1. Indian power projects replace Chinese ventures in Sri Lanka
Concerns were raised over projects’ proximity to T.N.
India will set up hybrid power projects in three islands off Jaffna, effectively replacing the Chinese venture cleared by Colombo last year.
The MoU for the project was among those signed during a meeting between visiting External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar and his Sri Lankan counterpart G.L. Peiris late on Monday.
It is the third Indian energy project coming up in Sri Lanka’s north and east, after the recent agreements for National Thermal Power Corporation’s solar venture in the eastern Sampur town, and the Adani Group’s renewable energy projects in Mannar and Pooneryn in the north.
In January 2021, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet decided to award renewable energy projects in Nainativu, Delft or Neduntheevu, and Analaitivu islands to Chinese firm Sinosoar-Etechwin.
India was quick to express concern over the Chinese project coming up in the Palk Bay, barely 50 km off Tamil Nadu. India offered to execute the same project with a grant rather than a loan. Unable to pick a side for over a year, Colombo kept the project in suspension, apparently putting off China. In a recent press briefing, the Chinese Ambassador in Colombo voiced rare criticism over the projects being interrupted for “unknown reasons”, and said it sent out the wrong message to foreign investors.
Meanwhile, India and Sri Lanka have also agreed to set up a Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. The initiative, involving Bharat Electronics and a $6 million Indian grant, obtained Cabinet approval last week.
India will also help develop fisheries harbours in Point Pedro, Pesalai and Gurunagar in the Northern Province, and Balapitiya, south of Colombo, apart from supporting schools in the southern Galle district with computer labs, extending a grant for Sri Lanka’s Unique Digital Identity project, a statement said.
What are China-Sri Lanka Ties?
- China is the country’s largest bilateral creditor.
- Its loans to the Sri Lankan government account for 15% of the central government’s external debt.
- Sri Lanka relies significantly on Chinese credit to address its foreign debt.
- Investment in the Infrastructure Projects: Between 2006 and 2019, China invested over USD 12 billion in infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka.
- Smaller Nations’ Shifting Interests: Sri Lanka’s economic problems may further compel it to align its policies with China’s interests.
- China’s Pursuit in the Indian Ocean: The Indian Ocean and South Asia are friendlier to China than Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
- China is confronted with opposition from Taiwan, territorial disputes in East Asia and the South China Sea, and a slew of disagreements with the United States and Australia.
2. Assam and Meghalaya ink pact to end border row
Assam and Meghalaya have partially resolved a 50-year-old border dispute in six of the 12 sectors along their 885-km boundary.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad K. Sangma on Tuesday signed a “historic” agreement for a closure in six disputed sectors that were taken up for resolution in the first phase. The pact was inked in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi.
The agreement was based on a draft resolution signed between the two States on January 29.
The six disputed sectors are Tarabari, Gizang, Hahim, Boklapara, Khanapara-Pillangkata and Ratacherra under the Kamrup, Kamrup (Metro) and Cachar districts of Assam and the West Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi and East Jaintia Hills districts of Meghalaya.
The two States had in June 2021 adopted a “give-and-take” policy to start the process of resolving the boundary dispute by constituting three regional committees each.
The draft resolution, prepared on the basis of the recommendations of the regional panels, proposed dividing the disputed 36.79 sq. km land in the six areas of difference between the two States.
While Assam will get 18.51 sq. km of the disputed areas, Meghalaya will get the remaining 18.28 sq.km.
Mr Shah said about 70% of the inter-State boundary has now become dispute-free with the signing of the agreement.
3. Rhino population up by 200 in Kaziranga
Last census conducted in 2018 put number of one-horned herbivore at 2,413
The population of the greater one-horned or Indian rhinoceros in the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve has increased by 200 in four years, the latest census of the World Heritage Site’s flagship animal has revealed.
The last rhino census conducted in 2018 had put the number at 2,413.
