India’s Maldives Problem


The political crisis in the Maldives has once again brought to the fore the casual nature of Indian foreign policy. It now transpires that the ousted president, Mohamed Nasheed, who claims that he was forced to resign with literally a gun to his head, had asked India to intervene militarily. New Delhi remains a passive spectator to the fast unfolding political crisis.

This is a serious allegation, and if true, illustrates how the movers and shakers in the Indian foreign policy establishment are afraid of repeating what India did in 1988, when it sent a small armed contingent to Male to oust PLOTE rebels from Sri Lanka that had taken over the Maldives for several hours.

Obviously, almost a quarter century later, the geopolitics of the region has changed drastically and China has enlarged its strategic footprints in the entire Indian Ocean region. This reality complicates any Indian calculation to send troops to another country in the region. Yet the charge that Nasheed asked the Indian government for support still requires answers from the corridors of power in New Delhi.

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Speaking to NDTV, Paul Roberts, a former advisor to Nasheed, explained that: “India needs to get off the fence…India needs to decide who it supports.”

India certainly can’t afford to take the developments in the Maldives lightly. The Maldivian mutiny has enormous repercussions for India’s coastal belt, particularly the state of Kerala and the union territory of Lakshadweep, which are in close proximity to the Maldivian islands. Indeed, Minicoy, in Lakshadweep, is just 60 nautical miles away from the Maldives. India is already wary about the rapidly increasing Chinese influence in the Maldives, both militarily and diplomatically. The worry is that China, with its strategic ally Pakistan, could use the Maldives as a strategic choke point for India if push came to shove.

The archipelago is virtually an outpost of India, with the Indian Navy running and maintaining the basic infrastructure in the Maldives. In this context, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done the right thing by telephoning and writing to new President Mohamed Waheed to assure him of continued support to the Maldivian people and cooperation with the government of Maldives. But India needs to do more to show that it is about more than just verbal commitments.

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