Different narratives: On India – Maldives ties

Context: Recently, the Maldivian government disallowed a planned opposition rally in the capital city of Male. The theme of the rally, called out by former president Abdulla Yameen and his Progressive Party, and its ally, the People’s National Congress, was ‘India out’.

It is in this light that the present article suggests that India should build ties with all political factions of the Maldives while helping the country to meet its needs.

Must Read: What’s behind the new anti-India campaign in the Maldives?
What has been the trajectory of Indo-Maldives relations over the years?

Before 2018, when Abdulla Yameen (considered to be pro-China) was in power, the relationship b/w India and the Maldives deteriorated.

His government’s ultimatum to India to withdraw two of its helicopters from two atolls had triggered tensions.

After 2018

The relations between the two countries improved remarkably after Mr. Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) came to power in 2018.

President Solih adopted an ‘India first’ foreign policy.

In the past four years, India has emerged as the Maldives’s main security and economic partner, committing $1.4 billion towards its ‘socio-economic development needs’.

In February 2021, it signed the Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTH) harbour development deal with Male to develop the National Defence Force Coast Guard Harbour. The Yameen camp stepped up its attack on the government after this deal.

Why the strategic importance of the Maldives has increased?

India has historically played an important role in the Maldives as a friendly big neighbour.

But China’s rise in the Indian Ocean region has raised the strategic profile of this small, import-dependent island-nation of 5,50,000 people, where both countries have competed for influence.

What can happen now?

Now, while Mr. Yameen is trying to regain his lost support by resorting to Maldivian nationalism and anti-India sentiments, the MDP is trying to counter it with another nationalist narrative. It argues that ties with India, the closest big neighbour of the Maldives, is important for the country’s security, including food security.

India can find itself in a difficult situation, as victory is not guaranteed for the MDP, which faces anti-incumbency problems and differences between Mr. Solih and the powerful former President Mohamed Nasheed.

If it loses, India risks losing the influence it has built over the last few years.

The challenge before India is to build closer ties with all political factions of the Maldives while helping the country meet its economic and security requirements.

Source: This post is based on the article “Different narratives: On India – Maldives ties” published in The Hindu on 23rd Apr 22.

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