In Male, Delhi needs to do more
Keeping in mind a Singapore court’s ruling on Thursday that the Maldives government has the right to evict Indian infrastructure company GMR from its contract to run the international airport at Male, it is important that the company find a way to stay involved in negotiations with Male over the airport, with appropriate background support of New Delhi, to narrow down differences between itself and the government of President Mohammed Waheed Hassan.
Quiet, dignified persuasion is the need of the hour. The Indian government’s immediate reaction, that it will study the judgment but would like to see the fulfilment of due legal processes and adherence to all clauses regarding compensation to the company, has the right balance of reason and warning.
The Maldives are a string of tiny islands astride the equator, and are in close proximity of the Kerala coast. Their strategic location in the Indian Ocean is obvious from the fact that a quarter of the world trade passes through sea lanes that this little country looks over. In the past three decades this neighbour of ours has maintained exceedingly cordial ties with us, permitting us naval anchorage, letting us handle its strategic communications, and allowing us to balance its budget and manage its debt; in short, letting New Delhi have an exceedingly influential position which supersedes that of any other nation. It is not unreasonable to presume that GMR won the contract to operate the airport at Male partly on account of being an Indian company.
After the soft coup that ousted President Nasheed in February this year, Indian influence appears to be fraying, possibly on account of the rise of Islamist politics in the Maldives which had trained its guns on
Mr Nasheed. It is not wholly clear why GMR was given marching orders by the new dispensation. Maybe it was a clash of personalities at work at a significant level, but it is also possible that the causes related more fundamentally to the internal politics of the islands. In the past year, Beijing has sought to make a big play in the Maldives. If GMR’s woes are in any way linked to the Chinese factor, the scenario has clearly become more complex than before.
New Delhi enjoyed rare influence in Male but did not succeed in converting this into leverage. Indian diplomacy has been seen to flounder repeatedly. It had no inkling that Mr Nasheed would be given a shove. It was caught unawares when a mob directed its ire at the Indian mission recently. And it had no clue that trouble was brewing for GMR. More thoughtful intervention is needed.