Change for the worse – India-Maldives Ties: Strain and the Way Forward | 11 January 2024 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the recent strain in India-Maldives relations following inflammatory tweets by Maldivian ministers.


  • GS2: India and its Neighborhood- Relations


  • A month after Prime Minister Modi's optimistic visit to the newly elected Maldivian President Muizzu, relations between the two countries have taken a sharp turn south.
  • The trigger: a series of offensive tweets by three Maldivian Ministers criticizing Modi's promotion of Lakshadweep and his ties with Israel, while making derogatory remarks about Indians.
  • While the tweets were deleted, the Ministers suspended, and the Maldivian government distanced itself, the damage was swift and severe.
  • Social media in India erupted with calls for an economic boycott of the Maldives, a worrying development considering Indian tourists are the archipelago's top post-pandemic arrivals.

India-Maldives Relations:

  • India and Maldives share close relations, rooted in historical, cultural, and geographic proximity.
  • Historical and Cultural Ties:
    • Ancient Links: Trade and cultural exchange between the two regions date back centuries, with Maldives adopting elements of Indian culture, language (Dhivehi has Sanskrit influences), and even Buddhism in the ancient past.
    • Shared Heritage: Both nations share a common heritage, evident in their artistic expressions, traditional attire, and even cuisine.
  • Geographic Proximity:
    • Strategic Location: Maldives' location in the Indian Ocean makes it strategically important for India, and both nations cooperate closely on maritime security and defense.
    • Economic Interdependence: India is a major trading partner for Maldives, and also provides crucial development assistance and tourism revenue.
  • Cooperation and Support:
    • Development Assistance: India has been a main development partner for Maldives, providing grants, loans, and technical assistance for infrastructure development, education, healthcare, and renewable energy.
    • Defense Cooperation: The Indian Navy regularly conducts joint exercises with the Maldivian National Defence Force, and also assists in maritime surveillance and search and rescue operations.
    • Tourism: India is a major source of tourists for Maldives, and the tourism industry plays a vital role in the Maldivian economy.

‘India out’ Campaign and ‘India First’ Policy:

  • India Out Campaign:
    • ‘India Out’ campaign is a political movement to mobilise people in  Maldives against India. The campaign is against the presence of Indian military on Maldivian soil.
    • The campaign got louder around key bilateral developments such as the signing of the Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) harbour development deal with India in February 2021 & India’s announcement of the opening of a consulate in the southern Addu Atoll.
    • Supporters of the Campaign: Abdulla Yameen who was the President of Maldives from 2013-2018 joined the campaign. Yameen was Pro-China during his tenure.
    • Yameen signed FTA with China and gave ultimatum to India to withdraw two Indian helicopters from the strategically important Laamu and Addu atolls.
    • The recently elected president, Dr. Mohamed Muizzu rallied support around the ‘India Out’ campaign.
  • India First Policy:
    • Maldives preference for India as the first choice in security partnership, socio-development assistance and COVID response(Vaccines).
    • Ibrahim Mohamed Solih after he became the president in 2018 adopted the India First Policy. This Policy aimed to reverse the anti-India policies of Yameen between 2013-2018. 


  • The “India Out” Campaign and its Impact:
    • The current tremors are not isolated incidents. President Muizzu's rise to power was fueled by the PPM party's “India Out” campaign, highlighting a significant shift in Maldivian political sentiment.
    • Despite the Modi government's initial disappointment, it sought to maintain friendly ties, sending a representative to Muizzu's swearing-in and holding a meeting at COP28.
    • However, the new President's choice of Turkey and now China as his first bilateral destinations, instead of India, suggests a deliberate recalibration of priorities.
  • Finding Common Ground amidst Discord:
    • Both sides need to take a step back and navigate these choppy waters with caution.
    • Muizzu, while understandably wary of India's influence, cannot afford to completely alienate its powerful neighbor, especially considering India's historical role as a security provider and its economic clout.
    • Conversely, India must resist the temptation to “muscle in” and recognize the importance of respecting Maldives' sovereignty.
  • Benefits of a Strong Partnership:
    • The past few years under the Solih government showcased the potential of a strong India-Maldives relationship.
    • Indian infrastructure projects, development initiatives, strategic partnerships, pandemic support, and international cooperation all benefited both nations.
    • For India, with several regional elections looming this year, ensuring stable bilateral ties and regional stability is paramount.

Way Forward:

  • The recent tumble from honeymoon to hangover serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of diplomatic relations. Both India and the Maldives must move beyond the immediate tweetstorm and focus on building bridges, not walls. Open communication, mutual respect, and a recognition of shared interests are crucial to ensuring a smooth sailing in the turbulent waters of Indo-Maldivian relations.

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