a) Falling apart — On Germany political crisis

The crisis over government formation in Berlin has raised the possibility of fresh elections in Germany and the ripple effect of instability in the European Union. The breakdown in talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and potential partners to get the requisite numbers in the Reichstag has dealt a blow to a time-tested post-War model of political compromise and consensus-building. A major sticking point in the coalition negotiations among the three ideologically disparate parties — the centre-right CDU, the left-wing Greens and the pro-market Free Democratic Party — was whether the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who migrated to Germany should be allowed to bring their families. Curiously, the CDU conceded the extension of the current freeze on family reunion, on the insistence of its sister party, the Christian Social Union. This is a substantial concession from a party that backed the government’s bold decision to open the doors in 2015 to rescue millions who had risked their lives to reach Europe. The Greens, key allies in a potential Jamaica coalition with the conservatives and the FDP, fell in line, despite their humanitarian stance on refugees. But the FDP dug in its heels, demanding the phasing out of a tax to support Germany’s eastern regions. Remarks by its leader that it is better not to govern than govern badly are a measure of the discord during the negotiations. In this fluid scenario, another general election cannot be ruled out, especially as the centre-left Social Democratic Party has so far foreclosed the possibility of cohabiting with the conservatives in another grand coalition. After it received its worst-ever drubbing in the September elections, the party may be reluctant to revisit its position, lest it risk further erosion of its popular base. But in the unlikely event of it backing the CDU, the Social Democrats may insist on offering support to a candidate other than Ms. Merkel as Chancellor. A minority government led by the CDU is a theoretical possibility, but even the conservatives do not seem to warm up to it. That leaves the President with the responsibility of determining whether fresh elections are the only option. The far right Alternative for Germany, which emerged as the third largest party in the elections, believes it can further consolidate those unprecedented gains — something the mainstream parties will be conscious of during last-ditch attempts to cobble together a coalition. The proof of the efficacy of the German consensus model lay in solidifying the political centre-ground over the decades. The need for a strong middle ground could not be greater than it is at this point. Once the Netherlands and France averted political instability at the hands of populist and eurosceptic parties earlier this year, the outcome in Germany had appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Perhaps not.

b) Losing the war, winning the peace

India is not short of memories on 1962. The India-China War ended fifty-five years ago to the day, yet each winter brings back reminiscences of the conflict. The Chinese assault on the Thagla Ridge early in the morning of October 20, 1962, which turned simmering military tensions into open war. The doomed struggle of ill-equipped jawans. Jawaharlal Nehru’s awkward radio address to Assam, just as the Chinese seemed poised to enter the plains. The unilateral ceasefire that China announced on November 21, 1962 saving Assam but ending India’s chance of recovering the Aksai Chin. And above all, the scar of national humiliation at the hands of a triumphant China. But is there all there was to the war? One can doubt it. Standard histories of 1962 almost completely ignore a key aspect of the conflict: the way the authorities and people of Arunachal Pradesh — the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), as it was then called — experienced it. Look away from the fighting and the India-China War takes on quite a different hue, one where the war does not end at the point of ceasefire and where the roles of winners, losers and bystanders aren’t so neatly divided.

The October shock

When large-scale fighting erupted between China and India, it did not take long for NEFA’s civilian officials to realise their entire administration was in jeopardy. By October 23, Tawang had to be abandoned. Meanwhile, Chinese troops were advancing onto Walong in the east. The retreat of the Indian Army entailed that of the civilian administration. Dozens of administrative centres were evacuated, leaving most of northern NEFA unoccupied and open for Chinese occupation. Thousands of Tibetan refugees followed suit, along with many local people (Picture shows refugees fleeing from the India-China border war, in 1962). Evacuee officials focussed on organising relief, and even began considering their permanent rehabilitation elsewhere in Assam. At the time, India’s loss of NEFA seemed in danger of becoming permanent. The war formally came to an end with China’s unilateral ceasefire on November 21, but the crisis did not. Gains in the Aksai Chin aside, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) now occupied significant portions of NEFA. Officially this was temporary, but everything was done to complicate India’s return. Government stores, supplies, equipment, furnishings, weapons and often buildings were systematically damaged, eaten or destroyed. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) pointedly delayed its departure, keeping Indian troops and officials in the dark about it. On January 17, 1963 the Chinese still occupied Tawang. The local official only resumed his duties a few days later. In military terms, the India-China War had lasted only a month. As an occupation, almost three.

