Male, June 8: To say bilateral ties between the once friendly neighbors Maldives and India have never been lower would be an understatement. The strain stems from the abrupt termination of a contract to develop and operate the archipelago’s main airport between the Maldives government and Indian infrastructure giant GMR. Since then the two neighbours have endured a rather roller-coaster relationship especially since incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom took office in 2013 and immediately chose to cozy up to China.
The strain stems from the abrupt termination of a contract to develop and operate the archipelago’s main airport between the Maldives government and Indian infrastructure giant GMR. Since then, the two neighbors have endured a rather roller-coaster relationship especially since incumbent President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom took office in 2013 and immediately chose to cozy up to China.
The global superpower has fully exploited the falling out between the once close neighbors over the ever growing list of incidents.
Incessant allegations that New Delhi was backing the opposition has further fueled tension between the two governments more so than ever since February this year.
The Maldives has been embroiled in upheavals since February, when Yameen imposed a State of Emergency to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including self-exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed who New Delhi reportedly favors.
Opposition calls led by Nasheed for India’s military intervention and targeted sanctions against Yameen and his government have not helped mend ties despite repeated efforts on both sides.
Sanctions or Wrong Visa?
On Tuesday, a fresh incident where Maldives chief government lawmaker was denied entry into India appears to have thrown relations into a new downward spiral.
The Villi-Maafannu MP Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik had gone to Chennai on an “On Arrival Visa” for a routine medical checkup on his sinus. Despite making the same trip several times before, the Chennai Immigration had refused him entry.
But thus far, India has chosen to remain silent over the whole incident. The silence has sparked the Maldives opposition into social media celebration saying that India has finally slapped travel bans on the ‘tyrannical’ Maldives government.
A diplomatic India would simply say the MP was denied entry because he had the “wrong visa” which is more than plausible as per its regulations.
But the fact India has refused to offer any explanation two days since the incident proves more ominous for Indo-Maldives relations.
Summon or Courtesy Call?
Maldives in recent times has chosen to hold its own and refused to be “bullied” as Nihan would say against the might of its neighbor. Immediately after Nihan’s incident, the Maldives Foreign Ministry had taken up the matter with the Indian ambassador, Akhilesh Mishra.
There had also been conflicting media reports saying that Mishra had been summoned by the Maldives Foreign Ministry over the incident. In diplomatic terms, a summon is not something to be taken lightly especially given the fragile relations between the two countries. But similar to its Indian counterpart, the Maldives Foreign Ministry has also refused to confirm nor deny, stoking the fire that now threatens to destroy India-Maldives ties.
Nihan meanwhile described the move as “bullying” and called on the relevant Maldives authorities to officially demand an explanation from their Indian counterparts over the incident.
“I think it still might be down to the bitterness over the GMR row. I don’t think it has anything to do with sanctions [against the government]. I’m more inclined to think that it was bullying. The way they [Indian immigration] acted certainly pointed towards that. I want to know if this happened just for me or because I’m a government supporter,” Nihan had said.
When asked if India has, in fact, yielded to opposition pressure and imposed travel bans on Maldives government officials, Nihan insisted that it was unlikely but said the “primitive” actions of the Indian officials were extremely “disappointing”.
“Now we must find out if India has a list of individuals they have imposed targeted sanctions against so that we would know not to travel to such a country. I don’t know if there is such a list because they (Indian immigration) couldn’t tell me anything,” Nihan had said.
Despite all the rumors and hearsay about newest incident, the explanation, if and when it comes, especially from India, could prove pivotal for the island nation as it heads to crunch presidential elections in September.
(The featured image at the top shows the Indian Envoy in the Maldives, Akhilesh Mishra, greeting the Maldivian Foreign Minister, Dr. Mohamed Asim, at a function in Male. File Photo)