Thursday, June 11, 2015

Modi’s Myanmar Blunder: Will India have to Pay the Price?


                There is a saying in Malayalam, “Alpanu Aishwaryam Kittiyaal Ardharathrikkum Kuta Pitikkum.” A crude translation would be, when the small minded people become rich, they will hold an umbrella even in the midnight. Holding an umbrella in the hot sun during the day is a sign of prosperity (the poor people working under the sun cannot, of course, afford it), but using an umbrella even at midnight (well, rain is an exception) is a sure sign of small mindedness coupled with undeserved prosperity.

                The reactions from Modi Government, to the Indian Army’s reported cross border strikes against North East militants hiding in Myanmar territory reminded me of that old saying. However, the focus of this post is not whether Modi and his ministers are small-minded or not. What I am concerned about is whether India will have to pay the price for Modi government’s blunder. Let me explain!

                No sovereign country in the world would like soldiers from other countries to cross its borders and carry out operations at will. If and when such things happen, the relationship between the countries would suffer, for sure.  However, there are exceptions when the countries create sufficient mutual trust and understanding on how to proceed when such cross border strikes become imperative for whatever reasons. One such exception was the India-Myanmar understanding on cross-border operations against militants from Northeast who cross over to Myanmar after committing terrorist activities in Indian Territory.

                It was in December 2010 that India and Myanmar entered into an agreement to allow Indian forces to cross the borders in hot pursuit of militants who escape to Myanmar. Of course, as expected in any such agreements between two sovereign countries, there were permissions to be obtained and process to be followed while crossing the border. Even with those conditions, it was an exceptionally friendly gesture from the Myanmar government to allow such cross border operations. It was also exceptional diplomacy from the then Indian government to get such an agreement executed with a neighboring country. Unlike the Modi government, nobody in the then government went to town with the news, claiming credit.   

                It was not the first instance of India’s neighbors providing assistance to India in dealing with her militant outfits. Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar have provided similar assistance in the past. Indian Army had conducted operations, or assisted the armed forces of neighbors in flushing out Indian militants camping in their respective territories. However, these operations were either projected as sole operations of the armed forces of respective countries or kept under wraps, for obvious reasons. No country can afford to be seen as compromising its sovereignty, whatever the reasons might be.  Even in the present strikes, it is na├»ve to believe that India conducted a unilateral operation without keeping the friendly government in Myanmar informed (Some friends suggest, it might have been the case that Myanmar not kept in the loop by Indian Army during this operation. Even if that is true, India should have kept the details of the operations a secret for the sake of continued friendship with Myanmar and similar actions in the future, in any of the friendly neighboring countries).

                Where does that leave the brave chest thumping by Modi government, post Myanmar operations? Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore used the occasion to warn other countries by saying that the operation was a message to all. Of course, the ‘all’ included China and Pakistan, the latter being the highest cross border supporter of Indian militants and terrorists.  Perhaps the Minister was playing to the crowd of gullible Modi Bhakts on social media for, obviously, he could not have been oblivious of the difference between a permitted incursion into Myanmar and hostile incursion into China or Pakistan!

                The overt claims over a supposedly covert operation can make India a laughing stock across the world, yet again. That apart, consider where do all these leave Myanmar government? How will it answer (if at all it does) its own people about the supposed violation of its sovereignty by Indian forces? No doubt each border crossing by an Indian militant is equally a violation of the sovereignty of that country, but no militant issues press statements to claim such violations. Will Myanmar reconsider any such assistance in the future, or is it so enamored by Modi’s charisma that it will suffer silently and let Modi create his larger than life image of a daring leader?

                That applies to even other neighbors. Will they dare to offer similar permission or assistance to Indian forces in the future, when it is likely to lead to exaggerated claims from Modi government and create embarrassment for their governments? It may not matter so much for Myanmar, but other democratic countries in which the opposition is more active will not dare to be in a similar predicament.


                Hope Modi and his ministers will learn the basics of statecraft and diplomacy and stop showing off their new umbrellas, at midnight!