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India-Maldives relations

  • IASbaba
  • October 12, 2022
  • 0
International Relations
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In News: ‘India Out’ campaign in Maldives has fueled anti-India public sentiments.

  • In October 2020, the opposition coalition of Maldives officially launched a challenge to the bilateral relationship through what it called the ‘India Out’ campaign.
  • The campaign seeks to exploit anti-India sentiments amidst allegations of India’s expansionist ambitions.
  • ‘India Out’ aims to fuel more hatred by creating scepticism for India’s investments in Maldives, the defence partnerships between the two, and India’s net-security provisions.
  • Local news outlets closely affiliated with the opposition—such as Dhiyares, its English edition The Maldives Journal, and the Maldives News Network (MNN), have played a vital role in the campaign.

Domestic Politics of Maldives:

  • Beginning of an autocratic regime (1978-2008) – Gayoom’s nomination as president of Maldives. The period was characterised by a lack of space for democratic dissent.
  • Emergence of democratic constitutional reforms in 2005 & Gayoom’s electoral defeat
  • India’s defence cooperation with Maldives attracted criticism from the opposition, who said Maldives was compromising its sovereignty and making space for Indian influence and presence in the island state.
  • Finding China to be a sound option for economic and political survival, Yameen went on an anti-India spree to further nationalist sentiments.
  • In 2018, his government asked India to withdraw its helicopters and operatives from the country, accusing them of espionage and violating sovereignty. India’s hesitancy to withdraw its helicopters within the given time escalated the anti-India rhetoric.
  • However, after 2018, there was a renewed focus on the ‘India First’ policy

China’s influence:

  • In 2014, Maldives welcomed President Xi Jinping for a visit he made to court support for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project.
  • Maldives leased islands and infrastructure projects to China and the two signed a Free Trade Agreement.
  • There were also negotiations to establish a Joint Ocean Observation Centre, which would give China more relevance in the region.
  • In return, China offered Maldives mega-infrastructure projects and loans, most of them under opaque terms and conditions.
  • By the end of 2018, it was estimated that Maldives had borrowed around US$ 1.5 billion from China.

Background:

  • India and Maldives have shared diplomatic, defence, economic, and cultural relations for the past six decades.
  • Located in a crucial geographical position in the Indian Ocean, Maldives is vital to India’s strategy for the Indian Ocean and its neighbourhood. For its part, Maldives reaps benefits from India’s economic assistance and net security provision.

Importance of Maldives for India:

  • Maldives’ proximity to the west coast of India (barely 70 nautical miles away from  Minicoy and 300 nautical miles away  from India’s West coast)
  • Its situation at the  hub of commercial sea‐lanes running through Indian Ocean (particularly the 8° N and 1 ½° N channels)
  • Located between world’s busiest trade routes i.e., Strait of Malacca and Suez Canal
  • Issues of piracy and smuggling
  • Maritime security
  • Radicalisation in the form of influence of ISIS
  • Chinese domination and influence

Political relations:

  • India was among the first to recognize Maldives and establish diplomatic relations with, after its independence in 1965.
  • India established its mission at the level of CDA in 1972 and resident High Commissioner in 1980.
  • Maldives opened a full-fledged High Commission in New Delhi in November 2004, at that time one of its only four diplomatic missions worldwide.
  • India promptly assisted Maldives during 1988 under ‘Operation Cactus’ to abort a coup against autocratic regime.
  • Since establishment of diplomatic relations, almost all the Prime Ministers of India visited the Maldives.

Bilateral Assistance:

  • Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital: established in 1986 in Male with an estimated cost of Rs. 42.5 crore. IGMH now serves as the most advanced tertiary care hospital in Maldives and is easily the most visible symbol of India’s assistance to the Maldives.
  • Faculty of Engineering Technology (FET): was set up as a grant-in-aid project in 1996. It has a capacity to train at least 200 students a year in various technical/vocational disciplines.
  • Tsunami-related assistance: During 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, India was the first country to rush relief and aid to the Maldives. INS Mysore carried relief materials and facilities. The total cost of assistance approximately Rs. 36.39 crores.
  • Covid-19 related assistance: ‘Travel Bubble’ and India and the Maldives on Saturday agreed to mutually recognise the COVID-19 vaccine certificates issued by each other.

