Tag Archives: President

Letters to the Editor: 4/02/2021

Dear India Currents,

Biden Can’t End Cancer

Some politicians like to take credit for everything.  During a speech in Houston on February 26, 2021, President Joe Biden said, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  There’s just one thing—one thing—I could be known for as president.  It would be the end—the president who during his era ended cancer as we know it.”  There are three major problems with this statement.

First, scientific researchers, not politicians, will end cancer.  Second, there are over 100 types of cancer.  They won’t all be cured at once.  Third, the president cannot single-handedly allocate more taxpayer money for cancer research.  The House of Representatives and Senate are involved in determining how taxpayer money is spent.  Biden can’t end cancer.

Ashu M. G. Solo

Wilmington, Delaware


If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact editor@indiacurrents.com with a submission or note. 

Key South Asian Players in the New Administration

South Asians in the house! — my cousin cheers between mouthfuls of samosa and peanut chutney as Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the United States on screen. It’s a day as celebratory as it is surreal — especially for the ‘South Asians in the house’, who are scattered across the country watching one of the most unprecedented inaugurations in history. I knew I was going to see a female president or vice-president hold that Bible on camera during my lifetime. The world has seen female presidents and Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Indira Gandhi to Angela Merkel; the world is growing up, and growing out of the trappings of a patriarchal society. Although we’re late, I knew I would have the honor of watching America catch up. 

But watching a South Asian-American woman help shatter America’s legislative glass ceiling was a wholly different honor altogether. 

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the United States’ registered voter base. It’s a fact that’s difficult to forget, considering how under-studied and under-appreciated South Asian Americans are as a voter demographic. Civic engagement organizations have a history of not visiting South Asian American neighborhoods out of fear of ‘mispronouncing their names’. In the past, South Asian-American politicians at the local level have been questioned for their religious or ethnic identities, rather than their qualifications or political stances. Although the 2020 elections have marked a tremendous increase in political participation among our community, historically South Asian Americans have often been under-represented and overlooked at the polls. 

The new administration is a game-changer for our community — and not simply because of Kamala Harris. Here are some members of the wave of South Asian Americans introduced by the Biden-Harris administration. 

Garima Verma 

Formerly a content strategist for the Biden-Harris campaign, Garima Verma was named by First Lady Jill Biden as the Digital Director for the Office of the First Lady at the White House. Born in India, Garima grew up in Ohio and the Central Valley of California. Her journey in marketing and brand strategy shows her passion for both civic engagement and digital storytelling, as Garima has worked for major corporations like Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and nonprofits like the St. Joseph Center alike. Hopefully, Garima will bring her unique talent of telling compelling stories through the digital medium to the First Lady’s team. 

“While in the entertainment space at both Paramount Pictures and ABC, my passion has always been working on diverse and boundary-pushing content that allows more people to feel seen and heard, and to authentically engage and empower those communities through marketing campaigns,” Garima says. “My ultimate goal is to combine my love of marketing and storytelling with my passion for social impact and advocacy in a meaningful and impactful way.” 

Neera Tanden 

Massachusetts-native Neera Tanden has contributed to America’s political landscape for years, from advising Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign to drafting the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration. For her work in founding the Center of American Progress (CAP), Tanden was named one of the 25 “Most Influential Women In Washington” by the National Journal in 2012. She has used her platforms to advocate for universal, multi-payer healthcare, and cites her childhood experiences living on welfare as a reason behind her passion for healthcare reform and economic empowerment. As Biden’s pick for budget chief, Tanden hopes to bring her years of political experience to the US Office of Management and Budget.

After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden said in a 2020 tweet. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”

Her nomination, however, did not come without controversy. Tanden has been often criticized by her Republican counterparts for her outspoken nature on Twitter, where she fired back at Lindsey Graham for calling her a ‘nut job’ and referred to Mitch McConnell as ‘Moscow Mitch’. Many Republicans criticize Tanden for her ‘partisan’ approach to politics — an ironic appraisal, considering how nearly every politician has contributed to the radioactive battlefield that is Twitter in recent years. 

Shanthi Kalathil 

Formerly a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development, Shanthi Kalathil has been named as the White House’s Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in the National Security Council. Kalathil’s years of dedication towards advocating for human rights and worldwide democracy demonstrate her preparedness for this role. She is known for her commitment towards addressing techno-authoritarians, or the role that modern technology plays in reinforcing the rigidity of authoritarianism. In fact, she addresses this phenomenon in her 2003 book, Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule. Within an increasingly digitized society, Kalathil’s careful attention towards the Internet in relation to human rights is certainly a step forward for the White House. She also carefully avoids implicit biases while addressing human rights abuses in other countries, discussing the importance of separating “the Chinese people from the Chinese party-state” in a podcast published by the National Democratic Institute. 

“You know one area where I think all democracies have to be careful is in making sure that there is a clear distinction between referring to the Chinese party-state and the Chinese people. Whether it’s the Chinese people within China or people of ethnic Chinese descent all around the world, that would be one area in which I think there does need to be great care”, Kalathil said. “I think in all policy discussions, it’s important to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, to really deal with very specific problems and specific issues that pose a challenge to democracy, but that we shouldn’t conflate broad-based backlash.” 

The United States government has a history of intervening in the human rights abuses committed by the other regimes of the world as an effort to maintain peace and justice. Kalathil’s balanced, nuanced approach towards democracy and human rights will certainly enrich her platform. 


Uzra Zeya 

American diplomat Uzra Zeya has been nominated by the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Like Tanden, Zeya has years of political experience under her belt, as she was the acting assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Obama Administration. Before that, she worked in Paris’s Embassy of the United States. Her work in diplomacy has taken her all over the world, from New Delhi, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Similar to Tanden’s experience, Zeya is also a contentious choice for this position. In 2018, Zeya quit her job in the state department, owing her resignation to the racism and gender bias promoted by the Trump administration. Calling the administration a ‘pale male’ club, Zeya advocated for the diversification of her department. 

