China’s Built Port Ready to Welcome India’s First International Cruise Ship


In a significant development for India’s cruise tourism industry, the country’s first international cruise ship, MV Empress, was launched from Chennai, setting sail to Sri Lanka. The ship, carrying 750 passengers, aims to promote affordable and accessible world-class cruise services for Indian travellers. The maiden voyage will visit three ports in Sri Lanka, Hambantota, Trincomalee, and Kankesanturei, before returning to Chennai

The Chinese-built port in Hambantota, which has been a subject of criticism among Indians over the years, has made extensive preparations to warmly welcome India’s inaugural international cruise ship. Despite speculations and concerns from Indian experts suggesting a military purpose behind the construction of the port, Sri Lanka vehemently denied such claims. The decision to choose Hambantota as the port of call for the first international cruise ship from India signifies a significant turning point in bilateral relations.

Sarbananda Sonowal, the union minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways and Ayush, expressed his enthusiasm for the launch of MV Empress. He stated that India’s coastal region boasts rich heritage and culture, offering immense potential for cruise tourism. Sonowal emphasized that the new cruise service will provide passengers with an opportunity to experience opulent facilities, entertainment, and breathtaking views, while also making such services affordable and easily accessible.

The launch of MV Empress is the result of an agreement between Chennai Port and M/S Waterways Leisure Tourism Pvt Ltd, which was forged during the first Incredible India International Cruise Conference in 2022. The International Cruise Terminal in Chennai, developed at a cost of 17.21 crores Indian rupees, served as the starting point for this remarkable journey.

Looking ahead, the Indian government has ambitious plans to enhance the country’s cruise tourism infrastructure. It aims to construct three new international cruise ports by 2024, with a projected increase in the number of cruise ships from 208 in 2023 to 500 by 2030 and a staggering 1100 by 2047. Moreover, the government intends to explore additional ferry routes connecting India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar. As a result of these developments, the number of passengers availing cruise services is expected to surge from 9.5 lakhs in 2030 to 45 lakhs in 2047.

In addition to promoting international cruise tourism, the government is also focused on launching Gujarat Pilgrimage tours, Cultural and Scenic Tours, Ayurveda Wellness Tours, and Heritage Tourism initiatives. These efforts reflect India’s commitment to diversifying its tourism offerings and capitalizing on the country’s rich cultural and natural resources. The launch of MV Empress and the subsequent plans for the expansion of India’s cruise tourism industry indicate a promising future for the sector. With enhanced infrastructure, increased cruise ship arrivals, and diverse tour options, India aims to position itself as a major player in the global cruise tourism market, providing unforgettable experiences to both domestic and international travelers

Manipur: Despicable Politics

The Government of India on June 4, 2023, has notified a Commission of Inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, to inquire into the incidents of violence in the state of Manipur on May 3, 2023, and thereafter. The Commission chaired by Justice Ajai Lamba, former Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court with Himanshu Shekhar Das, Indian Administrative Service (Retd.) and Aloka Prabhakar, Indian Police Service (Retd.) as members, according to the notification “shall make inquiry with respect to the causes and spread of the violence, which took place in Manipur, and whether there were any lapses on the part of any of the responsible authorities or individuals.”

On the last day of his four-day (May 29-June 1) visit to the state, Union Home Minister (UHM) Amit Shah had assured the Press that “a judicial commission will be set up under the chairmanship of retired Chief Justice of the High Court to investigate the Manipur violence”. He had also asserted that “a peace committee would also be constituted under the chairmanship of the Governor of Manipur, in which representatives of all sections would be included.” This peace committee is yet to be formed. However, several peace committees consisting of different Ministers and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) have been formed and teams have rushed to the violence affected areas to ‘restore normalcy’.

Ethnic clashes erupted between Kukis and Meitei/Meetei on May 3, 2023, in Churachandpur District, and spread rapidly across the state. According to the latest official figures released on June 2, 2023, at least 98 people have lost their lives and 310 have been injured in these clashes. In all, 4,014 cases of arson have been reported. Since the beginning of the violence, the state police has registered 3,734 cases and arrested 65 people for their involvement. The official release said that, at present, a total of 37,450 persons displaced by the violence had taken refuge in 272 relief camps.

Indefinite curfew was imposed in large part of the state following the violence on May 3. Curfew is still in force though curfew relaxation has been made for 12 hours in the valley and between seven to 10 hours in neighboring hill districts. State-wide internet shut-down that was imposed on May 3 remains in effect till today.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah during the June 1, 2023, press conference, appealed for peace and urged people who had looted weapons from police armouries to return the weapons at the earliest, failing which they would face stern action. [A June 4, 2023, report citing an unnamed official stated that only 18 per cent of over 4,000 weapons, looted or taken away from police armouries have been surrendered to the authorities.] In a clear indication of fear of insurgents becoming active participants in the ongoing violence, Shah warned that those who violate the Suspension of Operation (SoO) conditions would be dealt with sternly. It is pertinent to recall here that a total of 23 insurgent groups in Manipur under two conglomerates [United Peoples’ Front (UPF) – eight; and the Kuki National Organization (KNO) – 15] are currently under SoO Agreements with the GoI, since August, 2008.

