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Has India lost the mango and the sack in the Maldives?
Updated:Mar 1, 2012
 
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By Sumon K. Chakrabarti

Democracy is rough road littered with potholes. Either you avoid them and play safe, or you fill them up for a smoother ride in the future. Mohamed Nasheed did both. First, he played safe and then he changed gears to take the problem head-on. But in doing so, he failed to avoid a collision that led to the toppling in a coup of the first-ever democratic government in the Maldives that he headed.
 
Clearly, Nasheed’s order to arrest Abdulla Mohamed, Chief Judge of Criminal Court, on January 16 was a political blunder. It brought a rainbow coalition of opposition politicians, mega-rich resort owners and radical Islamists out on the streets – united only by their opposition to a nascent, liberal democracy and the reforms it had brought about that are under genuine threat today.
 
Chief Judge Mohamed, appointed for life by former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was facing investigation by the Judicial Services Commission for political bias and persistent refusal to prosecute cases of corruption and human rights abuses against his mentor and members of his former regime.
 
Hassan Saeed, Gayoom’s attorney general and now special advisor to new President Dr. Mohammed Waheed, had accused him of making derogatory comments against women and even requesting an underage victim of sexual assault to re-enact her abuse in an open court.
 
Strange bedfellows are not unknown in politics. Judge Abdulla’s arrest galvanised the opposition led by Gayoom’s brother Yameen (who faces charges in a $800 million oil scam, the biggest corruption case in the island nation), the country’s richest businessman Gasim Ibrahim, and radical islamists led by Sheikh Imran of the religious Adhaalath Party.
 
Emerging details of the lead-up to the coup now point to a political deal struck on the night of January 31 between the former Vice President – and now President -- and these forces. On that night, in a press confererence, they had pledged support to Waheed and asked the army and police not to take any orders from Nasheed.
 
But the big question is: Why did these strange bedfellows come together? The answer, many believe, lies in Malaysia, where former dictator Gayoom -- who was defeated by Nasheed in the country's first democratic elections in 2008 -- has conveniently been based since the coup was in the throes of being executed.
 
That Gayoom, who ruled the country with an iron-first for 30 years, is the uniting force behind the coup-plotters was evident in the initial appointments that Waheed made on taking over the presidency within hours of Nasheed’s forced resignation.
 
The first two were loyalists of the Gayoom regime -- former Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who was named Home Minister, and Mohamed Nazim, a former military officer under Gayoom, who is the new Minister of Defence and National Security.
 
Within days, he also appointed Gayoom's spokesperson, Mohamed Hussain Shareef (Mundhu), as his Minister for Human Resources, Youth and Sports. Gayoom's lawyer, Azima Shakoor, was named his Attorney General, while the former dictator’s daughter, Dhunya Maumoon, was appointed State Minister for Foreign Affairs.
 
There was more. Ahmed Mohamed ‘Andey’, CEO of the State Trading Organisation during the Gayoom administration, was named the Minister of Economic Development, while Ahmed Shamheed -- a Director at Villa Shipping and Trade, owned by one of the coup plotters Gasim Ibrahim, and the Ministry of Planning and Development in the Gayoom administration – became the Minister of Transport and Communication.
 
For more than 30 years, India had supported Gayoom, Asia’s longest-ruling dictator, whose rule was marked by a discourse of violence. Yet, in strategic terms, New Delhi hardly gained anything in the Indian Ocean from that relationship. In the same period, China managed wield influence in one of the tiniest nations in the world by building mosques, setting up museums and developing infrastructure.
 
And when democracy came, which New Delhi backed after much initial reluctance, thanks to some wrong assessments, the new government under Mohamed Nasheed allowed India to set up radars on the 10 atolls of Maldives – each integrated to India’s radar capabilities, giving us an immediate edge in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives, comprising 1,192 islands, stretches for 1,200 nautical miles from north to south and the radars help monitor activities across vast stretches of the ocean.
 
New Delhi was also allowed to permanently base two helicopters in the country to enhance its surveillance capabilities and ability to respond swiftly to threats. While the Southern Naval Command integrated Maldives into the Indian security grid, the Coast Guard also carried out regular Dornier sorties over the island nation to look out for suspicious movements or vessels.
 
Even the private sector benefited. Indian infrastructure major GMR bagged the multi-million dollar contract to rebuild the international airport, a decision that finally prompted religious extremists and known anti-India figures in Maldives to galvanise themselves and call for Nasheed’s head.
 
In the late 1990s, Gayoom had come to a secret defence agreement with China to provide an entire island for a submarine base, in return for enhanced arms supplies to the Maldivian army. That agreement, however, did not fructify because of lack of unanimity in Beijing on whether Gayoom could be trusted. But China continued to offer the nation blank cheques from China Development Bank, cultural cooperation via the Confucius Institute, and telecommunications contracts through front entities.
 
The Indian Ocean -- a crucial transit zone for maritime trade between eastern Asia and the Middle East – has been strategically and geopolitically high on the Chinese agenda for the past 15 years. Many Indian strategic experts have started fearing that China's “string of pearls” can soon become a reality and encircle India, after Beijing secured contracts to build ports at Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka, followed by the sealing of a deal with Seychelles in 2011 for the construction of a Chinese naval base.
 
