India, the world’s largest democracy, is oddly out of sync with the international community over Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims – victims of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – even as the number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh crossed the 300,000 mark and Buddhist-majority Myanmar announced harsher and more repressive measures to intimidate the Rohingyas.
While the whole world, including the United Nations, is telling Myanmar to stop its reign of terror against Rohingyas, New Delhi is openly egging on Aung Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate and the de facto leader of Myanmar, to crack down harder.
Also read: UN sees ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar
India’s excuse is the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which killed 12 security-men in Myanmar last month triggering reprisals. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government accuses Pakistan of arming and funding ARSA to radicalize Rohingyas for exporting terrorism to Bangladesh and India.
Using ARSA as a pretext, New Delhi has announced that about 40,000 Rohingyas who have trickled into India, are terrorists and wants to deport all of them.
The liberal argument
Liberals in India are outraged by the Narendra Modi government’s stand at a time when Rohingyas are facing the gravest threat to their existence making them more vulnerable than ever before.
An editorial in The Indian Express newspaper said: “The truth is that a BJP-ruled India seems ready to welcome only Hindu refugees fleeing countries where they are a persecuted minority; the Rohingya, being Muslim, do not fit the bill. There may be radicalized Rohingya, and the ARSA is said to have links with the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. But it is the job of the intelligence and security apparatus to weed out the bad, so that there is no tarring of an entire community… As India has big power aspirations, it must act like one.”
Also read: Why India refused to join declaration against Myanmar
Kanti Bajpai, a noted academic who has taught at Oxford University, holds Hindutva, or hardline politicized Hinduism, responsible for the Indian government’s approach to the Rohingya problem.
Bajpai said: “The BJP is allergic to any inflow of Muslims. There is also a more personal political problem for Modi. The Rohingyas being Muslim makes them toxic for the right wing in India. At a time when the PM is looking uneasily over his shoulder at Yogi Adityanath, he would not want to hand his potential rival and other possible opponents within the Sangh Parivar a stick with which to beat him.”
Appearing on New Delhi Television, ex-Ambassador K.C. Singh lambasted a strategic affairs analyst for talking breathlessly about ARSA’s Pakistan connection. Virtually dismissing them, Singh remarked said that the accusations are exaggerated and unverified.
Batting for Myanmar
Some experts believe that India is batting for Myanmar to prevent it from depending entirely on China for support when the whole world is slamming it over the Rohingya issue.
Moreover, India shares a 1600-km long boundary with Myanmar in the troubled northeastern states. And much to New Delhi’s relief, Myanmar doesn’t offer sanctuaries to north-eastern separatist groups. Myanmar is crucial also for India’s maritime security.
Significantly, despite being India’s strategic ally, Bangladesh is clearly unhappy over New Delhi’s blatant support for Myanmar’s repressive regime and the threat to throw out 40,000 Rohinyas who have escaped to India over the years.
Also read: India says to deport all Rohingya regardless of UN registration
According to Syed Munir Khasru, Chairman of Dhaka’s Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG) the world does not expect Myanmar’s other big neighbor, China, to be vocal about the atrocities being committed. “But as the upholder of democratic values, India has a unique opportunity to demonstrate statesmanship and regional leadership by mediating a solution to the Rohingya crisis on the basis of a report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan,” Khasru said.
“India’s nonchalant attitude towards the humanitarian plight of the Rohingya reflects inadequate moral leadership. One of the reasons why India fails to generate confidence in the region, including with friends such as Bangladesh, is that its complex geopolitics is based more on political opportunism and economic interests as opposed to principles and values.”
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