If the irony was not ripe enough when Than Shwe visited the sight of Buddha’s enlightenment, the ‘senior general’ will visit the site where the world’s most famous non-violent protester, Mahatma Gandhi was cremated; Rajghat in New Delhi on his four day tour of India.
In a compromise Indian authorities, perhaps in appreciation of the terrible irony of the visit to Raj Ghat, have requested that the junta leader shed his uniform in favour of civilian attire for the visit to the sacred cremation grounds on the banks of the Yamuna river.
The visit has been greeted with predictable controversy, with the Indian state widely believed to view this visit, which comes in wake of a visit to Burma from Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao last month, as a practical, strategic opportunity to counter their rival’s influence.
At Jantar Mantar in New Delhi around 400 angry Burmese exiles protested on Monday. Protesters shouted slogans with a common theme to those that greeted the dictator in Bodhgaya, “Go to hell!” read many a placard.
The angry theme was finished off with the burning of an effigy of Than Shwe. The protest was, according to Kim from the Burma Centre Delhi (BCD), “like a funeral service” for Than Shwe. Many of the protesters were from the All Burma Monks Association, many who had fled to India after the September 2007 protests, known as the Saffron Revolution, that were brutally suppressed by the junta.
The crowd were addressed by senior Indian politician and former leader of the Samata Party, Jaya Jaitley, who according to Kim expressed a feeling that Than Shwe, whom she labelled a “criminal” had sullied some of India’s holiest places. She criticised the Indian government for consorting with Than Shwe over the issue of India’s north eastern rebels, whom she labelled as ‘less criminal’ than the ‘senior’ general.
The protesters also submitted a memorandum to Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh demanding that he pressure Than Shwe over the 2008 constitution and the election. Expressing how “outraged” they were by the warm welcome that India had extended to the junta leader, they said the visit was hard to “comprehend”.
“The people of Burma clearly see that the monk-killer is visiting India where Gautam Buddha was born. The junta’s promises to India have never been fulfilled” noted the memorandum.
‘Outraged’ protesters on the streets of New Delhi © Burma Centre Delhi
Whilst; “We would encourage India and other countries to send a clear message to Burma that it needs to change its course,” US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said on Friday, according to AFP.
The general started off his trip in Bodhgaya, Bihar on Sunday where he prayed and meditated at the holiest sight in the Buddhist faith and visited temples in nearby Khushinagar. He was met by protesters, many of them Buddhist monks, one of whom told DVB that; “Than Shwe brutally destroyed the Sasana (the order of Buddhist monks/the Buddhist religion). I am sad to hear someone like him, who beat up monks, is coming to Bodh Gaya. I wonder what kind of wish he would be making underneath the Bodhi tree (the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment”.
“In year 2007, [the SPDC] brutally cracked down and murdered us, the Buddhist monks. We will never forgive [Than Shwe] for this. We will never support these military leaders” he added.
On his way to the capital he stopped by in Varanassi, one of the holiest places in the Hindu faith. He arrives in the capital New Delhi on Monday night. On Tuesday he is set to meet Indian President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, the first woman President of India and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The two leaders are expected to sign a slew of treaties and agreements on cross border smuggling, terrorism, drugs and bilateral relations.
Than Shwe, 77, will no doubt relish the PR coup of visiting such auspicious sights as a guest of the world’s largest democracy. Indeed his opponent, Prime Minster elect, Aung San Suu Kyi has regularly been seen in connection with Mahatma Gandhi. She received the Mahatma Gandhi Award for International Peace and Reconciliation in July of last year and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1993, one of the Indian State’s highest honours, named after Gandhi’s comrade and India’s first Prime Minister. It was first awarded in 1965 to Burma’s first Prime Minister, U Nu.
The connection is primarily Gandhi’s notion of Satyagraha. A philosophy of non-violent resistance he successfully wielded against colonialism, but was defined by his firm, non-cooperation which he differentiated from ‘passive’ resistance. It is widely believed to have inspired many a leader not least Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Additional reporting by Khin Maung Latt