[Diplomacy] Maldives Coup: Reasons, Implications, Nasheed, Prologue to GMR Issue explained

Diplomacy111 Comments

  1. Why is Maldives important for India?
  2. Brief History of Maldives
  3. Operation Cactus 1988
  4. Entry of Mohd.Nasheed, 2004
  5. Economic Problems
  6. Tourism and Islam
  7. Coup against Nasheed, 2012
  8. Pro-Mohd.Nasheed version of Coup-story
  9. Anti-Nasheed version of Coup-Story
  10. India’s Stand on Maldives crisis
    1. India did bad
    2. India did good
  11. India-Maldives cooperation
  12. Male vs Mali coup
  13. Mock Questions

Why is Maldives important for India?

  • Maldives is an island country of about 1,200 small coral islands, roughly 600km away from Indian mainland.
  • Because of its geographical location, Maldives forms a vital cog in the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean.

Against China

  • Almost all the cargo vessels have to pass through this region. Therefore, During Indo-China war, If you want to control the supply lines in Indian Ocean, you must have a base in the Maldives.
  • Apart from Maldives, Diego Garcia and Seychelles are other important strategic locations in the Western Indian Ocean.
  • India needs strong allies in the neighborhood to ensure the Indian Ocean does not become a Chinese lake in the long run.
  • For this, cooperation from Maldives=essential.

Against Pakistan

  • Maldives could serve as a potential launch pad for terrorists targeting India.
  • There are intel reports that Lashkar-e-Toiba is trying to setup base in Maldives and to use it as weapons storehouse. From Maldives they aim to transport men and weapons to Kerala, and from there to rest of India.
  • because Post-26/11, Indian Navy and coast-guard has tightened the security around coastal areas of Mumbai, Gulf of Cambay etc. so very hard to transport men and material directly from those areas.

map maldives

Brief History of Maldives

  • For long, Maldives was run by local Muslim kings.
  • The British government had promised them military protection and non-interference in local administration in exchange for an annual tribute (cash).
  • So, prior to independence, Maldives was similar to an Indian princely state.
  • In the mid-60s, Britishers left. Maldives became a republic (i.e. rule of people and not rule of kings.)
  • In late 70s, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became the President of Maldives.
  • He continued as President for 30-years,  winning six consecutive elections without any opposition!
  • so you can imagine that he regularly used police and military to crush down opposition parties. He also gave all the Government jobs to his loyal supporters.
  • Parliament of Maldives= known as People’s Majlis.
  • Official language= Dhivehi

Operation Cactus 1988

  • In 1988, a group of Maldivian businessmen and political leaders tried to seize power, with the help of mercenaries.
  • But Indian Government sent troops to restor order, and helped Maumoon Gayoom continue as President.
  • This is known as Operation Cactus.

Entry of Mohd.Nasheed, 2004

  • From 2004 onwards, Mohamed Nasheed started protests against the mis-rule of Gayoom.
  • Finally in 2008, Gayoom gave up power and Mohd. Nasheed became the first democratically elected President of Maldives.
  • Once he held a cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the dangers of rising sea levels.

Economic Problems

  • GDP of Maldives= 2 billion dollars.
  • Almost 70% of Maldives’ GDP comes from Tourism, airport and allied activities.
  • 2004: Tsunami came and badly affected tourism.
  • 2007 onwards: Bad economic situation in USA  and Europe = less tourists coming for vacation.

Tourism

  • Maldives has population around 3 lakh and almost all of them are Sunni Muslims.
  • Islam is the state religion of Maldives. Open Practice of any other religion is forbidden.
  • Government of Maldives follows a special type of tourism policy.
  • The islands are separated into “uninhabited islands” vs “inhabited islands (of local Muslim population.)”
  • The tourist resorts are opened in the uninhabited islands.
  • Tourists are allowed to consume alcohol, loiter around in bikini etc. in these uninhabited resort islands.
  • But ^these activities are banned in the inhabited islands, to preserve the local Islamic traditions.
  • So ground reality = a foreign tourist will come to Male Airport, tour operator will take him to the resort-islands via speed boats or chartered planes.
  • Recently, President Nasheed was planning to open new tourist resorts on inhabited islands, because of two reasons
  1. To Increase competition among resort owners.
  2. To weaken the powerful local businessmen/political lobby associated with the Tourism business.
  3. To Increase tax collection.

