New Delhi: India took a "180-degree turn" in its approach towards Myanmar from being pro-democracy and anti-junta when Jaswant Singh was External Affairs Minister as it could not afford to surrender its influence on the country to China and Pakistan, former Union Minister Shashi Tharoor on Monday said.
He said that successive governments too followed the same policy as it did not want to miss out on the economic benefits after the discovery of natural gas in that country.
"India took a 180-degree turn. President (Pervez) Musharraf going to Yangon...and literally a week after, our Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh (was) following suit and changing the policy approach. And all governments, thereafter, decided that they cannot afford to be estranged with the next door neighbour.
"India felt it cannot afford to allow its neighbour to foment trouble on its borders in the Northeast. It could not afford to surrender its influence to China and Pakistan... It could not afford to surrender the economic benefits of natural gas and the democracy was not going to come by opposing military junta," Tharoor said.
The former Minister of State for External Affairs was speaking at the launch of a book 'Democratisation of Myanmar'.
Noting that India could not remain estranged with its neighbour when the Myanmarese government supported rebel groups, bandits and drug smugglers, Tharoor said when the 1990 elections were set aside in the country, India was the staunchest supporters of Myanmarese democracy.
"India was not only rhetorically on the side of democracy and freedom in Burma, something which many other countries were at a safer distance, it gave asylum to fleeing students, allowed them to offer their resistance movement within India, offered financial help, which was off the book and supported a pro-democracy newspaper and a radio station.
"In the first half of 1990s, India was the most tangible supporter of democracy movement in Myanmar," Tharoor said.
Quoting from a piece he wrote in 1990s after the shift in India's policy, Tharoor, whose initial posting during his stint in the UN was in Southeast Asia, said "India's policy be governed by the head rather than the heart but in the process we are losing a little bit of our soul."
"He was too harsh at that time," he added.
"When the 1990 elections were set aside, NLD leaders and workers were either exiled or arrested and then the two and half decades of ruthless and remarkably opaque military rule followed. During that period, India began by being staunch and most vocal supporter of Myanmarese democracy," Tharoor said.
He said with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) sweeping the polls, it was "troubling" to see Htin Kyaw, her close confidant, chosen to be the country's new president as the real power will be not in his hands. On the other hand, people have given mandate in the name of Suu Kyi but she still cannot be the President.
"It's troubling in two ways. It's clear that the people have voted for her and her party and for her to preside over the political destiny of the country and yet the constitution undemocratically disqualifies her from the position that will exercise the legal constitutional powers.
"But it is equally bad as a President has been elected through a Constitutional process and who in fact will not be the true ruler of the country. That is disturbing," he said.
"I find it difficult to accommodate a situation where the Office of the President will be run somebody more powerful than the President, where the Foreign Minister outranks the person who chairs the Cabinet meetings and where the decision will be in effect through a system through an informal authority rather than a Constitutional democracy," Tharoor said.
He added that principles of democracy will remain "hollow" in Myanmar if ethnic minorities, which constitute around one-third of the population, especially the Rohingya Muslims are not given an equal treatment.