Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives D M Mulay has accused local news outlet Sun Online of attempting to “mischievously” spread misinformation, after it published an article alleging that India had begun to deport Maldivian nationals.
On Tuesday (March 19), Sun published an article claiming that the Indian Bureau of Immigration had been informing Maldivians – who are residing in India without a specific reason – to leave the country.
The article entitled ‘More difficulties for Maldivians living in India’ has attracted criticism from both the Indian High Commission and the Maldives Foreign Ministry, who have both denied any knowledge of such practices being undertaken.
Speaking to Minivan News, High Commissioner Mulay claimed that the Sun article was an attempt to spread incorrect information between both India and the Maldives.
“We have not received any such reports from our country regarding this matter. The article is a mischievous attempt to spread misinformation between the two countries,” said Mulay.
The article reported that Mohamed Ashraf, a Maldivian who has been living in India with his family since 2008, was suddenly told by Indian immigration to leave the country within seven days.
When Ashraf had asked for the reason for his sudden deportation, Indian immigration allegedly told him they were not required to give any reason to foreigners living in the country, the article states.
The article further claimed that a Registration Officer had told Ashraf that “more Maldivians will be issued such orders in the future”.
A media official from the Maldives Foreign Ministry said that it had not received any information regarding the issue, stating that “these things are all rumours”.
Responding to the criticism, Editor of Sun and Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir stated that the news outlet did not speculate or provide misinformation through its reports.
“The information we published is from the interview we got from the guy [Ashraf]. It is a practice of freedom of expression,” he said.
“We have received a lot of complaints from people living in India and they say they are having difficulties with visas. We are carrying people’s opinions.”
While Sun was able to obtain a copy of the document ordering Ashraf to leave the country, the article does not state whether any relevant government officials had been contacted for comment.
An official from within the Indian High Commission further denied that the Indian government was “clamping down” on Maldivians living in the country.
“There is no clamp down, except on those who flagrantly violate visa conditions. For example, people running guest houses on dependent visas.
In regard to the published article, the official asked: “Since when do we start believing in all media news? Most ‘news’ is published without checking with relevant parties.
“Incidentally, I still do not see any progress on any of India’s concerns like the seizure of passports [in the Maldives],” he added.
Special Advisor to President Mohamed Waheed and leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), Dr Hassan Saeed, has appealed to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to terminate the Maldives’ airport development contract with Indian infrastructure giant GMR.
GMR signed a 25 year concession agreement with the former administration to develop and manage Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). Saeed’s DQP was vocally opposed to the deal while in opposition.
In a self-described “candid” letter to Singh dated September 19, obtained by Minivan News, Saeed claimed that “GMR and India ‘bashing’ is becoming popular politics”, and warned that “as a result, “the Maldives is becoming fertile ground for nationalistic and extremist politicians.”
“I want to warn you now that there is a real danger that the current situation could create the opportunity for these extremist politicians to be elected to prominent positions, including the Presidency and Parliament on an anti-GMR and anti-India platform,” Saeed informed Singh.
“That would not be in the interests of either the Maldives or India. You are well aware of the growing religious extremism in our country,” Saeed stated, in an apparent turnaround from the party’s former position.
Months prior to the downfall of Nasheed’s government in February, Saeed’s DQP published a pamphlet entitled ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’, which accused Nasheed of “working ceaselessly to weaken the Islamic faith of Maldivians, allow space for other religions, and make irreligious and sinful behaviour common.”
Specific allegations in the pamphlet against Nasheed’s administration included “fostering ties with Jews”, “holding discos”, “dancing”, permitting the consumption of alcohol, fraternising with “Christian priests”, characterising the Maldives as “a nest of terrorists and Maldivian scholars as terrorists”, failing to condemn comments by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay opposing “Shariah punishments like flogging fornicators”, permitting senior female diplomats and party officials to wear skirts, and attending the Miss France 2011 Beauty Queen pageant on the night of the Holy Hajj.
“Nationalism and extremism in India’s backyard is not good for India or our small country,” Saeed informed Prime Minister Singh, in his letter.
Saeed went on to accuse GMR of extensive bribery, including the payment of “millions of dollars to buy MPs to get a parliamentary majority for the then ruling Maldivian Democratic Party”.
