economic success the community has accomplished over the years, there is one thing that is sorely lacking.  It is the absence of an integrated dynamic link to the local and national political process. This connection is imperative if we are to reach the next level in the community's development. 

If one examines the Bios of all those political appointees of Indian origin by the Obama administration, it is quite evident that most of them were one way or other linked with his campaign directly or helping him to raise funds for the Presidential run. 
Keralites, by and large still mostly remain today as onlookers to the American political process. Except for the daily foray into the workplace, we are mostly detached from our real surroundings.  There are indeed few exceptions like Annie Paul who got elected to the Rockland County Legislature or Attorney Stanley Kalathara who made a run for the NY City Council from Jackson Heights. It is refreshing to see that some others around the country are in the process of making history as well. 

However, for most of us in the community, we rather spend our time, resources and energy on either religiously affiliated projects or with cultural entities that lack any forward vision for the community. I am not absolving myself from any criticism in that regard but rather thinking aloud along with all of you on how we can change the trajectory in setting up new goals and objectives for the community. Obviously, our children are not going back to India and we need to take a second look at what our priorities are and how they are going to impact the future generations. Those religious and cultural organizations may continue to play a role in our lives, however; we should in no way allow ourselves to be limited by it.

If we carefully examine the American power structure, one thing becomes abundantly clear. It is controlled by an elite group of people with two distinct characteristics. Many of them are Ivy-league graduates in Law or Business who end up drafting laws in the legislative bodies across the nation or running multi-national corporate board rooms.  One report indicated that 50 percent of all top lawmakers and corporate heads come from the top 15 Universities in the USA. 

At this point in time, it is worth pondering, as parents, whether our insecurity to hold on to our children closer to home may have prevented them from getting a top tier education and unleashing their full potential or if our total focus on ethnic and religious agenda kept us or kept our children away from fully getting connected to the community where we live in!

Queens, New York where the India Day parade will take place on August 13 is home to the largest concentration of Keralites in the country. In the last election to the New York City Council (District 23), a South Asian failed to get elected from that district only because the Democratic Party machine succeeded in splitting the south Asian votes.  Keralites constitute a substantial segment of that ethnic voting bloc and it is the time we recognize that underutilized leverage.

I believe that the India Day Parade in Queens presents us with a great opportunity to leave our carefully crafted comfort zone to show not only our faces but also to make a statement to the power brokers in New York city that we are here in substantial numbers to make a difference and to proclaim to our fellow members in the community that we have stopped living at the fringes! Let this gathering be a stepping stone to better planning and greater assimilation that would bear fruits for generations to come!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)

Read more

On BJP Opening an account in Kerala and at what cost?

Kerala is known for its enchanting beauty: the swaying palms, the sky-kissing hills, the sun-bleached plains, the lush paddy fields, the placid lakes, the shimmering lagoons, all make it a veritable paradise on earth.

Kerala is not only touted as one of the finest tourist destinations in the world but also heralded for its political tranquility and communal harmony. At the United Nations, Kerala was often pointed out as a case study for 'model development' for the third world. Even the most vociferous critics of Kerala would agree to the fact that the state has achieved parity in Human Development Index (HDI) with developed countries, ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone.

However,  Kerala today is at the crossroads as it is facing a critical election that may have long-term ramifications. For the first time, the alternate governance of the state between UDF and LDF is facing a serious challenge from the resurgent forces of communalism and intolerance championed by BJP. The tactics to advance their objectives are primarily based on false narratives meted out to the electorate through public pronouncements and social media.

Does Kerala need BJP as a savior to cure all its ills? I have recently read an article in which an NRI from U.S. is making such a case! There are many NRIs in U.S., while enjoying the benefits of a democratic and secular society for them, may want to deny the same opportunities to the minorities and Dalits in India. It is hypocrisy at its best as some of them support every liberal Democrat politician in U.S. while rooting for the most radical rightwing hardliners in India.

First, one needs to understand that BJP is a political wing of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) along with several other sister organizations such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal. Many of these offshoots are said to be active in the U.S. promoting their hateful ideology under the cover of promoting Hinduism.  

Let us take a look at the writings of M.S. Golwalker, the supreme leader of RSS who has laid out the principles for the organization to follow. In his book 'We or Our Nationhood Defined', he expressed his admiration as how Germany managed the Jews.

'...To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races - the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.'

Golwalker was vehemently opposed to the concept of a secular Indian State. He further wrote in the same book on his concept of Non-Hindu people in Hindustan.     'The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and language, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture ... In a word they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment-not even citizens' rights.'

In the past several years, Kerala has seen some of the highest growth rates with RSS outfits where Para-military training and boot camps for the young people have become the order of the day. I am told by several people with inside knowledge that the young minds are fed false propaganda and continually injected with communal poison primarily against Christians and Muslims. 

What would be the impact of such long time indoctrination of a target group? We need to remember that Kerala was spared of the post-partition upheaval and mayhem many States in the North have experienced. Keralites have had no first-hand experience of running away from their own burning homes with their lives and living in some kind of a temporary shelter made up of tents, subjecting their children to starvation and diseases.

I had the opportunity to visit few riot-stricken places in India the last several years. Along with a team consisting of NRIs, I have visited Gujarat after the Godhra incident and subsequent riots. I have witnessed burned out homes, talked to some of the brutalized and injured refugees living in camps and listened to one horror story after another about the charging of a violent mob and the killing spree that ensued. Most of the victims in the Gujarat riots were Muslims.

