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Churchill and His Crimes: The Indian Cauldron

 All this confirmed Churchill’s prejudices. He simply refused to grasp Indian realities
.

The following excerpts are adapted from the author’s later book, Winston Churchill – His Times, His Crimes, published by Verso Books, the largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world, publishing one hundred books a year.

by Tariq Ali

Life: enough of this poetry

We need hard, harsh prose;

Silence the poetry-softened noises;

Strike with the stern hammer of prose today!

No need for the tenderness of verse;

Poetry: I give you leave of absence;

In the realm of hunger, the world is prosaic

The full moon is scalded bread. ~ Sukanta Bhattacharya, ‘Hey Mahajibon’ (O, Great Life) (1944)

During the interwar period India was in a state of continuous turmoil. The reforms of 1919 – which had promised increased political participation of Indians in government but denied them power – were regarded by most Indians as ill-intentioned and offering very little. In Parliament in 1917, Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India, had declared ‘the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire’. The result was a build up of pressure from below.

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was a British statesman, soldier and writer who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, during the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. [Photo: Special Arrangement]

The British Empire clearly faced a choice: it could grant India dominion status or it could rule largely through repression. The failure to grant the first necessitated the second.

The Pashtuns, Punjabis, Bengalis and Malabari (now Keralans) saw the rise of mass movements and terrorism on the pre-revolutionary Russian model. Peaceful marches were violently broken up by the police. The 1919 massacre in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar is the best known, but there were others. The Moplah peasant uprising in Malabar in 1924 was deliberately misinterpreted by Raj ideologues. The Chittagong Armoury Raid in April 1930 was an audacious attempt to seize police and auxiliaries’ weapons and launch an armed uprising in Bengal. The raiders were revolutionaries of various sorts, united by the belief that only an armed struggle inspired by the Easter Rising of 1916 (they called themselves the IRA: Indian Republican Army) could rid them of the British. The plan was to take government and military officials hostage in the European Club where they hung out after work, seize the bank, release political prisoners, destroy the telegraph offices and telephone exchanges and cut off all railway communications.

They partially succeeded, but could not capture the British officers and civil servants. It was Good Friday. The European Club was empty. Despite this, the main leader of the uprising, Surya Sen, assembled their forces outside the police armoury, where he took the salute as IRA members (numbering under a hundred) paraded past him. They hoisted the Indian flag and declared a Provisional Revolutionary Government. The British swiftly took back control and guerrilla warfare ensued. The IRA was outnumbered. A traitor gave away Sen’s hiding place. He was captured, tortured and, together with another comrade, hanged. Other prisoners were packed off to the Andaman Islands.

In Lahore, the capital of the Punjab, a twenty-two-year-old, Bhagat Singh, who hailed from a staunch anti-imperialist family, decided with a handful of supporters to carry out two missions in 1930. The aim of the first was to assassinate the British police officer who had badly beaten up the nationalist leader, Lala Lajpat Rai, at a demonstration in Lahore. But they shot the wrong police officer. The second was to throw a few bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi when it was empty. Bhagat Singh declared they did so because they wanted the noise of the blast to wake up India.

In prison he became a communist and wrote that terrorist tactics were not useful, but he refused to plead for mercy. Gandhi half-heartedly spoke on his behalf to Lord Irwin, the liberal Viceroy, but was rebuffed. Bhagat Singh and two comrades, Sukhdev Thapar and Shivaram Rajguru (all members of the tiny Hindustan Republican Socialist Party), were hanged in Lahore Jail in 1931.

There were similar events on a lesser scale elsewhere, and peasant uprisings too, the largest of which, in modern Kerala, shook the landlords and their British protectors. The peasants were mainly poor Muslims. They were defeated and the leaders of the revolt despatched to the Andamans for fifteen years. In 1935, the British realised the seriousness of the situation and passed a second Government of India Act through the House of Commons.

Churchill was vehemently opposed to the new law but was out of office. The Act provided for a controlled provincial autonomy, with the governors in each province holding reserve powers to dismiss ‘irresponsible’ governments. The tiny franchise was somewhat enlarged, and in 1937 the dominant Congress Party virtually swept the board in provincial elections, with the crucial exceptions of the Punjab and Bengal where secular-conservative, landlord-run parties obtained majorities.

Within two years of these elections Britain was at war. The Congress leaders, astounded that they had not been consulted before India was dragged into the war, instructed all their provincial governments to resign in protest and refused to offer support for the war. All this confirmed Churchill’s prejudices. He simply refused to grasp Indian realities.

The volume of protests and resistance from the end of the First World War till the late thirties had been rising with each passing year. Gandhi himself, in his South African phase, was a staunch Empire-loyalist. His view that ‘the British Empire existed for the benefit of the world’ neatly coincided with that of Churchill, and the Indian lawyer was not in the least embarrassed at acting as a recruiting sergeant during the First World War. He moderated these views when he returned to India and reinvented himself as a political deity. He was happy to mobilise the masses, but on a ‘moral level’. He would leave statecraft to the politicians, mainly Nehru and Patel. Though when they needed his imprimatur during crisis times (Partition and the Indian occupation of Kashmir), he always obliged.

