Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Myanmar: Echo of India’s betrayal

July 18, 2012
Kuldip Nayar
New Delhi may bend backwards to woo Myanmar. Yet the Burmese are not willing to forget or forgive India’s betrayal when it sided with the military junata and let down the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi. She made no secret of her bitterness when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met her in Yangon a few weeks ago. This was the first time for 25 years that an Indian Prime Minister had visited Myanmar. To register her disillusionment with the Indian government, Miss Suu Kyi preferred to visit Bangkok on her maiden visit abroad and then went to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize awarded to her as Prisoner of Conscience when in detention.

True, the Indian government was hard put to choose between the military junata and the democratic forces but preferred advantage to ideology. Since the hostile Nagas and equally hostile elements from other parts of Northeast had the Myanmar territory as their shelter, the Indian military, deployed to eliminate them, could not do much. Even for several years, New Delhi backed the democratic forces in Myanmar but then withdrew its support to placate the military junta. New Delhi’s argument was that without making up with the government at Yangon, there was no other option.

Miss Suu Kyi sees the point but has reportedly complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that it was not necessary for India to rolled red carpet for the military echelons whose hands were stained with the blood of the Burmese. In India itself, there was a strong opposition against what the government was doing in letting down those who had been inspired first by India’s independence and then by its democratic system. But their protests were brushed aside.

China was another factor which forced India to jettison the democratic forces. Beijing has never been interested in the type of government Myanmar has and does not mind dictatorship which China itself follows. The Chinese have advanced some $ 27 billion compared to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offer of 5 billion dollars and they have the control over oil, gas and minerals. India is left with banking, education and tourism.

New Delhi admits that Beijing is closer to Yangon but argues that it faced a catch 22 situation and had to go along with the military junta. Yet without expressing a word of sympathy for the Suu Kyi and her comrades groaning under the weight of atrocities, New Delhi lost the support among the people. India is trying to make up for its mistakes. Its advantage is that million of Indians have settled in what the British called Burma. They, roughly 30 millions, share history with India and were meeting their relations and friends till 1960 when the military junta stopped their contact with those living in India. How far this diaspora can resurrect the past ties is difficult to say but India has started trade through them.

Signs sweeping Myanmar show a new willingness on the part of the government to pursue a real transition to democracy. The newly elected parliament- though many MPs owe their seats to a manipulated vote last November—is beginning to function. The government—for the first time since the military seized power in a bloody coup more than 23 years ago—is making concerted efforts to tackle the country’s poverty. And the government is poised to release political prisoners.

The key is the new President’s willingness to accommodate the pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi. This rapprochement between the two after their first meeting some time ago seems to have set a new tone for Burma’s political future. Everything now depends on the release of their political prisoners- of which there are more than 2,000 according to the human rights group Amnesty International. Only after a significant number are freed will the country be launched on a genuine path to democracy. Now that the military rule is relaxing its tentacles, the old ethnic enmity is reemerging. Buddhists and Muslims are once again preparing themselves for attack on one another. Last month a Buddhist woman in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine was taken out of a bus and raped by three young Muslims. Early this month, Muslim pilgrims were stopped by Buddhist young men. Ten of them were clubbed to death.

New Delhi’s worry is that Burma which was once part of Indian empire under the British may affect both the Buddhist and Muslim populations in the country. A communal flare up is the last thing which India can afford at this time. Ultimately, all depends on Suu Kyi who after her tour of Europe and the UK has grown a taller figure than before. This may create tension with the ruling Thein Sein’s government at Yangon. But the government is conscience that if one person who can string the country and the different communities together is Suu Kyi. She warned in Thailand against ‘reckless optimism’. But her optimism may well do the trick.And that is the reason that she proposes to visit India as soon as possible. Her purpose is not only to pick the thread with New Delhi where she had left it off when her father visited Delhi to befriend the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru but to study how the pluralistic society in the country has taken shape to uphold the ethos of secularism.

—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human right activist and author.