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BW Businessworld

Myanmar Since February And India’s Dilemma

India has seen more than 15,000 refugees from Myanmar since the February coup. Thousands have been trying to enter the country because of the brutal violence shown by the Tatmadaw.

Photo Credit : PTI


The takeover of power in Myanmar by Tatmadaw (the country’s military) will complete 9 months on 1st November 2021. More than a thousand civilians have been killed since then for participating in peaceful protests against the army. But, another problem for the neighbouring countries, especially India, owes its credit to the February 1 military coup in Myanmar, the ballooning refugee population.

According to U.N High Commissioner for Refugees’ Asia and Pacific bureau, since the coup, more than 5,000 people have entered India from Myanmar. The brutality with which the Tatmadaw is handling the situation in Myanmar is forcing more and more people to flee the country.

What Happened in February?

On February 1, 2021, the Parliament was to convene in Myanmar. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) had registered an astounding victory in the polls by winning almost 80% of the total votes in 2020.

But the Army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) did not accept the result. Majorly because it registered a shameful defeat in the polls. In the strange Myanmar Constitution, 166 seats are already reserved for the military. The USDP only needed to win another 167 seats to form the government. But Kyi’s NLD won 396 seats, 63 more than required. USDP could only win 33 seats.

This re-established Suu Kyi as the State Counsellor because she cannot hold the post of President due to the British citizenship of her children. But, Army Generals grew insecure about the defeat. In the early hours of 1st February 2021, the Generals headed by Military Chief Min Aung Hlaing detained Suu Kyi and other senior leaders of NLD and declared a state of emergency for one year.

Just 10 years after it was painstakingly gained by the people of Myanmar, the power is now back with the military. Ironically, Suu Kyi’s NLD and the USDP jointly ran the government from 2015 to 2020. They, however, had a lot of disagreements. Suu Kyi was also condemned internationally for supporting various cruel policies of the Military including the crackdown on Rohingyas.  

What is happening in Myanmar right now?

Currently, Suu Kyi, who fought for the country’s democracy for decades by staying under house arrest, is fighting the cases of election fraud and corruption. The Nobel Laureate has dedicated almost her entire life to the country’s struggle for gaining democracy. The military chief Min Aung Hlaing, on the other side, has been ruling the country with a tight fist.

The civilian settlements are being attacked on the suspicion of harbouring the members of the People’s Defence Force. Most brutal attacks have been seen in the border state of Chin, in Myanmar. It is the immediate neighbour of Mizoram and Mizos have close consanguineous ties with the people of Chin state. The exodus, to India, is maximum from that region.

From other regions too, farmers and women have been trying to flee. They sleep in the forest for days, braving bombs and gunshots and reach the Tiau River separating India and Myanmar. From there, they take a boat or raft to cross the border.

According to various media reports, since 1st February, more than 15,000 refugees have crossed the border have entered India.

What Can India Do?

In a conversation with BW Businessworld, Gautam Mukhopadhyay, Senior Visiting Fellow at Centre for Policy Research and a former Ambassador to countries including Syria and Afghanistan said, “The military offensive and armed struggle by the PDFs close to its borders are bound to affect India both in terms of refugees and cross border sentiments. Although India’s first choice in line with the international community is to entrust ASEAN to deal with the political crisis (caused by the Feb 1 military ‘coup’), India has the option of taking up security issues and the spillover of the armed conflict on India directly with the Tatmadaw through its Embassy in Yangon.”

The former Ambassador who writes on Afghanistan and Myanmar and India’s Act East Policy, also advised that India should reach out to the National Unity Government of Myanmar. A group of formally elected lawmakers and MPs came together in April 2021 to form the NUG. The State Counsellor, as recognised by the NUG, is Aung San Suu Kyi.

“India could also step-up contacts with the NUG side by side. A fourth option (that I have counselled since the beginning) is for ASEAN to include neighbouring countries who are not members of ASEAN in its consultations and diplomacy on Myanmar more formally and closely. It is still not too late to do so at the upcoming ASEAN meeting,” Mukhopadhyay further added.

On 15th October, ASEAN announced that Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing will not be allowed to attend the ASEAN regional leaders’ summit scheduled for this month. India will have to explore all its options with Myanmar due to the close cultural ties and a highly porous border before taking any decision.

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