The Greatest nations are defined by how they treat their weakest inhabitants. Clearly, Myanmar had failed to be a great nation by abandoning Rohingyas while Bangladesh displayed their greater spirit by refuging the displaced. However, India seems to be squandering their chance to be the greatest regional power away by pretending to unhear the silent cries of Rohingya Muslims. India’s polite distance on Rohingya crisis has raised questions about their approach towards refugee, the Rohingyas, in particular.
The issue that has come to be known as ‘the Rohingya crisis’ is a tragedy that was in the making for several decades as Myanmar refuses to recognize the Rohingya Muslim minority community in Rakhine state which concerns the plight of hundreds of thousands of people to neighboring states like Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh had to take in maximum number of Rohingyas which currently is more than a million. India could not escape the ineluctable surge of refugees despite their reluctance. India’s stance on Rohingya crisis aroused questions about its democratic credentials as their response to the crisis has evolved swiftly. India used to consider the violent conflicts between the Buddhists and the Muslim minorities in Rakhine state as Myanmar’s ‘internal affair’ and often gave cold shoulders to the fleeing refugees. India even voted in favor of Myanmar on the Resolution taken by 74th United nations General Assembly.
The government of India was planning to deport Rohingyas from India as they were “illegal immigrants”, but the plan had failed to firm up because of the Supreme Court’s intervention. Contrariwise, India considers the Rohingyas in Bangladesh as “displaced people” and had extended their relief assistance through ‘Operation Insaniyat’ upon the request of Bangladesh. While Delhi was recalibrating, the West Bengal government expressed its support for Rohingya refugee, though it didn’t change the tune of the central government. Then again, the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj reassured Dhaka of Delhi’s support in 2017.
India’s fear of Radical Rohingyas:
In the case of Rohingyas, Indian government shut the door to them as it sees them as terrorist threat with greater radicalization having serious ‘spill over’ effect in India. However, shutting door will not immunize India from this threat as concentration of thousands of desperate people in the neighborhood could create a fertile breeding ground for radicalization. And India temperamentally may become their favorite target.
India’s traditional hesitance of refugees and adaptation of Silent Diplomacy:
India always discourages permanent settlement of refugees and conventionally provide disincentive for discouragement. India’s Rohingya refugee hesitance is shaped by the culture of non-interference in internal affairs, the growing security concerns and the need for diplomatic balancing between Bangladesh and Myanmar. India remained abstained from voting in both the resolutions of “Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” in 75th UNGA and UNGA resolution on “The situation in Myanmar” after the Feb 1 Coup in Myanmar this year. Which indicates India has opted for silent diplomacy over megaphone diplomacy. But the Rohingya crisis calls on for actions, instead of remaining silent.
Trade plays a role for adapting Silent Diplomacy:
One of the main reasons for India’s hesitance to address the actual crisis and call for the solution is their trade and investments in both Myanmar and Bangladesh. Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are major trade partners of India. India has made several investments in both the countries. One of the major investments of India in Myanmar is Kaladan Project, which includes the construction of a deep-water port at the mouth of the Kaladan river in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state. The continued violence in Rakhine state is affecting India’s Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport project, aimed at developing transport infrastructure between Myanmar and India.
On the other hand, Bangladesh offers India the cheapest and easiest connectivity with the North Eastern part of India. Bangladesh is a natural gateway to growing markets in Southeast Asia and could become a transportation hub for all South Asia. Being the largest economy of South Asia, India might gain more than 8% trade growth if they establish seamless connectivity with Bangladesh. More importantly, Bangladesh offers stable and favorable political and economic environment for trade, unlike Myanmar.
India’s opportunity to exert power:
Myanmar is the home to Rohingyas and the solution for this crisis must be found in Myanmar, no where else. The only solution to this crisis is sending the Rohingyas to their home in Myanmar. The Crisis mostly involves India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. India could have played a greater role in persuading Myanmar to build a safer place for Rohingyas to return. India shares border, information and security cooperation with Bangladesh as well as Myanmar. It is crucial for India to ensure finding of a resolution to the crisis which results the repatriation of refugees from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar.
Delhi’s reservation to initiate any talk through BIMSTEC or any other regional grouping and their abstention from the voting of UN resolution “Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” raise question to India’s ability to become a global power. India’s reservation in stepping up its role might allow other powers to take over and leverage the situation for geopolitical gains, which China did once by stepping in with its ‘three-step-solution’ to the crisis and the signing of repatriation agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Not everything is lost yet for India; if it actively involves itself as part of the solution to the crisis it may regain its lost grounds and can get back to the game of becoming global power. A global power must raise their voice against violation of human rights, speak for the voiceless, stand for the truth. Both Bangladesh and India are bearing the burnt of stateless people, who have every right to return to their place. A bundle of belongings isn’t the only thing a refugee brings to his new country. He brings sufferings, agony and newer threats to the security of hosting country, which the country doesn’t deserve. By nudging the Myanmar government to find a long-lasting solution to the crisis India may curve out space for itself in taking a leadership role. The upcoming session of UNGA where proposals and resolutions on Rohingya crisis will certainly be discussed, may provide India with the opportunity to initiate the process and exhibit their leadership role.
India must fine-tune its approach to achieve its proclaimed desire of global dominance, and the first step would be to address the crisis as it is.
*Anushka Sengupta is from Dhaka, Bangladesh and a research officer of a digital marketing forum.