He claimed that “politicians and MPs who end up in GMR’s pocket keep silent but no one – with the exception of former President Nasheed and his key associates – have defended the indefensible GMR deal in public.”
“When politicians and legislators are unable to debate openly such important national issues and address them in an appropriate manner the public starts to look for alternative voices,” Saeed claimed.
“I fear that the only viable alternative for them appears to be nationalist and religious leaders, which could turn a bad situation ugly.”
Saeed advised Prime Minister Singh that “due to the negative connotations of the GMR issue, many positive elements of our relationship such as the vast amounts of grants and loans by India to the Maldives go unnoticed.”
“Indians and the Indian government may find it difficult to understand the growing anti-Indian sentiments here in the Maldives in spite of the vast amount of aid and loans we receive from you,” Saeed informed Prime Minister Singh, and complained that all bilateral talks with India now “start with and end up on the subject of the GMR issue.”
“As a result many other crucial discussions are delayed or are tied up with GMR. Normally straightforward issues such as simplifying the Indian visa for Maldivians end up being tied into the GMR issue,” Saeed said.
A second pamphlet produced by Saeed’s DQP while it was in opposition criticised GMR as “paving the way for the enslavement of Maldivians in our beloved land”, and warned that “Indian people are especially devious”.
“Maldivians feel our respect is taken for granted, our sovereignty infringed and that India is developing a ‘big brother’ approach to relations with us,” Saeed wrote to Singh on September 19.
“The Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit to our country in February  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. It cannot help India’s international reputation to be seen as unable to resolve a crisis in its own backyard.”
Saeed furthermore informed Prime Minister Singh that “the Indian diplomatic corps in the Maldives appears to be so passionate in protecting GMR interests that one often gets confused as to whether they are GMR employees or diplomats representing the Indian government.”
Saeed claimed in his letter that “increasingly Maldivians believe that the unfair treatment of the Maldives by the Commonwealth is connected with GMR and India.”
“It appears to many Maldivians that Indian officials are using international leverage and contacts to influence Commonwealth governments and forcing the way the Maldives is governed, thus impinging on our sovereignty. Some Indian diplomats continuously remind our senior government officials that the Maldives would be removed from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) agenda the moment the GMR issue is resolved,” Saeed claimed.
For its part, GMR has downplayed its confrontation with the new government. However it admitted last month to India’s Business Standard publication that “public statements and press conferences of some government ministers and coalition party leaders are clearly aimed at arousing public sentiments against GMR and creating undue challenges for us.
“To gain political advantage, some elements of the government itself have started hampering the smooth functioning and development of the airport,” the company added.
The most recent surge of tension follows the company’s forwarding of a US$2.2 million bill to the government’s side of the contract – the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL).
The negative balance was the result a civil court case filed by Saeed’s DQP during the Nasheed administration, which blocked the company from levying an airport development charge (ADC) as stipulated in its concession agreement.
The Civil Court ruled in the DQP’s favour. Opting to honour the contract, the Nasheed administration instructed the company to deduct the ADC from its concession fees while it sought to appeal the matter.
The new government – which included the DQP – inherited the problem following the downfall of Nasheed’s government on February 7. In the first quarter of 2012 the government received US$525,355 of an expected US$8.7 million, after the deduction of the ADC. That was followed by a US$1.5 million bill for the second quarter, after the ADC payable eclipsed the revenue due the government.
Combined with the third quarter payment due, the government now owes the airport developer US$3.7 million.
“The net result of this is that the Maldivian government now has to pay GMR for running the airport. On this basis it is likely that the Maldivian government will end up paying about MVR 8 billion (US$519 million) to GMR for the duration of the contract,” Saeed wrote.
Saeed concluded his letter to Prime Minister Singh by suggesting that India “assist us in terminating the GMR contract as soon as possible, well before the 2013 presidential election.”
India has granted a further US$25million to the Maldives as part of the $US100million standby credit facility agreed during last November’s official visit from Prime Minister Manmoham Singh.
Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay signed the agreement with Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad at the Indian High Commission, local media reported.
Mulay, who was not responding to calls at the time of press, said that the deal represented the third instalment of the credit facility, with the previous two instalments having amounted to US$50million.
The previous tranche of US$30 million was released following President Waheed’s first official visit to India in May.
