Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

India’s Troubled Neighborhood, Myanmar


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Military coup, Troubled neighborhood and issues of refugees crisis



  • Twenty-one months after a military coup, which derailed a decade old experiment with limited democracy, Myanmar is struggling to cope with the consequences. People are suffering, authorities and opposition forces are locked in a cycle of violent clashes, the economy is deteriorating, and ASEAN’s mission to produce a solution has failed.

Background of Present situation in Myanmar

  • Violation of constitution by Military: When the Tatmadaw (military), unhappy with the victory of the Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy in the November 2020 elections, chose to violate the constitution, it acted in the belief that the people would accept its diktat, as they had done in previous decades.
  • Civilian opposition continues: Clearly, military junta underestimated public anger and their commitment to freedom and democracy. Even after killing over 2,300 people and imprisoning thousands, including Ms. Suu Kyi, the military still faces a rebellion. Its plan to hold an election next year stands jeopardized.
  • Imprisonment of Suu Kyi: Suu Kyi, 77, the most popular leader, has been sentenced to 26 years of imprisonment in multiple cases on apparently trumped-up charges. Besides, 1.1 million Rohingya, driven by military oppression to seek shelter in Bangladesh in 2017, continue to languish there. Dhaka’s efforts to arrange their safe return have failed.
  • Migration crisis in India and Bangladesh: Armed clashes between the military and their ethnic opponents in the border region are having a spill-over effect in Bangladesh. Dhaka continues to show restraint and a preference for diplomacy to manage the situation.


How is the response of civilian opposition against military?

  • National unity Government: The parallel National Unity Government (NUG) may not be recognized by any state, but it continues to receive political and financial support from abroad. It has effectively channelled popular indignation against military rule, while still being vulnerable due to the paucity of resources and the absence of a visible leader.
  • Support of ethnic groups to NUG: About 20 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), located in the east, north and west of Myanmar’s periphery, have divergent approaches towards the postcoup conflict. Many view it as an intra Bamar contestation, an issue of limited concern to them. Some like the Karens and Kachin’s support the NUG, while others, especially those controlled or supported by China, remain aloof.
  • Strong military but disunity among groups: Those operating in the Chin and Rakhine states are engaged in a fierce armed conflict with the military and have enfeebled it. But overall, due to their divergences and relative weaknesses, the EAOs are unlikely to defeat the military.
  • No nationwide opposition: While the opposition has performed well, it is unable to turn the tide in its favour, without a nationwide front against the Tatmadaw. National reconciliation between the military and civilian forces, and ethnic reconciliation between the majority Bamars and ethnic minorities, have been put on hold.


UN and International criticism

  • Criticism of coup: The UN has been forthright in criticizing the coup. It has expressed concern over continuing violence, support for a ‘democratic transition’, a release of all political prisoners and dialogue among the parties concerned.
  • Division among international community: However, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy has had little success in promoting peace. The UN’s failure lies in the sharp divisions within the international community on how to deal with this vexed issue.
  • Sanction on military: The western powers have been severely critical of the military. They have put in place several restrictive measures and imposed more sanctions. They have extended support to the NUG.
  • Russian support to military: On the other hand, Russia has given considerable backing to the military regime, seeing in its own isolation an opportunity to strengthen bilateral cooperation in defence and energy supplies.
  • China’s exploiting the opportunity: China is keeping a door open to democratic forces even while doing business with the regime and exploiting every opportunity to ensure progress on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.
  • ASEAN’s divided response: ASEAN is divided in three ways: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are prodemocracy; Thailand and Laos are promilitary; and Vietnam and the Philippines are ambivalent. This disunity and the Tatmadaw’s refusal to cooperate with ASEAN have led to the non-implementation of the Five Point Consensus. The upcoming ASEAN summit may provide clues on whether the grouping can forge a united stand and devise something that works better.


India’s reaction to Myanmar situation

  • Refugee crisis in India: India is concerned as the postcoup conditions have adversely impacted its interests and hampered bilateral cooperation. Mega projects stand delayed. Some 50,000 refugees, as per unofficial estimates, have been camping in Mizoram.
  • Advocating the democracy: Meanwhile, there is an erroneous perception that India has abandoned the Myanmar people. The reality is that India proactively advocates an early restoration of democracy, the release of prisoners, and internal dialogue.
  • Myanmar under the shadow of India-China relations: Can India do more? It can explore the possibility of a combined mediatory role with ASEAN and likeminded neighbors. Will China have a role in such a group? India-China relations preclude that possibility.
  • Brokering the political settlement: Through greater unity, external players can help Myanmar in creating a suitable environment for dialogue on a political settlement. Distant countries such as Norway and Japan can play a helpful role as catalysts. But the principal responsibility to construct a solution must rest with the Myanmar elite and leadership of both camps. Through resilience and pragmatism, they crafted a way out in 2011-21. They must recreate that spirit.


  • India has been walking on tight rope on balancing national interest and restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Sooner the civil war in Myanmar ends better for India and especially for Mizoram. ‘The Golden Land’, where Lord Buddha is revered, needs to be reinspired by his teachings. Else, a prolonged, contested military rule or a failed state seems a distinct possibility.

Mains Question

Q. How situation in Myanmar is affecting the national interest of India? What is the India’s response to the military coup in Myanmar?

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