Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jun 24, 2022 Updated 15 Hours ago
The ‘India Out’ campaign has taken a new shape as protestors disrupt Yoga Day celebrations in Maldives.
Yoga Day disruption: A new cause for concern in Maldives In what could be termed a ‘diplomatic incident’ that did not involve the host government, suspected Islamic rioters stormed the ‘International Day of Yoga’ event in the Maldivian capital of Malé, on 21 June. Though the Opposition PPM-PNC combine was prompt in denying any involvement, post facto police investigations showed that the material carried by the rioters had originated in their offices, identified with former President Abdulla Yameen, with his ‘India Out’ campaign. The event was hosted by the nation’s Youth & Sports Ministry in association with the Indian Culture Centre, attached to the Indian High Commission after New Delhi had piloted the resolution that was readily adopted by a high number of 170 members of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 2015.

The yoga event resumed after police removed the rioters, who carried flags with Arabic inscriptions from Islamic Shahada, a ‘testimony’ that “there is no deity but God, and  Muhammad is the messenger of God’.

At Tuesday’s event, Indian High Commissioner Munu Mahawar, Malé-based UN diplomats and officials of the host government participated along with members of the general public. According to media reports, the yoga event resumed after police removed the rioters, who carried flags with Arabic inscriptions from Islamic Shahada, a ‘testimony’ that “there is no deity but God, and  Muhammad is the messenger of God’. The disrupters also reportedly shouted slogans that yoga was identified with Hinduism, and therefore, was non-Islamic/anti-Islamic.

Serious concern

President Ibrahim Solih lost no time in expressing ‘serious concern’ over the disruption, and tweeted that those involved ‘will be brought before the law’.  The Cabinet met to form a seven-member ministerial team to probe the incident. The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) too issued a statement, demanding ‘swift action’. However, the three ruling coalition allies of the MDP, namely, the Jumhooree Party (JP), the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) and the Maumoon Reform Movement (MRM), were conspicuous by their silence. The infant Maldivian National Party (MNP) of former Defence Minister Col Mohamed Nazim  , in a statement, complained that the event was held ‘without concern for the safety of the public’. Youth Minister Ahmed Mahloof, the joint-host, said that the event was ‘disrupted for political reasons’. He asked, ‘How come what was not haram, or ‘forbidden’ then, has become one, now?’  The Islamic Ministry under the care of Adhaalath Party, appealed to the people ‘not to fall victim to the insincere activities held for political benefit under the ruse of defending Islam and Prophet Mohamed’. Incidentally, a religious organisation of scholars, ‘Ilmuveringe Gulhun’, had sent a letter to Islamic Ministry on Monday ‘expressing concern’ over celebrating Yoga Day, claiming that the practice was closely associated with Hinduism—and was thus a threat to Islam and also the Constitution, which permitted only Sunni Islam in the archipelago-nation. However, there is no explanation why there should be a protest in the Maldives, which is still a ‘moderate Islamic nation’, whereas orthodox Islamic states had not only voted for the Yoga Day in the UN General Assembly but have also been permitting/hosting the annual event without incidents.  That apart, both ‘Ilmuveringe Gulhun’ and another fundamentalist outfit, Jamiyyath Salaf, have denied involvement in Tuesday’s incident.

The Islamic Ministry under the care of Adhaalath Party, appealed to the people ‘not to fall victim to the insincere activities held for political benefit under the ruse of defending Islam and Prophet Mohamed’.

