Political situation in the Maldives has plunged into chaos with the transpiring showdown between President Abdullah Yameen's government and the judiciary that even led to the imposition of a state of emergency.
Will India, a key immediate neighbour of the atoll nation, come to the rescue by using its diplomatic and military muscle to bring the situation under control?
What began as a verdict by the Supreme Court a week ago to release key opposition political prisoners, has quickly metamorphosed into a full-blown political crisis with the government arresting two judges of the highest court and virtually eliminating any dissent. Within hours of the declaration of the state of emergency on Monday (5 February), Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed were arrested, along with former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — an estranged half-brother of Yameen.
Former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, who is currently in exile in Sri Lanka and was among the prisoners whose release was ordered by the Maldivian Supreme Court, has reportedly sought help from India to send an envoy along with its armed forces.
"We would like the Indian government to send an envoy, backed by its military, to free the judges and the political detainees, including former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, from their detention and to bring them to their homes. We are asking for a physical presence," he said in a statement, according to NDTV.
Nasheed, whose removal paved way for the sitting president to take power, went on: "President Yameen's announcement which declares a state of emergency, the banning of fundamental freedoms, and the suspension of the Supreme Court is tantamount to a declaration of martial law in the Maldives. This declaration is unconstitutional and illegal. Nobody in the Maldives is required to, nor should, follow this unlawful order.
"We must remove him from power. The people of the Maldives have a legitimate request to world governments, especially to India and the United States."
It is natural for the picturesque Indian Ocean archipelago — with 26 coral atolls and 1,192 individual islands — to approach New Delhi for any favour since it shares close ties with the country. However, India has also been at loggerheads with most part of Yameen's presidency since he took charge in 2013.
India, a preferred destination for the Maldivian islanders for various purposes including education and medical treatment, is also reportedly mulling on whether tougher measures are necessary to deal with the situation, given that Yameen has been aggressively pushing the limits in the recent days. Trade agreements and visa arrangements between the nations, which are vital for both, are expected to take a blow if the existing situation is allowed to worsen.
In 1998, India had deployed a small military unit to help the then government to battle a takeover by a group of mercenaries launching a potential coup. Sources from the Indian establishment, aware of the latest developments, told the Indian daily, The Wire, that there are "harder" options available too to resolve the crisis.
"The prevailing political developments in the Maldives and the resultant law and order situation is a matter of concern for the Government of India," the Indian foreign ministry said in its travel advisory cautiously pointing out that the "law and order situation" could have a direct impact on India opening a door for a potential intervention.