“In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their place,” Zeya wrote in an article for Politico. “In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.” 

If chosen as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Zeya hopes to use her prior political experience to address key global issues such as peace in the Middle East, Russia’s increasing aggression in Europe, and climate change. 

In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals,” Zeya said in a 2021 tweet. “I will uphold & defend these values, if confirmed, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Vidur Sharma

A former health policy advisor on the Domestic Policy Council, Vidur Sharma has been named by Biden as a testing advisor for the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. Sharma played a key role in shaping health policy during the Obama administration, where he advocated for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A Harvard graduate, he also has years of experience working in the medical industry, as he has worked for Avalere Health, CareMore Health, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the past. As a testing advisor at the White House, Sharma will promote equity in the healthcare space, as he was a Deputy Research Director for Protect Our Care, an organization dedicated to “increasing coverage, lowering health care costs, and addressing racial inequities in our..system.” 

Amid a global pandemic, equity will play a major role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. As the coronavirus is reportedly 2.8 times more likely to kill people of color, implicit biases in our healthcare system can have potentially fatal consequences. The Biden-Harris administration, in fact, recently established a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to aid “medically and socially vulnerable communities.” Sharma’s emphasis on inclusivity and equity certainly fits the values of the administration and will help ensure that the vaccine and coronavirus treatment plans reach all Americans.

Closing Thoughts 

There are so many threads of commonality among the South Asian Americans introduced to the White House — all passionate about government reform, all aware of our nation’s existing inequalities, all incredibly qualified for their positions. As a South Asian American hoping to enter America’s legislative process later in life, our community’s representation at the national level is both empowering and inspiring — a fond reminder that America, after years of underrepresentation for minority groups — is finally catching up.

Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 

Harris Makes History

“And one day, like a miracle, he’ll be gone.”

This was my favorite yard sign during the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. During the darkest days marked by mounting COVID-19 deaths, and dog whistles to white supremacists from the White House, it seemed that day would never come.

Votes were cast before or on November 3, and for one, then two, then three days after, an anxious nation awaited the results, dispensing with sleep and most forms of healthy nourishment. We are dealing with the shock that half the nation actually voted to keep Donald Trump in office.

Four years later, this is another wake-up call for Democrats. Who are these people? Who is being left so far behind that they believe Donald Trump is their savior? There have been some analyses, talk of a shrinking middle class, traditionally the Democratic base. Some speculate that perhaps a shift of the population to the edges, those with either very low or very high incomes, have enabled Trump, The voting demographics will be revealing.

A few hours into the morning of Saturday, November 7, after hours of vote-counting, the Associated Press called the state of Nevada and Pennsylvania for Joe Biden. The news flashed across the television networks and Twitter in seconds, and a tidal wave of jubilation took over. My immediate reaction was visceral: I was in tears at what has been achieved with Harris’s victory.

My favorite headline, “Biden wins, Harris makes history” said it all. First woman VP. (Really, America? How shameful that it has taken this long.) First Black person. First Asian American, specifically, the first person of Indian descent.

Shyamala Gopalan came to the US at the age of 19, as I did, to pursue an education. We know the story, of how she got involved soon after in the civil rights movement, where she met Donald Harris who became her husband. How later, as a single mother, with a strong moral compass, she raised her daughters as Black girls and taught them that they could be anything, do anything. On November 7, Kamala’s sister, Maya Harris, tweeted this: 

Kamala Harris’s ascent to the most powerful position any woman has ever held in America is a striking reminder of “possibilities” – the single word Joe Biden chose to describe America in his acceptance speech. With a full heart, I told my daughter, “You can be President! You are like Kamala. Born in America to an Indian mother.” Never mind that she replied, with teen wisdom combined with sarcasm, “Why would I want to be President?!” In 2016, my daughter, then 11, and I watched in horror as state after state was called in favor of Donald Trump. That night, I went to bed at 9 PM, knowing where things were headed, and unable to bear it. I woke up to the horror. I remember the shock on my daughter’s face when I told her the results. To express my anger, frustration, and despair, I wrote this soon after that. And in 2020, a year of unending horrors, the smile on her face as she came out of her room, sleepy-eyed, smiling broadly, having seen the news on social media, made it seem that things would be all right again. We shared a joyous hug. Some captivating art has been making the rounds, inspired by this trail-blazing, accomplished, beautiful, formidable, competent leader.
Artist Bria Goeller worked with T-shirt company Good Trubble to create this image.
This is the one I like the best, by San Francisco artist Bria Goeller. Here, Madam Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris walks purposefully, and her shadow is the silhouette of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges when she became the first Black student to integrate an all-white school in newly-desegregated New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960.
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
Here is the original painting by Norman Rockwell of her walking escorted by four deputy US marshals. Notice the slur on the wall, the hurled fruit smashed on the ground. And in the midst of it, the little girl with her notebook and ruler. In the words of Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The relief many of us feel is palpable. Finally, there is hope. A burden has lifted.
 

And one day, like a miracle, he will be gone. Can’t wait.


Raji Pillai lives in the SF Bay Area, and writes at www.rajiwrites.com where this article was originally published. 

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.

1776 Words From an American Immigrant

My earliest “memory” of America is of my father telling me about the moon landing. “John F Kennedy said we will put a man on the moon in 10 years and the Americans did it.” As a little girl growing up in India, I imagined a country called America whose presidents were visionaries, whose people believed in science, and whose spirit was ambitious.

My second “memory” of America is reading about WWII. “Roosevelt told the American people not to fear, and it was under his leadership that the Allies won the war”. I imagined this president who had suffered from Polio himself; his determination forged in the crucible of personal trials, and I imagined Americans as a courageous lot, willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

My third “memory” of America is of watching the news about the first Gulf War. “The US president George H.W. Bush is a Navy pilot himself, who flew 58 missions in WWII”. By this time, I was fascinated by American leaders – full of enterprise, conviction, and personal courage. And my heart was full of respect and admiration for this far-off place.

That America; the country of my imagination is what I immigrated to as a young woman. I came to America because I thought it was the best country on the planet, and I came to offer it the best I had. I came to America because I believed in the ideals that I thought were seeped into the soil of this great country. I am not the only one who came for that reason. Many of us who grew up in countries around the world imagined America to be a receptacle for the best one has to offer, a place where dreams and ambitions came true, a shining city on the hill.

Living in America, I came to know more about its history. I learned that the truth was far more nuanced, the country far more complex, its policies and leaders far more flawed than the little girl had imagined. Yet with all its flaws and complexity, it was a country that, to my immigrant eyes, appeared to forever strive to become a more perfect union, a place where people hardly cared about where you came from but were always interested in where you were going, a place where mastery of craft was valued over superficial achievements, a place where what you knew was more important than who you knew. I felt at home in such a place.

I saw the twin towers fall on 9/11 and cried alongside hundreds of thousands of Americans – the gaping hole in the NYC skyline left a hole in my heart too. When yelled at by a bunch of white teenagers in a car next to me telling me to f*** off, and go back to my country, I was shocked at first, but quickly understood it to be misplaced anger of young Americans who also had a hole in their hearts. I was against the war in Iraq, and so I marched alongside thousands, participating in the finest American tradition of non-violent protest – the tradition that brought India its own independence from the mighty British Empire, the tradition that had made its way from Thoreau to Gandhi back to MLK Jr. in a karmic loop between my two homes. I felt dismayed at the cacophony of fake debate around climate change fueled by the fossil fuel industry and perpetuated by the likes of Fox News. Although I couldn’t vote yet, my heart swelled with pride when Americans elected their first black president, and when that president corralled every single country on the planet into the Paris Climate Agreement, in an effort to save the world from imminent climate disaster, I told friends and family back in India – this is what American leadership looks like, it’s still alive! They didn’t need to be told, they knew it too.

Nothing prepared me for the shock of Donald Trump. I remember when I first heard Donald Trump as a candidate – I was caught speechless at the parallels I saw and heard between what he said & how he behaved, and the politicians I had grown up listening to & watching in India. Nothing about him felt “American” to me – no vision, no courage, no brilliance, no statesmanship, no building of bridges. All I heard was hate-mongering, fear-mongering, and showmanship of the worst kind. Having grown up in a deeply sexist country, it was Donald Trump’s treatment of and rhetoric on women that told me that sexism is not only very much alive in America but is now acceptable in American leaders. 

I couldn’t believe what else I was learning about candidate Trump – the fraud his businesses indulged in, the thousands of lawsuits he was embroiled in – many of which he openly gloated as bullying tactics against people far less powerful than himself – when did fraud and bullying become something to gloat over in America? Unlike other presidents before him, Trump neither served in the military nor showed respect for others who did, calling John McCain a loser.  He rallied his followers into obscene chants to lock up his political opponents and brandished the possibility of an armed revolt if he happened to lose the election. I was awestruck – American democracy and its political landscape were devolving in front of my very eyes. 

The idealist part of me couldn’t believe that Trump could possibly win the hallowed office of the American presidency. But another part dreaded what it innately knew from having a lived experience of a far more corrupt, dog-eat-dog political system – people like Trump win, and often, not despite their hateful rhetoric but because of it. There are leaders who call for us to be guided by the better angels of our nature and not give into fear – great visionaries like Lincoln and FDR. And then there are those who give permission to act out our worst inclinations, goad us to fall for the lowest common denominator. I saw many such politicians win elections over and over in India. I thought it wasn’t possible in America – my shining city on the hill. I was wrong.

November 9, 2016 – I knew in my bones that American democracy had been dealt a severe blow, I felt in my heart that the American promise of democracy – with malice towards none and charity for all had been ripped asunder, I saw the promise of America fade for friends & family abroad, almost overnight. I could only hope that President Trump would be a better man than candidate Trump.

Four years of his presidency proved that hope false. Every day I see a president, who refuses to rise to the stature of his office, lies ad nauseam, insults the military, denies science and disrespects scientists, surrounds himself with criminals and when they are convicted pardons them, keeps petty scores & tweets against ordinary Americans and American businesses. A president, who brazenly indulges in nepotism; his appointment of family members to cherished positions in his administration acutely reminds me of the nepotism rife in Indian politics. A president who had promised to “drain the swamp” but has instead turned the government into a cesspool of corruption like never before, with every department headed by industry lobbyists, pillaging people’s money for private profit. 

Friends and family around the world marvel at what my fellow Americans bought into but I have no answer to them. I am not sure if ordinary Americans are able to see how much this country has changed in the span of 4 years. If the old adage, “united we stand, divided we fall” is something to learn from, we have fallen very far indeed. I see signs on lawns around where I live saying “make liberals cry again”; emblematic of a country full of hate and division, and I wonder how it came to pass, that happiness to some is to make their fellow Americans cry. I see signs at white supremacist rallies saying “Diversity = White Genocide” and I realize I am being told that my very existence as a brown person is a threat to theirs, that this country belongs to white people & white immigrants – meaning my white immigrant husband is welcome but I am not. I remember those kids in the car after 9/11, telling me to go back to my country. Except that this time, it is the American President himself saying those words, for that is what he tells me when he calls those white supremacists “very fine people”. 

