More en Sat Sep 14 18:41:11 IST 2019 summer-retreat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WITHIN HOURS</b> of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in Parliament on military disengagement in eastern Ladakh, the Indian Army released a video showing Chinese T96 tanks pulling back from Rechen La, Mukhpari and Spanggur Gap. India also pulled back its T90 and T72 tanks and infantry combat vehicles from the same locations. Singh said that the agreement for disengagement envisages both sides ending forward deployment in a “phased, coordinated and verified manner”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that India did not cede territory as a part of this agreement and added that outstanding problems, including those at Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang Plains, are to be taken up within 48 hours of the completion of the disengagement. The 10th round of military talks is expected next week, after complete disengagement. Structures built by both sides on the banks of Pangong Tso since April are to be removed; China is yet to declare this publicly, though. Moreover, going by the statement issued by Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson, Chinese ministry of national defence, the Chinese are also staying silent about the other friction points.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Retired Lieutenant General S.L. Narasimhan, member of National Security Advisory Board, said that India should remain vigilant along the line of actual control. “Clarification of the LAC will go some way in avoiding such incidents in the future,”he said. “It is hoped that China will not resort to [fresh] attempts to change the LAC unilaterally.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With regards to the eight fingers of Pangong Tso, where slopes of barren mountains jut into the lake, it has been decided that China will retain its troop presence in the area east to Finger 8 known as Sirijap; it was captured by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the 1962 war. Indian troops will withdraw to the permanent base at the Dhan Singh Thapa post of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police near Finger 3. The 10km stretch between Finger 3 and Finger 8 will be a no-patrol zone till a new agreement is reached.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A senior army officer said that the no-patrol zone would act as a buffer and, after disengagement, the two sides could decide on coordinated, joint or staggered patrolling in the area. According to latest videos and satellite images, the Chinese military has not only reduced its presence, but has also removed several shelters, observation posts and helipads, and a jetty it had built in the last few months between Finger 5 and Finger 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress leader Rahul Gandhi argued that India had essentially given away territory to China. He said that the army used to hold Finger 4, but is now moving back to Finger 3. Congress leader and former defence minister A.K. Antony said that the government was not realising the danger of creating such buffer zones. He said that though the area between Finger 4 and Finger 8 was disputed, India had always claimed territory up to Finger 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the other friction points, military analysts flag Depsang as the most sensitive. This is because of its proximity to India’s strategic Daulat Beg Oldie base, near the Karakoram Pass. In this region, China restricts Indian troops from reaching even their traditional patrol limits at Patrolling Point 10 (PP10), PP11, PP11A, PP12 and PP13.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Army chief V.P. Malik said that Indian military commanders must ensure that the Chinese do not take “undue advantage or renege”. It is too early to hope for peace and tranquillity, he said. “I firmly believe, the LoC-type deployment on LAC backed by strategic and economic measures adopted already must continue,”he said. “Our military has conveyed ability and determination to hold-off the PLA.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former additional director general of infantry, Major General Shashi Asthana, said that China seems firm on its occupation of the Depsang Plains. This would enable it to threaten the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie Road, which is viewed as a threat to Tibet-Xinjiang-Pakistan connectivity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I refuse to believe that China will pull back everything,”said Maj Gen Asthana. “Given, its track record, it is possible that post winter, it would reoccupy the same areas after [now] getting the Kailash Range vacated by India. Its faster mobilisation because of better infrastructure gives the PLA an advantage over us.”Maj Gen Asthana added that the Chinese have a history of throwing agreements out the window. “Even in 1962, they feigned pulling back, but then attacked us,”he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former northern army commander Lieutenant General D.S. Hooda however said that momentum is building up over disengagement and he is hopeful of similar outcomes in other friction points. “Trust is not going to come immediately,”he said. “But, it does not mean that negotiations will not move forward.”&nbsp;</p> Fri Feb 19 12:47:51 IST 2021 back-from-the-barracks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE TANKS RUMBLED</b> along the empty roads of Nay Pyi Taw. The deadline was clear for the Myanmar military: the first session of the new parliament. The November elections had made it clear to its top brass that the ballot, even in its limited form, can be more powerful than the bullet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aung San Suu Kyi’s National Democratic League won the elections in a landslide, bagging 396 of 476 seats. As the new government was getting ready to take charge, the army grabbed control. It detained State Counsellor Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other senior leaders and declared a year-long emergency. “This has been brewing,” said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, former Indian ambassador to Myanmar. “It has been an uneasy cohabitation. The army could not reconcile to the civilian victory and felt it would be marginalised. The timing was forced by the beginning of the new parliament session.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the first coup in the country since 1988. A decade after the junta permitted a limited democratic experiment, although it reserved seats for itself in the parliament and held on to major portfolios, it is back to square one now. The army has shut down television and radio stations and has disabled telephone lines and the internet. Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing justified the coup and said it was in line with the law. “After many requests, this way was inevitable for the country,” said the general.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian response has been guarded. “We have noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern. India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar,” said a statement issued by the ministry of external affairs. “We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. We are monitoring the situation closely.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The uncertainty in Myanmar poses a big challenge for India, especially at a time when China is trying to assert its might in the neighbourhood. It also brings back the old “dilemma”, as India’s master diplomat, the late J.N. Dixit had put it. Although India prides itself to be the upholder of democracy in the region, it had to reach out to the junta in the past. Dixit, back in 1991, had clarified that India was “supportive of democratic forces”, but was “interacting with the de facto government”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Myanmar is one of the key pillars of India’s ‘neighbourhood first’ and ‘look east’ policies. India has been pulling out all the stops to woo Myanmar, including sending 15 lakh doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. In November, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Army Chief General M.M. Naravane visited Nay Pyi Taw to discuss “important bilateral issues”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been enhanced security cooperation between the two countries. Myanmar has been more than ready to hand over insurgents, while India has been handling the Rohingya refugee crisis delicately with Bangladesh, in order to protect Myanmar’s interests. In 2019, India allocated Myanmar Rs170 crore in its annual budget. This time, it has gone up to Rs400 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The vaccine diplomacy and the monetary support have come at a time when the generals in Myanmar seem to be slightly disenchanted with China. Last July, Min Aung Hlaing alleged in an interview that terrorist groups in Myanmar were being backed by “strong forces”, in an obvious reference to China. A month before that, Myanmar’s auditor general Maw Than warned that reliance on Chinese loans could force the country to go the Sri Lankan way. “Loans from China come at higher interest rates compared with loans from financial institutions like the World Bank,” he said. “So, I would like to remind the government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, however, continues to be a powerful force in Myanmar. “We cannot let China be the only player with the military,’’ said Harsh Pant, who heads the strategic studies programme at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. And the two-track policy with Myanmar will continue. “I don’t think megaphone diplomacy works in the region,” said Mukhopadhaya. “Our commitment to democracy stands. We favour popular rule. It is likely to be behind-the-scenes diplomacy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, however, is likely to face pressure from the Joe Biden administration, which has come to power on the plank of a renewed promise of democracy. The White House would want India to nudge the generals back to the democratic track. The issue could even put some strain on India-US relations in the days to come. Pant said American sanctions were unlikely to work as they have had no impact in the past. “The US will have to think whether it wants China to be the only player [which is friendly with] Myanmar in the region,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next few months will be critical, especially with the military clamping down on its challengers and pro-democracy protests beginning to take shape. The fate of democracy hangs in the balance. Suu Kyi, who is back under arrest, has become the symbol of democracy once again despite her anti-Rohingya stand. “She is likely to emerge stronger,” said Mukhopadhaya. “She is steely-willed and will rise to the challenge.”</p> Thu Feb 04 17:29:52 IST 2021 tibet-on-the-table <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Relations between world powers US and China have entered a turbulent phase in 2021. If Beijing was thinking that it has cornered New Delhi with continued aggression on the Line of Actual Control since April 2020, the Dalai Lama has proved that China will first have to deal with Tibet before it can cross the Himalayas. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s concerns have been escalating after US President Joe Biden expressed his desire to meet the Dalai Lama and the US Senate passed the Tibet Policy and Support Act (TPSA).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In September 2020, Biden criticised his predecessor, Donald Trump, for focussing on “empty trade deals” with Beijing and protecting his “very good friendship” with Xi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is disgraceful, though not surprising, that Trump is the first American president in three decades who has not met or spoken with His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” said Biden. As senator, Biden had met the Dalai Lama in 2003 during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Now, both are looking forward to a renewed engagement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden said he would meet the Dalai Lama, appoint a new special coordinator for Tibetan issues, and insist that the Chinese government restore access to Tibet for U.S. citizens, including diplomats and journalists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For India, this is good news. “China is afraid of the Dalai Lama,” said a senior government official. “For Beijing, his stature is of a king and not a saint. They want to be sure the next Dalai Lama will be a Chinese puppet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the US becoming the biggest stumbling block in China’s reincarnation dream, both literally and figuratively, the Dragon is breathing heavily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 27, 2020, Trump signed the TPSA, placing restrictions on new Chinese consulates in America until a US consulate has been established in Lhasa. The law also mandates the US government to slap sanctions, including travel bans on senior Chinese officials who are “responsible, complicit or have directly or indirectly engaged in the identification or installation of a candidate chosen by China as the future 15th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To Beijing’s horror, a copy of the bill had been hand-delivered to the Dalai Lama at his exile home in Dharamshala on October 1, 2019. Matteo Mecacci, president of International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), led a Senate staff delegation to Dharamshala. “We are making some progress in the US Congress in particular,” Mecacci informed the Dalai Lama.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although Tibetan Americans are a small community, numbering around 27,000, their struggle against China has been recognised and supported by the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Dalai Lama has been travelling around the world for almost five decades, meeting different people—academicians, public representatives and government leaders—which has created a tremendous amount of goodwill for the people of Tibet and also made the public more aware of the actual situation in Tibet and the facts relating to the issue, contrary to the propaganda of the Chinese government,” said Tempa Tsering, board member of the ICT. “Many other governments will take heed of what has happened in the USA.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK from Washington, Ngodup Tsering, representative of the Dalai Lama in North America, said Tibet has many friends in Capitol Hill. “I always say next to India, the US is the most generous country for Tibet,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He explained that the idea for updating the Tibet Policy Act (2002) was tossed around for some time during the annual Tibet strategy meetings led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Then in 2018, by passing the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, the US Congress took direct aim at China’s unfair policy of restricting America’s access to Tibet even though Chinese citizens are free to travel throughout the US. This further re-energised Tibetans’ support in the US Congress, which culminated in the landmark Tibet policy of the United States. “The US Congress has passed several legislations and resolutions... supporting the ‘middle-way’ policy to resolve the Sino-Tibet conflict,” said Ngodup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been a decade since the Dalai Lama devolved his “political authority”, paving way for a democratically elected government-in-exile that would pursue the cause of Tibet. In March 2011, Lobsang Sangay became the first president (Sikyong) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) for a five-year term; the US citizen was re-elected in 2016. Predictably enough, he has been directly involved in the framing of the TPSA. In November 2020, he became the first Sikyong to be formally invited to the US State Department. His second term ends this year, and cannot contest elections a third time. This paves way for the election of a new Tibetan government in exile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next five years will be crucial. A close aide of the Dalai Lama said that even though the 85-year-old spiritual leader has conveyed that he will live for over 100 years, his advanced age is a matter of concern. When the Dalai Lama gave up his political charge, he based his decision on his desire to only pursue a spiritual role, but the move was also seen as an attempt to prepare the coming generations for a future without him. This future has a belligerent China showing outward aggression on India’s northern borders, which is being matched internally by increasing repression in regions like Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ngodup says that though the border aggression was unfortunate, it was to happen “sooner or later”. “The Chinese Communist Party is an entity never to be trusted,” he said. “Tibetans have lived under the CCP for seven decades now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On China interfering with the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, Tempa says it is not just a religious issue but a more complex one because the current Dalai Lama is an international icon with wide support. “In any case, Buddhists will neither recognise nor accept any interference in a religious matter by a communist regime that considers religion as poison,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s multiculturalism should be reason enough for it to be more forthright in supporting the cause of the Tibetans, said Tempa. “Wherever the Dalai Lama goes, he is always talking of India’s history and culture of ahimsa and karuna. I hope that the Indian government will express their views on reincarnation... and on the larger issue of Tibet,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Claude Arpi, well-known author and Tibetologist, said that the new Sikyong will have an important role to play, particularly in coordinating the next moves with Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, the Tibetans are in the two-phase process of elections that will conclude in April. The front runners for the post of Sikyong are Penpa Tsering, former speaker of the Tibetan parliament in exile, and Kelsang Dorjee Aukatsang (Kaydor). Both of them are former representatives of the Dalai Lama in Washington.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Penpa is leading by a huge margin, Kelsang is second, closely followed by Dolma Gyari, former deputy speaker of the parliament in exile—the highest position held by a woman in the Tibetan government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nearly 80,000 Tibetan voters around the world, including 55,000 in India, Nepal and Bhutan, will elect their Sikyong in April. Insiders said that Covid-19 and the gradual migration of Tibetans to other countries has brought down the number of voters in India this time. But the recent developments in the US in support of the Dalai Lama have invigorated their spirit and also raised their hopes of continued support from the Indian government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking to THE WEEK, Penpa expressed concern about the belligerent moves by the Chinese army on India’s borders. “As Tibetans, we do not have a diverse view on this point,” he said. “I am sure policies are being reviewed by all sides. I would expect India to be more assertive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kelsang said it was time India upgrades its policy towards Tibetans and Tibet by making the resolution of Tibet a core issue in its relationship with China. He also added that a tangible way of acknowledging the Dalai Lama’s support for India would be to confer on him the Bharat Ratna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dolma Gyari said there is a growing public sentiment in India that the government should take a stronger stand in recognising Tibet as an occupied nation. “India does not share a border with China—India and Tibet share a boundary,” she said. “Tibet is an occupied nation, but the non-acknowledgement of this fact is to a large extent the reason why the border talks between India and China have been so unsuccessful till date.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether New Delhi reacts or not, it certainly cannot dismiss the fact that it is drawn into a geopolitical issue that has put the US and China at loggerheads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Srikanth Kondapalli, a leading Chinese expert, said that New Delhi must be cautious not to think the Dragon will be tamed by the US alone. “While the threat of sanctions of the US may not work, given the rising clout of China and its full occupation of Tibet, China’s image could take a beating if it intervenes in the religious processes of the Tibetans in the future,” he said. “Already its restrictions in Tibet have led to more than 150 people committing self-immolation and a loss of face for Beijing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The choices are narrowing and the time may have arrived for India to start preparing for the future. With the US expressing its intention to open a consulate general in Lhasa, Arpi said all eyes are on India which used to have a full-fledged diplomatic mission in Lhasa till 1952 and a consulate general in Tibet till December 1962. “One can hope that in the following years, Delhi will put pressure on China to reopen this mission in Tibet, which is vital if Beijing is interested to reopen the Ancient Silk Roads through the Himalayas,” said Arpi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What New Delhi may also need to spell out in unambiguous terms to the Dalai Lama is that he will be a most honoured guest, once again, if he decides to “come back” to India as the 15th Dalai Lama.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 21 17:54:06 IST 2021 ironic-that-atheist-china-is-intervening-in-dalai-lama-succession <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>How do you plan to pursue the ‘middle-way’ approach of Dalai Lama?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our task is not only to work towards alleviation of suffering of Tibetans inside Tibet, but to also bring peace and stability in the region through non-violent means. We must deepen and strengthen the Tibetan democratic polity, thereby fulfilling the farsighted vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Tibetans to be able to govern themselves in a free, fair and transparent manner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There is unprecedented Chinese aggression on borders as well as the Dalai Lama reincarnation issue.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am extremely concerned about the Chinese Army’s belligerent moves on the border with India. As Tibetans, we do not have much of a diverse view in this point, and hence this was not a major issue during the elections. It is true, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is ageing. However, we are constantly comforted by the reassurance of His Holiness to live beyond 113 years of age. Reincarnation is a purely religious matter, and His Holiness is the final authority on his reincarnation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The succession of the Dalai Lama has become a geopolitical issue. Do you agree?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China has brought this upon itself. State intervention in religious issues exacerbated the situation and that too coming from an atheist government. Nothing can be more ironic than that!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the Dalai Lama has a following beyond the Buddhist world, all peace-loving leaders and people are alarmed at China’s strong-arm tactics. The international community has not remained immune to the new developments. I hope China realises the counter productiveness of such measures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What are your expectations from India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All of us realise that the national interest of India will be first and we respect India’s position in that aspect. The Indian government knows exactly what to do. I would expect India to be more assertive, and on an equal footing with China. The ecological and environmental conditions in Tibet and river waters that flows out of Tibet has implications not only on the region but globally. I am sure there will be many areas that will need resetting or fine-tuning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you plan to help Tibetans in exile facing persecution in Nepal and other places?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will use every means to reach out to the government of Nepal. The Nepalese leadership is well aware of the implications of their relationships with both the neighbouring giants, and struggle to keep their sovereignty intact. If you cannot help a historical neighbour now, then when would that time be? We will also reach out to the Bhutanese government on matters related to several hundred Tibetan refugees there.</p> Thu Jan 21 17:04:58 IST 2021 lonely-island <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This year has been like no other in our lifetimes, except for one issue—Brexit. Yes, Britain left the European Union last January, but the status quo continues to enable a negotiated post-Brexit free trade deal.</p> <p>And that was when the fight started… again.</p> <p>It was déjà vu. With a December 31 deadline, the 2020 trade talks mirrored last year’s UK-EU tensions when they negotiated the exit deal—accusations, threats, showdowns, deadlock and even the annoying exclamations from yesteryear. “All options are on the table, deal no deal, hard or soft deal, delay, no delay”. Have they not been there, done that? Apparently not. “Nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.</p> <p>At “the eleventh hour”, because they could not “see eye to eye”, the two sides made a “last-ditch” attempt to meet “face to face” to negotiate a “make or break” deal. Covid-overwhelmed Britons seemed past caring and journalists ran out of clichés. “The Brexit frog has been truly boiled, but we’re too exhausted to notice,” said former Tory finance minister George Osborne.</p> <p>The “cliff-edge” brinkmanship was preceded by one referendum, two national elections, three prime ministers and four and a half exhausting years of transcontinental haggling. The row: Britain insisted on sovereignty over its fishing waters, where the Europeans have trawled for decades. Fish is only 0.1 per cent of the British economy, but ceding sovereignty over fish and laws is betraying Brexit—which ordained “Take Back Control”.</p> <p>In turn, the EU insisted Britain comply with its “fair competition” laws regarding subsidies, labour and environmental rules to get “no quota, no tariffs” access to its single market of 450 million people. And establish a dispute resolution mechanism. “We must obey their rules!” sneered Pro-Brexiteer fisherman Tom Watson. “The European Union is Soviet Union with money.”</p> <p>Even with a free trade deal, there will be checks and inspections at British borders, causing bottlenecks, delays and traffic snarls when the transition period ends. But a no-trade deal is catastrophic, despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spin-doctoring, “It’s a wonderful solution to trade with the EU on Australia-style trade terms”. A voice of doom cautioned from Down Under. Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned Johnson: “Be careful what you wish for. It’s not what you want, frankly.” Australian style is a euphemism for a WTO deal, involving customs procedures, barriers, inspections, paperwork, quotas and tariffs. British exports and imports become costlier, making them harder to sell; queues and shortages inevitable.</p> <p>But there is no shortage of bravado. When Brexit takes effect, “Global Britain” breaks free from the EU and becomes an independent nation. Britain saves annual EU membership fees, strikes its own trade deals with Japan, India and the US, and controls its laws and borders. “Britain will be stronger, more prosperous and secure outside the EU,” said Brexiteer Home Minister Priti Patel. “With greater fiscal flexibility and regulatory reform, we will transform our country into a dynamic engine of prosperity, job creation and growth.”</p> <p>In the near future, Brexit will cut growth, jobs and prosperity. Government “worst-case scenarios” warn supply disruptions, and inflation can cause civil disorder. Foreign companies that had set up headquarters in London to access the EU market are shifting to the continent, aggravating the economic slump. Britain must pay a £33 billion divorce bill to the EU, cannot obtain high technologies or bid for their public contracts.</p> <p>“With our educated workforce, our language as the international language of commerce, we are ideally geographically located to prepare for success,” predicts Patel. But geographically, Britain is somewhat conjoined at Europe’s hip. Half of its £1 trillion trade is with the EU. “Brexit is bad for the EU, but the pain is shared by 27 countries. It’s terrible for Britain. It is self-harm,” said European Parliament member Philippe Lamberts.</p> <p>Visa regimes will constrain travellers, tourists and workers. New immigration policies appease pro-Brexit voters, mostly older, working class residents in the English countryside. They resented “job-stealing” immigrants and refugees. But the new restrictions hurt the UK’s industries. Preferring to be vloggers and influencers, young Britons are unlikely to replace plumbers, construction workers and fruit picking immigrants.</p> <p>For Britain, a trade deal with the US is vital. But Johnson first has to do damage control with the Joe Biden administration. The Democrats were displeased by Johnson’s reference to Barack Obama’s “part Kenyan heritage”. Biden described Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump’’.</p> <p>In no hurry to do trade deals, president-elect Biden focuses on American workers and education, saying “We’re going to fight like hell by investing in America first.” He reaffirms Obama’s position that Britain must go to the back of the queue for a trade deal. Unlike Trump who despised the bloc, Biden views the EU as a like-minded partner and sees Brexit as a “historical error”. Proud of his Irish ancestry, Biden is the most Irish President since JFK 50 years ago and says he will not tolerate the Good Friday Agreement (brokered by the US in 1998 to end the 30-year Protestant-Catholic Irish violence) becoming a “casualty of Brexit”.</p> <p>Open borders are a Brexit casualty. Brexiteers are high on sovereignty but low on solving the “Catch-22” situation in Britain’s Northern Ireland—maintaining sovereignty while keeping borders open with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. Open borders were guaranteed by last year’s EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, which reinforced the Good Friday Agreement. Said PM’s brother Jo Johnson, a former member of parliament, “The case for Brexit was made on rhetorical flourishes, bluster and undeliverable promises”. Johnson’s solution: close borders by breaching signed international treaties. “Rule Britannia. Britannia waives the rules,” summed it. British lords were shocked and Europeans aghast; Perfidious Albion strikes again. Then Johnson withdrew his lawbreaking clauses. Northern Ireland will remain under EU customs after Brexit.</p> <p>Negotiation tactics reflect their strategic goals. The UK must preserve the kingdom’s political unity while the EU must protect the integrity of its single market from cheating competitors at its doorstep. And demonstrate that Brexit is costly—a warning to its own anti-immigration, Eurosceptic secessionist political groups. If strengthened, these forces could unravel the EU. Brexit cacophony has drowned the static over Frexit (France), Nexit (Netherlands) and Grexit (Greece).</p> <p>The EU would have preferred the UK remain in the bloc not only because of its valuable contributions, but also because, as former American President Lyndon Johnson said, “It’s probably better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.” But being in the tent is irksome for imperial-hungover Britain, used to giving orders, not taking them. “Boris Johnson is on this runaway train of English exceptionalism and heaven knows where it is going to take us in the end,” fretted Lord Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong.</p> <p><i>Britannia Unchained</i> (2012), a tribute to turbo-Thatcherism, is a manifesto for a Global Britain charting an independent free-marketeer course. Four of the five authors are in Johnson’s cabinet. But, says author Neal Ascherson, “Post Brexit, Britain will remain chained down by alliances, treaties and new foreign trade rules.” Cambridge University professor Mary Beard said, “When I publicly suggested a few months ago that we really were a quite ordinary country (and none the worse for that), I was deluged with abuse and accusations that I lacked patriotism. It’s about time that we got rid of any illusion that ostriches are good patriots.”</p> <p>Even patriots must see Britain’s diminished, if not dark, future possibilities: Scottish independence, Irish reunification, economic decline and relegation to the junior league within Europe. Predicted Lord Peter Ricketts, “Biden’s administration will prioritise trade and security matters with Berlin and Paris because London is no longer Europe’s centre of gravity. Britain is not so useful when it is an outlier, rather outside the mainstream of Europe.”</p> <p>Brexit comes upon Covid-19, which has devastated the economy, public health and Johnson’s reputation. Critics savaged his handling, calling him flustered and floundering, divisive and detail-allergic, casual and clumsy. Britain has the highest Covid-19 deaths in Europe. A Pew survey found 64 per cent Britons believed the EU handled Covid-19 better than their government.</p> <p>As pandemic cases spiralled, Johnson said they were “flashing at us like ­­dashboard warnings in a passenger jet”. He is better at vivid descriptions than prescriptions. The economy shrank by 20 per cent and the predicted 11.3 per cent fall in national income is the steepest in three centuries. “Our health emergency is not over, and our economic emergency has just begun,” said Finance Minister Rishi Sunak. Together with Covid-19, Brexit comes as a double whammy, prolonging recovery. “Brexit was a fantastic example of a nation shooting itself full in the face,” rued actor Hugh Grant.</p> <p>Brexit was a wake-up call. It woke up the demons. Now the demons must be pacified if Britain wishes to reclaim its status as both a European and an Atlantic nation, whose strategic interest is to maintain close ties with the EU and the US to tackle common threats—Russian disinformation, Chinese competition, cyberattacks, migration, terrorism and dark money. “Britain is adrift without a bloc,” said diplomat Mark Malloch Brown. “That is challenging.”</p> <p>But Brexit buccaneers are bullish. It is not just about Great Britain, it is about Making Britain Great Again. We saw what that slogan did to the United States. Besides, greatness may well be a thing of the past. “We are no longer a great power,” says former Tory prime minister John Major. “We will never be so again. We are a top second-rank power.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 17 22:48:44 IST 2020 us-support-for-tibet-will-always-be-bipartisan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q\ How do you see the US election result impacting US-Tibet ties?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ For the past 60 years, the Tibet issue has enjoyed bipartisan support in the US Congress and also in the administration. Support for Tibet will always remain bipartisan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How important is it for the US to focus on Tibet when the world is facing Chinese aggression?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ It is important. China’s aggression is felt everywhere. We have always said that it is crucial to study and understand the Tibet issue to grasp what the Chinese Communist Party is truly capable of. China’s aggression in Taiwan or on the LAC proves the point. Through its hard and soft diplomacy, the CCP’s tentacles have reached into democratic countries, undermining their values and principles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ How was your visit to the US state department?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ The first agenda of the US special coordinator (Robert Destro) after he took office was to formally invite the head of the Central Tibetan Administration to the state department with the approval of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This speaks volumes about the US’s commitment to the Tibetan cause. This is historic because… [inviting] the head of the CTA would be formally recognising the Tibetan government in exile. And it has also been a consistent view that such a move would cause inconveniences with the Chinese government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Whom did you meet and what are the key issues you discussed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Robert Destro and I, along with Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the bureau of democracy, human rights, and labor, discussed the critical situation in Tibet and reports of over half a million Tibetans in labour camps there. We also discussed the importance of renewing dialogue between the envoys of His Holiness and the Chinese government. I urged the US government and Destro to press China on it. We further discussed the swift passage of the Tibet Policy and Support Act of 2019 in the Senate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ US House speaker Nancy Pelosi plays a key role in the US elections.</b></p> <p><b>Pelosi said that the Dalai Lama is a “messenger of hope”. Do you think that the next US president will be more disposed to the cause of Tibet under the guidance of the Dalai Lama?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Nancy Pelosi has been a true friend of Tibet and also very close to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Her support for Tibet is known by the fact that she led a congressional delegation to Tibet (2015) and Dharamsala (2017).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Past US presidents, since George Bush Sr, have hosted His Holiness and prioritised human rights issues, including the critical situation in<br> Tibet. For the past 60 years, it has been the US’s official policy to promote dialogue without preconditions to advance a solution on Tibet and to press for respect for human rights and the preservation of Tibetan religion, language and cultural heritage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, we are more than hopeful that the new administration will continue to prioritise the Tibet issue until it is peacefully resolved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ The CTA elections will be held next year. What are the challenges?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ The Tibetan freedom movement led by the CTA has persevered against all odds and will continue to be resilient for many decades to come. With sustained efforts and support of our allies, particularly India, the Tibetan administration will succeed in reaching a peaceful solution to the issue of Tibet and see the return of His Holiness to Tibet.</p> Fri Nov 27 11:10:51 IST 2020 bidens-world <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As US president, Joe Biden cannot pick up from where president Barack Obama left off: there is neither a United States of America nor a Pax Americana.</p> <p>Swinging across the globe like a wrecking ball, President Donald Trump demolished national unity and US-led international solidarity. With Biden at the helm, says foreign policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter, “the chaos, at least, is over”. “Would US foreign policy actually change? In action, substantially but not completely. In style, dramatically,” she says.</p> <p>In style, decency and diplomacy will replace Trump’s slurs and erratic confrontations, which like the coronavirus, aggravated underlying conditions. Biden is no vaccine, but he will calm the global infection of feverish rhetoric and politics. “We have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead again—not just with the example of our power, but also with the power of our example,” said Biden. Obama-style action is distant, but the lofty rhetoric is back.</p> <p>Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, have a lot of repairing to do first. The Biden-Harris administration’s focus is grounded in its two campaign slogans: “Build back better” and “Battle for the soul of the nation”. Biden was inspired by Pulitzer prize-winning author Jon Meacham’s book and documentary The Soul of America, which explains: “Soul is the essence of who we are. It is the constant struggle between our better angels and our worst instincts. Do we build walls or build bridges?”</p> <p>Trump built walls, while building bridges comes naturally to Biden, whose personality strengthens America’s soft power. Empathy, his strong point, comes from personal suffering. Throughout childhood, Biden was tormented for his stutter, which caused many “gaffes”. He lived with mean nicknames. He has mastered the neurological defect, but still occasionally suffers word blocks, which critics cruelly attribute to senility or stupidity. When he got stuck on Obama’s name, he sidestepped to say, “my boss”, but was taunted for forgetting his boss’s name. Biden once said, “Stuttering gave me an insight into other people’s pain.” Like all American presidents, Biden will be hard-headed, but he also understands the shame of a stutterer and the anguish that comes from losing family members horrifically to car crash and brain cancer.</p> <p>Affable and folksy, Biden sees the need to put America together, which is like a house ripped apart after Trump’s visitation. Editorialised The New York Times: “Trump has intensified the worst tendencies in American politics. Under his leadership, the nation has grown more polarised, more paranoid and meaner.”</p> <p>Experts agree that foreign policy derives legitimacy from domestic reform. “Biden’s foreign policy stands on three Ds—domestic [politics], deterrence and democracy,” said Slaughter. His domestic priority is to unite the country, heal racial divisions, revive the economy, reduce inequality, and repair the broken state, society and infrastructure. Creating jobs is a priority, to be achieved by transitioning to green energy, opting for fair not free trade, prioritising American over foreign workers and keeping industrial supply chains in or near America. “Our policies at home and abroad are deeply connected,” says Biden.</p> <p>The second D is a 21st century version of deterrence. Not a la Soviet Union, but deterring disparate nations—Russia, China, Iran and North Korea—from trespassing nuclear limits, encroaching on American hegemony or targeting nations with disinformation.</p> <p>The third D is democracy, which has been on the backfoot globally. Historically, the pendulum shifts from left- to right-wingers and back. Biden intends to push back far-right forces while bolstering liberals. He will convene a global summit for democracy. Together, says Biden, democracies “must confront the rise of populists, nationalists, and demagogues. By presiding over the most corrupt administration in modern American history, Trump has given licence to kleptocrats everywhere.”</p> <p>Biden vows to seize stolen assets, eliminate dark money and shut illicit tax havens. Interestingly, Biden’s home state, Delaware, is a notorious but legal tax haven.</p> <p>Europe will be happy if Biden did nothing more than roll back Trump’s policies and replace the current loose cannons with professional ambassadors. Biden will roll back, but not everything. He is not expected to return Israel’s capital to Tel Aviv. Nor will he ease pressure on Europe to increase its defence expenditure—pressure first applied by Obama.</p> <p>But to Europe’s relief, Biden will re-embrace multilateralism to unitedly tackle international problems—from pandemic to rogue states, climate change to Big Tech. There will be international coordination on security challenges, from North Korea, Iran and Syria to Afghanistan and Venezuela. The US will return to the Paris Agreement, though a return to the Iran deal will not happen without hard-nosed diplomacy.</p> <p>Biden will end the “forever wars” in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and bring troops back home gradually. He promises to end American support to the unconscionable Saudi-led war in Yemen, which the UN labels a “humanitarian catastrophe”.</p> <p>China remains crucial for American foreign policy. The Chinese jokingly referred to Trump as “jianguo” (he who builds up China). They must find a new name for Biden, who will likely be coherently tougher on China mainly because there is bipartisan support for this in the US Congress. Unlike Trump’s solo wrecking-ball excursions, Biden will lead a concert of democracies to “confront China’s abusive behaviour. When we join other democracies, our strength more than doubles. China can’t afford to ignore more than half the global economy.”</p> <p>Using diplomacy and not tweets, the coalition of democracies will squeeze China on issues ranging from cyber-raids to state subsidies to industries. As defence secretary candidate Michèle Flournoy said, the US must “re-establish credible deterrence of China”.</p> <p>Harris lends weight to pressure China on issues ranging from erosion of democracy in Hong Kong to human rights abuses, especially the Uyghur prison camps in Xinjiang. Though her identity is transformational, Harris’s foreign policy positions are conventional. Of China she said, “It’s a complicated relationship. China steals our products, including our intellectual property. They dump substandard products into our economy. They need to be held accountable. We also need to partner with China, on climate change, non-proliferation, global health and North Korea.”</p> <p>China’s state-run Global Times expects Harris to be “harsh” on China, escalating the “who-is-the-toughest-on-China competition”. Like the devil quoting the scripture, Global Times echoes Trump referring to Harris as the “meanest” US senator.</p> <p>How mean a defeated Trump gets will be revealed by how he handles the 77-day transition period before leaving office on January 20. “People who have worked with Trump compare him to a mafia boss,” said historian Garrett Graff. “The Trump transition might be the start of the wildest chapter of an already controversial presidency.”</p> <p>Previous presidents have pardoned activists and friends. Trump could pardon himself (as a shield to creditors, court cases and investigations), his family, friends, cronies, convicted felons and media accomplices. He can also sabotage the incoming administration by mass-firing of top officials, destroying records, signing decrees, settling political scores, initiating covert operations, or launching unilateral military strikes—actions that prove there is neither a Pax Americana nor a United States of America. The grand finale of his presidency could see Trump succumbing to his worst instincts. That makes it harder, but more urgent, for Biden to fight for America’s soul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Previous presidents have pardoned activists and friends. Trump could pardon himself (as a shield to creditors, court cases and investigations),<br> his family, friends, cronies, convicted felons and media accomplices.</p> Fri Nov 13 15:03:05 IST 2020 katie-comes-to-party <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If you’re full of bullshit, I’m coming for ya,” says California congresswoman Katie Porter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A rising star of the Democratic party, Porter has Capitol Hill abuzz. In fact, that has been the case since 2018, when she shocked America by becoming the first Democrat to win California’s 45th congressional district, created in 1983. Porter’s razor-sharp politics makes her a serious contender for the senate seat that Kamala Harris would vacate if she becomes vice president. Porter is open to the idea, but she has more pressing issues on her mind. Taking down the Trump presidency, for instance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her rockstar image strengthened in April this year, when she raised $4.6 million—30 times more than her opponent Greg Raths of the Republican party did. Recognising her star power, the Democratic party has enlisted her help in its ‘Red to BOLD’ campaign, aimed at flipping seven Republican seats in Nebraska, Texas, New York, Michigan and Florida. “To achieve big change, I need more allies in Congress. And I’m asking for your help to make it happen,” Porter says in her fundraising emails.