GMR row: India warns Maldives of dire outcomes if legal course not followed
New Delhi: Taken by "surprise" over GMR issue, India has conveyed to Maldives that it will have serious consequences on the bilateral ties as it is considering a "series of options", including slowing down cooperative programmes, if legal course is not followed.
India acknowledges that the Maldivian government's decision to cancel GMR's contract for building Male airport is a domestic issue but it is upset over "anti-India sentiment being whipped up" in connection with the issue there.
Sources said the possibility of some external forces playing a role in the cancellation of the airport contract cannot be ruled out even though there was no clear evidence of Chinese angle so far.
India has conveyed to Maldives that the matter should be addressed legally.
However, if the Maldivian government chooses to "flout" the legal option and an anti-India atmosphere continues to be whipped up, it will have "serious consequences" for the bilateral relations, the sources said.
In this context, India is considering a "series of options", like slowing down the cooperative programme, they said, adding the impact could be felt on all aspects of the bilateral ties, including defence cooperation.
This comes against the backdrop of Maldivian government's refusal to accept Singapore court's stay on cancellation of the contract.
The cancellation of the contract came as a "suprise" to India, the sources said, adding the issue of any wrongdoing, as alleged, was never raised by Maldives during a series of contacts between leaders and officials of the two countries over last one year.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his visit to Male in November last year, met two opposition leaders but this subject was never raised even though some "fringe parties" had been creating controversy over the issue, the sources said.
The controversy, which came to the fore during the tenure of former President Mohamed Nasheed, remained "dormant" ever since his ouster in February, they noted.
But the cancellation of the contract in the last week of November came as a surprise to India which sees the decision linked to President Mohd Waheed's growing ambitions to contest next year's Presidential polls after legitimacy was bestowed on his regime by a Commission of Inquiry. His predecessor Nasheed had been claiming that he was ousted in a coup by Waheed.
India feels Waheed decided to "ride a tiger and now he does not know how to disembark".
Waheed apparently took the hard position of cancelling the contract deliberately because of competitive politics.
India is disappointment that the Maldivian government did not challenge the order of a local court which had termed the proposal to levy Airport Development Charge as "tax", which is prerogative of the government only. This was the root cause of the controversy that led to cancellation of the contract.
Not sure whether ADC amounted to taxation, India feels a way out on this could have been exempting Maldivian nationals from the charge of USD 25 per internationally departing passenger.
This offer was, in fact, made by GMR before the contract was cancelled but it was not considered by the Maldivian government.
With regard to its High Commissioner D H Mulay getting embroiled in the controversy surrounding GMR contract, India regrets this but feels that he is "doing his job well" if he is "disliked" in a highly polarised polity like that of Maldives.
The sources here concede that there could have been an "error of judgement" on his behalf during the change of regime in February but it is "occupational hazard".
They said Mulay had been "extremely popular" till a few months back and had good equation with all parties of Maldives. Even now, some leaders like Nasheed are in touch with the High Commissioner.
However, later there has been a campaign to prove that GMR, a private company, is India and India stands for it.
Amidst all the controversy, India is giving a sense that it is business as usual as a new flight was launched recently between Chennai and Male.
India is also posting Defence Attache in its Mission in Male for the first time.