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Rohingya Radicalization and Indian Politics

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To talk about the Rohingya these days is like talking about certain ‘sacred’ and politically sacrosanct concepts like secularism. It will require courage to depart from the majority view and actually show the darker side of these things. Today, the Rohingya have become a convenient prop for humanitarian, democratic and secular politics. It does not matter that the community is fast turning into a radical Sunni Islamist group, aiming at both self-multiplication and attacks on other communities. All that matters is the show of it. And the show is dictated by the irrational logic that if you are blindly seen to be supporting the community, you can hope to salvage your secular credentials. But the moment you start talking about terrorism and the jihadi activities of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), you will be vilified as anti-minority and anti-humanitarian.

It is in this context that the hard-hitting reality brought forth in the latest report of Amnesty International needs to be seen. In a report released on May 22nd, Amnesty documents how the ARSA massacred the Hindus living in the Rakhine region of Myanmar. They massacred close to 100 Hindus – mostly children – on August 25th 2017, the same fateful day when they launched their attack on the Myanmar army and initiated the beginning of an irreversible process of genocidal exodus for the entire population of the Rakhine region.

Reportedly, the Rohingya committed the mass killings of Hindus in the far north of the Rakhine region. When last year, the Myanmar military had shown the Hindu graves to international media, it was dismissed and did not generate any outcry. It was just Myanmar’s word against that of the rest of the world. But now with Amnesty International confirming the same and declaring that justice for these Hindus was every bit as important as those of the common Rohingya victims, people are expressing surprise. In what was probably the most outrageous reaction, Bangladesh’s foreign minister, the very next day, dismissed the Amnesty report and cast aspersions on the credibility of NGOs. In doing so, the minister betrayed his religious bias. Nobody wants to disturb the perfect, depressive narrative of the Rohingya as victims of ethnic cleansing.

Once you start talking about the unspeakable crimes committed by ARSA (for which the militant group deserved exactly the response they got from the Myanmar’s army), its terror funding networks from Sunni terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda and other such groups, and its commitment to spreading jihad, the story changes. At least, it would be difficult to view the ARSA as a victim. But if we take the argument further, it also becomes hard to miss that ARSA is hugely popular and has lot of support from the Rohingya people themselves. This makes the community, as a whole, more prone to radicalization at any point in the future. They may or may not be radicalized now, but the signs for the future are very strong.

Bangladesh itself is now looking for ways to unburden itself. Sheikh Hasina’s government has shown immense spine while dealing with terrorists in the last 4 years, but it has to always walk a fine line in a country where the popularity of Sunni clerics is competing to shape the otherwise historically neutral temperament of the Bengali Muslims. The Rohingya genocide last year generated, for a time, widespread public protests in Bangladesh against Myanmar and all who supported it, including a public backlash against India as well. Playing its cards correctly, the Hasina government preferred all kinds of material and public support for the Rohingya it has sheltered in its Cox’s Bazar area in various camps. India also toned down its instinctive reaction of support for Myanmar. As did China.

In the complex political balance of Bangladesh, where sometimes the military ground staff and other branches like the coast guard, have been caught trying to act against the government policy, Hasina has had to face difficulties. Despite her stand on not allowing the Rohingya influx, the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) would subtly circumvent those orders to protect the community who they viewed as their religious brethren. Similarly, other institutions like the judiciary and election commission too are intensely steeped in their Muslim conservative bias. Hasina – who personally has a solid relationship with India – has had to balance this entire sea of subtle opposition forces, not to mention outright unsubtle Islamic groups which are trying to become popular with people.

Keeping this background in mind, we can now appreciate how Bangladesh is dealing with the Rohingya refugee burden. Hasina has ensured – with all appearances of human rights intact, of course – that the Rohingya remain segregated from the rest of the society. In the recent past those that have strayed outside the camps, have been arrested. Now, the government is also considering – before the monsoon – to deport them altogether to an uninhabited island in the south of Bangladesh.

Clearly, even our neighbour takes the national security threat from unwanted refugees seriously. But what is India doing? Even the obvious proof of ARSA’s culpability in heinous crimes has failed to arouse us from our stupor. Apparently, the centre is still stuck in a war of words with two main culprits, Mamata Banerjee and Mehbooba Mufti, on question of allowing Rohingya shelter. There is a difference between the two ladies. Mufti has not actively and personally pursued the Rohingya agenda, but has allowed Kashmiri extremists to go scot-free in their endeavour to buy land in Jammu and settling Muslims and the Rohingyas in Jammu. The result has been a Jammu on the boil – which we saw clearly only after the Kathua case, but has been in evidence for the last 2-3 years, and as usual was under-reported by the media. Both Hindus and Buddhists are now fearing a demographic change because of the underhanded tactics of Kashmiri Muslims and have started retaliating as a form of self-protection, since no help from either the BJP or the Congress was forthcoming, even as Kashmiri militants got full political support for their nefarious land-grab designs.

In the case of West Bengal, it is a little different. Unlike Mufti, Mamata Banerjee has shown intense personal interest in resettling the Rohingya in Bengal’s hill districts like Darjeeling, Kalimpong etc, which share international borders. From day one, like in most other issues, she abandoned all reason for the sake of opposing the central government’s stand. So, when the central government petitioned in the court to allow the deportation of Rohingya on national security grounds, Banerjee obviously had to oppose it. Her opposition is coming at a big cost. Hill leaders, like Bimal Gurung, have already released statements indicating the intensifying resettlement of Rohingya there. Banerjee has also given a free hand to NGOs to settle Rohingya in Bengal’s restive South-24 Parganas, which has been a site of lot of anti-TMC agitations of late, mostly related to forcible land grabs by TMC goons.

According to Union minister, SS Ahluwalia, Banerjee has settled about 320 Rohingya families at Deolo, Lava Forest, Melli and Rangpo in north Bengal hills. There is a pattern to this. First, Banerjee is settling Rohingyas in areas where TMC faces opposition and where she can consolidate Muslim votes. Second, her settlement of the community in hill areas – where TMC is universally hated – might be geared with sinister designs to change the demographics. After all, the more Muslims, the merrier for Banerjee.

The centre has done little in response up till now. The BJP’s expansion in Bengal may help. But, for some reason, Banerjee is being allowed to disrupt India’s sensitive foreign security concerns. It might be too late by the time the government decides to take action against Bengal’s impunity. The state of affairs and the nature of politics in Bengal and Kashmir shows the degraded political culture of the country. This is exactly what is meant when it is often said that the country’s national unity and national character needs to be revived. It can only be done once selfish politicians finally see the end of their ambitions.

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