Big powers play at night
For national interest, if not for anything else, New Delhi can quietly ask Myanmar for a favour — have Ms Suu Kyi released — for which the junta can take all credit while ‘mysteriously’ enhancing their friendship with India.india Updated: Aug 12, 2009 23:32 IST
It is in the nature of totalitarian regimes to behave absurdly. Thus the ‘un-logic’ of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland when she regularly shouts out ‘Off with his head!’ “without even looking around”. Thus the pet project of the Myanmarese junta to keep Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in jail without — and here’s the twist — giving up on a show of kindness. Even as authorities in the military capital of Naypyidaw acted predictably by ensuring that Ms Suu Kyi continues to remain in custody in Yangon, they ‘intervened’ to cut a three-year imprisonment to an 18-month house arrest.
The democracy leader has served nearly 14 years in captivity. Coming as the judgement and its modification does a month after UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon demanded that political prisoners be freed before the 2010 elections, Tuesday’s verdict is a snub of international opinion. But how does the real international community — by which one can mean influencing neighbours China and India — get the Myanmarese junta to ease up against Ms Suu Kyi? More importantly, can India do anything? The question of whether New Delhi can apply any pressure on Myanmar is, of course, predated by the question of whether it wants to do anything. Much Irrawady water has flown under the bridge since P.V. Narasimha Rao engaged with the junta under his prime ministership.
Not only does New Delhi today acknowledge the geo-political importance of Myanmar, especially when the ‘Chinese embrace’ during India’s non-engagement is factored in, but the anti-democratic neighbour has also served national security interest, especially in assisting anti-insurgency operations in the north-eastern parts of India. What has happened over the years is a double-approach — not a taboo in diplomacy — where pro-democracy statements have been made vis-a-vis Ms Suu Kyi and her supporters while continuing to engage with the Myanmarese authorities. As a nation always hankering for Big Power status but never making Big Power moves, it’s time New Delhi flips its double-approach around by engaging more openly with the authorities and covertly pushing its friends in Naypyidaw to show some signs that the world’s biggest democracy can have some influence with its undemocratic neighbour. For national interest, if not for anything else, New Delhi can quietly ask Myanmar for a favour — have Ms Suu Kyi released — for which the junta can take all credit while ‘mysteriously’ enhancing their friendship with India.