" A land of wonders", enthused Marco Polo in the 13th century, and his observation is no less true today. India is the seventh largest country in the world, with the second largest population, a rising economic giant. a nuclear power, "the world's most ancient surviving civilization, with unbroken continuity, stretching back into pre-history"( Michael Wood's preface to India), and the world's largest democracy and it is holding another election.
There are 714 million registered voters.....43 million more than in the last election of 2004. There are 6,500,00 electoral workers, 1,368, 430 tamper proof electronic voting machines (hello U.S.A.), 828,804 polling stations, 4,617 candidates, 543 seats, 300 political parties, 30 main languages in 20 states with 6 main religions and except for a few months during the "emergency" of 1974, has held free, fair and regular elections, since modern India emerged out of the turbulence of 1947.
India is polylingual, secular and pluralist. It has 15 official languages and 844 different dialects. Hindi is spoken by about 45% of the population and is the national language and English has been retained as a language for official communication. Other languages include Assamese, Punjabi, Urdu, Gujarati,Telegu, Marathi, Rajastani, Tamil and Bengali. Most of these languages belong to two families, Aryan and Dravidian. The five southern states belong to the Dravidian and most of the languages spoken in the north are of the Aryan family.
The Republic of India is legally a secular state, but 80% of its people are Hindus, a religion/ philosophy/ way of life that stretches back continuously for over 5,000 years. It has always welcomed and accepted others into its fold.....here are the words of the 14th century poet, Amir Khusro. a Muslim of Turkic ancestry, who wrote in Persian and "who counted himself to be the luckiest man alive to have been born in India and to have India as his motherland"( Michael Wood) ......
How exhilarating is the atmosphere of India!
There cannot be a better teacher than the way of the life of its prople.
If any foreigner comes by, he will have to ask for nothing,
Because they treat him as their own,
Play an excellent host and win his heart,
And show him how to smile like a flower.
Muslims, the second largest such population in the world, make up about 12%. Sikhs are about 2%, Christians about 2%, Jains, and Budhists, original religions of India are about .7% each, Zoroastrians about.01% and Jews and others make up the rest. Four of the world's main religions have their origins in India......Hinduism, Jainism, Budhism and Sikhism. It is generally accepted that Judaism and Christianity arrived in India before they arrived in Europe. All were welcomed and none were forced to convert, Here is a song that emphasised that...." Hinduism is the law of life, not a dogma; its aim is not to create a creed but a character and its goal is to achieve perfection through varied spiritual knowledge which rejests nothing and yet refines everything, through continuous testing............He who seeks to convert another to his own faith offends against his own soul and the will of God and the law of humanity.......Song of the Hindu...5085BC from Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan Gidwani.
The election is to be held in five stages, which began on April 16, and ends on May 13, 2009. The main poolitical parties have formed three main pre-elections coalitions. There is the Union Progressive Alliance, made up of Indian National Congress,( led by Sonia Gandhi, with Manmohan Singh as its candidate for Prime Minister), and at least 13 other parties. Then there is the National Democratic Alliance, led by Lal Krishna Advani, with at least 8 other parties and the Third Front made up Left Front and at least 12 other parties. There are also scores of others, mainly regional parties. There are 543 seats in the Lok Sabha( lower house). In the last election, the UPA won 35.4% of the votes and 214 seats and the NDA won 33.3% and 181 seats. The UPA was able to govern with the help of regional parties. It is expected that the UPA with its allies will emerge as the winners but not with a majority. To boost its chances it has bought the rights to the Oscar winning soundtrack Jai Ho from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The song title Jai Ho means Let there be victory, and Congress is hoping that this popular song will galvanize the masses. When Sonia Gandhi released the party's manifesto, it chose as its slogan Aam Admi Ke Badthe Kadam, Har Kadam Par Bharat Buland, which translates to " The common man moves forward, And with his every step India prospers" The BJP and its NDA partners responded by choosing the somewhat drool, Kushal Neta, Nimayak Sarkar.....Able Leader, Decisive Government".
The stage is set for this remarkable exercise in democracy. Jai Hind!!!
