What is behind the new anti-India campaign in Maldives?
The recent ‘India Out’ campaign in the Maldives is against the opposition to the Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) harbour development deal with India in February 2021, which is being seen as a way of allowing Indian military presence on native soil.
- Reports are being published in Maldives media alleging that the present incumbent government is allowing India to establish a military base in the island by signing secret agreements, in exchange for financial assistance or other material benefits.
- This allegation is made against the government because the leader of the current ruling party Mohamed Nasheed urged India to intervene militarily to restore peace and democracy in 2018.
- Former President Abdullah Yameen is perceived as a friend of China. During Yameen’s term as President from 2013 to 2018, New Delhi-Male relations deteriorated drastically.
- On the other hand, the present Solih administration opt for an ‘India first’ foreign policy. The Solih government has rejected the ‘India Out’ campaign.
- Foreign ministry’s urged the media not to affect bilateral relations and, as per article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it is the responsibility of the Maldives to treat the diplomats with due respect, and take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on freedom, and dignity of foreign diplomats.
India Maldives relation:
- Both nations’ were Britain colonies.
- India was among the first to recognise Maldives after its independence in 1965and to establish diplomatic relations with the country.
- India and Maldives have consistently supported each other in multilateral fora such as the UN, the Commonwealth, the NAM and the SAARC.
- India is a preferred destination for Maldivian for education, medical treatment, recreation and business.
- Diaspora: Indians are the second largest expatriate community in the Maldives.
- India has also offered a $1.4-billion development assistance package to Maldives, which is being utilised in several projects.
- Maldives holds strategic importance for India under the Modi government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy due to its location in the Indian Ocean.
- The Eight Degree Channel is one of the major maritime lanes of the world.
- There have been growing concerns regarding China’s role in the Maldivian economy through so-called “debt-trap diplomacy.”
- Maldives incurred a debt of about $1.4 billion owingto loans from China to finance several of its infrastructure projects.
- Maldives and China had also entered into a free trade agreement.
- Dhruv controversy: India gave two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) to the Maldives in 2010 and 2015both of which were to be used for ocean search-and-rescue operations, maritime weather surveillance and for airlifting patients between islands. However, it stirred the controversy that the helicopters marked the start of military presence in the country.
- Another issue is the lack of transparency when it comes to the signing of agreements between India and the Solih government. The Maldives government has refused to share details of agreements signed with India citing security reasons.
- The Uthuru Thilafalhuis a strategically located atoll near the capital Malé and was called the UTF Harbour project. However, after the Solih government took over, there was speculation that the UTF project would be turned into an Indian naval base.
- India needs to remain careful if it wants to avoid a Nepal-like situation, where New Delhi’s perceived interference in Nepal’s internal affairs had turned the Nepali people against India. Having a lighter diplomatic footprint is the only way forward in the Maldives.’
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