The picturesque island-nation of Maldives is in the grip of a major political crisis whose ramifications are bound to have an impact on India. Being the closest neighbour with a history of enduring bilateral relationship, India cannot be a mute spectator to the unfolding chaos in the tiny nation in the Indian Ocean. After a ruthless crackdown on political opponents, a defiant President, Yameen Abdul Gayoom, has pushed the country into a state of turmoil by refusing to comply with Supreme Court’s order to release the dissidents, including former President Mohamed Nasheed who lives in self-exile in London. The court had last week ordered their immediate release, saying their trial was politically motivated. The ruling may allow Nasheed, who was the nation’s first democratically elected President, to challenge Yameen when he seeks re-election later this year. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges but later secured asylum in Britain. Hundreds of protesters have hit streets to demand compliance with the court order as Yameen ordered the Army to seal off Parliament and arrest the dissident lawmakers. As the situation appears to be spiralling out of control, India, along with the United States, European Union and the United Nations, made an appeal to the Yameen government to respect the court ruling and restore democratic practices. New Delhi is worried over the safety and security of Indian expatriates in the island nation amid the deepening crisis. Cornered by the court order and the growing opposition protests, Yameen could take the extreme step of sacking all the Supreme Court judges. There are also fears over the possibility of imposition of military rule.
What is more worrying is that Yameen has been pushing his country closer to China, much to the chagrin of India. Apart from signing a trade pact with China, it has become a partner in Beijing’s ambitious Maritime Silk Route project designed to connect Asia and Africa through the Indian Ocean with a series of ports and other infrastructure projects to promote trade. A stable and democratic Maldives serves India’s interests better. For over three decades, the country was a corrupt autocracy ruled by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom with an iron fist. In 2008, Nasheed swept to power in the country’s first democratic elections. However, four years later, he resigned following a mutiny by the police. Yameen, who is the half-brother of Gayoom, took office in 2013. The political equations may dramatically alter with the Supreme Court last week ordering the reinstatement of 12 MPs. With their return, Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member Parliament. This could lead to the opposition evicting the Speaker and passing no-confidence motions against government officials.