The Republic of India and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar are not just neighbouring countries, in fact, these two sovereign nations have a lot to share amongst themselves, from ethnicity to history, from religious ties to cultural ties. The most remarkable incident that glorified the foreign relations between these two sovereign entities was the signing of the Treaty of Friendship in 1951. After this, another most significant step which strengthened the bond between these two nations was the visit of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987.
Myanmar acts as a very significant entity for India, both in terms of economic and strategic context. There have been a lot of visits by several ministers from both these countries, and it has now become a usual affair. Numerous delegation level talks have been held to assist each other’s administration. This has resulted in a number of Indian funded projects in Myanmar. India and Myanmar have always believed in the concept of development cooperation, and hence, India has been a tremendous source for Myanmar in terms of technical & financial assistance for a high number of projects, for example, Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education, Myanmar Institute of Information Technology, Rice Bio Park at Yezin Agriculture University, building of 71 bridges on Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo Road, etc.
Apart from technically and financially assisting Myanmar, India has also made tremendous efforts in upgrading the cultural heritage in Myanmar. There have been a lot of cultural initiatives taken by India in Myanmar, ranging from organising Bharatnatyam & Yoga sessions to organising the International Conference on Buddhist Cultural Heritage. From the side of Myanmar, there was one exchange held in 2009 wherein it sent a 13 member student delegation to India to attend the SAARC Cultural Festival.
On a strategic note, Myanmar plays a very vital for India as it is the only ASEAN nation which shares its borders with India. It is a very concrete link between ASEAN and India. For India to realize and implement its ‘Look East policy’, the impetus that is required to do this is Myanmar, hence, the relations between these two need to be as cordial as possible.
For India to become a prominent global player, it needs to maintain its hegemony in the Asian region, and that becomes more important because of the competition that the People’s Republic of China gives. It is supposed to strengthen and develop its policies in such a regard that they all, in a consolidated manner, help India to evolve domestically. The previous governments in India have put in marvellous efforts to make the relations between India and Myanmar stronger. It is now the responsibility of the present government to continue the legacy that was set up by the previous governments in this regard. A more proactive and a pragmatic approach is necessary in order to sustain the power in the region, as the road to become an important global player is full of impediments. And fortunately, the present government seems to do just fine in this regard.
This assertion becomes more substantive with the recent visit of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s first democratically elected leader in about 50 years, to New Delhi. Even though she is not the formal head of the state or the government, her visit to India was still considered to be one of the ‘sovereign state visits’. This is evident because of her subsequent meetings with the President of India Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi, and the Minister of External Affairs Ms. Sushma Swaraj.
Suu Kyi has a very close connection to India because of several reasons. For example, her father, General Aung San and India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, used to be very close. Also, she has spent her initial years in India during 1960s, as her mother used to serve as the Burmese Ambassador to the Republic of India, back then.
But as they say, a coin has two sides. Similarly, the cordial relations that these two nations share are sometimes at stake because of certain incidents that occur. And one particular incident which is most likely to hamper the relations between these two nations is the Rohingya refugee crisis. Out of around 1.5 million Rohingyas who are native to Myanmar, more than half have already been displaced because of several factors, most of them have migrated to the neighbouring countries, and almost rest of the lot has no or very limited access to educational, work and health facilities. Having said that, India is one of those few neighbouring countries of Myanmar which had to take in a huge influx of Rohingya refugees, and as per the present situation, it might have to take in more such refugees.
The whole crisis of Rohingya refugees also becomes important because of another prominent reason. It is that one situation which has compelled the ASEAN organisation to discuss a particular member nation’s internal political matter. This was done because the influx of Rohingya refugees was creating a huge burden on the resources, trade, opportunities, etc. of the neighbouring countries in which the refugees were actually taking shelter. So eventually, this issue started gaining regional importance, and hence, it was necessary to discuss this at an appropriate regional platform.
This crisis has a lot to do with the new leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She has shown very little dedication and enthusiasm towards solving this current crisis. The status quo clearly indicates towards violence and regional migration crisis. This becomes important for Suu Kyi because it is now her responsibility, as the supreme leader, to open Myanmar before the world, especially after half a century of military dictatorship in the country. She simply cannot afford to have a migration crisis in her country at this point of time, especially at a time when the West is looking for opportunities to unfold humanitarian disasters.
That is why, this visit to India is a very significant step towards strengthening the relations between the two nations. It has also given a chance to India to play a vital role in Myanmar’s nation building and democratic evolution. It becomes more evident by the departing words of Suu Kyi during her recent visit, wherein she thanked India for helping the Republic of the Union of Myanmar “make up for lost time”. It is definitely believed that our Prime Minister and President will also be visiting Myanmar in lieu of building strong relationships, which will safeguard the interest of both these nations.
Till then, all that can be expected from Suu Kyi is that she works & strives hard to earn the Nobel Peace Prize for the second time. It is her who has the power to bring about a change in Myanmar’s geopolitical situations and improving the lives of its citizens, especially the Rohingyaas.