Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

Greater Male Connectivity Project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Maldives and its location

Mains level : Read the attached story

Maldives has announced the signing of a $500-million infrastructure project for the construction of the Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) with India.

Greater Malé Connectivity Project

  • This infrastructure project, the largest-ever by India in the Maldives, involves the construction of a 6.74-km-long bridge and causeway link.
  • It will connect the Maldives capital Malé with the neighbouring islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.
  • The seeds of the project were planted during the External Affairs Minister’s visit to Malé in September 2019.
  • The GMCP is not only the biggest project India is doing in the Maldives but also the biggest infrastructure project in the Maldives overall.

Significance of the Project

  • This project is significant because it facilitates inter-island connectivity in the country
  • Transport is a major challenge for residents who have to take boats or seaplanes to distant islands.
  • It becomes even more difficult during the monsoons when the seas are rough.
  • This bridge that would connect Malé with the three neighboring islands would ease the process.

The Chinese-made 1.39 km-long Sinamalé Bridge connects Malé with the islands of Hulhulé and Hulhumalé and this project, four tiles longer, would link the other three islands.

Why it is needed?

  • Male is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
  • Close to 40% of the entire population of the Maldives lives in Malé, which has an area of approximately 8.30 square kilometres.
  • It is very congested and land is a major issue.

Why these islands?

  • On the island of Gulhifalhu, a port, is at present being built under the Indian line of credit.
  • Located some 6 kilometers from Malé, since 2016, the island has been promoted as a strategic location for manufacturing, warehousing and distribution facilities due to its proximity to the capital city.
  • Located 7 km from the capital, the artificial island of Thilafushi was created and designated as a landfill in the early 1990s, to receive garbage created mostly in Malé.
  • The Maldives has plans of expanding industrial work on Thilafushi, making this bridge’s connectivity to the capital indispensable for the transport of employees and other services.

Why did Male opt for India’s offer?

  • After a five-year grace period, the interest rate is 1.75% and the Maldives has to repay it over a 20-year period.
  • India’s loans are less expensive and more transparent, unlike China’s.
  • The Maldives hasn’t really been clear about how much debt it owes to China.

Importance of Maldives for India

  • Geo-strategic importance: Maldives, a Toll Gate in the Indian Ocean. Located in the southern and northern parts of this island chain lies the two important sea lanes of communication (SLOCs).
  • Trade: These SLOCs are critical for maritime trade flow between the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Hormuz in West Asia and the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia. Nearly 50% of India’s external trade and 80% of its energy imports transit these SLOCs in the Arabian Sea.
  • 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.
  • Economic Cooperation: 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.

What hinders India in Male?

  • Unstable governments: India’s major concern has been the impact of political instability in the neighbourhood on its security and development.
  • Religious extremism: In the past decade or so, the number of Maldivians drawn towards terrorist groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based madrassas and jihadist groups has been increasing.
  • Affinity with China: China’s strategic footprint in India’s neighbourhood has increased. The Maldives has emerged as an important ‘pearl’ in China’s “String of Pearls” construct in South Asia. It has also started using the China card to bargain with India.

UPSC 2022 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

India-Maldives relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Maldives relation

The Soleh government’s ‘India First Policy’ provides respite to India when contrasted with the approach of the predecessors.

India-Maldives relations

  • India and the Maldives have had bilateral relations for centuries.
  • Maldivian students attend educational institutions in India.
  • Patients from the Maldives come here for super speciality healthcare.
  •  A liberal visa-free regime extended by India has aided the patients.
  • The Maldives is now a major tourist destination for some Indians and a job destination for others.
  • Given the geographical limitations imposed on the Maldives, India has exempted the nation from export curbs on essential commodities.

Assistance to the Maldives

  • In 1988, under Operation Cactus when a coup was attempted against President, India sent paratroopers and Navy vessels and restored the legitimate leadership.
  • The 2004 tsunami and the drinking water crisis in Male a decade later were other occasions when India rushed assistance.
  • In COVID-19 disruption, India rushed $250 million aid in quick time and also rushed medical supplies to the Maldives, started a new cargo ferry and also opened an air travel bubble, the first such in South Asia.

Strategic comfort to India

  • Abdulla Yameen was President when the water crisis occurred.
  • Now, the Yameen camp has launched an ‘India Out’ campaign against New Delhi’s massive developmental funding.
  • Maldivian protesters recently demanded the Solih administration to ‘stop selling national assets to foreigners’, implying India.
  • Mr. Yameen’s tilt towards China and bias against India when in power was evident.
  • It is against this background that the Solih administration’s no-nonsense approach towards trilateral equations provide ‘strategic comfort’ to India.

Concerns for India

  • India should be concerned about the protests as well as the occasional protest within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of Mr. Solih.
  • There are apparent strains between Mohamed Nasheed, who was the nation’s first President elected under a multiparty democracy and Mr. Yameen.
  • This strain could affect the MDP during the run-up to the 2023 presidential polls.
  • Also, Mr. Nasheed’s on-again-off-again call for a changeover to a ‘parliamentary form of government’ can polarise the overpoliticised nation even more.

