The Maldives continues to remind India that small countries often pose big problems for their large neighbours, writes the Indian Express in an editorial.
Internal squabbles in the Maldives — with a population of barely 3,30,000, but occupying large strategic real estate in the Indian Ocean — have continued to test India’s diplomatic skills since President Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the island republic, was forced to resign in February 2012. India quickly recognised the new government led by Nasheed’s deputy, Mohammed Waheed. Nasheed soon called his ouster a “coup” mounted by Waheed, the former president and strong man, Abdul Gayoom, and the security forces, and launched a protest campaign. India’s initial emphasis was on non-intervention in the internal affairs of Maldives. New Delhi urged Male to hold early elections and preserve the nascent democratic order.
The internal crisis in Maldives, however, steadily deepened and culminated in Nasheed seeking sanctuary in the Indian High Commission nearly two weeks ago, drawing India right back into the power struggle.
Sensitive about its sovereignty, Male denies there was a deal with India. Clearly, the crisis is far from over. Delhi has the responsibility to stay engaged and pre-empt the next crisis, which must be assumed to be round the corner. Through robust and sustained diplomacy, Delhi must ensure Nasheed is not kept out of the political reckoning through legal manipulation.
If the Waheed government has proved to be slippery, playing the China card against Delhi and cancelling the contract with the Indian company GMR to run the country’s only international airport in Male a few months ago, Nasheed’s confrontational style has put Maldives on the edge. Irrespective of the bromides on non-intervention, India, as the pre-eminent regional power, has no option but to keep nudging Male towards free and fair elections.