Only a week before he was ousted, Nasheed was being pushed by top officers of his armed forces to sign a defence agreement with China, a pact he had been refusing to clear for three months. Those pursuing the Chinese agenda were led by Brigadier General Farhat Shaheer, now the Deputy Chief.
 
Given this background, many are wondering why India gave up on Nasheed so quickly after the coup. Clearly, the answer lies with the Indian Foreign Ministry
.
Analysts are asking whether India misread the ongoing political struggle for the second time in four years. On the eve of elections in 2008, the then Indian High Commissioner reported that Nasheed was hardly a force. He recommended continued support to Gayoom. Nasheed won.
 
Many say that, this time too, reports from the Indian High Commission shaped initial decisions – New Delhi recognised the new regime on February 8, within 24 hours. This was considered a show of undue haste, something the government indirectly hinted at later. Questions are also being asked about what Gayoom’s half-brother Abdullah Yameen, a long-time critic of India, was doing inside the Indian High Commission for over an hour on the morning of the coup, even as Nasheed was being forced by security forces to resign at the headquarters of the Maldives National Defence Force.
 
Interestingly, an Indian naval ship, INS Suvarna, was in Maldives from February 3. Strangely, the ship was allowed to leave on the morning of February 7, just four or five hours after information of the serious standoff and the plotting of the coup was received. Just the presence of the ship and some marines in the city could have stopped events from unfolding the way they did.
 
Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai soon arrived to Maldives to salvage the situation and called for early elections. The deal was that the new president, Waheed, would announce elections within 24 hours. Nothing happened. On February 28, Mathai again flew down to the Maldives. This time he proposed to all political parties in Maldives that the amendments to the constitution should be made within one month to pave the way for an early presidential election before December this year. But during the two-hour meeting, he was repeatedly reminded by many from the new government, including Yameen’s party, that the involvement of an outsider in what was an internal matter was not warranted. Even Gayoom’s daughther Dhunya and President Waheed’s spokesperson make some uncharitable comments.
 
This, after India had handed over $20 million on the evening of February 27 to Mohamed Ahmed, Controller of Finance of the Finance Ministry. Apparently, an additional $50 million is on its way so that Maldives can avoid a sovereign default. All this was happening even as the new government, including the President himself, has backed out from its promise to the Foreign Secretary on holding early elections. The President, Home Minister and State Minister for Foreign Affairs have openly said in the past two days that there is no question of early elections, and that no foreign interference would be tolerated in the matter.
 
India can, though, draw solace from the fact that all the Western powers, including the European Union, the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom and the U.S., have asked New Delhi to chart the roadmap for the archipelago in turmoil.
 
But with lost credibility and a history of dumping friends – from Burma to Bangladesh and now Maldives, the reality is stark -- India has, as the saying goes, lost the mango as well as the sack in the Maldives. It has lost the goodwill of every democracy-loving Maldivian and has not gained anything from the new dispensation – backed and aided by a cocktail of the military, police, mafia and radicals.
 
(Sumon K. Chakrabarti is the Chief National Correspondent of CNN-IBN and is writing a book on the Maldives. He can be contacted at sumon.k.chakrabarti@gmail.com)
 
 
 
 
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Comments (Total Comments 6) Post Comments Post Comment
ahmed
02-Mar-2012
hope your books comes with the real truth. Not with yellow color only. i believe both did mistakes.
Ahmed
02-Mar-2012
A well investigated article with facts. It is high time that India played the role of a democratic regional power.
Akuru
04-Mar-2012
Offended by the questons coming to me as a Maldivian. The article seems one sided as I thought. ps correct . Gamsim Ibrahim funded 30% of expense to bring Mohamed Nasheed on also he was also the first Home Minister, Same goes to Jameel and Hassan Saeed. They worked with Maumoon and Nasheed. I dont believe you will find a Maldivian who has not worked in the Maumoons Govenment.
ali
05-Mar-2012
The whole article is distorted. Its nowhere close to the truth of whats happening in Maldives. Its a good work of fiction.
Faish
08-Mar-2012
Nice article anyone who knows the real story from the inside would agree
reethx
05-Mar-2013
If this is professional journalism, this is ridiculous. Firstly get ur facts rite b4 publishin articles. The so-called elected leader got 25% as opposed to Gayyoom who got 45% in 2008 elections. Nasheed won in the 2nd round with backing from Gasim, Hassan Saeed, Jameel and da ppl who u r callin radicals. That is also barely 55%, after much cheatin. Moreover Yameen is not faced with any oil scam charges, cause during Nasheed's regime, they did not get evidence to take the matter to court even. N finally Maldives have a good relation with China cause they are not power hungry or interfere with other Countries internal affairs.
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Book: India's Foreign Policy: A Reader; Edited: Kanti P. Bajpai and Harsh V.Pant Critical Issues in Indian Politics Series; Publisher: OUP Price: Rs 1095; Pages: 464

 
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Such a massive tome (663 pages) on a country that calls itself India’s only permanent friend in South Asia demands serious attention. Bhutanese scholarship is so rare and scholarship on Bhutan has been so scanty since M...

