The Choice is between democracy and the status que.
In an era of regional equality and egalitarianism, small island countries like the Maldives need much more to stand in the neighbourhood. Following the arrest and conviction of the former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, over politically-induced terrorism charges, the incumbent government of President Abdulla Yameen is now approaching India for a seamless diplomatic relationship as this will help the Yameen government to stay afloat in the future.
Considering the political crisis brewing in the Maldives, it has become crucially important how India reacts to the situation. The arrest and conviction of Mohamed Nasheed back in March, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1990, was not welcomed by the Indians. The Maldivian foreign ministry had warned New Delhi not to interfere in the country’s political affairs and had made it clear that it would regard any potential interference from a foreign government in the Maldives’ internal affairs with doubt and suspicion.
It has been seen on various occasions in the past that India has quite a track record of interfering in Maldivian political affairs. For instance, Nasheed took refuge in the Indian High Commission in Male in February 2013 to avoid arrest but the Indian External Affairs Ministry refuted any claims of undue interference in Maldivian politics, saying that Nasheed’s move was not instigated by India and he had himself approached the Indian diplomatic mission to grant him diplomatic shelter.
It was said to be the the result of an Indian intervention which had helped Nasheed become the opposition leader when he was forcibly ousted from the presidency in a coup d'état initiated in February 2012 by the supporters of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Led by President Abdullah Yameen now, the Maldivian government has started showing a more careful attitude
towards India and is finding ways to be on good terms with New Delhi through back channel diplomacy. For example, an aide of the Maldivian foreign minister visited India a couple of months earlier to negotiate matters with Indian interlocutors behind closed doors.
This was followed by Abdullah Yameen’s invitation officially sent to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit the Maldives, considering the fact that Modi’s visit to Male had to be cancelled at the last minute in March when Yameen’s government arrested Mohamed Nasheed .
As the unraveling situation suggests, the current back channel diplomacy of Yameen’s government is bound to hit failure due to many reasons and even if the strategy works, the Maldives will get little out of it.
First and foremost, the vulnerable political status of the present Maldivian government is detrimental to its ongoing diplomatic efforts to bring about a win-win result in view of the resumption of the island nation’s friendly ties with New Delhi.
This is mainly because the former president emerged as a democratically elected leader in a country with a democratic setup and his forceful exit from power was perceived negatively by the international community, including the United States.
Secondly, adopting a back channel diplomatic route is often disregarded in modern diplomacy as the practice does not allow the rest of the influential regional and international players to be on board simultaneously. From the Maldivian perspective, this factor mainly refers to the presence of other major Asian powers such as China, which is keen to extend its regional influence in Asia and the Maldives is no exception.
Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping invited the Maldives to become a part of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR), which is a strategic initiative taken by China to enhance its trade links and promote economic collaboration in the region.
Undoubtedly, the Indian government is working hard to play a decisive leadership role in the neighborhood, but merely relying on Indian support for the moment may deprive the Maldives of the benefits offered by the ongoing Chinese initiatives in the long run.
Being a leading economic power, India enjoys a pivotal role in its immediate neighborhood because of its huge economy and high trade volumes. Having consumed some 5 percent of the Indian aid offered for development assistance, a small island nation like the Maldives has no options left but to have smooth and trouble-free ties with New Delhi no matter what it takes. This also includes sizeable grants and heavy loans being awarded by New Delhi to the Maldives following its steady transition from an autocracy to a democracy.
To keep things going with no interruptions, Yameen’s government has to exhibit much more than mere diplomatic ploys to win India’s confidence. If the incumbent Maldivian government manages to restore its status as a long journey partner, they can expect something out of the ongoing back channel diplomacy. This is because the current presidency in the Maldives does not have staying power and is well aware of its fragile political status tainted by its dictatorial background and autocratic attributes.
To overcome these inherited flaws, the Maldivian government needs to beef up its political stance with the help of the Indian government as their close relations with New Delhi will help them stay in power for a longer time despite the current political crisis.
Given that the diplomatic relationship between India and the Maldives has seen highs and lows in the past, the Maldives’ current back channel policy has come out as a makeshift scheme devised by the present government to achieve its short-term objectives. In contrast, the political think tanks and decisionmaking authorities in the Maldives should reconsider their current priorities and work in a hurry to reinstate true democratic rule instead of finding unconstitutional remedies to prolong the status quo.
The Indian government is working hard to play a decisive leadership role in the neighborhood.