India: Reviving Congress

What a week where the Congress party has all but made a laughing stock of itself. Ashok Gehlot has landed himself in serious trouble. He is 71. A comeback is unlikely. He has been an active, reliable, astute leader, with


Six-Point Charter: The Foundation Stone of Bangladesh


An event that marks a unique or significant historical change of course or one on which important developments depend, the six-point demand is a milestone in the history of Bangladesh.

The movement, led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, took place in the-then East Pakistan and called for greater autonomy for the region. The movement aimed to address the six demands put forward by a coalition of Bengali nationalist political parties in 1966, with the goal of ending the exploitation of East Pakistan by the rulers of West Pakistan. It is considered a turning point on the road to Bangladesh’s independence.

After the partition of India, the new state of Pakistan was formed. The majority of its population resided in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), and exports from East Pakistan, such as jute, constituted a significant portion of Pakistan’s export income. However, East Pakistanis did not feel they had a proportional share of political power and economic benefits within Pakistan.

Facing continuous regional discrimination, East Pakistan found itself in a critical situation. Consequently, economists, intellectuals, and politicians from East Pakistan started raising questions about this discrimination, giving rise to the historic six-point movement.

The six historical points are as follows:

The Constitution should provide for a true federation of Pakistan based on the Lahore Resolution, with a parliamentary form of government where the legislature is directly elected through universal adult franchise.

The federal government should only handle two subjects: defense and foreign affairs. All other residual subjects should be vested in the federating states.

Two separate, freely convertible currencies for the two wings of Pakistan should be introduced. If this is not feasible, there should be one currency for the entire country, but effective constitutional provisions must be introduced to prevent capital flight from East Pakistan to West Pakistan. Additionally, a separate banking reserve should be established, and separate fiscal and monetary policies should be adopted for East Pakistan.

The power of taxation and revenue collection should be vested in the federating units, with no such power for the federal center. The federation should receive a share of the state taxes to cover its expenditures.

Two separate accounts should be maintained for the foreign exchange earnings of the two wings. The foreign exchange requirements of the federal government should be met equally by the two wings or according to a fixed ratio. Indigenous products should move freely between the two wings, and the constitution should empower the units to establish trade links with foreign countries.

East Pakistan should have a separate military or paramilitary force, and the Navy headquarters should be located in East Pakistan.

The proposal was rejected by politicians from West Pakistan and non-Awami League politicians from East Pakistan. It was also rejected by the President of All Pakistan Awami League, Nawabzada Nasarullah Khan, as well as the National Awami Party, Jamaat-i-Islami, and Nizam-i-Islam. However, the movement garnered strong support from the population of the-then East Pakistan.

The Beginning of the Six-Point Demands

Mujib, who would later become Bangabandhu, was placed in detention under the Defense of Pakistan Rules on May 8, 1966. The reason for his detention was not hard to understand: Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan, made it clear that those advocating for the Six Points would be dealt with using force.

Ayub Khan was not the only one who saw the Six Points as a threat to Pakistan’s unity. His soon-to-be foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, challenged Mujib to a public debate on the Six Points in Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan. Tajuddin Ahmed, Bangladesh’s first Prime Minister, accepted the challenge on Mujib’s behalf. However, Bhutto did not show up for the debate.

The leaders of opposition parties from West Pakistan held a national convention in Lahore on February 6, 1966, to assess the post-Tashkent political trend. Bangabandhu and the top leaders of Awami League arrived in Lahore on February 4, and the following day, he presented the Six-point charter of demands to the subject committee as the demands of the people of East Pakistan. He exerted pressure to include his proposal in the conference’s agenda. However, the subject committee rejected Bangabandhu’s proposal.

The newspapers in West Pakistan published reports on the Six-point Program, projecting Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as a separatist. Consequently, Sheikh Mujib withdrew from the conference. On February 21, 1966, the Six-point Program, along with a proposal for a movement to realize the demands, was presented at a meeting of the Awami League’s working committee and was unanimously carried out.

Why the Six-Point Program is called the “Charter of Freedom for the Bengali Nation”?
From 1947 to 1971, a historic period for East Pakistan, numerous painful events took place in this region—some to forget and some to remember and learn from. The six-point movement was one such event to remember.

The points were clear, easy to understand, and, most importantly, they truly reflected the sentiments of the Bengalis. It was the first time a Bengali demanded economic and political rights and national security. However, the response from West Pakistan was painful and humiliating, confirming the belief that East Pakistan was treated as a colony by West Pakistan.

June 7, 1966, is a red-letter day in the history of the freedom movement of the people of Bangladesh. On this historic day, the resilient people of the country made a firm and solemn vow to achieve self-determination under the able and dynamic leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Hence, this day holds great political significance. It was on this day that blood was shed by our people as they demanded self-rule through the famous Charter of Six-point Demands, which ultimately became the Magna Carta of all movements originating from Bangladesh. Therefore, the importance and significance of this historic day cannot be overstated.

If we trace the history of our freedom struggle, which began a long time ago, we will observe that Bangabandhu, as part of his long-term plan to lead his people gradually and systematically to the path of emancipation, presented his historic Six-point Program to the nation at a national conference of leaders from all political parties in Lahore on February 16, 1966. This program disrupted the schemes of exploitation planned by the ruling clique in Islamabad and caused a violent storm in the political arena of the-then Pakistan.

The former Pakistani government made every effort to suppress the demand for self-determination raised by the 75 million people at that time, as laid down in the Magna Carta of Bangabandhu. As a result of the Six-point Program, Bangabandhu and his followers were imprisoned on May 8, 1966. The arrest of Bangabandhu and his followers was vehemently condemned by the people, and protests in the form of meetings, rallies, and processions resonated throughout Bangladesh, shaking the distant capital in Rawalpindi.

On May 20, the Awami League Working Committee decided to organize a protest meeting on June 7, 1966, condemning the repression and demanding the release of Bangabandhu and other leaders. Thus, the strike on June 7 was observed. The day began with factories closed, transportation halted, and business houses shut down. People expressed their indignation against the oppressors and their resolute support for the leadership of Bangabandhu by coming out on the streets, closing their establishments, offices, and shops. Dhaka became a city of processions and slogans, with workers and students peacefully taking to the streets. However, the ruling clique could not tolerate the chanting of slogans by people who had made a sacred vow to realize their right to self-determination. They responded with violence, killing scores of people, including Monu Mia in Dhaka and Narayanganj. The people of Bangladesh continued to raise their slogans for independence, shedding their blood in the process.

But the story did not end there; the melody lingered on. Every glory has a price to pay, and the Bengalis paid a high price for their freedom. However, the great Liberation War brought the nation together. It was a moment of truth for the Bengalis as they united to fight the Pakistani aggressors. In the eyes of the Pakistani forces, they were no longer just “little brown people”; instead, they fought back and achieved victory.

“Father of the Nation” is an honorific bestowed upon individuals who are considered instrumental in the establishment of a country or nation. They play a significant role in liberating their nation from colonial or other occupations. Some notable examples include George Washington for the United States, Peter I for Russia, Sun Yat-sen for China, Sir Henry Parkes for Australia, Miguel Hidalgo for Mexico, Sam Nujoma for Namibia, William the Silent for the Netherlands, Einar Gerhardsen for Norway, Julius Nyerere for Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta for Kenya, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes for Cuba, Mustafa Kemal for Turkey, Sukarno for Indonesia, Tunku Abdul Rahman for Malaysia, Mahatma Gandhi for India, Don Stephen Senanayake for Sri Lanka, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah for Pakistan. Similarly, Bangabandhu Mujib is recognized as the Father of the Bangladesh nation.

Finally, on December 16, 1971, Bangladesh was born after a bloody war with Pakistan’s oppressive military regime.

Bangabandhu was a remarkable statesman and the undisputed Father of independent Bangladesh.

From Idealism to Ineffectiveness: Assessing the Performance of Human Rights NGOs


Most of the human rights organizations may appear to be upstanding global citizens on paper, their practical impact can be questioned, labeling them as toothless tigers. Let’s examine their behavior:

During the upcoming national elections in Bangladesh, the people want a festive atmosphere that allows voters to freely choose their preferred candidate. However, it is highly offensive to see foreign diplomats stationed in Dhaka interfering in Bangladesh’s election process while their own countries have significant faults in various affairs, including their own election processes. When these diplomats attempt to prescribe solutions for our national matters, they come across as unjust rogues.

