The Maldives political crisis is rapidly becoming a red hot burning coal for the Indian foreign policy czars.
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promised maiden official visit to Maldives is just about a fortnight away, he should announce cancellation of his visit to this island state without wasting any more time.
Signals emanating from Male, the Maldivian capital, are not very rosy for India. Former President Mohamed Nasheed was produced in court on 26 February, four days after his arrest.
The tone and tenor of the ongoing trial of Nasheed is clear from the fact that the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives claimed on 26 February that independent doctors were not given the chance to examine whether Nasheed faced any injuries when he was dragged to court on 23 February.
The Ministry of External Affairs may well rush senior diplomats to Male to defuse the crisis but the writing is quite clear on the wall: that the Abdulla Yameen government is not prepared to budge from the position it has taken with regard to Nasheed’s arrest.
Under the circumstances, it won’t be advisable for PM Modi to travel to Maldives.
In all probability, the Yameen government is being encouraged by China. It is a no-brainer that the Chinese influence in Maldives has been on the upswing. A further proof of the Chinese covert diplomatic help to the beleaguered government came about on 26 February when China made it clear that it was not going to intervene in the “domestic affairs” of Maldives.
After statements from India, United States, European Union and the United Nations condemning Nasheed’s arrest, the Chinese pro-Maldivian government reaction is telling.
Consider the Chinese reaction. "The question you mentioned is the domestic affairs of Maldives… We are committed to non-interference in others internal affairs. We believe the Maldives government has the capacity to deal with this issue," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Le said in an on-record remark.
The message is loud and clear. The Yameen government is being encouraged by China.
Thus far, India has not officially announced PM Modi’s visit to Maldives which is supposed to take place on 15 March.
But the crucial question is: can the Indian PM undertake a bilateral visit to a country where its former president is under arrest and being proceeded against for terror charges?
It is all but clear that if the Indian writ were to prevail in Maldives, it would have done so by Thursday, when Nasheed was produced before the trial court. An obvious sign of Indian stamp on the present government of Maldives would have come if the Yameen government were to extend an olive branch to Nasheed.
But nothing of the sort happened. On the contrary, the Yameen government, perhaps on the steam of Chinese support, hardened its stand and pushed the envelope further by denying him medical examination.
This is a grave diplomatic crisis unfolding for the Indian government. PM Modi has to take a call immediately.
The Indian boat in Maldives has been rocked badly by the current political crisis in Maldives. Signs of a growing bonhomie between the Yameen government and China have roiled the Maldivian waters further for India. It is time for India to take a stand, this way or that way.
India does not have too many options. In any case, time is fast running out for India in Maldives.
The question is not whether India should throw its weight behind the beleaguered former president Nasheed. The question is: what happens if India does not take a stand at all or it takes a stand of neutrality.
Both the scenarios would mark a strategic defeat for India vis a vis an Indian Ocean neighbour like Maldives.
PM Modi has thus far shown that he can give a run for their money for seasoned diplomats when it comes to international diplomacy. But a crucial component of international diplomacy is timing.
If PM Modi does not take a stand on the Maldives situation now and does not announce forthwith the cancellation of his Maldives visit, when will he do it?
If Modi’s diplomatic corps is not able to deliver an India-friendly denouement of the Maldivian political crisis, which indeed seems to be the case as of now, it is time that Modi seized the imitative and took a bold decision of canceling his Maldives trip.
After all, diplomacy is all about taking right decisions at the right time. Modi needs to take Maldives head on.
Updated Date: Feb 28, 2015 16:09 PM