Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is paying a visit to India for the first time since the Rohingya crisis started five months ago, when thousands of refugees fled to Bangladesh. Suu Kyi arrived in New Delhi on Thursday to attend the Asean-India Commemorative Summit and be the chief guest at the celebration of India’s Republic Day (January 26th) on Friday.
She landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi Wednesday evening. India’s Minister of Health Anupriya Patel, and Joint Secretary (Bangladesh-Myanmar) of Indian Foreign Ministry Sripriya Ranganathan welcomed Suu Kyi at the airport.
In September last year, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Suu Kyi in Myanmar’s Nay Pyi Taw. They did not once mention the Rohingya issue during their meeting. However, India now wants to correct that “wrong.” India wants to make it clear, at least through the second Modi-Suu Kyi meeting, that it will give its full support to the process of returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Suu Kyi’s visit to India, however, cannot be regarded as a bilateral tour. She has gone to India as one of the ten Asean leaders invited to commemorate 25 years of Asean-India relations.
This time, the Modi-Suu Kyi meeting is expected to include a detailed discussion on the Rohingya issue.
India intends to have separate bilateral meetings with each Asean leader during the summit, which has been named “Shared Values - Common Destiny.”
From the very beginning of the Rohingya crisis, India has played a seemingly balanced diplomatic role without offending either Myanmar or Bangladesh. Paying regard to Myanmar's “sentiments,” India has not yet uttered the word Rohingya in any statement. However, India realized that it should play a more active role in convincing Myanmar to take back the refugees, and India has somewhat changed its stance in the issue due to continuous pressure from Bangladesh.
After the signing of the repatriation deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh last November, India has decided to take a more proactive role in the Rohingya crisis. This will be reflected in the next Modi-Suu Kyi meeting, experts believe.
Suu Kyi’s rapport with New Delhi goes way back. After the death of her father in 1947, the city gave her shelter, and her mother once held the position of a Myanmarese ambassador there. Before graduating from Oxford, she studied at New Delhi’s Lady Sriram College for Women. Even though she has a soft corner for the city, she had overtly criticized it for its support to Myanmar’s military junta when she was under house arrest years ago. After her party came to power, she did not come to New Delhi for her first foreign trip, instead she went to Beijing.
Narendra Modi and Suu Kyi are seeing each other again after four and a half months. Meanwhile, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali has paid a visit to India a few days back to talk to his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj, who assured Mahmood that India would give its full support to the Rohingya repatriation process.
This article was first published on banglatribune.com