Rohingya issue: National security must prevail
It is true that India has traditionally been hospitable to people in distress but any action/policy that places the well-being of citizens in jeopardy must be rejected. Government must identify and deport the Rohingyas soon
As in the past, bleeding heart liberals have displayed utter insensitivity to the welfare and security of India’s 1.3 billion citizens and have taken up cudgels on behalf of a bunch of illegal immigrants — the Rohingyas — many of whom have links with terrorist outfits in Pakistan and pose grave threat to national security. Putting the welfare of these illegal immigrants before those of Indian citizens, their sympathisers demand that Indian citizens set aside their apprehensions regarding their security and share the scarce resources available in the country with them.
We need to first examine some of the arguments that are being advanced on behalf of the Rohingyas in the Supreme Court and in the public fora. It is said on behalf of the Rohingyas that they are refugees and “not mere illegal immigrants” and that they are entitled protection under many international conventions to which India is a signatory, including those based on the principle of non-refoulement.
This is factually incorrect. Rohingyas are not refugees and are not entitled to the rights available to such individuals. They are like millions of Bangladeshis, who have illegally entered India and spread themselves across the country. Further, India is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Nor is India a signatory to the 1967 Protocol Relating to Refugees. The obligation of non-refoulement (non-return) is only binding on states that are parties to the 1951 Convention.
Another recurring theme in the arguments advanced against deportation of the Rohingyas is the reference to Fundamental Rights enshrined in Part III of the Constitution of India. Most of these rights are bestowed on citizens of India and not on all and sundry. Since some articles refer to “persons”, while most others refer to “citizens”, there are attempts to obfuscate the issue by juxtaposing “persons” for “citizens” and demanding all kinds of rights for illegal immigrants.
The plea of the Rohingyas, that the right to equality before the law under Article 14 and protection of life and personal liberty enshrined in Article 21, has merit because both articles bestow this right on “persons” and not just to “citizens”. But, there are arguments that seek to equate these illegal immigrants with citizens and this must be challenged. For example, the omnibus rights in Article 19 are rights exclusively conferred on citizens, including the right to freedom of speech and expression; to move freely within the country and to reside and settle in any part of the country.
Apart from the constitutional provisions, which in any case leave no scope for ambiguity, the primary obligation of the Indian state, to protect the fundamental rights of all citizens and shield them from the vagaries of illegal immigration and the consequential demographic, social and economic problems, cannot be disputed. Apart from this, the Government must comply with the Foreigners Act under which it is bound by this law to deport an illegal immigrant.
Because of its porous borders, India has been a victim of cross-border infiltration for several decades leading to gross distortion in the demographic profile of many border districts. Consequently, Indian citizens in these districts have been deprived of the basic rights. Also, is there any need to remind anybody of the number of civilians and members of the security forces who have been killed by these terrorists who have crossed into India?
As regards the Rohingyas, the national security apparatus has sufficient inputs to indicate that their presence within the country has serious security implications. There is information that some Rohingyas are linked to Pakistan-based terror organisations and that they have moved into cities like Jammu, Delhi and Hyderabad. These individuals prose a grave threat to our internal security. There is also evidence of them using fake Indian identity documents and mobilising funds through the hawala route.
Before jumping to conclusions and holding India responsible for the plight of the Rohingyas, it is important to take stock of the prevailing situation in the disturbed Rakhine State in Myanmar, as assessed by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was headed by Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Going into the history of the conflict, the Kofi Annan report said that shortly after Myanmar won its independence in 1948, “a Muslim Mujahideen rebellion erupted in Rakhine, demanding equal rights and an autonomous Muslim area in the north of the State”. The rebellion was eventually defeated but the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) revived the armed struggle later. Thereafter, the Harakat al-Yakin (later Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked Government security forces in October 2016 — “it was one of the largest Muslim attacks on Government forces in living memory”.
On the Rakhine side, non-state armed groups of both nationalist and communist stripes had fought the Myanmar Army. Is it prudent to look the other way when people, who have their own armies and who have fought such fierce and bloody communal wars, cross the border infiltrate into India? Don’t we have enough problems already?
The Kofi Annan Commission has suggested various measures to bring down communal tensions, including measures to sort out the messy citizenship. It says Myanmar harbours the largest community of stateless people in the world. “If this issue is not addressed it will continue to cause significant human suffering and insecurity”. The Indian Government has rightly supported the Kofi Annan report and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for a solution based on peace, communal harmony, justice, dignity and democratic values. India has rushed emergency relief material to Bangladesh to deal with the influx of refugees into that country.
While it is true that India has traditionally been hospitable to people in distress, the primary responsibility of the Indian state is to protect its citizens. Any action or policy that places the well-being of citizens in jeopardy must be summarily rejected. The Government must have a citizen-first approach, identify and deport the Rohingyas before things get out of hand.
The Government should not pay heed to these bleeding hearts — specially Resident-Non-Indians and citizens of other nations — who lack the courage or the common sense to lecture their own nations but constantly seek to besmirch the name of the world’s largest democracy and the world’s most diverse, hospitable and liberal nation.
(The writer is Chairman, Prasar Bharati. Views expressed here are personal)
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