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India-Maldives Relations (Specials)

Published: 21st Dec, 2023

Context

India and Maldives shares a vital relationship owing to their geo-strategic position. They share common interests and concerns ranging from being maritime neighbors to India acting as first responder in event for crisis for Maldives. 

However in current times is treading through tough waters given the change in stance of Maldivian regime from India’s first to India Out campaign. This also presents a critical stance where the china factor creeps in. The current regime at Male is said to be more pro-china which has its own concerns for India given the Chinese tactics in Indian Ocean.

With the recent Maldivian Presidential elections, where Dr. Mohamed Muizzu's victory is perceived as a triumph for the 'India Out' campaign. The dynamics of India-Maldives relations have witnessed a critical juncture.

Geographic location of Maldives:

  • Maldives, independent island country in the north-central Indian Ocean. It consists of a chain of about 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks (some 200 of which are inhabited), grouped in clusters, or atolls.
  • Is strategically located at the crossroads of several important trade routes that run through the Indian Ocean. 
  • 50% of India’s external trade and 80% of India’s energy imports transit through the Sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) in the vicinity of the Maldives. 

India out Campaign vs. India First Policy:

The 'India Out' campaign is a political movement against the presence of the Indian military in the Maldives. The victory of Dr. Mohamed Muizzu aligns with this stance, posing a challenge to the traditionally upheld 'India First' policy.

The 'India First' policy, initiated by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, underscores Maldives' preference for India in security, socio-development assistance, and pandemic response.

Historical Backgroundof Relations:

  • India and Maldives share deep-rooted historical, cultural, and economic ties. The name Maldives has Sanskrit origin which translates into (Mala (garland) + Dweep (Island).
  • The islands is said to have been inhabited as early as 5th century BC by settlers from Sri Lanka and Southern India. There were close trade relationships between India and Maldives during ancient and medieval times.
  • From early trade relationships to post-independence collaborations, the two nations have a shared history.
  • However, political transitions in Maldives, particularly during Yameen's tenure (2013-2018), led to strains in relations due to pro-China policies.
Key Milestones:

  • 1965: Diplomatic ties established; Indian Mission in Male (1972).
  • 1978: Strengthening of ties during President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's tenure.
  • 1988: Indian intervention to thwart a coup attempt.
  • 2018: Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's victory and adoption of India-First Policy.

    Significance of Maldives for India: The strategic importance of Maldives for India is multifaceted:

    • Geo-Economic Significance: Maldives sits at the crossroads of vital trade routes in the Indian Ocean, critical for India's external trade and energy imports.
      • The Indian Ocean is recognized as a primary global trade and energy route, with Maldives positioned as a pivotal toll gate. It serves as a crucial point for two significant sea lanes of communication (SLOCs).
      • These SLOCs are vital for facilitating maritime trade between the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Hormuz in West Asia and the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia.
    • Geo-Political Significance: Maldives aligns with India in various regional groupings and supports India's global aspirations.
      • Maldives is a member of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC), Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), SAARC, SASEC and SAGAR initiative of India. 
    • Security Significance: Maldives serves as a crucial partner in maritime security, countering terrorism, and ensuring the safety of sea lanes.
    • Indian Diaspora Significance: A sizable Indian diaspora in Maldives contributes significantly to sectors like education, healthcare, tourism, and hospitality.

    Areas of Cooperation: India's collaboration with Maldives spans economic, infrastructure, military, and humanitarian aspects:

    • Economic Cooperation: India is a major economic partner, providing financial support and being a vital trading ally.
    • Infrastructure Cooperation: Projects like the Greater Male Connectivity Project, airport redevelopment, and strategic harbours demonstrate India's commitment to Maldives' sustainable development.
    • Military and Security Cooperation: Joint exercises, comprehensive defence partnerships, and aid in maritime security highlight the military collaboration. India helped to prevent coup in 1988 which has the support of Tamil liberation forces.
      • Maldives is also the India’s first line of defence against terrorism, piracy on the high seas, drug trafficking, narcotics, and other maritime crime. 
    • Humanitarian Assistance Cooperation: From socio-economic development projects to COVID-19 aid, India consistently supports Maldives in times of need.
    • Socio-Economic development projects: India provided covishield vaccines, handing over of two sea ambulances and gave aid in building of Indira Gandhi memorial hospital.
    • The creation of national Knowledge network for research and education. Also Indian help was extended in establishment of Maldives National College for policing and Law enforcement.

    Challenges in India-Maldives Relations: Several challenges pose potential threats to the relationship:

    • Political Challenges: The victory of leaders aligned with the 'India Out' campaign raises concerns about the future stance of the Maldivian government.
    • Radicalization: Maldives faces challenges related to the radicalization of its citizens, which could pose security risks for both countries.
    • Growing Chinese Influence: China's expanding influence in the region could limit India's diplomatic space in Maldives.
      • Maldives could get became pearl of China’s ‘string of pearls’surrounding India with bases.
        Further the Access to the Arabian Sea could conceivably permit China to project hard power in the region.
    • Climate Change: Both nations, being low-lying islands, face the common threat of climate change, including rising sea levels.

    Contemporary Issues and irritants

    • The recently elected Maldivian government announced it would terminate a hydrography agreement signed with India in 2019.
    • The decision came shortly after the newly elected administration asked India to withdraw its troops from the island country–a day after he took charge. 

    The Hydrography agreement:

    • At the PM level visit in 2019 to the Maldives, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on hydrography cooperation. This paved the way for both sides to carry out maritime surveys and chart Maldivian territorial waters. For example, in 2022, the Indian Navy’s INS Sutlej carried out a joint hydrographic survey with its Maldivian counterparts.
    • The decision to cancel the renewal stemmed from national security concerns. Future hydrographic surveys will be carried out by the Maldives alone, given the nature of the “sensitive” information involved.
    • According to the terms of this agreement, if one party wishes to drop the agreement, the other party must be informed of the decision six months before the agreement is set to expire. Other wise to the terms, the agreement automatically renews for an additional five years.

    Withdrawal of Indian troops:

    • Maldives Asked India to withdraw its military personnel from the Maldives.
    • India provides two helicopters and an aircraft to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) for emergency medical evacuations and disaster relief operations.
    • This move was seen as a part of Indian Out campaign and inclination of present regime towards china.

    Way Forward: To navigate these challenges and strengthen ties:

    • Engage Proactively: India should actively engage with the newly elected government, addressing concerns and emphasizing the mutual benefits of ongoing projects.
    • Increase Development Assistance: A strategic increase in development aid, targeting projects with broad societal impacts, can enhance India's goodwill.
    • Timely Project Completion: Ensuring timely completion of infrastructure projects will showcase India's reliability and competitiveness against Chinese initiatives.
    • Youth Employment Initiatives: Prioritizing projects that enhance youth employability and entrepreneurship can counter radicalization and extremism.
    • Promote Mutual Understanding: Encouraging the understanding that India's involvement is for mutual benefit, as opposed to external interests, is crucial for sustained cooperation.

    Conclusion

    India-Maldives relations are at a pivotal juncture, requiring nuanced diplomacy, proactive engagement, and a commitment to shared prosperity to overcome the current challenges. The resilience of this relationship lies in recognizing mutual interests and fostering cooperation that goes beyond political transitions.Top of Form

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