New Delhi: The coming elections in Myanmar, with which India shares strong historical and cultural bonds besides a land and maritime boundary, will be keenly watched to see if the “little understood” country will take a full turn towards democracy, diplomatic experts said here.
Speaking at the release of the book “India-Myanmar Relations: Changing contours” by former Indian envoy to Myanmar Rajiv Bhatia, experts, including Vice President Hamid Ansari, a former diplomat himself, said the book was timely in understanding Myanmar, which in 2010 took a major step towards democracy.
Ansari said, “As Myanmar readies for its tryst with democracy, India offers a ready model for a diverse and democratic set up” and added that it is necessary to better understand the political, social and economic developments in Myanmar.
Ansari suggested that India can be a large and proximate market to Myanmar for its agricultural produce and a source of technology and industrial expertise. He said there is room for both countries to enhance cooperation in security and defence matters.
Bhatia, in his address at the event held at Sapru House on Tuesday evening, said that the relevance of Myanmar in Indian foreign policy has been rising perceptibly. “Since 2011, it has received sustained high level attention as a neighbour of strategic significance, a leading member-state of ASEAN, and a potent bridge linking South Asia, Southeast Asia and China,” he said.
Bhatia, former head of Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), said through his book he has attempted “a comprehensive evaluation of India’s multi-faceted relations with Myanmar”.
“As a large neighbour linked to Myanmar through ties of history, culture, religion, ethnicity, economy, diaspora and common interests, India would ardently hope that our eastern neighbour keeps advancing on the path of stability and national reconciliation, democratic and inclusive governance, progress and prosperity,” he said.
Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, also a former envoy in Myanmar, in his address, said despite its proximity to India and the strong historical and cultural bonds that both countries share, “there is a sense of being strangers passing each other in the night”.
He said Myanmar is going through a fascinating political, economic and social transition and was poised on the eve of elections that could prove historic and transformative. Myanmar is to hold parliamentary elections on November 8 and presidential elections in 2016.
Saran said the 2010 elections in Myanmar and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s release was a “half-turn” towards democracy, and added that the forthcoming polls “could be a full turn”. 
ICWA Director General Nalin Surie hoped the book will add to the body of knowledge and scholarship on a “little understood country” but one which was of immense strategic importance to India. 
The book, published by Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, is divided into eight chapters and deals with India-Myanmar relations from antiquity to early 2015.