North East – Myanmar connectivity is crucial for the development of the North-East region, which hitherto was neglected because of its rugged roads and constant outbursts of ethnic turmoil and relegation as a peripheral part of the country. Myanmar borders North East, comprising eight regions.

Besides, Myanmar serves as the buffer state between India and China as the two nations are at loggerheads due to border disputes from time to time. The synergy of Myanmar connectivity is trilateral – from a new challenge to India’s geopolitical strategy in South East Asia and turning point for North East development to the containment of China’s outreach in the region through OBOR.

Myanmar witnessed a new dawn of democracy in November 2015 after five decades of military rule, when NLD (National League of Democracy) led by Aung San Suu Kyi swept the general election, overthrowing the military government. Following that, the victory of the civilian President in March 2016 affirmed the faith in democracy by the Myanmar people for the first time in 50 years. Both are India lovers.

The return of democracy, which pitched for major changes in the geopolitical situation between India and Myanmar, offers unique opportunities to Prime Minster Narendra Modi to make Myanmar a pivot for his Act Asia policy. Located at the crossroad between Bangladesh, China, Laos and India, home to more than 40 percent of world population, a big potential exists for trade and investment expansion in these areas using Myanmar as the epicenter.

Return of democracy in Myanmar is a major leg up for India to contain the rebels in the North East region.India is facing constant threats from insurgent groups in the North East. These groups have bases on the 1600 km India-Burmese border line. They are te National Socialist Council of Nagaland ( NSCN) and Manipur insurgent groups. They are being constantly stirred up by the Chinese anti-India movement. India wants to contain these insurgencies with the new government in Myanmar. Another security concern was Chinese benevolentselling of arms to the military Junta in Myanmar, which became thegateway for supply of arms to India’s North East regions’ insurgents. The return of democracy in Myanmar raises hope to cudgel the Chinese arms supply to the insurgents with joint military actions.

Historically, India had close relation with Myanmar since British colonialism (formerly Burma). The British brought a number of Indians to Burma during its colonial rule. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru provided arms to the Burmese government in 1949, which prevented the fall of Rangoon tor the rebels. On 7th July, 1951, India and Burma signed a Treaty of Friendship in New Delhi. The relationship between India and Burma was deeply engaged and informal during the Nehru regime.

The bonhomie between the two nations faded after China flexed its muscle. China emerged a major political and economic partner of Myanmar during the military junta government. The Sino-Burmese border agreement and a treaty of friendship between China and Myanmar were signed in January 1960, which overshadowed India’s close relation with Myanmar. India’s relation with Myanmar deteriorated further with India’s support to Burma’s pro-democratic movement in 1988. India, along with USA and Western countries, isolated the Myanmar Military Junta.

Myanmar is in the throes of transformation. Relation with India spurred under the UPA regime, with theinitiative of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In the event of the uptrend in India- Myanmar relation, North East can pose as a junction and Myanmar as the gateway to South East Asia, according to an event report by ORF. In this perspective, strong connectivity between North East and Myanmar is imperative. Connectivity projects like the India- Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor project ( BCIM) – a first expressway between India and China, which will pass through Myanmar and Bangladesh - will form major constituents in the economic cooperation between the two countries.

Connectivity got further muscle after Modi government boosted the initiative by approving the upgradation and widening of 65 kilometers of Imphal - Moreh road in Manipur.

Currently, the economic relation between the two countriesis is at the rock bottom. Myanmar accounts for less than one percent of India’s exports and 8 percent of India’s imports. The Import basket swells because of pulses, which accounts for over 80 percent of trade between the two countries. For Myanmar, India is the 5th largest trading partner – third largest export destination and seventh nation for imports.

India-Myanmar trade portends a big potential in border trade. At present there are four LCS (Land Custom Stations) in India dealing with border trade with Myanmar. Not much headway was made to capitalize the border trade between the two countries. One of the primary reasons for the low level of border trade is te unfavourable trading arrangement. Lack of modern trade infrastructure and adequate security dwarfed the potential of border trade. Hopes are raised with India-friendly Myanmar government, which will usher constructive measures for improvement of border trade.

Myanmar is a potential investment destination in South East Asia. Amidst the lackluster growth in FDI in South East Asian countries, Myanmar was spotted as a bright destination by foreign investors. Myanmar approved US $ 8.1 billion FDI in 2014-15 against US $ 4.1 billion in 2013-14 - almost a 100 percent jump in FDI. The lifting of USA and Western embargoes triggered Myanmar’ss attractiveness for the foreign investors.

India is far behind China in terms of investment in Myanmar. India accounts for less than one percent of foreign investment against 40 percent by China – the biggest investor.

Myanmar is endowed with big oil and gas and precious stones reserves, such as rubies, sapphires and jade.

Myanmar’s new government is likely to face a daunting task. Politically, it is yet to be fool-proof; acute poverty and severe unemployment eclipse the nation. The military-drafted constitution reserves 25 percent of the seats for non-elected military representatives. They have veto powers for Constitutional changes. The constitution vests powers with the Commander-in –Chief to appoint ministers for home, defence and border affairs.

Despite these, the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and her penchant for India’s support for development will act a bridge to reinvigorate the relation between India and Myanmar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, particularly after Doklam stand off and its diffusio , will likely give a political boost to Myanmar government for its assertion on full fledged democracy and delink it from the Chinese influence in the region. (IPA Service)