In the historic 2018 elections voters of Maldives kicked out pro-China President, Abdulla Yameen, and elected the Maldivian opposition candidate-Ibrahim Mohamed Solih- as the next president of Maldives. Over the past few years, pro China regimes have been facing stiff resistance in several countries. Maldivian elections are reminiscent to the Sri Lankan elections where pro-China Mahindra Rajapaksa was ousted by a joint opposition candidate. Exit of Yameen from power is likely to bring Maldives closer to India.
That was proved after several actions taken under the newly elected government to protect regional interests from the influence of China. Former president of Maldives and advisor to newly elected President Solih, Mohamed Nasheed, had made it clear that the new Maldivian government will not go forward with the Free Trade Agreement with China. The statement came from a senior lawmaker and was later tacitly supported by Nasheed. Calling FTA a one sided treaty he said: “The trade imbalance between China and the Maldives is so huge that nobody would think of an FTA between such parties”, said Nasheed.
After the change of regime the India-Maldives relations were again on track, recently on his first visit to the island nation Narendra Modi was conferred with country’s highest honor accorded to foreign dignitaries.
President @ibusolih has announced his decision to confer on PM of India H.E. @narendramodi the Maldives highest honour accorded to foreign dignitaries, “The Most Honourable Order of the Distinguished Rule of Nishan Izzuddeen” during PM’s visit today. Namaskar, Swagatham ?
— Abdulla Shahid ? (@abdulla_shahid) June 8, 2019
However, the elections in Maldives were marred in controversies amid allegations of meddling in elections by the pro-China Abdulla Yameen government. Defeating Chinese backed Abdulla Yameen was not easy but a joint opposition, people’s will to restore democracy, international pressure including that of India made it possible. International community ensured that Abdulla Yameen could not indulge in rigging the elections. The EU and the US threatened various sanctions against Yameen and members of his government if they were found indulging in any wrong-doings during polls.
Not just EU, India also made its contribution in the free and fair conduct of elections. In late August, the BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy had said that if there is evidence of vote rigging in Maldivian elections by China-backed President then India should invade the Maldives. The Ministry of External Affairs had distanced itself from Swamy’s statement and clarified that whatever he has said it is in his personal capacity and India have no such plans.
A recent media report outlines the role which India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) might have played at crippling the unwelcome Chinese influence in the region. The report which outlines the efforts by RAW to cripple Pakistan China nexus in the region stated “The ISI, backed by Ministry of State Security, MSS (Chinese spy agency) and involving a few close aides of former Maldives President Abdullah Yameen, was encouraging anti-India activities being operated from Pakistan’s embassy located in Male, report says. Yameen was allegedly close to a senior Pakistan diplomat and was later trapped by the Chinese agency.”
The report also points towards the growing influence of ISI in the region which even started its anti-India activities on Maldivian sovereign territory. “Turning the tide against Yameen, pro-India leader Ibrahim Mohammed Solih took an anti-China stance in last year’s election and succeeded in his mission. Sources said once Solih took over the reins in Male, ISI’s growing influence in the Maldives was gradually neutralized. Besides the Maldives, RAW is also stepping up its vigil of Chinese vessels around Seychelles and Mauritius.”
According to a source, the situation changed once Ibrahim Mohammed Solih took over as Maldives’ new President. “Finally Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Maldives (June 8 and 9) was a morale booster for India’s security and intelligence agencies. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was the key person in planning this first foreign visit of Modi in his second term, a source said.
Election of pro-India leader Ibrahim Mohammed Solih started the gradual neutralization of ISI’ and China’s Influence in the region. RAW is also developing assets and capabilities to counter further threats and intends to hold its influence in the region. Since the coming of Solih administration, Maldives has shown a clear preference for India over China and for this, the credit goes to constant engagement with the geopolitically crucial nation by the Modi government and agencies like R&AW. There’s no looking back for the soaring Indo-Maldivian friendship.