Gandhi’s decision to make the Congress a mass party by appealing to the vast countryside had increased its size and political weight. In an overwhelmingly Hindu country, Gandhi had used religious symbols to mobilise the peasantry. This began to alienate Muslims, and since the Brahmins dominated the Congress leadership, the ‘untouchables’ knew their grievances would never get a hearing. Despite this, Gandhi, Patel and Nehru built a formidable political machine that covered the whole of India. The 1937 elections demonstrated as much, and it’s worth pointing out that in the north-western frontier province bordering Afghanistan, the predominantly Muslim Pashtuns had voted for the Congress Party as well.

The decision to take India into the Second World War without consulting its only elected representatives was yet another avoidable error on London’s part. The British underestimated the change in mood among the masses and some of their leaders. Had they consulted Gandhi and Nehru, offering them a fig-leaf to support the war, things might have panned out differently. The Congress leaders felt they had been treated shabbily and, after internal discussions that lasted a few months (revealing a strong anti-war faction led by the Bengali leader, Subhas Chandra Bose), they opted to quit office.

The British Viceroy immediately began to woo the Muslim League, and vice versa. The League’s leader gave full-throated backing to the war as did the conservative pro-British elected governments in Punjab and Bengal.

When, on 22 December 1939, the Congress Party announced its decision to resign and did so a week later, Jinnah declared that henceforth 22 December should be celebrated as a ‘day of deliverance’ from Congress rule. Ambedkar, the ‘Untouchables’ leader, provided strong backing, saying he ‘felt ashamed to have allowed [Jinnah] to steal a march over me and rob me of the language and the sentiment which I, more than Mr Jinnah, was entitled to use.’ Surprisingly, Gandhi also sent his congratulations to Jinnah for ‘lifting the Muslim League out of the communal rut and giving it a national character’. Little did he know where this would lead.

Emboldened by the emergence of an anti-Congress minority, the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow expressed some optimism:

In spite of the political crisis, India has not wavered in denunciation of the enemy in Europe, and has not failed to render all help needed in the prosecution of the war. The men required as recruits for the Army are forthcoming: assistance in money from the Princes and others continues to be offered: a great extension of India’s effort in the field of supply is proceeding apace.

With this in mind, Linlithgow was confident he could survive the storm. When the Congress ministers resigned en masse, the Viceroy ordered the arrest of its leaders and activists. They were released in December 1941 as the British attempted to reach some accommodation. Gandhi was carefully studying the development of the war in Europe as well as Japanese moves closer to the region, and wondering whether the British might be able to hold out. He was not yet sure. The local impact of Operation Barbarossa was the release of imprisoned Communist Party leaders and militants, who now came out openly in support for the war. Gandhi continued to wait. It was the humiliation inflicted on the British in Singapore in February 1942 that led to a change of course. The Congress leaders began to think about calling for a Quit India movement and, in this fashion, declared their own (partial if not complete) independence from the British. Gandhi had engineered Bose’s isolation within the Congress, but he was very critical of Nehru’s anti-Japanese militancy. Nehru had suggested that Congress should organise armed militias to fight against the Japanese were they to take India. Gandhi reprimanded him strongly. He should not forget that Japan was at war with Britain, not India.

In contrast to Gandhi’s handwringing and delays, the Bengali Congress leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, always deeply hostile to the notion of offering any support to the British war, went on the offensive. Of the entire Congress high command, he was the most radical nationalist. He began to work out a master plan that owed more to the organisers of the Chittagong Armoury Raid than to Gandhi. Bose did not believe that peaceful methods could prevail. They were fine at certain times, but the situation was now critical. Britain had insulted India by taking its young men away once again to fight in inter-imperialist wars. Bose wanted to create an Indian National Army and began to explore all possibilities.

In 1942 Churchill agreed that Sir Stafford Cripps, the left-wing, former ambassador to Moscow, be sent to India to meet with Nehru, Gandhi and other leaders and plead with them to help Britain. If they agreed, he could offer a verbal pledge of independence after the war. However, before Cripps could depart, bad news came from South-East Asia: Singapore had fallen. Churchill blamed the men in the field. The British Army had not fought back effectively: ‘We had so many men in Singapore – so many men – they should have done better.’ As stressed above, it was a huge blow.

Cripps arrived in India, but few were willing to listen to his message. Jinnah’s Muslim League and the Communist Party were backing the war, but so speedy was the Japanese advance that Gandhi genuinely believed they might soon be negotiating Indian independence with Hirohito and Tojo rather than Churchill and Attlee. When Cripps insisted he was offering Congress a ‘blank cheque’ they could cash after the war, Gandhi famously riposted: ‘What is the point of a blank cheque from a failing bank?’

After Cripps returned empty-handed, Churchill pinned his hopes for a stable Indian army largely on Jinnah and Sikandar Hyat Khan, the leader of the Unionist Party and elected Premier of the Punjab, a province crucial to the war effort in terms of manpower and for being the granary of India. When, after Cripps’s return, Churchill said ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’, he was expressing a long-held view, but in this instance was referring to the Hindus who had badly let him down.

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All rights reserved © Tariq Ali 2022

Tariq Ali has written more than two-dozen books on world history and politics—the most recent of which are The Extreme Centre, The Dilemmas of Lenin and The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan—as well as the novels of his Islam Quintet and scripts for the stage and screen. He is a long-standing member of the Editorial Committee of New Left Review and lives in London.

Sri Lanka Politics of Protests

 President Wickremesinghe has sworn in a jumbo cabinet to satisfy the members from assorted parties, who support him. Apparently, he considers it only as a political exercise and not an effort to revamp the system in keeping with public sensitivities over the style of governance.

by Col R Hariharan

During the month, Sri Lanka government made some progress in the measures it had initiated earlier for economic recovery. After holding the staff level meetings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government is hopeful signs of $2.9 bn loan materialising. However, some other measures it has taken like the formation of a bloated cabinet for political reasons, declaring focus areas of Aragalaya protests as high security zones (HSZ) and the use of draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to arrest some of the protest leaders have drawn flak both at home and abroad. These negative aspects have provided a rallying point for opposition political parties to come together and articulate their stand against the Wickremesinghe government.

Political Unrest in Sri Lanka [ Photo © Thilina Kaluthotage ]

Actions of the government to suppress public protests found a place in the report on Sri Lanka by the outgoing High Commissioner of Human Rights Michelle Bachelet made at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) at Geneva. The session slated to end on October 7, is likely to extend the time given Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitments to the international body on the accountability for its human rights aberrations during the Eelam war. At the same time, it is likely to add negative riders in the resolution on the way the government has been handling public protests.

Former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled the country for his safety on July 13, returned home to a warm official welcome on September 2. Though he had been keeping a low profile, his return has reinforced the belief that the Rajapaksas will continue to call the shots in the Wickremesinghe government.

Politics of protests

The Aragalaya public protests that had dethroned the Rajapaksas from power have shaken up the political parties of all shades as much as the government. Recovering from the shock effect of four-month long socio-political protests, political leaders seem to have realised the Aragalaya phenomenon as the expression of the unheard, unheralded and deprived citizens who are fed up with the existing political order.

Prof GL Peiris, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), in an interview in the Daily Mirror aptly described the Aragalaya as the alternative of ideas, of policies of freshness. “A new departure. The Aragalaya had a visionary aspect to it. Later it degenerated into violence. That is not to be condoned in any manner.” He found “a kind of renaissance about it.” The SLPP leader, who has chosen to sit separately in parliament from most of the SLPP members supporting the government, saw in the creations of protestors as “an expression of creativity and deep desire for a system change. To reorganise the system.” Prof Peiris, while acknowledging that some of the measures taken by the government to revamp the economy and ease the fuel and food shortages have yielded results, said a bloated cabinet cannot bring a systemic change. There were fewer public protests during the month. However, the ultraleft elements of the JVP and its student body seem to be using the Aragalaya to rekindle the embers of the protest movement to expand their political influence.

In June 2022, before Wickremesinghe was elected president, the Sri Lanka government had told the members at the UNHRC in Geneva that it was imposing a moratorium on the use of the PTA. Even a month later when protestors were forcibly evicted from “sensitive areas,” the newly elected president assured foreign diplomats in Colombo that the government will uphold both Article 21 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 14 (1) (b) of the Sri Lanka Constitution which govern the right to peaceful assembly. However, these promises seem to have been forgotten by President Wickremesinghe after his election. The President who had once called the Aragalaya protestors as fascists, seems to be trying to weed out their influence, using teleological methods. This was evident from the mass arrest of protestors under the PTA.

The detention of several activists of Aragalaya under the PTA including the convenor of the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) Wasantha Mudalige was condemned by many political parties across the ethnic spectrum. This may be considered a positive outcome of the protests. This was seen in the participation of many leaders of the opposition parties, civil society and trade union activists and retired public servants, in the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK)’s mobile signature campaign against the PTA. When the protest launched in Jaffna reached Galle Facethe presence of former defence secretary Austin Fernando and trade union activist Joseph Stalin, apart from leaders from political parties like the ITAK, SJB and SLMC like Sumanthiran, Rasamanickam, Hirunika Premachandra and Rauf Hakeem, underscored its relevance in the present political environment.

Similarly, the government notification of several areas around key government buildings and their adjoining roads in Colombo as High Security Zone to prevent holding of public meetings and protest marches has also been condemned by large sections of society. SJB leader Sajith Premadasa called the setting up of HSZ as “acts of a dictatorship.” He said the cabinet had recently given the nod for setting up a committee to regulate and control media. Premadasa said it was a dictatorial move and warned the party “will take to the streets against all these moves in the future.”

President Wickremesinghe has sworn in a jumbo cabinet to satisfy the members from assorted parties, who support him. Apparently, he considers it only as a political exercise and not an effort to revamp the system in keeping with public sensitivities over the style of governance. Perhaps, conscious of this shortcoming, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena successfully moved a unanimous resolution in parliament to constitute a ‘National Council’ (NC) after three rounds of talks with all parties. The NC will be chaired by the Speaker with the PM, leader of the opposition, Chief government whip and not more than 35 MPs representing all parties as members. According to a statement the NC will determine the priorities for the formulation of national policies, agree on short and medium term common minimum programs to stabilize the economy. It will also organize special meetings with cabinet ministers, the NC, the chairpersons of special committees and observers from youth organizations.

However, for the present the public is likely to view the formation of the NC as a political expediency. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake speaking in the parliament said the JVP will not support the NC project. He called the NC as “a facade. It is another attempt to dupe the people and the rest of the world.” He said the NC would not help solve problems. Few would dispute the JVP leader’s description of the prevailing political culture as “tainted by corruption, no respect for the rule of law and politicians enjoying perks and benefits and placing themselves above the law.” Unless the NC can address these issues, it is likely to end up as yet another glorified commission, whose findings are confined to the archives. Sri Lanka’s problems are not merely economic or political but much more organic, reflecting the disconnect between the polluted political system of governance and the ordinary people. Aragalaya is a manifestation of this disconnect. Unless the President and the political parties can rework their equation with the people, politics of protests is likely to continue as the norm.

Dr Subramanian Swamy with former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa [Photo: Special Arrangement]

Tailpiece: Visiting BJP leader Dr Subramanian Swamy called upon Gotabaya Rajapaksa, after the former president returned home. In fact, Swamy was the first foreign visitor to call upon him. Swamy, a close friend of the Rajapaksas, was in Colombo to attend a conference on national security at the Kotelewala Defence University. He also met with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and attended the Navratri pooja at his residence. The Indian leader is well known for making shocking one-liners. In his twitter on July 11, he said the Sri Lanka crisis was engineered and India should ensure that later ‘this mob’ does not become refugees of India. What was he up to in Colombo? That is a question for twitterati and WhatsApp university to debate.

[Written on September 30, 2022.]

ADB in Sri Lanka’s Debt Crisis

 The Government is cognisant of the adverse impacts on the most vulnerable members of society. Accordingly, every effort has been taken to allocate greater financing and resources towards targeted support for social protection.

The following article is based on the speech by the author as a Government of Asian Development Bank and President of Sri Lanka in their 55th Annual Meeting

It is my privilege to address you today, as the chair of the 55th Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank. Today, members of ADB have gathered in-person, after three years, here, in this dynamic city of Manila for the Second Stage of the ADB Annual Meeting. First of all, let me express my sincere appreciation to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of Philippines for organizing this prestigious event. Amidst an unprecedented economic crisis that Sri Lanka is currently undergoing, we missed the opportunity to host the second stage of the Annual Meeting in Colombo. However, we are eagerly looking forward to welcoming you all in Colombo in the near future.

South Asian women are travelling on public transport [Photo: Asian Development Bank]

The ADB has made a very positive impact, which is being profoundly felt across the entire region. In 2021, the ADB committed $22.8 billion to members, and has mobilized an additional $12.9 billion in cofinancing through partnerships with other sources. The ADB’s Strategy 2030 seeks to respond to global challenges, including climate change and natural disasters, food and energy insecurity, whilst also embracing opportunities in the digital economy, sustainable energy, and leveraging technology for inclusive education and healthcare. Thus, the ADB has a crucial role in helping to shape and finance policies that improve people’s lives and livelihoods across Asia and the Pacific.

The supply chain shocks created by the COVID-19 pandemic is compounded with the prices of global commodities mainly food, fuel and fertilizer skyrocketing due to the Ukraine war. Higher food and energy prices are leading to stuttering the growth of middle class and has resulted in further insecurity amongst the vulnerable communities in the Indian Ocean region.

As a result of these shocks, there has been a spike in sovereign debt distress across emerging markets. The growth targets, both in East Asia and South Asia, have been revised downward. If this is not promptly addressed, it risks creating contagion of debt distress that threatens growth and financial stability across all economies. Countries with pre-existing economic vulnerabilities, including Sri Lanka, are the most affected. Therefore, creditors and debtor nations must work collectively in an equitable manner to ensure economic and financial stability across the region and indeed the world.

The developments on the global stage have further aggravated the self-inflicted economic crisis in Sri Lanka resulting in a political outburst that led to a change in Government. Today, we have stabilized the economy and many countries and stakeholders are keenly monitoring how we resolve this crisis. Many nations are keenly watching developments in Sri Lanka to see how we work with all stakeholders to resolve this crisis. We are well aware that the evolution of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis includes both domestic policy elements as well as external shocks. It follows that the resolution of the crisis also requires both domestic efforts and the support of external partners. It is incumbent upon Sri Lanka and our creditors and partners to set an example of how collaborative and good faith action can result in sustainable and equitable solutions to sovereign debt issues.

Towards this end, we have already undertaken major macroeconomic policy reform measures. I am pleased to inform you that we have now reached a Staff Level Agreement with the International Monetary Fund on a four-year program supported by the Extended Fund Facility. The programme is aligned with the commitment of the Government to implement an ambitious and comprehensive package of reforms that will help restore the sustainability of our public finances, addressing external imbalances, and restarting our growth engine through structural reforms and improvements in governance. Amidst major economic stress, Sri Lanka is undertaking an unprecedented fiscal effort as part of our commitment to restoring the country’s debt sustainability. It is our hope and expectation that Sri Lanka’s creditors, and all stakeholders, will support us in these efforts to restore our debt sustainability and help put the country back on the path of inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Whilst Sri Lanka undertakes these deep and often painful reforms, we are experiencing rising unemployment and reduction in purchasing power of consumers. The Government is cognisant of the adverse impacts on the most vulnerable members of society. Accordingly, every effort has been taken to allocate greater financing and resources towards targeted support for social protection.

Asia has still to overcome the present global economic crisis. Unlike the financial crisis of 2008, in this instance, the economic levers alone are insufficient to stimulate global economic recovery. The factors underlining the main crisis is not only of economic origin but are also the consequences of evolving geopolitics. The result being the absence of cooperation amongst the G20 unlike the earlier crisis.

The Ukraine war on one side and the United States-People’s Republic of China rivalry, spurred on by military, trade and political differences, on the other side, are key contributors to this breakdown in cooperation. Added to this geopolitical rivalry are the droughts, floods and pandemic which are still present in Asia. All these challenges are compounded by the absence of global leadership – a time when the global economy is stuttering. As this global rivalry intensifies into a new cold war, which will determine a new global power balance by 2050, the inability of the major countries to give leadership to the mitigation of the global climate change crisis is becoming more apparent.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is a Sri Lankan politician who is the current president of Sri Lanka since 21 July 2022. He also holds the position of Minister of Finance of Sri Lanka. He has been the leader of the centre-right United National Party since 1994.

Can South Asia’s future be any different?

The international community has begun to pay attention as Turkiye celebrates its centenary next year, which also happens to be an election year for Erdogan.

by M. K. Bhadrakumar

A mild flutter ensued after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent meeting with his Turkiye counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York on September 21 when it came to be known that Cyprus figured in their discussion. Jaishankar highlighted it in a tweet. 

The Indian media instinctively related this to Turkish President Recep Erdogan making a one-line reference to the Kashmir issue earlier that day in his address to the UN GA. But Jaishankar being a scholar-diplomat, would know that Cyprus issue is in the news cycle and the new cold war conditions breathe fresh life into it, as tensions mount in the Turkish-Greek rivalry,  which often draws comparison with the India-Pakistan animosity, stemming from another historical “Partition” — under the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) that ended the Ottoman Empire.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi with the President of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on May 01, 2017. [ Photo: Office of Prime Minister of India]

The beauty about peace treaties is that they have no ‘expiration date’ but the Treaty of Lausanne was signed for a period of a hundred years between Turkiye on one side and Britain, France, Italy, Greece, and their allies on the other. The approaching date heightens the existential predicament at the heart of Turkiye’s foreign policy.

The stunning reality is that by 24th July 2023, Turkey’s modern borders become “obsolete”. The secret articles of the 1923 Treaty, signed by Turkish and British diplomats, provide for a chain of strange happenings — British troops will reoccupy the forts overlooking the Bosphorus; the Greek Orthodox Patriarch will resurrect a Byzantine mini state within Istanbul’s city walls; and Turkey will finally be able to tap the forbidden vast energy resources of the East Mediterranean (and, perhaps, regain Western Thrace, a province of Greece.)

Of course, none of that can happen and they remain conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, the “end-of-Lausanne” syndrome remains a foundational myth and weaves neatly into the historical revisionism that Ataturk should have got a much better deal from the Western powers.

All this goes to underline the magnitude of the current massively underestimated drama, of which Cyprus is at the epicentre. Suffice to say, Turkey’s geometrically growing rift with Greece and Cyprus over the offshore hydrocarbon reserves and naval borders must be properly understood in terms of the big picture.

Turkiye’s ruling elite believe that Turkey was forced to sign the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 and the “Treaty of Lausanne” in 1923 and thereby concede vast tracts of land under its domain. Erdogan rejects any understanding of history that takes 1919 as the start of the 1,000-year history of his great nation and civilisation. “Whoever leaves out our last 200 years, even 600 years together with its victories and defeats, and jumps directly from old Turkish history to the Republic, is an enemy of our nation and state,” he once stated.

The international community has begun to pay attention as Turkiye celebrates its centenary next year, which also happens to be an election year for Erdogan. In a typical first shot, the US State Department announced on September 16 — just five days before Jaishankar met Cavusoglu — that Washington is lifting defence trade restrictions on the Greek Cypriot administration for the 2023 fiscal year.

Spokesman Ned Price said, “Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken determined and certified to Congress that the Republic of Cyprus has met the necessary conditions under relevant legislation to allow the approval of exports, re-exports, and transfers of defence articles.”

The US move comes against the backdrop of a spate of recent arms deals by Cyprus and Greece, including a deal to purchase attack helicopters from France and efforts to procure missile and long-range radar systems. Turkiye called on the US “to reconsider this decision and to pursue a balanced policy towards the two sides on the Island.” It has since announced a beefing up of its military presence in Northern Cyprus. 

To be sure, the unilateral US move also means indirect support for the maritime claims by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, which Turkiye, with the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, rejects as excessive and violates its sovereign rights and that of Turkish Cypriots.

Whether these developments figured in Jaishankar’s discussion with Cavusoglu is unclear, but curiously, India too is currently grappling with a similar US decision to offer a $450 million military package to Pakistan to upgrade its nuclear-capable F-16 aircraft.

Indeed, the US-Turkey-Cyprus triangle has some striking similarities with the US-India-Pakistan triangle. In both cases, the Biden administration is dealing with friendly pro-US governments in Nicosia and Islamabad but is discernibly unhappy with the nationalist credo of the leaderships in Ankara and New Delhi.

Washington is annoyed that the governments in Ankara and New Delhi preserve their strategic autonomy. Most important, the US’ attempt to isolate Russia weakening due to the refusal by Turkiye and India to impose sanctions against Moscow.

The US is worried that India and Turkiye, two influential regional powers, pursue foreign policies promoting multipolarity in the international system, which undermines US’ global hegemony. Above all,  it is an eyesore for Washington that Erdogan and Prime Minister Modi enjoy warm trustful personal interaction with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The photo beamed from Samarkand during the recent SCO summit showing Erdogan arm in arm with Putin must have infuriated President Biden. Modi too displayed a rare moment of surging emotions when he told Putin at Samarkand on September 16,

“The relationship between India and Russia has deepened manifold. We also value this relationship because we have been such friends who have been with each other every moment for the last several decades and the whole world also knows how Russia’s relationship with India has been and how India’s relationship with Russia has been and therefore the world also knows that it is an unbreakable friendship. Personally speaking, in a way, the journey for both of us started at the same time. I first met you in 2001, when you were working as the head of the government and I had started working as head of the state government. Today, it has been 22 years, our friendship is constantly growing, we are constantly working together for the betterment of this region, for the well-being of the people. Today, at the SCO Summit, I am very grateful to you for all the feelings that you have expressed for India.”

Amazingly, the western media censored this stirring passage in its reports on the Modi-Putin meeting!

Notably, following the meeting between Modi and Erdogan in Samarkand on Sept. 16, a commentary by the state-owned TRT titled Turkiye-India ties have a bright future ahead signalled Erdogan government’s interest to move forward in relations with India.

India’s ties with Turkiye deserve to be prioritised, as that country is inching toward BRICS and the SCO and is destined to be a serious player in the emerging multipolar world order. Symptomatic of the shift in tectonic plates is the recent report that Russia might launch direct flights between Moscow and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state supported and recognised only by Ankara. (Incidentally, one “pre-condition” set by the Biden administration to resume military aid to Cyprus was that Nicosia should roll back its relations with Moscow!) 

Without doubt, the US and the EU are recalibrating the power dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean by building up the Cyprus-Greece axis and sending a warning to Turkiye to know its place. In geopolitical terms, this is another way of welcoming Cyprus into NATO. Thus, it becomes part of the new cold war.

Can South Asia’s future be any different? Turkiye has so many advantages over India, having been a longstanding cold-war era ally of the US. It hosts Incirlik Air Base, one of the US’ major strategically located military bases. Kurecik Radar Station partners with the US Air Force and Navy in a mission related to missile interception and defence. Turkey is a NATO power which is irreplaceable in the alliance’s southern tier. Turkey controls the Bosphorus Straits under the Montreux Convention (1936).

Yet, the US is unwilling to have a relationship of mutual interest and mutual respect with Turkiye. Pentagon is openly aligned with the Kurdish separatists. The Obama administration made a failed coup attempt to overthrow Erdogan.

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M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat by profession. Roughly half of the 3 decades of his diplomatic career was devoted to assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey. He writes mainly on Indian foreign policy and the affairs of the Middle East, Eurasia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

Sri Lanka: Nephew’s Patrimony

Is Wickremesinghe the solution for Sri Lanka’s economic and political debacle? But the problem remains: Sri Lanka has no money, little food or medicines, no fuel and has to keep borrowing.

by Gamini Weerakoon

For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong’ — H.L. Mencken (American writer and humorist).

The validity of this contention in Sri Lanka can be gauged if we listen to ‘pundits’ on radio and television providing solutions to the most devastating problem this country has faced in its 73 years after Independence.

Sri Lankan governments have been attempting to resolve problems in the usual way that all ‘democratic’ governments do: Appoint commissions of inquiry and investigations and even presidential commissions to determine what went wrong.  Maximum publicity is provided to the progress of commissions on radio, TV and the print media but gradually the pressure is eased till time erases memories of the devastating problem.

File photo of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Education Minister awards a prize to a student while the then President J. R. Jayawardene and Prime Minister R. Premadasa look on [ Photo © Sunday Observer]

The financial and political abyss that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his brothers and nephews confidently marched into with their military and civilian advisors was beyond the capabilities of presidential commissions to resolve and they remained in their bunkers until the GotaGoHome boys and girls rallied tens of thousands of protesters, stormed the bastions of power of the Rajapaksas, forcing them to resign and Gota to go home the way of ‘Parangiya Kotte Giya’ (The circumcircuitous way the Portuguese were taken from Colombo Fort to Kotte). Gota went home in a High Security Zone in Colombo by air via the Maldives, Singapore and Thailand.

But the problem remains: Sri Lanka has no money, little food or medicines, no fuel and has to keep borrowing.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was a free and defeated man with no problems to resolve but he seems to relish problems for power.

He volunteered to take on all the terrifying problems of the country left over by the Rajapaksas by volunteering to become the prime minister and then be elected president by politically destitute members of the Rajapaksa party, who are not his fans.

Wickremesinghe has done his job well in negotiating with the IMF and the Western bloc of nations but has kicked into his own goal by cracking down on the GotaGoHome boys and girls who had unwittingly paved the way for his political resurrection.

Wickremesinghe during the past week or so has gone through Westminster Castle and Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, chatted with King Charles III and been able to present Sri Lanka’s case in a favourable light, reports said.

This week he was in Tokyo with powerful Japanese politicians and in the Japanese Imperial Palace with Emperor Akihito in the vicinity of the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Japan has been our all-weather friend since the San Francisco conference speech of his uncle J.R. Jayewardene who pleaded for Japan at that critical moment when the world was sitting in judgement over Japan’s conduct in the War.  The nephew of JR pleading for Lanka’s cause now may have revived poignant memories way back.

Japan has been showering assistance on this country without any strings attached.  The Kotte Parliament in a picturesque setting, the Jayawardenapura Hospital, the Administrative Capital of Kotte and the development of the entire region of Colombo East that has now become the best residential area of Colombo are all spin-offs of Japanese munificence.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s wooden-headed military mind destroyed that seven-decade-old friendship by boorishly halting the Japanese light rail project which would have eased the traffic congestion in the area. Ranil Wickremesinghe now has the opportunity to undo the damage although he is working for the ‘Pohottuwa’ government.

From Japan, Wickremesinghe went to Manila to chair a meeting of the Asian Development Bank where he called for the support of creditors and stakeholders for Sri Lanka’s economic recovery.

Is Wickremesinghe the solution for Sri Lanka’s economic and political debacle?

There is tremendous opposition to him continuing as the President and there are daily protests demanding his resignation. But indications are that he has no intention of giving up the presidency and intends to carry on for the next two years till the presidential term ends. He has had no qualms in crushing opposition forces rising against him although it is being pointed out that non-violent protests against legal governments are permissible under Sri Lankan law.

The parallels between Ranil Wickremesinghe’s and his uncle JRJ’s careers are striking. JRJ even when he was in his seventies did not have control of his party, the UNP, which he had stood by in all adversities and also put it back on its feet.

Even after the rout of the party in 1970 by the Sirima Bandaranaike-led United Front, Dudley Senanayake continued to be the leader with JRJ trying his utmost to oust him.

At one stage, JRJ declared that he wanted to join Sirima Bandaranaike’s coalition but the left leaders including Samasamjist N.M. Perera and Communist Pieter Keuneman were vehemently against it. N.M. Perera declared: ‘If he comes through the front door, I go out through the back door and if he comes through the backdoor, I go out from the window’.

JRJ tried many tactics to oust Dudley. He even tried to storm Siri Kotha (then located at Kollupitiya) with elephants!

And then Dudley Senanayake passed away plunging the entire nation into grief.  The astute JRJ then played his master stroke. His funeral oration at Independence Square was a masterpiece of oratory in democracy and hypocrisy: Goodbye Sweet Prince…May a thousand Devas…..

JRJ took control of the party and in 1977 swept the polls with a five-sixth majority for the party to hold power for 17 years.

Ranil Wickremesinghe still is the leader of the UNP but the vast majority of members ditched him in favour of Sajith Premadasa and Wickremesinghe could not even win a single seat — not even his own. Speculation is that he will try to wean away former UNPers now with Sajith Premadasa and contest the next election as leader of a rejuvenated UNP and win like his uncle did.

Sajith Premadasa had only one month’s time to organise his presidential election campaign against the formidable Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He contested under a new party name with ex-UNPers backing him.  He polled a creditable 41.99 percent of the poll against Rajapaksa’s 52.25 per cent.  Premadasa is today the sole opposition leader directly opposing both Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksas and is no lame duck.

Can Wickremesinghe repeat his uncle’s feat. Time will tell.

Growth of Artificial Intelligence and decline in Human Intelligence

A voluminous newspaper supplement in a state-owned newspaper last week aimed at boosting artificial intelligence in Sri Lanka had us wondering about the possible science fiction scenario of the takeover of the former Pearl of the Orient by electronic robots.

A determined effort, it appears, is being made to have robots with artificial intelligence (AI) to help us Lankans in our domestic chores as well as work in factories. Glancing through some of the articles we were impressed at the enthusiasm and optimism expressed which made us conclude that robots functioning on artificial intelligence will grow at an exponential rate.

This accelerated growth of artificial intelligence in Lanka per se was not a matter of concern to us. What concerns us is its rapid growth alongside the rapid decline of human intelligence in this country.  It began decades ago and this year accelerated blindly with

open eyes into the chasm of financial bankruptcy and political wilderness.

The scenario we envisage is not the usual sci-fi battle between robots vs humans because the robots have to be fed with instructions by humans into the foreseeable future.  Increasingly intelligent robots coming up with solutions with dumb Lankans may not be able to comprehend, is a challenge to those now nurturing artificial intelligence.

India: Reviving Congress

Sonia Gandhi is an expert at back seat driving. Can she revive Congress Party in India? No.

by Kunwar Natwar Singh

What a week where the Congress party has all but made a laughing stock of itself. Ashok Gehlot has landed himself in serious trouble. He is 71. A comeback is unlikely.

He has been an active, reliable, astute leader, with a mass following. I have known him for over 40 years and have great affection and regard for him. In these four decades he did not put a foot wrong. The “neutral” Sonia Gandhi obviously knows Dante well, who wrote, nine hundred years ago, “The hottest place in Hell are reserved for those who in time of great moral crises maintain their neutrality”. She shed her neutrality in no time. So long as she lives, she will have deity status. She is an expert at back seat driving. Can she revive the Congress? No.

Sonia Gandhi shed her neutrality in no time. [ Photo: IANS File Photo]

Of the two contenders for president of the Congress party, Mallikarjun Kharge and Shri Shashi Tharoor, I have never met the former. He is 80 years of age. The younger voters will certainly not opt for him. Shashi Tharoor, I have known him for several years. He is a fine orator and an outstanding author. He deserves to win. But he will not. He does not have the blessings of Mother Superior. Besides, unlike Kharge he is not rooted in the Congress. Oddly, none of the G-23 are supporting him.

Digvijaya Singh has been deprived of the Presidentship by Shri Kharge, who did not play fair with the former CM of Madhya Pradesh. He would have, as President put some life in Congress. Surprisingly he made one serious mistake. As far as I know, he did not meet Shrimati Sonia Gandhi. He paid the price.

The Lok Sabha elections are to be held in 2024. At present the Congress party had fifty-two members in the Lok Sabha. That number is not likely to go up as of now. Not with Kharge at the helm.

PM Narendra Modi will remain Prime Minister till 2029. His international standing is high. Within India he faces no challenge.

Shri Mohan Bhagwat, the head of RSS, made headlines when he met Imam Umer Ahmed Illyas a few days back. It was a courageous and wise move. It would have given millions of Muslims much comfort. How many non-RSS non-BJP Indians recall the fact that during the rule of the Bhartiya Janata Party, since 2014, not a single communal riot has occurred? This is amazing achievement.

The External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar has done India proud at the United Nations and during his visit to Washington. He did not mince words, without flouting diplomacy. I would give him high marks for his stellar performance. One caveat. He is over optimistic about the United States genuinely asserting itself to make India a permanent veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council. The brutal reality is that the People’s Republic of China will always exercise its veto to keep India out. If I am not mistaken, President Joe Biden in one of his speeches said that India and Brazil should be Permanent Members of the Security Council.

The reality is somewhat what more complicated. Any expansion of the Council must include a country from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Muslim world. Who from Africa—Nigeria, Ethiopia or South Africa? From the Muslim World the contenders will be Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt.

The most alarming problem the world is facing is climate change. One has only to look at the havoc rain and hurricanes are playing in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. In Switzerland, glaciers are melting, in Italy, rivers are drying up. For nature’s fury no easy answers are in sight.

The recent floods in Pakistan have been a calamity. As often happens, the poor have been worst hit. Pakistan was a near bankrupt country. Only the rich Islamic countries can provide funds to rebuild the infrastructure, colleges, schools, hospitals, industries. It’s a long haul.

India, in a few years, will become the most populous country in the world. Yet, no one is seriously talking about it. No talks of birth control, none of population control. Yes, poverty has been vastly eradicated but the quality of life has not improved. Educational standards are low. The legal system needs to be made more efficient. Civil cases go on for decades. We have some of the best doctors in the world but the hospitals are in need of drastic upgradation.

The great Jawaharlal Nehru is to some extent responsible for India becoming an over populated country. Soon after taking over, he made the astounding pronouncement that India was an under populated country. By the time of his death it was on the road leading to over population.

Kunwar Natwar Singh, IFS is an Indian diplomat and politician who served as the Minister of External Affairs from May 2004 to December 2005. Singh was selected into the Indian Foreign Service in 1953.