Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's apparent endorsement of Myanmar's military crackdown on Rohingya extremist groups set off alarm bells in Bangladesh and India for different reasons, the Times of India reports.
Within hours of Modi's return, it was clear his failure to address the issue of refugees in Myanmar would create problems both within India and in Bangladesh. Senior Indian officials conferred to tweak the Indian approach. After Bangladesh High Commissioner Muazzem Ali met Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, India made a significant course correction, by calling on Myanmar to stop the violence and control the refugee outflow.
Since Wednesday, India has been running daily flights with relief material for the Bangladesh government dealing with Rohingya refugees. It appears that India has made a 180-degree diplomatic turn from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
Simultaneously the Indian Supreme Court is hearing petition challenging the deportation of Rohingya illegal migrants, because that is a core political issue for the BJP government, as articulated by Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju.
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But sifting through disparate statements and according to senior government sources, a four-pronged policy is being worked on by the Indian government. This will find articulation in the statements by Sushma Swaraj, who will lead the Indian delegation to the UNGA for the second time running.
Firstly, India will continue to support Myanmar's right to go after ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) or any of the other Rohingya terror groups. In a statement on September 9, Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stated, "We had earlier strongly condemned the terrorist attacks on Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State. The two countries have since affirmed their shared determination to combat terrorism and not allow its justification under any pretext.
Secondly, India will push Myanmar to find a political solution to the crisis of legal identity of the Rohingya. As Sushma Swaraj told Sheikh Hasina in a phone conversation on Friday, India will oppose Myanmar's acts of pushing Rohingya into Bangladesh or to other countries in the region. This is adding to the pressure on Bangladesh. But also increasing, substantially the possibilities of Pakistan-based terror groups like LeT, al-Qaeda and even Islamic State exploiting them for terror activities. There is enough evidence that a number of Rohingya have been radicalised by terror entities.
In Bangladesh, which is already battling its own terrorist problem, the radicalised Rohingya could be used by the Jamaat and BNP for their political ends, which would be incendiary coming just before elections in that country scheduled for 2018.
Thirdly, sources said the Indian government will defend its right to evict illegal migrants. The issue is politically sensitive for the BJP government which campaigned against such migration in the north-east states. In addition, the presence of Rohingya in Jammu has sparked more such fears. Others have pointed to terror leaders like Zakir Musa supporting the Rohingya, as reason to deport them.
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Lastly, India this week hit back against the UN from commenting on India's right. Pushing back against the comments of the UNHRC chief, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the Indian envoy criticised the world body for "tendentious judgements made on the basis of selective and even inaccurate reports do not further the understanding of human rights in any society. Like many other nations, India is concerned about illegal migrants, in particular, with the possibility that they could pose security challenges. Enforcing the laws should not be mistaken for lack of compassion."
Security concerns are paramount here. Myanmar will have to find a political solution to the Rohingya within its own constitution, which will be very hard for Aung San Suu Kyi, because it will impact her support among the Buddhists, whose resurgent nationalism is one of the reasons for the Rohingya's plight. On the other hand, Sheikh Hasina is battling with the prospect that the stateless Rohingya can be used against her by her political opposition. In India, governments in the northeast as well as in the centre would suffer at the hustings if they are not seen to be acting against illegal migration.