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As she winds down a virtual ballot party attended by THE WEEK, she reaches for a dry erase marker. “If you have any doubt about whether it is worth it for you to vote in this election,” she tells the audience, “I brought the whiteboard and here are some of the reasons. Climate change. Let me break it down for you. Do we all want to die? No. So vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As she reels off other reasons—health care, women’s reproductive freedom, criminal justice reform—one begins to see President Katie Porter as a distinct possibility in the future. She furiously scribbles “Will you vote?” on the whiteboard, and issues a sober reminder: “Your voice is your vote. It is not enough to write things on Twitter.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As she waits for the fruits of the Red to BOLD campaign, Porter continues to pore over legislative work, hold people in power accountable and, of course, raise her three kids. Divorced, Porter is the only single mom in the US Congress. She splits her time between Washington, DC, and Irvine, California, where her three young children go to school. Every weekend, the minivan-driving supermom heads back to Irvine, does her chores, and volunteers with her children’s Cub and Boy Scout troops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the pandemic hit and Congress permitted votes by proxy, she stayed in Irvine, home-schooling the children, holding virtual events, distributing cleaning supplies to childcare workers, and even finding time to donate blood. Committed to being a voice for working mothers like her, Porter tweeted on September 17: “Despite current protections in the law, pregnancy discrimination continues to burden working women and their families. I’m glad the House today passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and I’m eager for my colleagues in the Senate to take it up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a member of the house committee on oversight and reforms, Porter has been driving political reforms. In September, she announced that she would be sponsoring a bill that would help prevent an out-of-control presidency. “Of course, it is inspired by Donald Trump,” she said in a talk show. “When you have someone expanding the role of executive power, and using it relatively competently, it seems okay. But here we have someone expanding the role of executive power and making a mess of it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironically, Porter took the political plunge thanks to Trump. After Trump’s shocking victory in 2016, she had brunch with her mentor and senator Elizabeth Warren. She told Warren about her three possible career ideas. Warren said the first was terrible and the second, forgettable. The third idea—which was to run for Congress—had Warren saying: “Now that is a good one.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The younger generation of voters love “Katie’s spunk”. Members of the Katie Porter fandom include young adults sporting ‘No BS’ tee shirts, Halloween revellers dressing up as ‘Katie’s Whiteboard’, and young mothers pointing her out to their children saying, “That’s your future president.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I feel she respects the intelligence of the voter, keeps it real, shows integrity and truly walks her talk,” says techie Rekha Kaul of Irvine. “I looked up her record; she has sponsored and cosponsored close to 470 bills in 2019-2020 alone.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaul’s views are validated by the Asian American Action Fund, a political action committee that decided to endorse Porter’s 2020 reelection bid as early as July last year. Porter’s success in flipping Orange County, a Republican stronghold that encompasses her congressional district, and her initiatives for ensuring the rights of immigrants led to the decision. Asians, including Indian Americans, make up 21 per cent of the population in Orange County. One of her fans there is MBA student Amit Vashist, who describes Porter’s tenacious questioning in Congress as “cogent, firm and supremely practical”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two mentors helped Porter hone her questioning skills—the trailblazing senators Warren and Kamala Harris. After attending Yale University and getting a law degree from Harvard, Porter specialised in bankruptcy and consumer protection law at Warren’s instance. Porter’s decision to accept a teaching job at the University of California Irvine prompted Harris, then the state’s attorney general, to appoint her as California’s independent monitor of banks. Both opportunities eventually helped her run for public office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, when the whiteboard and dry erase marker come out, members of Congress know Porter is about to school someone. Her most famous whiteboard takedown resulted in Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, committing to free Covid-19 tests for all Americans. In October, she chastened Mark Alles, CEO of the pharma company Celgene, for landing $500,000 as bonus in two years, “just by tripling the price of [the cancer drug] Revlimid”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a video that went viral, Porter asks Alles after scribbling ‘$13 million’ on her whiteboard: “Do you know what this number is? Does it ring any bells?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think you’re referring to my compensation in some way,” says Alles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This was your compensation for 2017 for being CEO of Celgene. It’s 200 times the average American’s income,” says Porter. “Any increase in the price of Revlimid would also increase your bonus [because it] increases [the company’s] earnings. Isn’t that right, Mr Alles?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Caught on the backfoot, Alles tries to ramble on about technicalities, but Porter cuts him off. “Thank you,” she says. “So to recap here: The drug didn’t get any better; the cancer patients didn’t get any better. You just got better at making money.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before her showdown with Alles, she had castigated Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, over the pay disparity in the company. She demanded that he explain how a bank teller could live on minimum wage. Even Mark Zuckerberg has been at the receiving end of her ‘no-BS’ stance. Porter dared the Facebook CEO to commit “to spending one hour a day” for a year working as a content moderator. The commitment would involve sticking to the regimen of Facebook’s 15,000-odd moderators—policing stabbings, suicides and other gruesome videos on the social media platform for long hours, taking only nine-minute supervised “wellness breaks”. Zuckerberg declined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, it was Porter’s decision last year to sign, along with 14 other members of Congress, a letter urging India to restore communications in Kashmir that had Indians and Indian Americans taking notice. On August 5 this year, Porter tweeted against the lockdown. “Today marks one year since India’s crackdown on Jammu and Kashmir. Millions remain cut off from phone and internet, the local economy is in ruins, and political prisoners are in custody without charges. It’s time for the lockdown to end.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Congress, Porter wants to overturn Trump’s tax plan, which raised taxes on middle-class families. She opposes the US-Mexico border wall, supports “immigration reform that will provide a fair path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants”, and is keen to break the chokehold of big money on American politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her quibbles about life as a congresswoman reveals how Capitol Hill remains “a male institution”. The furniture is too big for women—her feet do not touch the floor when she sits—and the congressional lapel pin that distinguishes members from staffers and visitors is more suited for men’s suits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Porter, however, does have two tools that have served her well in Washington—her ‘no BS’ attitude and her whiteboard. If the Democrats win big in the elections to the US Congress in November, an upgrade from congresswoman to senator could well be on the cards for her.</p> Thu Oct 22 18:16:05 IST 2020 desiding-factor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Last week as US President Donald Trump was convalescing from Covid-19 at the Walter Reed hospital, Bethesda, Maryland, the battle for the US presidential election 2020 continued nationwide. Even as she wished the president and First Lady Melania Trump a speedy recovery, democratic vice president nominee Senator Kamala Harris was all business at a fundraiser Q&amp;A attended by THE WEEK. “The stakes in this election couldn’t be higher,” she stressed.</p> <p>With early voting already under way, Harris brought the star power of former president Barack Obama to draw out the democratic vote. Obama, too, issued this serious reminder: “There are very concrete issues that are going to impact the well-being, the health, the welfare of millions of people determined in this election.” Learning from the loss of 2016, the Democrats are leaving no stone unturned to woo voters from every community, including the 1.3 million-strong Indian American electorate.</p> <p>Those expecting a Joe Biden-Harris juggernaut, powered by the Indian-American vote, to overtake Trump by virtue of Harris’s Indian lineage need to hold off celebrations. The Democratic Party’s stand on Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370 and calling out India on human rights and other issues could hurt them at the polls.</p> <p>Trump, on the other hand, has made overt efforts to showcase his outreach. Be it the Howdy, Modi! event in Houston last November, visiting India this February despite no major trade deal being inked, observing an indifferent silence on the Kashmir issue and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and Modi’s endorsement of Trump itself has touched a chord with groups like ‘Hindus for Trump’, ‘Sikhs for Trump’ and ‘Indians for Trump’.</p> <p>While Indian Americans lauded Harris’s meteoric rise as a big moment for the diaspora and Trump bragged, “I have more Indians than she has”, Harris focused on acts of voter suppression. At the fundraiser Q&amp;A, she urged: “Ask the question, ‘why are so many powerful people trying to make it so difficult for us to vote?’ Because, when we vote, things change.”</p> <p>Where Indians are concerned, the Biden-Harris ticket is already committed to change on a key issue, that of overturning the Trump curbs on H1-B visas. Biden also acknowledged the contribution of Indian Americans at a fundraiser end September, saying: “You have helped forge an economic and cultural dynamism in this country.” Interestingly, the Asian American Voter Survey, released mid-September, indicates 54 per cent of Indian Americans were pro-Democratic and most inclined to vote for Biden-Harris while 16 per cent identified as pro-Republicans, rallying behind Trump.</p> <p>The Democratic Party is not taking the poll numbers for granted though. Harris, who has been faulted for acknowledging her black identity over her Indianness, finally appears to be addressing Indian-American voters head on. The duo has been attending virtual campaign events. The grassroot network has been feverishly working phone and texting banks to reach Indian-American voters. Such is the seriousness that in the swing state of Pennsylvania, on October 2, Democrats held a phonebank with former US ambassador to India Richard Verma, who attended the event as a private citizen.</p> <p>If Biden has his admirers in the Indian American community, so does Trump. His handling of the economy, jobs, tax reforms and China has resonated with them. As per the AAPI survey, men are driving up the pro-Republican vote among Indian Americans. In 2016, 71 per cent of Indian-American men had voted Democrat, and 21 per cent Republican. In 2020, 41 per cent of the men are estimated to vote Republican and 57 per cent Democrat. Whether this translates into actual votes remains to be seen. In 2016, the Republican vision appealed to corporate executive Raj Bandekar, 51, of Pennsylvania. Today, he is undecided if he will vote Trump again. His minor gripe is that “Trump did not successfully merge corporate thinking and government stability”.</p> <p>When Trump won in 2016, he did so on the promise that he would “drain the swamp”. Many agree that Trump has shaken things up, perhaps a bit much. What has not gone down well with many Indian-American voters is this administration’s tendency to play Russian roulette with issues of governance, health care and national security. Is that enough to tip Bandekar over to camp Biden? Apparently not. “I need to see a bit more spark in Biden,” he says. “He needs to spell out what he intends to do about our country’s 2.3 trillion dollar debt and how he plans to add jobs and fix health care.”</p> <p>On the other hand, Biden-Harris seem to have struck the right note with Arun Natarajan, 52, from Minnesota. A PhD in engineering-material sciences, Arun voted Republican since 1998, gave Obama his vote for both terms and returned to the Republican camp in 2016 after Obama’s promise of a solid health care plan fell short. “I felt maybe Trump being a businessman could make a better deal, perhaps do something to upgrade health care,” he says. But with Trump out to axe the health care plan with no concrete replacement, Arun turned in his ballot early this time, voting for Biden-Harris based on their commitment to fix health care. “They address my number one issue,” he says. “A person’s quality of life depends on his health. Had Biden-Harris focused more on immigration and wars, they would have lost my vote.”</p> <p>When asked “seven months in to the pandemic what keeps you up at night?”, both Obama and Harris grew sober. Citing the 2.05 lakh Covid-19 deaths and over 70 lakh people who have contracted the virus, Harris condemned the Trump administration’s effort to strike down the Affordable Care Act, put in place by the Obama-Biden team. “I cannot stress how important having the affordable health care act that covers pre-existing conditions is,” said Harris. “Especially given that Covid will become a pre-existing condition, given [its] potential for lung scarring and heart damage.” This approach is probably what has 83 per cent women leaning pro-Democrat and only 17 per cent pro-Republican.</p> <p>Interestingly, Indian-American women who support Trump face greater rebuke than their male counterparts for doing so. Political science student and first-time voter Athmika Dubey blames it on Trump’s rhetoric and how much he has polarised the electorate based on gender, race, religion and economic status. Biden, she says, would be the better president for America. A President Biden would be better for India, too. It was under Obama-Biden’s tenure that India received a niche ranking as a major defence partner, she recalls. Dubey also points out that “both India and the US need to rein in China for different reasons. And a tempered statesman like Biden can accomplish that”. Bandekar disagrees, believing Trump’s strong-arm tactics are the need of the hour to deal with China.</p> <p>Members of the Indian-American electorate often discuss China in the Indian and American context. They wonder how Biden-Harris will handle this challenge, given the roughing up of relations with China under the current administration. Californian entrepreneur Rehan Dastagir hopes Biden can bring his statesmanship to work, iron out stronger trade policies through dialogue, ink better trade deals and “avert a new cold war”.</p> <p>Others at the fundraiser believe a Biden presidency would restore bilateral ties to the point advocated by him in 2006, when he envisioned US and India as close partners by 2020. They maintain a Biden administration might even advocate a permanent seat in a reformed UN Security Council, given it was first mooted by Obama-Biden in 2010.</p> <p>In the final weeks of campaigning, Biden-Harris and their supporters are even wooing Indian-American voters Bollywood-style. California-based entrepreneur couple Ajay and Vinita Bhutoria released a digital graphic in 14 languages with the slogan—“<i>America Ka Neta Kaisa Ho, Joe Biden Jaisa Ho</i> (How should be America’s leader, just like Joe Biden)”. The couple had also put together a music video, featuring Biden-Harris, based on a song from Aamir Khan’s movie<i> Lagaan</i>. With a few tweaks, it reads, “Chale chalo, Chale chalo, Biden ko vote do, Biden ki jeet ho, Unki haar, haan (Let’s go, let’s go, vote for Biden; May Biden win, their defeat, yes)”.</p> <p>Those Indian Americans, especially the younger generation, holding out their vote admit they just want to get a better feel of the Harris vibe. They have celebrated with pride her rise to power, but they are not about to vote on the basis of their Indian identity alone. They listen keenly to her plans on the issues close to their heart—civil rights, education, climate change and immigration. The more they hear, they admit they might be warming up to the idea of a Vice President Kamala Harris and the promise to “build back better” with a President Joe Biden.&nbsp;</p> Tue Oct 27 17:08:14 IST 2020 strategic-value <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Last month, India</b> got observer status in the Djibouti Code of Conduct/Jeddah Amendment (DCOC/JA). It is a little-known multilateral grouping that hinges around a country the size of Manipur and a population of less than 10 lakh. Djibouti has risen to importance because of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, at the chokepoint of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. This part-membership gives India a toehold into a country where China stole a march against almost the entire world by making Djibouti one of the most important baubles in its grand String of Pearls.</p> <p>The DCOC is a grouping on maritime matters, comprising 18 nations adjoining the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, east coast of Africa and island nations of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It was established in 2009 to repress piracy and armed robbery against ships. The Jeddah Amendment 2017 enhanced its scope to include repression of illicit maritime activity, including maritime terrorism and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Along with India, the UK, US, Japan and Norway have observer status, too. According to the ministry of external affairs, the position does not have a fixed term.</p> <p>Djibouti’s importance has been rising over many years, given the volume of international trade that passes into the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea. But in 2015, the world snapped into attention as China began building a military base there. The three big choke points for Chinese maritime traffic are the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca and the Gulf of Aden, said vice admiral Shekhar Sinha (retired). With Gwadar in Pakistan, and a few long-lease islands from Malaysia, China has secured the first two points. Djibouti takes care of the third.</p> <p>Djibouti was yet another missed opportunity for India that China took advantage of. In 2002, Djibouti, with which India has good ties, was in need of developmental assistance. “The India Navy was in favour of accepting this offer for developing Djibouti, as it would help us secure the sea lanes of commerce,” said Sinha. “[But] back then, India was not outward-looking. We suffered from what the Americans call ‘sea blindness’.”</p> <p>China, meanwhile, began steadily investing in various infrastructure projects in Djibouti. It now controls the Djibouti International Free Trade Zone, Dolareh Container Terminal and Djibouti Port, and thus, the country’s economy. The Chinese military base is around 60.7 hectares, with facilities to house 200 marines, wrote rear admiral Monty Khanna (retired) in a paper for Observer Research Foundation. The facilities are constantly evolving. A notable development is the construction of a jetty which, when ready, would cater for a deep-water military berthing facility, a huge fillip to China’s capabilities there.</p> <p>India is not a significant adversary in China’s global plan. Its String of Pearls and Belt and Road Initiative are gamechangers in challenging the US’s global influence. However, for India, the IOR is a very important space as it is the biggest country in the region. With the current dispensation having given the maritime region some importance, Djibouti is a crucial location for India to beef up its presence.</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Security and Growth for all in the Region (SAGAR) has given a boost to India’s maritime outreach. India is engaged in multilateral cooperation with countries in the Indian Ocean Rim Association, Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. Last November, at the East Asia Summit, India proposed the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative for a safe, secure and stable maritime domain. India wants to enlarge its footprint in waters where Chinese presence is increasing.</p> <p>In a dynamic global situation, where the seas have regained importance, India is warily joining groupings to keep China under check in regional waters. The Indo-Pacific concept may be one of growth and development with the centrality of ASEAN, according to India, but there can be no ambiguous couching of a grouping like the Quad (US, India, Japan and Australia), which has scaled up to foreign minister-level summits.</p> <p>India’s recent logistic sharing tie-ups with the US, France, and Japan also gives it access to base facilities at Djibouti, where France and Japan both have a presence. India has been patrolling these waters regularly since 2008, with one warship always on deployment in the western Indian Ocean region. China, too, has maintained the presence of at least three ships in these waters. Such heavy military presence has reduced piracy here; piracy has shifted to the west coast of Africa in recent years.</p> <p>The DCOC is not related to India’s bilateral ties with Djibouti or any other country in the region. “The very fact that India’s request for observer status was accepted by consensus speaks volumes of India’s bilateral ties with DCOC/JA member states,” said a ministry official.</p> <p>Observers view the DCOC entry as a positive move. They note that India so far has only access to information on white shipping (commercial), and tie-ups like DCOC which will give India access to grey (military) shipping activities, too.</p> <p>For India, perhaps, such tie-ups are a better way of information and logistic sharing than expensive development projects whose benefits may not be that forthcoming. The Chabahar project in Iran, for instance, is only a commercial tie-up. Its expansion is under a cloud now with the US-induced tension in India-Iran ties. Chabahar, anyway, was no match for China’s influence in Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. China has now extended finances to Iran for port and infrastructure development. The Bandar-e-Jask project at the northern end of the Strait of Hormuz in Iran is set to be the next pearl in the Chinese necklace. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 09 18:39:00 IST 2020 malicious-intent <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Binoj Basnyat, a retired major general of the Nepali army, has fond memories of his time spent in Delhi 10 years ago, pursuing a course at the National Defence College. He bonded quickly with Indian officers from the Gorkha regiments, including General Bipin Rawat, now chief of defence staff. Basnyat, who has seen several ups and downs in India-Nepal relations, is confident that the friendship will last despite the recent crisis in bilateral ties, even as China tries to drive a wedge between the neighbours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a move that signals China’s intent, its embassy in Kathmandu has engaged a local think tank called the China Study Centre (CSC) to explore what motivates young Nepalis to join the Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army. The study will also look at the areas in Nepal where such recruitments are popular, the socio-economic impact of the recruitment and the level of interest of potential candidates in joining the armed forces of foreign countries. The move has caught the attention of the Indian military establishment as it has come at a time when India and China are engaged in a tense border standoff. “The closeness between Nepal and India has always troubled China. It has never liked Nepali youth joining the Indian Army,” said Basnyat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Sino-Indian tensions grow, China is increasingly making use of the CSC, said to be funded by the People’s Liberation Army, to gather information on Indian activities. The Indian military intelligence has repeatedly expressed concern over the growing influence of the think tank at a time the Nepali government is headed by a decidedly pro-China K.P. Sharma Oli and the Communist Party of Nepal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a report by the Sashastra Seema Bal, more than two dozen CSC offices have come up in Nepal, with half of them operating close to its 1,751-km-long border with India. While the CSC maintains that it is engaged in teaching Chinese language and disseminating cultural information about China and its various art forms, Indian security agencies believe that it spreads anti-India propaganda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nepal is the only foreign country whose nationals are part of the Indian Army. Close to 40,000 Gorkhas serve in the seven Gorkha regiments of the Army, which have won numerous gallantry awards, including two Param Vir Chakras. The Gorkha regiments have given several chiefs to the Army including the legendary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw and also its last two chiefs, General Dalbir Singh Suhag and General Bipin Rawat. The Army presently operates 16 recruiting centres across Nepal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was commander Sir David Ochterlony of the East India Company army who first recognised the bravery of the Gorkhas, a sturdy hill tribe, during the Anglo-Nepalese war (1814-16), and invited them to join his army. Since then, the Gorkhas have been part of multiple military campaigns including the 1857 rebellion, the Afghan wars and the two world wars. In 1947, India, Britain and Nepal signed a tripartite agreement after which seven of the 11 existing regiments of the Gorkhas in the British Indian Army joined the Indian Army while the remaining four joined the British army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 70 years of meritorious service of the Gorkhas has come under some strain recently because of the deterioration in India-Nepal relations. Last year, Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said the 1947 agreement had become “irrelevant” in the “changed political context”. A section of the Nepali intelligentsia and lawmakers, meanwhile, has started questioning the practice of the country’s youth serving in foreign armies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sundar Nath Bhattarai, officiating chairman of the CSC, meanwhile, denied that his organisation was conducting any study on behalf of the PLA. “China knows that the Nepalese Gorkha join the Indian Army under a tripartite agreement between India, Nepal and Britain. There is, however, a view that the Gorkhas should not join Indian Army,” Bhattarai told THE WEEK. “We have been operating in Nepal for over 20 years and we indulge only in academic research on China-Nepal relations. There is no ulterior motive.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian foreign policy establishment thinks that Nepal is playing the China card against India. The bonhomie the two countries used to share no longer seems to exist. In May, when Nepal objected to India’s road construction in Lipulekh, Army Chief General M.M. Naravane pointed out that Kathmandu’s reaction was at someone’s behest, in an apparent reference to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Retired Indian officers believe that the CSC’s exercise is backed by China. Former northern army commander Lieutenant General (retd) D.S. Hooda, who was with the Gorkha regiment, said the Chinese military was trying to exploit the differences between India and Nepal. “The intention could be to get information and subsequently to exploit it for spying,” he said. “We need to be careful about their moves, especially as we have close to 40,000 Gorkha soldiers.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lieutenant General (retd) Vinod Bhatia, who was director general of military operations, said the CSC was controlled and funded by the Chinese government. “The ongoing study is part of the Chinese military’s psychological operations, its three-warfare strategy of psy ops, public opinion and legal warfare. It is aimed at putting the adversary in a dilemma.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the move faces pushback from within Nepal as well. Colonel (retd) Dhan Bahadur Thapa, who served in Indian Army’s 11 Kumaon regiment, said it was a proud moment for any Nepali to join the Indian Army. “It is a tradition and a norm in Nepal,” he said. “China is using this as propaganda. The Chinese military is now standing against Indian forces (in eastern Ladakh) and they are trying to put pressure on the Nepal government to stop the youth from joining Indian forces.” But he said the 1.3 lakh Gorkhas who retired from the Indian Army would oppose any such move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s ties with Nepal transcend political leadership, according to Lieutenant General (retd) Shokin Chauhan, an officer from the 11 Gorkha Rifles and former Indian defence attaché in Kathmandu. “The two countries have a ‘roti-beti’ relationship and the Army and the Gorkhas form the bedrock of the relationship,” he said. “China is trying to find out the motivation for Nepali youth to join the Indian Army. It could be an attempt to infiltrate the Army or to lure the Nepali youth to the PLA. But Gorkhas have a very strong emotional connect with the Indian Army.”</p> Fri Sep 11 20:40:54 IST 2020 suing-for-peace <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kenosha, Wisconsin, is a small town used to big-time trouble. Just over the Illinois border, it was where Al Capone and his men would hide from Chicago police chases at a time when the police could not cross state lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wisconsin itself has a history of racism dating back to its time as a territory; it is a state that once let non-citizen newcomers vote before it allowed black men near the ballot box. Last month, seven shots in the back of an unarmed black man brought world attention to Kenosha. Into this cloud of infamy, walked in the biggest of the big-gun civil rights lawyers of the day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 50, attorney Ben Crump is an imposing figure. Tall, and at once soft-spoken and forceful with his words, he projects kindness, compassion and a deep desire for justice. He is a handsome black man with a velvet quality; reassuringly flawless in his dress and perfect skin, he has perfected the art of putting legalistic language into words everyday folk can relate to. In doing so, he commands a presence that comforts and stabilises emotionally charged situations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is everything families dream of —a law graduate from Florida State University, a recipient of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Thurgood Marshall Award, recipient of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Martin Luther King Servant Leader Award, one of the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Lawyers, and Ebony magazine’s Power 100 Most Influential African Americans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have seen him on television next to those collapsing inward at the loss of a family member to a racially tinged event leached of humanity. There is something he understands that others are just beginning to see. We have seen him next to the families of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Kenosha man paralysed from the waist down by the seven, point-blank shots from policemen who followed him to his car after a struggle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That he was in Kenosha standing next to Jacob Blake’s family to demand justice from the police department and the city, told the world that the town was in big-time trouble. “This seems to be a pattern in this town,” said Crump in a television interview. “Just like it is in America, the police killing an unarmed man unnecessarily and unjustifiably.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When police shoot black people in America, Crump says they are “told not by word but by action over and over and over again, you won’t be held accountable”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump is there because he understands that these events take place within a larger, more monstrous reality that envelops the everyday life of people of colour, and recognises that the root cause of these actions is embedded into the laws and customs and life in American society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seven shots were fired into Philando Castile in eight seconds in 2016 in St Paul, Minnesota. Castile was with his fiancée and her daughter as he attempted to comply after being stopped for a broken tail light. The officer was later acquitted of charges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2005, off-duty detective, father and church deacon Howard Morgan was stopped for driving the wrong way without headlights in Chicago; as a cop, he was permitted to carry a gun. While searching his car, the police found a gun. Morgan was shot at more than 100 times; 21 times in the back. He survived, but is permanently disabled. He was charged with four counts of attempted murder, deadly use of a firearm, assault and battery. After being acquitted of some of the charges and deadlocked on others, he was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison, despite having eight years of police service and being an elderly man reduced to using a walker and wearing a colostomy bag because of the shooting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is one of the worst injustices I have witnessed,” said Crump, despite the fact that a governor later commuted Morgan’s sentence. “Because the conviction also prevented him from bringing a civil lawsuit. The police were clearly in the wrong here, yet Morgan was punished. This devastating event shows that black people are being attacked from many fronts. The police are killing us on the streets; we are also being killed by the judges and prosecutors in the courtrooms.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump describes the above in his book Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People (Amistad, 2019). In his television appearances, you can hear him readily recite the names of such victims. It is a long list, but their names roll out of his tongue in quick succession with an emphasis that tells you he can tell you all about the injustices visited upon them. In 2018, he represented the family of Stephon Clark against the city of Sacramento in California. The 22-year-old Clark was shot seven times in his grandmother’s backyard because the officers thought the phone in his hand was a gun. There was no gun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The names keep adding on. There is context to it all; it is open season genocide, he argues in his book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>America’s list of racial-event deaths is long. He has not represented them all, but he writes about the embedded injustice and systematic racism that kills them: Eric Garner, Philando Castile, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Martin Lee Anderson, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Michelle Cusseaux, Laquan McDoland, George Mann, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Matthew Ajibade, Frank Smart, Natasha McKenna, Tony Robinson, Anthony Hill, Mya Hall, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scout, William Chapman II, Alexia Christia, Brendon Glenn, Victor Manuel Larosa, Johnathan Sanders, Freddie Blue, Joseph Mann, Salvado Ellswood, Sandra Bland, Albert Joseph Davis, Darrius Stewart, Billy Ray Davis, Samuel Dubose, Michael Sabbie, Brian Keith Day, Christian Taylor, Troy Robinson, Asshams Pharoah Manley, Felix Kumi, Keith Harrison McLeod, Junior Prosper, Lamontez Jones, Patterson Brown, Dominic Hutchinson, Anthony Ashford, Alonzo Smith, Tyree Crawford, India Kager, La’vante Briggs, Michael Lee Marshall, Jamar Clark, Richard Perkins, Nathaniel Harris Pickett, Benni Lee Tignor, Miguel Espinal, Michael Noel, Kevin Matthews, Bettie Jones, Quintonio LeGrier, Keith Childress Jr., Janet Wilson, Randy Nelson, Antronie Scott, Wendell Celestine, David Joseph, Calin Roquemore, Dyzhawn Perkins, Christopher Davis, Marco Loud, Peter Gaines, Torrey Robinson, Darius Robinson, Kevin Hicks, Mary Truxillo, Demarcus Semer, Willie Tillman, Terrill Thomas, Sylville Smooth, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Paul O’Neal, Alteria Woods, Jordan Edwards, Aaron Bailey, Ronell Foster, Stephon Clark, Antwon Rose II, Botham Jean, Pamela Turner, Dominique Clayton, Atatiana Jefferson, Christopher Whitfield, Christopher McCorvey, Eric Reason, Michael Lorenzo Dean, Breona Taylor, George Floyd.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is not okay for people of colour to be killed by the police or assaulted by the justice system,” wrote Crump. “Absent the privilege of legal protections and designated as a threat to society, people of colour are prime targets for genocide. As we know this pattern of unequal and disproportionate policing of people who have been racialised as well as criminalised and even exterminated based on race has a long history.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump represented the family of Terence Crutcher of Tulsa, Oklahoma, shown on police helicopter and car video walking toward his car with his hands raised, shot and killed in plain daylight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2006, 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson went joyriding in his grandmother’s car and was sent to a Panama City, Florida, boot camp for juvenile offenders. Hours after arriving, he was dead. Due to a blood disorder, said the medical examiner. In a landmark case that prompted the Florida legislature to dismantle the state department of justice’s juvenile boot system and name the act the Martin Lee Anderson Act, Crump used the media masterfully after unearthing CCTV footage that showed white guards forcing him to inhale ammonia after kneeing, kicking, dragging, and hitting him. A second autopsy determined the 14-year-old was suffocated to death. With Crump’s help, the family reached a $5 million settlement with the state of Florida.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But a jury found the seven former boot camp drill instructors and a nurse not guilty of causing the child’s death, and they walked free. Crump stood in front of reporters and thundered: “You kill a dog; you go to jail. You kill a little black boy, and nothing happens.” Those comments were covered by media all over the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In today’s America, it is Crump who calls on the conscience of the nation through skilful media appearances and publications. “Today, there is in America a persistent, prevailing, and unhealthy mindset regarding people of colour,” he wrote. “To understand the presence of genocide, we must acknowledge that our society is one that is built on violence and condones arming its people. This genocide is fuelled by police brutality, unfair treatment in the judicial system, and ‘stand your ground and shoot first’ laws which are influenced by the gun lobby.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These laws are stuff that says “you can shoot black people and we will justify it,” said Crump of the Kenosha shooting. Kenosha is a town of about one lakh people along Lake Michigan. Protesters, many from the large Black Lives Matter movement that sprouted after the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, gathered in downtown Kenosha to protest police violence. The marchers later clashed with the police and the protests deteriorated into arson and destruction of private property. Armed white militia appeared in the streets of Kenosha the following night and television cameras showed police offering water to heavily armed vigilantes and saying, “We sure appreciate you guys here.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of those guys turned out to be a 17-year-old white teenager who later killed two people and blew the arm of another. After making a call where he is heard telling someone that he had just killed someone, the boy approaches the police carrying his semi-automatic rifle with crowds pointing out to the police that he had just shot someone. The police drive on, ignoring him. He was then driven home to Antioch, Illinois, by his mother.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>White privilege, one might argue, considering the treatment of Blake who carried no weapon and was at the time shackled to his hospital bed. “Black men do not get the benefit of their humanity,” said Crump. “Armed militia can walk freely, but a black guy heading to where he might have a knife is shot in the back.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He goes further to look at the greater injustice in the system. “Police want the family to talk, but they want to stay quiet. Don’t rush to judgment. But did they not rush to judgement when they shoot? We cannot have a justice system for black America and another for white America,” Crump said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Genocide amply describes what transpires between the US judicial system and coloured people,” Crump wrote in his book. “In effect the judicial system in this country targets, whether consciously or not, black and brown people robbing them at every level including, in the end, of their very lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The physical, financial, mental and even spiritual deaths can be evidenced in newspaper articles, numerous studies, in courtrooms, and on the streets of our impoverished neighbourhoods. You can see them in our prison populations, our schools, and our communities in need of healthcare. It is legalised genocide because the system legitimises over and over again these injustices. Technical reasons are often found for their legality.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is an undeniable pattern to atrocities perpetrated against people of colour, according to Crump. “Cooperation doesn’t work,” he said. “Polite responses and non-threatening retreat don’t work. So often, too often, no matter how we respond, the police shoot us and the police get off, which sends the message that it is acceptable to kill black people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump says he is fighting to help transform communities marching and chanting ‘No Justice, No Peace’ into ones proclaiming ‘Know Justice, Know Peace’. He believes that America “can be redeemed and can live up to its promise”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looking to the start of his journey for justice, Crumb looks to a time in 1978, when the supreme Court-ordered forced busing began to racially integrate schools. It was also the time the son of a hotel laundry worker who also worked a night job at a shoe factory realised that his white classmate had a weekly allowance greater than what his mother made in a week or two.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When his mother told him that the integration of white and black children was due to the work of a lawyer named Thurgood Marshall (who later became a Supreme Court justice) in a landmark case named Brown vs Board of Education, Crump decided he would become an attorney just like Marshall. He would “fight to make life better for people from my side of the tracks”. “I was going to fight for all people to have a chance for justice and an equal chance of freedom,” Crump wrote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a lawyer, he soon learned that it was dangerous to be a coloured person in America. “The police don’t shoot white men in the back,” he said. People of colour are also killed softly, said Crump, quoting Frederick Douglass. “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them,” said Crump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Thousands of young black and brown people are killed every year, spiritually, if not physically, through racially biased judicial rulings in American courtrooms,” he said. “Police write dishonest probable-cause affidavits, prosecutors justify charging them with felonies, and judges hand down excessive multi-year sentences of prison and probation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All of that fits the description of the crime of genocide, Crump points out, as defined in Paragraph C, Article 2, of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Crump, the conditions imposed on black and brown people inflict physical destruction on the members of those communities. “Genocide is not limited to just killing,” he said. “It is also genocide to cause serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group and deliberately inflict on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Laws of this country and their enforcement and adjudication are used to cut into the heart and soul of the people. “Most coloured folk believe that the legal system and nearly every other institution in the United States is out to eliminate black and brown people,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Crump was in Kenosha to help coloured people know justice and know peace. He has taken the cause of Jacob Blake to the 2020 March on Washington, which commemorates two events—the 65th anniversary of the killing of Emmet Till, a 14-year-old black American lynched in Mississippi in 1955, and the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is black America’s attorney general,” said the Rev Al Sharpton introducing Crump at George Floyd’s funeral. Crump’s passionate press conferences during the Trayvon Martin trial are the stuff of legend. He has been a fixture on cable news interviews this year, and his pursuit of justice forms the crux of an upcoming, six-part Netflix documentary, Who Killed Tupac?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are in a time of heightened tension,” wrote Crump, quoting King to explain his pursuit. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He stood by Jacob Blake’s family in the streets of Kenosha, as they led the crowd in prayer, shared their grief and told their stories. “This is our reality,” he said. “That is why we fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before television cameras and the world, he has laid bare the human fight; the fight for equality and against what he argues is a slow racist genocide in Kenosha and in every city where racism continues to rise. “We must,” Crump said, “speak truth to power.”</p> Fri Sep 04 12:26:13 IST 2020 access-denied <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Covid-19</b> pandemic has dealt a nasty blow to all those who have been waiting patiently to enter the United States legally. Citing the pandemic, President Donald Trump has shut down most immigrant and work visa programmes till the end of the year, pulling the rug from under the feet of those waiting for their green cards and H-1B visas.</p> <p>Green cards are now being issued only to physicians, nurses and health care workers and their families. It, however, leaves the door open for the EB-5 immigrant investor programme. The freeze on green card applications—initially for 60 days—has been extended for the whole of 2020. The administration has also stopped issuing H-1B, H-2B, H-4, L and J visas during this period.</p> <p>In early July, the Trump administration came up with yet another restriction, banning foreign students from entering or remaining in the US if their academic programmes were fully online. Many colleges and universities have moved their courses online because of the pandemic. Trump’s order was challenged immediately in court by prominent institutions like Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology as “arbitrary and capricious”. The administration backtracked quickly and agreed to allow existing students to continue their studies. The ban, however, remains applicable to fresh international students.</p> <p>With presidential elections coming up in less than three months, Trump seems to have gone into an overdrive on the immigration front. In yet another move targeting foreign workers, he has banned federal agencies from employing foreign workers on H-1B visas and has put restrictions on H-1B workers moving to other employers’ job sites. The administration has also hiked application fees for H-1B and L-1 visas.</p> <p>Indians will be among the hardest hit by the newly imposed visa and immigration restrictions. The blanket freeze on green cards and job visas has come as a big shock for those who were scheduled to get their visas, says New York-based immigration lawyer Cyrus Mehta. “If they have been sponsored by employers through the labour certification process and they happen to be overseas, then they, too, will be impacted by the order,” he says.