Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

India-Maldives Relations in recent times

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : India-Maldives relations

The Government of Maldives has said that it “strongly rejects attempts to spread false information” criticizing its ties with India, its “closest ally and trusted neighbor”.

The India-Out Campaign

  • Maldivian protesters recently demanded the Solih administration to ‘stop selling national assets to foreigners’, implying India.
  • ‘India Out’ campaign in Maldives had started sometime last year as on-ground protests in the Maldives and later widely spread across social media platforms under the same hashtag.
  • It is not related to people-to-people conflict (Indian diaspora) but is discontent on close relationship between Maldivian government & India.

Causes for the anti-India sentiments

  • Political instability: The anti-India sentiment is nearly a decade old and can be traced back to when Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom became president in 2013. He used anti-India sentiments for his political mobilization and started tilting China.
  • Controversy over helicopter gift: Two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) that were given by India to the Maldives for ocean search-and-rescue operations. Opposition tried to portray this as military presence in the country.
  • Confidential agreements: Most agreements being signed between the Ibrahim Solih government and India are backdoor and has not been publicly discussed in the Maldives Parliament.
  • Alleged interference in domestic politics: India being a big neighbour, there are unsubstantiated perceptions & allegations on Indian Diplomats stationed in Maldives interfering in Domestic affairs.

India-Maldives Relations: A backgrounder

  • India and Maldives are neighbors sharing a maritime border.
  • Both nations established diplomatic relations after the independence of Maldives from British rule in 1966.
  • India was one of the first nations to recognize Maldives’ independence.
  • Since then, India and Maldives have developed close strategic, military, economic and cultural relations.
  • Maldivians generally regard Indians and India as a friend and trusted neighbor in the field economic, social and political.

Restoration of ties

  • Ibrahim Mohamed Solih who became President in 2018 has restored Maldives close ties with India.

Major irritants in ties

  • Political Instability: India’s major concern has been the impact of political instability in the neighborhood on its security and development.
  • Increasing radicalization: In the past decade or so, the number of Maldivians drawn towards terrorist groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based jihadist groups has been increasing.
  • Inclination towards terror: Radicalism in the island nation has increased the possibility of Pakistan based terror groups using remote Maldivian islands as a launch pad for terror attacks against India and Indian interests.
  • Chinese affinity: China’s strategic footprint in India’s neighborhood has increased. The Maldives has emerged as an important ‘pearl’ in China’s “String of Pearls” construct in South Asia.

Recent gestures by India

[1] 2014 Malé drinking-water crisis

  • In the wake of a drinking water crisis in Malé in December 2014, following collapse of the island’s only water treatment plant, Maldives urged India for immediate help.
  • India came to rescue by sending its heavy lift transporters like C-17 Globemaster III, Il-76 carrying bottled water.

[2] 2020 Covid-19 crisis

  • During the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, India extended help to Maldives in the form of financial, material and logistical support.
  • Also, the IAF airlifted 6.2 tonnes of essential medicines and hospital consumables to Maldives, as part of ‘Operation Sanjeevani’.

[3] Greater Male Connectivity Project

  • India has recently announced the signing of a $500-million infrastructure project for the construction of the Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP).
  • This infrastructure project, the largest-ever by India in the Maldives, involves the construction of a 6.74-km-long bridge and causeway link.

Why is Maldives significant for India?

  • Increasing maritime cooperation: As maritime economic activity in the Indian Ocean has risen dramatically in recent decades, the geopolitical competition too in the Indian Ocean has intensified.
  • Toll Gate in Indian Ocean: It is situated at the hub of commercial sea-lanes running through the Indian Ocean. More than 97% of India’s international trade by volume and 75% by value passes through the region.
  • Naval cooperation: Maldives is an important partner in India’s role as the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Important SAARC member: Besides, Maldives is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC).
  • People To People Contact: There is a significant population of Maldivian students in India. They are aided by a liberal visa-free regime extended by India. There is also medical tourism.
  • Major destination for Tourists: Tourism is the mainstay of the Maldivian economy. The country is now a major tourist destination for some Indians and a job destination for others.

Conclusion

  • There is a significant Indian diaspora in the Maldives. Innumerable Indians work across the hospitality, education, and health-care sectors of the Maldives economy.
  • India must use its Diaspora more extensively for strengthening its relations.

 

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