This article deals with ‘India-Maldives Relations.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is an important pillar of the GS-2 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.
- The archipelago of Maldives consists of 1192 islands, of which roughly 200 islands are inhabited with an estimated population of 430,000.
- The Maldives was a British colony since the mid-1880s. The Maldives was important for Britishers to secure trade routes with India (the crown jewel of the British Empire).
- India – Maldives formal relations began with Maldivian independence in 1965 when India became the first country to give formal recognition to the Maldives.
- The first state-level visit happened 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 a Coup attempted by the Pro-Eelam group in 1998.
Key Players in Maldivian Politics
- He was elected democratically in 2008.
- India and Maldives had a 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 the Maldives.
- But subsequent coup d’état in 2012 led to his fall. In 2013, he lost to Abdullah Yameen in a rigged election.
- He came to power in rigged elections in 2013.
- He started his autocratic rule and declared an emergency in 2015.
- Later, he went close to China, posing a threat to Indian interests.
- During President Yameen’s time in office, Male-New Delhi relations turned sour because of his pro-China stance.
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 $1.4 billion in financial assistance to bail out its debt-trapped economy.
- Solih also visited India on his first overseas trip since assuming the presidency (Dec 2018).
- The strategic importance was realized for the first time during British rule. The Maldives is located just 700 km from the strategic Lakshadweep island chain, 1200 km from the Indian mainland and around major trade routes of India. Hence, Maldives is crucial for securing the trade routes of India.
- India has various Military assets in the Maldives for surveillance purposes in the Indian Ocean, making Maldives part of our security grid. India and Maldives also cooperate to contain piracy in the region.
- India has the ambition to be a ‘Net-security provider’ in the Indian Ocean region, and this calls for close military and naval ties with the Maldives.
- 50% of India’s external trade and 80% of her energy imports transit through the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) in the vicinity of Maldives.
- Islamic State and Lashkar e Taiba are gaining ground in the Maldives due to the rise in Islamic fundamentalism and extremism.
- India and Maldives signed the Comprehensive Trade Agreement in 1981, after which trade flourished.
- Bilateral trade between India and Maldives stands at US$ 289 million (2018).
- While the exports from the Maldives to India are not of much significance, the imports to the Maldives from India quite substantial.
- State Bank of India (SBI) is one of the major banks operating in the Maldives.
- Taj Hotels of Tata Group are an important component of the tourism industry of Maldives.
- Indian tourists also account for close to 6% of Maldives’ tourists each year.
- The Maldives has supported India’s permanent membership candidature at UNSC and has also voted in favour of India for a non-permanent seat for 2020-21.
- Both India and Maldives are part of
- Indian Ocean Rim Association
- 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 the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), where Pakistan frequently raise its voice on the Kashmir Issue. Hence, Maldives is an important ally that plays a part in safeguarding Indian interests in OIC.
- Maldivian students attend educational institutions in India.
- Maldivian patients fly to India for super-speciality healthcare.
- India Cultural Centre (ICC) in Male was inaugurated in 2011, which conducts yoga, classical music, and dance courses.
- Hindi commercial films, TV serials and music are immensely popular in the Maldives.
- India has assisted in developing the following
- Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital
- Maldives Institute of Technical Education (now called the Maldives Polytechnic)
- Technology Adoption Programme in Education Sector in the Maldives
- 22,000 Indians live in the Maldives, making it the second-largest expatriate community of Maldives.
- 25% of the doctors and teachers in the Maldives are Indians.
- The Maldives was the first country to receive the Corona vaccine from India.
- India has funded and assisted in forming and constructing the National College of Policing and Law Enforcement in the Maldives. It will help strengthen law enforcement and deal with drug trafficking and Islamic radicalization in the Maldives.
- Maldives supports 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.
Indian Initiatives for the 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 the Maldives.
- India also provides training to the Maldivian Defence Forces.
- Major completed development assistance projects 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 ambulances, Convention Centre, drug rehabilitation centre, police station up-gradation, development of Addu Tourism zone etc., in the Maldives.
- Water-Aid: India has provided large-scale assistance to the Maldives in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2014 Male water crisis under Operation Neer.
- Mission Sagar: India launched Mission Sagar to provide assistance to Indian Ocean Region Nations during the Corona period. Under the project, INS Kesari was dispatched for Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros, to provide food items and COVID related medicines.
Issues in India-Maldives Relations
- Maldives is part of China’s Maritime Silk Road (MSR).
- The Maldives has provided a base to the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean, which has the potential to disturb the Balance of Power in the region.
- China and Maldives signed a controversial Free Trade Agreement with China in 2017. But with the regime change, Maldives’ new government has decided to pull out of FTA with China, realizing the one-sided nature of the FTA).
- The Maldives has earlier cancelled Infrastructure contracts given to Indian companies in favour of Chinese Companies (e.g., GMR’s contract for building Male’s Airport).
- Chinese Debt Trap: Chinese loans are 1/4th of Maldivian GDP, which the Maldivian economy can’t service on its own.
- In 2012, Maldives annulled the $500 million contract with GMR Group to develop a modern International Airport near Male. Later the project was transferred to a Chinese company.
- Maldives has provided the maximum number of terrorists per capita to ISIS.
- Radical Wahabi and Salafi ideologies are on the rise in the Maldives.
Growth in Anti-India Feelings
- ‘India Out Campaign‘ gained momentum in 2022 demanding Indian military personnel to leave the Maldives. The campaign started on social media but was later led by Yameen.
Uneasiness over Indian Military installations in the Maldives
- Earlier, Maldives had asked India to withdraw 2 Indian ALHs operating in the Maldives.
- Maldivian refused to extend visas of 26 Indian navy personnel.
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 Pakistan Navy to guard Maldivian Exclusive Economic Zone challenging the Indian position in the region.
- India should enhance investment cooperation with the Maldives.
- India should pursue a ‘Free-Purse’ policy of aid with the Maldives to counter the Chinese plans in the country.
- While dealing with smaller neighbours like the Maldives, India needs to become a lot more magnanimous, staying faithful to its own “Gujral Doctrine.”
- SAARC and IORA should be used to work on lingering concerns.
To guide India-Maldives relations, five basic principles of Gujral doctrine are relevant to Nepal, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, i.e. India would not ask for reciprocity but do all it could in good faith and trust.