That Maldives is the only country in the region Prime Minister Modi has not visited during the last four years should speak volumes. A scheduled visit in March 2015 was called off to send a message to President Abdulla Yameen for the treatment meted out to pro-India opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, jailed on what was widely seen as trumped-up charges of treason and terrorism. Indo-Maldivian relations nosedived further this February, when Yameen clamped Emergency on the island-state after its apex court overturned Nasheed’s conviction.
He surpassed even that dubious low, getting former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed jail sentences for allegedly plotting his overthrow. The presidential election scheduled for September is a charade: Yameen is virtually the sole candidate. Male is making no bones about its anti-India stance. People-to-people contact and cargo movement stand suspended; and a large number of visas of Indians working in tourism and health are not being renewed. Maldives needs labour, but Yameen doesn’t want Indians to come in and turn into a “fifth column”.
Male used to be dependent on India. What gives it this new chutzpah and capacity to cock a snook at New Delhi is China, and its naval and trade presence. Not to mention Pakistani General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit in March—the first of its kind—and the offer of a $10 million credit line to acquire Super Mushak aircrafts. Male also refused to participate in a naval exercise with India and asked New Delhi to take back two helicopters offered as gifts (perhaps it was the Indian naval personnel that Male wants out).
All this despite the Maldivian claim that India voted for it for a UNSC non-permanent seat against Indonesia, which won. Why would India support Male given its recent record? Even if it has, New Delhi has been tightlipped. Sitting as it does on a sea-lane via which most of India’s oil is imported, India can hardly ignore the Maldivian machinations. But we need more than strategic silence.