The Indian government was forced to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday night, analysing in detail the current political turmoil in the Maldives, with its different facets. While it was going on, some of the Indian officials recalled an operation carried out 30 years ago to tackle the then grim political situation in the tropical nation. However, this time, the situation is different.
New Delhi is facing an awkward situation! The top Indian political leadership has now realised that China, seemingly, is increasing its influence in the Maldives, which is a strategically important country for India. The Narendra Modi government has also realised that Beijing might not allow the Maldives to bring back normalcy.
The actions against former President Mohamed Nasheed have triggered the ongoing political crisis in the island nation in the Indian Ocean composed of 26 ring-shaped atolls that are made up of more than 1,000 coral islands. It is to be noted that Nasheed, a senior government official at that time, had requested then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 to send the Indian forces to Male in order to help the administration of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom restore peace. Three decades ago, Sri Lankan Tamil militants had attempted a coup against the Gayoom government with the help of local (powerful) business leader Abdullah Luthufi. PM Gandhi immediately sent the Indian forces to Male. The coup d’état against Gayoom’s presidency failed due to the intervention of the Indian Army, whose military operations efforts were code-named ‘Operation Cactus’ by the Indian Armed Forces.
Image courtesy: The Times of India
Today, the Indian External Affairs Ministry regrets sending troops to the Maldives three decades ago, saying that Beijing’s ‘Cactus activism’ puts New Delhi on the back foot. Now, India has only one option – to create public opinion. In 1988, India had sent forces after receiving a request from a democratically elected government. The current situation is different. Now, India doesn’t want to send a wrong message to the global community by repeating the same ‘mistake’. Such a decision could also encourage China to provide military support to the Kashmiri separatists in the future.
Embattled Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared a State of Emergency and arrested the chief justice, along with another justice, earlier this week. The president also accused the two of plotting to impeach him and sack the government. Yameen made the move, as he refused to abide by the unanimous court ruling, ordering release of political prisoners. On Monday, some judges of the Maldives Supreme Court and the opposition strongly urged India to help the island nation overcome the crisis.
On Tuesday, the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement: “We are disturbed by the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Maldives following the refusal of the government to abide by the unanimous ruling of the full bench of the Supreme Court on February 1, and also by the suspension of Constitutional rights of the people of Maldives.” Apart from monitoring the ongoing political crisis in the archipelago, India is also discussing the issue with Japan and the US, and evaluating the Chinese role there.
To make the revolution ‘long-lived’, Mao’s China had created disturbance in Asia. Later, Deng Xiaoping concentrated on economic reform and development. And now, President Xi Jinping’s China is trying hard to further this goal by increasing its global influence.
Image courtesy: The Times of India
China, which had no embassy in the Maldives till 2011, is involved in each and every political and economic step taken by the Maldivian government. Beijing and Male also signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in December 2017. The Maldives, too, ignored India’s advice and joined China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative. Moreover, the Chinese companies have replaced Indian firms involved in various development projects in the island nation in recent times. On the basis of the 100-page FTA, China will invest a huge amount of money in various mega-infrastructure projects, big housing projects, hotel and transportation projects in the Maldives.
Since the overthrow of President Nasheed through a military coup in 2012, China has increased its influence on the island nation. A section of foreign policy experts considers current Maldivian President Yameen as a ‘puppet in the hands of China’. According to sources close to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, China also has a plan to set up a military base in the Maldives. Sources have even been heard stating that Beijing has already started building the base there after acquiring a vast area on lease.
The Indian Armed Forces are on standby for any contingency in the Maldives, from evacuation of the Indian tourists to military intervention in the archipelago. However, there is no political directive to swing into action as yet. As China’s main priority is to install a ‘puppet’ government in the Maldives, can India sleep or sit and watch idly here?
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