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US panel report biased, baseless and motivated: Don’t Insult India

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If foreign countries and institutions start preparing reports on India based on observations or perceptions or statements by some Indian leaders, such reports are bound to be questioned on facts and intentions. Indictment of India only when it involves members of Muslim community forces one to question if such reports are meant to mollify the Muslim community that has charged the West of suffering from Islamophobia.

On 28 April 2020, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that India should be placed on Religious Freedom Blacklist. The Indian government has rejected the report as “biased and new level of misrepresentation”.

Actually the report has brought Pakistan, India, China and North Korea on one platform. Not that the report would mean anything significant for the US administration, but it depicts the bias of the Left liberals in the US and other countries of the West and Europe. I will try to analyze this bias and look for the reasons. India is bound to feel hurt since its vibrant democracy has been compared to countries where democracy does not exist.

Let us try to understand what the report says. “In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault,” and “called on the US to impose punitive measures, including visa bans, on Indian officials believed responsible and grant funding to civil society groups that monitor the hate speech”.

The commission said that Modi’s �Hindu nationalist government’, which won a convincing election victory last year, “allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity, and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence”. It spoke about revocation of Article 370 in only Muslim majority state and allegations that Delhi police turned a blind eye to mobs who attacked Muslim neighbourhoods in February this year.

In the context of the Citizenship Amendments Act, the report said that “the national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims”. It said: “The Citizenship (Amendment) Act potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the government completes its planned nationwide National Register of Citizens”.

Those who are aware of the Indian realities know that it is fighting against fundamentalist forces using democratic means. This country has a vibrant media, independent judiciary and a vociferous opposition. This is a country where every citizen vows by the constitution and nothing is done or can be done that would undermine the spirit of the constitution. If institutions are running as per mandate, how can one accuse these institutions of violating human rights or perpetrating discrimination?

Why then such a damning indictment? There is definitely more to it than that meets the eye. One must recall that this report has come after irresponsible statement by Arundhati Roy who compared the democratically elected government with the Nazis and said that the Muslims were being discriminated against (18 April 2020). A day after, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) criticized the Indian government saying there was Islamophobia in India.

“(We) urge the Indian Government to take urgent steps to stop the growing tide of Islamophobia in India and protect the rights of its persecuted Muslim minority as per its obligations under International Human Rights law,” said a tweet issued by the OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (19 April).

One hundred and one former civil servants of India wrote an open letter to all the Chief Minister and Lieutenant Governors alleging harassment of Muslims while dealing with COVID-19 spread (23 April). United under the banner of Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), these officers from All India Services have complained that the Muslim community has been facing hostility ever since the news of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation spread across India. It included prominent Muslims including Wajahat Habibullah, Siraj Hussain, Najeeb Jung, Harsh Mandar and others.

The US panel report was followed by the chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, Zafarul Islam Khan, who thanked Kuwait for “standing with Indian Muslims” and attacked Hindus. He said “Hindutva bigots have miscalculated the reaction of the Arab world about the persecution of Muslims in India”. Hindus will face an avalanche’ if Indian Muslims complain to their friends in the Arab world, he said.

A careful look at the dates when the statements were made would make anyone understand that there is someone working from behind and trying to defame India. Of course the Western world and Europe are not comfortable with India rising story. They keep painting India in the negative and describe Kashmir as one of the hotspots of conflict. Indian government has tried to resolve that without any help from the West. The Islamists, the Leftists and anti-India forces that had calculated that the entire world would come to support them had eggs on their face. They have been peddling lies to the western world that the Unity called India is artificial and that India is a nation of nationalities.

These forces tried their best to prevent Mr Narendra Modi from coming to power at the Centre. The same sets of people who wrote a letter to then US President Barack Obama in July 2013 asking him to deny Visa to Mr Narendra Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. The idea was to defame Modi and prevent his rise.

It is not a rant. I have worked with the British High Commission in Delhi and I am aware of the tools foreign governments employ to have their say in Indian affairs. The NGOs funded by them, giving international awards to certain category of people and using them later to further their ends have been old techniques that were prevalent earlier. Under the new regime it does not work. Most of the fictitious NGOs have either been closed or their funds have stopped due to their failure on the accountability fronts. The panel’s call to fund these NGOs reflect their desperation.

