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Burma: Minister proposes, General d
Burma: Minister proposes, General disposes
K. Natwar Singh
The Asian Age
June 9, 2000
If I am not mistaken, it was Tagore who first referred to Gandhiji then
was in his late 40s. The poet was eight years older then the man on whom
he bestowed the apt prefix. By the age of 50, Gandhiji had become the
undisputed leader of the Congress. Then he did something quite
remarkable. He made the Congress an all-India mass based political
outfit. In the selection of his co-workers and colleagues, Gandhi
displayed genius. By the time he was elected Congress president in 1924,
he had gathered round him men and women of outstanding ability and high
integrity. Let me give a few names: C.R. Das, 55 Vallabhabhai Patel, 50,
C. Rajagopalachari, 47, Sarojini Naidu, 46, Jawaharlal Nehru, 36, Abul
Kalam Azad, 37, Govind Ballabh Pant, 38, J.B. Kripalani, 37. Among those
senior to him was Motilal Nehru, 64, who along with his son acknowledged
Gandhi as the leader. In 1929 Gandhiji turned down the Congress
presidentship. Instead, he ensured Jawaharlal Nehru's election. Nehru
had just turned 40. In 1934 was formed the Congress Socialist Party. Its
leading lights were Narendra Deva, 45, J.P. Narayan, 32, M.R. Masani,
29, Yusuf Meharali, 28, Ram Manohar Lohia, 25, E.M.S. Namboodirapad, 25,
Ashok Mehta, 23.
The provocation for this brief chronoligical survey is the highlighting
by the Outlook and India Today of the ageing of the leaders of the
Congress, The CPM, CPI, BJP, the Akali Dal. Sonia Gandhi is 53. In the
Congress Working Committee others in their mid-50s are M.R. Scindia,
Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni and Rajesh Pilot, Ambika Soni
and Rajesh Pilot. In the states, the Congress has Digvijay Singh, Vilas
Rao Deshmukh and Ashok Gehlot who are in their late 40s and early 50s.
It is the other national parties that have to worry about this ageing
phenomenon. Not so much the Congress.
When numbers increase excellence suffers. This is particularly
applicable to Delhi the national capital. According to the latest
demographic projections, Delhi will have a population of 15 million or
one and half crores by 2002. That will bestow on it a dubious
distinction. After Mexico City and Cairo, Delhi will be the third
largest city in the world. Are we, despite the IT and Internet
revolutions losing the demographic war? I fear we probably are. In a
unique generosity of the rain Gods, India has had 12 good monsoons in
succession. This good fortune cannot continue indefinitely. Two bad
monsoons would make India almost ungovernable.
When I joined St. Stephen's College in July 1948, the population of
Delhi was 15 Lakhs. There was no scarcity of water, no shortage of
electricity, no over crowding in buses or trains, hospitals, schools and
Standards of probity and rectitude were high. Politicians and
parliamentarians invited respect not derision and contempt. No
pollution, no plastic bags. Today Delhi's miseries are man-made. Unless
unchecked immigration is prohibited, there is little hope of the quality
of life showing any improvement. Traffic is a major hazard. It needs
strong nerves to drive on Delhi's roads. Let us see what Mr Jagmohan
comes up with to narrow the gap between splendour and squalor.
In many countries on has to fulfil certain basic conditions before
he/she can become a permanent resident of the national capital.
Something on those lines must bb urgently worked out by the Delhi and
Central governments, otherwise we will have municipal chaos and
On May 27, 1990, the people of Burma/ Myanmar gave Aung San Suu Kyi and
her National League for Democracy a resounding electoral victory. The
results have not been accepted by the ruling military junta. In India,
the tenth anniversary of that electoral victory of the National League
for Democracy went almost unnoticed. This is a crying shame. Even the
United States which puts so much store by democracy and human rights has
really not put the heat on the military junta. India too has been
disinterested in what goes on inside one of its closest neighbours. Aung
San Suu Kyi has not received the support she deserves, from successive
For almost 40 years Burma, rich in natural resources, has turned its
back on the world, U Thant was Burma's Permanent Representative to the
United Nations in New York. He succeeded Dag Hammarksjold as Secretary
General of the UN following Hammarksjold's death in a plane crash in
Ndola in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in September 1961. During most
of his tenure the Burmese government did not take much notice of U
Thant. When he retired in 1971, he settled down in New York, because he
was not welcome in his home land. He died in New York 10 1974.
I accompanied Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on his state visit to Rangoon
towards the end of 1987. General Ne Win was the boss. This became
evident when Rajiv Gandhi accompanied by me, Foreign Secretary K.P.S.
Menon and Ambassador I.P. Singh went for official Talks. With General Ne
Win were two Burmese gentlemen. The foreign minister I recognised but
not the third person. We did not have to wait long to be enlightened by
General Ne Win: "Rajiv, that is the foreign minister and this is the
President of Burma. The President normally talks little, but in my
presence he does not talk at all." The Rajiv Gandhi-NE Win talks lasted
over two hours. The President did not utter a word. That day I became
aware of a wholly novel virtue of silence.
Rajiv Gandhi attached great importance to this foreign visit and
prepared himself thoroughly. He had carefully read all the briefs. Even
after 13 years, I remember vividly what transpired at the talks. The
Indian Prime Minister made several concrete proposals to intensity and
further strengthen Indo-Burmese relations.
Tourism: Gen. Ne Win said he disliked tourists and was in no need of
Joint Ventures: The general informed late Rajiv Gandhi that he had
allowed one joint venture with? and was regretting it.
And so it went on.
Rajiv Gandhi was, among other qualities, endowed with requisite manners.
He kept his cool even when Ne Win became avuncular in a patronising way,
treating the Indian PM more as the grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru and the
son of Indira Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi had to bear many crosses, but the Ne
Win cross was unexpected.
The next day we met the Prime Minister of Burma and his senior Cabinet
ministers. Everything Gen. Ne Win had turned down the Prime Minister and
his colleagues accepted with grateful thanks. Rajiv Gandhi asked me what
I thought of this bizarre Burmese performance. My reply was, "the
Cabinet proposes. The General disposes."
General Ne Win's not so benign shadow falls right across Myanmar,
darkening the lives of the people, with no sign of the down, despite
Aung San Suu Kyi's valiant struggle against tyranny.
Mr Karunanidhi is persisting in his folly. He may know a great deal
about Tamilians and their history, but his knowledge of European history
is seriously flawed. No sensible person would equate Czechoslovakia and
Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Vajpayee should speak to the Tamil Nadu chief
minister and ask him not to comment on matters relating to India's
foreign policy. It would be a disastrous precedent, if chief ministers
are allowed to make pronouncements on foreign policy.
(K. Natwar Singh carried forward a brilliant career in the foreign
services to a distinguished spell in politics. He has been an elected
member of Parliament, Union minister in various portfolios and it now a
member of the Congress Working Committee)