</p> <p>In an opinion piece in <i>The Hill</i>, journalist and attorney Raul Reyes says Trump’s latest move is little more than a calculated political stunt. “It is designed to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment and to distract the public from the administration’s myriad failures in dealing with the coronavirus crisis,” he says.</p> <p>The new restrictions have thrown several families already in the US into a whirlpool, as immigration and the pandemic have combined to form a potent mix. Millions have lost their jobs in the US and so the H-1B workers are not immune; but unlike American workers, if they do not find a job within 60 days, they will have to leave the country.</p> <p>Tahmina Watson of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle says the Trump administration is using Covid-19 as a vehicle to achieve its anti-immigration objectives like banning most family-based immigrant visas. “It is not a secret that this administration does not like H-1B visas. Covid-19 and the onset of recession provided the perfect opportunity for the administration.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has promised a major overhaul of the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, if its candidate Joe Biden wins the presidential elections in November. “We support awarding visas for permanent, employment-based immigration in a way that is responsive to labour market needs,” says the party’s campaign agenda. With Trump and Biden having sharply divergent views on the issue, the debate on immigration is likely to become more acrimonious.</p> <p>The Trump administration, meanwhile, is considering a proposal to require companies to pay foreign-born scientists and engineers in H-1B status a minimum wage of $1,50,000 to $2,50,000 or more a year. “The law enacted by Congress does not limit the issuance of H-1B visas to those earning such high salaries. This proposal would be subject to court challenges,” says Mehta.</p> <p>Watson says the regulations are set on this issue through the Code of Federal Regulations. To change the rules, new regulations have to be drafted, proposed and finalised and the public will have an opportunity to comment on any proposed rules. “A standard high salary will lead to economic failure for companies that hire high-skilled foreign workers. It will lead to economic hardship for businesses just when the economy needs all the help possible to recover,” says Watson.</p> <p>There are, however, some signs of cheer in the prevailing gloom. “Federal courts have reversed arbitrary H-1B denials,” says Mehta. “One court also held that the policy of requiring extensive documentation with third party clients was unlawful. This should improve the prospects of H-1B requests filed on behalf of IT professionals from India who are assigned to their party client sites.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, it is wait and watch for those almost on the finish line for green cards. Gautam (name changed) who is in Seattle on an H-1B visa lost his job. With 18 days left on his visa, he debated whether to get a tourist visa so he could stay on to take care of unfinished business. At the same time, he also tried hard to get a consultancy job that would take care of his visa issues. He got a job despite the hiring freezes. “On the day my visa was expiring, I got the news that my new visa application was filed,” he says. “Within two weeks my visa was approved.”</p> <p>One cannot predict what the future holds for those waiting to enter America, but there may be a silver lining to the Covid-19-induced crisis.</p> <p>“India’s high-skilled workers are sought after globally,” says Watson. “As we enter an era of remote work for the technology industry, countries will compete for talent. I don’t necessarily worry about my clients making a living outside the US. My concern would be for the status of America as a global leader if we lose the talent that gives us the edge.”</p> <p>­<b>—The author is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</b></p> <p></p> Thu Aug 13 17:55:54 IST 2020 winners-take-all <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Sri Lankan</b> parliament elections held on August 5 will go down in history as a watershed moment in the country’s political history. It saw the United National Party (UNP), which was in power till a year ago, getting decimated so thoroughly that it failed to win even a single seat. The other traditional party of the island nation, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, contested only in a few districts and gave overall backing to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).</p> <p>The SLPP, founded by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers, including President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, won 145 of 225 seats. With their allies, the four-year-old SLPP crossed the 150 mark, securing an unprecedented two-thirds majority. The last party to achieve such a feat was the UNP, which swept the polls in 1977 under the first past the post electoral system. Under the proportional representation system, which has been in operation since the 1980s, such commanding margins have become almost impossible, leading to post-election crossovers and horse-trading.</p> <p>Mahinda and Gotabaya campaigned hard to avoid such a situation, seeking a comprehensive mandate from the voters. And, they got it thanks to the weak and divided opposition which failed to learn the lessons from their disastrous presidential campaign last November. The main opposition party this time was the Samagi Jana Balawegaya of Sajith Premadasa, the former deputy leader of the UNP who chose to float his own party following a tiff with UNP leader and former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. After the crushing defeat, Ranil stepped down as party leader.</p> <p>With the overwhelming mandate for the Rajapaksas, Sri Lanka could be potentially looking at a one-party rule scenario. The new regime will be looking to repeal the 19th amendment to the constitution enacted in 2015 by the UNP regime. The Rajapaksas believe the amendment was brought to keep them out of politics and to weaken the directly elected executive president. Their campaign was focused on convincing the electorate that the repeal has brought the country to an economic, political and security crisis, including the horrendous serial bombings in April 2019.</p> <p>Another key challenge for the Rajapaksas will be reconciliation with the Tamils and the Muslims. After the civil war, the Mahinda government had appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and had taken steps to release and rehabilitate nearly 12,000 LTTE cadres who had no grave charges against them. Steps were also taken to release civilian lands. Yet, all those initiatives remain unfinished.</p> <p>Dealing with the minorities will test the political and diplomatic skills of the Rajapaksas as the issue is being keenly monitored by the powerful Tamil diaspora, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. Many Sri Lankans fear that the west is using its economic power to impose its control over Sri Lanka. The country had faced economic sanctions on grounds of human rights violations during the final phase of the civil war.</p> <p>Disappointment with the west has pushed Sri Lanka close to China, which does not enjoy a stellar human rights record. As a result, China now enjoys a critical economic and strategic hold over Sri Lanka. In the 2015 elections, the Chinese “debt trap” and the 99 year-lease of the Hambantota harbour were key campaign issues. This time, however, the key issue was the pressure exerted by the west, especially the United States.</p> <p>With the strong parliamentary backing they enjoy, the Rajapaksas are expected to strategically balance the pressure from the west, China and India, all of which want a share of the Sri Lankan economic pie and its support for their strategic designs. India considers Sri Lanka to be in its sphere of influence, while China considers it to be a key part of its Belt and Road Initiative. The US, India and Japan want Sri Lanka to support the ‘Quad’, an informal strategic platform they share with Australia.</p> <p>India, in collaboration with Japan, has been wanting to run the Colombo port’s eastern terminal, perhaps because it is next to the Chinese-run terminal. But port workers have gone on strike against the proposed deal and have extracted a promise from Mahinda that the terminal will not be handed over to foreigners. It may not be easy for Sri Lanka to wriggle out of its contractual obligations without antagonising India. There are already reports about India dragging its feet on giving Sri Lanka a moratorium on its loan repayments.</p> <p>Nearly 15 Indian project proposals are pending with the Sri Lankan government since 2017. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi complained about Sri Lanka’s non-response, Gotabaya said India was to be blamed for the delay and that some of the projects were unnecessary. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, wants India to return 25 of the 99 oil tanks in Trincomalee which were given to India in the early 2000s. India, according to Sri Lankan sources, has been using only 15 of them.</p> <p>SLPP spokesperson G.L. Peiris said the new government would revisit international agreements, though he did not mention any pact in particular. The unprecedented victory of the SLPP is seen as a result of the disillusionment with the attempts of the UNP-led regime to take the country along a neoliberal and pro-western path. Some observers, however, think that the Rajapaksas may find it difficult to free themselves fully from the pressure exerted by the US.</p> <p>Making the country self-reliant by strengthening its economy will be one of the key objectives of the new government. Gotabaya has a team of intellectuals, business leaders and economists who are expected to assist in setting up a strong platform to boost entrepreneurship in the post-Covid-19 era.</p> <p>One of the first tasks before the new parliament when it meets on August 20 will be to decide on a fresh vote on account as the government needs time to prepare a full-fledged budget for the upcoming year. For the Rajapaksas, the real challenge may have just begun.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 19:02:45 IST 2020 donald-is-pretty-transparently-pathological <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are no photos of her in the public domain, except the slick-shot on the back of her controversial book on President Donald Trump—Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man—which has already earned record sales. Mary L. Trump has chosen to spend her life flying below the radar; her celebrity real-estate name only pops up when she signs a cheque. The relationship between her and the rest of the Trump clan is strained. She and her brother took the rest of the family to court over their grandfather’s will. Publishing the book, where she spills Trump family secrets, also took her to court against her family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For years, she has remained almost invisible. Two years ago, however, she did become the anonymous source for the longest expose against Donald Trump—on how the wealth was acquired. Her book has already gone into several print runs in America. Its publication was not easy as the president tried his best to block it. Unlike the other books on the Trumps, this one is personal, scathing and deeply disturbing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It makes for grim, even disturbing reading, offering a ringside view of a dysfunctional First Family. Mary believes her uncle is a “narcissist’, and her grandfather Fred Trump a sociopath. Cruelty is common and kindness is considered a weakness in the family. She writes about a time she wakes up to find her father aiming a rifle at her mother for fun. Fred humiliated the husband of her aunt—Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s sister—by offering a job as a parking lot attendant when the couple went broke.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mary’s father, who turned into an alcoholic, was also bullied by Fred. Her grandmother was cold; her aunt Elizabeth once kept a watch from her because she felt it was too grown up for her. At Christmas, she was once gifted a cheap three-pack underwear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When her father was dying, Donald Trump went out to see a movie. Not surprisingly, he once passed a comment on her when she wore a bikini.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview over Skype, Mary gives an insider perspective of the Trump family, and its role in creating the psyche of the president. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It must have been a hard book for you to write. You refer to your grandfather as a sociopath.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Actually, that was not hard. Given the way he treated his children and his grandchildren, I felt no responsibility to protect him from his own horrible deeds. On the other hand, the rest of it was quite hard. I could not write about Donald without writing about everything else. The only way to understand him was to put him in the context of his family and his childhood, and what that experience was growing up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You talk about him being the most dangerous person in the world. How important it is for the America, and the world, to recognise it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If he did not have the position that he currently holds and all the powers that come with that position, he would not have been dangerous to anybody but himself and the people around him. But he has shown himself perfectly willing to destroy, if not weaken, alliances this country (the US) has built up for decades. He has unilaterally (ripped) up treaties that professionals have spent years crafting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not just the sheer power, in terms of nuclear weapons—which also is terrifying—it is the other ways (in which) America’s standing in the world has been diminished. Four years ago, I knew it was going to be bad. But I did not understand, nor did many (other) people, just how enabled he would be by the other people in the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been no efforts to rein him in or moderate his behaviour. Exactly that I was thinking of when I came up with the title of the book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You wrote that Donald Trump was enabled by the Republican Party. This mirrors what happened in your family. Why do you think this is happening?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, they did. It is really striking. In fact, when I started writing the book, one of the things I found most mind-boggling was the thin line between Donald’s treatment in my family to his treatment in the Republican Party. I cannot answer the question “why”. That remains a mystery. But he remains to this day protected by money, power and protection: when he was younger, it was my grandfather’s; now, it is his power, the US government’s money and all the people surrounding him who completely let him do whatever he wants without any accountability and push-back, whatsoever. It is extremely dangerous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think it is, as you put it, because of his superficial charm? Or, is it because he is a bully?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think it is a little hard for me to wrap my head around it. There are people in the world who are weaker than he is who are susceptible to his charm, which is extremely superficial. He has no sense of loyalty to other people; he only requires it from them. But it is quite mystifying that people admire him, or see him as a strong person.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The book has an episode, quoting your aunt Maryanne, where you claim Donald Trump sent in papers to be signed by his father, who had dementia, to swipe all the money.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not just to swipe money. It was to change my grandfather’s will, so that Donald would be completely in charge of the estate, (and) my aunts and uncles would be entirely dependent on him. It was a very bold ploy. He almost got away with it. My grandfather was not faring well at the time. He just happened to have a relatively lucid day, and he knew something was suspicious about it. But he could not tell what it was. He ended up telling my grandmother who ended up telling my aunt Maryanne, who was a lawyer. When a colleague of hers looked into it, they realised what Donald had tried to do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You wrote that while your father was dying in the hospital, Donald Trump went to see a movie.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, it is true. I cannot explain it, because it is so heartless and cold. But it happened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Can you explain why no one from the family was there in the hospital, when they knew he was dying. How do you reconcile with it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not. It is by definition unforgivable. But it is because my grandfather, at that point, had entirely given up on my father. There was no reason for him, it would be a waste of his time, to go to the hospital. My grandmother (always) did whatever my grandfather (expected of her). As for Donald, waiting around by the phone would have been boring, so he went to the movies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Can you explain Donald Trump’s relationship with his mother. This, you write, is at the heart of his whole abandonment issue. You also quote your grandmother saying she was relieved when he was sent to military school.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he was two and a half years old, my grandmother had become ill and essentially unavailable for him for about a year. He never recovered from that sense of abandonment. My grandfather was the only adult who was in a position to fill my grandmother’s absence, which he was incapable of doing because he was a sociopath. Donald really suffered. My grandmother was never really able to heal the rift between them. Donald, as a consequence, developed all sorts of defence mechanisms from those feelings of abandonment, loneliness and not having been loved. So, by the time he was a teenager, he was a bully, he was acting out. He did not listen to my grandmother. I think the fact that she let him go to boarding school, without putting up a fight to keep him home, was for him the final act of betrayal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How does that abandonment play out right now, especially in front of millions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think it explains, in large parts, his need for constant attention. As if he can make up the losses in the past, which obviously you cannot do. He is filling up this void, left by both my grandparents, with adulation and media attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has he ever talked up about India? His casino was called Taj Mahal.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. Never. I did not know [that] he had been there before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Donald Trump’s dealing with other countries has been called “transactional”. Do you think it is your grandfather’s attitude that shaped Donald Trump’s vision?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In my family, everything is a zero-sum game. If you were not winning, you were losing. The same thing applies to money. The more money you had, the more you [were] worth in every sense of the word. Donald is now in this position, where he views the US treasury as an extension of his own wealth. He often talks about saving money, like that is the point of NATO [The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation]. I think it absolutely has a negative impact on how he approaches other countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>One attribute you think that makes him dangerous, that the world does not know.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not think there is anything we do not really know about. He is pretty transparently pathological, if you will. The most dangerous thing about him? It is hard to choose. I would pick between his impulsiveness, but also his malleability. It is extremely easy for smarter, more powerful men to manipulate Donald into doing what they (want him to do).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Too Much and Never Enough: How my family created the world’s most dangerous man</b><br> Author: Mary L. Trump<br> Publisher: Simon &amp; Schuster</p> <p>Pages: 228</p> <p>Price: Rs699</p> Thu Aug 06 20:44:52 IST 2020 power-and-powder <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>GREEN EYES. FLÁVIA</b> has green eyes. Her hair dances between black and blonde. But with 110cm-hips, a 68cm-waist, and 90cm-chest, she was Brazilian hotness personified.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Playboy Portugal billed her a “true Brazilian beauty” when she graced their cover. She was a former Miss Bumbum Brazil (an annual beauty pageant to find the woman with the best buttocks in the country), a dancer, showgirl and erotic video starlet. But the face that sold countless magazines in Brazil and Portugal is now on a mugshot in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Flávia Tamayo, 25, who went by the stage name Pamela Pantera, was recently arrested from a luxury hotel in Vitoria after a two-year investigation. It is alleged that she was a “$200 call girl” (per session) who flew across Brazil servicing the rich and powerful, and that her services were often repaid, at least in part, with cocaine and hashish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the police approached her to bring her in, she lifted her dress, stood nude in the crowded lobby of the hotel on Camburi Beach, and shouted at them. The stunned male officers called for immediate backup from a female colleague. Tamayo was then taken into custody, handcuffed and driven to the police station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamayo’s clients knew her as the “Powder Panther” or the “Queen of Powder”, said authorities, adding that she offered a combination of sex and drugs. She would deliver drugs along with love-for-pay or accept narcotics as part payment for sex. In the second scenario, sex was offered for half the price; she would keep the drugs for personal use or sell it. Allegedly, she ran a tele-drug service in Brazil’s capital, Brasília.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamayo was born in São Paulo and raised in Brasília, according to her profile bios. Her Facebook page says she attended the Adventist School of Tucurui in the northern state of Pará; a school “based on biblical principles and permanent values… committed not only to pedagogical quality... but to integral formation [of students]”. But, somehow, Tamayo’s religious formation translated into a life of luxury and glamour and, apparently, sophisticated cosmetic procedures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After winning Miss Bumbum Brazil in 2018, she said that she had to prove that she had not undergone any surgical procedure to have perfect buttocks. “As they doubted me, I even did a live ultrasound on television to show that there is no procedure, but, honestly, I was not offended by this mistrust,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, her assertion that she was all-natural turned out to be false. In May 2018, months before winning the title, she had been operated upon by Dr Denis César Barros Furtado, 45, aka Dr Bumbum. She paid the surgeon 40,000 reals ($7,600) for the bioplastic procedure. Furtado is currently a fugitive; he was charged with culpable homicide after a female banker from Rio de Janeiro died during a cosmetic surgery in 2019. Six other police investigations have indicted him for crimes such as illegal exercise of the profession, misleading advertising and for refusing to provide medical records to patients.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamayo’s current stature was largely built on the Miss Bumbum aura. Her Instagram page showcases her in seductive positions, prominently featuring what she considers her most valued asset. She has more than 1.2 lakh followers on social media and became an erotic film star in the Brasileirinhas series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has said that she represented the beauty of Brazilian women and that she had dreams of a future in politics, starting with running for the city council. She had also complained that the electronic ballot boxes used in Brazil were not reliable and that voting “should be on paper, the same as in the United States”, evidently unaware that the US employs electronic voting. Her comments on politics and her desire to run for office led to her being featured as the muse of the 2018 Brazilian presidential elections by both Playboy and SEXY magazines. For the SEXY centrefold, she posed on the Esplanade de Ministerios, the grand avenue of Brasilia’s Monumental Axis that is home to important government buildings, monuments and memorials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, the police say the muse also offered a sexual menu to her sophisticated customers and that the highest prices were always accompanied by a hit of powder. According to the police, her wealthy clients came largely from the federal civil service—members of the executive, legislative and judiciary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The movement of men eager for easy pleasure has always made Flávia earn high, both with programmes and with the sale of powder,” wrote reporter Carlos Carone in Metrópoles, a Brasilia-focused news and discussion website. “The delivery of narcotics was done by taxi drivers, who left the papers in a flat, in the Northern Hotel Sector, where the call girl is accustomed to serving men who seek her for hours of sex in absolute secrecy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The arrest warrant for drug trafficking was issued about a month ago by the 1st Narcotics Court of Brasilia. But her whereabouts were not known until the Civil Police tracked her down to Espírito Santo and contacted the state police, which alerted the 1st Regional Police Station in Vitória.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tamayo was in Espírito Santo for a photoshoot. According to a photographer, who requested anonymity, she had wanted to pose with snakes; he had arranged them from a biologist. Police allege she was also there to meet clients.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“She had a very busy schedule and she did not have a fixed place; she travelled throughout Brazil,” said police spokesman Ricardo Olivera of the 5th Police District, which was in charge of the investigation. The day before the operation, she flew 1,600km to see clients in Florianópolis in the southern state of Santa Catarina, he said. Information also put her in Sao Paulo in the preceding days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We already had information about the time when she would arrive at the hotel,” said the chief of the division that arrested her. “I personally positioned myself outside the hotel…. When we showed we were serious and that she really would have to go to the (police station), she realised that she really had no way out. Then, in that moment, in a psychological lapse, [she] lifted her dress—she was not wearing underwear—and started screaming and struggling in the hotel lobby.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After she was arrested, the police found in her possession of a small amount of marijuana, which, according to the police, was for personal use, about 60 reals and a rolled-up dollar bill, which she reportedly told police was to inhale drugs. “She had a thresher, which is a piece of equipment used to make marijuana in a better condition for consumption, with a small amount inside it,” said a police statement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps more importantly, Tamayo’s cell phone was also confiscated. It may contain leads that will further the investigations being carried out by the Civil Police. The phone is currently being analysed. Now, the investigation’s focus is on finding the origin of the drugs. “We are going to identify its suppliers,” said the police. “What was the origin and where did these drugs come from?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After being booked, Tamayo was transferred to the Centro Prisional Feminino de Cariacica of the Espírito Santo penitentiary system, where she is one of 1,159 prisoners. She awaits transfer to Brasilia, but her attorneys are fighting extradition and requesting her release from preliminary detention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an interview in the Jornal de Brasília, two days after her arrest, Tamayo denied the accusations of the Civil Police and said that she works in adult entertainment and never got involved with crime. Last year, the model had said that she would feature on the cover of Playboy Italy this year. Noting that she often visited exotic locations like Ibiza, the authorities have revoked her passport. For now, Tamayo will have to stay in jail and in Brazil. Meanwhile, her lawyer said she wants to “change her life” and help other women.</p> Thu Aug 06 18:59:02 IST 2020 battle-for-guayaquil <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Covid-19 has taken more territory and broken more defences across the planet than Genghis Khan, Attila and Alexander the Great combined, and it looms over humanity with a menace that appears to leave no refuge. At the current rate of doubling of casualties, the world could see some 36 million deaths in a year, and over 140 million dead just four months later. In this world war, humanity is fighting to survive and dominate a strand of DNA that itself is hard-coded to survive and dominate. The battles fought in this war are a record of reference for the rest of humanity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The war on Covid-19 cannot be fought in the emergency rooms and ICUs but in its breeding grounds—in the homes and neighbourhoods,” says Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri. “You have to take from it the element of surprise. Using the knowledge that you develop, you avoid open battle in the hospitals, you launch raids and surprise the virus in the zones and barrios where it is beginning to gain ground.” The Ecuadorian city of three million was the earliest example of Covid-19 horror in the Americas. Now, it deserves another title: The city that beat back Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viteri knows well that waves of aftershock might come, yet she is focusing on the takeaways from what has already happened and why it happened when the city was at its lowest moment—deaths in one day—and how it turned the tide, reaching a zero-death toll in just 34 days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Covid-19 stormed through her city, Viteri was in quarantine along with her husband and son—the three of them had tested positive for Covid-19. At a time when there was no clear playbook and the central government was not able to provide health and sanitation services, she began a campaign that relied on a public-private voluntary effort and top-down implementation and leadership. By increasing the city’s hospital, ICU and direct piped-in oxygen-delivery capacity in record time and by addressing the funeral, morgue and cemetery shortages, Viteri delivered the services her city needed and her county was unable to provide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Additional help came from the city’s former mayor and two-time presidential candidate, Jaime Nebot, who lent his skill and connections to set up an emergency committee to secure early-treatment medicines through a global acquisition effort. His efforts procured PPEs and later helped rework food supply chains. “The goal was to ensure populations did not have to mix with large groups far from their homes to acquire food,”he said, and that “people did not have to choose between dying of hunger vs dying of coronavirus.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viteri and Nebot then focused on hunting the virus through door-to-door visits to thousands of homes every week, providing sanitation, disinfection, pest-control, food and medicines. Those presenting symptoms were given treatment and kept in quarantine at home; when a home was not adequate for quarantine, an ambulance took them to one of the newly outfitted hospitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People knew they would be in a good place, with good medical attention, good care, oxygen, food, and that they would not be cut off from their families,” says Viteri. A weekly survey of homes with sample-population testing helped identify hot spots and allowed the city to respond quickly to the area and cut-off any foothold the virus may be gaining. To ensure there were enough doctors and nurses, Viteri says “the city provided hotel rooms for health care workers brought in to supplement the hospitals, and for those who wanted to remain isolated from their families”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As streets that once thronged with life stood empty, fully equipped teams walked the cracked sidewalks daily with one tense purpose—to ensure that the virus had no place to hide. The city delivered more than one million food kits to help keep people at home. It hired some 200 women to sew masks to outfit those who could not afford one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the same time, the city launched a telemedicine platform for those who could not attend to their medical appointments because of Covid-19, and for those suffering stress and mental illness as well as for those with addiction problems. This service, run through the city website, allows the continued employment of doctors in risk categories and begins with a symptoms evaluation of callers to screen for Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city also embraced the use of SOSAFE, a citizen participation smart-city app, to establish a direct channel of communication with all levels of the municipality. From their phones, free of cost, citizens can contact city departments from telemedicine, health services, to trash pick-up, to police and fire services.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been no deaths for 36 days since May 10 as of the date of this interview. Though many early steps can be criticised, it was textbook crisis leadership. Viteri and her city, the civic leaders, the former mayor, the emergency committee, the doctors, the front-line workers, the brigades, and the people have together beat back the pandemic in Guayaquil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite that, its citizens are defeated, says Guayaquil-based sociologist Cesar Aizaga-Castro. “There is no optimism; there is conformism,”he says. As Guayaquil got infected and the authorities were not in a capacity to intervene in a direct manner, people felt they were without a government, without support, and lacking all the capacity to mount a fight, says Aizaga-Castro.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The media did not have accurate information, people suspected they were hiding information, he says. “Lack of hospitals, lack of the necessary equipment. In a matter of weeks, you could see bodies in the streets. People died and died,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>People realised there was total chaos, and at that time lost all confidence in the media, says Aizaga-Castro. “People did not follow the quarantine, they went out because they had to,” he says. “They lived of what they sold, their little businesses. The country did not have a structure of authority to handle the situation.” That is when the local government decided to take control, he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At first, city hall did not make the case for staying at home, says Aizaga-Castro. Soon, most people realised that everyone had a family member affected, that there was contamination in places like markets. “There were people who had someone sick at home but did not go out to seek help because they knew that going out meant being exposed and getting sick,” he says. “There was shock and great anguish because you knew your neighbours had died. We could see this happening, and wondered who could save us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many people went into hospitals and their relatives never even saw their bodies again. Parents were saying goodbye to their children, and telling them it would be ok if they were incinerated, says Aizaga-Castro. “You could see common graves, you looked up and could see vultures circling over the hospitals,” he says. “Guayaquil smelled of death.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Guayaquil attorney José Chiriboga-Hungría says the reaction of the national government was late, and that even the minister of health resigned during the height of the onslaught saying the government had not released sufficient money to face the pandemic. Facing the abyss, people even questioned Viteri’s Covid-19 infection, notes Chiriboga-Hungría. “People died in hospitals or in their homes, the bodies laid there for three to seven days without burial,” he says. “Cemeteries were not ready to receive so many dead. People chose to take their deceased relatives (out) to the streets to ward off the smells and contagion.” That is what the world saw on its TV screens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In hospitals, the bodies of the deceased rested in containers, some without identification…,” says Chiriboga-Hungría. “And, around this there was much corruption…where certain people charged the relatives of the deceased, to be able to help identify the bodies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the saddest thing was that due to restrictions, says Chiriboga-Hungría, “many Guayaquileños could not say goodbye to their loved ones; others, to this day, have not found their relatives’ bodies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why? Why? Why? Why?</b></p> <p>Por que? Por que? Por que? Por que? The mayor recognised the voice of her neighbour lamenting the death of a loved one. As she quarantined at home with her family, Viteri felt the grief pierce through her in a way that forms a knot in her throat even today. Death was everywhere. It was heartache that went on and on, she says. “It was confusion—a sea convulsing with more confusion,” says Viteri of her time at home in isolation. Asked to recall those moments, Viteri closes her eyes and visualises herself in the middle of waves as great as mountains that come from every direction—with every statistic, with every wail of an ambulance, with every death report. “And I am in one of those waves, and I need to—with my team, with the military, with the police, with all who help me—go and wrestle life from death,” says Viteri. And, she did that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Covid-19 had crushed the medical system, the funeral system, the morgues; in hospitals, people had to walk past wrapped bodies without even knowing who was inside, recounts the mayor. “Those were the worst days of my life,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city’s worst day was many days, adds Viteri. Guayaquil was a city in turmoil, its local government overwhelmed, a national government absent, people agitated, a hectic chaos in the street, public workers irate, exhausted resources, food scarce, general despair, and no clear way forward. “Suddenly, there was nothing certain and the population lost total confidence. The country did not have corresponding authorities to manage the situation,” says Aizaga-Castro.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is when Viteri stopped looking for help elsewhere and took charge. Structurally, she did not have all the authority, says Viteri. As dictated by the country’s constitution, the entirety of the health and sanitation systems come under the jurisdiction of the national government, leaving the city in charge of water, sewer, trash, transportation, markets and the like. But that would no longer matter. She would assume the responsibilities in front of her and take charge of rebuilding the collapsed health, funeral, morgue and cemetery systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Leadership and strategy</b></p> <p>With taking charge came clarity of purpose and Viteri boiled down her mission to two simple problems: save lives and feed the people. The strategy: coordination and discipline. Guayaquil was lucky it could rely on the emergency committee to generate strategies to reverse the crisis. The committee included Viteri, business titans, doctors, pharmaceutical executives, health professionals, farmers and members of civil society. If this was war, this would be the city’s counterattack.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Focused on her two-pronged war strategy, Viteri set out to marshal money and assistance, commandeering the yearly budgets of the city’s departments, including those for public works destined to commemorate the city’s 200th anniversary, and taking on responsibilities beyond her mayoral powers. To save lives, Viteri’s team began to look at death as one of three tactical areas: attending to the dead, epidemiologic control and attending to those alive. Each tactic engendered its own strategies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city moved to take care of the bodies in the streets and in homes. Viteri moved to address the shortage of funeral homes, morgues and cemeteries by securing freezer trucks outside hospitals, building cemeteries and contracting a company to pick up bodies. In its first week, it collected 500 bodies off the streets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To attack the pandemic, the city hired hundreds of doctors and medical personnel, spread them in satellite medical tents so that people would not have to go into the high-concentration areas of the city and risk infection. Viteri also set up free-of-cost birthing clinics so expectant mothers could give birth without fear of exposure. Then came what she considers the coup de grace—the deployment of medical teams going door-to-door to find the virus. This entails visits by special brigades to homes to evaluate early symptoms and get immediate attention to those in need so they would not worsen and arrive at the hospitals too late. “We are chasing the virus,” says Viteri. “Instead of it chasing us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To get this done required work on several parallel tracks. It began with outfitting 51 health centres, field hospitals, outreach tents in peripheral areas, hiring some 500 doctors, adding 25 ambulances, turning the convention centre into a hospital and finishing an abandoned construction project for a second hospital with 300 beds. When it was clear oxygen supply would be a problem, the city set up an oxygen-generating plant to supply piped-in oxygen to hospitals and to stem the speculation that had inflated the cost of an oxygen tank from $50 to $1,500.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While governments from Washington to Buenos Aires to La Paz were frantically purchasing ventilators, Guayaquil noticed that half of the patients on ventilators were dying, so they focused on treating people before they needed to be intubated. To that end, the effort focused on purchasing medicines for early-stage treatment and on keeping people off the streets to avoid infection. For the quarantine to work, Viteri wanted to make sure her people were fed. Ensuring food entailed a shortening the supply chain, cutting out middlemen and supplying neighbourhood stores directly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prevent. Treat. Avoid death. To build that wall of defence, the cornerstone would be quarantine. To prevent the strategy from collapsing upon itself, the emergency committee set out to address the social impact of staying home without an income.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Guayaquil re-engineered supply chains with substantial participation from the private sector. Cerveceria Nacional, the country’s largest brewery, led a group of other companies in the logistics battle. To stop price speculation, they began by supplying nearly 5,000 neighbourhood stores. Donations from farmers provided some 1.5 lakh fruit deliveries to the neediest neighbourhoods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eventually, in-home visits delivered one million food reserves, vitamins, supplements, even diapers, at the same time disinfecting, fumigating homes, leaving disinfecting kits, chlorine and some 1.4 lakh food kits to 5,000 families each week.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is an elaborate campaign to effectively chase the virus, and effective follow-up is necessary. Viteri describes the work with a statistical survey group that samples 1,600 homes across 17 districts of the city, identifying where the virus is so that efforts can be concentrated there to put down any spike. Teams are there the next week. Nobody is waiting to be surprised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is all built on a monumental effort that was mounted to outfit, retrofit, and supply all hospitals for the central government as well as all clinics, public and private. They were all stocked, free of charge, with a cocktail of drugs for early treatment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Medicine acquisition was undertaken by a team of the country’s top private sector leaders—pharmaceutical executives, buyers, importers, custom-clearing specialists—who fanned their efforts across Europe, Latin America and China. The team worked for free, says Nebo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Dos prioridades (two priorities),” repeated Viteri. “People did not want to go to public hospitals. They were afraid,” and with good reason, says Viteri. “They would go into the hospital and they would not come out, even when they died,” referring to the corruption that extended to making bodies “disappear” only to be found for a fee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People lived the tragedy in their own homes, only seeking help when they turned gravely ill, often too late,” says Viteri. “We changed the strategy, we went out to find them before, at early onset and intermediate stages to get them immediate treatment to avoid complications so they could be saved.” At the time of writing this story, they had assisted 1,02,573 patients who never went to a health centre, and there had been 36 days of zero deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“But our vigilance continues,” says the mayor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viteri’s arsenal relies on the telemedicine initiative so that people can keep up with non-Covid-19 related medical care while keeping them off the streets and providing doctors in vulnerable groups a way to continue to work while helping the war effort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the post-mortem as to how and why Guayaquil ended up as one of the hardest-hit cities in the world, the start of community spread is placed by experts on a March 4 soccer game for the Copa Libertadores that had about 20,000 spectators.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It resulted in massive contagion which led to the saturation of hospitals, institutions that collapsed and couldn’t handle the number who came for help; besides, they didn’t have enough equipment to fight the contagion,” says Chiriboga-Hungría. “The reaction of the national government was late.” He also calls out Viteri for a late response and controversial missteps early on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, the battle plan has succeeded, and there is one takeaway of global import: it is essential to control the element of surprise by surprising the virus in early stages. It is the one thing Viteri wishes she had known before all of this started.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What about the city’s 200th anniversary later this year? It will be marked with a memorial to the 10,000 dead, says Viteri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The city’s response to Covid-19 was not perfect. But during the battle there emerged a healthy respect for what the virus can do, and a steely willingness to do anything it takes to defeat it. The mayor is not declaring mission accomplished. Vigilance, she says. “Every day.” She says she will never stop.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Vigilance,” she says, again. “Unwavering.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She looks up.</p> Fri Jul 24 10:55:55 IST 2020 dragons-snare <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The long</b>,sweltering summer of 2019 will be etched in Hong Kong’s history for the city’s biggest political crisis in decades. Choked by billowing clouds of teargas, gridlocked traffic, scathing slogans and burning barricades, the streets in Hong Kong saw a face-off between two million protestors and the police for over six months.