The Maldives is a keg today Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, exited from his temporary refuge inside the Indian high commission in Male a week ago amid high drama and a deal brokered by India with all political parties in the Maldives under which Nasheed would be allowed to participate in free and fair elections to be held on September 7. He spoke to Jyoti Malhotra How is life as a free man? I'm not really free. The local court in Hulhumale, which had earlier issued a warrant of arrest for me, has now said that I'm not allowed to travel outside Male. This is a big hindrance to my party work and my political campaign. We now fully understand the politically motivated nature of the court. India brokered a "deal" between you and the Maldivian government. Tell us about it. Well, there was an understanding, not a deal, in which I would be able to conduct a peaceful political campaign and participate in an inclusive election, and that hearings on my case in court would be delayed till after the elections. That the charges would not be dropped against me, but even if I became the president after the elections, the law would take its course. On my part I would create space for the Indian and Maldivian governments to settle the issue. The Indians told you this? I believe the Indian government is worried that if there isn't a free, fair and inclusive election, there will be instability in the Maldives. However, if I am not allowed to travel outside Male and campaign, it means that there is no firmness to the understanding brokered by India. I fear the court might even issue a warrant against me any day. So your inability to travel and campaign violates this understanding? Everyone is watching the situation. If we come back to square one, which means that there is no certainty about my candidacy, that would mean disenfranchising a vast majority of the people. My party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, will then proactively disrupt the elections. The Maldives is a keg. What is President Waheed saying about all of this? He is not saying anything. But as president, he should say clearly that the case against me is deferred. This deliberately created situation of suspended animation is going to harm our campaign. What is the position of former President Abdul Gayoom? I think Gayoom will contest only if I am eliminated from participating in the elections. However, if I contest, he won't . Instead, he will put up his brother, Abdulla Yamin. In effect, that is a face-off between you and Gayoom or his brother? What does this mean for the Maldives? Yes, this is a face-off between the very traditional , xenophobic, racist, regimented and controlled politics and mine, which is much more outwardlooking . Moreover, Gayoom's party will always b e m u ch closer to the Chinese. I believe, however, that the Indian Ocean would be much more stable if one power is dominant and that power is India. You are often accused of being anti-Islamic , which is a serious accusation in an Islamic country like the Maldives. I'm against the very narrow-minded , extremist view of Islam that is promoted by Wahabbi-ism and which is beginning to develop roots in the Maldives. I and my party, the MDP, are very pro-Islam , but we are against Wahabbi-ism . We believe in an Islamic faith that has always been generous and conciliatory and accepting of others. And the Chinese? The Chinese have aspirations of being a superpower, and want to secure trade routes, etc, which means they are bound to have an interest in the Maldives. But we cannot allow ourselves to be used as a pawn between India and China as that will inflame the situation in the Indian Ocean. For the Ocean to be stable, we believe India must play a dominant role. Irrespective of which party is in power in the Maldives? Yes, since the days of the British Raj, the Maldives has aligned with India. You helped Gayoom to overthrow Sri Lankan rebels attempting a coup against him in 1988. Today, a democratic India must help a democratic Maldives. How does a tiny Maldives, with 3,20,000 people, look at India with 1.2 billion people? We think of India as an opportunity, and we want to plug into your development . India is a country that is becoming a superpower, but you must also learn how to leverage your power. India must believe it has the strongest leverage in the Indian Ocean. I hope India believes this and has the necessary tools to project this power and be relevant both in the sub-continent and in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives is a keg today - The Times of India ************************************** There is no doubt that there should be a free and fair election so that the will of the majority of Maldive's population become evident. It is not material as to who wins except that Wahabbism does not take a grip over the Nation. That will be dangerous for the world.