All eyes were turned and ears tuned to what Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to say on the Rohingya Muslims crisis during his recent visit to Myanmar. Would he take the ‘humanitarian’ side or would he back the Myanmar Government’s ‘communal crackdown’ on the ethnic group now fleeing the Rakhine province in the thousands? The Prime Minister’s statement eventually left the liberals in this country fuming and several security experts relieved.
Modi told his hosts, “We fully appreciate the challenges you have been battling. We share your concern over the extremist violence in Rakhine state which has caused the loss of lives, especially of security forces and innocents.” There wasn’t any mention of the slightest desire on India’s part to accept with open arms the flow of Rohingya refugees into the country as a ‘persecuted lot’. Instead, back home, the Ministry of Home Affairs made it known that it would be deporting the refuges after due verification and pursuant to the legal process. Junior Minister Kiren Rijuju remarked that the Government wasn’t “throwing the refugees into the ocean”.
It was well after the Prime Minister’s visit ended that the Indian side admitted to remaining “deeply concerned” on the “outflow of refugees (from Rakhine)”. According to reports, the admission came after Bangladesh persuaded New Delhi to modify its position, since the former has been the worst hit by the wave of migrants from Rakhine.
New Delhi’s extension of support to the Myanmar regime on the Rohingya issue is seen by the liberals here as a betrayal of Nehruvian values of humanitarianism. The liberals point to the brutal crackdown by state forces on the Muslims in Rakhine. They talk of excesses — ranging from petty harassment to rape and murder. They invoke the dominance of Indian heart over mind when faced with shattered and brutalised Rohingya Muslims fleeing their country in search of a safe place to live. And they accuse the Modi Government of being anti-Muslim in seeking to turn back the Rohingya refugees.
It is true that the Muslims in Rakhine are at the receiving end. Of the 10 lakh Muslims in Myanmar, nearly one-and-a-half lakh have fled to Bangladesh, while close to 40,000 have come into India, locating themselves in Jammu, Hyderabad, Rajasthan, Delhi-NCR and Uttar Pradesh. The Myanmarese Government does not recognise the Rohingya Muslims as an ethnic minority — there are 135 ethnic groups recognised under the 1982 Citizenship Act — and considers them as Bangladeshis. The Rohingyas have, thus faced some discrimination.
That said, the liberals scattered across Lutyens’s Delhi and elsewhere in the country are unwilling to bestow equal attention to the security implications. Extremist groups among the Rohingya Muslims have been involved in several incidents of terrorism and destruction of public property in Rakhine. There are reports that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba is active in the region as well in India where the refugees have settled, recruiting people from among the community. Besides, there is the Al Qaeda’s Kashmir leader Zakir Musa’s statement warning the Modi Government against deporting the Rohingya Muslims. It’s obvious that extremist outfits with regional and global outreach are active in radicalising members of this community in Myanmar and in India and Bangladesh.
The liberals’ accusation that the Modi regime is anti-Muslim, which explains its ‘cold-heartedness’ towards the Rohingya crisis, is too prejudiced to be taken seriously. Besides, those who fling this allegation should look to the pattern of refugees movement across the globe and nearer home. Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority nation, and yet it wants a halt to the flow of Rohingya Muslims into its territory. Large numbers of refugees pouring into European nations are Muslims, and from Muslim-dominated societies or Muslim nations in West Asia. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees, the top three nationalities that listed as entrants to Europe as refugees belonged to Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq — all Muslim-dominated. where then is the communal angle when Muslims are fleeing Muslim-dominated countries?
The Indian Government must also be cautious about the change in demographics that can happen with a continuing inflow of Rohingya Muslim immigrants. There are already problems in Jammu where several thousands of them have been located. Politics has made matters graver. The Panthers Party has been openly campaigning against the stay of the Rohingya Muslims on account of their ‘polarising’ presence.
It’s easy to be swayed by wailing voices, admittedly many of them being innocent, who lament— “Where will we go if large-hearted India turns us out!” We are told that the ‘idea of India’ rests on our humanitarian commitment. What will happen to the idea of India when it gets swamped out in the region by China, which is expanding its influence in Myanmar? Nay Pyi Taw’s goodwill is essential for India to maintain a regional power balance. More importantly, a hostile Myanmar would be no good to India’s drive against insurgency in the North-East, (Myanmar shares borders with northeastern India). With the Modi Government determined to revamp the socio-economic profile in that region, it would be indeed foolish for it to antagonise the Myanmarese regime. One final reminder for the bleeding hearts: Even the UPA, for all its liberal credentials, had not confronted the then military junta regime in Myanmar, much to then opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s disappointment. Now that Suu Kyi is in power, she appreciates the situation better.
(Rajesh Singh is a senior political commentator and public affairs analyst)
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