India backed its diplomacy with naval muscle to resolve the crisis that broke out last month when Maldivian opposition leader Mohammed Nasheed sought refuge in the Indian high commission.
While New Delhi was negotiating an understanding with Male that would allow the former president to leave the high commission, seven Indian Navy guided missile destroyers and frigates were exercising just outside Maldivian waters.
Days earlier, an Indian Navy fast-attack craft had entered the territorial waters, apparently to conduct joint exercises with the coast guard there.
Present Indian policy to the Maldives has sought to ensure the country holds free and fair elections later this year. The attempt by the Male government to arrest Nasheed was seen as a threat to that goal.
A naval exercise, ‘TROPEX-2013’, involving 50 ships and submarines, 2,000 troops and tanks on India’s western seaboard was originally scheduled for the eastern seaboard. It was shifted to the western coast in January as New Delhi’s concerns about developments in Male began to increase.
The political situation in the island nation reached breaking point soon after the exercise began. It concluded on March 1 after a full 30 days with all warships returning to harbour. Nasheed fled to the mission on February 13 and left 10 days later. He was arrested on March 5 and let off the next day.
During this time, seven ships — including Delhi class destroyers with the western navy fleet commander on board and Talwar and Shivalik class frigates — exercised outside Maldivian waters. Senior defence ministry sources said none of the big warships entered the country’s territorial limits.
In another coincidence, a day before Nasheed sought refuge at the mission, an Indian Navy fast-attack craft, Kalpeni, entered Maldivian waters, apparently to conduct joint exercises with the coast guard there for the next five days. It stayed an extra three days at the Male harbour.
Government sources say India has no intention of interfering in Maldivian politics. But New Delhi is determined that President Mohammed Waheed should hold early free and fair elections to prevent further instability in the region — which has 16 political parties for a population of just 300,000 and straddles some of India’s most vital sea lanes.