By Kumar David –
Aung San Suu Kyi bears part of the responsibility for this umpteenth coup in Burma (now also known as Myanmar). She danced with the wolves, shut her eyes to genocide of Rohingya Muslims, and was a party to an attempt to fool the people about tinsel constitutionality. It is heartless to skewer her at this moment when the military has again trampled Burma with leaden boots. But now it is not about tender feelings for the lady. It is about drawing the right lessons from these appalling events. Lesson One: The military at all times and everywhere, is a threat to public liberty unless it is firmly held on a tight leash. In the reign of Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa it has been empowered in all walks of life – public administration, over-lordship of state corporations, incompetent management of the covid pandemic, foreign affairs including leaking a UNHRC confidential Report and strutting like a peacock in the public domain.
Lesson Two: The Burmese military is viciously racist; it is a deeply Burman institution with implacable hatred of ethnic minorities in the interior (9% Shan, 7% Karen, 4% Rakhine and 3% Mon) and genocide of Rohingya Muslims (4%) in eastern Rakine Province. Hatred of the Muslims is vicious because 90% of the country is Buddhist including majorities of all ethnic and tribal communities. About 8% are Christians, spread across many ethnic groups, who face persecution and debarred from all high appointments. Very few Burmans are Christian unlike the 5% Sinhalese Catholics-Christians in Lanka. The difference from Lanka is that the majority (70%) Burman people too have been victims of brutal military dictatorships which seized power in 1962 and trampled on all – except for the brief November 2015-January 2021 period. The Burman majority has no love for the army, unlike Lanka where the army is the poster boy of Sinhala Buddhists, Catholics and Christians.
The third parallel is appeasement. Militarism was and is a cancer in Lanka as much as in Burma and in both places political leaders bent over to appease militarised racism. No political party in this country, the SLPP and SLFP obviously, nor UNP (Ranil or Sajith versions), nor the three parties of the Dead-Left nor the JVP have dared to take a stand against majority communalism. This is not to whitewash Tamil nationalism just as much I imagine leaders of the Shan, Karen and Rakhine ethic groups are politically reactionary in the modern sense. But the point is that it was not these ethnic minorities that incited, facilitate and urged on the military just as Tamils and Muslims cannot be accused of abetting militarisation in Lanka. Lanka seems a hopeless case as Sinhala-Buddhist consciousness rhymes with militarisation. The verdict of history on Aung San Su Ki will be harsh. It will find her and her National Democratic Party (NDP) guilty of appeasement and betrayal of Burmese democracy by association. Is this going to be the story of Mahinda Rajapaksa, every SLPP and SLFP leader without exception and bogus left-sell-outs Vasudeva, Tissa and Raja Colure? Appeasement is the shortest path to the guillotine as these gentlemen will swiftly learn if there is a military takeover.
The Burmese junta has picked up lessons from Donald Trump. The stated justification is bogus allegations of “electoral fraud in the 8 November 2020 election” where the NDP took 83% of the vote and the pro-military party won a paltry 33 seats in the 476 member assembly. A communications blackout has been enforced; only a pro military TV channel is on the air. Another eerie parallel is that the dictator installed by the coup, army boss Min Aung-Hliang, was put on a US visa blacklist in 2019 just like our Army-Silva. The parallel is spooky. If a coup is attempted in Lanka will the figurehead be Nandasena or some brass who will push him side? Either way, China and Russia will back a Lankan military dictator as brazenly as Beijing and Moscow will accept Burma’s born-again military junta. Five thousand have been arrested in for protesting detention Alexey Navalny and the number of Muslims Uyghurs incarcerated in Xinjiang is said to run into hundreds of thousands. The devices of the Burmese military are not strange to either regime, and being seen as patrons of dictators has never been an embarrassment for the big powers. For fear of driving Nandasena deeper into the Chinese bosom the UNHRC may hold back from heavy pressure on Sri Lanka at the forthcoming Feb-March 2021 Sessions. That would be a big mistake; thugs don’t respond to concessions, they grab what they get and grasp for more – beware Chamberlin’s 1938 Munich sell-out. Biden is considering sanctions on the Burmese junta but calculation of the China and India factors will be central to the American equation; let’s see what happens. If the US and EU really want to they can starve out the Burmese junta just as India (or the US can starve out a Sri Lankan dictatorship.
Ethnic reconciliation obviously is impossible under the Nandasena regime but preserving democratic spaces, pushing back the threat of army rule and sustaining a degree ethnic coexistence is the immediate task. The purpose of my column today is to alert everybody, democratic citizens who see the dangers, liberals both lily-white soft-livered and defiant, journalists, editors and appeasers, Mahinda’s opportunists in Cabinet and parliament, and the Sajiths and the Mano Ganesans, that their number will be called-up soon. Burma has raised a timely red flag, but it all depends on aggressive and firmly unified opposition of all these worthies on one rallying cry; NO TO MILITARISATION!