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Visa issues

Saturday, 11 February 2017

US President Donald Trump is yet to unroll the 'America First' doctrine. But worryingly for India, Democrats are competing with him in imposing restrictions on low-cost foreign IT workers. The US House of Representatives has taken up a Bill for reforming H-1B visas. Indians account for one lakh such visas every year, besides another 1.25 lakh that are renewed.

The sponsor of the Bill is a veteran Democrat representing the Silicon Valley, indicating that the notion of Indian 'cyber-coolies' is widespread. Officially, the Indian government has withheld comment because similar Bills in the past have sunk into oblivion. But deep inside there must be considerable concern.

Currently, the US President is beyond the call of reason. In due course, he will appreciate that trade in services with India is not a one-way street. If India raked in $19 billion from the US last year, the corresponding figure was $12 billion. This is set to increase because of $28 billion US investment in this sector. Trump will also not be unaware that India's $25 billion annual trade surplus in goods with the US may shrink. His predecessor has set the stage for increased US involvement in India's infrastructure sector and energy supplies, both fossil and solar based.

If those are not enough reasons to go slow on clamping down on H-1B visas, three of Trump's Cabinet picks were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, the very section that has benefited the most from low-cost IT labour from India. Would they not be counselling their President against such a move? On the world stage, the US needs India because of its tensions with Pakistan and China and close ties with Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia. 

The Obama days will not return anytime soon when India's trade surplus and work visas had doubled. While fighting to retain the quota of H-1B visas, India will also have to take a call on how long its corporates will make money on the back of modestly paid techies. 

(Follow us on Twitter @NTChennai, FB page News Today)


Time to act, Guv

Friday, 10 February 2017

The internal feud in the ruling AIADMK between caretaker Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and the party’s general secretary V K Sasikala, who has been chosen as the next chief minister by the party’s legislators, before Panneerselvam raised a banner of revolt, has invested acting Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao with a key responsibility.

With Panneerselvam now saying that he had been forced to resign as Chief Minister by Sasikala and her supporters and with there being two power centres in the party, the Governor has to settle the issue of who commands a stable majority in the Assembly. In the event that he perceives that neither of the factions can form a stable government, it is within his powers to dissolve the Assembly or keep it under suspended animation and to impose President’s rule in the State.

With politics in a state of flux it was incumbent on the Governor to meet all parties to the dispute (and he did last evening) and take an informed decision. If he feels that the strength of the two factions needs to be determined through a legislative vote, he must call the Assembly into session.

The Governor can hardly ignore the fact that the Supreme Court has said that it will shortly deliver judgement in a disproportionate assets case in which Sasikala had been impleaded along with former chief minister Jayalalithaa who passed away two months ago. But can he legitimately cite that as reason to postpone the calling of the Assembly session? Legally, he cannot. However, the fact is that in the event that Sasikala is convicted, she will no longer be eligible to hold the office of chief minister and Panneerselvam’s claim on the coveted chair will get enhanced.

That Sasikala packed off her legislators to luxury resorts outside Chennai where they had orders not to talk to the media is in itself a sad commentary. Even their phones were taken away. This is not unusual in such situations but it reflects the sad state of our democracy

This farcical drama must be put an end to. Governor Vidyasagar Rao has returned to Chennai and now has to call for an Assembly session and also ensure that the legislators are freed from whoever's clutches they are under so that they are free to meet and talk to whoever they want to. That such nauseating events have occurred in the past in some states is not reason enough for such malpractices to be repeated. The Governor has to act, which we hope he would have by the time this paper reaches your hand.





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