India has abandoned Aung Sun Suu kyi,Indians have not
Syed Ali Mujtaba
India has abandoned the Aung Sun Suu kyi, the democratic icon of Myanmar is the startling revelation that WikiLeaks has made with regards to Myanmar, courtesy, “The Hindu”, India’s national newspaper since 1878.
According the expose, India’s Ministry of External Affairs Joint Secretary Mitra Vasishtha told Political Counselor Geoffrey Pyatt on November 2, 2004 (22299: confidential) describing the Nobel laureate, Aung Sun Suu kyi as someone whose “day has come and gone.”
The WikiLeaks reveals that India has no problem dumping old friend Aung San Suu Kyi to romance Myanmar's generals. Its clear that democratic leader of Myanmar particularly Auug Sun Suu kyi do not aspire those in the mandarins of power in New Delhi.
The Indian foreign office seems to disagree with the Indian consensus on the pro democracy leader in Myanmar once diligently nurtured as Nelson Mandela of Myanmar.
According to Ms Vasishtha, the world had made democracy in Myanmar synonymous with Ms. Suu Kyi, but this may “backfire,” meaning the pro democracy leader has lost relevance to India.
The author of the cable, Embassy Chief of Mission Carmen Martinez, commented that India's “pragmatic” approach was “a severe blow to the leaders of Burma's beleaguered democratic opposition, most of whom draw their inspiration from India's historic struggle for independence and democracy.”
It’s indeed a sad commentary as the world looks upon India as bacon of democracy. It appears, on the alter of ‘pragmatism’, ’democracy is bei8ng sacrificed when it comes to dealing with Myanmar.
One needs to ask those making policies on behalf of India, whether the common Indians will abandon the democratic icon of Myanmar Auug Sun Suu kyi. Can a referendum be held on this count and if that happens its a foregone conclusion that such uncouth rulers will be unseated by the ordinary folks of this country.
The other revelation that WikiLeaks makes is India’s refusal to deny that it not supplying arms to the military junta in Myanmar. In a cable sent on November 7, 2007 (129067: confidential). American Political Counselor Osius suggested Joint Secretary T.S. Tirumurti, to make a public declaration of New Delhi’s policy of s ban on arms sales to Myanmar, he offered no response.” The joint Secretary however acknowledged that a Myanmar request for military equipment had been turned down by India.
This again is something puzzling. Indian Army Vice-Chief Lt. Gen. S. Pattabhiraman in a interview to the Force magazine stated that in the past India had supplied 75/24 Howitzers to Burma though the numbers were not “much” they were neither “symbolic”. He also disclosed that 105-mm Indian field guns were given to Myanmar.
The Indian Navy, transferred two BN-2 ‘Defender’ Islander maritime surveillance aircraft and deck-based air-defence guns and varied surveillance equipment to Myanmar.
According to sources, as part of the agreement reached at the Home Secretary level talks, India supplied 98 truckloads of arms and ammunition to Myanmar. India also offered unspecified number of T-55 tanks that the Indian army is retiring, armored personal carriers, 105-mm light artillery guns, mortars and the locally designed advanced light helicopters to Myanmar.
All this was part of the deal struck with the military junta to cooperate in flushing out militant groups operating from its soil in the northeast region of India. It’s also to neutralize Myanmar’s dependence on Chinese arms.
One has to recall the story of “operation leach” in Adman islands that revealed that India was officially supplying arms to the pro democratic forces in Myanmar to carry out the struggle for freedom. Then India made a 360 degree turn around and arrested the same people whom it supplied arms slapping charges on them of treason, and gunrunning.
The issue snowballed into a major controversy and the rift between then Naval Chief Visnu Bhagwat and then defense minister George Fernandez came in open leading to the sacking of the Naval Chief by the Defense Minister.
What an irony, India’s policy of supplying arms to the pro democratic forces in Myanmar is changed to provide arms to the junta; apparently to flush out the insurgents operating in north-eastern India but in actual fact is being used to crush the ethnic groups and democratic forces raising standard of revolt.
Mohan Kumar, MEA Joint Secretary dealing with Myanmar, is reported in a cable sent on February 20, 2007 (97303: confidential) saying to the American diplomat that engagement with the Myanmar junta was an imperative for India for several reasons.
First India’s 'Look East Policy' to reach out to the ASEAN. Second coordinated effort with Myanmar is required to develop India’s northeast region and to tackle insurgency there, third is the strategic necessity to contain Chinese influence over Myanmar.
In India's look east policy, the trilateral highway between India, Myanmar and Thailand plays a major role to reach the South East Asian countries. So is the Trans Asian railway that is to connect New Delhi with Hanoi.
A deep economic relationship with Myanmar in India's view would give a tremendous boost to the development of its northeast region. The planned infrastructure development of road, rail and waterways are all steps in this direction. This includes, Kaladan multi-modal transport project in the Rakhine State and road project to improve access to a border-trade crossing opened in January 2004 IN Chin State.
According to Mohan Kumar, MEA Joint Secretary, “Bangladesh's stubbornness in allowing access to transit routes for trade leaves India with Burma as the only alternative to connect the northeast to ASEAN markets.”
The MEA joint secretary says insurgency in the northeast region is another reason to engage Mayanmar. “The ULFA guys are hiding in Burma and screwing the hell out of us and Burma is the only one helping us to tackle the northeastern insurgency.”
“India is also trying to deal with the insurgency by creating economic opportunities in the northeastern region, and Myanmar was crucial for this, the economic incentive may lure the ULFA to lay down arms”.
India sees China's involvement in Myanmar having geo- strategic implications for the region and may like to engage Myanmar through greater economic strategic cooperation, so the Chinese do not have a free run.
Reflecting the India’s worries about China, Ms. Vasishtha said “what you hear about the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Burma is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. intelligence must surely know this. China took Myanmar for granted and this was why Myanmar wanted to engage with India, she said.
Ms. Vasishtha confirmed Indian grant of $20 million to the junta for the development of energy and gas infrastructure, however, she offered no conclusive answer why Myanmar sold it gas to China.
Indian- Myanmar relationship faces the pangs of proximity. The Indian government faces the moral dilemma whether to listen to the call of the conscience that demands to side with the democratic forces, or adhere to the rules of real politics and align with the military rulers in Myanmar.
Indian government was believed to have resolved this moral dilemma by following the middle path, giving moral support to the democratic forces, at the same time engaging the Military junta for geo strategic reasons.
The WikiLeaks expose however has revealed that idealism has no place in the modern state craft of India. The sentiments and emotions that bind India and Myanmar relations are of little consideration in the current policy framework that tantamount to sidelining Aug Sun Suu Kyi.
What is apparent is there is a total disconnect between India and the Indians in dealing with Myanmar. Can a government makes policies opposed to the wishes of its people. Can India afford to abandon Aug Sun Suu Kyi annoying millions of Indians who admire her as an icon of democracy?
If the answer is no, then it’s high time that such policy is changed immediately or the current dispensation making such policy may pack off its bags.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com