India has finally warmed up to Maldives and its controversial regime of President Abdulla Yameen six months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his scheduled trip to the Indian Ocean island country. As a signal of India’s rapprochement, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will be in the Maldivian capital Male this weekend.
This was expected to happen sooner or later as India can’t ignore a neighbour and SAARC member like Maldives, particularly after contiguous neighbour Nepal has made life miserable for Indian foreign policy establishment in past few weeks.
The two sides found a novel idea of ending their political winter of sorts by deciding to revive the architecture of a joint commission between them which had been lying moribund for past 15 years.
Therefore, the official reason of Sushma Swaraj visiting Maldives on 10-11 October, as announced by MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup at his first stand-alone briefing in New Delhi on Thursday, is that she will be co-chairing the revived India-Maldives Joint Commission with her Maldivian counterpart Dunya Maumoon. This will be the first meeting of the joint commission since 2000.
Swaraj had met the Maldivian foreign minister in New York on 30 September on the sidelines of UN General Assembly where the two ladies had discussed their upcoming formal meeting in Male.
President Yameen has of late been extending an olive branch to India by heaping lavish praise on the country. Just about five weeks ago, President Yameen said his country shared an “unbreakable” bond with India. He sent strong positive vibes to India on 2 September by appreciating India’s generous assistance and the effort of his government to strengthen relations with India, as reported by the Maldivian media outfit.
Two months ago, Yameen had written a letter to PM Modi assuring him that his country’s recent constitution amendment legislation allowing foreigners to own land in Maldives was not in any way a move against India and assured that his country would do nothing to militarize the Indian Ocean. Yameen’s letter to Modi was in response to a letter the Indian PM had written to him after the Maldivian parliament had passed the constitution amendment legislation.
But the surprising thing about Sushma Swaraj’s upcoming visit to Maldives is that she won’t be meeting any opposition leaders. The Maldivian opposition is going through a harrowing time as Mohammed Nasheed, former President of Maldives and leader of the main opposition party MDP, is in jail since February this year after being convicted for terror charges. The Yameen regime has invoked censure from the West, particularly the US and the EU, apart from the United Nations.
PM Modi had cancelled his scheduled trip to Maldives in March this year only because of the unjust and barbarian treatment handed out to Nasheed by the Yameen government.
It is not clear why Sushma Swaraj won’t be meeting any opposition leaders in Maldives at a time when they are in acute distress and are looking forward to the world’s biggest democracy for help.
However, if all goes well and the two foreign ministers hit it off well, it may pave the way for PM Modi’s visit to Maldives. Indications are that the two governments are already working in that direction. In that sense, Swaraj’s visit to Maldives this weekend will be crucial.