Mulay is also reported to have said that the rest of the promised credit will soon be handed to the Maldivian government: “The paperwork on the agreement is being processed now, the amount will soon be awarded to the Maldives,” Haveeru quoted Mulay.
A standby line of credit is normally forwarded to countries which have reached macroeconomic sustainability but experience short term financing issues.
The release of this credit comes just days after Waheed completed his first official state visit to China.
The loans, equal to nearly one quarter of the Maldives’ GDP, are said to include $150 million (MVR2.3billion) for housing and infrastructure, with another $350million (MVR5.4billion) from the Export-Import Bank of China, reported Reuters.
Jihad told Minivan News last week that, despite securing this money from China, the government would still be considering austerity measures which are being considered in order to reduce the state’s budget deficit.
With income lower and expenditure higher than predicted, this year’s budget deficit had been forecast to reach MVR9.1billion (US$590million), equivalent to around 28 percent of nominal GDP.
India has traditionally enjoyed close ties with the Maldives, although there have been increasingly strong links between the Maldives and China, largely due to the number of Chinese tourists visiting the Indian Ocean nation.
A Chinese embassy opened in Male’ in time for the opening of the SAARC summit last November, reciprocating the opening of a Maldivian mission in Beijing in 2007.
Indian officials were reported at the time as having concern that the move was part of China’s “string of pearls” policy which supposedly involves Chinese attempts at naval expansion into the Indian Ocean.
After the awarding of the Chinese loan, however, former Foreign Minister and current UN Special Rapporteur to Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed was keen to play down any suggestions that the Maldives was about to significantly change its foreign policy priorities.
“This is very much in keeping with past policy. The lines so far drawn have demonstrated that the Maldives remains primarily SAARC focused, followed by trading partners in the EU and Singapore. China has moved into this second category,” he added.
“Nothing will change the fact that we are only 200 miles from Trivandrum,” said Shaheed.
When asked upon his recent return from Sri Lanka what the Maldives’ policy was regarding Sino-Indian competition in the region, President Waheed is said to have responded that the policy of a small nation like the Maldives ought to be to avoid too great an involvement in geopolitics.
“The allegations made in the article against the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives are totally baseless and unfounded,” the Foreign Ministry stated.
“The government and the people of the Maldives have the utmost respect for High Commissioner Mulay and his contributions to further strengthening the close bilateral relations between the Maldives and India. While the government of Maldives fails to understand the motives behind such unacceptable allegations made in respect of an esteemed diplomat of Mulay’s caliber, it may be recalled that close aides of President Mohamed Nasheed have in the past leveled similar allegations against President Waheed, the Maldives National Defence Force, the Maldives Police Service and all other political leaders of orchestrating the transfer of power,” it said in a statement.
“The government hopes that MDP will refrain in the future in accusing close allies of the Maldives.”
The MDP maintains that President Waheed’s government is illegitimate following Nasheed’s resignation “under duress” on February 7.
The crowds thronged at the entrance of Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH). Patients, nurses and visitors all waited impatiently for more than an hour, craning their necks each time a car drove up.
At last he came.
The arrival of Salman Khan, Indian superstar and one of the most bankable stars in the Indian film industry, was greeted with loud cheers.
Dozens of cameras and mobile phones were produced as everyone tried to capture the moment. Khan, dressed in a gray T-shirt sporting a superman logo, smiled at the crowd and flanked by a dozen policemen, made his way to the blood donors’ room.
The crowd was enthralled: “Oh, he looks so handsome!”, “He even moves like he does in the movies!”, “He is taller than I thought!”
Khan inaugurated the blood donation camp, one of the activities of the annual India-Maldives friendship festival 2010. Not just settling for a ribbon-cutting moment, Khan donated his own blood.
Later in the seminar room, Indian High Commissioner Dnyanesshwar Mulay said he hoped that this would herald a new era in the India Maldives friendship “as now we are blood relatives.”
Khan stood up and got as far as “Bismillahirahmaniraheem” before he was mobbed.
Photos and chats were requested – and he obliged. Smiling and gracious, he acknowledged everyone around him.
Khan was then whisked off to Iskandhar School to judge a painting exhibition by the school children. As children painted, Khan moved around signing their paintings and chatting with them. Outside it was pandemonium; the doors of the hall had to be locked to keep the crowds out.
A foreigner who said he was a teacher opened his wallet and showed proof.
