Indian Parliament and Burma’s Question of Democracy (Part-II)

photo-courtesy by Nyo Tun-Burma Digest.jpg

 (U Nu and Mahatma Gandhi, Photo Courtesy: By Nyo Tun, Burma Digest:

The lack of coherence in promises expressed in the Indian Parliament on Burma’s question of democracy and its practice of closeness with the military regime has resulted into providing legitimacy to SPDC, rather then fulfilling the objective of realizing true democracy and broad National Convention in Burma. Although, Indian government has regularly conveyed in its Ministry of External Affairs press briefings as well as in the Parliament, that, they want to see more broad based inclusive process of National Convention. But the SPDC didn’t bother to listen to their advice; however, India continued with the policy of engagement. For those who advocate engagement with military regime, it is a wonderful policy of pursuing realistic approach and serving national interest, but in reality; it is a journey of falling into a long booby-trap. And the advocates of so called realism are far away from the realistic vision of India’s strategic interest. It is like trusting a Cat for safekeeping of milk pot. On 31st of May 2007, Assam Rifles inspector-general (South) Maj. General BK Chengapa had accepted that, “Illicit flow of weapons from Myanmar is fuelling Manipur’s insurgency,” and further Senior Assam Rifles officials stressed that, “The disturbed environment in our neighbour (Myanmar) has led to the inflow of arms and drugs in Manipur, which, in turn, facilitated insurgency and terrorism in the state.”[i] Rather then relying on our own strength, the realistic diplomats find solutions of north-east insurgency, drug trade, small weapons smuggling through engagement with military regime. With the lack of government accountable to the people, the military commanders posted at border outposts inside Burma knows, that, no one is their to check their illicit money making business in facilitating illegal trade. India rather then putting a strong genuine pressure on SPDC for democratic reforms started finding solutions through negotiation with bounced cheque owners of Burma. It also for a while trusted, military junta, a Bhutan type joint military operations against insurgent groups, without giving the thought, that the friendship with Bhutan is a long enduring one and closeness with military is a diplomatic move put forward by SPDC to gain legitimacy of their rule at international and regional forums. How much desperate is SPDC to legitimize their rule gets reflected in their greetings message to any nation of the world on their national day regularly published on page no. 1 of their official mouthpiece- the New Light of Myanmar.  


Recently published article entitled, “Beyond the Chicken’s Neck: Indian National Security in Burma,” by Christopher Smith[ii] on 18th June 2007 (Mizzima News) rightly points out about India’s concern of strategic security interest in Northeastern states but it fails to capture the true nature of SPDC’s  regime, whose word’s couldn’t be trusted. His article also points towards outdated theme of idealism in contemporary society dominated by materialistic values and necessity of Indian engagement with Burma’s military regime. However he again misses to understand that idealism never dies. Any nation is built upon its historical traditions and legacies, without idealism any nation is only skeleton in its geographical entity. As far as the sensitive twenty kilometer area of corridor is concerned as chicken’s neck connecting India’s northeastern states; India has crossed that stage of conventional warfare system. Now one kilometer stretch or thousand kilometer stretch could be controlled, if one has got satellite tracking system of weapons and advanced stage guided missile technology, which India has. So chicken’s neck is an old phrase doesn’t have utility in modern warfare.


 Last year, when Indian President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had been visiting Burma from 8th of March to 10th of March, the former foreign secretary, Mr. Shyam Saran briefed the media on 7th of March on the impending visit of honourable President. And Mr. Shyam Saran replied to one of the questions related with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, that, “We do believe that her welfare and her release would be very helpful in terms of the process of democratization that Myanmar itself is engaged in. Being the daughter of General Aung San who in a sense is regarded as the father of modern Myanmar, She has a certain standing and I think due respect and position should be given to her. We believe that she can contribute to the emergence of Myanmar as a democratic country, as a member of the international community.”[iii] However later, the visit of President planned to reach US $ one billion trade targets with Burma’s military regime rather then facilitating Daw Suu Kyi’s release. Moreover in the year 2005, When an honourable member of Lok Sabha from Tezpur constituency of India’s northeastern state – Assam, Mr. Moni Kumar Subba, belonging to the present ruling Indian National Congress Party, asked the Minister of External Affairs that, “Will the Minister of External Affairs be pleased to state – (a) the details of the steps taken by the Union Government with the help of ASEAN to restore democracy in Myanmar; (b) Whether the steps have proved fruitful; (c) if so, the extent to which the situation has improved; and (d) the reaction of Myanmar thereto? And the Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr. E. Ahamed replied briefly on 27th of July 2005 like a taped message of a tape-recorder, which India is playing regularly after its great move of constructive engagement policy, “(a)-(d): Government of India has consistently supported the process of dialogue, political reform and national reconciliation in Myanmar. We have offered Myanmar assistance in building constitutional institutions and a democratic polity. We have not sought the assistance of any regional grouping in this regard. The Government of Myanmar has assured us of its commitment to building a modern, democratic state suited to Myanmar’s needs and conditions.”[iv] However Burma never acknowledged Indian offer in framing of constitutional institutions as India helped and accepted by Royal Government of Bhutan in its transition towards democratic polity. In reality Burma had been never serious towards democracy and the proposed final National Convention in July is a sham process and an eye wash to the world community.  

