Just last month, militants from the Rohingya minority community attacked police posts in the Rakhine region of Myanmar that killed at least 12 officers. This led to a security crackdown in the region by the Myanmarese military. There have been instances of torture, killings, mass gang rapes, and other human rights violations, all at the hands of Myanmarese military personnel. This military action has caused over 400,000 Rohingyas to flee Myanmar in recent weeks. An estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees are scattered among India’s 1.3 billion people, where they are facing another case of expulsion. Despite the Modi government being against the reconsideration of Rohingyan refugees unless the de facto government of Myanmar accepts the Rohingyas as its citizens, India should come forward to assist the already displaced refugees. India should maintain its tradition of generosity and bolster economic and strategic factors to improve relations with the East Asian region.
The Indian government told the Indian Supreme Court that the Rohingya population is posing a grave threat to national security. However, the South Asian director of Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly, said “the Indian government cannot return the Rohingyas to a country that is engaged in ethnic cleansing against them.”
India is not solely looking to boost a security partnership with Myanmar to control the tension with the Rohingyas, but also to provide stronger socio-economic support for Rakhine state. In addition, India has focused on bolstering international support for this crisis.
India is a rising Asian power and is the largest democracy in the world. As such, India is expected to extend assistance to the Rohingyas, especially after Prime Minister Modi committed to help Myanmar in its nation-building process and because he shares concerns over extremist violence in Rakhine. At the very least, it is vital that India support the resolution of the conflict on humanitarian grounds.
India has a history of generosity in the way it welcomes refugees seeking safety within its borders. There have been Myanmarese in India from the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the country has maintained an open-door policy for all since then; under India’s refugee policy, refugees are provided with basic necessities. However, there are understandable concerns in the government that the Rohingya community fleeing to India may have links to terrorist organizations. But, since the refugees are displaced and seek safety, it is vital that leaders in New Delhi take deportation off the table, at least until the situation has eased.
At the forefront of India’s foreign policy is the government’s aim to increase both its presence and influence in the region. Hence, India cannot risk straining relations with Myanmar. It is important for the international community to address the concerns of the Myanmar government and support to end the violence in the country. Therefore, denying the acceptance of refugees would not be a good strategic move for India. With Aung San Suu Kyi representing Myanmar and symbolizing its nationalism as the de factor leader, India should support her, especially in this crisis. India has committed to looking east and currently has much at stake in the Southeast Asian region economically. Intensifying closer ties between India and Myanmar through supporting Aung San Suu Kyi will enhance economic cooperation and will boost India’s credibility globally.
With India’s focus on rebalancing its priorities toward incorporating itself into Asia, the Narendra Modi administration said that it is “deeply concerned” about the situation in Rakhine state. The administration focuses on dealing with this issue with “restraint and maturity,” putting a central focus on the welfare of the civilian population in Myanmar. The Indian government’s recognition of the alarming situation among the Rohingya minority should prompt India to provide assistance and address the issue through a well-thought out policy based on respect for peace, communal harmony, justice, dignity, and democratic values – the main components of their foreign policy. With Indian support over the Rohingya issue, India can ensure bolstering its economic priorities, the key of New Delhi’s connectivity plans in Myanmar.
Stability in Rakhine state is vital for the economic advancement of India. Prime Minister Modi stressed during his recent visit to Myanmar that socio-economic development in Myanmar must be prioritized through working on bilateral projects. However, the current tension is causing turmoil for the $484 million Kaladan multi-modal transit transportation project of India. This project aims to build a transport corridor that runs from India’s northeast that connects to Myanmar. Without peace in the region, the success of this project will be affected.
India should not wait for this crisis to escalate. India should support the Myanmar leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. India should encourage cooperation and should highlight the importance of addressing and resolving the Rohingya crisis. These actions will offer relief to both the Rohingya community and Myanmar, and will project India’s goal of preserving security and protecting regional stability.
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Anushka Kapahi is a first-year master’s candidate studying International Affairs at the Elliott School at George Washington University. Her research mainly focuses on Asian politics, particularly Southeast and South Asian affairs.