Though the tiger reserve measures 1,355 sq. km, the census was confined to a rhino–bearing area of 864 sq. km. It was conducted from March 25 to 28 but the counting was done on the two days in between.
Fifty elephants were deployed to cover all the 84 compartments of the park, its addition areas and civil areas. Apart from 125 enumerators and independent observers, 252 frontline staff were involved in the exercise. “We estimated 2,613 rhinos, which indicates an annual increase of 50 rhinos since 2018. During this period, Kaziranga lost 400 rhinos due to natural causes while poachers killed three,” Jatindra Sarma, Kaziranga’s director, told The Hindu.
This year’s census had a first — the use of drones for the recheck of 26 park compartments where the sample survey was done.
Of the rhinos estimated, 1,823 were adults, 365 were sub-adults, 279 juveniles and 146 calves. The females outnumbered the males by 183. The gender of 273 adults and sub-adults could not be specified.
A similar census was conducted in two more of Assam’s rhino habitats earlier in March.
Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020):
Launched in 2005.
- IRV 2020 is an initiative led by the Forest Department, Government of Assam, in partnership with WWF India, International Rhino Foundation, and several other organizations.
- The goal of IRV2020 was to increase the rhino population in Assam to 3,000 by establishing populations in new areas.
- Rhinos are now found in four Protected Areas in Assam: Pabitora Wildlife Reserve, Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park, Kaziranga National Park, and Manas National Park.
About One- horned rhinos:
- Only the Great One-Horned Rhino is found in India.
- Also known as Indian rhino, it is the largest of the rhino species.
- It is identified by a single black horn and a grey-brown hide with skin folds.
- They primarily graze, with a diet consisting almost entirely of grasses as well as leaves, branches of shrubs and trees, fruit, and aquatic plants.
- IUCN Red List: Vulnerable.
- Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): Appendix I (Threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, for instance for scientific research).
- Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Schedule I.
Other Conservation Efforts by India:
- The five rhino range nations (India, Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia and Malaysia) have signed a declaration ‘The New Delhi Declaration on Asian Rhinos 2019’ for the conservation and protection of the species.
- The Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has begun a project to create DNA profiles of all rhinos in the country.
- National Rhino Conservation Strategy: It was launched in 2019 to conserve the greater one-horned rhinoceros.
4. What is wrong with saffronising education
The Vice-President of India arguing for an overhaul of the Macaulay system of education is fine, but there are challenges
The short answer to the question ‘what is wrong with saffronising education?’ is ‘really nothing… well… except that ….’
In his address earlier this month at the inauguration of the South Asian Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, on the Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya campus in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, the Vice-President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu, argued for a major overhaul of the Macaulay system of education which he rightly observed is both dominant in, and damaging to, India. It produces in us a sense of inferiority, replaces our traditional education in the bhashas with the alien curricula of the English, gives us a colonial mindset, makes us ignorant of our heritage, and, most of all, disconnects us from the rich body of ideas and philosophies that constitute our ancient civilisation.
A resonance earlier
In making this claim, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu has joined a stellar list of public persons who, over the decades, have made a similar argument. Rabindranath Tagore, a moving force of the National Education Movement in the early 1900s, fashioned an innovative nationalist curriculum in Visva Bharati, the great university he established. Eminent Indians such as Amartya Sen, Satyajit Ray, and Mahasweta Devi were educated there. Further, K.C. Bhattacharya in his seminal lecture (October 1931), ‘Swaraj in Ideas’, also spoke of the enslavement of our minds by western education which produced ‘shadow minds’ instead of ‘real minds’. This had to be overcome. Abu-ur-Rashid Moulvi, even earlier in 1888, in the Asiatic Quarterly Review, argued for higher education in Punjab to be delinked from Calcutta University because the university was exhibiting an ‘anglicizing tendency’ which would lead to the ‘denationalization of the younger generation of Punjabis’. The creation of Punjab University, he hoped, would resist such anglicisation since the literatures and sciences would now be taught in the ‘vernaculars and classical languages’. Arguing for an Indian system of education has, therefore, been an important part of the public debate in India for over a century. Mr. Venkaiah Naidu was not the first. But he is in good company.
