The United Nations recently passed a resolution condemning Myanmar’s military leader and calling for a halt in arms sales to the country. It called upon the Myanmar military to respect the results of the general election, to respect all human rights of people of Myanmar and to allow the sustained democratic transition of Myanmar and asked for a release of detained political leaders. India abstained from the vote.
The February 1 coup is widely unpopular in Myanmar with protests, strikes, and a civil disobedience campaign taking place. Even the bureaucracy seems unwilling to return to military rule. The ruling military has also doubled down with overwhelming violence, brutally cracking down on protestors. Around 818 protesters are said to have been killed to date according to Association for Political Prisoners, with many more arrested. Despite the crackdown, the protests have not simmered down. The Civil Disobedience movement has seen participation from a wide section of the society from truck drivers to health workers and doctors and has paralyzed the economy. With all this, Myanmar’s economy is expected to shrink by 10% according to the World Bank. Ousted NLD (National League for Democracy) lawmakers have formed the Committee Representing the Parliament (CRPH) and created a National Unity Government which has promised to create a new, more inclusive constitution for Myanmar. This government has received support from many protestors but it lacks any international recognition. In an otherwise leaderless movement, it is this group that has risen to the top.
In view of the increasing violence, there has been a steady flow of Burmese refugees to neighbouring countries, many of whom have sought refuge in India, including journalists and policemen. According to the UN, the number lies anywhere between 4000 and 6000. The Indian government initially issued a directive to “check illegal influx from Myanmar into India” but the states decided to give people refuge anyway, owing to the close ethnic connections with them.
The increasing violence has also forced many of the peaceful protestors to flee to the countryside and smaller towns. Some of them are going to the remote borderlands and ethnic areas like Kachin and Karen and are joining armed rebel groups. The rebels have also started to train protestors who wish to fight back against the military regime. Here we are starting to see an unusual coalition of the protestors and rebel groups, perhaps indicating early signs of how the peaceful protests could turn into an armed rebellion. The small towns and villages, which are home to both rebels and protestors, have now emerged as centers of protests and are being subject to aerial bombardment and raids by the Myanmar military. In retaliation, a number of military installations have also been targets of rocket attacks. There have also been a number of assassination attempts against junta-appointed officials in various areas and even a bomb explosion in Sagaing city when the military leader Min Aung Hlaing recently visited.
All this points towards a country on the brink of a collapse. The military leader Min Aung Hlaing recently indicated that he intends to shift to civilian rule in the future. But this is unlikely without the leader Min Aung Hlaing ensuring that the military maintains tight control over the election process and has a greater representation. An example of the control it craves is the threat to dissolve NLD the political party of the ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi over electoral fraud.
The West, including the US, has responded to this coup with sanctions against the military leaders and affiliated various organizations but history has shown that sanctions have had very less effect on the military government and people who have been running a nearly sanction-proof business empire.
India is one of the countries with high stakes in Myanmar, and despite this, it has mostly just given out statements condemning the violence, asked for the release of the detained leaders and called for meaningful dialogue . Myanmar has historically served as a launchpad for insurgent groups into India’s northeast, and it also plays a key role strategically and economically in India’s Act East policy. The current situation may end up resulting in greater instability along India’s northeast. There could be a greater influx of refugees. In addition, a breakdown of the state machinery in Myanmar could also add fuel to insurgent movements in the northeast. Despite all these years of trying to build a closer relationship with the Tatmadaw, India has not developed the political capital to cause any change in the situation in Myanmar alone. The situation is different this time around, while Tatmadaw is indispensable to any final solution, India needs to engage with like-minded partners who have the same stakes like Japan and ASEAN to try and solve this issue. India needs to secure its own interests and also try to capitalize on the massive anti-China sentiment in Myanmar. India must take into account the popular will in Myanmar in its approach.