The speed with which India abandoned Mohammed Nasheed and declared support for the successor government is bewildering, writes Jyoti Malhotra for The Hindu.
The speed with which the largest democracy in the world abandoned, by all accounts, the youngest democracy in the world has left several people terribly bewildered. Was this the result of an accumulated pragmatism that runs freely in the heart of New Delhi’s foreign policy establishment these days, especially as Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna is widely considered to be an absentee figure in this part of South Block?
Certainly, pragmatism has its benefits, and the art of foreign policy-making cannot be mixed with something as ephemeral as friendships, including with democrats. Certainly, too, the Prime Minister’s special envoy to the Maldives, M. Ganapathi, a top diplomat in the Foreign Office, has told Nasheed when he met him on Friday in Male, that Nasheed and his family will be safe under the new dispensation.
But as Nasheed pointed out to this reporter, on the phone from Male, this assurance is hardly enough. Meanwhile, in India and abroad, people are watching to see if India, the most powerful country in the region, can ensure that Waheed stops the savage crackdown that the Maldivian security forces are continuing to heap upon Nasheed’s hapless MDP supporters.
If all foreign policy is a function of national interest, then India must ask itself if the Waheed government is really an ideal partner in the Maldives, or if he is really a mukhauta or a mask of Gayoom. If Waheed is really Gayoom’s puppet — certainly, the new President has not one party member in Parliament, nor any councillors; he has been unable to form his own Cabinet, leave alone a government of national unity — then India should be more than worried.
But New Delhi has already decided that Waheed’s government is a legitimate one and that Nasheed’s crisis is largely one of his own making. Government sources say that Nasheed was repeatedly asked by High Commissioner Mulay, even a few hours before he resigned, whether he needed any assistance from India, and Nasheed said no.
On his part, Nasheed — on whom the realisation is beginning to dawn that his friend and partner, India, has dumped him — points out that he “resigned” because he wanted to avoid bloodshed, which would have been inevitable if he had decided to resist. Surrounded by security forces, Nasheed said, he could hardly have asked Mulay for protection.
As delegations from the U.S., the Commonwealth and the European Union set up camp in Male to figure a way out of the crisis, the world is looking to India to lead. It has all the credentials to do so — in fact, some parts of Lakshadweep even speak Dhivehi, the national language of the Maldives — especially if it believes that the Maldives is a part of its South Asian sphere of influence.
Whether or not Nasheed returns to a jail, this time under Waheed, the simple question remains: will India grasp the immensely fragile moment at hand, ensure that peace and stability return to the Maldives and that fresh elections are held, sooner than later?
If it does, it will be setting an example to the regime not only in Male or elsewhere in South Asia, but across the Asian arc littered with authoritarian rulers of all colours. If not, it could be making its second, strategic mistake in this Indian Ocean island. This time around, though, the error could take much longer to heal.