Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency on Monday. Last week, the country’s Supreme Court ordered the release of nine opposition leaders including former president Mohammed Nashed.
India reacted strongly to the unrest. “It is imperative for all organs of the government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the apex court,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said. The US and the UN also urged Malé to respect laws and democratic institutions, but using milder rhetoric.
Tensions simmer on the archipelago. Former president and opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Yameen’s half-brother, was arrested on Tuesday.
With a population of 400,000, the Maldives is best known as an island paradise. It shared the same history with India as being a British colony. With the legal systems and the system of civil servants, as well as the tourism and fishery as its pillar industries, the Indian Ocean nation shouldn’t be so hard to govern.
But for a long time, the Maldives has had to choose between being manipulated by India or its independence as a sovereign state.
India has a strong desire to control South Asian countries. It regards the region as its backyard. New Delhi is particularly sensitive to any endeavor by small South Asian states toward independence and autonomy, especially ties with other major powers. New Delhi takes it for granted that it can openly intervene in their domestic affairs.
But consciousness of sovereignty is rising among South Asian states. This, combined with New Delhi’s clout, is permeating the region’s political life. The amount of intimacy a country enjoys with India has become a key political indicator for a South Asian government. All small South Asian nations want to extricate themselves from India’s excessive leverage. India has adopted a Western political system, and its active social organizations permeate their way into neighboring countries.
When Yameen’s government signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with China and joined the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), Indian public opinion reacted harshly. To maximize the country’s best interests, Yameen was perhaps considering developing diplomatic ties with all major powers. This infuriated New Delhi.
India’s First Post published an article this week citing the China-Maldives FTA and Yameen’s participation in the BRI as lapsing “within China’s stratosphere,” and argued “India must act to secure its backyard.” The article reflected the feelings of many Indians.
Political struggles are supposed to be internal affairs, and New Delhi has no justification to intervene in Malé’s affairs. The Maldives must be under huge pressure from India.
The Maldives’ sovereignty should be respected. The political unrest should be left to the Maldivian people to address. We urge all sides in the country to exercise restraint and end the crisis at the minimum cost, striking the correct balance between legal and governmental authority.