By R.M. Panda
Maldives’ relations with India is going downhill and could soon be beyond repair if Yameen continues to be in power. By getting closer to China, Saudi Arabia and even Pakistan, Yameen is seen to be sending a message to hapless India that Maldives can survive and even thrive without India. There were apprehensions in Maldives when Yameen declared an emergency and put behind bars all the emerging leaders and of the judiciary that India may physically intervene. Nothing happened. Soon, without keeping Yameen guessing India declared and even informed China that it will not intervene.
One cannot believe that this is the same country that was rescued by Indian Forces when a rag tag Rebel Group tried to topple the established Maldivian Government in 1988.
Just a few years back in December 2014 there was a serious shortage of drinking water in Male when the existing desalination plant broke down. Before anyone else could help, the Indian Navy rushed drinking water to Male. India mounted a major effort to get drinking water promptly to Male and neighbouring islands and thus saved the situation.
Maldivians normally go to India for medical attention where they get good quality and inexpensive medical treatment.
All this has changed.
Recently, the Maldives ruling party MP Ahmed Nahin was stopped by immigration authorities of Chennai airport and denied entry when he came for medical treatment in a Chennai hospital. On his return to Maldives, Nahin complained that he was detained for four hours and it was an act of bullying by Indian authorities.
In 2018, a pro Yameen Maldivian newspaper editorial written in local Divehi script described Indian Prime Minister Modi as a Hindu extremist, anti Muslim and also added that China is its best friend.
On another occasion, Maldives demanded that India should take back the two helicopters given to Maldives along with the training personnel who were there on the invitation of the Maldivian Government. The Government refused to extend the visas of 26 IAF personnel that expired in June.
Maldives has also denied work permits to nearly 2000 Indians who were working there. On the other hand, the Government does not seem to have taken any action against thousands of Bangladeshis who were over staying beyond the work permit periods.
Advertisements from companies operating in Maldives and who are hiring personnel from outside clearly state that Indians need not apply as they will not get permits.
It may be recalled that Maldives annulled the contract of over $500 million with GMR Group to develop a modern International Airport near Male. Now the contract has been given to a Chinese company.
Just to embarrass India, during the visit of Pak Army Chief , Maldives declared that it would undertake joint patrolling with Pak Navy to guard the Maldivian Exclusive Economic Zone. The Economic Zone was under no threat and yet the implication was that the Zone will have to be protected from India!
To avert the Supreme Court order that President Abdulla Yameen should immediately release the exiled Ex- President Mohamed Nasheed and eight others, terming their trials as a violation of the constitution and international law, he declared an emergency. Maldives Ex-President Mohamed Nasheed wanted India to help, release prisoners and the US to curb leaders’ financial transactions. When faced by a crisis, President Abdulla Yameen sent his envoys to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia but not to India. After this, China publicly warned that no country should intervene in the internal situation of Maldives and surprisingly India’s immediate response was that there will be no direct physical intervention by India.
Not all in Maldives approve of the country getting close to China. They are also aware of the predatory nature of Chinese investments that will lead the country into a debt trap as it had happened in other countries. A former Foreign Minister of Maldives Ahmed Naseen has alleged that China is grabbing land in Maldives that can be turned in to military bases and that this will not only destabilize the Indian ocean region but will also be detrimental to Indian security.
Governor of Central Bank of Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Dr. Fazal Najeeb had said that Maldives is currently experiencing its most serious economic crisis of all times. Chinese Lending is putting the Maldives the risk of debt distress, a study from the Centre for Global Development Said. The study says China is heavily involved in three major projects that put together will be about $1.5 Billion and there will be repayment problems. IMF and World Bank both have predicted that Maldivians debt might reach 121% of its GDP by 2020.
The possibility of Chinese forsaking some debts or giving projects on more favourable terms in return for access to certain ports cannot be ruled out. The Ambassador to China of Maldives said that there is an agreement for China to build a maritime observatory in Haa Dhaalu atoll. This is just the beginning of more such projects that China may obtain in future to get a firm Geo strategic hold in the Indian Ocean.
President Yameen’s actions so far will have considerable adverse impact on India’s security interests. China loves dictators and Yameen with his autocratic administration is certainly an opening which they cannot resist. India’s options appear to be limited. Though physical intervention is no longer an option that will bring in international opprobrium, it will send a wrong message also to other neighbouring countries that are close to India. But short of direct intervention, everything else should be tried to get rid of a tyrant next door.