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Maldives Mishandling By India – Analysis

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The Government of India appears to have been caught napping in the Maldives on two counts.

First, it failed to foresee the implications of some arbitrary actions of former President Mohammed Nasheed such as the arrest of the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court and disciplinary action against a Sandhurst-trained Colonel of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), who were perceived to be anti-Nasheed and advise him to desist from such actions. These actions antagonised the judiciary and created fissures in the MNDF and the Police. These elements joined hands with anti-Nasheed protesters in forcing him to quit as the President.

Maldives
Maldives

Secondly, it failed to realise that despite his antagonising the judiciary and sections of the Police and the MNDF, Nasheed retained considerable popular support particularly among the younger generation and was in a position to take the battle against his opponents to the streets. Instead of keeping quiet till the street equations became clear and instead of desisting from any action that might be misinterpreted as granting legitimacy to the MNDF-engineered replacement of Nasheed by his Vice-President Mohammed Wahid Hasan, the Govt of India prematurely made statements that were interpreted in Maldives as amounting to the Government of India’s abandoning its support to the democratically-elected President. When Nasheed’s supporters, with a defiant Nasheed at their head, took the battle against their opponents to the streets, the Government of India found itself with its credibility badly weakened.

The result: the Government of India’s traditional position as the sole arbiter of political fortunes in the Maldives has been badly damaged and a number of international actors from the UK, the US, the European Union and the United Nations have rushed to the Maldives to try their hand in internal peace-making, thereby marginalising the traditional role of India. Only China and Pakistan have not yet entered the political fray in the Maldives. If they do, that will be ultimate humiliation for Indian diplomacy at its southern door-step.

We had earlier lost our clout in Sri Lanka as a result of soft and reactive reflexes and we stand in danger of similarly losing our clout—even if we have not already lost it— in the Maldives due to similar apologetic reflexes lacking in robustness of anticipation and action.

In the Net world, one could notice articulation of condemnation of the Government for failing to intervene militarily in the Maldives in support of the democratically-elected Government. Unfavourable comparisons have been made with the robust response of Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, to support the then President Abdul Gayoom against threats from foreign mercenaries suspected to be from the LTTE by sending Indian rapid action forces to the Maldives to neutralise the threat.

The hesitation of the Government of India to send rapid action forces in response to a reported SOS from Nasheed is understandable because the present situation is qualitatively different from what prevailed in 1988. The threat to Nasheed was not from external forces, but from sections of his own MNDF and the Police due to his perceived arbitrary style of governance. If the Government of India had sent the security forces to the Maldives this time, they would have been called upon to act not against foreign mercenaries and their local supporters, but against sections of the political opposition in the Maldives and their supporters in the MNDF and the Police.

Our security forces would have been able to overcome opposition from the MNDF and the Police, but then what about managing the messy sequel— with the Maldivian security forces many of whose senior officers were trained by us turning hostile against India?

The criticism of the Government of India for not intervening immediately through our Armed Forces is not quite justified. But there is a lot of actions short of direct military intervention which we could have taken— such as visibly and noisily strengthening our direct action capability in the vicinity of the Maldives to convey a message to the contending forces in the Maldives and to external forces that might be tempted to take advantage of the situation to undermine Indian influence that India was prepared to use its Armed Forces if needed to protect its nationals and interests and rushing a high level and stick-wielding emissary to Male to cajole, if possible, and to force, if necessary, the contending forces not to undermine democracy and not to allow any other external elements to come in and partake of the broth.

The Government of India failed to take any of these actions and now finds itself with diminishing options in the face of an unpredictably evolving situation domestically and internationally. In 1988, the international community recognised implicitly that the Maldives was India’s concern and that India had every right to act according to its wisdom.

Even though the situation seems to be slipping out of our hands, we can still retrieve it provided we show leadership befitting a big power and act resolutely on the lines indicated above. Evidence of such leadership and resolute action is missing in Delhi.

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B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

2 thoughts on “Maldives Mishandling By India – Analysis

  • February 10, 2012 at 6:44 pm
    Permalink

    Mr.Raman,A lot of Maldivians outside of the Government also feel very badly let down by India. No one is asking for any military assistance and to be frank the Maldives does not even need it. All India needed was to make a noise that they would not accept the forced resignation of the democratically elected President of Maldives.

    That would have been enough to sort out this mess for the time being. Nasheed has made many mistakes but the arresting of the judge is something he was forced to do. The Judiciary Services Commission informed the Parliament that they wanted to investigate this judge but he himself issued a court order stopping them from doing so. This meant that Nasheed had no choice but to arrest him.
    In reality it is not the arresting of a judge that was the main issue. The main issue is that this judge was the protection for the all the corruption conducted by Gayoom and his cronies. So long as this judge was there they were safe.
    So it was this that was the main cause of this coup. Furthermore, the Commonwealth was sending a Muslim Judge to look into this matter and they had to act before he came to Male and looked into the corruption charges.
    I, as a Maldivian would never forgive India for destroying democracy in Maldives. India, the World’s largest democracy should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a government that came to power after forcing the elected President to resign at gun point.
    I urge the people of India to support the people of Maldives and to have a transitional government under the Speaker of Parliament and call for immediate free and fair elections.

    Reply
  • February 11, 2012 at 2:54 pm
    Permalink

    India has not been napping in the Maldives.It has been celebrating the newly found freedom under president Nasheed’s government! It is very bitter indeed to be let down by our presumed benefactor like a hot potatoe. In all the turmoil of the last dramatic days, nobobdy seems to call the real problem by its name: We don’t have political problems in Male…it is…that life itself is a huge problem in this tiny crammed up islandcity. What president Nasheed took over was mildly speaking a nightmare: a 1 squaremiled cubic maze not only inhabited by over 100’000 people jammed up like sardines in a tin, but a considerate percentage of them: heroine addicts. A hellish scenario! Survival in it has been made possible for a small minority, namely the previous government and its supporters by severe oppression of anyone bold enough to tell the pathetic truth about the capital of “paradise”. Obviously one charismatic, couragous man, president Nasheed could not possibly find a solution to such enormous social problems, topped by heavy debts of the former government. There is no solution to such a dramatically extreme situation. Yet, the democratic election of president Nasheed marked HOPE in a hopeless place and time! There has never been other than totalitarian, autocratic rule before him in the history of Maldives. We are a young nation. We have to redefine ourselves. Find our place in modern history. The first lesson we have learnt: never rely on a friend! So sad!

    Reply

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