a) Let the chips fall where they may

Dealing with the unfolding political drama in the Maldives, which has undeniable geopolitical implications for New Delhi, requires a great deal of craft, patience and diplomacy. Not force. More importantly, restoring democracy and civil liberties in Male, or anywhere else in the region, should not be our business. It’s for the islanders there to do that as they deem fit. And yet, New Delhi must look after its strategic interests in the increasingly chaotic Indian Ocean Region. The success of Indian diplomacy would lie in striking the ‘Goldilocks’ balance in dealing with Male; neither too hot nor too cold.

India’s Male dilemma

Ever since Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom became the President of the island nation in 2013, the country has grown closer to China, and has consistently used the oldest trick in the playbook of small states: playing big neighbours against each other, to get what it wants. In 2012, for instance, it cancelled an Indian firm’s contract to expand Male airport and awarded it to a Chinese one, in 2014, fraying nerves in New Delhi. There are also fears — so far only fears — that Male might eventually allow Chinese military presence on its soil, thereby providing China with a strategic military base in the Indian Ocean. The current events, therefore, have New Delhi worried, and rightly so. The recent statement by the Ministry of External Affairs makes no efforts to conceal India’s worries: “We are disturbed by the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Maldives following the refusal of the Government to abide by the unanimous ruling of the full bench of the Supreme Court on 1 February, and also by the suspension of Constitutional rights of the people of Maldives.” However, the fact that New Delhi is in touch with the U.S. and China and also pushing for the United Nations to send a fact-finding mission to the Maldives shows that there is a sober recognition that force is not the way to resolve the Maldivian crisis. This is despite enthusiastic calls by several members of the Indian strategic community to adopt harder measures to resolve the crisis.

New Delhi’s limited options

First, let’s examine India’s real stakes in the Maldives before exploring the various options available and their associated challenges. New Delhi’s fundamental concern is not the suspension of civil liberties or setback to democracy in the Maldives. It’s China: how China would increase its stocks in Male at the expense of India lies at the heart of Indian anxieties about the political impasse in the Maldives. In New Delhi’s mind, then, the game is increasingly zero sum, and winning it would require reinstating India’s lost glory in the Maldives, something the embattled former President, Mohamed Nasheed, is promising to do. Let’s put India’s apprehensions in context. India has of late been anxious about its steadily losing stature in the neighbourhood: its inability to act in the Maldives will only further accentuate this reality. India’s carefully constructed identity of being the “successor-state-of-the-British-Raj” strongly informed the early decades of its regional policy. Assertions of India’s Raj tradition in the neighbourhood have been resisted by the smaller countries of the region, often without much success. However, the rise of China has fundamentally changed the equation by giving them an opportunity to demand more respect and negotiate better terms of engagement. South Asia traditionally had one hegemon, India; today it has two, India and China. Small states of the region are indeed the winners in this new balance of power game. The emerging discontents of India’s regional policy need to be viewed in this historical context. These new geopolitical realities also necessitate that New Delhi alters its approach to dealing with the region and appreciates the aspirations of the region’s small states, keeping in mind their increased choices. In other words, the sooner India is able to rejig its regional policy to suit the post-hegemonic milieu in South Asia the better it will be able to grapple with the emerging realities therein. In that spirit, then, India should desist from undertaking “civilising missions” to educate its neighbours on civil liberties and democracy. Let the democratic chips in Maldives fall where they may.

Intervention is costly

There are several reasons why direct/overt military or political intervention in the Maldives to correct the democratic process there is a bad idea and could damage India’s interests in the long term. Those who argue that Washington and the western powers expect India to resolve the crisis in the Maldives seem to forget that there is increasing recognition today that humanitarian intervention often leads to more chaos than order. And the crisis in the Maldives is not even humanitarian in nature. From a purely instrumental point of view, the costs of an Indian intervention gone wrong (which it is likely to) would far outweigh any potential benefits from a successful intervention, even if we hypothetically accept that an intervention might be successful. Given the fact that Mr. Gayoom does enjoy some domestic political support, Indian intervention would certainly make one faction in the country unhappy which would accuse India of undermining its sovereignty. Moreover, if Mr. Gayoom prolongs the emergency and does not restore normalcy in the country, he is likely to lose support domestically. On the other hand, if New Delhi intervenes, he will use it to drum up popular support. If so, anything short of a full-fledged intervention that forcibly removes him from power may indeed be counter-productive. But if New Delhi uses force to dethrone him, the question is what next? Is India willing to brave its aftermath, the nature of which is presently unpredictable? Recall how the American calculation about Iraqis stepping up to support democracy once it intervened to dethrone Saddam Hussein went horribly wrong. Second, an Indian intervention, especially by an overtly Hindu-right wing government, will push the Maldives towards more Islamist politics, something the Gayoom regime will use to its advantage. If it’s the growing relationship between Male and Beijing that New Delhi is concerned about, there is no guarantee that a military or some other overt form of intervention in the Maldives would ensure a rift between China and the Maldives. In fact, it may even have the reverse effect. Indian intervention could also complicate life for over 25,000 Indian expatriates who live and work in the Maldives. Then there is the legal challenge: an intervention could constitute a clear violation of the UN Charter and international law. Finally, sermons about civil liberties and democracy are a double-edged sword that could easily come back to haunt us. In short, New Delhi has very little moral, legal and political locus standi to justify an intervention in the Maldives. It’s at best an interested party whose best bet is diplomacy and persuasion.

