Millennium Post

Maldives: The mess & a bridge

Maldives: The mess & a bridge

Even though the Maldives allowed the two helicopters gifted by India for medical rescues to stay on in the country, the strained relationship between India and the Maldives does not seem to be improving. A recent event to inaugurate a bridge that links capital Male with airport island was boycotted by the Indian Ambassador, Akhilesh Mishra. Built at a cost of $200 million by a Chinese company, the Sinamale Bridge is one of the largest infrastructural projects in the country and the first such project among the many in the pipeline. International experts have expressed reservations about the inflated cost of the project, suggesting that President Abdulla Yameen may have earned a kickback by awarding the project to a Chinese firm. The inauguration ceremony of the Sinamale Bridge was marked with controversy as ambassador from other nations were not allowed to reach the venue by their cars by Yameen's security guards while the Chinese ambassador's car was allowed to drive up to the venue. Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi ambassadors also refused to attend the programme after their vehicles were stopped some distance away from the venue and asked to walk down. The shabby treatment meted out to foreign delegates including ambassadors by the Yameen administration may justify Indian ambassador's decision to skip the event. The inauguration was marked by a show of Chinese firecrackers. However, the Indian ambassador's decision to stay away from the inauguration of China's flagship infrastructure project in the Maldives stems from some deep-rooted reservations about China's increasing presence in the strategic Indian Ocean archipelago nation. Ever since Yameen became President in 2013 by defeating Maldivian Democratic Party's (MDP) Mohamed Nasheed by a narrow margin, Yameen has followed the policy of giving preference to China over India. Consequently, China has won contracts for a number of infrastructure projects. In some cases, contracts awarded to India were cancelled and handed over to Chinese firms.

India's response to the Maldivian crisis where the opposition leaders have either been jailed or forced to go into exile and the imposition of emergency early this year when the Supreme Court ruled that the incarceration of opposition leaders were unconstitutional has been studied and restrained. Unlike the Yameen government, all the previous governments in the Maldives have been friendly to India and respected India's concerns in the Indian Ocean region. But the Yameen government not only ignored the role played by India in maintaining peace in the region, it also tried to harm Indian interests by involving China in all major projects currently being executed in the country. China plans to set up a silk route through the Maldives by developing a modern port and highways. Yameen has also followed the policy to woo Muslim nations by seeking investments and technical collaborations, with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan taking a keen interest in the proposals. In a move to restrict engagements with India, the country stopped giving visa extensions to Indian workers early this year. There are around 30,000 Indian workers in the Maldives.

Meanwhile, the presidential election is scheduled for September 23 and the opposition leaders have expressed fears that the government may rig the election. The opposition's presidential candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the MDP, has said that he is very worried about the situation but has trust in the people. "We are going to win this election. We have the numbers to overcome rigging," he said. Solih was chosen as the MDP's presidential candidate at a party meeting in Sri Lanka last month after former President Mohamed Nasheed abandoned plans to run for the top post because of legal obstacles. Nasheed, who lives in Sri Lanka, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison, making him ineligible to contest the election. The verdict was widely criticised as politically-motivated and the Supreme Court earlier this year ordered to release Nasheed and conduct a retrial. But the government refused to implement the court order and instead arrested the chief justice and another judge. Fearing for their life, the remaining three Supreme Court justices reversed the order. The Maldives had its first multiparty election in 2008 in which Nasheed defeated 30-year autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed had to resign in 2012 over his order to the military to detain a sitting judge. He lost the 2013 election to Yameen, who is Gayoom's half-brother. Gayoom who too was jailed by Yameen is now an ally of the pro-Nasheed coalition. As the Maldives prepares for a fresh election, India is wary of the outcome as Yameen has shown little respect for democratic principles in running the government. He had hoped that he would be elected unopposed but the opposition parties have decided to contest the election and seek his removal. India being a long-time friend feels concerned about the erosion of democratic values in the country. Ambassador Mishra's decision to skip the inauguration of the Sinamale Bridge reflects the Indian concerns.

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