Today is the 73rd anniversary of Union Day, which marks the signing of historic Panglong Agreement on the 12 February 1947 between the Kachin, Chin Hills, the Federated Shan States and the Burma Proper or Ministerial Burma, as all were then known.
This one and only legal treaty between the upland Hill Region and Ministerial Burma paved the way to form a new political entity known as “Union of Burma” on 4 January 1948, immediately after the independence from the British.
As all know, the hastily drawn Union of Burma Constitution in 1947, shortly after the assassination of U Aung San, was in form federal but in practice unitary.
This irregularity was taken advantage by the Bamar ruling elite of the day and usurped the Union or central political power, without forming a Bamar State of its own, to be on equal terms with the other ethnic nationalities and ethnic states.
In process, the Bamar-dominated government of the day took over the mantle of the British colonial master and the ethnic nationalities became some sort of a colonial subject, in stead of being equal partners. This same situation still prevails today and the nationwide insurrection comes directly from such miscalculation of the Bamar political elites.
In 1961, the then Shan State government spearheaded the federal amendment proposal, known popularly as “Shan Federal Proposal” with the endorsement of all the ethnic nationalities in Taunggyi.
The ethnic nationalities by the end of 1961 tabled the federal amendment proposal formally in the parliamentary session and while in the middle of the process, the military headed by General Ne Win staged a coup. His reason for the undertaking was given as saving the Union from disintegration, because the argument was federalism equals to the breakup of the country. In modern political vocabulary, it would be termed as Balkanization.
And since then the ethnic conflict war and the Bamar military suppression of the ethnic nationalities have been the order of the day without any sign of ending anytime soon.
But the semblance of Union image has been maintained by all successive military governments, including the present ruling quasi-civilian-military government of the National League for Democracy.
Indeed, the Burma Socilaist Programme Party (BSPP) regime tried to instill a common national identity with the name of “Myanmar”, officially promoted by 1974 BSPP constitution, without success.
And it is understandable as the label “Myanmar” is not much of a difference with “Bamar, Burman and Burmese”, which are all identified with the ruling dominant ethnic group.
Besides, a common national identity could only be forged with the agreement of all ethnic nationalities, starting with the choice of the identity tag to the essence of belonging to each other on equal basis.
In other words, the needs and values of a federal democratic political entity has to be built or at least agreed upon first and foremost. And only after the political aspirations are satisfactorily adjusted can a common national identity be formed, not before. Otherwise, we will be putting the cart before the horse, which shouldn’t be the case.
Finally, it is pointless to ask for understanding and forgiveness for the war waged on ethnic nationalities and ethnic states that is still ongoing. And holding the Union Day celebration with pomp and splendor won’t make much of a difference or the disagreement to go away.
And so the message on this Union Day will be to ask the Bamar political elite and Bamar military top brass to come to term with the Panglong Agreement of 1947, in words and deeds, and fulfill the wishes of our founding forefathers to build a federal democratic union, where all ethnic nationalities are equal and the minority of all stripes’ rights are being protected.
The Bamar leadership will witness that by simply following our forefathers’ vision, all the woes surrounding the country today will miraculously disappear.