India’s track record

Intervening in what is strictly a domestic political issue of the Maldives would also be in breach of India’s traditional approach to dealing with crises in its neighbourhood. The 1971 intervention in the then East Pakistan was primarily the result of a 10-million-heavy refugee burden on India. Both Operation Cactus of 1988 and the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the late 1980s were undertaken when India was explicitly invited to do so. In the early 2000s, when the Sri Lankan government requested India to intervene to help defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, New Delhi declined the offer. This is not to say that New Delhi has not covertly intervened in the domestic affairs of its neighbours or applied pressure on the smaller ones. The recent Indian involvement in Sri Lanka is an example of the former and India’s 2015 blockade against Nepal, the latter. In any case, New Delhi’s interventions on invitation as well as its covert interventions have only produced mixed results. Carrying out a military operation in Maldives today, in full public view, would not sit well with this tradition, nor will it achieve India’s strategic objectives.


1) Unfolding

Meaning: Reveal or disclose (thoughts or information).

Example: “Eva unfolded her secret exploits to Mattie”

Synonyms: Narrate, Relate

2) Undeniable

Meaning: Unable to be denied or disputed.

Example: “it is an undeniable fact that some dogs are easier to train than others”

Synonyms: Indisputable, Indubitable

Antonyms: Debatable, Questionable

3) Deem

Meaning: Regard or consider in a specified way.

Example: “the event was deemed a great success”

Synonyms: Consider, Judge

4) Chaotic

Meaning: In a state of complete confusion and disorder.

Example: “the political situation was chaotic”

Synonyms: Disorderly, Confused

5) Goldilocks

Meaning: Used to describe a situation in which something is or has to be exactly right.

Example: The Mayor takes a Goldilocks approach to his city’s 18 percent growth: It’s not too fast and not too slow.

Synonyms: Perfect, Faultless

6) Playbook

Meaning: A set of rules or suggestions that are considered to be suitable for a particular activity, industry, or job.

Example: Typically, outsiders are brought in to execute a specific playbook, i.e. to solve a particular problem in a particular way.

7) Fraying

Meaning: (of a person’s nerves or temper) show the effects of strain.

Example: “as the temperature rose, tempers frayed”

Synonyms: Strain, Overtax

8) Fact-finding mission

Meaning: An occasion when a person or group goes somewhere to collect information about something.

Example: We’re going on a fact-finding mission to China to learn more about how they run the industry.

9) Sober

Meaning: Serious, sensible, and solemn.

Example: “ a sober view of life”

Synonyms: Serious, Sensible

Antonyms: Light-hearted, Frivolous

10) Impasse

Meaning: A situation in which no progress is possible, especially because of disagreement; a deadlock.

Example: “the current political impasse”

Synonyms: Deadlock, Stalemate

11) Reinstating

Meaning: Restore (someone or something) to their former position or state.

Example: “the union threatened strike action if Owen was not reinstated”

Synonyms: Restore, Rehabilitate

12) Embattled

Meaning: Having a lot of problems or difficulties

Example: An embattled government ; embattled teachers.

13) Stature

Meaning: Importance or reputation gained by ability or achievement.

Example: “an architect of international stature”

Synonyms: Reputation, Repute

14) Accentuate

Meaning: Make more noticeable or prominent.

Example: “his jacket unfortunately accentuated his paunch”

Synonyms: Highlight, Spotlight

Antonyms: Mask

15) Engagement

Meaning: The action of engaging or being engaged.

