Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently visiting the United Kingdom, has triggered a fresh round of diplomatic debates by commenting that the Rohingyas “returned to Bangladesh” from Myanmar.
It is evident that Modi’s comment may have put India in an embarrassing diplomatic situation, as the country’s Ministry of External Affairs so far declined to comment on the issue.
Narendra Modi attended a views exchange program with non-resident Indians (NRIs) at the central hall of British Parliament on April 18.
In that program, titled “Bharat ki Baat, Saab ki Saath,” Modi discussed India’s important role in the international diplomatic arena, by using the Rohingya issue as an example.
Myanmar insists on not using the term “Rohingya,” so Indian government has a long-standing policy of not using this term.
However, the Indian prime minister used the term “Rohingya” at least three times at that program.
Addressing the guests, Modi said: “When the Rohingya crisis came into light in Myanmar, many countries across the globe announced their widely varying stances on the issue. But India went beyond just taking a stance.”
“When the Rohingya people returned to Bangladesh, we understood that Bangladesh is our friend. So we started sending steamers full of aid there. The Rohingyas that are staying in Bangladesh must not be allowed to die of starvation.”
Modi added that India should never turn its back on a humanitarian crisis.
Continuing his speech, the Indian prime minister stated: “The Rakhine state of Myanmar is witnessing no development and the people living there suffer a lot of problems.
“So, we [Indian government] made an agreement with the Myanmar government to contribute as much as we can for developing the Rakhine state.”
The statement made by Narendra Modi had at least two contradictions to India’s official stance on the Rohingya issue. The first is using the term “Rohingya,” and the second is saying that Rohingyas have “returned” to Bangladesh.
Myanmar has made repeated claims that the Rohingya people are not native residents of Burma, and this minority group is comprised of Bangali Muslims who migrated from Bangladesh. Bangladesh, and the Rohingyas themselves, say they are residents of the Arakan region of Myanmar, now known as Rakhine.
Modi’s comment on Rohingyas returning to Bangladesh acknowledges Myanmar’s claims, which is also a direct contradiction of India’s present stance on the issue.
Officials of Indian External Affairs Ministry have denied making formal comments on Modi’s statement, despite repeated requests from the media.
A top official of the ministry, preferring to the anonymous, said: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have suffered a slip of tongue. He could have meant that Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, instead of saying the Rohingyas returned. But this is just conjecture.”
The Indian prime minister’s comment has raised eyebrows in Bangladesh’s diplomatic arena as well.
Officials concerned are seeking a clear explanation on whether India’s stance on Rohingya issue has suddenly changed, or it is just an oversight from Narendra Modi.
The article was first published on banglatribune.com