Nasheed, who recently visited Colombo to meet his party leaders and workers, told TOI that India had a ‘moral obligation’ to ensure inclusive elections in the archipelago.
“We believe that India has a moral obligation to facilitate inclusive, free and fair elections in the Maldives,” he said.
“India must build the necessary leverages to make it happen. We know that India can do it,” added Nasheed, who was deposed in a coup in 2012.
Even as he continues to live in exile in London, Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) continue to hold promise of pro-India governance in the strategically located country in the Indian Ocean which has been flooded by loans and grants from China+ .
While India has made its peace with the Abdulla Yameen government+ , New Delhi remains anxious about political instability and growing radicalisation in the country. Maldives’ embrace of China as its main development partner too remains a major source of concern for India in its neighbourhood.
Maldives continues to express commitment to what it describes as its ‘India first’ policy but it remains the only country in Saarc which PM Narendra Modi hasn’t visited yet. In fact, Modi cancelled his visit to Male in 2015 because of political turmoil there.
Nasheed’s call for support from India comes at a time when his party is feeling increasingly let down by what some of its leaders describe as India’s reluctance to play the role of a leader in the region. “If India’s going to abdicate its leadership role in the region, it must prepare itself to contend with a muscular China in its neighbourhood,” said an MDP leader and a close aide of Nasheed.
“We have reasons to believe that the Yameen government may not allow elections to take place at all. India has to work with international community to ensure that polls are conducted and then that these are free and fair,” added the leader and Nasheed aide.
However, as it looks at expanding Chinese presence+ in Indian Ocean with wariness, India has tended more to strategic aspects of its ties with Maldives in the recent past. This manifested in its signing of an agreement for enhanced defence cooperation with the Yameen government last year.
Nasheed was sentenced to prison for 13 years in 2015 on, according to his party, trumped-up charges of terrorism. The Yameen government was accused of acting in a ‘politically motivated manner’ in facilitating the terror case against Nasheed who travelled to UK last year for medical treatment and was granted asylum there+ .
As he said in his press conference in Colombo, Nasheed is willing to return to Maldives but he fears that anybody willing to contest elections might be arrested by the Yameen regime. While the government has said that it is open to dialogue with the opposition, its position on likely Nasheed candidature remains ambiguous.
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