“Current Affairs Editorial – The Effect of The Rohingya Refugee Crisis on India – Bangladesh Relations”

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The Effect of The Rohingya Refugee Crisis on India – Bangladesh Relations

Paper II: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora:-

Context:

  • Rohingya Muslims, many sick and some with wounds have fled into Bangladesh over the past one month amid renewed fighting in western Myanmar.
  • The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other humanitarian organizations registered their increasing concerns regarding the current humanitarian crisis.
  • They were joined by the international community later.
  • Bangladesh which shares its borders with Myanmar is already hosting 4,00,000 Rohingyas for the past three decades.
  • The current spate of surge has elevated their number to 7 lakh and has created a huge challenge for Dhaka in terms of providing shelter as well as other humanitarian assistance to them.

Bangladesh’s Burden:

  • International relief agencies in Bangladesh such as the office of the UNHCR and the World Food Programme are struggling to attend to the large number of refugees arriving each day on foot or by boat.
  • One must not forget the fact that Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated nations.
  • Bangladesh is already host to more than 600,000 Rohingyas compared to 40,000 by India.
  • Initially hesitant, Bangladesh has now started allowing in refugees through its borders.
  • Bangladesh has plans of making another 607 hectares of land available near the Myanmar border for camps to accommodate refugees.
  • Dhaka has proposed that Myanmar secure areas in Rakhine under international relief agency supervision.
  • Bangladesh has also urged the international community to put pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees and stop the violence against them.

India’s stand on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis:

  • The Indian Prime Minister who visited Myanmar, close on the heels of the Rohingya refugee crisis, shared Myanmar government’s concerns.
  • But this was limited only to the “extremist violence” in Rakhine state by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
  • The Joint Declaration read: “India stands with Myanmar over the issue of violence in the Rakhine state which has led to loss of innocent lives.”
  • The India-Myanmar Joint statement had referred only to the terrorism problem in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, and not about the Rohingya refugees.
  • Even in the World Parliamentary Forum on Sustainable Development, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, who represented India, abstained from the Bali Declaration because of a reference to violence in Rakhine state.
  • The Bali Declaration called “on all parties to contribute to the restoration of stability and security, respect human rights of all people in Rakhine State regardless of their faith and ethnicity, as well as facilitate safe access for humanitarian assistance.
  • Other Asian countries namely Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had supported the resolution adopted in the Bali Declaration.

India’s Double Dilemma:

  • On the one hand, India is concerned about keeping Myanmar from spinning back into the Chinese orbit.
  • Myanmar is an important factor in India’s ocean diplomacy and a valuable stakeholder in its ‘Look East’ Policy.
  • On the other hand, being a responsible power, India must adopt a humane position recognizing its neighbor Bangladesh’s plight which is dealing with a humanitarian crisis.
  • India cannot afford to desert Bangladesh, who over the years has emerged as a trusted neighbour.
  • China and its geopolitical ambitions especially in the Indian Ocean region too is weighing high on India mind.

Criticism on India’s stand:

  • Since 2009, Bangladesh has emerged as one of India’s most trusted neighbours.
  • Dhaka has addressed almost all of New Delhi’s security concerns. Including the crack down on cross-border terrorism and insurgency conducted against India from Bangladeshi soil.
  • The India – Bangladesh border today is one of the safest for India especially after solving the border enclaves’ issue.
  • Despite these efforts on the part of Bangladesh, it has neither received water from the Teesta or support in times of humanitarian crisis from its biggest neighbor.
  • The promptness with which India replied with an elevated military cooperation when Bangladesh procured two submarines from China, wary of the growing economic and defence ties between them is missing in case of the current humanitarian crisis.
  • As an upholder of democratic values, India has a unique opportunity to demonstrate statesmanship and regional leadership by mediating a solution to the Rohingya crisis.
  • Prompted by the concerns of Bangladesh, India shifted its position on the Myanmar issue on September 10, 2017, where it expressed concerns about the outflow of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh.

Another Missed Opportunity?

  • India’s nonchalant attitude towards the humanitarian plight of the Rohingya and a belated recognition of Bangladesh reflects inadequate moral leadership.
  • The stand taken by India will be seen as an inability to rise to the occasion as expected from a regional power vying to enhance its influence in the neighbourhood.

Going Forward:

  • This ad hoc approach of India, which possesses an enviable soft power and formidable hard power, fails to generate confidence in the region.
  • The complex geopolitics of India is based more on political opportunism and economic interests.
  • The presence of China and its One Belt One road policy in the Indian Ocean region is weighing high on India’s mind.
  • Hence, India extending its support to Myanmar through the India – Myanmar joint declaration as well as the Bali declaration and later shifting its stance based on Bangladesh’s concerns amounts to decisions based on political opportunism bereft of principles and values, practised consistently.
  • Going forward, India should try to separate the realities of geopolitics from principles based on national consciousness and nation’s long standing practices.
  • It is time for India to forge a new Asylum Protection law which should consider the evolving refugee situation across the world and in its immediate neighborhood.