For years, Indo-Myanmar relations were virtually frozen. There has been a thaw in the last couple of years. What led to this?
When I presented my credentials to President R. Venkataraman in January 1992, he spoke of democracy, human rights and transfer of power in Myanmar. But after some time, I could notice the Indian side not using the words transfer of power or human rights. I feel this was because the Indian leadership understood what was going on in Myanmar. In fact, our leadership has tried to have better relations with all neighbours, including India.
What is the state of bilateral ties today? Are they strained because of the Nehru Award given to Aung San Suu Kyi?
Should I use the word strained? Actually its not strained. There is a slight turbulence.
Is it because of the award?
There are two things. Giving the award is one factor and having a big ceremony for it is another. According to our rules and regulations regarding receiving of awards from foreign governments and institutions, the person concerned has to take prior permission of the Myanmar Government. Similarly, the institution giving the award also has to take the permission of the Myanmar Government for doing so.
What about the Nobel Prize?
It was the same. No one took permission.
Did your government lodge a protest when the Nehru Award was given?
We said nothing when the award was announced. But when the ceremony was announced, we showed our displeasure.
Has this turbulence affected cooperation in checking insurgency and drug trafficking along Indias northeastern border?
For the time being I do not know if this cooperation has been affected. Official-level meetings are taking place. There will be another meeting soon.
What can be done to improve ties?
There are certain basic things. We do not wish to do anything that will cause any embarrassment to the Indian Government. For instance, we have never expressed our opinion on anything that may be your internal matter. Did you ever hear anything from us about Ayodhya? That is Myanmarsway of behaving with other countries. We do not interfere in the internal affairs of anyone and we feel that our neighbours should do the same. In the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, when U Nu and General Ne Win were in power, the relations were fine. I am surprised how they have changed. I wish I knew who changed the policy towards Myanmar and what were the reasons for it. Are we not behaving well? Have we done anything objectionable to India? All governments in Myanmar have been sincere. I would say India has changed, but our policy has not.
Are things likely to improve soon?
There are many factors, including Indias sincerity. Our people feel they have beensincere. They expect reciprocity from India.
Why did things go wrong?
I should not point my finger at anyone. I feel both governments would try their best to improve relations. I hope there will be no more turbulence in future as it has happened this time. Tell me, how would you feel if we gave a similar prize to someone who is doing something against India and shouting about democracy or human rights. If a far-flung country gives such an award or commits an act, it is something. But if it is done by a brother neighbour, it is different. Its tragic that more importance has been attached to the prize than relations between the two countries.
But Suu Kyi has complained that India is collaborating with Myanmar and not doing enough for democracy in her country.
Let me ask you something. What is the Indian Government collaborating with the Myanmar Government on? It is the Myanmar Government which is collabo-rating with your government to counter the problem in the North-east. At the same time you give a prize to Suu Kyi. By the way, who put pressure to give the award to Suu Kyi? Do you think your government gave it on its own or was it under pressure from somebody or some country?
You mean there was pressure from the West?
I do not know. You have lots of lobbies and NGOs, within and without India. Many things are orchestrated in the media and elsewhere against Myanmar. Some NGOs receive funds from the West.
Suu Kyi says the national convention drafting the constitution has no credibility since it lacks elected members.
The national convention does not need to have all MPs as long as it has representatives from all sections of the society, including all political parties. The national convention is not a show for a single political party. The convention is to draw up a framework for a future modern state.
Suu Kyis party was elected to power, but it was not transferred to her. Why?
Things now are different from 1990. We are going into 1996. In all countries elections are held every four years because people change their minds. So she cannot go by the 1990 polls.
She has said the military is trying to gain a permanent role through the proposed constitution.
She has been giving different excuses. Sometimes she speaks of democracy, then of power not being handed over to her. If she did not agree with the national convention, why were her representative sitting in it for the last two years? Why withdraw now? It was done by Suu Kyi on her own. There is no democracy in her party.
India has been home to dissidents from Myanmar. Any comments?
There are many joint communiques between India and Myanmar which speak of not allowing ones territory to be used against the other. But since the late 80s, India claims it has allowed these people to come here on humanitarian grounds. India and Myanmar are like brothers. If India wants democracy, it should help our government in bringing in a democracy with values. Myanmar does not need cheap democracy. Indo-Myanmar relations have to be viewed in a wider perspective, which the Indian leadership is now doing.