It’s time for New Delhi to act. Act fast and furious. Take note of the feelings of the Maldivian people who want India to intervene right away, writes Sumon K Chakrabarti
By Sumon K Chakrabarti
Maldives today is a version of the reality series The Apprentice, where President Abdullah Yameen is already taking a leaf out of Donald Trump’s reality show playbook: “This is a dictatorship and I’m the dictator. There’s no voting and there’s no jury.” The irony though, has just begun, unflinching in it’s almost ‘funny (sic) side’ of brazenness.
The dominoes started falling on February 1 when the Supreme Court called for the release of imprisoned opposition politicians, ruling that their trials were politically motivated and flawed. It also ordered that the 12 members of parliament, who had been stripped of their seats, be restored to the Majlis (parliament). It immediately meant that Yameen’s party lost its majority in parliament.
But then Yameen had other plan. There was though the small hurdle of sacking two police chiefs in two days who were inclined to implement the highest court’s order. Then, the full force of Yameen, whose government on advice from some external allies, let the security forces out on the streets to crush the protesters who had spilled over on the cobbled streets of capital Malé. Arrests, clashes, more protests followed. It was aggravated by Maldives’s Attorney-General Mohamed Anil who insinuated that the apex court tried “to impeach President Abdulla Yameen” and instructed law enforcement agencies not to obey the court’s order.
On February 5, the Maldives government declared a 15-day state of emergency giving across the board powers to the security forces to make arrests and within hours soldiers forced their way into the Supreme Court building in the Indian Ocean archipelago that is a getaway of the rich and famous and affluent honeymooners. Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, Justice Ali Hameed and Judicial Administrator Hassan Saeed Hussain were picked up. Yameen’s half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, along with his son-in-law was arrested on charges of bribery and attempting to overthrow the government. Gayoom, the South Asian nation’s president from 1978 to 2008, had handed the presidency to Yameen on a platter in 2013.
Then soldiers in riot gear spread out across every arterial street, raiding house to house, looking for opposition protesters.
Yameen’s rule so far was summed up perfectly by the almost angry statement released by the Americans. “Despite being elected in 2013 with the support of a broad coalition, President Yameen has systematically alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political figure, deprived elected Members of Parliament of their right to represent their voters in the legislature, revised laws to erode human rights, especially freedom of expression, and weakened the institutions of government by firing any officials who refuse orders that run contrary to Maldivian law and its Constitution,” the State Department said.
But it was an appeal on Twitter by Mohamed Nasheed - the first democratic president of the island nation and the poster boy of international climate change – which has struck a chord among a majority of Maldivians. “On behalf of Maldivian people we humbly request: India to send envoy, backed by its military, to release judges & pol. detainees inc. Prez. Gayoom. We request a physical presence…The US to stop all financial transactions of Maldives regime leaders going through US banks,” Nasheed wrote on Twitter. The Supreme Court’s February 1 ruling had also clarified Nasheed's trial, held in 2015, had been unconstitutional.
It is a wake-up call for India. New Delhi had lost both the mango and sack in the Maldives under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government when on another February in 2012, Nasheed’s government was ousted in a coup d’état and India did nothing. Just nothing apart from sending an envoy!
Nasheed was replaced in a well-cordinated move by his vice-president Waheed Hassan. It was manipulated by Yameen and gang to degenerate into a rudderless, clueless and mandate-less regime.
India’s efforts in 2012 was summed up in a stinging letter from then Special Advisor to Waheed, Dr Hassan Saeed, to Indian Prime Minister Singh: “The Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit to our country in February (2012) failed to resolve the political crisis largely because India is no longer seen as a friendly and fair neighbour who could broker an honest and fair deal.”
It was that ineptitude that resulted in the Maldives becoming a geo-political fussball table between India and China, with China becoming a major player from an almost nonentity in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese, who didn’t even have an embassy in Maldives until 2011, have truly become Maldives’s new best friend (as recently described in an editorial by a local newspaper known as a mouthpiece of President Yameen and whose editorials were routinely approved by the President's office before publication). A free-trade agreement signed and sealed, China is heavily investing into major infrastructure projects and is a visible force to reckon with already.
On the other hand, India’s historical and cultural geostrategic sphere of influence has been reduced so much that the same newspaper had the temerity to call India “an enemy nation”
Yameen has done so very deliberately, destroying the relationship with India, to appease his new best friends in Beijing and his old mates in the Middle East. India should be more alarmed by Yameen’s televised address on February 6, his first public statement after hurtling the Maldives into turmoil. “I was forced into this situation..I declared the state of emergency because there was no way to hold these justices accountable.” These are not the words of a President of a democracy but those of a dictator sowing the seeds of a totalitarian purge.
In all honesty, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong leadership and regional vision coupled with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s personal charm and popularity has regained a lot of trust, faith and credibility that was lost by the inept foreign policy of Singh’s foreign ministry.
But it’s time for New Delhi to act. Act fast and furious. Take note of the feelings of the Maldivian people who want India to intervene right away. Let Yameen know that he is not dealing with a Singh but a Modi. Because the fate of the archipelago depends on how the present crisis is handled by New Delhi.
In 2008, the Maldives had emerged as a beacon of democratic hope across the globe. A fledgling democracy had started taking baby steps in Asia’s longest running dictatorship – a 100 per cent Sunni Muslim nation. The road to democracy in Maldives, a string of 1,192 mostly uninhabited coral atolls, was painful. Some 500 miles off the tip of India, the Maldives have gone through a sea-change since 2008 – from a coup d’état to dystopia.
Once the world’s most secular Sunni Muslim nation, is being driven towards hardline Islam, by none other than Yameen.
Nearly 40 radicalised Maldivians have been documented to have left the country of 400,000 to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But more alarming, ISIS affiliations are being shown openly on the streets and the government has stayed mum, fanning a base of violence and muddling the serene turquoise waters in this picturesque setting of cobbled roads and luxury resorts. human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture and custodial deaths galore.
(The author is founder of FocusMaldives. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)