The emergence of new geopolitics in Myanmar and India's troubled borderlands
- Part 2 -

Maheshsana Rajkumar *

 Myanmar nationals seeking refuge in Manipurís Kamjong District on December 17 2023
Myanmar nationals seeking refuge in Manipurís Kamjong District on December 17 2023 :: Pix - Waari Singbul Network

There exists a good relationship between the Kachin and the Chin ethnic, and they are good allies being predominantly Christians with the strong backing of the world churches. It was the Kachin Independent Army (KIA), who first trained the Chin rebels in the use of firearms in Myanmar. The Kachin and Chin rebels have allied with PDF after the 2021 coup to overthrow the junta.

Meanwhile, KIA had aligned with the Three Brotherhood Alliance in Shan State of Myanmar. The wind of change in Myanmar may even sway the Kachin Independent Army, a strong ally of NUG, and the Three Brotherhood alliance towards China in the fast- changing political environment. In the rightful saying the alliances made are meant to be broken in these prevailing circumstances.

As per the Reuters, November 14, 2023, the area of Khampat a town in Kabaw Valley in the Sagaing Region in western Myanmar came under the control of Chin rebels. The two camps next to India's Mizoram State were also run over by the Chin rebels.

The serious poser to National Unity Government post junta is whether they will be successful to bring all the EAOs allied with them under the NUG banner to form the next government. The answers for all these questions only time will tell.

Now, looking back at the history of Manipur kingdom, the border issues with Burma (Myanmar) had always been the bone of contention leading to frequent wars. The role of Manipur kingdom was one of the factors in the events leading to the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) and the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885). The events leading to the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) and the Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885) are recorded below as follows:

In the first quarter of 19th century, the Burmese royal book namely Royal Order of Burma (ROB) dated 8 March 1818, recorded a letter sent by Konbaung emperor Bodawpaya to Maharaja Marjit Singh to drive out the English from Manipur. Marjit ignored Bodawpaya's plea. Grandson Bagyidaw succeeded Bodawpaya after his demise in 1819.

Bagyidaw invited Marjit Singh to attend the coronation ceremony and Marjit's failure to show up enraged Bagyidaw who under the command of General Maha Bandula invaded Manipur, Assam and Cachar. Manipur was brought under the Burmese rule for seven years (1819-1826), which is known as seven years devastation or chahi taret khuntakpa in Manipuri.

Myanmar's long ill-defined border with British India and Britain's ambition of territorial expansion and consolidation of Southeast Asia culminated in the outbreak of the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26).

D.G.E. Hall in his book, "History of Burma", recorded a second opportunity to settle relations occurred in 1882. It arose over the Kabaw Valley question, which was thought to have been settled by Burney in 1834 when the valley had been awarded to Burma. Unfortunately, no precise demarcation of the boundary line with Manipur had ever been carried out.

With Thibaw's accession, the Burmese fomented a series of frontier disturbances. The Government of India thereupon invited Thibaw to join in a frontier commission. When he refused, a British commission proceeded to mark out the frontier, and in doing so, requested the Burmese to withdraw an armed guard from a village that was claimed by Manipur.

In 1882, Thibaw sent an envoy to Calcutta. He was given a most favourable reception by Lord Rippon; but just when hopes of a friendly settlement were beginning to rise, King Thibaw suddenly recalled the envoy; and by that time, the British Supreme Government took up such a threatening attitude that in 1884 British reinforcements were sent in favour of the Raja Chandra Kirti Singh of Manipur. The frontier disturbances immediately ceased, but the hope for improvement in Anglo-Burmese relations faded out.

King Thibaw's volte face over the Manipur negotiations seems to have been the result of a decision to resume relations with France. He knew that Britain had become extremely uneasy about French activities on the Mekong and their penetration into Annam and Tongking. He imagined that he could play off the French against the British.

But it was unfortunate that it had never occurred to him, that in the dangerous world of power politics, in which he was living, his only chance of survival as an independent monarch lay in cultivating British friendship, and that an approach to France might force the British to depose him. Subsequently, these unfolding events led to the outbreak of Third-Anglo Burmese War (1885).

The border issues with any sovereign nations in the world need sensitive handling. The Manipur history recalls it in two earlier occasions leading to the outbreak of two Anglo-Burmese Wars. Any faulty border policies and wrongdoing can have disastrous consequences.

The current ethnic unrest in Manipur with MeiteiĖKuki/Chin is seven months old and no concrete solutions have been brought forward by the central government in dealing with the warring factions on a negotiating table to discuss peace. With the present turmoil in Myanmar's borderlands with India particularly Manipur state, the situation can further worsen if the influx from Myanmar is not stopped immediately and if the ethnic clash issues are not resolved on a war footing with utmost sincerity.

Manipur an Asiatic power with her military might in the 18th century had a proud history of existence for more than 2000 years old kingdom. The Meitei people of Manipur are very firm and determined to this day to safeguard and protect the territorial integrity of the state and will not compromise by ceding even an inch of her motherland.

The testimony of the bravery of Manipuri people is known when it comes to the protection of her territorial boundary. Nandalal Sharma in his book "Meitrabak" had mentioned Manipur King Puranthaba (r. 1247-63) and their army stationed at the Manipuri boundary of the Chindwin River (Ningthee Turel) in preparation to defend their kingdom from the attack of the Tartar ruler Kublai Khan (the grandson of great Mongol king Genghis Khan).

Ningthee Turel was the ancestral boundary and dividing marker between the kingdoms of Manipur and Burma. According to the Burmese records the first Mongol invasion of Burma happened in the year 1277-87. It's most likely that Puranthaba's successors Khumomba (r. 1263-78) or Moiramba (r. 1278-1302) must have been the one who acted.

During Kublai's reign the whole of the Shan Sawbwaships including between Manipur and Annam (Vietnam), was at least nominally subject to the Mongol dynasty of China. The disintegration of the Shan kingdom of Nanchao opened up the way to Burma and led to the expeditions which resulted in the overthrow of the Empire of Pagan by the China Yuan dynasty.

The story of Tartars Mongol ferocity is found in the olden folklore of Manipur in the use of word "Tapta" derived from Tartar. In Manipur folklore, the non-stop weeping child suddenly remained silent when the mother mentioned the name "Tapta".

It is high time India needs to intervene with the warring factions to end the seven-month-old conflict between the Meiteis and the Kukis. As we all know due to current ethnic unrest the state economy is 10-20 years lagging behind. The main priority of the government in the centre and the state is to generate opportunities to create wealth and give the masses a healing touch to their wounds.

Finally, the main priority of the central and the state government today is to give assurances and commitments to the people on the restoration of peace and normalcy in the state at the earliest. Instill a sense of security in the minds of the people so there are no restrictions on the free movements of the valley people to the hills and vice versa in the state.

The return to the life that existed in Manipur before 3 May 2023, if it becomes reality once again only then people's long prayers will be ultimately answered.

Concluded ....

* Maheshsana Rajkumar wrote this article for
The writer is an independent researcher & joint author of "The Political Monument: Footfalls of Manipuri History".
He worked in Myanmar (2013-16) in the hydro and renewable energy space.
He is an MBA graduate from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia.
and can be contacted at maheshsanaraj(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on December 18 2023

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