Standing up to “Jana-Gana-Mana”

Standing up to “Jana-Gana-Mana”

Let me begin with a simple declaration. I believe that India is a better country when not only the government protects the right of free speech but also the culture values that right. I believe Indians should be tolerant of dissent, even when they believe dissenters are offensive and wrong, and that the best cure for bad speech isn’t censorship but rather better speech.

I absolutely love India’s national anthem and  the hope and pride it triggers when I hear it. Composed by Nobel Laureate (Sir) Rabindranath Tagore, who would later return his knighthood to protest the British Army’s massacre of unarmed Indians in 1919, the anthem was first sung at a convention of the Indian National Congress in pre-independence India. In a multi-religious country that speaks 780 languages, the anthem is a great unifier, which binds the left and the right of India’s incomparably colorful population. We learn how to sing it before we can read the alphabet. And we stand rod straight as a mark of respect when it plays. Above all else, my country’s anthem reminds me that, unlike so many other parts of the world, I am free in India, even if ours is an untidy and argumentative democracy.

That the anthem is now the subject of petty bickering on TV talk shows is a trivialization of what it stands for. The debate first erupted when a Supreme Court judge (now the chief justice) passed an interim order in November 2016 directing that the anthem be played and the Indian flag be compulsorily displayed before any movie is screened in theaters.

Personally, I am very happy to stand in movie halls for the 52 seconds it asks of me. But I am also terribly uncomfortable with labeling fellow citizens who challenge the court’s original diktat as ‘anti-national.’ If you see the anthem like I do, as the song of our hard-won liberty, that freedom encompasses the right of citizens to disagree and dissent. And some of them are also asking — why only  movies?  Why not make the anthem mandatory in government offices, parliament, and the courts?

In 1945, George Orwell warned that “nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism.”   And this is exactly the problem — our ‘nationalism’ is being contorted into hashtags and hate. The cruel judgments we make of those who may challenge inherited wisdom undermine the very republic we claim to be defending.   This streak of violence — in words, thought and action — is the defiling of patriotism.

In an age of populism, nationalism is being peddled like soap. Nativist television anchors encourage a competitive circus in which “experts” fight over who is more ‘nationalist.’ This banal point-scoring reduces love for nation to a chessboard of one-upmanship.

And this totally overlooks those who are quietly patriotic:  the dignified soldier who serves his country in battle, the philanthropists and activists who feed the hungry and fight the corrupt, the honest, hard-working citizen who voluntarily cleans the public beach or the neighborhood park, the high-flying, dollar-earning Wall-Street banker who returns home and never converts the green card into a U.S passport — love for your country is expressed in many ways. But when you need to boast about it or look down on others for not matching up, it’s not patriotism; its jingoism.

Most national anthems are not meant to codify or police our behavior; they are songs of freedom. They are a celebration of what our countries are- or should aspire to be. This is why I admire the take-a-knee campaign by NFL players and other athletes in America. Their contentious decision to kneel whilst the anthem is played is a rights-driven activism that demands an end to the discrimination of people of color. This is not an insult to America; it’s a citizenry that is peacefully engaged in wanting better for their people. What could be more patriotic than that? Many anthems around the world are songs of defiance and resistance in their genesis. The French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” written as a war song against foreign invaders but was adapted in modern times to show the power of a united people.

When we start policing patriotism we are in danger of pushing the sublime to the ridiculous. As one of judges on the Supreme Court bench said: “Next thing will be that people should not wear T-shirts and shorts to movies because it will amount to disrespect for the anthem; where do we stop this moral policing?”

I want to see people stand for the Anthem out of love, not fear, and so long as the fear remains, a decision to stand means nothing but an empty victory in a culture war that will tear this nation apart.

I love my anthem. But I dislike coercion of thought. I think that makes me a patriot.

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China: The Awkward Neighbour

China: The Awkward Neighbour

 

All about understanding the Chinese mind

Just when the stand-off between India and China over the Doklam plateau threatened to go the way of the 1986-1987 incident (Arunachal Pradesh), the two sides agreed to step back and disengage, thus avoiding a confrontation. The Indian side has pulled back its personnel and equipment to the Indian side of the boundary, while China has agreed to make ‘necessary adjustments and deployment’ on its part. It is unclear, however, whether China will patrol the region, which it claims to have been doing earlier. Road construction will not continue for the present.

Behind the scenes, quiet diplomacy by the two sides and ever dominant Indian Foreign policy under Prime Minister Modi, no doubt, led to the defusing of what could have been a serious crisis. Those on either side of the divide currently claiming victory must, hence, pause to think what the future holds.

To savour victory without understanding the factors at work would be a serious mistake. To begin with, China and India have a kind of competitive coexistence. While professing friendship, both sides nurse a mutual suspicion of each other — at times prompting several degrees of alienation. Both countries remain wary of each other’s intentions and actions. Understanding the way the Chinese mind works is, hence, important. The Chinese mind tends to be relational, i.e. dictated by context and relationship. When the Chinese state that they have halted road building in the disputed Doklam area, while adding that they may reconsider the decision after taking into account ‘different factors’, what China means is that it is willing to wait to implement its decision, but at a time of its choosing when an opportunity exists for a settlement suited to its plans. Little finality can, therefore, be attached to any of China’s actions.

Any belief, hence, that China has been deterred by India’s firm position at Doklam could be misplaced. Since the China-Vietnam conflict in 1980, China has avoided getting into any outright conflict. By stepping back from a confrontation with India over a minor issue at this time, what it had in mind were two significant events, viz. the BRICS summit in China in September and the forthcoming 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Also, it possibly believes that this would help China dilute global perceptions about its aggressive designs.

 

The BRICS summit and the 19th Party Congress both have high priority for China today. Nothing will be permitted to disrupt either event. Extreme factors would not be allowed to affect this situation. For President Xi Jinping, presiding over the BRICS Summit at this juncture will help consolidate his informal leadership of the group. As the undisputed leader of BRICS, China believes it can take a signal step towards global leadership.

China is currently seeking to reshape the regional and international order, and is keen to fine-tune its ‘Great Power diplomacy’. It, hence, needs to be seen as preferring peace over conflict. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a potent instrument in this direction, but needs a peaceful environment to succeed. Limited wars or conflicts, even with the possibility of successful outcomes, would damage China’s peaceful image globally.

The 19th Party Congress is even more important from President Xi’s point of view. It is intended to sustain his legacy and leave his stamp on the Party in the mould of Chairman Mao. To achieve comprehensive success, he needs peace to achieve his target. Till then everything else will need to wait.

This is again a delicate moment for China on the economic planes. China’s growth rate is actually declining, debt levels are dangerously high, and labour is getting more expensive. At this moment, hence, it is more than ever dependent on international trade and global production chains to sustain higher levels of GDP growth. For the present, development, therefore, is the cardinal objective.

The Achilles’ heel of the Chinese economy is the lack of resources, specially oil. Oil from the Gulf region is critical for China’s growth. Peace in Asia is thus vital to ensure uninterrupted supplies of oil. Uncertainties and disruptions across the Asian region would hamper China’s economic progress.

For all the above reasons, China currently leans towards the pragmatic when it comes to relations with countries other than those in its immediate periphery in East Asia. It is not keen to follow a policy adopted by its new-found strategic ally viz. Russia which has paid a high cost for its ‘interventionist’ policies. China tends to take a longer term view of its future and, despite the rising wave of nationalism in China today, is anxious not to upset the international political or economic order. For this reason alone, it would shun a conflict with India in the Doklam area.

China is not a sleeping giant , and aspires to be a Great Power. It is well-positioned to achieve this if it maintains its present course. Any interruption, by indulging in a conflict with nations small or big, would not only damage but derail the levels of progress that are essential to achieve this objective. President Xi’s China dream seems predicated on this belief. It implies support for a rule-based international system, linked to ‘Tianxia’,in the belief that this would help China overtake the U.S. as the dominant world power.It is unlikely to do anything to deviate from this goal.

