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The Month of September in 2020 marked another significant milestone in the burgeoning relationships between maritime Neighbours India and Maldives with the launch of direct ferry service between Kochi (Kerala) via Kulhudhuffushi to Male Port. Both states are members of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) along with NAM (Non-Alignment Movement), the Commonwealth of Nations and The UN (United Nations). The diplomatic relation between the two nations is now five-decade-old, starting with the independence of the Archipelagic Country.
The warm relationship between the two nations got a boost after Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took over the Presidency in 2018. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the only Head of Government who was invited at the Oath taking ceremony of President Solih. This is a testimony of the major shift of the Maldivian government to an ‘India First’ Policy.
The warm relationship between the two nations got a boost after Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took over the Presidency in 2018.
The Indian Prime Minister reiterated the importance of the relationship by visiting the Maldives first after assuming his second term of office in 2019. This was followed by reciprocal visits of government dignitaries from both sides. The trade between the two countries also blossomed in a span of the last seven years with more than 85% increase in bilateral trade. India is playing the pivotal role in the Indian Ocean region in terms of Education, Defence Cooperation and Capacity Building amongst others.
Post Covid-19 Crisis
The President of Maldives was one of the first among neighbouring leaders to welcome the early clarion call of Narendra Modi for a strong strategic alliance of SAARC nations to fight Covid-19. Maldives also contributed to Emergency SAARC Fund for fighting the Pandemic. The fund was set up by Prime Minister Modi which was later commended in a report published by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).
During the Covid-19 Outbreak in Wuhan, Maldivian citizens were also evacuated by the Indian Government in February 2020. Furthermore, India gifted essential food supplies as a goodwill gesture during those difficult times and donated medicines. A Rapid Response team was deployed to train the Maldives health authorities. New Delhi also committed USD 500 million in financial assistance for many mega Projects also known as the ‘The Great Male Connecting Project’.
India is playing the pivotal role in the Indian Ocean region in terms of Education, Defence Cooperation and Capacity Building amongst others.
The economy of Maldives is largely dependent on Tourism with the majority of people employed in the tourism and hospitality sector. Indian travellers account for a major share in the Maldivian tourism business. Tourism from India to the Island Country has increased sharply in recent times. After months of lockdown, Maldives opened for Tourists in July 2020. The Indian government took prompt action and created an Air bubble arrangement with the Maldives which means Indian and Maldivian air carriers are now permitted to operate flights between the two nations.
Maldives was very vocal in support of India at the virtual meeting of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) in May 2020. During the meet, it countered Pakistan’s vicious allegation and propaganda against India. Maldives has also supported India’s candidacy for Permanent Membership of UN Security Council. Maldives’s support to India in such global forums should be seen as an indication of the close and robust bilateral relationship and the cordiality between PM Modi and President Solih which has brought up the two nations closer and yielded positive results in a relatively short time.
The Indian Diaspora proportion in the Maldivian population is large. One quarter of Doctors and Teachers in the country are Indians. The relationship is not limited to Inter-governmental but people to people connect also plays an important role in any bilateral relations. Maldives is one of the cornerstones of Indian Government’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) policy in the Indian Ocean Region.
The bilateral agreements and pro-active approach of the present Indian government are in synchronisation with India’s Comprehensive Maritime Strategy and India’s Neighbourhood First approach.
The bilateral agreements and pro-active approach of the present Indian government are in synchronisation with India’s Comprehensive Maritime Strategy and India’s Neighbourhood First approach. As Minister of External Affairs Dr S. Jaishankar in his book ‘The Indian Way’ has talked about achieving It by means of capacity building through providing radars, coastal surveillance equipment, vessels and aircraft by establishing maritime infrastructure and also highlighted the connectivity to the neighbourhood.
The Challenge Ahead
Maldives under the rule of former President Abdulla Yameen had taken huge loans and had become prey to the debt trap of China. The pressure of loan repayment remains one of the key challenges for the country. The recent US-Maldives Defence Agreement which was applauded by India may irk China. That can result in Beijing’s bullying of the island nation and can impact India-Maldives relations also. For a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, India and Maldives need to work together in all sectors.