Confusions Burma As A Nation, Ethnicity-Based Politics
I once read an article written by some one on the Union of Burma as ‘Confusions, Burma as a nation, ethnicity-based politics being so confused . So it gives me an idea to write about it also as I usually feel that many people in the Union of Burma are confused about this as they are ignorant of the history of the Union of Burma or some though they know may turn deaf ears to it. Some believe that the Union of Burma should be under the Burmese/Burmans control as a unitary state as it is the most populated ethnic group in the Union. This is what the Burmese Generals have been about as it has been the doctrine of General Ne Win. They had house arrested him and let him die as an accused, but every method of his is being held high by the Burmese generals.
Some few people in democracy forces who were born and brought up under General Ne Win may be also indoctrinated by him that federalism is disintegration of the Union which is not in the least by witnessing many nations worldwide in federal not seceding from their federal Union. Such people may not feel like Burma proper to be one of the constituent states of the Union refusing it not knowing that no single constituent state in federal union can take the sovereign power of the federal Union in its hands by itself.
The Burmese generals still respect General Aung San, but they refuse to accept his vision for the Union of Burma to be in the form of Federal Union. That shows that they are not doing justice for the people, but they are just ruling the country for the generals themselves as power mongers**
If you read General Aung San presentation on the constitution of the Union of Burma to AFPFL convention which was accepted at the conference, the Union was to be formed of Union States joined by the Panglong Agreement signatory territories like Shan, Kachin, Chin and the Burmese kingdom as a federal Union. According to the frame work of Constitution of the Union of Burma 1947, the Union States were to be represented by one star each in the Union flag. Dr. Maung Maung explained bout the stars in the flag of the Union according to the 1947 Union constitution as :
“The five small stars represented the Mon-Burmese-Arakanese, grouped as one (representing the last Burmese Kingdom), the Karen, the Shans, the Kachins and Chins clustering round the big star, the Union, in shining unity.” [Burma’s Constitution by Dr. Maung Maung at P.231-240]. That means the big star in the center represents the federal Union surrounded by other five smaller stars each representing(Mon-Burmese-Arakanese, grouped as one ( representing the last Burmese kingdom), Karen, Shans, Kachins and Chins. This flag design was confirmed in the 1947 Union constitution and this flag is still used as the official flag of the Union by the democracy forces and the National Coaliton Government of the Union of Burma.
The Burmese kingdom which was under king Thibaw before British annexation was represented by General Aung San , and Chin, Kachin and Shans were represented by their respective representatives in the Panglong Agreement.
The chore of Panglong Agreement was to immediately free their respective territories from any colonialism including the British colonialism. So what the AFPFL accept, the plan of the Union constitution to be formed of Union States at the AFPFL conference led by General Aung San, was to reflect the chore of the Panglong Agreement.
General Aung San seemed to be able to foresee that any constituent states of the Union will not be willing to secede from the Union if equality among the constituent states be provided through federalism in the Union constitution. The constituent territories of the ethnic people of the Union of Burma in the world map could be seen in the shape bounded by nature as a geographical unit territory to be a country . This feature seemed to lure the founding fathers of the Union that to form a union in one country could more be beneficial to all of them. But not very sure about that, the secession right clause was provided in the 1947 Union constitution section 201 to 206 to safe guard equality of all the constituent states large or small in population or territory like in the case of the constituent states of the United States of America.
Federalism was originated from United states of America in their constitution similar to the several colony countries being together under the British empire. The British in that way had only domination over the colonies in some few external subjects giving each colony the right to have internal self determination. The Federal Union of the United States of America was formed originally by 13 colonies with equal representatives from each colony no matter big or small in population or geographical size of the constituent states of the federal Union in the congress. Thus, we can say that the federal government took over power of the British which it practiced over the 13 colonies sharing to each colony equal power in the federal government after independence.
The vision of General Aung San and the founding fathers of the Union from the Panglong Agreement for the Union of Burma was like the US federalism to form federal Union by the several independent territories before British annexation so that the power of the British which it practiced over them could also be taken by the federal government when the British government was to withdraw their imperial administration from British Burma. The several independent territories like Chin, Kachin, Shan and the Burmese kingdom before British annexation were held together as colony territories under the governor of British Burma like American 13 colonies were held together by the British governor having self determination in their respective territories.
That different independent territories under British Burma governor were to form a federal Union in which every constituent state shall have equal share of power in the Union government according to the constitutional plan accepted by the AFPFL conference . But as we shall explain in the succeeding paragraphs, his successor violate the federal vision of General Aung San. The kingdom territory under the last Burmese king Thibaw was made substituting the place of the British imperialism over the rest of the territories of the people of the Panglong agreement signatories.
It was really betraying General Aung San vision of federalism and the chore of Panglong Agreement. His successor in the 1947 constitution betrayed his vision of equality among the signatory territories that the constitution in unitary form was aimed to wipe out slowly and indirectly the existence of the distinct national identities of the people and the territories of the agreement signatories in the long run. *This fact could be what many people could not see and comprehend it.
We have to be very clear that *the constituent states of the Union of Burma were not the territories that were split from the Burmese kingdom under king Thibaw into several constituent states to form a union. But they had been independent territories with their own respective definite territories under their respective rulers outside the Burmese kingdom since pre British annexation. *This point I believe is what many writers are not clear about.*** The territories of the Panglong Agreement signatory people other than Burma proper even today would be even larger than present Burma proper-(The territory of the Burmans or Burmese kingdom under the last Burmese king Thibaw).
*A country or a nation has never been counted on population. But they have been counted on the definite boundaries of their respective territories. There is no international law and rules that the nations with thickly populated people could expand their international boundaries into the thinly populated countries. If such is the case, those most thickly populated countries like India, China and many other thickly populated countries would expand their international boundary into their neighboring countries. But they can not do it as the international law and the world do not accept it in the international law. However any country can increase their population if they can control health and economics to increase their country population. *So could the thinly populated constituent states in a country could do it.
So *it is not the population of a country or state which count equality among the nations, but it is the definite boundary of their territories which counts for their equality as states with other states in the UN and within the constituent states of a union country. Think of the city state Singapore having the same representatives in the UN General Assembly as India and China. It is so because equalitry among nations is not counted on population, but it is counted on their territorial boundary lines recognized by the United Nations.
What General Aung San presented on the form of the constitution was the Union to be formed of these several previously independent territories with their own respective rulers and chieftains in the respective definite boundary of their dominated territories not counting not on their populations, but on their definite territories. It was said of him being even stated that each Panglong Agreement signatory constituent state of the Union would get one kyat if the Burmese state got one kyat. That was later on misinterpreted that frontier areas individual person would get one kyat if a Burmese individual person get one kyat.
But the situation at which period the statement was made indicate that each Panglong Agreement signatory territory would get one kyat if the Burmese kingdom territory get one kyat which could be interpreted that each Panglong Agreement signatory territory would get the same amount of budget with Burma proper (the Burmese kingdom). That is if the Burmese state gets one million budget so would each of the Panglong agreement signatory territory would get in the Union.
So when the Union constitution 1947 was passed as a unitary form of constitution it really was for the Burmese leaders to betray its fellow signatory people of the Panglong Agreement to make them extinct of their distinct national identities. This policy to make the non Burman extinct of their respective distinct national identities was intensified bluntly by General Ne Win and the present ruling militarism. So this is one of the main reasons why we are all against the Burmese militarism now.
If I write here an example: The Chin people claim that the Chin in their definite territory especially the Chin State today had never been a part of Burma or had it never been under any of the Burmese kings before British annexation. It was an independent territory with its definite territory under their chieftains since time immemorial and the British invaded and annexed the Chin country as a separate independent territory in 1890 outside the Burmese kingdom..
The Chin resistance war against the British invasion of their country was so fierce in 1888 that even one British soldier was awarded Victoria Cross (VC) equivalent to AungSanthuriya in Burma or US Congressional Medal, being the highest military gallantry medal in the British empire in which the sun never set. It was awarded to him at the Chin resistant battle against the invading British forces at Siallum in Tedim township in present Chin State which is now historically marked as Siallum Fort. The award showed how fiercely the Chin resistant battle was fought by both sides.
After most of the Chin territory was annexed separately outside the Burmese kingdom by the British in 1890 , a conference was held in 1892 at Calcutta, India on the future of the newly occupied Chin country. The conference was attended by the Chief Commissioners or Governors of Burma, Assam and Bengal and British India Viceroy representatives as the Chin Country was invaded in synchronization and occupied into three parts in three fronts from Burma, Assam, Bengal all of which were under British India then. It was from that conference that the law with which the newly occupied Chin territory was to administer was agreed to be drafted and passed in the Governor-General -in-Council of British India as Chin Hills Regulation in 1896. It was with this law that the Chin territory both which was now in India and Burma was ruled till India and Burma Independence outside the Provincial government of the British Burma.
The British had no right to handover the Chin country without the consent of the Chin people to be ruled by the Burmese government as it was annexed as an independent territory outside the Burmese kingdom. That was why Panglong Agreement was needed for the Chin and others to express the desire for the future of their respective people and territories as the British administration was to withdraw from British Burma. This very Panglong Agreement was the very evidence that the Chin territory and the territories of other Panglong Agreement signatories had never been a part of Burma or under the Burmese kingdom as it would not be needed had they been a part of Burma or under the Burmese kingdom. Some people want to accuse that Panglong Agreement was the British creation of divide and rule policy. This accusation is far from true. The reason is Chin country and other Panglong signatory territories had never been a part of Burma or under the Burmese king in the past as presented before.