China is definitely not a ‘Pakistan’ that, it would show its emotions  in a defeat or a victory. The Chinese don’t fire bullets and there is no cross border insurgency but more effective than that, is the Chinese policy of ambiguity and unresolved tensions, for what it is, the Chinese are made of nerves of steel and are ever comfortable with the awkwardness that surrounds its neighbours. The Chinese would never show their cards not even in a crisis or in a state of dominance.

While this attitude cannot be taken for granted for all time, the current Chinese leadership seems comfortable in following this prescription. It appears to believe in the ideal that ‘the longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward’.

For China this is a game of Chess and not that of a T20, for that they are ready to play the long waiting game and sacrifice some of its pawns.

MSD- The Destiny

“Dhoniiiiiiii….finishes off in style….a magnificent strike in to the crowd…India lift the Worldcup after 28 years…the party starts in the dressing room…and its the Indian captain who has been absolutely magnificent in the night of the final”.

No Indian can forget these words which echoed throughout the country on 2nd April 2011 and continue to do so whenever we think of that day.“The history of the world,” wrote Thomas Carlyle, “is but the biography of great men.” Carlyle held that history is determined by the actions of a handful of heroes. And if his ideas have been discredited since, in sport, at least, they’ve still some truth to them. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was and is such Hero to 125 crore Indians and their  Religion, that is Cricket. He may not be the next Sachin Tendulkar , but he surely was the only one who came close.

In a nation that is obsessed with being centre-stage, I am not sure he ever sought it. Remember the long-haired new captain who had just won India the first World T20? He had given away his match shirt to someone in the crowd and was walking away quietly. The more mature captain who had won India the World Cup of 2011? Spot him in any of the pictures? He let it be Sachin Tendulkar’s moment. He let it be about Indian cricket. It wasn’t about him and he didn’t force himself into every frame. It was, actually, his evening but he looked at it from afar.
I thought it was cool. The sign of a confident man. He made a statement by not being there. I don’t know if that is cool today but he rose in my eyes.

Dhoni was not only a calm captain himself, he was the cause for calmness in others.

He smiled, he showed displeasure, he chatted to bowlers, but while his immediate message was clear, no one could bet on what his thinking was.

Dhoni read the one-day game better than he did Test cricket, and was India’s finest captain in the shorter formats.

He could experiment, even gamble, trusting his finely honed sense of time and place to bring him success. What people also forget is about MSD’s wicketkeeping skills, they are as good as Ronaldo’s flicks and Messi’s tricks.He perhaps is one of the finest we have seen if not THE best of all time when it comes to being behind the wickets.

He led India to victory in three tournaments – World Twenty20 (2007), World Cup (2011) and Champions Trophy (2013) – so the record matched his reputation

When he handed the ball to rookie Joginder Sharma in the final of the inaugural World T20 a decade ago, there might have been a collective gasp around the country.

Yet Sharma claimed the last Pakistan wicket, and as an unintended consequence, the face of cricket was changed forever. The IPL was born, as India, Twenty20 deniers became Twenty20 obsessed.

Dhoni’s place in history is assured, and not just as a player and captain.He was leader of a talented group of players which emerged from non-traditional areas.Dhoni’s arrival was a testimony to the reach of televised cricket.

The legacy Dhoni bestowed upon Virat Kohli is a team secure in its skin, certain it can win from any position. There was no better captain in the game’s shorter forms than Dhoni during his time. He is the only skipper to have won all three major trophies — the World Cup, the World Twenty20 and the Champions Trophy. Michael Clarke and Brendon McCullum had greater attacking verve. They were certainly superior Test captains. But in the art of managing a finite innings, reading a contest’s rhythm and its tactics, Dhoni had no equal. He had an intuitive feel for what could happen and the ability to get the best out of his resources, however bare( I always felt he can achieve great things if he enters Politics). His greatest strength was his nerve. Where others tried to finish things quickly to pre-empt panicking, he took games deep. He raised the stakes, knowing he would not blink before his opponent. Remarkably, he managed to transmit this sense of composure to his team. He asked his bowlers to relax and stick to the plan; the responsibility of the result was his to bear. Few cricketers have stayed in the present as successfully as he has. Fortunately for Indian cricket, his successor is every bit as impressive. Kohli, moreover, will have access, should he choose, to all of Dhoni’s considerable powers.

What Dhoni achieved though, goes way beyond the numbers he produced. He told young Indians in small towns that they could conquer the world. To them he was the beacon, he was the dream that maybe they could achieve too. He showed the way. It is a substantial, and wonderful, thing in life to do.

“I don’t think anyone knew Mahendra Singh Dhoni. I don’t think anyone was meant to.”-Harsha Bhogle

 

Hindutva Vs Hinduism

 

Hinduism and Hindutva now stand face to face, not yet ready to confront each other, but aware that the confrontation will have to come some day. It is my belief that it will be a struggle unto death.

Hindutva has nothing to do with Hinduism as a faith or a religion, but rather as a badge of cultural identity and an instrument of political mobilisation.Hinduism is a religion without fundamentals – no founder or prophet, no organised Church, no compulsory beliefs or rites of worship, no single sacred book…What we see today as Hindutva is part of an attempt to ‘semitise’ the faith – to make Hinduism more like the ‘better-organised’ religions like Christianity and Islam, the better to resist their encroachments.

Speaking pessimistically, Hindutva will be the end of Hinduism. Hinduism is the faith by which a majority of Indians still live. Hindutva is the ideology of a part of the upper-caste, lower-middle class Indians, though it has now spread to large parts of the urban middle classes. The ideology is an attack on Hinduism and an attempt to protect the flanks of a minority consciousness which the democratic process is threatening to corner.

On this plane, the sources of Hindutva are no different from that of Islamic fundamentalism.

Hindutva, if it wins, might make Nepal the world’s largest Hindu country. Hinduism will then survive not as a way of life or the faith of a majority of Indians. It will survive in pockets, cut off from the majority who will claim to live by it. It will also perhaps survive in odd places, outside Hinduism. Perhaps directly in Bali and some sections of the Sikhs and the Jains in India; less directly in aspects of Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhism, in the pre-imperial forms of Christianity in South India and, to the utter chagrin of many, in many strands of South Asian Islam.

That death of Hinduism in India will be celebrated by all votaries of Hindutva. For they have always been embarrassed and felt humiliated by Hinduism as it is. Hinduism, I repeat, is a faith and a way of life. Hindutva is an ideology for those whose Hinduism has worn off. Hindutva is built on the tenets of re-formed Hinduism of the nineteenth century. Reformed according to the reading of those who saw Hinduism as inferior to the Semitic creeds, in turn seen as well-bounded, monolithic, well-organized, masculine, and capable of sustaining the ideology of an imperial state.

Speaking optimistically Hindutva has its geographical limits. It cannot spread easily beyond the boundaries of urban, semi-westernized India. It cannot penetrate southern India where Hinduism is more resilient, where it is more difficult to project on to the Muslim the feared and unacceptable parts of one’s own self. Hindutva cannot survive for long even in rural north India where Hinduism is more self-confident and the citizens have not been fully brainwashed by the media to speak only the language of the state. Nor can it survive where the Hindus are willing to be themselves–proudly “backward” superstitious sanatanis rooted firmly in their svadharma and svabhava.

That is why the RSS considers its first task to be moral and physical “improvement” of the Hindus. It does not much like the so-called fallen, compromised Hindus presently available in the back-waters of Mother India. It loves only the Hindus who have been dead for at least one thousand years. If the RSS has its way, it will make every peasant in India wear khaki shorts. For its ideal Indian is the brown- skinned version of the colonial police sergeant, reading the Gita instead of the Bible.

That is why the late Nathuram Godse did not kill the modernist and “pseudo- secular” Jawaharlal Nehru but the ‘arch-reactionary’, ‘anti-national’ sanatani — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. After the murder, Nehru could only say that the killer was insane. The modernist Prime Minister found it too painful to confront the truth that Godse was sane, that he knew who was the real enemy of Hindutva.

