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Maldives crisis: Delhi blunders

The spiralling political crisis in Maldives is reason for grave concern for Maldivians as well as the international community, especially India. Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen is on a confrontationist course. After ignoring a Supreme Court ruling ordering his government to release jailed opposition leaders and reinstate parliamentarians who were stripped of their seats for defecting to the opposition, he has declared a state of political emergency in the country. Judges he deems 'hostile' have been jailed and the judiciary is stacked with his loyalists. The latter have overturned the apex court ruling that triggered this crisis in the first place. Former president Maumoon Gayoom is in detention, too. The past week's events indicate that Yameen will go to any extent to crush challenges to his grip over power. Should mass protests gather momentum, he can be expected to unleash extreme force. Unrest will hit Maldives' tourism-dependent economy. Lives and livelihoods of the masses are in peril.

As the regional power and a democracy, India is keen to see democracy restored in Maldives. The international community is looking to Delhi to resolve the crisis. However, India is in a dilemma. It has limited leverage with Yameen as Delhi's ties with him have been strained. However, India cannot look the other way while the archipelago burns. Former president Mohamed Nasheed has called on India to send an envoy backed with troops to Maldives to defuse the crisis. His request is understandable; Yameen has shown himself not amenable to persuasion and sane advice. But military intervention may not help the cause of democracy in Maldives. For democracy to survive there, it must evolve locally, not be transplanted or heli-dropped from elsewhere.

Some in India are advocating sending troops to Maldives. This is necessary, they argue, for India to protect its security interests and strengthen regional stability. If it fails to act now, Maldives will move closer to China, they warn. However, military intervention in Maldives could deepen anti-India sentiment there. Besides, China is unlikely to stand aside quietly while India sends troops to Maldives. The possibility of Beijing stirring trouble for India, either in Maldives or along the Sino-Indian border cannot be ruled out. Rather than intervening, India must persist with the diplomatic approach, even if this produces results slowly. Maldives lies near international sea lanes. Instability there will impact global trade. India must lead an international campaign to press Yameen to hold free and fair elections. It is unfortunate that the Narendra Modi government rebuffed Yameen's bid to send a special envoy to Delhi to discuss the crisis. Here was an opportunity for India to offer Maldives its good offices. Delhi blundered by rejecting Yameen's outreach.

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