India’s move reflects its frustration with President Yameen who, while inching closer to China, is demolishing New Delhi’s presence in Maldives.
New Delhi: As the relationship between India and the Maldives nose-dives, it is learnt that Delhi voted against Malé and in favour of Indonesia for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council last week.
Delhi’s decision is a measure of its frustration against the authoritarian regime of President Abdulla Yameen, who Thursday sentenced the 82-year-old former Maldivian president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, chief justice Abdulla Saeed and justice Ali Hameed to 19 months in prison. They were charged with refusing to hand over their phone for a police investigation.
“Yes, India voted against the Maldives in the election on June 9 for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council,” a government source told ThePrint.
The sentencing of Gayoom and the two Supreme Court judges to “long prison terms without a fair trial”, said the ministry of external affairs Thursday, “casts doubt on the commitment of the Government of the Maldives to uphold the rule of law and will also call into question the credibility of the entire process of Presidential elections in September this year”.
Maldives lost the election for the Asia-Pacific seat in the UN badly, 144-46, in favour of Indonesia.
India’s decision to vote in favour of Indonesia came on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Jakarta on 30 May. Indonesia has previously served three terms on the UN Security Council.
When Maldives pitched for a seat, as long ago as 2008, it had just held a free and fair election for the first time in its history, electing Mohamed Nasheed as president. At the time, it had been assured of India’s support.
But in recent months, as Yameen has consolidated power and moved the Maldives much closer to China, he has sought to obliterate India’s presence in his country.
Soon after he flew to China in December 2017 to sign a free trade agreement with Beijing, a move that was greeted with some consternation in Delhi, the Maldivian government told Delhi that it no longer needed the two helicopters gifted to the Maldivian National Defence Forces (MDNF).
The first helicopter, stationed on Addu atoll, was returned by the end of April. The deadline for Delhi taking back the second, stationed in Laamu atoll, is the end of June. Malé wants a Dornier aircraft in exchange.
Yameen’s government is also refusing to renew visas for Indians who have jobs in the Maldives, without giving any reasons for their decision.
But India and its friends in the international community believe that the real reason Yameen wants to downgrade Delhi is because he wants no competition for the Chinese.
In Laamu atoll, the Chinese have proposed to build a maritime port, which will draw the Maldives much closer to Beijing. China already has a port in Pakistan’s Gwadar and further across the Indian Ocean in Djibouti.
The Maldives, under Yameen, is also wooing Pakistan, China’s closest friend and ally. Soon after Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa paid a visit to Malé, Islamabad offered a $10 million loan to finance the purchase of two Super Mushak aircraft from Pakistan’s Aeronautical Complex.
Earlier this week, the pro-government Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) said in a report that the Maldives under Yameen had changed its priorities.
“It has steadily moved towards the Chinese umbrella of alliances and sees a bright future in that camp. While it is free to align with whichever country it deems fit, Malé must not forget about its dependencies on India.
“A hostile or even indifferent Indian posture can bring enormous harm to the Maldivian public and the region,” the VIF report said.