Where will the satyagraha/Saffron revolution go?

Another prediction for what it is worth

It depends on two key factors: first, how fast the protests become a mass movement involving people in their millions, rather than in their thousands; and second, how long it can remain non-violent. Monks and their supporters are unlikely to be able to carry on a struggle that is both long-drawn and non-violent. So the junta can just wait it out, respond to non-violence with ‘non-violent’ intimidation, until the whole thing fizzles out. Without external help, the prospect of a fizzle is real.

Update: The junta has begun cracking down. It has begun shooting monks.

External actors—excluding China—have no real levers. And as Chandra asked, how seriously can we expect China to ask the junta to introduce democracy. So Chinese advice will only be limited to telling the junta not to exacerbate the situation by spilling blood. That’s similar to the reaction of ASEAN’s secretary-general. Thailand, which might once have taken a bold position on democracy, is currently under military rule. So you won’t hear much from the Thais either.India’s UPA government—in crisis-mode and with talk of elections next year—is likely to adopt a similar approach. No, the Indian navy won’t be conducting exercises off Myanmar’s shores. (See: Myanmar, Murli and Morality) The same goes for the US Pacific Fleet.

So, the reading: high chance of a long-drawn fizzle, with some fireworks close to the Beijing Olympics if the West manages to find ways to support the protest movement. A small chance of a bloody crackdown, but if it does occur, it will be sooner than later. The junta’s internal dynamic is unknown. Senior General Than Shwe is supposedly ill, and perhaps weakened after the fiasco of his daughter’s ostentatious wedding. There are serious rifts in it for sure—Gen Khin Nyunt, then prime minister, was airbrushed two years ago—but a possible palace coup won’t change the larger picture.

Thanks to Anand Krishnamoorthi for asking the right questions over email

6 thoughts on “Where will the satyagraha/Saffron revolution go?”

  1. Isnt the opponent’s morality a necessary condition for Satyagraha to succeed? People are mistaken if they think Satyagraha/non-violence will work against all opposition.

  2. Well, I’d say that the choice of strategy is based on capabilities, opportunities and nature of the opponent. The last being about the opponent’s vulnerabilities rather than moral character.

    But people don’t start with a clean slate, “Hmm, what’s the strategy to take down this regime?”. Reality is complex.

  3. I think Than Shwe is a pro-India general. Indians lost the bit for gas deal recently to the Chinese. May be that explains his illness and may be he will also be air burshed soon (the other guy was a Chinese hack). If so the balance is tilting away from west and is pointing north by northeast and it doesn’t bode well for us at all.

  4. It seems that India sold arms to Myanmar.

    The question is whether the countries with the greatest influence on Myanmar’s generals — China, Russia and India, which all sell weapons to the army, as well as the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that are Myanmar’s immediate neighbors — have the good sense to condemn the repression and exert the pressures only they can wield with any hope of positive effect. [link]

    This was confirmed by CHindu:

    India has invested heavily in shoring up the ruling regime’s military arsenal, though western countries had claimed these could be used for quelling internal unrest. In turn, it has managed to receive support from Myanmar in curbing anti-India militant activity on its territory [link]

    This is news to me!

  5. Amar

    The supplier of arms argument is bogus. Most of the small arms in the region, whether in army or rebel hands, are Chinese in origin. The weapons trail extends all the way to the LTTE in Sri Lanka. And if anyone wants arguments why supplying a dictatorial army with weapons (to fight terrorists) does not impact democracy, as the Americans and their $10 billion gravy train to the Pakistan army. India is a bit player as far as arms are concerned and there’s no evidence that this is helping one way or the other.


    Pro-India and Pro-China are functions of time (and other variables). If Than Shwe was pro-India, it was because Khin Nyunt and other clans were pro-China.

  6. Than Shwe’s family is filthy rich now as well as other generals and ministers of the military regime. Meanwhile majority of people are poor and starved. This is just a start of a class revolution as the gap gets bigger with corruption and nepotism. The second line of command should correct it immediately before it gets worse.

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