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Our neighbour Burma (Myanmar) whom we continue to neglect.

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  • satbir singh
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2007
      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
      with them.


      Vallabhai Patel."

      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
      (1044–1077) was the first great unifier of Myanmar.

      According to one version, the last King of Burma,
      King Thibaw (1878–1885), 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 Burma’s 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
      1824–1826 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 1943–1945.
      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 1942–1944,
      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 junta—in a massive
      and secretive move—relocated 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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