Tag Archives: indian-americans

US, India and aid for Pakistan

In his budget proposal for 2012, President Obama has proposed $3.1 billion in aid to Pakistan. The aid is spread across various parts and will be provided partly under the five year Kerry-Lugar-Berman initiative and Oversees Contingency Operations (OCO). This proposal comes even as the two countries stand-off over the Raymond Davis affair and the news of Pakistan expanding its nuclear weapons program.

Out of the $3.1 billion, $1.9 billion will go towards promoting a “secure, stable, democratic and prosperous Pakistan with a focus on energy, economic growth, agriculture, the delivery of health and education services, and strengthening the government of Pakistan’s capacity to govern effectively and accountably.” However, a recent U.S. Inspector General’s report said that the U.S. (in effect Pakistan) has failed to demonstrate that the $7.5 billion civilian aid package provided in 2009 has improved the availability of basic needs such as food, education, healthcare etc in Pakistan. The former Chairman of Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), Mr. Khalid Mirza reiterated the lack of economic growth in Pakistan when he said that there is no clarity in the Pakistani government’s economic vision. The political and economic instability in Pakistan gives us no reason to believe that the new $1.9 billion will be spent wisely and to the benefit of the Pakistani people as intended.

Another $1.1 billion of the package will be dedicated to the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF) set up for training Pakistani forces to better fight insurgents along the Western border with Afghanistan. Here again, Pakistan has not provided us sufficient reason to believe that the aid is being used only to fight terrorists and insurgents along its Western border, or the terrorist safe-havens within its own territory. Instead there have been news of an increase in Pakistan’s nuclear capability with the country having more than 100 deployed nuclear weapons; followed by doubts about the construction of a fourth plutonium reactor. U.S. officials themselves are not convinced that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe, and are concerned about the volatility in the country.

But apparently U.S. desperation in Afghanistan supersedes all other considerations, and the U.S. is willing to overlook Pakistan’s inefficiency and transgressions in fighting terrorists and insurgents. The carrots and stick strategy is but a populist rhetoric, and the U.S. is willing to forgo the sticks and appease Pakistan with carrots and more in the hope that Pakistan will help it win the war on terror. The irony of the situation is however, appalling.

The Obama administration, with its call for change, has not managed to change the U.S. attitude on Pakistan, and continues to be willing to excuse all of its excesses. New Delhi has also been unsuccessful in breaking the cycle in spite of its ‘strong’ relations with Washington. All it gets is a couple of statements from the U.S. showing support and sympathy for its position and threat from Pakistan. But when it comes to action, all is forgotten and Pakistan emerges the winner with billions in aid every year it fails. Probably India needs to learn diplomatic manipulation from its western neighbor.

Along with talking with the U.S. administration and agencies, India should begin engaging the Indian-American community that has a large stake in the security of both the U.S. and India. The increasing political participation and strength of the community should be harnessed by the Indian government to lobby the U.S. to rethink the quantity and nature of economic assistance, and enforce strict accountability mechanisms for all aid to Pakistan. It is incumbent upon the Indian side to secure its own national security interests. The U.S. cannot be expected to reprioritize its national interests and goals to align with Indian interests.

Startup America

President Obama has announced the launch of the ‘Startup America’ initiative to boost high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the country. This initative aims to “encourage private sector investment in job-creating startups and small firms, accelerate research, and address barriers to success for entrepreneurs and small businesses.”

The program will work to:

* “Expand access to capital for high-growth startups throughout the country;
* Expand entrepreneurship education and mentorship programs that empower more Americans not just to get a job, but to create jobs;
* Strengthen commercialization of the about $148 billion in annual federally-funded research and development, which can generate innovative startups and entirely new industries;
* Identify and remove unnecessary barriers to high-growth startups; and
* Expand collaborations between large companies and startups.”

Learn more about Startup America at http://www.whitehouse.gov/startup-america-fact-sheet

The Indian-American community is entrepreneurial and has been greatly involved in startups. E.g. more than 15% of Silicon Valley start-up firms are owned by Indian-Americans.

Related links:


Diminishing Returns from the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas?

