Maldivian High Commissioner to India Mohamed Naseer was on Friday morning summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to give ‘a ticking off’ on Male’s arbitrary termination of the contract awarded to GMR group to operate the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.
It has been learnt that Naseer had been summoned to the MEA for an audience with Foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai.
According to sources, Mathai expressed New Delhi’s deep regret at the “unilateral” move by Male in declaring the agreement with the Indian infrastructure giant void. And the top Indian diplomat is said to have warned the Maldivian envoy that Male’s decision will have a negative impact on the bilateral ties between the long-time allies.
Mathai is also said to have pointed out that the move was contrary to the assurances given by President Mohammed Waheed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his state visit to India in May.
The Foreign Secretary is also believed to have told the Maldivian envoy to ensure that the legal process should be allowed “to run its course”, a reference to the case filed by GMR in the Singapore High Court, in which it had sought an immediate temporary order against the annulment. Incidentally, the next hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.
Waheed’s Poll Card
On Thursday, Indian High Commissioner to Male, D M Mulay had been invited by Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdullah to his office for a friendly ‘chat’, where the Waheed Government’s argument that the action against GMR was a purely commercial decision was again trotted out. India is, obviously, not accepting this argument, with sources reiterating that the campaign against GMR has been used by President Waheed to shore up his popularity in time for the Presidential election, which could take place as early as in July 2013.
Waheed’s party only has a single seat in the Majlis, with opinion polls indicating that he has support from about 10 per cent of the population. Former president and MDP leader Mohamed Nasheed still has the biggest chunk of support of around 40 per cent, with the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of PPM having around 25-30 per cent.
With the platform of booting out GMR, Waheed could be trying to increase his popularity, so that he can run Gayoom head-to-head, and possibly have a direct contest with Nasheed for the Presidency.
“He has nothing to lose by doing this. At worst, he will not win the election, but then he was an accidental President in the first place,” said a senior official.
Meanwhile, the archipelago’s fringe parties like the Islamist Adhalaath and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party have been leading the campaign, with incendiary messages and posters being circulated against GMR, India and the Indian High Commission.
Septuagenarian Gayoom, who is known to be a shrewd operator, has so far kept quiet. But, observers feel that he wouldn’t be too unhappy at the turn of events. “Waheed gets all the blame for the axing of contract. But, Gayoom also wanted to see GMR go, which had become identified with the MDP,” he said.
When the contract had been signed in 2010 by the Nasheed government, the entire Opposition had protested against the move.
So far, the Waheed government is looking to stay afloat till the time the country goes to the polls.
“The government seems to be confident that it can ride it out by getting funding from Maldivian companies, who share anti-GMR sentiments. They have also recently floated Treasury Bills,” he said, adding that there could be a move to give concession to the Gaan Airport in Addu.
Incidentally, even India is looking forward to the Presidential election in Male, with the possibility of GMR returning to the island nation when the political situation becomes stable.