Although the next parliamentary elections are still more than a year away, foreign diplomats are already involving themselves in Bangladesh’s election process, which is unacceptable. The government does not appreciate their interference, criticism, or opinions on the election process and internal affairs of the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already instructed foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh to refrain from such actions. Additionally, media representatives should avoid asking foreign diplomats about our election process.

Regrettably, these international human rights organizations and their local counterparts have chosen to remain silent regarding the blatant and aggressive meddling of powerful nations like the United States in the domestic affairs of Bangladesh, an independent and sovereign country. This silence is deeply regrettable.

Moreover, the international non-governmental human rights organizations have failed to condemn the disgraceful decision of the White House administration to stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO) on flimsy grounds, violating international norms. Even the WHO itself has not addressed this issue yet.

In most cases, these organizations deliberately choose to remain silent on blatant violations of international rules by the American government and its allied authorities in weaker nations. It appears that they prioritize the interests of powerful states, displaying a double standard in their actions towards less powerful countries. They must strive to be more independent, resourceful, and courageous in fulfilling their responsibilities without succumbing to the influence of major powers or relying solely on their financial resources. Their work should not be compromised, and they should speak up against egregious and systemic human rights violations, especially those committed by the United States and its allies.

Millions of people have suffered crimes against humanity perpetrated by these rogue states, particularly the United States. It seems as though there is an unwritten agreement between these international non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs) and powerful states such as the United States, where they refrain from speaking critically about them and their accomplice states.

Numerous human rights abuses occur in countries around the world, imposed in the form of abrasive sanctions to stifle nations and their people from asserting their rights. These NGOs remain silent when drone fighter planes strike weaker nations, resulting in the destruction of human lives and vital infrastructure for the sake of self-interest. In such situations, these NGOs hide their faces and fail to take bold steps to stop the oppressors. This raises the question of their effectiveness.

Furthermore, some global organizations have faced criticism for their inability to address the problems they were designed to tackle. The United Nations, for instance, has failed to compel Israel to adhere to its numerous resolutions, some of which were submitted by the UN Security Council. Similarly, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has also been deemed ineffective. The critical situation in Myanmar is an opportunity for the OIC to demonstrate its capabilities. As a body consisting of 57 nations, it is essential for its bureaucrats to take serious action rather than issuing insignificant press releases.

While human rights and democracy are not synonymous, the global human rights regime should be based on the understanding that democratic governance provides the best foundation for durable human rights protection. Multilateral institutions should align their policies with the promotion of democracy as the fundamental principle. Institutions like the United Nations Development Programme should prioritize good governance and democracy in their initiatives. Human rights not only benefit from good governance but also thrive in democratic environments, both horizontally among states and vertically through the establishment of institutionalized frameworks within countries and societies.

Global economic institutions also have the potential to promote and protect human rights if there is sufficient political will. These institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and regional development banks, should extend their work on anti-corruption and good governance to ensure equal access to legal rights for all groups. By strengthening judicial institutions and fostering civil society participation, these efforts can enhance productivity and prosperity in developing nations. Similarly, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its member states should encourage the elimination of barriers to freedom of information to facilitate market growth.

There is no doubt that the number of human rights non-governmental organizations has increased significantly in the sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated by the United Nations. These NGOs proudly claim to play a critical role in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide. However, in reality, their impact is questionable.

The international human rights law arena still lacks a consensus on the definition and categorization of human rights NGOs. Nevertheless, all stakeholders agree that these organizations should protect internationally recognized human rights at various levels. Unfortunately, their failures are evident.

Successful and effective human rights NGOs should possess certain attributes and should self-regulate, possibly by adhering to NGO Codes of Conduct, to overcome internal and external challenges. It requires the concerted efforts of all relevant stakeholders to ensure that human rights NGOs fulfill their mandate of protecting human rights in all countries, without being influenced by powerful states that may engage in harmful actions.

The achievements and effectiveness of successful human rights NGOs should serve as models for all advocates and defenders of human rights, who often face significant sacrifices in their endeavors to improve the human experience.

In retrospect, the human rights treaties established after World War II were not just acts of idealism but also carried elements of hubris. They can be likened to the civilizing efforts of Western governments and missionary groups in the 19th century, which did little good for native populations while entangling European powers in the affairs of countries they did not understand. It is high time for a more proactive and pragmatic approach.

Addressing the potential for nuclear warfare is an issue that remains relevant in today’s globalized world. Initiatives such as The Nuclear World Project, led by Robert Frye, aim to create awareness of the dangers posed by nuclear proliferation and facilitate dialogue on resolution options. International NGOs should play an active role in these efforts, but their response has been insufficient.

Human rights provide an aspirational roadmap for decision-making and balancing trade-offs. This framework is crucial when dealing with disruptive and potentially dangerous forces that present complex challenges. However, it seems that organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch fail to effectively address issues involving superpowers like the United States and its influential allied states.

The contemporary international human rights framework should be enduring and evolving. It can continue to emphasize our shared humanity, provide a moral compass, and instill determination and purpose in the face of daunting odds faced by weaker nations against mighty powers.

Unfortunately, international human rights organizations or NGOs often remain toothless tigers. They require significant improvements and reforms to fulfill their obligations effectively.

Expanding SCO’s Reach: The Rise of the ‘Axis of Seven’


The Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta carried a report on the eve of the China-Central Asia summit at Xi’an titled “China is changing the format of cooperation with Central Asia.” It anticipated that the six heads of state gathering in Xi’an on May 18-19 would be discussing the “creation of a new mechanism for cooperation in various fields and sign important political documents.” 

The report recalled that the Xi’an summit ought to be viewed in the context of a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and the five heads of Central Asian States in Moscow on May 9 (Russia’s Victory Day.) The daily flagged the expert opinion that “a new ‘5+2’ axis is being formed (Central Asia plus China and Russia).” Evidently, although Putin was not present at the event in Xi’an, Russia’s interests have been taken into account. 

The new “5 Plus 2 axis” being formed will have its own mechanisms and projections, which differ from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) or the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union community. The Xi’an summit considered the possibility of institutionalising the Central Asia-China format through a Secretariat “in order to comprehensively promote cooperation… and the functioning of the relevant mechanisms.” Of course, given the top-down decision making characteristic of the Central Asian states, the mechanism of the Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of the China-Central Asia format (to be held in alternate years) will be a key factor in ensuring security, stability and sustainable development of the region.

It is entirely conceivable that at a time when the SCO has tended to become more and more “abstract” after the induction of India into the grouping, and began meandering aimlessly, it stands to reason that China and the Central Asian states and Russia felt the need to create more effective mechanisms and plans in their common space so as to impart a new quality of cooperation, and supplement the SCO if need arises. 

An element of rivalry has crept into the SCO’s functioning. India, in particular, needs to do some soul-searching here. Certainly, this was not what China and Russia had in mind in 2005 when they put together the Shanghai Five in 2005 (which later morphed into the SCO.) Consensus in decision-making was adopted as a core principle in the SCO’s functioning but lately, a competitive spirit to settle scores stemming out of bilateral differences and disputes crept in. The SCO foreign ministers meeting in Delhi recently witnessed an acrimonious India-Pakistan standoff that vitiated the “Shanghai Spirit,” even as the Central Asian states and Russia and China mutely watched.  

There is the tragic example of SAARC which suffered a similar trauma during the recent decade that eventually rendered it a comatose ready for burial. But Russia and China cannot afford such a tragic fate visiting the SCO. The US’ double containment strategy toward Russia and China and the NATO’s imminent expansion to Asia make it critically important that a cohesive, motivated and well-coordinated regional cooperation process is available in their common space in Inner Asia.  

So far, Russia was engaged in strengthening political integration, while China systematically and powerfully interacted with the governments of Central Asian countries for the development of energy and infrastructure projects within the framework of a full-fledged economic expansion. That division of labour worked rather well, but then, the regional security environment changed dramatically of late.

For example, it has become vital for Moscow in the context of the rupture of Russia’s energy ties with Europe to divert its oil and gas exports to the Chinese market, and that requires Central Asian infrastructure in transit mode — a novel idea altogether. Suffice to say, a high level of harmonisation and synchronisation of the national plans of the Central Asian countries is needed. Currently, there are no agreed common strategies in the Central Asian region, which has a population of 75 million. The Belt and Road project does not adequately take into account the interests of Russia and the interface with the Eurasian Economic Union projects cannot provide a sufficient level of interaction either, due to systemic weaknesses. 

