Bilateral International Relations Prelims cum Mains

India’s tight rope walk on Maldives

Why in news?

  • On August 24, BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramaniam Swamy had tweeted that “India should invade Maldives if rigging of election takes place.”
  • Swamy’s tweet had led to Maldivian foreign ministry summoning Indian high commissioner to express its ‘displeasure’ over the tweet by a person who is not part of the government.
  • India have clarified to the Maldives foreign ministry that the views expressed by Dr Swami is his personal opinion and doesn’t reflect the position of the government.
  • The summoning of the Indian High Commissioner to Maldives is the latest sign of a lack of trust that has developed between New Delhi and Malé over the last few years.


India-Maldives relations

  • After the independence of Maldives from the British rule in 1966, India established formal diplomatic relations with Maldives.
  • India gave military aid of 1600 soldiers to Maldives through Operation Cactus to fight the armed attack of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supported rebel groups in 1988 for an attempted coup.
  • India has provided liberal economic aid and cooperated with Maldives for improving its Infrastructure.
  • India provided bottled water through its helicopters to Maldives when its only water treatment plant collapsed in December 2014.
  • India shares very close military ties with Maldives by having two helicopter bases, integration of radars and Indian Coast Guard surveillance along Maldivian coast. India also aims to remain as a net security provider to Maldives.


How distance grew between them?

  • Mohamed Nasheed, one of the foremost political rivals of President Yameen, became the island nation’s first democratically elected president in 2008.
  • However, in 2012, Nasheed was forced by police and army officers to resign “under gunpoint” over detention of a top judge.
  • In 2015, Nasheed was convicted under terrorism charges and was sentenced to 13 years in prison for arresting Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed when he was in office.
  • In Feb 2018, the Maldives Supreme Court had ordered the release of high-profile prisoners including Nasheed and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.
  • It had also reinstated 12 MPs earlier stripped of their seats, in effect giving the Opposition coalition a majority, and making Yameen vulnerable to impeachment.
  • In reaction to this, emergency was declared by President Abdullah Yameen.
  • Yameen ordered the arrest of Supreme Court judges and former President Gayoon, who is also his half-brother.
  • Following this, India constantly urged Maldives to restore democracy, but Emergency continued for 45 days before it was lifted
  • The Emergency proclamation was seen by India as an attempt to quell opposition in Maldives.
  • As relations between the two governments frayed, Malé asked New Delhi to take back two helicopters stationed for medical evacuation and rescue work.
  • Rules were also tightened for Indian workers in the Maldives tourism sector, and work visas are being tightened, causing some worry in Delhi.
  • In June, a prominent leader from the Maldives ruling party, was not allowed to enter India, prompting Malé to raise the issue with New Delhi.
  • With Maldivian elections due on September 23, India does not want to be seen to be as interventionist.
  • Maldives has emerged as the latest theatre of the geopolitical tussle between India and China.
  • Maldives has been carefully using its newfound proximity to China to make India wary.


Contemporary situation

  • Suspicions in Maldives on New Delhi’s role have grown after India expressed concern over the announcement of elections without allowing democratic institutions, including Parliament and the judiciary, to work in a free and transparent manner.


India’s concerns

  • With the Chinese expanding their footprint in Maldives through the Belt and Road Initiative, as they build massive infrastructure in and around Malé,
  • India also faces an economic challenge with Maldives signing a Free Trade agreement with China.


India’s Perspective

  • India does not want to get drawn into a interventionist role, although it has not objected to targeted sanctions on the Yameen regime imposed by the European Union.
  • India believes it is a responsible power in the region, and as it urges major powers in the world to follow rules-based order, it cannot be seen as not following those rules.
  • For now, India will be watching the elections, where joint opposition candidate Ibrahim Solih will be contesting against Yameen.

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