India-Maldives Relations

India-Maldives Relations

This article deals with ‘India-Maldives Relations.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is important pillar of GS-2 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here .

Brief History

  • The archipelago of Maldives consists of 1192 islands of which roughly 200 islands are inhabited with an estimated population of 430,000.
  • Maldives was a British colony since mid-1880s . Maldives was important for Britishers in order to secure the trade routes with India (the crown jewel of British Empire). 
  • India – Maldives formal relations began with the declaration of Maldivian independence in 1965. India was the first country to recognise Maldives
  • The first state level visit was in 1974 when President Ahmed Zaki of Maldives made an official visit to India.
  • Later, India  saved the regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom under Operation Cactus  from Coup attempted by Pro-Eelam group in 1998 .

Key Players in Maldivian Politics

Key Players in Maldivian Politics

Mohammad Nasheed

  • He was elected democratically in 2008 .
  • India and Maldives had cordial relationship  during President Nasheed’s tenure. He made his maiden international trip to India in 2008 and India promised a $100 million loan to improve the tourism industry in Maldives. 
  • But subsequent coup d’état in 2012 led to his fall. In 2013, he lost to Abdullah Yameen in rigged election.

Abdullah Yameen

  • He came to power in rigged elections in 2013 .
  • He started his autocratic rule and declared emergency in Nov 2015 .
  • Later, he went close to China posing threat to Indian interests.
  • During President Yameen’s time in office, Male-New Delhi relations turned rather sour because he was pro-China.

Ibrahim Mohammad Solih

  • He was elected in 2018 as the new President after defeating Abdullah Yameen .
  • India’s engagement has significantly grown since President Solih came to power, particularly in development partnerships.
  • Narendra Modi had attended the swearing-in ceremony of President Solih .
  • India  announced $1.4 billion financial assistance to bail out its debt-trapped economy.
  • Backed by India, Maldives  became Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Member .
  • Solih visited India on his first overseas trip since assuming the presidency (Dec 2018) .

India-Maldives Cooperation

India-Maldives Relations

Strategic Importance

  • The strategic importance was realized for the first time during British rule. Maldives is located just 700 km from the strategic Lakshadweep island chain , 1200 km from the Indian mainland and around major trade routes of India . Hence, Maldives is very important for securing the trade routes of India.
  • India has various Military assets in Maldives for surveillance purposes in the Indian Ocean which makes Maldives part of our security grid . India and Maldives also cooperate to contain piracy in the region.
  • India has the ambition to be ‘Net-security provider’ in Indian Ocean region and this calls for close military and naval ties with Maldives .
  • Maldives stretches out as a huge expanse in waters and has a tremendously large exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but lacks the defence capacity to ensure surveillance over the marine zone.  Maritime security leadership by India for Maldives is crucial for its size.
  • Uncertainty in Maldives could prove a fertile breeding ground for extremism and religious fundamentalism, smuggling and drug trafficking. Islamic State (IS) and Lashkar-e-Taiba are also reported to  have established bases in Maldives.

Economic Relations

  • India and Maldives signed Comprehensive Trade Agreement in 1981. After that trade flourished  .
  • Bilateral trade between India and Maldives stands at US$ 289 million (2018) .
  • While the exports from Maldives to India are not of much significance , the imports from India to Maldives are quite substantial .
  • State Bank of India (SBI) is one of the major banks operating in Maldives .
  • Taj Hotels of Tata Group are important component of tourism industry of Maldives.
  • Indian tourists also account for close to 6% of tourists Maldives receives each year .

Multilateral Cooperation

  • It has supported India’s permanent membership candidature at UNSC and has also voted in favour of India for non-permanent seat for the year 2020-21.
  • India and Maldives are part of
    • SAARC
    • Indian Ocean Rim Association
    • Commonwealth (During Yameen’s time, they left Commonwealth but Solih rejoined it)
  • India and Maldives have always supported each other in multilateral platforms such as the UN, the Commonwealth, the NAM, and the SAARC.
  • Maldives is part of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) where Pakistan frequently raise voice on Kashmir Issue . Hence, Maldives is important ally which play part in safeguarding Indian interests in OIC .

