Maldives: What Ahmed Adheeb’s ‘escape’ means for India


N Sathiya Moorthy,  6 August 2019 

As with ‘Operation Cactus’ (1988), the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and other arms of the Government of India deserve kudos from the nation, for taking the right decision on la affaireAdheeb’ quicklyand implementing it swiftly. The Maldives and the international community should be praising New Delhi in the matter, for dealing with the issue successfully before it got blown out of proportion

It is anybody’s guess why and how advisors of Ahmed Adheeb, the jailed former Vice-President of Maldives, could consider India a safe haven for him to jump ‘house prison’ in capital Male, and seek ‘political asylum’ in India. If nothing else, they should have at least remembered the official Indian position when the former Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed, now Parliament Speaker, staged a sit-in at the Indian Embassy in Male, to pre-empt court-summoned presence or arrest in February 2013 in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’.

Indian diplomats, both based in Male and flying in from New Delhi, prevailed upon Nasheed and his MDP supporters, to leave the premises, which under international laws and conventions are treated as ‘Indian territory’. India also worked out other modalities pertaining to the assured conduct of the presidential polls in October that year and freedom for Nasheed to contest the same. In the final analysis, Nasheed lost to the rival PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen, who made Adheeb his Vice-President and also branded him as a ‘traitor’, all within four months (July-November 2015).

Possibly caught unawares initially, the MEA and the rest of Government of India worked out the modalities, in quick succession. Thus,Adheeb, rather the tug-boat in which he was travelling was detained in the seas, and he was not allowed to land in Thoothukudy or any other part of India.

When New Delhi later decided to send him back to Maldives, for the authorities there to decide on his future, the MEA repeatedly clarified that he was ‘not deported’ but only sent back. The legal implication was clear. Only a person who had landed in an Indian port designated for foreigners to enter, can even be considered for his or her ‘deportation’. Adheeb was a stowaway and he had to be treated only as such.

Removing suspicions

The Indian decision would go a long way in cementing bilateral official and diplomatic relations between the two countries, independent of the party or leader in power. India has acted like any ‘responsible’ nation should behave in this post-Cold War era of unpredictability, especially in matters concerning individuals.

In the case of Wikipedia owner founder Julian Assange, the Ethiopian Embassy in London behaved in a certain way up to a point in time, but reversed the same overnight, and handed him over to the UK authorities. The reasoning was unjustifiable in the first round, when he was granted asylum. It became suspect when the asylum order was reversed or withdrawn and he was handed over to the British police.

In the case of Maldives, the Yameen regime had handed over a Russian politician’s son wanted in the US for ‘big-time data-theft’, to American authorities without following any formal procedure in the matter. Russia reacted strongly to what it described as ‘kidnapping’, and the episode threatened to rock bilateral relations with Maldives.

Apart from cementing bilateral ties at the official and diplomatic levels, la affaire Adheeb would also go a long way in erasing avoidable suspicions, in the average Maldivian mind about India’s intentions and share, if at all any, in Adheeb’s plot and decision. Like all small-big neighbour relations, such suspicions are unavoidable but should be avoided, all the same. In the case of Nasheed’s week-long sit-in at the Indian Embassy, the Maldivian social media was beginning to see an ‘Indian hand’ in his maverick decision.

However, the Government of Nasheed’s ‘surprise successor’, President Mohammed Waheed and his alliance partners, led by the PPM, had been careful in expressing any public opinion. In a way, that was also the time when the Yameen camp’s suspicions about India wanting an ‘inclusive poll’ for the presidency began emerging.

They were convinced, without proof and justification, that by ‘inclusive elections’, New Delhi wanted freedom and opportunity for Nasheed, otherwise an accused facing ‘possible disqualification’ under the local law, to contest. Coming as it did in the background of the ‘GMR episode’, they ended up linking New Delhi’s ‘developmental participation’ through the Indian private sector to perceived ‘interference’ in legal and political developments in the host-nation.

For a time, Nasheed’s detractors forgot that India was the first nation to recognise the Waheed Government, when the Maldivian Parliament voted the leadership change-over. It was done in the same spirit as during ‘Operation Cactus’ that if left unaddressed by India at the first sight of avacuum, it could tempt third nations to try and fill the same.

Under the 2008 Constitution, the running-mate of a vice-presidential nominee had no real powers under the presidency. It was based on the ‘American model’ but without built-in inheritance of decades and centuries, where the respective roles were defined – and was never taken for granted, not in the past hundred years and more.

Jinxed job…

In Maldives, Nasheed’s MDP saw Waheed, then Vice-President, as conspiring with anti-Nasheed forces to succeed him, without fresh presidential polls. However, this happened only after Nasheed was also known and seen as wantonly side-lining his chosen Vice-President, who was told that he was a member of the Cabinet only in name (precisely as in the US, whose polity and system Waheed knew better). But Maldives was a different cup of tea, and the promises to, and expectations of, Waheed were believed to be different.

In the Maldivian context, the VP’s job seems to have been jinxed from the start. Nasheed chose Waheed because he wanted an aura of intellectual content to his ticket. Waheed chose resort tycoon Mohammed Waheed Deen for his VP, for reasons that were not discernible. Both Yameen and Nasheed chose relatively better-educated southerners for their running-mate for bringing in additional, non-committed voters.

Yet, when Yameen became President, like Nasheed before him, he also was uncomfortable with the VP, Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, a PhD holder in criminology from a reputed British university. Unlike the Nasheed-Waheed combo, Yameen entrusted the overseeing of social sector ministries to his VP. Yet, he was uncomfortable with Jameel Ahmed after a point, and became suspicious too.

When Jameel flew the coup and ended up in the UK, Yameen was left with little choice but to have the Parliament impeach him. In Jameel’s place came Adheeb, who was the all-important Tourism Minister at the time. Better still in Adheeb’s favour, Yameen even got the Parliament to bring down the minimum age for President and Vice-President from 35 to 30 years, to ensure that Adheeb could be made VP.

Yet, in less than four months later, it became a ‘sour marriage of inconvenience’. Adheeb was arrested for plotting to assassinate President Yameen, when a blast ripped off a part of the latter’s official speed-boat bringing him back to capital Male from airport-island, Hulhule. Yameen got Parliament to impeach Adheeb, too, and had his relatively successful Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad, a moderate, cloistered as his third VP in two years.

Jihad continued till the end of Yameen’s term (November 2018), and spoke less and was spoken about even lesser, compared to his glorious days in the past. Given his relatively longer experience in economic management and also the circumstances under which he was elevated, apart from the political fate of his predecessors, Jihad seemed to have understood the inherent limitations of his new office – which was akin to that of the VP under the American scheme, nothing more, nothing less!

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