TALKS WITH BANGLADESH, MYANMAR ARE ON
China has come up with a fresh idea to kickstart an organised movement of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to Myanmar. Progress on this critical part of the proposed resolution of the Rohingya repatriation issue has remained stalled for months, despite ongoing parleys involving India, China and Bangladesh.
China proposes to use elementary communication technology for assessing the ground situation real time in the Rakhine province of Myanmar, the Rohingya homeland. Mr. Song Tao, Minister for International Development and Member, Central Committee, Chinese Communist Party (CPC) has suggested that mobile phones be used to enable uninterrupted conversation between the Rohingyas stranded in Bangladesh with their kinsmen still living in Myanmar. A positive interaction could well pave the way for an eventual Rohingya return to their homes.
Mr. Tao’s apparently simply structured idea follows a recent memorandum signed by the CPC and the ruling Awami league in Bangladesh ,to expedite a permanent settlement of the Rohingya issue. As reported in the Dhaka-based media, Rohingya volunteers carrying mobiles from the special camps in Bangladesh will go to Myanmar to enable them to study existing conditions first hand. Naypitaw authorities will guarantee their safe passage and other facilities.
From the Rakhine province or other areas in Myanmar, the volunteers will talk to their families in Bangladesh and give them a detailed account of their experience. The families will also have a mobile phone, a receiving set, courtesy Beijing, to enable easy communication. Myanmar authorities claim to have made some arrangements to accommodate returning Rohingyas, setting up alternate sites for their resettlement. The objective is to keep them as far apart as possible from local Buddhists and non Muslims.
But there are also allegations that the so-called new measures would only result in the creation of more Muslim dominated ghettos. Despite repeated attempts and assurances of help from Bangladesh authorities and international relief agencies, no Rohingya has agreed to return home so far. At present 11,00,000 Rohingyas have been put up in special camps in Bangladesh, victims of several ethnic cleansing operations by the army and Buddhists during the past decade.
The Chinese feel if their proposal is accepted, it will enable the Rohingyas to confirm whether the promises made by Myanmar are true. A positive feedback sent from Myanmar could well pave the way for an eventual Rihingya return, ending the contentious deadlock. .
Dhaka-based Chinese diplomats have reiterated their resolve to help Bangladesh and Myanmar improve their bilateral relations. China wields a major influence over Naypitaw not least because of its massive economic investments, but also for its consistent support to Myanmar even during the sanctions it faced during the long spell of army rule .
This is the third major initiative from Beijing in recent times to bring Dhaka and Naypitaw closer on the Rohingya issue. Observers sense that the Chinese have stronger reasons than India to ensure an early settlement between its smaller south Asain neighbours. In addition to major investments made by China during the past decades, the Rakhine province happens to be a strategically import location in its One belt One road (OBOR) connectivity scheme.
India too has a special interest in fostering closer economic ties with Myanmar, in view of its huge energy and other resources. It is helping Myanmar build the modern Sittwe port, as well as building up its road and rail infrastructure, its IT, Education and Medical sectors. The Sittwe port which will be linked with Kolkata, is an important point India’s own Lookeast and Acteast programmes. Both projects remained stalled owing to the problems between Bangladesh and Myanmar over the Rohingya issue.
A brief overview of the proposals made by the two bigger regional powers also confirms China’s greater strategic interest and outreach, than India in Myanmar. During the army rule there, it regarded the country, if not as an outright colony, at least as its undisputed territory of influence. The return of democracy to Myanmar somewhat eased Choina’s earlier hold on the local economy, but it still remains the biggest investor there.
On its part, India had proposed the signing of a regional MOU to ensure the economic development and opening up of the resource –rich Arakan (renamed Rakhine by the hardline Burmese leaders and the army) area. The objective was to catalyse and rev up development to keep the population engaged and to begin a new chapter of development in the region. However, it could not be followed up, as the critical element of the problem— the return of displaced Rohingyas from Myanmar to their homeland—remained unachieved thanks to the endless problems arising between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
In contrast, China has been more proactive in its quest to become the honest but effective between the two countries — a fact which pleases Bangladeshi hardliners critical of India’s role. It also dampens the hopes of the new pro-democracy elements in Myanmar, which supports the ongoing agitation in Hong Kong and admires Western ways. But Chinese diplomacy regained lost ground as, two of the three points of an earlier proposal from Beijing have been implemented.
