All posts by Aanand Kharde

The Youth of India will determine the outcome of the 2014 Election

The 2014 India Elections have begun and as the election din and frenzy reaches its finale, it is now time to take a look at the major trends that have defined the exercise of political choice in the world’s largest democracy.

In this election, the youth forms a major chunk of the voting population. 150 million young Indians between the ages of 18 to 23 years are eligible to vote for the first time. That is staggeringly close to the total number of all registered voters in the 2012 presidential elections in the United States (169 million) and the sum equivalent of voters in most of the European countries.
In the nine-phase voting process that kick started across the country on April 7 and is scheduled to end on May 12, popular trends indicate that first-time voters are showing no signs of the voter lethargy that Indians are infamous for. On the contrary, young Indians are showing up at the voting booth in unprecedented numbers and voting has become a sign of impatience and assertiveness.

So what has brought about such a drastic change in the voting pattern? It is the sizable segment of first-time voters, who are the target of some finely orchestrated wooing by political parties and leaders. Opinion polls and experts, however, are working overtime to predict the mind of this young sizable voter pool.
Perhaps the defining point of this generation is the fact that they have grown up in and gotten used to a buoyant economic scenario. In the ongoing elections, these urban first-time voters are expressing considerable anxiety about India’s recent economic slide and the rise in corruption. They are a bunch who are unsatisfied with the current governance and want a change pronto. A lot has changed since the last general election in 2009 when India was nearing double-digit economic growth rates. Since then, the economy has slowed dramatically and is now projected to grow at 5.4% in 2014.

addon_article_1419_12140320_030844Who would have predicted two years ago that Narendra Modi would be this close to the prime minister’s seat? The poll predictions suggest this could be the BJP’s strongest showing in decades, and conversely suggest that this could be the ruling Congress Party’s worst performance yet.
But the election is far from over, and opinion polls have been wrong in the past. In 2004, when BJP ran its miscalculated “India Shining” campaign, opinion polls favored the NDA to win heavily, but it was beaten by the Congress, which since then has been at the helm of the ruling UPA coalition for the last ten years.
Young voters are also extremely concerned about the dwindling job prospects and lack of opportunities. It is a generation that is arriving to a damp job scenario after witnessing the generation before enjoy a long spell of plentiful employment opportunities, double-digit salary rises and job-hopping.
Real issues aside, first-timers are making it obvious on social networks that they are enamored by political idols and are going gaga in support of them. The boyish-faced Rahul Gandhi of the ruling Congress Party, the tough-talking Narendra Modi and the anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party have their own segment of young fans and a hysterical fan following to boot. Still, it is hard to say who this game changer of a generation will favor in the polling booth.

A Great Opportunity to Interact with India’s Leading Polling Experts

In the next two months, almost 814 million voters will make their way to polling booths across the length and breadth of the country to cast their votes in the largest democratic elections in the world. The general elections, in which voters will elect a total of 543 members to the lower house of Parliament, or Lok Sabha, will ultimately decide the fate of the nation. The upcoming elections, described by local analysts as historic, pits the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against the broadly centre-left Congress party, which has been in power for 10 years. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is Narendra Modi while the Congress campaign is led by Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old scion of India’s most famous political dynasty.

votingAll the hype and buzz about the upcoming elections have whipped up enough interest all around the world and Indian Americans are equally keyed in to the updates. Only a few of them have a vote back home, but that does not stop them from being excited about the elections and hoping that the election brings forward a clean government and a corruption free India. Sensing their growing interest in the Indian elections, US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) has come up with a unique initiative which is running a series of weekly conference calls with noted analysts from India providing their expert opinion to the American callers. The discussion points during the calls touch upon subjects such as possible outcomes of the elections, impact on trade and investments in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, energy, aviation, IT, status of civil liability bill and possible shift in India’s foreign policy. The calls which began on March 22nd will continue till May 16th and India’s leading political analysts and experts will be offering their expert opinions with respect to the Indian elections. In the last two weeks, the featured experts were Dr. Jagdeep S Chhokar, the founder member of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-profit organization that’s working for government and electoral change in India, Dr. Anupam Srivastva, Managing Director, Invest India, Madhav Nalpat, Director of the Geopolitics and International Relations Department at Manipal University and Yashwant Deshmukh, prominent broadcast journalist and founder of C-voter.
The various questions they were asked ranged from effectiveness of the next government to implement the bills to how will the government curb the rampant corruption and what is the 100 day plan? Predictions were also made that the Bhartiya Janata Party led alliance (National Democratic Alliance) will get a minimum of 230 seats in the Indian parliamentary elections, according to Mr. Yeshwant Deshmukh, of C-Voter, a leading polling agency. In such a situation, the NDA will be well placed to attract support from some of the regional parties – to easily cross the magical figure of 271 to form the next government in India.
Participants across 9 cities, which included leaders of the Indian American community, policy-makers at Capitol Hill, investment bankers and investors from the Wall Street along with technology entrepreneurs and academicians connected through the call.
With the first two calls turning out to be such a raging success, the rest of the calls are set to witness an even better response. As Sanjay Puri, Chairman, USINPAC says, “There is significant interest in the U.S. about the upcoming elections in India. Policy makers, businesses, and investors want to evaluate the developments. Major policy and business decisions would depend on the outcome of these elections. Through this initiative we aim to provide a better understanding of India to our U.S. members so that bilateral relations which are seeing a rocky present have a cooperative future.”
This week the panel of experts will comprise of Prof. Chintamani Mohapatra and Rajiv Kumar. To register for the call, click here.