To be sure, in the run-up to the Xi’an summit, the heads of Central Asian countries carefully prepared for the event and have presented a significant package of proposals. Thus, the construction work on the highly strategic China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which will connect Xinjiang and Central Asia with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran is now poised to begin after a delay of some 20 years due to a squabble over the measurement of the width of rail tracks!

Unsurprisingly, aside regional security, the issue of connectivity was the one topic that received the greatest attention at the Xi’an summit, which involves improving the transport infrastructure along the China–Central Asia and China–Europe routes through Central Asia, as well as increasing the capacity of border checkpoints, all of which aim to create conditions for increasing cargo and passenger traffic.

A positive factor is that Kazakhstan’s engagement with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is deepening. China and Kazakhstan are effectively implementing a list of 52 BRI investment projects with a total amount of more than $21 billion, covering transportation and logistics, industry and agriculture, energy, tourism and other fields. Two of the six BRI corridors pass through Kazakhstan connecting China respectively to Europe and to Iran and West Asia. These BRI corridors are important for most of the Central Asian economies for whom China offers the closest sea port. That in turn makes Kazakhstan a potential hub for accessing Central Asia. 

The summit at Xi’an also noted the importance of launching the Kazakh-Chinese railway Ayaguz – Tacheng and called for the accelerated construction of the fourth line of the Turkmenistan–China gas pipeline. There are many kinds of mineral resources and large reserves in Tacheng area — coal, granite, gold, copper, iron ore and other mineral resources in the area where the railway under construction crosses.

On the sideline of the Xi’an summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping held meetings with each of the five leaders of the Central Asian region. On the eve of the summit in Xi’an, Chinese media called Central Asia the “gateway” for the Belt and Road project, which Xi had originally unveiled from Kazakhstan in 2013. There has been a great deal of scare mongering over Belt and Road by the US and India in the information sphere but that doesn’t seem to have affected the Central Asian states. It is symbolic that Beijing took the initiative to hold the first China-Central Asia Summit on the 10th anniversary of Belt and Road Initiative.

Equally, China hopes to link Pakistan and Afghanistan with the BRI infrastructure projects in Central Asia. As a first step, China and Pakistan recently agreed to extend the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan. This has been the main achievement of the  Pakistan-Afghanistan-China ministerial held in Islamabad on May 5, a fortnight before the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an. Quite obviously, the momentum of the China-Central Asia format will not be optimal unless China also doubles down on its engagement with the Taliban government in Kabul.

China takes leadership role in Central Asia


One of the pleasures of the post-Cold War strategic discourses is that geopolitics is back with a bang. Earlier, the former Soviet Union and Communist China used to be in denial mode, as geopolitics didn’t fit into their Marxist-Leninist lens — although, arguably, Marx might have adapted himself a long time ago already. 

The China-Central Asia Summit, which took place recently in Xi’an on May 18-19 was every bit a geopolitical event as much as the G7 summit in Hiroshima that it overlapped. The symbolism was profound. China and Russia were the elephants in the room for both summits but the Xi’an summit distinguished itself as an inclusive affair, whereas, the G7 event was, regrettably, an exclusive gathering of wealthy countries of the western world dripping with cold war-era animosities, and it didn’t hide its intentions even in its choice of “special invitees” — one ASEAN country; two BRICS countries; one tiny African state; a Pacific island etc. — borne out of the old colonial mindset of “divide and rule.” 

The biggest difference was that the Xi’an summit was substantive and focused on a positive agenda that is quantifiable, while the Hiroshima summit was largely prescriptive and partly declarative and only marginally tangible. This was because the China-Central Asia summit took place on native soil while the G7 has no habitation and name in Asia except that one of the seven member countries is of Asian origin and the summit itself was a thinly-veiled attempt to insert the alien Western agenda into the Asian setting. In fact, the criterion for selecting the special invitees was itself based on the credentials of those chosen few to perform potentially as a fifth column for western interests in an Asian Century.    

The China-Central Asia Summit was motivated by the growing realisation that the countries of the Eurasian region must play a proactive role in the common task of pushing back the United States, the driving force of the G7, which they perceive to be attempting to destabilise the common neighbourhood of Russia and China in Central Asia. Simply put, the Xi’an summit tacitly signalled that Russia and China are unitedly circling the wagons for a common purpose — to borrow an idiom which was employed by the Americans in the 19th century to describe a defensive manoeuvre. 

From a historical perspective, it is for the first time ever that Russia and China are explicitly joining hands to stabilise the Central Asian region — a momentous happening by itself — with Beijing assuming a leadership role, given Russia’s preoccupations in Ukraine. This paradigm shift belies the western propaganda that Russian and Chinese interests collide in the Central Asian region. There is a strategic convergence between Moscow and Beijing that stability in Central Asian region, which is vital for both capitals in their own interests, is best achieved through ensuring security, boosting economic development or international political backing. 

A well-known Russian think tanker at the Kremlin-funded Valdai Club in Moscow, Timofei Bordachev wrote in Global Times in the run-up to the Xi’an summit: “China and Russia are equally interested in the stability of Central Asia simply because they are directly neighbouring most of the states located in this part of Eurasia. It is as simple as the fact that you would not put on fire your neighbor’s house in order to hurt another neighbor. But if a certain power is located thousands of miles away from the common neighbourhood of Russia and China in Central Asia, it may well be betting on destabilising that region.

“The common task of China and Russia is to prevent this and make their friends and neighbours in Central Asia stable and relatively prosperous in today’s turbulent times… Whoever says that China’s and Russia’s interests in Central Asia may conflict with each other is not a friend of China, Russia or the countries of the region themselves.”

Equally, there is a consensus among the five Central Asian states to work together in a “5+1” format, which means that all crucial decisions and initiatives will be coordinated with all Central Asian states at the same time. On their part, the Central Asian partners recognise that the overall economic development of their region could get better if they strengthen their cooperation with China. Russia has played a key role here to encourage the Central Asian states to move in such a direction and play a proactive role. This itself is a marked departure as the five “Stans” have not always been able to work together, opting instead to engage with the biggest global players individually. 

The participants of the Xi’an summit, which Chinese President Xi Jinping who hosted the event called a “new era” in his country’s relations with the region, agreed to create a mechanism for communication between the heads of post-Soviet states of Central Asia and China. The meetings will be held alternately every two years in the format of Central Asia – China. The next meeting of the six leaders is scheduled for 2025 in Kazakhstan. The Xi’an Declaration released after the summit includes 15 points, divided into several blocks of issues: security, logistics, trade and economic cooperation, humanitarian cooperation and ecology. 

What emerges is that Beijing’s interest lies primarily in security considerations against the backdrop of the activities of extremist groups such as the Islamic State (which continues to get covert support from the US) that are operating out of Afghanistan. China’s thesis is that security is best strengthened through economic development and for that reason, therefore, the region is important from the point of view of economic cooperation and regional development — although in aggregate terms, Central Asian economic resources are nowhere near sufficient for meeting China’s needs. 

Suffice to say, terrorist threats emanating from the region, posing threat to Xinjiang, are China’s main concern and Beijing is willing to openly invest its resources in the security of the region and take part in the training of the anti–terrorist forces of the Central Asian states. Geographically, three out of the five Central Asian countries, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, share borders with China. As for Russia, it has long regarded the region as its traditional sphere of influence and a strategic buffer zone, and thus prioritised the security of its southern border. Therefore, a safe and secure Central Asia aligns with China and Russia’s respective national interests. 

In the context of the Ukraine crisis, Central Asia has emerged as a frontline for the US strategy to contain and weaken Russia. However, although Central Asian countries have adopted a neutral stance on the Ukraine situation, Russia’s influence in the region remains strong and is unlikely to be largely disrupted. Three key factors are at work here. First, Russia is seen as the provider of security and Russia’s defence capabilities continue to play a crucial role in maintaining stability in the region. Second, Central Asian states heavily depend on Russia in regard of labor migration, market access, transportation, and energy resources, and no other outside power foots the bill. Third, do not underestimate that the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union continues to systematically build up regional economic integration. 

