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Myanmar Military Coup 2021 – What is India’s stand on Myanmar’s political crisis?

Myanmar Military Coup 2021 – What is India’s stand on Myanmar’s political crisis?

Relevance:

  • GS 2|| International Relations || India & its Neighbours || Myanmar

Why in the news?

  • Recently Myanmar’s generals staged a bloodless coup and imposed a state of emergency in the country.
  • Elected representatives and hundreds of civilian leaders and activists have been detained since then.

What happened during the recent Military coup?

  • The 1st February, 2021 coup was the latest coup in the history of violent and non-violent military coups in Myanmar.
  • The Myanmar military justified their takeover in February 2021 by alleging widespread voter fraud during the November 2020 general election.
  • However, foreign issues analysts believe that the coup was driven more by power, insecurity and the personal ambition of an army chief who felt he was losing control and respect amidst growing popularity of a democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Background:

  • From 1962 until 2011, successive military regimes have ruled Myanmar with Iron hands.
  • For 50 years, the military was the most powerful institution in the country. The army had control of the government, economy and every facet of life.
  • Its sustained conflict with ethnic minorities has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and rights groups have long linked soldiers to atrocities and human rights abuses, such as rape, torture and other war crimes
  • Myanmar’s military, officially known as the Tatmadaw, never really gave up political power.
  • Just a decade ago under the international pressure, the military chiefs put in place a plan that would permit the country to hold elections, liberalise the economy, and transition into a semi-democracy while still maintaining their authority.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi -a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner, formed the first civilian government with her National League for Democracy Party (NLD) after winning a landslide in elections in the country.
  • In the semi-democratic set up under the 2008 constitution, the military was allocated a quarter of seats in parliament, giving it effective veto power over constitutional amendments, and the generals kept control of three key ministries- defence, border and home affairs.
  • Thus while the Military junta sustained international pressure by setting up a semi and ineffective democratic government, it wielded the real political powers.
  • But in recent time, the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi increased significantly due to apathy and inhumane response of the Military to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

India’s response to the development in Myanmar:

  • India was among firsts to release a public statement showing concerns over the development. However, the response did not mention the name of the Military.
  • It is expected that India would adopt a cautious approach toward Myanmar.
  • It can also be expected to call for dialogue and reconciliation and would perhaps avoid criticising the generals. India may also choose to engage Myanmar military Junta

Historical aspects of India’s approach towards democratic struggle in Myanmar:

  • During the 1960s, India was uneasy with authoritarian and military regimes in its neighbourhood and it adopted an “idealistic” stand against the military junta rule.
  • India supported democratic struggles in the neighbouring countries and Myanmar was no exception.
  • Cooperation between the anti-colonial struggles in the two countries had resulted in strong ties between the Indian National Congress and Myanmar’s Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League.
  • When General Ne Win staged a coup in 1962, the inward-looking junta snapped ties with the world. India-Myanmar relations went into a deep freeze.
  • During 1988 mass protests against Military junta rule, India was vociferous in its criticism of the junta. The Indian Embassy in Yangon reportedly helped pro-democracy activists and opposition groups during the protests. India also provided refuge to activists fleeing military repression.
  • The Indian government-run All India Radio’s Burmese services broadcast anti-military content.
  • However, there was growing concern in India over the implications of supporting the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar.
  • Drawing the junta’s ire was seen to be counterproductive to India’s economic and security interests in Myanmar.
  • Myanmar’s military had turned to China for diplomatic, economic, and military support. Bilateral trade surged as did Chinese investment and supplies of weaponry to Myanmar.
  • It resulted in a strong relationship, albeit one that caused Myanmar’s deep dependence on China.
  • The Chinese presence in Myanmar and the clout Beijing wielded over the military set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi as it had grave implications for India’s security.
  • From 1993 and on, India set in motion a realpolitik or pragmatic policy toward Myanmar

Reasons which prompted India’s diplomatic and security establishment to rethink the “idealistic” pro-democracy policy toward Myanmar:

  1. China factor: India’s security interests as China was rapidly growing its clouts across the Myanmar military government which also included military presence and military corporations.
  2. Internal security concerns: India’s own internal security threats were impossible to be eliminated without active cooperation from Myanmar. Cross-border crimes such as insurgency, human trafficking, drug cartels etc. are rampant in India-Myanmar border. For eg: The military’s crackdown on anti-India militants based in Myanmar and its cooperation during counter-insurgency operations have contributed to India’s successful quelling of insurgency in the Northeast.
  3. Gateway to the south-east Asia: Myanmar is India’s gateway to east and south-east Asia. Without sound India-Myanmar bilateral relationship, India cannot develop its north-eastern states.
  4. Active cooperation from Myanmar Military: Myanmar military government has been more than willing to sustain a good relationship with India. In 2019, India emerged as Myanmar’s top arms supplier, selling $100 million of military hardware compared with China’s $47 million.

Impacts on India:

  • Possibility of more refugees: The military crackdown following mass protests may increase the inflow of refugees in India and Bangladesh. This will exacerbate an already grave problem of the large number of Rohingya crisis.
  • Threat to India’s north-eastern region: Further political instability in Myanmar can have considerable impacts on security challenges in north-east India. The insurgent groups can be reactivated.
  • More Chinese and other outsiders influence India’s immediate neighbourhood: The Military of Myanmar is overwhelmingly dependent on China for support. This may also prompt the US to deploy its forces across the Indian ocean to keep vigil.

Way forward:

The gains India made in its relations with Myanmar over the past 25 years are seen in New Delhi to be the result of its pragmatic policy of engaging with whoever is in power in Naypyidaw. India’s cautious stand on the new developments in Myanmar is unlikely to change any soon amidst increasing belligerence with assertive China.

Model Mains Question:

  1. In the backdrop of recent developments in Myanmar, critically discuss India’s approach towards democratic struggles in Myanmar.