The Male takeaway

Delhi's reluctance to support Indian companies abroad will cost it

Delhi may have good reason to downplay last week's ouster of GMR from the Maldives. That a small neighbour has targeted a major investment by an Indian company has surely set teeth gnashing in South Block. But anger management is one of the first principles of diplomacy.

India, which has many other interests in the Maldives besides the GMR investment in Male airport, does not want to make the situation any worse by reacting aggressively. India is acutely conscious of the geopolitical significance of the Maldives, which sits astride the Indian Ocean sea lines of communication. So are China and the United States. Pakistan is pursuing its own agenda in the tiny nation of barely 3,20,000 people.

Delhi signed a wide-ranging partnership agreement with Male in 2011 that has defined the basis for strong Indian involvement in the development of the Maldives and a major role for the Indian navy in helping the island nation secure its vast exclusive economic zone. GMR will certainly not be the last Indian company caught in the whirlpool of the local politics of another nation. Nor is India the first country to experience this. All great powers, old and new, often find smaller countries targeting their assets, personnel and companies for a variety of political reasons. The US and other Western powers have struggled to cope with this for ages.

As its global commercial footprint grows, China is constantly confronting the political vicissitudes of having its companies operate in foreign lands. Consider, for example, Myanmar's decision in September 2011 to suspend the implementation of the $4 billion Chinese project to build a large dam on the Irrawaddy River at Myitsone. An angry Beijing had to hold its tongue. This happened despite China's strong support to Myanmar during its long years of international isolation and Western sanctions. The scale and scope of China's relationship with Myanmar is certainly much larger than that between Delhi and Male. Yet China had no option but to demonstrate patience.

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