Political witch-hunt

Political witch-hunt

A political witch-hunt launched against him by the Maldivian government has forced former President Mohamed Nasheed to seek refuge at the Indian High Commission in Male. A court ordered Nasheed’s arrest on a charge of abuse of power while he was president. Nasheed turned to the Indian High Commission to avoid arrest. The court order seems politically motivated.

Conviction and arrest would debar Nasheed from contesting the presidential poll in September. It is evident that vested interests in the Maldives are determined to keep Nasheed out of power. A year ago, Nasheed, who is the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, was ousted in a ‘soft coup’ — he was forced at the point of the gun to step down. In the months since, President Mohamed Wahid has acted systematically against activists and leaders of the Maldivian Democratic Party, which has been campaigning for early elections. The country’s nascent democracy has suffered grievously with almost every democratic institution, especially the judiciary, being stuffed with anti-MDP elements.

 India has done well to provide Nasheed with sanctuary. It has rightly called for free, fair and inclusive elections in the Maldives. Delhi seems to be seeking to correct its ill-informed endorsement of the Wahid government last year. It may be recalled that in the wake of Nasheed’s stepping down, the Indian government in a hard-to-understand decision failed to condemn the ouster. Instead, it described the ouster as a "peaceful constitutional transition", which it clearly was not. The MDP’s efforts to sensitise India to the real nature of the power shift fell on deaf ears. and Delhi appears to have woken up from its slumber at last.

 India’s policy towards the Maldives has suffered from a lack of direction, purpose or principles. It continued to back the authoritarian Maumoon Gayoom for years, even after a powerful pro-democracy movement led by the MDP emerged. Its support to democracy in the archipelago has been hesitant at best. This is a pity for several reasons. For one, democracy has strong support among Maldivian youth. Besides, supporting democracy in the Maldives is in India’s strategic interest. Wahid’s government has undermined the Maldives’ long-standing pro-India foreign policy. There has been a noticeable tilt in Male towards China in recent months, which India cannot ignore.  India and the international community must speak up in favour of restoration of democracy in the Maldives.

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