Ties between New Delhi and Male were at a historically low point during President Abdulla Yameen’s term. He has made giant strides towards bringing China into the India-Maldives equation and was working towards nullifying India’s historic footprint in the Indian ocean archipelago. But with the win of a coalition Maldivian opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the general elections, India now has an opportunity to reset its bilateral ties with Male and vice versa.
Within 24 hours of the results of the election, news has come in that is bound to reassure New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to Solih to congratulate him on the emphatic election victory.
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) September 24, 2018
Former president Mohammed Nasheed who was the country’s first democratically elected leader and was forcefully removed, has said publicly that the country will reset its ties with its neighbour: “We're grateful to the European Union, the United States, Britain, India and Sri Lanka, for their support [to the opposition] during difficult times… I am sure about that. It (reset of ties) will be beneficial for us.”
Nasheed also said that Indian military choppers which Yameen wanted India to take back, would stay on. But the bigger announcement is – the new Maldivian government would audit infrastructure projects in the country in light of the alleged free rein given to Chinese companies under Yameen. Nasheed hinted at these in his interview with the Times of India. In another interview with DW, Nasheed said this of the BRI, “The Maldives' interests are supreme. We are not a client state for anyone.”
Beijing considers the Maldives an important route in its "Belt and Road" Initiative (BRI) which, along with other objectives, aims to connect the Indian Ocean to Central Asia. However, countries who have been offered loans under the BRI are at risk of becoming heavily indebted to China. For example, the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge was to be constructed with a budget of $77 million during Nasheed's government’s time but five years later the project has an inflated cost of $300 million. Similarly, Sri Lanka is reeling under Chinese debt and has had to grant a Chinese company a 99-year lease on its Hambantota port as it could not service its debt and hold onto the port. Malaysia’s newly elected government has also cancelled a slew of project under the BRI and will re-evaluate them. This “debt-for-leverage model is based on providing Chinese financial support for infrastructure projects in exchange for access to the natural resources of the beneficiary nation,” according to Brahma Chellaney, a professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.
The former president also said that he would take a decision to return to his home country sometime this week. He is currently living in exile after President Yameen brought criminal charges against him.