India-Maldives Ties: Trouble in paradise as relations sink to a new low


The new Maldivian president has asked India to withdraw its troops from the island nation (ANI)

Amid the controversy around the disparaging remarks by some Maldivian ministers against PM Narendra Modi and calls for boycotting the island nation, Chinese President hosted a state banquet for Maldivian President. How this row may become more intense now?

Our Bureau
New Delhi/Male/Beijing

There is trouble in the Indian Ocean region as a row between India and Maldives takes a serious turn. China seems to be fishing in troubled waters.  

The trouble began after the Maldives began facing a boycott from one of its biggest sources of tourism income after three of its officials made derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Foreign tourists, as well as locals, are now vouching for India’s top destinations, including cities, tourist attractions, and other places while shunning the sun-kissed getaway for domestic beaches instead.

A massive row was triggered after the Maldives deputy minister, along with other cabinet members and government officials, made disparaging and unsavory references to PM Modi’s Lakshadweep visit. Since then, Indians, including cricketers and film celebrities, have come out in open support of promoting local beach destinations and other tourist spots.

Several Indians stated they cancelled their trips to the Maldives after the row erupted and began a campaign called ‘#BoycottMaldives’.

Amid the ongoing rift between India and the Maldives, the foreign visitors here shared the experiences of their visits to various Indian states and lauded Indian tradition, culture and color.

The locals here, whose bread and butter are derived from the tourism sector, applauded Indian tourists, who play a key role in generating revenue for Maldivians. “I went to Goa and Mumbai in 2007. The first impression that I had was that I was in a different world. Coming from Europe, the experience was altogether different. What I loved the most was the Indian tradition, culture and colors. There are amazing sunsets. I like India a lot. We were there for around 10-12 days,” said Franco Bistoni, a tourist from Italy.

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu and his wife Sajidha Mohamed arrive at Xiamen in Fujian on a five-day visit to China (ANI)

Sharing her experience of visiting Andamans, Elaine Treacy, an Ireland tourist who has been to India more than three times, called the Indian islands ‘amazing’ and ‘beautiful’ and said that her time on the Indian island was spent very well.

For Ivan Petkov, a visitor from Bulgaria, the story was a little different. Visiting the Maldives with his family, he was optimistic of visiting India one day, which he had never been before but it was definitely on his bucket list. While speaking with ANI, Ivan revealed that he has a lot of Indian friends in London, who piqued his interest in visiting a place that is ‘completely different’ from Europe.

Meanwhile, amidst the recent diplomatic tensions between India and the Maldives, Siacle, a notable B2B travel marketplace startup, has joined other key players in the travel industry in the decision to suspend the distribution of Maldives tour and travel packages, hotel bookings, and flight reservations through its platform.

Prioritizing national interests over business considerations, Siacle’s management condemned the derogatory comments and chose to redirect their focus. They encouraged travel partners and agents to explore alternative destinations within India, such as Lakshadweep and the Andaman Islands.

The positive response to this decision is evident in the completion of multiple successful Lakshadweep bookings in the past few days. Additionally, there has been a notable increase in booking inquiries for Lakshadweep and the Andaman Islands, according to the Siacle team. The company is actively working to enhance collaboration with Lakshadweep and Andamans travel suppliers to provide a diverse range of domestic island options for its travel agents.

Amid the controversy around the disparaging remarks by Maldivian ministers and government officials against Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his recent visit to Lakshadweep, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted a state banquet for Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu and First Lady Sajidha Mohamed on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting with Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu in Dubai in December (ANI)

Muizzu, who is on a state visit to China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping, also signed key agreements with the Chinese government and held official talks to enhance collaboration between the two countries, the Maldivian President Office said in an official press statement.

Further, according to the release, President Muizzu also held several meetings with Chinese officials to explore avenues to strengthen socioeconomic connections and bilateral relations between the two countries. Significantly, this is the first state visit of the newly-elected Maldivian President since assuming office in November last year. He is being accompanied by a high-level delegation.

