1. Mahatma Gandhi, the out-of-the-box thinker
Since Gandhiji does not fit into any hard and fast category, he continues to disturb us
The 74th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s death provides us an opportunity to think about his character and contributions as an important figure of world history. Usually, to praise a historical figure, one tries to enumerate on their qualities to show how marvellous they had been in all areas of life.
But Mahatma Gandhi was both an enigmatic and disturbing figure. He used to think out of the box. He was an open-minded soft reader of concepts and categories. In this regard, he saw his place among the weakest and the poorest. His notion of a just and truthful politics was that in such an environment, the weakest should have the same opportunities as the strongest. It would, therefore, be suspect to see Gandhi being celebrated by the powerful and the victors and not by the weak and the defeated.
If Gandhi continues to disturb the powerful and the victorious, it is because he does not fit in the victors’ histories and narratives.
Why do we continue to read Gandhi and to admire him? Not because he is the Father of the Indian Nation, but because he disturbs us. He was a chief doubter of oppressive systems and a rebel against all forms of hidden and open authority.
An example of simplicity
It is also because in an arrogant and unchecked civilisation like ours, Gandhi is a great example of simplicity and transparency. Gandhi’s simplicity was reflected in his deeds and acts, but mostly in his mode of life. Unlike most of us, not to say all of us, Gandhi had more joy and fulfilment in pursuing less in life than in pursuing more. The corporate mindset — that of being successful — which dominates all aspects of our lives, did not exist for him. And maybe, it is because of his pure simplicity that we continue to have so much trouble in understanding Gandhi. Naturally, corporates, even when they use him as a logo or an emblem, fear him. Maybe because Gandhi, like Sisyphus, continues to roll the rock up to the top of the mountain. With Gandhi we are never confronted with absolute Truth. Gandhi is a perpetual truth seeker. In fact, Gandhi is victorious through his effortful trials. His position remains ambiguous and disturbing.
Assuredly, Gandhi was an ambiguous personality, but he never wore a mask. He neither masked himself nor put a mask on the face of Indian history.
Rather, he challenged Indian history by asking lucid and limpid questions from it. As such, in practically all of Gandhi’s historical actions, there was moral or spiritual interrogation. He, therefore, led Indians to a historical and civilisational awareness that went as far as a spiritual conversion to non-violence. That is to say, the Gandhian maieutic completely reversed the relationship between a leader and his people.
Like Socrates, Gandhi was a midwife of minds (Gandhi was very much influenced by Socrates and his method of thinking). He reversed the guiding values of Indian life. His philosophy was that of a spiritual exercise, accompanied by an active reflection on truth and a lively awareness of all walks of life. Gandhi believed that the true test of life for the individual can be summarised in two principles: self-discipline and self-restraint. In this relation, he observed: “A self-indulgent man lives to eat; a self-restrained man eats to live.” His vision of community goes in the same direction and Gandhi gives ethical and political primacy to the two concepts of self-realisation and self-rule. For Gandhi, a self-realised and self-conscious community is a society of citizens who reconcile the self-determination of the individual with the recognition of the shared values in the community.
Point of self-transformation
Interestingly, in a very existential way, Gandhi believed in the interrelated nature of human existence. In the same manner, what interested him in a democracy was neither representation nor elections, but the self-transformative nature of the citizens.
But we can go even further and say that for Gandhi, this process of self-transformation should influence not only the inner life of the individual but also public life. So, what seems important is the upholding of the ethic of human action. And of course, solidarity is the advancement of that very ethic. However, what Gandhi taught us is that solidarity is not just a promise of compassion; it is actually what we can call the wake of responsibility. Undoubtedly, Gandhi knew well that global responsibility is nothing but an overriding loyalty to mankind. It goes without saying that remembering Gandhi could be a way for us to be reminded of our global responsibilities and our loyalty to mankind. Without it there would be no solidarity and no universal harmony among the peoples of the world.
Need for moral leadership
The pandemic shows us clearly that our world is in lack of a moral leadership which can evolve through experiments of empathy and by redress of the sufferings and grievances of humanity. Even if Gandhi is no more among us, his spirit has been with the great transformative leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Václav Havel and Pope Francis. As a global thinker with a transhistorical and transgeographical influence, Gandhi was a moral and political leader who stayed out of the box. We continue to wrestle with the radical parts of his vision.
The early life of Mahatma Gandhi: Birth and Family
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2nd October 1869, in Porbandar in the princely state of Kathiawar in Gujarat.
His father was Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi who served as a dewan of Porbandar state. His mother was Putlibai who came from Junagadh. Mohandas was the youngest of four children. He had two brothers and a sister.
At age of 13, Mohandas was married to 14-year-old Kastubai Makhanji Kapadia as was the custom at that time.
His father passed away in 1885, and the same year he and his wife lost their first child. The Gandhi couple later had four sons over the years.
Education of Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi Ji received his primary education in Rajkot where his father had relocated as dewan to the ruler Thakur Sahib. He went to Alfred high school in Rajkot at the age of 11.
In 1887, at the age of 18, Gandhi Ji graduated from a high school in Ahmedabad. He later enrolled at a college in Bhavnagar but dropped out later. He had also joined and eventually dropped out of a college in Bombay.
He then went to London in 1888 to pursue law from the university college. After completing his studies, he was invited to be enrolled at Inner temple to become a barrister.
He returned to India in 1891 at the age of 22 after his mother passed away.
He failed to establish a successful law career both in Rajkot and Bombay.
In 1893, he moved to Durban, South Africa, on a one-year contract to sort out the legal problems of Abdullah, a Gujarati merchant.
South Africa during the 1800s
The British had colonized and settled in the Natal and Cape provinces of South Africa during the 1840s and 50s. Transvaal and Orange Free State were independent Boer (British and Dutch settlers) ruled states. Boer means farmer settler in Dutch and Afrikaans. The governance of colonial regions (Natal and Cape) was controlled by the minority white population which enforced segregation between government-defined races in all spheres.
This created three societies- whites (British and Dutch or Boer ancestry), Blacks and Coloureds (mixed race) which included ethnic Asians (Indians, Malayans, Filipinos, and Chinese).
The Indian immigration to South Africa began in the 1860s, when whites recruited indentured Indian labour (Girmityas), especially from south India, to work on sugar plantations. Later many Indian merchants, mostly meman Muslims also migrated. By the 1890s, the children of the ex-indentured labourers had settled down in South Africa making up the third group.
Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa
1893: Mohandas Gandhi witnessed extreme apartheid or racial discrimination against the Asians in South Africa. His journey from Durban to Pretoria witnessed the famous incident when he was thrown out of a first-class compartment by a white man at Pietermaritzburg station. Upon arriving at Johanessburg, he was refused rooms in the hotels.
These experiences motivated him to stay in South Africa for a longer period to organize the Indian workers to enable them to fight for their rights. He started teaching English to the Asian population there and tried to organize them to protest against the oppression.
1894: After the culmination of his Abdullah case in 1894, he stayed on there and planned to assist Indians in opposing a bill to deny them the right to vote. He founded the Natal Indian Congress and moulded the Indian community into a unified political force.
1899-1902: The Boer War
The Boer War extended Britain’s control from Natal and Cape Province to include Transvaal and Orange Free State.
During this time, Gandhi volunteered to form a group of stretcher-bearers as the Natal Indian ambulance corps. It consisted of indentured laborers and was funded by the Indian community and helped treatment and evacuation of wounded British soldiers.
Gandhi Ji thought that helping the British war efforts would win over the British imperial government and earn sympathy for the plight of Indians there. He was also awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal for serving the British empire.
Till 1906, it was the moderate phase of the struggle for the Indians in South Africa. During this time, Gandhi concentrated on petitioning and sending memorials to the legislatures, colonial secretary in London, and the British parliament.
1906: The Civil Disobedience in South Africa
The failure of moderate methods led to the second phase of the struggle, civil disobedience or the Satyagraha.
He started two settlements- the Phoenix settlement in Durban and the Tolstoy farm in Johanessburg for helping the needy and initiating a communal living tradition.
His first notable resistance was against the law passed by the government, making it compulsory for Indians to take out certifications of registrations that held their fingerprints and was compulsory to carry it on the person at all times. Gandhi formed a Passive Resistance Association against this.
Gandhi and his followers were jailed. Later the government agreed to withdraw the law if Indians voluntarily registered. They were tricked into the registrations and they protested again by publicly burning their certificates.
1908: The existing campaign expanded to protest against the new law to restrict migrations of Indians between provinces. Gandhi and others were jailed and sentenced to hard physical labor.
1910: Gandhi Ji set up the Tolstoy farm in Johannesburg to ready the satyagrahis to the harsh conditions of the prison hence helping to keep the resistance moving forward.
1911: Gopal Krishna Gokhale visited South Africa as a state guest on the occasion of the coronation of King George V. Gokhale and Gandhi met at Durban and established a good relationship.
1913: The satyagraha continued against varied oppressive laws brought by the government. The movement against the law invalidating marriages not conducted according to Christian rites brought out many Indian women onto the movement.
Gandhi launched a final mass movement of over 2000 men, women, and children. They were jailed and forced to miserable conditions and hard labor. This caused the whole Indian community in South Africa to rise on strike.
In India, Gokhale worked to make the public aware of the situation in South Africa which led to the then Viceroy Hardinge to call for an inquiry into the atrocities.
A series of negotiations took place between Gandhiji, Viceroy Hardinge, CR Andrews (Christian missionary and Indian Independence activist), and General Smuts of South Africa. This led to the government conceding to most of the Indians’ demands.
Gandhiji’s return to India: 1915
1915: On the request of Gokhale, conveyed by CF Andrews (Deenbandhu), Gandhi Ji returned to India to help with the Indian struggle for independence.
The last phase of the Indian National movement is known as the Gandhian era.
Mahatma Gandhi became the undisputed leader of the National Movement. His principles of nonviolence and Satyagraha were employed against the British government. Gandhi made the nationalist movement a mass movement.
On returning to India in 1915, Gandhi toured the country for one year on Gokhale’s insistence. He then established an ashram in Ahmedabad to settle his phoenix family.
He first took up the cause of indentured labour in India thus continuing his fight in South Africa to abolish it.
Gandhiji joined the Indian National Congress and was introduced to Indian issues and politics and Gokhale became his political Guru.
1917: At this point, World war I was going on, and Britain and France were in a difficult position. Germany had inflicted a crushing defeat on both the British and French troops in France.
Russia’s war effort had broken down and the revolution was threatening its government.
America had entered the war but no American troops had yet reached the war front.
The British army required reinforcements urgently and they looked to India for participation. Viceroy Chelmsford had invited various Indian leaders to attend a war conference. Gandhi was also invited and he went to Delhi to attend the conference.
After attending the viceroy’s war conference Gandhiji agreed to support the recruitment of Indians in the British war effort. He undertook a recruitment campaign in Kaira district, Gujarat.
He again believed that support from Indians will make the British government look at their plight sympathetically after the war.
Early movements by Gandhiji
Champaran Satyagraha, Kheda Satyagraha, and Ahmedabad Mill Strike were the early movements of Gandhi before he was elevated into the role of a national mass leader.
