By Lt Col (Retd)
Khalid Taimur Akram
PRIME Minister Narendra Modi’s toxic ultra-nationalist and extremist policies have prompted a furious challenge to India’s democracy and regional peace at large. Modi came to power with his false hopes and promises such as the “Neighborhood First” initiative, aiming at cleaning up the country’s historical mess of bitter rivalries with its neighbors and regional states. However, the RSS backed BJP government’s hardline right-wing nationalist approach has threatened regional peace and provoked conflicts with India’s neighboring countries.
The RSS-BJP nexus with its extremist Hindutva ideology has conveniently blamed all the domestic crises on its neighbors. The reality is, nevertheless, contrary and worrisome especially for the smaller regional that are being victimized by India both politically and militarily. From its violence in Kashmir and clashes with Pakistan, to fueling border tensions with China, and bullying Nepal, India is posing a serious threat to the domestic stability of these countries as well as to regional security.
Similarly, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives are no exception. The Modi administration has continued to pressurize its neighbors to change their policies and in some cases even their constitution, to accommodate India’s interests and concerns. In doing so, India has aggravated its relations with neighboring countries and fueled the sentiments of distrust among them. India’s extensive interference in political, economic and military affairs of Maldives is bringing severe consequences to Maldivian stability and security, characterized by civil unrest and mass protests in the country.
The reason for mounting schism between Male and New Delhi and latter’s tampering in Maldivian affairs is that over the years, Modi has watched Maldives drift away from Indian sphere of influence into that of China’s. This started after Nasheed’s resignation and Abdulla Yameen assuming the presidency in 2013. Former President Yameen found a trusted ally in China, as evidenced in his policy approach towards Beijing. Consequently, Chinese investments in Maldives accelerated with many trade agreements and bilateral initiatives. This gave a serious blow to the Modi Administration and led to Indian direct intervention in the Maldives today.
As of now, the Indian Military presence in Maldives has led to nationwide protests where thousands of people have took to the streets calling for removal of Indian Armed Forces from their country. The rallies across the nation are held to protest against Ibrahim Solih’s Government for “selling off Maldives assets” to India. The Indian government has massive influence on Maldivian police, its military and its government. Therefore, the police has arrested the protestors and more than 50 young men were apprehended fined 43,000.00 (USD2792.21). The public sentiment has been overwhelmingly offended on the Indian military presence in Maldives.
With such developments it is evident that Indian government leaders are exacerbating the political crisis and domestic unrest in Maldives and this seems unlikely to end anytime soon. Just recently, a foreign Indian in Maldives triggered a spat with the locals by mocking Islam, insulting Muslims while claiming that he controlled the Maldives judiciary just 2 feet away from a Police officer. On account of such grave crime, he was arrested for merely 2 hours until the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intervened after mounting pressure from Indian High Commissioner, and was promptly freed without any charges. This is how the Indian government is influencing the civil, bureaucratic, judicial and political administration of Maldives at grass root levels.
President Abdullah Yameen’s case is again, a sound evidence of this influence. President Yameen has been imprisoned for alleged money laundering after a suspicious amount was deposited into his account without his knowledge by an unknown individual. The High Court as well as the Supreme Court has deemed that the freezing of President Yameen’s account is unlawful as there’s nothing illegal in the accounts, which would mean that the charges of money laundering against President Yameen would also be void. Many sources indicate that the Indian high Commissioner is influencing the case by delaying President Yameen’s appeal hearing beyond the limits set by the constitution.
The Maldivians claim that the current administration is undeniably backed by Indian government which is evident by President Mohamed Nasheed’s comments in his interview to Indian TV Channel, the “India Today group”. President Nasheed stated that, “No one thought that we would win the 2018 elections but India didn’t think that. Indian officials & Indian diplomats were ‘at it’ – they knew that they can create a small window. They were very clever”. Therefore, India’s meddling and rigging of the Maldivian Presidential Election of 2018 clearly regard the election results invalid, questioning the validity of the results of the election thereby making the current regime a rogue, Indian sponsored administration.
Maldives is located on a very strategic location. The country has the potential to develop a transshipment port which could generate billions of dollars to boost its economy. Indians are well aware of it and would never want to see that happening. Modi administration has always wished to exercise its hegemony on smaller regional states and for these states to rely on India. As in Nepal’s case, India’s intervention did not turn out well. Modi government imposed trade blockades and sanctions on Nepal for not accommodating BJP’s interests in their policies. This crippled Nepal’s efforts to reconstruct the country after the massive earthquake of April 2015 and triggered an economic crisis. Nepal reached out to the United Nations, and most importantly it paved the way for China to outshine India in Nepal.
– The author is an Executive Director at Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad