Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Personal Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi


Ever since I was a kid I remember this day being more exciting to me than my own birthday. Today that excitement has transformed into optimism. Mahatma Gandhi gave the weakest among us the strength to resist injustice through establishing moral supremacy in the humblest possible way. He was one of the very few in the annals of history who have brought morality to bear upon the most pressing causes of our times. He gave a message devoid of doctrine and dogma. His message was from the heart and soul. He was brilliant in using the mind to communicate these profound ideas in the most effective ways. All in all, he was a moral strategist, a realistic idealist, and the most determined human being I have come across in life and my readings.

Today, as we remember him along with the rest of the world that is celebrating the first International Day of Nonviolence, it is his tenacity to fight the right battles the right way that reverberate most in my thoughts. Too often with the passage of time we grow jaded, tired and begin to rationalize injustice as a system defect. The Mahatma's life reminds us the critical need for endurance in this struggle for justice, equality and opportunity.

Mahatma Gandhi has a great personal resonance with me because he too was part of the Indian diaspora till he was 46. I am not 46 yet but many like me in the diaspora today look up to the Mahatma as a role model in finding ways to contribute in the making of a more democratic, pluralistic and prosperous India. I feel there is something for everyone to learn from his life.

A re dedication to our beloved causes with the commitment to persevere in pursuing them for the betterment of all is going to be our greatest tribute to this great soul. No matter how small or big our sphere of influence or the impact of our actions may be, it is important that our efforts don't cease.

Young India, Inc. will continue to play its role in shaping policy and attitudes to make nonviolent thinking an integral part of our strategic vision to tackle problems. There is no nonviolence without empowerment. Thus, empowerment becomes the centerpiece of all our work. Mahatma Gandhi did that through his Constructive Program. The newsletter that introduced Gandhi to India and made him a Mahatma, Young India, is today our inspiration to carry on his unfinished work to whatever degree we can. That is my commitment to nonviolence. Today, we all should to think about our commitments to this fundamental principle.



Tuesday, August 14, 2007

India at 60

As India reaches a remarkable milestone of 60 years as a pluralistic democracy Indians and the diaspora are bound to reflect. You will read numerous accounts of India’s successes and failures. Numerous quantitative analyses are available. But I am interested in reflecting on India’s qualitative evolution over the last six decades. Is India still true to its founding principles? Are these founding principles still relevant? What principles will the future be based on? To me these are the burning questions more so than how does Indian maintain a certain GDP growth rate.

This is what the preamble to India’s constitution reads:

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

I feel these founding principles are just as relevant today as they were 60 years ago. But has Indian been true to them? Let’s take a quick look.


It is a remarkable achievement that India has maintained its sovereignty despite internal diversity and immense external pressure. Some may question this achievement citing alliances with hitherto hostile nations like the United States but no matter how critical we may be of specific policies it is hard to make the case that India has compromised this most critical achievement of our independence movement. India is taking the right course to build relations with past adversaries. One can only hope that this engagement empowers its people and not merely the bureaucratic and political elites.


It is important to understand the historical context in which this principle was laid down. Having just emerged from the shadows of an imperialistic nation there was great weariness towards the models of economic development in that nation – capitalism. In addition, to this apprehension the vast majority of India was illiterate and poor. In this scenario the founders sincerely believed in the greater role of government to empower people. In hindsight some things could have been done different. Today, however, this concept has to be revisited by keeping the ultimate objective the same – people’s empowerment. In that regard I feel that India must make the next decade the decade of the entrepreneur and signal its growth into a smarter democracy that knows how to evolve with time. A vast majority of its population is still economically marginalized but governmental assistance should not be the goal. Instead, government facilitation to build enterprises at the rural and small-town level should be the focus. This is essential for India to sustain the growth it has shown. It cannot drag its masses in the rough as the few race ahead. It must teach them to join the race.


This is the backbone of India. It is the very soul of India. Going forward I would only suggest that semantically we use pluralistic as an alternative term to define the vibrancy of India’s multiculturalism, which has withstood assaults from all sides. Even today extremists on all sides are vying to tear apart this most beautiful composite fiber India has sewn together over centuries. Well, they can try all they want but I know that India’s soul cannot be changed. For if India ever abandons this most cherished principle it will cease to be the India that I love. India’s pluralism is one of India’s greatest gifts to the world. It does not merely teach assimilation but synthesis. It is always refining what it possesses and adding to the grandeur of its moral stature.


