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In November 2014, this author was a member of the Indian delegation for a Track II Dialogue with Myanmar. The delegation had among others, a very senior former diplomat who had headed a particular prime minister’s Policy Planning Committee in 1984 and a former Army Commander. The author had earlier represented India in Track II Dialogues with Bangladesh and China, but a curious sense of atavism had gripped his innards when he was asked to be part of the Indian delegation to Yangon. It was—he later surmised—because (almost subconsciously) he knew he would be going back to his roots. After all, his ancestors had come to Assam from the Shan province and from across the Patkai, the range which separated the North East from Myanmar. In any event, the Track II Dialogue got underway and all was well. However, something was disturbing the author. It was the briefing that the Indian delegation had received from the senior diplomat (aforesaid) before the Dialogue formally began. The Indian delegation was clearly told, no mention of Rohingyas or the Lady in this hall! Almost a year later, Aung San Suu Kyi won the General Elections in Myanmar with a landslide victory and the issue pertaining to the Rohingya spillover into India became a matter of national concern. It is, therefore, wondered whether New Delhi has anvilled its Neighbourhood First policy just for effect.

 

At the time of writing, Beijing has offered to arbitrate between the Tatmadaw and the political parties primarily the National League for Democracy (NLD). The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), too, have been pressuring the Military junta for the restoration of democracy. However, India seems to be the only important neighbour that is humming and hawing while it should have seized the opportunity and make an entry into what is a crucial expanse and whose geopolitics has a vital role to play in the fortunes of India. It is quite clear that Beijing is playing its cards with great care and (especially post Wuhan) it is loath to be seen as backing the Tatmadaw. Furthermore, their sense of realpolitik is leading them to ensure that India (despite its proximity with both the Myanmarese military and the NLD) does not acquire an elbow room in troubled Myanmar.

 

Indeed, India did make the right noises about democracy and its support for a return to democracy in Myanmar. But beyond such watered down statements, South Block seems to be maintaining a studied silence. The reason for this conduct could well be that it is trying to avoid criticising the Myanmarese military. The memories of Op Golden Bird when the Myanmarese Army suddenly withdrew from a joint operation against Indian Insurgent Groups as a result of New Delhi’s unexpected (even as Op Golden Bird was on) decision to award Aung San Suu Kyi is perhaps fresh in New Delhi’s institutional memory and is, therefore, reluctant not to make a bold stand.

 

Interestingly, India has joined Russia, China and Vietnam to resist a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution that was moved by the United Kingdom. The draft was quite critical of the Tatmadaw: finally a watered down one was released on 12 February 2021, the rationale being that the above four countries wanted to give dialogue a chance.

 

In the opinion of the author, the primary reason for the putsch is a) the growing popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi inside Myanmar as well as in the international fora b) the need to considerably weaken the constituency by way of the traditional supporters of the NLD and consequently the party itself and c) send a clear message that the military would always have the last word in Myanmarese polity. Therefore, even if Senior General Min Aung Hlaing harbours ambition of becoming the president of Myanmar, he will ensure that the Tatmadaw would continue to wield maximum power in the country. This would be notwithstanding the fact that Suu Kyi is able to script a repeat of the NLD’s past electoral performances. Home, Defence, and Border Affairs, 25 per cent of parliament seats, and total control of the country’s administration during an Emergency would rest with the military. It is almost a truism that 99% of the armed forces of Myanmar supported Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the military action. In the scheme of things and if history is read with care, the military is the prima donna in Myanmar, and, indeed, would continue to be for all time to come.   

Fierce protests and reports of human rights abuse within Myanmar have sparked off strong criticism from primarily the West. Washington has announced sanctions against the military leaders and democracies around the globe are up in arms against the Tatmadaw. But the author’s analysis is somewhat unorthodox: a) the junta knew what it was getting into before embarking upon the course of action that it adopted and b) it had already factored in aspects such as economic sanctions and criticism—aspects that are neither novel nor unduly disconcerting. The most important reason for the takeover is, therefore, power and, of course, the fear that Suu Kyi’s growing popularity (even with China with whom the Tatmadaw’s relations have cooled after Suu Kyi became the State Counsellor).

 

To be fair to India (despite the fact that its ambivalent character was called in for questioning!) its silence is egged on by two important considerations. This article has already referred to Op Golden Bird and to that end New Delhi does not want to offend the Tatmadaw so as to not incite it into inaction against the belligerents from the North East, elements of which continue to be based in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division, the last bastion for such groups. The action which came in the wake of Op Sunrise I & II were music for Indian ears and a goodly crop of North East insurgents (primarily the ULFA) returned to India leaving Paresh Baruah to his own idiosyncratic devices in Yunnan’s Ruili and thereabouts. Another aspect that must be playing heavily on New Delhi’s mind that it would not like the Myanmarese military to do business with Beijing. The latter (notwithstanding its offer for mediation) would in the final analysis do business with whoever is in power in Naypyidaw. 

 

The long and short of it is that India is playing a patient game, which under the circumstances has been guided by prudence. After all philanthropy cannot be at the expense of one’s own interest. And, as any judicious banker would testify interests accrue over a period of time. It does not come to be all of a sudden.