Modi visit begins today amidst Rakhine crisis

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech ahead of a BRICS Business Council and Signing ceremony, at the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China, 04 September 2017. Photo: EPA

Indian minister Khiren Rijjuju 's threat to deport all Rohingyas followed by the statement of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Aug 26 offering condolences for the Myanmar security personnel killed in  the ARSA offensive and promising to stand firmly with Myanmar in its fight against terrorism have set the stage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's three day visit to Myanmar.

The BJP has reinforced its anti-Muslim support base in India by hitting out at Rohingyas and promising to throw them out. This anti-Muslim baiting needs periodic renewal to sustain the Hindutva forces, but at the same time, they have also used it to connect to Myanmar nationalist and hardline Buddhist opinion ahead of the Modi visit.

Bangladesh's Shiekh Hasina government,by offering joint military operations with the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army), has helped the beleaguered Aung San Suu Kyi government at a time when Indian military training teams are supposed to start work in Myanmar, training the Tatmadaw in special operations and preparing them for UN Peace Keeping duties.

While Indian plans to deport Rohingyas may not be welcome in Yangon and Bangladesh's repeated pitch to stop persecution of Rohingya civilians may not go down well, the promise of military support from two of Myanmar's South Asian neighbours to fight terrorism has been received well in Yangon, and is construed as Indian support for the ruthless military campaign against ARSA.

With thousands of Rohingyas fleeing into Bangladesh and possibly a trickle to India's neighbouring states, helped by China's silence on the Rakhine crisis,the imbroglio has helped India strike a strong chord with mainstream Myanmar public opinion.

Modi is likely to reinforce that when he promises '. . . All possible forms of support' to the Myanmar government and the army and the fine communicator that he is, the Indian Prime Minister is likely to bring that out when he jointly addresses a press conference at Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday and during a public rally at Yangon later in the day.

The Myanmar nationalists and the media have raised a stink over Chinese plans to accquire 85% stake in the Kyaukphyu port project in Rakhine state. That is a port built by the Chinese who plan to have a special economic zone in the port and an oil-and-gas pipeline and a rail-road link to China’s Yunnan province.

On the other hand, India is scoring a point by handing over a similar port renovation project at Sittwe, north of Kyaukphyu, also in Rakhine state. Two phases of the Kaladan Multi Modal project is complete, the Sittwe port and the Paletwa Inland Waterways terminal and work will soon start on connecting Sittwe to Zirinpui in India's Mizoram state.

"This project helps our mainland connect to India's Northeast, but we are giving this over to Myanmar. We intend to create public assets for Myanmar, not commercial assets to facilitate for our business as some countries (read China) are doing," Indian ambassador to Myanmar Vikram Misri told  Mizzima in an exclusive interview last week.

Though it is not clear whether India plans to deport the 40000 Rohingyas to Myanmar or Bangladesh, the announcement is aimed at bolstering BJP's domestic base in India and connecting to hardline Buddhist -Myanmar nationalist opinion in Myanmar.

The actual deportation may not get off the ground at all because finalising the country for sending the Rohingyas back may not be easy to do.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's planned visit to Bagan, where India has restored earthquake hit ancient pagodas, and to Yangon's iconic Shwe Dagon pagoda and his planned public rally at a local stadium seems to be aimed at connecting Indian settlers and Myanmar nationalists through a combination of religious appeal and political orchestration.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Modi got Rijjuju to fire the first salvo when he promised the Rohingya pushout. Rijjuju is a Buddhist and one who shepherded the Dalai Lama during the Tibetan leader's visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

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