1 Oct 2007, 0119 hrs IST,Rashmee Roshan Lall
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Forty-one days after the protests began in Myanmar and blood once more was spilt on its streets, the talk in European capitals is all about bringing pressure to bear on India to "do something".
From the UK PM downwards, there are ever-louder calls for New Delhi to speak out and suffer the financial pain of losing the trust of Myanmar's military junta.
New Delhi, it's argued, has a special responsibility as the world's largest democracy, to export its values to its eastern neighbour. Europe believes, with some justification, that forcefully-expressed Indian disapproval would be a powerful antidote to the junta's rising repressiveness because it sells guns, gives loans and gladly does deals with Myanmar's generals.
But this would mean India finally accepting the price of putting principles before profit. It goes without saying that a new negativism from New Delhi about Myanmar would potentially imperil the massive Shwe gas project deal, in which ONGC Videsh and GAIL are partners under the leadership of South Korea's Daewoo. This would affect India badly, but not unsustainably, in its attempt to worst equally energy-hungry China in the near-neighbourhood. But trouble with the Shwe project would also hurt the junta. Shwe is expected to become the regime's largest single source of revenue, providing $580 million every year for the regime for 20 years. India, therefore, may hold the trump card in Myanmar's wretched impasse.
So far, so true. But what of the decades of European and British intransigence? Last Friday, UK PM Gordon Brown appeared to lead the way to new European activism towards Myanmar's abortive democracy movement, while placing immense moral responsibility on India. "I want to see all the pressures of the world put on this regime now — sanctions, the pressure of the UN, pressure from China and all the countries in the region, India, pressure from the whole of the world", he said. Brown also had a personal chat with the high-profile Burma Campaign UK. Its director Mark Farmaner told TOI that Brown had pledged to push for stronger sanctions by the EU. Even as one writes, European capitals are negotiating amongst themselves on a new " Burma hardline".
European strongarm tactics would boost the muscular force of the free Myanmar movement. After all, France's largest company, Total Oil, is the largest European investor in Myanmar. Though Britain officially discourages trade, foreign companies from all over the world continue to plough money into Yangon through British subsidiary companies based in British overseas dependent territories such as the Virgin Islands. According to Yangon's own figures, in the 15 years since 1988, more than a billion dollars in investment from Britain has poured into Myanmar. Right now, Europe's three-year limited investment ban, is a jolly jape, preventing money going into Myanmar's pineapple juice factories, but not its lucrative and large gas, oil, mining or timber sectors.
Clearly Europe's stance on Myanmar is all about hype and hypocrisy. It is indisputable that India must do its bit for democracy. But so too must Europe, with equally forceful measures that hurt the collective European wallet just as much as India's pocketbook.
George Orwell, who once served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, wrote when he resigned his commission and wrote his first novel, Burmese Days, that he wanted "to escape not merely from imperialism but from every form of man's dominion over man". Seventy-three years after Burmese Days, Orwell's hope for Burma remains stifled by economic colonialism of every colour and race.