NEW DELHI: A week after External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj visited Maldives, the jailed opposition leader and former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to travel to the Indian Ocean island nation to "disentangle" the current political "mess".
Nasheed’s message was transmitted through his legal team who met him in prison last Thursday, where he is currently serving his 13 years of jail sentence.
“'I’d like the Indian PM to visit Maldives. I believe the PM has the tact to disentangle us from the mess we are in’- PN,” tweeted Haseen Latheef, Nasheed’s legal counsel on Monday evening, with ‘PN’ standing for ‘President Nasheed’.
Another member of the legal team, Hisaan Hussain tweeted that Nasheed believed that India will not miss this opportunity. “’I strongly believe that the political pragmatism will not lead India to drop this catch":Prez Nasheed,” she said.
The former president’s comments came after Sushma Swaraj visited Maldives on her first official trip this month, when she met with MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Solih on Oct 11. MEA sources confirmed that Swaraj had also raised Nasheed’s imprisonment with President Abdulla Yameen during their meeting.
The Indian minister’s visit came seven months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped Maldives from his itinerary, due to streets protests over the arrest of Nasheed in March. At that time, the opposition had not been too keen for a visit by Indian Prime Minister, as they felt it would give political legitimacy to Yameen.
Nasheed also apparently conveyed that “Our love for India is not dependent on what India can do for us, but on good films books music dance n happy people".
After the manhandling of the Nasheed at his first court appearance, India had expressed concern – but thereafter, it has remained publicly silent, even after Nasheed was taken back forcibly to jail from house arrest. MDP had claimed that Maldives government had reneged on a deal by taking him back to jail, which included the opposition’s support for two constitutional amendments in parliament.
On the eve of Swaraj’s visit, MEA spokesperson had commented that it hoped that Nasheed’s case was “handled in accordance with laws and rules of Maldives, and hope that the outcome will be seen by everybody as being fair and just.” This was, however, not a direct reference to the ruling of United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) that Nasheed had not got a fair trial and should be released.
Swaraj’s visit was seen to be part of the reconciliation between New Delhi and Male. Relations had gone through a recent rocky patch over the passage of the constitutional amendment which allowed foreigners to own land – firing up Indian fears about Chinese presence.
The situation was back to normal after Yameen then gave a personal undertaking to Prime Minister Modi that there will be no mlitarisation of Indian Ocean and India realizing that it needs to reach out to the Maldives government.
Allaying doubts that MDP and India had drifted apart, Nasheed said as quoted by his legal team, “Relationship with India is not a tactic. It's a conviction"
He added that “MDP's relation with India is not based on what we get from India, but on the 'idea of India - Freedom”.
Nasheed described the relationship in even more emotional terms. “MDP relations with #India is not dependent on our fortunes: It’s in sickness n in health"-Pr.Nasheed,” tweeted Hussain.
She told Express that her tweets were “direct quotes by President Nasheed made during our visit to prison”.
As per sources, the timing of Nasheed’s remarks were certainly linked to India’s renewed focus on Maldives following Swaraj’s visit.
Explaining the context and timing of Nasheed’s statement, a MDP member told Express that the former President believes in “India first policy”. “He thinks it's always important for us to be engaged with India… he wants to be supportive at a time when India wants to reach out,” said an aide of Naheed.
The ‘India first policy’ was an echo of President Abdulla Yameen’s reported statement to Swaraj. “He (Yaamyn) reiterated Maldives' policy of 'India First',” said a press release issued by Indian high commission.
This was taken to be an unequivocal reiteration that Indian concerns about China’s role in Indian ocean will be addressed. However, the President’s office issued a note which led to some confusion.
Yaamyn told Swaraj that “his government will not tolerate foreign parties to interfere with the country’s domestic issues and underscored that a country’s integrity and national sovereignty must be respected by all”.
MEA sources, however, said this reference to “foreign parties” was not directed at India or External affairs minister. Instead, it was in context of the regular statements issued by “big powers” like United States, United Kingdom and world bodies like Commonwealth and United Nations about the former president and rule of law, claimed Indian officials.
The political situation in Maldives is currently very tense, due to shadow-boxing between the President and his Vice President Ahmed Adeeb – apparently over the blast in the presidential speed boat which has left the First Lady bed ridden.