1917: Champaran Satyagraha
Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 was the first civil disobedience movement organized by Gandhiji. Rajkumar Shukla asked Gandhi to look into the problems of the Indigo planters.
The European planters had been forcing passengers to grow Indigo on a 3/20 of the total land called the tinkatiya system.
Gandhi organized a passive resistance or civil disobedience against the tinkatiya system. Finally, the authorities relented and permitted Gandhi to make inquiries among the peasants. The government appointed a committee to look into the matter and nominated Gandhi as a member.
Rajendra Prasad, Anugrah Narayan Sinha, and other eminent lawyers became inspired by Gandhi and volunteered to fight for the Indigo farmers in court for free.
Gandhi was able to convince the authorities to abolish the system and the peasants were compensated for the illegal dues extracted from them.
1918: Kheda satyagraha
The Kheda Satyagraha was the first noncooperation movement organized by Gandhi.
Because of the drought in 1918 crops failed in the Kheda district of Gujarat. According to the revenue code if the yield was less than one-fourth of the normal produced the farmers for entitled to remission. Gujarat sabha sent a petition requesting revenue assessment for the year 1919 but the authorities refused to grant permission.
Gandhi supported the peasants’ cause and asked them to withhold revenue. During the Satyagraha, many young nationalists such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Indulal Yagnik became Gandhi’s followers.
Sardar Patel led a group of eminent people who went around villages and gave them political advisors and instructions.
The government finally agreed to form an agreement with the farmers and hence the taxes were suspended for the years 1919 and 1920 and all confiscated properties were returned.
1918: Ahmedabad mill strike
This was Gandhi’s first hunger strike. He intervened in a dispute between Mill owners of Ahmedabad and the workers over the issue of discontinuation of the plague bonus.
The workers were demanding a rise of 50% in their wages while the employees were willing to concede only a 20% bonus.
The striking workers turned to Anusuiya Sarabai in quest of justice and she contacted Gandhi for help. He asked the workers to go on a strike and to remain non-violent and undertook a fast unto death to strengthen the workers’ resolve.
The mill owners finally agreed to submit the issue to a tribunal and the strike was withdrawn in the end the workers receive a 35% increase in the wages.
Gandhiji’s active involvement in the Indian National Movement
Gandhi’s active involvement in the Indian Freedom Struggle was marked by many mass movements like the Khilafat Movement, Non-Cooperation Movement, Civil Disobedience Movement, and Quit India Movement.
1919: Khilafat movement
During World war I Gandhi sought cooperation from the Muslims in his fight against the British by supporting the Ottoman Empire that had been defeated in the world war.
The British passed the Rowlatt act to block the movement. Gandhi called for a nationwide Satyagraha against the act.
It was Rowlatt Satyagraha that elevated Gandhi into a national leader. Rowlatt Satyagraha was against the unjust Rowlatt Act passed by the British.
On April 13th, 1919 the Jallianwala Bagh incident took place. Seeing the violence spread Mahatma Gandhi called off the civil disobedience movement on 18th April.
1920: Non-Cooperation Movement
Gandhi convinced the congress leaders to start a Non-Cooperation Movement in support of Khilafat as well as Swaraj. At the congress session of Nagpur in 1920, the non-cooperation program was adopted.
1922: Chauri chaura incident took place, which caused Gandhi to withdraw the non-cooperation movement.
After the non-cooperation movement ended, Gandhi withdrew from the political platform and focused on his social reform work.
1930: The Salt March and The Civil Disobedience Movement
Gandhi declared that he would lead a march to break the salt law as the law gave the state the Monopoly to the manufacturer and the sale of salt.
Gandhi along with his followers marched from his ashram in Sabarmati to the coastal town of Dandi in Gujarat where they broke the government law by gathering natural salt and boiling seawater to produce salt.
This also marked the beginning of the civil disobedience movement.
1931: The Gandhi Irwin pact
Gandhi accepted the truce offered by Irwin and called off the civil disobedience movement and agreed to attend the second round table conference in London as the representative of the Indian National Congress.
But when he returned from London he relaunched the civil disobedience movement but by 1934 it had lost its momentum.
1932: Poona pact
This was a pact reached between B.R Ambedkar and Gandhi concerning the communal awards but in the end, strived to achieve a common goal for the upliftment of the marginalized communities of the Indian society.
1934: Gandhi resigned from the Congress party membership as he did not agree with the party’s position on varied issues.
Gandhi returned to active politics in 1936 with the Lucknow session of Congress where Jawaharlal Nehru was the president.
1938: Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose’s principles clashed during the Tripuri session which led to the Tripuri crisis in the Indian National Congress.
1942: Quit India movement
The outbreak of World war II and the last and crucial phase of national struggle in India came together.
The failure of the Cripps mission in 1942 gave rise to the Quit India movement.
Gandhi was arrested and held at Aga Khan Palace in Pune. During this time his wife Kasturba died after 18 months of imprisonment and in 1944 Gandhi suffered a severe malaria attack.
He was released before the end of the war on 6th May 1944. World war II was nearing an end and the British gave clear indications that power would be transferred to Indians hence Gandhi called off the struggle and all the political prisoners were released including the leaders of Congress.
Partition and independence
Gandhiji opposed the partition of India along religious lines.
While he and Congress demanded the British to quit India the Muslim league demanded to divide and quit India.
All of Gandhi’s efforts to help the Congress and Muslim league reach an agreement to corporate and attain independence failed.
Gandhiji did not celebrate the independence and end of British rule but appealed for peace among his countrymen. He was never in agreement for the country to be partitioned.
His demeanour played a key role in pacifying the people and avoiding a Hindu Muslim riot during the partition in the rest of India.
Death of Mahatma Gandhi
30th January 1948
Gandhiji was on his way to address a prayer meeting in the Birla House New Delhi when Nathuram Godse fired three bullets into his chest from close range killing him instantly.
Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy
Throughout his life, in his principles practices, and beliefs, he always held on to non-violence and simple living. He influenced many great leaders and the nation respectfully addresses him as the father of the nation or Bapu.
He worked for the upliftment of untouchables and called them Harijan meaning the children of God.
Rabindranath Tagore is said to have accorded the title of Mahatma to Gandhi.
It was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who first addressed him as the Father of the Nation.
Many great world leaders like Nelson Mandela followed Gandhiji’s teachings and way of life. Hence, his impact on the global stage is still very profound.
Literary works of Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhiji was a prolific writer and he has written many articles throughout his life. He edited several newspapers including Harijan in Gujarati, Indian opinion in South Africa, and Young India in English.
He also wrote several books including his autobiography “The Story Of My Experiments with Truth”.
2. A year on from Myanmar’s ‘annus horribilis’
The road ahead looks dark and New Delhi’s outreach needs to be guided by realism and pragmatism
The coup in Myanmar will be a year old tomorrow. On February 1 last year, the military seized power, violating the Constitution. A decade-long experiment with hybrid democracy ended abruptly, paving the way for violence, oppression and instability. The road ahead looks dark, but diplomatic efforts are under way to bring amelioration.
The Opposition camp has called for a nationwide silent strike that ends in mass clapping, an act representing the indignation and the frustration of the people. They are angry with the military that has oppressed them and imprisoned their elected leaders. They are also frustrated with the international community as it failed to show up with a magic wand to restore democracy. Some of their leaders are promising freedom from military rule by the end of 2022. But few believe them.
The military leadership has persisted in marching on the dangerous path it chose last January. It convinced itself that the November 2020 elections were fraudulent, resulting in a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It feared that, armed with a strong popular mandate, she would clip their wings and establish full democracy. President Win Myint and Daw Suu Kyi were arrested and there was a brutal clampdown. The result: 1,498 people have been killed and 11,787 imprisoned till January 27, 2022, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Besides, a sizeable number of security officials have been killed. An exodus of people seeking refuge in neighbouring countries followed, which included over 15,000 people to Mizoram, India.
After the coup, the Opposition was active in articulating people’s anger. A parallel government named the National Unity Government (NUG) was formed. Slowly it lost momentum as Naypyitaw denounced NUG as “terrorists”, and used its overwhelming power to subdue the resistance. The military now has an upper hand although normalcy still eludes the nation. Instability has ruined the economy, with the World Bank terming it as “critically weak”. The crisis also weakened the Government’s efforts to manage the pandemic. In short, Myanmar has just gone through its annus horribilis.
Attention has now been focused on mediation by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). It began well by persuading Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the regime’s supremo, to accept the ‘Five-Point Consensus’ comprising, inter alia, the cessation of violence, national dialogue and mediatory efforts by ASEAN. Insiders recall that Min Aung Hlaing’s consent was implicit. This became explicit when Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin formally conveyed Myanmar’s “commitment” to the plan last August. But the military resiled from its implementation. With uncharacteristic firmness, ASEAN barred the Senior General’s participation in its summits. It offered representation at the non-political level which Myanmar turned down.
In this impasse, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, the current ASEAN Chair, has adopted a softer approach which is backed by Thailand and Laos. It aims at adjusting to the military’s refusal to compromise on its key requirements such as denial of access to Daw Suu Kyi for ASEAN mediators, and little dilution of the 2008 Constitution. Other ASEAN States led by Indonesia are opposed to Cambodia’s diplomacy. But long-time ASEAN watchers believe that through further consultations, the grouping will craft internal consensus and re-adapt its negotiating mandate.
Whether this happens on Cambodia’s watch, or later under the Indonesian leadership, remains to be seen. A key person to watch is Noeleen Heyzer, the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres’s special envoy, who could help both the UN and ASEAN to craft a modus vivendi for Myanmar.
The West exerts influence in Myanmar, but it has been unable to comprehend the dynamics of power. The United States and the European Union have not accurately assessed the military’s resolve and core conviction that without its driving role, national unity and integrity would disappear. The western policy to promote democracy and impose sanctions against the military have produced minimal results.
The media paid huge attention to Russia’s endeavours to woo Myanmar by increasing its defence cooperation since the coup. But the principal player is China, not Russia, despite evident coordination between the two. Beijing enjoys enormous leverage in the ‘Golden Land’ through its control over several ethnic armed organisations, projects covered by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the regime’s protection via veto in the Security Council, and a thick cheque book. Whoever wields power in Naypyitaw develops stakes in close partnership with China. But Myanmar’s rulers also desire independence and balance in their external policy, provided the international community gives them the means for it. Japan understands this geopolitical reality, but acting by itself, Tokyo cannot make a difference. It should act in coordination with ASEAN and India.
As the world’s largest democracy, India is always happy to work with fellow democracies, but it has never been in the business of exporting democracy. Nevertheless, it has done much to shape and to strengthen diplomatic efforts at the UN and through its support to ASEAN for putting Myanmar’s transition to democracy back on the rails. This line was reiterated by India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in his interactions with the top military leadership in December 2021. He was given a patient hearing even though his request to meet Daw Suu Kyi was denied, as was expected. Besides, New Delhi provided one million doses of “Made in India” vaccines, and humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar.
For India, the well-established two-track policy of supporting democracy and maintaining cordial relations with the Government remains in operation. South Block has to protect the state’s interests, guided by realism and pragmatism. It has to discourage a mass influx of refugees; cut the capability of insurgent groups to endanger security in the Northeast from Myanmar soil; safeguard the ongoing projects and investments; and, above all, counter China’s growing influence.
