Tag Archives: BJP

An Appeal to Progressive Fence Sitters

On social media and in real life, we all know friends and family members who complain with good reason that there is little sunlight between establishment Democrats and Republicans on many matters of policy such as race, immigration, and use of U.S. power in foreign affairs. They argue that in dealing with these challenges, the Democrats and Republicans are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, peas of the same pod. They would, for example, argue that under President Obama, more people were deported than under any other President (including George W. Bush); that drones during his eight-year Presidency killed many innocent civilians; and that Obama sent 60,000 additional troops into Afghanistan.

Following this logic, some people might even propose that there is not a huge difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and that Trump has been in fact a strong leader on trade and economy. 

At the same time, we need to recognize that politics is ultimately the art of the possible and the choice we make every four years does have consequences for the U.S. and for the rest of the world. More than ever before, we simply don’t have the ostrich-like option to sit out this election or vote for a third party candidate. Indeed, if we view Donald Trump as a serious danger to a fully functioning democracy in the U.S., we must seriously consider voting for Biden/Harris ticket. Not voting for Biden on November 3 is effectively another vote for Trump. 

None of our Presidents in the past would meet our highest standards in every imaginable way.

Thomas Jefferson played a major role in shaping our constitutional ideals of life, liberty, and happiness for one and all, but then there is the Sally Hemings story along with his contradictory views and actions on slavery.

With the partial exception of Abraham Lincoln (who grew in ethical stature while in office), no major U.S. President has been without blemish or has met our radical criteria or expectations.

Franklin Roosevelt created societal safety nets (including our hallowed Social Security system), brought us out of the Great Depression with compassion and empathy, and helped the Allies to rid us of the scourge of fascism in WWII, but he was also the one who placed 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps.

Lyndon B. Johnson would get an A-plus on Civil Rights (on par with Lincoln in many ways), but he would probably get a D-minus on the Vietnam War. But here is the reality check on our frequently limited choices: the country and the world would have definitely been better off under Albert Gore than under George W. Bush. At the very least, the Iraq War would NOT have happened and the trillion-plus dollars spent on that senseless war would likely have gone into building infrastructure and fighting climate change in the US. We need to learn not only what happened in the past, but also from the might-have-beens of history. 

We believe without a doubt that the U.S. and the world, our healthcare and environment, our civil rights, and civil liberties will be much better off under Biden than under the imperious, narcissistic Trump in his second term. Biden’s decency and sense of empathy can help to heal the divisions and wounds that have been inflicted upon us since 2016. Also, let us not forget Biden has evolved on many important issues surrounding race and law enforcement and has openly expressed regrets for some of his earlier regressive policies and views, in the process of embracing some of the more progressive positions on education and healthcare. 

This perspective is not without relevance to the current situation in India too. The BJP could not have won majorities in 2014 and 2019 with the support of hardcore RSS cadres alone. Indeed, voters who subscribe to “soft Hindutva” are largely responsible for the electoral success of BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Some academics and intellectuals in urban centers of India tend to rationalize their support for Modi by exclaiming: “Do you see anyone else we could have voted for? At least we voted for someone who is a strong leader.” Such a focus on a strong leader, away from democratic values and ideals, is eerily reminiscent of how Germans described their choice in the 1930s. 

In the U.S. context, we hope that the Biden/Harris team find a way of accepting the challenge of defanging the military-industrial complex that has insidiously kept almost all 20th Century Presidents from both parties in the grip of huge defense budgets and dispensable military adventures abroad. No one spoke more clearly and accurately on that foundational problem of “America” in relation to the world than an Army General, a Republican President named Dwight G. Eisenhower. No President in the past six decades has heeded the prescient warning Eisenhower had issued in 1961, at the end of his eight years in the White House:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. 

Of course, Eisenhower remained fully immersed in the logic of the Cold War. John F. Kennedy too could not shake that off. And even in 2020, we have still not weaned ourselves from the logic of competing superpowers. We hope the Biden/Harris team, when inaugurated on January 20, 2021, will pay heed to Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of building a “beloved community” at both home and abroad, pursuing peace and prosperity for individuals and groups within the U.S. and between nations around the world. We will all need to work hard to keep them honest during the next four years.


Amritjit Singh is Langston Hughes Professor Emeritus at Ohio University and lives in Austin, Texas.

Nidhi Trehan is a sociologist focusing on minority rights and political mobilization and is co-founder of TheySeeBlue’s Austin chapter, part of an all-volunteer network of South Asians across the US dedicated to getting out the vote for Democrats.

I am Kashmiri. Hear me!

I did not believe that I would live to see the day when my family could rightfully return home to Kashmir. Article 370 being revoked in Kashmir on Aug 5 2019, is one of the best decisions by the Govt of India to restore secularism in Kashmir, a land whose demography has been changed by the systematic targeting of its minority Hindus/Sikhs. 

For me the relief is personal, since my own family (parents, siblings, relatives, friends, neighbors), along with other Kashmiri Hindu communities, was part of the mass exodus in 1990, when we were brutally targeted and cleansed from Kashmir by militant Islamic groups aided by Pakistan.

As is well known and documented, in 1990, mosques throughout Kashmir blared threats to all “kafirs,” (non-believers)  “Ralive, tsalive, ya galive” (Convert to Islam, leave, or die). Various terror groups posted posters on our doors declaring, “Allah-o-Akbar, infidels get lost. Jihad is approaching.” Thousands chanted on the streets, “Kashmir banawon Pakistan, Bataw varaie, Batneiw saan”  (“We will turn Kashmir into Pakistan, with Kashmiri Hindu women, but without their men”). 