His opposition parties tried to portray this as an un-Islamic act of Nasheed and fuel public anger.
Players in Maldives Coup

Coup against Nasheed, 2012

  • After becoming President, Mohd.Nasheed had ordered judicial inquires against corruption and scandals done by Ex-President Gayoom and his gangsters.
  • In January 2012, President Nasheed ordered arrest of chief justice of the Maldives on charges that Chief Justice was blocking cases against Ex-President Gayoom and his gangsters.
  • Opposition parties took this opportunity to conduct protests and riots against Nasheed.
  • Policemen also supported the rioters.
  • Ultimately Nasheed resigned in Feb 2012 and handed over power to his Vice President Mohd.Waheed.
  • Thus Waheed became the President of Maldives. He has promised to hold “Free and fair” election somewhere in early 2013.

There are two version of what happened behind the curtains.

Pro-Mohd.Nasheed version of Maldives coup-story

Tourist Resort Owners plotted everything!

  • Maldives is a tourism economy but after global recession post 2007, the tourists were declining.
  • That lead to food inflation and unemployment.
  • So, Nasheed decided to impose more taxes on rich tourist resort owners and use that cash to run MNREGAs.
  • These rich businessmen got angry and they financed the protests to get rid of Nasheed.

Waheed plotted the whole damn thing!

  • The radical Islamic groups of Maldives, do not like the reformist and modern outlook of Nasheed.
  • So they helped Vice-President Waheed to grab the power, to create a fundamentalist Islamist government
  • The new President Waheed said he’d include Islamic parties in his new cabinet, because they are “part of our society and can’t be ignored”.
  • It proves that Vice President Waheed was hand in glove with these radical elements and he secreted plotted all these protests, to become President.

Pakistan plotted everything!

  • During the Anti-Nasheed protests, many historical Buddhist and Hindu relics at the Maldives’ National Museum were destroyed.
  • This suggest that protests were handiwork of radical Muslim outfits who aim to ‘Talibanize’ Maldives.
  • Earlier President Nasheed used to send lists to Indian intelligence agencies, about Maldivian students studying in India, who were suspected radicals.
  • Based in these intelligence inputs, India found out that many fundamentalist Maldivian groups were sending terror recruits in the garb of students to India, who would later smuggle themselves into Pakistan for training.
  • Nasheed had also agreed to far-reaching defense arrangements with India after 26/11.
  • Thus radical Islamists of Maldives and ISI stirred up the protests against him.

China plotted everything!

  • The top police and military officers of Maldives are in pockets of China.
  • And Since Nasheed is very close to Indian political establishment, China secretly plotted this coup to get rid of him (part of strings of pearls theory).
  • The police and security forces joined with anti-government protesters under the guise of defending Islam.
  • And they warned Nasheed “you must resign, else we’ll shoot your supporters on sight.” (or at least that’s what Nasheed told the media.)

Anti-Nasheed version of Coup-Story

No Taliban angle

  • The Sunni Muslims of Maldives have liberal and modern outlook.
  • Nasheed is intentionally spreading of the stories of possible “Talibanization”, to make USA and India feel worried and support him instead of the opposition parties.
  • At best, this whole event can be termed as power struggle between Nasheed and Waheed.
  • Both of them have tried to use religion for their individual power ambitions. (Nasheed making stories of Talibanization to win support of India and USA  while Waheed seeking support of radical groups in the name of tourist resorts etc.)
  • Maldives is a tourism economy and it has been badly affected by Global Economic recession. There is widespread unemployment and huge food inflation.
  • But President Nasheed has been unable to tackle this Issues and hence public protests against his rule. To suggest that everything is handiwork of China, Pakistan, ISI and radicals would be an over-simplification.

Nasheed=Autocrat

  • Holding Public office and leading street demonstrations require different hats. (That’s why Jholachhap NGOs cannot be allowed to run countries.)
  • Nasheed was good at holding dharnaa-pradarshan against Gayoom, but after becoming the President, Nasheed did not grow in office and his style was quite un-presidential and autocratic.
  • He did not try to have smooth consultation with opposition parties. He hasn’t spoken with leader of opposition for 6 months.
  • He was overconfident that India would support him in any coup/political crisis just like we did to Gayoom in Operation Cactus, 1988.
  • Therefore he was careless about the brewing opposition.

Nasheed= Drunk with power

  • In 2010, he ordered police to arrest the Deputy speaker of parliament.
  • But Police did not follow his order (because Supreme court had termed Nasheed’s order illegal).
  • Then Nasheed used army to arrest that Deputy Speaker. Hence there is lot of bitterness between (judiciary+police) vs Nasheed since 2010.
  • After Nasheed resigned from Presidency, his supporters destroyed police stations, court houses throughout the island. So he is not different from his opponents who use violence to achieve their goals.

India’s Stand on Maldives Coup

After the Male Coup, At first Indian Government’s stand was…

  1. We’ll treat the matter as an internal issue of Maldives, to be sorted out by themselves.
  2. We recognize the newly sworn in President Waheed as the Head of Maldives.
  3. We are prepared to work with whoever is legitimately in power Maldives.

But then, Pro-Nasheed supporters also started protests and rioting. Nasheed has blamed India for not supporting him during critical time and wrongly diagnosing the problem. So India sent a special envoy to assess the ground realities.

Experts have ‘divided’ opinion on India’s approach to Maldivian coup.

Opinion #1: India did bad

  • Prevention was better than cure. India should have quietly used its goodwill with the politicians in Maldives, to avert the crisis when it was slowly building up.
  • Ex-President Nasheed had been sensitive to India’s commercial and strategic interests, has taken India’s relations with Maldives to new heights.
  • Ex-President Nasheed stands for democracy, religious moderation and human rights that are strongly cherished by India.
  • Ex-President Nasheed, enjoys huge popular support even after being ousted by Waheed.
  • Therefore, by siding with Waheed’s gang, India has lost considerable goodwill and isolated itself in the eyes of Maldivian people.
  • India should have actively supported Nasheed during the crisis just like it did to Gayoom in Operation Cactus.
  • But India supported Waheed, because in recent years, Indian foreign policymaking has become hostage to woolly-headed thinking about peace, multi-lateralism, cooperation, aversion to even slightest risk.
  • The results have been disastrous.
  • Waheed’s Government ended Indian Company GMR’s airport contract because of Chinese lobbying. (GMR issue will be discussed in a separate article later.)
  • It proves that India has totally failed to meet the Maldivian challenge.
  • This will hurt our vital national interests in Indian Ocean and embolden our rivals (China, Pak) in the region.

Opinion #2: India did good

  • India has done right thing by not repeating Operation Cactus and not actively intervening in the Maldivian crisis. Reasons are following
  1. Maldivian political space is bitterly polarised, and Constitutional institutions like the judiciary and election commission have lost their credibility.
  2. Therefore, if India had used some strong arm-tactics (sending military etc) to keep Nasheed in power, even then, the whole crisis would have repeated again in a few months.
  3. Democracies are notoriously unstable and messy in the beginning. They require patience and commitment.
  4. So Maldives democracy should be allowed to evolve by itself, without interference from external powers, including India.

India-Maldives cooperation

Over the years, India has signed many agreements with Maldives under which

  1. Foreign trawlers from Indonesia etc. do massive fishing in Maldivian waters, illegally.
  2. Maldives lacks a powerful navy to combat them and hence seeks India’s cooperation.
  3. India will set up a network of radars across the Maldives’ islands. These radars will be linked to the Indian coastal command. This will help us keep track of movements of pirates, illegal fishing trawlers etc in the region.
  4. Establishing an air force station to carry surveillance flights.
  5. building a military hospital in Male, police training academy
  6. giving admission to Maldivian students in Indian univ.
  7. India also bought 100 million dollar worth bonds of Maldivian Government to give them financial help.
  8. + bilateral intelligence sharing, ‘capacity building, cooperation in climate change, sustainable Development (desi-liquor) and other usual diplomatic stuff.

Male vs Mali coup

Please donot confuse these two coups.

Male CoupMali Coup
GeographyMale is the capital city of MaldivesMali is a landlocked country in  Northwestern Africa.
Happened inFeb 2012March 2012
ResignedPresident NasheedPrime Minister Diarra.

Mock Questions

Q1. Which of the following is incorrectly matched?

  1. Israel
Knesset
  1. Japan
Diet
  1. Indonesia
Majlis
  1. Maldives
Majlis
  1. Only 3
  2. Only 1 and 2
  3. Only 2 and 3
  4. None

Q2. Which of the following is/are an Island Nation?

  1. Macau
  2. Maldives
  3. Malta
  4. Ireland
  1. Only 1 and 2
  2. Only 2 and 3
  3. Only 2, 3 and 4
  4. All of them

Q3. Which of the following is correct?

