Male, Feb 6: The Maldives Islands, referred to as the paradise of the Indian Ocean, has been plunged into crisis since last week, with the country's top constitutional head -- President Abdulla Yameen -- locking horns with the apex judicial body -- the Supreme Court.

The political row erupted after the SC Chief Justice Ali Hamid overturned the conviction of exiled ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, who was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment by the lower court in 2015.

Slow-burning crisis

Experts say the crisis in Maldives was in the making since 2015, after the President had ensured Nasheed's conviction through an expedited probe and trial. "The trial was deeply flawed and the conviction was unsound," rights' group Amnesty International had said after Nasheed was sentenced on charges of corruption and terrorism.

Ever since, the Abdulla Yameen-led government has been accused of showing authoritarian tendencies by curbing the civil and political rights of the people. A section of top leadership of all major opposition parties have been detained on "frivolous charges", analysts claim, since 2013 when Yameen rose to power.

Triggering point

The Supreme Court not only stayed the conviction of Nasheed, but also annulled the disqualification of 12 lawmakers, who defected from the ruling party -- Yameen-led Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

With the membership of the 12 rebel legislators being reinstated, the Opposition would gain majority in the 85-member Parliament. This would pave the way towards the impeachment of President Yameen.

In order to avert his potential ouster, Yameen declared an 'emergency' and took sweeping action against dissenters. Hundreds of political dissidents have been detained, apart from the arrest of opposition leaders and Supreme Court judges.

Military stands with Yameen

The armed forces, so far, has staunchly backed the government led by President Yameen. In a statement issued to the press, Army chief Ahmed Shiyam said, "The Maldives military will not standby and watch Maldives go in to a crisis."

This was reflected with the military's adherence to the President's unprecedented order of arresting the Chief Justice Hamid Ali. Justifying the action, the military chief told local press that that Army cannot "obey the unjustified orders" of the court.

However, analysts say the arrest of former President and Nasheed's estranged half brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who presided as the head of the nation for 30 years -- before the first elections were held in 2009 -- could impact the morale of the forces.

While Gayoom was being detained outside the assembly last night, the riot control police was seen offering him the salute of honour. His arrest, analysts claim, could split a divide among the security forces.

Why it concerns India

Maldives holds a key strategic position in the Indian Ocean, from where 97 per cent of India's exports are routed. Its geographical proximity with India -- located at 700-km from the Lakshadweep Islands and 1,200-km from the Indian mainland -- could raise security implications for New Delhi in case of political instability. Regional analysts have not ruled out the possibility of Islamist extremism gaining a foothold in the nation, in case of a weakened administration.

Maldives also houses a large proportion of Indian diaspora, with 25 percent of the country's teachers are reported to be of India-origin. 125 of the 400 doctors in the island-nation are also Indians. In all, the country houses 22,000 people of Indian-descent.

Maldives, which has remained an all-weather ally of India over the past 40 years, has lately been tilting towards China -- the economic rival of India in the region. In December 2017, Beijing and Male signed the first-ever Free Trade Agreement. The development comes in the backdrop of Maldives being the only SAARC nation in the past three-and-a-half years which has not been visited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Feb 06, 2018 06:33 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website