The “Wuhan spirit” faces an existential challenge even as dormant India-Maldives tensions show signs of new kinetics. What comes to mind is Vladimir Lenin’s famous line: “Who stands to gain?” It can’t be PM Narendra Modi; it can’t be Chinese President Xi Jinping. Washington issued a strident statement deploring the democracy deficit in the Maldives within hours of a strikingly similar statement by South Block on June 14 — as if in a co-ordinated move.
Ironically, South Block’s tough statement on the Maldives coincided with an unprecedented report by the UNHRC demanding the constitution of an impartial international commission to investigate India’s alleged human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir. The government promptly rebuffed the UN, underscoring that India is a sovereign country. Very well, but isn’t the Maldives a sovereign country, too?
No doubt, the government has done the right thing by firmly holding the line upholding India’s sovereign prerogative not to be answerable to the UN regarding its internal affairs. However, what is good for us should also be good for the Maldives. India looked away when the brutal military regime in Myanmar terrorised that country’s freedom fighters for decades. Delhi covertly supported Sheikh Hasina when she forced the Bangladeshi opposition out of election arena to retain power in the last parliamentary poll. Our ruling elite gets along splendidly with the sheikhs in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who do not even know what democracy and human rights mean.
So, why this inexplicable itch with the Maldives? Simply put, Delhi is raising the petard of democracy deficit in the Maldives to counter allegations of interference in that country’s internal affairs. It all boils down to perceived Indian hegemony. India (population: 1,300 million) is needlessly getting into a brawl with the Maldives (population: 0.4 million). What if Male doesn’t provide employment opportunities for Indians? In fact, the Indian public doesn’t even know that this brawl is actually not about jobs.
This face-off is about the presence and activities of the Indian security agencies on the Maldivian atolls. The Maldives needs to import manpower but it is fighting shy of depending on India anymore, fearing that Indian security agencies would recruit the diaspora as a “fifth column” spread across the remote chain of 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks, which comprise that island nation, over which Male lacks the capacity to monitor any dubious activities by foreigners. The issue here is why the Maldives gets so paranoid about Indians. Instead of looking into misperceptions or misunderstandings that have arisen, Indian agencies began retaliating by using visa as a weapon to punish the Maldivian ruling elite.
India deported a Maldivian VIP who arrived at Chennai airport ten days ago for medical treatment. Now, Ahmed Nahin is no ordinary mortal. He also heads the ruling Progressive Party’s parliamentary wing in Male. (By the way, his co-passengers who landed in Chennai included President Abdulla Amin’s sister.) Nihan, being a Maldivian MP, enjoys entry without visas in SAARC countries. But he was summarily deported from Chennai airport without any explanation.
Simply put, our bureaucrats flexed their muscle. Of course, it had the intended effect: Amin hit back by clamping down restrictions on Indian expatriates. At this, Rahul Gandhi began mocking the government’s impotency. Which, in turn, left South Block with no choice but to switch to “muscle diplomacy”. And the strident statement of June 14 followed. Now, who actually took this crude decision on Nihan’s deportation, we will never know. Powerful sections within the Indian security establishment are unable to reconcile with the “Wuhan consensus”. A rapprochement between India and China will hit these people, who are “stakeholders” in the tensions in the Himalayas. A rollback of India’s Tibet-related “muscular policy” even puts some of them out of business.
Meanwhile, Modi’s new foreign policy narrative stressing India’s strategic autonomy and regionalism and rejecting “bloc mentality” in the Indo-Pacific has also rubbed the Western powers wrongly. Geopolitically, there is much at stake here — arms exports, the Quad, creation of a “second island chain” linking Diego Garcia, etc.
Thus, Maldives becomes a melting pot where the newfound “Wuhan spirit” might evaporate if dormant geopolitical rivalries could be somehow rekindled. Modi needs to be vigilant that shenanigans of covert operators may undermine his personal efforts to give stability and predictability to India-China relations.
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