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Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Growing up in the 80s as Indian-American kids with parents from India, many of us often heard rumblings about the mysterious Indian figure Rajneesh, also known as Osho or Bhagwan (God). At dinner parties and picnics, Indian parents and other adults would talk animatedly about this cult of personality and his myriad followers who forcibly parked themselves on an exceedingly white and conservative part of Oregon in the late 70s and early 80s to form a weird religious cult commune.
The hushed tones and liberal use of the language Hindi by adults in those gatherings, which most of us kids didn’t know very well, always denoted to me that there was something deeply sinister going on in conversation about the Rajneeshis. My parents thought that they were being discrete, but using Hindi as a covert device was the biggest dead giveaway that the talk was of nefarious things, and probably involved something called sex, and it had gone awfully wrong. And it sure did make us Indian people look bad throughout that decade on the global stage.
This was an exceedingly unique American story and a touchpoint of its time: mostly white hippy American types by the hundreds falling over themselves to drop everything, move to Oregon, and unconditionally worship the (admittedly interesting) teachings of a brown man from India who presented himself as no less than a God floating around in flowing colorful robes in a fleet of expensive Rolls Royce cars and private jets. Rajneesh was the ultimate figurehead of an American Mega Church movement, if that person was not only considered a God but also a rock star. His core message was promoting the guilt-free enjoyment of materialism, pleasure, and spirituality side by side.
Once I was old enough to know a bit more, the Rajneesh story bored me. It seemed like a typical trope about cultural appropriation of Indian traditions, fueled by Americans and Europeans flocking to ashrams in India to “find themselves” and engage in large sex orgies and liberal drug use in Indian clothes in a misplaced quest for spirituality and personal growth. When the predictable downfall of the highly suspect cult/commune arrived, it all came crashing down with an avalanche of financial embezzlement, illegal surveillance, threats of violence, and the long arm of the law coming down hard in the form of FBI raids and prison sentences. Everything about this just seemed so cliche to me, that I never cared to research too much into it below the surface knowledge I had as described above.
As it turns out I was completely wrong, at least in terms of how interesting and intricate the narrative actually was. Until this spring when I started watching Wild, Wild Country, Whatever little I had picked up about the Rajneeshi cult was more than I cared to know. I had been dismissive of it all. But that changed in one fell swoop, further evidence that a lot of what I think I know, I really don’t after all. It was easy to dismiss these failing sannyasins as a bunch of gullible nutjobs and posers trying to build their own obviously unattainable utopia right here in the United States.
But then a flip switched. Until I recently watched the Wild, Wild Country documentary series on Netflix out of vague curiosity, I learned there was much I didn’t know about the Rajneeshis. I had no idea how big they became, with thousands of members at their peak in numerous outposts around the world. I was especially unfamiliar with the tiny young Indian woman named Ma Anand Sheela, the hand-picked deputy of Rajneesh who effectively launched and then ran the massive communal enterprise of Rajneeshpuram in Oregon with an iron fist. I mean this chick was feisty, fearless, smart, tough as nails, camera-ready, and a formidable manager and leader by any objective measure. She was for some reason empowered by Rajneesh to lead the vast religious, political, and sociological experiment, and managed to accomplish large things within a few short and eventful years.
Wild, Wild Country is absolutely fascinating and so is its subject. It has certainly earned its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Built upon many hours of original archival footage, it shows not just a commune but an entire city government being built from the ground up in rural Oregon, surrounded by communities who downright despised the Rajneeshis to pieces. Suddenly an airport, roads, farms, homes, buildings, police force, defense force, city hall, and city council rose from empty land through the sheer will of the Rajneeshis, their collective sweat equity and organizational acumen. This intrigued the city government official in me. They built something special. The cult even began to perpetuate their own laws and justice proceedings, somewhat akin to a Native American tribal reservation, within the United States but somewhat separated from it. They sure had balls.
And the problems started right there. Predictably, a minor war ensued between the suspicious locals and the passionate Rajneeshi cult members who were performing all manner of rituals in their little city, and rubbing their newfound wealth, power, and peculiar culture in your face. Copious amounts of interviews were filmed in the modern day with some of the people involved from opposing angles, including conservative local retirees who hated the foreign influences they were seeing around them, law enforcement personnel who were eventually called upon to investigate the cult, and several key Rajneeshi members including Ma Anand Sheela herself calmly explaining the history of the downright bizarre events that permanently shaped all of their lives during that period some four decades ago. This stuff is stranger than fiction.
The documentary series spends far more airtime on Ma Anand Sheela, her tight inner circle, and her wheelings and dealings than the overall leader Rajneesh. After all it was she who ran the nuts and bolts of the movement, while Rajneesh seemed to just float through the scenery sort of above and outside of it all, saying and doing little of consequence. The filmmakers were wise to do this. Though I wish I could have seen more about Rajneesh and where the hell he came from, and what the hell it was this fraudulent Indian con man did all day, Sheela is a far more complex, interesting and intriguing character in this play. She was no doubt a true believer.
Even if you know how the story ends, the journey holds many plot twists, escalating conflicts, outright danger, and thrilling moments leading up to climax. There is plenty of well-timed suspense. During some parts of the 6 episodes, it almost felt like I was actually there immersed in the city of Rajneeshpuram during that time in history. The townspeople splinter amongst themselves. The Rajneeshis also suffered epic meltdowns and schisms within their ranks, some self-inflicted and others by force of outside influence. Although many of the key figures come across as batshit crazy at times, on both sides of the war, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for both perspectives as much of the conflict falls into the gray fog between what was right and who was wrong.
As for Ma Anand Sheela, she goes through a long and most wonderful metamorphosis worthy of comparison to a butterfly, and the series documents this arc well. It is in fact near impossible to reconcile what she was, to what she later in life became. And this may be the best part of all for those who believe self-improvement is possible. It is a phenomenon within the Rajneeshi phenomenon that I came to learn more about them despite my own chauvinistic blinders.