We were terrified. I remember the mobs that roamed our neighborhood with slogans of wanting to rape and kill Kaffirs. Hindu families with girls were especially vulnerable. My mother kept poison ready, having taught me, even at 8 years of age, that we both needed to  poison ourselves if any terrorist entered our home. I began to regret being born a girl.  

My parents and relatives finally decided that they could not live with this constant looming threat. We fled from our homes, carrying just a few belongings, hoping that we would be able to come back in a few months. 

Life as a Refugee

In Jammu I smelled the fragrance of freedom for the first time and felt welcome. This was a change from my experiences growing up in Kashmir, where we always felt ostracized; be it a cricket match, when stones were pelted at our homes to mourn a Pakistani loss or when we hoisted the Indian flag or tried to celebrate our Independence Day (August 15th) or Republic Day (January 26th). 

Life in Jammu came with its own challenges. We were refugees in every sense of the word—distressed and helpless, living in tents, until we found rooms for rent. Even the weather was punishing, with temperatures rising up to 48 degrees Celsius, a shock for us Kashmiris who were used to much milder climes. The sudden change of climate  took the lives of many refugees, as they lacked adequate protection against the elements in their tents. 

I was a student at the time and often fainted from starvation. There were no facilities for students, so we tried to study under the shade of trees in the searing summer heat. There was little support from local, state or national government bodies-our only aid came from the local Hindu community and organizations like BJP, Shiv Sena, and RSS.

During this mass exodus, no ruling political party made an effort to support our families. Nor did they ever address the trauma we live with. The last 29 years have been brutal. Many Hindu Kashmiris, including my own grandparents (who were in their sixties at the time we fled Kashmir), passed away as refugees, longing for a chance to return to their motherland. 

Kashmiri Hindus are the original inhabitants of Kashmir. Named for the Sage Kashyapa, it  was our home for thousands of years. We gave up our ancestral lands, our communities, our places of worship, and our futures. The removal of Article 370 has revived hope in my community, as is evident from the many private and public celebrations that followed. Even though it’s too late for my elders, the new status offers a ray of hope for the rest of the community: a chance to return home, to pray in historic family temples that have been abandoned for decades, to once again be Kashmiri in every sense of the word-irrespective of our religion. 

I finally have hope that we will see a dismantling of the systematic infrastructure that oversaw the genocide of the Kashmiri Pandits. The abrogation will allow an Indian citizen, of any faith, to live where they like and pursue occupations of their choosing. The abrogation of Article 370 finally delivers on the promises of the Indian Constitution. 

Ruchi Kolla was born in Srinagar. She now lives and works in the Bay Area. This is her first piece about life in Kashmir.

 

Indian Americans – Inclusive in US, Intolerant in India?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States to join President Trump to address a gathering of over 50,000 Indian Americans is an opportunity to not only strengthen the ties between the oldest and the largest democracy, but also to pressure the Prime Minister to stand up to his promise of an inclusive and secular India.

To Prime Minister Modi’s credit, he has implemented developmental plans from space exploration to health insurance schemes at a rate unheard of in Indian politics. After a decade of unprecedented corruption and poor governance, Modi’s vision of India as a developed country has captured the dreams and imaginations of many.

But the economic strides comes with a cost: intolerance, bigotry and hate crimes.

Modi’s right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) and allies have made no secret of their vision of India as a Hindu country, contradicting India’s secular founding principles.

Just months after the B.J.P.’s rise, a Hindu right wing group induced over 3000 Christians to participate in mass conversion ceremony to Hinduism by a combination of intimidation and bribery. In a move unbecoming of the largest democracy, the B.J.P. endorsed sedition charges against students who had cheered for the Pakistani cricket team in an India-Pakistan cricket match.

This August, just a few months into his second term, Modi revoked the semi-autonomous status of the disputed state of Kashmir. Not by debate and deliberation, but by a security clampdown that left the residents of the Muslim-majority valley without internet, mobile and even healthcare services for weeks.

The rising intolerance is all too palpable on social media too.

The slightest hint of dissent is quickly silenced with raucous accusations of anti-nationalism.

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousaf was trolled for tweeting her concerns about the ongoing crisis in the Valley affecting the education of school children. Hindu American Foundation, an American non-profit and ally of the Modi government lambasted Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders for speaking out against curtailing civil liberties in Kashmir.

The similarities in the politics of Trump and Modi are hard to miss.

Both  are immigration and national security hardliners, ran for elections on populist policies, and frame any criticism of their policies as unpatriotic. Their majoritarian beliefs have galvanized the far right of their respective countries resulting in a wave of bigotry, intolerance and hate crimes.

Despite their similarities, it is ironic that the popularity of the two leaders are at polar opposites among the Indian diaspora.

As minorities in the US, we desis accept and enjoy the benefits of secularism, freedom of religious expression, and evangelizing (the Hare Krishna movement).

We vote for secular left wing policies in the US, and accuse Trump of instigating hate crimes  against Indian Americans, like the killing of an Indian engineer in 2017, by his racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Yet, Indian Americans, the majority of whom are Indian-born Hindus, hypocritically champion the Hindu nationalist policies of Modi in India, the very policies that we are critical of in the American setting.

If we want an inclusive and tolerant America, we must start by cleaning our own backyard. We must insist that Prime Minister Modi create a secular, inclusive and multicultural India, much like the America we seek for ourselves.

Ashwin Murthy is a software engineer at LinkedIn and a freelance writer of Indian descent.