New Delhi: Mohamed Nasheed, Speaker of the People’s Majlis (Parliament) of Maldives, met National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval Thursday and referred to him as a “grandmaster of geopolitics”, even as back home his government is busy quashing a growing anti-India campaign as the island nation heads for elections next year.
Nasheed — also a former president of Maldives — who is currently visiting India, also met External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla during the trip. He discussed some of the challenges faced by Maldives in terms of its economy, which is facing massive debts to China as the latter expands its presence in the island nation.
“It was very pleasant to have a conversation with a grandmaster of geopolitics. excellency #AjitDoval,” Nasheed said in a tweet Thursday.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) April 28, 2022
His meeting with the NSA assumes critical significance at a time when the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has come under massive criticism from opposition parties and critics for allegedly letting India manipulate Maldives’ domestic politics.
However, during his visit, Nasheed sought to allay the growing concerns in India’s strategic circles. He hinted at China playing a role in the anti-India or ‘India Out’ campaign, which is being spearheaded by Abdulla Yameen — another former Maldivian president and arch-rival of Nasheed.
During his meeting with Doval, these issues were discussed and New Delhi’s continued support for Malé’s development was affirmed. Both sides also discussed China’s growing presence in Maldives, said sources.
Last month, Doval had visited the island nation for the Colombo Security Conclave, a grouping of India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius that’s aimed at strengthening the maritime security of Indian Ocean islands.
While the ‘India Out’ campaign has been gaining ground since 2020, last week the Maldivian government issued a decree banning the anti-India campaign, and has ordered an investigation into it.
Chinese debt trap
At a lecture in New Delhi Tuesday, Nasheed said it was Yameen who had sold-off more than a dozen islands to China during his tenure and brought Maldives under a massive debt, while India has acted as a “friend”.
At every meeting he had with Indian officials, Nasheed emphasised that Maldives had become a debt-ridden economy.
“The bulk of these debts and the assets created by the debts are not equal…China has lent us a lot of money, but they have increased the prices of the projects intentionally, so that the businesses fail and we can never pay back the money from these assets,” Nasheed said at the Raisina Dialogue Wednesday.
Nasheed has said the assets are one-third of the debt, and that it would be “impossible” for the ruling Maldivian government to pay back the debts from whatever they earn from the assets.
“So then we will fall into a debt trap, and then when we do that, they (China) ask for equity and we lose sovereignty and we lose control. I think it is important for the international community to understand what is happening with a number of countries,” he said, giving the example of the ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka — another island nation facing a Chinese debt burden.
During his meeting with Birla, it was decided that the two countries would form a grouping of sorts between their parliaments. An India-Maldives Parliamentary Friendship group will soon be constituted, similar to the one Male has had with Beijing since 2021.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday local media reports from Maldives said that Nasheed may run for the post of president again in the upcoming elections there.