As disappointing India’s political discourse may be it is by and large committed to democracy. Except a brief period in its history India has maintained its commitment to electoral democracy. That does not mean that other elements of democratic evolution have grown. The Right to Information Act has finally ushered in the much-awaited era of transparency so critical to the survival of any democracy. Political leaders have stymied public participation that greatly suffers from apathy to begin with. The media has greatly assisted them in doing this by making sensationalism its main product over news. There are, however, bright spots of thoughtful journalism that have saved the day in times of crisis by reminding us all what truly matters. The new generation armed with information offers me great hope. Time will tell if they can meet the challenge at hand of making India’s democracy work for its people by inspiring its people to work for democracy.


India has failed in its commitment to this principle. Much beyond the sheer slowness of process today the prevailing sentiment is that justice is an ideal but cannot become a reality. The people have surrendered on this front. Social justice is still far from achieved. Marginalized sections of India’s society still languish. Prejudice may have superficially receded in the urban centers but it is still alive in rural India. Economic deprivation and social alienation are still rampant. All of this is exacerbated by the lack of political empowerment. Steps have been taken and great efforts are underway through the Panchayati Raj system. This system must be the focal point of India’s development strategy. The success of this system will significantly impact the condition of justice in India’s society as the Panchayati Raj system holds the greatest promise to empower the marginalized.


This principle is increasingly coming under attack from radicals and political operators. The recent attack on Ms. Taslima Nasreen and prior to that attacks on artists by the BJP-RSS underscore the dire need to restore this principle. Beyond these crude shows of myopia and sheer anti-social behavior there is an effort underway to undermine those who think differently on issues of development. Numerous government projects do not tolerate deviation from the official line. To me this is more dangerous than the barbarism shown by hooligans on the fringes. India must persevere to keep this principle alive and relevant.


This principle needs to be revisited and refined. I feel this should be expanded to equality of opportunity. The justice clause covers equality before the law but above all opportunity should not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, caste or any other belief set. Some have cleverly used this clause to oppose affirmative action without fully understanding the scope of the deprivation of those that affirmative action ideally tries to help. Such debates will persist and are healthy.


This is a truly Indian ideal and despite cynicism from some corners it is alive. The Indian soul is inclusive despite its numerous shortcomings. It welcomes all. It dances with all. It sings with all. It loves all.

We love India as it is today because we believe it still bears the torch to lead the world through the darkness of hate into the light of peace and love. We salute the people of India on this momentous day.


Rohit Tripathi.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What the 110th US Congress Should Know about India - Event Summary

You can find a summary of Young India's recent Capitol Hill briefing online now here:
Young India briefs US Congress on developments in India

As you will find mentioned in the event summary, Young India's president, Rohit Tripathi, made mention of the elections in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, before the briefing, Young India delved into the matter here on the page of Samvaad. The stunning results of this election are making their way to international publications as well. Take note of Newsweek's recent article titled An Unlikely Alliance which focuses in on the crafty alliance-building that Ms. Mayawati engaged in in the BSP's recent electoral win. A short excerpt:
"The election two weeks ago of Mayawati, a member of India's oppressed Dalit castes, as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) shocked the country. The surprise wasn't her victory per se. Dalits (once known as untouchables) have occupied high office before. The stunner came from how Mayawati got there this time: by building an unprecedented coalition of Dalits, marginalized Muslims and upper-caste Brahmins, long viewed by Dalits as their oppressors. Now this most unlikely of combinations threatens to seriously shift politics, not just in India's most populous state, but in the entire country."

We will continue to post more on how these events unfold. Stay Tuned.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Stunning victory in UP - a political earthquake in India?

Uttar Pradesh is India's most populous state and over the last 17 years it has seen various ruling political parties. But in the last decade or so a quartet emerged with the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), SP(Samajwadi Party), BJP and the Indian National Congress as the main players. The BJP and Congress are more like juniors in this big league of politicking. In recent elections (state, local and even national) the BSP and SP have fought it out with no single party able to build a constituency that could deliver a state-wide election win without coalition partners. Well, that has changed with the BSP winning a clear majority this time to the utter dismay ( I am dismayed at the dismay) of exit polls (discredited journalism).

Now, anti-incumbency is the name of the game in Indian politics where incumbents perennially leave much to be desired so the swinging of the political pendulum is not all that uncommon. However, this victory of the BSP under the leadership of Ms. Mayawati seems to sound the bugle of a new day at hand. Why? Because until now the BSP was primarily a party representing sections of India's lowest castes, the Dalits (who make-up the largest segment of India's population). This time Mayawati aggressively recruited upper caste (specifically, Brahmins) candidates and voters as well. And she seems to have done it with unprecedented deftness because there is no visible loss in her Dalit support. This transformation of Mayawati and the BSP from a party that detested the upper castes to now include them is an important development. The making of a party that is more inclusive than exclusive elevates the BSP's stature. Not many national parties can boast of the diversity of its candidates and cadres that the BSP has now put together. Only the Indian National Congress has a similar make up but with a dispirited cadre.

