Border row: India, Myanmar and ‘sacrificial lamb’

The irony is stark and complete. While we are offering our best hospitality to the Myanmarese delegates attending the ongoing Manipur Sangai Festival, soldiers of the neighbouring country intruded into the territory of Manipur and prohibited Haollenphai villagers from constructing a house. Whereas women’s football teams of Myanmar and Manipur are playing exhibition football matches at Imphal, incursion by Myanmar soldiers into the territory of Manipur has been rising. Even as Manipur and certain provinces of Myanmar are holding bilateral business summit with the principal objective of boosting trade and commercial activities between the two countries, border pillars have been re-located. This is the irony of the situation we are talking about. Coincidentally, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju was at Imphal attending the Sangai Festival when Myanmar soldiers intruded inside the territory of Manipur, just around 3 Kms away from Moreh township and prevented Haollenphai villagers from constructing a house. But earlier this year when the whole of Manipur raised vociferous objection against shifting of a particular border pillar towards India at Kwatha Khunou, Kiren Rijiju had the audacity to tell the Parliament that there is no border dispute between the two countries. No doubt, as the host, it is our duty to extend the best hospitality to all the visitors of the annual Manipur Sangai Festival and there cannot be any exception to the delegates coming from Myanmar but no external forces should be allowed to take undue advantage of our friendly disposition. It is possible that Myanmar has a different narrative or account of the Indo (Manipur)-Myanmar border which is not exactly compatible with Manipur’s account. As demonstrated by the frequent incursions by Myanmar soldiers and resistance by Manipuri (Indian) citizens, there is a gap between our understanding and their understanding of the boundary line between the two countries, particularly in Moreh sector. Again, it was Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who opened this year’s edition of Manipur Sangai Festival but she did not mention anything about the border dispute between India and Myanmar in Manipur.
The border issue is a serious one but it has been rendered much graver by the Government of India’s stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge the border dispute. In fact, the way New Delhi has been deliberately ignoring the issue is rather puzzling. We must accept that the ground situation is known more clearly to the villagers settled along or close to the international boundary than Government officials sitting at Imphal or New Delhi. The border villages have pointed out every now and then that incursion by Myanmar soldiers into India is nothing new. There were also reports of Myanmar soldiers vandalising a saw mill in H. Lhangcham village between border pillars 75 and 76. In spite of all these incidents, New Delhi has been maintaining a deafening silence. New Delhi never fails to react promptly and in befitting manner to any incursion by Chinese or Pakistani soldiers in Arunachal Pradesh or Kashmir, but their response to such incursions by Myanmar soldiers in Manipur is totally contradictory. In most cases, New Delhi did not even respond. It is highly possible that China is one major factor for New Delhi’s reluctance to confront Myanmar. May be, New Delhi thinks a few border areas is a small price in its efforts to counter-balance Chinese influence in South East Asia. But Manipur is a very tiny State of the huge country called India. It is also a fact that Manipur’s territory is India’s territory but it is not sure whether the reverse is true or not. Given New Delhi’s reluctance to take up the border issue with Nay Pyi Taw, we cannot help asking if Manipur is being used as the ‘sacrificial lamb’ in their diplomatic game plan vis-a-vis its eastern neighbour.

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