The Public Weal

Excerpts from speeches by the honorable U Nu, Prime Minister of the Union of Burma

Nowadays, we are so used to eating only refined white rice we may find it rather hard to change over to “lone-dee.” I quite realize that. You see, while I was in prison under the British, I had to take “lone-dee” rice served in metal plates. The smell of bran and the brownish color of the rice were really nauseating at first. We kicked up a row and white rice was given instead. But we soon felt the difference in our health and had to ask for “lone-dee” again. Once we were accustomed to it, we found the smell of bran quite pleasant and far from repulsive. And in spite of the very strenuous work the prisoners were required to do, they kept wonderfully sturdy. The only explanation was the “lone-dee” rice. Those who obtained polished rice from outside developed beriberi. The wag who coined the well-known Burmese saying, “You are my only love; all else are bran and husk,” betrayed ignorance of the priceless qualities of the bran…

I am personally in favor of enacting legislation requiring the milling of “lone-dee” rice only, so that the people will have no other choice but to eat it. But I know there will be strong protests. I am, however, not afraid of such protests, because my measure will be in the public interest. It is like “forcibly lifting a man up to heaven, seizing him by the neck,” as our Burmese saying goes.

I attempted to get the necessary legislation passed, but I found myself one against many. As you all know, “Lord Buddha could not prevail against the collective wish of the Sangha.” The public should first be educated to the virtues of “lone-dee,” I was told. Such proposals, of course, do not fit in with my temperament, as I have a weakness for quick decisions and immediate action. But for practical purposes I have to give in…

We have determined to save the poor masses by all possible means…The Government will purchase vitamins from foreign firms, while steps are being taken to set up state-owned plants which will manufacture these tablets by the million.

ON GOVERNMENT IN BUSINESS

(From a speech on the new Four-Year Plan, June, 1957)

In order to step up production in the economic field, the operation of all industrial and mining enterprises, except certain key projects, should not be entrusted solely to those who are only interested in getting salaries. They should be entrusted also to those who have profit motives.

If the Government continues to operate these enterprises, the salary-earners in charge of operations will go to their jobs as if going to picnics, without achieving results, like the Burmese proverb, “Mauing Pon cannot yet play the harp although silk strings are no more.” The result will be just squandering public funds.

From practical experience, I no longer like to see the Government’s finger in all sorts of economic pies. If it is allowed to go on unchecked, then due to lack of proper supervision and efficient management, the state enterprises will sooner or later only line the pockets of thieves and pilferers…In the circumstances, from now on, the Government will only concentrate on key economic projects.

As a second step, with a view to Union solidarity, facilities must he given to the people of the country – and especially to Government servants and workers in industrial factories – to buy shares in these enterprises. Such participation will encourage their interest in the stability of the Union.

ON NEGOTIATING WITH THE REBELS

(Further extracts from the same speech)

Since the insurgents are also among those who can help in the creation of a Pyidawtha (Happy Land) let me once again take this opportunity to beckon to them to come out of the darkness into light.

There has been, unfortunately, no perceptible progress in this matter of multicolored rebels coming into the light. As all of you are aware, they have rejected four offers of amnesty. In the last amnesty offer, in 1955, we even offered to legalize their political parties and allow them to contest in the general election if they wanted to, if only they would surrender their arms. But the rebels and their aboveground allies continue to press for negotiated settlement. This would provide them with the breathing space they need so much and thereby pave the way for further rebellions. The Government is averse to the idea of any negotiation. The situation therefore is static…

The so-called vendors of peace, such as the Peace Committee headed by Sayagi Thakin   Kodaw Hmaing who are pressing for negotiation with the rebels, have, of course, no responsibilities. The persistence reminds me of a notorious medicine man called Sayagi “Diamond Dagger” about whom I heard in my youth.

This sayagi would prescribe one standard medicine for all ills. One day a patient was given his famous medicine, but soon his son came running back to report, “Sir, my father is breathing hard.” The sayagi told him to administer another dose, but half an hour later the boy was back again say that his father was hot all over and having apoplectic fits. Another dose, and the father’s jaws stuck and he became unconscious. Still the sayagi did not lose his composure and ordered another dose. When next the boy returned he was in tears and informed the sayagi that his father was dead. At this the sayagi turned his face upward, looked blankly at the ceiling for two minutes and in slow drawl muttered, “That damned Diamond Dagger always acts like this.”

Let us assume that we accept these peace vendors’ offer of negotiation with the rebels, and then, at the earliest opportunity, the rebels once again go underground in accordance with their set policy and program. When the people go to these peace vendors and implore them, “Sayagis, the multicolored rebels have once again gone underground…please help us,” what do you think these peace vendors will do? They will look blankly at the betel-leaf box and spittoon before them for two minutes and drawl in slow tones like “Diamond Dagger,” “Those damned rebels always act like this.” Beyond that, they are not capable of doing anything to protect the people against the rebels.

No, we are not in a position to accept such belated repentance. Steps must be taken to prevent the recurrence of such things. Delayed action on our part will amount to fixing the rebels’ ropes around the necks of the people who have entrusted us with power. We will not, under any circumstances, acquiesce in such shameful surrender.

Prime Minister U Nu was born in 1907 at Wakema in Myaungyma District. Educated at Myoma National Boys High School and the University of Rangoon, he began his political career as president of the University Students' Union. He became a leader of the nationalist Thakin movement and was jailed by the British during World War II. Released when the Japanese overran Burma, he served as Foreign Minister in Dr. Ba Maw's Government. After the reoccupation of Burma by the Allies, he was elected Vice-President of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League and Speaker of the Constituent Assembly. On the assassination of General Aung San in 1947, he became Prime Minister and successfully negotiated with the Attlee Government for the peaceful transfer of power. A forceful writer, U Nu has published short stories, novels, and plays.
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