I encourage all of you to drop everything else in your queue and enjoy Wild, Wild Country.
*Writer’s note: Credit Bill Maher and his guest, historian John Meachem, for briefly discussing on Friday what the founding fathers may have thought of the current nightmare American government has morphed into. Meachem cleverly insinuated that the fathers might have actually been surprised that it took THIS long to get a tyrant into power. This got me thinking, and writing.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
GW = George Washington;
TJ = Thomas Jefferson;
BF = Benjamin Franklin
The three men are seated in a bar on M Street, Georgetown, in Washington, DC, May 2018, sipping ale
GW: Want me to be frank? Honestly I feel energized… Oh glorious day! Finally, Americans will have the chance once again to fight a tyrant who endeavors to rule over them and once again, prove their mettle to the world! What luck for the citizens of 2018 to be born into an era on the razor’s edge between democracy and dictatorship not seen for so long, not since 1776. 242 years of laziness and complacency have not the Republic served well.
TJ: George, as per usual proving much the indefatigable and overconfident jock…always relishing, nay, spoiling for the next fight. Your masculinity and raging hormones at times cloud your judgment, methinks. And the Yoda thing, you’ve been watching too much Star Wars lately, Sir.
BF: Speaking of. My labs are quite close to reverse engineering a portable light saber, which may one day yet prove fruitful to my secret Jedi contacts at the US Special Forces Command (SOCOM).
TJ: But you do digress, Benjamin.
BF: Indeed, but I do digress from your very own digression. Digressions and transgressions are those aspects of our personalities which make us human, Thomas. Embrace them like the polymath you are.
TJ: Benjamin, ever the philosopher. Coming back to this tyrant, this Pervert Orangutan of sorts.
GW: This tyrant who lies in bed eating cheeseburgers two miles away from us will be defeated by the institutions and systems we put into place to check and balance just such a vile figure. We were brilliant in our framings and ruminations in the late 18th century.
TJ: You are quite upbeat, old chap. But what if the tyrant beats the patriots this time and our little experiment goes to shit within just 242 years? What if he succeeds in cancelling democracy?
GW: Did I sit around crying in the freezing winter cold of Valley Forge, my men dying of hypothermia and lacking even food rations or shoes, obsessed by the specter of defeat, allowing my troops to witnesseth my mourning in my own depression well before anti-depressant pills were even invented?
BF: Bravo, George. But let us not underestimate the lengths I went to in Paris, wining and dining my way across town and wooing all manner of ladies to gain the trust of the Versaille court and bring France to our cause.
GW: Such hardships you had to overcome, Benjamin. Without exploring the cracks, one will not find the Liberty Bell that today does yet ring so sweet and true, eh?
BF: We aren’t so different, you and I. George, you are a born pugilist and I, a natural diplomat. One hand washes the other.
GW: We also happen to agree that light sabers are fabulous, and of the highest order of importance is their speedy production without delay for our soldiers at arms.
TJ: We seem to have a political party, the Repugnicans, that is somehow fallen in line 100% behind the tyrant and his dictatorial tendencies. Those within the party ranks who speak out are raked over the coals most cruelly and unusually.
GW: Didn’t we ban such punishing behaviors in the outset?
TJ: Tell that to the boys of Abu-Grab!
BF: In seriousness, perhaps the threat of gravest import is the number of our American descendents who are so willing to support the tyrant no matter what he does. He could shoot a person on 5th Avenue, but the sheep would still follow. Some citizens seem to have forgotten the value of democracy, voting rights, human dignity, a free press, and facts. Without these, our little experiment could be dead in the water.
TJ: These fools stand at 40% of the adult population only, and not enough to maintain the corrupt tyranny for long.
GW: Let us be honest with ourselves, Sirs. WE too, miss our slaves.
BF: Of course. But most people moved on long ago, while some others did not, especially in those pesky former southern colonies built on cotton, tobacco, and loathing.
GW: The institutions led by patriotic Americans will always win against the wannabe tyrants. We baked it into the system. We will see victorious patriots winning the elections, marching in the streets, gaining the upper hand in courts, and in general waking up the country to the potential for possibility and progress.
TJ: What will become of those supporters of the tyrant who witness their pipe dreams of white male supremacy and retrograde social rules cruelly dragged along and dashed to the ground once and for all?
BF: Who cares about what happened to the loyal deputies of King George who wanted to see US lose? Their time on the wrong side of history too shall soon come to pass in front of the world.
THIS IS STILL RELEVANT AS EVER
I saw this video making the rounds on WhatsApp, and the premise of this gentleman Dr. Anuj Srivastava’s little lecture is intriguing: why are Indian media outlets so derogatory? That they spew lots of hatred is certainly true. And the video starts out with a calm and intelligent tone that led me to believe this might be an interesting few minutes and I might even learn something.
However, the good doctor’s explanations are absolutely batshit crazy! To take just one example that really caught my attention, he claims without any evidence that CNN-News18, the CNN India partnership formerly known as CNN-IBN, is funded by the “Southern Baptist Church,” and that is why the channel is anti-Indian, anti-Hindu, liberal, and leftist. One by one, he claims that all of India’s major news outlets, including NDTV, the Times group, the Hindu, and India Today are all totally compromised by foreign governments or religious…
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For most American families, “India” evokes such positive images as India’s wonderful cuisines, its many cultural treasures such as the Taj Mahal and the great Hindu books, Gandhi’s historic civil disobedience campaign against British rule, the epic accomplishments of Indian scientists, and the physical and spiritual benefits of the discipline of yoga. Unfortunately, for a small group of American families, numbering in the hundreds, India does not evoke such positive thoughts. They are the families of US servicemen killed in India during World War Two – servicemen whose remains still lie unburied there because of the Indian Government’s long history of callousness toward their humanitarian plight. For these families, who only want the Indian Government to honor their right to repatriate their loved ones’ remains for proper burial, “India” only evokes thoughts of frustration and resentment.