For 4 long years, Donald Trump simply refused to be my President. He refused to be my President when he refused to govern with any manner of decency or grace. He refused to be my President because he refused to inspire Americans to come together in a common purpose, instead pitting them against one another, so they are more divided than ever before since the civil war. He refused to be my President when he put immigrants – asylum-seekers & their children; the proverbial “tired, poor and hungry” in cages – is this how America treats its immigrants? He refuses to be my President when he undermines the work of medical professionals, scientists, and state governors, even as 200,000+ Americans have died under his watch. He refuses to be my President when he refuses to acknowledge the enormity of Climate Chaos, squandering what could have been another “moon-shot” moment for America, willfully pushing Americans and the world closer to the edge of disaster. He refused to be my President because he could not ascend to the stature his office behooves, warranting a spirit of humility, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. Instead, he has turned the country I was proud of, into an object of pity around the world. So much for the promise of making it great.

Despite his self-proclaimed greatness, comparing himself to Lincoln and asking for his face to be added to Mount Rushmore, Trump has left the American spirit and its moral ascendancy around the world in tatters. He is already ranked by historians & scholars, and seen by much of the world, as one of the worst American presidents ever. In its nearly 250-year-old history, America has had 45 presidents, all of them powerful for a brief period, yet most of them forgotten soon after. That’s the nature of history; it turns the once-mighty into nothing but dust, it is poised to do the same to this one. 

But from the eyes of this immigrant, Donald Trump would forever be seen and remembered as the President of the Divided States of America.


Swati Srivastava is a film-maker, an environmentalist, and a first generation immigrant in the USA. She can be reached via Linkedin and swati@TiredAndBeatup.com

A House Divided

A household with four people – two parents and two children – is akin to the sea. There are high tides and low times, turbulence, and quiet days. Now morph the kids to teenagers and the picture becomes more chaotic – the same sea analogy, but with more stormy days than pleasant ones. But throw in an election where the members are on opposite sides and you get – the perfect storm.

Our household is as normal as it gets, given that all four of us are very vocal about our feelings and thoughts, likes, and dislikes. Over the past four elections, life was relatively normal as we were all on the same side, more or less. Up until 2008, we weren’t US citizens, so elections were mostly a spectator sport. Granted, we discussed them so much that our little ones lisped ‘Haba Dean’ when Howard Dean made his short but memorable run, and spoke about ‘Superdelicates’ during the much-contested 2000 election, but that was about the extent of it.

We got our citizenship in February 2008 after a long wait, just in time for the elections. That April, I had surgery for ACL repair and had to be on crutches for a while. Just then, Barack Obama came to a rally in a city nearby. Of course, we went, kids, crutches and all. Seeing me on crutches, a volunteer-led us to seats right behind the podium. Listening to a presidential candidate speak, and that too someone as articulate as Obama, was awesome. We shook hands with him afterward, and our vote was sealed. No contest there. He was our two-term president, no question about it. I even volunteered during the run-up to the elections, making calls to people in our state of Montana. They must have thought that they were receiving calls from a call center!

Then came the election of 2016. Here we ran into a weird problem. No one in our family, including our two young daughters, liked either of the main choices. After some discussion, we voted for an independent candidate with heavy hearts. It felt like we were throwing away our votes.

And now comes the election of 2020. This year has seen so much drama that everyone is buying next year’s calendars in September, in hopes of seeing this year-end. Politics too has played no small part in it. There is so much bad blood, so much hatred, fear, and nastiness that the country of the United States of America stands divided like never before …

And so does our family!

For the first time, our family is split in our votes. Also, for the first time, all four of us can vote, so we began to have discussions as soon as the candidates were announced. And that was when the cracks in our household began to show.

Well, nobody liked one candidate, that was for certain. We might all have voted for the other candidate if he had been younger or more dynamic. As matters stood, some in the family felt that the obnoxious one may be a better choice to fix the economy, seeing as how the other one seemed almost out of it. They also disliked the way in which the liberal media was openly taking sides. One of the family, however, just couldn’t stand the obnoxious one, so that person’s vote was headed elsewhere. 

At the beginning of October came another shocker. Both COVID-19 and the elections, which had been cutting parallel paths through the year, suddenly merged, with one candidate contracting the disease. Honestly, if anybody had written a fictional piece like this, they would’ve been laughed out of the publishing business for having Kafka-esque imagination. It has also become obvious to all that however these elections end, whichever candidate wins, it is going to be a knockdown, drag-out, ugly mother of a fight, and the repercussions of which will last a very long time.

As for my family, we are still having discussions/arguments/fights over these elections. Luckily, we don’t take these skirmishes seriously. Hey, we may even unite to vote for an independent candidate. Therefore, hopefully, our house will still be standing after the elections. 

As for the country … only time will tell!


Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

It Is Sacrilegious Not to Vote…

(Featured Image: 1952 ballot boxes in Delhi – Wikimedia Commons

Why will I not fail to vote?

I am an immigrant who has never failed to vote in ANY of the elections since my citizenship. Moving from India to the USA, I transferred from one Democratic country to another.

I remember when India got to be a free country and the first election we had after that in 1951-52. I was a high school student tenaciously engaged in helping out our first election as a volunteer. There was a historically mammoth turn out of people waiting in line to vote. I remember so many older people unable to walk who were assisted by volunteers like myself or who came by oxen driven carts, some running out of breath but nobody will return without voting.

Nobody used the convenient excuses of inconvenience like long lines, heat, etc. to abstain from voting. The tradition has continued until today. People were determined to vote patiently, quietly, and ungrudgingly. Democracy brings its own challenges and hardships but to be able to vote is its ultimate reward and quieting relief. Peoples’ dissatisfactions get a chance to be resolved, dissolved, or diluted.

Democracy is our elementary right provided it is executed in an elemental way. Yes, majority prevails in democracy but how do we ascertain that if the majority of people do not vote or vote responsibly?

