Sri Lanka Guardian Essays

Are these floods in Pakistan an ‘act of God’?

Calamities are familiar to the people of Pakistan who have struggled through several catastrophic earthquakes, including those in 2005, 2013, and 2015 (to name the most damaging), as well as the horrendous floods of 2010. However, nothing could prepare the


Concept of state formation and contemporary policy issues in Sri Lanka

The starting point of the analysis in this short article is to question theconventional approach to studying a state.The conventional approach treatsthe state as a concrete, self-contained entity that has attained a final status.Much of the effort to promote goals such as economic growth, social development and democracyis based on a notion that states have been formed, and now the task is to focus on promoting these objectives.

In contrast,this article looks at states as products of historical processes, like any other social phenomena. Therefore, state formation is the more relevant term to use in studying a state.They are formed under certain specific historical conditions. They continuously undergo changes, and under certain circumstances can even totally disappear. A cursory glance at the history of the world will show this.

In addition, state formation always takes place in a global context, consisting of a system of states and global capitalism.The global system changes over time – this in turn has an impact on the state formation process of individual states. Changes in the global system are determined by actions of the more powerful players in the international system. While the capacity of smaller states to influence changes at the global level is limited, these changes have an impact on smaller states.

The earliest efforts within the Marxist tradition explained the state as a product of capitalist development. This economic reductionism was replaced by a notion of the relative autonomy of the state. This has developed further to distinguish between the logic of capital and the logic of state power. Now there are many more studies within the Marxist tradition that focuson the autonomous power of the state.

Individual states can be seen as strategic spaces. They have a degree of autonomy from other societal processesand cannot be understood by reducing them to any other feature in society. State formation involves developing mechanisms to control territory and to manage state-society relations. This takes place in a specific historical context, where certain state-society relations become more strategic in the state formation process. These strategic state-society relations can be managed either through coercion or consent. When consent overrides coercion in this process, we have states that have legitimacy in society. These states are strong. When coercion predominates, state security is given priority– but it undermines the security of individuals and groups in society.These are weak states.

A state needs resources to sustain itself and manage strategically important state-society relations. These constitute the economic security of the state.The resources for this have to be secured within global capitalism. The liberal answer to this is to promote markets and openness to global capitalism. Other ideological currents focus on various forms of state capitalism supported by ideologies of mercantilism and economic nationalism. But managing relations with global capitalism to achieve the economic security of the state is an on-going process. This means there is no guarantee that one can achieve a final status of economic security of the state. 

When a state has enough resources to manage strategic state-society relationsthrough specific policies and is able to meet other critical needs,we have a strong state. When this fails the state resorts to coercive measures, and this affects the pattern of state expenditure and the state becomes weaker.

In the post-colonial state formation of Sri Lanka there have been three strategic state-society relations. These are the relations between a centralised state and ethnic minorities; electoral politics and the political system and how they managed state- society relations; and relations between the state and the Sinhala majority in the context of the politics of capitalist transition. All three strategic state-society relations have resulted in conflicts in the post-colonial state formation of Sri Lanka

The foundation for all three were laid during British colonialism. This does not mean we can blame colonialism for all that happened during 75 years of post-colonialism. But an understanding of the colonial foundation is helpful, especially to realise how certain ideas about state formation that began during the colonial period still prevailand hamper the formation of a more legitimate state.

The period of British colonialism was an important turning pointin the history of Sri Lankan state formation. There were various forms of territorial control in the island before the British took over the island. When the British captured the Kandyan kingdom in 1815, the territory came under a single polity for the first time in several centuries. This allowed the construction of a state that formed the foundation of the post-colonial state.

The institutional structure,or what is popularly called the administrative structure, is the means by which the state controls its territory and people. It ensures political decisions made at the centre are implemented throughout the territory. The boundaries drawn to form the institutional structure are used to administer the territory. This institutional structure gets strengthened through a judicial system, structures to collect revenue, and coercive mechanisms to consolidate state power over the territory. These are major steps in the reorganisation of geographical space in state formation.

The British amalgamated the Maritime Provinces and the Kandyan kingdom in 1818. Further reorganisation of the territorial space to establish the new state took place through the recommendations of the Colebrook-Cameron Commission in 1833. A new system of spatial identities replaced what prevailed before the British took over control of the land.Spatial units were named using the points of a compass. The concepts of modern cartography became an instrument of colonialismand were used to get rid of the spatial identities in the Kandyan kingdom.

In addition to establishing the institutional power of the state, state formation involves collecting information about the population. This is also a part of the technique of state formation to control territory and manage the population. A periodic census is the foundation for this.The division of the population into identity groups is a critical aspect of the census. At the level of society identities change over time – they are historical constructs. It is not unusual for individuals or groups of individuals to have multiple identities. But when a mechanism of state formation converts these fluid categories in society into divisions that the state recognises, they not only become rigid and static, but also begin to play a role in political struggles to control the state. Race was the term first used to identify these divisions of the population. This was replaced by ethnicity, and it became a major category in the post-colonial state formation of Sri Lanka.In addition, these techniques of state formation began to identify a particular geographic space with a particular ethnic group.

A central contradiction of these techniques of state formation was that on one of the techniques created a centralised state that controlled the entire territory. But on the other side another technique not only gave a new meaning to ethnic identities, but also identified territorial units within the territory with different ethnic groups.A single identity, which was called a national identity, was supposed to transcend these contradictions. A centrally controlled state with a single national identity was a transfer of a European idea of state formation to Sri Lanka. However, the formation of this single national identity was not successful. What happened was that the identity of the Sinhala Buddhists becoming the national identity.

The notion of a state with a single identity still dominates our political discussions of state formation as if this is the only way to build a state. Questioning this fundamental assumption is an essential conditionin building a more legitimate state in a society with multiple identities.

Using elections to choose the political elite who control the state was established during British colonialism. The territorial system of electorates was preferred. This added another territorial dimension in state formation. When it came to a voting system, the first-past-the-post system of elections was chosen. The regime that came to power in 1977 replaced this with a proportional system of elections. Areas with the Sinhala majority had more influence in choosing who came to power in both electoral systems.

The very first act of defining the citizenship of the post-colonial state disenfranchised the bulk of the Indian Tamil population. According to the 1946 census they formed the numerically largest minority ethnic group. With this step it was clear that ethnicity would be a major factor in electoral politics and the political system. Such a political system could never contribute to transcending ethnic divisions socially or spatially. Research in other parts of the worldwith a long record of continuous voting, such as Western Europe, shows that electoral politics and political systems are an important factor in constructing a national political space. This never happened in Sri Lankan state formation.Instead, electoral politics and the political system produced regional political spaces with ethnic characteristics. Therefore, it is more apt to discuss election results in Sri Lanka by dividing it into ethnic political spaces rather than treating the state as a unified entity.

Even now the discussions on electoral reformdo not question these fundamentals of the electoral system that contributed to the failure of state formation. The liberal idea that society is a collection of individuals who are given a free vote still dominates. The essentialist categorisation that Sri Lanka is a democracyalso makes it difficult to undertake a historically informed discussion. Sri Lankahad democratic institutions.But politics, which focuses on how power is managed in society,has been far from democratic and peaceful.Some even forget that Sri Lanka did not have universal franchise for a long time after the bulk of the Indian Tamils were disenfranchised.  There is a need to get over these assumptions so as tobegin a discussion on electoral and democratic reforms to build a more legitimate state.

The third important strategic variable in state-society relations are relations between the state and the Sinhala majority in the context of the politics of capitalist transition.Capitalist transition within a state is a process that involves changing institutions or the ‘rules of the game’, so that markets become the primary mechanism for resource allocation. These changes must be legitimised at an ideological level. When institutions to establish markets are successful, they become ideas that seem to be natural and common sense – thereby creating a hegemony. The establishment of the hegemony of markets is not a technocratic process, but a political process. Conflicts and struggles are always a part of this. The process of capitalist transition takes place in a particular society with its own history. This means that capitalism is not some sort of model. It is shaped by political struggles and historical processes in a particular context. Finally, it takes place within global capitalism.

British colonialism was a period when there was an intensive process of capitalist transition. Political unification of the territory facilitated the expansion of colonial capitalism. This was the third process that reorganised space during British colonialism. The plantation economy that developed during British colonialism was not confined to the central part of the country, as sometimes believed. The tea industry transformed the bulk of the highlands, parts of Sabaragamuwa, and the districts of Galle and Matara. Rubber and coconut encompassed the south-west quadrant of the country. What came to be known as minor export crops were in many parts of the island.

Data in the 1946 census demonstrates several important spatial outcomes of plantation capitalism. In 1946 districts that at present constitute the Western Province, Sabaragamuwa Province, and Galle, Matara, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Kurunegala and Badulla Districts accounted for 95.1 per cent of tea acreage, 92.4 per cent of rubber acreage, and 81.2 per cent of coconut acreage. These areas also accounted for 81.2 per cent of the population. This means that at the time of independence the bulk of the population was linked to the export-oriented plantation economy. People were involved in diverse ways of earning a living such as agriculture, selling their labour, trading, fishing, etc. The notion of characterising Sri Lankaprimarily as an agrarian society was an idea that emerged later. This was supported by the dual economy thesis, Sinhala nationalism and research that focused primarily in Kandyan areas. The picture was very different in the entire wet zone where the bulk of the population lived.  

The socio-economic impact of capitalism is always unequal. Some sections of the Sinhala majority benefitted more than others from capitalist transition. In other words, although the Sinhalese were unified in ethnic terms, they were divided in class terms. In a state where the state was identified with the Sinhala majority, and a political system where the Sinhala majority were the deciding factor in who came to power through elections, the political elite who controlled the state could not ignore the distribution of unequal benefits through capitalist transition. The inequality generated by capitalist transition within the Sinhala majority could always combine with the Sinhala nationalism that legitimised the state to oppose the regime in power. The opposition to regimes could also turn into opposition to capitalism, and a general opposition to the state itself.

In order to meet this challenge, the post-colonial state developed a number of policies.

The particular spatial distribution of the population at the end of the colonial period and the impact of economic recession in the 1930s had a lot to do with specific policies that were developed. These are what are usually called ‘welfare’ policies. The use of the term welfare ignores their strategic role as a technique of state formation. This makes it easier to argue that these policies are luxuries we cannot afford.

The ability of the state to continue with these policies depends on the performance of the Sri Lankan economy within global capitalism.  Economic policies that managed relations with global capitalism varied depending on the ideological orientation of the regime in power. While one section of the political elite preferred policies that gave prominence to the private sector, markets and openness to global capitalism, another section depended to a greater degree on the state playing a bigger role in the economy. This was backed by various ideologies including economic nationalism.  

In post-colonial history there were several instances when the strategies of managing relations with the Sinhala majority in a context of capitalist transition broke down. This resulted in protests, sometimes violent challenges to the state, and state repression. We have just witnessed the latest episode of such a breakdown with familiar outcomes.This is an area that demands a new discussion on social policy with a focus on inequality.

To end this short contribution, I would like to emphasise that looking at the state as an entity that is being formed helps to identifying strategic state-society relations in state formation. This process in turn provides a framework for a more comprehensive approach for discussing policy issues that Sri Lanka is facing today.

Did Rudyard Kipling Regard India as a “White Man’s Burden”?

