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Mainstream, VOL LV No 42 New Delhi October 7, 2017

Are Refugees Outsiders?

Monday 9 October 2017, by Kuldip Nayar

Communist leader Jyoti Basu ruled West Bengal for two-and-a-half decades. He fought relentlessly against the communal forces. It is surprising how the RSS has penetrated and practically taken over the State. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress is in power in the State at present but even her adherents admit that they are fighting a losing battle.

The RSS has moved into the interior of the State and its morning shakhas are being held in every park. How and why it has happened is a case study. Communism and the communist ideology are what the Left pursued. In sharp contrast is the RSS preaching, completely archival and conservative. The rich Bengali culture is today sandwiched between the RSS and Communists.

Mamata is accused of trying to appease the Muslims when she vainly banned the immersion of Durga idols beyond certain hours. The State Government, according to news reports, appre-hended that both the immersion processions and Muharram processions will be taken out deliberately to cross each other’s path, putting the contaminated administration to a stern test. However, the Calcutta High Court intervened to restore the status quo.

Perhaps what prompted Mamata to order the ban was the steady string of communal riots that have been breaking out in the districts. Controversies over the routes of Muharram processions, too, had ignited the spark. In addition, the accusations by belligerent Hindu groups, comprising both Bengalis and non-Bengalis, had sprung up to resist ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ and ‘Islamic terrorists’.

All these added to the communal cauldron that was already boiling, thanks to a steady exodus of Hindus from Bangladesh in recent times. The upper-caste Hindus, who were a part of Bangladesh before the country was liberated from West Pakistan, had migrated to India and even today they maintain two houses, one in Bengal and the other in Bangladesh. Their children study in Indian schools and have even acquired identity and become citizens of India in some cases.

However, the rising Islamic radicalism and steady attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh have led to fresh exodus over a decade. Unable to find a living, the economically poor are mostly confined to the border districts, eking out a living through odd jobs. Understandably, the Bengalis harbour deep resentment of ‘the other’ Muslims. And these are the ones that the RSS has targeted cleverly to pull Hindus on to its side.

Against this backdrop, the Bangladeshis are going through a peculiar problem of exodus of Rohingyas, a minority Muslim community, from Myanmar. Dhaka has provided shelter to these refugees on humanitarian ground but beyond a point it cannot help much. The number of Rohingya refugees, who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since late August, has reached 480,000, challenging the efforts to care for them, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“The Office for the Coordination of Humani-tarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh since late August has now topped 480,000,” he said. “This brings the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to more than 700,000.” The Rohingyas are denied citizen-ship under a 1982 Myanmar citizenship law. The Myanmar Government recognises them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangla-desh.

The exodus of Rohingyas has also posed a problem to New Delhi since some of them have infiltrated into India through the North-Eastern States which are sharing a long border with Myanmar. Even as the government is trying to prove to the court their association with Pakistani terrorist groups, BJP MP Varun Gandhi has advocated asylum for Rohingya Muslims who have escaped the violence in Myanmar. This is a view that is in contrast to what the government has advocated. In a recent edit-page piece in the Navbharat Times, Varun has expressed that the Rohingya refugees should not be deported but treated humanely.

No doubt, it has created a stir in political circles, particularly with Minister of State for Home Affairs, Hansraj Ahir, saying that Varun Gandhi’s view was against India’s interest. “Anyone who cares about national interest will never give such a statement,” said Ahir.

The government recently told the Supreme Court that it will give evidence to the Court. According to the government, some Rohingya militants are linked with Pakistan-based terrorist groups. The Centre has said it will deport all the 40,000 Rohingyas who are illegal immigrants. The move has been challenged in Court by two Rohingya petitioners who said that their community is peace-loving and that most of them have no link to any terror activity.

New Delhi has to face the refugee problem stoically. There are Kashmiri pundits in Jammu and Bangladeshi Muslims in Kolkata and Guwahati. So is the case with Sri Lankan Tamils who have taken asylum in Tamil Nadu. Small skirmishes are already taking place and pose a serious problem. But the Rohingyas’ exodus has forced the government to revisit the issue of refugees, giving a political colour to a humane issue.

What is disconcerting is that the problem is slowly getting a communal colour—Hindu versus Muslim. West Bengal, which is already sitting on a volcano, has to retrieve the situation which may get out of control. In fact, the secular and democratic forces would have to join hands to fight against the onslaught of the Hindutva elements.

Sadly, one has to admit that the country is going towards a philosophy which has been fought by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Our heritage is pluralism and its essence has to be kept alive. This is not a one-party task. All like-minded and non-BJP forces have to come together to fight against the creeping communal forces.

With the Hindu extremists getting an upper hand in every sphere, it is an uphill task. But there is no option either. If we want communa-lism to be rolled back to restore the ethos of pluralism, the secular forces have to go to the grassroots. The Communists are giving the impression as if they alone are putting up a fight. The Congress is also doing so relentlessly, however irrelevant it looks in the present scenario.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is

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