The Xi’an Declaration talks about resisting religious extremism and attempts by external forces to impose their own rules on the region. President Xi said at the summit that Beijing is ready to help strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies and armed forces of the regional states, and promised to “support their independent efforts to ensure regional security and fight terrorism, as well as work with them to strengthen cybersecurity.” In addition, he said Beijing is working on the creation of a regional anti-terrorist centre in China to train the security forces of the Central Asian republics. 

To be continued

The right of Ukraine to retaliate by attacking Moscow?

The recent drone attack on a target in Moscow on May 30, 2023, seemed to showcase Ukraine’s increasing ability to strike deep into enemy territory in Russia.

According to the Guardian, President Putin accused Ukraine of engaging in “terrorist activity to provoke a reciprocal response.” However, Moscow did not specify how it would respond.

This drone strike occurred alongside Russia’s fourth wave of aerial attacks on Kyiv in recent days, resulting in the death of at least one person, the hospitalization of others, and the evacuation of a high-rise building in Kyiv.

According to Kyiv, at 11:30 a.m. local time on May 30th, 11 ballistic and cruise missiles were launched, but all of them were successfully intercepted.

The UK Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, made comments while visiting his Estonian counterpart in Tallinn before the NATO meeting in Oslo, Norway. He stated that Ukraine has the legitimate right to defend itself and project force beyond its borders for self-defense. However, he refrained from speculating on the nature of the drone attack in Moscow, emphasizing that his remarks were more general and not specific to the incident.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky declared that Ukraine was pleased to witness the Moscow drone attacks but denied any involvement.

Amidst the ongoing war of words, heavy fighting continues in parts of Ukraine bordering Russia. As spring arrives and the rivers thaw, the conflict shows no signs of abating. The question of when it will end weighs heavily on the minds of people around the world. Some African nations, including South Africa, as well as the EU nation Belgium, have proposed mediation between Russia and Ukraine. It remains to be seen whether sanity will prevail.

Erdogan’s mediatory role on Ukraine cannot be wished away

Among the host of implications for international security stemming out of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s election victory in the runoff on Sunday — be it in the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean, Transcaucasus, West Asia or Eurasian integration —  what stands out is his mediatory role in the Ukraine conflict. 

The international community puts China as the frontrunner in the race for peacemaking in Ukraine but don’t be surprised if Erdogan overtakes Xi Jinping to the finishing line. The Japanese government in its congratulatory message to Erdogan expressed the hope for cooperation to bring closer a peaceful solution to the Ukraine conflict and ensure security in the region.

Moscow walked the fine line during the  Turkish election campaign, which is a tacit recognition of the fact that Erdogan is a strong ruler. Russia will need to be watchful since Erdogan can also be fiercely independent and stubborn. Equally, it is wrong to assume that Turkiye’s transatlantic bridge has broken down. Erdogan is at the peak of his power and Washington is acutely conscious of it. Thus, in the Turkish-US-Russian triangle, Erdogan has the upper hand currently.  

Significantly, a high-ranking Russian diplomat in the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated on the eve of the Turkish election that Ankara’s continued weapons supplies to Ukraine dented its credentials to be a mediator between Moscow and Kiev. 

As the diplomat put it, “Ankara has repeatedly declared its intent to secure a speedy ceasefire in Ukraine and revive the negotiating process through its mediation. Arms and military equipment supplies to the Kiev regime directly contradict such intentions and are at odds with the role of a mediator.” 

Indeed, a Turkish company, Baykar Makina, which is owned by a relative of Erdogan, has supplied the Ukrainian forces with its Bayraktar TB2 strike and reconnaissance drones in the early phases of the conflict. There was even talk that the Turkish company was setting up a factory to produce the advanced drone in Ukraine and that the detailed design phase for the plant has been completed. 

Turkiye and Ukraine last year also signed a deal to establish a second manufacturing plant in Ukraine after the two countries deepened their cooperation in the defence industry for the co-production of crucial engines for aerial vehicles and tech transfer.  Baykar’s Bayraktar TB2 drones have a proven track record of success in conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Ukraine features prominently in Baykar’s supply chain, especially with the new heavy-lifter drone, Akinci, and the unmanned fighter jet, Kizilelma, or “Golden Apple”. Both use Ukrainian engines from Motor Sich MSICH.UAX and from Ivchenko-Progress. Baykar expected to net around $1bn in export revenues last year, about 50 percent higher than in 2021 ($650m), and a further 50 percent growth is expected in 2023. Again, since August last year, Ankara has also been provided Kiev with ‘Kipri’ mine-resistant armoured vehicles to the Ukraine military. 

Yet, Moscow is far from in any threatening mood. Instead, the Russian approach is to put rings of engagement around Erdogan and make him a captive of the optics of a great friendship between the two presidents. In his congratulatory message to Erdogan, Putin called him “dear friend”

Turkiye hosted peace talks in Istanbul between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations in March last year, a month after Moscow’s special military operation began. It resulted in a deal. But Washington and London got so flustered that a massive information war was triggered by MI6 on an alleged “massacre” of civilians in Bucha near Kiev by the Russian troops. The then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson rushed to meet Zelensky with an offer that Ukraine had a far better option to take western military help and defeat Russia. 

Of course, all that is history now. But there is no question that if Zelensky changes his mind, Erdogan will step in. By the way, Turkey rejects Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The collapse of the Istanbul deal didn’t discourage Ankara from mediating a grain deal between Moscow and Kiev together with the UN last summer, which is still working. 

Turkiye has repeatedly called for peace talks to be revived, offering its services as mediator. As recently as in late March, Erdogan said peace in Ukraine could be achieved through “serious, determined mediation.” Meanwhile, Erdogan’s “special relationship” with Putin helped secure the latest extension of the grain deal. 

Erdogan advocates a “balanced approach” toward Russia, and he frequently interacts with Putin. Turkiye is the only NATO member country that refuses to impose sanctions against Russia. That said, Erdogan also keeps the line open to President Biden. On his part, Biden conveyed his greetings to Erdogan within hours of the election results on Sunday. Biden called for cooperation to meet “global challenges.” 

Washington played safe on Turkish election saying it would deal with whoever won. Clearly, Washington realises that Erdogan will be heading a strong presidency and will not be a pushover, and the US cannot afford to alienate Turkiye, as the Ukraine crisis is reaching a criticality. Turkish-American relationship has never been easy but both sides are used to keeping it in equilibrium. Without Turkey, NATO loses traction in Eastern Mediterranean, while Turkey needs the West to balance its strategic autonomy. Washington’s priority at the moment will be to dissuade Turkey from helping Russia to circumvent the sanctions.

The big question is whether Zelensky will be willing to return to the peace talks. Compared to the situation last year at the Istanbul talks, Zelensky holds a weak hand. Russia has gained the upper hand in the battlefield. Russia’s “new territories” — Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhye and Kherson oblasts — are new facts on the ground.  

Therefore, peace talks has become a paradigm of complex probability that is inherently multi-dimensional and, one may say, a shift in that direction on Zelensky’s part will depend on his observing, understanding, and interacting with the radical change in the ground situation as well as in the power play within his own camp. 

The factionalism in the power structure in Kiev has lately aggravated. The unexplained “disappearance” from public view of the commander-in-chief General Valery Zaluzhny for the past few weeks since April 13; the ascendance of the intelligence chief   Kyrylo Budano (who enjoys American backing); the hollowing out of the Ukrainian military which suffered a series of reverses  lately; the procrastination in launching the “counter-offensive” — all this suggests that serious disaffection is building up within the military against Zelensky’s leadership. 

Consequently, the prospects of peace talks have receded. But that will not stop Erdogan and Putin from deepening the Turkish-Russian cooperation, which is rich in content and wide-ranging. Different perceptions or viewpoints have not discouraged the two leaders who are fundamentally committed to the “win-win’ relationship. 

Therefore, if and when the climate for peace talks on Ukraine improves, Erdogan is certain to be the early bird to position himself for a mediatory role. 

Vileblackguard’s Outcries for Bangladesh!

We, the people of Bangladesh, are eagerly anticipating the upcoming national election to be comprehensive and inclusive in our country. This is a matter that concerns our nation alone. However, we have noticed the unwarranted involvement of a foreign diplomat who seems to be jumping from one place to another – from the media to the Election Secretariat, and even engaging with NGOs that have questionable affiliations with powerful nations, all to spew nonsensical rhetoric. He seems to be attempting to dictate how our national polls should be conducted, without any authority or mandate, acting on behalf of his country’s vested interests.

