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India feels the heat as Maldives grows more Independent

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The government has been closely monitoring the evolving situation in the Maldives and keeping a constant watch on all developments that have a bearing on India’s security, according to Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Maldives has also asked India to take back one of the two naval helicopters New Delhi had gifted to Maldives, the latest incident in a series which clearly depicts the deteriorating ties between the two countries.

In a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, she said the government will take all necessary measures to safeguard India’s interests. She was asked whether the government has any proposal to launch an immediate naval operation in the Maldives to counter Chinese influence in the South Asian region.

Maldives has declined an invitation by India to send a ministerial-level delegation to the Defence Expo, a biennial exhibition of weapons and military hardware, which will be held in Chennai next week, according to official sources. The decision by Maldives is seen as an apparent snub to New Delhi which was critical of the Abdulla Yameen government for imposing emergency in the island nation earlier this year.

Nepal has recently undergone elections with a leftist victory that have moved closer to China irking India while Sri Lanka has also shown a flight from Indian orbit by moving closer to China. It seems that the states of South Asia are at last becoming more independent much to New Delhi’s dismay.

According to sources Maldives has conveyed to New Delhi that its defense minister would be travelling abroad and it would not be possible for him to lead a delegation to attend the expo, which will be held from April 11-14 in Thiruvidandai, south Chennai. In February, Maldives had declined India’s invitation to participate in the eight-day mega naval exercise — Milan — from March 6-13.

Interestingly, Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa paid a rare visit to Maldives this week. Bajwa met Maldivian defense minister Adam Shareef Umar and called on Maldives President Yameen. Among the major developments steps taken to boost counter-terrorism cooperation that could help Pakistan gain a larger role in Indian Ocean region. Maldives is located 700 km from the Lakshadweep islands and some 1,200 km from the Indian mainland. Around 97% of India’s international trade by volume and 75% by value passes through the Indian Ocean, and the Maldives is a key littoral state in this region.

Officials in Malé said Pakistan and Maldives are working on a plan to step up the counter-terrorism ties. The National Counter Terrorism Centre of Maldives, under the supervision of the minister of defense and national security, is leading the collaborative efforts with Pakistan. Maldives and Pakistan have discussed the possibility of joint patrol of the vast exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the strategically-located Indian Ocean state.

The growing independence of Maldives is particularly troublesome for New Delhi which has viewed the whole of South Asia minus Pakistan as Satellite states. It has achieved this sphere of influence through a combination of subterfuge, intimidation and coercion. According to analysts, it achieved this aim in Maldives by arranging one of its proxies to initiate a coup d’état in 1988.

Maldives has also asked India to take back one of the two naval helicopters New Delhi had gifted to Maldives, the latest incident in a series which clearly depicts the deteriorating ties between the two countries.

The 1988 Maldives coup d’état was the attempt by a group of Maldivians led by Abdullah Luthufi and assisted by armed mercenaries of a Tamil secessionist organization from Sri Lanka, the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), to overthrow the government in the island republic of Maldives. The coup d’état failed due to the intervention of the Indian Army, whose military operations efforts were code-named Operation Cactus by the Indian Armed Forces.

India has always used a policy of power maximization in the region. It has stormed and annexed foreign territory such as Junagarh, Hyderabad and Goa in the name of police action; it has utilized proxies in the form of LTTE in Sri Lanka, Shanti Bahini in Bangladesh & BSN militants/Mukti bahini in Pakistan and economic measures such as a blockade on Nepal in 1989 and 2015-16. The much touted 2016 SAARC summit boycott is a recent sample of India’s venting of rage against members; New Delhi has forced postponements of SAARC Summits on four occasions: 1991 (6th Summit in Colombo) 1999 (11th Summit in Katmandu), 2013 (12th Summit in Islamabad) and 2005 (13th Summit in Dhaka).

However, recent events in the subcontinent show that the member states are backing out of India’s backyard. Nepal has recently undergone elections with a leftist victory that have moved closer to China irking India while Sri Lanka has also shown a flight from Indian orbit by moving closer to China. It seems that the states of South Asia are at last becoming more independent much to New Delhi’s dismay.

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