A possible full-scale armed revolt in Myanmar is expected to have a spill-over effect on India, which will face the ethical dilemma on how to manage relations with the eastern neighbour under military rule, a report by the Singapore-based Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) has said.
The report also said India, seen as a successful democracy, has an opportunity to build on the “reservoirs of goodwill” with many of the Myanmarese citizens, who regard China as an enabler of the junta that took control of Myanmar after a military coup in February.
The report titled The Myanmar Coup, Resistance and India’s Response: Fractured Between Words and Deeds by Jasnea Sarma and Roshni Kapur was published in June.
Four northeastern States – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram – share a 1,643-km border with Myanmar. Keeping the generals in Myanmar happy and getting them to collaborate has let India manage the volatile border, insurgencies and (unwanted) crossings and migrations, the report said.
For New Delhi, a secure northeast is one of the two prime reasons for the ‘Act East’ policy mired in the panoply of trade and connectivity.
“The junta has helped India in the past to crack down on insurgent groups that have set up their bases across the borders. This keeps refugees from Myanmar (Chin, Rakhine and Rohingya) from crossing the border into India. It particularly helps manage the ‘Rohingya situation’, keeping the refugees where they can be safely repatriated,” the study said.
This is in line with Indian’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act , which excludes Muslim refugees from becoming citizens and being registered into the National Register of Citizens. It is extremely important to see affairs in Myanmar from the vision of northeast India instead of Delhi, the study added.
But the loudest voices against the military actions in Myanmar have emerged from the border States that share religious, kinship and historical affinities with people in Myanmar, with Mizoram hosting more than 15,000 Myanmar refugees.
New Delhi should be prepared to accommodate refugees as the situation worsens in Myanmar, particularly the refugees or defectors from the borderlands who have close cultural, ethnic and religious ties with their counterparts in India, the report said.
People in the northeast are critical of India’s stance on the region, which is largely that of maintaining strict militarisation at the borderlands. Communities such as the Naga, Zo, Chin, Lai, Mara and Kuki are well aware that they have been divided by artificial borders inherited by the post-colonial India, thereby fracturing their lived realities, the report said.
“These voices and histories should be given prime space in assessing how India should approach the crisis in Myanmar, not only because their voices are often unrepresented in the national discourse, but also because the northeastern region is where India’s touted ‘Act East’ projects are taking shape,” it said.
“It is very likely that Myanmar will be heading towards a full-scale armed revolt in the remaining months of 2021, instead of a restoration of the old government or new elections. This would have spill-over effects on South Asia, and as an immediate neighbour, the region will face the ethical dilemma on how to manage relations with Myanmar.
“It will thus become important for India… to keep an informed and historically situated sight on the Tatmadaw’s ongoing and long-standing actions against the citizens of Myanmar. With such unprecedented mobilisation (even bigger than the 1988 revolution), it is very unlikely that Myanmar’s political future will have the same space for military preponderance in politics or business. India’s policy responses are best advised to take these changes into account,” the report said.
At the same time, there is an urgent need to recognise the Myanmar military’s hold on the economy and business. India should form inquiry committees to research land lease agreements with the junta for Indian investments for projects like the Adani port and the Kaladan road, the report said.
The study also advised India to use indirect diplomacy or collaboration with ASEAN, although the Burmese people do not accept the Southeast Asian bloc’s approach of working with the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military).
The report underlined India’s fears that condemning the Tatmadaw publicly would result in alienating Myanmar and pushing it closer towards China, which the U.S. and the West had done by imposing sanctions on the military-ruled country.
But India, seen as a successful democracy, has an opportunity to build on the goodwill it enjoys among much of the Myanmarese public, who see China as an enabler of the junta because of business interests. If the pro-democracy forces and the current government in exile prevail – a distinct probability given the Myanmarese public’s support – India’s lack of a strong pushback against the junta may represent a missed opportunity, the study warned.