Diplomacy Politics

Snub by Maldives as India’s clout lessens

President Abdulla Yameen sent special envoys to Beijing, Islamabad and Riyadh to solicit support for his dictatorial rule.

The case of how New Delhi was dismissively snubbed by the Abdulla Yameen government in Male on Friday illustrates how any attempt to render advice or to get a neighbouring country to accede to demands or requests is closely tied to the level of leverage and influence a country enjoys regionally. In this case it is clear that India, for all its ambitions to be the principal regional power, has little clout left with the tiniest member of Saarc, with a total population of only five lakhs.

On Thursday, the Maldives government lifted the 45-day state of emergency, which was brought on to deal with opponents of the Yameen regime. Parliament’s powers were cut during the emergency. The Chief Justice and a Supreme Court judge were imprisoned, and dissidents weren’t let out of jail despite an earlier court order.

President Abdulla Yameen sent special envoys to Beijing, Islamabad and Riyadh to solicit support for his dictatorial rule. Evidently he found comfort. That has enabled him to tell New Delhi off.

India’s traditional strong ties with the Maldives, which included a mutually valued security relationship, have been showing signs of wear for some years mainly due to the Chinese seeking to strengthen their position in the Indian Ocean region, where the archipelago nation commands sea lanes and is strategically located.

After Beijing and Male signed a free trade agreement in December 2017, and the Maldives agreed to offer 17 islands to China to build observation posts — a jejune way to conceal a military buildup — Male decided it could disregard Indian concerns with impunity.

The Narendra Modi government is loathe to take a more sturdy — and consequential —  line with Male as it seems disinclined to open a fresh front with its powerful northern neighbour after the Doklam standoff with China last year. It’s to please Beijing that Delhi also brought the Dalai Lama, living in India, under pressure recently.

When the Abdulla Yameen regime announced the end of the emergency, New Delhi welcomed it, although it said many issues remained. Gratuitously, while possessing no bargaining counters, India on Thursday advised the Maldives “to ensure credible restoration of the political process as well as the rule of law, before the elections are announced this year”. New Delhi further asked Male to “restore all articles of the Constitution”. The response on Friday was tart. The Maldives as good as told India to mind its own business and not seek to intrude into its internal affairs. Not long ago, in a mocking tone, it had informed New Delhi that the current goings-on within its island territory were as much an internal matter as Kashmir was to India. If India’s working dynamics with China are not of an equal nature, neighbours will act up.

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