NEW DELHI: The Maldives foreign ministry on Wednesday sought an explanation from Indian High Commissioner Akhilesh Mishra about India’s refusal to allow one of its senior ruling party MPs entry into the country late on Monday. Ahmed Nihan, an MP from the Progressive Party of Maldives, told reporters in Male late on Tuesday that he had travelled to Chennai for medical reasons but was refused entry after enquiries about his diplomatic passport at the airport. He flew back to the Maldives four hours later by a Sri Lankan Airlines flight.
“This is bullying,” said Nihan, believed to a senior aide to President Abdulla Yameen. “If this is the implementation of a policy by neighbouring India, it does not make any sense.” Terming the incident “unfortunate”, Maldives’ ambassador to India Ahmed Mohamed said Nihan regularly visited Chennai for health check-ups and the denial of entry was “unexpected”. President Yameen’s sister and brother-in-law, who were accompanying Nihan, were allowed entry into Chennai.
“‘Bully’ India silent on refusing entry to Maldives ruling party MP,” read a headline in the Maldives Independent on Wednesday, amid reports of ‘minor protests’ outside the Indian High Commission in Male. The incident comes on the heels of the Maldives government’s decision to ‘return’ two search-and-rescue helicopters gifted by India in 2016 following the signing of an Indo- Maldives defence action plan in April that year.
The bonhomie of those years dissolved after President Yameen expressed a clear preference for China, which sees the Maldives as a key player in its Maritime Silk Road plan in the Indian Ocean and has made heavy investments in the nation of islands which has 26 tropical atolls and 1,000 small islands. But some sources claimed Male wanted India to replace the two helicopters with a Dornier, which has more range. Matters came to a head when he clamped a state of emergency in February 2018 after refusing to accept a Supreme Court order to free jailed political opponents. Ignoring appeals by India and the international community to respect the law, he clamped down on opposition parties and jailed many of them.
The emergency was finally lifted on March 22. An Indian diplomat declined comment on Nihan’s charges, but said “there are concerns not just in Delhi but across most capitals over the Maldives presidential polls expected in September.”