Going by press reports, Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) 2011, the annual 3 day jamboree hosted by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs seems to have been no different from that of previous years…there was the grand inauguration by the Prime Minister, the usual high-powered seminars on the same topics (investment opportunities in health, education, strengthening bonds between the Diaspora and the mother country, etc), the usual cultural programs and opportunities for networking.  At the end of the three day event, the program was pronounced a grand success, mainly based on the fact that attendance this year was at its highest ever, with over 2000 delegates making the pilgrimage to New Delhi.

Though the event has become well-established on the annual calendar, it still continues to draw as much criticism as it does accolades.  Participation in the PBD is drawn from a hotch-potch of individuals and representatives from Diaspora organizations from around the world. As far as individuals are concerned, the well-heeled have an advantage given the cost associated with attendance. The Diaspora is also not a monolithic group, the two basic groupings of the Non-resident Indians (NRIs) and the Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) have very different priorities and issues vying for attention from the powers that be. This inadequate and distorted representation of the 25 million strong diaspora by a handful at the PBD leads to misplaced priorities and initiatives on the part of the government.

There was the curious spectacle of Montek Singh Ahluwalia explaining the government’s rationale for holding the PBD as less to do with enticing the Diaspora to put their money to work in India, and more to do with strengthening their social and cultural bonds with the mother country. The focus this year was on the North Eastern states of India, with the most visible manifestation of this being the many pretty women from the North East performing ushering duties during the event. The other focus was on the youth of the Diaspora, who were largely missing, or invisible.


The event, as usual, culminated with the presentation of the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman awards by the President of India. The geographic spread of the awardees has evened out, after the initial emphasis on the North Americas and then West Asia.  Surprisingly, this year marked the first time the award was handed out to a member of the Diaspora in the sub-continental neighborhood, to Mano Selvatharan of Sri Lanka.

At the end of the day, the question arises as to whether this is one of those exercises that results in increasingly diminishing returns. Granted, the PBD provides an useful fora for a whole lot of activities and interfacing to take place but redressing grievances and acting on ideas, just two of the many outcomes of the PBD, requires more durable mechanisms to be put in place. Next year, the PBD makes its merry way to Jaipur while this year’s regional PBD is scheduled to be held in Toronto in June.

Endnote: While on the subject of the Diaspora, maybe the time has come for a census along the lines of the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPC) to be conducted for the Indian-American community by the Indian-American community. While any census is a potential hot potato, with even the NJPC being discontinued after the last survey in 2000 because of controversies over its findings and methodologies, at least such a survey could put an end to all the nonsensical figures floating around the Internet about the percentage of Indian doctors and scientists in the U.S!

(image credit: wikipedia.org)

Is there merit in NRIs contesting elections in India?

The Indian Oversees Congress (IOC) has announced plans to field Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in the Punjab State Assembly elections next year. The party plans to field about 10 candidates on the Congress Party ticket next year according to IOC President Vikram Bajwa.

According to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 a person can contest elections if he is also an “elector for a Parliamentary constituency in India”. Or simply put, being a voter is the primary prerequisite for contesting elections in India. In a recent amendment to the 1951 Act, NRIs who have not acquired the citizenship of another country can now register as voters in India.*

This means that a non-resident India could contest elections in India at the local, state and federal levels if he is a registered voter. It would be a great opportunity for NRIs to participate and make a difference in the political process and policy-making of their country. Their international experience could be put to good use in improving governance and bringing new ideas to the administration of their states/country.

However, it might not be in the interest of the voters if the individual is required to reside in or cannot leave his host country for long stretches of time. It could affect the elected NRI’s parliamentary attendance and actual participation in debates and discussions on the floor of the House. Questions need to be raised if such a candidate would be attuned to the needs and interests of his constituents, and can serve them efficiently. Or will he be an arm-chair philosopher? Governance is a full-time responsibility, and if a representative cannot be present with and for his constituents at all times due to other work/ business obligations and financial constraints, it would be a big loss for the voters. (Would the travel expenses of the NRI, traveling to be with his constituents, be charged to the taxpayer?)

The IOC’s decision to field NRIs in Punjab is commendable, but it should be scrutinized if the purpose is to provide representation to the NRI community and its needs; or allow a distinguished member of a constituency to represent and give back to his community; or simply appease the NRI community with the purpose of acquiring more support and funds for the party? If the decision is about representing NRIs, then a different process of nominating such a member of the non-resident community to the Assembly or Parliament should also be considered. The Ministry of Oversees Indian Affairs has already been created with such a mandate to look into the concerns of the community.

