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Military coup in Myanmar: concerns regarding India


  • The Myanmar military seized power in a coup and declared a state of emergency in the country for a year.
  • Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was detained along with other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, as the military declared void their landslide victory at the polls.

Myanmar as a nation till now:

  • Myanmar in some ways, it is very much like Pakistan in terms of its political history since the Second World War.
  • Like Pakistan, Burma or Myanmar as it now called, had a period of democracy from 1948 to 1962. The rule of the army generals began in 1961 following a coup by General Ne Win.
  • He set up a junta that started to rule the country. This military rule stretched from 1961 till 2011 when the first fair elections took place and Suu Kyi’s NLD won. The army had accepted some kind of democracy because of global pressures. In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi won the elections, once again, with a larger majority.
  • But as it turned out, despite the election results and a new constitution, Myanmar was not even “half a democracy”.
  • Armed forces were constitutionally given a position in national politics. This included a guaranteed 25 per cent of the 644 seats in the national Parliament, leaving the 476 seats to be contested in the elections. “So, in the latest elections of the 476 seats, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won 396 seats.
  • Interestingly, Aung San Suu Kyi was kept away from the presidential seat since in the Constitution that was drawn up, the military had inserted a line, possibly directed at Suu Kyi who had married British national that says that anybody who marries a foreigner cannot be the president of Myanmar.

Cause of concern for India:

  • A bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia, Myanmar has loomed large on India’s diplomatic horizon. Blending business, culture and diplomacy, there is a strong connect between the two countries. Buddhism, Business, Bollywood, Bharatnatyam and Burma teak — these are the five Bs that frame India-Myanmar relations in popular imagination. Moving beyond this rich configuration, the relations are now acquiring greater economic weight and strategic orientation.
  • The importance of Myanmar for India is all-too-obvious: India and Myanmar share a long land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Nurturing all-round relations with Myanmar is crucial to the economic transformation of India’s north-eastern states. Myanmar is also critical to India’s national security. The two countries have sealed a pact to share real time intelligence to combat Indian insurgents operating out of the border region. The pact envisages the conduct of coordinated patrols on each side of the border and maritime boundary and entails exchange of information to jointly combat insurgency, arms smuggling and drug, human and wildlife trafficking
  • India has stepped up its strategic engagement with Myanmar because of insurgent groups from the Northeast which have set up base in Myanmar. Myanmar has let India reach out and carry out raids against Indian insurgent groups across the border. Also, India is now selling Myanmar quite a bit of military hardware.
  • The biggest stake of all is Sittwe in the Rakhine province where India has built a large, deep seaport. The location of the port, which will play a central role in connecting the Northeast region to the sea.
  • Also the coup may trigger the inward movement of refugees from Myanmar to India which will be very hard to handle especially in these difficult times.
  • Myanmar is an important strategic neighbour of India in terms of trade, internal security and to keep a check on china’s expansionist policy. Myanmar has also historically landed support to India on various matters. An example being Myanmar importing more than a million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from India while putting China’s 50k doses on hold.
  • A pro-military tilt, moreover, risks alienating democratic forces in Myanmar, pushing them closer to China, and giving that country greater popular legitimacy.
  • What the Myanmar coup has done is create additional complications by introducing a fresh fluidity in that murky world of shifting allegiances in which insurgents, drugs, and spies move. With so many actors and so many clashing interests, big and small, it is impossible to predict where all this is going. The Naga peace talks with the Indian government appear to have stalled. The Meitei militants are in sullen silence, biding their time. There is unrest among Kuki groups which are related to the Mizos and the Chins of Burma. In Assam, there is a ferment because of mainstream electoral politics. The protests related to the National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act were halted by COVID-19but the issues themselves are still unresolved, and will no doubt resurface in some manner during the forthcoming polls. Across the border in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s grip on the country is increasingly hard, brittle and unpopular. The Rohingya issue there and in neighbouring Myanmar also shows no signs of being resolved. And, of course, now there is the prospect of unrest in Myanmar, both within the Bamar majority and between the military and various ethnic armies.

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