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India’s role

This looping in of India, which has a functional relationship with both the junta and the Ms Suu Kyi-led pro-democracy movement, is of significance.

Statesman News Service |

The execution of four prisoners including a former politician and a veteran activist by Myanmar’s junta ~ the country’s first use of capital punishment in decades ~ has sent shockwaves through the region and the wider world. India’s reaction, however, has been rather muted even as condemnation has been pouring in thick and fast of what many critics term a state-sanctioned murder of political prisoners. The ruling military regime in Myanmar, of course, insists due process was followed under extant laws and appropriate punishment on the statute books was meted out to the convicts who were found guilty of “conspiring to commit acts of terror”. Phyo Zeya Thaw, a rapper and former lawmaker from former State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, and the prominent democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, popularly known as ‘Jimmy’, were among the four ~ all of whom had been sentenced to death in January in closed trials ~ put to death.

The United Nations (UN) rapporteur Thomas Andrews said he was “outraged and devastated” by the executions as he called for an immediate and firm response by UN member-states. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) of which Myanmar is a member-state too expressed concern despite its policy of non-interference in members’ domestic affairs, only to be brushed aside by the junta which said many countries have the death penalty enshrined in their legal systems to be used when the crime befitted such punishment. But it is the reaction of the United States of America to the executions which has caused many in the region to sit up and take notice. Urging China to do more to rein in Myanmar’s military, US State Department spokesperson Mr Ned Price told a briefing: “Arguably, no country has the potential to influence the trajectory of Burma’s next steps more so than the PRC [People’s Republic of China].” While this was on expected lines, Mr Price crucially went on to note: “In-depth discussions have already been held with China and India on how to put Myanmar back on the path to democracy.” This looping in of India, which has a functional relationship with both the junta and the Ms Suu Kyi-led pro-democracy movement, is of significance.

Even as the international community led by the USA puts pressure on Beijing to ensure the military regime in Myanmar pays a much higher cost in both economic and military terms than it does currently for its transgressions, policy establishments in leading Western capitals are perfectly aware China will act only in its own interest and Beijing is anyway not in sync with what it routinely derides as the West’s self-serving democracy narrative. New Delhi, on the other hand, is in a position to negotiate with all stakeholders in Myanmar to bring about at least a functional accommodation between them as existed prior to the coup in February 2021, even if not an immediate rapprochement. To pursue such an incremental approach would be a wise move. As a regional power with an Act East Policy in place, India must not be found missing in action.