Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first bilateral visit to Myanmar comes in the backdrop of the worsening Rohingya crisis in the Rakhine state and the Centre’s decision to deport illegal Rohingya immigrants.
During the two-day visit to Myanmar, Narendra Modi is expected to bring up the subject for discussion when he meets state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday. Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in India to escape persecution by Myanmar authorities.
Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju told Parliament last month that nearly 40,000 Rohingyas are staying in India illegally, and majority of them are living in Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-NCR and Rajasthan.
The Centre has said that illegal migrants like the Rohingyas pose grave security challenges as they may be recruited by terror groups, and directed states to identify such immigrants and deport them.
AMBITIOUS STARTS, DELAYED PROJECTS
Ahead of Modi’s visit to Myanmar, India, which has maintained that there is no change in policy on illegal immigrants, has said that New Delhi would encourage the Myanmar government to “find ways of stimulating socio-economic development” in Rakhine.
“If there is active economic activity in the state, many of the problems will be at least reduced,” said Joint Secretary, Bangladesh and Myanmar in Ministry of External Affairs, Sripriya Ranganathan at a press briefing before Narendra Modi’s Myanmar visit. She said India was working in that direction.
New Delhi did start working in that direction by proposing the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project in 2003, with the aim to push economic collaboration between India and Myanmar by connecting Mizoram to some of the western towns and ports cities in Myanmar.
The estimated USD 484-million project has since run into several delays, with India completing the construction of Sittwe port, in Rakhine state, last year. The work on another leg of the project–building road transport to connect Paletwa in Myanmar to Mizoram in India–is still on. The Modi government now aims to complete the project by 2019.
CHINA MADE ECONOMIC INROADS
The bilateral trade between India and Myanmar stands at a meagre USD 2.2 billion. Contrast this with the bilateral border trade between China and Myanmar which was estimated to be nearly USD 6 billion during 2016-2017, while overall bilateral trade figures stood at close to USD 9.5 billion.
Narendra Modi has called Myanmar a “key pillar” of India’s Act East Policy which aims to strengthen India’s economic and strategic ties with southeast Asian countries against a rising China. India shares over 1600 km-long land border with Myanmar as well as maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar is the only ASEAN country with which India shares its borders and is therefore New Delhi’s gateway to ASEAN.
Yet, the economic ties with Myanmar have been neglected by successive Indian governments.
Under Narendra Modi, the Act East policy has got a much-needed push but many suggest that it will be difficult for India to woo Myanmar and the Aung San Suu Kyi government when China has made deep economic inroads into the country.
That Aung San Suu Kyi visited China before coming to India in October shows that Myanmar places enough importance to its relations with Beijing.
It was, therefore, symbolic and significant when India despatched the first diesel consignment to Myanmar a day before Modi reached Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar. Numaligarh Refinery (NRL) in Assam has entered into an agreement with Parami Energy Group of Companies for the supply of diesel and collaboration in the retail petroleum sector of Myanmar.
BEYOND ECONOMICS, BUILDING CULTURAL TIES
During Modi’s two-day visit to Myanmar, agreements on maritime cooperation, health, development cooperation projects are in the offing. The two countries will sign an MoU for
conservation of earthquake-damaged pagodas at Bagan, Myanmar.
India, which has always stressed on building cultural ties with its neighbours, would want to connect culturally with Myanmar, an area where it hopes to edge past China.
The government release on the MoU says that the project will generate “immense goodwill for India among the people of Myanmar due to religious significance as well as touristic significance of the project”.
The Prime Minister sought inputs from Indian community in Myanmar through his Narendra Modi app before his interaction with them during his two-day visit.
As Modi meets Myanmar’s top leadership over the next two days, the Prime Minister would hope to convince Myanmar about its seriousness in strengthening ties as an alert China keeps a close watch on the developments.
( source- Indiatoday.com)