Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
BURMA has never been a real and integral part of India. She has indeed been influenced by India, from which the masses of her people have derived their Buddhist faith. The ordinary Burman, however, believes that the Buddha or Supreme Enlightened One was by birth and origin a Burman, and a few years ago a film showing the Buddha as an Indian Prince had to be discontinued owing to the resentment which it created in Rangoon. Indian influence can be traced in Burma's annals and in her architecture, and Indian traders sailed up her rivers. There was recurrent trouble with the Indian pirates that frequented the coast of Chittagong; and the kings of Pegu and Arakan from time to time invaded the northeastern portions of India. But in all essentials Burma has remained apart from India as she is today. Of a population of 13 millions, one million are Indians, and over 350,000 Indian coolies come over every year to reap the rice crop or to get casual employment; but except in Arakan, the division adjacent to Chittagong, the two peoples do not blend. There is no railway connecting Burma and India, and communication between the two is confined to steamship service between Calcutta or Madras and Rangoon, the journey taking two days and sometimes longer.
Burma became a province of India by the accident of conquest and by the convenience of recruiting its first administrators from India. It was annexed piecemeal after the three Burmese Wars: the northern and southern divisions of Arakan and Tenasserim in 1826, Rangoon and the rest of Lower Burma in 1852, and Upper Burma in 1886. The story of the last annexation is brilliantly told in Miss Tennyson Jesse's novel entitled "The Lacquer Lady." The arrogance of the Burman court and the ill-treatment of British subjects were the causes of the British intervention.
In area Burma is the largest of the Indian provinces, and in fact is larger than France. A great portion, however, consists of hills and forests. Northern Burma is for the most part hilly with valleys of cultivation along the courses of the rivers, widening as the rivers approach the sea. The whole of Lower Burma is a rice plain. The rainfall of Lower Burma varies from 60 to 200 inches; in Mandalay and the dry zone round it, it ranges from 20 to 35 inches. The rivers continually encroach on the Bay of Bengal and deposit mud flats which in a short time come under cultivation and are added to the mainland. The coast line is about a thousand miles in length, and off the coast there is an archipelago of nearly a thousand islands. On the north and east the land frontier is coterminous with Tibet, China, Indo-China and Siam. Road communication is being pushed forward, over 2000 miles of rail have already been opened, and a bridge is being thrown across the Irrawaddy River near Mandalay. The Irrawaddy is still the great arterial connection of the province. The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company provides comfortable steamers, express and slow, the slow boats stopping at the bank when signalled to do so. The chief products are rice, timber and oil; there are also rich deposits of tin, lead, zinc and silver. Rubies, sapphires, amber and jade are also found, and there are gold washings in the river beds but not on a scale to be commercially profitable. The teak forests are famous. It takes about five years to get a teak tree down to the coast. As the wood when green is too heavy to float, the tree must first be girdled, i.e., a cut some inches deep is made all round it near the ground. This lets out the sap and in three years the wood is dry. The tree is then cut and floated down the streams that run into the big rivers. When it reaches the river it is assembled with others and a raft is formed and floated down to a depot at a port.
The people are Mongoloid in origin. Burmans predominate, but there are also considerable numbers of Chins, Kachins, Shans, Talaings and Karens. The Shans are mostly found in the Shan States where they are ruled by their own chiefs who administer simple laws suitable to a backward society. There is no caste system as in India, though the influence of caste customs is to be detected in Arakan. The women are not secluded; in fact they play an important rôle in national life and have much influence. They are very attractive in appearance, wear bright silk garments and move gracefully. Few sights are more enchanting than a group of Burman ladies by moonlight at a pagoda during a popular festival. They are small and singularly dainty. The men are usually short but sturdy, with strong leg development; their thighs used to be tattooed from the knee to the waist, but this fashion is dying out. They are artistic, possess a taste for mechanics, and love sport, and games of chance. They are cruel like other Mongoloids, impulsive, very vain and passionate, sensitive
on points of honor, quick to anger and to laughter, and not amenable to discipline.