Finally, what future awaits Daw Suu Kyi who no longer dominates the political narrative as she did before the coup? Sadly, she faces three choices, all difficult: long imprisonment, foreign exile, or imposed retirement from politics. The last option seems the most likely at present.
What triggered the coup
The military has alleged that the general elections held in November 2020 were full of “irregularities” and that therefore, the results — a sweep for NLD — are not valid. It has questioned the veracity of some 9 million votes cast in the election.
The military had demanded that the United Elections Commission (UEC) of Myanmar which oversees elections, or the government, or outgoing parliamentarians prove at a special session before the new parliament convenes on February 1, that the elections were free and fair. The demand had been rejected.
Speech of the army chief
According to ‘The Irrawaddy’ news website, Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said the Tatmadaw, or the Myanmar military, “needs to abide by the Constitution”, which is the “mother of the law”.
The military, he told officers at the National Defence College via video conference, would respect all existing laws that are “not beyond the 2008 Constitution”, but “if one does not follow the law, such a law must be revoked. I mean if it is the Constitution, it is necessary to revoke the Constitution. If one does not follow the law, the Constitution must be revoked”.
The military’s Constitution
It was the military that drafted the 2008 Constitution, and put it to a questionable referendum in April that year. The NLD had boycotted the referendum, as well as the 2010 elections that were held under the Constitution.
The Constitution was the military’s “roadmap to democracy”, which it had been forced to adopt under increasing pressure from the west, and its own realisation that opening up Myanmar to the outside world was now no longer an option but a dire economic necessity. But the military made sure to safeguard in the Constitution its own role and supremacy in national affairs.
Under its provisions, the military reserves for itself 25 per cent of seats in both Houses of Parliament, to which it appoints serving military officials. Also, a political party which is a proxy for the military contests elections. Its share of seats fell further this time because of the NLD’s sweep.
The army’s allegation
A military spokesman said earlier in the week that the Tatmadaw had found 8.6 million irregularities in 314 areas across all states and regions, and that this indicated the possibility that people had voted “more than once”, or had engaged in some other “voting malpractice”.
The UEC has said it had found no evidence of any voting malpractice or fraud. It has said that each vote was “counted transparently and witnessed by election candidates, election staff, the media, observers and other civil society organizations”.
The army chief called the 2008 Constitution “effective”. Each section of the law has a purpose and meaning, he said, and no one should take it upon themselves to interpret it as they pleased. “Applying the law based on one’s own ideas may cause harm rather than being effective,” he was quoted as saying by ‘The Irrawaddy’.
He also spoke about how the military had revoked two previous constitutions in Myanmar.
Democratic transition halted
The speech and the army’s assertion prompted the United States embassy and diplomatic missions of 15 other countries and the European Union in Yangon to issue a joint statement “oppos[ing] any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition”.
Myanmar’s democratic transition had been a work in progress. The results of the 2020 election, held during the pandemic, were being seen by the NLD as a mandate for its plan of constitutional reform, through which it aimed to do away with the military’s role in politics and governance. But this was never going to be easy, given the tight constitutional restrictions for amendments.
But the hybrid system was a huge shift away from what it was until 2011, the year the military decided to release Suu Kyi from her nearly two-decade-long house arrest, thus inaugurating its “road map to democracy” on which there has been slow progress.
Suu Kyi had been more reconciliatory towards the Army than was expected even by her own supporters, to the extent of defending the Tatmadaw at the International Court of Justice against accusations of atrocities on the Rohingya. The stand-off over the elections was the first serious face-off she had with the military since her release.
Text of the statement by diplomatic missions
Following is the text of the statement jointly issued by the diplomatic missions of Australia; Canada; the Delegation of the EU and European Union Member States with presence in Myanmar: Denmark, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden; as well as Switzerland; the United Kingdom; the United States; Norway; and New Zealand.
India and China were not among the signatories.
“We affirm our support for Myanmar’s democratic transition and efforts to promote peace, human rights, and development in the country. We look forward to the peaceful convening of the Parliament on February 1 and the election of the President and speakers. Once again, we congratulate the people of Myanmar on their historic participation in the country’s recent general election. We urge the military, and all other parties in the country, to adhere to democratic norms, and we oppose any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition. We support all those who work toward greater democratic freedoms, lasting peace, and inclusive prosperity for the people of Myanmar.”
3. Another BrahMos deal in the pipeline
It could be inked with Philippines Army
While the Philippines signed a $375 million deal for BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles last week to be operated by the Philippines Marines, there is another long-pending deal under discussion for BrahMos missiles for the Philippines Army, which could see progress in the near future, according to defence and diplomatic sources.
In an ironic situation, while India has signed its biggest defence export contract with the Philippines, it does not have a full-fledged Defence Attaché (DA) at its embassy in Manila. The proposal for increasing the number of DAs at several Indian missions abroad, including the Philippines, has been pending for some time, at least two officials independently said.
“The Marines deal is done, next will be of the Philippines Army. The Philippines Army (PA) will push through with the project,” two diplomatic sources stated.
Acquisition of BrahMos by the PA is programmed in the Horizon 3 Modernization programme of Philippines (Year 2023-2027), one of the sources stated. This deal was in the works before the Philippines Marines, which is under the Navy, initiated its project but got delayed and was held in abeyance. Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had stated in December 2019 that the PA was looking to procure two BrahMos missile batteries.
Earlier, in 2019 the PA had activated its first land-based missile unit under the its Army Artillery Regiment in preparation to induct the BrahMos. In the absence of a full-fledged DA at the embassy in Manila, the DA at the Indian mission in Singapore currently functions as a non-resident DA to the Philippines.
BrahMos naval variant:
- It has been designed to launch either in a vertical or a horizontal mode from moving/stationary assets to target both land and sea targets.
- It can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft, and land platforms.
- The BrahMos (designated PJ-10) is a medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile that can be launched from submarine, ships, aircraft, or land.
- Developed by: It is a joint venture between the Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), who together have formed BrahMos Aerospace.
- It is the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation.
- Version in use: land-launched and ship-launched versions.
- Recent development: In 2016, India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), India and Russia are now jointly developing a new generation of Brahmos missiles with 600 km-plus range.
- In 2019, India upgraded the missile with a new range of 500 km.
4. SC judges irked by the use of social media to troll their work
But, some feel judges shouldn’t take criticisms to heart
Supreme Court judges seem to have a mixed view about what is said on social media. They have often faulted social media of being a pliant tool at the hands of forces who want to “villainise” judges, launch personal attacks and troll them for their work. There are some who believe that an attack on judges is an attack on the institution itself. The government has rushed to support the court.
In his Constitution Day speech in November 2021, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana drew attention on the “attacks on the judiciary in the media, particularly social media”.
“Physical attacks on judicial officers are on the rise. Then there are attacks on the judiciary in the media, particularly social media. The law enforcing agencies, particularly the Central agencies, need to deal with such malicious attacks effectively,” the CJI exhorted.
In March 2021, the then Minister of Law and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, flagged the government’s concern about “social media campaigns” conducted against individual judges for their judicial opinions and judgments.
However, apex court judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, as witnessed in a recent hearing, offers a counter view. He observed that the shoulders of the judges are “broad” enough to bear the barbs shot at them. The judge does his duty and remains faithful to the Constitution.
5. Amid chill in relations, new PLA history returns spotlight to 1962 war
The downturn in ties has coincided with greater interest in China in the 1962 war, which hasn’t been covered as extensively in the media as Korean War or war with Japan
Ahead of the 60th anniversary of the 1962 India-China war which falls in October this year, official Chinese military researchers have compiled a new history of the war reassessing its significance and legacy, bringing the spotlight back to the war amid the current tensions in relations.
Previous anniversaries of the war received only modest attention in China — far less than in India — and some Chinese military scholars have in the past viewed the war with India as one of China’s forgotten wars.
Unlike the Korean War or war with Japan, the India-China war hasn’t been covered as extensively in Chinese films, television dramas or in the media.
That is now changing. There has been renewed attention on 1962 following the Line of Actual Control (LAC) crisis which began in April 2020 and particularly after the June 15, 2020 clash in Galwan Valley. If the normalisation of ties with India was one reason for downplaying 1962 in the past, the recent plunge in relations has coincided with greater interest both in 1962 and on the boundary dispute.
To mark the 60th anniversary, Zhang Xiaokang, daughter of the former PLA General Zhang Guohua who headed the Tibet military region and planned the Chinese offensive in the eastern sector in October 1962, brought together Chinese military researchers to compile a new history of the war, titled One Hundred Questions on the China-India Border Self-Defence Counterattack. Extracts of the book were published this month in the popular Chinese website Guancha. The book is based on interviews with PLA veterans and focuses on Chinese military strategy as well as on the legacy of the war.
In China, high-profile books on military history, a sensitive topic, cannot be published without a green light from the PLA’s Central Military Commission, which is headed by President Xi Jinping. The extract said although it had been many years since the war “it has not been forgotten with the passage of time, and generations of soldiers and military fans have always been interested in this counterattack.”
One reason why the 1962 war hasn’t received wide attention is that unlike the war against Japanese occupation, China was the aggressor, despite the often repeated claim by the Communist Party that China had never invaded or occupied any country.
Officially, China still calls its massive attack on India as a “self-defence counterattack”. The book reveals that the CPC under Mao, very shortly after the offensive, decreed that all references to the war in China could only describe it as a “counterattack”, reflective of how the leadership looked to immediately turn on its head China’s act of aggression.
The extract notes that on December 3, 1962, less than two weeks after the unilateral ceasefire declared by China, the PLA’s General Staff department issued a telegram to all troops on “The Question of Naming the Operation Against the Invading Indian Army,” which stipulated that the war would only be referred to as the “China-India Border Self-Defence Counterattack”, a description that is still used today.
The book also looks at Mao’s decision to go to war and says he believed the offensive would, somewhat counterintuitively, “create conditions for a peaceful settlement of the Sino-Indian border issue” by bringing India to the negotiating table after Nehru’s “refusal” to acknowledge a dispute. That both sides subsequently began negotiating, the book argues, proved him right.
It also says Mao was initially concerned about the capabilities of the Indian Army but was reassured by his generals, including General Zhang. It quotes Mao as saying “if we don’t win, we won’t blame heaven and earth but our own incompetence”. He also told General Zhang that if China lost “sacred territory in Tibet” in the war that it would “take it back one day”.
The book focuses on the Eastern Sector, which General Zhang headed, and discusses the significance of the capture of Tawang in 1962, which it said was aimed to “demonstrate that China would not accept the McMahon Line” as well as its sovereignty over Tibet.
It attributes China’s military success in 1962 to the fighting experience gained by the military first in the war against Japan and subsequently in the war in Korea fighting U.S. troops. Those wars have occupied the spotlight in official Chinese military histories. But with the resurgence of tensions along the India-China border and ahead of the upcoming anniversary, the India-China war is now back in the spotlight.
