September 26, 2007Foreign Affairs

Where will the satyagraha/Saffron revolution go?

Another prediction for what it is worth

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

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 ASEANs 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

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