The largest Indian private investment in South Asia, the $700-million GMR-operated Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in Male, is in the middle of an ugly bickering between political parties in the Maldives.

Even as arbitration is under way over a few issues between GMR and Maldivian government, Adhaalath Party — a political party in the new ruling coalition — has given a November 15 deadline to take back the airport from GMR. It has also threatened an agitation at the airport on Monday. At least two other coalition partners are also against allowing GMR to operate the airport.

Earlier, at a rally on November 9 organised by the Adhaalath party, a senior staffer in the Maldivian President’s office questioned the integrity of the Indian High Commissioner in Male, Dnyaneshwar Mulay.

Spokesperson of the President’s Office Abbas Adil Riza, speaking at the rally, accused the High Commissioner of catering to the interests of a private entity and declared that such diplomats should not be stationed in the country.

The Maldivian President’s office took the unusual step of putting out a statement terming the comments “regrettable”. “The Government of Maldives disassociates itself from the remarks made by the Spokesperson of the President’s Office Mr. Abbas Adil Riza, and some other government officials, at a gathering held last evening against the involvement of GMR in the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport,” the statement read.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of former President Mohamed Nasheed was quick to condemn the attack on Mr. Mulay. “The members of MDP are deeply concerned that such unsubstantiated criminal allegations made against a High Commissioner to Maldives from a neighbouring nation were initiated by the spokesperson of the highest authority of this nation,” said party spokesman Hamid Abdul Gafoor. The MDP believed that the attack was carried out under the orders of the President, Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.

While Mr.Mulay declined to comment, the Indian High Commission in Male holds the view that the spat will affect the image of the country adversely. “The GMR is one of the most transparent deals in Maldivian history,” said an official who was closely involved in the deal.  

GMR received a 25-year concession agreement to develop and manage the Male Airport. It had also agreed to overhaul the existing terminal by the end of this year. Three other Indian companies had participated in the bid. The whole process was overseen by the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank group.

An arbitration process is under way between GMR and the new Maldivian government, which took charge following the resignation of Mr. Nasheed on February 7 this year. Most coalition partners of in the new government are opposed to GMR because the project was sanctioned by the Nasheed government.

The fact that the Maldivian government is tottering at the edge of an economic collapse has not impeded the attack of the alliance partners in the ruling combine on the GMR airport. According to one official, Maldives is short of finances to pay salary to its employees beginning January. It looks forward to a $25 million bailout from India to honour its commitments. “Yes, that money will come. There are some procedural issues to be fulfilled by Maldives,” one official said.

The troubles in Maldives and its government have apparently had no effect on holidaymakers heading to the country. The political situation notwithstanding, a few major tour operators said that it was “business as usual” in the Maldives, and that most resorts were fully booked for the season.

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