The right to contest elections for NRIs could be an important event in the political evolution of India. But it first needs to go through the right process of deliberations. The opinions and interests of the voters, the intentions of the political parties and an objective analysis of what the NRI community can contribute to the governance of the country should be considered before allowing NRIs to contest elections in the country. The sentiment of participation if commendable, the practicality of it is suspect.

* An NRI can vote in an Indian election if he is present in the constituency where he is registered on the date of voting. Unlike earlier provisions that automatically removed a person’s name from the list if he were not living in India for a stretch of six months, the new bill will allow voters to stay away for more than six months and continue to exercise their vote.

The Obama Visit and U.S.-India Relations

During those remarkable years when Indian students were flocking to U.S. colleges, acquiring skills and reputations that eventually made them the highest earning ethnic group in the U.S, the two governments were doing their damnest to destroy the relationship. Many in both governments still don’t know any better, although it is the government in Delhi that is drifting closer into dangerous waters, led by a captain without the strength to curb odd ministers running their own foreign policy. The reasons the U.S. government didn’t like Delhi in those years lay chiefly in Indira Gandhi’s bizarre attempt to enter the nuclear club in 1974, and of course the CIA’s mischievous assessment that India was a Soviet ‘ally’. The end of the cold war and George Bush’s nuclear deal should have flattened those hurdles, once and for all. The hurdles are gone, but ending a bad relationship is not the same as getting into a new one. Manmohan Singh’s courageous and tenacious performance in Parliament on the nuclear deal saw Indian political leadership at its best. The U.S. government’s worldwide arm twisting to get India the NSG waiver, demonstrated what a super power can do, when it stretches itself for a friend. Since then it’s been all downhill.

France and Russia have got the civil nuclear contracts, after the U.S. did the heavy lifting. Russia has been given the fifth generation fighter contract after the U.S. promised 100 GE 414 jet engines for India’s collapsed jet fighter project. Despite the government’s directive to all ministries to crank up the agenda for President Obama’s visit, a huge hole was created by Antony’s Ministry of Defense which is facing in a different direction. The Ministry believes that the Communications Security Agreement (CISMOA) is a devious and deliberate American plot to eavesdrop on Indian communications, as if the National Security Agency in Washington has no other means to achieve the same objective. The Logistics Agreement would have been hugely beneficial to the navy and air force to extend their reach, using U.S. assets worldwide. It was an agreement that the PLA would have paid billions for. Reciprocal facilities for unpopular U.S. wars could always have been turned down in special circumstances as Turkey did in 2002.The Indian MOD has shut the Indian armed forces off from advanced world technology by refusing to consider both. The U.S. President’s visit was eventually carried off by President Obama and Michelle Obama’s hugely effective public posturing, and some heroic behind the scene actions by corporate India and the U.S.-India CEO’s forum. Even so, the French and the Chinese signed an equal if not larger clutch of business deals with India. The President of the U.S. has a limited charter, unlike New Delhi, where there are Ministers for Coal, steel, petroleum, water, fertilizer, shipping, airlines, roads etc. So New Delhi has not yet grasped the essentials of the new world that it has to live in.

China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second wealthiest nation. Its GDP is $ 5 trillion against India’s $1.3 trillion. By 2020 both GDPs could quadruple, thereby increasing the gap from $ 3.7 to 14.8 trillion (India $ 5.2 trillion vs. China $ 20 trillion). From dams on the Brahmaputra to the Tibetan border, to the Indian Ocean – China’s power and arrogance is something India will have to live with. But how?

Will we see another Krishna Menon cozying upto China, our great Asian ‘brother’, when eventually Nehru had to write to JFK for 12 squadrons of fighter bombers, ‘flown by U.S. pilots’? There are even more unanswered questions. Will the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy sit out a Himalayan war, as they did in 1962 in the collective belief that their contribution to help the army could only make things worse? We don’t need an alliance with the US. We don’t need to get into a fight with China- not now, not ever. But how do we avoid one? Only by playing to China’s belief in Real Politik. To do that, India needs the U.S’ world class defense technology. Israel, France and Russia are alright for the middle level stuff. To get the world class stuff from the U.S. we need a relationship run by governments. The U.S.-India business councils, the Indian-Americans and the CEO’s forum can only do so much. India’s MOD cannot run its own foreign policy either.