</p> <p>What started on June 9, 2019, as a peaceful mass protest against a now-revoked extradition bill has now evolved into a “fight for independence”. More than two decades after the end of the British colonial rule in Hong Kong, the Chinese government is all set to impose a new national security law in the city, essentially aimed at criminalising dissent.</p> <p>As of now, the details of the proposed law have not been made public, but Hong Kongers are getting anxious about losing civil liberties like freedom of expression and an independent judiciary. “It is clear that the manner in which Beijing is going about implementing this law—by going above the heads of Hong Kong’s duly elected legislature and imposing the law by fiat—is a serious blow to Hong Kong’s rule of law and autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ formula,” says Antony Dapiran, a lawyer and author, who has documented the city’s protest culture in his two books, <i>City of Protest </i>(2017) and <i>City on Fire </i>(2020).</p> <p>Originally from Australia, Dapiran has been living in Hong Kong for the last 20 years. He feels the biggest change in the city has been an increasing influence of China over everything—be it business, tourism, traffic or simply the number of Mandarin Chinese on the streets. “Everyone expected that the ‘two systems’ would converge into the ‘one country’ by 2047, when the 50-year guarantee of Hong Kong’s autonomy expires,” he says. “I think what has changed is how much more quickly than everyone expected that convergence is coming, and also that the ‘one country’ Hong Kong is converging with is looking less liberal and more authoritarian than at any time in the past 20 years.”</p> <p>Located at the crossroads of the east and the west, Hong Kong transformed into a truly global city with buzzing financial districts and cultural hotspots over the past five decades. Its special status under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy promised freedom of speech, independent financial institutions and a fully convertible currency. Since 1997, more than a million people from the mainland have moved to Hong Kong in search of a brighter future in a socially and politically liberated environment. However, China’s recent overreach and the growing insecurities of the locals have left a deep impact on the migrants in the city. “I moved here nine years ago because the city really excited me. It was more open, modern and inclusive than China. However, in recent years, I have been seeing tribalism and identity politics taking over the city’s inclusive spirit,” says Tracey Wong, an entrepreneur and wine writer. “Some of the restaurants in the city have stopped serving people like me who speak Mandarin. The agitation is getting extreme. Hong Kong was never promised independence, it was promised a high degree of autonomy. I think it is very clear that the government would preserve the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”</p> <p>The growing identity crisis and unrest among the youth in Hong Kong have been brewing for years now. It all started with some wealthy Chinese investing in the city’s real estate business in the 1990s, which propelled Hong Kong’s rise as a financial and trade centre. This drove up the cost of living for the educated, white collar professionals in the city and a struggle for jobs, housing and education soon ensued. According to Dapiran, there are clearly deep issues of identity tied up in the protest movement. “Beijing’s overreach tends to drive the anxieties which feed into making this identity even more entrenched,” he says.</p> <p>While Hong Kong has had a long tradition of peaceful marches, the newer generation is more confrontational in its approach. They are ready to clash with the police and even set universities on fire. “The 2019 protests had a number of hallmarks—one was the ‘leaderless’ nature of the protests and their ‘be water’ philosophy, which made the movement a very fluid, and very resilient, phenomenon,” explains Dapiran. “The second was the broad degree of community support, and the solidarity behind the ‘no splitting’ principle, which meant that people remained unified behind the movement as a whole, notwithstanding the more extreme nature of certain elements within the overall movement.”</p> <p>The most widespread expression of public anger with Beijing in recent years, last year’s protests have left a deep impact on the city. While the outbreak of Covid-19 paused the demonstrations for a few months, activists are now planning a full calendar of protests and mass movements. The police, too, is ready for a clampdown under the command of a new chief appointed by Beijing. Armed with water cannons and pepper sprays, anti-riot officers can be seen at most protest assemblies across the city. “Around 9,000 people have been arrested in the last one year, the youngest one being just 11. The government needs to intervene and stop police brutality. We will not forgive or forget these attacks,” says Daniel Chan, an activist who is majoring in music at one of the leading universities in Hong Kong. “The students are frustrated for various reasons. The government barred our leader, Joshua Wong, from running in the local district council elections last year. And now Beijing wants to force a new national security law upon us. This will be the end of Hong Kong. Our demands are very clear and the protests will go on,” he says.</p> <p>According to political observers, Beijing’s latest move to tighten its grip on Hong Kong should not come as a surprise. “China has been giving these signals for over five years now. The city’s chief executive has not been able to maintain the law and order situation as desired by the central government, so they are now coming up with the national security law,” says Thomas Abraham, adjunct professor at the University of Hong Kong and former editor, South China Morning Post.</p> <p>While Hong Kong’s campaign for democracy was always a long shot, China’s direct intervention is being seen as an attack on not just citizens’ rights, but also on their distinct identity. “China has never been able to reconcile Hong Kong to be Chinese and that is a major sore point. Ironically, it shows that the ‘two systems’ theory works. China’s dilemma now is how far these two systems will diverge and still be one country,” says Abraham. “When Hong Kong questions the national security law, China feels it is going beyond the ‘one country’ notion, whereas Hong Kong is well within its rights to protect its freedom. The next significant moment in the city will be when the university campuses reopen. The protests will get a new momentum then.”</p> <p>The political deadlock, months of civil unrest and the pandemic have ravaged Hong Kong’s economy. In the first quarter of this year, the city’s economy plunged 8.9 per cent year on year, the steepest quarterly drop in the past four decades. So far, the biggest strain has been felt by retailers, hotels and restaurants. “We cater to hotels and restaurants in the Kowloon and Hong Kong island region, which have been protest hubs. In terms of volume, our flagship brand, Les Jamelles, is a leading brand in Hong Kong,” says Olivier Hui-Bon-Hoa, regional director-Asia at winemakers Badet Clément. “Last year, in Q1, Q2 and Q3 we were at 12 per cent growth, but we closed the year at 7 per cent. We have not seen such a drop in the last 10 years,” he says.</p> <p>For Sonia Hamera, an Indian expat in Hong Kong, the idea of having ‘no democracy’ does seem scary. “Our business is mainly based out of China, and it has been difficult to keep operations smooth with the travel ban. The notion of one country, two systems is gradually fading,” says Hamera, who has been living in Hong Kong for over 20 years.</p> <p>The political upheaval in Hong Kong has left an indelible mark on the psyche of even those who are not directly connected to the protests. A heightened sense of helplessness and fear has torn the city’s social fabric. Many parents, for instance, have kicked out their children over political disagreements. “I work in a university, so I have been in touch with a lot of young people who are frontline protestors. I feel stressed and a bit hopeless about how Hong Kong can still continue to thrive. While the older generation understands the context of the Hong Kong-China relationship and has accepted the constraints, the youth wants to take charge and fight for freedom,” says Wills Li, a manager at one of the leading universities in the city.</p> <p>The protests in Hong Kong are unlikely to cease anytime soon. Many activists have pinned their hopes on the pressure being exerted by the US, but it has not undermined the strength of the Chinese government in any way. “Several years from now, it may look like our protests failed, but this last year has proved to be a touchstone that feeds the continuous demands for democracy,” says Chan. “It is a long game, and we will never surrender.”</p> <p><i><b>Some names have been changed to protect identities.&nbsp;</b></i></p> Thu Jun 18 15:03:03 IST 2020 the-rotten-tree <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is an avocado tree in my backyard that grows creamy, delicious fruit, but I suspect the roots are rotting. Some branches have hollowed out and when it storms, they crack and fall off. The leaves brown around the edges and sometimes the avocados are speckled and browning inside. Unless we can remove what is attacking its roots, it is just a matter of time before the whole tree dies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My country’s roots are rotten, too. Some have known this for a while. Some are just discovering this with protests over the on-camera police killing of George Floyd. And some have chosen to ignore the signs and continue eating avocados. Because they are what is causing our roots to rot, and if we do not get rid of the cause of this sickness called racism, the whole tree will die. This is 2020 in the United States of America.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The New World was only new to the Europeans who sailed into it accidently in the late 1400s. In what we now call North and South America, there were already millions of people living in sustainable, thriving societies. These “Indians” were not Christian or “civilised” to European eyes, which claimed the lands for the Catholic church and the resources of the land for the nobles, merchants and royal venture capitalists who funded their travel. This is when the roots began to rot….</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the native inhabitants rebelled, attacked settlers, escaped into the hinterlands or were massacred by guns, swords and Old World diseases like smallpox, the invaders realised they needed another workforce that was inexpensive and virile. They turned to Africa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The transatlantic slave trade began in 1502 and lasted until the 1860s, bringing 10 to 12 million African women, men and children to the Americas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Slavery thrived in the southern US. If you had dark skin, you were a slave. No wage was owed for your labour. You could be bought and sold. You had a value, like a goat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though most whites in the American south were also poor, their colour provided them status and merit that their financial conditions did not. If poor whites felt their colour made them part of the same “tribe” as the wealthy, then it would be in their interest to defend the race and the ruling class by keeping the black population in check.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1861, the United States went to war against itself. In a nation already divided by cultural and political differences, slavery was the catalyst, but not because it was cruel and inhuman. To the rapidly industrialising north, slave labour gave the agricultural south an unfair economic advantage. The promise of emancipation for close to four million slaves could mobilise blacks to side with the north. When the north won the war 1865, (with the help of many free black and escaped slave troops) Abraham Lincoln honoured the promise to free (most of) the slaves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From 1865 to 1877, the US’s boldest experiment in socialism saw the redistribution of 4,00,000 acres across several southern states, the election of free black men and former slaves to congress and local political positions, and burgeoning black communities with business owners, professionals and the inauguration of black colleges and universities. This was a problem for many southern whites who, in addition to losing the Confederacy, continued to be as poor as or poorer than the former black slaves. Segregation, a system based on skin colour and bloodline, had been in place in the south since slavery, but after the Civil War, it became law. The establishment of the Ku Klux Klan brought an end to the Reconstruction and the best chance for blacks to level the playing field after slavery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They don’t see us as human," wrote a friend last week in a WhatsApp group and I had to agree. When the American constitution was written, black slaves were counted as three-fifths of a human (for purposes of taxation and representation for their owners). We did not even become citizens until 1868. And while the law of the land has been updated, not everyone’s consciousness has.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The killing of George Floyd is tragic, but not a surprise for black Americans. What made Floyd’s killing a flash point, in my opinion, is that white Americans finally saw this incident for what it is, perhaps for the very first time. They saw a white police officer kill a human being just because he was black. A collective veil has started to lift and white Americans are realising that their privilege, perhaps taken for granted as a right, makes them complicit by association.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cities went up in flames around the US and the world has taken to the streets to protest for justice, in defiance of lockdowns, curfews and the very real threat of contamination from the coronavirus. Where I live in Brazil and throughout South America, where those who look more European also benefit from “white privilege”, black and indigenous people are standing in solidarity against police violence, too. Paradoxically, racial discrimination and polarisation at their apex are fuelling a global movement for unity, justice and equality, with more precision and fervour than any politician or religious leader could have whipped up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The global community must hold the USA accountable for its human rights abuses, much the same way that the US and her allies are quick to sanction other nations for similar abuses. From police brutality to cruel, inhumane mistreatment of immigrants, especially young children, the US must fear the consequences of such actions otherwise change may never arrive. It's not just Donald Trump, it's the established institutions of cruelty that must be demolished...ASAP,” said Nigerian humanist and activist Fatai Adewusi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some white people are turning to black and brown friends and apologising. Some are asking what they can do to help. Honestly, that is a conversation that most black people do not want to have. Racism is not something we created so we cannot fix it. But I will take it upon myself to offer some tips because I want you to figure out how to fix this, white America(s). So…</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us grieve and do not judge us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fortunately, most of the protests of police violence, around the world, have been peaceful. I do not justify violence and looting, but I do understand why it is happening. It is an outlet for the overwhelming anger, fear, hopelessness and frustration we are feeling and have been feeling for centuries. These feelings are ugly and messy under the best of circumstances and even more so when millions are feeling them together. It is like a cyclone. You do not blame it for the heavy rains and winds blowing through. You let it blow through. It will pass. And releasing the anger, which is also being done in positive and constructive ways, is part of the healing process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Talk to other white people. Honestly, talking to brown and black people is not going to help us or you. We cannot relate to what you are feeling. Our pain is different. You also will not be honest about how you feel if you are talking with us and what we need to change things is some raw honesty, even when it is hard to hear (or say).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take responsibility. The three police officers who did not have their knee on George Floyd’s neck are also held accountable. They saw what was happening and they did nothing to stop it. If you have benefited from white privilege or the privilege of being part of the ruling elite, you are complicit. Take responsibility for your actions or inaction and then educate yourself so that you can take action towards change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stop normalising whiteness. Being white is just one of many human experiences. How you see the world as a white person holds valid and true for you, but probably not for people of colour (most of the world).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do not speak for people of colour. It is time to listen. We have been ignored and silenced for far too long.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, the systems and institutions that uphold and perpetuate racism in the US and around the world must be dismantled. According to a 2019 Oxfam report, 26 billionaires hold 60 per cent of the world’s wealth. The great majority of this minuscule group are white men. Not only is this grossly unjust, it is unsustainable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, yes, black and brown people in the US and around the world are raging, are grieving and rightfully so. And when this cyclone has passed, we need to work together to rebuild our societies and institutions on foundations of equality where power is redefined and not used as a weapon to oppress and control. Housing, food and health care can no longer be commodities for profit and provided only to those who can pay for them. They must become basic human rights. We must redefine success by how we take care of each other and our environment, how we provide for our children and make sure we give them a better world than we were given, and by how happy and fulfilled each individual feels inside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, we must build a foundation from love, otherwise we are going to end up with a version of what we have now with just a change in the colour of the oppressors. I am not talking rainbows and lollipops, love. I am talking about the kind of love that Dr Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai and Mahatma Gandhi spoke about, to peacefully bring deep societal transformation and longstanding change. The rest, we are going to have to figure out on our own because, well... we are making a new world from the ashes of the old.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is an African American singer settled in Brazil.</b></p> Fri Jun 12 14:33:42 IST 2020 stronger-together <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IT HAS BEEN</b> called a pandemic within a pandemic. America has been hit by a double whammy—Covid-19, which has claimed over 1.10 lakh lives, and racism, the virus that has infected it for more than 400 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Racism in America goes back to the original sin of slavery, and in 2020, it has been perpetuated by the knee of a white police officer which was pressed against the neck of a fallen, unarmed, handcuffed black man. The knee stayed on the victim’s neck, while three other officers watched—for eight minutes and forty-six seconds—until the life oozed out of George Floyd, whose last words were, “I can’t breathe.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Racism is not new. The only difference now is that it is getting documented. This modern-day lynching was recorded by bystanders on their phone cameras, and the resultant horrific video became the proverbial match to a powder keg, shocking people of all colours and faiths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>George Floyd’s last words—“I can’t breathe”—have become the slogan of millions of protesters. For the past two weeks, people have come together to protest police brutality. The protests have spilled over to a 100 cities in all 50 states, even amid the pandemic. What has been noteworthy is the turnout across racial, gender and age barriers, and the support that has been ignited in many countries across the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question is, where do the Indian-Americans fit into this larger picture?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They themselves have been objects of racism, starting with discrimination against ‘Hindoos’ a hundred years ago to the immigration biases of the 1960s to the Dotbuster incidents in the 1980s to many other hate crimes even now. But all this fades in comparison with the systemic racism against black people for centuries. The country has failed them in social and economic equality, and criminal justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, was the head of the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration. Speaking at a virtual town hall organised by Indiaspora, a community organisation, she said, “Mr Floyd’s death really reopened wounds that expose the degree to which there are two justice systems, two kinds of sets of communities in this country. The history of police brutality against black people in particular is a long and storied one.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She felt that the current confluence of events was a turning point for the nation and there was a feeling that one cannot go back to normal. People are demanding more from their elected officials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Leadership Conference, which works on civil and human rights with over 220 organisations, has asked members of Congress for eight specific changes to address police violence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian Americans like Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Ro Khanna are leading the charge in getting critical legislation passed in Congress. There are several Indian Americans who lead non-profit organisations, which are coming together to address issues of racism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some young Indian Americans also have individual reasons for marching in protest. For Gurpreet Kaur, a professor in health sciences at California State University, the current situation brought up terrible childhood memories of 1984, when Sikhs were persecuted in India. “Being a Sikh, I feel it is my moral obligation to stand up against systemic racism, abuse of power and the extrajudicial killing of civilians,” she said. “As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Rajeev Sigamoney, chair of film at the Pacific Union College in Napa, California: “We were not brought over to this country unwillingly and subjugated to lifetimes of slavery and systemic oppression. The difference this makes psychologically and to our starting points is immense. Just because you arrived with $50 in your pocket, does not mean you did not arrive with plenty of privilege. We can never fully understand their struggle and life experience.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He and his wife, Brittnee, who is white, marched in the protests and have contributed to black organisations. As parents of a mixed-race child, they realise that the conversations have to start in childhood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, Indian-American activists owe a debt to the black community, said Theresa Thanjan, who works with the New York Immigration Coalition. “As South Asian immigrants were often targeted after 9/11, we turned to black leaders and they came through in dramatic fashion,” she said. “I am moved to act because of the desire to show solidarity and also work with BLM (Black Lives Matter) to make important institutional changes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The race dialogue has continued on social media among Indian Americans: Instagram went dark for a day with posts of black tiles in solidarity; Indians on social media have posted and spoken about the inequities, and arranged virtual panels and gatherings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But sometimes, it takes more than words. Rahul Dubey, a health care innovator in Washington DC, became an overnight hero when he opened up his home to 70-plus protesters who were being pursued by police in riot gear with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. He comforted and supported the protesters through the night, until the curfew ended in the wee hours of the morning. Yet, Dubey does not want to take credit. “I believe 95 per cent of the people I know would open that door,” he said. “The good has been set in motion. You will open the door now and you know that, and if you do not, you need to check yourself.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the incident, Dubey has been inundated with calls, letters and offers of help. He tells anyone who will listen, “We have the brain trust of desis and we have the capital that we are sitting on, and we have inner-city problems. Let us find their teams, and let us lend out our star desi people. Let us make it a two-way street. If there is any subculture and any demographic that should be collaborating, it is ours.”</p> <p><b>Melwani </b>is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</p> <p><a href=""><u></u></a></p> Fri Jun 12 14:29:02 IST 2020 no-control-actually <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For China, the unarmed skirmishes on the disputed border with India do not merit notice. The May 26-28 meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference ignored them. But the Ladakh confrontation is a muddled preoccupation of the Indian government with no clarity about what happened, how many People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops violated the 2005 Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the extent of territory illegally occupied by them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to former northern Army commander Lt Gen H.S. Panag, there is ingress by a brigade-sized PLA force in the Galwan River valley and in the Pangong Lake area, and occupation of some 60sqkm of Indian territory. If one adds the 640sqkm—which former foreign secretary Shyam Saran says India had lost up until 2013, and which may have doubled by now—the total territory ceded to China without a fight may exceed 1,300sqkm!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The astonishing thing is that these developments surprised the Indian government and the Indian Army. Why this should be so is a mystery, considering there was satellite imagery and that Chinese President Xi Jinping objected to the Indian infrastructure construction—never mind that it is a matching but less dense build-up on the Indian side—in his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Mamallapuram Summit on October 11 and 12, 2019. Of particular concern to China is the all-weather road connecting Daulat Beg Oldi and Durbuk with Depsang, inclusive of the bridge over the Shyok river, to ease the strain of maintaining the Indian military’s presence on the Siachen glacier. Delhi had six months to prepare for an adverse reaction and to pre-emptively establish forward Indian military posts in the areas the PLA has now advanced into before the summer patrolling season began in April. It should have moved some long-range artillery, even if with an inadequate supply of shells, to put down stakes and show intent. But beating China to the punch is not India’s forte.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The passive-reactive Indian government banks on diplomacy to restore the status quo ante that the Army, lacking the offensive will, wherewithal and endurance, is unable to deliver. This condition is a boon to the Xi regime, which can withdraw the PLA or not in this or that instance as it suits Beijing’s political purpose, while inexorably pushing the LAC India-wards. At each turn then, Delhi is presented with new territorial faits accomplis, reinforcing China’s policy of creeping annexation of Indian territory. The prerequisite for such policy is an undefined border. To keep it so, but to make it easier for Delhi to swallow the incremental territorial losses, Beijing promises more productive talks—the next round will be the 22nd in the series—between the special representatives to exchange maps and resolve the dispute. The Indian government will again fall for it, hail it as a great diplomatic achievement. The excitement will abate until next summer when evidence of new encroachments will trigger armed face-offs along the LAC, and this unvirtuous cycle will repeat itself until China realises all its claims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Karnad is emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and author, most recently, of Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition.</b></p> Fri Jun 12 14:19:44 IST 2020 virtual-turns-real <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Declassified documents from the British foreign office on the 1942 Moscow summit between British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin show that the breakthrough came in the wee hours of August 16. After hours of tortuous negotiations failed to bear fruit, Stalin invited Churchill to his apartment in the Kremlin to continue negotiations over dinner, which featured copious amounts of alcohol and food, including a suckling pig. Finally, at around 1am, Churchill summoned his permanent undersecretary, Sir Alexander Cadogan, and gave him the good news.</p> <p>In comparison, the virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, scheduled to be held on June 4, will be a staid affair, despite its historic nature. The summit will certainly be a success, but there will be no drinks, food or photographs, only a joint statement. The warmth in bilateral ties, however, will be felt across the digital divide. “Covid has brought about disruption in all aspects of life. Diplomacy is no exception,’’ says Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell, who digitally presented his credentials to President Ram Nath Kovind last month.</p> <p>Welcome to diplomacy 2020, where the rules of engagement have changed. The virtual has replaced the real. Diplomats have learnt to adapt to zero physical interaction to enhance cooperation and even to signal displeasure. India, for instance, issued a virtual demarche to Pakistan in April over the killing of civilians on the border. It involved a terse phone call to the Pakistani high commission, followed by an email. And, now, the MEA is all set to virtually host the Australian prime minister.</p> <p>“While this may be the first time we are hosting a virtual summit, engagement with world leaders over digital platforms is not new for us,’’ say MEA sources. “Our leadership has virtually connected with our partners across the globe in the past few weeks.”</p> <p>Between March 1 and May 11, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has had 52 conversations with foreign leaders over telephone or via videoconference. Modi, meanwhile, has held 42 such meetings. “Virtual diplomacy will be the new normal in post Covid times,’’ assert sources in the MEA. “We are fully prepared to use technology and innovative tools to ensure business as usual.’’</p> <p>Gopal Bagley, the Indian high commissioner to Sri Lanka, became the first Indian to present his credentials virtually. Syed Akbaruddin, one of India’s most illustrious permanent representatives to the United Nations, retired from service with a virtual namaste.</p> <p>Multilateral interactions, too, are happening virtually. From the extraordinary G20 summit held on March 26 to the World Health Assembly held on May 18 and 19, multilateral engagements have moved online. Diplomats have realised that prickly conversations and lobbying can happen without leaving the comforts of their seats and offices. The UN is looking at a virtual General Assembly meeting this year with pre-recorded speeches. India’s election to the non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council, which involves hectic lobbying, seems a certainty, with diplomats working the phones.</p> <p>“The digital [era] is also transforming the space for track-1.5 and track-2 diplomacy,’’ says Sanjay Pulipaka, who has co-authored a paper with Mohit Musaddi on digital diplomacy. “These initiatives have all moved online.” With digital platforms being more cost-effective and climate-sensitive, virtual engagement is likely to be the way forward. The decision to hold a digital summit with Australia has shown that concrete outcomes with like-minded countries do not always require in-person interaction.</p> <p>Pulipaka and Musaddi point out in their paper that digital diplomacy existed and thrived even before Covid-19. “Ever since the telephone found its way into diplomatic conversations, it has remained indispensable,’’ says the paper. US president George H.W. Bush made 35 calls in the first 10 days after Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. President Barack Obama went ahead with the now-dead nuclear deal with Iran following a telephone conversation with president Hassan Rouhani.</p> <p>Handling trickier relationships, however, will continue to be a challenge. “Virtual diplomacy works for normal, day-to-day affairs,’’ says retired diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar. “But where there are critical and vital issues, whether it is trade or security, you need to see the person and look him in the eye to make a judgment.’’</p> <p>Hard negotiations almost always happen behind closed doors, often with a little help. The Russians believe in vodka diplomacy, with the liquor helping in loosening tongues. The Chinese rely on their unending banquets. The Finns are proud of their saunas. Back in 1960, Finland’s president Urho Kekkonen men ded ties with the Soviet Union by hosting a birthday party for Nikita Khrushchev in a sauna. Indira Gandhi used to send Alphonso mangoes to the shah of Iran. Modi, too, has used gifts as a diplomatic tool. The shawl sent to Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s mother was a perfect gift in a less than perfect relationship.</p> <p>When diplomacy turns digital, such tools, however, may not be available, especially while dealing with challenging relationships. “It is certainly successful in the case of India and Australia where there is commonality of views,’’ says Harsh Pant of the Observer Research Foundation. “I am sceptical how effective it will be when there are divergent views, and diplomacy is really needed.’’ The 2018 Wuhan summit between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which helped bring down temperatures after the Doklam crisis, could not have taken place in a virtual format.</p> <p>Tough situations, even now, need old-fashioned diplomacy. As the Afghanistan situation seemed to be getting out of hand, US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad flew down to Qatar, India and Pakistan in early May to salvage the situation. While in Delhi, he suggested opening a channel of communication with the Taliban. Such a conversation could never have happened over a screen. But for now, digital diplomacy might just be the way countries engage with one another.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 04 18:28:17 IST 2020 cant-believe-china-wants-to-be-an-unreliable-partner <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="'Farrell_Barry.JPG" /> <p>Improving ties with Australia has been one of the key foreign policy priorities for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Within months of taking charge in 2014, he travelled to Australia, which was the first prime ministerial visit in 28 years. Six years later, Modi is holding a virtual summit with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on June 4. Morrison’s visit to India was delayed because of the Australian bushfire crisis and subsequently by Covid-19. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell says India and Australia have reached a historical high in bilateral relationship. “The virtual summit is a chance to reflect on that,” he says.&nbsp;<br> Excerpts:&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Q/India and Australia have come closer militarily. How do you see this space evolve, especially after the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement is in place?</b><br> </p> <p>A /The India-Australia defence relationship is overlooked sometimes. In the past few years, we have seen the number of defence engagements quadrupling. We have AUSINDEX, which is Australia’s largest and most complex [defence exercise] with India. I think it is going in the right direction.</p> <p><b>Q/Faced with the threat of Covid-19, how do you assess the potential of economic ties between the two countries? Is the door to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) still open?</b></p> <p>A /The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of resilient supply chains. The Indian government is looking to encourage more common investment, with many companies seeking to diversify their production bases to make sure they are not crippled by being caught in one country in the midst of a crisis. There are natural commonalities between India and Australia. There is potential in education, energy resources, biotech, advanced manufacturing, health, water and agricultural services. The door remains open for India to join the RCEP. But that decision is to be made by India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Australia has demanded an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.</b></p> <p>A /The call for an independent review came from the conviction of the global community to know how we got Covid-19 and as an attempt to improve international institutional response to future pandemics. We welcomed the resolution of the World Health Assembly, committing to an impartial, independent and comprehensive review, supported by 138 member states, including India. Australia shares an economic and strategic partnership with China. But our decisions are guided by common sense and national interest. I am not unmindful of the issues that India is facing on its borders in the north. But those are for India to resolve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Your views on an increasingly&nbsp;assertive China?</b></p> <p>A /I find it hard to believe that China wants to be seen as a less than reliable trading partner. Many countries including Australia and India have engaged in trade with China for a long time. We have seen actions that have been characterised in particular ways. But in the long-term, it makes no sense for any country to get the reputation of being unreliable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Australia has been quite passionate about the India-US-Japan-Australia Quad.</b></p> <p>A /The Quad is developing as a good forum for like-minded democracies to coordinate approaches towards important issues such as maritime security, cybersecurity and counterterrorism. Those issues are real today. We share a commitment and responsibility for maintaining a secure and stable Indo-Pacific region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The dates for the Indian cricket team’s Australian tour have been announced.</b></p> <p>A /Cricket is the shared passion of both countries. The series will lift spirits as we keep fighting this terrible virus. It can assist in repairing mental health and morale in both countries.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 04 18:23:29 IST 2020 locked-and-loaded <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On September 16, 2019, the Indian Army’s Northern Command tweeted photos of its chief, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, sitting atop a T-90 tank and watching the “integrated exercise of all arms” in “super high altitude area” in Pangong, Ladakh. To most people, it appeared to be another ‘PR photo’.</p> <p>It was not. The photo changed the military-tactical picture of Ladakh, literally! It announced to the world that India was now capable of deploying tanks on the mountains of Ladakh.</p> <p>Ladakh and thereabouts on the Himalayas had always been infantry country. Tankmen have rarely ventured onto the mountains. In the 1947-48 war with Pakistan, the dashing General Thimayya took a few across the Zoji La; tanks were tried to be put to battle in 1962; and a pilot programme to deploy them in Ladakh in the 1990s was given up.</p> <p>Ladakh, thus, had always been the foot soldier’s domain. On the other hand, the Indian Army knew that the Chinese could bring tanks and artillery down the Lhasa-Xinjiang G219 Highway and drive them down the newly-built subroads towards several parts of Ladakh, especially in Chushul and Demchok. In other words, the Chinese had the armour advantage. India had been hamstrung by the fact that its undeveloped roads could not take tanks and most of the rivers on its side were unbridged.</p> <p>The situation had been changing since the mid-2000s when India launched a building spree of roads and bridges near the borders. Several landing grounds were prepared during the second Manmohan Singh government and the old airfield at Daulat Beg Oldi was upgraded to take military transport planes. The Narendra Modi government followed up the building projects. By 2015-16, the Army found it could actually deploy tanks and sustain armoured operations. A slow induction of tanks commenced since then.</p> <p>The tactical picture changed officially last September when it was announced to the world with the photo. “We have been inducting tanks for some time, but if we have displayed them in exercise, that means we have them in regiment strength now,” said an intelligence analyst. “We now have the capability to even take an aggressive posture, if we want.”</p> <p>Apparently, it was the completion of a bridge over the Shyok River on the 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road that has now emboldened India to announce the ‘arrival’ of tanks. “We can now supply and sustain armoured operation there,” said the analyst. “Our guess is that this has provoked the Chinese now; they are now objecting to several of our bridge- and road-building activities.”</p> <p>The September exercise also saw huge C-130J transport planes unloading troops and heavy equipment, paratroopers jumping from Mi-17 helicopters, foot soldiers being carried swiftly across the plateaus in armoured vehicles, and Heron UAVs flying around. Clearly, with India’s capability to deploy tanks in strength, the battle order in Ladakh is changing.</p> <p>Indeed, the Chinese were also watching. In February, the People’s Liberation Army carried out an even larger exercise in Tibet, where it deployed and displayed Type 15 tanks, the brand new T-96 tanks and the 55mm vehicle-mounted howitzers. China also made it known that it had developed a wheeled light infantry fighting vehicle and a new light tank that could be used in mountain warfare.</p> <p>China had also been augmenting its air war machine in Tibet for the past decade and a half. Airports and airfields in Shigatse, Nyingchi and Lhasa have been upgraded, and there have been increased fighter flying over Tibetan skies. Satellite photos have also revealed early-warning planes parked in Lhasa, apart from fighter aircraft and troop-carrying helicopters, and also a new runway being built in Shigatse airport, apparently for UAVs. During a discussion held at the Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation on the growing capabilities of the Chinese air force in Tibet, former Indian Air Force chief B.S. Dhanoa said that over the past few years, there had been a significant induction of aircraft and aircrew into the Tibet Autonomous Region from other military regions. The deployment of Sukhoi-27, J-11 and J-10 fleets for continuous operation during winter months afforded the Chinese credible year round capability. Earlier, they only used to occupy the airfields during the summers.</p> <p>China has 14 airbases in the Lanzhou and Chengdu regions, which are opposite Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. In April, a large area was developed parallel to the runway at the Ngari Gunsa dual-use airbase, where a detachment of Flankers has been deployed since May. The fighters were first seen in the area last December.</p> <p>AirLand battle scenarios involving land and air forces have been tested since mid-2015 with more than 1,40,000 troops. Exercises were going on in Tibet even during mid-2017, when the Doklam crisis was unfolding. The PLA had then claimed that the exercise “effectively tested the brigade’s joint strike capabilities on plateaus”, and at 16,400 feet.</p> <p>In short, both armies have been upgrading their fighting capabilities for more than a decade now, and are now more or less evenly matched. “It is this parity that the Chinese want to remove; so they are asking us to stop building certain bridges and roads,” said the analyst.</p> <p>But the Indian side seems to be determined this time. Unlike in the case of Doklam three years ago, when India had refrained from making any official statements, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh admitted that PLA soldiers had “come a little further than they used to earlier” in eastern Ladakh, making the “situation different” from earlier face-offs. He said Chinese troops were present in sizeable numbers. Unconfirmed estimates say between 3,000 and 5,000 troops have been deployed partly in the disputed stretches and otherwise close to the line of actual control in the Galwan valley, the northern bank of Pangong Lake and Demchok. All eyes are on the military talk between corps commanders on June 6.</p> <p>In the Galwan valley, which is looked after by India’s 81 and 114 infantry brigades under the 3 Mountain Division, a few Chinese troops have come deep inside and pitched tents while their buddies are building roads to supply them. Intelligence reports suggest that the insertions took place on May 5 in Galwan, on May 9 in Naku La (northern Sikkim), on May 12 and 13 near Pangong Lake. Satellites have since picked up pictures of the Chinese moving towed artillery, trucks and infantry combat vehicles to a few kilometres behind the LAC near the Hot Springs and Gogra. The PLA is estimated to have 2,00,000 to 2,30,000 troops under its western theatre command which envelops Tibet and Xinjiang military districts.</p> <p>The problem, in case of a flare-up, may not be of numbers, but of command coordination. India still has four corps deployed against China—one in Ladakh, one in Sikkim and two in Arunachal Pradesh. “We definitely have greater numbers on the LAC,” said Lieutenant General (retd) D.S. Hooda, former northern Army commander. “We match up their strength and our total deployment on LAC is greater than the Chinese. Having said that, we must acknowledge that our infrastructure still does not match the Chinese who have roads coming right up to the LAC.”</p> <p>If the current border standoff flares up, all the operational decisions on the Chinese side will be taken by General Zhao Zongqi who, sitting in Chengdu, commands all the forces, including the squadrons of fighter jets, in China’s western theatre. He will decide the scale of operations, which units to be employed in what formation, how much force to be employed, where to strike other than in Ladakh, and where to hold territory. Under him, he has General Xu Yong, who commands the Tibet military district which is directly under the PLA, unlike other regions which are controlled politically by the Central Military Commission. This meant that operations in Ladakh, in Sikkim or in Arunachal can be synchronised under one command under Zhao, giving him a formidable advantage. There is no such one field commander on the Indian side. Matching wits and clashing arms with Zhao and Xu will be six three-star officers sitting hundreds of miles from one another—the northern Army commander at Udhampur, the central Army commander in Lucknow, the eastern commander in Kolkata, the western air commander in Delhi, the central air commander in Allahabad and the eastern air commander in Shillong. These six gentlemen will have to decide on the operations, coordinated, of course, by the directorate-general in Delhi.</p> <p>The Chinese have also reorganised their field formations into mobile brigades, whereas India continues with the World War II style corps-division-brigade system. ‘’The brigadisation of the PLA is another advantage which makes the actions of the Chinese army more flexible and responsive to new and complicated situations,’’ said French-born author, historian and China watcher Claude Arpi. India is also following suit, but again slowly. The 65-year-old General Zhao is one of the few commanders who had taken part in China’s Vietnam war of the late 1970s (the last time the PLA fired shots in anger), and is reported to be quite close to President Xi Jinping. Having served in Tibet for nearly 20 years, he knows the Indian frontier like the back of his hand.