I have visited Orissa after the Khandamal riots where thousands of homes where Tribal Christians were living were burned down, scores were killed including priests who were serving the community in their hospitals and schools, nuns were raped and business establishments including stores were reduced to rubbles.

Two years ago, I also visited Muzaffarnagar, U.P. and witnessed first hand the suffering of the refugees from the communal riots that took place just before the Parliamentary election. The leaking tents housed around 5000 people in that camp. The children were getting sick from the cold and rain and many of them were dying as I was led to the nearby cemetery to see a long line of buried sites.

Why do these riots continue to happen? Why not every Indian citizen, regardless of caste, religion or region is accorded the same constitutional protection as regards life and property? Why the perpetrators of these heinous crimes mostly escape justice? These questions often go unanswered; however, if one would study the founding principles of RSS which pretty much control the BJP agenda from Nagpur and observe the line of thinking of the current leadership, may reach the conclusion that the party has profited much from the political polarization and division that has taken place. Muzaffarnagar is a case in point; they successfully divided and created enmity within the Jat community that resulted in a huge win in U.P. in the 2014 election.

There appear to be some eerie similarities to certain developments currently taking place in Kerala and what has happened before the riots in Gujarat. According to various reports, the rioters that took part in the atrocities mostly belonged to the backward castes. K.B. Hedgewar, the founder, formed the RSS primarily as an upper caste organization; however, it has been successful lately in wooing ST/SC/OBC leaders under the 'Hindutva' agenda. The recruitment of Vellappally Natesan to the NDA fold seems to echo the same trend that should evoke serious concern and ring alarm bell for the long-term Social and Political tranquility of the State.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi touted the success of  'Gujarat Model of Development' during the 2014 campaign for the Parliamentary election. For those who are keen observers of economic development know that Kerala is either number one or two in terms of United Nations' own Human Development Index. According to report on Global Hunger (2009), among the major 17 states in India, Gujarat ranks 13th with a Hunger Index of 23.3. The state has been declared as a -alarming state- along with MP, Jharkhand, and Bihar. It takes some audacity for someone from those states to lecture Keralites on Human Development!

Why then Kerala needs BJP? The party strategy is becoming increasingly clear; it wants to divide the people of India along religious lines and to communalize them for its narrow political objectives! Rahul Gandhi once said the following 'the core philosophy of the BJP has always had a strong communal and centralizing tendency. It is an ideology that seeks to perpetuate status quo which makes it impossible for the poor and the disadvantaged to rise above their stations through hard work. Under the current BJP leadership, this ideology has acquired a particularly virulent character. It has shed any semblance of respect for the democratic, secular and inclusive fabric of our nation. It is a politics of hubris, anger, and divisiveness. The actions of the current government at the center and [the] recent statements of senior leaders of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar clearly suggest that this is indeed the direction they are taking. Tolerance and mutual respect appear to have little place in their thought process'. 

There may be some who believe that BJP winning a couple of seats in a 140 member Assembly wouldn't have much of an impact. I beg to disagree. BJP manifesto in Kerala may not tell the whole story; however, scanning of the current national political landscape would give a glimpse of what would be in store if electorate in Kerala is to allow BJP to open an account in this upcoming election. The whole political dynamics in the state could drastically change and the legislative assembly may  soon be besieged by folks who will be busy fighting over hot-button issues such as doing away with existing civil codes, banning of cow slaughter and mandatory teaching of Sanskrit and Vedic history, all in coordination with the Center and  a powerful party apparatus. In other words, a culture war that is currently being waged by the Sangh Parivar across the country will be soon showing its ugly face in Kerala as well along with potential challenges to the religious freedom of the minorities.

It is regretful that many in the UDF leadership kept their silence all these years when BJP was sowing the seeds of divisions and creating conflicts elsewhere. It was incumbent on many of them to speak out in the face of violence and atrocities orchestrated by the Sangh Parivar organizations. However, they chose not to do so. Even now, there are some who are prepared to wheel and deal with these regressive forces for temporary gains. If that is true, history may prove that how short-sighted some of these leaders were about the long term damage their actions might have inflicted on the future well-being of Kerala.

This election is all about choices. It is extremely important for the Kerala voters to make the right choices. The question is whether the Non-resident Keralites would like to see the continuity of a peaceful   and pluralistic Kerala with an inclusive agenda or enable those regressive forces to take a foothold in the legislature and disrupt the status quo? We will wait for that answer on May 19th.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)

Read more

RohithVemula: a martyr for Dalit rights and human dignity

‘My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness’, were the last words written by Rohith Chakravarthi Vemula,  a research scholar  who has committed suicide to protest the discriminatory practices of the University of Hyderabad towards Dalits and other marginalized communities. Mr. Vemula hanged himself from a ceiling fan in his friend’s hostel room.  It is to be noted that Rohith was a scholar who gained admission to the University on his own merit, not through a reserved seat.

Two weeks earlier, Rohith and four of his friends, all Dalits and members of the Campus group called Ambedkar Student Association (ABS),  were moved out of their hostel rooms after being suspended by the University Administration. The purported disciplinary action was taken after an altercation between ABS and ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad - Student wing of the BJP) in a dispute over the screening of a documentary on the Muzaffarnagar's communal riots that  killed over 100 people and rendered 5000 - mostly Muslims -  homeless.

What is unusual in this case is the direct intervention of the Central Government with a letter from labor minister, Bandaru Dattatreya, calling the ASA  anti-national, casteist and extremist though it was the members of the ABVP, who first disrupted the film show and then set the political machinery in motion alleging the attack by Dalit students on its leader, Susheel Kumar. On the basis of his letter, the Ministry of Human Resource Development headed by Smiti Irani requested action against the five Dalit Students. It has been reported that HRD Ministry has written 5 letters to UoH and the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Mr. Appa Rao was simply eager to oblige.

Despite repeated attempts to inspire change, Dalit students have been deprived of their shelter, and cutoff from scholarship funds, without proper food appear to have faced an administration that lacked a caring and concerned leadership on the campus. They were pushed to the edge of despair, foreclosing a future without an education. To an independent observer, there is no doubt that it is a clear assault on Dalit Rights, and on the dignity of a people.

Since the ascension of BJP to power in 2014, this is one in a series of incidents that has revealed the mindset of a party, on one hand, urging the Dalits to unite under the flag of Hindutva but on the other, setting up a delimiter to what extent they can be included.  First, the ban on the Ambedkar-Periyar study circle of IIT Madras, then the burning alive of Dalit Children in Haryana, and finally, General. V.K. Singh allegedly referring to them as animals. Rohith’s death alongside Dattatreya and Smithi Irani’s alleged involvement in it,  has to be seen in light of these incidents.

News reports also talk about VC Appa Rao’s infamous past as Chief Warden of the Hostel. He instructed only Dalit students to clean up the bathrooms.  Those Dalit students who opposed the diktat were suspended for an indefinite period. UoH is known for its caste-based discrimination in admission, evaluation of academic performance and even in administrative operations. Students often complain that they receive bad treatment as soon as they reveal their lower-caste backgrounds.

The future of a student is often determined once he/she was queried on his/her name, background, place of residence, and whether they eat meat.  It has often been reported that higher caste students objected to sharing a room with a Dalit student, and untouchability is still said to be practiced without any shame. Dalit research students often need to wait up to 3 years to receive a guide.

RohithVemula’s suicide brought caste-based discrimination to the fore, not only in UoH but also on other campuses in Hyderabad. Suicides in higher education are quite rampant in the city. Five Dalit students committed suicide between 2005 and 2015 in UoH alone. In Osmania University, two women students who killed themselves in 2007 and 2011 respectively. In 2013, two Muslim students committed suicide in the EFL University.

It also points to a larger problem of discrimination and assaults on the Dalit community as a whole.  According to the national crimes recording bureau, there were 13,756 killings, 27,017 rapes, 6,74,619 sexual assaults and 76,860 physical assaults in the last two decades alone. However, only 3% of these cases are said to have been adjudicated. Although discrimination based on caste has taken center stage with Rohith’s suicide, another minority group, students hailing from the seven states in the North East India  have been fighting against what they call “racial profiling” in the UoH.  The plight of these folks against discrimination and harassment across the country is well documented.

As the nation just celebrated the 125th anniversary of B. R. Ambedkar, the architect of India’s constitution, there appears to be a growing conflict between the entrenched interests of the right wing Hindutva activists and the aspirations of the SC/ST and OBC and other minority groups that constitute a sizable chunk of the Indian electorate.

Undoubtedly, the BJP government is hard at work imposing and celebrating the elements of Hindu practices that are regressive, and making it even harder to have a civilized debate within the academic framework of caste, patriarchy or religious bigotry. “Campus has become the unsafe place for the discriminated,” said Archana Phadke, a cinematographer who worked for ‘Placebo’ a documentary that delineates the travails of student life in one of the country’s top colleges.

The suicide of Rohith Vemula shows the failure of the upper echelons of the society dealing with a resurgent Dalit community. Obviously, students like Rohith bring with them historical anger, and expect to have a place in the academic setting for an open debate without being branded as anti-nationalistic. When they get expelled for even a slight aberration, it constitutes social ostracism by the entrenched ruling class and unfortunately to the rest of the world, it is another indication that much hasn't changed in India for several centuries. To add insult to injury, high Government officials are in a fishing expedition to undo Rohith’s Dalit background.

“I always looked at the stars and wanted to be a writer, a writer of science like Carl Sagan. But in the end, this is the only letter I am going to write,” Rohith said in a suicide note.

“I loved science, stars, nature – but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second hand. Our love is artificial, our beliefs [are] coloured. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt,” he wrote.

A promising future of a bright young man was cut short and a voice for justice, fairness and rational thinking was silenced, and yet, he will be long remembered as a martyr for Dalit rights and human dignity. 

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

National Herald case: Is there an oblique political objective by the BJP?

India is once again in the throes of another political storm of great magnitude that threatens not only to setback the current legislative agenda of the Parliament’s winter session but may also permanently fracture the trust needed for future consensus among political parties to conduct the nation’s business.  The National Herald case has all the familiar hallmarks of a political mud fight rather than the true ingredients needed to prove any alleged impropriety and/or violation of laws.

National Herald was started by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1937 along with other leaders of the independence movement. Undoubtedly, it was a symbol of this struggle and provided a voice to the freedom movement across the country. In addition to Pandit Nehru, freedom fighters like Purushottam Das Tandon, Acharaya Narendra Dev, and India’s first Communications Minister, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai were among the first subscribers and signatories to the memorandum of Association of the ‘Associated Journals Limited (AJL)’.The company that was published National Herald and later Quami Awaaz and Navjeevan.

From its inception, the National Herald was in poor financial health. There were reports to the effect that Mahatma Gandhi originally even opposed the idea of the Congress party owning a newspaper but relented to the wishes of Pandit Nehru and others in the party.  The determination of Nehru to carry on with the publication despite the heavy odds against it is quite evident in his statement; “I will not let the National Herald close down even if I have to sell Anand Bhavan.”

The Congress party supported AJL until now because of its rich and vibrant legacy associated with the freedom struggle, as well as its inextricable link with the policies and principles of the Indian National Congress. Despite the editorial excellence of the paper, AJL continued to bleed financially and ran into losses year after year. The published records show that AJL received multiple loans adding up to 90 crores from the Congress Party.

It has come to a point where no bank would sanction AJL a loan because of the 90 crore debt in its balance sheet, and its benefactor, the Congress Party, had no choice but to rethink its strategies. Towards that end, some of the most eminent experts were consulted, and their considered advice was to form a section 25 not-for-profit company called ‘Young India’. Further, in order to bail out AJL and free it from the burden of debt, the loan was reassigned to the not-for-profit company. In so doing, Congress party leaders truly believed that it could rescue and revive Nehruji’s paper while relieving AJL of its financial distress.  In today’s world, conversion of debt into equity is a normal business practice to restore the financial health of companies that are over-burdened with debt.

All shareholders of AJL, who were present and voting on 21st January 2011, approved the advice of the experts unanimously. Meanwhile AJL, now able to borrow money for the first time in years, renovated its Delhi building and rented them at the current market rates. It is believed that these new avenues of income would fund the re-launching of the National Herald in the foreseeable future.

Undoubtedly, there are a number of misconceptions promoted by groups intending to tarnish the image of the Congress party. A few things are quite evident upon the examination of this case: 1) the Assets and properties owned by AJL will continue to remain with AJL; 2) no assets have been transferred from AJL to ‘Young Indian’; 3) as  Directors or Shareholders of ‘Young Indian’, Smt. Sonia Gandhi or Shri. Rahul Gandhi is prohibited by law from drawing any financial benefits from the company; 4) At the Extraordinary General meeting in 2011, shareholders were present and unanimously voted to approve the issuance of fresh equity to ‘Young Indian’, in order to extinguish the debt of AJL.

It is also clear to independent observers that AJL was directed and sustained over the years by a successive leadership of the Congress Party, and this continues to remain the case today. The newly created ‘Young India’ also lists the major office holders of the party as its shareholders. In a nutshell, this whole exercise appears to be a major overhaul of an entity within an organization that has become financially burdensome because of its debt, and otherwise unresponsive to revival in the prevailing market conditions. Political Parties in India are under no restriction in giving loans or restructuring their various entities. A complaint along these lines by Subramanian Swamy was dismissed by the Election Commission in 2012.

In light of all of these clarifications, why is there still all of this hubbub? BJP, at the outset, would want everyone to believe that it was a case brought up by Subramania Swamy in 2012, and they (the BJP) have very little to do with it! However, this case was reopened by Enforcement Directorate after Rajan S. Katoch, the ED Director,  was removed from service after his recommendation to close the case due to lack of evidence against two leaders. In addition, the BJP has already brought out a booklet called ‘Family Greed and National Blackmail’ in a deliberate attempt to sully the names of the Congress President and the Vice-President.

Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress leader and lead attorney, in this case, said the following: ‘The BJP, in the last year or so, has been targeting the leaders of the Congress Party. Since they have no idea how to govern the country, they want to distract the attention of people from the promise of good governance. They have targeted the Congress Party president Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and our leaders Virbhadra Singh, who was accosted during his daughter’s wedding, ShankarsinhVaghela, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. They have filed sedition charges against young people in Gujarat and targeting West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar’.

Since the ascension of BJP to power in 2014, there is a growing intolerance to dissent in a democratic framework. For some in their leadership, a responsible opposition is altogether an inconvenience to the unilateral BJP agenda.  Senior BJP leaders who appear to have taken an oath for a ‘Congress-free Bharat’,  might believe that the top leadership of the Congress party in the Court in an alleged case of cheating and criminal breach of trust makes for bad optics and will help them in their quest to discredit and destroy them politically. There is no doubt then why Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi became their prime targets.

Subramanian Swamy is a known operative for the BJP, and his malevolence and hatred towards the Nehru family and anything Nehru touched including the venerable National Herald is well documented. He has long been discredited on these shores for his vitriolic statements against minorities in India, which got him booted out from the prestigious Harvard University in the immediate past. In one of his infamous quotes from 2011, he states ‘implement the uniform civil code, make learning Sanskrit and singing Vande Mataram mandatory, and declare India a Hindu Rashtra in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus. Rename India Hindustan as a nation of Hindus and those ancestors were Hindus”. In his view of the world, Smt. Sonia Gandhi or any other foreigners our sons or daughters may marry will be permanently relegated to second-class citizenship. Unfortunately, his demagoguery and bigotry come in handy for the BJP in its stealth campaign to undo the Nehruvian legacy.

Filing the plea, Congress leaders insisted that Swamy is a political opponent, insisting that the present criminal proceedings have been initiated only with intent to secure an oblique political objective! Hopefully, the days ahead may prove just that!

(The writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA) 

Read more

The enduring legacy of Nehru: a tribute to the architect of modern India

‘A moment comes, but comes rarely in history, when we step out from the old to new, when an age ends, and when a soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance’. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru delivered these inspiring words in his speech, ‘Tryst of Destiny’ in1947. He is still remembered for his vision and commitment to bring India from out of oppression into freedom, modernity, and self-reliance.

As we have celebrated the 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru on November 14th, 2015, we are in awe as we recollect his contribution, not only towards gaining India’s independence but also for laying a strong foundation of a pluralistic and forward looking India. Yet, half a century after his death, the current leadership of India is busy trying to downplay his legacy for political expediency, and to re-create a nation away from the democratic and secular tradition he has championed.

