A group of Rohingya refugees cross a canal after travelling over the Bangladesh-Burma border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 1, 2017.

© 2017 Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

The BJP-led government took office with a commitment to earn global respect. However, it has stumbled after one of the biggest challenges the world is facing today: Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Half a million desperate Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to escape atrocities, joining several hundred thousand who had escaped previous abuses and government repression.

India needs to act with deft diplomacy, bolstering democracy in Myanmar by holding an abusive military to account. During a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Myanmar soon after the crisis erupted, the official statement agreed that “terrorism violates human rights.” But it ignored the violations by the military under commander-in-chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. India should instead be seriously evaluating any exports to the Burmese army and should publicly say that no commander implicated in mass killings is welcome to visit Bodh Gaya or the land of Buddha.

India should publicly say that no commander implicated in mass killings is welcome to visit the land of Buddha.

Instead, in its efforts to coddle supporters in India with rhetoric around security, illegal immigrants and Muslims, the NDA has managed to draw international condemnation by threatening to deport 40,000 Rohingya refugees – a tiny fraction of the over a million now homeless in the region.

What is worse, playing to its domestic audience has muted India’s voice when one of its closest neighbours, Bangladesh, needs robust support. This is particularly shameful because Bangladeshis, many born long after the country’s independence in 1971, say that they will eat less to share their food with the Rohingya, and describe with gratitude India’s massive humanitarian response in protecting refugees escaping a brutal Pakistan military.

India needs to step up to the plate if it really wants the global leadership role that it claims for itself. It should call upon the Myanmar authorities to end the ethnic cleansing campaign, course-correct to protect the right of Rohingya refugees to safe return, and call for soldiers and officers responsible for executions, rape, looting and arson to be held to account.

India should provide generous and immediate humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh, including medical aid, to help cope with the refugee influx. And the government should stop engaging in ethnic and religious profiling by suggesting that the entire Rohingya population is a security risk. That is what Myanmar is doing. Other countries are beginning to respond to the Rohingya crisis – India undermines its global credibility by failing to do so.