India’s growing involvement in Maldives

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By Anoshka Johum

THE age-old notion of the Indian big brother keeping the smaller island nations of the Indian oceans needs to be re-examined. The Maldives is an archipelago of some 1,200 islands that are located about 745 miles from India’s mainland and 435 miles from India’s Lakshadweep island chain. The geographical formation of a state within the Indian Ocean does not lend credence to India’s increasingly disturbing foreign policies. The small island nation of Maldives has become what is in a long list of states that is being shoved with the aggressive Indian pseudo-imperialism through a combination of diplomatic maneuverings and clandestine operations.
India and Maldives had strong relations from 1965 until the resignation of the former president Mohamed Nasheed a pro-India leader. The formal beginning of India’s growing influence in the Maldives marked with the 1988’s coup d’état in the Maldives which resulted in the death of Maldivian civilians at the hands of mercenaries lends credence to this with the aftermath of the attack. Things started to change when the Indian paratroopers which were deployed to secure Maldivian hostages that were aboard a hijacked vessel in the international waters refused to leave the Maldives. This marked what many consider as India’s first efforts to maintain its influence on the island nation of Maldives.
But the situation drastically changed during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration and after. During President Nasheed’s tenure, major projects were awarded to Indian firms while several hectares of land were given to the Indian government to build an Indian military base in the southern Addu atoll, just north of the British Diego Garcia military base in the Chagos archipelago. Thus, cementing India’s influence in the Maldives.
However, following public outrage over rampant corruption and a failed economic policy, President Nasheed resigned bringing a sudden end to the first Pro-Indian government. Following his resignation and the resulting debacle, India was one of the first states to back the former President Nasheed’s claims of a coup d’état, contradicting the report by the Maldivian Commission on National Inquiry.
The expansionist policies of India under the current leadership of BJP have inflicted severe damages to the Indo-Maldivian relations where India has always demonstrated its aspiration for regional hegemony.
The report which was backed by both the UN and the Commonwealth was rejected by India with hardliners such as Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy continuing to assert that President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s Presidency was illegal on that basis that the pro-Indian former President Nasheed was forced to resign through a coup d’état.
India’s eagerness to interfere in the domestic affairs of its neighbors was evident when former President Nasheed was given refuge inside of the High Commission of India in the Maldives after an arrest warrant was sent out against the former President on charges of terrorism. The unprecedented decision to provide refuge for an individual accused of committing an act of terrorism was not well received by both the local and international stakeholders.
India’s assert over the Maldives waned over the following years as growing Chinese ventures in the Maldives proved that the Maldives wanted more than just the odd occasional hand downs. The bilateral relations between India and Maldives reached its breaking point when the 28 Indian sailors stationed in the Maldives to maintain the Indian lent helicopters, refused to leave the Maldives even after their visas were canceled. At the time it was reported that the government of Maldives had even filed a case at the United Nations calling to intermediate the removal of Indian soldiers from the Maldives.
However, the case would not conclude President Abdullah Yameen’s presidency would come to an end with pro-Indian Ibrahim Mohamed Solih taking into the executive office. India renewed its grip on the island nation with several gifts of the goodwill including a fixed wing utility aircraft.
Though President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has maintained that his administration is impartial and willing to work with all economic partners in developing the nation, his administration and in particular the President of the ruling party, former President Mohamed Nasheed has repeatedly bashed and criticized Chinese investments and development projects with the resident Chinese Ambassador Zhang Lizhong refuting the claims over twitter.
India’s sway over President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration grew as more than $3.5billion was promised to the island nation in the form of credit lines, budget support loans, and grants. Though only a very small fraction of this money has been received by the Maldivian government, both countries continue to conceal the details of these financial deals between India and the Maldives.
– The author is Research Associate at Center
for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad