A Brief History
India was one of the 1st countries to establish diplomatic relations with the Maldives after it gained independence in 1965 and the 2 settled their maritime border in 1976.
Today, both nations are members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and signatories to the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). During the 1st few decades of independence, the bilateral partnership was limited, although the 2 did sign a comprehensive trade agreement in 1981.
However, bilateral relations took their 1st major step forward following India's intervention to crush a coup against the Maldivian government in 1988. The Indian armed services quickly restored order in the archipelago and the Indo-Maldivian relationship reached a new high. Since then, India has provided considerable economic assistance and training in the fields of health, civil society development, infrastructure development, disaster relief, and telecommunications.
Post 2007 Support: An Increase in Intensity
Over the last 5 years, Indian assistance to the Maldives has on average accounted for 5% of India's development cooperation budget, up from less than 0.5% in 2002-07.
The total amount of support in the form of grants and loans reached an average of US$ 25 million a year. These changes come at the convergence of China's new interest in the region and the advent of democracy in Male in 2008.
In 2008, following the first direct presidential elections in the Maldives, India committed to supporting and strengthening electoral systems and democratic structures. Total aid in grants and loans to Maldives accounted for 18.7% of India's developmental assistance in 2008 - a significant allocation of money to a country with a population of only 4 million.
India also donated electronic voting machines valued at 15 million rupees (US$ 345,000) in 2008, and beginning in June 2011, it began providing training to election officials from the Maldives.
Crisis after establishment of Democracy
• In 2008, Nasheed, became the 1st democratically elected leader of the Maldives, defeating Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had been dictator for 30 years.
• In January 2012, he ordered the detention of Criminal Court judge Abdulla Mohamed for allegedly obstructing the police, ordering illegal probes, and accepting bribes to release certain criminals. The arrest triggered protests, following which, in February 2012, Nasheed resigned.
• In February 2013, a court ordered Nasheed's arrest in the same case, and he took refuge in the Indian High Commission in Male, where he stayed from February 13 to February 24. He thanked India, which had intervened in the crisis and brokered a deal with the Maldivian government. India said in a statement that it “urges all parties to maintain peace and calm and hopes to continue its positive engagement in the spirit of the close and friendly relations between the 2 countries”.
• November 2013, Nasheed lost the presidential election to current President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom, a half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom. This month, the state prosecutor dropped charges of abuse of power against Nasheed for having ordered the arrest of Abdulla Mohamed, but he was booked again soon afterward under tougher anti-terror laws for the same alleged offence. He was picked up from the office of his Maldivian democratic party (MDP) around 2.45 pm on Sunday after a court declared him a flight risk.
Recent Issues in Maldives
• The Maldives police arrested a judge and the former prosecutor-general after an “arrest warrant” was issued against President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.
• The former prosecutor-general, Muhthaz Muhsin was released but Ahmed Nihan, the judge, was remanded by the High Court for 7 days, according to the Maldives Police Service.
• Maldives Police said that the “arrest warrant” issued against President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom was prepared using “falsified information”.
Geostrategic Importance of Maldives
The geostrategic importance of the nearly 1,200 islands of the Maldives as a “most important interstate,” underlines the importance for New Delhi of positive bilateral relations with Male.
• At present, India is dependent on oil for more than 90% of its energy needs, and over the next few decades, 90% of that oil will come from the Persian Gulf by way of the Arabian Sea.
• Moreover, coal imports from Mozambique, are set to increase dramatically, augmenting the coal that India already imports from around the Indian Ocean from countries such as South Africa, Indonesia, and Australia.
• Beyond refueling stations, by maintaining access to these ports, the expanding Indian Navy can safeguard its interests by providing security for the sea lines of communication and ensuring vital resources reach India's coasts.
• Moreover, such access provides strategic depth in any potential conflict with China, wherein India could attempt to restrict the flow of oil through the Indian Ocean to the Malacca Strait.
It is very much in India's interest to promote livelihood security, Political Stability and macroeconomic stability in the Maldives.
India should also increase co-operation in the fields of coastal and EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) surveillance, marine pollution control, and climate change adaptation, albeit within a multilateral framework.
The India-Maldives-Sri Lanka Trilateral Maritime Security Co-operation arrangement must be expanded to include Mauritius and the Seychelles. As a multilateral framework, it will address Maldivian concerns over any loss of autonomy in partnering with India and also help to address the above issues that require co-operation with other island countries in the region that also have large EEZs.
Lastly, while India should not abandon its commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Maldives out of a fear losing influence to non-traditional outside powers, its appeal will carry more weight if it makes a greater investment in multilateral efforts such as those suggested above.
The dramatic change in Sri Lanka's domestic politics over the past few months should assure New Delhi that attempts by non-traditional outside powers to neutralize or counter India's natural and longstanding advantage in the central Indian Ocean are unlikely to be sustainable.