On Wednesday morning, 17 August, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted that "a landmark decision" has been taken in which "all Rohingya refugees will be shifted to EWS (economically weaker sections) flats in Bakkarwala area of Delhi."
This statement was, however, refuted by the Ministry of Home Affairs which said, "With respect to news reports in certain sections of media regarding Rohingya illegal foreigners, it is clarified that Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has not given any directions to provide EWS flats to Rohingya illegal migrants at Bakkarwala in New Delhi."
Hours after this, Puri – who has not yet deleted his two tweets in the morning – shared the MHA's press release on Twitter and wrote, "Home Ministry's press release with respect to the issue of Rohingya illegal foreigners gives out the correct position."
Apart from the embarrassing flip-flop over the issue, with the MHA contradicting Minister Puri, it also led to a political tug of war between the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
While the MHA claimed that it was the Delhi government's proposal, the Aam Aadmi Party has claimed that the file pertaining to this "bypassed the Home Minister of Delhi."
Further, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia has claimed that the BJP-led Centre was “secretly” trying to give “permanent residence” to Rohingya refugees in the national capital and that AAP will not let this "conspiracy" succeed.
This piece delves into all that's happened pertaining to the matter on Wednesday.
What Did Hardeep Singh Puri Tweet?
In the morning, Puri tweeted that "India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge in the country," and added that apart from being moved to EWS flats in Delhi's Bakkarwala, the Rohingya refugees "will be provided with basic amenities, UNHCR IDs and round-the-clock Delhi police protection."
In the following tweet, he added, "Those who made a career out of spreading canards on India's refugee police deliberately linking it to CAA will be disappointed. India respects and follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 and provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed."
Puri's tweet came despite the saffron party's consistent anti-Rohingya stance. The clarifications by the MHA or the party itself do not offer any insight into why Puri tweeted in the first place.
What Did the MHA Say and How Does It Contradict Puri?
Over seven hours after Puri's tweet, the MHA released a statement that said otherwise.
It categorically stated that the ministry has given "no such directions to provide EWS flats to Rohingya illegal migrants in Bakkarwala in New Delhi." The MHA further stated that it was in fact the "Government of Delhi" that had "proposed to shift the Rohingyas to a new location."
The MHA said that it has "directed the Government of Delhi to ensure that the Rohingya illegal foreigners will continue at the present location at Kanchan Kunj, Madanpur Khadar as the MHA has already taken up the matter of deportation of illegal foreigners with the Ministry of External Affairs."
Not only this, the statement mentioned that "illegal foreigners are to be kept in the detention centre till their deportation as per law" and that the Delhi government "has not declared the present location as a detention centre" and has been "directed to do the same immediately."
A Rohingya refugee, who spoke to The Quint on the condition of anonymity, said, "Two different news items have reached us via the media. There's a lot of uncertainty about what our fate is. We don't know what will happen."
Hours after the MHA's clarification, Puri tweeted a rather tepid response, when he posted the MHA press release, in contrast to his morning tweets that took a dig at those who criticise India's foreign policy.
BJP-AAP Political Slugfest
After the MHA claimed that the Delhi government "proposed to shift Rohingyas to a new location," the Aam Aadmi Party hit back at the Centre.
AAP's chief spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj claimed that the "decision was taken after bypassing the Home Minister of Delhi."
"This decision was taken behind the Delhi government's back... It was decided that the file (pertaining to the matter) be sent straight to the L-G via the Chief Secretary of Delhi. They forgot that in the middle of all this, there is also the elected government, the Home Minister," he said.
On Tuesday, news agency ANI reported that the decision to shift 1,100 Rohingya refugees to the EWS flats was reportedly taken after a high-level meeting chaired by the chief secretary of Delhi, which was attended by senior officials from the Delhi government, Delhi Police, and the MHA.
In the meeting it was "emphasised that the Delhi government was bearing around Rs 7 lakh per month rent for the tents where Rohingyas were shifted in the Madanpur Khadar area after a fire incident happened in the camp they were living in."
In June 2021, a massive fire broke out in the area, in which around 55 shanties were gutted.
The report claimed that the Delhi government has been "ordered to equip the flats with basic amenities and hand it over to the Foreign Regional Registration Offices (FRRO), which will oversee the shifting of the Rohingyas into the flats."
‘Kejriwal With Intruders’: BJP Targets AAP
On Wednesday, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said in a press conference, "The HMO has clarified that the MHA hasn't given any direction to provide EWS flats to illegal migrants. Delhi CM Kejriwal is worried about Rohingyas, not Delhiites. In a meeting headed by Delhi CS on 29 July, it was decided that illegal migrants be shifted to this housing."
He added, "It won't be wrong to say that 'Kejriwal ka haath ghuspaithiyon ke saath'. Centre’s policy is clear that there will be no compromise with national security and the country’s resources are for its citizens, and not for illegal migrants."
‘Will Not Let Them Settle Down Here at Any Cost’: AAP
Attacking the BJP-led Centre, Deputy CM Manish Sisodia said that the Centre was “secretly” trying to give “permanent residence” to Rohingya refugees in the national capital.
Reacting to the MHA's clarification, Sisodia said in a tweet in Hindi:
“The central government, which was not tired of describing the news (about shifting of Rohingyas) as its achievement in the morning, has now started putting the responsibility of it on the Delhi government after the Aam Aadmi Party opposed such a step."
“Whereas it is a fact that the central government was secretly trying to give permanent residence to the Rohingyas in Delhi,” he added.
In another tweet, Sisodia said, “At the behest of the central government and on the instruction of the L-G, the officers and the police took decision (to shift Rohingyas) and it (the proposal) was being sent to L-G for his approval, without bringing it to the knowledge of the chief minister and home minister of Delhi."
"The Delhi government will not let this conspiracy to illegally settle Rohingyas in Delhi succeed," he added.
Earlier, AAP chief spokesperson, Saurabh Bhardwaj, had said, “With the minister's announcement, the BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands exposed today … This poses a big threat to the national security and to the Delhiites as well.”
Bhardwaj added, “We, the countrymen and Delhiites, at least, will not let them settle down here at any cost. No matter what the central government does, we will not let the government allocate flats to them."
Bhardwaj said that the prime minister may consider settling them down in any of the BJP-ruled states, if he wants.
"Give EWS flats, bungalows or whatever you want. We won't allow allocation of flats to them in Delhi at all," he added.
(With inputs from ANI and PTI.)