By Nimesh Bansal
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s has just concluded his first bilateral visit to Myanmar. The visit was the third by an Indian prime minister in five years, and the second by him in three years with the first being for an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.
Directed at the diaspora
Addressing the Indian diaspora in the country, the Indian prime minister sought to justify decisions such as demonetization and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). He said that “We never shy away from taking big and tough actions for the benefit of India because we consider the country bigger than politics.” Modi praised the diaspora for carrying Indian traditions with them, saying, “On June 21, International Yoga Day is celebrated across the globe and India is synonymous with it. This global recognition of yoga is possible only because of you.”
A political partnership
India needs all the support it can get from Myanmar, as the country’s geographic location is a key factor in Indian politics. India shares a 1,640-km-long border with Myanmar passing along a number of northeastern states including militancy-hit Nagaland and Manipur. A close-working relationship with Myanmar is essential to countering China, which has made inroads into Indian land. Indian and Myanmarese militaries have in the past jointly undertaken operations to flush out militants; Modi would want such cooperation to continue.
Myanmar’s internal conflict
Myanmar, however, has territorial concerns of their own. The country’s Rakhine State has been hit by extremist violence, leading to the Rohingya Muslim minority fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh. Narendra Modi expressed his support for Myanmar, saying that the two nations have similar security concerns thus making it critical for them to work together. He added, “We hope that all stakeholders together can find a way out in which territorial integrity of Myanmar is respected.”
Strengthening ties out of necessity
The two nations have previously cooperated in the areas of security and counter-terrorism, trade and investment, infrastructure, energy, and culture. Now, Modi has announced that India and Myanmar are looking to further strengthen the ties for mutual benefit. He alluded to the rich past of Indian-Myanmarese cooperation saying, “I read somewhere five Bs are the base of India-Myanmar relations—Buddhism, Business, Bollywood, Bharatnatyam and Burma teak. But, I think most important ‘B’ is missing here and that ‘B’ is ‘Bharosa’. India and Myanmar are not only connected by the border but also feelings.”
Whether Modi’s charm would facilitate even stronger India-Myanmar relations remains to be seen, but the visit has come at a time when both nations need each other’s support the most. Close ties between the two would be good news for most, excluding China.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons