New Delhi: The GMR versus Maldives government saga threatens to blow up into a major fracas. The Waheed government has given GMR 30 days to wind up its $500 million operations for the upgradation, modernization and management of the airport in the capital, Male.
The official reason given for the cancellation of the contract was the airport development charge of USD 25 charged by GMR, which was not authorized by the parliament. GMR meanwhile says it is going nowhere and will not leave before its contract of 25 years is not complete. "Twenty-three years are still left," said Mr. Arun Bhagat, a senior GMR official.
Meanwhile, according to a source some GMR employees of Indian origin received threatening text messages in Maldives. There are even reports that the Waheed government may cancel visas of Indians working for GMR in Male, as a pressure tactic to make them shut shop by mid-December.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed has accused President Mohamed Waheed's government of unfair practice in canceling the GMR contract and giving it an unnecessary political colour. He said, "Waheed's government has cynically used xenophobia, nationalism and religious extremism to attack GMR, the country's largest foreign investor."
Meanwhile, Waheed's special advisor Dr. Hassan Saeed, who is tipped to be Waheed's running mate in the 2013 Presidential elections, said that the GMR termination decision was a patriotic move.
A known India baiter, Hassan Saeed went as far as to say that Dr. Waheed's decision was akin to rejecting imperialistic designs by a foreign power. Economic Minister Ahmed Mohamed said that the process of awarding the agreement by Nasheed's government in 2010 was premeditated and even though there were better proposals, GMR won the deal, which he said would cause revenue loss to Maldives. He said that the Nasheed government took the decision despite political parties, legal experts and even the Parliament being opposed to the deal.
President Mohamed Waheed Hassan in trying to whitewash the draconian move in asking GMR to shut shop in 7 days by trying to portray it as a commercial decision which in no way would impact the India-Maldives relationship. He even recalled the fact that Dr. Manmohan Singh's government was one of the first to recognize the regime change in February this year. He said, "I don't think that the Indian reaction is critical of the decision to terminate the GMR agreement." He added that New Delhi is Maldives's closest friend and that his government would welcome other investors from India.
Waheed is reading the tea leaves wrong. The Indian government might have shown undue haste in recognizing his government in February, but they are not showing any warm fuzzy love now, when Indian interests are in harm’s way. The Indian government statement reads: "We call upon the Government of Maldives and all concerned parties to ensure that Indian interests in Maldives and the security of Indian nationals are fully protected.
The Government of India proposes to monitor the situation in Maldives closely and is prepared to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of its interests and its nationals in the Maldives. The Government of India will continue to be seized of the matter."
Maldives State Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Ahmed Shameem responded to the statement by saying, "No demonstrations have been held in Maldives against India. No anti-India sentiments were expressed in any of the demonstrations held... India should not, therefore, be worried over a non-existent matter....We have no issues with India. We have no issues with any Indian citizens in Maldives, and likewise we have no issues with any of the employees of GMR. The issue is with the agreement made by the former Government (of President Nasheed) with GMR. All we want is to annul that agreement."
About 30,000 Indians live in Maldives, most of them in capital Male. The harsh exchange of words and the political uncertainty that is certain to follow as a result of this fracas would be of concern to them. India has close economic, strategic and political links with Maldives. India has provided extensive economic aid to the island nation and several big companies like the Tatas and Sriram group have a presence in Maldives.
Similarly, hundreds of civilians travel from Maldives to the western coast of India for education and health purposes. There are many students who are studying in educational institutes in Kerala and Tamil Nadu who are concerned that political trouble between the two countries might impact on the status of their visas.
Meanwhile, Maldivian Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has said that preparations are underway for the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) to assume operations of the Male airport. He said that, in the future, assistance of foreign experts would be used to run the airport. He didn't expand on who the foreigners would be but it would be safe to assume that they wouldn't be Indian!