Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Aug 05, 2022
Solih’s visit underscored the strengthening of the economic and security ties in the backdrop of the Opposition’s ‘India Out’ campaign.
India-Maldives relations: Solih’s recent visit to India During his third visit to New Delhi after becoming President in 2018, Maldives’ Ibrahim Mohammed ‘Ibu’ Solih reiterated that ‘India is the highest priority’ for his nation and government. The two leaders swore by their past commitments to be mindful of each other’s security concerns and also not let their respective territories be used for any activity inimical to the other. The joint commitments apart, the visit spoke volumes for Solih’s suave and self-effacing determination as it underscored the strengthening of defence cooperation in the backdrop of the Opposition’s ‘India Out’ campaign, augmented by the mob attack by Islamist groups against the UN-mandated ‘International Yoga Day’ on 21 June—co-sponsored by and traditionally identified with India. This development comes amid the continuing internal squabble in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), where Solih supporters want Party Chief and former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed voted out as Parliament Speaker for charging the incumbent with adultery after his own brother was arrested over homosexuality charges and remanded to custody.

Goes beyond diplomacy

“Maldives will remain a true friend of India, firmly committed to our shared vision of peace and development in our countries and our region,” Solih told the media. “Maldives–India relation, goes beyond diplomacy. Our values, our cultures, and our histories are intertwined, making it a traditional relationship. Our centuries-old relationship is grown with political trust, economic cooperation and coherent strategic policies between our two countries,” he added further and thanked Modi for his ‘personal commitment’ to developing bilateral cooperation.

“Maldives will remain a true friend of India, firmly committed to our shared vision of peace and development in our countries and our region,” Solih told the media. “Maldives–India relation, goes beyond diplomacy.

Solih reiterated the nation’s ‘India First’ policy and also appreciated India’s ‘Neighbourhood Policy’, when External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar called on him, earlier. Minister Jaishankar, for his part, recommitted India to strengthening bilateral infrastructure projects. Ahead of Solih’s visit, India extended the export-ban exemption granted to Maldives and cleared nearly 7,500 tonnes of sugar and 12,750 tonnes of wheat flour to that nation. The two sides signed six MoUs aimed at strengthening bilateral economic and security ties,  not necessarily in that order, and covering areas such as infrastructure development, disaster management, and women and child development. Solih thanked New Delhi for the operationalisation of the Rupay card and added that they would intensify linkages across education and health care, fisheries and disaster resilience, among other sectors.

Gifts to MNDF

India is gifting a second, landing assault vessel, another naval vessel and 24 vehicles for the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), the nation’s armed service. The two sides also signed an MoU on cyber security, which Solih said, “aims to promote closer cooperation and exchange of information about cyber security in accordance to our domestic laws, rules and regulation and based on equality, reciprocity and mutual benefit”. He also expressed determination to counter terrorism in “all its forms and manifestations”. Taking off from Solih, Modi said, “The threat of transnational crime, terrorism and drug trafficking in the Indian Ocean is serious. And, therefore, close contact and coordination between India and Maldives in the field of defence and security are vital for the peace and stability of the entire region. We have increased our cooperation against all these common challenges. It also includes capacity-building and training support for Maldivian security officials.”

Solih thanked New Delhi for the operationalisation of the Rupay card and added that they would intensify linkages across education and health care, fisheries and disaster resilience, among other sectors.

Apart from substantive funding for infrastructure projects, big and small, India is the second on the list of nations whose tourists have contributed to Maldivian economic revival throughout the pandemic and since. It may also be the go-to nation if the continuing Ukraine conflict adversely impacts global oil prices. For now, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that the nation’s economic policies are ‘good’, warned of vulnerabilities, and cautioned against recession and a fall in forex reserves — all of it implying that Maldives as a nation and the Solih leadership otherwise, should adopt a recourse, especially during the election year.

Remote launch

Solih became the first Head of State to call on India’s new President Draupadi Murmu. Accompanied by a business delegation from Maldives, he also met Indian industry leaders at separate meetings in New Delhi and Mumbai, the latter the nation’s business capital, to further Indian investments in his country. Eyebrows were reportedly caused to be raised back home when Solih joined Modi in Delhi to remotely launch work on the India-funded, four-island Thilamale ‘Greater Male Connectivity Project’. They would have preferred an Indian leader visiting their country for doing the honours, or Solih and Modi being in their respective capitals and launching the project, the latteronlinene. At 6.74 km, it is nearly five times the length of the China-funded Male-Hulhule sea bridge to the airport and is also the single largest infrastructure project in the country.

Team Solih hopes that the completion of the ongoing housing projects in Malé and the reclaimed suburban island of Hulhumalé which was delayed by the COVID-19 lockdowns and fiscal stress, among others, and proper allocation of the houses in time would help in his re-election bid.

Through an MoU signed during Solih’s visit, India’s Exim Bank is extending another US$ 100 million grant for urban housing. Capital Malé has the highest population density for a South Asian capital. With 40 percent of the nation’s nearly five-lakh population living in Maléurban housing is a live socio-economic and politico-electoral is... Team Solih hopes that the completion of the ongoing housing projects in Malé and the reclaimed suburban island of Hulhumalé which was delayed by the COVID-19 lockdowns and fiscal stress, among others, and proper allocation of the houses in time would help in his re-election bid. However, leaders within and outside his MDP often allege scams and corruption, as in other sectors of the government.

The third option

Back home, Solih can expect denunciation from the political Opposition for the defence cooperation pacts following the launch of the ‘India Out’ campaign, which has often been transmuted into ‘India Military Out’. The Opposition also approached the Supreme Court after a lower court threw out their petition challenging the presidential proscription of their campaign. Simultaneously, the Parliament took up a bill to ban such ‘campaigns against friendly nations’. Both are pending final disposal. Immediately, however, Solih would be called upon to grabble with domestic political issues that he had left behind, which had its origins in the arrest of Nasheed’s lawyer-brother Ahmed Nazim Sattar in a ‘same-sex’ scam, following which he charged the President with adultery. Nasheed also said that he was ready to ‘expose senior MDP leaders for wrong-doings’.  Both are offences under local law and more so under Islamic Sharia. Nasheed dubbed it ‘political vendetta’ and the President’s Office in turn quoted Solih and called them ‘blatant lies’.

The Opposition PPM-PNC combine of former President Abdulla Yameen has called for a ‘thorough investigation’ into Nasheed’s claims, with a section of the social media suggesting that Solih step aside, pending such a probe.

Team Solih’s members challenged Nasheed to prove his charge with the photo evidence that he claimed to have, as Sattar’s arrest, among others’, was based on a ‘leaked’ video footage. Between now and the party congress scheduled for 19 August, Solih would be called upon to decide on a demand by his MPs to move no-confidence motions against Speaker Nasheed and the latter’s cousin and Deputy Speaker, Eva Abdulla. The Opposition PPM-PNC combine of former President Abdulla Yameen has called for a ‘thorough investigation’ into Nasheed’s claims, with a section of the social media suggesting that Solih step aside, pending such a probe. The current phase of the Solih-Nasheed tiff, though not strictly one, has embarrassed the MDP more than any time in the past couple of years, that too ahead of the party congress which will decide on the primaries, which both sides want, for electing the nominees for the presidential polls. The alternative could be for the congress with a Solih-majority to give a second-term bid for him, under a bye-laws amendment, passed when Nasheed was president (2008-12). Earlier, Nasheed had sought to keep the pot boiling, by suggesting a Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid for the presidency as a ... Shahid’s year-long term as the UniteNationson General Assembly President ends this month.

Yameen: The likely Opposition candidate

Even without all this, the Solih leadership as also the MDP as a party are in the eye of international rights groups like Amnesty International, and more so local journalists, after the President passed into law, a Parliament-approved amendment to the Evidence Act, which compels newsmen to share their source. Though Solih has since promised to discuss the issue with journalists, the issue can mean bad publicity for his leadership now and candidacy later, if it came to that. The MDP is also additionally embarrassed as the West has accepted the party as the face of democracy and human rights in Maldives, with Speaker Nasheed as the mascot.

The current phase of the Solih-Nasheed tiff, though not strictly one, has embarrassed the MDP more than any time in the past couple of years.

As if to attempt a competitive show of strength, the Opposition combine, in what looks like a hurried decision, has nominated former President Abdulla Yameen for next year’s election, and has also fixed 19 August for formalising the announcement. If they decide on a rally, as is the wont, coinciding with the MDP congress that was fixed months ago, it could add fuel to the fire by generating more tension. The Opposition decision ends, at least for now, speculation and accompanying aspirations, about their presidential nominee as Yameen are still facing two money-laundering cases, where a long sentence could disqualify him from contesting the presidential poll. After the Supreme Court had acquitted in an earlier case after the High Court had upheld the trial court conviction leading to his ‘disqualification’ that served no purpose, the criminal court has fixed the verdict in two other cases for September, with regular hearing continuing in one of them.
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