Home DEFENCE Coup in Myanmar: implications for India

Coup in Myanmar: implications for India

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Myanmar Army Chief General Min Aung Hlaing on a visit to India
Myanmar Army Chief General Min Aung Hlaing on a visit to India

Earlier, on 02 March 1962, the Myanmar military had staged a coup against the civilian government and converted the country into a military dictatorship. The then military leadership of Myanmar had a close relationship with the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) of China. In 1962, Mao had decided to teach India a lesson. It was in the interest of China that Burmese military took charge in Rangoon from a civilian government so that it is more responsive to Beijing. It was clear that PLA would be unleashed on Indian territory and the signals were clear to several within the Indian government at that time but then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru ignored them. The refusal to accept the worst-case scenario led to Sino-Indian conflict from 20 Oct to 21 Nov 1962. The war ended with full control of Aksai Chin by China and humiliation of Nehru and India.

The military coup on 01 Feb 2021 in Myanmar has to be seen in the context of preparations that are going on within the PRC military for a large-scale armed showdown with India at the borders to secure control over a large territory in both western as well as the eastern sectors. China is working very hard to ensure that India does not become a third superpower on the globe within the next decade. A civilian government in Myanmar would not be inclined towards joining hands with People Republic of China (PRC) but a military government could possibly be more inclined towards China because of the superpower status it enjoys. China would like to convert Myanmar into a safe zone for the operation of the PLA in the same way it has done with Pakistan, a satellite of Beijing. For China, the Myanmar military taking control of the country away from a civilian government committed to democracy is as important in 2021 as it was in 1962. It is often said that history repeats itself. Therefore, a military showdown between India and China is very much a possibility which cannot be denied. The military coup in Myanmar should be taken as an early signal of a significant move against India in the near future.

We all know that PLA is preparing itself for a battle. With a series of military and diplomatic level talks going on with no concrete results, is an indication of the things to come. China is preparing itself and so are we to face any such challenge. The big question is when would the balloon go up? I have an intuition that once the Russian S-400 missile defence systems are installed in various locations, it will complicate Indo- US relations and all-out support from the US to India may suffer a setback and India may have to face the dragon alone in the Himalayan region as in 1962. The Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea are the Red Lines to ensure the waters of the area are free and open to all. China is showing its assertiveness in the area which is contested by a number of South-East Asian countries. The efforts by Beijing to control access to these waters are unacceptable to the QUAD members, which include USA, Australia, Japan and India. The QUAD can check the expansionist designs of China in the area.

China is likely to pump in substantial amount of money to fund the Pakistan military against India as well as equipping the PLA for the same role. If China commits a Himalayan blunder against India on the lines of 1962, India should escalate the conflict into the naval sphere besides land and air. If there is a united response from the Quad members in the Indo-pacific region, the outcome could well be not 1962 but 1971. China should think twice before foraying into this misadventure, which could result in embarrassment.

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In the past, India had not been joining countries protesting against the military regime in Myanmar and preferred to remain neutral. This time, the US and other western countries are voicing concern at the subversion of democracy in Myanmar. It is important that India as a world’s largest democracy joins those who are condemning the military’s bid to take over Myanmar. The USA has even threatened to impose sanctions on Myanmar if the democracy is not restored. If sanctions are imposed on Myanmar, China may try to bail the military regime out. In fact, this may be a secret deal between the two. Therefore, it is in the interest of India that a civilian government is restored in Myanmar at the earliest. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is already working hard to ensure that 1962 is not repeated again.

India is already facing problems with its neighbours like China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Srilanka and it does not want to add another unstable neighbour in the list. Though India is trying to reach out to its neighbours by its vaccine diplomacy, by offering them free corona vaccines, but an unstable Myanmar would tighten the string of pearls around India, which China is secretly laying. We cannot afford to be insensitive to this new challenge.

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Brig Umesh Singh Bawa Vrc, SM
Umesh Singh Bawa Vrc, SM a PhD in Public Administration retired from the Indian Army as Brigadier. He is an infantry officer and author of a book called Mashkoh: Kargil as I saw it. He was awarded Vir Chakra during the Kargil conflict in 1999.

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