A fundamental aspect of basic human decency, shared by all religions and all cultures worldwide throughout history, is that families have not only a right but an obligation to honor the mortal remains of their deceased loved ones ceremonially with a funeral ceremony as soon as possible after they die. If families are refused access to the mortal remains of their loved ones, they are illegitimately deprived of the ability to exercise this right and obligation, and those who refuse this access deserve the severest condemnation. This right is well-established in both the Geneva Conventions and the body of customary international humanitarian law.
.An estimated 400 US servicemen still lie unrecovered at or near a multitude of World War II crash sites in northeast India. Since the turn of the millenium, 15 of these crash sites have been located, photographed, and documented by the American MIA investigator Clayton Kuhles. From the late 1970s until late 2008, and then from 2010 to 2015, the Government of India did not permit US Defense Department recovery teams into the region of India – Arunachal Pradesh – where most of the remains of US airmen in India lie unburied. For a brief time only (late 2008 until late 2009), the Government of India permitted only one of the many well-known crash sites in Arunachal Pradesh to be investigated for remains, a crash site located on a mountainside in the Upper Siang district near the village of Damroh. In late 2009 the UPA Government withdrew that permission, without a word of protest by the Obama Administration, before any human remains could be recovered. From early 2010 until the assumption of the Modi Government, a de facto moratorium was imposed on Arunachal recoveries. Even after the Modi Government took over, the de facto moratorium continued for well over a year, until the Modi Government, faced with bad publicity over this situation in the Indian press, finally relented and permitted some token recovery efforts.
.During the years (2010-2015) the Indian Government imposed a de facto moratorium on remains recoveries in Arunachal Pradesh, many close relatives of these airmen died, forever deprived by the Indian Government of their right, recognized by the Geneva Conventions (to which India is a signatory). to reunite with the remains of their loved ones killed in wartime, and give them the honored funerals they deserve. Faced with this violation of such a foundational principle of humanitarianism, I (a nephew of one of these MIA servicemen) founded Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal Missing in Action to lobby the Government of India to honor its obligation to allow the recovery of the bodies of these men from its sovereign territory, an obligation frequently supported by statements of Indian leaders, but almost never honored by action.
Secondarily, our efforts have focused on trying to get our own Government – the US Government – to pressure the Government of India to honor these obligations. The Obama Administration was more concerned with selling to arms to India, conducting joint military exercises, and concluding lucrative commercial contracts with Indian companies than with recovering our war dead. The Obama Administration even went so far as to make patently transparent excuses for the Indian Government’s inaction.
With the transition to the Trump Administration, it’s anybody’s guess whether President Trump will make recovery of our MIAs in India a higher priority. Disturbingly, when US Secretary of Defense Mattis recently talked with Indian Defence Minister Parrikar, published accounts of the conversation made no mention of US MIAs in India.
Those who counsel patience to the families of these men are tragically unrealistic. Many of these MIAs still have elderly brothers and sisters who deserve to have their right to bury their loved ones honored during their own lifetimes. These relatives do not have many years left themselves – patience is the one thing they cannot afford. They deserve to have the remains of their relatives repatriated NOW.
Founder/Chairman of Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal Missing in Action
Cary, North Carolina
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Now that Barack Obama has just left office and is no doubt miserably plotting out his post-presidential life in Trump’s America as a private citizen, it’s time to assess the legacy of his relationship with India.
Like that between any US president and India, this relationship game was pretty complicated. There were ups. There were definitely some downs. There were times fraught with peril. And just like in a cricket match, there were two distinct batting partnerships: Obama/Singh and Obama/Modi (which incidentally, has the holiest of Hindu words OM as its acronym), each of which had its own unique flavor. Through all of this, one thing is inarguable: Obama was the best US president for India, its people, its development, and its advancement in the nation’s 70 year history. It’s not even a close competition.
Getting There. Any discussion of Obama’s legacy vis-a-vis India must begin and end with one remarkable fact: Obama is the first president in history to visit India twice while in office. The below figure shows the number of times each one visited India since “Ike” in 1958, which I just learned was the first of the official American head of state visits to New Delhi. There have been only 6 since.
Looking at this chart, a few interesting things come to light; Kennedy, LBJ, Ford, Reagan, and H.W. didn’t even bother to visit India. Reagan had eight whole years to pay his respects to the world’s largest democracy, whereas the others had less time, in all fairness. Kennedy was assassinated early on. Johnson and Ford became presidents by default via assassination and political corruption, respectively. Nixon, the only one of these presidents to (sort of) threaten India militarily with Task Force 74, actually did swing by. Obama not only visited twice, in 2010 and 2015, but arrived as the chief guest at India’s 2015 Republic Day parade, the first US president in history to receive this honor from India.
Meanwhile, Barack and Michelle Obama chose to host Manmohan and Gurshuran Kaur Singh for the first official state dinner of the entire Obama presidency, cherry-picking the Indian Prime Minister over leaders from other close allies including the UK, Canada, Germany, France, etc. in 2009. While state visits in either direction are partly symbolic shows of pageantry, they do help to grease the wheels for real, substantive work to get done. It is clear that Obama, Singh, and Modi all directed their staff and agencies to work together and advance the cause of friendship.
Good Trade. The pulse of any bilateral relationship is the amount of trade conducted between the two nations. While the governments certainly cannot take all of the credit for these numbers, and even less so the heads of state, the vibrancy of the private sectors of both nations depend heavily on government providing some nudges in the right places, while not getting in the way too much.
US-India trade has been on a healthy upswing when it comes to both goods and services, and around the middle of the Obama administration, official statistics from the US Department of Commerce show that total trade crossed the $100 billion annual threshold. While this is dwarfed by, say, US-China trade totaling $659 billion in 2015, a $35 billion upswing in five years still isn’t too shabby. Go back a little further to 2004, and the US-India trade total was only $12 billion. There have been major hiccups, including significant trade wars that dragged on and played out at the WTO, and ongoing battles over intellectual property but we can expect bilateral trade to continue rising in the future.
Unprecedented Defense Cooperation. Perhaps more important than trade advances, another clear victory in the US-India relationship took place on the military front. After all trade between two countries halfway around the world depends on open and secure sea lanes, airways, communications, and a relative amount of peace. Some military cooperation is essential to keeping the goods moving.
In 2015, a surprising event took place. The Indian Navy, Indian Air Force, and government-run airline Air India answered an urgent call for help from Washington, DC in Yemen, by helping evacuate US citizens among others along with the Indians who were stuck in that war and terrorism infested country without any US military assets in the area immediately available to respond. This is the first time we could think of that the Indian military participated in rescuing Americans in a third country. While the US media mostly neglected this dramatic development, plenty of grateful praise was heaped upon India by the Obama administration and the evacuated Americans. This event did not happen in a vacuum. It took place after years of military cooperation, which made it possible in a highly dangerous situation to trust.
The two nations in 2016 signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), the first such agreement between them in history, and highly tailored for India’s sensitivities towards any sort of formal alliance, which smacks of colonialism. The US and Indian defense establishments have been distant for most of the last 7 decades. Now thanks to the LEMOA, they can officially share fuel and communications, ports and bases, cooperate in cyberwarfare and humanitarian operations, co-develop aircraft carrier technology, and even build US military equipment such as the Marine One helicopter used for presidential transport, as part of the Make in India campaign. Much of the credit for this unprecedented “strategic handshake” between the United States and India in the last two years must go to Obama, Narendra Modi, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, a noted longtime friend to India, and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. In fact, the Obama/Carter Pentagon has been the friendliest of any to India, including kickstarting the only country specific “rapid reaction cell” tailored to India cooperation. All this despite India not being a mutual defense treaty ally such as the treaty members of NATO.
Meanwhile, US-India joint military exercises and training exchanges have ramped up. The two nations’ air forces, armies, special forces, and most prominently, their navies are building powerful relationships through increasingly complex exercises such as Yudh Abhyas and Malabar. Malabar is now a permanent annual deep-ocean exercise that as of recently also includes Japan. While these exercises aren’t explicitly meant to threaten any other nation, it’s quite clear that China and Pakistan have taken note, and have been spying on them with a dose of concern. Speaking of spying, India and the United States are now jointly monitoring the movement of Chinese submarines and other assets in the Indian Ocean. The US-India naval partnership is now, in our estimation, the most powerful naval partnership in the world.
All of this means that India can now continue developing into an economic and military powerhouse right behind China, unhindered, without needing to worry too much that the hostile neighbors surrounding it, especially BFFs Pakistan and China, can convincingly halt this rise while America has its back. Meanwhile, the United States gains a partnership in Asia to help counterbalance China. Before Barack Obama came into power, this business had not been settled.
Nobody questions that it’s settled now, even after a new US administration has transitioned in.
The Personnel Front Indian leaders couldn’t possibly say nicer things about the previous Defense Secretary, Ash Carter. But he wasn’t alone. Others among Obama’s appointees, including US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, Jr., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal worked tirelessly on India’s behalf at Obama’s direction, and all of them spent time in India with their counterparts, business leaders, non-profits, and school children.
But the jewel in the crown for Indians everywhere was Obama’s appointment of one of our own, Rich Verma, as the US Ambassador to India. The first Indian-American to ever occupy this prestigious role, Verma moved the ball across the goal line since his appointment in September 2014. The US-India relationship finally turned the corner for the first time after almost 7 decades of drift. Imagine in this devastatingly polarized time, that his confirmation was unanimously approved by the US Senate, a sign of respect from both Republicans and Democrats for Verma’s long diplomatic career. In New Delhi, Verma shepherded a dizzying array of initiatives on behalf of the United States, including on the longtime bugbears, nuclear energy cooperation and climate change cooperation. India rightly believes that it’s unfair for the United States, which has been leading the planet’s defiling and environmental demise for centuries before India was even a country, to dictate environmental austerity on India. The United States responded with financial and technological assistance in areas including solar energy. US nuclear suppliers are now active in helping India build up its plant capacity after many years of disagreement and inaction, especially on liability concerns. This is important, because without India’s participation, there is no hope to reverse climate change.
All of this aside, when a brown man appointed another brown man to lead the relationship with India, India sat up and took note, proud to be dealing with its native son across the table. Many other Indian-Americans were given prominent roles in the Obama administration, finally bending toward being in line with the community’s achievements outside of government: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy faced a brutal yearlong confirmation battle largely due to the NRA’s dislike of his calling mass shootings an American epidemic, but was appointed anyway; Ajit Pai was appointed an FCC Commissioner (and is now the new FCC Chair); and Aneesh Chopra was the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Nisha Biswal was promoted at State, as mentioned before. There are many others.
Tired of Pakistan’s Games Much as I loved visiting Pakistan and the Pakistani people, the US government has been growing exceedingly bored and tired with the Pakistani government’s dangerous games. These include providing disgraceful succor to Osama Bin Laden and other terrorists who have harmed or intend to harm both US and Indian interests. When the Obama administration showed the courage to eliminate Bin Laden without informing the Pakistani government, it proved to India that the longstanding US policy of fierce courtship with Pakistan was on the rocks. The US-Pakistan relationship (by the way, “us-pak monitor” would be a very interesting site!) has been the most intractable problem in the US-India relationship until recently. Now that Pakistan’s games have largely removed the country from US favor, and with withdrawal from Afghanistan US troops no longer rely on Pakistani ports and supply lines, it created a stategic opening for unprecedented cooperation between Obama’s America and India with less concern for Pakistan’s feelings. This could of course change, but I haven’t seen good signs from Islamabad in this regard. Pakistan has been curling deeper and deeper into China’s warm, welcoming, but costly embrace.
The Worst Moments It wasn’t all wine and roses in the US-India relationship during Obama’s presidency. The darkest stain was the 2013 dustup over Devyani Khobragade, the consular officer at the Indian Consulate in New York who was arrested for underpaying and mistreating her domestic help. Both sides completely bungled this. It somehow turned into a major international incident, bringing out all that was wrong in the US-India relationship, like Washington’s heavy hand and India’s deep insecurities and mistrust. The incident caused the cancellation of numerous high-level meetings, the halt of major projects, and a spiteful war of words between the two nations. Nobody came out of it looking good from either the US government or Indian government, all of whom utterly failed to resolve the crisis even after it escalated to greater and greater heights for multiple months. It was all shameful and could have been easily prevented, as I’ve written before, with a single, quiet, closed door meeting between friends. Instead, we got amateur hour from both sides, and witnessed diplomacy at its worst.
There is no doubt that Khobragade’s superiors should have shut her behavior down to start with; then when they failed to, the United States should have worked out a deal to quietly deport her, under the radar, with Indian cooperation. Instead, she was arrested and publicly shamed and treated somewhat roughly in detention, like many who spend time in American jails. India swiftly retaliated in a number of ways, such as removing traffic barricades near the US Embassy, revoking US diplomats’ duty free liquor privileges, issuing calls to arrest the domestic partners of gay US diplomats in India from shockingly high levels of Indian government, and violent anti-US riots. None of this should have happened, and we can blame both the Obama administration and Singh administration for it.
Then there was the brain-dead Modi visa ban. It might be hard for some to remember, but current Indian Prime Minister Modi was totally banned from visiting the United States at all by the US Congress due to a little-known and bizarre law on religious freedom for a whole decade before assuming national office. This visa ban was enforced as a result of Modi’s terrible management at best, and condoning at worst, of Hindu-Muslim riots that caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people in the state of Gujarat while he was Chief Minister. While Modi’s performance during the Gujurat riots constitute his worst days as a leader and a human being, the US visa ban was stupid and targeted, and did not apply to any other foreign politicians who have done so many worse things. In fact, Modi was the only one targeted by this law. Many believe it was a plot to please Pakistani lobbyists. In this case as well, nobody came out looking good, and unnecessary resentment was caused toward the Indian people. While Modi became a head of state, and therefore earned a bullet-proof passport allowing him to go anywhere, the resentment among many Indians has continued. Obama’s administration should have tried to put an end to it.
The Obama-Modi (OM) Years On the flip side of that, the two-and-a-half years of the Obama-Modi partnership have been so productive that most people can be forgiven for forgetting the visa ban even existed. Today, the US-India relationship is firing on all cylinders, and credit should go to Modi as well as Obama. The two hit it off early on in a heady and unashamed bromance for all the world to see, and continued to grow closer both as friends and as enterprise partners. Their praise of each other in various other venues was copious and sincere.
Some of the diplomacy between the two men was transcendental. In Time magazine’s 2015 issue on the world’s 100 most influential people, Obama took the unusual move of personally penning Modi’s entry, “India’s Reformer-in-Chief.” There was of course Obama’s seat next to Modi at India’s Republic Day parade. That entire trip began with a breach of protocol, as Modi waited for Obama on the airport tarmac and gave him a famous hug right off of Air Force One (pictured). There was also the Mann Ki Baat radio show, Modi’s weekly address to the Indian people, where the Prime Minister quite casually called his guest by his first name, and implored millions of listeners to follow the example of “his good friend” Barack who was lovingly raising two girls, with no son, and if the most powerful man in the world can do that, why couldn’t Indians give their daughters equal respect? There was also Obama’s speech at North India’s Siri Fort, which was unforgettable for its full-throated defense of women’s rights, in an era during which Indian women continue to suffer a heap of indignities, from low pay, poor medical care, abuse in the home from husbands and in-laws, and rapes and gang-rapes on the streets, often without justice. This speech was so powerful, and created such a far-reaching debate in the media and political establishment, I have no doubt that it made a difference.
Then there was the first Obama-Modi hotline, or 24/7 secure line of communication set up between Washington and New Delhi in a sign of the prestige being given by both countries to one another. At launch, this was India’s first and only hotline, and only the fourth for the United States after the UK, Russia, and China. Media outlets reported that it was one final phone call from Obama to Modi that sealed a flailing India’s decision to sign the Paris climate change agreement. There were also 9 separate one-on-one meetings in just the short period when both Obama and Modi were in power.
The Future? The United States and India have turned the corner. This means that the relationship has advanced to the point where it is unlikely for the progress to be completely undone under any new administration. While Trump has business interests in India, and has even said that the two countries “are going to be best friends,” a statement beyond anything Obama said, Trump is all over the place, and his policies are unpredictable. However, observers of the bilateral relationship can take heart in knowing that Trump’s obsessions with Islam, Mexico, NATO, and Russia do not interfere with any of India’s core interests. We are still bullish on the US-India relationship due to ever-converging values. We will save progress in the Trump-India nexus for the next article.
I have read many pieces in the US media about Obama’s long-term legacy. There is nearly zero mention in these lengthy assessments of Obama’s India policy. Part of the reason for this is the India relationship is seen as a bipartisan priority among American politicians who all want a piece, and therefore isn’t always controversial like other areas. Another reason for the lack of attention on US-India progress is a severe underestimation of its importance. India is now a key player in US global strategy, especially as relates to balancing against terrorists, Russia, and China for the foreseeable future. Barack Obama is not the sole reason, as his staff, Indian leaders, and previous presidents, especially Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, were excellent for India too.
But Obama has taken things to the next level. He has lit a lamp that should continue shining for the rest of this century. For all of these reasons, it is very much fair to name him as the best US president for India in history so far.
2016 will always and forever represent a goodbye to the United States of America that we know and love. Not necessarily a literal goodbye in the sense that we will leave the country to go live overseas like the Pilgrims doing a Brexit. No, this goodbye is much more bitter than that. There is no escape, and no ability to flee the pain by hiding in any dark corner of this earth.
America is more than a country. It is an idea. Now, that idea has become unrecognizable. 2016 is my death of innocence. It is the adult equivalent of eagerly waking up on Christmas, only to find out that there is no Santa Claus, and those toys weren’t made by elves, but by little child slaves at a factory in Asia.
Now that’s a rude awakening. Today I bid farewell to the optimism that powered my belief in the United States of America for nearly four decades despite its faults. No matter what happens, I will never fully get that optimism back again. It’s gone. And perhaps this is the silver lining in all of this: I should have been more cynical all along, for my own good.
I’m an American by choice. I raised my arm and took the oath of citizenship inside a judge’s chambers in the Midwest, at age 9. It’s also the day that I proudly swore aloud, “I will fight for my country if called upon to do so.” Indeed, today I would still fight to protect my country if it was needed.
But the most important fight to be joined now is not really against any external threat, such as garden-variety terror cells or tin-pot dictators. It does not require weapons or violence in the literal sense. The real war is now against something far more dangerous, nebulous, and nefarious: the enemy within, this undeniable and accelerating decline of the United States of America right before our eyes.
I will probably mope around until (how appropriately cliche) Thanksgiving about this. Then, I will stand and fight the decay however I can, as I know many patriots will. But for the first time in my life, I’m not sure if the good guys will win. This feeling is the most devastating of all. From whence came the motivation to fight for Rome during its fall?
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
Let’s take a step back in time for just a second to show a little empathy and appreciate what the white American male has gone through, and where he came from. When the United States started, white males used to own the WHOLE pie. They owned it all, everything, including all the money, land, and property. They literally owned other human beings who happened to be darker than them, from cradle to grave, so they could make even more money with less work.
As a white man in those good old days you usually didn’t have to compete against any woman or black person to secure a job or buy a piece of land. You were just given it by the other white men or could simply steal it from a native. The women and the slaves and the indentured servants did all of the housework for you too, while tending, perhaps in some frisky combination, to all of your sexual needs.
On top of it all, it felt good to know that God and Manifest Destiny were on your side too. Let’s admit it: what a great deal! Not a bad deal if you can get it. Hell, if I were a white man at the time I would probably have loved my life and wanted to keep things that way forever. And more to the point, we Americans to this day still worship at the altar of what these white men made for their progeny, for me and you: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Continental Army, the Minutemen, the Boston Tea Party, and the Revolutionary War. Those white men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and my favorite Benjamin Franklin are considered polymaths and heroes worldwide, and rightly so.
Relative to back then, the allocated proportion of the pie has gotten a whole lot smaller for the American white man, just as it has for white males in South Africa, Britain, and the rest of the world. White men in fact used to rule over most of Africa, Asia, North America, and South America from their European corporate headquarters, but nowadays Europe is in descent, Russia is a basket case, China and India are knocking on the door of superpower status, women can be CEOs, a Hispanic can sit on the Supreme Court, and a half-black can be POTUS. This is a zero sum game. White males get less pie. Minorities and women get more pie, and their share just keeps growing. This must be thoroughly emasculating, and I totally understand it. The backlash was bound to happen. It was only a matter of time. That time is now.
As a minority, it’s easy for me to believe that everything is better in America for everybody nowadays thanks to more equality. To folks like me, Barack Obama is the ultimate embodiment of the promise of what America just could be, the full realization of the dreams of the founders, Abraham Lincoln, the 600,000 Americans who died in the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, Martin Luther King, Jr., and all four of my grandparents in India who admired this country so much. They were gushingly proud that my mother and father lived here, fully understanding they would hardly ever get to see them from so far away.
It’s gotten gauche to deny the reality of American progress. And yet, I believe a lot of Americans feel otherwise; they resent that it’s not trendy to lament their current lot as white men losing ground to others slowly and steadily as time goes on; that Black Lives Matter marches in their neighborhood; that no politician truly cares about their perceived victimhood, while the government apparatus ominously benefits women and minorities instead of them. Robots and foreigners are stealing their jobs, while Mexicans are pouring across the border to rape their daughters. Having a half-black president was barely digestible; following that up right off with a lecturing woman would be too much insult to take. It’s just not fair. These fears are very real, and they are perfectly embodied by one white man. He promises to be their savior, that most thoroughly American of characters, the con man who each day dines on bowlfuls of gauche, Master Donald Trump.
Whether Donald Trump wins or loses the presidential election itself, his place in the history books has already been cemented, and I even almost admire how this deeply insecure pathological liar has clawed and tweeted his way onto those pages, shamelessly, tirelessly, and without an ounce of self-reflection. Trump’s foremost legacy will forever be as the face of the last gasp of American white male supremacy. And it’s too bad that history will not look upon him, or indeed those of us who lived in America through 2016 and let this happen, kindly. Think of how we today look back on the Vichy regime. We’ll be listed right next to them in history’s basket of deplorables.
It had to be ugly. And it sure is. White male supremacy won’t go down without a fight. But the joke is on the white man who votes for Donald Trump. White supremacy is verifiably in its death throes, as America continues to lead in bending the arc of history toward justice, in spite of our true colors. The young white males of today are far to the LEFT of Hillary. Trump has no plan, let alone any sort of ability, to reverse the forces of technology, globalization, or progress that are helping foreigners, women and minorities rise toward more equal footing. To be fair, nobody does. It’s simply happening.
Ironically, the process can certainly be sped up by Trump’s political participation if white men decide in large enough numbers that they want to keep playing with this shiny new orange object in November. There will be no border wall built to keep the Mexicans out. There will never be an America that’s great “again.” There would simply be an America that blunders around for four years with racial violence, gridlock, war, and trillions of dollars in obliterated equity, while the march of women and minorities would continue apace anyway, because they still have so far to go. The pendulum would be sure to swing more unforgivably than ever against the white man during this period.
The white supremacist is today, instead of working to advance himself, educate himself, and acquire the requisite skills that will make him more competitive in the new global environment full of opportunity, watching Fox News and waiting for Donald Trump’s teeny little magic wand to make everything better for him. If Trump loses in November, at least the fantasy of these simple, uninformed people will come to an end for good, and the tandem of Trump and Clinton will have done us all a favor. If Trump wins, the fairy tale reverie will simply continue until the unfulfillable hopes of the white supremacist are much more cruelly dragged along and dashed into the ground. The reckoning comes either way.
For all of America’s 240 year history, it was awesome to be a white man. And it still very much is. The solution lies in white men coming to recognize that fact. A calm ocean lifts ALL boats. The long forward march of progress for the white man on the backs of other human beings can be looked upon with affection by its descendants, and it’s worth remembering, including all the good it’s done for us as Americans. But today these sentiments belong not in reality but in a museum, right next to where the dinosaur fossils are.
Yesterday was the last day of the 2016 Rio Olympics. After the closing ceremony ended, India left Brazil with just two measly Olympic medals thanks to P.V. Sindhu’s inspiring run to silver in the sport of badminton, and backup freestyle wrestler Sakshi Malik unexpectedly bagging bronze in the 58kg weight class.
The glory of these two extraordinary ladies aside, this has been yet another pathetic Olympic games for the Indian contingent. Here are a few numbers that tell the entire story.
India’s population: 1.252 billion, or 17% of all humanity
Rio Olympic medals: 2, or .095% of all medals awarded
Olympic gold medals since 1980: 1
The 2016 performance was more or less another disappointing par for India. Why is Team India so pathetic in the Olympics? Much has been said on the topic and there is some disagreement on this. There are certainly multiple explanations for the lack of success, and nearly all of it can and should be corrected in the coming decades.
With Memorial Day upon us, it is worth sharing a little-known fact about the deeply revered and beautiful Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The Memorial will be forever tied to the hills of South India.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has a unique and unmistakable design by Maya Lin, with a centerpiece consisting of two walls of solid polished black granite, each one 246 feet and 9 inches long. These walls list the names of 58,307 American men and women who were killed or MIA due to the Vietnam War, etched into stone. The gigantic blocks of black granite were imported all the way from Karnataka, India, the home state of my family and one of the few places in the world where shiny black granite is to be found. It helps make the Memorial reflective- in more ways than one- with a spirit that extends to other monuments, including the 9/11 Memorial in New York City.
We’d like to salute those who have fallen in the Vietnam War and other wars in service of their country. As the United States and India build toward a closer military relationship, it is worth noting the other important ways the two countries are meaningful to one another.
Photo Credit vvfm.org
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
This is Part 1 of a special 3-part series on US-India Naval cooperation being published by usindiamonitor, timed in coordination with US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s critical voyage to India on April 10th, 2016.
If it seems diplomatic relations between the United States and India are all over the map, that’s because they are. Scan the headlines in 2016, and you will find a complex and confusing array of bilateral interactions. Today the two nations are duking it out over solar panels and H-1B visas at the WTO while engaging in a war of words over a proposed sale of U.S. F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. Meanwhile the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is sending warning letters citing violations to Indian pharmaceutical companies that supply the American market, India is roundly rejecting the offer of joint South China Sea patrols with the United States, and India’s previous External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told students at Georgetown University of the Republican presidential front-runner, “I would think India would be very, very worried if Mr. Donald Trump is to be your president.”
The media stories can be misleading. The concerns and disagreements are real, but minor in the grand scheme of things. The United States and India are now cooperating like never before in their history, chugging forward thanks in large part to their leaders. President Obama, the first sitting US president to visit India twice, and Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the first-ever hotline between the two nations in late 2015. Indians continue to pour into the United States for tourism, education, and work. 40% of the drugs sold in America are manufactured in India. India’s troops dramatically came to the rescue of Americans stranded in Yemen last year- an operation that “impressed and inspired” US Ambassador Richard Verma. Indian-born executives are running Google, Microsoft, Pepsico, South Carolina, and Louisiana. The United States and India are increasingly locking arms to combat climate change, cybercrime and terrorism. They have even set a record for initiating the farthest bilateral collaboration humanly possible, on Mars, through their respective space agencies.
One specific piece of the puzzle has stood out from the others, and it’s all about water. The tip of the spear in US-India diplomatic relations just may be the established and institutionalized cooperation between the two nations on the high seas. As US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter prepares for his next trip to India on April 10, we are publishing a special 3-part series on the Navy to Navy interchange that is helping shape the larger bilateral relationship due to common goals, interests, and challenges. And we may as well come out and address the elephant in the room: an aggressive China figures heavily into the equation, joining stateless terrorism and piracy on the list. China is even largely to thank for the cooperation that exists, so we will put Chinese developments into context.
Part 1 will focus on the background and history. Part 2 will cover the expected outcomes from Ash Carter’s trip to India. Part 3 will project what the future may hold for the two Navies.
Part 1: A History of Cooperation on the High Seas
Both The United States and India are coastal states with 12,383 and 4,671 miles of sea coast respectively. By no coincidence the two nations have their own traditions of storied maritime history, encompassing exploration, commerce, and military applications. Christopher Columbus actually stumbled upon the Americas while sailing the seas blindly in search of India, so the two countries have been inextricably linked by water ever since 1492.
In the case of India, through 5,000 years of recorded history its people have been highly dependent on the oceans for survival and progress. A quick look at the Indian topographical map would show why. Most of India is essentially a peninsula jutting out into the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal- and on the very Southern tip of India, at Kanyakumari, these three bodies of water actually meet. Toward the Northern edges of India are the tallest mountains in the world, including the Himalayas which are formidable barriers to interchange with other countries over land.
The United States not only abuts the Pacific Ocean to the West, Atlantic Ocean to the East, and the Gulf of Mexico to the South. Hawaii and other territories in the Pacific give the United States reach deep into that massive body of water, Alaska juts out toward to the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean, while islands in the Caribbean provide access to that sea as well. All of these waters provide both opportunity and risk.
