New Delhi, Dec. 5: South Block appears increasingly convinced that the scrapping of GMR’s title to revamp and run Male’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport was brought on by politics rather than business and is now not ruling out the possibility of external agent provocateurs playing a role.
It also sees a diplomatic dare embedded in a corporate taunt and is warning of “across-the-board consequences” if the Maldives refuses to “follow and accept” a legal course.
Without elaborating, engaged sources conceded “errors of judgement” in the manner New Delhi has responded to both the unfolding political turmoil in the Maldives and the imbroglio over GMR, but laid the essential blame squarely on “vested interests” that could also be strategically inimical to India.
They said the government had found “no evidence so far” of an “external prompt” but were not convinced it did not exist. “There are various interests involved,” a source said, without naming a single one. “This is about politics, it could well be prompted from elsewhere as well.”
Immediate conjecture would travel in the direction of Malaysian Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB), which first competed with GMR for the bid and then settled for a partnership.
Shortly after GMR’s contract was annulled by the Maldives, Malaysian foreign minister Anifah Aman arrived in Male with MAHB boss Basir Ahmed and promised to “work out solutions” for the airport.
Following a meeting with the Maldivian foreign minister, Abdul Samad Abdullah, the Malaysian leader was quoted as saying: “As we are two friendly nations, there is no reason why this matter cannot be resolved.”
New Delhi has taken a dim view of Male’s swift resort to alternative solutions while GMR’s legal plea against the abrogation of the deal is pending. A Singapore court granted interim “injunctive relief” to GMR on Monday but the Maldivian government rejected it out of hand. “Our decision (to throw GMR out) is based on legal advice from lawyers in the UK and Singapore; the judge was incorrect in interpreting the law. A court cannot issue such an injunction against a sovereign state,” Masood Imad, media secretary of the Maldivian President, Mohamed Waheed, said.
That’s a position New Delhi is not currently prepared to countenance. “If they won’t follow the legal course it will create a new situation and there is a series of options we are thinking of,” the source said.
Asked to elaborate, the source added: “It will create very serious political issues between us once relations get affected in this fashion, all aspects will be impacted.”
The GMR crisis, in the government’s view, is entirely a consequence of the fractured dynamics of domestic politics in the Maldives, not of serious corporate differences. The US $25 passenger fee — cited as the central cause of GMR being ousted — is not the central issue, the sources contended, the issue is political interests that are inimical to India.
“The issue of the fee never came up when the Prime Minister visited the Maldives (in November 2011). He met (the then) President Mohamed Nasheed and two sets of Opposition leaders, nobody spoke of it,” a source said. “It was only after Nasheed went out of power (in February 2012) that rumblings began from fringe (read Islamist) parties and a lower court ordered that the fee needed to be ratified by the Majlis (the Maldivian parliament) because it amounted to a tax on the people.”
Part of that anti-GMR clamour came from allegations that the Nasheed government had handed the Indian corporate a “sweet deal”; there was also loose, but widespread, talk on the islands and in cyberspace of the Indian high commissioner, D.M. Mulay, having had a hand in facilitating that “sweet deal”.
The sources brushed all such speculation aside. “Our high commissioner was well regarded across the political spectrum in the Maldives till very recently, everybody was meeting him. It is only because of the domestic political polarisation that he is being personally targeted. In fact, in our view, GMR is being used to target him.”
Protests from smaller vociferous Right-wing parties like Adalat grew louder but the successor government of Waheed did nothing about taking the matter to the Majlis for obvious lack, or absence, of numbers. When Waheed came to India, the sources said, he assured that his government would find a “negotiated settlement” because he recognised a “huge investment was involved”.
It was also suggested to Waheed that all Maldivians be exempted from the tax as a way of getting over the impasse. That fetched no response.
“This is not about the money or a quibble over corporate clauses,” one of the sources argued, “this is political, it is about what forces are getting play in the Maldives.”