By Vishwajeet Singh Raghav
The security environment in South Asia has brought new challenges for countries in the region. The political crisis in the Maldives has intensified the existing challenges in the region. The crisis began when the Supreme Court of Maldives observed that the arrests of many high-profile leaders of opposition parties, including former President Mohamed Nasheed, were politically motivated. It also observed that many judicial trials were influenced, as many judges were forced to conduct investigations by the ruling government as a tool to acquire political leverage.
The flash point came when President Abdulla Yameen refused to accept the Supreme Court order asking for the release of opposition leaders. In response to the order, Yameen declared a national emergency. He also removed 12 legislators from their posts, on grounds of defection, and high ranking police officials who refused to obey his orders. The most incredible arrests have been of former President and Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the country’s Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed.
This is a strategic move by President Yameen to eliminate any opposition that he might face in the upcoming elections in November. In spite of increasing international pressure demanding the restoration of order and democracy, a solution appears difficult to achieve soon. All the opposition parties have joined hands to challenge Yameen’s unconstitutional acts, while former President Nasheed has also approached India for assistance.
The issue is national but has garnered enough sub-regional attention, especially in India, which is monitoring the situation very carefully. India and Maldives have traditionally shared friendly relations. India has a large diaspora living in the Maldives and its economic interests are also at stake. India has expressed its concern repeatedly at the situation in the Maldives and has taken a stand against the unconstitutional behaviour of the government. However, India needs to play a more robust role in the issue and should act swiftly.
Unlike 1988, when India conducted ‘Operation Cactus,’ there has been no official call for help from the leadership of the Maldives. Elections are also approaching in India and there is a strong China factor. Use of force will have its consequences as China has made it clear that it will stand with the Maldives if India uses coercive methods.
The Maldives has already tilted towards China, which is a huge concern for India and, if New Delhi does not take proper action at the earliest, the matter will slip away from its hands. India should learn a lesson from what happened with Nepal and should also stay away from using embargoes, as this may ruin relations between India and Maldives.
With these options ruled out, the most viable route for India is to maintain its diplomatic stand and gather as much international support as possible, which will prove beneficial if the need for putting boots on the ground arises, as India will have the support of opposition parties in the Maldives and the international community.
India should try to resolve the situation through diplomacy rather than the use of force as it may backfire. Maldives’ Foreign Minister reiterated its adherence to the ‘India First’ policy and, therefore, India should look at ways of maintaining friendly ties with that government. At the same time, it should make every effort to ensure fair elections, as this is the only way for India to resolve the crisis without the fear of straining its relations with Male.
The situation is getting worse and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds in the coming days. A possible solution that can be contemplated now is a regime change, which is only possible if free and fair elections are conducted, which appears highly unlikely, given the way President Yameen is taking decisions right now.
(The author is a student at Symbiosis School of International Studies, Pune, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)