The latest Maldivian challenge to India is by far the most complex one. That India is not in the good books of Maldives of late is a reality. What should have been expected is the latest "get out'’ order of the island nation to India. India has been asked to remove its military presence completely from the tiny country which is an indigestible fact to India. After all, Abdulla Yameen's Government has not just been warming up to China, but has been planning to replace India with it.
Chinese money and military power is eating into the places around India which is an alarming development. Doklam was just one-off incident. The real tussle is going on in the high seas between India and China. This is an area which India has been dominating since long despite the advances made by the Chinese Navy. India and China have been going head to head in Maldives, the Indian Ocean island chain where Beijing is building roads, bridges and a bigger airport, upstaging India which has been the country's prime provider of military and civilian aid for decades.
India has opposed Yameen's crackdown on political rivals and the imposition of an emergency this year and some of President's rivals have called on Delhi for military intervention, creating worries in the Maldivian government. The tensions are impacting aid programmes such as security assistance that New Delhi has given to smaller countries in the region to help them protect exclusive economic zones, carry out surveys and combat piracy. First two military helicopters provided by India which were for medical evacuations were "no longer required" as the island had built enough resources of its own.
India has to be worried because Maldives, which is just 400 kms to the southwest of India, is close to the world's busiest shipping lanes between China and Middle East. India had stationed 50 military personnel, including pilots and maintenance crew and their visas had expired. But New Delhi has not withdrawn from island chain. These personnel were very useful in keeping an eye on the Chinese moment around the area. Around 97 per cent of India's international trade by volume and 75 per cent by value passes through the Indian Ocean and Maldives is the most crucial littoral state. Since China started to send naval ships to Indian Ocean in the last 10 years on the pretext of anti-piracy operations, Maldives significance has steadily grown and now it is at the heart of international geopolitics.
Today Maldives, owes 70 per cent of its external aid to China. Yameen has done a Rajapaksa. Not just China, even Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are cozying up to Maldives thanks to Yameen who is opposed to democracy. It is now well known that China is pursuing a policy of providing massive funding to developing economies and the move has been paying rich dividends. It is time for India to further strengthen its Act East policy and spread its influence further. As for Maldives, it is simply wait and watch period for India.