Democracy has Missed the Bus in Myanmar, Says Expert

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People wave national and military flags in Yangon, Myanmar after the military staged a coup. — AP photo

Team Clarion

Tatmadaw, the Army caucus in Myanmar as it’s called took over the reins of power from the civilian government in a bloodless coup on February 1, 2021. It has declared an emergency till 2022 and no one knows how long it may prolong.  The military coup occurred a day before Myanmar Parliament was to swear its elected members of the November 2020 elections.

In order to understand the developments, the Tilotma foundation organised a webinar India-Myanmar Relations – The Journey so far and the Coup, on March 13, 2021.  The resource person was Myanmar expert Dr Syed Ali Mujtaba, Chennai Correspondent of Mizzima TV, a pro-democracy media channel of Myanmar.

Dr Mujtaba gave five reasons for the coup in Myanmar. The first was military, which holds a privileged position in Myanmar feared that the National league for democracy that registered spectacular victory in November 2020 the election may transform the country to full-fledged democracy that may cut down the military to  size and this led to coup.

The second reason was military has a vested interest in keeping Myanmar’s ethnic pot boiling to remain relevant to Myanmar’s power politics. The landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi in the November election alarmed the military that she may reach out to the ethnic groups and form a democratic federal union and change the constitutional provisions where the Military will have little role to play.

The third reason is the current ruler of Myanmar General Min-Hlaing, who was to retire in coming June 2021, nursed the ambition to remain in power for an indefinite period of time seized the power to fulfill his ambition.

The fourth reason was General Min-Hlaing and his family, its proxies have huge business interests in Myanmar and they feared being out of business if that full democratic process gets operational in Myanmar. They are the ones who pushed for military rule over civilian rule in Myanmar.

The fifth reason was, the military felt that Aung San Suu Kyi has become too big for her shoes and if democracy is allowed to flourish under her rule, the predominant position of the army cannot be sustained long and in order to maintain the Army’s supremacy in Myanmar the coup was staged.

Dr Mujtaba who has been watching the development in Myanmar for the past 32 years was critical of the democratic forces. “A wonderful opportunity was provided by the second generation of Army Generals, who favoured guided democracy in Myanmar, but the power-hungry democratic forces shot themselves in their foot disobeying the army terms and conditions for a guided democracy in Myanmar. They seem to be in hurry to supplant the army rule in Myanmar that’s at the helm for past sixty years or so, said Dr. Mujtaba

He added; it may be improper to blame the army to have trampled the democracy in Myanmar, the fact is, it’s the democratic forces that have missed the bus to bring full-fledged democracy to Myanmar.

On India’s response to the Myanmar coup, Dr Mujtaba quoted the statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs saying; ‘India has noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern and monitoring the situation closely. India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar and believes that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld.’

On India’s responses, Dr. Mujtaba elaborated that India sees the developments in Myanmar as its internal matter and has no overt role to play in bringing democracy in Myanmar. India has learned from its earlier mistakes of democratic activism in 1988 and also in the 1990s and has now become more pragmatic keeping its strategic, security, and economic interests weigh much higher on the scale than doing democratic activism in dealing with Myanmar.

India’s official position is it will deal with whichever dispensation is in power in Myanmar, Dr Mujtaba said.

The prime reason for the Indian stand on democracy in Myanmar is the assurance given by Myanmar that its proximity with China would not be directed against India, while India gave a commitment that it would not interfere in the domestic affairs of Myanmar,’ said Dr. Mujtaba, who heads Department of Visual Communication at Guru Nanak College Chennai.

Talking at length on India- Myanmar Relations -The Journey so far and the Coup, Dr Mujtaba touched upon the six Cs of the Modi government that’s guiding India- Myanmar relationship. Commerce; Connectivity; Capacity-Building; Civilizational links; Community building and China factor.

The author of the book India’s Eastward Thrust – Predicament and Prospects gave six other reasons that are equally important in India- Myanmar relationship. Border Security, Drugs Problem, Border Post Meeting, Border Fencing, Myanmar Gas and India’s Act East policy.

The Myanmar expert said there are more than twelve Indian projects currently operational in Myanmar to develop the capacity building. India’s connectivity project with Myanmar is going to help the people of the northeast region and end their current state of isolation.

‘India owes to improve the conditions of the people of its northeast states by building a warm relationship with Myanmar,’ Dr Mujtabs said.

Myanmar is a pivot to India’s Act East policy, India should make more energetic efforts to engage Myanmar at all levels and in a much more imaginative way to meet the challenges that may come in its way in pursuance of the Act East policy concluded Dr. Mujtaba.

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