Ba Maw

(1893—1977) chief minister of Burma and wartime head of the Burmese administration

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(b. Maubin, 8 May 1893; d. Yangon, 1977)

Burmese; premier (1937–9), head of state (1943–5) After an education at Rangoon College, Calcutta University, Grays Inn where he was called to the bar, and Bordeaux where he earned a doctorate in literature, Dr Ba Maw became one of the towering politicians of late colonial Burma. During the final years of British rule, before the Second World War, constitutional reforms had passed a significant degree of power to indigenous elected politicians and Ba Maw was one of the most astute at seizing the opportunities engendered.

He made his mark initially as a barrister, defending the leader of the 1931 peasant revolt, Hsaya Hsan. On the back of the fame achieved as a politician who stayed within colonial law while defending the downtrodden, his small Hsinyeitha (proletarian) Party was able to form the first coalition Cabinet under the Government of Burma Act (1935) in 1937. His government fell two years later in the face of opposition from students and workers who accused him of being pro-imperialist and of aiding foreign capitalists.

Out of office, Ba Maw joined with student leaders, including the subsequent national hero, General Aung San, and the future Prime Minister U Nu, in organizing a united front called the Freedom Bloc which opposed continued British rule as well as Burmese co-operation in Britain's war against Nazi Germany. Arrested by the British, he was released by the invading Japanese in August 1942. Recognizing Ba Maw's popularity and ability to work with the youthful nationalists of the country, the Japanese made him head of a newly proclaimed independent state. Taking the title of adipati ashin minkyi, a title with royalist pretensions, Ba Maw lead a government which was recognized by Japan and the Axis powers. His brother, Dr Ba Han, helped draft a detailed planning document for the future of Burma under his supervision.

At the end of the war, Ba Maw fled Burma with the retreating Japanese army. After his capture in Japan, he was held and then released after being considered for prosecution as a war criminal. Returning to Burma, he attempted to re-establish a political career but had lost out by that time to the former students who he had opposed and worked with in the previous decade. His waning influence was subsequently expressed through occasional newspaper articles.

His memoirs, Breakthrough in Burma (1968), give his version of a turbulent political career.

Subjects: Politics.

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