‘India must move with caution on Maldives, avoid chill in ties’

Book: Multi-party Democracy in the Maldives and the Emerging Security Environment in the Indian Ocean Region; Publisher: Pentagon Press (in association with IDSA), Price: Rs.750; Pages: 192

India would like democracy to prevail in the South Asian region but must tread with caution on the Maldives to prevent a chill in bilateral ties as the transition to democracy there has coincided with greater rivalry in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region), a new book on the subject says.

“Though India would like democracy to prevail in its neighbourhood, as democracy brings moderating influences over countries and societies, its approach should be such that does not bring chill in bilateral relations,” says Anand Kumar, an associate fellow at the defence ministry-funded think-tank Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

Noting that the Chinese “smartly say” that they respect the system of governance chosen by other countries, Anand Kumar, who has a doctorate from New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), writes: “This approach allows them easy entry in any country and helps them promote their interests.”

“India should also play a role in promoting democracy only when it is demand driven,” the book says, adding that president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 30 long years till the first democratic elections in 2008, “actually tilted toward China under the pressure of the democratic movement in his country. He felt that a democratic India would not be the best bet for his political survival”.

According to the author, “India needs to tread further cautiously in promoting democracy on the Maldives as the democratic transition in the country has coincided with greater rivalry for control of the IOR. Now, China has emerged as a major power and is unwilling to depend on the US for the protection of its ‘overseas interests’ which no longer remain limited to the protection of the SLOCs (sea lanes of commerce)”.

At the same time, from the Indian perspective, to counter increasing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean, welcoming increased presence “may not be a very judicious idea”, says Anand Kumar, whose first book, “Return from the Precipice: Bangladesh’s Fight Against Terrorism”, was published in 2012.

Increased US military presence in the IOR would not necessary be “benign” or to India’s advantage as this “may only create further complications for the Indian foreign policy towards the Maldives and worsen rivalry among external powers in the region”, the book contends.

In an environment of intensifying competition in the IOR, India’s effort “should be to take greater responsibility commensurate with its status as a major regional power with potential to become a global power”.

“India should build its naval power in such a way that gives the impression that it is a net provider of security in the IOR. For this, India needs an effective national maritime security strategy that creates synergy between its foreign policy, the strength of the Indian Navy and the domestic defence and maritime industry, which, in turn, can create lasting friendly relations with all littorals in the region,” says Anand Kumar.

As for democracy in the Maldives, the book laments that it “is not in a healthy state but, still, one can draw solace from the fact” that it “has not reverted to the autocratic path by renouncing the present constitution”.

On Thursday, Mohammad Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected president who assumed office on November 11, 2008, but was deposed on February 7, 2012, was granted refugee status in Britain, where he is convalescing after taking “leave” from prison back home.

Nasheed was convicted in March 2015 under the Anti-Terrorism Act for arresting Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed while President and jailed for 13 years.

Anand Kumar reacted sharply to the developments in the country since 2012.

“As far as democracy goes, it has definitely suffered a setback. Democracy, in fact, is at the cross-roads in the Maldives. There is a strong tendency (on the part of President Abdullah Yameen) to move towards authoritarianism. All his opponents are in jail. Even if the parties contest (the next election), they cannot challenge him,” Anand Kumar told IANS.

“The framework of democracy remains, but its nature has undergone a transformation,” he added.

(25.05.2016 – Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)



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