Reacting strongly to the deepening crisis in Maldives, India on Tuesday said it was “disturbed” by the “state of emergency” imposed by President Abdulla Yameen and expressed “concern” over the arrests of Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
However, official sources told The Indian Express that while the government is mapping out its next steps, sending Indian troops to the island nation is not an option. On Tuesday, Sri Lanka-based Maldivian Democratic Party opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed tweeted a “humble” request to India, “to send an envoy, backed by its military, to release judges and political detainees”. But sources said New Delhi is clear that this is “not going to happen”.
“They want us to send warships and put boots on the ground, but we don’t want to be drawn into sending the military to sort out a political mess there,” sources said. Even just sending a special envoy was out of the question, sources said, as there was no guarantee that Yameen would engage with such a representative. Instead, they said, India is hoping to work together with a group of countries, including the US and Saudi Arabia, to bring pressure on the Yameen government through “sanctions”, if needed.
The travel advisories issued Monday by several countries, including India, are seen as part of this co-ordinated action. China, a Yameen ally, has also issued an advisory on travelling in the Maldives. The advisories will directly hit tourism, the mainstay of the Maldivian economy. Another “sanction” being considered is placing travel restrictions on members of the Yameen government. Several top Maldivian politicians travel abroad regularly, including to India, for medical treatment. Among the other options include squeezing aid to and trade with the nation.
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“The government has all the options on the table… but what needs to be kept in mind is that we do not want to hurt the people of Maldives. The measures, if any, have to be targeted at the government,” said sources. Officials said that US and European partners consulted India through Monday night and on Tuesday — in Colombo, Washington DC, London, Brussels — to understand the gravity of the situation.
The US had earlier said it was “troubled” by Yameen’s declaration of emergency. On Tuesday, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the Yameen government to lift the state of Emergency and guarantee safety for its citizens, “including members of the judiciary”.
However, despite Nasheed having come out openly against Yameen, sources said India has not forgotten the former president’s courting of China during the Male SAARC summit, and does not want to be seen as putting all its weight behind the former president. Nasheed is still viewed in New Delhi as “immature” and “brash”, and, officials pointed out, his MDP has not reached out sufficiently to other opposition partners.
Last year, former presidents Nasheed and Gayoom — who heads a faction of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives against his half-brother Yameen — and opposition leaders Jumhooree Party’s Gasim Ibrahim and Adalath Party’s Sheik Imran announced a historic coming together to work for the restoration of democracy in Maldives.
But Maldivian news outlets have reported that all is not well in the opposition camp, with an impasse over Nasheed’s idea of a joint opposition candidate in the presidential election. Some government officials are of the view that at this point, a gesture from Nasheed could strengthen opposition unity in the push against Yameen. Gasim, a wealthy businessman, is seen as having taken enormous risks by opposing Yameen, and paid for it with his enterprises getting targeted. Government sources said Nasheed could find a running mate from Gasim’s party.
Indian officials said Yameen’s strategy would be to chip away at the combined opposition, especially the faction of his party that has turned against him under Gayoom’s leadership. India is also waiting to see how Yameen deals with the Parliamentary ratification required for Emergency. The country’s Constitution states that the decision to impose Emergency has to be submitted to the Parliament, or Majlis, within 48 hours of it coming into force — if the House is not in session, it has to be convened within 14 days. The Majlis is in limbo after Yameen put off a scheduled session that was to begin on February 5.
Meanwhile, in its statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said, “We are disturbed by the declaration of a state of emergency in Maldives, following the refusal of the government to abide by the unanimous ruling of the full bench of the Supreme Court on February 1, and also by the suspension of constitutional rights of the people of Maldives. The arrest of the Supreme Court Chief Justice and political figures are also reasons for concern.”
Maldives Chief Justice Saeed and another judge, Ali Hameed, were arrested hours after President Yameen declared a state of emergency Monday. Yameen accused judges of plotting to overthrow him and said the Emergency was imposed to investigate this plot. The Supreme Court had ordered Yameen to release nine political prisoners, who was sentenced to 13 years on terrorism charges; reinstated 12 opposition members, boosting their strength in Parliament; and asked the government to convene Parliament. On Tuesday, the remaining three judges of the apex court revoked the order “in light of the concerns raised by the President”.