By The Unionist
If we look at the constitution of the Union of Burma we will find in Chapter X under the heading “Right of Secession” the statement that “every state shall have the right to secede from the Union” and one of the conditions laid down is that the right of secession may be exercised only after ten years from the date on which the Constitution comes into operation. In two more years, the appointed ten years will have passed and if the States were to exercise their right of secession, the Union would be greatly weakened, so this question of secession is at the moment of vital and burning interest to every member of the Union.
Some people might think that the inclusion of this clause is a mistake and they might wish to amend or delete the clause but this sort of procedure would be the same as inviting disaster. We must try and solve the problem some other way.
First of all let us see (a) What is the reason underlying the provisions under Chapter X? (b) Whether there will be secession at all and if so when?
To understand the first question, we must have a knowledge of its background: the Panglong Conference of 1947 and the outcome of these provisions at the Constituent Assembly. Unless we take into consideration the historical background of the Panglong Conference and the outcome of the famous Panglong Agreement, we would not be able to come to the right conclusion. After World War I, there was political agitation and changes in India and Burma and this had some repercussions in the Shan States also. This is quite natural among the dependent nations. Added to this burning desire to liberate the country from foreign domination, the failure of the British to give sufficient protection against the Fascist invasion of the Japanese in 1942, and the brutal treatment extended by the Nipponese Imperial Army and the Kempetai during their glorious occupation from 1942 to 1945, undoubtedly added fire to the already kindled desire to free oneself from subjugation.
This noble desire, the desire to liberate oneself from slavery, has struck root in the heart of everyone, be he the Burman, the Arakanese, the Karen or the Shan.
This was the sole reason for the races to come together at the first Panglong Conference in March 1946. Bogyoke Aung San was conspicuously absent, being away in Ceylon at the time. Though no rich harvest was gained at that first Conference, it was later to prove fruitful to jointly prepare the desired seedbed and to successfully sow the seed of liberation.
In December 1946, Bogyoke came through the Karenni (Kayah) State accompanied by the present Speaker of the House of Nationalities, Sao Shwe Thaike, on a good-will mission to the Shan Stated. At Taunggyi, he won over explicit trust and affection of the people when he delivered a really effective speech at the mass rally. In that speech the point that touched the heart of the mass was when he said: “Burmans residing in Shan State! You must live together with the Shans as brethrens. Please do not bully them. If you do, you will have to answer to me.” He said this because he was sincere through and through and he meant what he said.
There was reason for him to say this and to give the pledge to see that every thing went squarely. One of the reasons was the behavior of some of his officers stationed in the Shan States during the Japanese regime, among whom were Bo Let Wa alias Bo Aung Thein, Bo Ba Tha and Bo Hteik Tin, who did a lot of damage to the people. These and probably a lot of other unpleasant incidents moved him to take adequate disciplinary action to stop further repetition. He had to do this because as a great leader aiming at consolidation, he could not possibly tolerate bullying and unfairness.
At the Second Panglong Conference held in February 1947, he assured the Frontier people that the present day Burmans were not the bureaucratic type of the past. That they had changed and could be trusted. This assurance further strengthened the relationship created in 1946, and helped the liberation tree to bear fruit. The races consolidated themselves to fight for Independence and the consequent creation of the Union. One of the vital points negotiated at the time was the Right of Secession at any time after gaining independence.
This was a sort of safeguard against unfairness and Bogyoke agreed to this in principle but suggested that this question should finally be decided at the Constituent Assembly in May 1947 at Rangoon. Hence the adoption of Chapter X of the Constitution but instead of “Secession at any time after Independence,” it was altered to “Secession only after ten years.” The idea of Bogyoke was to render assistance to the Union States during this period so that there could be no mistrust whatsoever in the new relationship. In the Yugoslav Constitution too we find similar provisions and so our Constitution is not unique. (a) The reason underlying the adoption of Chapter X in the Union Constitution is now answered fully.
The ten years period will mature in 1958 and the question (b) Will there be secession at all and if so when? –arises.
If everyone of us had the big heart and sincerity of Aung San, there would be no question of secession today, because the root cause of the rumor of secession has come as a result of the misunderstanding and misbehavior of responsible persons who create hatred among the races. Many questions in Parliament concerning the high handedness of our district officers are lightly treated. If in such cases attention and prompt action had been taken to prevent repetition there would have been cordial relations everywhere and the idea of secession would not have risen at all.
The Constitution is drafted and adopted to be respected and not be infringed. But there are many occasions of the right of the autonomous states being ignored. There are instances where the state governments were not consulted in matters of common concern. U Tun Myint of Taunggyi in his brochure “whither Shan State?” has pointed out some of the infringements of the Constitution by Burmese officers, and undesirable misbehaviors. These are facts which should not be ignored if we want to build a strong and lasting Union. It is no use blaming others; it is best to study our defects and correct ourselves in the interest of the Union.
If we can correct ourselves in this way and cultivate fairplay in all our dealings, not forgetting to respect the doctrines of Bogyoke and the constitution, the answer to question (b) would be “no Secession at any time whatsoever”. But if we cannot change our attitude towards the people of the Union States, it is likely sooner or later that we would face secession not only by Shan State but by all the other States of the Union.
If we look at the history of Europe in the period following the First World War, we will see that there was partition between Austria and Hungary and countries like Yugoslavia, Albania and Czechoslovakia appeared in place of Serbia and Montenegro. If we ask ourselves why these new states should appear, the answer is simple. The main cause is inequality, constant high-handedness and suppression by the major state. So it will be to the interest of all of us Union citizens, to correct ourselves of the mistakes of world events and strive to bring equality, right and freedom to all. It would be disadvantageous to the Shan State, if it had to secede and it will also be detrimental to the interest of the Union. It does not pay to assume superiority over others. Show by actual deeds our love and sympathy towards our brethren of the Frontier areas. There is no meaning in co-existence outside unless we can tolerate co-existence within, and has not our Lord Buddha taught us that “Purity Within means Purity Without,” and unless the inside is pure the outside cannot be pure.
The article was probably written in 1956 and appeared in the Tai Youth Magazine – Editor