I recall an interesting anecdote. I had gone to London on an official visit to toe Foreign Commonwealth Officer. Amnesty International and other such organizations have mastered the tool of influencing the government and shaping their policies. The British government takes care of them because of their nuisance value. A complaint was forwarded to me and I was asked to give a response. There was an alleged attack on a Church in Rajasthan under the regime of BJP’s Vasundhara Raje. The Church organization had sent complaint through Amnesty International. I did some Internet search there at the FCO and came across a photograph that showed the archbishop meeting the chief minister just two days after the date of the attack. I made my own inquiry and found that nothing like that had happened. I told them that the Archbishop had expressed happiness with the chief minister and had made no such complaint to her. Many such stories land at India desk of these countries in order to create an anti-India narrative.

It is quite possible that the US narrative is outcome of combined effort of anti-India forces. The Western media bias was visible when the Washington Times and others reported negatively on Delhi riots. Some of the facts that appeared in these media were challenged. They were determined to convert the riots into a pogrom. If we need to understand these we will have to understand the background of the writers who are setting the narrative. Most foreign correspondents based in India collate their information so that the narrative is the same.

If Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemns violence and targeting of any community it does not make news to them because it would then damage their building blocks of state sponsored violence. The Prime Minister has always spoken about welfare of all and had been working day and night to ensure that all Indians are safe. If maulanas at the Markaz are condemned for spreading the virus, it is not blaming the entire Muslims community. This distinction is being made by ordinary Muslims but ignored by international media and vested community leaders. Others just chip in to support their narrative.

They can’t be blamed because their stories would sell back home only if it is negative. They think that India is a country of snake and ladders. They want to see poverty, conflict, violence, rape and inequality. The India rising story cannot sell. Also, somewhere down the line they are suffering from a complex because the entire West and Europe is gripped by Islamophobia. They try to show India in bad light to sound soothing to Muslims here and also back home.

(Sudesh Verma is National Spokesperson of BJP. The views expressed are personal.)

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Sagging electoral prospects behind Trump’s H-1B action

The real impact of the presidential proclamation, therefore, will be two-fold. First, as long as Trump is President, it will undoubtedly cause many international students, who are looking at the US as a potential destination for higher studies to reconsider their decisions.

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On June 22, US President Donald Trump issued an executive order suspending the entry of a number of non-immigrant work visa holders into the US till the end of the year. The visa categories affected include, most notably, H-1B, which has been used by more than a million Indian information technology professionals since the 1990s and L1 visa used by US companies to bring in workers from their Indian offices.

During his campaign for President four years ago, candidate Trump consistently railed against the H-1B programme. However, after he moved into the White House, Trump left the visa programme untouched in the first 43 months of his presidency, even as he delivered on most of his controversial campaign promises, such as the Muslim ban and dumping of multilateral treaties like NAFTA and Paris Agreement, through executive actions.

There were two compelling reasons Trump didn”t act on the visa programme until now. The US economy had been doing very well until Coronavirus hit the American shores early this year. And, the tech industry, which employs three-fourths of the H-1B visa holders, has been doing even better.

The second reason is the formidable lobbying power of the industry. The four most valuable companies in the world, Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft, and Facebook have historically used the H-1B workforce to augment their profits. They were not going to let it go without a fight.

The influence these organizations wield was evident when Trump spared H-1B in his first executive order to curb nonimmigrant work visa holders issued on April 22. According to reports, H-1B was to be part of that proclamation but the White House was talked out of it by the industry.

So, what has changed between late April and today?

A number of things, but primarily it is Trump”s dimming re-election prospects. A steady stream of polls in the past few weeks has shown that the incumbent is trailing badly in the race against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The President”s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic — his initial refusal to see it as a threat and then his inability to provide the leadership to contain it — has shaken people”s confidence in Trump”s presidency.

Prior to the onset of the Coronavirus, Trump was banking on making the election a referendum on his stewardship of the economy. But the pandemic, which has claimed more than 125,000 American lives, has also eliminated up to 40 million jobs.

Although some of the jobs have come back thanks to the multitrillion dollar stimulus package, the re-opening plans promoted by Trump have not produced substantial results. Now, with parts of the country closing down again, and the deadly virus spreading in southern and western states, there”s no sign of the economy turning the corner before the November election.

Consequently, Trump needs to be seen as doing something to save the economy and American jobs. H-1B, which has been a bogeyman for the protectionists and economic nationalists, is an easy target during this downturn, even though study after study has documented that the visa programme actually helps create jobs. The administration claims that the executive order is going to save more than half a million American jobs without giving details.

