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Mahendra Pande asked: What are the actual reasons for ethnic violence in Myanmar? What active role could India play in it?

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  • Udai Bhanu Singh replies: Ethnic conflict is one of Myanmar’s biggest challenges. It makes the task of national reconciliation tougher. Myanmar is a multi-ethnic country composed of seven ethnically designated states and regions (with Bamar or Burman majority) referred to in the colonial period as ’Frontier’ Burma and ’Ministerial’ Burma. The Burmans (mostly Buddhist), who are 68 per cent of the total population, form the majority. The other ethnic groups are the Shans, the Karens, the Rakhines, the Kachins, Chins, Was, Palaungs, the Nagas, etc.

    The British effectively put the country on a path of separate economic and political development when it divided it into ‘Ministerial Burma’ (dominated by the Burmans and directly governed) and ’Outer Burma’ (dominated by the minorities and allowed a measure of autonomy). The British policy of preferring minorities in their recruitment to the army and civil administration saw a reaction in the post-independence period of military rule. The 2008 Constitution provided for six Self-Administered Zone/Division: Naga, Danu, Pa-O, Pa Laung, Kokang and Wa respectively. Following the 2010 general elections, demands for a second Panglong Conference were raised. However, the statelessness of Rohingya Muslims contributed to the violence and refugee flow seen in the recent past.

    India, on its part, desires stability in its neighbourhood and especially because of the common ethnic population on either side of the India-Myanmar border. India seeks to contribute to ethnic peace in Myanmar through improved economic condition, greater connectivity, emphasis on community based development with emphasis on health and education sector. In all this besides the government, the private sector and NGOs are required to be important stakeholders.