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Arakanese Political Activities from 1948 to 1962

By Aman Ullah

In the general elections for the Constituent Assembly, Mr. Sultan Ahmed and Mr. Abdu Gaffar were elected from Maungdaw and Buthidaung with the tickets of Jamiat-e- Ulema, the political party of Muslim of Arakan. Since the holding of the Constituent Assembly elections till 1962 military takeover 3 general elections were held for both houses of Parliament in 1951, 1956 and 1960 respectively. In 1951 general elections Muslims won 5 seats, four in the Lower House and one in the Upper House. The AFPFL won 3 seats and the rest were captured by Ra-Ta-Nya (Rakhaing National United Organisation). The Muslims had no political party of their own. They stood either as independents or supportive group of AFPFL. In 1956 general elections Muslims retained all their five seats of north Arakan. The Ra-Ta-Nya won only about one third of the total seats; the rest were captured by AFPFL. Muslim MPs elected to the Parliament in 1956 were Mr. Sultan Ahmed, Mr. Abul Khair, Mr. Ezhar Mian, Mr. Abul Basher and Mr. Abdul Ghaffar. Prominent elected members of Ra-Ta-Nya were U Kyaw Min, U Maung Kyaw Zan, U Hla Tun Pru, U San Tun Khine, U Ba Sein, U Aung Kyaw Khine, U Paw Thein etc. A bye-election was held for Buthidaung north constituency in 1957 as the election of Mr. Ezhar Mian was challenged and the verdict was given against him. Mr. Sultan Mahmood, Ex-Parliamentary Secretary, in British India legislative Assembly, was elected and he was inducted into the cabinet of U Nu as Health minister. The Rakhaing (Buddhist) members of Parliament formed their own Independent Arakanese Parliamentary Group (IAPG). They pressed for granting ‘State’ to Arakan in the parliament but initially they were not serious. The Rees Williams Commission set up in 1947 to examine the necessity of granting ‘States’ to different areas, earlier, kept aside the question of granting statehood to Arakan. [1] Three more Regional Autonomy Commissions-Regional Autonomy Commission headed by minister U Nyo Tun (a Magh) formed in March 1948, Sir Ba Oo Commission formed in October 1948 and Kelleys Commission formed in 1950 — examined the question of granting State to Arakan.

The Regional Autonomy Commission headed by Minister U Nyo Tun consisted of 3 other members, U Kyaw Min, Accountant General, U Tin and U Tin Phet. The Commission, instead of carrying out inquiries for Regional Autonomy, submitted an interim report to the government suggesting the following immediate steps for Arakan. [2]

1. to open Pakistani consulate in Akyab and Burmese consulate in Fast-Pakistan for effectively curbing illegal immigration;
2. to suppress the insurgency more intensively;
3. to appoint officials suitable for Arakan conditions:
4. to effectively take action against government officials indulging in corruptions; and
5. to re-examine those arrested under the Public Law and Order Act, clause 5, and to release those who are ought to be released.

The Sir Ba Oo Commission was formed by Prime minister U Nu under the Chairmanship of the then Chief Justice, Sir Ba Oo, in October, 1948 under which three sub-committees for dealing with the question of Karen, Mon and Arakanese nationals respectively were formed. Each sub-committee is constituted by one representative from the State, three Burman representatives and four national representatives from the concerned area. [3] The 4-member Arakanese national representatives are U Kyaw Yin, U San Tun Aung, U Tha Tun and Mr. Sultan Ahmed. They submitted their opinion on 29th October, 1948 as follows: [4]

1. to appoint an Arakanese affairs minister and include it as a Law in the Constitution;
2. to constitute an Arakanese affairs council to assist the Arakanese affairs minister and include it as a Law in the Constitution;
3. to make rules, regulations and laws according to clause 12 of the Constitution, to be able to perform all activities of Arakan region by the Arakanese affairs minister and Arakanese affairs council in accordance with the wish of Arakan people; and
4. After five years this scheme depending upon its results shall either be re-examined and amended in accordance with the wish of Arakan people or terminated.

U Shwe Baw, the Arakanese (Rakhaing) representative of the Committee submitted the following proposals: [5]

1. to exploit the natural resources of Arakan and improve industrialisation;
2. to improve the water, land and railway communications of Arakan;
3. to upgrade education standard including higher and technological education;
4. to improve the health and treatment facilities;
5. to improve the agricultural and aquatic enterprises;
6. to deploy one or two Rakhaing battalions in permanent Army to carry out law and order in case any border problem arises in Burma’s northwest frontier;
7. to give necessary powers for rehabilitating the Rakhaing nationals living in ‘Bomang State’ (Chittagong Hill Tract) and Awa Kyun (Sundarbons);
8. to award the power of making laws and collection of revenue and
9. to grant Self rule’ in every affairs of Arakan division.

The Burman members of the Committee rejected the idea of Separate State but recommended that Arakan should be made a division under proper Burma with the right of Self rule; the power of formation of Army should be vested in the national Parliament only and rather than appointing an Arakan affairs minister and council Arakan division council should be formed which would be more effective.[6] After four years of enquiry, in 1952, although Sir Ba Oo Commission could submit its report on Karen and Mon Affairs, the report of Arakanese Affairs could not be submitted for reasons best known to them.[7] The Kelly Commission was formed under the Chairmanship of Arakan Divisional Commissioner, Mr. Kelly, on 26th July, 1950 to enquire about the possibility of granting ‘State’ to Arakan.[8] Extensive inquiries and investigations were made. But the report of the Kelley Commission was not officially announced. So the question of granting ‘State’ to Arakan lingered on without arriving to a decision. Throughout their Parliamentary tenure the Ra-Ta-Nya members acted in an unfriendly manner against the Rohingyas.

They branded Rohingyas as ‘Kalas’ or Chittagonians and did not recognise Rohingyas as their equals. They always tried to distort the image of the Rohingyas and even accused Muslim MPs of masterminding illegal entry of large number of Chittagonians into Arakan with the tacit approval of AFPFL to win elections. [9] They were allergic to citizenship question of Rohingyas. They incited Buddhist monks of Arakan to stage hunger strike against Mujahid insurrection and to use force against the Muslim Arakanese MPs on the question of making Buddhism State religion of Burma. The hostile attitude of the Ra-Ta-Nya members towards Rohingyas caused Muslim MPs to remain aloof from them and co-operate, rather, with Burman politicians When AFPFL was divided into two factions in 1958 the prospects of achieving Arakan State became very bright. Prime Minister U Nu declared that if he wins in 1960 elections, he would grant Arakan ‘State. Both the factions of AFPFL wooed the IAPC to their respective sides. But the Ra-Ta-Nya decided to support U Nu faction after getting his commitment.

The question of granting ‘State’ to Arakan was taken seriously by most of the Muslims as they feared that the Maghs would create a 1942-like situation if they come to power in Arakan. In response, the Muslims of north Arakan demanded ‘autonomy’ of their region to be directly controlled by the Central government in Rangoon without the involvement of any Magh officials or their influence whatsoever. Their minimal demand was the creation of a separate district governed by the Centre.[10] Muslim MPs raised this demand also during the debates in Parliament and in the press. Many Rohingya Socio-cultural organisations initiated frantic activities with reference to the Muslim status in Arakan.[11]

After winning the election U Nu appointed an enquiry commission to study all the problems involved in the question of Arakan. [12] The Rohingya Jamiatul Ulama submitted to this enquiry commission a long and explanatory memorandum on the position of the Muslims of north Arakan.[13] They demanded establishment of a separate district which have a district council of its own and shall be vested with local autonomy. As a compromise solution the authors of the memorandum agreed to the district being a part of the Arakan State; however they insisted that the Head of the State was to be counselled by the council in the appointment of officials and in the matters concerning the district and its problems.

The Rohingya Youth Association in a resolution of the meeting held on July 31, 1961 called upon the government not to grant ‘State’ to Arakan because of the community tensions still existing between Muslims and Buddhists since the 1942 riots.[14] A similar resolution was taken by the Rohingya Student Association, with the additional warning that if it is decided despite all protest, to set up the State; this would require the partition of Arakan and the awarding of separate autonomy to the Muslims.

Muslim members of Parliament likewise petitioned the government and the enquiry commission not to include their region in the planned Arakan ‘State’. [15] They have no objection to the creation of such a state, but only without the districts of Buthidaung, Maungdaw and part of Rathedaung where the Muslims are in majority ……… These districts must be formed into a separate unit in order to ensure the existence of the Rohingya. Forcing the creation of a single State upon all of Arakan would be likely to lead to the renewed spilling of blood.