Perhaps everyone may not agree with me but our journalists are doing a job as well as humanly possible to enhance our power of responsible voting. If we want democracy to survive and thrive, it needs our commitment and loyalty. We also have to redefine our loyalty.

“A healthy loyalty is not passive and complacent, but active and critical,” said Harold Laski, the astute political Philosopher from England. Voting without discretion will only perpetuate anachronism. We, therefore, have to shake off our sleepy confidence and restore our lost glory.

“Success is not the position where you are standing but which direction you are going,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., once an Acting Chief Justice of our unique country. When our leaders do not operate discreetly under “unfettered freedom”, the voters can and should. In Democracy, voters can control and should modify their leaders. All the columns and letters published in our media reverberate the feeling of “ our happiness” rather than “my happiness”.

Let our leaders take this life-saving hint while time is still permitting. Any deviation that leads to personal or party interests will be lethal to both this country and its leaders. True democracy means everyone breathes without effort. A shudder went down my spine when I read a quote by Winston Churchill, “Democracy means that when there’s a knock in the door at 3 am, it’s probably the milkman.”

Senility versus sanity in the choice of our next President…

It was perhaps not entirely fortuitous that within a span of a few hours I came across two thought-provoking articles: One on “Age and health both on the ballot” by Charles Blow and “Elder Statesmen” in Psychology Today by Christopher Ferguson, Professor of Psychology at Stetson University. They both expressed concern about the septuagenarians’ battle for the highest office of our country. Both candidates, while in their seventies are likely to be engaged in the “younger than thou” approach to fulfill their political ambitions.

How critical are the age and health factors in choosing our President?

We usually apply the criteria of statistics and science to evaluate them but they both are soft. They can provide crude estimates but not a perfect portent. This is because health is fickle and beyond prediction. Let us look at our own Presidential history:

* John F. Kennedy: had Addison’s disease with chronic back pain, needing occasional use of crutches.

* Franklin D. Roosevelt: Functioned fully while in a wheelchair.

* Woodrow Wilson: Dyslexic from childhood, massive stroke during Presidency.

* Dwight Eisenhower: Abdominal pains from adhesions, heart attack, Crohn’s disease.

* Ronald Reagan:  Alzheimer’s disease started manifesting in the later parts of his Presidency.

It may, therefore, be an exercise in futility to predict the consequences related to the age and health of our elected President. 

Accordingly, I do not think the age or health of our future President (although we will pray for his health) is a decisive factor. If we cast a glance at the age of our illustrious world leaders, some of them were chronologically old, but a young and open heart to serve humanity was throbbing in them. “Young men know the rules, but old men know the exceptions, “ said Oliver Wendell Holmes. Jr., our insightful ancestor. It is open to question at the same time if old age is invariably associated with wisdom. Sometimes old age can come all by itself. 

At this point in time in our current world, we are fortunate to have an assorted group of young and senior world leaders assisted by a caring cluster of experts in all fields. Our challenge is to create a chorus of coordinated talents that are unswervingly dedicated to the welfare of the Globe at large. Effective leadership in the present and future will undoubtedly be consisting of teamwork. No single leader, no matter how brilliant, can handle the complexity of the rapidly changing world. His success will depend on the company of advisors he keeps and parts from. The term “Third world country” is now replaced by “developing Country” and even that term is fast being replaced by the term” developing world.” We are all developing, hopefully cohesively and cooperatively to make our globe inhabitable if not glorious.

This election extends to us a chance of creating leadership that our country benefits from and the world is grateful for. Anything less than that is less. America still provides a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.

Let us all vote with a vision. Not to vote is sacrilegious. To vote without the welfare of the world in mind, ours and everyone’s, is self-destructive in the long run.


Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at bmajmud1962@gmail.com. 

A Project to Activate Indian American Voices in Swing States

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the opinions of the organization. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India Currents and India Currents does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Desis United, a crowd-sourced, volunteer-led initiative dedicated to defeating Donald Trump and housed under the New American Voices Political Action Committee, announced today that it has produced and purchased political advertising on Indian-American news and entertainment television networks and various print and digital media properties. The mission of Desis United is to activate the swing voter demographic of Indian Americans through advertising that educates and galvanizes them to use their political voices.  Desis United plans to use sharp, culturally relevant messaging to get Indian Americans to vote for the Biden/Harris ticket, which better reflects their interests and values, and elect Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

Indian American registered voters now exceed 1.8 million nationally, with heavy concentrations of voters in battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas. In some of those states, the population of Indian Americans has increased significantly since 2016. Despite this, there has been a void in advertising in support of Democratic candidates, targeting this demographic.

Desis United seeks to address that void by targeting Indian American voters with television and digital advertising reminding voters of Trump’s dismal failures around COVID-19 and the economy, his hateful and corrupt behavior and character, his anti-immigrant policies (including restrictions on H1-B and student visas), and his inflammatory rhetoric that has led to heightened hate crimes and fear within the Indian American community.

Desis United has already begun to air its ads, “Whose Side Are You On,” and “Joe Biden and India: The Possibilities for our Future” produced by filmmaker and co-founder Ankush Jindal, on Willow TV during the network’s broadcast of Indian Premier League cricket matches that has heavy viewership in the Indian American diaspora. Desis United has also purchased television advertising on Sony TV’s properties, watched by tens of thousands of Indian Americans in the United States, as well as print ads in Indian American regional magazines in the swing states of Georgia and North Carolina that will run during the month of October.

While educating voters on Trump’s lies and disastrous policies, Desis United ads also demonstrate how Vice President Biden will be a responsible steward of the economy, foreign affairs, including the U.S. relationship with India, and national stability.  In addition, Desis United will educate Indian Americans about the life story of Senator Harris, who, if elected Vice President, will be the highest-ranking person of Indian origin ever to serve in this nation’s history.