Many of these formations cut across cultures, faiths and state boundaries. The struggle for cultural survival has begun not only in India, but all over the world. In every case, it has also faced a sizable opinion within the community that the struggle must be given up, that pragmatism demands that the culture must adjust to the modern world by giving up its essence to become a part of global mass culture. However, cultures are turning out to be less obedient and docile than many social engineers thought.

Perhaps Hindutva too will die a natural death. But, then, many things that die in the colder climes in the course of a single winter survive in the tropics for years. May be the death of Hindutva will not be as natural as that of some other ideologies. Maybe, post-Gandhian Hinduism will have to take advantage of the democratic process to help Hindutva to die a slightly unnatural death. Perhaps that euthanasia will be called politics.

We see what extreme forms in any religion have done to the nations, Past is full of Church’s hegemony in Europe  and the present can be well reflected in our own neighbourhood – The country they call “Pak” as in pure.Whereas the future seems more grey than white in the middle east threatened by the ISIS ideology of Khorasan and Darl-Al-Harb. We as Indians need to ask ourselves, Where do we want to go?-The idea of “Right” that is Hindutva or the idea that was born as India which is Hinduism!

Moving from Indira to Nehru, Mr Modi.

Once in a lifetime does a person gets to be The Abraham Lincoln of America,the Nelson Mandela of South Africa, The Mao of China  or  The Nehru of India.Its an opportunity for Mr.Modi to be a part of the elite league of World leaders, to become immortal ever with the country’s name.Its upto him to make the shift from Popular to Legitimate!

The BJP’s monumental electoral triumph in Uttar Pradesh, especially after a massive victory in the state’s parliamentary elections in 2014, invites reflection on two important political concepts: Dominance and hegemony. The BJP’s political dominance is now a commonplace observation, but Is it the beginning  BJP’s hegemony as well? Real political matters are involved. And the success of future political strategies might well depend on which concept best captures the realities of Narendra Modi’s India.
Let us start with the differences between Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, viewed as the two most powerful leaders of India after Independence. What was the nature of their power and the polity they ruled? Which one does Modi resemble most? Where might a polity ruled by Modi be headed?
The basic question here is not about Modi’s economics, which is fundamentally different from Nehru’s and Indira Gandhi’s, both of whom were on the left. While Modi is no free market proponent, he is best described as right of centre on economics. The question about hegemony and domination concentrates on politics, not economics.
The basic difference between hegemony and dominance is that the Dominance represents power stemming from persuasion, while Hegemony represents, power from coercion. In democracies, we don’t get pure hegemony or pure dominance. Hegemony is often associated with totalitarian polities, like communism on the left and fascism on the right. The Soviet Union and Maoist China did exercise coercion, but most minds had been ideologically captured. Even the non-state citizen space, the so-called civil society, was inhabited by ideologically conforming and state-supporting organisations.
Democracies construct hegemony differently. They allow freedom to civil society; opposition parties also openly contest the government. They don’t curtail freedom of speech. Even with such freedoms and adversarial opportunities, the power of the Congress party under Nehru spread to all parts of India, with the exception of Kashmir and parts of the Northeast. Only in 1957, 10 years into Nehru’s tenure as PM, did one state, Kerala, acquire a non-Congress government. Opposition parties fought hard, but could not win against him. Also, there was vigorous debate within the Congress. Nehru was sometimes defeated in intra-party debates. Finally, civil society was not repressed.
Nehru was one of the “unchallenged rulers of the world, perhaps the only one who ruled by love and not fear”. Ruled by love, not fear!These words explain why Nehru came to be viewed as a democratically legitimated hegemon of India.
In political practice, despite genetic lineage, Indira Gandhi was anti-Nehru. The masses, on the whole, adored her. But intra-party dissent was crushed; civil society organisations were harassed; government interfered in universities, getting left-leaning academics in positions of power; disagreeing judges were afraid; state-level leaders came to be appointed by her, not by regional wings of the party. Regardless, based on her personal popularity, the Congress party kept winning power in most states (except for 1977), though not in as many as under Nehru. She was dominant, not hegemonic.
In his politics, Modi is more like Indira Gandhi than Nehru. Under his leadership, the BJP is ruling in many more states than ever before. But opposition within the BJP rarely raises its head. Marginalised by Modi’s popularity, the seniors are fading away. An independent voice like Arun Shourie’s could not be accommodated in power, whereas Patel, Nehru’s adversary, was inside the cabinet. Hindu nationalist academics are being imposed on universities. Civil society organisations, opposed to Modi, fear retribution. It is extraordinarily hard to win 40 per cent or more of UP’s vote twice in a row, as Modi did. To this, add winning Maharashtra, a Congress bastion; Haryana and Assam, where the BJP was insignificant; increasing BJP vote share in Bengal, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana; and keeping Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh intact. Punjab, Bihar and Delhi are Modi’s only notable electoral failures.
With this electoral record, Modi has become contemporary India’s most dominant political figure. When Karnataka goes to polls next year, he might even win a southern state. His victorious arc will thus touch all parts of India. No politician since Indira Gandhi has had such cross-regional electoral appeal.
However, like Indira Gandhi, his functioning between elections also departs from democratic principles. He does not stop intolerant organisations from running amok and unleashing violence. Freedom of speech is not a principle he loves. Ideological conformity and/or loyalty shape his political functioning.
Can Modi move from dominance to hegemony? From electoral legitimacy to rule by persuasion? Namely, consolidation of power is often necessary before it can be dispersed. Would he pick power dispersal as a preferred strategy? And what will be his approach to groups that remain suspicious and fearful, especially Muslims (and Christians)?
It is unlikely Modi would pick power dispersal over further power consolidation. The former is not his style