Defence relations:

  • Dornier aircraft was finalised in 2020.
  • Under the agreement, India would deploy 25 unarmed personnel to operate the Dornier aircraft, and train seven Maldivian pilots, observers and engineers to operate the same.
  • The 25 unarmed personnel will be commanded by the Maldivian defence forces.
  • India will cover only the logistics cost of the aircraft and the Indian military personnel; Maldives will look after the operations of the Dornier aircraft.
  • The Maldivian government asserted that this agreement will help better monitor the Maldives’ EEZ, improve its maritime security, and limit illegal trafficking.
  • The Uthuru Thilafalhu (UTF) agreement was signed in 2021
  • India will help develop and maintain a coastguard harbour and dockyard for Maldives and provide professional, technical and logistical support for a period of 15 years.
  • To help improve maritime security by letting the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) dock, maintain, and repair its coast guard vessels.
  • In 2009, India gifted Maldives with a helicopter and the two sides signed a defence cooperation agreement for joint surveillance and patrols in the Indian Ocean. They also discussed establishing a network of 26 radars.
  • A Comprehensive Action Plan for Defence was signed in 2016 to consolidate defence partnership

Economic relations:

  • India and Maldives signed a trade agreement in 1981, which provides for export of essential commodities.
  • India‐Maldives  bilateral  trade  crossed  the  $  300  mn  mark  for  the  first  time  in  2021, reaching an impressive $ 323.29 mn.
  • India’s support to Greater Male Connectivity project include a $400  million  LoC  &  $100  million  grant,  renewal  of  essential commodities  trade agreement, and,  financial assistance of USD 250 million.
  • The State Bank of India has been playing a vital role in the economic development of the Maldives since 1974 by providing loan assistance for promotion of island resorts, export of marine products and business enterprises such Taj Group of India runs Taj Exotica Resort.
  • In 2010, GMR Infrastructure (India) and KLIA (Malaysia) consortium took over the Male International Airport on a 25 -year BOT contract to renovate and expand the largest and most important airport in the country.
  • India signed an agreement for 25-MW solar energy project in the Upper Southern province.
  • India has been the largest tourist source market for Maldives for two years in a row. A total of 291,787 Indian tourists travelled to the island nation in 2021, representing 22 per cent market share.
  • Maldives received US$150m currency swap facility from India in 2020.
  • in 2008 and 2011, a Standby Credit Facility of US$100 million each was given to Maldives.

Disaster management:

  • 2014 Male water crisis: Emergency cooperation such as ‘Operation Sanjeevni’ and ‘Operation Neer’ to help Maldives
  • Hydrographic Survey: The two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding for hydrographic surveying in June 2019, with the first activities beginning in January 2021.
  • The survey aimed at identifying the seabed and mapping the physical features of the islands, reefs, sandbanks, and lagoons of the Maldives and the coastal waters and Exclusive Economic Zones

Cultural Relations:

  • Indians are the second largest expatriate community in the Maldives with a total strength of around 28000; consisting of doctors, nurses and technicians, teachers, construction workers, tailors, etc.
  • In 2009, a Maldivian Rock Band participated in the South Asian Bands Festival in New Delhi

Challenges:

  • Anti-India sentiments: The ‘India Out’ campaign has been effective in coordinating between different sources—political parties, social media, media, and China—and intensifying the anti-India sentiments more than ever.
  • Conspiracy theories of India’s expansionist ambitions: Hydrographic survey may allow India to have in-depth knowledge of Maldivian waters, ports and harbours, and thereby access seabed and critical navigational information and challenge the country’s security.
  • The opposition claimed that the under the UTF agreement, government has allowed India to establish a military base in the Maldives
  • Chinese investments and activities in Maldives: The political and financial links and incentives created by China have continued to bear advantages for China and its geopolitical ambitions.

Way forward:

  • Focus on ‘India First’ policy of Maldives to strengthen relations.
  • Prime Minister Modi attended  the inauguration  ceremony  of  President Ibrahim  Mohamed Solih in 2018 as the only HoS/HoG indicating strong relations.

Source: Observer Research Foundation

 

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