Category Archives: Politics

So long suckers!

A great majority of the skill based non-immigrants waiting to legally immigrate to the US (in simple words, temporary worker visa holders waiting to get their green cards) are from South Asia. While these workers don’t win by numbers compared to illegal workers, they are definitely an asset to the American society. Largely law abiding, highly motivated and skilled, by some estimates, these people are responsible for starting upto 25% of the companies in the Silicon Valley.

These people have waiting patiently for years working their way through grad school or working in different jobs in different states in the hope of achieving that ever elusive American dream, and yet, when the US lawmakers had the chance to set the system right, they screwed this law abiding group, sending a strong message that in the US, illegal workers get the priority. US lawmakers often accuse President Bush of living in a bubble, but one wonders what kind of bubble are they themselves living in? Or maybe, they are not living in the bubble at all, because despite all the platitudes about this bill being forward looking, it actually is exceedingly favorible towards illegal workers. It seems like the lobbies of illegal immigrants were present behind closed doors when details of this bill were being thrashed out. You can read about some of the many flaws of this bill here, but to highlight just a few absolutely absurd ones:

  1. Instead of the current allocation of 140,000 immigrant visas (green card) to skilled workers, this bill brings it down to 90,000.
  2. It will require H1B holders to renew their visas on an annual basis.
  3. Under its merit based points system, an agriculture worker can earn 25 points for working 100 days a year for 5 years, while a skilled individual will get 10 points for working the same number of years!
  4. Economic contribution by the undocumented is recognized by awarding points for property ownership but not for people working legally.

Legal workers in the US have for years maintained the right of the United States to implement an immigration system that is fair and is in the best national interest of the country. By any reasonable standards, the current bill is neither in the best national interest of the US, nor does it offer a fair shake to the people who’ve been law abiding residents for years.

As of now, it seems like the powerful lobbies of Hispanic workers will be able to amend this bill even more in the favor of illegal workers while legal immigrants, majority of them do not have the time or the inclination to be activists, will be left holding the bag.

A Journey Down the Ganga

Philip Reeves, the National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent has just finished a brilliant radio series on his journey along the Ganga river in India. In five parts of about 10 minutes each, he explores life along the river. NPR has archived the entire series on its website – it is a fascinating journey and well worth the time spent listening to it.

Some of you might feel offended by the fact that Mr. Reeves talks about the uglier facts about India’s economic progress, the people who are being left behind and might attribute it to the propensity of the foreign journalists to highlight only the bad aspects about India. My thinking is that, “Hey! don’t kill the messenger”. In fact, it is a shame that for decades, we have to rely on foreign journalists to bring us such thoughtful and provoking pieces of reportage. Listen to it and see if something stirs in your middle-class soul.

Intrigued about the British Indian Soldier

Most of us grew up hearing the stories of valor of Indian soldiers who fought and gave their blood in the wars that India fought since its indepnedance. I have myself cried innumerable times reading/watching stories of the likes of Cpt Somnath Sharma, Lnc Nk Albert Ekka, Mjr Shaitan Singh and Cpt Vikram Batra.  However, the place India associates with her martyr sons who offered the supreme sacrifice to preserve her independence is an irony itself. India Gate, under which Amar Jawan Jyoti flames in their memory, was first built by the British to honour the British Indian Soldiers, who lost their lives during World War I, defending the same King’s Empire who was an alien ruler of their own land.

I have always been intrigued by the desires and passions which drove millions of Indians to fight and lay their lives for the British – many a times fighting their own countrymen – during about 200 years before independence. What’s intriguing is not that many warrior tribes known for their fierce love for independence, like Sikhs, Gurkhas, many Rajput clans and even some Muslim tribes from the North West Frontier, chose to fight under the British command, what’s even more interesting is that the British Indian Army was the seeding ground for millitary traditions in many castes which were till then employed only in non-millitary pursuits – like the priests classes or the peasant castes from the untouchable fold. 

