News Wrap


Machibhanga, a large village with a population of about 8000, is the battle ground of a bitter fight between villagers and the West Bengal state government, over a power grid in Bhangar (South 24 Pargana district). The Jomi, Jibika, Paribesh O Bastutantra Raksha Committee (JJPOBRC) is an umbrella orgranisation of the people of 16 villa-ges, that is protesting against the construction of a power grid. While the JJPOBRC is made of Bhangar villagers, the movement is spear-headed by members of CPI(ML) Red Star, politburo member Alik Chakravarty. Three persons have been killed since the protests began in 2016. In January 2017, two youths Alamgir Mollah and Mofiszul Khan died, allegedly in police firing, after protests took a violent turn. A few months later in July 2017, a TMC panchayet samity member Ashikur Rehman, died during clashes between villagers and TMC supporters. Villagers contested the panchayet polls of May 2018. On 11 May 2018, Hafizul Islam was shot dead during a campaign rally, allegedly at the bequest of local Trinamul Congress (TMC) leader Arabul Islam. Clashes broke out on panchayet poll day 14 May 2018, between Arabul's supporters and members of JJPOBRC in Bhangar, under Arabul's panchayet samity, at village areas Uttar Ghazipur and Ghazipur, Machibanga and Padmapukur. Polling booths were vandalised and the vehicle of local TV channel was severely damaged.

No Electricity
Having struggled to get electricity power for long, people in nearly inaccessible pocket Bara Banghal in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh are living in darkness. During nights with no electricity, the neo-tribal folks in this panchayet use "jugnus" burning branches of trees, or kerosene lamps for work at night. Want of maintenance by state agencies, has rendered the only 40 kilowatt hydro power project commissioned by Sai Engineering Foundation on charity in 2004 for two villages, Ghraan and Phaal, in the panchayet, non-functional intermittently for the last eight years. Representations by the poor inhabitants of the area to the Himachal Pradesh state government, to repair the power project in a major manner, have not produced any beneficial results. Long and tough trek on foot leads to Bara Banghal. The poor people in the area do not have any "political voice". Bara Banghal is isolated, with no road. Involving a 70 km tough trek, it takes two to three days to reach Bara Banghal on foot, either from Bir in Kangra, or from Holi-Naya Gramin Chamba. The battery operated phones can only function for two-three hours in a day. The dim solar lights used by a few individuals do not serve their purpose at night. It is time for Bara Banghal folks, mostly shepherds, to return to their homes. Even employees posted in the panchayet area, are unwilling to serve in such hardship. The hydro power project was set up with great delay, as the entire machinery had to be airlifted to the place, which houses just 700 people. Paths or night shelters, for safe and secure trek for locals, who cross 4700 metres high Thamsar Pass (from Bir), across the mountains do not exist. The power project is not under the state electricity board.

Marx 200
Karl Marx's birth city of Trier in Germany, led commemorations of the political philosopher, described as a "great son of the city". Almost three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Marx the revolutionary philosopher remains a divisive figure. Celebrations in Germany, marking the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx's birth on 05 May 2018, risked being marred by protests. There were 600 events in Trier, planned around the 19th century scholar, hailed for foretelling the ills of capitalism. China gifted a 5.5 metre (18 foot) tall statue of the philosopher. Before the statue, the Union of the Victim Groups of Communist Tyranny protested against the thinker, they blamed for inspiring Stalinist regimes. Since reunification and particularly over the past decade, unbridled capitalism and its discontent have fuelled renewed interest in Marx's work.

China's president Xi Jinping defended as "totally correct" the ruling China Communist Party's adherence to Karl Marx's theory of socialism for 97 years. Marx's theory has profoundly changed China from the "sickman of Asia" to the second largest economy of the world. Marx has strong influence in China, where students begin learning the theories of Marx and Lenin in middle school. Li emphasised that there might be setbacks in the development of socialism in the world, but the overall trend for human society development has never changed, and it will never change. Marxism had pointed out the direction forward, offering a brand new choice for the Chinese people in their struggle to survive, and setting the scene for the birth of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921, headed by Mao Zedong. The CPC remains in power since the founding of new China in 1948 in a one-party state. The fundamental principles of Marxism combined with the reality of China's reform and opening up has made China rich.