But the Arakanese Muslim Organisation (AMO) differed in their opinion towards granting ‘State’ to Arakan. In a memorandum to the enquiry commission Sultan Mahmood, M. P., Chairman of AMO, explained that they would support the ‘State’ only on two conditions: if the Arakanese Buddhists would support their demands and if the Constitution of the ‘State’ would include, specifically, religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and educational guarantees of the Muslims. The Head of the State of the new ‘State’ of Arakan would alternate; once a Muslim, the speaker of the State Council would be a non-Muslim, but his deputy, a Muslim; and vice versa. The same arrangement would also be in effect in the appointments, committees and other bodies. No less than one-third of the State’s ministers were to be Muslims. No Law effecting Muslims would be passed unless and until the majority of the Muslim members of the Council voted for it. In the matter of appointments to jobs in Muslim areas, the Chief of ‘State’ would act on the advice of the Muslim members of his cabinet. In all appointments to government posts, to public services, to municipal positions and the like, Muslims would enjoy a just proportion in accordance with their percentage in the population. In filling the appointments allotted to the Muslims, the Muslim candidates would compete among themselves. The government would attentively meet the educational and economic needs of the Muslims. No pupil would be forced to participate in religious classes not of his own religion. Every religious sect would be allowed training in his own religion in all institutions of learning. Every and any religious sect would be permitted to set up his own educational institutions that would be recognised by the government. Muslims would be completely free to develop their own special Rohingya language and culture, and to spread their religion. A special officer for Muslim Affairs would be appointed whose job it would be to investig ate complaints and obstructions, and to report on them to the chief of ‘State’. For a period of ten years from the date of establishment of the ‘State’ the right would be reserved to every district — and especially to those of northern Arakan— to secede from the ‘State’ and transfer itself to the direct jurisdiction of the Central government in Rangoon.[16]

At long last, the government declared to set up a special ‘Mayu Frontier Administration’ (MFA) in the provinces of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and western portion of Rathedaung under the direct control of the Central government. But it was not autonomy for it would be administered by Army officers; since it was not placed under the jurisdiction of Arakan, however, the new arrangement earned the agreement of the Rohingya leaders. [17]

The actual implementation of the administration took place with effect from March 31, 1961. A special police force known as ‘Mayu Ye’ was raised with recruits from local Muslims and the law and order situation started to improve. At the beginning of 1962 the government prepared a draft law for the establishment of the ‘State’ of Arakan and in accordance with Muslim demand, excluded the Mayu district. The military revolution took place in March 1962. The new government cancelled the plan to grant ‘State’ to Arakan. But the ‘Mayu District’ remained subject to the special administration that had been set up for it till it was put under the ministry of Home Affairs in February 1, 1964.

1. The Union of Burma by Hugh Tinker p. 24
2. Union of Burma Pyithu Hlutaw (Parliament) Session Proceedings No. 1, meeting No. (7), Rangoon Government Press, 1952, pp. 106-107
3. Myanmar Politics 1958-1962 Vol. 111, pp. 178-179
4. Ibid p. 180
5. Ibid p. 181
6. Ibid p. 182483
7. Ibid p. 183
8. Members of the Commission are U Pinnya Thiha, Arakan AFPFL Chairman, U San Thu Aung, Buthidaung AFPFL Chairman, Mr. Sultan Ahmed, M.P., Mr. Abdul Gaffar MP., Mr. Furuk Ahmed, High-grade pleader, Later U Pinnya Thiha, U San Tun Aung, M.P. and Buthidaung AFPFL Chairman Withdrew from the Commission. They were replaced by U Ba Myaing, U Maung Sein and U San Tun Khaing.
9. Arakanese Buddhist leaders including Members of Parliament had always distorted the true facts, as the Burmans do, by claiming that thousands of Pakistanis (Chittagonians) entered Arakan during British period and even after independence of Burma whereas more than one million Rohingyas have been forced to leave Arakan as a result of ethnic cleansing operations since 1942. For example, see… Burma, Nationalism and Ideology by Shwe Lu Maung p. 61
10. The Muslims of Burma by Moshe Yegar p. 102
11. Ibid
12. Ibid
13. Ibid p. 103
14. Ibid
15. Ibid
16. Ibid p. 104
17. Ibid p. 105

About Author: Mr. Aman Ullah, a Rohingya historian based in Bangladesh and he was a former school teacher in Ann township and the southern part of Maungdaw, Arakan State, Myanmar, who has contributed in the field of Rohingya history and humanitarian stance.

About Author:
Mr. Aman Ullah, a Rohingya historian based in Bangladesh and he was a former school teacher in Ann township and the southern part of Maungdaw, Arakan State, Myanmar, who has contributed in the field of Rohingya history and humanitarian stance.