Road to Naypyidaw

PM’s visit must underline Delhi’s will to adapt to the historic change unfolding in Myanmar

Written by The Indian Express | Published: May 28, 2012 2:15 am

PM’s visit must underline Delhi’s will to adapt to the historic change unfolding in Myanmar

Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar,the first by an Indian prime minister in 25 years,is being dubbed in Delhi as “historic”. There should,however,be no confusion about who is making history here. The military and political leaders of Myanmar have embarked on a bold and difficult venture to reform the ossified political structures of the nation,open up its long closed economy and reorient its international relations. Singh is merely adapting to this historic change unfolding in Myanmar. In recasting India’s policy towards Myanmar,Singh faces three challenges. The first is the newly competitive diplomatic environment there. In the last two decades,India’s only rival for Myanmar’s affections was China. Now,the United States,Europe and Japan,which sought to isolate and punish Myanmar all these years,are falling over each other to reconnect with the nation. The onus is on Delhi to demonstrate the special value of its ties to Naypyidaw,which is acutely conscious of Myanmar’s geopolitical significance.

The second challenge is a political one. India’s “constructive engagement” with the military rulers of Myanmar during the last two decades was prudent from Delhi’s perspective. But courageous Aung San Suu Kyi,who has endured much repression in her struggle to democratise Myanmar,and her followers are certainly disappointed at India’s “pragmatism”. In his talks with Suu Kyi,who has now been elected to the parliament,and the military-backed rulers of Myanmar,Singh will have to carefully calibrate the competing imperatives of India’s policy — a genuine empathy with the democratic aspirations of the Myanmarese,the need to engage all the political forces in the current period of transition,and the logic of doing business with the government in power.

The third and biggest challenge for Singh is to bring a measure of credibility to India’s economic partnership with Myanmar. Delhi’s tall talk on promoting connectivity,trade,and investment links with Myanmar has not been matched by India’s performance on the ground. Unable to execute major projects on time,India has lost much ground in Myanmar despite the freedom it has had to deepen commercial ties during the last two decades. One can only hope that Singh has worked out an effective mechanism to translate India’s economic promises to Myanmar into time-bound action.

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