Chennai: After losing Sri Lanka to China through its inept handling of the Eelam conflict, India is unwilling to learn from its diplomatic goof-ups, it appears.
Reports from Maldives, another island neighbour in the Indian Ocean, say the Chinese are everywhere here too just like in Lanka, while the Indian presence, and influence, is quickly diminishing.
While some in India believe that the Maldivians have shifted loyalty towards China for material gains and dumped long-time ‘guardian angel’ India, Mr Ahmed Mohamed, Ambassador of Maldives in India, firmly denies the charge and lays the blame squarely on the slow-paced Indian bureaucratic red tape that’s insensitive towards the stepped up pace of development in his country, which needed lots of project funding from friendly nations.
"There is more project funding that is coming from China into Maldives, when compared to what’s coming from India. Yes, India’s share is declining but we have never said ‘no’ to encouraging India’s share", he told a select media gathering at the Maldivian mission here on Saturday. Ambassador Ahmed Mohamed is on a two-day visit to Chennai.
Explaining that the "dynamics of politics" has changed since the new Constitution came into being in 2008 and brought in the multi-party system—it was earlier ‘restrictive democratic system’ that did not allow political parties to function—Mr Mohamed said a President now has to fulfill his promises made while contesting in the previous poll to seek his second term. "He must accomplish promises before the term of five years, or else people will reject him even before the election. That’s how you would see lot of development has come up post-2008, and projects move much faster now.
"And for that, we approach all our bilateral partners to provide project funding. We don’t ask for grants; we ask for loans, concessional loans. India also has provided through Exim Bank funding for some housing projects and road constructions. But can I say provide more funding for more projects? That’s not our call. If you want to promote your interests in Maldives, it is your responsibility; not mine", the Ambassador argued, battling the suggestion that his country was cozying up to China and moving away from India.
Asked if he thought the Indian diplomacy has failed in ensuring matching Indian investments in his country, Mr Mohamed said, "I am not saying that. I am only stating facts. The pace of development has gone up and the pace at which the countries are able to get through decisions through their bureaucratic systems needs to be paced up".
Elaborating on the Indian lapses, he said, "Everybody talks of China having deep pockets. I am sure India is equally rich. India has rich resources, big population.
But the system is different". What the Ambassador meant, without saying it in so many words, was that while the Chinese took quick decisions, the Indian system was bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.
To a question if Maldives thought India was adopting a Big Brother attitude towards its smaller neighours, including his country, Ambassador Mohamed smiled and said, "We want India to be big brother to us; a good big brother".
"Every time Maldives was in crisis, India was the first to reach out to us—the 1988 physical attack (coup attempt by Abdullah Luthufi assisted by Sri Lankan Tamil group, PLOTE), 2004 tsunami and the water crisis in 2014. This has been our biggest strength as great neighbours. We cannot wish away our geographical and cultural proximity", he said.