MALDIVES: Political Storm in Indian Ocean

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The picturesque Indian Ocean archipelago Maldives, is a premier tourist attraction in the region and a Sunni Muslim country. The politically volatile nation had already seen a bad crisis in November 1988,when few Maldivian political heavy weights took siege of the nation with the help of some armed pirates( later recognised as a Tamil terrorist group from Sri Lanka – People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam , or PLOT). They targeted president Gayoom’s residence and took over the key government buildings like HQs of National Security Service ( NSS), national TV and Radio stations and cut off water and power supply to the capital. Indian Armed Forces, by a swift commando operation ( Operation Cactus), rescued the political prisoners including the President of Maldives, and liberated the nation. Again, the island nation plunged into a political chaos in the first week of February 2018,when the country’s Supreme Court ordered the release of nine high profile political prisoners , including the former President Muhammed Nasheed , maintaining that their trials were “politically motivated and flawed”.

In a surprise move, on 05 February 2018, the Maldives President Abdulla Yameen declared ‘emergency’ in the nation and arrested the Chief Justice of Supreme Court with other judges. He also arrested his formidable rival, formal President ‘Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’. Military and police forces had taken control of the nation. In a show of utter disrespect to democratic institutions, Army was seen climbing the walls of the Supreme Court and breaking the gates. Pro -Opposition Raajje Television was warned by Defence Ministry, not to air ‘sensitive content’ and as a protest the TV channel suspended routine scheduled programme.


On 7 February, China warned against any military intervention in the Maldives, by saying that such a move would further complicate the situation, amid repeated appeals for India’s military action by the exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed to resolve the political crisis and save the democracy in Maldives. Chinese foreign ministry spoke person Zheng Shuang said ” the international community should play a constructive role on the basis of respecting the Maldives sovereignty and not interfere with the internal situation”. It’s too apparent that China is steadfastly backing President Yameen, inspite of his anti- democratic and dictator type action, because he has approved several ambitious Chinese projects and signed the cont Free Trade Agreement ( FTA) with China during last December. The exiled leader Nasheed from Colombo, stated -“when China saying, ‘resolve things internally without any other’s mediation,’ is akin to asking us to escalate revolt, which can lead to disharmony and chaos. Maldives sees India’s role positively. In 1988 they came, resolved the crisis and left. They were not occupiers but liberators. This is why Maldivian look up to India now”.

As the crisis deepened India and US have expressed concern on the political impasse in Maldives and underlined the “importance of respect for democratic institutions and rule of law”. On 09 Feb, China issued a statement that Maldives crisis should not turn into another “flashpoint” in the bilateral ties between India and China. Though Maldivian special envoy to China Minister, Mohamed Saeed has requested China not to renew its travel advisory cautioning its tourists from travelling to Maldives, China is not keen to visibly tow the line of President Abdulla Yameen, who had gone against the Maldivian state policy of “India First” to reach out and embrace China. Though US and other western nations are nudging India to take “ swift action” to end the political crisis, Delhi had preferred to adopt a ‘wait – and-watch policy’. A major reason is attributable to the fact that this time the ‘help request’ has come from the opposition political party and China is clandestinely helping the Maldivian President to sort out his political and judicial rivals. India is not desirous of escalating the tension in the region by a swift military action like ‘Operation Cactus’, 30 years ago.


The embattled President Yameen has already sent envoys to friendly nations such as China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, significantly leaving out India, the key regional power. India, which has had long standing political and security ties to the island nation, 400 kms away, has now concerns about the leniency of the present President towards China. Maldives had already signed up to Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ to build transport links across Asia and beyond. It’s a death knoll of Democracy in Maldives as the President refused to meet a delegation of diplomats from Britain, the EU and Germany.