Example: “Britain’s continued engagement in open trading”

Synonyms: Participation, Involvement

16) Hegemon

Meaning: A leader, country, or group that is very strong and powerful and therefore able to control others.

Example: Could the United States lose out to another global hegemon, China?

17) Discontents

Meaning: Dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances; lack of contentment.

Example: “voters voiced discontent with both parties”

Synonyms: Dissatisfaction, Disaffection

Antonyms: Contentment, Satisfaction

18) Necessitate

Meaning: Make (something) necessary as a result or consequence.

Example: “a cut which necessitated eighteen stitches”

19) Hegemonic

Meaning: Ruling or dominant in a political or social context.

Example: “the bourgeoisie constituted the hegemonic class”

20) Milieu

Meaning: A person’s social environment.

Example: “Gregory came from the same aristocratic milieu as Sidonius”

Synonyms: Environment, Backdrop

21) Grapple

Meaning: Struggle to deal with or overcome (a difficulty or challenge).

Example: “other towns are still grappling with the problem”

Synonyms: Tackle, Confront

Antonyms: Avoid

22) Desist

Meaning: Stop doing something; cease or abstain.

Example: “each pledged to desist from acts of sabotage”

Synonyms: Abstain, Refrain

Antonyms: Continue

23) Instrumental

Meaning: Serving as a means of pursuing an aim.

Example: “the Society was instrumental in bringing about legislation”

Synonyms: Involve, Active

Antonyms: Uninvolved, Obstructive

24) Outweigh

Meaning: Be heavier, greater, or more significant than.

Example: “the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages”

Synonyms: Exceed, Override

25) Hypothetically

Meaning: By imagining a possibility rather than reality; as a hypothesis.

Example: “we talked hypothetically about how cool it would be if we moved”

26) Faction

Meaning: A small organized dissenting group within a larger one, especially in politics.

Example: “the left-wing faction of the party”

Synonyms: Clique, Camp

7) Prolongs

Meaning: Extend the duration of.

Example: “an idea which prolonged the life of the engine by many years”

Synonyms: Lengthen, Extend

Antonyms: Shorten

28) Normalcy

Meaning: The condition of being normal; the state of being usual, typical, or expected.

Example: “the office gradually returned to a semblance of normality”

Synonyms: Routine, Regularity

Antonyms: Insanity

29) Drum up

Meaning: To try to increase business activity or get support for something.

Example: Retailers are trying to drum up sales with price cuts.

30) Counter-productive

Meaning: Having the opposite of the desired effect.

Example: “child experts fear the Executive’s plans may prove counterproductive”

31) Dethrone

Meaning: Remove from a position of authority or dominance.

Example: “he dethroned the defending title-holder”

Synonyms: Depose, Oust

Antonyms: Enthrone, Crown

32) Overt

Meaning: Done or shown openly; plainly apparent.

Example: “an overt act of aggression”

Synonyms: Undisguised, Unconcealed

Antonyms: Covert, Hidden

33) Rift

Meaning: A serious break in friendly relations.

Example: “the rift between the two branches of the legal profession”

Synonyms: Breach, Division

34) Expatriates

Meaning: An exile.

Example: “the level of salary paid to expatriates working overseas”

Synonyms: Emigrant, Refugee

Antonyms: National

35) Sermons

Meaning: A long or tedious piece of admonition or reproof; a lecture.

Example: “he understood that if he said any more he would have to listen to another lengthy sermon”

Synonyms: Tirade, Diatribe

Antonyms: Commendation

36) Double-edged

Meaning: Having two contradictory aspects or possible outcomes.

Example: “the consequences can be double-edged”

37) Haunt

Meaning: Be persistently and disturbingly present in (the mind).

Example: “the sight haunted me for years”

Synonyms: Torment, Obsess

38) Locus standi

Meaning: The right or capacity to bring an action or to appear in a court.

Example: “a foreign government which has not been recognized by the UK government has no locus standi in the English courts”

39) Persuasion

Meaning: A belief or set of beliefs, especially religious or political ones.

Example: “writers of all political persuasions”

Synonyms: Encouragement, Inducement

40) Covert

Meaning: not openly acknowledged or displayed.

Example: “covert operations against the dictatorship”

Synonyms: Secret, Furtive

Antonyms: Overt, Above board

Check Yesterday’s THE HINDU Editorial to learn more words and to ace the English section in the forthcoming exams.



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