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In Failing To Protect The Rohingyas, India Has Failed Itself

Missed opportunity.

02/11/2017 12:33 PM IST | Updated 02/11/2017 12:33 PM IST
Adnan Abidi / Reuters

The forced displacement of ethnic Rohingya people from the Rakhine state of Myanmar resulted in a massive refugee crisis in South Asia. The magnitude of this latest Rohingya refugee crisis may be comparable to two other acute refugee crises this subcontinent saw in the past.

First was the massive human relocation following the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947, and the next was the refugee exodus to India during the 1971 Bangladesh war. The exodus of Afghans into Pakistan is another massive but a more steady, long-standing process.

Among these, India was both a victim and the host during the first one and a gracious host during the second one. During the first refugee crisis, India was a newborn state, during the second one it was a young 'third world' developing democracy. Fifty years elapsed since the second refugee crisis, when the major Rohingya refugee crisis developed. And last 50 years have changed India.

India is the aspiring regional superpower now.

India is the aspiring regional superpower now. To the Western developed states, India is the face and gateway to South Asia. It seems the world elites and the Western democracies have outsourced the job stabilising the region to India. In this changed scenario, it's essential to assess and evaluate India's performance in the Rohingya refugee crisis.

While India's expected role was to play a neutral arbitrator and a stabilising force to contain the crisis, it clearly failed to do so. Although under pressure from the friendly government of Bangladesh, India has later tried to take a less one-sided stand, its continued position has been to take the Myanmar side in this conflict and undermine the ethnic cleansing and the massive humanitarian crisis that was fermenting in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

It seems that India is competing with China to become Myanmar's favourite strategic partner.

By failing to take the anticipated role of a neutral mediator in this crisis, India failed itself, its people as well as many others who want to see India play the role of a 'grown-up' in this part of the world. India, in sharp contrast to its arch-rival Pakistan, rightfully projects itself as an exceedingly diverse society and tolerant democracy with basic human rights, religious freedom and freedom of speech protected by the Constitution. But, in taking the wrong side of the genocidal anti-democratic forces in Myanmar, India betrayed its own creed and fundamental constitutional philosophy.

Adnan Abidi / Reuters

India failed its values

India definitely sees Myanmar as a neighbour of high economic and strategic potential. It seems that India is competing with China to become Myanmar's favourite strategic partner. And this narrow economic interest may have forced India to shun its broader 'regional superpower' aspiration, at least in the case of Bangladesh and Myanmar. India has made a conscious decision to abandon its closer neighbour Bangladesh with a friendly government to court a distant neighbour Myanmar, which is more likely to pick China as its economic and strategic partner.

If Myanmar can get its way removing all Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar, people of Indian subcontinental origin belonging to other religion will be the next targets.

The present government of Bangladesh took an immense political risk and spent almost all its remaining political capital in giving in to every single demand India had. Bangladesh paid heed to India's security concerns and did all it could to ensure India's security. Now when Bangladesh is under a serious security threat caused by this influx of refugees, it naturally expected India to stand beside her. But now, to pursue its own narrow interests, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina under the bus.

Another problem with India's pro-Myanmar stand is that the populations those are being persecuted in Myanmar are people of subcontinental ethnic heritage. Basically, the Rohingyas are people of mostly Bangladeshi origin who have lived in the Arakan region of Myanmar for centuries. The main reason they are being persecuted, ethnically cleansed and killed is the fact that they don't look like their neighbours of 'Bamar' ethnicity, the main ethnic group that makes up Myanmar's population. They look like they are from the Indian subcontinent, and they have very distinct east Indian culture. The common slur the non-Rohingya Rakhines use to denote the Rohingya is the term 'Kala (black)', alluding to the darker skin colour of the Rohingyas.

Among the refugee camps in Bangladesh, there are Rohingya of Hindu denomination along with overwhelming majority Muslims. And there is a reason that reports of Hindu-Rohingya persecution are being staged and widely publicised by Myanmar authorities, for now, Myanmar Junta wants to project the issue as a Buddhist-Muslim communal issue. But if Myanmar can get its way, removing all Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar, people of Indian subcontinental origin belonging to other religions will be the next targets.

There is a colossal failure in understanding the fact that Rohingya crisis is a tragedy of unfathomable proportion.

Most of the Rohingyas are from the Muslim minority in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. One reason the Rohingyas are so helpless is the fact that they are Muslims.

A group of Muslims, mainly under the banner of terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have done despicable things over the last two decades. Their brutality on innocent people all over the world and the gruesome way they publicised these acts made it clear that they wanted to earn global hatred and fear. Beheading innocent captives on camera, photos of them burning people alive, photos of suicide/truck bombs got them what they wanted. The world hates them. The problem is they pulled the whole religion down too. Over 1 billion Muslims are now seen by the rest of the world, reasonably so, with suspicion, unease, and sometimes fear.

DIBYANGSHU SARKAR via Getty Images

Hate always follows fear

India's PM and current policymakers are probably blinded by the fact that the Rohingya victims are Muslims, i.e. 'terrorists'. The Indian foreign policy establishment and PM Modi probably did not see the humanitarian side of the brutal ethnic cleansing, and the genocide-proportion persecution — all they are seeing is an influx of 'potential terrorists'. There is a colossal failure in understanding the fact that the Rohingya crisis is a tragedy of unfathomable proportion. Failing to contain the events leading to this tragedy that has fallen on a marginal Muslim population, India risks creating a goldmine for future terrorist recruits in its backyard.

If political advisors of PM Modi hope that a successful expulsion of Bengali-speaking Rohingyas from Myanmar will be a prelude to do similar thing from the Indian states neighbouring Bangladesh, their political acumen must be short-sighted. Neither India nor Myanmar would benefit from a chaotic festering refugee crisis in a country located between them.

For PM Modi, it is a missed opportunity to claim his stature as the first 21st-century statesman of India. And for India, the continued plight of the Rohingyas is a testament against the claim that India is the regional superpower and stabilising factor in South Asia. While India approvingly watches over the unabated ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, it fails people of its own ethnic heritage too.

The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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