It is said that the Burman is congenitally lazy, but this is not true of the people of Upper Burma, and once his attention is interested a Burman is capable of very hard and sustained effort. In Lower Burma life is made easy for him. The raising of the rice crop involves three periods of hard work of about a fortnight each: the ploughing in heavy mud and water, the transplanting of the rice from the seed-bed, and finally the reaping of the ripened crop. For the rest of the year there is little to do and the value of the rice enables the farmer to live comfortably. About 3,000,000 tons of rice are normally exported from Burma every year. Like other Mongoloids again they regard the government as a nuisance to be kept at arm's length rather than as a protector of the poor, which is the Indian view. Their religion seems to promote or express strong individualism which renders coöperation in politics difficult for them. On the other hand they have a passion for secret movements and societies. Murder and violent crime are very prevalent. Although the population is only 13 millions three or four murders occur every day of the year. The Burmans have been called the "Irish of the East," and they resemble the Irish in many ways, especially in being "agin the government." They seldom venture out of their own country, and regard foreigners with aversion and contempt. A few Burman women intermarry with Indians, and more with the Chinese. Generally the Indian is disliked because he competes with the Burman and works harder, and because he has a lower standard of living. The dislike, which is mutual, is both racial and economic in origin.
The Buddhist religion is general in Burma, but for the majority it is a cloak for underlying animism. The spirits, or Nats, are the powers to be propitiated. They bring prosperity or adversity, good luck or bad, rich or deficient harvests. They dwell in trees, or stones, or brooks, or mountains. Offerings of rice and other foods, cloth and other desirable things are made to them, and candles are lighted in their honor. When I told the Nagas that they must discontinue human sacrifices, they pleaded the necessity of propitiating their Nat, or spirit. Without human sacrifice they would have no harvest, the wombs of their women would miscarry, and all the ills that flesh is heir to would befall them. I insisted that the British Government was more powerful than their Nat, but my words fell on deaf ears. The Government might be more powerful, but it was far away and the Nat was always there. In the end the will of the Government prevailed and I was able to put an end to slavery and human sacrifice. Another belief is that the spirits of the dead must be released from earthly obligations and ties. Two of my Burman colleagues died in office and as Governor I had to send a message to the grave to permit them that day to relinquish their office and to allow them to go where they pleased. Even educated Burmans fear the Nats. But Buddhism is very much in evidence. Pagodas and monasteries are dotted all over the land. It is a work of merit to build a pagoda; it is not a work of equal merit to keep one in repair. Many therefore fall into ruin but all the famous pagodas are kept in rich repair and decoration. Often the pagoda is on the top of a hill and steps up to it are built into the hillside; the stiffer the climb the greater the merit.
Two great pagodas have been immortalized by Rudyard Kipling, the Moulmein pagoda and the Shwe Dagon pagoda of Rangoon. The Moulmein pagoda does not look eastward to the sea as in the poem; eastward it looks across Siam and Annam, and the sea is some miles away to the west. Still Kipling has "made it so" and for the majority of mankind it will continue to look eastward to the sea. The view from the ridge is surpassingly beautiful and represents to the patriotic and proud citizen of Moulmein what the harbor and the bridge over it represent to the citizen of Sydney. The Shwe Dagon pagoda is one of the wonders of the world with its graceful spire literally encased in gold plates. To the lover of Burma the first sight of it coming up the Rangoon River is what Sirmio was to Catullus and what the cliffs of Dover are to the homing Englishman. This is how Kipling described his first sight of it: "Then a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon -- a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple spire. It stood upon a green knoll, and below it were lines of sheds, warehouses and mills. Under what new god, thought I, are we irrepressible English now." At night it is flood lit and it takes on a different glory from that at noon. Incidentally the illumination of the pagodas has enabled many small towns in Burma to have an electric light supply.