It should be noted that the order mainly impacts petitioners who are outside of the US who have not gotten their visas stamped on their passports yet. As a result, it will only have little impact in the short term on those seeking work in the US.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Service issues roughly 85,000 new H-1B visas annually of which 20,000 are for those with US master”s degrees. Most petitioners in this category are already in the US and they will not have any problem in starting their jobs in October, typically the time new visa holders enter the work force.

According to immigration attorneys, a significant percentage of the remaining 65,000 visas are claimed by dependents of H-1B and L-1 visa holders, as well as foreign students who have graduated from US schools, but did not get the visa under the master”s degree quota. These groups will also not come under the purview of the executive order, as they are already in the country.

The real impact of the presidential proclamation, therefore, will be two-fold. First, as long as Trump is President, it will undoubtedly cause many international students, who are looking at the US as a potential destination for higher studies to reconsider their decisions. During the Trump era, the US has already been losing potential students to nations such as Canada, Britain and Australia.

Second, despite the massive job losses in the broader economy, there are still vacancies in the tech industry that will have to be filled to move its economy forward. The US tech sector has said for years that the country doesn”t produce enough skilled workers and the industry will suffer without the intake of manpower through H-1B and L1 visa programmes. If it becomes more difficult for these companies to hire foreign workers, they would probably outsource more and more of these jobs to foreign destinations, including India.

It is an irony that, while Trump is trying to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, his nonimmigrant worker visa policy could force more high-paying service jobs offshore. What makes it doubly ironic is that this action which Trump has taken to try to save his job as President will not do so.

Given the current state of affairs, it is likely that on election day November 4, the American people will fire Donald Trump. After that, the decision on what to do with information technology visas in 2021 and going forward will be in someone else”s hands. And, Trump will have to find a new place of employment for himself.

The good news is Biden has already stated that his administration will lift the H-1B ban.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed are personal)

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India at Afghan crossroads as Taliban cocks its guns

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New Delhi, July 3 : With Chinese bellicosity reverberating across the world, South Asia is bracing for another jolt — the epicentre of which is neighbouring Afghanistan. The tremors from Kabul will pass through Islamabad and hit Delhi, yet their intensity is not known. To what extent is India prepared is a question mark.

It all began on February 29, when the US signed a deal with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, to withdraw its forces from the war-torn country after almost 19 long years. Strangely it chose to leave out the elected Afghan government from a deal that impacts the future of Afghans.

The peace deal between the US and Taliban, remains a misnomer. Contrary to the spirit of the deal, the Taliban has increased attacks and the violence has engulfed the landlocked country – right from the maternity ward of a hospital in Kabul, to a gurdwara in prayers; from a funeral site in Nangarhar to a court in Paktia. And, not to mention dozens of Afghan security check-points where many hundreds of security personnel have died.

On its part, the Afghan government is implementing various provisions of the deal, like the release of Taliban prisoners, and President Ashraf Ghani has committed to join the intra-Afghan talks in Doha.

Doha is where the Taliban maintains its political office, and where the US-Taliban deal had been negotiated this February. The US Special Representative for Peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad has been chasing diverse parties including Pakistan for the intra-Afghan talks, reducing violence and release of prisoners. In his recent talks with Afghan leaders, Khalilzad reinforced that peace in Afghanistan is equivalent to peace in the region and the US is ready to invest in this sphere.

However, going by the high levels of violence inflicted by the Taliban the future looks bleak for the nation. It is not difficult to understand why the Taliban has stepped up its deadly attacks across the country – it is looking forward to an American withdrawal to enable a complete takeover of the country. The World Human Rights Watch Report has said that the Taliban”s widespread human rights abuses in areas under its control raise concerns about its willingness to adhere to future agreements.

Besides the two key nations — the US and Afghanistan, there always has been a high-stakes player — Pakistan, with its behind-the-scenes shelter and support to terror groups. In its efforts to control a resource-rich but unstable neighbour, it has played a pivotal role in keeping Afghanistan on the tenterhooks and vulnerable to attacks through battle-hardened terror groups. It has also put in considerable efforts to keep India at bay.

Indian intervention in Afghanistan has been diametrically opposite Pakistan”s — it has pumped in $2 billion aid and assistance for the Afghan people to rebuild the war-ravaged country and promote democracy. India has built dams, power stations, roads, hospitals and trained Afghan people in various aspects of administration and security.