The peripatetic President Obama, perambulating across the world stage, percolating positive pleasantries with passion has once again charmed and mesmerised his detractors. In Europe, even the "burnished'' and " nip and tuck" Berlusconi, the " melancholy nein-frau" Merkel, the "smug" Sarkozy and the "burdened" Brown were smitten. They could not wait to get in his presence, especially when the cameras were around and rolling, and that was all the time. While he did not get all he wanted, he laid the foundations for the future. From London to Istanbul, they came out in huge numbers, because the people, for too long without hope and adrift, saw in him and his approach, a brighter and more promising future. Woe be unto any leader who dare to tread upon this.
Latin America had for too long been the playground of the United States, meddling in their affairs, overthrowing duly elected leaders from Chile to Guatemala, installing and propping up corrupt regimes from Argentina to Venezuela, waging "dirty wars" from El Salvador to Nicaragua and begarring the the poor from Brazil to Uruguay, and let's not forget the exploitation from Cuba to Honduras or the "the Banana Republics". Tens of thousands died, many more thousands were uprooted and made refugees and dreams and hopes were crushed. The "Yanquis"wreaked havoc in their " national interests".
Pres. Obama was walking into a hornets nest of anger and hatred. Chavez, Orteda, Morales, Correra and even Kirchener and Lula were chomping at the bit to have a go at him. It started with a 50 minutes harangue by Ortega, but then something happened. The mood changed and no more verbal darts were thrown. Instead, Chavez began making "goo-goo eyes" and professing friendship..."I want to be your friend", he cooed.He was seen shaking Obama's hands twice and presenting him with a book... " Las Venas Abiertas de Latin America" ( The Open Veins of Latin America), by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, about the colonial past and the exploitation of the region. It was signed " For Obama with affection". Obama responded by saying that he thought that it was a book written by Chavez and that he wanted to give him one that he had written. The chill was over.
In his speech, Obama, acknowledged the sentiment that the Americans had meddled in the affairs of the region but that they cannot blame America for every problem that arises in the region...." That's the old way and we need to find a new way". In response to Ortega, Pres. Obama said " I am grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was 3 months old. Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partenarship of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. We"ve heard all these arguements before" " We must learn from history but we can't be trapped by it", he continued. He promised a "new beginning" and " equal partnership" with the region. He won the day and the tone changed. Kirchener of Argentina..." A different dialogue has been opened". Correra of Ecuador..."The start of a new and interesting era in our relations" and Evo Morales was surprised by " his outreach to the region".
Much of what happened was due to the new approach to Cuba, that was announced prior to the meeting in Trinidad. This took the major sticking point out of the projected attacks on American policy. The rest was up to Pres. Obama and as he showed in Europe, he was fully up to the task. Another set of ruffled feathers have been smoothed. America's "cool" relations with Europe and its "strained" relations with Latin America have been mollified. Pres. Obama has been able to defuse tensions, but he has to follow through, as Morales stated. Cuba is the next step. This is a thorny issue. Do not expect rapid changes. First family , then business and only then will there be further steps to normalisation. It is a good start and now it is Raul Castro's turn to ante up.
Three months and over fift-five heads of government...from London to Istanbul to Trinidad.....Well Done Mr. President. Now on to the economy.
Update......April 21, 2009.
A hand shake, a shoulder tap, a smile and a book and now a return to full diplomatic realations, between USA and Venezuela. This is the breakthrough that Pres. Obama was looking for.
Raul Casrto has signalled that everything is on the table......human rights, political prisoners (first time acknowledgement) etc.
The craven, redundant Republicans, out of touch and leaderless are hyper-ventillating and wringing their pathetic hands.
There is a new approach, at least in the past few months, in American Foreign Policy. There is no Cold War or the "threat" of Communism. Gone are the days of propping up military dictatorships from Africa to Latin America to South- East Asia. No more "regime change" as in Iran in 1953, Guiatemala in 1954, South Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, The Congo etc. The Cold War policy of "containment" is replaced with a new "raproachment". John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State(1953-1959), who presided over and defined American foreign policy that led to the strengtening of NATO and the creation of ANZUS and SEATO, based this policy on the principle that " United States of America does not have friends; it has interests". He was fanatically anti-communist and from Ethiopia to Iran to Vietnam to Guatemala to Hungary, he made decisions based on this, whether it was staging a coup d'etat or arming fascists regimes or funding wars. Friends were used and discarded and new enemies were created as a result.....the long and brutal civil wars in Vietnam, Guatamala, Colombia, the "dirty wars" in Latin America and South-East Asia, the ongoing slaughter in Congo and other parts of Africa, all owe their origins on this policy, which was continued for the next forty years by the Cold Warriors who grew up in the fifties and were influenced by his ideas.
It was Lord Palmerston who first stated that "Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they have permanent interests". British foreign policy was to be based on this and America and others followed it also.
Let us look at some examples and how they played out for America and its "friends of convenience". During the Vietnam war, the Hmong and the Montagnards were recruited by the Americans. They fought valiantly and when the war ended in 19 75, they were abondoned and left to face the wrath of the Vietnamese and The Laotians, who persecuted, tortured and killed many of them. It was not until in the late eighties that some of them were allowed to relocate in the United States. The Montagnards were recruited by the CIA from the 60"s. They lived in the strategically important highlands. They were made up of many tribes...the Jarai, the Koho, the Rhade etc. with overlapping customs and language patterns. They were dark-skinned and suffered discriminations from the lighter-skinned Vietnamese, who referred to them as "mo"(savages).Until 1975, when the Americans gave up and hurriedly left, they were a loyal and resourceful ally. They paid the price for their friendship with the Americans. The Hmong of the mountains of Laos suffered a much harsher fate, forced to flee to Thailand and then forced back into Laos, they endured years of retributions, until some were relocated to the United States in the 1990s.
In Iraq, the Kurds in the north and the Shi'a (marsh Arabs) in the south, both paid a heavy price for supporting the Americans in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein had been driven out of Kuwait, with heavy losses ( Sddam himself was used by the Americans,,,arming and supplying him with useful intelligence, when he waged war against Iran and then luring him into invading Kuwait, so he can be taught a bloody and humiliating lesson) and the Kurds and the southern Shi'a, were encouraged by the Americans to declare their independence from Iraq and take control of the rich oilfields. They were promised protection and help by the Americans, and they staged their uprisings. They were abondoned by the Americans and left to fend for themselves. They were slaughtered by Saddam's army. All weapons, including chemical and biological were used and thousands were killed. The carnage only subsisted when a "no- fly zone" was created in the north and the south, and an embargo was placed on Iraq. The hatred this created was and is palpable.
More recently, two years ago, the Americans, after failing to stop the killings of its troops by insurgents in Iraq, changed strategy. They decided on a "surge" of additional troops, together with trying to get the Sunnis to leave the insurgency. They paid huge sums of money to Sunni tribal leaders. They in turn, formed the Sunni Awakening Council, and fought with the Americans. It was highly successful. The Americans recently decided to stop paying them directly and arranged for them to be paid by Iraqi security forces. This did not happen and these Sunnis have now become targets of attacks by the security forces that are mainly Shi'a. It no longer suited America's interests and so another abondonment of a "friend" who had served his purpose. There is also the case of the mujahideen in Afghanistan, who were armed and paid by the Americans to fight the Soviet Union. Many of them felt used and abondoned by the Americans, when the Soviets left in defeat, and now they have turned those arms against the Americans.
What is the Obama adiministration and Sect. of State Clinto's policy? Is there a Clinton doctrine? Will it be more of the same? First indications are that there will be a change. More respect, more co-operation, more consultations and more loyalty and trust. The test will come when things do not go as planned or expected, and this can happen anytime.....where? Pakistan/Afghanistan or any place where "new" friends are needed. Will they be abondoned, once the purpose is served. History has a way of repeating itself.
