Maldives Crisis

Maldives crisis: Is it time for an Indian military intervention?

India has intervened in Maldives in the past. Should it do so again? A round-up of opinion from the press.

Even as matters continued to unravel in the island nation of Maldives, where a Supreme Court order to release political prisoners led to a state of emergency, India has not decided on a course of action beyond urging the Maldivian leadership to act responsibly. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed concern about the crisis in the Maldives, most recently on a phone call with US President Donald Trump, but the matter at least for India cannot just rest on expressions of concern.

Maldives is firmly in India’s regional sphere and New Delhi also has a number of commercial interests there, all of which are in danger as a result of the crisis. The island nation is also one of many countries where Indian and Chinese influence directly competes. And there is history too: India carried out a military intervention in the country three decades ago when it was roiled by a similar political crisis.

All of which has led to loud demands for India to take an active role in matters on the island nation accompanied by arguments that New Delhi would be wrong to resort to a military option. So should India intervene in Maldives? A selection of opinions:

Delhi surely knows one thing from its past interventions. The task of fixing other people’s problems is never easy. And not all consequences of intervention can really be predicted or managed.

Maldives might be tiny state with less than half a million people. With a deeply fractured political elite that has become acutely conscious of its strategic location, it will take a lot of Indian energy to repair the state of affairs in Maldives. But then that is the burden of all major powers, especially in their own regions.

  • Indrani Bagchi in the Times of India says it would be “monumentally stupid” for India to intervene militarily in the Maldives, and adds that looking at every neighbourhood issue as being a zero-sum game between New Delhi and Beijing is also problematic.

We can jump into another country to save it from itself. But if the US war in Iraq and Syria – and India’s own misadventure in Sri Lanka – has taught us anything, it is that when we embark on gunboat diplomacy, two things generally happen – we lose control of our fate because we get tangled in their internal dynamics; secondly, all their troubles and vices become ours.

Instead, this is the time to adopt the Deng Xiaoping method of statecraft – tread softly and carry a big stick. India has many big sticks in its arsenal, it would do well to play them smartly not muscularly.

  • A leader in Mint says that though there are many constraints when considering India’s ability to intervene, if it aspires to regional power status, let alone being a great one, it must take action in its own neighbourhood.

“It might make sense for India to sit out the internal affairs of faraway countries. But to do so in small, neighbouring countries will take away the mantle of regional leadership. It is true that India’s interventions in neighbouring countries will please some and alienate some, but that should be an acceptable cost for furthering Indian interests in the region...

The constraints notwithstanding, New Delhi should remember that if one petty dictator in the region is allowed to go scot-free after harming India’s interests, there will be more of them in future.”

  • Mohammad Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, in the Indian Express points to China’s involvement in the affairs of the island country as a reason for India to act (against his political opponent).

“It is essential that India leads the international community in forcing President Yameen to comply with last week’s Supreme Court order. This will pave the way for genuinely inclusive, free and fair elections with full international monitoring. If the Maldivian people so wish, they will then be afforded the chance to throw out this corrupt and criminal regime that is selling the country out from under their feet.”

Even as the Indian government issued its first public statement on Tuesday condemning the island nation’s government for declaring a state of emergency, it has yet to decide what role it will play in the ongoing Maldives crisis.

The decision, which has to be taken by the political leadership, has been stalled largely because many of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s key advisors on foreign policy are not in the country. External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is in Saudi Arabia and will be returning day after tomorrow; foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale is in Bhutan and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is currently not in New Delhi.

India was already involved in an overseas military operation in Sri Lanka. Rajiv Gandhi had made it clear to his team of officials that the neighbourhood was India’s zone of influence. India, as the largest country in South Asia, had to bear the fallout of conflicts and unrest in its smaller neighbouring countries, and needed to be prepared to play its rightful role in the region.

Against that backdrop, Indian officials were able to swiftly put together a plan of action. As soon as Sahdev got off the call from Malé, he called Air Vice Marshal Denzil Keelor to tell him to ready an IAF team for the Maldives. Sahdev and the IAF were already working closely together on Sri Lanka, the two knew each other well and the usual channels were bypassed.

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