Mohammed Muizzu has put Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a spot with two demands. One, come into my parlour and attend my coronation, the Maldivian president-elect has told Modi. Two, get all Indian troops out of the Maldives asap.
The first is easy to comply with or politely refuse. If he is inclined so, Modi can land in the Male airport, drive along the new bridge from the airport-island to the capital-island, and attend the swearing-in. If he doesn’t want to drive on a Chinese-built bridge, he can take a ferry from the airport to the capital, as used to be done earlier.
The point is: there’s no harm in Modi going. After all, he had graced Muizzu’s predecessor Ibrahim Solih’s swearing-in in 2018.
There is a difference, many would say. Solih was a friend of India; Muizzu isn’t. Muizzu is a friend of Solih’s predecessor Abdulla Yameen who had hosted Xi Jinping as the first Chinese president to set foot on the atoll republic, evicted the Indian company GMR out of an airport-building job, and given the contract to a Chinese firm. Solih undid much of the damage that had been done to India during Yameen’s tenure, and steered the Maldives closer towards India again. Now we have to wait and see how Muizzu will redamage the damage undone by Solih.
That’s all the more reason for Modi to go, I would say. If Modi can befriend Muizzu by being there to bless him on the big day, very well, then. A long shot, but why not? After all, Modi had tried it on Nawaz Sharif in 2015 by air-dropping at Sharif’s grand-daughter’s wedding in Karachi.
All the same, if he is not so inclined, Modi can politely regret citing his preoccupation with the assembly polls, and send a cabinet minister or even the vice-president to represent India.
The second demand—to pull out troops—is truly a tough call. If Muizzu means combat troops, well, that’s tougher still. For, there just aren’t any Indian combat troops in the Maldives.
Indian troops are the bogeymen of Maldivian politicians, just like the CIA was to many in the India of the 1970s, and George Soros is to many in the India of today. Many a political career has been made in the Maldives by citing Indian military presence, though no combat trooper has been sighted any time. Except those occasional officers who drop by to train their troops, or those few troopers who go for joint exercises.
Indeed, combat troops had landed guns blazing in the Maldives in 1988. That was when a bunch of rag-tag mercenaries had staged a coup, and taken president Abdul Gayoom a prisoner. Rajiv Gandhi’s troops landed in planes and ships in Hollywood style, secured the airstrip, gave a thrilling boat chase to the ‘wild geese’, rescued the president, and brought the rebels tied up in ropes to face the law.
All other Indian uniformed men who landed in the Maldives have been non-combatants—some on warships loaded with food, fuel, tentage and blankets when the tsunami hit the Indian Ocean shores on Boxing Day 2004, others on huge tanker planes carrying drinking water for the four lakh Male townsfolk when their water plant was gutted in 2014.
Indeed, a few have been flying in and out, training Maldivian troopers to fly an India-gifted Dornier plane and a couple of India-gifted Dhruv choppers, and to steer an India-gifted patrol boat. A few dozen engineers and technicians have been erecting a radar fence around their unpeopled isles to protect them from pirates and terrorists. At the last count, about 170 of them are on the isles.
They bear no arms and mean no harm. You want them out, Muizzu?