Congress leader and former union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has mounted a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over Centre’s stand on the Rohingya refugee crisis, drawing an analogy between the treatment of the persecuted minority and victims of Gujarat 2002 riots.
“He thinks of Indian Muslims as dogs. What hope is there for Rohingya Muslims,” Aiyar said during his address at a conference on Rohingya refugees in New Delhi on Friday. The leader was referring to provocative remarks Modi had made during an interview with Reuters news agency in 2013, when he was asked for his reaction on riots in Gujarat in 2002.
The event was organised by pressure group Muslim Political Council of India (MPCI) and had senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Delhi Minorities Commission head Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan among its prominent speakers.
Aiyar further called the Modi government for Centre’s discriminatory refugee policy, saying that Rohingya were only being targeted because they were Muslim.
“India has always had a rich and proud tradition of welcoming persecuted peoples irrespective of where they come from and their religious beliefs. However, our refugee policy started to change from 2014,” Aiyar said.
The former minister pointed out that three legislations, Passport Act, Foreigners Act and the Citizenship Act, forbade the government from deporting Rohingya Muslims.
The Congressman condemned MoS Kiren Rijiju for threatening to deport Rohingya Muslims.
“I have known him for 20 years. He wanted to join Congress but as things didn’t work out, he approached the BJP. I know him as a really decent man but I can’t understand the reason behind his remarks,” Aiyar said.
The former minister also attacked Myanmar’s counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, noting that she herself had spent time in India during the peak of political oppression in Myanmar under the military junta.
Earlier, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan slammed Centre over their deportation order as he noted that Rohingya Muslims couldn’t be sent back to Myanmar as per international law as there existed a direct threat to their lives. Bhushan is representing two Rohingya refugees who have challenged the government’s deportation directive in Supreme Court.
Bhushan highlighted that India was a signatory to four international conventions- human rights, civil and political rights, torture and enforced disappearance – that prohibited it from sending back Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
“Even Articles 14 (religious equality) and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution guarantee the safety of Rohingya refugees in India,” the lawyer added.
Bhushan further pointed out that a government notification dated September 7, 2015, excluded Muslims from the list of communities which could be granted exemption from legal proceedings.
He, however, lauded the role of Indian and international media in playing up the plight of Rohingya refugees and expressed hope that pressure from civil society could prompt a re-think on the government’s part.