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Category Archives: History

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has an India Connection You Probably Don’t Know

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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

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US-India Naval Cooperation, Part 1

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.

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Japanese, Indian, and US Navies meet on the USS Fort Worth for Exercise Malabar 2015.  via stripes.com

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.

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US Admiral Harris of Pacific Command Meets with Indian Admiral Dhawan.  Via NDTV

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.

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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.

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Via Indian Navy

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.

Historic-16Though 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).”

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Joint US-India Exercise Malabar.  US Navy Photo

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.

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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.

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Ash, your jet engine is rather hot! via NDTV

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

Hymn for the Weekend (In 1942): How Beyonce and Cold Play Messed Up

By now, everyone’s brown twitter has been blowing up on the disappointingly bland song #hymnfortheweekend.

There are some rather golden comments made in 142 characters (or less) both praising and deriding the video.

@DeepakNarang9 hits the nail on the head with this one, though.

The idea of #culturalappropriation is naturally being twitter-debated with all the skill and gusto of the RNC Presidential Debates.  Or am I being unfair to the RNC?  Some people see nothing wrong with ‘appreciating a culture for what it is;” some people are just happy to see the subcontinent in Western pop culture at all, while others are saying just shut up and enjoy the music.

The problem within these comments is that they gloss over somewhat imperialist, racist, and straight up inappropriate portions of the video (let alone the music itself – but that is for another article on ‘U2 with a piano’).

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My husband ain’t only one in da family wif an Injun strategy (pic courtesy news united.com)

With a population of over a billion, 5 metro areas with a larger population than the London metro area (each with its own culture, language and traditions), Ben Mor and Chris Martin had a lot of options when it came to exploring and portraying India.  Instead of selecting the land’s natural beauty, or any of so many vibrant cities, or even a rural, agricultural India where a large percentage of its population still exists, they chose a slum of Mumbai.  Having a Brit portraying India in this 1942-era really made me think that some folks in Her Majesty’s lands really need to let it go.  Those old projectors, dingy theaters, travelling Ramayana shows are all associated with colonial/post-colonial India.  I guess we should thank our stars that they didn’t show the nice white man giving sweets/candy to the poor little orphans. If they wanted to actually show Mumbai (let alone India), they could have shown how different people live within 100’s of meters from each other; Mumbai has over 10 million cell phones; 6 million people ride the train system every day; dabbahwallas deliver over 160,000 tiffins every day; etc, etc.  We then could be talking about income inequality/technological progress/new and old traditions/mixed cultures and religions/etc etc.  Instead, we got Lord Mountbatten’s progeny bringing joy and happiness to those (literally) still living in the last days of the Raj.

Beyonce does not have a good look in this video, I hope the Bey Hive isn’t gonna come after me, but she should have known better! Everything from her outfits to her hand gestures just fell flat.  There was nothing fierce about it, nothing showing Beyonce.  It was just another example of the white gaze, just being done with someone who normally isn’t in that position.  The sad part is that Beyonce could have stayed Beyonce – they got the highest paid Indian actress Sonam Kapoor to be in the video.  Why not let her just be the recipient/manifestation of the white gaze?  Kapoor was barely in the thing for 10 seconds.

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Hey boyz- will Cold Pay our inevitable physical and emotional therapy bills ? (pic courtesy consequenceofsound)

I also *love* how they told the kids to play holi – because, you know, god forbid there is ANYTHING done with India/in India/with Indians/whatever without color.  Otherwise how can you tell that the natives are having fun?!  Can we please get something else to show joy/fun?  How about an amusement park?  Hanging out by the beach? Indians are regular people.  We manifest joy in so many ways.  Even when there isn’t any powder in sight- colored, or the white kind.

This video plays to cheap caricatures of India that have been around for many decades.  White man in poor slum.  Females only represented in Bollywood or hiding demurely in a room (where they belong). Non-South Asian women wearing Bollywood clothes.  South Asians playing with colored powder.  British Raj-era local amusements.  Religious symbols.

Maybe they should have invited Taylor Swift and Iggy Azalea and they could have all gone to an Indian wedding and then a safari.

Guest Writer Shrenik Sanghvi- Special to usindiamonitor

Book Review / Author Q&A: Beyond South Asia by Neil Padukone

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Beyond South Asia: India’s Strategic Evolution and the Reintegration of the Subcontinent. By Neil Padukone. Published by Bloomsbury.

In the last year, a must-read book has been published for practitioners, observers, and students of India’s foreign policy.  Beyond South Asia by author Neil Padukone is an excellent and surprisingly easy read considering the complex and puzzling subject matter: the history and future of New Delhi’s strategic thought (insert laugh track here…).  Experts in this area, and lay readers with zero background in foreign policy alike will gain new insights by picking up a copy.  I have read dozens of books on Indian foreign policy from both Western and Eastern points of view.  Padukone’s is easily among the easiest to read, and I was able to complete it in just a few days.

Some analysts, including myself, have complained for decades that Indian foreign policy lacks a cohesive overarching strategy.  Others find the decision-making processes opaque, or even downright flailing.  Padukone has patiently laid out, with copious amounts of quotes and notes in Beyond South Asia that the reality is more subtle; that the young and growing nation has often pursued rational and intelligent policies throughout its history, though adjustments were required as with any country’s strategic vision in the fast-changing landscape of South Asian and global geopolitics.   Padukone earned credibility by working closely with numerous high-level officials in this area; more on that in the Q&A below. Read the rest of this entry

American Arunachal MIA Recovery Moratorium is Finally Ending – Guest Post

Arunachal MIA Charles Howard Mortimer, of the B-24

Arunachal MIA Charles Howard Mortimer, of the B-24 “Haley’s Comet”

Editor’s Note:  In January, usindiamonitor came across a purely humanitarian issue of bringing home the remains of MIA American pilots who crashed in India during WWII and invited Gary Zaetz to write an editorial on the topic.  This excellent piece I sincerely hope, brought some awareness to this long and hard battle.  And today usindiamonitor is proud to  publish Gary’s follow-up about the moratorium FINALLY being lifted by the Indian government after so many years.

We finally have confirmation in the press that the moratorium on Arunachal recoveries, in effect since the end of 2009, has been lifted by the Indian Government, in spite of the fact that the Chinese Government is still on record opposing these recoveries.

See this new article, by Indian journalist Manu Pubby, from India’s Economic Times. We thank Mr. Pubby and the Economic Times for giving this news the attention it deserves.

It compounds the tragedy of our MIAs’ loss that, while this cruel and heartless moratorium was in effect, many of these heroes’ closest relatives, like Dr. Stephen L. Chambers, Ethyle Renee Wolfe, and Fred Morris Oxford, passed away, forever denied their rights to see their loved ones’ remains given a proper burial during their lifetimes.

Read the rest of this entry

*GUEST EDITORIAL* Time to Bring Home America’s Arunachal Missing in Action

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Editor’s Note:  usindiamonitor only very recently came across this purely humanitarian issue of bringing home the remains of MIA American pilots who crashed in India.  While the views here are those of the author and Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal Missing in Action, we stand strongly in support of this cause and encourage action by every reader regardless of where you are.  Obama’s pending visit to India brings fanfare-focused media attention but this is a real issue that deserves more exposure.  These Americans who fought alongside the Chinese cannot be recovered now due to China’s stubborn stance and the inaction of US and Indian governments.

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1st Lt. Irwin Zaetz (Burlington, Vermont), navigator of the B-24 bomber “Hot as Hell”

For many years (at least since 2004), the US Government has known, and has stated publicly, that the mortal remains of over 400 US airmen still lie unrecovered at their World War II crash sites in northeast India, primarily in Arunachal Pradesh.   These aircraft crashed while flying back and forth between Assam and South China, in support of the Chinese war effort against Japan. In the years immediately after the war, the US military made efforts to locate these crash sites, so as to recover and repatriate  these airmen’s mortal remains to the US for proper burial, but failed.

Read the rest of this entry

Obama & Modi: Burgeoning Bromance or Business Ass Usual ?

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This winter season we witness a whirlwind of promising activity in US-India government to government contact. All evidence indicates that this phenomenon is being led personally by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi as countless of their underlings have publicly announced.  Is there a bromance blooming as Obama prepares for his second India trip this month, as the first sitting US president to smell the Indian stench twice?  I have long argued that the governments’ cooperation is just one prong in the bilateral relationship, and not even the most important one.  However, when this goes well it is usually an indication that the relationship is on the right track, and poor diplomacy can certainly derail all the progress. Read the rest of this entry

Weak Brew: Spare Me the Gandhi-Bot Beer Controversy

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Some Indian-American folks, including the inimitable Rajan Zed of the Indo-American Leadership Confederation, berated the New England Brewing Company in the last few days for its naming of one of its beers as Gandhi-Bot.  An illustrated robotic version of Gandhiji is also on the can.  While the demands to rename the India Pale Ale beer have so far not been met, the brewery was forced to apologize for hurting anyone’s feelings.

The ridiculousness continues.  Some morons in India are trying to sue the company even though the brewery does not even sell the product in India. Perhaps the name of the beer is insensitive, but this is going too far.  We’ve seen this movie before, unfortunately a hundred times, such as the recent attacks of Selena Gomez.

Read the rest of this entry

COMIC: MODI & COLUMBUS

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VIDEO: Gandhi vs. King, Jr. Rap

This is really funny, as are many of the others in the series of epic history rap battles.

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