</p> <p>There are reports that Zhao may finally be retiring, or elevated to the Central Military Commission. Arpi pointed to reports coming from China that a newly promoted Lieutenant General Xu Qiling has taken over as the new commander of western threatre ground forces. A report of the Chinese western Army’s official WeChat account on May 29 had said that a meeting of the command’s standing committee was convened “to convey the spirit of learning of the third meeting of the 13th National People’s Congress”. Xu Qiling delivered the report at the meeting, which was presided over by the army political commissar Xu Deqing.</p> <p>Xu Qiling, too, is an experienced hand at joint theatre management. As a major general, he had served as the deputy commander in the central theatre. Later, he served as the commander of the 79th Army in the northern theatre. In January 2019, he became deputy commander of the eastern theatre, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in December.</p> <p><b>—with R. Prasannan</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 04 16:53:33 IST 2020 what-happened-to-us-can-happen-to-you <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/How do you see the growing aggression by China along the LAC?</b></p> <p>A /China has traditionally maintained that Tibet is the palm, and Bhutan, Nepal, Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Sikkim are its five fingers. Once they took over Tibet, they had an upper hand in terms of imposing their expansionist policy. Ladakh is the latest addition to China’s expansionist policy. Tibetans were its first-hand victim and we have been warning the world ever since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/The People’s Liberation Army can use Tibet to gain access into Indian territory. Your comments.</b></p> <p>A /If we look at history, India never shared a border with China, but it has always shared a border with Tibet. During that period, Indo-Tibetan border was never an issue. In fact, Tibet acted as a buffer zone between India and China, which is now no longer the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/In the event of increased Chinese assault on India, what role can the Central Tibetan Administration play?</b></p> <p>A /We stand with India on ahimsa. The CTA and voice of the Tibetan people have been at the forefront when it came to confronting China. We seek China to follow international norms, basic human rights and non-violence. We have been alerting all the neighbouring countries, including India, that what happened to Tibet could happen to you.</p> <p><b>Q/Do you think India should support the Dalai Lama even more?</b></p> <p>A /India has been a gracious host to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and is the second home for Tibetans. In fact, no country has done more for the Tibetans than India and its people [have] and we are extremely grateful [for that].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/There is growing clamour about boycotting Chinese goods and products after the pandemic.</b></p> <p>A /This campaign has been going on for decades. Its success depends on whether citizens consider national interests over individual interests or entertainment. For me, whether the public buys Chinese goods is secondary, because they will buy if things are cheaper. If India can make better and cheaper goods then people will buy Indian products.</p> <p>People and celebrities should be informed on China’s strategic interests in Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Bhutan and Nepal, and critically assess China’s increased aggression at the border in recent years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you see India’s reassertion of Aksai Chin in the new political map released in November 2019, post abrogation of Article 370?</b></p> <p>A /[The] Aksai Chin problem began after the occupation of Tibet and Xinjiang. Till Tibet is resolved peacefully, such assertion will continue.</p> Thu Jun 04 16:46:15 IST 2020 race-of-death <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Bats did not bring Covid-19 to Brazil, the deadly virus came through the noses, lungs and throats of revellers eager for the Carnival. It was carried by upper-class Brazilians who had the means to escape to Milan, Aspen or Rome during the world’s biggest street festival. The arrival of the virus was not a surprise as we watched the news from Wuhan and YouTube videos of abandoned Italian streets, wondering if local governments would cancel the Carnival this year. They did not, and this country of 211 million saw more than 27 million people, from across Brazil and the world, take to its packed streets for seven days. And that is how Brazil, now projected to be the epicentre of the pandemic, became our collective nightmare. Added to the challenges every country is facing with lockdowns, illness, death and economic collapse, Covid-19 has thrown us off a cliff and into the chasm that is Brazil’s great social, economic and racial divide—our peculiar brand of tropical apartheid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am not Brazilian. I am an African American singer who fell in love with this amazing country and moved here two decades ago. I live in what many refer to as “Black Rome”, the city of Salvador in the state of Bahia. Brazil received 40 per cent of all Africans who were enslaved and shipped as cargo to North America, the Caribbean and South America to provide the free labour that created great wealth for European merchants and nobles. This, unfortunately, is the story of the whole “New World”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Brazil’s first capital, Salvador and the surrounding rich farmland received huge numbers of enslaved Africans. Today, their descendants make up roughly 82 per cent of the city’s population, while the national average is 56 per cent. Most of them live in poverty, and they are seeing the highest mortality rates. Covid-19 has no racial or economic divide. There is simply the opportunity for transmission and infection in the midst of poverty, malnutrition, dense population and lack of sanitation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of May 11, the Brazilian ministry of health has reported 1,62,699 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 10,627 deaths. But researchers say the actual numbers will be 12-15 times higher. The Brazilian public health system has 2.62 beds for every one lakh inhabitants. Most of the beds are in the big cities, leaving the countryside at a big risk. Last week saw a 22 per cent increase in deaths and if the numbers continue to rise, the pandemic will break the national health care system, which is used mostly by poor Brazilians. “As the virus spreads to the outlying, poorer regions, the death rate will be much higher because it is going to join other epidemics like dengue fever and chikungunya and conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and malnutrition. Putting all these together, you can see the situation of the poor, black population,” says Silvio Humberto, city councilman in Salvador, and professor of economics at the State University of Feira de Santana. “Covid-19 has come to make a grave situation of social vulnerability worse. The city of Salvador is cited in poetry and prose for its enchantment and physical beauty. But the pandemic has come to show us that Salvador has gained the title, not of the city of music, but of the city of the poor.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Slavery in Brazil lasted from the 1530s till May 14, 1888. But after their emancipation, the victims of slavery were left to fend for themselves by doing precarious, informal work, such as sharecropping or hard labour. At the same time, European immigrants were offered land and free passage in exchange for agricultural work. The result is that the south and southeast of Brazil, where the European immigrants settled, became more white, accumulating and distributing more wealth, while the north and northeast continued to be locked in a slavocracy with most of the land owned and controlled by descendants of the beneficiaries of the Portuguese land grants who maintained the racial, class and economic disparities of slavery. Humberto says the virus has only revealed the tip of the iceberg. “We had poverty, informal labour and people scraping for a living doing whatever they could in the streets, doing their hustle. Families sustained themselves this way. Now the streets are closed off,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Doranei Alves, an Afro-Brazilian social worker who lives in Salvador’s São Caetano neighbourhood, says the situation is dire. “There is a huge street fair where everything—from shoes to tea and natural herbs to fruits—is sold. Imagine what is happening to the people who make their living from this. This money pays for their food each day. With the pandemic, everything has stopped. The media says ‘stay home and use a mask’. But people need to eat. Money from the government is taking a long time to come. Many people have not gotten it yet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a musician who is out of work because of the lockdown, I am not rich by any means. But the fact that I can stay home, alone, and live on money I have saved means that I am privileged. In many communities, people are weighing the risk of getting infected against the need to feed their children. “People cannot afford to stay at home anymore,” says Alves. “They have returned to street fairs and have started selling their products again. This reveals how much inequality is there in Brazil. Mothers go crazy when there is no food for their children.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The combination of financial, mental and emotional stress has led to increased domestic violence and also defiance that contributes to the spread of the virus. “Women are going crazy because of domestic violence. This affects children and their development,” says Alves. “Many old people are at home alone. Family members used to visit them every day and now they cannot visit. Physical contact is very important. It is hard when you are deprived of it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the fear of getting sick has forced many people to comply with the norms of social distancing, others are rebelling, following the example of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. “There is a group that defends the president and the majority of them are men,” says Alves. “They are using the president as an example and are going against the recommendations. These men are going to play football, even though they know that they are putting their families at risk. They are going to bars. They are trying to show defiance through their actions. The fight against the virus is also an ideological and political fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro, however, insists that Covid-19 is just a cold and says Brazilians could “swim in excrement and still emerge unscathed”. He says his priority is the Brazilian economy, not Brazilian lives. He questions scientists who oppose his opinions, rails at the press coverage of the pandemic and refuses to wear a mask even at rallies where he shakes hands and hugs his supporters. He even planned a big barbecue at the presidential palace on the day when deaths from the pandemic crossed 10,000 in Brazil. It was cancelled finally following widespread protests and the threat of a lawsuit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Bolsonaro, the pandemic has provided a convenient cover for rolling back land rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-Brazilian quilombos—homesteads where descendants of escaped slaves and indigenous people have lived for hundreds of years. Decree MP910 signed by Bolsanaro is before the Congress, and once approved, it will allow loggers, wildcat miners and farmers to lay claim to protected land reserves in the Amazon, traditionally inhabited by indigenous Brazilians. It has emboldened them to invade land and kill indigenous leaders even as they spread Covid-19 among indigenous people with no immunity or access to hospitals. Ivaneida Bandeira of the NGO Kanindé says the pandemic is being used as a cover by the president and corporations involved in agro-business, logging and mining.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humberto, however, sees an opportunity for change in the ongoing crisis. “With so much uncertainty, we have an opportunity to stir things up,” he says. “We have a non-government. The president goes against science, against the 10,000 deaths. While our country is mourning, the president is jet skiing. This shows how insensitive, ignorant and incompetent the president is. He does not resolve problems, but creates crisis on top of crisis. But the light in this crisis is the empowerment that solidarity has brought to the Afro-Brazilian communities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humberto says there have been numerous examples of solidarity and brotherhood across the country. “The pope was right, there is no salvation individually. Salvation has to be collective and we have to be very careful about returning to the so-called ‘normal’ like it was before,” he says. “We need change, not just in the economy, which has been turned on its head. The economy cannot be the be-all and end-all. It should serve society. We have to be liberated from this hegemony of financial capital. It is going to be difficult, but we cannot keep having money generating more money to the detriment of everything, of the people. The people need to be the beginning, the middle and the end.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The newfound solidarity has given hope to millions. Marcia Marciel, a social worker from the neighbourhood of São João do Cabrito, says volunteers in the neighbourhood have decided to create a chain of solidarity. “The solidarity has multiplied,” says Marciel. “I hope that this chain will continue to remain even when this is over.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alves says there was solidarity when he was growing up. “It is still present, even though today capitalism separates people and encourages individualism. But still, if you need some flour, it is your neighbour who will help you”, she says. “As the wheels of the government turn slowly in response to the pandemic, community organisations are providing for the residents using their own resources and money donated from friends, colleagues and others who feel that we have a shared responsibility to provide for those in need.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Humberto believes it is going to be a new beginning. “This is not just about Covid,” he says. “It is a vision of an African Utopia, an evolution and a new view.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is an African American singer settled in Brazil.</b></p> Thu May 14 17:37:01 IST 2020 far-right-far-wrong <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Covid-19 cases in Brazil are growing at an alarming rate, with the number of deaths crossing 11,000 as on May 10. But for President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, it is all a big joke. “My name is Messiah. But I cannot work miracles,” he said. Hearing about the mounting death toll, he responded with supreme indifference, “So what? What do you want me to do?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In most countries, presidents and prime ministers visit hospitals to comfort victims and support the medical staff. But not Bolsonaro. He was recently seen at a shooting range, grinning at the cameras in front of a bullet-riddled target, saying, “Pretty good, eh?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brazil faces a shortage of ventilators, masks and other essential items. But it hardly bothers Bolsonaro. He is more worried about the shortage of guns in Brazil. When governors are scrambling to get ventilators, Bolsonaro wants to see more guns. Last month, he shut down a military project that sought to use blockchain technology to track guns and other weapons. The public prosecutor’s office is investigating the constitutionality of this move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While presidents of other countries are meeting scientists and doctors for advice on dealing with the virus, Bolsonaro had an unusual guest on May 4. He received at the presidential palace Lieutenant Colonel (retd) Sebastião Curió Rodrigues de Moura, a notorious assassin who killed several left-wing guerrillas in the Araguaia region when Brazil was under military dictatorship (1964-1985).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Covid-19 infections grow exponentially, mass graves are being dug in cities like Manaus, where a large number of indigenous people have lost their lives. The mayor of Manaus was in tears describing the acute shortage of coffins, medicines and equipment. Unable to get Bolsonaro’s attention, indigenous leaders have approached the World Health Organisation and even climate activist Greta Thunberg. Millions of poor, mostly Afro-Brazilians, live in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo without adequate water and sanitation facilities. Even the drug-trafficking gangs have started helping them, but not Bolsonaro. The president has ignored WHO advice on Covid-19, but has targeted the world body, saying it promotes masturbation and homosexuality among children.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The president has not been supportive of officials who have been working hard to tackle the pandemic. He has sparked protests by sacking his popular health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, after repeated clashes over handling of the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a study by the University of São Paulo, Brazil may already have the most number of Covid-19 cases in the world. But testing is minimal in the country due to the lack of federal government support. Bolsonaro continues to downplay Covid-19, calling it a “simple cold” and a “fantasy” and “hysteria” promoted by the media to weaken his government. Such talk clearly misleads and confuses the general population. He criticises the lockdown imposed by state and municipal authorities and calls social distancing measures imposed by governors and mayors as “crime”. He goes around shaking hands and taking selfies with his supporters at rallies organised by his sons and allies. He wants to resume football games, arguing that players are less likely to die from Covid-19 because of their supreme physical fitness. Bolsanaro once said, “Brazilians could swim in excrement and still emerge unscathed”. He even launched a #BrazilCannotStop campaign which asked people to get back to work and normal life. The move was banned by a federal judge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At least 20 officials of the Bolsanaro administration, including national communications chief Fabio Wajngarten and National Security Minister Augusto Heleno, have tested positive for Covid-19, but the president scoffs at preventive measures. On May 8, Bolsanaro said he would celebrate the weekend with a barbecue at the presidential palace. But a day later, after facing widespread criticism and being threatened with a lawsuit, he called the news about the barbecue fake, blamed journalists, and was seen riding a jet ski on Lake Paranoá. He stopped to chat with a group of people who were barbecuing on a speedboat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro attacks journalists day in and day out, often using the language of street thugs. Following his cue, his supporters have even physically attacked journalists at the president’s rallies. Bolsanaro and his sons spread fake news on social media, forcing Facebook and Twitter to remove some of their posts. The prosecutors are investigating fake news campaigns of the Bolsonaros.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The president does not even spare the Congress and the judiciary. He routinely incites his followers to shout slogans in favour of military dictatorship. The attorney general is investigating one such case of sloganeering outside the army headquarters when Bolsonaro was present. The defence ministry issued a statement on May 4 saying the armed forces were dedicated to their constitutional mission and democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Bolsonaro, protecting and promoting his family comes first. He recently fired the chief of the federal police and appointed a family friend in his place to scupper ongoing criminal investigations against his sons and allies for murder, money laundering and disinformation campaigns on social media. Justice minister Sérgio Moro resigned recently after publicly accusing the president of criminal obstruction of justice. The supreme court subsequently vetoed the appointment of the new police chief and ordered an investigation on the basis of Moro’s charges. The president has now proposed another family friend to the post. The association of the members of the federal police has written to Bolsonaro to “keep the constitutionally-required distance” and not interfere in the day-to-day work of the police to maintain objectivity and public confidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, Bolsonaro had tried to make his third son, Eduardo, Brazil’s ambassador to the US, saying ‘Eduardo and President Donald Trump’s sons are friends’. But Eduardo had to withdraw his candidacy following widespread protests against such blatant nepotism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides polarising the country with his hate-speech, the Bolsonaro clan continues to burn bridges with the world. He had insulted the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron and made disparaging remarks against President Alberto Fernández of Argentina, Brazil’s neighbour and most important regional partner. He had provoked China, Brazil’s top export destination, by visiting Taiwan during his presidential campaign. Sino-Brazilian relations deteriorated further after Eduardo criticised the absence of democracy and transparency in China and also its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Chinese embassy in Brasilia made a scathing counterattack, saying the president’s son had contracted a “mental virus” while he was in the United States. “Sadly, you are a person without any international vision or common sense. We suggest you don’t rush to become the US spokesman in Brazil,” said a statement by the embassy. The sharp reaction prompted some state governors and exporters to apologise to the Chinese ambassador, especially as they have been hoping to procure masks, protective gear and ventilators from China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bolsonaro’s ministers, however, are competing with each other to impress the boss with their own incendiary statements. Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo wrote that Covid-19 “could be a global project to transform the world into a concentration camp and impose communism via the ‘comunavirus’”. Education Minister Abraham Weintraub tweeted that the pandemic would serve Chinese interests. In his tweet in Portuguese, he substituted the letter ‘r’ in ‘Brazil’ with ‘L’ so that it read ‘BLazil’, a style used to mock Chinese accents. The Chinese ambassador called Weintraub a racist and the supreme court has ordered an investigation into the minister’s action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Critics fear that the Bolsonaro administration has managed to undo in less than 16 months the excellent work done by Brazilian diplomats over the past two decades. Bolsanaro has shocked the world with his bigotry on several issues, including global environmental concerns. Brazil today stands completely isolated on the issue in sharp contrast with the leading role it played during President Lula’s time. On April 20, Brazil voted against a UN General Assembly resolution co-sponsored by 179 countries seeking global access to medicines and vaccines to tackle Covid-19. It was ironic as Brazil had in the past successfully led developing countries in their fight for affordable HIV/AIDS medicines, even breaking a few international patents in the process. Marking a complete turnaround in its foreign policy, Brazil recently voted against a pro-Palestine resolution in the UN, further alienating several countries in the developing world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only bridge Bolsonaro has built so far is with Trump, his role model. But this is temporary and unsustainable. Although Bolsanaro wants total alignment of Brazil’s foreign policy with that of Trump’s, he has been restrained by his own foreign office and military. For instance, his decision to shift the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has not been implemented.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most people voted for Bolsonaro in 2018, in a clear verdict against the corruption scandals involving the Workers Party and other mainstream political parties and leaders. There was a massive anti-incumbency wave across Brazil, which benefited Bolsonaro. But many of those who voted for him regret their decision now. People are horrified to see his inhuman approach towards the pandemic. People had hoped that the power and prestige as president might make him moderate and pragmatic. They are disillusioned to see that he has become worse and even incites anti-democratic attacks from the presidential palace. Millions are now protesting, banging pots and pans and yelling “Bolsonaro out” whenever the president comes on television. They are afraid that the longer Bolsonaro continues as president, the worse it will be for the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sensible politicians, businessmen, civil society leaders and professionals consider Bolsonaro more toxic than Covid-19. The president does not have the support of any major political party. He has moved from one fringe party to another eight times so far. During his presidential campaign he was with the Social Liberal Party. He quit last November over a dispute on the control of campaign funds and launched his own party called the Alliance for Brazil with himself as president and his eldest son Flavio as vice president. But it does not have any other recognisable leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has already received at least two dozen impeachment petitions against Bolsanaro. It had impeached president Dilma Rouseff in 2016 for budget manipulation. It was nothing compared with the charges being levelled against Bolsonaro. However, he enjoys the support of the bible, bullet and beef lobby comprising evangelicals, rich landlords and the cattle and meat industry, which uses him to advance their own partisan agenda. Some other legislators are willing to support him thinking that this is the best time to bargain for favours and pork barrel (appropriations made for projects that are not essential but are sought because they pump money and resources locally).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso cautioned that Bolsonaro’s authoritarian impulses could lead to the return of the military dictatorship. Rodrigo Maia, president of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, tweeted, “The whole world is united in the fight against the coronavirus. In Brazil, we have to fight against the coronavirus and the virus of authoritarianism.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is a retired diplomat with extensive experience in Latin America.</b></p> Thu May 14 17:28:09 IST 2020 states-of-despair <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A few months ago, Covid-19 was a distant threat for the United States, but the country now leads the world in terms of deaths and live infections, with New York City being the epicentre of the pandemic. The once glittering ‘centre of the universe’ is now largely deserted, with the silence broken only by ambulance sirens. As of April 29, the US has recorded 59,266 deaths, with the state of New York reporting 23,144 deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most Americans remain locked down, listening to the conflicting and worrisome news coming out of the Trump White House and wondering what’s next. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been the voice of calm and reason as Americans embrace social distancing and masks, and adopt a new normal for quarantined school and work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian Americans are a prominent presence in the tri-state area comprising New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Many members of the community have been affected by the pandemic and some, like the well-loved chef Floyd Cardoz, have lost their lives. But members of the community, including physicians, nurses and health care workers and a large number of essential workers employed in restaurants, grocery stores and small businesses, are also active in the fight back against Covid-19. Seema Verma, who heads the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is a member of President Donald Trump’s task force to tackle the pandemic. Other prominent Indian Americans engaged in the endeavour include former US surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy, Dr Kavita Patel of Brookings Institution, Dr Ashish Jha of Harvard Global Health Institute, Dr Rahul Sharma of Weill Cornell Medicine, Dr Nirav Shah of Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts department of public health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>New York’s hospitals are Covid-19 hotspots as doctors try to save as many people as possible despite the constraints of space, personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. One of the fierce battlegrounds is Mount Sinai Hospital which has several branches in Manhattan and Queens, and has dealt with hundreds of cases. “There is usually a variety of intensity within any intensive care unit, but here everyone is equally super sick. So there is no variation, no downtime, there is no easy patient,” said Dr Umesh Gidwani, chief of cardiac critical care at Mount Sinai. Dr Roopa Kohli-Seth, director of critical care at Mount Sinai, said the Institute for Critical Care Medicine had dedicated all seven ICUs and 45 physicians to treat Covid-19 patients.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A week ago, when the infections were at the peak of the curve, there was a nightmarish lack of hospital beds, ventilators and PPE, and cities and states were hustling to get their act together. In New York, tourist spots such as Central Park and business arenas like the Javits convention centre were turned into hospitals to solve the shortage. The federal government even sent in the USNS Comfort, a navy ship, to serve as a mobile hospital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The delay in testing, coupled with the lack of equipment and adequate staff, has been the bane of many hospitals, not only in New York, but also in neighbouring states. “Our government failed us—it has repeatedly misinformed the public, it dawdled instead of manufacturing enough test kits, it has persistently failed to procure PPE for essential workers,” said Dr Sejal Hathi, resident physician in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Doctors and nurses were not prepared for it. But community by community, one by one, we are picking up the pieces and working together to confront the challenge ourselves.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One Indian American doctor who is making virtual house calls during this difficult time is Dr Sanjay Gupta, surgeon and journalist who conducts ‘coronavirus town halls’&nbsp;on CNN with Anderson Cooper, helping house-bound populations to stay informed and calm. Health care workers are certainly proving to be the heroes of the hour. Dr Omar Manya, an emergency room doctor at Elmhurst General Hospital in New York, survived the virus and returned to confront it. “There is just so much need out there and such a shortage of supplies and people in the workforce that we are excited to get back on the frontlines,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Essential workers driving buses and handling groceries, too, have been infected and some have lost their lives. The Empire State Building in New York was lit up in red and six Swaminarayan temples from Atlanta to New Jersey were lit up in blue to thank them. The Swaminarayan organisation also donated thousands of&nbsp;N95 masks. Sikh gurdwaras and NGOs have been donating meals to health workers and those who lost their jobs. Restaurants, themselves out of business, are paying tribute to selfless first responders by providing meals to hospitals. Every evening at 7, New Yorkers gather at their windows and doors to clap and sound a grateful thank you through trumpets and bells. It is spontaneous, with the honking of car horns and applause from skyscrapers—a moment of goodness, joy and gratitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For most people, life during the pandemic means adjusting their lifestyles and their expectations. Children and young adults are back home, trying to pursue their studies from their bedrooms with online learning; parents are trying to run businesses from their home computers. Life is on hold, but a new lifestyle may develop from this, as arts, leisure and social activities are reborn on online platforms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Covid-19 continues to ravage nations around the world, the loss is not only in human life, but also in the very basics of health, food and livelihood. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 43 per cent of Americans have reported that someone in their household has lost a job or has taken a pay cut. Among the lower income groups, the figure is 52 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indians in the hospitality industry have been particularly hit, especially the hotel and motel industry which was behind so many Indian success stories. “America’s hotel owners were the first ones to feel the economic impact of Covid-19 as meetings and events were cancelled, and they will likely be the last to recover as travel restrictions are lifted and economic recovery begins,” said Cecil P. Staton, president and CEO of Asian American Hotel Owners Association. “We are, however, gravely concerned whether many hotels can survive until we reach that point.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Restaurants and bars, once the joy of city life, are shuttered and Indian restaurants, too, have seen a complete shutdown except for contact-less deliveries. Some of the players like chef Chintan Pandya and owner Rony Mazumdar of Adda and Rahi, and Surbhi Sahni of Tagmo are cooking up meals and working with city agencies and NGOs to provide food to the hungry and the jobless. In New York, thousands of restaurants, owners, chefs, kitchen staff and delivery people are all concerned about the future. The danger is that many of these restaurants may never be opened again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Americans wait for the federal government’s stimulus package to get their lives restarted, Indian American NGOs are trying to help alleviate the situation in the US and also in India. A group of Indian American entrepreneurs brought together by Indiaspora, a Washington, DC-based community organisation, has raised $1 million for food security in both India and the US in an initiative called ChaloGive for Covid-19. M.R. Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, said the funds were being directed to two credible organisations—Feeding America in the US and Goonj in India. NGOs like Share and Care, Children’s Hope India and Sewa International are delivering meals to needy New Yorkers. Sudha Acharya, director of the South Asian Council for Social Services, is delivering Indian meals to the elderly, the needy and the undocumented in the hard-hit borough of Queens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the US economy in a tailspin, negotiations between the White House and the Congress on the next stimulus package are expected to begin soon. The White House is likely to seek a “liability shield”to protect businesses from being sued by customers who catch the virus. Many companies are reluctant to reopen while the virus still spreads, for fear of being held liable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As people and small businesses wait for more help from the federal government, there is concern that they may suffer as big corporations make a grab for the available funds. Bharat Ramamurti is an Indian American who will have a say on the issue. He has been appointed to the Congressional Oversight Commission which will oversee the $2 trillion fund to restart the economy. Announcing his appointment, Senator Chuck Schumer said Ramamurti would fight for transparency and would hold bad actors accountable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While some states are looking to ease the lockdown, many others are yet to hit the peak of the infection curve. New York, which has seen the worst, seems to have survived under the watch of Governor Andrew Cuomo. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has provided free meals for anyone who needs to eat, with no questions asked about their status or income. The homeless and the ones who are recovering from the infection and cannot be quarantined at home have been housed in city hotels with all costs paid. Children who are from vulnerable homes and do not have access to online devices for home-schooling have been provided with iPads and Wi-Fi. However, until millions of tests are done, opening of the economy seems impossible and the city remains fragile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Testing is going to be a major operation that happens from now until the situation is over,” said Cuomo. “It’s new, it’s technical, it’s complex. It’s a political football. But testing does a number of things for us. Number one, it reduces the spread of the virus by finding people who are positive, tracing their contacts and isolating them. That’s a function of testing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While most states are observing quarantine, some states like Georgia are tentatively reopening, although they have not yet reached the peak of the infection. Trump has asked governors to make the decision, so there is no unified national policy. New York plans to reopen in phases, based on more testing. Cuomo said reopening of parts of upstate New York could happen after May 15.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, however, fear that the virus may return in a second wave in the fall. Cuomo has suggested that it is important to plan for a better health care system, a smarter telemedicine programme, better technology and education and importantly, more social equality for minority communities. The pandemic has hit low income groups and minorities harder and Trump’s new immigration ban has added more problems for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You can see the disparate effect of this disease and how it reinforced the disparity and inequity in society,” said Coumo. “So it’s not just reopen, it’s not just build it back. It’s advance. Use this as a moment in time where they look back when they write the history books and they say, ‘Boy, they went through a terrible time, but they actually learned from it and they improved from it and they moved forward.’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</b></p> <p><a href=""><u></u></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>UNITED STATES</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CONFIRMED CASES</b><br> 10,35,765</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>DEATHS</b><br> 59,266</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>NEW YORK</b></p> <p><b>CONFIRMED CASES</b><br> 3,01,450</p> <p>deaths<br> 23,144</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>(figures as on april 29)</p> Thu Apr 30 22:55:39 IST 2020 on-a-wing-and-a-prayer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN MARCH, PRIME MINISTER</b> Sheikh Hasina decided to scale down the yearlong centenary celebrations of the birth of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, her father and Bangladesh’s jatir pita (father of the nation). The reason behind the decision was Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>World leaders who were to participate in a public meeting in Dhaka on March 17 pulled out because of outbreaks in their own countries. Four days before the event, as the number of Covid-19 cases surged in Delhi, Mumbai and Kerala, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called off his visit to Dhaka and sent a video message instead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Hasina decided to scale down the celebrations, only three Covid-19 cases had been reported in Bangladesh. A month later, there are more than 6,000 cases; 155 people have died. The country has been in lockdown since March 26, and it will remain so till May 5. A high-level committee headed by Hasina may decide to extend the lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic has already wreaked havoc on Bangladesh’s thriving manufacturing industry, which employs millions. With Ramadan having begun, the government is also bracing for a spike in the number of infections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The authorities are struggling to prevent religious gatherings and enforce the lockdown. Last month, around 25,000 people assembled for prayers at a mosque in Raipur. On April 18, more than 10,000 people in Sarail violated the lockdown to attend the funeral of a well-known religious scholar who had died of unknown causes. The government said it had permitted only 50 people to attend the funeral.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“They violated the lockdown to send a message that they would not accept the government’s order,” Foreign Affairs Minister A.K.M. Abdul Momen told THE WEEK. “We will not accept such fanatic behaviour. Bangladesh is no longer a country of fundamentalists.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Momen said violations would be strictly dealt with from now on. “We have closed down almost all mosques and asked everyone to offer prayers at home,” he said. “Any violation would be dealt with a firm hand.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the government, Bangladesh has entered the third stage of the Covid-19 outbreak. “We have detected community-level infections,” said Momen. “But things have not gone out of control and we are not in a horrible situation. The government is taking tough actions, like controlling gatherings—religious and otherwise—everywhere in the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 3,000 Bangladeshis have been stuck in India. A few hundred of them had taken part in the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi in March, which later became one of India’s largest Covid-19 clusters. Momen said many people had gone to India without informing the government of their intention to take part in the Jamaat event. “About 60 of them have been infected and they are quarantined in Delhi,” said Information Minister Muhammad Hasan Mahmud. “They can only come back if they are fit enough to come.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bangladesh is trying to arrange flights to bring back hundreds of citizens who had gone to Delhi and Chennai for health care purposes. “A number of tourists are stuck in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Rajasthan,” said Momen. “We will not be able to bring them back now. I am in touch with New Delhi and have learnt that they are being taken care of by the Indian government.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bangladesh is also trying to help struggling expatriates. Hundreds of Bangladeshis have died in outbreaks in the US and Europe, and many have lost their jobs. According to the foreign affairs ministry, 164 Bangladeshis have died in the US because of Covid-19. In the UK, around 150 have died. “We estimate that 28 lakh Bangladeshis settled abroad are now jobless,” said Momen. “We have decided to bring them back in a phased manner. They have every right to come back to their own country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has decided on a package worth Rs200 crore to bring the expatriates back. They will be given land and loans to start new ventures. A stimulus package worth Rs1 lakh crore has already been announced for the domestic market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its labour-intensive growth and drastic improvements in health indicators had earned the praise of global experts. Covid-19, however, could have a lasting impact on the country’s future, since a major part of economic growth depends on exports of garments, food products and jute. According to Momen, garment companies have already lost export orders worth $2.5 billion, while remittances have fallen by 12 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are, however, opportunities. Garment companies have started mass-producing personal protective equipment and sanitisers. Some companies have begun making test kits and ventilators, which Bangladesh is currently importing from China, Japan and East Asian countries. “This crisis has given us unbelievable opportunities for building up our internal capacity,” said Momen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A big worry is the extent of community spread of the disease. At around 1,300 people per square kilometre, Bangladesh’s population density is one of the highest in the world. If community spread is not contained, the result could be disastrous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bangladesh, however, has learnt well from the outbreaks in Europe. “[Not separating Covid-19 patients from other patients] was the mistake that Italy did,” said Mahmud. “But we have been segregating Covid-19 patients from the start. In fact, we are building a good number of Covid-19 hospitals across Bangladesh.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahmud said the government was worried about the eight lakh Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. To prevent an outbreak, the authorities have decided to increase testing in cities like Cox’s Bazar, which have significant Rohingya population. “The Rohingya issue is a major headache for us,” said Mahmud. “There are reports of fresh infiltrations from Myanmar. We are trying to hold them back. More and more Rohingyas are coming to Bangladesh because the health care facilities in Myanmar are in distress.”</p> Thu Apr 30 20:06:04 IST 2020 we-can-feed-our-people-for-a-year-at-least <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A chartered accountant-turned-textile baron, Mustafa Kamal was president of the International Cricket Council (ICC) from July 2014 to April 2015. He was minister of planning in the Sheikh Hasina government for five years, before he was made finance minister in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kamal spoke to THE WEEK about Bangladesh’s battle with Covid-19. He said Prime Minister Hasina has taken full control by constituting a high-powered team to lessen the impact of the pandemic on the economy. Excerpts from the exclusive interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Bangladesh has been in lockdown for a month. What would be the economic implication?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It is very difficult to ascertain that now. It will take time to assess the damage caused by the lockdown and the disease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Economies all over the world are assessing the impact now.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Every country is suffering; Bangladesh cannot be an exception. It is true that we, too, will see downward trends after a couple of months. But to what extent, we will be unable to tell you (now).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You went for the lockdown without assessing the situation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/A high-level committee headed by the prime minister is in place. The HLC decided when to implement the lockdown; it will decide when to withdraw it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What about the support to different sectors of economy in this critical time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/That is also being decided by the HLC. Incentives are being given based on the demands of different sectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Why is it left to the HLC and not the finance ministry?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The HLC headed by the prime minister has experts who are globally renowned and highly competent. The finance ministry is reporting to the prime minister as and when required.