By Khin Maung Saw, Berlin, Germany
A. Political way out of the AFPFL
U Nu’s government had a lot of political problems in the 50’s. The political wing of the Rakhaings
supported the oppositions. Just to punish the Rakhaings, U Nu and his deputy then U Ba Swe
promised to grant the Ra-Haung-Tha, all together more than one hundred thousand people, Burmese citizenship. After that, with these newly granted Burmese citizens’ votes some educated Bengali Muslims such as Mr. Sultan Mahmud, Mr. Abu Bawshaw, Mr. Abu Kai and Mr. Abdul Gahfar became MPs of U Nu’s party from all constituencies of the frontier districts in 1956 elections. These four Muslim Members of Parliament neither named themselves nor their followers ‘Rohingyas’ at that time, instead they called themselves ‘Arakan Muslims’.
U Nu and U Ba Swe started using the term ‘Rohingya’. Since the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister started using the term ‘Rohingya’ others too started using this term. Even the famous history professor, Prof. G. C. Luce started using the term "Rohingyas" in his lectures for the Bengali settlers living in Northern Arakan, although he has had never mentioned this terminology in his lectures in the pre-war days, and also in his books published before 1955.
There were two Muslim ministers in the AFPFL government. U Rashid was very close to U Nu and U Latiff alias U Khin Maung Latt was a protégé of U Ba Swe and U Kyaw Nyein, the First and the Second Deputy Prime Ministers. Hence, the AFPFL government wanted to grant Burmese citizenship to more Bengali settlers, if they fell under the category of ‘Yaw-haun-Tha’ (Ra-Haun-Tha).
Since that time, all Chittagonian Bengalis, whether their ancestors had lived in Arakan before the
Second World War or not, if they wanted to get Burmese citizenship they used the term "Rohanja"or ‘Rohingya’, which according to their pronunciation meaning Villagers of Rwa-Haun or ‘Ra-Haun-Tha’.
The surrendered "Mujahids" too adopted that name to prove that they were the villagers of "Rahaung" (Rohan in their pronunciation), that means they had lived there since before or after the second world war so that they could claim Burmese citizenship.
B. Premier Nu’s ‘Pendulum Tactics’ to remain in Power:
U Nu and U Ba Swe might have planned to accept the name "Rohingyas" for the Chittagonian Bengalis who became Burmese citizens eventually with the hope that these people will vote for their party, however, they were afraid to accept them as an indigenous race of Burma.
Before all these could happen, however, the ruling party, the Anti-Fascist Peoples' Freedom League (AFPFL) split into two factions, the Clean AFPFL headed by U Nu and the Stable AFPFL lead by U Ba Swe. U Ba Swe's fraction (the Stable) was supported by the majority of the AFPFL members of parliament (i.e. the ruling party). Seeing his danger by vote of no-confidence by his former comrades, U Nu promised to grant States for the Arakanese and the Mons, and he also promised to the "Arakan Muslims" leaders that he won't forget their gratitude if they could help him during that political crisis. In June 1958, U Nu's fraction narrowly escaped the vote of no-confidence submitted by U Ba Swe's fraction in the Burmese Lower House because the "Arakanese National Union Party", the party of the Mons and "Arakan Muslims" MPs together with the MPs of the main opposition party then, the leftist National United Front (NUF) party, voted for U Nu's fraction.
U Nu showed his gratitude by appointing his supporters as ministers in his new coalition government. Two NUF MPs called U Thein Pe Myint and Dr. E Maung, one Arakanese MP U Hla Tun Phru, one Mon MP U Mon Pho Cho and one "Arakan Muslim" MP Mr. Sultan Mahmud became ministers in this cabinet. Here, U Mon Pho Cho and U Hla Tun Phru were named Minister for Mon and Arakanese Affairs respectively apart from their other posts as the minister of their other ministries. Mr. Sultan Mahmud, on the other hand, was only the replacement for the other Muslim minister U Latiff alias U Khin Maung Latt who sided with the Stable Fraction of the AFPFL and voted against U Nu. Mr. Sultan Mahmud wanted to make hay while the sun shines, expected to get the lion’s share and requested U Nu to name him “the Minister for Arakan Muslim Affairs”. His request was turned down by U Nu on the grounds that the “Arakan Muslims” were in fact Chittagonian Bengalis; hence, their ancestors were settlers only and were never of the indigenous race of Arakan.
On 31st July 1958 U Nu offered an amnesty to all insurgents who would surrender themselves. Some Mujahids surrendered. They and other Bengali settlers ask for citizenship. However, this government did not last long to grant them citizenship. The government was in power for three months and seventeen days only.