Battle for hearts and minds

What most worried India’s frontier officials were how the inhabitants would receive them back. India’s state presence in NEFA was recent. The Raj’s eastern Himalayan frontier had barely been administered and remained poorly explored. Civilian administrators had made huge efforts since 1950 to consolidate India’s sovereignty over the region; but given the difficult terrain, wet climate, and financial and human shortages, doing so required local inhabitants’ cooperation. Gaining the loyalty of the Mishmis, Monpas or Adis was an aim in itself, if they were to become Indian citizens. Winning them over was key. The problem was that Indian officials’ state-building per force had to contend with the PRC’s own efforts in nearby Tibet. China too faced an uphill struggle to concretize its hold there, and it too needed border inhabitants’ cooperation. Yet, in this porous Himalayan borderland criss-crossed by social, cultural or family ties and regular movement, people had ample opportunity to observe and compare what India and China respectively offered — both the good and the bad. The result was a fierce competition for Himalayan hearts and minds, well before military and diplomatic tensions appeared between the two countries. This struggle for authority and legitimacy did not stop when fighting erupted. On the contrary, the 1962 War offered China a chance to gain the upper hand in it. There is much evidence that the PRC’s occupation of northern NEFA was a sort of public relations exercise vis-à-vis local people. Indian officials came back to Tawang to find that no women had been molested and nothing taken without payment; houses, monasteries and possessions were intact. Chinese troops had brought in gifts and exotic goods and made every effort to convince people that their religion, customs, and freedom would be respected. In fact, China had one key message for the people of NEFA: it was there to liberate them from India. The story of NEFA’s occupation suggests that, among other things, the 1962 War was China’s chance to prove to Himalayan people that it was the better state — whereas a weak India could neither protect nor deliver. The unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal helped preserve the image of Chinese invulnerability and benevolence vis-à-vis local inhabitants while preventing an international escalation of the conflict. “Tell us to come back and we’ll free you from India,” departing troops reportedly said. In an ideal scenario, Himalayan inhabitants would do just that. More realistically, a China-supported, anti-Indian uprising might erupt like in nearby Nagaland — and India would stop posing a threat to China’s sovereignty in Tibet.

Going back

India’s frontier officials had every reason to worry about returning to NEFA. Would people welcome them back considering China’s impressive wartime performance? To their own surprise, the answer was by and large yes. Many inhabitants expressed both their disappointment at having been left behind and their support for Indian authorities’ return. They made concrete demands to ensure that the disappointment would not re-occur, and that their support would be rewarded. Something strange was happening. China had won the war on both fronts, military and political; yet this had not been enough to win people over, especially since many people had heard of repression in Tibet from refugees passing through. In hindsight, China’s demonstration of superiority seems to have been counter-productive. The Indian state might be weaker and less efficient, but from the inhabitants’ standpoint it was less of a risk, and offered more chance for negotiation. On that count, we may need to revise our standard narrative of 1962. The war was not just about winning more territory (in the Aksai Chin) or teaching India a lesson (which it did). It was also about winning over hearts and minds. And if the PRC did win the war, on that front it also lost the peace. Bérénice Guyot-Réchard teaches contemporary history at King’s College London. Her book, ‘Shadow States: India, China and the Himalayas, 1910-1962’, was published this year.


1) Ripple effect

Meaning: The continuing and spreading results of an event or action.

Example: “a report of one attack by one man can terrorize 10,000 women; the ripple effect is enormous”

2) Breakdown

Meaning: A failure of a relationship or system.

Example: “a breakdown in military discipline”

Synonyms: Failure, Collapse

Antonyms: Success, Victory

3) Phasing out

Meaning: To remove or stop using something gradually or in stages.

Synonyms: Remove, Stop

4) Foreclosed

Meaning: Rule out or prevent (a course of action).

Example: “the decision effectively foreclosed any possibility of his early rehabilitation”

5) Cohabiting

Meaning: Coexist.

Example: “animals that can cohabit with humans thrive”

6) Drubbing

Meaning: A beating; a thrashing.

Example: “I’ll give the scoundrels a drubbing if I can!”

Synonyms: Beating, Thumping

7) Reluctant

Meaning: Unwilling and hesitant; disinclined.

Example: “today, many ordinary people are still reluctant to talk about politics”

Synonyms: Unwilling, Resistant

Antonyms: Willing, Ready

8) Unprecedented

Meaning: Never done or known before.

Example: “the government took the unprecedented step of releasing confidential correspondence”

Synonyms: Unmatched, Unequalled

Antonyms: Normal, Common

9) Conscious

Meaning: Aware of and responding to one’s surroundings.

Example: “although I was in pain, I was conscious”

Synonyms: Aware, Awake

Antonyms: Unconscious, Unaware

10) Last-ditch

Meaning: Denoting a final attempt to achieve something after all else has failed.

Example: “a last-ditch effort to break the deadlock”

Synonyms: Last-minute, Desperate

11) Cobble

Meaning: Roughly assemble or produce something from available parts or elements.

Example: “the film was imperfectly cobbled together from two separate stories”

Synonyms: Contrive, Devise

12) Solidifying

Meaning: Make or become hard or solid.

Example: “the magma slowly solidifies and forms crystals”

Synonyms: Harden, Freeze

Antonyms: Gasify, Melt

13) Averted

Meaning: Prevent or ward off (an undesirable occurrence)

Example: “talks failed to avert a rail strike”

Synonyms: Prevent, Stop

14) Eurosceptic

Meaning: A person, especially a politician, who opposes closer connections between Britain and the European Union.

Synonyms: Conservative

15) Foregone conclusion

Meaning: A result that can be predicted with certainty.

Example: “the result of her trial was a foregone conclusion”

Synonyms: Certainty, Inevitability

Antonyms: Possibility

16) Reminiscences

Meaning: the enjoyable recollection of past events.

Example: “his story made me smile in reminiscence”

17) Simmering

Meaning: Become calmer and quieter.

Example: “she gave him time to simmer down after their argument”

Synonyms: Cool down, Cool off

18) Doomed

Meaning: Cause to have an unfortunate and inescapable outcome.

Example: “her plan was doomed to failure”

Synonyms: Destine, Predestine

Antonyms: Happy, Lucky

19) Ill-equipped

Meaning: Not having the necessary resources or qualities for a particular role or task.

Example: “they feel ill-equipped to cope with emotional issues”

20) Awkward

Meaning: Causing difficulty; hard to do or deal with.

Example: “some awkward questions”

Synonyms: Difficult, Tricky

Antonyms: Easy, Convenient

21) Hue

Meaning: Character or aspect.

Example: “men of all political hues submerged their feuds”

Synonyms: Complexion, Type

22) Bystanders

Meaning: A person who is present at an event or incident but does not take part.

Example: “water cannons were turned on marchers and innocent bystanders alike”

Synonyms: Onlooker, Passer-by

Antonyms: Participant

23) Large-scale

Meaning: Involving large numbers or a large area; extensive.

Example: “large-scale commercial farming”

Synonyms: Extensive, Wide-ranging

Antonyms: Small-scale, Minor

24) Erupted

Meaning: Break out suddenly and dramatically.

Example: “fierce fighting erupted between the army and guerrillas”

Synonyms: Break out, Blow up

Antonyms: Die down

25) Jeopardy

Meaning: Danger of loss, harm, or failure.

Example: “the whole peace process is in jeopardy”

Synonyms: Danger, Peril

Antonyms: Safety, Security

26) Evacuated

Meaning: Remove (someone) from a place of danger to a safer place.

Example: “several families were evacuated from their homes”

Synonyms: Remove, Clear

Antonyms: Add, Return to

27) Rehabilitation

Meaning: the action of restoring someone to former privileges or reputation after a period of disfavour.

Example: “a posthumous rehabilitation of the activist”

28) Inhabitants

Meaning: A person or animal that lives in a particular place.

Example: A city of five million inhabitants.

29) Uphill

Meaning: Requiring great effort; difficult.

Example: “an uphill struggle to gain worldwide recognition”

Synonyms: Difficult, Tough

Antonyms: Easy

30) Concretize

Meaning: Make (an idea or concept) real; give specific or definite form to.

Example: “the theme park is an attempt to concretize our fantasies about America”

31) Porous

Meaning: (Of a rock or other material) having minute interstices through which liquid or air may pass.

Example: “layers of porous limestones”

Synonyms: Permeable, Penetrable

Antonyms: Impermeable

32) Criss-crossed

Meaning: To move or exist in a pattern of lines crossing something or each other

Example: This area of the city is criss-crossed by railway lines.

33) Vis-à-vis

Meaning: A person or group occupying a corresponding position to that of another in a different sphere; a counterpart.

Example: “his admiration for the US armed services extends to their vis-à-vis, the Russian military”

34) Molested

Meaning: pester or harass (someone) in an aggressive or persistent manner.

Example: “the crowd were shouting abuse and molesting the two police officers”

Synonyms: Harass, Harry

35) Monasteries

Meaning: A building or buildings occupied by a community of monks living under religious vows.

Synonyms: Abbey, Ashram

36) Possessions

Meaning: The state of having, owning, or controlling something.

Example: “she had taken possession of the sofa”

Synonyms: Ownership, Keeping

37) Exotic

Meaning: Originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country.

Example: “exotic birds”

Synonyms: Foreign, Non-native

Antonyms: Native, Familiar

38) Liberate

Meaning: Set (someone) free from imprisonment, slavery, or oppression.

Example: “the serfs had been liberated”

Synonyms: Free, Release

Antonyms: Confine, Subjugate

39) Repression

Meaning: The action of subduing someone or something by force.

Example: “students sparked off events that ended in brutal repression”

Synonyms: Suppression, Domination

Antonyms: Freedom, Liberty

40) Contemporary

Meaning: Belonging to or occurring in the present.

Example: “the tension and complexities of our contemporary society”

Synonyms: Modern, Present

Antonyms: Old-fashioned, Out of date