British felt they had a civilizing mission during colonial rule in India

During the period of European colonial rule in India, Europeans in India typically regarded many aspects of Indian culture with disdain and supported colonial rule as a beneficial “civilizing mission”. Colonial rule in India was framed as an act that was beneficial to the people of India, rather than a process of political and economic dominance by a small minority of foreigners.       Under colonial rule, many practices were outlawed, such as the practice of forcing widows to immolate themselves (known as sati) with acts being deemed idolatrous being discouraged by Evangelical missionaries, the latter of which has been claimed by some scholars to have played a large role in the developments of the modern definition of Hinduism.

Development of the definition of modern Hinduism

These claims base their assumptions on the lack of a unified Hindu identity prior to the period of colonial rule, and modern Hinduism’s unprecedented outward focus on a monotheistic Vedanta worldview. These developments have been read as the result of colonial views which discouraged aspects of Indian religions that differed significantly from Christianity. It has been noted that the prominence of the Bhagavad Gita as a primary religious text in Hindu discourse was a historical response to European criticisms of Indian culture. Europeans found that the Gita had more in common with their own Christian Bible, leading to the denouncement of Hindu practices more distantly related to monotheistic worldviews with some historians claiming that Indians began to characterize their faith as the equivalent of Christianity in belief (especially in terms of monotheism) and structure (in terms of providing an equivalent primary sacred text).       Hindu nationalism developed in the 19th century as an internalization of European ideological prominence; with local Indian elites aiming to make themselves and Indian society modern by “emulating the West”.  

The emergence of ‘neo-Hinduism”

This led to the emergence of what some have termed ‘neo-Hinduism’:   consisting of reformist rhetoric transforming Hindu tradition from above, disguised as a revivalist call to return to the traditional practices of the faith.   Reflecting the same arguments made by Christian missionaries, who argued that the more superstitious elements of Hindu practice were responsible for corrupting the potential rational philosophy of the faith (i.e. the more Christian-like sentiments).   Moving the definitions of Hindu practice away from more overt idol worshiping, reemphasizing the concept of Brahman as a monotheistic divinity, and focusing more on the figure of Krishna in Vaishnavism due to his role as a messianic type figure (more in line with European beliefs) which makes him a suitable alternative to the Christian figure of Jesus Christ

Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”

Some critics have claimed that writer Rudyard Kipling’s portrayals of Indian characters in his works supported the view that colonized people were incapable of living without the help of Europeans, describing these portrayals as racist. In his famous poem “The White Man’s Burden”, Kipling directly argues for this point by romanticizing the “civilizing mission” in non-Western countries. Jaway Syed has claimed that Kipling’s poems idolize Western culture as entirely rational and civilized, while treating non-white cultures as ‘childlike’ and ‘demonic’. Similar sentiments have been interpreted in Kipling’s other works, such as his characterization of the Second Boer War as a “white man’s war” along with his presentation of ‘whiteness’ as a morally and culturally superior trait of the West. His portrayal of Indians in his Jungle Book stories has also been criticized by Jane Hotchkiss as example of the chauvinistic infantilization of colonized peoples in popular culture. Some historians claim that Kipling’s works have contributed tto the development of a colonial mentality in the ways that the colonized people in these fictional narratives are made submissive to and dependent on their white rulers.

Indians adopted European culture called ‘Macaulay’s Children”

 Individuals of Indian descent who adopt European culture have sometimes been labeled as “Macaulay’s Children”. The term is usually used in a derogatory fashion, connoting disloyalty to India. It derives from 19th-century historian, politician, and colonial administrator Thomas Macaulay, who instituted the system of Macaulay’s, replacing Indian languages and dialects with English as the official medium of instruction in Indian educational institutions. The consequences of this educational policy can still be felt in contemporary India, where the use of English, as opposed to Hindi, still carries with it a level of superiority.   Nationalist politicians have campaigned and pushed forward policy changes to promote the official usage of Hindi in education and media over English, which was protested against in the south of India as the imposition of Hindi upon non-Hindi speakers.   

Difference between Spanish overseas territories with British India

In the overseas territories administered by the Spanish Empire, racial mixing between Spanish settlers and the indigenous peoples resulted in a prosperous union later called Mestizo. There were limitations in the racial classes only to people of African descent, mainly for being descendants of slaves under a current state of slavery. Unlike Mestizos, castizos or indigenous people who were protected by the Leyes de las Indias “to be treated like equals, as citizens of the Spanish Empire”. It was completely forbidden to enslave the indígenas under the death penalty charge.  Spanish Empire, 1824  Mestizos and other mixed raced combinations were categorized into different castas by viceroyalty administrators. This system was applied to Spanish territories in the Americas and the Philippines, where large populations of mixed raced individuals made up the increasing majority of the viceroyalty population (until the present day).  Casta painting showing couples of different races arranged hierarchically, and the resulting racial status of their children.     

These racial categories punished those with Black African or Afro-Latin. With those of European descent given privilege over these other mixtures. As a result of this system, people of African descent struggled to downplay their indigenous heritage and cultural trappings, in order to appear superficially more Spanish or native.   With these internalized prejudices individuals’ choices of clothes, occupations, and forms of religious expression.   Those of mixed racial identities who wanted to receive the institutional benefits of being Spanish (such as higher education institutions and career opportunities), could do so by suppressing their own cultures and acting with “Spanishness”.  

This mentality lead to commonplace racial forgery in Latin America, often accompanied by legitimizing oral accounts of a Spanish ancestor and a Spanish surname. Most mixed-white and white people in Latin America have Spanish surnames inherited from Spanish ancestors, while most other Latin Americans who have Spanish names and surnames acquired them through the Christianization and Hispanicization of the indigenous and African slave populations by Spanish friars.       However, most initial attempts at this were only partially successful, as Amerindian groups simply blended Catholicism with their traditional beliefs.   Syncretism between native beliefs and Christianity is still largely prevalent in Indian and Mestizo communities in Latin America.   On the other hand, the Spaniards did not impose their language to the degree they did their religion, and the Roman Catholic Church even evangelized in Quechua, Nahuatl, Guarani, etc., contributing to the expansion of these Amerindian languages and equipping them with writing systems.            

Prior to the arrival by the Spaniards (1565-1898), the Sulu Archipelago (located in southern Philippines) was a colony of the Majapahit Empire (1293–1527) based in Indonesia. The Americans were the last country to colonize the Philippines (1898–1946) and nationalists claim that it continues to act as a neo-colony of the US despite its formal independence in 1946  In the Philippines colonial mentality is most evident in the preference for Filipino mestizos (primarily those of mixed native Filipino and white ancestry, but also mixed indigenous Filipinos and Chinese, and other ethnic groups) in the entertainment industry and mass media, in which they have received extensive exposure despite constituting a small fraction of the population The Cádiz Constitution of 1812 automatically gave Spanish citizenship to all Filipinos regardless of race. The census of 1870 stated that at least one-third of the population of Luzon had partial Hispanic ancestry (from varying points of origin and ranging from Latin America to Spain).     

The combined number of all types of white mestizos or Eurasians is 3.6%, according to a genetic study by Stanford University. This is contradicted by another genetic study done by California University which stated that Filipinos possess moderate amounts of European admixture.       Evidence suggests that fair skin was a characteristic of the cloistered ladies called binukot, who were often kept indoors from a very early age. In historical epics of the Philippines, their fair skin was presented as a standard of beauty among the upper class. Some cite this as proof that the desire for light-colored skin predates overseas influences. One of the more adverse physical consequences of the idealization and acceptance of colonial mentality can be seen in the high rate of consumer demand for skin-bleaching products used by some indigenous women and a smaller percentage of indigenous men and dark-skinned mestizas and mestizos, in the Philippines. Demand in the Philippines and in some other tropical countries continues to be widespread.


         Marlow’s story in Heart of Darkness takes place in the Belgian Congo, the most notorious European colony in Africa because of the Belgian colonizers’ immense greed and brutal treatment of the native people. In its depiction of the monstrous wastefulness and casual cruelty of the colonial agents toward the African natives, Heart of Darkness reveals the utter hypocrisy of the entire colonial effort. In Europe, colonization of Africa was justified on the grounds that not only would it bring wealth to Europe, it would also civilize and educate the “savage” African natives. Heart of Darkness shows that in practice the European colonizers used the high ideals of colonization as a cover to allow them to viciously rip whatever wealth they could from Africa.      Unlike most novels that focus on the evils of colonialism, Heart of Darkness pays more attention to the damage that colonization does to the souls of white colonizers than it does to the physical death and devastation unleashed on the black natives. Though this focus on the white colonizers makes the novella somewhat unbalanced, it does allow Heart of Darkness to extend its criticism of colonialism all the way back to its corrupt source, the “civilization” of Europe.            American Imperialism    

Rise of American Imperialism

 “American imperialism” is a term that refers to the economic, military, and cultural influence of the United States internationally.           The late nineteenth century was known as the “Age of Imperialism,” a time when the United States and other major world powers rapidly expanded their territorial possessions.      American imperialism is partly based on American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is different from other countries because of its specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy.      One of the most notable instances of American imperialism was the annexation of Hawaii in 1898, which allowed the United States to gain possession and control of all ports, buildings, harbors, military equipment, and public property that had belonged to the Government of the Hawaiian Islands.      Some groups, such as the American Anti-Imperialist League, opposed imperialism on the grounds that it conflicted with the American ideal of Republicans and the “consent of the governed.”      Darwinism,    An ideology that seeks to apply biological concepts of Darwinism or evolutionary theory to sociology and politics, often under the assumption that conflict between social groups leads to social progress, as superior groups surpass inferior ones. 

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism: A belief, central to American political culture since the Revolution, that Americans have a unique mission among nations to spread freedom and democracy.     

The American Anti-Imperialist League: An organization established in the United States on June 15, 1898, to battle the American annexation of the Philippines as an insular area.     

American Imperialism: A term that refers to the economic, military, and cultural influence of the United States on other countries.      Expansion and Power      “American imperialism” is a term that refers to the economic, military, and cultural influence of the United States on other countries. First popularized during the presidency of James K. Polk, the concept of an “American Empire” was made a reality throughout the latter half of the 1800s. During this time, industrialization caused American businessmen to seek new international markets in which to sell their goods. In addition, the increasing influence of social Darwinism led to the belief that the United States was inherently responsible for bringing concepts such as industry, democracy, and Christianity to less developed “savage” societies. The combination of these attitudes and other factors led the United States toward imperialism.                 

“Ten Thousand Miles from Tip to Tip”: “Ten Thousand Miles from Tip to Tip,” refers to the extension of U.S. domination (symbolized by a bald eagle) from Puerto Rico to the Philippines. The cartoon contrasts the 1898 representation with that of the United States in 1798.     

American Exceptionalism and Alexis de Tocqeville

American imperialism is partly rooted in American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is different from other countries due to its specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy. This theory often is traced back to the word’s of 1800s French observer Alexis de Tocqueville, who concluded that the United States was a unique nation, “proceeding along a path to which no limit can be perceived.”      Pinpointing the actual beginning of American imperialism is difficult. Some historians suggest that it began with the writing of the Constitution; historian Donald W. Meinig argues that the imperial behavior of the United States dates back to at least the Louisiana Purchase. He describes this event as an, “aggressive encroachment of one people upon the territory of another, resulting in the subjugation of that people to alien rule.” Here, he is referring to the U.S. policies toward Native Americans, which he said were, “designed to remould them into a people more appropriately conformed to imperial desires.”                 

Uncle Sam teaching the world: This caricature shows Uncle Sam lecturing four children labelled “Philippines,” “Hawaii,” “Puerto Rico,” and “Cuba” in front of children holding books labeled with various U.S. states. In the background, an American Indian holds a book upside down, a Chinese boy stands at the door, and a black boy cleans a window. The blackboard reads, “The consent of the governed is a good thing in theory, but very rare in fact… the U.S. must govern its new territories with or without their consent until they can govern themselves.”  

Can a nuclear war start with the unease felt by China?



Rohan Mukherji of the London School of Economics and Political Science believes that he writes in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine (China’s status anxiety May 19 2023) of the possibility of China being singled out by the US as its preeminent enemy should not be wished away. He writes and I quote “When the balance of power in geopolitics begins to shift, rising and established powers often find themselves on a collision course known colloquially as the “Thucydides trap.” By this logic, great powers rig the international order for their own benefit; rising powers seek a growing share of those benefits, which great powers are unwilling to provide. This sets the stage for large-scale conflict over the international order itself”. Mukherji adds “The rise of Athens may have provoked fear in Sparta, but Athens’s refusal to back down was driven by status anxiety and the sense of being treated unfairly. It is true that great powers rig the international order in their favour. But their focus is as much on maintaining their privileged position as rule-makers in world politics as it is on securing material benefits. The purpose of the exclusive clubs that great powers have formed throughout history—such as the Concert of Europe, the League of Nations Executive Council, and the UN Security Council—has been to entrench their privileges while regulating the conduct of other states.”


It would be untrue that China does not want a rule-based world. China as mentioned earlier wants to sit at the table that makes the rules for the rest of the world as any rising power would want. More so with the disappearance of Western hegemony and the appearance of multipolarity China and the non-aligned nations would like to have their say on how the world should be guided. Harvard Luminary Stephen Walt in his article ( China Wants a ‘Rules-Based International Order,’ Too– March 31 2021) pointed out the difference between the US and Chinese conception of a ‘rules-based” world.


According to Stephen Walt, “The differences between the American and Chinese conceptions are relatively straightforward. The United States (generally) prefers a multilateral system (albeit one with special privileges for some states, especially itself) that is at least somewhat mindful of individual rights and certain core liberal values (democratic rule, individual freedom, rule of law, market-based economies, and so on). ..By contrast, China favours a more Westphalian conception of order, one where state sovereignty and noninterference are paramount and liberal notions of individual rights are downplayed if not entirely dismissed. This vision is no less “rules-based” than the United States.   China is also a vocal defender of multilateralism, even if its actual behaviour sometimes violates existing multilateral norms. Nonetheless, a world in which China’s preferences prevailed would be different from one in which the U.S. vision proved to be more influential.”


In our calculus, we seemed to have missed out on the most immediate global incendiary issue of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However much the US may wish to ignore Vladimir Putin’s repeated requests that Ukraine should not join either the Western bloc or the Russian side, an arrangement that would not affect Russian security interests, it would be unwise to forget that Russia remains a nuclear power and the world and that   Russia too, does not want the extermination of humanity.


In a long conversation with the British magazine The Economist in April 2023 Henry Kissinger felt that the world is on the path to great power confrontation. And what makes it more worrisome is that both sides have convinced themselves that the other represents a strategic danger. And it is a strategic danger in a world in which the decisions of each can determine the likelihood of conflict. And in such a situation it is natural to attempt to be preeminent, technologically and materially. So a situation can arise in which an issue escalates into a confrontation about the overall relationship. That is the biggest problem, at the moment. And, when there isan issue like Taiwan, in which concessions become very difficult because it involves fundamental principles, the situation becomes even more dangerous. It is believed that US government officials have a dim view of the Chinese desire for a fruitful relationship with Washington. The people loyal to XI-JINPING who crowd the different arms of the Chinese Communist Party are there not for their expertise but for their unquestionable loyalty to the leader. They do not resemble as reminisced by Henry Kissinger in one of his meetings with Mao Tse Tung. According to Kissinger’s remembrance Mao Tse Tung on one occasion called back from the cold several high-ranking military officials whose families he had destroyed and asked for their advice on a particular issue and took their advice to get out of that particular jam. This was possible Kissinger thought because of the Chinese social norms which put loyalty to the country above vengeance. Those military officials had nothing more to lose had they chosen the path of disloyalty. These days Sino-Russian entente has ‘no limits” and Vladimir Putin and Xi-Jinping are determined to prove to the developing countries that their system is better suited to deliver goods to the needy more quickly than the developed countries who accuse  China “unfairly” of debt trap though the case of Sri Lanka and refusal of Mahathir Mohammed of Chinese loan remain as examples for the world to see. As Stephen Walt perceives the issue is not the United States’ preference for a “rules-based” order and China’s alleged lack of interest in it; rather, the issue is who will determine which rules pertain where. Or as the Rand Corp.’s Michael Mazarr recently put it, “At its core, the United States and China are competing to shape the foundational global system—the essential ideas, habits, and expectations that govern international politics. It is ultimately a competition of norms, narratives, and legitimacy.”


DEUTSCHE WELLE reports (25-05-2023) on Russia, and China signing economic deals despite Western criticism. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin visited China where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as Premier Li Qiang. Xi-Jinping told the Russian Prime Minister  that China and Russia would continue to offer each other “firm support on issues concerning each other’s core interests and strengthen collaboration in multilateral arenas.”He added that the two countries should “push cooperation in various fields to a higher level” and “raise the level of economic, trade, and investment cooperation.”Mikhail Mishustin said that “relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedented high level.””They are characterized by mutual respect of each other’s interests, the desire to jointly respond to challenges, which is associated with increased turbulence in the international arena and the pattern of sensational pressure from the collective West.”


It is clear that China and Russia is not going to let the Western world get away with the system the bloc had put in place since the Yalta Conference which had gathered there to decide on the fate of post-war Germany.  President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin attended the conference. By March 1945, it had become clear that Stalin had no intention of keeping his promises regarding political freedom in Poland. Instead, Soviet troops helped squash any opposition to the provisional government based in Lublin, Poland. When elections were finally held in 1947, they predictably solidified Poland as one of the first Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe. President Harry Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, was far more suspicious of Stalin when the leaders of the Allied powers met again at the Potsdam Conference in Germany to hash out the final terms for ending World War II in Europe. But with his troops occupying much of Germany and Eastern Europe, Joseph Stalin was able to effectively ratify the concessions he won at Yalta, pressing his advantage over Truman and Churchill who was replaced mid-conference by Prime Minister Clement Atlee.In March 1946, barely a year after the Yalta Conference, Churchill delivered his famous speech declaring that an “iron curtain” had fallen across Eastern Europe, signaling a definitive end to cooperation between the Soviet Union and its Western allies, and the beginning of the Cold War.


When all these things were happening China was engaged in a civil war that raged from 1945 to 1949. Then there was the Second Japanese War(1937–45), China was effectively divided into three regions—Nationalist China under the control of the government, Communist China, and the areas occupied by Japan. Each was essentially pitted against the other two, although Chinese military forces were ostensibly allied under the banner of the United Front. By the time Japan accepted the surrender terms of the Potsdam Declaration on August 14, 1945, China had endured decades of Japanese occupation and eight years of brutal warfare. Millions had perished in combat, and many millions more had died as a result of starvation or disease. The end of World War did not mark the end of the conflict in China, however.


This brief tour of history was necessary to highlight the rise of China and the ties that bind today the Sino-Russian friendship under Vladimir Putin and Xi-Jinping and their demonstration of the superiority of an illiberal regime versus democracy preached by the wealthy nations and its attraction to the third world countries. Whether in this conflict with the US believed to be sideling Russia and making China the preeminent enemy will continue to pursue its policy contributing to China’s unease remains to be seen. It would be foolhardy to believe that just because some countries possess nuclear weapons, they have the right to exterminate humanity as it exists today

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.

Predicting Imran Khan’s Political Future

Ever since the assassination of Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan Pakistan has always been under indirect and later direct rule by the army. Global cricket legend Imran Khan’s removal from the post of Prime Minister through the parliamentary process, albeit with the tacit support of the army, has been an exception.

Imran Khan and Supreme Court Verdict

Imran Khan, hugely popular in Pakistan, has been detained first by the police and then by the Supreme Courtwhich declared his arrest by the police as unconstitutional. Last year the country’s foreign minister came to the United States to explore yet another attempt to repair the U.S.-Pakistan alliance.

Imran Khan’s Accusation of US Conspiracy to Oust Him From Prime Ministership

 Leadersin both U.S. political parties hadlargely written off Pakistan. Yet it is a major non-NATO ally, the world’s fifth-most-populous country, and a nuclear power situated strategically among China, India, Afghanistan, and Iran. After years of mutual distrust between Washington and Islamabad, analysts believe that there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the idea that either side is capable — much less willing — to do the hard work of reviving the alliance.  But the basic argument for trying again is sound. And Pakistan’sforeign ministerBilwal Bhutto Zardari, the son of two previous Pakistani leaders, believes that both nations can learn from the mistakes of the past. His father Asif Ali Zardari, head of Pakistan Peoples Party, was President of Pakistan from 2008-2013 while his mother Benazir Bhutto, the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan who led the country twicewas assassinated on December 27 2007 while engaged in the election campaign for a fresh term in Rawalpindi Liaqat Bagh , the place where the first Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated. Many years have passed by since Benazir Bhutto’s death and the dethroning of global cricket legend Imran Khan’s dismissal, albeit with the tacit support of the army, from the Prime Minister ship, surprisingly without a military coup d’état. 

Huge Popularity of Imran Khan

Despite his dismissal by Parliament Imran Khan remains hugely popular among the masses. His popularity was demonstrated by the provincial election in Punjab, though to be the home ground of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his dethroned brother and former Prime Minister  Nawaz Sharif now living in exile. The recent ruling by the Pakistan Supreme Court ruling his arrest by para-military force as unconstitutional gave further boost to his popularity. Political analysts ( RickNoak and Shaik Hussain-May 11 2023) wrote in an article that Imran Khan’s arrest was unlawful. Consequently, and I quote, “ Imran Khan’s lawyer Babar Awan said the former prime minister “is now directly in the custody of the Supreme Court of Pakistan — not in police custody” — as he awaits another court hearing set to take place Friday. The Pakistani government, which appears to be balking at a separate Supreme Court ruling on elections, could still choose to ignore the court’s decision and continue to hold Khan.

Michael Kugelman on Imran Khan

But the ruling may also give the government a way out amid escalating unrest in the country. “The state may conclude that it is best to pick its battles: fall back, release Khan, lower the political temperature for a bit, and then focus on the next steps,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.” Noak and Hussain further wrote “ Protesters’ anger is also directed against the military to an extent that has rarely been seen in Pakistan. As prime minister, Khan was widely perceived as having the military’s support, but tensions mounted after his ouster by Parliament. Khan accused the prime minister, interior minister, and an intelligence officer of having been behind an assassination attempt he narrowly survived in November, and he doubled down on those accusations in recent days. Partly as a result of Khan’s criticism, “the army is more on the defensive now than it has been for quite a few years,” said Michael Kugelman, awriter of Foreign Policy ’s weekly South Asia Briefandthe director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. The scale of the protests has also been an indication of how popular Khan remains among many voters, even one year after Parliament ousted him as prime minister. Some Khan supporters suspect the government’s and military’s ultimate goal may be to ban their party to prevent it from winning the general elections that are expected to take place later this year.”