His smiles appear disingenuous, suggesting that there might be ulterior motives behind his actions – morally reprehensible ones at that. Therefore, it is only fitting that we reprimand and strongly criticize him for his behavior.

In the historical context, let us briefly examine the U.S. presidential election:

It is widely known that voter fraud has been an issue in America. Following the 2020 election, President Donald Trump launched numerous lawsuits to review the results in battleground states, claiming that the election was tainted by “tremendous corruption and fraud.”

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, powerful networks called political machines often controlled local votes through cronyism, bribes, and manipulation of the voting process. This consolidated political, social, and financial power in the hands of a few individuals.

Various tactics were employed to suppress votes, especially in the South, including theft of ballot boxes, relocation of polling stations, burning of ballots, illegal arrests on election day, importing voters who did not reside in the precinct, wrongfully striking off names, fabricating reasons to avoid holding elections in precincts with a significant Black population, casting votes on behalf of deceased or fictitious individuals, ensuring that poll watchers and counters became intoxicated during the vote count, and organizing disruptive demonstrations to intimidate voters.

The allegations of fraud have had a detrimental impact on the U.S. election system.

Following foreign meddling allegations in the 2016 presidential election, concerns about voter suppression and unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud by undocumented immigrants loomed over the subsequent midterm contest, particularly in Georgia and other states.

Vote buying is the act of seeking to buy a voter’s vote in an upcoming election, which can take various forms, such as monetary exchanges or exchange for goods and services. Although this practice is illegal in many countries, it remains prevalent worldwide.

During the 19th century in some parts of the United States, competing parties engaged in secret vote buying, compensating voters with cash or covering their expenses, such as house payments or taxes. To maintain secrecy, parties would establish fully staffed vote-buying shops and employ runners to find potential voters and negotiate with them to vote in favor of their party.

In the U.S., voters may also receive money or rewards for voting in a particular way or not voting at all. In some jurisdictions, this practice is referred to as “electoral treating” and remains legal in places like the Seneca Nation of Indians.

In America, vote buying can manifest as “turnout buying,” where a broker pays for transportation to polling locations or incentivizes specific demographics that strongly support their party to vote. While this may not change the political preferences of the voters, it ensures a certain number of votes for their party.

The foreign diplomat we are referring to has no other purpose in our country but to dictate how our national polls should be conducted. He has established undercover connections with local individuals who aim to undermine the current government through covert means.

In his book “Mobocracy: How the Media’s Obsession with Polling Twists the News, Alters Elections, and Undermines Democracy,” Matt Robinson examines the problems arising from the media’s excessive reliance on polls in America. Despite significant issues with question wording, sampling error, and response bias, news organizations treat survey results as infallible. Consequently, pundits, the media, and voters create political narratives to justify these results, committing the logical fallacy of reasoning from effect to cause.

Media reports indicate that the 2020 presidential polls in the U.S. had the worst performance in decades.

A task force established by the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) analyzed 2,858 polls, including 529 national presidential race polls and 1,572 state-level presidential polls. They discovered that the surveys overstated the margin between President Biden and former President Donald Trump by 3.9 points in the national popular vote and 4.3 percentage points in state polls.

Almost every state’s polls underestimated the support for Trump, with an average understatement of 3.3 percentage points. Similar issues affected polls for Senate and gubernatorial races.

The accuracy of issue polling could be compromised by the same problems that affected election polling, as support for Trump versus Biden correlates strongly with party affiliation and opinions on various issues.

Josh Clinton, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University and chair of the 19-member task force, noted, “There was a systematic error that was found in terms of the overstatement for Democratic support across the board.”

Now, it should be apparent to everyone what the true agenda of this foreign diplomat and his country is concerning our nation and our national polls. We should not place any trust in someone engaged in covert activities from hostile frontlines.

Let us focus on our own country’s affairs and refrain from interfering in the internal matters of others, including the meddling of outsiders like him.

We should remember the saying, ‘One black sheep spoils the whole flock.’ It is our collective responsibility to unite our voices and prevent any intrusion into the national affairs of his tainted country, with the aim of building a better and peaceful global society for all. Down with Uncle Sam and their local and foreign collaborators.”

Noise Cameras

Speed Cameras have been in use, spotting former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and most recently have been in the news with the revelations on Home Secretary, Suella Braverman” creating” a rumpus and which was put a stop with P.M.Sunak not pursing further action, noting that the Home Secretary had paid the customary fine after the incident.

Noise is according to the UK Government website: “an inevitable consequence of a mature and vibrant society, but can have a negative effect on people’s quality of life, affecting their health and wellbeing.”

Noise-detecting cameras, we are told could be soon used to catch drivers who shatter the peace on roads revving up engines and exhausts. In the case of many, the use of noise cameras to catch those who disturb the sleep of residents is a matter long overdue. Sleep disturbance has been a gnawing problem which something serious had to be done,

The British Government is examining the results of detailed camera tests. Campaigners hope the technology that has been developed will help reduce noise pollution of those who deliberately modify their cars and also motorbikes, as loud as possible to attract more than attention. The Police will soon be able to use the records of noise levels and digital imaging to track and trace the culprits with fines and fixed penalties.

The question is how cheaply and reliably could technology to be used to stop this nuisance?

How does noise levels affect health?

Irresponsible and anti-social drivers are a danger to the public, because they use streets as a “race track”? We are told some night drivers use noise as a “weapon of torture”? This is unproven, but possible.

Chronic noise pollution affects people’s physical and mental health, with links to stress, disturbed sleep patterns and high blood pressure and other complaints. Night time provocation has become part of a “stress causing business” leading to peripheral neuropathy and nerve damage.

What exactly is a Noise Camera?

A Noise Camera also known as an acoustic camera is used to detect loud noises that exceed a certain set tolerable limit.

Noise cameras work in a similar way to speed cameras. Noise cameras are equipped with a microphone, just like speed cameras have sensors and an automated number plate recognition system.

Noise cameras can differentiate an engine’s sound from, say a horn or the radio, by monitoring the sound patterns. There are some drivers who must have their radio as loud as possible whilst driving, day or night to be noticed. This is a psychosis?

The legal sound limit for all new cars is 72 decibels (dB). This threshold will be further reduced to 67 dB from 2026.

It is illegal to modify exhaust systems to boost noise and power in the UK, though this seemingly has not stopped enthusiasts, among others, getting their cars modified to these ends.

Noise sensors don’t record sounds. They monitor the changes in the sound level.

The Group of Seven Should Finally Be Shut Down


During the May 2023 Group of Seven (G7) summit, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, near where the meeting was held. Not doing so would have been an act of immense discourtesy. Despite many calls for an apology from the US for dropping an atomic bomb on a civilian population in 1945, US President Joe Biden has demurred. Instead, he wrote in the Peace Memorial guest book: ‘May the stories of this museum remind us all of our obligations to build a future of peace’.

Apologies, amplified by the tensions of our time, take on interesting sociological and political roles. An apology would suggest that the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wrong and that the US did not end their war against Japan by taking the moral high ground. An apology would also contradict the US’s decision, backed fully by other Western powers over 70 years later, to maintain a military presence along the Asian coastline of the Pacific Ocean (a presence built on the back of the 1945 atomic bombings) and to use that military force to threaten China with weapons of mass destruction amassed in bases and ships close to China’s territorial waters. It is impossible to imagine a ‘future of peace’ if the US continues to maintain its aggressive military structure that runs from Japan to Australia, with the express intent of disciplining China.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was given the errand to warn China about its ‘economic coercion’ as he unveiled the G7 Coordination Platform on Economic Coercion to track Chinese commercial activities. ‘The platform will address the growing and pernicious use of coercive economic measures to interfere in the sovereign affairs of other states’, Sunak said. This bizarre language displayed neither self-awareness of the West’s long history of brutal colonialism nor an acknowledgement of neocolonial structures – including the permanent state of indebtedness enforced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – that are coercive by definition. Nonetheless, Sunak, Biden, and the others preened with self-righteous certainty that their moral standing remains intact and that they hold the right to attack China for its trade agreements. These leaders suggest that it is perfectly acceptable for the IMF – on behalf of the G7 states – to demand ‘conditionalities’ from debt-ridden countries while forbidding China from negotiating when it lends money.