He is right when he ascribes to the Macaulay system the production of a sense of inferiority among us Indians. This is an idea common to other anti-colonial thinkers such as Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon. He is also right when he warns against us becoming ‘mental cripples’, to use Tagore’s term, because we imitate alien ideas and adopt them uncritically. His case of the Macaulay system producing ‘amnesia and erasure’ is also persuasive as is the fear of ‘denationalization’, an idea espoused by T.B. Cunha when he argued against Portuguese colonialism. However, for us not to see Mr. Venkaiah Naidu’s address as merely rhetorical would require him to give us a road map of how to decolonise this Macaulay system, make it more Indian. Honest saffronisation would primarily require sincerity of intent since it would confront many conundrums and challenges along the way. Let me indicate just a few.
An inclusive list
Let me begin with the first challenge. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, whose knowledge of the depth and the quality of Indian civilisation is second to none (for which he was appointed as the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford University), recommended in chapter eight of the 1949 report of the University Education Commission (he was Chairman), that religious education (call it saffronisation) be introduced in our universities. He suggested that the class day begin with a few minutes of silent meditation and that students in the first-year degree course be introduced to the lives of great thinkers such as ‘Gautama the Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Jesus, Somkara, Ramanuja, Madhava, Mohammad, Kabir, Nanak, Gandhi’. This is Dr. Radhakrishanan’s own list. It is very inclusive and shows the openness of his curious mind. By including the founders of major religions in his list, Radhakrishnan was affirming their value for an Indian education. Would Mr. Venkaiah Naidu’s saffronisation be similarly open-minded?
About diverse narratives
His inclusive list leads to the larger question that saffronisation would have to address. Call it the second challenge. It would need to decide which themes and topics should be included and which excluded in such a saffron education. For example would A.K.Ramanujan’s essay ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ be included? If one really wants to overcome the amnesia of a Macaulay education, as Mr. Venkaiah Naidu suggests, to ‘feel proud of our heritage’, then Ramanujan’s essay would have to be included. Ramanujan’s scholarship on the folk tales of India, just like Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, has few equals. His essay celebrates the rich performative and narrative practices of the living epic, the Ramayana. Would saffronisation accept this diversity of narratives? Would it smile at the idea, in one of the performances he describes, of Sita berating Ram who was advising her not to come to the forest, by asking him whether he has seen any performances where Sita does not accompany Ram? Is such philosophical playfulness allowed, if not encouraged? How we answer this important question of inclusion will depend on how we position ourselves on India’s cultural diversity.
This leads to the third challenge. Would the model for recovery and reconstruction of India’s ancient culture, which is what saffronisation does, be that of Dinanath Batra who in a long letter to Smriti Irani, when she was HRD (Education) Minister, set it out, or would it be that of D.P. Chattopadhyaya’s Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture (PHISPC) which has already published several volumes of India’s intellectual achievements? The former espouses Vidya Bharati’s project of cultural assimilation, a thin but toxic agenda, while the latter is a substantive philosophical response to Macaulay, who, had he read the PHISPC volumes would not have the temerity to write, in his 1835 ‘Minute on Education’, that a ‘single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia’.
So does Mr. Venkaiah Naidu’s saffronisation side with Dinanath Batra or D.P. Chattopadhyaya? If by saffronisation Mr. Venkaiah Naidu really means Indianisation, it would include both the orthodox and the heterodox traditions of India, the Brahmanical schools and their Buddhist and Jaina challenges. It would include the great architectural practices of the Mughals well as the Sufi and Bhakti movements.
Here, Indianisation would have many colours besides saffron.
