Considered a powerful player in Maldivian politics, former president Maumoon Gayoom on Thursday clarified that his country wanted to maintain long-lasting bilateral relations with India.
"Being anti-GMR doesn't mean those who oppose the airport development project of Indian company are anti-Indians," said Gayoom.
Gayoom, who ruled the Indian archipelago of 1,200 islands for 30 years, also said in an interview with Hindustan Times that there was no streak of "violent extremism or Islamism" anywhere in his country which should leave India worried.
Maldives had cancelled an agreement with Indian infrastructure firm GMR to develop an airport in capital Male in November last year, which had triggered a diplomatic showdown between the two countries. The $500-million pact was the largest foreign direct investment in the Maldives. The project had been at the centre of a controversy over collection of $25 as development fee.
"People were against the clause of user-fee. The project also didn't have the approval from the Maldives parliament," said the 76-year-old leader, who is on a trip to "friendly neighbours" like India and Sri Lanka.
"Suddenly people came to know that they would be paying $25. That got them oppose the project. They found the fee too much," the leader said.
"Opposition to one project shouldn't be seen as people were against India. India is our friend," he said. Gayoom, however supported the present government's contention that the airport project was rushed through by the regime of former president Mohammed Nasheed.
Gayoom, said India shouldn't worry about the reports about extremism taking roots in his country. "Some people may insist on a dress code, like women wearing a scarf. That's not any fanaticism. There is no religious fundamentalism whatsoever. We are a moderate country by all means", he said.
He also said India is a good friend of Maldives, so is China.
Talking about the impending elections, he said it will be a "hard fought" election. When asked whether he would spring a surprise by finding a way to run for the election, he said "No. I am not in the race. Our party has decided on a candidate already. That's it".