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usindiamonitor Applauds Nomination of Kenneth Juster for US Ambassador to India

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via sputniknews.com

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

usindiamonitor was overly underwhelmed that the position of US Ambassador to India had been left vacant for many months since January 2017.  That’s when former Ambassador Richard Verma last roamed the halls of the US Embassy and left behind not only the hot air of New Delhi, but also a legacy of forward progress in the US-India relationship.  Obama’s pick was also much appreciated by many Indians worldwide as the first Indian-American to hold the post.  Trump promised less than one year ago that India would be America’s best friend as he lit up a Hindu diva in New Jersey, stoking the hopes and dreams of innumerable Indian-American voters along with a wonderful lamp.

Do best friends leave Ambassador posts to one another unfilled for that long, especially if the relationship is as superlatively non-controversial and bipartisan as the US-India nexus today?  Maybe not.  But in June, promising murmurs circulated about a certain Kenneth Juster being appointed to the post, an unexpected announcement which nearly served to make up for the time lapse.  Senate confirmation based on Juster’s qualifications seemed a given due to his tried and true negotiations with India.  Opposition either domestic or bilateral seemed unlikely to cause real impact.

Yet several more long months of silence on this matter followed, as the White House and its attendant media were consumed by other, baser affairs.  On September 5, Juster was finally nominated to be the 26th US Ambassador to India.  We urge rapid action by the US Senate to confirm Juster without delay when he comes up to vote this week.

So, who is Kenneth Ian Juster?

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Juster had overseas proclivities generally, and toward Asia specifically from an early age.  As a Harvard undergraduate he studied abroad in Thailand, and served as a research assistant to Samuel P. Huntington, one of the foremost political science gurus in United States history.  Juster’s resume includes substantive stints in both the public and private sectors, and in each area the work took him beyond the water’s edge.  He came to know the levers and pipelines of federal bureaucracy at the White House, State Department, Department of Commerce, National Security Council, and National Economic Council.  On the other side, Juster was respected by private sector colleagues at entities such as salesforce.com, power law firm Arnold & Porter, and private equity shop Warburg Pincus, all of which have global operations.

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via Wall Street Journal

When it comes to US-India diplomatic relations, Juster is among the limited pool of Americans who have found themselves deep in the arena over the years- and yet became accepted as true friends of India by Indians.  This pool is relatively small, shared by members such as previous Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, the aforementioned Richard Verma, the late Congressman Stephen Solarz, and former Ambassador Robert Blackwill.  Unlike many in the US foreign policy establishment and particularly in the US State Department, these figures generally didn’t condescend towards their counterparts even if they had to play hardball.  Indians have never viewed this as a given.  Small wonder that Narendra Modi and his team approved of Juster’s nomination.

Juster is known for helping initiate a High Tech Cooperation Group between the two countries in the early 2000’s, at a time when technology trade and transfer were nowhere near the powerhouse level they have now reached.  Today, it’s impossible to keep up with the daily flow of US-India tech deals, mergers, and acquisitions.  Some of this is finally creeping into the military realm, including the potential for big-ticket US toys such as the Marine One helicopter and the F-16 fighter jet to be made in India, while American drones and other cutting-edge hardware may be sold to the Indian military, all for the first time.

Juster is even better known for what followed, playing a key role in the multi-year negotiations that culminated in the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal, to this day a jewel in the crown of bilateral trade, but one which still has a long way to go to fulfill its promise.  Nuclear exchange is nowhere near where it could be.  Even so 2008 represented the end of a long and difficult climb since 1998, a year when India secretly tested nuclear weapons in the sands underneath the Pokhran desert, angering the United States, prompting sanctions against India, and setting the relationship back by years.  There has been a steep climb since 2008 as well to address a myriad of concerns with the deal.

It won’t hurt that Juster has Trump’s ear and has for some years especially on economic matters.  There are many challenges in play.  A rising China and the bitter escalation with North Korea are going to affect the entire Asian neighborhood for the foreseeable future in this, the Asian Century.  The nuclear exchange could stall on matters such as liability.  Reduction in the flow of Indians coming to the United States to work and study  under the Trump administration should be of serious concern to both countries.  Intellectual property and the monitoring quality of drug manufacturing in India for US sales are in need of mutually agreed upon swim lanes.  Afghanistan, which has been in turmoil for 40 years will rely heavily on US-India cooperation if it’s ever to stabilize.  Future cooperation will also depend on how the United States and Pakistan deal with each other, an issue that India will study more closely than all others.

It is possible that Juster will be part of a much anticipated seismic shift, toward the first mutual defense treaty between the United States and India, befitting for the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest.  There are many steps and pitfalls along the way, but we consider this eventuality to be inevitable the way things are going.  Might as well get on with it.

Juster will have his hands full upon arrival in New Delhi.  But for now, it’s time for the Senate to do its job and confirm the qualified nominee.  This is also a very good time to thank Mary Kay Loss Carlson, the US Charge d’Affaires in New Delhi, for holding down the fort during the long interim period.  We also applaud the Trump administration for making a good decision in this critical area of foreign policy.  If only there were more of them.

 

 

 

 

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Was Obama the Best US President for India in its 70 Year History??

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official WH photo by Pete Souza

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.

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usindiamonitor graphic

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.

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(theobamadiary.com)

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.

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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.

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US Officer Laura Condyles training in India w/ Indian Army instructor Saab Ajit Singh (US Army photo)

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.

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USS Carl Vinson being fueled by INS Shakti (US Navy Photo Andrew K Haller)

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.

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Amb. Verma (theindianeye.net)

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.

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Surgeon General Murthy.  via worldhindunews

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.

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Devyani Khobragade (pic Firstpost)

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.

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Indians demand Khobragade release…or something… (via the Guardian)

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.

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The Hug Heard ‘Round the World (sott.net)

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.

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(unrealtimes.com)

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.

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(thehindu.com)

VIDEO: Dr. Anuj Shrivastava’s Batshit-Crazy Conspiracy Theories

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 groups.  Just a tiny bit of research would show that the Southern Baptist Church has nothing to do with CNN-News18.  Why in God’s name would they want to sponsor that news channel?  Also, this doctor does not practice in the US though the video would have you believe he is based there.  I am not doubting his medical abilities here.

You must watch this video, and not just for a good laugh.  There is no doubting Dr. Srivastava’s sincerity.  There is no better example of the Indian society’s biggest faults on display: a penchant for batshit crazy conspiracy theories, whining, and blaming anyone else except themselves for India’s massive problems 70 years after the British abandoned India.

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

VIDEO: Donald Trump Promises that the U.S. & India will be Best Friends

Just before the election in October, Trump said something remarkable.  He promised a large group of Indian-Americans at a Republican Hindu Coalition concert in New Jersey that the United States and India are “going to be best friends.”  He even said “I am a big fan of Hindu and I am a big fan of India” during this speech and called Narendra Modi a great man, all after lighting a traditional Hindu “diva” lamp.

We shall soon find out if the promise comes true.

You can find the full speech, the diva lighting, and the introduction by RHC chairman Shalabh Kumar, below:

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

 

 

 

 

2016 was the Best of Times, and the Worst of Times

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techielobang.com

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

For revelers in India, the United States, and elsewhere in the world, I don’t want to make this retrospective look at 2016 too long.  I figured a few key thoughts in bullet points would suffice.  And then, carry on with your champagne!  Party like it’s the last time you’ll party, ever!

  • The United States is not only in decline, but in accelerating decline.  The real danger to Americans is not any external threat, but how much Americans hate one another.  This hatred is being openly exploited.  The new enemy is the enemy within.  Facts are rarely agreed upon any more.  This has made it exceedingly easy for external threats to damage the United States with minimal effort.  Then they sit back and laugh without firing a single shot.
  • 2016 was the best year ever in US-India government to government relations.  This relationship will only improve in 2017 regardless of the changes to be made under a new US administration.
  • We are heading closer toward the new world order of three fighters left in the ring: the United States, China, and India.  Europe has folded and is no longer in the game.  The United States is now the aging boxer who has gotten hit in the head one too many times (Rocky) who will hopefully train the young dark-skinned prodigy India (Creed) for the coming bouts of the future with another, stronger up-and-coming boxer named China.  Leadership of the mid-21st century world is now at stake.
  • India’s biggest 2016 paradigm-shifting event, demonetization happened on the same day as the 2016 US election, November 8.  DeMo is unquestionably an unmitigated and cruel short-term disaster, though this aggressive and authoritarian move may prove to have some benefits in the long-term, especially on the forced transition toward a cashless economy, and a steady increase in tax receipts.  Time should tell.
  • Despite the angry nationalistic tendencies sweeping across practically every white-majority country in the world with a vengeance, power is fast devolving from the nation-state to the city-state.  This massive devolution of power from national capitals towards cities such as Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Rio, San Francisco, and New York means that there is still hope for peace, inclusion, and climate change reversal on this earth despite bumbling national governments.

And with that usindiamonitor will leave you to your devices, on that relatively high note.  Happy new year, dear reader.  I would be pleased to see you back here in 2017.

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: One in a Billion, the Satnam Singh Documentary

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via ESPN

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Imagine the extraordinarily low odds for any poor American rural kid to be able to make it to the NBA.  Those odds need to be multiplied many times over for a rural kid- even a gigantic one- from the state of Punjab in India to achieve the same goal.  And yet Satnam Singh Bhamara now stands on the cusp of finding a roster spot in the National Basketball Association.  The 7-foot-2 gentle giant was drafted in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks, and currently plays in the Developmental League.  His epic rise, and the massive challenges he has had to overcome, are well-documented in the documentary film, One in a Billion, available as of this month on Netflix.  By no coincidence, Netflix is making major inroads into India.

One in a Billion does a fantastic job of laying out this story of someone who most basketball fans in the United States have not even heard of yet, a story whose ending is not yet written as Singh is just 21 years old.   The filmmakers gained access to a diverse bunch of people, including Singh’s family members, youth coaches, trainers, and teammates in both India and the United States, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, and Indian hoops journalist Karan Madhok.

The hero of the story could not possibly be easier to root for, regardless of your interest level in basketball.  Satnam’s relentless focus on improvement and positive energy in the face of obstacles, coupled with his desire to make family and country proud above all else is nothing short of inspiring.  He had to learn not only basketball but also English at a late age, which caused him major academic troubles in America.  The gym where he learned to play the game in India had a leaky roof and pigeons interrupting practices.

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via sportskeeda.com

Satnam also faced inordinate amounts of homesickness and culture shock coming from a remote North Indian village to Florida for high school, leaving all of his friends and family far behind.  In the film even the NBA, which is a giant profit-making machine, shows that it has a bit of heart despite the fact that high-level institutional support for Satnam is very much about tapping the 1.25 billion person India market for money.

There are moments that I really loved.  The Indian farm scenes are poignant and sad, despite the upward trajectory of one of the village’s favorite sons.  At one point Satnam’s black high school teammates at IMG Academy in Florida joked around with Satnam about dancing and impressing girls, and probed him about what India was like.  There are moments where Satnam’s high school coach praises him, and others where he yells at him.  Satnam’s workouts, drills, and game footage are also interspersed into the documentary and show his progression.  Satnam gets fitted for his first suit and then the draft-day hijinks are very intense, and well-shot.  I got chills in the scene where Satnam shook hands with Larry Bird, who runs basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, my favorite team.  Satnam in a Pacers uniform would be My. Dream. Come. True.

“People may look back on that date, and say that was the tipping point for basketball in India,” says Silver about Satnam’s drafting in the film.  I tend to agree.  India is too big to have just one major sport.  It’s possible that at some future date, basketball might one day give cricket a run for its money in India.  Personally, I can’t wait for that day to come, and for Singh, the Bhullar brothers, and others to pave the way for more Indians in pro basketball in the NBA and around the world.

In the meanwhile, this movie is the definitive account of how it all started.  Credit director Roman Gackowski and the whole crew for that.

MoNa Ki Baat: Confused & Concerned Indian Patriot Stoner Movie Buff

EDITOR’S NOTE:

About MoNa:

I am a real human.  I live in India.  I love India and Narendra Modi (NaMo) for his vision for a clean, developed and economically vibrant India. I also love beef, pork, sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and rock’n’roll (in no specific order).

MoNa will now take your questions!!!  Today, we have the first installment of the MoNa series known as MoNa Ki Baat.  Stay tuned for more from MoNa in the near future.

pic via economictimes.com

Dear MoNa:

The Honorable Supreme Court has decreed that every patriotic Indian has to stand for the National Anthem before every movie. I support the notion of national symbols and ritualistic following of these symbols in public gatherings to inculcate a feeling of one-ness among fellow citizens. However, I am struggling with a conundrum and I need your advice.

I have begun to enjoy movie while high since I have found through rigorous experimentation i.e. watching several movies while sober, drunk and after stoned (and also alcohol/weed combos), that the experience of the movie is the most superior when watched after smoking half a joint (and no alcohol). I found the experience to be so uniquely good that I am now not interested in enjoying the movies any other way. I must go on to add that at no point in time, have I ever been a nuisance to anybody in the theatre nor have I ever damaged any public property unlike many people walking the streets under the influence of alcohol. But, that’s beside the point and a topic for a future debate.

I also sing the National Anthem with fervour at any opportunity I get.  Each time I sing the National Anthem in the company of my fellow Indians, it has renewed my wish to see India and Indians prosper and be happy. Each time I have sung the National Anthem, I have also been acutely reminded of the challenges facing our great nation which has almost always caused an onset of a sombre mood.

