IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


16th January, 2024 International Relations


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  • Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu has asked India to withdraw its military personnel from his country by March 15.
  • In a major diplomatic development, India and the Maldives have reached a consensus to fast-track the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the island nation.

How many Indian troops are in the Maldives?

  • According to the latest government figures, there are 88 Indian military personnel in the Maldives.

A Brief Background

  • Indian soldiers have been sent to the Maldives at various points for training Maldivian troops, in both combat and reconnaissance and rescue-aid operations.
  • Yet, there have been some Maldivian nationals, including politicians who have protested their presence in any capacity in the country.
  • Analysts in the Maldives and India say that the ‘India Out’ campaign has exaggerated the role that these soldiers play in the Maldives and has portrayed their presence as a threat to the country’s national security.

Factors behind Anti-India sentiments

  • There have been multiple factors at play and these anti-India sentiments were further inflamed during the recent presidential elections in the Maldives, where disinformation and misinformation, particularly against India, was rampant.
  • This is due to multiple reasons, including the pushing of a narrative that the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih-led Maldivian Democratic Party was a political party influenced by India. The coalition of the People’s National Congress & the Progressive Party of Maldives party, whose representative President Muizzu won the 2023 presidential election, is considered to be pro-China.

Why are India’s troops in Maldives?

  • India and the Maldives have a long history of cooperation in a variety of areas, including defence.
  • The one time India’s soldiers entered the island for an actual military operation was in November 1988 — to thwart an attempted coup, at the request of the government of then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
  • In a quick operation, Indian troops managed to secure the President and capture the rebels. In the three decades since, Maldives has generally appreciated India’s role in this episode.

‘India Out’ campaign

  • The ‘India Out’ campaign began much later, sometime in 2020.
  • The resentment had been building ever since Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom of the Progressive Party (PPM), with a pro-China tilt, became president in 2013.

All about India Out Campaign: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/india-out-campaign

Five major factors behind the fear and suspicion

  • One of the major triggers for this was the long-standing controversy over two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) given by India to the Maldives in 2010 and in 2015, both of which were used for ocean search-and-rescue operations, maritime weather surveillance and for airlifting patients between islands, and were based in Addu Atoll and at Hanimaadhoo.
  • According to the terms of bilateral agreements between the two countries, Indian officers had been sent to the Maldives to train the Maldives National Defence Force, under whose command these helicopters operate.
  • These helicopters were for humanitarian purposes only, but some in the anti-India constituency, particularly Yameen’s party PPM, were trying to portray that by gifting these helicopters, India was creating a military presence in the country because they were military choppers.
  • Another major cause of grievances within Maldives was the Solih government’s perceived lack of transparency about its dealings with India.
  • Then there is the fact that Maldives does rely heavily on India for maritime security.
  • India, Maldives and Sri Lanka collaborate to counter common maritime security threats and challenges such as illicit trafficking; piracy; and illegal, unregulated (or unreported) fishing, a major concern for the archipelago.
  • Another flashpoint was Maldives’ new police academy, built with India’s help and housing the National College of Policing and Law Enforcement.
  • The opposition’s [now in power] mistrust stems from the sheer size of the building and surrounding complex.
  • One rumour making the rounds implies that the only reason the academy is so large is to house Indians associated with the academy and their families, supposedly rendering it an opportune place to bring more Indians into the country. This conjecture, however, is unfounded.
  • A fifth factor is the UTF Harbour Project agreement signed between India and the Maldives in February 2021, under which India was to develop and maintain a coastguard harbour and dockyard at Uthuru Thilafalhu, a strategically located atoll near the capital Malé.
  • Sections of Maldivian media had speculated that the UTF project would be turned into an Indian naval base. However, then Maldivian chief of defence forces, Major-General Abdulla Shamaal, had clarified even before the agreement was signed that while the Indian government had indicated it would provide grant assistance for the project, there were no plans for any Indian naval base in the country.

READ ALL ABOUT INDIA MALDIVES RELATIONShttps://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/india-maldives-relations-5


Ever since Muizzu took up his presidency, there has been a clamour that Indian troops and military detachments leave the Maldives. The Indian military presence there is minimal, restricted to skeleton diplomatic staff, naval Dornier and advanced light helicopter (ALH) detachments, and a support team for the patrol craft gifted to the Maldivian Coast Guard. These can be pulled back very easily.


Why Maldives has much more to gain by keeping India on its side

  • The Maldives has an exclusive economic zone of 9,23,322 square kilometres, and has neither the capability nor the capacity to monitor these vast sea areas. Hence, it was at the request of the Maldives that these bilateral security measures were adopted. It is also a manifestation of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’policy, which seeks to develop capability and capacity of smaller maritime neighbours to bridge their capability gaps and address their security concerns.
  • The Maldivian Coast Guard has learnt the ropes primarily from the Indian Navy. Till the time India gifted them a patrol craft, they operated only small inter-island speedboats that had very little capability to detect or intervene in an EEZ violation. Even with the availability of a patrol craft, violations further out to sea went undetected, resulting in blatant violation of the EEZ by poachers and trawlers of extra-regional countries. With joint patrols by the Maldivian Coast Guard and the Indian Navy, such violations started getting detected.
  • India also helped the Maldives to set up a coastal radar chain. Entities indulging in illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing did not like to be called out. It is my guess that these entities may have had a role to play in influencing Muizzu and his ilk.
  • It is no secret that China is deeply entrenched in the Maldives in various ways. The Chinese strategy of assisting small countries with mega projects and extracting long-term leverages is known as much to the Maldives as it is to other recipient nations. If such a system is acceptable to the recipient nations, India should have no problem, in principle.
  • To give the devil its due, China is known to deliver efficiently on promises and negotiate effectively with political dispensations on mega projects. Maybe India could take a page from the Chinese book as a lesson in efficiency. Trust-building is quite another thing, on which India places a premium. As an independent nation, the Maldives must make its choices; and these choices need not result in a zero-sum game between India and China.

There are three things that the Maldives government, whatever the political dispensation, would do well to recognise.

  1. First, the India of today is a different country. It is already the fifth largest economy in the world and on its way to becoming the third largest by the middle of the next decade.

Its political, technological and economic heft will increase and create opportunities, not just for itself but also for its neighbours and partners.

India’s rich and famous could easily be one of the largest sections of tourists visiting the Maldives and the number of American and European tourists could reduce over time.

  1. Second, India is the most capable country in the region with every kind of facility that is lacking in our smaller neighbouring countries. Nationals from neighbouring countries flock to India for tourism, education, employment, medical care and pilgrimage. India has always been welcoming and open to such foreign nationals, but this open-heartedness must not be seen as a weakness. It takes just a piece of paper to create barriers to availing facilities in India. As mentioned earlier, this new India is quite a changed nation-state. The Maldives must weigh its options carefully.
  2. Third, India is the closest maritime neighbour to the Maldives to its west. Male is an hour and a half away by air from Kochi. The distance by sea is less than 400 nautical miles, which is less than a day’s steaming distance by ships of the Indian Navy. In the case of a natural calamity or any other kind of crisis, India will always be the first responder. Ships, aircraft and people of the Indian armed forces will be the first to come to the aid of Maldivians.
  • Example: December 2014 drinking water crisis in Male
  • It was the Indian Navy that ensured that Male did not run dry, while their distillation plants were being repaired.

Closing Remark

  • Much thinking needs to be done before policy decisions are considered in India-Maldives relations.
  • The Maldives has much more to gain by keeping India on its side―and much more to lose by queering the pitch.


Q. Examine the strategic advantages and mutual benefits for the Maldives in maintaining a strong alliance with India. Considering geopolitical, economic, and security dimensions, analyze why the Maldives stands to gain significantly by fostering a cooperative relationship with India. Highlight key factors that contribute to the strategic importance of this alliance and potential avenues for further collaboration that would serve the interests of both nations.

Model Answer:

Maintaining a robust alliance with India holds substantial advantages for the Maldives across multiple dimensions—geopolitical, economic, and security.

1. Geopolitical Stability: India's regional influence and diplomatic standing provide the Maldives with a shield against external pressures. A strong alliance with India contributes to the Maldives' geopolitical stability, safeguarding its sovereignty in a region marked by complex power dynamics.

2. Economic Cooperation: Collaboration with India opens doors to economic opportunities for the Maldives. India is a significant economic partner, offering avenues for trade, investment, and development assistance. Joint projects and economic initiatives contribute to the Maldives' economic growth and resilience.

3. Security and Defense: India's security assistance and military cooperation enhance the Maldives' defense capabilities. Given the maritime challenges in the Indian Ocean, joint efforts contribute to maritime security, counter-terrorism, and disaster response, ensuring the Maldives' safety and stability.

4. Regional Connectivity: India's strategic location and infrastructure projects, such as the development of ports and connectivity initiatives, provide the Maldives with enhanced regional connectivity. This connectivity can boost trade, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges, fostering economic and cultural ties.

5. Climate Change and Environmental Cooperation: Both nations face challenges related to climate change and environmental issues. Collaborative efforts between India and the Maldives in areas such as renewable energy, sustainable development, and climate adaptation can address common concerns and contribute to global environmental goals.

6. Diplomatic Support: India's influence in international forums can be leveraged for the benefit of the Maldives. A strong alliance ensures diplomatic support, enabling the Maldives to address global challenges and advocate for its interests on the international stage.

7. People-to-People Ties: Cultural and educational exchanges strengthen people-to-people ties, fostering understanding and goodwill between the citizens of both nations. This soft power dimension of the alliance enhances the overall relationship.

In conclusion, the Maldives has much to gain by keeping India on its side. The strategic advantages span geopolitical stability, economic growth, security cooperation, regional connectivity, environmental initiatives, and diplomatic support. Nurturing and expanding this alliance with India not only serve the immediate interests of the Maldives but also contributes to the broader stability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region.