Explained: What’s behind the new anti-India campaign in the Maldives?

News: On March 23, the Maldivian Parliament disallowed a planned opposition rally in the capital Male. It had been called by former president Abdulla Yameen and his Progressive Party, and its ally, the People’s National Congress.

The theme of the rally was “India Out”, a slogan coined two years ago by protesters who claimed that the MDP government led by President Ibrahim Solih had “sold out” the Maldives to India.

The protest, a day before External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar arrived in the country, was not allowed to take place.

What is the prevalent political situation in the Maldives?

Maldives gained democracy in 2005. India and China have both eagerly competed for influence in the Maldives over the last 10 years.

As the closest big neighbour, India has been Maldives first responder for decades in all sectors. This relationship was cemented by the strongman former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was the unchallenged ruler of the country until the closing years of the 20th century.

– In the Maldives, the MDP, and its top leaders, especially Nasheed, are seen as pro-India, while rival Yameen is seen as a China proxy.

– In the last presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, the MDP was voted back to office.

– With a friendly government in Male, India has been able to rebuild bilateral ties and regain some of its previous influence after a six-year gap during the Yameen presidency that saw relations dip to their lowest point.

– Yameen’s release in December 2021 from a long house arrest has led to an immediate increase in the pitch and frequency of the anti-India rallies.

– The next presidential and parliamentary elections are in 2024, and Yameen is using the campaign to increase his support base, by painting the MDP as a party that has enslaved the country to India.

What are the allegation made by ‘India Out’ protestors?

They have alleged that New Delhi has sent a large military contingent to the Maldives. Allegations are focused particularly on the co-operation between the two sides to develop a harbour on the Uthuru Thilafalhu (UTF) atoll for the Maldivian coast Guard.

Protestors claim the UTF to be a foreign military base of India in the Maldives.

The Maldives Defence ministry has issued a statement saying that there were no foreign military personnel on UTF, which is being developed as a dockyard for the Maldivian coast guard.

Security cooperation with India

In February 2021, India and Maldives signed an agreement for the development of the UTF harbour. India had also extended a $50 million line of credit for defence purchases.

Maldives is also part of the India-driven Indian Ocean mini-lateral Colombo Security Conclave, in which the other members are Sri Lanka, and the newly admitted Mauritius. Bangladesh and Seychelles are expected to join soon.

In Nov 2021, the Indian Navy, Maldives National Defence Force, and the Sri Lankan Navy conducted a two-day exercise in the Exclusive Economic Zones of the three countries in the southern Arabian Sea. It was code-named “Focused Operation”.

Maldives signed a defence pact with the United States in 2020. Last month, the Maldives signed an agreement to allow the US to open an embassy in the country, the first western nation to do so.

How is the Maldivian government countering anti-India narrative?

The MDP has begun its own “India First” campaign. It even drafted a legislation to criminalise anti-India protests as anti-national. The legislation was dropped, but the sentiment behind it led to the banning of the “India Out” protest in Male last week.

Source: This post is based on the article “Explained: What’s behind the new anti-India campaign in the Maldives?” published in Indian Express on 28th Mar 22.

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