With unprecedented developments happening in Afghanistan, many including Khalilzad are urging India to talk to Taliban. This is a view which even Zamir Kabulov, Russia”s special presidential envoy for Afghanistan, holds. The million dollar question is — how does India view the Taliban, which India has kept at an arm”s length for close to two decades now.

India still looks at Afghanistan as a democratic country that elects a people”s government, while the Taliban is still viewed as a terror group, power hungry and a Pakistani stooge. Indian thinking is still governed by the good old-fashioned theory of an ideal Afghanistan where all tribes come together to hold elections, where terror groups drop their arms and the Afghans climb up the development charts with roads, dams, schools and hospitals with Indian support.

With unbelievable violence engulfing Afghanistan, this looks like an impossible reality. An Indian pipe dream. But what is still possible amidst these impossibilities is that India opens up a window to talk with the Taliban.

The Taliban has made reconciliatory gestures towards India which have been surprising. It has already said that the revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir was an internal matter of India. And, it has said a couple of times that it is open to talks with India. In fact, even the Afghan government has indicated that India should join the intra-Afghan talks as the country has always been supportive of peace in Afghanistan. It wants India to drop its opposition to the Taliban and lend strength to the peace process.

While calls for India”s role in the peace process echo from all sides, the only opposition has come from arch enemy Pakistan, which is still busy playing its ”running with the hare and hunting with the hounds” game. Even as it poses with the US as an ally in the Afghan peace process, it has been sheltering and training various terror groups in attacking both Afghan and Indian interests.

However, the good news for India is that the terror groups are mutating in the Afghan battlefield. While the Taliban is warming up to India, the formidable terror group, Haqqani Network, shares Pakistan”s line of thinking.

The fast-paced developments in Afghanistan have left the field wide open for India to drop its nonchalance and join the talks, paving the way for a bigger Indian role once the US completely withdraws from the region. As the various players in the Afghanistan theatre know, India”s stand at the talks will only be from a point of peace and from a perspective of the Afghan people.

We know that there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in international relations. People evolve, entities change but peace still remains a goal worth pursuing. India has pursued that goal for millions of Afghan people for long. It should not give up now.

By : Rahul Kumar

(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)

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Saroj Khan will live in history of choreography for Indian cinema: Subhash Ghai

She was an integral part of our Mukta Arts family-She was my strong partner in grooming stars like Madhuri Meenakshi, Manisha and Aishwarya. Master of masters.

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Mumbai, July 3 : Filmmaker Subhash Ghai has described prolific choreographer Saroj Khans death as a “personal loss”, and said that she will forever live in the history of choreography in Indian cinema.

Almost all the biggest films in Ghai”s career had Saroj Khan calling the shots for some of the biggest dance hits in his films. These include “Hero” (1983), “Karma” (1986), “Ram Lakhan” (1989), “Khalnayak” (1993), “Pardes” (1997), “Taal” (1999), “Yaadein” (2001) and “Kisna” (2005).

On Friday, Ghai shared an emotional video talking about Saroj Khan, who passed away after a cardiac arrest in the early hours at the age of 71.

“Saroj Khan. My biggest personal loss. An integral part of my journey in cinema — Sarojji. Keeping alive classical dance in Hindi cinema was Saroj Khan. Change has come and change will come, but Saroj Khan will not. We all have become masters by becoming her students. Cinema will always remember her. What do I say, I have no words. I am saddened,” he said in the video.

Alongside the video he also shared a message, where he said that she was a strong partner in grooming stars like Meenakshi Sheshadri, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala and Aishwarya Rai.

Meenakshi Sheshadri became an overnight star after “Hero”, Ghai”s musical blockbuster of 1983. Madhuri worked in the Ghai hits “Ram Lakhan” and “Khalnayak”, both of which had superhit dances choreographed by Saroj Khan. Manisha Koirala made her debut in Ghai’s 1991 hit “Saudagar”, which had several hit song-and-dance sequences, while Aishwarya Rai’s dances in “Taal” continue to be a rage to this day.

“An era has gone. Absolutely my personal loss. She was an integral part of our Mukta Arts family-She was my strong partner in grooming stars like Madhuri Meenakshi, Manisha and Aishwarya. Master of masters. Saroj Khan will live in the history of choreography for Indian cinema indeed. Bye Jaan. RIP,” said Ghai.

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