When India gained Independence, there were monumental challenges resulting from the partition and the ongoing violence between Hindus and Muslims. The urgent task facing the leadership at the time was the resettlement of 6 million refugees, and arresting the spread of further violence. Nehru put together a team of dedicated patriots such as Sardar Tarlok Singh, Sarojini Naidu and S.K. Ghosh to limit the violence, as well as rescue and recover abandoned and abducted women and children.

When the British left, the Government, headed by Nehru, faced another important task: the national integration of 562 princely states. A newly created State department under the decisive leadership of Sardar Vallabhai Patel along with Nehru ensured the integration of the country in a remarkably short period of time.

If we look back at history for a moment, we would admire how Nehru brought together exceptional people of different ideologies such as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, S.P. Mookerjee, John Mathai, C.H. Bhabha and Shanmukham Chetty to be reflective of India’s secular and multi-faceted character in the Constituent Assembly.  The Congress party delivered on the promise that the constitution they were about to create would reflect the aspirations of the Indian people.

The constitution of India was amongst the largest in the world with 395 Articles and 9 Schedules. The preamble spells out the basic philosophy and the solemn resolve of the people of India to secure justice, liberty, equality and fraternity for all its citizens. What Nehru has accomplished through this document with significant help and support from Ambedkar also is part of his vision to empower marginalized sections of the society.

Nehru was committed to ensuring social justice and the welfare of the masses as far back as 1938 by setting up the National Planning Committee under the banner of the Congress Party for the very purpose of improving the quality of life of ordinary citizens. These efforts culminated in creating a permanent planning commission to establish a just social order to ensure the equitable distribution of income and wealth. Nehru’s actions in these matters paint him as a socialist, however, he strongly believed that planning was essential to the development needs of a poor country with scarce resources, which needed to be managed optimally.

He was also concerned about the unequal access to land which was a big problem in rural India. After independence, the issue was prioritized, and by 1949, different states had passed land reform legislations to abolish the ‘Zamindari’ system and empowering the rural peasantry while doing away with the institutionalized exploitation by the feudal lords.

Nehru was a strong proponent of self-reliance, clearly recognizing that underdevelopment was the result of a lack of technological progress. Consequently, a new Industrial policy was enacted to develop key industries. While Independent India was in its infancy, he identified the production of power and steel for self-sufficiency and planning. In collaboration with other countries, India built steel plants in Rourkela (Orissa), Bhilai (M.P.) and Durgapur (W. Bengal). Dam projects were undertaken in various places to produce hydro-electric power, including the flagship Dam at  Bhakra Nangal, Punjab. The first oil refinery was inaugurated in Noonmati, Assam in 1962 as another leap forward towards industrialization. Nehru called them ‘the temples of modern India’.

Nehru was determined to foster a ‘scientific temper’ as he provided leadership in establishing many new Engineering Institutes, the most important being the premier Indian Institute of Technology, 5 of which were started between 1957 and 1964. His farsightedness is also evident in granting deemed university status to the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, and setting up the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Defense Research and Development Organization, and laying the foundation stone for the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Nehru’s own words stated that these would become ‘visible symbols of building up the new India and of providing life and sustenance to our people’.

Soon after independence, India embarked upon a nuclear program aimed at developing its nuclear capacity for peaceful purposes. As we know by now, Dr. Homi Bhabha’s pioneering work in this regard is widely acclaimed in enhancing India’s capabilities in this area. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian Space Program helped to establish the Indian Space Research Organization.

Nehru recognized the importance of education as a tool for empowerment and the establishment of the University Education Commission under the Chairmanship of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Secondary Education Commission under the chairmanship of Dr. A. L. Mudaliar laid the foundation of education and higher education. The Indian Council of Cultural Relations was also established under Maulana Azad to promote policies pertaining to India’s external cultural relations.

Nehru also played a crucial role as a leader of the non-aligned world, shaping India’s foreign policy for the post-independence period. His charismatic personality, along with deep understanding of the country and the world enabled him to be an effective spokesman for the developing world and an advocate for liberation movements across the globe.

Undoubtedly, Nehru helped to build institutions that stood the test of time. The emerging nations during that period such as Yugoslavia, Egypt and Ghana failed in this regard, and results are quite evident for all of us to see. Nehru’s vision and leadership were critical in shaping India as we know it today. According to ‘Journey of a Nation’, edited by Anand Sharma, Nehru laid the foundation of a self-reliant, productive and confident India, creating many of its Institutions leaving an indelible stamp on every aspect of the country.

Sadly, there are regressive forces at work now to undo the Nehruvian legacy and to take us back to the age when the soul of the nation was suppressed. Among reflective Indians, especially NRIs, it is time to realize that the ongoing Nehru bashing has been somewhat counterproductive. Nehru’s respect for democratic procedures and his inclusive vision will continue to remain relevant, without which a modern India might cease to exist! To revise a famous quote to fit this narrative, ‘if India is to progress, Nehru is inescapable… we may ignore him at our own risk’.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer at the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

Cows are protected; Humans are not: A new reality in Digital India!

When Narendra Modi was campaigning, voters were led to believe that he would fight against corruption and promote a developmental agenda, if he were to be given a chance to govern. While only 31% of the voters heeded his call, it was sufficient to capture an absolute majority of the Lok Sabha seats for BJP and catapult him to the highest office of the land.

Sadly, to the disappointment of even his most ardent followers, governance in India now seems to have taken an ugly turn, with a focus on divisive cultural and religious issues, which have the potential to derail his promised agenda and to threaten the very fabric of the nation that is on the brink of greatness.

