By Saroj Mohanty
New Delhi: The road map for enhanced cooperation between India and Myanmar, especially on the economic front, will be further defined when democracy icon Aung Saan Suu Kyi arrives here Tuesday to touch base with old friends and interlocutors, bolstering her India connect after a gap of 40 years.
Suu Kyi will be in India ostensibly to deliver the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture and meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Nov 14, renewing the focus on burgeoning ties between the two neighbours.
The India visit in many ways holds the most significance for Suu Kyi, who spent her formative years in the country and studied and lives in Delhi. An admirer of Rammohan Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatama Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, she is said to have an “openness to ideas and innovations from other cultures” according to biographer Peter Popham.
During the trip, she would imbibe some for the development of Myanmar which has just come out of decades of political and economic isolation. She is particularly interested in learning from the Indian experience in agriculture, health, science and technology.
The Myanmarese government of President Thein Sein has unleashed the “second wave of reforms” focusing on economic growth, foreign investment and infrastructure. In April, it scrapped the fixed exchange rate and moved to unify multiple exchange rates for the kyat.
Also, it has passed a new investment law tailored to attract foreign investment. Barring a few sensitive sectors, the government has allowed 100 percent ownership of foreign ventures with no minimum capital in all.
Diplomatic observers say the country is breaking free of the “Chinese grip” on its economy and external trade.
India, which has played a part in coaxing the generals in Myanmar into political reforms that have unfolded in the past year, sees its relations as part of its effort to reinvigorate its “Look East” policy that aims at improving diplomatic and commercial ties with its neighbours in Southeast and East Asia.
Officials said Myanmar is looking at India for more investment and trade.
India has agreed to upgrade an extensive network of roads and bridges in Myanmar that would effectively connect the country to Thailand as early as 2016.
Suu Kyi, who has made the transition from a freedom fighter to a politician, is aware of the nation building that lies ahead.
She has called for “democracy friendly, human right friendly investments”.
“Investors must take responsibility for the results of the business that they do inside our country. It’s not just environmental consciousness, but also a consciousness of possible long-term results,” she said, addressing the International Labour Organisation in Geneva in June.
International business watchers see a huge “gold rush” going on in Myanmar and say the Indian government and industry have to be aggressive in exploring business opportunities in the resource-rich country that could be “the next economic frontier in Asia”.
Bilateral trade has expanded from $12.4 million in 1980-81 to $1.07 billion in 2010-11. Both countries have agreed to double bilateral trade to $3 billion by 2015.
To give a fillip, the Trade and Investment Committee, instituted by the two governments, would meet in Moreh, Manipur, this week.
High-level visits have their own dynamics and impact in strengthening relations between countries. Suu Kyi’s trip is expected to facilitate the future engagement between India and Myanmar.
The Indian prime minister visited Myanmar in May 2012 and the president of Myanmar came to India in October 2011.