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As an export-oriented economy, Bangladesh will have to rely on other nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, our service sector makes up 55 per cent of our economy. So our economy is mostly export-oriented. Each and every factory is being assessed and a stimulus package is being worked on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What has the government done so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The government would release sops for affected sectors. The prime minister is closely monitoring it through the HLC. She has completely taken charge. A stimulus package of $12 billion, which is 3.3 per cent of our GDP, has already been sanctioned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What is the role of your central bank?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The central bank is working on multiple packages. Apart from infusing liquidity, it is also adopting a policy to help micro and small industries get loans at subsidised rates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Bangladesh had been witnessing double-digit GDP growth. It looks like history now.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We need to save people first. If people are there, then the growth story could be redesigned and rewritten. Our main target today is to save lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/But would not the present global situation hit Bangladesh hard?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Our domestic economy is very strong. We are among the top producers—I think seventh or eighth—in rice, fish and agro-products. So we have enough to feed our people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How will you produce food without labour?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/You will be surprised to know that we have turned to agro-based industries. We have undertaken automation in production. Within a year, nothing would be manual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Where will the labourers go then?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Once the pandemic is over, we will need a large number of labourers for other kind of jobs. The food processing industry would need a huge number of labourers. Every sector will benefit from this automation process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How long can you feed the people without any production?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/For one year, at least. We are completely self-reliant. Our rice, wheat and pulse yields are among the highest in the world. We have revolutionised fisheries and poultry farming. People will not starve today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/For what products are you dependent on foreign countries?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Only cooking oil, sugar and onions. We are trying to become self-reliant in these as well. It will take some time. As I said, our main aim now is to control this pandemic and save lives.</p> Thu Apr 30 20:02:53 IST 2020 widening-gulf <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It has been a week of damage control for the ministry of external affairs after social media posts blaming Muslims for the spread of Covid-19 in India snowballed into a major diplomatic crisis. Princess Hend Al Qassimi, a member of the Sharjah royal family, was the first to criticise an offensive tweet by an Indian national and come out publicly against “Islamophobia” in India as it battles the Covid-19 pandemic. The unprecedented step forced the Narendra Modi government to initiate urgent measures to defuse the crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maintaining cordial ties with West Asian countries, especially the Gulf monarchies, notwithstanding the BJP’s hardline hindutva image has been a key achievement of the Modi government. So, the prime minister—who was awarded the Order of Zayed, UAE’s highest civilian award, only eight months ago—appears keen to resolve the crisis at the earliest. Modi wrote on LinkedIn that Covid-19 did not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border before striking. “Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together,” he wrote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian ambassadors in the Gulf countries have been deployed to tackle the backlash against India. Pavan Kapoor, India’s envoy to the UAE, tweeted, “India and the UAE share the value of non-discrimination on any grounds. Discrimination is against our moral fabric and the rule of law. Indian nationals in the UAE should always remember this.” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar reached out to his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Oman. Minorities Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who usually keeps a low profile, has reportedly been instructed to speak out. The damage may have been repaired for now, but India’s domestic politics is likely to cause further tension in its ties with the Gulf states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“What we are seeing with the UAE is an indication of how India’s policies and communal messaging at home can have real and deleterious impact on its relations abroad,’’ said Michael Kugelman, senior associate at Wilson Center, Washington, DC. “It is a similar pattern we have seen with Bangladesh, an important country the Modi government has prioritised in its foreign relations, but one that has reacted unhappily to what India is doing at home.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Threats against Mazhar Farooqui, features editor of the Dubai-based Gulf News, have added to an already explosive situation. “I found that many people who were asking for my passport to be revoked and talking about my daughters were followers of the prime minister,’’ said Farooqui.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Modi has invested a lot in the region,” said Harsh Pant, director, strategic studies, Observer Research Foundation. “He has got significant returns. To disrupt that would not be in his interest.” According to reports, six Indians in the Gulf have recently lost their jobs because of social media posts. “The UAE is historically very uncomfortable with any kind of religious extremism, including support to the Muslim Brotherhood,’’ said writer and cultural critic Shajahan Madampat, who lives in the UAE. “They are now beginning to realise that hindutva is the Hindu version of the Muslim Brotherhood.’’ Madampat, however, said India’s ties with the UAE would remain strong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The influence of the sangh among NRIs in the Gulf is growing. A fake video allegedly showing the crown prince of Abu Dhabi chanting Hindu hymns at a public function went viral soon after Modi’s trip to the UAE in February 2018. The video, which was telecast by a few Indian news channels, was formally denounced by the UAE government and it hurt India’s image. Recently, a tweet made by BJP’s young MP Tejasvi Surya in 2015 denigrating Arab women resurfaced mysteriously, further vitiating the atmosphere. Equally damaging was a fake tweet by an Omani princess warning about the expulsion of Indian workers from Oman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anil Wadhwa, distinguished fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, said the social media campaign was a well-orchestrated move by Pakistan. “They have also activated the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.” Sohan Roy, a UAE-based NRI businessman, too, expressed suspicion that Pakistan could be behind the present crisis. “Someone is deliberately blowing up the issue. This will never happen otherwise,” said Roy, who recently courted controversy after the visuals used with a short poem he wrote hurt religious sentiments of Muslims. “If the government conducts an inquiry, the truth will come out.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is easy to put the blame on Pakistan, the ongoing crisis has exposed a disturbing trend that is on the rise in India. Recently, 101 former civil servants and diplomats like Shivshankar Menon and Shyam Saran wrote to chief ministers and lieutenant governors, expressing anguish over the “harassment” of Muslims in some parts of the country. They highlighted the “othering” faced by Muslims, especially after the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The UAE alone is home to nearly 33 lakh Indians. “There are a number of people, especially blue-collar workers, who have lost their jobs,” said Wadhwa. And, they seem to have overstayed their welcome. The Gulf region is India’s biggest source of overseas remittances and a key factor in the country’s energy security policy. With the Covid-19 crisis, the world is headed for a recession. Any misunderstanding with the Gulf countries during this period will be disastrous. India, therefore, needs to ensure that its ties with the region remain robust.</p> Thu Apr 30 19:57:33 IST 2020 i-fear-for-hindus-even-in-europe-and-america <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Princess Hend Al Qassimi has become the woman of the moment by taking on Indian entrepreneur Saurabh Upadhyay for his anti-Muslim comments on social media. Al Qassimi, who is a member of the royal family of Sharjah, warned that Upadhyay’s anti-Muslim remarks were not welcome in the UAE. She also wrote an article in a leading Gulf newspaper, criticising the growing “animosity against Muslims in India”. The issue turned quickly into a major diplomatic crisis, forcing India to initiate steps to protect its cherished ties with Gulf states. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, the princess said that a Nazi-like situation was emerging in India, which could hurt Indians across the globe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why did you choose to speak out?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ What is happening in India is not new. It has been going on for the past few years. Recently, the voice of hate has become louder and now we [see it translate into] action against Muslims, Christians and minorities. A single, select sect of Hinduism has been made the hero and the rest has become untouchable. This is the India that Gandhi tried to abolish. Suddenly, we see this Nazi-like system emerging. There is nothing Indian about it. There is nothing Hindu about what is going on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have to admit that certain things that happened in the name of Islam was not very Islamic, like the destruction of temples. Muslim scholars will not like this, but it has to be said. In Islam, it is clear that no temple, church or synagogue can be destroyed, especially during a war. No priest must be hurt. Women and children must not be hurt either. Even a tree must not be cut…. I am talking specifically about the Mughals. But you have to remember that the Mughals were descendants of Genghis Khan, not Prophet Mohammad. Now, 700 years later, the Babri mosque was destroyed. It was wrong, because it was eye for an eye. But I can understand because it was raised on the ruins of a Hindu temple. What I cannot understand is the boycott of Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have read that many Hindus feel that Muslims tried to erase Hinduism. You cannot erase Hinduism, it will always be there. But you also cannot erase Islam from India, where it has a history of over 700 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Has this social media campaign damaged India-UAE relations?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ People in the UAE are becoming aware of what is happening in India, the way Muslims are treated there. People are shocked and upset. They are waiting for this damage to be undone. I have read that India is building detention camps. In China, there are 1.8 million Uighur Muslims, who are in concentration camps, called labour camps or detention camps. It is disturbing that it is happening in India, which, like the UAE, is a melting pot. We draw inspiration from India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indians have always been welcome in the UAE because we have never felt Indians regard us as competition or as the enemy. India and the UAE have strong links and an abiding friendship. I hope this violence and [Islamophobia] stop and India goes back [to its more pluralistic tradition].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think the Indian government has done enough?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Unfortunately, the Indian government has not [done enough]. I am very disappointed. They think by ignoring it, [it will go away]. But [awareness is growing] not only in the Arab world…. The highest number of Muslims is in Indonesia. Do you think Muslims of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia will be quiet about this? The repercussions will be felt not only by Hindus in India…. It will have a domino effect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So, India has a reason to be concerned.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ India does have a reason to be concerned. Even if the leaders are quiet about it, do you think the people will be? They won’t. I fear for Hindus, even in Europe and America. They will be viewed as neo-Nazis. [Islamophobia] will not go [unnoticed].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will Indians in the UAE face backlash?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The UAE is a very tolerant country. But now there is distrust towards Hindus. This was not the case before. There has also been a number of cases of Indian businessmen declaring bankruptcy and running away. Indians are hardworking people. They don’t deserve to be labelled as Nazis. India is the only country which has never invaded another country. Look at how China invaded Tibet. Now Buddhist monks are not even allowed to practice their religion. India, however, welcomed the refugees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you blame the BJP or the sangh parivar?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I don’t know enough about Indian politics. Even when I spoke up [on Twitter], I was [accused] of defending the Tablighi Jamaat. I don’t even know what that is. I know they are Muslims. I was more concerned about this guy [Upadhyay] attacking my religion, my prophet, my country, my livelihood and my ethnicity. I just hope [the anti-Muslim sentiment in India] ends soon. I am sure it can be corrected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you see hope?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Of course. It is India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How difficult was it to speak out?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My mother simply reminded me, “Don’t say anything rude. But you have to speak truthfully.” India is our home. When I went to India, I felt I was with my family, even when I was living in a hotel. It is very heart-warming. All I can do is voice my concern. It breaks my heart when I see news [of discrimination]. I would not like to say that it makes me angry. Because then I will be no better.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you planning another trip to India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I hope to come soon after the Covid-19 pandemic. My father speaks fluent Hindi. He lived in India for two years.</p> Thu Apr 30 22:51:29 IST 2020 dragons-dreams <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Blame it on Henry Kissinger. The American Machiavelli’s secret trip to Beijing in 1971 on President Richard Nixon’s orders was the first step to bring China back into the global mainstream. Nixon and Kissinger thought that the move would make China a follower of the rules. Decades later, it seems things are not going according to plan.</p> <p>On April 14, President Donald Trump halted US funding—nearly $400 million annually—to the World Health Organisation, alleging that it worked with China to cover up the spread of Covid-19. Trump’s decision will hurt countries that need WHO’s assistance urgently. But beyond that, there is another fear: China will gain ground.</p> <p>“This only plays into Chinese hands, allowing it to blame the US for being irresponsible and to act like the saviour,” says Jabin Jacob, China expert at Shiv Nadar University. A state-owned think tank in China recently floated the idea of a Beijing-led alternative to the WHO, giving an indication about the Chinese thinking.</p> <p>In the past few decades, China has tried to create alternative multilateral organisations. While these institutions are yet to prove their merit, China has been spreading its influence within the United Nations systems. Last month, it was made a member of an influential consultative group of the UN Human Rights Council, which will oversee the appointment of experts for sensitive issues like freedom of speech and religion. China already heads four of the 15 specialised agencies of the UN.</p> <p>“Chinese citizens heading international organisations is a bad idea,” says Jacob. “They are beholden to the Communist Party of China, and not to the organisation or international charter which they serve. The arrest of the Chinese head of Interpol by Chinese authorities a few years ago without consideration for his international role and profile and over protests of the organisation shows just how little Beijing cares about international bodies.”</p> <p>Chinese funding has emerged as a powerful force. China is already a world leader in terms of peacekeeping operations. With the US scaling back its engagement, China could become the biggest contributor to the UN budget, boosting its goodwill and influence.</p> <p>China, however, is also flexing its muscles as the world faces an unprecedented crisis. The South China Sea is emerging as a battleground as China has chosen to name 80 islands and geographical features recently. China has also ramped up its military production, and is working on supplying submarines and other weapons systems to Pakistan.</p> <p>It might, however, be too soon for China to claim a global leadership position. “We do not know what the world will look post Covid-19,” says Ashok Kantha, former ambassador to China. “There is a resurgence of populism and protectionist policies and problems are solved within nationalist confines rather than in multilateral forums.”</p> <p>This new order, then, coupled with the suspicion towards China, may impede its rise, especially as the pandemic leaves a trail of devastation. Trump is not the only one suspicious. Britain has said hard questions will be asked. Australia, too, has asked for a probe into the origins of the virus. Japan has chosen to offer 220 billion yen ($2 billion) to firms for shifting production back to Japan and 23.5 billion yen to companies seeking to move to another country.</p> <p>“China is trying for a leadership role,” says Alka Acharya, associate professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University. “On the one hand, they are trying to counter the American narrative, and on the other, they are talking about collaboration. After the crisis, the spotlight on them will become even more intense.”</p> <p>According to a Brookings India study, the total current and planned investment by Chinese entities in India is over $26 billion. The People’s Bank of China raising its stake in HDFC Bank to over 1 per cent has sent jitters across the government. The government has modified its Foreign Direct Investment policy to ensure that investment from neighbouring countries will require the nod from the Union government. The Chinese are less than happy with this. But India played it safe without naming China.</p> <p>Gujarat, a leading recipient of Chinese investment, is eyeing Japan. Manoj Das, principal secretary, industries, Gujarat, told THE WEEK that the state was working on a campaign to attract Japanese companies which are willing to shift their base from China.&nbsp;</p> Thu Apr 23 16:14:54 IST 2020 one-step-ahead <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Once bitten badly, twice shy. Learning from the past has paid rich dividends for Taiwan in its war on Covid-19. Taiwan is only 130km from China and more than 80,000 people travel between the two countries every month. It was no surprise that Johns Hopkins University predicted that Taiwan would have the world’s second most Covid-19 cases.</p> <p>But Taiwan has emerged one of the most efficient countries in terms of Covid-19 treatment, with just 425 cases and six deaths among a population of 23.7 million. On April 14, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced that for the first time in 36 days there was no new case to report. A few cases have cropped up since then, but still within control.</p> <p>Taiwan had warned the World Health Organization in late December about Covid-19. But it says the warning was ignored. The WHO does not recognise Taiwan because of objections from China, which says the island is a breakaway province. Taiwan’s already fraught ties with the WHO worsened further with the Covid-19 crisis. WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus complained recently that Taiwan’s foreign ministry was linked to a hate campaign against him, which included racist attacks and death threats. Tedros, a former Ethiopian health and foreign minister who was elected to the top post with strong support from China, has strongly endorsed the Chinese position on the pandemic. It has led to a geopolitical tussle, with US President Donald Trump repeatedly blaming China for the pandemic. Trump has suspended US funding to WHO and has blamed the world body for ignoring Taiwan’s early warning about Covid-19.</p> <p>Taiwan, meanwhile, had drawn all the right lessons from its 2003 SARS outbreak experience, so much so that it started preparing for the Covid-19 pandemic even before the official declaration. According to Dr Steve Kuo, former head of Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), the SARS outbreak was a wake-up call for Taiwan. Kuo had led the SARS taskforce in 2003 when the epidemic caused hundreds of Taiwanese to fall ill, and more than 70 died—the third-highest tally in the world. Since then, the Taiwanese have kept themselves prepared.</p> <p>Kuo said that Taiwanese authorities were monitoring social media networks, and towards the end of 2019, they picked up chatter about a strange outbreak being referred to as “atypical pneumonia”, around China’s Wuhan area. Wasting no time, Taiwan sent two CDC doctors to Wuhan to analyse the situation.</p> <p>Measures were set in place immediately. Every passenger arriving from the mainland was being checked for symptoms of any disease. If they showed any symptoms, there were further tests. Passengers who had travelled to Wuhan in the preceding weeks, too, were subjected to further testing.</p> <p>On January 20, the government activated the National Health Command Center that was set up during the SARS epidemic. The centre enables the government to communicate among departments, using a range of data. All arriving passengers were asked to register online in the incoming citizens’ database. They would then receive text messages of where to get checked before they crossed immigration control.</p> <p>From there, the government would monitor those with symptoms. Once a passenger’s belongings had been disinfected, her trip home would be in a government-provided cab all by herself. Once home, she would have to self-isolate for two weeks.</p> <p>Health authorities would call these home-quarantined travellers twice or thrice a day to check on them. If their symptoms worsened, they would be moved to a hospital; if they were all right, they would be provided with essentials. A big fine was imposed on those who violated quarantine. It was all done at the state’s expense, so there were no complaints. In hospitals, the triage system was followed.</p> <p>In a flash, the central command centre launched border restrictions, set up local quarantine rules and turned to technology. One phone app helps residents find stores with masks in stock. Another app provides information on all those who are Covid-19 positive, like the places they visited and the history of their cases. The government has also ensured that it has sufficient medical equipment and high-end negative pressure chambers for isolation cases to be put in. The law, amended after the SARS outbreak, requires hospitals to have stockpiles of all medical supplies for at least 30 days. The government took charge of making and distributing masks, even rationing them.</p> <p>Disinfectants could be found in all public places. Thermal scanners monitored those walking into public buildings. Those with high temperatures were immediately asked to go home and rest. The idea of physical distancing was also taken seriously by the people, which played a big role in containment. The handling of Covid-19 has proven Taiwan’s expertise on international health issues, which in turn has boosted the people’s trust in the government.</p> <p>The country is lending a hand to others, despite not being a UN member. Taiwan donated 1.6 crore surgical masks to medical workers worldwide, and is working with the US and the EU to develop fast-screening kits and vaccines.</p> <p>There has been some luck involved as well. Going by the statistics from the ministry of health and welfare, Taiwan does not have the ability to carry out large-scale testing. Currently, the country is expanding its test capacity to 34 centres, with a maximum capacity of 3,800 tests per day.</p> <p>Much of the preparedness for public health is about having the right infrastructure one could activate during a crisis. In this aspect, the Taiwanese invested wisely.</p> <p>—<b>The author is a PhD candidate in experimental condensed matter physics, National Taiwan University and Academia Sinica.</b></p> Thu Apr 23 16:01:24 IST 2020 helping-hand <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Five years ago, Parwish Kumar left his home in Helmand, Afghanistan, in the dead of night. He did not want his neighbours to notice. “My father needed blood,” says the Afghan Sikh. “But everyone refused. No one wanted to give blood to a kafir.” His father later died in hospital.</p> <p>“Those who have been left in Afghanistan are just waiting to leave,” says Kumar, who now lives in Delhi and is waiting to find a home in Canada.</p> <p>The March 25 attack on the Har Rai Sahib Gurdwara in Shor Bazaar, in the heart of Kabul’s old city, exposed the vulnerability of the Sikh community in Afghanistan. The gurdwara was home to more than 50 families, who have now been taken to another gurdwara in Karte Parwan. Kabul now has three gurdwaras; it had 70 in the 1970s.</p> <p>After videos of the terrorist attack went viral, the global campaign to save the Sikhs in Afghanistan was intensified. At the helm of this effort is Canada, which is emerging as the promised land of Sikhs. Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, tweeted, “The plight of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus is one of tremendous suffering....”, and called on the government to save their lives.</p> <p>In a letter addressed to the prime minister and Canadian ministers, poet Rupi Kaur wrote: “Canada is the best and perhaps the only country able to help this vulnerable population. Nearby countries like India are not an option.”</p> <p>The reasons cited for rejecting India include it not being “a signatory to international protocols and conventions on refugees”, and also the 1984 riots.</p> <p>There is precedent for Canadian concern. In 2015, Manmeet Singh Bhullar, the first turbaned Sikh to hold a cabinet rank in Alberta, started a project to help 250 Sikhs in Helmand leave. Kumar’s was one such family.</p> <p>Later the same year, Bhullar died in a road accident while trying to help a motorist, and his siblings took over the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation. “We have helped 250 people [leave] the province,” said Tarjinder Bhullar, his sister. “That roughly translates to 65 families. Sixteen of them have since come to Canada.” The foundation provided the families with passports, visas, tickets and even homes in Delhi.</p> <p>Bhullar is not the only one. United Sikhs, a UN-affiliated organisation, has been helping Sikhs in Afghanistan since 2012, and has now stepped up its campaign. “We have launched a parliamentary petition,” says CEO Jagdeep Singh. “Unfortunately, with Covid-19, the parliament is not in session.”</p> <p>There is also a letter-writing campaign, wherein ordinary Canadians urge their MPs to take a stand. The idea is to liken their situation to that of Syrian refugees and point out the discrimination. “We are working with the US state department, too,” says Singh. “Our hope is that we can get a country like India or Pakistan to take the Sikhs, till they are granted immigration in Canada.”</p> <p>One of the big drawbacks, he admits, is the processing time. “It takes five or six years,” he says. In this time, families keep waiting. United Sikhs is hoping to at least push for a faster process of under a year.</p> <p>In India, too, there has been an outcry. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh tweeted to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, saying that 200 Sikh families wanted to be evacuated and must be helped. This situation fits the BJP’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act narrative, wherein India would welcome persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, among other nearby nations. Delhi, however, will be treading with caution.</p> <p>The Kabul attack comes at a time when Afghanistan is fragile. The Americans, desperate to leave, have chosen to throw in their lot with the Taliban. The government in Kabul is divided with both Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah claiming the presidency following the elections in September. While India has chosen to back the Ghani government, as the Independent Election Commission had declared him a winner, Abdullah Abdullah is also an ally.</p> <p>“India is an outlier in the US-Taliban deal,” said Kabir Taneja of the Observer Research Foundation. “It is in India’s interest to manage the security of the Sikhs through the Afghan government. India will not be seen as short-changing the government. India will also do nothing that will undermine the Ashraf Ghani government, which we back.”</p> <p>The April 4 arrest of the mastermind of the attack—Mawlawi Aslam Farooqi, a Pakistani national and the emir of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province—shows the Afghan government’s commitment to its minorities.</p> <p>Over the decades, Sikhs and Hindus have fled the country, the numbers dwindling from 25,000 to only 850. Yet, there are two Sikhs in Parliament. Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, the first non-Muslim woman, and Narendra Singh Khalsa. “This also riles the IS-K,” says Taneja.</p> <p>Narendra’s father, Avtar Singh, was killed in an IS-K attack in 2018 when he was on his way to meet Ghani. “The Islamic State is a good brand to band under,” says Taneja. But while the group has taken responsibility, it is not black and white, he argues. “The umbrella organisation of the IS, like in Iraq and Syria, does not exist in Afghanistan. There was an internal feud in 2015-16, where the Pakistan-backed people from LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) had started [executing] much more orchestrated attacks with ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) backing.” The targeting of Sikhs, says Taneja, serves the purpose of both splinters. “It serves the theological purpose. They are kafirs and must convert or accept death. It also antagonises India,” he says.</p> <p>The situation has worsened over the years. Preeti (name changed) lost her father in the Jalalabad attack in 2018. “My mother refuses to let me even say Jalalabad out loud,” says Preeti. “She is so scared.”</p> <p>The story of discrimination is not uncommon. Attacked several times himself, Kumar claimed that approaching the police did not help. “My sisters could never go out,” he says. “We could not even go out to cremate the dead.” All last rites happened under the cover of darkness at the gurdwara.</p> <p>The Survey of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, conducted by Porsesh Research and Studies Organisation between September 2018 and February 2019, corroborates his story. “Even now, they encounter hatred and are still unable to cremate their dead according to their traditions as most of the cremation sites are captured by warlords, and people living in the neighboring areas prevent them by means such as throwing rocks,” said the report. It also found that close to 97 per cent of Hindu and Sikh respondents fear for their safety and their families’ safety.</p> <p>“Sikhs in Afghanistan are Afghans and they have equal protection of local law,” says Amar Sinha, former ambassador to Afghanistan. “While they were harassed and stigmatised during the Taliban regime, the democratic governments of Afghanistan have made sure that they feel at home. Some social prejudices persist though. Sikhs, like other minorities, and countless other hapless Afghans, are all easy targets for the terrorists, who seek cheap publicity through such acts.”</p> <p>However, there is still hope. There are Muslim organisations that have come forward with offers to rebuild the Har Rai Sahib Gurdwara. And, the polarisation apart, the Sikhs and Hindus have left indelible marks on the Afghan landscape. In Gardez, Amardeep Singh, who is making a documentary called Allegory—A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels, stands at the spot where a gurdwara once stood. “A man came up to me and asked me to get the Sikhs to come back to reconstruct the gurdwara, so that he could eat the langar that he once ate as a child,” says Amardeep. In his journey across lawless Afghanistan, Singh found many such remains of a pluralistic past that have now become folklore.</p> <p>And then there are those who refuse to leave their homes, even if it means being killed. “What is there to be scared of, once you have lost your loved ones?” asks Preeti. “My father was martyred and he said he was born here and would die where he was born. I am not afraid.” &nbsp;</p> Thu Apr 09 19:31:21 IST 2020 behind-the-mask <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Chinese propaganda machine has been on an overdrive over the past few weeks, trying to justify how the country handling of the Covid-19 crisis. “China’s efforts and sacrifice have bought precious time for the world,’’ tweeted the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson. “Some people are attempting to make China the scapegoat for their own epidemic response. Mission Impossible.’’</p> <p>The reference to the Hollywood movie was seen as a message to the United States, which has been leading the campaign to pin the blame on China. President Donald Trump used to refer to Covid-19 as “Chinese virus’’. A recent meeting of the G7 foreign ministers concluded without a joint statement after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted on calling Covid-19 the “Wuhan virus”.</p> <p>China, meanwhile, has been focusing on ‘mask diplomacy’, flying planeloads of medical supplies to affected countries ranging from Nepal to Italy. The Chinese private sector is also quite active, with Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma joining hands with the government in organising relief supplies.</p> <p>“Do those speaking ill of China rather want us to stand by while other countries suffer? No. It is our tradition to reciprocate kindness and help those in need...,’’ a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson tweeted on March 31.</p> <p>“China has taken to rebutting American accusations,’’ says Alka Acharya, professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “The Chinese point out that the US did not inform the world about the H1N1 outbreak. And, they have launched Covid-19 diplomacy by playing the role of the serious, responsible power in the time of crisis.’’</p> <p>China even reached out to India as part of its diplomatic initiative. On March 25, Foreign Minister Wang Yi called up Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar. In a series of tweets, Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong praised India’s capability to win the battle against Covid-19. He said Wang criticised naming the virus after China and that Jaishankar agreed. The Indian foreign minister, however, did not completely endorse the Chinese line. “Global challenges require global cooperation,” tweeted Jaishankar after the conversation.</p> <p>“We do not want to take sides,’’ says Jayadeva Ranade, former additional secretary, cabinet secretariat. “We will take a safe line as we are still in the thick of it. We cannot shut out the sources of gloves, masks and supplies, because we are going to need them.”</p> <p>As cases began to rise exponentially, even the Americans had to turn to China for help. The first of the 22 planned consignments from China landed in New York on March 29. The shipment, which included 1.3 lakh N95 masks, 1.8 million face masks and gowns, 10 million gloves and thousands of thermometers, was the result of a public-private partnership led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.</p> <p>While China leads the relief measures, there have been complaints about the quality of its supplies. The Slovakian government rejected Chinese test kits worth $16 million, as those could not detect the infection in its early stages. Spain, which purchased 50,000 kits, too, had the same complaint. Turkey says Chinese tests are only 35 per cent accurate. Czech authorities found out that the Chinese tests worked only on cases where the infection was at least five days old. These countries are also angry that China calls the supplies aid, despite charging for them.</p> <p>“China’s relationship with the west was already worsening,’’ says Jabin Jacob, Chinese expert at Shiv Nadar University. “This pandemic and the Chinese government’s role in letting it spread beyond the country’s borders will make things worse. And not just with the west, but with other countries as well, depending on how affected they are. China might find that its aid diplomacy will not always work.’’</p> <p>There are also allegations that Covid-19 is a bioweapon developed by China, although most experts have discounted the possibility. “There is no evidence that this is actually a manufactured virus or a bioweapon,’’ says virologist Shahid Jameel, chief executive officer of Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance. “If a virus is deliberately modified, there will be signatures which look very different from evolutionary signatures. Evolution is a slow and continuous process; modification is abrupt. Multiple experts have done that sort of analysis and found that this was not a modified virus.’’</p> <p>China has launched its own campaign, saying the infection came from American soldiers who visited Wuhan for the Military World Games last October. “It is unlikely that anyone outside China will buy this,’’ says Jacob.</p> <p>Most observers, however, agree that China kept the news about the infection a secret for at least two months. “The Chinese authorities were covering it up,’’ says Ranade. China allegedly knew about it since November, but it was only by the end of January that it told the world about the person-to-person transmission of Covid-19. The pandemic has also highlighted the failure of the World Health Organisation, which allegedly sought to whitewash China’s role and co-authored with it a report on the outbreak. “WHO knows who controls the purse-strings,’’ says Acharya. Even the UN Security Council, caught in the US-China spat, has failed to respond effectively to the pandemic. China’s presidency of the 15-nation Security Council ended on March 31. Does that spell hope? “Unlikely,’’ says Jacob.</p> <p>Jameel, meanwhile, says Covid-19 is unlikely to be the last pandemic. “We should be prepared for the next one. We can do that only with knowledge and technology, for which research is crucial.”&nbsp;</p> Sat Apr 04 14:16:06 IST 2020 neighbourhood-watch <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was a small, virtual step, but it could be a giant leap for the entire south Asian region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 15 connected with leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) over video conference and discussed strategies about putting up a united front against Covid-19.</p> <p>“Our region is home to one-fifth of humanity,’’ said Modi, opening the conference. “As developing countries, all of us have significant challenges with access to health facilities. Our people-to-people ties are ancient. Our societies are deeply interconnected. We must all prepare… to act… and to succeed together.”</p> <p>The significance of Modi initiating the meeting—appreciated by the US and Russia—cannot be ignored. Equally important is the sheer magnitude of the battle ahead. All countries were represented at the meeting by their heads of state or government. Presidents Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldives, Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Lotay Tshering of Bhutan were present. Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, who underwent a kidney transplant in March, also attended. The only exception was Pakistan, which was represented by Zafar Mirza, special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan.</p> <p>This was the first time a SAARC summit was held after the Kathmandu meeting of 2014. Modi’s diplomatic initiative has come at a time when domestic issues in India, like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, are hurting its external relations. Friendly neighbours such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal are concerned about the Act and its implications.</p> <p>“I think the ‘neighbourhood first’ premise is behind the prime minister’s initiative,’’ said K. Yhome of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. “The fact that SAARC has been activated means geographical factors have definitely influenced the decision.” Soaring number of infections reported from the neighbourhood seems to be a likely factor.</p> <p>“This is a case of Modi wanting to show regional leadership at a time when it is badly needed,’’ said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the Wilson Center, Washington, DC. “India is often criticised for not taking on a global role commensurate with its size and stature. Modi's initiative is a way to showcase India's clout and convening power abroad.’’</p> <p>India has promised $10 million towards an emergency fund, which countries can dip into. Nepal has donated ten crore Nepali rupees (approximately $8,24,000) and Bhutan $1,00,000. India has also promised a rapid response team of doctors and online training. A meeting between health professionals of SAARC countries was held on March 26 to find practical solutions to deal with the pandemic.</p> <p>While Pakistan participated in the meetings, the distrust remains. “The meetings and the emergency fund were called by Modi. So, while it focuses on collaboration between countries in the region, it remains essentially an initiative driven and coordinated by India,’’ said Constantino Xavier of Brookings India. “This is why Pakistan has asked for the fund to be placed under the SAARC Secretariat. It is unlikely that India will accept this, but other countries may pressure Delhi to formalise cooperation under SAARC, which has its own history of public health cooperation.’’</p> <p>The video conference had its share of drama when the Pakistani representative chose to bring up Kashmir, only to be snubbed by Modi. Pakistan’s reluctance to be enthusiastic, however, plays perfectly for India. With the deep freeze in its relationship with Pakistan, India has turned its attention to BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation). External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has made it clear that India’s attention during Modi’s second term will be directed towards BIMSTEC and not at SAARC.</p> <p>On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last September, Jaishankar spelt out India's problem with SAARC: "Elimination of terrorism in all its forms is a pre-condition not only for fruitful cooperation, but also for the very survival of the region itself.” Trade is another area of concern. “You can't have regionalism without talking connectivity or talking trade,'' said Jaishankar at a meeting held in Delhi last month. “It is like saying I would like to do regional cooperation. But I am not going to allow connectivity, not going to give you MFN (most favoured nation status). Then, obviously, you are not serious.''</p> <p>So, does Modi’s SAARC move suggest a rethink? “BIMSTEC remains a weak organisation which is unable to offer any added value during this crisis,” said Xavier. “Pakistan may be one reason why India became reluctant about SAARC and eventually gave up investing in it, but there is a deeper reluctance in Delhi to invest in stronger regional organisations to foster multilateral cooperation with its neighbours.’’</p> <p>Covid-19 has given India an opportunity to earn back the goodwill it lost in its neighbourhood. But the gains may not last in the absence of systemic changes. “We have seen powerful regional cooperation during humanitarian crises in the past, like India's relief efforts to help Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake,” said Richard M. Rossow, who holds the Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC. “But despite these positive flashes, they did not translate into longer-term positive cooperation. So, while regional cooperation during the Covid-19 crisis is helpful, I suspect it will be difficult to enact it in practice, and any positive political effects will be short-lived.” &nbsp;</p> Sat Apr 04 14:13:33 IST 2020 wary-peace <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>US PRESIDENT DONALD</b> Trump made his first direct contact with the Taliban on March 3 as he spoke by telephone to Abdul Ghani Baradar, who heads its political office. The warm conversation between the erstwhile antagonists was a wake-up call for India. The US wants to get out of Afghanistan fast and the Taliban is now firmly in the saddle. Once again, it is advantage Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Taliban is beholden to Pakistan as it operates out of Quetta and Peshawar,'' said Tilak Devasher, former special secretary, cabinet secretariat and member, National Security Advisory Board. The Doha agreement signed by the US and the Taliban on February 29 brought calm for barely 24 hours. The Taliban launched attacks across Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani refused its demand to release 5,000 militants before the start of formal peace talks among Afghan groups. Trump's phone call was aimed at stopping the violence. After the call, he said the Taliban would be killing “some very bad people”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is worried because the “very bad people” are unlikely to be its enemies. Moreover, the deal will put an end to sanctions against the Taliban and will help it return to the mainstream. In return, the Taliban only needs to ensure that it will not target the US or its allies. That promise, however, does not extend to India. “The deal serves the US and the Taliban,'' said Rana Banerji, former special secretary in the cabinet secretariat. “Whether it will lead to peace remains doubtful.''</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from the security concerns, India is also faced with a diplomatic challenge. “We kept on talking about an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled peace process when all others had moved on,'' said Rakesh Sood, former ambassador to Afghanistan. India is one of the few countries which has refused to engage with the Taliban. Baradar did not name India while thanking the countries that supported the peace deal, while Pakistan received a special mention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The deal puts in jeopardy the fate of the newly-elected Afghan government, which is supported by India. The Taliban has been dismissive of the Ghani government, calling its leaders puppets. “To my mind, the real negotiations will start now,'' said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at a public event in New Delhi, referring to the upcoming intra-Afghan dialogue. The talks are bound to be difficult. The Doha agreement does not name the Ghani government as a dialogue partner. Instead, it says the Taliban will start negotiations with “Afghan sides''. Devasher said the agreement allowed the Taliban to keep the Ghani government out of the process and pick and choose its dialogue partners, enabling it to go for “separate ceasefires with separate groups”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is carefully assessing the situation. Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla was in Kabul on February 29 to meet senior Afghan leaders. He conveyed India's support for a reconciliation process which can lead to sustainable peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any uncertainty spells trouble for India. “If Afghanistan descends into civil war or if the Taliban takes control, there will be security implications,'' said Devasher. “The Taliban will allow Lashkar-e-Taiba bases. It is problematic for us, especially as the government has been proactive about hitting back at terrorists. A lot of Afghan fighters will be freed from fighting. There is also the danger that Pakistan will shift its focus eastward.”</p> Fri Mar 06 12:47:03 IST 2020 modi-trump-et <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>US President Donald Trump used the four letter word several times in India—love. The presidential visit was a two-day “incredible’’ love affair for everyone involved, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the 1.25 lakh people at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad and the thousands who lined up the streets to watch the Trump-Modi motorcade pass by.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is, however, a romance between two businessmen who acknowledge each other’s acumen. “Modi is a tough negotiator,’’ was Trump’s unabashed compliment to his “good friend’’. So, while the much awaited Trump visit was a gush fest of commitments and declarations—like elevating the bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership—in terms of deliverables, there was nothing much. The actuals can be summed up as three memoranda of understanding (on mental health, on the safety of medical products and a letter of cooperation between the Indian Oil Corporation and ExxonMobil), the sealing of a pre-concluded $3 billion deal to buy Apache and MH-60 Romeo choppers and an agreement to begin negotiations for a comprehensive trade deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The trade deal was not the focus of the visit. Even before the wheels of Air Force One were up at Joint Base Andrews, Trump made it clear that he was not going to sign a trade deal. He, however, was very articulate about his other expectation—of an overwhelming welcome. India upped its athithi devo bhava (guest as God) credo, and Trump was impressed that he had received the “greatest greeting given to any head of state’’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump likes reciprocity, in trade and otherwise. He wanted the Indian version of ‘Howdy, Modi!’, and ‘Namaste Trump’ was just that. As Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu said, “From the US perspective, there was a very significant messaging with the reception Trump got. It showed that at the people-to-people level, there was a great deal of warmth and affection.’’ In fact, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet, Trump spoke about how comfortable he was in India and even wondered whether he could contest elections here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This visit was the first standalone tour to India by any US president, which is significant in itself. With Trump making it a family affair, including daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner in the delegation, along with First Lady Melania, he was not just acknowledging a business relationship, but a personal one, too. Mutual admiration was on full display. Modi termed India-US relations as the most important partnership of the 21st century, and Trump returned the compliment by saying his visit was diplomacy of great friendship and respect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The visit was also a platform to showcase the trajectory bilateral ties have taken in the last four years. Uncle Sam is now a leading defence supplier and a key partner in defence manufacturing. “The two countries are part of each other’s supply chains,’’ said Modi. India has already done two important treaties, COMCASA (Communications Capability and Security Agreement) and LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement), which the US does to facilitate interoperability of militaries and sale of high-end technology. The third, BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement), is in the works.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The strategic and military components in the bilateral have grown significantly,’’ said retired diplomat Vishnu Prakash. “The mention of a free and open Indo-Pacific is significant, just like the explicit mention of fighting radicalised Islamic terror.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The energy partnership has got a big fillip in recent years. With India stopping its crude imports from Iran under US pressure, American crude and gas supplies have zoomed. Energy exports, as Trump boasted, have grown by 500 per cent on his watch. Trump’s visit, at one level, was a public nod of India toeing the US line on Iran. The future looks even more American, with the US now targeting Venezuela, another crude exporter to India. Establishing a permanent office of the US International Development Finance Corporation with a $600 million financing facility for renewable energy projects in India was a takeaway.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Counterterrorism and Pakistan came up for a long conversation. This is one area where Trump and Modi have different views. The US backed India at international fora to put pressure on Pakistan and the joint statement reflects this resolve, calling on Pakistan to ensure that no territory under its control is used to launch terrorist attacks, and to “expeditiously bring to justice’’ the perpetrators of 26/11 and Pathankot attacks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Trump was open about his good relationship with Pakistan. “Thanks to these efforts, we are beginning to see signs of a big change with Pakistan,’’ said Trump. He made it clear that India had a leading role in promoting peace in the region, hinting towards an American nudge to reduce tensions. Much before Trump publicly batted for Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and suggested that “there are two sides to every story’’ while referring to Kashmir, Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, had welcomed Pakistani wrestlers competing in India, noting that sports could be an effective tool to build bridges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump’s support for Pakistan has to be viewed in the light of the US-Taliban deal expected to be inked this week. Despite India’s obvious discomfort with the Taliban, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said India and the US shared an interest in Afghanistan and India was watching the developments carefully.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The elephant in the room was not the K-word, but the T one. Teams Trump and Modi continued the shadow dance over the “big trade deal’’. While Trump described India as tariff king and demanded reciprocity, Modi has thrown his weight behind the deal. From April to December 2019, “convergence had been reached on many issues,’’ claimed an Indian official. The twin issues of dairy and medical devices were resolved at the Indian end and it was at the American side that newer points popped up. India, which is still smarting from the revocation of the Generalised System of Preferences, is wary of inking something in a hurry that it may regret a decade later. The dairy settlement—if it happens—will be significant, given that it stood in the way of India inking the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Significantly, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross flew from India to Pakistan to negotiate closer economic cooperation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Trump, India’s friendship is important on various counts: as a counter to China, in the Indo-Pacific partnership and also to impress the Modi-loving Indian diaspora in an election year. Thus, he was measured in his language and even admitted that he did not want to utter anything which would “blow up the two days’’. So while he acknowledged that a part of Delhi was burning even as he was on a visit, he refused to be drawn into any commentary on religious liberties. On the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which is the catalyst of much of the unrest in India and is criticised even by the US Congress, Trump merely said, “I leave it to India. They will make the right decision.’’ When asked about religious intolerance in India, Trump responded with figures his friend Modi had provided him. He said the Muslim population in India was 200 million, and that it was 40 million only a short while ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If that was not music to Modi’s ears, Trump turned poetic about cooperation in space and said, “We will be partners on our voyage into the stars.’’</p> Sat Feb 29 11:13:12 IST 2020 a-taste-of-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FROM ANCIENT TIMES,</b> diplomacy and food have gone hand in hand. After the highs of ‘Namaste Trump’ on February 24, the state banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind in honour of President Donald Trump the next evening showcased India’s royal splendour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rashtrapati Bhavan was lit up and there was attention to detail. At 7.30pm, guests converged at the regal Ashoka Hall, resplendent with the Persian painting of a royal hunt on its ceiling. The American delegation seemed fascinated by the paintings in the chandelier-lit hall, taking a few quick photographs and soaking in the experience. I had a chance to meet Ajit Pai, the dynamic chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission. There was a common connection and we spoke about 5G and internet speeds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon, President Kovind and his wife, Savita, arrived at the Ashoka Hall, along with President Trump, who was in a formal suit and striped tie, and First Lady Melania in a pink gown. A short formal ceremony started with the national anthems of the two countries. After that, President Trump, President Kovind, First Lady Melania and Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu met the galaxy of Indian guests. When President Trump shook my hand, I talked to him about Malayala Manorama and my experience in the US working with media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The president did not seem to be in a hurry. He was extremely personable and spent time with each guest. President Kovind, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, personally spent time with each guest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were more than 90 guests, including senior cabinet ministers, chief ministers of Haryana, Assam, Karnataka and Telangana, bureaucrats, business leaders like Uday Kotak, Azim Premji and Pankaj Patel, acclaimed musician A.R. Rahman and Michelin star chef Vikas Khanna. The American delegation included Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, American Ambassador Kenneth Juster, the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump who came in a Rohit Bal-designed suit and her husband, Jared Kushner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the guests were seated in the 104-foot-long state banquet hall adorned with the portraits of former presidents, President Kovind welcomed President Trump, talking about the deep connection between India and the United States, especially about the vibrant four-million strong Indian American community in the US. Trump said he was not going to read out his prepared speech. Instead, he talked about two productive days he spent in India and promised that he would be back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The military band, heard but unseen, played from the balcony a curated list of popular songs like ‘What a Wonderful World’, ‘We Are the World’, ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and the Bollywood favourite ‘Ek Pyar Ka Nagma’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Trump’s fondness for fast food is well known. Last year, he ordered hundreds of burgers to the White House to celebrate a collegiate football win. Here it was different and the president was in for a gastronomic treat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The banquet’s elaborate menu stressed on purity of taste. An amuse-bouche of smoked orange peel panna cotta was served, followed by lemongrass and coriander soup. The surprise dish of the evening was the tender fillet of cajun-spiced salmon, probably prepared to be less spicy for the American guests. The main course included regal Indian dishes: succulent raan alishan in rogani gravy, anjeer malai kofta in baby spinach gravy, dum gosht biryani and the famous Dal Raisina.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The royal meal also had an American touch. There was hazelnut apple pie with salty caramel sauce. Since everyone, including presidents, has a sweet tooth, a taste of malpua and rabri was the perfect choice to end the banquet. I am sure Vikas Khanna, the celebrity chef who has cooked for presidents, will give the meal three Michelin stars.</p> Fri Feb 28 15:55:52 IST 2020 changing-colours <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>YOU COULD CALL</b> them some of the most desirable voters in the US that any political party would love to have in their ranks. Indeed, Indian-Americans seem to be in all 50 states and are strong players in the American political scene. This is a 4.5 million strong community with 55.8 per cent in the 18 to 49 age group, and 73.2 per cent having a bachelor’s degree or higher in education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, how is this viable block going to vote in the upcoming presidential elections? The answer changes depending on whom you ask. M.R. Rangaswami, chairman and founder of Indiaspora, a community organisation, has been in the United States for 40 years and has seen the changing status of the Indian immigrants. He observes that the Indian-American community now has a strong presence in the political scene, and is being sought after by both Republicans and Democrats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Indian-American community is by no means homogeneous,” says Rangaswami. “About 60 to 65 per cent Indian-Americans were born in India and another 30 to 35 per cent were born in the US. While those born in India are a mix of conservatives and liberals, the ones born here are younger and tend to be more liberal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karthick Ramakrishnan, who directs the National Asian American Survey and is founder of AAPI DATA, which publishes demographic data and policy research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, says the Indian-Americans are still overwhelmingly Democrats. According to AAPI DATA, in 2016, 48 per cent Indian-Americans identified as Democrats, 22 per cent as Republicans and 30 per cent as neither. He says these figures remain stable in spite of the Donald Trump administration making overtures to the community and having appointed many Indian-Americans to prominent positions over the years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, Indian-Americans have embraced the Democratic Party since the start. In the US Congress we have the ‘Samosa Caucus’ comprising four representatives—Ro Khanna (California), Ami Bera (California), Raja Krishnamoorthi (Illinois) and Pramila Jayapal (Washington). Kamala Harris, the high-profile senator from California, became the first Indian-American woman to run for the US presidency. Last year, Suhas Subramanyam and Ghazala Hashmi had victories in the state senate of Virginia and helped flip the state from red to blue for the first time in a generation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over $5 million have already been donated by Indian-Americans to presidential candidates like Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard and Amy Klobuchar. In fact, Indian-Americans are a presence in almost all the campaigns, as donors, staff and volunteers. Shekar Narasimhan, founder and chairman of AAPI Victory Fund—the first Super PAC (political action committee) for Asians—has also seen the growing clout of the Indian-American community. “We have so many Indians on the staff of not just the campaigns, but in congressional staff as well,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While acknowledging that Indian-Americans tend to vote for the Democratic Party, Rangaswami says President Trump could appeal to the more conservative voters in the community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Richard Russow, the Senior Fellow and Wadhwani Chair in India-US Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC, believes that Trump has made a concerted effort to engage India: “We have got some tensions, particularly around trade issues, but the president has not allowed that to pollute the waters, like it has with some other relationships. And so, even though he has been aggressively pursuing trade remedies in areas where we think the Narendra Modi government has closed the door, he has still continued to pursue and engage India very positively.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russow believes that Trump’s India trip at the end of his first term is a pretty significant step. “I think by and large the view from India is that there is a significant chance that President Trump will be re-elected,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ask Indian-American Republicans and they say it is a sure-fire Trump win. Raju Chinthala, a diehard Republican and founder of the Indiana Business Council, says: “The POTUS [President’s] visit to India will strengthen US-India relations tremendously in the coming decades.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narender Reddy, a long-time Republican in Atlanta, has been involved in fund-raising for governors, senate and congressional candidates. He says that the Democratic Party’s agendas of “tax the rich”, and give “race-based affirmative action” in educational institutions are detrimental to the Indian-American community.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reddy mentions Trump’s pro-business reforms, the high stock market and the merit-based immigration as beneficial to the community. He adds that the Trump administration stood by India for its stance of offensive-defence on Pakistan, and showed respect for India’s internal policies by not interfering in the abrogation of Article 370 or Citizenship (Amendment) Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second generation Indian-Americans are also becoming prominent in the Republican Party. Niraj Antani was only 23 when he became an Ohio state representative. He is now the youngest elected Indian-American in the United States. Now 29, Antani is running for the Ohio state senate. Ask him why he thinks the Republican Party is good for desis, and he says: “We are the pro-growth, pro-business, pro-jobs party. Democrats are on the fringes, fighting for illegal immigrants, unlike legal immigrants which Indian-Americans have been. Trump also has a great record of nominating Indian-Americans for different posts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does Antani think there will be a swing of many Hindu voters towards Republicans because of Trump’s India visit and affinity for Modi? “The prime minister has great influence and has a conservative mindset,” he says. “The people want strong conservative leadership, and that is what the president and the prime minister provide.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramakrishnan believes a favourable opinion of Modi would not translate into support for Trump, and that is because for Indian-Americans it is not just what is going on in India that matters. He points out that issues like health care, education, immigration and the rhetoric on race are crucial factors deciding the voting pattern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He notes that many of the wealthy, highly-educated Indian Americans do not support the Republican Party because it is not strong on fighting discrimination whereas the Democratic Party is better at it. In research done in 2012, he found Indian-Americans who earned over $2,50,000 were quite willing for taxes to be raised on those earning that figure, including themselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>November is still a long way off and the race dynamics change by the hour. However, one thing is clear: Even though there are Indian-American Republicans, the bulk of the Indian-American community is solidly behind whoever wins the Democratic nomination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile Trump’s India visit provided high drama and pageantry and might have influenced some minds. As Rangaswami points out, Trump has put India and Indian-Americans in the mainstream by attending the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event in Houston which was huge for the Indian community. Earlier such events were on the radar of only the Indian or Indian-American media, but Trump’s presence transformed it into an international event with every media from CNN to The Wall Street Journal covering it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Rangaswami: “This shows the Indian-American community has come of age, whether you agree with Trump or not. So, for us, this is definitely a side-benefit. With his visit to India, we will once again be in the spotlight as a country and as a community—and that has been a very positive thing for us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at ‘Lassi with Lavina’.</b></p> <p><a href=""><u></u></a></p> Mon Mar 09 14:06:13 IST 2020 spectre-of-a-crown <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AN AIR HUG</b>—that is all Liu Haiyan, a nurse treating novel coronavirus patients in Henan province in China, could give her young daughter when she came to drop off dumplings at the hospital. Both of them wore the mandatory masks and avoided contact, standing at a distance from each other. The daughter, amid sobs, told Haiyan that she missed her a lot. “Mum is fighting monsters,” replied Haiyan. “I will be back home once the virus is beaten. Be good.” A video of their conversation went viral, as did another one of a mother breaking down while visiting her doctor-son who had quarantined himself. She, too, had brought him food.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Medical professionals in China have been on the frontline of the country’s battle against a virus that has claimed more than 1,000 lives and infected more than 42,000 people since December 2019. The World Health Organization formally named the disease Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019. The virus continues to be called 2019-nCoV, short for 2019 novel coronavirus. China, no doubt, is on a war-footing. But there is a fear that the number of cases is yet to peak because of the extreme cold in different parts of China, and that after Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, it could spell doom for 17 cities including Beijing and Shanghai. “The virus will spread even after a month,” a Chinese government spokesman from Beijing told THE WEEK. “It is getting worse day by day.” But Dr Zhong Nanshan, who was lauded for his work during the SARS epidemic in 2003, reportedly said that the cases could peak by mid or late February and then plateau before easing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While President Xi Jinping is yet to visit Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, he chaired two meetings of the central committee and the politburo standing committee of the ruling Communist Party of China in 10 days, unprecedented in recent times, and warned citizens to adhere to the government’s instruction or face “stern punishment”. He also held a videoconference with the hospital staff at Wuhan. Anti-corruption units, too, have been asked to monitor everyone’s activity, even on social media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think the way the chief (Jinping) is leading is simply phenomenal,” said Li Huan, an academician in Hong Kong. “He is doing more than what was expected from him. He is personally monitoring the situation on the ground and using drastic measures to lower casualties. These measures were missing during the SARS outbreak.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jinping has put vice premier Sun Chunlan in charge of the operations in Hubei province. And heads have rolled since the outbreak. “The vice executive president of the Red Cross Society of Hubei province along with more than one and a half dozen magistrate or deputy director-general level officials throughout the country have been sacked,” Li Xiaojun, information director of the state council—the highest administrative body of the People’s Republic of China—told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While China has been able to narrow down the origin of the virus (2019-nCoV) to bats, a senior state council official told THE WEEK that there was a secondary carrier that is still unknown. Reports suggest that it could be pangolins.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The virus struck during the Chinese New Year, when five million people from Wuhan, the education and IT hub of China, reportedly travelled to other parts of the country and abroad. “Of them, one million are university students,” said Xiaojun. “Local gymnasiums, sports centres, schools and exhibition centres were equipped with hospital facilities within a few days.” David Chang, member of the National Commission of Science and Technology, Shanghai, however, said that it was a wrong notion that only Wuhan was affected. “Entire China is grappling with it. There is no room for containment. We are worried,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There has been criticism over the way China has dealt with the outbreak, right from the initial lackadaisical attitude of the Wuhan administration to the reluctance in sharing the extent of the outbreak. The government thought that the outbreak would not be deadly as most Chinese were vaccinated against SARS. China reportedly faced a shortage of the rapid nucleic acid test kits to detect 2019-nCoV, nor did it have enough N95 masks to prevent its spread. China looked to the US for help, “but the US turned a blind eye to our cause,” said Xiaojun. “They only paid lip service.” Japan finally came to China’s rescue and supplied the masks. Many of the early victims died even before being tested owing to the lack of kits. All cases then were branded as coronavirus cases, said an official, hence the reluctance in sharing casualty figures. The new kits, which take just hours to confirm a case, are still not readily available, and therefore hospitals, at times, have to rely on the old ones that take three weeks for confirmation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the WHO said that the first vaccine could be ready in 18 months, US firms in China came up with a solution—Remdesivir, an antiviral drug that was used to treat Ebola patients. “On February 3 and 4, we administered it to 270 patients, which proved to be very effective,” Xiaojun told THE WEEK. “Ebola medicine companies and some US companies in China have given us the much-needed help.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese government also faced flak for ignoring the initial warning given by eight doctors about the “return of SARS” with a different genetic character. One among them was ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, who eventually died of Covid-19. He had said that the initial course of treatment that was followed would not work against the new virus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Wuhan administration, instead of heeding to the warning, accused the doctors of rumour mongering. “We cannot blame the local police because Dr Li [Wenliang] called the secret disease SARS at the time. It was treated as a rumour because he was an eye doctor and not a respiratory doctor,” said an exclusive statement from the state council to THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wenliang’s death raised international concerns about China’s handling of the epidemic. Countries in the west alleged that the actual number of deaths was three times higher than the official figures. The US alleged that China’s major crackdown on social media and hiding the actual death toll and number of those infected was making things difficult for other nations. Xiaojun, however, told THE WEEK, “China does not restrict social media. It only punishes those spreading rumours, violating the epidemic prevention law. The government uses social media to promote transparency, raise awareness of the problem and get good advice in the fight against the virus. However, we admit amid this there was the case where eight doctors were warned.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is unequivocal condemnation of the US response in China and even Hong Kong, which recently fought Chinese ‘high-handedness’. Jonson Choi, CEO of a Hong Kong-based communication firm, said, “Some Americans are so delighted to see China suffer—so short-sighted and racist. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to affect the US oil and energy industry. Just a few days after the outbreak, daily oil demand in China went down by 20 per cent because of dwindling air travel, road transportation and manufacturing. Since China consumes 13 of every 100 barrels of oil the world produces, every oil company is being hit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there are those like Sally J. Yan, strategic adviser on Europe-China trade, who oppose such criticism of the US. “Last week, I oversaw the Chinese government’s purchase of over 40,000 protective suits from 3M (a US company) factories in Italy,” said Zurich-based Yan. “Throughout the whole process, no one from the government or the business procurement team was concerned of the US brand.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than 50 million people are estimated to have been affected by the lockdown in Hubei province. Other major cities, including Beijing, have turned into ghost towns, what with companies and establishments staying shut. Even cash transactions are being shunned for the fear of currency notes spreading the virus. The government has unveiled new tax policies to help industries hit by the epidemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government’s priority, however, is to locate the five million Wuhan residents who travelled out of the city. China has developed a mobile app called ‘Close Contact Detector’ that enables people to check whether they were in close contact with someone infected with 2019-nCoV.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though China has not approached any country for help, Xiaojun said a few African countries donated money and materials. “We are deeply impressed by that,” he said. “Usually your poorest relatives are the most likely to give you help although they do not have much to offer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote to Jinping offering assistance—a gesture that was appreciated by China. India, with three confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Kerala, is also on alert. Tourism has suffered after cases were confirmed in 24 countries outside China, including Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Philippines (one casualty). With one case detected in Tibet, Indians are cancelling trips to states along the Indo-Tibetan border. Said Sudip Bose, a travel company owner in Kolkata, “We have seen a drastic drop in footfalls in Darjeeling and Sikkim, and also in bookings to Arunachal Pradesh and other northeastern states this year. The demand usually peaks in February.”</p> Mon Feb 17 19:53:04 IST 2020 united-fragmented <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was the moment when everything and nothing changed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Britain left the European Union to become an independent trading nation. But nothing changed because the current transition period lasts until December 31. That is when Brexit really happens, when Britain walks out of the idea of a united Europe, after having shared the dream for nearly half a century. Rejoiced Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “This is a fantastic moment in the life of our country. There are very few moments in our lives which really can be called a historic turning point—and this is it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a turning point, but some wonder whether the turn is forwards or backwards. No doubts smouldered in Parliament Square, where I mingled with ecstatic Brexiters on January 31, celebrating without fireworks or booze, but with flags and placards, chanting: “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves; Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.” This was the venue of the sole public festivities. Dressed up in Union Jack regalia, town crier Tony Appleton exulted, “The war is over. We have won. We are free. We are our own boss.” This was Britain’s war to “take back control” from the EU. “We did it. We did it. Boris did it,” revellers chanted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“No one ever put up a statue of a journalist,” Johnson famously said, explaining his passage from journalism into politics. In making history by delivering Brexit after a resounding election victory, Johnson could earn a statue, close to his hero Winston Churchill’s in Parliament Square. Johnson uncorked a £350 bottle of French red wine given by a donor and then celebrated with his cohorts with English sparkling wine in 10 Downing Street.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In London, Brexiters celebrated in mansions and clubs with menus headlined ‘New Dawn’. But it was a dark night for half the nation that wanted to remain in the EU. Some held candlelight vigils, others mourned in small groups in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. With them in mind, Brexit celebrations were subdued because Johnson wished to avoid “triumphalism”, an aide explained.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reactions were also subdued in Europe with few commemorative events. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said, “It is an emotional day. I will miss their pragmatism. It helped a lot. I will certainly miss their wonderful British sense of humour.” Brexit is a warning that EU leaders take seriously. French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Brexit is a historic warning sign that Europe needs to reform, become more democratic, simpler and closer to the people and to remember where lies can lead our democracies to.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Europeans are frustrated that the EU has bloated into a superstate, with unelected bureaucrats in Brussels regulating the curve of bananas and the length of cucumbers. EU officials fear that a successful Britain could encourage other nations to leave. Leading Brexiter Nigel Farage predicted confidently, “There is no turning back because there will be no EU to go back to.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Witty, iconoclastic and strong, Britain’s voice will be missed in the bloc. Especially by the small northern European countries that fired from behind Britain’s shoulder to trigger momentum for liberalisation, single market integration and fiscal discipline. Britain often needled France and Germany, but they relied on its military, intelligence, trading and diplomatic skills, which provided heft to the EU when tackling American unilateralism or Chinese ascent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Britain’s exit, France and Germany emerge stronger in the EU, “worrying the southern, east European and non-eurozone countries that already resent their dominance” said German economist Henrik Enderlein. The EU now wants to focus on its big projects—green deal, reforms, integration and hi-tech makeover. But Brexit continues to distract.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After one referendum, two elections, three prime ministers and nearly four years of wrangling, the Brexit process is far from over. Tough negotiations on the all-important trade deal begin next month and must finish by year end. Experts say 10 months are insufficient to conclude this complex deal—it took Canada seven years. Johnson projects toughness—no extensions, no convergence with EU regulations. Hard or soft Brexit, deal or no deal, Britain will leave or crash out of the EU on December 31, “come what may”. Sounds familiar, but Johnson has proved pessimists wrong before. But many see Johnson’s tough posture as a negotiating ploy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The EU will watch out for devious manoeuvrings by the perfidious Albion, who has tried and failed many times to divide and rule and disrupt the EU’s decision-making. The UK wants access to the EU’s huge market, but to play by its own rules. The EU has dismissed such cherry-picking before. The EU’s main concern: Britain will subsidise industry, lower taxes, labour and environment standards to undercut the EU countries. Warned German finance minister Olaf Scholz: “There will be consequences. There cannot be an unfair competitive advantage from being outside.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Location assists. Half of Britain’s £1.7 trillion trade is with the EU, the world’s largest trading bloc. If the UK and EU diverge, manufacturing supply chains snap. Issues like data flow—essential for British technology, health and insurance businesses—face crippling obstacles. Britain will be “13th in the queue“ for an agreement, said EU’s data protection supervisor Wojciech Wiewiorowski. Over 75 per cent of UK’s data processing and transfers are with EU countries. Warned economist Thomas Sampson, “Leaving the EU will, in the long run, reduce UK living standards.” If Britain crashes out without a deal, the spectres of traffic jams, shortages of food and medicine resurrect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such “scare-mongering” does not dampen the boundless enthusiasm of Brexiters. Unchained from the EU, they envision roaming free, far and wide, striking juicy deals all over the world, buying raw materials here, selling goods there. Britain has so far only struck ‘continuity’ deals with Liechtenstein, the Faroe Islands, Georgia, Lebanon and a few others. The bumper bonanza will be a deal with the US, which will be the EU’s envy. But this could be a devil’s bargain, breaking EU shackles only to be shackled to the US. Alternatively, instead of straddling a multi-polar world with one foot in Europe and playing footsie with the other in US, China and former colonies, Britain could fall between the stools.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Johnson could also fall between the domestic devil and the deep sea, between his traditional elitist conservative voters and the disgruntled workers who defected to him in the last election. He follows an illustrious predecessor, Benjamin Disraeli, who strove to unite Britain’s two nations—rich and poor. Johnson must also fulfil his promise to provide better infrastructure, educational facilities, health care, end austerity and reduce crime and immigration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From cheers to jeers, Britain’s immigration story unravelled. Initially, the EU immigrants were welcomed because they brought affordable home repairs, filled pews in decaying churches and injected vitality to dying towns. But when Polish immigrants swelled to one million, memories of 70-hour waits for plumbers and electricians faded as resentful locals could not find jobs or houses in their hometowns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Neighbourhoods changed. Clusters of Arabs and east Europeans thronged marketplaces, smoking and speaking strange tongues. Many locals found this threatening. In East England’s Lincolnshire, employers recruited cheap labour directly from Romania, bypassing the local employment exchanges. These locals, the left behinds, voted for Brexit. Now Johnson must find jobs and fend off immigrants to please them. But the industries rely on cheap imported labour and skilled workers to plump profits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At risk is also United Kingdom’s dissolution. Scotland prefers to be with the EU than the UK and will campaign for independence in the next Scottish elections in 2021. Invoking images of Mary, Queen of Scots, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, warned that they would not be a “prisoner” of England. Northern Ireland could decouple from Britain and unite with Ireland. These separatist causes have huge political and economic costs, but Brexit shows nothing can be ruled out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Johnson’s challenge now is to convert the ‘Get Brexit Done’ campaign slogan into a ‘Get things done’ governing strategy. With the opposition Labour utterly demoralised, Johnson is strong. But he must dodge the clouds and grab the silver linings. Losses can be severe, but Britain also has world class finance, legal, pharmaceutical, tourism, real estate, creative and education industries. There are 57 world leaders educated in British universities, second only to the 58 from United States. While Johnson’s “Global Britain” slogan is mocked as imperial nostalgia, the UK has deep economic, political, cultural and security ties across the world. It remains one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Noted British academic Tony Travers, “Disruptive change can be beneficial for a country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brexit was a disruptive idea. As English writer H.G. Wells said, “Human history in essence is the history of ideas.” Brexit was not Johnson’s idea. He was conflicted before he converted. But now he has delivered. Historians will ponder: did Johnson make history or did history make him? A statue may or may not come up in the future, but Johnson will surely agree with German statesman Otto von Bismarck, who said: “The main thing is to make history, not to write it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Roddy Sale, 60</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>investment banker/ elephant polo player</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>This is a </b>big moment in history. Indians will relate to this feeling, recognising the right to assume control over your own country, for better or for worse. I am connected to the British Raj. My grandfather was the collector of Bombay. My father’s first cousin, Sir George Abell, was private secretary to two Viceroys, Wavell and Mountbatten. This claim that Brexit is an expression of imperial nostalgia is total rubbish. Our younger generation has scant knowledge of history, let alone imperial history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was too young to appreciate when we joined the EU. The beginning was positive, but the growth in EU regulation curtailed the independent spirit of the British. The EU should learn lessons from Brexit; it must reform, become less bureaucratic and more democratic. I celebrated at a Brexit party; there were many politicians, artists and media personalities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Eleanor Stephenson, 23</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>artist who works for a leading auction house</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>I am disappointed,</b> potentially terrified. We step into the abyss of the unknown. I am most concerned being in the cultural field. How will Brexit affect us? Will Boris set up freeports (tax free storage for imported artworks) that are huge incentives for collectors and art dealers? Now we have freeports in Luxembourg and Geneva. Will London lose its status as a premium art destination? Will Asia take over, especially Beijing that is gathering momentum? I feel angst. The good thing is nothing will change for at least a year. Brexit divides even the art world. Several (anti-Brexit) galleries did not take part in the art fair. My mother is Dutch, she is an art teacher and lived in Sussex. She left Britain because she felt personally attacked. It is a different feeling to foreigners. Britain is a leading force in multiculturalism. It is beyond shame to let it disintegrate. I spent Brexit night in a sauna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Fiona Watson, 55</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>businesswoman</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>I am a</b> bit sad, but resigned. I am British but I am also part of something larger. I have worked in Europe, I have worked in labs with 30 different nationalities. I am part of a household and nation that was accepting of different cultures. I live in a community of 800 people that is mostly pro-Brexit. We have many sheep and wheat farmers, mostly older people, and they feel EU rules constrained them. We have had no tensions between leavers and remainers. I believe passionately in democracy, the voice of the people. For the county to heal, trust in the political class must be restored. The youngsters just want to get on with it. I am relieved the uncertainty has ended and there is a path forward. Because of the uncertainty, my clients held their funds. Now they have begun releasing the money. For me, I hope not too much changes in the short and long term. On Brexit night, I went to sleep as usual.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Oliver Johnston-Watt, 25</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>works for his father’s bitcoin technology startup</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It is exciting,</b> but also anticlimactic. We wonder: now what? I am relieved. This long wrangle has finally ended. Brexit will open up new opportunities. Colonial nostalgia does not resonate with the average youth, they are not really aware because it is not a big part of the history taught in schools. We look to the future. Boris Johnson is talking about big changes, being competitive. We must do different things to be globally competitive. Germany’s strengths are eroding. When it comes to efficiency improvements or innovative manufacturing, the United States is far ahead of Germany. Brexit allows us to get closer to the United States. I celebrated Brexit night with my Russian friends. Russians are big investors in the UK, in real estate, hi-tech, restaurants, fashion, film and commodities. They are veterans in dealing with uncertainty. They are not nervous. In the end, we all will continue doing what we always do: doing the best we can.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Harbinder Jhita, 58</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>builder</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>This is a</b> once in a lifetime moment. My wife and I travelled from Warwick, 100 miles away, to spend the night in a hotel in London to be in Parliament Square. I am happy because we can set our own path. We must control our laws. I am sure other countries in Europe will follow our example. Britain was losing its heritage, culture and business. I am in the construction business. We have to strictly follow EU rules that some of the other European countries were lax about. I do not believe Brexit was supported only by far right sections of society. Majority of the media is causing all the arguments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I did experience racism when I was growing up. I found the best way to deal with racism was to educate people, to integrate and work in the local community. There is a lot of anger against recent immigrants from EU countries who come in and take social benefits without contributing, without paying taxes. My father immigrated 50 years ago, starting as a cleaner. He never took benefits. Stopping uncontrolled EU immigrants creates space for immigrants from south Asian and Commonwealth countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Grzegorz Pytel, 54</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>business consultant</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Brexit will have</b> no impact on my decisions. I am Polish and have dual citizenship. The last three-year uncertainty was the worst even though it was a good negotiating tool. The country will move forward and make a success of it. Brexit gives the country more flexibility but this has to be tested. The more aligned the UK is to EU in the future, the better it is for all. Britain’s traditions and practices are different from Europe’s. They have proportional representation, so members of parliament do not represent individual constituencies like here. Here, MPs often had to tell their constituents they could not do anything to solve their problems because the decision was made in the EU. People were angry with both their MPs and the EU. Voters experienced a democracy deficit. Grexit and the EU’s treatment of an insolvent Greece touched a raw British nerve. Why be part of a club that treats you so badly? Instead of doing everything according to EU treaties, Britain will now evolve in a natural way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Peter Nicastro, 50</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>cab driver</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>I am pleased.</b> I did not vote in the 2016 referendum because I did not have the knowledge. Then I sided with the winners. I am pleased because Brexit was getting on my bloody nerves. The first six months were good entertainment. It was good TV and radio. But then it would not stop. Every time I heard Brexit, I switched off the TV. We do not know what is going to happen. Even the bankers in London do not know. But I think it will be alright. We have been alone before. I know that was a long time ago, but there are other countries that are alone, too. The next few years will be difficult, but afterwards we will be better off. Other countries will want to leave and the whole EU thing will come apart. Now we can get on with our stuff—national health service, have more police on the street to stop knife crime. The youth in this country is out of control. I worry because I have three sons. Immigration is okay if controlled—now you see Roma people (gypsy migrants from Romania) camping in Mayfair! Brexit will all end up fine. The British people will make it work.