The Republic of Maldives announced on Monday that it would take back the operations of the international airport at Male from the Indian corporate GMR Group with effect from Saturday, cancelling its agreement for a US $ 511 million project. According to media reports, New Delhi threatens that it would consider freezing aid to Maldives, especially a US $ 25 million loan immediately needed by the Maldives for the payment of salaries to its civil servants. But the general public and businessmen in the Maldives feel that it is a big victory for their efforts in freeing their airport from the clutches of the Indian corporate. The agreement with GMR Group was signed in the times of the earlier president, Mohamed Nasheed.
GMR Group (Grandhi Mallikarjuna Rao Group) is headquartered in Bangalore. Its chairman Grandhi Mallikarjuna Rao is a Telugu entrepreneur coming from Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh.
New Delhi was long handling Maldivian affairs, including job opportunities in the archipelago, through Andhra connections.
Besides the Male International Airport, the GMR Group in engaged in running the operations of Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad and Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in Turkey.
Immediately after vested with the operations rights of the Male airport, the GMR Group increased the airport tax and took over the duty free trade, including the alcohol trade, from local businessmen, who view the Indian trade approaches as unsophisticated, arrogant and naked in greed.
The ways of business were too obvious to invite local resistance.
A booklet in Dhivehi, appearing a couple of months ago and widely circulated among the local people narrated the native efforts and labour of the Maldivian people in building the international airport from a World War II airstrip of the British.
At a time when no one believed that a passenger aircraft could land in the atolls of tiny islets, the first president of the second republic of the country, Mr Ibrahim Nasir proved in the 1960s that it could land.
Two adjacent islets were joined together by the labour of the Maldivian people. The president sat next to the pilot in the first flight that came from Colombo and landed at the airport to cast fears aside. The airport is today named after him, as Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.
The booklet questioned the wisdom of the Maldivian government today in handing over the airport to the corporate of a country that had never contributed anything in opening up the archipelago to the outside world.
The nexus between the Indian High Commission, especially the Indian High Commissioner in Male and the GMR Group was another irritant widely debated in the country.
In early November, the Spokesperson of the President’s Office of the Maldives, Abbas Adil Riza described the Indian High Commissioner D.M. Mulay as a “traitor and enemy of the Maldives and the Maldivian people.”
After the announcement of the Maldives government last Tuesday of its intention of cancelling the agreement with GMR Group, New Delhi was quick in considering the transfer (or promotion) of the present High Commissioner to New York as Consul General and the appointment of Rajiv Shahare as the new High Commissioner for the Maldives.
The GMR Group, as a Multinational Corporate of Singapore connection, has filed a case in the High Court of Singapore against the cancellation of the agreement and the Singapore High Court on Monday issued an injunction against the Maldivian government decision.
The injunction prompted President Mohamed Waheed’s Special Advisor Dr Hassan Saeed, Defense and acting Transport Minister Mohamed Nazim and Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel to call a press conference on Monday shortly after midday, reported Minivannews of Maldives.
“The government remains firm and committed towards implementing its decision to terminate the agreement. We will not reconsider it,” said Maldivian Defence Minister Nazim, adding that the government would re-take the airport on Saturday and would give it to Maldives Airport Company Limited (MACL) to run the operations.
“This is a sovereign country. We have given them a sovereign guarantee. That means the government will compensate for their damages. An injunction cannot be issued like this to a sovereign state,” said presidential advisor Saeed, commenting on the Singapore High Court injunction.
According to spokesperson of the International Aviation Transport Authority (IATA), it was the organization’s understanding that the airport owner “remains unchanged–it is still the Maldives government. What is changing is the operator of the airport.”
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Maldives has informed GMR that it would withdraw the operator’s aerodrome certificate at 23:59 on December 7 (Friday) and Maldives immigration has halted the work permit renewal of people associated with GMR project.
Opponents of the government move, including the former president Naseem, say that this is a breech of international law on the part of Maldives and this will affect direct foreign investment in future.
Like the affairs of the island of Sri Lanka, the Maldivian affairs too are entangled amidst the contentions of the West, India and China. In addition, Maldives also has connections with the forces of the Islamic world. The local entrepreneurship of the Maldives too has many shady connections.
On the part of India, it has lost its credibility and moral leadership of the region with the role it played and continues to play in the genocide of Eezham Tamils. This subconsciously operates and will continue to operate against Indian interests in the region, commented political observers in the region.
The Indian media reacting to the developments in the Maldives, fail to tell the Indian public that to what extent the sentiments unfolding in the Maldives are a latent result of the policy followed by India in grooming Rajapaka regime and coupling the Maldivian regime along with it, the observers commented further.