India attends military parade in Myanmar 2 months after coup. Why it's significant.
India was among eight countries that attended a military parade in Myanmar's capital Naypitaw on March 27 to mark Tatmadaw Day. Myanmar's military is called Tatmadaw. The other countries to attend the Tatmadaw's annual parade were China, Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
The development came nearly two months after the Myanmar's military took control of power, removing government ministers and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the de-facto head of the state, and country's President Win Myint. This came after the military refused to accept the results of November 2020 national election in Myanmar.
India's attendance at the annual military parade in Myanmar last week was significant in the view that along with Bangladesh, it was the only major democracy to offer some kind validity to the military coup in that country. While China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand don't have democracy, Russia and Pakistan have their own issues that make their democratic electoral processes suspect.
What Has Happened In Myanmar?
Democracy is a work in transition in Myanmar since 2008, when the military was forced to draft a constitution following pro-democracy protests. The constitution was the military's roadmap to democracy. Later, the military that ruled through junta released Nobel Prize-winning pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi in 2011.
Suu Kyi had been under detention since 1990, when her National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory. The military had rejected the election results. She won a bypoll in 2012 and led her NLD to another victory in 2015 national polls. But the military's constitution prevented her leading the government. A special position, the state counsellor was created for her.
The NLD won another election in 2020. The military rejected the results citing "irregularities" in polling. The NLD and Myanmar's election commission refuted the charge.
The election was a major setback for the military. The constitution allows the military to nominate 25 per cent members to the national parliament. It also allows the military's party to contest the polls. The party won fewer seats than the 2015 polls reducing the military's say in Myanmar's parliament.
On the other hand, Suu Kyi had promised reforms in the constitution to complete Myanmar's transition to democracy. The election gave her that mandate.
The military, rattled by the election results and prospects of losing control over Myanmar's polity, demanded that before the new legislature met - scheduled for February 1 - the newly elected members should meet for a special session and prove that the election was free and fair. They refused.
The military effected a coup on February 1, hours before the newly elected legislature was to meet. It announced removal of 24 ministers and named 11 replacements. The junta was back.
Protests spread in Myanmar. The military responded with a severe crackdown drawing international criticism. An estimated 500 people have died in clashes during the protests. A few thousand people have fled the country seeking refuge in countries including India. Among those coming to India are policemen.
India's Interests In Myanmar
Most of the developed democratic world has condemned the military coup in Myanmar. Several countries signed a letter criticising Myanmar's military and calling for restoration of democracy. India and China were not signatories to the letter.
India has not condemned the military coup in Myanmar. It has been cautious. On February 1, India said, "We have noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern. India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar."
"We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. We are monitoring the situation closely."
This remains India's stand on Myanmar till date.
India shares a 1,600-kilometre-long boundary with Myanmar. Mizoram has a porous boundary with Myanmar, running for about 500 km mostly along the Tiau river. People of Mizoram have ethnic and family ties with the communities in Myanmar.
Secondly, Indian Army and Myanmar's military have a long history of fighting insurgency together. India has immensely benefitted from cooperation of Myanmar's military in bringing peace to the north-eastern states.
Indian Army chief General MM Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla visited Myanmar in October 2020. Both met then state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar's military leadership. India also handed over a submarine to Myanmar, which was officially inducted in December 2020.
After the military coup in Myanmar in February, General Naravane at an event underlined that a "series of operations under Operation Sunrise with Myanmar Army has witnessed growing cooperation and synergy between the soldiers on ground with reasonable operational dividends"
"While relentless operations by the security forces and proactive government policies have laid the foundation, favourable external environment with Myanmar and Bangladesh has struck at the roots of insurgent organisations".
Politics Over Myanmar Coup In India
India did not condemn Myanmar's military over coup but it stepped up efforts to seal the border and push back fleeing dissidents.
On March 18, the Union home ministry wrote to the state governments of Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur asking them to take appropriate measures in stemming inflow of refugees.
The letter came in the backdrop of reports that "volunteers" were helping people enter India out of ethnic bonding and familial ties. This ethnic bonding is government by Chin identity. Chin is a community which is also known as Zo in Mizoram. Myanmar has province named Chin that borders with Myanmar.
An influential ethnic outfit, the Zo Reunification Organisation (ZORO) urged the Union home ministry to withdraw its advisory, and also demanded that the Centre should grant refugee status to people fleeing the current Myanmar crisis.
In response to the Union home ministry's letter, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention in the "a human catastrophe of gigantic proportions".
Zoramthanga said, "This (MHA advisory) is not acceptable to Mizoram. I understand that there are certain foreign policy issues where India needs to proceed cautiously. However, we cannot ignore this humanitarian crisis."
Zoramthanga is the leader of the Mizo National Front (MNF), which is part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Northeast Development Alliance (NEDA). The Congress has extended support to Zoramthanga over Myanmar crisis.
India's Refugee Concern
India is already home to another batch of refugees from Myanmar - the Rohingyas. According to the United Nations, there are over 16,000 Rohingyas living in India after they fled the Rakhine province following military crackdown a few years ago.
Rohingyas are Muslims and have claimed religious persecution by Myanmar's military. It is interesting that Suu Kyi defended the military at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last year over Rohingya issue.
India's own estimate is that there are over 40,000 Rohingya refugees living in the country. They are illegal immigrants as India has not granted refugee status to them.
In the current situation, while the Mizoram government has asked its security forces to assist people fleeing from Myanmar to enter India, the Centre has asked the Assam Rifles of the Army to block their influx. India plans to deport those entering India illegally.
Reports say India deported around 100 illegal immigrants from Myanmar but they came back again. There are over 1,000 refugees from Myanmar in Mizoram at present.
The multi-angled background of India-Myanmar relationship makes it difficult to take a straightforward stand on the military coup in that country. This also explains why India's attended the Tatmadaw Day parade in Myanmar on Saturday.