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Operation Cactus: How Indian troops went to Maldives and helped quell a coup

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The current political crisis in neighbouring Maldives has prompted India to put its military on standby to ensure “deployment at short notice” and in anticipation of an “eventuality.”

If the armed forces receive the go ahead, this will not be the first time they come to the island nation’s rescue.

30 years ago, in 1988, a Maldivian group led by Abdullah Luthufi attempted to overthrow the government in Maldives. The group was aided by armed mercenaries of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), a Sri Lankan Tamil secessionist organisation.

The intervention by Indian armed forces – codenamed ‘Operation Cactus’ – trounced the attempted coup.

OPERATION CACTUS

More than 60 of PLOTE’s mercenaries landed in the Maldivian capital of Male and soon gained control of the city. Then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was able to escape capture, requested military intervention from several countries, including India.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi responded to Gayoom’s call, dispatching paratroopers and naval warships to the island nation.

Operation Cactus started on the night of 3 November 1988, hours after the request for intervention.

The Indian paratroopers rescued the President and soon returned control of the capital to the Maldivian government. Some of the malcontents were captured and handed over to the government.

David Brewster, a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University, notes that “India received international praise for the operation,” in ‘India’s Ocean: The story of India’s bid for regional leadership’. The book’s extract, published on the website of an independent think-tank, adds that President Reagan appreciated India’s decisive action in the matter.

CURRENT SITUATION

The current crisis in the country was spurred by the Maldivian Supreme Court’s order last week, directing the immediate release of nine opposition leaders, including exiled former president Mohammed Nasheed, and their retrials. In its order, the court said that the prisoners’ ‘guilty’ verdicts had been “influenced” by the government.

The ruling may have allowed Nasheed, who was Maldives’ first democratically elected president, to challenge President Abdulla Yameen when he seeks re-election later this year.

The court also ordered the reinstatement of 12 MPs, who had been ousted for switching allegiance to the opposition. With their return, President Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member Parliament.

However, President Yameen showed no inclination to implement the order, even as the apex court on Sunday categorically asked that the ruling be complied with.

Instead, on Monday, Yameen declared a state of emergency and got Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another judge, Ali Hameed arrested. The remaining three judges of the Supreme Court revoked the release order, “in light of the concerns raised by the President”.

India, which is monitoring the situation very “closely”, said it was “disturbed” at the declaration of the emergency by the island nation’s government. It called the arrests a matter of “concern”.

“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 February 1, and also by the suspension of constitutional rights of the people of Maldives,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

Nasheed requested India’s help – specifically, military support.

“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 appealed.

Earlier, highly-placed sources in the Maldivian Supreme Court, too, had urged India and other democratic countries for help.

“The chief of judicial administration, Hasan Saeed, had his home raided on bribery charges and judges are being intimidated. We need India to take tough measures to ensure that rule of law is implemented in the Maldives,” the source had told TOI.

The Indian mission in Male, according to sources in New Delhi, was at the time, in touch with “all relevant agencies” involved in the matter.


(With inputs from agencies)

Updated: February 7, 2018 — 6:33 am

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