IN recent weeks, India has been under a lot of well-meaning criticism by idealists for not doing enough to help establish democracy in its neighbouring countries, especially Myanmar. But is that its job? First, consider this: Who are India'sneighbours? To the immediate west is Pakistan. To India'snorth lie Nepal and, by extension, Tibet. To the East is Bangladesh and further east, Myanmar. To the south are the Maldives and Sri Lanka lies practically next door in the south east. Except for the Maldives, the rest of the countries have their own set of problems with India.
When Abdulla Shahid, Foreign Minister of the Maldives was asked whether the Chinese have been making strategic inroads into his territory, his quick and sincere reply was that India is his closest and natural neighbour and a good friend besides, always ready and willing to help. And he was telling the truth. With Pakistan, which is a gone case, India has had sixty years of trouble. The United States has been using it for its own strategic purpose, giving it liberal economic and military aid, a part of which Islamabad has been using to promote terrorism against India. The United States couldn'tcare less. Nepal has been an independent country and India has seldom interfered in its affairs and wished it well. The Maoists have struggled to come to power and considering the feudal ways in which the country was governed, India has kept its distance to the extent necessary, always willing to help the people if that was called for. India has the friendliest ties with Sri Lanka but in the matter of the LTTE it has had its hands burnt. Rajiv Gandhi had to pay with his life for seeking to interfere in the civil strife in the beleaguered island. Delhi has learnt its lesson. Bangladesh is a different cup of tea. India had a hand in its liberation from Pakistani tyranny but that was forgotten a long time ago.
Like Pakistan, Bangladesh is an unnatural and unreal state. It has seen massive communal disturbances in 1990 and 1992 and even worse atrocities on minorities in 2001; illegal migration from Bangladesh to India for the last three decades and a half has gone unmitigated. During the last five decades (1951 to 2001) the growth rate of Muslim population has been 301.93 per cent in West Bengal and the share of Muslim population has risen from 6 per cent in 1951 to 25.41 per cent in 2001. Illegal trade and border violation have been standard practices and Delhi seems indifferent. There has been an unending flow from Bangladesh to India of the poor Muslims and nobody has been able or willing to stop it.
What should India do in these circumstances? Attack Bangladesh and keep it under subjugation? India is psychologically unprepared to take stern and necessary action against its wayward neighbour. Worse, Bangladesh has been given protection and aid to Assamese terrorists. Fundamentalist Islam runs Bangladesh. Gen. K.M. Kafiullah, a demented former Chief of Staff and ex-Defence Advisor to the former Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina has been reported as saying that destabilising India would not only be a triumph of Bangladesh patriotism (!) but it would help implement the long-term project of radical Islamism that was lost in Pakistan in 1971. That is some cheek. So should we take it over? It shouldn'ttake India more than a couple of days but India would rather suffer pinpricks from ISI-trained Bangladeshi terrorists than take military action against Dhaka.
And now comes Myanmar. It is a pathetic state. It has been living under military rule for the last 45 years. It is moored in poverty, its per capita income of about $ 300 is lower than that of even Cambodia and Laos. A third of its people are unemployed. Inflation in the past three years has varied from 40 to 50 per cent. The Burma Human Rights Yearbook 2006 has noted that ?across the country, Burma'speoples continue to be subjected to forced labour, forced relocation, the burning of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, recruitment of children as child soldiers, trafficking of women and children, confiscation of land and property, extortion, religious persecution and discrimination against ethnic minorities?.
What is India supposed to do, under the circumstances? India is not the US, India does not think that it is its business or duty to enforce democracy on other countries. In the first place, it does not have the economic strength to do so. In the second place, throughout the centuries past, India has tended to mind its own business. That has been both its pride and glory. In the third place, it requires military power to enforce its will. And that is not going to be a small amount. The US has so far spent over $ 700 billion in Iraq?and with what success? It only sacrificed 3,000 of its own soldiers and killed several times that number of Iraqis.
So India has been wise. It has to be wise, considering that China is openly wooing Burmese Generals and, to be careful, it has not to sound too offensive and morally superior, lest it offend the Generals. India has to look after its own interests and Burma has the natural gas that we want. Sensibly, India'sPetroleum Minister Murli Deora recently flew to Rangoon to sign a $ 150 million deal for obtaining natural gas from Myanmar. India has strategic and economic interests to protect in Myanmar. Besides, it can'tlet China get the better of it. Till recently almost 80 per cent of Myanmar'sdefence equipment was of Chinese origin. In 1979 China signed a $ 63 million aid agreement for various projects in Myanmar.
China has now been elevated in Myanmar eyes as ?Elder Brother?. Some status, that. The Chinese have followed a policy of non-interference in Myanmar'sinternal affairs. India'strade with Myanmar is growing at a fast clip. It is Myanmar'sforth largest trading partner with its investment reaching $ 35.08 million last year. In 2006-2007, India-Myanmar trade was estimated at $ 650 million. It is this which will help the people of Myanmar, not political interference. Ram Rajya is not for export. India shares a 1,645 km border in its east with Myanmar. It should see that it is not misused by terrorist organisations. That is why it is important to have Myanmar as a member of the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN). If the US-based company has Chevron, the Malayasians Petronas, the South Koreans Daewoo and Britain which invested ? 1.2 billion in Myanmar, why should India put on the mantle of political holiness? India sympathises with the Myanmar people in their time of travail but it is for them to fight their war, not for India to sermonise on democracy. The world has seen Hitlers, Stalins and Maos come and go. For everything there is a time. And patience is its own award. Delhi has learnt its lesson. Bangladesh is a different cup of tea. India had a hand in its liberation from Pakistani tyranny but that was forgotten a long time ago.