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From India to Maldives: “Thank you, Blessings and Regards”

The original Dhivehi article was published on Avas.mv website on 16th September 2017. By Mundoo Adam Haleem

The following is a loose translation:

India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in collaboration with one of Indian think tank Center for Land Warfare does a lot of intensive work. That is to research on how they see issues on the Maldives, the results and review them to find ways to get different results. A RAW agent will stay in the Maldives while this is undertaken. From the result, they get they have to convey a “Thank you, Blessings and Regards” (Shukuriyaa, Heyo Dhua, Salaam). Meaning is that they will lower themselves to the level Maldivians have accepted the culture of Indian music, drama and literature. They will use the Dhivehi (Maldivian) language, apply henna, play their cultural tabla, and sing and dance with the Maldivians, recite poems. After publishing, poetry people can even go to Minicoy island (Maliku in Dhivehi – the only place where Dhivehi language is spoken outside of Maldives and Maldivians need a special permit from India to visit). They will use these three phrases “Thank you, Blessings and Regards” to the extent that Maldivians will believe these are genuine well wishes. If there was another outcome then they will give a political slap. They have tested all these. The most recent was inviting former President Mohamed Nasheed to India and playing a drama, as a slap on the face of Maldives.

Indeed, India is a powerful country. Their think tanks have moulded the thinking of their entire nation to see their neighbours or countries in the sphere of their influence as their ‘property’. The term they use to refer to these countries is the ‘Indian Backyard’. India sees itself as the ‘Dada’ (Strongman) in relation to whatever happens in the backyard. India becomes the leader or takes the leadership of any issues in the backyard. Nothing should happen or no plans should be forged in any other way than the way India wants. While they don’t allow anyone else to come near the backyard they create a huge row even if one takes as much as a glance at the backyard.

One of the examples is the Indian Ocean Security. The backyard India envisions or the Indian Ocean is a vast territory. Even though the name given is the Indian Ocean, the territory is more relevant to the Maldives. That is why Maldives becomes important to other powerful countries too. The reason being that Maldives occupies much more territory of the Indian Ocean than India. Similarly, Sri Lanka also occupies a large area. However, the tripartite security agreement is named ‘Indian Ocean Security’.

This is crafted by pleasing the Maldives and Sri Lanka to prevent any other nation to come into the scene and exert influence. They do not want any other to enter or even take a glance to the backyard occupied by Maldives and Sri Lanka is very important to India, and India moulds this occupation in a manner which benefits solely to them. So that the ‘swells’ of the ocean remains calm in their voyage to achieve their goal of becoming a superpower.

Pakistan who has become a nuclear power after the partition from India is the only country not considered to be in this backyard. When you look at the Indian policies and strategies, the rest of the nations have to accept their terms, in inverted commas, and they should be able to exercise their power, whenever and how much they want.

They influence because India is larger than others and their economy is larger than any of the other nations. GDP may not be higher on an average, however, India’s economy is much larger than any other country in the region. With what has prevailed historically, all the countries in the Indian backyard are squeezed in their fist until they are close to crumbling.

Bangladesh stays squeezed as much as India wants. Indian influence dominates Nepal. Nepal cannot get anything without Indian assistance. The entire economy of Bhutan is hinged on India. Until very recent, Maldives and Sri Lanka were also pressed down and confined by the Indian hand. The policies of Sri Lanka and the Maldives are now changing to a policy that ‘stands up and sprints’ when compared with other countries.

When we look at the period before Maldives brought about this change, two to three doctors will be provided by India. One and a half teachers will be sent. Aggregate (construction material) will be available. Have to go to India for medical treatment. Because these reasons remain, they had closed the Maldives economy in their clenched fist.

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Maldives’ today’s policy is that one can climb the back only when you say ‘yes excellency’ and bend down to allow one to climb the back. Unless allowed to climb the back, India or any other nation cannot climb the back of Maldives and weigh it down.

Current thinking in the Maldives is of promoting a free economy. This means to go forward without fully depending on any other nation. This is President Yameen’s policy.

During Dr Waheed’s presidency, if India is dissatisfied with the way an election was held, or if any other nation may exert their power over Maldives they use their influence to camp themselves in the Maldives or to get a desired specific project to India they use their friendly services and aid as leverage.

They played the same tactics during President Nasheed’s term too. During the 30 years of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, they dealt with the Maldives as per their pleasing. Even if that is building their foreign policy, that’s not how ‘friends’ treat. If it’s a genuine fair relationship they will not exert unequal pressure in conjunction with an aid they have offered and twist the arms.

Maldives faced a water crisis in 2014. China wanted to send water as an aid that time. India (Operation Neer) also wanted to send water. Other nations also wanted to assist. However, what happened when two Chinese Lockheed C-130 loaded with water started?

How that unfolded will be very clear to the then Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon. Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim will also know.