Now, my conundrum. So, here I am – a patriotic Indian, love my country, will sing and stand erect for the National Anthem at the drop of a hat and I am stoned in anticipation of a good movie experience. I am afraid that post the mandatory Anthem, which I will surely sing aloud, I will fail to enjoy the movie because of the inevitable tinge of sadness that I will feel. I am also paranoid that I might turn into one of the patriots who ask people that don’t stand for the Anthem to leave the theatre.

What should I do? Unfortunately for me, while I believe that I am as much as a patriot as anyone, I cannot/will not sacrifice my pleasures for the sake of my country like our Honourable Prime Minister has.

Signed,

Mahri Jann, Ootakamandalam, Tamil Nadu, INDIA

***

Dear Mahri Jann:

pic via National Geographic

I must say that your problem seems to be caused by extreme patriotism and you don’t seem to be the demography which the Honourable Supreme Court was talking about while framing this judgement. Surely you agree with me that people who are Indian citizens should never forget their Indian-ness and what better way than to make them hear the National Anthem frequently. The Honourable Court must be aware that people have stopped attending public events organized by schools, colleges and government organizations in favour of spending their time in pursuing frivolous pastimes like watching movies. Hence, playing the National Anthem in the theatres would be a good way to achieve the goal.

The easiest solution to your problem would be for you to leave and find another place where you can enjoy the movies without having to hear/sing the Anthem. I hear California has good weather and will also have the added benefit from next year of legal marijuana. However, this would be the same as the solution for beef-eaters to go to Pakistan. Though, I wonder why Pakistan and not Argentina or Australia which has the best beef available. I guess because the non-beef eaters who suggested that the beef-eaters go to Pakistan suffered from the same affliction that Modiji suffered from when he forgot about all those weddings in the demonetization announcement. Also, the same affliction suffered by the bureaucrats who allowed 2.5Lac for weddings, albeit in a lesser degree.

I digress. Leaving the country is never an option since no country is perfect as the election of Donald Trump has proven. Give it time for our government, our judiciary and our police to all understand that achieving “one-ness” at the cost of “uniqueness/diversity” is not the right way forward. Till that time, I have the following suggestions:

  1. Tone down your patriotism – Stand up for the Anthem as directed by the Supreme Court, but, skip the singing and definitely skip the kicking sitting people out of the theatre bit. Kicking a person out of the theatre for not standing during the Anthem is in the same realm of vigilantism as killing someone for eating beef
  2. Walk in a bit late into the movie hall – Since the Honourable Supreme Court has said that the anthem has to be exactly 52 seconds in length, this should be possible to do without missing the start of the movie
  3. Stop watching movies in the theatre – I understand Mukesh Ambani has a movie theatre in his house. Maybe you can become his roommate? Also, I wonder if the Honourable Supreme Court’s decision is applicable to movies played in privately owned movie theatres. Alternatively, if Mukesh Ambani (or Nita Ambani) gets a restraining order on you, build your own theatre.

—MoNa

Goodbye, America. It was Good to Know You.

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Arthur Morris / Birds as Art

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?

 

Interview with Classical Indian Singer & Producer, M. Balachandra Prabhu

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Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Last week, I was able to conduct a Skype interview with M. Balachandra Prabhu, a highly talented Indian classical musician based in Mumbai, and a fellow Konkani.  I saw him perform this summer in Atlanta, and was impressed by the range and depth of his voice, which quite obviously had a mesmerizing effect on the entire crowd.

Like many of you, I am not an expert in Indian classical music and saw this as an opportunity to learn more about it.  But at its best, such as when it comes from Prabhu’s lungs, it can be nearly trance inducing.  Among other topics, we discussed the survival of Indian classical music in the future, its effect on the mind, how Prabhu got his training, his intense practice regimen, who his influences are, and aspects of his personal life.  Please click on the audio file below.

Balachandra Prabhu is staying busy this year, recording Western fusion songs, movie songs, and also learning how to produce and arrange music.  We are expecting great things from this young musician in the future.unnamed-479x240

Thanks to K. Rajesh Pai, a seasoned tabla player who often accompanies Prabhu and other top Indian musicians as they tour the United States, for helping me to arrange this interview and provide background information.  I hope that you enjoy the interview as much as I did.  Below are links to some of his music as well.

ELECTION SPECIAL! INTERVIEW WITH SILICON VALLEY’S CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE RO KHANNA

 

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“India is a huge ally for the United States, probably one of the most important in the world,” said Khanna.

