Just a week after he was brutally beaten up by Male police, Maldivian Opposition Leader Ibrahim Hussain Zaki held talks with the Indian establishment - a clear signal from New Delhi of its unhappiness with Male over its handling of the opposition in that country to the GMR agreement for airport development.
A former SAARC secretary general and special envoy for former President Mohamed Nasheed, 67-year-old Zaki cannot walk without his cane and an escorting police official. After his arrival here on Wednesday, he had separate meetings with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and other ‘friends’ in the establishment. He had also been treated for his injuries at the Indian Army’s Research and Referral Hospital. Zaki noted that Khurshid and his wife Louise were his “old friends”. When asked if they were shocked to see his brutalised state, Zaki replied, “I hope they were”.
On November 15, Zaki, some fellow party members of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and two members of Parliament were arrested after a sudden pre-dawn raid by police on an atoll and all of them were booked for drinking alcohol - a criminal offense in the Islamic country. “What we went through for 24 hours, nobody else should,” he said, adding “God saved me”.
Zaki said he was thrashed with “boots and electric batons” for hours by the police commandoes. “There was no space on my body where I was not hit,” he said.
GMR’s joint venture company had won the right to build and operate Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) for 25 years in 2010. But, since Waheed came to power in February, there have been dispute with GMR. Work has been suspended on the new airport, though GMR is operating the new terminal. It is therefore no coincidence that Zaki’s visit came during the current period of unease within the Indian government that Waheed administration is allowing the ultra-right Adhaalath party to take control of a narrative against the GMR group. India had reacted to the arrest of the opposition politicians with alarm and raised concern over the continuing instability in the island nation.
Earlier this month at an anti-GMR rally in Male, president’s office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza had ranted against the Indian ambassador to Maldives Dnyaneshwar Mulay for his support to the Indian group, describing him as a “traitor” and “enemy” of Maldives.
The president’s office had claimed that remarks were made in personal capacity, but Zaki alleged that “those were also the views of Waheed”. On the November 30 deadline given by Adhaalath party to cancel the GMR contract and warned of storming the airport, Zaki dismissed its opposition, claiming that they had no support from the general populace.
“I am ready to give up my life, nothing less than my life for the GMR agreement,” he claimed. But, even if Male cancelled the deal, then “India was responsible”.
Understandably, Zaki had harsh words for Waheed, who he claimed , was “playing India against China”.