People to People Relations

  • Maldivian students attend educational institutions in India .
  • Maldivian patients fly here for super-speciality healthcare.
  • India Cultural Centre (ICC) in Male was inaugurated in 2011, which conducts courses in yoga, classical music and dance.
  • Hindi commercial films, TV serials and music are immensely popular in Maldives.

Indian Diaspora

  • 22,000 Indians live in Maldives making it second largest expatriate community of Maldives.
  • 25% of the doctors and teachers in Maldives are Indians .

Other

  • Maldives support for India’s candidature for permanent membership of an expanded and reformed UN .
  • In 2015, India launched Operation Neer to help the Maldives by providing water aid after a major fire broke out at the Male Water and Sewerage Company.
  • 2019 : Passenger and Cargo services started between Kochi and Male (700 km) & Kulhudhuffushi (500 km) . It will increase tourism, health etc. and will be useful for Maldivians who travel to India for educational purpose but air travel is expensive.

Indian Initiatives for Maldives

  • India has announced $500 million assistance for the Greater Male Connectivity project (GMCP) to connect Male to three neighbouring islands – Villingili, Thilafushi and Gulhifahu islands. GMCP would be the largest civilian infrastructure project in Maldives.
  • India provides the largest number of training opportunities for Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), meeting around 70% of their defence training requirements.
  • In 2020, India announced $400 million Line of Credit (LoC) comes in addition to a previous LoC of $800 million that was announced in 2018.
  • Major completed development assistance by India include Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Maldives Institute of Technical Education, Construction of National Police Academy etc.
  • Grants for projects under High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs): These include projects such as ambulances, Convention Centre, drug rehabilitation centre, police station upgradation, development of Addu Tourism zone etc. in Maldives .
  • Water-Aid : India has provided large-scale assistance to Maldives in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and during the 2014 Male water crisis under Operation Neer .
  • Mission Sagar :  India launched Mission Sagar to provide assistance to Indian Ocean Region Nations during Corona period. Under this INS Kesari was dispatched for Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros, to provide food items and COVID related medicines.

Issues in India-Maldives Relations

Chinese Presence

  • Maldives is part of China’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR) .
  • Maldives provide base to Chinese Navy in Indian Ocean which disturbed Balance of Power .
  • China and Maldives has signed a controversial Free Trade Agreement with China in 2017 (update : Maldives’ new government has decided to pull out of FTA with China, realizing the onesided nature of the FTA).
  • Maldives has earlier cancelled Infrastructure contracts given to Indian companies in favour of Chinese Companies (eg : GMR’s contract for building Male’s Airport).
  • Chinese Debt Trap : Chinese loans are 1/4th of Maldivian GDP which Maldivian economy can’t service on it’s own.

GMR Issue

  • In 2012, Maldives annulled the $500 million contract with GMR Group to develop a modern International Airport near Male, which was given to a Chinese company.

Growing Radicalization

  • Maldives has provided maximum number of terrorists per capita to ISIS.
  • Radical Wahabi and Salafi ideology is on rise in Maldives.

Uneasiness over Indian Military installations in Maldives

  • Earlier, Maldives had asked India to withdraw 2 Indian ALHs operating in Maldives.
  • Maldivian  refused to extend visas of 26 Indian navy personnels. 

Increased bonhomie with Pakistan during Abdullah Yameen’s (previous President) reign

  • During Pakistan’s Army Chief’s visit in 2018 , Maldives announced joint patrolling with Pak Navy to guard Maldivian Exclusive Economic Zone challenging the Indian position in the region.

Way Forward

  • Investment cooperation with Maldives should be enhanced .
  • ‘Free-Purse’ policy of aid to Maldives is needed if India wants to offset Chinese big-ticket investments in Maldives.
  • India must enhance anti-terrorism cooperation and intensify cooperation in the areas of training and capacity building of the Maldives National Defense Force  and the Maldives Police Service.
  • While dealing with smaller neighbours like Maldives, India needs to become a lot more magnanimous, staying true to its own “Gujral Doctrine.”
  • SAARC and IORA should be used to work on lingering concerns .

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