  1. Atoll is a coral island
  2. Archipelago is a group of islands
  1. Only 1
  2. Only 2
  3. Both
  4. None

Q4. which of the following is incorrect

  1. Official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha
  2. Official language of Maldives is Dhivehi
  1. Only 1
  2. Only 2
  3. Both
  4. None

Q5. Incorrect match

OperationLocation
  1. Polo
Hyderabad
  1. Vijay
Goa, Daman, Diu
  1. Meghdoot
Siachen
  1. Black Tornedo
Sri-Lanka

Mains

  1. Critically evaluate India’s response to Maldivian political crisis and its future implications. (20m)
  2. Discuss the strategic importance of Maldives for India (15m)
  3. Write a note on India-Maldives Defense and maritime cooperation. (10m)

Interview

  1. India has done the right thing by not repeating Operation Cactus in Maldives.” Do you agree with this statement? Yes/No. Justify your stand.
  2. Apart from Maldives, which other countries in South East Asia have faced coups in Past?
  3. Can you recall any example of coups from Ancient or Medieval Indian History?
  4. Why were coups successful in Pakistan?
  5. Reasons why coups donot happen in India?
  6. For a coup to be successful, what are the pre-requisites?

For the entire Archieve of diplomacy related articles, visit Mrunal.org/diplomacy

Mrunal recommends

  1. (free) NCERT, NIOS, TN-Books
  2. Environment by ShankarIAS
  3. Indian Polity M.Laxmikanth (Hindi | English)
  4. Art & Culture by Nitin Singhania (Hindi | English)
  5. Spectrum: Modern History (Hindi | English)
  6. Bipin Chandra: Post Independence
  7. Fast-track to Arithmetic Rajesh Verma
  8. MK Pandey’s Analytical Reasoning
  9. Disha’s Topicwise Paperset (Hindi | English)
  10. School Atlas
  11. Mains: Language papers
  1. (free) NCERT, NIOS, TN-Books 4 History,Geo,Sci
  2. Indian Polity M.Laxmikanth (Hindi | English)
  3. Spectrum: Modern History (Hindi | English)
  4. Maths: Quantam CAT Sarvesh Kumar
  5. Objective General English SP Bakshi
  6. Word Power made Easy -Norman Lowe
  7. Topic wise Solved Paperset by Disha


So far 111 Comments posted

  1. ashif

    plz explain means of-” to ‘Talibanize’ Maldives.”

    1. Rahul

      Ashif, “talibanization of Maldives” implies heavy presence of Taliban bases and in long-run the rule of the country by fundamentalist terrorist organizations. Like say in Afghanistan. This happens generally when there is lack of strong law and order machinery + political instability

  2. Aseem

    Another high quality article..just wanted to say that pls stop this desi liquor joke in every article..it has started becoming a noise

  3. sujanian286

    Nice reading.. guys

  4. icephoenix

    I am not being judgemental or biased here: But when I read this, what struck me is the stark similarity between Nasheed and India’s Arvind Kejriwal. here’s what I think it is:
    1.Both were leaders of street protests turned ministers/Prez.Holding Public office and leading street demonstrations require different hats. (That’s why Jholachhap NGOs cannot be allowed to run countries.)Nasheed was good at holding dharnaa-pradarshan against Gayoom, but after becoming the President, Nasheed did not grow in office and his style was quite un-presidential and autocratic. So was Arvind Kejriwal, who resigned from his job in 39 days and that held dharna while in-office.
    2.Nasheed: He did not try to have smooth consultation with opposition parties. He hasn’t spoken with leader of opposition for 6 months.
    Kejriwal: We know what he does to the opposition- bad-mouth them openly.
    3.Nasheed:He was overconfident that India would support him in any coup/political crisis just like we did to Gayoom in Operation Cactus, 1988.Therefore he was careless about the brewing opposition.
    Kejriwal: He is over-confident about the juntaa. Keeps carping the other politicians while media scandals keep brewing telling people a different story about him.
    4. Nasheed= Drunk with power. Too early to say that about Kejri.
    5.Nasheed: In 2010, he ordered police to arrest the Deputy speaker of parliament.But Police did not follow his order (because Supreme court had termed Nasheed’s order illegal).Then Nasheed used army to arrest that Deputy Speaker. Hence there is lot of bitterness between (judiciary+police) vs Nasheed since 2010.
    Kejriwal: We know what happened in Delhi. and the bitterness between people following constitutional stuffs+police v/s Kejri.
    6.After Nasheed resigned from Presidency, his supporters destroyed police stations, court houses throughout the island. So he is not different from his opponents who use violence to achieve their goals.
    Kejri: Though not big-scale but Violence at Lucknow Party office of a rival party.

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