The UHM, however, categorically described the present violence as nasli hinsa (ethnic violence).

On June 1, 2023, Army Chief General Manoj Pande, responding to a question regarding the involvement of ‘insurgent groups’, emphasized,

The current situation that we are facing is that of ethnic clashes between two communities… The current situation is a manifestation of law and order… There is also this challenge of misinformation, of narratives which are coming out from both sides. That is another issue which we need to be careful about, and that is another appeal which we had made that for only credible information, and specially for the media and such influencers not to abet this kind of misinformation.

Earlier, on May 30, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan had asserted,

The situation in Manipur has nothing to do with counter-insurgency and is primarily a clash between two ethnicities. It is a law-and-order kind of situation and we are helping the state government with the problem. We [the Army] have done an excellent job and saved a large number of lives.

Thus, both the Army Chief and the CDS termed the violence as ethnic, dismissing allegations of armed insurgent involvement.

In a despicable attempt to polarize populations, however, state Chief Minister (CM) N. Biren Singh, who has for long been widely criticized for his communal politics, favoring the majority Meitei Hindu community, in an irresponsible statement on May 28 had asserted,

The fight is not between two communities (Meities and Kukis), but between Kuki militants bound by the Suspension of Operations agreement and combined teams of the central and state security forces. We are trying to find the culprits behind the killing of innocent civilians. Massive combing operations have been launched along with helicopter surveillance. Till now we have reports that around 40 terrorists have been eliminated.

Several media outlets linked to the Hindutva movement compounded these allegations by declaring that the conflict was a Christian (Kuki) – Hindu (Meitie) confrontation, and weaving a generalized narrative of Christian Missionary activities in the state and Northeast region into allegations of ‘church-sponsored violence’ in the present context, developing another stream of falsehoods, which quickly inflamed social media.

Chief Minister Biren Singh has been adopting an anti-Kuki stand for long. In an interview published on May 9, 2023, his fellow Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Saikot Paolienlal Haokip in the Churachandpur District of Manipur asserted that the Chief Minister was “anti-Kuki”, and “prejudiced and was “maligning the entire Kuki community”, adding “many Meiteis confirm this”.

In his statement on May 28, Biren Singh sought to introduce the ‘insurgency’ angle in order to shift the blame for the violence exclusively on the Kukis, even before an investigation had been launched. Unfortunately for him, the statements that followed – by the UHM, Army Chief, CDS and Security Advisor – challenged his claims and exposed his malicious designs.

It is significant that the present crisis has largely been sparked by the order of a single judge bench of the Manipur High Court on March 27, 2023, comprising Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidaran, directing,

The first respondent (State Government) shall consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list, expeditiously, preferably within a period four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order…

Soon after the judgment, tensions started emerging in the state, eventually culminating in major violence on May 3, with a dramatic escalation on May 27-28, and continuing sporadically thereafter.

It is significant that a Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud has rejected Muralidaran’s order as “obnoxious” and “absolutely wrong”. The CGI noted further,

We have to stay the order of the Manipur HC. It is completely factually wrong and we gave time to Justice Muralidharan to remedy his error and he did not… we have to take a strong view against it…

Though the bench was initially of the view that it would set aside the High Court order, it later chose to direct the petitioners to join the proceedings before the division bench of the High Court hearing the intra-court appeals challenging the order of the single judge bench.

Significantly, and despite the Supreme Court’s observations, Justice Muralidaran failed to rescind his order, only amending it to extend the deadline of “four weeks” to “one year”.

While the security situation has now improved, occasional flare-ups persist, with the most recent flashpoint at Serou in Kakching District, any laxity at this juncture may prove detrimental as ethnic violence has not ended as yet. Indeed, ethnic violence had subsided after few days of major clashes in early May, only to flare up again in end-May.

It is significant that the present eruption of violence comes after years of steady counter-insurgency consolidation in Manipur. The SATP database, which has documented the conflict since March 6, 2000, registers a peak of 496 fatalities in 2008; just seven insurgency-linked fatalities were recorded in 2022.

The previous year had seen an abrupt spike, with 27 fatalities recorded in 2021, but 2020 registered just seven killed, and 2019, nine fatalities.