Interestingly, the final statement from the G7 did not mention China by name, but merely echoed the concern about ‘economic coercion’. The phrase ‘all countries’ and not China, specifically, signals a lack of unity within the group. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, for instance, used her speech at the G7 to put the US on notice for its use of industrial subsidies: ‘We need to provide a clear, predictable business environment to our clean tech industries. The starting point is transparency among the G7 on how we support manufacturing’.

One complaint from Western governments and think tanks alike has been that Chinese development loans contain ‘no Paris Club’ clauses. The Paris Club is a body of official bilateral creditors that was set up in 1956 to provide financing to poor countries who have been vetted by IMF processes, stipulating that they must pledge to conduct a range of political and economic reforms in order to secure any funds. In recent years, the amount of loans given through the Paris Club has declined, although the body’s influence and the esteem its strict rules garner remain. Many Chinese loans – particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative – refuse to adopt Paris Club clauses, since, as Professor Huang Meibo and Niu Dongfang argue, it would sneak IMF-Paris Club conditionalities into loan agreements. ‘All countries’, they write, ‘should respect the right of other countries to make their own choices, instead of taking the rules of the Paris Club as universal norms that must be observed by all’. The allegation of ‘economic coercion’ does not hold if the evidence points to Chinese lenders refusing to impose Paris Club clauses.

G7 leaders stand before the cameras pretending to be world representatives whose views are the views of all of humanity. Remarkably, G7 countries only contain 10 per cent of the world’s population while their combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is merely 27 per cent of global GDP. These are demographically and increasingly economically marginalised states that want to use their authority, partly derived from their military power, to control the world order. Such a small section of the human population should not be allowed to speak for all of us, since their experiences and interests are neither universal nor can they be trusted to set aside their own parochial goals in favour of humanity’s needs.

Indeed, the agenda of the G7 was plainly laid out at its origin, first as the Library Group in March 1973 and then at the first G7 summit in France in November 1975. The Library Group was created by US Treasury Secretary George Schultz, who brought together finance ministers from France (Valéry Giscard d’Estaing), West Germany (Helmut Schmidt), and the UK (Anthony Barber) to hold private consultations among the Atlantic allies. At the Château de Rambouillet in 1975, the G7 met in the context of the ‘oil weapon’ wielded by the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973 and the passage of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) in the United Nations in 1974. Schmidt, who was appointed German chancellor a year after the Library Group’s formation, reflected on these developments: ‘It is desirable to explicitly state, for public opinion, that the present world recession is not a particularly favourable occasion to work out a new economic order along the lines of certain UN documents’. Schmidt wanted to end ‘international dirigisme’ and states’ ability to exercise their economic sovereignty.

The NIEO had to be stopped in its tracks, Schmidt said, because to leave decisions about the world economy ‘to officials somewhere in Africa or some Asian capital is not a good idea’. Rather than allow African and Asian leaders a say in important global matters, UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson suggested that it would be better for serious decisions to be made by ‘the sort of people sitting around this table’.

The private attitudes displayed by Schmidt and Wilson continue to this day, despite dramatic changes in the world order. In the first decade of the 2000s, the US – which had begun to see itself as an unrivalled world power – overreached militarily in its War on Terror and economically with its unregulated banking system. The war on Iraq (2003) and the credit crunch (2007) threatened the vitality of the US-managed world order. During the darkest days of the credit crisis, G8 states, which then included Russia, asked surplus-holding countries of the Global South (particularly, China, India, and Indonesia) to come to their aid. In January 2008, at a meeting in New Delhi (India), French President Nicolas Sarkozy told business leaders, ‘At the G8 summit, eight countries meet for two and a half days and on the third day invite five developing nations – Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa – for discussions over lunch. This is [an] injustice to [the] 2.5 billion inhabitants of these nations. Why this third-grade treatment to them? I want that the next G8 summit be converted into a G13 summit’.

There was talk during this period of weakness in the West that the G7 would be shut down and that the G20, which held its first summit in 2008 in Washington, D.C., would become its successor. Sarkozy’s statements in Delhi made headlines, but not policy. In a more private – and truthful – assessment in October 2010, former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard told US Ambassador to France Craig R. Stapleton, ‘We need a vehicle where we can find solutions for these challenges [the growth of China and India] together – so when these monsters arrive in 10 years, we will be able to deal with them’.

The ‘monsters’ are now at the gate, and the US has assembled its available economic, diplomatic, and military arsenals, including the G7, to suffocate them. The G7 is an undemocratic body that uses its historical power to impose its narrow interests on a world that is in the grip of a range of more pressing dilemmas. It is time to shut down the G7, or at least prevent it from enforcing its will on the international order.

In his radio address on 9 August 1945, US President Harry Truman said: ‘The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians’. In reality, Hiroshima was not a ‘military base’: it was what US Secretary of War Henry Stimson called a ‘virgin target’, a place that had escaped the US firebombing of Japan so that it could be a worthwhile testing ground for the atomic bomb. In his diary, Stimson recorded a conversation with Truman in June about the reasoning behind targeting this city. When he told Truman that he was ‘a little fearful that before we could get ready the Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the new weapon [the atomic bomb] would not have a fair background to show its strength’, the president ‘laughed and said he understood’.

Two-year-old Sadako Sasaki was one of 350,000 people living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombings. She died ten years later from cancers associated with radiation exposure from the bomb. The Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet was moved by her story and wrote a poem against war and confrontation. Hikmet’s words should be a warning even now to Biden for laughing at the possibility of renewed military conflict against China:

I come and stand at every door
But none can hear my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead for I am dead.

I’m only seven though I died
In Hiroshima long ago
I’m seven now as I was then
When children die they do not grow.

My hair was scorched by swirling flame
My eyes grew dim my eyes grew blind
Death came and turned my bones to dust
And that was scattered by the wind.

I need no fruit I need no rice
I need no sweets nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead for I am dead.

All that I need is that for peace
You fight today you fight today
So that the children of this world
Can live and grow and laugh and play.

The Deplorable Work Conditions Behind Harrods’ $7,000 ‘Ambootia Snow Mist’ Darjeeling Tea


by Saurav Sarkar and Rupam Deb

In 2015, after you were done gawking at the statue of Princess Di in the world’s largest department store, Harrods in London, you could head on over to the world-famous food halls where you could buy, among other high-priced indulgences, a type of tea branded “Ambootia Snow Mist.” 

At $7,864 per kilogram—enough to make about 300 cups—Snow Mist regularly made appearances on listicles sporting headlines like “21 Gifts that Prove Harrods Has Finally Lost Its Fucking Mind.” 

Sold exclusively by London’s high-end department store for about a decade starting in the late 2000s, the tea was grown on the Happy Valley Tea Estate, a 400-plus acre plantation nestled in the Himalayan hills, near the third tallest mountain in the world and the large town of Darjeeling. 

Happy Valley is located in northern West Bengal, the same state as Bangla-speaking Kolkata, but the lingua franca in the region is Nepali. Locals known as Indian Gorkhas (to distinguish them from Nepali Gorkhas) have been agitating for almost four decades to get their own state called Gorkhaland.

The second oldest of Darjeeling’s 87 tea plantations, Happy Valley was established by a Britishman in 1854, just five years after Harrods. Happy Valley passed into the hands of an elite Bengali in the early 1900s. From there, it changed hands several times until it was abandoned, lying dormant up until the early 2000s (it is not uncommon for tea gardens to be semi-frequently abandoned by their owners, leaving workers, staff, and even managers in a lurch). 

Many tea plantations have been taken over by investors looking for short-term profits but who lack a long-term vision for the tea industry. The standard playbook for this “promoter class” of new owners goes something like this: take out a huge loan against the tea land, siphon the capital to other businesses, and drive workers to further pauperization. It is well known in and around the industry that these owners routinely fail to pay legally required pension contributions and evade land taxes.

Importantly, the land itself is owned by the state of West Bengal, not by the owners of the plantations, who lease it long term.

