Having played a stupendously bad hand in the diplomatic game with Maldives a year ago, when former President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in a coup, India has been given a rare second chance to get its priorities right in the Indian Ocean island, writes Venky Vembu for India’s Firstpost publication.
On Wednesday, Nasheed sauntered into the Indian High Commission in Male and sought refuge there from imminent detention by the police. An arrest warrant had been issued in his name for failing to appear before a local court in connection with events that preceded the coup that displaced him in 2012.
India has done right by giving Nasheed shelter, even at the risk of incurring the wrath of the government of President Mohammed Waheed, which is now preparing to use “non-lethal chemical agents” to disperse Nasheed’s supporters outside the Indian High Commission. Police are gathered in force outside the Indian High Commission, waiting to nab Nasheed, should he step out.
The situation is very volatile, and although the court appears to have rescinded the requirement for Nasheed to appear before it, it seems clear that the government is hell-bent on ensuring that Nasheed, who retains immense mass popularity even a year after his ouster, does not get to contest the upcoming presidential election, scheduled for 7 September.
On Wednesday, a statement issued by India’s external affairs ministry also signaled its support for Nasheed’s candidacy in the election, and urged the Maldivian government not to disqualify candidates – as that would impinge on perceptions of how free and fair the elections are. The Maldivian government has responded petulantly, urging India to respect Maldives’ judiciary and not interfere in internal political matters. The gloves, it appears, are coming off.
All these expressions of Indian solidarity with Nasheed come as a sharp contrast to the events of a year ago, when India ended up backing the wrong horse. It gave tacit backing to Mohammed Waheed, the coup leader, who replaced Nasheed, the island’s first democratically elected leader.