Developments in Maldives: Challenges for India
Anushree Ghisad

With fears of confrontation between the supporters of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and former President and human right activist Mohamed Nasheed sparking a wave of unrest in this littoral nation, Maldives has yet again attracted world attention, albeit for the wrong reasons.

A quick peep into the past

To better understand the current happenings in this island nation, it’s pertinent to take a quick peep into the major events over the last two years.

In the year 2008, Mohamed Nasheed, a champion of democracy, became the first ever democratically elected President, ending a three decade old autocratic rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). Within a span of four years, in February 2012, Vice President Waheed, a loyalist to former President Gayoom, usurped the power. Nasheed had taken asylum in the Indian Embassy and termed it as a ‘coup’, while Waheed maintained that it was transition of power. In fresh Presidential elections of October 2013, Yameen of PPM and step brother of former President Gayoom, was sworn in as a new Maldivian President. His coalition, described as ‘Progressive Coalition’, consists of PPM, Jamhoori Party (JP) and MDA. In March 2014, elections were held for People’s Majlis (Parliament), where Progressive Coalition got the mandate.

Current situation

Now around one year later, JP has broken off from the ruling coalition citing hijack of democracy and annulment of agreement by PPM; and has joined hands with Nasheed’s MDP to ‘defend the spirit of constitution’. PPM still has a thin lead in People’s Majlis, but dissent among its own members cannot be ruled out.

The situation has been further complicated by a recent chain of high profile ousters from the government, the latest one being the abrupt removal of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on 10th February this year on the charge of plotting to overthrow the government. Two judges of Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Ahmad Faiz Hussein, were fired and the Chief justice was replaced by a removed judge. Further in October 2014, Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim was removed by a controversial constitutional amendment, four years before the end of his seven years term.

To top it all, former President Mohamed Nasheed has raised apprehension of getting arrested under a 2012 case, aimed at barring him from contesting the next Presidential elections, scheduled in 2018. He asserts that this a desperate attempt on the part of Gayoom’s family to gain complete control of Maldives by undermining opposition and appointing loyalists at all independent positions. If Nasheed is arrested, it could result in violent confrontations between Gayoomists and Nasheedists. In Nasheed’s own words, “we have now shifted parliamentary majority and under these circumstances it is impossible for Yameen to govern. So if you do not open up to the elections, the other way is to arrest everyone.” He has sought asylum in India.

Advantage India

There is a broad consensus among all major political parties in Maldives that the Indian Ocean Region has to be secured by none but India. This goodwill for India was further bolstered by New Delhi’s immediate intervention after Maldives request in 1988 to thwart the attempted coup against the then President Mohamed Gayoom under the banner ‘Operation Cactus’. Also, India’s swift help in rehabilitation and reconstruction programme after the mammoth devastation of this island nation by Tsunami in 2004 is remembered by all Maldivians.

Yet the manner in which the Indian private firm GMR was thrown out of the Male Airport contract and China’s ever increasing presence in the country, where it has officially termed Maldives as an integral part of its ambitious Maritime Silk Route Project, has somewhere challenged India’s pre-eminence in this region. But the alacrity with which India rushed drinking water in planes and ships when Maldives faced a severe drinking water crisis in December last year, and with Nasheed’s recent request for asylum in India; has given India yet another opportunity to get leverage in the tiny island nation.

Gayoom’s India Visit

On 5th February 2015, Maumoon Gayoom, former President and leader of PPM, visited India to attend Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2015. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that, “the two countries not only shared history but also shared destiny.” Gayoom conveyed that for Maldives, its ties with India were of utmost priority, not only in the region, but also in the world.

The Economic Situation

Maldives’ economy is picking up fast post global economic slump, but a report released on 11th February suggests that 50% of its total working population is expatriate, hence Maldivians need to make employment generation for fellow Maldivians a high priority. It attests the earlier taken decision to ban all expatriate shops to create more job opportunities for Maldivians. In this regard, Maldives seems to be adopting the Saudi model of Nitaqat laws, which are a part of Saudization programme.

Figuring India in this maze

Maldives sits on the sea lanes of communication in Indian Ocean. Apart from its strategic location, trends of increasing Wahabi influence in this Sunni Island where huge money is coming from Gulf raises the concerns. Islamists are small in number, but urges towards Islamist movement and increasing nuisance power of hardliner Adhaalath Party is posing a challenge to the pluralistic and tolerant Maldivian trait. There are reports of around 200 Maldivian youths fighting in Syria and Iraq for the Islamic State and many more fighting alongside Taliban in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan. During his tenure from 2008 to 2012, Nasheed undertook number of reforms but he could not nip extremist Salafi ideologies in the bud. Hence, from Gayoom’s days itself, religious leaders started assuming an extra constitutional authority. This rising fundamentalism can any time seep into India due to its proximity with Maldives and can pose a challenge to its sovereignty.

How to Manoeuvre: The challenge for India

The pressing question is, should a regional power give a friendly nudge to shape the events when other forces inimical to its interest start cropping up in the region, or should it let the events unfold by itself? National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Male in December for a round of meeting with all stakeholders, and views have emerged that India needs to play a stronger hand in ensuring stability. The situation in Maldives is very fragile and is still evolving. The challenge is to ensure that none of the extremes goes too far. India does not want Nasheed to be put behind the bars or Gayoomists to go underground as it may recoil back. India already enjoys good relations with Maldives, which considers New Delhi as an all weather ally. But even good friendship requires a constant working at it. The real challenge is to reinstate stability in the system.

Published Date: 19th February 2015, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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