Sri Lanka and Maldives are culturally, socially and politically connected closely.
For centuries, big and small ships used to ferry people and goods between the two countries. Now, a flight from Colombo to Male takes little more than an hour and is usually full of Sri Lankans doing business or working in one of the inhabited islands of Madlives.
The perception is that geographically too Sri Lanka is closest to Maldives though an Indian diplomat in Male said India, in reality, was closer.
Till recently, the Maldivian opposition operated out of Colombo. Mohamed Nasheed, the first elected Maldivian President, spent years in exile in Colombo as the opposition leader.
In fact, Nasheed launched the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in Sri Lanka in 2003. Last week, Nasheed found time to interact with a group of international journalists from Colombo at his spacious office in Male. Nasheed is 42 but looks younger and unassuming He walked into the room almost unnoticed.
But once he started speaking, Nasheed revealed himself as an outspoken person with clear ideas and in depth knowledge on wide-ranging issues.
It turned out that in the turbulent political years leading to the post of the President, Nasheed was indicted 19 times by Maldivian judiciary and jailed on 12 occasions. He was variously charged with theft, withholding information and terrorism.
“I was tortured,’’ Nasheed said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Maybe Gayoom didn’t know about it,’’ he added.
During the end, the discussion veered towards Sri Lanka, the routing of the LTTE and President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka went through a very hard time, he said, adding that it took a strong leader to lead the country out of it.
“Rajapaksa had harboured me many times… Sri Lanka was safe haven (during his days in the opposition),’’ Nasheed said.
He remembered Rajapaksa as a human rights lawyer.
When asked about the situation and the rights of the displaced Tamils, Nasheed said their situation might not be up to “great standards’’ but that the need of the hour was to send the displaced back to their homes and build infrastructure in the north.