As President Abdullah Yameen of the Maldives consolidates his position internally, through illegitimate acts such as the arrest of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the focus has shifted to the external dimension of the crisis, especially the kind of role India might choose to play. For Delhi, though, patience must be the guiding principle. It should avoid being stampeded into a hasty intervention, either by the media warriors at home or the Opposition leaders in the Maldives, who want quick Indian action to oust Yameen from power. Patience does not mean that India sits back. Delhi has many choices, between doing nothing and landing troops in the Maldives.
Delhi’s immediate focus, however, must be on mobilising an international coalition against Yameen that supports the return of the Maldives to the rule of law. India’s Western partners are joining Delhi in opposing Yameen’s unacceptable actions. Last week’s conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump on the evolving situation in the Maldives points to the prospects for greater coordination between India and the West in the Maldives. Washington has encouraged India to take a larger role in regional security especially in the Subcontinent and the Indian Ocean.
The US and the Western powers expect Delhi to take the lead on the Maldives and stay engaged with them on the next steps. For India, acting in concert with other powers, especially in the Subcontinent, is new. In the past, it tended to act alone. The current crisis in the Maldives should help school Delhi in the art of crafting coalitions to achieve India’s regional objectives.
As it welcomes Western support, India can expect significant resistance from China. Yameen has been playing the China card for quite some time now but, recognising the dangers of antogonising India, he has sought to maintain a delicate balance between Delhi and Beijing. That balance is now broken. Having undermined his political legitimacy at home, Yameen is now more beholden to China than ever before. Beijing, unsurprisingly, relishes this situation and would want to deepen its presence in the Maldives. China’s platitudes on non-intervention are not enough to mask Beijing’s commitment to the status quo with Yameen. It is the prospect of Chinese advance into the Maldives that drives many in Delhi to consider a military intervention. But China’s immediate gains do not in any way diminish the structure of the island state’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence with India. In leveraging that structure, Delhi should adopt incremental measures against Yameen in consultation with the political Opposition in the Maldives and India’s international partners. Delhi’s success will necessarily depend on its steps being seen as part of a legitimate effort to undo Yameen’s illegal acts.