Beijing had proposed an immediate ceasefire in the Rakhine province, which has happened. Next was the scheduling of bilateral talks between Dhaka and Naypitaw, which also followed, paving the way for an agreement in 2017.
However, its proposed local poverty alleviation plan for Rakhine areas could not be implemented. It would have been a nice fit with China’s overall strategy, given its big lead over others in terms of investments made in the country, as well as in terms of regional strategic domination.
The 2017 agreement between Bangladesh Myanmar to settle their (mostly unpleasant) unfinished business was also a step forward. Problems arose over the slow progress in Myanmar over the repatriation and resettlement proposals, to which was it forced reluctantly to agree under increasing international pressure and diplomatic isolation. Bangladesh insisted that the Rohingya Muslims must return home voluntarily, not under duress. In view of their traumatic experience at Rakhine, few Rohingyas are willing to return. Their numbers in Bangladesh of increased in phases, as they escaped following repeated mass attacks carried out by the army and paratroopers, not sparing women and children. There were also isolated instances of armed Rohingya radical elements attacking army units, in the never ending spell of violence.
Naypitaw authorities claim that there has been no targeting or ethnic cleaning of Rohingyas following the ceasefire and there is no reason to coddle the returnees, for whose settlement special areas had been earmarked. It is another matter that most of these areas are reportedly far away from the habitual settlements of Rohingyas, allegedly marked out in rough terrain miles from nowhere in particular! M.P. Sakshi Maharaj. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has also said that he is hopeful of a favorable verdict. He has already readied the state administration to face a post verdict scenario. The Faizabad district has been renamed as Ayodhya, which is being developed as a tourist attraction with widened roads, ghats spruced up and heritage temples refurbished.
The Ayodhya verdict would have an impact on legal, political and religious areas. The Apex Court order might put a lid on the legal side but its impact on the political and religious sides are equally significant. It is likely that the two sides might accept the judgment. Muslim religious scholars and leaders have also said that both sides of the dispute should accept the verdict, whatever it may be. It will be a big gain for the BJP, as the party’s political and electoral fortunes in the past three decades owe their rise. Looking back, the BJP began its campaign for the Ram temple since the nineties. The razing of the Babri masjid in 1992 was a turning point in the history of the BJP and its Hindutva politics. In fact Prime Minister Modi had a role during Advani’s Ram rathyatra, which began from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya in 1990. The yatra did not culminate in Ayodhya as planned as Advani was arrested.
If the Babri Masjid demolition has not only changed the political narrative of the country but also it has helped the BJP to establish itself in the national politics. Post-Babri Masjid demolition, the BJP has acquired a national identity and national stature. The party, which was known as a Bania – Brahmin party and had a strong presence only in the Hindi belt, has expanded as a pan national party now replacing the Congress.
The Ayodhya agenda has been a recurring theme to which the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates, most importantly the Bharatiya Janata Party, have returned to again and again. The BJP has been consistently talking about the Ram temple and had included it in its manifesto since 1996 polls. However, BJP leader L.K. Advani after the demolition, called it — “the agitation is not just constructing a temple but to propagate Hindutva’s foundational idea — cultural nationalism.“
Other political parties including the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have been treading on the issue very cautiously. Seeing the phenomenal rise of the BJP, the congress has been trying to adapt a soft Hindutva politics in recent times with the party leaders like Rahul Gandhi visiting temples. The SP, BSP, RJD and other parties relevant in the nineties have lost their sheen now.
The BJP’s future agenda depends on how it plays it Hindutva card. At present, the party would primarily like to consolidate its base all over the country. It has to expand in the northeast and the south. The BJP is targeting to expand in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Moreover, the economic agenda needs priority as it is slipping beyond control. Creation of jobs and boosting the economy needs immediate attention. It is easier said than done when the global economy is facing a recession.
The next agenda is likely to be the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. BJP chief Amit Shah and the Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar have gone public on reclaiming the POK after the revocation of Article 370. But there is enough time for this until before the next elections. Of course, one week is said to be long time in politics and five years is a very long time and there could be other issues, which may come up.