Sushma Swaraj meets Her Maldivian Counterpart Dunya Maumoon

Sushma Swaraj meeting Dunya Maumoon

The Chinese aircraft carrying water have to fly over Indian airspace. If any other route, they will have to go via the far east and will be a very expensive and long route. To make it cheaper and for the trip to be shorter and speedily assist with the water, the Chinese planes have to get fly-over rights from the Indian government.

India's High Commissioner in Maldives @RajeevShahare hands over assistance

India’s High Commissioner in Maldives RajeevShahare hands over packed water to Defense Minister Nazim during the water crisis of 2014.

During the water crisis when the Chinese made the request, the Indians waited without giving the permit for three days. Their reason is so that the Indians can send water first, their envoy can take the photo with the water and run their PR campaign taking the credit as the first nation to assist Maldives in the crisis. Read the newspapers of those days. They really did that. Until India played their ‘show’ they held the Chinese water assistance from being delivered.

The other alternative for China was not to request for fly-over rights from India. That means they have to carry more fuel. To carry more fuel, part of the water quantity to assist the needy Maldivians has to be offloaded. When this is done the Indian newspapers will write that the Chinese just to get a name came with a meagre quantity of water after throwing away part of the shipment. This is an example of how India wishes well for the Maldives. Doesn’t this raise questions regarding the genuineness of India’s blessings and well wishes?

During the start of this research or while this research was ongoing President Waheed’s government fell into the Indian ‘helicopter trap’ very well. The agreement spoke of two helicopters. When the helicopters are delivered along with it they sought to place Indian military personnel which includes agents from RAW and Indian think tanks in the Maldives. The questions are will they only fly and maintain the helicopters while in the Maldives? There will definitely be something else they would do and someplace they will be investigating in the Maldives.

With the onset of President Yameen’s term in office, they started talking about a second helicopter. The underlying reason was to increase the presence of their personnel. By then the purpose of the first helicopter was almost of no use and was taken away for “repairs”. It was rarely used for search and rescue of people lost at sea. MNDF carried out the bulk of these searches with their speedboats or with air-taxi or some other mechanism. Sometimes when the Indian helicopter flies in its ‘daga daga’ (to imply slow and noisily) speed, the ‘cow’ (victim) is already dead. Thus, this helicopter was not of much use to the Maldives. Not implying that it was totally useless. But in return we get is the 30 to 40 military personnel stationed with the helicopter who does all that India needs to get done.

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President Yameen’s government ignored about the second helicopter. With this letdown, a huge cloud of tantrums that ‘darkened the surroundings’ of Dunya forced to accept the second helicopter with certain conditions in 2016. Due to their desperation when some Indian newspapers reported the story they referred to Dunya as ‘daughter of Dictator Maumoon’. And the rusted helicopter issue was used as the excuse about the undelivered MRI machine which the Indians promised way back on their own, and which they kept lying about like the ‘Kal dho bajey aaoo’* (Come back at 2 o’clock tomorrow) reference.

During the term of President Maumoon, the Maldives had no choice but to sign the helicopter agreement, even if they kept lying endlessly about the MRI machine. So what is this helicopter topic that crops up every now and then?

They not only lied about the MRI machine in relation to the helicopter, they also created animosity. Former Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela was invited to India and she was told “Thanks for visiting, India’s blessings and regards! The machine will be given to IGMH.’ (Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital). Then they invited the Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim. He was also told “Thanks for visiting, India’s blessings and regards! The machine will be given to Senahiya” (Military Hospital).

Check the newspapers of that period, the two ministers were taken to India separately and this conflict was created amongst the ministers, and it became a joke on the newspapers, they took it to such an extent that the ministers were almost ready to physically assault each other.

Eventually, the government decided to handle it on their own — it has been revealed that President Yameen took that decision after summoning the Indian High Commissioner and in his presence, called STO (State Trading Organisation) and asked them to purchase the machine. That’s how the MRI machine “gift” issue ended.

The message Maldives gave to India was ‘friend, the times of Kal dho bajey aa oo is over.’ ‘Don’t twist our arms with an MRI machine costing only two to three million dollars. That won’t be how things will be as of now. Maldivians will not accept these games even in the future. Those days are gone.

After Nasheed’s government fell, during Waheed’s presidency, India made things difficult to Maldivians to such an extent that even medical visas were impossible to obtain. Due to the strict restrictions imposed on visas, long endless queues were formed outside the High Commission of India in Malé. Eventually, most of the Maldivians turned towards Sri Lanka. This was the main reason Maldivian expat population in Sri Lanka climbed to 15,000. As Maldivians could no longer live either in Trivandrum or Bangalore due to Indian government’s pestering.

While they have formed an Indian Cultural Association in the Maldives and play ‘Gagunas Tharaanaa’ (Indian song and dance), it is forbidden for the Maldivian community living in India to even utter the words ‘cultural association’, as they will lead to teaching Dhivehi language there.

