The greatest nations are defined by how they treat their most marginalised inhabitants. Clearly, Myanmar has failed to be a great nation by exterminating and abandoning its Rohingya inhabitants, 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 with the Rohingya crisis has raised questions about their approach towards refugees, the Rohingyas in particular.
India’s stance on the Rohingya crisis has raised questions about its democratic credentials as its response to the crisis has evolved swiftly. India announced the violent conflicts between the Buddhists and the Muslim minorities in Rakhine state as Myanmar’s ‘internal affair’ and gave cold shoulders to the fleeing refugees. India even voted in favour of Myanmar on the Resolution taken by the 74th United Nations General Assembly.
The Government of India was planning to deport the 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 extended their relief assistance through ‘Operation Insaniyat’ at Bangladesh’s request. While Delhi was recalibrating, the West Bengal government has expressed its support for Rohingya refugees 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.
In the case of Rohingyas, the Indian government shut its door to them as it sees them as a terror threat with greater radicalisation having a serious ‘spill over’ effect in India. However, shutting the door will not immunise India from this threat as the concentration of thousands of desperate people in the neighbourhood can create a fertile breeding ground for radicalisation and India may become their favourite target.
India always discourages permanent settlement of refugees and conventionally provides a disincentive for discouragement. India remained abstained from voting in both the resolutions of “Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” in the 75th UNGA and UNGA resolution on “The situation in Myanmar” after the February 1 coup in Myanmar this year. This indicates India has opted for silent diplomacy over megaphone diplomacy. But the Rohingya crisis calls on for action, instead of remaining silent.
Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are major trade partners of India. India had made a huge investment in the Kaladan project, which is facing hindrance due to the political instability of Myanmar. But Bangladesh offers India the cheapest and easiest connectivity with the North-Eastern part of India through trans-shipment and transit. Bangladesh is a natural gateway to growing markets in Southeast Asia and could become a transportation hub for all of 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 a stable and favourable political and economic environment for trade, unlike Myanmar.
Myanmar is home to Rohingyas and the solution for this crisis must be found in Myanmar, and nowhere else. The only solution to this crisis is sending the Rohingyas to their home in Myanmar. Delhi’s reservation to initiate any talk through BIMSTEC or any other regional grouping, and its abstention from the voting of UN resolution ‘Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar’ raises a question to India’s ability to become a global power.
India’s reservation in stepping up to 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 a repatriation agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
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 suffering, agony and newer threats to the security of the hosting country, which the country doesn’t deserve. By nudging the Myanmar government to find a long-lasting solution to the crisis, India may carve out space for itself in taking a leadership role. The upcoming session of UNGA where proposals and resolutions on the Rohingya crisis will certainly be discussed may provide India with the opportunity to initiate the process and exhibit its leadership role.
With the latest Afghanistan refugee crisis, Asia is becoming unstable and risk-prone. India, despite its ‘Wait and watch’ policy on the Afghanistan crisis is expected to be active in solving the problem. But silence does not match the passion of global dominance. India must fine-tune its approach to achieve its proclaimed desire for global dominance, and the first step would be to address the crisis as it is. India must raise its voice.