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Why India must support Nasheed in Maldives row

What will happen to former Maldivian president Nasheed when the second court summons against him expires today?

Will he come out of the Indian High Commission, where he has been staying for a week, on his own to appear before the magistrate court for his alleged role in the “abduction” of a judge?

Will the Indian High Commission turn him in, or ask him to leave, when the Maldivian government plays victim to India’s interference on its sovereignty?

Will Maldivian “commandos” storm into the Indian High Commission and take him into custody, regardless of its diplomatic immunity, as some ultra-national hawks demand?

 Why India must support Nasheed in Maldives row

Former president Nasheed has become a bone of contention between the two nations. AFP.

Nobody knows, neither the Maldivian government nor the Government of India. There are expectations of some drama towards the evening, but it might just pass uneventfully.

The Maldivian government seems to have resigned to the possibility of the summons expiring yet again at 4 p.m. today and Nasheed being legally free till another summons is issued by the court, while India looks completely unsure as to what to do - whether to back him or his detractors.

It’s not just the magistrate court that is waiting for Nasheed. Even the High Court wants to see him to hear his appeal against the magistrate court’s first arrest warrant. His plea in the High Court comes up for hearing a bit earlier - at 1 pm, but he can’t get out lest the police should arrest him. Reportedly, the HC has asked the Maldivian external affairs ministry to deliver its letter to Nasheed at the Indian High Commission.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is absolutely certain that the legal process against their leader is a ploy by the Waheed government and his “Kangaroo court” to jail him and disqualify him from participating in the Presidential elections in September. The party says the government and the judiciary is colluding on this, although the Attorney General of the country insists that the judiciary is truly independent.

She said that even if Nasheed was the President now, the Prosecutor General of the country would have filed the charges against him - such is the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary in Maldives! It’s impossible to negotiate with the judiciary to delay the trial of Nasheed, she added.

For Nasheed and his followers, this is a do-or-die battle. Political diabolic and threats of detention and torture are intense in the country, which has a population as small as that of a town such as Bathinda. Nasheed’s supporters know that if they give up, the opponents are likely to jail and disqualify him from the elections. After all, he had spent considerable time in solitary confinement, and even suffered torture, under the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, who incidentally was a close friend of India.

They allege that it’s still Gayyoom who is playing the game, for it was Nasheed who ended his 40-year old authoritarian regime by becoming the country’s first democratically elected president. Gayyoom is in fact MDP’s principal enemy. The party’s political attacks are always two pronged - one against Waheed and the other against Gayyoom.

Nasheed is an avowed friend of India and wants India to play its super power role in the Indian ocean. In an exclusive interview with Firstpost in April last, Nasheed had unequivocally admitted that India is a superpower and it has a role in the Indian ocean. “I totally acknowledge India’s supremacy in the Indian ocean. India is a principled democracy. I have enormous respect for India as a democratic nation, as a principle and as an idea,” he had said.

Nasheed wasn’t overtly disappointed that India didn’t help him at the time of the coup in which he was ousted: “India had its difficulties in executing its foreign policy in the Indian ocean - we very well understand that. But it is a democracy and a supreme power. I am sure it can do a lot in ensuring that elections are held early in Maldives for the return of democracy.”

On the other hand, the Waheed regime’s India policy is justifiably skewed in favour of the anti-Nasheed voices. The ouster of GMR from running Male’s international airport, when Nasheed went out of power, should be seen as an example of this nationalistic expediency. In fact, one of Waheed’s cabinet colleagues even asked India not to meddle with his country’s sovereignty.

The ball is really in India’s court, which unfortunately looks utterly confused. A lack of clarity whether to be assertive or cautious in the region is a burden it’s struggling with although the international community is clearly siding with Nasheed.

After its support to the Rajapakse regime in Sri Lanka, which the international community wants to bring to book for its alleged war crimes, Maldives is poised to be India’s second foreign policy blunder in the region. Despite Nasheed acknowledging India’s super-power role, it doesn’t want to fully back him - in case he doesn’t win the Presidential elections?

This is where India is failing yet again in its backyard - obviously because of the fear of China and Pakistan getting closer to the anti-Nasheed regime in case it continues to rule the island. Pakistan has been present in Maldives for a long while and China has opened an embassy in the country recently. After having firmly established its economic-strategic complex in Sri Lanka with a conniving Rajapakse, who cheekily plays on India’s nerves, China has now set its eyes on Maldives too. Early this week, it even said that it wanted the situation resolved at the earliest!

If India continues its nervous fence-sitting, Waheed will do a Rajapakse and China will quickly expand its toe-hold in the island(s). In fact, India had lost considerable ground by not openly backing Nasheed at the time of the coup. India could have sent his army - just as the way it sent its forces to rescue Gayyoom when he was under attack by mercenaries in the 1980s- and protected Nasheed.

His supporters in fact wanted India to prevent his ouster, but the regional super power exposed its weakness by refusing to intervene. Now, here is the second chance for it to reclaim lost ground and redeem its super-power image.

What’s wrong in protecting our strategic interests in our own backyard? The interests of a 1.2 billion people democracy and a US$ 1.8 trillion dollar economy?

In fact, it should be Indians, not the MDP, that should demand that India play a decisive role in Maldives. It’s in our interest.

It’s not Bangladesh, Bhutan or Afghanistan that we should have controlling stakes in. We should have complete control of the Indian Ocean for our people and our interests to be safe because that is where China and Pakistan is expanding.

A decade ago, the Himal magazine published from Kathmandu had found an innovative perspective for south Asia to escape the air of Indo-Pakistan strife that dominated the region - to look at it upside down where the Indian ocean and the southern parts of India dominated the map. But today, even our part of the Indian ocean seems to be going out of our grip. India is hemmed in from all sides by just two countries - China and Pakistan!

Supporting authoritarian regimes in the region - both in Maldives and Sri Lanka - will be seriously detrimental to our interest. We cannot talk foreign policy with (their) rogue alliances smirking right on our face.

Maldives is not just about Nasheed, it is also about India, its people and its history.

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2013 18:11:42 IST