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Jammu KashmirIndia - Maldives Ties: All Hope Is Not Lost

India – Maldives Ties: All Hope Is Not Lost


Since taking power in November 2023, Maldives’ new leader, President Mohamed Muizzu has pushed a hardline stance towards India. This move has been taken as a threat by India and led to strained relations between the two neighbouring countries. However, President Muizzu has changed his tune recently from his anti-India campaign. Here’s an explanation of why the India-Maldives ties may not be doomed and a history of the possible fallout.

Maldives seeking debt relief from India

As of the end of 2023, the Maldives owed India about $400.9 million. This is a result of hefty loans taken by previous regimes in Maldives. As President Mohamed Muizzu takes over the debt burden, he has now turned to conversations with India’s administration to negotiate and discuss repayment options for the loans that are within the countries’ economic capabilities.

The tourist-dependent country has had an uphill task to revive its economy following the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic led to economic growth plummeting by 30% due to the sudden decline of tourists. The country’s leadership is now focused on diversifying its economy through its almost 35% youth population who are now investing in other income generation sources besides tourism such as entrepreneurship, online jobs such as creating free casino games, agriculture and construction.

On Thursday, March 21, 2024, during his first interview with the local media since taking office, President Muizzu shared that the country’s debt to India was beyond what could be borne by the Maldivian economy. In seeking debt relief from India, he affirmed that India will continue being the country’s closest ally. Furthermore, he acknowledges that India has been instrumental in implementing great projects in the country. Thus, any ongoing projects with India will not be halted but rather fast-tracked to completion.

However, this show of allyship with India is quite new and different compared to President Muizzu’s stance with India in the previous months.


Reasons for recent strained India – Maldives ties

In the months since President Muizzu took office, India-Maldives ties have been severed in the following ways.

  • November 2023 – President Muizzu snubs India during 1st official trip as president

With the allyship between the Maldives and India, it has always been the tradition for every elected Maldives president to visit India as their first official trip administering presidential duties. However, President Muizzu visited Turkey first after becoming President, breaking this long-observed tradition. To date, President Muizzu has yet to visit India in his official capacity as president.

  • December 2023 – President Muizzu announces Indian troops will be leaving Maldives

The first order of business for President Muizzu was to declare that all Indian military personnel would be expected to leave the country. The president defended this move as part of his responsibility to protect Maldives’ sovereignty. After deliberation, both Maldives and India were in support of having a total withdrawal of 89 Indian soldiers and their support staff stationed in the country. India pulled out its first batch of military personnel on the week of March 10th and by May 10th it is expected all Indian military troops will be out of Maldives. On the other hand, the country will receive free military assistance from China.

  • December 2023 – Maldives cabinet decides not to renew hydrology pact with India

After taking office, President Muizzu together with his administration set to review and assess over 100 agreements signed between Maldives and India by the previous administrations. One of those critical agreements was to allow India to conduct hydrographic surveys of Maldives’ underwater features as the country did not have the facilities and machines required to do so. However, the country’s cabinet approved the decision to not renew this pact and now the services will be carried out by the Maldives Defense Ministry. President Muizzu’s government stated that plans are underway to set up a 24/7 monitoring system in March and regain control of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

  • January 2024 – India’s prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Lakshadweep Islands results in diplomatic fallout with Maldives

When Prime Minister Modi made a vocational visit to the Lakshadweep Islands, he did not anticipate that it would result in straining further ties with the Maldives. However, his supporters went online and insinuated the Lakshadweep islands would be a great alternative to visiting the Maldives for Indian tourists. Supporters of President Muizzu on the other hand took the insinuation as a threat to the economy of the tourist-dependent country. What ensued was an ugly affair on social media involving some of Maldive’s deputy ministers making defamatory remarks against Prime Minister Modi and India’s celebrities calling for a travel boycott to the Maldives.

  • January 2024 – President Muizzu visits China to strengthen partnerships between Maldives and China

For his second official trip as president, President Muizzu paid a visit to China.  During his visit and after talks with President Xi Jinping, the two presidents signed 20 agreements that focused on China’s assistance with Maldives’ infrastructure as well as a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership document between the two states. After his visit, China announced it would give Maldives a $130 million grant. Additionally, President Xi Jinping promised to have more Chinese tourists visit the Maldives as a necessary economic boost.

Even with all these occurrences within 100 days of President Muizzu taking office, the change in his tune towards the relationship with India may be an indication that all hope is not lost.

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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