The multiple insurgencies in Manipur date back to over four decades. Enormous success has been achieved in containing most of the insurgencies, and SF dominance has been secured across the state at enormous cost in blood and money. A small cluster of seven ‘Valley based’ (Meitei) groups – under the umbrella identity of CorCom (Coordination Committee) – and seven other groups – Hmar People’s Convention- Democracy (HPC-D), National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF), Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), Kuki National Front (KNF), National Revolutionary Front of Manipur (NRFM) and Kuki National Liberation Front (KNLF) – remain marginally active.

The attempts to polarize the populations under these circumstances is nothing short of criminal malice. The High Court’s ‘obnoxious’ order, and the Chief Minister’s equally obnoxious statements, have destabilized the state, provoked widespread violence, and entrenched communal prejudice and hatred even deeper than before. The harm done will take years, if not decades, to repair – if, indeed, there is a sustained and good-faith effort to abandon the despicable politics of polarization. It is unlikely that Chief Minister Biren Singh can spearhead any such good-faith initiative, given his patently communal approach, and the complete loss of faith, certainly, of the state’s tribal population – as well as of at least a section of the Meitei community. It remains to be seen whether a more sagacious leadership will be brought to the helm. If not, Manipur is likely to see worse to come.

Deciphering the Motives Behind Modi’s ‘Extended Dialogue’ for South Asia


India has done more for Sri Lanka than the IMF S. Jaishankar, Union Minister for External Affairs–Indian Express.

China will stand for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, economic development — Visiting Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Sun Weidong, when he called on Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena last week.

These two statements by representatives of the two Asian giants taken at face value–prima facie as lawyers say — should make our people joyful and relaxed but in terms of realpolitik, should it be so?

The statement of Jaishankar was followed by the Indian High Commission the next day that following a request by Sri Lanka, the State Bank of India had extended the tenure of USD 1 billion credit facility till next year.

Lankans should indeed thank India for their continuing support but a significant difference between the statements of the two powers we noticed was the Chinese government giving priority in their statement for support of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty,

Jaishankar’s statement as reported said: The Modi government is working on developing an extended neighbourhood that involves the islands in the Indian Ocean, Gulf countries, and nations in South-East Asia.

“What we are trying to do is for a bigger, influential and ambitious India. We are trying to expand what should be our neighbourhood. We look at what this extended neighbourhood should be. It could be islands in the Indian Ocean, nations in South East Asia and Central Asia or Gulf countries. The relationship with the UAE and Saudi Arabia has undergone an enormous transformation.”

From traditionally a much more constricted view of our neighbourhood, we have undertaken something much more ambitious, he had said in his speech at Anant’s National University in Delhi.

“If you are the biggest in the neighbourhood, then it is in our interest that our other neighbours have a share in our prosperity, happiness and are linked to us, he had declared in a burst of Indian altruism, not ever witnessed before Lanka’s financial debacle and “gone forward in a way, we ourselves have never done for Sri Lanka” and added that it “is bigger than what the IMF has done for Sri Lanka”.

Jaishankar is indeed correct. Although friendship with its neighbours was supposed to be the cornerstone of Indian foreign policy, commencing with Congress governments, despite Lanka faithfully following the tilted Non-Aligned policy of the Gandhis towards the Soviet Union, massive assistance on the scale given by the Modi government — or any significant assistance — did not come Lanka’s way.

Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention in Lanka and the Indo-Lanka Agreement which the then president J.R. Jayewardene had no option but to accept (Remember his plea: ‘What could I do with no foreign power lifting a finger to help me’) and with the Modi government still calling for its full implementation, any reference by New Delhi to Sri Lankan sovereignty will sound hollow.

Narendra Modi has visions of making India a world power and becoming a world leader and in these endeavours he is bound to suffer setbacks such as in the diplomatic rapprochement brought about recently between Saudi Arabia and Iran by Chinese diplomacy, which is what Jaishankar is talking about when he refers to the relationship with the “UAE having undergone an enormous transformation”.

But we in Lanka are not concerned with all that but only about the Modi government working on “developing an extended neighbourhood” that involves islands in the Indian Ocean, Gulf countries and nations in South-East Asia. How would this “extended neighbourhood” apply to South Asian countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives which have had long-standing contentious relationships with their giant neighbour resulting in the paralysis of SAARC?

Sri Lankans while appreciating the munificence of the Modi government have noticed that some massive Indian investment projects involve Lanka’s national security concerns. They include the construction of seaports, the Trinco Oil Tank Farm, the use of the Trinco port itself, and energy projects in projects in the Palk Strait. Many agreements have been signed with India by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government when Basil Rajapaksa was the Finance Minister and also after the Ranil-Rajapaksa regime took office. These agreements have not been presented to parliament for ratification making some doubt, especially the trade unions, whether national security has been bartered away for loans which have to be repaid.

Narendra Modi is in an ebullient mood having won two consecutive general elections and going for a third term driving his juggernaut of Hindutva through the Indian electorate, singling out minorities particularly India’s Muslims, the second largest Muslim population in the world. Most Indian opposition parties despite their myriad differences in religion, race, and caste are attempting to form a united opposition to defeat him at the next parliamentary elections. He is defying democratic practices, traditions and even constitutional provisions at the cost to his fellow Indians and for fair and democratic judgments to be expected in his proposed “Extended neighbourhood” would be the height of optimism.

At a ceremony in New Delhi, on Sunday, Modi inaugurated a new parliament complex built at an estimated cost of $ 120 million and called it the ‘cradle of empowerment’ but the ceremony was boycotted by most opposition parties. He sidelined President Droupaadi Murmu who is the head of state and the highest constitutional authority and inaugurated the building himself.

It is an attempt to revamp the British colonial architecture including the former parliament building although some were of the view that the old parliament is more Indian than Modi’s creation.

Rahul Gandhi, the Indian Congress party leader was in the United States last week meeting Indian expatriates and American legislators accusing Modi’s BJP and RSS of attacking the constitution and attempting to divide the country on caste and religious lines ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s visit at the invitation of President Joe Biden.

What is so attractive about Narendra Modi to Western leaders like Joe Biden? Modi’s human rights record as the Chief Minister of Gujarat was condemned by the Western world. Is this real politics at play — Modi and the BJP being the biggest and the only countervailing force against the superpower, China?

India: PM Modi’s Puja Ceremony Sets the Stage for Ethical Governance

The inauguration of India’s new parliament building by Prime Minister Modi was a grand affair, capturing the attention of millions with its splendid display. Completed in just over two years, the building’s magnificent style and structure have been widely praised. However, it was the installation of the Sengol (Sceptre) that truly stood out during this elegant ceremony. Historically, Sengol has symbolized justice and good governance in India.

Amidst Vedic chants by Hindu priests, Prime Minister Modi performed the Ganapathi Puja (devotional prayer) and humbly prostrated himself before the Sengol. Seeking blessings from the priests, he then carried the Sengol in a procession, accompanied by Vedic mantras, and placed it to the right side of the speaker’s chair in the Parliament.

The discerning observers perceive Mr. Modi’s Sengol installation ceremony as a profoundly significant event, indicative of the direction in which he will lead India in the years to come. Following the installation, Mr. Modi delivered a stirring 35-minute speech, employing his characteristic emotional eloquence to paint a vibrant picture of India’s future. It was evident that the Sengol would serve as a constant reminder to those in governance of the crucial importance of probity, honesty, and fair play for all sections of society.

While some habitual critics of Mr. Modi have criticized the Sengol installation ceremony, the majority of Indians have responded with great enthusiasm, regarding the installed Sengol with respect and hope. Those who habitually criticize Mr. Modi have labeled the inaugural function of the new parliament house, carried out in accordance with Hindu practices, as an act against secularism.

In contemporary India, the term secularism is often abused and misused, with anything associated with Hindu practices being deemed non-secular, while religious activities of other faiths are considered secular. Essentially, those who promote Hindu philosophy and way of life are unjustly accused of lacking secular credentials. In India’s democracy, where vote bank politics has become central during elections, many political parties attempt to secure the votes of minority religions by claiming to be secular and progressive, while simultaneously disparaging those who speak about the Hindu ethos.

In this context, Mr. Modi has demonstrated a remarkable level of conviction and courage by openly acknowledging his identity as a Hindu, while simultaneously respecting other religions. During the parliament inauguration program, after performing elaborate Hindu pujas, representatives from all other religions were given an opportunity to offer prayers according to their religious traditions.

Over the past nine years as Prime Minister, there have been numerous occasions when Mr. Modi publicly worshipped in Hindu temples. One of the most significant events was his performance of puja, according to Hindu religious practices, during the foundation-laying ceremony of the Ram Janma Bhoomi temple. While such pujas have been conducted by Mr. Modi in temples in the past, this is arguably the first time he has performed puja, in accordance with Hindu religious practices, during a major official function for the inauguration of a new parliament building, reaching a wide audience both within India and abroad.

Hinduism originated in India and has been an integral part of Indian culture for thousands of years. More than 75% of Indians identify with Hinduism. While various countries incorporate religious prayers into official programs, such as reciting from the Holy Quran in Islamic countries or the Holy Bible in Christian nations, such practices have not been widely followed in India during major official functions. In Christian and Islamic countries, there are also many citizens who belong to other religions, and they do not object to Muslims and Christians practicing their faith during official functions. If these practices are deemed appropriate in those countries, then Mr. Modi following Hindu religious practices for the inauguration of the parliament in India should also be considered appropriate.

