India runs the risk of neither safeguarding its own interests nor standing up for values. It does have the standing to send a stern public and private message to the dictators in Nayapidaw — restore democracy now
Myanmar’s military dictators have crossed a line. Not only did they reject electoral results, oust a representative government, arrest political leaders and grab complete power in February, they have also been engaged in a brutal repression of the pro-democracy movement. Security forces are reported to have killed over 400 citizens, including possibly over a 100 on Friday itself; detained thousands; deployed high-tech surveillance equipment to keep a check on citizens; and stifled all outlets for the expression of democratic views.
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India is in a fix. It had, in the 1990s, supported pro-democracy elements in Myanmar. But the need to have a working relationship with the military — for security reasons in the Northeast, for strategic reasons with an eye on China, for geopolitical reasons to enhance connectivity with Southeast Asia, and for economic reasons to be able to leverage Myanmar’s resource-rich landscape — saw it tone down support for democracy. When the army and Aung San Suu Kyi shared power in the system, Delhi had equities in the system, primarily through the military, and shared an uneasy relationship with Ms. Suu Kyi. When the military took power this year, India decided to take a cautious approach of relatively muted public criticism, as compared to the West, and private engagement with the military. The Indian Army chief, for instance, has not yet condemned the atrocities by a neighbouring military — even as many at the helm of defence forces in democracies have done so.
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This approach is unsustainable. One, India, as a democracy, which distinguishes itself from China on the count, cannot turn a blind eye to bloodshed in the neighborhood. Two, even if one were to take a realpolitik rather than an ethical view, it is clear that the military regime, despite its hold over the State, is losing its legitimacy in society. Three, the crisis has resulted in refugee flows to India — the Manipur government’s inhuman notification denying any support to refugees has fortunately been withdrawn, but it shows that India will have to grapple with the cross-border impact of the political crisis.
Rejecting them entry will diminish India’s standing, while accepting all of them will generate complications internally. And four, India’s western allies are looking to South Block to take a principled position. New Delhi may not have the leverage to change Tatmadaw’s behaviour. But it does have the standing to send a stern public and private message to the dictators in Nayapidaw — restore democracy now.