India is in a spot of bother over the Maldives, especially with growing signs of the Wahabisation of the Indian Ocean island nation.
Just days after Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai returned from his latest visit, his second in a fortnight, supporters of ousted Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed blocked current President Mohammed Waheed from opening parliament.
India and others will be monitoring events with great interest, especially as according to a press statement from India’s External Affairs Ministry, representatives of all political parties in the Maldives, with whom Mathai engaged individually and collectively, agreed to India playing a role as a “facilitator” in the country’s political upheaval. This is quite a responsibility – and a key opportunity – for India, one which it can’t afford to ignore. But the Indian path is also laden with plenty of thorns and far fewer roses.
A delegation of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) that visited the Maldives on February 17 recommended that early elections should be held in the country, preferably this year. The CMAG had urged Waheed to commence an immediate dialogue without preconditions. Having come in the wake of the visit of the foreign secretary and the subsequent roadmap that Waheed’s office itself had made public, it was expected that discussions would be held among the principal political players, and that dates would be firmed up. However, this doesn’t appear to be happening.
At a rally organized by the “December 23 Coalition” on February 24, an alliance of religious NGOs and political parties led by former President M. A. Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives, Waheed adopted a strident position. He declared that before any declaration of a date for the elections, Nasheed should first establish the illegitimacy of the present government. Earlier, Waheed had reacted to the suggestions of the CMAG by appointing his own Commission of Enquiry to go into the circumstances leading to the recent transfer of power.
The Commission is headed by Ismail Shafeeu, defense and national security minister in Gayoom’s regime. He had also said that the CMAG’s recommendations for international participation in such an inquiry were for the Commission to consider. In view of the volte face by Waheed on the assurances given to the CMAG, India’s Foreign Office and the international community are reportedly seriously considering sending observers to Male to help oversee a smooth return to democracy by the convening of early elections.
Essentially, Mathai’s visit was a continuance of the diplomatic firefighting India had messed up on previously. The official line taken by the Indian government is now much different. The External Affairs Ministry issued a press release claiming that the representatives of all parties who met Mathai expressed the view that India had played “a very useful role” in taking the process forward as a facilitator and friend of the Maldivian people.
This has to be taken with a pinch of salt as India continued to be a fence sitter as Nasheed committed one error after another, seeking Indian help when he was neck deep in trouble. Maldives is the second SAARC country that has witnessed the fall of a president after taking on the judiciary. The previous example was that of Pakistan, where President Gen. Pervez Musharraf had to bow out after he unsuccessfully locked horns with Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. But the Maldives isn’t Pakistan. Unlike was the case with Pakistan, India could have – and should have – played a more pro-active role and nipped the crisis in the bud.