India can continue to be a secular country that allows freedom for all religions, much like other democratic nations such as the USA, Canada, and Europe. Therefore, adopting Hindu worship practices in official functions in India should be considered a suitable choice.

It is high time to acknowledge the grievance felt by many Hindus in India, who believe they are being discriminated against by various government policies that favor minority religions in the name of secular principles. A prime example is the government’s interference and control over Hindu temples, including the diversion of temple income for various purposes. In contrast, mosques, churches, and gurudwaras are not under government control but managed by leaders of those religions. Several other examples can be cited as well.

It is crucial for every Indian, regardless of their religious affiliation, be it Christian, Muslim, Sikh, or Buddhist, to recognize that India is fundamentally a country rooted in Hindu ethos, while allowing individuals of other religions the freedom to follow their respective religious teachings. Therefore, objections to Mr. Modi’s observance of Hindu religious practices during the inauguration of the new parliament are unfounded. Mr. Modi has set an example and dispelled unwarranted fears about secularism.

By installing the Sengol, a symbol of honesty and probity in governance, Mr. Modi has brought the nation’s attention to the high principles that should underpin fair governance. The Sengol will serve as a constant reminder, ensuring that the country remains focused on advancing with truth and honesty in governance.

Democracy under Scrutiny: Unveiling the Dynamics of Contemporary India under Modi

The invitation extended to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country is threatened with a nuclear conflict, by Japan to attend the G-7 Summit that was held in Hiroshima was perhaps with the objective of reminding the world of the greatest tragedies suffered by humanity.

However, the motive behind the invitation of Indian Premier Narendra Modi is not as clear because India, though recording a very high economic growth rate and becoming the most populous country in the world last month, is far away from reaching the economic standards of the world’s seven richest countries.

The growing relations between India and Japan have been going on for over one and a half decades but not commented on very much in the world media but for geopolitical reasons the two countries are drawing together.

The Economist (UK) in its issue of March 25-31 (2023) in an article headlined ‘Under a bodhi tree’ states: “This closening relationship is based more on shared fears than common values. Both countries have long-standing territorial disputes with an increasingly aggressive China — India along its northern land border, and Japan over the uninhabited islands of Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Both are wary of growing Chinese influence in their wider region, and what it means for the maritime lines of communication each relies on. Each sees the other as central to functioning the security challenge that China poses.”

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister who was assassinated last year was, the first to propose that the Indian and Pacific Oceans be considered as ‘one strategic space’ and for Japan and India to recognise their shared interests. Abe made this proposal in an address to India’s parliament in 2007, the Economist notes.

Fumio Kishida, Abe’s successor, endorses Abe’s views. In March this year, during a two-day visit to Delhi, he said: India is the place where the Free and Open Indo-Pacific came into being.

Asia’s biggest democracy and its richest one were on opposite sides in the cold war. But over the past decade and a half, they have dramatically improved their diplomatic, economic and security ties. Their aim is to forge a democratic counterweight to China. And their right progress, as Kishida and Narendra Modi also stressed in Delhi, will be conspicuous in international diplomacy this year with Japan chairing the G7 and India the G20, The Economist said.

A striking aspect of Indo-Japanese cooperation is the conduct of the first fighter jet exercises in January in the airspace of Japan’s self-defence forces Hyakuri and Iruna air bases in the Ibaraki prefecture, as reported in the Japan Times.

Drills continue to deepen defence and security ties between Japan and India amid China’s growing capabilities in the Indo-Pacific regions, according to some Chinese media reports.

This growing Indo-Japanese shared ‘strategic space’ may make navigation in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean safer for Japan and make India happy for reasons of its own but what does it imply to smaller countries in and around the Indian sub-continent like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Bhutan?

Japan, Sri Lanka’s all-weather friend, is now involved in the efforts at Indo-Pacific cooperation but also is a member of the Quad–Quadrilateral Security Dialogue–that includes itself with India, the United States and Australia as a countervailing force to the growing superpower China.

Will India be the proxy power of these strategic unions in the South Asian region? Many of the countries of South Asia have had contentious relations with their giant neighbour and this resulted in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation becoming dysfunctional.

Do Western nations look at India’s market potential of 1.1 billion people, the remarkable economic growth, being the biggest English-speaking nation and ‘the biggest democracy in the world’ as a nation that can be trusted as a proxy power to safeguard the interests of its smaller neighbours?

Has not India attempted to rescue Sri Lanka with massive loans amounting to $ 4 billion and extended support in the IMF to assist Sri Lanka in the current financial crisis?

If India did not make such a move, would China have gone easy on reimbursement terms of its billion-dollar loans to win back Lanka’s confidence?

All these queries are not as relevant to the basic question: Is India under Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a democracy, never mind being ‘the biggest democracy in the world’?

If so, why are most Indian opposition parties attempting to unite and defeat Modi and the BJP at the next general election with the main objective of saving Indian democracy? They united in the state of Karnataka this month and won convincingly, despite Modi abusing state power as ruling parties usually do.

If Modi is not considered a democrat by a vast section of Indian people, can smaller countries in the region accept fair and democratic treatment from his regime? The breakup of the state of Jammu and Kashmir ignoring the special status accorded to it in the Indian constitution is the most devastating example of autocratic Hindutva chauvinism.

The speech made on Thursday by Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi on his return to the country after strutting through countries — Japan, Papua New Guinea and Australia, can be viewed as a classic example of his demagoguery. He is quoted in the Indian media as saying: ‘The world listens to me, the world agrees with me, when I say that attacks on pilgrim sites are not acceptable’. He was reiterating what he had said in Australia about Hindu religious sites being attacked there.

It is obvious to a normal human being that the world will agree with anyone, particularly the leader of any country, declaring that ‘religious sites being attacked is not acceptable’. Is his inclusion of the words: ‘The world agrees with me’ a sign of megalomania, in assuming that this is an original thought of his that he is proclaiming to the world?

They relaxed the happy ways of ignoring his dark days as chief Minister of Gujrat, his insouciance over a-1000 people (mostly Muslims) being killed in riots although his role in it as the chief minister was raised and questioned in India and the world over. The United States soon after did not issue him a visa to enter the country although today Modi is recognised not only by America but the Western world as an emergent world leader and the leader of ‘the biggest democracy in the world’.

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

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.

India: Modi at Hiroshima — optics, politics, reality


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits abroad are carefully choreographed events, given their optics domestically. Perhaps, this is even more so today as general elections loom ahead and in Hiroshima, Modi was taking the stage after the crushing defeat in the Karnataka election, which was as much political for the ruling  BJP as personal for Modi himself. 

But the optics were great. President Biden who is a past master in the art of flattery stooped to conquer Modi, even seeking an autograph and remarking that he envied the latter’s “popularity”. 

It must be one of the paradoxes of our disjointed times that Hiroshima, a sleepy, southwestern coastal city, was handpicked as the setting for the G7 summit for its symbolism to “send out a strong message” against nuclear weapons. But it is a reminder too the United States is still the only country that ever used the atomic bomb as a weapon, when it dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima in 1945 — quite unnecessarily as historians since concluded — killing an estimated 140,000 people and turning the theory of nuclear warfare into a terrifying reality. 

Hiroshima was turned on its head to censure Russia and China. Innuendos were galore at the G7 summit packed with world leaders who preach one thing and practice something entirely different. The UK PM Rishi Sunak flew into Hiroshima after supplying depleted uranium munitions to Kiev, which soon exploded in the central Ukrainian city of Khmelnytsky, leading to a significant increase in gamma radiation levels that could contaminate the earth in surrounding areas for decades. 

The G7 was dripping with doublespeak. The erstwhile colonial powers waxed eloquently about “economic coercion” but craftily excluded South Africa as special invitee and instead chose Comoros. Why Comoros? Because, Comoros’ most significant international relationship is with the erstwhile colonial power France, which will guarantee its good behaviour at Hiroshima.

To be sure, the cynical spectacle at Hiroshima couldn’t have escaped Modi’s attention. His “undiplomatic” remarks at the Working session 9 of the G7 Summit — on the ludicrous reality of the UN being a mere “talking shop”; the imperative need for respect for the UN Charter, International Law and sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; the unilateral attempts to change the status quo and so on would have made western leaders present in his audience squirm with embarrassment. 

Even if that was not Modi’s intention, what he stated — commas, semi-colons and full stops included — actually epitomised the US’ continued illegal occupation of one-third of the territory of Syria, which was, by the way, one of the original members of the UN since 24th October 1945. The G7 presents a pathetic spectacle, indeed.       

However, it was Modi’s meeting with Ukraine’s president Zelensky that brought out his outstanding techniques of communication. Even the insipid MEA readout written in staccato English brings out the flavour of their brief conversation. 

Modi made three key points: one, for him, Ukraine war is not a political or economic issue but “an issue of humanity, of human values.” Two, India supports dialogue and diplomacy “to find a way forward” and is willing to lend a hand in conflict resolution. Three, India will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine. 

We don’t know how Zelensky handled this tricky conversation. Perhaps, he actually limited himself to brief Modi “on the current situation in Ukraine.” Modi’s remarks message that he stuck to India’s neutrality and neatly side-stepped the tendentious issues concerning the genesis of the Ukraine crisis or the complexities of Russia’s confrontation with the West, leave alone the core issue of NATO’s expansion into Ukraine (which Zelensky inherited) and the country’s loss of sovereignty. 

