A painful aspect of the Indian media is that it gives little attention to states immediately beyond West Bengal. Very little attention is given even to North East Indian states – the so-called Seven Sisters. It is as if they don’t exist. The Guwahati-based The Sentinel (October 25) for instance carried an editorial which said that “there is an euphoria of sorts in Assam that the problem of militancy in the state will soon be a thing of the past”.
The paper however, warned against taking this lightly because the “root cause” of the militancy has been “unemployment, chiefly unemployability, corruption leading to discrimination, injustices and the culture of easy money”. “A dangerous mix”, said the paper, adding, “the rest of the militancy-infested Northeast too is plagued by the evil”. “This region”, noted the paper, “needs, peace that is durable, and not transient”.
Beyond the North East lies Myanmar. Again, our media has given very little attention to it. Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) has been released from house arrest. What is the situation in Myanmar? How does the state function? The Indian media apparently couldn’t care less. Deccan Herald (November 15) noted that “by releasing Suu Kyi after the elections, the Generals have revealed how deeply they fear her popularity”. “They have freed her now”, the paper said, “not because they fear her less but because they are anxious to make themselves more acceptable to the international Community”. Delhi, said the paper, “must work with Myanmar, nudging it to initiate a process of reconciliation” and “push the Generals to engage in dialogue with Suu Kyi and to take steps to usher in a more meaningful democracy”.
The Telegraph (November 12) noted that “only two major countries, China and Russia, hailed (the recently-conducted elections) as a big step forward” and that “the only thing the polls were intended to do was legitimize the Generals’ long reign and tighten their iron grip over every aspect of Myanmar’s life”.
The Indian Express (November 15) pointedly noted that “Myanmar’s disenfranchised leader Aung San Suu Kyi has proved that seven years of near-total isolation from the people has not diminished her popularity”. It also noted China’s interest in the State’s natural resources like timber and gas but added that “over three decades of military rule has virtually pauperised the nation” and “repression and poverty have compelled lakhs of people to seek shelter in neighbouring countries like Thailand, Bangladesh and India”.
Writing in The Times of India (November 16), Brahma Chellaney who is professor at Centre for Policy Research suggested that with the release of Suu Kyi “it is time for the US and its European partners to moderate their sanction policy against Myanmar” so as to create incentives for greater openness”. “Why” asked Chellaney, “deny Burma the international trade opportunities that have allowed the world’s biggest executioner China to prosper?” Chellaney said that “economic sanctions, even if justified, have produced the wrong results” and “years of sanctions have left Burma without an entrepreneurial class or civil society, but saddled with an all-powerful military as the solo functioning institution”.
The paper itself was brief in its comments. It said that the release of Suu Kyi “provides an opportunity to resolve the political deadlock in the country” noting that “ordinary people have been affected by the sanctions far more than the country’s military rulers”. Delhi, said the paper, “must play its part in this by encouraging and facilitating talks between Suu Kyi and the government… while simultaneously nudging them on the path of democratic reform, which would bring in political stability as well as international acceptability.”
MR Narayan Swamy writing in The Sentinel correctly pointed out that Myanmar “is one of the few spots where India does not see eye to eye with the US- for good reasons”. The reality is that, said Narayan Swamy, “Myanmar is the only country in India’s immediate neighbourhood which has not played the China card against New Delhi, despite Beijing’s growing shadow”. Also, said Narayan Swamy “Myanmar did not promote insurgency directed at India and India cannot – and will not – ignore this”.
A point worth remembering. But, by and large, the Indian media has done very little to ‘inform and educate’ its readers about Myanmar. Shouldn’t we know about our neighbouring state which has for long been ignored? The Hindu (November 16 ) carried an article by Rajiv Bhatia who had served as Indian Ambassador to Myanmar from 2002 to 2005. (Incidentally, readers in recent times may have noticed an interesting phenomenon which is the increasing number of retired Indian Foreign Service officers taking to writing on political affairs, which is to be welcomed, if only because they can speak with some authority). Bhatia noted that the military in Myanmar “still has its hand on all lovers of State power while Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), on the other hand, retains her massive popularity”.
According to Bhatia, “Myanmar needs cooperation, not confrontation, between the military and political forces represented by ASSK” though “innumerable attempts to promote it have failed in the past”. “If they have the flexibility and wisdom, both camps might realise that each needs the other, that each needs to reduce the antagonism to the other”. Added Bhatia: “The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India have a special responsibility, particularly as the Myanmar political drama hangs in balance today.” All this doesn’t necceassrily suggest that the media has done its job.
A deeper study of Myanmar, its society, its economy, its problems, its relationship with China, Japan, India the United States etc need to be looked into. For Doordarshan it presents a special challenge as indeed to all television channels. So far they have failed in their duty to present Myanmar-its people, its places, its religion, its history-in all its faces or what are TV channels for?
The fact is that in today’s world of super technological development and instant news, media lords do not think it is worthwhile to appoint foreign correspondents. Writing in The Telegraph (November 11) Ashok Ganguly lamented the media’s behaviour during Barack Obama’s recent visit, wondering “if freedom of the press has gone overboard”. Watching TV channels one wonders whether any country like Myanmar or Bangladesh exists. Bangladesh, for instance, is going through a whole lot of important changes like reverting to secularism and about the only paper to give it some thought is the Guwahati-based The Sentinel because, one suspects, it is literally next door to Bangladesh!