Maldives in crisis
The political and constitutional crisis resulting out of a Maldivian Supreme Court ruling that nullified the incarceration of main opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed and eight other political prisoners is snowballing into a major crisis, with India and China having diametrically opposite views on the issue. The Maldivian Supreme Court dismissed all the charges against the opposition leaders as baseless and politically motivated and ruled that all the political prisoners be released from imprisonment. Mohamed Nasheed headed the first democratically elected government (2008-2012) as its President. But in 2015, he was arrested on terror charges. After the court ruling exonerated him of all the charges, he is reported to have said that he would contest the next round of elections. But the current president, Abdulla Yameen, refused to accept the SC ruling and declared a 15-day state of emergency in the country, arguing that the opposition leaders and the Supreme Court judges together hatched a conspiracy to remove him from power. Following this, former President Mohamed Nasheed, who lives in exile in Sri Lanka, appealed to India to intervene and liberate his country from the clutches of the current 'authoritarian' president. India's diplomatic relations with Maldives dates back to nearly five decades ago. India was the first country to recognise Maldives as an independent nation in 1967 and it opened its embassy in Male in 1972. Since then, India has had a cordial relationship with the island nation and about 25,000 Indians are living in the country with major stakes in the country's tourism infrastructure and fisheries business. In October last year, Indian arms dealer and businessman Abhishek Verma's Olialia was awarded the work to build and operate Male's international airport for 50 years. They are also promoting a five-star hotel project, which will be manned exclusively by the blondes. Out of the 1,200 islands that constitute Maldives, only about 200 of them have a human population and the rest of the islands are used for tourism and business purposes. This tiny nation with a population of a meagre three lakh people is a strategically important country lying in the Arabian Sea and acting as the gateway to the Indian Ocean. Till 2011, China did not have an embassy in Maldives but now it accounts for 70 per cent of foreign aid that the country receives annually. China has also inked deals with the country to set up a number of ports and other related infrastructure as a part of its Maritime Silk Route project. In December last year, the two countries also signed a free trade pact indicating the growing cooperation between them. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to visit Maldives in the second week of March in 2015 as a part a four-nation visit to the Indian Ocean neighbours. But, after the arrest of Mohammed Nasheed in February 2015, he dropped Maldives from his itinerary.
India had sent its troops to Maldives after the country witnessed a coup attempt by a Maldivian businessman and a group of Sri Lankan militants from the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). The Operation Cactus successfully neutralised the coup attempt and President Abdul Gayoom remained in power. More recently, in 2014, when the country's water supply was snapped due to a fire at the water treatment plant, the Indian Navy transported potable water and stationed some of its large ships with onboard distillation plants on the coasts of Male within hours of an appeal made by the Maldivian government. In the latest political turmoil, President Abdulla Yameen has dispatched three of his ministers as special envoys to friendly nations China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to present its viewpoint on the raging controversy. Maldives has a 100 per cent Sunni population and after Yameen became president, it showed a tilt towards the Muslim world, with Saudi Arabia funding the construction of a number of grand mosques in the country. Similarly, it adopted a pro-China policy inking a number of strategically important deals, especially in the maritime sector. It also leaned towards Pakistan. And the net result of all these efforts has come by the way of China, which has cautioned India to refrain from intervening militarily in the country. China's stand is that the current turmoil in Maldives is an internal matter and this can be resolved through talks among the parties concerned – current president Abdulla Yameen, former president Mohammed Nasheed and the country's judiciary. As India has been concerned over the developments in Maldives and would like the current president to respect the judiciary's final say and its independence in his dispute with the former president, India needs to send a clear message to China that it is India which is the net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. China should limit its intrusion and restrict its engagements to trade ties only.