We have Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Bhutan and
Burma/Myanmar as our neighbours. Whenever, an event
takes place in Pakistan or Bangladesh or Nepal or
China or Bhutan, we get alarmed and we react both at
Governmental level and at people's level. However,
if anything happens in Burma/Myanmar, we hardly react;
neither at Governmental level nor at people's level.
Except for George Fernandes, our leaders are totally
apathetic about Burma/Myanmar. In fact, we are rather
indifferent towards our North Eastern Region which
borders Burma/Myanmar. Our leaders also show a
non-committal attitude towards what is happening in
Burma/Myanmar; the sole exception being George
The last known Indian leader who was aware of the
importance of Burma as India's neighbour and who gave
a wake-up call to the then Prime Minister, Pandit
Nehru, was Sardar Patel, the then Home Minister and
Deputy Prime Minister of India.
In his historical as well as prophetic letter dated
7th November, 1950, Sardar Patel wrote to Pandit Nehru
which is summed up as under in his own language:
"It is, of course, impossible for me to exhaustively
set out all the problems. I have, however, given below
some of the problems which, in my opinion, require
early solutions, around which we have to build our
administrative or military policy measures.
(a) A military and intelligence appreciation of the
Chinese threat to India.
(b) An examination of our military position and such
re-disposition of forces as might be necessary,
particularly with the idea of guarding important
routes or areas which are likely to be the subject of
(c) An appraisement of the strength of our forces and,
if necessary, reconsideration of our retrenchment
plans for the Army in the light of these new threats.
(d) A long term consideration of our defence needs. My
own feeling is that unless we assure our supplies of
arms, ammunition and armour, we should be making our
defence position perpetually weak and would not be
able to stand up to the double threat of difficulties
both from the West and North West, North and North
(e) The question of the Chinese entry into UNO. In
view of the Chinese rebuff, and the method it has
followed in dealing with Tibet, I doubt whether we can
advocate its claims any longer. The UNO would probably
threaten to virtually outlaw China in view of its
active participation in the Korean War. We must
determine our attitude on this question also.
(f) The political and administrative steps which we
should take to strengthen our Northern and
North-eastern frontiers. This would include the entire
border i.e. Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the
tribal territory in Assam.
(g) Measures of internal security in the border areas,
such as U.P, Bihar, Bengal and Assam.
(h) Improvements of our communications, road, rail,
air and wireless in these areas and with the frontier
(i) Policing and intelligence of frontier outposts.
(j) The future of our mission at and the trade posts
at Gyangtse and Yatung and the forces we have in
operation in Tibet to guard the trade route.
(k) The policy in regard to the McMohan Line.
It is possible that a consideration of these matters
may lead us into wider questions of our relationship
with China. This however would be of a general nature,
though some may be important. For instance, we might
have to consider whether we should not enter into
closed association with Burma in order to strengthen
the latter in its dealings with China.
I do not rule out the possibility that, before
applying pressure on us, China might apply pressure on
Burma, the frontier is entirely undefined and the
Chinese territorial claims are more substantial. In
its present position Burma may offer an easier problem
to China, and, therefore, might claim its first
attention. I suggest that we meet early to have a
general discussion on these problems and decide on
such steps as we might think to be immediately
necessary and direct quick examination of other
problems with a view to taking early measures to deal
It is now time for our Government to have a
reassessment of their policy towards Burma. The
Indian people also need to look at Burmese people's
struggle for democracy with empathy as well as
sympathy. Now let us have a look at Burmese history.
The ethnic origins of modern Myanmar (known
historically as Burma) are a mixture of Indo-Aryans,
who began pushing into the area around 700 B.C., and
the Mongolian invaders under Kublai Khan who
penetrated the region in the 13th century. Anawrahta
(10441077) was the first great unifier of Myanmar.
According to one version, the last King of Burma,
King Thibaw (18781885), was largely ineffectual. In
1885, the British, alarmed by the French conquest of
neighboring Laos, grabbed Upper Burma. The Third
Anglo-Burmese War (1885) lasted a mere one month
insofar as capturing the capital Mandalay was
concerned. The Burmese royal family was exiled to
Ratnagiri, India. British forces spent at least
another four years pacifying the country not only in
the Burman heartland but also in the Shan, Chin and
Kachin hill areas. By some accounts, minor
insurrections did not end until 1896.
Upper Burma and Lower Burma were reunited, and Burma
was administered as a single province within British
India despite Burmas independent history and
According to another version, in 1612, the British
East India Company sent agents to Burma, but the
Burmese doggedly resisted efforts of British, Dutch,
and Portuguese traders to establish posts along the
Bay of Bengal. Through the Anglo-Burmese War in
18241826 and two subsequent wars, the British East
India Company expanded to the whole of Burma. By 1886,
Burma was annexed to India, then became a separate
colony in 1937.