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!

In Support of the Indian American Dream

US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) as a bi-partisan organization has been the voice of Indian Americans for over a decade. They have collectively represented the strength of Indian Americans and the impact of USINPAC’s involvement has often made the difference. USINPAC has always supported deserving Indian American candidates and Congressman Ami Bera is one amongst them.

Talking of Dr. Ami Bera, he became only the third Congressman of Indian-origin in the 226-year history of the US House of Representatives, the other two being Bobby Jindal and Dalip Singh Saund. Son of Indian immigrants from Gujarat, the journey of Indian-American physician Ami Bera began when he was officially elected for the US House of Representatives in 2013. Bera, a representative of the Democratic Party defeated Republican incumbent Dan Lungren by 9,191 votes for the Seventh Congressional District in California. But the real feather in his cap was his appointment to two key congressional committees that would help him play a key role shaping America’s foreign and science policies. It was a great honor for the Indian American community to have one amongst them named to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Ami-BeraBera has become an example of inspiration for the young generation. His initiative ‘Coffee with your Congressman’ is very popular and during these sessions Ami and his staff spend time to know more about the issues faced by people- be it helping veterans receive backlogged VA benefits, assisting seniors with Social Security and Medicare or maybe help get a stalled passport, Ami tries his best to ensure that no voice goes unheard. During his twenty-year medical career, he has worked day in and day out to improve the availability, quality, and affordability of healthcare. In Congress he uses the skills he learned as a service provider to listen to people and to put their interests first. As an Indian American, he has always been eager to visit India and on his last trip to India – his first since taking office, Bera helped facilitate an agreement between the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the University of California Davis Postharvest Technology Center to collaborate on postharvest technology to reduce food losses due to spoilage. With so much credibility attached to his work, supporting his re election in the upcoming elections is a decision which would provide the Indian American community the required impetus and USINPAC is doing just that by supporting deserving Indian Americans.
Not just Ami Bera, USINPAC has in the past supported various candidates like Latha Mangipudi, Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, Kamala Harris, Swati Dandekar and many other deserving Indian Americans who have gone on to become success stories in themselves. Not just that, USINPAC has constantly worked on various issues that are important for the Indian American community. Their approach of providing bipartisan support to candidates for federal, state and local office who support the issues that are important to the Indian American community is what differentiates USINPAC. So, it’s your turn now. Join USINPAC! Get involved!

Dr. Sanjeev Kulkarni’s appointment as Dean of Princeton University Graduate School is a shot in the arm for academicians of Indian origin

In January 2014, Indian-American Dr. Rakesh Khurana was appointed Dean of Harvard College adding to the growing list of Indian-origin academic stalwarts who are heading premier academic institutes. The list also includes Dr. Dipak C. Jain, Dean of INSEAD; Dr. Nitin Nohria, the first dean of Indian origin at Harvard Business School; and Dr. Sunil Kumar, Dean of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Now add Dr. Sanjeev Kulkarni to the list. Dr Kulkarni who has been appointed as the new Dean of the Princeton University Graduate School will take charge from March 31, 2014. If we take a look at Dr. Kulkarni’s academic career, he holds a plethora of esteemed degrees which includes a B.S. in Mathematics, B.S. in Electrical Engineering, M.S. in Mathematics from Clarkson University in 1983, 1984, and 1985, respectively, the M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1985, and the Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from M.I.T. in 1991. But its not only his trailblazing educational background which made him a frontrunner for this position, it’s his dedication and love for teaching which made him a name to reckon with. It then comes as no surprise that he will leading an educational institution where close to 2,600 students pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in 42 departments and programs.

In his own words, Dr. Kulkarni felt extremely delighted at being chosen for this esteemed position and wants to make full use of this opportunity to serve the University and create an impact in a new role. He says, “It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to serve the University in this capacity. I look forward to working with President Eisgruber, Provost Lee, the trustees, and colleagues and students across campus to advance the mission of the Graduate School.”
Dr. Kulkarni’s appointment is especially inspiring for young and aspiring Indians back home who keenly follow the route of these intellectuals to seek better academic prospects in the West. The grim reality of the situation in the Indian job market is that there would always be a dearth of the right-skilled jobs, a lack of political will to set advanced research infrastructure in educational hubs, an abundance of red tape to absorb the entire graduate fold. This acts as a catalyst to the ever-growing brain drain; however, it just goes on to show how many aspirants of higher education at the Masters level from India also make it to the most prestigious and top-ranked business schools in Europe and North America after being rejected by the leading business schools in India. They are more successful abroad than they are in their country of origin.