Shahbaz Sharif’s Possible Attempts to Bar Imran Khan From Contesting The Coming Election

It is not certain that Shahbaz Sharif’s government will rest without trying to use further ammunition against Imran Khan to the extent of banning Imran Khan’s political party-Tehrik-e-Insaf from contesting the coming elections. The history of Pakistan mainly reflected illiberal trends from its independence from British rule. Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist traced the history of Pakistan and mainly the attack by the army against democratic institutions.

History of Army Interference in Pakistani Politics

Four military dictators ruled Pakistan for more than 32 years. Civilian prime ministers — 29 of them — have ruled the country for 43 years. No elected prime minister has completed a full five-year term. Three different constitutions of Pakistan were abrogated or suspended five times in the 75 years since the country achieved statehood.  Hamid Mir further included information onthe World Justice Project, a group that tracks legal systems around the world, ranks Pakistan 130 of 139 countries on the rule of law. A historical pattern of collaboration between dictators and judges has weakened democracy. On one side, Imran Khan is challenging the “neutrality” of the army, and on the other the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is pushing the courts to disqualify Khan. Both the government and opposition are fighting with state institutions. Media freedom is another casualty of the political war among power players. Pakistan is ranked 157 of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index of 2022. Pakistan fell 18 points in the ranking since 2018, when Khan took power. TV channels were blocked. Journalists were attacked, arrested, and banned. Media freedom is under threat even now that Khan has left power.Given the history of Pakistan’s political road blocs, it is difficult to chart the future of Imran Khan.

Wigneswaran points out the root cause of Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict

Many academic articles have been written about the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka. Many scholars have offered explanations in this regard. And many solutions have been proposed. There has even been a war that has claimed thousands of human lives. But decades later, the Sinhalese and the Tamils are yet to come to an agreement about a solution. The crisis does not seem to have been resolved. What is the real reason for this? This is why we need to find out if there is a problem in our understanding of the causes of the ethnic crisis. It appears Social Science academics who have commented on this have only touched the surface of this issue. Many of them have ignored the root cause of ethnic crisis in the island.

It is in this backdrop, the former Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council and the current Member of Parliament C. V. Wigneswaran, has clearly pointed out the root cause of Sri Lanka’s crisis to everyone. We should be thankful to Wigneswaran for that. But it is a tragedy that many of the things he says do not get the attention they deserve. Many Sinhalese have a habit of dismissing him as a virulent racist. It is a wrong approach.

Wigneswaran points out the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka very clearly. He states that the Tamils of the northern and eastern provinces, unlike the Muslims and plantation Tamils, “have always occupied the area now roughly covered by the Northern and Eastern Provinces. There had been continuous occupation of the North and East throughout history by the Tamil-speaking people……..In fact, their occupation extended up to Negombo in the Western Province and up to Kathirgamam in the South East. The Sinhalese have never occupied the North and East in large numbers except after 1833 when the country was brought under one administration by the British”.

He further states, “we Tamils of the North and East are conscious of our antiquity, our history, our rights to self-determination and therefore until our intrinsic rights to the right of self-determination is recognized and respected we would find it difficult to march together with the other communities, specially the Sinhalese who have usurped our history and antiquity and trying to falsify those fields of study”.

Wigneswaran claims that the Tamil history of Sri Lanka has been stolen by the Sinhalese people. If this is the case, how can reconciliation be achieved? We can all agree that theft of one’s history and identity by the other is no way to achieve any everlasting reconciliation between the two parties.

He also claims that the Sinhalese people are immersed in a sea of myths about their history. Therefore he considers teaching the true history of the country especially to the Sinhala Buddhist brothers as a service he should fulfill. Accordingly, Wigneswaran has pointed out the ‘true’ history of the Sinhalese people on several occasions. He argues “The Sinhala people have been given a wrong understanding of history based on the fiction written in Pali by a Buddhist Priest in the 5th Century AD. The author says that at the end of every stanza he was writing the fiction for the glorification of Buddhism. If he was writing history he would not have said so!”

Thus, he claims that the reason for Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem is the false history created by Sinhala historians and Buddhist monks. “The Sinhalese historians and others, especially the Buddhist clergy, have set up lots of falsities as history. They say this country is theirs. This is false. The original inhabitants of this country were Saivite Tamils. They say all Tamils were immigrants into a predominantly Sinhala Country. This is also false”.

When Tamils have been living in Sri Lanka for thousands of years speaking Tamil, a very ancient language, he says “Sinhalese came by their Sinhala language only in the 6th or 7th Century AD. That is 1300 or 1400 years ago only. There was no Sinhala Language before that time. Some historians have painted all ancient Buddhists as Sinhalese. That is because since there was Buddhism in Sri Lanka before the Sinhala language came into existence they have identified earlier era Buddhists as Sinhala Buddhists. Those who were Buddhists at that time were Tamils whom Professor Sunil Ariyaratne calls as Demala Bauddayo”.

Wigneswaran also argues that the Sinhalese have been tempted to give the Sinhala language a long history by calling the language found in ancient inscriptions as Sinhala Prakrit. So he says, “There are those who refer to Sinhala Prakrit as proof of the presence of the Sinhalese language from pre Buddhistic times. This is like saying my grandfather lived 100 years ago therefore I lived 100 years ago because I came from my grandfather! There was no Sinhala language until 1300 or 1400 years from now. So how could you refer to Sinhala Prakrit of a by- gone age 2000 years or more ago? The Sinhala language was not even contemplated at that time. The truth would be that those words of ancient times (Prakrit) may have been Pali or Tamil or other dialects in Sri Lanka which later came to make up the Sinhala Language. Sinhala is a conglomeration of languages. At least 40% of the Sinhala words are Tamil. Its alphabet formation is similar to Tamil and South Indian Languages”.

According to Wigneswaran, and Tamil people in general, there was no Sinhala language in the island until around the 7th century and no Sinhalese people lived then. This island was inhabited by the Tamil speaking Shiva devotees who were the first settlers of Ceylon. It was these Tamil speaking Shiva devotees who first encountered the Buddhist missionaries sent by Asoka. Therefore he claims that, Devanam Piya Thissa mentioned in Mahavamsa, who reigned in Sri Lanka at the time when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, was actually a Tamil Siva devotee king, named Devanam-Piya-Theesan.

Then his argument is that, the Tamils who inhabited the island built the Rajarata civilization and left ancient stone inscriptions all over the country. According to his theory, only a part of the Shiva devotee Tamils embraced Buddhism, and the Sinhala language was created from the combination of Tamil, Pali and Prakrit languages. And he says that, only after a few centuries had gone by, after this process, Sinhalese emerged in Sri Lanka. If this is the version of history believed by Wigneswaran and shared by the Tamil society in general, then one can imagine their anger at the supposed theft of their history.

Moreover, he claims that Sri Lanka’s Tamil history goes back a long way. He says that even before the island was geographically separated from the Indian subcontinent, Tamils were living in this country. Speaking to the Ceylon Today newspaper in 2017, he said “According to S.U. Deraniyagala Sri Lanka which had been part of the land mass of the Indian subcontinent became an island about 7,000 years ago when it physically separated from Southern India. On that basis the populations of South India and Sri Lanka were of the same ethnic stock prior to and after separation”.

Wigneswaran also comments on a huge continent of Lemuria, which was the homeland of the Tamil speaking people, and disappeared under the sea. He argued that the island of Ceylon is a remnant of the continent of Lemuria. He claims that the Tamils living in the North and East “could trace their ancestry to the inhabitants of the Continent of Lemuria which covered the greater part of the present Indian Ocean in times gone by. The Lemuria Continent which was gobbled up by the Indian Ocean extended from Western Australia to Eastern Africa joining up with the Indian subcontinent. Therefore the present Tamils of the North and East feel themselves to be the descendants of a long line of Tamil speaking people who have been occupying the Northern and Eastern regions continuously from pre Buddhistic times. Recently it has been accepted that Tamil is the oldest living language in the world”.

He also claims that the people of the megalithic era who came to the island with the iron culture were also Tamil speaking Dravidians. Therefore, he is of the opinion that the evidence of an ancient Tamil civilization can be found in the megalithic monuments found scattered across the island. We have to remember, that Tamil Historian, Prof. S. Pathmanathan made a similar remark to Daily Mirror in 2017 (Interview with Kelum Bandara, Tamils have valid claim for homeland Prof. Pathmanathan, 29 March 2017, Daily Mirror). According to Wigneswaran’s argument, there was a very ancient Tamil history in Ceylon. He directly said that it is more appropriate to treat Sri Lanka as a Tamil Shiva state.

Many Sinhalese consider Wigneswaran a racist and tend to ignore his views. But no matter how problematic it is, he points to the viewpoint prevailing in the Tamil society in general about the history of Sri Lanka. This viewpoint or ideology is not limited to Wigneswaran or a fringe of extreme Tamil nationalists. And he was not the first to narrate a Tamil centric History of Sri Lanka in this way. This Tamil viewpoint of the island’s history has been a prominent feature in the comments made by people belonging to all strata of Tamil society regarding the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka.

For example, Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, Rajasingham Narendran, Dr. Murugar Gunasingham, D. B. S. Jayaraj, Prof. K. Sivathamby, Prof. A. Velupillai have also advocated a Tamil-centric history of Sri Lanka. Tamil National Alliance Member of Parliament, A. Sumanthiran who served as the Vice-Chairman of the Sri Lanka Methodist Council, recently installed a Shiva lingam at the Vedukkannari Buddhist archaeological site. How can we understand the rationale behind such a controversial move?

A founding member of the Federal Party, V. Navaratnam has strongly stood for a Tamil centric History of Sri Lanka and says that it is the most important ideology that drives Tamil nationalist politics in Sri Lanka. And historian S. K. Sittarampalam who once functioned as the vice-president of the Ilangkai Thamizh Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), the main constituent party of the TNA, has spoken about a Tamil-centric history of Sri Lanka at several instances. Another Tamil political leader who strongly advocated this is C. Sunderalingam.
It was S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the founder of the Federal Party, who turned this Tamil Centric history of Sri Lanka into a political concept by forming ‘Tamil Homeland Concept’. It is this concept that drives Tamil politics in Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, once said, that the person who lit the flame of Tamil nationalism in his mind, is none other than, his tutor Venugopal Master, a disciple of Sundaralingam and Navaratnam, fierce proponents of Tamil Centric History. Since the 1950s, S. J. Gunasingham, a teacher who taught history in Tamil medium schools, had advocated a Tamil-centric history of Sri Lanka and always accused the Sinhalese of distorting the history of the island. Therefore Tamil-centric history of SL is not something Wigneswaran invented or limited to him.

