India’s Democracy in a Cease under “Car Diplomacy” ?

When Hans J. Morgenthau and Quincy Wright (Both famous University of Chicago Professor’s) had been writing their books entitled – Politics Among Nations and The Study of International Relations explaining the theory of Future of Diplomacy and the Art of Diplomacy, they wouldn’t have imagined that one day dynamics of international relations would enter into a new phase of Car Diplomacy by India on the pretext of serving national interest than inherent democratic traditions & political values.

Few days back on 5th of December 2006, an Indo-Myanmar Army Car Rally from Delhi to Burma/Myanmar was flagged off by the world’s largest democratic nation Defence Minister Mr. A.K. Antony. According to the Press Information Bureau (PIB), Government of India, Press Release (December 05, 2006), the rally, comprising fourteen teams including three from the Myanmar Army, will cover a distance of more than 8000 km. and traverse over rugged mountains, dense forest and numerous rivers. And the participants will pass through Indian States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and enter Burma at Moreh. When the rallyists finally reach Rangoon, a commemorative ceremony will be organised at the famous Taukkyan War Cemetery, where the rallyist will pay their respect to departed comrades with full Military honours. However most important part of the press release was the comment made by Mr. A.K. Antony, a famous congress leader from the South India well known for his honesty and Gandhian practices that, this car rally signifies closer Indo-Myanmar cooperation especially in Defence cooperation and having presence of Burma’s Chief of General Staff, General Thura Shwe Mann. Although India’s interaction with Burma’s military junta presently engaged in National Convention is not new. But strengthening defence cooperation through Car Rally certainly signifies the beginning of a Car Diplomacy in bilateral cooperation between a democratically elected government and the military forces denying the rights to rule to the elected representative of May 1990 elections in Burma. However, interestingly after two days of the inauguration of the rally; when Indian defence minister, Mr. Antony was asked in Lok Sabha about India’s maritime ties with countries of South-East Asian Region by the Member of Parliament Mr. Dushyant Singh, Mr. Antony gave written reply, that Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard have taken number of initiatives to enhance maritime cooperation with Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore without mentioning the name of Myanmar (Maritime Ties With South-East Asian Region, PIB Press Release, 07 December, 2006).

Indian leaders doesn’t feel always happy to announce vocally their new look east policy honeymoon with Burma’s infamous military junta in Indian Parliament. However the dichotomy between an announcement of a foreign policy at public platform and active policy pursued had already taken Indian democracy in a cease. After all, India which supported the restoration of democratic movement in Burma from the March 1962 military coup to the beginning of constructive engagement with military junta through Look East Policy in 1992 under the former Prime Minister Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao had already taken casualty of Indian democratic traditions & political values. The constructive engagement policy with Burma’s infamous military junta initiated by Narasimha Rao continued vociferously under National Democratic Alliance government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However when Congress regime came into power after 14th Lok Sabha Elections (20th April to 10th May 2004) and Mr. Manmohan Singh became the new Congress/UPA (United Progressive Alliance) Prime Minister of India, democracy lovers of Burma in India expected again support for the restoration of democratic movement like Rajiv Gandhi era. This hope got further strengthened considering Nehru-Gandhi family’s close connections with the family of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the death of Narasimha Rao. After four months of power at the centre, senior congress leaders official statement also reflected earlier commitment to democracy in Burma. When ruling Congress Party Working Committee member Anil Shastri (Son of the former Prime Minister of India – Late Lal Bahadur Shastri) strongly favoured restoration of democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in a seminar entitled, “Indo-Myanmar Relations: Strengthening Civil Society Initiatives” organized by Mizzima News and the Other Media in September 2004. The present UPA government at the centre led by congress party in India might pursue the policy of engaging military junta for business, trade and short term strategic benefits but they couldn’t disown their own party position that Congress party supports restoration of democracy in all countries, including Burma/Myanmar.

How successful has been India’s new Burma policy of attaining prime objective of minimizing Chinese influence in Burma through Car Diplomacy can be analyzed by India’s Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta’s statement on 2nd of December 2006 on Naval day; that, China is creating a maritime area around India that could prove to be inimical to the country’s interest in the future. Admiral Mehta further said that India was surrounded by countries which were inclined towards China, such as Myanmar, and were building up a maritime area. He even opposed the inclusion of Chinese companies in maritime infrastructure projects and said these might misuse sensitive information such as hydraulic data (The Tribune, Chandigarh, India, 3rd of December 2006, also

However India’s jouney of car diplomacy with Burma has started two years back in November 22, 2004, when the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, flagged off the first India-ASEAN Car Rally from the Nehru Stadium, Guwahati , India. Manmohan Singh wanted at that time that Car Rally would capture the imagination of people of India & ASEAN, in demonstrating the essential oneness of integrated region including Burma. As he said in the inauguration and I quote that, “I see this Car Rally as a journey into the future, demonstrating the possibilities that can come about in trade, tourism, and people-to-people contact by bringing our countries together”, unquote (Prime Minister Flags off Indo-ASEAN Car Rally, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Press Release, 22nd of November 2004). Although the original idea of ASEAN motor rally that would traverse roads linking the ASEAN countries was first mooted and thought by the former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in October 2003 at the ASEAN summit in Laos. It was then visualized as an ideology to re-link trade routes among the ASEAN member countries (ASEAN…by road, The Hindu, New Delhi, Sunday Magazine, June 20, 2004, Page – 8). However one important thing Mr. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had been failed to understand that each drop of a petrol in car diplomacy might cost many drops of blood of Burmese people suffering under present military junta of Burma known as State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) without minimizing the Chinese strategic influence in Burma as well as betraying the trust of National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) and the faith of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in long terms of strategic foreign policy. Although the problem comes of realizing ASEAN+1 without Burma. In which, India could formulate a policy to engage other ASEAN member countries minimizing the intensive level of interaction with Burma’s military regime. And persuading the military junta for a dialogue with Suu Kyi and NLD (National League for Democracy). Otherwise, one day could come in future that the nation may loose valuable European Union Markets and trade benefits with USA, if the people of western civilization (not if the government) starts a movement to boycott those countries goods which interacts with Burma’s military regime through car diplomacy?

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