Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

On Myanmar, India has to decide whether it is on the side of the future


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- India-Myanmar relations

The article highlights the factors India needs to consider in formulating its response to the crisis in Myanmar.

Implications of Myanmar issue for India

  • India, because of its proximity to Myanmar, its geopolitical role, and its interests, will inevitably be drawn into the train of events.
  • The most immediate challenge is, of course, dealing with the refugee crisis that this coup occasions.
  • The rich and powerful nations have not pulled their weight in crafting an adequate multilateral response.
  • Myanmar’s other neighbours, and especially ASEAN countries, are also unlikely to intervene.
  • The principle of non-refoulement has to be the cornerstone of any civilised state’s response to a politically induced humanitarian disaster.
  • It is not clear where India stands on this.

Factors India should consider in its Myanmar policy

1) Protestors are widespread

  • The protests for democracy are widespread, involve young people, and are driven by a genuine opposition to military rule.
  • India has to decide whether it is on the side of the future. 

2) Concerns of Northeastern states

  • Northeastern states like Manipur and Mizoram which will immediately bear the costs of helping refugees are calling for a more generous and imaginative policy.
  • The concerns of the Northeast states have often been historically sidelined in India’s handling of the “trijunction”.
  • This was partly because of counterinsurgency fears, and partly because of suspicion of political forces in the Northeast.
  • But ignoring accommodative sentiments in the Northeast, would be to potentially signal their marginality in shaping India’s calculations.

3) Reputation for humanitarian concern

  • The counterinsurgency and subversion fears have to be intelligently handled.
  • Relying only on cooperation with the Myanmar military, without support for the local population, we will once again be setting ourselves up for long-term problems.
  • A broadbased reputation for humanitarian concerns and the welfare of people is a strategic asset, not a liability in the long term.
  • India should also now have the confidence that it can both politically and militarily handle any risks that occasionally arise in the context of doing the decent thing.
  • But by closing down its borders, it is not sending a signal of strength but one of weakness.

4) Geopolitical factors

  • With every major power, from Russia to China now seeing Myanmar in terms of geopolitical terms, the stakes for India are going to be high.
  • But its military seems more repressive, and its elites, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have been more conservative in harnessing democratic and progressive impulses.
  • So under such circumstances, it will be tempting for India to deeply engage with the military.
  • There is also a great deal of exaggeration about Myanmar’s economic importance to India.
  • Certainly, connectivity and trade with Myanmar provide momentum for India’s eastward interests.
  • But the benefits from engagement with Myanmar are not so great that India cannot put them aside to act on a modicum of principle.

Way forward

  • Presumably, India wants to be a key interlocutor in two contexts.
  • It wants to be a key player in shaping a global response to the crisis.
  • And it wants to have some role in helping with a settlement towards a less repressive transition within Myanmar.
  • But for both of those roles, it is important that India has widespread credibility with the different groups and movements inside Myanmar.


India needs to consider these factors before deciding its response to the situation developing in Myanmar.

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