</p> Sat Feb 08 16:30:25 IST 2020 course-correction <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>MORE THAN TWO</b> months have passed after Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president of Sri Lanka and most people find him to be completely different from his brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Gotabaya, who was defence secretary under Mahinda, contested the presidential elections as the candidate of Mahinda’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. But he seems to be plotting an independent course as president, despite appointing Mahinda as prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya shuns the pomp and pageantry so loved by Mahinda. Sri Lankans were stunned when the new president opted for a simple ceremony to inaugurate the fourth session of the parliament on January 3. There was no ceremonial 21-gun salute or mounted police escort, which used to be the norm during Mahinda’s presidency. The two brothers have distinct sartorial styles as well. While Mahinda prefers the white national dress and the red shawl, Gotabaya delivered his inaugural address dressed in a dashing suit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of Gotabaya’s first orders as president was not to have his photographs in government offices. When an enthusiastic supporter put up his life-sized portrait in a public place, he immediately ordered it to be taken down. When Mahinda was president, his photographs, posters and cutouts were seen at almost every street corner and in every government office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya seems to have a different approach towards handling dissent. The first street march by university students after Gotabaya took over ended in a discussion. The president tweeted that instead of the usual tear gas and baton charges that greeted student protests, he had invited them to his office so that they could discuss their issues with the officials concerned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya has adopted a direct approach towards policy issues. Last month, he accepted the long-standing demand of plantation workers of Indian origin for a minimum daily wage of 1,000 Sri Lankan rupees. The announcement came just before ‘Thai Pongal’, a major festival of Sri Lankan Tamils. The past two months have seen Gotabaya’s critics, especially the Tamils and Muslims, approving of his style of functioning and his policies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya was unusually forthright in stating that federalism was not the way forward for Sri Lanka. He told the Tamils that the unitary status of the country was paramount. Instead, he promised them economic equality, which he said would be implemented by a stable government and a powerful presidency. He also categorically ruled out diluting the powers of the president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya did not shy away from speaking out about the rights of the Sinhalese. He asked the Tamils and the Muslims to respect the will of the majority. “The people who elected me desired a profound change in the political culture of this country. They rejected political agendas founded on race. The majority of the people proved that it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control the politics of this country by playing the role of kingmaker,” said Gotabaya, referring to political parties representing Muslims, which have a tradition of bargaining with the party in power. “I invite the concerned politicians to understand this reality. I call upon all of you to join together in the national undertaking to develop this country and to reject the politics based on petty agendas that have sown divisions in our society.” In a meeting with UN resident coordinator Hanaa Singer in Colombo, Gotabaya said he would develop the economy of the war-ravaged Tamil-majority Northern Province even if Tamil political parties did not support the initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Responding to the president’s policy statement, Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan told the parliament that his party was prepared to work with Gotabaya. “Ever since the enactment of the 13th amendment in 1988, the Tamil people have decided at every election that they will work for the sharing of powers within the framework of a united, undivided, indivisible Sri Lanka,” he said. “Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as president, will work towards the achievement of those objectives. He will have the absolute support of our party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How Gotabaya will engage with the TNA in the longterm will be interesting. He has asked his ministers to help nearly 3,000 Sri Lankan refugees in India who have expressed the desire to return. Those who work with the refugees appreciate Gotabaya’s initiatives. “The president is keen to facilitate their safe return and to see that they resume their lives in Sri Lanka,” said S. Sooriyakumari, who heads the Sri Lankan operations of an organisation which facilitates the return of Sri Lankan refugees from India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are trying to transport them from India by ship so that they can take their belongings as well. The cooperation we have received so far under the instructions of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be commended,” said Sooriyakumari. The first batch of refugees are expected to return this month and the Sri Lankan government has instructed that they should be resettled in their original land in the north and east of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya is also taking steps to induct more members of the minority communities into the country’s police force. As Sinhalas dominate the police and the army, minorities refer to them as “Sinhala police” and “Sinhala army”. Gotabaya plans to recruit 3,000 candidates from the north to the police force to fill vacancies at the constable and sub-inspector levels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Gotabaya did not go back from his decision to appoint Brigadier Suresh Sallay, a Muslim, as head of the State Intelligence Service, despite widespread opposition. Retired army commander and UNP MP Sarath Fonseka, in fact, argued in the parliament that such an important post “should not be given to a Muslim”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well-known columnist and intellectual Ameer Ali commended Gotabaya for not giving into racism and relying solely on merit. Ali, a staunch critic of Muslim parties and Buddhist supremacists alike, however, warned that going forward, Gotabaya’s progressive vision might be hampered by pressure from Sinhala supremacists. “His focus is on meritocracy,” said Ali. “Reining in religious supremacists is the key and protection of pluralism is a must.”</p> Fri Jan 31 11:53:16 IST 2020 caught-in-the-muddle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FOR DIPLOMATS ACROSS</b> the world, the year 2020 has begun on an ominous note. The assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, by the US has the potential to push the Middle East into yet another long-drawn conflict. Iran’s swift response—hitting US bases in Iraq with ballistic missiles—shows that it is unlikely to back off in the face of American aggression. But Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif hinted at deescalation as he called the missile strikes an act of self-defence. “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” tweeted Zarif.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US, too, seems to be eyeing deescalation. In his formal response to the Iranian missile strikes, US President Donald Trump said he wanted to work with Iran in promoting peace in the Middle East. But he was sharply critical of Iran’s nuclear programme and threatened further sanctions against the country’s leadership. The immediate threat of an all-out war, however, seems to have dissipated following Trump’s speech.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But for countries like India, which share close ties with both Iran and the US, the coming days are likely to throw up further challenges and test their diplomatic skills. The official statement issued by the ministry of external affairs on Soleimani’s assassination shows how carefully India needs to tread. There was no reference to Soleimani by name in the statement. Instead, India chose to refer to him as “a senior Iranian leader’’. The statement also avoided the word assassination, and called for “restraint’’. “Peace, stability and security in this region is of utmost importance to India. It is vital that the situation does not escalate further,’’ said the statement. India sent a joint secretary to the Iranian embassy to sign the condolence book kept for Soleimani, in an attempt to stress its neutrality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been keeping a close watch on the rising tensions in the Middle East and has been trying to engage the key players. In a deliberate balancing act, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishanakar went to Tehran for the joint economic commission talks with Iran soon after the 2+2 dialogue held in Washington in December.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For India, the concerns in the Middle East are manifold. The region is India’s largest supplier of oil. As many as 85 million Indian expats live and work there. “The US and Iran have started putting their naval vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. Our ships carrying oil pass through this region,’’ says Anu Sharma, associate fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While India has chosen to bring down oil imports from Iran to almost zero under American pressure, there are other areas where India and Iran are partners. Any hostility in the region, for instance, puts the fate of the Chabahar port in jeopardy. The work on the port, which is India’s gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia, has been progressing at a glacial pace, despite the active involvement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At the recent meeting of the India-Iran joint economic commission held in Tehran, the two sides promised to expand connectivity. But, India has been unable to generate much enthusiasm from private companies to invest in Iran, especially after the stringent sanctions imposed by the US. And, without private investment, the Chabahar project is unlikely to succeed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ongoing crisis has also revealed the limits of India’s diplomatic leverage, despite the goodwill it enjoys in both Washington and Tehran. Jaishankar did not figure in the call list of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after Soleimani’s assassination, but Pakistan army chief General Qamar Bajwa did, demonstrating Pakistan’s growing importance in the changing scenario. Pompeo also reached out to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. It took a phone call from Jaishankar to voice India’s apprehensions. He called up Pompeo on January 5 to highlight India’s stakes and concerns in the region. He also reached out to Zarif and reiterated that India remained deeply worried about growing tensions in the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We cannot play a mediating role between the US and Iran, because we have tilted more towards the US,’’ says Sharma. The dynamics of the relationship changed under prime minister Manmohan Singh, especially after India and the US signed the civilian nuclear deal in 2005. In 2009, India voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency, criticising its nuclear programme. When Jaishankar retired as foreign secretary, he said the Chabahar project was not moving forward because Iran kept on changing the goalposts. India and Iran have not been able to sign a deal on developing an Iranian gas field despite negotiating with each other for more than a decade. Modi did try to add some warmth to the relationship, but with India actively wooing Israel and Saudi Arabia—Iran’s sworn enemies—the leverage India enjoys with Iran is limited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Iran is somewhat annoyed about the oil imports,’’ says former diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar. “There is no other country, other than Russia, which does not need its oil. But China, which has its own problems with the US, and countries like Japan and South Korea had to fall in line with what the US wanted under the threat of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even more worrying for India is the fact that a conflict between the US and Iran could spill over beyond the Gulf. “Afghanistan is very worried,’’ said former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan Rakesh Sood. “Soleimani had been dealing with Afghanistan from the 1990s.” His death will have an impact on the non-Pashtun population, which is considered close to Iran. Any deterioration in the Afghan security situation is yet another strategic challenge that New Delhi will be desperate to avoid at the moment.</p> Fri Jan 10 14:26:31 IST 2020 iran-is-not-ready-for-a-war <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Iranian surprise attack on the US bases in Iraq on January 8 was meant to avenge the death of General Qassem Soleimani before his burial. His funeral, which was attended by millions in his home town at Kerman, had to be postponed because of a stampede.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till January 7, though Iran had promised revenge, it was widely believed that an attack was not imminent. Iran chose not to kill anyone—though there were allegations that 80 people were killed in the attack—which is a message of deescalation. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s tweet reflected this sentiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been celebrations on the streets because Iran had somehow stood up to the US might. Iran’s strike was inevitable, and it may further escalate the situation. But it was America’s assassination of Soleimani that pushed the region in this direction. President Barack Obama, too, had this option, as Soleimani had always been a target of the US. But Obama knew that it would escalate the situation to an unprecedented level. Countries in the region now hope that the situation does not deteriorate and both parties exercise self-restraint. In Iran, however, people did not want restraint. If Iran had not responded, it would have further emboldened the Americans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soleimani’s assassination has changed the situation on the ground. In the past few months, Iranian society was divided. The street protests in November showed that many people were against the government because of the current economic condition, the hardships and the lack of freedom. But Soleimani’s funeral procession showed that even those who were angry with the government and the establishment are now in mourning. Soleimani is a martyr. He was not just a senior commander; he was, in my view, the second most powerful person in the country after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Donald Trump does not understand how important Soleimani was to Iran. Iranians are proud of him, and he led the anti-Islamic State fight in the region. He was also popular in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. The funeral procession was not orchestrated by the government. It could not have been possible to bring millions of people to the street by forcing them or luring them with the promise of food or money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The funeral in Kerman demonstrated how important he was. The crowd was so huge that the officials could not control it. The population of Kerman is 50,000. But two to three million people, according to estimates, attended the funeral. Despite the postponement of his burial, people braved the cold and gathered steadily even as darkness fell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many mourners had demanded that the government take revenge. They wanted the harshest revenge possible. It was a sentiment that the government had to respond to. The supreme leader, according to sources, had made it clear to the government that the revenge must be taken by Iranian forces. He did not want any attack through proxies in Iraq or Lebanon. The attack on the missile bases leaves no doubt that Iranian forces were responsible for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till January 7, top security officials in Iran were believed to have shortlisted 13 targets. The attack was carefully thought-out. Iran has indicated its willingness to deescalate. An all-out war is impossible now for Iran because its economy cannot support it. The oil sanctions have paralysed the economy. Iran is not ready for a war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Khaasteh is a Tehran-based journalist.</b></p> Fri Jan 10 14:23:54 IST 2020 face-of-the-next-phase <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SUPERMOM WITH SEVEN</b> children, she is slim, smart and stylish. She bakes cookies and inspects submarines with equal ease. A life-long high achiever who ran powerful German ministries, Ursula von der Leyen, 61, earned nicknames ranging from crèche mama to shotgun girl. As the incoming president of the European Commission—the executive branch of the European Union (EU)—she is now one of the two most powerful women in Europe. The other is her mentor, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A powerful, bold, green and cohesive “United States of Europe” is what she wants. She says: “If we close the gaps between us, we can turn today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities and emerge stronger as a Union.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, she is off to a shaky start. Unlike the US, Europe is represented by a splintered European parliament full of squabbling conservatives, socialists, greens, liberals, populists and extreme left and right parties. A last-minute dark horse from the ruling German centre-right Christian Democratic Union party, von der Leyen won her job with a meagre margin of nine votes. Unlike her predecessors who secured parliamentary approval for legislation by brokering grand coalitions, von der Leyen is hamstrung by her weak majority in a fractious, fragmented house. Besides, all her predecessors were heads of government, experienced in cutting deals and unifying factions. German socialists say von der Leyen is “inadequate and unsuitable” for the high office. But her biographer Daniel Goffart observes: “She is used to being underestimated as a woman, but has beaten men throughout her political career.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Initial omens bode ill. She failed to assemble a team in time because the European Parliament rejected some of the questionable choices forced upon her. One was a tainted protégé of French President Emmanuel Macron, who had actually masterminded her elevation. Now Macron is furious with her. Unable to hire 50 per cent women in the EC as promised, von der Leyen desperately reached out even to the EU-leaving British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suggest female candidates. Her green deal for making the continent carbon neutral by 2050 is contested, her aim to fast-track foreign policy decisions by dropping consensus is unrealistic and her desire for more capital-markets integration is controversial. Predicts EU expert Agata Gostynska-Jakubowska: “Her biggest challenge will be to show she can be assertive vis-a-vis the member-states.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Von der Leyen renamed the title for migration ministry as “protecting our European way of life” to address the resentment against Muslim immigration to Europe. Her rebranding provoked a firestorm of protests from liberals and leftists who described it as appeasing far-right groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She is the first German in 50 years to become EC president. Though her start is marred by delays and hiccups, von der Leyen has made shrewd top appointments. Her three high-caliber “executive vice-presidents” symbolise her priorities. The Danish dynamo, Margrethe Vestager, is tasked with making Europe “fit for the digital age”. Vestager will continue as the trailblazing anti-monopoly EU commissioner—a role in which she made an enemy out of Donald Trump by forcing Apple, Google and Facebook to pay millions in taxes and fines. An anti-trust investigation into Amazon’s use of client data is already under way and a new inquiry into Facebook’s proposed digital currency, Libra, is being considered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Dutch diplomat Frans Timmermans will be in charge of Europe’s “green deal”. Both Vestager and Timmermans were von der Leyen’s rivals for the EC presidency. Former Latvian prime minister Valdis Dombrovskis will manage economic and financial affairs. He will have a special focus on including the left-behind groups and the small peripheral European nations that resent their second-class status.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Opposing Macron, von der Leyen advocates expanding EU to include the Balkan states. She cites three compelling reasons: they have fulfilled all EU pre-membership demands; these border countries are buffers against migrant inflows; and if EU does not absorb them, they will become the playgrounds of Russia, China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In her geopolitical vision, the United States and China are Europe’s competitors. She wants to checkmate American digital hegemony and the Chinese acquisition of European business in strategic sectors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She began her German ministerial career as a trailblazer, but ended as an imploding star, plummeting to become one of the least popular ministers in Merkel’s cabinet. In 2013, Merkel appointed von der Leyen as the first woman defence minister. The defence ministry did not bury her career. But it buried her ambition to succeed Merkel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When neo-Nazi cells were discovered in the Bundeswehr (German military), she alienated generals and soldiers by accusing them of “weak leadership” and an “attitude problem”. Under her tenure, the German military continued to battle with unfit submarines, grounded jets and misfiring rifles. She was embroiled in scandals involving cost overruns and grant of lucrative contracts to external consultants like Accenture and McKinsey. The German parliament is investigating the allegations, and von der Leyen faces the ignominy of attending hearings in Berlin as EC president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, unlike her predecessors, von der Leyen survived the full six years as defence minister, and repeatedly exhibited the feistiness she showed from 2005 when she first became family and then labour minister. Unlike the consensus-seeking Merkel, von der Leyen is unafraid to push controversial policies. She fought internet porn and advocated minimum wages and boardroom quotas for women. To get women back into the workforce, she introduced crèche facilities and parental leave for fathers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Von der Leyen balances her strong work ethic and equally strong family values. She flies away to spend weekends with her physician-husband and grown-up children in their genteel country estate near Hanover. Von der Leyen comes from an aristocratic, conservative Christian family and follows in the footsteps of both parents—her powerful politician father and devout mother—who too bore seven children. She was born in Brussels where her father was then posted as a European bureaucrat, and graduated from the prestigious Uccle school, two years senior to Boris Johnson. The posh and petite supermom studied economics, then medicine, had children and finally entered the world of dour, disapproving male politicians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even some women were irritated by her best-in-class persona, telegenic smile and picture-perfect coiffed hairstyle. She prefers to hold meetings standing. She loves horse riding, a symbol of her privileged, elitist upbringing. She had a flair for photo ops, posing dramatically against military equipment or wearing outsized red boxing gloves to showcase her battle against domestic violence. Says Goffart, if she has a flaw it is “excessive stage management”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her new stage comes with all the traps and trappings of power. The last five years have been tumultuous for Europe, battered by terrorism, trade disputes, conflicts in the neighbourhood, Brexit, Greek debt and migrant inflows. Reconciling polar opposite views on these contentious issues will be tough.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Von der Leyen’s failure to become Merkel’s successor is attributed to her lack of power and leverage within the party. She will not succeed now unless she develops critical allies and power blocs within the EC structure. Externally, gloomy economic forecasts and sharp divisions among EU governments on different issues suggest that while von der Leyen’s ambitions are grand, her achievements could well be modest.</p> Fri Dec 06 12:17:29 IST 2019 band-of-brothers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AFTER THE EASTER</b> Sunday bomb blasts in April this year, THE WEEK met Gotabaya Rajapaksa at his residence outside Colombo. Rattled by the attacks which claimed 253 lives, he spoke extensively about the security situation in the island nation and of his plans to restore peace. Six months later, Gotabaya, who represents the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, has got a chance to put his words into action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gota, as he is popularly known, was sworn in as the seventh president of Sri Lanka on November 18. He won the elections securing 52 per cent of the votes, while his main opponent, Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party, finished with 42 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya, 70, has named his elder brother and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new prime minister after Ranil Wickremesinghe announced his resignation. With Wickremesinghe stepping down, sources said the UNP might split or might have a new leader in Premadasa. There are also reports that former president Maithripala Sirisena was planning to return to the Rajapaksa camp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gotabaya, who was defence secretary under Mahinda, cruised to victory by focusing on two key issues—security and economy. His trump card was security as Sri Lankans continue to be haunted by the April attacks. Gotabaya ran an aggressive campaign reminding the people about the intelligence failure that led to the attacks. On the economy front, he promised to deliver on the reform agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is very clear that Gotabaya has been voted to power only because of his promises,” said Charitha Herath, senior lecturer at the University of Peradeniya and former secretary of mass media and information. “As promised, his actions will be about ensuring the security of the nation and the region, the economic development of the country and a reforms agenda which includes policy regulations. For this, I believe he will engage with policy professionals in the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Mahinda was criticised for his brutal suppression of the Tamil civil war, the measure was hugely popular among the majority Sinhalas. Mahinda also brought in several infrastructure projects, most of them financed by China. But under Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, debt grew drastically and the economy nosedived. “Gotabaya will immediately ensure that the right people are at work to revive the economy. It may not be possible in a month. But the process will begin soon and we will invite foreign direct investment, encourage local investments, exports and bring clear proposals for improving agriculture,” said Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former permanent representative to the United Nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Gotabaya’s return has brought cheer to the Sinhala majority, the Tamils and Muslims are disappointed. In the north and the east, where the Tamils and the Muslims live, Gotabaya finished way behind Premadasa. “Authoritarian family rule is once again back in our country. Till 2015, one family was running the government. Mahinda was president, Gota was defence secretary, younger brother Basil was a minister and Chamal, the eldest in the family, was speaker,” said Jaffna-based political observer N. Nilanthan. “This time, Mahinda’s son Namal, too, will play a very important role.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the Rajapaksas claimed that they had brought in infrastructure development and rehabilitated the war-affected people in the Northern Province, the Tamils are still traumatised by the torture they endured, especially during the last stages of the civil war. Many people in the region think of Gotabaya as a war criminal, although the SLPP worked hard in the province for the Tamil votes. “We still have not got our land back. With Gota back in power, they will ensure that there will be Sinhala settlements here,” said Nilanthan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kohona, however, said it was wrong to assume that Gotabaya would be against the minorities. “In the north and the east, people did not vote for him,” he said. “But a majority of the Tamils live in Colombo. In the Western and Southern Provinces, he won handsomely. He will lead the country and be the president of the people of this country irrespective of who voted for him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, meanwhile, is looking at the return of the Rajapaksas with some concern. Mahinda had blamed the Research and Analysis Wing for his loss in 2015. He also alleged that India brought Sirisena and Wickremesinghe together to keep him out of power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although India subsequently mended relations with the Rajapaksas, the clan’s close ties with China are still a matter of concern. When he was president, Mahinda had opened up Sri Lanka for the Chinese who invested heavily in the country, including in the Hambantota Port. Sri Lanka subsequently became an enthusiastic participant in the Belt and Road Initiative. Mahinda even allowed a Chinese submarine and a warship to dock at the Colombo port despite India’s objections. No wonder India moved quickly to congratulate Gotabaya upon his victory and establish a rapport with him. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met the new president in Colombo on November 19. During the meeting, Gotabaya said Sri Lanka considered India to be its “relative”, while China was its trade partner. Gotabaya accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to visit India and is likely to arrive in New Delhi on November 29.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“India will be the cornerstone of our foreign policy,” said Kohona. “Highest priority will be given to our relations with India because of the historic, cultural and economic nature of the ties—not just between the two governments, but also between the two people.”</p> Fri Nov 22 12:52:31 IST 2019 cautious-optimism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 16,</b> began on a high for people of north Jaffna. There were long queues at polling booths, as even the elderly braved the heavy afternoon showers to vote for the 7th executive president of Sri Lanka. Steven Leonard, a businessman, was sure, like many others in the north, that United National Party (UNP)’s Sajith Premadasa would become president. “It is a sure victory because we Tamils have fully put our strength behind Sajith,” said Leonard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early next morning, however, the tension in the air was palpable. The Thirunelveli vegetable market, about 5km from Jaffna town, had traders and customers glued to their pocket radios. By 9am, gloom had settled in and around Jaffna. “He is winning all the Sinhala districts,” wailed a mournful trader. It was clear that he was referring to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former defence secretary and one of the two top contenders—the other being Premadasa. He was fielded by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which is led by his brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By 10am, it was clear that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was going to be the new president. By afternoon, shocked northeastern citizens learnt that Premadasa had lost even Colombo and Kandy, two UNP strongholds. By evening, the roads of Jaffna were deserted as the north pondered over its future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In post-independent Sri Lanka, this is one of the elections in which the Tamil people were keenest to vote,” says Jaffna’s A.N. Rajendran, who was secretary of former Northern Chief Minister C.V. Vigneswaran. Rajendran has since joined a faction of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that agreed to cooperate with the UNP for this election. Rajendran noted that both the main candidates failed the Tamil people, but feels that Tamils had no choice but to trust Premadasa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are not asking for federalism,” said Rajendran. “We want an effective way of sharing power within a united country. But in Sri Lanka, establishing the rights of Tamils is a political issue.” Rajendran acknowledges that the ultra radical view held by some Tamil politicians prevented further discussions with the former Rajapaksa regime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The northern Tamils voting en masse for Premadasa is significant because there were calls from diverse segments of the community to boycott the elections. Vigneswaran’s Tamil People’s Alliance (TPA), had, along with four other parties, teamed up with a section of Jaffna University students to put forward 13 demands before the two main presidential candidates as conditions for supporting them. The conditions included the release of LTTE prisoners held for terrorism. Neither of them responded to the demands. Soon after Rajapaksa’s victory, Vigneswaran reiterated the call for self determination of the Lankan Tamils, even as he issued a statement congratulating the winner. He noted that this election had divided the country into “water-tight communal compartments”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One Tamil, who holds a dual citizenship and is based in Europe, had come to Jaffna to vote. Preferring to remain anonymous, he expressed disappointment that the diaspora’s call for Lankan Tamils to vote for Premadasa did not reap expected results. However, he too, like many Tamils and Muslims, expressed fresh hope that Rajapaksa would usher in equality for all Sri Lankans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By midweek, a distinct change had taken over and the fear to express opinion—a phenomenon that existed prior to January 2015—resurfaced. More than half of the Tamils in the north that THE WEEK contacted refused to speak even anonymously. A few took to Twitter, posting carefully worded messages about peaceful coexistence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although the main visible support by Tamils and Muslims was for Premadasa, there are few who spell out an alternative view. One such person is Sentitcumaran Ramalingam, a Tamil lawyer from Jaffna, now in Colombo. He feels that the fear of the new president is largely unfounded. “The context in which Rajapaksa operated as defence secretary and is accused of alleged crimes was a war situation where the LTTE had adopted ruthless methods,” said Ramalingam. He points out that 12,000 former LTTE cadres were rehabilitated under the Rajapaksa regime from 2010 to 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the east, which is inhabited by both Muslims and Tamils, the voting pattern favoured Premadasa, although, in the rest of the country, some sections of Muslims did vote for Rajapaksa. Ali Sabry, Rajapaksa’s attorney, was lobbying heavily to woo the Muslims back. The alienation of Muslims came after the anti-Muslim riots of 2014, and was furthered by the Easter Sunday attack, carried out by nine Muslims, that left nearly 300 dead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In this election, the whole idea of national security was predominant. The SLPP candidate contested entirely on a national security-based pledge. It also seems that the Sinhala people felt that they could depend on themselves to have a government totally elected by them,” said Muslim human rights activist Jezima Ismail. “We should give him (Rajapaksa) the chance to prove himself. The reconciliation process should continue so that we can... continue the energetic engagement of pluralism.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Muslims, like the Tamils, had the chance to vote for a Muslim candidate, but the votes polled were insignificant. Controversial former Eastern Province governor M.L.A.M. Hizbullah had contested but failed to get noticeable support from Muslims in the east.</p> Fri Nov 22 12:50:23 IST 2019 elizabet-warren-is-fighting-for-all-americans-says-her-son-in-law-from-uttar-pradesh-village <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Two of the Democratic contenders in the 2020 US presidential elections have strong ties with India: while Senator Kamala Harris from California had an Indian mother, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s daughter, Amelia, is married to Indian American entrepreneur Sushil Tyagi. Along with former vice president Joe Biden, Warren leads the list of Democratic hopefuls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tyagi was born in Khatauli* village that is on a rural path off the main road that goes between Deoband and Saharanpur. He never had a settled childhood as his father, who was a policeman, was transferred frequently. But Tyagi was a bright student and he went on to study civil engineering at IIT Delhi. He completed his studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the Wharton School in Philadelphia. He now serves as president of Berkeley Marine Robotics, an ocean exploration and conservation company. He has also dabbled in film production and was involved with movies such as Hari Om (2004) and Samsara (2011).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Tyagi opens up for the first time about Warren, calling her a fighter who knows exactly what families go through every day in America. He hopes to assist his mother-in-law in overturning the Trumpian model of American political life. Indian Americans are getting involved in the Warren campaign through the recently-launched Warren India Network (WIN) whose lead supporter is California lawyer Navneet Chugh. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Can you tell us about your early life?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am originally from a north UP village, which is so small and unknown that it still does not have a post office or a bus service. Like most children of smallholder farmers, I grew up taking the cattle to the ponds and sugarcane carts to the crushers. My mother never went to school and could not read or write.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since there was very little farmland, my father joined the UP Police as a constable. He was initially posted in such remote places where there were no schools or where he could not afford to keep a family. So I was sent to our relatives’ villages to continue at local schools.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As was the norm in the state police, my father was transferred every few months to various small towns. I lived most of my childhood near those police stations and constantly shifted to new schools. Sometimes, I was even left behind with a teacher’s family to finish a year’s class. It was after more than 12 different schools that I completed final grades and that just happened to be in Dehradun. A decade later, I helped my parents build a house there and adopted it as my hometown although, as you can see, I do not really have one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You studied at IIT Delhi. Why did you decide to move to the US?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ As no one in my extended family had gone to college, and no one around me even knew of IIT back then, it was quite a lonely path for a Hindi medium kid to embark on JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) preparation, although it was under the relative luxury of a gas lantern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once selected for IIT, I was grateful for a UP Police scholarship that helped ease the cost burden for my parents. While at IIT, I was drawn to topics that were esoteric and remote, perhaps echoing my yearning and unlikely journey up to that point. I did my senior thesis on the designs of artificial islands, which, at the time, was quite an outlandish topic. Even though I had never seen an ocean in my real life, I was fascinated by its stochastic nature, and applied to the postgraduate programme in ocean engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. There I published research and developed software for simulation of large-scale floating offshore structures, which, back then, seemed like a futuristic concept.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How important have science and technology been to you in your professional life?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ After an MBA in finance from Wharton, much of my work as a management consultant has been in strategic planning and financial feasibility of new ventures. I still continue to examine scientific and technological advancements, but with a view to assessing their competitive and economic viability. When there is an opportunity to help shape a concept or technology into a new startup, it is really exciting for me as an entrepreneur to work hard at the ground level—to shape the business model and to find a feasible path to bring it to market.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What about your experience with movies?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ During my job as a management consultant in the media/entertainment strategy group of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Los Angeles, I had worked for top executives of Hollywood studios on their strategic plans and financial models. There I also learned to analyse the business and process of film finance and distribution. With that industry experience, I was fortunate to be able to help talented filmmakers produce some India-based films and documentaries that showcased uplifting positive images from the culture and history of India. These were fairly short projects and I soon returned to my main focus in management consulting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Tell us about your work in robotics.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ My latest venture stems from my prior engineering work on marine structures at UC Berkeley. Our goal is to build robotic systems for ocean exploration and conservation. Traditional radio signals, such as GPS and Wi-Fi, do not travel in fluids, making it difficult to explore marine life or to inspect underwater equipment. Current options of piloted submarines or remote-operated vehicles are quite limited and expensive for wide-scale deployments. Therefore, we are developing innovative, low-cost autonomous swarm robotic solutions that will enable remote navigation and communication in deep waters for research and industry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How and where did you meet your wife, Amelia?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I met Amelia at Wharton, where we were both first-year MBA students. Soon, I got to know that her parents were teachers and that she also had to move with them to their various university appointments. Like me, she, too, had gone to nearly 10 schools before college. So we started off on the shared stories of being the new kid in town every year and then having to do well in each new school right away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on being part of the Warren family?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ When I married the daughter of two college professors 20 years ago, we had an instant common bond in the value of education. Her parents grew up on the edges of middle class and had found higher education as their path forward in life. Even though I came from a totally different part of the world, I identified with their life story, and I think they identified with mine in some way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My family is multicultural just like many, many families across America. We celebrate Diwali lights as well as Christmas lights. We are an American family and as much as I like to teach my kids about Hindu epics, I, too, have much to learn from our local church’s hymn books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think Warren will make the best president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Elizabeth Warren stands to fight for all Americans. She grew up in the heartland of this country and knows exactly what families go through every day. All her brothers were in the military and she knows their concerns and their hopes. She has also studied family economics at the highest levels and has worked for decades to advocate for policies to help protect middle-class families. She has fought for years against predatory banks that also twist the political arms to their whims and thereby hurt all Americans, and in particular people of colour. She envisioned and built the consumer financial protection bureau against the onslaught of corporate lobbyists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She can fight, and frankly it looks to me that she is the one actually enjoying this fight. Being part of a multicultural family, she has respect for the global communities and the need for thoughtful moderation and respect in our dialogue with all nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What would you and Amelia want to tell Indian-origin voters about Warren as president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ For the Indian/south Asian community in the US, it may be a delight to hear that Elizabeth Warren has a close family connection with India. She has been to India multiple times to participate in our family functions. All three of her grandchildren have this dual heritage. The key for the Indian American community is to not get taken in by the easy pandering or divisive rhetoric coming from partisan voices. The extreme wings in the US do not have best interests of this community at heart despite their opportunistic and selective sloganeering during elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What would your daughters like to share about their grandmother?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ First and foremost, Elizabeth Warren is an amazing grandmother, ‘Gammy’ to the kids. She is the only one who knows how to operate the little sewing machine and whenever she visits us, the kids put all their new clothes out that need to be hemmed or new buttons to be sewed. My daughters like to craft the emoji avatars for their Gammy’s Snapchat and giggle together. And then Gammy gets up and takes serious calls from the senators, teachers and her team. On any given day, she can move through many states in multiple town meetings and after a two-hour rally, she still has energy to stand for four more hours to meet thousands. She will then come over to hang with the grandkids and discuss their homework while heating up some leftover snacks for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your thoughts on the American dream and the future of the US?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The United States is a unique and great country, and it is made from multicultural families in each generation. Each new culture and new generation has had its challenges but eventually the country embraces them all. My daughters are growing up with a grandmother from a village in India, who cannot even read. Their other grandmother is a Harvard law professor and a US senator and a presidential contender. However, to my daughters, they are both similar in their hardscrabble upbringing, in their love for the grandchildren and in their focus on the family above all.</p> <p><b>*also referred to as Khatoli village,&nbsp;in Saharanpur district</b></p> <p><b>Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</b></p> <p><a href=""><u></u></a></p> Mon Dec 02 12:27:45 IST 2019