IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


6th November, 2023 History


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  • ‘India Out’ was a campaign slogan for Maldives president-elect Mohamed Muizzu, who will take over the country’s reins on November 17.
  • Over the past decade or so, anti-India sentiments have been rising in the island nation — and many Maldivians have a long list of grievances.
  • Yet, 35 years after the fact, India’s intervention in the 1988 coup attempt in Malé — codenamed Operation Cactus — continues to be remembered with gratitude and fondness.


Background and Coup Attempt

  • The 1988 Maldives coup d'état attempt was led by Maldivian businessman Abdullah Luthufi, with armed mercenaries from the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) attempting to overthrow President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's government.
  • The coup attempt, involving the hijacking of a Sri Lankan freighter and the invasion of Malé, the capital city, brought the nation to the brink of a political crisis.

Execution of Operation Cactus

  • With external powers unable to provide immediate assistance, President Gayoom sought India's intervention, leading to the rapid mobilization of Indian forces and the launch of "Operation Cactus" within hours of the distress call.
  • Indian Air Force's Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft airlifted elements of the 50th Independent Parachute Brigade, the 6th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, and the 17th Parachute Field Regiment, deploying them to secure Malé and restore order.

Successful Restoration of Order

  • The Indian paratroopers, with swift and accurate intelligence, secured the Malé International Airport, rescued President Gayoom, and swiftly regained control of the capital, effectively quelling the attempted coup d'état and restoring the government's authority.
  • The operation resulted in the capture of the mercenaries and the repatriation of the captured individuals for trial in the Maldives.

International Recognition and Repercussions

  • India's prompt and decisive action received international praise, with U.S. President Ronald Reagan acknowledging India's significant contribution to regional stability, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressing gratitude for India's role in saving President Gayoom's government.
  • While the operation strengthened Indo-Maldivian relations, it also led to some unease among India's neighboring countries in the South Asian region.

Aftermath and Impact

  • President Gayoom commuted the death sentences of the captured mercenaries to life imprisonment, reflecting India's pressure on the Maldivian government.
  • The successful restoration of the Gayoom government strengthened Indo-Maldivian relations and underscored India's commitment to preserving regional stability and safeguarding the sovereignty of neighboring nations.


Operation Cactus remains a significant chapter in India's military history, emphasizing the nation's commitment to regional security and the preservation of democratic institutions in neighboring countries, reflecting its responsible approach to regional diplomacy and stability.


Q. Discuss the significance of Operation Cactus in the context of India's foreign policy and regional stability. Examine the key factors that led to the success of the operation and its implications for Indo-Maldivian relations. (250 Words)