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Lessons from Male

The cancellation of the GMR Group’s contract for developing Male airport comes as a setback for India in more than one way. The $500 million dollar project was a flag carrier for India’s engineering export industry — in fact, it was the biggest Indian show of project exports. 

Second, of course, the Maldives Government decision has political overtones. No matter what the MG might maintain, this was a political decision and it will be widely seen as a snub to India. 
New Delhi is visibly upset, especially since the Indian government had gone out of the way to build bridges with the new MG headed by Mohammed Waheed. Sure enough, Indian business is up in arms; GMR Group is a big player. 
Meanwhile, hubris is also rising — why is PM Manmohan Singh so ‘weak’ in protecting Indian business interests abroad, et al? It is a combustible mix. 
No one except T. N. Nainan seems to ask about the ABC of the situation —  what really happened? The unpalatable truth in life is that there are situations when might is not everything. There is an asymmetry here; obviously, India can squash Maldives if it wants to. But the issue is, then what? Maldives is a sovereign country. 
Finally, it is good to  know that all of India’s travails in South Asia are not necessarily attributable to China’s ‘pearl of strings’! Ironically, it is the US which is the rising star in Maldives today. 
To come back to the root of it, we messed up the Male policy needlessly. It was none of our business to propagate how the 3 lakhs Maldivians should practise liberal democracy. Worse still, we saw an al-Qaeda hand where none existed. We got out of the goof-up and reverted to our traditional policy of not being prescriptive to our neighbors, but the damage was done. 
Regaining MG’s trust and confidence is going to be a long haul. But we should be careful not to complicate matters by indulging in ‘muscle-flexing’, as it can be counterproductive. There is no alternative to stoop to conquer in certain situations and this is one such. In sum, the GMR row need not bring the roof crashing down on India-Maldives relations. 
Certainly, we can do without megaphone diplomacy, although this is election time and everything is getting ‘politicized’. Hasn’t EAM Salman Khursheed spoken enough already on the issue? It’s time for quiet diplomacy. Isn’t that what China settled for when its massive $3.6 billion hydroelectric dam project in Myanmar was halted last year by that country’s authorities without any explanation? 

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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