Maldivian President Ibrahim “Ibu” Solih arrived on an official visit on Monday in the shadow of a raging political dispute in the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) that pitted him against party colleague and president Mohamed Nasheed.
This is Solih’s second official visit to India. He had come once before in December 2018, a few days after his election. He was in Bengaluru on an unofficial tour to watch an IPL cricket match in April 2019.
For the past few months, former President Nasheed has been speaking openly against Solih and the government. He is also opposing Solih’s candidacy in the 2023 presidential election.
Earlier this year, Solih’s candidate for party president, Fayaz Ismail, defeated Nasheed’s candidate Imtiaz Fahmi by 58 percent of the vote, indicating that a majority in the MDP favours Solih.
On Thursday, Nasheed’s simmering hostility towards his former political protege boiled over after police arrested his brother Ahmed Nazim. Nasheed tweeted that “Ibu Solih’s administration has arrested my brother selectively accusing him of homosexuality. The arrest was made against criminal procedures and is politically motivated to appease hardline extremists in the coalition”.
Nasheed accused the President of pandering to Islamist hardliners. The Maldives is an Islamic republic of Sunni Muslims.
Nazim, a former parliamentarian himself, was arrested along with two other men, one of them a police officer, and another a Bangladeshi national. Nasheed said in a party WhatsApp group that his brother had been targeted when several others could have been investigated for having same-sex relations.
He also accused President Solih of having an extramarital affair with a “young girl”, to which Solih’s office had to put out a denial Friday.
The in-fighting in the MDP was watched with concern in New Delhi for its possible fallout on next year’s elections, which came out in the open after last year’s assassination attempt on Nasheed. Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Didi had to defend herself and the police over the security breach that resulted in the attempt on Nasheed’s life through a remotely triggered IED. It went off as the Speaker was getting into his car outside his home resulting in multiple injuries to him. The government had called it terrorism by religious extremists.
Earlier this year, Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla slammed the slow pace of the investigation saying that other than three persons jailed in connection with the execution of the attack, the police had made no headway in tracing the perpetrators and the planners of the attack.
Solih’s 2018 election as President was supported by the religious conservative Jumhooree Party headed by businessman Qasim Ibrahim, and the Adhaalath Party, which is a more hardline Islamic party. Though the MDP has a majority of its own in Parliament, Solih heads a coalition government of those who supported his election.
Nasheed believes that Solih has surrendered to the religious elements in the government. Last week, he lashed out at Adhaalath Party for its stand that yoga was not permitted by Islam. The party recently came out with a “research paper “ by its Scholars’ Council drawing links between Hinduism and yoga, and concluded that it should not be practised by Muslims, even as a physical exercise shorn of its spiritual connotations.
In a tweet, Nasheed rebutted the yoga study by Adhaalath, saying Islamic scholars had not been able to agree on what Islam says about yoga adding that the views of one party could not be accepted as the final word on Islamic practices.
Yoga has been the subject of debate ever since the Yoga Day event in Male was disrupted, allegedly by elements close to former President Abdulla Yameen, who is leading an India Out campaign. Yameen, who had a pro-China tilt during his term in office, is planning to make a comeback on a platform of “regaining sovereignty”. He accuses the Solih government of “selling out” to India, and of not being true to “Islamic nationalism”.
The incident came as shock to the Indian High Commission, as Yoga Day has been observed in the Maldives since 2015 without any problem. The Maldives was among the 177 countries that voted for the resolution to make June 21 International Yoga Day.
Videos showed a mob carrying flags and poles, rushing through the stadium towards the participants, who were seen running for their safety. The participants included Indian and other diplomats and Maldivian officials. Maldivian police said material seized from the mob was traced back to Yameen’s office. Earlier this year, the Solih government had banned anti-India protests citing them as a threat to the national interests of Maldives.
The yoga incident came days after the controversial statements by Nupur Sharma against the Prophet. The Maldives had then joined several other Islamic countries to condemn the statements but only after the opposition brought pressure to bear on the government and it became clear that not doing so would carry immense political risk.
After the Yoga Day incident, the MDP released a statement that “these types of egregious and violent acts have no place in a peaceful democratic society such as ours.”