Opposition prepares for battle

Print edition : June 24, 2016

Mohamed Nasheed, leader of United Opposition. Photo: Alastair Grant/AP

Jameel Ahmed (left), leader of the shadow Cabinet. Photo: AFP

Mohamed Nazim, former Defence Minister, is an adviser to United Opposition. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

Imran Abdulla of the A.P. is an adviser to United Opposition. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Maldives' President Abdulla Yameen and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on April 11. Photo: V. Sudershan

A FEW weeks ago, the Maldivian government reportedly made it clear to India that the Dhruv defence helicopters placed in the archipelago-nation could be taken back. There will be no renewal of the memorandum of understanding signed by the two nations that allowed India a toe-hold in Maldives, a top official with knowledge of the development, told this correspondent. This development assumes significance in the context of a top official of the Ministry of External Affairs not being given an appointment with President Abdulla Yameen of the Maldives.

Meanwhile, on June 1, representatives of Maldivian opposition parties and prominent political figures met in London to forge a common agenda for the restoration of democracy in the Indian Ocean island nation. Former President Mohamed Nasheed was appointed leader of the combine that they called United Opposition. The Adhaalatah Party (A.P.) leader Imran Abdulla and the jailed former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, were appointed advisers to it. former Vice President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has been named the leader of the shadow cabinet that United Opposition formed.

India, so used to being with the rulers, the ruled and the opposition in Maldives, was missing in action. Neither the Maldivian government nor the combined opposition seem to have any trust in India.

In London, Nasheed, who was recently given refugee status in the United Kingdom, and a few of the leading lights of the Maldivian political arena gathered to find common ground. Among those who turned up were Jameel, representatives of the jailed former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, Former ruling party MP Ahmed Mahloof, representatives from the A.P. and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and representatives of Mohamed Nazim. Jameel, Adeeb and Nazim have been part of the Yameen government. The A.P. was a coalition partner of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), a party floated by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Yameen, Gayoom’s half-brother, was elected President after he contested the election as the PPM’s candidate.

“The main purpose of United Opposition is to restore democracy in the Maldives and pave the way for a free and fair election in 2018,” said Rozaina Adam, MP and Deputy Leader of the MDP parliamentary group, in a tweet.

Page three of the seven-page agreement to form United Opposition has acknowledged all countries/offices which raised questions about the way in which Maldives was being ruled: “[W]hereas the trial and imprisonment of former President Nasheed has been condemned by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, European Parliament, the Prime Minister of the U.K., the Foreign Minister of the U.K., the U.S. Secretary of State, the U.N. Secretary-General, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, U.N. OHCHR Chief of the Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch, the Vice President of the European Commission/High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the International Commission of Jurists, South Asians for Human Rights and others.”

India, which cautioned a northern neighbour on issues relating to its Constitution-making, thereby impinging on the sovereignty of that country, has not found it fit to react, at least in a bid to be in the good books of the largest party in Maldives, the MDP.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges in 2015 after a trial that was widely denounced as politically motivated. He was allowed to fly to Britain for treatment and given 30 days’ permission from prison. Nasheed is yet to return. He risks being named a fugitive and being disqualified from contesting elections permanently.

United Opposition called for “the immediate removal of President Abdulla Yameen through all legal and lawful mechanisms”, and for “restoration of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of media, freedom to disseminate and publish news, freedom to take part in the conduct of public affairs, freedom of association, the right to free and fair elections, the right to participate in the activities of political parties, the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial Judicial Services Commission, along with all other human, civil rights and political rights guaranteed under the Maldivian Constitution”.

Yameen, emboldened by China’s generous support for Maldives, has started stifling political dissent, consolidating his power in the country and systematically jailing all opponents. The A.P. leader Imran Abdulla, for instance, was jailed for 12 years on terrorism charges for a speech he gave during a protest on May 1, 2015. Ahmed Adheeb and Mohamed Nazim, too, have been jailed on grave charges through filmsy trials. A revised anti-terrorism law has been used to curb opposition.

Although Yameen was in New Delhi recently, his growing distance from India has alarmed the few Maldivian watchers here. The problem in South Block these days, according to insiders, is that most decisions are directed from the Prime Minister’s residence, 7 Race Course Road. And the problem in 7 RCR relates to the experts that populate the buildings.

There is growing frustration among professionals from various streams of the government who provide decision-making inputs because these are considered along with the inputs made available by a group of outsiders, mainly from the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and one favoured think tank.

A few days before Narendra Modi’s election campaign in Chennai on May 6, this correspondent ran into one such “outsider”. He said he was loaned to the party (BJP) by the organisation (RSS) and that he was in Chennai to support the Modi visit, but his main job was to provide inputs on China.

Whispers are growing louder on how the handling of Nepal was messed up by these inputs. The relationship with all South Asian nations, barring Bangladesh, is worsening, and the growing distance between India and Maldives falls into that pattern.

For long, there was near-zero coordination between the public face of India in Maldives and the strategic face. Now with a new element in the picture, much more powerful than either, the picture is only bound to get murkier. Meanwhile, there seems to be no attempt to engage with United Opposition.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

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