2014 Indian Elections: A Spectacle like No Other!

National elections in the world’s largest democracy have always been a grand spectacle. The Election Commission of India approximated that about 788 million voters are eligible to vote in 2014, an electorate that’s more than double the population of the United States. Analysts from Election Commission mentioned that almost 90,000 voters, between the ages of 18 to 22 years, will be eligible to vote for the first time in each Lok Sabha constituency this year. Notably, the number of first time voters is more than the winning margin in 226 constituencies. Social media and the birth of latest technological trends have taken politics to a new pedestal amongst the youth. . Therefore it is highly important for all parties to make their presence on the internet effectively so that they can cash in on the phenomenal visibility of the social media. Indian politicians are expected to invest about $5 billion on campaigning for 2014 elections, a sum second only to the most expensive US presidential campaign of all time in a splurge that could mushroom India’s economy. The overall investment in 2014 is all set to be triple the expenditure spent during the last national poll in 2009. This matrix clearly indicates that this year the elections would be a game changer for India and the world.

The upcoming elections are stirring the global audience considerably. Political parties are trying their best to woo Indians abroad ahead of India’s parliamentary elections. The United States and China are the two countries whose opinions matter the most to India. Reportedly in the US, Indian political parties have created a spark amongst Indian Americans. Indians living in the United States understand India’s true potential at a very fundamental level. They care about the role India plays in the US and globally. Supporting this viewpoint Sanjay Puri, chairman of the (USINPAC) US India Political Action Committee, says “This election and a resultant government either incumbent or new can do a lot of good for India and Indian Americans in addressing”. He further remarked that, “Indian Americans take pride in their origins and being an Indian. This election will have an impact on key aspects of India’s foreign policy given that the existing coalition government has been hamstrung due to coalition politics on several issues”. Many Indian Americans believe that more educated professionals need to participate in the political process in India.

Elections 2009, Young and first time voters
The 2014 Indian general election is all set to enhance India’s economy, and at the same time it will also have an intense effect on the United States. This election comes at a time when the relationship between the US and India is getting stronger. This will eventually give a silver lining to both the democratic nations by establishing a strong bilateral strategic partnership through various yardsticks.

Getting India to VOTE!

Of all the amazing, beautiful and unique things about India, perhaps the most stunning is the grand spectacle of the general elections in the world’s largest democracy. Every five years millions of people across this vast land stand patiently in line to invoke the power of their vote. This is one day we all have a voice and without a hint of bloodshed, entire governments change.

In the last general elections, the voting population of India was 714 million. Five years have passed and a lot has changed in the political landscape, with new players and new parties joining the race. The voters are taken very seriously, especially if it is an election year, and the Election Commission of India celebrated National Voters Day in January and the theme not surprisingly was ‘Ethical Voting.’ Out of the new voters enrolled for this election year, 127 million are the newly eligible 18 year olds. With this, the total Indian electorate is a whopping 800 million. The world will witness again this huge mass of humanity conduct a peaceful exercise of democracy and then the wait shall begin for the results.

Elections-in-India-Women-010It is worth mentioning that while the elections are being played out in India, some of the most avid watchers are thousands of miles away and separated by oceans and continents—in America. Some of them who left their homeland over 30 to 40 years ago will still keenly follow the details on television, Indian newspapers and by phone calls to the family in India. Many Indians infact have become American citizens and are also involved in voting in America, but somehow this election continents away gets them all worked up. Perhaps it has to do with their coming-of-age years.

Going the American Way

Few days back, 250 high net worth individuals from Bangalore paid Rs 20,000 per plate to attend a fundraiser for the Aam Aadmi Party at Capital Hotel in Bangalore. At another similar event in Nagpur, Arvind Kejriwal spoke to a 150-plus crowd that had paid Rs 10,000 apiece to listen to him. The Rs 65-70 lakh which AAP managed to raise at the two events was the first ever by an Indian political party through a channel popular mostly in western democracies, especially America.  The very reason why AAP is organizing fundraisers is to keep up with their commitment to bring transparency into election funding. They are simply trying to stick to their mantra which is “to raise money over the table, not under the table.” Not just that, they have also published the names of their donors, again very much a common American practice. BJP tried their hand at something similar for those attending Modi rallies by collecting a token amount of Rs 5/10 per head which didn’t really create the same impact as AAP managed.