During his ongoing visit, the Maldivian President and Republic of China exchanged twenty key agreements. During the signing of agreements, he attended the ceremony at the Great Hall of People in Beijing.

China and the Maldives signed twenty MoUs, including on Disaster Risk Reduction, Fisheries, Digital Economy, Cooperation Plan on BRI, and Grant Assistance, among others.

According to an official release, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the National Disaster Management Authority of Maldives and the Ministry of Emergency Management of China on cooperation in the Area of Disaster Risk Reduction.

Additionally, a MoU was signed on Deepening Blue Economy Cooperation between the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Fisheries and Ocean Resources of the Republic of the Maldives, read the press statement.

President Muizzu’s maiden state visit to China, as opposed to India, came in the backdrop of a social media uproar and diplomatic row over disparaging remarks made by some Maldivian junior ministers and government officials against PM Modi’s Lakshadweep visit.

Earlier, President Muizzu had asked India to withdraw its troops from Maldives. The Indian Army has been stationed in Maldives for years. The two armies also conducted a joint military exercise too.

Now, taking a strong exception to the unsavory remarks, New Delhi summoned the Maldivian envoy and registered a strong protest.

Meanwhile, with #BoycottMaldives catching on with netizens, prominent faces of the Indian film industry and other leading celebrities came out in support of PM Modi’s call to promote beach tourism in Lakshadweep and other tourist destinations in the country.

A Gurukul School of Art teacher makes a painting condemning Maldives over derogatory remark against Prime Minister Modi in Mumbai (ANI)

Several Maldivian politicians, including former Presidents and ministers, too, condemned the remarks and reiterated that India was a close and important partner for the island nation.

But, in the face of online fury and a flurry of cancellations of scheduled visits to the island country, the Maldivian government distanced itself from the remarks made by its ministers. Maldivian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Moosa Zameer, said such remarks against foreign leaders were “unacceptable” and did not reflect the official position of the government.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and People’s National Congress (PNC) — the two main parties in the ruling coalition in Maldives — used ‘anti-India’ sentiments during the campaigning for the 2023 presidential polls, according a report by European Union Election Observation Mission, Maldives (EU EOM).

Notably, Mohamed Muizzu won the presidential elections in Maldives last year. He defeated incumbent President Ibrahim Solih with 54 per cent votes. This was the second round of polling after no one emerged clear winner in the first round.

The report highlighted that the campaign was based on the “fears of Indian influences and anxiety regarding the presence of Indian military personnel inside the country”. The observers also found instances of “derogatory language”, directed towards then-president Ibrahim Solih.

It also alleged that the campaign was subject to multiple ‘online disinformation attempts’ as the PPM campaigned demanding the release of former President Abdullah Yameen, who is in jail on corruption charges.

“EU EOM observers noted instances of derogatory language, directed towards the president, on the side of PPM-PNC. Their campaign included anti-Indian sentiments, based on fears of Indian influences and anxiety regarding the presence of Indian military personnel inside the country,” the report stated.

Amid the ongoing row between India and the Maldives, opposition leader and the Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Fayyaz Ismail, has called for a “tougher stand” by the government, saying that the racist comments against India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were just isolated individual opinions of these people who were unfortunately given positions in the government.

He underlined how the entire matter has reached a lot of Indians as well as Maldivians, due to easy accessibility of social media. On being asked if the ongoing spat between the two countries is going to have an impact on the India-Maldives ties, as well the revenue that Indian tourists have generated for the island nation over the years, the Maldivian leader, who was also the former Minister of Economic Development of Maldives, asserted that it is much more than economics or revenue.

“This relationship between India and Maldives has been nurtured and fostered over a long period of time by very mature leaders, past leaders of our country and yours as well. So just one or two tweets derailing this entire relationship is very sad,” the minister said.

Notwithstanding such positive remarks, the India-Maldives relations are at the rock-bottom right now. There are no signs of any improvement as China plays a crucial role in the Indian Ocean region. 

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