Conclusion

Given this background and India’s increasing geostrategic concerns in the shared seas, taking forward the multifaceted cooperation to the next stage quickly could also be at the focus of relations of the two countries.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

Operation Sanjeevani

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Operation Sanjeevani

Mains level : India-Maldives Relations

An Indian Air Force (IAF) C-130J transport aircraft o delivered 6.2 tonne of essential medicines and hospital consumables to Maldives under Operation Sanjeevani.

Operation Sanjeevani

  • At the request of the govt. of Maldives, the IAF aircraft activated Operation Sanjeevani and lifted these medicines from airports in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Madurai before flying to the Maldives.
  • Among other things, these medicines include influenza vaccines, anti-viral drugs such as lopinavir and ritonavir — which have been used to treat patients with COVID-19 in other countries.
  • The flights are being operated on commercial basis following demands from pharmaceutical companies and their intermediaries and will carry cargo on inbound as well as outbound flights.
  • The cargo operations will help the airline earn some revenue at a time there is a ban on passenger flights and the entire fleet is grounded.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

Explained: A new high in Maldives

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Reclaiming ties with India’s neighborhood in light of China’s increasing interference

  • The Maldives is about to welcome former President Mohamed Nasheed after getting re-elected with huge majority for his party.

Move for Constitutional change

  • The scale of the victory has put Nasheed-Solih in a position to drive decisive change in the Maldives.
  • An executive Presidency is unsuitable for a small country with deeply polarised and fractious politics.
  • Erstwhile regime had used the President’s executive powers to shackle the judiciary, impose an emergency, and muzzle the media.
  • Converting the Presidential form of government into a Parliamentary one is on top of Nasheed’s agenda.

IOR Security

  • Mindful of Chinese assertiveness, and their interlinked security interests in the Indian Ocean Region, New Delhi and Malé have agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region.
  • They will enhance maritime security in the region through coordinated patrolling and aerial surveillance, exchange of information and capacity building.
  • The two sides have also expressed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations both within the region and elsewhere.
  • This is an important commitment, since Maldives has seen the rise of Islamist fundamentalism over the last few years, and it is said to have sent 50-200 fighters to the Islamic State.

Relations with India

  • Maldives is still trying to figure out the contours of the country’s “dire economic situation” created by Chinese debt.
  • After the unfriendly regime, India has come back in the strategic game with Solih’s victory last year.
  • India had announced financial assistance of $1.4 billion for the island nation in December. Chinese loans for projects account for around 70% of the Maldives’ national debt.
  • New Delhi’s economic help outreach is key to helping Male break free of Beijing’s “debt-for-leverage” model of diplomacy.

Easing Cultural contacts

  • A new agreement on visa facilitation is aimed at addressing common concerns and ensuring that people-to-people contacts are enhanced.
  • The Maldives is one of the very few countries with which India has a visa-free travel arrangement.
  • The recently signed pact will allow many Maldivians who send their children to school in India, to accompany them, and will facilitate easier travel for Maldivians to India for medical treatment.
  • The movement of people had become restricted after the Yameen government tightened the visa regime for Indian workers and professionals.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

[op-ed snap] Back on track: On India-Maldives ties

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SAGAR strategy

Mains level: Reclaiming ties with India’s neighborhood in light of China’s increasing interference.


NEWS

CONTEXT

India and the Maldives appeared to return to the old days of strategic bonhomie when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met her counterpart Abdulla Shahid in Male during a brief visit this week.

The significanctimprovement in relationship

  • It is the first full-fledged bilateral visit at the political level from India to the Maldives after the new government assumed office.
  • Mr. Solih’s inauguration, which was marked by the attendance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was assumed to be a potential inflection point in the trajectory of bilateral ties with India.
  • The previous five years witnessed Male’s disconcerting drift, under the aegis of the Abdulla Yameen government, into what many Maldivians felt was the stifling embrace of China.
  • Chinese financing for infrastructure and construction projects poured in even as the functioning of the political Opposition and the judiciary was harshly curtailed.

Way forward for India

  • it would be unwise for New Delhi to take the Indian Ocean nation for granted.
  • In December, when Mr. Solih visited India, a $1.4 billion financial assistance package for the Maldives was announced.
  • While the proximity of the Indian general election may have precluded any major policy announcements from New Delhi, the two countries have agreed to exempt holders of diplomatic and official passports from visa requirements, inked an MoU on Indian grant-in-aid for “high-impact community development projects”, and other agreements on energy efficiency and renewable energy, areas critical to the agenda of Mr. Solih.
  • At a broader level, the archipelago and the larger Indian Ocean region could expect more collaborative approaches on regional maritime security issues, including counterterrorism and trans-national crimes.

Challenges

  • The massive debts the Maldives incurred, by some estimates to the tune of $3 billion, linked to infrastructure investments need to be unwound.
  • Second, the multiparty alliance must hold firm despite immense political pressures that arise from varying visions for governance.
  • Some tensions already seem to be bubbling to the top: on February 25, Mohamed Nasheed, former President and important coalition-builder in the MDP, tweeted about the country’s Supreme Court “meddling in elections — again”.
  • For genuine peace and bilateral harmony to take root in the region, building a shared vision for the future of the Maldives is the immediate task at hand.

 

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments