There is a great deal of misunderstanding about Indian policy towards Myanmar. India has been in a ‘Catch-22’ situation and on the horns of a moral and political dilemma; whatever policy India adopts will be questioned for different reasons by many, both within and outside the country. This is an attempt to provide an insight to the rationale for this policy being what it has been - a strategically pre-emptive effort to forestall Myanmar, a next door neighbor, from becoming a vehicle through which huge problems could be created for India.
When India became independent in 1947, it adopted democracy as its form of government and governance despite heavy odds in terms of very poor socio-economic indicators but has made it work quite successfully, a shining rarity in the third world. India is proud of being the world’s largest democracy and would like that other countries should be similarly blessed.
However, proactively supporting democracy movements in other countries can be dangerously counterproductive. India did this once and, ironically, that was in Myanmar and paid a very heavy price. Between 1988 and 1991 India, alone amongst Myanmar’s neighbours, came out with fierce criticism of the military rulers and their brutal suppression of the pro-democracy elements, gave material support to democracy activists in Rangoon, set up refugee camps in Manipur and Mizoram where political activists were accommodated and allowed freedom to express their views openly. State owned and run All India Radio carried fiery broadcasts by U Nu’s daughter, using strong and even abusive language against the junta’s leaders. India’s reactions were much stronger than that of any other country. The junta was perfectly aware of Aung San Suu Kyi’s longstanding and strong India connections. However, India’s efforts neither helped her nor the cause of democracy. The repression became harsher. This Indian attitude combined with the West’s denunciation and shunning of the country, drove the military regime into China’s lap, its historical enemy. India, at least temporarily, became the country most hated by influential elements within the regime. China proactively exploited this unexpected gift and swiftly spread its tentacles to acquire unprecedented access to Myanmar’s natural resources and overweening multi-dimensional influence.
Click here to read 2012 : A Review of Indo - Myanmar Relations (pages 12, 660 KB)
About the Author:
Ranjit Gupta is a retired Indian Foreign Service officer. After his 39-year long career, he has been delivering lectures at think tanks, universities and other academic institutions in India and abroad and participating in conferences, seminars and workshops primarily relating to India's relations with the Gulf region; Southeast Asia and East Asia. In the past 3-4 years he has been taking an active interest in Myanmar. He has participated in seminars and conferences in India and abroad on Myanmar and delivered talks on Myanmar as main speaker at think tanks and other institutions. He wrote the report ‘From Isolation to Engagement: Reviewing India’s Policy toward Myanmar’ for the Asia Society’s Burma/Myanmar Initiative in 2009 and again on Myanmar ‘In the National Interest: A Strategic Foreign Policy for India’ commissioned by the Ministry of External Affairs in 2011.