New Delhi: A mob disrupted the International Yoga Day celebration in the Maldivian capital of Male on Tuesday, with local authorities pointing to the possible involvement of the opposition party headed by former president Abdulla Yameen.
The mob stormed the Galolhu national stadium shortly after the beginning of the celebration organised by the youth and sports ministry of the Maldives and the Indian Cultural Centre, which is affiliated with the Indian high commission. The event was attended by Indian envoy Munu Mahawar, other ambassadors and diplomats and members of the public.
Members of the mob, carrying flags with verses from the Quran, scuffled with participants and vandalised property before they were dispersed. The event resumed soon after and was held without any further interruption.
Maldives President Ibu Solih quickly condemned the disruption of the celebration and said in a tweet that police had launched an investigation. “This is being treated as a matter of serious concern and those responsible will be swiftly brought before the law,” he said.
The Maldives Police Service (MSS) said its serious and organised crime department is handling the investigation.
“As of now, the evidence indicates that the demonstrators were using items taken from the office of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM). So far, six male Maldivians have been taken into custody regarding this case,” MSS said in a statement.
PPM is the opposition party headed by former president Yameen that has been linked to a long-running “India Out” campaign. The campaign has targeted Indian diplomats and interests and is largely based on unsubstantiated allegations that India is seeking to establish a military presence in the Maldives.
The Maldives is one of the largest beneficiaries of India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy and New Delhi has invested billions of dollars in connectivity and development projects in the archipelago. It has also helped boost the Maldives’ military capabilities by providing aircraft and patrol boats.
The Maldives police said members of the mob had “sought to incite fear by forcefully entering [the stadum], destroying property and attempting to assault participants of the event”. Police are also conducting an internal review of the response to the incident.
The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) condemned what it described as a “violent attack” on the yoga day event and sought swift action against those responsible.
Noting that the yoga day has been celebrated in the Maldives since 2015, MDP said: “These types of egregious and violent acts have no place in a peaceful democratic society such as ours. We welcome the government’s decision to launch a serious investigation into the matter and applaud the prompt actions taken thus far including the arrests.”
The opposition PPM too issued a statement condemning the incident. PPM secretary general Mohamed Tholal told the media that flags used by the members of the mob were similar to those used at a recent party rally, but it wasn’t clear whether these were the same flags.
“It’s possible those were our flags. I am unable to say for sure yet whether those were our flags,” he said.
Earlier, the Male city council cancelled a permit for holding the yoga day event in the Rasfannu area of the city following complaints from the public and opposition from Ilmuveringe Gulhun, an organisation of religious scholars. The organisation wrote a letter to the Islamic ministry on Monday, expressing concern about the celebration of yoga day in the Maldives as it is a “practice closely associated with the Hindu religion”.