The Other Side of Rohingya Muslims Crisis

Myanmar wants the territory but not the people. Tough luck. The story though goes a long way back. It is amusing how everyone pretends like the world did not exist before 1947. The Arakan (Rakhine) first accepted the suzerainty of Jalal Muhammad Shah, the Sultan of Bengal (himself a convert) in the 15th century to protect themselves from the Burmese. They have since had strong cultural and trade related ties with Bengal (city situated on banks of polluted Ganga River . Arakanese sounds a lot like Bengali and the muslim Arakans speak a dialect of Bengali spoken in Chittagong. It is not for nothing that the Burmese call them Bangladeshi.

The Arakan came under the Burmese eventually in 1785 as Burma got more and more ambitious and expansionary. Burmese attempted to also acquire Assam and Manipur and lost a bloody war against the British in 1826, and by 1884 came under British control. The Burmese put up a much stronger fight against the British than the Indians. Through both the world wars the Burmese elite sided with enemies of Britain. Their hero of independence struggle, Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi, sided with the Japanese and built the Burmese Independence Army (yes, exactly like Subhash Chandra Bose). Aung San along with other important leaders like the monk U Ottama also had very good friends in both Indian national congress and the Muslim league. Interestingly, even after coming under British control, Burma was never really democratic and the army generals continued to play a very strong role in politics.

In these busy years, the British either inadvertently, or because the Arakan were ruled by the Burmese for the forty years before the British took over, clubbed the Arakan with the Burmese. Even in the Government of India Act 1935, their territory was clubbed with Burma. The Arakanese muslims protested this but nobody cared. Including Jinnah. Jinnah apparently did not want to interfere in Burma’s “internal affairs”. In other words, our political vision was defined by the lines drawn by the British.
The Arakan muslims (Rohingyas) did not give up hope, and through various mujahideens, kept lobbying to merge with Pakistan in 1949, but were unsuccessful. After 1971, the condition of the Rakhine worsened as Bangladesh was a lot less interested in messing with Burma.

It is important here to note that much like their Bangladeshi cousins, Rohingyas have not yet realized that they are Arakanese first and muslim later. Thanks to Islam’s built-in feature of merging political conquest with proselytizing, muslims all over the world have taken it upon themselves to guilt trip everybody else about atrocities against Rohingyas. The Rohingyas also subscribe to the concept of ‘Ummah’ and in a way represent one of the frontiers of Islam. There are reports of some Rohingya youth joining AlQaeda in Afghanistan and later in ISIS. Today, as Burma wakes up to realities of modern nationalism, it does not know how to deal with its minorities. There were riots between the muslims and buddhists in Rakhine state in 2012. The Burmese response to this event is to push the muslim Rakhine out. Imagine Indians trying to push all Kashmiri muslims into Pakistan because of the violence against Kashmiri Pandits.

Where will the Rohingyas go? They can go to Bangladesh. They can come to India. But opposing the “burgeoning of Bengali muslim population disrupting the social fabric” is the bedrock of BJP’s north-east strategy. Hence, Kiren Rijiju says we are going to deport Rohingyas. This is not very different from what Jinnah did. This is the strongest Indian government in terms of political support in ages. It can arm-twist the Burmese and the Bangladeshi to solve the problem. It can also take in all the refugees. Ours is a big fat joint family. A few lakh people more isn’t going to change much.  There is another way to look at this. India has sufficient claim on the Rakhine territory. As much as it does on Manipur or Nagaland or Mizoram. The Kabaw valley was given away to Burma for no apparent reason in 1947. There is strong evidence of major drug trafficking from Burma affecting the North East. If we were America, these are enough reasons to go to war. Burma is a $70B economy.

It does not look like the Indian state is interested in doing anything proactive. All that the RSS says about Akhand Bharat is meaningless if they don’t rise above electoral politics. Also, I don’t think the government has enough intelligence or analysts even to take an informed decision on this matter. The odd IDSA comment on the matter only urges the government to increase diplomatic efforts to deal with the “refugee crisis”. Why? How? There are no answers.

Furthermore, the media does an extremely shoddy job of letting us know what the government is thinking. Why is Modi in Myanmar? What is the plan? We don’t know. The media are busy congratulating themselves about how they spoke “truth to power”. We almost always know about the government’s decisions post-facto. This means less nuanced debate and more scope for trolls to keep sharing more and more images about how India doesn’t care about “muslims”. I have seen a million articles doing rounds about how Rakhine are the most persecuted minority, and how such bad things are happening. Not one article about what the problem really is. Maybe I am wrong.