Jailed for long, Myanmar’s champion of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, is now a free individual. She was released on Saturday with crowds cheering her and a global chorus from Washington to London to New Delhi joining in. There has been much speculation on the reasons for her release. This ranges from pressure by the US and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who are embarrassed by having a military junta in their midst. It has also been said that the military government wanted to score a public relations coup after “winning” the recently concluded elections. The exact calculation behind Suu Kyi’s release is likely to remain a secret. Its effects can, however, be presaged to an extent.
For starters, no substantial devolution of power to a new elected government is likely to occur. Further, for historical reasons, mobilizing people in a country that is more of an ethnic patchwork held together by arms is likely to prove difficult even for a leader of Suu Kyi’s stature. There are few, if any, grounds to doubt her popularity, the legitimacy of her leadership and her ability. But such is the nature of Myanmar’s divisions, fostered as they were over a period of more than a century, that it will take vast reserves of political acumen to overcome this barrier to democracy. The single biggest reason for the longevity of the military regime has been the fractured nature of opposition to its rule. Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, the Buddhist Sangha, the Myanmarese diaspora and the insurgent ethnic groups have often worked at cross-purposes, making it easy to split them.
Initial indications are that Suu Kyi understands this. Her first remarks after her release were for the people to work in a united manner if they want to attain their goals. But the journey ahead for her is long and arduous.Then, there are the external props of the military government’s support. These are mostly Chinese in nature. With a vast network of trading in natural resources and strategic linking of communication and transportation networks, China simply has too much at stake for it to back Suu Kyi. It has remained silent on her release. In case she acquires executive authority at some point of time in the future, interesting geopolitical possibilities may emerge, but until then it will be more of the same.
India has no reason to start distancing itself from the present government in Myanmar with whom it has good relations. These should be pursued and deepened. Narrow sentimentalism ought not to come in the way of national interest.
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