How military mayhem in Myanmar and upcoming elections in Bangladesh can impact the north-eastern region of India

N Sathiya Moorthy 2 December 2023

According to the ‘rival’ Kuki-Zo community, the governments at the Centre and the state were biased towards the Meiteis, making them feel unsafe and insecure even more owing to this year’s inter-communal clashes. In the aftermath of the clashes, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), representing the Kuko-Zo community, had earlier announced ‘self-rule’ in three districts, with their leaders nonchalantly declaring that they did not care if the Centre recognised them as such.

As a stand-alone crisis, the Meitei-Kuki clashes perhaps could have been better handled. An additional complexity showed up after some Kukis sought refuge in neighbouring Mizoram, where what essentially was a ‘localised issue’ in Manipur became an issue in the recent assembly polls, whose results on Sunday, 3 December, along with those for four other states in November. Manipur has a BJP government under Chief Minister N Biren Singh. Following the refugee influx and its anticipated impact on the voter mood in the state, Mizoram’s ruling MNF of Chief Minister Zoramthanga quit the NDA.Yet,

it is not about the Manipur imbroglio or its fall-out in neighbouring Mizoram. Problems in India’s immediate neighbourhood in the North East may have far-reaching consequences, the kind of which the nation had lived in the post-independence past and successfully converted into a democratic opportunity for the local population and tribal groups over the past three or four decades.

Internal trouble

The impact of those issues and problems, real and perceived across the border, could have consequences for the northeastern region. These in turn could add to the existing and re-emerging issues nearer home as some of the home-grown problems like the unresolved ‘Naga issue’ have the potential to erupt without notice, that too when the Lok Sabha polls are due in the first half of the New Year.

There is internal trouble in Myanmar, which shares borders with four northeastern states, namely, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The ruling military junta, which staged a coup against the democratically elected government identified with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February 2001, has been losing battles against a new, ‘Three Brotherhood Alliance’ insurgency, in recent week.

The three allies are not among those that had signed a collective peace agreement with the government in 2015. Three of the four states bordering Myanmar, barring Arunachal Pradesh, fall within the rebel-held territory in Myanmar. On one occasion since the October insurgency, 30 Myanmarese soldiers along with civilian refugees crossed over to India. If pressure mounts along the bilateral border on the other side, the trickle of Myanmar refugees entering India could grow.

Problems with ChinaIndia

already has troubles with China, which from time to time has been laying claims on the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. Demonstrated claims of the kind as in tri-junction with Bhutan in Doklam (2017) and Galwan in Ladakh (2020), that too if it is time for the Lok Sabha elections, due in May, could have multiple consequences for the North East as a region and the nation as a whole. If nothing else, the government at the Centre and in Arunachal Pradesh and also the armed forces would have to be prepared for any eventuality.

If any such thing happened, the Indian response would have to be much more than the surgical strikes in 2016. But then the conduct of the Chinese army at Galwan was as unprofessional and unethical as Pakistan’s ISI-backed cross-border terror attacks that triggered and justified the strikes.

With trouble in Myanmar and tension in Manipur, New Delhi just cannot afford to take chances. This is not to forget the revived border talks between Bhutan and China, about which Thimpu has been keeping New Delhi updated every now and again. Yet, that is not another area that India can feel at peace just as it cannot ignore tremors in Nepal, where a Chinese-led government is now in office.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal alias Prachanda has indeed given a firm ‘no’ to signing up for China’s Global Security Initiative (GSI) even while partnering in Beijing’s Global Developmental Initiative (GDI). India can breathe easy on this, yet cannot lower its guard, either.

Then, there are upcoming parliamentary polls in Bangladesh, which too shares borders with five Indian states, namely Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and West Bengal. There is an undercurrent of anti-government sentiments, against the ruling Awami League and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. She is due to complete her third consecutive term of five years.There has been a recent spurt in the frequency and the size of the Opposition-led protests against her that goes beyond customary traits of anti-incumbency. Instead, it concerns what her critics nearer home and the West describe as Prime Minister Hasina’s ‘autocratic approach’ to politics and public administration.Hasina’s traditional rival, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), identified with former prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, has been rendered ineffective in every which way, after the latter’s imprisonment and later freedom, as a sick leader incapable of leading a political party or public movement against the incumbent.

Similar is the case with the religious radical Jamaat-i-Islami, which too has been identified with anti-India groups and terror operations. With the backing of the judiciary, Hasina has stood firm not to entrust the administration to an interim government, if only to ensure free and fair elections.While India is believed to be sympathetic to Hasina, most Western nations, including the US, hold divergent views. It had not bothered Hasina one way or the other in the past, but it remains to be seen how it all plays out this time. If there is tension and trouble in that country, though not necessarily to the levels during the victorious Bangladesh War of 1971, fading memories of the past do trigger concern and caution in India’s North East especially.

There is also the unmentioned fear of refugees from Bangladesh being forced to take shelter in India. In the post-War past, as may be recalled, the ‘Assam agitation’ over the foreigners’ issue was all about illegal Bangladeshi migrants settling down in the largest of the seven northeastern states, to the extent the state’s demography, electoral rolls and even ration cards all were compromised to an unprecedented degree.

(The writer is a Chennai-based policy analyst and political commentator. Email:


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