Although rather then trusting concern of a veteran congress leader from Northeastern state of Assam – Mr. Moni Kumar Subba, Ministry of External Affairs is engaged in organizing seminar on 16th of June 2007 at Shillong (Meghalaya State) through its newly established Public Diplomacy Division on the theme – ‘Look East Policy: Geography as an Opportunity’. And India’s External Affairs Minister – Mr. Pranab Mukherjee is upbeat in saying that, “”By integrating the Northeast through cross border market access, it can become the bridge between the Indian economy and what is beyond doubt the fastest growing and dynamic region in the world, due to the paradigm shift from state centralism to interdependence and global and regional cooperation. India is aware of the geo-economic potential of the Northeast as a getaway to East and South East Asia.”[v] The Public Diplomacy office in the Ministry of External Affairs was established last year in May on the American pattern of department of public diplomacy to educate and influence global and domestic opinion on key policy issues and project a better image of the country commensurate with its rising international standing as well as to sensitize, inform and influence think tanks, universities, media and academician.[vi] However the Public Diplomacy office took the American name but didn’t take in practice the functioning of the US office. In the United States, Public Diplomacy office is run by Congress views, but here the department frames policy in practice on views based on Indian Foreign Services (IFS) people, who joins the ministry after an all India competitive examination of graduation standard, in which, some are from medical stream, some might from engineering or some from Social Sciences and humanities.  Moreover these IFS people remains in charge for few years at particular country desks and they themselves doesn’t know that one fine morning, when they would be moved to another country desk. However now they have become so mature to teach lessons of foreign policy nuances to academicians, journalist, think tanks, who devoted their whole life in particular country and surpass veteran parliament member’s views. So the ultimate result is making great image of India world over on Burma’s democratic question betraying those whom you yourself awarded – 1993 Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1995, Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Award in 1996, Distinguished Alumni Award of Delhi University in 1997 and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Deshprem Award in 2007. 

In the year 2002, When Members of Lok Sabha, Mr. Ram Mohan Gadde and Dr. MVSS Murthi asked from the Minister for External Affairs about India’s role in the Conference of Community of Democracies held at Seoul (from November 10-12, 2002), then Minister for State of External Affairs – Mr. Digvijay Singh replied, that, “India reiterated to promote world over exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, holding of free and fair elections, separation of powers and constitutional subordination of all states institutions, including the military, to the legally constituted civilian authority,” further he pointed in his reply, that, “Issues discussed related to measures to promote democratic ideals, responding to threats to democracy, education for democracy, role of media and promoting democracies through good governance.”[vii] However the commitments expressed at Seoul had never seen democratic light and ideals in India’s new Burma policy. Probably these sorts of conferences are arranged to make big very big inspiring statements in the name of democracy and one of the biggest forum is United Nations General Assembly sessions, which is permitting Burma to be a member of UN despite UN working group on Arbitrary Detention’s four times ruling that, “Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention is arbitrary and in contravention of three provisions of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.”[viii] 

Moreover in the year 2000, When a Rajya Sabha member Drupad Borgohain asked Minister of External Affairs about rising extremist activities in Northeast, then Minister of External Affairs – Mr. Jaswant Singh in Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was prepared in advance with his supplementaries on democracy question that, Why is India dealing with a Military Government which has suppressed democracy?, and answer to escape was, “Relations between India and Myanmar are civilizational in nature. They are rooted in a common cultural and religious heritage and geographical contiguity. Leaders of both countries have maintained a tradition of high level exchanges and personal rapport ever since independence. Myanmar is a friendly neighbour with which bilateral cooperation is growing steadily to mutual advantage.”[ix] Interestingly, When Senior General SPDC of Burma – Mr. Than Shwe had been visiting India from 25-29 October 2004, his scheduled programme included after ceremonial reception to visit Rajghat to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi.[x] And tomorrow it is not far that all the dictators and human rights violaters would become suddenly disciple of Gandhi. If Mahatma Gandhi would have been alive, how he would have reacted to General Than Shwe’s visit to his place could be understood well? However, once again the old tape sang a song in a joint statement of Ministry of External Affairs going against the spirit and ethos officially spoken in the Parliament, “The Myanmar side reiterated its strong commitment to building a modern, democratic state suited to Myanmar’s needs and conditions,” and “The Indian side noted the resolve of the Myanmar leadership to build an enduring democratic system in Myanmar and expressed support for national reconciliation and early transition to democracy in Myanmar.”[xi]  

One difference, which exists between world’s two important democracies – India and United States of America in the contemporary phase, that, US Foreign Policy is rightly guided by Congress views taking inspiration from the values of their great leaders like –Jefferson, Lincoln, JF Kennedy. But in India, foreign affairs, has started guided by bureaucrats’ rather then on values of our great leaders and Indian Parliament. United States in its foreign policy has proved that they want to bring another Jefferson and Kennedy in their contemporary social political life. But India wants to produce General Than Shwe in contemporary India rather than Mahatma Gandhi. There are many important respected think tank in the United States like – David I. Steinberg ♣, Leon T. Hadar ♠, Michael Aung-Thwin ♦, who are advocating economic engagement with the military regime that sanctions rarely works. It is not that American’s are fool and they can’t enjoy economic leverage in Burma. If tomorrow they lift economic sanction, General Than Shwe would be the first person to dash Washington rather then going to Moscow, New Delhi and Beijing. Because those military leaders, who does not have any values and idealism are more interested in perpetuating power, rather than forging trustworthy alliances. So New Delhi, Moscow and Beijing should not think that by engaging and giving life to a military dictator, they have attained a great success in Burma. Trusting SPDC in Burma is like trusting China, which recently got reflected a few days back in China’s claim of Arunachal Pradesh. The future new order of Asia rests on cooperation between world’s two important democracies – India and United States of America. You can’t go with a nation for a long journey which conflicts with your system of governance. The partnership between United States of America and India are natural urge of same system of governance. The sizeable Indian community working in important US scientific institutions also creates natural environment of cooperation. It is high time that, India should come forward with United States on Burma’s democratic question and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and United Sates of America also start a new journey of coming forward to forge a new relationship with India to solve problems in Burma including Indo-US nuclear issues.  

 (The End)  



[i] Manipur militancy blame on Myanmar – Officer Points to flow of arms & drugs, The Telegraph, Kolkata, 1 June 2007.

[ii] Christopher Smith, Beyond the Chicken’s Neck: Indian National Security and Burma, Mizzima News, New Delhi, 18 June 2007.


[iii] Press Briefing by Foreign Secretary Mr. Shyam Saran on the Visit of President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to Myanmar and Mauritius, 8-13 March 2006, Ministry of External Affairs, Press Release, Government of India, 7 March 2006.

[iv] Lok Sabha Questions and Answers, Lok Sabha, Unstarred Question No. 506 to be answered on 27-7-2005, New Delhi, India.

[v] Burma to remain a strategic partner for India, Narinjara  News, Bangladesh, 18 June 2007.

[vi] India launches public diplomacy office, The Times of India, New Delhi, 5th of May 2006.

[vii] Lok Sabha Questions and Answers, Lok Sabha, Unstarred Question No. 1547 to be answered on 27-11-2002, New Delhi, India.

[viii] Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention against international law: UN, ABC Radio Australia, 1 June 2007.

[ix] Rajya Sabha Questions and Answers, Rajya Sabha, Unstarred Question No. 167 to be answered on 30 November 2000, New Delhi, India.

[x] On the State Visit of H.E. Senior General Than Shwe of Myanmar, Ministry of External Affairs Press Briefings, Government of India, New Delhi, 25 October 2004.

[xi] Joint Statement issued on the occasion of the State Visit of H.E. Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council of the Union of Myanmar to India (25-29 October 2004), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi, India, 29 October 2004.

♣ David I. Steinberg, A reputed scholar of Southeast Asian Studies, since long advocating US economic engagement with Burma, in his article on Yale Global Online entitled, “Burma: Feel-Good US Sanctions Wrongheaded,” 19 May 2004,  proposes that, in punishing the brutal junta, the US hurts Burmese people and its own strategic interests as well as in the interview with the Irrawaddy magazine, says, “Sanctions Rarely Work.”, Volume 11, No. 3, April 2003, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

♠ Leon T. Hadar, A reputed scholar of Cato Institute, Washington also produced a thesis entitled, “US Sanctions Against Burma – A Failure on All Fronts,” advocating US economic engagement with military regime in Burma, Trade Policy Analysis, No.1, March 26, 1998.

♦ Michael Aung-Thwin, A reputed Hawaii University Professor of South East Asian Studies, in a similar fashion of Steinberg and Leon T. Hadar, proposes in his article entitled, “Parochial Universalism, Democracy Jihad and the Orientalist Image of Burma: The New Evangelism, Pacific Affairs, Winter 2001-2002, Vol. 74, No. 4, Vancouver, Canada advocates economic engagement with the military regime.





Explore posts in the same categories: Asian History & Politics, Bhutan, Blogroll, Burma, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Democracy, Economy, History, Human Rights, Mahatma Gandhi, Modern Asian History, News, Politics, South Asian Politics, Thoughts, USA

3 Comments on “Indian Parliament and Burma’s Question of Democracy (Part-II)”

  1. Bangladesh Says:

    hey there. Thanks for the info :). It was rather nice reading this at this late hour. i wud bump here later. t/c

  2. Bangladesh Says:

    That was pretty neatly written. Its such a mess when relating to Bangladesh, isnt it ?

  3. retro Says:

    It’s a shame what happened to Bangladesh. I hope the world steps up and helps them.

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