Monasteries are to be found all over the country. In the big towns they are extensive buildings. Most of them date from the time when the building material was wood and some of them have much fine carving. The indigenous architecture was in wood and bamboo and the bulk of the people still live in wooden or bamboo houses. New houses are now put up in brick. Each monastery is under an abbot and is independent, there being no central ecclesiastical authority. The monks wear yellow robes. Every Burman has to don the yellow robe when he is young, though only for a few days. There are said to be 80,000 monks in Burma, and these have to be supported by the people. Early every morning the monks go out with their black begging bowls to collect rice or other food. They are supposed not to look at women. They have finished their meal by noon and then they should teach or read the scriptures. They are not parish priests and have no responsibility for other people's souls. They teach the children to read and write, whence the relatively high standard of literacy as compared with India. The monks used to teach the children manners as well as morals, but they have less support in this respect nowadays from the parents, who seem to prefer the more efficient government schools.
The young monks have taken to politics and aim at the restoration of a Burman kingdom. There can be no doubt that the recent rebellion was largely engineered by monks. The older monks are mostly religious and are much respected. They are generally ready to help the government when appealed to. Several thousands of monks live at Mandalay, the last Burman capital, but fights between the different orders are not uncommon and the people find supporting them a burden. The political monks play on the credulity of the people by promising them immunity from bullets and other dangers by means of amulets, charms or the tattooing of certain symbols. In one particular district of Burma little local rebellions occur from time to time. A pretender sets up a village claim to the Burman throne, appoints ministers -- the overt act of rebellion -- collects followers and gets into conflict with the police, disastrous to himself and his following. There are really no limits to the credulity of the Burman villager. The more improbable a thing is the easier it seems for him to believe it. The monks are a drain on the country and are losing their influence in the towns; but they still exercise undoubted authority in the countryside and remain, though to a less extent than formerly, the teachers of the children in secular no less than in religious matters.
At the time of annexation the old Kingdom of Upper Burma centered on Mandalay. It was very tyrannical and very corrupt but its inefficiency and display appealed at that time to the people and rendered it more acceptable than an efficient government would have been. Corruption favors the rich, and tempers tyranny by making things tolerable for the influential and well-to-do. Annexation was not popular with the influential classes and the prospect of regular government was irksome to the adventurous spirits who found excitement and profit in disorder. The deposition of King Thibaw and his Queen Supayalat was effected without a blow. The British troops marched into Mandalay and the palace surrendered. Then began two years and more of pacification. Bands of dacoits, or rebels, were formed all over Upper Burma under Bohs, or rebel leaders. The large areas of forest, the ease and secrecy of communication by river at nighttime, the great distances of the villages from one another, all helped the dacoits, while their horrible cruelties cowed the people. By degrees the bands were hunted down, their stockades captured, their communications interrupted and broken. As their power failed the people rallied to the side of order and defended themselves against the dacoits. All the time Lower Burma appeared to be satisfied with the peace and prosperity of British rule and remained quiet.
During the recent rebellion the position was reversed. Upper Burma remained quiet and took no part in the rebellion. The authorities seem to have found ample evidence that the rebellion was directly political in origin and connected with political movements in India. The long and unsuccessful policy of conciliation in India and the leniency shown in Burma as in India in late years toward anti-government agitation had encouraged the idea that the British would depart if only they were given sufficient trouble. This feeling no doubt supplied the spark, but the intensity and extension of the rebellion was partly due to the economic crisis through which the country was passing. After years of high prices for their rice crop the Burmans could not sell their rice at all and they found the payment of any taxes very burdensome. The Government reduced its demands and cut down expenditure ruthlessly, but the administration had to be carried on and at that time it was not easy to raise loans on Indian or Burman credit. Events took the same course as in Upper Burma after the annexation. Bands of dacoits were formed and horrible cruelties occurred; then troops were brought over from India and the bands were steadily hunted down. As the power of the bands failed the people have begun to defend themselves, and now give the troops and the police information which previously they were afraid to give. The course has been similar to that in Upper Burma in 1887 and subsequent years, and the result the same.
The British have no doubt conferred great benefits on Burma. They have developed the country. The government has done its part; but the big trading firms, largely Scottish, have opened up the country and given well-paid employment to hundreds of thousands. Large capital is required to work the forests -- a big staff and elephants literally in thousands. The rice trade requires agencies all over the country. The big mines like the Burma Corporation need large working capital. Now there are no rich men in Burma, and the Burmans have as yet shown no industrial capacity. Burmans wish to spend, not to save, their money, and their generosity is almost fantastic. They started a spinning factory of their own and the government helped it most liberally, but it soon failed and was bought by one of the British firms. For these reasons the indigenous accumulated wealth of Burma is in the hands of the British, the Indians and the Chinese. This condition of things lent itself to nationalistic agitation. The agitators preached, and many of the people for a time believed, that the price of rice had fallen because the export houses had formed a ring to keep it down. It made no difference that there was no foundation for this statement, that the exporters of rice were nearly ruined and had to cut down expenses drastically; the rumor got about and the politically-minded young monks spread it far and wide. Much misery and suffering have been the result but the people are now recovering their senses. The better class of monks who leave secular business alone came forward on the side of the British Government and the rebellion is now practically over. It is to be hoped that the land will have peace now for at least a generation.
Owing to the influence and teaching of the monks, Burma is relatively advanced in primary education in the vernacular, but in higher English education it is far behind India. The last of the old universities in India, that of Allahabad, was opened in 1887; Rangoon University was opened only ten years ago. Before that time the colleges and high schools in Burma were affiliated for examination purposes with the Calcutta University. The colleges were mostly missionary colleges in which religious and moral instruction were given. Prominent in this good work was the great American Baptist Mission. Gradually the Burmans developed a desire for non-missionary education. In 1916 I was able to secure a valuable site of over 400 acres in the best part of the suburbs of Rangoon for a university, and during my second term of office I was able, with the help of my Burman colleagues, the big European firms and the generous people of Burma, to collect about half a million pounds sterling for an endowment fund. The buildings of the University are now approaching completion. In advanced English education, however, the Burmans are still some forty or fifty years behind present-day Indian standards.
This deficiency in higher education accounts for Burman back-wardness in political matters. A committee which I appointed in 1916 to consider the scope and range of desirable political reforms reported that very little change was necessary. Burma was in consequence left out of the Montagu-Chelmsford reform scheme for India. This gave rise to a demand for reforms not inferior to those given to India. The mass of the people took no interest in the reforms but the advanced party began to be vociferous. A scheme was drawn up rather more advanced than that given to the other provinces of India and it fell to me to introduce this scheme in the beginning of 1923. At that time the Burmans had not made up their mind on the question of separation from India. This had long been advocated by British officials who thought that Burma was the milch cow of India. There is no leisured class in Burma and the Burmans who went over to the Indian legislative assembly could not make their voice heard. They were backward, wore different clothes, spoke a different language and had a different faith. The questions which vitally concerned India, such as the protection of the vulnerable Northwest Frontier and the communal differences between Hindus and Moslems, had no interest for them. At first the Burmans were suspicious of the foreigners who advocated separation; it was a movement, some thought, to keep Burma in perpetual tutelage. But by degrees the pressure of Indian competition in the professions and the labor market turned their minds towards separation and self-expression.
When the prospect of ultimate dominion status was adumbrated for India the demand for separation became more general. It was tolerable to be under a British government for a time, but it was quite intolerable to be under a government of Indians at any time. The cry for separation grew and was voted almost unanimously in the Burman Legislative Council. Indian influences were then brought into play. The Indians have found the connection with Burma profitable and do not want to lose it. A counter-agitation was then set up, small in numbers but loud in voice, which claimed that Burma should continue as part of India until both India and Burma received full dominion status. Writing for the London Times in 1930, I stated the position as follows:
The Burman Government has recently summed up the arguments for and against separation. The leading arguments for it are that the Burmans differ radically from Indians; that they cannot have an effective voice in an Indian legislature; that their interests have already been subordinated to those of India in such matters as the protective steel duties, the export of hides, the manufacture of salt, and that their disadvantage in this respect will increase as an Indian legislature grows stronger; and, finally, that they would gain financially by separation. The leading arguments against it are that Burma is wedged between India and China, that it depends on India for defense, for labor and for cheap credit -- an important point for a country which requires loans for development. A northeast frontier question may again become obtrusive as it did some twenty years ago when the Chinese occupied Lhasa.
In my opinion the mere mention of dominion status as a practical proposition, even for a future possibly very remote, made the ultimate separation of Burma from India quite inevitable.
The proceedings of the recent Burma Round Table Conference were somewhat bewildering as no fewer than three or four groups of Burmans claimed to represent the country as a whole. Each was bound by instructions from its organization in Burma, and the only point of agreement apparently was that Burma must not in any case get less than India. In addition there were the minorities -- Indians, Chinese, Karens, Europeans, Anglo-Indians -- and the representatives of British, Indian and Chinese commercial interests. The Burma Conference, like the Indian Conference, was unable to reach any agreement on the vexed and difficult question of minority representation.
At the end of the Conference His Majesty's Government made a definite offer to the members, but before dealing with this we must describe the present form of constitutional government. The portfolios are divided into two classes, the reserved and transferred subjects. The reserved subjects, which include the central subjects, i.e., those directly concerning the Government of India, are directly controlled by the Governor and two Members of Council, one English and one Burman, all of whom are appointed for five years by His Majesty's Government. They are responsible to them and to Parliament, and also are subordinate to the Viceroy and Government of India. The reserved subjects include law and order, police and justice, land revenue and finance as affecting those subjects. The transferred subjects are directly controlled by ministers selected by the Governor but responsible to an elected Burman legislature. The transferred subjects are local self-government, education, forests, public health, agriculture and excise. The Legislature consists of one chamber called the Burma Legislative Council, with 103 members. Of these 80 are elected, the rest are nominated by the Governor. The Council has large powers of legislation, interrogation of the executive and voting supply. In the reserved subjects the Governor has power to restore supply that has been refused and to take all measures necessary for the safety of the Province. The Members of the Council and the Ministers meet the Governor for joint discussion and exchange of views; but in the case of the reserved subjects the decision rests with the Governor and his Members of Council, and in the case of the transferred subjects with the Governor and his Ministers. This, broadly, is the existing constitution. It has been called dyarchy; but most constitutions contain lurking principles of dyarchy.
Burma will now have to decide whether or not she wants to be separated from India. This will be the issue at the general election in the coming November. One might suppose that Burma will not be able to make up her mind because she will not know what will be the constitution in India. It is generally expected, however, that the decision will be preponderantly in favor of separation. Then Burma is to be offered, subject to Parliamentary approval, a constitution on the following lines:
1. Responsible government reposing in an Upper House, partly nominated and partly elected, and a Lower House directly elected.
2. Adequate representation of minorities and of special interests like commerce.
3. A ministry of six or not more than eight appointed by the Governor and directly responsible to the Legislature.
4. Special powers to the Governor to administer defense and external affairs, monetary policy including exchange currency and coinage, the protection of the rights and interests of the officers recruited by the Crown or Secretary of State, with power to refuse assent to legislative measures or return bills for reconsideration.
5. The Governor to be independent of the Legislature for supply of the reserved subjects and to retain necessary powers of legislation subject to responsibility to Parliament.
6. The Shan States and excluded areas to be as at present under the Governor.
The Prime Minister gave an assurance that it would be the endeavor of His Majesty's Government "to insure that these powers shall not prejudice the advance of Burma to full self-government."
The first effect among Burman politicians may be disappointment, but those who know the country well will feel that a very large measure of independence is being conceded; indeed, there is much questioning as to whether Burma is prepared for it, owing to her backwardness in education and experience, especially in municipal and district self-government. A leading statesman observed that Burma had governed itself quite recently in Upper Burma. But that government would never be tolerated at the present time. It may be said in no unkindly spirit that the Burman is peculiarly disposed to run before he can walk. It may be hoped that he will make the best of the opportunity now generously offered him.