India, Maldives Reach Diplomatic Impasse
Image Credit: Wikicommons

India, Maldives Reach Diplomatic Impasse


In the Maldives, the old authoritarian style of leadership and the politics of vendetta threaten to reverse the country’s hard-won democratic advances.

In a dramatic development, Mohamed Nasheed, who until last year was the democratically elected president of the island nation, took political refuge in the Indian Embassy in Male on Tuesday, after a court in the Maldives issued a warrant for his arrest.

The warrant was issued after Nasheed failed to appear at a hearing related to charges that he had illegally ordered the detention of chief justice Abdulla Mohamed in December 2011.
The arrest order sparked a controversy that led to Nasheed’s ouster in what the former president called a coup.

The warrant for Nasheed’s arrest has expired and the Maldives government has declared him a free man. However, the former president is unwilling to leave the embassy compound until authorities assure him that he will not be arrested and will be permitted to campaign in the presidential elections scheduled for September 7.

Nasheed’s refuge in the Indian embassy has dragged New Delhi into the Maldives’ domestic political turmoil. So far India has operated on Nasheed’s behalf, without interfering in the internal tug of war. Nonetheless, a section of the ruling elite in Male has accused New Delhi of meddling in the country’s domestic issues.

Last year, he was ousted as president and replaced by his former deputy Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, Nasheed accused India of siding with anti-democratic forces in the country.

Now it’s the other way around. According to news reports, the Maldivian government has asked India to respect its judicial independence and election commission.

The Maldives’ big neighbor, however, is openly siding with Nasheed, the first-ever democratically elected president on the archipelago. A statement made by India’s Ministry of External Affairs “called upon the Government and all political parties to adhere strictly to democratic principles and the rule of law, thereby paving the way for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections.”

On Thursday Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid spoke via telephone with his Maldivian counterpart Abdul Samad Abdulla, but no concrete proposal has emerged to end the impasse.

These circumstances raise a few important questions. Why has India decided to back Nasheed now, after allegedly playing an active role in Waheed’s ascension to power last year? Further, what does the arrest of the former president mean for the democratic evolution of the predominantly Muslim Maldives?

On the one hand, according to an article in The Hindu, India is irked by a decision made by the current Maldivian government to cancel a contract that an Indian-Malaysian consortium had to operate the country’s main airport in Male.

More worrying for the international community is the distortion of the Maldives’ democratic process. Many fear that Nasheed, leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MPD), will be disqualified from contesting the country’s presidential elections in September if he is arrested and subsequently convicted. On the MDP’s official website, Nasheed is quoted as saying that the events of the past year – mass arrests, police brutality, politically motivated trials – demonstrate that Waheed cannot be trusted to hold a free and fair election.

Indeed, analysts say that an election without Nasheed would suit the political ambitions of incumbent Waheed and former president Maumoon Abdul, Gayoom, who ruled the country for 30 years until 2008.

The international community is also concerned about the growing presence of parties espousing radical Islam in the Sunni-dominated country. The island nation is known for its liberal traditions, but there is also an ongoing attempt to radicalize Maldivian society.

In February 2012, vandals entered the National Museum in Male and destroyed nearly 30 Buddhist statues dating from the 12th century. The statues were important symbols of the island nation’s pre-Islamic past. Last July, the BBC reported that Maldivian journalist Ismail Rasheed fled the country after receiving death threats from hardline Islamic groups. He later told the BBC that radicals were operating with impunity under the Washeed government.

As it stands, the situation is delicate for India, which cannot be seen as backing a particular political group.

In similar circumstances, India suffered the consequences of backing a particular party in Bangladesh, when New Delhi supported the Awami League. This alienated the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), with the consequence that India’s relationship with its eastern neighbor is strained whenever that party has power. The dynamic has pushed the BNP further into the embrace of radical Islamic groups and anti-Indian forces.

To avoid a similar fate with its southwestern neighbor, India will need to show more skill in navigating tricky Maldivian politics.

Neil Patel
March 1, 2013 at 13:05

India must learn to improve its policital skills. We do not want,nor need anti-democratic groups in the Maldives ar Bangledesh.

February 22, 2013 at 09:43

Where and when was he found guilty, let alone 'clearly'? This rather undermines whatever follows.

Anil Bhat
February 17, 2013 at 05:19

I think that India-Bangladesh and India-Maldives equations are different. In the former case, India's relationship with the Awami League has been a close one based on India's support to it in achieving liberation from a suppressive West Pakistani military regime. Bangladesh Nationalist Party being pro-Pakistan was never well disposed towards India and in its recent almost two decades long tenure did a lot of damage to India-Bangladesh relations, particularly of allowing/aiding and abetting Pakistan ISI's entry and enhancing of terrorism in India's North Eastern region as well as letting Bangladeshi fundamentalist groups get formed and flouish.

Maldives is a distant country in India's EEZ waters, which India assisited by sending troops when requested by it. Yes, India must try to prevent anti-democratic/anti-Indian forces to take charge there. If this happens India must exercise polotical will to send troops again if necessary, to ensure that anti-India jihadi groups, which are trying to use Maldives as a suitable base, do not succeed.  


February 16, 2013 at 08:10

Hello everybody,

India always interfare in its neigbouring states, e.g Pakistan, Srilanka, Bengladsh, Maldeves, Bhotan, etc. i think india should give up its these unfair steps, it is better for the regional situation and should focuss on its internal problems. i think above mentioned incidentis pure Maldeve's own internally issue, no one other state should not take step regarding it. I also condemn India's step that indian forces killed one pakistani soldier without any reason. international human rights take a step against this crul activity of indian forces.

Thanks a lot.

Be Way
February 15, 2013 at 22:07

By supporting Nasheed who was clearly found guilty of abusing his constitution power, India is attempting to sow the seeds of corruption into Maldives as only through this mean, will there be wherewithal to grease the palms of the Indian business elites.     A good case is Nasheed awarding the lopsided Maldives Airport Development Contract to GMR, an Indian company that ended up illegally charges $25 airport development charge per outgoing passenger without the approval of Maldives Parliament.    All these talks about Islamic radicals running rampant in Maldives, are merely side show to cow Maldives Government from abrogating the Airport contract.

February 15, 2013 at 20:46

It isn't surprisng that no one in the region trust us. We have a history of supporting dangerous groups like LTTE. And expecting Indian politicians to tread carefully in foreign politics is a hopeless cause, they can't even navigate our domestic politics.

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