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Daily News Analysis

INDIA MALDIVES RELATIONS

2nd August, 2022 International Relations

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Context:   Maldives President Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih arrived in Delhi for a bilateral visit, amid rows within his government over ties with India, the Yoga Day attack, and a bitter row with Maldivian Speaker, former President and party colleague Mohammad Nasheed.

 

Details:

  • He will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for bilateral talks, discuss strategic ties, and the status of infrastructure agreements between them, and sign a number of MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding).
  • Solih will become the first visiting head of state to meet President Droupadi Murmu.
  • The infrastructure projects include the Greater Male Connectivity Project of bridges connecting the capital city to neighbouring islands, to be built by Indian company Afcon with the help of a $400-million Line of Credit and a $100-million grant from India, along with other projects under India’s $1.4-billion assistance announced during Mr. Solih’s last visit to India in December 2018.
  • However, in contrast to the last visit, which came right after his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) won a landslide verdict, Mr. Solih’s visit to Delhi comes amid a number of controversies involving a tricky balance between his erstwhile friend Mr. Nasheed, as well the religious extremist parties in his ruling coalition.

 

India-Maldives bilateral Relations:

  • India and Maldives are neighbors as they share a maritime border. Relations have been friendly and close in strategic, economic and military cooperation. India continues to contribute to maintaining security on the island nation.

 

Historical relations:

  • Both nations’ were Britain colonies.
  • India was among the first to recognise Maldives after its independence in 1965and to establish diplomatic relations with the country. India established its mission at Malé in 1972.
  • India and Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links steeped in antiquity and enjoy cordial and multi-dimensional relations.

 

Political relations:

  • India and Maldives have consistently supported each other in multilateral fora such as the UN, the Commonwealth, the NAM and the SAARC.
  • High connectivity: High People-to-People contacts, as Air India operates daily flights to Malé from Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore and Chennai.
  • Tourism: The proximity of location and improvements in air connectivity in recent years has led to a very substantial increase in the number of Indians visiting Maldives for tourism (around 33,000) and business.
  • Soft diplomacy: India is a preferred destination for Maldivian for education, medical treatment, recreation and business.
  • Diaspora: Indians are the second largest expatriate community in the Maldives.

 

Why Maldives matters to India?

  • Strategic location: Maldives holds strategic importance for India under the Modi government’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy due to its location in the Indian Ocean.
  • The Eight Degree Channel is one of the major maritime lanes of the world.
  • Stability, maturity and democratic system sin the Maldives can ensure peace and security in the Indian Ocean.                                                       

Major challenges:

Chinese influence:

  • India has been quite apprehensive of the growing Chinese influence in Maldives even as it continues to give utmost priority to the island nation.
  • There have been growing concerns regarding China’s role in the Maldivian economy through so-called “debt-trap diplomacy.”
  • Maldives incurred a debt of about $1.4 billion owingto loans from China to finance several of its infrastructure projects.
  • Maldives and China had also entered into a free trade agreement.

India’s position in Male crisis:

  • During the pro-Beijing regime of their former President Abdulla Yameen, ties between the nations got strained. In fact, there came a point in 2018 when India even contemplated a military intervention.

Dhruv controversy:

  • India gave two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) to the Maldives in 2010 and 2015both of which were to be used for ocean search-and-rescue operations, maritime weather surveillance and for airlifting patients between islands.
  • However, some people in the PPM stirred up a controversy by saying that the helicopters marked the start of military presence in the country.
  • The Maldives government requested India to take back the helicopters in 2016, but India refused to do

Lack of transparency

  • Another issue is the lack of transparency when it comes to the signing of agreements between India and the Solih government.
  • The Maldives government has refused to share details of agreements signed with India citing security reasons

The Naval Base controversy

  • The Uthuru Thilafalhuis a strategically located atollnear the capital Malé and was called the UTF Harbour project.
  • Also, in 2016, an action plan was signed by both the governments for defence cooperation to enhance “shared strategic and security interests of the two countries in the Indian Ocean region”.
  • However, after the Solih government took over, there was speculation that the UTF project would be turned into an Indian naval base.

 

Measures taken so far:

  • After coming to power for the second time in May last year, Prime Minister Modi’s first international destination was Maldives. He was also the only head of state to attend Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s swearing-in ceremony in November 2018, when he came to power ousting Yameen.
  • India has also offered a $1.4-billion development assistance package to Maldives, which is being utilised in several projects.
  • 30 years ago, in 1988, an intervention by the Indian armed forces - codenamed 'Operation Cactus' - trounced an attempted coup on the island nation. On November 3, 1988, when mercenaries attacked the Maldives, India was the first to respond.
  • In 2004, when the tsunami hit Maldives, Indian naval ships were dispatched to assist rescue operation.
  • During the Male water crisis. Within four hours Indian Navy and Air Force vessels delivered water.

 

Way forward:

  • Past learning’s: Despite repeated calls for intervention, India firmly avoided military action against the Yameen regime. New Delhi thoughtfully coordinated its diplomatic response with other stakeholders, and put enormous pressure on Yameen to hold the presidential elections in a fair and transparent manner. This patience seems to have yielded a positive outcome as India finds itself in an advantageous situation now.
  • Cautious approach:India needs to remain careful if it wants to avoid a Nepal-like situation, where New Delhi’s perceived interference in Nepal’s internal affairs had turned the Nepali people against India. Having a lighter diplomatic footprint is the only way forward in the Maldives.’

 

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