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The changing relations of India, Maldives

Published: 4th Apr, 2022


India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar visited Maldives after he got an invite from his Maldivian counterpart and held extensive discussion on the bilateral relations between the two.

  • Jaishankar’s five-day visit is part of India’s attempt to proactively reach out with projects and initiatives to counter China’s influence.


  • 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.
  • India’s policy of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and Maldives’ policy of ‘India First’ seem to be in absolute sync with each other.

Neighbourhood First Policy: It is a core component of India’s foreign policy, focuses on peaceful relations and collaborative synergetic co-development with its South Asian neighbors of the Indian subcontinent encompassing a diverse range of topics, such as economic, technology, research and education, connectivity (digital, surface and air transport, energy grid connectivity, logistic chains, etc), space program, defence security, environment and climate challenge.

  • It is important to note that the broad bilateral ties between the two countries rest on the foundation of mutual trust, understanding and sensitivity to each other’s concerns.

Quick facts about Maldives

  • The Republic of the Maldives is located in the Indian Ocean.
  • It is an archipelago comprising approximately 1,200 islands with a geographical spread over 90,000 sq.km
  • Incorporating some 26 atolls, the Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries, and is a 99 per cent water-nation.
  • Maldives is the lowest-lying country on the planet.  With the highest elevation being just 2.3 metres (7 feet 7 inches) above sea level, the archipelago has the world’s lowest naturally-occurring ‘highest-point’.

Areas of co-operation between India and Maldives:

Security Cooperation-

  • Through the decades, India has rushed emergency assistance to the Maldives, whenever sought.
  • In 1988, when armed mercenaries attempted a coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Operation Cactus was announced where India sent paratroopers and Navy vessels and restored the legitimate leadership.
  • In December 2021, India and Maldives conducted the 11th edition of Military Exercise EKUVERIN at Kadhdhoo Island.

This exercise focused on enhancing synergy and inter-operability between Armed Forces of both the nations in terms of understanding transnational terrorism both on land and at sea, conducting Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency Operations and sharing best military practices and experiences.

Disaster Management:

  • The 2004 tsunami and the drinking water crisis in Male were occasions when India rushed to the assistance of Maldives.
  • At the peak of the continuing COVID-19 disruption, the Maldives has been the biggest beneficiary of the Covid-19 assistance given by India among all of India’s neighbouring countries.
  • In fact, Maldives was the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines from India when India gifted 100,000 doses in January 2021.
  • When the world supply chains were blocked because of the pandemic, India continued to provide crucial commodities to the Maldives under Mission SAGAR.

People to people contact-

  • Technology has made connectivity easier for everyday contact and exchanges.
  • Maldivian students attend educational institutions in India and patients fly here for super speciality healthcare, aided by a liberal visa-free regime extended by India.
  • Creation of an Air Travel Bubble to facilitate movement of people from both sides for employment, tourism, medical emergencies etc.
  • The Maldives was the first neighbouring country with which an air bubble was operationalized.

India-Out Sentiments

  • India-Maldives relations deteriorated during the Progressive Party (PPM)’s five-year rule (when Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom of the PPM became president in 2013) and the anti-India sentiment was apparent even back then.
  • A lot of anti-India rhetoric was used during that time because the Maldivian government was pro-China.

Economic Cooperation-

  • Tourism is the mainstay of Maldivian economy. The country is now a major tourist destination for Indians and a job destination for others.
  • The significant turnaround in India’s relations with the Maldives and its height is a prominent example of overcoming adversity in our neighbourhood diplomacy. 
  • One of the key areas where India is assisting the Maldives is connectivity and civilian infrastructure.
  • Apart from seven major projects under Indian line of credit (LoC) of $800 million, India has announced another LOC of $400 million.
  • India has also allotted a special grant of $100 million for the Greater Male Connectivity Project.

It is a 6.74 km long bridge, also the biggest new development project by India in its neighbourhood in recent years, signed recently, seeking to link Male to three other islands i.e, Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi through a series of bridges, causeways, and roads. The project will provide a major fillip to the Maldivian economy.

  • India and Maldives have recently signed five agreements that would boost infrastructure in the island nation.
  • The pact included an Amendatory Agreement to repurpose an older EXIM Bank of India Line of Credit of USD 25 million for Road Development, a Letter of Intent between EXIM Bank and local authorities for financing a housing project of 2000 units in Hulhumale and MoU on grant funding USD 0.5 million for a fish processing plant in Kendhikulhudhoo in northern Maldives.

Significance of the Maldives for India

  • Strategic Importance:  The Maldives is geographically positioned like a ‘toll gate’ between the western Indian Ocean chokepoints of the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Hormuz on the one hand, and the eastern Indian Ocean chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca on the other. 
  • 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.

Significance of the recent visit by S. Jaishankar’s to Maldives:

  • Both countries have signed pacts on health and education besides discussing regional security and maritime safety issues.
  • National College of Policing and Law Enforcement is going to be inaugurated in April this year. It would be India’s largest grant-funded project in Maldives. 
  • During this visit of India’s Foreign Minister National Knowledge Network was also inaugurated.

National Knowledge Network

  • National Knowledge Network is a multi-gigabit national research and education network.
  • Purpose: To provide a unified high speed network backbone for educational and research institutions in India.
  • Managed by: The network is managed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
  • Both countries also signed the Peering Agreement, which will now help over 1,500 Indian institutes and a host of universities and centres of learning from Singapore, Europe and the United Stated are now connected to Maldives.
  • This was the first occasion when the Foreign Minister of both countries have met in Maldives but not in its capital Male. This time the meeting was held in the city of Addu.

The Way Forward:

The exemplary bilateral cooperation between India and Maldives could serve as a useful template for developing our ties with other neighbours as part of India’s Neighbourhood First policy.  India has always supported and developed Maldives.

Being able to stay as companions is vital and both must always realise the part, they play to each other. The recent infrastructural projects will also prove to be important developments for the economy, trade to trade understanding between the two countries. In accordance with the “Neighbourhood First Policy” of the government, India must remain a committed development partner for stable, prosperous, and peaceful Maldives.

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