As Mohamed Nasheed makes a somewhat triumphant return from exile to the Maldives, the former President and democracy champion vows not to play India and China against one another.
The former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, sees the island nation as a “solution” to South Asia's security issues and what he describes as a “brewing cold war” between the two major powers of the region - India and China.
In an address just before he left his base while in exile in London, the founder-member of the recently victorious Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the country's presidential elections described India as a friendly country which can help solve a lot of issues for the beleaguered nation.
“There is a cold war brewing between India and China. In my view, Maldives can be part of the solution in the region. Any attempt to play one against the other would be silly and very outdated politics,” said Nasheed, addressing an event titled 'Defending Democracy from Exile: The Maldives Opposition 2012-2018' at the South Asia Institute of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
“We occupy the most navigable parts of the Indian Ocean. We are not a small country, we are big ocean state. We are 1,000-km from north to south. Our territory is bigger than Saudi Arabia. We have been traditionally Indian friends,” he said.
Nasheed was jailed in the Maldives to 13 years in March 2015 in a case deemed to be politically-motivated and was granted political asylum in the UK in January 2016 after being allowed to travel there for medical reasons. He had earlier urged Indian intervention to ensure free and fair elections in the Maldives, which last month resulted in the defeat of President Abdulla Yameen's Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and threw up a victory, by 58.4 per cent of the vote, for Opposition MDP's Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
“I didn't ask for military intervention. I asked for an Indian official backed by its military to go there and sort it out. There are instances when higher officials can go into other countries and speak. That would have solved many issues at that time. It can still solve a lot of issues,” said Nasheed, while welcoming the outcome of the polls.
“The election results were so overwhelming on our side. We all know that when people come out and speak, President Yameen cannot go on. He dropped the catch when he couldn't fix the election,” he said.
In October, Yameen's party lost a Supreme Court petition calling for the annulment of the September 23 election results. As Nasheed makes a return to the Maldives in November, he remains confident about the future.
“For me, home is within you. You always carry it in your heart. For the past two years, my home has been here in London. Now, I must take leave. It's time for me to go home because far away, across the Indian Ocean and over the Maldives, the sun is again shining,” he said.
And things certainly seem to moving in the right direction for the country as the Supreme Court recently stayed the exiled former President's 13-year jail sentence on terrorism charges, allowing him to return.
The newly-elected President, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, a close ally of Nasheed, and together they hope to bring the tropical archipelago back from the depths of political upheaval since a state of emergency was imposed by former President Yameen.
India, located just 400 km from Maldives, played a crucial role in manoeuvring things in the region back to some form of stability and has since welcomed the election results.
“This election marks not only the triumph of democratic forces in the Maldives, but also reflects the firm commitment to the values of democracy and the rule of law," India's Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
The latest developments in the region no doubt comes as some relief in Indian quarters, given China's growing influence in Maldives under the previous regime headed by Yameen. The Maldives received significant grants and loans from China′s Belt and Road Initiative, but that move in itself has proved controversial due to heavy debt burden of the largely tourism-reliant economy of the archipelago.
In his election campaign speeches, Solih made many references to the Chinese “debt trap”, and described Chinese development projects in the country as “land grab”. This would give India hope that some of the major Chinese investments in the region may be reviewed and, preferably, halted.
The next big event in the Maldivian political calendar is the parliamentary election next year and India will be hoping that it throws up a stable and India-friendly government in its immediate neighbourhood.