india-voterThis isn’t the only American method adopted for the forthcoming high-decibel Indian elections, and the trend isn’t limited to new outfits like AAP. Parties across the spectrum are adopting many popular practices which till now were limited to American politics. The Congress party’s decision to hold primaries in select constituencies — in the teeth of opposition from local party chiefs — and its main opponent BJP’s decision to project Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, way ahead of the elections, are both reminiscent of the American Presidential elections. The extensive use of social media and even the debates being organized by the civil society add more than an American touch to the heat and dust of our parliamentary process.

As it stands now urban and global Indians abhor the current state of politics in India and truly believe that it is merely a personality aberration of politicians. As voters, we always hope to have a different view from what we see in our politics, which explain the reason behind opinion surveys, report cards of MPs by voters etc. The very notion that politics and politicians are a mirror to society and are mere manifestations of ourselves is often dismissed callously or avoided by our urban class. If we accept two premises: that elections in India are free and fair and a majority of voters do vote, then we have to accept that what we see is who we are. That Churchillian quote: “In functioning democracies, you often get the government you deserve” rings true to date.

The USINPAC Initiative

United States India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) has launched a series of conference calls with expert Indian political analysts including the likes of Yashwant Deshmukh, Madhav Nalpat, Jagdeep Chhokar, Rajiv Kumar and Anupam Srivastava.  The invited Indian experts will offer their analysis and their forecasts for the election.  Our goal is to provide you with the opportunity to hear from and engage with these experts.

democAfter all, this is as big as it gets. The Indian Elections 2014 is quite possibly the biggest show on the planet and we want to make sure you get a ringside view of the whole event. Let the show of people’s power BEGIN!

USINPAC congratulates Dr. Manoj H.Shah who will take over as president of leading advocacy organization for physicians in Georgia

Dr. Manoj H. Shah of Warner Robins, Ga., was sworn in last October as president-elect of the Medical Association of Georgia, the leading advocacy organization for physicians in Georgia.

He will take over as president for a one-year term in October 2014, succeeding Dr. William E. Silver.

Dr Manoj S ShahMAG was founded in 1849 and Shah will become the first Indian American president in the organization’s history, he told one Indian American publication recently.

Shah has been active with MAG’s international medical graduate section since it was formed in 2003. He also served in leadership posts with the Georgia Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.

The Indian American physician was trained in medicine in Baroda and completed his U.S. residency at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Mich.

Board certified in obstetrics and gynecology, Shah has published articles in the Medical Digest and other medical journals and has lived in Warner Robins since 1985.

He and his wife have three children who were education in the Houston County school system. Shah is also active with Friends of the Library and the Houston Volunteer Clinic.


Source: Indiawest

Meandering Ambiguity in Relations: Diplomacy and the Nations

Recently, India welcomed the move of a U.S. court when it dropped the indictment charge against former Indian diplomat to the U.S. Ms. Devyani Khobragade. However, what was most appalling was that she was re-indicted for the same charges two days later. The latest ruling of the court continues to strain the diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Khobragade was arrested last December on grounds of visa fraud; she was accused of over-reporting the amount of money that she paid her housekeeper. She was handcuffed outside her children’s school only to be arrested and detained in jail for a couple of hours. Despite maintaining her innocence, she was subjected to humiliation that the Indian government termed as ‘despicable and barbaric’; on the other hand, the U.S. held on to their version that they were only following standard routine procedure. Following the arrest, it spiraled into a completely political and diplomatic standoffish yet heated imbroglio between the two nations.

devyani_khobragade--621x414With the dismissal of the case, it is absolutely clear that no further arrest warrants would be made against Khobragade in future based on the same indictment. USINPAC has been at the forefront of this case since the very beginning. It had started from making enquiries about the arrest procedures to investigating the issue through members of Congress, and her immediate return to India. Mr. Sanjay Puri, Chairman of USINPAC has time and again pointed it out that an escalation between the U.S. and India would disrupt their process of working towards common goals and initiating dialogues in a troubled region; and ‘that failure in diplomatic protocol can cause irreversible damage to US-India relations’.

