Correcting tilt

Correcting tilt

External affairs minister S M Krishna’s visit to Myanmar – the first high level one since the new government took charge there -- has sent out a strong signal of India’s continuing commitment to Myanmar’s development. India has pledged US $10 million, which will go mainly towards building capacity in the agricultural sector. Besides, Delhi will build for Myanmar 10 disaster-proof rice silos. This is aimed at ensuring the food security of the people of Myanmar during natural disasters. It may be recalled that when Cyclone Nargis struck in 2008, hunger took a huge toll in the weeks and months following the cyclone. India’s help should prevent the recurrence of such suffering. India is also setting up an agricultural research centre in Ye Zin, which is located near the capital. On the economic front, India is pressing forward with its infrastructure projects in Myanmar. It signed an agreement for construction of an 80-km road linking Mizoram with Myanmar. The $60 million Rhi-Tiddim road project is expected to provide a boost to trade and the local economy in India’s northeast. India has an investment of $189 million in five projects.
While some of these like the Kaladan multi-modal transport corridor project are making good progress, work on the Tamanthi hydel project has been unsatisfactory. Hopefully the roadblocks standing in the way of the timely completion of these projects were discussed during Krishna’s interaction with his Myanmarese counterparts.

An important highlight of the Indian delegation’s visit to Myanmar was foreign secretary Nirupama Rao’s talks with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  Beyond warm words that were exchanged during their interaction, little is known about what actually transpired. Even if nothing substantial was discussed, Rao’s meeting with Suu Kyi is by itself important and hopefully indicates a much needed correction in India’s Myanmar policy. Since the mid-1990s, in its bid to strengthen bonds with Myanmar’s junta, India steadily diluted its engagement of the pro-democracy movement. Its tilt towards the generals had become excessive, to the point that it was avoiding or ignoring Suu Kyi and others. Hopefully, Rao’s meeting with Suu Kyi marks the beginning of an attempt at correcting that tilt.

As in Africa, in Myanmar too India appears to be turning increasingly towards capacity building and people-centric projects. It is public goodwill that is its strength in Myanmar. Its wooing of generals had lost Delhi much of this goodwill. The new approach could help India recover lost ground.

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