India’s embraces Myanmar’s military junta on terms of Realpolitik

Posted in Asia , India | 29-Jul-10 | Author: Balaji Chandramohan

Myanmar military ruler Than Shwe (L) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrive for talks in New Delhi on July 27.

The largest democracy in the world, India played host to one of the most repressive authoritarian ruler in Myanmar’s Senior General Than Shwe, head of Myanmar's military government.

The western media and their governments had started criticizing India’s hypocritical stance on democracy. It’s to be noted that it backed the pro-democratic voice in Aung San Suu Kyi in her opposition against the military junta in the early to mid 1990’s. India was one of the foremost countries to support the pro-democratic 8888 uprising in 1988 and accused pressurized the military junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi who’s under house arrest since 1990.

However, India looked up to situation in Myanmar in realpolitik terms. Literally, India had dumped the pro-democratic Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from mid 1990’s and has not looked back.

India doesn’t look up to the case in Myanmar through its idealistic Gandhi an ideal or through any obligation it has in spreading the Wilsonian democracy. India is accepting the Myanmar’s military government and extending the red carpet to General Than Shwe in considering its national interest.

India started to project its might in the South-East Asia through active trade and investment from the mid 1990’s through the “Look East” policy.

Myanmar forms the vital cog in India’s “Look East” policy. The term vital cog is understandable if one understands Myanmar’s critical geo strategic location in a changing regional environment, and the protection of India’s vital national interests in the face of competing imperatives.

India has ventured a paradigm shift in the Myanmar affairs under the leadership of late Prime Minister Narashima Rao. In classic terms, India’s relations with the military junta has turned from engagement in the mid-1990’s to détente in the early 2000’s to coherence in the year 2010 which has culminated in the state visit of General Than Shwe.

On the other hand, through co-operating with the junta, India wishes to eliminate the insurgency in its North-East. In addition, the North-Eastern part of India can’t be easily accessed through roads and rails and Myanmar serves as a perfect launch pad to start initiating the unfinished rail projects.

India also has rail projects which might link its North-East corridor to the South-East Asia region. This forms a significant point in the “Look East” policy.

Further, India is facing active challenge from China in the domain of Myanmar. China wishes to extend its influence in the South-East Asia and the greater Indian Ocean through Myanmar. China has built up its naval base in the Coco islands of Myanmar.

The above particular issue has irked the Indian policy makers which had made them to be more pragmatic and realistic in their understanding of the strategic issues.

From Myanmar’s point of view, it has cleverly avoided to be caught like a buffer between India and China and has instead used the influence of both these countries to ward of any harsh international sanctions or pressure.

In fact, Myanmar presents a perfect example where many of the authoritarian regimes in Asia Pacific can get away from the western pressure by carefully courting India and China and pitting them one against each other.

Nothing illustrates the suave and clear understanding of international relations from the junta than by the decision to stay in India for five days by the military dictator. It’s to be noted that Than Shwe doesn’t spend more time outside Myanmar. This clearly says how much things have changed in Indo-Myanmar relations.

Though India was under intense western pressure to push the Myanmar leadership in accepting the terms of democracy which got heighten during December 2007 upsurge in the pro-democratic wave called as “saffron revolution” in the west. To India’s credit it acted it acted as a perfect “interlocutor” to ward of any unnecessary western influence in Myanmar and so gently advising the junta to hold it in suppressing the pro-democratic student uprising.

In conclusion, the visit of General Than Shwe will coincide with the visit of the United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron to India. Things have changed a lot from the days when the Raj had held both Myanmar and India as its colonial prize whereas in the early years of the 21st century India marches towards embracing its own colonial master from which it had inherited the democratic ideals. With the same hand it is also ready to embrace a military dictator as it will serve its purpose to projects it assuming “Great Power” status in the upcoming years and decades.