New Indian High Commissioner emphasises “unshakable” relationship with the Maldives

The new Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives Rajeev Shahare has emphasised the “unshakable” long-standing relationship between between both countries during a meeting with local media yesterday (April 10).

The new commissioner, who speaks fluent Arabic, previously served in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Geneva, Mauritius, as well as held the position of Joint Secretary in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’, West Asia North Africa division.

Shahare presented his credentials to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik yesterday morning, before later discussing his initial observations on the country with local media.

“It is a great honour and privilege to represent the government of India in a country such as the Maldives. With its azure blue and turquoise water, this is a phenomenal God-gifted country,” he stated during yesterday’s media event.

“During my tenure, I will endeavor to further strengthen the relationship between India and the Maldives, which is already very strong with an unshakable foundation.”

“Highs and lows”

Shahare also stressed there had been no change in the relationship between the Maldives and India, despite media reports of increased tension between both nations in recent months.

“In any relationship there are highs and lows, but the relationship carries on its course normally,” he said.

“Engagement between the Maldives and India has been constant. We are pretty much on course.”

Shahare emphasised that the Maldives held a “special place in the hearts of Indians” given the deep historical ties, common language and ethnic background the countries share.

“India is home for many Maldivians, we share a strong ethnic affinity,” he said.

He claimed that India would continue to support the Maldives and provide for the country’s needs when requested.

“India has always been there for the Maldives. It is in a state of readiness to provide whatever the Maldives requires,” Shahare stated.

Shahare also thanked the Maldivian government for arranging the ceremony “in record time”, praising local authorities for their “magnanimity” in allowing him to meet senior government officials prior to presenting his credentials to the president.

Shahare has replaced former Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay, who left the Maldives last month to take the position as India’s Consul in New York.

Earlier this week, Mulay told the Times of India publication: “there is no expert on the Maldives in India and awareness regarding the country and its geopolitical situation is very low.”

He also emphasised the importance of understanding Maldivian political, economic and social changes which “may have a major impact on India”.

Referring to the large number of Chinese tourists outstripping Indian visits to the Maldives, Mulay stressed that “One must be aware about the clout of a country from which there is such a big tourist inflow”.

Mulay also discussed the “commensurate increase in the points of connectivity between the two countries”, adding that Indian investments in the Maldives are increasing.

Diplomatic strain

The Maldives’ relationship with India has appeared strained since the Waheed government’s decision last November to evict Indian infrastructure giant GMR from the country with seven days notice.

The US$511 concession agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport was declared ‘void from the start’.

The government’s sudden eviction of the Indian investor did not appear on a list of 11 grievances handed to all senior Maldivian reporters by the Indian High Commission this January.

The list of Consular issues affecting the India-Maldives relationship included a number of concerns: discrimination against Indian expatriates, the keeping of passports of Indian nationals by employers, exploitation of Indian workers and repatriation of mortal remains.  Threats towards the country’s diplomats, a disparity in visa charges between the two countries and the repatriation of salaries were also raised as issues.

The list’s release was followed by the Indian High Commission issuing a statement in early February slamming local media in the Maldives for “misrepresentation and twisting of issues”.

“The High Commission has noted a recent trend in a section of local media to publish negative, unsubstantiated reports, while blacking out objective and positive news on Indian issues,” the Commission said at the time.

Shortly thereafter, political parties supporting the current government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan criticised the Indian High Commission for allowing former President Mohamed Nasheed to seek refuge inside its protected diplomatic territory for 11 days.

The Adhaalath Party (AP) later condemned the Indian High Commission and the Indian government “for assisting a criminal fleeing from trial”.

The AP was also a vocal opponent of GMR and the concession agreement signed by the previous government to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport. During one of the party’s rallies last year, several senior government figures mocked and insulted the former Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay calling him a “traitor to the Maldives”.

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed also expressed his disappointment over the Indian government’s decision to provide refuge to Nasheed in the Indian High Commission. He said that attempts by any country to prevent a person from facing charges pressed by an independent Prosecutor General (PG), could be described as interfering domestic matters of a sovereign state, local media reported.

Following Nasheed’s exit from the High Commission and subsequent arrest on March 5, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh highlighted “free, fair and credible” elections as the “best course” for overcoming political uncertainty in the Maldives.


Statement accusing Mulay of interference was forged, says JSC

The High Commission of India in the Maldives has expressed disappointment with the Agence France-Presse (AFP) newswire after it published a story on what the high commission claimed was a “forged” media statement from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The statement, with JSC header and dubbed an ‘official translation’, said the JSC “regrets the interference of the High Commissioner of India in Maldives in his personal capacity with the judicial process of the Maldives, by keeping former President Mohamed Nasheed within the diplomatic confines  of the High Commission thereby impeding the due process of the Law.

“We appreciate the official stand of the Indian Government to refrain from interfering with the internal affairs of Maldives and respect independence of the judiciary,” read the statement.

It was emailed from an anonymous gmail account, [email protected].

The High Commission of India issued a press release on Sunday (February 17) admonishing the AFP for circulating the report based on the false JSC statement.

“The High Commission expresses its disappointment that a respected news agency like AFP has chosen to give undue publicity to such a cheap gimmick against the High Commissioner in the current sensitive atmosphere, without even bothering to check the veracity of the said letter with the JSC or High Commission of India in Male’,” the statement read.

The high commission statement was accompanied with an email from the JSC Secretariat denying having issued the release.

JSC Secretary General Aboobakuru Mohamed said the letterhead was “forged” and the statement was “false”.

“Regarding the issue of sheltering by the Maldivian ex-president, Mr Mohamed Nasheed within the compound of the High Commision of India, Male’, Maldives, we, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) of Maldives, categorically deny issuing any statement on this regard,” the statement said.

The Indian High Commission called on AFP “to immediately retract its report and issue an apology prominently for the damage caused to the reputation and good will of the High Commissioner and the Indian Mission.”

Various new outlets have reported senior Maldivian government officials echoing the sentiment of the “forged” JSC statement: “The fact of the matter is that some individual Indian diplomats are interfering in our internal affairs. This must stop,” a senior government official told AFP, asking not to be named.

Maldives-India relations

Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay was meanwhile summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday (February 17) – the first time a high commissioner has been summoned by the ministry according to local media.

Mulay reportedly delivered a brief diplomatic note discussing the Indian government’s accommodation of Nasheed.

“We have not interfered with Maldivian politics and have no intention of even doing so. India also wants the Maldives’ judicial process to go on. We also want stability and peace in the Maldives. We want political reconciliation through peaceful dialogue,” Mulay told local media afterwards.

Following India’s initial warning that a failure to allow all political leaders to contest the elections would call into question the integrity of the electoral process and perpetuate instability, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ministry declared it was “unfortunate that the government of India has decided to comment on the types of candidates that could contest the upcoming Presidential Elections in the Maldives scheduled for September 2013.”

Local newspaper Haveeru quoted an unnamed government official as stating that the “political atmosphere in the Maldives would reach a boiling point” if India allowed it.

Meanwhile, President Waheed Hassan Manik  promised to promote democracy and maintain law and order in a statement issued Saturday (February 16).

He emphasised his “dismay” that Nasheed had sought refuge in the High Commission, instead of heeding his court summons, which expired on February 13.

“There is no reason for him to remain in the High Commission and to instigate street violence. The court order has nothing to do with my government. Upholding the rule of law means nobody is above the law,” Waheed said.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad implied that India was trying to fuel political turmoil in the Maldives.

“Mulay should take direct responsibility for the fresh unrest and violence in the capital,” he told local media.

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has also expressed his disappointment over the Indian government’s decision to provide refuge to Nasheed in the Indian High Commission.

Nasheed’s trial

Former President Mohamed Nasheed failed to attend the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing on February 10, resulting in a court order for police to produce Nasheed for trial regarding his controversial detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

In response to rumours of Nasheed’s imminent arrest, he entered the Indian High Commission on February 13 seeking India’s assistance.

His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that the charges – based on his detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office – are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him contesting the 2013 elections.