By Pangmu Shayi
Duwa Zan Hta Sin, arms folded, with Kachin friends and politicians.
Today, in the midst of a civil war that is entering its 4th anniversary, Kachins far and wide are experiencing a resurgence of interest in their cultural and political past, and a growing awareness of the need to preserve the Kachin identity. As such, due prominence to Duwa Zan Hta Sin’s standing as a trailblazer in modern Kachin politics, is given herewith to fulfill this need in some part.
Duwa Zan Hta Sin was elected to a 4-year term as head of the Kachin State government in 1956, but his tenure was cut short when Burma came under military caretaker rule in 1958. Brief though his tenure may have been, it nevertheless shaped a lasting political legacy. The image that emerged – of a principled, outspoken leader, unafraid to take on even the highest power in the land, the Prime Minister himself – has become indelibly etched in Kachin hearts and minds.
Duwa Zan Hta Sin was at the helm of the Kachin State government when the thorny issue of the 3 Kachin villages of Hpimaw, Gawlam and Kamfang, came up. Burma, in negotiations with its giant neighbor China to resolve a long-standing border dispute, was under intense pressure to handover the 3 villages which the Chinese claimed to be theirs historically.
Prime Minister U Nu in turn put pressure on Duwa Zan Hta Sin to give in to Chinese demands. But Zan Hta Sin stood his ground, saying that it was not up to him, but his constituents – the Kachin people – to make the decision. He told the Chinese point black that the villages would be handed over only if the Kachin public agreed to it. U Nu was said to have been livid with Zan Hta Sin, telling him that he had made him lose face with the Chinese.
A Rawang native from Putao, the northernmost part of Burma, Zan Hta Sin began his professional life as a school teacher. But when the new Kachin State came into being after independence, he switched to a career in politics. He joined the Kachin National Congress (KNC) party, and contested in independent Burma’s first general elections of 1952, winning a seat from the Myitkyina North constituency.
As a parliamentarian, Zan Hta Sin distinguished himself as an articulate debater, always on the ready to speak up for Kachin rights. It was due to the strong protests he made in Parliament that racial slurs against Kachins, included in a middle school Geography text book, were removed.
During a voice vote taken in Parliament over Prime Minister U Nu’s controversial proposal to make Buddhism the state religion, U Zan Hta Sin’s “Matu Bu!” or “I don’t agree”, was the lone voice heard loud and clear over live radio.
That the Kachin language program became part of the government’s Burma Broadcasting Service was also thanks to U Zan Hta Sin’s intervention.
U Zan Hta Sin’s oratory skills did not go unnoticed outside parliament either. The Nation, Burma’s leading English language daily of the time, ran a news item in its August 29, 1959 issue captioned: U Zan Hta Sin, Star Performer, which read in part:
Following his debut in Parliament during the no-confidence debate last June, U Zan Hta Sin, former Head of the Kachin State, has become well known as a public speaker. His political addresses are drawing large crowds daily.
It is the first time in history that a Kachin is able to harangue a Burmese crowd.
This was during the lead up to the February 1960 parliamentary elections that would decide which faction of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) party, the caretaker government of General Ne Win would hand over power to. The ruling AFPFL party, in 1958, had split into 2 factions. The “Clean” AFPFL with U Nu as its head, and the “Stable” AFPFL faction, led by former ministers U Ba Swe and U Kyaw Nyein.
U Zan Hta Sin aligned himself with the Swe-Nyein “Stable” AFPFL, and regularly wowed huge crowds at “Stable” rallies across Rangoon. He had a field day ridiculing U Nu’s many-splintered “Clean” faction. This was in reference to how some in the “Clean” faction had created further splits by declaring themselves “Cleaner” and “Cleanest”, in efforts to distance themselves from what they considered undesirable elements within the party.
U Zan Hta Sin also published a booklet “Democracy Byaungbyan” or “Reversed Democracy”, in which he attacked the double standards of U Nu’s brand of democracy. The book recounts the many instances the Prime Minister interfered in Kachin State affairs in a most undemocratic way. Among other things, U Zan Hta Sin took issue with U Nu for availing himself to form a government after winning Parliamentary elections by a slim majority of 8 votes, while barring the KNC, in a similar situation in the Kachin Council, to form a government.
U Zan Hta Sin proved himself to be a man of unyielding principles when he refused to accept the bags of rice offered by fellow Rawang, U Dingra Tang, then Chairman of the Kachin State Council. It was1967, a time when Burma, once the rice bowl of SE Asia, was going through an unprecedented rice crisis under the disastrous rule of U Ne Win’s Burmese Socialist Program Party. It was a time when ordinary citizens were being forced to subsist on meager rations of rice, with many having to resort to rice gruel in lieu of regular rice meals.
A different kind of reaction might be imagined to the act of generosity described by Wendy Law Yone in her book, “Golden Parasol: A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma”. She writes that her father U Law Yone, famed editor of The Nation, “When he heard an old friend Zan Hta Sin, former minister of Kachin State, was dying of tuberculosis of the spine, left (a) sum for his medical care.”
By Kachin land news