When Hardeep Singh Puri, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, announced Wednesday that the Rohingya “refugees” living in Delhi would be provided housing and police security, it came as a surprise to many since both the government and the ruling party have had a very different and hard stance on the Rohingya issue.
Sources said there was shock and annoyance within the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar over the announcement and this was communicated to the top leadership.
Puri’s announcement, sources said, went against everything that the BJP and the government had said over the past five years on the issue.
By afternoon, the office of Home Minister Amit Shah denied that any such decision had been taken by the government. Puri backed down, and tweeted later that the MHA’s statement was the correct position on the issue.
The VHP too issued a statement, expressing shock over Puri’s announcement and reminded him of Amit Shah’s statement in Parliament that the Rohingya would never be accepted by India.
Ever since 2017, the government has consistently maintained that it had no desire either to recognise the Rohingya as refugees nor accommodate them in the country.
During the debate on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on December 10, 2019 in Lok Sabha, Amit Shah, on being asked why the government was not granting citizenship to the Rohingya since they too were persecuted minorities, said, “Rohingya come via Bangladesh. Myanmar is a secular country. We will never accept the Rohingya, I am making it clear now,” he said.
The first public statement on the Rohingya was made by then Home Minister Rajnath Singh on September 21, 2017.
Addressing a seminar organised by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Singh said, “The Home Ministry has clarified its position through its affidavit (in Supreme Court) that these are illegal immigrants and they will be deported. The Rohingya are not refugees. There is a procedure to get refugee status and none of them followed this procedure. No Rohingya has got asylum in India nor has anyone applied for it. They are illegal immigrants.”
On October 1, the same year, after chairing the 23rd Eastern Zonal Council meeting in West Bengal, Singh said, “States have been told to identify them (Rohingya). They have to take their biometrics also. After that, they will send a report to the Centre. Then the Central government will initiate action through diplomatic channels with Myanmar and we will get it resolved.”
On October 13, Shah, who was then the BJP president, told India Today in an interview, “The kind of reports the government has got have been presented to the Supreme Court with all seriousness. This is not an issue of human rights but of the nation’s security. We have suffered a lot. Now this country will have to keep a keen eye on its borders and the infiltration that is happening. We can give them (Rohingya) food, water and clothes within their borders. We have no objection. We can provide economic help. But there will be no compromise with the nation’s security.”
In another interview on April 2 this year, Shah said India could not encourage illegal infiltration. “It is not India’s responsibility because India has a defined boundary. If every person starts entering into India in this manner, then it will pose a challenge to our security,” he said.
On February 12, 2020, addressing a public meeting in Sahaspur in Uttarakhand in the run-up to polls in the state, Shah pledged that the BJP would throw out all Rohingya if it came to power.
“Congress has started the politics of appeasement. Rohingya Muslims have begun to be seen on the mountains of Uttarakhand… I have come to promise you that if you make (Pushkar SIngh) Dhami your Chief Minister, the BJP government will wipe Rohingya out of the state,” he said.
Ahead of the 2020 Hyderabad Municipal polls, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and Shah got into a verbal spat over the Rohingya issue.
During a press conference on November 29 that year, Shah said, “When I take steps against the Rohingya, Owaisi starts crying in Parliament. Please tell him to give in writing that Bangaldeshis and Rohingya must be thrown out and then see what I do.”
In Parliament, the government has repeated the following line often in response to questions on the Rohingya: “Illegal migrants (including Rohingya) pose a threat to national security. There are reports about some Rohingya migrants indulging in illegal activities.”
It was more forthcoming on its position through its 2017 affidavit in the Supreme Court that BJP leaders have articulated since.
In 2017, the Ministry of Home Affairs, in response to a petition praying non-refoulement of the Rohingya, told the Supreme Court that “continuance of Rohingya’s illegal immigration into India and their continued stay in India, apart from being absolutely illegal, is found to be having serious national security ramifications and has serious security threats.”
It said it had found “linkages of some of the unauthorised Rohingya immigrants with Pakistan-based terror organisations and similar organisations operating in other countries.”
It said some Rohingya were indulging in “illegal/anti-national activities such as mobilization of funds through hundi/hawala channels, procuring fake/fabricated Indian identity documents for other Rohingya and also indulging in human trafficking.”
“They are also using their illegal network for illegal entry of others in India. Many of them have managed to acquire fake/fraudulently obtained Indian identity documents i.e. PAN Card and voter cards,” it said.
The affidavit also said that the Rohingya could be a threat to the safety of the Buddhist minority in India and that some Rohingya with militant background were found to be very active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mewat.