Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Senior General Than Shwe (the Senior is a self assigned appellation.) This is the man India is wooing -- an unrepentant autocrat and dictator, who has presided over the disgraceful state of affairs in his country Myanmar, banned elections and imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi for almost 20 years. It's a measure of the depths to which our foreign policy has sunk that even George W. Bush's exhortation to us appears more reasonable -- [India and the US] must stand with reformers and dissidents and civil society organizations, and hasten the day when the people of these nations can determine their own future and choose their own leaders”. And here we allow him to visit Rajghat (in deference to Gandhi we are told he didn't wear his military uniform, how touching) and play host to him, arranging his visit to various Buddhist holy sites and hope he will do something to control various insurgent groups that use Myanmar as a base.

All in the name of realpolitik, as a mealy mouthed article by Siddhartha Varadarajan informs us, ending with this almost laughable sentence -- "it should tell the senior general that if he is prepared to liberalise politically, New Delhi will do its bit to help end Myanmar's international isolation."


Rahul Siddharthan said...

an unrepentant autocrat and dictator, who has presided over the disgraceful state of affairs in his country Myanmar, banned elections and imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi for almost 20 years.

Hm, and how is China better than that? Nobody -- least of all the US -- seems to have a problem with having full diplomatic and economic relations with China.

Here's a recent article by Andrew Cockburn on blockades (mostly focuses on Iraq, but applies to blockades in general). I don't think isolating Burma is the answer. Come to that, I think positive changes have been coming to China precisely because of its greater engagement with the world.

Rahul Basu said...

I didn't say China is better...but Burma (or Myanmar) has had a history (a very very short one) of elections and these were annulled by the junta and for 20 years they have prevented Aung San Suu Kyi from getting out. Nobody even expects China to have elections any time in the near future. And there are as a result no opposition party leaders to put in jail! I know -- not a very satisfactory answer, but one expects India to lean a little more on an immediate neighbour.

I am not quite sure what positive changes you are talking about in China. Economically yes, but socio-politically?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Well, China has no jailed opposition leaders but lots of jailed dissidents / activists. Socio-politically, I was comparing the improvement to the Mao days. I agree there is a long way to go.

India's own record is rather poor in Kashmir, the north-east and with respect to tribal communities everywhere. But a boycott/blockade would obviously make it worse. What we need is more international scrutiny, free reporting, etc. Burma and China are much more authoritarian and repressive than the worst districts in India, but I think that is an even greater region for engagement. Various people (like Paul Simon) who broke the boycott of apartheid South Africa (a viler regime than Burma) were criticised, but they made black South African artists internationally famous and it is hard to argue that the country did not benefit from the interaction.

Anonymous said...

Well, there is nothing new about it. Since last 4-5 years, Indian policy in Myanmar is shameful. Interesting part is Indian media is not even bothered about it. These people will go overboard if the same behaviour was done by USA.

as a side comment, It really requires Arundhati Roy kind of imagination to even remotely equate China or India to Myanmar. China is autocratic but is sensitive to peoples voice. States like Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar are in a completely different league.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

ansumali -
China is autocratic but is sensitive to peoples voice.

Precisely my point. I wouldn't call it sensitive but it is improved since it became more integrated in the world economy.

States like Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar are in a completely different league.

I find your claim about Cuba amazing. Not to defend Castro, but till the early 1990s I think the claim that Cuba is worse than China would have been risible (and it is still a highly dubious point of view) -- and the fact that China is viewed more positively today is a strong argument for better engagement with Cuba too. Or do you happen to live in Miami?

Meanwhile, North Korea is a perfect example of why isolation hurts the people but not the rulers. (Cuba is a good example too, actually.)

N. Sukumar said...

I think generalizations are facile. North Korea is isolated by most nations, but not by China - the regime gets what it needs from China; the same goes for Burma (and here is where India is trying to muzzle in). And I would hold that economic disinvestment moves had more to do with the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa than artists who violated the boycott. I doubt, however, that similar tactics will work with North Korea, since there is nothing to disinvest from. When the people do not have a say in their government, both boycotts and economic engagement end up benefiting the regime and hurting the people. Given these circumstances, pragmatic capitalists follow their pocket books; moral individuals follow their consciences, but there are no easy choices. And I agree that equating Cuba or Iran with these other despotic countries does not really make sense. I would hold, however, that China is an exception: the regime realized long ago that they were in danger of losing control and so embarked upon a course of empowering the people economically, but not politically. If economic AND political power are concentrated in a ruling oligarchy, there are no redeeming features with which to placate one's conscience.