India extends red carpet to Than Shwe: Who gains a lion share?

Published on October 31, 2004

Nehginpao Kipgen

Amidst stringent opposition campaigns and Burma’s political turmoil, the strong-man of Burma, Senior General Than Shwe (72), was given a red-carpet reception by the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Indian government. Including the US government, this reception was viewed as a set back to the democratization process in Burma by many.

The recent political upheaval that led to the removal of Burma’s Prime Minister, General Khin Nyunt, overshadowed the political whims of the international community. With the first visit of Burmese head of state to India in 24 years, a number of agreements including non-traditional security issues, setting up the Tamanthi hydro-electric project in Burma, and cultural exchange program (2001-2006) were signed.

General Than Shwe, chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), led a delegation comprising eight cabinet ministers from October 24-29. With as many as 12 Northeast Indian insurgent groups basing in the Kale Kabaw Valley in Sagaing Division of Burma, the Indian leadership turns a deaf ear to what pro-democracy groups say “an illegitimate military regime.”

With its shrewd and strategic maneuver, the Congress led United Progressive Alliance Indian government leaves no stone unturned. They are obsessed with winning the Burmese military regime’s direct or indirect cooperation in ostracizing the northeast insurgent groups, which is embedded in the agreement “non-traditional security issues.”

In turn, the Indian government pacifies the Burmese government by green signaling to set up Tamanthi hydro-electric power. With all or most of today’s electrical system in Burma generated by machine power, Burma has to accept such benevolent offer from a giant country of having expertise in electrifying power.

Indeed if this project is put into place, diverse ethnic groups of people in the region – the Burmans, the Shans, the Kachins, the Kukis, the Nagas, and et al economies will be boosted. Of course, the larger share will obviously be manipulated by the military regime.

Cultural exchange program will enhance more or less to both sides of the peoples. Not only are they neighboring countries, India and Burma share multi cultural ethos – a large chunk of enriched Burmese businessmen and women are from India.

Burma’s second largest city, Mandalay, has overwhelming Indian population. To narrow down in scope, the Chins, the Kukis, the Meiteis, the Mizos, the Shans, etc. have spread across the international boundary to be found in the two countries.

Above all, Burma consolidates its position by proving to the world that they enjoy the support of one of the world’s largest democratic nation, India. In the focal point of the Burmese government, this is a tremendous political victory. Not long after the removal of the then Foreign Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister, the regime’s powerful Prime Minister, General Khin Nyunt, was ousted in a mischievous circumstance.

However, this is no wonder, the incumbent regime leaders could end up their fates in similar way. Based on our theory and analysis, the degree of gains may differ, however, both sides claim to satisfy with their shares. Time will tell if the diplomatic relationship of India and the Burmese military regime endures to the end.

Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004).