Around 30 scholars, writers and members of the civil society on Monday wrote to Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar, seeking that all Indian companies, including state-owned firms, immediately suspend all commercial ties and proposed deals with the Myanmar military, following a military coup last month.
The signatories saw this as a crucial step in supporting regional efforts to restore democratic order and peace in the neighbouring country.
They said that the political instability created by the coup could have far-reaching implications not just within Myanmar, but also in the South Asian region.
“Notably, it could disrupt the peace processes in India’s sensitive North-east which shares a long land border with Myanmar by opening the space for renewed insurgent activity,” their letter said. “It could also push vulnerable civilians to cross over from Myanmar, as has already been reported along the Mizoram-Chin border.”
The signatories said that while they understood India’s realpolitik constraints, they believed that only an elected civilian government and a military that is governed by due civilian oversight in Myanmar can ensure the political, security and economic stability needed for bilateral and regional progress in South Asia.
In view of this, the signatories urged the Indian government to urge the military regime in Myanmar to respect the will of the people and return to democratic rule, refrain from using force against peaceful protestors, release country’s elected government leaders – including Aung San Suu Kyi – who were overthrown and detained in the coup. They also called for restoration of the internet “in full” and to respect freedom of the press.
“We also call on the Government of India to urge Indian companies, including state-owned ones, to immediately suspend all commercial ties and proposed deals/joint ventures with the Myanmar military and all affiliated entities, including the two biggest conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanma Economic Holdings Limited,” the letter said.
The signatories include author Sanjoy Hazarika, policy researcher Angshuman Choudhury, Manipuri journalist Pradip Phanjoubam, travel historian and writer Yaiphaba Kangjam, among others.
India’s position on the coup
Security forces have killed more than 50 people since the coup, which ousted the civilian government of Suu Kyi and triggered pro-democracy protests across the country. The junta’s response to the protests has drawn international condemnation.
But India has been more measured in its public positions. Unidentified Indian government officials told Reuters that New Delhi understood the limitations of its influence on the military, known as the Tatmadaw, preferring “not to chasten them openly”. India’s cautious approach is rooted in both diplomatic and economic reasons, they said.
Officials in New Delhi have been concerned about China’s growing political and economic influence in South Asia, and turning its back on the Myanmar junta could potentially allow China to gain more ground in the region.
Additionally, India has provided developmental assistance of more than $1.75 billion to Myanmar and is currently involved in developing the nearly $400 million Kaladan port and highway project in the west of the country. It is also putting in around $250 million for another road project to connect India’s landlocked northeastern states with Thailand, via Myanmar.
“The biggest worry is the destabilising impact of this coup on connectivity,” an official told Reuters.
India’s reluctance is further underpinned by its reliance on Myanmar troops for securing its northeastern borders. Over the last two years, the Myanmar military had undertaken operations at India’s request to flush out insurgents along the frontier.