Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

UTF (Uthuru Thila Falhu- Island) Harbour Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: UTF Project

Mains level: India- Maldives Relations


Central Idea: The article discusses the recent commissioning of the Indian grant-in-aid UTF (Uthuru Thila Falhu- Island) Harbour Project, the coastal surveillance radar system, in the Maldives. The project is a significant milestone in the growing defence ties between the two countries.

What is the UTF Project?

  • The UTF project was announced during External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit in February 2021.
  • It is among the biggest Indian grant-in-aid projects in the Maldives.
  • It is aimed at developing a maintenance and repair hub for naval vessels and will help the Maldives become self-sufficient.

Importance of the Project

  • The project marked a major step in growing defence cooperation between India and Maldives.
  • The facility will strengthen the capability of the Maldivian Coast Guard and facilitate regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

Controversy Surrounding the Project

  • There were allegations that the project was a cover for Indian military presence in the Maldives.
  • An “India Out” campaign was launched in the island nation backed by its opposition leader Abdulla Yameen.
  • Maldives President Ibrahim Solih banned anti-India protests as a threat to national security.

Defence Cooperation and Other Projects

  • India has gifted a Dornier aircraft and a patrol vessel to the Maldives in the past.
  • India has provided 24 vehicles and a naval boat and will build police facilities on 61 islands in the country.
  • The joint statement released by India and Maldives after Defence Minister’s visit highlighted ongoing defence cooperation between the two neighbours.
  • The countries have agreed to explore additional avenues for cooperation, including in areas of defence trade, capacity building, and joint exercises.
  • Both the countries are working closely to address challenges, including those on maritime security, terrorism, radicalisation, piracy, trafficking, organised crime, and natural disasters.
  • India has financed the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), a $500 million project, to build a 6.74 km bridge and causeway linking the capital of Maldives, Male, with neighboring islands.

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.

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 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.

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 Male 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.

Maldives’ significance 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.

Way forward

  • India continues to be an important partner of the Maldives.
  • India must not grow complacent over its position and must remain attentive to the developments in the Maldives.
  • India must play a key role within Indo-Pacific security space to ensure regional security in South Asia and surrounding maritime boundaries.
  • At present, the ‘India Out’ campaign has support from a limited population but this cannot be taken for granted by the Indian government.


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