India must strengthen ties with the Maldives without taking sides in domestic politics, given the political turmoil the Maldives is experiencing.
Former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen has been convicted by a Maldivian criminal court
As opposition leader, he has spearheaded the “India Out” campaign.
Yameen has been alleged of having close links with China.
How are these developments relevant to India?
Abdulla Yameen is trying to link his incarceration to pressure from India.
India needs to tread carefully regarding the domestic politics of the Maldives.
How have India’s Relations with the Maldives been?
Security Partnership: Recently, the National College for Policing and Law Enforcement (NCPLE) was inaugurated by India’s External Affairs Minister.
Economic Cooperation: Tourism is the mainstay of the Maldivian economy. The country is now a major tourist destination for some Indians and a job destination for others.
In August 2021, Afcons, an Indian company, signed a contract for the largest-ever infrastructure project in Maldives which is the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP).
India is Maldives' 2nd largest trading partner – rising from its 4th position in 2018.
In 2021, bilateral trade registered a growth of 31% over the previous year – overcoming the pandemic-related challenges.
Recent developments in India-Maldives Relations
The Government has approved the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the field of judicial cooperation between India and the Judicial Service Commission of Maldives.
It is the eighth MoU signed between India and other countries in the field of Judicial Cooperation.
Male connectivity project: The Greater Male Connectivity Project launch, a USD 500 million project funded by New Delhi.
Agreements: The countries have signed six agreements to expand cooperation in a range of areas in the Maldives, including:
Challenges in India-Maldives Relations
Political Instability: India’s primary concern has been the impact of political instability in the neighbourhood on its security and development.
The February 2015 arrest of Maldives’ opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges and the consequent political crisis have posed a real diplomatic test for India’s neighbourhood policy.
Radicalization: In the past decade or so, the number of Maldivians drawn towards terrorist groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based jihadist groups has been increasing.
This gives rise to the possibility of Pakistan-based terror groups using remote Maldivian islands as a launch pad for terror attacks against India and Indian interests.
China Angle: China’s strategic footprint in India’s neighbourhood has increased. The Maldives has emerged as an important 'pearl' in China’s “String of Pearls” construct in South Asia.
Given the uncertain dynamics of Sino-Indian relations, China’s strategic presence in the Maldives remains a concern.
Also, the Maldives have started using the China card to bargain with India.
Anti-India sentiments: The ‘India Out’ campaign has been effective in coordinating between different sources—political parties, social media, media, and China—and intensifying the anti-India sentiments more than ever.