When reading Wigneswaran’s comments, one is reminded of the debate between J. L. Devananda and Bandu de Silva regarding the history of Sri Lanka in 2011 (Sri Lanka Guardian website). There is no difference between the views expressed by Devananda and those of Wigneswaran. He does not belong to an extreme racist fringe of the Tamil society, but a person who very clearly points out the Tamil viewpoint about the history of this country. He also warned in 2014 that if Sri Lanka’s history is not corrected, there may even be a war again. Accordingly, he shows us, the seriousness of the dispute between the Sinhalese and Tamils, regarding the history of Sri Lanka.

Tamil journalist T. Sabharatnam once said, that the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has arisen due to the controversy over the history of the island. And Professor K. Sivathamby once said “Both [Sinhalas and Tamils] differ on the extent of the Tamil element of Sri Lanka. Sinhala viewpoint changes from zero to 50% where Sinhala nationalists claim Sri Lanka has zero Tamil element and Marxists/ federalists or Tamil sympathizers claim it is equal to 50% which is as same as the Sinhalese. It can be said the general view of the Sinhala public is Tamil element in Sri Lankan heritage is more than zero but definitely less than 50%. The Tamil viewpoint is Tamil element in Sri Lankan heritage is from 50% to close to 100% by giving a Tamil origin to the Sinhalese people. The crisis in Sri Lanka stems from this disagreement on the extent of Tamilness in the Sri Lankan heritage.” According to Sivathamby, the issue of Tamilness in the island is the root cause of the communal crisis.

As it is evident from the Tamil comments, the Sinhalese and Tamil conflict over the island’s history has created a heated debate over the nature of the post-colonial Sri Lankan state. Disputes over the country’s official language, settlement of farming communities in the Eastern Province, the constitution, the national flag and as shown recently even the logo of the Department of Archeology, have arisen from this controversy about the history of Sri Lanka. Therefore, in order to end the Sinhala and Tamil ethnic crisis, this controversy about the island’s history must be resolved.

It should be noted that although some of the NGOs supported by foreign funds have done research on the ethnic crisis, NONE have paid attention to the main controversy between the two parties, which is the controversy over history. No wonder their attempts at peace have failed! In such a scenario, we should thank Wigneswaran for pointing at the real root cause of the conflict.

Views expressed are personal

Can the Global South Build a New World Information and Communication Order?

It is remarkable how the media in a select few countries is able to set the record on matters around the world. The European and North American countries enjoy a near-global monopoly over information, their media houses vested with a credibility and authority inherited from their status during colonial times (BBC, for instance) as well as their command of the neocolonial structure of our times (CNN, for instance). In the 1950s, the post-colonial nations identified the West’s monopoly over media and information and sought to ‘promote the free flow of ideas by word and by image’, as the 1945 Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) put it.

As part of the Non-Aligned Movement, the countries and regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America developed their own national and regional news institutions: in 1958, a UNESCO seminar held in Quito (Ecuador) led to the establishment of a regional school to train journalists and communications professionals in 1960 known as the International Centre of Advanced Communication Studies for Latin America (CIESPAL); in 1961, a meeting held in Bangkok created the Organisation of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA); and in 1963, a conference held in Tunis created the Union of African News Agencies (UANA). These agencies tried to amplify the voices of the Third World through their own media, but also – unsuccessfully – within the media houses of the West. Alongside these efforts, at the UNESCO General Conference of 1972, Soviet Union and UNESCO experts from more than a dozen countries put forward a resolution entitled the ‘Declaration of Guiding Principles for the Use of Satellite Broadcasting for the Free Flow of Information, the Spread of Education, and Greater Cultural Exchange’, which called for nations and peoples to have the right to determine what information is broadcasted in their countries. Like other such efforts, it was opposed by Western states, with the United States at its helm. Although conference after conference, from Bangkok to Santiago, took the issue of the democratisation of the press seriously, this opposition meant that little advancement was possible.

In the 1970s and 1980s, these efforts came together in the movement to build the New World Information and Communication Order to address the global imbalances in this sphere between developed and developing countries. This idea was influential on UNESCO’s International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, or MacBride Commission, established in 1977 and chaired by the Irish politician and Nobel laureate Seán MacBride, which produced an important, but little-read, report on the topic (Many Voices, One World, 1980). In 1984, the United States withdrew from UNESCO in response to these initiatives. The privatisation of the media in the 1980s ultimately killed off any attempt by the Third World to create sovereign media networks – even where these networks were anti-communist (as with the Asia-Pacific News Network, established in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1981).

However, in recent years, this dream of the free flow of information has been revived by movements of the Global South, which have been frustrated by the near-total absence of their views in international debates and by the imposition of a narrow, foreign worldview on their countries about the dilemmas that they face (war and hunger, for instance). As part of this revival, hundreds of editors and journalists from the Global South gathered in Shanghai (China) in early May for the Global South International Communication Forum. At the close of two days of intense debate, the participants drafted and voted on a Shanghai Consensus, which can be read in full below.

Promoting the Construction of a Twenty-First-Century New World Information and Communication Order

In the 1970s, as part of the process by the Non-Aligned Movement to establish the New International Economic Order, the states of the Global South along with UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) attempted to establish the New World Information and Communication Order. This attempt was destroyed by the rise of neoliberal hegemony during the 1980s. The wave of neoliberal globalisation accelerated due to the Third World debt crisis and the demise of the Soviet Union. The West established a ‘rules-based international order’ to mask its neocolonial structures and imperialist actions. Samir Amin argued that the neocolonial structure is built on ‘five controls’: over finance, natural resources, science and technology, weapons of mass destruction, and information.

Today, although some of these monopolies have loosened, the unequal structure of information and communication has not only remained unchanged but has also become more severe. The dominant theoretical paradigm on information production and communication worldwide remains Western-centric, and the Global South’s academia and media lack mechanisms to generate ideas and a framework that goes beyond the Western-centric perspective.

We note the prevalence of neocolonial structures, in particular in the media, which are controlled by the West. This media is unable to articulate the challenges faced by the world’s people or effectively communicate and discuss feasible development strategies, in particular for the Global South.

US imperialists and their allies weaponise the media, launching information wars against countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. If the Global South tries to put peace and development on the agenda, the West answers with war and debt. In the hands of Western media monopolies, the communications order is not used to promote world peace, but to exacerbate human division and the risk of war.

US imperialists and their allies use media hegemony to distort the beautiful concepts of democracy, freedom, and human rights. They attack other countries under the pretext of democracy, freedom, and human rights while remaining silent about their own trampling of democracy, deprivation of freedom, and human rights.

Professor Lyu Xingyu, dean of the International Communication Research Institute of East China Normal University, gives the closing remarks of the Global South International Communication Forum, 5 May 2023. Credit: International Communication Research Institute of East China Normal University

Digital technologies such as the internet, big data, and artificial intelligence, which should serve human welfare, are used by a few Western media giants and monopoly platforms to dominate the production and dissemination of information and to block voices that differ from their claims. Given these circumstances, we believe that it is essential for intellectuals and communications professionals from and sympathetic to the Global South to revive the spirit of the 1955 Bandung Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement (established in 1961), respond to the Global Civilisation Initiative (2023), and establish international solidarity through communications theory and practice.

We believe that it is essential for intellectuals from and sympathetic to the Global South to promote the theoretical syntheses and academic production of the Global South (especially in the arenas of history and development), actively engage in academic exchanges and collaboration, and form a communications theory from the perspective of the Global South.

We believe that it is essential for progressive media from and sympathetic to the Global South to form a distributed and diversified content production and dissemination network, share content and media experiences, and establish a united international communications front against imperialism and neocolonialism to advocate for peace and development.

We believe that it is essential for the Global South International Communication Forum to be held annually in order to build a diverse and multilateral network and platform for dialogue and exchange among intellectuals and communications professionals. This network and platform will serve as a basis for various forms of collaboration with governments, universities, think tanks, media, and other institutions.

The historical mission of the New World Information and Communication Order has not been fulfilled, nor has the spirit behind it been eradicated. Anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism are still the consensus of the new Non-Aligned Movement. Let us work together, based on this foundation, to promote the construction of a twenty-first-century New World Information and Communication Order to benefit humanity.

We, at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, are in broad agreement with the need to further the New World Information and Communication Order and revive the dream of the free flow of ideas. This endeavour is built upon efforts of the past, such as the Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool, formed by the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug on 20 January 1975, which brought together eleven news agencies. In its first year of operation, the agencies shared 3,500 stories; a decade later, there were sixty-eight news agencies in the network. Though the Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool is now extinct, the idea behind it remains vital. The recent conference in Shanghai is part of the new conversation to build new pools, new networks, and new media, anchored organisations such as Peoples Dispatch and like-minded media projects.

Vijay Prashad, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, gives the keynote address, entitled ‘History Has Not Ended: The Three Battles of Our Time’, 4 May 2023. Credit: International Communication Research Institute of East China Normal University

Navigating the Triangular Ties: India, China, and the United States


Despite the best efforts by the US to influence India to bring the country within its orbit of influence, it is unlikely that India will forsake its deep-rooted friendship with Russia. India is unlikely to forget repeated vetoes by the Soviet Union during the Bangladesh liberation war. The History of Indo-Russian Friendship is deep and spans many decades. Besides the basis of the relationship suits the strategic needs of both.


In a recent article in the Foreign Affairs magazine, Ashley Tellis( May 1 2023) pointed out that during the Bush and Obama administrations, U.S. ambitions centered largely on helping build India’s power in order to prevent China from dominating Asia. As U.S.-China relations steadily deteriorated during the Trump administration—when Sino-Indian relations hit rock bottom as well—Washington began to entertain the more expansive notion that its support for New Delhi would gradually induce India to play a greater military role in containing China’s growing power. There are reasons to believe it will not. One must also remember that during the UN-sponsored vote to criticize the Russian invasion of Ukraine India was one of the countries that abstained to criticize the Russian invasion. India took the position that the issue should be settled without further spilling of bloodshed.


BBC in its report of 3rd March 2022 stated that India had to walk a diplomatic tightrope over Ukraine as it tried to balance its ties with Moscow and the West. Delhi’s first statement in the UN Security Council (UNSC) did not name any country directly but it said it regretted that calls from the international community to give diplomacy and dialogue a chance had not been heeded.It, however, stopped short of criticizing Russia. And before the UNSC voted on a draft UN resolution to condemn the invasion, Delhi faced calls from Russia, the US, and Ukraine “to do the right thing”. Ukraine and Russia even issued public appeals for Delhi to take a clear stand. India chose to abstain from the vote but a careful reading of its statement suggests that it did go a step further and indirectly asked Moscow to respect international law. India talked about the importance of “the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states”, adding that “all member states need to honor these principles in finding a constructive way forward”. Reuter’s on September 28 2022 reported that India was articulating its position against the Ukraine war more robustly to counter criticism that it is soft on Russia, but it still has not held Moscow responsible for the invasion and will not alter its policy on importing cheap Russian oil and coal.

In their first in-person meeting since the Feb. 24 invasion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told President Vladimir Putin that “today’s era is not an era of war ” – the clearest position New Delhi has taken on the conflict. India’s foreign minister followed up at the U.N. Security Council, describing the trajectory of the Ukraine war as “very concerning” and the risk of a nuclear escalation as of “particular anxiety”.New Delhi’s shift, even though nuanced, reflected concern about the growing economic costs of the conflict and how it would affect India. Russia’s first mobilization of troops since World War Two marks a major escalation of the conflict that has thrown markets into turmoil and threatens a global recession. Moreover, India is worried the war is pushing Russia closer to China, which has fraught relations with New Delhi.   India also hopes its more robust approach would help it meet criticism by Western allies that it is too close to Moscow.

