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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > September 29, 2007 > South Block’s Indifference to Burma’s Struggle for Democracy

Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 41

South Block’s Indifference to Burma’s Struggle for Democracy


Friday 5 October 2007, by SC


There have been several major events in the last few days capped by the young Team India’s momentous victory in the T20 cricket final at Johannesburg that literally enthralled and electrified the whole country. We have also seen the row over the Ram Setu and Sethusamudram project taking an ugly turn with a prominent Sangh Parivar member, former BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti, allegedly issuing a death sentence fatwa against DMK chief and Tamil Nadu CM M. Karunanidhi for his pronouncements against Lord Rama and the DMK cadres retaliating to the directive by attacking the BJP headquarters in the State. And while the war of words between the Congress and the Left over the Indo-US nuclear deal continues even after the setting up of the UPA-Left committee to consider the Left parties’ objections to the 123 Agreement as well as the implications of the Hyde Act, the Congress has taken the first concrete step of preparing for the impending Lok Sabha polls by announcing heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi’s appoint-ment as the party General Secretary in charge of the Youth Congress and NSUI with a view to revitalise the nation’s youth.

Nevertheless, there is no gainsaying that all these events, howsoever significant and striking, cannot overshadow the unprecedented spectacle that one is currently witnessing on the streets of Yangon (Rangoon), the capital of Myanmar (Burma), thanks to the electronic media. Buddhist monks are leading massive demonstrations in the heart of Burma, drawing large numbers of ordinary people from all walks of life—an estimated 100,000 anti-government protesters marched through Rangoon for the second day on September 25 not only expressing their opposition to the recent sudden phenomenal hike in fuel prices that has dealt a heavy blow to the survival efforts of the common Burmese already groaning under massve economic hardship, but also chanting ‘democracy, ‘democracy’ thereby making their real intentions as transparent as daylight: the restoration of democracy which the ruling junta has denied them from 1962 and more pronouncedly for almost 20 years now, that is, since the nationwide crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1988 wherein as many as 3000 civilians were butchered by the junta’s killer troops.

Needless to underscore, the Burmese people have experienced and are experiencing terror and brutality few across the globe have been or are subjected to. The military junta in that country happens to be one of the most repressive and cruel regimes in the world. What pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was deservedly honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991 for her indomitable courage and tenacious struggle to ensure unfettered democratic rights for her people, has undergone in terms of suffering, privation and persecutiion for more than two decades definitely elevates her to the stature of Nelson Mandela who met with similar fate during his ceaseless battle against the hated apartheid regime in South Africa. [Except that in Suu’s case it was a greater affront to democracy since the junta in Burma doggedly refused to hand over power to her despite her party’s landslide victory in the countrywide elections in 1990.] Even today she is under house arrest notwithstanding the worldwide condemnaton of her persisting detention.

The latest unique demonstrations in Rangoon and other cities and towns of the country offer irrefutable proof of the fact that the Burmese people, led by the monks, having lost all sense of fear of the consequences for their protest movement, are now preparing for the final assault on the citadel of military dictatorship which is at present more isolated in the international arena than ever before. And this they are doing in the typical Gandhian style using the weapon of non-violent mass mobilisation. Coming as it does just prior to the one hundred and thirtyeighth birth anniversary of the Father of our Nation this development is a unique tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and the clearest demonstration of the abiding relevance of his teachings in the contemporary global scene.

It is against this backdrop that one is shocked and pained beyond measure at the attitude of the Government of India: it is eloquently silent on the unfolding democratic uprising in Burma for fear of antagonising the blood-thirsty criminals in power headed by supreme leader General Than Shwe and thus losing their “cooperation” in tackling the North-East insurgents as well as lucrative business contracts that would help it counter Chinese influence over the South-East Asian state.

In the 1980s New Delhi steadfastly stood by the Burmese people’s democratic struggle: in the true spirit of the fraternal friendship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Burma’s legendary hero Aung San steeled in the flames of their respectives struggles for freedom from alien rule, our late PM Rajiv Gandhi boldly extended full support to the non-violent movement for democracy launched by Aung San’s daughter, Suu Kyi. This policy continued till the nineties: in 1995 the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding was conferred on Suu.

Today with the ‘pragmatists’ running the South Block, the Government of India has not only taken a U-turn in its Burma policy, it is going out of its way to woo the military junta there for the purpose of containing the North-East insurgency on the one hand and countering Chinese influence on the country on the other. On both counts it has not recorded any form of success. On the contrary, its changed stance has only helped to generate scepticism among those engaged in a life-and-death battle to restore democracy in Burma. Its treatment of the Burmese democratic forces on Indian soil also merits unreserved denunciation. In short, New Delhi is besmirching its image as a defender of democracy anywhere in the world. The dictum ‘democracy is indivisible’ holds no significance for the Manmohan Singh Government whose External Affairs Minister has no hesitation in describing the pro-democracy movement spearheaded by Suu Kyi as an “internal matter of Burma” thus conveying indirect support to the Generals whose hands are still soiled with the blood of the youth they indiscriminately gunned down in 1988.

In the light of the Government of India’s somersault the Mizzima journal, a monthly publication of Burmese expatriates, makes a pertinent observation in its September issue:

...the question is: does India gain from its national interest-based policy on Burma? Aware of India’s stand, the Burmese junta is playing the Chinese card. Energy-starved India lost the bid on natural gas and all of it may be handed soon to China.

It thus makes a passionate plea that “India should look to winning the hearts of the Burmese people”.

As the democratic protests in Rangoon and other Burmese cities and towns acquire an all-encompassing character and one is uncertain ofthe junta’s response to the movement [there are legitimate fears of 1988 being repeated although the objective conditions do not favour such a course of action], would the Burmese democrats’ aforementioned plea fall on deaf ears? That is a question the South Block mandarins will have to confront sooner than later.

In the meantime by their shameful silence on the latest manifestation of the Burmese people’s democratic aspirations they have forfeited their right to represent the world’s largest democracy. However, thankfully the people of India do not subscribe to the current line of the government’s thinking—the gulf between New Delhi’s position and the interests of the country’s democratic forces continue to widen (witness the large public meeting in the Capital, attended by a former PM and erstwhile Union Ministers, to express solidarity with the Burmese people’s dauntless struggle and demand the release of veteran journalist U Win Tin languishing in the junta’s prisons for 18 long years—he has now been sentenced to another 11 years of imprisonment), thereby illustrating beyond a shadow of doubt that the South Block’s ‘pragmatism’ to be on the ‘right side’ of the Burmese Generals does not enjoy popular endorsement.

September 26 S.C.

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