The Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the India-Myanmar border, once a symbol of cultural affinity and shared history, now faces a critical juncture as recent developments prompt the Indian government to reevaluate its stance. Initiated in 1970 and revived in 2016 under the Act East Policy, the FMR allowed individuals residing within a 16 km radius of the border to move freely without the constraints of a visa.
The historical context of the FMR is rooted in deep ethnic and familial connections between residents of both India and Myanmar across the border, particularly the Naga, Mizo, Kuki, and Chins. However, concerns over insurgencies, smuggling, and the surge in drug production have reportedly compelled India to consider fortifying the border with fencing. The recent meeting between Nagaland’s Deputy Chief Minister, Y Patton, and Mizoram’s Chief Minister, Pu Lalduhoma, adds another layer to the intricate dynamics surrounding the Indo-Myanmar border. While the Nagaland Deputy CM highlighted the shared ancestry of Nagas and Mizos, he firmly stated that any resolution regarding Indo-Myanmar border fencing would be unacceptable for Nagas. This was reported by the DIPR of Mizoram state government. This stance reflects the complexities arising from demographic interweaving across borders. Like Mizoram, a significant Naga population resides within Myanmar, further emphasizing the shared cross-border demographic. The intertwined history and familial ties create a web of connections that demand careful consideration as India contemplates changes to the existing border arrangements.
The surge in drug seizures and the influx of displaced individuals following the 2021 coup in Myanmar have heightened scrutiny. In Manipur, the aftermath of the military junta’s resurgence in Myanmar has seen a substantial increase in drug seizures, raising concerns about the region’s vulnerability to smuggling and infiltration. While Manipur is actively gathering biometric information, Mizoram emphasizes familial and ethnic links with Myanmar, expressing reservations about border fencing. In light of these challenges, it becomes imperative for New Delhi to introduce explicit provisions for better regulation of movement along the border.
The current scenario calls for a broader strategic recalibration as India grapples with the complexities of the Indo-Myanmar border situation. The road ahead requires adaptability, collaborative efforts, and a nuanced approach to ensure lasting stability and prosperity in the region. The realization of these goals hinges on diplomatic efforts that align with the sentiments of the people and ethnic groups, even as a federal democracy in Myanmar remains a distant aspiration. As India navigates this intricate terrain, it must strike a delicate balance between historical ties, present challenges, and the imperative for a secure and prosperous future of the region. India should not fence the border simply because it can.