Burma/Myanmar: Rays of Hope

When some foreigners think of Burma, what impressions or images come in mind? From 1950 onwards, anybody hardly knew what was going on inside Burma/Myanmar. The country has been ruled by Military Junta since 1962 and the country hardly came into limelight.

Burma/Myanmar’s name has been derived from the majority ethnic group in BurmaBamar group. Myanmar is more literary form of the name of the group and Burma is more colloquial form of name. So, there is has been historically confusion with name but it is officially named Myanmar in 1989. With a population of around 60 million people and the largest land mass in South East Asia, it is an important player in the region. Historically, Yangon was the capital but Nay Pyi Taw became the new capital in 2005-2006.

Historically, it was separate country but it was made the part of British India. British army occupied Burma in 1886 and it became part of British India. In 1937, it become the separate colony and got its independence in 1948 after departure of British troupes. Since 1962, Burma hardly made any news as it was in tight grip of military. Every aspect of life was controlled by military. This made Burma one of the poorest nations in the world. It became one of the least developed country had the worst healthcare system in the world. Moreover, Burmese economy was not able to realize its full potential over the years despite being resource rich due to poor planning and execution in addition to rampant corruption.

Until 1987, the country was ruled by one party system. In 1988, it witnessed the historical uprising in many parts of country by pro-democracy groups to establish democracy in Burma which became known as 8888 uprising. But, the regime suppressed it by using military and killed thousands of people. In 1989, Military Junta imposed martial law. Finally, Burma had some hopes of democracy in 1990 when the election was overwhelmingly won by Aung San Suu Kyi. However, military did not transfer the power and jailed many of the leaders including Suu Kyi instead.

It made headlines again when the Buddhist monks initiated the civil resistance known as Saffron Revolution to oppose the increasing prices of petrol and diesel in 2007. Again, it was crushed by force but the broadcast by western media brought the country in limelight and many leaders condemned such brutality on civilians. In 2009, it was alleged that the military was using money secretly to develop the nuclear weapons and North Korean experts were helping them to develop it. After that, the satellite images also captured some underground tunnel. It was widely speculated that the junta built it for a safe passage during the emergency and to carry out secret operations.

In 2010, the government announced many reforms including elections and release of Suu Kyi which came as a surprise. Though the elections were won by military party, global community considered it fabricated. But, elections in April 2012 proved to be the real stepping stone towards democracy when they were won overwhelmingly by Suu Kyi’s party.

The contribution by Aung San Suu Kyi is unparalleled to establish democracy in Burma. Since 1987, she was kept under house arrest for around 24 years and she won the Nobel Price for peace in 1991 which she was not able to collect until June 2012. Her life has been full of struggles and sufferings. She had an option of leaving the country and staying with her husband but she knew that she would not be allowed to come back once she will be out of the country. During the house arrest, she was denied meeting with her husband and kids despite the pressure from international community. She was even not able to go when her husband died.

After some cautious steps by regime towards democracy, US have also restarted its diplomatic relations with the country recently. After 24 years, Suu Kyi went out of country June 2012. She started her trip with going to Thailand. She also went to Sweden to receive her Noble Price after 21 years. Later, she also visited London with which she is connected emotionally because her husband and children stay there. She also met Dalai Lama in London.

It will be interesting to observe about the political developments in the country. So far, Chinese regime was able to exploit the country without any competition. Now, many countries would be in the competition to influence the developments in their favor. It will be interesting to view the role of Chinese and Indian regimes in these aspects. For China, Burma provides much shorter route to Bay of Bengal in case the Straight of Malacca gets closed. In addition, it has high stakes in many of the ongoing projects including energy. Recently, there has been antagonism in public and regime towards China for taking the benefits without sharing it with Burmese people. India, on the other hand, views Burma as a gateway to Southeast Asia. Since 1990s, it maintained minimal relationship with it due to suppression of democratic forces in Burma. But now, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to Myanmar which was official visit of Indian leader after long time. He also announced to invest in the roads and rain network which would enable India to connect with Thailand in the recent meetings. This would be great for Northeast India which was hardly able to get the benefits of growth in Indian economy.

During the speech in front of Nobel Committee, Ms. Suu Kyi advised the international community to view the recent developments in Burma with “cautious optimism”. She also mentioned that Burma has a huge potential to prosper but it has still long way to go. Till the date, the ethnic clashes have been continued in North Burma and continued the violence in the western region of Burma. It is important to nurture economy along with the focus on the welfare of the society. It is equally important to protect the human rights and establish the democracy.


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