Instead, Modi took to high ground and harped on the human suffering due to the war and stressed the primacy of “dialogue and diplomacy”. We may never know whether this would have caused uneasiness in Zelensky’s mind, although finger pointing wouldn’t have been Modi’s intention. 

Ironically, but for a series of blunders on the part of Zelensky, the war wouldn’t have erupted or escalated to the current level of violence — his rejection of the Minsk agreements that provided for provincial autonomy to the Donbass within a federal union; his obduracy to pursue a military solution to Donbass’ alienation; his retraction from the Istanbul deal in late March last year within weeks of Russian intervention due to the back seat driving by the US and UK who had their own agenda to force regime change in Moscow. 

Modi, perhaps, got carried away to stake his personal prestige in a conflict resolution in Ukraine. Clearly, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Neither will Biden accept the spectre of military defeat and Ukrainian state’s meltdown nor will Russia compromise on what it considers sees to be an existential war. 

The government shouldn’t be delusional about an enchanting prospect of India leading the West and Russia the door that never really opened in the post-cold war era into a rose garden. It simply isn’t there. Neither has India the credentials nor the clout to be a peacemaker. 

What is really disheartening is that a great opportunity was lost for Modi to hold the hands of Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and pool their intellectual resources — two giants who champion the Global South. But then, Washington may have queered the pitch by derailing Zelensky’s appointment with Lula. (Zelensky failed to show up.) 

Modi travelled to Hiroshima with an eye on his upcoming state visit to the US (June 21-24.) Besides, there have been signals from the Biden Administration lately that a kinder look at India’s pleas for technology transfer may be possible.  

Western pressures will continue on Modi government to give up its neutrality on Ukraine. The European Union has lately waded into the topic formally. (See my article EU calls out India on Russia sanctions.) But trust India to push back. The surest sign of it is Modi’s  reversion to “hug diplomacy,” the appeal of EAM Jaishankar’s abrasive style to BJP’s “core constituency” in the social media notwithstanding 

The heart of the matter is that the strategic ties that bind India and Russia signify a mutually beneficial partnership that is fully in conformity with international law and imbued with a “win-win” spirit and mutual trust and confidence in a volatile international climate of which Ukraine is only a symptom. 

The objective reality is that the India-Russia energy cooperation, which is an eyesore for the West, may even deepen, given the mutual interest. Bloomberg reported in the weekend that oil trade apart, in April, China and India also accounted for more than two-thirds of Russia’s coal exports to Asia and that set to further increase in the coming weeks due to the emergence of El Nino, a recurring warm climate pattern that could cause droughts in the region. 

According to a study in the prestigious journal Science, this year’s El Nino is expected to develop between May and July and is likely to be especially strong. Bloomberg quoted an expert opinion: 

“The worst place to be right now amid these searing temperatures is South Asia… When you can’t even take care of your people’s basic needs, it’s very hard to care too much about international affairs… [South Asians] are asking themselves: would I rather risk falling afoul of the US or forgo steep discounts on energy?”

Will Indian Government’s Withdrawal of 2000 Note Root Out Corruption?


After demonetisation in 2016, cash circulation in India by value came down significantly . However, subsequently , for whatever reasons , the cash circulation was gradually increased by the Government of India by printing more currency notes of various denominations . As a result, present currency circulation in the country by value is as high as Rs.32 lakh crore.

It is well known that all corrupt dealings take place by cash transactions and black money in cash which is generated by tax evasion. Such cash in the form of black money is used for several corrupt and nefarious practices, ,resulting in development and growth of parallel economy.

Government of India under Prime Minister Modi has been taking special efforts to promote digitalisation and direct transfer of funds through electronic media. It is gratifying that in the last four years or so, the digitalisation of economy have forged ahead at an impressive rate and by and large , people have responded to such digitalisation exercise favourably. These days, it is seen that even small traders and even street vendors accept payment electronically by what is popularly known as google pay or payment by card.

In such conditions, Government of India has done well to take steps to withdraw Rs.2000 currency notes, amounting to more than Rs.3 lakh crore from circulation with the deadline being 30th September,2023. This positive move will certainly bring out the hoarded money by politicians and businessmen or others and dilute the black money circulation in the country to a considerable extent.

What is very important now is that having taken steps to withdraw Rs.2000 notes amounting to the value of more than Rs.3 lakh crore, Government of India should not undo the benefit by replacing the withdrawn Rs.2000 currency by printing lower denomination notes. This will undo the benefit of withdrawing the Rs.2000 currency notes.

India has to move steadily towards cash less economy which is a gradual process and it is showing healthy signs of happening now. The emergence of cashless economy is the ultimate strategy to root out political and administrative corruption in India, which lead to business corruption.