The Prime Minister has just returned from a trip to Silicone Valley in California, selling ‘Digital India’, a program to transform India to a digitally empowered society. Addressing the audience in Silicone Valley, he said the following: “I know, to achieve the vision of Digital India, the government must also start thinking a bit like you’.

According to news reports, days later at Dadri, UP, not too far from the Capital of India, a mob converged at the door of Mohammad Akhlaq, based on the rumor that a cow’s slaughtered meat was stored in his refrigerator at home. The mob broke open the door and bludgeoned Mr. Akhlaq; smashed his son’s head with a brick; and then dragged Mr. Akhlaqdown14 cement steps, and out to the main road where he was left for all to see. His son is currently fighting for his life in a hospital. The extremists did not even spare Akhlaq’s mother who is 70 years old, leaving her with a black eye. They also abused his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

Does this medieval barbarism of lynching of a person for his dietary practice go with the vision of ‘Digital India’?   It may have played a part after all, first to orchestrate the assault using ‘whatsapp’ and ‘facebook’ and then broadcasting to the entire world the aftermath.  According to New York Times which reported the story, many members of the ‘save the cow’ movement are also prominent local organizers in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP administration.  Seven of the 10 youths named in the Dadri lynching FIR are said to belong to the family of district BJP worker Sanjay Rana. The list also includes Rana’s son, Vishal. A man is killed and his family is upended because what he eats! It is wrong.

Another sad commentary about this madness is that it has happened to a father of an Air Force personnel, who is serving to protect the country from external threats. Akhlaq’s eldest son, Sartaj is with IAF. Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha termed it as an ‘unfortunate incident’, and promised to move the air warrior’s family out of their area of a residence to a secure air force area.

It is quite incredible that the AkhileshYadav government in U.P. has sent pieces of meat in the refrigerator for a forensic test to find out whether it is beef. Does that mean if the results proved to be positive, Mr. Akhlaq deserved to die?  This is part of the idiosyncrasy that is taking place along with the irrational deeds of the political class, both of which damage the unity and harmony of a nation.

This is not the first such incident. However, something is different this time around. Although the account of the incident is on every news channel, the government refuses to acknowledge it, and Prime Minister NarendraModi’s silence in this regard is especially deafening. While, he cannot be responsible for every incident anywhere in the country, the person who tweets about Billiards championship, can certainly do more to set a moral tone for the country, and calm the situation using his own digital capability. There is no doubt that the Hindutva brigade is getting emboldened since Modi took office, and his silence is interpreted by many as tacit approval of the actions of these far right  groups.

One of the known BJP tactics includes creating panic and polarizing communities ahead of an election. This has happened in Muzaffarnagar, UP before the 2014 Parliament election. I recollect visiting the town and a refugee camp in the aftermath. I have heard story after story directly from many in that Jat community, detailing how Hindus and Muslims were living side by side for centuries without serious incidents. However, an auto accident involving young people was used as a pretext to create a wedge  between two communities, and the subsequent riots resulted in the death of 60 people  and rendered about 5000 people homeless. The violence of this degree did help to consolidate the Hindu Jat vote bank, and delivered almost all of the Lok Sabha seats from western U.P.  to the BJP. As the local elections are fast approaching, one could not discount the possibility of incitement in this case.

One of the ironies about the cow slaughter debate is that India retains its top spot as the world’s largest exporter of beef, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and has extended its lead over the next highest exporter, Brazil. According to the data, India exported 2.4 million tones of beef and veal in FY2015, compared to 2 million tones by Brazil and 1.5 million by Australia. There is also misconception that beef is consumed only by Muslims and Christians, however, poor Tribals and Dalits sustained themselves by consuming beef all throughout the history.

Dadri reminds us of the depth of hatred and barbarism that still exists in the society, and how it is being practiced and nurtured for political ends as some kind of a devotion to the Hindu Rashtra. The people in the rural areas, and many from the backward castes are increasingly falling prey to the Sangh Parivar’s divisive rhetoric, and taking the law unto their own hands.

While Modi is touring continents and rubbing shoulders with tech CEOs, and promoting the transfer of technology and inviting investments, Mahesh Sharma, his Minister of State for Culture said the following; “we will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernized and where Indian culture and civilization need to be restored – be it the history we read, our cultural heritage or our institutes that have been polluted over the years.”

For Sharma, globalization is a one-way street. Promoting Yoga on a worldwide stage or sharing India’s culture, food and festivals in various capitals may be fine with him. But his appeal to the rest of the world may sound like this: bring in only the money and the soft code!  There is no doubt that these regressive policies are part of a deliberate and larger effort to transform India, and to impose upper caste culture on all Indians. Sadhvi Prachi, a BJP leader known for her controversial remarks justified the Dadri lynching. “Those who consume beef deserve such action against them”.

 The ongoing saffronization of secular institutions, and the silence of those who are in power when minorities are attacked may only lead to more political instability and social disharmony at home.  Speaking on a seminar on communal amity, Vice-President of India, Hamid Ansari said the following: ‘article 21 of the Constitution provides for right to life and it was the responsibility of not only the government but people as well to ensure that every Indian is secure. “We have our own religious books, but as a citizen, the constitution is one religious book. It says the right to life is a basic right of every citizen” he said.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA) 

Read more

In Kerala, Sadly, Politics trumps Principles!

