India Out’ campaign in the Maldives

  • IASbaba
  • December 27, 2021
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  • GS-2: India and its neighborhood- relations. 

India Out’ campaign in the Maldives

Context: Over the last three years since Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was elected to office, an ‘India Out’ [#IndiaOut] campaign has cropped up every now and then within the Indian Ocean island nation, mostly on social media. 

  • The campaign is led by government critics who accuse the Solih government of “allowing Indian boots on the ground”, and thereby “compromising the sovereignty” of the island nation.
  • The ruling administration has denied there is any Indian military presence in the country, or a threat to Maldives’s sovereignty.
  • More recently, the campaign has gained momentum with former President Abdulla Yameen leading it, after the Supreme Court on November 30 set him free, overturning his conviction in a case of alleged money-laundering. 

What is it in response to? 

  • The campaign has got louder around key bilateral developments such as the signing of the Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) harbour development deal with India in February 2021. 
  • New Delhi is helping Male develop the Maldives National Defence Force Coast Guard Harbour. 
  • At the time of the signing, Maldivian Defence Minister said the developed dockyard and harbour would give Maldives the opportunity “to protect our maritime interests on its own thereby enhancing our sovereignty”. 
  • The recent ‘India Out’ campaign has renewed the opposition to the initiative, seeing it as a way of allowing Indian military presence in the island nation.
  • Similar resistance emerged in June 2021, when India announced the opening of a consulate in the southern Addu Atoll. 

Why is President Yameen joining the campaign significant?

  • During former strongman Yameen’s term as President from 2013 to 2018, New Delhi-Male relations deteriorated drastically
  • Mr. Yameen’s ultimatum then to New Delhi to withdraw two Indian helicopters from the strategically important Laamu and Addu atolls escalated tensions. 
  • The former President is widely perceived as a friend of China, and his frequent confrontation with India, on economy and security matters, left bilateral ties rather strained at the end of his tenure. 
  • On the other hand, the Solih administration has opted for an ‘India first’ foreign policy. It makes no secret of its preference for India as its first choice, be it on security partnership, development assistance or COVID response, including vaccines.
  • India, on its part, has committed $1.4 billion towards the Maldives’s “socio-economic development needs”, engaged through high-level visits, and lobbied extensively to help the Maldives clinch Presidency at the United Nations General Assembly.
  • Mr. Yameen’s defeat in the 2018 polls, and the antagonistic dynamic that continues between New Delhi and him, do not bode well for India’s prospects for developing bipartisan ties in an important country in the neighbourhood. 
  • Further, the next presidential election is scheduled in 2023, and Mr. Yameen is trying to make a political comeback, tapping on both the anti-incumbency, and the anti-India sentiments among sections loyal to him. 

What is the government’s response? 

  • The government has rejected the ‘India Out’ campaign, and issued at least two statements in recent weeks, expressing concern at attempts to spread “misguided and unsubstantiated information to propagate hatred towards India”. 
  • The Solih administration holds a “small group of individuals and a few political personalities” responsible for the campaign.
  • In its most recent statement issued on December 19, the government said it “reaffirms that the country’s long-standing ties with all its international partners are based on principles of mutual respect and understanding, and in accordance with respective national and international law”.

Connecting the dots:

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