August 26, 2014
August 23, 2014 (Ulson Gunnar - NEO) - While the impact of sanctions leveled against Russia is being debated, one fact is perfectly clear; the dangerous interdependence cultivated by the concept of “globalization” leaves nations vulnerable amid a global order dominated by hegemonic special interests that use such interdependence as a weapon.
Two rounds of sanctions have been leveled against Russia targeting Russian banking, arms manufacturing, and oil industries. Even as the sanctions are marketed to the world as Russia “paying a price” for its role in “destabilizing” Ukraine, Russia has been busy cultivating ties and expanding markets that are increasingly found outside the West’s spheres of influence and therefore, beyond the reach of these sanctions. Russia is also looking inward to diversify its markets and seek socioeconomic independence.
Instead of viewing the sanctions as an impassable obstacle requiring capitulation to Wall Street and London, Russia has viewed them as a challenge to sever reliance on unstable markets. More so, Russia’s quest for alternative markets is a means of applying its own form of pressure back upon the West. While the West attempts to portray the sanctions as “cutting off Russia,” the restrictions do at least as much to isolate the West itself.
Multipolar World Vs Western Hegemony
In a unipolar world, supranational geopolitical blocs like the EU (European Union), the African Union, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and regional free trade agreements serve to consolidate and open up the collective socioeconomic potential of the planet to those at the top of this international order. Currently, this constitutes the special interests on Wall Street, in the city of London, and among the special interests converging in Brussels. Interdependence is intentionally cultivated among the various members of individual blocs and between supranational blocs themselves. This ensures that leverage is constantly maintained over each individual national entity, making individual nations incapable of sidestepping collective initiatives of the blocs they are a part of.
In the European Union, this can be clearly seen as individual nations benefiting from ties with Moscow are attempting with limited success to rebel against broader EU sanctions against Russian industries.
The use of sanctions across several supranational blocs, including North America, the EU, and to a lesser extent, the West’s proxies in nations like East Asia’s Japan, had at one point critically threatened those nations targeted by them. Nations like Iran or Cuba who have suffered under Western sanctions for decades are clearly behind because of them. Behind, but not out.
As technology enables each individual nation to procure wealth on its own it once depended on trade with other nations for, the impact of sanctions is diminishing. The impact of sanctions is also undermined by a growing alternative international order outside of the West’s unipolar paradigm. BRICS, the nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, constitute the leading edge of the rise of the developing world. No longer satisfied with subservience to the Wall Street-London global order, nor eager to find themselves entangled beneath another global empire led by another global superpower, these nations are attempting to redefine international relations in more traditional, multilateral terms.
Becoming self-sufficient economically while redefining international ties in a less interdependent manner, appears to be the defining aspect of the emerging multipolar world BRICS is attempting to create. The creation of international trade outside the traditional framework of the IMF, the World Trade Organization, and other institutions created by the West, for the West, has gradually eroded the impact of sanctions, penalties, and monopolies empowered by Western domination over international finance and global trade.
More to Do
While Russia seems to be taking Western sanctions in stride, the fact that the United States and Europe are targeting Russia in the first place is a warning to all members of BRICS as well as to developing nations around the world. In the capitals of nations residing outside the Wall Street-London international order, the possibility that any one of them could be next should be at the center of economic planning and the future of their respective foreign policy.
Creating alternative markets outside this international order could be a short-term stop gap. In Russia’s case, growing ties with China in terms of energy exports ensures a lasting alternative market for Russian natural gas that is set only to grow in the future as the West attempts to cutoff and isolate both Moscow and Beijing.
Seeking to create economic opportunities and progress domestically could be a more long-term and lasting solution. Russia’s decision to ban the import of food products from nations targeting it with recent sanctions gives BRICS an opportunity to expand in the void left by European, American, and Australian agricultural industries. It also gives an opportunity for Russian producers to expand their operations domestically. In the immediate aftermath of Russia banning imports from the West, stocks in Russia’s agricultural industry soared. While such spikes are more due to speculation than an actual jump in value, the fact that these producers now have an incentive to expand may create long-term value to justify investor confidence today.
