Comment: India’s inconsistent commitment to Maldivian democracy cost the GMR deal

The Maldives and India have always shared strong bilateral relations in terms of strategic, economical and military cooperation. The diplomatic bond has remained firm despite the vast difference between the two states in size, population and economy. India remains a major destination for many Maldivians who travel abroad for education, medical and business purposes.

A significant number of Maldivians reside in Indian cities such as Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Mysore and several others. Similarly, a large portion of the Maldives’ expatriate workforce including teachers, doctors, engineers and other technical expertise are Indians, who have contributed to the country’s economy.

If not for the timely decision by the Indian government to intervene, the 1988 terrorist attack on the Maldives’ national defense force base by the mercenaries of the Sri Lanka-based terrorist organisation People’s Liberation of Tamil Elam (PLOTE), would have cost the Maldivian people their civilian government.

19 Maldivians lost their lives, but if not for the successful ‘Operation Cactus’ led by the Indian armed forces, the death toll could have been more, and a possible military junta could have taken control over the affairs of the state. Neither the Maldives nor its history will forget this brotherly act by India that symbolised the strong bilateral bond between the two states.

However, India’s decision to recognise the regime that took charge of the country after it toppled the Maldives’ first democratically elected government on February 7 shocked many. Of course, it would have been completely irrational to expect another ‘Operation Cactus’, but on diplomatic grounds India could have done better.

Having had a diplomatic office established in the Maldives and the rebellion broadcast live on television, the decision showed India’s failure in grasping the local political environment of the country, despite it being a base to large Indian investments worth millions. This failure did not only bring dismay to the local populace, but to international spectators as well.

For instance, Indian journalist Sumon K Chakrabarti in his article in the South Asia Monitor described the misstep as India losing “the mango as well as the sack”.

“With lost credibility and a history of dumping friends – from Burma to Bangladesh and now Maldives, the reality is stark – India has, as the saying goes, lost the mango as well as the sack in the Maldives,” he wrote.

Another journalist, B Raman for the Eurasia Review, put it as “badly damaging” to India’s “traditional position as the sole arbiter of political fortunes”.

He writes – “the government of India’s traditional position as the sole arbiter of political fortunes in the Maldives has been badly damaged and a number of international actors from the UK, the US, the European Union and the United Nations have rushed to the Maldives to try their hand in internal peace-making, thereby marginalising the traditional role of India. Only China and Pakistan have not yet entered the political fray in the Maldives. If they do, that will be ultimate humiliation for Indian diplomacy at its southern door-step.”

For a regime installed through illegitimate means, an assent from the region’s major player would obviously be the perfect gift. A gift that took the country back three years  in terms democratic progress it achieved following the transition from a remorseless dictatorship. A gift that brought back the culture of state-sponsored torture, intimidation and harassment.

The accession of Vice-president Waheed Hassan resulted in a rudderless, clueless and mandate-less regime which neither entertained the popular support of the people nor had a contemplated plan to run the affairs of the state.

The unprecedented alteration to the dynamics of local politics saw the return of elements of past dictatorship back to power, which had previously been voted out in the country’s first free and fair presidential election in 2008.

Cabinet portfolios were divided among political parties with diverse political thinking, each of which had its own ambitions to come to power. Most of them do not carry any political weight or have any representation in parliament, including those with an religious element such as the Adhaalath Party.

Similarly ex-president Gayoom had his daughter and son appointed as state-minister level positions in the regime, much to the disappointment of those who had voted him out in 2008. But in Waheed’s words this was a “national unity government”.

A national unity government, whose elements while in opposition had made their antagonism towards Indian investments public, especially against infrastructure giant GMR, which was awarded a concession agreement to manage and develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) but was declared an economic enslaver.

India should have foreseen the consequences its investments would later face in endorsing a regime consisting of elements that had previously shown its disapproval towards major Indian investments. India should have taken its time to assess the political situation of the country and should have confirmed the legitimacy of the controversial regime before accepting it.

However, failure to do so resulted in the scrapping of its single largest investment by the very government it had recognised.

India’s concerns over the Maldives should have come earlier. Not when senior officials of the regime it give assent to nine months previously mocked, insulted and even accused its High Commissioner of indulging in bribery. Not when its largest investment in the country was evicted. None of which would have taken place had India taken a ‘prevention than cure’ approach towards the Maldives.

One must hesitantly agree to the point raised by the very ambitious Special Advisor to Waheed, Dr Hassan Saeed in his ‘candid’ letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He observes: “The Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit to our country in February [2012] failed to resolve the political crisis largely because India is no longer seen as a friendly and fair neighbour who could broker an honest and fair deal.”

