The tweet by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, calling upon India to ‘invade’ the Maldives if the presidential polls in that island nation are ‘rigged’ has understandably disturbed a hornet’s nest.
That Maldivian president Abdulla Yameen has been cocking a snook at India and embarrassing this country with utter disdain is terrible but to hold out a brazen threat to invade a sovereign country can only be a last resort.
It is common knowledge that Yameen’s behaviour suggests that he would try to win the September 23 election by hook or crook. It is also clear that the force behind Yameen’s audacity is his excellent equation with Chinese leaders who are responsible for weaning Maldives away from India after the pro-India duly elected President Nasheed was forced to quit by Yameen.
Yet, India has to tread warily and that requires tact and diplomacy of the highest order and not a slapstick approach.
Swamy is indeed a man of action as he has shown in the pursuit of the 2G spectrum sale case which shook the erstwhile UPA government and in the National Herald case in which Congress bigwigs Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi are in the dock on serious graft charges which hang like the Democles sword on their head. He is also pursuing the cases against former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and his son Karti with rare relentlessness. The remarkable aspect is that Swamy often argues the cases himself.
On Yameen and Maldives, Swamy’s threat came after he had a meeting with Nasheed in Colombo. Though the Indian foreign office has predictably washed its hands off Swamy’s comment, it is not inconceivable that the threat may have been delivered at the instance of the Modi government with tactical motive.
Maldives is too tiny a country to cock a snook at mighty India and in some way this country has to hold its clout aloft and assert its position while leaving the escalation short of final action. The Chinese too have much at stake in India and can ill afford to encourage Yameen to go out of limits against India.
While India’s relations with Yameen were never great, they escalated when India opposed the state of emergency promulgated by the Yameen government pursuant to a Supreme Court ruling calling for release of opposition leaders. India had been urging for the restoration of democratic processes and had also called for release of opposition leaders to have a free and fair presidential election.
The Maldivian Government said that the charges and convictions were as per the law of the land. But the trials were dubbed by international rights groups and Western governments as a witch hunt by a dictatorial Yameen. As a result of Yameen’s anger, the Maldivian Navy declined to participate in India’s eight-day naval exercise codenamed “Milan” in the Andaman and Nicobar seas.
The Maldives followed this up with a request to India to take back one of the two Indian Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs) stationed in the archipelago to perform rescue missions.
The mood changed somewhat after the Modi-Xi Jinping Summit in China. The Chinese Ambassador in India Luo Zhaohui told a senior Indian journalist that China was ready to have joint projects with India in Sri Lanka and Maldives also. The Maldivian envoy in India Ahmed Mohamed said in Chennai that like China, India too could undertake projects in his country. But he made it clear that the initiative must come from India. As per recent reports, the stand-off between India and Maldives over the fate of Indian military helicopters leased to the island country could possibly be heading for a breakthrough.
It has been reported that talks between the two nations have been moving on a positive note with the island nation open to the idea of continued deployment of the military choppers along with their full complement crew and support staff.
Yet, the strains in India’s relations with Maldives remain. The September 23 elections would indeed be crucial for Indo-Maldivian ties. Yameen, the Modi government and the Xi government in China all know this only too well.