In the last three and a half years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, China has been allowed to easily interfere with the internal affairs of India’s close neighbors’. This demonstrates India’s reluctance to stand with its neighbors’as they face grave domestic challenges which require India’s assistance. The best example is the recent refugee crisis in Rakhine, western province of Myanmar, and the fleeing of the Rohingya Muslims to India and Bangladesh. Modi’s government only observes the issue from the perspective of security, and therefore seeks to send the refugees back to Myanmar; it does not attempt to resolve the crisis. India is supposed to take the lead in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis. However, its insular, defensive strategy has given the Chinese the opportunity to take a foothold; Modi is failing to address the situation. India is a country aspiring to become a major power but it is presently losing ground daily in the international power system. These raises serious doubt among the great powers and among those countries that desire and expect the rise of India.
The present Maldives crisis provides India with a chance to reclaim the trust of its neighbors. The first democratically elected President, Mohamed Nasheed, was arrested for terrorism charges in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years. In consequence of his health problems, he exiled in London now staying in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the Maldives’ Supreme Court has ordered (on 1 February 2018) the release of the former president Nasheed and the other twelve members of the opposition party. If President Yameen’s government complies with the court order, there is a good chance that it would lose its majority to the opposition party. Hence, Yameen refused to comply with the verdict of the court and declared a state of emergency. The Supreme Court has since taken a ‘U’ turn and revoked its judgment regarding the release of prisoners. Thus, Male is facing a great crisis.
In this article, I would like to argue that, since the Male crisis is occurring in the Indian Ocean Theater, it is for New Delhi to exercise its responsibility and resolve the crisis.
The Male Crisis
Modi skipped a visit to Male during his state visit in 2015 to the Indian Ocean countries. This was a policy mistake of the Modi’s government. Hence, “India’s leverage in the Maldives is less than it has ever been” (The Hindu). He should have visited at that time, to register a strong message in Male that ‘India will stand with them shoulder to shoulder to restore democracy’. This would have been a tough message to Yameen, to respect the law. Now, however, in the vacuum of the government’s mistake, Yameen is spreading his wings towards India’s adversaries – China and Pakistan. If it is allowed – this would be a serious security threat for India. China should not be allowed to dictate terms in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). So, by resolving the situation, Modi can rectify his past errors.
If India is to emerge from the containment strategy of China, then it should act with strategic assertiveness whilst simultaneously inviting both government and the opposition of Maldives’ to negotiating table, to recover the rule of law in Maldives, and allow elections to be conducted in September 2018.
India should now act sensibly by considering the request from ‘Nasheed the opposition camp’ for India’s support; they ask India “to send an envoy, backed by India’s military”. Nasheed believes that India alone can restore the democracy to the Island. Moreover, India cannot run from this emergency by citing “its long-standing claim not to interfere in other states’ affairs” (The Independent). The Indian Ocean is India’s backyard. India should not expect the West to come to the rescue of Male or allow China to interfere. The world knows that China is Yameen’s close ally. It also knows that the Male military has trained in Islamabad and that ammunition has been produced in Male with the support of Pakistan.
The traditional responses of India – such as “we are watching closely and are disturbed” – will not work this time nor gain any diplomatic advantage. This is the time for India to step in and prove that the Indian Ocean is indeed India’s Ocean, especially with increasing Chinese assertiveness therein. India should consider the sincere request of former president Nasheed, the condemnation of the West, and the support of the wider world.
China’s mouthpiece, The Global Times, advises that – ‘India must not interfere in Male’ as it has no justification. India is surrounded by more rogue states. If India does not interfere in resolving the Male crisis, then law breakers closer to home will presume that India’s desire to get along with China provides them with more impunity for breaking the law domestically. India’s relations with China have no space with Male crisis. Hence, India has the duty to reinstate democracy in the island nation of Maldives and proclaim to the world that India’s aspiration to become a major power has not faded. Modi should not forget that India is now a country with a “credible minimum nuclear deterrent”. Our “ballistic missile arsenal can deliver warheads on targets more than 5,000-km away – a range that encompasses China’s eastern centers”. India also possesses and we have the “air, sea, and land-based launching platforms” (CRS Report, 2017). India’s past leadership gave substantial power to Modi so that he would use it in situations of necessity like this, to safeguard India’s image on the Indo-Pacific stage.
What are the available solutions and who is going to rescue Male? The answer is very clear: India holds this responsibility.
First, whilst dealing in this matter, New Delhi should avoid crafting useless statements like “we are disturbed by watching the Male crisis”. This will not provide any positive results. India should being tough with the Yameen government; it should ring a bell about former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s realism of “1988’s Operation Cactus” to thwart the coup attempt to save the Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government in Male. Through this communication Yameen will have a chance to presume India’s strategic trajectory. Although China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the close allies of Yameen, India should not back down on this matter. To shy away from this challenge is akin to a suicide attempt for the Modi government. No one would accept this leadership if it took this course.
Second, India should communicate its stance with the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) countries, to stand together and to mount pressure on the Maldives. This would send a signal to Beijing that it ought to avoid any interference in the issue, and sternly warn Yameen, forcing him to reconsider his position.
Third, New Delhi could meanwhile obtain the backup of the US, EU, and Australia, to make a powerful statement of India’s intention to restore peace and order in Maldives.
Fourth, India should stand tall in this matter and tell the world that it is its duty and responsibility to earn and preserve the trust of other nations. This trust is now under serious threat, following the actions of the ruling elite in New Delhi. This trust was built brick by brick by India’s leaders in the last seven decades. To keep this trust with its ally alive, India should act wisely to maintain its interest in the Indian Ocean.
Fifth and finally, if Modi fails to defend India’s interest in the Indian Ocean, he should take moral responsibility. India’s neighbor is facing a very serious issue. It is also vulnerable to the influence of China in the Maldives, which increases whenever New Delhi stands still. If there is no keen watchfulness with China, there will be serious long-term consequences. This can be seen in Sri Lanka today.