Caught in a cleft stick, India has opted to side with the former Maldives President, Mohd. Nasheed, who entered the Indian High Commission in Male on Wednesday after a court sought his appearance in a case.

India admitted Mr. Nasheed had sought refuge in its Male mission and in a message to the Maldives government asked it not to take any steps that would bar candidates from recognised political parties from contesting elections. It also indicated that Maldives President Mohd. Waheed is on watch by asking him to ensure that the elections were free, fair and credible.

While New Delhi was confident of resolving the situation (by late evening the court had cancelled its order seeking Mr. Nasheed’s appearance), Maldives hit back by asking India to respect its country’s judicial independence. At the same time, the Maldivian government gave the assurance that it would uphold and respect its obligations under international law with regard to diplomatic immunities and privileges granted to resident diplomatic missions.

Ironically, the Nasheed drama unfolded at a time when an Indian warship arrived in Maldives to conduct a five-day anti-piracy and maritime domain awareness exercises with the Maldivian Nation Defence Force (MNDF).

Sources familiar with the events drew attention to a Ministry of External Affairs statement that named Mr. Nasheed as a presidential candidate and its subsequent exhortation not to disqualify candidates between now and the elections to assert that New Delhi shares the former President’s apprehension of the court case being a ploy to fix him.

Mr. Nasheed has been charged under Article 81 of the penal code which carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail or exile or a fine. He would be barred from contesting the upcoming Presidential elections if sentenced for more than one year in jail.

India is piqued at the current dispensation in Maldives cancelling a contract to an Indian-Malaysian consortium for modernising and operating the airport at Male despite Mr. Waheed assuring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his Government would avoid such a course. It is also upset over the free hand to minor but rabid politicians and religious figures who railed against India over the contract and sought the return of the Indian High Commissioner.

Mr. Nasheed was in India and had missed the court’s order to appear before it on Sunday due to this reason. The sources pointed out that while Mr. Nasheed and his predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom were granted appointments with senior officials here, feelers for official interactions with the current government have been ignored.