INTERNATIONAL/ ECONOMY/ SECURITY
Topic: General Studies 2,3:
- India and its neighborhood- relations.
- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
‘Strategic comfort’ with the Maldives
Context: The visit of Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to the Maldives is significant for taking forward bilateral relations
Under Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih, bilateral cooperation, especially on the economic front, has become a ‘model’ that New Delhi can adopt to make the government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy a sustained success.
India’s strategic interests in Maldives are:
- Geographical Proximity: Maldives is very close to the west coast of India -it is barely 70 nautical miles away from Minicoy and 300 nautical miles away from India’s West coast. Hence a friendly relationship is needed to avoid any maritime territorial disputes.
Value Addition: The one-time claim of Maldives to Minicoy Island was resolved by the Maritime Boundary Treaty of 1976 between the two countries, whereby Maldives has recognized Minicoy as an integral part of India.
- Close to Commercial Sea lines of Communication: Its situation at the hub of commercial sea-lanes running through Indian Ocean (particularly the 8° N and 1 ½° N channels). Therefore, close cooperation of Maldives government is needed for prevent piracy in the region and ensure safety of trade routes
- Third Country’s interference: Maldives potential to allow a third nation’s naval presence in the area imbues it with significant strategic importance to India, where India considers itself as an unofficial security guaranteer in the region.
- Radicalization and Threat of Terrorism: Radicalisation grew rapidly during last decade and it was often said that archipelago accounted for one of the highest numbers of foreign fighters in Syria in terms of per capita. India can ill-afford a neighbour which fails to check Islamic radicalisation.
- Indian Diaspora: Indians are the second largest expatriate community in Maldives with an approximate strength of around 25,000 (accounting for ~5.6% of Maldivian population). Close cooperation with Maldives is also important for safety & security of Indians staying in Maldives
- Multi-lateral Forum: Maldives is also a member of SAARC. It is important for India to have Maldives on board to maintain its leadership in the region.
Through the decades, India has rushed emergency assistance to the Maldives
- Operation Cactus: In 1988, when armed mercenaries attempted a coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, India sent paratroopers and Navy vessels and restored the legitimate leadership under Operation Cactus.
- The 2004 tsunami was another occasion where India sent its assistance in terms of food and supplies to rebuild the region
- The 2014 Drinking Water Scarcity in Male was prevented from becoming an humanitarian disaster when attended by India sent packaged drinking water to Maldives through five C17 and IL17 transport aircrafts of the Indian Air Force
- COVID-19 Assistance: At the peak of the continuing COVID-19 disruption, India rushed $250 million aid in quick time. New Delhi also rushed medical supplies to the Maldives, started a new cargo ferry and also opened an air travel bubble
Political Challenges in Bilateral Relationship
- Abdulla Yameen (presently leader of opposition Party and jailed for corrption) was in power when the water crisis occurred. Despite early strains in relations, India rushed help on a humanitarian basis.
- Anti-India Protests by Opposition camp: Now, the Yameen camp has launched an ‘India Out’ campaign against New Delhi’s massive developmental funding for creating physical, social and community infrastructure
- Internal Rumblings in Ruling Party: India should be concerned about the protests as well as the occasional rumblings within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of Mr. Solih. The political instability in the ruling party can impact the country’s ties with India.
- Despite challenges, India can take respite in the ‘strategic comfort’ of the ‘India First’ policy of the Solih government.
- Given India’s increasing geostrategic concerns in the shared seas, India should be proactive in taking forward the multifaceted cooperation with its maritime neighbour.