People shout slogans as they are stopped by police during a protest rally in Kolkata on September 11, 2017, against the killing of Rohingya in Myanmar. Photo: Reuters / Rupak De Chowdhuri

The Indian government’s position on the Rohingya refugee issue needs to be carefully addressed by explaining its compulsions and constraints in clear terms and stop pretending to project itself as being politically correct.

As the government wants to deport some 40,000 of these refugees staying illegally in India and claiming persecution in Myanmar, New Delhi’s real position has been distorted not by the majority community, but solely by Indian Muslims.

While it is true that some of the Rohingya may be security threats, it is highly unlikely that the vast majority of them are. It is unfortunate that Rohingya are being considered a threat to the country’s security, but millions of Bangladeshis who are directly impacting Indian politics are being seen as no threat by Indian “liberals”.

To talk about deporting 40,000 Rohingya is a fantasy, not least when the country has been unable to do anything about deporting millions of illegal Bangladeshis, who have not only destabilized India’s northeast, but have also spread out all over India and very quietly penetrated into the country’s voters’ lists and subsidy systems.

The real issue is their religion, as self-styled “secular liberals” have been pointing out. The threats, noisy street protests and aggressive postures have come almost entirely from Indian Muslims and Islamists, some of whom have gone to the extreme of threatening India and Indians on this issue, thereby hampering likely chances of its resolution.

While the government has been talking about deporting Rohingya in order to protect national security and to avoid any likelihood of terror attack in its territory, it is Muslims in India and abroad who have formally communalized the Rohingya issue with a view to consolidate the pan-Muslim brotherhood and solidarity, having the ulterior motive of establishing a global ummah – a Muslim community. In fact, there have not been Hindu street protests in favor of the deportation of the Rohingya Muslims, only some shrill voices on social media.

Indeed, this is the result of India’s wishy-washy position on illegal immigration and refugees. If India wants to deal with the issue, it needs to be clear about its objectives, and morally and legally support its positions. It needs to focus on the following.

First, India must grant priority for refugee status, immigration rights and citizenship to all persecuted minorities among Indic religions, not just Muslims alone as the country has to retain its special relationship as guarantor of the rights of members of Indic faiths first. How can it be India’s priority to try and treat everyone equally, when India is the ultimate guarantor of the life, liberty and religious rights of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and a number of smaller tribal and other faiths originating in India? While some non-Indian Buddhists may yet find some Buddhist countries willing to take them in small numbers, and Christian refugees in the West, only India can accommodate, peacefully assimilate and help large numbers of Hindu, Sikh and Jain refugees.

Second, does this mean that India should not take in genuine Muslim refugees from neighboring countries? No, but they are a secondary priority. India needs to be clear that they will always be refugees, and will not be given citizenship or voting rights. They should be the first priority for Islamic countries that loudly comment on alleged Muslim persecution in India.

Further, there is the question of economic refugees – mostly from Bangladesh – who cannot be sent back to their country. The only logical way forward is to identify them and remove them from voters’ lists.

India must change its citizenship laws. An illegal Bangladeshi immigrant who is discovered today should be deemed to have entered the country on the date of detection, and not the date he got himself on to voters’ lists or obtained a ration card, thereby foreclosing naturalization in the country.

To sum up, India needs to prioritize the interests of minorities among Indic religions who are persecuted in the neighborhood or who have to seek economic growth in India and are to remain away from the path of violence and terror. This is the justification behind Nepali refugees being granted permission to live and work in India, but not Bangladeshis.

Sudhanshu Tripathi

Sudhanshu Tripathi is a professor of political science at Uttar Pradesh Rajarshi Tandon Open University. His book NAM and India was published in 2012 and he co-authored the textbook Political Concepts (In Hindi) in 2001.