The young and untried President Obama, like John Kennedy, came to Europe and was tested. There was no Cold War or Krushchev or Berlin Wall this time, only the Gallic "cockerel" Sarkozy and the Germanic "nein- frau" Merkel, a NATO in turmoil and an economic meltdown. Krushchev thought that Kennedy was weak and would test him in Cuba. Merkel and Sarkozy threatened to walk out if measures were not taken to restrict running up vasts deficits by too much stimulating. The Czech leader talked about the system going to "hell", the "nip and tuck" Berlusconi got a chance to meet "the young, handsome and tanned"Obama and Lula de Silva got to meet " the white blue-eyes" responsible for the economic debacle . At the end of the G20 meeting, Merkel was cooing about an "almost historic compromise"(she has an election coming up), Sarkozy was skipping with joy, the Czech was nowhere to be seen (Harper was missing on a toilet break) the Russian "teddy bear" Medvedev agreed to talks aimed reducing nuclear weapons , Obama promised to visit Russia and it was agreed to pump $1 trillion into the International Monetary Fund and to use other mechanisms to support struggling states and to enhance trade. "Protectionism" which was so devastating after the 1933 meeting was not to be seen or heard. All in all after all the "hemming and hawing", there were only "oohs and aahs", over Michele and Barak. Everyone wanted to be seen and photographed with these naturals.
The next hurdle was the recalcitrant members of NATO, especially France, Germany and the newly minted members from Eastern and Cental Europe. By the way, NATO....The North Atlantic Organisation, is now a misnomer. It is no longer the body that was created in 1949 to meet possible Soviet aggression, not with 28 members mostly from Eastern and Central Europe.....Poland, Estonia Bulgaria,Slovenia, etc. There is now a new committment...deployment of 5,000 troops as renforcement for Afghan election, training of security forces and police and $500 million for civilian assistance and $100 million for the Afghan National Army. Additional forces from Spain, Germany, Polandand Hungary and also more trainers from Britain, Italy,Bulgaria, Estonia,Greece,Turkey, Slovakia and two F-16 fighter aircraft from Belgium. There was also an agreement to establish a NATO mission to oversee training of Afghan army and police.
Pres. Obama's approach was the key. He set the tone by saying at the beginning that he was not there to lecture but to listen. "America is changing, but it cannot be America alone that changes", he said. It is now "a new era of responsibility", he continued, and "United States does not and will not torture". This new tone was refreshing and reassuring. He lavished praise on Sarkozy, who in a symbolic gesture promise to accept one prisoner from Guantanomo Bay prison. Relations with Europe, especially France and Germany had been poisoned by Bush's unilateral invasion of Iraq and the harsh and condemnatory rhetoric that he used to bully and threaten. Instead, Pres. Obama urged a shift in attitudes, saying that " there had been a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world" and that there had been "times when America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive". He went on " on both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common-they are not wise".
Much has been accomplished by this trip. He did not trip up. He was poised and polished. He reassured a skeptical political class( the G-20 leaders) and he even mediated between Sarkozy and the Chinese leader who were squabbling. He was the elder statesman there. He was instrumental in creating a new atmoshpere of relationships. No one left in petulance. Many subjected their egos. Quite an accomplishment, Mr. President.
I want to pay homage to a great fighter for freedom and human dignity, someone who made many sacrifices, for the sake of a cause and a down-trodden people. Janet Rosenberg, who was born to Jewish parents in Chicago in 1920, gave up family and her job as a nurse and a good life, in that city, to join her husband, Dr. Cheddi Jagan in the fight for the independence of British Guiana from British rule. This was in 1943, and for the next 66 years, she dedicated herself unselfishly to the cause. She did not hesitate or look back, even when she was arrested, harassed and imprisoned on many occasions. She fought the good fight, especially after the Constitution of the colony was suspended in 1953, martial law was imposed, the People's Progressive Party( which she had co-founded with her husband and others) was declared illegal, the elections results ( the Party had won an overwhelming victory) was set aside and she and many others were arrested and imprisoned.
I was attending Central High School in 1954, when I first met her. I remember that she was gracious, always smiling and never too busy to say hello. I was living at 199 Charlotte Street, Georgetown, and Dr. Jagan( he was a dentist), had his practice at the same address ansd so I was very fortunate to spend much time there, where I was able to read the many foreign newspapers that he had in his office as well as the many books that he allowed me to borrow. I can say that my love for Politics and interest in Political Science( which I have have taught for nearly 40 years) was greatly influenced and enhanced by their presence and the reading materials.
Janet Jagan was inspirational and humble. I remember her meeting the women in the estates and villages and sitting down on the ground with them, talking to them trying to understand what they were saying (most of these women were uneducated, spoke the Guyanese dialect and the only"white" person they had seen were the " white overseers" who ordered them around and with whom there was no contact ( except with those women who were sexually exploited by these "overseers"). These ordinary women adopted her as their " boughie"( sister-in law), and she reciprocated in kind. What a remarkable woman.
After being released from prison, Mrs. Jagan continued her work, She travelled with her husband wherever he went, even to India, where they were welcomed by Prime Minister Nehru. Together they continued the fight. In 1957, when new elections was called, there was a split in the P.P.P.( an African party led by former co-leader L.F.S. Burnham was created with the help of the British and Americans, who were afraid of another victory by the P.P.P., which would mean even more demands for independence.....this was the heated period of the Cold War......Soviet actions in Hungary and Poland and Egypt's Pres.Nasser's nationalising of the Suez Canal, C.I.A. actions in Iran and Guatemala and Castro's fight in Cuba). ( By 1964 two other parties were formed. One was led by Peter D'Aiguar, a white businessman, was meant to appeal to the middle class/ business Indian vote, as well as to the European/Portugeese voters. The other led by an Indian lawyer, Balram Singh Rai was supposed to siphon Indian votes from the Jagan-led P.P.P. The result was that the country became polarised along racial lines, and even though the P.P.P. won in 1957, it was by a slim majority. Janet and Dr. Jagan did not play the race card and throughout their lifetime, they did not play the race card but Burnham and others had sown the seed of hatred and tried to exploit it.
The next years was filled with racial tension, which culminated with attacks on the Indian population.....burning, looting, killing and raping. The British, under the orders of their American masters now turned to another tactic to defeat the P.P.P.The Jagans were branded as communists and the electoral system was changed from " first past the post....single- member constituency by plurality to Proportional Representation. This will further drive a wedge between the two major ethnic groups.....the Indians and the Africans. In the meantime, Pres. Kennedy, fresh from his humilation at the Bay of Pigs refused to meet with Dr. Jagan when he visited Washington. In the elections of 1964, P.R. worked. The vote splintered. No political party won a majority. This led to a Coalition government between Burnham and D'Aiguar. They were summoned to London to discuss independence. It was granted. The P.P.P. was isolated in the opposition and yet the Jagans did not play the race card (I remember this well. I was a member of the executive of the youth wing of the P.P.P....the P.Y.O. and Dr. Jagan made it clear to us "hotheads"that he wanted no racial response. He even threatened to report us to the police if we acted violently and racially. I resigned my position and went home.. In 1968, I met Dr Jagan at Sir George Williams University in Montreal ( he was travelling abroad to get support against the arbitrary actions of the Burnham government as well as the rigged elections), and he asked me smilingly whether I thought violence was the answer and I agreed that it was not.).
Guyana was to go through a terrible period of economic and political decline. Thousands left the country for Canada, England and United States. Those who could or would not leave, bore the brunt of this decline. The Jagans continue to fight for the rights of all Guyanese( the country had adopted the name Guyana after independence), even though they were constantly in danger. They persisted. They would not be cowed. They sacrificed a lot......wealth, health, freedom and family. Their two children saw little of them as they were growing up. They could have made a tremendous amount of money if they had worked in their other professions ( I remember his very lucrative dental practice. I used to hel;p collect the payments). They spent a lot of time in prison or under house arrest. His health was direly affected and he died much too soon
In 1992, the P.P.P.was finally able to win an election. This was made possible by the fact that the Cold War was over and so free and fair elections could be held, which could be monitored by independent observers, including former president Jimmy Carter. Janet and Dr. Jagan was vindicated. Race politics is destructive and unproductive and they did not play that game. He was a Guyanese first and foremost, not an Indian Guyanese. Janet Jagan could have abondoned ship. She did not. She stayed and fought and while it took almost twenty-five years, she did not deviate. That is strenght of character. That is integrity. That is love for a people, strange and strangers at first but family ever after. She gave her all to Guyana and now she is gone but she will always be remembered for her sacrifice, her kindness, her humility and her humanity.
Mahatma Gandhi had said that we should be the change we want. Janet Rosenberg Jagan was...........Goodbye and our eternal gratitude.