Virtual Crypto-Currencies
Over the past year, the pool of virtual crypto-currencies has both deepened from $30 billion to $400 billion, and widened, with the spread of "Initial Coin Offering" (ICO's), a form of fund raising in which investors in young companies are issued with virtual tokens. The crypto craze has captured hedge funds, students and pensioners. The crypto-sphere is not far from risk. After a giddy rise, between December 2017 and February 2018, the price of bit-coin dropped from nearly $20,000 to less than $7,000. It is now around $9,000. Several ICOs have turned out to be scams. There is danger of legitimate tokens being stolen. Some crypto-currency exchanges have been hacked. Regulators are unable to decide whether ICOs and tokens are securities or not, and how to tax them. The ICOs and tokens are being used for money-laundering and financing terrorism. Retail investors are subject to risks. Bit-coin is a facilitator of anonymous, illegal sales on the "dark web", and is the currency of choice for on line ransoms. With a tight censorship of the internet, China has banned ICOs and crypto-sphere exchanges. Crypto-currencies offer global availability, the speed and irreversibility of transactions, and the ability to hide identities. An estimated 3 to 4% of Europe's annual criminal takings or £3 billion to 4 bn ($4.2 billion to 5.6 billion) are crypto-laundered. Regulating crypto-assets points to dealing with crypto risks, from money laundering to consumer protection.

Armenia at a crossroads
Armenia remains allied with Russia, which has a large military base there, preventing it from forming alternative security arrangement with the Western Powers. After ruling Armenia for a decade, completing the second and final presidential term, Sergh Sargsyan resigned on 23 April 2018. He was installed as prime minister on 17 April 2018, after he exploited Armenia's shift from presidential to parliamentary government. The manaouvre resembled that of Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, who sat out one term as prime minister in 2008, before returning as president in 2012, against a wave of protests. From mid-April 2018, Armenia has witnessed protests against Sargsyan, led by Nikol Pashinian, a journalist turned lawmaker. When Pashinian was briefly arrested the protest grew larger and were soon joined by unarmed soldiers. With no censorship, no ban on street protests and a serious opposition in parliament, it is politically far and more nature than Russia. Armenian protesters blocked roads in and around the capital Yerevan, responding to a call from opposition leader Pashinian for a campaign of civil disobedience, to force the ruling elite to relinquish its grip on power. The Republican Party has a majority in the legislature, and after hours of acrimonious debate, it withheld its support for Pashinian, leaving him short of the support he needed.

After spearheading weeks of mass protests against the ruling Republican Party, Armenia's parliament on 8 May, 2018, elected opposition leader Nikol Pashinian as prime minister. Lawmakers voted 59 to 42 to approve Pashinian for the job, after the ruling Republican party, came around to backing his premiership bid on his second attempt. The 42-year-old new prime minister had promised a normal life and corruption free Armenia, and priority relations with Russia.

Iran and Polisario
Across the Middle East, Iran backs armed groups, including many viewed as terrorist organisations, by Western and Arab countries. Morocco supports Bahrain's Sunni monarchy, which quashed a 2011 Arab Spring uprising supported by Morocco's shiite majority. In response to Morocco's shattering of the deposed Shah of Iran, the Polisario Front in the disputed Western Sahara and Iran have cultivated close ties, after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. But Teheran denies supporting the independence movement since then. Morocco and Iran had only recently restored relations after years of enmity. Morocco claims that it has proof that the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which is supported by Iran, has been providing training and financial support to Polisario fighters since 2016. Hezbollah sent its first supply of weapons to the Polisario in April 2018, prompting Morocco's decision to cut ties with Iran, beginning May 2018. The allegations are denied by Hezbollah, asserting that Morocco was acting under American, Israeli and Saudi Arabia pressure. Iran has denied supporting the Polisario Front. Saudi Arabia which is locked in a regional rivalry with Iran, has expressed support for Morocco.

Vol. 51, No.5, Aug 5 - 11, 2018