The American Revolution, War of 1812, and American Civil War were all affected greatly by skirmishes and blockades at Sea. Building a strong naval force has been an American military priority since 1775. It’s no coincidence that the Japanese chose to attack the U.S. Naval forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December 1941, a move that forced a reluctant nation into World War II; the Japanese calculated that crippling the U.S. Pacific Fleet would help them win the war.
It’s also no coincidence that India played a huge role in World War II, including sailing alongside Americans and other allies in several naval endeavors such as Operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 (though the Royal Indian Navy was fully under England’s thumb at the time). Largely unknown and overlooked in the West, over 2.5 million Indian troops were deployed at the peak of World War II to theaters around the world to fight the Axis powers. This is likely the only time that American and Indian troops openly fought side by side, though technically the Indians were still representing the British.
During the Cold War which played out in the decades that followed, India and Pakistan were treated as pawns in the larger chess match between the United States and the USSR. Often, the strategic interests of the US and India were not aligned, as the United States supplied Pakistan with arms and other support, while New Delhi became cozier with Moscow most of the time, resulting in most Indian weaponry being Russian. The US Navy would navigate through the Indian Ocean, sometimes close to India, but by and large India did not interpret these as a threat.
Though there has never been a real naval skirmish between the United States and India, the 1971 Indo-Pak War came uncomfortably close. US President Richard Nixon infamously ordered Task Force 74– a fleet of US Naval assets assembled to be a show of force against India and by proxy, the USSR- into the Bay of Bengal in December of that year after a severe breakdown in diplomatic communications. Task Force 74 included an aircraft carrier group led by the now-decommissioned USS Enterprise, at the time and still probably the most powerful nuclear-powered carrier ever made. Americans did not directly engage India, but without the intervention, India may possibly have pushed its luck and tried to over-run West Pakistan as it did East Pakistan- now known as Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively (soon after, both India and Pakistan began nuclear weapon tests, making such an outcome virtually impossible ever since). The 1971 Indo-Pak War resulted in a peace treaty and Bangladeshi independence anyway; but resentment towards the United States among Indian elites continues to this day for interfering in the war and aiding India’s mortal enemy.
The end of the Cold War in 1991 ushered in a dramatic new era of relations between the United States and India. While US-Pakistan cooperation remained a thorn in India’s side, and still does in 2016, the military establishments and markets began opening up to each other more than ever before. The inaugural Exercise Malabar in 1992 was a direct result. Malabar started out as a modest joint US-India naval exercise that year with the two navies working “hull to hull” in partnership off the Southwest Malabar coast of India. This was described by Gurpreet S. Khurana of the National Maritime Foundation as a “token passage exercise (PASSEX) between the Indian Navy (IN) and the US Navy (USN).”
Over the years since 1992, Exercise Malabar has come to constitute the backbone of US-India naval interchange. It is also the premier joint exercise series between the two countries, though the armies, coast guards, air forces, and special operations forces also have their own separate exercises and interchanges. There have been hiccups over time, especially the hiatus caused by the 1998 Pokhran desert nuclear weapon tests that resulted in US sanctions, but the post-9/11 era saw a revamp of Malabar, with increasing levels of complexity and new partner nations over time. In fact, sometime participant Japan has joined Malabar as a permanent member in 2015, making it an official trilateral exercise, and one that has drawn the ire of China and Pakistan. Since 2008, Malabar has taken place annually and is expected to continue on this trajectory. Below is a map by the National Maritime Foundation depicting exercise locations, years, and participating nations from 1992-2014.
As we can see, Exercise Malabar 2007 saw the most participation, with two separate exercises that year, one of them including Australia, Japan, and Singapore joining, and a complex operation involving 30 warships and 200 aircraft in the US-India segment. We can also see that the Western Pacific became a more frequent exercise location in the most recent years.
With Exercise Malabar now becoming a permanent trilateral between three nations that China considers to be in varying degrees hostile, and with whom China disputes territorial claims, the participants will need to consider how to react. China is certainly building up its naval capabilities, including carrier-destroying torpedoes, creating artificial islands for military bases in the South China Sea, and developing its own carrier capacity. The United States and India have taken measures to assure that Malabar is not about threatening China, but this message is unlikely to be trusted. Alternatives to consider would be inviting Chinese officials to observe the exercises in an official capacity, or even to participate. There have been other occasions of such cooperation, but they have been rare, and it’s not clear if China would agree to either scenario, for political reasons.
2015 was a big year in US-India naval cooperation for other reasons. The US-India Aircraft Carrier Working Group was finally convened. This idea was in process for several years, with the goal being for the two countries to work together at a high level on designing, developing, and producing aircraft carriers jointly. This is a big deal, as the two nations are still in the very early stages of military weapon or vehicle co-development, and aircraft carriers are the jewels of the US Navy’s crown- and key piece in America’s capacity to be a global superpower. India has just one running carrier, with a second being built, and its own ambitions in Asia and beyond would depend heavily on upgrading these or acquiring new ones. The contact group should help in both endeavors. The United States, in turn, would find a more capably equipped partner to share some of the burdens of keeping the world’s sea lanes safe from pirates, terrorists, and other threats.
Later this week, Parrikar will have the chance to return the favor when he hosts Carter in India for their next meeting- including an inspection aboard India’s Russian-made carrier INS Vikramaditya for the first time by a high-ranking US official. This follows close on the heels of President Obama and Prime Minister Modi meeting in Washington for the nuclear security summit last week. There is no question that US-India security ties are on an upswing. As Mr. Parrikar told NDTV after the tour of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The most important is trust building, which I think is happening for the first time after Prime Minister Modi had good discussions with President Obama.”
It also helps to have two government bureaucracies, such as the US Navy and Indian Navy, who have had a history of working together and have developed relationships and trust for more than two decades running- an environment that certainly did not exist before.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor