TO divided, pro-India Democrat Maldives (MDP, the ruling party), a concerted campaign against India by the main opposition, pro-China Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), and public concern over increasing hate speech directed against Muslims in the India are combining to form a heady cocktail designed to thwart Indian influence in the Maldives as the country heads into an election year.
The deep division in the MDP stems from once childhood friends Mohamed Nasheed, the party icon and Majlis [parliament] The speaker and Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the compromise candidate for the presidency before the 2018 elections, disagree on how the fragile country of 1,200 islands, devastated by nature and, to some extent, by religion ( fundamentalism).
While the topic of climate change is debated almost every day, what is less known about the Maldives is that it provides the highest number of foreign fighters per capita in the world. A recent report by the European Foundation for South Asian Studies noted that there may be around 1,400 extremists in the Maldives (as of December 2019) who align with or identify with the Islamic State (IS) and that 423 had attempted to travel to war zones. in Iraq and Syria. Up to 173 Maldivians arrived in one of the two countries. Maldives has a population of 5.6 lakh.
Also read: A new chapter
As Ramzan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, progresses, there is a surreal calm in the Maldives compared to Sri Lanka or Pakistan. In the wholly Sunni Muslim country, there is almost no activity during the month of fasting and penance.
But the action will pick up soon after Ramzan, as the MDP will be in its last year in office before the 2023 presidential election. In 2018, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih managed to defeat President Abdulla Yameen despite the fact that the entire system was against the combined opposition.
The MDP faces questions about why it failed to deliver on promises made before the 2018 election. In fact, even the investigation into the plot to assassinate Nasheed on May 6, 2021 has only reached the trial stage. Nasheed was seriously injured in the attack and was later flown abroad for medical treatment.
Abbas Faiz, the government’s special envoy to monitor the investigation, prosecution and trial of the terrorist attack on Nasheed, expressed his frustration thus: “The current delay in the trial of those accused in the May 6 attack is a matter of grave concern. . It’s been months since the charges were filed. Only one case received a trial. Others are only in the instruction stage. It is unclear if the trials will be batched to avoid unnecessary delays.” Nasheed is also exasperated by this delay.
His supporters point out that three attempts were made on Nasheed’s life. The May 6 incident was the third. To date, no one knows who is behind these attempts.
Also read: Uncertain start
The Maldivian media also wants to know what happened to the judicial reforms promised by President Solih. This crucial reform, which cannot be carried out in the time that remains, has meant, in the past, a series of judicial errors by barely literate judges throughout the archipelago’s judicial system.
An April 14 report published by Human Rights Watch, “I Could Have Been Next: Reforms Hindered in the Maldives,” accuses the Solih government of neglecting essential judicial reforms. Threats to freedom of expression by extremist elements remain ominous. Nor has the capacity of the police force to conduct serious investigations been developed.
‘India Out’ campaign
The second problem relates to the fallout from former President Yameen’s ‘India Out’ and ‘Indian Military Out’ campaigns. “There is a lot of noise on social media around the India Out campaign. But on the ground there are only a few people at each of the protests,” said a Maldivian who has lived in Male for more than a decade. “But it creates a latent anti-India sentiment, which is hard to miss,” he added. Yameen’s party, the PPM, organizes rallies and public meetings on the issue from time to time, and has galvanized the party like never before.
The India Out and Indian Military Out campaigns are Yameen’s comeback vehicle. The catchy phrase was coined two years ago. The central theme of the campaign is that the MDP government has sold itself out to “anti-Muslim India” and that it is only a matter of time before the Indian army invades the country. The campaign received a boost after Yameen was released from house arrest in December 2021.
Although anti-India sentiment doesn’t have much traction, it manifests itself in many ways. In one case in February, an Indian doctor was thrown from a taxi for no apparent reason. This incident was reproduced on social media and the driver was hailed for his “bravery of him”.
Also Read: Former President Yameen’s Campaign To Drive India Out Of Maldives
Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail told the media of India’s concern over the possibility of violence against Indian citizens in the Maldives: “Recently, an Indian doctor was also taken from a taxi. There will be a lot of danger because of the conflict that is being taken from 200 protesters on the islands.” Fayyaz clarified that there were no Indian military personnel in the Maldives apart from those who were brought in during the Yameen administration.
In another incident, following a minor accident involving an Indian riding a motorcycle in Male, social media was abuzz with rumors that the Indian national was under the influence of alcohol. Storing or consuming alcohol on the inhabited islands of the Maldives is a crime. But since this individual was not prosecuted, multiple messages were posted on social media that Indians could “do anything and get away with it.” (Officials from the Maldivian customs department seize any alcohol brought into the country and destroy it. Alcohol consumption is permitted on the resort islands.)
Anti-India sentiment is also fueled by reports of targeted attacks on Muslims in India. Each one of these attacks, small or large, becomes a video, a blog, a meme or a message, and spreads among the citizens of the country who own mobile devices in their entirety. In a country where social media is pretty much the only ubiquitous media, the impact on the ground has to be seen to be believed. Almost every citizen in an urban environment is aware of even the smallest transgressions against the Muslim community in India.
The third problem as the Maldives enters an election year is that the pro-India MDP is a house divided. Internal elections for crucial party posts will take place shortly after Ramzan, in May. Hassan Latheef, the current MDP chairman and member of Parliament, is unlikely to want to get caught up in the Nasheed-Solih rivalry.
In this case, the fight will be between a staunch supporter of Nasheed and possibly Fayyaz Ismail, the person known to run things in the government. Fayyaz is popular and has the ability, by virtue of his position in the government, to dole out favors. In this fight, where commerce trumps idealism, Fayyaz is expected to emerge victorious.
Such a result is likely to push Nasheed’s patience to the limit. It is still clear that Nasheed is the most popular person in the MDP and that he attracts the most followers. But if he is sidelined again (in 2018 he agreed not to run for president), Nasheed will have a tough choice to make, leaving the MDP a much weaker party than it already is.
Apart from Nasheed, the other popular face of the MDP is Abdulla Shahid, the Foreign Minister, who was elected president of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on June 7, 2021.
Also read: “We must put aside the wounds of the past”
Between 2013 and 2018, the Yameen administration systematically excluded India. China replaced India in almost all infrastructure projects. By the end of his tenure, despite huge debts, the Maldives had built a bridge between the airport island of Hulhumale and the island capital of Malé; a huge Saudi-funded mosque; a municipality on the artificial island of Hulhumale; and began work on a secondary runway at the country’s main airport, Velana International Airport. The new runway will be operational in September, according to reports.
The balance between India and China was restored after the MDP took power and won a gross majority in the Majlis elections. Although the government insisted that it was pursuing an “India first” policy, Indian officials were not happy; they expected an ‘India only’ policy just as Yameen had almost aimed for a ‘China only’ policy.
Apart from the budget support provided by India, the Indian government also runs projects in consultation with the Maldives. In April, the High Commission of India in the Maldives announced seven new projects in health, youth development and heritage conservation worth US$1.8 million to be implemented in the Maldives. In total, up to 27 projects worth $10 million in ecotourism, sustainable development, agriculture, heritage and culture, health, island infrastructure and education have been taken up under this special India scheme.
India seems well aware of the challenges. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to the Maldives at the end of March, ahead of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) summit, should be seen in this context. Earlier in the same month, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval participated in the fifth NSA-level Colombo Security Council meeting held in Malé. Outgoing Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who was in charge of the region when he was Deputy Secretary, completes the picture where the South Block is well aware of the ins and outs of the families that control the Maldives. In total, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has been conducting a hold operation in the Maldives. If the current trend of anti-Muslim attacks on India continues, and if divisions in the MDP grow, India will have to prepare for another hostile regime in the Maldives.