Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Democratic Myanmar: A Strategic Interest for India

As Myanmar moves towards democracy, their icon of democracy, Suu Kyi, visited India this week after a gap of forty years. She was under house arrest for fifteen years before she came back to politics. Her recent electoral victory can be seen as an indication of her being the future leader a democratically elected government in Myanmar. Her relationship with India goes back to her student days where she graduated from Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. On this trip, she met the Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh and also gave the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial lecture at the invitation of the ruling party President Sonia Gandhi. She also plans to meet with the refugee Burmese population in India. She has mentioned that she was saddened with India’s alternating policies towards Myanmar.

While she was in detention, India continued to maintain cordial trade relations with the Junta, the military regime in Myanmar. In the past, India’s response to the public protests against the Junta have been low key and has shown its reluctance to interfere in the internal affairs of its neighbor. This response seems to be motivated by India’s desire to maintain trade relations with Myanmar, tackle insurgency in the north east (Indian Territory surrounded by Myanmar, China and Bangladesh), counter China’s growing influence in the region and enhance its own standing.

With Suu Kyi’s release and electoral victory, India is now helping her restore democracy in its neighboring state. India is training eighty Burmese parliamentarians and providing alternatives to decrease Myanmar’s dependence on China. Suu Kyi’s visit to India is a strategic move on her part to re-establish ties with Indai, showcase Myanmar’s move towards democracy, assert her own political standing, gain India’s support and learn from its development programs. This has given India the chance to make amends and renew its friendship with the emerging leadership in Myanmar. Myanmar is now an opportunity for India to invest in a newly opened market, and a partner to extend its influence towards the rest of Southeast Asia.

Is democracy in Myanmar irreversible? What happens to India’s relationship with Myanmar, if the Junta restores its original military regime? Will India be able to successfully maintain its balancing act between the two forces until the elections that truly bring democracy to Myanmar? Most importantly, How will China react to India’s close tie's with Suu Kyi?             

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