 
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India and China have shared historical ties and, as immediate neighbours, have seen many ups and downs in their relations. As a result, bilateral ties between the two countries...

 
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Delhi-based poet Sudeep Sen has been invited to address the Nobel Laureate Week being held in Saint Lucia, a sovereign island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea, in January. Mr. Sen is the first Indian, and the only one thu...

 
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Book: Fountainhead of Jihad Author: Vahid Brown and Don Rassler Publisher: Hachette India Price: Rs 650

 
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'Imperialists, Nationalists, Democrats: The Collected Essays of Sarvepalli Gopal'  edited by Srinath Raghavan. Permanent Black, 444 pages, Rs 895....

 
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Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific Author: C. Raja Mohan Publisher: OUP Price: Rs 895 Pages: 329

 
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Author: Raghu Rai Publisher: Niyogi Books Price: Rs 1495 Pages: 115

 
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BOOK: "False Sanctuaries: Stories from the Troubled Territories of South Asia", AUTHOR: Meenakshi Iyer;  PUBLISHER: Bibliophile South Asia (Promila & Co.);  PAGES: 282; 

 
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Like so much else in India’s recent past, the First Afghan War (1839-42) means little to India’s elites. But the military history of the British Raj has been a specially neglected domain. With their many other preoccupations, India&...

 
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Journalist-author Frances Harrison tells ANJANA RAJAN her book on the human suffering engendered by Sri Lanka’s “hidden war” is written with the belief that if people know, they will care

 
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"La Nueva India" ( The New India) is the first Latin American book on the rising of India in the twenty first century in the Spanish language. It was launched on December 4 at Santiago, Chile.

 
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After Joseph S Nye coined the term “Soft Power” (culture, language etc), it became a fad and, for some, an academic necessity to use it to discuss notions of ‘power’ in international politics. Though accepted, still unmo...

 
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This study seeks to solve the following puzzle: In 1947, the Pakistan military was poorly trained and poorly armed. It also inherited highly vulnerable territory vis-à-vis the much bigger India, aggravated because of serious disputes wit...

 
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Author / Editor: P R Kumaraswamy   Middle East Institute at New Delhi, 2012   Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon for MEI@ND, September 2012  

 
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Book: Ramkinkar: The Man and the Artist Author: A. Ramachandran Publisher: NGMA Pages: 168 + plates

 
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The middle class will decide the course of liberalisation in India which will become more micro-level in search of solutions to problems, says writer and journalist Hindol Sengupta in his new book, "The Liberals".

 
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The future of Afghanistan depends upon how it strengthens its fledgling democratic institutions and arrests corruption, says Sujeet Sarkar, the author of a new book on the war-ravaged country.

 
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Author(s): Bipul Chatterjee and Joseph George Publisher: CUTS International

 
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Author(s): Robert D. Lamb, Liora Danan, Joy Aoun, Sadika Hameed, Kathryn Mixon, and Denise St. Peter Publisher :Center for Strategic and International Studies ISBN 978-0-89206-738-1 (pb)

 
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Book: Afghanistan in Transition Beyond 2014? Author: Shanthie Mariet D`Souza (Ed.) Pages: 264 Price : Rs. 795 Publisher: Pentagon  

 
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Book: The Prabhakaran Saga Author: S. Murari Publisher: Sage Publishers Pages: 362 Price: Rs.425

 
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Authors: Rumel Dahiya and Ashok K. Behuria 2012

 
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Book: The Unfinished Memoirs Author: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Translated by Dr Fakrul Alam with a preface by Sheikh Hasina) Publisher: Penguin Viking Pages: 323 Price: Rs 699

 
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The book is a chronological account of the partiation of Punjab Province of British India

 
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Book: Nepal in Transition: From People’s War to Fragile Peace Author: Edited by Sebastian von Einsiedel, David M. Malone and Suman Pradhan Publisher: Cambridge University Press Pages: 398...

 
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Book: The Taliban Cricket Club Author: Timeri N. Murari Publisher: Aleph Pages: 325 Price: Rs 595

 
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Burma has been ruled by a succession of military regimes which rank among the most oppressive dictatorships in the world.

 
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In these turbulent times, Jawaharlal Nehru's policies of non-alignment and mixed economy need to be revisited, says P.C. Jain, author of a book on India's foreign policy during the first prime minister's tenure.

 
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The killing of Osama bin Laden spotlighted Pakistan's unpredictable political dynamics, which are often driven by conspiracy theory, paranoia, and a sense of betrayal. In Pakistan, the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto famously declared, t...

 
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The growing English language publishing industry in India has taken a step north with three veteran publishers - David Davidar, Ravi Singh and Kapish G. Mehra - joining ranks to push high-end literary fiction from the subcont...

 
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The subcontinent can become a paradise in the region by retaining cultural, social and political identities of countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, says former Pakistani Army officer, journalist, writer and commentator Abdul Rahman Si...