 “We believe Desis United is a crucial and necessary intervention to support the effort to defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” said Desis United co-founder Sundeep Dhiman. “We are excited to deliver persuasive and provocative messaging to members of our community in a way that has never been done before—and that was, unfortunately, not done four years ago. Indian Americans may well be critical swing voters, with hundreds of thousands of the community living in key battleground states. We must all come together to ensure that Trump is fully defeated. The future of our community’s and our nation’s health, safety, and well-being is at stake.”

A volunteer advisory board composed of lawyers, content creators, marketing professionals, and small business owners will guide Desis United, which will be housed within the New American Voices PAC. Desis United intends to raise additional funds to produce and place scaled advertising and free viral content through the November election.


For more information, and to watch the first set of advertisements developed by Desis United, please visit www.desisunited.org.

In the Mighty Presence of Gandhi Ji

Every October 2nd, August 15th, January 26th, I fondly remember Gandhi Ji.

I was twelve – a young idealist with big dreams for my own life and a compelling desire to see India as a free and prosperous nation, free from the bondage of two hundred years of subjugation by the British.

Then in one of the rarest moments of my life, I had the good fortune to meet the most admired person in India, and the world –the Apostle of Peace and Non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. The revered Father of India!

On massive, public grounds called the ‘Maidan’, a crowd of thousands had settled down on the ground.  All from far and near were there. I sat along with my sixty schoolmates and teachers, anxiously glancing in every direction to catch the first glimpse of this magnificent hero of mine. I was viewing over a sea of Muslim caps, Congress Party’s Nehru caps, turbans of every color, shape, and size. Occasionally, heads popped up here and there. A bunch of people would stand up abruptly, as if aware of an arrival.

Then, as if magically, there appeared a diminutive figure, sparsely clad in a white home-spun cotton ‘Khadi Dhoti’, tucked in between the legs, giving the appearance of a loincloth.  His narrow shoulders were wrapped around in a white, home-spun shawl.  I was immediately reminded of Gandhi’s image, sitting on the ground with folded legs, spinning cotton yarn at a Spinning Wheel.  He inspired Indians to be self-reliant, so as to be independent of the need to import cotton from the mills of Manchester, in Great Britain.  Gandhiji’s images had inspired me, as they had done millions of others.  I looked around at my friends.  We were all wearing white saris with blue borders – a fabric of five and a half yards of hand-spun cotton.  I was proud of myself.

As he got seated on a small, raised platform in the middle of the vast grounds, there was a hush, a deafening silence!  Could this be Gandhiji? The same towering figure, which had shaken the foundations of the British Empire?  Where was the augur who had incensed the Rulers to a fiery rage?  Could this slight, slender frame endure all the hardships of endless imprisonments – sleeping on cold, cemented floors; fasting endlessly to make a point, and subjugate the mighty master’s will?

Yet this was Mahatma Gandhi, whom I had heard again and again over the loudspeakers, who had endeared himself to me, as to millions of others!

He spoke. Stillness prevailed. From microphones all around, his every word rang loud and clear – entering my consciousness.  The echoes rolled from soul to soul.

As he spoke, I did not hear a lion’s roar.  Yet, this calmly persuasive, magnetic voice was energizing and compelling:

“Arise, my children, rise!

Rise to your soul’s call!

Rise in Freedom, every waking moment!

Remember. When India introduced Zero to the Science of Mathematics, the possibilities became infinite, unlimited, un-limiting!

One small zero – one individual at a time, small or big, can magnify the possibilities a thousand-fold. 

Each small voice, when joined by millions of your heroes, can reach across seven seas.

Do not underestimate the power of zero.  The power of even the smallest, the gentles of you.”

The crescendo of his tone and message rose from perceptibly calming to invigorating, to uplifting.  It was a magical moment; a mesmerizing experience! I was awed by the strength of Gandhiji’s convictions; the appeal of his persuasion across a wide spectrum of society.

“Follow you Dharma, your moral duty.

God’s truth demands Liberty and Justice for all.

We all are the children of one God.  We Hindus, and we Muslims invoke the one and the same God, whether we call Him Ram or we call Him Allah.

We, all Indians, deserve the right to be in charge of our own destiny.”

Gandhiji’s inspiring, invigorating word liberated the downcast souls and challenged the masses.  Even the faint-hearted, the indifferent felt an enthusiasm to take up the cause.

“There are times when you have to obey.

A call which is the highest of all, that is the voice of conscience.

Even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear,

And even more, separation from friends,

From family, from the state to which you may belong,

From all that you have held as dear as life itself.

For this obedience is the law of our being.”

A fine mix of elation and enthusiasm hung in the air.  I was witnessing a rare moment in eternity, a moment bigger than life, infinitely bigger than myself!

Gandhi Ji’s message rings just as true today.

On becoming citizens of the United States of America, by birth or adoption, we have pledged to uphold the principle of ‘Inalienable rights of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for All’. In expressing our voice by casting our vote to elect the President and Congress, we fulfill our civic duty. Follow our Dharma. Our decisions on societal issues have an impact on our lives. They give direction to the destiny of the Nation too.

Remember, your one powerful vote has the power to change the course of history! 


Usha Dhupa has lived extended periods of her life in Africa, India, England, and America.  Her rich experiences over eight decades give us a panoramic view of her life. Find the rest of this story in her recently published book ‘Child of Two Worlds‘.

On the Presidential Debate: “Candron Enkolo!”

Unrestricted international travel – the one thing that has been denied to millions across the world – has been mine, these past few months, through the act of reading for hours in an uninterrupted fashion. I read the political news of the day and then jump backward in time to read Tamil writings from the 5th-8th centuries. My mind reads modern English words, phrases, and paragraphs at lightning speed as I devour political news, and then slows down as I read and sound out unfamiliar words and verse in classical Tamil.

