By Abhijit Korde Image Source: www.inmarathi.com
The India-China-Maldives Triangle: Is
India ready to be a regional hegemon?
India has by and large sought to
balance own strategic interests in nations within its sphere of influence, without
interfering in domestic politics of sovereign nations. Often, this ideological
position has resulted in strategic paradoxes.
India wants to be recognized as a
global power but still cannot let go of its isolationism. If India fancies
itself as a security guarantor in Indo-Pacific, it is the need of the hour to
develop a more proactive policy in its immediate neighborhood. However, the
Indian approach towards a recent crisis in the Maldives shows that India is not
yet ready to take up a role of regional police.
While assessing the arguments for
intervention during the state of emergency declared by President Yameen in
Maldives, it would be prudent to calculate the wider implications and legal
hurdles. The need for authorization for the use of force, the question of the
impact of a unilateral action on UNSC reform advocated by India, and the
implicit nod to potential future intervention by other states are all factors
that need to be considered.
Firstly, the unilateral
intervention is not permitted as per the UN Charter, and would be illegal under
international law. While previous intervention by India in the Maldives in 1988
could be brought up, it was at the express invitation of the government of the
Maldives and within the bounds of legality per the ICJ Nicaragua decision. In
contrast, Nasheed’s appeal, coming from an exiled politician, does not offer
India a solid reason to intervene. Moreover, even if India decides to
intervene, it cannot pull out of the country easily, since it must facilitate a
peaceful transition of power through elections. Furthermore, there is no
guarantee that a successor to Yameen would sustain his power. Nasheed himself was
forced out of power in 2012.
Secondly, even more important for
India is to consider China’s reaction on India’s military intervention. In its
statement on the situation in Maldives, China remained circumspect with no
direct criticism of Yameen. Beijing’s interest in Maldives is strategic. China
has already issued warning against any military step to be taken by India. While
Maldives is important to India, it is not important enough to drag India into
an unnecessary face-off with China in the Indian Ocean.
Furthermore, India’s latest
intervention in its neighborhood did not pan out well. In response to Nepal’s
new constitution, which disfavored the ethnic Madhesis, who share close ties
with India across the border, the Narendra Modi government imposed an
unofficial trade blockade on Nepal. It alerted neighboring countries that are
heavily reliant on Indian trade and paved the way for China to outshine India
in Nepal, as evidenced by Nepal’s signing of a fuel supply deal with Beijing. Moreover,
in Sri Lanka the Rajapakse clan of Sri Lanka Freedom Party with the history of
anti-India stance had a victory in last polls. Therefore, if Indian’s
intervention in the Maldives goes awry, the chance is that it will drive Malé
toward China’s sphere of influence at a faster pace if not immediately, then
later. India clearly does not want that to happen.
Thirdly, Indians are going for
polls next year. Although Narendra Modi’s position seems robust, there are
indications that he could face strong competition from the opposition. Given
the importance of this year in domestic politics, the Modi government is
expected to stay risk-averse in the foreign policy front.
India, thus, continues to maintain political
pressure on Malé while keeping the options for dialogue open. If India wants to
see itself as a global power, it must maintain its influence over the countries
in its vicinity. In dealing with the Maldives, India must have a more coercive
and forceful approach.
About the author
Abhijit Korde is a member of Information Services team at MitKat.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions represented in this blog are of the author and do not represent those of MitKat. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.