Why is the anti-India campaign spreading rapidly in the Maldives as diplomats seek more protection?

The Maldives and India have always shared a friendly relationship. New Delhi and Malé cooperate closely in the economic, defense and strategic fields. Despite such close ties, anti-Indian sentiments have developed in the island nation recently.

A vicious “India Out” campaign has taken to social media, calling on the government to withdraw India’s military presence from the Maldives.

Sunjay Sudhir, the Indian ambassador to the archipelago country, was so upset by the anti-Indian rhetoric that he appealed to the Maldives’ foreign ministry to demand more protection for its diplomatic staff.

In a letter dated June 24, 2021, he said the “vicious and increasingly personal” threats were intended to incite hatred and violence against India and its diplomats, citing clauses in the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations which oblige host countries to protect foreign emissaries. .

The Maldives’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs then issued a statement on July 2, 2021, urging local media not to spread disinformation that could damage the reputation of foreign diplomats and endanger them. The government of Ibrahim Solih subsequently reinforced the security of Indian diplomatic personnel.

On December 19, lawmaker Ahmed Shiam of the Maldives Progressive Party tweeted: “We can never expect the current Indian government to respect our Constitution and our internal affairs. He posted the tweet by attaching a video of a press conference given by former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav in which the latter criticized India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP).

Anti-Indian sentiments

Anti-Indian sentiments have simmered in the Maldives for more than a decade, since the election of Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom of the Progressive Party (PPM) as president in 2013.

The campaign developed after Yameen’s conviction in a money laundering and embezzlement case was overturned in November 2021 by the Supreme Court of the Maldives.

He was able to return to politics as a result of the change. During Yameen’s tenure, which was close to China, relations between India and the Maldives were at an all-time low. The “India Out” campaign is based on unproven claims that India is seeking to establish a military base in the Maldives through continued security cooperation.

The claims are based on actions carried out under the Yameen administration, such as the repatriation of two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF). The helicopters, which were stationed at Addu Atoll and Hanimaadhoo, were used for missions such as search and rescue at sea and maritime weather monitoring.

HAL Dhruv ALH donated by India to Maldives – Wikimedia Commons

When domestic politics became unstable and former President Mohammed Nasheed called for India’s involvement, the Yameen administration then denounced India’s intention to intervene militarily, calling it “a lack of respect to its sovereignty ”and accused New Delhi of having the ambition to swallow the island.

In 2016, the government of Maldives asked India to take back the helicopters and refused to extend the term of the deal, which would have allowed them to stay in the country. When the government changed two years later, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih reversed the guidelines, extended the stay and continued to operate the helicopters.

Controversy on the naval base?

The alleged lack of transparency in the agreements signed between the Solih government and India is something that has been widely highlighted in social media posts by prominent members of the “India Out” campaign.

A major argument is that an agreement or arrangement with a development partner must have parliamentary approval. Such agreements should have legal value. However, the government refuses to share information with the public, alleges the anti-Indian lobby.

The UTF Port Project Agreement, signed in February 2021 between India and the Maldives, was originally designed under the Yameen administration, under which India would build and maintain a coastguard port and shipyard. naval ship in Uthuru Thilafalhu, a strategically placed atoll near the capital Malé.

In 2016, India and the Maldives signed an action plan for “defense cooperation”, with the aim of strengthening the common strategic and security objectives of the two nations in the Indian Ocean region. When the Solih administration took office in 2019, Maldivian media speculated that the UTF project could be converted into an Indian naval facility.

Major General Abdulla Shamaal, Chief of the Maldives Defense Force, declared in 2019 that although New Delhi had indicated that it would provide financial assistance for this project, there were no plans for an Indian Navy installation on the island nation.

“I want to be very clear on this point. I take this opportunity to assure that there are no plans to authorize the establishment of a foreign military base in the Maldives, whether on a permanent or temporary basis, ”he added.

Protesters, however, said the “leaked documents” of the deal proved the deal involved “the Indian military staying here for decades and decades and having exclusive rights” to use the UTF facility. Male has already called these documents “fake”.

Implications for bilateral relations

Continuing anti-Indian rallies are unlikely to have a substantial influence on bilateral relations while the Solih government is in power. However, if he loses power in 2024 and the PPM-PNC alliance, which supports the “India Out” movement, wins the elections, India-Maldives relations could face obstacles.

Meanwhile, Yameen continues to suggest that India has nefarious motives and criticized Solih for allegedly compromising the Maldives’ national interest by pursuing close ties. The Indian government’s proposal to build a new consulate in Addu further complicates the problem.

New Delhi claims the proposed consulate would make the visa application process easier for residents of the atoll, but Yameen maintains that this is the first step towards establishing an Indian military facility.

A file photo of President of the Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Indian Express cited Shifxan Ahmed, co-founder of the Maldives online news portal, as declaring, “We are not calling for a violent clash against India or the Indians in the Maldives… We want the Indians to feel safe in our country. So if there are people who use violent threats using the hashtags “India Out”, we condemn these posts. We want to peacefully express our concerns.

India has made significant investments in the Maldives, but having a hostile party in power if the CDM loses in future elections would be detrimental to India’s interests.

Comments are closed.