In September 1958, the three leading officers from the Burma Army, namely Brigadier Tin Pe, Colonel Aung Gyi and Colonel Maung Maung went to Premier Nu's resident and demanded to transfer power officially to the military or otherwise they could not prevent the military coup planned by other officers. In the mean time Brigadier Aung Shwe (now chairman of the opposition NLD Party, the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi), the then commander of the Southern Command ordered some of his troops to occupy the Mingaladon International Airport and Insein Town, both of them are only ten miles away from Rangoon City Centre. Prime Minister U Nu had no other choice, but to surrender power to a Caretaker Government headed by General Ne Win constitutionally through the parliament just to prevent the army coup dé tat. The Caretaker Government ruled Burma until March 1960. The multi-party election was held in February 1960 in which U Nu's party won with landslide majority.
C. The first attempt of Bengali Muslims for the acceptance as an indigenous ethnic
Those Bengali leaders tried again to have their group accepted as "Indigenous Muslims" or as an
"indigenous ethnic group" of Burma as well as many people to be granted citizenship again. This time they generally used the name "The Arakan Muslims", however, occasionally they also used the name "Rohingyas" as an attempt to prove” that they are an “indigenous ethnic group” of Arakan. Unfortunately, the population of the "Rohingyas" given by them was much higher than the registered "Surrendered Mujahids" and the former villagers of Rwa Haung or Ra-Haun-Tha. The government answered that citizenship will be considered only for the people who were eligible, that means the former villagers of Rwa Haung, the former "Mujahids" and their descendants but not for the latter settlers. Their demand for an "indigenous ethnic group" was turned down again on the ground that Chittagonian Bengalis were never of the indigenous race of Arakan and they and their ancestors were settlers only, and therefore they could be considered in the same category as the Indians, the Pakistanis and the Chinese immigrants. Then their "History Professors" like Ba Tha and Maung Than Lwin began to fabricate the "Histories" as mentioned earlier. The name "Rohingya" disappeared during the Caretaker Government. It reappeared in April 1960 when U Nu was re-elected as Prime Minister. U Nu, just to please the Arakan Muslim MPs and their followers who supported him in the election, allowed broadcasting in the "Rohingya" language in the Burma Broadcasting Station (BBS) under the Foreign Languages Programme in addition to English and Hindustani, but never allowed it in the National Languages Programme. In fact, the "Rohingya" language is a Bengali Chittagong dialect.
To regain back his power, U Nu had promised many things before the election which later became contradictory to each other. For example he promised to declare Buddhism as the State Religion without considering the fact that there are two Christian majority states in Burma, namely the Kachin and the Chin States, where at least 60% of the population are Christians. The Karen (Kayin) state, however, was and is not a Christian majority state. Only 30% of the Karens in Burma are Christians. At least 35 % of Karens are Buddhist and the rest are nature worshippers. When the MPs discussed in parliament to declare Buddhism as the state religion, his own party members of the Kachin and Chin States as well as his good friend the Muslim Minister U Rashid protested and voted against it, however, the majority of the MPs voted for it and Buddhism became state religion. After that many riots started between Buddhists and Muslims and also it was the ‘Birth of the Kachin rebellion K.I.A (the Kachin Independence Army)’. He promised to grant statehood to the Rakhaings and Mons, in the mean time he wanted to grant citizenship to many illegal Bengali Muslim immigrants with the name ‘Rohingya’, just to console his Muslim minister and MPs.
In the mean time the Shans and the Kayahs, due to their rights signed in the Panlong Conference in 1947, demanded to make some amendments in the constitution so that the States in the Union of Burma have more autonomy, have equal rights and become federal states.
There was political turmoil in Burma and U Nu was totally trapped in his own promises which he could not solve easily. It became the ‘Golden opportunity’ for the Usurper General Ne Win ‘to make hay while the sun shines’ and took the ‘Lion’s Share’ and ´carried out the Army coup de tat on 2nd March 1962.
At the beginning all foreign media were trapped by Ne Win. Many British and American sources wrote Ne Win’s coup dé tat was necessary because the country was in a political dilemma.
When U Nu's government was overthrown by General Ne Win through a military coup in March 1962, the constitution was suspended. Buddhism was no more state religion, the name "Rohingya" disappeared from the Burmese political scene again. Hindustani and "Rohingya" broadcasts ended.
In 1972 the name "Rohingya" reappeared inside Burma, when the Revolutionary Council Government formed a commission called the Constitution Commission and this Commission requested citizens for suggestions. The "Rohingyas" took the opportunity and responded immediately by sending suggestions and proposals to grant them the rights of ethnic minorities and requested for an autonomous Muslim State in northern Arakan. They presented those "stories" and "created history" again. Their demands were turned down again on the ground that they and their ancestors were neither "Indigenous Muslims" nor Indigenous ethnic group of Arakan nor Burma. Some of their leaders went to Former East Pakistan and established the "Arakan Rohingya Liberation Front" under the slogan of "Rohingya National Liberation" on 15 July 1972. This "front" has very few members, not more than two hundred. They got a few help from fanatic Muslims and some rich Muslim countries but neither from the Pakistani nor Bangladeshi governments directly. After that nobody heard the name "Rohingya" again until 1978 after the first aborted ‘Naga Min Operation’. Then, the name ‘Rohingya’ reappeared in 1991, after the second aborted ‘Naga Min’ Operation.
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