For independent observers, what is happening to the body politic of Kerala is quite extra-ordinary and, may be, even amusing to some others. However, for the common man on the street who is working hard to make both ends meet, it is downright insulting to their intelligence. There may never be in the history of Kerala, a government that has come to power with so much promise and potential like the current one with good will all around from the public. It was supposed to be an administration led by many stalwarts who were instilled with high morals and values through their young days with organizations such as Manorama’s All Kerala Balajana Sakhyam and trained in principled leadership by Gurus like late Pala K M Mathew - a widely admired person known for his integrity a.k.a. the mythical ‘Sankara Chettan’. However, today this government led by Shri. Oommen Chandy, appears to be walloped from crisis to crisis, the question that is on everyone’s mind is, what has gone wrong?

For those who follow the developments in Kerala closely, there are constant allegations of corruption, charges and counter-charges of self-aggrandizement and nepotism and shameless overextension of power only with mere moral incantations. To some, it looks like a zero sum game where gains of those in the power centers are equally balanced by the loss to the Treasury or to public good.  Undoubtedly, there is a certain level of paralysis that is gripping the State from effective administration or delivering the goods and services promptly to its citizenry.

How did we arrive at this cross road in history?  Aren’t we supposed to be living in a knowledge-era? It is supposed to be a time when technology as an enabler ought to catapult people to greater heights, set new agendas and create solutions to further alleviate poverty, and achieve prosperity through creation of jobs and new business opportunities for its young people. A writer recently asked why is India’s most socially developed state – and one of the developing world’s most advanced regions – an economic laggard? It is a relevant question as we are witnessing the frantic exodus of Keralites from the war-torn country of Yemen. It is a sad commentary that some of the nurses are even reluctant to go back home from under these horrendous and life-threatening conditions fearing that what awaits them at home is even worse - a heavy burden of debt incurred for their trip overseas and may be a gloomier future!

Despite scoring the best of all states in India’s Human Development Index and  boasting  a very healthy gender ratio, Kerala still remains a ‘money-order economy’ primarily depending on the remittances from the Non-resident Keralites and  revenue from  tourism.  Unemployment rate continues to hover around 15% forcing many young people to flee ‘God’s Own Country’ looking to better their lives.  The State has little money for social development or infrastructure upgrades and often relies on ‘Sin taxes’, alcohol and tobacco, to make up the deficit.

The reasons for the predicament Kerala is in are widely debated by experts who would list them as ranging from trade unionism to an over-politicized state of affairs that is often under the influence of the pressure groups to advance their own narrow interests. Some would directly blame the influence of successive Communist governments that failed to create an ecosystem that would cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship necessary for job creation.

However, the last few years have witnessed an explosion of market driven initiatives that have become engines of growth in several other states in the country.  Neighboring Tamil Nadu is a good example of adapting to the new global economy and exploiting the opportunities to its benefit. The state also has succeeded in securing jobs for the local talent while stemming the so-called brain drain.  Undoubtedly, the past few years have been an opportune time for Kerala to be led with a visionary agenda. As Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen  says ‘Kerala has to learn from the world’.  However, what is taking place in the body politic of the state is not only quite disappointing but shameful.

The recent altercations at the Kerala Legislative Hall can be characterized as a low point for that deliberating body. The expatriates, who have viewed those scenes, sitting afar, were quite shocked and dismayed by the physical violence by the opposition as well as political maneuverings from the governing side of the aisle that run counter to basic civility, decency and common protocol.  It deserves strong condemnation and scorn from every concerned citizen.

There appears to be a near break down of discipline in all sectors of the government machinery. The Chief Minister, as the effective CEO of the State must be responsible for strategizing and setting up the short term and long term goals. Instead, he is forced to spend long hours on mundane items that could very well be resolved and disposed at the village, Block or the Taluk level. It would be more productive to direct the bureaucrats to run their departments efficiently and to discourage the politicos and their henchmen from intervening and upsetting the order and priorities of any decision making process merely to suit their own vested interests.

In the past several years, I have met numerous political leaders at the Centre as well as State level. However, there is some thing unique about getting an appointment to meet with a political leader in Kerala. One would be surprised if there is not a mob scene at the office, a usual occurrence, as many people might be clamoring to get attention or to get the grievances heard.  Amidst all this kind of chaos, there may be an opportunity lost for a young man who might have traveled from abroad to brain storm a promising idea with the officials.  He might as well pack up his bags and move on to Bangalore or Chennai where he could get a more patient hearing.

There is very little or no public discourse over important topics such as infrastructure development, job creation, environment or clean drinking water. Most of the discussions in the media and other public arena involve ongoing political brinkmanship or some sensational scandals. The amount of time and energy spent by the top brass in this regard must be having such a disastrous effect on the day-to-day governance of the state.

During a recent visit to the Secretariat, a high ranking official pointed to those mountains of files accumulating on the shelves and told me that I shouldn’t be surprised that most of them might be dealing with grievances or other administrative matters involving the secretariat staff themselves. He said that if he ever tries to enforce any discipline, all hell will beak lose and he will be tagged as anti-union and a crowd would be soon at his door chanting slogans against him.

Another official talked about the growing problem of corruption in every facet of life in the state. He alluded to the fact that budget exercises may have become a fund raising tool for various vested interests.  It is alleged that selective leaks on impending tax hikes would force scores of business owners to cough up huge sum of money to forestall any such action. The success of Gold retail merchants in reducing the proposed tariff a year ago is a story that is repeatedly told to illustrate how the current system works.   To many of us, these methods sound more like ‘shake downs’ as they are described in the West. One of the reasons for the shortfall in  Government revenue is said to be the meddling by power centers to give favorable breaks to their clients who end up paying substantially lower obligation than what is actually due.

 Many of the technology projects with great sounding names are alleged to be no more than real estate projects where people with a ton of money could take over the Government owned properties for the so-called 99 year lease with some vague promises of employment or collaboration with an overseas entity! One should wonder about the verification regime and how termination of these leases will ever be a realistic option once the land has exchanged hands and the project goals are unfulfilled!

Today, the UDF Government led by the Congress Party appears to have lost its moorings and the courage to rein in corruption. It is said that ‘if one hasn’t learned from history, he is doomed to repeat it’. The recent defeat of the Congress party at the Centre should have given a pause to the state leadership to think right and to take some bold and much needed corrective actions. Coalition partners in the UPA government at the centre have let that Government down by creating a perception of widespread corruption though the country was led by Dr. Manmohan Singh who is a man of integrity and honor.  Just as it was in the case of UPA, the number of reforms and other initiatives undertaken by UDF seem to be lost in this political scuffle and may prove to be costly to the Congress party in the upcoming election.

It is not the length of the term but the quality of the governance that will determine the legacy of the current UDF government.  One would never attain good governance running away from truth and justice.  Let us hope the current government will have the wisdom to stand up and call a spade a spade. Yes, there is urgent business to take care of on behalf of the people of Kerala such as providing jobs to those stranded nurses in Yemen who are afraid to come home!

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA)

Read more

Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals are more relevant today than ever! Tribute to a great soul!

There has never been an age when people did not marvel at the pace of change as it is taking place before our eyes. More people have the means to lead a prosperous and peaceful life than ever before.  However, what we witness is turbulence everywhere from Middle East to Africa and to many other parts of the world where conflicts or threat of a wider war seem to be more of a norm.

 It is ironic to note that while the Prime Minister of India at the UN calling upon the International community to put aside their differences and mount a concerted effort to combat terrorism and extremism, back in Vadodara, Gujarat, at his own constituency, sectarian strife involving Hindus and Muslims were at the full swing.

The Christians of Iraq are considered to be one of the oldest surviving continuous Christian communities in the world. The Assyrian people adopted Christianity in the 1st century AD and Assyria became a center of Eastern Rite Christianity that has strong links to churches in Kerala for centuries. Some of the churches in Mosul, Iraq had traditions dating back fifteen hundreds years or more.  However, today the radical Islamists have succeeded in decimating the entire civilization by blowing up ancient churches, beheading and crucifying people including infants and women and committing enormous barbarism and brutality.

World has indeed seen destruction and human misery from the time immemorial. After the Second World War, the victorious powers decided to prevent another war by founding the United Nations. The primary motto of the organization was to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

What happened since then is well documented. Cold war followed the world war with proxies of cold war antagonists fighting all over the globe. The world was divided into first, second and third worlds. Finally, the Berlin wall came down and Communism was defeated and the world was ready for a peace dividend!

Did it happen? No, during the 1990’s the pattern of the conflict has changed. Today, ninety percent of the conflicts are taking place within rather than between states. The world politics have indeed entered a new phase. Fundamental source of conflict in today’s world is not ideological or economic. The great source of conflict that is dominating today is cultural. The differences between cultures are real; they are basic.  The people of different cultures have different views on the relations between god and man, individual and the group, man and woman and differing views on rights and responsibilities. These differences are the product of centuries and it will not disappear anytime soon.

What has transpired in the former Yugoslavia is a clear example of this type conflict. Orthodox Serbians and Muslim Bosnians and Croatian Catholics seemed to enjoy distinct cultures and were unwilling to compromise on a common platform. It is obvious that the western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other cultures. Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state often have very little resonance in other cultures. The very notion that there could be a universal culture is a western idea that is in direct conflict with most Asian societies and their emphasis on what distinguishes one people from another.

The late Indira Gandhi once commented, “never in the last two decades has the international outlook been so grim as it is today. This is not merely my own assessment but that of the scores of the world leaders from five continents whom I have met in the past year. I am not given to alarm or exaggeration.  Yet, I must warn that at this time we simply cannot afford to be complacent or sit back hoping that matters will somehow be sorted out”.

Dag Hammerskjold, former Secretary General of the United Nations once asserted, ‘I see no hope for a permanent world peace. We have tried hard and failed miserably. Unless there is a spiritual awakening on a worldwide scale, the civilization is doomed”.

And one wonders why? One sees a world that is reluctant to accept remedies peace keepers want to implement, how then we could understand, explain or turn around tragedies?

On 15 June 2007, United Nations passed a resolution to observe International Day of non-violence each year on the birth anniversary date of Mahatma Gandhi who helped lead India to its Independence and inspired movements of civil rights across the world.

What it shows is that UN recognizes that ultimately it is not discussion and dialogue but an inner awakening of the soul will only make a real difference from the impasse of scores of issues that are confronting the world today. Martin Luther King, a great follower of Gandhian method of non-violence once said “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable; we may ignore him at our own risk”.

John Dear, an internationally known voice for peace and non-violence has summarized Gandhi’s teachings the following way: Gandhi taught us to practice non-violence and that the faith pushes us to promote peace and justice; he taught us to accept suffering and even court suffering if we want personal transformation; he also taught us to pray and through daily meditation he came to believe the nearness of God; he practiced a living solidarity with the poor and oppressed; Gandhi advocated powerlessness as path to God; he taught us that each of world’s religion has a piece of truth and deserve our respect and by advocating tolerance and equality of religions, Gandhi suggested that we all share a common ground of non-violence and can live in peace with one another.

In the end, Gandhi challenges each of us seek God through our own active pursuit of truth and non-violence. He calls for nothing less than total transformation of the world. On this day as we celebrate Gandhi Jayanthi, his philosophy is more relevant than ever.

Read more