Strengthening ties

Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on  a visit to India, was frank enough to say that she was sad that India did business with the authoritarian military government in that country during the “most difficult days’’ of the country’s fight for democracy.  But she was also pragmatic enough to realise that governments adopt policies which best serve their countries’, not others’, interests. India had supported the democratic movement in Myanmar and had awarded the Nehu Prize to Suu Kyi in 1992. The junta was not happy about it. But the imperatives of India’s economic growth and the compulsions arising from China’s increasing engagement with Myanmar created a new situation to which the country had to respond with a degree of realism. In fact, none of the neighbouring countries took  too idealistic a position to shun all contacts with the government in Myanmar.

The situation has vastly changed now and Myanmar is at a cross roads. It is likely that the country will move towards greater freedom and openness in the coming years. Much of  the credit for the weakening of the military regime goes to the struggle waged by Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy. The government and parliament have gained some legitimacy after Suu Kyi’s release from jail and election to the House.  There is a race  among countries to establish political and business relations with the resource-rich country. Barack Obama’s first visit to a country after his re-election is to Myanmar.  The business relations India has already established with Myanmar would have to be further strengthened in the coming years. The disappointment expressed by Suu Kyi does not seem to be an impediment in developing a stronger bilateral relationship, even if the junta completely withdraws from  the political scene and the National League or any other political party comes to power.

Suu Kyi has an emotional attachment to India because she spent some of her formative years in the country. She has also considered Gandhi and Nehru as her inspirational leaders. But her visit to the country  is not  just a trip down the memory lane.  Her engagement with Indian leaders  will help widen the understanding and lay the foundation for a more  relaxed but stronger relationship between the countries.  As a result,  India’s policy towards  Myanmar will be more nuanced and balanced. Myanmar needs India as much India needs it.

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