As the Maldives has moved away from the ‘dependency culture’, India is furious. They cannot accept that this may happen or this would ultimately happen. India believes Maldivians should remain as their backyard (boys) and when they say “Thank you, Blessings and Regards” reply with a “yes excellency” forever. They (India) cannot accept that this is an independent sovereign nation and that we have our free will to choose how we forge ahead.

India has a similar policy towards Sri Lanka too. However, the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka is one difference that they have. There is a huge correlation to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue and the results of the elections and politics of Tamil Nadu state. To govern that state one needs the support and cooperation of either DMK or ADMAK party. That’s why to please Tamil Nadu they always have to create a distraction in Sri Lanka.

However, Maldives and Sri Lanka have unshackled themselves and slowly grown their economies. The current stage is if you look at the economic indicators it’s not further away than a mile or two (to catch up with India). GDP per capita is way higher in both the countries. Human development, health and education are far ahead (of India). The literacy rate is way better. All these were achieved by squeezing through a small keyhole. This is why they are furious. This is why they have to infect with a new bacteria called “Thanks, Blessings and Regards.”

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Whoever is the president or the government, the Maldivians wants a bridge to be built, connecting Malé and Hulhulé island. And a bridge to Vilimalé island too. Thilafushi and Gulhi falhu islands also need to be connected by a bridge. iHavan project should be developed. Airport island should be redeveloped, as these are connected to the national development and the economy of the Maldives.

“Big friend” India’s policy does not allow for any bridge construction. So Maldivians should stay without constructing bridges. But the tune of Maldivians has changed. Now Maldives says ‘No’. Maldivians will construct bridges. If India cannot build bridges we will go to whoever who can. This is not a political decision.

While Maldives and Sri Lanka forge ahead in the current speed, sending a consultant, a helicopter, three doctors and conducting a welding course to please will not keep the Maldives and Sri Lanka in the backyard. Those days are gone.

Sri Lanka also wants to confidently build nice roads and highways. Build the port city. Maldives also wants that. When it comes to infrastructure only people with capital can assist. India is also seeking China’s assistance. When the time comes for the next election Prime minister Modi has no other choice. This is what the papers produced by the most superior think tanks say.

India’s “Thank you, Blessings and Regards” is no longer sufficient to Maldivians. India is struggling to provide electricity to the entire country. They don’t even have control over a huge area of the country. What is shown in the Bollywood ‘Daku’ (bandits) films is not a joke. That is the reality. There are no railway links all over the country. No proper roads. No water. The land Maldives gave to build the Indian High commission remains with overgrown grass. So what can they give to Maldives? The “Thank you, Blessings and Regards” better be sent to these areas.

Earlier the Maldivians would stay smiling when a name board is placed and 4 doctors are sent to IGMH. Developing iHavan need not be given to India so that they will struggle with it the way they struggled for 10 years to build the Faculty of Tourism. The expectations and vision of Maldives are way ahead. India does not want to accept this but what the Indians talk about this with the Maldivians will not go round very well.

India is a nation which went to the UN to register Dhivehi as a dialect of an Indian language. India has no right to squeeze and deprive Maldives of seeking the development track Maldives want. That is similar to an ordinary person competing in a 100 dash with Saaid (national sprinter) and to ask Saaid to run slower or obstruct him just because the ordinary person wants to win the race. Otherwise, it is similar when Maumoon plays cricket and because he wants to score more, President Nasheed’s father Canary Abdul Sattar bowling very slowly. That is not fair. There has to be a level pitch. But the current Indian thinking is similar to “you guys are running too fast… that is no good” thinking.

This is India’s foreign policy failure in the backyard. When India say ‘Here is a helicopter, take it’, just because Maldives is small will no longer cling to it. Now it’s a different thing. Maldivians will commercially borrow from Japan, UK and China. Also from the Saudis and India as well

India took President Nasheed and used him to play the drama because their research showed that it will be a slap in the face of Maldives. Yes, they have slapped. Downplaying and smoothing the issue by distancing itself will not work, Maldivians know that the Indian foreign policy is drafted by think tanks such as the think tank that invited President Nasheed. They will draft large papers on foreign policy and the Indian government has no choice but to follow them.

In compliance with the (RAW) research, the official staying in Malé, without caring if it is day or night or without looking if it is a ‘Fareed, a Hassan or an Ameen’ (irrespective of who the person is) inviting them into the house and taking photos and applying henna tattoos and cooking (Maggi) noodles, is that foreign policy? After taking a photo and shoving it to places with “Thank you, Blessings and Regards” is that blessings and well wishes?

*This was originally a phrase used by a prominent Maldivian judge to the Bora merchants doing business in the Maldives at that time. They had to come back every day until a bribe was paid. Then only the judge will address the issue they want to resolve. The writer’s use of this phrase has no relevance to the original use of this phrase.

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