The Maldives is a country known for its hospitable people and beautiful beaches. However, recent years have cast a shadow over the land, with the return to power of the Gayoom dynasty. This by itself would not have resulted in much criticism, for after all the Gayooms are hardly the only dynasty in politics in South Asia. What is intolerable for those who believe in democracy is the incarceration of Mohamed Nasheed, the idealistic, if sometimes quirky, former President of the Maldives. Although Nasheed came to office through the ballot box, his removal was less the result of a fall from grace among the people, but a coup by opponents determined to quash any dissent at their takeover of control. The response of the Manmohan Singh government to such a usurpation of power was characteristically soggy, with Delhi contenting itself with a few expressions of concern. Aware that Prime Minister Singh was hardly the leader who could be expected to ensure that measures more effective than verbal expressions of concern got taken, the new government in the Maldives ignored India’s pleas for the restoration of democracy, or at least the freeing of Nasheed from prison. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have taken a former line, and presumably as a consequence, former Head of State Nasheed has been allowed (while still a prisoner) to travel to the UK for back surgery. Once he returns, what awaits him is a prison cell, possibly the same surroundings as he was taken from in order to leave for London. Such churlish behaviour on the part of the new government in Male is condemnable, and hopefully Delhi will be relaying such a sentiment in private.
A worrying fact is that the new government is reportedly turning a Nelson’s eye to the growing popularity of Wahhabi ideology within the youth of the islands. The Maldives has been representative of the moderate and modern Muslim community that is also present in India, and the growth of Wahhabisn is a disquieting development, perhaps occasioned by closeness of some in the present dispensation to moneybags in West Asia known to be funders of the ideology. Mohamed Nasheed is a politician who exemplifies the gentle faith he was born in, and his removal has clearly given a boost to those of a more extreme viewpoint. Such a development could create a security crisis in the Maldives, which depends on its tourism industry for much of the national income. The explosion of Wahhabism in Egypt after the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak resulted in a steep decline in the tourism industry in that country, leading to a loss of livelihood for millions of citizens. A similar fate should not get visited upon the Maldives because of growing intolerance shown to those of moderate views. The government needs to reverse course and rejoin the comity of democracies, and a first step would be a pardon to former President Nasheed, so that he can return to his country without the danger of returning to prison. The people of the Maldives are overall among the most moderate and modern in South Asia, and they would welcome such a move against a political leader who retains substantial support within the country. The way in which President Nasheed was removed from office smacks of South American coups against elected governments, and the least recompense which can be made is the dropping of all charges against Nasheed and enabling him to exercise his rights as the citizen of a democracy. The international community is seriously concerned over the situation in the Maldives, especially the incarceration of President Nasheed. The Maldives should do better.