a) Down but not out

After 39 consecutive successful launches, the Indian Space Research Organisation had almost made it appear that launching satellites was indeed child’s play when it used its workhorse rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. But the PSLV, which has been placing satellites in their respective orbits for the past 24 years, faced a setback on August 31. The PSLVC39 rocket carrying the eighth satellite of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) had a normal lift-off and fight events but ended in an unsuccessful mission. The heat-shield failed to separate, resulting in the satellite separation occurring within the shield. This is just the second instance when the PSLV has had an unsuccessful mission in all of its 41 launches; the first setback was back in 1993. Over the years, the PSLV has played a pivotal role in ISRO’s programme, and this February it set a world record by launching 104 satellites in one go. With such an enviable track record, the failure of the mission this time almost comes as a surprise. This is especially so as the lift-off and the stage separation of the first and second stages, which are the most challenging parts of the mission, went off smoothly. In comparison, the heat-shield separation is a relatively minor operation which takes place once the rocket crosses an altitude of 100-110 km, and the temperature in the absence of the heat-shield will no longer damage the satellite. The failed mission serves as a reminder that utmost care and scrutiny are required before every single launch. While scientists are working to identify the cause of the anomaly in the heat-shield separation event, the failed mission should have no impact on future launches involving the vehicle. The failure of the mission is particularly disheartening as the IRNSS-1H satellite was jointly assembled and tested by ISRO and a Bengaluru-based private company, the first time a single private company, rather than a consortium, was involved in building a satellite. The satellite was in no way to blame for the failure of the mission. The space organisation has thrown open its doors to private companies to build as many as 18 spacecraft a year beginning mid or end-2018. The IRNSS-1H satellite was launched as a replacement for the IRNSS-1A satellite, which became inoperational in terms of surveillance following the failure of all three atomic clocks. As only six of the seven satellites are operational, there are gaps in the navigation data sent by the IRNSS. With the failure of this mission, India will have to wait for some more time before the next mission to send a replacement for the IRNSS-1A satellite is ready. The IRNSS was created so that the country would not need to rely on American-based GPS data — the encrypted, accurate positioning and navigation information provided by the system will make Indian military operations self-reliant.

b) Making up for lost time

Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarks on an official bilateral visit to Myanmar from September 5. This follows upon his earlier ASEAN-related visit in November 2014 and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit in May 2012. Though overdue, taking into account Mr. Modi’s ‘Neighborhood First”, ‘Act East’ and Diaspora policies, international and domestic developments since then have clarified the political context of the visit to an extent not possible earlier. These include the impact of elections in Myanmar in November 2015 and in the U.S. in late 2016 that brought Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power in Myanmar and Donald Trump in the U.S.; the finalisation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its assertiveness in the South China Sea; the India-China border stand-off; and Myanmar’s travails over the peace process, the Rohingya issue and the economy.

The Rohingya crisis

The visit is taking place amidst some of the worst violence involving Rohingya militants and the Myanmar security forces ever resulting in a full-fledged international crisis triggered by large-scale, coordinated attacks by Rohingya militants under a recently formed Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA, now designated as ‘terrorists’) against government and security outposts in northern Rakhine state on August 25-26. The attacks and clearance operations against it have resulted in some 400 (and mounting) deaths, mostly Rohingya; widespread arson and burning of villages allegedly by both sides; displacement of thousands within Rakhine state and across the Naf river to Bangladesh; and severe disruption in food and humanitarian supplies. The Modi government has unequivocally condemned the “terrorist” attacks at a time when the security forces and Ms. Suu Kyi herself face heightened international criticism on the handling of the issue. This is likely to resonate in Mr. Modi’s favour in Myanmar. The visit is also taking place against the backdrop of uncertainties in the future India-China relationship caused by the now defused Doklam stand-off and the BRICS summit. Sensitive to its location between the two Asians giants, Myanmar is keen to leverage the growth potential of good relations with Asia’s two fastest growing economies. But it is also wary of its economic dependence on China, characterised by a largely extractive relationship focussed on natural resources and access to the Bay of Bengal where it already has an oil and gas terminal, concession to build a Special Economic Zone and seeks a possibly controlling stake in a natural deep sea harbour at Kyaukpyu that could form part of its ambitious BRI. The shadow of China is thus likely to loom large over the visit. Myanmar would welcome closer economic ties with India to balance and offset its domineering ties with China. Characterisations of a ‘Great Game East’ between India and China are, however, greatly overstated.

Focus on basics

Beyond these topical issues, and the issue of Indian insurgent groups in Myanmar, which remain a matter of concern, the optics of Mr. Modi’s much anticipated visit will most likely be taken up by the fundamentals of the bilateral relationship: the substantive development partnership, trade issues, and revival of cultural and people-to-people ties. Defence relations too have been growing steadily, especially between the two armies and navies. Security related talks have been taking place at the National Security Adviser (NSA) level. A number of bilateral agreements in the areas of capacity building, health, culture, and development, and one on maritime security are on the anvil, building on India’s nearly $2 billion development partnership with Myanmar so far. These cover large directly funded and executed connectivity infrastructure projects like the Trilateral Highway, the Kaladan Multi-modal Transport and Transit Project; high value capacity and human development projects like the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology in Mandalay; more modest ones in industry, IT, health, entrepreneurship and language training; small border area development projects in Chin and Naga areas of Myanmar; and soft lines of credit for other infrastructure projects amounting to nearly $750 million. Much of this still remains to be utilised. Though this may not be adequately realised even in Myanmar, few countries are undertaking such large infrastructure and human development projects out of government funds as India is. When they are all completed and fully operational by about 2020, they will amount to a substantial mass and base for an expanded relationship. Lamentably, the same cannot be said of commercial trade and investments. Both stand on narrow bases, primary agricultural and forest products from Myanmar in the case of trade, and oil and gas in case of investments, underlining a strong need to expand, diversify and upgrade commercial ties in ways that also contribute to Myanmar’s development needs and meet India’s $3 billion trade target set in 2012. To an extent not often realised, trade has been the keystone of our post-Independence relationship that survived both the nationalisation of the 1960s by the military government of Ne Win and the Western economic sanctions since the crackdown on democratic aspirations starting from the 1980s. Critical to this trade are Indian imports of beans and pulses that play a vital part in our food security and Myanmar’s economy. Standing at around a million tonnes and $1 billion in value, over 90% of which is exported to India, it is vital to Myanmar’s farmers and foreign exchange earnings, greater even in the value of its exports of rice to China that are prone to periodic restrictions, tough inspections and crackdowns on informal trade at the Myanmar-China border. Past attempts to open a limited market for Myanmar rice in India as an alternative to China, have floundered on vested public distribution interests in India and should be re-opened. Unfortunately, the recent decision to impose quantitative restrictions on the trade in pulses does exactly the opposite, notwithstanding recent relaxations on orders already paid for. In part, this is because of our own concerns vis-à-vis speculative global trade in pulses that has resulted in incentives to increase and protect domestic production in India and induce Myanmar to move towards a government-channelised trade to stabilise prices and in part on account of resistance to such a move in Myanmar.

Older ties

Underlining our strong cultural, people-to-people and diaspora relationship, Mr. Modi will also visit Bagan where the Archaeological Survey of India is in the final stages of a face-lift to the venerated Ananda Temple and where the Cabinet has approved Indian assistance for the restoration of pagodas damaged by the powerful 2016 earthquake; and Yangon, where he will address the Indian-origin and Indian community and visit places religious, cultural and historical importance. In his official meetings with President Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, Mr. Modi is likely to forge a bold strategic vision for bilateral relations, taking advantage of the consensus cutting across political parties and civil and military pillars of Myanmar’s polity towards stronger ties with India and project India’s economic and strategic footprint in the region between the Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea. Key elements of this vision could be greater attention to emerging political forces, ethnic states and the peace process as part of our democratic political outreach; converting our investments in the Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan to fuller trade and investment corridors and use Indian investment in the Greater Mekong Sub-region as an arm of our foreign policy with a focus on agriculture, agro-industries and light industry; a broader development partnership reaching to the grassroots with the help of civil society; specific prongs in our ‘Act East’ policy through the Northeast and Bodh Gaya as a pilgrimage centre; and a new political approach to the IIG issue (Indian Insurgent Groups) beyond an intelligence-based approaches. These could perhaps find expression in a joint document sooner or later. The objective should be to restore the balance in Myanmar’s relations between East and South Asia that has been lost with the eastward tilt in Myanmar’s external relations over 50 years of insular military rule during which the two countries have forgotten the habit of thinking of themselves psychologically as immediate neighbours.


1) Workhorse

Meaning:  A person or machine that dependably performs hard work over a long period of time.

Example: The aircraft was the standard workhorse of Soviet medium-haul routes.

Synonyms: Servant, Worker

2) Lift-off

Meaning: (of an aircraft, spacecraft, or rocket) take off, especially vertically.

Example: The helicopters lifted off at 1030 hours.

Synonyms: Take-off

Antonyms: Land

3) Enviable

Meaning: Arousing or likely to arouse envy.

Example: The firm is in the enviable position of having a full order book.

Synonyms: Desirable, Attractive

Antonyms: Unenviable

4) Scrutiny

Meaning: Critical observation or examination.

Example: Every aspect of local government was placed under scrutiny.

Synonyms: Inspection, Survey

Antonyms: Glance

5) Disheartening

Meaning: Cause (someone) to lose determination or confidence.

Example: The farmer was disheartened by the damage to his crops.

Synonyms: Discourage, Depress

Antonyms: Hearten, Encourage

6) Consortium

Meaning: An association, typically of several companies.

Example: The amount awarded for loss of consortium must be included.

7) Navigation

Meaning:  The process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.

Example: Columbus corrected his westward course by celestial navigation.

Synonyms: Seamanship

8) Embarks

Meaning: Begin (a course of action).

Example: She embarked on a new career.

Synonyms: Begin, Start

Antonyms: End

9) Diaspora

Meaning: People who have spread or been dispersed from their homeland.

Example: The Ukrainian Diaspora flocked back to Kiev.

Synonyms: Exodus, Dispersion

10) Assertiveness

Meaning: Confident and forceful behaviour.

Example: She has difficulty standing up for herself, even when assertiveness may be warranted.

Synonyms: Conclusiveness, Resolution

11) Stand-off

Meaning: A deadlock between two equally matched opponents in a dispute or conflict.

Example: The 16-day-old stand-off was no closer to being resolved.

Synonyms: Deadlock, Stalemate

12) Triggered

Meaning: Cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.

Example: An allergy can be triggered by stress or overwork.

Synonyms: Precipitate, Prompt

13) Outposts

Meaning: A remote part of a country or empire.

Example: A few scattered outposts along the west coast.

14) Disruption

Meaning: Disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.

Example: The scheme was planned to minimize disruption.

Synonyms: Disturbance, Confusion

15) Condemned

Meaning: Express complete disapproval of; censure.

Example: Most leaders roundly condemned the attack.

Synonyms: Blame, Attack

Antonyms: Praise, Commend

16) Criticism

Meaning: The expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.

Example: He received a lot of criticism.

Synonyms: Reprove, Denunciation

17) Backdrop

Meaning: The general situation in which particular events happen.

Example: Their love affair began against a backdrop of war.

18) Leverage

Meaning: The power to influence a person or situation.

Example: The right wing had lost much of its political leverage in the Assembly.

Synonyms: Influence, Power

19) Extractive

Meaning: Of or involving extraction, especially the extensive extraction of natural resources without provision for their renewal.

Example: Extractive industry.

20) Concession

Meaning: The action of conceding or granting something.

Example: This strict rule was relaxed by concession.

Synonyms: Admission, Acceptance

Antonyms: Denial, Retention

21) Domineering

Meaning: Assert one’s will over another in an arrogant way.

Example: Cathy had been a martyr to her gruff, domineering husband.

Synonyms: Menace, Oppress

Antonyms: Meek

22) Overstated

Meaning: State too strongly; exaggerate.

Example: I overstated my case to make my point.

Synonyms: Exaggerate, Overdo

Antonyms: Understate

23) Insurgent

Meaning: A person fighting against a government or invading force; a rebel or revolutionary.

Example: An attack by armed insurgents.

Synonyms: Rebel, Agitator

Antonyms: Loyalist

24) Anticipated

Meaning: Look forward to.

Example: Stephen was eagerly anticipating the break from the routine of business.

Synonyms: Await

Antonyms: Dread

25) Substantive

Meaning: Having a firm basis in reality and so important, meaningful, or considerable.

Example: There is no substantive evidence for the efficacy of these drugs.

26) Lamentably

Meaning: Deserving severe criticism; very bad.

Example: The lamentable state of the economy.

Synonyms: Sadly, Miserably

Antonyms: Appropriately

27) Diversify

Meaning: Enlarge or vary its range of products or field of operation.

Example: The Company expanded rapidly and diversified into computers.

Synonyms: Vary, Change

28) Crackdown

Meaning: A series of severe measures to restrict undesirable or illegal people or behaviour.

Example: A crackdown on car crime.

Synonyms: Elimination, Eradication

29) Aspirations

Meaning: A hope or ambition of achieving something.

Example:  The needs and aspirations of the people.

Synonyms: Desire, Hope

30) Floundered

Meaning: Struggle or stagger clumsily in mud or water.

Example: He was floundering about in the shallow offshore waters.

Synonyms: Struggle, Thrash

Antonyms: Good progress

31) Vested

Meaning: Confer or bestow (power, authority, property, etc.) on someone.

Example: Executive power is vested in the President.

Synonyms: Place, Endow

32) Vis-à-vis

Meaning: In relation to; with regard to; as compared with; as opposed to.

Example: Many agencies now have a unit to deal with women’s needs vis-à-vis employment

33) Speculative

Meaning: Engaged in, expressing, or based on conjecture rather than knowledge.

Example: He gave her a speculative glance.

Synonyms: Theoretical, Putative

Antonyms: Proven.

34) Venerated

Meaning: Regard with great respect; revere.

Example: Philip of Beverley was venerated as a saint.

Synonyms: Reverence, Respect

Antonyms: Despise

35) Pagodas

Meaning: (in India and East Asia) a Hindu or Buddhist temple, typically in the form of a many-tiered tower.

Example: An ornamental imitation of a Hindu or Buddhist pagoda.

36) Consensus

Meaning: A general agreement.

Example: There is a growing consensus that the current regime has failed.

Synonyms: Agreement, Concord

Antonyms: Disagreement

37) Ethnic

Meaning: Relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.

Example: Ethnic and cultural rights and traditions.

Synonyms: Racial, Traditional

38) Corridors

Meaning: A long passage in a building from which doors lead into rooms.

Example: His room lay at the very end of the corridor.

Synonyms: Passage, Way

39) Pilgrimage

Meaning: A journey to a place of particular interest or significance.

Example: His passion was opera and he made annual pilgrimages to Bayreuth.

40) Insular

Meaning: Lacking contact with other people.

Example: People living restricted and sometimes insular existences.

Synonyms: Isolated, Closed

Antonyms: Accessible

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THE HINDU EDITORIAL – September 4, 2017