US National Security Advisor and European Commission On Trade Relations With China 

Washington Post(05-01-23)  reported that the US National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan acknowledged the fact that, despite the growing tensions and confrontation with China, trade between the two countries remains robust and reached record levels last year. And he echoed the rhetoric of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has spoken of “de-risking” Europe’s supply chains from overexposure to China rather than fully “decoupling” from what, by some indicators, is already the world’s largest economy. The United States’ moves to curb trade with China in goods that could boost Beijing’s artificial intelligence and tech prowess are, in Sullivan’s framing, an exception rather than the norm. The world has to be aware of the Sino-Russian entente versus democracy practised mostly by the Western powers and also by emerging powers like India. The Sino-Russian compact would like to demonstrate that an illiberal system can deliver essential goods to the needy far more quickly than liberal democracies can. China has attracted many developing countries through its Road and Bridge Initiative.

Xi-Jinping and The Belt & Road Initiative Of China

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, known within China as the One Belt One Road or OBOR for short)is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries and international organizations. It is considered a centerpiece of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s foreign policy.  The BRI forms a central component of Xi’s “Major Country Diplomacy” strategy, which calls for China to assume a greater leadership role in global affairs in accordance with its rising power and status. It has been compared to the American Marshall Plan. As of January 2023, 151 countries were listed as having signed up to the BRI. The participating countries include almost 75% of the world’s population and account for more than half of the world’s GDP. The Chinese government calls the initiative “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future.”The project has a target completion date of 2049, which will coincide with the centennial of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s founding. According to British consultants,  BRI is likely to increase the world GDP by $7.1 trillion per annum by 2040, and that benefits will be “widespread” as improved infrastructure reduces “frictions that hold back world trade”.

Supporters praise the BRI for its potential to boost the global GDP, particularly in developing countries. However, there has also been criticism over human rights violations and environmental impact, as well as concerns about debt-trap diplomacy. The Belt and Road Initiative addresses an “infrastructure gap” and thus has the potential to accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific, Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe. A report from the World Pension Council estimates that Asia, excluding China, requires up to US$900 billion of infrastructure investments per year over the next decade, mostly in debt instruments, 50% above current infrastructure spending rates. 

The gaping need for long-term capital explains why many Asian and Eastern European heads of state “gladly expressed their interest to join this new international financial institution focusing solely on ‘real assets’ and infrastructure-driven economic growth”.(WIKIPEDIA).  Already, some estimates list the Belt and Road Initiative as one of the largest infrastructures and investment projects in history, covering more than 68 countries, including 65% of the world’s population and 40% of the global gross domestic product as of 2017.  Development of the Renminbi as a currency of international transactions, development of the infrastructures of Asian countries, strengthening diplomatic relations whilst reducing dependency on the US and creating new markets for Chinese products, exporting surplus industrial capacity, and integrating commodities-rich countries more closely into the Chinese economy are all objectives of the BRI.While some countries, especially the United States, view the project critically because of possible Chinese influence, others point to the creation of a new global growth engine by connecting and moving Asia, Europe, and Africa closer together.

In the maritime silk road, which is already the route for more than half of all containers in the world, Deepwater ports are being expanded, logistical hubs are being built and new traffic routes are being created in the hinterland. The maritime silk road runs with its connections from the Chinese coast to the south, linking Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta.  All in all, the ship connections for container transports between Asia and Europe will be reorganized. Experts have compared the initiative to the post-World War II Marshall Plan.

Despite the apprehension expressed by e.g. Donald Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence warning developing countries of the debt trap by China many of these countries have embraced Chinese offer mainly because they lack funds for infrastructural development which they need badly. In short, the fear of a debt trap or not many developing countries are expected to sign up with China for the immediate gain they will receive through this alliance. 

Tawheed the essence of Islam, Terrorism essence of the wicked, incorrigible devil

Four years have passed since the calamitous Easter Sunday explosion that took place in April of 2019. A bloody incident that devoured the lives of 270 innocent, unsuspecting people, scores injured some recuperating to this very day. One of the many dark days this small island nation had endured in its brief chequered history.  

Sri Lanka considered the pearl of the Indian Ocean, finding its waters muddied, dirtied and constantly facing turbulence. Its pearls removed and stashed in healthier and more secure waters, its people rendered impecunious by a bunch of charlatans not fit to even to run a bulath-kade leave alone a country, its minority made pawns for political ascendancy of a select few, finally its youth in a state of constant frustration, agitation and dissatisfaction, perfect fodder for violence, disorder and even terrorism.

On that fateful day in April 2019 secularly educated Muslim youth sans any worthwhile religious credentials coaxed by their guru decided to propel themselves to Al Jannah (Paradise) and enjoy its multiple bliss before their due time. This is where the malaise lies, misguided youth with ignorance written all over them, youth who disconnected themselves from the major scholars instead salivated behind imposters and criminals in search of beneficial knowledge. They resorted to violence and they perished.

The noble scholar of Islam Sa’lih al-Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy on him) said “I believe that there is no excuse for one who commits this during our time because it is an ill-famed, modern-day form of suicide that’s become widespread among people. As such, it is incumbent upon every person to ask the people of knowledge regarding such acts so that correct guidance may be distinguished from sin. It is amazing that these people even kill themselves (along with others) when Allah has clearly forbidden that, saying: “And do not kill yourselves. Indeed, Allah is merciful to you all”. [Al Quran 4:29]

At the outset this writer wishes to express his sincere gratitude to his Lord Almighty (Allah) for not having being tried with misguidance and ignorance. Instead being conferred with opportunities to learn this precious religion from major scholars and their students, those firmly grounded upon the manifest Haqq (Truth).

Knowledge essentially vanquishes ignorance. Why am I even mentioning this? The one well aware of his religion will not even get remotely involved in any kind of murderous pursuits as witnessed on that fateful day.

Another victim of this bloody day though not officially acknowledged by mainstream media but extensively demonized and disparaged was the pure, pristine creed of the Muslims i.e. Tawheed – this is the very foundation of Islam. Tawheed met its harshest challenge in the soils of Sri Lanka, its own observers and followers acted contrary to its true tenets.

There is no Islam without Tawheed and there is no Tawheed without Islam. This fundamentally underlines the importance of this significant area of Knowledge. Almighty God (Allah) taught his final Messenger (peace be upon him) in Makkah for thirteen long years, nothing but Tawheed was taught in these formative years. And today we see foolish youth destroy it in just one day.

A bunch of untaught, completely misguided terrorists misappropriating this sacrosanct term Muslims from the earliest time of Islam paid special devotion to. The media went on a spree to savagely tarnish this creedal nomenclature. It was a Jamaath (congregation or group) who had initiated and orchestrated this project with substantial help from various quarters. This had become patently clear from evidence that had surfaced thus far. The bottom-line is that the religion of Islam and its core belief suffered a huge dent. These kinds of incidents necessarily cause a lot of pain to the scholarly community wherever it takes place.

Tawheed (the creed of  Absolute Islamic Monotheism, singling out Allah alone in all worship). A deluded, disillusioned and depraved extremist group arrogates a pernicious methodology and unleashes terror on an unsuspecting populace. Terrorism constitutes the very antithesis of Tawheed. Height of ignorance that reeks to high heavens.

Tawheed a term essentially integral to Islam and all its prophets, namely Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad (peace be upon all of them). A term loved and observed with endless devotion and invocation by approximately two billion faithful. A term for which God Almighty (Allah) created the seven heavens, the seven earths and everything within it. 

Tawheed a term amongst many which terrorists and extremists have misused, abused and misquoted sans proper knowledge, proper concern, proper insight, proper understanding or wisdom.

Tawheed a term amongst many with which extremists deceive, distort and debase and prey on the innocent and unsuspecting. 

The greatest of all that Allah commanded upon all His creation is Tawheed.  And what is Tawheed? It is that you affirm that Allah is The Creator, The Provider, The Giver of life, The Giver of death etc.Tawheedis to single out Allah with worship, because Allah said: “And I did not create the Jinn and Mankind except to worship Me. [Al Quran 51:56]. And the scholars of tafseer said: Worship Me – is to single out Allah (with all worship).

The concept of Tawheed is divine but attaching a Jamaath (group or congregation)  is a religious innovation. The Scholars of Islam have promulgated its meaning in the clearest of ways. Suffixing a group to a core belief necessarily superfluous, not a practice of the early Muslims. 

Violent groups call themselves many things either oblivious or ignorant to real consequences. When a Christian group calls itself Lord’s Army, the two have to be separated to preserve the essence and textual purity of the spirit of the scripture. When another group calls itself the Buddhist Force, the same has to be done. All of these groups in almost all the cases made political pawns. Same way Tawheed and Jamaath have to be separated. If this is not understood the religion and their faithful will be placed in the crossfire.

The intelligence community of Sri Lanka if necessary other communities of the world must note down the following facts about misguided Muslim youth gravitating towards violence and terrorism, this is rooted in a specific prophecy of the final Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent to all mankind before the hour.

The companion  Ali ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah, (peace and blessings be upon him), said, “In the last days, there will appear young people with foolish dreams. They will say the best of words, but they will go out of Islam just as an arrow goes through its game. Their faith will not go beyond their throats.”Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 4770, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1066. Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi (authenticity agreed upon) according to Al-Bukhari and Muslim

Words uttered over 1400 years ago and realized with immaculate precision. Muslims truly perplexed and struggling to understand how people can murder in the Name of their Lord. It is easy to say that these are crazy people, or had a troubled upbringing or paid by others to do this to make Muslims in general look bad or be a catalyst for imperial invasion of lands populated primarily by Muslims, or using such malleable youth to further political, economic goals of individuals (candidates aspiring for political office blaming a vulnerable section) and vested groups or people pretending to be Muslim to make us look bad. 

The reality is that those of us who study the sacred text know that these sinful, corrupt, murdering renegades are found, within our societies and communities. Their emerging pattern and behavior was witnessed by the  noble Prophet (peace be upon him) and their offshoots and variants were pursued and fought after by his companions. This

 is a murderous ideology that masquerades as sincere love for Islam, Islamic leadership and sympathy to everything Islamic. However, when you listen to the rhetoric and cut through the calls to emotional reactionism you see it as being perverted and a misconstrued understanding of Islam and its maqasid (objectives). They speak a word that resembles the truth but intend by it falsehood.

Here are some of the signs that are clearly visible to those who know the danger signs. Following are some of the signs of extremists collected from the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the warnings of his companions.

They will be young in age. The companion Ali Ibn Abee Thalib said I heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) saying, “In the last days (of the world) there will appear young people with foolish thoughts and ideas.” (Al-Bukhari 5057). This may seem arbitrary. Rather it is a very important statement. The Kibaar (Major/Elder Scholars) are the noble conveyors of knowledge and they say: When you see a group of people huddled around young individuals with little positions of trust, responsibility and life experience then know that if they agree on something that others around them far and wide dispute, then these foolish youngsters are to be turned away from. Although they may sound eloquent and sincere, their understanding is immature and baseless.

When scholars, from all sections of the Islamic World, condemn an action, then that is the truth of the matter and you fall in line and turn away from the youngsters. If you have major scholars from every corner of the world denouncing criminality and the renegades, then the few youthful voices are to be ignored. That is the way of the main stream of Muslims – Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah.

Angry and foolish. The Prophet (peace be upon him)  described their demeanor as harsh, volatile and prone to impudence. They speak before thinking, contradict without prior learning and assume the understanding they have is singularly the truth and those who oppose it, by necessity, must follow them or their way to find salvation.
It is a hallmark of extremism that the cause they champion is just, but their anger over it is beyond the limits of the law and morality. It is for this reason that the killing of 12 people for example can be seemingly be justified by their anger over the ridicule of the Prophet (peace be upon him) which we all are angered by. However our anger is channeled in legitimate means, not murder. So anger and hasty foolish action underpinned by immaturity become a consistent trait in them.


Misinterpretation of the Quran. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “They will recite Quran but it will not go any further than their throats.” (Muslim 1066). And he the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The will recite the Book of Allah fluently, but it will not go any further than their throats.” (Muslim 1064). Slogans, chants, etc are all emotional outbursts that do not provide  clarity on what is meant to reside in the heart. The Quran teaches an overwhelming message of Love, fidelity, Compassion and peace. This is all missed by those who focus on one aspect of faithfulness.

Eloquent in speech. The companion  Ali ibn Abee Talib narrated that I heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) saying: “There will emerge some people from my Ummah who will recite the Quran, your recitation would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your prayer would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your fasting would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs.” (Muslim 1066).The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “There will be people who will speak well but act badly.” (Sahih Abu Dawud, Albani 4765). Its difficult arguing with an extremist. They are passionate and who can deny that the ummah is suffering. They are usually prepared with vague references of incidents to justify atrocity they support. If you condemn a crime they say what about the crimes done to us. If you condemn the killing of innocents, they say what about the drones. All this was witnessed with the killing of the innocent.

Arrogant and boastful. Companion  Anas ibn Malik  narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him)  said to me:“… the people will be amazed by them and they will be proud of themselves, and they will go out of the religion (discard Islam) as an arrow goes out through the game.” (Musnad Ahmad). When they see others struggling to become better Muslims, they are harsh in their condemnation and feel and display a sense of elitism. They feel exclusive and better than others and show it in the way they talk, walk and act. Labeling others with disbelief and hypocrisy is common and easily pronounced, without consequence of what that implies.

Abundant in worship, the companion Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him)  narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to me: “There will be among you a people who will struggle in worship of Allah, … and they will go out of the religion (discard Islam) as an arrow goes out through the game.” (Musnad Ahmad). Ali Ibn Abee Talib  narrated that I heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) saying: “There will emerge some people from my Ummah who will recite the Quran, your recitation would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your prayer would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your fasting would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs.” (Muslim 1066).

The fact that these young, immature, foolish people are sincere is not in doubt. They love God (Allah) and have a desire to give victory to faith. They believe in what they are doing. The tragedy is that although they strive harder they do not connect to its true meaning. It remains on the tongue and never touches the heart and woefully violates the methodology. It does not pass their throats. They do not understand the overarching meaning of the text but focus more on the one-liners. This leads them to consistent misinterpretation of the divine text. 

Passing out fatwa’s of disbelief against Muslims and considering their blood as lawful

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “They will kill the Muslims.” (Al-Bukhari 7432).It is truly amazing to see that those who plea love for Islam kill Muslims more than kill others. Bombs in market places, kidnappings, storming schools, shooting those who oppose their methodology. Here are a few of their courageous acts to defend Islam and Muslims. In Yemen, Al Qaidah attacked a hospital killing everyone. In Peshawar, they stormed a school killing 146 children. Bombings of mosques of other sects and arbitrary claiming the disbelief of those who disagree with them. 

Slandering scholars. These groups are notorious for slandering the noble scholars, when you mention ulama / scholars, they are labeled as Scholars for dollars, petro scholars, scholars of fiqh not Jihad…etc. They know very well their own deception and ticks will not work with them hence they spew a lot of adverse adjectives at them. They’re successful most of the time at impressing even convincing ordinary folk but not the scholars.

Who is responsible for this kind of ignorance which leads to extremism amongst Muslim youth not just in Sri Lanka but the world over. Three categories of people can be named. Parents especially the father, extended family and peers and finally the Ulamah / scholars – Jamiyathul Ulamah they are included in this category.

The primary responsibility falls on the parents. When the child reaches the age of seven the child is to be taught the foundations of the religion including Salah (prayer). The foundation includes Tawheed. If one is to break this down it includes the following:

(a) Tawheed ar-Ruboobiyah (Tawheed of Lordship),

(b) Tawheed al-Uloohiyah (Tawheed of Worship),

(c) Tawheed al-Asmaa was Sifat (Tawheed of the Names & Attributes of Allah).

First and foremost parents must commit themselves to acquiring this knowledge themselves before they embark upon teaching it to their children.

The second category is the extended family and peers category. A healthy family is where there is a tradition of knowledge. Where the grandfather is knowledgeable, the father is knowledgeable and so are the children. This is a common phenomenon in the Muslim world, this trend as a resuly permeates within the society until it becomes a norm in the neighborhood and the village.

Finally the indispensable responsibility of the Jamiyathul Ulamah, this cannot be discounted under any circumstance. Also they cannot shun their responsibility. If they are a community of scholars / theologians as the name implies all of them should make it their priority to teach Tawheed to their people, the correct Tawheed, the authentic Tawheed. Engaging in other activities or other businesses is uncalled for and unnecessary. If their own knowledge is lacking they must ensure that they connect with the major scholars of the world and upgrade themselves.

There are no short cuts to this or other alternatives available. Light vanquishes darkness same way knowledge eliminates ignorance.

Views expressed in this essay are the author’s own

The first Global Buddhist Summit and the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, based in Dharamsala in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India, flew to New Delhi to attend the two-day Global Buddhist Summit held in Hotel Ashok there on April 20 and 21, 2023.  The event was the first of its kind. This inaugural Global Buddhist Summit was organized by the Union Ministry of Culture under the auspices of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in collaboration with the International Buddhist Confederation, an NGO headquartered in New Delhi where it was formed in 2011. Delegates from nearly thirty countries including Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka participated. Among them were prominent scholars, leading members of the Sangha, Dhamma practitioners, and Buddhist monks. The theme of the conference was: ‘Responses to Contemporary Challenges: Philosophy to Praxis.’

Prime Minister Modi, in his opening speech on the first day of the summit, said that Buddhism is the biggest strength on earth today (for resolving the many issues – conflicts between countries, climate change, environmental degradation, economic instability  through Buddhist wisdom and compassion). HH The Dalai Lama participated in the event on the second day. He emphasized the importance of the Bodhicitta (enlightenment mind or thought of awakening through wisdom and compassion) and of Buddhist resilience in facing crises. The Summit concluded on the theme that ‘peace is the foundation for human happiness and wellbeing’. 

Tenzin Gyatso, better known as His Holiness Dalai Lama XIV, is arguably the most popular spiritual leader of the world today. Though he doesn’t radiate ‘spirituality’, he demonstrates it by his practice and his precept; he is the most relaxed looking ‘holy man’ that people of all faiths are inspired to look on and listen to; his smiling face looks hardly saintly; by his own account, he is ‘a simple monk’; he is the Buddhist ‘missionary’ who advises potential converts from other than Buddhist backgrounds to stick to their original religions if they feel comfortable in them, saying that he believes ‘that all the major world religions have the potential to serve humanity and develop good human beings’; by ‘good’ human beings, he says he means those who ‘have a good and more compassionate heart’. (In the same context he also said: ‘This is why I always say that it is better to follow one’s own traditional religion, because by changing religion you may eventually find emotional or intellectual difficulties’. But he adds that for those who think their traditional religions are not effective for them and for those who have no religious beliefs, the Buddhist way of explaining things may have some attraction’. Source: a talk given in London, contained in “The Heart of the Buddha’s Path”, Thorsons, Harper Collins Publishers, London, 1995) What better healing advice can a spiritual and ethical teacher give to humanity that is living today, as it is, in a world riven by brands of hate driven religious fanaticism? 

The extremely politicized Nobel Peace Prize might have accidentally recovered some of its lost prestige by being awarded to the Dalai Lama in 1989. But all the adulation that he inspires leaves him unaffected. He is an example, if not an epitome, of egolessness; his relative freedom from ‘the illusion of the self’ is the essence of his magnetic personality. This does not, however, stop him from being identified as a controversial political figure in robes. In fact, that is the other side of his public image, for he is also a man of the world, a consummate politician, as he ought to be, as both the spiritual and temporal leader of his unique  tradition governed community, the Tibetans. Tenzin Gyatso may be called a willing philosopher-king who is not being allowed to rule his kingdom. Historically speaking though, he is the deposed or self-exiled 14th ruler in a line of God-Kings that ruled the country from the mid-17th to the mid-20th century.

The Dalai Lama that we know has come to us through the media, which is as good as if he came to us in person. However, behind the affably smiling, lovable, somewhat clownish, yellow clad Yeatsian figure of ‘a comfortable kind of old scarecrow’ is the sage who exemplifies in his conduct and speech the two cardinal virtues of wisdom and compassion taught in Buddhism. He easily reminds us of the Laughing Buddha, who is basically a part of Chinese Buddhist and Japanese Shinto culture. Though the Shinto religion predated Buddhism in Japan, the Laughing Buddha was later admitted into its pantheon as one of the seven gods of good luck. Actually, the Laughing Buddha is believed to have originated in a mix of Buddhist and Shinto religions during the latter part of the Liang dynasty  in China. Pu Tai or Bu Dai (so called because of the trademark cloth sack he carried) was a Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist monk who lived in that period (907-923 CE). Though a beggar (a Buddhist bhikkhu is by definition a mendicant), he was contented and happy in the way a Buddhist monk had to be. His never failing smile (which expressed his loving-kindness, friendliness, metta/maitri) made people happy wherever he went, and this earned him another nickname, the ‘Loving/Friendly One’. He came to be honoured as a bodhisattva (a buddha-to-be). The Laughing Buddha is venerated as the Maitreya Buddha-to-be, the future Buddha according to the belief of Buddhists belonging to different sects. The Dalai Lama is regarded as an ’emanation’ of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, an iconic figure that embodies boundless compassion. Just as the Laughing Buddha tradition is claimed to have brought Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and later, even Western cultures closer together, so can the Dalai Lama phenomenon be regarded as a force for easing East-West tension and for dowsing sectarian passions engulfing the world at present.       

There is no monolithic version of Buddhism that is followed across the world. Seeds of the Buddhist teaching which were planted by ancient missionary monks in different parts of the world have given rise to a bewildering mass of sects, movements, and divisions of Buddhism  coloured by local cultures. However, the basic teaching of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths, is common to all these versions. Scholars of Buddhism recognize three main schools: Theravada (the Teaching of the Elders), the traditional Mahayana (the Great Vehicle), and its split Vajrayana (the Diamond Vehicle). Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Dalai Lama is the best known exponent, consists of elements from all three branches. Of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism Nyingma, Sakya, Kegyu, and Gelug, the Dalai Lama represents the last.

