The 7 days that changed the way I look at Maldives
Posted on: 08:43 AM IST May 11, 2012 IST
It has been more than two months since the Maldivian island experienced political turmoil but the scars of the crisis still seem to run deep. The new President of the Maldives, Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, is visiting India for the first time and he has all the reasons to be worried about the kind of questions he might face during his visit. He has been accused by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed of orchestrating a coup in February in which he had allegedly aligned with the military and the police to throw Nasheed out of power.
But the situation in the Maldives seemed a little different when I visited this island country sometime back. On the very first day of my trip to Male, the capital, I met Attorney General of the Maldives Aishath Azima Shakoor who told me that the change in government was open to debate until an enquiry committee came up with its final report. As of now, President Waheed's legitimacy is unquestionable. The Maldivian Constitution happens to be very similar to the Constitution of the United States of America which allows the Vice-President to step into the President's shoes in case the latter steps down. But this does not mean that the debate on what led to the coup is over.
So this is the story that was narrated to me. The protests by supporters of the Chief Judge of the Maldives' criminal court, Abdullah Muhammad, who was arrested by the MNDF (Maldives National Defence Force) on Nasheed's orders in January this year, gathered huge support. In fact, Nasheed lost support of the military and the police in the process of trying to quell this protest. Many experts in the Maldives term this as his failure as an administrator. It's also said that an unofficial alliance was formed against Nasheed in December 2011 where Islamic groups, who viewed Nasheed as highly un-Islamic, business groups, who did not like Nasheed's tax reforms, and opposition political parties, who simply did not want to leave the opportunity of overthrowing Nasheed's government, came together. And then there are allegations that Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the former dictator of the Maldives who was defeated by Nasheed in 2008 in a democratic wave in the country, also played his part. Many allege that the current situation in the Maldives depicts the return of Gayoom as a key player in Maldivian politics. Former loyalists of Gayoom dominate Waheed's cabinet.
Our travel into the interiors of the Maldives also gave me an insight into a strange mix in their society which definitely has a huge impact on their politics. The island nation has grown tenfold as a tourist destination in the past two decades. It follows the policy of 'one island, one resort' where one can get any comfort they desire including alcohol. But much to the surprise of the rest of the world, it remains a conservative Islamic society which means that the Maldivians are prohibited from consuming alcohol anywhere in the country and can be tried in the courts for it. That way, it seems that the Maldivian people want democracy only to connect with the rest of the world and possibly not for themselves.