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As Myanmar (formerly Burma) is opening up to the world, various Indian experts have come forward advocating New Delhi’s pro-active initiatives in this fast changing region. A recently concluded discourse in Guwahati also witnessed that the participants in large numbers supported New Delhi’s more aggressive involvement in the process of sustainable development in the southeast Asian nation. A meeting in Assam sub-titled “underlining India’s productive engagement in Myanmar, was organized by Guwahati Press Club on 21 April and the session was energized by a Yangon (formerly Rangoon) based Assamese journalist and political analyst Bidhayak Das’s participation.
Hailing from an alienated region, journalist Das emphasized the immediate role New Delhi needs to play to shape up Indo-Burma policies with regards to present day needs. Advocating better ties with Myanmar, Das asserted that the country had changed its face rapidly since the 2015 November general election, where Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy (NLD) and won a landslide victory.
The soft spoken analyst observed that Myanmar had been adopting a quasi-democracy that would directly or indirectly bring enormous benefits to the people of northeast India. The situation in Myanmar, ruled by military generals for decades, has been improved rapidly in the recent past.
Commenting over Suu Kyi, Das claimed that the daughter of Burmese independence struggle hero General Aung San is still respected by all communities of Myanmar. He argued that she could really do wonders in reforming her country into a full-fledged democracy after decades of dictator’s rule.
The NLD earlier won a massive victory in 1990 general elections, which were largely free and fair, but the brutal and isolationist military regime did not recognize the voters’ mandate and refused to hand over power to the elected representatives. The head of the regime Senior General Than Shwe, who grew in enmity towards Suu Kyi, even ordered brutal crack downs over the NLD activists. Subsequently Suu Kyi was put under house arrest as a political prisoner.
After 15 years of house arrest, the lady was released, but her party was not allowed to participate in the last polls for the lower house of Myanmar Parliament that took place in 2010. The military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) swept the polls. The immediate past President Thein Sein came to the scene in place of Than Shwe and the reform process started gaining momentum. The media was also moderately freed from the clutches of censorship.
Journalist Das was however apprehensive about Nobel laureate Suu Kyi’s roles in the Htin Kyaw led Myanmar government at NayPieTaw, as she might well face an uphill task to deal with the Burmese armed forces (popularly known as Tatmadaw). Moreover, the 2008 Burma Constitution, which prevented her to become the President of the country, cannot be changed without the support of more than 75 percent lawmakers.
At the same time, it is noticeable that the Burmese armed forces have 25 percent Parliamentarians reserved in both the houses of Myanmar Parliament. Myanmar’s lower house of Parliament (locally known as the House of Representatives or Pyithu Hluttaw) has 440 seats, where 110 Army candidates got appointed by the commander-in-chief of Tatmadaw. Similarly, the upper house of Parliament (known as the House of Nationalities or Amyotha Hluttaw) has 224 seats, where 56 military personnel were nominated by the Tatmadaw chief.
Adding even more to it, the ministries of defence, home affairs and border affairs are kept under the control of the military. Hence, our Yangon based analyst argued that the Myanmar’s new foreign minister Suu Kyi, for the time being, might embrace the Tatmadaw as a partner in the process of democratization of her country.
Speaking about the opportunity of northeast India’s virtual capital Guwahati as a health, education and tourism hub, the journalist turned expert on political affairs and commented that the political will and support from the locals would be essential to materialize that dream. He also insisted that the Myanmar government should open a diplomatic office in Guwahati and a direct flights from the city to either Mandalay or Yangon should be operated for the benefit of commuters.
He however did not to forget to mention various challenges in chasing that dream as a number of militant outfits from northeast India were still taking shelter in the jungles of northern Myanmar. The rebel outfits are also reportedly enjoying China’s inherent support. As Beijing remains influential on the Myanmar government till now, the northeastern militants may continue enjoying the privileges there for some more years.
However, Das believes that it would be too difficult for the militant outfits including the Paresh Barua run United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) to achieve much from their hideouts in Myanmar, even though the militants from the region recently formed an umbrella organisation of insurgent outfits named United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia.