As India gets to see Aung San Suu Kyi up close this week, her rich and varied itinerary gives ample indication of the deepening of India-Myanmar ties. And it is her delivery of the Jawaharlal Nehru memorial lecture today that reflects how gainfully India-Myanmar ties have come full circle — and indeed, how largehearted has been the cooperation of Suu Kyi and the military in transforming Myanmar.
When Suu Kyi was awarded the Nehru prize in the early 1990s, the ruling junta in Myanmar, which had stolen the general elections of 1990 from her party, made its displeasure clear. Over the years since then, especially over the last decade, India gradually repaired its relations with Myanmar and was accused of walking a cynical middle path between support to the democratic aspirations of the Myanmarese people and rehabilitation of the junta in bilateral ties in an effort to compete with China for transport connectivity and energy security via Myanmar. Indeed, when American President Barack Obama addressed Parliament in Delhi in November 2010, he exhorted India to take a bold stand against the generals. Yet, just a year later, the generals participated in a potentially radical opening up of their country by not only setting Suu Kyi free from her house arrest, but also making space for her to stand for a by-election to Myanmar’s parliament. Now as Suu Kyi arrives in India as both an ambassador for Myanmar’s democratic aspirations as well as a member of the legislature that gives the Myanmarese regime its legitimacy, it is not just that Delhi can once again take comfort that its efforts thus far for a stable, unified Myanmar have borne fruit. India must keep pushing the envelope to hasten the economic integration on its eastern borders.
There is no saying how fragile, or not, this moment is in Myanmar. Either way, it presents the best chance thus far to foster shared prosperity in the Northeast and in Myanmar, and beyond. Therefore, India needs to be bold and imaginative in using this transformative phase to integrate Myanmar into its domestic and regional aspirations. Helping strengthen Suu Kyi, as an individual and as the hopes she represents, as a stakeholder in the process is integral to that objective.