Mr. Sanjay Puri has expressed displeasure saying, “Relationships between the oldest and largest democracy are built on a people-to-people relationship and not just strategic interests.  The United States is slowly losing the hearts and minds of the people of India through a series of avoidable incidents over the past year, including the clumsy manner of dealing with Mr. Narendra Modi, the Devyani episode, and most recently also the Wikileaks and Snowden revelations.” He also said, “Any next steps are crucial to ensuring that US relations are not damaged any further by this incident, especially in advance of Indian elections next month. USINPAC believes the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office and the State Department should not pursue this case any further since it gives the appearance of a personal vendetta and we intend to ask members of Congress to hold a hearing as soon as possible.”

USINPAC as a bipartisan organization has been the voice of Indian Americans for over a decade now. By doing so, it has influenced policies that concern the community and this is yet another instance where they have left an indelible mark in impacting the framework to ensure that justice prevails at the end.

Indian democracy starts convulsing: AAP represents only symptoms of a change already taking place

-A Guest Blog by Dr. Jagdeep Chhokar

The first title that I thought of for this piece was “Indian democracy convulses”. It soon occurred to me that the title could be interpreted to mean that Indian democracy has convulsed and it did not necessarily convey the continuity of convulsion. In any case Indian democracy is too big and too complex to convulse or to have convulsed in a short span of time. Thus came the current title.
The process of convulsions has come to the surface now but it possibly started taking roots about 10-15 years ago when PILs started being filed about the electoral system. It gathered pace about five years ago, in the form of anti-corruption agitations, got sharpened as a result of the ghastly gang rape in Delhi in December 2012, and seems to have come to the surface with the stunning debut of the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi Assembly elections in December 2013.

Jagdeep ChhokarMost analysts and commentators, both in the print as well as electronic media, seem to have been dazzled by the results of the Delhi elections that they seem to notice only the day to day actions and utterances of the new government in Delhi. Judgments are passed about the long-term success or failure of Aam Aadmi Party on the basis of daily events such as the Rail Bhavan Dharna, the Khirki raids.

All these learned members of the commentariat would do well to visit the website of the AAP. There is a link that provides a straight answer to the question “Why are we entering politics” and it says, “Our aim in entering politics is not to come to power; we have entered politics to change the current corrupt and self-serving system of politics forever”

Taking the above statement on its face value and without necessarily approving or supporting AAP, it should be clear that changing a “system of politics forever” is not a short-term activity. It can only be, at best, a long and arduous process, and more so when the political system is as ingrained as ours has become, particularly over the last 30 odd years.

It also needs to be noted that the AAP or Arvind Kejriwal and his colleagues are not the only actors or participants in this process, though they are arguably the triggers of this process. Other important, and critical, actors are all the established political parties, the intelligentsia, the corporate world, the media, and other such institutions of Indian society. Possibly the most critical actors are the citizens because such deep seated social transformations do not, and cannot, happen without the approval and active participation of the citizenry at large.

If the commentariat looks ahead, all it can see is the 2014 election. Yes, the Lok Sabha election will be a defining one, as all Lok Sabha elections have been and should be but in the evolution of Indian democracy these elections might well be just one of the many stages. Indian democracy appears to be on the threshold of a major transformation for which convulsions have just begun. What these convulsions will or might lead to, only time will tell, and that time frame is not 2, 3, or 5 years. IF this effort is to succeed, it will take something like 10 to 15 years though it can fail any time.

We, as citizens, cannot and should not rest only by wishing for the best. It is high time citizens took our citizenship seriously and did our duty to democracy as enunciated by Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), a judge of the US Supreme Court:

“Democracy involves hardship – the hardship of the unceasing responsibility of every citizen. Where the entire people do not take a continuous and considered part in public life, there can be no democracy in any meaningful sense of the term. Democracy is always a beckoning goal, not a safe harbor. For freedom is an unremitting endeavor, never a final achievement. That is why no office in the land is more important than that of being a citizen.”

Jagdeep S. Chhokar is former professor, dean and director in-charge of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

Source: India Today