Yet, it’s the independent Election Commission’s threat to penalise political parties found guilty in the matter that has put some of them on the defensive—or, so it seems. Opposition PNC leader, Abdul Raheem Abdulla ‘Adhurey’, in a news conference, condemned the attack and claimed that it was staged by the government and the police, to cast the blame on their PPM coalition partner. PPM’s Secretary-General Mohamed Tholal, however, agreed that the rioters’ flags were similar to the ones used by the party in a recent rally, and they would probe the matter. It is another matter that the yoga event had to be shifted to Galolhu National Stadium at the last minute after the PPM-controlled Male Municipal Council withdrew the permission granted for the use of another venue, Rasfannu, supposedly on public complaints. The police initially announced the arrest of six persons involved in Tuesday’s incidents. They have since arrested four others, including former PPM parliamentarian Mohamed Ismail and religious scholar Al-Sheikh Fazloon bin Mohamed. They all were also produced before a court and reprimanded. While probing multiple angles to the yoga incident, the police have also begun investigations into death threats sent to religious scholar Sheikh Ahmed Sameer, on Facebook, after he had expressed himself against yoga. The police have also launched an internal review to assess their own response even as social media users have alleged another major ‘intelligence failure’ after last year’s 6 May bomb attack on Parliament Speaker and former President, Mohammed Nasheed. The nation’s Police Chief, Commissioner Mohamed Hameed tweeted ‘concern’ over the policing at the yoga event and promised to ‘improve operations’.

Not ‘anti-India’, but…

As coincidence would have it, the Yoga Day disturbances came a day after Parliament’s ‘241 National Security Committee’ decided to ‘instruct relevant authorities’ to amend the laws, to stop the Yameen camp’s ‘India Out’ campaign, after President Solih had decreed the same in April. Referring to a Home Ministry report, the committee said how social media posts on the ‘India Out’ campaign had also called for violence. The Home Ministry report said that such threats could have an ‘adverse impact’ on Maldivians residing in India and travelling there for medical treatment. Likewise, the Foreign Ministry in a report to the ‘241 Committee’ that the ‘India Out’ campaign could ‘adversely affect’ the country's internal stability and security. The Attorney-General’s Office has since forwarded a draft bill to the President’s Office, proposing amendments to the penal laws, to codify acts that damage the nation’s ‘diplomatic interests’ as a separate crime. The presidential decree banning ‘India Out’ like campaigns did not elaborate on the subject, possibly hoping that it alone would do the trick. The question would remain what if protestors wore ‘India Out’ legends on their T-shirts as Yameen and his party men have been doing in public even after the presidential decree.

The police had seized longish banners hung from the roof of Yameen’s home and also the PPM party office that misrepresented the Indian national flag, as if to claim immunity but at the same time, hurt Indian sentiments.

The list includes ‘damaging or altering a national flag or national symbol of a foreign country, destroying or calling for the destruction of foreign institutions, harming or calling for harm against a foreigner to harass them based on their nationality, or demanding a foreigner to leave Maldives based on their nationality’. As may be recalled, the police had seized longish banners hung from the roof of Yameen’s home and also the PPM party office that misrepresented the Indian national flag, as if to claim immunity but at the same time, hurt Indian sentiments. In public appearances in the previous week, Yameen seemingly shifted gears to claim that he was ‘not anti-India, but pro-Maldives’, and was only opposed to the presence of Indian military personnel in the country.  In a media interview, he also said that the Government of India did not withdraw its military personnel despite his government’s requests. In a sweeping allegation, he claimed that Hindutva organisations were running PR campaigns in the UK, Canada, Australia, and especially in the US, to gloss over ‘inhumane actions’, and said—without a shred of evidence that a ‘Muslim genocide’ was possible in India. Incidentally, the current discourses could have provided a distraction for the ruling MDP, which seems to be heading for a split at every turn. The latest in the series is the MDP parliamentary group’s majority decision to move a resolution in the House to remove Prosecutor-General Hussain Shameem, from the party faction identified with Speaker Nasheed. This is a major next step for President Solih to replace/displace Nasheed’s supporters from key positions in government and party. Of the 65 MDP parliamentarians in the 87-member Parliament, 18 had voted for Nasheed camp’s plan to defy the three-line party whip to vote out PG Shaheem. Team Solih has since claimed to have talked some of them out of the plan. Both sides are bracing for the mid-August party congress, to be followed in September by the trial court decision in one of the two pending money-laundering cases against Yameen, which has the potential to disqualify him from contesting next year’s presidential poll.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.

Contributor

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

Read More +