These promoters also tend to abandon the tea plantations during the annual bonus period, allegedly due to worker protest and discontent, while also failing to clear all back pay that is due. The annual bonus period falls at the end of the calendar year and marks a time when employers and unions negotiate a bonus that workers get for regional holidays. Although it is true that there are more workers protesting during these periods in a perennial bid to negotiate higher bonuses, the claim by owners that said protests are the primary reason they must abandon their plantations doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. 

Later, with the help of the government and even the tea workers’ own unions, these owners will often reopen the plantations and gardens under conditions that require workers to accept lower wages than what they previously earned, accept further casualization, and take lost jobs on the chin. 

In the mid-2000s, Happy Valley, along with about a dozen other Darjeeling estates, became part of a company headed by businessman Sanjay Bansal. Bansal was not supposed to be one of those guys, one of the plantation owners who games the system at the expense of workers—his initial approach led many to believe he would handle business differently. Bansal was an “incredibly successful… international player for a decade,” says Sarah Besky, a cultural anthropologist and associate professor at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. But even major figures in the tea industry engage in unsavory practices.

Besky has spent a great deal of time studying Darjeeling’s tea industry and workers. “Anybody who knows anything about Darjeeling tea knows about Makhaibari and Ambootia,” Besky told TRNN. “The symbolic importance of Ambootia is huge.”

Ambootia, the name of another tea plantation, was the brand name behind Harrods’ Snow Mist and other teas produced by Darjeeling Organic Tea Estates Private Ltd. (DOTEPL), and it is also the informal name for Bansal’s broader company, the Ambootia Group, which owns numerous tea estates in Darjeeling, Assam, and Dooars. In 2015, DOTEPL was worth Rs. 12 billion ($187 million); in addition to Bansal, investors from Singapore and Europe also had varying stakes in the company at different points in time.

I (Saurav) visited Happy Valley on October 12 of last year, when the tea bushes were between harvests, or “flushes.” Rain was pouring down from the sky. Nevertheless, workers clad in galoshes and holding umbrellas are still expected to pluck two leaves and a bud from the bushes in such conditions. 

On that day, though, no leaves were being plucked, because the workers were on strike, continuing a months-long labor dispute over backwages, a legally required holiday bonus, and a general state of disrespect from the bosses. Workers on the plantations in the area, including at Happy Valley, had demanded—and eventually won from the state government—a 20 percent bonus marking major holidays, but the mood at Happy Valley was anything but content.

Several dozen of the workers, most of them women, were huddled along the inside walls of a structure that, judging by the sign above, was meant to be a “fair price shop” for tourists and visitors to purchase tea from the plantation. A few men, the field staff, hovered inside, standing impatiently or animatedly pacing the floor. They, too, were being denied their wages.

One worker—let’s call her Chenbagam Rai—told me through interpreters that she worked an eight-hour day, from 7:30AM to 4:00PM, with a break for lunch. Workers typically work six-day weeks for a total of 48 scheduled hours per week. The harvesting quotas they need to meet can range from garden to garden; in some, it might be 7kg worth of tea per day; in others, it might be 11kg. With the help of the interpreters, Chenbagam relayed that she earned the minimum wage for Darjeeling tea workers of Rs. 232 ($2.81) per day (soon to be Rs. 250), not counting minor bonuses for exceeding production goals, but including Rs. 9 per day for food. Not only are these wages insufficient for workers to make a living on, they are also on the low end for workers across the industry. In other parts of India, tea plantation workers make more—around Rs. 400 ($4.93) per day—than their counterparts in Darjeeling do.

A union official (and one of my guides on the visit), Jatan Rai, told me that a living wage would be about Rs. 500 ($6.16) per day, plus benefits (like housing, access to medical care, etc.) that management is legally mandated to provide. When I was in Darjeeling, I spent a fair amount of time talking with Jatan, who was brought up as the son of two tea workers on an estate and is now the general secretary of the Hamro Hill Terai Dooars Chiabari Shramik Sangh (Hamro Hill Terai Dooars Tea Workers Union), as well as Saakal Dewan, a retired navy officer and active poet. Both Dewan and Jatan Rai, as well as Rai’s union, are affiliated with a local political party called the Hamro Party (unions generally tend to be affiliated with political parties in India). In India, apart from the railways, tea plantations are the largest organized sector.

In other parts of India, along with higher average wages, tea workers also tend to receive more of the benefits they are legally entitled to under the Plantations Labour Act of 1951, which instituted a slate of laws meant to secure universal standards for working conditions on Indian plantations. For instance, housing, water, education, healthcare, and other basic needs—all are supposed to be provided by plantation owners. “It is there in the rules—[the] Plantations Act,” said Jatan Rai. But the problem is that there are no real nor consistent enforcement mechanisms; as a result, the reality for workers is very different from what the Act spells out. 

According to Rai, things used to be better: “workers used to get multiple benefits. About 20 years back, 30 years back, the garden owners used to provide everything… Now, these days, it is totally gone.”

A staple of the Hamro Party platform is the demand for better conditions for workers in the tea industry. Party leaders are looking for what they describe as a “win-win” situation for owners and workers: an industry that is modernized and run ethically. While such messages sound good on paper, they can only really go so far to reform the tea industry, the entire political economy of which has been built around what Besky argues are deep structural and historical factors that render meaningful reform impossible.

“Many of the people I work with find undermining the system futile because the system is a monster. It is unchallengeable,” says Besky.

“Within [the plantation system’s] kind of DNA, its internal logic [is]… cheap labor, cheap everything. That is the logic of oppression,” she says. Since its integration into the global trade market, that is, cheap, hyper-exploitable labor has been the foundation of the tea industry; any attempts to seriously and systematically address tea workers’ needs for living wages and humane treatment would threaten the structural integrity of the industry itself, as it currently exists. This, Besky explains, is why efforts to reform the industry, including the Plantations Labour Act of 1951, have only borne modest, if any, positive results. 

“What’s [most] remarkable is the lack of change… The most striking thing about the industry, whether it’s 10 years or 150 years, [is that] the mode of production is the same.”

To illustrate this point, Besky offered one story of a sick Happy Valley worker who sought urgent medical care—she estimated that it took place around the time Harrods was starting to buy from the estate.

“Every plantation operates their ambulance also as a taxi. Someone actually died waiting for the ambulance that was roaming around town,” she says.

The story of tea is a story of interconnected continents and expanding systems of capitalist and imperialist exploitation stretching their tendrils across the globe over the course of hundreds of years—and the people bearing the brunt of it all have always been the workers on the plantations.

Tea is now the second most popular beverage in the world after water, with two billion cups consumed each day globally. But it was only incorporated into the capitalist world system in the early 17th century. 

As demand grew in Britain and across Europe, there was money to be made. And boy, was it ever made, especially by the entity that would eventually emerge as the monopoly importer: the British East India Company (and its shareholders). 

There was a proverbial fly in the ointment, though: China, the world’s only significant exporter of tea, didn’t want anything that the British East India Company had to offer. As a result, the empire turned to pushing Indian farmers to grow opium, which the British merchants and the East India Company then smuggled into China to trade for tea. The British East India Company, simply put, was effectively a drug cartel. When the Chinese government attempted to crack down on its destructive trade, one consequence was the Opium Wars. 

Another was the British deciding that they would try to take over the process of tea production for themselves. In an infamous act of corporate espionage, a botanist named Robert Fortune, originally from Scotland, was sent by the British East India Company to steal tea plants and agricultural know-how from China to see if the company could grow the plant on the hills of Darjeeling and elsewhere in India.

All things considered, the experiment was successful, and as India’s tea estates proliferated in the 19th century, the colony—and then the country—replaced China as the world’s largest producer of tea for a century. Even today, it remains the second largest producer and fourth largest exporter of tea in the world.

Tea plantations became an important part of the colonial economy. From the beginning, owners separated the estates into enclaves where the law of the land barely works. And from the beginning, owners have tried to keep wages as low as possible. The estates require huge tracts of land, and cultivating and harvesting on that land is very labor intensive because the delicacy of the crop necessitates that it be picked by hand, rather than with mechanized devices.

Conditions at Happy Valley are not unique, Rai says later when I (Saurav) followed up with him from New York. “Every tea garden… in Darjeeling is having [the same] issues,” he says. 

Because of the conditions on the farms, most young people in the Darjeeling area choose to migrate out to a big city or go into a different line of work, in Darjeeling or nearby; even a construction laborer building roads in town makes Rs. 500 ($6.16) per day, almost twice that of a plucker. Many fear the tea industry in Darjeeling is on its last leg as a result.

