New Delhi: India is gearing up to implement a major strategy with Myanmar under its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy as the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, National League for Democracy (NLD), registered a landslide victory in the general elections Wednesday.
This was the second general election that was held in Myanmar on 8 November since the end of its military rule in 2011. While the votes are still being counted, the ruling NLD has secured 346 seats, much ahead of the 322 seats required to form the new government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday hailed the election process in Myanmar and Suu Kyi’s win as a “successful” effort in the “ongoing democratic transition” in the South Asian nation.
Modi was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Suu Kyi. Apart from Modi, Japan and Singapore prime ministers have also wished her.
But what New Delhi is truly keen on doing now is to bring Myanmar under the Indo-Pacific construct, Indian diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
According to the sources, as one of the key countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) grouping, Myanmar’s entry into the Indo-Pacific initiative will prove to be a “successful strategy” as it plans to align more with “like-minded” countries and aims to stand firm against China.
However, the general election results have been disputed by the opposition party — Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) — which is heavily backed by the Army. At a press conference Wednesday, the USDP said it will not accept the results.
Ensure Myanmar maintains balance between India, China
India has been firming up plans, much before the elections, to make Myanmar a part of the Indo-Pacific policy. This will also be India’s strategy to “steer Myanmar away from the Chinese grip”, sources said.
Addressing the ASEAN-India Summit Thursday, Modi said: “There is ample closeness between India’s ‘Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative’ and ASEAN’s ‘Outlook on Indo Pacific’. We firmly believe that a ‘Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN’ is essential for security and growth for all in the region.”
Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow, Gateway House, and India’s former ambassador to Myanmar, said while the election results came as expected, the modus vivendi between Suu Kyi and the Myanmar Army will prevail.
“We can be sure now that we will deal with a stable government and that Suu Kyi will have an upper hand this time in some key matters. But India has to now work and ensure that Myanmar maintains a balance between us and China,” he added.
Rohingya repatriation a sticking point
Diplomatic sources are concerned that the issue of Rohingya repatriation in which ties with Bangladesh are also involved, can prove to be a sticking point between India and Myanmar.
The issue of Muslim Rohingya population and rising Covid cases are some of the long-term challenges facing Myanmar’s new government now.
Suu Kyi is still facing grave charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the Rohingya issue, where she has denied the allegations during a case based on a complaint from a group of Muslim-majority nations in 2019.
Following large-scale persecution there, millions of Rohingyas sought refuge in Bangladesh as well as in India. There are about 40,000 Rohingya refugees in India and 1 million in Bangladesh.
“This is a big issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar, and India has offered to play a helpful role in that even as it has taken upon itself to ensure their safe return. This will continue to be a challenging task,” added Bhatia.
During his last visit to Myanmar in October, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had discussed the Rohingya issue with Suu Kyi.
Shringla, who was also accompanied by Army Chief General M.M. Naravane, gifted a Kilo-class submarine — INS Sindhuvir — to Myanmar Navy to boost maritime security ties with the country.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.