The psychic reading worlds that I move in could not be more different. And yet, the two worlds collided in a remarkable fashion in my head at the conclusion of the first Presidential debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. At the very end of the debate when asked about voting these were a snapshot of the responses. 

Trump ranted, “As far as the ballot is concerned it is a disaster…they are sending millions of ballots all across the country. There is fraud, they found them in creeks, they found some with the name Trump in a waste paper basket, they are being sent all over the place…this is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen..there are many states all run by Democrats….one percent of ballots cast in 2016 were invalidated. We don’t like ‘em we don’t like ‘em and they throw them out.” 

To this charge on mail-in voting, Joe Biden declared, “There is no fraud.”

I couldn’t believe that a sitting President would in such a cavalier manner dismiss the act of voting. Was he not responsible to ensure that there was indeed no fraud? The next day, the political pundits went after who won and who lost the debate. Trump was a bully, some said. Biden missed points when he could have made a stinging comeback others said. Ping-pong. You hit – I hit back. I was not interested in any of that. 

When I heard that exchange, my mind careened backward all the way to the words of the fictional character Kannagi in the Tamil epic Silappadikaaram.

Candron enkolo? Candron enkolo?”(Wise men, where are you?) she screams in agony on discovering her husband Kovalan is killed by the king’s men.

The Silppadikaram is considered one of the five great Tamil epics written by a Jain Prince Ilando Adigal.  In the story, Kannagi and Kovalan are married with the blessing of the elders in their families. Their young lives are upended rudely when Kovalan falls in love with Madhavi, a courtesan dancer and he soon leaves Kannagi. After spending years with Madhavi, Kovalan realizes the folly of his ways and returns to his dutiful wife Kannagi.

They soon leave the kingdom ruled by the Cholas and travel to the land ruled by the Pandyas and enter its largest city Madurai. Here, Kovalan decides to sell his wife’s silambu (anklet) to make a fresh start in life and takes it to a jeweler in the marketplace. The cunning jeweler who also happens to be the royal jeweler sees the similarities between the Queen’s anklet and that of Kannagi’s. The jeweler had stolen the queen’s anklet and when Kovalan entered his workshop, he saw the perfect opportunity to frame the unsuspecting Kovalan for the theft. The jeweler hurries to the king and accuses Kovalan of theft. Dragged by the king’s men into court, Kovalan’s head is severed with one stroke and when Kannagi finds her husband dead, she screams in anger – “Candron enkolo?” (Wise men, where are you?)

The morning following the debate I wish that there had been 535 messages on social media and in every publication across the country. The 435 members in the House and 100 senators should have signed one statement which had just one sentence. “From now till election day, I will personally work to make sure that your vote is counted, regardless of whether it is a mailed-in ballot or if it is a ballot cast in person.” 

Without the protection that my vote and every other vote will be counted, how can we even say that we live in a democracy? Forget the fact that we want a Republican or a Democrat based on our political beliefs. Where are the checks and balances in action that we read about in civics textbooks? Each one of the 535 representatives has been accorded the power they enjoy because of thousands of votes that have been cast in their favor. I should be able to take the fact that my vote will be counted for granted in a mature Western democracy. 

When a sitting President talks of his own administration and says that they are sending millions of ballots all across the country and that there is massive fraud, where is the massive counter-response from legislators? To a President who relishes in the spectacle of political theater, can I not expect every legislator to stand in dramatic fashion as one to say, “Your vote will be counted. I will work to ensure that basic right for all the people I represent in my district, in my state.”

Candron enkolo?” –  Wise men, where are you? Kannagi howled within the fictional plot. Of course, these words were spoken at a time when only men could be counted amongst the king’s advisors and as those who upheld justice. 

Today, I ask – Candron enkolo? – Wise men and women of both parties, where are you? 


Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is a former editor of India Currents magazine. 

US and India Benefit From the Same Democratic Process

Although many feel the democratic urgency of voting this election cycle in the US, it is not uncommon to hear, “My vote won’t count anyway.”

Associate Professor of Political Science at SFSU and Researcher, Jason McDaniel addresses the importance of local elections as a “foundation for democracy” and a “pathway to racial-ethnic equity.” Whether it be, city, county, or state jurisdiction, local law supersedes federal law and can more accurately represent the sentiment of its community. 

However, at the local elections in Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Leandro, your vote actually has more bang for its buck. 

Why? Because of their implementation of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).

Entrenched in the SF Voting Data, McDaniel cautions that RCV can be a contributor to the confounding nature of ballot response but its results are that of a lower democratic deficit. He finds that complexities within the SF local election and lack of information lowers voter turnout for communities of color.

The US follows the First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system, in which you vote for one candidate and the candidate who receives the most votes wins the election. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on October 6th, McDaniel reviewed Rank Choice Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting. 

When RCV is used, candidates are ranked from 1-10 (depending on the number of candidates). If a candidate immediately has an outright majority (50 percent plus one), then that candidate is declared the winner of the election. However, if none of the candidates have an outright majority, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed based on their voters’ second choice rankings. The process continues until one candidate’s adjusted vote number hits an outright majority.

Dr. Jason McDaniel’s example of RCV from the Mayoral Election in SF (red indicates eliminated candidate)

Ranking candidates requires more knowledge of all platforms and of RCV. McDaniels comments, “Reformers who want to change democracy often overestimate what voters care about…The vast majority of voters don’t have strong preferences for more than one or two candidates.” The idea of voters having multiple informed preferences in nonpartisan, local elections is quite novel, unheard of, and is likely a barrier to participation. Research shows that it is possible to recover the loss of voter participation.

