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Maldives fresh push for bonhomie

Yameen

New Delhi, Jan. 2: New Maldives President Abdulla Yameen today gave the clearest signals yet of a fresh push towards bonhomie between the nation’s first family and India after years of a taut relationship under a growing Chinese shadow, declaring a relieved New Delhi’s pre-eminence in Male’s strategic calculus.

“We know that, we recall fondly that the relationship India and the Maldives have cannot be matched by the relationship that we have with any other country,” Yameen said, sitting next to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his first overseas trip after taking office in November.

“So,” Yameen said, “it is this assurance I would like to give to the friendly people, fraternal people of India as well as the Indian leadership.”

The unequivocal statement lit smiles across an Indian diplomatic establishment that has spent much of the past year firefighting crises in its neighbourhood, and lately with the US, and was worried about its recent tense relationship with Yameen’s family.

Yameen is the half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the former autocrat who ruled the Maldives between 1978 and 2008 with Indian support before grudgingly accepting multi-party elections in which he lost to Mohammed Nasheed.

With him on the trip are Gayoom’s daughter and foreign minister Dhunya Maumoon, and one of the Maldives’ top industrialists Gasim Ibrahim who is supporting the new administration.

India’s outreach to the overtly secular Nasheed between 2008 and 2012, and the increasingly conservative vote-bank that supports the Gayooms and its associates, triggered growing tensions between New Delhi and the most powerful family in the Maldives.

China in the meantime significantly enhanced its investments in the Maldives, set up an embassy in Male, and flooded the archipelago’s idyllic beaches with tourists who today constitute five times the number of Indian visitors there each year.

And in the lead-up to the presidential elections where Yameen defeated Nasheed in a run-off, Waheed, Gayoom and Yameen made public displays of defiance towards Indian concerns over an unstable Maldives.

When India prodded the Commonwealth to chastise the Maldives for repeated failed attempts at elections earlier this year, Gayoom proposed withdrawing from the government.

But today, Yameen repeatedly referred to India’s assistance to the Maldives through the years of Gayoom’s rule — and sought investments, affirming that his government would work with India to achieve a “mutually amicable solution” to the dispute over the cancellation of GMR’s contract. GMR and the Maldives government have entered arbitration.