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Amarjeet Saluja and Abhilash Jajoo asked: What should be India’s policy towards Myanmar considering the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi? Will the election outcome in any way impact the bilateral relations, both at the strategic and security level?

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  • Udai Bhanu Singh replies: Myanmar’s November 08, 2015 elections were historic as the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a convincing majority with 255 seats in the Lower House (i.e. 79 per cent) and 135 seats in the Upper House (80 per cent) of the parliament, and 476 seats in the regional legislatures (75 per cent).

    However, the long period of lame duck administration before the new government takes over breeds an element of uncertainty. Myanmar had over five decades of military rule and about four years of ‘guided democracy’ or semi-democracy. The transition has been protracted and the process of change cannot be considered wholly democratic. Though the president and one vice-president in the new administration will be of NLD’s choice, the second vice-president will be chosen by the military. Similarly, the military will retain control over the three top ministries - defence, home and border affairs. These are crucial portfolios from India’s point of view too, given its concerns regarding insurgent groups from its Northeast taking refuge in Sagaing Region.

    New Delhi as a matter of policy does not interfere in the domestic politics of its neighbours, but it certainly watches with interest developments that have implications for regional stability and bilateral relations. Daw Suu Kyi had recently visited China, which still retains considerable economic interests in Myanmar including the security of the dual pipeline from Kyaukphyu. The new leadership in Myanmar is likely to seek the best terms from foreign investors now that they have a wider option.

    Although Daw Suu Kyi’s family’s close links with India are well known, she has expressed her disquiet over New Delhi not being sufficiently proactive on the issue of Myanmar’s democratisation. However, India need not fear a drastic break in Myanmar’s policy as far as cross-border relations are concerned. Both countries are likely to continue to maintain robust military-to-military relations.

    Meanwhile, India’s interests in the Indian Ocean Region and support to build Myanmar Navy will have to be actively pursued. The common development projects in Northeastern India and western Myanmar, as also the common approach to blue water economy, too will have to be paid attention to.

    Posted on December 23, 2015