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3.8] India Maldives Relations

India Maldives Relations Location of Maldives

1. Introduction to India Maldives Relations

Some of the main drivers of Maldivian foreign policy have remained constant over the years. These are its strategic location, small size, and religious identity. Further, given the small population, the nation’s foreign policy is closely linked to its internal politics.

In general, the Maldives’ relationship with India has been steady since its independence from Britain in 1965. Maldives political stability is important to India, as it is to other countries in the region. Furthermore, India wants to shield the Maldives from outside influences that could jeopardize its security interests, whether they are state-sponsored or not. The security landscape in the Indian Ocean Region may also shift as a result of these factors. Moreover, India cares about the safety and security of the many Indians who labor in the Maldives. Lastly, India wants the security of its companies’ investments in the Maldives to continue.

India Maldives Relations Maldives Map

2. A Brief Overview

In 1976, India became the first nation to establish a resident mission in Malé. As several Maldivian students arrived in India to study as part of the Colombo Plan in the 1960s, the friendship between India and the Maldives began to strengthen. In Malé, a State Bank of India branch opened its doors in 1974, and in 1975, air service started. The International Airport Authority of India won a worldwide competition in 1978 to modernize and extend the runway at Hulhule Airport. In 1981, its work was finished. Additionally, a deal was made by both nations to do away with the requirement for visas for travel between them. In addition, India has been offering technological support in a number of areas upon request from the Maldivian government.

A minor disagreement arose in July 1982 between India and the Maldives on Minicoy Island. Maldives later stressed, nevertheless, that it was merely discussing cultural resemblance and was not asserting any political claim over Minicoy. The Maldives, Sri Lanka, and India signed a Maritime Agreement in 1976 to establish their respective jurisdictional boundaries in the territorial waters based on the Median Line principle.

For Maldives, “India First” policy, which emphasizes the value of its relationship with its bigger and more powerful neighbor, has influenced its mentality. Since the Maldives is located close to India’s west coast and guards important sea lanes of communication, such as the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, and the Strait of Malacca, which are vital to both the country’s economic interests and the global marine trade—transporting a significant amount of India’s external commerce and energy imports—India also acknowledges the strategic importance of the Maldives. The connection between India and the Maldives becomes even more significant as a result of India’s prioritization of regional peace and security in light of the growing maritime activities in the Indian Ocean.

3. The Spiral of Domestic and Foreign Realm

Recently, there have been a lot of challenges in the India Maldives partnership. The Maldives’ diplomatic ties with India are significantly impacted by the country’s political climate. Furthermore, the Maldives have to carefully manage the tough decisions between advancing its economic and national security goals while preserving its sovereignty due to the presence of powerful nations like China, India, and the US. The rise of Islamic extremism and China’s increasing sway over the Maldives are two major variables affecting the relations between the two countries.

Since President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom took office in 1978, the political landscape in the Maldives has undergone significant upheaval, which has an impact on India’s bilateral relations with the Maldives. During his presidency, the Maldives’ foreign policy with India was unclear. Even though India assisted in protecting Gayoom’s leadership from a coup attempt in 1988 by spearheading “Operation Cactus”, it was not given any special privileges.

In his search for foreign allies, Gayoom turned to China, a developing superpower with significant strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. In order to strengthen the Maldives-China partnership, Gayoom made two trips to China: the first in 1984 and the second in September 2006. China, which is notorious for using infrastructure projects to advance its interests strategically in vital countries, did not differ in the Maldives. Beginning in 1985, Chinese companies entered the Maldives project-contracting industry. As China gave yearly funding for the Maldives’ operations, including the supply of supplies after the 2004 tsunami, the friendship between China and the Maldives grew stronger. Despite having cordial ties with India, Maldives made moves in the direction of China, an emerging force in the Indian Ocean.

The first multi-party elections in 2008 led to instability in the Sino-Maldivian bilateral relationship and the emergence of the Maldives’ first democratic administration, headed by Mohammed Nasheed. Nasheed’s administration established the “India first” policy, abstaining from acts that would alarm India and refusing to give nations like China a foundation upon which to construct critical infrastructure. The Maldives allowed Indian radars to be installed on 26 atolls, coordinated naval exercises with the Indian Navy, and gave training to the Maldivian National Defense Force (MNDF) from India. The administration and the People’s Majlis (Parliament House) became tense, nevertheless, as a result of the opposition forces’ increased power in the 2009 Maldivian parliamentary elections, which were spearheaded by the country’s former president, Mohammed Gayoom. By assigning significant infrastructure projects to prominent Indian contractors without the Majlis’ consent, for example, the opposition sparked public disapproval.

Following Nasheed’s departure in 2012 and the installation of Vice President Mohammed Waheed as head of the new “unity government,” the Maldives’ foreign policy approach changed once more, this time leaning more toward China and away from India.

Waheed’s government was recognized by India fairly quickly, but he forged stronger links with China and revoked the Indian company’s contract, straining bilateral relations between India and the Maldives. India retaliated by stopping help to the unrest-prone Maldives. The decision to end the contract was impacted by a number of outside forces in addition to domestic politics, most notably China’s increasing influence. Waheed took a combative stance toward India and even issued a challenge to outside powers to refrain from meddling in Maldivian affairs. India had to exercise caution in acting as a middleman in the Maldivian presidential elections given this changing political environment.

After a protracted election process in November 2013, Abdulla Yameen was declared the winner of the presidency, and the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) controlled the legislature. Yameen’s pledge to defend Sunni Islam was emphasized throughout his campaign. Under Yameen’s direction, the Maldives’ relations with China grew closer. Their bilateral relationship underwent a sea change when Chinese President Xi Jinping paid them a visit in September 2014. Nine agreements pertaining to the development of roads, a power plant project, the creation of an international airport in the Maldives, and the building of a bridge between Malé and Hulhule were signed by both nations. Additionally, the Maldives consented to back the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is run by China, as well as China’s Maritime Silk Route plan. In reaction to China’s involvement in the former for the purpose of bolstering bilateral relations, the Indian government integrated the Indian Space Research Organization in the cooperative building, launch, and operation of a Maldivian communications satellite. The visit to the Maldives by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in October 2015 was a turning point in the country’s intentional attempts to improve bilateral relations.

After Mohamed Ibrahim Solih was elected in 2018, things changed drastically, leading to the return of democracy and a resurgence of close ties between New Delhi and the Maldives. By pulling out of its trade agreement with Beijing, Solih put his “India First” strategy into action, strengthening the diverse and mutually beneficial collaboration between India and the Maldives. India provided the Maldives with USD 1.4 billion in loan repayment support in addition to supplementary funding for community development initiatives. The implementation of several development projects, such as the USD 100 million Greater Malé Connectivity Project, the provision of building materials for public parks on 67 local islands, and the building of bridges linking the capital city, Malé, with regional and industrial islands were made possible by India’s USD 800 million line of credit, which followed bilateral agreements. Under Solih, relations between India and the Maldives were prosperous.

Dr. Mohamed Muizzu took office as the country’s new president on October 1, 2023.  Some people are concerned about Dr. Muizzu’s nomination because they believe it will harm India’s diplomatic efforts in the Maldives. International concern has been aroused by President Muizzu’s remarks regarding the departure of foreign armed forces in order to p  reserve its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This move was immediately interpreted by the strategic community as a slant towards China and away from India. The purpose of the 75 military troops stationed in MNDF facilities in Hanimaadhoo in the north, Kadhdhoo in the center, and Addu Atoll in the south is primarily to operate two light combat helicopters, the Dhruv and the Dornier aircraft. India is the only nation with these many military personnel. Over the years, these planes have saved many lives by monitoring the EEZ and providing medical assistance to the islands. India has long been the Maldives’ main security ally, giving the country a great deal of support to improve its marine security measures.

4. Conclusion

The Maldives have long had reliable friends in India.  Not surprisingly, Muizzu has also stated that he wants to see a balanced relationship between China and India, even in spite of his early India-out campaign. This means that Malé will have to walk a tightrope between the two superpowers in the region, China and India, which will be an obstacle every new leader must overcome. The perpetual shift in Maldives’ stance on India with elections, highlights the tangled web of internal politics and foreign policy.

Posted in PSIR NOTES

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