 I do not have conclusive answers but the realisation of what should have seemed like obvious facts to them is a painful blow for my nationalist (jingoist?) ego and the notion that a soldier enrols only because of his love for his nation :

  1. Tribe, Caste & Religion had more importance in the feudally divided India of the late 18th and early 19th century than any notion of Hindustan/Bharat being a nation. Allliances were made and broken on these lines and as history tells us, British were perhaps the best players to play this game.
  2. Add these to the political incentives that the small but millitarily powerful kingdoms, like Marwar Jodhpur, had in aligning with British interests and the British found a rich and unlimited supply of valiant and faithful soldiers.
  3. Last but most importantly, Economic & Social incentives : Then, like in all ages till recently, a job in the ruler’s millitary should have meant sound economic prospects and immense social acceptability. This should have come easy for the warrior tribes since the British were the only respcectful force left in the subcontinent. But even for the ordinary peasant, when starved for any prospect of earning a steady employment, picking up a rifle to wear the respected/feared red coat should have been an easy choice.

I am not sure if this is the correct or complete diagnosis of the causes. I would love to have greater access to the minds of these men but popular  books on pre-independence India have barely touched this topic. I am not aware of many works on this and my superficial understanding is aided by the perspective gained by the following works :

  • Amitava Ghosh’s The Glass Palace – one of the key characters is a Captain in British Indian Army who later defects to Indian National Army
  • In his collection of essays on Delhi, Khuswant Singh has a specific piece on Sikh soldiers who fought for the British in the Mutiny of 1857. This also reveals the second rate treatment that Indian soldiers in the British forces faced.
  • M M Kaye’s The Far Pavoillions provides a peek into the life of a British Indian soldier at North West Frontier during the Afghan War. She does not dissect or quetion their loyalty any deeply; it seems like the Indophiles of her age, she just takes it for granted.

If you have come acorss any work which delves deeper into the psyche of the British Indian Soldier, do drop me a line.

credit : Shout-out to Ash whose post on the same issue inspired mine

A Muslim Martin Luther King?

I’ve been thinking about writing a post on how the Shia-Sunni violence in Iraq has driven a spear right through the heart of the concept of pan-Islamic identity and unity but in the meantime, something else to think about. This is what Thomas Friedman asks in today’s NY Times:

It’s hard to know what’s more disturbing: the barbaric sectarian murders by Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, or the deafening silence with which these mass murders are received in the Muslim world. How could it be that Danish cartoons of Muhammad led to mass violent protests, while unspeakable violence by Muslims against Muslims in Iraq every day evokes about as much reaction in the Arab-Muslim world as the weather report? Where is the Muslim Martin Luther King? Where is the “Million Muslim March” under the banner: “No Shiites, No Sunnis: We are all children of the Prophet Muhammad.”

If I did it…..

Maureen Dowd with her caustic with and biting sarcasm is one of my most favorite op-ed writers but today, she outdid herself with this opening paragraph in her NYT op-ed:

After the Thanksgiving Day Massacre of Shiites by Sunnis, President Bush should go on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and give an interview headlined: “If I did it, here’s how the civil war in Iraq happened.”

He could describe, hypothetically, a series of naïve, arrogant and self-defeating blunders, including his team’s failure to comprehend that in the Arab world, revenge and religious zealotry can be stronger compulsions than democracy and prosperity.

Iraq has rapidly descended into a worse chaos (if such a thing was even possible) and it looks more and more like a country that will end up being partitioned. If it does happen, it will be another blow to the notion of so called pan-Islamic identity, just like the partition of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

It is a fool’s errand to try and get Shias and Sunnis to come to terms with one another. After all, in Pakistan, they are still at it after 55 years of freedom from the British rule. And it does not help that a fool of a person is trying to do it with a foolish cabinet.  I think that the best course of action for the US now is to get the hell out of Iraq, let Sunnis and Shias slaughter each other, let their proxies, the Saudis, the Syrians and the Iranians duel it out. What about the oil you say? Well $5 a gallon in Detroit, Mi will probably be the best thing that can happen to the US and to the environment.