Moving to science
Moving from the humanities and social sciences, to the STEM educational stream, i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, then what would Indianisation entail? Would it just involve the simple task of translating the best science textbooks of the world into the various Indian languages, as they do in Japan, since scientific knowledge is universal? Or would it mean advocating some crazy theories as those propounded at the 106th Indian Science Congress in January 2019 where, it was claimed, that we in India were making test tube babies thousands of years ago and that Albert Einstein did not understand relativity. Indianisation must decide if science is only a western product, or is universal. Is Mr. Venkaiah Naidu suggesting that there is a distinctive Indian science? After all this STEM proficiency in India, a product of Macaulay’s system of education, has produced the Nadellas and Pichais of the world. Or am I holding the wrong STEM?
And, finally, the paradox. Does saffronisation endorse the decision of the vice-chancellor to permanently station a Central Industrial Security Force camp inside Visva Bharati, the only university in India that has established a nationalist curriculum? The vice-chancellor did this because of student protests. The Government of India supported him. If his conception of saffronisation endorses this decision then, sad to say, Macaulay has triumphed over Tagore. Macaulay may have designed the system of education for India but he was also the author of the Indian Penal Code. We decry Macaulay on education, rightly so, but (sadly) enthusiastically embrace Macaulay on the Indian penal system.
5. Bridging the bay in quest of a stronger BIMSTEC
The grouping has potential as a natural platform for development cooperation in a rapidly changing Indo-Pacific region
Sri Lanka is gearing up to host the Fifth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Summit, now in its silver jubilee year (the summit is being held in virtual/hybrid mode on March 30, and Sri Lanka is the current BIMSTEC chair). This special occasion makes it imperative for BIMSTEC leaders to reinforce their commitments and efforts in building the momentum of collaborations in the Bay of Bengal region for the security and development of all.
This summit is expected to build the required momentum of collaborations among the member states — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand — as there has been commendable teamwork among them and a finalisation of several agreements to enhance regional strategic and economic integration. The unique ecology of BIMSTEC is witnessing enriched political support and commitment from India.
Undoubtedly, BIMSTEC has special significance for India in a changing mental map of the region. India has made the Bay of Bengal integral to India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies which can accelerate the process of regional integration. BIMSTEC matters for India and the region.
An area of importance
Finalising the BIMSTEC Charter; BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity; BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters; BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility (TTF); cooperation between diplomatic academies/training institutions; and a template of Memorandum of Association for the future establishment of BIMSTEC centres/entities present signs of optimism as well as the comeback of the Bay of Bengal as a new economic and strategic space.
Further, the economic and strategic significance of the Bay of Bengal is growing rapidly with a re-emergence of the idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region. This notion assumes that the growing economic, geopolitical and security connections between the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions are creating a shared strategic space. The Bay of Bengal is evolving as the centre of the Indo-Pacific region again. The renewed focus has given a new lease of life to the developmental efforts in the region, in particular BIMSTEC.
As the BIMSTEC process turns 25 years, it is all set to make visible progress through advancing concrete cooperation among the member states. They have invested some fresh energy in the last couple of years to make BIMSTEC a valuable institution for regional integration and collaboration.
A bridge between Asias
BIMSTEC has huge potential as a natural platform for development cooperation in a rapidly changing geopolitical calculus and can leverage its unique position as a pivot in the Indo-Pacific region. There has been tangible progress in BIMSTEC cooperation in several areas that include security, counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing, cybersecurity and coastal security, and transport connectivity and tourism, among others.
The growing value of BIMSTEC and its attempt to generate synergy through collective efforts by member states can be understood, for three key reasons. First, there is a greater appreciation of BIMSTEC’s potential due to geographical contiguity, abundant natural and human resources, and rich historical linkages and a cultural heritage for promoting deeper cooperation in the region. Indeed, with a changed narrative and approach, the Bay of Bengal has the potential to become the epicentre of the Indo-Pacific idea — a place where the strategic interests of the major powers of East and South Asia intersect. Political support and strong commitment from all member countries are crucial in making BIMSTEC a dynamic and effective regional organisation.
Need for connectivity
Second, BIMSTEC serves as a bridge between two major high-growth centres of Asia — South and Southeast Asia. Connectivity is essential to develop a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Bay of Bengal region. Therefore, BIMSTEC needs to address two dimensions of connectivity – one, upgrading and dovetailing national connectivity into a regional road map; and two, development of both hard and soft infrastructures.
The BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity will provide the necessary boost to connectivity. There is growing involvement of educational institutions, industries and business chambers through various forums and conclaves which are helping to enhance cooperation in the areas of education, trade and investments, information technology and communication among others. Resisting the temptation to make lofty promises, the BIMSTEC leaders have focused on priority areas through a concrete action plan on time.
Third, the BIMSTEC Secretariat coordinates, monitors and facilitates the implementation of BIMSTEC activities and programmes. The leaders must agree to strengthen the institutional capacity of the BIMSTEC Secretariat. Approval of a charter for BIMSTEC during the summit will further augment its visibility and stature in international fora. Likewise, India has implemented its promise to set up a Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies (CBS) at Nalanda University, Bihar for research on art, culture and other subjects related to the Bay of Bengal. The quest for economic growth and the development of the BIMSTEC region can be achieved with single-minded focus and cooperation among the member counties. In this endeavour, India has a key role in accelerating regional cooperation under the BIMSTEC framework and in making it vibrant, stronger and result-oriented.
6. Myanmar’s continued suspension of democracy
When did the coup take place and what followed? Why did the ruling junta invite Russia as a guest of honour for Armed Forces Day?
On March 27, Myanmar commemorated its Armed Forces Day with Russia as the guest of honour. Myanmar was one of the few countries which came to Moscow’s defence after the invasion of Ukraine as Russia continues to be a major defence exporter to Myanmar.
The Myanmar junta continues to conduct operations in different regions of the country to quash dissident voices. The junta was and continues to be allegedly involved in mass killings, acts of sexual violence, and arbitrary arrests of protesters and other civic society members who refuse to toe the line.
India’s relationship with Myanmar has been predicated on maintaining a balance in its neighbourhood in order to check China’s growing influence. Recently, India urged Myanmar to end violence and implement ASEAN’s five-point consensus while continuing to offer military exports to Myanmar.
The story so far: On March 27, Myanmar commemorated its Armed Forces Day with a grand parade featuring Russia as the guest of honour. The Armed Forces Day is in honour of the army’s rebellion against the Japanese occupation in 1945. The leader of the country’s ruling military junta, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, gave exceptionally inflammatory comments aimed to quell dissidents and protesters. He said that the armed forces would “annihilate” the dissidents who he deemed “supporters of terrorist groups” looking to threaten the peace and security of the country. The country has led intense crackdowns on those resisting junta rule. The General invalidated the identity and agency of those protesting, and by deeming them terrorists, provided the authorities a basis to engage violently.
What is happening on the ground?
The military continues to conduct operations in different regions of the country to quash dissident voices. The regions under artillery attack, airstrikes, and other physical forms of violent attacks include Sagaing, the Kayah State, the Chin State, and the Kayin State, reminiscent of last year’s bloody operations on Armed Forces Day. Myanmar continues its resistance with political opponents of the junta also joining militias. These militias have collaborated with some long-standing ethnic armed groups which have operated in the borderlands of the country.
These States have rarely been centrally controlled. For most part of their history, these have been ruled by local leaders. These States can also serve as a buffer between Myanmar and its bordering nations and thus be a site of constant assaults. The Wa state of the larger Shan State in particular has a remarkably complex history with it being over-run by Mao Zedong’s forces during the Chinese Civil War. After about two decades, the region was taken over by the Communist Party of Burma. Deng Xiaoping’s tenure saw China making a halt on the assaults and instead focusing on potential trade opportunities. As a result of such historical events, China enjoys a complex relationship with the local factions and the military junta.
