The Meaning of “Bamar one Kyat, Shan one Kyat”

newspictures_2014_jan-feb-mar_tiger-as-editorLast Saturday, 14 May, I was invited to attend a workshop on briefing papers for decision-makers organized by the Chiangmai –based Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC).
Briefing papers, or briefs as we know, are information sheets of 2-5 pages where complex questions are answered for leaders who, according to the  Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), are “usually non-academic, time poor, have their own political biases, want information quickly, (and) will make decisions based on the information that you provide.”
The Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue, which I have the honor to head, has long wanted to do that. But, up to their necks in their work with political parties, CSOs, and the day-to-day technical problems of the peace process, the shorthanded PI simply hasn’t time to do it.
ENAC’s work was therefore most welcomed by the EAO representatives, many of whom are involved in the negotiations with the government and the army.
One question was raised by a participant, who had attended the First Union Peace Conference (UPC#1) in January. According to him, one of the most prominent leading members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) had voiced objection to the well-known mantra by the late Aung San: “Bamar one Kyat, Shan one Kyat” during his campaign to win over the non-Burmans to join the then Ministerial Burma for joint independence from the British.
“It is not fair to the Burmese, who are the majority in the country,” he was quoted as saying.
I was surprised, triply so to say:
  • Because, I, like many others, had always thought that the statement was a granted one, by both Burmans and non-Burmans alike
  • Because, the dispute, of all the hundreds of participants at the UPC, was coming from the NLD, the party that is led by the daughter of Aung San
  • Because the said NLD leader, in rejecting the statement, was not only going against the non-Burmans but even against the party’s spiritual leader
What the gentleman should have done, I told the workshop, was to ask why instead of disputing the words of his (and the country’s) own leader.
Anyway, I was glad to be of help to most of the audience who were younger and less well read.
Aung San, I informed them, when he said, “Bamar one Kyat, Shan one Kyat,” did not mean the whole Ministerial Burma, now known as Burma Proper which is being divided into 7 regions, would get one Kyat, and the whole Shan State (then known as Federated Shan States) would be getting the same. “He was speaking in terms of population, not in terms of state.
It means one Bamar one Kyat, and one Shan one Kyat. Suppose there are 50 Burmans and 10 Shans, the Burmans get 50 Kyat and the Shans 10 Kyat.”
When I got back home, I remembered to pick up U Tun Myint Taunggyi’s “Shan State’s Grievances,” published in 1957.
And there it was. According to the 1952-53 Fiscal Year statistics:
Population                   Expense per capita     Expense per capita (by percentage)
Burma Proper             14.7 million                 15.63 Kyat                               1 Kyat
Shan State                   1.6 million                   7.55 Kyat                                 0.48 Kyat
Which clearly demonstrates that even in the 14 year democratic days, it was “Bamar one Kyat, Shan half a Kyat” in practice.
I just hope somebody can do the same for the post-1962 coup days, and particularly the post 2010 period, when the statistics are said to be more reliable.
Then we will certainly know whether or not the country really enjoys equitable share of wealth, one of the key principles of federation. And what to do about it.


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