By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Though ‘controversy’ may be an apt second name for this-rabble rouser, the ousted former President of the Republic of Maldives considers himself ‘more journalist and activist’, even after being elected as Head of State at the first multi-party election in his beautiful island home.
How these roles combine at some point and evolve he can neither fathom nor describe, except to say that he had dedicated himself to the task of introducing a ‘political overhaul’ to his country, and every move and decision is in order to achieve that broad purpose.
His days as the island’s controversial, climate championing president may be over, but Mohamed Nasheed insists that his days are spent fashioning out a road map for democracy, albeit the political power to convert it into policy. It is this process to achieve a complete political overhaul that keeps Nasheed on his toes, 24 hours of the day.
“There is no time for waking up or hitting the bed. I get inspiration at all odd times, and then I quickly jump off the bed and start doing what I know best: scribble,” says the former Minivan News journalist. “On an average, I rise between 4-5 a.m., and make some attempt at planning my day. I can’t, for it is often planned by protesting Maldivians, party activists or the military and police combined.
“I was declared a prisoner of conscience after I was sentenced to two years imprisonment for an article I wrote about election rigging. I was arrested over 20 times during President Gayoom’s rule and consider jail to be a sad and painful second home where I learned the most. I developed a quality I never possessed – patience – and also learnt how to stay the course. I was the jailed husband and absentee father, having not witnessed the birth of my two daughters. Now that I am placed under movement restrictions by this despotic regime, I will repeat my previous performance; to write books on the Maldivian political history. All I am trying to say is that my destiny is political and social, and it is often influenced by external forces; the regime, the army, the police, my party supporters and citizens, and I often spend my hours within a day with them.
“During an ordinary day (I mean when there is no street protest which enhances my risk of being arrested or baton-charged), I take a quick wash, say my prayers quickly and start reading. I turn on the television at the crack of dawn. It is perhaps my journalistic past that kicks in, and I watch international news with great interest. As for Maldives, often I am the news and there is no need to watch that. I just wish that Maldives could make positive news instead of presenting a story of a democracy in crisis.
“I have early breakfast and that’s when I get some time with my daughters, Meera Laila and Zaaya Laila. They take after their sensible mother, Laila Ali Abdulla, and accept that they have to be without their father most of the time and are happy to be with him whenever he is around. I do ask about their school work but not about their homework. Honestly, my wife is a far better manger and has managed my kids so well. Left to me, I don’t know how they would have gone through school with enough stability in life.
“We have regular Maldivian food mixed with continental food for breakfast; and I am not fussy. I have no time to fuss and eat anything that is placed before me. By 7.00 a.m., I am ready for public engagements. These days, it often means getting out on the street or being with my Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activists to strategize our next steps. I down a dozen cups of tea in between, and rush from one meeting to the other or have them in one place. After being in solitary confinement for so long, I am used to being in one place and conducting a series of meetings. It is this interaction with the people that kept me alive in my long years of darkness.
Getting by with peoples’ support
“Lunch is often a hurried affair, or it does not happen. Then there are more meetings and more coffee and tea, followed by meetings with people. I try to meet regular people as much as I can; they give me roots and keep me focused. Even during my presidency, I tried to remain close to the people because I rose from among them and I know my strength is that public love and support.
“I have always been the activist in their midst, demanding political freedom and clamouring for democracy. In all honesty, I am happiest in their midst, on the streets or elsewhere, making careful plans to ensure that democracy does take root in the Maldives and there is space for dissent and recognition of the concept of separation of power. I spend hours mulling over these core political issues and how to mainstream them, and I am not alone. We work as a team and we decide as a team.
“Some love me and others hate me. Some call me the Evil President while others call me the Mandela of Maldives. I am not swayed by hate speech because I am also battle-hardened after being jailed, tortured and being fed with glass-mixed food. My world did come crashing down when I realized there was a political coup that sought to oust me, and I did resign, knowing that resistance would have cost lives, not just presidency. I believe, with God’s grace, that history will indeed be kind to me and for the pains endured to ensure that Maldivians experience political freedoms, have the space for dissent and for the introduction of multi-party politics. I have made my mistakes but I have also made my own contribution, and that’s my prayer and conversation with God.
“I have just commenced meeting people with new vigour, conducting small meetings and discussing a democratic agenda for my country. If I blot the three years of presidency, this is exactly what I have been doing all my life, ever since I was arrested for writing an article on election rigging for the political magazine Sangu in 1990.
“I cannot plan my days properly, and my evenings are also spent meeting more people, including party seniors. I am regularly visited by diplomats, human rights activists, journalists and students. I often spend an hour or two everyday with them.
“Dinner happens when it happens. Maldivians eat early but that’s a luxury for me. I get to see my lovely daughters again at the dinner table. They are wonderful kids and do not ask me how I spend my day. They know my days are consumed by politics and are not interested in detailed answers. Even if they are, they let me have that space. I feel blessed to have them.
“Whenever possible, I try to read both newspapers and magazines. Reading books has been replaced by all these hurried versions of reading. The one thing I mentally prepare for at all times is the possibility of political persecution and arrest. It is nothing new actually, except for the fact that I am now a father and my kids are growing. They are aware of the lack of democratic space in their country. They worry about their dad while their prudent mother keeps her own counsel. I feel sad that my children have to go through anguish because of the choices made by their father. Yet, this is my choice and I cannot change it. It is my social contract.
“Besides this personal pain, I sail through my day and indeed my life, accepting the chaos and the political intensity that surrounds me. I can’t plan too much, the designs belong either to God or to these despotic rulers. I remain prepared for any eventuality knowing that I stay true to my conscience.
“There is always the lurking danger of arbitrary arrest. Every night I say my prayers and think, if that happens to me yet again, let my family be happy and peaceful and let me go through it with the nonchalance of yesteryear. I pray for peace and I pray for democracy. If arrested, I will probably write more books from within those infamous prison cells.” courtesy: Ceylon Today