Hailed as the world’s largest democracy, India’s inconsistency in its commitment towards democracy in the Maldives not only cost the eviction of its single largest investment in the country, but also gave rise to noisy anti-India rhetoric led by religious fundamentalists and politicians sided with the current regime.

In nine months time, the Maldives will hold its second multi-party presidential elections. Perhaps it these will be the country’s last chance in the near future to overcome what it lost in terms of democracy. It might also be a golden opportunity for India to reassure its commitment towards the democratic process of the country, by pressuring Waheed’s regime towards a free and fair ballot.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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10 thoughts on “Comment: India’s inconsistent commitment to Maldivian democracy cost the GMR deal”

  1. Since when did democracy = GMR?

    Even Indians admit large indian businesses are corrupt and everyone and their cat know the hastily done GMR deal was procedurally irregular at many levels.

    What nonsense is this. You can fool some people some time, but not everyone Yevry time.

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  2. It wasnt India's fault the GMR deal fell through, it was Nasheed and MDP's fault, they kept giving GMR go-aheads to do as they please. Even after two years of being handed the airport, the Nasheed govt stood idly by as no major development work was initialised at the airport. After that, when GMR initiated to levy Airport Development Charge (ADC), after heftily increasing the fee's of the airport the Nasheed and MDP govt did nothing but applaud, and it was only the courts of Maldives that proceeded to block GMR from levying Airport development charge (ADC).

    Nasheed and MDP could have submitted the issue to the Parliament of Maldives and gotten the go-ahead from parliament to levy ADC, but fearing that if the parliament proceeded to give the red signal that would mean a loss of image for the MDP government, Nasheed decided to take matters into his own hands, and proceeded to instruct GMR to deduct ADC from the payments of GMR to the Maldivian govt.

    That was the catalyst of the problem that forsaw the spiralling of the issue out of control.

    It was MDP's buffoonery and hooliganism that cost GMR this deal. If MDP had been more common-sense oriented, and listened to the will of the people and sought a solution to the problem of ADC levying without Maldivians ending up paying GMR, then GMR could have continued operations at the airport even without major construction works for some time.

    But the catalyst that drove the political parties of Maldives, and united the opposition and half the population of Maldives against GMR was the fact that instead of Maldivian govt earning revenue from leasing the airport, Maldivians were having to pay GMR heftily, while GMR was making millions of dollars.

    The truth cannot be concealed no matter how one decides to spin the story. Every MDP supporter that talks about this issue, talks about how much of progress GMR has brought to Maldives. But the truth is for the past half year GMR has been billing the Maldivian people, while MDP has been lauging its head off over the wool the party has managed to hang over the people's eyes.

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  3. who cares? Maldives is an insignificant little island - u guys hv a bunch of islmic idiots in power and dont do anything about it and want India to step in - r u retarded?

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  4. what i find interesting is how insensitive MDP top leaders were when Zaki was blabbering about the Bombay massacre to Indian press hoping to sway the Indian public against Maldives. MDP is the most poisonous counter productive vile (to the point of fascism)political entity in Maldives, and people better acknowledge it before it does any more damage to the country.

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  5. Maldives need to buy Indian land for resettling it's population if sea level rises. This is more required as political and racial similarities with Indian people. Maldives need to look for court arbitration rather than hastily cancel contract. If there is nothing political why it is not facing courts? Salaries of Govt staff is paid through Indian money so it would be prudent if Maldives takes a non -political and honest decisions. I do not mean to say companies are not corrupt but there are courts for that.

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  6. Democracy = GMR? what kind of reasoning is that Mohamed Nahee? Mohamed Nahee thee haadha molhu kujjekey alhe.

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  7. Mr. Naahee. What you are implying by 'India's consistent comiitment to 'democracy' in Maldives is by taking over this small country with mega commercial ventures.

    Why don't explore how much of a cut the person who gave you this idea has got from GMR deal. Im pretty certain there will be millions and I hope you did not get paid for writing this kind of sick propaganda.

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  8. Of course he got paid.

    It's pointless arguing with youngsters like Naahee.

    Let's not attack the boy. He was in a very bad situation when the MDP swooped in to take advantage. An average kid like him would have never gotten to hang out with officials from the British Conservative Party, or go to the Commonwealth Youth Parliament program in Britain, or meet and hang out with a sitting President or do a lot of what he did within the MDP if not for the MDP and its current leadership.

    Patronage is still the prevailing system in our country which lacks a meritocratic system for the youth to progress. So youngsters often think or even believe that their benefactors are right or should be in every situation.

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  9. India is a country who cares perfectly well to her baby! During last Ramazan as I found that She feed her baby when she was starved! So GMR is a Fruitful tree that our Mother installed in the INIA. Thanks

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