Myanmar’s government has not acknowledged the official headquarters of the Azad Hind Fauj of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Photograph: (India.com)
Morality must be judged from the consequence of a political action and shouldn’t become the sole axis on which diplomacy be conducted.
It happened to me for the second time. The realisation occurred slowly but it embraced me fully. Last time around when I went to South Africa with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2013 to cover BRICS summit, my excitement was shooting through the roof. The journey had given me an opportunity to see, smell and feel places associated with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. My excitement knew no bounds.
I must have marvelled 100 times on board the special plane as to how would I feel at the station where Gandhi was thrown out of the train onto the pavement because of the colour of his skin. I was excited about going to the ashram in Durban. I also had the repressed feeling of meeting grateful black men and women with a thanking smile plastered on their faces. I also felt that as an Indian, I would be able to renew a historical association at an individual level as reportage was slowly turning into a pilgrimage.
The excitement which I was barely able to contain ebbed away within minutes me stepping out of the car and getting inside the station. It was empty. It remained empty. It dawned on me that this place was no marker of anything politically significant in contemporary South Africa.
The Gandhi South Africa narrative which I read in books didn’t exist when interacted with people. Four years down the line African universities went through the wave of protest against Gandhi on grounds of being racist.
In Myanmar, I was stuck with a similar feeling about cultural connections and shared the colonial experience but again, the opposite awaited me. Within 24 hours of landing, the imagery of the famous song from the film Patanga, released in 1949 and sung by C Ravichandran and Shamshad Begum, Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon Wahan Se Kiya Hai Telephone (My lover has gone to Rangoon and has called me from there), vanished from my head.
Till date, Myanmar’s government has not acknowledged the official headquarters of the Azad Hind Fauj of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Till date, Myanmar’s government has not acknowledged the official headquarters of the Azad Hind Fauj of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In the past, the government has razed down a couple of quarter he lived in. Locals told me that the place where Rabindranath Tagore stayed is not in a good condition either. Despite the cultural connect, a disconnect is evident. The same can be said of Nepal where we share the religion.
All of this brings me to one conclusion that relationship between nations needs to be watered regularly which is based on active and current needs.
The lesson that I drew from this experience is that, what one considers to be important is not necessarily done so by the other country. I also realised that nation-states always recreate their own histories where they keep themselves at the centre, whereas view from outside remains marginal or tangential.
Why should an average Myanmaris feel strongly about Bal Gangadhar Tilak being imprisoned in Mandalay for 6 years? Indian political establishment must realise that there is a limit to the politics of connecting as hard-nosed diplomacy works better than connects.
PM Modi’s decision to not to mention Rohingya or de-hyphenation of Ramallah from Jerusalem will bring much better results than cultural closeness.
PM Modi’s decision to not to mention Rohingya or de-hyphenation of Ramallah from Jerusalem will bring much better results than cultural closeness. Political use of India's cultural history, in my opinion, should be a move targetted at the domestic audience which feels elated at the sense of Indian contribution to the world.
But there is no alternative to quid pro quo.
Whether it is Nepal, Sri Lanka or Myanmar what works in a diplomatic relationship is what I can take and what you can give me. The moralist may say that it divorces morality from the political ambit but I believe that morality must be judged from the consequence of a political action and shouldn’t become the sole axis on which diplomacy be conducted.
The current curve in the Indian diplomacy must continue to dominate lest we ourselves become the victims of West’s idea of “human right politics” and our bloated sense of cultural contribution which to me is deep nostalgia because the world is not interested in it.