On 1 April 1937, Myanmar became a separately
administered territory, independent of the Indian
administration. The vote for keeping Myanmar in India,
or as a separate colony khwe-yay-twe-yay divided the
populace, and laid the ground work for the
insurgencies to come after independence. In the 1940s,
the Thirty Comrades, commanded by Aung San, founded
the Burma Independence Army. The Thirty Comrades
received training in Japan.
During World War II, Burma became a major frontline in
the Southeast Asian Theatre. The British
administration collapsed ahead of the advancing
Japanese troops, jails and asylums were opened and
Rangoon was deserted except for the many Anglo-Burmese
and Indians who remained at their posts. A stream of
some 300,000 refugees fled across the jungles into
India; known as 'The Trek', all but 30,000 of those
300,000 arrived in India. Initially the Japanese-led
Burma Campaign succeeded and the British were expelled
from most of Myanmar, but the British counter-attacked
using primarily troops of British Indian Army. By July
1945, the British had retaken the country. Although
many Burmese fought initially for the Japanese, some
Burmese also served in the British Burma Army. In
1943, the Chin Levies and Kachin Levies were formed in
the border districts of Burma still under British
occupation. The Burma Rifles fought as part of the
Chindits under General Orde Wingate from 19431945.
Later in the war, the Americans created
American-Kachin Rangers who also fought for the
occupiers. Many other Burmese fought with the British
Special Operations Executive. The Burma Independence
Army under the command of Aung San and the Arakan
National Army fought with the Japanese from 19421944,
but switched allegiance to the Allied side in 1945.
In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the
Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government.
But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung
San and several cabinet members.
Burma became independent on Jan. 4, 1948. In 1962,
left-wing general Ne Win staged a coup, banned
political opposition, suspended the constitution, and
introduced the Burmese way of socialism. After 25
years of economic hardship and repression, the Burmese
people held massive demonstrations in 1987 and 1988.
These were brutally quashed by the State Law and Order
Council (SLORC). In 1989, the military government
officially changed the name of the country to Myanmar.
(The U.S. State Department does not recognize the name
Myanmar or the military regime that represents it.)
In May 1990 elections, the opposition National League
for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide. But the
military, or SLORC, refused to recognize the election
results. The leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu
Kyi,was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which
focused world attention on SLORC's repressive
policies. Daughter of the assassinated general Aung
San, who was revered as the father of Burmese
independence, Suu Kyi remained under house arrest from
1989 until 1995. Suu Kyi continued to protest against
the government, but almost every move she made was
answered with a counterblow from SLORC.
Although the ruling junta has maintained a tight grip
on Myanmar since 1988, it has not been able to subdue
an insurgency in the country's south that has gone on
for decades. The ethnic Karen movement has sought an
independent homeland along Myanmar's southern border
with Thailand. In Jan. 2004, the military government
and the insurgents from the Karen National Union
agreed to end the fighting, but they stopped short of
signing a cease-fire.
The economy has been in a state of collapse except for
the junta-controlled heroin trade, the universities
have remained closed, and the AIDS epidemic,
unrecognized by the junta, has gripped the country.
From 2000 to 2002, Suu Kyi was again placed under
house arrest. In spring 2003, the government cracked
down once again on the democracy movement, detaining
Suu Kyi and shuttering NLD headquarters. The regime
opened a constitutional convention in May 2004, but
many observers doubted its legitimacy.
In October 2004, the government arrested Prime
Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt and charged him with
corruption. He had angered the leadership of the junta
with his recent experiments on reform, first by
freeing Suu Kyi from house arrest and later for
proposing a seven-step road map to democracy.
A series of coordinated bomb attacks in May 2005
killed about a dozen people and wounded more than 100
in Rangoon. The military junta blamed the Karen
National Union and the Shan State Army. The ethnic
rebel groups, however, denied any involvement.
On November 13, 2005, the military juntain a massive
and secretive moverelocated the seat of government
from the capital Rangoon to a mountain compound called
Pyinmanaa. The move perplexed many, and the junta was
vague in its explanation, saying, Due to changed
circumstances, where Myanmar is trying to develop a
modern nation, a more centrally located government
seat has become a necessity.
More than 1,000 delegates gathered in December to
begin drafting a constitution, which the junta said
was a step toward democracy. The convention adjourned
in late January 2006 with little progress. In Sept.
2007, representatives to the convention, which has met
on and off since 1993, released a draft constitution
that ensures that the military will continue to
control the ministries and legislature and have the
right to declare a state of emergency. The document
also limits the rights of political parties.
Opposition parties were excluded from the convention.
In a stunning show of defiance, widespread protests
over an abrupt and sharp increase in fuel prices
erupted throughout the country in August 2007.
Hundreds of protesters and opposition leaders were
arrested and jailed. Now, firing and killing people
and clamping curfew is also being done.
I hope that I have been able to draw your attention
towards what is happening in Burma.
Satbir Singh Bedi
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