History has, unfortunately, repeated itself in Myanmar. In 1990, unable to countenance a sweeping election victory for the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy, the military seized power in a coup and imprisoned the then newly minted political leader for pretty much the next two decades. The Tatmadaw has done it again, 31 years later, at a time when it was believed that Myanmar had turned a corner. The country held a second general election in November 2020 after the NLD finished a full five years in office. The coup on the day the new Parliament was scheduled to meet threatens to turn back the clock. The generals were unhappy with the results from the time it became clear that the Union Solidarity and Democratic Party, a Tatmadaw proxy, had fared even more poorly than in 2015. Now Suu Kyi and many of her party, including the Myanmar President, Win Myint, are in detention. The military’s announcement that it has imposed an emergency for a year is, going by past record, written on water.
Despite its reservations about Suu Kyi’s questionable role in the Rohingya crisis, the international community has come out strongly against the military’s actions. But the highly inward-looking Myanmar military is not easily moved. It managed to defy international pressure for decades, giving in bit by bit only when it became apparent that it needed to engage with the world, if not for any other reason, but to ensure its own pre-eminent position in Myanmar. Now, the generals fear that armed with a fresh mandate from the people, the extremely popular Suu Kyi will change the Constitution, drafted and promulgated by the junta in 2008, to send the army back to where it belongs in a democracy — the barracks. The hope is that the Tatmadaw may realise that a coup in the second decade of the 21st century may be far more difficult to sustain.
For India, which was one of the few countries alongwith China that engaged with a military-ruled Myanmar, the new situation in the neighbouring country, which shares a long border with three north-eastern states, will create its share of uncertainties. Delhi has expressed its “deep concern” at the latest developments, and its support for a democratic transition. It must continue its engagement with Myanmar, and leverage its influence with the Army to persuade it to step back.