Thursday, October 28, 2010

Indo-US Youth Dialogue by GatewayHouse Part 2

Refer to previous post

Climate change was next on the agenda. Dr Craig said that US is the 2nd largest polluter in the world, and India is the 4th. However, the per person carbon footprint of the US is much higher than that of India. US is often accused of being hypocritical in this aspect as it refuses to reduce it's own emissions but urges developing nations to reduce their carbon footprints. 

According to Russell, the public opinion in the US largely seems to be in favour of reducing carbon emissions. Obama had also tried to pass a bill that would severely restrict carbon emissions by industries. However, the bill didn't make it through the Parliament. To retain their seats, members of the Parliament are/were refusing to pass bills or take steps that would make them unpopular with corporations contributing to climate change. Instead of terming the US as hypocritical, it is important to note that Obama alone cannot do much. He took the first step by introducing the bill. The final decisions are taken by the Parliament. 

Ms. Akanksha Mohla, a panelist from India, said that in order to effectively curb carbon emissions, incentives needed to be given to corporations, not governments, since corporations cause pollution. According to her - and this view was shared by almost all the panelists - climate change cannot be countered unless immediate financial incentives are provided to corporations to reduce their carbon footprint.

On the topic of terrorism, the most pertinent question asked was, "Do India and US share the same agenda?". The overall view was, India mostly faced internal threats, whereas the US faced threats from agents outside the US territory. Although the question of huge military aid to Pakistan and subsequently endangering India's security did arise, this wasn't addressed in a satisfactory manner. US's hesitancy to share intel and information about David Coleman Headly was also brought up for discussion. The panelists felt that US had the world's best interests at heart and was doing the best it could in terms of sharing intelligence reports.

A concern raised by an Indian student in the audience was, Obama is losing popularity in the US and with the mid-term elections, the Democrats are likely to lose more seats. In such a scenario, will Obama be able to live up to the promises he makes to India? The panelists agreed that foreign policy is rarely related to domestic concerns and that the result of the mid-term elections would have possibly no effect on Indo US relations. 

US was accused of being hypocritical in the matter of human rights violations. The US government perpetrated human rights violations during war with Afghanistan and Iraq.What right did it have to ask other nations to clean up their human rights records? A member of the panel pointed out that almost every US citizen was ashamed of the human rights violations by the US government. Moreover, a distinction was made between wartime violations and violations in day to day life. American citizens (not necessarily represented by the state), raised objections to day-to-day human rights violations like domestic violence in developing countries.

An American student from the audience asked how the so-called benefits of President Obama's visit to India would trickle down to a large number of Indians living below the poverty line. Also, how will India fund it's development now that United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funding has been stopped. One of the suggestions to help India's poor was to invite the large majority of Nobel Laureates to India and encourage them to propose solutions to problems that plague the common man. Another solution was to make it easy to set up B2B solutions between medium and small level entrepreneurs in India and in the US.This would include lifting the visa restrictions imposed recently by the 2 countries. 

I will post the full text of the agenda as soon as it is available. In the meantime, I would request Mumbaikars to invite Obama with an open heart and not curse him for restricting their Diwali celebrations.

Update: Click here for the agenda.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Indo-US Youth Dialogue by GatewayHouse Part 1

 India passed the RTE (Right to Education Act) which makes school education compulsory for children between 6 and 14 years. President Obama's Race to the Top program, urges Americans to study harder and surpass India and China in the race for the top jobs and educational opportunities. Keeping President Obama's forthcoming visit to Delhi in mind, are Indians and Americans competing against each other or collaborating with each other in the field of education?

Several such issues were raised in the Indo Us Youth Dialogue organized by Gateway House in HR College, Mumbai on Tuesday, October 26, 2010.  A panel of youth interested in international politics was chosen for the discussion, which was headed by Dr. Craig Johnson. The primary aim was to formulate an agenda that contained issues which should be discussed by Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Barak Obama during the latter's stay here from November 6-9, 2010. 

The panelists consisted of 3 representatives from the US and 3 from India. A member of Gateway House told me that they had purposely chosen young people with interest in international affairs but no affiliation with any government or foreign relations offices. The reason behind this was, they didn't want any panelists with biases or vested interests. Although the panel discussion took place at a slightly immature level, it was nonetheless interesting for students and people like me who knew considerably less about Indo US relations. The discussion also saw attendance from other US students and during the open round, many biases and preconceived notions on both sides were apparent. 

In response to a question about collaboration on education, Ms. Ali Rosen, a panelist from the US side pointed out that while there were a 100,000 Indian students studying in the US, the number of American students studying in India was barely 3000. The change needed to be in two directions. First, visa restrictions need to be lifted to make access easier. Second, on the Indian side, only the elites were able to afford education in the US. By means of grants and scholarships, this opportunity should be extended to students from poorer backgrounds as well. Also, in order to increase number of US students studying in India, American students need to be taught about India in their school curriculum. Ali recounted that during her school education, while she was taught about the middle east, Europe, China and Japan, there were no dedicated lessons about India. Thus, by introducing India as a specific topic, students would learn more about India and would gradually feel like coming here to study.

Another interesting point that came up was, in the near future, nearly half of US high school education will be conducted online. What will be the implications on US and India? One of the American panelists, Mr. Russell Mason said that US educational resources are good and aid in faster understanding. Hence, if it is available online, it will  be crowd sourced and will benefit students from other countries as well. By 2016, he hoped India too would put up it's educational content online and allow US students to benefit. 

Contd in next post..