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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 42

Woefully Inadequate


Tuesday 9 October 2007, by SC


Last week in these columns was published an appeal from the Mizzima journal, a monthly publication of Burmese expatriates, in its September issue, that instead of cosying up to the Burmese Generals ruling Myanmar with employment of brute force and terror, “India should look to winning the hearts of the Burmese people”.

Thereafter it was written:

As the democratic protests in Rangoon and other Burmese cities and towns acquire an all-encompassing character and one is uncertain of the 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.

Now the much anticipated crackdown has begun. And yet the reports trickling out of the country subjected to savage repression of 45 long years of military rule speak volumes of the people’s indomitable courage and resilience manifest in the monks’ non-violent movement in the typical Buddhist tradition and the Gandhian mode. But these reports also bring into focus the anger and indignation of masses: crowds taunting troops even after the latter’s crackdown has begun, women openly shouting ‘kill us’, common people expressing their resentment at the government’s action by screaming ‘you are fools!’—all these are indicative of the sense of complete fearlessness among the bulk of the citizens. It is this which has helped the struggle to graduate to a qualitatively new level. And that is why one can confidently assert: it cannot be crushed. The people may disperse temporarily from the streets, but they will regroup and revive the movement with death-defying fortitude. That is the logic of a veritable people’s upsurge we are witnessing in the streets of not only Rangoon but other places, including Mandalay, as well.

In the wake of the crackdown the Government of India has been compelled to break its defeatening silence on the whole issue of the Burmese citizens’ fight for democracy. The first statement of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) only conveyed New Delhi’s “concern” over the situation in our neighbouring country and the “hope that all sides will resolve their issues peacefully through dialogue”. Forget ‘deploring’ the Generals’ behaviour, even the words ‘democracy’, ‘democratic struggle’, ‘democratic aspirations of the people’ were missing.

Subsequently the Government of India’s position in the UN Human Rights Council marked a definite change for the better, India’s Permanent Representative in the UNHRC declared:

The Government of India believes that the release of Aung San Suu Kyi would be helpful in terms of the process of democratisation and that she can contribute to the emergence of Myanmar as a democratic country.

For the first time there was recognition by India of the ongoing struggle for democracy in Myanmar.

Yet the PR also came out with a “explanation of vote” even while going along with the UNHRC resolution which, as is the convention, was adopted by consensus. In that “explanation” it was pointed out that the strong words used against the Myanmar Government and their “unhelpful tone” cannot “contribute to effectively pursuing the objective of engaging constructively with the authorities in Myanmar’s and that such “constructive engagement” with those authorities “is essential to make a difference to the situation on the ground”.

When the people are being brutally suppressed, their rights trampled underfeet, not to stand by them is an affront to humanity. ‘Engagement with the military junta’ after the latest events in Burma has no meaning whatsoever, regardless of all the ‘pragmatic considerations’. After all, principles take precedence over pragmatism.

Viewed from this yardstick the South Block’s latest pronouncements on Burma, even though marking a step forward and undoubtedly better than its initial criminal silence on the issue, are woefully inadequate in “winning the hearts of the Burmese people” as proposed by the Mizzima journal in its latest issue.

October 5 S.C.

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