Concerned about volatile situation, India to send official to defuse tensions

A top Indian Foreign Office official is flying to Male on Friday even as India feels that the situation in the Maldives is still volatile and has not stabilised satisfactorily to shift to the consolidation phase.

M. Ganapathi, Secretary (West), MEA, will hold consultations with a wide range of stakeholders in The Maldives in an attempt to bring all players to the negotiating table and sort out outstanding issues. This appears to be a tall order with the positions taken by the former President, Mohamed Nasheed, and his successor, Waheed Hassan. Mr. Ganapathi will meet the United Nations team, which arrived here on Thursday night.

India feels Mr. Nasheed's defiant mood and street protests by his Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) was an “unexpected move away from the resolution of issues”. In other words, officials here feel the script has started going awry after Mr. Nasheed quietly resigned on Tuesday and Vice-President Mr. Hassan took over as President. The next day Mr. Nasheed turned up alleging he had been forced to resign “almost at gunpoint” even as videos began circulating about “police brutality” against MDP protesters in Male.

“We are in touch with all concerned,” said the officials about Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar Mulay meeting both Mr. Nasheed and Dr. Waheed to counsel restraint by their party cadres. The third person who would have a bearing on the situation, Mr. Nasheed's predecessor Abdul Gayoom is said to be in Malaysia and is reported to be unwilling to return immediately.

India's message to the major actors is not to take to the streets in the tiny island capital of Male because “even a crowd of 1,000 in such a small place can make it into a tinderbox”.

They also feared that reports of instability and violence being beamed worldwide could have an adverse impact on The Maldives' mainstay of tourism, which is just recovering from the global economic crises.

Decline in tourism

Going by accounts of airline crew and a few tour operators in Male, it appears that the number of tourists coming to The Maldives has registered a decline in the last few days.

A senior European Diplomat said that the clashes might see one or the other side come out on top. “But what people have seen on BBC and Al-Jazeera will make them think twice about coming here on a visit,” he said. Already, United Kingdom has issued a travel advisory, while many other countries are contemplating similar advisories.

But the Indian hotel giant, Taj, saidthere was “no noticeable drop” in tourist arrivals. Taj has two properties in The Maldives. Speaking to The Hindu from Colombo, Rohit Khosla, who heads Taj Hotels operations in Sri Lanka and The Maldives, said there was absolutely no panic. “Occupancy is good and business is steady,” he said when asked if numbers are declining. He added that the hotel did not witness cancellations so far.

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