Historical border issues: Following India’s Independence, China felt the British had left behind a disputed legacy on the boundary between the two newly formed republics. The 3,488-km length border between India and China is not clearly demarcated throughout and there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control(LAC).
The India-China border is divided into three sectors, viz. Western, Middle and Eastern.
Western Sector – dispute pertains to the Johnson Line proposed by the British in the 1860s that extended up to the Kunlun Mountains and put Aksai Chin in the then princely state of Jammu and Kashmir(or the Chinese province of Xinjiang). Independent India used the Johnson Line and claimed Aksai Chin as its own. However, China stated that it had never acceded to the Johnson Line.
Middle Sector – the dispute is a minor one and is the only one where India and China have exchanged maps on which they broadly agree.
Eastern Sector – dispute is over the MacMahon Line, (formerly referred to as the North East Frontier Agency, and now called Arunachal Pradesh) which was part of the 1914 Simla Convention between British India and Tibet, an agreement rejected by China. Till the 1960s, China controlled Aksai Chin in the West while India controlled the boundary up to the McMahon Line in the East.
In 1960, based on an agreement between Nehru and Zhou Enlai, Chinese minister, discussions held by Indian and Chinese officials in order to settle the boundary dispute failed. The 1962 Sino-Indian War was fought in both of these areas.
1959 Tiberian uprising:
- China’s occupation of Tibet began in October 1950, when troops from its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invaded the country.
- The Tibetan government gave into Chinese pressure and signed a treaty that ensured the power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the country’s spiritual leader, over Tibet’s domestic affairs.
- As a resistance to the Chinese occupation, there was a revolt in several areas of eastern Tibet in 1956.
- By December 1958, rebellion was simmering in Lhasa, the capital, and the PLA command threatened to bomb the city if order was not maintained.
- The March 1959 uprising in Lhasa was triggered by fears of a plot to kidnap the Dalai Lama and take him to Beijing.
- Chinese military officers invited Lama to visit the PLA headquarters for a theatrical performance and official tea, but with no Tibetan military bodyguards or personnel.
- On March 10, 300,000 loyal Tibetans surrounded Norbulinka Palace, preventing the Dalai Lama from accepting the PLA’s invitation.
- By March 17, Chinese artillery was aimed at the palace and the Dalai Lama was evacuated to neighboring India.
- Fighting broke out in Lhasa two days later, with Tibetan rebels outnumbered and outgunned.
- In the aftermath, the PLA cracked down on Tibetan resistance, executing the Dalai Lama’s guards and destroying Lhasa’s major monasteries along with thousands of their inhabitants.
Asylum to Dalai Lama:
- Tensin Gyatso was designated the 14th Dalai Lama in 1940, a position that eventually made him the religious and political leader of Tibet.
- In 1951, Tibetan-Chinese agreement was signed in which the nation became a “national autonomous region” of China, under the traditional rule of the Dalai Lama but actually under the control of a Chinese communist commission.
- The highly religious people of Tibet, suffered under communist China’s anti-religious legislation.
- After years of scattered protests, a full-scale revolt broke out in March 1959, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee as the uprising was crushed by Chinese troops.
- On March 31, 1959, the Dalai Lama fought his way through the snow to reach Chutangmu, a tiny Assam Rifles outpost near Tawang, to request asylum in India.
- Forewarned, Indian authorities immediately gave him protection.
- A few weeks later, Indian then PM Nehru welcomed him in Mussoorie and formally offered him asylum.
- He began a permanent exile in India, settling at Dharamsala where he established a democratically based shadow Tibetan government.
- With the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China, the Chinese suppression of Tibetan Buddhism escalated, and practice of the religion was banned and thousands of monasteries were destroyed.
- Tens of thousands of Tibetans followed their leader to India.
- Although the ban was lifted in 1976, protests in Tibet continued and the exiled Dalai Lama won widespread international support for the Tibetan independence movement.
Forward policy of India:
- At the beginning of 1961, Nehru appointed General B.M. Kaul who was influential in all army decisions.
- Kaul reorganized the general staff and removed the officers who had resisted the idea of patrolling in disputed areas.
- In the summer of 1961, China began patrolling along the McMahon Line and entered parts of Indian-administered regions.
- After May 1961 Chinese troops occupied Dehra Compass and established a post on the Chip Chap River.
- The Chinese, however, did not believe they were intruding upon Indian territory.
- In response, the Indians launched a policy of creating outposts behind the Chinese troops so as to cut off their supplies and force their return to China.
- This has been referred to as the “Forward Policy”.
- There were eventually 60 such outposts, including 43 north of the McMahon Line.
- Indian posts and Chinese posts were separated by a narrow stretch of land.
- China had been steadily spreading into those lands and India reacted with the Forward Policy to demonstrate that those lands were not unoccupied.
- The initial reaction of the Chinese forces was to withdraw when Indian outposts advanced towards them which encouraged the Indian forces to accelerate their Forward Policy even further.
- In response to Indian outposts encircling Chinese positions, Chinese forces would build more outposts to counter-encircle these Indian positions, which resulted in chessboard-like deployment of Chinese and Indian forces.
- However, no hostile fire occurred from either side as troops from both sides were under orders to fire only in defense.
International response during the conflict:
- Western nations at the time viewed China as an aggressor and the war was part of a monolithic communist objective to dictate the world.
- The United States was unequivocal in its recognition of the Indian boundary claims in the eastern sector, while not supporting the claims of either side in the western sector.
- During the conflict, Nehru wrote two letters to the U.S. President John F. Kennedy, asking for 12 squadrons of fighter jets and a modern radar system.
- He had also asked that these aircraft be manned by American pilots until Indian airmen were trained to replace them.
- These requests were rejected by the Kennedy Administration.
