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India-Maldives relations – an Analysis

  • Category
    India & world
  • Published
    28th Feb, 2020

The Home Minister of Maldives, Mr Sheikh Imran Abdulla, visited India and met Indian Home Minister.

Issue

Context

The Home Minister of Maldives, Mr Sheikh Imran Abdulla, visited India and met Indian Home Minister.

Background

  • India and Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links. India was among the first to recognize the Maldives after its independence in 1965 and later established its mission at Male in 1972.
  • Maldives’ proximity to the west coast of India and its situation at the hub of commercial sea-lanes running through the Indian Ocean, and its potential to allow a third nation’s naval presence in the area imbues it with significant strategic importance to India.
  • India has a pre-eminent position in the Maldives, with relations extending to virtually most areas.
  • Except for a brief period during former President Waheed’s administration and to some extent during former President Yameen’s regime, when there was a change in approach towards India, all Maldivian Presidents have recognized the importance of India’s strategic role in Maldives and worked towards strengthening bilateral relationship with India, with India is seen as a net security provider.

  • ‘India First’ has been a stated policy of the Government of Maldives. President Solih, ever since he assumed office in November 2018, has acted on ‘India First’ in right earnest.
  • India’s relationship with the Maldives is free of any politically contentious issues. The one-time claim of Maldives to Minicoy Island was resolved by the Maritime Boundary Treaty of 1976 between the two countries, whereby the Maldives has recognized Minicoy as an integral part of India.
  • India’s prompt assistance during the 1988 coup attempt, led to the development of trust and long-term and friendly bilateral relations with the Maldives. The immediate withdrawal of our troops when they were no longer required assuaged fears of any Indian dominance or territorial aspirations.
  • India was the first to assist the Maldives during the 2004 Tsunami as well as the water crisis in Malé in December 2014.

Under Operation NEER, India immediately rushed bottled drinking water to Malé utilising Air Force aircraft and Navy ships.

Analysis

Areas of Cooperation

  • Defence:
    • Since 1988, defence and security have been a major area of cooperation between India and Maldives. India has adopted a very flexible and accommodating approach in meeting Maldivian requirements of defence training and equipment.
    • India provides the largest number of training opportunities for Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), meeting around 70% of their defence training requirements,
    • ‘Ekuverin’is a joint military exercise between India and Maldives.
    • Operation Cactus:In 1988, in response to a request from the Maldives, India activated Operation Cactus to deploy its military and ensure regime continuity in Male.
    • During the meeting, both the Home Ministers discussed issues of mutual interest in the area of security and law enforcement cooperation.
  • Disaster Management:
    • The Government of India has provided large-scale assistance to the Maldives in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and during the 2014 Male water crisis.
  • Trade and Tourism:
    • India is Maldives’ 4th largest trade partner after UAE, China and Singapore. In 2018, India was the 5th largest source of tourist arrivals in the Maldives.

South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation

  • The South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Program, set up in 2001, brings together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in a project-based partnership to promote regional prosperity by improving cross-border connectivity, boosting trade among member countries, and strengthening regional economic cooperation.
  • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) serves as Secretariat to the SASEC Program.
  • The Maldivian economy is heavily dependent on its tourism sector, which is the major source of foreign exchange earnings and government revenue.
  • Development Assistance Programme:

 The major completed and ongoing development assistance projects executed by India are: 

  • Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital; The hospital was built with Indian Grant Assistance in 1995.
  • Maldives Institute of Technical Education (now called the Maldives Polytechnic): The MoU for setting up Maldives Institute for Technical Education (MITE) was signed in March 1992. MITE was completed at a cost of INR 12 Cr and handed over to GoM in September 1996.
  • India-Maldives Faculty of Hospitality & Tourism Studies: The foundation stone for the Faculty was jointly laid by PM Vajpayee and President Gayoom during the former’s visit to the Maldives in September 2002. The Faculty was officially handed over to GoM in February 2014.
  • Technology Adoption Programme in Education Sector in the Maldives: The US$ 5.3 million project fully funded by GoI was launched in June 2011 to provide ICT training to Maldivian teachers and youth and for vocational training. The project concluded in December.

Key Highlights of the HMs Meet

  • The Ministers welcomed the expansion of bilateral cooperation between India and Maldives in diverse fields including policing and law enforcement, counter-terrorism, counter-radicalization, organized crime, drug trafficking and capacity building.
  • The Directorate of Enforcement will assist the Maldives in setting up a probe agency like itself and guide the island nation on raising a Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) infrastructure.
  • The Directorate of Enforcement is a multidisciplinary organization mandated with the task of enforcing the provisions of two special fiscal laws – Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA) and Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA). It is headquartered in New Delhi.
  • Construction of National Police Academy (ISLES), Addu: An MoU for setting up the National Police Academy at a cost of INR 98.75 Cr was signed in September 2012. The project cost was later revised to INR 195.05 Cr and construction finally commenced in 2016. As of 18 Aug 2019, the overall physical progress on the project is 48% and financial progress is 40%.
  • INR 50 Cr grant for bilateral projects and INR 40 Cr for High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs)
  • The assistance of $1.4 billion through a credit line and budgetary support to the Maldives in 2018 when Ibraham Mohamed Solih visited India after winning Presidential Election.

Significance of the Maldives for India

  • Strategic Importance: Maldives’ proximity to the west coast of India - Maldives is barely 70 nautical miles away from Minicoy -the southernmost island of Lakshadweep. Lakshadweep group is separated from the Maldives by Eight Degree Channel.
  • Economic Value: It is situated at the hub of commercial sea-lanes running through the Indian Ocean. More than 97% of India’s international trade by volume and 75% by value passes through the region. It's potential to allow a third nation’s naval presence in the area.
  • Political and Regional Security:
    • Since China’s naval expansion into the Indian Ocean, Maldives significance has steadily grown and now it’s at the heart of international geopolitics.
    • Moreover, the Maldives is an important aspect of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
    • ‘India First’ has been a stated policy of the Government of Maldives.
    • Maldives is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC).
  • Indian Community In Maldives:
    • There is a significant Indian diaspora in the Maldives. Innumerable Indians work across the hospitality, education, and health-care sectors of the Maldives economy.

Way Forward

  • The Maldives had drifted away from India’s strategic orbit as President Yameen was drawing his country closer to China. He crushed all opposition to his authoritarian rule with an iron fist, either jailing or exiling his opponents. However, Solih has brought the Maldives again close to India. India must use this time positively to establish sovereign relations with the island nation.
  • India must use its Diaspora more extensively for strengthening its relations.
  • India must employ cultural aspects like films, music, and people to people contacts to strengthen the relations.

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