But rather than waiting for sanctions to begin disrupting the socioeconomic status quo of a nation residing outside Western hegemony, a disruption the sanctions are designed specifically to create, why shouldn’t BRICS and other developing nations begin the process of developing their domestic markets and alternative international trading regimes beforehand?
If Russia, the largest nation geographically, the ninth most populous, and with one of the most formidable conventional and nuclear military forces on Earth, can be targeted for sanctions aimed to cripple its economy, then any nation can be targeted. Russia, with its resources and leadership is able to cope and adapt to these sanctions and even perhaps come out stronger in spite of them. Other nations might not weather such adversity so gracefully. Across BRICS and other nations in the developing world, a concerted effort must be made to move away from the interdependence of globalization and back toward greater multilateral trade regimes and greater domestic economic self-sufficiency.
Ulson Gunnar is a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”
James Hardy, London and Lindsay Peacock, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
22 August 2014
The RSAF has being quietly augmenting the size of its F-15SG fleet. Source: US Air Force
Singapore appears to have quietly boosted the size of its F-15SG fleet from 24 aircraft to 40, according to Boeing financial statements, aircraft registration filings, and US congressional reports.
Singapore originally bought 12 F-15SGs - with an option for eight more - under a contract signed in December 2005. In October 2007 the city-state modified this option by buying 12 more to give it a total of 24.
These aircraft have all been confirmed as delivered and have US-type serial numbers running from 05-0001 to 05-0024. Several remain in the United States with the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF's) 428th Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base (AFB) in southwestern Idaho, while the remainder are active in Singapore with 149 Squadron.
Aircraft operating in Singapore use four-digit serial numbers in the 83xx sequence, starting at 8301, although these do not run consecutively.
In January 2014, several aircraft with new serial numbers - 05-0025, 05-0028, 05-0030, 05-0031, and 05-0032 - were seen at Mountain Home AFB. These had not been previously reported and suggest that Singapore has obtained another batch of eight aircraft.
Meanwhile, a 26 November 2012 letter from the US State Department to House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner under the Arms Export Control Act refers to the "sale, modification, and follow-on support of eight F-15SG aircraft to the Government of Singapore".
Figures released by Boeing show that eight F-15s were delivered to an unspecified customer in 2012.
Boeing financial data also shows that a total of 93 F-15s were delivered from 2005 to 2012. South Korea has confirmed that it received 61 and Singapore that it received 24 for a total of 85, leaving eight unaccounted for in public records.
Finally, on 5-6 August 2014, Boeing took out civil aircraft registrations for what it described as F-15SG aircraft: N361SG, N363SG, N366SG, N368SG, N373SG, N376SG, N378SG and N837SG.
Neither Boeing nor the Singapore Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) would confirm whether the city-state had acquired 16 more F-15s than previously disclosed, although they also did not deny it.
A Boeing spokesman told IHS Jane's that the company was "unable to discuss" the number of F-15s it had supplied to Singapore, while a MINDEF spokesman said: "The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) bases our procurement on the assessed long-term defence needs, and the RSAF has purchased sufficient F-15SGs to meet our defence requirements."
Singapore's reticence on its follow-on purchases of F-15s is unsurprising: it has long demurred on outlining the extent of its defence procurement and capabilities, instead preferring to quietly build up what is widely seen as the best equipped military in Southeast Asia.
One retired armed forces officer told IHS Jane's that this was a strategic decision to keep its neighbours guessing, and also because the country's leaders did not need to use military procurement as a populist crutch.
However, this refusal to confirm acquisitions can occasionally lead to surreal conversations with military and defence industry officials, such as at the 2012 Singapore Airshow, when Israeli officials would not confirm the sale of IAI Heron unmanned aerial vehicles to Singapore despite the presence of one on static display at the show.
Tim Ripley, London - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
22 August 2014
- Ukrainian soldiers rest in their 2S19 MSTA-S self-propelled howitzers on 14 August before moving to the front line in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. Source: AP/PA
- Key Points
Government forces are continuing to gain the upper hand in eastern Ukraine
Both sides are using heavy weapons in the worst fighting witnessed in Europe since the Balkan conflict
Ukrainian troops have continued their offensive aimed at clearing pro-Russian rebels from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions despite strong resistance.
Both the Ukrainian and rebel forces are using tracked armour, heavy artillery, and rockets in the heaviest fighting seen in Europe since the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.
The operation by Ukrainian troops, underway for more than a month, has pushed deep into rebel-held regions, with fighting now reported in the suburbs of the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk for several days. Reports on 20 August indicated that in Lugansk, Ukrainian troops had recaptured a central city police station.
Ukrainian forces appear to be trying to cut rebel forces in the two cities off from each other, as well as severing land routes to the Russian border to block supplies and reinforcements from reaching them.
The rebel setbacks of the past weeks have prompted three prominent rebel leaders - including their military commander, Igor Girkin, known as Strelkov; the political leader in Donetsk, Alexander Borodai; and the rebel head in Lugansk, Valery Bolotov - to step down.
The Organization for Security in Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has reported daily artillery fire in both Donetsk and Lugansk for more than a week, as well as regular breakdowns in power, water, telephone, and other utilities because of the fighting.
Rebel fighters claimed to have shot down a Ukrainian Air Force Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jet near Lugansk on 17 August, although a Kiev government spokesman reported that the pilot was rescued by friendly forces. A further air loss occurred on 20 August when a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft was shot down over Lugansk, with the pilot reported missing.
Controversy continues to surround an alleged incursion by an armoured column from Russia into eastern Ukraine on 15 August. UK government sources told IHS Jane's that the column comprised some 23 armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) that were subsequently engaged by Ukrainian artillery and anti-tank weapons, resulting in 12 AFVs being destroyed. Two Western journalists working just inside the Russian border confirmed seeing the column cross into Ukraine but did not see the reported engagement. The Russian Foreign Ministry denied the incursion, calling Ukrainian claims "fabrications".
Both the Ukrainian military and rebel forces have been observed using BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers, which have caused widespread military and civilian casualties as well as extensive damage to property and transport infrastructure.
On 7 August the UN reported that at least 2,119 people had been killed in Ukraine since the conflict started in April. Local authorities in Donetsk reported that about 951 people had been killed in the city during the previous five months of fighting. The Ukrainian government reported on 21 August that about 620 its military and security service personnel had been lost in the conflict, including around 70 in the week 12-19 August.
The continued determination of the Kiev government to prosecute its offensive into eastern Ukraine appears to be bearing fruit, although at a heavy cost in human life and damage to civilian property.
Ukrainian army and national guard units appear to be better trained and motivated than the units that first engaged the rebels in the early days of the crisis back in April.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has reported that about 25 battalions of national guard volunteers were fighting on the Donbas front and appear to be performing better than expected, considering they were only formed a few months ago. However, the OSCE reports a number of these units have been implicated in the abuse of civilians.
What has surprised many observers is the reluctance of Russian president Vladimir Putin to intervene directly to prop up the self-proclaimed People's Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. So far the Russian armed forces do not seem to have been sent to fight openly alongside the rebels, although NATO claims Moscow is regularly allowing resupply convoys to cross the border.
This might indicate the threat of Western economic sanctions is having some impact, but it is more likely Putin is concerned about public reaction to heavy casualties among conscript soldiers in regular army units. The experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Chechnya in the 1990s has made Kremlin occupants very reluctant to risk Russian lives in foreign adventures that could turn into protracted and bloody conflicts.
So far Putin has been content to let 'deniable' intelligence operatives and ultra-nationalist volunteers carry the burden of the fighting in Ukraine.
An all-out conventional war with Ukraine would also cost a lot of money and impose a heavy burden on the Russian economy. It appears that the Kremlin is hanging its erstwhile allies in Donetsk and Lugansk out to dry.
August 25, 2014
August 22, 2014
Bangladesh and Myanmar have had a not-too-stable a relationship on the border – both land and maritime. In 1980 an agreement on border cooperation was signed between the two countries. A verdict was subsequently obtained from the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas in March 2012 concerning delineation of their common maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal and accepted by both the governments. This backdrop enabled deployment of respective border forces (Border Guards Bangladesh and Border Police Force of Myanmar) without provocative maneuverings and also peaceful exploration of hydrocarbons in the Bay of Bengal. However, tension had again flared up along the 270-km long land boundary in May this year, leading to killings of border guarding personnel on both sides and also some persons alleged to be from the Rohingya Security Organisation (RSO) – reportedly an anti-Myanmar militant outfit to protect Rohingya interests.
Both the countries had thereafter interacted with each other to downplay the tension, but the overall situation does not seem to have returned to normalcy. In both Bangladesh and Myanmar, the ruling governments have numerous pressure groups and detractors to contend with. Therefore, an early resolution of the border problem seems difficult and irksome, particularly on ways to deal with the Rohingya refugees moving out of Myanmar in large numbers from Rakhine province. India has an interest towards containing the Rohingya issue, so that the refugee spillover do not disturb the political situation and economic conditions in the adjoining Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura and also adversely impinge on the security of other north-eastern states.
Notwithstanding the recent bilateral differences between Bangladesh and Myanmar a broad measure of accommodative relationship has been prevailing between the two countries. The Rohingya problem, notwithstanding issues of human rights, can be permanently resolved only when devolution of politico-economic powers to regions dominated by different ethnic groups and their inter-se rights are settled within the framework of Myanmar`s Constitution and enacted within its ambit. This, however, appears unlikely in the next couple of years, at least before the next parliamentary elections in Myanmar in December 2015, considering that the Aung San Suu Kyi`s National League for Democracy and other political parties drawing upon the support of the dominant Burman ethnic community would not like to concede much to the Rohingyas.
There are logical reasons for India to suitably intercede with both its neighours to facilitate an agreement on the border. There are geopolitical reasons for this. It is in India`s interest to avoid an emerging situation in which the Rohingyas in general or RSO takes to arms, develop tactical ground-level cooperation with other militant groups operating in India`s north-east and transgress into the north eastern states through Bangladesh territory. Hot pursuit of Rohingya militants – and in the process some incidental action against harmless Rohingyas fleeing from persecution of other Myanmarese ethnic groups and also state elements – by the Myanmar army across the disputed portions of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, will only exacerbate the existing border tension.
A mediatory role by India may not be unwelcome by Bangladesh and Myanmar as both have friendly relations with India. On humanitarian grounds, New Delhi may try to subtly prevail upon the Myanmar to at least provide the Rohingyas rights to continue to reside in the places where they were originally settled, give them permits to work and earn their livelihood through their traditional economic activities, ie., without pressing for their political rights of citizenship. These concessions may be acceptable to the moderate ethnic Burmans if suitably advocated by the existing Myanmar state establishment. Spillover of persecuted Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh and also their forced eviction thereafter from Bangladesh is likely to lead to their eventual movement towards India to find shelter in the north-eastern states like Mizoram and Tripura, jeopardizing normal civic life and demographic balance.
Relations between the military hierarchies of Bangladesh and Myanmar have been generally cooperative. It is the political attributes such as, latent sympathy of some political elements in the south-eastern districts of Bangladesh for the Muslim Rohingyas and the advocacy by the former of a strong stand by Dhaka on so-called border provocations by Myanmar army, which have caused the border tension. Given the political turnaround between Myanmar and Bangladesh, the border problem can be resolved to mutual satisfaction. Apart from the fencing issue, there is no major divergence of perception between the two countries on either delineation or demarcation of their common border. It is basically cross-border Rohingya refugee movements viewed as legitimate by one country and not by the other, and occasional RSO-related activity, which had caused the recent fracas. Therefore, it is pertinent to put in place a mechanism to jointly monitor these developments.
If India can help facilitate normalization of the Bangladesh-Myanmar border related problem then its Look-East Policy also gets traction. Some beneficial outcome of India`s trade with Myanmar from the north-east region particularly Mizoram will be tangible. Active trade is expected to impact Maynmar’s upper and lower western regions, including Rakhine state, which is an economically backward and food scarce Rohingya homeland. However, tensions on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border will have adverse impact on the economic flows to Rakhine state located not far from the area of tension.
The author is Shri Gautam Sen:(IDAS :Retd.), presently serving as Adviser (Finance) of India`s State Govt. of Nagaland.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India
August 25, 2014
The news from Ukraine does not as yet indicate that there is going to be a peaceful, negotiated end to the current crisis with government troops using air power and ground forces against separatists who are fast losing territory. The human toll, with 2119 dead and 5043 wounded, keeps mounting. Over 380,000 have fled, with more than half to Russia.
The US does not seem to be keen on promoting a peaceful settlement. Germany though agreeing to economic sanctions against Russia, rather reluctantly and after much delay, finds itself in a predicament. The German economy shrank by 0.2 % in the quarter ending 30 June as opposed to 0.7% growth in the previous quarter. It is generally agreed that the sanctions imposed by EU on Russia and the retaliatory sanctions imposed by it are the main cause of the shrinking of the economy. Can Germany afford to continue with or, if need be, expand the sanctions? Obviously, no. But, there is popular support for a tough line with Russia.
For the Russians, Ukraine’s capital Kiev is the cradle of their Orthodox Church and of the Russian nation. In 1783, Prince Potemkin established a base in Sevastopol in the Crimea for the Russian navy. A section of the Ukrainians actively collaborated with Nazi Germany in World War 2 and fought the Soviet Union. In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev without consultations with his colleagues handed over Crimea to Ukraine to mark the 300th anniversary of Council of Periyaslav (1654) that marked Ukraine’s joining Russia in return for protection against Poland. It was only in 1978 that Ukraine got control of Sevastopol. The Russian navy continued to use the base under a lease agreement renewed from to time amidst indications that Kiev had reservations against such leasing after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia wanted the US troops to remain in Europe as an insurance against any re-armament of a united Germany. But, Russia did not want the NATO to expand and to get closer to it. It has historical memory of enemy forces coming to Russia once under Napoleon and twice from Germany, the last being under Hitler. That is why the Soviet Union insisted on the neutralization of Finland before agreeing to withdraw its forces from that country following the end of World War 2.
When the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact collapsed there was a brief debate about the need for the continuation of NATO and the need to cash the ‘peace dividend’. Soon it was decided, partly under pressure from the military-industrial complex, that far from disbanding, NATO should be expanded. In 1999, Czech, Hungary, and Poland joined. In 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined. Russia was watching anxiously, but powerless to act.
In 2008, US advocated the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine. Germany and France opposed, fearing Russian reaction. Later that year Russia sent in troops when separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia wanted to secede from Georgia. Georgia lost the two regions and the NATO was in no position to take on Russia militarily.
Since 1991, according to US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, US has spent $5 billion “to promote democracy in Ukraine“ or more accurately, to get Ukraine to join NATO and EU. In other words, despite the Russian military response in Georgia in 2008 US persisted with its plans for Ukraine.
In November 2013, President Yanukovych from the eastern part of Ukraine, where Russian speakers are in majority, refused to sign a partnership deal with EU owing to opposition from Russia which extended a loan of $15 billion. The US decided that it was time to accelerate Ukraine’s march towards NATO membership. Street demonstrations in which Vitoria Nuland and Senator John McCain participated compelled Yanukovych to agree to early elections and to reform the constitution to reduce the powers of the president. A draft agreement arrived at in the presence of foreign ministers of the UK, Poland and France and a representative of Russia on February 21, 2013 was sabotaged by US by engineering more violent street demonstrations leading to the flight of Yanukovych who surfaced days later in Russia. The next day, Russia moved more troops to Sevastopol and the separatist movement in the Crimea resurfaced and following a referendum the Crimea became ‘independent’ and later requested Russia to agree to its merger. The request was accepted with alacrity. The West protested loudly, but was powerless to stand in the way. Obviously, Russia feared that if Ukraine joined EU and NATO, there will be a NATO base in Sevastopol.
Soon separatist movements materialised in the east of Ukraine and after the customary referendum, independence was declared in Donetsk and Lohansk. Kiev started military operations, but without much success. There was a change after the shooting down of the Malaysian flight MH17. Kiev accused the separatists and the US and the West concurred without waiting for evidence. President Putin did not demonstrate the diplomatic smartness associated with him when the flight was shot down causing the loss of over 270 lives. He could have immediately sent in his condolences to Malaysia and other states whose nationals were killed and announced his support for an enquiry to bring the guilty to justice. An impression was created that he had lent missiles to the separatists who shot down the flight, probably mistaking it for a military aircraft in the vicinity. The black box is in the UK, but no evidence about how the aircraft was brought down has been published. There are experts in the US and Germany who have argued that it was probably an air-to-air missile in which case Ukraine is guilty. As of now we do not know.
After the shooting down of MH17, Russia came under sanctions and the military operations against the separatists gained momentum.
President Putin sent about 280 trucks with ‘humanitarian relief items’ and Ukraine complained of aggression. The West too protested. But, Russia ignored the protests and the trucks went in and got out without permission from Ukrainian customs as they do not control the check point. Was President Putin sending out a reminder of what happened in 2008 in the case of Georgia? Incidentally, he got his trucks out before Chancellor Merkel reached Kiev for a visit since 2008. Let us see whether she will succeed in persuading Ukraine to seek a negotiated way out of the crisis or encourage further confrontation?
It is possible, if there is political will, to find a negotiated settlement on the basis of a new constitution giving greater say to regions in foreign policy. In brief, the US should agree to a sort of Finlandization of Ukraine, without saying that in so many words. Otherwise, there is risk of a repeat of Georgia 2008. Further economic sanctions and political isolation of Russia will not make it change course. As it is President Obama has brought Russia and China closer, certainly not to the advantage of the US.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India
August 24, 2014
An ancient epic's lessons for India ring true today.
By Akhilesh Pillalamarri
August 23, 2014
This past weekend, the Indian television show the Mahabharat finished airing. The show, which began airing in 2013, was a version of the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata, and was widely successful, garnering millions of viewers daily. Its success followed that of another televised version of the epic that ran from 1988 to 1989.
The Sanskrit epic itself is the world's longest epic poem, at 100,000 couplets or 1.8 million words. It is ten times the combined length of the Iliad and Odyssey and three times the length of the Bible. Structurally, the Mahabharata is a compendium of ancient Indian mythology, history, political theory, and philosophy, and has sometimes been described as an ancient encyclopedia of Indian knowledge. The holy Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, which is considered a summary of the vast Hindu religious and philosophical literature, is also contained within the Mahabharata. Historians believe that the epic is based on certain core events that occurred in 10th to 8th century BCE India, which then grew over time to become the epic, while on the other hand traditionalist Hindus believe it to be a true reflection of historical events. In any case, the Mahabharata is considered the most representative work of the diversity of Indian and Hindu thought in existence.
However, despite its encyclopedic nature, there is an underlying plot and storyline throughout the entire epic that holds it together. Philosophical and political works are scattered throughout the epic as dialogues between characters, most of who are involved in political and military situations. At the risk of oversimplifying an incredibly complex epic, the Mahabharata is similar to an ancient Indian Game of Thrones, with numerous factions competing for political power in a variety of states. The main story of the work is a dynastic struggle for the throne of Hastinapura (located between modern Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh), the kingdom ruled by the Kuru clan. Two branches of cousins of the Kuru family struggle for the throne: the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Although the father of the Kauravas is the elder brother of the father of the Pandavas, he is initially disqualified from ruling in favor of his younger brother due to being blind. His eldest son, Duryodhana, claims to be the rightful heir to the Kuru throne on the basis of being the eldest son of the eldest son even though the eldest Pandava, Yudhisthira, is older and is considered the legitimate heir apparent. Eventually, the struggle between the Kauravas and Pandavas culminates in the great battle of Kurukshetra, in which the Pandavas are ultimately victorious. Throughout the epic, it is implied that the Pandavas are in the right because they follow dharma (righteousness).
It is fortunate that the show, the Mahabharat was so well received because it serves as a reminder to Indians and the rest of the world that the Indian tradition contains more than just the idealism and non-violence typified by figures such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. It contains advice that is similar to the wisdom and realpolitik of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli – practical strategies that serve the ultimate goal of political and military triumph. The two main figures in the Mahabharat, who expound on these strategies are Shakuni, the maternal uncle of the Kauravas, and Krishna, the maternal cousin of the Pandavas, who is considered the avatar of a Hindu god in Hinduism. Together, these two characters expound on a variety of political strategies that could be of practical political relevance today. This is especially important, since it gives Indians a realistic way of looking at the world that is rooted in their civilization.
Here are some important political takeaways from the show and epic:
There's no point in occupying the high moral ground if you lose in the process
Contemporary Indian politics is often saturated with an obsession over maintaining the high moral ground, no matter the cost. As the Diplomat reported previously, this mode of thinking led to a disastrous war with China in 1962. This idealism has always been present in Indian thinking, and has often been disastrous. In an anecdotal story, the Hindu king Prithivraj Chahaun defeated and captured the Muslim Afghan invader Mahmud of Ghor in the 1191 first Battle of Tarain. However, he released his prisoner as that was considered morally correct. In 1192, Mahmud returned, and defeated, captured, and executed Prithivraj, an event that lead to Muslim rule over the entire Ganges river valley, the heartland of India. In the Mahabharata, Krishna on the other hand, recommends the use of deceitful and immoral strategies in the service of moral causes. The ends justify the means when major issues are at stake.
War is sometimes justified
The Hindu tradition has acquired a reputation for being exclusively non-violent, due to the influence of Gandhi. Gandhi argued, to an extreme, that it would be better to uphold the principle of non-violence over resorting to violence for any cause, even in self-defense. On the other hand, the Mahabarata accepts the idea of a just war. According to Shakuni, war is an option that should only be resorted to after political solutions fail, but once resorted to, it ought to be fought to its conclusion. The epic's Krishna also tells Arjuna, a Pandava, that once a war breaks out, it is not only justifiable but mandatory to fight if it is for a good cause. It is also mandatory to resort to war to bring about a desired conclusion rather than to walk away from violence out of the principle of non-violence. Modern India's treatment of war and its military often seems half-hearted and restrained because of its deep discomfort with power on moral grounds. However, it would do well to remember that only by accepting the use of power can it truly achieve its goals.
Rules and customs ought to be interpreted flexibly
Throughout the Mahabharat, both Krishna and Shakuni argue that rules and customs should serve certain social functions and that when they cease to do so, they should be discarded or loosely followed. Duty can thus be amended when it pursues a course of action that is inflexible. In the Mahabharata, the Panadavas felt honor bound to play a game of dice to the end, even though it resulted in the gambling away of their kingdom and their queen. In many parts of India today, a bloated sense of following a narrow rule-based honor leads to caste-based discrimination or violence against women. If following such a strict sense of morality leads to actions that are immoral, then it is better to evaluate one's notion of duty and honor.
The Mahabharata, though an ancient epic, still has a lot to teach modern India. This is why it still continues to be relevant and widely popular today, spawning successful shows, retellings, and plays. Its timeless lessons continue to guide Indian thinking, always pulling it away from extremes – the extreme of idealism and the extreme of immorality. Rather, it argues that is sometimes better to resort to what seems to be unjust in order to achieve a greater justice.