- The U.S. provided non-combat assistance to Indian forces and planned to send the carrier USS Kitty Hawk to the Bay of Bengal to support India in case of an air war.
- As the Sino-Soviet split heated up, Moscow made a major effort to support India, especially with the sale of advanced Mig warplanes.
- India and the USSR reached an agreement in August 1962 (before the Cuban Missile Crisis) for the immediate purchase of twelve MiG-21s as well as for Soviet technical assistance in the manufacture of these aircraft in India.
- Britain agreed with the Indian position completely.
- The non-aligned nations remained uninvolved, and only the United Arab Republic openly supported India.
- Of the non-aligned nations, six, Egypt, Burma, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Ghana and Indonesia didn’t unequivocally condemn China which deeply disappointed India.
- Pakistan, which had had a turbulent relationship with India ever since the Indian partition, improved its relations with China after the war.
6. The importance of the Nord Stream pipeline
How is the pipeline causing geo-political tensions? Is the U.S. planning sanctions on it?
Nordstream consists of two pipelines, Nord Stream 1 which was completed in 2011 and Nord Stream 2 which was completed in September 2021. The twin pipelines together can transport a combined total of 110 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year. In Germany, the pipeline connects to the OPAL and the NEL which further connects to the European grid.
The main strategic objection to the pipeline, particularly from the U.S., is that it will make Europe too dependent on Russia. Ukraine has objected because it will lose around $2 billion in transit fees once the pipeline becomes operational.
Germany needs the pipeline as its transition to cleaner fuels by phasing out nuclear power and cutting reliance on coal has increased its dependence on Russian gas. Many European businesses also have large investments in Nord Stream 2. Finally, a reduction in gas from Russia would increase already high gas prices which would be a disaster domestically.
The story so far: The Nord Stream pipeline is back in the news following the renewed tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine. Owned by the Russian energy giant, Gazprom, Nord Stream the longest subsea pipeline, is an export gas pipeline which runs under the Baltic Sea carrying gas from Russia to Europe. The gas for Nord Steam comes mainly from the Bovanenkovo oil and gas condensate deposit in Western Siberia. The pipeline’s significance comes from the fact that it bypasses transit countries, making it highly reliable for European customers.
What is the Nord Stream Pipeline?
Nordstream consists of two pipelines, which have two lines each. Nord Stream 1 was completed in 2011 and runs from Vyborg in Leningrad to Lubmin near Greifswald, Germany. Nord Stream 2 which runs from Ust-Luga in Leningrad to Lubmin was completed in September 2021 and has the capacity to handle 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year once it becomes operational. The twin pipelines together can transport a combined total of 110 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year to Europe for at least 50 years. The Nord Stream crosses the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of several countries including Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany, and the territorial waters of Russia, Denmark, and Germany. In Germany, the pipeline connects to the OPAL (Baltic Sea Pipeline) and NEL (North European Pipeline) which further connects to the European grid.
What are the objections to the pipeline?
The pipeline has run into trouble from environmentalists who argue that it does not fit in with German efforts to cut dependence on fossil fuels and fight climate change. The $11 billion-worth Nord Stream 2 has not yet started operating because Germany says it does not comply with German law and has suspended its approval. The project is also awaiting approval from the European Commission.
The strategic objection, particularly from the U.S., is that it will make Europe too dependent on Russia, increasing Russia’s influence in Europe. Moreover, there is concern that Russia could use it as a geopolitical weapon. Ukraine has objected because it will lose around $2 billion in transit fees once the pipeline becomes operational. Moreover, so long as Russian gas transits through Ukraine, Russia is unlikely to intervene and cause instability in Ukraine and Europe will stay invested in its security. Countries like Poland and Belarus also stand to lose transit fees and hence oppose the pipeline as it will bypass existing pipelines running through them.
In light of the tensions over Ukraine, the U.S. has said it will stop the Nord Stream if Russia attacks Ukraine. But European countries, led by Germany, seemed reluctant initially to impose sanctions on the Nord Stream though it has now said sanctions are not off the table. This reluctance stems from the pipeline’s importance to Europe.
Why is it important for Europe and Russia?
Europe requires more than 100 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas each year and around 40% of its gas comes from Russia. This gas is used for heating homes, factories, and offices in the harsh, long European winters and also for power generation. Over the last few years, Europe has become more dependent on gas imports because of a decrease in domestic gas production. Reducing dependence on Russian gas is difficult as there are no easy replacements. There is no infrastructure to import LNG from exporters like Qatar and the U.S. and there are question marks over the desirability of shipping gas. The U.S. has said that it is in talks with gas-producing countries to secure back-up supplies for Europe if Russia stops sending gas. But this does not look like a feasible option in the short term due to current shortages in global supplies. Moreover, Germany’s transition to cleaner fuels by phasing out nuclear power and cutting reliance on coal has increased its dependence on Russian gas as gas is seen as a cleaner fuel. Many European businesses have large investments in Nord Stream 2 and there is pressure on governments from these businesses. Finally, a reduction in gas from Russia would increase already high gas prices and that would not be popular domestically.
As for Russia, which has the largest natural gas reserves in the world, around 40% of its budget comes from sales of gas and oil. Nord Stream 2 is important because it eliminates the risks related with sending gas through transit countries, cuts operating costs by doing away with transit fees and gives direct access to its most important European customer, Germany. It increases Europe’s dependence on Russia while giving it a reliable customer.
The Nord Stream 2 is being used as a bargaining chip by the West to force Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine. However, the kerfuffle over it has also brought out in the open the discord between the U.S. and its allies within Europe. For now, the fate of the $11 billion pipeline hangs in a balance.