Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Myanmar, Obama and We!!!

In his address to the joint session of Parliament, US President Barack Obama implored, rather decreed, that India shall not remain silent on the goings on in Myanmar. The US president did say what a number of those committed to democracy and human rights had said in the immediate past when the regime conducted a farcical election. To be fair, Obama, like his predecessors, has been demanding freedom for Burmese freedom fighter, Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been under detention for over 15 years now.

Obama insisted that he was going to be frank; he complained that ``India has often avoided these issues’’ and went on to stress that it was imperative for nations to speak on such issues. In his own words, ``It meant staying true to our own democratic principles, speaking for those who cannot and giving meaning to human rights that we say are universal’’. It is likely that our own government will soon speak up for democracy in Myanmar. Adhering to the sermons are indeed important! And in this case it may help realize India’s claims to a permanent seat in the reformed UN Security Council. What the reform would mean is for anyone to guess. Left to Obama, it ought to be a forum where the US and its acts are beyond scrutiny.

Well. The cause for democracy in Myanmar is indeed worth standing up for. One cannot overlook the facilities that George Fernandes extended to the fighters; and also the fact that there were times when some, including a few who were listening to Obama’s sermons in the Central Hall, thought otherwise. The Burmese students who lived at 3 Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyen’s Delhi would know that Tibet and its liberation from China was as much a part of that agenda. And it is in the fitness of things that India must take Obama seriously and begin looking East and speak up against the junta in Myanmar in real earnest.

Aung San Suu Kyi, should be released on 13th November, when her detention expires. It is time that we insist on that happening. Let us thank Obama for reminding us of the urgency. Let us also listen to Obama on another point. We shall avoid looking West. He may not have said so. But Obama did mean that when he set up an agenda for us. India may desist from treading the forbidden path. Lest we annoy Obama and the mighty US administration! It may cost us the sanction to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to book in the immediate context and our dream with regard to the UN Security Council.

But then, it makes sense to make it a point to begin from Myanmar and not stop just there. Columbus, after all, discovered America even if he did not set out to do that. It is possible to go around the world any which way one chooses: Eastwards or Westwards!

The fact that the world is not flat (as it was believed from Aristotle’s times) should then take us to Guantanamo Bay. It is not necessary for anyone in India to look West to reach Guantanamo Bay! And then to move further to the prisons in Bagram and Kandahar where Afgan nationals are held for many years on mere suspicions and all that done under the name of war on terror! And even before that, we may also take note of the violations across Iraq including the decision to send Tariq Aziz to death.

Well. All of these could have been argued even without waiting for Obama’s speech. But then, it becomes necessary in the wake of Obama’s invocation to Tagore and Gandhi in the course of his speech. Rabindranath Tagore did not endorse occupation of another nation in any of his writings. And Gandhi, in whose life, Obama claimed to have drawn inspiration from laid down his life standing up for the rights of Pakistan as a nation. It was indeed a moment to rejoice when the US President reminded us of Bapu’s ``simple and profound lesson’’ and that being ``to be the change we seek in the world’’. And yet it did sound absurd when he claimed that he was inspired by that all his life.

Neither Gandhi nor Tagore would have done what the US under Obama is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. For whatever it means, the US forces have spent longer time in Afghanistan than the number of years in Vietnam.

It will be appropriate here to invoke Gandhi the way Martin Luther King Jr. did. ``True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love’’. Incidentally, Obama did not fail to invoke King too. But then, like he did with Gandhi and Tagore, it was mere rhetoric. A mere mention of Mahatma Gandhi may have pleased a large number of those who sat through the sermon at the Central Hall. They too are guilty of having reduced the Mahatma into a poster boy!

To repeat, it makes sense, moral and ethical, to take Obama’s sermon forward and speak up for a democratic Myanmar. As Vice-President, Hamid Ansari, said (in his address in the same hall, minutes before Obama spoke, but went unreported in the media), the United States and India have much to do together and clearly laid down the scope for that. ``Our areas of agreement are considerable, and expanding’’ he said and stressed the need to ``venture to hope that our two countries would work purposefully for an open world based on the principles of equity and dedicated to peace, freedom and prosperity for all people’’.

Ansari invoked John Rawls that ``rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to a calculus of social interests’’. It is possible to go beyond Rawls in this sense as Amartya Sen had shown in his Idea of Justice. But then Rawls will remain relevant even for Sen. And in that sense, democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan are as important in this context as much as it is in Myanmar. Sen, incidentally, holds the US invasion of Iraq as in-justice and rests his case for justice in that mould.


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