What is the Myanmar-Russia relationship?
Myanmar’s military junta seized power last year on February 1 and then invited Russia, their “true friend”, as a guest of honour for its Armed Forces Day celebrations. Apart from Russia, India and seven other countries sent their representatives to attend the military parade. Keeping the bonhomie alive, Myanmar was one of the very few countries which came to Moscow’s defence after the invasion of Ukraine. Russia also continues to be a major defence exporter to Myanmar. Myanmar doesn’t like to exclusively depend on one country for its defence needs and its history shows that it likes to cozy up to different seemingly sympathetic countries. Apart from Russia, China is another major player which offers arms to Myanmar. Pakistan, India, Serbia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Republic of Korea also routinely export defence equipment, and small to medium size arms and ammunitions. Myanmar has a tumultuous relationship with China as Beijing is also involved in arming rebel factions and thus, Myanmar wishes to diversify its dependence.
The relationship between Russia and the junta seems to be of cooperation, one which now favours Moscow more than before as it faces sanctions from a host of countries. Myanmar is looking to use their raw materials as currency which works out for them as well as Moscow. The flip side to this story is that as the Russian offence continues in Ukraine, it would not have the capacity or the willingness to export its defence equipment to Myanmar.
Myanmar continues to run the Moscow agenda in international fora whenever it can by being sympathetic to Russia’s actions and referring to Vladimir Putin as “a visionary leader who had the foresight to quietly build up his military and economic strength”. In doing so, they are propagating a strong-man argument and thus trying to solidify their domestic support to sell a similarly constructed imagination of what a nation could be with just the right kind of actions.
How has the junta acted?
The junta’s actions in Myanmar have been downright horrific. Hundreds of children were detained since the junta seized power back in 2021 in a bid to use them as leverage in order to find and arrest their family members and relatives who may be part of dissident groups. The junta was and continues to be allegedly involved in mass killings, acts of sexual violence, and arbitrary arrests of protesters and other civic society members who refuse to toe the line. On February 1, 2021, the junta arrested the country’s elected leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi and then president Win Myint. It is reported that close to 4,00,000 people have been internally displaced since the beginning of the coup in 2021.
What led to the coup?
To make sense of the 2021 coup in Myanmar, it is important to look at the chequered history of independent Myanmar. The country has been in a constant tussle between democracy and military rule. Before the 2021 coup, it had previously witnessed two coups; in 1962 and in 1988. Even during the brief periods of democracy, the junta continued to remain the strongest institution. Myanmar has seen three Constitutions being drawn up and enacted, the latest of it being a result of the military junta. They gave themselves 25% of the seats in the legislature and thus made it possible that amendments couldn’t pass without their support.
The junta gave concessions to the democratic elements and released Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in 2010 under strict conditions, one of which was that she could never be the President. She was, however, able to circumvent this clause by taking control as ‘State Counsellor’ with de-facto power residing with her as a customary President’s post was taken up by a proxy. What the junta did not realise was how her popularity would surge. The year 2015 saw the National League of Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, winning 77% of the seats in Parliament.
The reasons for the 2021 coup stem from this growing popularity of Suu Kyi and her party. The junta would have wanted to squash this before democracy made any more inroads into the junta’s stronghold on the country.
Who’s the coup leader?
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing became Myanmar’s military chief in 2011, at a time when the country was transitioning into quasi democracy. When Aung Saan Suu Kyyi’s NLD swept the 2015 election, the military accepted the results. But the political peace did not last long. When the NLD swept the 2020 election with a bigger mandate, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a proxy of the military, alleged election fraud. On February 1, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing carried out the third coup in the country’s history.