“Now let me in, you have let other teachers in, let me in!” he screamed.
A Maldivian journalist threatened “I am going to make this as a breaking news now if you don’t let me in.”
Another journalist threatened to call the police spokesperson and complain.
Tempers flared, but the police inside kept the doors locked. People stuck their faces to the glass door to catch a glimpse of the superstar.
More than a star
Khan said he was pleased to be at the launching of the medical assistance programme in the children’s home on Villingili earlier that the day.
Mr Mulay explained that the medical assistance programme would provide free treatments for the children by Indian doctors.
Speaking at the ceremony, Khan said that he would help “in anyway possible” for similar charitable programmes.
“My number is at the Indian High commission. If my participation is needed for an event like this, all you have to do is call,” he promised. “It’s just a two hour flight to come to the Maldives and help out.”
Khan gained fame in the Maldives ever since he shot to fame with his first movie as a lead man, ‘Maine pyar kiya’ in 1989. His fame was later cemented with his hits ‘Hum aapke hei kaun,’ ‘Karan Arjun,’ ‘Kuch Kuch hota hei’ and recent ones like ‘Partner’ and ‘Wanted.’
His vast acting skills and his buff body are something a lot of Maldivians are familiar with.
But his humanitarian work is less well known here, and this was the first glimpse of it up close for Maldivians.
Khan recently set up his own charity NGO, ‘Being human.’
Asked in an interview about it, he replied “Being human for me is ‘being human’. We all are human beings and I think we don’t do anything human to be human so you have to do something. I mean, God gives you so much and you know eventually you need to start giving it back.”
The official inauguration of the festival was held last night. President Mohamed Nasheed and First Lady Laila Ali arrived with Salman Khan and Mr Mulay.
There was an audible gasp in the hall at Dharubaruge when people caught sight of Khan.
Once they took their place at the podium, a recitation of Quran started the ceremony.
Khan, clad in a slim greyish-striped shirt, provided the eye candy, there were more gasps as cameras clicked away.
“We live in this country, we breath this air, we earn our livelihood here, so we should contribute positively to the population” said Mr Mulay, highlighting why it was important for Indians to participate.
He said he hoped that the friendship between the two countries will be streangthened. Whenever he mentioned Khan’s name and his activities, a loud cheer went up.
Indian infrastructure giant GMR – which recently won the bid to develop Male International Airport – announced it would give 10 scholarships for the next four years to Maldivian students, and were greeted with loud cheers of approval.
Khan took the mic next and said he was honoured to be in the Maldives, and joked that the GMR group was now going to pay for his education.
“Islam means peace, we should all live in peace,” Khan said, drawing louder cheers.
President Nasheed also spoke, keeping his speech short “as this is no time for politicians.”
“We invited Mr Khan and wanted him here not only for his acting, but for his humanitarian work,” Nasheed said, thanking the famous actor.
Sitting side by side, Khan and President seemed amused at the enthusiasm of the crowd.
What followed next was two hours of entertainment, a fusion of Bharatnatyam and Khatak dance by Indians.
Maldivian dancer Jadu and his group performed a mix of traditional Maldivian dances with a modern take.
The atmosphere revved up a few notches when Khan took to the stage in the middle of a dance by young Indian girls. He matched them step for step, showing off his skills and driving the crowd went wild. He was invited to the stage for a follow up act.
When Jadu and his group performed a medley of his songs, he joined in and did his famous dance moves to songs like ‘Just chill’ and ‘Theyrahee chehra.’
After the President left, Khan followed and left the function.
A superstar was in town, and more than his dancing skills or his apparent talent for improvisation, what was most striking was his graciousness.
Despite being one of the most famous stars in the region, Khan showed no airs or graces. His whole demenour was respectful and obliging to the crowds who turned up to see him, and his apparent willingness to help Maldivians in charity work won the hearts of many.
The India-Maldives Friendship Festival 2010 will continue until August 15, 2010.
July 30-31: Education Fair organised by Times Group will be held at Dharubaruge.
August 3-5: A magic show by Mr Gopinath Muthukad will be held at the Olympus theater.
August 6: An evening of cultural programmes will be held by local artists.
August 12-15: Grande finale of the festival will be held in the evenings by a variety show group from India, together with local artists.
For more information, please contactthe Indian High Commission at Tel/Fax: 332 1824