About eight years ago, it was reported that though the Dalai Lama was invited to visit Sri Lanka by some Buddhist monks, he was denied a visa by the government. The government’s denial of a visa was not something difficult to understand. In this regard, the Sri Lankan government had been caught up in a Catch 22 situation in that Sri Lankans could not extend their eager hospitality to His Holiness without antagonizing China, Sri Lanka’s indispensable friend-in-need. The reason for this dilemma is that the Dalai Lama is being used by the West as a bludgeon against the emerging economic superpower, for the Tibet problem provides the West with an ideal opportunity to rock on its liberal hobby horse. It was certain that the refusal of a visa to His Holiness by the government, while confirming our friendly relations with China, did not lessen the Lama’s compassionate goodwill towards us Sri Lankans, and that the  government’s forgivable refusal to grant a visa to his Holiness did not cause us unnecessary disappointment in spite of it effectively denying us a chance to have him among us for a short time. But we are still able to see him well through his words and actions.

Dalai Lama XIV has been of interest to the West and to China in contrary ways from the very beginning. When the young Dalai Lama (then only 24) fled Tibet and reached the Indian border after a two week trek across the mountains disguised as a common soldier in 1959, it made world news, as Lynn M. Hamilton says in her short biography of the Tibetan leader ‘The Dalai Lama: A Life Inspired’ (Wyatt North Publishing, Oct. 2014) on Kindle. According to her, the then US president Dwight Eisenhower put a trail of pins in a map tracing the Lama’s escape route! Hamilton says that CIA operative John Greaney cabled to India asking on behalf of the US that the Dalai Lama be given asylum there. She is unable to say whether or not this US directive influenced the Indian response to the problem. But the Indian premier of the time, Jawaharlal Nehru, of his own accord, gave the Lama political sanctuary, and eventually settled him and his fellow Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala where he has been based to this day. 

China acts as if the Dalai Lama is a threat to it. He may or may not be, for different reasons. But one thing is clear: It is that he has become a pawn in the chessboard of geopolitics where the two major players America and China try to move him as their interests dictate. Unfortunate though that is, it doesn’t concern those of us who are only interested in the moral or spiritual message he has to communicate to the world. We remember that there were anti-Chinese protests in Tibet in the lead up to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, sometimes involving violence, which the Chinese blamed the Dalai Lama for. They said he was a political stooge in the pay of American intelligence. Chinese supporters maintained that there was no ‘ national liberation struggle’ as such in Tibet, but that ‘secessionists’ backed by America were causing disruption. Zhang Qingli, the secretary of  the Communist Party in Tibet was widely reported to have made the following comments: (in translation) “The Dalai Lama is a wolf wrapped in a habit, a monster with human face and an animal’s heart”. This characterization is not accepted by many including both pro-China and anti-China commentators. In 2008, Randeep Ramesh, a journalist attached to The Guardian, London (UK), ridiculed the  Chinese concern as a case of “a Chinese dragon (being) scared by a mouse that prayed”. I share that opinion. A Chinese change of heart towards the aging Dalai Lama, which is not unlikely, will be beneficial, not only to India and Sri Lanka but to China itself in terms of regional peace and cultural solidarity. 

As far as that conflict  (involving the Dalai Lama being wooed by the West and rejected by China) goes, it is hardly likely that Tibet will eventually be able to assert itself as an entity completely independent of the latter, despite or because of the fact that it is wedged between three nuclear powers, while being located in a watershed that plays an important part in the world’s water supply. On the other hand, Tibet’s cultural deracination as a cross product of these forces is inevitable, but that will not be the end of the 14th Dalai Lama’s influence on the peace loving rational people of the world. The institution of the Dalai Lama as the political and spiritual leader of Tibet may have already lapsed into obsolescence. Probably, no one knows this better than the present Dalai Lama himself. According to Donald Lopez, professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, ‘the Dalai Lama has been one of the harshest critics of “old Tibet”…’. He adds that the Lama would have introduced political reforms without the Chinese intervention. Professor Robert Barnett, Director of Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University believes that ‘as a political leader, he asks for very little – he seems quite happy to accept a merely symbolic gesture like a cup of tea and a photo’. That may be to put too low a value on his actual political significance. In any case, he has tried to come to an agreement with the Chinese authorities by opting for a degree of autonomy for Tibet while remaining a territory of China, provided it is allowed to enjoy a status that is similar to the status of Hong Kong: a large measure of self-government with its own political and legal systems. He has even indicated his readiness to let Tibet have a communist government, with “meaningful” autonomy, but China will not agree to such a settlement just yet. It may be that with the death of the Dalai Lama (87 this year, 2023) the world might forget Tibet as it was with him living; it will be the end of history for Tibet under its god-king. The Dalai Lama’s lasting legacy for the world will be what he stands for today as a spiritual leader, not as a mundane political figure.

Mainly because of its sizable Tibetan migrant Tibetan community of over 2500, Australia remained a regular destination for the Dalai Lama until about eight years ago. His last visit here, when he was 80, was in 2015 (his 10th visit since 1982). On that occasion, he went to the Uluru sacred site of the native aboriginal community in the Northern Territory to express his respect to their culture. He said: 

 “In different parts of the world, Indigenous people, local people, they have their own cultural heritage, so that’s the main reason I am here, in order to express my respect to your culture,” 

When in an interview with the ABC Television during his earlier visit in Australia in 2013 (he was 78 then) he was asked whether he was upset by the then PM Julia Gillard’s refusal to see him, he said “No. I have no political agenda. … My concern is with the people…My main concern is to promote human values, affection, compassion, harmony….(among them)”. About relations with China, he said that the Tibetans could remain within China, like Hong Kong, but with its own distinct cultural identity intact. He stressed though that “Real change must come from within Tibet, not from outside”.  

Professor Barnett points out that the Dalai Lama declared in 2011, in an “Important Proclamation”, that he would make a decision on the problem of succession after consulting with other high lamas and the Tibetan public, and that this would be in 2024. He has also hinted at the possibility of there being no 15th Dalai Lama. But if there is, the Lama has explained, there will be a child identified as his reincarnation after his death or an adult person as an “emanation” chosen by him while he is still alive, and he will leave clear written instructions. In another source which I can’t now remember, he was reported to have confirmed that he will not return to Tibet. This was probably meant to send the Chinese a signal indicating that the time for a peaceful settlement was running out. He was also said to have suggested that his successor could be a woman. But it is generally the case that news hungry journalists misreport their own speculations as assertions allegedly made by the Dalai Lama. His promise to leave written instructions about his succession, Professor Barnett says, was “presumably (intended) to help journalists and others get the story right”. All this goes to prove that the Dalai Lama is no less a politician than a monk. 

He set up the Tibetan Central Authority (CTA) , aka Tibetan Government in exile, for the Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala who number about 100,000. But he has relinquished political control of the government in exile. The CTA operates as a democracy with an elected prime minister and parliament. Its constitution is based on Buddhist principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, the Dalai Lama seems to have divested himself of serious political responsibility as far as the Tibetan government in exile is concerned. While remaining the head of Tibetan Buddhism, however, he has assumed the role of an ambassador of Buddhism at large to the world. The Dalai Lama remains a symbol of wisdom, peace, and compassion in a world threatened by violence born out of religious fundamentalism and hegemonic geopolitics. Sri Lanka is currently in the grip of the latter twin evils.

The diminishing political stature of the Dalai Lama is being compensated for by his increasing spiritual significance for the world. As a teacher of Buddhism should do, he provides guidance for spirituality without religion (though he does not describe it as such), an urgent need for the world today. Incidentally, I must make it clear that I am aware of the risk I am taking of annoying my readers who accept religions as well as those who reject them or have nothing to do with religions, but I beg that they bear with me, for I don’t mean to hurt their feelings. I am expressing some opinions (relevant to the subject of this essay) that are open to constructive criticism. It is necessary to distinguish between spirituality and religion in trying to explain in what sense the Dalai Lama is important as a spiritual teacher or leader, who is, strictly speaking, not ‘religious’ in the normal theistic sense. 

In Buddhism, there is no belief in a creator god who supervises our lives unseen from above and rewards or punishes us eternally according as we obey or transgress his moral law. The Buddha Gautama taught the karma principle, that is, the principle of causality which says that the good intents and actions of an individual bring about good karmic results, and bad intents and actions bad results; no outside power is involved in that, so there is no need to praise, pray to, or otherwise propitiate such an agency. This is one of the senses in which Buddhism is not a religion. Buddha, in fact, did not found a religion, a system of prayer and worship, but explained a non-religious ethical system based on self-realization, on seeing things as they really are, i.e., on enlightenment. The whole of the Buddhist teaching can be briefly summarized as the Four Noble Truths: that life is suffering, that the suffering is due to a cause, that an end to suffering is available, and that there is a path leading to that end. The principle of causality known as karma underlies this four-term formula of the Buddhist teaching.

So while the concept of spirituality in religions involves a divine dimension, in Buddhism it doesn’t. What is considered spiritual in Buddhism is not tantamount to making contact with the so-called ‘divine’; instead, it consists in attaining heightened mental states through the extinction of the sense of self. A basic teaching of Buddhism is that there is no enduring entity that can be called self (soul); the idea of self is an illusion. ‘Spiritual’ experiences are heightened mental states such as self-transcending love, inner light, ecstasy, bliss which have been found to be common to people of different religions as well as to people who have no religion. Since religions are ideologically different, these phenomena cannot be explained in terms of their unchallengeable dogmas which contradict each other; so there must be a non-religious principle involved, which means that spirituality must be separated from religion.  (A good source to consult, for an explanation of what ‘self is an illusion’ means is neuroscientist Dr. Sam Harris’s excellent book ‘Waking Up: Searching for spirituality without religion’ {Random House UK, 2014}. A Kindle edition of the same is also available. It is in this sense that the Dalai Lama should be taken as a spiritual guide, rather than as a religious teacher. The book elaborates a scientific argument that true spirituality consists in realizing that the sense of self is an illusion. Dr Harris refers to the Dalai Lama’s participation, representing the Buddhist perspective, in scientific discussions involving the study of consciousness. 

It is because of these reasons that Buddhist scholar and former Tibetan monk Robert Thurman, author of ‘Why the Dalai Lama Matters’ (Atria Books, New York, 2008) says that his importance is multifaceted: it can be understood psychologically, physically, mythologically, historically, culturally, doctrinally, and spiritually. 

Writing the Introduction to ‘A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World’ by the best-selling author of ‘Emotional Intelligence’ Daniel Goleman, His Holiness says:

“As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously. It’s unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved on the basis of prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action. Therefore, my first commitment is to contribute to human happiness as best I can. I am also a Buddhist monk, and according to my experience, all religious traditions have the potential to convey the message of love and compassion. So my second commitment is to foster harmony and friendly relations between them. Thirdly, I am a Tibetan, and although I have retired from political responsibility, I remain concerned to do what I can to help the Tibetan people, and to preserve our Buddhist culture and the natural environment of Tibet – both of which are under threat of destruction.”  

In essence, the Dalai Lama’s message involves the importance of moral responsibility based on loving-kindness. This is of particular relevance to political leaders of all nations. The Global Buddhist Summit is sure to gain momentum in its epoch making endeavour for initiating solidarity among all the various sects of Buddhism that are found across the world today from  HH Dalai Lama XIV’s exalted participation in its inaugural proceedings.

1 2 3 10