Benefits can outweigh the implications of using RCV in a few ways:

  1. This particular method of voting can mitigate “spoiler” candidates, where a candidate that may be a third choice wins an election to a split vote.
  2. The candidate that wins better represents the majority.   
  3. Voters can cast “sincere” votes, unbridled by the burden of a “wasted vote”. Independent third-party candidates can be represented by a genuine vote, but if they are dropped during the process of RCV, then another candidate with a similar platform can receive that vote.
  4. It can reduce negative campaigning because it may lie in the interest of multiple parties with resembling platforms to advocate for one another.
  5. It can reduce polarization by rewarding moderate candidates. There is no research to support this yet.

Why stop at local elections?

India, which generally employs FPTP voting, explored a version of Rank Choice Voting in electing their 14th and current President, Ram Nath Kovind. President Kovind is only the second Dalit president elected in Indian history. RCV secured a notable win for someone like Kovind, who overcame countless adversity in his path to a presidential win, while accounting for the public vote in a substantial way. After his win, Kovind addressed the Indian populace, “My win should prove that even honest people can get ahead in life.”

An ongoing dialogue around voting processes can be beneficial for our communities and for reform. If not to change the process, then to better educate everyone around us. 

Anni Chung, SF resident and CEO of Self Help for the Elderly, “Rank Choice Voting has always been a mystery to me, even now, after all these years.” 

Voting can only be effective if understood. Keep the conversation going and go out and vote this November 3rd!


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

World Health Organization: The Lost Genie

Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore US President, Donald Trump. Known for not mincing his words and rarely playing diplomatically, he recently tweeted that, Corona Virus is a very bad ‘gift’ from China to the World. 

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1266014911127306240?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1266014911127306240&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Findianexpress.com%2Farticle%2Fworld%2Fvery-bad-gift-from-china-trump-in-his-latest-rant-on-coronavirus-pandemic-6431932%2F

Whatever Trump says or does makes a difference. He has provisionally suspended the funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) and accused the WHO of being Pro-China, mishandling the Corona Crisis. A few days back he wrote a letter to the Director-General of the WHO, threatening to exit the global organization. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

And now he has finally announced to end US’ relationship with the World Health Organization… 

It is evident in history that whenever any crisis emerges, it challenges all the previously existing structures, organizations, and institutions. A global crisis like COVID-19 is very much capable of either reducing our existing institutions as redundant or tagging them as completely outdated.

Donald Trump has put WHO in an embarrassing spotlight and while, we may or may not agree with him, we also cannot ignore a few basic analysis points.

WHO came into existence on 7th April 1948 and its identity centered around the global population’s health. WHO, as a global health body, should be held liable, accountable, and responsible for missteps regarding the current pandemic.

Covid-19 has threatened the very existence of humanity. The invisible attack has proved that the WHO is not adequate enough for serving Global Health.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, WHO failed to gather timely information with its epidemic surveillance system, and paradoxically praised China for its effort to contain the virus. 

China mislead the World, as well as the WHO, about COVID-19, many global reports clearly suggest. Whistleblowers were targeted by the Chinese government and human-to-human transmission was completely denied, initially. WHO should have kept a close eye on misinformation and disinformation surrounding COVID-19.

WHO is obligated to inform communities about their rights and obligations with respect to health. Undeniably, acting as ‘Information Intermediary’ is the most vital function of WHO.

If one goes on to analyze the WHO’s Constitution, Article 1, states the objective of WHO is the attainment of the highest possible health for all. Article 2, highlights various functions of WHO, which include taking all ‘Necessary Action’ required to attain the highest possible level of health. Note that, Article 2(q), says that it is the function of WHO to provide information, counsel, and assist in health-related fields. Article 2(r), says that WHO work will be to assist in developing an ‘Informed Opinion’ among all the people about any matter related to health. 

Generally, there are few distinguishing essentials that determine efficient governance by any international organization.

First, the one who leads the organization makes a significant difference. Without a proactive leader, an organization as paramount as WHO may remain inert and passive. This is especially true in WHO’s context, where Article 28(i), authorizes the Director-General of WHO to take all necessary steps to combat epidemics.

Second, what power does the organization has if any member State violates its guidelines or recommendation?

According to the WHO’s constitution, Article 63 mentions that each member shall communicate promptly to WHO on important laws, regulations, official reports, and statistics related to health. Article 64 says that each member shall provide statistical, epidemiological reports in a manner determined by the Health Assembly. And Article 65 points that each member State shall transmit on the request of the Board such additional information pertaining to health.

To ensure the credibility of any organization, it is most important that its guidelines are binding on member States. In case any member violates its mandate, then the organization should have the power to penalize it. 

Lastly, the organization’s source of funding should be transparent and autonomous. Independent sources of funding make a tremendous difference in the efficiency of any organization. Financial autonomy plays a very significant role in making any institution equitable, fair, neutral, and bold in taking decisions. But WHO lacks financial autonomy and transparency in its funding.

USA has been the biggest donor to WHO contributing almost 15 percent of its total Budget under Assessed Contribution, the amount each member State pays to WHO according to the GDP. Over time, the Assessed Contribution has declined and Voluntary Contributions have risen, which include funds from private organizations. This reliance on Voluntary Contributions should be reduced to contain transparency of funding.

One thing that is clear is that the WHO has a GREAT responsibility in global health scenarios. The saying goes “with great power comes great responsibility” but the saying holds true the other way around as well. At least some bare minimum power is needed to ensure the efficient working of any institution. If this great responsibility is not complemented with bold, autonomous decision-making power, then failure of such an institution shouldn’t be surprising at all. 

Priyanka Singh is an Economics Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India). 

Sujeet Singh is Political Science Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India).


Featured image by Thorkild Tylleskar and license here.

Image of Director-General by ITU Pictures from Geneva, Switzerland and license here.