Difficult choice

Difficult choice

India’s neighbourhood diplomacy has often faced difficult choices. On the one hand, as the only functionally stable democracy, New Delhi is committed to promoting democracy in the neighbouring countries.

That has, however, been a challenging proposition since India is also committed to a policy of non-interference in internal affairs of a third country. In the highly divisive domestic politics of the countries in the neighbourhood, political rivals in each of the South Asian countries have been too happy to invent an Indian hand to discredit those in power.

When the commitment to established constitutional procedures are weak and democracies are fluid, such  talks have often ended up weakening democracy. In the past, it has happened in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and now, in the Maldives. A stable and preferably a democratic neighbourhood are vital for India’s peace, security and development.

Much as India would have liked, it could not avoid the coup in the Maldives earlier this week. To avoid the unconstitutional change of guard in Male would probably have required New Delhi send out signals about its readiness to rush Indian troops, if not sending the troops outright, in defence of the elected government of president Mohamed Nasheed.

But that would be tantamount to an Indian military intervention in the Maldives in the eyes of Nasheed’s rivals who were seeking his ouster. Rightly, India avoided that course. It tried in vain to project Nasheed’s ouster at gunpoint as a voluntary resignation while it endorsed the subsequent change of guard – vice president Mohammed Waheed Hassan taking over the presidency for the remaining 20 months of the Nasheed’s democratically elected 5-year term.

Nasheed spilled the beans by going public within two days of his resignation that he was indeed forced out of the office. This revelation about the abrupt political change is potentially a recipe for political confrontation and violence in the Maldives, raising serious questions about peace.

Nasheed’s assertions are an embarrassment to New Delhi. But beyond that, the dangerous situation thrust upon India a bigger responsibility – to quickly cool the rising political tempers in the Maldives. India has done well to keep the five UN Security Council members, including China, in picture as it steps up diplomatic engagement with the new president, Nasheed and other opposition leaders to encourage them to cool their nerves and step back from the path of confrontation.