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

What a year in US politics.  The stakes are incredibly high on November 8th, 2016.  Who will be the next president? Will Republicans hold on to the Senate?  Plenty of drama to watch out for.  To that, we can possibly add an exceptionally rare event for the Indian-American community as well.

We might witness history being made on Tuesday in the 17th District of California, where Indian-American candidate Ro Khanna is challenging longtime incumbent Mike Honda for the Congressional seat for the second cycle in a row.  The 39 year old Khanna is definitely one to watch.  He is an author, taught Econ at Stanford, and also worked as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Commerce during the Obama administration.  It’s appropriate that this tech-savvy Democrat would be the champion for science and technology that Silicon Valley- and the nation- need.

We hope you learn some new things about Khanna through an interview he granted to usindiamonitor this weekend.  If you are interested in more, visit his campaign page.

1)  First of all, thank you for agreeing to conduct an interview with usindiamonitor.  I’ve followed your campaign with interest.  How would you describe the experience of running for Congress so far and its impact on your life?  

It’s been amazing, and the best part has to be meeting the voters in our district. I make it a point to get out and knock on doors of the neighborhoods in our district at least twice a week, and over the course of the last two years, I’ve gotten to know some incredibly dynamic, resilient, and kind-hearted people.

2) What did you learn from running before that is helping you this time around?

I’ve been working with some brilliant community leaders on local initiatives. This includes helping San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on new manufacturing initiatives, fighting with the Santa Clara City Council to ask the 49ers to pay their fair share for parks and soccer fields around Levi’s, and working with Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves on fixing the Newby Landfill odor issue.

And most importantly, I’m married this time!  I can’t emphasize how grateful I am to have a backbone that can anchor me through the ups and downs of a race.

3) Congratulations for that.  Any advice for other people out there who are interested in running for political office?

Find out problems you care about. Start with the issues and then develop an understanding of how to solve them. Along the way, you’ll meet local leaders and if you’re eager, and driven to do good work, you’ll find the right opportunity to make an impact within the public sector.

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4)  What would be your priority on Day One in  Congress?

Making sure I help provide the background for an economy that works for everyone. I’m determined to provide more economic opportunity and ensure that the benefits of a technology driven economy flow to everyone.

5) What is California District 17 like? Most of us don’t live in a district with such a high percentage of Asian-Americans.

It’s the future of what America will look like — an amalgam of several cultures that blend into a stronger, better whole. You don’t have to think twice about your identity — you’re comfortable in your skin, no matter what creed or ethnicity you come from. As an Indian-American of Hindu origin, this fact is not lost on me.

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via San Jose Mercury News

6) The  incumbent Rep. Mike Honda appears to be a liberal Asian-American.  What separates you from him as his challenger?  

Two things.

First, it’s a philosophy of what politics should be. I believe in getting rid of PAC and lobbyist influence on our politics; I want to provide a more transparent system that respects the voters that have elected me. Congressman Honda has been a decent man, but he is part of a broken politics; he was indicted by a bipartisan ethics panel on a bipartisan, 6-0, basis for using taxpayer money to fund political activities. This is exactly the kind of politics that gets our voters jaded and cynical.

Second, I believe I’ve got the understanding of how to make a technology driven economy work for everyone. I’ve served under President Obama in the Commerce Department and written a book on how to bring high-tech manufacturing jobs back to America. I’ve got a real passion for this work; I like getting into the details, and I want to work to make this a reality. I think when we evaluate who will be better prepared to build a 21st century economy that works for everyone, my credentials make me uniquely qualified.

7)  Your platform is admirable and impressive.  Describe how you would plan to implement these reforms after winning the election, such as infrastructure investment and immigration reform, keeping in mind Congressional gridlock.

This is challenging and I’m not naive to the structures that are at play. The reality is that I can’t fight the influence that the NRA or corporate PACs have. But, I can lead by example. By refusing donations from any special interest groups, I’m able to analyze problems that face our country and work on solutions that’ll work for us.

I intend to hold regular town halls with my constituents — several every year, addressing every issue on their minds. I want to bring an energy of transparency and thoughtfulness to this district.

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via India Tribune

8) Many of us are interested in your thoughts on US-India relations.  Is the relationship on the right track?  Do you plan to become involved in this area?

India is a huge ally for the United States, probably one of the most important in the world. I think it’s great that President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have established a friendly, cordial  relationship and I very much intend to find areas that will be mutually beneficial for both nations.

9) Finally, please tell us one thing that nobody out there knows about you.  

I’m a big movie buff. During the holidays, when I’ve got down time, I go through two to three movies a day!

Thank you and good luck to the Ro Khanna for Congress team on Tuesday.  Thanks to Tarun Galagali for helping to set up the interview.  

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