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“Stand Up” for Democracy

Posted on April 4, 2010 in Politics

Sampa Kundu:

What affects my neighbor today is bound to affect my own future…

From the year 1962 our neighbors have been suffering and, yet, we remain reluctant. We, the so-called advocates of ‘democracy’, are not at all worried about our neighbors – Burma or present day Myanmar.

The government of India may have its own policy of not wanting to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country. But the civil society can do a lot. In 2006, 432 leading intellectuals and public figures of Bangladesh signed a memorandum demanding the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (the pro-democratic leader of Myanmar). Similar actions from every corner of the world must be taken up to campaign for restoration of democracy in Myanmar.

In 1962, Ne Win seized power through a military coup in Burma and declared himself as the Head of the State. In 1988, another coup took place in the country and a more rigid military regime came into power in the name of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In 1997, SLORC was restructured as State Peace and Development Board (SPDC). Throughout this long period of time, all the democratic rights of the citizens have been restricted and the major pro-democratic opposition party, namely National League for Democracy (NLD), has been absolutely pulled down. In 1990, an election was held in the country and NLD won with maximum majority under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But, the military junta did not accept the election result and secured their own regime. Besides that, they put most of the democratic leaders including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi either under house arrest or in jail so that no opposition to their rule could be made.

India was initially in favor of the democratic movements in Myanmar. It didn’t even take a harsh step against Soe Myint , a Burmese student, who hijacked a flight on its way to Kolkata from Thailand as a protest against the anti-democratic situation in his own country. Many anti-junta actions taken by the Burmese students and refugees were encouraged by the government of India. But India changed its policy very swiftly. As a part of its Look East Policy, India started to view Myanmar from a different angle. Now, India needs to have a stable friend in its east which will work as a link between India and Southeast Asia. So, India adopted the policy of ‘engagement’ i.e. building a good relationship with Myanmar irrespective of whatever government it has within its territory and not to interfere in the internal affairs of Myanmar. India’s objective was to make the ruling military junta happy with its own government.

As far as foreign policy is concerned, one can argue that the stance of India is just and right. But, the civil society has the liberty to support the fight for democracy. After 20 years, Myanmar is going to have an election in 2010. But SPDC has declared that no political prisoner would be allowed to stand in the election. It implies that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and many of her party leaders would not be able to fight the election. Such an election would again bring the country under the mercy of the military.

We should not forget that what affects my neighbor today is bound to affect my own future. The political instability and other related problems including poverty, unemployment, corruption, trafficking of women and children, smuggling etc.which are prevalent in Myanmar will also have a deep and adverse impact on India’s future. In fact, the game has already started. The northeastern region of India has been suffering from this same syndrome for a long time now and the Myanmar connection to it can not be ignored.

So the time has come to react and to act for democracy simultaneously.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.