To remain Indira forever or become Nehru for a lifetime will be a challenge for Mr.Modi.For now, we should celebrate the man, the vision and the hope he brings for India.

America vs USA

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. – John F Kennedy,America chose “Change”, But America went for the “Past” in order to secure their “Future”

“Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment.
But it can be disappointment only because it is also a hope.” These  lines are hugely pertinent today. Trump’s rise and his first policy pronouncements are intimately connected with contestations over America’s identity. A long-held view of America’s national identity is that, Being American was not an ethnic identity. Rather, Americanness symbolised a political creed, or a set of ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence, 1776, which laid the foundations of the American Republic.
Three ideas were critical: Equality, freedom and republicanism. Unlike the “old world” Europeans, the “new world” Americans were free, not chained by historical tradition; they would be equal, not ranked by birth-based, ascriptive hierarchies; and they would govern themselves via elected representatives, not be ruled by a dynastic monarch.
In Europe, only one nation approximated these ideals, France, but only after the French Revolution, and not entirely resolutely. Elsewhere in Europe, ethnicity, linguistically expressed, was the foundation of nationhood (with the exception of Switzerland). Both the US and France were civic nations, not ethnic nations.
The dilemma,  was that societies can’t easily achieve these ideals in their fullness. Given human imperfections, these ideals, especially equality and freedom, were much too lofty. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, African Americans were neither free nor equal. Their slavery ended in 1864, terminating America’s founding contradiction between the ideal of freedom and the fact of slavery. But intense racial discrimination and violence continued. Only in the mid-1960s did African Americans achieve legal parity.
America is not a “lie”, because genuine progress towards freedom and equality had been made. But the pace of progress was “disappointing”. However, precisely because more progress can be made towards those ideals, “hope” would mark America’s evolution. The ideals of freedom and equality, though tough to attain, were far too deeply ingrained in the American psyche to be tossed permanently aside.

