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India brokers deal with Maldives in support of Nasheed

Jyoti Malhotra  |  New Delhi 

India brokered a deal over the weekend with the government of Mohamed Waheed in Maldives allowing Mohamed Nasheed, the former democratically elected president, to exit peacefully from the Indian high commission where he had taken refuge over the last 10 days — dispelling recent criticism that it had lost influence in the strategically located island-nation.

The successful conclusion to the high-voltage drama, although carried out mostly behind the scenes, signifies a return of the political voice in the ministry of external affairs in Delhi, that of its recently installed minister, Salman Khurshid.

Exactly a year ago, India's biggest mistake, to recognise the “legitimacy” of the coup against Nasheed — “that had been planned and executed by former dictator Abdul Maumoon Gayoom and led by the man who-would-be President Waheed — had been underwritten by a series of bureaucrats in Delhi and allowed to pass because of the serious disinterest displayed by Khurshid's predecessor, S M Krishna.

But over the last few days, Khurshid and his joint secretary in the ministry in charge of Maldives, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, have burnt the telephone wires speaking to a variety of political actors in Male. After which senior government officials, Shringla being one, flew to Maldives to brew a solution on the ground.

It seems now, according to the brokered deal, Nasheed will not be arrested for the next five months and be able to practise democratic without the fear of an extra-constitutional police warrant over his head.

Considering elections will be held in Maldives on September 7, a time lag of two months remains. It is unclear if India's watchful eye will continue to have an impact on Waheed, though the informal “deadline” would have ended by then.

The Indian government will hope neither side does anything to raise the political temperature and that a free, fair and credible election is held on time.

On the whole, the successful resolution of the crisis comes as a much-needed boost to the beleaguered reputation of the Indian government in the neighbourhood. In Maldives, however, Waheed tested India's resolve to breaking-point. It finally came with the ouster of GMR a few months ago. With its reputation of being a serious power in the Indian Ocean at stake, Delhi knew it had to quickly make amends.

“India supported the former president, Gayoom, when he asked for help in 1988, although he later began to assume dictatorial powers. Today, India is pushing for the democratically elected Nasheed. The point is, India will remain engaged with Maldives on all sides,” Ambassador Sheel Kant Sharma, a former secretary-general of Saarc, said.

First Published: Sun, February 24 2013. 23:40 IST