The lesser cash in currency circulation will inevitably force or persuade people to resort to money transaction for business , trade or personal purposes by digital mode.

Of course, with the withdrawal of Rs.2000 currency notes, some critics may find fault with the move ,by stating that there would be shortage of notes of lesser denomination to be exchanged for Rs.2000 currency notes, when submitted by the people to the bank. This complaint would be largely made by the black money holders with concealed cash bundles , as they would not like to use the option of depositing the Rs.2000 currency notes in their bank account.

It is necessary that Government of India should be careful in explaining the merits of the present move to withdraw Rs.2000 currency notes , so that the gullible people would not be misled by false and motivated criticisms. . It is also necessary that enlightened and knowledgeable economists should voice their views in various forums, so that a heathy and forward looking national discussions on the subject can take place, that will contribute to prepare mindset of the people in favour of cashless economy.

India’s Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party Suffers Blow in Karnataka State Elections


India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost a key election in the state of Karnataka on May 10. The opposition Indian National Congress (INC) won a decisive victory in the southern state, securing 135 seats in the 234-member legislative assembly. The BJP won 65 seats, while the Janata Dal (Secular) [JD(S)] won 19 seats.

The BJP had been in power in Karnataka, having formed the government in July 2019 under controversial circumstances. The BJP toppled a coalition of the INC and JD(S) by having legislators of the two parties defect.

The BJP conducted a high-octane campaign in the state in 2023, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his second-in-command Home Minister Amit Shah. The party resorted to its usual strategies of religious polarization. However, in the run-up to the campaign, analysts pointed out that there was deep dissatisfaction with the BJP government in Karnataka.

Newsclick analyst Subodh Varma noted that a pre-poll survey had found that “68 percent of those surveyed identified corruption, 47 percent said price rise and 34 percent said unemployment were important factors in deciding which way to vote… The survey found that among poorer sections, price rise becomes an even bigger issue with about 51 percent of respondents reporting it as a major factor.” He added that these issues, along with unemployment and the crisis faced by farmers, were “[overriding the] caste and regional divisions” in the state. 

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Crisis is also an opportunity: Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India


The Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India, Milinda Moragoda, says the Indo-Sri Lankan bilateral relationship is too important to be measured with the island nation’s relationship with China.

Speaking at a press interaction at the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia in New Delhi, Moragoda said,” We are neighbours, and we also share a similar culture, and we should not measure it with a third country like China. Defence and security issues are discussed with India and not with China.”

Moragoda said,” We are now moving from a transitional approach to a strategic relationship with India and the speciality is the trust between the two neighbours.”

“We have to get back to the growth path. Growth is the key aspect. For that, India becomes a key partner. India was our main partner last year in helping stabilisation of our economy with different instruments,” he said.

“For the revival of the economy too, India will be an important partner. We must diversify our sources of income when it comes to exports and foreign exchange earnings,” Moragoda said.

He said the Sri Lanka government’s focus now is to stabilise the economy. “Crisis is also an opportunity and our country’s President is trying to do that. We are thinking afresh,” he said.

He said his government is now focussing on reviving the crashed economy and is seeking massive investments in power generation. He even said that the capital put in by the Adani Group of India in Sri Lanka is ‘important’.

“We are now trying to stabilise the economy and we are in the process of restructuring our debt and hopefully by the end of the year, we can enter the international system with the help of the IMF (International Monetary Fund),” he said.

The envoy also suggested that the process to roll out India’s RuPay card in Sri Lanka is being taken forward.

He also said that India is a market for Sri Lankan tourism. “Though some incidents have created a problem for us, but we can definitely grow our tourism business. At the same time, we need to improve connectivity and pricing,” he added.

The Adani Group is engaged in some projects in Sri Lanka amounting to nearly $1 billion dollars. The Adani Group is building the West Container Terminal at the Colombo Port and has also got the approval to build two wind power plants in northern Sri Lanka.

“It gives us confidence that somebody is willing to invest like that,” said the High Commissioner. He said both sides will soon be signing power purchase agreements for the 500-MW wind power projects as negotiations are going on and the agreement is being finalised.

“We are hoping to sign an MoU with India soon on cable connection between the two countries for power. If we can get investment going off the northwest coast of Sri Lanka, we can hopefully look after our needs and look at future exports to India,” he said.

“Broadening our revenue lines is one of our key priorities and export of electricity could be one of the areas,” he said.

The IMF Executive Board had approved a 48-month Extended Fund Facility of about $3 billion to support the island nation’s reforms and economic policies, in March.

He said Sri Lanka is also considering creation of an oil pipeline from Sri Lanka to India.

The envoy also said it was time to think afresh on India’s long-standing demand of implementing the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution on the Tamil reconciliation issue.

1 2 3 11