India has national elections in 2009 and with such a convincing win in UP and more so such a convincing win by a party that apparently has bridged a historical divide (Dalit-Brahmin) in these times (the Congress used to own this combination before 1989) anything can happen. Mayawati has always maintained that her final destination is New Delhi. This win makes her a real contender and people will take her lightly at their own political peril.

2009 is still 2 years away and much can happen in the interim but these results have sent BSP adversaries scrambling to the drawing board. Remember the current national government is a coalition and if the BSP emerges as a significant party with a sizeable block of seats in 2009 then Ms. Mayawati's dream of being Prime Minister may not be too far fetched. This win also breathes life into the idea of creating a Third Front (other than the Congress and the BJP). Both the Congress and the BJP stand quite weak right now.

An interesting period in Indian politics begins. It is to be seen if this historic win translates into good governance. We shouldn't read too much into these results but they are significant enough for the pundits to re-evaluate the potential of the BSP and its supremo Mayawati.

We will be discussing these results and the overall political situation in India and more at our briefing on Capitol Hill on May 17th. Please join us.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Bush Admin policy towards India - confused priorities?

I was taken aback by the Bush administrations decision to slash foreign aid to India by approximately 30% this fiscal year. What makes this cut remarkable is the fact that how the administration touted the Indo-US nuclear deal as a "pro-people" deal and now when the opportunity to help the most marginalized Indians has presented itself through various development programs the administration sees it as wasteful expenditure. What kind of a relationship will the United States build with India if on the one hand it exhausts its diplomacy on deals/agreements that barely touch the Indian masses beyond the national security apparatus and on the other ignores their genuine needs as not worthy of support?

It is immaterial how much the absolute dollar figure is. It is critical to note the areas in which commitment and support is being pledged. This cut in funding forces us to question the true rationale behind the Indo-US nuclear deal. The argument that this was to help the people of India stands challenged today. Young India has already advocated the position that the deal was a misstep in Indo-US relations as it diverted our collective energies from seeking real solutions to real problems. Do read Young India's op-eds on this issue by going to our page devoted to the analysis of the nuclear deal.

We urge policymakers and citizens from both countries to dedicate themselves to first addressing the most pressing concerns of our people. If indeed energy is a challenge that we wish to tackle jointly then let's develop real collaborative strategies that lead us to energy independence and not to unrealized and un-materialized promises discussions on whom has evaded the public arena to a large extent. We urge the administration to bring out a clear statement explaining the rationale for the cut in funding and place it in a clear to understand context of what type of a relationship does it seek with the world's largest democracy. It no longer suffices to use the term "strategic" as it clearly does not include the ordinary Indian and concerns for his/her problems.

We are committed to working with policymakers and people's movements both in India and the United States to strengthen the natural bond of democracy and freedom. But we are weary of claims of doing so if the policies pursued suggest otherwise. I hope the administration can lift the cloud of doubt for us all and affirm our shared belief in a joint march towards a better world order as partners.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Remembering THEM


It was on this day in 1948 that Mahatma Gandhi's body succumbed to the bullets of an assassin. The Indian nation went into an unprecedented phase of mourning. Even today this day stirs up emotions of loss. In honor of Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom we also remember all those brave souls who fought for India's independence and paid the ultimate price in doing so. As an Indian and a believer in pluralistic democracy I am greatly indebted to them for their sacrifice. I can only hope that we all become worthy of the sacrifice that this great generation of Indians made.

Today is especially poignant for me as for the first time my grandfather is not here with me on this day. He was my connection to that great battle India fought to emerge as a democracy. Our greatest tribute to him and all of those who like Mahatma Gandhi transformed the character of a nation through personal transformation will be to carry on their struggles for social justice, economic opportunity and mutual respect.

May their souls rest in eternal peace.



Monday, January 15, 2007

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rarely have men of such towering moral stature as of Dr. King graced humanity. America is a greater nation because of him and we all are better human beings because of his actions and words, which will remain enshrined in our collective consciousness for all times to come. Dr. King once said that we will forget Gandhi at our own peril. We will forget Dr. King at our own peril.

The battles of social justice that he spearheaded may have changed their outer look but the underlying challenges persist in even more complex forms. Dr. King may not have given us the solutions to all our problems but, more importantly, he perfected a method to tackle them. As students of nonviolence we believe that the Civil Rights Movement under Dr. King's stewardship was a marvelous exhibition of nonviolent transformation.

Today we remember this great son of America as an inspiration for all across the globe still believing in the potency and moral superiority of the nonviolent method. Success may take long but it will arrive. We must persevere like he did.