Is the unusual harsh treatment meted out to Maldives’ former President Mohamed Nasheed part of a script written by China?
The ruthlessness and brashness exhibited by the Maldivian government in the Nasheed arrest episode is typical of the Chinese style of governance. For years the Chinese have been muzzling dissent and literally beating the opposition to pulp.
The severe high handedness with which the Maldives government has dealt with the country’s former President seems to be a leaf straight from the Chinese book.
Possibly the Chinese are rattled after the diplomatic reversal experienced by them in Sri Lanka last month during the presidential elections when pro-China Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena who contested the elections openly on an anti-China plank.
Is Maldives a low hung fruit for Indian strategic establishment to cap, if not reverse, China’s influence after the recent Sri Lanka development?
This may sound ambitious but is not an invalid question given pro-India remarks made by leaders of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) at China’s expense.
MDP leader and former Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed told this writer in a telephonic interview on 20 February, two days before his arrest, that Chinese companies were being favoured by the Abdulla Yameen government and said that it was a worrying trend.
On that very day, former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem had told this writer in New Delhi that “Indian Ocean must remain India’s ocean.”
This is a big statement and China must be well aware of the pro-India and anti-China slant of Nasheed and his MDP.
Sample the on-record quotes of Nassem, the former foreign minister: An important worrying trend we have seen during the Waheed and Yameen presidencies is the increasing influence of external powers in the Indian Ocean. The position of former President Nasheed and the MDP has always been crystal clear: the Indian Ocean must remain India’s ocean. We have never wavered in our position on this. For these reasons, MDP is concerned that President Yameen has rushed, with unseemly haste, to embrace China and Chinese plans for a maritime silk route.
· MDP notes the influx of Chinese cash into Maldives since Yameen was elected, and is very worried that China’s real ambition is not economic but military. We suspect that they (China) want to build a Chinese military facility. Although Beijing denies this, we believe that China is interested in establishing a military base in Maldives, Naseem had said.
Under President Nasheed’s administration, Maldives and Indian bilateral relations were the closest they have been in living memory. President Nasheed allowed India to establish radar facilities across the country. And Maldives and India collaborated closely on a range of issues to bring peace and security to the region.
MDP leaders have been making anti-China statements before Nasheed’s arrest on 22 February and not because of his arrest. Also, Maldives’ major opposition party has been making significant pro-India remarks at the expense of China.
China’s strategic forays in the Indian neighbourhood are not without repercussions. Myanmar has resented it and is no longer in such a close grip of the dragon as it used to be. But Myanmar’s anger against China remained controlled. In Sri Lanka’s case the unthinkable happened much too quickly and unexpectedly for China to react and indulge in fire fighting.
As China increasingly becomes the elephant in the room inSouth Asia, Sri Lanka has been a God-send reversal of fortunes for India in this context with the change in government there.
Nasheed was all set to take on the Yameen government at a mega rally scheduled in Male for 27 February but he was arrested.
The question is not whether the Narendra Modi government is aware of all this. The question is how the Modi government is going to deal with Maldives in the wake of Nasheed’s arrest.
Needless to say, whatever overt or covert steps the Indian government decides to take, China should be at the centre of all such forthcoming strategies of New Delhi.
*The writer is FirstPost Consulting Editor and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.
Updated Date: Feb 24, 2015 17:47 PM