With Neighbors Like These...

Once again India has rolled out the red carpet for Burma's aging despot Than Shwe, whose sleep has reportedly been disrupted by his deep seated fears of being hauled to The Hague for his alleged crimes against humanity.

And yet leading Indian newspapers such as The Hindu and the Times of India have come out in full support of the New Delhi ruling elite's pathetic embrace of a prospective war criminal, rationalizing and popularizing India's uncivilized Burma policy, devoid of both modern humanism and ancient wisdom.

Gandhi once famously—or infamously—remarked that western civilization would be "a nice idea" (in response to a Western fan’s question "What do you think of Western civilization?")

Were a similar question posed about today's Indian civilization, the Burmese public would be likely to come up with the same response: "Indian civilization would be a nice idea." They will indeed “look west” and witness that India has reached a new “civilizational” low with its greedy resources grab in Burma and ugly “realpolitik”.

Despite India's anglophone elite of around 200 million—many of whom are Oxbridge and Ivy League alumni—the India of today embodies neither the liberal ideals of the European Enlightenment nor the Spiritual Enlightenment of Gotama Buddha or Gotama the Enlightened.

The fanciful label “the world's largest democracy” which Indian elites often tout when it suits them means little for the Burmese. India behaves no different from today's authoritarian states in Asia or Africa. (Regarding India's eputation of being the world's largest democracy, it would be intriguing to survey the opinions of the two thirds of the country's 1 billion population who have been eternally condemned to abject poverty and social and political exclusion, thanks to Indian State policies and practices.)

To belabor the obvious, India as a nation-state is as greedy, exploitative and destructive (towards other societies as well as its own laboring classes) in its pursuit of its internal elite's interests as, say, China or Russia—neither of which pretends to be other than authoritarian.

Indeed when it comes to narrowly defined national commercial and strategic interests, no differences can be detected between Oxbridge-educated political leaders such as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese politburo members and former Soviet KGB operatives.

Some Burmese who regard India as the cradle of the world's Buddhist civilization may find it utterly revolting that while wearing “democracy” on their sleeves, present-day India's ruling elites show no sense of personal shame, global responsibility or civilizational conscience in conducting their foreign policy (be it on Burma or other resource-rich, god-forsaken places in Africa and Latin America). It runs its foreign policy as if governing a nation-state were no
different from managing a brothel—a purely business transaction (euphemistically referred to in political discourse as "realpolitik"), without any human value or vision worthy of a civilization.

India's conduct today reminds me of the "politics-is-not-about-ethics-or-compassion" reply I received from the President of Singapore S. R. Nathan, when he was Singapore's ambassador to Washington almost two decades ago. As Nathan bluntly put it, "running a country is not like running a church," implying that ethics, compassion and values don't belong to statecraft.

Nathan was responding to a question I posed during a “questions and answers” session after a lecture he delivered at the University of Wisconsin in Madison: How can your Singaporean government justify selling the Burmese military junta an unknown quantity of arms immediately after the massacre of several thousand unarmed Burmese protesters, including university students, monks, schoolchildren, housewives and even civil servants in 1988?

It hardly surprised the audience in the room that the then Singaporean ambassador to Washington would be so forthcoming about his government's world-famous immorality.
For the highly polished Cambridge- and Harvard-schooled ruling elite of this city-state neither practices nor believes in any ideal other than the profit-motive.

Casinos, amusement parks, strip-malls, money-laundering and arms deals seem to mean a great deal more to them than such "alien" ideals as "a representative government."

But the world's "largest democracy" pimping its civilizational wisdom for gas and oil, as well as out of its fear and loathing of China?

With neighbors like these the Burmese public can only expect their “hell on earth” to get worse and worse in the years to come.

Dr Zarni (m.zarni@lse.ac.uk) is research fellow on Burma at the LSE Global Governance, the London School of Economics and visiting senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University.

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