More importantly, India needs to play an active role in the Maldives to retain influence
M D Nalapat argues that Islamists-disguised-as-democrats have a sinister agenda in the Maldives: to use the West to push for multi-party democracy, seize power and set up an Islamic state. Nalapat advocates a more calibrated approach.
All this is being repeated in the Maldives, where so-called democracy activists are weakening a secular regime on behalf of elements adept at using Western liberalism in order to get backing for an extremist polity.
The Maldives needs multi-party democracy about as much as Monaco, Liechtenstein or Andorra. Those countries too are too tiny for the pressure-cooker that such a system entails. What is needed is a chamber of elected representatives standing on a non-party basis that would act as a check on an elected president, roughly on the U.S. model. Before jumping onto bandwagons festooned with Saudi money and Pakistani muscle, supporters of democracy in the United States and Europe need to uncover the core beliefs of those they are backing so aggressively, peeling away the fig leaf that has thus far blinded them. [Washington Times]
Nalapat’s concerns for secularism clearly come from an Indian perspective. But considering that the population of Maldives is almost entirely Muslim, secularism is not a matter of primary concern, especially if it comes at the cost of democracy. Moreover, there is no telling when the authoritarian President Gayoom will jettison secularism and give in to Islamic fundamentalism just to remain in power.
This does not mean that the installation of an Taliban-like regime in the Maldives will not be of serious concern to the world, especially to India. But it does not automatically follow that an Islamist-dominated multi-party democracy will end up like Afghanistan. Nalapat asserts that a small country with a population of less than 5 million, will not be able to sustain multi-party democracy. Even if that were so, if India could launch a military operation to prevent a coup against an authoritarian president, it can do so all the more to prevent the overthrow of democracy.
Nalapat’s views on Maldives are similar to those expressed by Swapan Dasgupta after King Gyanendra’s coup in Nepal — that India must back undemocratic ‘dictators’ to ward off greater evils (Islamists and Maoists, respectively). But India cannot weigh in on the side of unpopular rulers without receiving a measure of the unpopularity itself. It also ends up looking like a hypocrite. Indeed, these are exactly some of the reasons why the United States is unpopular in the Muslim world today.
Yes, democracy can throw up governments that may not exactly be friendly towards India. Bangladesh is a case in point. But even if Islamism has been gaining in strength in Bangladesh, it has by no means prevailed in that country. There is a sizeable constituency in Bangladesh that is opposed to the ascendency of Islamic fundamentalism. Unlike in authoritarian countries, this constituency is not powerless.
India’s problem in Maldives is not about Islamists rising to power there. It is about losing influence after surrendering its role to Western governments and NGOs and being left out of the process of constitutional and political change.