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After Nepal, Maldives raises specter of waning Indian influence

News Analysis |

A newspaper in Maldives has raked up a political storm after publishing an editorial that is critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendar Modi. This is the latest in a series of events highlighting India’s waning influence over the small South Asian nation.

Among other things, the piece published in the local Dhivehi language termed India as Maldives’ biggest enemy and Indian PM Narendra Modi an anti-Muslim extremist. The newspaper is purportedly the mouthpiece of Maldives’ President Abdullah Yameen.

This was after Male signed an FTA with China without taking the opposition into confidence and rushing it through the Parliamentary approval process.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which was earlier facing the ire of the people of other communities for favouring just one particular religion, seems to be caught up in a fresh political storm. According to reports, a pro-Abdulla Yameen paper in the Maldives, in an editorial, described PM Modi as a ‘Hindu extremist leader’. The editorial further termed PM Modi as ‘anti-Muslim’.

Criticising PM Modi, the editorial said that Indian is their biggest ‘enemy’. Extending a hand of friendship towards China, it said a ‘new best friend’ has been found for the Maldives in China. The editorial in fact also accused India of plotting a coup against the Yameen government. It also accused India of acting against international law in Kashmir and of arming Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka.

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The Maldives remains the only country in the neighbourhood which Modi is yet to visit. Indian officials here seemed taken aback by the attack on the PM even though they avoided making any comment.

Days later, the government suspended 3 councilors for having an “unauthorised” meeting with Indian ambassador Akhilesh Mishra.

The country’s opposition has unanimously protested against the “outrageous” anti-India article. The pro Indian opposition led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) believes this latest display of hostility should alert India about the dangers of “overindulging” the Yameen administration. An MDP leader and former foreign minister of Maldives, Ahmed Naseem, told TOI that more robust Indian corrective measures will be in the interest of both India and the Maldives. “Appeasement with wishful thinking is not going to solve this crisis,” said Naseem.

The narrative of Tamil terrorists is a particular sticking point. Sri Lanka’s closeness to Islamabad was one major irritant to New Delhi, an instance being the provision of refueling facilities to the Pakistani military during the 1971 war. India under Indira Gandhi tried to enact the Mukti Bahini success in Sri Lanka by arming at local Tamil separatists. This resulted in different armed Tamil outfits that in the end culminated into the organization known as the Tamil Tigers. Due to this, Sri Lanka was forced to enter into the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 causing an Indian Peace-Keeping-Force (IPKF) to be stationed in Sri Lanka.

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It would be ostrich-like to ignore the fear of smaller nations in South Asia about current developments providing opportunities for what has been described as the spread of Indian hegemonism.

In November 1988 speedboats carrying 80 armed militants of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam landed in Maldives and along with allies who had infiltrated the country, began taking over the government. The plot, planned in Sri Lanka by the Tamil nationalist group was believed to be an attempt by a Maldivian businessman and politician opposed to the regime of the President of Maldives Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to gain control while the PLOTE sought a safe haven and base for its activities.

The then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ordered 1,600 troops to aid the Maldivian government. In a military operation codenamed “Operation Cactus,” Indian forces arrived within 12 hours of the request for aid being made, squashed the coup attempt and achieved full control of the country within hours. 19 PLOTE militants were killed and 1 Indian soldier wounded.

Among other things, the piece published in the local Dhivehi language termed India as Maldives’ biggest enemy and Indian PM Narendra Modi an anti-Muslim extremist.

India hailed the operation as a major foreign relations victory. However, at that time the Sri Lankan Island newspaper commented, ‘It would be ostrich-like to ignore the fear of smaller nations in South Asia about current developments providing opportunities for what has been described as the spread of Indian hegemonism.’

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The election of Abdullah Yasmeen has seen the deterioration of Indo-Maldives ties. India had only last week reminded Male of its stated India First policy with the MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar saying that India expected Maldives to be sensitive to its concerns. This was after Male signed an FTA with China without taking the opposition into confidence and rushing it through the Parliamentary approval process. Days later, the government suspended 3 councilors for having an “unauthorised” meeting with Indian ambassador Akhilesh Mishra.

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