How do these foundational ideas apply to Donald Trump?
They do not. In his world, and that of his supporters who got him elected, an alternative conception of American identity exists. Investigating more than a century of American legislation and judicial decisions on immigration and citizenship,It can be argued that these laws “manifested passionate beliefs that America … was a white nation, a Protestant nation, a nation in which true Americans were native-born men with Anglo-Saxon ancestors.” These traditions of Americanism” were not only used against blacks and indigenous Americans, but also against Irish and Italian immigrants, who were Catholic, and against Jews, all of whom were viewed as “inferior races” when they came to the US.
With respect to some non-white immigrant groups, American laws became especially draconian. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, later expanded into exclusion of all Asians, ensured that migration into the US was overwhelmingly white for many decades. Essentially, resentment against each new wave of migrants has repeatedly appeared in American history.
America’s national identity is thus not only about a set of ideals, especially freedom and equality. It is also about the ascriptive white superiority. It is against this long-standing duality that the Trump moment is to be viewed.
Though not without flaws, post-1965 US has been closest to the American ideals that the US has ever been. Externally, the immigration reform of 1965 ended national/racial quotas. As a result, after 1965, most immigration into the US became non-white. Hispanics from central and south America have been the biggest immigrant group and Mexicans the largest among them. Muslims from various parts of the world also arrived after 1965 (as did, incidentally, the Indian Americans, most of whom came to the US after the mid-1960s.
Internally, the Voting and Civil Rights Acts, passed in 1964-65, severely undermined state laws that licensed racial discrimination, especially against African Americans. While the racial situation is far from ideal, it is noteworthy that at no point in American history have African Americans acquired such prominent positions in public life. In Obama, America had a black president for eight years, something inconceivable until some time back. Hispanics too have risen to the highest levels of the polity.
Census specialists now predict that by 2041, the US will not to be a white-majority nation. It is this racial anxiety and the impending loss of white privilege that forms the bedrock of Trump’s base, strewn widely over middle America, as also in the smaller towns on the two coasts. It is especially concentrated among the non-college educated whites. The Protestant-Catholic divisions are no longer salient. A new white nationalism is reborn. The proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border and a ban on Muslim migration is the contemporary incarnation of white nationalism.
Against white nationalists are fighting those who defend the deepening of post-1965 American politics. Institutionally, the courts thus far are leading this fight (they did not always, and they may not). And in terms of mass support, hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of Americans who have come out in protest, represent the post-1965 charge.
Notably, Trump’s temporary Muslim ban did not provoke only American Muslims to protest. Large numbers of non-Muslims, including thousands of whites, have come out in support of an American ideal they hold dear. Moreover, we also have the strong voice of women defending women’s dignity, mocked in such an unseemly manner by Trump.
In sum, the US is witnessing a deepening clash between those who wish to take the country to its political ideals of equality and freedom regardless of race and ethnicity, and those who wish to drag America back to its pre-1965 history.

“Trump’s America is not America: not today’s or tomorrow’s, but yesterday’s.

A political battle is underway.

The ‘Unsung’ Refugees: Rohingya

“People floating like pollen in search of more fertile soil.”

The Rohingyas are a people struck by tragedy: persecuted at home in Myanmar, rejected or barely tolerated abroad, and sacrificed at the altar of strategic calculations by powerful neighbours. To add to it, the refugee crisis in Europe has overshadowed their plight. Both institutionally discriminated and denied basic human rights in a legally-sanctioned manner as well as removed from the mainstream, over a million Rohingyas have no land they can call home. It is as though they have been expelled from humanity itself.

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, neighbouring Bangladesh, are not recognised by the Myanmar government as an official ethnic group and are therefore denied citizenship. Most Rohingyas are not qualified to be citizens of Myanmar as per the 1982 Citizenship Law, which was promulgated by the erstwhile military rule. While it is claimed that there were no Rohingyas in Myanmar before the British brought ‘Bengalis’ to Burma, there is sufficient evidence to show that the Rohingyas pre-existed the British-engineered migration (during the British occupation of the Arakan State in 1823) from present-day Bangladesh to Burma. Even those who arrived in Burma post-1823 could not go back to Bangladesh now given that they have no citizenship claims there. This effectively makes them a stateless people.

Hundreds of people have been killed at the hands of the military, many more hundreds have disappeared, scores of women sexually assaulted, villages razed to the ground, and tens of thousands have fled the country. A large number of those escaping the brutal violence end up in the well-oiled trafficking networks of the region who smuggle them out for huge amounts of money. Some die en route, some make it to the borders of neighbouring countries only to be turned away: hordes, including little children, often get stranded at sea.

Myanmar, however, denies that its military has committed any wrong. A government-appointed inquiry committee recently concluded that “there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region”.

What makes the anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar even more distressing is that all of this is now happening under the stewardship of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous and inspiring “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”.Clearly, Ms. Suu Kyi’s precarious political position makes it hard for her to respond to the crisis as effectively as she could have. Despite the return of democracy in 2015, the military continues to have a strong hold over the civilian government in Myanmar, especially on key issues such as defence, border affairs and home affairs. The country’s constitution also reserves one-fourth of the seats in Parliament for the military. And though Ms. Suu Kyi’s party is in power, she herself is barred from becoming the country’s president (she holds the post of State Counsellor) since her children are British citizens. Under such circumstances, her ability to take on the powerful military establishment remains limited.

The predicament of the Rohingyas is also a result of contemporary geopolitical realities and strategic calculations by key stakeholders in the region and elsewhere. The Western world is busy with the unfolding of events in Syria and the resultant refugee crisis. Hence they would not want to get bogged down with the Rohingyas, whose plight has no direct bearing on the West’s interests. Having steadfastly invested in the pro-democracy movement led by Ms. Suu Kyi, and by recently lifting the 20-year-long sanctions against Myanmar, the U.S. finds itself in no position to bargain or put pressure on the country.No Oil No party!

The UN has also proven to be powerless on the Rohingya question, as it has been on most questions lately. In May 2015, when the UN Security Council held a closed-door briefing on the human rights situation in Myanmar, China made it clear that it was an internal matter of Myanmar. For China, its relationship with Myanmar’s Generals is important to gain access to the country’s natural resources, and recruiting Myanmar for China’s larger economic goals which include opening a land corridor to the Bay of Bengal.

India, a traditional home for Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists, has been reluctant to either speak out about the violence against the Rohingyas or accommodate them in significant numbers. China’s closeness to Myanmar clearly worries New Delhi. Its reluctance also comes from the fact that Myanmar’s assistance is seen as significant in dealing with the insurgency in the Northeast. In any case, the Rohingyas are of no strategic value to anyone. Compare this to how both India and China rushed in with aid during the earthquake in Nepal nearly two years ago. Today, many Rohingyas are either turned away while trying to enter the country or sent to jail for illegal entry. Recall that India has not signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol which require countries to accept refugees.

Although India’s reluctance to speak out publicly about the violations against the Rohingyas is understandable, it can ill afford to ignore the crisis in Myanmar. Even if human rights considerations are the least of India’s worries, it is clearly in its interest to ensure that stability and peace return to the Rakhine state. For one, as and when peace returns to Myanmar, India can ask the latter to rehabilitate the Rohingyas (like it did vis-à-vis East Pakistan refugees after the 1971 war). Second, a stable and democratic Myanmar will naturally gravitate towards India. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Rohingya crisis, if it remains unsettled, can become a path toward radicalization and pose a greater security threat for India. There are reports of increasing radicalisation among sections of the Rohingya community. A December 2016 report by the International Crisis Group spoke precisely about this challenge and highlighted how rights violations can lead to radicalisation.

India should use creative diplomacy to persuade Myanmar to resolve the Rohingya crisis. It should perhaps consider appointing a special envoy for this purpose who should hold discreet negotiations with Myanmar’s military, Ms. Suu Kyi, Dhaka and Beijing in order to bring an end to the crisis.

“HUMAN BEINGS,WHILE CAPABLE OF BEING THE WORST,ARE ALSO CAPABLE OF RISING ABOVE THEMSELVES,CHOOSING AGAIN WHAT IS GOOD AND MAKING A NEW START ,DESPITE THEIR MENTAL AND SOCIAL CONDITIONING” – Pope Francis