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‘I am sad that GMR has affected our bilateral relations. We want to restore our relationship with India to its former level’

With upcoming elections in the island nation in mind,former Maldives President MAUMOON ABDUL GAYOOM is on a reach-out visit to India

Written by PranabDhalSamanta |
June 7, 2013 1:00:43 am

With upcoming elections in the island nation in mind,former Maldives President MAUMOON ABDUL GAYOOM is on a reach-out visit to India to try and correct his authoritarian image,for which he holds former President Mohammed Nasheed responsible. While he is not contesting in the September elections,his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) is a major political force. Speaking to Pranab Dhal Samanta and Manu Pubby,Gayoom says GMR was innocent,while promising to protect Indian investments.

You saw a different political leadership during your days in power. Decades later,do you think dealing with India is still the same?

India has not changed. India has been one of the closest friends that Maldives has ever had. Relations with India were very important in the past,are important now and will remain important in future. We’re passing through a period of uncertainty because of recent events,but we can overcome these. Especially,if the PPM wins the elections,I can assure that India will have very good relations with Maldives. We will honour bilateral and regional commitments and will ensure that foreign investments are protected in our country.

Has the exit of GMR from the airport project been good or bad for Maldives’ relationship with India as well as for the economy?

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The GMR experience was not a very good one for us. It began badly with the president (Nasheed) not informing parliament. By law,he should have had it passed by parliament. Some may even say it had an illegal beginning. [The cancellation was a very populist move at the time as the public had a perception that the contract was bad for the country. The way it was handled was not good. I am sad that this has somehow affected our bilateral relations. We want to overcome that and restore our relationship with India to its former level.

Has the GMR episode given rise to an anti-India sentiment? Have relations with India become a victim to political rivalry ?

There is no anti-India feeling,as the whole thing was against GMR. We have always said the problem was with the GMR contract and not the Indian government or people. Actually,our quarrel is with our former government. GMR too is quite innocent. They were just making a foreign investment. We cannot blame GMR,we blame our government because of what they did wrongly.

Politically also,things have played out differently after the GMR incident. Some difficulties are being faced by Maldivians in acquiring visas to India,especially for medical purposes. This is not good. I have discussed this with the prime minister and other leaders. They all agree that a solution must be found.

There has been speculation about President Waheed reaching out to the Chinese government. Where exactly is the relationship with China headed?

China has done some developmental work for us,but they have never wanted anything politically. We were very particular about our independence and sovereignty and about not allowing our country to be used as some kind of staging post. I do not think China has put forward any proposal to have any kind of facility in the Maldives.

We understand the US had something in mind and our government is in negotiations for some kind of Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). We do not want any such agreement made with a foreign power that can be a factor for destabilisation in the country and the region. It will be a threat to our own sovereignty as well as that of neighbouring nations.

India and Maldives have always had strong defence cooperation. How do you see it going ahead?

We have had a defence arrangement with India and we have sent our troops for training there. We also have joint coast guard activities. That has been going on for a long time. We do not offer our facility for your defence forces and India has not even requested that. We want to continue cooperation. We do not want to be aligned to the west or the east. We are a non-aligned country. It is not good to make Maldives a hotbed of rivalries between superpowers.

How real is the fear of fundamentalism mushrooming in the Maldives?

The fundamentalism that you mentioned in Maldives in non-militant and non-violent. The fundamentalism in Maldives is not bad,it is a way of life. It is peaceful and as long as it is peaceful there is no harm. However,other fundamentalism,which involves violence or terror,is not acceptable to me or the Maldives or to any Muslim anywhere.

Do people have differing views about your past as president?

I am disappointed that even the Indian media at times wants to portray me as a dictator who ruled with an iron fist. I introduced democracy and a multi-party political system. If I was a dictator,how come Nasheed won the election in 2008? Instead,I conceded defeat. I am a people’s man from an ordinary family. All this perception started when Nasheed tried to portray me as a dictator and was helped by the Western world with which he had very close connections,particularly the British Conservative Party.

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