Lesson from Burma
Nowhere in the world has the absolute military rulers of a country been able to read and respond to the times, and affect such transformative changes within so short a time-period, as has happened in Burma, now Myanmar. In Burma, where political change has been numbingly slow for a half century, the then military junta government, suddenly seen to be trying to embrace rapid transition from within was, at first, not taken seriously by the world, and was in fact met with skepticism. The military junta had freed political prisoners, held elections and promised even more elections, began economic reforms, and even started intensively courting foreign investments. Understandably, the international community remained cautious. Reforms were being introduced so fast that even renowned experts on the country were uncertain about what to make of them.
That moment in Myanmar’s history had represented that real opportunity for permanent change – one that the international community also did not miss. It did move the agenda for Myanmar forward, not just by offering assistance, but by removing the sanctions which had been imposed upon Myanmar and were seriously impending the country’s transformation.
The sudden transformation of Myanmar was breathtaking. The world was taken by surprise, because it was never expected from the military junta of Myanmar. Under the leadership of President Thein Sein, the authorities responded positively to a call for a political and economic opening. Progress was made on the peace agreements with the ethnic-minority insurgents – conflicts rooted in the divide-and-rule strategy of colonialism, which the country’s post-independence rulers had maintained for more than six decades. The Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu, was not only released from house arrest, but was made free to campaign in her own way for a parliamentary seat. With the military, which has held exclusive power from 1962, retaining some 25 percent of the seats, there were fears that the election would be a façade. But the government that emerged has turned out to reflect fundamental concerns of Myanmar’s citizens far better than anticipated.
On the economic front, unprecedented transparency has been introduced into the budgetary process. Expenditure on health care and education has been doubled, albeit from a low base, and licensing restrictions in a number of key areas has been loosened. The spirit of hope in Myanmar is said to be so very evident today, though some older people, who saw earlier moments of apparent relaxation of authoritarian rule come and go, remain cautious, prompting some in the international community to also even be similarly hesitant. But most Burmese today are sure that with the changes that are managed as well as they are now, the country has already embarked on an irreversible course.
Many economists who had left the country earlier are coming back to the country after decades. They are returning because caution has been replaced by a sense of urgency in dealing with the challenges the country faces, and by awareness of the need for technical and other forms of assistance.
There is much debate about what explains the rapidity of Myanmar’s current pace of change. Perhaps its leaders recognized that the country was falling far behind its neighbors. Perhaps its leaders realized that it is impossible to mute the people all the time. Perhaps they heard the message of the Arab Spring, or simply understood that, with millions of Burmese people living abroad, it was impossible to isolate the country from the rest of the world or prevent ideas from seeping in from its neighbors. Perhaps its leaders realized that forcing nationalism on the people in what-so-ever context, and in the context of today’s globalized community, was an impossibility, and that it was bound to fail.
The military junta of Myanmar has been able to usher in complete change in the country in the prime and ripeness of its time. They have, indeed, been able to read the writing on the wall, and in doing so, their standing and image, both within and outside remains automatically pedestalised, now and for all time to come. The international sanctions that were imposed on Myanmar, now seem counterproductive and therefore lifted. Financial sanctions, for instance, discourage the development of a modern and transparent financial system, integrated with the rest of the world. The resulting cash-based economy is an invitation to corruption. The world today welcomes Myanmar’s desire for guidance and advice from multilateral institutions and the United Nations Development Program. All these have happened within just an unbelievably short time-period since Myanmar’s transition from within.
We have seen the Arab Spring blossom haltingly in a few countries. In others, it is still unclear whether it will bear fruit. The leaders in Myanmar played their card, very wisely, beforehand, and therefore, Myanmar’s transition has been peaceful and very quiet without the fanfare of Twitter and Facebook, but is all the more, very real.
For the Naga people too, the date with destiny is at hand. The times of today cannot be more favorable and ripe for the Nagas to usher in permanent peace and change in the land. Time waits for none, and it is going to cost us dear, if we are to miss this window of opportunity. It is not every day, or for always, that we will have a visionary Prime Minister as Narendra Modi who is commanding a massive popular mandate and is willing to offer the Nagas an honorable settlement. The transition, however, as done by the military junta in Myanmar, has to begin from within. Nagas have to stop bickering, and all concerned have to come together and support the prime Minister’s initiative.
It is only because of the Almighty’s extended Grace that the Nagas still have for ourselves, the two indispensable leaders of unmatched experience and longevity who have, in their own uniquely distinguished ways, walked through the arduous maze of the Naga political journey in real time, and remains our guiding light – one as the Governor, and the other as the Member of Parliament, today. We must remember that they both remain as the public’s safety netting in the face of unknown quantities. We will only be strengthening and safeguarding our collective purpose by solidly rallying behind the two.
People usually tends to forget, but it is in the common knowledge of the general public that the first real concrete shape to usher in peace in the land was laid by Neiphiu Rio during the 2003 Assembly election. The NPF party led by Rio had gone to the people with a Common Minimum Programme, the top priority of which was the final settlement of the Naga political issue. Rio not only constituted a Consultative Committee for peace under his Chairmanship, but also formed a DAN level committee to facilitate the dialogue between the Government of India and the NPGs, and work towards bringing understanding and reconciliation among the various NPGs. Rio was instrumental in convincing the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government that there is an overwhelming desire among the Naga people for a permanent peace with honor and dignity. It culminated in the lifting of the ban on the NSCN(IM) which immensely contributed in creating an environment of trust and confidence. The work and effort put in by Rio for the sake of peace over the years, and till date as the lone Lok Sabha MP, cannot be quantified in words and remains largely untold, but will be reaped by the people in the coming of permanent peace to the land. And therein lies the charisma of this unsung enigmatic leader with a difference.
The world is changing, and the Nagas too are not averse to change. With globalization and the opening up of the Indian economy, we are seeing, right before our eyes, India emerging as a global economic and political super power. After having learned to live with the reality of Indian democracy, even with India being a soft developing country for some nearly sixty years, the Naga people of today definitely do no not want to miss out, but be a part of India’s success story now. We do not want the past ideological baggage to blur up the reality of what peace, tranquility and development is all about. We wholeheartedly agree with our leaders when they say that they do not desire the baggage of the unsolved Naga political issue to be carried over to the next generation to come.
The Naga people today are aware that this general sentiment of the people has been the prime mover in the Government of India signing the 3rd August 2015, Framework Agreement, with the NSCN(IM). The NSCN(IM), as such, must take the people of the state into confidence on the contours of a final settlement being negotiated by them with the Government of India.
The time is ripe for the Nagas. However, it is worth remembering that the time-period between ripe and rot is often indistinguishable. And it is always better to relish before it rots.