As a commanding officer, he led several military campaigns against the country’s myriad rebels. But his rise to the top echelons of the powerful military was sealed after he led the 2009 offensive against the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army, an insurgents group in the Kokang region, along the border of China’s Yunnan province. Within one week, the Myanmar military dislodged thousands of insurgents from the border. The campaign also resulted in thousands of refugees fleeing the border villages to the Chinese side of the border. Within the military, the campaign was hailed as a victory and Gen. Min Aung Hlaing got the attention of Senior General Than Shwe. In August 2010, he was appointed joint chief of staff. And in March 2011, when Gen. Than Shwe, in his mid-70s, retired, he picked Gen. Min Aung Hlaing as his successor.
When the NLD swept the 2020 election, the Army considered the rising popularity of the party and its leader a threat. The Generals made three demands to Ms. Suu Kyi, according to a Reuters report: disband the Election Commission, announce a probe into alleged election fraud and postpone the meeting of Parliament. Ms. Suu Kyi said ‘no’ to all three. Then came the coup.
What is India’s stand?
India’s relationship with Myanmar has been predicated on maintaining a balance in its neighbourhood in a bid to keep a check on China’s growing influence. In doing so, it has forgone certain democratic ideals and allowed itself to not publicly speak against the events transpiring in Myanmar. It abstained from voting on the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution on Myanmar and has constantly refused to actively speak out against the junta. Recently, India urged Myanmar to end violence and implement ASEAN’s five-point consensus. It continues to offer military exports to Myanmar.
Different multilateral forums and organisations are trying to get the junta to mend their ways but to little avail. In his recent visit to Myanmar, ASEAN’s special envoy, Prak Sokhonn, hinted that the junta leadership gave a positive response towards the possibility of him being able to meet the democratic leadership.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, Admiral Jayanath Colombage, communicated the idea that they would be looking to engage with Myanmar. As of now, the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is hosting the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other regional leaders from BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) in a hybrid mode.
Recently, the Biden administration, in a bid to put Myanmar under the limelight internationally, ruled that the military junta carried out genocide against the Rohingya minority. It also, along with the U.K. and Canada, implemented sanctions against high-ranking members of the junta. The U.N. Security Council condemned the actions of the junta falling short of terming the events of 2021 as a “coup”. New Zealand suspended political and diplomatic ties with Myanmar back in 2021 but continued to make sure that developmental programmes function seamlessly.
It becomes especially important for the international community to act in ways which while punishing the military junta for its actions and trying to force them into taking corrective measures also doesn’t hurt the local population of the country. Blind economic sanctions won’t get the job done and would only hurt the already hurting populace, say observers.
7. Facebook and fake news
In a post-truth ecosystem, truth needs its arbiters more than ever. Sites such as Facebook need to acknowledge their professional and ethical responsibilities
The political role of Facebook and the other Internet giant, Google, had come under scrutiny, after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential polls. Several fingers pointed at fake news stories online as a major contributor to this result.
In 2016, Facebook’s algorithm gave more weight to ‘friends and family’. That is, if someone on your friends list liked or commented on a post, the chances of you seeing that post were much higher. Essentially the algorithm places us in a jury of our peers, locking us in echo chambers of thought, validating each other in an infinite loop.
Truth and its arbiters are not thought much of in this day and age. We are now in the ‘post-truth’ era, where truth is “a matter of perspective” and those who seek to tell the truth are “agenda-driven”.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology on Monday questioned Facebook officials over allegations that the algorithm used for its advertising platform unfairly promotes one political party besides claims that hate content is rewarded on the platform. PJ George pointed, in this article dated November 29, 2016, to the problems in Facebook’s algorithms, in the way they are structured and had resulted in an epidemic of false news.
In August this year, Facebook replaced the entire team that curated its Trending Topics section with an algorithm. This came soon after news reports claimed the curators where suppressing news from the conservative side of the U.S. political spectrum. Though an internal investigation found no systemic effort to suppress news, a statement from Facebook said the algorithm “allows our team to make fewer individual decisions about topics”.
There was a hiccup, though. Soon after it went active, the algorithm picked up and promoted a story about a conservative television anchor supporting Hillary Clinton that turned out to be highly controversial, and equally false. The algorithm was designed to look for what most people were talking about or were interested in, and it did its job.
A platform for news
This would not be alarming but for a recent report from the Pew Research Centre which found that 44 per cent of American adults now get their news on Facebook . Read this together with the fact that 64 per cent of them depend on just one site for the news and we begin to grasp the grip Facebook has over the information available to the average, voting-age American.
The political role of Facebook and the other Internet giant, Google, has come under scrutiny, after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential polls. Several fingers are pointing at fake news stories online as a reason for this election going off agenda. According to an analysis by BuzzFeed, a false post saying Pope Francis had endorsed Mr. Trump, put out by a fake news site WTOE 5, had a Facebook engagement of 9,60,000 (the sum of all comments, likes and shares for a post).
The highest engagement for a real news on the election was 849,000, for Washington Post ’s “Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?” According to BuzzFeed ’s Craig Silverman, the top 20 false news items in the three months prior to the election had a collective Facebook engagement of 8,711,000, while the top 20 real news items garnered 7,367,000 engagements.
Facebook’s initial reaction to the allegation was denial, with founder Mark Zuckerberg saying it was “pretty crazy” to think fake Facebook posts could swing elections. They may not have, but the Buzzfeed numbers on false news are no small sums. And the Pew numbers are an indicator of how many people probably consumed those as real news. And, considering the margins at which the election was won, no number is too small.
The impact of false news is much more considering given how Facebook delivers it to us. In June this year, Facebook changed its news feed algorithm to give more weight to ‘friends and family’. That is, if someone on your friends list liked or commented on a post, the chances of you seeing that post are now much higher. Then as you engage with those posts more, Facebook further fine-tunes your newsfeed to show similar posts. This streamlines your news feed to the interests of your circle, limited or diverse as it is. Essentially the algorithm places us in a jury of our peers, locking us in echo chambers of thought, validating each other in an infinite loop. Throw in a false news into this mix and, if it aligns with the ideological tilt of your clique, it goes viral (the disease metaphor being most apt here).
Facebook later accepted the dangers of fake news, with Mr. Zuckerberg posting a blog saying Facebook would “penalise this content in News Feed so it’s much less likely to spread.” Both Facebook and Google have also decided to disconnect fake news websites from their powerful advertisement networks, the money from which is the main incentive for fake news and click-bait articles.
However, Mr. Zuckerberg went on to say that the problem was “complex, both technically and philosophically,” and that Facebook did not want to curtail people’s ability to “share what they want whenever possible.” The high point of his argument was: “We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves.”
Arbiter of truth
Truth and its arbiters are not a highly regarded lot nowadays. We are now in the ‘post-truth’ era, where truth is “a matter of perspective” and those who seek to tell the truth are “agenda driven”. Mr. Zuckerberg is smart to distance himself from being an “arbiter of truth”. In fact, both Facebook and Google have always avoided taking on a news media tag, though they are for all practical purposes the biggest news media outlets in the world. Being in the news media business brings with it a legal, professional and ethical responsibilities to be an arbiter of truth.
In his mea culpa on fake news, Mr. Zuckerberg has said that he will reach out to journalists and news media organisation for tips on content verification.
He is forgetting that the media is already there, fighting it out for a piece of the content distribution pie offered by the platform. These media outlets are putting expensive, fact-checked reports on your platform for free, Mr. Zuckerberg, all you have to do is give them precedence over un-corroborated news. Right now they are pushing listicles and click-baits to break into the aforementioned cliques that Facebook’s algorithms have created.
Of course, trust in the mainstream media is not exactly a distinctive feature of the Internet. We have terms like “presstitute” and “Lugenpresse” to describe the extent to which mainstream media is distrusted by the champions and foot soldiers of the politics of populism that is sweeping the globe.
But the fact remains that the journalist who goes out on to the street to physically verify a fact remains one among the best arbiters of truth. And truth needs its arbiters, now more than ever.