But the successor of General Aung San changed his vision for federal Union constitution to unitary form against the vision of General Aung San and his cabinet ministers after they were all assassinated on July 19, 1947 substituting Burmese imperialism in place of the British imperialism. Burma proper supposed to be Burma state as a constituent states of the federal Union singly took the Union sovereign power in their hands making the rest of their fellow Panglong signatory territories to be the colony states of the Burman state( Burma proper).That was a blantant betrayal of the Panglong Agreement.
The representatives of the non-Buman territories in the Union parliament were less than one third of the Union Parliament. That is Burma proper members of Parliament who were more than two third of the Union parliament can amend even the Union constitution as they please in two third votes in the Union parliament. The number of the representatives of the non-Burman territories in the Union parliament being less than one third of the whole Union parliament was the same as having no representatives in the Union parliament as they had no enough number of representatives to balance what ever was voted only in the interest of the Burmese or Burmans in the Union parliament. That was made true by a former Prime Minister of the Union to make Buddhism to be the State religion only in the interest of the overwhelming majority of the Burmese Buddhist representatives in the Union parliament though the members of parliament from the constituent states voted against it.
Thus Members of Parliament from Burma proper can amend any constitution provisions with their overwhelming more than 2/3 votes majority in the Union parliament and could pass any law in the Union Parliament even to legally kill all the non Barman if they wish. It was very dangerous for the non Burman to be in such situation and that was what they have been suffering now for over 40 years. Thus in such circumstances Panglong Agreement signatory national territories other than the Burmans or Burmese had no any constitutional protection to balance the Burman votes in the 1947 Union constitution. *This point seems to be what many politicians and writers could not comprehend the defenselessness of the non Burman to protect themselves constitutionally. The name “Burma” is colloquial form in speaking and ‘Myanma’ is written form of Burmese language meaning the same thing. So is the meaning of the terms Burman and the Burmese the same in both cases.
The Union constitution and its constitutional government was fiercely defended by the Chin and Kachin armed force battalions in February 1949 while the constitutional government of the Union in Rangoon was at the brink of falling to multi insurgencies. One of the Chin soldiers also was the only one awarded Aungsanthuriya medal alive in fiercely fighting defending the Union constitution and its constitutional government as the fore fathers of the Chin people made the British soldier got VC in their fierce fighting against the invading forces of the British in 1888.
Had it not been fiercely defended by the Chin and Kachin battalions on that faithful day of February in 1949, Rangoon government, which it was called at that time, was deciding to flee Rangoon to be occupied totally by the multi-insurgencies. The battle ground at which the Chin-Kachin two companies fiercely fought against the overflowing enemies was only at a position of 7 miles from Rangoon on that faithful day. The enemy by that time had in their hands the text of the declaration of their occupation of Rangoon to the world from the nation radio from Rangoon capital of the Union.
The fate of Burma proper today was beyond we could tell had it not been the fierce fighting resistance of the Chin and Kachin two companies commanded by two Chin captains each with each company who defended Rangoon against the forces coming with amour cars in full arms and ammunitions in overwhelming number of the two companies Chin-Kachin forces at athe frontlinr batttle only seven miles from central – downtown Ranggoo(Yangon)
If the Chin and Kachin wanted to secede from the Union, they could have done it very easily in those days for there was no enough Burmese armed forces to fight against them as the Burmese armed forces were not properly set up as yet. The Burmese armed forces of few battalions in those days all went under ground against the Union Constitutional Government with the Burmese Communist Party. But Chin -Kachin forces did not seccede from the Union then as they were loyal to the Panglong Agreement and the Union constitutional Government with the hope that the weakness of the 1947 Union constitution could be amended in peaceful means according to the amendment provisions in the constitution itself. It was also mainly the non-Burman battalions like Kachin and Chin etc. who cleared out the multi- insurgencies especially in upper Burma against Burma Communist party after Independence.
The Union constitution 1947 and its constitutional government was overthrown by the predecessors of this ruling military regime led by General Ne Win in March 1962 against the idea of amending the constitution in federal form accusing that federalism was disintegration of the Union while the Union constitution was in the process to be amended in federal form in the Union parliament.
The non Burman territories are now strongly holding to amend or rewrite the Union constitution in federal form under democracy and Daw Suu and the Burmese Exile Government Prime Minister often declare that the Union constitution be in federal form in the future.
So I think that there is no confusions of the Union of Burma to be a nation in ethnicity-based politics if we all really believe in true democracy and peaceful co existence of all the people of the Union in their respective national territories.
Thanks, Lian Uk.
[Lian Uk is independent elected MP from Haka, the capital of Chin state during 1990 general election in Burma. He served long term jail sentenced during Gen. Ne Win rule for suggesting 1974 constitution drafting committee that Burma should be a federal state based on democracy and ethnic equality
By Lian Uk
November 10, 2003