But there are still around 55,000 workers on Darjeeling’s 87 licensed plantations for now, about 20 percent of whom are daily wage laborers, while the rest are permanent. They range in age from 18-60.

I visited another plantation with Dewan, the 950-acre Chongtong estate, which, at the time I visited, was also owned by DOTEPL. It’s only about eight miles from Darjeeling, but it takes an hour to get there due to the bendiness and low quality of the roads winding through the hills.

When the estate is up and running at full capacity, 985 workers work there, and total tea production amounts to 200,000 kg per year. But Chongtong is definitely not running at full capacity these days; more than half the workers have fled for neighboring plantations because they are not getting paid. There used to be one supervisor for every 25-30 pluckers; now, there are far fewer people to supervise.

This kind of situation, or worse, happens at gardens throughout the industry. In gardens where the bushes are not as productive or as high quality as they once were—so-called “sick gardens”—management will simply vanish without paying workers, without even processing the harvested tea. According to Dewan and Rai, this kind of sudden abandonment is sometimes part of a front operation to transition the grounds to a tourism site.

The global tea trade—and the hyper-exploitation of tea workers—has continued well into the present, worth $200 billion in 2020 and expected to rise to $318 billion by 2025. A 2019 report by Rosa Luxemberg Stiftung on tea exports from Darjeeling to Germany showed that pluckers tend to keep less than 3 percent of the money generated by the products they harvest. An Oxfam report the same year found that supermarkets and brands receive 93.8 percent of the final price of a tea bag in the United States, while workers receive 0.8 percent. The situation is only marginally better in India and European countries.

In India, the northern states of Assam and West Bengal are the largest producers of tea in the country. The states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka in the south also grow significant amounts of the crop.

As a high-end product, Darjeeling tea tends to not sell at large volumes, but the tea stands out due to attempts by the Indian government and the Darjeeling industry to market it internationally and protect its brand.

Regarding Happy Valley and Chongtong, web searches and shipping records show that several Global North companies specifically source from these two plantations, even though the working conditions described throughout this report are well known throughout the industry. These buyers include the French upscale outlet Mariages Freres, which sells Happy Valley tea for the price of €486 ($505) per kilogram. It also sells tea from Chongtong. Lipton has sold tea from Chongtong in recent years.

The century-old American tea importer GS Haly markets Happy Valley tea by the dozens of pounds. The German wholesaler The Tea Co. GmbH & Co Kg has sourced from Chongtong, while the German brand Lebensbaum has sourced from Happy Valley. In the UK, Teahouse Emporium sells Happy Valley tea.

Dozens of other Global North businesses are sourcing from the company as a whole, but we were unable to determine whether the plantations they are doing business with are Happy Valley and Chongtong or others from DOTEPL’s past or present array of tea-growing estates.

That array includes many estates that play up the “organic,” “fair trade,” and “people-friendly” practices of the plantations, like the small U.S.-owned, Darjeeling-sourced brand Alaya tea. Meanwhile, Chenbagam Rai and the 55,000 other tea plantation workers in the region are earning less than $3 a day, if they get paid at all.

Even though they weren’t on strike, the workers at Chongtong—again, mostly Indian Gorkha women—were far more up in arms that day than their counterparts at Happy Valley had been. The pluckers hadn’t been paid for four weeks, averaging around Rs. 2,000 ($24.65) of lost wages in total. The mid-level supervisory staff also haven’t been paid—for three months. The pluckers told me they had been given assurances that they would be paid their wages eventually, but they didn’t believe the owners’ promises. Workers had reached the point of selling domestic animals—pigs, hens, and other poultry—to sustain themselves and to supplement the free rations they receive from the government.

Even in the best of times at Chongtong, the average income for a household with school-age children is about Rs. 5,000 ($60.72) per month, while average expenses range between Rs. 12,000 ($147.92) and Rs. 14,000 ($172.58). Families make up the difference through remittances they receive, with one earner traveling to cities like Delhi or Mumbai to work and send money back home.

“We are helpless,” Ashima Tamang, a pseudonym for one of the women assembled outside the fields of the Chongtong garden, told me. “Those who are capable—they go to other cities. We don’t have any capacity.” This is the only way to come close to staying financially afloat, workers said, because there’s no other work available to them in the area, and the work that is there does not pay people enough to live on.

It’s not as if the workers have just sat on their hands and obediently accepted these circumstances either. When they are called to attend protests, they show up; but they feel that all their efforts have gone in vain. Speaking through Dewan, in Nepali, the pluckers told me that they want the government to act against the head figure at DOTEPL, Bansal. 

At one point, they animatedly demanded that the tea estate be sold to another owner—a wish that would be granted at the end of October.

When it comes to ensuring better wages and working conditions for tea harvesters, “fair trade” and other certifications are commonly understood as ineffectual at best. At Happy Valley, Rai and Dewan explained, fair trade fees are actually used to reimburse plantation managers for the equipment and other goods they’re supposedly, but not actually, providing workers.

“Most of the gardens… are fair trade certified,” Rai told me later. But “those guidelines of fair trade policies are not being strictly followed; there is a big gap with the reality.”

Besky’s assessment of the fair trade economy is even harsher: “Fair trade and all of these bourgeois means [by which] tea is sold fail because they don’t understand what [the] plantation is.”

There is a complaint box for workers outside the division’s management office at Chongtong, near the spot where the tea is weighed. I was told by my companions, including KS Tsapa, a retired head supervisor of 48 years, that “it is just a formality.”

We have given here a mere snapshot of the present in one corner of the tea industry, but it is worth considering the future for a moment—because the tea industry in Darjeeling may not have a future at all. In the age of finance capital, the incentive structure driving everything toward the end of making fast money has led the tea gardens to the precipice of an existential crisis. For it to prosper, a tea plantation has to go through gradual and diligent processes like replanting after 60-80 years; the bushes have to be maintained for four months during the lean period (winter season); etc. 

It is only after steps like these are carefully and painstakingly taken that planters should even consider making a profit, but today’s capitalists are not that patient.

The owners nowadays have primary interests in leveraging their assets for maximum profit, even if leveraging said assets has little to do with reinvesting in, sustaining, and improving the tea industry itself; showing tea gardens as property asset holdings, for instance, may serve the primary function of helping owners get a hold of bank loans, but the resulting money will be invested elsewhere, not back into the tea gardens themselves, after the loans are secured. This practice is one of many that have become increasingly common among tea plantation owners over the past 30 years. 

State governments have underwritten the owners’ land grabs on tea plantations by introducing “tea tourism” policies enabling them to use tea land for tourism purposes. In West Bengal, for instance, the owners can use up to 15 percent of tea garden land for tea tourism. Even before the concept of “tea tourism” became commonplace for every tea plantation, the case of Chandmoni Tea Estate in the Terai area of North Bengal bellows from the past a harbinger of what would come to pass in the industry in the name of development.

When tea plantation lands are given away for tourism and township projects, the workers are left with less or no work in their areas, and so far no one has come up with a sustainable answer to the various social and economic crises that result (unemployment, discontent, mass migration, etc.). 

So what is to be done if fair trade policies, changing modes of production, unions, lawsuits, the land rights movement, etc. aren’t improving conditions for tea workers on Darjeeling’s plantations? 

The workers on the plantations have tried everything—including selling household animals and vegetables on the side to make do—and their children are fleeing from the region.

“The global community has to build up pressure, because they don’t know the darker story,” says Rai.

This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.

Saurav Sarkar is a freelance movement writer, editor and activist living in Long Island, NY. They have also lived in New York City, New Delhi, London, and Washington, DC. Follow them on Twitter @sauravthewriter and at sauravsarkar.com.

Rupam Deb works with the tribal communities in North Bengal, India, especially in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts, focusing on building up youth platforms with youths hailing from Tea-garden communities. He is also a freelance journalist who writes for Bengali newspapers as an advocacy mechanism. He writes issue-based articles for several regional media houses like Ananda Bazar Patrika and Uttar Banga Sambad, and also for several national media outlets such as The Telegraph, Groundxero, and The Wire. Most of his writing focuses on issues prevalent in North Bengal and the hardships faced by tea garden workers in the Dooars region.

Credit Line: This article was distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with The Real News Network.

1 2 3 17