Media, civil society should boost India-Myanmar ties: Experts

Shillong, April 24 (IANS): With a new dispensation in place in Myanmar where Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is effectively in control of state affairs, experts are of the view that Indian civil society and the media should play an effective role in promoting bilateral ties with an important and strategic neighbour.

“Civil society in Myanmar has been hounded by the government so far,” said Walter Fernandes, senior fellow in the North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati.

“Indian civil society can teach the Myanmarese civil society on how to deal with the government and the media can play an important role in this context,” he added.

Fernandes was in Shillong to attend the India-Myanmar Media Dialogue organised by the Institute of Social Sciences, Asian Confluence, Burma Centre Delhi, and the Heinrich Boll Foundation on April 20-21.

According to former Indian ambassador to Myanmar Rajiv Bhatia, northeast India should become a learning centre about India’s immediate eastern neighbours.

“Media, strategic community, academia and civil society have to come together and collaborate,” he said.

Ash Narain Roy, director of the Institute of Social Sciences, laid emphasis on improvement of cooperation between Indian journalists and the Myanmar media and better representation on all the important agendas of India-Myanmar relations, particularly focussing on the bordering regions of Myanmar with India.

According to Alana Golmei of the Burma Centre Delhi, the media has a very important role to play in shaping India-Myanmar relationship.

“A meaningful interaction will lead to capacity development and partnership. We are happy to forge a relationships with like-minded agencies,” she said.

Mizoram is one state which can play an important role in India-Myanmar people-people ties, according to journalist Henry Lalhilmum.

Mizoram has been a stage for disputes over the Chin refugees from Myanmar but Lalhimum said that things were now changing.

“We have now realised that we have blood connection with the Chin people,” he said.

“Our chief minister has visited Myanmar to attend a Chapchar-Kut festival.”

Chapchar-Kut is the biggest Mizo feztival. It is celebrated during spring after completion of the Mizos’ most arduous task of jhum cultivation or jungle clearing.

“When it comes to blood relations, there can be no boundaries,” Lalhilmum said.

According to Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute in Myanmar, India’s ‘Act East’ policy, if implemented fully, can bring a lot of progress to the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-China-India (ACI) region.

“The ACI economies are poised to make unprecedented progress. A total of 600 million people can be lifted out of property,” he said.

These views have come forward in the face of China’s proactive approach in dealing with Myanmar.

After the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi assumed power on March 30, China’s Wang Yi on April 5 became the first foreign minister from any country to visit Nay Pyi Taw capital city and hold talks with Suu Kyi.

China’s proactive approach, however, has seemingly been met with caution by the Myanmar leadership.

“Previously, China got a lot of projects by bribing the military,” former member of the the myanmarese parliament, U Ye Tun, who was also in Shillong for the conference, told IANS.

“We have now told China that if they want to invest, there must be transparency,” he said.

Apart from small development projects like hospitals, schools and educational institutes, India is participating in three major infrastructure projects in Myanmar — the trilateral highway that culminates in Thailand, the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Project and the Rih-Teddim Road Project — which are in various stages of completion.
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