Hashtags like Boycott Maldives are trending on social media after a recent post about Prime Minister Modi’s trip to the Lakshadweep. PM Modi’s visit to the nation’s smallest Union Territory was perceived as an effort to boost tourism on the islands.
However, this move has not been well received by India’s island neighbor, the Maldives. In a tweet, a Maldivian minister accused India of targeting the Maldives, highlighting significant challenges for India in competing with the Maldives in beach tourism.
The Maldivian government has explicitly disassociated itself from the statements made by these ministers and Members of Parliament who engaged in a social media dispute concerning Lakshadweep versus Maldives, triggered by Prime Minister Modi’s photographs from Lakshadweep.
The Maldives has responded decisively by suspending three of its ministers for making derogatory comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the people of India. Mariyam Shiuna, Malsha Shareef, and Mahzoom Majid were the ministers who made fun of PM Modi and the people of India.
In the midst of mounting tensions between India and the Maldives, Indian travel agents have noticed a sharp dip in inquiries for the destination and have reported falling rates on Maldives vacation packages due to a decline in demand. On its website, MakeMyTrip recorded a staggering 3,400% increase in Lakshadweep inquiries.
In recent years, the relationship between India and the Maldives has experienced a noticeable downturn since the appointment of President Mohamed Muizzu. President Muizzu is a staunch advocate of an India-out policy.
What is India Out Campaign in Maldives?
The India Out campaign in the Maldives is not a recent development, but since President Muizzu assumed office, there has been a notable surge in its prominence. Nevertheless, this campaign originated back in 2013 during Abdulla Yameen’s administration.
Under Yameen’s governance, the Maldives and China drew closer, leading the Maldives to fall into the Chinese debt trap. It was during this period that the India Out campaign surfaced, accompanied by anti-India sentiments.
In 2018, Yameen lost the presidential elections, and Ibrahim Solih assumed the presidency. Known for his pro-India and India-first policies, Solih took significant steps to enhance India-Maldives relations.
He reaffirmed the traditional ‘India First’ policy and oversaw the re-signing of agreements related to Dhruv helicopters during his tenure. Additionally, in 2021, India and the Maldives engaged in the Uthura Thila Falu (UTF) development deal, focusing on port construction.
While Solih’s presidency provided some relief for New Delhi, anti-India sentiment persisted among the Maldivian population. The contentious discourse surrounding Indian military presence resurfaced through the ‘India Out’ campaign in various mediums.
Since its independence in 1965, India has been the first country to recognize Maldives as a sovereign nation. The relationship between Maldives and India has been a significant alliance, encompassing various sectors such as trade, defense, health, and more.
Both countries are founding members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). India has played a crucial role in Maldives, with Operation Cactus in 1988 being particularly noteworthy. During Operation Cactus, the Indian Armed Forces assisted the Maldivian government in neutralizing a coup attempt.
Operation Sanjeevani is another pivotal mission where India supplied 6.2 tonnes of essential medicines to Maldives, supporting the country in its fight against COVID-19.
To fortify bilateral ties, India has made substantial investments in Maldives over the years. In 2021, Afcons, an Indian company, secured a contract for the largest-ever infrastructure project in the Maldives, known as the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP).
The GMCP stands as the most significant infrastructure initiative in Maldives, involving the construction of a 6.74 km long bridge and causeway link connecting the capital Male with the adjacent islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu, and Thilafushi. This project exemplifies the ongoing commitment of India to foster development and strengthen its relationship with Maldives.