The U.S. Embassy in Yangon saw a visit by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to Myanmar from November 2 to 5, 2003 as “a domestic public relations success for the Burmese regime.” The visit brought gains for the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the official name of the regime that had ruled the country since 1988. The high profile that the regime accorded his visit “reflects an emerging SPDC strategy to host senior-level leaders and regional meetings to increase its legitimacy and bolster its international image.”

So ran the assessment of the Embassy in a cable dated November 14, 2003 (12088: confidential):

“Shekhawat's visit to Burma was the most senior mission by an Indian leader in 16 years... The Burmese regime pulled out all the stops for the visit, though concrete results were limited. However, from a public relations perspective, the SPDC scored a major victory and demonstrated its ability to draw in regional leaders who are keen to pursue bilateral objectives, but willing to overlook Burma's deplorable political situation. Notably absent from Shekhawat's proceedings was a human rights agenda and anything more than a passing reference to democratization.”

“The Indian Embassy here will likely maintain a veneer of support for democratization, but will actively pursue trade promotion and other exchanges to counterbalance what India perceives as unchecked (by the U.S.) Chinese influence in Burma. Ironically, Shekhawat's visit coincided with that of UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Pinheiro and the Indians thus missed an easy opportunity to address serious democracy and human rights issues with the SPDC. Indian Embassy officials told us that Shekhawat put no pressure on the regime behind the scenes and his symbolic unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the University of Rangoon received scant press coverage.”

“Meanwhile, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, inspired by the non-violence tactics of Gandhi, remains under house arrest on University Boulevard, less than a mile from the University of Rangoon and the new statue.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)