Since the eruption of the Rohingya crisis, millions of Bangladeshis have had high hopes that India, deemed to be Bangladesh’s best friend, would play a proactive role. But from the very beginning of the crisis, India (and China too) has seemed to favor its new friend, Myanmar, ignoring the interests of an old friend, Bangladesh.
Prior to the visit to Bangladesh by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (pictured below), there were enormous hopes in both the government and the people that she would bring something in Bangladesh’s favor with regard to the Rohingya crisis.
There were high expectations that although initially India had to take Myanmar’s side on the crisis in consideration of its various interests in that country, it might at least find its way for a slight shift in its stance toward Bangladesh, considering its interest there as well, and considering the priority Bangladesh has given to entertaining Indian interests in the region for the past decade.
During that period, India’s relations with Bangladesh have been at an all-time high, even providing support to New Delhi beyond what it could easily afford. This “give everything” policy was not mere stubbornness from the Bangladeshi side, but a well-thought-out and well-shaped policy aimed at keeping India onside in all international matters.
The leverage given to India and the decade-long deep friendship were the major reasons behind the Bangladeshi government’s and people’s huge expectations from Swaraj’s recent visit.
There was expectation that India’s foreign minister would bring with her some positive message from her government on solving the Rohingya crisis, a crisis that has the potential to throw Bangladesh off balance economically, socially and security-wise.
However, those expectations remained unfulfilled, as Swaraj left Bangladesh without providing any plan for a solution of the crisis and without signaling even the slightest shift from India’s initial position, which was more in favor of Myanmar than of Bangladesh.
Civil society, the political community and the general population of Bangladesh have been asking the global and regional powers to recognize the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya community as genocide. Communities across the world too have been calling the actions against the Rohingya attempts at genocide or ethnic cleansing.
Many in Bangladesh expected that during Swaraj’s visit, she would not take a different tone from that of Bangladesh. But she neither acknowledged the Rohingya’s plight as “genocide,” as claimed by Bangladesh, nor as “ethnic cleansing,” as claimed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Instead of taking a similar tone as that of its old friend, Bangladesh, India took Myanmar’s tone during the visit, when Swaraj referred to “displaced persons,” avoiding the term “Rohingya,” a word that is banned in Myanmar. Myanmar’s government has been referring them too as “displaced persons.”
Moreover, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Myanmar immediately after the start of the current round of persecution, and said that India understood Myanmar’s position on the crisis. Modi (seen above meeting Aung San Suu Kyi) declined to criticize the Myanmar military’s treatment of the Rohingya.
India has been a South Asian power almost from the time of its independence. Now that India is rising as a power to be reckoned with in the mega-regions of Greater Asia-Pacific (GAP) and Indian Ocean Region (IOR), it ought to act more responsibly than it did as only a South Asian power.
The more a morally driven foreign policy is portrayed in the international arena, the more India will be accepted as a GAP and IOR power. In contrast, displaying a foreign policy driven solely by its own national interests might risk India’s acceptability as a rising geopolitical power in these mega-regions. The place to start is in its sympathy for Bangladesh amid the Rohingya crisis.